Every morning Ellen checked the thin black laptop she kept under her side of the bed. Michael had stopped asking her about it, and she had stopped assuring him that she would explain it all to him some day. She only ever used a single program, an open source email client which utilized OpenPGP to securely communicate with others that she had shared her public key with. The email address itself was a string of 25 random characters, as were the addresses of all the other people who had her public key. You would not have thought that Ellen would be the kind of woman to have such a setup from the looks of her; a pudgy middle-aged mom living with her family in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. In truth, it had been set up for her, by one of the few dozen people—128 at last count—that would potentially communicate with her through this channel.
The inbox was an early warning system that any of them could use to reach all of them. They all checked first thing in the morning, but none of them knew each other’s phone numbers. That was another safety measure—should any of them fall, they wouldn’t give their assailant a means to find any of the others. They all deleted any emails that came through, and logged out immediately after logging in—using extremely long passwords that they had committed to memory and written nowhere.
This was all very impregnable, but left many individual vulnerabilities. If getting the news in the morning that you needed to pack your things and get out of town with your family as quickly as possible was enough time, you would be fine. If the margin of escape was a matter of hours in the middle of the day, however, you were up the creek without a paddle. The safety of the group took precedent over the safety of any one of its individual members.
Ellen’s heart quickened when she saw that she did indeed have a new email that morning. The last time she had received one had been only a year ago, when Andres had been murdered. Andres was the man who had set her up with the laptop in the first place; when she was much younger and much thinner, and going through a rebellious phase, she had run off with him into the mountains where he lived. Their parting had not been amicable, but she had often thought about him. So when the news came, it had taken a heavy emotional toll on her for many months.
This new email was about the man who had murdered him, but it seemed that things had not gone so well for him this time. His prey had been a fully half-Chari who had escaped from Paraguay only recently, and lived with a family in the DC area. Andres had had the most Chari blood out of any of them that she knew of, but he was nowhere near half. Still, Jack was all Chari, and a trained killer—he should not have had a problem.
One of them had learned about the half-Chari—Sabueso was what the informant called him—and his adopted family since he had learned of his existence. According to him, not only had Sabueso survived, but a member of the family had assisted him. The informant strongly suspected that this family member had some Chari in her as well, which would suggest at least one of the parents did too.
They wanted someone to volunteer to try and make a connection with this girl and with Sabueso, to see what information they could gather. It couldn’t be the informant, because they would rely on him to keep gathering information if the direct approach failed; and to watch their backs if it worked.
Ellen immediately knew it had to be her. She had to learn more about these people, about how they had survived, about why they had smuggled this half-Chari out of Paraguay and endangered themselves and those around them in doing so. And she had to learn about the man who had murdered Andres.
She sent a response to the group volunteering herself, then began to think of what she would tell her husband.