The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium series Book 4) (4 page)

Grane was hired as an analyst in counter-espionage and later in the Industry Protection Group. Even though as a young woman, attractive in a slightly proper sort of way, she got called a “daddy’s girl” and “snotty upper-class bitch”, she was a star recruit, quick and receptive and able to think outside the box. And she could speak Russian. She had learned it alongside her studies at the Stockholm School of Economics, where needless to say she had been a model student but never that keen. She dreamed of something bigger than a life in business, so after her graduation she applied for a job at the Foreign Ministry and of course was accepted. But she did not find that especially stimulating either – the diplomats were too stiff and neatly combed. It was then that Helena Kraft had got in touch. Grane had been at Säpo for five years now and had gradually been accepted for the talent that she was, even if it was not always easy.

It had been a trying day, and not just because of the ghastly weather. The head of division, Ragnar Olofsson, had appeared in her office looking surly and humourless and told her that she should damn well not be flirting when she was out on an assignment.

“Flirting?”

“Flowers have been delivered.”

“And that’s my fault?”

“Yes, I do think you have a responsibility there. When we’re out in the field we have to show discipline and reserve at all times. We represent an absolutely key public agency.”

“Well, that’s great, Ragnar dear. One always learns something from you. Now I finally understand that I’m responsible for the fact that the head of research at Ericsson can’t tell the difference between normal polite behaviour and flirting. Now I realize that I should blame myself when men indulge in such wildly wishful thinking that they see a sexual invitation in a simple smile.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Olofsson said, and he disappeared. Later she regretted having answered back.

That kind of outburst rarely does any good. On the other hand, she had been taking shit for far too long. It was time to stand up for herself. She quickly tidied her desk and got out a report from G.C.H.Q. in Britain about Russian industrial espionage against European software companies, which she had not yet had time to read. Then the telephone rang. It was Kraft, and that made Grane happy. She had never yet called to complain or moan. On the contrary.

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Kraft said. “I’ve had a call from the U.S., it may be a bit of an emergency. Can you take it on your Cisco? We’ve arranged a secure line.”

“Of course.”

“Good. I’d like you to interpret the information for me, see if there’s anything in it. It sounds serious, but I can’t get a handle on the person who’s passing on the information – who, by the way, says that she knows you.”

“Put me through.”

It was Alona Casales at the N.S.A. – although for a moment Grane wondered if it really
was
her. When they had last met, at a conference in Washington D.C., Casales had been a self-assured and charismatic lecturer in what she somewhat euphemistically described as active-signals surveillance – hacking, in other words. Afterwards she and Grane had gone out for drinks, and almost against her will, Grane had been enchanted. Casales smoked cigarillos and had a dark and sensuous voice well-suited to her punchy one-liners and frequent sexual allusions. But now on the telephone she sounded confused and sometimes unaccountably lost the thread of what she was saying.

Blomkvist did not really know what to expect, a fashionable young man, presumably, some cool dude. But the fellow who had arrived looked like a tramp, short and with torn jeans and long, dark, unwashed hair and something slightly sleepy and shifty in his eyes. He was maybe twenty-five, perhaps younger, had bad skin and a fringe which concealed his eyes and a rather ugly mouth sore. Linus Brandell did not look like someone who was sitting on a major scoop.

“Linus Brandell, I presume.”

“That’s right. Sorry I’m late. Happened to bump into a girl I knew. We were in the same class in ninth grade, and she—”

“Let’s get this over with,” Blomkvist interrupted him, and led the way to a table towards the back of the pub.

When Amir appeared, smiling discreetly, they ordered two pints of Guinness and then sat quietly for a few seconds. Blomkvist could not understand why he felt so irritated. It was not like him; perhaps the whole drama with Serner was getting to him after all. He smiled towards Arne and his gang, all of whom were studying them keenly.

“I’ll come straight to the point,” Brandell said.

“That sounds good.”

“Do you know Supercraft?”

Blomkvist did not know much about computer games. But even he had heard of Supercraft.

“By name, yes.”

“No more than that?”

“No.”

“In that case you won’t know that what makes this game different, or at least so special, is that it has a particular A.I. function that allows you to communicate with a player about war strategy without being really sure, at least to begin with, whether it’s a real person or a digital creation that you’re talking to.”

“You don’t say,” Blomkvist said. He couldn’t care less about the finer points of a damn computer game.

“It’s a minor revolution in the industry and I was actually involved in developing it,” Brandell said.

“Congratulations. In that case you must have made a killing.”

“That’s just it.”

“Meaning what?”

“The technology was stolen from us and now Truegames are making billions while we don’t get a single öre.”

Blomkvist had heard this line before. He had even spoken to an old lady who claimed that it was actually she who had written the Harry Potter books and that J.K. Rowling had stolen everything by telepathy.

“So how did it happen?” he said.

“We were hacked.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s been established by experts at the National Defence Radio Establishment – I can give you a name there if you want – and also by a …”

Brandell hesitated.

“Yes?”

“Nothing. But even the Security Police were involved – you can talk to Gabriella Grane there. She’s an analyst and I think she’ll back me up. She has also mentioned the incident in a public report published last year. I have the reference number here …”

“In other words, this isn’t news,” Blomkvist interrupted.

“No, not in that sense.
New Technology
and
Computer Sweden
wrote about it. But since Frans didn’t want to talk about it and on a couple of occasions even denied that there had been any breach at all, the story never went very far.”

“But it’s still old news.”

“I suppose so.”

“So why should I be listening to you, Linus?”

“Because now Frans seems to have understood what happened. I think he’s sitting on pure dynamite. He’s become completely manic about security. Only uses hyper-encryption for his phones and email and he’s just got a new burglar alarm with cameras and sensors and all that crap. I think you should talk to him – that’s why I got in touch with you. A guy like you can perhaps get him to open up. He doesn’t listen to me.”

“So you order me down here because it seems as if someone called Frans may be sitting on some dynamite.”

“Not someone called Frans, Blomkvist, it’s none other than Frans Balder; didn’t I say that? I was one of his assistants.”

Blomkvist searched his memory: the only Balder he could think of was Hanna Balder, the actress, whatever might have become of her.

“Who’s he?” he said.

The look he got was so full of contempt that he was taken aback.

“Where’ve you been living? Mars? Frans Balder is a legend. A household name.”

“Really?”

“Christ, yes!” Brandell said. “Google him and you’ll see. He became a professor of computer sciences at just twenty-seven and for two decades he’s been a leading authority on research in artificial intelligence. There’s hardly anyone who’s as far advanced in the development of quantum computing and neural networks. He has an amazingly cool, back-to-front brain. Thinks along completely unorthodox, ground-breaking lines, and as you can probably imagine the computer industry’s been chasing him for years. But for a long time Balder refused to let himself be recruited. He wanted to work alone. Well, not altogether alone – he’s always had assistants whom he’s driven into the ground. He wants results, and he’s always saying: ‘Nothing is impossible. Our job is to push back the frontiers, blah blah blah.’ But people listen to him. They’ll do anything for him. They’ll just about die for him. To us nerds he is God Almighty.”

“I can hear that.”

“But don’t think that I’m some star-struck admirer, not at all. There’s a price to be paid, I know that better than anyone. You can do great things with him. But you can also go to pieces. Balder isn’t even allowed to look after his own son. He messed up in some unforgivable way. There are a lot of different stories, assistants who’ve hit the wall and wrecked their lives and God knows what. But although he’s always been obsessive he’s never behaved like this before. I just know he’s onto something big.”

“You just know that.”

“You’ve got to understand, he’s not normally a paranoid person. Quite the opposite – he’s never been anywhere near paranoid enough, given the level of the things he’s been dealing with. But now he’s locked himself into his house and hardly goes out. He seems afraid and normally he really doesn’t do scared.”

“And he was working on computer games?” Blomkvist said, without hiding his scepticism.

“Well … since he knew that we were all gaming freaks he probably thought that we should get to work on something that we liked. But his A.I. program was also right for that business. It was a perfect testing environment and we got fantastic results. We broke new ground. It was just that—”

“Get to the point, Linus.”

“The thing is that Frans and his lawyers wrote a patent application for the most innovative parts of the technology, and that’s when the first shock came. A Russian engineer at Truegames had thrown together an application just before, which blocked our patent, and that can hardly have been a coincidence. But that didn’t really matter. The patent was only a paper tiger. The interesting thing was how the hell they had managed to find out about what we’d been doing. Since we were all devoted to Frans even to the point of death, there was actually only one possibility: we must have been hacked, in spite of all our security measures.”

“Is that when you got in touch with the Security Police and the National Defence Radio Establishment?”

“Not at first. Balder is not too keen on people who wear ties and work from nine to five. He prefers obsessive idiots who are glued to their computers all night long, so instead he got in touch with some weirdo hacker he had met somewhere and she said straight away that we’d had a breach. Not that she seemed particularly credible. I wouldn’t have hired her, if you see what I mean, and perhaps she was just talking drivel. But her main conclusions were nevertheless subsequently borne out by people at the N.D.R.E.”

“But no-one knew who had hacked you?”

“No, no, trying to trace hacker breaches is often a complete waste of time. But they must have been professionals. We had done a lot of work on our I.T. security.”

“And now you suspect that Balder may have found out something more about it?”

“Definitely. Otherwise he wouldn’t be behaving so strangely. I’m convinced he got wind of something at Solifon.”

“Is that where he worked?”

“Yes, oddly enough. As I told you before, Balder had previously refused to let himself be tied up by the big computer giants. No-one has ever banged on as much as he did about being an outsider, about the importance of being independent and not being a slave to commercial forces. But out of the blue, as we stood there with our trousers down and our technology stolen, he suddenly took up an offer from Solifon, of all companies, and nobody could understand it. O.K., they were offering a mega-salary, free rein and all of that crap: like, do whatever the hell you want, but work for us, and that probably sounded cool. It would definitely have been cool for anyone who wasn’t Frans Balder. But he’d had any number of offers like that from Google, Apple and all the others. Why was this suddenly so interesting? He never explained. He just took his clobber and disappeared, and from what I’ve heard it went swimmingly at first. Balder continued to develop our technology and I think the owner, Nicolas Grant, was beginning to fantasize about revenues in billions. There was great excitement. But then something happened.”

“Something that you don’t actually know so much about.”

“No, we lost contact. Balder lost contact with pretty much everyone. But I understand enough to know that it must have been something serious. He had always preached openness and enthused about the Wisdom of Crowds, all that stuff: the importance of using the knowledge of many, the whole Linux way of thinking. But at Solifon he apparently kept every comma secret, even from those who were closest to him, and then – wham bam – he gave notice and went home, and now he’s sitting there in his house in Saltsjöbaden and doesn’t even go out into the garden or give a damn how he looks.”

“So what you’ve got, Linus, is a story about a professor who seems to be under pressure and who doesn’t care what he looks like – though it’s not clear how the neighbours can see that, if he never goes outside?”

“Yes, but I think—”

“Listen, this could be an interesting story, I get that. But unfortunately it isn’t for me. I’m no I.T. reporter – as someone so wisely wrote the other day, I’m a caveman. I’d recommend you contact Raoul Sigvardsson at the
Svenska Morgon-Posten
. He knows everything about that world.”

“No, no, Sigvardsson is a lightweight. This is way above his head.”

“I think you underestimate him.”

“Come on now, don’t chicken out. This could be your comeback, Blomkvist.”

Blomkvist made a tired gesture towards Amir, who was wiping a table not far from them.

“Can I give you some advice?” Blomkvist said.

“What …? Yes … sure.”

“Next time you have a story to sell, don’t try to explain to the reporter what’s in it for him. Do you know how many times people have played me that tune? ‘This is going to be the biggest thing in your career. Bigger than Watergate!’ You’d do better with just some basic matter-of-fact information, Linus.”