The world “impossible” used to mean something. It was a line that couldn’t be crossed. It was the outer edge of the safe zone.
I can’t find that line anymore.
Wolf Trap, Virginia
Thursday, October 17, 10:36 a.m.
It started with a door knock.
It was the last time it would be knuckles on wood. Next time I’d pound with my fist.
“Nobody’s home,” said Bunny. Not for the first time.
“Parking lot’s full of cars,” said Top.
“They’re here,” I grumbled.
Master Sergeant Harvey “Bunny” Rabbit popped his chewing gum. “Then how come they’re not answering the door?”
I gave him a withering stare. He’s six seven, so I had to look up to do it. “Do I look like Carnac the Magnificent?”
“Cap’n’s telling you that he’s not psychic, Farmboy,” said Top. Full name was First Sergeant Bradley Sims. He currently held my old spot as leader of Echo Team. “And I believe he’s saying something to the effect that if you keep telling him no one’s here he’s going to kneecap you.”
“Words to that effect,” I said.
I knocked again. Louder. With the side of my fist.
This was not how I planned to spend my vacation. Sure, I love my country and yes I would die to protect her … but this was my first vacation since dinosaurs ruled the earth.
I had today planned out, too. It was a very well-constructed plan, starting with lots of sleep, followed by the kind of diner breakfast that would keep my arteries nice and hard. Then take Ghost, my white shepherd, for a long walk in the park where he would help me appear irresistible to pretty women. Then I’d catch the first part of an Orioles doubleheader in the afternoon, ideally to see them make the Phillies weep and gnash their teeth. Then back to planning the greatest bachelor party in the history of personal excess.
My best friend and occasional shrink, Rudy Sanchez, was getting hitched in two months. His fiancée, Circe O’Tree, was away on a book tour, and Saturday night was the party. I already had Sunday set aside for whatever was required after the party: medical attention, psychological counseling, or bail hearings.
Instead, where was I at ten in the morning on a glorious Thursday?
Stuffed into a suit, not flirting with girls in the park, standing outside of Shelton Aeronautics with Top and Bunny who were every bit as disgruntled as I was.
And nobody was answering the goddamn door.
We were out on one of those busybody projects that are often immense time wasters. We were out doing legwork to try and track down some cyber-terrorists. Yeah, I know—that battlefield is online so why were first-team shooters knocking on doors?
Like everything else in my life, it’s complicated.
The short version is that over the last few months there have been some significant attacks on the computer systems of several of the most important defense contractors. These were all private corporations who used intranet rather than the Internet for all the important stuff, so Web access to their research records was supposed to be impossible.
Well, virtually impossible. We could do it. By “we” I mean my team, the Department of Military Sciences. The DMS has the MindReader computer system and MindReader is to other computers what Superman is to the spandex crowd. MindReader can intrude into any other system, read and copy its data, and exit without a trace. Its superintrusion software package is unique and it rewrites the target system’s software to erase all tracks. Other invader systems leave some kind of detectable scarring, no matter how subtle. MindReader doesn’t.
The attacks began small. Some cute little viruses that were more nuisance than threat. Like jabs a boxer throws when he’s trying to get the measure of his opponent’s timing and reflexes. You’re not really trying to score with the jab, but by learning how the opponent reacts you set yourself for the hard right.
The hard right came around the first of the month.
Someone hacked the security computers at a Lockheed Martin plant in New Jersey and accessed the fire control system. The virus told the system there was a major fire in the labs and that tripped the halon fire retardant. Without a single warning bell, the security doors autolocked and massive white clouds of toxic gas began jetting into the labs. The fully staffed labs. Thirty-eight people wound up in the hospital.
Two days later a missile in a test silo in Kansas tried to launch itself. Luckily the warhead was a dummy and there was only residual fuel in the tanks, so the damage was minor. The implications, however, sent shock waves throughout the Department of Defense and Homeland.
The attacks escalated. A tapeworm tunneled through the mainframe at an Aurora Flight Sciences plant at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, destroying all files associated with a new unmanned aerial vehicle, and then self-deleted. Sure, there were backups to all the files concerned with the UAV, but there was a scramble to pull them off any hard drive even remotely attached to an Internet connection.
The big play had been the triggering of an autodestruct protocol at a testing facility in Poker Flat, Alaska. The autodestruct wasn’t something as dramatic as a nuclear core going into the red zone. There was no automated female voice warning everyone to get to minimum safe distance. Nothing like that. This was a small series of thermite charges connected to the mainframes of the lab’s supercomputers. In the case of a physical intrusion, the crucial information was supposed to be flash transmitted to a satellite uplink right before the charges blew. Only it happened the other way around—the charges blew without warning and without uploading the files. The price tag was eleven million. Supercomputers ain’t cheap.
So, the industrialists called their contacts on the congressional oversight committee, who called the brass at the DoD, who called the president, who called my boss who pulled me in despite my being on vacation. Suddenly I was attached to the Cyber Crimes Task Force.
Everybody had a theory about what was happening and who was behind it. The Chinese Ghost Net got a lot of play, of course. Lot of people in Washington agreed it was exactly the sort of thing they’d do. Not only was it a cyber-attack that was so cleverly managed that it couldn’t be tracked back to anyone, it also did a lot of damage to our efforts to bring the next generation of stealth and unmanned aircraft to fruition.
Of course the Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans were put on the Cyber Crimes Task Force watch list. Even some of our allies—the Israelis, the Brits, the French, the everybody else—got some play because when you’re the biggest, toughest, richest kid in school nobody really likes you.
I had to admit that I wasn’t in the mood to buy Uncle Sam a beer either. How the hell were the Orioles supposed to win without me watching?
Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Maberry