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NaNoWriMo 2011 Preview #8
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
By Dennis L Hitzeman
The National Network Defense Center was the heart of the United States government’s network defense infrastructure. For the past forty eight hours, it had been a hub of activity unprecedented in its history, a fact Lucas was sorry he missed.
In fact, he had been on a flight back from Moscow when the attack against the Core unleashed itself in all its fury. As he understood things, nearly every node inside the Core had been compromised at one point, and military options against supposed targets were being drafted even as he landed at Dulles.
And then it stopped. The attack vanished as suddenly as it appeared, leaving no other trace than the actions of the network defenders in trying to stop it. Nearly a day’s worth of searching found no trace of a trojan, nor was there any evidence that any information had been destroyed or compromised.
As Lucas watched, a host of hackers on the floor were linked up with government and contractor hackers from around the world trying to figure out what exactly had happened. Lucas doubted they would ever figure that out for the same reasons he had failed at his primary mission over the past few weeks.
A message chimed in his queue indicating that his interrogators were waiting on him. He was surprisingly relaxed considering that the questioning he was about to endure could cost him his career. Maybe it was because he realized now that there was a heck of a lot more to life than a government job.
Inside the secure conference room, a panel of three people waited, his immediate supervisor and two other supervisors from other divisions.
“Agent Cantril, please have a seat,” his supervisor said. “As you know, such interviews are standard procedure after the conclusion of any mission, but I suspect you also know how important this particular interview may be.
“First, I would like to congratulate you on behalf of the Domestic Intelligence Service and the Director of National Intelligence on your successful take down of Alexander Varisky and most of the hackers working for him. His capture alone was worth the effort, and several of those captured with him are wanted in several countries. The capture of Vladimir Pentrenko would have made it a perfect mission, but such things are seldom perfect.”
The pause told Lucas he was supposed to say something. “Sir, we are following up on leads as to Pentrenko’s whereabouts as well as looking into the possibility that he was tipped off prior to our raid.”
“Which, ironically, leads me to my second item,” his supervisor said, “and that is the curious question of what happened with Colonel Dean Whiteman, Colonel Larry Chestnut, and Mr. Ryan Alten.”
“Sir, could you be more specific as to what you are asking for?” Lucas said. “A lot of things happened involving those three over the past few weeks.”
His supervisor cast him a sharp look. “Well, let’s start with the fact that Alten’s whereabouts are still unknown.”
Lucas nodded. “Which is not unexpected since Colonels Whiteman and Chestnut had never heard of Alten before I brought him to their attention. I believe a detailed description of those facts are in my report.”
“Indeed they are,” his supervisor said, “yet you also point out that Alten made contact with those two at least twice after you made contact with Colonel Whiteman. Don’t you find that odd?”
“Not at all,” Lucas said. “I believe that was his intention all along.”
The room was quiet for a long time. Finally, his supervisor said, “I am not sure I follow what you are saying, Agent Cantril.”
“Sir, I did some checking into how exactly Colonel Whiteman became our first and most important lead in trying to track down Altent,” Lucas said, “and as it turns out, no one inside the DIS inserted that information into the case file. In fact, as far as I can tell, no one inserted that information.”
“Are you saying that Alten did so himself?” his supervisor said.
“The lack of evidence strongly supports that he did, sir,” Lucas said.
His supervisor glowered. “Now is not the time for sarcasm, Agent Cantril.”
“Sir, that was not sarcasm,” Lucas said. “On the contrary, the most telling calling card that Alten has done something seems to be that something was done and that there is no other trace of its occurrence than the event itself.”
He could see the realization of what he had just said sinking in to his supervisor and the other two. They gave each other quick glances before their attention returned to him.
“Do you believe there are other events that can be attributed to Alten as well by this method?” his supervisor said.
“I do,” Ryan said.
“Would you care to speculate as to what they might be?”
“Sir, I have those events are part of my investigation as I indicated in my report.”
“How would you characterize that portion of your investigation, then?” his supervisor said.
“Ongoing, sir,” Lucas said.
The three supervisors conferred for a few moments, exchanging hurried whispers, while Lucas could see the traces of message traffic to and from them on the net. The reality of what he was saying was sinking in, but he wondered what their next question might be. It could define everything that happened thereafter.
“Agent Cantril, do you have any speculation as to what Alten’s motives might be?” his supervisor asked.
Lucas looked from one supervisor to another, then finally returned his gaze to his own. “Sir, Alten’s motives are central to this investigation, and I believe, once they are unearthed, the case will be solved.”
“But you do have an idea, I think,” his supervisor said.
It was showtime, Lucas realized. “I believe Alten is trying to prevent something, sir.”
“Prevent something? By attacking the government?” his supervisor said.
Lucas steeled himself. “Sir, you asked me to speculate, so I will. It is my belief, based on my investigation to date, that the enemy is within the government and that Alten is a sympathetic force.”
His supervisor’s look was grim, but to Lucas’s surprise, he nodded. “I believe, given the circumstances, that you should continue with your work, Agent Cantril. Given the nature of the situation, I will expect regular status reports. Thank you for your hard work, Lucas. Your nation owes you a debt of gratitude.”
And with that he was dismissed. And Lucas had no doubt he had just leaped out of the frying pan and into the fire.