Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Employing America by feed it

Monty Python ruined things for all of us. How so? Because if you mention a career in growing food, this is what most Americans think:

And most of the time, that’s where the conversation ends, even if one has more to say on the subject.

Yet, as the Greenhorns blog pointed out recently,  one way to put Americans back to work is to encourage them to go into food production careers.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. I know because I’m an American who decided to pursue a food production career. What I found is that I can be done, but our government could make it easier for more people to do it.

I’m not talking about throwing borrowed money at the problem. No, I’m talking about getting rid of the mountain of rules and regulations that strangle small farms. Sure, those rules and regs might be appropriate to control industrial ag producers. Most small farms have nothing to do with the problems big ag producers create.

Instead, what small farms need is rules and regs that help us hire. That help us invest. That help us succeed without penalizing us for success.

I imagine that, with a simple set of rule changes that differentiate small-scale and sustainable food production from industrial agriculture, America’s small farms could easily put 1 to 2 percent of the people currently employed back to work in careers with nearly infinite potential for future employment. I’d bet that quite a few of those 1 to 2 percent would go on to establish their own small farms and hire people of their own.

If only our government would listen. And care. And act. If only the voters thought this was important.

So, we keep trying. Maybe, eventually, we can change the view to something more positive.

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Some thoughts on bureaucrats, school lunches, and the lies we tell ourselves

Bureaucrats tend to obfuscate the truth with words, and far too often, people fall for the resulting lie. Take school lunches as an example. As recently evidenced by the whole debacle over the NeverSeconds weblog, bureaucrats will continue to insist that they are doing something even when it is clear they are not.

In this case, they insist that they are feeding the children forced into their care for part of the day healthy, balanced meals that provide the best nutritional value for children of that age. At the same time, they blame rampant obesity, at least partly the result of malnutrition, on the parents despite the fact that the schools control the kids for as much as 10 hours a day.

Yet, if one looks at the bureaucrats, one has to wonder how they are remotely qualified to make such assessments. Two things immediately come to mind: they are rarely specimens of healthy lifestyles themselves, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bureaucrat eating the food they force on the children unless themselves forced to do so.

And so we all agree to the lie. The bureaucrats believe their own lie that they’re feeding the children well. The parents believe the lie that the bureaucrats are doing the right thing. The kids get fatter. The food gets worse.

There’s a way to put this all to the test: challenge your bureaucrats with something simple: eat lunch everyday in the school cafeteria. If the food’s that good, it shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

Then, watch the ways they squirm out of doing it. That should be proof enough, shouldn’t it?

And if it’s proof, then we have a problem: we’re malnourishing our kids on the orders of our government.

It seems to me we should be doing something about that.

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

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Writing: NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 1: Pulling teeth

[1442 words]

One of my goals in this year’s NaNoWriMo is to explore how I create. It sounds like a lofty goal, but what I want to do is technically analyze how I create a story, and in this case I am doing so under the gun of having to develop the entire story over the next 30 days.

Why do that? Because writing is more about hard work and determination than it is about inspiration when it comes to getting things finished and published. Understanding the guts of how that process works cannot help but make the hard work and determination easier.

On the other hand, it looks like this story is going to be like pulling teeth because I wasn’t prepared ahead of time. Over the next weeks, I hope to document that process for all of us. I hope you’ll follow along.

DLH

PS: If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post my story December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

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Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #8: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Here’s final installment in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

If you like what you read here, there is a way for you to read even more. I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

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.

 

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Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #7: By the skin of their teeth

Here’s my seventh of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo Preview #7

By the skin of their teeth

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Alexi stood there holding Vladimir, who had drifted into a stupor of exhaustion pressed against her leg. She didn’t even wait to contact Ryan. She sensed there was not much time, though she could not say why. She left a message in the usual place, and was startled when the chat connection came almost immediately.

“What have you found out? Ryan said.

She told him and was surprised to hear him laugh.

“That figures,” he said. “But I had to be sure. Thank you for your help, Alexi, and now I will help you. Leave where you are now as quickly as you can if you want to save yourself and Vladimir. Don’t worry about Alexander. Don’t worry about Vladimir’s people. Just get out and disappear.”

“I can’t just walk out…” she said.

“You can if you want to live,” he said. Then the line went dead.

She looked down at Vladimir and wondered if this was all worth it. She knew it was, but it would be just as easy for her to walk away as to take Vladimir with her. He’d been good to her, but his life of crime had to end.

She shook his shoulder. “Come on, now, Vladi, we need to take a trip.”
He muttered, “A trip? I have work to do.”

“Not until we get you cleaned up,” she said. “It won’t take long, I don’t think.”

She helped him to his feet and they made her way to the door where she left him leaning against the wall for a second. She made her way back into the scrum of catatonic hackers, found Anatoly and kicked him in the side.

He stirred and swore. “What? Oh, it’s you.”

She whispered, “If you want to live, come with me.”

He regarded her with bloodshot eyes, then struggled to his feet. “It’s come to that, then? What about the others?”
“What do you think,” she said, heading for the door.

“Leave them,” he said.

“Help me with Vladimir,” she said.

 

Lucas thought the helicopters were overkill, but the agent from the consulate and the officer from the Russian Special Intelligence Service assured him it was standard operating procedure.

They swooped through the mountain pass, coming upon the town and the scattering of dachas up the mountain side head on. They banked behind the target house, the choppers touching down just long enough to disgorge the twenty four response team members, Lucas, the consular agent, and the SIS officer.

The team moved with clockwork precision, surrounding the building and breaking in from several points at the same time. There was a lot of shouting, a couple of shots, and then the team began dragging out flex-cuffed and hooded suspects. Two came out in body bags.

About that time, the police bus rumbled up, and they brought the last man, whom Lucas recognized from the pictures as Alexander Varisky, notorious Russian crime facilitator, and more than a little confused as to what was going on.

He didn’t see three faces among the suspects, and that made him grimace. It appeared they had gotten away or had been tipped off. It didn’t matter, though. His government had gotten its take down.

He formed a private channel to the handler at the safehouse. “Go,” was all he said.

 

Alexi and Anatoly watched the take down of the dacha from the old pass above the town. Vladimir was long asleep by then.

“You knew they were coming,” Anatoly said.

She shrugged. “I knew something was coming.”
“Why save me?” he said.

“Your Vladimir’s best friend, Anatoly, even if you do think I’m going to get you all killed.”

He blushed. “I don’t believe that’s all there is, Alexi. You’re too cold hearted for that.”

“You and Vlad are a team, Anatoly, and were way before I knew you. That’s something I would like to preserve, for his sake if nothing else,” she said.

“I will not forget that,” Anatoly said, looking down as they loaded his onetime comrades into the police bus.

 

Natalia walked through the concourse of JFK feeling almost high she was so happy. She added a little extra sway because she liked the attention it brought her. She also liked that her presence in that airport meant that she had won at a very dangerous game. The feeling was exhilarating.

She made her way to the exit, thinking to take a cab to her hotel, but was surprised to see a man holding a sign with her name on it. Her real name. In an instant, her exhilaration turned to fear. She had been warned.

The man holding the sign came up to her and took her suitcase as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Don’t make a scene, Miss Karova. You’re a professional, and now would be a really good time to act like it.”

“Of course,” she said, trying to control the quaver in her voice. “This just was not the reception I was expecting.”

“It’s a lot better than the one they had planned,” the man said.

She shot him a startled glance and he gestured her toward a waiting car.

 

Ryan sat back in his chair and extended the private channel. It was a few moments before his contact answered, and when he did, Ryan could feel the agitation the man exuded through the connection.

“What have you done with her,” his contact said.

“I’m surprised you care so much given that both you and the government planned to make sure her next stop was a morgue,” Ryan said.

“Do you really understand who you are dealing with?” the contact said.

Ryan laughed. These guys were like the bad guys from the old movies. “If you’ll recall, I used to work for you, watched you and the government murder several of my colleagues, and prevented you from following through on your plan. So, yes, I understand exactly who I am dealing with.”

“What do you want?” the contact said.

“Only to make sure you understand that I know what you were trying to do and that I have, at least for the time being, ensured that you will not be able to succeed.”

Then he keyed a sequence of letters and numbers and sent them to the man’s connection by a side channel.

“What?..” the contact said, but Ryan cut the channel before he could finish.

 

Kevin was astonished by his change in fortunes. Just two weeks before, he had been a cut rate scam artist with a knack for stealing people’s identities for fun and profit. Now, he sat in the data center of Larry Chestnut, one of the most renown and talented archivists the world had ever known. And all because he managed not to get rezzed when someone took down his employer’s hacking network.

And so it was that he found himself in the prime position to watch as one of the greatest hacks ever unleashed by anyone anywhere at any time began against the United States Government’s core network and several of its biggest defense contractors began.

Kevin accepted Larry’s private channel.

“Are you watching this?” Larry said. He sounded giddy.

“I am. What the heck is going on?” Kevin said.

“I think, as they say, the crap has hit the fan.”

“How do we record all of this?” Kevin said.

“Well, let’s get as much as we can live,” Larry said, “then we can go back and gather as many traces as we can later.”

Kevin laughed out loud with the excitement of it.

 

Natalia found herself in a comfortable but austere room, completely cut off from the outside world except for an intercom at the door and a rapid serve that kept her from being too hungry or bored.

She hadn’t spoken to anyone since her escort first dropped her off there what she thought was three days before. She’d spent the time running through theories of what might have gone wrong and how she might be able to get out of whatever trouble she found herself in.

Unfortunately, she kept coming back to the same conclusion. She had no idea what was happening, and that meant she was the prisoner of an actor she didn’t even know was in the play. The lack of knowledge made the panic rise in her chest again, and not for the first time she wanted to pound the walls and scream for help.

The comm chirped and showed someone standing outside; the same man who had deposited here there days before.

“May I come in?” he said.

“I don’t see how I can stop you,” she said.

The man came in, bearing a laptop—she hadn’t seen its like in a long time—and deposited himself on one of the chairs like he owned the place. For that matter, he probably did.

“You’ve been out of the loop for a few days, so I’ll catch you up,” he said. “Someone launched a second attack against the Core and several defense contractors, specifically Bione. They caused some major mischief, but no one knows what the attack was supposed to accomplish. The Russians have your man Alexander in custody along with a bunch of hackers, and the media is reporting that he’s being charged with placing a trojan inside the Core during his first attack. Oh, and they’re looking for you as an accomplice.”

Natalia’s fear changed to terror, but she fought it down. It was only reasonable that rat Alexander had given her up once he realized how much trouble he was in. Of course, her trip to the States was supposed to solve all that. But there was a bigger problem.

“I’m working for Bione,” she said.

The man shrugged, “I know, but no one is going to believe that after what’s happened over the past couple of days. The scuttlebutt is that you and Alexander were working for a consortium of crime syndicates trying to steal classified network technology from the American government. That’s high treason in several countries these days by any standard.”

“But, but… the syndicate was Bione… Them and a few other contractors,” she said. “I’ve been working for them for years now.”

The man smiled. He was good looking for his age. “But you’re a privateer, right? What’s your loyalty to them now?”

She bowed her head. “They said they would set me up. I want out.”

The man regarded her thoughtfully for a long while. “There still us a way out, I think, Miss Karova, but you’ve still got a little further to travel before you can get there.”

Her head shot up despite herself. She knew she was being played, but the glimmer of hope was more than she could resist.

“How so?”
“Well, it seems that you are the most dangerous asset in play for all the parties involved,” the man said, “Especially since, shall we say, your loyalties are questionable. It turns out I understand where your loyalties lie, and I can help you, I think, as long as you are willing to help me in return.”

She knew the man was right. Besides, what was the point in maintaining the pretense of loyalty when she had already betrayed so many? This was her end game one way or another, she supposed.

“I’m listening.”

 

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Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #6: A web of lies

Here’s my sixth of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo Preview #6

A web of lies

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Lucas Cantril never suspected that his quest to protect his nation’s vital interests would find him in a seedy adult club in Moscow. Frankly, Lucas never believed he would travel all that much when he took his first job with the Network Defense division of the Domestic Intelligence Service, but his latest assignment had kept him moving in ways he never would have expected.

Now, he had everything on the line. It had taken two meetings with superiors and calling in favors to convince them to let him fly to Moscow to begin with. Everything depended on whether Colonel Whiteman was telling even part of the truth and whether his supposed contact actually showed. If neither proved to be true, it would probably cost him his career.

He jumped slightly when a slight woman took the seat next to him, but he tried to cover his nervousness by taking another drink.

“Are federal agents always so jumpy?” the woman said.

Lucus’s heart thundered in his throat. He was supposed to be a business contact looking for hackers.

“Don’t be surprised, Special Agent Cantril,” she said. “Your government has never been particularly good at keeping secrets, especially those of their employees. Nevertheless, we are both here. Perhaps we could find a better place to talk?”

Lucas nodded and allowed himself to be lead out of the night club across the street to a nondescript cafe that served coffee and beer. The woman slipped the hostess a small wad of bills, and she showed them to a secluded booth in the back.

“So, now that we can dispense with the pretenses, what do you want?” she said after the waitress brought them their coffee.
“Miss Karova, someone needs to go down for what happened next week,” Lucas said, “and I have been lead to believe you might be able to help me in that regard.”

“Please, call me Natalia,” she said with the flash of a pretty smile. “Whether I can help you depends a lot on what might be in it for me.”

“Well, why don’t we start with what you might want,” Lucas said, trying to play it cool.”

“I doubt you would be here unless you already knew what I might want,” Natalia said. “I doubt the US government sends its agents out with blank checks too often these days.”

Lucas sighed. She obviously had the upper hand here. “Fair enough. It is my understanding that you want to leave the country without anyone knowing. I believe I can provide that capacity for you, so long as the information you provide leads my government to be able to take someone down.”

“What guarantee do I have that you will follow through, Agent Cantril?” Natalia said.

He reached into his jacked and pulled out a small envelope. “This is the information you need to get to a safe house. They will keep you there until my government has acted. Once the take down is complete, they will provide you with passage to the destination of your choice.”

She touched the envelop tentatively, as if thinking about something, then pulled a small slip of paper from her blouse. “The man you are looking for is called Alexander Varisky. He can be found at the address here.”

Lucas took the paper and she took the envelop, and without another word she departed. Lucas was having a hard time believing it would be that easy.

 

Outside, Natalia Korova, folded herself into the crowd making their way to the nightspots that dominated the street, congratulating herself on another job well done. She wasn’t called the “Black Widow” for nothing, she told herself, and soon her price would go up even more.

She was so lost in her thoughts that the private channel surprised her. It shouldn’t have. Her employers were very particular.

“Zdravstvujtye,” she said.

“Is it done,” her handler said.

“That and more,” she said. “I will be able to make it to the US undetected thanks to your own government.”

“Good,” her handler said. “Contact me at the usual place once you are in the States.”

“I will,” she said.

“Don’t get careless, Natalia. You are not safe yet,” her handler said, then the line went dead.

She was suddenly apprehensive, but chided herself. The rest of these players were children compared to her or her employers. What could go wrong?

 

Alexi almost gagged when she stepped into the dacha. The place reeked of unwashed bodies and stale beer. Vladimir’s crew were strewn about the main room in various states of stupor brought on by too many days without sleep and too much boost. She saw Alexander passed out on a chair, drunk beyond caring.

In one corner, Vladimir sat with a laptop perched on his knees, his eyes fluttering in that strange way they did when hackers were multi-tasking between hard machines an their own connections to the net. He had a five day growth of beard, and she was sure he hadn’t bathed in that long either.

She knew he knew she was there, so she just went straight to the room they shared and waited. If he was going to come, he would come soon enough, and if there was some way to get the information she needed, she would, especially given the state he was in.

It was only moments later when he staggered in reeking and weak from his marathon exertion.

“I thought you had left for good,” he slurred as he collapsed beside her.

She lay back next to him and caressed his cheek. “What are they doing to you, my dear, sweet Vladimir?”

He growled. “Your bastard lover Ryan has poisoned Alexander’s network, Alexi! We risk losing everything if we cannot fix what he has done.”

She slapped him, hard, and rocketed to her feet. “Never say anything like that to me again, you bastard. I have been true to you.”
She turned as if to go, and she heard him sob.

“Alexi, don’t go,” he said. “It will kill me if you go.”

“Why are you doing this?” she said. “Why not just walk away?”

“I can’t Alexi,” he said. “You don’t understand…”

“Then tell me,” she put her hand on the doorknob and her heart thundered.

He sat up and buried his head in his hands. “Just don’t go.”

“I want to help you, Vladimir,” she said, “but I can’t if you don’t tell me.”

He looked up at her with blood-shoot, tear-stained eyes. And like an avalanche on one of the snow-covered slopes below them, he told her everything.

 

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Worldview: Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #5: Spilling the beans

Here’s my fifth of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo 2011 Preview #5

Spilling the beans

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

“Where the hell did you go, Colonel Whiteman?” Cantril said as he barged into Dean’s library without even the courtesy of a knock.

“Detroit. Why do you ask?” Dean said in his most nonplussed voice. The kid seemed to forget that he was a combat veteran. At the moment, he seemed like he was going to pop.

“After all, I didn’t actually agree to do anything specific for you, did I?” Dean continued. He could tell that Cantril was about to melt down, so he decided to press his attack, “So, you thought you’d just trace me from your command center until I led you to your mark. And then what? You were going to bust a cap in him? Take him in for “questioning?” Disappear us both? Why else would you send an SRT to a nightclub in Saint Louis where you thought I might be.”

Cantril was shaking with rage. Or fear perhaps. “Colonel, that is highly classified information. Perhaps you would like to come in and explain how you came to possess it.”

Dean laughed. He called it his commander’s laugh. “Please… Really? Have you bothered to ask yourself at all through the course of your investigation why any of this is happening? What crime has Ryan Alten committed?”

“Ryan Alten is a clear and present danger to national security, Colonel…”

“Everybody knows Ryan Alten stopped the attack against the Core a week ago, Cantril. Stopping an attack your own people couldn’t hardly constitutes a threat in my book,” Dean said. “So, I’ll ask again. Have you asked yourself what might be going on here?”

Cantril slumped into a chair across from Dean and covered his eyes with one hand. Advantage, Dean.

“Why don’t you tell me about it,” Dean said.

 

Kevin paced the floor of the studio apartment Ten had set him up in, slowly wearing a path in the carpet. It had been three days since he had last heard from Ten and more than a week since the last time he’d been online. In his world, that was like a hundred years.

What was worse is that he was convinced Ten was just storing him. Kevin suspected he’d wake up one day with his network connection restored and no evidence than any of this craziness had ever happened. Maybe that’s what he wished for, because the alternatives were scarier.

He about knocked himself over when someone knocked at the door. Knocked. Didn’t even bother with the comm. Then he noticed the screen was blank and he froze.

“Yeah?” he shouted.

Ten’s voice came from the other side. “Room service.”

Kevin opened the door slowly in case things were not as they seemed, but it was only Ten and two bags that looked like luggage. Ten came inside, pulling the bags behind him.

“Going on a trip?” Kevin said as he closed the door.

“Nope,” Ten said. “You are.”

Kevin eyed the bags. “Where?”

Ten shrugged. “That depends entirely on you.”

“Is everything a game with you?” Kevin said.

“This is hardly a game,” Ten said, “but the circumstances of the situation demand different preparations.”

Ten gestured at the bags, “On my right is your old life, rebooted. It contains a change of clothes and a bus ticket to Spokane. It also contains a voucher for three months rent at a place a lot like the one you recently inhabited, a ten thousand dollar prepaid card, and the contact information for someone who can get you back on the net.”

Kevin’s heart pounded. With that kind of setup, he could get months ahead from where he was before. Ten continued.

“On my left is another kind of life altogether, but I can’t tell you much more than that it involves the things I and some others are engaged in and that it will change you forever. If you take this bag, someone will meet you in the parking lot and the rest will happen from there.”

Kevin’s instinct was to take the right bag and forget it, but he couldn’t force himself to say it. Instead, he said, “Why should I trust you. It just sounds like you’re trying to disappear me one way or another.”

“Do you really think I would go to this extreme to make something like that happen?” Ten said. “I could have just let the federales grab you and saved myself the trouble.”

Ten gestured to the left bag. “Look, Kevin, you’ve got a lot of promise, but let me be frank: you’re young and you’re stupid, and you’re wasting your talents writing identity theft scripts and joining hack for hire teams. If you want to be more than that, here’s your chance. If not, you can have your old life back.”

Kevin looked back and forth between the two bags, and he realized he was rocking back and fourth. Then he realized what he was about to do, and he felt himself panicking.

He reached out and took the left bag and choked. “Do I just go out now?”

Ten nodded. “There’s a white rental car waiting for you in the parking lot. The driver will take you where you need to go.”

Outside, Kevin found the car, driven by an old man with a cast iron hand shake and a military buzz cut. “I’m glad to meet you, Kevin. Ten’s told me a lot about you. My name’s Dean. Settle in, because we’re in for a little bit of a drive.”

 

Vladimir thought he was going to cry. Every time he thought he had the exploit nailed down and fixed, it reappeared somewhere else and kept doing whatever it was doing. If he didn’t know better, he could have sworn the thing was alive.

He realized he was shaking as he looked around the room. It might have been two days since he had slept, and even the boost wasn’t really working anymore. The rest of his team looked like the cast of a bad zombie movie. It’d been four days since he’d last seen Alexi, and when he left he wondered if he ever see her again.

But in that time, he had come to realize on thing. Once, years ago, he had taken a wrong turn and it had cost him everyday of his life since then. He hadn’t realize how much the cost had been, but now, he thought, the whole amount was due and he had no capacity to pay.

Alexander came back into the room, haggard and drunk, and Vladimir flinched.

“Have you fixed it, Vlad?” Alexander said.

Vladimir wasn’t sure if he was mumbling. “We need more time. This was an expert hack.”

Alexander raged. “We don’t have more time, Vladimir! Do you have any idea what is going to happen to us if we don’t fix this? Do you have any idea what they can do to us if they do not get what they want.”

“No, Alexander, I do not,” Vladimir said. “Because I do not know who they are or why any of this even matters.”

Alexander’s bloodshot eyes widened, and for a moment, Vladimir thought he was having a seizure. “No I suppose you don’t know anything, do you, my dear Vladimir. Walk with me. I have things to tell you.”

 

Alexi Domanovic had lived for a very long time with the guilt that she was a traitor. Yet, somehow, she had always found a way to explain away the reasons why she had done what she had done all those years ago. That was, she had been able to do so until she watched the man she had betrayed slowly destroying the man she had come to love. It was some sort of grand irony that she was the one who might have the capacity to put the whole thing to a stop.

She’d left the message four days before on a message board she knew he sometimes checked. There used to be other ways to get in touch with him, but those had all vanished as the ante went up over the past week. She was sure she knew why the things were happening the way they were, but she wasn’t sure what he might want. All she knew is that it involved what they had gotten themselves involved in.

She’d waited for a reply by taking a trip to Moscow to visit some old friends she hadn’t seen in a long time. They’d shopped and drank and made a general nuisance of themselves, just like in the old days, and it was almost enough to ease her impatience and fear about his reply.

It came on the third day, terse and to the point. Be at a certain cafe at a certain time. Connect to a certain node by a certain channel. Do not make any attempts to block what might happen next.

Even with that, she wasn’t prepared for the brute force of the hard channel that connected with her that afternoon and ripped her from the net as if she’d never been there at all.

“Alexi, my dear, why does it not surprise me that you are in the thick of this,” Ryan said.

“Don’t be stupid, Ryan,” she said. “You know I have been with Vladimir for a long time.”

“So you have,” Ryan said. “What are you offering?”

“What do you want?”

“Why should I expose myself that way, especially to you?” Ryan said. “You have a habit of using that kind of information to your advantage.”

“Ryan, I can’t do anything about what I did once, but I can do something about now.” Alexi said. “You’re clearly after something, and if you tell me what it is, I will find it out for you.”

“Who is employing Vladimir?” Ryan said.

“A syndicate boss by the name of Alexander Varisky,” she said.

“And who is employing him?”

She paused. No one had ever brought that up. It seemed like such a simple piece of information, yet she had no idea. “I don’t know.”

“Find out, and we’ll talk.”

The connection went dead and she was back in the regular net wondering what they had all gotten themselves into.

 

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Writing: NaNoWriMo Preview #4: Be careful what you wish for

Here’s my fourth of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo Preview #4:

Be careful what you wish for

By Dennis L Hitzeman

Vladimir paced before the huge picture window that looked down on the tree covered expanse of the mountainside below them. He was nervous and he really wished he had a cigarette. Or some vodka.

He had somehow managed to conceal their new mission for the entire move to the dacha. But now, the rest of the crew was getting antsy, Alexi was getting impatient, and Vladimir wondered if this whole gig ended up with him dead in some frozen river.

He turned and looked at them. “Our employers want us to find the one responsible for attacking us.”

The rest of the team gave each other confused glances.

“It wasn’t the Americans?” Anatoly said.

Vladimir shook his head and studiously avoided Alexi’s gaze.

“Will we get paid more?”

Alexi interrupted before he could answer. “If it was not the Americans, then who was it, Vladimir?”

Now everyone was looking at him again.

“You already know?” Anatoly asked.

He turned back to the window. “Yes, yes I do know, and I fear he may be impossible to find.”

 

Ryan was surprised when he felt the tickle of a private channel from outside his enclave. He maintained several relays for a small group of people from the rest of the net who might want to communicate with him from time to time, but this was clearly not one of them.

He was even more surprised when he IDed who it was.

“Vladimir, I told you never to call me at this number,” he said.

“Ryan, you are just as much of an ass now as the last time I spoke with you,” Vladimir said. “And, it seems that you have been a very, very bad boy toward my employers as of late.”

Ryan laughed. “If you only knew, Vladimir, you would probably be a lot more desperate than you already are calling me direct.”

“We can do this easy, or we can do this hard, Ryan,” Vladimir said.

“Really, Vlad. You have no idea what you are in the middle of.” Ryan said.

“We will find you, Ryan. And when we do, my employers will not extend to you the kind offer I am willing to make.”

“I doubt you will find me unless I let you, Vladimir, though I suspect you will find your employers less than understanding about that fact. Do svidaniya and good luck with all that,” Ryan said.

Then, he cut the channels and keyed his self-destruct codes for his outside nodes. And just like that, any trace of Ryan Alten or any of his aliases vanished from the net. Next, he keyed up several bots and coded them to start cleaning any traces Kevin might have left behind. One could never be too safe.

Finally he unleashed a spider to gather whatever information could be found on one Vladimir Pentrenko. He smiled at that last one. Vlad was a worthy adversary, and that made the game far, far more exciting.

 

Vladimir swore and pounded the table while Alexi glowered menacingly. She had not taken the news that Ryan Alten was their quarry well, and that had added to the turmoil the rest of the group felt over their latest assignment.

“He’s gone,” Anatoly said.

“Yes, I know that,” Vladimir said.

“No, Vladimir, he’s gone,” Anatoly repeated. “As in, as far as the net is concerned, neither Ryan Alten nor any of his aliases ever existed.”

Vladimir went back to his feeds. Then he swore again. How had the man managed to do that? Then he realized he felt the same green fire he had heard from Natalia at the club.

“I told you he was the most amazing hacker alive,” Alexi said from her perch in the corner. “We will never catch him in this kind of game because he is the one who invented it.”

Vladimir refused to meet her gaze, mostly because he knew she was right. Then another thought, a horrifying thought, leapt into his head.

“Alexi, this was all a feint,” he said, burying his head in his hands.

She shoot her head. “What?”

“Never mind. I have to talk to Alexander.”

 

Dean and Larry sat at Larry’s kitchen table, the dossiers of the twenty eight engineers and technicians who had defected from Bione some twenty years before spread out before them. Dean had to hand it to Larry, the man hadn’t lost his touch.

At the time the defections had occurred, Bione was one of the biggest defense contractors on the planet, focused mostly on bioengineering and human biotechnological interfaces. They had presented the Department of Defense with one of the most advanced and intriguing methods for enhancing humans that any of them had ever seen, but just as the ink dried on the contract, the entire team responsible for developing the technology walked out.

What followed was a dark time in American defense history. Not only did the team walk, but they dumped the entire contents of their research onto the public net. Overnight, anyone with a few thousand bucks and some patience could gen up an at least primitive version of the technology the DoD had just promised to pay more than a trillion dollars for.

It also meant that, overnight as well, millions of people around the planet could suddenly connect to the net as if it were a part of themselves. Native connection, as it was technically called, meant that people, but most especially hackers, could use the net like they breathed. The resulting chaos was terrifying and ushered the world to the brink of war.

Dean had lead the team tasked with counter attacking the fury unleashed by those defections, and they had succeeded for the most part. They had taken down the people they thought had caused the defection to begin with, defeated the hackers who were suddenly able to run amok on anyone’s system they liked, and established protocols for preventing all but the most sophisticated and sinister attacks from being able to compromise US interests on the net. He thought they had solved the problem twenty two years ago.

Now he looked down at the dossier of Ryan Alten, a junior biohacker on the Bione team at the time, and realized that even he hadn’t known the whole story at the time. He had thought the men responsible for those events dead for two decades, but if Larry was right, they had killed figureheads and the real leader had a legitimate ax to grind.

 

Alexander was not amused, but Vladimir did not expect him to be after the long and delayed train ride from Moscow.

The tea house was a cozy and out of the way affair, and in the depths of winter deserted. Vladimir could not think of a better place to discuss what he needed to say. A quick payoff had sent the waitress and the cook looking for someplace to wait out their meeting. Now he was left with Alexander.

“Well?” Alexander said.

Vladimir steeled himself. “I am afraid your network has been compromised, Alexander.”

Alexander threw his head back and laughed, then grabbed Vladimir by the collar. “You made me spend twelve hours on a stinking supply train to tell me something that cannot be possible? I should kill you now except that Natalia tells me you are still useful to me.”

Vladimir slumped back into his chair as Alexander let go. He might as well get on with it. “Who paid you to attack the Americans, Alexander?”

The man’s glare was an inferno. “You are walking on very, very thin ice, my friend.”

“I know that I am,” Vladimir said, “yet you must ask yourself why a criminal like me would put myself at risk right now with someone as powerful and deadly as you, Alexander.”

Alexander watched him for a long time. When he finally looked away, he said, “There are powerful interests who wish to know what the Americans know about the Bione technology. Our attack was designed to lay malware inside their network to seek that information out.”

“But who were they, Alexander?” Vladimir said. “Do you know who they are?”

Alexander slammed his fist on the table. “Why does that matter, Vladimir? I do not pay you to question my motives.”

“It matters because the one who attacked you is Ryan Alten,” Vladimir said, “and I can assure you that where our attack failed, I am certain his succeeded.”

A stream of curses sputtered from Alexander’s face as his face alternated white and read. Finally, he said, “Are you certain.”

“I would not risk dying by your hand if I was not, Alexander,” Vladimir said.

“Then you are certain our network has been compromised?” Alexander said.

“There can be no other reason he would have attacked you that I can imagine,” Vladimir said, “except to discover who is paying you or where they are or what they plan to do with what they might have learned.”

Alexander gave him a smoldering stare. “Natalia is right, you are still useful to me.”

 

Dean loved Lebanese food, a fact that was apparently common enough knowledge that Ryan agreed to meet him at Al Ameer in Dearborn, Michigan. He was surprised that the man agreed to meet him in person given the likelihood that the government had tracked his every move since his meeting with Cantril, but Ryan had insisted on both the face to face meeting and the place.

Dean was surprised at the man who took his seat in the booth across from him. He looked far younger than Dean expected and yet seemed far more mature than he had come to expect hackers of any sort to be. Ryan also seemed impossibly self-confident, a trait Dean found both repulsing and endearing at the same time.

“I’ll have the shawarma and coffee,” Ryan told the waitress like he ate there everyday, “and please make sure I get the check.”

“Don’t think I’m going to cut you any slack because you bought me dinner,” Dean said. “I’m not a cheap date.”

Ryan shrugged. “You know they brought you in because they thought it would intimidate me, right?”

“It had occurred to me,” Dean said, “but I doubted from the very beginning you were the type to be dissuaded by such things.”

“I suspect that, given what I’ve learned about what you’ve been doing for the past twenty two years, that you and I share a lot more in common than either of us might want to admit,” Ryan said. “We’re just coming at it from different directions.”

“I’m not sure I agree,” Dean said. “Please explain.”

“What happened after we walked from Bione left a mark on you. You saw a system corrupted by its dependence on technology everywhere you looked, and you realized unless somebody did something, it was going to eat itself,” Ryan said. “So, you started straight farming because what can be more connected to reality than making sure people can still eat?”

“Fair enough,” Dean said, “but what does that have to do with you and I sharing commonality?”

“I happen to know that the snake is still eating its own tail,” Ryan said. “I walked away. You walked away. But the thing that corrupted the system kept on going. You’re trying to save things by making sure there’s something left after it’s all said and done. I’m trying to make sure there’s anyone left to care.”

“Larry told me what you told him,” Dean said, “but I have two questions: why did you tell him and why should anyone believe you?”

“First, Larry Winters is one of the most gifted archivists the world has ever known. I wanted to make sure that, if anything happens to me before I finish what I am trying to do, someone knew my side of the story. Second, if you really think I’m lying, then why are you here?”

“I could have just lead the government to you, you know,” Dean said, half wondering if that might not be true.”

Ryan laughed. “The government has caught itself in its own trap. The reason they can’t find me, Bione can’t find me, and their backers can’t find me is because they just assume everyone is on the net. They depend on being able to track everyone there, so the number of people who they assign to do actual physical surveillance anymore is almost non-existent.”

“So you’re telling me that there’s no one looking for either of us right now?”

Ryan shook his head. “No, I’m telling you that they were convinced that you drove to Saint Louis this morning and that they have a special response team raiding a night club there as we speak. It will take them days to figure out what happened, and by that time, we will have long concluded our business together.”

Dean looked at Ryan intently. “So let’s say I believe you. What next?”

 

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