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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Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #3: Racing time

Here’s my third 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 #3

Racing time

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Kevin sat on a park bench taking quick sips from his can of energy drink without really thinking about what he was doing. The thought that he was sitting on a park bench made him laugh out loud because the last time he had done something like that he’d been about twelve. Then he looked around to see if anyone of the half dozen other people in the park noticed his outburst, and the nervousness and sipping set in again.

Once Ten had locked in his hardened channel, Kevin had kind of freaked out. He found himself locked into some kind of enclave and his whole connection was somehow inside of it. All of his data and feeds was still there, accessible and manipulable, but he knew from a dozen quick checks that he had simply vanished off the net like all the other people in his cell.

He tried for at least an hour to figure a way out of the hard channel, but it might as well of been the ultramax prison they sent all the terrorists to, because there was no way out. So, he did the next thing that came to mind. He disconnected and walked away.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been offline, let alone walked outside. His apartment was hardly in an archology—he couldn’t afford downtown—but it did have an indoor track he could walk if he wanted the rapid serve did just as well as indoor shopping centers.

Of course, he wasn’t really offline either. His wireless connection continued to monitor all his scripts and bots and feeds, though he thought it was strange that his hardened prison still allowed his harvesters to run. Maybe Ten didn’t need another mouth to feed.

Nevertheless, this was the most disconnected he had been… since college at least. In a way, it felt kind of good.

Kevin’s revelry was broken by the tickle of a private channel request. Inside his prison?

“Yes?”

It was Ten. “Where are you? No wait, are you wireless?”

Kevin’s leg started to bounce. “Yeah, why?”

“Shut it off.” Ten said.

“What a second,” Kevin said. “You’ve already got me locked up–”

“Shut it off now!”

Kevin didn’t have time to reply. Instead, his wireless connection fuzzed, jolted, and was gone. He jerked at its sudden absence like someone had just hit him in the head and let out a little yelp.

“What the…” he heard himself saying.

About the same time, a white van skidded to a halt on the street, and several people piled out the back, wearing the tell-tale blue jump suit uniforms of some task force or another. They were joined moments later by two men in suits from a non-descript black sedan. Kevin thought he was going to wet himself.

One of the blue-suiters held something in the air, and Kevin knew it had to be a sniffer. His heart thundered so loud he was surprised they couldn’t hear it.

He squeaked when someone sat down beside him on the bench with a heavy thump. The bum reeked of alcohol and some other smells he couldn’t quite identify.

“Are you high?” the bum asked.

“What?” Kevin said. “No!”

“Then why were you using your wireless just now?”

Kevin about fell over. “Ten?”
The bum laughed. “Hardly.”

“This is just nuts,” Kevin said. “Who are you then?”

“Right now, I’m the man saving your life,” the bum said, handing him a paper wrapped bottle, “before it gets hauled off to some dark corner of the world and rezzed, so maybe you could calm down and act like your drinking from that bottle until our friends over there get bored and go look somewhere else for you.”

Kevin tipped the bottle toward his lips and noticed that the package contained only the top of a bottle. Just inside, there was a flex screen.

Read this very carefully, Kevin. This is not some sort of a game or something. You are the only surviving member of your cell. The rest got popped yesterday. I am not sure how you survived, but that shows some skill, which is why I am going to try to help you. But, you have to do exactly what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it, or you’re done. Got it?

Kevin didn’t know what else to do but nod.

Ok, good. Your friend is going to leave once the heat gets bored. When all of them are gone, I want you to find a coffin motel and open the bag. There will be more instructions after that.

He felt the bum get up and start to shuffle away and at the same time noticed that the car and the van were headed down the road. He jumped up from the bench and headed toward the nearest bus stop, his heart pounding in his ears and his mind racing to try to figure out what he had gotten himself into.

 

Vladimir opened the door so hard it rebounded off the wall and back into him, which made him that much more angry. When he left the club, he’d been terrified, but the train ride back had tempered his fear and replaced it with a kind of rage he hadn’t felt in a long time.

The rest of his team looked at him with wide eyes and hands poised over their weapons, and Vladimir realized he had also almost gotten himself shot. He wondered if that wouldn’t have been a better outcome at that point.

Alexi peaked her head around the corner from the kitchen. “Vlad, that kind of think is likely to get you killed if you keep it up. I take it the news is not good.”

“We’re not getting paid?” Anatoly said.

Vladimir carefully closed the door. “Yes, we are getting paid. No, the news is not good. But before anything else, we need to pack it up. We’re headed for the dacha.”

The rest of the crew scrambled to start packing up their equipment and gather their belongings. Alexi put her hand on her hip. “Wait! What? Nobody said anything about the dacha. What’s going on?”

Vladimir sighed and leaned against the door. He should have never brought her into this. “We have to at least change location, golubushka, before I can explain any more. We may have to do this again before it’s all done, but I will do my best to explain once we’re on our way.”

Alexi glared at him and threw the towel she had in her other hand toward the counter. He knew how she hated the country, but he had no choice. Maybe he could send her to her mother’s.

“Don’t even think about dumping me on my mother,” she said as she disappeared into their bedroom. “I’m with you on this, even if it means the dacha.”

Then she slammed the door. Someone in the apartment below them bellowed something unintelligible followed by a very intelligible string of curses probably directed at them.

“She’s going to get us killed, Vlad,” Anatoly said.

“That might be better,” Vladimir said.

 

Kevin sat in the booth of the restaurant picking at his food. It had been a tumultuous few days that found him traveling half way across the country by bus to wait for a mysterious contact to meet him at the place he now sat, proudly announcing itself as “Bunny’s Hasty Tasty, a Dayton Institution.”

He tried to avoid eye contact and found himself longing for his connection to the net. It had been four days since he’d last been online, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. Somehow Ten, or someone, had managed to erase his security IDs from the net, and unless he was going to brute force his way back on, there wasn’t an access point anywhere that would accept his connection.

Someone slid into the booth across from him, and he was surprised to see what he might have mistaken for a very young man except for the gray in his hair and day old beard. Somehow, he knew he was in the presence of the master.

“Ten, I assume?” Kevin said.

“I’m glad you followed my instructions,” Ten said. “This had the potential to get very ugly for you.”

“Look, what is this all about anyway,” Kevin said, hoping he might finally get some insight into what he had gotten himself into.

Ten shook his head. “Do you really want to know? I mean, really, Kevin. You’re a privateer, right? I’m helping you because you helped me and I know you didn’t sign on for these kinds of consequences. We’re both making the best of a bad situation, but do you really want to know why?”

“Yes, I think I do,” Kevin said. He wasn’t sure why he said it, yet he knew he meant it. He did want to know. He wanted to know about the attack against the Core and about their attack against the Core’s attackers. He wanted to know why it seemed like there were a hundred federal agents looking for him now. He wanted to know who Ten was and what he was up to.

Then he realized that, more than anything else, he wanted to know how to be like Ten, doing something that seemed to matter, instead of harvesting his living off bots committing identity theft.

“Well, I guess I didn’t read you wrong,” Ten said, “but it’s a whole lot more complicated than spilling the beans on everything just yet.”

“I figured,” Kevin said. “What first?”

“First, you finish your lunch and I eat mine, then we get you set up somewhere more comfortable than a coffin motel.”

 

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Worldview: Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #2: Woven from the same cloth

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

Also, to assuage any fears of cheating, this is not part of the story I will be writing for the actual event, although to prove that fact I offer you a challenge: I have decided to fund raise for NaNoWriMo this year, so if you head over to my page at StayClassy and donate and I 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 sometime on 1 January. If we go beyond even that, I will find something else cool to do.

NaNoWriMo Preview #2

Woven from the same cloth

By Dennis L Hitzeman

As they walked back toward the house, Dean couldn’t help but notice Cantril glancing nervously at Andy and Chuck, wondering how to detach himself from the two locals so he could have his Big Talk with Dean.

When they got to the house, he took matters into his own hands, clasping them both by the shoulders and taking them out of earshot of Cantril.

“Why don’t you guys head over to the bunk house and Ruben will find you some tea and a place to wait until me and Cantril are done with our talk.”

Andy cast him a sidelong glance. “This is trouble…. Colonel, and I thought we had a deal.”

Dean laughed. “Don’t go all “colonel” on me, Andy. You guys forget how old I am and how young you are, and this has nothing to do with our deal or anything else you know about. DIS doesn’t give a rats ass about unlicensed sweet corn and besides, everyone knows we’d all be starving without farms like mine. This is about something else from a long, long time ago, and I’m certain we’ll resolve it shortly.”

Andy glanced at Chuck and Chuck shrugged. “Ok, Dean, but you’re going to have to tell us about the whole “colonel” thing.”

“We’ll see,” Dean said.

Inside, he found Dean fidgeting at the kitchen table. At least Melissa was in town for the day so he wouldn’t have to explain any of this to her with Cantril there. He took his time calling down to the shop to roust the boys to finish up the planting for him while he made coffee and offered some to Cantril when he finally sat down across from him.

“Real Columbian?” Cantril said across his mug. “I thought that was a felony.”

Dean shrugged. “It’s only a felony if the government can afford to throw you in jail for doing it. Everyone knows it’s renegades like me that are keeping everything from coming apart these days. But you didn’t come half way across the country to debate felonious coffee with me, Agent Cantril. So, let’s have it.”

Cantril reached into his jacket and pulled out a flexscreen. It flickered to life and showed the first page of a dossier on a man named Ryan Altren.

“Do you know this man?” Cantril asked.

Dean shook his head. “Nope.”

“Colonel Whiteman, I don’t think I have to remind you that lying to a federal agent is a felony that is quite enforceable,” Cantril said.

Dean sighed and leaned back in his chair. “And I don’t think I need to remind you, Agent Cantril, that your bosses didn’t send you half way across the damned country to threaten an old military man gone hippy with a dossier of someone he’s never seen. So, let’s stop playing gumshoe detective versus eccentric information mine and get to the point, shall we?”

Cantril paused for a long time before he answered. “Alright, Colonel, but I do need to remind you that your non-disclosure agreement and security clearance are still valid.”

Dean nodded. The boy could leave the farm, but the farm never left the boy.

Cantril continued, “Yesterday at 1530, agents as of yet unknown enemy launched what is probably the most sophisticated attack we’ve ever seen against the Core. They briefly compromised two nodes, and there’s reason for us to believe they may have succeeded in additional exploits we have yet to discover.”

“And so why do you think I might know anything about this?”

“Mr. Altren was one of the biohackers for Bione,” Cantril said.

Dean laughed in spite of himself. Now, that was a memory from a long, long time ago.

“Agent Cantril, that was twenty two years ago. I didn’t exactly keep up on things after I left, and just because Altren might be a restorationist doesn’t mean I know who he is.”

Cantril looked a little crestfallen. And a little desperate. “Sir, for all intents and purposes, the attack yesterday constituted an act of war, yet we don’t know who we’re at war against or why. I know we’re grasping at straws, but we need something to work with.”

Dean was surprised at the man’s candor. They were desperate and they knew it. And he’d told them twenty years ago it was going to come to something like this.

“What’s in this for me?” he said because he knew there was.

“I have no idea where it’s coming from,” Cantril said, “but they’re offering you a blanket exemption, you and all your associates, if you can help us.”

Dean grunted. Things must be serious if they were that desperate. He would have really rather thought about it, even talked things over with Melissa, but he knew he didn’t have the time. Somewhere in him, some of that old patriotism still lived, and whoever might be behind it, they couldn’t afford another version of the events that brought him into the military to begin with.

“Give me two days and I will call you.”

He sighed. The fall crops were never going to get planted at this rate.

 

Vladimir sat at the bar and twirled his drink in his hand as the music thundered in the background and girls did their thing on the stage behind him. He was never comfortable in those kinds of places on the best of days, and this was not among the best. Yet, his contact had insisted, so there he was.

He hardly noticed when the slight figure took the seat beside him until the face beneath the ganglander hat spoke to him.

“Alexander sends his regrets,” a feminine voice said, “but as you might imagine, he is very busy at the moment.”

It took Vladimir a moment to realize it was Natalia sitting next to him, followed by the realization things must be far worse than he thought. Vladimir never sent Natalia out alone, and never to a place like this.

“I do not think this is the best place to talk” he said.

She shrugged. “It’s as good as anywhere.”

“We did what we said we would do,” he began, launching into the defense he had rehearsed for the entire train ride there, “but we were never warned of this kind of counter attack.”

Natalia waved him off as her drink arrived. “This was none of your doing, Vladimir. Alexander wanted me to assure you of this.”

“What happened then?” Vladimir said. “We had no information that they possessed this kind of capacity.”

“It seems there was another player in the game we did not anticipate,” she said. “We discovered the source of his operations and ended his attack, but we discovered nothing more. That’s what we need you for now, Vladimir.”

He felt his heart thundering in his ears, but he ignored the sick feeling and the vertigo. He was in far too deep to get out now. Maybe he had always been in too deep.

“What then?” he said. “I agreed to help you with what was done, nothing more.”

Natalia laughed. “Did you really think it would be that easy? Or clean?”

Vladimir gripped the bar. “What do you want from me then?”

“The cells used to launch the counter attack were nothing. Script kiddies, amateurs, and common criminals,” she said, “but someone was controlling them, and that someone is gifted beyond anything I can imagine.”

Vladimir could hear the green tinge to her voice, “So where did the attack come from, then? Perhaps we could just…”

“We need to figure out where he is,” she said, casting him a sidelong glance, “because he is off net.”

“What? I don’t understand,” he said. “How could he launch such an attack if he is off the net?”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, the green glowing bright. “How indeed? If we find him, we find out how. And if we find out how, then we will be far more successful than we already have been. How glorious will that be?”

Vladimir’s unease grew and for the first time he understood he was in far deeper than he could have imagined.

 

The crunching of the gravel under the tires had a mesmerizing effect on Dean, more so than any form of meditation ever had. It had been years since he’d traveled up that old, winding lane, and though their parting had been amicable, the thought of being there again filled him with a little apprehension.

The lane eventually gave way to what was recognizable as a tree-lined driveway and finally passed through a high, grassy embankment into an enclave of buildings that clearly belonged to a farm.

Larry was on his way out to meet him before he even parked.

“Dean, old friend, it’s been far too long,” Larry said, engulfing him in a gigantic bear hug. “But I figured if you were going to come out this way again, it would be now.”

Dean gave his friend a wry smile. “They’ve talked to you too, then?”
“Me? Oh, heck no,” Larry said with a laugh. “But unlike you I haven’t unplugged from the old world, so I can still keep tabs on what’s going on.”

Inside, Larry offered Dean a seat in what Larry ostensibly called his library. In reality, the place was part library, part command center, and part workshop. And it was all Larry.

“So what do you know about what’s going on?” Dean said as he took the seat and the neat scotch his friend offered.

“Well, the middle of yesterday afternoon, someone launched a hellish attack against the Core.” Larry said. “It took down two nodes, maybe breached a third, and everyone seems to agree the attack was designed to deliver some kind of payload. But, right in the middle of the attack, the attackers got attacked, and the first attacker’s network got pretty much torn apart, so who can say if they were able to deliver their payload.”

“Wait, what? The attackers network got taken down?” Dean said. “By who?”

“Now that’s the strangest part,” Larry said with a shrug. “Nobody seems to know. The first attackers counter attacked and the second attacker’s network just seemed to evaporate.”

“But who?” Dean said again. “The government? The consortium? The alliance? Somebody has to have at least a speculation.”

Larry shrugged and spread his hands. “The consensus on the usual channels is “a previously unknown third party.””

“Well, this just gets more and more peculiar,” Dean said. “Ok, next question. Have you ever heard of a Ryan Altren?”

Larry’s eyebrows shot up, and if Dean hadn’t known better, he would have sworn his friend’s face went a little pale. “Why do you ask?”

“Because that’s what the Feds asked me about when they visited yesterday,” Dean said. “Apparently, they’re looking for this Altren in conjunction with their investigation into yesterday’s events, and they seemed to think I might know something about him because he was one of the biohackers that went off the reservation from Bione.”

“Are you sure you want to be doing this, Dean,” Larry said. “I mean, after all, what you told me before is that you’d sworn off the whole tech thing altogether.”

Now Dean was surprised. “Larry, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that you’re already neck deep in this somehow.”

Larry shook his head. “Nope, I’m just an observer like everyone else, Dean, as much as I might want to be more. No, the problem is that this Ryan Altren you’re asking about was just here this morning.”

 

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Worldview: Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #1 “And then there were two”

Here’s my first vignette in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011. Also, to assuage any fears of cheating, this is not part of the story I will be writing for the actual event, although to prove that fact I offer you a challenge: I have decided to fund raise for NaNoWriMo this year, so if you head over to StayClassy and donate and I reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December. 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 sometime in January. If we go beyond even that, I will find something else cool to do.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Preview 1

And then there were two

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Kevin didn’t start to panic until Nelson went offline. The sudden disappearance of the other seven had been disconcerting, but he had been in the middle of working with Nelson to figure out what was happening to the rest of the cell when he suddenly vanished.

A part of Kevin’s mind told him there was no reason to panic. People went offline all the time. Maybe there were connectivity issues. Maybe they had some pressing local physical need to attend to. He would have thought Nelson might have mentioned that, and the thought unleashed a new torrent of unease.

Then there was the fact that the other eight’s vanishing act was so complete. Normally, even when someone physically disconnected from the network, there was still a residual trace of their presence. Besides, most people had wireless interfaces anyway, and while they were less capable than a physical connection, they were still there, even in some limited form.

Whatever it was that was going on with his cell, it was like the other eight had never existed. Sure, the evidence of their activities was there, but their presence was completely gone. Kevin hadn’t felt that alone on the net since he’d been a kid, since before he’d been augmented.

He was also unsure about approaching the last member of his cell who was still online. He knew most of the others personally, and the rest he knew by name, but the last he knew only as Ten. Kevin had been a latecomer to that cell, joining after another member had been busted for booster possession, but he noticed almost immediately how no one else in the cell really chatted with Ten. He was just always there, watching the rest of the cell and doing his part. Kevin was sure Ten was the driving force behind the cell, but his silence was creepy.

He nearly jumped out of his chair when he felt the familiar tickle of a private channel request on Ten’s data link, and for a moment, the cool, serene world of the net tilted and fuzed to reveal a background of his filthy apartment, strewn about with clothes and rapid serve boxes and his broken domesticbot he’d been meaning to repair for months.

His mouth was dry, a sensation that troubled him because he had long ago trained himself to take care of such things autonomically. All he had nearby was a cup of cold coffee, which he downed like a shot of whiskey. Then he keyed the rapid serve and heard himself say, “Coke and pizza.”

Meanwhile, to Ten’s query, he replied, “Ten? To what to I owe the honor?”

“Cut the crap, script kiddie,” came the terse reply. “As you can see, we’re in major trouble. How are you still online?”

Kevin was confused. He had no idea what was happening, but nothing had happened to him since it started.

“I have no idea,” he said. “What’s going on?”

It took Ten so long to reply that Kevin was almost certain he’d gone offline.

“Look, that’d take a long time to explain right now,” Ten said. “What I need you to do is hard channel to me right now. Cut everything else off.”

The thought of being cut off from the rest of the net gave Kevin a twinge of fear. “Everything?”

Ten’s reply almost cut him off. “Do it now, or there you won’t have to worry about the rest of the net ever again.”

Kevin wasn’t sure if that was a threat or an observation, but it scared him sufficiently that he cut over to the hard channel. He was completely unprepared for what he saw next.

 

Ryan sat back in his seat and sighed as he pulled off the halo. He needed a break and now as as good a time as any. The bots could take care of the rest while he took twenty.

For some reason, disconnecting from the net that way always filled him with a rush of euphoria, and he indulged himself in a chuckle, then a full out laugh at the absurdity of it all.

The room around him represented some of the most sophisticated technology mankind had ever produced, allowing its user full access to the net without the incredibly intrusive wetwork most people used to get there. Very few people understood why anyone would want to connect to the net any other way but wet, so very few people were even looking for something like Ryan’s setup.

Very few people, Ryan reminded himself, but there were still a few, and today they’d taken three of his cells down in one of the most sophisticated attacks he had ever seen. He was still up and running, but he was wounded. Virtually anyway.

What he needed then was a walk and some groceries from the local tienda. He’d hardened things as well as he could and there was really nothing else he could do but wait for the effort he’d expended over the past months to bear fruit. It was a race between those efforts and his adversaries, and it almost didn’t matter anymore whether or not he was watching. It was really in the bots hands now anway.

So, he left the austere and climate controlled confines of his conex hidden inside a storage unit in the grubby failed suburban sprawl of Dayton, Ohio and wandered down the sidewalk to the Mexican grocery that occupied a half dozen mismatched strip mall stores and an adjacent house that had seen better days. He was sure the place violated a dozen laws, but it fed the neighborhood full of mech mechanics and communications techs that everyone else sealed up in their high-rise archologies downtown depended on to keep the trash at bay, the food flowing, and the network running.

He was happy to see it was the same cute girl behind the register that had been there the last time he came. She greeted him with a shy, “Hola,” and a toothy grin that showed off her dimples. He smiled back and gave a little wave as he headed back through the door marked “Employees Only” to the underground farm market that ran in the back. The smell of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats took him back to another time, before the net, before wetware, before everything that made the world wrong.

Ryan shook himself from his descent into self-flagellation before everything went black. What was done was done, and all that remained was to try to do what he could. For the moment, that meant buying the fixings for a huge salad, potatoes, and some steaks just cut that day by a master butcher. And , he bought a rose for the cashier, who smiled prettily and blushed. If he was twenty years younger, he thought, and the last of the darkness was banished for the moment.

 

Back inside the conex well fed and well rested, Ryan surveyed the collection of screens he called his command center. His compatriots laughed that he still bothered to read, but when he had sworn off wetwear, he had sworn off every last bit of it, even the innocuous upload interfaces and data storage.

The screens revealed things were going as well as could be expected given how badly they had started out the day before. He’d lost three cells, most of a fourth and had to disband a fifth because it was probably compromised, but even with the counter-punch he’d received, the hole he’d drilled in his adversary’s defenses was still wide open, and his army of bots was still happily mining away inside. If all went well, it would be days before they discovered the real breach, and by then the cells would be unnecessary.

Of course, none of those questions dealt with the most pressing question: if he succeeded, then what. He shrugged himself into a beat up oversized recliner and sighed. He just hoped the rest of his ragtag band managed to pull off their ends of the bargain.

 

It always amused Dean that someone could flagrantly break the law everyday in plain sight, yet the world had degenerated to the point where the powers that were could not and would not do anything to punish the lawbreaker because doing so would bring them all to their knees.

It amused him as much that he always had those kinds of high minded thoughts as he guided a team of oxen pulling a planter along the next pass of planting a dozen acres of late season sweet corn into a field just recently harvested of clover hay for the winter. It was beyond absurd that growing food for sale on the local market was a worse offense than possessing weapons of mass destruction, but such were the times in which he lived.

And so it was that he found himself pulling up his team and ground tying them as a delegation including the county sheriff, the local agriculture enforcement officer, and someone whom he was sure was a federal agent of some sort made their way down the driveway to him. A trio of government officials was never a good visit, and for a moment, he wondered if the gig was finally up. Then he laughed as the oxen gave him their wary stare. Let them do their worst, because it would be far worse for them anyway.

The trio must have heard the laugh because they stopped twenty yards short and looked around in confusion, expecting to see someone else. That fact made Dean laugh more as he made his way to them.

“Andy, Chuck, to what do I owe the singular pleasure of your company,” he asked when he was close enough.

Chuck, the agriculture officer, was never one to mince words, “Dean, this is Special Agent Lucas Cantril of the Domestic Intelligence Service.”

Dean put on a wry smile and extended a dirty hand. This couldn’t be good. “Dean Whiteman, pleased to meet you.”

Cantril didn’t flinch and returned the handshake with a firm grip. “This is a nice place you have here, Mr. Whiteman. Or, should I say Colonel Whiteman?”

Andy and Chuck gave each other sidelong glances, but Dean shrugged. “Mr. will do just fine, Agent Cantril. I haven’t been a Colonel for a very long time.”

Cantril nodded. “Is there someplace we can talk?”

“Do we have to?” Dean said.

Cantril nodded.

“Well, then, let’s head up to the house,” Dean said. “I’ll have the boys finish up out here.”

 

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Worldview: Writing: NaNoWriMo preview 2011

Ok, kids, I have an idea.

Unlike a last year, I am completely unprepared to write for NaNoWriMo this year despite the fact that I have committed to writing this year as well. The fact that I haven’t been writing at anything near that kind of volume since last year compounds the problem.

So, my plan now is to write eight approximately 1667 word sketches over the next eight days (starting tomorrow) in an effort to get my writing gears in motion, and to hold me to this attempt and, perhaps, to inspire others, I will post the results of these sketches UNEDITED on this weblog under the title NaNoWriPreVu 2011 as soon as they are finished every day.

That way, you can read them. Maybe they’ll inspire you. Maybe they’ll annoy you. Maybe they’ll offend you. Maybe you’ll think, “Man, this guy sucks. I could write better stuff than that.”

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll try to prove you can. If you do, in a way, I have succeeded better than if what I wrote got published.

Are you in?

DLH

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Worldview: Writing: To NaNoWri or not to NaNoWri…

After last year’s successful performance during NaNoWriMo, the question before me is whether to try again this year. The biggest problem with doing so is the investment it takes to write 1,667 words on a particular subject when that has not been my habit up until now.

And, that, perhaps, speaks to a bigger problem: people who claim to want to write but who are not writing. Right now, I’m one of them. I can make all the excuses in the world for why that is so, but in the end I’m just another writer who’s not writing.

So, to NaNoWri or not to NaNoWri… I have fourteen days to decide.

DLH

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Worldview: Farming: MENF 2011: Small steps are better than no steps at all

The task of becoming sustainable, local-reliant, and ready can be a daunting one. If you’re just beginning, it can seem impossible.

Yet, it turns out that far too many people want to do it all instead of doing what they can do when they can do it. It turns out that small steps are better than no steps at all when it comes to these sorts of things.

For instance, are you growing your own food? No? Well, that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to start growing tomorrow the 730,000 or so calories the average adult American should consume ever year. Instead, start with a window box planted with some herbs and lettuce. If that’s not enough for you, look into a desktop aquaponics setup. When you’re ready, plant a single 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed. Then move on from there.

As it turns out, it’s usually the small steps that produce the biggest changes in each of us and how we live our lives that then prepare us for the big stuff. We can learn to tend a potted food plant, change our buying habits at the grocery, recycle more, or stock up a few extra batteries long before we’re ready to learn to tend an acre garden plot, abandon the grocery, commit to a zero waste lifestyle, or stockpile a year’s supply of readiness goods.

But those small steps add up. Over time, and if you’re consistent, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the larger and larger commitments. That is what happened to me and to many people I know who are on the same path, and it cannot help but happen to you too.

So, your challenge now is to seek out your first small step and do it. Then seek out another one and do it. And keep doing that until you get where you wanted to go.

DLH

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Worldview: Farming: MENF 2011: It takes a village

While it is possible to do, there are very few people who manage to establish complete self-sufficiency, and it is my belief that such an effort is counter-productive and, in many ways, wrong. Perhaps a better term for the effort I advocate is “local-sufficiency” because I believe that it really does take a village to make things work the way they should.

In our efforts to establish things like sustainability, resource sovereignty, and long-term readiness, we have to realize we cannot do everything. Part of what we must do is build communities of people all working toward those common goals; communities that build on individual strengths and buttress individual weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Americans are a stubbornly independent lot, and we tend to think the pinnacle of success is “going it alone.” It is my experience that such thoughts are often a recipe for failure at the best and for disaster at the worst.

Instead of trying to make ourselves independent from everyone, we should be working to pick who we are dependent on and to develop relationships that can sustain us regardless of circumstances. In order to do so, however, such an idea requires us to rethink how we approach almost everything we do.

We have to identify the things we are good at, the things we do well enough to help others, and the things we won’t or can’t do ourselves. We have to identify that there are things we do right now that don’t work and find ways to do them better.

Once we do, we will realize how much of the way we approach life right now is inefficient, wasteful, and just plain wrong. It is at that point that we can look around us at our relationships and communities and start building the kinds of networks necessary for sustainable, sovereign, ready lives.

And once we do so, we will discover that we will have freed ourselves from so many of the problems that have dominated the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries. Such liberation should be something we all strive for.

DLH

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Worldview: Farming: 10/10 Challenge 2011

Last year, I challenged readers to plant a 10 foot by 10 foot plot of wheat by October 10th as a proof that it can be done. I am challenging everyone to do the same thing this year.

But wait, there’s more:

This challenge isn’t just about proving you can grow your own food, although that is an important part. It’s also about being ready.

To that end, I challenge you to do any or all of the following:

  • Plant a 10 food by 10 foot plot of fall planted cereal grain by October 10th. Such grains include winter wheat, rye, and some kinds of barley and oats. Good sources for this kind of seed include Bountiful Gardens and The Sustainable Seed Company
  • Install and plant a cold frame with fall plantings of lettuce or root vegetables.
  • Purchase a small patio greenhouse and populate it with potted vegetables.
  • If you have an existing garden, consider planting and covering rows of lettuce or root vegetables.

You can do this, but you have to do it. Your first step toward feeding yourself can start with this.

DLH

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Worldview: An open letter to farmers big and small, sustainable or not

Dear farmers,

I’ve read a lot about how none of you want cuts to federal farm subsidies or programs. I’m betting no one whose federal budget is on the chopping block right now wants their funding to go, but the extreme nature of the budget crisis means that something is, by definition, going to have to go.

My proposal to all of you is that we be the ones who stand up and say, “We don’t need the money.”

You see, from my point of view as a small farmer just getting started on the sustainable agriculture journey, the reason we have such a hard time making money and getting our message out as farmers is because so much of the money and so much of the message is controlled by the government. Because the government controls the money and the message, we farmers have very little control over how the money gets spent and what gets said.

For those of us who have decided to go it alone, the experience is quite different. I know from first hand experience what kind of money can be made and what kind of message can be put out there by a single farm. People are hungry–literally and figuratively–for what we are doing and they want more. In the next few years, unless something dramatically changes for us, our farm will be paying for itself without the benefit of a single government subsidy or program.

How is this possible? Because I, and those who work on and support my farm, understand that farming is a calling and a lifestyle, not just a job. I am my farm, and because of that, I care very deeply about what happens to it. Therefore, I am willing to put in the kind of blood, sweat, and tears that a mere job could never demand.

Now, is that kind of commitment for everyone? Of course not. Yet, I cannot help but notice that, if your’re not willing to make that kind of commitment, then what are you doing?

For those of us who are willing, the path leads away from the government. We don’t need government sponsored local food programs. We don’t need government price supports for commodity crops. We don’t need government rules telling us what, when, where, and how to plant.

What we need is our own determination and perseverance, and in a few years using those things, we would be free to do the thing we have come to know and love.

So let’s stop this dependence on the government and start our own independence based on the merits of our own effort.

DLH

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