Archive for October, 2011

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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.

 

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?”

 

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.”

 

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.”

 

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.”

 

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

It’s hard not to get infected by the enthusiasm of other potential NaNoWriMo writers as the date approaches. As a result, I guess that means I’m in.

DLH