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.”