Authors note: All posted excerpts are rough, uncorrected text only.
“Deploying.” Earth orbit, geostationary. A package the size of a small soda can separates from an otherwise innocuous looking WeatherSat. Propelled by carefully calculated bursts of ignited gas, it drops toward low earth orbit, tiny inertial guidance systems swerving a carefully calculated course through orbiting space junk, almost vertically down into the atmosphere. Picking up coordinates from GPS satellites it slows, takes a downwards path toward Earth surface. A carefully plotted curve to a lower orbit. Awaiting the final command.
One and a half hours later. Earth. North America, Darien, Fairfield County, Connecticut, overlooking Noroton Bay, Long Island Sound and Manhattan skyline, a society wedding is about to take place. The low deadly grey sleekness of a North American Stealth Destroyer lurks offshore. Men and women in dark suits, guns discreet and not so discreet, block off access to surrounding streets and properties. Further out, military road blocks let through only the elite selected few. A Helivane in dark green with gold markings sits on a spacious perfectly watered lawn, light heat haze ripples from cooling engines. Presidential seal rampant.
Inside the palatial house, allies and friends are being greeted by one of the most powerful men in the western world.
“David. Welcome, welcome. Thank you for coming.”
“My dear. You know President Canterall?”
“Only from the vids.” Under her veil, the bride blushes. “Delighted to meet you in person.”
“The pleasure is all mine. Excuse me.” An aide whispers into the Presidents ear. His clone handsome face creases in mild annoyance. “The exigencies of state I’m afraid. I’ll be right back.” The President steps back out into dazzling New England sunshine onto a perfectly managed Fairfield County lawn. “Can’t it wait?” He says in a mildly petulant tone.
“Sorry sir, but you did ask to be in at the resolution.” The immaculate Aide replies.
“How good is the Intel?”
“Positive ID and location sir. Ready in under three minutes.”
“Very well, where’s the feed?”
“We’ve patched the signal through to your ‘Vane cabin sir. You can monitor in comfort from there. We have the EU Chancellor on line. She sends her regards.”
“Thank you.” A Marine private obsequiously opens the Helivane door and closes it behind the President. The hyper alert gaze of four cyber augmented Secret Service agents follow his every move. No-one is above suspicion. Not here, not line of sight. Paranoia saves lives. Specifically the Presidents.
The dress uniformed Marine steps away from the inert Helivane. Even the pilot has been sent to the kitchens for a break.
Inside and alone, US President David Canterall gestures irritably at the internal console. “Yes.”
“Sir. We have the target seventy one point two K west of Papua, New Guinea. Keyhole surveillance confirms positive ID.” A holographic display blossoms, almost filling the Helivanes passenger cabin. “As you can see, we should have a solid firing solution in less than two minutes. Target is on foot climbing a hill trail. He’s moving between training compounds.”
“Chancellor?” President David Canterall addresses the President-Chancellor of the European Union as he image swings into his display.
“Mister President. Our intel confirms he is on his way to set in motion yet another atrocity. My people recommend immediate nullification.” Frau Gudrun Harkald, face haggard, old before her time after only six years in office looks back at him from eight time zones away. “We have consensus.”
“Good. I’ll authorize.” Canterall sees her nod and switches to a secure channel. “Strike Theta four one five confirmed.” He raises a laser illuminated thumb to the camera. A camera confirms his retinal print. “Passwords Eumenides, Goldwood, Tarka.” Canterall says crisply.
“Thank you sir.” Responds a four star General from the Tonopah Mountain control complex. There is a short pause. “Asset inbound.” Nothing to do now but watch the show. Canterall crosses his legs and settles back to watch.
Up in low Earth orbit, the small soda can sized ‘asset’ turns to point obliquely down at the blue green marble below. Tiny rocket motors in the sabot casing fire. As it drops into the atmosphere the outer sabot begins to heat up. Little jets of compressed gas guiding it into a precisely calculated descent. Tiny onboard gyro’s keeping the package on course as Earth’s gravity accelerates the package down the gravity well. Far too small to show up on any detection gear, re-entry trail too faint to be seen in daylight.
A small game trail up a steep New Guinea mountainside. A short bearded man in dark cotton and a baseball cap is shading himself with a large camouflage pattern golf umbrella against the tropical sun. He pauses in the humid heat and glances upwards. A bright day, a good day for the rest of the world. Soon the unbelievers would taste the wrath of the true in faith. Revenge for all their duplicity, retribution for cheating his people of their land rights. For the land taken from under his people’s feet and poisoned. For their insults to God. All for money. Well there would be an accounting soon.
It was said the accursed grey suited ones could track any machine made by man, along any road, in any company. That was why he walked these lonely trails without friend or enemy to betray him. He was both message and messenger, moving from village to village, spreading the word by mouth and hand alone. Hand to hand and mouth to mouth. Bringing the will of the true in faith to overcome their electronically linked godlessness, the unbelievers interconnected everything that could take a mans lands and soul without a whisper, leaving him to helplessly watch the rich brown earth and deep green forest stripped to muddy grey and rich silty rivers cleared to a dark lifelessness.
Above the few clouds, the Assets protective sabot finally burned off. At hypersonic velocity, eight times the speed of sound, the small central core, a streamlined bulb headed metal dart zips downwards on a perfectly guided trajectory. Heating up as it falls, a faint orange trail of superheated air in its wake.
Brown eyes looked upwards into the almost cloudless sky and blessed God for a near perfect day on dry paths. The scent of blossoms heady in his nose, for once overpowering the damp heavy smell of rotting rain forest. Another two hours, and he would be at the next village, spreading the word, passing on the knowledge. Gold, guns, munitions and who to use them against. The day of days was within reach.
A rustling from a large Silkwood Tree on the left of the steep incline, curious eyes in dark brown faces peering down at him. He pauses in his walk and smiles up at the curious faces of Tree Kangaroos. Gods creatures, how wonderful they are.
A sharp crack! followed by a spattering, pattering noise, then a long vague grumbling of thunder, even though no clouds mar the sky. Burning bloodied rags and red fragments of bone and flesh litter the trail and bushes for thirty metres in any direction. The brown skinned man is gone, simultaneously incinerated and shattered into a billion fragments. Startled Tree Kangaroos bound down from their perches, birds of paradise scatter, cawing in panic. Life of all sort scuttles, slides or leaps for safety, and for several long seconds the noisy rainforest lies completely silent as multiple little fires sputter and die.
“Splash target.” The words of the packages controller speaks dispassionately. Streaking in at over Mach eight, the projectiles 250 gramme warhead detonated from heat stress a precise tenth of a nanosecond before striking.
President Canterall stares at the live satellite feed for several long seconds and feels a wave of grim satisfaction. He wipes a little nervous sweat off a perfectly tanned forehead. Vengeance had been served for the bombing of the new Golden Gate Bridge, San Fancisco and the firebombing of central Berlin.
He remembered how four years ago, four massive timed explosions had smashed through the massive suspension bridges support cables. Murdering eight thousand Americans right at the start of the bridges re-inauguration marathon. Twenty eight thousand, four hundred and thirty two men, women and children murdered as the bridges main supporting cables failed and the whole central span buckled and dropped into the cold and unforgiving waters of San Francisco bay.
Only five people actually survived the forty metre fall, four of them later dying of fractures and shock, despite the frantic efforts of every single pleasure boater and commercial vessel to haul the dead and dying out of the water. He’d watched the vids repeatedly in outraged horror as both towers toppled inwards as if in slow motion, uprooted support cables flailing, and the awful, endless rain of bodies dripping off the falling bridge deck, spinning and tumbling to their deaths.
In Berlin two months later, a crude but effective fuel air device detonated in a busy Saturday market. Thousands of Berliners and tourists scorched beyond identification in three short fiery seconds as the explosion wiped out everything within a hundred metre radius.
When Iron Rain had first been proposed, the German chancellor had wholeheartedly supported the USA with EU funding. Like with September eleventh two thousand and one, the Europeans understood America’s need for vengeance. They wanted a part of it, too. Even if, according to the weapons development team, Iron Rain was still in beta. Whatever that meant. Canterall reflected that this beta version was worth all the nuclear arsenal they still possessed.
He flipped off the display and feeling a little lighter in heart, stepped out of the Presidential Helivane. Now the last of the masterminds behind those terrible events were dead, cleanly vaporised on an unknown rainforest trail. Eighty two people so far had paid for their role in the San Francisco and Berlin horrors. None on American or European soil. All disappeared, vaporised, with revolutionary funds cleanly whisked from under their noses by covert financial recovery teams. The Terrorists guns, all old cold war junk, deliberately left behind for disgruntled followers to argue over where all the money had gone. Their vanished leaders discredited, rather like their causes.
What was best about this new tool in the armoury against terrorism was its precision. There would be no more Middle Eastern wars. No more Afghanistans or Pakistans. No more hell holes where young American service men and women were sent to fight and die whilst their own media decried the sacrifice. Now the civilized world could identify and cauterize infections at source with a single Olympian blow. Individual terrorist leaders could be removed without even being aware they were being watched from above. Dispatched cleanly with a single, undetectable, snipers round from outer space. Damn the military treaties. It’s not as if there was any explosive in the warheads anyway.
The Russians and Chinese could protest all they wanted. At a summit earlier in the month he’d hinted that the US had an answer to terrorism. Undetectable and unattributable, and no need to expose valuable assets. That had raised eyebrows.
Local spotters and surveillance drones identified the potential target location. Keyhole, close surveillance satellites with their ultra high resolution cameras would then zoom in to give a perfect visual targeting fix, one of the small orbital packages would deploy to the approximate trajectory, ablative covering would separate from the finger sized warhead at around fifteen thousand metres, leaving it to dive precisely onto the target, heating up all the way, and boom! The intended target fragmented into pieces no bigger than a man’s thumb. End of threat. What was even better, these orbital ballistic rounds could punch through several feet of reinforced concrete to cleanly eliminate multiple threats if necessary. All it required was a change in ‘the numbers’. And no trail back to Uncle Sam. God, how he loved technology!
Now he had another happy duty to attend. With a spring in his step, he waved off his Secret Service detail to go and socialize. Everyone here was an old family friend or political ally, security vetted to within an inch of their life. He could relax a little, enjoy the deference, network, and play the game of politics he loved so well.
Four time zones away in the basement of a suburban Las Vegas basement, Steve Koresh, currently unemployed programmer and professional geek, as he liked to be called, was watching data transmissions along a secure line. Probably military. All routine stuff, mail server and network pings. The inane ramblings of the discontented and ever present porn swapping of bored grunts. Hey, what was that? Hi-res streaming video? Sucking big file, whatever it was. He piggybacked in, copied the encoded package and dropped the copy onto a cloud server for later analysis.
Cyber warfare picked up his interest, triangulated and identified the source of the hack within three seconds. It was the work of two minutes to track and delete the copy, but not before other copies had been mirrored across the world via anonymous proxies by other bored programmers.
The multiple copies of the hi-res file were recognized by these data cognoscenti as ‘keyhole’ video. Most of it was pretty inane. There was an amazing amount of stuff where ‘training’ exercises were held over nudist beaches. Low grade porn for bored operators. No doubt much would get posted on private forums and the bookmarks forgotten within a week, which was the usual fate of these data fragments.
This time, a Singapore based trader who hacked for fun managed to re encode the military spec data and change it. He flagged it up on a little used Australian forum, where programmers from India, Australia and Europe fell on it like digital piranhas. An hour later the raw footage was on an obscure video sharing website.
“Sir.” A fatigue wearing Major called up her commanding officer on a secure video conference line.
“Major Jeffs.” Staff Colonel Aziri answered.
“I think you need to see this.” Jeffs said without further ado and ran the video file.
“Keyhole vid sir. It’s a copy of a copy. My people are in the data headers right now.”
The video was overhead footage of a small brown skinned man in traditional head dress and light clothing carrying a camouflaged golf umbrella. He was walking steadily up a steep hill along a track so narrow it barely qualified as a game trail. Then he exploded. Literally.
Aziri nodded grimly. He noted the targeting data scrolling down the side of the screen. They had a breach, but there was no sense in panicking. Jeffs and her merry troupe of data detectives would track down where the copy had come from, then the source files, thence to the source. In the meantime, he’d append this to the daily list of takedowns requested by the Department of Justice. Simple copyright violation would be good enough. No sense in making a fuss and drawing attention to the offending vid.
The Department of Justice rubber stamped the takedown request and passed it on, citing a false movie production company reference. The streaming sites, ever aware of not offending the powers that be, bulk deleted the files and all its references. All over the world, file copies were ruthlessly tracked down, header data analyzed, and the originals located and truncated, scrambled or deleted. Very low key. Very routine. So obscure even the conspiracy nuts missed it. Another day in the eternal conflict between need to know and the ever curious.
One last action required to plug the leak. Data Security had already identified the original source and isolated the output. Now they had to make sure another such breach didn’t get repeated. Aziri flagged his concern over the breach and escalated the action request. Then he went home for supper with his family.
A week later, on one of his customary weekly nature hikes out into desert, Steve Koresh simply vanished. He left home carrying his camelbak backpack, took his binoculars, drove his battered old Toyota off down a desert trail and was never seen again.
After three months of unpaid rent, his landlord entered the house and found Steve’s usual poor housekeeping, but no Steve. The small computer network which should have been buzzing away in the basement was gone, and multiple notices from Steve’s bank offering credit cards and sundry services clogged his mailbox, but of the twentysomething graduate from Indiana State University there was nothing. He hadn’t made a cell call in almost three months, and his phone was missing, calls going straight to voicemail which simply reported ‘mailbox full’. Estranged family were notified and a missing persons report filed, but he was just one of so many who simply dropped off the Earth, changed their name and began a new life elsewhere. His few possessions were collected. A cleaning service was hired to scrub all trace of him from the house and new tenants moved in.
Later on, fifteen miles east, about a mile off The Narrows, north of I-41, some partying High School kids torched an abandoned Toyota Corolla, whooping and laughing as it lit their moonlight revels. No one noticed that someone had already stolen the licence plates and removed the vehicle identification number. Several mornings later, a passing hiker reported the wreck to the local Sheriff’s office, who eventually arranged for it to be towed to a scrapyard for recycling.
Over the next eighteen months, several more packages were launched from Canaveral under the guise of Weather monitoring satellites. As far as the mission payload was concerned, each additional hundred and fifty kilogram drum assembly was part of an experimental gravity measuring package. In reality each one containing one hundred orbital ballistic munitions and a guidance relay system run from a small building at the end of a long, rarely travelled trail in Southern Oregon. Supposedly part of a University research station. All self contained, each package due to die a brief fiery death during re-entry when its munitions were expended. Seamless.
Somewhere in cyberspace, on a small unregarded server array, mirrored across multiple drives, lay data. A curious hacker noted the code package, Steve Koresh’s last remote backup, and with a hackers curiosity copied the file down to a local storage drive. There was, amongst all the junk, a single large video file of non standard format. Accessing the details via an anonymous proxy using a browser of his own construction, the downloader, another underemployed graduate working in an Indian call centre, re coded the video file and uploaded a compatible copy to one of the major file sharers. The following day it was on all the major video streaming sites. Then everyone piled in.
First seen as a twenty second clip entitled “The incredible exploding man” the vid went viral in six hours. Another overnight Internet sensation. It almost made the regular daytime news. Until security stepped in. Until some airhead ‘celebrity’ released another near-porn vid and the great swarm of consumer interest migrated elsewhere.
A small corner of the anti terrorist services breathed easily again. The video and copies discreetly disappeared, user accounts put on a watch list awaiting their next upload.
At a small north western college, a badly paid Associate Professor, having not long finished her dissertation on exotic video file conversion, passed a copy on to her head of department. After a day of no reply, Hannah Morgenstern, deliberately plain and slightly overweight in loose dark slacks and jacket, short hair and glasses, went to see him. She found Jeddediah Wakely staring at his screen, replaying the footage she’d sent him over and over again.
“What do you think?” She sat down without ceremony.
“It’s a man exploding.” He replied, not taking distracted grey eyes off the screen. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was hit by a meteor. Just a small one.” Jeddediah adjusted thick steel framed glasses, pushing them back up his nose for the hundredth time that morning. “High angle camera. Maybe two degrees off vertical. Makes it hard to see. Zoomed in too close.” He spoke in his usual distracted staccato phrases, abstractedly scratching at his scruffy jawline beard.
“A meteor?” Hannah creased her slightly greasy forehead.
“A bolide. To be exact.”
“A space rock that explodes in the atmosphere. Before hitting Earth. They’re very common.” He explained. “Although the odds of being hit by one are astronomical.”
“But what about the file?”
“Oh, it’s military. Originally. Not sure whose. Probably ours. Not European, Chinese or Russian.” Jeddediah opened up his coding window. “See? Where re coding’s lost most of the targeting data? All that’s left is fragments. Very clumsy.” He tapped the screen disapprovingly with a pencil butt. “Nothing worse than butchered data.”
“A military specification file of a man being hit by a meteorite?” Hannah seemed shocked.
“Exactly.” Wakely eyed the frozen split second before detonation.
“With targeting data?”
“Probably a drone missile.” Jeddediah said blithely.
“Oh.” She shivered at the thought.
“Can you get the original?”
“Maybe.” It took Hannah all weekend to find it. She downloaded the file onto a large capacity data stick, and left it on his desk. It was coming up to Spring break, and there were test papers to mark. Dr Wakely had gone to some education convention, and wouldn’t be back until the middle of next week.
Like with so many other things, the file was forgotten when Dr Wakely was discovered by an irate Father in a cheap motel room with the infatuated teenage daughter of another faculty member, the Associate Dean.
Wakely was discreetly fired the same day by an emergency meeting of the college board of trustees, the data stick dumped in a dusty box in a janitors store with all his other computer equipment. Wakely disappeared to a more down at heel community college in Oregon, and the errant daughter sent to relatives in New York. Hannah was promoted, pro tem, to department head, but with no budget to hire an assistant. She never had time to think about the matter again. At least not that year or any other.
During Summer recess, as usual, an impoverished graduate student was hired to clear out all the outdated computer equipment. Hannah Morgenstern was on vacation, leaving Fergus McRoberts as effective network supervisor to transfer data, complete backups and dispose of old equipment to local charities. He found the Data stick and examined the full file. Then he took it to a friend who’d managed to get a paying job at a retail store fixing beat up laptops.
“What is it?” Fergus asked. They sat in his rooming house basement using a spoofed Internet connection and a jury rigged collection of servers resurrected from various defunct machines.
“It’s a US drone kill.” Opined Cory Bluskin. “Can’t see the plasma burst angle though.”
“I thought like, there was some treaty about drones.” Replied Fergus.
“Hey, this is old, bro. Eighteen months. Look at the code. The code is the light and the truth, you know that.” Cory scratched at a piece of dry skin on the back of his scrawny neck. No one got fat in this day and age. “Whoa!” He stared at the corner of the screen. “See that?”
“That’s all the access ID’s.” Fergus’ mouth opened wide. Keys to the door. Big league.
“Hey bro.” Cory grinned slowly. “Let’s go play.”
Fergus sat next to him at the neighbouring screen. He looked doubtful for a moment. “Hey. No, man. This is serious shit. If we get caught they get to, like, throw away the key.”
“Well we’d better not get caught.” Cory said slyly. Fergus grinned back. Fingers rattled over keyboards as they sat side by side. “Besides.” Cory added, buck teeth in a sidelong grin. “We see guys in suits across the street, we de-spoof from old man Tucks open connection and go watch the wall screen upstairs. Men in black come calling, we’re just chilling out watching porn like any righteous dudes. You cool?”
“Icy.” Fergus nodded. He easily logged them past the Internet suppliers aliased firewall server. Seeing as Cory worked for the local Internet company the month before getting downgraded to retail, he knew where all the access nodes were and how to bypass them. Working on keystrokes and green screens alone, they navigated via three anonymous proxies, easily circumventing National Data Security screens, then in via a back door server in the Library of Congress, tippy toeing through the mesh of routers and server technology buried in the Smithsonian Institutes basement, then locating another back door program which got them inside the Military net where even the lightest touch was monitored.
Here Fergus did the equivalent of marching up to the front door while Cory snuck round the back, watching for booby traps. When his three tries were up, using a mail address stolen off the list of ID’s he got the automated admin ‘bot to reset his password. Then marched through to the main data control node and logged in, just like a real user. Cory following as the system let Fergus in, piggybacking through the security net and across to the next point of hyper secure access. Then they logged in via the main server array based in Oregon and carefully altered the settings on the monitoring package to ‘low’.
Cory sat back in his chair as the main monitoring screen blossomed in front of him. “Caramba!” He said, awestruck. “This is the coolest thing. It’s a training simulator for some real sci-fi stuff. Real cutting edge.”
“Hey babe. Let’s not get caught, huh?” Fergus cautioned.
“Get caught doing what? Hey, like it says on the screen, this is a simulation. What could possibly go wrong? It’s not as though we’re going to be doing anything real. Hey, all the data dudes are home for the weekend, and we get to play with their shiny toys. Besides, they can’t get in while we control the simulator.”
“Hey, okay. I’m chilled.” Fergus acquiesced.
“Okey dokey. I’ve disabled the codeword and scan ID combo.” Cory scrolled down a list at the side of the screen. He was almost drooling.
“Targets acquired.” The system ‘bots control package spoke from his display in a pleasant female voice. “Option?”
“Er, what options are available?” Cory cleared his throat and tried to sound as military as he could. Fergus tried not to giggle.
“Targeting. Deployment. Firing.” The system said simply.
“Firing.” Cory said clearly.
“No target selected.”
“Target options?” Cory asked, trying to keep his voice level. Jeez, all this military BS was soo cool.
“Forty three available. Deployment options Delta, Gamma, Epsilon, Omega.”
“Targets preselected. Prioritize please. Use on screen selection.”
“Pause.” Cory smirked sidelong at Fergus.
“Hey, let’s pick the smart looking dude in the suit. Those other guys next.” He danced his pointer over each one, highlighting them in turn.
“Are you sure this is right?” Fergus expressed a moment of doubt.
“C’mon Ferg, this is a simulator, a game, right? It ain’t real.” Cory scoffed. “System resume. Select target Delta Alpha through Sigma Theta.”
“Deployment.” Said the simulator. “Activating. Selected targets not in visual range. Loiter available.”
“Hey.” Fergus began to object, Cory sharply waved him to silence.
“Enable loiter.” Cory enunciated clearly.
“Delayed targeting. Time to live, one hour and twenty two minutes. Sequence complete.”
Cory sniffed with impatience and logged off, cutting the data connection between them and the package. “See?” He said to Fergus triumphantly. “Just a simulator. Let’s shut down and order some pizza. We’ll walk to the store, cause I ain’t got credit to tip no delivery boy.” Fergus breathed a little easier and nodded. Successfully getting in and out of a military simulator called for a serious celebratory beer.
Up in orbit, a ‘Weather’ satellite spat out a stream of small soda can shaped objects. They drifted away at about a metre a second into a lower orbit, spreading out as they went.
Down in the secret man made caves below the Tonopah mountain range. “Data breach.” A uniformed technician was staring at her screen. “I just caught the logout.” She waved at her commanding officer.
“Did you get the track?” He demanded.
“They were piggybacking a main data feed via the Smithsonian complex. Source anonymous proxy routes to the Library of Congress.” The Tech reported.
“Okay. What were they accessing?”
“Looks like a simulator package for a beta system at Base Coolidge in Oregon.” The Tech reported. “I’m scanning the logs, see if it was one of the terminals at the Library. If not, I’ll check the logs and see if I can backtrack from there.” Agile fingers selected icons from the virtual display hanging in front of her screen.
“Enabling.” The Tech’s Officer, razor creased overalls bearing Captains bars rapidly accessed a live DC security team.
“Yeah.” A dark skinned man in street clothes appeared in his display. Behind him were the lights of Washington DC.
“I have a live breach at the Library of Congress. I need assets to check it out.”
“I’m about a klick away. They still there?”
“Maybe. Probably not. We’ll need a forensic trackback.”
“I think we can do that.” Fingerprints, DNA trace. A scan, a swab of a keyboard. A word with Security about comings and goings, a check of the vid logs. All in a days work for a security field team.
“Any luck from Library of Congress?” The Captain asked his Tech.
“Scanning logs now, sir.” She responded. Haystack, meet needle. Even at this time on an early Saturday evening there was significant data traffic in and out of the Library server clusters. That was without all the cross domain traffic on linked content. So much of it via anonymous proxies. Some of the spurious stuff could be filtered out, but there was still too much. Too many red herrings and data dead ends. If the intruders had left their systems switched on she might have a chance of getting closer, but by the look of it they’d dropped off grid completely and gone out dancing. Which is where I’d rather be. The Tech kept hunting. Just in case the intruders came back. “Non standard browser. Multiple spoofed connections. Probably some geeks having fun.” She reported. Her boss grunted agreement, then sat up sharply.
“Sir, yes sir!” He almost saluted in his seat. The Tech glanced across, caught his eye and redoubled her efforts.
“We’ve just seen your system alert, Captain.” Colonel Aziri was online wearing Marine dress blues. He’d obviously been attending some sort of staff function. “Your friends just accessed a hyper secure system. I want them found and isolated.”
“We’re on it sir. First impressions are some geek kids. They ignored several mission critical systems and went to a simulator package.”
“I trust you are. I’ve got some very senior people screaming blue murder at me.” Aziri sighed. “Maximum effort.” He flipped off the call.
“As always sir.” The Captain hit the general all personnel recall code. The Tech raised a painted eyebrow then put her head down. Within an hour all the data security offices would be fully staffed until the breach was successfully tracked.
Up in orbit, cameras swung in their counterbalanced mounts, and long, long lenses probed for gaps in a thin layer of high cloud. Digitally enhanced images were compared with stored archives. Matches made. Selections confirmed and programmed.
“How long were the intruders in the system?” The Captain demanded, pale brown eyes anxious.
“Logs say six minutes and forty two point three seconds.” The Tech said.
“Why didn’t the security AI pick them up before that?”
“They must have a valid user ID.”
“Where in the Lords name did they get those?”
“No reported data breaches on that site. Apart from this one.” The Tech replied.
“Then we have a high level leak. I’m escalating.”
“The Colonel won’t like that, sir.”
“He doesn’t have to. We’re here to protect the national interest, not to stroke ego’s. Got that, Private?”
“Sir yes, sir.” She paused. “Sir?”
“What’s so special about this breach? We close off the system ID’s and the administrators re issue new ones. Where’s the fire?”
“The fire just got worse.” Her Captain announced, staring with disbelief at his screen. “I’ve just had notification from the facility commanding officer. This just went to code red. Eyes only. As of now you are to file your report and get the hell out of here. Need to know only. That goes for me, too. Log off and hand over. We just got the night off.”
“Sir.” Keys rattled. She fielded her report, logged off and left the room. The Captain waited until she had gone.
“Room clear sir.” He said to the air.
“Captain.” A holographic image of a three star general formed in the middle of the room.
“They’ve activated Iron rain. We’re locked out.”
“Do you know anything about the project? Anything at all?”
“Then forget everything I just said, Captain. Everything.”
“Sir.” The holographic image flicked off. The Captain felt a sinking in his gut. Something very bad was happening on his watch, and he was powerless to prevent it.
“Target acquired.” The system said aloud to an empty office. There was a loud series of clunking noises as security doors locked themselves. “Site secure.” Out in the surrounding Camp Coolidge Oregon woodland, silenced autofire mounts in camouflaged gunpits went active. Backup weapons went live. Targeting software hunted for anything warm blooded and bipedal. “Defence activated. Secure contingency uploads complete.” The external satellite dish quietly retracted into an armoured dome. “GPS tracking confirmed. Firing solutions confirmed. Facility locked down.”
A hundred kilometres up, the first soda can sized package manoeuvred and dropped into the atmosphere at a controlled rate. Venting its last propellant to add extra momentum, the external ablative sabot heated up with re-entry.
“Get me Van Dorman. It’s his project. His facility. Where is he?” General Keith, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs snarled at an Aide.
“He’s on vacation. A trip to New Zealand.”
“What about his assistant?”
“Fishing in the Caribbean.”
“Get them both to their facility or at least on a secure line, and all of their support staff. NOW!”
“Don’t waste time saluting. Follow orders!”
“Do we have any idea who the target is?”
“God damn beta programs! It should never have gone live.”
“Went live by presidential orders sir.”
“God damned fool politicians and their vanity. If we’d tested it out of beta properly, we’d have more secure access and a fallback option. God help us if anything happens to Van Dorman. He’s the only one who knows the facility security codes.” General Keith turned to his Aide. “Can we track any of these packages?”
“I want an air strike readied on that facility. If we can’t shut the damn thing down we’ll level it to the basement. I want to be ready to bust that bunker to the other side of the Pacific!” General Keith stormed. “Do we know the position of all the assets?”
“Not until we can access the system sir.”
“All we know is that the god damn thing is active. I want it shut down.”
“We’ve located Van Dorman sir.”
“At last some good news.”
“He’s on a flight to New Zealand sir. Left Honolulu three hours ago.”
“Get that plane, get him on the line. Bring it down. Do whatever you have to.”
“We can get a secure satellite signal to it sir.”
“Well what are you waiting for?”
“My people are already on it sir.”
“We’re retrieving his personal equipment from his home. Linking via remote access.”
“It’s password coded.”
“We’ll wait for him.”
The first projectiles sabot was glowing orange hot, an invisible pinprick of light in the night sky. Too small for radar, too fast for infra red.
A minute passed by painfully slowly. “General Keith.” Professor Jan Van Dorman’s voice sounded cheerful. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Are you in a secure area?”
“As secure as the galley in a trans pacific flight can be.”
“It’ll have to do.” Grunted Keith.
“What’s the problem?” Van Dorman asked.
“Iron Rain is active.”
“What? We put all the systems on standby. No-one should have been able to activate it without a top level ID.” Van Dorman sounded incredulous.
“What’s the shutdown procedure? Can we use another satellite link?”
“No, it was designed for maximum security. There are all sorts of automated security. It was designed to protect the lab against any form of intrusion.”
“So site security is locked down and we need to get in to pull the plug.”
“Er, right. Security protocols are on my laptop. do you have it?”
“Talk my people through getting system access.” Keith said tersely.
“Yes, yes.” Van Dorman read out his access code. “There’s a second level remote access to the package. The DNA encoder and retina reader. My Assistant can do that.”
The last of the sabot burned away and the projectiles unprotected core began to heat up.
“He’s on his way. An Osprey off the Ford picked him up about two minutes ago. Hooking up a remote vid and DNA reader feed right now. I’m patching them together on the same circuit to our tech team.”
“General Keith. We have access.” Reported a Marine Captain in dress blues half a minute later.
“Fine. Doctor. Is the facility defence network down?”
“Yes. It’ll take me a few seconds.” There was a pause as the automatic defence systems powered down. At the perimeter of Camp Coolidge, a technical team began to move in. “Oh no.”
“What?” Said General Keith, Catching the alarm in Van Dormans voice.
“Multiple strikes inbound. First is thirty seconds and counting from target.”
“Doctor, who are the targets?”
“I don’t know! I’m accessing the system as quickly as I can via a slow satellite link.”
“President is on the line sir. He’s in the Oval office and wants a status report.”
“General. I hear Iron Rain has been activated.” President David Canterall’s hologram appeared in the situation room, smiling his benign politicians smile. Canterall liked to show he was up to date. In charge. Only right now he was getting in the way. In the situation room, Keith bit his tongue.
Well above them, deadly fingers of layered alloys began to heat toward critical temperatures, tail fins steering them precisely down toward their intended marks.
“Do we know who the targets are so we can get them under cover?”
“Not yet sir.” He could hear Jan Van Dorman shouting in the background over the comm link.
“Sir! First target is the President!” Someone, Keith wasn’t quite sure who, almost screamed.
“He was put in the target database for test purposes. So we could exclude him from a target list if the system fell into the wrong hands.” Van Dorman said incredulously.
“Relax General, it’s a visual system. If it can’t see me, it can’t hit me.” Canterall smiled confidently. “It can’t see sideways.”
“Five seconds. Final trajectory.” A Tech reported.
“Sir, run. Please. Now.” Keith urged. “Get underground.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” David Canterall looked around casually, noticing with abrupt horror how all the security cameras in the Oval office were pointed implacably right at him. His Secret Service close protection detail began to move with superhuman reaction speed, but all too late.
The systems Artificial Intelligence had done exactly what it was programmed to do when satellite feeds were not available. Which was piggyback into local security for final identification and target lock.
Half a second later, the superheated bolide projectile punched easily through the reinforced roof and floors of the White House. A nanosecond from Canteralls head it vaporised from heat stress, the blast spattering Presidential fragments off Oval office walls, bullet resistant glass and horrified Secret Service agents.
General Keith blinked. Outside the Oval office door he thought he could hear a secretary screaming. Remote security feeds flipped on. One of the presidents close security detail was on the floor, unmoving, right eye a bloody crater. Others were shocked, body armour splattered with the shredded remains of their boss. Bloody bone fragments embedded in stunned secret servicemen, walls and furniture.
All around and above Washington DC, faint lines of superheated air pointed at the ground. Every so often there was a sharp crack! Louder than a gunshot, quieter than a bomb. Far off hypersonic thunder continuously grumbling across the evening sky like a minor god with indigestion.
All around General Keith, an iron rain was falling with no-one and nothing to stop it. Reports flashed up that the Vice President and Speaker of the House were already dead, along with most of Congress. Destroyed at parties, at home in front of their families, with lovers, driving home, and even simply crossing the street.
“We have the source, sir.” Reported an Aide wearing Marine dress blues and Captains bars.
“Who?” General Keith spoke as if groaning in pain.
“Some old man called Malcolm Gervase Tuck. A small town in southern Idaho. We have local field office personnel on site. They say he claims to know nothing about computers.”
“Well arrest him anyway.” Keith ordered. He could hear far off shouting and sat down heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose as if in pain. This was the worst, everything was going to hell right in front of him and there was nothing he could do. The soldiers nightmare; the receiving end of shock and awe. Watching his own people, those he was sworn to defend, destroyed, vaporized right in front of him.
“Sir? The old man? He just shot one of our people.” The Aide spoke again as he checked his iCell. “The response team blew the hell out of his house in response. I’m afraid his wireless access is toast. We’ll never find out who accessed our systems now.”
General George Keith shook his head, staring at the ground in disbelief. How could it get any worse? “Local lockdown. I want the rest of those packages eliminated.” He said softly. “Decommissioned. In the meantime I want all units to Defcon three. Prepare for temporary Martial law in DC. Close off all districts inside the beltway to non-essential personnel. FEMA relief units to full mobilization. All heads of military and civilian agencies to report to standby situation rooms in person. Now.” The Aide nodded and turned to carry out his orders. You could rely on orders, they made the world go round. For the moment military assets could hold the fort until new elections could be arranged. There would be mourning, but the giant would rise again. That was what the Constitution was for.
Across the street from Old Man Tucks place, Cory and Fergus stared slack jawed out of their rooming house window, watching his house burn while their pizza cools. They’d just finished watching some lame shlock-horror vid and about to return to the basement when they heard the shooting.
That night, upon hearing the news of President Canteralls bizarre death and the destruction of key members of the US Congress, they formatted every memory drive twice, reinstalled new operating systems, and put the borrowed equipment back in the charity store.
Cory quit his job the next day, learned to wear a suit and ended up working in North Dakota real estate. Fergus left for Mexico. As a parting shot he dropped their wireless router into a storm swollen river just before crossing the border.