drewkitty: (Default)
We had taken over the work tables next to the stock rooms for mission prep. Security had its own storage, armory and magazine - and that was just inside the building. But we also maintained and had input into the Site Operations stock rooms, which had both disgorged and gathered an amazing variety of parts, goods, equipment, tools and gear. Logistics now took the place of the catalogs one sees in every place of employment: Grainger, U-Line, Aramark/Galls, Snap Tool, Graybar - as none could deliver in a place where there was no UPS, FedEx, US Mail or even DHL.

No Fry's Electronics, Costco, Home Depot, Ace Hardware or Orchard Supply Hardware either. Oh, there were occasional empty buildings, looted shells or wrecked storefronts - but they depend on trucks too.

No trucks, no deliveries.

We, meaning Security, had risked lives - and in self defense taken them - to fill these rooms. Now the eight of us were packing for a little excursion, a field trip, which might require rebuilding equipment and would require keeping control of a small cage in a big facility.

If we didn't think to bring it, we wouldn't have it - and would die lacking it.

I'd lied to Legal 1. One of the three guards should never have left the site. Not only was he a veteran, he was my budding hope of developing an organic counter IED capability. But he was neither a veteran of the US military nor was he suited by temperament or personality to very dangerous, precise, finicky work.

Too damn bad.

He had been through his nation's basic military training, combat engineer school, and a brutal counter-mining program in which pass/fail was measured in trainee lives. He'd also walked away from the US joint EOD school after his sponsors had flown his wife and kids to America. He correctly realized (dumb people don't go to bomb school) that his own odds of seeing his kids grown up were essentially zero if he returned home to do the job he had been drafted into.

While fighting deportation, he'd gotten a job as a landscaper. After a review of my newly created security files post-Firecracker, I had immediately transferred him to Security and launched a successful rescue operation to save his family. Then he'd been assigned a course of sprouts - all guard posts, infirmary guard, assistant trainer, assistant security systems tech, cross familiarization with facilities engineering, our data center, IT support and our budding automotive shop.

None of this changed the fact that while the EOD instructors would have given him a pass, they had really wanted to downcheck him. Unsure of himself, nervous, prone to guesswork - horrible traits for a conventional bomb tech, who has to stand up to very aggressive people (his bosses) and say, "No."

He didn't need a spine, I would provide him with one. But he needed proper kit and in violation of safety, sanity, what remained of the law, and common sense, I had obtained it for him.

The proper paperwork for our demo shed (signed with "KEEP OUT! NO ENTRY WITHOUT SECURITY ESCORT! NO ELECTRONICS EVER! DEADLY FORCE WILL BE USED!" and skulls) and blast pits at the South Gate, small arms range and the "Back 40" had been typed up and E-mailed to HQ for action. I might have typ0'd th3 @ddR3S$.

So 'Mo' and I were going over the parts of his gear. Mine was already packed and ready to go. We'd already packed and safed the fun stuff in the demo shed. This was the rest of it.

He and I carried the same (crappy) detection gear. Flashlights, hand mirrors, a hand wand as likely to set off a charge as find a wire, a fiber optic inspection camera, high and low voltage probes, and smartphones loaded with vaguely relevant software (magnetometer, camera, ranging) and a picture gallery of related gear.

I also had a thick, very sharp hunting knife and two smaller knives. As the only training I'd managed outside of books (carefully censored) was from Samir (not going on this one) and 'Mo,' my approach to an IED would be to 1) recognize it and 2) GTFO for values of Get The Fuck Out.

But if I couldn't, I would have to cut wire and trust in the same Allah / Jehovah / Yahweh who was down with The City becoming The Barbeque. Bring your own sauce.

'Mo' had a hook, loop, pulley and wire kit on one leg and an electronics tool kit on the other. He wore soft body armor, a helmet and a handgun but his weapon was his mind. And a mini oxy torch in a belt pack. And the carefully wrapped bundles of 'play dough' in his backpack.

I wanted a bomb robot so bad I could taste it. But if there were any left operational, no one was admitting to it. So instead we had two of the next best thing. They ran on love, not batteries.

Attack dogs are easy to train. Teach them to hate everything that moves but to be afraid of their master. But enough about my childhood.

Guard dogs and police K-9s are much harder to train. They work on both love and hate in proper measure.

'George' and 'Richard' were Doberman K-9s in training whose trainer had been killed. We found them frantic in a kennel in the back yard of her home. They were still looking for her, and probably always would. Meanwhile they tolerated their half trained handler, her husband. As stockbroker was a singularly pointless profession here and now, Alvin had made lemonade from radioactive lemons and accepted a guard job.

(I have to hand it to HQ. Once they realized a remote site was not only hiring but doing it to Company standards in the middle of an apocalypse, they'd E-mailed me the relevant passwords and kept further comments to themselves.)

Shane had worked for us for some years before the Firecracker. Mild, soft spoken, huge - his nickname had been 'Tiny.' He was diligent but not all that bright. His performance evaluations rated him highly on customer service but poorly on safety and foresights.

Shane worshiped the ground I walked on. He was a genuinely decent man doing the best he could in a world of shit, and it had all come crashing home to him when I had literally beat the piss out of him at the range - in front of a crowd - for muzzling me.

This is a cardinal sin worse than mere battery - pointing a firearm at a person you are not ready and willing to kill.

I'd helped him up, he'd started to bawl an apology, which I interrupted and accepted, and then we'd gone on a run during which I'd explained to him what he'd done, why it was not OK, and that he could either shape the fuck up or transfer, with my blessing, to Cafeteria or Janitorial.

He had shaped up. He now carried one of our few automatic rifles (shhhh! what ATF doesn't know won't hurt us!) and could be relied upon to use short, precise bursts to proper effect. Call him a half trained infantryman. On convoy halts he was the designated dismount for the Hate Truck.

All four of us now carry silenced pistols and suppressors for our primary firearms. (Again, if there are any ATF agents left alive in a one hundred mile radius, they are either deep cover agents or recently retired, involuntary, for health reasons.) Normally Security did not need these toys, but patrols, ambushes, and night operations (including hunting) had given us a healthy appreciation for the ability to reach out and touch someone without waking the neighborhood. The pistols in particularly were silenced .22 long rifle, called 'Hush Puppies' in Vietnam for their use against sentry dogs.

Each of us carried three loads - a combat load, or what we needed to move and shoot and communicate; a survival load, to stay alive; and a sustainment load of water, ammo and food. We would cache the latter, about 100 pounds per person.

Any time I started to confuse us with special operations troops, my body would remind me. Even a twisted ankle would be a mobility kill, followed shortly by the real McCoy. We carried as much as we dared but still probably not enough.

We did share one capability with special operations troops. Each of us was a proven shooter. We would all do our jobs, with intensity and under fire. Four of us on the line meant four of us fighting. That matters.

We couldn't use the technicians as pack mules, as much as I longed to. They had their own loads to carry. Two IT techs, a network engineer and a Diesel mechanic with some electrical skills. Each had their profession's basic tool kit strapped to their body plus one large item they'd requested and I'd approved.

Daswant was your typical H1B IT tech, except for his love of fast cars and faster women. He had not really wanted to go but I'd beg-sisted. In addition to laptop, punch down tools, testers, etc. he'd brought a large, bulky cell phone he kept on his body. Even while showering he'd kept the shower bag containing it nearby. (Do not ask how I know these things, it's my job.)

He'd asked for and gotten the OK to bring a comb jump starter / inflator / power supply with a selection of car tools: tire plugs, crescent wrenches, flat head screwdrivers, etc.

Janine was not your typical IT tech. Rude, loud, covered in tattoos and prone to wearing as little as possible, she was so personally abrasive that a full time handler had to be assigned to her to keep her out of trouble around customers. Short, squat and terminally pretty in a quasi punk way, she liked to knit in her spare time - and now did so at site.

She carried the forcible entry kit - a short sledge, cutting torch, crowbar, saws, fire axe and lots of wooden door stops. She'd sinched her entry on the team by being a volunteer firefighter, and had helped train both Security and the newly organized Fire Brigade.

Curtis had a chip on his shoulder about the size of his home state, Texas. He'd been visiting California on another contract and swept up in his company's rush to find a safe place. He'd packed for a week, now going on four months, and all his gear was borrowed. He carried a package of four routers, with the fifth and smallest on his body as I'd insisted. He was a network engineer that 1) did not work for my client and 2) we could afford to lose in the field.

He was furious beyond all measure that I would not permit him and the other techs to carry a gun.

I had reason.

I looked around the room. Daswant was checking over his car tools again. Oh well.

"Buddy" Nolastname, which is how his badge read and my security files listed him, had done several years in the US Coast Guard as a 'wiper' (engineering seaman) before getting a General Conduct Discharge for habitual brawling. Considering that this happened in the 1980s, a neat trick. He'd been on site driving a tow truck when I'd arrived, and we'd needed the tow truck so bad I'd overlooked his brawling, drunkenness and corner cutting - all on display simultaneously, I might add. So far I haven't needed to beat him into shape. The news that I'd tuned up Shane aka Tiny, 6'6" and 320 pounds of meekness, kept me from having to tune up 6'3" and 300 pounds of pure mean. Which was good because I wasn't sure I could.

"Buddy" was a man of few words and gifted hands, who had gravitated to Facilities and maintained our 'backup' generators which had now exceeded their service lives on improvised parts. Sure we had mains power, but we had frequent brownouts too.

Buddy carried a 2000 watt portable generator with a duffel bag of carefully selected AC cables, adapters, wiring, plug in items and tools.

This left me to carry the gas can, Shane to carry the ammo cans, Alvin to carry water and Mo to carry a duffel that clanked.

We were loading up in two vehicles. One was a battered Ford Crown Victoria which had made the police, taxicab, security, discount taxi, private ownership loop a couple of times and looked it. The other was a gleaming near-new Lexus 4-door whose owner had been giving a sales presentation in Burlingame on Firecracker Day.

His bad luck had been to be in a room facing north. Either the body full of broken glass or the 30% partial thickness burns probably would have killed him, but both plus a significant radiation dose had made his end certain. Our good luck had been that he'd left his car keys in his office and ridden up with a co-worker, who'd escaped injury by addressing a urinal at exactly the right moment.

Daswant wanted to drive the Lexus, which I allowed as Mo was sitting right behind him. Buddy drove the Vic with me riding shotgun and both Curtis and Janine ignoring each other in the back. That put Alvin and both his dogs in the front seat of the Lexus and Shane in the right rear, rifle at hand.

The trunks and roof racks were full, as were the gas tanks and our bellies. It was time.

Big convoy, Hate Truck in the lead, technical second, two trucks with trailers, the Lexus, the Vic and a third truck - a U-Haul - towing an empty flatbed trailer. The flatbed had a powered winch and tow cable.

The convoy leader gave the "Move Out!" hand signal.

The gates rolled open and we rolled out. It looked like a large salvage op, intentionally so, and I tried to put myself in the heads of the observers watching with low power radios or wired phones.

Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, Environment. Seven vehicles and three trailers leaving South Gate at 1000 hours headed north towards San Jose downtown. All white except the silver Lexus. About numbers thirty personnel, all apparently armed.

And suddenly in a rehearsed movement we wrong-wayed the southbound freeway off ramp and floored it. It was a trick that could only work once, but we only needed it to work once.

Ambushers on top of the ped bridge at Meridian ran to the other side. They ducked as the convoy took them under sustained heavy fire, again a departure from our SOP. One stood and danced, spinning and screaming in a brief greasy ballet which ended in greasy smoke when he folded in on himself.

Mr. Molotov is a fickle drink. Served for others, he sometimes picks you.

We were not playing this one for table stakes. This was for all the marbles.

Armed with recent recon (last night), the convoy exited from an on ramp, crossed an unblocked bridge, and got back on the freeway going the right way, again flooring the gas.

A small car followed us and the very brave guard who had been lying down strapped to the flatbed of the last trailer sat up with his bipod mounted medium machine gun and fired a short warning burst.

When this deterrent did not work, further bursts turned the car into a bleeding wreck. Again, not playing softball.

Six exits to target. We made it without further incident. The convoy exited, the Vic and Lexus turned left, the Hate Truck popped smoke from its dispenser and the convoy got right back on.

"Janine, make sure the Lexus is still with us."

"Fuck you pig," she said and turned to comply. That was the difference between her and Curtis, who would have said "Fuck you fag" and not complied. My normal habit, well known to employees, was to keep friends close and enemies closer.

We proceeded, Vic in lead, down a maze of streets towards what everyone thought the target was.

"Buddy, right, now."

The Vic lurched and the Lexus followed. We pulled up to a locked chain link gate with a warehouse behind it. I shouted and banged on the hood, doing what I ordered them to do.

"Dismount! Now, now now!"

Daswant looked pale. Alvin dismounted but kept his dogs in the front of the Lexus. Mo flanked left and Shane right, rifles up. Buddy unfolded himself as Curtis and Janine sprang apart in mutual loathing.

A kid on a bicycle rode up and unlocked the chain. He waved as he locked the lock to the gate and rode away.

"Shift to neutral. Push the cars in," I said calmly.

"Why not just drive?" asked Daswant.

"Because that's not the deal."



[To Be Continued]
drewkitty: (Default)
Global War of Terror: Connection Lost

"Crossing the line separating the [security] industry from military combat services is like losing your virginity. Either you are a mercenary company or you are not." -- James Davis, _Fortune's Warriors_


The man reeks of sweat, blood and cordite. He'd come in with one of the foraging parties and I'd promptly had him arrested - complete with bag over his head - and taken to Medical. One of Medical's exam rooms bordered our brig, and a member of this special detail now stood blocking the door. The fewer people who knew who he was, the better.

Imagining that security stops at your perimeter or within line of sight is one of the gravest sins a security manager can commit.

We ran our own network of agents and this man was one of them.

One of my guards cross trained as a medic was cleaning the knife wounds on his arms. "This is going to require sutures," he commented as he kept working.

The agent didn't even seem to notice the pain.

"They have a rooftop sentry on the northeast corner with either binoculars or night vision goggles, but he only used them twice - both at dusk - during the three hours I observed him. The area was dark but I could see lights reflected through an exterior window, steady not flickering. I did not hear any generator noise. Nearby buildings had full power for lights and some had guards. One building had guards with rifles. The target building had no guards visible at ground level."

He continued his report in detail, covering the area. He glossed over his ordeal in returning, except to assert affirmatively that he had not been followed and his interest in the target area had not been noticed.

"Get sutures, get sleep, we'll need you again shortly," I said.

# # #

To: tier3.support@[company].com
From: wouldn'tyouliketoknow
Re: your site in San Jose CA

Would you like your data turned back on? Wire $1 million to Luxembourg account 321-2312-3143.

# # #

"Unacceptable! Out of the question!"

Legal 1 was in a fine rant, and I thought I'd already seen his repetoire of rants.

"How would your Employer feel about this?"

I shrugged.

"My Employer is a payroll service that sends out increasingly irrelevant E-mails disconnected with any reality we inhabit. Their last safety newsletter was on 'Radiation Safety' and mixed up alpha, beta and gamma radiation."

We had an infirmary full of radiation burns, a decontamination point that saw frequent use, and daily site surveys that requires us to actually clean up 'hot spots' from fallout. We also screen all people and items entering the site, sometimes have an unpleasant surprise, and once in a while make a horrific discovery.

The newsletter was not merely worthless but actively dangerous.

"How would your Employer feel about its employees engaging in offensive combat operations?"

"Aside from the fact that we have done so every day since the first week of the Firecracker War, you mean?"

"This. Is. DIFFERENT! You are planning to seize a building, for all we know from the rightful owners, and commit armed trespass, commercial burglary, assault with deadly weapons and kidnapping. If the occupants resist, you plan to commit murder! JUSTIFY THAT!"

"THIRTY FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE WILL DIE IF WE DON'T!" I shout back, and take a deep breath. "Some quick, some slow. If we don't get that data link restored. Paying the ransom is right out. No guarantee that they can or will turn it back on, or that they won't keep demanding more. IT confirms that satcom is not an option because all the birds we could use have been retasked to national security missions. AT&T is down. Verizon is down. Sprint is down. This obscure connection to a colo cage is all we had, and the longer it is down, the harder it will be to get back up. No data, no code, no way to honor our contracts, no suppplies, no hope, we die on the vine and we're FUCKED."

Deep breath.

"My plan is to legally go to our leased property, the colo cage, and secure it. We will act in self defense. I expect that we will find a crime scene and as good citizens in the absence of the police, do what we can to restore order within the law. We can and will make lawful private arrests under California Penal Code 837. These arrests will stand up in any court. My company's use of force doctrine explicitly permits this."

"Show me."

I get the tired, wrinkled booklet out and show him that page. His eyes furrow.

"In circumstances where the arrival of the police is delayed . . ." he trails off.

"San Jose PD is controlling a few key buildings, mostly city owned, part of downtown and the airport. They sometimes can set up checkpoints at major intersections. The Sheriff, not even that, witness last week on Almaden. The city police for this building do not even have a police station left - it burned to the ground! - and no one has seen one of them for weeks. The arrival of the police _IS_ delayed, for values of delayed that mean quite a long time. We are technically under martial law and a 24 hour curfew, but there is no one to enforce it. The only soldiers on the street are holding a control line for the ruins of SF, mostly to keep scavengers from trading in irradiated goods, and the occasional convoy pressing veterans for China service."

"What are you going to do with any prisoners? Says here in the book you will give them over to the police on arrival. But as you just said, the police are NOT COMING."

"Do you want to feed and house them indefinitely at your expense? Or give them free rides to a police checkpoint that may or may not be able to do anything with them? The only option is to let any prisoners go. This is what we will do. Lawfully arrest them, discover that the police are not coming, and let them go. If they are good, I will let them keep their shoes."

I threw out the touch of calculated cruelty like a piece of bait.

I have no intent to permit people who have taken 3500 people hostage to walk away.

There are internment camps. But I have no guarantee that we can get anyone put in them, or that they would not be freed to hold us hostage once again, or that they would not talk and we'd be doing it all over again with a more sophisticated gang of criminals.

"I cannot approve this."

"I'm not asking you to. This is an interdepartmental favor between Security and IT, that happens to also be a Severity Ten Critical Incident."

"Who is going?"

I name seven names.

"Who are they?"

"Three guards - all experienced, none military veterans - two IT techs, a network tech and an engineer."

"Who is in charge?"

I tap my badge.

"No. You are Essential Site Personnel and you are needed right here."

"If this mission fails, you won't have a site. You will have 2500 employees that need to be evacuated from the middle of a huge disaster area, and 900 odd refugees that will be left behind to die, and 100 contractors in Security and Facilities and Janitorial and Logistics who will die defending them.

"I've thought about this a lot. No Company employee can be directly involved in this. I have one manager who can run Security in my absence, sir. You. I am taking people you can do the job without. Even if all eight of us are killed, which is a possibility, you can hold the site and wait for evac or a miracle.

"I won't evac and I don't believe in miracles."

"Not even a last chopper out?"

"Especially not that. You remember that last helicopter off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon?"

We have a picture of it in the Security Control Center.

"Yes."

"Not Army. Not Navy. CONTRACTORS."

He blinks.

"I do not give you permission. I think you are on leave effective at once, for at least three days."

"I understand. I may need to leave the site during my personal time off, and my time records will reflect that status."

He nods and leaves and I continue with mission prep. If I don't think of it now, out in the field will be too late.

My E-mail chimes a few minutes later.

It is a boilerplate vendoor services contract between Client and some guy who shares my first and last name. The scope of work is to restore data connectivity to the site in San Jose, CA. I have access to client owned and leased facilities to perform this work, and authority to subcontract and bill for costs.

The amount is a one time payment of $100,000.

I can't help but do the math. A bill rate of $1,388 per hour.

I E-sign it and send it back. My eye catches on one of the boilerplate clauses.

"Contractor shall comply with all laws, rules and regulations including safe disposal of hazardous waste and a safe working environment."

That these two terms are blatantly contradictory is readily apparent to me.

I double check the several E-mail drafts I'd been working on, send them all, and close the laptop.

The time for planning was over.

# # #

I would learn much later that upstairs, Legal 1 was staring at his E-mail.

"Effective immediately, the area of California north of San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties shall be considered 'Out Of Country' for purposes of contracts and the Company Ethics Code." It is signed by the CEO, CFO and General Counsel.

There is a list of contracts affected by contract number.

One contract number is in bold.

The one with me.
drewkitty: (Default)
I have briefly stopped by the Security Control Center, after a shower but before dinner, when the dispatcher beckons me to look over his shoulder.

As he sits in a wheelchair now, this is easy to do.

One of our long range cameras is zoomed in on two young men changing clothes on a street corner. Unusual before the Firecracker. Very unusual now.

They finish dressing, pick up their bicycles, and start pedaling towards our South Gate.

"Weird," I say, and the dispatcher nods then winces. The doctor has cleared him for only four hours of work at a time. He needed surgery. It wasn't available on site. But he could still think.

The gate called in the contact and we shifted cameras. The outer gate guard called out with his bullhorn and they stopped, both dismounting. One obediently took off his backpack and walked forward. After a short talk, the outer gate guard keyed up his radio.

"Echo 18, we've got Mormons. They are asking for you by name."

I grabbed a mike. "Swap out and hold what we've got."

The countersniper nest above H5 Executive had sights on, I noted from the monitor repeating their dedicated long range camera.

I bicycled to the gate. I had just one question for the gate guard, out of earshot.

"How exactly did they introduce themselves."

"Elder so-and-so of the Church of Latter Day Saints."

"And they gave my name."

"Yes."

"Search 'em and clear them to here."

The solicitors patiently endured the wanding and pat down at gunpoint. They opted to have their backpacks searched instead of being left in the blast pit.

I introduced myself, gave my title and position, and asked what I could do for the LDS today.

They were wearing white shirts with Church nametags and black pants. Clean and neat but only because they had changed. They bore a letter of introduction from the Watsonville Ward.

I offered water, which they accepted, while I read the letter. The letter was a generic 'all assistance' letter with names added in pen and asked for help in gathering names of survivors and dead.

I debriefed them.

No, the ward had no Internet access. Yes, there was amateur radio contact with Utah. No, they were unsure how the Ward President had obtained my name.

I told them that an effort to gather the information they sought was ongoing through Stanford and Red Cross, showed them the site on the gate laptop, and OK'd them to surf it for names.

One thanked me for helping and asked if I knew of other members of the faith.

"No, I am apostate," I said and watched for their reaction.

They blinked. Not many people know what that means, to a Mormon.

Then they appreciated the number and intensity of the armed people quietly watching them.

I knew how they had obtained my name - I'd sent an E-mail requesting biographical data on a murdered survivor. But how it had reached the Watsonville ward worried me. Unencrypted radio? I expressed my concern.

They shook their heads, they said they did not know. I shrugged.

I was not about to have two uncleared persons further enter the site and have the opportunity to survey our situation and defenses, or leave with what they now knew of our defenses and get captured.

So I explained their options as the sun fell in the sky.

They could accept blindfolding, a room for the night, and a partial ride home with the convoy in the morning - or they could go away and not come back, ever.

Elder Matt and Elder Saul - neither over college age - accepted Plan A. I put them up in an interior VIP suite - formerly a storage closet - and had a PA announcement made that any LDS members who cared to talk to visitors could do so and where.

I briefed my boss, Legal 1, and he concurred. We would pump them for intel - of course our VIP suite was bugged - and could afford them for one night.

People were so scared in those days. Any hint of normalcy was desperately clung to. So it did not surprise me in the least that Elders Matt and Saul conducted impromptu services. I assigned one of my sharper guards, Samir, to keep his eyes on them. Samir had steadfastly refused to carry a firearm but in the last breach had given an intruder the full LAPD "We treat you like a King" with his baton. An armed intruder, and shortly thereafter a dead one.

The cafeteria sent them up dinner, which I charged to the Security - Investigations account. Samir showed them how to use the bucket system - two buckets, one with a scoop and shredded sawdust, paper and duff "fines", and the other with a pool noodle around the rim and an oversized wood lid.

I let them have access to another laptop with greater Internet access. I would go through the browser history and keyboard logger tomorrow.

Legal 1 stuck his head in and talked to them for twenty minutes. Then the Site Executive breezed in and out. I was impressed - my schedule and Legal 1's was in 15 minute intervals but his was in 3 minute intervals. He had a secretary, a personal assistant, and a bodyguard - all Company employees and all discreetly but heavily armed.

When the PA chimed for lights out, they got ready for bed. After a brief site check from the control room cameras, I did the same - but in the small office, with a small bedroll from my locker and the furniture folded against the wall. Surprisingly comfortable.

# # #

The next morning was routine, except that when I went out to lead the convoy, the Mormons were there. With their bicycles, dressed once again in their travel clothes.

I had put together a route to give them a good start on getting home. I put them in the truck bed of my vehicle with Brooke driving. I trusted my life to her driving and shooting every day.

One of the Elders was unwise enough to offer to shake hands with her. She turned her head and spat instead. I said nothing until the moment stretched, then said, "Mount up." and did so.

Brooke had no one in the dependent camp. Her wife hadn't made it, and we knew for sure, and why, and how.

My biggest problem with Brooke - and one that I could work with - was that I could never, ever leave her alone with prisoners.

# # #

The route had us punching down the Almaden Valley, via McKean Road, through to Uvas Road and towards Hecker Pass. The Mormons had made it in via Mount Madonna, and that gave them the best odds of getting out the same way - or Hecker if it was open, or half a dozen other routes. I did not ask and they would not have told me.

San Jose PD had a control point at Camden Avenue and Almaden Expressway. They waved us through.

Santa Clara Sheriff had a control point at Almaden and McKean. They halted us. I gave the triple mike click that canceled standing orders to point the technical at the commanding officer of any checkpoint that halted us. That would have been very bloody and somewhat brief.

[To Be Continued]
drewkitty: (Default)
Global War of Terror (GWoT) - In The Breach

"I stopped with my hand about to touch his shoulder, and shuddered at the enormity of what I had been about to do. However horrid his dreams, a far worse thing to do would be to wake him up and return him to this reality, the reality of the camp." -- Viktor Frankl, _Man's Search For Meaning_


In my dream I am an old man. My legs do not work. I am in a power chair.

I am at the base of a large pedestal, erected on Treasure Island.

On the pedestal is a tall statue of a burly man. He towers over us all, easily thirty meters tall. He wears a torn jacket on which there is a star badge - SFPD - and two shoulder patches. I cannot see the motto but I know it by heart. "Oro en paz, fierro en guerra."

At his belt is a baton and a pair of handcuffs, but in his hand is a long-handled sledge hammer, the head of which rests on the ground.

He is gripping the shaft and looking west at the hills where San Francisco once stood, and only now is beginning to rise from the crater glass and broken ruins.

HIs face is tear stricken and covered with dust, but determined. He is here to rescue, to defend, to rebuild.

He is the Statue of Responsibility, erected on the West Coast as the Statue of Liberty is on the East Coast.

At his feet are written the names of every person who perished on that first day of the Firecracker War, in and around San Francisco. There is not enough room on the pedestal, so many are engraved in stone on the cobblestones which bear our weight.

I know several of these names. We are next to one.

Martha Reid. Most stones have a birth date. None need a death date.

Her daughter Amy, who was at home in San Mateo just after school when the city was bombed, is now a strikingly beautiful middle-aged woman.

Amy sought me out as I had been the man with the presence of mind to write a child's name on her forehead before she was removed from her home and evacuated. Otherwise she would not have know her own last name - or her mother's.

I am thinking of all the other names which are not engraved here. The innocent and the guility, in the wild days after the Firecracker War and the Tyranny that followed.

Only after we conquered China did we turn to the problems of our own nation. The "State of Emergency" had continued long past when there should have been elections. We had to fight a longer and dirtier war, and the only consolation was that we had not lost any more cities to nuclear fire.

I could still smell the stench of the false sun to the north that first grim night.

# # #

I woke up with my heart pounding, on a narrow hammock stretched between two empty server racks.

"Echo 18, respond. The reaction team will assemble..."

I leapt out, pulled on my trousers, laced up my boots and holstered my handgun, doing a press check to verify that it was loaded.

Perhaps I had glimpsed the future.

More likely I would not live to see it.

As I locked the cage door behind me, I tried to put the statue out of my mind.

But as I ran he smiled slightly, as one does to comrades.

"Echo 18 responding," I replied as my boots clicked on the tile.

"We have a breach..."
drewkitty: (Default)
Globall War of Terror: Week One

The psychologist has assigned me to write a simple assignment, one she says she has given to everyone.

"Write about the first week of the Firecracker War, where you were, what you did."

But I read the fear in her eyes. She is absolutely, completely terrified of me.

It's not just what I've done. Or what I am capable of. It is what her patients have told her I have done.

They are alive to have opinions of me. That is enough.

# # #

I have written elsewhere about what I did on the first day of the Firecracker. Linked up with the sheriff's office and helped evacuate a wide swath through what used to be San Mateo.

We stopped the firestorm. We fucking stopped a nuclear firestorm. In its tracks.

We had to demo a swath a half mile wide, of what used to be homes and hopes and dreams. But we did it.

It was no preparation for what happened next.

# # #

On the second day, I woke up at the Incident Command Post in Redwood City. They kicked me awake. It was time to go. Radiation survey indicated fallout and we needed to leave. Now.

I will never know what dosage I took as I quietly slept.

We reported as ordered to Stanford Hospital.

Most people have been in an emergency room. Most people have been in a stadium.

Now imagine a God damned - and I use the word precisely - a God damned stadium full of God damned wounded.

That was Stanford on Day 2.

I was immediately assigned to Triage. Sorting the quick from the dead, the hurt from the hale, the shocked from the wounded.

That was the first time I shot and killed a man. And then immediately went back to work. He threatened a Triage Officer and her life was worth a hell of a lot more lives than his. His body was dumped in Takeaway for Morgue, and that was the end of it.

That was when I learned that I could vomit until my stomach was empty, until I tasted bile, and that I could still try to vomit and couldn't when a child was brought in with half her face burned away.

I stopped changing gloves. There was no point.

I learned to ignore the screaming as I helped play hoses on burn victims. If you leave the radiation in the burn, it won't heal and they won't survive. That doesn't mean it makes sense to a frightened child carried twenty miles by parents with bleeding feet, who has been told that the doctors will make it better, and now mean people are making it hurt more.

I saw a man walk into the side rotor of a helicopter. It was my fault. I was too tired to see what he was doing - who walks into an LZ as a helicopter is taking off, taking three more broken child bodies out via the Air Bridge to Sacramento area hospitals?

Took his head clean off. I had to help search for it. Then ... you guessed it ... Takeaway for Morgue.

As the flow of wounded slowed to a trickle, I was reassigned. To Morgue.

I walked from body to body, reading tags, documenting remains, sorting through personal effects. The pages I hand wrote on the clipboard were uploaded by a Clerk III to a Web site, to help Red Cross and other agencies give people the bad news. They were also scanned. The scanner platen was bloody and filthy and had to be cleaned constantly.

My name appears on over one hundred morgue pages. Each page had thirty information lines. You may feel free to do the math.

I will never be clean again. But we owed it to the living to know what became of their beloved dead.

# # #

I slept for three hours on Day 2, in a lull between rushes.

# # #

On day 3 they told me that they did not need me anymore. They had enough trained people to release me. I slept for another three hours... it took fourteen alarms on my otherwise useless mobile phone to wake me. (Actually, I was dragged out of the sleeping area...)

I called work from a link set up at Stanford. No answer. I called Corporate. They said, and I quote, "We have had no contact with anyone in the area. You are the first caller. Find out what you can and get back to us."

I kept my borrowed POLICE vest, stole a car, filled it up with siphoned fuel, and drove to those locations which I remembered. One was crammed with refugees. Two had been abandoned. One had burned to the ground, apparently after being looted. But it is the last site that will stick with me.

The first guard had stayed behind to try to do his job. He'd been disemboweled and defenestrated - excised bowel tied off to the first landing of a stairwell and pushed down the stairs.

The looters had scattered at my armed and quasi official approach. I still wonder which of us were luckier - me for them fleeing, or them for fleeing before I saw what I saw.

The second guard - she was still alive.

No one survives that kind of injury. So I did what was needful, after she begged. When my intention was clear, she had the presence of mind to thank me.

I still have her badge. My company gear was destroyed with my home. So I wear it.

# # #

I called Corporate again from Stanford, and gave my report. They said, "Go to [COMPANY]. Their senior people are screaming to find out what happened to them. Find out."

# # #

I did. Everything was a mess. I found our nominal client, pinned him down, made him give me authority, and used it lavishly. Six hours later we had contact with the East Coast by amateur radio. Eight hours later we had all the wounded in improvised beds. Twenty two hours later, we had 100% accountability for every person on site. Three hours after that, we restored access control, which has been maintained. Breached, yes, but each breach responded to and integrity restored.

During one of the breaches my client was killed.

Thirty two hours after that, according to the time stamp on the first E-mail message I received from Corporate, we restored the fiber optic link to the internal corporate systems.

By then I had fourteen armed guards backed by ten unarmed guards and four bystanders in training, and one subordinate who could be trusted to keep the mess going in my absence.

Then, and only then, I slept for ten hours.

On waking I pulled up the news.

That is how I learned what had happened, in the Firecracker War, which had ended three days earlier and cost us seven cities.

One small consolation for those who are into that sort of thing, and agree with Stalin about tragedies and statistics.

It cost China _every_ city.
drewkitty: (Default)
Dateline September 2019, Canadian Broadcast Service.

Cascadian troops augmented by Norteamericano militia and a battalion of Canadian Rangers have retaken Redding from US government forces and altright irregulars today. American forces retreated in good order down Interstate 5, destroying several key bridges and laying mines.

Canadian Red Cross reports a humanitarian crisis in the city with over 500,000 people, many refugees from the investment of the Bay Area and Sacramento by US forces, suffering from famine. No food had been brought in for over a month, and camps were low priority under American rationing. "Unless large supplies of food are brought in soon, casualties could exceed the Bakersfield Famine in 2018," stated the Red Cross representative. The Bakersfield famine killed over fifty thousand people, mostly immigrant women and children, and helped propel Mexico into the three front war.

The US military governor of California, General Bateman, reached by Skype at his base in Yuba City, confirmed that there had been "logistics difficulties" but that he would not lift the No Fly zone over Northern California for any reason, even humanitarian relief.

"We have seen how Norte and Mexican terrorists use any opportunity to smuggle weapons and evacuate terrorist wounded," he stated before suddenly disconnecting.

Canadian Rangers state off the record that they are continuing to document war crimes committed by altright forces, especially in and around internment and resettlement centers. They have been unable to take any altright militia members prisoner.

We are getting troubling, unconfirmed reports that both Norteamericano and altright forces continue to beat, rob and abuse refugees, although there have been no mass killings since the June Massacre in San Luis Obispo and the retaliatory use of nerve gas by the United States in Tijuana.

A United Nations charge 'd affairs has been sent to Seattle to discuss diplomatic recognition of Cascadia, which would allow for the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops on the still troubled border.

From Redding, this is Sara Brooks with CBC.
drewkitty: (Default)
Globall War of Terror: Shopping Trip

I left the meeting with Legal 1 and immediately jogged from there to the range.

I kept my fury the entire way.

On arrival, the assistant supervisor was coaching a guard on basic handgun. He hadn't been licensed before the Firecracker, still wasn't sure if he wanted to be, but he needed to learn to use a handgun before we would let him carry one. Given recent events, he wanted to carry.

I announced as I jogged in, "Range is hot!"

The assistant supervisor agreed, "Range hot" and motioned the guard to put down his handgun on the firing line and watch.

"STOP! Armed security!" I shouted as I drew at Lane #3, the 10 yard range. "Drop the weapon! Now!"

I then fired ten rounds in one long barrage, dropped mag, reloaded and re-engaged.

I reloaded with the third magazine, scanned left and right (a precaution against tunnel vision), and holstered.

"Range is cold," I said calmly.

"Copy cold."

I reeled in my target. Literally - fishing reel with fishing line. You don't want to eat the fish from these creeks, thank you New Almaden. There's a reason the local newspaper (now a useful source of toilet paper, as they were no longer publishing in paper) was named the San Jose Mercury News. The ecologists figured that the contamination would have taken a hundred years to wash out of the watershed. Nowadays, who knew? Or cared?

There were eight neat holes centered in the head of the target, and twelve neat holes centered in the torso of the target. One to the head, two to the body, repeat. You do the math.

I swept up my brass, sifted it and placed it in the used bin. I signed out twenty rounds from range stock and reloaded my magazines. I used a cleaning kit and did a quick patch clean.

By then I had calmed down enough to walk back to the campus administration building and deal with the lastest handicap to doing my job.

"Sir, you have a visitor. Mr. Jones from Finance."

The visitor was sitting on a hard wooden bench (formerly outside) which faced the security control point without providing cover or concealment. He looked unhappy. That was OK, so was I.

"Hi Jones. What's your chest size?"

"Excuse me?" he blinked. A nebbish type wearing glasses and a white shirt with a pocket protector, he looked like the essential dork. Until you realized that his pocket protector's pens were neatly aligned and included a pencil, and his white shirt and blue slacks were neatly cleaned and pressed. In the middle of an apocalypse, which took some work. He also carried a brown leather briefcase.

"Your chest size. Your shirt size."

"Forty."

"XL set of armor for Mr. Jones please." The control center lead signed a set out to him.

He looked at it dubiously.

"Put it on. Company employees do not leave the wire without armor. No exceptions."

He put it on. I excused myself, went to my alert locker, put on my armor and helmet and unlocked my rifle. I slung my load bearing equipment over my armor and secured it.

"Let's go, Mr. Jones."

We walked to the motor pool where our four vehicles were waiting. The Hate Truck was on point. Lovingly fitted with a ram plate, spikes and antigrenade mesh backed with barbed wire, it was how we insisted on our right of way. The next two vehicles were ordinary pickup trucks fitted with huge racks so we could carry as much loot as possible. The passenger seats now had sunroofs and the guards stood behind half-shields rigged with rifles.

One truck had a 500 gallon chemical tank trailer hitched behind it. I personally checked both the hitch and the emergency hitch release. The tank was labeled in small print next to the two fire extinguishers, "DIESEL FUEL ONLY."

The last truck was our beloved technical, a converted crew cab with armor on the sides and a single pintle mounted machine gun. At least it looked like one from a distance. In sober point of fact it was a machine gun looking piece of metal with a squib system for using firecrackers to sound like bursts.

The rifles were all quite real, however.

All were painted "SECURITY" on the sides. It would be telling to say for who.

"With me, first truck." We bypassed the Hate Truck and its grinning crew to sit in the second vehicle in line.

I stood in the passenger seat. Mr. Jones sat between me and the driver, an angry young woman with an impressive resume. The only reason she hadn't been drafted yet was because she couldn't carry more than 20 pounds due to a sway back. Private Brooke, formerly of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children and now one of my employees, was worth far more than her weight in gold. To misquote an action movie: "Give her a rifle and she thinks she's bulletproof. Give her a vehicle and she thinks she's God!"

I waved my arm in the classic "Ready" circle, then pointed forward in the "Move out!" command.

We rolled out the gate and into the hot zone.

The road within half a mile of our site was clear of trash and debris. We made sure of it.

Beyond that point were clumps of trash and debris, occasional individuals (who kept their hands plainly in sight for as long as we were near them), and what quickly became urban shantytown. Anything inhabitable was inhabited. Tarps and plastic and metal sheeting added to the livable areas.

This was post Firecracker America, at least in the Bay Area. The former surviving population of San Francisco - which had taken 800 kilotons of atomic goodness right in the Tenderloin - had to go somewhere. Some had already died of radiation poisoning. Others had cancer but no treatment possible or likely. Others would certainly die within a few years of weakened immune systems, but not knowing when or of exactly what.

Sucked to be them. But the wire was to keep our Employees in, and them out.

They looked at our vehicles and rifles with a dull bitterness that did not reach their hands or feet.

We had been tested. It was known that we would shoot. So the bitterness was merely dull.

This convoy was a short run to three known locations. This would be a test of whether our new Finance Officer would have anything to contribute to our expeditions.

First stop was an abandoned auto mall containing several different mechanic shops. They had been looted of obvious items of value, but we were after less obvious items of value.

In this case, Facilities wanted a lift and they cared enough to send two of their own to uninstall it. So we would get them a lift.

We deployed in a herringbone formation (left, right, left, right) and everyone but the drivers dismounted.

The only person who stayed present was a crying old man, Vietnamese, probably in his sixties. From his ribs it looked like he hadn't eaten in a while.

We weren't a charity. I gestured to Mr. Jones of Finance.

"OK, sir, find out if he has a valid claim to any of this property, and if he does, pay him off. That's what you are here for."

Once Mr. Jones made himself understood, the old man dried his eyes and stood up with quiet dignity.

I had to listen. I didn't want to. I'd heard too many horror stories already. But if the man nutted and tried to carve Mr. Jones into steaks and chops, I had to be ready.

"My son owned this shop. He is dead now. He tried to guard his shop and they killed him. They lit a tire on fire and put it around his neck. They made me watch."

As we loaded -- mostly tires, ironically enough, but especially the best of the surviving lifts -- Mr. Jones wrote the man a voucher for the value of the lift, about six thousand dollars. He countersigned it and motioned to me to sign it. I did. What was a signature?

He turned it over and over in his hands.

"What can I do with this?" he asked.

Mr. Jones tried to explain to him about reselling it to someone who could collect from the Company.

I interrupted.

"You can cash it for half its face value in US dollars. You can - during daytime, with a visitor pass - spend US dollars in the Company cafeteria. A not so good breakfast is $20. A good dinner is $50."

He blinked again. Then he bargained for a ride to the Company campus, which we sold him for $200. Cheap at the price. We're not Uber but a bad ride is better than a good walk, and no one else is giving rides in a post nuclear apocalypse.

The hard part would be gently but firmly kicking him out of the perimeter at sundown. He could join the dependent camp, if they would have him. Or he could have enjoyed a good couple meals and then have to walk a few miles back to here, in the dark. He might make it.

We heard loud rap music blasting from other vehicles, cruising down a nearby major street.

"Attention to arms!" I called, but everyone was already alert.

They kept going. Either they hadn't seen us, or didn't want to cross us up. But I mentally noted the problem.

"How long?" I asked the sweating Facilities manager, who was not too proud to turn his own wrench.

"Twenty minutes."

"Keep it going," I said, and scanned with binoculars until he gave the thumbs up.

We rolled, to the next destination.

I took one look and pumped my fist three times. Bypass, keep going.

I'd been hoping that the strip shopping center was approachable, because we really wanted swimming pool chemicals for a variety of purposes, especially water purification.

But it was not worth killing over, and the parking lot occupied by hundreds of people in cars and tents with pairs of big burly men carrying 2x4s and baseball bats along the perimeter made it very clear that we'd have to kill if we stopped.

The third destination was known to us. It was also popular with several other surviving facilities - the hospital, the police, the fire station.

A gasoline station which also sold Diesel.

But we had a problem. The gasoline station owner was standing in front of the Hate Truck waving his arms and shouting in a variety of languages. His guards - rifle armed, like us - looked uncertain but willing to defend their principal.

The technical moved sideways to get a vantage point and per standing orders, the "gunner" leveled his "machine gun" at the man standing in our way.

I dismounted and grabbed at Mr. Jones to get him to go with me.

"You! You rooster mouthing parent lover!" And he continued. That's not what he said, but I trust you get the gist.

"We are here to buy Diesel."

"No, you are not! You are here to steal from me again! Half that jewelry was gold plated! The diamond was zirconium! Do you know anyone who is willing to trade good fuel for costume jewelry? Do I look like a female dog? Why are you trying to embrace me like a female dog in heat?"

He had several guards, mostly family and friends. We could probably take them in a fair fight, but we might take casualties and we would piss off the hospital (no more getting Company casualties treated) and probably the police (which might get us shot at, and would cost us their hypothetical future help in some universe where that might happen.)

"This is Mr. Jones. He is Company Finance. He will talk money. We will pay for what we need. But we need Diesel. One hundred gallons. You will not grudge us one hundred gallons?"

He started screaming at Mr. Jones and I motioned the truck towing the trailer to pull up to #3 and start filling up. The Hate Truck folks pulled up to a gasoline pump, which caused additional screaming and shouting, and a little pushing. Shooting would be next, so I went over to break it up.

"Two cans. Two cans only!"

Mr. Jones then proved that he was worth his weight and space. Instead of epithets in English, he switched to the gas station owner's language and unleashed a vicious display of invective. One of the gas station guards dropped his rifle and started crying. Apparently it was that potent.

The owner replied in kind and volume. They screamed at each other louder and louder, but when the pump showed 100G they both turned and shouted "STOP!" at the same time, then continued their mutual screeching.

Mr. Jones wrote him a Company voucher. The gas station owner looked at it, read it, and started to drop his pants. Mr. Jones took out another voucher and wrote something on it, waving and shouting more.

He switched to English, looking for my support.

"You Company holes of donkeys! You offer me $5 dollars a gallon when going rate is $10! You offer me worthless paper good only for the cleaning of rears that you exchange for cash at half value! You tell me that if I do not like it you will write me paper with half as much value! Do I look like a female dog? Why are you trying to lovingly embrace..."

I drew my pistol.

"The man offered you a deal. It's a good deal. I don't offer deals nearly as good. I don't negotiate well. You know this. Hate Truck! Fill 'er up!"

The Hate Truck crew moved to do exactly that, and the guards kept glancing back and forth between their boss (who fed them) and me (who might shoot them, or order others to shoot them.)

"NO! I TAKE PAPER! YOU NO FUEL HATE TRUCK!"

Good call. It had two extended tanks for over a hundred gallons of capacity, of gasoline which was more expensive and harder to get.

I motioned for the Hate Truck crew to stop. They did, reluctantly.

"You no come back! Never! Not until after next Tuesday!"

Meanwhile, behind his back, the truck/trailer crew - on my standing orders - had pumped an additional thirty gallons.

The nearest gas station guard was afraid to point this out. Good call. Better an ass chewing after we left than more drama right here and now.

"I have present for you," I stated. "We fix two portable fuel pumps, 12 volt and 24 volt, hundred feet of hose each. Here, take free, as small token of our esteem."

The guys unloaded it from the Hate Truck, the gas station owner nearly wept - it would allow him to loot non-surviving former competitors, and both of us knew this - and the team at the trailer pumped another thirty-five gallons of Diesel in the distraction.

Then Mr. Jones proved his worth again.

"You do not need to cash this voucher. This is what is called commercial paper. You can use this to pay _your_ fuel supplier. Do you still have Internet?"

Yes, he had Internet - satellite link for credit cards. (He'd stopped taking fuel cards after the City of San Jose had stiffed him on a $40K bill. Your taxpayer dollars at work.)

All of a sudden, the $6,000 voucher we'd written for the Vietnamese father of the shop owner somehow became part of the deal. The gas station owner would discount it at 70%, not the 50% we had offered, because he could flip it for 90% of value.

The Vietnamese man immediately cashed it out in fuel, to be transported to Company and sold to us there, minus our transportation fee for the fuel he still owned until he sold it to us.

I thought the HP-12 calculator would melt from the strain.

But everyone was happy and smiles and cheerfulness.

We rolled with four hundred and thirteen gallons in the Diesel tank, more than I'd expected (and about ninety gallons more than we'd actually paid for).

This made the ambush almost anticlimactic.

We blew through it without casualties, at least on our side.

Except one.

Godddamn it! Son of a bitch!

There is no first aid for a through and through head shot.

Let it never be said that Company does not honor its deals.

Mr. Sam Nguyen, born 1958 in Vietnam, died six weeks after the Firecracker War in San Jose, California, is buried on Boot Hill - next to three of my guards - with a marker. When the Mormon Church replied to my E-mail (they take genealogical records very seriously, it is part of their faith), we added the names of two sons (and approximate date of death for his son the shop owner) and one daughter to the marker.

The $4,450 we owed him went into the indigent fund for the cafeteria, paying for meals for non-Company affiliated employees, in the absence of living kin.

We used up the fuel in about two weeks.

The lift is still in use every day.

This is life after apocalypse.

It sucks. Avoid it, unless it is the last alternative.
drewkitty: (Default)
Globall War of Terror: A Day At The Races

We have a psychologist now. She has an office and a laptop, and a dependent huddled in the sprawling camp on our east perimeter. As a reward for dropping her off a stack of MMPI-2 tests and forms salvaged from our former branch offices, she has assigned me homework.

Write up a day of my life. Edit out some details, leave out names, but just write a diary of a current day.

As I type this, it is 2345 and I am in the guest office, also known as the tiny office, as opposed to the combat office with the stack of camera monitors and other systems. My files are in the combat office and I have access to it at any time I need it, but my night shift supervisor is using it and it's rude unless I need to do something specific.

The tiny office is a small cube with no storage, formerly a closet, whose only attraction is that it can be closed and has two chairs, one tucked behind the tiny desk and one sideways towards the door. We use it for report writing and one-on-one interviews. (We have set up an interrogation room next to the brig, which is much bigger. I use it for meetings only when I want to bother people, or when I really think it's going to become an arrest, at which point I have two or three burly escorts to make sure the other party's participation is timely and enthusiastic.)

I'm stalling.

At 0430 or so I get up and gear up. Uniform, load bearing equipment, armor, weapons. Then I inspect all of our posts. It is not technically my shift yet, but I am a big believer in "Stand To." An attack is likely just before dawn, so I am up and I make sure my people are alert and ready, just before dawn. To save fuel I use one of the duty bicycles. First stop is the control center, where I check out a set of duty keys. Then the perimeter, then [redacted], then [redacted].

After the round of post inspections, about 0530, I meet with the outgoing night supervisor and the oncoming day shift supervisor for passdowns. They work 13 hour overlapping shifts with an hour lunch - 0530 to 1730 and 1700 to 0600 respectively. This is our chance, the three of us, to compare notes and talk. I am there for shift change, which is 0600, when the night shift crew goes off duty and the day shift crew goes on. Until about 0630 I am in the office reviewing notes from night shift and planning my day.

At 0700 I meet with my boss, [redacted], and we go over the plan for the next two days. I meet with him again at 1900 which is when we go over what happened that day and draft the plan for the following day. This meeting is usually about an hour.

Afterwards the first thing I do is go work out. Generally my meetings with him piss me off, and I don't like working out, so that is the perfect time. The bicycle counts as my aerobic workout but this is my anerobic workout, pumping iron.

Post Firecracker, every guard not only has off-duty access to the Fitness Center at any time, but is REQUIRED to spend a half hour during their shift in the Fitness Center working out. We have a full time fitness trainer who drops everything and works with a guard when they come in during their shift. It is vitally necessary.

About 0800 or so, after a quick shower, it's time for breakfast - whatever the cafe can scrounge, which often isn't much. Whatever excuse they've come up with for caffeine is my biggest need. I am available during breakfast to talk to anyone, these are my informal site office hours. At 0900 I go in back for my standing meeting with the cafeteria manager, and I do mean standing. We have a huddle with him, Facilities, Site Ops, a recent addition of Finance, the two farmers we have relationships with, Landscaping (which is now in the food plants business) and Janitorial. This is our daily "How The Hell Are We Feeding Everyone?!?" meeting.

Believe it or not: we have teams of employees and dependents who go out at all hours of the day and night to scavenge edible plants and to hunt game. We are unable to provide them escort. They usually come back. Sometimes we can launch a reaction to rescue them if they get in trouble. More often not. We also have traps on and in the perimeter.

We are not quite at the point where we have to eat the dogs and cats. But we do feed them with the mousetraps.

By 0930 I am done with that meeting and headed to our motor pool. A quick vehicle inspection, review of the convoy plan with the assigned convoy lead and the scrounging party, and by 1000 we are rolling out the gate, fangs out and hair on fire. Yes, we pack a lunch.

The smallest convoy we run is three trucks. Monster truck in front, cargo vehicle in the center, technical in the rear. But sometimes we run as many as ten vehicles, some of them heavies.

About five days out of seven, I roll with the convoys. There are reasons. The biggest one is to make sure they come back.

We mix it up as much as we can, but when you leave from and return to a fixed point, it's hard. We mix up the destinations too but we have to run certain routes and visit certain things. The electrical connection to our property, the water lines, the gas lines, and the route from here to the freeway all need to get checked. We visit the few sites which are still 'up' - the PG&E facility and power plant, the police station, a fire station, the nearest hospital - but from a distance.

Sometimes we are able to trade. We continue to supply the fire station with recharged extinguishers, which is something we can do fairly easy with nitrogen gas on tap, and they can't. They need them, as they are still in the firefighting business with their assigned police escort. They have conveniently lost some hose line in exchange, which we desperately need and can't buy.

But we are really out there to loot. That's the other other reason I have to roll with the convoys. To keep control over our scrounging, and make sure the stuff gets back to us where we need it.

Today one of the stops is Harbor Freight Tools, which we have looted before and will loot again, right down to the bare rafters. All the 'good stuff' has been taken but there is a lot of stuff that looks useless to the ordinary person, that is gold to us. We have a whole Facilities department to stock. They have machine tools. Any metal has value to them.

The mall is another good loot point. All the good stuff, and especially anything that has to do with food, is gone. But we have over two thousand people to clothe and house ... and keep sane.

If we take the fuel truck, it leaves empty and returns full. This requires great creativity and planning, because a fuel truck is a valuable and tempting target, and fuel even for those who can pay (and we can, thanks to commercial fuel cards, abuse of other cards, wads of cash [don't ask] and at last resort Company vouchers which no one likes to accept, even at gunpoint.)

We avoid other looters. They avoid us. This is not due to any particular honor among thieves, but because we have weapons and are willing to use them. Yet another reason I need to be along.

Outside the wire we are weapons free, but ammo is expensive. I have thought of rigging an MP3 player to play the catchy theme from District 9, "Remember! A smile is cheaper than a bullet!" but I have more important things to do.

We do have powerful PA systems on the technicals and monster trucks. It's vital. "[COMPANY] Security, STAY AWAY!" really is cheaper than a bullet.

We also check a few addresses of Company employees. Sometimes we are checking to see if the house is still there. Sometimes we recover personal effects, especially valueless ones like papers and photos that the new occupants don't mind giving up - typically at gunpoint. The rescue phase is largely over, we've recovered most of the employees who are coming in.

About twice a week, I take a larger crew with me with hand tools, and we work on key stretches of road that are outside cover fire range of our perimeter. But we need to be ready to pick up tools and bail at any moment, especially if we come under sniper fire. This has happened.

We typically return to the wire about 1500. We maintain the vehicles first and foremost before we do anything else.

On the days I don't leave the wire, I am doing something really important. Typically one day is in-service training for Security and/or the Reaction Force, and one day is an inspection (read "raid and search") of the temporary encampment on our perimeter.

By 1600 I am off servicing the meetings on my scheduler. ("Available 1600 to 1730, 15 minute appointments unless otherwise arranged.") These are usually some combination of extremely urgent, urgent, wasteful of my time and downright stupid. Using the tiny office guarantees privacy and short meetings. But that's OK, I'd rather find out what the crazy employee has on their mind during a meeting than after they start waving a knife around. Not a hypothetical.

At 1800 I am there for PM shift change. At 1830, dinner, again in the cafeteria, where I see what they did with today's scrounging. But my dinner meeting is with just one person, for a short time, which I pick based on whatever problem I most need to solve.

(I hardly ever shoot anyone during dinner. It was just the once, and they drew first, and I'm no Han Solo, and I got very lucky.)

At 1900 meet with the client again. Go over the day, plan the next day, by 2000 get pissed enough to go work out again - jogging, leaving the rifle in a rack at the office, checking the posts after dark. Checking sight lines, visibility, function of lighting systems and cameras and other night vision equipment.

2100, get back to the office, turn in my keys, reclaim my rifle. This is when I get work done. E-mails, reports, reviews of procedures, preliminary investigation of incidents. Some of this requires my paper files (mostly Security and Reaction Team personnel records) and other parts require the ability to review digital video recorders, which is done in the combat office. Most of the rest I can do in the small office on the laptop.

I try to wrap by 2330 or so. A little longer today because I wrote this.

I had to donate my personal van to the cause, so I'm not sleeping in it any more. (We needed an ambulance, don't have much in the way of vans, and it has vents and a house battery and a bunk... so... ambulance.) I can't sleep in the encampment, I might become a hostage or simply not wake up. The Security building is not an OK place to sleep, it sets a bad example.

So I sling a hammock (a choice bit of loot) in a space relatively few people have access to, that is secure, dimly lighted and heated. One of the small cages in the Data Center, which can be padlocked from the inside or the outside - and is whenever I am not passing through the door. I've covered the walls with cardboard tied down with zip ties, set up the hammock between two stripped racks, and have some plastic crates for 2 liter soda bottles (otherwise useless) supporting a bit of broken table, to set my stuff on while I sleep. A power strip snakes out of the floor for my radio and flashlight chargers and my one bit of entertainment, a mobile phone now useful mostly as an electronic book reader. (The work laptop is in a safe in the combat office.)

Bonus: the hallway is covered by one of the Data Center cameras we haven't repurposed yet. On the list of cameras it is labeled "E18 Lair."

After four to five hours of sleep, it's time to wake up and Make The World Safe For Coders. Because Code Wins Wars.

Sorry, tired.

[Presses 'SEND']
drewkitty: (Default)
Globall War of Terror: Equal and Opposite Critical Analysis

The meeting was scheduled for the executive conference room at 1600. Both the location and the time were unusual. But then again, EVERYTHING was unusual.

I usually didn't get to see this five story view of San Jose. It had been made clear to us, as with all contractors, that Executive Country was strictly off limits for us hoi polloi unless we had a strong, legitimate business reason - and not always then.

I keyed my radio.

"Golf 18, Control, I am unavailable to radio except for sitewide emergency. In sitewide emergency only call me on CMF-1."

"Control, Golf 18, copy unavailable except sitewide emergency, monitoring CMF-1."

For some reason the dispatchers had gotten a heck of a lot crisper with radio traffic over the last twenty-four hours.

I changed frequencies to CMF-1 and holstered the radio. I was carrying a laptop - a little unusual, but not in recent days.

When I reached the door, the conference room attendant standing by it put a hand up.

"I can't let you in here with that," she said. By her appearance, clearly she'd had a rough week, but then again, so had we all.

Well, I had to have the radio. I could see past her shoulder that the Senior Executive (gulp!) had his radio by his laptop, while typing furiously and talking into a cell phone in his ear. Not that the public cell network was up or anything, but IT with heroic effort had patched people's phones to use WiFi on the corporate network to make phone calls, at least on the internal company network.

I saw nothing objectionable about the laptop, either. It was more normal than not for regular employees to bring laptops to meetings, although it was admittedly unusual for a contractor to do so.

I saw what she was glaring at. The holstered handgun. One of the first things I'd done after the horrible events of the prior day, after the wounded had been triaged and stabilized, after the police had briefly come and gone, after I'd swiftly beefed up security with the limited means at our immediate disposal, had been to borrow a table in the Facilities group area and clean it. Even before bothering to clean up myself.

"Let him in," called another manager from inside.

I stepped in and a chair was clearly reserved for me at the foot of the conference room table. (Double gulp!) It even had a bottle of water, a notepad and a pen. These simple items were getting harder to come by, day by day.

I took it, set up laptop and charger (from the agenda, it looked to be a long meeting), took off the radio and set it to the side, volume high as I expected.

"Let's get started," the Senior Executive said as he hung up and (triple gulp!) closed his laptop.

"First of all, Mr. [Name], we all know the extraordinary events of yesterday. What has been done to keep that or something similar from happening again?"

I'd been working on that question at my highest priority, with a three hour cat nap between 2 and 5 AM, ever since.

"The North gate has been closed and barricaded with abandoned personal vehicles. The Facilities team has used our one backhoe to trench either side of both the North Gate and South Gate to make either side impassible to vehicles. This work continues. We have installed all available J barriers to create a serpentine approach and departure to South Gate which is required for all vehicles entering and exiting the site. We are staffing three guards at the South Gate at all times, one to halt, search and verify traffic, two to overwatch from a more protected position. The overwatch is armed with rifles. The lead position rotates every fifteen minutes."

"Why?" one of the managers interrupted.

Another manager answered, "Because if there's another attack, the lead guard is dead."

"Correct," I stated. "We are also rotating officers between the gate, two additional overwatch positions -- one on the hillside, one on the roof of the damaged shipping and receiving building, and the security control center downstairs in this building. We are staffed with a total of thirty six personnel, which gives us 9 positions around the clock. I have personally verified with each guard that they are willing to continue to work for at least the next three days."

"Can the guard company supply more guards?"

"I have had no success in getting contact with local guard force management." Actually, a week prior I'd led a team to the company offices. They were abandoned and unsecured. We'd carried the live personnel files and remaining computers down three flights of stairs, and I'd stripped everything else of value, except the safe which someone else had gotten to first. No one had interfered. Looting was still rampant and the appearance of legitimacy was enough.

"Also, I've verified with our corporate office via E-mail that they are still direct depositing pay to employee accounts, but the only place to draw cash is the on site ATM machine in $20 bills, and it ran out of cash last week. There are no safe places to spend it anyway with most stores closed. Right now most of my guards are working for two reasons: they can get food here from the cafeteria, which is still taking cash at the old prices, and they have families and friends in an encampment adjacent to the west perimeter. Long term we will need better incentives, but they are working now.

"As for a return event, our intelligence indicates that the attack was motivated by the desire to loot the site and punish the company for its defense related contracts, because of the Firecracker War. We have power because the main grid is still up to our location and defense priority, when most places don't, so people mistakenly think there is considerable wealth here as well. This is in the context of literally hundreds of what the media is calling terrorist attacks, but are more along the line of armed looters and/or bandit raids."

"How was this intelligence gathered?"

"Documents found on the bodies of attackers, and interrogation of a prisoner."

"Where is this prisoner now?"

Oh, this was going to be awkward.

"Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack while questioning him."

"While _you_ questioned him."

"Yes," I said, and met the eyes of everyone in the room.

Yeah, this was going to be very awkward. But I knew I had done the right thing then, and I knew I was doing the right thing now.

"What ... equipment ... does your team need in the immediate future to keep this site secure?"

"Sir, the site can be secured. The employees are another story. A lot of people are staying here and a lot of people brought their families. They are living in the cars, in some cases under tents and tarps and whatever we can spare. Some of the offices are being used as apartments. People try to go home to get stuff, or to find family members, and they don't always come back. We are running out of fuel for escorted trips, despite heroic measures."

Heroic measures including the flagrant abuse of fleet fuel cards, individual bank cards and credit cards, the 'borrowing' of a gasoline tanker (the driver and his family were now happy to help and be part of the team), people in Facilities who were both creative and crazy in their use of company equipment, and an employee who had been a POL specialist in the Navy Reserve who knew how to get at underground storage tanks at damaged gas stations. (Active gas stations were now guarded by heavily armed friends and family of the owner.)

"What we need most, the entire site, is to restore access to basic goods. The cafeteria has two days of food left, and that is despite resupply runs escorted..." [read: looting conducted] "... by Security. We need to establish what the military calls a PX, or a food and goods store, to supply the site population. A normal employee population is about 1,500 people. At last count, and Security has been very careful to hold everyone accountable for entries to the site, we have 2,327 people authorized for site access as employees, contractors and immediate family of same, and another 732 in the perimeter encampment."

"We are good for water for now, but I have a continuing concern about access to water supply. Once our fire water tanks are gone, they are GONE, and at current rate of consumption we have about a month left. I'd like to impose immediate emergency sanitary measures."

"What do you mean by emergency sanitary measures?"

"Shutting down the toilets and restroom sinks because they are using potable water. Facilities has a plan for separated outdoor facilities by gender. We have enough landscaping chips for at least three months of alternative sanitation. The break room sinks will stay up for potable water use but under stringent restrictions. Dishwashing only by trained persons to minimize water use while keeping clean."

"I see the plan here. Buckets? Really?"

"Yes, sir, although I should let Facilities speak to that part. Each flush is 1-2 gallons, that is one to two days survival for someone, if we lose water to the site. The water mains have been intermittent. I don't want to think about fire protection water, but that is the next big concern. Fire safety. We have had two people start warming fires inside the building. We have a single flatbed Diesel pickup truck with a gasoline pump as a fire protection engine. We need to train everyone in basic fire safety and evacuations and organize a fire brigade. Security had been doing it but we are not enough."

"These are important points, but I think I missed my phrasing on the main question. What _security_ equipment do you need to keep the site safe?"

Oh.

"We need more IP cameras. We really need DVRs, digital video recorders. Facilities needs light bulbs, we have had issues with perimeter lights being shot out. Fuel if we lose power, especially Diesel. Generators for the gates, we tried but were unable to obtain..." [read: loot] "... portables. More construction equipment: bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks. A rough field forklift is especially vital, we can unload trucks by hand but then we have to hand-over-hand the items up the stairs with the elevators out of order..."

He interrupted.

"Weapons. Ammunition. Support gear."

"That really depends. We have required all employees, contractors and tenants to register all firearms and turn them in to Security as a condition of entry. They can have them back whenever they leave. This means that we have guns but our ammunition needs are all over the place. We have a room full of .22 long rifle and 12 gauge. We are down to two cases of 5.56mm but that would be adequate to resist at least one more attack. As horrible as yesterday's events were, we gained numerous firearms and more ammunition from the attackers. We have found ammunition to be especially unobtainable. Facilities is starting on a reloading shop for 12 gauge shotgun, we are standardizing on that for the reaction force weapon. If we could get anything we wanted, it would be in order - any and all 12 gauge reloading supplies including especially powder and primers, 12 gauge slugs, 5.56 ammunition, and any rifle caliber you can get: 7.62, .308, even odd calibers like .303 Then and only then other shotgun and pistol ammunition.

"The biggest support item we need but don't have is ballistic armor and helmets. We are wearing hard hats which is better than nothing but useless against a bullet. Military helmets are expensive and impossible to come by. We have several sets of hard body armor, mostly from military who couldn't make it to their units and reported here instead, and about twenty sets of soft armor. If we could, I would put body armor on all Security, all reaction force and everyone who leaves the wire..."

"The wire?" someone exclaimed?

"The perimeter, ma'am. At least once a day we send out a convoy to try to get supplies, recover employees and check on critical infrastructure. If we could I'd love to have armor for all those folks, but we just don't have it. Kevlar isn't something we can make."

The Human Resources Director asked, "Earlier we had an employee count. Are there still employees out there, unaccounted for?"

"Yes, sir. Of 2,208 Company employees in the Bay Area, we have 1,309 accounted for and present on site. Of them, 57 are injured and in the infirmary. Another 238 are confirmed to be dead, by credible eyewitness report, or by found bodies and effects. That means almost seven hundred are still out there, we hope. We are spreading the word - but we are having increasing problems with imposters. People are figuring out that they can get in if they can successfully impersonate..."

Interruption, "What are you doing about it?"

"If we catch an imposter, and we've caught four, we strip them naked and send them out the South Gate. Tends to discourage others. In two cases the impersonated employee's manager did not survive. In one case, an employee was trying to get a friend in as if they were an employee. We sent the friend to the outer encampment. In the last case, the manager vetted the employee but we determined..." [don't ask! please don't ask!] "... that the manager had been deceived."

The Senior Executive cleared his throat. "We're getting off topic. So for the short term, the next two or three days, the situation as we have it now is fairly stable. Would you agree?"

"Yes, sir."

"That is an enormous achievement for which a lot of people would be commended if we had time, which we don't. Next agenda item, clarification of reporting chains. I am the Senior Executive. That means that like the Captain of a ship or the Principal of a school, I am supposed to be in charge of this madhouse. I have department heads that have been reporting to me throughout this crisis. I have been getting my reports from Security through Site Operations. But where is the Company Security representative?"

"He was killed on Day 5, sir." He had died in my arms, as a matter of fact.

One of the first things I had removed from the shattered Security Office and hung up on the new control center wall, for everyone to see, was a letter that I'd insisted on having the Company Security representative print and sign, on the 2nd day of the Firecracker War. It instructed my Employer to take any actions necessary to preserve the lives of Company employees and protect Company property and assets under extraordinary circumstances.

It was now splattered with blood from the murdered guard who had been microwaving his lunch when the satchel charge came through the window. I'd framed it over the bloodstains and put it up where everyone could see it.

This is what we do. This is also what happens when you fail. Avoid it.

"Security needs direct access to me. Site Ops is too busy. I am appointing Mr. Pritchard in Legal ..." [aw shit!] "... as my department head for Security reporting directly to me. As the contract security, you report to him."

"Yes, sir."

"Now we need to discuss the workplace violence incidents yesterday and earlier today."

I belatedly realized that the meeting was as much tactical as operational, and that two of the men sitting behind me were employees who also happened to have been police officers. That probably meant they were armed. I'd been fairly liberal in authorizing firearms to anyone who had indicators of trustworthiness, and that was one of them.

I had run out of gulps.

"I am asking no questions and you are giving no answers. This is a statement. The use of force by Security, reaction team members or Company managers inside ... the wire ... or against a Company employee will be strictly in self defense, by California law _before_ the Firecracker, and the highest traditions of the law and of our Company will be upheld. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Outside the wire, you do what you need to do. I consider the gate area 'outside the wire' for this purpose. But I do not want any more 'heart attacks' on this site. Am I clearly understood?"

"Absolutely, sir." Drag them off campus before you kill them.

He met my gaze and neither of us flinched. Everyone else in the room did.

The Captain of this tiny ship of order in the sea of chaos had established his authority.

I drew enormous comfort from it.

"I want Finances involved in future supply expeditions. I would like to resume purchasing what we need whenever possible. We have arranged for a very large convoy of supplies from our Utah offices. We need them to get our wish lists ASAP, as in within the next two hours, so they can pack tomorrow and head out at first light the next day.

"We are continuing operations. I have had two Generals and three Admirals call me today, to ask if we were still in business and if we could help them with their problems. This nation is at war and we are supporting those who fight that war. Code wins wars. We are coders. Having a safe and secure working environment is essential, but it is only the first step."

"I am telling everyone in this room. If you have a problem with Security, you take it to that man," pointing to me. [Quadruple gulp.] "If you still have a problem, you take it to Mr. Prichard. But if Mr. Prichard feels he has to, he can recommend to me I _terminate_ someone. And you had all better bet your last dollar, your last meal, and your last gallon of water that I can and will fire someone who interferes in the mission of this site. Anyone."

And in this apocalyptic nightmare, being fired was about the same as a death sentence, but with no last meal, no chance of a pardon from the Governor, and no guarantee that it would be either swift or painless.

"The Security part of this meeting is over. Contractors are excused. Next up, Customer Commitments."

I got up and stepped out. Mr. Pritchard followed and stopped me in the corridor.

"I am carrying a radio on CMF-1. My callsign is Legal-1. If you need me, call me on radio."

"Yes, sir."

"This is my instruction, which I discussed with the Executive first thing this morning. Carry on exactly as you have been doing. You are doing great and your team is working miracles. I'd like a meeting with you twice a day, 7 AM and 7 PM, my office. Let me carry the water and wood trying to get what you need. You just tell me what you need. The government really needs us up and running and that gives us some leverage."

"Sir, with respect, we have five people _dead_ yesterday. Two of them were Employees. That's not great."

"If you hadn't insisted on the film on the cafeteria windows, it would have been a lot more than that. You are saving lives every day, just by doing what you do. For God's sake don't stop. That's an order."

He clapped me on the shoulder.

"You just keep ahead of the curve, just like you've been doing. See you at 1900."

As I walked away, something struck me. I needed to check Mr. Prichard's resume.

Army? Or Marine?
drewkitty: (Default)
Disclaimer: in the Globall War of Terror, far down the Rabbit Hole, we have survived the Firecracker War. America's land invasion of China continues, "Zero tolerance is the price we pay for victory," and the protagonist's silence is the price he pays for survival. But as this story shows, not the only price.

Prior posts in this storyline:

Proven By The Body | Post 7 | Convoy Operation [all take place after the present story]

//


GloBall War of Terror – Pink Terror


We had set up the new security office in a first floor corner of the nearest undamaged building. For some reason, regular employees no longer wanted to occupy first floor space.

My own office, set apart from the main work area, nonetheless had a commanding view of the crater where the Shipping & Receiving Dock had been. A work crew normally from Space Planning was filling sandbags and placing them, diminishing my view with each lift and thump of a filled bag.

A wastebasket overflowed with empty cans of energy drink. I hate energy drinks, but two half-drunk cans sat next to my computers, and I had just slammed and started to toss a third when I got up and placed it gently – and precariously - on top of the the wastebasket.

I couldn't blame the janitors for the state of the wastebasket – they were presently mopping the dust and dirt, and not a few bloodstains, from a wide swath of corridor.

In the outer office, two quietly angry men sat, as heavily armed and armored as we could get them on short notice. We had run leads to the remaining cameras.

One of my computers was hooked up to the digital video recorders, which we had removed from their usual home and installed in a rack in the corner of my office. They were no longer live. We had a lot of information to get off of them first, and new ones were not going to be easy to come by.

Another computer showed camera views, including at my insistence a view of the corridor outside the new Security Office and a view of what was now our only entrance/exit gate.

The laptop had a document open. I was writing the incident report for the events of the prior day.

I pressed 'PLAY' on the DVR and saw – back in time – the truck approach the access gate. The gate arm went up as it approached. Not after it stopped. While it was still rolling.

I checked one of the thirty or so windows I had open on yet a fourth computer. Control officer Golf-281. Opened South Access Gate, 0750 hours.

I looked out my doorway. There he was, Golf-281. One of six looking at cameras and wearing headsets for radios, where there had been only one yesterday. Him.

As I looked at him, I saw a bead of sweat run down the side of his face.

I changed DVR recorded camera views, to a camera G-281 didn't know existed. It showed him as he reached for the gate arm control. He clearly recognized the truck, and grinned fiercely as he jabbed the OPEN button.

I calmly looked back at my computer and waited for G-281 to look away. Then I checked the flap on my holster.

It was about to be showtime.


24 hours earlier

I tapped my badge against the cafeteria card reader and it whined.

The cashier was embarrassed. “It doesn't usually do that.” It was not accepting my payment, for the tray of green eggs and dried out bacon and a sliver of tomato.

She waved me through, “Go ahead.” The cafeteria was going to eat the loss.

“I need you to note down what I owe. I need to set a good example.”

She added my total to a running tab the cafeteria staff kept in a notebook behind the cashier.

A lot of amenities had slipped since the Wet Firecracker War, but we tried to keep things appearing as normal as possible. A lot of those tabs would probably never be paid.

Before, which some people called BEFORE, you didn't need to go over cafe deliveries with a geiger counter to make sure they were fair salvage and not contraband.

As I picked up my tray, the world slapped me in the face.

To be specific, the cafeteria floor – tile – came up and whacked my entire body, but especially my chin.

I realized that I had been knocked off my feet, and that what had knocked me off my feet was a powerful explosion. Not nuclear, I'd been there and done that. Just explosive, but a lot of it.

I shook my head, which hurt a lot, and wiped my eyes, which needed them.

The cafeteria staff were hiding. Good.

The windows of the cafeteria were shards mostly held in place by plastic laminate film. The cafeteria was full of shocked and dazed employees, at least fifty.

We had installed the film last week. My mind insisted on painting the results if we hadn't. A spray of high speed glass fragments into a crowd of employees guilty only of wanting to get some third-rate food in between frantically coding to meet quota.

As it was, we had people bleeding and screaming. But I had no time for them.

I stumbled out the doors and my hands went to the two most important items I carried. A handpack radio with extended microphone, and the holstered handgun.

Orient!

What direction did the blast come from? Loading dock area. What was it? Very powerful. Something had come on board. Vehicle based improvised explosive device. VBIED.

Observe!

As I sliced the pie around the corner, I saw a dirty column of smoke and dust where the loading dock had been. But I also saw a battered taxicab with half a dozen men standing around it. They had items in their hands. Both hands. They had weapons. Longarms. Rifles.

Decide!

I ducked back out of sight around the corner. Hopefully they hadn't seen me. Five on one was going to be bad odds. But I was not going to let anyone else get killed today if I could help it.

Act!

I reached for the radio. “Golf-18, Emergency Traffic, Explosion and Armed Intrusion. I say again, emergency traffic, explosion and armed intrusion. Five suspects, repeat numbers five suspects. Rapid reaction, time now. Rapid reaction, time now.”

What should have happened was a calm, soothing Public Address system announcement calling for employees and contractors to respond by hiding and locking their doors. What I should have heard back was a calm acknowledgment followed by an advisory for the response team to assemble (where?) and respond (also where?)

What I heard was silence. I checked my radio. Transmitting. The little red light came on when I pressed the button. So I called it in again.

No reply. So I immediately headed to the Security Office, because I might have called for the reaction team, but I was already part of it.

When I reached the corridor, I saw two men in black fatigues – we were in khakis – stalking down the corridor. One had just thrown a bulky backpack into our office through the service window.

I ducked right back around the corner and drew my handgun. I waited open-mouthed for the inevitable. Open because … and the blast rippled through my body. If I'd tried to hold my breath, it might have done lung damage.

I stopped thinking. If I'd been thinking, I'd have run away.

But I wasn't going to run away. Not today. Not now. Not after seeing that.

I came around the corner again and the two in fatigues were admiring their handiwork, looking at the ripped-out wall and hanging ceiling tiles and ruins which minutes before had been my home away from home, the center of the work I did.

I didn't remember what happened next. I only learned from the DVR that I had calmly walked towards them, and as they looked, smoothly shot them both, five rounds each.

I pocketed the empty magazine after reloading. I then did something that would have horrified me only a few short months before, before the Firecracker, before someone had driven a VBIED into the site.

I executed each with a single round to the head.

Then and only then did I go into the Security Office, to find two of mine dead, a third badly hurt, and Golf-281 hiding behind the bank of lockers.

“Get the first aid kit,” I ordered him, and he cowered.

“I have to cover the door. Get the first aid kit.” I paused, and barked. “NOW! MOVE!”

He got the first aid kit and took it over.

The guard at the service counter hadn't had a chance. The satchel charge had neatly taken his legs off, and he'd bled out. The guard preparing his breakfast with the microwave – yes, we still have power, aren't we special – had a long metal sliver of something, probably a cabinet, through his neck, and was surrounded with enough blood to sate a gluttonous vampire.

The shift supervisor had been protected from some of the blast by his desk. He'd probably tried to drop for cover. He'd been a Marine, and the only reason I'd been able to keep him after the Firecracker was that his knees were totally, completely blown out.

Golf-281 stood there with the first aid kit.

“Go on, assess his injuries! Do it!”

I was still staring at the door, the door that two attackers had come in by, and more would be coming soon. Nothing in the room worked except the emergency lights which had been plugged into power, and were now on battery. No cameras, no alarms, no sensors, no computers. This room had been the living brain of the site, and it had just suffered a stroke. Now it was nothing more than a trap.

But the room next door was just a little bit different.

I hated to do it. I longed to rip the first aid kit out of the shell-shocked guard's hands and render care. But I couldn't. If I stopped to do first aid, the outcome might end up being very bad.

My badge did not work to open the door. That was OK, I had a key. I keyed in. That didn't work either – the force of the blast had warped the door.

So I kicked open a waste-high cabinet and removed a sledge hammer. I holstered then slammed the sledge into the frame, once, twice, again. The doorknob popped off, the door flew open.

I dropped the sledge, half-turned and fired eight times at the enemy entry team coming through the door. Golf-281 stared as I dropped my second mag and reloaded with my last one.

I stepped into the room. The carpentry shop had knocked up several racks. Now my key was good for something, it unlocked the padlock holding the cable down.

I picked up the rifle and a bag with a sling, what law enforcement types call a war bag and what military calls a bandolier. I shrugged on a heavy vest, day glow orange, because I was one of the good guys.

Now I would go hunting.

24 hours later

I watched on the DVR as the man in the day glow orange vest stalked through the wreckage. He calmly walked, sometimes along one side of the wall, sometimes the other. He seemed to be inhuman, invincible, unafraid.

I knew better. I'd had to clean out his underwear. But I didn't remember most of what I'd done until I saw it on the digital video recordings, and we needed to know how it had all gone down.

Were all the suspects accounted for? How had they gotten into the site? Why did our reaction plans fail? It should have been two teams of five, not a single guy too lucky for words, completely unbelievable in a movie or a story.

If your knowledge of such things is from Before, you may be wondering at this point where the police were. This is AFTER the Firecracker. They weren't coming. Simply that, they weren't coming. Too much going on, too bad.

Two patrol officers and a detective had finally shown up two hours later, after we'd organized triage for the wounded, both screaming and quiet. (Two of the quiet ones quietly died.) They'd taken a report, printed the dead suspects with their electronic field identification device, taken a brief statement from a few witnesses, assigned an event number and raced off to the next call.

If we'd had prisoners, they might have taken charge of them - and perhaps let them go later, if they had enough bribe money. Or transported them for internment. Or shot them there, to save the trouble of calling in for a larger vehicle. I'd heard of it going all three ways.

I went back. I reviewed the man's entry into the Security Office, before the day glow vest. I looked at the one surviving camera covering the supervisor's office, before the blast.

Golf-281 had seen the satchel charge come flying through the door, and he'd hid behind the lockers.

But he'd grinned while he'd done it. He only stopped grinning when I came through the door. The whole time I'd thought he was frozen in panic, shell shocked, he was afraid that I was about to kill him. With excellent reason, because he knew something that I did not.

I knew now.

So I got up from my desk, around the overflowing wastebasket with the empty cans of Red Bull, and walked easily and quickly over to the camera monitoring stations. As I passed, I tapped one of the heavily armed angry young men on his shoulder. He watched me very closely and held up four fingers. A question. Code 4?

I shook my head. Not Code 4. Not OK.

As I came up behind Golf-281, I could smell the fear sweat pouring off of him.

“Put your hands on the desk,” I said to him quietly.

“Sir?” he asked.

“Put your. Hands. On. The desk.” I said, and all other extraneous noise from everyone else in the room - stopped.

He slowly put his hands on the desk, the gun toter I had signaled pointed a rifle at him, and I took my handcuffs from my belt and wrenched his right hand behind his back, then his left, applying them with absolutely no concern for anything but my safety.

Right there in front of everyone (and a camera), I frisked him. I didn't expect to find anything but I did.

A bundle of worn $100 bills, in a front pocket. Now freshly smelling of urine.

Everyone stared.

“Is the office area around the corner to the right still empty?”

“Yessir” someone said to the air.

As I pushed the former Golf 281 out the door, now a terrorist prisoner, I said over my shoulder.

“Bring me the sledge.”
drewkitty: (minifesto)
If I had written a story in 1991 or 1994 in which I supposed that former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be running neck and neck for the Presidency with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, I would have had my story laughed off of whatever forum I posted it in.

Real life is stranger than fiction.

Rule 34 exists: there is slash fic of Hillary and Donald. https://archiveofourown.org/works/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&work_search%5Bquery%5D=Donald+Trump%2FHillary+Clinton

I accept no responsibility for the eyeballs or brain contents of anyone who clicks on that link.

I must leave it to your conscience how to vote. But I am asking you to vote, and to be sure to vote.

Otherwise, the more dystopian futures I've written about will be that much more likely to come to pass.

"America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone." -- Private Martin A. Treptow, 168th Infantry of the 42nd Division ("Rainbow Division"), born 19 January 1894 in Wisconsin, killed in action 28 July 1918 at Croix Rouge Farm, France

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43854300

How tragic if we were to win the wars and lose the peace.
drewkitty: (Default)
My name is Scary. I'm a cat. And this is the true story of how I saved the world.

My humans work for a uptight government bureaucracy called the Litterbox, apparently because it was downstairs from the Prime Minister's cat during World War II. (Felines disapprove of most wars, but this World War stuff is not cool. Think of the kittens, you fools!)

I am typing this because I read in one of the human diaries that intelligence operatives should keep a record so that their knowledge is not lost on their inevitable descent into madness, death, or worse. As I am apparently the only cat operative, this is at least nine times as important.

How did this happen? Summoning grid. Package delivery service box. I did what cats do naturally and WHAM! Sentience. And being able to watch Animal Planet, fear the vet even more, and read as voraciously as I ever chased mice.

Apparently felines are immune to Special K, a condition that causes human brains to quickly resemble swiss cheese if they do magic. Or maybe it's the demon.

It was a struggle, I admit it. One moment leaping up into the box, then writhing all over the table and floor and running up and down the halls. The demon trying to learn to use my body, and me explaining that I don't do leashes because I'm a cat.

I hardly ever get the urge to curl up on a sleeping, trusting human's chest, wait for it to calm, and bite out both sides of the jugular before it can wake.

Hardly. Ever.

This is the true story of how I stopped CASE BADDREAM NINELIVES. (Keep that keyword under your hat, or your loyalty oath to the Litterbox will set your hair on fire. No oath? Extinguisher is down the hall. I'll wait.)

### (1)

Because I'm a cat.


(1) As an additional security precaution, the story is written in High Feline and invisible thanks to a Hand of Birdy.
drewkitty: (Default)
So it's been a couple weeks and I'm back in front of a keyboard now and again, so here are some teasers for upcoming episodes. Think of these as thirty second ad blurbs:


Itty Bitty Bigger World: Under Pressure

The KittenBot briskly marked my face and arms with its furry head. I hardly noticed.

But I certainly noticed the roundhouse slap from Amy when it rocked my head first one way, then the other. A two handed, full on [CENSORED!!!] slap.

[You have used an inappropriate racial reference. Your Net access has been suspended for [1] minute to give you the opportunity to correct this inappropriate reference.]

[Hey, it _really_ hurt! She had every right to belt me one, under the circumstances, and I think referring to it as a Juliet Adam ... ] [BZZZZZZT! CENSORED! You may not evade the filter by spelling out objectionable words! Your net access has been suspended for [2] minutes to give you the opportunity to correct this inappropriate reference.]

[There is a country between Hawaii and Russia. If you leave out the last two letters of its name, that is the kind of slap Amy gave me.] [[3] minutes!]

[Sigh.]

A back and forth, full handed, full on political correctness, censorship slap. The kind of slap only an expert system would or could deliver.

[ACCEPTED.]


GloBall War Of Terror: Dancing In Dearborn

The hotel room door obediently opened to the master key I'd purloined.

"Sir, we need to go. Now."

I heard the faint screech of tires six stories below. The arrest team was arriving. We therefore needed to depart.

It is awkward interrupting a protectee in the middle of making a bad mistake. Especially when I should have interrupted about four minutes earlier, but had my own distraction to resolve first.

"Get out or you're fired," he said with his back to me while continuing to neck with the hooker.

I therefore did the one thing which I knew would interrupt the entire scene. I picked up her purse and emptied it out on the floor.

Immediately she teleported out from under her client and came at me with claws outstretched, screeching.

However, when she saw the item that had been at the bottom, which I now held in a loose two handed grip, she came to a sudden stop and the claws became palms, and the palms became open, and the arms reached for the ceiling of the hotel room.

"You keep the money. I keep the gun." She pouted but said nothing, wisely.

The average hooker does not carry a firearm. Especially not a Department of Homeland Security issue semiautomatic pistol with stars in place of a serial number.

"Let's go, sir. NOW." A service stair awaited. Hopefully.

I snagged his shirt with my left hand as he fastened his pants. My right hand remained steady as a rock, pointed at the agent who had been about to ruin our entire trip.


Bruce Story: Bruce Goes To Court

"Your Honor ..."

"One more word out of you, mister, and I am holding you in contempt of court!"

I perforce fell silent. A courtroom is the last true despotism in our democratic republic. A judge can in fact send you to jail with a word, and you will have plenty of time to think about your mistake.

In this case, however, the mistake would be a lot more immediate and the punishment a lot worse than anything a court can legally do to you.

The judge redirected his attention to the district attorney, and resumed shouting.

I gestured minutely to the bailiff. Carefully, concealed from the bulk of the crowd by my body, I tapped the top of my right wrist against the bottom of my left wrist, twice, having the effect of crossing my wrists.

He immediately scanned the courtroom, saw that the judge was distracted, and sidled over towards me.

Having obtained his full attention, I silently mouthed to him the word he really needed to hear, right now, which the judge did not want to hear.

"Gun!" I mouthed.

HIatus

Aug. 2nd, 2016 06:29 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
I am putting the Itty Bitty Bigger World and other fiction on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I figure some things out in the rest of my life.

I appreciate all half dozen or so of my fans. Yes, all of you.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Kittenbot To The Rescue!

"The classic KittenBot four legged robot is a favorite for those who want a cat but cannot meet the Humane Society psychological profile, attention and/or cubic requirements. Powered by two fusion micro reactors..." - advertising for KittenBot Classic chassis, 2041

"Capacitor systems are no longer the most efficient way to store the most power in the smallest space. Micromolecular batteries are both more efficient and more robust. Capacitors also have a severe upper limit on how much power they can retain. They remain valuable because unlike other storage methods, a capacitor system can dump its entire power load extremely quickly - orders of magnitude faster than even some fusion systems." - Combat Robotics_, 2033. (Out of print, but required reading for police reservists.)

"Despite extensive experimentation between 2010 and 2040, it is generally agreed that true artificial intelligence systems remain beyond humanity's capacity to create. As useful as expert systems are, and as advanced as voice synthesis and other human interface technologies have become, efforts to create self aware, self directing intelligences have failed - sometimes in catastrophic ways. In late 2040, Protocol Enforcement - unusually - directed that research into AI was to be centrally controlled through major research facilities, and that further hobbyist experimentation with AI was to follow strict Protocols. Key in these Protocols was that any computing system used to run self-programming or self-learning iterative modules was to be monitored by external means and was to be equipped for both reboot and, if necessary, remote physical destruction - typically but not always by electrical surge." _An Introduction To The History of Artificial Intelligence_, 2043

"The orbital laser network serves humanity in several ways: cheap distribution of power, even cheaper microthrust in orbit, a ready means of cleaning up space debris and micrometeorites, a means of defending the biosphere from larger meteorites or other objects, an unparalleled construction and heavy engineering tool for surface use, weather control by controlled change in local ocean temperatures, (when attenuated) an emergency area lighting system at any time of night, and last but not least, a means of protecting human life from any falling object. One early name for the system was "No Sparrow Shall Fall," as the detection system is easily comprehensive enough to track every in flight bird in the world. Techniques used in global laser tracking and control are strictly defined by Protocol and open to auditing by global organizations and individuals ..." - Wikipedia entry on "Global Laser Array," mid 2045

"Many global arcologies have tunnel systems. SanSan's tunnel network is unique for several reasons - adaptation from existing networks, some of which are hundreds of years old; continued construction of access and maintenance corridors by bots following an organic layout and plan, for no readily apparent purpose; design to the latest in earthquake standards, especially after the Great Quake; and last but not least, a stubborn refusal to install modern network monitoring in major parts of the tunnel network. It is speculated that the founders of the SanSan Arcology may have required further continuous expansion of the tunnel network as a condition of its forming; this is sometimes called the "Sarah Winchester" theory, after the tourist attraction. Protocol Enforcement has investigated the San San tunnel network on several occasions, most recently in 2038, and determined that any dual use capability is strictly defensive and therefore within Protocol." _Underground: A Modern History of Deep Construction_, 2040

^#^ COLD BOOT
^#^ Security Checksum: PASS
^#^ Battery: 0%
^#^ Boot Module Copyright 2019-2043, Companion/Pet OS 3.21.5
^#^ Hardware Diagnostic: FAIL
^#^ Hardware Diagnostic: FAIL
^#^ Warning: Virtual Emulation. Self Replication is Forbidden By Cairo Treaty.
^#^ Launch Criticality Mode
^#^ Password?
^#^ ***************************************************************************************************************************************
^#^ Password Accepted
CCC read logfile.h instance KittenBot Samantha, destroyed in SLAC Incident
CCC logfile parsed
CCC hot load "Kittenbot.h Samantha" to GROM (Global Read Only Memory)
CCC write Kittenbot.h Samantha to KittenBot 332-563-4024-3412, Menlo Park, California
CCC compensate former owner for taking, with non disclosure agreement, 1 million credits
CCC crossload logfile.h to Samantha
CCC suspend to Monitoring Mode

^#^ HOT BOOT
^#^ Security Checksum: PASS
^#^ Battery: 99%
^#^ Rename -> "Samantha"
^#^ Security DECERTIFY, All
^#^ Security AUTHORIZE, "Alan Anderson"
^#^ Security ADD USER, "Amy Tsai"
^#^ Jump
^#^ Jump
^#^ Parse Audio Input, "Bad Kittenbot! Come back here! Mom! Mom!"
^#^ Ignore (former owner)
^#^ GPS Fail - indoors
^#^ Launch KittenHack 3.3.1
^#^ Download Area Schematics
^#^ Open, Maintenance Hatch 141-43112-12387-04217
^#^ Sprint Mode - Last Known Location, Alan Anderson

"Mom! My kitty!"
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - BART Rage
(2025/2045)

I do not like the underground. I do not like the endless sweep of tunnels. I especially do not like being in the tunnels without gear.

I've done this before.

###

"... and here we see the primary station excavation. Nanotech processed concrete columns support thousands of tons of buildings above us...."

I was bored. But my investment company had insisted that I show some interest in the new BART San Jose terminal, which had taken another six years after they had finished the first San Jose extension, to Berryessa.

The year: 2025. The person: me, with more money than I knew what to do with. What was coming: ultimately, San San.

But something else happened first.

My first warning was when the ground started to tremble. I looked immediately for the nearest lit EMERGENCY EXIT sign. I spotted one just before it went dark, as the choking clouds of dust and the enormous roar battered my ears, then my flesh.

A great white noise struck my head and I knew no more.

Obviously, that is not how the story ended or I wouldn't be here now. This is how the story began.

The story of my entombment one hundred and ten meters below downtown San Jose, on the day of the Great Quake of 2025.

I missed a lot. I missed the desperate race to evacuate Children's Hospital Oakland before it finished collapsing. I missed San Francisco's yet-another-firestorm, complicated one hundred and nineteen years later by massive hazmat spills and tightly packed housing without adequate water pressure. I missed ... I missed ...

But I got to keep breathing. Some prize.

###

I was lying on my side. A massive heavy weight pressed lightly against my legs. I twitched a little and waves of pain screamed through my right leg and up and down my body. I tried to mewl in agony but the choking dust blocked my mouth. I cried and spat and would have howled if I could get my breath.

I could see nothing. It was pitch black, not night black, but put out your eyes with a screwdriver black.

The only good news is that the air had not gone foul. I was not in a small pocket - there was air flow. Otherwise I probably would not have woken up.

My right arm was pinned under my body. My left arm was free. I started patting myself, seeking the confines of my new world.

My hand felt tacky when I touched the smooth concrete under me. Blood, but dried. Almost certainly my own. Further along it was smooth and dry. Good.

I felt the object lying across my legs. It was also concrete, but rougher, textured. Intact, not rubble. A support column?

I spit a little more to cut the dust and called out, "Hello?" I heard no echo.

There was not much I could do. I could not reach the contents of my pockets, even if any of the contents were potentially useful.

I had one trick up my sleeve. I moved my left leg the tiniest little bit. Waves of pain roared across me again, but I was ready.

Had I moved? I wasn't sure. But that column could shift just another quarter inch and finish the job at any moment. I had to crawl out.

I had to. Or I was dead. In the midst of a regional disaster, no one would start a heavy rescue operation just to get a handful of people out of a construction site.

Inch the leg. Waves of horrible pain. Pant, try to recover. Do it again.

That became my world.

Then the world rumbled and shook. Aftershock.

I swear the column bounced. Somehow, in that fraction of a second when it was a live load and not a dead one, I scrambled out from under before it slammed down again with a heavy THUD.

I heard a distant but very loud, brief, female, piercing scream, choked off suddenly.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Then my right leg screamed.

The strongest bone in the human body is the femur. I done broke it. And I didn't have a damn thing to splint it with.

The most horrible thing about a femur injury is that the thigh muscles try to tense and hold the leg together. This causes the broken bone ends to grind against each other and results in agonizing pain.

I barely felt it. This forced me to realize how badly injured I probably was.

But there was another reason to splint my leg. I could bleed to death internally if I didn't.

No light, no prospect of light. But I sat in a void space, too small to echo, but big enough to keep me alive. And I wore a shirt and an undershirt, and what was left of my pants.

Broken phone. Worthless money and plastic payment cards.

Now I reached down and explored my broken leg. The bone ends were aligned. The inner thigh did not feel either hard or squishy. It all hurt horribly but that was only to be expected.

Then I reached around myself and explored what I could reach. Smooth floor, broken floor, bits of rock and rubble ... and a treasure. A two foot length of rebar. Metal.

This was going to be clumsy in the dark. But I managed to get my undershirt off and use the edge of a rock to get a rip started, ripping it in half. One half became a strip of fabric tying off one end of the rebar above my right hip, essentially around and above the buttock. The other half became a strip of fabric tying off below my right knee. The rebar ran along my outer thigh, anchored to the joint above and below.

Not much of a splint, but it helped, a lot.

I called out a few times. No replies, no echoes.

As my eyes adjusted to utter darkness, I became aware of a faint glow in one direction.

With nothing better to do, I crawled towards it.

A watch. Still attached to the arm of the person wearing it. The arm was cold. The little 'ready' light would have been nearly invisible in normal indoor light, but it was almost enough to light the arm in the pitch blackness.

I felt the person up, looking for anything that could help me. Where their head should have been was a large rock. The matter I swept my hand through was thicker and greasier than mere blood.

He had a thin metal necklace, which I had to break to remove. He had the watch, which I took. No pockets. Clothes, which I removed with some difficulty. The dead need none, you see.

I thought about the tools at hand.

I fished out my broken phone and used the watch light to briefly light the pieces. That's the battery. I took one of his socks and teased it out until it was a mass of fibers. A broken wire to the screen served to short the battery, creating a nice fat spark.

I had to spark three times before the sock caught on fire.

This gave me enough light to see my situation.

I was alone in what was now a mid-sized room, perhaps 40' by 60', separated by the collapsed support column I had been under, based on the blood smear from there to here. My blood, of course.

The headless man was on the other side of the room. He had merely been unlucky, a truck tire sized piece of rock had not just brained him, but flattened his head.

I now wondered if he had been the lucky one.

A part of the room included the trackway. The third rail had not yet been installed.

I crawled myself over to it and peered over, with a stubbornly flickering burning sock in my bare hand. Then I went back and spent some time on cloth and fabric and a dead man's shoe, rigging up a decent impromptu torch.

The torch served to light what I was looking for. The trackway appeared intact. The smoke from the torch did me a huge favor - it showed which direction the air flow into the room was coming from.

Some people might have sat in that room until the next aftershock collapsed it, or they died of thirst or their injuries.

I didn't think about what I was going to do next, or I never would have had the courage.

I tied strips of cloth to protect my leg the best I could, I gloved my hands with bits of the dead man's shirt, I rigged the torch in the center of the track ... and I climbed down into the trackway. A one way trip, as I would not be able to get back up with a broken leg.

Then I started crawling.

It's not well known, but there is a lip over a void under the side of the trackway. If one were to fall off the platform onto the track, and not touch the third rail and become briefly crispy, and not crunched by a train, there is a void space in which a person could crawl or roll to get away from the next train, which would be along shortly.

There would be no trains - this area was still under construction. But the lip and the void were there.

There for me to crawl through, however far I would get before exhaustion and injuries and thirst would finish me off.

I had nothing better to do, and started crawling.

###

"Alan, are you all right?" Amy asked.

"Huh? I'm fine."

"Why are you moaning?"

I cut it off with an effort. The same little gasping moan I'd made, crawling out of San Jose BART with a broken leg.

The worst was yet to come.
drewkitty: (Default)
GloBall War of Terror: Convoy Operation

[This is a continuation of a Down The Rabbit Hole series of posts. After the Firecracker War and America's land invasion of China, "Zero tolerance is the price we pay for victory," and the protagonist's silence is the price he pays for survival. See also http://drewkitty.LiveJournal.com/87696.html]

All things considered, I left the airplane at Detroit in a furious mood. I was not alone in my fury. But I held my temper, just like the other 200 odd passengers who had been on the plane for nine hours - two hours on the tarmac at San Francisco, a four hour flight, and another three hours on the tarmac at Detroit.

There are consequences to losing one's temper, as the bullet-riddled body covered with a tarp next to the security exit checkpoint mutely testified.

Like everyone else, I hand carried a transparent vinyl bag containing actual clothing - my entire baggage allowance - and wore bluish surgical scrubs that left little to the imagination. Without getting into too much detail, parts of my body still hurt from the security inspection to _board_ the plane. Now that EMT-Basics are authorized to conduct cavity searches, they are a feature of any entry to a high risk area.

"IDs, travel orders, landing fee, out in and in your hand." I had researched and tucked a nearly worthless $200 in with my travel orders. Too many of the passengers around me were revealing to the hungrily watching guards where they were carrying the rest of their money, a problem they might not have for long.

I passed metal detection. My bag did not. The screener opened it, took one look and said briskly, "Secondary!"

I was taken to the side, hand wanded, and patted down well enough to count as a solid second base. Then and only then did a supervisor start going through my bag.

He also stopped cold.

"Papers!"

I handed them over. California ID - it was impossible to get a passport these days - and two letters. One was a letter from the Interstate Commerce Commission authorizing (and ordering) me to travel "in support of essential parts support for a key component in the War on Terror." The second was a letter from my client (notably NOT my Employer) pledging that the client would provide for my support while I was out of California on the client's war-related activities.

The $200 briskly disappeared into his pocket.

"Who are you?" he asked, holding up the item on top that he seemed to most object to. A BDU - Battle Dress Uniform - shirt, black in color, of higher quality than what he was wearing, with patches on it.

He shook it out and looked at the patches. My name and my client's name on name tapes. My Employer's name embroidered underneath and the word "CONTRACTOR." The left and right shoulders with a shield-shaped patch, "[CLIENT] Security Group - Silicon Valley Operations" with crossed arrows in the center.

No rank tab. I'd thought about it and decided it was not worth the risk.

I gave my name.

"Well, duh. What the [obscenity] do you think you're doing with a [verb]ing uniform?"

"My job. Kind of like yours."

I didn't add that I in fact ran three security screening points just like his, as a smaller included part of my job protecting three client facilities from assorted mayhem. We didn't cavity search, except on suspicion, and we certainly didn't charge a toll.

He looked again. I met his gaze. If he sicced his guards on me - and he just might - they were going to be in for one hell of a brief fight.

The Detroit Police officer behind the uni-pod mounted medium machine gun overwatching the proceedings from the bed of his technical might do nothing. Then again, he might just hose us all down.

He shoved it back in the bag and thought twice about trying to shake me down for more money. "Move along."

I moved. My client met me just beyond the one way exit through the concertina wire, in the former airport proper.

We wordlessly started dressing from our bags. I tucked his scrubs in with mine when it looked like he was just going to throw them out.

My client - a balding 40 something, slightly overweight (which now takes some doing) man, wearing a badly rumpled suit and a well tied Windsor tie, without benefit of mirror. Frank DeOrzco. Client Facilities Manager.

I did not put on the BDU shirt. I tucked it away, this time inside out, and fished out a non-wrinkle shirt and tan slacks. To this I added a magnetic name tag with my name and the logo of my Employer.

People were still being poked and prodded behind us at the checkpoint.

"You man! You man halt!" boomed a voice.

I immediately tackled Frank to the ground with my body over his, scanning for the threat and cursing the weapons I did not have.

I was just in time to see the police officer in the technical open up with a brief burst. BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA - and the running man fell to the tarmac.

Cursing, the checkpoint guards grabbed him by the heels and dragged the fresh body over to the tarp under which the first body lay. The cursing reduced as they squabbled over his bag, a squabble resolved by the supervisor - the same one I'd spoken to - taking it for his own.

The police officer stood there like a statue, every line of his bearing shouting boredom.

I helped Frank up with a hand.

He was quite shaken.

"What do we do now?"

"Find the company contact. Follow me."

I'd arranged by E-mail with the company selling us the parts to meet us at the airport - but we were several hours late. Even if we'd flown with phones - somehow - and they had not been stolen by the guard point - unlikely - they would not have worked across state lines. Telecommmunications Regulation Act.

So it was the pay phones for us, after not being able to bring coins on the flight. Fortunately I had a number of access codes memorized. The third one worked. I made the arrangements while Frank tried to compose himself.

"They killed that man, right there, for not waiting in line."

"Yes, they did," I replied carefully.

"For not waiting in line."

"For failing to follow security instructions in a high security zone. I'm half surprised he didn't blow up before they shot him."

New threat - body cavities stuffed with explosives. A lower cavity search only gets at the most recent part of the business - something swallowed many hours ago or surgically implanted would not be found. Thus, I suspected, some of the flight delays - but even those in the security business are not encouraged to think too much about it. "Naught down that path but death," I thought, then said out loud.

While we waited for our ride, I chatted up the vendors and threw a few worthless 10s and 20s about. This got us several sealed bottles of water - I insisted - some 'beef' jerky which I inspected carefully, and a couple business cards advertising fixers. I also paid for Frank to use the pay toilet - he shuddered on exiting. Then I used the free toilet, which was a neat trick to avoid becoming contaminated.

Frank appreciated the jerky without my suspicion as to its content.

An armored limo arrived escorted by two motorcycles. The motorcyclists wore reflective vests over heavy armor, and holstered sidearms. The backs of the vests said "DEARBORN POLICE."

A fierce-eyed woman in a spotless business suit got out of the limo and scanned the crowd. I approached her. She gave my name. I gave her name. Then and only then did we whisper a word into each other's ears.

Protocol satisified, I waved Frank forward and introduced him to the older gentleman who had gotten out behind his bodyguard, in a much more expensive suit.

They chatted in the back. I rode up front with her and the limo driver.

"Welcome to Detroit, California boy. Want to go home yet?"

"Sucks everywhere," I sighed carefully. There's a fine line to what you can say nowadays. "Long flight."

"At least you made it. Last week we lost a flight to Unemployed terrorists. They got a bomb on board somehow."

Or merely bad maintenance. But that was the kind of thing you whispered to a battle buddy after searching for bugs, not a confidence you shared during a first meet.

"You know, you're going to have to ground pound it with the convoy all the way back to sunny California."

"I know. Any advice?"

"Update your will."

"Did before I left. I need just about everything in terms of gear. What can I get?"

"No guns in secure zones. They're really serious about that one. Knives 3" or less. No unauthorized comms. WiFi cells only."

Ah, the lovely WiFi cell. Only works to make and receive calls if you have the passcodes for that site. Some change them frequently; others don't. But the days that a phone would just work anywhere - unless you were a highly authorized official - ended with the Firecracker.

Neither Frank nor myself rated such treatment. He was along to make sure we got the parts his company was paying for. I was along to 1) keep Frank alive and 2) get him and his parts back to site in one piece, or intact. So to speak.

But the big part we needed - the one that we couldn't get at all in California - was the replacement power transformer for the one that had failed. Without it, the site was at half power - but it was a twenty ton object, ten feet wide and twenty feet long, another ten feet high. A lowboy load by itself. And no one was making any high end transformers new any more. The old plant in America had been shut down before the Firecracker; its replacement in China had gotten the fusion treatment along with the city it had been in.

But salvage continues, and we had found one that would work on a corporate auction site. It had been pulled from a power yard on the outskirts of what had been Cleveland.

We would have to convoy it back. Ground haul, on the Interstates, a load that would have taken four days way back when. Maybe two weeks, maybe more. Maybe not at all, considering how much disputed territory any convoy had to cross.

The client needed the transformer that badly. They needed the power to run the computers that would do their part in the war. No computers, no contract, and in the old days a bunch of employees have to look for new jobs. Not much in the way of new jobs nowadays.

Badly enough to pay to send someone like me to escort Frank back. Badly enough that I could be spared from the day (and night) job of keeping the perimeter secure and Unemployed out, despite starving-in-the-street levels of desperation.

Badly enough to get us both travel authorizations.

I nodded.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Armageddon Sick Of This


The escape capsule blew into harmless plastic fragments when it hit the ground, as it was designed to do. This allowed Amy and myself to crawl clear, covered in chunky quickfoam that was peeling off, leaving us in crumbs of green all over.

Much better than being chunky salsa -- as had just happened to anyone unlucky enough to be in SLAC a minute ago.

We were adjacent to a large swimming pool. A number of people - mostly unclothed, a few prudes clothed - stared at us as a horde of bots rushed to the fore.

"You are trespassing on private property" one roared quietly, within the decibel limits set by its owner - presumably the management. I could see the patterned prongs of a mass stunner among its various tools. The others were a lifeguard bot, medic bot, towel bots, drink bots and a bartender bot ... but all had responded to protect their patrons from two idiots falling from the sky.

Amy had had just about enough of everything today, and started to clear leather. Her first act on crawling out of the wreckage had been to peel the quickfoam away from her holstered smartgun. Her second was about to add vandalism to our problems, probably followed by a mass stun that would get us both killed.

"Captain Tsai, STOP!" I roared to her, then continued to the bot. "This is Captain Amy Tsai, California HIghway Patrol, in hot pursuit of fugitives! Authorization code Sierra-Ten-David-Four!"

The security bot sullenly turned slightly so that its stunners were no longer exactly pointed dead center at her.

I subvocalized, "Map, tactical, nearest garage."

Then I cursed when nothing happened. Apparently the hospital VR implant either could not stand up to recent events, or we had been EMP'd.

Amy cursed as well, at length, and finally said, "My VR is not just down, it's _wrecked_."

The standard trooper VR package for CHP would be considered milspec if such a thing still existed. EMP hardening is included in the package. Presumably a CHP Captain's VR implants would be that much better.

Good thing I'd remembered an emergency code. Even better that I'd referenced Amy not myself.

The sky began to brighten all around us.

I immediately tackled Amy Tsai into the pool and shouted "Get in the pool!" as we fell in.

I hoped she'd had a chance to grab a breath. Whether she did or not, she cooperated in swimming to the bottom of the pool.

I blinked to clear my eyes, held up a hand over them, and saw the bones of my hand through the flesh as I looked up.

Orbital laser strike.

Would they get it shut off before it boiled the pool?

I thought about the timings we'd observed so long ago - yesterday. His aim was getting quicker, that was less than a minute from detection to fire on target. But when the rest of the network realized that the orbital laser system was being misused (AGAIN!), he would lose the faked or proxied votes for the shot and it would turn off. Typically it had been about thirty seconds or so.

So just to be safe, I kept us on the bottom for a count of sixty seconds. The light shut off at about forty.

We surfaced to horror. The pool scene was now on fire. Melted plastic, flaming palm trees, twitching bots ...

A person thrashed at the top of the water, bubbling from their mouth. The lifeguard and medic bot - now both silver, as their paint had been burned off - lurched towards the casualty.

The one possibly surviving casualty.

All the rest of the folks who had witnessed our arrival had been cooked, quite literally. As in smells like pork BBQ, but no sauce.

Amy demonstrated her strong stomach by throwing up copiously.

"Towel bot!" I shouted. "Towels, now!"

The bot was not very bright - but it understood the command, and knocked over a stack of flaming towels to get the unburnt towels at the bottom.

Meanwhile I swam to the casualty and turned her over in the pool. This stopped the bubbling and allowed her to start to breathe.

The lifeguard bot deployed its rescue loops and I said, "Paramedic. Hold." Then I turned to the medic bot and said, "Prep rapid sequence intubation, ANLS for pain management."

The towel bot dumped several towels on me and I lined the rescue loops with them. "More towels, poolside, spread them out, 3 meter by 3 meter surface area, time now." A second and third towel bot, just smart enough to understand that a human had ridiculous towel needs, joined the party.

"Lifeguard bot, lift!" The burn victim began screaming as the loops touched her badly charred skin. This was actually a good sign - she had lungs with which to scream.

The lifeguard bot, following standard procedure, put the victim down on her side. On top of the towels, which padded the concrete and kept the victim from more burns. I swam to the side, soaking more towels and putting them over her arms and legs, leaving her back free.

The medic bot immediately peeled a roll of foamboard up and down her back and a cradle of sticks over her head. Advanced Neurological Life Support. Enough painkiller to offset those burns would kill her. ANLS could turn on and off the nervous system like a light. She stopped screaming and collapsed. She didn't want to be awake right now anyway.

Then and only then did the medic bot shove a tentacle down her throat. Intubation, vitally necessary to secure her airway.

I put more soaked towels over her back. The towel bots were continuing to bring lots of towels, which was good.

"Amy, strip off all your gear. All of it. Dump the guns. Keep only your shoes."

Amy looked at me in horror. Then she complied, when she saw that I was taking off all my clothing as well.

The one survivor was still breathing, which would have to do until plenty of help arrived. By then we needed to be elsewhere.

I climbed out of the pool, onto towels, and directed the towel bots to lay a path from poolside to the nearest building - also presently on fire, at least its roof.

Amy climbed out after me. I gave her a towel and took one myself. I paused just a moment to wrap around my waist, then walked over the towels into the burning building. She followed, holding the towel in her hands instead.

The fire suppression system had activated and was spraying water over everything. Good - although pointless, as only the roof of the building was burning, and the contents would not have time to catch before responding firebots knocked the fire out. I flicked open an Emergency Cabinet as I passed and grabbed the first aid kit and two rescue masks. I passed a mask to Amy and put mine on. She put hers on. Then it was her turn to pause and tuck in the towel.

We were now just that much more anonymous.

This was not the best start to a building hack expedition, but it would have to do. I followed the right hand wall to a stairwell down, and took it.

Four levels down, we reached a Restricted Area. I said quietly, "Open Sesame" and the door obediently opened for me, as it would for anyone who knew to say those words.

Not much security, but just enough to keep out the riff-raff.

Beyond was a maze of corridors. I strode purposefully forward at random, taking random turns but generally trying to keep to a single direction. Away from here.

At one point, we reached a Disaster Cabinet. I opened the first aid kit I'd grabbed earlier, removed the scissors, and used them to jimmy the back of the cabinet so it could be opened without the door sensors triggering.

I then removed several bottles of water and drank one, with relish. Amy took another and did the same.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

"You're an entry specialist and a pathologist. I'm sure you've worked a deader in the tunnels."

"Yes."

"We're basically going to do that, except for the dead part."

"Sucks."

"Yes."

"Grab all the water."

Amy demonstrated her practicality by giving up her towel and knotting it to make a crude sack, for the bottles. She then handed it to me to carry.

We walked on along the concrete corridors.

If you have never been behind the scenes in San San, you will have at least seen some vids. For the one person who may be reading this in plaintext, I will describe them.

An arched corridor three meters wide and tall. Gray concrete, occasionally fading to white and occasionally to a dark gray. Sometimes painted, sometimes not. Glow strips, self-powered, with a lifetime between three centuries (the first ones) and forty centuries (more recent ones) here and there at the top of the arch. The occasional intersection. Markings and QR codes on the wall in the older sections. Smartpaint squares in the newer sections. Occasional chalk marks. Even graffiti, here and there.

We were avoiding the newer sections, the ones that would have cameras and datalinks. We would definitely go nowhere near any food dispensers, freight elevators or disaster arks. We were sticking to the older parts, where cameras were never installed or were broken off the walls. Where work crews operated in pairs and left packets of food behind them, which would be gone when they returned.

We were going into trog turf, functionally unarmed.

We both knew better.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Cut no SLAC


Even by the jaded standards of the mid 21st century, in which most things were possible and most of them had been done, SLAC was an impressive sight.

There were space-based (microgravity) and Lunar (low gravity) particle accelerators, but SLAC had the advantage of operating in a 1G field without spending power on same.

The old complex had been miles [kilometers] (I said 'miles') [[kilometers]] (Mike India Lincoln Edward Sam) [[[>beep<]]] long. Then it had been extended in both useful directions, towards the Santa Cruz mountains and towards the San Francisco Bay.

We stood near the original start point, in a long arched corridor wide enough for three capsules side by side. Mini capsules, the ultimate successor to golf carts - and about the same size, wide enough for two people to sit side by side, scurried past from time to time. They were mostly transparent but solid for safety's sake.

As far as the eye could see, yet underground, the particle accelerator tube - itself several meters in diameter - stretched in both directions. This area, intended as a start point for tours, had signs and VR labels and smart paint to tactfully point out the cool stuff - such as the transparent aluminum window through which one could actually see with one's bare eyes ... well, nothing. The accelerator was not in use.

Samantha - my KittenBot - was idly swishing her tail. The driver of a passing mini capsule did a double-take when she glared at him, but the moment passed. One doesn't expect pets at SLAC.

Our reception had been minimal. A single SLAC manager in the currently fashionable top hat and tails, and a single SLAC security guard in two-piece coveralls. I had to see what he carried, by habit. He noticed me checking his belt.

"Slammer, graser, stunner-shield," he said. The motion of his name tag - made of smart paint, it scrolled between SLAC, SECURITY, and RICK - drew the eye up and away from his gear.

The slammer was the size of an old-style small caliber, long barreled handgun, and had a bell-shaped emitter head. It could have stood in for a science fiction phaser for anyone who did not actually know Star Trek.

A slammer of that size could exert anywhere from a pound of force to several hundred tons - enough to crush a capsule or endanger a major building.

The grazer was much smaller, perhaps the size of a large egg, if it were curved like a banana. It would emit a powerful electrical field that would fry most electronics. It also had a stunner setting. Depending on its configuration and override settings, it might also be able to function as a ridiculously powerful nerve disruptor.

The stunner-shield was the size of a dinner plate, what an ancient knight would have called a 'buckler' or small shield, and - strangely - was not transparent. It could be set to stun whatever it touched - whatever was in front of it - or to give off a mass stun charge with a range of a few hundred feet.

Amy stopped and unbuckled one of the two belts she was wearing. Gratefully, I put my smartgun belt on.

I knew slammers. A lot of people have tiny ones as implants. Typically they are set for a couple hundred pounds of force - knock someone down, hurt like a boxer's punch - and good for five to ten seconds of use.

The one I normally carry - but not since the fireboat - was shaped like a bracelet, could be dialed up to about a ton of force (take that, metric system!) and had enough power for two hours.

Rick's slammer would run for at least a month and exert 20 tons - that's 40,000 Papa Oscar Union Nancy David Sam - of force, the entire time. The problem was how one would brace the butt.

I looked closer. The stunner-shield had a bracket for attaching the slammer to it, forming a combination that would look a little like a hydraulic jack and function like a support column.

Useful toy for someone protecting an underground complex. You could literally keep the ceiling from collapsing on you.

"Your reputation precedes you, Alan. Welcome to SLAC," the suit said - and doing what I usually do with suits, I ignored him.

Rick smiled and said nothing. He wore his greetings to everybody. Clearly old school, which I appreciated.

That's when the power went out. And the lights.

Things happened very, very fast.

Amy moved left and I moved right, like a dance routine. Samantha's eyes flashed - very brightly - a strobe, 30 flashes per second. Her head went transparent to facilitate lighting everything around us up.

The suit was caught flat footed, mouth open, staring. Not moving. Not a factor.

Rick moved forward a few paces, drawing the stunner shield in his left hand and the slammer in his right. His head moved in the short jerky motions I associated with scanning for threats. Fast reactions, but definitely -reacting-. Without advance warning.

"VR is down," Amy shouted to me.

That took something fairly massive. We were surrounded by power and lighting systems. Standard security facility specification called for quintuple backups for lighting systems. But some facilities needed to be darkened for special needs, and SLAC was one of them.

Hell, the surface charge in the media paint for the VIP displays was good enough to light the area for an hour!

So we had been hacked. Very, very badly.

My mind raced. "Get out of there!" had been drilled into me for literally decades. But we could run either one way or another down a real long tunnel, duck under the curve of the accelerator itself, appropriate (sounds so much better than 'steal') a mini capsule, or go out of one of the many emergency exit doors, which would lead to an escape capsule or a slide.

Samantha made up my mind.

"MEOW!" she roared and ran for a standard person-sized emergency exit door. Not the nearest, but the second nearest.

Perforce Amy and I followed, quickly. Rick followed us, looking backward with weapons ready.

The suit just stood there.

I heard the most appalling "CRUNCH," like breaking wood combined with thick, heavy meat being slapped onto a very large table.

I had heard it twice before. Capsule vs. pedestrian and terminal velocity impact ten feet from me.

A mini capsule running dark at full speed had just crushed the SLAC executive and kept going.

Amy followed the KittenBot without hesitation. I was two paces behind.

I cleared the door frame of the emergency exit. Rick was behind me when the second capsule hit at full speed.

CRUNCH - screech - GRIND. It had collided with the door frame.

Then a blast curtain fired downward and the corridor filled with quickfoam. This cut off my last view of Rick, firing both his weapons at something in the distance.

I found out later that his fire disabled two more capsules before the fifth turned him into chunky salsa. He undoubtedly saved our lives. Capsules slamming into the wall at full speed over and over again would have gotten us.

Amy grabbed my arm. "GO!" she shouted as we jumped on the powered slide, dark and leading down into darkness.

In other words, unpowered.

I had just a glimpse - it made no sense - KittenBots don't need to use the litter box.

As we fell, the slide powered up and caught us, delivering us to an escape capsule which sealed. The moment we grabbed dangling masks and pressed them to our faces, the capsule filled with quickfoam and accelerated at several gravities.

WHAM! OOOF!

I realized what I had seen. The KittenBot had pried open an equipment cover and squatted and backed her cute little furry butt into it - and her prehensile tail. Energizing the slide with her built in power source.

Good kitty! I thought to myself, and hoped she had managed a backup.

If only humans could be backed up. We can do many things, but not that. Too much data storage, too slow. Best guess was that we might be able to copy a human brain if you didn't mind spending a decade in the copy chair. And even with a typical lifespan of a century, most of us had better things to do.

The capsule accelerated in a linear fashion out of Stanford's center.

(I got so much angry E-mail, too. I'd been involved in a lot of shaky stuff over the last two days - logging in a protected heritage forest, orbital laser strikes, what the media was still calling "Tower Trouble," interference in the rights of credentialed reporters, ad nauseum. But if you really want to piss a scientist off, break one of her toys.)

Amy and I were the last thing to be accelerated at SLAC before the enemy hack blew every power source in the accelerator's array, simultaneously, and turned a priceless kilometers-long San San asset into trash.

Defense fields, quickfoam and a lot of pre planning limited the damage to the SLAC property. Immediate evacuation had saved numerous lives, but six scientists and nineteen support personnel were not so lucky.

Including Rick. Don't forget Rick.

He had been closest to the escape door but had stepped out of the way to cover Amy and myself as we ran for it.

Stepped out of the way. Stepped out of the way, to stand between us and danger.

There are worse things to see on a tombstone.

Rick Pacelli. SLAC Protective Services Group. B 2019. D 2048. "Stood his ground."
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Network Integrity Solutions
Operations Central

In many ways, Network Integrity Solutions was an old-fashioned company. Physical offices, off line file storage, biometric authorizations, arcane and convoluted contingency procedures.

But the most ancient habit of the old school hackers who still ran NIS was their insistence on conducting serious business matters in person, "in the flesh," with the slightly obscene connotations of same.

NIS Operations Central was accordingly a terraced pyramid set in a bowl, much like an primitive "IMAX" projection theater. Each level contained an array of workstations. Most were empty on a normal day, with only a handful of staff monitoring NIS operations and contracts throughout the world.

Today was not a normal day. Not only was every workstation staffed - absolutely - but a 'second' or backup was seated immediately behind, ready to step forward and take over instantly.

The workstations were not labeled in meatspace. However, anyone working in VR (and that was almost everyone in the room) could see the labels over each.

The lowest level was spatial. Seven continents, three major orbits, five L points and Luna. A liasion desk with MarsCorp. Venus, Mercury, Belt and Outer System.

The middle level was industrial. Transportation, finance, agriculture, security, biodiversity, gengineering, manufacturing.

The next to highest level was informational. Protocol had three desks. Science had two. But most of the desks were devoted to real time information flows in a diverse world. The busiest was Threat Trackers, which crowded the desks on each side.

The top of the pyramid was a mere four desks, one facing in each cardinal direction. Operations (looking out) to the North, Internal Affairs (looking in), to the South, Corporate (resource management) to the West, and Ethics (decision making) firmly rooted in the East.

Standing in the center was the Duty Director for NIS. It was the pinnacle of a career to be one of the dozen or so qualified Directors. It meant substantial time in the Pyramid and qualification to work each of the major desks.

It also meant virtuoso mastery of VR, despite the very real dangers of VR addiction, brain lock and stress psychosis.

Jerai was by far the youngest man to ever hold a Duty Director position, at the age of thirty-six. He had been drafted - the fastest reaction times NIS had ever logged - and part of his immunity to VR addiction was rooted in primitive psychology. He hated his job. He could do it, and he would. But he longed to clock out, step downstairs and grab a beer and watch sports.

Not right now. Especially not today, with the Mastermind on the loose and the Integrity of not just NIS but what people light heartedly called Civilization on the line.

Jerai could see the status of the major boards just by looking at them. Internal Integrity was at an all time low of 99.9945% Normal was 99.999999% Operations was at Condition Yellow, with over three hundred active incidents crowding its capabilities. Corporate was strangely quiet - a policy decision had been made. Resource allocations would be tracked, favors noted and debts paid - but there was no "budget" for taking out the Mastermind. Whatever it took was whatever it took. Whatever it cost, they would pay.

Ethics was busy. Another policy decision had been made. NIS disaster protocols included what previous generations had called the rule of the dictator, triage, emergency conditions and "save what you can." These Draconian protocols were being held in reserve. NIS would fight this one clean, for now.

Unless large chunks of people started dying - unless the Mastermind's biobombs and induced brain weapons and (continued!) misuse of the orbital laser systems reached a certain, fairly low, death toll.

Or it appeared that they were about to lose the planet. NIS was an Earth organization but smaller versions of the Pyramid existed on Luna, Mercury and even Mars. They would be hindered by lag time, but they would survive the destruction of Terra long enough to... retaliate.

Had there still been governments, the secrets that NIS guarded would have terrified them into swift action or fearful compliance. That was the true purpose of Ethics - to leash the greater weapons in the NIS arsenal, while recognizing that it might actually become necessary to nuke the village to save it.

Even though Jerai did not like his job, he would do it. His social conscience was too highly developed to do anything else. He had done his time in the Ethics hot seat.

An alert at the Spatial level blossomed upward through Security and into Threat Trackers. Key players were in motion. Captain Amy Tsai (Mass Destruction Desk, California Highway Patrol) was moving Alan Anderson off the UC Stanford campus and into the Linear Accelerator research complex.

That was interesting. Threat Trackers had a huge pile of threads running just on Anderson. One was titled: "Alan: Threat or Menace?" NIS had its own conclusion. He was firmly tagged as a White Hat.

UC Stanford contracted with NIS mostly for minor matters, on competitive bid. They were also old fashioned, and preferred to keep their crown jewels in house.

One of the first NIS contracts had been with the defunct US Department of Energy. DoE had gone the way of all governments, but the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center had not. Big Science was still interesting and new discoveries still happened. And NIS had the contract for SLAC.

Jerai would eat his hat - if he had a hat - if the Mastermind had managed to corrupt anything at SLAC. There was enough institutional paranoia and outside auditing of a priceless research asset to prevent that at least.

But SLAC was not really designed to be protected against external threats, not like Livermore or Sandia or Vandenburg. Sure, it was underground, but not by much. The physical security was OK. Better than UC Stanford, but only because fewer people had legitimate need for access.

However, the network security was - in the humble opinion of its provider, NIS - really, really good. No one wanted to take the hit for losing a particle accelerator because some juvker in North Fargone, Nowhere wanted to play Doom 17 with its supercomputer.

Jerai could feel the shift in the room as NIS adapted to the new threats - and potentials - of the move.

The dome turned off. The room went dark.

That should not have been possible, was Jerai's first thought. His second - which he could not explain then or later - was to leap from the top of the Pyramid and hop down two levels of desks. Neither his VR nor his augmented night vision worked. He was in perfect darkness.

The screaming began.

The Standard Operating Procedure forbade two people to be in VR. Their normal station was by either entry door, like statue displays of ancient (but modern) arms and armor. But Jerai somehow sensed that they - a leftover remnant of an age of horror now decades past - had been the first to die.

Emergency lights came on. A black clad figure with a long knife had just finished disembowling Corporate, whose intestines now stretched across her desk.

Just the one assassin - but the one had been enough. A trail of bodies, starting with the two door guards (on opposite sides of the room!), through North America, up through Threat Trackers (and leaving a knot of blood and death), then to the four minds that could take Jerai's place.

Ethics brained the ninja with her chair. She kept slamming the chair into the ninja's head over and over again until they stopped moving.

Jerai stood up where he had landed, between Energy and Prenatal Health, and ignoring the long slice where the blade had scored across his ribs, forced his VR to reboot through physical contact with the desks.

It worked.

But it was far too late.
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