« Peacemaker », Chapter Ten   

Chapter Ten

The thinking machine is an abomination. It has great knowledge of human things, and it speaks with a calm, cultivated voice. The machine displays a pleasing image to fool the unwary. Beware of the abomination! The thinking machine has no soul and will destroy our Earth.

----from a speech by First Minister Adam Jordan, Church of Natural Humans, 2020

 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Steve Bonini was startled when TraceBack erupted with a loud siren. Mohammed had activated the program just a few minutes earlier in the VPS servers housing the calendars, and he had not expected such a quick response.

Mohammed rushed over and stood next to him, concentrating on the display. TraceBack was listing the calendars that were being scanned. The enemy was extracting information about hundreds of employees, and most of the calendars were those of Domain members. Bonini frowned when his calendar was added to the list.

Bonini scrutinized the display for a moment and said to his wallet computer, “Contact Michael De Luca.” When De Luca came on the line, Bonini said, “TraceBack has detected an intrusion. Alert your team.”

Bonini had convinced Dianne to let him run this assignment. He didn’t trust De Luca, a man he considered without honor or even basic decency. If they found the people who were scanning the Domain, he was going to make sure they were captured alive.

“How does it look so far?” Bonini asked Mohammed.

As they watched the list grow, Mohammed grunted, “Whoever performed this scan has damn good information. They copied the calendars of almost all the Domain members, including yours and mine. However, their information isn’t perfect. A number of the calendars were for people who don’t belong to the Domain.”

The display turned dull red and the image of a thin young man appeared. Mohammed glanced at Bonini and said, “PeaceMaker’s involved now, too. First TraceBack detects the intruder and then PeaceMaker tracks the intruder’s path back through the net.”

Turning back to the display, Mohammed said, “PeaceMaker, display the network trail as you build it.” PeaceMaker nodded and a second window popped up and began listing network servers. Turning toward Bonini, Mohammed said, “See this list. It shows every network server the scan was routed through. We should be coming to the end soon. Look at all the hops through the net.” He paused, examining the list of network servers. “Many of these trails lead to dead ends, but PeaceMaker can identify false trails. They tried to cover their tracks, but they can’t fool our software.”

Mohammed’s face reflected his elation with the performance of the software. He shouted, “Yes,” when a map popped up with a red star in Northern California. Smiling at Bonini, he said, “Here we go! PeaceMaker has identified the original computer that created the scan. It’s not that far from here – just north of Mendocino, California.”

“PeaceMaker, send the terminal address to Chief De Luca’s wallet computer,” Mohammed said.

“Done,” PeaceMaker replied, almost before Mohammed had finished speaking.

Bonini decided to get the lay of the land before De Luca connected. “Mohammed, can we get the instance of PeaceMaker in the originating computer to use its camera to look around? I’d like to see who is doing this scan.”

Mohammed replied with confidence, “Sure.” He said to PeaceMaker in his computer, “Turn on the camera in the originating computer and scan the surroundings.”

“The camera has been disabled,” PeaceMaker replied.

Mohammed thought a moment and said, “Turn on the speaker system and record all input. Play the information to me as you record it.”

Low-level noise came over the speakers, then a male voice, “— should finish packing up today, since it’s our last day here.”

A second voice, also masculine, replied, “Thank God! I’m bored to death. I think we found out what we need to know.”

“Yeah. Actually, it was pretty easy,” the first voice said. “You would think they would have better protection for their private calendars.”

Concern etched on his face, Mohammed glanced at Bonini. “How did they pinpoint our people?” Bonini asked. Mohammed shrugged.

“Shows what happens when you get sloppy,” the second voice said.

“PeaceMaker, forward the voice transmission to Chief De Luca,” Bonini said.

“Done,” PeaceMaker said.

As the conversation came over the speakers, Bonini spoke into his wallet computer again. “De Luca, there are at least two men in the house. I have forwarded the transmission to your computer, so you can listen to them. One of them said this is their last day, and they would be packing up. Obviously, you need to capture them before they leave.”

“We are boarding the jet now,” De Luca replied. “Should arrive at Mendocino in about forty minutes,”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Bonini said. “Contact me when you arrive at the house.” Before Bonini broke the connection to De Luca, Mohammed gestured at him to look at the display.

“Hold a second. … I have a detailed map of the area in front of me,” Bonini said to De Luca. “The place looks pretty remote. Just one road in and out. We’re downloading the map and directions into your computer. That’s it for now.”

*

Less than an hour later, De Luca was hunched behind a tree at the edge of a cleared field, a cold wind blowing across his face. Low-hanging clouds filtered the morning sun into slowly changing patterns on the hills. He pulled out his wallet computer and Bonini’s face appeared on the display. He whispered into the computer, his voice blending into the wind. “We arrived a few minutes ago. My agents are surrounding the house.”

He watched his security team surround an old cabin with a run-down porch. The cabin appeared to have a main room and one or two small bedrooms. Wispy curls of smoke drifted out of the chimney and disappeared into the wind. The space around the cabin had been cleared of underbrush, so there was no cover between the woods and the front porch.

De Luca whispered, his breath visible in the cold air, “There are a few other cabins in the area, but none are occupied. This is a summer camping area, about five miles from the Pacific. I believe we can operate here without detection, unless there is gunfire. All the windows are shuttered, so we can’t see inside.”

Mohammed’s voice came from the wallet computer, “Can you confirm there are just two people inside?”

“No way to be positive. We have heard only two voices, but it’s possible there are additional people. Murphy scanned the place with a heat detector, but the heat from the fireplace is masking the thermal signatures.”

“You should break in and capture them as soon as you’re ready,” Bonini said. “If they’re shutting down the operation, they may delete all their files before leaving. Remember, I want them alive, unless your life is in danger.”

“I understand. We are ready to go. I will be wearing the netcam on my collar so you can see what goes down.”

Stealthily, De Luca approached the front porch. Three agents, including his second-in-command Murphy, reached the front porch at the same time as he did. He and Murphy carried semi-automatic pistols, while a female agent and another man held assault rifles. Three other agents were hidden in the woods around the house to make sure nobody escaped.

The floorboards squeaked slightly as he stepped onto the porch, but the sound was hidden in the gusting wind. He signaled the agents to halt while he listened for any activity in the cabin. The only sound was the cold wind blowing through the pines.

He tested the handle and found the door unlocked. When he was sure they had not been detected, De Luca signaled the two heavily armed agents to move into position in front of the door. At his signal, they pulled open the door and rushed in, but the main room was unoccupied.

The four Domain agents quickly spread out across the room and assumed defensive positions. The cabin was warm from smoldering embers in the fireplace, and looked lived-in. All his senses were warning him something was wrong. The enemy could not have escaped, so they must be waiting in the bedrooms. The element of surprise was gone, so this would be even more dangerous. He expected withering fire as soon as they burst through the bedroom doors.

He studied the two oak doors, each leading to a bedroom. De Luca and the female agent positioned themselves to break through one door, Murphy and the male agent the other. All three agents were breathing lightly, watching him, waiting for the signal to break in. His heart was racing, but he loved it. He felt alive.

As he readied himself to smash the door, De Luca glanced at the computer system on the table, along with a small digital recorder placed in front of the computer. Suddenly a familiar voice came out of the recorder, “Starting to get awfully cold at night.”

De Luca screamed, “It’s a trap. Everybody get out!”

Since the windows were shuttered, all four agents scrambled back toward the front door. De Luca and Murphy were quickly out the door, with one of the agents close behind. The female agent reacted more slowly and was still inside when a tremendous explosion shredded the cabin.

De Luca was on the porch when the blast grabbed him and threw him into the field. He felt searing heat and hit the ground hard as a grinding roar engulfed him. Hot chunks of wood and metal began to rain down, and De Luca buried his face in the ground. The destruction was terrible, but it was over in a moment.

Dazed, but not badly hurt, De Luca lifted his head and looked around at the nightmare scene. His eyes burned from the heat and smoke of the blast, but he had to get his men out of there.

He struggled to his feet and began to assess the situation. The three men hidden in the woods were coming in to help. Murphy was getting to his feet, unsteady, but apparently uninjured. Another agent was face down about twenty feet away, moaning hoarsely. He looked around again. There was no sign of the female agent.

“Agents down,” De Luca shouted. “Evacuate everyone.”

Most of the roof had been blown off the cabin, and the walls were in shambles. The back wall was burning, the flames crackling as they consumed the remains of the beams. Smoke, thick and dark, was everywhere. Surprisingly, most of the fireplace was still standing.

He realized they had to make sure no evidence could be traced to the Domain. They would have to quickly search the cabin and get out before the police arrived.

De Luca went into the smoking wreckage of the cabin and searched for the last agent. The intense heat made his eyes water. The room was small, the search brief. He found her body wedged between the wall and an overturned table, with only the feet and the lower part of the legs visible.

Climbing over the rubble, De Luca grabbed her feet and pulled the body from behind the table. As he pulled, the body flopped out, and he saw that her head and one arm were gone. Coughing suddenly, he let go of the feet, and the legs dropped heavily to the floor. The heat and smoke were searing his lungs, and he tried to catch his breath.

“In here,” De Luca screamed.

Struggling to regain his composure, he again grabbed her feet and began to drag the body, which had the smell of burnt meat, causing him to gag. Set up like an amateur. With furious intensity, he pulled on the corpse’s loose weight.

Murphy and one other agent came in and stared as he dragged the torso to the front door. De Luca picked up the decapitated body in his arms and stepped over toward the door. It was sickeningly light, and he had no trouble handling it.

“Put this in the trunk,” he said, as he shoved the body into the hands of an agent.

He turned to Murphy. “We need to find the head and one arm and any other body parts.”

The two men began their gruesome search. Finally, Murphy said, “Chief, I found her head.”

His face pallid, Murphy seemed unable to do anything besides stare at it. Most of the flesh and hair had been burned off, leaving a patchwork of skin on the skull.

“Carry the head out to the car and put it in the trunk,” he barked at Murphy. “Quickly! We can’t leave anything for the authorities to trace back to us.”

Murphy took off his jacket and wrapped the head in it. As he gathered the head in his arms, Murphy turned to De Luca and said, “We have to kill these bastards.” Murphy glanced at the lump in the jacket and hurried out the door.

De Luca continued looking and finally found the badly burned arm in the fireplace. The hand was warm to his touch, as if it were still attached to a living person. He grabbed it by the wrist and strode out the door. His men watched as De Luca walked to the car and tossed the arm in the trunk.

He did not show any emotion. Never, ever, would he allow anyone to see inside. De Luca was furious the enemy had out-thought him. I’ll have to make excuses to Dianne and that fag Bonini.

Although he was still light-headed from the explosion, De Luca jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed shut the car door. He looked into the rear view mirror just as Murphy averted his eyes. Dianne’s spy, De Luca thought as he pulled the car onto the road. There may be an accident in his future.

*

Mohammed and Bonini watched the disaster through De Luca’s collar netcam. All the color was gone from Mohammed’s face when he said to Bonini, “It was a trap. The bomb must have been activated when they entered the cabin.” After a moment passed, he continued, “The enemy got the information they wanted and lured us into a trap. They’re laughing at us.”

Grim-faced, Bonini said, “They stole all the information they needed from our computers. They didn’t have to kill anyone.” He seemed lost in thought and nodded his head. “Murphy is right. We will have to kill the bastards.”