« Peacemaker », Chapter Eleven   

Chapter Eleven

Our research indicates conclusively Dianne’s mother, Susan, was faithful to her first husband throughout their marriage of almost seven years. Even during the final year of his life, as he withered away through a series of heart attacks, Susan was a loyal, caring wife. After his death, however, her selection of men must be considered unfortunate, at best.

---- The Barbarian Queen – The True Story of Dianne Morgan, David T. Siccone, 2058

 

The Mayor’s six month progress report indicates that seventy-three percent of the city’s subway lines are now functional. However, ridership has stayed lower than expected because several major hubs have not yet been cleared of the runaway trains that smashed terminals during the PeaceMaker attack. Some commentators believe ridership will never come back to pre-PeaceMaker levels because of the continuing vulnerability of software control systems.

---- New York Times, September 18, 2012

 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ray stirred to a persistent female voice. “Ray, wake up. It’s six am.” He rubbed his eyes but was too tired to kick off the covers. Louder now, the voice said, “Ray, time to get out of bed.”

He decided to get up. The voice would just get louder and more persistent. Ray rolled over and sat on the side of the bed. Last night, he had asked Debbie, his wallet computer, for a wake-up call, which he was beginning to regret.

“Ray, wake up, please. It’s now five minutes after six.”

He groaned and stumbled over to the dresser and picked up his computer. “I’m out of bed, Debbie.”

“Thank you, Ray. Good morning.”

He said, “Go fuck yourself,” and felt better.

After showering and dressing, he opened the door of his pantry to find something for breakfast. As always, his attention turned to the shiny, attractively labeled bottle standing alone in the corner. He always took stock of the enemy at the beginning of the day.The bottle was quite ordinary and would attract little attention from most people. A clear liquid was sealed tightly inside. A liquid that could provide a brief, harmless pleasure for many.

But not for Ray. He could feel the power of the enemy. His mouth was suddenly dry. He knew exactly how it would taste … how it would burn his throat … how the warmth would spread through his body. He would be free of his troubles, but only for a moment. The guilt would come, followed by the pain and the terrible sickness.

Ray tested his strength every day. It was his way to confront the enemy head-on. This test worked for him, worked where nothing else would.

Ray reached for a box of cereal and closed the pantry door.

After breakfast, he went down the stairs into his basement. The corporate office was too dangerous for the task he had to do today. He would confront PeaceMaker this morning, and if all went well, he would know how to defeat it.

As usual, the first task of the morning was to update the Revere Virus on his wallet computer. Ray adopted the Jim Smith identity and rescheduled the date the Revere Virus would put out his warning. If he died today, Revere would issue its warnings on Wednesday.

A grim way to start each day.

Once Revere was updated, he began to analyze PeaceMaker again, using Companion to reverse engineer the virus code. It was a difficult, time-consuming task. Although PeaceMaker was small compared to the size of the Atlas operating system, it was actually a large, complex code base. Ray had worked for more than a week trying to understand the structure and capabilities of the virus. The virus developers must have built a termination command into the code, because they would need a method to kill it in case something went wrong. His only hope was to find the termination command. Several hours later, he found something that looked like a possibility.

Ray went back to his Atlas computer, verified it was disconnected from the network and turned it on. A glowing shrine in the dim light, the display awaited his offering. Hope to God this works, he thought. The enemy is intelligent and unpredictable.

“PeaceMaker, eliminate all control points to Atlas, and delete your code,” Ray said. “Domain Command 5-144.”

Nothing happened. Shit! Ray went back to Companion and reviewed the program instructions that processed the termination command. In a few minutes, he found the problem. How did I miss that section of code?

Ray stepped up to his desk, but the silver-framed picture of his sons caught his eye. A moment passed, and then he sat down in front of his Atlas computer.

“PeaceMaker, eliminate all control points to Atlas, and delete your code. Domain Command 5-173.”

The computer display turned dark red and the image of a young man emerged, with a thin layer of skin covering a cold-blooded, emaciated face. Short bristles of brown hair and dead eyes completed the nightmare. This was the thing named PeaceMaker. Now there was no turning back.

*

Paul had been calling his contacts in the industry to learn more about the virus. I’m not cut out for this shit, he thought repeatedly. Through his contacts, he verified much of what he suspected. He and Ray, with no experience, were investigating a powerful, violent organization.

I must be nuts.

Paul decided they should go to the FBI right away. They were in way over their heads, and he planned to call Ray tonight and tell him they had done as much as they could. Time for the professionals to take over. I’ll finish today’s calls, but that’s it.

While riding in a cab after a luncheon, he placed a secret call on his wallet computer to Ted Mizinsky, a senior network administrator at Horizon Operating Systems, an Atlas Sales Company with its technical staff based in West Orange, New Jersey. Ted appeared on his wallet computer’s small display, a beefy man with a shock of thick, white hair. He was a first-rate technician whose expertise Paul often called upon while researching articles. Paul’s cover was that he was doing research on a story about business espionage. Ted completed an overview of Horizon’s security approach, and Paul started asking questions.

Toward the end of the session, Paul asked, “What about virus attacks? Has a virus or any other software agent been able to penetrate your security?”

Ted hesitated a moment, apparently weighing his answer carefully. “We run all the commercial anti-virus programs, plus a few additional ones we developed specifically for our needs.”Ted stopped talking and looked out his office door. Two women walked by, chatting casually. Ted walked around his desk, closed the door, came back and said, “Paul, can we go off the record? I’ve discovered some interesting things, but it’s strictly confidential.”

Paul was apprehensive, but he nodded and said, “Okay, whatever you tell me is confidential, and I won’t use it directly in my story.”

“A few weeks ago I was running a statistical audit of outgoing email,” Ted said. “We do this every day to determine if there are any abnormalities in our mail traffic. The software statistically scans these messages and automatically takes the appropriate action, but I like to manually review a few just to make sure everything is working properly. Anyway, I found out Lester Dawson’s calendar had been attached to a message and sent out over the Internet. This could be completely okay, but since he is the CEO, I decided to investigate. I traced the message back through several network servers on the Internet before it just disappeared. Got swallowed up in one of those big new switching stations. This set off alarm bells in my brain. I figure someone buried the message I was tracing in another message to hide its destination.

“As you know, all our people keep their calendars on our corporate servers. I checked these servers, and I found the calendars of five other people had been sent over the net. All the messages disappeared in the same switching station. Somebody is carefully hiding his identity. Somebody who wants to know what these people will be doing in the future.”

“Who were the others?”

“Three software engineers from the emergency response team and the manager of the team. You know, the people who deal with deep Atlas problems. The fifth person was my boss, Jane Purzyki. She manages all the network security work.”

Paul thought for a moment and said, “Didn’t all five of these people come over from VPS during the breakup?”

Ted paused and said, “Yeah, I forgot about that. They were all long-term VPS employees. So I tell my manager what I found, and notice Jane gets a little pale in the face as I’m telling her about it. Kind of surprising since she is usually tough as nails. She tells me not to do anything more and hangs up on me. About twenty minutes later I get a call from Jane. She is on the netphone with this consultant she has hired. This was surprising. It was the first time a consultant was involved in a security incident. You see, we only use consultants for training, not investigation. The guy’s name is Michael De Luca. He gets all the data and tells me I can forget about this problem. That’s it, and they hang up.”

Michael De Luca … where have I heard that name? It was on the edge of his memory, but he was drawn back to Ted’s story.

“Needless to say, I’m kind of curious,” Ted said. “I talk to some of the other network admins, and none of them know anything about the problem. One of the guys knows De Luca. It turns out he has done a lot of consulting work for VPS over the years and he is very good, but he’s also kind of shady.”

“So what do you think is going on, Ted?”

“Someone from outside the company has gained access to the calendars of very important company personnel: our CEO, our top network security manager, our emergency response manager and three key Atlas experts. Somebody wants to know who these people meet with and what their future schedules look like. Could be the feds checking up to see if there is any collusion between VPS and us. Could be something else. But whatever it is, it has got to be a big time problem. My boss doesn’t want me or any of the other administrators to know what’s going on. You have lots of contacts, Paul. Maybe you can figure it out. If it’s dirty, I would like to be able to protect myself.”

Paul realized Mizinsky had stumbled into something big. What the hell am I doing? They might be tapping into Ted’s calls. Controlling his panic, Paul said, “I don’t know who is doing the scanning. Probably just some hackers. Maybe some kids having fun. I’ll tell you this. Don’t do any more investigating. Stay clear of it. You reported it to your boss, so let her take care of it.”

After the call, Paul tried to relax, but he felt the bile rising in his throat. I have to reach Ray. After waiting a few minutes, Paul made another call on his wallet computer; Victor Franken was placing a call to Jim Smith. The phone rang and rang. Come on, come on. Where the fuck are you?

There was no answer.

*

Later that evening, De Luca entered Dianne’s office. She was waiting for him and motioned him to sit down. She knew it had to be something very important; otherwise he would have called her. He slipped into a chair and began speaking.

“We have been monitoring Paul Martino, and we suspect he knows about PeaceMaker. Mr. Martino has been talking to a large number of people in the industry, supposedly working on a story about corporate espionage. For the most part, these discussions had nothing to do with the Domain.

“However, Murphy noticed a discrepancy between Mr. Martino’s recorded calls and our visual clips. We saw he placed more calls each day than we were able to record. He has made many unrecorded calls, so he must have set up a secret ID.

“We have also been monitoring the calls of Ted Mizinsky, the network administrator at Horizon who first discovered the scanning. Fortunately, Mr. Martino called Mr. Mizinsky using his secret ID, so we discovered this hidden identity. During the conversation, Mr. Martino asked about virus attacks. It is likely Mr. Martino knows something about PeaceMaker.”

“What did Mizinsky tell him?”

“Everything he knew about the first scanning episode. Mr. Martino was able to determine all the people scanned were former VPS employees. He also learned I was brought in to investigate. At the end of the call, Mr. Martino tried to downplay the incident, but I believe he is investigating us.”

“That’s what it sounds like,” Dianne said. “It seems Martino is aware of the Domain and is trying to learn more about us.” Dammit, he’s probably working with Ray. “We need to determine if Martino has anything to do with stealing the calendars or blowing up the cabin.” Probably not, but we need to be sure.

She noticed De Luca’s face tighten when she mentioned the explosion. “Martino wasn’t involved in those incidents. We were watching him every minute,” he said. “Martino is investigating PeaceMaker, but he’s not a killer. There’s someone else out there – someone who plans to kill us and take PeaceMaker.”

She nodded her head in agreement. “Continue to monitor his calls for the next few days, and if Martino appears to be working solo, pick him up. If anyone else is involved, pick them up, too.”

“Ray Brown is probably working with Mr. Martino,” De Luca said. “The trail seems to lead from Mr. Kim to Ray to Mr. Martino. We’ll know for sure within the next few days.”

“Remember,” she said, “I want them alive for questioning.” Dismissing De Luca with a nod, she turned away and began to place a call. When De Luca was gone, Dianne cancelled her call.

What was it about that man? She didn’t trust De Luca – never had, although he had always been loyal. There was something about the man, something in the way he looked at her. She would never turn her back on him, never trust him, but he was the best at what he did. He was another piece on the board for her to use, a dangerous piece, but necessary.

She picked up the old cigarette lighter and examined it closely. It was scratched but she could make out a hazy reflection of herself in the dull silver plating. It was probably the best thing my mother owned when she died. Maybe the only thing of any value.

Dianne lit a cigarette and inhaled. You pick a man for a job. You do what you have to do, but when the job is complete, the man is no longer necessary. She exhaled and put down the lighter. Mom never understood that. The thought threw light on a dark memory.

*

Ten-year-old Dianne Morgan had been asleep in her room, but she was awakened by voices coming from downstairs. She was tired, but the voices just got louder and louder. Dianne couldn’t make out the words, but the anger was familiar.

Mom and her husband Kenny were arguing again. She shivered. Fighting the desire to just pull the covers over her head, Dianne got out of bed and tiptoed along the second floor hall. Will it be real bad tonight, or is it just another argument? She was quiet so she wouldn’t get caught. Dianne was growing up, but she would be punished if caught leaving her room.

When she reached the end of the hallway, Dianne lay down on her stomach and angled her head in order to see through the rails. Mom was sitting on the couch with a magazine in her hands, and Kenny was standing in the center of the living room waving some papers. As usual, a cigarette was perched on her lip.

Mom was pretty when she wasn’t angry. She was tall and wiry, with a face Dianne always watched closely. She loved her mother, but experience had taught her to be careful. Mom had a temper.

Her father had a heart attack and passed away when she was six. Dad had been a great guy. He worked hard, and he was gone a lot, but he would bring her gifts and take her places. He always played video games with her after dinner, and he would take her to bed and tuck her in. Dianne could make Dad get her anything she wanted. She knew when to smile and when to cry. She still missed him.

Mom married Kenny a year after Dad died. He had been okay at first, but now he was always mean to her. Kenny was real big, and he scared her when he got mad. He hit her last week when she accidentally spilled milk on his shirt, but she didn’t tell Mom because that would start a big fight.

Kenny’s angry voice brought Dianne’s attention back. “Look at these fucking bills! Do you think we’re millionaires?”

Mom looked up from her magazine and said, “So I bought a few clothes.” She carelessly flicked cigarette ashes into a coffee cup. “I needed a new outfit, and Dianne needed new clothes for school. I’m not going to have her look like some kind of pauper.”

“Pauper!” he shouted. “The only pauper is me, trying to support you and your damn kid.”

Her stomach was getting sick. Dianne wanted to go back to her bedroom, but she couldn’t move. Kenny was really mad; she could see the veins pop in his neck when he spoke.

“Try getting a job!” Mom said. “You’ve been out of work for five months. We can’t live on my paycheck and your unemployment payments.”

“I’m looking for a new job. Things are slow, and nobody is hiring.”

“Bullshit.” Mom tossed the cigarette into the coffee cup and moved off the couch, getting real close to Kenny. “You’re not going to find a job hanging out at that bar every day. You’re just a lazy bum. That’s why you can’t hold a job.”

“I’m no bum. I was doing all right before I married you. I can’t stand coming home to you. You’re –. ”

“You’re a bum! I’m sick and tired of seeing your sorry face. You hang around and drink beer and pretend you’re a man. You’re a pathetic slob who will never amount to anything.”

“Shut up, you bitch! I can’t stand the sight of you anymore.”

“You stupid, inept little coward. You don’t have the guts to make something of your life, so you hang around and live off me.”

Kenny shouted something and slapped Mom. His hand hit Mom’s cheek with a loud pop, and her head snapped back. Then he grabbed Mom and started shaking her, yelling something Dianne couldn’t understand. Anger drove away Dianne’s fear, and she stood up to see more clearly. Mom did something with her knee – hitting Kenny – and he screamed and let go of her.

Mom ran out of the living room, disappearing from view. Kenny yelled something and ran after her. Dianne heard angry voices, then muffled sounds, so she came down a couple of steps to see if Mom was all right. Kenny was shaking Mom, yelling angrily. Mom was barely standing on shaky legs, her arms hanging limply at her sides.

Rage choked Dianne as Kenny slammed Mom against the wall. She crumpled to the floor, leaving blood smeared on the wall where the back of her head had struck. Kenny yelled something and kicked Mom in the side. Mom groaned and grabbed her side.

Dianne ran back up the stairs and into her room. Mom had bought her a tennis racket, and Dianne searched through the closet until she found it buried under some shoes. A murmur escaped her lips when she seized the handle.

As she ran back into the hallway, Kenny’s animal voice assaulted her ears. He was yelling about something, but she no longer cared what he had to say. Dianne was breathing so hard she thought she’d explode, but her mind was clear and hard. She ran down the staircase, but slipped and fell the last few steps. Her elbow banged hard against the banister, but Dianne barely felt it. Anger blurred her vision, but she could see him well enough.

Kenny was on top of Mom, sort of sitting on her chest. He cursed and slapped Mom across the face. Dianne ran toward them, but her steps seemed to be very slow. Kenny’s back was to her, but when she got close, he began to turn his head toward her. Dianne hit him as hard as she could with the cold metal of the racket. A loud thump filled the room as it crashed against his forehead, louder and stronger than the earlier sounds. He rolled off Mom onto the floor, blood flying in all directions.

The first blow unleashed a terrible rage, and she hit him again as he rolled on the floor. Fear and confusion were in his eyes, spurring her attack. Over and over Dianne hit him, screaming until she lost her breath. He tried to get his hands up, but it didn’t do any good. Blood poured out of his wounds and stained her pajamas. Mom was yelling at her, trying to grab the tennis racquet, but she wouldn’t stop hitting him.

Bleeding badly and almost unconscious, Kenny fell backwards, and Dianne raised her racquet to finish him. Mom staggered over his body and grabbed the neck of the racquet, preventing Dianne from delivering another blow.

Trying to pull the racquet free, she screamed at her mother, “Let go! Let go!”

Holding on to the racquet with one hand, Mom slapped her hard across the face, leaving a hot, painful mark. Her grip slipped, and Mom pulled the racquet free and threw it against the wall. Dianne touched her reddening cheek, and breathing hard, she looked at Mom. They stared at each other for a moment; then Mom was holding her. Dianne buried her head in her mother’s shoulder, watching Kenny lying still, blood trickling onto the floor. Satisfied, she remained in her mother’s embrace.

*

The images faded, and the lighter was just a lighter again. Her mother had never shared in Dianne’s success; lung cancer took Mom during Dianne’s second year in high school. She put the lighter back into her desk and locked the drawer. It was a valuable lesson. She leaned back in the chair, arms folded. The bastard never touched Mom again.

*

The phone in Ray’s home rang and rang. Finally, the voice mail system asked if the caller would like to leave a message. A voice responded, “Ray, this is Paul. Can you hear me? Are you okay?” The phone was quiet for a moment. Pleading now, “If you get this message, call me immediately.” The line stayed active for a moment, and then Paul hung up.