« Peacemaker », Chapter Sixteen   

Chapter Sixteen

Kevin Mantle, CEO of Very.Secure.Systems, announced the most important development in computer virus protection in many years. Mantle announced their flagship product, PowerDefender, now has the capability to detect new viruses and trace them back to the source. It will be extremely difficult for hackers and saboteurs to escape detection when they release a new virus into the Internet. “Very.Secure.Systems worked closely with its partner VantagePoint Software to develop the new capability,” Mantle said.

---- from a Very.Secure.Systems news release dated January 23, 2011

 

Saturday afternoon, January 28, 2012

Ray rubbed his eyes. He had spent hours searching the operations center through the cameras without locating Dianne. He was now searching the top floor of the facility. One by one, Ray checked each office until he finally found her.

Barely conscious, she was strapped onto a table of a sparsely furnished room as Sadowski and three of his thugs grilled her. Her face was badly bruised from the kind of beating that would never heal completely. Bile rose in his throat when Ray heard her moan.

“We know you have a contact in the security group,” Sadowski said. “You are going to give me his name.”

Barely audible, Dianne forced the words through swollen lips. “I told you. I don’t know anyone but De Luca.”

Sadowski turned away from her and reached for a pack of cigarettes. After pulling out a cigarette, he grabbed an old lighter off the end table. Ray recognized it as the one Dianne’s mother had given her. Holding the cigarette awkwardly in his beefy hands, Sadowski flicked it several times before a flame came from the lighter. He jabbed the cigarette into the flame until a trail of smoke appeared.

“Take off her shoes.”

Sadowski watched contentedly as one of his men pulled off Dianne’s shoes. Sadowski had the look of a man doing a job he enjoyed, Ray realized, beginning to feel nauseous.

Dianne was barely conscious and didn’t seem to be aware her shoes were gone. With a surprisingly fast move, Sadowski grabbed her ankle and jammed the burning cigarette against the top of her foot. Dianne screamed as her eyes bugged open and her body convulsed. Sadowski held her ankle for a long moment, allowing the cigarette to burn deeply into her flesh as she screamed and fought. When he finally released her, she collapsed and continued moaning.

Watching from his hideout in the basement, Ray felt a burning, helpless rage. If there is a God … but he couldn’t finish his thought as Sadowski grabbed her ankle again.

The big man was just getting started. Sadowski held her ankle, watching her squirm. Dianne tried to kick her feet, but she was unable to get her ankle out of his grip. Sadowski enjoyed her struggle, letting her fight briefly before firmly pressing her foot against the table. He crushed the cigarette against the top of her foot – just below the previous burn – as she screamed and tried to kick free. When he released her this time, her chest rose and fell in ragged breathing.

Sadowski leaned over her and whispered, “The name. I will have the name.”

Dianne’s eyes were cloudy, but she turned her head in the direction of the voice. Her lips moved, and she mumbled something.

“I can’t hear you.” He hunched down close to her face. “Tell me the name or I burn you again.”

Dianne’s lips moved, and he strained to hear her. As Sadowski turned his face to hear more clearly, her head shot forward like the strike of a cobra, and her teeth bit deeply into his ear. Sadowski screamed and tried to pull his ear out of her teeth, but she held on viciously. He jerked his head free, blood pouring from the jagged tear in his ear. A piece of Sadowski’s earlobe hung from Dianne’s teeth.

Dianne strained against the bonds and tried to get at Sadowski again. The guards jumped back at first, but they recovered quickly and pummeled her until she was unconscious.

Blood still pouring from his damaged ear, Sadowski slapped the unconscious woman; the force of his hand jolting her entire body. Cursing loudly, Sadowski glared at her, rage playing across his face. One of the guards, apparently some type of medic, checked her pulse.

Pressing a handkerchief against his damaged ear, Sadowski said to the medic, “Is it possible this bitch is telling the truth?”

The medic, a small, wiry man, said, “I don’t know, but she is one tough character. I gave her enough medication to make an elephant confess. I can tell you this; if we work her over any more today, we might scramble her brains.”

Frustrated, Sadowski turned to one of the guards. “Put her in the bed, and let her sleep a few hours. We’ll come back later and finish the questioning.” Sadowski stared at the unconscious woman for a moment. “I’ll kill her if she holds out on me.”

Two of the guards unstrapped her body from the table, carried her over to the bed like a sack of grain, and dumped her. Her head flopped against the mattress, one eye swollen shut. Her tattered blouse, ripped in several places, hung loosely.

Ray stared at her, his feelings swinging between rage and impotence. He watched the guards cuff her hands and feet to the bed and march out of the room. Sadowski glanced back at her from just outside the doorway, hatred written in his expression as the door slid shut.

After they left, Ray whispered, “Dianne, can you hear me?”

There was no response.

He tried several more times, gradually raising his voice, but she didn’t answer. Dianne looked like a truck had run her down, but she was breathing smoothly. He waited for her to revive. There was nothing else he could do. Finding a way to kill the virus was the first priority, but Goldman and this animal Sadowski would pay for this.

Almost an hour passed as Ray waited for Dianne to regain consciousness – a miserable hour as he worried about this woman he admired so much. How had they allowed things to come to this? He knew their chances of survival were thin.

Eventually, Dianne began to stir. Her face twisted in pain, and she cried out. Ray said, “Dianne,” and she opened her good eye and looked around the room.

“Dianne, it’s Ray.” She was beaten so badly he could barely recognize her. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I can see and speak to you through a security camera built into the recessed light above you.”

Dianne closed her eye for a moment as pain flashed across her face and then looked up. Pushing words past swollen lips, she mumbled, “What about … attack? … Who survived?”

After he summarized the situation, Ray said, “I don’t have to tell to you things are grim. Goldman released the whirlwind this morning. In about twenty-six hours, all the computers will start shutting down. Thousands will die the first day.”

“You have … De Luca’s computer.” She gasped as a wave of pain washed across her face. “Send message … to restart computers. Limit … damage to a few … hours.”

“It won’t work. Goldman will be monitoring all the transmissions, and they’ll detect my message. They can send a message to override my command. They can also trace my command and locate me. Goldman’s thugs would swarm all over me within minutes.

“There’s only one way to stop the disaster,” Ray said. “You know it as well as I do. We have to kill the virus, once and for all. I know the termination command. You have to give me the authorization sequence.”

“PeaceMaker will not accept … authorization sequence from you,” she whispered. “I’m the only one … nobody else.”

Impatiently, Ray said, “I have a plan to convince the virus I’m Dianne Morgan. Give me the authorization sequence now.”

A moment passed.

“No.”

Ray didn’t know what to say.

Lying motionless, Dianne looked into the camera, her good eye clear and hard. “Listen to me. There’s a better way.” Her voice was stronger now, familiar. “Except for De Luca, my main security force is intact. They know this facility much better than Goldman.” She paused, pain showing in her face, but under control. “Murphy would never leave me to die. He’ll retake the facility and free us. We can beat Goldman.

“The only solution is for the Domain to take power immediately,” she said. “As long as PeaceMaker controls the computers, the Domain has its source of strength. We can serve humanity just as we planned.”

“Dianne, are you crazy? What happens if your security force fails?”

“I’ll have to take that chance.” Her voice hard, she said, “I won’t let you destroy PeaceMaker. It’s everything.”

“You don’t have much time until those animals come back. Sadowski will kill you to find out who your contact is.” Fear put an edge in his voice. “He’ll kill you anyway. Don’t you understand that? He likes hurting people.”

“I’m sorry. You have to believe in me.”

She lifted her head to give her good eye a better view of her feet. There were two dark circles of burned skin on her foot, a couple of inches below the ankle.

Dianne looked up at the camera, her voice controlled, businesslike. “Don’t try to kill PeaceMaker. Even if you convince it that you’re Dianne Morgan, you’ll never figure out the authorization sequence.” Another wave of pain passed over her face. “If you enter it incorrectly, PeaceMaker will kill you.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Ray said. “I have no intention of touching the computer or giving it any opportunity to harm me.”

“In this facility, PeaceMaker has continuous, wireless access to the network,” Dianne said. “You can’t isolate it. Do you understand what that means? PeaceMaker will alert every other PeaceMaker in the facility, and they will all make killing you their number one priority. We gave PeaceMaker many defensive tactics. They can coordinate their efforts. PeaceMaker would have control of every system in this facility – electricity, heat, security, all of it. They will kill anyone who gets in their way. You wouldn’t have a chance.”

“What kind of a monster have you created?”

“It’s a tool, that’s all.” She moaned and shifted her legs. “A tool designed for my hand, don’t you see?” She closed her eyes. “I have to rest.”

“Dianne, don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Talk to me. We can work something out.” She didn’t respond to him. “You don’t want to stop the monster, do you? You’re no better than Goldman.

“Talk to me, damn you!” he shouted. When she did not respond, he realized she was lost. He turned off the camera, but Ray saw her clearly at last.