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Chapter Nineteen

The initial attack will be an electronic blitzkrieg that will shut down virtually all the computer devices in the world. Electric production and distribution, natural gas, water and sewer services, transportation, communications, financial transactions and many other industries will shut down immediately or within just a few days. Total netwar. People will become isolated and struggle for survival. All supermarkets will be stripped clean. In colder climates, furniture will be burned to stay warm. Within ten days, the nation-states will be reduced to beggars. The Domain will present our demands. Our allies in government will urge acceptance.

---- Domain Strategic Plan, 2011

 

Sunday afternoon, January 29, 2012

Leon Gilmon was near the front of the line when first-class boarding started. After working in LA all week, he was looking forward to being with his family. He’d like to be sitting in front of his fireplace, warm and comfortable in his home just north of Philadelphia.

Leon settled into a seat next to the window and handed his coat to a smiling flight attendant. The middle-aged white man across the aisle was working intently with his wallet computer. Not today, Leon thought. It had been a long week and he was tired. He sipped the drink served by the flight attendant, and stretched his legs out. Leon had been helping his client, a huge financial institution, develop their technology strategy. He missed Sabrina and the kids, but his job required significant travel. Virtual meetings were fine, but you had to press the flesh to build strong client relationships.

Leon checked his watch. Just before noon Pacific time. It was a five hour flight so he would get to Philly about 5 pm., which was 8 pm. Eastern time. Because he packed for a week, his bags were too big to carry on board. He figured by the time he retrieved his bags, got his car out of the parking garage and drove home, it would be almost 10 pm.

Leon looked out the window as the jetliner taxied out to the runway. His favorite part of a trip was always the takeoff. He smiled to himself. The sophisticated, big-time consultant was still a kid at heart.

The big plane picked up speed and lifted off the ground. Looking through the thick glass, he watched the cars and buildings shrink into children’s toys. The plane soared through veils of white, and then they were alone in a stark, blue sky. The roar of the engines gradually receded to a thick hum and disappeared into the background.

Leon leaned back and closed his eyes. The fun part of the flight was over. The rest would be boring.

*

A prisoner in a windowless cell, Paul sat on a metal chair, his hands and feet tied down. Held there for almost an hour with his shirt removed, he shivered with fear. Two bored guards stood along the pale white wall behind him, passing time in quiet conversation.

A voice from the security computer boomed through the room, “Medic Harley Campbell entering.”

Campbell hurried into the room, his sneakers squeaking on the metal floor. He was carrying a small, white plastic bag, which he placed on a square table in the center of the room. The two guards, now alert, took positions on each side behind Paul. The medic glanced at him, removed a syringe from the bag and began to fill it with a yellow liquid. Paul figured it must be a drug that would cause him to give them the information they wanted. He swallowed, his throat dry.

The medic filled the syringe, pointed the needle straight up, and a few drops of the liquid squirted out. He grunted, turned, and walked up to Paul.

When the tip of the needle touched his arm, an electric shock seemed to flash through his body. Paul shouted hoarsely and jerked his arm away from the needle.

“Don’t move,” the medic grumbled. “I’ll give you an extra dose if you make it difficult.”

The two guards pinned Paul’s arms to the chair. Sweat ran down his face as he remained still. Time inched along as the medic’s fingers probed Paul’s arm for a good vein. The medic cursed under his breath, inserted the needle, and injected the fluid. Paul felt a tiny pin prick and a burning sensation as the fluid invaded his arm.

Campbell stepped away and placed the syringe back into the case. He looked into Paul’s eyes and apparently satisfied with the results, picked up his case and left.

The two guards went back to the wall, talking quietly. Paul began to relax. The fear melted away. The room was warm … stuffy … his eyelids closed … he was so tired. The ceiling began to blur, and he passed out.

*

A few minutes later a Domain soldier pushed a stolen ID card into the security slot outside the door. As the door slid open, the soldier heard the computer system announce a medic was entering the room. The guards, sitting near the wall, were talking to each other and barely paid attention. Two Domain soldiers shot through the opening door, tattooing the two guards with automatic fire. The Domain soldiers, covering the room with their rifles, cautiously entered and checked the two guards. Both were dead.

One soldier walked over to Paul and shook him, but he didn’t respond. “This guy is really out.” Seeing that Paul’s arms and legs were secured, he said, “He’s strapped in pretty well. I think we can leave him here for a few hours. We’ll get him later.”

The other Domain soldier said, “Okay, let me get Mr. Needle,” and walked into the hall. He was back in a few seconds dragging the body of the medic into the room. Campbell was stained with blood from a slash across his neck.

The two Domain soldiers took a last look at Paul and left.

*

Laura Hill rang up a customer’s order in the convenience store. “That raisin bran is on sale this week. Do you have a coupon, Mrs. Jamison?”

The elderly woman searched through her purse but couldn’t find a coupon. She replied, “No, I’m afraid I don’t. I thought I cut it out of the paper, but I must have left it in the kitchen.”

Laura smiled at Mrs. Jamison. “No problem. I have an extra.” She reached into the drawer under the register and pulled out a coupon. After sliding it past the bar code reader, Laura said, “That will be $28.61, please.”

Once Mrs. Jamison left with her groceries, Laura yawned and sat down. She looked around the store for what seemed like the millionth time. Maybe I can find a way to go to college. She had been working at this convenience store in Newark for almost three months now. Laura was here Saturday and Sunday afternoons in addition to her full-time job as a receptionist in a lawyer’s office in Livingston. The long hours were tough, but two paychecks had enabled her to move out of her mother’s apartment.

In a rare quiet moment in the store, Laura thought about her situation. She was planning to shop for a kitchen table later today. She was on her own, slowly filling her apartment with furniture. Cheap junk, usually second-hand, but all her own stuff. Laura knew her mother did her best, but Mom was burned out at age thirty-eight. The family had survived on welfare and whatever Laura and her older sister made with part-time jobs. Her mother loved her, but Laura knew she was glad to have one less mouth to feed.

Looking out the store window, she saw long shadows creeping over the street. Laura checked her watch. Still three hours to go. With no customers, it was getting a little spooky. The store was located on South Orange Avenue in Newark, with a view of Sacred Heart Church standing just a block away. Seeing plenty of people walking around outside made her feel better.

Another customer ambled into the store and began looking through the aisles. Laura didn’t know his name, but he was a regular. Actually, most of the customers were okay. Occasionally, someone would be upset because something was out of stock or maybe the price had been raised, but it didn’t amount to much. She smiled to herself. I’m pretty good with people. A friendly, helpful attitude usually did the trick.

*

Congressman Tom Post gawked up at the interior walls of the huge containment building. This was his first visit to a nuclear power plant, and he felt like a kid seeing the Grand Canyon. Everything about the plant was awe inspiring, magical even.

The Southwest Nuclear Power Station was located twenty miles north of Phoenix. Dr. Maureen Young, his guide, was the Supervising Engineer for the power plant. Dr. Young was a petite Chinese American with a booming voice and an engaging personality. Post was impressed with her knowledge of every aspect of the plant.

“The containment building houses the reactor, the reactor cooling systems and the pressurizer,” Dr. Young said. “The ultimate objective is to contain any radioactivity escaping from the reactor and make sure public safety is not threatened. The containment can sustain extremely high internal pressures. The walls include five feet of concrete, reinforced with steel.”

Young led him up a metallic stairway high above a rectangular pool of deep blue water. His legs reminded Post that he was sixty-two as he lumbered up the steps. Finally reaching the platform at the top, he looked around in wonder at the maze of pipes and machines encircling the pool.

Young pointed down at the water. “The reactor is at the bottom of the pool.”

“Are we getting any radiation now?”

“Very little, well within NRC regulations. The reactor is cold now. That means it’s shut down.” She smiled. “Believe me, we would not be standing here if it were online. I have no desire to become toast.

“All of this equipment is designed to control fission. The reactor is filled with uranium rods. Slide these rods into the right configuration and a chain reaction takes place, generating incredible amounts of heat and radioactivity. We take the heat from the reactor and generate power, which, of course, is the purpose of all this engineering. We prevent the radioactivity from getting out of the reactor. In the rare incident where radioactivity escapes, we trap it in the containment building. It’s the last line of defense.”

“That’s what happened at Chernobyl, isn’t it?” Post said. “Radiation got out of the containment building and killed thousands.”

“Chernobyl was a terrible tragedy, but Soviet safety systems were nothing like ours. Our reactor designs are very different, and our containment is much better. I can’t even imagine a situation where anything like that could happen to one of our reactors.”

Young led him down the stairs, out of the containment building, and into the sunny air of a crisp winter afternoon. “What’s next?” Post asked.

“The control room,” she said as they walked into another building, much smaller than containment, but still impressive.

Young led him to a security door, which remained closed until she inserted her ID card. The door slid open, revealing a small, bare room with windows peering into a much larger room filled with technicians and computers. That must be the control room. He followed Young into the smaller room.

The entry door closed with a thud, isolating the two of them in the small room. A moment passed and a commanding male voice filled the space. “Identify yourself, please.”

“Maureen Young and my guest, Congressman Thomas Post.”

The door to the large, bustling room slid open. “Please enter, Dr. Young. Enjoy your visit, Congressman.”

“Thank you,” Post said.

After the door closed behind him, Post whispered, “Who was that? They checked our identities pretty quickly.”

“That was Sentry, our computer system. It identified us using retinal, facial, and voice scans. I registered your visit with Sentry a couple of days ago, so it was expecting you. By the way, there’s no point in whispering. All activities and sounds are recorded and constantly analyzed. Any bad guys show up, Sentry alerts security. Terrorist attacks, you know.”

Young led him past rows of busy technicians working at computer workstations. The control room, he thought, as he looked around in awe. Each technician was analyzing a bewildering variety of tables, charts and graphs. The walls were also covered with displays, multi-colored indicators, switches and control buttons. The starship Enterprise had nothing on this place.

“This is the control room, as you probably guessed,” Young said. “We monitor what goes on in the plant around the clock. Information is collected from hundreds of sensors around the plant and transmitted to Sentry. We rely upon Sentry to maintain the fission in the nuclear core and react quickly to emergencies.”

As they strolled through the workstations, Young said, “We were the first nuclear power plant to implement Sentry. We cut over about two years ago and since then sixteen other plants have cut over or are well underway.”

“I see at least a half a dozen people working in the control room,” Post said. “Why do you need so many people if Sentry does all the work?”

“We remain cautious, but we’re gradually phasing down the staff. Although Sentry is highly intelligent and reliable, there will always be a few humans here to take over if the situation warrants it. I’m authorized to override Sentry if I detect any problems with its activities. My team and I can take control of the computer and manage the reactor manually, just like they did in the old days.”

Young led him to a fleshy young man staring intently at his display panel. The technician didn’t seem to notice the two of them behind him.

“Brett gets really involved with his work, as you can see,” Young said, her voice louder than usual.

When the man did not respond, Young tapped him on the shoulder. “Brett Cunningham, I would like you to meet Congressman Tom Post.” When Brett stared blankly at her, she said, “I told you yesterday, remember?”

Post felt vaguely annoyed as he received a limp handshake from the young man. Clearly, this Brett was not exactly thrilled to see him.

“Brett is our best systems analyst,” Young said. “He actually did most of the design work when we were building Sentry.” She stared at Brett and said, “Brett, give Congressman Post an overview of Sentry and answer any questions. Think you can handle that while I make a quick visit to the Emergency Operations Facility?”

After Young walked away, Brett squinted at him and asked, “What state do you represent?”

“This state. You probably heard of it. Arizona.”

Brett frowned. “I should have known that.” The technician turned to the computer display and appeared to be concentrating on something.

Feeling ignored, Post decided to shake this technician out of his stupor. “This computer system doesn’t look like anything special. No offense meant, but I have seen lots of these systems. Sentry looks okay, but I’m real happy there are a bunch of people around to take over when things get screwed up.”

Brett’s head popped up, and he frowned at the congressman. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Sentry runs the whole show. Once Maureen tells Sentry to start the reactor, she becomes a spectator. Sentry goes through all the safety checks and makes sure everything is looking good before anything happens. It gradually pulls the control rods, checking temperature, pressure, flow rates, radioactivity, everything on a continuous basis.”

Post was amazed in the transformation in the young man. Brett really came alive once his brainchild was insulted.

“Sentry finds any problems, it turns on a dime. Once the reactor goes critical, it can maintain fission for weeks, even months at a time.”

“Never saw a computer system that didn’t go down from time to time.” Post pointed at a workstation. “What happens if that workstation fails? What if a bunch of them fail?”

“Have you been over to the EOF?” When he shook his head no, Brett said, “We have a complete duplicate computer room there. If Sentry discovers a workstation is malfunctioning – bang – he reroutes the work over to the backup workstation. In fact, if all the computers in this room failed, we would just move over to the backup room and keep working. It’s what we call a hot recovery.”

“Ever happen? Losing all the computers.”

“Nah. Not in real life. Checked it out in tests. Works like a charm. Now, from time to time, we lose one or two workstations, usually for scheduled maintenance, but sometimes one malfunctions. Sentry throws the switch and brings up the other workstation.”

“Let’s say I’m a terrorist,” Post said. “I beat the crap out of you and blow up this control room. Now I know you have a duplicate control room, so my partner also beats the crap out of you – just for the hell of it – then goes over and blows up the duplicate control room. Any way to keep the core from melting down?”

“Yeah. I’ve been taking karate lessons, so I would be doing the ass kicking.” He lashed out with a kick at an imaginary terrorist, barely missing the congressman. “But if that failed and they blew up all the computers, we could still shut down the reactor. What the terrorists don’t know is that the NRC has a complete computer room in DC where they can operate this reactor by remote control. In an emergency, the NRC computer can take over this site or any other Sentry site and shut down any reactor. It’s what we call defense-in-depth. We have redundancy for all our key components, sometimes redundancy on top of redundancy.”

“Pretty impressive.” Post looked around. “Is everything hooked up to Sentry?”

“Yeah, just about.” Brett pointed over to the far corner of the control room. “See that wall over there?”

“Yes.”

“There are several indicators about five feet up on the wall. Those are antiques. They were installed when the reactor was activated in 1967. We kept them to maintain a sense of history.” Brett squinted, trying to read the distant instruments. “Let’s see – reactor water level and temperature, coolant pressure, steam generator level and pressure and containment pressure. Amazing how far we’ve come over the years.”

“Do they still work?”

“Yeah. Pretty accurate, too, for such old timers.”

“Don’t underestimate the old timers. They usually come through when it counts.”

Brett raised his eyebrows but didn’t reply.