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STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:27 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 10


Ahzmer cocked one ear questioningly, and Thikair flipped both of his own in an answering shrug.

"What I'm about to say is not to be shared with anyone not currently sitting around this table without specific authorization from me," he said. "Is that clear?"

Every set of ears indicated assent, and he let the very tips of his canines show.

"The truth is," he told his senior officers, "that the Council is . . . concerned about these 'humans.' Or perhaps it would be better to say its oh-so-noble members are disgusted by them. Possibly even appalled. All of you, I know, have seen the visual and audio records the original survey team brought back from KU-197-20. I'm sure all of you were as disgusted as I was by the sheer military ineptitude displayed in those records. The weed-eaters, on the other hand, were horrified not by the natives' appalling lack of skill, but by their ferocity. I'm sure many of the Council's members doubt they would ever survive to achieve hyper-capability without blowing themselves up. I think others, though, are afraid they might. That the Hegemony could find itself faced with a second Shongair Empire."

He let more of his canines show in reaction to that thought, and saw his own response mirrored by his subordinates. The Shongair Empire had no intention of allowing any rivals to arise. Not that anyone as pathetic at using its own military resources as this species could ever challenge the Empire, of course.

"Before our departure on this mission, it was suggested to me by the Imperial Minister for Colonization that the Council sees authorizing our colonization of KU-197-20 as a means of striking down two prey with a single claw. First, it gives us a toy to keep us satisfied and occupied, poor primitive creatures that we are. Second, it presumably short-circuits this species' probable self-destruction and also eliminates any threat to the Hegemony's peace it might someday pose. In fact, while the Council would never admit it openly, it was clearly intimated to Minister for Colonization Vairtha by none over than Vice- Speaker Koomaatkia that the Council has determined that something needs to be done about these creatures, and that... fewer questions than usual will be asked about our tactics in KU-197-20's case."

Several of his subordinates pricked their ears at that sentence, and his own flipped in a grim smile. Koomaatkia was a Kreptu, and the Kreptu were one of the Hegemony's original founding members. They'd also been among the Shongairi's more persistent critics, although never to the same degree as the Barthoni and Liatu, yet they were famed for a certain pragmatism, as well. No doubt the notion of using one problem to solve or prevent another one would appeal to them. And they were a highly consensual species. No Kreptu as prominent as Clan Lady Koomaatkia'n'haarnaathak of Chorumaa would ever have breathed even a hint of such a thing to Minister for Colonization Vairtha if it had not, in fact, embodied the Council's consensus. And that meant....

"I'm sure," Thikair continued, "that she and some of the Council's other members hope these creatures will prove sufficiently difficult for us to manage that we'll find ourselves forced to slow our own rate of colonization and expansion. They'd all like that, whether they ever admitted it or not. But most importantly of all, to their thinking, our conquest of these creatures' homeworld will keep them from becoming a problem to the rest of the Hegemony in the fullness of time.

"And that, of course, was their thinking when they had no idea of how insanely rapid these 'humans' rate of technological process might become. Let's not forget the Ugartu. Is there any officer sitting at this table who believes the Hegemony Council didn't feel deeply relieved when the Ugartu self-destructed?" His lips wrinkled back from his teeth in contempt. "All the weed-eaters -- and most of the omnivores, too, for that matter -- are far too hypocritical, far too aware of their own towering moral stature, to ever admit anything of the kind, but we know better, don't we?"

His officers looked back at him in equally contemptuous agreement, and his ears flipped another shrug.

"So even if this is a Level Two civilization, some members of the Council would shed no tears if the 'humans' were to find themselves subordinated to the Empire. They'd see it as the lesser of two evils, I think. As I said, the Barthoni and Liatu might disagree, but less vehemently than usual this time. And even if they did, it seems clear from Vice-Speaker Koomaatkia's comments to the Minister that they would find themselves with fewer allies than they'd probably expect. Against that background, I think it might be well for us to consider the possible advantages of proceeding despite the Constitutional protections normally extended to a Level Two civilization."

"Advantages, Sir?" Ahzmer asked, and Thikair's eyes gleamed.

"Oh, yes, Ship Commander," he said softly. "This species may be bizarre in many ways, and they obviously don't understand the realities of war, but clearly something about them has supported a phenomenal rate of advancement. I realize their actual capabilities would require a rather more vigorous initial strike than we'd anticipated. And even with heavier prelanding preparation, our casualties might well be somewhat higher than projected. Fortunately, Ground Force Commander Thairys has twice the normal ground force component thanks to our follow-on objectives in Syk and Jormau. That means we have ample force redundancy to conquer any planet-bound civilization, even if it has attained Level Two. And to be honest, I think it would be very much worthwhile to concentrate on this system even if it means writing off the seizure of one -- or even both -- of the others."

One or two of them looked as if they wanted to protest, but he flattened his ears, his voice even softer.

"I realize how that may sound, but think about this. Suppose we were able to incorporate these creatures -- these 'humans' -- into our labor force. Remember, preliminary physiological data suggests it may be possible to neurally educate them, so they could be rapidly integrated. But suppose we were able to do even more than that with them. Put them to work on our research projects. Suppose we were able to leverage their talent for that sort of thing to quietly push our own tech level to something significantly in advance of the rest of the Hegemony. The weed-eaters are content with the technology they have, and so are most of the omnivores. They're stagnant -- we all know that. Our programs are already giving us a small edge over their technology base, but let's be honest among ourselves -- it's taking longer than we'd like, and so far our advances have been only incremental. These creatures might very well give us the opportunity to accelerate that process significantly. Possibly even suggest avenues of development we haven't even considered yet. How do you think that would ultimately affect the Emperor's plans and schedule?"

The silence was just as complete, but it was totally different now, and he smiled thinly.

"It's been three standard centuries -- over six hundred of these people's years -- since the Hegemony's first contact with them. If the Hegemony operates to its usual schedule, it will be at least two more standard centuries -- over four hundred local years -- before any non-Shongair observation team bothers to visit this system again. That would be -- what? Twenty of these creature's generations? More? And that will be counting from the point at which we return to announce our success. If we delay that return for a few decades, even as much as a standard century or so, it's unlikely anyone would be particularly surprised, given that they expect us to be gathering in three entire star systems." He snorted harshly. "In fact, it would amuse the weed-eaters to think we'd found the opposition more difficult than anticipated! But if we chose instead to spend that time subjugating these 'humans' and then educating their young to Hegemony standards, who knows what sort of R&D they might accomplish before that happens?"

"The prospect is exciting, Sir," Thairys said slowly. "Yet I fear it rests on speculations whose accuracy can't be tested without proceeding. If it should happen that they prove less accurate than hoped for, we would, as you say, have violated the spirit -- the official spirit, at any rate -- of the Council's authorizing writ for little return. Personally, I believe you may well be correct and that the possibility should clearly be investigated. Yet if the result is less successful than we might wish, would we not risk exposing the Empire to retaliation from other members of the Hegemony?"

"A valid point," Thikair acknowledged. "First, however, as I say, the Council's attitude towards the humans is somewhat more . . . ambivalent than usual. Second, even if the Barthoni and their weed-eater fellows were able to muster support for a vote of censure from the Council, the Emperor would be able to insist -- truthfully -- that the decision was mine, not his, and that he never authorized anything of the sort. I believe it's most probable the Hegemony Judiciary would settle for penalizing me, as an individual, rather than recommending retaliation against the Empire generally. Of course it's possible some of you, as my senior officers, might suffer as well. On the other hand, I believe the risk would be well worth taking and would ultimately redound to the honor of our clans.

"There is, however, always another possibility. The Council won't expect a Level Three or a Level Two civilization any more than we did. If it turns out after a local century or so that these humans aren't working out, the simplest solution may well be to simply exterminate them and destroy enough of their cities and installations to conceal the level of technology they'd actually attained before our arrival. Given the Council's evident attitude towards the original survey reports and -- especially -- Vice- Speaker Koomaatkia's . . . encouragement, I suspect the Hegemony would be less brokenhearted over such an outcome than they might have been in another case, not that any of them would ever be honest enough to say so. In fact, it's possible they might well choose not to look all that carefully at the evidence of the locals' actual technological level lest unpleasant questions about their own attitudes and behaviors be raised. So while it would be dreadfully unfortunate, of course, if one of our carefully focused and limited bioweapons somehow mutated into something which swept the entire surface of the planet with a lethal plague, the Council might prove surprisingly... understanding in this instance. After all, as we all know" -- he bared his canines fully -- "accidents sometimes happen."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 05, 2010 10:55 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Posts: 2122
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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 11


Chapter .V.

I wonder if she'll drown him?" Captain Pieter Stefanovich Ushakov mused aloud, watching his daughter glower at the older of her two younger brothers.

"I doubt it," his wife replied calmly.

Vladislava Nikolaevna Ushakovna was a tall, trim woman, as blond as her husband, but with a markedly more placid disposition. Unlike Pieter, who'd been born in Ternopil oblast in western Ukraine and whose family had moved to Kiev only after his eleventh birthday, Vladislava was a native Kievan. She was the one who'd first introduced fourteen-year-old Pieter to the vast lake many years before, and he was glad she had. Not just because of the fond memories of moonlight, blankets, and murmured kisses, either, although they definitely played a part in explaining just how fond those memories were. At the moment, however, those long-ago days seemed rather remote as she did her best to dissuade their youngest -- three-and-a-half-year-old Grigori -- from ripping his favorite picture out of his favorite book. She, Pieter, and Grigori sat under a picnic shelter overlooking the huge Kyyivs'ke reservoir north of Kiev on the Dnipro River. The spring sunlight was warm, the day was young, and the dark blue waters of the lake were dotted with plea sure craft.

They were also quite deep enough to dispose of an irritating younger brother, Pieter thought.

"I don't know," he said with a slow smile. "If I were her, I'd probably drown him."

"I think that might be just a little extreme as a first response," Vladislava
said. "Now, if he keeps it up...."

The two of them looked at each other, and Pieter chuckled. At twelve, Daria had already shot up to a meter and a half in height. She was probably going to equal her mother's hundred and seventy centimeters, although it was unlikely she was going to accomplish six-year-old Daria's ambition to top her father's hundred and eighty-five. Ruslan, on the other hand, who was two years her junior, was just finishing a growth spurt which had left him a good two centimeters taller than she was, and he'd been making remarks about short people ever since he'd caught up with her. Now that he'd actually surpassed her, he was finally tall enough to literally look down his nose at her, and she didn't appreciate it one bit. She especially didn't appreciate it when her father was tactless enough to point out that now that Ruslan had taken the lead in altitude, she was never going to catch up with him again, growth spurts or no. For that matter, according to the pediatrician, Ruslan was going to be at least six or seven centimeters taller than Pieter by the time he was finished.

"Boy may have a future in basketball," he remarked now.

"Oh, that would be a marvelous thing to tell him in front of Daria." Vladislava shook her head. "Why don't you find out? If you get up and run after them right this minute, you could probably catch them before they get to the boat. Oh, and don't forget to take an anchor with you, so she can tie it to his ankles before she tosses him in! In fact, take two -- I'm sure she could find a use for the second one, as well."

"Military men learn not to expose themselves to hostile fire unnecessarily," he told her. "Besides, for now at least he's way too interested in hockey to think about basketball."

"Like father, like son," Vladislava agreed. "And what brought up basketball, in that case?"

"Well, if he's going to be tall enough for it, you tend to lose less teeth on a basketball court," Pieter said philosophically. "Besides, he's got the hand-eye coordination for the game. And if we decide to go ahead and take Aldokim's offer, I understand professional basketball pays better than professional hockey."

"Are you really thinking about taking him up on that?" Vladislava raised an eyebrow, and he shrugged.

"I don't know, Slavachka," he said, reaching out to run one hand over her long, wheat- colored hair. "I don't know. But I have to say, it's been seeming more tempting lately."

"But the Army's been your life, Pieter." She enveloped Grigori in her arms, resting her chin on the top of his head and gazing across into her husband's eyes. "You've invested fifteen years in it."

"And made it all the way to captain," he replied with a crooked smile.

"The Colonel swears you'll be on the next list for major," Vladislava countered, and he snorted.

"Maybe I will, and maybe I won't. Oh, I don't think he's lying to us. I just think it's likely that under the current circumstances promotion's more likely to go to someone whose politics are a little more acceptable to the powers that be. Face it, Slavachka -- I stepped on too many toes."

She said nothing for several moments, bending over the child in her arms to press her face into Grigori's sweet-smelling golden hair. What Pieter had said was true enough, she reflected. His outspokenly pro-Western attitudes would probably have been enough to put at least a bit of a damper on his promotion prospects, after the recent elections, but that wasn't the real problem. No, the real problem was his stint in the Inspector General's office.

Pieter Ushakov was only thirty-six. He'd been in his very early teens when the old Soviet Union dissolved, and he'd never served in the Ukrainian military when it had been an official part of the Soviet armed forces. He was part of an entirely new generation of officers -- Ukrainian patriots and nationalists determined to build a Ukrainian military to protect and serve their country.

In general, that military had done an outstanding job of rebuilding itself into exactly that sort of national force. It had a right to be proud of itself, yet the job had been so immense, so complicated, that mistakes had inevitably been made. And human beings were still human beings, with an inescapable tendency to look after their own, protect their own little empires, nurture their own personal loyalties, and pursue their own agendas. That had created the sort of problems Pieter -- a young, smart, competent, obviously dedicated and strongly patriotic young officer -- had been called in to help clean up, and he'd done that job as unflinchingly as he'd tackled every other task to which his country had ever called him. With, in Vladislava's opinion, inevitable consequences for all concerned.

He'd pulled off too many scabs, exposed too much nepotism, too much cronyism. And turned up too many threads pointing to too many senior officers who maintained too close ties with the Russian military even today. He'd only been a junior captain at the time, but he'd taken his responsibilities seriously, and the establishment hadn't been able to shut him up. Instead, it had shuffled him back into a combat arms assignment with almost indecent haste . . . and an audible sigh of relief.

Despite that, she hadn't realized his older brother's urging that he and his family emigrate to the United States and join him in business there might have fallen on fertile soil.

"Do you seriously think you could be happy over there? Working with Aldo?" she asked finally.

"You mean working for Aldo?" Smile wrinkles crinkled around Pieter's blue eyes, and he glanced after Daria and Ruslan. "Sibling rivalry, you mean?"

"Something like that. "Vladislava smiled back at him. "I seem to remember when we were all children that you and he had a distinct tendency to hit one another over the head. Frequently."

"Well, neither of us would have wanted to hit the other one someplace where we might actually have hurt him," Pieter pointed out with a chuckle. "Besides, as you say, that was when we were all children together. I'm far more mature than that now."

"Odd how I hadn't noticed that," she observed.

"Because you're too near the forest to count the trees, as they say in America," Pieter told her, lifting his nose with an audible sniff.

"That must be it," she agreed gravely.

"Of course it is. And as far as working 'for' Aldo is concerned, that wouldn't be the case -- or not for long, at any rate," he continued more seriously. "He's offering to pay me a damned good salary, Slavachka, a quarter of it in voting shares, with a stock option bonus incentive plan, on top of that. In four or five years, I'd be pretty close to an equal partner."

Vladislava's eyes widened. Aldokim Stefanovich Ushakov had done well in the fifteen years since he'd departed for the United States. He'd founded his own firm, specializing in heavy construction projects, and he'd become a major subcontractor building infrastructure for the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vladislava wasn't one of the greatest admirers of American foreign policy, and she'd lost two uncles during the Soviet Union's adventures in Afghanistan, one of them courtesy of a Stinger shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile provided to the mujahedin by the Americans. As a consequence, she found it difficult to shed too many tears for either side in the current conflict there. But whatever she thought about the politics behind it, there was no question about how it had contributed to her brother-in-law's success.

And it makes good business sense from Aldo's perspective, too, she reflected. Pieter's experience would be a plus for him.

Her husband was a combat engineer -- and a good one. No one had ever suggested that his career's currently stalled status had anything to do with his competence or his ability. In fact, before his detour to the Inspector General's office had brought him into conflict with the murky world of political patronage, he'd been viewed as a rising star. In many ways, Aldokim's offer was as shrewd as it was generous, especially if he realized just how discontented
Pieter was feeling at the moment.

"I don't know," she said now, slowly. "I mean, it sounds like a wonderful offer, and you know how much I love Aldo. But I've never been to America. I don't even know if I'd like it there. And if we moved, what about everything we'd be leaving behind? Mama, Papa -- your mother?"

"I know." He stroked her long hair again. "But Mama would still have Vanya, Fydor, and Lyudochka -- one of the advantages of big families, you know! And both her sisters, for that matter. And your parents would still have both of your sisters. For that matter, it's not like the Cold War was still going on. What with telephones and the Internet it's not that hard to stay in touch. Just look at how Aldo's managed. For that matter, with the kind of money he's talking about paying me, we could bring the entire family back to visit every year. Or fly both our parents over to visit us, for that matter. Who knows? They might decide they like America! The country's supposed to be full of immigrants from just about everywhere, you know."

"You have been thinking about this, haven't you?" She looked up from Grigori's hair, her gaze intent, and he nodded.

"I guess I have," he admitted. "More than I'd realized, I think, or else I'd have already discussed it with you. I mean, it's not the kind of decision I need to be making all on my own -- not when it involves you and the children and our families."

She smiled again, faintly, thinking of all the men she knew who would have expected to do exactly that: make their decision, then announce it to their wives. That attitude was beginning to wane, but it still had a long way to go in Ukraine.

Which might be another consideration in favor of making the move, she thought. Whatever else I may think about Americans, their women are certainly... assertive. She looked after Daria, and her smile grew broader. God, think what she'll be like if she gets to grow up over there!

"Is this really what you want to do?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said frankly. "Up until the last couple of years, I would have said no. Like you say, I was entirely focused on the Army. And there's a part of me that still is -- you're right about that. But this offer from Aldo . . . it's not just generous, it's exciting. And I would like to accomplish something a bit more meaningful in my life than being the oldest man ever promoted to major."

"How soon does Aldo need an answer?"

"Well," Pieter said dryly, "unless you think the fighting in Afghanistan is going to end next month, I don't think there's an enormous rush. We can certainly think about it for a while, anyway. Besides, there's still my commission to think about. Just processing the paperwork if I decide to resign is going to take a couple of months. But in answer to what you were asking, I think this is something we both need to consider. I'd like to make up our minds before the end of the summer, though, I think."

Vladislava nodded slowly, her expression thoughtful, and he nodded back. Her calm, deliberate approach to life was one of the things he especially loved about her. It had always been part of her personality, even when they were schoolchildren, and he trusted her judgment. She wasn't the sort to rush to any decision, but once she had decided, she neither looked back nor second-guessed herself. Nor would she second-guess him.

"But for now," he reached out and scooped Grigori up in his arms, tickling the little boy until he squealed joyfully, "let's go down to the lake and make sure we still have three offspring."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 07, 2010 11:04 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 12


Chapter .VI.

Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Sanders wanted his star.

Well, to be fair, every lieutenant colonel or colonel wanted stars eventually. In his case, however, there was an added incentive to achieve general officer's rank quickly.

No, he'd explained to one would-be wit after another, he wasn't from Kentucky. He was from Wyoming. And he didn't have any secret recipes, either. For that matter, he wasn't even all that fond of fried chicken, thank you very much. Soldiers being soldiers, however, and officers senior to one being senior to one, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be dogged by those putatively jocular inquiries until the hoped-for day when -- oh, glory! -- he would become Brigadier General Sanders.

Of course, he reminded himself as he regarded the orders before him with something less than ecstasy, there were always trade-offs, and there would be on that longed-for day, as well. Such as giving up assignments like the one he currently held. As the commanding officer of First Battalion, Second Brigade, Third Armored Division, he had what was the plum duty of his career, as far as he was concerned.

Even today, the Army's transformation plan was still tinkering with the perfect setup for its modular brigades. And while it had discovered over the past few years that the format for its Stryker brigades was, indeed, well suited to fast, mobile warfare against guerrillas, insurgencies, terrorists, and low-intensity combat in general, it was rather less well designed than the enthusiasts had predicted for some of the other tasks it had been supposed to perform. In short, there was still a need for a heavy maneuver force, as well, as recent political events had tended to underscore.

That was what his combined arms battalion was supposed to be, and Third Armored Division had been reactivated less than two years ago specifically to increase the number of heavy combat teams. At the moment, his battalion's table of organization and equipment consisted of his headquarters and headquarters company, two companies of M1A2 Abrams tanks, two mechanized infantry companies, and a mechanized combat engineer company.
Both of his infantry companies were mounted in the M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, with all the updated digital electronics, and there was talk of assigning an organic helicopter gunship element to the brigade, although he suspected control would be held at the brigade level rather than assigned at the battalion level.

He'd just been informed that he was receiving three extra sections of ANT/TWQ-1 Avenger HMMVW-mounted antiaircraft systems for his upcoming assignment, plus two of the brigade's three armored reconnaissance troops, mounted in the M3A3 cavalry variant of the Bradley, as well. Despite the fact that he didn't care all that much for the assignment in question, he had to admit that was a potent, ass-kicking collection of combat power. Nor could he pretend he didn't feel a deep sense of satisfaction as he regarded the fact that it was his, all his.

Well, his, the brigade CO's, the division CO's, and national command authority's, anyway. Indeed, the orders he'd just received could be looked upon as a gentle reminder that those who commanded the United States military might occasionally have the odd little task they wished "his" battalion to perform. Unreasonable of them, perhaps, but there it was.

He didn't really object to being reminded, though, and that wasn't the reason for his discontent. No, the problem was where they were sending him. Or, more to the point perhaps, the reason they were sending him.

Herat, capital of Herat Province, just across the border from Iran. There hadn't been much fighting in the province lately, other than the increasingly frequent pounces seeking to interdict the flow of weapons across the border from Iran. Most of those weapons were headed to points deeper inside the country, not Herat itself, however, and the provincial government (which was at least reasonably free of corruption and cronyism, as far as Sanders could see) had relatively firm control of the region. In fact, there'd been substantially fewer incidents in the city of Herat over the last five or six months than in Kabul itself. But internal Afghan bloodshed (or the lack of it) wasn't the reason his battalion was being sent there.

No, the reason for that was the tension between the Iranian régime and the West in general, and the United States and the State of Israel, in particular.

Sanders didn't really think of himself as an expert on international relations and diplomacy, but the commander of a combined arms battalion couldn't afford to be uninformed on such matters, either. For that matter, his superiors would have taken a rather dim view of such a state of affairs. Because of that, he was only too well aware of just how completely relations with Iran had gone into the toilet over the last few years.

The régime's brutal suppression of internal dissent -- the "Green Movement" -- had driven its relations with the outside world even farther into the wilderness. The mass executions which had followed the resurgence of protests in 2012 had completed Iran's descent into pariah status, and the régime had reacted by becoming even more hardline, even more repressive. The U.S.-sponsored embargo on gasoline shipments which had finally been agreed to after the 2011 assassination of Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh by "parties unknown" had hurt the Iranian economy badly, and the régime blamed it (and similar Western pressures) for the subsequent upsurge of street protests. There was probably some logic on their side this time around, Sanders admitted, although their decision to have Mousavi murdered -- or at least to refuse to hold anyone accountable for it (except, of course, for the agents of the Greater Satan, which had undoubtedly ordered the crime specifically to implicate them) -- damned well had a lot more to do with it. And even if the embargo was making things still worse, he wasn't going to shed any tears over their fury and what had to be a steadily growing inner sense of desperation. Their response, however, had included dropping the charade of "peaceful nuclear power" and openly announcing their intention to acquire nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible.

Along, of course, with the renewed observation that the "Zionist entity" had no right to exist and had to be eradicated as soon as possible. Then there was that minor matter of the continued call for the universal caliphate which, for some odd reason, didn't fill the non-Muslim world with joyous anticipation. For that matter, most of the Muslims of Sanders' acquaintance weren't particularly enamored of the notion of an Iranian-style caliphate.

Despite all of that, Russia (which had worked hard to build influence in Iran for over thirty years, since the fall of the shah) had continued to supply Tehran with nonnuclear military technology up until about eight months ago. At that point, the Russian government had finally given in to Western pressure. Moscow had retreated from the military relationship with ill-concealed resentment, but the parlous state of its own economy had meant it couldn't afford too open a confrontation with its Western trading partners, especially when the combination of new drilling in the U.S., the unfortunate coup which had overtaken Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, general global conservation, and the current (relative) tranquility in the Sunni Middle East had conspired to drive down the price of their own oil so dramatically. So, as of six months ago, Russia had officially suspended all arms and technology shipments to Iran.

Intelligence suggested that China was now sniffing around the opportunities presented by the Russian withdrawal, but it didn't look as if there was going to be much upsurge in Chinese influence in Tehran. For one reason, Sanders suspected darkly, because Russia hadn't really disengaged as fully as the Kremlin claimed it had. And, for another, because China was currently much more interested in the possibilities in Pakistan's oil-and gas-rich but penniless Baluchestan Province.

In the meantime, Iran had stepped up its efforts to supply weapons -- and increasingly capable ones -- to its proxy forces like Hamas. There'd been a significant upsurge in terrorist attacks in Israel and Iraq, as well, and there wasn't much doubt that Iranian intelligence had been deeply involved in them. Add in the normal vituperation of its lunatic president (who would have believed they could have found someone worse than Ahmadinejad?) and the increased fervency of the mullahs' calls for jihad against both the Greater and Lesser Satans, and there was a lot of room for anxiety. In fact, Sanders rather suspected antacid makers were doing land office business in Wonderland on the Potomac.

The hard part was trying to figure out how much of the anxiety was justified,
and recent Iranian "military exercises" had added to the ambiguity. There was a lot of discussion about the West's avenues for bringing even more pressure to bear on the régime, and the possibility of a complete naval blockade had been coming up more and more frequently of late. Personally, Sanders didn't think the Palmer Administration had any serious intention of doing it, but the U.S. Navy clearly had the capability, and enough of that navy was forward deployed to the Red Sea and Western Med to make the mullahs understandably nervous.

Whatever the reason, their public belligerence had grown even more vitriolic of late, and Iran had recently reinforced its positions along its eastern frontier with Iraq despite its nominally friendly relationship with Iraq's majority-Shiite government. No one took too much stock in the "friendliness" of that particular relationship, however, given Iraq's continuing relationship with the United States and the last few months' sudden spate of assassinations of Sunni government ministers, governors, and mayors. Even the Shiite Interior Minister, who'd apparently made the mistake of seeming too willing to conciliate his Sunni fellows, had been mysteriously assassinated, and fear that Iran was likely to try something genuinely irrational had risen accordingly.

In addition, Tehran had stationed a corps consisting of an armored division and a mechanized infantry division at Tayyebat in Razavi Khorasan Province, less than ninety miles east of Herat. It was unlikely that a single Iranian division of long-in-the-tooth T-55s and T-72s was going to jump off on an invasion of Afghanistan, especially given all the air power available in-country to knock it on its ass if it tried. Despite that, the Powers That Were had decided that presenting a régime as . . . radically energetic as the current one in Tehran with something a little more noticeable than out-of-sight, out-of-mind F-35s might be a good idea.

Thus Sanders' orders to go and be noticeable.

Of course, this was only the warning order, giving him time to hand over his battalion's present responsibilities to its designated relief and organize the move. It was always possible the actual move would be canceled. In fact,
Sanders wished he had a nickel -- well, maybe a dollar, given inflation -- for every time he'd seen orders canceled or changed at the last minute. He didn't think that was going to happen this time, though. There was too much tension in the air. By this time, tension was actually feeding upon tension in an accelerating feedback loop on both sides of the confrontation.

Given the current circumstances, his presence might simply exacerbate the situation. How much of the Iranians' apparently irrational rhetoric was genuine and how much represented the actual intentions of the régime had always been one of the really fun guessing games where Iran was concerned, and it had turned into even more of a case of paying your money and taking your choice over the last couple of years. So his orders were to deter Iranian adventurism without provoking Iranian adventurism, and to defeat any Iranian adventurism which occurred anyway.

Presumably it all made sense to someone in the Pentagon or, at least, in the Administration. In the meantime, his was not to question why.

And while he was busy not questioning, he supposed it was time to sit down with his S-3, and start planning the move.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 09, 2010 9:21 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Posting early so I can get to bed early.


Out Of The Dark - Snippet 13


Chapter .VII.

So, Ground Base Commander. You wanted to see me?"

"Yes, Fleet Commander." Shairez's ears moved in a subtle expression which mingled agreement and respect, and Fleet Commander Thikair waved her into one of the empty chairs around the briefing- room table.

"Should I assume this means you have that interim report for me?" he asked as she obeyed the unspoken command and seated herself.

"Yes, Sir. I'm afraid it's a bit more 'interim' than I'd hoped, however."

"Oh?" Thikair's ears lifted interrogatively.

"Yes, Sir." Shairez sighed. "Certain generalities are clear enough by now, but these creatures -- these humans -- are . . . confusing. Or perhaps perplexing would be a better word."

"How so?"

"To be perfectly honest, it may be that one reason I find them that way is because of my own preconceived ideas of what they ought to be," the ground base commander confessed. "Their technology level is high enough for my preconceptions to persist in trying to think of them as a single, unified worldwide civilization. Which, manifestly, they are not. We're simply not accustomed to seeing something as archaic as competing nation-states persisting at this level of technology. Our own people were slower than almost all of the Hegemony's other species to create a planetary state, and even we had completed that process well before we reached the level of technology these humans possess. I find it difficult to resist the temptation to hammer my observations of so many disparate cultures into a single, cohesive interpretation."

"I see," Thikair said, although, if he was going to be honest with himself, he suspected the base commander was overly concerned by those preconceptions" of hers. Admittedly, the humans were more advanced technologically than anyone could possibly have expected, but they were still a planet-bound civilization, and the fact that they still had all of those competing nation-states she'd just mentioned only underscored their societal immaturity, as well. In the long run, it didn't really matter if Shairez missed some of the finer nuances. The humans were simply and completely outclassed by the capabilities of his fleet and its ground combat elements and bombardment capability. And whether they had a unified culture or not at the moment, they'd damned well have one after he got done hammering them flat and explaining their new status as clients of the Shongair Empire to them!

"Having said that, however," Shairez continued, "I have reached certain conclusions. I've written all of them up in my formal report, which you'll find in your in-box. There are a few points, though, which I wanted to discuss with you before you read the entire report."

"Such as?" Thikair tilted his chair back comfortably and began idly grooming the tip of his tail.

"Most of the human nation-states, at least the more developed ones, have significant military capability," Shairez said. "I'm speaking in terms of their own known threat environment, of course, not in comparison to our capabilities. Three of them stand out as preeminent, however one of them, the one known as the 'United States,' is in a class of its own. Its total military forces are smaller than those of the ones known as the 'People's Republic of China,' and the 'Russian Federation,' but it has by far the largest navy on KU-197-20, and its general combat capabilities appear to be far greater than anyone else's. Technically speaking, at least." She wiggled her ears in a grimace of distaste. "It obviously has no clue how to properly employ those capabilities, however. If it did, it would have settled matters in the region called 'Afghanistan' long ago. Nor would it be tolerating the present state of tension between it and 'Iran,' whose capabilities are laughable in comparison with its own.

"The other two major military powers are 'Russia' and 'China.' All three of them possess sizable fleets of aircraft in addition to large numbers of armored vehicles and foot soldiers. There are several second-rank powers, as well. Not primarily because of any inherent technological inferiority to the major powers, but simply because they lack the numbers of the United States, Russia, and China. And then there are the other nation-states, most with lower indigenous technology bases than the major and secondary powers, whose capabilities range all the way from moderate to negligible. All of them, of course, are technologically inferior to us, but given their cumulative numbers they might well prove capable of inflicting significant casualties on our own ground combat forces. A large enough mob armed with nothing but sharp rocks could endanger a rifle-armed soldier, after all, and these creatures have rather more sophisticated weapons than rocks."

"Ground Force Commander Thairys and I have already accepted that we'll probably need a more extensive prelanding bombardment than usual," Thikair said. He shrugged. "We can always expand on our current plans. Kinetic weapons are cheap, when all's said."

"Agreed, Sir. I simply wanted to draw the point to your attention. In addition, though, I'm somewhat concerned over what sort of contingency plans these creatures may have. The sheer number of nation-states and the levels of tension between them suggest to me that their leaders have probably made at least some emergency plans against attacks by their fellows. Shongairi in their position certainly would have, and while their planners couldn't possibly have allowed for the threat our arrival represents, it's still possible they could have a few potentially nasty surprises tucked away. I'm concerned, in particular, about the United States. Given its general greater level of military capability, it's my opinion that contingency planning on its part would be most likely to pose a potential threat to us. I think we need to remember that however crude their technology, these creatures do have nuclear weapons, for example, and the United States clearly has the most sophisticated means of delivering them. According to what we've been able to pick up from their news media the major powers -- or, at least, the United States and Russia -- are supposed to be keeping one another fully informed about their nuclear arsenals." Her ears cocked in an expression of contemptuous disbelief. "I don't understand that particular level of lunacy on their part, but I think we need to assume they aren't really stupid enough to give their enemies completely accurate information on a subject like that."

"No, I don't suppose they are," Thikair agreed slowly. And the ground base commander had a point, he thought. Despite the manifest incompetence demonstrated by the absurd way they'd chosen to handicap themselves in dealing with their primitively equipped adversaries, it would never do to assume that even "Americans" were that stupid.

Although it's certainly possible they really are judging by some of their other actions... or inactions, he reflected, thinking about what could have been accomplished by simply bombarding their adversaries' positions with sufficient concentrations of a suitable neurotoxin.

"Another point, and one which relates to my concerns over their possible contingency planning," Shairez continued, "is their computer networks' resistance to our penetration." She wrinkled her muzzle. "Their cyber technology, especially in their 'First World' nations, is even further advanced than other aspects of their technology. Gaining access to their 'Internet' is absurdly easy, and it's difficult for me to believe, even now, how little thought
they appear to have given to genuine security measures. Or, rather, I find it
hard to understand how they could have failed to recognize the necessity of restricting certain types of information, rather than making it generally available.

"It's become apparent to me and to my teams, however, that it really is blindness to the importance of securing information, not the absence of the ability to secure their systems. Indeed, despite the foolish manner in which they make so much vital information public, they also maintain a large number of truly secure databases, both government and private. Apparently, there's a lively, ongoing background level of cyber war, as well. Some of those involved are clearly competing nation-states, trying to compromise one another's secure systems. Other participants appear to be financial entities, attempting to ferret out one another's secrets or, in some cases, to penetrate the nation-states' systems in order to obtain what they call 'inside information' on financial regulatory decisions and processes. Still others appear to be groups of individuals unaffiliated with any nation-state or financial entity. Indeed, some of them -- possibly even the majority of them -- appear to be single individuals bent on penetrating various systems for reasons of their own."

"And the reason you mention this is --?" Thikair asked when she paused.

"My teams believe they can penetrate virtually all of the cyber defenses we've so far identified, Fleet Commander, but they're limited by their instructions to remain covert. Those defenses and intrusion detection systems are much more capable than we'd originally hoped -- presumably as a direct result of the humans' own ongoing cyber warfare -- and it's unlikely we could break into their systems without being detected."

"How likely would they be to realize the attack was coming from someone other than another human group?"

"That's impossible to say, Sir. Obviously, their security people are well versed in other human techniques, and if we were to attack them directly using our own technology, I think it's quite possible they'd realize they were looking at something entirely new. On the other hand, they don't know about us and we've gained quite a lot of familiarity with their own technology. We could probably disguise any penetration of their secure systems by using their own techniques, and in that case the natural reaction for them would be to assume it was, in fact, one of those other human groups rather than leap to the conclusion that 'aliens' were trying to invade their systems."

Thikair flexed his ears slowly, grooming his tail more thoughtfully as he considered what she'd just said. She was right that they needed to discover anything they could about "contingency plans." It was unlikely that anything the humans might have come up with could constitute a serious threat to his own operations, but even primitive nuclear weapons could inflict stinging casualties if he got careless. And while he himself was inclined to discount the possibility that anyone as manifestly stupid as humans would realize they were under cyber attack by "aliens," it wasn't outright impossible.

Of course, even if they realized the truth there was precious little they'd be able to do about it, unless Shairez' teams discovered something truly startling.

Stop right there, Thikair, he told himself. Remember, however stupid these creatures are and however crude their technology may be, they aren't weed-eaters, and you're talking about a planet with billions of them crawling around on its surface. And the last time anyone in the entire Hegemony actually fought anyone much more sophisticated than these humans were when the Barthoni first visited them was -- what? Close to a standard millennium ago -- over two thousand of KU-197-20's local years. In fact, it was us, fighting each other before we ever encountered the Dainthar-damned Hegemony. So even though Shairez probably is being overly cautious, a little excess caution in a situation like this is unlikely to hurt anything, whereas too blithe an assumption of superiority might well get hundreds of your warriors killed. So you do need to find out what their "contingency plans" are, and you need to do it in a way which will let you spend a few days considering what you discover before you have to attack. But how to do that?

He thought about it for several moments, then looked back across the briefing room table at Shairez.

"I strongly suspect Ground Base Commander, that you've already considered possible solutions to your problem." His ears rose in a half smile. "You're not the sort to simply tell a superior you can't do something."

"I try not to be, at any rate, Sir," she acknowledged with a smile of her own.

"So, tell me, would your solution to this one happen to be launching your attack through one of their own groups?"

"Yes, Sir. It would."

"And which of their groups did you have in mind?"

"I've been considering the nation-state called 'Iran,' Sir. Its relations with most of the First World nation-states are extremely tense and strained. In fact, according to what I've been able to discover, those relations have become progressively much worse over the last few local years. Apparently, internal unrest has been a problem for the current régime, and its opponents haven't approved of the techniques it's used to control that unrest." Her ears twitched derisively. "These creatures' insistence on forms and proper procedures is ridiculous, yet even allowing for that it seems apparent the régime has singularly failed to identify the true leaders of the unrest. Either that or, despite its opponents' condemnation of its 'extremism,' it's failed for some reason known only to itself to act effectively against those leaders and compel their submission.

"In the meantime, however, the hostility existing between it -- and especially between it and the United States -- could well be made to serve our purposes. Iran's technical capabilities are generally much inferior to those of the United States, but there are specific areas in which those capabilities are rather more sophisticated. Given its relations with the United States and the 'West' in general, a cyber attack coming out of Iran would surprise very few of the human governments. The sophistication of the attack might well surprise them, but I believe they would automatically assign responsibility for it to Iran and simply order investigations into how Iran might have acquired the capability to launch it. And given the régime's apparent propensity for routinely misrepresenting inconvenient truths, no one is likely to believe any denial it might issue in the wake of our attack."

"I see."

Thikair thought about it briefly, then flipped his ears in agreement.

"I think all of your points are well taken, Ground Base Commander," he said approvingly. "And I quite agree that it would be well to discover everything we can about any 'contingency plans' the humans might have in place. For that matter, it's probable that there's quite a bit of generally useful information in those secure systems of theirs, and it would be wise of us to acquire as much as possible of it while the computers in which it's housed still exist. One never knows when that sort of data might become useful.

"As for the possibility of using this 'Iran' as a mask, I approve entirely. Meet with your team leaders and come up with a plan to implement your suggestion as soon as possible."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 14

Chapter .VIII.

A human hacker would have called it a "man-in-the-middle" attack. Base Commander Shairez's carefully built remote was deposited on the roof of a coffee house in downtown Tehran. Despite the Iranian régime's paranoia and perpetual state of heightened military alert, slipping the remote through its airspace defenses was child's play for the Shongairi. Concealing it once it was down wasn't a lot more difficult, either, since it was little larger than a baseball. The heavily stealthed, unmanned platform which deposited it found a convenient location, hidden in the shadow of an air-conditioning compressor, then departed through the moonless night air as swiftly and unobtrusively as it had arrived.

The location had been selected in advance after a previous platform's incursion had "driven around" at high altitude listening for a suitable portal through which to enter the local WiFi system. The 802.11 standard wireless connection of the coffeeshop which had been chosen offered broad frequency wireless connections to interact with potential victims. Even better, it was completely unprotected, without even the standard WAP's 64- hexadecimal key. It wouldn't have mattered very much if it had been protected -- despite the remote's small size, its processing power would have sufficed to break even a substantially more challenging key with a brute force approach -- but it was convenient.

Now the remote inserted itself into the coffeeshop's network and attempted to access the router. In this case, it was a common retail Linksys SOHO, and the coffeeshop's owner had never bothered to replace the default password. The remote got in easily and looked around, checking carefully for intrusion detection systems. There was no sign of one, and it quickly established access and began modifying settings.

The first thing it did was to change the password and wipe out any logs which might have been recorded on the router. Then it modified the gateway -- making the router send the traffic of any coffeeshop users through itself. Once it was able to view all the unencrypted traffic of all users of the coffeeshop's connections, it began monitoring and recording. For two days, that was all it did -- listen, record, and compress, then retransmit daily dumps of all communications in and out of the coffee shop to the stealthed Shongair ship which had deployed it.

***

His name was Rasul Teymourtash, and he was a taxi driver. In a nation where political activism had become a dangerous, high-stakes game, Rasul was about as apolitical as a man could get. He went to mosque on Friday, accepted the five principles of the Usul al-Din, performed the ten duties of the Furu al- Din, and concentrated on keeping himself and his family fed. One of his brothers had been arrested, savagely beaten, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison last year for alleged activity in the outlawed Green Movement. Another had simply disappeared some months before that, which might have been one of the reasons for Rasul's tendency to emulate an ostrich where politics were concerned.

He was also, however, a patron of the coffee house Shairez had chosen as her entry point into the Internet. On this particular day, Rasul dropped by the coffee house and connected his laptop to its router... by way of the Shongair remote. He browsed, he checked his e-mail, and then he decided to download an MP3 music file.

The authorities would not have approved of his choice of music, since Lady Gaga was not high on the list of acceptable musicians. She was, admittedly, rather longer in the tooth than once she had been, and she'd undoubtedly mellowed somewhat over the years, but no one could have mellowed enough -- not from her original starting point! -- to satisfy Iran's leaders. Rasul was well aware of that, of course, yet he also knew he was scarcely alone in pushing that particular set of limits.

What he was unaware of, however, was that the Shongair cyber techs aboard Shairez's starship had made good use of all the data their remote had transmitted to them. Which was why, along with his music video, Rasul had installed and run a Trojan Horse.

The virus turned his laptop into a slaved "bot" -- the first of many -- which began searching for computers to attack in the United States. Another Trojan, in a second laptop, launched a similar search against computers in the Russian Federation. Another began spying on China, and others reached out to Europe, Israel, and India.

By the end of the day, over six hundred Iranian bots were obediently working the problem of the United States, alone, and as they reached out to still more computers, their numbers continued to grow. They made no move (yet) against their primary targets. Instead, they started with e-commerce sites, looking for vulnerabilities they could exploit in order to worm their way up to the systems in which they were truly interested. They concentrated on the people who used the machines rather than the machines themselves, searching for weak passwords -- capitalizing on the fact that human beings may have many online needs but tend to use the limited number of passwords their merely organic memories can keep track of. They were particularly interested in members of the United States military, and with so many industrious little bots looking, they were bound to find something.

They did.

The first opening was an Air Force E-6, a technical sergeant stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Technical Sergeant James was an Airsoft enthusiast who had decided to order a GR25 SPR -- a BB-firing electric version of the M25 sniper rifle.

He placed his order online, through a Website using a 1024 bit SSL/TLS key, a secure socket layer impossible for current human technology to defeat. In fact, even Shongair technology would have found it a challenge, but the bots had never been looking at breaking its encryption in the first place. They'd been looking for human mistakes, vulnerabilities, and they'd found one in the form of a default script left in place when the system was set up. Once through that open door, they were able to access the site's data, looking specifically for military users like Technical Sergeant James. And in that data, they found James' e-mail address and the password he'd used in placing his order... which, unfortunately, was also the password he used when accessing the Air Force's logistical tracking system. Which, in turn, offered access to even more data and even more sensitive systems.

It took time, of course. Sergeant James was only one of many gaps the steadily growing army of automated intruders managed to turn up. But computers are patient. They don't care how long an assignment takes, and they don't get bored. They simply keep grinding steadily away at the problem... and they also don't care who they are grinding away for.

And so, just under a week after Rasul had downloaded Lady Gaga, Ground Base Commander Shairez found the access points she needed.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 14, 2010 11:00 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 15

Chapter .IX.

Excuse me, Sir, but I think you'd better see this."

General Thomas Sutcliffe, Commanding Officer, United States Strategic Command, looked up with a quizzical expression as Major General Yolanda O'Higgins stepped into his office. O'Higgins was a Marine, and under normal circumstances, she took the Marines' institutional fetish for sharpness of personal appearance to unparalleled heights. It helped in that regard that she was a naturally precise, organized person -- the sort who seldom had to scramble dealing with problems because she usually saw them coming well in advance. It also helped that she was probably one of the three or four smartest people Sutcliffe (who held multiple doctorates of his own) had ever met. She'd established her bona fides in Marine aviation when that wasn't the sort of duty women normally drew, and played a major role in formulating the Corps' input into the F-35 joint strike fighter, but her true strength lay in an incisive intellect and a pronounced ability to think "outside the box." She was also widely acknowledged as one of the U.S. military's foremost experts on cybernetics and information warfare, which was why she currently headed the Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare.

JFCC- NW, one of four joint functional component commands over which USSTRATCOM exercised command authority, was responsible for "facilitating cooperative engagement with other national entities" in computer network defense and offensive information warfare. Sutcliffe, despite his own impressive technical education, recognized that he wasn't in O'Higgins' stratospheric league when it came to issues of cyber warfare. In fact, he tended to think of her as the übergeek of übergeeks, and he accorded her all the respect to which an inscrutable wizard was entitled.

Despite which, he was surprised to see her in his office this morning. She was normally punctilious about scheduling meetings, and even if that hadn't been the case, getting past Major Jeff Bradley, Sutcliffe's aide, unannounced wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do.

"And good morning to you, Yolanda," he said mildly. "Excuse me, but did Jeff forget to tell me we had a meeting scheduled for today?"

"No, Sir, I'm afraid he didn't."

"I didn't think so." Sutcliffe cocked his head to one side. "On the other hand, you're not exactly the sort to come bursting in unannounced on a whim. So what does bring you here this morning?"

"Sir, we got hit -- hard -- about twenty-seven minutes ago," O'Higgins said flatly.

"Hit?" Sutcliffe's chair came fully upright as he leaned forward over his desk. "You mean a cyber attack?"

"Sir, I mean a fucking cyber massacre," O'Higgins said even more flatly, and Sutcliffe's eyes narrowed. The major general's mahogany complexion wasn't exactly suited to paling, but Yolanda O'Higgins very, very seldom used that kind of language.

"How bad?" he asked tersely.

"We're really only starting to sort out the details, Sir. It'll be a while before we know how deep they actually got, but they blew right through our perimeter firewalls without even slowing down. And it was across the board. DIA, Homeland Security, CIA, FBI -- they hit all of us simultaneously, Sir."

O'Higgins might not be equipped to blanch, but Sutcliffe felt the color draining out of his own face. He stared at her for a long, frozen moment, then reached for the phone.

***

"So how bad is it? That's the bottom-line question," President Harriet Palmer said, letting her gaze circle the faces of the men and women seated around the table.

There was silence for a moment, then General Koslow, the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cleared his throat.

"I think General Sutcliffe's probably the best person to answer that question, Madam President. His people at StratCom were the first to realize what was happening."

Koslow nodded across the table to Sutcliffe, and the president turned to him.

"Well, General Sutcliffe?"

"Madam President, the short answer to your question is that it's pretty damn bad," he said frankly. "I assume you don't want the technical details?"

"You assume correctly, General." Palmer showed her teeth in a tight smile. If Sutcliffe's language bothered her, she showed no sign of it. Of course, she'd been known to let slip the occasional "pithy phrase" herself upon occasion ."I
came up through state government, not MIT."

"Yes, Ma'am." Sutcliffe nodded. "In that case, the best way to put it is that as nearly as we can tell someone penetrated somewhere around eighty percent of our secure databases before we managed to cut off access and isolate ourselves from the net."

"Eighty percent?" Palmer stared at him in disbelief.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said unflinchingly. "Somewhere around that."

"How?" Palmer demanded. She shook her head. "I may have come up through government, not computer science, but I was under the impression we had the best security systems in the world!"

"So far as we know, Madam President, we do. But no security is perfect, and this apparently used a Trojan of an entirely novel design. We don't have any idea where it came from, and the penetration itself was an incredibly sophisticated, coordinated attack which included some brute-force key crunching that... well, let's just say no one on our side ever saw it coming. Or even thought it was possible for that matter! And it came at every one of our systems simultaneously -- timed to the second -- through better than a thousand lower-level systems." He shook his head. "In that respect, all I can say is that it's light-years beyond anything we've ever seen before. Our people are still backtracking, trying to figure out exactly what they did to us. At this moment, though, nobody's got a clue how this could have been put together -- how so many lower-level systems could have been penetrated -- without anybody's intrusion detection software seeing it coming."

"Who did it?" Palmer asked flatly. "Do we at least know that much?"

"At this time," Sutcliffe said in the tone of the man who'd rather be facing a firing squad, "all indications are that it came out of Iran, Madam President."

"Iran?" If Palmer had been shocked by the degree of penetration, that was nothing compared to her shock at learning the source of the attack. "You mean those lunatics in Tehran managed this? Is that what you're telling me, General Sutcliffe?"

"We've backtracked the attack to a coffee house not far from the Iranian Ministry of Defense's central office in Tehran, Madam President. As far as we can tell, that's where it originated."


"Sweet Jesus," the president said softly, and it was a prayer, not a blasphemy. She sat looking at Sutcliffe for several seconds, then swiveled her head to where the Secretary of Homeland Security sat flanked by the directors of the CIA and FBI and facing the Secretary of Defense across the table.

"Frank?" she said.

"Harriet," Frank Gutierrez said, "we don't know." Gutierrez , the only person present who habitually addressed the president by her first name, had known Palmer for the better part of thirty years, which was how he'd come to be picked to head Homeland Security. "Our own computer people tell us the same thing General Sutcliffe's people are telling him. Hell, for that matter, most of 'our' computer people are also 'his' computer people! None of them have ever seen anything like this, and all of them agree -- all of them, Harriet -- that it came out of Tehran."

Palmer nodded slowly, her face ashen. No one had to tell her how disastrous this could prove. The sheer amount of information which had been compromised was horrifying to contemplate. Having that information in the hands of what were probably the United States' most bitter enemies only made it still worse. Just thinking about what the Iranian régime could do with that sort of look inside the United States' intelligence networks, that kind of fix on CIA's chains of agents all around the world, was enough to make her physically ill. And that didn't even consider....

"Do you think this had anything to do with Sunflower?" she asked.

"There's no way to be certain either way," Gutierrez said. "On the other hand, given the source of the attack, I don't think we can afford to assume it didn't. In addition...."

It was Gutierrez' turn to pause and draw a deep breath.

"In addition," he resumed a moment later, "we have some indications -- they're very preliminary, and none have been confirmed as yet, you understand -- that we're not the only ones who got hit. Everyone seems to be playing it close to his or her vest at the moment, but I've had some strange inquiries from my French and British counterparts. We're stonewalling for right now -- I told my people we might have something to say, to our friends, at least, after this meeting -- but from what they're asking, either they got hit themselves or else they know we got hit and want to know how badly."

Palmer's nostrils flared. "Sunflower" was the innocuous computer–generated code name Homeland Security's analysts had assigned to a rumored Iranian operation. The various intelligence services had all been catching hints about it over the last couple of years, although they'd managed to keep anyone outside the intelligence community from getting wind of them... so far, at least.

Unfortunately, the president had a sick feeling that might be about to change.

The increasingly isolated Iranian hardliners had never wavered in their hatred for all things Western and, in particular, for the United States of America and the State of Israel. And it would appear that Western estimates of how long it would take them to produce nuclear weapons had been overly optimistic. In fact, they'd officially scheduled their first stationary nuclear weapons test for "year's end." That was elastic enough to give them some wiggle room in the face of unexpected problems, and most experts expected their first weapons to be relatively low in yield and large in size, which would make delivering them difficult. According to the experts, making one small enough to fit into a missile with their current technology would be a challenge, and judging by their ongoing missile tests, their accuracy would probably be less than pinpoint even after they did. On the other hand, the "experts" had been wrong before, and once any capability existed, it could always be improved upon.

That was bad enough; worse were the persistent rumors that they'd managed to "acquire" a handful of ex-Soviet tactical warheads from rogue elements within the Russian Federation before it reluctantly cut its ties with Tehran. The Russians, predictably, denied that it could possibly have happened, but Moscow's assurances had been remarkably cold comfort under the circumstances to the West. Especially since the Iranian Supreme Leader had openly stated that it was past time the "Great Satan" received another blow like the September 11 attacks or the 2012 Chicago subway sarin attack.

There was no way to be certain whether or not he meant it, but the Iranians had made no real effort to conceal the upsurge in the quantities of military hardware being provided to the insurgents in Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, their redoubled efforts to destabilize Iraq or the increasing sophistication of the weapons they were providing to Hamas for use against Israel. They routinely denied they were doing anything of the sort, of course, but it was the sort of denial intended to be recognized as a lie when it was issued. Under the circumstances, "Sunflower" -- the delivery to a major American airport of one of those ex-Soviet tactical devices the Iranians didn't have aboard a third-party commercial airliner -- had to be taken seriously. And now this....

"All right," Palmer said. "We're going to operate on the assumption that it was the Iranians. And we're further going to assume that they launched this attack in order to gain information to facilitate Sunflower. That they were looking for vulnerabilities -- and possibly not just on our side of the pond -- they could exploit to slip Sunflower through our defenses. I'm not saying we should absolutely close our minds to the possibility that it could have been someone else. In fact, I want that possibility explored aggressively. But at this moment, assuming it wasn't Iran if it actually was could be disastrous."

She looked around at her advisers once more, aware as never before that they were just that -- advisers -- and that the ultimate decision, and responsibility, was hers. Then her eyes focused on Harrison Li, the Secretary of Defense.

"Harry, you, Frank, and General Koslow will operate on the assumption that Sunflower is a reality and the clock is ticking. For all we know, there's a nuke already airborne right this moment, headed for New York or Atlanta or Los Angeles. We need to find it and stop it, and we need to do it in a way that doesn't create a national panic. God only knows what would happen -- how many people might get trampled in the crush -- if we ordered an immediate evacuation of every possible target!"

The stillness in the conference room was very nearly absolute.

"I know we've got cover plans in place to ramp up aircraft inspections without telling anyone we're looking for an actual nuclear device," she continued. "I want those plans activated, and I think it's time we had an 'unscheduled' drill here in the States to test our terrorist response plans. Get that laid on immediately... and figure out a way to extend our 'drill's' duration. Let's get as many of our first responders mobilized and keep them there as long as we can without going public about Sunflower.

"In the meantime, we need to find out if our allies did get hit, or if it was just us. I'll personally call the British and Canadian prime ministers and the French president, tell them what's happened, and ask them frankly if the same thing's happened to one or more of them. General Sutcliffe, I'll want you and your people available to talk to their people about the technical aspects, but if this is a prelude to Sunflower, we might not be the only targets, and that means we have to bring the others onboard about this ASAP, for their own protection as well as our own.

"For obvious reasons, though, we'll operate on the assumption that we're the target -- or at least the primary target -- and act accordingly. In addition to our Homeland Security exercises, I want all CONUS air defenses on high alert, too. And I want our air defense plans modified on the assumption that the people coming after us have now gained access to our existing plans. I know there's a limit to how they can be adjusted, but I can't believe anyone would go after this kind of information without some plan to use it. From what your tech experts seem to be saying, the people who launched this attack have to have been pretty damned confident they'd get through -- that they'd take us by surprise, the first time at least -- but they have to have realized we'll beef up our defenses to keep them from doing it again. So if this is the first step in an active attack on one of our cities, they wouldn't have gone after our computers any sooner than they figured they had to. They wouldn't want to give us any more time to react and adjust than they absolutely had to."

Heads nodded around the table and she drew a deep, deep breath.

"All right. Get started. I want a progress report in two hours."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:09 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 16

Chapter .X.

It was unfortunate that international restrictions on the treatment of POWs didn't also apply to what could be done to someone's own personnel, Stephen Buchevsky reflected as he failed -- again -- to find a comfortable way to sit in the mil-spec "seat" in the big C-17 Globemaster's spartan belly. The hell with waterboarding! If he'd been a jihadist, he'd have spilled his guts within an hour if they strapped him into one of these!

Actually, he supposed a lot of the problem stemmed from his six feet and four inches of height and the fact that he was built more like an offensive lineman than a basketball player. Nothing short of a first-class commercial seat was really going to fit someone his size, and expecting the U.S. military to fly an E-8 commercial first-class would have been about as realistic as his expecting to be drafted as a presidential nominee. Or perhaps even a bit less realistic. And if he wanted to be honest (which he didn't), he should also admit that what he disliked even more was the absence of windows. There was something about spending hours sealed in an alloy tube while it vibrated its noisy way through the sky that made him feel not just enclosed, but trapped.

Well, Stevie, he told himself, if you're that unhappy, you could always ask the pilot to let you off to swim the rest of the way!

The thought made him chuckle, and he checked his watch. Kandahar to Aviano, Italy, was roughly three thousand miles, which exceeded the C-17's normal range by a couple of hundred miles. Fortunately -- although that might not be exactly the right word for it -- he'd caught a rare flight returning to the States almost empty. The Air Force needed the big bird badly somewhere, so they wanted it home in the shortest possible time, and with additional fuel and a payload of only thirty or forty people, it could make the entire Kandahar-to-Aviano leg without refueling. Which meant he could look forward to a six-hour flight, assuming they didn't hit any unfavorable winds.

He would have preferred to make the trip with the rest of his people, but he'd ended up dealing with the final paperwork for the return of the Company's equipment. Just another of those happy little chores that fell the way of its senior noncom. On the other hand, and despite the less than luxurious accommodations aboard his aerial chariot, his total transit time would be considerably shorter thanks to this flight's fortuitous availability. And one thing he'd learned to do during his years of service was to sleep anywhere, anytime.

Even here, he thought, squirming into what he could convince himself
was a marginally more comfortable position and closing his eyes. Even here.

***

"Daddy!" Four-year-old Shania held out her arms, smiling hugely, as she flung herself from five steps up the staircase into her father's arms with the absolutely fearless confidence that Daddy would catch her. "You're home -- you're home!"

"Of course I am, Punkin!"

Buchevsky's voice sounded odd to his own ears, somehow, but he laughed as he scooped the small, hurtling body out of the air. He hugged the sturdy yet delicate little girl to his chest, tucking one arm under her bottom for her to sit on while the other arm went around her back so he could tickle her. She squealed in delight, ducking her head, trying to squeeze her arms against her sides and capture his tickling fingers. Her small hands caught his single big one, one fist clenching around his thumb, another around his index finger, and her feet drummed against his rib cage.

"Stop that!" she laughed. "Stop that, Daddy!"

"Oh, sure, that's what you say!" he chuckled, pressing his lips against the nape of her neck and blowing hard. She squealed again at the fluttering sound, and he straightened enough to press a kiss to the top of her head, instead.

"Me, too, Daddy!" another voice demanded indignantly. "Me, too!"

He looked down, and when he saw a four-year-old Yvonne, he realized why his own voice had sounded a little odd. Shania was three years older than Yvonne, so the only way they could both be four -- which he knew had been his favorite age for both of them -- was in a dream. He was hearing his own voice, as if it had been recorded and played back to him, and everyone knew that always sounded just a little "off."

His sleeping mind recognized the dream, and some small corner of him realized he was probably dreaming it because of the divorce. Because he knew he was going to see even less of his girls, no matter how hard Trish and he both tried. Because he loved them so much that no matter where he was, his arms still ached for those slender, agile, wigglesome little bodies and the feel of those small, loving arms around his own neck.

And because he knew those things, because he longed for them with such aching intensity, his mind turned away from the awareness that he was dreaming. Turned away from the noise and vibration of the transport plane and burrowed deep, deep into that loving memory of a moment in time which could not ever really have occurred.

"Of course you, too, Honey Bug!" the dream Stephen Buchevsky laughed, bending and sweeping one arm around Yvonne, lifting her up into his embrace.
He held both of his little girls -- one in the crook of his right arm, one in the crook of his left -- and smothered them with daddy kisses.

***

The sudden, violent turn to starboard yanked Buchevsky up out of the dream, and he started to shove himself upright in his uncomfortable seat as the turn turned even steeper. The redoubled, rumbling whine from the big transport's engines told him the pilot had increased power radically, as well, and every one of his instincts told him he wouldn't have liked the reason for all of that if he'd known what it was.

Which didn't keep him from wanting to know anyway. In fact --

"Listen up, everybody!" a harsh, strain-flattened voice rasped over the aircraft's intercom. "We've got a little problem, and we're diverting from Aviano, 'cause Aviano isn't there anymore."

Buchevsky's eyes widened. Surely whoever it was on the other end of the intercom had to be joking, his mind tried to insist. But he knew better. There was too much stark shock -- and fear -- in that voice.

"I don't know what the fuck is going on," the pi lot continued. "We've lost our long-ranged comms, but we're getting reports on the civilian bands about low-yield nukes going off all over the goddamned place. From what we're picking up, someone's kicking the shit out of Italy, Austria, Spain, and every NATO base in the entire Med, and --"

The voice broke off for a moment, and Buchevsky heard the harsh sound of an explosively cleared throat. Then --

"And we've got an unconfirmed report that Washington is gone, people. Just fucking gone."

Someone kicked Buchevsky in the belly and his hand automatically sought the hard-edged shape under his shirt. Not Washington. Washington couldn't be gone. Not with Trish and --

"I don't have a goddamned clue who's doing this, or why," the pilot said, "but we need someplace to set down, fast. We're about eighty miles north-northwest of Podgorica in Montenegro, so I'm diverting inland. Let's hope to hell I can find someplace to put this bird down in one piece . . . and that nobody on the ground thinks we had anything to do with this shit!"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 19, 2010 11:06 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 17

Chapter .XI.

One more cannonball while I'm trying to cook here, and someone isn't getting any hamburgers!" Dave Dvorak said ominously, turning to look over his shoulder at the water-plastered head of dark hair which had just bobbed back to the surface of the swimming pool.

His outsized stainless-steel gas grill was parked on the wooden deck at the deep end of the pool. The deck was separated from the pool itself by a four-foot flagstoned surround, and one wouldn't normally have thought a slender, nine- year-old female could have produced sufficient spray to reach him. His daughter, however, had risen to new heights -- not to mention new elevations off the diving board -- and the brisk breeze sweeping across the pool had carried him a hefty dollop of chlorine-scented rain.

"Sorry, Daddy!"

Morgana Dvorak's contrition didn't sound especially sincere, her male parental unit noted. She was the smaller of the twins -- although there wasn't a lot to choose, height-wise, between her and her sister Maighread -- which seemed to have imbued her with an automatic need to test the limits more than either of her two siblings. Maighread was just as capable of working her way towards a desired objective by any means necessary, but she preferred indirection (not to say sneakiness, of course) rather than head-on confrontation. Their younger brother, Malachai, was even more . . . straightforward than Morgana, of course. He didn't so much "test the limits" as charge straight at them. Morgana undoubtedly pushed more rules than he did, but nobody could have pushed the ones he did any harder. Probably because he shared his mother's red hair. That was Dvorak's explanation, at any rate. Sharon, on the other hand, was fonder of the explanation which had been offered by one of their friends who also happened to be a child psychologist. Malachai, she'd said, was physically a clone of his mother... but psychologically he was his father in miniature.

An explanation which was patent nonsense in Dvorak's considered opinion, thank you. And one which made him contemplate a thirteen-year-old Malachai with a distinct sense of dread.

"Yeah, sure you're sorry!" he told his errant daughter as she trod water, and she giggled. Unmistakably, she giggled. "You just bear in mind what I said, young lady." He shook his spatula in her direction. "And if you're not careful, I'll cook your burger all the way through, too -- turn it into one of those hockey pucks your uncle likes!"

"Hey, now!" Rob Wilson objected from where he reclined, beer in hand, in a folding chaise lounge strategically located upwind of the grill. "Cooking is good. Just because you like your food raw doesn't mean smart people do."

"There's a difference between cooked and charcoal, you Philistine,"
Dvorak retorted. "I'm just grateful I managed to rescue my children from your unnatural fascination with things that go crunch."

"Rescue them? Is that what you call brainwashing them into eating sushi?" Wilson demanded.

"Sushi? Did someone say sushi? Yum!" Maighread Dvorak put in. She'd just come out of the house, carrying a platter of buns. Her younger brother and her cousin Keelan came behind her, carrying potato salad, pickles, lettuce, and sliced tomatoes and onion rings. Morgana had deposited the mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup on the picnic table before launching herself into the pool, and Sharon and Veronica Wilson brought up the rear with iced tea, soft drinks, and what looked like a wheelbarrow load of potato chips.

"Unnatural, that's what it is," Wilson said, smiling at his niece. "Fish isn't food to begin with, even when it's cooked. But raw?" He shook his head. "Next thing, you'll be expecting me to eat vegetables!"

"Potatoes are vegetables," Dvorak pointed out, "and you eat -- what? Nine or ten pounds? Twenty? -- of them a week!"

"While I always hate coming to Rob's defense, potatoes aren't vegetables," his wife corrected him. He cocked an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged. "Potatoes,"
she explained, "are a traditional Irish delicacy whose ancient pedigree and lineage place them in a unique category, transcending the limitation of mere 'vegetables.' Besides, they have very little of that chlorophyll stuff that gives all those other vegetables such a strange taste. Or that's what I've been told causes it, anyway. I don't eat enough of them to know, myself."

"You shouldn't encourage him, you know," Dvorak said. "Vegetables are good for you."

"Vegetables," his brother-in- law riposted, "are what food eats before it becomes food."

"Carnivore!" Dvorak snorted.

"Me, too! Me, too!" Morgana put in from the pool. "I agree with Uncle Rob! But keep mine pink in the middle, Daddy."

"Of course I will," Dvorak assured her. He slid the current crop of sizzling meat patties to one end of the grill, over a lower flame, and began flipping fresh burgers onto the high- temperature end. "We'll just let your mother's and your uncle's sit down here and cure into proper jerky while ours cook properly."

"Don't let mine get dried out," Alec Wilson, Rob's grown son, put in.

"Yeah? Well, in that case, you'd better come down here and start building your burger now," Dvorak invited. "Certain lazy people -- I mention no spouses or brothers-in-law in particular, you understand -- are going to lie about until the overworked cook gets around to building theirs for them, so they'll just have to take theirs the way they get them."

"Nonsense, I'm sure my wife will look after me just fine, thank you," Wilson said.

"I hate to break this to you," Veronica told him, "but I'm afraid I'm going to be too busy swimming to take care of that for you." She smiled sweetly at him. "Sorry about that."

"Wait a minute," Wilson protested, sitting up in the chaise lounge, "you know I can't cook! You're supposed to --"

The side door onto the pool deck slammed suddenly open, so violently every head turned towards it. Jessica Wilson, Alec's wife, stood staring out of it, and her eyes were wide.

"Jessica?" Sharon's tone was sharpened by sudden concern. "What's wrong, honey?"

"The TV." There was something odd about Jessica's voice. It sounded . . . flattened. Almost crushed. "The TV just said --" She paused and drew a deep breath. "Somebody's attacking us!"

***

The entire Dvorak-Wilson clan clustered around the big- screen TV. Dave Dvorak sat in his La-Z-Boy recliner with his daughters in his lap and Sharon perched on the chair arm. Malachai was in his mother's lap, and Dave's right arm was around both of them. Rob Wilson stood beside the coffee table, quivering with too much anger and intensity to sit, and Veronica, Keelan, Alec, and Jessica sat huddled together on the long couch.

"...still coming in," the ashen-faced reporter on the screen was saying. "Repeating what we already know, many American cities have been attacked. The exact extent of damage is impossible to estimate at this point, but we've lost all communications with our affiliates in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, and several smaller cities. Indications are that the continental United States has been attacked with nuclear weapons. I repeat, with nuclear --"

His image disappeared abruptly, replaced by the insignia of the Department
of Homeland Security.

"This is an emergency broadcast," a flat, mechanical voice said. "A nationwide
state of emergency is now in effect. All active duty and reserve military personnel are instructed to report to --"

Dvorak pressed the button on the remote, and the TV went dead.

"What the fuck do you thin --?!" his brother-in-law snarled, turning on him with atypical fury.

"Shut up, Rob," Dvorak said flatly. Wilson gaped at him, red-faced with anger, but Dvorak continued in that same flat voice. "I don't know what's happening," he said, "but just from what we've already heard, it's pretty damn obvious somebody's kicked the shit out of the United States. God knows who it is, but if they've managed to hit that many cities simultaneously, then it sure as hell isn't the Iranians! And whoever it is, and whatever they're after, things are going to go to hell in a hand basket pretty damn quick. So instead of sitting around watching TV and hoping somebody will tell us what's happening, we need to get our asses in gear. This is exactly what you and I have been working on the cabin for the last three years!"

Wilson closed his mouth with a click. Then he shook himself, like a dog shaking off water, and made himself draw a deep breath.

"You're right," he said. "How do you want to handle it?"

"Well, we're lucky as hell we're all here in one spot," Dvorak said. He stood, easing his frightened daughters out of his lap and settling them in the chair he'd vacated. Then he reached out and cupped the side of Sharon's face in his right hand. "The fact that we are all here means we don't have to go start collecting people, at least."

He let his eyes circle the faces of the adult members of the family, then looked down at the children and smiled as reassuringly as he could before he returned his gaze to his wife's face.

"Sharon, Rob and I will get the Outback hitched to the van. While we're doing that, you and Ronnie get organized to clean out the pantry and the gun safe. Then shove anything else you can think of that might be useful in on top of that. Keep your PSN90 and a couple of the twelve-gauges out and loaded." His expression was grim. "I hope you won't need them, but if you do, I want you to have something heftier than your Taurus."

She looked at him silently for a moment, then nodded, and he turned to Alec.

"Alec, I need you to stay here and help Ronnie and Sharon get that organized.
Most people're probably going to be sitting around, too shocked and too busy wondering what the hell's happening to make trouble for anyone else -- for a while yet, at least -- but we can't be sure of that. So keep an eye out. And get my Browning auto out of the gun safe. I don't want anybody shot if we can help it, and it may be silly and chauvinistic, but a lot of the kind of people who'd make trouble are less likely to push it if they see a man with a twelve-gauge standing in front of them than if they see an armed woman even if she's got a Ma Deuce. Stupid of them, but stupid people can kill you just as dead as smart people."

Alec nodded, and Dvorak gazed into his eyes for another moment, then drew a deep breath.

"And, Alec," he said, his voice much softer, "if somebody does make trouble, don't hesitate. Warn them off if you can, but if you can't..."

"Understood." Alec's voice was equally quiet, and Dvorak turned to Wilson's daughter-in-law, who worked with him and his brother-in-law at the shooting range.

"Jess, I want you to come with me and Rob. We'll hitch the big trailer to
my truck and go clean out the range before someone else gets any bright ideas about helping themselves to the stock."

She nodded. Her color was stronger than it had been, although it was obvious she was still more than a little frightened.

"What about the dogs, Daddy?" Maighread asked. Her voice quivered around the edges from the obvious tension and fear of the adults around her, but she was trying hard to be brave, and Dvorak's heart melted inside him as he looked down at her.

"Don't worry, honey," he said, managing -- somehow -- to keep his own voice steady as he ran his hand lightly over her hair. "They're covered under the plan, too. But speaking of the dogs," he went on, turning to his wife again, "don't forget to break down their crates and stack them in the trailer somehow."

"Anything else you'd like to suggest?" Sharon Dvorak retorted with something like her usual spirit. "Like maybe that I should remember to bring along my hiking boots? Or pack along all the stuff in the medicine cabinets? Stick my Swiss Army knife in my pocket?"

"Actually," he put his arms around her, letting his chin rest on the top of her head, "all of those sound like really good ideas. Be kind to them -- they're in a strange place."

He "oofed" as she poked him -- hard -- in the pit of the stomach, then stood back and looked at all the others again.

"Go ahead and switch the TV back on while you work, if you want, but don't let yourself get mesmerized watching it. We need to move -- move quickly -- and there'll be time to figure out what's going on after we get ourselves safely to the cabin. Clear?"

Heads nodded, and he nodded back, then looked at Wilson and Jessica.

"Let's go get those trailers hitched," he said.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 21, 2010 11:03 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2122
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 18


Chapter .XII.

Major Dan Torino, call sign "Longbow," loved the F-22 Raptor.

At 5'8" he was no towering giant (few fighter pilots were) but he had a compact, squared-off frame, a solid, hard-trained muscularity, heavy black eyebrows, a proud nose, and intense gray-green eyes. In many ways, he was an easygoing sort of fellow, but those eyes told the true tale, for the killer instinct of the born fighter pi lot ran deep in his blood and bone, as well. Even his dark hair seemed to bristle aggressively when he thought about flying. Well, to be honest, it bristled most of the time, if he ever let his usual "high-and-tight" get out of hand. In fact, it was just plain unruly, and his wife Helen loved to run her fingers through it and tease it into tufts and laugh whenever he let it get a mite long. She called it his "crabgrass tiger look."

But crabgrass or not, he loved the F-22.

He knew the party line was that the F-35 Lightning II was the way to go, and he was willing to admit that the Joint Strike Fighter Program had (finally) produced a capable medium-range ground support aircraft -- which, after all, was what "strike" fighter was all about, wasn't it? But the sacrifices and trade- offs in the F-35 left the "fighter" part of its designation sucking wind in Torino's opinion. It wasn't turning out to be all that much cheaper by the time the dust settled and all the cost overruns were in, either. In fact, if the total buy on the F-22 had been as large as the projected total buy on the F-35, its fly-away price tag per aircraft would actually have been lower.

By any measure he could come up with, the Raptor was still the best air-
superiority fighter in the world. It had the lowest radar signature, it had the
best airborne intercept radar, its new infrared detection system had taken
the lead in IR detection and targeting away from the Russians, and in "supercruise" it was capable of "dry" supersonic flight, without the enormous fuel penalties of afterburner operation. It was seventy-five percent faster than the F-35 in "dry" flight, which gave it a far greater operating radius; in afterburner it could break Mach 2.0 without raising a sweat; and it was just as capable of hitting ground targets -- and even better at penetrating defended airspace in the strike role -- than the F-35.

Not to mention the fact that the F-22 had been fully operational since 2005 and the F-35 was still lagging behind (badly) on its projected deployment rates. And likewise not to mention the interesting news stories that Congress was now thinking about capping its total production numbers because of cost concerns, as well. In Torino's opinion, there was a certain bittersweet, ironic justice in that possibility, although anyone who was really surprised by the final outcome of this particular little morality play probably liked to buy bridges and magic beans of questionable provenance, as well.

The truth was that the real reason Raptor production had been capped at less than two hundred aircraft was that no one had expected to be going up against other fifth-generation fighter operators anytime soon. They had expected to be dropping bombs and precision guided munitions on ground targets in lower-intensity conflicts in places like Afghanistan, however -- thus the emphasis on the Lightning and its ability to defeat ground defense systems, like SAMs and anti-aircraft fire, rather than other fighters. Besides, with only so many dollars in the till, not even the U.S. military could afford to buy everything it wanted, and the F-35 had a lot more "jointness" going for it. The Navy and Marines badly needed a replacement for the A-6, F/A-18, and Harrier, and this way they got to buy at least some of their aircraft on the Air Force's nickel. Then there were all of the other nations which had been brought into the procurement program, helping to spread the cost burden, whereas Congress had specifically prohibited the overseas sale of the F-22.

All of which explained why "Longbow" Torino had felt incredibly lucky when he found out he was going to be one of the pilots who actually got to fly the aircraft. He'd taken Helen and the kids out and blown the better part of two hundred bucks on a celebratory dinner when he found out he'd been assigned to the First Air Wing's 27th Fighter Squadron. After his wedding and the days his children were born, it had been the greatest day of his life.

A life which suddenly felt unspeakably empty as he sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, staring down at his hands, trying to wrap his mind around the impossible.

He and three other pilots had been unceremoniously turfed out of their billets at Langley Air Force Base three days earlier. Colonel Ainsborough, the First's CO, claimed he'd chosen Torino to lead the four-ship detachment because the major was the best man for the job. Personally, Torino had been inclined to take that with a grain of salt, but he hadn't complained, even though it did mean he was going to miss his older son's birthday. In the wake of what was rumored to have been a truly massive penetration of DoD's secure databases (and, if the even more quietly whispered rumors were accurate, almost all of their allies' databases, as well), it made sense to deploy at least some of their air defense assets to bases that weren't in any of the upper tier contingency plans, and somebody had to take the duty.

Which was how Torino, Captain "Killer" Cunningham, his wingman, two other 27th Squadron pilots, and a maintenance section had found themselves "stationed" at the Plattsburgh International Airport. Once upon a time, Plattsburgh International had been Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Most of the Air Force buildings were still there, although they'd been converted to civilian use, and its twelve-thousand-foot concrete runway was more than adequate to the needs of an F-22.

And because it was, Torino and his fellow pilots were still alive . . . for now, at least.

Funny how that seemed so much less important than it would have been three days ago.

He raised his head, looking around the improvised ready room. The other three pilots sat equally silent, equally wrapped in their own grim thoughts. None of them knew how bad it really was, but they knew enough. They knew Langley and the rest of the wing -- and their families -- were gone. They knew Washington had been destroyed, and that neither the president nor the vice president had gotten out. They knew Shaw Air Force Base, the Ninth Air Force's home base, had been destroyed, taking with it the command-and-control element of the eastern seaboard's air defenses. They knew Vandenberg, Nellis, and at least another dozen Air Force bases were gone. They knew Fort Bragg was gone, along with Fort Jackson, Fort Hood, Fort Rucker, Navy Air Station Oceana, NAS Patuxent River, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, MCAS Beaufort....

The list went on forever. In one cataclysmic afternoon of deadly accurate, pinpoint strikes, the United States of America had been annihilated as a military power, and God only knew how many millions of American citizens had died in the process. Against that, what could a single woman and three children matter... even if their last name had been Torino?

He looked back down at his hands. As far as he knew, he and his three pilots were all that was left of Air Combat Command. They were it, and against whoever had done this, four fighters -- even four Raptors -- weren't going to stop them when they followed up their attack.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 23, 2010 11:07 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 19


But who had done it? And how? There was no way it had been the Iranians, no matter what the rumor mill had said! So who --?

The door to what had been the Direct Air pi lots' lounge flew open. The racket as it slammed abruptly into the doorstop brought Torino's head up, and he frowned as he recognized the man standing in the open doorway. He couldn't remember the fellow's name, but he was the senior man from the local Homeland Security office located here at the airport.

"Major Torino!" the newcomer half shouted.

"What?"

"Here!" The man was holding out a cell phone. "He needs to talk to you!"

Torino accepted the phone and raised it to his ear.

"Who is this?" he asked suspiciously.

"Torino? Major Torino, U.S. Air Force?" a hoarse voice replied.

"Yes. Who the hell are you?"

"Thank God." The voice paused for a moment, as if its owner were drawing a deep breath, then resumed. "This is Rear Admiral James Robinson, Naval Network and Space Operations Command. I've been hunting for someone -- anyone -- who's still got some air defense capability for the last three hours, and so far you're all I've been able to find."

Torino's eyes narrowed. These days, NAVSPACECOM was primarily a centralized data processing node for USSTRATCOM's Joint Functional Command Component for Space, which had been stood up in 2006 to bring all United States space surveillance systems together under one roof. But JFCC SPACE was -- or had been, at least -- headquartered at Vandenberg. He knew that was gone, but until 2004, NAVSPACECOM had been the primary headquarters for what had originally been the Navy's Naval Space Command Surveillance, and it continued to function as the backup Space Command Center. If he remembered correctly, it was located at Dahlgren, Virginia, a hundred miles north of Norfolk, and he supposed that whoever had smashed the American military might have overlooked it. There wasn't much to attract the eye, aside from the Naval Surface Warfare Center's airstrip.

"I don't suppose there's any point trying to authenticate to each other, is there, Sir?" Torino's biting irony could have evaporated Lake Champlain, and the man at the other end of the cell phone gave a harsh, ugly bark of laughter.

"No, there isn't. We've still got some comms, but the entire system's been shot full of holes. I don't know why we didn't get hit -- everybody else in our line of business sure as hell did! But I've been going down the list, trying to find somebody with shooters who's still online. As far as I can tell, you're it for CONUS air defense, although there's supposed to be a couple of other detachments scattered around bases in the Carolinas. I'm trying to get hold of them, too, but as bad as communications are, I don't think I'm going to reach anyone else in time to do any good."

"Forgive me, Admiral, but just how is talking to me supposed to do any good?" Torino demanded bitterly. "We're fucked, Sir. That's the short and ugly truth."

"Yes, we are, Major," Robinson said. "But National Command Authority hasn't told us to stand down yet."

"No," Torino admitted. "On the other hand, what the hell can we do?"

"Listen to me, Major. Whoever did this didn't -- I repeat, did not -- use nukes. These were kinetic strikes, delivered from space. In fact, they were delivered from a point approximately thirty thousand miles out. Are you following me? This was not an attack by any other nation. It was an attack from someone else -- someone from completely outside our solar system!"

"Aliens?" Torino heard the incredulity in his own voice. "You're telling me aliens did this? Like some bad outtake from Independence Day?"

"I know it sounds crazy, but the tracking data's solid. They were launched in sequenced waves, Major, emanating from seven distinct point sources. They started moving east across North America while simultaneously laying another pattern across the Med, headed west. They took out all of our major bases, and as nearly as I can tell, they've killed every surface unit the Navy had. I imagine they hit our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well, though I don't have any way to confirm that yet -- I'm still looking for a comm link to anybody over there. But think about it. It makes sense out of that cyber attack, doesn't it? They were pulling out information for targeting purposes."

Torino wanted to throw the phone away, sit down, and bury his face in his hands. It was ridiculous. Preposterous. Yet if Robinson was who he said he was -- and Torino had no reason to doubt him -- he was in a better position than almost anyone else on the entire planet to know if aliens were dropping rocks on them.

"Say you're right, Sir," he said after a moment. "Why tell me? Not even a Raptor can intercept meteorites!"

"No, you can't," Robinson agreed grimly. "But I've still got optical tracking and detection available, and the bastards who did this are sending in what look like shuttles."

"Shuttles?" Torino said sharply, gray- green eyes suddenly narrow.

"That's what it looks like. You may not realize the optical resolution we can get, but we're getting good detail, and I'm having it set up to dump to the Internet as it comes in. Hopefully enough of the Net's still up for people to see it and realize what we're up against, but what matters right now is that these things have to be way too small to be any kind of interstellar craft. Our people make them to be maybe three times the size of a C-5, and they've got an air breathing planeform. They've got to be landing vehicles of some sort, and it looks like we've got at least two or three dozen of them heading for someplace in western Pennsylvania or central Virginia."

***

Don Torino's Raptor bored through the thin, frigid air fifty thousand feet above the state of Pennsylvania at just over twelve hundred miles per hour. He tried not to think about the roaring infernos sweeping out from the impact sites he and his detachment had overflown to get here. He tried not to think about the fact that, one way or the other, this was going to be his final combat sortie. And he especially tried not to think about the fact that with the United States of America facing its first foreign invasion in three centuries, all she had to defend herself were four lonely fighter planes.

I wonder how outclassed we're really going to be? He wondered. As a sixteen-year-old, he'd loved the movie Independence Day, although he'd realized even then that he was watching the most gloriously overdone, cliché-ridden Grade-B movie in history. As an older and (arguably) more mature fighter pilot and commissioned officer of the United States Air Force, rewatching the movie with his kids on video had caused him a certain degree of physical pain, not to mention leaving him to explain to his offspring where the Air Force had been while the Marine Corps single-handedly defended the world. Still, he couldn't forget the force field which had protected all of the alien vessels in that movie.

Look, stop sweating it, he told himself sternly. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen, and you sure as hell aren't Will Smith. Hell, you're not even Bruce Willis, and at least he's the right color! Even if his hair is even worse than yours.

To his amazement, that actually startled a laugh out of him.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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