Authors: Morgan Bell
The monitors behind her illuminated with a blank face outline. “Our subject we believe to be male, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. University educated, average build, entirely forgettable and of Northern European heritage.”
A hand in the back of the room went up.
“Do we believe he has erectile dysfunction?”
A few soldiers laughed, others insisted they would do worse than write a virus if anyone screwed with their mojo.
Director Foster smiled. “No, we do not believe he was a target of the graphosocial virus. We believe he was on the development team. We believe he is at the far end of the genius scale, does have a vendetta and will, at some point, publish a statement of his philosophical or political intent and motivation.”
The room was quiet. The picture filled in. The face was not distinct.
“He knows the tech grid and tech inside and out. He goes on and off it at will and is not being tracked. He destroys his data footprint effortlessly and he destroys hardcopy documents with impunity. We don’t know how he deletes memory of himself among those who know him, but he does and we believe he has had a previous event, probably in his teen years, involving violence either at school or against a family member involving tech. We are presently trying to develop a data profile to find the missing person from the data field. Someone who is supposed to be there but isn’t.”
“Dr. Baxter, would you please summarize for us from a tactical point of view the panel’s presentation?” General Talbot asked.
Dr. Baxter stood up on stage, and composed his thoughts while the microphone was being fastened to his lapel.
“We are looking for a crazy white guy who is really smart, really angry, and has experience killing people with tech.”
A hand went up.
“Yes?” Dr. Baxter asked.
“What are our tactical options?”
“For now? Exactly what we’ve been doing. Unless you’re willing to shut down the entire tech grid worldwide for 48 hours.”
“That is the end of this morning’s briefing,” General Talbot announced. “Tactical response officers are to remain here. The rest of you are dismissed.”
The hall began to empty out and Jamie followed them.
“Where are you going?” Commander Halle asked.
“We were dismissed,” Jamie replied.
“You’re a tactical response officer,” she said.
“I am?” Jamie said, surprised. “I thought I was just civilian consul…”
“You are an officer and have been assigned to the fort,” she cut him off.
Jamie shut his mouth and followed her back into the hall.
“Dr. Baxter,” the NSA Cyber Ops Director, Janelle Foster addressed him. “You did a good job summarizing the presentation.”
“General Talbot believes you have the expertise to help us track down the creator of the virus.”
Jamie was speechless.
“This is Lieutenant Carl Marshall,” she said, introducing the officer who had kept asking questions throughout the briefing. “He is working with our profiler team.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Baxter,” he said, shaking Jamie’s hand.
“We would like you and Lieutenant Marshall, along with our profilers, in a special task force.”
“You will still be reporting to Commander Halle and to me,” General Talbot advised.
“Yes, sir,” Jamie said, still not certain if he should salute, much less how to.
“Dr. Baxter, we need results and we need them now. The team has three days to get those results. You will have all the resources and personnel necessary to get the job done. But you will get it done,” General Talbot advised.
“Sir, who do I ask for the personnel?” Jamie asked
“You got someone in mind already?”
“He’s part of our response team,” General Talbot said.
“We are going to need his experience, because after we find this guy we’re going to need Rosen to help us take him.”
After the briefing Lieutenant Marshall took Dr. Baxter by the elbow. “What was that all about? ‘After we find this guy?’”
Jamie looked at him confused, “We are going to find him.”
“Look, I know you were civilian side just four months ago. So maybe you don’t understand how things work. But you don’t expand your objective when a superior officer gives you a mission. Our mission is to find out who this guy is,” Lieutenant Marshall told him.
“You were asking a whole lot of questions during the briefing,” Jamie pointed out.
“So I have to believe you understand exactly what we are up against. We don’t have time to worry about missions and procedures. We do this, then they do that. We have to get to the source of this thing, find out what the hell it really is and shut it the fuck down,” Jamie insisted, his face red, his eyes narrowing.
“You are only here because you are some sort of freak,” Lieutenant Marshall said, poking Jamie in the chest. “When this is over, you’re out of here and on doing whatever the fuck it was you were doing before this all started. But some of us have careers to think about.”
“If we don’t get this done and done fast, you won’t have to worry about your career, because you’ll be standing in a corner, foaming at the mouth and sending hate texts, messages and posts to your nearest and dearest.”
Lieutenant Marshall was speechless, and Jamie stormed off.
“What was that all about?” Rosen asked Jamie when he caught up with him.
“The little know it all prick wants to make sure we keep our objectives ‘reasonable’, as if that matters at this point,” Jamie fumed.
“Yes, about this ‘we,’ I hear you asked for me to be on the task force?” Rosen said.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Jamie asked.
“No, I appreciate it. But, what am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“You’re going to help us find this guy and, if necessary, you’re going to use extreme measures to get him back to the fort in one piece.”
would say that it’s reasonable to assume our unsub is no older than 30,” FBI profiler Dennis Drake said. He clicked through his posted profile information. “We can surmise this based on the average age of the team that worked on the graphosocial virus and the elapsed time frame. Cyber Ops, like Silicon Valley before it, finds the youngest and brightest, then rides them hard and puts them away wet.”
“While we’ve had some blow outs from this.” Dennis said.
“Blow outs?” Lieutenant Marshall asked.
“Bright bulbs burn twice as bright, but half as long. When they go, they don’t just have a midlife crisis or whine to their honey. They destroy things in a big way. Walk onto secured sites armed, destroy databases, you name it, we’ve been through it. But we know how to manage blow outs. This guy, this one is different. He showed up with an agenda, played his role perfectly and disappeared without a trace. Which tells me there had to be something earlier. Something big that took him past the basic boundary.”
“Boundary?” Marshall asked.
“Killing and destroying are experiences that someone normally leads up to. Usually there is an initial event. If they get through that first event without consequences, or minimal consequences, they will then move forward and plan for something bigger,” Dennis explained.
“Based on what we’ve managed to piece together,” CIA profiler Angie Ganos said, “we are looking for some sort of tech related killing in the subject’s teen years.”
“Well, Dr. Baxter, what would you suggest we do at this point?” Marshall asked, smiling at Jamie.
Jamie was silent for a moment. “We know that the data files related to our subject are gone and memory is missing regarding this person as well. Our best option would be a database cross reference; adolescent violent offenders with court databases.”
“How, exactly, is that going to help?” Marshall asked.
“If there are sealed records, convictions or adult court filings, then that is not our subject. Ours will show up in a print media or news item, but there will be no further record,” Jamie said.
“If this phantom can make himself disappear at the levels he has, what makes you think we can find him in a database he could have hacked?” Dennis asked.
“Because you can take yourself out of the picture, but you can’t take out your victim. That is one step too many and too far back to do.” Jamie said.
It took Dennis an hour to run the database cross checks between media reports and court record – open and sealed – on juvenile offenders for the time period they were looking at. After that it took another hour for the hard copy media files to be retrieved. When the hard copies were delivered there were thirty case wheeled in on pallet.
“Everybody grab a box and get started,” Jamie said, picking up a box.
“Damn,” Rosen growled, shifting through the files. “I didn’t even know that they kept hard copies anymore.”
“I’ve got a mother from Wisconsin who was asphyxiated,” Angie announced after the group had been going through boxes for twenty minutes.
“I’ve got a father killed in a microwave related accident,” Dennis added a moment later.
“Asphyxiated on the ‘No’ pile, microwave on the ‘Maybe’ pile,” Jamie advised.
The group continued triaging the files for another hour.
“I’ve got a chef killed by a rogue drone,” Marshall said coming to the end of his box.
“That goes on the ‘Yes’ pile,” Jamie said.
“We’ve got ninety files on the ‘Yes’ pile,” Marshall complained.
“Given what we started out with on a country wide database, that isn’t bad.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Rosen said. “Listen to this: ‘Heart attack previously ruled natural causes under review following postmortem review of pacemaker by manufacturer.”
“Where is the kid connection?” Jamie asked.
“Automotive Executive Fredric Thompson, of Bloomfield Hills Michigan, was a recipient of an experimental pacemaker unit by Triream Technologies. Following his death, a report from Triream prompted the prosecutor to open a criminal investigation. According to his obituary, he was preceded in death by his wife Gail and was survived by their adopted son whose name isn’t published.”
“Put that one up on the board,” Jamie said, “and let’s keep going through these files.”
After three more hours there were five news reports stuck to the board and Dennis and Angie had narrowed the “Yes” pile down to 11.
“I’m pretty sure our unsub is on the wall,” Angie observed.
“The chef killed by the rogue drone, what do we know about him?” Dennis asked.
“He was forty years old, he was going to his car, and was shot and killed by a civilian police force drone that then crashed,” Jamie said, reading the report from the file. “A data retrieval team found an access code installed in the software that had been transmitted using a radio frequency that the drone normally communicated on. It uploaded the chef’s profile as a ‘Deadly Force’ target and then cut out further radio contact. They were able to back track the point at which it had been intercepted and narrowed down the area where the hijacker had transmitted from. Turned out to be near a high school. Later they would find it was a kid who lived near the chef.”
“Do we have a name?” Marshall asked.
“No, and no court record,” Jamie said, going through the file.
“You think that’s the one?” Angie asked.
“You sound skeptical,” Dennis noted.
“Here’s the thing; we’ve got levels of complexity to think about. That was complicated, but it was not genius level.”
“But the file is missing,” Jamie pointed out.
“Go through the other four,” Angie said, and handed files to Marshall, Dennis and Jamie.
“Shit, we’ve got another one. Kid accessed the computer on his mother’s car. Deployed the airbags and then sent her into a bridge abutment at over ninety miles an hour. The kid was caught when the coroner noticed the airbag burns and injuries were inconsistent with the type of accident. She suspected an airbag failure and they pulled the black box. At first they thought it was a freak deployment. Then they went through the code again and they found where the instructions had been hidden. Again, no record of the kid’s name, no pictures of him and no records of his existence. Just a reference to say that he was responsible.”
“This one used a cell phone to kill her stepfather,” Marshall noted.
“I doubt that one is …” Dennis said.
“Used an exploit virus to cause the unit to heat up to 350 degrees and explode in his hand,” Marshall cut him off.
“How do you even do something like that?” Dennis asked.
“No accelerant, just used the technology as it was and converted it into a bomb with a simple app,” Marshall answered, and laid out pictures of the stepfather whose hand and head were partially obliterated and the burned out phone.
“Seems she installed it remotely using a message to deliver the virus app and again, no name, no history, no files on her,” Marshall said.
“She is definitely in,” Angie insisted.
“But we know that it was a guy on each team for the graphosocial virus,” Dennis said.
“No, we don’t,” Angie countered. “Our assumptions as to it being a male are based on our own profile, not on any information about the three teams. Our assumption that it is one person is based on the computer profile. We now have candidates that could all be involved based on their history.”
“What do you have?” Dennis asked Angie.
“I’ve got a vehicular homicide. A pedestrian, age 30. Originally the case was brought against the driver, a fifty year old male, who claimed someone or something took over his car. Later, when police and a cybercrime officer reviewed the death, they found several peculiarities, including the fact that the driver had six green lights in a row. Going back through the records on servers they saw that the traffic grid was being changed from the outside. They also saw that the monitoring cameras changed their focus and pivoted through a line of cars to select the one that ultimately hit the woman,” Angie said. “It was her teenage son who tracked her and killed her. But again, no record, no name.”
“Well, our dead executive from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan was killed by a virus being inserted into his pacemaker’s software. Seems his son figured out how to use his pacemaker’s monitor to install the virus. Then he programmed it to throw his father into a tachycardia and then turn itself off, all while he was at school. No name on the kid, and the mother had died six months earlier of a …”Jamie trailed off.
“What is it?”
“The mother died of a stroke, but according to this she was a diabetic on an insulin pump. We have another pattern here. With the exception of the chef the targets were family, parents or step parents, and the kid in this case had no parents after the father died. Which makes me wonder if he killed his mother first,” Jamie finished.
Angie checked the files. “Five children who disappear and are off the records. All involved in tech homicides and all within about a year of each other’s age and now it seems all of them without parents.”
“The chef killer too?” Jamie asked.
“Both parents were dead before he attacked the chef. Seems no one noticed until the police came to visit the house as part of their investigation into chef’s murder,” Angie said.
“Five killers. No obvious connections and all of them are now ghosts in the wind,” Dennis observed.
“So what do you think?” Jamie asked.
“It could be that one of them used the other profiles to bury their erasure. I mean, if we had just one then we’d know, right?” Marshall said.
“So one wiped the other four off the records so they could hide that they had wiped their own?” Angie asked.
“Or five of them all did the same thing. I mean we are talking about the entire United States. It’s not like they had to know about each other,” Dennis said.
The team looked at the five cases on the board. “I just had a very disturbing thought,” Jamie announced.
“More disturbing than five tech killers who are off the network and wandering around killing people with tech?” Angie asked.
“What you were saying before, about our assumptions. It got me thinking; how many tech killers have gotten away with it and we haven’t any record of them?” Jamie said.
Dennis put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “This is like the drunk under the street light.”
“What do you mean?” Jamie asked.
“The drunk was crawling around under the street light and a police officer came along and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ The drunk says ‘I lost my wallet and I’m trying to find it.’ So the cop starts to look around with him, and not seeing it, says, ‘Are you sure you dropped it here?’ and the drunk says, ‘No, I dropped it back there.’ He pointed to the end of the block where the light was out. The cop says ‘Then why the hell are you looking over here?’ and he says …”
“Because the light is better over here,” Angie finished Dennis’ joke.
“Well, in this case this is where the light is,” Dennis said, reddening at having his joke finished for him. “And we will start with this until someone can show us someplace better to look.”
There was a knock at the door and Marshall opened it. It was a younger soldier, and his face was pale; he snapped a quick salute. “Sir, the general wants you and your team in the command center now.”
“What happened?” Marshall asked, returning the salute
“Sir, I can’t explain it. I just know you have to get over there, now,” the soldier said, then saluted and left.
“Bring the five files; we might not get back here.”
Brenda was happy to get out of the house and down to the federal commercial center for some shopping. Paul had been working long hours at the federal transportation production facility north of Pontiac. He’d been one of the three hundred federal supervisors retained during the last reorganization. It had meant putting in uncompensated hours and hiding it to meet his efficiency reviews. But that was the price you paid for the federal retirement benefits. Anyone who knew anything knew that. You worked forty hours unpaid overtime, falsified the records and achieved your 72% efficiency rating. Now, with Paul at twenty five years in, he only needed twelve more months to get the full benefits. That was how Brenda finally convinced Paul to take her to the commercial center.
“We are a year out from your retirement,” she’d said. “We need to start thinking about clothes for our move to Arizona.”
Paul, who normally used Sunday to catch up on his sleep, saw the futility of arguing with Brenda, and agreed to take her shopping. As long as it wasn’t anywhere that they would face enforcement monitors.
“We’ll just go to the federal commercial center,” she agreed.
The afternoon had gone well. Paul hadn’t complained when she stopped to try on shoes. He’d even encouraged her to buy a pair. Then she’d taken him to the federal clothing outlet and had him try on shorts and shirts for their move to Arizona. He was modeling them for her when a communication came through for him. He fumbled with his pants in the changing room to retrieve his federally issued panel to take the message. Brenda didn’t see him for several minutes. He walked out of the changing room, still in the shorts, a loud Hawaiian style shirt and his black socks and black dress shoes.
“Paul?” Brenda asked, following after her husband.
“Sir, you are going to need to go back to the changing room,” a clerk tried to intercept him.
Brenda saw her husband do something she’d never seen him do in her entire life. He struck the clerk square in the face. The clerk folded up on the floor and didn’t move.
“Paul!” Brenda was now yelling.
The HDMP officer who was assigned to the federal commercial center first floor had spent most of his shift chasing off students and ticketing non-federal workers for entering a restricted commercial facility. What he’d not seen all day, was a man in his mid-forties, dressed in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirt, black socks and dress shoes. Which might explain why Paul was able to take the weapon from the officer. That event would be the last thing Brenda, the HDMP officer and Paul would ever experience in this life.