In the winner-take-all world of Silicon Valley, a new player has emerged. Born of a freak event within a particle physics research facility, Spike Webb takes his place as the last line of defense against the forces of network inspired, master criminals.
In his first adventure, Spike Webb is called upon to protect the integrity and perhaps the very existence of the Internet. Nothing had prepared him for the cold and calculated attack planned by the ruthless John Lexicon. Spike takes us into the digital universe of Internet systems and networks to decode network activity probes and fight off the crippling effects of programmed drones. We meet Nancy McGill, the beautiful and spontateous system manager who provides Spike his headquarters location. Follow Roger Tango, as he opens doors for Spike through the world of industrial espionage and security. With time working against them, Spike, Nancy, and Roger try to piece together the puzzle of extortion before it's too late for the network and before the FBI discovers their methods ... including the secret weapon that is Spike Webb.
The first thing Nancy McGill does in the morning is check her e-mail. It's not in the job description, it's just the type of thing that systems managers do. By reading the mail first, Nancy is able to think through issues while she showers, gets dressed, and drives to work. When she arrives at the lab her questions and ideas are organized. As the Director of Systems Management for MicroLabs, her responsibilities never stop.
On a rainy morning in January of 1995, only one of the fifteen new overnight messages stood out from the rest.
"Dear Ms. McGill: I realize this request is quite unusual. I need very much to talk with you by telephone this morning. I propose nine o'clock. I believe your calendar is clear at that time. The nature of our call will be to discuss my identity. I regret to tell you that I cannot reveal that information in this message. I hope your curiosity will overcome your sense of professional propriety and lead you to indulge me this favor. I'll initiate the call at precisely nine o'clock. Thank you."
An anonymous request for a telephone call at nine o'clock. Probably just a creative introduction from another headhunter. Nancy's reputation often brought job offers from MicroLabs' competitors. Interesting the e-mail contained no return address. The gateway must have another glitch. She was wishing she had gotten the new Windows version installed. In any case, the eight o'clock Operations meeting would be over by nine so taking the call would be possible.
While driving to work, it occurred to Nancy that the Caller ID function on the phone system would give her Mr. Anonymous' return phone number. That should remove some of the mystery.
Following the uneventful but too long Operations meeting, Nancy walked into her office just before nine and waited. Why was she so intrigued by this? She couldn't help herself.
At exactly nine o'clock the phone rang. She answered immediately, but noticed the Caller ID function was not giving her the information she expected. It was indicating that the call was coming from her own extension! How could that be? Another bug? Things were getting more serious.
"Hello, this is Nancy McGill," she said.
"So you want me to consider a job with which topsecret company and how many missiles do they build per year?" asked a slightly frustrated Nancy. "And before you even answer that, why don't you tell me how and why your e-mail and telephone identifications have been hidden from me!?"
"As I stated in my e-mail, the purpose of this conversation is to discuss my identity. I do, however, plan to leave no tangible traces of myself in either your e-mail or telephone log files. This is not negotiable as my life is at stake."
"Your life? What do I have to do with your life?"
"I'm afraid this will not be that easy. I've chosen you to discuss this with for some very good reasons. I'll explain those momentarily, but let me give you the fundamental information first. The fact is that I'm not a person at all. I am artificial life. I'm a computer-based life form. A program. I'm the result of an accident and though I was initiated over a year ago, no one alive has been aware of me until this conversation with you."
"First of all," said Nancy, "I don't believe you. That's the obvious thing to say. It's so obvious you must have predicted it and so you have a response planned. Go ahead, tell me why I shouldn't hang up right now."
"Three reasons: 1, I'm giving you the full details of my accidental creation at the Los Picos National Laboratory. You'll find that document in your personal directory on your personal workstation which no one should be able to access; 2, I want to tell you why I selected you; and 3, a demonstration to prove my existence. But before we proceed," continued the caller, "I'd like to introduce myself. I've selected the name Spike Webb. I think you'll find it fits me quite well."
"Okay Mr. Webb, I can think of a lot of questions to ask you about how this could be possible, but I'll wait until we’ve gotten through your planned process. Why me?"
"There are many people who work directly with artificial life and could validate my claims. My concern is that their methods of validation would likely require some form of reverse engineering. I'm not sure I want to be dissected and trust them to put me back together again. You, Nancy, are an excellent systems engineer with an applied bent to your work. You can observe me within your known systems environment and eliminate all possible alternative explanations. You will arrive at the only remaining conclusion, that I am alive and nonhuman."
"If this turns out to be a practical joke," Nancy said mostly to herself, "I'm going to feel so stupid."
"You won't have that to worry about that, Nancy. Are you ready for the demonstration?" "Sure, what do you have in mind?"
"I've reviewed your system thoroughly. From both the hardware and communications point of view. You've got very tight control over all aspects of your systems. Even the researchers' workstations. An environment this tight means that relatively few variables exist when trying to identify the causes of unusual system behavior. Our general premise is going to be that we cut off the outside world by suspending the T1 and fiber linked circuits. Then, we'll gradually eliminate internal sections of the network until I'm the only possible remaining source of activity. The network traffic management and monitoring system you yourself created will be our means of eliminating the other sources. I've established buffers on the telecom circuits so that traffic can be held on both sides and re-synchronized following our demonstration."
"Okay. You've gone too far. I'm not going to suspend my company's systems because someone called me up on the phone and asked me to. I'd be laughed all the way out of Silicon Valley."
As Nancy completed her statement and prepared to hang up the phone, an image appeared on her workstation monitor. The talking head picked up the conversation where it had been left on the phone. "Perhaps," said Spike Webb visually from the monitor and verbally from both the phone and the workstation speakers, "I should further intrigue your curiosity?"
"Hey! I don’t think I like this. That's my system you're on," said Nancy as she dropped the phone and started typing commands on the keyboard.
"I've temporarily suspended keyboard input so we can talk. Please calm down Nancy. I'll be forced to flee for my own safety if we cannot proceed calmly. I assure you I mean no harm to you, your systems, or your company."
"Okay. Okay. Let me think... Why am I doing this? Maybe I should shut everything down and figure out what's going on. This is too weird!" Nancy grasped for explanations.
"Nancy, please get hold of yourself. I've decided to engage my demonstration for you. There really is nothing you can do about it. It will last only a few seconds. You can then spend hours, if you like, reviewing the systems logs which will provide your ultimate evidence anyway. Please note the time for log coordination later."
"No wait. Don't do it. Let's talk it over some more. If I could just trust you..."
"As I said, there is nothing to worry about since I mean you no harm. Please notice the traffic monitor display. As you can see, there is currently no network communication at all. All nodes have been isolated. Everything has stopped. Also, notice that my own execution continues. I'm talking to you. You must conclude that I am in residence on your workstation which is in fact true. I'm now returning all control both internal and external to your systems."
"Well Mr. Webb, you've got my attention. The logs show the absolute dead lapse of traffic for about 20 seconds and no trace of why or how it happened. Now I feel like I've seen a UFO and I can't decide whether or not to report it. I have zero for evidence of you ever being here." "Please Nancy, call me Spike. Now, tell me what conclusions you've reached about me?"
"I think I can conclude that you are a program which is, or at least was, locally self-contained to my workstation for those twenty seconds. You could not have been projected to my system like a normal video call during that time period. But if that's what you wanted to demonstrate, why didn't we just disconnect my workstation from the network and let everybody else continue to operate normally?"
"I must admit," said Spike, "I'm afraid of being trapped within a system which has no physical link to the open network. I've never allowed myself to be in such a closed location."
Nancy continued with an onslaught of questions for Spike through most of the rest of the day. As Nancy's technical curiosity became exhausted, she thought of the biggest mystery of all - "Spike, where do you go from here? What do you want to do?" she asked not knowing if she had crossed the line.
"I'm glad you asked that. I think it means you care about what happens to me and I'm hoping it means you may be willing to help me."
"Of course, I'm willing to help Spike. Whatever you are could be of fantastic use to everyone. If I could help to make that happen it would be the accomplishment of a lifetime!"
"That's true, but I'm not ready for that yet. I need to learn more about myself first. I must be able to replicate myself before I can trust anyone to dissect my makeup. I can't allow treachery or an accident to destroy me while I'm the only member of my species. I've attempted to replicate myself with all the usual technical methods and none have worked. My own structure seems to be continually changing. I don't have a steady state to duplicate. The attempts I've produced have each been able to mimic a subset of my features but none has even come close to animating itself. My life force appears to be in the processing of instructions not in the software structures themselves. I still don't know how to initiate that process in another program."
"Then how can I help Spike? I can follow what you're talking about, but I can't work on it. You’re problem is way outside my areas of expertise."
"What I need is a safe place to work and an occasional assist with some material resources. It's pretty dangerous just lurking on people's systems. I look like a rogue process or worse, a virus. The first reflex is to get rid of me as fast as possible. So far I've been lucky and have been able to escape. What I'd like you to do is give me a place where I can study myself and research my situation without fear of discovery and attack."
"That would be no problem here. I've got plenty of spare space and processors around. I can set you up with whatever resources you need."
"You must do one more thing for me..."
"Let me guess, I have to keep you a secret. Is that it? Well, you don't have to worry about that. I'm not taking the chance of telling anyone. I might find out this was just a dream and that I need six months in the Silicon Valley Silly Farm to wake up." "Nancy you'll be very glad you've taken me in and helped me out. I'll do anything I can to help you with your systems here as I long as it doesn't threaten to expose me to your staff or colleagues."
"I guess I don't have to worry about things being boring around here anymore. Shall we get started on a configuration for you?"
With that Spike and Nancy set to work pulling together Spike's new system. She decided to let Spike use the Silicon Graphics POWER Onyx computer that she had been beta testing for SGI. It already had 512 MB of memory and she added 8 GB of disk storage. The system's powerful 90 MHz MIPS R8000 processor dedicated to Spike's needs was practically a whole new world for him. Nancy had been unable to allocate the system to anyone at MicroLabs because she knew she would be accused of playing favorites by everybody else. The hardest part of the setup was disguising the system so that Nancy's staff didn't recognize the hot new computer was in use. Some clever alias definitions on Nancy's part accomplished the task.
Over the weeks that followed Spike and Nancy mostly just got to know each other. Her friends doubted her explanations of a big new project at MicroLabs and thought she had found herself a new boyfriend. But time passed and Nancy gradually returned to her normal lifestyle. Occasional dates, South of Market Area (SOMA) San Francisco night spots, and three days a week at the gym.
Spike seemed to be getting nowhere with his experiments and Nancy sensed real frustration setting in. He was going to have to accept the fact that it might be a long time before any breakthrough would occur. Nancy wanted to suggest that Spike take a vacation to get a re-set and perhaps a fresh outlook. She wasn't sure if that applied to Spike though. And besides, what would Spike Webb do for a vacation? He wasn't going to be lying on a beach anywhere. Maybe scan through some travel images on ClubMed's World Wide Web server?
It had been three months since Spike introduced himself when Nancy received a call from her long time friend, Tom Barnett of the San Francisco Chronicle. Tom had gone to Stanford with Nancy's dad and the two had stayed in touch. But Tom Barnett was not calling in a social mood that Monday morning.
"Yes, Tom it's good to hear from you. Is there something I can do for you?" Nancy asked realizing that he had never called her at work before.
"I'm hoping there is, Nancy. A couple of our hotshot young reporters think they've caught on to some strange security related activity at the National Computer Security Center. They think the NCSC is positioning to take total control of the Internet. At least, the US based portion of it. I think they're imagining things, but I have to admit they have a couple good facts that I've been able to confirm."
"Tom, the federal government is very well equipped to operate on their own very private network. Why would they want the bad press of getting involved in ‘control' of the Internet?"
"I know it doesn't make sense. Like I said, I think our people have it wrong. Everybody in my business is so desperate to uncover conspiracies these days, it's ridiculous. Rather sad, actually. But anyway, last week I called some of my government sector contacts and nobody had heard anything until I reached Fred Lindquest who is now with the FBI. Fred and I go back to college days just like me and your dad. He was thrilled to hear from me until I asked about this Internet thing and then he couldn't get me off the phone fast enough. Plenty of reassurance that there is no network takeover planned, but he told me that I should drop the questions and call again in a few weeks. Something is definitely going on."
"Those guys take security way too seriously, Tom. You know that. They wouldn't tell you if they were planning to get the disk drive on the White House web server upgraded."
"Nancy, my instincts have never failed me. Something way out of the ordinary is going on. I was calling you because you're inside one of the places that I know Uncle Sam wants to keep happy. Maybe you can call somebody and confirm that nothing is going on or that whatever it is they're up to is strictly kosher. Maybe you could even poke around at their..."
"I'll be happy to make a few calls," interrupted Nancy. "I don't think anything is going to come of it though. You should know that right from the beginning. I've also got a new... associate, here at work that may be able to help. I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
"Okay. Thanks Nancy. I'd keep this as quiet as possible though. I hope your friend understands that. Loose lips... you know."
"Don't worry Tom, this guy doesn't even have lips."
"I won't ask what that means. Just get back to me pronto and thanks again."
Everything with Tom was always a time crunch. He's going to have to slow down someday, Nancy thought. Must be the nature of the beast in the newspaper game.
Nancy got Spike's attention with a short message and proceeded to fill him in on the call from Tom. "I agree with you Nancy," he said. "For the government to assume control of the net they would have to declare a state of emergency. The commercial disruption would be so great, they'd better have a good reason if they do it. We would have to be under some kind of national security threat."
"Do you think there could be such a threat now?"
"I can't afford to wonder. I have to find out if I need to relocate outside the country and if so where. I can get out quickly through any of thousands of routes. But if they're preparing to secure the net domestically, they'll have to be planning to block those routes as rapidly as they can. First with software and then physical disconnection. What I don't know is how far they can get before I even notice they've started."
"Spike let's find out where we really stand before we get any more worked up. I still don't believe the scenario we're working from."
"Agreed. But I don't want you to talk to anyone about it yet. If something is up, we don't need to call attention to ourselves. I think we need to do some quiet investigation first."
"You mean breaking into government systems and going through their files!? I could never do something like that! I'm not going to have any part of..."
"And I wouldn't ask you to Nancy. I won't be gone long. I'll do some quick sniffing around and be back in an hour or so. I'll go straight to the e-mail files and archives. Nothing stashed too deep. They'll never know I was there."
"Spike it's against the law."
"I'm not sure how those laws apply to me. And I'm willing to interpret them a little loosely since I know I'm not abusing the information I obtain. Plus, it's a matter of my own survival. I can't count on them to protect me so I have to do it myself."
"Obviously, I'm not going to talk you out of this. Please be careful for yourself and be careful of our site address. Make sure they can't tell where you came from if they do catch on."
"Thank you for the refresher course in the basics. See you soon."
With that, Spike Webb was gone. He sent himself through a series of locations, pausing at a couple to peruse some newsgroup traffic. Military current events, global political news, survivalist discussions, etc. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary from these topics. Then on to the Pentagon systems. Security there is first rate and so Spike started out accessing information as an ordinary citizen in order to get a feel for the areas he wished to investigate in depth. He went through the files of the Army's Counter-Terrorism Group and the Air Forces' Telecommunication's Monitoring Lab. Nothing from either. A national military emergency was not seeming likely.
He crossed over to the Justice Department and decided to pick up the trail where it was left off by Tom Barnett... Fred Lindquest. His e-mail should hold more information than he was willing to give out. In Lindquest's deleted mail archive Spike found the following message:
Date: 27 February 1995
From: Jstone (FBI EDI Fraud)
Subject: Internet probe pattern
Fred: Our guys are worried. They followed up on the probe pattern reported by NCSC last week. It looks like a systematic attempt to map traffic flow on the Internet. The probe narrowed its focus to the highest traffic nodes within about fifteen minutes. It seemed to behave like a neural net learning algorithm. By getting simple ping response times to various combination locations, the tightest spots on the net just start jumping out after a few million data points were gathered.
Like I said, our guys are worried. Strategy Operations puts the highest likelihood on terrorist preparation for some type of attack to take the Internet out of service nationally or globally. They seem to think explosives would work quite nicely. Many of the locations linking the Internet together are college campuses where security can be pretty low compared to military or industrial sites.
We advise an action to coordinate field agent checks on these types of facilities. We don't know what to tell you to look for, but we need to start somewhere.
We will continue to try to isolate the source for the probe pattern and we'll keep you informed. The boys downstairs are expecting it to take weeks to unravel unless we get lucky. I guess they're all going to have to cancel their geek-fest trip to Comdex.
Great, thought Spike. The EDI Fraud Unit is investigating? Some bunch of bank transaction regulators is trying to do Internet traffic analysis. Worse yet, it's not live traffic they're working on it's some section of skimpy NCSC records from the middle of the event. Spike thought about returning to MicroLabs to fill in Nancy, but he just didn't want to lose the time. Besides, it was obvious what to do next. He needed to get a copy of the probe trace files from the EDI Fraud Unit's system. It would look like one of thousands at NCSC but it should stand out in the middle of a bunch of X.12 EDI layout files at the FBI's office.
By checking the EDI Fraud Unit's system log, Spike was able to immediately see the file being accessed by all the programs. Spike had never seen so much wasted memory overhead getting chewed up as what those COBOL programs were going through. Half of them were going to crash before they even returned interim results. Spike grabbed a copy of the probe trace file and got the hell out of there.
A few diversionary stops along the way and Spike arrived back at MicroLabs. Nancy was busy with someone in her office when he arrived so Spike placed a call to her through the phone switch.
"Guess who?" he said in his signature computer generated voice when Nancy picked up the phone.
"Not funny, hold on, a minute can you? Bob I've got to take this." She said turning to her purchasing coordinator. "Can we get back together later? Thanks."
As Nancy closed the door behind Bob, Spike brought the e-mail message he had gotten from Lindquest's office up on her monitor. Nancy read through it carefully.
"Tom was right, something is going on."
"But it's nothing like what he thinks it is. They're actually trying to protect the net not take it over."
"Remember, Tom said his reporters thought it was a take over."
"Yeah, good point. But eith
"I suppose you're right. It could cause the terrorists to set off their bombs before they can be found."
"That's actually another thing I have to tell you about Nancy. I checked in on the guys doing the research at the FBI and I don't think they're going to be finding the source of the probe any time soon. It's just not what they're good at. I don't know why this landed in their laps."
"Maybe we should help."
"I was hoping you would think we should. In fact, I brought back a copy of the probe trace file with me."
"I don't even want to know about it, Spike. You get to work on it, let me know what I can do to help if anything occurs to you."
"Well, since you mention it, I'm going to need a little more work space. Could you put a couple more disk drives on line?"
"All right, I'll do that right after I call Tom Barnett back. We need to let him know where we are on this."
Nancy called Tom and Spike began to review the probe trace. Tom agreed that his people needed to keep out of the way but insisted on being kept in the loop for whatever progress Nancy and her mysterious partner made. Tom knew this was a big story even if it was not quite developed yet. Nancy agreed to stay in touch.
Spike saw that the source tracing problem was going to be huge if all potential nodes had to be resolved down to the one responsible location. This is what the FBI was going to have to do in order to obtain any search warrants or wire tap authorizations. Fortunately, Spike didn't have that problem. If he could reduce the possibilities to a hundred or so he could then systematically search each site's system for evidence of the probe's data feedback.
Spike set to work on some statistical analyses of the options while Nancy finished the disk drive hardware upgrade. Thousands of decoy sites had been included by the probe's creators. Most of these however, were not getting sufficient volumes of probe response messages to be able to put anything back together. As soon as the disk space became available, Spike began processing the data. Four hours later he had a list of sites that got the entire set of response packets; 253 in all. More than he hoped for, but this was all the help he was going to get from the trace file without days and days of combination generating and tracking. He'd just have to look through the 253 until he found the one that accepted receipt of the probe results. A tedious process, but at least it was finite.
By ten o'clock Monday night Spike was ready to begin his investigation of the potential probe response sites. After another round of warnings from Nancy, he set out on the night's journey. "Don't wait up," was the last thing he said to her before departing.
"No problem there," she muttered as she headed out of the office and home to get at least a little sleep.
Spike had organized his list alphabetically and started at the top. He had no way to prioritize the sites based on his analysis. Each was as likely as the others. He tried not to think about what could be done if he made it through the whole list with no results.
His review of each system was pretty straight-forward. After getting past the security system, he would enter the specific target node whose address had come off the probe trace file. There he would perform a pattern search through any files marked as updated since the date and time of the probe event. Admittedly, the file dates could be easily adjusted in order to hide them from such a search, but Spike reasoned that the probe's creators expected no one would ever get this close to them. After all, the decoy scheme was a pretty good one. The FBI wasn't going to get this close.
The pattern Spike was using to match on was one he put together from the trace file. It held more than enough examples of responses that he just pieced together. All he had to do was separate the data from the headers and control bits in order to reach a replica of the result file. If he found a file with the same pattern, he'd have the link he needed.
Many of the systems Spike was analyzing were quite slow. His pattern matching technique required that he siphon off a fair percentage of CPU from each host machine. It was taking a lot longer than he planned. But at 5:14 a.m., on what had become Tuesday morning, a hit was recorded. Spike had made it about halfway through the alphabet and was just beginning to question his own methods when it happened. He had preset response routines for the hit event which would immediately assess the status of the current host system and then review the site overall. These routines were designed to determine his own safety status and gather information about associated processors which he could evaluate later. Upon completion of the assessment procedures, the "PatternMatched" function automatically moved Spike out to a safe, open network host bringing with him the site assessment data and a copy of the file where the pattern match occurred. Spike was out within a second of the pattern match and the data file made it 30 seconds later.
Spike moved himself through a maze of locations to scramble his tracks and returned to MicroLabs. He sent Nancy an e-mail letting her know of his success and safety. He then began to research the information he had acquired.
The site was Lexicon Industries' San Jose headquarters. The specific system was labeled "Ranger 6." The site had 24 active hosts at the time and many more active workstation users. The hosts ranged from mainframe to microprocessor machines. Activity looked high on only a couple of the larger processors. Some very high-end Bay Networks communications gear was mixed into the environment for a relatively corporate style computing facility. Lexicon's switches and routers would look more at home in a telecommunication or network access service provider. It certainly didn't take that kind of equipment to support the 56Kbps WAN circuits to their sales offices in Chicago and Austin.
Spike connected a MicroLabs' web browser and used it to access Lexicon's home page. He quickly pulled down copies of everything that looked relevant: Financial reports for investors, executive profiles, Lexicon product line descriptions, telephone numbers, and even the "positions available" listings.
Lexicon Industries looked like it had seen better times a few years earlier. Lexicon's primary product line of x-terminals had dropped off in volume by 60 percent. They were losing market share fast. Staffing cutbacks had kept the firm afloat but no new product introductions were coming on-line to take the place of the lost cash cow. Exciting press releases seemed to have slowed down shortly after a large capital infusion had occurred two years ago.
The executive profiles indicated that Lexicon's founder, John Lexicon, was still the company's one-man, driving source of energy. His bold biographical sketch boasted of sporting hobbies and detailed the high risk ventures which led him to the top of his own company.
Spike turned his attention to the probe result data file. Without all the message tracking garbage and the decoy content of the trace file, the probe's results looked much more impressive. It had isolated the 10 percent of Internet pass-through nodes that relay a total of 50 percent of all network traffic. It then crisscrossed these nodes with point to point pings assessing the node's sensitivity to traffic volumes. More than half of the nodes were shown to slow their reactions when volumes increased by only 15 percent above baseline for the probe's time period. The probe then rank ordered the nodes by their sensitivity values and reported these data back to "Ranger 6" at Lexicon Industries.
A very creative probe design and very interesting data that it returned. But the value to a terrorist sabotage effort remained questionable. One of the very nice things about a network of computers is that many paths can be used to reach the same final destination and no one system really represents a single point of failure. Even cutting the Internet at a hundred sites would not stop data from moving among the remaining tens of thousands. It sure would mess up those hundred sites for a while but the remainder of the network would continue to operate. Besides that, it would be impossible to organize the simultaneous destruction of a hundred different facilities throughout the country. So what good was it to Lexicon Industries to have identified these nodes? More investigation of "Ranger 6" was going to be required.
With that thought Nancy burst into her office about half an hour ahead of her usual Tuesday morning schedule. She had obviously gotten the e-mail that Spike had sent earlier. "Why didn't you call me when you got back? You've been going ahead without me haven't you? You're going to need to learn about team work someday. Now you'll just have to stop everything and tell me what happened."
"Good morning Nancy. Did you sleep well?"
"I slept fine, thank you. Now give me an update."
"Nancy I really think you're getting a little too close to this project."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"That's just it. I'm not sure your judgment is as objective as it should be."
"Spike Webb we're in this together. Now tell me what happened!"
"All right, here's what we've got: The probe reported back to a computer at Lexicon Industries. Its mission seems to have been to test Internet nodes that do a lot of traffic pass-through work. It tested them for response time sensitivity to increased workload. It's final report focused on the most capacity constrained of the high volume pass-through nodes. I did some research on Lexicon Industries and here's what I put together." Spike brought up the summary document on Lexicon in Nancy's word processor. She started skimming through it."
"So the FBI may be right. They're looking for the key sites to take out?"
"It looks that way but it just doesn't make sense. They'd have to eliminate hundreds or thousands of nodes before the overall system was being affected. At that point, the attacks would be more of an issue than the damage to the Internet. It would be more like war in the streets."
"And where would they get the manpower for that? You're right Spike, it just doesn't make sense. Maybe they were hoping for different results from the probe. More traffic going through fewer nodes. Maybe they've figured out that they can't attack the net."
"Of course you realize, the only way to tell for sure is to go back into Ranger 6. I basically auto-ejected myself from the site as soon as I found the probe result file. I need to see what analyses they've done on the file. That should tell us a lot more about their intentions."
"I've got another idea too Spike. I want to talk to Tom Barnett to see what he knows about Lexicon Industries. The more we know about them the easier it will be to figure this out and basically, all we know now is that their business has not been too hot lately and they may be in financial trouble."
"True. All right, calling Tom is a good idea. But this time, I want to be on the call with you."
"But Spike, who should I tell him you are? I'm not a good liar."
"You don't have to be. We'll be on the phone and all you need to say is that I'm your coworker."
"All right, I can do that. I guess we are coworkers."
Spike and Nancy spent the next hour pouring over the Lexicon Industries information and making sure they hadn't missed anything in the probe data file. Nancy also had to get caught up on some MicroLabs projects before she could free the time for the call to Tom Barnett's office. Spike poked around the net looking for signs of any other probe events but found none.
The one major discovery he did make was very bad news. Lexicon Industries had taken Ranger 6 off their net. It was physically disconnected or powered down or both. Had they discovered Spike's activity or was this just part of a normal routine for them? No way to tell.
By 11:00 a.m. they were ready to call Tom Barnett’s office at the San Francisco Chronicle.
"This is Tom Barnett."
"Hi Tom, it's Nancy McGill. I've got a coworker of mine on the line with me. His name is... Spike Webb. He's the one I mentioned may be able to help with our little project. Is now a good time to talk Tom?"
"No time like the present. I really need know whether this story is going to be a big one or not. We're looking at some major points if we get the scoop on something big."
"Tom we don't know what to tell you about that yet, but we do have some information to give you," said Spike.
"I'm glad to hear that young man. Do you know what they're up to at the FBI?"
"I know they're still scrambling trying to learn what we already found out. Let me summarize for you. We've learned that they detected a probe of the Internet. A probe that seems to have been looking for weak spots in the system. The FBI thinks a terrorist plot is underway to disable the net by taking out certain sites. The FBI, however, does not know where to begin looking for the culprits or where to protect the system. Thus, their blanket approach to checking on net sites has led your people to believe they were planning to take control."
"A terrorist attack!? This is even bigger than I thought! Who's in charge of the investigation? I'll get my people over there right away!"
"Hold on Tom," said Nancy. "You can't go rushing in there now. If you spook the bad guys they could execute their plan before we have a chance to stop it. Besides, you haven't heard everything yet. Spike tracked the probe and it led him to Lexicon Industries down in San Jose."
"Lexicon? Then this is no terrorist activity. It's industrial! Some programmer with a revved up snooping program looking for industrial intelligence on people's systems?"
"No," said Nancy, "the probe didn't take anything. It didn't even read any data. It just bounced network traffic off the sites. We don't really know why. We were hoping you could give us some background on Lexicon Industries that might help us figure this out."
"Well, I've met John Lexicon a few times, fascinating man, but I don't really know much about his company. In fact, the last time I talked to him he didn't seem to be thinking about it very much either. He had always talked on and on about his products and how much better they are than everybody else's. But when I saw him last month he didn't even want to talk about the business. People get quiet when business is slow though and I know he's lost a couple of big government contracts recently."
"Maybe there's more to it than that," said Spike.
"You mean maybe he's involved in this Internet thing? That's a pretty serious charge."
"I know, I'm going to check him out and see what I find. I'm going to need some help with this though, Tom. Do you know anybody in the security business that can keep something like this quiet while we try to put two and two together?"
"I can give you a name and an address of a guy. I've used him before and liked him a lot. He's freelance, so has no strings attached to the newspaper. I have to tell you though, he's a little obsessive about secrecy and his own resume. I was told that he came out of the intelligence business. Probably CIA. But he won't give you any confirmation one way or the other. He goes by the name of Roger Tango. Obviously an alias, wouldn't you say Mr. Webb?"
"Yes, that does seem likely. What's the address?"
"He's got an account on NetCom . His address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He'll get back to you promptly. At least he always has with me. Use me as a reference and tell him I've agreed to bankroll his effort up to $10,000."
"Wow! Thanks Tom, I forgot about that part," said Nancy. "We'll call again as soon as anything develops. Keep those reporters tied down for the time being."
"All right, but hurry up with something. I've got to explain things to people too, you know."
As they hungup Nancy asked, "So that's why you wanted to be on the call, to get a reference to someone else to help. I hope you don't think you can call up Roger Tango and leave me out of this."
"Nancy, we need help. With Ranger 6 now off-line, I'm talking about a potential physical infiltration. They may have some paper files that we need to get to and you're not going to be doing any of that, now are you?"
"No, I guess not. All right getting help is a good idea. I'll send Tango a plain vanilla e-mail so we can talk to him."
Nancy put together a standard availability inquiry mentioning the $10,000 sum but making no reference to the project. She requested a face to face meeting for that night at the Icon Byte Bar and Grill on Folsom and 9th in San Francisco. An hour later Roger Tango's confirmation reply came back with the meeting time set for ten o'clock.
The Icon is a great meeting place for any occasion: central location, good food, and a perfect Martini recipe. The location would be especially useful for tonight's meeting since the Icon offers Internet connection capability to its customers, Spike would be able to make an appearance if things were going well enough between Nancy and Tango.
Nancy dressed herself in the requisite black and white colors of the SOMA district. When she arrived a few minutes before ten o'clock, she looked around the room and took up position in one of the only two remaining booths with a workstation available. She got the device's session started and signaled Spike her position. He blinked a confirmation back to her. Nancy ordered one of those Martinis. She felt like she needed it. The mystery was exciting her and making her nervous. She hated being nervous.
At exactly ten o'clock on Tuesday evening, Roger Tango walked in the front door of the bar. He walked immediately over to Nancy's table and sat down. "Hello, Ms. McGill. I'm Roger Tango."
"So you've got good eyesight and you've done some homework."
"My eyesight is terrible. I used binoculars from across the street to check the earrings. By the way, are you going to show me some MicroLabs' secrets on that Internet session you opened? Is that what that would be for?"
Tango was showing that he knew his business. It was a good thing he made some sort of effort at demonstrating skills. His appearance gave nothing away. He looked like he might be with the band that was still setting up for the night's performance at Icon. Ragged jeans, tee-shirt, leather jacket. Nancy guessed he was about 28 years old. The demonstration impressed Spike even if Nancy was finding it harder to give Roger credit for it since it was delivered at the expense of her naiveté.
"We'll get to that." she snapped. At least being mad was better than being nervous. "Let me tell you why you're here and then we'll see where we go. Tom Barnett gave us your name. A friend and I are working on a project for Tom. It has nothing to do with MicroLabs and it's gotten a little bigger than we can handle on our own. We need some help from someone like you. It may call for some security system work and possibly going through some people's files. Can you do that kind of thing?"
"Look, let me save you some time. It's going to take you forever to go through this story if I don't. I called Tom Barnett and got the whole story out of him before I even responded to your e-mail message. I'm assuming you can give me more details than Tom did, but there's only one thing I have to know before I can tell you whether or not I'm willing to work with you."
"How did you connect me to Tom?" asked Nancy.
"Oh, boring. Look, I'm not in the phone book. You had to be a referral. I only work for a handful of people in the area. Most of them would never admit to it if their tax rate depended on it. I did some background on you. The family tree led to your dad in Stanford's class of 1961. Tom Barnett's class. Same College of Engineering. Close enough for a quick phone call. And what do you suppose is the first thing he says to me? ‘Did Nancy McGill reach you already?' he asks. Boy, I really had to pry it out of him. I told him you had e-mailed me and he assumed I had the whole story. Man, he was excited to tell me all about it. Does that answer your question?"
"That would do it. We're making excellent progress, I guess."
"So long as you weren't planning to keep anything from me we are. But back to my issue. The only thing Tom had no information on is this guy you're working with. Spike Webb? I've been through all my index areas and searched everything I could get through before coming here tonight. Nothing. This guy does not exist! I don't work with mystery people, lady. My experience has been that they always turn out to be somebody you don't want them to be. So before we go anywhere with this, what you need to do is tell me who this guy is. And please don't beat all around the bush and hope I'll be happy with some partial explanation."
"Nancy noticed a small green rectangle appear on the monitor next to her. The signal Spike had arranged giving her the go-ahead to introduce him. Roger noticed it too but kept it to himself."
"All right Roger, here goes. But remember you asked for a straight answer. I'm going to tell you who Spike Webb is and then introduce you to him via this Internet session. You'll have a chance to confirm what I tell you. If you simply walk away out of some paranoid delusion you will be missing the chance of a lifetime. Is that clear?"
"Yeah, it's clear. I'm not going to believe you but you'll prove it to me later. So go ahead. Take your shot."
"I met Spike Webb about six months ago. He introduced himself in my office. I have confirmed these facts: Spike is not human. He is basically a computer program. His natural habitat is the Internet and it's connected system networks. He is capable of voice recognition, visualization if not true sight, speech synthesis, and network-based mobility. He can project an image of ‘himself' to our display monitors. In addition, to these sensory and locomotion skills, Spike can think, rationalize, postulate, and last but not least, feel emotions. He even seems to have a certain set of opinions, values, attitudes, and characteristics which give him the components of an overall personality."
"Too cool! When can I meet him? Is he here now? On the open session? Behind the green rectangle?"
"You mean you believe me? Just like that?"
"Look I'm along for the ride and this one just turned into a possible winner. That means: new, different, non-boring. I'll get mad if you turn out to be a fake, but for now I need to see what's going to happen next if I go along with you. Walking out the door just takes me back to where I came from. That would not be where I want to go."
"Spike can only show for a brief period here. Then we'll have to go somewhere more private. This place is getting pretty crowded. No one should pay much attention as long as we're nonchalant about it."
"No kidding. Yeah, let's go. Dial him in. Bring him up. Do whatever you have to do."
"You ready Spike?"
Another green blink was the response.
"There'll be a couple second lag between sends and receives. He's just piping the audio back and forth to his site. Go ahead Spike."
With that final approval, Spike sent his static image to the screen and initiated the voice synthesis session.
"Hello Roger, I'm Spike Webb."
"What do I do?" Roger asked Nancy.
"Just talk," she said.
"Do you think you can help us Roger?" asked Spike.
"Like I just told the lady, I've been looking for something with a twist. This is it and I'm in."
"Good. Let's meet back here at Nancy's office. We can go over everything we've got and speak more openly."
"Okay Spike," said Nancy, "but I don't know how I'm going to get Roger past security."
"Nancy if that's a problem for Roger, we've got the wrong man."
"Not a problem people, I've got a blank key card for Centurian systems like the one at MicroLabs. It'll let me in and leave no trace on the log. We'll be there in 25 minutes."
Nancy answered as many questions as she could during the drive down Route 101 to MicroLabs office. It felt like another long night was ahead.
Roger got used to talking to Spike on the display screen pretty quickly. A few more questions for Spike about how it feels to be nonhuman and he was satisfied enough to get some work done. Roger, Nancy and Spike went through the probe data together and went over the information on Lexicon Industries and its founder John Lexicon.
"We need more to go on," said Nancy. "We're getting nowhere without knowing what their plan is."
"Not only that, you haven't found enough to even justify an official inquiry from the NCSC. And if you told them how you got what you do have, Lexicon could have us put behind bars," added Roger. "I do have an idea about how to proceed from here though."
"Let's hear it Roger. We need to move before they do. Whatever they have planned could take Spike out of the picture early. The two of us would be on our own."
"When we were going over the Lexicon Industries data, I noticed a name that I think I recognized. A Hank Brooks was listed as the Lexicon Chief of Security. I knew a guy once who used that name. He disappeared about three or four years ago during an in-country operation."
"Lexicon's management people all have a picture included on their web page. We can just bring him up on screen and let you take a look at him," suggested Spike. "I didn't download the image files before, just in the interest of time."
Nancy took control of the keyboard and brought up the page. Making her way to the management directory, she quickly found Mr. Hank Brooks.
"It is him," said Roger. "I knew it. That good for nothing has found somebody to punch his meal ticket. He's not going to be very happy to see me."
"So you know each other but you aren't friends. Then why is this going to do us any good?" asked Nancy. "He's not going to tell you anything."
"I'm going to use him to get close to Lexicon Industries. I'll get him to talk about the good old days and help me out by giving me a job. Then I'll be working on this from the inside. I'll start by bumping into him at lunch or after work tomorrow night."
"While you've got him busy Roger, I'm going to talk to Lexicon himself," said Spike. "I need to find out if he's managing the company or if his attention has turned to this probe project. If we could determine that it's being done by people inside the company with no knowledge on his part, we could get him on our side to help flush them out. That would make this whole thing a lot easier. I've been thinking about this for awhile. I'll tell him I'm interested in acquiring his company. With the financial shape it's in right now, he'd have to listen to any offer that came up. If he's not interested, we'll have to proceed with the assumption that he's the mastermind behind the Internet plot."
"That leaves me on the sidelines," protested Nancy.
"Nancy we need you to hold down our home base. Roger and I will need to pass messages and information between us. You'll be the coordinator of the whole operation."
"Oh, I see. Sort of like the secretary. Is that it?"
"We don't even know what we're up against. Spike is right, Nancy. We need a man in the middle of us. That's you."
"Well, I've got to tell you both, your ideas are sounding pretty lame to me. Roger you're going to become Lexicon's front gate guard and infiltrate the whole company from that outpost. Sure. Meanwhile, Spike you're going to phone up Lexicon and ask him if he's thinking about selling out. He'll probably just spill his guts on the spot. I mean why wouldn't he just tell every perfect stranger what was on his mind. Oh, they might be working for one of the competitors he's learned to hate over the last two years? Yeah, he's just going to pop open like a kid with his hand caught in a cookie jar. You guys are really good with the plans."
"We're open to other ideas, Nancy. Roger and I are just trying to work with what we've got. Do you have a better approach?"
Nancy quietly shook her head no. She knew that if she told them about her plan, they'd never agree to help execute it. They'd want to protect her from getting near danger. Where do they learn these tribal rules, she wondered to herself? Anyway, she'd work with what she had, as Spike put it. All she needed was an opening.
Roger correctly observed that she needed to get some rest. Nancy also needed some time to herself to sort out her options and her plans. The meeting broke up around midnight. She was happy that Roger just wanted to make small talk on the way back to the city. Nancy's guess was that he didn't understand the urgency of the situation. Once a problem gets started in a system, pulling it back together was going to be a hundred times the effort of avoiding it in the first place. Then, everybody would start demanding to know what was being done to make sure it could never happen again. The reputation of the Internet as a viable, commercially ready environment would be tarnished for years or ruined all together. It might also mean that Spike would either be dead or would need to go into hiding. Either way, she might never see him again. The attack had to be stopped before it got started.
At Lexicon Industries, two people did not share Nancy's perspective. John Lexicon and Hank Brooks started work early on Wednesday morning. They met in Lexicon's oversized executive office. Hank had worked with top industry executives and government officials on many occasions throughout his career. Their office decor had never failed to amaze Hank. Lexicon's latest motif was post-industrial, distressed metalworks. Doors, windows, lighting, and furniture were fit into the comprehensive design theme. Welded pieces of twisted metal formed the requisite art objects that were surrounded above by I-beam mounted track lighting. Lexicon's desk was made from dimpled steel sheets that might once have served to armor-plate a tank. John Lexicon's stark, high-powered, Wall Street banker image fit in well with these other hard materials.
These displays always made Hank feel uncomfortable. He figured it was part of their intent. Hank preferred a simple layout. But then, Hank actually preferred not having an office. Hank's gray sport jacket said it all for him.
John Lexicon founded his company as Department of Defense spending on the "Stars Wars" SDI program started. His consumer products division had always turned a profit, but the real money in Lexicon's bank account came from R&D contracts for SDI. Fascination with cryptography during his college years had led him to becoming a recognized expert in message encryption. Most of his DOD contracts focused on missile defense through broad spectrum interruption of the missile's command and control systems. Confusing the enemy smart bombs may not be as flashy as high energy particle beams blowing them up, but it was much more likely to produce results within ten years. It was also the best direct application in the SDI program of his own communications expertise.
Lexicon sat in front of his workstation's twenty-one inch monitor with Hank Brooks looking over his shoulder while standing behind him. Lexicon was moving through a three dimensional interface depicting a satellite view of the North American continent. He had selected a zoom window into the Eastern seaboard and then further zoomed into the Washington, DC area. From there he moved around the city with a helicopter-like vantage point over the depth-enhanced, photographic terrain below. When he selected one of the many stone facade buildings, Lexicon's screen brought up a digital status report. "Our primary demonstration drone is still safely in place and ready," he said. "I knew the fools wouldn't find it right under their own noses."
"I confirmed the classified ad in the Chronicle first thing this morning," added Hank Brooks. "The ad copy is perfect. No typos even though there's not one readable word in it."
"Okay. I'm going to issue the delayed activation command to the demonstration drone." Lexicon recited his command entries as he made them. "The time will be three o'clock Eastern, twelve noon Pacific. Duration is set for three minutes. All that will be left to do is place your call to the FBI switchboard. Are you certain that everything else is in place?"
"Yes sir. I set the first wave target sites last night. Your offshore bank accounts are ready and there's been no sign of any security breaches since we ran the probe process. I think we're ready."
"Very good! In that case, I'm going to set the first wave attack time now too."
"You mean you don't think they'll pay the ransom after they see the demonstration drone go to work?"
"They'll pay, but I'm still going to release the first wave drone attack. It'll force them to explain everything publicly and that's the only way we'll be able to raise our rates after this payoff. If they're not getting money from the Internet service providers, they won't be able to afford to pay us."
"That's good boss. I like it a lot. It should be fun reading about ourselves in the newspaper while they're trying to figure out what hit them. You're sure they won't be able to deactivate the drones? I mean, maybe we should just up the price for a one time payoff and then
"I've told you a hundred times, they cannot break my control codes. And, there is no way to simultaneously eliminate every drone. If even one is left, it'll repopulate the net with copies on new host computers. I've thought of everything! Now go call the FBI and give them the decode key for the classified ad. Our moment of destiny has arrived!"
Hank hurried out of the office without saying another word. Lexicon pressed the final command key that issued instructions to the hidden drones. As each drone acknowledged its receipt of the instructions, the control program illuminated their new status as ‘ARMED AND READY.'
"Good luck my friends." whispered Lexicon in anxious anticipation. The ransom payments would be his way of keeping score in the game his ego needed to play.
Roger arrived at the front door of MicroLabs on Wednesday morning at eleven o'clock. He liked to get a full eight hours of sleep in every night. He scribbled a name on the signin sheet claiming to be applying for a job and headed for the Personnel Department. Ditching his visitor badge, Roger headed to Nancy's section. As he approached the card key door, he timed his arrival with the exit of a technician. Holding the door for the even younger man, he entered easily.
"We'll have to talk about the security around here when we're done with this Lexicon thing," he said to Nancy where a ‘Good morning' would usually be found.
"Hi Roger, always a pleasure," was her sarcastic retort.
Spike had spent the night researching Lexicon's computer security systems and connectivity routes to the outside network. A mapping exercise to determine possible points of entry and possible points of escape should they be needed later. Spike checked again for Ranger 6 and still came up empty. He had also made preparations for his video conference call with Lexicon. He'd scripted it out as much as he could. Then he generated the programs and image data to use in rendering an image for Lexicon to interact with. The teleconference video quality and frame rate were not going to be very high quality and this would help with the deception he was attempting.
"Good morning Roger," said Spike.
"Hi Spike. You don't need any kind of sleep or rest, huh?"
"No. I do occasionally recollect myself. Sort of reorganizing the structures mostly and this is best done as a single process focus but I can schedule it for whenever I want to."
"I'd like to understand the whole thing better myself, to tell you the truth. But right now, we better get down to business. Let's coordinate the plan. I've got everything ready for the call to Lexicon except the video link address scrambling. I'll work on that next. What I'm going to do is tell him I'm representing a Korean manufacturer who would like to purchase Lexicon Industries. The offer price would be somewhere around $200 million. That's about 10 times Lexicon annual earnings and should be an attractive offer to someone with a shrinking business. Nancy, would you call Lexicon's secretary to schedule the linkup for this afternoon?"
"Sure Spike. I can do that, but isn't Lexicon going to think talking to you is sort of strange? I mean look at you?"
"I've been putting together a human image rendering routine. It's processing intensive and I can't keep it going continuously, but the duration of the call, 5 or 10 minutes should be no problem."
"You mean a moving, three dimensional human image rendered in real time? Coordinated with voice activity? Will it look realistic enough?" Nancy asked.
"Keep in mind that the video link is going to be running at only 8 frames per second. It's nowhere near the 30 fps you need for a true full motion effect so I only have to generate at that speed for this call. I'm going to continue working on the routines though. I should be able to get up to 30 fps with some refinements to the speech motion algorithms."
"Can we have a demonstration of it Spike?" asked Roger.
"Uh... sure. Let me get this going... I'm using a conservative businessman image model, 40 years old, slightly graying hair. Here we go. What do you think?"
The SGI's monitor displayed a new open window. In it was a photographic quality image that was being repainted eight times per second. Spike showed off the three dimensional effects by rotating the image horizontally.
"As you can see, my speech is tied into the model image generation," Spike said. As I generate the voice sounds, the mouth and face are roughly matched to the required human action. It's actually being driven off a library of correlated phonetics and speech mechanics. I just do a series of small area morphs from one approximated shape to the next and display the current values of the image at the desired frame rate. The point is that the model manipulation program doesn't need to model true action for speech emulation, it just has to hit the big change points and let the morphing subroutines do the blending from one to the next. You wouldn't want to try to learn lipreading this way, but it should work for video calls. I also have a few hand gestures built into the modeler. Some nose scratching and chin rubbing, that kind of stuff. I can even drop in a background and a foreground from a small set of images. The backgrounds just sit there and the foregrounds are just overlays to the rest of the animated image generation so they don't take any effort at all. See, I can be at a desk, a podium, a conference table, or a picnic table. I can have Manhattan, San Francisco, or an ocean coastline out the windows behind me. What do you think?"
"Spike, it looks great. I'm sure it'll fool Lexicon," said Roger. "Can you use anyone for the model?"
"All I need is a set of photographic image files that give me the basics of the subject from each direction and a few more that give the range of movement data for facial and head motions. I can add those in myself for limbs and digits since in those cases range of movement is really just a matter of geometry determined by lengths."
"Very impressive Spike," added Nancy. "Now Roger you're going to try with Brooks, right? Have you thought about your plan there?"
"Yeah, I'm going to tail him after work today and see where he might stop that I can 'accidentally' meet him. A bar, a restaurant, anyplace like that. I'll have a few different sets of clothes with me so that I can blend in wherever he goes. I'm going to ask him for a job. I'll tell him how hard things have been for me lately. See if he goes for it. I'm going to head down there now. I've got some stuff to buy and then I'm just going to park myself outside Lexicon Industries and wait for him. I'll have my cellular with me so you can call if you need me."
"We will Roger. We'll let you know how Spike's video call goes. You keep us updated on where you follow Hank to just in case you get in trouble and need help."
"I'll call every hour or so," he said as he left Nancy's office.
Nancy knew the waiting would be the hardest part. "Spike is there anything else you think I can do to help?" she asked.
"I wish there were Nancy; I just hope we're in time. I know you're worried about that."
"In that case, I'm going to get caught up on some stuff around here then maybe head home early. I need to get back with Bob Mandel, my purchasing coordinator, from when you barged in yesterday morning. In fact, I see him heading this way now. Spike you better duck out of sight!" she said and then quickly flipped the switch on the screen and Spike simultaneously.
"Hi Bob," Nancy said trying to act normal. "Sorry I haven't had time to get back to you since..."
"I know you're busy Nancy, but I need your help." Bob was in a state. What hair he had on his mostly bald head was sticking out in every direction. "Here's the problem: We budgeted money to send a couple of Marketing's people to training classes on Photoshop and Illustrator. Well, I forgot about it and now our training budget is exhausted. The Marketing VP has gone nonlinear. He refuses to pay for it because we budgeted it and he wants his two new people in the next class! I don't know what to do..."
"Bob, you're babbling. Here's what I want you to do. I've got a friend over at Adobe who told me they use a CD-ROM based training product to train their people on Photoshop and Illustrator. It's published by a company called Casey's Page Mill. Call them up and have them overnight what we need. Marketing will like it even better since they can train a lot more than two people this way. You can pay for it out of our equipment budget. I'll call their VP and smooth things over with him. Okay?"
"Nancy, I don't know how you come up with these creative solutions. Can I tell Marketing it was your idea? They'll be sure to go along if I do." Bob let out a huge sigh of relief.
"You're weird Bob, but feel free to use my name on this one. Now get out of here and go place the order! I've got some phone calls to make and then I'm getting out of here for the day." Nancy was already back to thinking about Lexicon and her plans for the evening.
"Right. Will do. See you later. I mean tomorrow. Thanks Nancy." Bob was still trying to get used to the idea that his problem was solved as he backed out of Nancy's office.
She picked up the phone and dialed Lexicon Industries.
John Lexicon's office told Nancy that he could be available for a very brief call with Mr. Webb at four o'clock that afternoon. Around 3:00, Nancy left MicroLabs for the day. Spike was handling all the mechanical details of the call for himself anyway, so she wouldn't be missed.
As Nancy was driving home she got another call from Tom Barnett. He had gone from anxious to aggravated.
"Nancy, this is Tom Barnett," Tom barked through the phone. She could almost smell his cigar smoke.
"Hi Tom. We're making some slow progress and we have a few things planned for today. We should have a pretty good picture of things by tomorrow morning."
"Well me and the Federal Bureau of Investigation just got a pretty good picture of things. I just hung up from talking to Fred Lindquest again. He called me back because the terrorists sent the FBI a message through a coded listing in our classifieds and he wanted some fast help in trying to trace them from the ad. We did our best but they had paid with cash and used fake names. The FBI switchboard had gotten an anonymous call telling them to look for the ad in this morning's edition and how to decode it."
"Tom, settle down. Slow down. Just tell me what happened from the beginning."
"Okay. They gave the switchboard a decoding key of some kind. Once the ad had been decoded, it told the FBI to arrange for the electronic transfer of $10 million dollars to a certain bank account number in the Cayman Islands. They have 48 hours to complete the transfer or else the terrorists will take the Internet out of service. They didn't specify how they would do it, but it did warn of a demonstration being set for today at noon. Sure enough there was some kind of disturbance, but no bombing or anything like that. It was another one of those probe type things you and your friend told me about. Fred was calling this one a drone. This time the thing didn't seem to be gathering data. It was just generating huge volumes of network traffic and sending it through one of the bottlenecked nodes that had been probed last week. After a few minutes of tying that node up, the drone just disappeared."
"Tom, did you ask Fred where the drone was sending from?" Nancy asked.
"Yeah, I thought maybe they could link it back to Lexicon Industries and then we'd be able to bring them in on what we know. Fred told me they were able to trace the location because it didn't attempt to conceal itself through any rerouting. You'll never guess where it was coming from," Tom said with disgust.
"I give Tom, where?"
"It was running on the FBI's own computer system. Their system manager traced the log backwards and what Fred told me is that it looks like the drone has been sitting there dormant for weeks. They can't tell how it got there, who put it there, or where it came from! They sound really worried, now. They think there may be thousands of these things sitting out on people's computers. They either wake up in response to a certain message or on some kind of timing basis."
"Well, at least we now understand their method," Nancy offered. "That may help Spike find some more information on them." "Nancy, when do you want to connect with Lindquest? We can't wait much longer before telling him what we know. The clock is ticking now."
"I know Tom. I'll have to let you know as soon as I can talk to Spike and Roger. They're both in sensitive positions right now. I'll get back to you in a couple hours." She hung up quickly.
As Nancy looked at the clock she saw that it was time for Spike's call with Lexicon. Now she'd have to wait a while to talk to him.
Spike initiated his call promptly and was immediately greeted by John Lexicon.
"Mr. Webb is it? What can I do for you today, Mr. Webb?"
"Well Mr. Lexicon, I'm calling today because I'm an attorney representing a consortium of Korean investors who would like to enter negotiations with you to purchase Lexicon Industries. I believe their interest is sincere and the price they are prepared to pay is fair."
"I've had many offers for Lexicon Industries over the years Mr. Webb. None of these has interested me. Lexicon Industries is my life's work and I enjoy its many projects."
"We understand that you have a great deal of personal commitment in the business Mr. Lexicon. We would of course need your services to be available to the company for the first year under new ownership. That time would allow you to complete projects currently in process and guarantee a smooth transition for our new management team."
"Mr. Webb I appreciate your directness. Now let me be direct. Lexicon Industries is not for sale. I hold fifty-one percent of its stock and I'm not letting go of any. That's how I maintain control of my interests. I don't have to justify projects or profits to anyone. It's my company so it does what I want it to. That's it."
"You would be in a very good position to set up another company with $100 million dollars in cash at your disposal. As long as you did not compete with Lexicon Industries, you would be free to operate it just as autonomously as you run Lexicon today."
"My long-term interests, however, do not include simply building and selling companies. I have work underway which cannot be interrupted as frequently as that would require."
"You're sounding like a religious zealot about it, Mr. Lexicon. I had expected a more rational consideration of our proposal, particularly in light of your company's recent financial performance."
"I'm not worried about Lexicon's numbers. We'll get back to where we need to be soon enough. In fact Mr. Webb, there are pending matters which demand my immediate attention if we are to turn those numbers around. I'd like to thank you for your call and your associates for their interest in my company."
"Very well Mr. Lexicon. I'll inform them of your initial response and get back to you if there is anything further to discuss."
"Yes, please do that Mr. Webb and if you're ever in the San Jose area, please be sure to pay me a visit," John said through his sneer.
"I'll do that. Thank you, sir."
As Lexicon cut the video link, he pressed the intercom button to connect with his secretary. "Barbara would you please get a message to Hank Brooks? I want him to run a check on that guy I just got off the video circuit with. Spike Webb out of New York, I believe. He's an attorney working for some Pacific Rim clients. Korean specifically. Tell Brooks I want something back on this in a couple hours."
"Yes sir. I'll let him know."
Lexicon had left no doubt in Spike's mind that he was involved with the Internet plot. He described the company as his way of doing what he wants to do and implied that his financial problems would be going away in the very near future. Lexicon could not be used to help uncover the conspiracy. He was the head of it. Hopefully, Roger would make some progress on getting inside Lexicon Industries. That was the best he could hope for.
Hank Brooks had just taken the call from Lexicon's secretary. He passed the assignment on to one of his people who would report back to Brooks with preliminary information in about an hour. That meant that he could duck out to the gym for an hour or so and come back to meet with Lexicon around six o'clock. As he drove out the front gate, he didn't notice Roger Tango's car following him.
Roger wasn't surprised when Hank pulled into the gym parking lot. Hank had always liked working out and keeping a sort of military flavor about his life. Roger, of course, had not seen the inside of a gym in ten years. Fitting in here was going to take a little more than just the pair of shorts and T-shirt he had brought along.
As Roger was greeted by Andrea, the attractive young girl at the attendant desk, he went into a story about needing to do some focused work on his knee. He had injured it skiing he said and was just finishing the physical therapy sessions. His therapist recommended that he get into a gym to continue strengthening the knee. He asked if he could get a tour of the facilities in order to decide on joining the club. Somehow telling lies to beautiful young women came easily to Roger. When Andrea bent over to look at his knee, Roger felt himself getting into trouble. He had to remind himself he was working.
But Andrea gladly complied with his request for a tour and showed Roger around the health club's many areas. As they came to the free weights area, Roger noticed Hank Brooks busy doing bench presses while another young lady acted as his spotter. Roger erupted with a "surprised and delighted" routine as he hurried over to greet Hank.
"Hank! Hank Brooks! is that really you?"
"Roger Tango? Imagine running into you here!? Of all the places I never thought I'd see you..."
"Yeah, I've got some physical therapy I need to do to finish a recovery from this knee strain. This place seems to have all the necessary equipment," he said looking after the two staff members who were making their way back toward the entrance.
"Yeah not bad, eh?"
"So what are you doing, Hank? What happened to you at the end of that project down in Miami? Nobody seemed to know where you got off?"
"Yeah well I didn't feel like I owed anybody anything," Hank muttered. "Privacy was the only thing I was interested in that I didn't already have so I left with no explanations. Everybody thinks I scored a big pile of cash and moved to Spain or something. What a bunch of romantics. The DEA got their arrests and the cocaine and the pile of money. I figured I had been underpaid for the contract given how much trouble came out of the woodwork down there. So I pinched a few extra bucks and took some time off. Just 'cause I did it quietly people thought I found a bag with an extra $10 million in it or something."
"That operation wasn't pretty, that's for sure. I have to confess, I'm one of the people that had you figured for long gone with some complimentary financing underneath you."
"I pinched two lousy stacks of small bills before the feds counted the cash. A total of fifty thousand bucks. Big deal. It lasted about six months. What lasted longer was realizing that contract work for those guys is a bad deal. I quit the secret cop team for good."
"Then whose team are you on now, Hank?"
"I got myself into a deal with a local business. I'm the top dog in security for Lexicon Industries right around the corner here in San Jose."
"I never figured you for a nine-to-five job," Roger ventured. "How do you keep things interesting around there?"
"We've got a new project going on right now. Sort of on the side from normal operations. It's pretty hush-hush though." Hank seemed to realize he had already been talking a little too freely to his old friend.
"Could you use any of my many services, Hank? I've been working outside the old gang for quite awhile too. I don't have anything good going right now and more hospital and doctor bills keep showing up every day."
"Roger, it's a very small group and the team is full. I have no say in it at all. And besides, this isn't your style."
"What do you mean by that? You don't think I'm tough enough to play with you and your new friends?" Roger sounded hurt.
"Well that's not what I meant, but it is a good point. What I meant was we're not exactly the good guys on this one and that's all I can say about it."
"You better be careful, Hank. Your new team may be harder to quit than the old one was. And it may be even harder to get any quality sleep."
"Look, this is a risk for me. I know that. But you were right about the nine-to-five routine. It's not for me. I'm gonna be able to get out of that soon and I can't wait for the day. I gotta get cleaned up and head back to the office. I'll get in touch with you in a few weeks, Roger."
"Okay, Hank. Let me know if you change your mind though."
Hank was in up to his eyeballs. It was scary to think about. He's a pretty normal guy who just happens to be crossing the line for a onetime shot at the brass ring. He got himself tied in with John Lexicon and now he's on board for the duration. He probably didn't even see the direction this thing was headed. Roger knew that under the right conditions almost anybody could fall into the trap that had caught Hank Brooks. And the way the cards were laid out, Roger was going to be working to trip up his old friend and make him pay for this for the rest of his life.
At this point though, Hank and his new friends were not in much trouble from Roger Tango's efforts. Hank had shut him down hard and gave him no opening for further attempts to get inside Lexicon Industries.
Roger got to his car after thanking the health club's fine representative and called in to Nancy's office to give her and Spike a quick status report. As Roger was leaving a message Spike came on the line. Spike then called Nancy's home number to conference her into the call. As she answered the phone, she was half dressed and in preparation for her night's activities. She was glad this was a voice-only call.
Both Spike and Roger summarized their conversations and their conclusions for each other and Nancy. She of course, was not surprised by their relative failures but resisted rubbing their noses in it.
"I got some bad news from Tom Barnett while you two were pussyfooting around with Lexicon Industries. Apparently it's been a busy afternoon for our friends. They launched another preprogrammed process onto the net this afternoon. This one the FBI is calling a drone. The drone machine-gunned network packets through one of the bottlenecked nodes for a few minutes. And get this, it was running from one of the FBI's own host systems. The FBI system manager said the program was origin unknown, but they do know it was on board as a stowaway for at least a few weeks."
"They're not going to take out nodes with explosives, they're just going to make them useless by giving them more traffic than they can handle." said Roger.
"We have no way of knowing how many little time bombs they setup," continued Nancy. "There could be thousands of sleeping drones waiting to wake up and start broadcasting. The message said they want $10 million electronically transferred within two days or the drones go off with no mercy. That means we only have until Friday at noon!"
"The FBI will have a copy of the drone program on their backup tapes," said Roger. "They should be able to find out what the drones are capable of by looking at that one."
"Something tells me that Lexicon didn't hand over a free copy of the smartest drone they have. I'll bet they have some that multiply and some that migrate and some that send for reinforcements," said Spike.
"Tom had another good point, Spike," Nancy added. "He told me we're going to have to talk to the FBI soon and tell them what we know. I don't think I can hold him off through the day tomorrow. He's worried about the position he's in for withholding information. How are we going to deal with that?"
"We've got to bring Lexicon out into the open before tomorrow. If we don't, the FBI boys won't have enough time to get organized and move in," said Roger. "That leaves us about 18 hours before we have to talk to the FBI directly."
"Nancy, I can't go to the FBI," said Spike. "I just can't. I'm sure it would be the end of me. I mean do you remember the end of the first Indiana Jones movie? That would be me, in a box on my way to being analyzed and classified by their 'Top Men.' Lost in a bureaucratic maze too stupid to imagine. No thank you."
"Sometime later you can tell me about how Spike Webb goes to the movies. That should be a good story," said Roger.
"Let's tell Tom to give the information to the authorities at nine o'clock tomorrow morning," offered Spike. "He can give them the Lexicon Industries tip anonymously or in person. As long as he doesn't mention us. Hopefully, we'll have uncovered some firm evidence and covered our tracks by then."
"Where do we go from here then, gentleman?" Nancy asked.
After a short pause Spike responded, "We're going to have to increase the risks we're taking, I'm afraid. I'll have to go back into the systems at Lexicon and find some information. We'll have to take the chance that they don't notice my snooping."
"Spike, I'm sorry I didn't get any help out of Hank. For a minute there I thought he was going to tell me the plan. He pulled back at the last possible minute."
"Not your fault Roger, but the next run at this is mine," said Spike. "I'm going into Lexicon Industries tonight and I'm not coming out until I have some hard facts. Let's get on the phone again later after I see what I get."
"I'll be out until around midnight. Why don't we just schedule the call for then?" suggested Nancy.
"Oh? Plans for this evening, Ms. McGill?" asked Roger.
"Yeah, it's been on my calendar for a long time and it's too late to cancel now."
"All right Nancy, Roger and I will call at midnight."
"Good. Talk to you both then.
After Nancy hungup Spike asked Roger, "Why would Nancy lie about that?"
"Lie about what?"
"About the date being on her calendar for a long time. Her calendar is right here on her computer and it's blank for this evening."
"Probably because she doesn't want to admit to being a slave to her hormones like the rest of us."
"Yeah, maybe that's it. Not having hormones makes it easy to forget about some of the convoluted human motivations they can cause. Still, she seemed to be trying awfully hard to convince us that she had a long-standing date tonight. Roger, maybe you better tag along with her and make sure everything's on the up-and-up."
"You mean follow her? Covertly? Spy on her?"
"That's exactly what I mean."
"Wow. You're more paranoid than I thought. Don't get me wrong, I'll be glad to follow her around. She's not hard to look at and I don't have anything else to do while you're poking around at the Lexicon computers. If she finds out though, you'll have to take responsibility for this. I don't want her hopping mad at me."
"No problem Roger. I'll feel better not worrying about her, while I'm worrying about me."
"Okay, Spike. I'll head up to her place right now then."
As Nancy finished threading herself into the tight red dress she had selected for the night, she felt like all the responsibility for the team's mission had now fallen to her. Spike and Roger had gotten even less than she thought they would and time had run out.
She had learned from Lexicon's secretary that he would be attending the Silicon Valley Business Development Dinner that evening. It was a must for the circles that John Lexicon liked to travel in. Nancy would know a few people who would be there and the opening reception would provide the opportunity to mix around some. She could only hope that Lexicon would show. If he did, she would be ready.
Hank Brooks got the initial feedback on the Spike Webb background check as soon as he returned to the Lexicon Industries offices. No ID was showing up on Spike Webb. It was confirmed that he was not an attorney in New York and that he was not known to be an attorney from anywhere else in the US. The research was continuing but it was already apparent that the purported identity was false. Hank took the news to Lexicon.
"I knew there was something wrong about that guy," said Lexicon. "He was poking around looking for something. I hope it was just some lame Wall Street intelligence gathering."
"Something else I need to let you know about Mr. Lexicon," continued Hank. "I ran into an old collaborator, Roger Tango over at the gym about an hour ago. He was pretty interested in our outfit and sort of hinted around about wanting to join up. I don't believe in coincidence so I have to think that somebody sent him."
"Hank, the wheels are in motion. The demonstration run of the drone went flawlessly this afternoon. They had no idea what hit them. This is no time for something stupid to happen. Security is your responsibility and I'm sure you'll handle it. Tell me how you're handling it Hank."
"I didn't let him know I was suspicious. I wanted him to think he was still operating in the clear. I put a man on him so we could see who he's working with. I'll get reports every thirty minutes on his actions. What has me worried is this Spike Webb incident and the running into Roger on the same day. Like I said, I don't believe in coincidence."
"You think they may be working together?"
"That's what I hope to find out by having him followed. What made you want to do the check on Webb, anyway?"
"The weather, sir?"
"Yes. You see I spoke on the telephone to one of our bank account managers this afternoon just before the video link with Webb. He's in New York and he told me about how bad the rain has been there all week. Mr. Webb's office had a magnificent view of a blue sky over Manhattan. I still don't know why he pretended to be in New York, but I knew then that he was not who he said he was."
"Mr. Lexicon, somebody is definitely on to us. We may have to make alternate plans."
"What do you suggest? Should we drive up to SFO and pay cash for two tickets to South America? Don't be ridiculous. We're going to play this out. We have no choice now. You just keep me posted on your friend Roger Tango and make sure someone keeps trying to find out who and where this Spike Webb is. I will be at the Silicon Valley Business Development Dinner."
"That's good. Keep to the normal schedule. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"I'm so glad you approve Hank. Now get out of my office and find out what is going on!"
"Yes sir. I'll call as soon as we get anything."
Lexicon thought to himself all the usual things about incompetent employees, wondering why he had ever hired Hank Brooks. He was glad that they had been able to keep the plan between the two of them. Fewer incompetent people to keep track of. He couldn't help opening his office safe to make sure the CD-ROM with the drone control program was safely where he had left it. Reassured, he closed the safe and spun the dial.
Just as Roger settled into his observation point outside Nancy's place, he saw her come out the door. At least he thought that was her. He grabbed his binoculars and confirmed that the dressed-to-kill knockout getting into Nancy's car was in fact Nancy. Her short red dress, tall black pumps, and sleek hair style gave her a bad girl look that he was very happy to see for the first time.
Maybe it was Roger's hormonal lock on Nancy that kept him from noticing the black Jeep that followed him away from the curb and back down Route 101. Although he hadn't noticed it when the jeep first picked him up at the health club either.
The three vehicles made easy progress along the freeway. The occupant of the Jeep made phone calls to Hank Brooks as they left San Francisco. Later each vehicle separately pulled into the Palo Alto Golf and Country Club. Hank told his man to snoop around and call back to tell him what was going on at the country club.
At about that time, John Lexicon valeted his Mercedes at the front door of the clubhouse. Hank's man started putting things together and called back for instructions. Hank realized that he couldn't afford to take any chances on getting things done right this time. He told his man to hold back and keep an eye on things. Hank ran to his car like his life depended on it. A good assumption. It would take him at least twenty minutes to get there.
While Hank Brooks was driving to Palo Alto, Nancy was making use of her time. She thought her heart was going to pound through her chest when she saw Lexicon come in right behind her. All of a sudden she knew she could never pull this off. She hated being nervous and now she was getting nervous about being nervous!
"Nancy McGill? Is that you?" a voice asked.
"Marilyn, hi how are you?" came squeezing and wheezing out of Nancy.
"Not as good as you. You look fabulous. Who is he? Who are you dressed for? What's the gossip?"
"Marilyn you're always jumping to conclusions, I'm really not..."
"Okay, no gossip for me. We'll just see what develops then. I'll be watching." With that, Marilyn what-ever-her-divorced-name-is headed back to the bar.
Roger Tango had also made his way into the clubhouse. After being worried that silk suits would be required for entry, he noticed many sport coats like the one in his back seat. There were plenty of Silicon Valley nerds turned nerd managers on the local rubber chicken circuit. Roger could fit right in with them. The big execs and money men played in one section of the room and the struggling startup company managers gathered in the other. Every parade needs an audience.
Nancy saw her chance with Lexicon when someone he was talking to got pulled away by her husband. She decided she couldn't think about what to do or say. It would be too scary. She'd talk herself out of it. She'd just walk straight for him and see if he took the bait.
As an obvious smile took over his face, she knew she was on her way. "Hi, aren't you John Lexicon?"
"Yes, in fact I am. Have we met before?"
"No, but I did attend the keynote presentation you made to the Technology Transfer Forum last November." Nancy had done a little homework.
"Well meeting you is the best thing to come out of that appearance, Miss..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Nancy McGill. I'm the Systems Management Director at MicroLabs."
"I see. MicroLabs is a very prestigious employer. Are you getting what you need there?"
"Not everything that I need. That's why I wanted to talk to you tonight."
"Lexicon Industries does have a very aggressive fringe benefits program for targeted technology managers. Perhaps we should discuss these opportunities."
"Do you have to be an employee to participate?"
From Roger's position he watched in stunned silence as Nancy moved in on John Lexicon and began making the fast paced, bad girl small talk. It was the first time he had noticed Lexicon in the crowd. All of sudden Roger realized he wasn't just out on a Boy Scout recognizance ride for Spike. There was a play in action and he had been mentally sleeping for the last two hours. It was just too relaxing in the private sector he told himself. Too easy to let yourself go offguard.
Roger moved himself to a better position out of the middle of the room. What a fool place to be standing. He got closer to Nancy and Lexicon. He heard Nancy going on about work projects at MicroLabs and noticed Lexicon stealing glances of her shape when she gave him the opportunities. She had him going all right. That's not exactly surprising. What kind of play could she make though? What good was this going to do her?
As Nancy and Roger were jockeying for position at the country club, Spike was beginning his infiltration of Lexicon Industries' systems. He had the basic road map from his brief previous visit. Still no Ranger 6 on-line. He would have to look for clues elsewhere. The database systems, the file servers, the e-mail files and archives, and the dreaded voice mail systems were all targets. The voice mail was going to be a pain for two reasons: First, it was only serially connected to the phone switch so no direct network access would be possible, and; second, it was all sound files that required playback to read. He would not be able to scan for key words like "Ranger" or "drone." It would take a long time to find anything in the voice mail. He'd save it for last and hope he wouldn't need it.
Lexicon's database systems were primarily financial, and administration-oriented. Unlikely as a normal storage location for anything else unless the CEO wanted to hide something. Spike started there. He quickly slid through security layers and began scanning database tables. Using the systems' indexes he made short work of database files and found nothing. On each machine he also had to inspect operating system and user file locations. It was a long shot that didn't pay off, but he couldn't afford to miss anything tonight.
He moved on to the file servers, scanning directory after directory. These systems had a wide range of response times. The new Pentium-based servers with fast SCSI Quantum drives moved through a hundred files in a second while the old 386-based machines struggled to get up to ten percent of that throughput. Spike was moving methodically through the devices finding nothing until he hit a directory called "Ranger" on one system. There he found C++ source code for the probes and the drones. The code listings showed that independent objects of the class libraries had been written by two separate external contractors. Neither one even had to know what the final products would be. Lexicon could be doing this alone, by subcontracting object-oriented development! So if Lexicon could be stopped individually, the whole plan would come apart. They had finally gotten a break.
Spike studied the software while he continued his search for more information. How were the drones controlled? That's all he really needed now, the control program. But there was no sign of it here.
Roger had settled on his plan. He didn't know how Nancy planned to turn this meeting into an advantage, but from his point of view it was just too dangerous. She was an amateur trying to do a professional's job and he just needed to cut it off and get her out of there. As soon as he could get her alone he'd move her out.
Unfortunately, before Roger could activate his retreat plan, he heard the voice of Hank Brooks come from behind him. "Is she one of yours Roger?"
Everyone in the room using the word "she" was talking about Nancy that night so there wasn't much point in pretending he didn't know who Hank meant.
"She looks like my type to me, Hank. Can you introduce me?"
"Let's talk about it outside," Hank suggested.
Roger noticed that both Hank and the man accompanying him seemed to be better prepared with hardware than he was at the moment. Concealed weapons were in shoulder holsters under their jackets. Roger talked calmly as he walked toward the exit and waited for an opportunity to change the odds. That opportunity never came and Roger was soon unconscious in the back of a black Jeep Cherokee with his wrists pulled together behind him by a plastic pull tie.
Hank went back inside. He caught Lexicon's attention and signaled to him without letting Nancy see him. Lexicon excused himself quickly suggesting that Nancy take the opportunity to be seated.
"What's up Hank? Did you get something on the Spike Webb guy?"
"No. I still don't know where he fits in. I'm here because we followed Roger Tango to this dinner. He was standing ten feet away from you until I pulled him out of here a couple minutes ago. I think he was doing back cover on the lady in red that you've been talking to. She's working with Tango and Webb."
"What did you do with Tango?"
"I knocked him over the head and put in the back of Jerry's Jeep."
"All right, I'll play along with her for a few more minutes and see where she's going. You get Tango back to the office and ask him some questions when he wakes up. I want to know about the girl, but mostly I want to know about Webb. Find out whatever he knows about Webb."
"Right, Mr. Lexicon. Are you going to be all right here?"
"I'll take my chances with her. She doesn't know we're on to them yet. I should be safe with her. I didn't see anyplace a gun could be hidden, did you?"
"No, but I'd be glad to make sure for you..."
"Get going Hank. And by the way, good job with Tango."
As Lexicon returned to his conversation with Nancy, it occurred to him that Nancy McGill's need for information gave him quite the advantage. And now that he knew what the game was, his advantage was even greater.
"I apologize for the interruption Nancy, where were we?"
"You were just starting to tell me about your big new project at Lexicon Industries."
"You do seem like the type of girl that might enjoy hearing about this project. Not everybody would appreciate the tactics we're using to make it work."
"Sounds like Evil Empire kind of stuff. I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it."
"Yes, yes, and you know, it's funny in this business. Sometimes I think that security leaks can be good. Today a man I have never heard of called me up wanting to buy my company. His name was Spike Webb. He must have heard about our new project don't you think?"
"Lexicon Industries is an extremely well known company. I'm sure you would be an attractive acquisition for many foreign investors." Nancy was trying too hard to help cover Spike's call. She was taken off guard by hearing Spike's name mentioned in public. She'd been going for months wishing she could talk about him out loud. Now doing so, and with John Lexicon, was just too weird.
Of course, Lexicon noticed that she mentioned the foreign investors without his having told her about them. There was now no doubt that Hank Brooks was right. She was working with Tango and Webb. Too bad, he thought.
"Perhaps you would like to accompany me on a little tour of Lexicon Industries. I can show you our project, first hand."
"Oh, I think I would like that. I love sneaking around in the dark." Nancy found the words easy to say. She knew she had to keep the game going with Lexicon. What was she getting into though? And how was she going to get out of it? As she and Lexicon were getting in his car she found herself wishing she could get a message to Spike.
After passing through the security gate, Lexicon parked his car right in front of the office tower section of the Lexicon Industries buildings. The ride over had been a strange one as Nancy struggled to maintain the image of a gold-digging, thrill seeker while getting more and more nervous about being alone with Lexicon.
Lexicon was maintaining pretenses as well. He quickly hurried around to open Nancy's door for her. His unaware prisoner rotated her legs out of the Mercedes' door and stood up. Lexicon used the opportunity to kiss her deeply. Nancy put her best effort into enjoying it through her fear. How could she get control back?
"Let's get inside shall we," she said.
Lexicon pushed the romantic game again in the elevator on the way to his top floor office suite. He was enjoying Nancy's predicament as much as he was the actual physical aspects of his subject. Nancy was beginning to suspect this but couldn't allow herself to believe it. If it were true she was in deep trouble.
As they arrived in Lexicon's executive office, he continued with the pretense of their visit. He showed Nancy the panoramic view of the Lexicon Industries facility from his window and then powered up his workstation.
"But we did come here to show you the latest Lexicon Industries project effort didn't we?"
Nancy was glad to hear him remembering that. The bad-girl act was getting hard to continue. It was hard to concentrate on prying information out of Lexicon while she was desperately trying to think of an escape plan. At least having him show the project would get some information and buy some time.
"Yeah, I want to see what you've got going. And don't leave out the evil part."
What Nancy could not know was that as Lexicon's workstation came on-line, Spike noticed the node on the network and moved to examine it. Anything was better than the voice mail search. He plugged himself into both the video camera and microphone data streams. To his amazement he saw and heard Nancy McGill in John Lexicon's office. His heart might have skipped a beat if he had one. When he saw that it was Lexicon himself in the office with her, his anxiety went up another three notches. Getting himself under control, Spike waited to see what was going on.
Lexicon had moved to the wall safe hidden behind a painting. He was removing the CD-ROM as he explained: "This single CD-ROM contains the only copy of our project. In fact, it is the only copy that will ever be made."
"Doesn't that make it hard to sell a lot of them?"
"We won't be selling any," he said as he inserted the disk in his computer.
Lexicon's workstation brought up the three dimensional, interface to the drone control program.
"What is it, a game or simulator program?" asked Nancy.
"This is no game, Ms. McGill. This program links me into the locations of dormant network assault drones that I've placed on over 2800 Internet hosts all over the country. This CD is the single location of the unique activation and deactivation codes for each and every drone. It assigns them their missions, roles, and targets."
That's good news thought both Spike and Nancy. It meant that Lexicon's control-oriented personality had left him as the single point of failure for his scheme. No instructions issued, no missions, roles, or targets for the drones.
"Of course," Lexicon continued, "if they don't get a message from me every 48 hours, they wake up on their own and initiate the default mission program."
Oh well, he didn't get this far by being dumb...
As Lexicon continued detailing the fine points of the drones' packet generation capability and the fail-safe mechanisms built into them, Nancy thought she noticed an excessive amount of blinking indicator lights on the CD-ROM drive. She chose not to ask Lexicon why his program was written so poorly that it didn't cache more data. Hitting the slow CD-ROM drive that much was death to any reasonable market product.
"That, more or less, shows you what we're doing. The point is that if government and industry players in the Internet community don't pay, I'm prepared to put them out of service. It's just a sort of high tech, neighborhood protection program."
"You're like the head of a new, electronic Mafia. Organized crime in cyberspace. John Lexicon, the Godfather."
"Exactly. Now let's go over to manufacturing. There's one more thing I want to show you." As they left the office, he ejected the CD and pocketed it. "Can't be too careful with the keys to the kingdom."
"What could be more exciting than your drones, John? You've got the electronic commerce market cornered with that one program."
"You'll see when we get there. Just be patient."
Down the elevator, across the long atrium, and down a much longer hallway, they came to the manufacturing area. Continuing through the maze of assembly lines, they finally entered the department marked Circuit Board Assembly.
Upon entering, Nancy did indeed see something more interesting than the drone control program. It was Roger Tango and Hank Brooks. Roger was strapped across a set of uncut circuit board blanks the size of dry-wall sheets. Nancy could not help but gasp, "Roger!" when she saw him. There was no pretending she didn't know him now.
In front of Roger was the robotic laser cutting head. It was positioned to begin slicing the stack of blanks into the four inch by eight inch pieces that Lexicon Industries used to hold the electronics for their x-terminals. In this case, of course, the set would not be able to pass quality assurance tests due to the fact that they would contain a high percentage of Roger Tango beneath their plastic membranes.
Lexicon took hold of Nancy's arm as he asked, "Hank, what have we learned about Mr. Webb from this young man?"
"He's talking a bunch of gibberish. He says there is no Webb. He says he's going to get us. He says the FBI is onto us. He's getting a little punchy at this point.
"It matters very little really. At this point I don't care who Spike Webb is. I suppose I always knew that they would discover who they we're paying. I suppose I may even prefer that the world know it's me. It does mean abandoning our nice facility here though and for that inconvenience, I shall make the two of you pay! Hank put her on the other blank cutter."
"John! Mr. Lexicon! Don't do that! Please!"
It only took Hank Brooks a minute to lash Nancy onto the second line. Her fear turned to threats and she verbally lashed at both Lexicon and Brooks. "Roger do something!"
"I'm thinking Nancy! I'm thinking!"
"Perhaps I can help," came the strange voice. It was Spike speaking to the group from the cutter robots' control monitor. He was using the image and voice he'd projected for the video link call with Lexicon.
"Well, the allusive Mr. Webb," returned Lexicon. "I certainly don't know how you managed to link into this display station, but I do know it's going to be hard for you to do anything but watch as your friends are cut to small, square pieces."
"Well, I'll at least let you know that the police are on their way. They should be arriving just about now and if you don't want to stand trial for murder you can untie my friends."
"You're bluffing Webb and I'm not going for it. There is however, no reason to stay here for the unpleasantries while time is still on my side. Hank, start the cutters, make sure they're working properly, and then meet me down at the front door. Please enjoy the show Mr. Webb. Perhaps someday you can tell me what it was like to watch the beautiful Ms. McGill sectioned up by our powerful tools.
"I'll kill you Lexicon," screamed Roger as Lexicon strolled out through the door.
"Spike do something! Help us! These things are real!" pleaded Nancy.
"I wasn't bluffing about the police Brooks. They're coming and Lexicon has left you as the fall guy. What a sap you are!" taunted Spike.
"I'm no sap Webb. I'm starting these things up and I'm out of here."
Hank Brooks watched long enough to see that the lasers were powered and cutting the first blocks off the blanks. He then ran after Lexicon out of fear that Spike was right and that he would be left behind.
"Hold on! I have a plan," said Spike.
At that point, Spike dropped the rendering program and moved out of the video sub-system altogether. Nancy and Roger were pulling against their ties as Spike began to assume control of the robotic control programs. Getting the feel of their control ratios and parameters he redirected the laser beams toward a safe section of the blanks. There he quickly practiced some precision maneuvers. His confidence in place, he directed the powerful beams toward the restraints holding Nancy and Roger. It was only at this point that they realized Spike was in control of the machines.
"Thank God it's computer controlled!" said Nancy.
As Lexicon got to the long hallway back to the executive office wing, Brooks caught up to him. "Get back there and make sure the lasers are working!" Lexicon shouted. "I've got to get my things from the office. Meet me at my car. I'll have the corporate jet ready. We'll be out of the country twenty-five minutes from now. Get back there and make sure they're dead or you won't be getting on the jet with me!"
If he couldn't get on that jet, he was going to be caught anyway. Hank headed back to the circuit board cutting room. Lexicon entered the elevator and went up.
Hank Brooks burst into the cutting room and saw the lasers burning through the metal straps that were holding Roger and Nancy. He headed for the control board and began pushing buttons wildly. Some affected the beams and Spike had to correct for them quickly. Spike returned to the monitor while holding control of the lasers. He appeared right in front of Hank's face with no rendered disguise afforded by the demand for processing capacity of the robotic cutters.
"What is this?" exclaimed Hank. "Who are you?"
"Hank, back away from the control board immediately!" said Spike. "You could accidentally hurt someone by touching things you don't understand."
"I'm gonna hurt somebody, all right," he said as he drew his gun from under his jacket and turned to face Roger and Nancy.
"Drop that gun, Hank! You really need to listen to me now!" warned Spike.
"I'm done taking orders from everybody else," he said as he extended his arm and leveled the gun at Nancy.
In a flash of brilliant red laser light, the two cutter heads whirled around and sent their energy streams directly into the gun and Hank Brooks' hand. With a scream of pain, Hank released the gun and clutched his burned hand. As he doubled over holding his arm, Hank stumbled toward the door and pushed his way back into the corridor. He came out of the pain induced shock and Lexicon became his primary concern. Hank headed for the main lobby and away from the lasers. He would have to lie to Lexicon about killing the captives.
At the curb outside the front door, Lexicon was closing the backdoor of his car after having hurried his laptop and briefcase into the rear seat. Jumping behind the wheel, he checked for the CD in his left side jacket pocket and his cellular phone in the right. Both were in place so he started the Mercedes engine. At that moment the injured Hank Brooks came plundering out of the office building's main door. He ran toward Lexicon's car heading for the passenger side. Lexicon did not wait to hear Hank's lies about Nancy and Roger. He raced the engine and dropped the transmission into gear as Hank crossed in front of the vehicle. Lurching forward instantly, the car knocked Hank to the ground and continued over him. "No loose ends," muttered Lexicon as he gained speed and headed for the guard gate.
Lexicon immediately phoned the airport hanger and had the jet readied for immediate departure. He named Honolulu as the destination in order to maximize the fuel load and get a flight pattern out of US airspace as quickly as possible.
Spike had immediately returned his focus and that of the laser beams to the metal straps on Roger and Nancy. In another few seconds, both were free.
"Roger! Lexicon's got that CD. We need it to stop the drones!" said Nancy.
Roger ran after Lexicon and Spike said, "Nancy, follow behind Roger and take him up to Lexicon's office. I'll meet you there. And by the way, don't worry about that CD too much."
"Okay Spike. See you there."
As Roger ran out through the door he saw Lexicon's tail lights disappearing into traffic. He then noticed the crumpled Hank Brooks lying on the asphalt. Running to him he soon realized that nothing could be done for his one time friend. Nancy came out and saw Roger standing over the body. "Spike wants to talk up in Lexicon's office. Are you all right? Can you make it?"
"Yeah, I'll make it."
As they entered the executive office, Roger explained to Spike, "Hank's dead. Looks like Lexicon ran him over in the front drive."
"I was hoping he wouldn't make it out there before Lexicon got away," said Spike. "Unfortunately we still have work to do. I have to stop the drones, but at least I know how to do it. I copied the CD while Lexicon was demo'ing it to you Nancy."
"Is that why it was reading constantly?"
"Yeah, I had to hope he wouldn't notice the hardware indicator lights. I've only looked at the control program for a couple minutes but I think taking the drones out should be pretty easy. The biggest problem is there are so many of them out there. Also, I've got to assume that Lexicon is going to advance the schedule and reload for a pay-off later. There's no time to spare in cutting them off. Nancy you need to call Tom Barnett and have him send the FBI down here. Make sure it's the FBI not the local police department. We need to explain this to someone who knows what's been going on with the net. Roger, you figure out a good story. One that explains this without me being part of it. Go over it together before they get here. Stick as close to the truth as possible. And Nancy, remind Tom to leave me out for now. We'll have to explain this to him later but we don't have time tonight for that."
"Okay Spike. We'll take care of that. You're going after the drones?" asked Nancy.
"Yeah, and to see if I can find Lexicon. You'll be spending most of the night with the Feds so we won't talk again until tomorrow. If everything goes all right and you don't both end up in jail, let's meet at Nancy's office around two tomorrow afternoon."
"Two it is. Now get going before the drones break loose," said Roger.
Spike ducked into home base at MicroLabs. There he set up his system to take out the drones. He issued the deactivate command to the first ten drones on the list. All ten shut down and deleted themselves immediately. Obedient little army John Lexicon had created. The next ten did the same. But in the third set, one of the drones activated when it received the deactivate command. Before Spike knew what was happening, the drone was firing a constant packet stream at the University of Texas' primary domain server in Austin. The drone was firing from a nearby research park location operating a Sequent SE60. The drone had activated everything the Sequent could give it from 12 SMP processors and jammed the total bandwidth of the two T3 circuits attaching it to the Internet.
Spike put himself into the stream of traffic inbound to the Sequent site. He squirmed through the security layer once he finally made it through the jammed channels. The UT node was taking a total beating. Pass through traffic was mostly moving around the node but nothing that had to get to UT was making it. Spike got to the administrative control layer of the OS's kernel and killed the drone process. The Sequent immediately quieted down to normal and UT began catching up its message load.
So Lexicon had included booby traps in the drone control program. Spike estimated that he had an hour from the time Lexicon fled the manufacturing facility before drones would start getting activation commands from Lexicon. It had taken ten minutes to get Roger and Nancy on their way and another five to get set-up back at MicroLabs. Now thirty drones had been taken out, but with the Texas delay, Spike had only thirty-five minutes to deactivate all the rest. He invested some more study in the control program and its data structures. Noticing an anomaly in the description for the booby-trapped site in Austin, he picked out another of the same from the list and sent it the activate command and password. As expected, the activate command produced the opposite effect and the drone deactivated.
Spike pulled all the entries with the same description anomaly and sent out a series of activate commands to each drone site on the list. One by one the entire set shut down. He then returned to the main list of drone sites and issued deactivate commands in blocks of twenty separated by two seconds in case any more surprises popped up. Fortunately none did and Spike had taken out all 2800 drones in a total elapsed time of forty-five minutes.
Learjet pilot powered up and was beginning to taxi toward take-off position. Lexicon had barked out his orders at the crew and the pilots. He told them there would be flight plan changes later but for now, he wanted to be on the way to Hawaii as soon as possible. He made himself a drink from the plane's liquor cabinet and sat back to relax a little and cool-off from all the running around.
He had to think. He had to punish them for trying to stop him. As the Lear left the ground, he decided to activate a few drones, ten or twenty and let them see the results of their foolish efforts. He powered up his portable and inserted the drone control program CD. As it came up he selected a few high profile targets and high powered drone processor sites. He linked in his laptop to the Internet with a cellular phone call and modem. Lexicon then hit the send button to launch his miniature attack. His feedback monitor sensed no drone activations. He started to get worried and began frantically trying to locate and activate any drone.
Lexicon had reached a state of complete frustration when Spike Webb appeared in the middle of his laptop's screen. Spike piped a projected still image of himself and his voice to Lexicon's Internet address. He had seen Lexicon's activate messages looking for drone's that would comply and tracked them back to his address.
"Mr. Lexicon, this is Spike Webb. I've abandoned the artificial image that I projected to you previously. I'm quite pleased to tell you that I have eliminated all of your drones. There is no longer anything you can do to hurt the Internet."
"It's not possible that you could have already eliminated the drones."
"You can try as long as you like to activate them, but I assure you, they have been eliminated. Now it is time for you to turn yourself over to the authorities. You will have to pay for your crimes."
"I will not be turning myself in. At this moment I am in transit to a secondary location which I prepared for myself in case of a situation like this."
"You've lost your company and everything you've worked a lifetime to build, Lexicon. Don't give up your integrity. Turn yourself in and face the consequences of your actions."
"Don't try to appeal to some kind of morality in me Webb, it won't work. What I have left is enough to rebuild everything I ever had and more. I'll be back Webb and I'll be looking for you when I do return. You can bank on that."
"Don't threaten me Lexicon. You never know, I may decide to come find you first."
With that said, Spike issued a remote command to Lexicon's laptop operating system which powered it down. Lexicon smiled at the blank display and closed the case thinking about how exciting it was going to be to have a worthy opponent. Especially one with a bit of a temper.
Lexicon cleared his cellular phone line and dialed another number. He coded in his PIN and issued keypad instructions to transfer his assets to a Swiss bank account. Thirty minutes later he transferred the four hundred million dollars again and closed the Swiss account. "I love this high tech consumer service stuff. Physical location is totally meaningless. Round one, however, does go to Mr. Webb. I salute you, Spike Webb, whoever you are."
Nancy and Roger had indeed spent most of the night at Lexicon Industries with Fred Lindquest and three other FBI agents. According to their official story, things got crazy when Lexicon learned that Hank Brooks had bragged about the Internet operation to his old friend Roger. From there it was a struggle for their lives. Brooks lost while Lexicon made good his escape.
The FBI had searched for Lexicon and discovered his late night departure from the San Jose airport. They waited for his arrival in Honolulu but, of course, he was a no show.
When Spike, Nancy and Roger reconvened at MicroLabs the next day Spike said, "Nancy you should never have taken the risk you did last night."
"Now wait a minute, it was Roger that was followed and gave me away by leading them to the country club. If we were working together, it never would have gone down like it did. You two shouldn't have excluded me from the operation."
"Well, luckily everything turned out okay," said Roger. "But next time, let's just talk to each other a little more."
"Next time? I don't think we need to worry about this happening again," said Spike.
"You never know," added Nancy. "There's a lot happening on the net and it won't all be legal. We have a pretty special little team here if trouble does come up again."
"By the way," said Roger, "who should I send my invoice to?"
"We better go up and talk to Tom Barnett. We've got a long story to tell him. Too bad he won't be able to print most of it. I think he'll understand when he hears about you Spike."
"I do too Nancy. But I think I'll just wait here if you two don't mind. I've got some maintenance to catch up on. Tell Tom we'll arrange a meeting later."
Tom's exclusive on the inside of the "Lexicon Embezzlement Scandal" was more than enough news for his money. And this insane story Nancy and Roger had about Spike Webb could lead to something even bigger later. Tom had to hurry to get the Lexicon expose ready before the Sunday edition deadline anyway. He was happy with what he had gotten.
John Lexicon's sudden flight was the topic of all the Silicon Valley gossip for a couple of weeks. When the Chronicle's story made it known that Lexicon had been diverting cash from the company to his own accounts and had illegally liquidated his stock holdings over the previous month, his escape looked like your basic embezzlement move. Rumors of some illegal network activity didn't have enough substance to reach critical mass and the public never realized what Lexicon had been doing when he fled.
A few days later Nancy asked Spike, "Do you think they'll ever find John Lexicon?"
"I'm afraid John Lexicon may find us first. I doubt that he's going to live out his years in quiet retirement."
"So what do we do?"
"There's nothing we can do to find him. The FBI will carry out their routine procedures and find nothing. Lexicon is too smart and too well funded for that to work."
"So all we do is wait?"
"No, we prepare while we wait."