V.I.C.T.O.R.2.1

V.I.C.T.O.R

Virtual Intelligence Counteragent Topological Organism version R.

Backstory Part 2.1

“Frank –
Blackout Day 1”

After the flag carriers at the 9th floor had shut everything down in The Puzzle Palace, or Fort Fumble, as Frank liked to call the NSA building, the desk rats, c-refs, day-ladies, cryppies, lingies, middlemen and architects were told to go back to their offices to await further instruction.

It was almost 7 p.m. when a Security Officer with an orange badge, dressed in a black jumpsuit, black baseball cap and an impressive toolbelt, knocked on Frank’s office door and opened it.
“It is time to go!”
“Where are we going?” Frank asked.
“We’re taking you home.”
“I can get home by myself.”
“Director’s orders. All civilian VIPs get security detail.”
He made a mental note to add VIP to his resume.

Frank knew there was no point arguing. These guys were exceptionally good at carrying out orders. They practically lived for it. He grabbed his black badge and jacket on the way out of the office and followed the officer. The hallway was completely empty. He could hear the deafening clicks and clacks of his shoes. Combat boots were soundless. He should get shoes with rubber soles, he thought.

“Where is everybody?” Frank asked.
“Home!”
“What about SIGINT and NSOC?”
“Lockdown!”
“Any news about what happened?”
“No!”

Speaking in one word sentences sent a loud an clear message to Frank. His mind automatically started to think about improper things he could ask the officer to try to get him off balance but he bit his tongue. They stepped into the elevator, looked at the shiny metal wall, the buttons blinking, waiting for the “ding” and the doors opening to the gray granite tiled first floor with the big emblem.

“Follow me, Sir,” the officer said and turned towards the North exit. Frank’s car was parked in front of the enormous, glass-tiled building’s West Lot, or the gravel pit, as it was called. It had been paved in 1989 and was reserved for civilians, Frank remembered from the first briefing.

He knew better than to ask any questions and followed the officer who walked briskly exactly three paces ahead and to the left of Frank.

Another officer, who looked like the first one, stood by the exit. Frank gave him a short nod and he got a shorter one back. Then the the officer clone started following him three paces back to the right. A black armored Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows stood at the end of the concrete covered walkway. The first officer opened the passenger door and Frank stepped in. The rear officer got into the driver’s seat. The other officer closed the door gently and jogged around to the other side to ride shotgun. Frank thought they had probably practiced that dance hundreds of times to make it look so cool.

Frank leaned forward toward the square opening in the thick security glass between him and the front, “Do you have a shotgun?” There was no reply. The g-force from a car that naturally should not be able to accelerate that fast slammed him into the back seat. Ok, he thought, no more questions.

They drove at breakneck speed out the gate and onto Patuxent Freeway and then North on Baltimore-Washington Parkway MD-295. There was heavy traffic. Officer 1 turned on the sirens and jumped the car to the outside of the HOV lane and accelerated. Frank could not help but smile. If he had only been 30-years younger, this would have been the most awesome moment in his life, being driven home by armed officers in an armored car at more than 100 mph.

Frank and Rose had a 6 Bed 4.5 Bath 4,700 Sq. Ft. secluded 2-story yellow brick house 5-miles North of NSA. His commute usually took 15 minutes with normal traffic. This time it would take less. He expected Rose to be home. Today was Wednesday and she worked from home 3-days a week seeing patients. She also had an office at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, where she ran clinical trials. He was eager to see her and hear her story about the day everything went black.

After some impressive high-speed turns, they arrived at 9047 Belclare Court. Despite the tinted windows, he could see light inside the house and let out a breath of relief. Officer 2 opened the door and wished him a good night. Pick-up would be at 0700 the next morning. Frank thanked them for the ride and walked up the paved pathway to the house. Rose opened the door when he was half-way.

“Honey, I am home,” he shouted.
She smiled at him.
“How was your day at the office, honey?” she said with a sugarcoated voice.
“Same old,” he said nonchalantly. “After 2 o’clock today actually nothing happened.”
She took a step out and hugged him.
“I hope you have news about what happened.”
“I do. You will not like it.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yes,” Frank said and hesitated. “I think they only give security detail to scientists if it is the end of the world.”

They went inside. He took off his coat and followed her into the kitchen where she had set up a dozen candles.

“Ah, one last romantic evening before we all die,” Frank said and smiled at Rose.
“Exactly,” Rose answered, “We are going out in style,” and pointed to the counter with a big bowl of chips, a bottle of Opus 1, a dry Sauvignon Blend, and two Spiegelau “Vino Grande” glasses.
Frank walked over to the counter, leaned down and looked at the label.
“1983?”
Rose sat up on the tall chair at the end of the counter and reached for the bottle.
“I have saved it for a very special occasion,” she said and grabbed the bottle opener. Frank pushed the other chair towards he, sat up and slid a glass towards her.
“This certainly qualifies.”
She poured the wine through an aerator and into a pear shaped decanter. She took a chip with two fingers and put it against his lips.
“We have about 10 minutes until the oxygen has triggered oxidation and evaporated the sulfites,” she said and leaned forward. “Tell me what happened.”

Frank told her that he had been in the SIGINT “Information Dominance Center”, a Star Trek bridge looking room, when the live satellite feed of the East China sea had been interrupted with a digital map of the world’s power grid. Phones had started ringing. The Director had stood up and studied the map. An analyst had given him a red phone. After 10 seconds he had nodded, then shouted, “Initiate Blackout Protocol Alpha.” 10-seconds later all the lights and electronics went dead. It took another minute for the diesel generators in the basement to turn on the red emergency lighting. “Everybody to their offices,” the Director had said with a loud voice. “Find your department head. Await instructions.”

Frank had taken the emergency exit down the stairs to his office below. He felt butterflies in his stomach, maybe a little bit of fear but mostly morbid curiosity about what had happened. It must have been one hell of a virus to spread so quickly.

He had seen the normally glowing map of the power grid disappearing at an alarming rate from Japan and China, moving west towards Europe. It was a ballsy move to cut the power to the building, leaving 30,000 employees in the dark.

Down at his floor, Frank met Brandt in the hallway. Brandt was technically his boss. He looked devilishly serious in the red light.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Frank asked.
“We have been attacked by a Chinese virus,” Brandt answered.
“Yeah, I figured. Not enough nukes or EMPs in the world to create that effect. Only a virus could move that fast. I watched it kill the power in Asia, moving fast towards Europe. Then the Director cut the power.”
“He did not cut the power…the virus did.” Brandt said. “We were already infected by the virus. For how long, I have no idea. Maybe years. When it was activated, it shut everything down.” Brant was rubbing his hands together. Frank thought it looked like excitement but it could be nervousness. It was impossible to be sure. He had never seen Brandt anything close to emotional before.
“What do we do now?” Frank asked.
“Let’s find a radio,” Brandt answered.

They went from room to room asking if anyone had a battery operated radio. Nobody had one. One guy said there were massive radios on the 9th floor but that they probably would not let anybody in right now.

“The security guards,” Frank said with excitement. “They are sports fanatics. They have radios.”
They jogged over to the emergency exit and ran down the stairs to the first floor. In the dark lobby, there were a dozen people leaning over the security desk. Frank and Brandt ran over and joined the group.

“This is an Emergency Action Notification requested by the White House. The President of the United States or his representative will shortly deliver a message over the Emergency Alert System.”

The recorded message came from a small radio placed on top of the desk.

Frank whispered, “How long has the message been repeated?”
A guy next leaned towards his ear and said, “This is the first time I hear it.”

Everybody stood completely still, anticipating the President. More people joined the group and there were more whispers floating around. Another long 10 minutes passed. Then a male voice by the emergency exit shouted, “We have radio on the speakers in all meeting-, conference- and operations rooms.”

Everybody turned away from the desk and started moving towards the door. Nobody ran. There was a sense of desperate control. People stepped orderly up the concrete stairs and exited at their floors. Frank and Brandt were almost out of breath when they reached the 8th floor with two other people. They went straight to the main meeting room. When they got close, they could hear the same message being repeated. They found a couple of chairs and sat down.

“You would think they would play some elevator music or maybe Wagner in between the broadcasts.”

Brandt did not reply.

Brandt informed Frank that according to his watch, messages were sent every 15-minutes. They heard the repeat once more before a new message was broadcast.

“This is an Emergency Action Notification. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House to participate in the Emergency Alert System. This is WYPR. We will continue to serve the Baltimore area. Do not use your telephone. The telephone system has been shut down. The Emergency Broadcast Alert System has been activated.”

Another 15-minutes passed. Then a female voice said, “Please stand by for the President of the United State.” There was a brief pause.

“Good evening my fellow citizens,” a strong and confident voice of the President boomed over the speakers. Frank felt chills go down his spine. He knew this would be one of those famous speeches that historians would debate forever.

“This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the conflict between the Chinese and Japanese navies in the East China Sea. At 2:02 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, our satellites detected a major power outage that spread Westward towards Europe. We believe a computer virus was released by the Chinese to destroy the world’s power grid.

Upon receiving the first preliminary hard information of this nature an hour ago, I directed our power stations to shut down.

My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous action. No one can see precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many weeks of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead–weeks in which our patience and our will will be tested–weeks in which many hardships will test our courage.

This Nation will prepared to fight the virus and bring the power grids back. God willing, that goal will be achieved.

Acting, therefore, in the defense of our own security and of the entire Western Hemisphere, and under the authority entrusted to me by the Constitution as endorsed by the resolution of the Congress, I have directed that the following initial steps be taken immediately:

First: To halt this offensive spread of the virus, a strict quarantine on all electronic communication will be enforced. This will include all data networks including satellite, mobile, wireless and any electronic device that can send and receive data such as cell phones, laptops, computers, servers and tablets. The only exception is AM and FM radio and any other frequency lower than 400 MHz.

Second: All power plants will be shut down effective immediately. Government organizations under the leadership of FEMA will deliver water, food, medication, radios, generators and alternative energy sources to every city in the country.

Third: I have ordered all military reserves back on active duty. The National Guard will provide local security and assist with humanitarian work.

Fourth: I have give the nations security agencies the power to use any resources available to stop and kill this virus. If you are called upon, I expect you will do your utmost to help this nation and it’s people.

Firth: My fellow citizens, I urge everyone to stay calm and return to your homes and await further instructions. I have great faith in all of you. May God be with you. Thank you and good night.”

Frank told Rose that he and Brandt had gone down to Brandt’s office and opened a bottle of Scotch. Some dude had brought Brandt a shortwave radio and told him to stand by for further instructions. They had waited for a couple of hours, slowly sipping the scotch, but no instruction had come.

Brandt believed that if this was a virus that had brought the world’s power grid to its knees in minutes, it wound take more than weeks to kill it. All data networks would probably also be infected.

Frank had gone back to his office and looked through some printed emergency manuals but found nothing of interest. Then he had been picked up by security and driven home.

Rose looked at him lost in thought.

“How was your day?” Frank asked.
“Oh, the power and everything went dead just after 2 p.m,” she said. “After that I tried calling. Then I checked with the neighbors. They thought it was local power issue. Then I came back and started making dinner.”
She poured wine in the glass and circled it, put her nose in the glass and then took a sip. She poured him a glass, raised her glass and said, “To learning how to live off-the-grid.”
Frank lifted his glass. “We should have stocked more wine.”
She smiled and they drank the wine in silence. Frank thought that salty chips was an excellent pairing with the wine.

“I have put all of our camping gear in the living room,” Rose said. We have some flashlights and freeze-dried food but not much.”
“I don’t think we will need any of it,” Frank replied. “I am pretty sure Brandt’s team will be pulled in to fix this mess. And there will be certain benefits for us.”
Rose nodded. “We don’t even have water. I am thinking we should drive down to Costco and raid the place.”
“Or we could open another bottle of wine and pretend this is an completely normal evening?”
Rose raised the glass and nodded. They sat chatting about worst case scenarios, zombies and skills they wished they had for a couple of hours before they double checked the doors and windows and went to bed.

The next morning Frank told Rose to sleep in. He gave her a kiss and said he would be home around 8 p.m. She kissed him and wished him good luck.

Outside stood a black Suburban waiting for him.

Posted on July 9, 2014 in Backstory, Novel

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About the Author

Audun (Audi) Taraldsen is a technologist, gadgeteer, sci-fi reader and blog-writer currently living in Arendal, Norway.

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