“Okay.” Kerry had her headset on, and she checked her watch as she glanced over the screen of her laptop to see her mother emerge from her room. “So what’s the status there before we go any further.”
Senator Stuart paused, as she fastened her earring. She was dressed in a well fitted business suit, and an aide was standing quietly by holding her briefcase. “Are you sure we can’t offer you a ride?”
Kerry covered the mic with her hand. “I’m fine. Our office is sending a someone to pick me up.” She said. “I’ll rent a car out there.” She paused. “But thanks.”
Her mother hesitated, then nodded. “Well, take care in that case. Things are very unsettled.” She warned her daughter. “Please let my staff know if there is anything you need.”
“Hold on.” Kerry hit her mute button. “Thanks. I think we have it covered. Take care yourself.” She watched her mother follow the aide out, feeling a sense of relief as the door closed behind them. “Okay.” She went back to the line. “Listen, I’ve got about ten minutes before I go mobile. So give it to me fast.”
“Boy.” The male voice answered her. “That’s going to be tough, Ms. Stuart because it’s more like, what isn’t going on? We’ve got a ton of stuff hitting now because of deliverables that were missed yesterday.”
As she’d expected, the world that had stopped turning the day before had now started up again. “Okay.” Kerry said. “Well, obviously we need to put out the message that we’re in a holding pattern ourselves for a lot of things.”
She sat down and picked up her third cup of coffee, sipping it as she reviewed the laptop screen. On her status map, large chunks of the Northeast were blinking red, and to one side, she now had a list of accounts with stoplights by them most of them also red, though with a few yellows sprinkled in here and there.
“Miami exec, this is Houston ops.”
Kerry checked her watch again. “Go ahead, Houston.”
“Miami, we’ve got a list of demands from the government groups here.” The voice answered. “More circuits, more bandwidth, some extra processors.. and they want it all right now.”
“Miami exec, this is LA Earthstation.” A very tired voice broke in. “We’re getting the same kinds of requests too. I’ve explained transponder space about three hundred times already and it’s only six AM here.”
Kerry thought a minute. “Okay.” She said. “Let’s just start gathering up requirements, and getting a list together of our available resources. We can’t give everyone everything.”
Her cell phone range. “Hang on.” She said, then muted, as she answered the phone. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Ms. Stuart? This is Daniel Green. I work for the NSA.”
Yikes. Lovely. “What can I do for you?” Kerry asked. “It’s a pretty busy morning.”
“I can appreciate that.” The man said. “As I am sure you can appreciate it’s the same for us.” He added. “My department has been trying to secure the cooperation of your facility in Virginia since yesterday, and we’ve had some problems. I was told you could help.”
Kerry paused to draw in a steadying breath. “Okay. Hold on one moment, please. I am in the middle of a conference call. I’ll be right back to you.” She put the call on hold. “Folks, I need to duck out. I have the government on the line here.”
“Great.” The voice from the Earth Station sighed.
“Okay. Listen up.” Kerry stood. “Right now, no one gets anything.” She decided. “Just take detailed notes of what is being asked for, and post that to the desktop workspace. Miami ops, are you on?”
“Right here, boss.” Mark’s voice answered. “We’re rolling up the road past you right now.”
“Can you please get me an updated resource list and post it on the desktop?” Kerry said. “I don’t want to start pulling circuits until I know what the real priorities are.”
“Everyone thinks theirs are., Miami exec.” Houston replied. “You know how it is.”
“I know.” Kerry agreed. “Maybe this guy I’ve got on the phone can get me to someone who can tell me what the real first in lines are.” She said. “Until then, we just listen. Everyone understand?”
“Understood.” Houston said.
“Fine by us.” LA answered. “We don’t have any spare capacity anyway.”
“Okay.” Kerry said. “I’m signing off until I pick up on mobile. Mark, cover me.”
“Covering.” Mark replied. “If you need anything, text me, boss. We can pull over.”
“I’ll be back on shortly. I’m off.” Kerry hung up the connection and started to close down her laptop, while she took her cell phone call off hold. “Mr. Green?”
“I’m here.’ The man answered. “Ms. Stuart, I really don’t have much time to discuss this with you.”
Kerry closed her laptop and maneuvered it into it’s case one handed. “Well, Mr. Green, let me tell you something.” She said. “I have hundreds of customers, including the government, all having all kinds of problems all over the country and halfway across the planet right now.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“So I don’t have much time to talk to you either. I would like to help you. “ Kerry said. “I would like to understand what it is you need from us. I am on my way to our offices in Virginia right now, would you like to meet there?”
She waited for him to answer, draining her coffee and picking up the last bite of the Danish her mother had professed to be horrified by and popping it into her mouth.
“That will be good.” Green finally said. “Two of my men are already there, but they aren’t being allowed inside the building.”
“It’s a secure facility.” Kerry came perilously close to having to speak with her mouth full, swallowing just in time. “So that sounds right.”
Green sighed. “I will meet you there.” He said. “I hope we can come to an understanding, Ms. Stuart, without me having to get my upper eschelons involved. You won’t like dealing with them.”
Kerry licked her lips. “Likewise.” She said. “See you there.” She hung up the phone and clipped it to her belt. She scanned the tray for any remaining edibles, then she lifted her jacket off the back of the chair and slipped into it.
It wasn’t really cold enough to need a jacket, but it gave her a place to clip her identification badge to, and she felt it was just slightly more formal than her jeans and polo shirt were. Technically, since she was making an official visit to the office, she should be wearing a business suit but she hadn’t brought it, leaving the folded suit bag she’d intended on bringing to Europe with her with Angie instead.
So they had to deal with her in casual clothes. Kerry spared a moment to wonder if it would put her at a serious disadvantage, then she shrugged and decided if it did, there were plenty of stores in the capital she could remedy the situation with.
No time to worry about it now, at any rate. She pocketed her room key and shouldered her bag, heading for the door to the room. The conference call would wait until she was in the car, and the few moments silence as she rode the elevator gave her a space of time to think about what Dar was up to.
Besides 35,000 feet, that was. Kerry’s eyes flicked the inside of the elevator, noting the advertisements for the hotel’s spa and making a mental note to investigate it after what she was sure would be a long, painful day.
She hoped Dar was getting some rest on her trip across the Atlantic. At least the private flight would be quiet, and she was sure her partner would be well taken care of by the professional crew. Maybe she’d have picked up some new magazines to read on the way.
Her PDA beeped, and she jumped, grabbing at it and wondering if her clever partner had found some way to send messages from the sky. Opening it, she was profoundly disappointed to find that was not the case, and in fact, the message was doubly unwelcome since it bore the address of the national hurricane center on it. “Oh please.”
WTNT44 KNHC 131458
TROPICAL DEPRESSION EIGHT DISCUSSION NUMBER 4
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042001
0900 AM EDT MON SEP 12 2001
“Just what we need.” Kerry read the rest of the advisory as she exited the elevator and crossed the lobby, keeping an eye on the path with her peripheral vision in an odd, disjointed sort of way common to nerds who had to learn to communicate and walk at the same time.
She studied the coordinates, giving the doorman who opened the door for her an absent greeting as she emerged into the hotel’s front entranceway, her brows creasing as she pictured where the storm was forming. “Shit.”
“Madame?” The doorman looked at her, his head cocked to one side.
“Sorry.” Kerry tucked her PDA away and glanced around, seeing no obviously waiting cars. “Just got some bad news.”
The man nodded, and stepped away.
Kerry rummaged in her briefcase and pulled out her cellphone earbuds. She set the case down and untangled them, trying not to be impatient as the slim cables knotted stubbornly. It required a more intense concentration than she’d anticipated, and so she was surprised when someone cleared their throat unexpectedly close to her.
“Excuse me, Ms. Stuart?”
Kerry looked up, to find a young, slim, dark haired woman standing at the curb. “Hello.” She glanced at the ID clipped to the woman’s crisply pressed shirt. “Nan? I don’t think we’ve ever met.”
“No, we haven’t.” The woman replied, with a smile. “I thought I recognized you but wasn’t sure.”
“Well, you guessed right.” Kerry held a hand out. “You my ride?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The woman smiled, and returned her grip. “Sorry if I startled you. They made me park the car down the slope.”
Kerry got her buds sorted out and shouldered her briefcase. “Lead on.” She followed the woman down ward towards where she could see a one of the standard issue company SUV’s parked. Nan was a technical supervisor at the Herndon center and Kerry had both spoken to and emailed her on countless occasions before.
Laid back and competent. Kerry had formed a favorable opinion of her from their previous interaction and nothing so far had contradicted that. She had a fine boned face and a well shaped profile and a slender build that matched her relatively short stature.
“It’s been frantic crazy.” Nan said, after a brief silence. “I know the PTB’s are really glad you’re here though. We’re running out of excuses and coffee for the government guys.”
“I bet.” Kerry said. “Their boss is meeting me out at the office. I’m sure we’ll get it straightened out.” She opened the passenger side door of the SUV and settled into the seat, putting her case down between her boots.
Leather boots, jeans, leather jacket. There was nothing western about any of them, but Kerry had to smile privately at just how much her taste in clothing had changed and the look of dubious surprise on her mother’s face at that.
She didn’t look bad in it. One glance in a mirror attested to that. Dar had told her, in fact that she actually looked really sexy in the clothes and Kerry was fully willing to bow to her opinion in the matter.
It was, however, probably not what her colleagues here expected.
Nan got in the driver’s seat and started the SUV up. “Seat goes back if you need.” She said. “I adjusted it before I left but you’re taller than I expected you to be.”
Huh? Kerry stopped in mid motion and turned her head, both eyebrows shooting up. “Well, that’s the first time I ever heard THAT comment before.” She blurted. “Excuse me?”
Nan chuckled wanly. “Beg your pardon.” She said. “I know we’ve etalked a lot but the only pictures I’ve seen of you are on the intranet.”
“Ahh.” Kerry started chuckling. “Where I’m always standing next to Dar. Yeah. I’m surprised most people don’t think I’m a circus midget.” She extended her denim covered legs and crossed her ankles. “Let me get back on the conference call. Sounds like things are going to hell this morning.”
She pulled her earbuds from her pocket and put one in her right ear, then dialed the conference line. “How long have the NSA people been there today?’
Nan glanced quickly at her, then back at the road. “Is that who they are?” She asked. “Wow. They wouldn’t tell us. They were there when the admins opened the guest center at seven.”
“Nice.” Kerry exhaled, shaking her head as she typed in the conference code. “Do you know what it is they’re asking for, or are they still being vague?” She heard the call connect, but she left her mic on mute for the time being, electing to listen to Nan instead.
Nan paused at a light, and waited for it to turn. “They were pretty obscure. They have some big black box with them.” She said. “And they told us they wanted to put it in the center, and have our core switch hooked up to it.”
Kerry eyed her. “You have got to be kidding me.” She said. “Do they realize what goes through that center? What do they think they’re looking for? Those are internal government systems.”
“We told them that.” Nan agreed. “They think they can see traffic coming in from the outside to them. They say they’re looking for terrorist hackers.” She continued. “They seem to be convinced that the whole attack thing isn’t over and they’ll be making an attempt at our systems next.”
Kerry folded her arms over her chest, her brows contracting. “What in the hell do they think connecting something to our core switch is going to do to stop that?” She asked, in a puzzled tone.
Nan shrugged. “It’s the government.” She said. “You know how they are. Someone tells them to do something and whether or not it makes sense goes out the window. I talked to their lead tech guy.” She confided. “He told me we just have to do it, or else we’ll get in really big trouble.”
Hm. Kerry pulled out her PDA and glanced at the next to last message, one from Dar.
I’m about to get on this damn plane. I talked to Gerry, and something’s up but not something he wants to talk about over the phone, and not to anyone but me. Sounds screwy. He doesn’t know anything about what’s going on where you are, but says not to say no automatically to anything because everyone’s flying blind and there’s a lot of knee jerking going on.
Nothing goes in our facility. Feel comfortable about saying that to them, because hon, it’s locked under my login and though you know it, you’ve got a perfectly good reason not to. Let them wait for me and Alastair – we’re legally responsible for the contracts anyway.
Love you. Wish I could fly right to DC to be with you. Hang tight.
“Wish you could too.” Kerry muttered under her breath. “We can talk to them, and try to find out specifically what they’re looking for.” She told Nan. “If I can’t convince them they’re barking up the wrong tree, then we just have to tell them to wait until Dar lands.”
Nan nodded. “They said the systems were all locked.” She said. “It’s making the network guys nervous.” She added. “Like I said, they’ll all be glad to see you. No one minds making decisions but man, when you’ve got the dark side of the government camped on the doorstep it’s freak city time.”
“Yeah.” Kerry rested her head against the back of the seat, listening with one ear to the chatter on the call. “Freak city? We’re living on Freak Planet right now.” She shifted and drew one knee up a little, resting her hand on it as she cupped the other over her ear. “That’s for damn sure.”
Nan leaned back in her seat, watching Kerry from the corner of her eye.
“What?” Kerry caught the look.
The dark haired woman appeared to be suppressing a smile. “You’re really not what I expected.” She explained.
“In a good way, or a bad way?” Kerry asked, wryly.
“Oh. Good way.” Nan said. “Definitely.”
Now what, Kerry wondered. Did that actually mean? “Well, glad to hear it.” She clicked her mic on. “Scuse me a minute… Miami ops, this is Miami exec back on. What was that about a power outage?”
Nan drove on in silence, passing quickly through unusually empty streets, for once the lack of traffic causing no one any cheer.
Dar leafed through her magazine, reading the technical articles then amusing herself by viewing the ads that luridly bracketed them.
“Whatcha reading?” Alastair asked.
Dar held up the front page.
Her boss rolled his eyes. “Jesus, lady.” He folded his hands across his stomach. “Don’t you ever go off duty?”
“I like technology.” Dar protested mildly. “Shit, Alastair, what do you think you pay me for? My typing skills?” She had one leg slung over the arm of the chair and now she leaned on her knee a little. “This stuff changes every damn second. You have to keep up.”
Alastair chuckled. “I don’t have to keep up. That’s why I have you.” He put his hands behind his head and stretched. “Wasn’t bad dinner, eh?”’
“Very good, matter of fact.” Dar agreed. “Sure beats chicken Florentine or three cheese pasta, which would have been our choices otherwise.” She put the magazine down and got up to wander to the back of the cabin and stretch her legs.
There was an open space there, enough for her to stand and extend her arms. She did so, and twisted her body back and forth to loosen up the stiff muscles in her back.
“Now what are you doing?” Alastair asked.
“Jumping jacks.” Dar replied. “Wanna join me?”
Her boss leaned on his chair arm and craned around to watch her. “My last jumping jack was in basic training when I was eighteen years old way before you were born.” He informed his CIO. “My idea of strenuous exercise is letting the caddy drive the cart on the golf course.”
“Ugh.” Dar tested the luggage racks strength, then she gripped them and let her body drop back, tensing her shoulders as they took her weight. “I can’t handle golf.” She said. “I don’t have the patience for it. I end up hunting for grasshoppers and losing track of what hole I’m on.”
Alastair snickered. “Y’know, I can picture that.” He said. “You do sports though, don’t you? I thought I remember seeing some pictures of you winning some karate tournament or something and Bea said you were all joining a baseball league down there?”
Dar lowered herself to the ground and decided on a few pushups. “I do sports.” She conceded. “I’ve been doing martial arts since I was a kid.” She settled into a smooth rhythm, glad for the distraction. “Lets me let off some steam.” She paused, her body held up off the floor and peered up at Alastair. “You saw pictures?”
“Sure.” Alastair said. “Kerry’s quite a photographer.” He watched Dar as she merely looked at him, remaining in place. “How long can you stay like that?”
“Long as I have to.” Dar pressed herself up into a handstand and felt her back relax as gravity inverted. “I’d forgotten she put that in the department news blurb.” She crossed her ankles and pondered the matter. “They wanted me to continue on in that circuit but I figured I’d quit while I was ahead and not push my luck.”
“Mm.” Her boss got up and sat on his chair arm to better
watch her, extending his legs across the aisle.
“Yeah, I’d rather you didn’t risk getting kicked in the head.” He said. “You get into enough damned situations as it is.”
Dar bent her elbows, then she pushed off gently from the floor of the aircraft and flipped herself upright, shaking her arms as blood returned from her head to the rest of her where it belonged. “It’s been a little crazy the last year or so.” She conceded. “Maybe I’m just doing more.”
“Maybe you actually got a life.” Alastair’s eyes twinkled. “I used to worry about you sleeping under your desk down in that office.”
Dar snorted softly. “I’ve got a perfectly good couch in there. What kind of a nitwit do you think I am?” But she smiled to take the sting from the words. “But yeah, maybe.” She sat down on the arm of the chair across from Alastair. “Feels like it’s been busier.”
“Been good for you.” Her boss concluded. “Hasn’t it?”
“Hell yeah. Wouldn’t have traded a minute of it.” She stuck her hands in the pockets of her cargo pants. “But I don’t think what we’re going through now counts.”
Alastair’s face grew serious. “No.” He said. “I’m sure this is going to have a lot of consequences.” He folded his arms over his chest. “You can bet on a military response. I sent a note to Ham to review our contracts with the service branches to see what we’re obligated for.”
Dar nodded. “I thought of that.” She said. “I’m having Mark spool up the new tech groups to start reviewing everything they can get their hands on.” She said. “I don’t know what they’ll ask for. I have a feeling Gerry’s need to talk to me is something along those lines.”
“I figured the same.”
Dar exhaled and looked around the plane, then back at Alastair. “Are we there yet?”
Her boss chuckled wryly.
They turned as the forward door opened, and the steward appeared. “The captain wanted me to tell you he’s submitted the new flight plan, but he’s been told it needs to be cleared by the US Government, even though we’re not going to encroach on US airspace.”
“It’s very tense.” The steward explained. “We had to forward a manifest to them. I hope neither of you has any outstanding issues in the States, because that could be a problem.”
Alastair and Dar glanced at each other. “Well. “ Alastair said. “We both have dozens of outstanding issues but they’re not personal ones. I believe they’ll be glad enough to let us by.” He thought a moment. “Maybe we can ask them for permission to land, while we’re at it.”
“I don’t know about that sir.” The steward looked mildly alarmed. “The people I heard the captain talking to really didn’t sound very friendly.” He said. “We really don’t’ want trouble. We didn’t contract for that.’
Alastair held a hand up. “Hold on there, son. We’re not looking for trouble either. We work for a company with a lot of government contracts, and it’s possible they’d make an exception because there’s issues they’re looking to us to solve. Chances are when they put our names into their system...”
“Which I wrote.” Dar commented, in a mild tone, peering back at her boss when he looked at her in surprise. “That was before I got a life.” She clarified, her eyes glinting with amusement. “I had more time back then.”
Alastair scratched the back of his neck, and shook his head. “Anyway, when they call us up, they might say something about it.”
The steward didn’t look reassured. “Well, I’ll let the captain handle all that.” He said. “Is there anything I can get you in the meantime?”
“Got any ice cream?” Dar inquired.
“Ah, yes. I think we do.” The steward nodded. “Sir?” He turned to Alastair. “Would you like some as well??”
Alastair reseated himself. “Not for me, thanks.” He lifted a hand. “I”ll take a glass of cognac though.”
“Very good, sir, I’ll be right back.” The steward disappeared again behind the service door, leaving them in solitude.
Dar fell backwards into her seat, sprawling sideways across the chair with her legs over one arm and her head resting on the other. She studied the ceiling of the airplane and wished the time would just go damned faster. “Hope they don’t’ give them trouble.”
“Got a lot of scared folks down there.” Alastair said. “Did you really write that system?”
“Uh huh.” His CIO said. “It’s just a flexible relational database with a custom index. Not that big a deal.” She said. “The biggest pain in the ass was writing the API they wanted so they could connect it up to other government systems and exchange data.”
“Mm. What other systems did they hook up to?”
“None.” Dar crossed her ankles. “That’s why it was a pain in the ass. I wrote it so it was a standard data exchange interface, and every other god damned system in the government was a, different, and b, proprietary so no one could talk to them anyway.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake.” Her boss said. “So what do they do?”
“Export to a flat file and reimport.” Dar folded her hands across her stomach. “Know how long that takes?”
“Especially in a situation like this? Too long.” Alastair shook his head. “We should do something about that.” He took out his PDA. “I’ll have Ivan work up a white paper to pass around after this is settled down a little.”
Dar considered that, as she waited for the steward to return with her much needed dessert. “Wonder what’s going on in Herndon?” She asked. “Hope they’re not giving Kerry too hard a time. “
Alastair gave her a wry look, which she missed. “I’m sure she can handle it.”
“I’m sure she can too. It’s just that people try to take advantage of her because she’s not a big mean looking macho dude.” Dar said. “Then she has to kick them in the ass a few times before she gets their respect and frankly, that sucks.”
The steward slipped back in, with a tray. “The captain will be coming back to speak with you both in a few minutes. We’ve got some further questions from the US government.” He moved forward, pausing as Dar shifted her position to a more normal one and swung her tray out in place. “Right now, they aren’t clearing us to fly south of Florida.”
“I thought they only control their local airspace?” Dar asked. “How in the hell can they stop someone from flying to Central America?”
The steward put a bowl down on her tray. “Ma’am, I don’t’ know. You can ask the captain.” He turned and put Alastair’s snifter down, filled halfway with a clear golden liquid. “Right now, we’re considering just withdrawing the request and continuing on our original flight plan, which was approved. It will be a rough ride, but at least we’ll get there.”
Alastair sighed, and picked up the glass. “Well.” He swirled it. “Sorry if it caused a hassle. If that’s what we need to do, then we do. Got any seasick pills? I don’t tolerate turbulence well and I’d hate to hand you back your nice dinner.”
“We can provide some, of course.” The steward looked relieved. “Ma’am, I can get you some as well.”
Dar waved her hand in negation at him, busy with her mouthful of ice cream.
“Captain Roberts sails the bounding main on a regular basis.” Alastair chuckled. “I don’t think she needs any help.”
The door opened again and the captain stuck his head in. “Folks, we’ve got trouble.” He said, his face serious. “I’m being instructed to land in Nassau. The US military are grounding us for inspection.”
Dar licked off her spoon. “What?”
“That’s crazy.” Alastair put his glass down and got up. “C’mon, son. Let me go talk to these people.” He headed for the door to the service area. “I’ll throw some names around. We’ll get it sorted out.”
“Sir I.. “ The pilot had to either back out of the way, or get hit by Alastair’s forward motion, and he chose the better part of valor and moved. “We can see if they’ll talk to you, but they were pretty explicit.”
“I’ll be explicit, too.” Alastair shooed him towards the cockpit. He glanced back at Dar. “Now let me see if I can go earn my paycheck.”
Dar shook her head. “Crazy.”
“I hope the gentleman knows what he’s doing.” The steward said, unhappily. “I heard those people on the other end, and I don’t think they’re going to appreciate someone questioning them.” He looked at Dar. “This is very intimidating.”
Dar found herself caught in the dilemma of both being concerned about the situation, and guiltily happy about the possibility of being on the ground with the ability to get ahold of Kerry. “I’m sure it’ll work out.” She told the man. “It’s probably just a misunderstanding.”
“I sure hope so.” The steward muttered. “I knew I should have called in sick today.”
Kerry was glad enough to bypass the stately main entrance to their Herndon office and use the staff door instead. There were two big, black, ominous looking SUV”s parked near the front and she wanted a few minutes to get herself settled before she had to interact with the people who’d come in them.
“This way.” Nan led her through the door, pausing to scan her badge, then her handprint at the glass double door inside. “Wait for me to go through, then scan. It should validate you.” She waited, nodding her head a little bit as the system pondered for a while then clicked and turned green. “Eventually.”
“Guess we’ll find out.” Kerry waited for the door to close behind her guide before she removed her badge from her lapel and held it against the sensor, then presented her palm on the glass plate when it glowed.
It turned green instantly and the door opened. Kerry’s brow twitched a little, but she pushed the door open and let it close, then opened the inner door which clicked when the outer locked. She rejoined Nan and glanced around, finding the sedate gray and maroon interior weirdly familiar. “I see we had the same interior decorators.”
Nan chuckled. “You mean, here and Miami?” She asked. “Is it the same?”
“Pretty much.” Kerry followed her down a long hallway inset with cherrywood doors. It was thickly carpeted, and quiet, despite all the unsettled chaos. “I’ll need a workspace.” She said. “But I’d like to stop in at Operations first.”
“Right.” Nan nodded. “Bob Willingsly is getting an office set up for you. He said it would be about five more minutes.” She indicated a large security door just ahead in the corridor. “That’s ops.” She stood back to let Kerry pass her. “I’m not credentialed for that.”
Kerry gave her a brief smile. “Well, thanks. I appreciate the ride, and the tour.” She said. “I’ll be back shortly, I just want to check things out.” She went over to the door and pressed her badge against the sensor, then offered her palm to the reader. The door clicked without hesitation, and she pushed it open.
“Hey, Ms. Stuart?” Nan called after her. “You do something special to your badge to get it to clear that fast? We’d love to copy whatever it is. Takes ours forever.”
Kerry glanced back. “I know the designer.” She admitted. “I’ll see what I can do.” She entered the ops center and let the door closed behind her, turning to face the operations staff who were standing as they spotted her. “Morning guys.”
The operations center, like the one in Miami, was a half circle of admin stations behind a heavy desk spaced with chairs on the inside curve. Unlike the one she was familiar with though, behind the console there was a big, intimidating plate glass double wall separating the operators from the data center equipment they managed.
“Ms. Stuart!” A man hurried forward, extending his hand. “Dave Draper. We’ve talked many times.”
“We have.” Kerry smiled at him. “It’s good to meet you, Dave, but I wish it wasn’t for this reason.” She said. “I hear we have visitors already.”
“Sure do.” Dave said. He was a man in his mid fourties, with thinning dark hair and a square jaw. “We’re real glad you’re here. Those folks are getting pretty mean.” He told her. “My boss, Ken, is with them but I know he’ll be glad to see you too.”
“I bet.” Kerry put her briefcase down on a nearby chair. “Okay, before I go mess with them, give me the five cent and bring me up to speed on what the status is.”
“Sure.” Dave turned and faced the room. The console operators were all busy at their desks, but each had turned their chair just a bit so they could watch what was going on.
Kerry could see the global meetingplace screen on their monitors, split with various console ops applications that monitored the traffic and data that ran through the center.
“Y’know we’ve got a mix here.” Dave said, pointing to the secured space. “One side’s the government racks, they’re green, and the other side’s the commercial ones, their that flat gray color. We keep the cabling and everything color marked so no one gets confused and connects the wrong thing to the wrong infrastructure.”
Kerry nodded. “Looks very good.” She complimented him. “Dar would approve.”
Dave managed a grin at that. “Anyway.” He said. “The only thing they share is the net dmarc. Ms. Roberts put in a parallel infrastructure, but they all terminate to the same blocks in the back. That’s where this guy wanted to put his thing.”
Kerry folded her arms. “What did he want to connect it to?”
“That’s just it.” Dave said. “He wanted us to let his guys in there, and let them connect it to whatever they wanted to.”
“Oh hell no.” Kerry said. “What are they, nuts?”
“I heard them, ma’am.” The nearest of the console ops had turned around. “They said they were trying to find the terrorists, and we had to let them.”
“That’s right.” Dave said. “So we have console ops here, split into two sides. The left side is government, the right side is commercial, and John here was the man on ops when it all came down yesterday on the government side.”
Kerry remembered the voice. “Hello, John.” She extended her hand to the tech. “Thanks for the great job.”
The lanky blond man blinked, and accepted her grip. His eyes had shadows under them, and he looked tired. “Thank you ma’am. I hope I never, ever have to do that again.”
“Me too.” Kerry agreed. She looked up at all the operators, who were now openly watching her. “Everyone did a good job. Everyone’s doing a great job today, and we’re just beginning. I think everyone here knows that the hard part’s just starting.”
The men all nodded.
“Show me the big board.” Kerry turned to Dave. “I want to see what we’re up against in bringing services back before I talk to those folks in the guest center.”
“Sure.” Dave walked over to the other side of the ops console and turned, pointing at the large screen display with the tracework of connectivity for the resources the office was responsible for.
Kerry exhaled, seeing the big red circle around the Pentagon, and the scattering of outages around that area due to the loss of infrastructure. “Boy, that’s a lot of damage.”
“Problem was, we were using one drop room.” Dave said. “Cause the other one was in the section that got taken out.” He sighed. “So you’d figure we’d be fine, but the other droproom was at the inner edge of the area and it got trashed and the one under construction is.. well..”
“Still under construction.” Kerry finished for him.
“Okay.” Kerry knew there wasn’t much she could do from the office. “I’m going to need a ride out there after I finish with these guys. I have resources coming up, but I want to see the lay of the land firsthand.”
“Nan’ll take you.” Dave said. “She’s all yours whatever you need.”
Kerry retrieved her briefcase. “Then let’s get this over with.” She motioned for him to precede her. “Lead on. I could guess where the guest conference room is based on the floor plan but you probably don’t’ want me wandering around knocking on doors.”
Dave managed a smile at that, and led the way out the door. He opened the door with his badge. “You’ll have to clear through after me. We have a scan in scan out policy.”
“Sure.” Kerry waited for him to pass through, then followed. She took the few minutes the walk through the halls afforded her to concentrate on relaxing as much as she could, and preparing herself mentally for what she suspected was not going to a pleasant confrontation.
She didn’t really mind confrontation any more. She hadn’t liked it much when she’d first started with ILS, but over the months she’d gradually gotten herself used to the stress of it, getting her mind around the fact that it wasn’t so very different than her debating challenges had been way back when.
“Hope they’re not too pissed.” Dave said. “I’d hate to have them just go off at you, ma’am.”
“I’m used to it.” Kerry said. “I’ve done a lot of new client consolidations and contract challenges.” She assured him. “And my very first confrontation with ILS was with Dar Roberts. It kind of goes downhill from there, you know what I mean?”
Dave produced a surprised little laugh. “Ms. Roberts sure is something.”
“She sure is.” Kerry readily agreed.
They passed through a larger hallway, and came around corner where a security door blocked the way. “Guest sections past there.” Dave said. “You want me to go with you?”
Kerry was pretty good at reading body language, but in this case she had no need do. Dave’s voice told her everything she needed to know. “Nah.” She patted him on the shoulder. “Hang in there, Dave. Just try to keep what we have working, running as smoothly as possible, and call me if anything starts going to hell, okay?”
“You got it.” Dave said, watching as she held her badge to the door. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” Kerry went through the door, finding herself now in the two level, stately lobby that featured a big reception desk on one side, and a glassed in conference space on the other. She could see several people inside the conference hall, and she paused to settle her nerves before she headed for them.
“Oh, Ms. Stuart?” The receptionist spotted her. “Sorry, didn’t realize you were here. The gentlemen were asking for you.”
“I bet.” Kerry gave her a wry smile.
“Would you like some coffee brought in? We’ve been holding off.” The woman said, her nose wrinkling. “They weren’t really very nice.”
“Go ahead.” Kerry patted the desk. “Let me go see what I can do with them.” She shouldered her briefcase and approached the entrance to the conference center, pausing at the door way just long enough to interrupt the heated conversation inside before she entered. “Good morning.”
The men had been caught by surprise. They turned and watched her as she made her way around the table to the head of it, setting down her brief case and leaning her fingertips on the polished wood surface. “Okay. Let’s start with who you gentlemen are, what department of the government you work for, and who your bosses are.”
The men glanced at each other in some slight puzzlement.
“I’ll start. My name’s Kerrison Stuart. I’m the Vice President of operations for ILS.” Kerry said. “I think you can appreciate that I have a slate of issues to deal with taller than I am so if we can discuss what your issue is quickly and efficiently, I’d really appreciate it.”
Now they all looked at one of the men, an older gentleman of middling height, with copper curly hair. They all had dark suits on, and Bluetooth earpieces and Kerry suspected their jacket pockets held identical pairs of dark sunglasses they had no use for at the moment.
“Okay.” The ginger haired man said. “I’m Dan Cutter. I’m the agent in charge for this area for the Secret Service.”
“Okay.” Kerry said. “So, I guess you’re’ different people who want something from us than the gentleman from the NSA who’s on his way here.”
“NSA?” One of the other men said. “What do they want?”
“The NSA’s on the way here? Who” Cutter asked. “This is not their jurisdiction.”
Oh Jesus. “Please sit down.” Kerry did so, folding her hands on the table. “Suppose you tell me what you need, before they get here and confuse things.”
Cutter did. “Listen, Ms. Stuart. No offense, but your people here don’t seem to know there’s a crisis going on.”
“They know.” Kerry said. “Every single person in this corporation knows.”
“Well, then they don’t seem to want to cooperate.” Cutter said. “We have a surveillance appliance we need to install here, and they won’t let us.”
“I won’t let you.” Kerry corrected him. “The people here don’t have the authority to either grant or deny that request.”
“What?” Cutter stood up. “Listen, lady, who in the hell do you think you are?” I’m a Treasury officer! You’ve been blocking my men since yesterday and I’m not going to put up with it a minute more!”
Kerry remained seated. “I am the vice president of operations for this company.” She repeated. “I am under no legal obligation to allow you to enter this facility, in fact, I have a mandate to not allow anyone unauthorized from entering it – and please don’t try to browbeat me.” She merely gazed up at him. “Why don’t you start by explaining to me what exactly you need to do, and what information you’re looking for?”
“I don’t have to do that.”
Kerry shrugged. “I don’t have to continue speaking to you. This facility is secured. There are high level government accounting systems that process through it. If you seriously think I am going to let some people from some agency with some unknown device come in and connect to that frankly sir, you are nuts.”
“I can arrest you.” Cutter said. “For obstruction.”
“You can.” Kerry agreed. “But that’s not going to get you your information. These people here not only will not help you, they can not. Our systems are in security lock down mode.”
Cutter stared at her.
Kerry gazed back at him. “Would you like to tell me what you gentlemen are looking for? Before you go off arresting me and causing yourself a lot of trouble it would help to know if what you need is even in here.”
“Cutter, sit.” The man seated at the far end of the table spoke up. He was tall, and dark, and had a Latin accent. “Ms. Stuart, my name is Lopez.” He stood up and came around the table. “I know you have your responsibilities to take care of, but so do we.”
Kerry decided this apparent bait and switch was legitimate, and that this was the actual boss of the group. She and Dar played that game sometimes, with new companies. “Mr. Lopez.” She tapped her thumbs together. “No, I don’t think you really do understand what kind of responsibilities I have here.” She stood and opened the whiteboard at the back of the room.
Lopez stopped and waited.
She turned and faced them. “I have a quarter of a million employees.” She said. “I have two doze n of them missing in New York, and a dozen missing in Washington.” She turned and scribbled on the board. “I have most of the infrastructure for communications down in Manhattan. I have an entire secure multipoint structure to restore in the Pentagon. “ She scribbled again. “I have overseas links down, a major satellite uplink used by the Navy down, bandwidth shifted in gigabits to cover planes in Newfoundland and Vancouver, satellite endpoints to establish, cellular backhaul to rebuild, and last by not least, several hundred major finanacial and banking customers who are depending on us to put them back in operations and prevent a major financial crisis.”
She turned and faced him. “Now explain to me again why I am in this room, listening to you bitch at me for something you won’t explain instead of letting me go and do my job bringing this country back from crisis?”
Lopez blinked at her.
“As my late father would have said, put it on the table, or take a hike.” Kerry found the irony almost painful, but the quote fit. “I don’t have time to play games with you.” She could feel an exquisite tension in her guts, and knew she was playing with fire. She could see in Lopez’s face that he wasn’t a goon, and he could, in fact, drag her ass off to jail and might very well do so.
“This is a matter of national security.” Lopez said.
“I have a top secret clearance.” Kerry shot right back. “Next excuse?”
Lopez sat down in the chair next to hers. “Okay.”
Kerry sat down, and folded her hands.
“Close the door.” Lopez looked at Cutter. “Is this room secure?”
“It is.” Kerry said. “We had them sweep for security yesterday after you first got here.” She paused. “Though, I would still love to know where the NSA fits in.”
Lopez frowned. “First things first. “He waited for the door to be shut, and glanced up as the air compressed a little around them. “Soundproofed?”
“Yes.” Kerry said, quietly.
“Okay.” Lopez looked a little more relaxed. “I’m sorry.” He said. “I didn’t realize the extent of your company’s involvement in all this. I was told you were simply a service provider.”
Kerry nodded. “Then I understand your approach” She said. “Please go on.”
“This device.” Lopez said. “We suspect that the people who planned and executed the atrocities yesterday are still here, still planning, still executing more horrible things. We have to find them. Do you understand how critical that is? We have very little time.”
Kerry nodded again. “Okay, what exactly is this device looking for?” She held a hand up when he started to protest. “I don’t want to know specifics. I need to know what type of datastream you’re hoping to intercept. Are you thinking these people will be trying to attack the government financial systems?”
“They could be.” Lopez nodded. “This device analyzes conversations and determines if they are of interest to us.”
“Conversations from where? Inside the government?”
“No. From the public.”
Kerry sighed. “Then you’re in the wrong place.” She said. “There’s no public access here.”
Lopez frowned. “There isn’t?”
“No.” Kerry said. “These are all closed systems. Isolated.”
Lopez turned to Cutter. “Didn’t you say they had internet access from here?”
“That’s what I was told.” Cutter said. “The guys in accounting said they had internet.” He looked accusingly at Kerry. “ You saying they’re lying?”
“No.” Kerry said. “They get internet via our secure gateway.” She said. “But that’s not here. They go out to the internet via three different nodes, in New York, Chicago, and Dallas.” She got up and drew a rough circle, with three points on it. Then put an X near one edge. “The request goes through two NATS and three different gateways. There’s no outside access.”
“Shit.” Cutter muttered.
Kerry could see the consternation around the table. She almost felt sorry for the men. “If it’s any consolation, the systems here are protected. I wont’ quote my boss and say they’re un-crackable because it gets us into trouble but they are secure. Feel free to run tests against them.”
“Shit.” Cutter repeated. “We wasted a whole fucking day.”
Lopez rubbed his temples. “Ms. Stuart, are you telling us the truth?” He looked up into Kerry’s eyes. “Peoples lives can depend on your answer. We have to find these people.”
Kerry gazed gravely back at him. “I’m telling the truth.” She said. “If you really want to tap public access, you need to go to the tier 1 providers, and put your appliance there.” She said. “We provide our own access for our customers, but the rest of the country uses one of them.
“Tier 1?” Lopez got out a pad and scribbled that down. “Can you give me the names?”
Kerry promptly provided them. “There are lots of smaller companies, but those three form the public backbone.” She told him. “Now. I will tell you that we maintain a lot of filtering capability on our net access nodes. If there’s something, some phrase or type of information you are looking for in specific, I would be glad to put a scanning routine in place and output the results to you.”
“You would?” Lopez lost some of his menace. “You can do that?”
“Just let us know.” Kerry said. “The security of the country is very important to us. The government is one of our biggest clients.”
Now, the men were nodding, and the whole atmosphere had completely changed. “Okay.” Lopez handed her his business card. “We’ll be in touch, Ms. Stuart. Thanks for the info.”
Kerry selected one of her own cards and handed it over. “Good luck.” She said sincerely. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to head out to the Pentagon.”
Lopez extended a hand. “Sorry about this whole thing, Ms. Stuart.” He shook Kerry’s hand. “Everything’s in a lot of flux right now. We’re all scrambling.”
“Us too.” Kerry felt a sense of relief, and more than a little pride. “Gentlemen?”
They filed out, and headed for the door, walking quickly and bending their heads together as they left the building. Kerry watched through the smoked glass as they got into their SUV”s and pulled away, and shook her head. “Wow.”
The receptionist looked over at her. “Are they gone?” She said, as a service person arrived with a cart of coffee. “Wow. That was fast.”
Kerry shrugged modestly. “Bring that up to wherever they’ve stuck me.” She told the service person. “I’m sure I’ll be needing it.” She turned to the receptionist. “I’m expecting someone else from the government looking for me. I’ll be here for another thirty minutes or so, and if they’re not here by then, I’m heading for the Pentagon.”
“Yes ma’am.” The receptionist scribbled a note. “Good to have you here.”
Kerry smiled and headed for the security door, her shoulders straightening. “Wish Dar’d seen that one.” She muttered to herself as she swiped through. “She’d have loved it.”
The small cockpit was getting very crowded. Dar stood just outside the door, her hands braced on the frame as she listened to Alastair arguing somewhat forcefully on the radio.
The steward had edged back way out of the way, and was busy in the galley, seemingly glad not to be involved in what was going on.
Dar didn’t blame him. In front of her, Alastair was perched on a small jumpseat behind the seats that the pilots were in, crammed in next to the slim, dark haired navigator.
Everyone was nervous. She could see the pilots all trading off watching their instruments with looking back at Alastair, as the intractable voices on the other end of the radio got angrier and more belligerent.
Not good. “Alastair.” Dar leaned forward and put a hand on his shoulder. “Should I try to get Gerry involved?”
Alastair glanced back at her. “Hold that thought.” He turned back to the radio. “Lieutenant? Are you there?”
The radio crackled. “Listen mister, I don’t know who you think you are but you better just listen to instructions and shut the hell up before I send planes up there to blow you out of the sky.”
“Nice.” Dar said. “Sad to say, I grew up with jerks like that.”
“Son.” Alastair kept his voice reasonable and even. “You don’t really need to know who I am. If you’ve got your last paycheck stub, just pull it out and look at the logo in blue on the right hand side on the bottom. That’s the company I work for. We’re not terrorists.” He said. “So stop threatening us.”
The radio was silent for a bit. Alastair let the mic rest against his leg, and shook his head. “What a mess.” He said. “I appreciate things are in chaos down there, but for Pete’s sake we don’t even want to land in the damn country.”
The pilot nodded. “That’s what I tried to explain to him.” He said. “He just kept saying security threat, security threat… I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.” He glanced back at Dar. “Are you in the military, ma’am?”
“No.” Dar felt a surprising sense of relief at the admission. “My father was career Navy. I grew up on base.”
The radio crackled. A different voice came on though. “This is Commander Wirkins. Is this Mr. McLean?”
“Ah.” Alastair picked the mic up. “Maybe we’re getting somewhere.” He clicked it. “It is.” He said. “Go ahead, Commander.”
“Mr. McLean, we’ve established who you are. We understand you are trying to file an amended flight plan.” The commander said. “Due to a situation in the area, I have to ask you to please instruct your pilot ot land in Nassau. This is not negotiable.”
“Something’s going on.” Dar shook her head. “Damn.”
“Commander.” Alastair gathered his thoughts. “I appreciate that you have your own issues.” He said. “So let me ask you this. If we land in Nassau and your people are satisfied we’re not going to hurt anyone, can we get cleared to fly on into the States so your pit stop doesn’t cause a delay in what we have to do?”
“Mr. McLean, you’re not in a position to bargain with us.”
Alastiar sighed. “All right then, please put your ass in your chair and call the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Get Gerald Easton on the line.” He said. “I’m about out of patience with you too. He was going to send a plane for us, damn well shoulda let him.”
Silence on the radio.
“If they force us down.” Dar said. “Chances are they’re not going to let the plane take off again.”
The pilot glanced over his shoulder at her. “We’ll be out of air time anyway.” He said. “No offense folks, but the storm would have been a better option.”
“Agreed.” Alastair held his hand up. “My fault. Sorry about that.”
The radio remained silent.
“It’s only about four, five hours from Miami by sea.” Dar said. “We can charter a boat to get there.”
The co pilot turned and looked at her. “Ma’am, are you crazy? That’s not a trival trip across the Gulfstream.”
Dar didn’t take offense. “I know.” She said. “Been there, done that.”
“I’ve been to the Bahamas. You won’t get a captain to take you over like it is now. They’re not stupid.” The co pilot said. “They don’t’ like risk.”
“I’ll captain it myself.” Dar shrugged. “Pay enough money and they’ll rent us a tub.”
Both flyers looked at each other, then shook their heads. Alastair merely chuckled wryly.
Finally the radio buzzed. “Mr. McLean, this is Commander Wirkins.”
“Go ahead.” Alastair said. “At least we’ve got a plan B.” He added, in an aside to Dar. “Though spending four hours bouncing over the Atlantic aint’ my idea of fun.”
“Mr. McLean, we’re in a state of national emergency here and I do not appreciate, and my command does not appreciate you asking for special dispensation.”
“Too bad.” Alastair said, in a genial tone. “We have a job to do, mister, and you’re keeping me from it. You may think that’s not nothing to do with you, but if you do about ten minutes research on who we are, you’ll catch a clue that’s not the case.”
The commander cleared his throat into the open mic. “I have done that research, or believe me, buddy, there’d be two fighters up there blowing your ass out of the sky right now.” He said. “So like I said, I don’t’ appreciate you dropping names, no matter how justified you think you are.”
Dar held her hand out. “Gimme.”
“C”mon Dar.” Alastair bumped her knee with his elbow. “He’s about to cave. He’s just pissing all over the wall so everyone knows what a big guy he is first.” He clicked the mic. “Fish or cut bait, Commander.”
“Well, Mr. McLean, sorry to tell you, but you’re not getting to where you want to go today.” The commander said, a note of smugness in his voice that made both Dar and Alastair’s lips twitch. “You can call me an asshole if you want to, and report me to whoever you want to, but I’ve got a job to do too, and I’m going to do it.”
“Shoulda given me the mic.” Dar sighed. “At least we’d have gotten some laughs out of it.”
“So my controller is going to instruct your pilot to land that plane at the Opa Locka airport, where we’re going to have you met with a security team so that I can get my job done. I don’t much care about yours.”
“Whooho.” Dar laughed. “Score!” She lifted her hand and Alastair smacked it with his own, surprising the crew.
“How you get your affairs in order after that isn’t my concern.” The commander said. “But it’s a nice long drive to Texas. So have a great day.”
“Well. How do you like that?” Alastair chuckled. “First time I had someone’s sand up their ass work to my favor. “If that’s what your decision is, Commander, then we’ll have to take it.” He said, mildly. “It sure is a long drive from there to Texas.”
The radio clicked off with a snitty hiss, and Alastair handed the mic back to the navigator. “Well, gentlemen, after all that crap in a handbasket I think we ended up winning that round.”
“You didn’t want to go to Texas?” The co pilot half turned. “I don’t’ get it.”
“Well.” Dar said. “Houston is where our main offices are, and where Alastair here lives.” She said. “On the other hand, Miami is where our main operations center is, and where I live, and we both need to end up in Washington and New York so this guy just did us a big favor trying to screw us over.”
“Yep.” Alastair nodded. “Be sorry not to see the wife and the kids, but this cuts what, two days travel for you?” He nodded. “That cloud sure had a silver lining. Maybe by the time we sort things out we can get a flight up from your friend the General.”
“Otherwise I’ll go pick up my truck at the airport and we can drive.” Dar said. “But that gives us a lot more options. You can even stay in the Miami office and run things if you want, while I head up.”
Alastair nodded. “So, sirs, please do what the nice men want and land us in Miami.” He chuckled. “Bea’s gonna kill me after all the arrangements she had to make.”
The pilot nodded in relief. “You got it.” He said. “Get us out of the air faster, we don’t have to fly around a storm, and if we’re all still grounded I get a layover on South Beach. Doesn’t get any better than that.” He looked at his co pilot. “You up for that Jon?”
The co pilot shook his head and laughed. “I’m up for that.” He said. “Man, I thought this was really going to end up like crap.” He looked back at Alastair. “You sure have brass ones, sir.”
The older man chuckled. “Live as long as I have, you learn to figure out how much you can poke the stick at the bear, if you get my drift. Once that fellah knew who we..” He indicated Dar and himself. “Were, I figured he knew better than to be serious about shooting us down.”
“I don’t know. He sounded pretty aggressive.” The co pilot said. “We’ve heard from other pilots that the attitude is they’ve got carte blanche to do whatever they want in the name of national security.”
“Someone still has to be accountable.” Dar said.
“Do they?” The co pilot asked. “I sure hope they do. I’ve been on the wrong side of an INS officer in a bad mood. Almost cost me a paid flight.”
The pilot half turned in his seat and addressed the navigator. “Egar, you okay with us landing there? I forgot to ask you.”
The tall, slim man nodded. “I have family in Miami.” He said. “I am very happy we’re going there. It’s good.” He smiled. “I achieved my pilots license at that airport. It’s very nice.”
Alastair stood up and waited for Dar to clear out of the way so he could exit the cockpit. “What a relief. No offense to your boating skills, Paladar, but I’m no yachtsman.” He slapped Dar on the shoulder as they retreated back down the aisle to the passenger compartment. “Besides, fella was probably right. We’d have to end up buying the damn boat and then what? Be tough to explain a motor yacht on our inventory list.”
Dar chuckled. “We could have auctioned it off. “ She was, however relieved. Much as she would have stepped up to sail an unfamiliar craft across what were sometimes very treacherous waters, she was damned glad she wasn’t going to have that particular bluff called.
Silver lining. Absolutely. “We lucked out.”
“Sure did.” Her boss agreed. “Well, sometimes we have to, y’know?” He added, as they resumed their seats. “Wish it hadn’t gotten so nasty, though. I know the fella has a lot of issues he’s contending with but my god.”
Dar pushed her seat back. “They teach you to do that.” She said. “Be a bastard, I mean. You try to overwhelm whoever your opponent is with loud, aggressive talk to knock them off balance and put them on the defensive.”
“They teach you that in the military?” Alastair asked, in a quizzical tone. “I thought you never went through that.”
“They teach you that in most of the negotiating and ninja management classes these days.” Dar informed him dryly. “But a friend of ours who’s a cop in Miami says taking the offensive when you’re confronting someone is a well used tactic of theirs too.”
“You use that, yourself.” Her boss commented.
“Sometimes.” Dar admitted. “If someone knows you’re going to be an asshole, they usually do what you want, faster. Like our vendors. They know if they don’t do what I’m asking, I’ll just keep going up their ladder and get louder and louder until they do.”
“Like what I just did to that fellah.”
Dar nodded. “That’s why they like dealing with Kerry better.” Her eyes twinkled a little. “She’s got the best of both worlds. She gets to be nice, and they like her, and she’s got me in her back pocket to threaten them with.”
Alastair laughed. “Well, all in all, I guess I can forgive that guy. I know he must be dealing with a thousand different problems. I was just his most annoying one that minute.” He folded his hands over his stomach. “He must be laughing his head off thinking about how he showed us though.”
Dar suspected he was. Probably cursing about them, and telling everyone around him how he showed these damn jerks who was boss. Dar couldn’t really blame him either, since they had asked for special treatment, and had threatened him with going up the chain, and in fact, were the jerky pain in the asses he actually considered them to be.
However, it had gotten them what they wanted, in a rather classic case of the end justifying the means. Dar checked her watch. So they’d end up in a few hours in Miami. Awesome. “I’ll send him a note telling him how much he helped us out after this is all over.” She said. “My body’s so screwed up I can’t figure out whether to take you out to breakfast or dinner when we get there though.”
“Well, it’ll be different than burritos in Mexico City.” Alastair put his hands behind his head. “Wasn’t looking forward to all that, or the drive to Houston.”
Dar smiled at the ceiling, relaxing for the first time since she’d woken up. She was already looking forward to landing, her mind flipping ahead to the messages she’d need to send, and more importantly, how happy she knew Kerry would be to hear from her. “I’ll have someone go to MIA and bring my car down.” She decided. “Figure it’ll take a while for them to get through the paperwork once we land.”
“Take me a few minutes to call Bea and get everything squared away anyway.” Her boss said. “It’s going to feel good to be back home.”
Dar exhaled. “Sure is.” She said. “Sure damn is.”
Kerry settled her earbuds in and peered at her laptop screen. “Okay, Mark, did we get an inventory availability from the vendors yet? I know you’ve got everything we had with you, but from what they’re telling me here we lost the whole WAN room.”
“They got.” Mark said. “But they can’t get it to us faster than a truck. The distro’s in California.”
Kerry looked down at the pad on the desk. “Well, tell them to start driving.” She said. “By my count here, rebuilding that will take most of the inventory on your truck, and we’re not even started yet.”
“Miami exec, this is the Air Hub.”
Kerry blinked. “Go ahead Air Hub.”
“We’re hearing rumors that they might let some flights up tomorrow, ma’am.” The voice answered. “Sorry we can’t be more specific. It’s pretty quiet here.”
“Miami, hello? This is Sherren in New York.” Sherren’s voice interrupted. “We’ve got good news! Six people just showed up here. I’m logging them in now!”
“That’s great, Sherren.” Kerry exhaled slowly. “Do they know about any of the others? Have they seen them?”
“No, no they don’t.” Sherren said. “Everyone got separated, they said. They’re all taking showers, they’re covered in that white stuff. They said a lot of people went south, too, towards the battery.”
Kerry watched the red led’s slowly change to green. Too few. “I’m really glad to hear that, Sherren. How are you all doing? Are you all right? Do you need anything?”
Sherren’s voice sounded calmer today. “We’re doing okay, you know?” She said “We needed some clothes, we went out and got some. We got bagels. The dog carts are there. People are out there. You can’t stop this city. People are in shock, but we keep going.”
Kerry thought about the empty streets she’d traveled through the night before. “You sure do.”
“I’m sure the rest of the office will be here any time now.” Sherren said, confidently. “We’re going to get some coffee on. I wish we could get the phones working.” She added. “I know some of our customers need us.”
“Miami exec, this is Miami telecom.” A new voice broke in. “We’re handling the inbound 800 service trunks for New York. We can get messages to the people there, if you can get us a mailing list built.”
“Oh, that would be great!” Sherren said. “You can get calls out, if you try hard enough. Or maybe if they have email, we can email them. That works a lot better than the phones.”
Kerry nodded. “Good idea.” She glanced at the screen. “Miami server ops, are you on?”
“Yes, ma’am.” A quiet voice answered. “We’re here.”
“Build a list based on the reported list onscreen.” Kerry said, after a brief pause. “And get that to telecom.”
“Miami exec, this is LA Earthstation. I have Newark Earthstation on landline. They need generators. They’ve got a seven day estimate on repairs to the power station there. Someone told them it was sabotaged.”
“Oh my god.” Sherren said.
“Miami exec, this is Miami ops.” Mark’s voice replied. “That needs industrial. That little trick you and I pulled ain’t gonna cut it.”
Kerry tapped her pen on the desk. “Shouldn’t their facilities operator be handling that?”
“Miami, no one’s doing anything there. Everyone’s been sent to staging to go into the city.” LA Earthstation reported. “If we want help, we need to do it ourselves, that’s what they were told.”
“Right.” Kerry scribbled a note on her pad. “Let me get in touch with APC. Everyone’s going to be hitting the usual providers let’s try the high tech ones.”
“Ms. Stuart?” Nan stuck her head in the door. “I have some president or other of ATT on the line for you.”
“Tell them hang on a minute.” Kerry finished writing.
“Miami exec, this is Danny. The bus is here.” Danny sounded relieved. “Man, are we glad to see that.” He added. “We’re waiting for clearance to start going in there but we’re going to need some help.”
“Danny, we’re almost there.” Mark said. “Hang in there, buddy. I got ten people with me.”
Ten? Kerry glanced at the screen, then back at her paper. “Hope that’s a big RV.” She muttered under her breath. She looked up. “Okay, you can transfer whoever it is from ATT here.” She pointed at the phone. “Thanks.”
“Mark, we’re looking for you man.” Danny answered. “Did you say you have a truck? We havent’ been able to shake loose and get that plywood yet.”
“No prob.” Mark said. “Miami exec, any word on when we can get into lower NY?”
Kerry keyed her mic. “Let’s concentrate on DC for now since we have access to the facility. With all the damage in Manhattan it could be a while.”
“Miami exec, this is Lansing.” The Michigan center broke in.
“Hold on, Lansing. I have to take a call.” Kerry put her mic on mute and hit the speaker phone. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Ms. Stuart?” A man’s voice answered. “This is Charles Gant from ATT. I think we met at that technical conference in Orlando a few months back.”
“We did.” Kerry nodded. “What can I do for you? I assume this is something critical.”
Gant sighed. “Much as I’d rather be just asking to meet me for coffee and chat about high end routers, it is a critical issue. I just want to bounce a question off you, since I know of all the private providers you guys are the biggest.”
“Okay.” Kerry picked up her bottle of water and took a sip. “I’m listening.”
“We lost everything in lower Manhattan.” He said. “I think you probably know that, since we had a lot of tie ins to you.”
“We know.” Kerry said. “We have almost nothing coming in to our three nodes in the region at all. A lot of customers are affected.”
“Well, let me give you the laundry list.” Gant said. “We lost the triple pop. Verizon said nothing’s recoverable. They also lost their West office. Power’s out for the area, including all the cell towers, and the ones that do have power either don’t have backhaul or are overloaded.”
“Wow.” Kerry murmured.
“I got my counterpart at Sprint on the other line. Between us, we lost everything overseas, and so did MCI.”
“We realized that.” Kerry said. “We had to backhaul a lot of overseas financial via our southern circuits.”
There was momentary silence. “So how badly are you affected?”
Kerry took another sip of water. “We obviously can’t service the local accounts in lower Manhattan, and we lost our major switching office in the Pentagon.” Then she stopped speaking.
There was another moment of silence. “So you have service otherwise? Transatlantic??”
“We have data service, yes.” Kerry confirmed. “We rely on your interchanges, and the other telcos for phone service, naturally, so that’s down but we’re backhauling everything else across our redundant links, or sending it up to the birds.”
“Interested in renting some bandwidth?” Gant asked, in a wry tone. “We’ve got nothing between New York and our main service centers. I can’t even guess what’s down because our systems can’t connect.” He cleared his throat. “I figured I’d ask you before everyone else does.”
Kerry thought about all the times she’d had to browbeat the telco vendors for everything from bad circuits to late ones. “How much do you need?” She said. “And what would it take for you to get a tie into our Roosevelt Island node?”
“I’ll take ten meg if you have it.” His voice sounded utterly relived. “I think our sub station on the island can carry the traffic over. I can check but my notes here show we’re in the same building.”
Mentally, Kerry did a quick calculation. Dar had provisioned a larger than normal spare of bandwidth in the area, thankfully, but she knew there’d be more requests to come. This was just the first. “We can do that.” She said. “Get me your LOA and I’ll send it to my internal provisioning group.”
“God bless you.” Gant sighed. “Sorry if I sound overwhelmed, but damn it, I am.” He said. “My brother’s missing in that mess and I can’t think straight.”
“Charles, I’m glad we can help.” Kerry said gently. “We have some people missing ourselves. Most of our office in Manhattan were in the Towers for business meetings yesterday morning.”
“So we’re sweating right along with you.” Kerry said. “And speaking of that, could you possibly do me a favor?”
“If I can, for sure.” Charles said.
“My Rockefeller Center office is down hard.” Kerry said. “Any chance of getting one of our lines up?”
“Give me the circuit id.” He answered instantly. “We’ve got service near the Rock. You probably are just terminated closer to the triple… to where the triple was.”
Kerry typed a question into her search applet, and was rewarded with a number. “Here it is.” She gave it to him. “It would help the people left there. Most of them lived down in the affected area and can’t go home.”
“You got it, Kerry.” Charles said. “Expect that LOA in the next five minutes.”
“Call me if you need anything else.” Kerry said. “Talk to you later.” She hung the phone up, and went back to her screen. She clicked her mic on. “Miami exec to New York, you still on Sherren?”
“I’m here.” Sherren responded promptly. “Two more people just showed up! We’re all like kids here, screaming.”
Kerry smiled. “I’m very glad. We’re working on getting you some phones there, too.”
“Oh, that’s great!” Sherren said.
“Ma’am?” Nan poked her head back in. “Do you want a CNN feed in here?” She indicated a dark panel on the wall. “We’ve got one running in ops.”
“Sure.” Kerry said. “Any sign of more government visitors?”
“None yet.” Nan shook her dark head. “When did you wan to leave for the Pentagon?”
Kerry checked her watch. “I think I need to spend a little more time here, maybe an hour. Let’s say eleven?” She said. “Mark’s almost at the Pentagon and he’s going to be tied up for a while when he gets there.”
“Okay, I’ll be around.” Nan said. “We’ll push the feed in here.” She ducked out and closed the door behind her.
Kerry scribbled a few more notes, listening with one ear bud in to the conversation going on in the background. A flash of motion caught her eye, and she looked up at the screen just in time to see a shot of the inside of the Capitol, where the hall was full of men and women all milling around.
Her mother was there, she realized. She spotted her immediately off to one side of the chamber, with two other senators who were vaguely familiar to her. “Hi mom.” She briefly waved at the screen, remembering the odd occasion when she’d flip past CSPAN2 and find her father talking.
She always stopped and listened.
“Miami exec, this is Miami HR.”
“Go ahead.” Kerry keyed her mic. “Good morning, Mari.”
“Good morning.” Mariana replied. “Not sure if you caught the news, but it’s all over the local here that they’ve issued search warrents for a bunch of locations in Miami.”
Kerry’s head jerked up and she stared at the screen. “What?”
“No one’s really sure what’s going on. Duks says one of his people had a police raid in their apartment complex around four am.” Mari said. “We heard something about some of the hijackers coming from here.”
“From Miami?” Kerry found this hard to believe.
“That’s what they’re saying.”
Holy crap. Kerry stared in bewilderment at the television, reading the crawl on the bottom that repeated what Mari had just said. Hijackers from Miami? “But didn’t they say yesterday this was something from the middle east?”
“I don’t know.” Mari said. “Just wanted to give you the heads up since believe me, there’s a lot of crazy nervous people down here at the moment. We have about half the office in. A lot of people stayed home.”
“Wow.” Kerry said. “Okay, thanks for the warning.” She scanned the lists again, then sighed. “I’m going on hold for a minute, to call APC.”
“Good luck, Miami exec.” The LA Earthstation chimed in. “Those guys sound pretty tapped.”
“Mari, can you find out how close our community support teams are to Newark?” Kerry asked, as she searched her address applet for the phone number of their racking vendor. “Make sure they stop for a cold keg of beer.”
Silence. “I don’t think that’s spec, Kerry.” Mari said.
“Don’t give damn they’ve been there all night.” Kerry said. “It’s as muggy there as it is here. Have them bring fans and make sure they’ve got six volt to 110 converter lines so they can run them.”
“Okay, will do.” Mari said. “You’re the boss.”
“Until three thirty PM, I sure am.” Kerry sighed. “Someone turn the planet faster please.”