INSTALLMENT #1 - AUTHOR'S NOTE
Telling a story on a blog is not as easy as you might think. In a sense, blogs run "backwards." The latest stuff is on top and older stuff is further down. Thus if you come back later to recover an idea you have developed over several posts, you may find yourself digging through the archives to find all the material. And, if you have a blog with as much stuff as mine, that can be a serious chore. Thus this blog was born. Back to that in a minute.
Last December, at Blogotional, I said that one of the things I wanted to do before I die was:
Write and have published a superhero comic book miniseriesAt the time, I actually had one such story "in the can." But it was a character about whom the publisher would not accept submissions.
So, I could write a story about an existing character for which they would take submissions, or I could invent a new character. No publisher is going to take a new character from an unproven talent, and I was fresh out of ideas for existing characters. Then there was the fact that as a guy with his own business, who just wanted to do this once in his life, and not develop a career, shlepping a story from comiccon to comiccon to stand at the review table and again be told "Thanks, but no thanks" was a less than appealing prospect.
Finally, since Blogotional has regular daily features, one of which was about to run out of material and need replacement, I struck on an idea. Why not write a comic story about a new character and serialize it in that daily feature space? So, that is what I have done.
However, since the installments will be posted only once a week, someone coming late to the story might have a hard time catching up over there at Blogotional. When I thought about all the backlinking that would require - I struck on the idea of this blog. So, every time I put up the next installment at Blogotional, I will also put it up here. But here, it will be added to "the bottom," so the reader can start reading the story at the beginning and catch up easily.
Pretty much since 9-11, I have been thinking of stories that bring superheroes into the GWOT fray. They all did great salutes to the true heroes in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but I thought more was called for.
Turns out I am not alone in that thought as Frank Miller has recently announced that he is doing a Batman v Al Queda story. Alas, I am no Frank Miller, even If I have been working on this idea forever, so I can't do Bats. So, I came up with the guy you are about to read.
Superhero comics found their stride in WWII fighting the nation's enemies - the so-called Golden Age. It seems most appropriate that they should be involved in this fight as well. Who knows, maybe they can find some of the soul, and some of the genuine sense of right-and-wrong that they have lost in the intervening years.
I hope you enjoy this story. It is part techno-thriller hero, ala Jack Ryan, and part pure superhero, costume and all. The idea is to get a little more "real" - kind of like Marvel's "Ultimates" - but keep the great fantasy fun of the classic superhero. If you would like to comment, please leave it at Blogotional - it's the only link in the sidebar.
Oh yeah, and if you are comics publisher and you like what you see, even a little, please "View my complete profile" and email me - I'd love to talk.
And now, just becasue I have to:
David Carter has better access to the President of the United States than any other soul on the planet – and no one in the media has ever heard of him. He works in a very small office in the Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington. To the world he is just another bureaucratic functionary. But to the President, he is something very special.
Today, like every day, Carter drives his plain brown Ford Taurus from his one-bedroom apartment in suburban Virginia to his numbered parking spot in the heart of American government and trudges with a blank look on his face into a square box, to take a seat in a smaller square box and to move paper around -- well -- in this day and age, electrons.
This was not the life he had imagined for himself. He had gone to the Air Force Academy where he got one of the finest hi-tech educations available to man. When he began his military service he signed up for Army Rangers training. He wanted to "eat snakes" as they say. Not satisfied with the Rangers Training, he soon found himself in Coronado, training with the Navy Seals. He became a lean, mean fighting machine.
Then he got himself sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana (this was in the days before they closed the fort) where he went through "cloak and dagger" school. Carter wanted to be James Bond. It was as simple as that. He wanted to do military intelligence work behind the Iron Curtain, and he was getting himself as trained as he could.
Then, just about the time he was ready to go, the Soviet Union disappeared, as did his hopes and aspirations. He became just another intel weenie, reading reports and filing other reports. Oh sure, his academic training put him in project after project to develop computer and surveillance systems on the very cutting edge of capability, but it was book work. The world had denied him The Field.
Being a good soldier, he did his job and he did it well, but he never got the action he craved. Early middle age set in. His unquenched desire for "action" prevented him from settling into the kind of life that would lend itself to officer ranks. As soon as he "had his twenty in", he retired at the ripe old age of 43 and went to work as a "consultant" for a government contractor. Contractor: a title that enabled him to grossly overcharge for his knowledge about who to talk to in the military about what specific contract. Oh yeah -- and get the occasional insight into what their competition had been up to. It was still boring, but at least the money was good.
He’d never had time for women. He wanted to stay "unfettered", as he thought of it, in case the call ever came for him to travel to exotic lands. In retirement he had taken up with an incredibly gorgeous woman in her early 30’s. She worked in one of the development labs belonging to his employer. He stayed in excellent shape, so it did not bother her that she was with an "older" man. He would never marry. He was too old. Or so he thought. At least she made life a little interesting.
He was, if not satisfied, content; that is until the day evil turned its face to America directly and terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those events lit a fire in his belly that he had not felt since Reagan was President and the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire. He found himself incapable of sitting still. Two days later, the phone rang. It was the FBI. The Patriot Act was going to pass very quickly and they needed his help connecting their systems with the CIA, NSA, DIA, and with a few other agencies no one ever heard about.
"I'm on my way," he heard the Good Soldier in his soul reply, as the fire in his belly flared with desire to do more.
For two years or so Carter labored to build a technical infrastructure that would do what the President had envisioned. The technology was easy enough, but the bureaucracy was a far less manageable foe. The various agencies did not trust each other, and worse, they wanted to hoard the information they had to make themselves look good.
Despite the fact that no one ever released information to share, he too was trapped in a bureaucracy and he kept building a huge technological hose through which this nonexistent information could flow. One day, out of sheer boredom and frustration, figuring he could justify it as a "test", he hacked into the CIA database.
Ten minutes later two heavily armed men showed up at his door and asked him -- well told him -- to come with them. He figured he was on the way to the stockade, or the brig, or whatever they called it in Washington. Instead he found himself being lead through a series of tunnels under Washington until he wound up in an office, just off the Oval Office, staring at the President.
This was the President’s working office; the Oval Office was purely ceremonial. The President was in shirt sleeves and was wearing reading glasses. He looked up at Carter from his work and said, "I've been waiting for someone in this town who cared more about the job than the rules and the politics. Are you my guy?"
Reflexively, he answered, "Sir, yes, Sir," and started to snap a salute. Some training never left a military man, but as his hand came up he realized that there was more to this situation than met the eye and he stopped. He and the President were quiet and looked each other directly in the eyes. That fire in his belly turned into a raging inferno.
"Mr. President, if I get to do something to really win this war on terror other than spin the wheels of bureaucracy, then yes, I’m your man."
The President got up, walked over to Carter and shook his hand, "You’re my new terror buster then."
And that was how David Carter got his current job. It seemed the President knew all along that the agencies would never cooperate. Carter’s resume had landed on his desk not long after 9-11 as someone with the skills to do the kind of human intelligence that was going to be needed. But when the President saw his technical capabilities, he had a whole new idea.
Carter spied on the spies. The President had had Carter building his "infrastructure" because he knew it could be used to see what was going on in all the agencies. Carter had been building what he needed for his new job; the President was just waiting to see if Carter could do what was necessary.
Sitting in his non-descript office in the Executive Office building, Carter could see everything every intelligence agency in the western world was doing. Further, he could use this massive computer system to plant information from one agency to another without either agency knowing what had happened. While not as efficient as actually working together, it was extremely helpful.
Today began like every other day. Carter started scanning, noting anything that caught his eye. In some cases he would attach a bit of code to something so that further developments would be routed to him automatically. Most notable in today’s scan was something from an NSA satellite that showed higher than normal radiation levels near a Gulf Coast port. It could have been anything, but in the age of nuclear terrorism, one leaves no stone unturned.
Carter hacked into the Department Of Energy’s system. They maintained Nuclear Emergency Search Teams (NEST) throughout the nation. Their mission: to search out, and where necessary, defuse or, as safely as possible, destroy nuclear material or weapons. Like any military or quasi-military unit they maintained a training schedule. This day, the New Orleans team came to work to find the schedule changed. They were going to practice mobilization and detection sweeps at the port Carter was concerned about – Mobile. He left a Trojan horse that would download to their portable equipment and notify him immediately if they found anything.
Then like any other day Carter began to prepare his brief for the President. He did not include the radiation reading in his report. He still thought it could have been anything.
True to form, the President loved nicknames. He constantly called Carter "Terrorbuster," which Carter loathed. Every time the President used that name, Carter thought of children’s shoes and that ugly dog and he cringed. But the guy was President. There was little Carter could do.
Carter did, however, love the other nickname the President had for him – “PhD sweeper”. The first time he used it Carter must have looked very quizzically at the President because the President went on to explain that most people started with a BS degree, and of course everyone knew what that stood for. Then they got an MS, which stood for “more of same.” Finally they got a PhD which stood for “piled high and deep.”
The President's work day always started with the PDB, Presidential Daily Briefing, as delivered by the National Security Advisor with mounds of input from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, head of CIA, head of FBI, and all the other "lesser" intelligence agencies. The document itself was one of the most heavily classified documents in the government and it was supposed to give the President the best and most important information on National Security for that day. It was,; however, often more an exercise in agency infighting than anything else. One had to sort through a great deal of chest-thumping, posturing and finger-pointing to get to the meat of the matter. In other words, it had a PhD all its own.
Carter's briefing of the President was not an independent briefing. Rather, Carter "sat in" on the PDB electronically. Actually, he could watch the document come together first at the various agencies and then in the NSA's office and at the same time he was able to access the raw intelligence that lead to this highly filtered, massaged, spun, and targeted document. This was the second thing Carter did every morning, after his general scan.
Then, using a special circuit he had set up in the President's office, he would watch the meeting from his own office. When the meeting was over and everybody left the room, the President would hit a few buttons on his computer, Carter’s image would appear and the President would say, "How high and deep today?"
Time in his office alone like this was rare for the President. He had long ago left specific instructions he was not to be disturbed after the PDB so he could "work off his morning bran muffin."
On this particular day, Carter told the President that the intel was good, just the usual assortment of politics mixed in, but there must have been something hesitant in his voice because as he got ready to sign off the President asked, "T-buster, what aren’t you telling me?"
Carter reflected that the President probably wanted him for this job because he was the worst liar on the planet. (And to think he wanted to be a field agent – they live lies!) He had to work very hard not to show visible signs of his distaste for that name as he responded, "It’s probably nothing, sir."
"You’re sounding like them now - that’s not what I’m paying you for."
Carter quickly told the President about his radiation finding in Mobile and what he had done about it.
"Sounds like you did good to me, so why the concern?" was the President’s response.
"Because it's too close to a large spike in communications within one of the apparent terrorist cells working in southern Asia."
"Now that," says the President, "is what I am paying you for. None of these other yahoos picked up on it. So what are you going to do?"
"Sir? We have no appreciable assets in… I just monitor and redirect…."
"There you go making me waste my money again T-buster." The President said the nickname with a certain emphasis that let Carter know...The President knew Carter found it irritating. Despite seeing through the President’s obvious motivational ploy, it worked. The fire in Carter's belly had not cooled completely, but it had definitely settled to "simmer" during these last months in the Executive Office Building. Now it was blazing.
"Sir, I may need…," but the President cut him off.
"Carter," Carter knew it was serious when the President called him by his actual name, "I'm paying you to be a sneaky bastard, and to sweep the piles. I'm paying you because you are more interested in the job than in the piles. I'm also paying you because you are one of the most highly trained sneaky bastards in the country."
That was the first reference the President had ever made to Carter's training. It dawned on Carter that the President knew a lot more about him than he had let on. Carter knew that maintaining deniability for the President was a big part of his job. Had he just been given permission to go out in the field?
"Highly trained sneaky bastard on the job – SIR!" and the connection was severed.
Carter took a breather and checked his personal email. There was a note from his "girlfriend", Amy. He didn’t really know if they were together anymore. After he went back into the civil service they found themselves living about 200 miles apart. They went through the motions as best they could, but the distance, and the fact that, at least for him, the relationship had been more about convenience than any deep abiding affection, had caused them to move apart.
They grabbed weekends together when they could, and they had one planned for this upcoming weekend – that is, until he read the email. It seemed Amy was going overseas – she was very non-specific – to help some unit get up to speed on a new system she’d helped develop.
So Carter went back to work. He set up an extremely sophisticated data mining program that went through every fissionable materials-tracking database in the world, official and unofficial. Every now and them, when the program could not hack into a database, it would signal him and he would do the hack himself and send the program on its merry way. This did not happen very often. It was just too easy in most of these countries.
But while the program was going on auto-pilot, he tackled the really hard job personally. He hacked into the US satellite system in an effort to see if he could track the radioactivity readings from Mobile back to their source. This was not as easy as it might sound. Satellite coverage was not complete. Some birds had better sensors than others. Some places had background levels of radiation that made it hard to tell whether there was anything there or not.
This was when it got hard for Carter. He could really use some expertise, but if he asked for it, he would blow his cover, and more importantly the President's. He did see, intermittently, high readings coming out of the Black Sea, through the Med, and across the Atlantic. This was unsurprising. The former Soviet Union had used the steppes of southern Asia as a nuclear development zone since WWII. Further, they were awful at record keeping, making this area the most likely source for fissionable material for any bad guy. The Black Sea was the way out of there, so again, nothing he couldn’t have guessed.
What was interesting was a report he found at the DOE: something about the radiation levels at the remains of the Sophiaskia, the weapons fuel reactor in Ukraine that went "china syndrome" years before the world heard of Chernobyl, pile dropping dramatically without explanation. That pile of steaming radioactive goo was supposed to stay hot and nasty for millennia. A joint Russian/Ukrainian task force routinely sent robots in to examine the pile. That’s how the radiation levels were known to be changing, but there was no other observable change in the pile.
Normally, the radiation inside the Sophiaskia sarcophagus was so high that the robots would cease to function after a few minutes. The inside was littered with "dead" machines, but in the last few months, they might have been retrieved and reused, save for the fact that they were themselves so dangerously radioactive.
The stuff in that pile was useless as bomb fuel; it would take as much processing as raw ore – but it could make a hell of a dirty bomb. It was a shame the satellites could not get enough of a spectrum to identify the source Carter was tracking – Sophiaskia’s spectral signature was quite distinctive.
Lacking anything better to do, Carter started looking through the records of the uncountable foundations and charitable institutions that collected money for the benefit of Sophiaskia and its victims. They sprang up virtually overnight when the Iron Curtain fell and the world learned of this disaster. Nothing unusual there, that is until he started reading the email that flowed between the heads of these various organizations. In the last two years, they were all complaining to each other about how some local Ukrainian upstarts seemed to have unlimited funds and were simply getting to every project before any other organization. Their lack of results was hurting their fund-raising. They were beginning to discuss mergers of their organizations.
These local agencies were completely off the Internet. He could not find a trace of them anywhere, other than by indirect reference. There were a few old Soviet networks that were never tied into the Internet and were supposed to be out of use. Nobody looked at them any more, but it was no big thing for him to have one of the NSA birds take a quick peek. Sure enough, one of the nets was active, but impenetrable. The old bird that could look at the system could not hack through the new and highly sophisticated security measures. He was going to need physical access to that network to see what was happening.
Now he had to figure a way to get to the Ukraine.
Turns out it wasn’t as hard as he thought to get to Ukraine, or to Sophiaskia for that matter. A quick trip through the State Department database and Carter found groups coming and going all the time. The issue was choosing the right group that would give him a useful cover and access to the tools and communications he would need.
He would fit best with a military group, but they would be the most closely watched and controlled. What he needed was something quasi-military. He didn't have to search long. In anticipation of Ukraine joining NATO, defense contractors were sending over teams to install radars and other detection systems. Such an operation would be something where he would not stick out like a sore thumb and would have all the communications he could ever want.
One listing caught his eye rather quickly. He dialed the phone. "Amy! David here…maybe we’ll have that weekend together after all."
"Wha?...huh?" was the stuttering response that Amy Jackson made. Carter quickly pictured her in his mind. She was very good looking if not all the way to "stunning". No doubt at this moment her very green eyes were very wide and her mouth, was in the shape of an "o" which always made her lips that much more kissable. And if he knew her as well as he thought he did she was fussing with her medium length blondish hair as a stalling maneuver. She kept it in one of those cuts that really needed nothing but to dry after a shower, but she fussed with it constantly, again as a conversational technique more than an appearance issue.
He cut her off before she could say more, "Long story and definitely not for the telephone. I'll be there in a few hours, please tell security to let me through."
As he drove, Carter tried to come up with a story that would get him what he needed without revealing too much. Amy had security clearance up the ying-yang, but there was that whole "need-to-know" thing.
He pulled into the parking lot at his old employer and hacked into the CIA. Only took a few minutes before he had established an identity for himself as an operative. His story was that he was going undercover just to keep an eye on the Ukrainians – they were not completely trusted yet. Amy's group had been chosen for him because of his previous connections. No one in the group but Amy would know his real reason for being there, for obvious reasons.
Amy was not as surprised as he thought she would be when he laid the story on her over dinner. "Well, your rapid disappearance from here and the furtiveness of your behavior since you went to Washington had me wondering," was all she said. Being in the business she was in, she was used to intelligence guys. "Besides, a trip to the exotic Ukraine with my guy sounds like fun."
Carter did not know what to make of the "my guy" comment, but he knew an invitation to a pleasant evening at home when he heard one. It was about 11 before he started back to Washington. Amy agreed to handle his travel arrangements with the rest of the group, making his cover all the stronger. They would meet up in New York in just a few days for the Aeroflot flight to Kiev. The group's equipment went military transport, but the people went commercial. It was less about security than it was about lining the pockets of the still state-owned airline.
Aeroflot is entirely unremarkable as an airline. Inside the former Soviet Union it's wretched, but internationally it's simply serviceable. Such was this flight on which Carter and Amy found themselves. And as is typical, even in these post-Soviet days, the plane was huge and mostly empty.
The braggadocio that so marked the Soviet Union continues in Russia to this day. They convert large military transports to commercial use, seating 400 when they have 70 passengers. Hey, the state underwrites the fuel so why not?
"We will show the Americans really beeg planes," Carter imagined in an awful fake Russian accent as he and Amy walked around the cavernous interior of the IL-76.
They soon found the completely empty "first-class" compartment. Amy looked around and stared at Carter with a gleam in her eye. Carter had wanted to get her alone to discuss his mission, but Amy obviously had other ideas. He cut her off before the engines got warmed up too much.
"We need to talk about my cover," he said flatly.
"Oh, David," she said in a pout. Then she reached into her back pocket and handed Carter a letter. It was handwritten on White House letter head.
As Carter read, Amy sat down in one of the "comfortable" first class seats and fiddled with her fingernails. The letter was from the President to Amy, and it was written in a familiar tone that suggested an uncle talking to a niece. In the letter, The President told her that Carter worked directly for him, and she must cooperate with him unquestioningly. Cater looked at Amy dumbfounded.
"Remember when I told you I was adopted?" asked Amy
"Well, he’s my biological uncle. We just haven’t told the world – it's a long story…," Then she got up, put her arms around Carter and kissed him, hard.
At that instant all of Carter's questions -- Who were her biological parents? -- Why hadn't they told the world?-- just seemed to disappear. Her kiss, knowing that she knew most everything, allowed him to relax with her for the first time ever. Did he love her after all?
One thing was for sure, this was going to be a whole lot more interesting than he had imagined. He started feeling like James Bond, like he always wanted to feel -- on a clandestine mission, with an attractive woman at his side….
No city in the former Soviet, taken as a whole, can be described as beautiful. There are too many hideously ugly block apartments that were dilapidated they day they were built, let alone 40 years later. But at the core of the old cities there are batches of genuine architectural splendor – all of it, of course, dating back to the tsarist days.
Kiev, unlike Moscow or St. Petersburg, has not only man-made splendor, but natural splendor as well. The heart of the city is situated on bluffs rising above the Dnieper River, and there are hills throughout the city creating grand vistas. The Ukraine, the traditional "breadbasket" of eastern Europe/western Asia, is an extremely green place. In summer, those grand vistas usually afford a view of a huge blanket of green.
The group found themselves in the Hotel Kiev, a Soviet-era high rise hotel located across the street from a beautiful park and an old imperial palace which now serves as the parliament building. The hotel was serviceable, but not exactly "nice." The views from the upper floors were amazing, though. Carter and Amy didn't really seem to care; they were basking in the glory of their newfound affection.
Fortunately, the first couple of days "in country" on a trip like this are devoted to recovering from jet lag and getting to know the lay of the land. Carter and Amy took full advantage. They acted like tourists, taking in all the magnificent sites, the Monastery of the Caves, St. Sophia, palaces and churches galore...
But it didn't last long. Carter was left in town, as a liaison, while Amy and the team moved to a military base a few kilometers out of town. Fortunately, being a liaison did not take a lot of time. Carter visited the headquarters of "the charities" that seemed to be pushing all the others out from around Sophiaskia. The first thing he noted was that computers were everywhere. Given that he had been unable to hack into the place, he was amazed that so many computers were in the office.
Carter left quickly and went back to his hotel room. He broke out his laptop. This was, apparently, the only piece of computer technology he has brought with him. But soon, he set his suitcase down next to the computer and pulled a cable from inside the lining and plugged it into the laptop. Amazing things started happening.
First, the suitcase sprouted an antenna, parabolic in shape, to connect Carter to the Internet via satellite without going through the Ukrainian systems. He started hacking into systems at American environmental groups, and established an identity for himself as a member of the Board for something called “NuclearPollutionSucks.com.” Soon, business cards were printing out of the suitcase along with a passport, and assorted other identity papers.
Carter broke out his best navy-blue suit and returned to the charity offices. The business card identified him as Adrian Stevens, general counsel and Board Secretary for NuclearPollutionSucks.com. He presented the card and asked to see the general director.
As he was being escorted to the conference room, fortunately well back in the building, he noted that there was a server room, and the computers in the place were networked together. He also noted the receptionist giving his card to a clerk who disappeared into a room that was RF shielded. "Gotcha," he thought.
The rest of the meeting was pure lie. He represented himself as a conduit through which much money could be made available for the work the charity did, requesting only that his group get sufficient credit for its efforts. He started to pull out his laptop and show his Powerpoint presentation, but the general director, who looked more like a prison guard than anything else, cut him off.
"We have sufficient funding," was all the GD said.
"But, we are talking millions here, surely…," responded Carter-cum-Stevens.
"We have sufficient funding," repeated the GD as he signaled two men who were standing just outside the door.
Carter was not exactly physically removed from the building, but it was obvious he had no choice.
Carter spent the evening in his hotel bar turning down the hookers and pretending to get very drunk. About 10:30 the primarily business crowd thinned significantly. Carter started going on and on about a "real party," eventually stumbling up to the pimp holding forth at the door.
"Where can a guy go to get a drink with a little party?"
"Right here," responded the pimp.
"Nah, I want a party with my party."
The pimp pulled out a business card, wrote a few words on the back, handed it to Carter and said, "Tell them Ivan sent you."
Carter stumbled out the door. There he notices the van that belongs to the permanent Greenpeace contingent that stays at the hotel, protesting Sophiaskia, as if they were the only people in the world who can possibly understand how bad things really are. He decided to have a little fun and add fuel to the fire of his cover by pissing all over the Greenpeace van. When a cop walked by and told him to knock it off, he did.
"It’s mine now," was all Carter said as he made his way down the street in the direction the pimp had pointed him.
Once he was around the corner, all pretense of drunkenness disappeared. Carter stripped off his business suit to reveal an all black body suit. From the pockets of his suit he started pulling gadgets right and left. Shortly, he was all but invisible, except under a street light, something he avoided at all costs.
Carter made his way towards the headquarters of that charity. As he approached he noticed guards. They were; however, lazy and rarely left the front of the building where he had no intention of going. He quickly finds the roof access ladder in the rear of the building and makes his way to the roof. When he gets there he is stunned.
He knew that the shielded room contained the only Internet connection in the building and he figured it was a satellite connection since that was most secure. That's why he headed for the roof. But what he wasn't prepared for was the fact that the servers that ran the rest of the network were in an air conditioned, but unsecured shed on that roof. This was too easy, a few simple connections and he could snoop the whole network from the comfort of his hotel.
"I guess they trust their encryption a little too much," was the thought Carter had as he went about his business. A wireless connection between the Internet server and the network server would be least visible, but detectable by anybody with an RF sniffer, so he opted for a hardwire connection. This meant he had to hide the wires, but on a tar and gravel roof that was no trick at all.
After he had the connection made and confirmed, Carter plugged into the Internet server something that looked like a Palm Pilot, but did a whole lot more. A list of IP addresses started to appear on his screen. After he had downloaded them he, disconnected and left the way he came.
"Too easy," he muttered to himself as he crept away in the shadows.
When he was just a step or two off the property a dog came around from the front of the building and started barking. "Shut up Misha," yelled an obviously drunk guard at the dog. The dog took a couple of steps but staggered and fell, obviously as drunk as the guard. The toughest thing about the entire evening was not laughing out loud at that dog.
Carter made a quick trip to the brothel the pimp had pointed him too. He got just far enough to complain about the prices and left sounding like the drunk he was not. Now his tracks were covered with the pimp.
They had reason to have faith in their encryption. It took Carter an entire 20 minutes to get into the network. It only took him 15 to get into the DOD the first time.
The first thing that Carter discovered was that the entire operation was a front for what looked like the KGB, but of course, they don’t exist anymore. Then it dawned on him, "Russian mob, old KGB, same thing." This he figured out just by seeing who was on the net and who was talking to whom.
In a short time he found what passed for the books at the place. He couldn't make heads-nor-tails out of them, but he knew someone who could. Back into the America system he went and before long all those files were on the computer of a Treasury Department analyst, marked, "Please review and advise" apparently by the Director of Homeland Security.
Within an hour Carter had an email for that self-same Director sitting on his computer. The report read as follows:
"This appears to be a straightforward extortion operation. The organization in question is stealing large quantities of a hazardous substance from somebody. They are threatening to spread the stuff everywhere if the parties that made it to begin with don’t cough up enormous amounts of cash.
"They also have a couple of sidelines. In addition to extorting the generator of this substance, they are extorting all sorts of environmental watchdog groups that have collected huge sums to clean it up.
"The final sideline is that they are selling some small amounts of the material for enormous sums to someone that I cannot trace.
The analyst puts a bit of a personal note at the end of his report:
"Sorry boss, this looks like a matter for the organized crime guys, not for you."
"Yeah, right," thought Carter as he jumped back into the "charity's" network. He found they maintained a "field office" in some of the abandoned offices in the Sophiaskia power plant itself, but information about it was missing from even this tight computer grid.
"Well, you don’t just waltz in there," Carter mumbled to himself. However, a bit of computer magic later and he had himself credentials as an Environmental Professional on a Technology Exchange Delegation visiting the plant the next day.
The delegation just happened to be staying in his hotel. He found a few of them in the bar and they wanted to buy him a drink before he could even sit down. They had witnessed his little trick with the Greenpeace Van.
From the bar they moved on to dinner. This was a group affair for the delegation, but Mark and Matt, the guys he had been drinking with, brought him along and introduced him to everybody. It seems that environmental professionals really hate environmental activists like Greenpeace. Carter spent the evening being regaled with tales of how everybody from Earth First to the Sierra Club got in the way of actually cleaning anything up because it would never be clean enough for them. Pissing on that bus had made Carter a hero.
Before the evening had ended, Carter was booked for Sophiaskia with the delegation the next day and they thought it was their idea. Best of all, they were all so drunk, they’d never wonder how he got credentials that matched theirs – they'd just figure it had happened sometime during that night of camaraderie.
The next morning when Carter boarded the delegation bus to Sophiaskia, the only empty seat was next to a woman he did not recognize from the bar or the dinner, or from his perusal of the computer files. She was; however, amazingly attractive, and she tapped the seat next to her in a somewhat suggestive, but not over-the-top fashion. Figuring a little skirt chasing would aid his cover, he sat with her. "Sorry Amy," ran through his mind as he started to chat with the woman.
The bus ran through town with the usual spiel, "Here in our ceety,…" intoned the guide. (People with Russian/Ukrainian accents never can pronounce "city".) It was not long before they were rolling through the countryside and, save for the occasional abandoned kiosk that had been a Soviet travel checkpoint, it was about like driving across Kansas – boring.
Carter and his still nameless companion soon fell asleep. They had left very early and it was a long ride. At one point Carter stirred and found the woman’s head on his shoulder. He looked at her and, for the briefest of moments, thought he saw Amy. But then she stirred and the vision was gone. Whatshername was there.
Arriving at Sophiaskia was a chore. As they crossed the 30-km exclusion zone they were required to change into old scratchy woolen suits and leave their clothes at the border. Nothing crossed the border without thorough examination and, if necessary, decontamination. It was easier to change clothes and leave them there. Everybody looked like they were dressed in potato sacks, except for Carter’s seat mate. Her outfit looked tailored.
As they approached the plant itself things really did get eerie. At Sophiaskia, there is a palpable sense of disaster. All human habitations have been abandoned for many years. It’s a ghost town, but it’s not old enough. It’s a heavily forested region until you get within a couple of kilometers of the plant, then it has been clear-cut. Yet on the fringes of the clear-cutting, the trees are clearly diseased and misshapen, if living at all.
The visitors were shepherded through the various "sights": the abandoned town of Sophiayat, the in-ground vaults where contaminated soil and flora are buried, the botany and zoological research stations, finally ending up at the power plant itself.
Security was amazingly lax. It had been very heavy at the exclusion zone border. Carter figured they felt they had the zone tightly secured. He also admitted to himself there was a very high natural barrier to wanting to come in. He also noted offices scattered throughout the facility belonging to the various charities and NGO’s. They were all abandoned with a layer of dust, save for one, and yet it was unmarked. "Bingo!" he thought to himself as he started to slow down and fall to the back of the group. Whatshername had been near the whole time, which he expected, and he noted that she was starting to lag with him.
Thinking quickly, he caught her eye, pointed to a nearby restroom, and then dropped out of the group altogether as they rounded a corner. He walked to the offices of interest and found the door unlocked. He knocked, but there was no reply, so he walked in. As he looked around, getting his bearings, there was Amy, sitting at the receptionist's desk. Before he could utter a sound, she was standing next to him with her hand over his mouth.
"I’m here to watch your back," she whispered in his ear, "I’ll explain as we go along."
Carter, still stunned, checked her out from head-to-toe. She looked like a comic book superhero. She was wearing some sort of suit made of he-had-no-idea, but it was constantly changing color and at times blended so well with whatever was behind her that she became virtually invisible. He noted there was a hood hanging behind her neck. Clearly she could have covered her head and face and disappeared altogether.
Carter quickly found a computer terminal and hacked in. It was easy this time. They must have figured no one would even get this far. All he found was more on the extortion operation. He again noted the missing material, but it was simply recorded as missing. There was nothing about a destination. Then he found some small notations. Every time a little material went missing, it noted, "See Ilya."
But it was the final notation that really mattered. Some of the material had "gone missing" in the last 5 hours, and it was noted in "tunnel 5." About this time, Amy, who had been checking out the suite of offices, walked in from the back and said, "Everything looks very ordinary, except for one very heavy door back here. It’s like it’s made of lead or something."
"That’s where we are headed," said Carter.
It took both of them to move to door, but once through, Carter looked at Amy and said, "Start talking."
As they descended a spiral staircase leading deep under the facility, Amy explained that Carter was not the only shoulder on which the President had tapped. She explained that he had developed a small network of reliable people to call on when the wheels of government simply turn too slowly or too combatively. She did not know anyone else in that network but herself and Carter. Her role was to break out certain technologies from the development and procurement cycle when needed – like the suit she was wearing.
"When I found out you had invited yourself on this little sojourn with my team, I thought it might come in handy," she said as she finished her tale.
"What's it do?" asked Carter.
"You know your little friend on the bus?"
"Well, you’re looking at her."
"That and a little more, it’s protective, and it gives something of a strength boost – I could have opened the door myself."
By this time, they were at the bottom of the steps and making their way through the series of tunnels that had been dug just after Sophiasjia's accident. The cement sarcophagus surrounded the former nuclear reactor on all sides, as well as above and beneath. The tunnels had been dug at great cost in human life and health, but they had done the job and the miners that came in to do it were all "Heroes Of The Soviet Union".
It was immediately obvious what was going on. The Russian mob was stealing material out of the bottom of the pile, using the tunnels and doing the extortion. It was also obvious that it was a heck of a criminal enterprise. There was nothing there to indicate that they were handling the amounts of material the records indicated. Obviously, having control of the tunnels and small amounts of the material was enough to accomplish the extortion.
They went past a heavily shielded room and looked through what had to be 12 inches of leaded crystal. They were looking at the bottom of the radioactive pile. They saw several small holes in the concrete and steel shield that had been built. Through these holes the small amounts had been extracted.
Carter followed the signs to tunnel 5. There, his last remaining question was answered. He could see that they were pulling almost pure radioactive fuel from the bottom of the pile. From above, the boron sand used to extinguish the core fire had diluted everything, but from below they could reach reasonable chunks of really hot stuff. This accounted for the large loss in radiation levels for the relatively small amount of material removed. It also accounted for the heavily shielded boxes arrayed in front of him.
Immediately to his right was a small office. There were signs of life – so he pointed to it. Amy donned her hood and disappeared. Seemingly by itself, the office door opened and by the time Carter had walked through, the office's occupant was sitting in a desk chair and appeared to be pinned by someone who wasn't there.
"Ilya?" asked Carter
"Da," came the reply from the clearly confused and befuddled mobster.
"We need to talk…," was all the farther Carter got before some sort of monster burst through a door in the back of the office.
"So, that’s how they do this," thought Carter to himself as he examined the creature. It was clear it had once been human, but most of the resemblance was gone. More machine than biology, Carter figured that this cyborg thing had been created either purposefully, or as a means of repairing some victim of the radiation. It was clearly designed to handle heavy loads of radioactive material, fitted with drills and loaders, and its few biological components were in a heavily shielded dome. One thing was for sure, short of a crane, it could never leave the tunnels.
Next thing he knew, Ilya was flying across the room at Carter. He heard Amy's disembodied voice yell, "Go!" as he saw one of the less useful appendages break off the thing.
Carter hesitated, holding Ilya, who at this point had a very sinister grin, but again he heard Amy, "I can handle this, GO!"
Ilya was just afraid enough of the disembodied voice and having been pinned by nothing that he did not argue too hard as Carter shoved him out the door. As they made their way through the tunnels, it was apparent a titanic struggle was going on in the office. Titanic enough to shake the walls, making both men fear a collapse. Ilya, a coward at heart, began to lead them out through the shortest path possible. There was an exit staircase much closer to their location than the one Carter and Amy had descended.
As they started to climb, Carter heard a scream and looked back to see an arm, obviously ripped from Amy's body, come flying down the hall. His marine training took over, "Live now, mourn later."
They came up very close to the tour he had abandoned. As they rejoined, Cater explained to the guide that he had gotten lost finding a bathroom and his new friend Ilya had helped him find the group. He also mentioned that Ilya needed a ride back to Kiev.
Ilya did not argue. It was obvious he was afraid of what Carter might do after what he had just witnessed. Once on the bus, Carter slipped Ilya a sedative and the mobster passed out immediately.
As they approached Kiev, Carter slipped Ilya a stimulant and roused him. When they arrived at the hotel, Ilya was still groggy and it was no trick for Carter to lead him up to his room. Hotel staff didn't give it a second thought – hung over and groggy is a natural state of existence in the former Soviet.
Carter tied Ilya up in a chair and then went into the bathroom and shut the door. He put the toilet lid down, took a seat and slowly, but silently began to sob. Within just a few minutes, he looked up and all that could be read on his face was rage. He took a few deep breaths and stepped back into the room.
He walked calmly over to the in-room refrigerator, took out a bottle of Pepsi (they still use the old glass ones in Ukraine), opened it, took a swig, then stuffed it violently into Ilya's mouth - pouring the liquid as rapidly as possible while simultaneously gagging him. Ilya's eyes started to pop out as he was overcome with the sensation of drowning.
When the bottle emptied, Carter removed it and Ilya bent forward and puked. Before he was finished, Carter grabbed his collar and pulled him upright, looked him in the eye and said simply, "Answer my question the first time, or I'll call room service for more Pepsi." Ilya blinked in response.
"Who is buying the material from you?" began Carter.
"Al Qaeda, I guess…"
"You guess?" said Carter as he moved towards the fridge.
"If I say more, they'll kill me."
Shifting tacks, Carter asked, "How do you make delivery?"
"Old KGB network trucks to the Black Sea, then by ship to Mobile. All the people in between me and delivery think its drugs."
"Let's go back to the who question," Carter said as he walked over to his suitcase and pulled out the huge Bowie knife Amy had purchased for him as a souvenir during the first couple of days there. It was old Soviet military issue and Amy had seen him admiring it at a flea market. She had surprised him with it when they got back to the hotel.
Ilya's eyes started to bulge again at the sight of the knife, "The money comes from a bank in Kabul, so I just assume."
"Who?" asked Carter
"Cashiers check," responded Ilya.
"Precious little information," Carter thought, "but enough." Then he sat down at his computer and worked a while. Ilya saw a whole new set of identity papers appear for Carter.
Eventually he turned to Ilya and said, "Do you know how it was you were held in that office?"
"A gh..gh..ghost?" was all Ilya could manage.
"No," said Carter with a certain emphasis in his voice, "She was an agent in a hi-tech suit. Kind of like your buddy -- that thing that killed her. Only she was human,. . . and the woman I loved."
With that, Carter reached out with the knife and slit Ilya's throat. Ilya had no time to say anything before his vocal cords were rendered useless. He bled out in a matter of seconds. Carter then set about mutilating the corpse, especially the face and fingerprints. He even broke the teeth to void dental identification.
On what was left of the body, he planted his own identity papers. He then took a shower and got dressed. He pulled a suitcase out of the closet and put it where his super-tech case had been, picked up his new identity papers and walked out of the room as Rob Self, agricultural importer, visiting the Ukraine to arrange grain shipments to America. David Carter was dead.
Rob Self went to hop the next plane to Washington.
While he was cooking up his new "Rob Self" identity, Carter had once again hacked into US homeland security systems. The information he had gathered was soon making its way, in various disguises, to DOE NEST teams, FBI, local authorities and everyone else who needed to know.
Knowing it was Sophiaskia material made it easy for the NEST team to find out what warehouse had the material. A paperwork check revealed it as unclaimed. Pretty soon the whole dock and warehouse was staffed with FBI agents.
Eventually, a truck came to claim the crate, but it was obviously hired. They followed the truck which delivered the material to one of those 5000 square foot industrial bays in something that looked like a mini-mall except with overhead doors. Every bay in the U-shaped development had a sign except for the one that took delivery of the crate.
Then the stake-out began. They identified 20 people routinely coming and going from the unit, though they were rarely all there at the same time. Background checks ensued. Three or four of them were already on the watch list, but most of them were new. All the newbies were followed and portfolios compiled.
When the FBI felt like it had gathered all the intel it could, their raid began, not only on the industrial unit, but on the homes of everyone they had noted coming in and out of the place.
In the industrial unit itself the terrorists were constructing dirty bombs on a level unimagined. Investigators found two dozen of the things in various states of assembly. They also found logistics plans to explode them all simultaneously, one each in various metropolitan areas. They could have brought the country to its knees.
The plans were terrifying in their implications. This "cell" was not limited to Arab-Islamic extremists. They had recruited a few American extremists, some from the heavily African-American "Nation of Islam," but most were simply disaffected nutcases in the mold of Timothy McVeigh. They used these Americans in a most insidious way.
The American recruits had been used to contact various American groups like environmental extremists, white power groups, black power militants, and so forth. These groups comprised the distribution network for the dirty bombs. The Homeland Security net had just gotten a lot bigger.
They also found evidence of a cell leader who had never been to the unit, He was a ghost; they had no way to trace him. Papers referred to him only as "Mohammed's Right Arm." Documents seized in Afghanistan had also made mention of such a figure, but that was all that was ever known of him.
The public was never told of the cell or its mission. It was judged that the implications were more than the average American could handle.
The Kiev airport is like a lot of other airports in the world – one runway with one side developed for commercial use and the other for military. As 'Rob Self' sat in a departure lounge he noted a bunch of people running, with weapons, towards a hangar on the military side of the airport. There was obviously a lot of activity, even obvious gunfire, but the distance and the soundproofing made it an eerie sight. He heard nothing.
Then, all at once the air thundered, as if someone turned off the mute function, but only for the bass range. Actually, he felt more than heard it – it started as a rumbling in his feet, but eventually the door exploded off the hangar. A shock wave caused the passenger terminal windows to rattle, not to mention the shrapnel that flew everywhere.
As the dust cleared Carter saw the source of the activity. It was the machine/man monster from underneath Sophiaskia. It was severely mangled, but it remained immensely powerful. It appeared to be flailing in blind rage.
When all this started, Carter had been checking his email, using something that looked to the world like a Palm Pilot, but was, of course, infinitely more capable than even the most sophisticated models available on the market. The device's automatic wireless connection had gone crazy.
Then it dawned on Carter: operating a machine as complex as that raging monster outside would take far more computer power than could be put on board. It could not be self-contained. It must have been using a wireless signal to tap all available computing resources. Carter tried to tap into the network it had assembled.
As soon as he did, the thing noticed and started to make a beeline across the tarmac and runway toward the passenger terminal. Soon an IM message popped up on Carter's handheld. "Ilya was my brother, and now I have you."
Smaller aircraft parked on the tarmac were thrown aside like so many candy wrappers. Just as the thing stepped onto the runway, it was hit by a plane on its take-off roll. The plane erupted into flame. The mechano-beast staggered, but not for long. People in the passenger terminal fled in panic, in virtually every direction.
Carter was just standing there, punching along on his hand held. The military personnel were trailing behind the monster in its stalk. They had brought out heavier weapons, but it was impervious to grenades and hand-launched rocket fire. Tanks could be seen rolling on the periphery, but they were old models. They had to maneuver into position first and then dial in their target. There was no way they could get the job done in time.
As the mechano-beast moved past the plane parked at the gate where Carter was about to board, it ripped the wings off and kicked out the landing gear. One of the gear hit a fuel truck parked nearby and an explosion ensued. The windows turned immediately black with the soot.
A few seconds later a mechanical arm crashed through the window shattering it into a million pieces. At that same instant, Carter hit the "execute" button on his handheld and the mechano-beast stopped dead in its tracks. He quickly put away his handheld, brushed the broken glass off himself and joined the panicked public. It had taken a few minutes, but he had shut down every wireless router within connecting range, robbing the thing of its needed computing power. He just hoped "the powers that be" could figure out how this thing worked before it moved again. He tried to salt the various networks with as many useful clues as possible.
No one in the executive Office Building thought twice about it when Carter retuned for work. No one there really knew who he was anyway. But when he took the long walk through the tunnels into the White House and strode towards the President's office the stares and dropped jaws formed an invisible force which he had to work to overcome. He engaged none of their looks. As he approached the President's office a Secret Service agent stepped in front of him.
"I'm sorry, sir – appointment only," was all the agent said trying to hide the bewilderment he clearly felt.
"You know doggone well that I am on the unlimited access list, Brown," was Carter's reply emphasizing that he knew who he was talking to and that he therefore had every right to be there.
"Sir, the person whose ID you are wearing has been reported dead. That makes you a likely imposter."
Carter was tempted to take a swing at Agent Brown, but thought better of it, knowing it would only bring every other agent in the building in his direction. Instead, with his hands plainly in sight, Carter leaned into the agent's ear and whispered, "My feed to the security brief is down, I must go in."
Brown could no longer hide his emotions and he started to stutter, "Bu…bu…but how?" The President's personal detail knew of Carter's activities. They had to, but they were the only ones who knew. No imposter would know about it.
"Need to know," was Carter's only response as the agent opened the door to the President's office and granted Carter access.
As Carter entered the room, the President looked up from the papers he was reviewing and as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "David, it's good to see you alive and well."
Carter could not help but wonder how much of what he was about to tell the President, the guy already knew, but he plowed ahead. He told the President the whole story, in a precise, concise and military fashion. That is until he came to Amy's death.
As he told the President about how heroically Amy had died, his narrative slowed noticeably. His voice quavered, but he managed not to break down completely. Once he was through that portion if the story, he returned to his proficient reporting norm.
When he got to the part about how he murdered the terrorist criminal he was at his most succinct. He reported the facts in extremely precise detail, almost as if he were reading a criminal indictment.
When he finished his story he added but one personal comment, "Mr. President, I have committed criminal acts. I deliberately and with forethought used torture to extract information. I then murdered the man I tortured. My sorrow over Amy is no excuse. Revenge does not justify murder. I request you call the FBI, have them send some agents over here to arrest me. I should be executed in accordance with federal law and provisions of military justice."
At this, the President stood up and walked over to Carter, put his arm around him and escorted him to the couch and they sat down together.
"First of all," began the President, "job well done. You prevented a major terrorist incident, one that would have had consequences far more catastrophic than any in history. You're a hero, regardless of how you accomplished it. By the way, I've been expecting you – no one else could have pulled off that stunt in the Kiev airport."
"Secondly, I miss her too. Our relationship may not have been public, but that did not mean I did not love her dearly, as I can see you did, too." With that, a tear formed in Carter's left eye and gently began to roll down his cheek. His lip started to quiver, but he rapidly brought that under control. The two men sat there quietly for what seemed like an eternity, sharing their despair in that undemonstrative manner that men of action have.
"Finally," continued the President, "as to having you arrested…It's pretty hard to put a dead man on trial, let alone execute him. I think I have a better idea."
The President led Carter out of his working office and into the Oval Office. They walked to the fireplace and the President fiddled with a few books on the mantle. The fireplace rose like some sort of unbelievably elaborate overhead door, revealing the interior of an elevator car.
"After you," said the President waving Carter into the car. The descent took forever. They were going deep. After a while, the President looked at Carter and shrugged, “"Cold War era bomb shelter."
When they reached the bottom, the doors spread to reveal a very extensive complex. "I've expanded it a little," said the President. The end of the long hallway was a video wall – it featured images of the World Trade Center before, during, and after. At the top of the wall, in plain, bold lettering it read "The Twin Towers Network". At the bottom, in script it said "Numquam obliviscaris." The President, noting the puzzled look on Carter's face, said, “Never Forget.”
They walked down the hall a bit, stepped into a conference room and sat down. "David, you've been a key part of all of this from the very beginning," was how the President began what was obviously a prepared presentation. "I know you learned from Amy that I have been recruiting 'friends' that I can rely on to cut through the crap to get the job done. This complex is the center of that network of friends and now I'd like you to meet a few more of them."
For the next hour-and-a-half, Carter received briefings on all the activities of the network from about four individuals. Carter was amazed. This was no typical government organization. The complex they were in was the only facility solely dedicated to this network, and the four people he has just met were the only employees. All they did was recruit reliable people in industry, military, and intelligence and make sure information got where it was needed. It was pretty much like his own job, but on a far grander scale. The first presenter was the Administrative Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He mentioned something about "netwar realized."
The last presenter handled the industrial area. He knew what was being developed by whom and when it should come on line. His briefing included a detailed account of the suit Amy wore and how it worked. As the presentation ended, Carter heard, "But things have advanced a generation or two since Amy’s suit was developed, and that is where you come in."
Carter looked over at the President, bemused.
"David, you have been part of this effort form the beginning, even if you didn’t know it – a vital part. But now I want you to become the point man. I have been waiting for somebody to show they had what it takes and your actions recently have done just that."
The presenter, who Carter suddenly remembered was named Fred Goldman, started to mumble under his breath, "We have the technology, we can…"
The President tossed Goldman a look that said "Knock It Off" louder than it could ever be verbalized. He then continued and explained to Carter that the suit Amy wore could now be implanted within a person's body. He also said that that technology combined with internal computer system implants that were developed a few years earlier could make Carter a one man special ops team with organic intelligence capability.
"Sounds like you want to turn me into Captain America," says Carter.
"Hell of a lot better than the bionic man," responds the President, casting a withering look Goldman’s way.
Carter sat pensively for a moment. "I'm dead, right?"
"Oh yeah," said Goldman a little too enthusiastically, causing the President to get that look again. Clearly Goldman was really good at his job, but a little too silly for the President's taste.
Since Amy died, Carter felt like the fire in his belly had been completely extinguished. It wasn't even smoking. But as he sat there and thought about it, he could feel it ignite, just a kindling at first, but the more he thought the warmer the fire became and the brighter the light it shed.
Finally, he stuck out his hand to the President and said, "As long as I don't have to wear some goofy bright spandex thing."
The President laughed as he took Carter's hand warmly. Goldman just wondered why Carter got to be the funny guy.
For next couple of months, Carter's life was a blur. Some of it was because of what they were doing to him, but not much of it. He only had one surgery in the whole process. Everything was done with injections and radiation and fiber optic mini-intrusions. At one point, somebody said something about nano-tech actually building systems inside him. He didn't really remember.
His perceptions of the world around him were changing quite rapidly. The first thing they did was implant computer systems in him. They originally intended him to operate it with thought control, but that was a bit more than he could handle right away. He was fitted with a pair of glasses that enabled him to see a "screen" and the computer responded to finger movements. Soon; however, the very intelligent system they had installed taught itself the brainwave patterns that produced the finger movements and was responding before he actually moved. It wasn't long before he found the finger movements unnecessary.
Receiving information from the computer proved far more problematic. No matter what they tried they could not unpload directly into his brain. Information had to be filtered through his sensory systems. There was too much for him to take it in aurally, but having that computer screen in his eye was distracting at key moments. Eventually they fitted him with a small screen actually in the lens of his eye. They gave him an auditory input and gave him the ability to switch between them turn them off. Nevertheless, being intimately connected to the Internet and other various networks made it very difficult for a very long time to have any sense of "reality." For Carter cyberspace became a very real place.
Then there were the internal effects of what he thought of as "Amy's suit". Amy had not told him everything the suit could do. It greatly enhanced his sensory abilities, thus flooding his brain with even more information. He found himself able to see into the infrared and ultraviolet spectra. This gave him a sort of built in night-vision capability, among other things.
Being an exploring soul, Carter did not stop with what they gave him. He figured out how to use the computing power at his disposal with the infrared sensing capability to actually do infrared spectroscopy on objects he examined. His network interface gave him near infinite library matching capability, so even though he was no chemist, he could do some chemical analysis right in the field.
He found himself able to listen through walls, which grew embarrassing on more than one occasion as he discovered the various "relationships" around him.
Carter’s reality-confusion was further troubled by the fact that he was never in any one place for very long. He'd be taken to this facility for procedure A and that facility for procedure B and so forth. Goldman seemed to be the only one that had the whole picture of what was happening and he was so full of wisecracks that Carter just shut him off most of the time when he talked.
When Carter could get an actual conversation, Goldman proved to be a pretty nice guy, and sharp as a tack. Eventually, they found themselves back in the Twin Towers Project complex under the White House where Goldman became Carter's tenuous thread to reality. Nobody ever told Carter anything but to "explore his possibilities," which he did, but each time he did he found it hard to rejoin humanity.
Goldman kept him human. Between Goldman's very human wisecracking, obscure cultural references, numerous flaws, and constant presence, Carter would use Goldman as a path back to the human race. Carter found that by focusing himself on Goldman he could begin to shut out all the extraneous information and input and begin to feel again like a man, not just a mobile network interface.
Goldman wasn't a warm guy, which was good for Carter, but eventually he felt a need for more than the thrust-and-parry of "guy" conversation – he felt a need for real human contact, the kind of conversation guys only have with girls, and then only when they are alone and only when they really, really like the girl. Once he realized the need he was experiencing, memories of Amy flooded everything.
In his room alone, he broke down and cried, and cried, and cried. For the first time since she died, he felt fully human. Goldman watched the whole thing over an observation system about which Carter knew nothing. Goldman smiled broadly. On a nearby computer he called up his project notebook and made a simple entry, "Subject Ready."
The next day, the President dropped by for a visit. It was the first time Carter had seen the President since the day he agreed to all of this. As the President walked in, he nonchalantly greeted Carter with, "How's my terrorbuster?" wearing a very mischievous grin.
Carter looked up at the President and activated the mimicry stealth circuits that now were his skin and took on the appearance of the ugliest superhero costume anyone had ever seen. "Mr. President, this is a terrorbuster and I don’t want to be one."
The President laughed, hard. "I suppose you have decided you are Captain America then?"
In the blink of an eye, Carter became the spitting image of that comic hero, shield, chain-mail and all, "Well you have to admit, he cuts a pretty good jib."
The President laughed again, but Carter kept talking, "Sir, I do need a codename, and I’ve been thinking about it."
He moved in front of a nearby computer and activated the invisibility circuits. He began to shimmer and then blended perfectly with what was behind him. The effect was startling. It was as if he turned into a computer screen and keyboard. "Mr. President, I have become the first true 'Intelligent Interface.'"
"I-squared," chimed in Goldman from the corner.
The President just smiled and said, "So you have," then nodding to Goldman, "and so it will be."