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.