There have been many, many words today. In fact, not only is Chapter Thirteen done, but Chapter Fourteen is about 95% done. Because I think it would be confusing to post 95% of Chapter Fourteen tonight and then the last 5% tomorrow, I’m just going to save all of it for tomorrow. Plus probably a good chunk, if not all, of Chapter Fifteen, should be done by tomorrow night. That should put me close to the 50,000 word mark.
With five chapters, approximately 15,000 words, left to finish the story. It should end up about 65,000 words long, give or take a couple thousand. Probably give.
Again tonight, the graphic shows all of the words written, not just the ones published here.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (concluded)
“That makes me think that there’s some cutting edge hacking and spoofing going on,” said Lee. “Not only is this thing grabbing some big time resources from just about everybody, but it’s managing to do so without them knowing about it. Who do we know who has the capability to do that?”
“Again, the military, maybe,” said Fred. “But they wouldn’t bother, they would just run something like this on their own internal systems and we would never know that it was happening except for the increased load on the bandwidth allocations in the satellite links. This has got to be something commercial, civilian, and big, but not national military sort of big.”
“Which would be setting off the fire alarm, which is what we’re seeing,” said Crystal. “Great, we’ve managed to argue ourselves into a circle. In order to set off the fire alarm it has to be something big enough and bad enough to set off the fire alarm.”
“Crystal, you keep an eye on what it’s doing, let us know if it starts to spike even more or act erratically or dangerously. Fred and Brittany, to help us figure out what it’s looking for, we need to know how this started. What’s the trigger that set this off? Can you see if you can trace anything backwards in time? Was this something pre-programmed to go off at this moment for some reason, or did something set it off? If so, what was the something?”
“On it, boss,” said Fred.
While everyone got down to business on their assigned tasks, Lee started trying to identify exactly what information was being pulled by this massive digital process. It was difficult to do without alerting the rogue software to the fact that they were aware of its presence and it was being watched.
The danger was two-fold if that happened. First, the entity might be capable of increasing its security and encryption to a level where they could no longer watch it, or even know it existed. One of the strongest advantages they had was stealth and surprise. It was important to not lose those advantages.
Secondly, the entity could attack instead of vanishing. While Crystal’s software was elegant and powerful, it was not unstoppable. A program with the kind of computational and invasive resources displayed at this level could crack their encryption, destroy their programs, and trace them back to Crystal and her friends. Since they were hunting for programs that might be insane by human standards and without even a rudimentary sense of morals, angering it and letting it know where you lived was not a good strategy.
Lee would have loved to see exactly what data the rogue program was collecting, but that wasn’t possible. Instead, she set up routines to pull random data from the same databases, making it look like routine activity on the compromised system. By examining the random data, should was able to start building a picture of what the target of the search was.
As Crystal had pointed out, big chunks of the data was coming from systems used to track oceangoing shipping. Some of it was from polar systems, used primarily for weather but also for emergency locator beacon monitoring. While some of the polar systems had cameras, they were mainly used for scientific and research activities, not reconnaissance.
Some data was from conventional low Earth orbit systems, which might pass over a given location four or five times a day. As individual platforms they had limited utility since they were overhead for such small windows throughout the day. But as units in a large constellation of identical satellites, they had something overhead almost constantly.
Finally, there were the communications satellites in geosynchronous orbits. They had little use as imaging platforms, being a hundred times further up than the low Earth orbit satellites. But they were invaluable for communications applications, being always overhead in the same spot as seen from anyone on the ground.
The majority of the data being collected was from the low Earth orbit satellites, visual and infrared data. Then data began to be imported from military and drug enforcement agencies. This was the sort of surveillance data used for tracking smugglers and drug runners.
“Lee,” said Clay, “I think I’ve got something for you. The center of the search area looks like it’s at about twelve to fifteen degrees north, one hundred and sixty-eight to one hundred and seventy-two degrees west. It’s still all over the place, but it seems to be converging in that area.” A new window popped open with a map of the area in question. Points began to slowly dot the area, with a target cross showing the center drifting around as new data points filled the matrix.
“What’s out there?” asked Lee. “Islands? Shipping lanes? Undersea mining operations? There has to be something.”
“I’m searching and cross referencing to everything I can think of, but so far I’ve got nothing. It’s the definition of the middle of nowhere, no islands within hundreds if not thousands of miles. No normal shipping lanes anywhere near there. I guess it could be looking for military ships, something like an aircraft carrier battle fleet. They go wherever they damn well want to. But that gets back to it probably not being a military search. They have their own systems and no reason to do it this way.
“Have you seen the new searches starting up, rifling through naval tracking and DEA systems?”
“Wait, it’s doing what?” asked Crystal. “You said that it’s pulling data on a supposedly empty section of ocean and now it’s getting data on smugglers?”
“Yeah, close enough. Why?”
“It’s making a sort of a flat field image. It’s looking for a ship but most of the ships in the area are bad guys. It doesn’t have time to figure out who’s good and who’s bad, but it knows these government agencies have systems already set up to track the bad guys for him. If it takes all of the data and then subtracts out the image of the bad guys being tracked by other agencies, then what drops out is a small subset that will contain his data. It’s subtracting what it considers noise out of the signal.”
“People, look at this,” said Fred as another new window popped up, showing bandwidth and data volume data for one of the geosynchronous satellites above the Pacific. “There’s an encoded signal that appears twenty minutes ago. We’ve searched and we find that signal to be intermittent, probably from some kind of automated monitoring system. It could be some kind of climate or weather bot out there.”
“Why is that unusual?” asked Clay. “ Isn’t that what how it’s designed to work?”
“Yes, but they normally send up bursts of data packets. You can see these signals being handled here all the time, probably from a whole fleet of climatology stations. But they’re all just a couple megabytes of data, only takes a second. This is a stream of information back and forth, and it goes on for ten minutes.”
“Could it be communications from something other than an automated system? Perhaps it’s from a submarine or some other ship, or even a plane or some kind of aerial system.”
“We thought of that, but when we looked we found similar transmissions every few weeks. Normally when they start they go on sporadically for days, several times a day. All of the communications signatures and encoding look the same, and they’re all going through the same geosat.”
“What ties that to the activity that’s triggered the fire alarm?”
“Look at the encryption schemes being used, then compare them to what was used in this weird burst. They’re the same.”
“Something’s going on,” said Crystal. “There are some massive searches starting into satellite communications in the area, particularly a given fleet of cubesats. I wonder if…”
“There, look at that,” interrupted Brittany. “It’s found whatever it was looking for and it’s breaking in through the cubesats.”
“Something’s uploading,” said Crystal. “And it’s gotten sloppy, it’s shipping the uploads off someplace with minimal protections. I’m pretty sure I can get a copy of those uploads without being caught. Should I go for it?”
“Do it,” said Lee.
“Make it quick,” Clay said, “the upload’s almost done and it’s started downloading a very complex package. That rarely ends well in this type of situation.”
“I’ve got it,” said Crystal. “I don’t think I left any tracks, but we’ve now got a much, much bigger problem.”
“It’s out, it’s cut the connection,” said Clay.
“What’s wrong, Crystal?” asked Lee.
“The upload was being transferred to a system at a subsidiary site for Homolacrum. We were correct and we are probably now totally screwed. It’s Sherman doing all of this. She’s set off the fire alarm. She’s sentient.”