Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.
Landing in Seattle took some doing, as it turns out. Drake’s story, even corroborated by the entire flight crew, elicited extreme skepticism from the air traffic controllers.
“Thank goodness they let us land at all,” Drake told Janine as walked wearily down the cloud-tiled walkway from the terminal.
“Thank goodness they let us leave,” Janine corrected. “All those hours of interrogation… Lord…” She shook her head. Drake remained silent, so she continued. “I hope I’m never on a flight like that again. Makes me think of getting a different job.”
Drake smiled. Although his peaceful plane flight had been ruined, Janine seemed much friendlier after his heroic landing of the recalcitrant plane. The computer program hadn’t been meant to land the plane; it’d just had enough functionality to crash it. Only Drake’s tense, agonizing forty five minutes at the controls had brought them down safely, albeit roughly. The airline would certainly have to replace that plane, and they wouldn’t be too excited about that, Drake felt sure. He was sorry for the company, and for all the people on the plan who’d been so frightened. He was just glad he could help.
“You did great,” Drake told her, glancing at her slender form striding along beside him. Through it all, Janine and her fellow flight attendants had kept the passengers buckled in, calm—as calm as possible, Drake amended—and had done everything possible to facilitate safe arrival in Seattle. “I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else talking to the passengers, that’s for sure.”
Continue reading.Janine smiled genuinely, if wanly. “Thanks, that’s sweet,” she told him. Even tired, Drake found her irresistible. Her spotless uniform had obtained a few rumples and stains over the trying hours, and Drake could see that her feet hurt. Her gleaming hair had begun frizzing a bit, forming a halo of brown that caught the light as they went down the long corridor. But her poise had never faltered, even when she and the pilots had thought they would all be buried in a watery grave.
They passed columns tiled by local artists, one portraying a huge tree in black-and-white tiles that always made Drake feel truly at home. “Well, at least N.U.N.S. helped us get away faster,” he said, referring to his boss’s not inconsiderable influence that had convinced the Federal Aviation Authority officials and other assorted law enforcement personnel that Drake was no wayward hijacker.
“Without N.U.N.S., we’d probably still be trying to convince them you weren’t a bad guy,” Janine agreed, her use of Geraldine Drake’s favorite phrase reminding Drake how much he needed to get home.
As they passed into the gleamingly tiled, freshly remodeled entrance to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Drake took his hesitant leave of Janine. “I see my ride,” he told her, catching sight of his mother’s tan 1999 Buick LeSabre. “Gotta fly. But Janine—”
She paused, half turning.
“—Let’s get together some time, OK? I’ll call you.” Even as he said it, Drake’s stomach knotted up and his palms started sweating. Call her? When had he last called a girl? What would Mom say? He swallowed nervously as she shouted something affirmatory back at him even as she walked away. The little piece of paper, inscribed with that precious ten-digit code, felt like a live coal in his palm. Then the LeSabre pulled up and the trunk popped, bringing Drake back to reality.
“How was your flight, dear? Took a while leaving, didn’t it?” Sixty-five years had not been gentle to Geraldine, but then, her propensity for brightly-colored track suits, hair curlers, and dazzling white tennis shoes didn’t help, either.
Drake settled into the passenger seat with a huge sigh. “Long. I’m wiped. Let’s go home.” He fell asleep before they had even reached I-405.
9:05 on Monday morning wasn’t exactly Emily Pennyworth’s favorite time of day. In fact, she could hardly think of a time she preferred less, except perhaps 10:00 on a Friday night when she was still at work. With Light Box 2007 just released and the whole world snapping up every available copy, Emily’s job had just suddenly gotten much more interesting.
“Another 69 emails this morning,” she called to Andy, her next-door cube mate. He always arrived bright and early, pumped up by his breakfast of a half-dozen shots of espresso.
“Seventy-seven!” he called back, prompting Emily muttered nastily under her breath. Usually she won their morning competition, but somehow Andy’s inbox had filled faster than hers over this weekend.
“I have sixteen marked ‘Urgent.’” Beat that, coffee boy.
“Dang, none of mine are. But one is a death threat from some wacko. And I could grow my penis three inches with this patented medicine…”
“I’m getting coffee,” Emily told him, hanging up her coat and glancing around her relatively bare cubicle. “You want any?”
“No thanks, Em, I’m trying to cut back.”
In shock, Emily stuck her head out of her cube and looked into Andy’s sty. Discarded coffee cups, Coke bottles, and little bits of wadded-up Post-It notes were par for the course in his area, although the weekend’s sheen of dust seemed a tad worse than usual. “No way.”
He grinned, dimples appearing in his pudgy cheeks. “Just kidding! I’m all set though, seriously. Got this on the way in.” He waved another Starbucks cup.
On her way back with a cup of terrible, if free, coffee heavily diluted by cream and sugar, Emily pondered her job. She liked working for Titan; another ten years and she might be able to retire, maybe have a family. She nodded to Daya and Ana as she passed them chatting at the water cooler. The people here were nice enough, too—Frank came to mind unbidden, his slender, fit 5’8” and smirking smile flashing before her eyes. Then, too, Emily enjoyed the responsibility of maintaining security for the most important, ubiquitous operating system ever produced. She felt confident that even with all the tricks the best hackers in the world would throw at it, Light Box 2007 would remain secure. She’d bet her life on it.
Back in her cube, she sipped the now lukewarm coffee. Time to read some emails.
N.U.N.S. wasn’t exactly your typical office. For one thing, it was underground. For another, it had what Rich had described as “a pipe full of electrons” connecting it to the Internet. Later Drake learned that they actually had an OC-192 line. Then, too, it thought it housed exactly 128 people, it provided several hundred custom computers for their use, including a Cray X1E supercomputer, as well as leaving plenty of room for a shooting range, a formidable arsenal ranging from Beretta 92Fs to SPAS 12s to H&K; MP5s to M16s, a complete gym, and a padded Tae Kwon Do training room.
When he rolled in at 10:30 on Monday, Drake felt much better. He stopped by Jim’s office and found him heavily entrenched in a World of Warcraft mission, something about ridding an area of monsters. Jake heard Drake’s carrying rumbling voice as he debriefed with Jim on the Ooi mission.
Jake Naguchi, at 21 the youngest in the office, always left Drake feeling a beat behind. “Do you have that computer that they used to hijack the plane, Drake?” he asked keenly as he found his way into Jim’s office. “I wanted to check and see if we could find anything about the owner…” Drake left him and the confiscated tablet PC with Jim. Last he heard, Jake expounding on a complicated suggestion on how to defeat the monsters while fiddling with the tablet’s back casing.
Richard Gardner glanced up from his monitor as Drake softly entered the plush office, shutting the door gently behind him. “So, Drake, you caught that rascal Ooi—with his pants down, I hear! Well done.”
“Thank you, sir.” Drake grinned. Yes, it was good to be back.
“And you had a spot of excitement on the flight home, too, eh?” The ex-CIA agent, originally a Marine who’d proven too smart for that occupation and turned to cryptography instead, looked on Drake as something of a prodigy. Something of a loose cannon prodigy, perhaps, but Drake’s military background had immediately endeared him to the N.U.N.S. boss.
“Not too bad, sir,” Drake modestly demurred. “Glad I took that flight training when you suggested it, though. Pretty handy.”
“Indeed.” Gardner glanced at the monitor again, then said, “Again, well done. You up for something a little less exciting?”
“I wouldn’t mind a little R&R;, sir.” Drake knew it wouldn’t exactly be relaxation, but anything would be restful after the last 72 hours he’d spent on the job. Only a weekend of sleeping punctuated by eating ravenously had restored him to his normal self.
“Good man. Call Marion, would you?” This last was to Cheryl, the administrative assistant who made sure they had paper, that the bills were paid, and that everybody ate something besides Coke during the day.
When Marion arrived, she gave Drake a quick smile as she settled into her seat. Looking at her, Drake marveled: You’d never know that beneath that full-length jumper was the regional karate champion, a marvelous athlete, and a crack shot with virtually every firearm he’d ever seen her lay hands on. “Hey, Nix, how’s it going?” Not waiting for an answer, she asked, “What’s up, Rich?”
“Just a nice little investigation for you and Drake to ease him back into work after his last exciting assignment.” He slid a sheet of paper across the desk to Drake and Marion. “The power company is having some odd problems with their street lights, and I’d like you to look into it.”
“The power company, sir? Don’t they have their own experts?” Drake asked, puzzled.
“No,” Marion corrected, “Their experts seem to think everything’s fine. They think it may be somebody hacking in for fun.”
“That’s right,” Gardner agreed with Marion. “They’ve checked and re-checked, and their hardware is fine. They’d like some professional help.”
“No problem.” Drake stood up and looked at Marion expectantly. “Well? What’re we waiting for?” She looked at Gardner, clearly received some communication that passed Drake by, and stood up.
“Time’s a-wasting! Just let me arm up.” Back in her office, she muttered as she gathered up all the implements she needed. “Pen—pencil—purse—lip gloss? No—keys—camera—flash drive— wallet—gun…what gun?” She glanced at Drake, who was leaning impatiently in the doorway, having gathered everything he needed in one sweep across his desk. “What’re you bringing?”
“My usual.” He displayed his pink pearl-handled Derringer.
“I guess I’ll go business as usual too,” Marion decided, and slipped her Desert Eagle into the large purse hanging over her shoulder.
“Are you ready now?” Drake’s tone was pretend-whining, tinged with a real hint of impatience.
“Yes, dear,” came Marion’s mom-voiced reply. “Into the van.” Actually, they just walked up the stairs and out into bustling downtown Seattle. Drake took a deep breath of fresh, cool air and looked around. The morning’s rain had left shining puddles everywhere. As they started walking down the hill to the Seattle Roads Department, Drake reflected on how much he loved Seattle. There went a hybrid Metro bus, bikes neatly racked on front, heading for the newly-renovated Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Across the street, a line of patient businesspeople waited patiently in a glass-plated Starbucks. A pair of bicycle police officers rode smoothly by and a child hopping in puddles with her mother in tow waved at them.
“I just don’t understand it,” the Roads Department manager told Drake and Marion. “Everything is perfect. We’ve checked all the lines; the lights are getting plenty of power. It might be a power surge of some sort…”
“If it was,” Drake asked, “would that cause these sporadic blackouts?”
“I suppose, but the surrounding area should experience blackouts as well.” The manager looked dubious.
“Where do you get your power?”
“Most of our electricity comes from the Grand Coulee Dam, but it’s all through the standard electricity grid. It shouldn’t make a difference.” The baffled manager shook his head again. He looked rather frazzled, and Drake felt bad for him. He hoped he and Marion would be able to sort the issue out so this fellow could relax a little bit.
Drake took Marion aside. “I think we’ll have to check with the Grand Coulee Dam, see if anything strange has been happening over there.”
“Can’t hurt,” Marion agreed. “Although, quite honestly, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Vilay here. Power surges or rolling brownouts wouldn’t just impact the stoplights. I think it must be a software issue. Here…”
She went back to the manager. “Have you changed anything significant computer-wise lately?”
“Oh Lord, have we ever!” Drake hadn’t thought it possible that Mr. Vilay’s face could become more miserable, but it did. “We just finished switching the whole fu—er, system to the Light Box 2007 Elite. IT took days to do the job, had us working around the clock keeping things going normally. And now this on top of it.” He shook his head wretchedly, exhaustedly.
“Don’t worry, sir,” Drake told him, coming up and giving him a hearty clap on his shoulder. The man shuddered at the impact, but Drake didn’t notice. “We’ll definitely get his cleared up in no time. You have any pets?”
“Pets?” Confusion was evident in the manager. “Er—yes, a dog.”
“Well, I suggest you go home and spend some time with your dog. Relax. Don’t worry about this. Give us a few hours and I’m sure everything will be settled.” Drake smiled at him, and the manager cringed. “Pets are great therapy you know. Whenever I get stressed, I just go cuddle with my likkle pookums, my sweet little kitty, and—”
“OK, Drake,” Marion interrupted. “I think we’ve got everything we need here, huh?”
“I guess so.” Drake, though, couldn’t help but add as they departed, “Mr. Vilay, seriously, go spend some QT with your dog…”
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.