Excerpt: 'Breakpoint,' by Richard Clarke

If anyone is fit to write a government thriller, it's Richard Clarke, the veteran counterterrorism official and author of "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror."

"Breakpoint" is an edge-of-your-seat adventure set in the year 2012. Clarke's story focuses on a computer software program that can outsmart the human brain. Designer children mingle with government plots in a tale that is gripping from beginning to end.

For any reader in need of a nonstop thrill, look no further than "Breakpoint."

Read an excerpt from "Breakpoint" below

0730 Eastern Standard Time Off the New Jersey Coast

The yellow flame leaped into the air where the ocean hit the land. It was followed by a boiling, churning blue-black cloud, climbing up around the now orange-red fireball. The cloud kept growing, forming into a pedestal shape above the water's edge. "Atlantic City, Atlantic City," the pilot said calmly into his chin microphone, "Coast Guard forty-one ten. We see what looks like a gas pipeline explosion at our ten o'clock position about fifteen miles ahead. Estimate position of flare as Pine Harbor. Over." From the flight deck of USCG 4110, an old twin-engine Casa 212 maritime patrol aircraft flying over the New Jersey coast, the plume had stood out against the dull-gray Sunday-morning sky. "Roger, forty-one ten. Proceed Pine Harbor for a visual and report," the radio cackled. "We'll check with Ops at headquarters to see if they know what happened."

Lt. Anne Brucelli had been out of the Academy for five years and loved flying, loved being part of the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security.

She was looking forward to her new assignment in the vertical liftoff Osprey aircraft, but for now she was happy just to be in command of an old Casa. It got her up in the air, over the sea, and looking at things from a perspective that most people never had the chance to enjoy. Her copilot today was an Academy classmate, Lt. Chuck Appleton. He flipped down her visor and tapped it for telescopic mode. "Jesus, Anne, there's another flare way out there at our two o'clock," Appleton called. "That's over by Banning Beach." From the low cruising altitude of five thousand feet above the coast, the visual horizon was almost eighty miles. The second flame seemed to be coming from somewhere on western Long Island. Before they could report the second flare, they heard a crackling and then: "Coast Guard forty-one ten, this is Atlantic City, cancel that. Proceed south instead to Miller's Hook and perform low-level surveillance on white blockhouse at the end of point. Copy that? And, Anne, this one came to us from Department Ops, Homeland Security."

Brucelli pulled the bright red striped aircraft into a tight bank to reverse its direction of motion, reaching the waters off Miller's Hook in four minutes. Appleton looked again through the visor that showed him the image from the aircraft's nose-mounted cameras. He zoomed in on the end of the point of land in front of them. "Got a visual on a small white building, no windows. Got a fence around it. White truck next to it." He moved his head slowly to the right and examined the road on the Hook. "Two bikers driving inland pretty fast; otherwise it's pretty empty out there." The aircraft continued its rapid descent toward the narrow promontory. The pilot flicked the toggle to report in. "Atlantic City, Coast Guard forty…Holy s---! Hang on, Chuck." A yellow-red tongue filled the cockpit windshield with flame, as she pulled the plane into a steep left bank. A klaxon sounded loudly and then a recorded female voice replaced it over the speaker, saying calmly, "Left engine fire. Fire in the left engine requires your attention."

Brucelli hit the big red fire-suppression button above her head and struggled to right the spinning aircraft. As she did so, Lt. Appleton spoke clearly into his chin mike, "Mayday, Mayday. Coast Guard forty-one ten. Going down half mile off Miller's Hook, request SAR support." The problem, he knew, was that the unmanned aerial vehicle that would normally have been on patrol over the Jersey shore was down for maintenance. They were the search-andrescue patrol that morning and they were going to crash.

0745 EST Horizon Communications Network Operations Center (NOC) New Creighton, New Jersey

Less than fifty miles to the northwest, under a rolling hill of manicured grass, Constance Murphy was getting the handover brief breakpoint from the midnight shift director at the Horizon Communications Network Operations Center. From the command balcony, Constance looked out at a two-story-high map of the United States, criss-crossed in yellow lines, connecting blinking green dots. They called it the Big Board. Below, on the floor of the NOC, the nightshift engineers were handing over their seats to their daytime replacements. The blinking lights represented twenty percent of the world's internet traffic, which was routinely carried on the fiberoptic cables of Horizon Communications. Running in pipes and conduits under wheat fields, along rail beds, over bridges, and up city streets, twenty-three thousand miles of Horizon Communications' specialized glass fiber carried the photons that routers would convert into electrons and then into billions of Internet Protocol packets of ones and zeroes: e-mail and web browsers, buy and sell orders, travel reservations, pornography, and inventory updates.

As she stood sipping her coffee, Murphy scanned the teams on the floor below and half listened to Joshua Schwartz, the midnight watch director, say five or six ways that everything was routine. Then something in her peripheral vision caught her attention and she looked up to see a light just south of New York City switch from green to red. Then another light, east of the city this time, blinked red. She put her hand on Schwartz's arm to stop him from talking and nodded toward the upper right of the Big Board. "What…?" Schwartz said, furrowing his brow and squinting, "That's all three of our Atlantic cables.Why?" He quickly sat down at his computer console, his fingers flying across the keyboard.

"New Creighton is getting no reading from the Pine Harbor, Pleasant Bay, or Banning Beach routers. Syn-Ack messages are being black holed. Nada. How could all three go down at once? There are two rollover, backup routers at every landing." Constance Murphy stood over Schwartz and looked at his screen, "That says we got nothing going to or from Europe." "That's because we don't, Connie.We just had all nine routers at our beachheads simultaneously decide to shit the bed. Horizon Communications is cut off from Europe!" Schwartz shook his head. "We'll have to go hat in hand to Infotel and ETT and ask if we can redirect our load onto their fiber until we figure out what the f--- is going on."

Murphy picked up a green phone on top of which a big light was blinking furiously. "Horizon Communications, Murphy." As she listened to the voice at the other end, she stared at Schwartz and her eyes grew. "Hang on one second," she said into the phone and then leaned forward. She grabbed a long, flexible microphone that was connected to speakers on the floor below. "This is Murphy. Night shift, do not depart. Repeat, do not depart. Day shift, activate the Emergency Engineering Notification Plan." Then she looked back at Schwartz. "I got ETT on the green phone. We ain't switching load to them. All their beachhead routers are deader than a doornail, too."

They looked at each other, their expressions changing from dumbfounded to horrified. Finally, Schwartz stood up. "You call a VP. I'll get onto the National Communications System."

0805 EST Aboard the MV Atlantic Star, Two Miles Off Squirrel Island, Booth Bay Harbor, Maine

"It's too cold to be diving, no?" the captain asked in Russian. "Not with these," the diver replied, slapping his side. "New suit. Latest technology from Russian Navy labs. Never feel the cold. Besides, I'm just there to guide the drone. It does all the work, hauls the cargo down to the bottom, sends us back the pictures." The MV Atlantic Star was registered in Panama and flying its flag. In smaller letters under the ship's name on the stern, it said "Colón." The captain and crew were Lithuanian, and paid by the company that owned the ship, in Antigua. For this trip, they were also being paid by someone else who had also hired the six Ukrainians who had boarded in Newark. The ship's instructions were to stop in a few places off the coast and let the divers place their experiments on the ocean floor, using the drones that had been in a container on-loaded in Hamburg. For this odd business and for total secrecy about it, each crewman got $50,000 and the captain got a million in cash. So maybe they were really the Russian Navy, the captain thought, as he watched the divers readying themselves. Maybe it was placing listening devices on the ocean floor again to find the American submarines. It was smart to use Ukrainians, in case they were caught. Moscow could deny. Moscow was good at denying.

The diver went over the side. Despite the new Russian gear, he felt the cold right away, piercing to his bones. He tried to think of how heated his body had been two nights ago, with the American hooker. She was not like the women he had hired in Europe. She was athletic, muscular. And yet she had beautiful fruit aromas, one in her hair, one around her full breasts…His daydream was terminated by the voice in his ear. "Do you see the sled, Gregor? Is it stable?" He looked through the new underwater binoculars and saw shades of green and black on the ocean floor beneath him. "I see it fine. It's sitting right next to the cable. Sitting flat. The big rock next to it will protect it from shifting in deep swells. Nothing fell off the sled on the way down. I can even see the little light blinking."

His whole body involuntarily shivered. Then he heard the voice from the surface again in his ear. "Good. Then come up.We need to deal with the crew."

0945 EST Homeland Security Department, National Communications System Arlington, Virginia

Two miles west of the Lincoln Memorial, in one of the many highrises in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington,Virginia, a quickly called meeting started in the Board Room of the National Communications System. The NCS had been established after the breakup of Ma Bell in the 1970s. It was a place where all the phone and internet companies could come together, without worrying about illegal-collusion charges, to share information necessary to keep America's communication systems running in support of the Pentagon and, of course, the consumers. It was one of the few places where federal bureaucrats cohabitated with competing vendor companies.

Around the table, both industry and government representatives were comparing notes, balancing coffee mugs, and trying to activate the flat screens that were discreetly placed into the mahoganyand- cherry conference table.

"Okay, okay, let's get going," Fred Calder, the director of NCS, said loudly and seated himself at the head of the high-tech table. Around the table, the talking stopped as people sat down behind signs that read "Defense Department," "Infotel," "FBI," "Pacific- Westel," "Homeland Security," "ETT," and a host of other threeletter agencies and corporations. "Jake Horowitz is the director of infrastructure protection at NCS. Jake, give us what we know." "Here's what we have so far. Between 0730 and 0745 this morning explosions took place at seven of the ten Atlantic beachheads, the shacks near the beaches where the transoceanic fiber-optic cables come ashore from Europe and go into routers and switches. About the same time, three of the Pacific crossing beachheads in Washington State were hit by explosions and ceased to function." The room grew quieter.

"New Jersey State Police have preliminary reports that suggest at least one explosion was a truck bomb. No one was injured in any of the explosions, because these places are usually not staffed. A Coast Guard plane saw one of the explosions and then went missing.

"Although three of the ten Atlantic beachheads are still functioning, they are the older ones and together carry about ten percent of the load. State Police in Massachusetts and the Mounties in Nova Scotia are setting up defenses at the remaining three beachheads. Teams from Horizon Communications, Infotel, PacificWestel, and others have begun to shift the load to the Pacific fiber, to get to Europe the other way round, but we got serious capacity problems and we are dropping packets all over the place.

"Couple of the older Sytho routers at PacificWestel began flapping under the load, so we are coordinating flow control, but we have no way of knowing what traffic is priority and what is grandma writing to the kids at college. We're still at less than twenty-five percent of normal outbound traffic to European Internet Service Providers, and a lot of that is garbage because of dropped packets. Latest thing we heard is that traffic to the domain name root servers is way off. They act like the four-one-one of the internet, converting www addresses into numbers. Traffic to them is off because most of the world can't get to eight of the ten roots, which are all here in the States. Means a bunch of internet traffic doesn't know how to get where it's supposed to go."

"What about protecting the Pacific beachheads? Isn't it just about seven A.M. there now?" the FBI rep asked.

"That's being done," Fred Calder responded. "We placed calls to the state police in the three West Coast states." "State is unable to get through to any U.S. Embassy in Europe, Africa, the Mideast, or South Asia, doesn't matter whether its classified or unclassified comms," the Department of State rep declared.

"You still have voice to the embassies, right?" the man from ETT asked.

"We can talk to them, but no data links," the State Department man complained.

John Peters from Treasury punched the button activating his microphone and announced in a high-pitched voice, "The New York, American, and NASDAQ exchanges are all reporting an inability to communicate test messages with London and the other European markets. Will we have this fixed by opening bells tomorrow?"

"No, we won't," Fred Calder said flatly, and turned to the threestar Air Force general sitting behind the Defense Department plaque. "General Richards, I assume the Pentagon still has connectivity abroad?"

The Air Force man frowned at being called on, but he pulled out a set of half-glasses and opened a loose-leaf notebook in front of him. He had been a fighter pilot most of his career, but he was now in charge of Pentagon cyberspace activities. The General read, "PACOM reports some degradation to the classified SIPRNET and unclassified NIPRNET, but high-priority traffic is moving without problem on SIPRNET. EUCOM and CENTCOM report serious outages in connectivity on both classified and unclassified networks. Defense Information Systems Agency has initiated an INFOCON ALPHA condition, switching some SIPRNET traffic to unutilized bandwidth on space-based national assets, but four of the seven war-fighting commands are reporting nonoperational mission-critical functions because of NIPRNET outages and, as Jake there just indicated, we cannot prioritize NIPRNET traffic." With that, the General removed his halfglasses and closed his book.

There was a moment of dead air as some in the room pondered the implications of what the General had just said and others tried to figure out exactly what it was that the General had just said. "I'm sorry, General…is it Richardson? I'm not a military man or really very technical at all. I represent the Commerce Department. Could you or somebody explain what you just said in words I might, well, understand?" It was Undersecretary of Commerce Clyde Fetherwill, who had played an important role in the President's campaign in Florida.

Gordon Baxter, a seasoned CIA bureaucrat, leaned forward and activated the microphone in front of his seat. "NIPRNET is Defense's unclassified internet system. SIPRNET is their internet for classified information, Secret and higher. What he said was that more than half of our forces overseas could not fully carry out their wartime missions right now because they do not have unclassified internet connectivity to the U.S."

Harvey Tilden from the White House seemed surprised. "Is that right, General? Is that really the meaning of your report?" "Hell, yes," General Richards replied. "That's exactly what I just finished saying."

Trying to regain control of the meeting, Fred Calder called upon the industry representatives from Sytho and SpruceNetworks to report on how quickly they could get replacement routers to the beachhead locations. The Sytho man grabbed his mike. "Well, of course, we do on-demand assembly and just-in-time delivery. It's not like we have inventory. If we got a valid purchase order now, we could have routers on location by the time the buildings to house them and the electrical and fiber were restored. Or a little while after that, at the latest."

Tilden, the White House man, looked upset. "Mr. Chairman, if I may, it seems to me the real issue is…Well, does the FBI have any claims of responsibility…I mean, who the hell did this?" Without speaking, with a wave of his wrist, Fred Calder invited the FBI representative to speak. The man in the double-breasted suit adjusted his tie. "Special Agent Willard Mulvaine, sitting in for Deputy Assistant Director Murrow.We will be reporting through appropriate channels, but I must be frank -- it will be on a need-toknow basis only, of course, in order to protect any potential prosecution and to preserve sources and methods. But, since I have the floor, I need to stress again, Mr. Chairman, that all agencies and the private-sector partners here must provide the Bureau with all information they acquire relevant to this criminal investigation and should not share that information with the media or other agencies of government, be that state and local, or federal. We are the lead agency on this, ah, incident. Sharing information with others could constitute obstruction of justice and make individuals involved liable themselves for prosecution under relevant federal statutes."

Fetherwill, from Commerce, leaned over to the CIA man who had been so helpful earlier and whispered, "What the hell did he just say? Is he going to arrest us?"

Gordon Baxter answered in a loud voice. "He said that if you give him the dots, he may connect some of them -- but he won't tell anybody if the dots paint a picture. Probably because he wouldn't know." "Mr. Chairman, I object to that lack of interagency comity…" the FBI special agent sputtered.

"Some comedy," CIA's Gordon Baxter muttered. "I thought CIA was screwed up. The Bureau is FUBAR." He spoke up louder. "Here's what our analysts conclude with high certainty: This attack was carried out by a nation-state, perhaps subcontracted to a witting or unwitting criminal enterprise. Now all we have to figure out is who."

Through the large plate-glass window in the Board Room wall, Fred Calder looked at the National Communications System's own Big Board, an integrated feed from all of the U.S. internet backbone providers. Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston were now blinking red. And as he watched, thinking of the Wizards tickets he had finally managed to get for that afternoon, and how he would never get to use them, Chicago switched to red and it began blinking, too.

He leaned forward in the chair and let a moment of quiet pass in the room. Then he summarized: "So let me see if I got this right: Some group has crippled the international financial system and degraded our military command control by blowing up obscure, unprotected, little buildings on beaches? We don't really know who did it or why they did it? And it will take us weeks at best to repair the damage? And we don't know if the attacks are over yet? Is that about it?"

There were nods of agreement around the table. Harvey Tilden, the man from the White House, looked pained. "Oh, I can't tell the White House that. They won't like that at all."

1330 EST Pentagon Officers' Athletic Center (POAC) Arlington, Virginia

"I'm open!" Jimmy yelled across the court, then leaped to catch the ball thrown to him in response. He spun, dribbled, and went for the three-pointer. The ball rolled around the rim like a train on a rail, then just dropped in and through. As he raised his clenched fists over his head, Jimmy felt the vibration near his waist and pulled the Bluetooth earpiece out of his pocket. Walking to the side of the court, he pointed to the bench, to Darren, the tech-support guy who never got to play. "You're in."

"Yah get one decent basket and yah walk off! What the f---, Jimmy?" he heard a teammate say.

"Detective Foley," said the voice in his ear, "this is Operations. The Director would like you to meet him at the British Embassy ASAP. Can I tell him your ETA?"

Jimmy Foley looked down at his sweat-drenched T-shirt and calculated how fast he could shower, change, and get on his Harley Fat Boy. "Where's the embassy?"

There was a pause, which at first he assumed was the duty officer on the other end looking up the address. Then, from the officer's tone, he realized it had been stunned silence at Jimmy's ignorance at what apparently everyone in Washington should have known. "On Embassy Row? Mass. Ave?"

"Thirty minutes from now," Jimmy guessed as he moved into the locker room. "Say, two o'clock." Turning the corner on the row of lockers, Jimmy's six-foot-two-inch frame almost collided with the frail, naked body of a man in his seventies or eighties. The skin seemed to hang off the old man's body. The POAC, as Jimmy's military buddies called their gym, always had retired colonels and generals doddering around trying to stay fit, trying to recall their younger, military lives. "Sorry, General," Jimmy mumbled as he deked around the open locker door. He looked at the old man and admired the fact that he was still keeping in some sort of shape. He thought of his father, locked up inside a jumbled mind, staring at a television in an assisted-living home on Long Island. Wouldn't it be great if he could take his dad to a gym and work out with him once in a while?

"That's Admiral, not General, as----," Jimmy heard behind him as he threw his clothes on the floor and moved off toward the showers.

1335 EST Northeast Women's Crisis Center 2nd Street NE, Washington, D.C.

"I gots to get out of D.C.," the woman on the other side of the desk said. "My man is gonna find me. Thought I saw his ass down the corner yesterday. Only so many battered shelters in this town. He gonna find me."

Susan Connor looked at the woman. It was possible they were about the same age, but the woman looked older, her eyes sunken, her nose broken. "You're afraid he'll hurt you again if he finds you?" Susan asked.

"He ain't bringin' me f--- flowers, sister. Wants his money back, but I done spent all that on the bus tickets, get the kids gone to my momma."

Susan felt unsure of what to do or say, which was unusual for her. This was really not her world. "I'm sure the people here at the center could get you a lawyer, get a judge to issue a restraining order to keep him away from you…"

The woman's mouth dropped open and she stared at Susan, dumbfounded. "You talkin' 'bout me going to court? When I ain't been arrested? And Darnell gonna care what some guy in a robe say?"

"Look, we can help." Susan stopped as she heard the tone in her earpiece. She pressed the receive button. "Connor here." The woman shook her head and wandered off to sit with three others watching a television.

"Ms. Connor, this is Operations. The Director is at the U.K. Embassy and wants you there now."

"On my way," she said, getting up from the old metal desk. "ETA fourteen hundred. Out."

As she moved quickly out of the cafeteria, Susan heard the woman call after her, "No need you comin' back, with that kind of advice, b---."

Susan sped up Massachusetts Avenue from the Women's Crisis Center on Third Street, through the underpass at Scott Circle, around the rotary at Dupont Circle, darting the new, Chinese Chery K522 through the Sunday-afternoon traffic. In her head she kept hearing lines from a twenty-year-old song by Tracy Chapman: "Last night I heard the screaming, loud voices through the wall." Every other Sunday, Susan tried to help out at the shelter.Was it her way of atoning for her own success, of trying to reach out to others of her own race? Whatever had motivated her to start, she had almost convinced herself that she was doing no real good and should find some other way of giving back.

The Chery, built in Shanghai, was powered entirely by ethanol from switch grass. Its engine kicked in as she accelerated on the open stretch approaching the British compound. She smiled at the statue of Churchill outside the fence line. Winston was one of Rusty MacIntyre's heroes. She wondered why Rusty was at the British Embassy on a Sunday afternoon and, more important, why he wanted her to join him. She had worked with MacIntyre for only two years now, but they had been through a lot together. When he'd become director of the Intelligence Analysis Center last year, one of his first acts had been to put her in charge of the new Special Projects Branch. It was a job that made it exciting to go to work every day. She never knew what off-the-wall tangent Rusty would dream up next, only to have it appear in the headlines a month later. As she shifted the car into park at the first guard booth, a motorcycle shot past her and skidded to a halt by the gatehouse. Two Royal Marines appeared from behind the gate. Both lowered short, Fabrique National P90 light machine guns. "Ho, I'm a friendly," the biker yelled, peeling off his helmet.

Susan recognized Jimmy Foley, the NYPD detective who had just arrived on loan to the Intelligence Analysis Center. Her boss, Rusty, had assigned him to Susan's team at Special Projects a week ago, "to give you guys some street smarts," he said. Susan was still trying to figure out Foley. He was handsome, easygoing -- everybody else had instantly taken to him.

"Foley," Susan yelled out of the car window, "don't get shot. It'll look bad on my record." Foley laughed, reluctantly handing over his .357 SIG-Sauer to the embassy security guard.

1350 EST British Embassy Washington, D.C.

As Susan and Jimmy walked into the grand foyer of the embassy, they seemed, amid the grandeur, out of place and an unlikely couple. Foley, tall, freckled, and in a polo shirt and jeans. Connor, short and black, was wearing a blouse and chinos. Neither was dressed for the British Embassy. The last of the departing luncheon guests were getting their coats from the staff. The luncheon had been in honor of the visit of Sir Dennis Penning-Smith of the Cabinet Office, where he served the U.K. as the intelligence coordinator. As the British Ambassador said good-byes at the door to the usual suspects he had invited to brunch with him and his honored London guest, Sir Dennis walked into the library with Sol Rubenstein. Sol had recently been promoted to the position of director of national intelligence. Behind the two Intellocrats walked Rusty MacIntyre, the head of the U.S. Intelligence Analysis Center, and Brian Douglas, newly installed as deputy director for Operations of the British MI6, or as it is officially known, the Secret Intelligence Service.

"…no proof yet," Rubenstein was saying as he lit a cigar. "But it has to be China, of course. Some sort of shot across the bow over Taiwan. They really wanted to scare the shit out of Taiwan to effect their election.What happens? The voters, in a show of defiance, elect the Independence Party in an upset instead, and we announce our support. Beijing said there would be consequences. Maybe this is the beginning of the consequences. A signal to us to stay away while they get ready to do something to Taiwan -- or they will hurt us here in ways we had not even thought about."

"Perhaps. But still no claims of responsibility?" Sir Dennis said, pouring a snifter of Napoleon Cognac.

"Oh, there are plenty of claims of responsibility, Sir Dennis," Rusty injected. "Al Qaeda of North America, which does not exist, the Aryan Separatist Army, which barely exists, and the Merpeople for a Clean Ocean, which might as well not exist." Catching Susan and Jimmy in his peripheral vision, MacIntyre waved them into the library. "Sir Dennis, Brian, these are the SP Branch folks I mentioned." There was a round of handshakes.

"Now, James, as a policeman," Douglas asked Foley, "wouldn't you say that this took real skill? Ten truck bombs over five states and no one caught, no one killed? And the beachhead switches they left untouched -- they were so old and decrepit they weren't worth bombing. They obviously knew that."

Catching a perplexed look on Foley's face, MacIntyre responded. "Susan and Jim are not read in yet, Bri. I just called them." "Well, you have to admit,Rusty, this was a very well planned and sophisticated operation," Brian said, turning away from Foley. "Many players."

"Right. The explosive was a shitload of RDX, hard to get hereabouts and hard to get into America in large amounts without somebody in Customs noticing. And here's the latest I just got from the Watch -- Navy now says that in addition to the beachhead attacks, there were undersea explosions. So even if they rebuild the beachheads, it won't be enough. The fiber has been cut underwater, and that's hard to repair."

"That says nation-state to me," Sir Dennis asserted. "I didn't think China was that capable."

"Could be they had help." Rubenstein exhaled a cloud of Cuban tobacco smoke. He plopped down in a large, green leather chair and looked up. "Well, SP Branch, that's your job, and you'd better find out fast. Because whoever's responsible, I can guarantee you this attack today is not the last."

"Us?" Susan asked, looking at Rusty and Jimmy. "But -- there's a whole big bureaucracy out there set up to do exactly this." "You mean the Keystone Kops?" Rubenstein said. "Oh, they'll be out there, don't worry about that. FBI, Homeland Security, the works. But while they're stumbling all over themselves as usual, we'll do our own…nonconventional exploration. I need someone smart, agile, quick, and that's you. We must find out who is doing this, because they obviously know how to hurt us, figured out where our weak spots are. And this is unlikely to be a one-off. What's your legendary instinct tell you, Russell?"

Sir Dennis, Brian Douglas, and Rusty shifted, forming a semicircle facing the seated Sol Rubenstein. "With this many people involved in the attack and the preparations -- must be at least a hundred -- its a nation-state or a large terrorist network, or both," said Rusty. "I agree, it's most likely China, but we can't rule out Iran and Hizbollah, getting back at us for the beating they got two years ago in Islamyah. It would probably take that long to put a strike like this together. Or the Iraqi Revenge Movement."

"Of course, we need to look at all possibilities," Rubenstein said from behind a cloud of smoke.

"Quite right, Solly," agreed Sir Dennis, producing a series of instruments to pack and light his Peterson pipe. "You have your people charge hard, and Brian and his boys will do the same, separately. We'll compare notes in a week or so. But we must be swift. Whoever they are, these people have done enormous damage to the global economic system already. And they seem to know our dirty little secret." He looked at all of them. "The Global Village is held together by a very few, very fragile strands. Cut them and the thin veneer of civilization disappears. Like a puff of Latakia." He exhaled, lifting smoke from the Turkish tobacco in his Petersen. A small gray cloud floated toward the fireplace and was gone.

In the parking lot outside the embassy, Jimmy Foley recovered his Harley Fat Boy and walked it over toward his new bosses. Susan ignored his presence. "Rusty, you don't have to tell me this is a big deal. I get that. What I don't like is that we aren't part of the big, formal investigation. We're outside the tent, picking up the dropped popcorn. That's bull --"

She turned to acknowledge Foley. "I'm sure Jimmy here is a great detective, but you give me one guy, and the Bureau is putting thousands on this, and you expect me to compete?" Foley flashed an ingratiating smile that made him look like a teenager. And that somehow made Susan more mad.

"Look, both of you, you have an important part of this," Rusty said. "You are not supposed to be competing with the other agencies. You're doing it our way, small and smart, unconventional, iconoclastic and separate." He put one hand down to Susan's shoulder and one up to Jimmy's. "We've seen before what happens when there is groupthink: WMD in Iraq. Look, there's more to this than Sol wanted to say."Rusty scanned the embassy lot to make sure that no one was within earshot. "The President is ripshit that this happened. He doesn't understand how we can spend over eighty billion on intelligence and law enforcement, and then some outfit plans and executes a series of bombings like this, and we didn't catch it. For one thing, he doesn't understand why these internet nodes were unprotected."

"Good question," Susan agreed. "Why do we leave important places unguarded?"

"That's something we need to rethink," said Rusty. "Meanwhile our operating assumption is that this whole thing is China achieving escalation dominance."

"Excuse me, sir, but what's that?" Jimmy asked.

"It means they not only hurt us, they demonstrate that they can hurt us a lot more, they can escalate in ways that we don't expect. That way, we're deterred from doing anything against them," Susan explained.

"Right. In this case, deterred from helping Taiwan, if China's next move is to attack Taiwan and stop them from declaring independence. But this President is not going to be deterred." Rusty looked from Susan to Jimmy, making sure they understood his implication. "FBI and Homeland have the lead, they'll crash away investigating. But there are two large tasks that we don't trust them to get right. That's where you in Special Projects come in. There were not a bunch of Chinese agents running around the country preparing these bombings, we'd have known about it. They hired somebody. Your first task is find out who.

"Second, somebody figured out an Achilles' heel in our technology and national infrastructure, one we obviously hadn't recognized ourselves. They will probably do it again. Before they do, you must find out what their next target is likely to be. FBI and Homeland will probably focus on refineries and bridges and things like that. But this was an attack on our technology -- that's where we've got to look." Susan nodded and smiled. She knew he was right; they had to avoid groupthink again. It had been way too costly before. And they had to focus on protecting what mattered now, in an information age, not back in the twentieth century.

"Sounds good to me," Foley said. He turned to Susan. "See you in the office in about an hour, boss." He grinned and moved off with his Harley.

Rusty read Susan's irritation. "Foley is not what he seems, Susan. Forget that surface attitude. The Commissioner told me he's the best detective they've had in years. He only loaned him to me to give Foley some Washington experience. The skills you have will complement each other well." He could see that she wasn't convinced. "Just crack this case for me, Susan. Crack it fast. The Bureau, Homeland, they're looking for the keys where the streetlights shine. You go into the shadows."

2100 EST Special Projects Office, Intelligence Analysis Center Navy Hill, Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.

They had been reading reports for five hours when Jimmy Foley suggested he make them some snacks. From the little office kitchenette, he called out to Susan, "You know what I still don't get? I thought Taiwan was independent?"

Susan Connor looked up from an ATF report on her flat screen. "Yeah, well, it is, for all practical purposes. Has been for almost seventy years, since the Nationalist Party fled there from the mainland when the Communists took over. But they maintain the fiction that they are still a province of China. And so does China. Beijing wants them back someday, like Hong Kong. Whenever Taiwan says they're going to formally declare that they are no longer part of China, Beijing goes nuts."

Foley did not reply, but there was a continued clanging of pots and pans from the kitchenette. Susan went back to her report and yelled in the direction of her new staffer, "Man, there is one shitload of explosives stolen in this country every year. You know that, Jimmy?"

"Uh-huh," Foley responded from the break room. "Most of it gets sold back to construction firms on the black market. Come get your dinner."

"My what?" Susan laughed and got up to see what the NYPD detective had been up to. "Jesus, Jimmy, you trying out for Iron Chef ?" she gasped as she surveyed the spread on the little table. "Pasta à la pesto.Where's some Mick learn Italiano?"

"You mean some Mick cop, don't you?" Jimmy smiled and pulled back a chair for his new boss. "Five boys in my family. I'm number two, and for some reason Dad tagged me as the cook." "And Mom?"

"Died when I was ten. Dad worked 'til dinner every night. Lawyer. So I got the dinner ready. After a while, even a bunch a guys get sick of pizza or beans and franks. So…" "Hmmm…nice pesto. Lots of garlic." Susan spoke while eating. "I hereby forgive you for not working harder researching the case."

"Who says I haven't been researching the case, boss?" Jimmy said, putting down his knife and fork. "You want to know what I've found out so far? The Fibbies are all over the trucks, VIN numbers, tracks, witnesses, explosive residue. They have twelve hundred agents on it already in a little over twelve hours. They've given it a major-case name -- Cybomb; catchy, right? -- and put an assistant director in charge. And so far they got dead ends, bupkis. For their part, NSA is going back over all the calls originating near the beachheads around the time of the explosions. Nada there, too."

Susan was impressed, but assumed that Jimmy had a source in the FBI who had simply read him a summary written for the assistant director. That did not count as research, as far as she was concerned. She had been spending the hours since they'd received the new assignment trying to understand the importance of what had been destroyed. "Okay, good, but we have to get to the why before we can find the who.Why does somebody want to reduce communications to Europe and Asia? The internet is still working here. It's slow from all the messages wandering around cyberspace that can't be delivered, but it's working. So who and why? An attack like this must hurt China, too. We've got to figure out why they'd do it."

Foley shook his head, rejecting the question. "Look, I figured that's what the FBI and NSA were doing, going after China. Like Rusty said, the Chinese army isn't running around Jersey. Maybe they hired someone. Maybe misled them, a false-flag operation. So I'd look for that. Also think about the Unabomber in a way.

Kaczynski was a whacked-out professor who wanted to stop technological advance. So what does he do? He starts sending bombs to other professors at universities around the country…professors pushing technological advance." He shrugged. "Something to think about. Also the fact that the Fibbies never caught him until his own brother dropped a dime on him." He went back to his pasta.

"Okay, so…little mail bombs fifteen years ago on college campuses and ten really big truck bombs today at internet nodes -- one guy then, dozens now." Susan cocked her head and squinted. "And the connection is…what?"

"Come on, boss. What's cyberspace? Technology. The Chinese are after our technology. Stealing it first. Now for some reason blowing it up. Here, don't forget your salad. Good balsamic," he said, passing a little bottle across the table. "I did a search on incidents at technology-related facilities over the last twenty-four months. There's been an interesting pattern over the last six months. A cyberspace company or biomed lab has gone up in a fire or explosion of some sort almost every month for the last six. That big fire at the data centers on the Columbia River last month? The Bio Fab in San Diego? A place at MIT just last Friday."

She stared at him, locked eyes. The dumb-cop routine was an act and she had fallen for it like some stereotypical Washington bureaucrat. Foley gave her a cherubic little smile that revealed two dimples. Then he winked. She tried hard not to be charmed like everybody else in the office. She was the supervisor, damn it.

"Okay, Detective. What have we got on those incidents? Has the Bureau opened a major case on them, too?" Susan realized her voice was too flat, too professional. She should be friendlier. Even if he had caught her up with his big-jock act, he had also cooked her a not bad dinner, and using the office kitchen.

"Nope. Six minor cases, and mainly it's the local PDs and fire marshals investigating. The FBI hadn't seen the pattern; still hasn't." He shook Parmesan flakes over the pasta on his plate. Susan digested the new information, and the pasta. "If those other attacks are related and we can find out who did them…we might be able to answer both of Rusty's questions: who the Chinese have doing their dirty work and what kind of things they are likely to attack next."

Jimmy nodded vigorously while he chewed. "Got a statie up in Boston I know who's workin' the MIT explosion, says he'll walk us through it if we come up."

Susan smiled and shook her head admiringly. "So let's go." "We're on the seven-thirty JetBlue shuttle in the morning, boss." Although she was beginning to wonder exactly which of them was in charge, all she could say was "How do you happen to know the State Police detective on that case in Massachusetts?" "Cousin. All us Mick cops are related."

Laughing, Susan almost choked on her last bite. "All right, if I have to be up at five-thirty, I'm going home." She picked up the empty plates and put them in the sink. Then, gathering up her coat and bag, she walked to the door. "See you at the shuttle. Nice work today, and on the food. But unless you want me to call you Jimmy Olsen instead of Jimmy Foley…I'm Susan. Don't call me boss." As the door shut behind her and she walked to the elevator, Susan Connor could swear she heard Foley say, "Right, Chief." Walking to her car, she conceded to herself that it might be valuable to have a cop assisting her, since this project was clearly going to require fieldwork and in the U.S. Even if Foley didn't seem to be appropriately deferential. That was not a new problem. Susan looked so much younger than she was and Rusty had promoted her rapidly despite her lack of experience in government. Of course, she thought as she drove by the security guard house, some of it might be due to her own attitude. She'd always resented men who seemed to make things look easier than they were, who got ahead on a winning smile and a pleasing patter. Maybe she should give Foley a chance. He did cook well.

2245 Mountain Standard Time 22,300 Miles Above the Pacific Ocean

The twelve-thousand-pound New Galaxy satellite sat still relative to the Earth below. Its antennae were simultaneously sending and receiving gigabits of digital packets via radio and laser channels. When reassembled on the planet below, the packets would turn into e-mails, data streams, voice conversations, and television programs.

Few of the packets were processed onboard, only those routed to the satellite's housekeeping computer. With that minor exception, the packets merely passed through New Galaxy, quickly, quietly, from Los Angeles to Tokyo, from San Francisco to Sydney. In the frozen near-vacuum of space, as billions of data packets soared through its large antennae, New Galaxy made no sound that could be heard. Even when its ion xeon gas thrusters fired bursts for a microsecond to keep the station in the geostationary orbit, there was only silence.

At 2248 mountain time, the satellite received an update message, a series of packets on the antenna and frequency used only by PacWestel, New Galaxy's owner. From the header information on the packets, they were routed to the satellite's onboard housekeeping computer, decrypted, and reassembled into a message. The message was longer than any of the satellite's normal instructions. It filled the format line in the station-keeping program and then dropped an executable code into the computer. The code was in the same format as the many maintenance messages that adjusted the antennae or ran diagnostics on an onboard system, but it wrote over the existing program, eliminating certain limitations. The code adjusted the ion xeon thrusters to the six o'clock position and performed a xeon gas release. The thrust time in the code was not the usual three seconds. It was 300.00 seconds.

Quietly, New Galaxy moved farther away from Earth, its speed accelerating as it did. Then the last instruction on the update message was executed: New Galaxy went into energy-conservation mode, shutting down all systems for 999 days.When the systems rebooted, New Galaxy's antennae would not be facing toward Earth. The satellite would be well on its way to escaping the solar system.

2310 MST Space Tracking and Detection Center, U.S. Space Command Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs

"…so I had to leave home with the Avalanche down by one," Captain Fred Yang complained to Master Chief Sergeant Brad Anderson. "That's what TiVo is for, Captain. By the way, you missed the shift-change briefing." Anderson was fifteen years older than the captain, who was technically in charge of the center for the next eight hours.

"I know, I know. I'll read in by running the change software. Nothing ever happens here anyway. I don't know why we have to be inside a mountain. It's so twentieth century, so Cold War…" Captain Yang mumbled as he sat down at his console and started keying in. For several minutes, Yang stared quietly at the screen, and then he said, with a note of concern, "Sarge? The change-detection program says we have three fewer birds aloft. And the ones that are missing don't make any sense."

Sergeant Anderson had just picked up the ringing green phone, the drop line to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. He placed a hand over the mouthpiece before answering it. "Captain, we get debris all the time, old birds flaming out in the upper atmosphere. It's no biggie." He turned to the phone while Yang pounded away on a touch screen. "Yes, sir, this is Spacetrac. No, we haven't seen anything unusual over the Pacific.Why?" Anderson wrote down what they told him. "Okay, we'll keep an eye open. Right." He hung the phone on a hook next to four other colorcoded drop lines, then spun his chair toward the young captain. Yang stood up from his console. "Sarge, New Galaxy 3, Netstar 5, and Pacific Wave 7 are not old birds with decaying orbits."

"No kidding. NG-3 just went up last month, right after Sinosat- 12. " The sargeant got up and walked toward Yang's screen. "What are you talking about…sir?"

"They're gone. Not deorbited. Goneski." Yang pointed at the screen.

"What the…," Sergeant Anderson said, sitting down at the captain's position.

As Anderson began typing in commands, the white phone rang. Yang answered as the sergeant worked the screen. "Spacetrac… yeah.We just noticed that, too…Well, I thought there might be a problem with that bird…that one, too…We're checking. Sure. Get right back to you."

Anderson looked up at the captain questioningly. "It was DISA in Virginia," Yang reported. "They said they lost connectivity with some commercial comm sats in the Pacific. I thought the Pentagon had its own satellites."

Anderson reached for a headset. The Defense Information Systems Agency was the phone company for the entire Defense Department, globally. "Yeah, they rent space on private satellites, a lot of it. They can't fight a war without them." As he spoke, he flipped through the Space Command directory, then hit the touch pad to connect. "Maui, this is Spacetrac, Colorado Springs. We need a visual on three geosyncs immediately…We have the Commander's override priority and we need to look at these birds now!"

At the summit of Mount Haleakala, nine thousand feet above the waters of the Pacific, Space Command's Maui Space Surveillance Site turned its optical telescopes and laser-tracking devices to three parking orbits twenty-two thousand miles overhead. Fifteen minutes later, the results of their search were clear. "Spacetrac, Maui here. There are no satellites in those locations, turned on or stealthy. Nothing but cold, black emptiness," the civilian contractor from Raytheon reported back to Cheyenne Mountain. "We can broaden the search, use the Deep Space trackers if you got the juice to pull them off their current missions." "Thanks. We may have to do that. Get back to you," Sergeant Anderson, said and took off the earpiece. "Captain Yang, I think you'd better do this yourself." Anderson got out of Yang's chair. "Do what, Sarge?"

"There is a preformatted message in the system you need to send to the Commander and to the Pentagon, Flash precedence. The subject line is 'Major Incident in Space.'"