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Authors: Daniel Suarez

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BOOK: Daemon
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Sebeck took the handheld computer and with Mantz studied the data fields on-screen. “Nathan, we’re going to need a search warrant for the property management firm. Put their office under surveillance until we get a team over there. Also, get me a case number, and get me Burkow’s notes. I’m taking over the investigation. Everything goes through me from this point forward.” He looked up at Haime. “Haime, we’re going to want to chat with you at the sheriff’s station.”

“Señor, I didn’t do anything.”

“I know, Haime. That’s why you want to cooperate while we arrange a search warrant for your employer.”

Pietro interposed himself. “Detective Sebeck—”

“Counselor, this cable assembly was maintained by your property management firm—which would indicate they had prior knowledge of it. Would you prefer to make CyberStorm the responsible party, or does CyberStorm want to cooperate with my investigation?”

Pietro pursed his lips, then turned to Haime. “Haime, don’t worry. Go with them. Do everything they say. Tell them everything you know.”

“I don’t know anything, Señor Pietro.”

“I know that, Haime. But I think it best that you do what Detective Sebeck says.”

“I am a U.S. citizen. Am I under arrest?”

Sebeck looked to Mantz. Mantz stepped in. “No, Haime. We’re just gonna talk. You can leave the pickup truck here. We’ll take care of that.” Mantz motioned for Haime to move toward the patrol cars and started escorting him away.

Pietro nodded to Massey. “Detective Sebeck, we’ll contact your office for a copy of the police report. You know where to reach me.” Both men climbed back into the Range Rover and sped off, perhaps to find a better wireless signal.

Sebeck looked along the length of cable. Would someone really have built this just to kill a person? He could think of easier ways to kill someone.

He clamped back a smile. This wasn’t a murder-suicide or a botched drug deal. It might actually be a premeditated killing. Was it wrong to hope so? Accident or murder, the victim was dead. Nothing would change that. So what was wrong with hoping it was murder?

Pondering this, Sebeck turned and walked back to the front gate.

Chapter 3:// Black Box

ebeck, Mantz, and three county deputies crowded around a Post-it-note-slathered computer monitor in the cubicle of a nondescript company, in a generic office park in Thousand Oaks. Tractor-trailers hissed by on the freeway just beyond the thin stucco walls, but the officers were intent, leaning over the shoulders of Deputy Aaron Larson, the County Sheriff’s only computer fraud specialist.

Larson was in his late twenties with an air of military orderliness—buzz-cut hair, athletic build, and a square jaw. He had a boyish enthusiasm for ferreting out larceny. At such times he’d smile and shake his head in slow-motion disbelief over what people thought they could get away with.

Larson’s computer screen scrolled rows of text. “This log lists IP addresses making connections to their server. Notice that we’ve got a number of connections at around the time our target work ticket was created.”

He alt-tabbed over to a custom property management program. “I spoke with the secretary, and she said they’re able to accept work tickets from clients through a secure Web page.”

Sebeck nodded. “So the request didn’t necessarily come from this office.”

“Right.” Larson flipped back to the custom application. “The
field, here, claims the ticket was submitted by this Chopra Singh person at CyberStorm Entertainment. But wait—that’s not where the connection actually originated.”

Larson minimized all the windows except the Web log. He highlighted a single line. “This was the connection that created the work order. When I do a Whois lookup on the IP address…” He switched screens. “Voilà.”

A Whois lookup page displayed the domain as owned by Alcyone Insurance Corporation of Woodland Hills, California.

Sebeck read the small type. “Then the work order originated from this company in Woodland Hills.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“You think the address was spoofed?”

“The only way to find out is to get a warrant for their Web logs.”

Another deputy entered the cramped office. “Sergeant, there’s a news van outside.”

Sebeck waved him off and kept his gaze on Larson. “So no one in this management firm created the work order that killed Pavlos?”

“Seems unlikely.”

Sebeck eyed the screen. “Is this sort of Internet work order system typical for a hole-in-the-wall company like this?”

Larson shook his head slowly and smiled. “No, it’s not. This is pretty slick. The office manager said their parent company developed it for them. You’ll never guess who the parent company is.“

“CyberStorm Entertainment.”

Larson touched his finger to his nose. “Very good, Sergeant.”

Just then the radios crackled to life again. Sebeck turned to listen.

“Units in vicinity of Westlake. 10-54 at 3000 Westlake Boulevard reported. Be advised, 10-29h. 11-98 with building security.”

Sebeck exchanged looks with the other officers. Another dead body had been found. “What the hell…”

The address tugged at Sebeck’s memory. He pulled Gordon Pietro’s business card out of his pocket. At least his memory hadn’t failed him; the new body had been found at CyberStorm Entertainment.


As far as Sebeck could tell, entertainment companies came in two flavors: shady operations skirting tax, drug, and racketeering laws, and phenomenally successful corporate empires wielding immense influence worldwide. There was very little middle ground, and the transformation from one to the other seemed to happen in the wee hours. With signage rights on a ten-story office building, CyberStorm had evidently made that transformation.

The latest body had been found in a security vestibule—a tiny room controlling access to what the employees called a server farm. The small entry chamber reminded Sebeck of an air lock. The server farm was filled with rack-mounted servers—their LEDs flickering away in the semidarkness of emergency lights. Through the glass Sebeck could make out several employees moving about. They were still monitoring the machines.

It was hard to see them clearly because the vestibule windows were fogged with a yellowish film—residue from burning human fat. The victim had been electrocuted in dramatic fashion.

Sebeck stood in the dim glow of emergency lights alongside the building’s chief operating engineer, CyberStorm’s network services director, county paramedics, a city power company foreman, and the president and CEO of CyberStorm, Ken Kevault.

Kevault was in his late thirties, tall and lean with spiky hair. His black, short-sleeve silk shirt revealed death skull tattoos on his forearms, and he had the sort of deep tan and wrinkles one gets after years of surfing. He looked more like an aging rock star than a corporate executive. He hadn’t said a word since they arrived.

Sebeck turned to the power and light foreman. “The primary power’s been cut?”

The building engineer responded instead. “Yes, sir.”

Sebeck turned to him. “Then those computers are running on backup power?”


“Let’s get that room evacuated.”

“There’s another exit like this one, but it could be just as dangerous. I told the techs to stay put for now.”

Sebeck nodded. “Who can tell me what happened?”

The engineer and network services director looked to each other. The engineer already had the floor. “About a half hour ago, one of the CyberStorm guys was electrocuted going through the inner security door. I don’t know how it’s possible, but the techs said he was standing there with smoke coming off his shoulders for about thirty seconds before he keeled over. And there he is.“

Kevault let out a hiss of disgust and shook his head ruefully.

Sebeck ignored him. “The CyberStorm guys? So you’re not a CyberStorm employee?”

The engineer shook his head. “No, I work for the building owner.”

“And who owns the building?”

Eyes shifted from person to person for a moment or two until Kevault spoke up. “It’s part of a real estate investment trust, with a majority share held by CyberStorm.”

Sebeck turned back to the engineer. “So you are a CyberStorm employee.”

Kevault interposed again. “No, the trust is not the same legal entity as CyberStorm, and the trust outsources the engineering, security, and other building functions.”

Sebeck could already imagine lawyers pointing fingers at each other for the next decade. “Forget that. Has anyone entered or left the scene since the incident?”

All the men shook their heads.

“Are there electrical blueprints for this entryway? Any recent unpermitted modifications I should know about?”

An edge crept into the lead engineer’s voice. “We don’t do unpermitted construction here. All this equipment was signed off on by the city and fire inspectors two years ago, and we have the occupancy permit to prove it.”

The guy looked to be about fifty. A broad-shouldered Latino with a marine corps tattoo on his forearm. Sebeck figured this guy wasn’t going to take any shit. He watched as the engineer moved to a flat-paneled workstation on a nearby desk and spun the panel to face them all. In a moment, the engineer brought up a 3-D map of their location. The map was a series of clean vector lines in primary colors.

The engineer tapped keys, highlighting a colored layer to emphasize each word. “Plumbing, HVAC, Fire/Safety, Electrical.”

The image zoomed in. It was like a video game with transparent walls. They were now looking at a computer image of the vestibule, and Sebeck could see the yellow electrical lines running down through the door frame to the combination magstripe/keypad in the door’s strike plate.

No wonder the engineer had an attitude. He had every damned screw modeled in 3-D.

“There’s no power source in that wall sufficient to electrocute a man like that, and even if there was, the breakers should have tripped. There’s a short somewhere. Probably to a trunk line. Maybe it electrified the door frame.”

The power company guy leaned in. “What’s going into the server farm? Three-phase 480?”

“Yeah, but it’s coming up through the floor. There’s a trunk line running through a vertical penetration. The decking was reinforced to hold the weight of the racks, and there’s a fiber backbone—“

“Gentlemen.” Sebeck stepped between them. “I need all nonemergency personnel evacuated from CyberStorm’s office space. Nathan, I want an outer perimeter established at all stairwell and elevator entrances. We set up command and control in this area just outside the vestibule. I want interviews from everyone evacuated.”

The network director turned to Sebeck. “We have five floors in this building. Is it really necessary to evacuate them all?”

“Two of your coworkers are dead today from unrelated ‘accidents.’ I find that an implausible coincidence.”

The network director’s face contorted. “Two?”

“That’s correct. I’ll let your illustrious leader fill you in.”

The CyberStorm folks turned to the company president. Kevault was gnawing on his fingernails in irritation or concentration—it was hard to tell which. He finally spoke without looking at anybody. “Lamont, switch over to the mirror site. Then evacuate the office.”

Sebeck leveled a gaze. “You’ll evacuate the building
If you have any illusions about who’s in charge here, I can give you a time-out in the county lockup.”

Kevault was about to speak but thought better of it. He just marched off down the hall. His people followed.

Sebeck nodded to Mantz, who pursued Kevault like a Rottweiler going after a toddler.

Sebeck grabbed the network services director, who was also leaving. “Not you. You’re staying here.”


Sebeck had seen his share of fatal accidents in fourteen years with the department, and he knew that workplace fatalities drew paperwork like blowflies to a corpse. OSHA inspectors, insurance investigators, reporters, lawyers, and building management—all were waiting in the wings. But for now, Sebeck posted deputies to keep nongovernmental and nonessential personnel out of his crime scene.

The main power was off, and they established radio communications to monitor a lockout on the DWP power vault.

After running a few tests with a voltmeter, the engineer and power company foreman determined that the door frames were not electrified. They instructed the data center employees to open the second exit and let the police and firemen in. They then evacuated the techs. The crime scene was now free of civilians.

Sebeck was surprised at how warm and stuffy the room had become. The AC hadn’t been off all that long. He glanced around at the dozens of rack-mounted computers clicking away. That was a lot of BTUs. That’s probably why they had an entry vestibule—to keep the cold air in. He turned to the engineer. “What are these machines for, anyway?”

“People playing games with each other over the Internet. My grandson plays.”

Sebeck had heard of this sort of thing. He had no idea it involved so much hardware. It looked expensive.

They moved to the inner security door. The victim lay just beyond the glass, and they got their first good look at him. As a patrolman, Sebeck had seen the carnage of a hundred car wrecks, but the network director lost it and excused himself. As Sebeck suspected, the engineer wasn’t much affected.

“That poor son of a bitch.”

A Vietnam vet
, Sebeck thought.

It was hard to reconcile the human resources photo with the remains that lay before them. The victim’s face was distorted in agony—or at least the involuntary muscle spasms of electrocution. His eyeballs hung out over the cheeks. His hair had mostly burned off his head. His whole face was blistered, but Sebeck already knew who it was: a lead programmer named Chopra Singh—the name on the spoofed Potrero Canyon work order.

There was no longer any doubt that these were murders. He just had to find the evidence.

Sebeck had the power company foreman test the door with a voltmeter again just to be sure and then moved aside for nearby firemen, who pushed into the vestibule. The stench of burnt flesh and hair hit them, sending groans and gasps through the team. “Carey, get some video.”

The photographer moved in, and bright light filled the space. Afterward, the paramedics confirmed the obvious—the victim was deceased. The vestibule was too small for both the body and the investigators, so they scanned the scene from the narrow doorway. Unlike most murder scenes, Sebeck thought, the victim’s body wouldn’t contain much evidence, so he didn’t start there. Instead, he had it covered with a plastic tarp and brought back the power company foreman. “I need to find out what electrified this door, and I need to find out fast.”

“There’s no danger, Sergeant. The power’s off in the whole building.”

“I’m not worried about just this building.”

The foreman paused for a moment to digest that and then nodded gravely.

Soon Sebeck and the foreman crowded into the open doorway just above the now covered body. It was far from ideal, but Sebeck felt time was of the essence. The doorjamb looked normal, but after unscrewing the strike plate, the foreman got a crowbar into the aluminum frame and pried off the cover with a resounding crack. What it concealed looked strange even to Sebeck.

A small wire ran up the inside of the door frame from the floor and into the back of the keypad and magstripe reader. But another, much thicker wire ran down from the ceiling and was bolted with copper leads to the frame itself.

Sebeck looked to the power company foreman. “I don’t remember that on the engineer’s blueprint.”

The foreman moved in alongside. “That’s 480 cable. You could power an industrial grinder with that.”

Sebeck pointed up at the ceiling.

Fiberglass ladders were brought in along with head-mounted lights. Soon they pushed up through the drop ceiling and into the plenum. Their lights revealed fire coating sprayed over the steel beams and metal decking of the floor above. HVAC ducts and bundles of cables traversed the space.

It was here that they found the black box. At least that’s what it looked like—a black metal housing into which the 480-volt line fed before running back out the far side. A thin, gray cable also led into the black box.

BOOK: Daemon
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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