Authors: Bella Juarez
Do they know why I’m here?
Jack popped the tab on his beer. He was hungry but remembered he’d very little food in the house.
He knew about the e-mail and the way they had stolen addresses, but why him? Did they know about his group and their purpose? Jack’s objective was to fight the war on terror on a new and unseen front, cyberterrorism. He made a mental note to get his own comm guy, Lieutenant Dan Gamez, on this situation as soon as Dan got back from his mission.
This was a shaky proposition on SOCOM’s part because every other target up until now had been physical. SOCOM could assess the threat, pick the appropriate squad and send them in to minimize the threat with guns. Fighting cyberterrorists was like fighting blindfolded with your hands tied. He could never seem to get in front and on the offensive. His boss had fought hard to get the special unit set up under Navy Special Operations Command. Jack was walking a fine line and it seemed as if someone knew it.
Jack stepped into the spacious, almost bare living room. Looking at the stairs, he wondered if he should just go to bed. He opted for his big leather easy chair that sat in the middle of the living room in front of a large TV. He was becoming obsessed with the idea that someone other than his bosses knew what he was doing. He sat down and took a long drink. His parched throat cried out in relief.
For the last few years SOCOM had been chasing down a serious terrorist cell that had managed to steal almost a billion dollars in foreign aid to Pakistan as well as pilfer money from Department of Defense contracting funds. During all this time there had been plans laid out for a cyberattack. It was unclear until three years ago exactly what the attack would look like. It first hit Marine Base Quantico, stealing information on Marine Strike Force Recon personnel. It then spread to secret task force personnel working for the Department of Homeland Security.
Police officers and FBI field agents were killed over the breach in security, which had started the same way, a computer virus. Jack had almost lost one of his best men in that incident, Senior Chief Gavin Walsh. Walsh’s future father-in-law wasn’t so lucky. He’d been killed. The Department of Homeland Security as well as the Department of Defense realized the lines were getting very blurry when it came to defending turf. Special Operations Command was asked to create a special group that worked in several environments both foreign and domestic.
SOCOM created Jack’s group for just that purpose. His group had an active reserve unit component that was comprised of FBI, DEA, ATF, and other federal law enforcement field agents that just so happened to be Navy reservists as well. San Antonio had been chosen as a site because of its military assets and the future home of Joint Cyber Command. CYBERCOMM would combine the best of the Navy, Air Force, and Army communications warfare networks. Special Warfare Group Five would be the strong arm of this new endeavor. Jack’s job was to put these terrorist bastards out of business by any means possible.
Jack’s eyes were getting heavy. He thought about the day once more. Could it be one of his guys? Jack quickly pushed the thought from his mind. What about Anna Santiago?
Jack’s mind raced because Anna’s squadron was slated to be transitioned into CYBERCOMM. That’s why her group had been moved to his building a few months ago. And this geeky computer chick was right up their alley. She was quiet and could fly under the radar. Could she be the one? He’d watched her, in fact studied her while she was working in his office. She seemed to know a lot more than she let on. Anna had told him just enough to keep him quiet but not enough about how to resolve this problem. She’d lead him through the computer and showed him where and how to clean this thing up, or did she? Did she just open up another backdoor? She seemed stunned when he wanted her to remove the hard drive.
And wouldn’t removing the hard drive be the most prudent thing to do to a computer, especially in an outfit like his? But if she were the one, why would she want to send a message to deal with the threat? Jack asked himself as he felt his limbs get heavy. Jack knew he had to get a hold of the message to find out what was in it.
Is it a signal? Does this thing go higher?
Jack’s gut feeling was that someone very high was committing serious treason for lots of money. His suspicious nature was a side effect of his misspent youth back in the Bronx.
Reaching for the remote, he switched on the TV and took another long drink. He closed his eyes slowly and leaned his head back. Why couldn’t he work at night and sleep during the day? He seemed to be able to do that so easily.
His BlackBerry rang. Jack opened his eyes and looked at the number. It was a local number, here in San Antonio. He didn’t feel like company tonight so he sent the call to voice mail. Despite what the others thought, he hadn’t spent the last night with someone. He’d spent the night thinking about what he needed to do with his new group and Anna Santiago. She was so close today. He shook his head because he couldn’t get her out of his mind.
What the hell is the deal?
Jack closed his eyes again. He was so tired and needed to get some rest. All he wanted was one night of peaceful, dreamless sleep. Since his arrival here, he hadn’t been able to sleep because he was having nightmares again. One incident in particular was recurring almost every night. It was a mission that had gone horribly wrong and killed three of the eight team members he had. It was his second mission as a team leader and the loss had devastated him. He’d almost left the military over the incident. He’d been responsible for the death of three people and the torture and near death of another.
When the dreams haunted him, it meant he was stressed. But this move and the establishment of the new group had gone relatively well. Until now—if he didn’t come up with a plan, this would definitely slow things down. The cybergame was something new and the target was never seen and they were always chasing it after it had already done damage. He could never seem to get a handle and get on offense instead being on defense. It was frustrating and tiring. And these damn dreams didn’t help him. Neither did obsessing about a woman who really didn’t care for his company. He was beginning to doubt himself. Maybe he didn’t belong here. Maybe the job was better suited for someone else.
1498 Arnold Palmer Drive
Golf Villa Townhomes
San Antonio, Texas
July 26, 2008/2327 Zulu
Tammy sat as Anna hurried around the kitchen. This was Tammy’s reward for waiting around all day. Anna was cooking her dinner. Jessie, her own husband, had declined an invitation, asking instead for the leftovers. This was Tammy’s favorite reward because Anna could cook better than any restaurant in town.
“So what was the fire?” Tammy asked.
“No biggie, I had to reload a machine,” Anna said with a shrug.
“Was that the captain who was waiting outside with you?”
“Yes, it was.”
“So why did he ask for you? What happened that required your special touch?” Tammy asked as Anna chopped onions for the sauce she was making.
“The drive crashed,” Anna said without elaborating.
“It couldn’t wait until Monday? And they couldn’t get the on call?”
Tammy took a slice of the bruschetta that Anna had whipped out effortlessly, and within minutes, she had to stop her eyes from rolling into the back of her head because the food was so delicious.
“You know how the brass gets—they don’t wait.” Anna added the contents of the cutting board to a pan on the stove.
“Oh? And you were the only one who could fix it?”
“I guess so,” Anna said, turning her attention to the pasta she added to the pot of boiling water on the stove.
A base was in fact a small town. Tammy smiled. Rumors spread quickly and this new Navy commanding officer had been the topic of a lot of idle discussion.
“So what’s he like?” Tammy asked.
“He’s a jerk,” Anna responded flatly.
“Really? That was awfully nonjerkish of him to wait with you.” Tammy frowned.
“I didn’t ask him to wait with me and he’s a jerk.”
“That’s not what I heard. I’ve heard he’s very charming, and from where I was sitting, he’s very good looking.”
“I guess that’s subject to opinion.” Anna also took a slice of the appetizer.
“The charming part or good-looking part?”
“He’s definitely not charming—he’s a brute.”
“How about the good-looking part?” Tammy asked slyly.
“I can’t get past the brute part,” Anna responded, adding to the sauce in the pan.
“Did you have your eyes open?” Tammy snapped.
“You had my glasses, remember?” Anna sniped back.
“You’re not that blind,” Tammy sulked.
“He’s your type, tall, dark, and clueless. Jessie being the exception. I still don’t know what he sees in you.”
“Why are you avoiding the subject?” Tammy asked, ignoring the jab. “And…Why did he specifically ask for
hard drive? Like I said, they couldn’t get the on call for this weekend?”
* * * *
Anna remained calm as she flipped the pan’s contents because she was trying to relax. Working with Captain O’Malley hovering over her had been nerve racking and tense. Several times during the day she felt as if she were being interrogated. Anna turned her attention to the pasta in the boiling water because it was almost done.
“You know this sauce is almost overcooked,” Anna commented.
“Well?” Tammy demanded. “Why are you avoiding the subject?”
“I’m not.” Anna removed the boiling pot of pasta from the stove to the nearby sink.
“Yes, you are.”
“Look, I want to eat, and talking about that guy is ruining my appetite.” Anna combined the sauce with the pasta.
“Just tell me. Don’t you think he’s good looking?” Tammy demanded.
“He’s not my type.”
“That’s a yes-or-no question.”
“Not in my opinion. That’s a very subjective question,” Anna snapped.
“Anna, you’re hiding something. What’s going on? Why do you say this guy is such a jerk? From what I hear, he’s a panty dropper. Not just in the looks department, either. I hear he can charm them right off.”
Anna turned and looked at her friend coolly. She remained annoyingly silent, so Tammy pressed for more.
“He’s got to be around our age if he’s a captain in the Navy. Alice met him and has made it a mission to get him in her clutches. He’s all she talks about. I think you would be a better match for someone like him. The strong, silent hero type…Just the kind you used to love to bring down,” Tammy said with a smile as she took a dainty bite.
“What makes you think he’s not married?” Anna fumed at the prospect of someone playing matchmaker for her.
“Is he? Did you see a picture of his wife in his office? I’m sure Alice would need that kind of information,” Tammy said innocently.
“That’s never stopped her before,” Anna snorted.
Anna continued to stare at Tammy in mute hostility, refusing to give credence to anything Alice Mendeola said, Alice being a scheming busybody in the cubical next to Tammy. She was the type of woman who liked to control men with her femininity. Most people who met her were given the impression that sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth. But in reality, Alice was a vicious, conniving man-eater.
Anna had a strong suspicion that Captain Jack O’Malley wasn’t that easily controlled. After spending the day with him, Anna’s instincts told her Captain O’Malley was the type of man her grandmother always warned her about. He would get what he wanted and would be gone soon after. She briefly felt sorry for his wife, if he had one.
“You know Alice. She always gets her man,” Tammy said
“Good luck with that. I hope Alice gets what she’s asking for,” Anna finally said as she took two plates from the cupboard and plated their meal.
“What’s got you so rattled about this guy?” Tammy asked with a smile.
“I don’t like him.”
“Captain Jack, what have you done to our base?”
Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
1427 Communications Group
Office of the Commander
July 28, 2008/1115 Zulu
Colonel Jackson sat quietly as he listened to his Navy counterpart explain the message sitting on his desk. He watched and listened intently as this young captain explained what had transpired the last couple of days on the other side of his world. Jackson leaned back in his chair, and he stifled a yawn. He’d been here since 5:00 a.m.
“So, Colonel, it’s important that the message sitting in front of you goes nowhere,” Captain O’Malley concluded.
“So what you’re telling me is, there is an international cyberterrorist cell here? In San Antonio?” Colonel Jackson asked in disbelief.
“That’s what I believe, Colonel. And one of your technicians seems to be the only one who has figured out how to slow them down.”