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Authors: Jerry Hatchett

Seven Unholy Days

BOOK: Seven Unholy Days
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub









a thriller by








Copyright © 2013
and prior by Jerry Hatchett





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be

reproduced in any form or by any means, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, electronic or mechanical, except for brief passages quoted in a review,

without the written permission of the author.





ISBN-13:  978-0-9887012-3-6 (Red House)

ISBN-10:   0988701235








For those who ponder the unthinkable…












Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good;

and God divided the light from the darkness.

God called the light Day,

and the darkness He called Night.

So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:2-5
















              I felt trouble in Jimmy Lee Tarkleton’s handshake. It was a little strong and a little long. This man liked pissing contests.

“The inspection is scheduled for next week, Decker,” he said.

“If you have a problem, take it up with headquarters. They dispatched me.”

“For what?” He was a bearish man, thick-chested and stu
rdy, and he showed no sign of moving.

“Three days of excessive grid fluctuations. I’m here to ident
ify the problem and recommend a solution.”

He yanked the handset from a wall phone and dialed. “This is Tarkleton at Central. Put me through to the director, right now.” He paced back and forth, tethered by the cord.

I looked into the fifty-foot-square nerve center of Great Central Electric. Acoustic walls, subdued indirect lighting in a high ceiling, big air-conditioning ducts. Fiberoptic cables fanned out to a long bank of servers and a crescent-shaped console held two rows of flush-mounted displays.

A ten-foot transparent display dominated the front of the room. I drew a deep breath and smelled the thunderstorm red
olence of ozone, ever present in a room full of computers. This was geek nirvana.

Tarkleton fired questions at someone on the other end now. Under different circumstances I might have admired, even liked him. He was the first manager in a long time who didn’t fall all over himself to suck up to me.

But after three weeks of flying around to inspect the four centers and reassure myself the facilities were up to par, along with a half-dozen useless meetings with government bureaucrats, I had no patience for Tarkleton’s brand of staunch integrity.

I missed watching the sun sizzle into the Pacific at the end of the day, looking at the stars through crisp mountain air. I missed my dog, Norman. I wanted to go home, spend some time reading, watch a few movies, binge on Netflix. Norman loves good movies. He hates the kennel. I hate hotels.

Tarkleton hung up the phone and turned back to me. “Mr. Decker, I just spoke with the director and she confirmed the dispatch. You’re welcome to proceed with your inspection, but like I told her, someone has bad information.”

“How’s that?”

“We haven’t had any abnormal grid conditions.”

“If that’s the case there’s something very odd going on with the reporting network, and it’s not affecting the other three ce

He shrugged and pulled a leather pouch from his pocket, from which he produced a pipe that he packed with tobacco and lit. “Inspect to your heart’s content,” he said through a cloud of aromatic smoke.

When the guy manning the code console looked my way and waved, I stepped into the control room.

“Mr. Decker. It is you!” He beamed. “I am Abdul Abidi, and I am pleasing to make your acquaintance.”

He looked like an Abdul Abidi, and he was pleasing to make my acquaintance. A wiry little fellow with dark skin, big brown eyes, and likely a stratospheric IQ. If the team was in order he was the super-geek of the bunch, the real codeslinger.

The second guy of the three-man team squinted at me through thick glasses that he pushed up every few seconds. “You sir, on the analysis station, what’s your name?”

“Harold Beeman.” He sounded like a kazoo. I smiled and nodded.

The final crew member, manning the main bank of system monitors, didn’t wait for me to ask. He turned in his chair and managed to look down at me without getting up. “Brett Fu
lton,” he said. “But you can call me Mr. Fulton.”

“Thanks, I’ll bear that in mind.” Every tech crew has at least one.

I drifted over to Abidi and we talked shop while I kept an eye on the monitors. I was pleased to see that he and the others continued working while we chatted, each man focused on his station, occasionally keying in an adjustment. The big display showed the sixteen states of the Central region glowing a uniform, reassuring green. Normal operation.

“Can you pull up a three-day flux graph, hourly intervals, please?” I said to Abidi. Seconds later, he had it on his monitor. I leaned down and examined it. To my surprise, Tarkleton was right. It was perfect. So was every other check I ran.

I straightened up, puzzled by the inconsistency, but satisfied that the problem wasn’t here. “You’re running a smooth operation.”

“Very smooth,” Abidi said with a big grin.

“Keep it up.” I shook his hand and headed for the door. The reporting glitch could be diagnosed remotely, so I needed maybe fifteen minutes to wrap up my review and I’d be homeward bound. Tonight, I’d finally sleep in my own bed again. I was almost to the door when the room exploded in a hellish cacophony of light and sound.

“Alert! Grid failure! Alert! Grid failure!” The synthesized contralto voice blared in sterile monotone as an ear-splitting Klaxon wailed through its cycles.

What the hell? The steady stream of cool air from the vents slowed, then died, as the control center switched to standby power from an onsite generator. Display screens all over the room scrolled in sync to the alarm that still screamed: “Alert! Grid failure!”

On the big screen, the reassuring glow of seconds ago was faltering. I watched in stunned silence as Mississippi flickered and went black.

Tarkleton blew back into the room, a gray-haired twister looking for a place to touch down. “Decker, I didn’t authorize any drills!”

I ignored him and started back to the console.

He put a heavy paw on my arm. “Where do you think you’re going? I’m not letting you anywhere near the controls!”

“Alert! Grid failure! Alert!” The voice was relentless.

“Will somebody please turn that dang thing off?” Tarkleton bellowed. The alarms died and the twister focused on me again. He was still holding on to my arm. “Mr. Decker, I suggest you tell me exactly what you’ve been up to in my control room.”

“And I suggest you let go of my arm,” I said. “This is no drill, man. You just lost a state.”

His hand dropped. He stood motionless, a spent twister. The room was unnaturally quiet in the aftermath of the alarms.

“Alert! Grid failure! Alert! Grid failure!” Hell broke loose again. This could not be happening. I looked up, unwilling to believe my eyes. On the screen, Alabama winked out.

I pushed past Tarkleton and returned to the console, where Abidi was already typing away, his fingers flying over the keyboard with uncanny speed. I leaned over, scanning the monitors. Grids don’t fail without a damn good reason. I directed Abidi’s search, telling him where to look.

Tarkleton’s massive presence loomed over me. “It’s a hu
ndred and four degrees outside and a lot of air conditioners just quit. If we don’t get the power back up, we’ve got a problem.”

“Since we’re exchanging suggestions, I suggest you let me do my thing,” I said without looking up. I already had a pro
blem of un-frigging-believable proportion. My company had designed every system in the room.

“You know what happened?”

“Not yet, but I intend to find out.”

He was silent for a moment, relighting his pipe while he mulled this over. “Very well, then. Gentlemen! Mr. Decker has the floor. Give him your cooperation.” He paused, and I felt the weight of his eyes on me. “It’s your system, Decker. Fix it.”

A secretary stuck her head through the doorway. “Mr. Tarkleton, North Mississippi Medical Center on the blue line. They have people in surgery and their generator failed. What do I tell them?”

“Lord Almighty. Tell them we’re on it, but get that generator back up.” He turned to me. “That’s the largest hospital in the state. Stop twiddling your thumbs and get that grid back up.”

“I need your station,” I said to Harold Beeman. The room was heating up and he was already covered in sweat. He looked right at me, his eyes the size of golf balls through the glasses, but he didn’t move. I motioned for him to get up and still he sat. I looked to Tarkleton for help.

“Harold, move your butt!” he said.

Beeman got up slowly, still staring at me. A big bead of sweat rolled off the tip of his oily nose. He finally cleared the chair and I slid into it.

I typed and clicked my way through analysis screens and grid models, looking for answers, finding none. Everything was normal, except for the two entire states that—

“Alert! Grid failure! Alert! Grid failure!”

Make that three. Tennessee faded. My career was disint
egrating. I pictured a room full of reporters in bloodlust frenzy, jackals closing in on wounded prey. Mr. Decker, what went wrong? Did you cut security corners when you designed this system? Was Decker Digital not ready for the challenge of such a project? Exactly how vulnerable are your systems, Mr. Decker?

Someone killed the alarms.

“I’ll have to call Washington if we don’t get them back up in a hurry,” Tarkleton said. “Any chance these states went down independently?”

“Didn’t happen,” I said, working my way deeper into the system.

“I agree,” Brett Fulton said. “The problem is here. With Decker’s system.”

I vowed to wipe the smug smile off his face as soon as I had the grids back up. And to fire the Decker Digital employee r
esponsible for this gaffe.

The secretary was back. “Mr. Tarkleton, blue line again, Memphis International, they’re screaming and cursing, d
emanding to talk to you.”

Tarkleton grabbed a telephone handset and punched a large blue button on the base. “Tarkleton here ... Yes ma’am ... I’m sorry, I don’t have a time frame for you ... I understand ... it won’t help, but call him if you want to.” He slammed the han
dset back into its cradle. “Decker, I’m in a world of hurt here.”

“Perhaps it is not trouble with Matt Decker’s system.” Abidi looked up from his monitor. “I am seeing something most un
usual in my lines of code. I am thinking cyber-bomb.”

I leaned over and peered at the screen. “You’re saying the server ordered all three shutdowns? You can’t be serious. Too much redundancy, too many safeguards.”

“It has happened. I am showing you here, and here, and here.” He pointed to three lines of code. “These are the exact times Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee became dark. I assure you I am most correct.”

“Fulton, run me a printout of the core system activity log,” I said. “STAT, man, three states are down!”

He glared at me, then typed and clicked. Nerd Beeman waited across the room by the printer, ripped the sheet out as soon as it finished, and brought it to me. I found the three bold lines of print that marked the events in question and told Abdul to call out the times he had found buried in the program code.

“Eighteen-sixteen and thirty-seven seconds, eighteen-eighteen and fifty-three seconds, and eighteen-twenty-one and nine seconds, all Zulu times.”

Yellow Creek was five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, also known as Zulu, the world standard for matters technical. Abidi was right. The times the states went down perfectly matched the cryptic numbers he had found. “There’s nothing wrong with my systems.” I slapped the printout down on the counter.

“Come again?” Tarkleton said.

“Somebody tampered with the code.” My code. Code engineered to be unbreakable.

Abidi cast me a worried glance. I could see he was already processing the implications, and he didn’t like them. Neither did I.

“Can’t we just do a manual override to switch this first grid back on and then deal with the others?” Fulton said.

This moron had obviously spent all of fifteen minutes stud
ying the systems.

“Oh no no no,” Beeman said. “CEPOCS is not designed for manual overrides. A stunt like that could cause terrible da

He was right. The grid switches were designed for precise machine control, not manual.

“Up until sixteen minutes after one, everything was fine, right?” I said.

“Sixteen minutes plus thirty-seven seconds after one,” Abidi said.

“Whatever. My point is that the shutdowns were rigged to occur at that particular time on the system clock. There’s no reason we can’t turn the main system clock back twenty-four hours until we can figure out what’s going on here.”

“I understand precisely to where you are traveling,” Abidi said. “CEPOCS will return all parameters to the pre-trigger state. You are a computer hero.”

Fulton snorted.

“I don’t know about hero, Decker,” Tarkleton said, “But if this works, you can call me Tark.”


Two minutes later we watched Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee sequence back to life on the display. Tarkleton wiped his forehead with a sleeve. Abidi was jubilant. Fulton dumped a BC powder onto his tongue and swallowed it dry. Beeman was too wired to stand still; he kept walking around peering at readouts. I watched him circle the room.

BOOK: Seven Unholy Days
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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