The Pentagon, VA, United States of America, Sol III
1342 EDT October 10th, 2004 ad
Major George Nix suspected that he was at the pinnacle of his career. As Tactical Systems Manager for the Continental Army Command he got to control every aspect of information going to and coming from the Continental Army commander. For him, it was equivalent to being a colonel with a brigade or a Navy captain with a ship. From here on out, even if he was called a commander or a manager, he would not be involved in day-to-day hands-on managing of systems, and that was his love. To gather and redistribute data efficiently and effectively was, to him, the epitome of the military intelligence field. After all, accurate military intelligence was half the battle and good orders were the other half. All the actual fighting was just the cherry on the cake, so to speak.
So when the first reports came in of garbled orders, like everyone he took it to be the confusion of the moment, "the fog of war." But as more and more reports came in, an alarming pattern of data invalidation began developing.
For him, the final straw was an overheard argument between the CONARC and the Tenth Corps commander. CONARC had been informed, out of channels, that Tenth Corps had given conflicting orders, some of them vocal orders from General Simosin himself. General Simosin's response was so angry, so absolutely sure, that Major Nix, who had dealt with the general several times over the years, could not decide which data to trust.
Given a conflicting set of statements, only additional, preferably objective, data could decide the answer. Major Nix set out to find that data. He was no cyberpunk, but he could get the job done.
He started with order logs. All electronic commands issued over Battlenet were stored on the Cheyenne Mountain Secure Server. He first called up the initial deployment orders for every unit in Tenth Corps. After that he called up the logged unit responses. A short query indicated that twenty-five percent of the units gave an invalid response. Logically, the higher commands receiving an invalid response should have replied, but there were only three replies to invalid responses. In addition, a plot of the logged responses had the units scattered all over northern Virginia. If the encryption codes had been invalid, the units would have either gotten no communications or map references scattered all over the world. Puzzled, he queried the unit local servers.
It was a little-known fact that communications within the local commands were also stored locally. Unlike external communications, which were stored in Cheyenne, these communications were purged after each exercise. Mostly it was interdepartmental e-mail that would not be stored under any normal conditions, or comments between the staff and their subordinates. Like "back channel cables," the information was in no particular style and often had nothing to do with the exercise or even the military. In addition to local communications, however, the precise information presented on the command screens was stored. Since, logically, this would be the same as the commands stored at Cheyenne, the information was considered of low priority and only existed as a debugging tool. However, until purged it was available and purging only occurred during a stand-down maintenance cycle. To Major Nix's surprise, most of the Corps's databases had been purged, but Thirty-Third and Fiftieth still had some intact files at battalion level and the data conflicted with Cheyenne. Not in every case, but in several cases what the operators at battalion level saw was not what had been transmitted from their division.
Tenth Corps had been hacked.
* * *
Jack Horner stared at the electronic map of northern Virginia and shuddered. Across the map were red penetrations and friendly-fire markers. Now he knew how an officer as experienced and capable as Arkady Simosin could have let the battle fall apart like this.
He turned to Colonel Tremont. "Begin the evacuation."
"But . . . sir!"
"It'll take hours to do it in an orderly fashion, and if Major Nix is right . . ."
"I am . . ."
"We don't know how this is going to go. I don't know if Ninth Corps is where that map says it is without sending you out on a goddamned horse to tell me! If we are penetrated, we have to assume the worst-case scenario for this battle."
"So start the evacuation of the Pentagon. Now!"
"Now, Major, explain this. How pervasive is this penetration, and who did it?"
"I don't know, and I don't know, sir, but here are the best guesses. I tickled Second of the Four Fifty-Second's battalion computer into sending me all its files including a complete copy of its core programming. I ran that through some analysis tools and it isn't good. I've got a bunch of file snippets that look . . . questionable, but this is the beaut." He pointed to a line of incomprensible text on the screen of his laptop.
"What am I looking at, Major?" asked the general, smiling tightly. He looked like a gray tiger about to teach a deer why it should learn to drink looking backwards.
"This is a portion of IVIS control code. It is telling the IVIS system to go to an external file each time it sends a position fix. I don't know what the external file is, but I can guess."
"It tells it whether to tell the truth or not."
"Yes, sir. And if it's in IVIS . . ."
"It's in everything."
"Yes, sir. These friendly-fire incidents . . ."
"Shit." The general swung around. "Operations, send out a priority order to all field artillery units. Do not use the Central System for fire control! Go to voice communication for all calls for fire."
"Umm, sir . . ." interjected the major.
"What?" snapped the enraged general.
"Their targeting computers might be corrupted as well. And the units might not know where they are, precisely, without IVIS. It's happened before."
"Monsoon Thunder," said Jack, with an angry shake of his head. "But this time we're the side being hacked. Maybe renegade cyberpunks? Who's that guy, got the Medal, quit and then disappeared?"
"No, sir," said Major Nix, positively. "If it were King Arthur, we'd never know it until you were out of the picture. His MO was to assassinate the command elements then confuse the troops. No, sir, I think it's someone else. Because there's this bit of code." He flashed another line on the screen. In this case, it was only ones and zeros.
"It's Galactic binary, sir, a translation program for a quantum algorithm."
"Galactic? Could it be Posleen penetration? They use similar code, don't they?"
"It could be, sir, but it doesn't feel that way. I'm no GalTech expert, but this line looks a lot like some of the code in the AIDs." He gestured at the one encircling the general's wrist. "My guess is it's someone with renegade GalTech. I think that that external file was an AID program running somewhere that gave more or less random units false data and then carefully backed up all the lies.
"The key is that the files in Cheyenne do not match what was received at battalion, but battalion's responses were ignored. I suspect that the 'response' was crafted by this program to be what the higher unit originally sent out, and the IVIS code was there to maintain the distraction as long as possible. In addition, all of this was masked by legitimate 'fog of war' incidents. This is sophisticated as hell; I don't even know if cyberpunks could pull it off, not for this many units. I would have to finger renegade Galactics. At this point it is way out of my league. We need some Darhel investigators, or maybe Tchpth."
"Darhel," said the general, distractedly. "They're the programmers, the Tchpth don't program. Damn, this means all of our automated systems could be corrupted. Even the ACS could be vulnerable. There goes our ace in the hole."
"I don't think it's global, sir, but I can't tell how widespread it is. I definitely think we should go to full manual backup on call for fire and movement orders. We can probably wait and see on logistics."
"Right, put it out along with an alert about the problem. And good work, Colonel."
The officer blinked. "Thank you, sir, but I need to send out that warning."
"Get on it, and send an order to Tenth group telling them to retreat through any available route."
* * *
"Gee, thanks for the information," muttered Keren. The cheep for arriving orders from the now-useless ballistic computer distracted him momentarily from plotting the next fire mission. He quickly read the terse code and went back to his board.
"Last volley, Keren!" said the platoon sergeant, throwing personal gear into the armored personnel carrier. A stray Kevlar helmet bounced once on the deck and cracked cleanly in half.
"Mortars, this is Third! You better be ready to pull out, we are about to bypass your position!" The call was an effective punctuation.
"Roger, Third." Keren took one last glance at his charge sheet and stored the board; this one was easy enough. He stood so he could look out of the Mortar Carrier and called, "Deflection Two-Eight-Zero-Zero!" All the communications wire was stored and the commanders had their heads out of the hatches, the better to man their machine guns. Company was expected and it deserved a professional reception.
"Elevation fourteen hundred! Charge one!" Nearly the lowest charge and highest elevation possible, the mortar rounds would not be going far. "Five rounds, traverse, at will and run like hell!" Everyone had been instructed on the route to use to reach their secondary positions. At the command the drivers all started the big diesel engines, like race-car drivers at a tracked Indy race.
Keren could see tracers from the Bradleys' 25mm Bushmasters through the trees. A bright flash indicated the erasure of another fighting vehicle from the remnants of the company. He was just as glad that the sight was obscured by trees.
"It's okay, Keren," shouted the platoon leader. He climbed in and dogged the troop door just as the first round went downrange.
As the mortar tracks began firing, the driver of the FDC track pulled out. It would take only moments for the rounds to be expended and then all three mortar tracks would "run like hell." Better to already be on the road than contributing to the log jam.
"Don't matter," continued the lieutenant, grabbing a stanchion. He smiled grimly. "We're fine as long as we're not on charge zero!"
* * *
Arkady Simosin looked at the scrawled-over paper map of Prince William County and sighed internally. He refused to succumb to despair, despite what the map was telling him. His units, his beautiful divisions, were so much scrap scattered through the woods. But there were still troops to save.
"Reinforce the order from CONARC, regarding the retreat." He stared at the red arrow of Posleen, charging up the I-95/U.S. 1 corridor. Unlike the horses they resembled, Posleen seemed inured to fatigue. They would be to the Occoquan bridges within the hour.
"Send a message to the Thirty-Third and Forty-First to pull back to the beaches. See if we can get some craft down to the water to pull them out. The battleships were never tied into the fire net and they've been accurate so far. They might be able to cover the withdrawal. Get on that stat."
"I'll handle it," said the planning officer.
"Okay, all the rest, turn them towards Manassas, modify the original pivot plan. Tell them to retreat as fast as possible, Nineteenth Armored to take the back door and slow the Posleen." He glanced at the map again. "The Thirty-Third, Forty-First and Fiftieth DivArty should be able to make it across the bridges. I'm sure they'll hurry. Have them follow the back roads along the Occoquan. They should be able to provide some fire from there.
"The units are to retreat until they are in reserve of the Ninth Corps, in the area of . . ." He looked at his chart and smiled grimly. "Bull Run National Battlefield Park. We will reorganize there."
He paused and looked at his staff. "Gentlemen, we all know that a retreat under fire is the most difficult maneuver of all to effect. This is, effectively, a rout. We have to get to Manassas before our troops do, and get them stopped behind Ninth Corps. We will use the units that are still combat-effective to reinforce Ninth Corps and stop the Posleen on that axis. Prince William County is as far as they go!"