XIX. Denial of Service

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Sarah stared into her father's eyes seconds before he died.

He was wearing his full complement of bunker gear, but had removed his face mask and helmet to speak to someone urgently for a few seconds. His usually-well-groomed hair was soaked through with the sweat that drenched his face. In the moments since he'd taken off his helmet, he'd already managed to smear soot on one side of his face.

In one corner of the shot, out of focus, three children huddled by an ambulance wrapped in blankets. There was an EMT there who had been reassuring them, but was now standing several feet away, arguing with someone.

The blazing inferno occupied the majority of the frozen frame of footage. Of course it did. It was impossible to capture the full reality of the devastation on film, but the cameraman had still tried.

The framing of the shot ensured that when firefighters ran into and out of the distorted heat of the blaze and the rolling blackness of the billowing smoke, they were at the focus of the shot.

When they emerged, as her father had done seconds ago carrying two of the children, the camera tracked them, pushing in to capture the heroic act for posterity.

Sarah looked at her father's eyes, knowing they were the eyes of a man who was about to plunge back into the conflagration. Having unknowingly narrowly escaped the building's collapse, he had looked back. His mouth moved, too far away and too blurry for Sarah to make anything out, but she didn't have to see his lips to know what he was saying.

"There's someone else in there."

She didn't cry anymore when she watched it. She hadn't for years. She clicked Play and watched the next part, as the man pulled his gear back onto his head, turned, and unhesitatingly ran back in.

Unconsciously, Sarah counted the beats until it happened.




People started shouting as the fire changed, suddenly belching sparks and dust as something collapsed in the house and overwhelmed the remaining strength of the structural beams.

The walls of the building crumbled inward, debris erupted in all directions, and the towering blaze swelled to a raging holocaust.

It had been a closed casket funeral, of course.

After it happened, Sarah had learned that there had only been one person left inside, an elderly man. An old guy in his eighties who'd already had a good, full life by all accounts.

When she was younger, Sarah had been angry about that. Why had her father sacrificed himself for one old guy? He had already saved so many.

Some of her father's colleagues had tried to explain to her when she pressed them. She didn't want them to keep repeating that he had been a hero. She didn't want them to keep telling her that this was just the job, that you had to take risks to fulfill your duty.

Dissatisfied with the answers she had received, she had begun the search that had led her to these seventeen seconds of news footage.

Everyone in the news clip was terrified. Even the firefighters. Even her father. Sarah understood that now. She had watched over and over again until she understood. She had looked into his eyes in that moment until she saw the thing that had taken him away from her and propelled him into the flames.

He had pledged to do this and lives depended on him. That was it. In these still frames from that seventeen seconds, the look in his eyes explained it in a way words couldn't.

Others might have said as much to her before, but their words were empty and meaningless compared to the reality.

Her anger had evaporated as she had rewatched the tape for hours.

It was a USB drive, now. The original was still back at home. She hadn't wanted to bring a VCR to college, so she'd brought a copy to watch on her laptop.

Was a picture worth a thousand words? Maybe. But footage held answers.

She heard her roommate entering the room and composed herself.

"Heya, roomie."


The blonde woman lowered a backpack to the floor and called over.

"Do you have your 'Why I Want To Be A Journalist' assignment written yet? I can't believe it's three pages. I'm writing about this embedded reporter whose caravan got hit by an IED and they recorded the whole thing, that was pretty inspiring and I can probably milk that for two and a half pages and play with the margins until it's three."

Sarah smiled thinly. "No, mine's not done yet."

Her roommate nodded sympathetically. "We still have until this afternoon. What are you gonna do yours about, huh? Why do you wanna be a journalist, Sarah?"

Sarah's fingers closed around the flash drive.

"Somebody's gotta do it."

Shyamala felt sweat dripping down her back, but she stood straight and kept her expression neutral. The scene on the monitors over the course of the last seconds had seen Mastiff Squadron decimated.

The spinning blob had begun to throw projectiles. At first, it had targeted the bridge, and now, almost an hour after the bridge had come down, it began attacking the F-35s still making strafing runs.

Beside her, the old man's fingers tightened on his cane. It was strange to see him limping, but she knew he'd still be here even if he'd lost both feet saving that helicopter.

"Pull them back." His eyes didn't leave the screen.

Shyamala picked up a receiver. "Mastiff Two, this is Omicron Actual. All squadrons are ordered to withdraw." Her voice was steady, but she felt sick. "Repeat. All squadrons withdraw immediately."

The old man growled. "Any word yet from the FCC?"

Shyamala typed quickly, her fingers dancing across the keys. "They report they are picking up some scattered interference. Mostly shortwave, but bursts in U-NII Upper."

She typed faster, her eyes flicking between data sources and the dashboard utility scripting that would allow those data sources to be easily composed.

In seconds she'd built a script that called the FCC's private API every few seconds and output the GPS data in a simple format, one row after another of coordinate pairs with annotations for amplitude and time detected. She typed the command to pipe the output into the appropriate utility script.

"This isn't realtime, we're limited by the latency from the FCC API, but..."

She pressed Enter.

The big screen showing a composite satellite and radar map of the area began to fill with individual labeled points showing the FCC's triangulated locations of unauthorized radio signals. Only a few isolated signals appeared first, but dozens more steadily appeared across the map like drops of rain on the ground.

A really big one appeared in the middle of the bay, and the feed showing the news crew that had taken a motorboat to get close cut out.

Shyamala frowned and checked the FCC's data.

"That high-power transmission interfered with radio equipment all over the bay and some of the city-- civilian, police, and fire. And it's frequency hopping all over the place, though, sir. This doesn't look like it's intentionally jamming us. It's just using whatever radio spectrum is convenient."

The old man stared at the map, his face unreadable. Finally he turned away and started limping toward the door.

"Commodore Omar, I have business with a president about a cruise missile. Call the Nevada, ready a firing solution and tell them to be prepared to fire on my order. In the meantime, I'd like to return the favor and jam that thing's transmissions. By the time I get back, I want an EW package ready to deploy. Liaise with the Coast Guard and let the governor know we've got more fun coming."

The old man limped off, leaving Shyamala to juggle his rapidfire orders. She issued orders electronic and verbal to determine the most powerful available electronic warfare ordnance available within military installations in a hundred mile radius.

Having set things in motion, Shyamala picked up the phone receiver to call the governor's office.

"Jason and Dave I can understand," Sarah said, pulling on the oars. "I don't think Jason's ever done one push-up, and Dave put all his points in WIS."

She nodded to a skinny, offended Jason who raised his hands as if to ask Why? and a pudgy, bearded Dave who nodded in acceptance of her characterization.

"But Adam? You're supposed to be the one that works out. You've really never learned how to row a boat?"

The miserable reporter coughed, rubbing his neck. He'd been looking up for most of the last two hours.

The thing floating above the bay had dropped into the water, shrinking in on itself and disappearing, and their electronics had lost all signal, even Sarah's satellite link, which she had made Jason carry. Their video feed and cell phones had been cut off, and the thing had sunk out of sight.

After that, the boat's engine had refused to start no matter what they did. Jason had insisted that meant the thing had emitted an EMP. Then David had pointed out that their phones still worked, they just didn't have any signal.

In point of fact, the craft's tiny gas tank was virtually empty. The boat owner apparently hadn't thrown a full tank of gas into the deal.

Who says you get what you pay for?

"I already said I'd do it if you want a break," the blond man said testily. "Come on, let me have a try."

"Nope," Sarah said, puffing as she pulled. "That thing's coming back up, and when it does, we'll be in the city to see it. You don't know how to row. You'll be too slow. We don't have time to wait for you to get good form."

Adam eyed her doubtfully. "You know there are other news crews, right? You know it's actually insane for us to chase this thing like storm chasers or something?"

Sarah kept rowing, exhaling with each pull, speaking between strokes.

"So what you're saying is..." she pulled, "...you think this is dangerous, right?"

"Yes. This is dangerous as hell." Jason was watching the water nervously.

"So you'd rather... somebody else risk their lives?"

"...No." Adam grimaced.

Jason glanced sidelong at Dave, but Dave was absorbed rolling back through footage of the attack.

"Or are you saying," she pulled, "that it's not important... to document this?"


"Then what... are you whining about, again?"

Adam opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again.

"Let me row the boat."


The old man came back with a strange look on his face. He limped up, gazing at the screens. Half the ones showing the Bay were now glitching with static and other distortions. It was a long moment before he spoke.

"Get the Nevada on the horn," he said.

Shyamala retained her neutral expression, but cheered internally. She didn't know what was wrong with the Senator, the Joint Chiefs, and the President, but she was glad the admiral had brought them around. She wondered how he'd done it.

She heard the tinny voice acknowledge in the earpiece. Neither the submarine nor this installation were within range of the heavy jamming.

"The Nevada, sir," she said, and handed him the receiver.

"This is Omicron Actual," said the old man. "Confirm you have a firing solution on the target, taking into account known electronic countermeasures in play?"

There was a beat.

"Very good," he said, and looked up at the screens one more moment before locking eyes with Shyamala.


Sarah laid on her back on the boat dock. They'd made incredible time getting to shore. Her arms burned.

Her crew were arguing with the boat man. The man was now completely convinced that somehow, the lack of cell phone signal meant that all of this was connected and planned, and the journalists were somehow trying to cheat him.

She closed her eyes. She would rescue her poor crew after she caught her breath. Her voice was hoarse from abusing them, but they'd done well and made her proud. Even Jason.

After a few minutes of enjoying the fruitless back-and-forth, she pushed her hands against the splintered wood of the dock to rally her troops and find the best vantage to wait for the creature to reemerge.

Somebody had to do it.

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