Here is the first 2501 short story, a tale of counterintelligence, computers, and corruption ...

"Good Morning, Good Morning"

——

Is this the month of October?

“Yes.”

Is your name Smith, George?

“Yes.”

Do you intend to answer the following questions truthfully?

“Yes.”

Are you a loyal citizen of the Free States of Europe and America?

“Yes.”

Other than during the course of authorized operations … have you given any FSEA state secrets to Eurasia?

“No.”

Do you intend to betray FSEA in the future?

“No.”

Within the past 12 months – since your last polygraph — have you played any unauthorized games?

“No.”

Within authorized games, have you made any unauthorized modifications?

“No.”

Are you aware of the existence of ‘wormholes’ between games?

“Yes.”

Have you employed wormhole technology to travel between games?

“Yes.”

Have you used wormholes to evade FSEA security monitoring?

“No.”

Do you voluntarily agree to the counterintelligence examination of all computer code and data storage in, on, and around your body?

George hesitated. Was his career over? At this point, did it even matter what he said?

“Yes.”

Two Special Agents entered the room, and escorted Smith to a waiting car. In all his years in government, George had never seen anyone move so quickly, so efficiently. He was stunned. The Special Agents must have been watching him for some time.

In silence, they drove for at least two hours, finally arriving at a green-glass building in a small forest, somewhere north of Cambridge. There was no sign, no visible indication of the building’s purpose.

In the lobby, George was handed a white gown. The Special Agents showed him to a large, white, plastic-lined changing room, in which he suddenly felt very small. A voice came over a loudspeaker: “Smith, please remove your clothes, and all non-core electronics.” George’s hands began to shake, but he nonetheless managed to redress with enough time left over to examine his aging face in a mirror.

Two new Special Agents opened the door, one of which placed a not-so-comforting hand on Smith’s shoulder. Next, they walked him down several flights of stairs, along a white corridor, through a white door, and into a white chair. Immediately, George could feel sweat on the back of his legs, dampening the gown, and surely sticking to the plastic beneath him.

A technical assistant – whose hands were cold – widened an opening in the back of Smith’s gown, and slid a red cable into his core drive. The Special Agents began to copy files. George, now starting to lose his composure, suddenly discovered that he still had access to his personal entertainment files. Therefore, he made a quick and easy decision: for the next ten minutes, George lost himself in classic Van Halen.

In FSEA, there were few explicit laws, but everyone knew certain red lines. These included any unauthorized communication with Eurasia. Although technically not illegal, it was understood that this “crime” was met with severe penalties. And the fact that correspondence with Eurasia was nearly impossible to accomplish only served to make the government’s paranoia – and its fearsome investigations – worse.

In a separate room, another group of Special Agents began the analysis. First, they verified that all 84 games George had played in the past 365 days were authorized. This was a routine exercise, as any violation should have been discovered by a security bot within seconds.

Over the past half-decade, FSEA had refined its ability to “code around” bad behavior, at least from a public point of view. However, the Special Agents were always surprised by human creativity – especially in the games.

Special Agent Alabama sorted Smith’s games in descending order based on their counterintelligence “score,” a rounded whole number between 0-100 based on four factors: author, code size, complexity, and autonomy. George’s list ran from the mass-market Cat People versus Dog People (96) to the obscure Joseph Conrad (36). In general, it was understood that government personnel should not play games with a score below 50.

The Special Agents sent Smith’s operating system and data files to an open source software analysis framework called “Demure.” In seconds, all of George’s actions and conversations for the past 365 days – both in real life and in the games – appeared in a holographic matrix. Shades of green symbolized FSEA. Red was Eurasia. Yellow lines were potential communication paths between the two warring states. Any pulsating node was a potential state secret.

In real life, George had spoken just under 1 million words. In the games, he had spoken well over 4 million. Chip – the Special Agent in Charge – made only one observation: “His cyber girlfriends know more about him than his wife.”

After nearly five minutes of analysis, Demure remained quiet, and the Special Agents began to fear they had made a mistake. Alabama ceremoniously opened a box of donuts as a consolation prize.

Then Demure awoke, printing four words to a telescreen: “Good morning, good morning.”

Alabama sat up in his chair. Chip grabbed the telephone.

Demure continued: “Smith used this phrase twice in the past year. Both times after a wormhole. Both times in front of a closed door. Both times the door was opened from the inside, with different time delays and different code. I suspect human intelligence behind the doors.”

The Special Agents multiplied like rabbits: within ten minutes, their number grew from two to eight.

At Triple C – the Cyber Counterintelligence Centre – wormhole technology was still under evaluation. It was a new coding phenomenon, and few Special Agents had any experience with it. Such gray areas were vexing to most Special Agents, but the more aggressive and technically inclined cops tended to believe that new articulations of cyberspace were in fact the best places to catch a spy.

The new Special Agents vied for a better view of the telescreen, while their technical assistants searched all of FSEA for a similar combination of game/door/phrase – at “any time” in history, which currently meant almost thirteen years – without success.

“OK, let’s feed his files to Snake,” announced Chip, referring to Triple C’s classified counterintelligence framework. Like Demure, Snake mapped communication paths between FSEA and Eurasia, but in far greater detail. Further, Snake had the authority to hack through security barriers along the way – until it feared getting caught.

On Chip’s command, a technical assistant turned a small silver key, and Snake went to work. Within seconds, “Good morning, good morning” appeared on the telescreen. Smith had first spoken these words at the door to Adolf Hitler’s grammar school in Das Dritte Reich, having traveled via wormhole from Eastwood Forever as a revival preacher’s wife. The second time, Smith played the role of Vice President Harold “Chick” Blarney from Hard Target, as he stood in front of a castle in Blood Worship. The two incidents took place nearly ten months apart, but on both occasions, it was precisely 1533 in the afternoon. Chip pointed to the government clock – it was 1411.

Excitement filled the room as the Special Agent in Charge massaged his beard and devised a plan of attack. After nearly a minute of quietly calculating risk versus reward, Chip exhaled completely, and said, “Let’s do it.”

The Special Agents and technical assistants were pleased, with the exception of Alabama, who decided that someone had to play devil’s advocate. “Chief, are we on solid legal ground here?” Then, pointing to the unfamiliar game titles, “And what about the tradecraft? What’s the plan?”

Chip pointed to the government clock. “Look … this guy’s career is over. At this point, this is the most important thing that, uh – Smith – can do for his country.”

The Special Agent in Charge understood that his leadership was on the line, so he shooed Alabama from his seat in front of the telescreen. “I’ll drive.” Chip glanced at a technical assistant: “Load the second game … the most recent one. And send in Mr. Smith with his core code. That guy doesn’t know shit anyway.”

By 1522, the tech had walked a smartly-dressed Vice President Blarney in a dark tangent through wind, rain, and mud, up a lonely, forested path to the portcullis of a great, dismal castle somewhere in Transylvania. At 1533 sharp, Chip raised the Vice President’s arm, banged on the iron gate, and said in a loud voice, “Good morning, good morning.”

In the Triple C conference room, no one breathed for nearly ten seconds – until the door began to open with a slow, metallic rattle. The weather was so foul it was hard to see, but as soon as there was enough room, Chip pushed the Vice President into the courtyard.

Now on unfamiliar terrain, Chip wandered about, squinting in every direction, pausing occasionally to pick up a rock or a bit of trash. At last, Chip’s next move was clear. In a far corner of the courtyard, under a burning lamp, and in front of a closed door, there stood an aged but beautiful woman, dressed all in black. She had a hand on one hip, the other covering her mouth, as she carefully examined her unexpected guest. The Special Agent in Charge, however, did not hesitate, and marched decisively in her direction.

Everyone – including Alabama – sat spellbound in this moment of truth. No one knew what might happen next. Surely, it seemed, the woman would challenge Chip with a signal or a code word – anything that would bring their reckless operation to a premature end. Instead, she simply smiled at her guest, then opened the door, releasing a bright light of indecipherable numbers and letters. In the Triple C conference room, Snake flashed a warning message to the telescreen: WORMHOLE.

The Special Agents strained to see what was happening on the telescreen. Then the wicked beauty came back into focus. Leaning toward the open door, she offered the Vice President an open hand.

All eyes turned to the Special Agent in Charge, whose hands hovered just above the keyboard. Chip gazed into the dazzling stream of computer code. Slowly, his right index finger descended to the up arrow key, and both characters vanished into the wormhole.

The telescreen went dark for nearly 20 seconds – apart from a faint glow signaling that some type of computer code was still running.

When the picture came back into focus, the cream of the FSEA cyber counterintelligence corps sat in awe and disbelief. A new, real woman had appeared on the telescreen, in a live video feed. Known in FSEA only as the “Cyclops,” it was the one-eyed Chief of Eurasian Central Intelligence, smiling playfully at the Special Agents, and savoring the moment.

Within three seconds, Snake discovered the hot link with Eurasia, and shut down not only the Triple C network but also its electricity. That was, however, three seconds too late. When the emergency power came on, Alabama kept his eyes shut. He could have done more. And whatever it was that Chip had said, Alabama knew it was his job to call the chaplain, coders, and coroner.

——