The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 21

  “He’s here to murder the vice president of the United States,” Savich said.

  Stunned silence, then: “But that’s crazy,” Mike said. “I mean, she’s covered from here to Sunday and sideways with security; he’d never succeed. How do we know this?” Mike was sitting forward as if she wanted to pull the information out of Savich’s mouth.

  “The Israelis had been closing in on him, watching some bank accounts he supposedly has,” Savich said. “They say he flew from Jordan to London to Mexico City three months ago, then probably went north and over the border into the U.S.”

  Sherlock went on, “Callan Sloane has friends in Mossad. They alerted her immediately that Damari was hired to kill her, and others as well, as yet unidentified.

  “No matter how well she’s covered, guys, you all know Damari’s rep. He never fails, so this is a very serious threat indeed.”

  Savich said, “When we meet with Carl Grace, we’ll soon see if the CIA truly intend to be up front with everything they know not only about COE, but also about Damari.”

  “Well,” Nicholas said, sitting back, “that certainly tops what we have to tell you and Sherlock, but”—he nodded to Mike—“tell them, Mike.”

  She gave them a fat grin. “I went to school with Vanessa Grace. Carl Grace is her uncle, evidently her handler. She was shot in Brooklyn, picked up by the CIA, stabilized, and medevaced down here. I hope Uncle Carl will tell us if she’s alive or dead.”



  Nicholas’s laptop beeped.

  Mike leaned in to look. “Is it the breach? You didn’t get it contained?”

  Nicholas said, “It’s being difficult.”

  “Is that a Brit understatement?” Mike asked.

  Savich came around his desk, looked over Nicholas’s shoulder. “No, I don’t think so, Mike. It looks like the threat assessment from Dominion’s security servers ran us through multiple failure scenarios—are you going to be able to contain this breach, or do I call in the IT cavalry?”

  Nicholas was watching his worm chew through Gunther’s code. “So far, so good, and I know your IT guys are looking at the same thing, and they haven’t yelled out. But you know, I don’t like the feel of this. What do you think, Savich?”

  Savich called his IT department. “Martin, I’m putting you on speaker. What are you guys seeing?”

  A man’s very calm, very soothing voice said in a dead monotone, “People, this is an incredible DDoS attack and it’s managed to access the DERMS—the Distributed Energy Resource Management System—which controls the grid itself.” They heard him draw a deep breath. “Sorry, the power is now shutting off, quadrant by quadrant.”

  “A moment, Martin. Nicholas do you see it?”

  “Oh, yes, I see it. He’s right, we’re going down.”

  There was a beep from Nicholas’s laptop, then a series of three in a row, fast and steady, an alarm going off. “Oh, no. Oh, bugger me!” He started typing frantically. “The bloody worm isn’t working now, Gunther’s code kicked it out and accelerated the grid collapse. The DDoS attack is spreading instead of halting. Exactly what I was afraid of.”

  “I copy that, Drummond,” Martin said.

  Sherlock asked, “How many homes are without power? How far has it spread?”

  “It’s happening really fast. Right now, millions are without power, all over Virginia. Even more widespread power and voltage fluctuations, too. If we can’t get it back online, we may start seeing larger failures across the board. Once one system is overloaded and goes offline, it’s a domino effect. If we’re not careful, the whole eastern seaboard could go down. You did a good patching job, Drummond, but COE’s hackers did a superb number on us. There’s no stopping this now. You with me?”

  Sherlock’s cell rang, and she listened, punched off. “Can you hear me, Martin?”

  “Yo, what now?”

  “That was the head of security at Dominion. They’ve put a call in to their contacts at Juno to see if they can step in and help shut this down. He said this attack is so specialized, so perfectly timed, it makes him very suspicious of the assessment Juno did on their systems.”

  “Bloody well right they should be suspicious. Someone in their operation screwed up big-time. It’s spreading too fast for us to contain it.”

  And the lights went out.

  Dead silence, then shouts from the outer office, chairs squeaking on the floor as agents pushed back from their desks. Then a deep grinding noise filled the office, as the Hoover Building’s many generators kicked on and the emergency lighting came on.

  Martin’s calm voice came out loud and clear, “Nicholas, look at the grid of lines crisscrossing the eastern seaboard—like arteries into a heart.”

  They all stared down at Nicholas’s laptop. One by one, the lines disappeared.

  “It’s the worst-case scenario,” Nicholas said. “The grids have gotten out of balance, the peak load is too much, so they’re systematically shutting down. The bastards have managed it. They’ve overloaded the grids.”

  Sherlock asked, “Can we get them back up and online, Nicholas? Martin?”

  Nicholas said, “I can’t, not alone, anyway. Martin, we need to get together and reverse-engineer the code. They have remote control of the grids, and they’ve managed to use it.” He stared at the screen. “Outages are being reported from North Carolina to New York.” He looked up at Savich. “If the vice president is a potential target, this could signal the beginning of an attack.”

  Sherlock was already punching in numbers on her cell. “I’ll alert the Secret Service.”

  Mike was scrolling down her cell phone. “The media is already having a field day. Twitter has exploded with speculation.”

  Nicholas said, “Martin, I’m on my way; get your team ready to reverse-engineer. Mike, can you get a SitRep on the outage for me?”

  “On it.”

  Savich said, “Nicholas, let’s get down to IT and stop this thing. Martin, get ahold of Juno, we need to work with their protocols.”

  Nicholas said, “I want to bring in Adam Pearce, too. We have to move fast.” Savich nodded and Nicholas dialed as they walked.

  Adam sounded exhausted and harried. “I know, I know, Nicholas, COE pulled a doomsday on you. I’m working on it.”

  “Work faster. I’m in D.C. and I’m about to work with the IT team here at the Hoover. Can you trace where the signal is coming from?”

  “I’m looking. It’s south of you. They’re popping online then getting off as quickly as the IP addresses register. The last signal came from near Richmond. I’ll call you back.”

  Savich and Nicholas broke into a run, down the long hallway and into the mainframe server room. There were a dozen men and women scrambling around, making sure the backups were safe. A man with short black hair, aviator glasses, and a small mustache walked up to them. He said in a voice so calm, so soothing, Nicholas felt his heart rate slow, fought the urge to yawn: “You Drummond?”

  At Nicholas’s nod, Martin said, “Come this way.”

  Savich knew he wasn’t needed. He stood there and watched the room of people shift into a complex ballet, people switching stations, screens glowing, keyboards clattering, all under the oddly green-tinged lights of the emergency backup generators.

  Mike came up, tugged on his sleeve. “Air traffic control is rerouting all planes in the area. The Capitol power plant is offline, so the Capitol police are enacting emergency measures as if there’s an imminent attack coming on their locale. Sherlock spoke to the Secret Service, and Vice President Sloane is being moved to a secure location. All the nuclear plants up and down the eastern seaboard are executing emergency measures. The Metro and the trains into and out of D.C. are all offline. We’re going to have massive gridlock, and fast. We need to control this, make sure we don’t have a panic on our hands. What el
se can we do?”

  “Honestly?” Savich replied. “We see how good our team is.”



  The White House

  The power went out without so much as a whisper. Callan was reading an up-to-the-minute brief on the Geneva talks. “They’re falling apart,” she said aloud. “Not a surprise now we think Iran and Hezbollah were trying to undermine the talks.”

  Quinn rushed into her office, hair flying. “Secret Service are coming to move you to the bunker.”

  “Because the power’s out? Isn’t that a bit of an overreaction?”

  “The Richmond power grid’s been attacked, and there’s a rolling blackout making its way up the eastern seaboard. The FBI feels an attack on you could be imminent and this could be the start. We’ve got to go.”

  Damari, Callan thought, her heart leaping into her throat. Ari, you were right. Thank you, thank you.

  Her heart was kettledrumming in her chest, but she wasn’t about to freak Quinn out.

  Callan was well trained in the emergency protocols; they’d been drummed into her from the moment she accepted the nomination of vice president and was suddenly surrounded by men bristling with weapons concerned solely for her safety. She’d also helped improve them when she’d been in the CIA. She grabbed her jacket from the chair back, got her heels on. Quinn had her secure laptop and her briefcase.

  Callan’s lead Secret Service agent, Tony Scarlatti, appeared in the doorway. “Good, you’re all packed up. Ready, ma’am?”

  “Yes, I am.” As they walked briskly toward the West Wing, Tony said into his wrist mike, “Cardinal’s on the move.” He gave Callan a big smile. “You’re going to be just fine, ma’am. No worries.”

  And she no longer wanted to break into a run. If Tony wasn’t concerned, then she wouldn’t be, either.

  He said very matter-of-factly, his voice as comforting as warm syrup, “Ma’am, we’ve got planes in the skies and no good way to track them, except the old-fashioned way, by hand. Any one of them could deviate off course and try to fly into us. Communications and transportation are down all over the city, the Capitol is being evacuated. We aren’t going to take any chances with you.”

  Is that all? How about a meteor heading our way? “What else do you know, Tony?”

  “Just a moment, ma’am,” he said, and turned away to speak into his comms. When he turned back, his voice remained calm and reassuring. “I’m to bring you to the Situation Room. I don’t know what’s happening.”

  The stairwell in the West Wing was lit in ghostly green. Down one level was the Situation Room, and Callan saw a flurry of activity inside.

  Callan pushed into the room, Tony and Quinn on her heels.

  Several military staffers stood in the center of the small space, watching huge monitors, above which time clocks from all over the world ran. They stood at attention when she entered.

  “Madam Vice President, we’re relieved you’re here.”

  “Commander Zarvick, tell me what’s happening.”

  Commander Zarvick was the senior staffer attached to the JSOC—Joint Special Operations Command. “Ma’am, we have eyes on a nuclear facility in Iran that’s gone live. One of the ones they’re refusing to let the UN inspectors near.”

  Her blood chilled. “Tell me what you mean—it’s gone live?”

  “We’re not entirely sure exactly what they’re doing. Thirty minutes ago, activity started at the Bushehr facility. The heat signatures showed multiple forces moving into a defensive position, and their medium-range ballistic missile batteries are lit up, too.”

  “Which missiles?”

  “Sejjls and Ashouras. Two-thousand-kilometer range. They may only be executing maneuvers, that would be par for the course, their ritual thumbing their noses at us, just to rile everyone, the good Lord knows they’ve done it enough in the past. But this time, I’ve got to admit it surprises me that they’d do it now, what with the president and all their leaders at the table supposedly talking peace. And that’s why I wanted you to know, ma’am.”

  Commander Zarvick was perfectly right. The Iranians loved to shove provocative behavior in their faces, then claim only testing, but now? Callan clicked off in her head: Bayway blowing up, the electrical grid attacked, Zahir Damari gunning for her, and now Iran pulling their usual crap, using the exact methods they were pledging to stop in order to cooperate. Well, nothing new.

  Was this not simple saber rattling? Was this show the ultimate screw-you? The Iranians using the peace talks as a cover, knowing the United States wouldn’t take their actions seriously? Did they want an all-out war? Well, of course some of them did, but they had to know they’d be wiped off the face of the earth. What was going on here?

  Callan said, “Do we have anyone on the ground who can confirm the movements, or are we relying on the drones?”

  Zarvick held up a finger. “One moment, ma’am.” He picked up the phone, and she heard him asking the question, assumed he was talking to the regional team leader at JSOC command. He hung up. “Ma’am, there is a SEAL recon team two hours away. We’d have to give them a mission parameter and get them humping asap.”

  “Covert assets?”

  He shook his head. “It will take a day to get word to this area. I can’t simply send an e-mail, you understand.”

  She did. The men and women on the ground in Iran and other Middle East hot spots weren’t tied into the system. They had prearranged meetings and movements already being coordinated. Operating in the Middle East was difficult enough, operating in Iran’s backyard was more than dangerous.

  This is too well-coordinated to be anything but the precursor to a legitimate attack.

  “Get the president on the line immediately. Pull him out of his meetings. Now, Commander. He needs to know the Iranians are talking out both sides of their mouths—again—but this time, they’ve got their reactors all lit up and glowing. Get Mossad on the phone—Ari Mizrahi. If these idiots are about to attack Israel, we need to let them know. What am I thinking? Of course they already know. Ari might be in a better position to give us some information.”

  The air was electric, but everyone knew what to do and they did it, calmly and efficiently. She watched views of the screens constantly changing, calls being made, computer keys typing fast and furious. Commander Zarvick handed her a secure phone. “Ma’am, here is President Bradley’s secure phone.”

  “Callan? What is this? What is going on?”

  “Iran’s facility in Bushehr is lit up like a Christmas tree. I know, I know, it could be that Iran’s simply saber-rattling again, but this time I’ve got to think they’re gearing up for something.” And she updated him about Bayway, told him about the power grids just going down, and the threat from COE to take out all the lights on the eastern seaboard. “Sir, I really don’t like the feel of this.”

  Commander Zarvick said, “Arak is online now, too, ma’am.”

  “Did you hear that, sir? Two facilities online now. They’re moving missile batteries. No troop movement as yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen soon.”

  The president sounded impatient. “Of course they’re putting on their usual dog and pony show, for their own people, for their enemies and neighbors, to show they’re not being ground under by the U.S. It doesn’t mean anything. We’re close, only inches from a comprehensive nuclear deal, Callan. Inspections and total cooperation with the UN.”

  “And what do we give in return?”

  He paused a moment, then: “We lift all sanctions. Acknowledge them as a player.”

  She sat down hard. “As a nuclear state? Sir, have you lost your mind?”

  “We’re talking a historic moment in time, but you won’t accept that, will you? Don’t you see? We could put our differences aside, become allies. They want to be a part of the world stage. They’re not about
to compromise this opportunity; it’s all simple face-saving.”

  Face-saving? That’s how he sees it? “And Israel? How would they like that result? The headlines will scream ‘U.S. and Iran BFFs, Israel Left Out in the Cold.’ That’s not going to go over well in Tel Aviv.”

  “They’re here at the table, too, Callan. They’re a part of this, they’re participating. The two sides are talking, for the first time in years, really talking. We can bring about a serious brokered peace, one that could last decades, centuries, even.”

  She heard the denial of reality that marked his views toward the issue. What was really happening there that he refused to see? Keep calm, keep calm. “Jefferson, you’ve always wanted peace in the world and that’s an admirable goal, a goal all of us would love to achieve. But now you must face facts. The Iranians are playing you. Hezbollah isn’t there in the negotiations, and nothing will be final without their express approval. You know they aren’t interested in a brokered peace, you know their stated goal is to annihilate Israel, annihilate the world, anyone who isn’t Shia.

  “Iran already is a nuclear state, far more advanced in their program than they’ve ever let on. All our briefs show this. You’re talking about giving them the keys to the kingdom, and us an ocean away. You must take a step back away and think clearly—I’ve told you what’s happening, what they’re doing. You must at the very least inform the Israelis what’s happening. Let them make their own decisions.”

  She could tell he wanted to curse her, call her hysterical, but he managed to hold his voice level. “Here’s what I do know, Madam Vice President. If we walk away now, the chances of Iran’s sending nukes to Israel is overwhelming. I can’t let that happen. We will not have World War Three on my watch. Do you understand me? We may not achieve a lasting peace, I’ll grant you that, but we will slow everything down. Let them say ‘Death to America’ while they’re vowing they want peace, let them light up their nuclear plants to prove to the world they’re the ones in control, not us. It’s all mere posturing, something they do all the time and do well.