The silicon chip, the soul of today's machines, governs every aspect of our modern society. Dominance in semiconductors equates dominance in the new millennium. But, something has gone wrong. A terrible railway accident in Florida, leaving dozens dead, and countless more injured is traced to faulty computer chips. One woman figures out that the faulty chips weren't due to negligence, but to sabotage. Erika Conklin was forced to work for the FBI due to her hacking abilities. Enlisting the seasoned abilities of FBI Agent Brent McClaine, they launch an investigation that spans two continents. From Silicon Valley to the ruthless Far East markets, Erika and Brent must combine their computer and field talents before the next shutdown.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
R.J. PINEIRO is a 27-year veteran of the computer industry, where he held various positions at Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., retiring in 2011. He is the author of many internationally acclaimed novels including Shutdown, Firewall, Cyberterror, and Havoc, as well as the millennium thrillers, 01-01-00 and Y2K. He makes his home in central Texas, where he lives with his wife, Lory Anne, and his son, Cameron.
Read an Excerpt
By R. J. Pineiro
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 Rogelio J. Pineiro
All rights reserved.
THE SILVER COMET
Southern Florida, Two Years Later
A light fog lifted off the tranquil swamp, enveloping concrete piers supporting a double set of railroad tracks that disappeared in the darkness. Moonlight diffused through the rising haze, casting a grayish glow across the Everglades on this warm and clear evening. Birds squawked in the distance as they found a place to settle for the night. Nocturnal creatures began to stir, readying themselves to hunt for food while at the same time trying to avoid becoming food in this vast ecosystem. Hundreds of pairs of red-orange coals caught in the moonglow began to drift along the dark water, sometimes disappearing below the surface. Alligators, the top of the region's food chain, reaching lengths of up to eighteen feet and sporting jaws capable of ripping a man in half, hunted their natural prey, killifish, mullet, silversides, and menhaden, occasionally feasting on unsuspecting birds like grebes and bitterns. The bellows emitted by the cigar-shaped predators mixed with whistling breeze and the incessant clicking of insects.
Beyond the edge of the swamp, another sound joined the natural noises of southern Florida. The sleek shape of Amtrak's flagship, the Silver Comet, raced down the tracks at eighty miles per hour on its way to Miami, its halogen headlights slicing through the fog. Six deluxe passenger carriages, four double-decker cars with glass tops for observation, three spacious dining cars, and six Pullman cars for sleeping made up the most luxurious passenger train in the United States. Two diesel engines pulled the Comet and its two hundred passengers, some of whom dined on gourmet meals prepared by the experienced kitchen staff. Other passengers gazed at the stars in the double-deckers while the rest retired to the Pullmans. Most of them would die in minutes, their fate sealed five minutes before, when the Silver Comet passed a computer-controlled switching station west of Boca Raton, prior to entering the east edge of the Everglades. The fully automated station controlled railroad traffic flowing north and south by assigning tracks to specific trains at preprogrammed times. Up to that point the system had performed flawlessly since becoming operational two years ago, eliminating the need for operators at remote switching stations and the possibility of human error due to boredom and fatigue.
The Comet had traveled most of its way south from West Palm Beach on the right track of the railway system, passing a couple of freight trains traveling north on the left track. Southwest of Boca Raton, the computer-controlled system malfunctioned, switching the Comet to the left track, putting it in a collision course with a northbound train from Miami, before abruptly shutting down. Track monitors installed along the railway to prevent such collisions sent repeated distress signals to the computerized system, but the malfunctioning equipment did not relay the messages to the Orlando or Miami Amtrak stations, where operators on duty might have been able to alert the trains in time to avoid a disaster.
The shift engineer in the Silver Comet's lead engine thought nothing of the change. Track switching was commonplace in the railways. The first hint of a problem didn't occur until a minute before the trains collided, when the freight train engineer noticed that the Silver Comet appeared to be running on the same track. He immediately applied the brakes while blowing the horn. But the phenomenal momentum of a two-mile-long freight train could not be stopped in such short distance. The engineer aboard the Comet reacted quickly, also slamming on the brakes as the two trains approached each other at a closing speed of over a hundred and twenty miles per hour. Passengers and crew members were hurled forward, thrown against the front sections of each cabin as the train decelerated.
Steel wheels skidded across the tracks with the sound of a million nails scratching a blackboard. Metal ground against metal, creating clouds of sparks that cascaded over the swamp. The impact came thirty seconds later, as thousands of tons of metal travelling in opposite directions collided head-on, compressing the lead engines to three quarters of their original length, applying incredible pressure to the fuel tanks, which exploded a fraction of a second later with metal-ripping force. The outburst of ignited diesel turned the night into day, blasting metallic debris in a radial pattern. The scorching shrapnel whistled through the air, piercing the fuel cells in the other engines in a chain reaction that lasted but two seconds, creating a roaring fist of orange and yellow-gold flames five hundred feet high.
The force of the impact and the shockwave from the blast propagated down the cars closest to the front of each train, lifting them off the tracks, tossing them in the air like toys. The Comet's passenger carriages plunged into the swamp like harpoons, splashing sheets of water and mud over the twisted tracks. The dining and Pullman cars followed, colliding into each other, slicing through the hazy night like bullets, stabbing the swamp. The double-deckers in the rear derailed and jackknifed, their glass domes reflecting the scarlet glow of the billowing fire before shattering from the impact.
The freight train, many times longer than the Comet, continued to derail for another thirty seconds. Tank cars spilled toxic chemicals in the water on impact, some also exploding, creating stroboscopic bursts of crimson flames in the distance. Vehicles shot out the thin walls of auto carriers like pellets from a shotgun, crashing into the water. A dozen boxcars leaped off a broken section of the track, turning on their sides as they fell into the swamp, some spilling their contents while smashing into the darkness below. A group of lucky hoboes emerged from one of the few box cars that remained on the tracks, their bewildered eyes scanning the destruction around them. Train cars angled in every direction crowded the sides of the elevated tracks, some jammed into the swamp, others hanging halfway off the tracks, many resting on their sides in the dark waters.
Half of the Comet's passengers perished in the initial seconds following the collision, incinerated by the expanding fireball or crushed by the wreckage. The rest found themselves trapped inside the carriages, water streaming through broken windows, through gashes in the floor and sides, along with the stench of burnt flesh mixed with the smoke billowing from the blaze. Women screamed. Children cried. The wounded moaned. A group of men in a double-decker turned on its side dragged survivors out of the carriage and waded away from the swelling flames spreading over the surface of the swamp. Many were bleeding from the wounds sustained during the collision or when the glass dome collapsed on them. Survivors from the other cars slowly surfaced and began gathering atop the silver islands of twisted metal that were the farthest from the flames and the intense heat. The spilled fuel continued to burn, its flames licking the night sky, illuminating the macabre sight, swallowing two additional passenger cars before all survivors could escape. Agonizing shrieks filled the night as the flames enveloped a dozen passengers trapped inside, their skin peeling away from the intense heat inside the ovenlike carriages.
Then the alligators came, their nostrils detecting blood in the water, sensing wounded prey. They closed in on the unsuspecting survivors as they struggled to leave the lashing flames and scorching heat, as they tried to climb up the wrecked cars to get out of the water. A woman holding an infant screamed as a reptile whipped its tail and leaped out of the darkness, clamping its jaws over her head and shoulders, dragging her beneath the surface. The baby fell into the water and another alligator jumped after it.
Havoc set in. People screamed in horror, shoving others aside to reach high ground. A large reptile snatched a man's arm with its cone-shaped teeth and immediately went into a roll, dismembering him, sending him into shock. The man collapsed before others could help him. Three smaller gators charged at the convulsing man, jaws open, their bellowing resembling distant thunder. A man used a broken seat to keep an alligator at bay while three women and their children were pulled up to the top of a dining car lying upside down by a small crowd already gathered there. A second gator joined the first, their round snouts moving sideways. One of the reptiles jumped out of the water, clamping its jaw around the man's torso, dragging him down, where the second alligator decapitated him.
The first helicopter arrived almost thirty minutes after the accident, its rotor downwash blowing away the rising smoke. The craft's powerful halogens swept the wreckage, searching for survivors, finding them in tightly packed clusters atop a few derailed cars sprinkled on the swamp, away from the ravaging flames. Soon other rescue craft reached the scene, including a half dozen coast guard helicopters, which lowered harnesses to airlift survivors.
The following day the cleanup job began, the removal of tens of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals ranging from sulfuric acid to ammonia. It took Amtrak officials, working in conjunction with the Florida Railway Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a month to clean the area, including the sickening task of matching body parts. Out of the 247 passengers and staff only eighty-three survived. Many were never found.
A thorough investigation tracked the cause of the accident to a faulty computer board in the primary control system of the switching station, and the old analog backup system had failed to come on line. Further analysis revealed that the board had failed due to a mysterious shutdown of the TI6500, a microcontroller chip manufactured by Texas Instruments. The computer giant began the immediate recall of tens of thousands of TI6500 microcontrollers from the field. The instant that the results of the Florida Railroad Commission were made public, a class-action suit was filed by the families of the victims against Texas Instruments, Inc.CHAPTER 2
Dusk in the nation's capital.
The midsummer sun's luminous beams splashed the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House with majestic crimson, hues before losing ground to the blanket of stars rolling over the city, starting on the eastern sky, and slowly spreading toward the west, until all that remained was a soft crimson glow crowning the horizon. Streetlights flickered and came on, washing avenues and boulevards with grayish light.
The magnificent sight, however, was largely ignored by the commuters stuck in the congested traffic around Dupont Circle. Impatient and angered drivers lay on their horns, many shouting from open windows, kicking off a cacophonous concerto up Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut avenues. Most were government employees, servants of the people, eager to leave their hundreds of thousands of bureaucratic desks, keyboards, phones, rubber stamps, staplers, and paper clips, to finally head home. Some of them had been elected to their jobs, others had been appointed, most everyone else had been hired through talent, connections, deception, extortion, or sexual favors.
One commuter, going in the opposite direction of the massive exodus, had been hired to work at the FBI headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover Building not because of her master's degree in computer engineering, or because she happened to have been among the top ten graduates from the University of California at Berkeley almost four years ago, or because she had willingly chosen to work for Uncle Sam instead of Microsoft, DreamWorks, Oracle, Intel, or IBM. Erika Conklin wore an FBI badge because of a bet she had made with several classmates the week after their graduation.
Behind the wheel of a weathered Honda Accord, Erika shook her head at how fast time had passed since the night when she had released a password-snatching virus into the Internet, gaining access to several major corporations, banks, and even government institutions across the country, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Just to show who was the best programmer.
Grimacing at her poor judgment, she turned onto M Street and cut left into the Bureau's parking garage, quite empty at this time of the day. In the rush of writing the code and beating her classmates to it, Erika had forgotten to add an origin scrambler routine into the virus. She didn't regret creating and releasing the code. In fact, that had not been the first time that the female hacker had acted mischievously — without really intending to cause any real harm to others. Erika regretted not having written the password-snatching code smartly enough to not get caught, like during her early college days, when she had broken into her school's administrative department and given herself an A in chemistry. Or the time when she had erased a speeding ticket with a simple fifteen-minute phantom penetration of the California Highway Patrol network. But botching Snatcher, the password-snatching virus, a piece of work that she had created after so much experience and training, had been inexcusable. The FBI's high-tech crime unit had isolated her elusive virus, decoded it, and traced it straight back to her.
Instead of prosecuting, the Bureau, eager to inject the cyber division with young and talented blood, had offered Erika a choice: six years of Bureau work as a technical analyst — at a nominal government salary — or ten years in a federal prison plus the possibility of not being able to get a job in the high-tech world after her release because of her criminal record. The offers from Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Andy Grove, Michael Eisner, and others had suddenly lost their original appeal. Erika had declined them, hating the Bureau as much as herself for the unfortunate turn of events. She had regretted most having to turn down the software engineering position at DreamWorks, the company where she had co-oped for two terms developing DigiSoft, a custom digital video editing software package for enhanced special effects on films. Without looking back, Erika had said good-bye to her family — to whom she had lied regarding her sudden change of plans — and moved to the East Coast.
"Evening, Miss Conklin."
"Hi, Tom," Erika replied while flashing her ID at the stocky security guard in the parking garage, before driving to a spot next to the elevators and getting out, a red backpack hanging loosely from her left shoulder. Erika locked her car and took the elevator to the lobby, where she had to get past a second security point before gaining access to the interior of the building.
The high-tech crime unit of the FBI was located on the fourth floor. Erika reached it two minutes later and strolled past rows of empty cubicles, finally dropping her backpack on the working surface of her cube, located in a corner of a large office area with a terrific view of the Washington skyline. It had not taken her long to stick out among the second-tier analysts that the Bureau usually hired after the top-notch graduates got snatched by the private sector. Uncle Sam simply couldn't compete with Fortune 500 companies and their far more generous base salaries, sign-on bonuses, incentive plans, and stock options.
Erika officially began her FBI career as a junior analyst. Within three years she was breaking viruses and tracking hackers in a fraction of the time of her more experienced colleagues, earning an early promotion to senior analyst. Erika now managed a team of junior analysts in cases ranging from viruses and pirated software and hardware, to clamping the rising wave of high-tech espionage and sabotage. And she did it all from the safety of her cubicle. Special agents, who acted on the information gathered by Bureau's analysts, handled the high-risk field jobs, involving anything from simple arrests to raids.
In the information age everyone spied on everyone else. American companies spied on each other. The Japanese kept a close watch on American technology. The Koreans were after the Japanese. The Germans after the British and the Americans. The Russians and the Chinese were after all of the above. Computer trade shows, particularly the ones held in Europe and Southeast Asia, were packed with high-tech spies, each looking out for his or her own company or country. That same information age gave Erika Conklin the freedom to carry out her assignments from home and only have to come in at night. Like many top-notch computer gurus, she enjoyed working odd hours, when the Bureau was quiet and she could concentrate and do her best work.
Programming is an art, she thought, settling down before her computer, a late-model Compaq, and turning it on. You can't rush art. You have to focus, take your time, and make the code taut.
Excerpted from Shutdown by R. J. Pineiro. Copyright © 2000 Rogelio J. Pineiro. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Author's Note and Acknowledgments,
1. The Silver Comet,
2. Acceleration Factor,
3. Fallen Star,
4. Failure Analysis,
5. Home, Sweet Home,
6. Old Habits,
7. New Faces,
8. The JDA,
9. Executive Decisions,
10. Reversal of Fortune,
12. Conflict of Interest,
13. Corporate Entertainment,
15. The Professional,
16. City Lights,
21. Worthy Adversary,
22. Dirty Laundry,
23. Pleasant Surprises,
24. Risky Business,
25. Quiet Professionals,
26. Difficult Decisions,
27. Jet Fuel,
28. High-Tech Breach,
29. The Rising Sun,
30. Video Conferencing,
31. Fighting Fire with Fire,
33. Dai Rokkan,
34. A Gentleman,
35. Devils with Green Faces,
37. Owners of the Night,
39. Murphy's Law,
40. Bad News,
41. Modern Heroes,
42. New Connection,
44. The Virus Master,
46. Digital Overflow,
48. Extreme Measures,
49. Difficult Decisions,
50. Playing Hardball,
51. Need-to-Know Policy,
52. Damage Control,
53. Digital Meltdown,
Books by R. J. Pineiro,