Craig rubbed his blood shot eyes. Joshua had his head down on the table taking a nap. Gary had stepped outside to call his wife and tell her that he wouldn’t be coming home any time soon. SCOPE was a think tank, not an operations center that worked in shifts. Everyone was exhausted and needed a break while the Carrickfergus was in transit and they waited for the satellite window to open up again over Northern Russia.
The JSOC think tank was dead tired, most of them anyway.
Will paced back and forth, his heels clicking on the floor. His lips were moving, the words coming out of his mouth barely decipherable even if someone had been listening. The only words that were really recognizable were the ones consisting of four letters. After years of warning the intelligence community, everything he said was coming true. It wasn’t something he took pride in, but now no one could doubt that his assessment had merit. Or at least, they wouldn’t be able to much longer.
Suddenly, Will stopped dead in his tracks.
“I got it!” he shouted.
“Got what,” Craig said with a yawn.
Joshua continued to snore.
“Something we can do instead of sitting around with our thumbs up our asses.”
“Well, I could go rub one out I guess-”
“Yeah,” Will said under his breath. “Our you could go dust your old lady’s pussy off.”
“What did you say?”
“Sorry, just mumbling to myself.”
“We need to take a serious look at getting inside the enemy’s communication’s network.”
Craig put his head down on the table.
“Will, we don’t even know who the enemy is so how are we supposed to even identify how they are talking to one another?”
“I told you before, they use Infinity Blade.”
“Infinity Blade. It’s a MMORPG.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“A Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.”
“My kids play those?” Craig asked no one in particular before turning to Joshua who was still asleep. “Do my kids play that?”
The door swung open and Gary walked back inside, pocketing his cell phone.
“The game is based on a series of fantasy novels that became a underground hit. The game also has a cult following. It was produced by the same Norwegian guy who created Paradoxica.”
“What the hell are you two talking about?” Gary demanded.
“Para what?” Craig asked.
“Paradoxica,” Will said. “It is a game about a young woman traveling between three worlds…and filled with existential malaise…”
“Oh. my. God. I’m going back outside,” Gary said as he reached for the door.
“Hold on dammit!” Will yelled. “I’m getting to the good part.”
“So there is a point to all of this?”
“I’ve been playing Infinity Blade for years and I know something is going on inside this game.”
“I should have known. You’re a bigger gamer than my kids, but at least my kids don’t have conspiracy theories about the games they play,” Craig said as he rolled his eyes.
“Look, what is a video game?” Will asked rhetorically. “It’s a communications medium, another way to talk over the internet but in this case it is within a massive multiplayer video game. The FBI identified an island in the game called Second Life that Hezbollah uses to talk to each other. Hezbollah members from anywhere in the world, including their handlers in Iran, can log into the game and meet up with each other to exchange information and issue orders.”
“And you think this Infinity Blade game is used the same way,” Gary said as he walked back and took his seat.
“I know it is. The FBI investigated but they can’t crack the cell inside Infinity Blade. Their operational security is tight. You don’t get into their castle unless you’ve been extensively vetted.”
“Assuming you are correct, what makes you think this is the same group behind our current situation?”
“When I realized that a number of countries antagonistic towards the United States were in collusion with each other I began looking for traces of them and how they communicate. The servers for Infinity Blade are physically located in China, which doesn’t mean anything in of itself, but that prevents the FBI from gaining access.”
“So you identified some secretive group inside a video game which is operated out of China, which means this is just another wild ass hunch of yours?” Craig asked.
“This is how the baddies communicate,” Will replied. “I’m sure of it.”
“I’m sure this is a waste of time,” Craig said as he put his head back down on the table. “I’m taking a nap.”
“I’m going to pound down a couple Monster energy drinks and get back to work,” Will announced. “No reason to sit around jagging off to gay porn or whatever it is you guys do when I’m not around. Time to call the CNO office upstairs and get a persona to access the game with.”
CNO, or computer network operations, was a polite way of saying computer hacking.
Gary looked at the clock on his cell phone.
“Another five hours until the satellite window opens,” he sighed. “Give them a call.”
Will reached across the table and picked up the secure telephone before pressing the appropriate extension number.
“So now we’re passing time by playing video games? When the Inspector General investigates this office the report will make one hell of a read,” Craig said looking up at them.
“Hey, this is Will down at SCOPE,” he said as the CNO office picked up the phone. “We need a persona.” He frowned as he listened to the techie on the other end of the line. “Yeah. Yeah. No. Okay. Hold on, look, what personas do you have on Infinity Blade?”
Another few seconds.
“Okay, I’ll take the chaotic neutral blade master. See you in a few.”
“What the hell was all of that?” Craig asked.
“Borrowing a persona from CNO.”
“You keep saying that, what do you mean by borrow a persona?”
“A online persona. Really Craig? How long have you worked here?”
“And worth every dime of tax payer’s money you are. The techs here maintain digital personas in order to conduct cyber reconnaissance and infiltration. Each persona has its own laptop computer. Each computer has a name, a persona name. Every computer has a set of rules that you follow which is that persona’s bible. His turn ons, turn offs, political views, what websites he frequents, and so on.”
“Building a false identity.”
“A false persona,” Will corrected. “You can than use that persona to infiltrate Jihadi message boards or white supremacist websites, whatever you need. Every so often the techs pull out each laptop, be it named Mike, Bob, or Muhammad, and tool around on the web for a few hours, than move on to the next laptop to maintain the next persona’s online presence.”
“So we actually pay people to fart around on facebook and play farmville all day?”
“Well,” Will said as he thought about it for a moment. “Yes. But the system does work. And some of these personas have maintained a presence in online games. Since Infinity Blade is a popular game, we have three personas run out of this building with characters in it.”
There was a knock at the door and Gary slid across the office while sitting on his rolling swivel chair to open it.
“Hey Jerry,” Will said to the guy standing in the doorway.
He was a very unfortunate looking man. Essentially, exactly what most people thought a computer hacker looked like. His face was drawn, his muscles atrophied, and his mustache and beard grew in so weak that it looked like he had pubic hair glued to his chin.
“So what do you need Roger for?” Jerry asked as he closed the door behind him, a laptop computer secured under one arm.
“Roger?” Gary asked.
“Roger is the name of this computer, and the persona on it,” the computer hacker replied. “So what do you need him for?”
“Oh, nothing much,” Will said as he interlaced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “Just saving the world, that’s all.”
“This is a level 37 blade master that I’ve built up over five years,” Jerry cautioned. “You can’t just take him and throw him into Panchea, Wintersebb, and Ravendale without hurting my stats.”
“Jerry,” Will said as he leaned forward. “It isn’t your character profile, it is JSOC’s.”
Jerry shook his head.
“No, you can’t just take him away from me like that!”
Will jumped up out of his chair and lunged for the laptop under Jerry’s arm.
“Give it to me you squirrely little shit!”
“No!” Jerry shrieked.
The two entered into a tug of war for the computer, the fate of America potentially hanging in the balance of a full on nerd rage. Finally, Will snatched the laptop away from him.
“You still have a level 14 Paladin and a level 32 Battle Mage you can play while billing DOD for your time,” Will sneered. “Now get the fuck out!”
Jerry’s lips and nose shriveled as he stepped out and slammed the door behind him.
“God damn short bus riding window lickers they employ around here,” Will complained.
Sitting down, Will fired up the laptop and cracked his knuckles.
“Time to go save democracy boys.”
Craig and Gary were still in shock, their minds trying to catch up with what they had just witnessed.
That was when Joshua finally woke up.
“What’s going on guys?”
* * *
The tension was nerve wracking.
Samruk International’s leadership element met to conduct mission planning while they were still underway. Deckard, Sergeant Major Korgan, Fedorchenko, Shatayeva, Aghassi, Nikita, and their mortar section sergeant, Lawrence, stood around a monitor looking at images they pulled off of Google Earth. Pat, Kurt, and Chuck were also in attendance. As senior soldiers in the company, they were always around to provide input during mission planning.
While most of them were sleeping, the second pass from a satellite in polar orbit came in. The imagery did indicate a faint wake from the enemy vessel. It had only deviated slightly from their original heading, making way for a small cove along the Russian coast. The JSOC think tank provided some additional imagery and data, then they began planning the mission.
One concept of the operation after the other was cast aside just as quickly as they were dreamed up by the veteran soldiers. In the arctic, mobility options were extremely limited. The cove was surrounded by steep cliffs covered in ice. Flanking around would take hours that they probably didn’t have. The direct approach led them through icy waters where they were prone to being ambushed along the same cliffs.
At the far end of the cave was their objective, an abandoned Naval port from the Soviet era. The imagery they had showed oblong objects strewn around the end of the cove. Apparently, it was a submarine graveyard. Doing some calculations, Otter estimated that the enemy must have set up a fuel depot there ahead of time to refuel their ship. Without knowing the size of the enemy ship, he made an educated guess that they would be running low on fuel at this point.
Whether or not they were still in the cove was another matter altogether. Again, all Otter could do was make an educated guess as to what the the enemy ship’s speed was relative to the Carrickfergus. They might catch them in the act of refueling, or they might miss them by several hours.
Deckard didn’t like it at all. He screwed up royally by deploying with gun trucks when he should have brought more snow mobiles and zodiac boats but in the end, you deploy with the Army you have, not the one that you want. Now they had to make the best of it.
Rochenoir was sketching something out of the whiteboard and waving his hands at Pat as they argued about some tactical detail. Deckard had reviewed their options and now he had made a decision as well. Once again, this was going to be sketchy as hell.