Zhou Jinbao was the first to respond to the wanted ad on zhantai.com, but from the looks of three other teenagers he had already seen dropping USB drives around the district, he certainly wasn’t the last. He often took odd jobs he found advertised online. Once he’d scored a high paying interpreter job, getting hired by a British business consultant who needed someone last minute. With a booming economy, China was now the largest English-speaking nation in the world, and Zhou was a part of that majority.
Strolling through the park, he took a moment to watch a group of pretty girls giggle at something as they passed a cellular phone around, laughing at something on the screen.
He didn’t know what he had put on the USB drives he was placing around the business district and didn’t care. He also didn’t care why his directions were to play them around one specific building, inside if he was able.
Straightening the brim of his baseball cap, he moved on. Girls were scary sometimes.
After he had responded to the help wanted ad, his new employer had dropped a tidy sum of money into his Paypal account before instructing him to use it to go buy a dozen of the portable USB drives. With that completed, he was then emailed a folder of digital content to load onto each drive. Finally, he was to leave them for any random passerby to find near the Bao Corporate Building in the new district, Pudong.
Once he got back to his parents’ apartment he’d report in. When his virtual boss was satisfied, he would be paid the rest of his wage.
Pushing through the glass doors and into the lobby of the Bao building, he ran right up to the front desk.
“Holy shit,” he exclaimed in English. “I need to piss right now!”
Several Bao employees looked on nervously as the security guard stood to his feet.
“We don’t have any public restroom here. Head on out.”
“C’mon,” Zhou pleaded. “I have to piss. You want me to go right here on your desk.”
The security guard shook his head, muttering something about the kid’s family lineage under his breath.
“Make it fast.”
Zhou turned towards the restroom, smiling.
He made double for dropping the tainted drives inside the building itself.
* * *
Senior Vice President of Human Resource Management Henry Lu exhaled as his bladder began to empty itself. Another all nighter. Entertaining clients. Entertaining the ladies. Hell, yeah.
Looking down as he buttoned up, Lu noticed something on the tile, resting next to his shoe. Grunting, he bent down and picked up the USB drive. Walking out of the bathroom, he slipped it into his pocket, promptly forgetting about picking it up in the first place.
Three hours later, Lu sat at his work station browsing internet porn. He dreamed of someday traveling to America. That was where the women had the big cow tits like in the streaming videos he sat around watching all day. The thought reminded him about the USB drive he had found.
His cousin worked in computer repairs out of a small shop in another part of Shanghai. He’d told him all kinds of crazy stories. People would bring in their laptops to get them fixed, and he would find all sorts of wild pictures. Bored housewives playing with themselves. Teenage girls sending pictures to their high school sweetheart. Maybe he’d get lucky, too.
Looking back and forth, he saw that the coast was still clear and stuck the USB drive into his computer. There were strict policies against using your own data storage devices at work. The executives worried about employees selling corporate information to rivals. But what the hell did they expect them to do all day?
Clicking his cursor across the computer screen, he opened up the drive and scrolled through several pictorials. Boring. Straight Gonzo. Kid’s stuff.
Yanking out the USB drive, he chucked it into the garbage can under his desk.
Senior Vice President of Human Resource Management Henry Lu had no idea what had booted up on his computer the moment he opened the drive.
* * *
“Son of a bitch.”
“Are you through yet?”
“It’s not me,” Adam reiterated. “I got this kid in Sacramento hacking into the system.”
“How much longer is it going to take him to crack it?”
“That’s it,” Adam said, running a hand over his bald head. “He’s in.”
“About time,” Deckard said.
He was on his third cup of coffee.
“What do we have here?”
Adam’s hands flashed across the keyboard, sifting through the information on the Bao Corporation’s server farm. The keyloggers and other bugs that Deckard had installed in the Samruk office in Astana had quickly uncovered a connection between them and the firm in Shanghai. Unfortunately, they had had no way of cracking through the Chinese firewall until now.
All it had taken was a custom designed computer virus loaded onto some USB drives. Hire a couple kids on the Chinese version of Craig’s List and let momentum, along with human nature, take care of the rest.
“Looks like a bill of sale,” Deckard said, as he examined the data as it was projected onto the wall. “Phosphoramidites for nucleotides, A, G, C, and T.”
“Let’s see here, we got capping reagents and deblock. No way could they have a level four facility in the middle of a major city. The Chinese Government would never approve of it.”
“I don’t think this is a Chinese Government operation. What else is in these files?”
“Look at this,” Adam said, opening another document, more data now flooding in from Shanghai. “Several units labeled A BAS 3900. Any ideas?”
“Yeah, we had to be trained up on how to recognize components of Weapons of Mass Destruction when I worked for the government. That thing is a DNA synthesizer.”
The unit was only about the size of a large computer printer, but in the wrong hands it could reap levels of damage to society that defense planners still hadn’t really wrapped their minds around. With a DNA synthesizer and the chemical components that had also been ordered, someone who knew what he was doing could download gene code right off the internet and build any specific DNA molecule the user wanted from scratch.
A Pandora’s Box.
This particular model could be hooked up to a laptop from which a computer script writer could program the DNA synthesizer to build whatever he wanted. A simple bacteria harmful to humans would be fairly easy to construct. Once the bacteria was created, the user could use a gene gun to infect agricultural products. The newly constructed DNA would be attached to gold particles and blasted into the crops where it would enter the cytoplasm of the target cells.
A step up from that would be for a biochemist and a computer programmer to build an entire virus from scratch.
“Whatever this is about,” Deckard said, shaking his head. “It’s biological.”
His thought was interrupted by the fax machine in the corner of the intel office kicking on.
“You got your hacker buddy in California faxing us documents as well?” Deckard asked, as paper got sucked off the tray and into the machine.
Getting up from his chair, Deckard threw his empty coffee cup into the trash and picked up the still warm papers out of the fax machine.
“Holy shit,” he stuttered, flipping through the documents.
“What is it?”
“Our first field trip.”