Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

They Never Knew

by Richard Tornello

"It is best to keep ones state intact; to crush the enemy is next, to win myriad battles is not the ultimate skill of generals and leaders…. But to subdue the enemy without firing a shot. That is the highest excellence"

SUN TZU, 'THE ART OF WAR' (Warring States Period 403- 221 BCE)


The successful anti-satellite attack by the Chinese military in 2007 against one of its own satellites was a diversion, a Red Herring, if you will. Add to that, in the same year, a diesel electric Song class attack sub popped up in the middle of a US Navy Battle Fleet undetected. The major powers became caught up in the fact that the Chinese military, in three short years, had put men into orbit, made proclamations about sending people to the moon and were now able to knock down a satellite. This satellite, in a low earth orbit, was stationed very much like the US and ex-Soviet/Russian spy and communication satellites. These were eyes, ears and mouths of the respective military systems.

These opening gambits were perceived very much like the Soviet launch of the Sputnik. It was a call to arms, a wakeup call . The balance of power, recognized or not, was about to be altered. Attention was focused upon the geopolitical ramifications, military scenarios, to include the probable, possible and dreamed never of.

The newspapers carried stories and editorials. Europe was wringing its collective hands,

While simultaneously preparing to make the proper political adjustments, cautiously. Russia said little but indicated it was not pleased. The Chinese Government, after a fashion responded with some "calming" words about playing to the rules established. All eyes were lifted upon high while the magicians worked their wonders before the assembled crowd.


Somewhere In the Mountains of Maryland at Government Site R, September 2119 CE:

"Hey, look at this!" Eddie Chavez said. "MEDUSA keeps getting hits on these ancient highlighted and flagged items, from this one source site. Jocko, take a look."

Jacques "Jocko" Carrier called up a duplicate of his excitable colleague's screen and scrutinized the highlighted items in the stream of references.

"Legit source, that's for sure," he said. "Library of Congress node ..."

"Dozens of item searches for flagged topics and keywords, spread out over a year. All within non-related subjects," Eddie said. "But no printouts. Ah, could be coincidence, considering the source. We don't want to piss off any suits. Whatcha think, Jocko, pass on it, or pass it on? Your call this time -- one more false alarm from me, they'll cut my pay grade for sure."

Carrier grunted. "LC node with restricted access -- it could be legit. But damn, that's a lot of proscribed topics. I say we kick it up the line and let someone else worry about it."

"Whatever, man, as long as it's your ID on the message," Eddie said.

"Some tweed-wearing bookworm is about to get a little excitement in his life," Carrier said. He dragged the MEDUSA log to a messaging app and sent the information on its way.


Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.:

"Stevens, it's for you, on a government line".

"Answer phone," I said, speaking slowly and clearly so the rickety voice-command system could keep up. When a thin humming sound emerged from the desktop speaker, I said, "Rick Stevens, Archives, may I help you?"

A woman's voice: "Hello, this is Ms Shang in the General Accounting Office. We are conducting a computer usage review and you are one of the people we have selected to interview. We are thinking of making significant upgrades to the current systems. Since you are relatively new here we thought you might have a different slant on things. When might you be free for say a half-hour or so -- say tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow is fine. This is government work so I'm not playing hooky or anything. Where do you want to meet?" When she doesn't answer, I suggest, "How about I meet you in the main reading room and we will take it from there?"

"Okay -- let's say 11 AM. I will be there," she says.

"See you then," I said, then added "End call" when the carrier hum went silent. I hung up the phone and went about my work. It occurred to me then that I had forgotten to ask how we would recognize each other, but I wasn't too worried. One can usually pick out a seeker in a crowd, especially in a library.

I am an Archivist in the Old Section of the Library of Congress (LC) located in Washington DC. In case you didn't know, the LCis the modern equivalent of the Alexandrian Library in ancient Babylon. We have everything here. The Old Section is the repository where books, magazines, articles and the like having little historical, political or cultural importance are stored. Here they wait duplication into a more permanent, less fragile media and then the originals, space eating culprits, and will be vaporized/recycled. This is not a very public job, nor one that lends itself to the internal politics of any government bureaucracy. That's one of the reasons I love it.

For thirty plus years, I either owned or ran high level technical search firms -- 'headhunting' agencies, in common parlance. Most of my work throughout that time was concentrated on the recruiting of high end technical or managerial people, for jobs with security clearance levels often far above my own. That made recruiting tough at times, but added the challenge that I always enjoyed, no matter how much I complained! We worked with government contractors and "other enterprises" (some of the 'if I told you I'd have to kill you' variety). And even though we live in a highly inter/intra connected environment, our "Traditional People Skills"-- match making, bounty hunting, prostitution and weapons sales, to use a few un-PC but appropriate metaphors -- were highly valued and therefore highly paid.

Highly paid or not, challenging or not, thirty-odd years of dealing with nerds and divas (divos?) and their would-be employers had exhausted my patience with people. With money and time in ample supply, I turned to my life-long love of history and books for a new occupation -- one that required a lot less glad-handing and ego-stroking.

I fell in love with the Library of Congress back in college while conducting research o n Chinese Maritime History, a post graduate study but never completed. So working as an archivist, attempting to locate items with just shreds of data was no different then looking for obscure individuals who at times did not want to be found. And unlike a candidate for hire, at least the book or magazine could not say "no" to the customer and hang up or walk out. A nice change. On top of all that, and an added benefit, was the computing and retrieval power I had here. It dwarfed anything we had in the business. I could locate almost anything from anywhere. It was the Library of Congress. So instead of a small town library, that I thought I might seek out as a new home, I landed here.

I guess I'm lucky, living in Washington DC the Capital of The United States. For all intents and purposes, the economic and political capital of the planet. I was fortunate indeed to be close to the Library of Congress, hold a degree in Asian Studies and Chinese from Rutgers U and an advanced degree in Archive Management with a concentration in rare books preservation from Georgetown U. Though I'm not using that specific aspect of my education, one of my professors arranged the introduction. I do think that because of my age, I'm the "new OLD guy". I landed this position not being a threat to anyone's career paths. I made sure they knew it. I lived that life in business and after putting my kids through college, I had nothing more to prove. Just let me read, smell and touch those books.


So, the next day at 10:50 -- I'm always early -- I entered the main reading room, dressed in my "uniform" -- blue jeans, button down shirt and a sweater, my idea of business formal these days, and well-suited to life in the stacks and storerooms. I was standing around, Being Easy to Find, when this very smartly dressed young woman -- in her late 30s, I'd guess, although Asian women can fool you -- walked up and greeted me.

"Mr. Stevens? Yes, I thought so. I'm Ms Shang. My ID." She held out a vidcard and let me inspect the several screens-full of credentials, all very impressive and bearing the latest tamper-proof coding. "You may call me June, but my Chinese name is Si-Yue Shang. Where may we sit and not be too disturbed?"

I pointed to a private reading area that is open only to employees and those with special passes. First impression, she had a very formal manner for a government type, especially considering the low priority a systems study like this must have had. Her ID card, and her outfit -- old time IBM drone -- pegged her as was what we used to call an Individual Contributor. Those were people that had incredible technical skills but when it came to human interaction, not good. I may have been her first attempt at a new position and she may have been conducting the interview by the book, based upon her training.

NOTE/ 1st REPORT from Shang Si-yue, TO SELF:

Those 2 idiots. Why in gods name am I getting stuck with this? He said he wanted me in on it from the beginning. What a waste, it's damn small from the reports. Not worth my energy or training. Jonathan would be better suited. He has enough experience, can make the decisions and be done. Well, here goes. Do I have to smile? Is this dammed machine working? I'm going to request someone else take this. I do need a vacation. Not up to my usual game.

End of Report

She was attractive and that day that was reason enough for me not to worry about anything. At least she wasn't IRS! She began with an overview of the current system -- and she certainly did know the guts of the system, way better then I did, that's for sure.

She told me that her study was focused upon data retrieval. The higher ups were concerned about losing data as we converted older late 20th Century and early 21st Century documents to newer media. I'm sure she knew but I made a point to mention that I was working in the old stacks. After the material was converted -- scanned and parsed into document and image files, if hard-copy, read, reformatted, and written to the latest storage media -- molecular quantum whatever, magic to me -- the originals would be vaporized. The converted and catalogued stuff would be easier to access and cross-reference, but aside from saving space, I really had no idea why they had to destroy the originals.

She smiled and asked me why I changed from headhunting, to this -- spreading her arms wide to indicate the LC and its centuries of material. "It's so out of character, going from a people-centric business to burrowing through books and obsolete disks and tapes."

Her observation threw me. She was NOT a back roomer, and she knew some more about me then she was letting on. Sometimes one's intuition was wrong. I felt the beginnings of suspicion over why I was being interviewed -- and why now. But I let my own curiosity overrode it.

I told her my history and I looked at her and asked if she was really interested or just making conversation.

"No, I'm interested, trust me on that, I really am".

I was impressed. In my old job it was rare to find someone interested in the subject matter and the candidates other than to view them as a meal ticket, a commission. Maybe this was how they hoped to develop a system to interact with people better. The computer systems approach had been, and continued to be, Bend the Human to Fit the Machines, and not the other way around.

This interview ended up taking an hour or so. She looked at her watch and apologized for taking my time. "Would you mind if she set up other meetings so we can continue our discussion?"

"Sure," I said, "why not?" We agreed on a time for another meeting, and I watched her weave her way through the human traffic and the data kiosks and hard-copy shelves toward the exit. She moved with a brisk efficiency that matched her manner perfectly.

After the interview, I went back to work, looking around and wondering if any others had been interviewed yet. A few have mentioned this in the cafeteria. Interesting they say. They haven't been through one of these in years if ever. They all mention the cut of the clothing of these systems analysts. Yeah, pretty sharp, we all agree. The government must be paying its employees in these sectors a lot more these days. I can vouch for that. We all laugh.

REPORT: from Si-Yue Shang

I read the initial report, the bio. There appears to be more here than we initially realized. I think it would be prudent to continue with the "system evaluation" before we make our standard recommendations.

End of Report

MEETING #1 Shang Si-Yue to Committee

Excerpt from Rick Stevens's Personal Journal (subject unaware of recording)

One day, I was working in the Old Stacks, a darkish grotto with boxes of books and magazines filling row after row of four-meter-tall shelves. Even though most of this stuff in this section is just general magazines and publications, nothing of consequence, it is great. I was rummaging around for something -- I have forgotten specifically what it was -- when this huge carton falls behind me. I was knocking into the shelves -- they're packed so close together there's barely room to turn around -- but I didn't expect that. I could have made the Olympic high jump team. My next thought after I turned and viewed the chaos was "Shit, damn it, now I have to clean this crap up." That meant reorganizing, cataloging and restacking hundreds of items. It was a big box.

I went to my project lead and informed her of the situation and to put off any speculation the new Old Guy was asleep in the stacks. Her comment was that it was a slow time of the year, with Congress not in session, and little demand for retrieval of older documents. Even the transfer of data to a more permanent medium (to be followed by destruction of the original, except for first editions of historic items) was on hold due in part to lack of funding.

"Go ahead and straighten the mess up, Dick," she said. I didn't bother to correct her. "I'll call you if I need you." She made it sound like the odds that I would be needed were on the low side.

After a leisurely lunch of a good pasta dish and a glass of wine, I was light headed, but determined to straighten the mess so it could be re-catalogued -- then duplicated and vaporized or recycled. Oh joy of joys -- the librarian / antiquarian's dream. At least I wouldn't be bothered by upper echelon librarians. They hardly ever come down to this level. Only the archivists or someone with a stack pass (which is akin to holding a Top Secret Clearance in today's world) with that rare desire to locate something obscure would ever show up here. I've heard rumors that government types hunting for sensitive and/or hush-hush stuff -- the location of the Lost Ark, for all I know -- visit on rare occasions. Since only the senior archivist and the Politico in question do those types of work, after hours, after shut down, we peasants never get to witness it. Nothing has been moved or removed since my arrival. I can tell by the dust.

So in I went. I put on my lab coat and addressed the paper avalanche blocking the aisle: "Dr. Book here, what seems to be the ailment? Ah, falling boxes, yes, a common enough problem -- and I have the cure." The mess was still there where I left it, of course.

No biggie. Part of the excitement of the job is reading this old stuff, much of which exists nowhere else in the world. Every now and again I come across an interesting piece and it takes me away from the here and now, a chance to dream awake.

The fallen box was dated 2009, about 100+ years ago. I wondered why it hadn't made the vaporizing schedule. I looked at a few of the items from the top of the heap; they're all mis-catalogued, like the da Vinci notebooks they found only a few years ago, but these magazines and such are not of that caliber. It's ironic how just one digit or letter in the catalog coding can be the difference between incineration and permanent preservation.

The collection includes magazines from the late 1990's to 2008 -- a few issues of Foreign Policy and a single Signal Magazine to name two -- and various newspaper clippings. A rather eclectic collection -- I wondered why they had been stored together... I started looking at the Signal Magazine since there was only one issue in the box. An article from May 1998 was dog-eared. It had something to do with an anti- hacking software called Blitzkrieg. The article mentioned its ability to analyze computer based attacks, and mount counter attacks against the intruder at the source, anywhere on the planet. This as I understood it was in contrary to the then existing Geneva Conventions. An interesting article, but the significance escaped me. Software of that vintage was as relevant as grocery lists written in cuneiform or Linear A.

Next, I opened one issue of Foreign Policy. I skimmed through and a weird photo on one page stopped me. Some people were wearing what looked like old style cyber/simUglasses that must have weighed at least half a kilo. But then I noticed that most of the page was dedicated to an article on hacking. It claimed that MicroWare provided the Peoples Republic of China with access to its Windows source code operating system back in 2003...

REPORT: from Shang Si-Yue to Committee:

Please review and conduct analysis for historical and political accuracy. I recommend these meetings be continued until a clear and complete understanding of this situation is made. I will hold off any "spot decision for the present". Jonathan should a least get a chance to interview Mr. Stevens. I would like his take.

End of Report

MEETING #2 Shang Si-Yue to Committee

Excerpt from Rick Stevens's Personal Journal (subject unaware of recording)

I'm a bit of a history junkie, (a 20th Century term, forgive me) a common ailment among archivists (the study of history, not drugs), so I actually paid attention when my history classes mentioned that MicroWare had fought its competitors and the governments of the U.S. and the European Union to avoid giving up that same source code, that very same data that the article mentioned. Unfair competition, restraint of trade, that sort of thing. Even then, MicroWare had more money than many small countries, so they paid the fines, released some of the relevant code, and it was never a major issue after 2009, or there about. So the article contradicted all I had read and been taught in the past.

I had never heard about the transferring of source code to the PLA. This would have come up in my History of Software Connectivity, at least as a footnote, and I surely would have remembered. Activity such as that mentioned in the article, giving the Source code to a potential belligerent, would have been proscribed under some form of military export license control code. Not too much of that is made today due to the uniqueness of GASS: GENERALLY APPROVED SOFTWARE SALES for operating systems. But back then, technology transfer was a real as well as a hyped problem...


Excerpt from Rick Stevens's Personal Journal (subject unaware of recording)

"Hello, Mr. Stevens? Mr. Stevens?"

The voice emerged from a large gray suit. I had to look up to see the man's face.

"Mr. Stevens, Ms Shang can't make the meeting today. She asked if I could take her place. She offered her apologies," the suit-wearer said, holding out his hand. "My name is Mr. Berg, Jonathan Berg. How do you do? Call me Jon. May I call you --?"

"Rick is OK", I said, a bit disappointed. I had been enjoying the meetings with Si-Yue, but what the hell.

"We're trying to get this project completed so instead of waiting for Ms Shang we're moving ahead."

Self-important windbag, I thought to myself. For an upgrade to Library Of Congress? Since when are we THAT important? Jonathan went over all the old stuff, making sure they had everything, my analysis, suggestions for the upgrades, results and such. Nothing too much out of the ordinary.

But then he asked me a strange question. "Have you ever used the system for personal --projects?"

I answered his question with a question because I wasn't not sure just where he was coming from or leading to. Did they think I was accessing pornography or plans for quantum-energy weapons?

"What do you consider personal use?" I asked. "I know the internal rules and I do keep to them. I don't play games or such either."

"Well," he said, "Technically, any research not related to your job function could fall into the 'personal' category."

I made an effort to stay calm, although this was the sort of nonsense that had made recruiting for some firms more difficult -- and lucrative, since successful candidates often resigned as soon as they could, leading to repeat business. "That standard could be open to interpretation. One should take the initiative in some cases. Using LC resources for outside work would be unacceptable, I know. I do admit to research out of curiosity at certain times, when I run across interesting items in the material I have to review.

"What has this direction of inquiry got to do with systems analysis and development of new upgraded retrieval systems for LC?"

Berg frowned and said "We are concerned about misuse of time and system resources."

Shithead, I think, we're not machines. My expression must have shown what I thought of his explanation.

Berg excused himself, said something about not getting anywhere, and left.

Back in the lunch room, I mentioned that I was still being interviewed by GAO. Most everyone except those in my direct work area said that they had two meetings and that was that.

"Are you some kind of spy, stealing top-secret 20th Century technology, Rick?"

Everybody laughed, but a few of the upper-floor types looked at me with poorly-veiled suspicion.

MEETING #1,REPORT To Committee from J. BERG regarding R. Stevens

Did not get anywhere. Candidate was unwilling to divulge information necessary to make any informed decision. Suffice to mention he began asking me questions as he caught OUR inconsistencies. He's bright. I recommend the usual.

However, if Ms Shang wishes to continue I will not object. There may be more here.

She appears to be able to extract the information freely. I may have intimidated him.

End of Report

MEETING #3 Shang Si-Yue to Committee

Excerpt from Rick Stevens's Personal Journal (subject unaware of recording)

One thing I have to mention that is "funny", and that's how in 2109, China is still portrayed as the greatest potential adversary of the United States and its allies. There is the occasional foray to Taiwan. Naval vessels and combat satellites converge in that locale with lots of saber rattling, a shot here and there and a satellite downed from either side. Japan makes noise about going nuclear in order to protect itself against the growing Chinese hegemony.

But I couldn't forget that Foreign Policy article. It kept bouncing around in my head. Something was just nagging at me. I reread my notes, went online and called up the Foreign Policy issue in question. Yes, there it was. The cover was exactly the same, and the contents, page by page -- until page 93, where the digitized version had a full-page ad and no article! The story was missing. I started to wonder if using the research systems too openly to dig deeply into this subject would be a smart move. The interest expressed by Si-Yue and Jon suggested otherwise.

Since I had not yet re-catalogued the box and its contents, no one even knew it was there. I pulled out the box and looked at the other magazines. After a goodly amount of time that left me with eyes watering and a headache, it became obvious that every magazine and newspaper article had something to do with computer hacking, cyber warfare, MicroWare and China. Sometimes there were only a few lines, or a reference to other sources not in the box; sometimes there were articles running hundreds of words. I suspected that the online equivalents of each item (where they existed at all) had been altered like Foreign Policy. I needed to keep this box safe for a while. I needed to make copies of names, dates, and sources mentioned.

I told myself that this was just another research project, like the ones I had conducted in school, or the prep work before I started a senior level "Confidential Replacement" headhunt. I could always walk away. I came here to work with old books, not dig up dead issues.

But I couldn't let it go. I tried to be more careful, spending only minutes at a time on the subject, and using different LC terminals, but I began to use the system to call up all sorts of unrelated things with the targeted magazines and articles embedded within the request. As I discovered, all the magazines were available in the system. However, any article relating to the issues in question had been effaced. I had the hard copies in a box down in the Old Stacks. This box was placed here for a reason, intentionally mis-catalogued. Something was up, obviously, but what exactly? Research showed that people had always bashed MicroWare, or anyone who was number one. IBM had similar problems many years before MicroWare. It was apparent human nature for power and control or the lack there of. Jealousy? This package was meant to be hidden like the Dead Sea Scrolls or Gnostic writings of the early Christians, tomes and politically banned writings through out history. Someone thought hiding these articles was important enough to bury the materials 'purloined letter'-style in one of the largest collections in the world.


Excerpt from Rick Stevens's Personal Journal (subject unaware of recording)

Ms Shang, June, called.

"Mr. Stevens? This is June. I'm so sorry Jon Berg had to fill in for me. I had a small emergency -- flooding in my apartment. I understand you didn't get along too well with him... Anyway, I would like to continue our discussion. Maybe we could meet somewhere away from the Library?"

"Sure," I said, "How about after work at Ciros? It's a nice Italian eatery, good food, no one bothers you and I know the owner."

There was a pause as if she was checking her schedule, then she said, "I could be there at about 5 PM. Would that be all right?"

"Done!" I said. "See you then."

She apparently knew the place because when I arrived she was there and Ciro pointed to her, gave me a look, and called her by name. I'd never noticed her there before. Different time schedules?

"I'm glad you could make it," she said.

"I'm the one who should be glad," I responded. But my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about my research as I sat down.

I had been telling her about my life and my discoveries. Now that I had verbalized it, had time to really hear what I have said, I was beginning to realize the importance of it all.

This was kind of spooky. She was quite wonderful to be with even if she was only there because of work. I found myself hoping that her interest wasn't all work and no play.

No fool like an old fool, yet…

In my mind, I was organizing my findings:

2003 was the year the gates to the kingdom were thrown open. The keys were given away, and China, using a modified form of the ancient tribute system, used economic bait in the guise of windfall business opportunities for "us" and the rest of the planet. The game was played by the rules set up by the Middle Kingdom, and like Las Vegas, inevitably the house would win the game. Only those with a need to know the fullest extent of the game were ever informed. No weapon was ever fired, not a visible weapon anyway. There wasn't even a footnote in the history books (and I looked, through a database that should have contained every word published in the U.S.). Every reference had been effaced, struck out of existence just like the Egyptian practices of old, where all traces of a person, an idea, a group of people, an activity, was erased, even if literally carved in stone. It was a cover-up worthy of Big Brother, or Stalinist Russia, but it had been carried out here...

"Rick? Mr. Stevens, are you all right "?

"Sorry, June," I said. "I was just thinking about a pet project. It's not important."

She apologized, again, for not being there for the last interview, but her superiors had asked that Jonathan be allowed to interview me.

"Interview me? Interview for what? I thought this was to gather user requirements for new systems for LC."

"Yes, of course," she said. "But there is more to it than that. I want to tell you -- but you must promise not to talk about it with anyone else."

"If this is really private, I think we need to go to a different place," I said, winking. "See the little black orbs in the ceiling? Those are cameras. Your lips can be read." I'm joking about the concern, not the ability of surveillance cameras and computers to eavesdrop. Hell, they've been able to read newsprint from orbit for about a hundred and fifty years.

She turned a bit pale. "Maybe you're right. Do you have any suggestions?"

I couldn't believe that I was saying it, but the words, "How about my place?" emerged from my lips. If her expression hadn't been so serious I would have thought that she was coming on to me. But something in her voice said not to joke.

We went to my place and I got her a glass of wine. Since we had left Ciro's without eating, I started to put something together with the sauce that I had made yesterday. Steeping for a day actually improves the flavor, so I knew it would be good.

While I assembled a quick but tasty Italian meal, I noticed that she was looking around, investigating my books, art collection and objects de mess.

"Getting an idea of who I am?"

She looked up, startled.

"Don't worry," I said, "It's what I do when I visit someone new. I can't help it. It's the old head hunter's investigative skills, wondering what makes people tick. I never got rid of the nosiness. I guess your job tends to bring out the same urges."

She nodded, but still looked embarrassed, and made a point of sitting down facing me as I worked.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, we sat down at the dining room (well, kitchen) table to eat.

"So now you know more about me, what's up?" I said. "I've told you most of the story. There IS more. Do you want to hear it? Then I want to know about you."

"Let's eat first" she said.

"Okay, not a problem," I said. "Cooking always makes me hungry anyway."

We ate. I could see that she was pleasantly surprised by my culinary masterpiece. Then she asked for Gin and tonic on the rocks, which she downed fast enough to make my head spin.

She sighed, put her glass down, and said "Let's talk." She looked me straight in the eyes...

"You're in trouble?" I asked.

"No, you are!" she exclaimed. "Your incessant little prodding of the system is going to get you in deep shit and I'm not even supposed to tell you that much. I don't know exactly what you've been doing with the information, but someone is worried, concerned and wants it stopped, now. I like you -- I would rather I did not, but I do," she said, maybe trying to calm me down. "You are an interesting person. And just by the look of your home you are more interesting then you have let on. But you must tell me: what have you done with this research, this 'project of yours?'

At first, the only thing that registers is that she has said that she likes me. But then it hits me. They know. I had been right. Everything I had read and photocopied and mailed to myself in other locations in case I lost one collection, pointed to a secret deal between China and the West, a secret deal so big that anyone who stumbled onto evidence was immediately targeted for investigation. And depending on the results of the investigation...

Si-Yue shook her head as if reading my mind. I had always been a lousy poker player.

"Look," she said, "You have been querying the system regarding some sensitive areas. You attempted to bury the inquiry within your regular work. Nice try. Our system is designed to pick out patterns of unbelievable obscurity. There were too many pop-ups to ignore. Where did you get the data to even set up such an extensive search? By the way, does quantum computational analysis mean anything to you? "

"I've heard of it," I admitted. "I have some idea of what it is. I know it's a strong tool that -- no, I'm bluffing. I've heard the term, but I have no idea how it works or what it does."

She said, "I am a computer specialist but I'm also a security investigator of sorts. We, every one that has been in your office lately posing as systems analysts, are cyber investigators. Never mind who we work for -- you have never heard of it.

"We had no idea what you have been doing, and more importantly why you've been doing it. That's why they called us, called me in".

"Who are 'they'"?

"I told you, you've never heard of the department. Now what are you doing, the truth? Please, I don't want you to get hurt".

"Hurt? Truth? Boy, I've really stepped in something nasty, haven't I?"

I stood up and started pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room table. When I noticed her glancing at the wooden block holding my collection of chef's knives, I altered course so I stayed well away from anything resembling a weapon.

"I told you the story of what happened, how I did what I did. I want to make sure you know I certainly haven't published anything nor have I mentioned this stuff to anyone -- except you, that is. Who would believe me, or care? This was an interesting exercise, digging into some contradictions between hard-copy documents and stuff I studied in college. The effort kept the mind working. I never thought it would lead to an investigation."

"I'm going to have another drink. How about you?"


She relaxed and let her purse drop to the floor. There was something heavy in there, by the sound of the thud, probably something that trumped anything in my knife collection.

I began to tell her of my analysis of the data. She appeared interested, and not just in a "should I kill him?" kind of way. So I told her what I had deduced about China's rescue of the economies of the Western world, and the price we paid for it... beginning with MicroWare.

FINAL MEETING # 4 Report from Shang Si-Yue to Committee:

Transcript of Conversation with Rick Stevens (subject aware of recording):

"Knowledge of the reality of the relationship between Beijing and the West was strictly controlled. If prominent individuals not involved in the deal had suspicions and they made mention of it, they seemed to have retired to very comfy quarters in remote and exotic parts of the planet, or died before their times in unexpected minor disasters, like plane crashes. What's the loss of a few hundred or a few thousand people when you control the planet? Life as most of us knew and know it never really changed. But the center of power, the final decision making apparatus relating to crucial aspects of governance that was relocated, "off-shored". This was a boardroom take-over, a cultural revolution, WW3, and a palace coup combined, and bloodless, or nearly so.

"The deal was motivated by a number of factors. The U.S. government had gradually lost its credibility with the American public and the world as a moral leader. The people were more interested in who survived an island adventure eating bugs and grubs or the Sports Circus than in their birthright and their responsibility to choose their leaders wisely. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy, and thus the economy of the West as a whole, was sinking under the weight of huge deficits and accumulated debt. The credit of the U.S. would have become equal to that of some of the then third world debtor nations. If the dollar became worthless, riots and political chaos and who knew what else would surely follow.

"So in the end the PRC/PLA got the keys, opened the gates, and through a concerted cyber attack upon Taiwan, quietly, and with the U.S. looking the other way, took over the island, as a dress rehearsal! Then it was on to the rest of the planet. The PLA marshaled its immense pool of internationally based talent to conduct small probes, larger probes, Trojan horses, service denials, grid crashes, personal data thefts and losses, disruption of communications, satellite communications, and lastly, control of the embedded C3, C4ICR software as well as all software residing within the then existing weapons systems.

"When making the initial probes all reactions were catalogued measured and evaluated. If someone on the other end of the attack foiled that attack, that person was soon promoted, relocated and removed from that environment. Other successful removal tools were lotteries. The target in question would win a huge pot. They would usually quit their jobs and move away. Tickets could be given out as gifts from the boss in sealed envelopes to a number of employees but the target always won.

"The PLA expanded their efforts outward while all the while denying anything of the sort. The initial hacking/intrusion attempts then being made were not initially created to gain access, but to measure, and catalogue. Planned attacks would be infinitely more sophisticated, harder to discern and in the final moves, successful.

"...Wow. Considering the implications, I managed to make that pretty boring. Hard to believe that my research started because I bumped into a shelf and nearly had a heart attack when a box full of old hard-copy landed at my feet.

"I'm not sure just what else to tell you. All this data relating to computer hacking, cyber warfare in the 20th century was there. When I looked it up on the main system it was not there, and that inconsistency piqued my interest. Simple as that. I was curious as to the origins and whys and wherefores. I was careful about the research just because the data was not anywhere else to be found and it seemed prudent. The publications have been vaporized as they were intended to be. I can show you the boxes they were in and the vaporizing tickets, if you like."

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION: Final from Si-Yue Shang: Candidate: R. Stevens

The candidate accidentally uncovered the History. It has not been promulgated in any manner as I can tell and I do believe his story. He is worried. He knows he's in trouble. Since the data was destroyed, I witnessed the destruction booth and the records indicating those articles were the very articles in question, I assured him nothing was amiss. There is still a potential problem.

No rush on action is recommended. We have him contained. He has a cabin in the north. I mentioned it might be a good idea if he took off for a while and to call me when he arrived. We could discuss the situation. He appeared relieved. This would be a perfect location if required. One strange thing, he left via a GTV, ground transport vehicle. Is he a woodman and didn't mention that in his "confession"? If the decision to proceed is given I wish not to be involved; but if ordered. Otherwise I recommend a heightened surveillance with cleansing actions only if leakage is determined.

End of Report


As she left the Library of Congress that early morning, Si-Yue Shang looked around and out at the beautiful city with the buildings and monuments of and to the Republic for which they stood. The foundations of a new world order were made here. It was an incredible experiment, started in 1776. The flag still flew there in the front court yard, red and white stripes and a blue field with 51 white stars.

. The crimson star in the middle of the blue field seemed just right.


From the Personal Journal of Rick Stevens (hand-written)

You know even though the cabin sounds good, I've never been to the newly Independent Nation State of Puerto Rico. My old friend once said I should look him up. He's in Charleston on his yacht. I hate the ocean, stay away as much as possible, but, what the hell. I've never done this before.


© 2008 Richard Tornello

Bio: Richard Tornello is a business owner/consultant/technical recruiter with 28+ years experience, married and kept by one very neurotic cat Stella. He has a degree from Rutgers University in Asian Studies, but swears that no government agents have been "interviewing" him regarding his extracurricular research activities. Richard's poetry and fiction has appeared a number of times in Aphelion, most recently the story Reflective Glass (December, 2007) and the trio of related poems Stratification, Stratification 2, and Stratification 3 (March 2008).

E-mail: Richard Tornello

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.