Some people live and die by their technology — some just die.
Top CIA cybersleuth Scott Faraday has never seen such clean hits — a perfect electronic getaway every time.
The trail is cold.
So are the bodies of six U.N. diplomats at Turtle Bay. Six different countries represented. No apparent connection.
Other than the fact every one died sitting at a computer.
Faraday's been doing this long enough to understand they were killed remotely by assassinware: a stealth connection to the World Wide Web used to kill end users. But the murderer hasn't left a trace of evidence, no stray data packets, no IP addresses.
Except for an anonymous comment posted to a blog.
With all the gripping suspense, dramatic action, and high-tech wizardry of TV's 24, AssassinWare takes you on a rollercoaster of political intrigue with Scott Faraday, the nation's savviest cybercrime detective, and his feisty partner Catherine Blaine. This thriller-paced story is laced with accessible modernity, well-placed surprises, and dry wit.
I met Michael Britton several years ago while attending a writer's Master Class and found a kindred spirit as we both had a background in journalism. Michael comes up with some incredibly clever plots and in an age of electronic espionage, this book will certainly make you think about the possibilities. Assassinware is a fast-paced book with a lot of twists and turns… and might have you putting a piece of black tape over the camera lens on your computer while disconnecting it from the internet. – Nick Harlow
"An awesome, thrill-ride thriller that takes the reader across the world! Michael Britton is a skilled writer that will keep the reader guessing to the very (exciting!) end! Can't wait for the sequel!"– Gambler Press review
"This was a great read. Many times I didn't want to stop reading—too anxious to see what happened next. From intriguing characters to an incredibly intriguing plot, Britton succeeds in pulling you into the story and not letting you go until the end. Even then, though, you'll be thinking about the book for days after. While there were a few times I actually wished the book would slow down a bit, overall I was impressed. Two thumbs up (and well worth the price)!"– Ryan, Amazon reviewer
"This was a great read, with an engaging storyline, very likeable characters, and good ethical dilemma scenarios to make you think. So many of us are obviously linked to our electronic devices (as am I), and this story brings to life a potentially deadly consequence to this dependency. Very entertaining and interesting. Scott Faraday is a relatable character for me (geeky), with some butt-kicking skills mixed in. And his personable fellow agent, Catherine "Cat," keeps him grounded and makes things more interesting. I honestly felt like I was reading someone like Ludlum most of the time. Good dialogue. Great fight sequences. I could see the movie in my head."– Lance, Amazon reviewer
Scott Faraday was not used to this.
He'd spent his career with the CIA — and before that, with the Navy — as a nameless, faceless cog in a wheel.
Just doing his job.
Doing it remarkably well, but doing it under the shadow of anonymity.
Yet here he was, going public. Well, sort of.
Maxine Miller had first approached him at his favorite D.C. internet café, eBrew — at the time, he was surprised that such an attractive woman would be interested in him. She sat down close enough to him that he could smell her flowery perfume and feel the warmth of her body. But after a few minutes of conversation, it became clear that all she was after was his story. Once his emerging ego was quickly put back in its humble place, he agreed to the interview, on the condition that his identity would remain undisclosed. And that it take place in a location with fewer people around.
Now he sat in a neighborhood park near his Ingleside apartment with the Newsweek reporter — a petite blonde he'd once hoped was picking up on him — trying his best to do justice to one of the biggest cybercrime stories of the decade. Under his black leather jacket, his left arm was in a sling. In his right hand, he held a bottle of water. As usual, he needed a shave.
"Tell me about your partner, Simon Jakes," she said, brushing a strand of sunshine-colored hair behind her ear and poising her well-manicured fingertips over her laptop keyboard that sat atop her tight skirt. A small digital recorder sat on the bench between them, the bright morning sun, low in the sky, reflecting off its shiny surface.
Faraday sighed, and a puff of water vapor floated out of his mouth in the cool late-September air. "What do you want to know? I mean, Jakes was — he — he was a great agent and a good friend. He had a real sense of humor, you know, the kind of guy who everybody liked. And he knew how to motivate people — a persuasive guy."
"What about his death?"
Faraday shook his head, looking down at the gravel walk, still covered in a thin veneer of frost. "It all went down so very quickly."
Maxine gently placed her hand on his forearm. "Just let the words come, Scott," she said, her big, dark eyes looking surprisingly empathetic, for a reporter. "Don't worry about how it sounds. I'm a writer — I'll make it flow just fine once it's in print. It may be hard to talk about your friend's death, but this story will have much more impact if you can explain how everything occurred. So, just relax, and tell me all about it."
Faraday took a sip from his water bottle, then began to paint the picture. "We were in the closing action of a very long-term operation. I was running the op out of headquarters in Langley. It all came down to this — it was time to make the bust. We had a team in the field, ready to shut down a big ring of Seattle-based corporate data black-marketers…"
Scott Faraday sat at the helm of the CIA's counter-cybercrime operation team in a black leather high-back office chair, surrounded by an array of at least two dozen flat screen computer monitors ranging in size from twenty inches to forty-six inches, all displaying full-color images and data streams.
The lighting in the room was subdued — most of the illumination coming from the bank of screens and the blue-glowing control panels. The smell of hot dust from the heavy-duty computer network mingled with stale coffee and a leftover pizza from a long night of surveillance.
Faraday wore an earpiece-microphone and his strong hands flew over the smooth-surface keyboard as he relayed commands to the S.W.A.T. team on the ground, thousands of miles away in Seattle.
He moved his right hand to a delicate joystick device that he used to maneuver a remote camera and zoom in the image.
His team was closing in on the hideout of a group of heavy players in a ring of thieves stealing sensitive corporate data and selling it to the highest bidder. These were the guys who ran the actual auction site — shutting down these punks would put a serious dent in business.
Simon Jakes, Faraday's partner, was closing in on them from the electronic side while Faraday directed the ground team.
Suddenly, Jakes erupted in anguish.
Faraday stopped telling the story and sunk into silence.
"What happened?" asked Maxine. "How'd he die?"
To Faraday, she seemed poised on the edge of her seat like a salivating hound waiting for its master to release a dangling steak.
"I can't tell you."
"You don't know?"
"No, I am not at liberty to say. The information is classified."
"Come on, Agent Faraday," her voice was hardening, a contrast to the soft coaxing voice of a few minutes ago. "This is the centerpiece of the story. There are rumors that Jakes was killed by his computer. Is this true?"
"I can't comment on that. Do you want the rest of the story, or not?"
"All right," she said, sounding a little exasperated — like a man who's been asked to stop and talk about his feelings right before intercourse. "What happened after Jakes died? How did you catch the perpetrators? And why does the incident report show that you were alone when you brought them in — no backup?"
"There was no time — " Faraday started.
"So the claims that your apprehension of the Seattle Six was motivated by vigilantism are false?"
"Completely unfounded," said Faraday, his face stern. A jogger passed by and he shifted in his seat before continuing. "It took me a while, but using a data tracking technique I designed, the doors started opening in my investigation, and I was chasing down leads as fast as I could run - the rest of the Agency couldn't even keep up. In the end, it was just me and the six of them. And in the end, justice was served. So why the fabricated controversy?"
Maxine raised her eyebrows, then brushed aside the hair that was tickling her forehead. "I didn't make up the accusations, Mr. Faraday, I'm just telling you what I've heard over the past two weeks since the arrests. You are free to refute the claims, as you just did. But I believe the people have a right to know."
"To know what? That I took down six scumbags who got what they had coming? Besides, I went easy on them — that is, I followed procedure to the letter, with the exception of having backup. Nobody died. It was a clean bust."
"But you put all six of them in the hospital — one of them in critical condition."
"We all checked in that day," said Faraday, lifting his injured arm slightly and wincing. "I took a bullet, too, you know."
"I am aware of that."
Faraday watched her tap a few words into her laptop. "Well, if there's nothing else, I'd like to call it a day," he said, standing up.
"Actually, I really would like to know more about Jakes' death. Can you at least tell me if you feel it was preventable? Given what you know now, what would you have done differently?"
"I don't want to talk about this anymore. Just take what you've got and write your story."
She didn't budge. "The people have a right to know."
"Do they?" Faraday said quickly, his voice rising. "Why? For the same reason they like to slow down and stare at traffic accidents?"
"I'll ask again — was it preventable? What would you have done differently?"
"Of course it was preventable! What would I have done differently? I'd have had better software."
Faraday pushed himself up from the bench with his good arm and walked away without looking back.
As he walked briskly toward the rising sun between trees that were starting to lose their leaves, his mind revisited the part of the story he could not — would not — reveal to the reporter…
Suddenly, Jakes erupted in anguish.
"Scott, something's happening — I — I — my hand, it's — arrrrrrrggghhhhhhh!"
At the blood-curdling scream, Faraday spun around in his chair and watched as his partner of two years stood up at his desk then fell to his knees beside his own office chair, his right hand held in front of his shocked face like a monstrous, bubbling boiling claw dripping blood from the pores.
Everyone in the office jumped into action and swarmed around the floundering Jakes as he collapsed onto his back and started to go into convulsions. Two men tried to hold him down as a man and two women gripped his arm to hold his shaking hand still and try to figure out what was happening to the veteran agent.
Moments later, Jakes' quivering body ceased its tormented throes, and he lay stiffly on the floor, his eyes wide open, staring the cold gaze of the dead, a trickle of bile oozing from the corner of his slightly open mouth.
It had happened that fast.
One moment, his partner and friend Simon was working at his computer, trying to infiltrate a black market website — the next he was in unspeakable pain as his life was drained out of him like a high speed download.
The scuffle of action and sudden death of Jakes distracted Faraday from the operation at a crucial juncture, and the mission fell apart. The ground location turned out to be a dummy — a shell system run as a decoy to throw off the authorities. It blew up in a fiery blast as the S.W.A.T. team entered, killing half the squad.
Faraday would've caught it in time if he'd not been torn away from the computer screens at the last moment.
More blood on his hands.
Now everyone in the room scrambled to try to deal with the new situation at hand as the ground team struggled to regroup and figure out where to go next.
Everyone except Faraday, who just stared at Simon.
As he stood over his dead friend, he was shaken, but determined to get to the bottom of it — to make someone pay.
He was still composed enough to examine the mouse on Jakes' desk. The black hunk of polymer had mostly melted away, corroding the edge of the keyboard along with it. Faraday scraped a small sample into a clean teaspoon from Jakes' top drawer, and ran it downstairs to the lab as fast as he could.
An hour later, Jakes was being wheeled out of the building on a gurney, zipped into a dull black bag. Faraday watched bitterly from the front steps as his friend disappeared into an Agency meat wagon.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder, making him jump.
"Agent Faraday — I thought you'd want to know right away," said the lab technician, a bespectacled, thin-haired man in stereotypical white coat who stood about a half a foot shorter than Faraday's six foot two. "The substance you brought us — it was a toxic morphogenic compound — highly corrosive, deadly poisonous when absorbed through the skin."
"How did it get inside this building?"
"Uh, that's the thing. It didn't, exactly. It came in through the internet."
"Like I said, it's morphogenic. It was sent in as a data stream — a program with instructions to use nanochem to literally transform the polymers in the mouse into the substance that killed your partner. It was a targeted kill."
"Assassinware," Faraday said under his breath.
Faraday shook himself from the memory. He'd walked out of the park and all the way back to his apartment without even noticing how much ground he'd put between himself and the reporter. As he unlocked his door, he angrily muttered once more the words with which he'd left Maxine Miller: better software.
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