Byron Shaw can track and find anyone on Earth. Except the people who tried to kill him.
By 2081, privacy no longer exists. The Lattice enables anyone to re-live any moment of your life. People can experience past and present events—or see into the mind of anyone, living or dead.
Most people love it. Some want to destroy it.
Colonel Byron Shaw has just saved the Lattice from the most dangerous attack in its history. Now he must find those responsible. But there's a question nobody's asking: does the Lattice deserve to be saved?
The answer may cost him his life.
Like so many of my selections, what drew me to The Lead Cloak was its exploration of the different blessings and curses technology can bring. In this case, we see the final step in the journey that began with social networks. Privacy literally no longer exists, with the contents of all minds past and present available for public viewing. I think that's coming in the next Facebook update. At any rate, the action in the story is fast paced and engaging, and the questions it forces one to ask are compelling. – Joseph R. Lallo
"Staggeringly smart ... Hanberg's expertly honed storytelling is sleek and fast ... [an] entertaining tale."– Kirkus Reviews
"The Lead Cloak delivers an engaging story, an exciting plot, and an author to watch."– Timothy Thomas McNeely, Post Defiance
"This sci-fi novel is a page turner: The year is 2081 and people are living experiences, hearing thoughts and seeing sights through the eyes of others ...
While the novel is of the sci-fi genre, you need not be a geek to enjoy it. Hanberg doesn't overload the reader with science fiction mumbo jumbo, and as a matter of fact, the future laid out seems a perfectly logical one.
... The end leaves you hungry for the next installment."
Byron Shaw was in a jump. For ten glorious minutes, the men's room was transformed into a small forested hill at the edge of some Pennsylvania farmland.
The body of Colonel Shaw was in a bathroom stall, but his mind was two centuries in the past, visiting another Colonel—Joshua Chamberlain—who was protecting Little Round Top from the Confederate army that was attempting to flank his position.
"We've only got enough ammunition for a single volley," Shaw/Chamberlain said to his closest troops. "We'll use bayonets and attack down the hill, the left flank starting their charge first and the rest following, like … like a swinging door. Pass the word down the line and tell them to wait for my order."
Chamberlain waited for the order to reach the men under his command, his face projecting calm.
Despite the years between them, Shaw could feel how intentional the expression was, how much Chamberlain was masking his fear. He felt the doubting questions begin to bubble up in Chamberlain's mind. Was this lunacy? How would his family and friends back in Maine remember him if this failed? Was this the last desperate act of a desperate man?
There was no time for such thoughts, though, and Chamberlain pushed his doubts aside. He couldn't count on any more time from the rebels at the bottom of the hill.
"Fix bayonets!" Shaw/Chamberlain cried.
As the Union line began mounting their bayonets on their rifles, Shaw felt a pinch in his right ring finger. In fact, the small metal ring had gone quite cold, causing the metal to constrict and squeeze against his skin. It would squeeze more tightly if he didn't jump back from Gettysburg within the next five seconds.
With a sigh, Shaw touched the ring against the implant in his right temple, and immediately Chamberlain and the Union army were gone, replaced by the drab blue metal door of a bathroom stall.
He shouldn't have tried the jump when he was on duty. He never got to stay longer than a few minutes before his ring pinched with an urgent request. When off duty in his quarters he could jump for a few solid hours, choosing a soldier at random and following him and his thoughts around. Most people would consider that kind of jumping to be boring, but Shaw preferred it … if for no other reason than it allowed him to continue to tell himself he wasn't an addict.
Shaw washed up quickly and found a young man waiting for him just outside the bathroom door. He was a new face … Yang? First Lieutenant Tim Yang, Shaw remembered. Yang was shifting from foot to foot. His nervousness wasn't a surprise—it was his first day at the Installation and he'd just interrupted his superior officer in the john.
"I'm sorry, sir, they said I should come and—" Yang started, but Shaw wouldn't let him finish.
"No apologies. Work here a few more days, and you can be guaranteed someone will have gotten you off the can eight times. Can I borrow your cuff for just a second?"
Yang held it up, confused, and Shaw played with it for a few seconds. "What's the message?"
"An intruder on the desert sensors. One hundred ten kilometers away."
"One ten? Shit." Shaw dropped Yang's arm and together they hurried down the corridor.
"You see how I wedged the coat sleeve under your cufflink, by the way? Now you'll always see your cuff. It won't get lost up the sleeve."
Yang looked down at his wrist as they walked. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it. It's the easiest way to look sharp in these shit uniforms," Shaw said, rapping his hand against his standard-issue soft-shelled helmet. "Try it on the other sleeve after we take care of this raider."
Shaw looked Yang over as they walked. The young man looked like he was trying to find a corner to hide in. "Awfully young to be here, aren't you?"
"Just a few months away from twenty-four, sir."
"Shouldn't you still be in the Academy?"
"My parents believed childhood was for studying, not playing. It meant I went a lot faster than everyone else."
"No doubt. I wasn't out of the Academy until I was twenty-six. So. What do we know about the raider?"
"Major Iverson said it was a hovercraft. Flying just a few feet over the desert surface. It's doing three hundred K per hour," Yang added, his voice strained. Shaw recognized the note of panic. He'd hoped to put Yang at ease. Shaw remembered his own nerves during his first raid, back before they dulled into routine. All they did now was interrupt his jumps back to the Civil War.
"Any chance it's just a lost tourist?"
"No, sir. It's on a direct collision course from West South West."
"Out of Death Valley. That explains why we didn't catch the signal until now."
"Visuals are tricky out there, with the heat. Cloaked planes or drones can get through easily. So instead we have sensors across the desert. But even those can be fooled. If you move slowly enough, if there's enough sand in the air, or the heat you kick out isn't much different from the radiant heat … you can get pretty far through before we catch you. How strong is the radiation signature?"
"No radiation, sir."
"Really?" Shaw's eyebrows arched and he quickened his pace. No radiation signature meant the pilot wasn't carrying a dirty bomb. But it was so rare these days that he felt himself growing uneasy. "Conventionals, then. Unusual."
"What's unusual, sir?"
"The raiders gave up on conventional weapons years ago. In theory, they'd work well enough, but only if the pilot thinks he can get within just a few kilometers. And no one even tries that anymore. Hmm." Shaw began thinking out loud, partly for Yang's benefit. "All right, so we have a raider about a hundred clicks out heading straight for us. At three hundred kilometers per hour we've got fifteen minutes before he's within range to fire a conventional missile." Shaw grunted. "Well, he's already closer than a lot of raiders have gotten recently. Who knows, Yang? Not too much farther and you'll remember your first day as the closest anyone's gotten to the Lattice in ten years."
Shaw smiled widely at Yang, his face fully reflecting his excitement. He could feel adrenaline pumping through him at the prospect of an actual fight. Normally the computer would have given his team so much warning that—if he hadn't been in the bathroom—he would have already dispatched the raider into a cloud of smoke and sand. But today … things might actually get interesting. If there were more days like this, he thought, maybe he wouldn't have to keep jumping back to the Battle of Gettysburg. As much as he enjoyed the historical battles, they didn't get his blood pumping—he already knew the outcome. No matter how many times he jumped, no matter the different perspectives he found, the battle of Little Round Top stayed frustratingly the same.
Although the outcome of the fight today was pretty well preordained, too. The lone pilot had nothing but some conventional weapons, probably decades out of date—or worse, made at home. He had no chance. Already, lasers on the ground and in orbit above them were waiting for Shaw's order to blow the hovercraft out of the sky. If through some shocking feat it could survive those, Shaw still had a small array of tactical nukes under his command. As long as they were detonated more than ten kilometers away from the Installation, they wouldn't damage the Lattice.
Shaw put his hand on the metallic door at the end of the hall, waiting for his fingerprints, body heat, and DNA to be recognized. Not foolproof, of course, but what was anymore?
It would almost be worth it to let a raider get close, just to put a little thrill into the game, Shaw thought, before immediately pushing the thought away. It's that kind of thinking that can cost you your job, he told himself.
His hand cleared him for admittance, and Shaw entered the command center. As the door opened, he told Yang, "My first priority is downing this hovercraft, but stay close to me. I know we're a little different than what you were used to in Geneva, so I'll do my best to answer any questions."
The familiar glow of screens lit up the room. Shaw went to the center of the room to the large table and glanced through each illuminated screen. He focused on the map first, confirming everything Yang had relayed to him. The craft was now within 100 kilometers and had less than fifteen minutes before it was within range to deploy its weapons.
Shaw looked for more data about this unusual raider. What game was he playing at, trying to run against the most sophisticated weapons system in the world with—with what exactly?
"Who jumped to the hovercraft?"
"Me, sir," Johan Iverson answered from behind his station.
"What's it carrying?"
"Antiques, sir. Six Interceptor missiles, at least fifty years old. No other weapons. The whole thing looks like it was cobbled together in someone's garage. It's lucky it's even two meters off the ground."
"No, sir. A single pilot."
Shaw continued to look over the displays.
"Are lasers targeted?"
"Yes, sir. We're having trouble bringing the ground-based lasers online for some reason, but both Thunderbolt satellites locked on as soon as the AI found the hovercraft. They're waiting on your command."
Shaw nodded. He looked over at Yang, who was standing behind him—just a little too close, like a loyal terrier. Shaw struggled to come up with words to explain to him why a knot was slowly forming in his gut. He looked back at the table and muttered, "Something's wrong."
"Sir?" Yang asked, stepping even closer.
"No one flies conventionals at us anymore."
"Why is that significant, sir?"
"Such low tech … against all this?" His hand swept over the table and the room, encompassing the satellites and lasers in the process. "It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel. And yet … it doesn't feel right. He's got his heat modulated to the outside air temperature within a hundredth of a degree. It enabled him to get as far as it did without the computer finally recognizing the heat difference. He goes through all that trouble, but he doesn't even bother buying a dirty bomb? You see what I'm getting at?"
Yang shook his head. "It seems straightforward to me, sir. By the book."
"And how does the book say we should proceed when we have a single pilot raider this close to the Installation?"
"Make contact with the pilot and warn him off."
That had never worked once, of course, but Shaw nodded. "Right you are. What frequency is our pilot on?" Shaw called to Iverson. Protocol dictated that whoever jumped to the raider looked for weapons and looked inside the cockpit, taking note of all communication devices.
"Old fashioned wireless. Channel four."
"Grab the wireless over there, would you, Yang?"
Yang scampered to the wall where it hung and returned with the transmitter and receiver.
Shaw took it up in his hand, noticing the curly black cord that stretched from the console to the microphone. Sometimes he couldn't get over that people once used things like this. He pressed the button on the side. "Unidentified hovercraft, unidentified hovercraft, you have crossed into restricted airspace. Please drop your speed and turn around. We will escort you out of the restricted area. Do you copy? Over."
There was silence, and after a few seconds of it Shaw repeated his message.
"Eighty clicks out," Iverson called.
Shaw picked up the wireless again. "Listen to me. You know what weapons we have here … what we have pointed at you. It's never too late to turn back … It doesn't have to end this way."
Shaw waited. That hadn't been by the book, and Yang was giving him a funny look. It had been worth a shot. Anything to shake off this feeling.
Shaw opened his mouth to speak, but the wireless crackled. "The future is uncertain. If humanity has one saving grace, it's that the Lattice can't see into the future. I strike this blow because our pasts and our private thoughts should be our own and no one else's."
This was the first time anyone had spoken back and Shaw and Iverson exchanged a surprised look. Should he attempt to ward the pilot off again? He looked back to the map screen and saw how fast the hovercraft was approaching. Could he reason with the pilot? He thought for a few precious seconds before he gently set the wireless down.
"Fire Thunderbolts at the intruder," Shaw said.
"Firing Thunderbolts," Iverson repeated.
Shaw touched his ring to the red symbol of the hovercraft on the table and then brought it to his temple. Within a second he was moving at tremendous speed over the bright desert, perfectly tracking the hovercraft. Iverson hadn't exaggerated its state of disrepair. It was a bucket of bolts. Metal plates seemed to hang off it haphazardly—some plates were scorched black, as if they'd just survived an accident in the shop; others looked like they'd been patched on from a bright red sports car.
The blast should be coming within seconds. He waited … waited … waited.
Just when Shaw started to wonder if something had malfunctioned with the Thunderbolt satellites, the blast came, shrieking toward him. Even though the blast couldn't touch him during a jump, Shaw flinched.
He waited for the burst of flame to clear … and he was shocked to see the hovercraft had survived, hurtling through the air at a breakneck speed. It looked like a brand new vehicle. The metal plates had fallen away during the laser blast to reveal a sleek black probe that must have formed a secret inner skeleton to the ship.
Was it moving faster too? Shaw felt like he was flying at least twice as fast over the ground.
His mind was still inside the jump watching the hovercraft, but his body—still back at the table—shouted, "Fire Thunderbolts again!"
Shaw waited for the next round of lasers. He heard the lasers cut through the air more than he saw them. The craft dropped closer to the desert floor under the direct hit, but to Shaw's amazement, it stayed aloft, and continued its deadly trajectory.
Shaw touched his ring to his temple and his mind was back at his table. The first thing he noticed was the bleating siren—an automatic system when a raider was within fifty kilometers of impact. He couldn't think of the last time he'd heard it.
"They were counting on the lasers!" Shaw exclaimed. The readout was showing that the hovercraft was indeed moving much faster. Estimated impact was now less than six minutes.
"That rusty hovercraft was just a shell," Iverson cursed. "The energy from the laser was somehow transferred into propulsion."
Shaw looked to Iverson, but his ring had just tapped his temple. Shaw turned to another officer. "Bailey! Are the ground-based lasers locked?"
"No, sir," she answered. "They're still offline. We don't know why."
Shaw didn't waste time with screaming the What? he wanted to shout in reply. "Get Braybrook. I need nukes online."
He pressed his hand on the table and said, "L T C T T W 3 V 1 1 G." DNA, heat, fingerprints, and now his voice print on a long string of memorized numbers and letters. Even this could be fooled if someone went to the trouble, but it would have been unlikely.
"Authorization confirmed by General Braybrook," Bailey answered. "Nukes are tracking the target. Command now fully on your screen." A portion of the map on the screen changed to a sequence of six red buttons. All he had to do was drag one of them … and literally drop it on its target.
Iverson had jumped back. "The control panel looks ancient, but underneath it, it's all modern. More than modern. I didn't recognize all of it. The whole thing was a goddamn con job! And I fucking fell for it," Iverson spat. "Working on ground lasers, sir."
Shaw looked back at the table. Thirty-five kilometers. Less than three minutes.
"Forget it. I'm not sure they would have been effective anyway. We're taking the ship out with a nuke and we'll figure out what the hell happened later."
"Sir?" said a voice beside him.
Shaw ignored Yang. "Bailey, sound the radiation siren. We need to give a warning to everyone in the tower that nukes are about to be deployed."
Throughout the Installation a new siren began to scream.
Shaw watched the clock. He wanted to give the people in the tower at least thirty seconds notice. The hovercraft would just be seeing the top of the tower over the landscape.
"Sir?" Yang asked again.
"What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Thank you for showing me about the cuffs." Yang sounded almost regretful.
"What?" Shaw asked, looking up. Yang was at his side, too close. In his peripheral vision, Shaw saw Yang's arm coming toward his hip, something black in his hand.
Shaw was too shocked to have consciously reacted, but he felt his body twist away, and his hand groped for Yang's wrist. Instead of his wrist, he caught Yang's thumb. Grasping for something, he felt the tips of two fingers touch a black pad in Yang's hand.
There wasn't any doubt what it was now. A nanoshock. A wet black mass of millions of nano robots, programmed to soak through the skin on contact and attack nerve cells. Their effect—
Intense pain, somehow mixed with an intense numbness. It radiated through Shaw's body from his fingers. He recognized the sensation from a brief jump during training. Somehow the pain was worse when it was happening to his own body. Shaw tried to cry out, but none of his nerves were fully working and he only managed a grunt. His legs crumpled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
The inky blackness was spreading, visibly crawling down his two fingers.
Above him, Yang was watching him writhe, almost as shocked as Shaw. Like he'd never seen the effects before.
Yang shook himself out of it, and moved his attention to the table.
The nukes, Shaw realized through the pain. He was going for the nukes.
Shaw struggled to move his arm. He had seconds left before the nanoshock left him totally immobile. His fingers were inches away from Yang's leg. With all of his mental energy focused on the effort, Shaw lunged, his two infected fingers clasping around Yang's ankle. Yang looked down at him, surprise on his face. Only a second or two before—there! Yang's face wrenched and his body trembled. He was clinging to the table for support.
Shaw tried to let go, but he found his body didn't respond at all. Any longer to grab Yang and his body would have been in the final stages of the shock, unable to move. But had it been enough? Yang was doubled over. Had he fired the nukes?
Shaw's vision started to go, and through the growing darkness, he thought he saw Iverson throwing Yang away from the table. There was another figure too—someone at Shaw's side, pulling up his shirt. Shaw thought he saw a needle slide into his forearm.
Instantly, the cry of pain he'd been saving up was unleashed. A terrible scream that made everything feel worse. But at least he could move. Shaw curled himself into a ball, willing the pain to lessen.
A hand was on his shoulder. "Sir? Sir? Are you all right?" Iverson. Shaw felt better, knowing that if he could recognize a voice the shock must not have reached his brain.
"The hovercraft," Shaw coughed. "Not me. The …"
"I got it. Twelve kilometers away. Sir, we need to—"
Shaw moved his jaw again, recovering his muscles. "Help me up."
"You need to take care of yourself, sir."
"Help me up!"
Iverson and the other figure—a medic, it turned out—lifted him up. Shaw leaned on the table, his eyes trying to focus on the map. It kept shifting in and out of focus. Shaw took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
He counted to five and opened them. Things were clearer. His mind calmer. He looked at the map again.
The hovercraft's trail was traced across the desert, ending in a red dot that was marked with a radiation symbol. Shaw looked down at the nuke count. Empty.
"You used all six nukes?"
"No, sir. Yang tried to deploy them against the Installation itself, but the AI asked for a second confirmation code. He started sending the nukes off into the hills, away from the hovercraft. He got five off. You stopped him from deploying the last one. If he'd gotten it off, the Installation would have been defenseless against the hovercraft … we'd all be dead."
"You only had one shot at it?"
"Well, the computer did most of the work," Iverson said, letting a grin spread over his face.
Shaw attempted a smile back. It was interrupted by a deep cough, and his face soured. "Let's not celebrate too much. No raider's ever gotten so close to the Lattice. There's going to be hell to pay."