Authors: Gabby Grant
Misty Meadow Press
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Originally Published by
Jacobyte Books, Australia
Cover by Dar Albert
American writer Gabby Grant is
the award-winning author of numerous books, published under different pen names
and in various formats, including
paperback, trade paperback, print-on-demand and electronic download. Gabby
loves hearing from readers and welcomes correspondence at
(Book 1 in The Kane Legacy
Six Short Tales: New Beginnings
Tuesday, 18 December
2001, 9:30 p.m. EST
Ana Kane’s heart rose in her throat as the phantom door
creaked open. She blinked twice and refocused her gaze on the computer screen.
Someone had entered her virtual
to his highly secure screen name-it was someone she knew. Only one person had
access to that name and the encrypted program that enabled it
IntelNet access. But how was it possible that the
Intelligence Community’s premier secure service provider had interfaced with
her civilian computer? And who could have gotten hold of that moniker?
Ana shot a quick glance at her sleeping husband, less than
twenty feet away. The baby lay dozing, cradled against his broad chest, her
cherubic features bathed honey-orange in the nearby Christmas tree’s glow.
eyes stirred silently as eight-month-old
Isabel wriggled her way deeper into the cushion of her daddy’s gray and black
Ana’s eyes returned to her monitor, her breathing picking up
Hovering somewhere in the upper right corner of an E-mail
she’d been typing sat a square box announcing someone cued to her instant
message list was on line. But no such screen name existed on her personal
only the Internet accessible ones- and
each and every one of those belonged to a civilian friend.
Ana weighed her options then made a bold move. She hit the
instant messaging icon and began typing with
strokes. “Hi, there.”
The volley was almost immediate. “
Ana froze, as the silent chill whinnied down her spine. She
shot another glance into the living room, before deciding. If she could engage
him in dialogue, reveal something incriminating, then perhaps they’d have
something to go on.
“Working late?” she asked.
Ana checked her watch against the monitor clock as two
minutes ticked by.
Two going on three.
And then the response came, no punctuation, no capitals...
” Another thirty seconds. “
Ana gripped the edges of her keyboard and studied the trail
“Still at the office?”
One minute passed to two, before elapsing slowly, slowly to
He was thinking.
The baby gurgled in the next room and turned her fat round
face to the side. Mark raised a hand and dreamily stroked her coal black hair
before spiraling back into a snore.
A terrifying silence, his alias still hawking like a
“Still there?” she persisted.
Ana jolted as Isabel’s stuffed dog crashed to the floor with
a lilting call and the music box inside suddenly stirred to life.
Another minute passed.
“Who are you?”
He gave his screen name, the ultra secure Defense Department
handle that belonged to Ana’s husband Mark Neal.
Ana’s pulse whipped into overdrive.
Who was this imposter and how much did he know? Did she run the risk of pushing
Ana decided to try one last dare.
“You are not who you say you are.”
One minute, going on two, three...
Ana checked her watch and resisted the urge to spring from
her chair and race into the next room. Instead, she frantically grabbed for the
mouse, scanned down the column of cross-communication and clicked “print
selected text.” If nothing else, she would get a paper trail. With the way
things had been going lately, if she didn’t, nobody- not even possibly Mark-
would believe her.
Six minutes elapsed to seven as the printer hummed in
response and began its paper feed.
Paper crunched and jammed in the feeder, halting mid-way in
insertion. The printer let out a high pitch wail as
struggled with the bunched-up pages. Finally wringing them free, she looked up
in a damp sweat to find that he had answered her accusation.
are you, ana kane”
DIPAC Division Chief Mark Neal dropped the stack of files
onto the desk in front of him. “What I’m asking, Paul,” he said, inclining his
long frame in at a tight angle toward the man seated on the opposite side of
the desk, “is how in the
this could have happened
“I’m telling you, sir,” Paul Mastiff said, laying unsteady
hands on top of the files and scooting the stack toward him so they formed an
ineffective barrier between him and his contentious superior. “This
Mastiff had just explained for the second time how the
secure DIPAC computer system could not be accessed from the outside or vice
versa due to the operations system firewall in place. There was no way the
ultra secure Intelligence Community’s IntelNet, to which Mark’s top secret
screen name belonged, could interface with the unclassified civilian service
provider Ana had been using. IntelNet access was assigned to a secure loop of
professional intelligence users. It was
to or by civilian
Mark felt his nostrils flair and the back of his neck tinge
hot as he leaned in closer, setting one steel palm on either side of the files
on Paul’s desk. “You’re calling my wife a liar?”
tie. “No, sir, wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Mark suddenly became aware of his alligator pose and backed
, Mastiff,” he said straightening and
lightly cuffing his shirt sleeves, first one and then the other. “It’s
alright.” He gave Paul a cock-eyed smile, but somehow sensed it did little to
put the other man at ease. “It’s not you I’m angry with.”
Mastiff nodded but his eyes seemed to say,
you could have
Mastiff made a show of flipping through a couple of files.
“Have a seat, sir,” he said, his smile tightly congenial.
Mark straightened his tie clip and sat. He knew this wasn’t
Mastiff’s fault, but goddamn it, as the Chief Civilian Computer Operations
Specialist, he was supposed to have some inkling what the hell was going on.
“You have everything right there.
The whole conversation.
It was on the screen and Ana was able to print it out.”
Mastiff seemed to be thinking something he wasn’t saying. If
there was anything Mark hated more than someone saying something he didn’t
like, it was their being afraid to say it. Mark gave the other man a minute,
but apparently nothing more was forthcoming.
“Paul,” Mark said, “we’ve known each other a long time.”
“How long, would you say?”
“Nearly two years, sir. Ever since I first came to the
The Defense Information Processing and Analysis Center, or
the DIPAC as it was known to those on the inside, had been established by the
larger top-secret Defense Operations Service to monitor classified DOS computer
operations under way throughout the country and around the globe. Sequestered
in an obscure corner of the Central Virginia countryside, DIPAC, masquerading
as an acquisitions processing center for the US Army, was in fact the lynch pin
holding all DOS information operations in place. With both electronic and
physical threats to technological infrastructure escalating, DOS headquarters
had decided to remove this important function from the strategic military
target area of Washington, DC two years ago. If, God forbid, the boys at the
Pentagon and their DOS pals on the other side of the Potomac were to all go up
in smoke, their silent twin in Virginia would already have the critical
capabilities to keep the US Defense machine rolling. The move had been a slow,
tortuous process, involving the transfer of more than seven hundred military
and civilian personnel, and the ferreting out of much governmental red tape.
Mark Neal, who’d been drawn in at DIPAC’s inception as one
of its four regional Division Chiefs, was now charged with ensuring the
information gathering and dissemination process regarding operations in the
Middle East remained at a fevered pitch. He’d met Paul Mastiff just under two
years ago, when he’d sat on the selection committee for hiring operations
systems personnel. Though he hadn’t thought much of Paul’s laissez faire
personality, he’d been impressed with his background and skill. The fact that
Paul’s job involved very little interpersonal interaction was probably a
blessing for everyone at DIPAC, including Mark who rarely dealt with this
weasel face to face, except when absolutely necessary.
“Exactly. And, in those two years Paul, have you ever known
me to bring something to your attention that wasn’t worth investigating?”
“No sir, but-” Mastiff flushed as he caught himself, his
fifty-something honey colored complexion going all purplish-red.
Mark studied the carpet a moment, before looking up and
fixing intent eyes on Paul’s charcoal gaze. “But
“If you’ll pardon my saying so, sir. That’s all been DOS
business, DOD business at large. But this with your wife-”
“You know her name, Mastiff. Use it!
Don’t treat her like some addle-brained
“No sir, never sir. It’s just that this past year she’s been
home, she’s been-”
Mark sprung from his chair. “Don’t you even say it,
Don’t you goddamn say it!
For it was too goddamned close to the
truth that Mark sometimes felt. Ana was losing her edge, had been out of the
loop. Before they’d had Isabel, she’d been one of the best up-and-comers the
DIPAC had. But lately, she hadn’t even been able to put together an
unclassified information paper in her home office without coming unglued.
And it wasn’t just professional either.
appeared to be losing her touch on the personal front as well.
hoped it was only temporary. He’d heard these sorts of things sometimes
happened to new mothers as they went through the adjustment.
many sleepless nights, too much unaccustomed stress.
Hell, in those
first few months after Isa had been born, Mark was certain his work had
suffered, too. But lately, he’d been finding slip-ups everywhere. Doors Ana’d
sworn she’d bolted left ajar, car keys dangling from the ignition, things
turned on that were supposed to be off, alarm clocks blaring at 3:00 a.m....
Mark shook his head hard against the thought and spun from
his trajectory toward the door. “I will not take your pop psychological
observations about my wife, Mastiff, do you hear
I want fact, cold hard fact.
Technological fact proving how in Hades somebody burst through that
And I’d like your first assessment on my desk by this