Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Prologue

General Charles Regan Hallbeck was a man of grand vision and true grit.  He was a man who decided what he wanted, planned for it and then got it.  He enjoyed the occasional challenge along the way; it was boring to have everything handed to him on a silver platter unless it was his morning coffee.

He turned on the news while stirring cream and sugar into his coffee cup.  Nobody knew he preferred cream and sugar, he considered it to be a weakness.  His father, God rest his soul, had always said ‘Real men drink their coffee strong and black’ so that’s how Charles drank his when anyone was looking.

“We have news that in a quiet neighborhood on a street called Honeysuckle Terrace an apparent gangland style assassination has taken place.” Said a newscaster on his television, “We now go live to Jessica Hutchison who is on the scene.  Jessica?”

Charles nearly spit coffee onto the desk while his favorite reporter came on screen.

“Thanks Rob.  The police won’t let us anywhere near the block where neighbors claim there was a police raid just yesterday afternoon.  That raid apparently did not result in any arrests, however we expect something to come of it today.  You can see the vehicle the victims were driving behind me.  According to sources inside, this black Dodge Durango is registered to a group suspected to have ties to the Italian Mafia.”

A man in crime scene gear was approaching the Durango which was just behind the crime scene tape and began looking it over.  Jessica approached and put a microphone in his face.

“Excuse me, Jess Hutchison from channel thirteen; can you give us an idea of what’s going on?  Do you have any leads?”

At that moment the walkie-talkie on the man’s shoulder squawked, “Gold!  These assholes used gold bullets, there’s no way we can trace-” he turned the sound down.

“No comment!  Shut that camera off damn it!”

“Do you know of any groups that use gold bullets?  Have you seen anything like this before?”  Jessica was leaning over the crime scene tape, “The public deserves to know what is happening here.”

“Excuse me Miss Hutchison; we would prefer not to have the press involved until after we bring this case to trial.  Exposing too much information could infringe on our investigation and make jury selection difficult.”  A police captain had approached from the left hand side of the shot.  “Please stay back from the crime scene.”

Charles reached for his phone and it rang just before he touched it.

“This is General Hallbeck.”

“General, we may have a situation.”

“The violence near Miss Scott’s house?  I just saw it on the news.”

“Negative sir, that situation does not need our intervention.  The Silent Star has been compromised, we don’t know yet who or how, but they downloaded literally gigs of classified data and were gone before we had any idea we’d even been hacked.”

“Our most advanced spy satellite is hacked and you tell me we MIGHT have a situation?”  Charles yelled into the phone, “You have one hour ONE HOUR to get me a name!  By the time I’m in the office I want this fucking hacker’s nuts on a string!”  He slammed the phone down.  So much for a leisurely morning.

Dmitri hadn’t slept.  Some part of his brain screamed at him to rest but he had long since learned to ignore it.  Trivial things needed to be put aside when confronting a major problem.  In order to fully realize his father’s vision it was necessary to go further than the old man had ever dared go.  If he was going to be able to maintain control over the organization he didn’t dare fail.

“Are you certain of this intelligence?”  Dmitri looked at the man who lounged defiantly in the chair on the other side of the polished mahogany desk that had been his father’s.

“I trust the man.  He works in Hallbeck’s office and hasn’t led me wrong yet.”

“You had better trust him with your life.” Dmitri rasped, “If this proves to be incorrect it shall be forfeit.”

His informant turned slightly pale and sat forward in his chair, “Sir I have been finding you valuable information for years now, surely you wouldn’t react so rashly.”

“Correction, you have been providing my father with intelligence.  You have yet to prove your worth to me and my requirements differ from his.  If you are confident of your intelligence then there is no reason for you fear.  Since I will be risking my life and the lives of my associates if I choose to act on it I feel that it is only fair for you to share in the danger.”  He paused for emphasis, wishing he wasn’t out of cigarettes.  “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, of course sir.”

“Good.  You may go.”  Ivanov walked from behind the alcove where he watched these meetings, analyzing the body language and forming his own opinions about the interaction from his own unique perspective.

“I think he’s telling the truth Sir.”  Said Ivanov, “I have heard rumors about a certain title on the

web changing hands.”

Dmitri often forgot that Ivanov was a master of all things related to intelligence, even keeping tabs on the blogosphere and a few online forums.

“Tell me more.  What is this title?”  Asked Dmitri.

“It is ironic, the title is ‘The Kai’ meaning king or ruler.  Apparently it is given to a White Hat, ah that is a hacker who uses his or her skills to improve the safety and security of the web and the world at large, who has achieved some major victory.”  Ivanov took a fresh pack of cigarettes from his pocket, opened it and handed one to Dmitri before setting the rest on the desk.

“What is the irony?  Is this man truly a king?  Is he perhaps not one of these so-called White Hats?”  Dmitri asked, lighting the cigarette.

“Not at all; the irony is that I believe the man who has inherited the title shares its name.  His name is Kai Dae-Hyun.  He is a North Korean defector who used to be part of their nuclear program.  Rumor has it his family was liquidated when the Korean government got wind of his plans to leave.”

“So he has stolen data from a spy satellite.”  Dmitri mused, exhaling smoke through his nostrils, “Data we can possibly use or sell at a premium?”

“I believe so.  We would have to move quickly sir; there are other interested parties who will be converging at the same time.”  Said Ivanov, then almost as an afterthought added, “Not to mention the military, although they aren’t much of a threat.  Governments are always constrained by laws and procedure.”

“We fly out tomorrow to Las Vegas then.  I think I am due for a vacation.”

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