When the wind blows

This entry is fiction. It is to illustrate a few points about technology, fanaticism and civil servants. It’s from a series of worst-case fiction from quite some time ago.

Anyway, the web is buzzing with how badly the US is prepared, and it’s true that the US is badly prepared. However, this is a function of allowing the enemy free rein.

Network-centric terror:

the next wave – 5

When the wind blows

There’s a large and bustling city on the west coast known for its cultural heritage – often mentioned with a sneer – and its liberal politics.  It is known for a lot of other things as well, a lot of them rather unsavory.  However, our story does not take place in that city.

There’s another city 50 miles away from the big and famous one.  It’s hardly more than a village – drowsy and sun drenched; just a few shops, a garage and gas station, a church and an old train station long since closed but being kept in shape by a local historical society.  It has a water tower, the closest thing to a landmark in the place.  The tower cannot hold any water, and the ladder for climbing up from the ground has been removed as part of a public safety policy.  Nobody wants kids to climb up and fall down, or drown in any water that might be in the tank.  It carries a large sign which changes from time to time, courtesy of an ad bureau that comes around with a truck towing a boom lift once a quarter and puts up a new sign.  This quarter, the sign is advertising the World Wildlife Fund.

 But there’s something else on the tower, something not so easy to see.  In fact, from the ground you’d be hard pressed to see it at all without a pair of binoculars.

 It is a flattened square of plastic, not quite the same color as the tank but close.  It has been made from two cheap trays that can be had anywhere for a few cents in any of a dozen colors, by simply gluing the trays together with plastic cement, then adding a layer of superglue over the seam to seal it.  It is well that the seal is good, because the contents are dangerous.

 Inside the container is a small cell phone, it’s a quality phone with a very long standby battery life.  It is connected to a small mechanism in the center.  The mechanism is basically an electro-actuated spring.  When a tiny current is applied, the device turns on a burst of power from its own 9-volt battery, which releases by means of an electromagnet, a powerful coil spring between to flat metal plates.  The spring is powerful enough to rip the two halves of the square apart.

 Other than the mechanism, the container holds a quantity of a biological agent in a thin-walled glass canister nestled between one of the metal plates and the container wall. Like the anthrax used in the 2001 mailing attacks it was brought into the country in a diplomatic pouch, and it comes from the same country.  This, though, is of a different class altogether – it is a particularly nasty variant of smallpox.  Unlike the anthrax from 2001, it was acquired from the old Soviet Union outfit known as Biopreparat. It is a powdery suspension designed to float on the slightest amount of wind, and smallpox vaccine is almost useless against it.  It is also quite expensive; the two Biopreparat specialists who sold it netted a cool 20 million dollars for it.  But really, the sale was as much for ideological reasons – in fact, later, they packed up their belongings and went off to join the struggle in the Caucasus, bringing their dollars with them.  Water under the bridge, nobody even remembers them anymore.

 There’s twenty of the small plastic containers east of the big city, varying from20 miles off the city outskirts to 80 milesoff, and they’re all on what is basically a north-south line.  They are in high places: the edge of the water tank, high up on the roof of an office block, on top of an oil tank at a refinery, on a high roadside billboard.  Placing them out was a job; luckily manpower is not a problem for the brothers.  Fastening the things proved to be unproblematic, thanks to the wonderful qualities of modern glues and the fact that the devices are not very heavy.  So there they sit, waiting.

 Meanwhile, clean over at the other end of the state, a computer is sitting quietly in a small apartment.  The owner is a state government official; his political views are well known but people would be shocked to find out exactly how radical he is.  Or perhaps they wouldn’t, these days he seems to be getting more and more the norm.

 The computer is running some unique software.  First, there’s a program automatically accessing a weather service and picking weather data from a number of stations around the city we started out with.  This particular weather service is aggregating data from a huge number of small weather stations around the globe, and so our cheap PC is having a running model of wind and humidity around the target.  The data is automatically fed into another piece of software that the owner has made himself; it is based on something once published by a peace activism organization for illustrating nuclear fallout (input city, size of warhead and wind).  And just today, the program’s conditions have been matched by the observed weather over a period of time long enough to trigger its preset action.  The computer makes 20 quick calls.  And 20 small plastic containers are ripped apart, their internal glass compartments crushed and tossed up into the air in the process.

 There’s no alarm, except on the master computer – a soft buzz and a small flashing window with a message.  The released cloud will reach the city within two hours.  The apartment’s owner arrives home before that, he sees the blinking window and immediately turns the computer off.  Then he retrieves a pre-packed bag and leaves, never to be seen again.

 All in all,4 pounds of biological material of the same quality that was involved in the testing mishap in Aralsk is now heading for its target.  Casualties are expected to be heavy, and retaliation nonexistent.  The target city will probably not, in the end, survive and it’s an open question if the country will.  Containment of an agent of this potency is problematic under the best of circumstances and the amount of travel to and from the target area makes it impossible.

This concludes the first part of looking over the edge.

© Ståle Fagerland 2010

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