Laurie made a new game, but the government wants to make it a weapon. They took it and she wants it back. Can she stop them in time?
||4 publishers interested
BLACKOUT steps into the action as David is pulled "into the void" against his will. He is still alive, but cannot sense anything from his body, And he encounters what appears to be his daughter coaxing him to accept his new surroundings. Is it a trap? Has he been kidnapped? What Do you do when you no longer see the computer screen... or even your hands?
I like writing books that excite and and entertain, first and foremost. Bringing together conspiracy about government, the fear of hackers and nefarious organizations, and those genius computer nerds we all know exist in today's learning institutions were the perfect keys to a great story.
For readers who want to jump into the story from the first sentence, BLACKOUT is for you. Telling, reading, and creating stories for many years, this book gives me the opportunity to take my stories to a much wider audience.
There are three major, and one minor, streams in the overall plot. The book has eleven sections, a prologue, and an epilogue. Each section is labeled with a 3-6 word phrase that describes a major movement within the book. Each section also contains three to six chapters that maintain the forward motion of the different streams. The chapters are labeled by their stream to help the majority of readers shift as the story changes perspective.
The sections are:
I - Blackness and Trouble
II - In the Stream
III- Forty Eight Hours
IV- Gear Check
V - The Countdown Begins
VI- Sacrifices We Make
IX - 5..4..3..2..
X - Speed of Light
XI - And the Oceans Wave
BLACKOUT - centers on Laurie and David, a father/daughter pair who are working together to prevent Laurie’s invention from becoming weaponized. Her father David, however, has never heard of Laurie’s invention because it is classified, and she shocks him when he is thrust into the middle of the technology involuntarily.
RED ARROW - This classified project has adapted Laurie’s invention for military use in the most covert form. Bill Cohen, a private military contractor, has taken her work as his own and is developing it as a weapon of opportunity. He is most certainly in collusion with higher level officials, but who?
THE RED KING - A hacker group, The Order, known for its shady dealings with other hackers, sometimes anarchy, has taken stolen knowledge of the classified and, with the help of a wealthy backer, has plans to take over the weapon themselves.
Wall ST (Minor stream) - Nope! Spoilers!!
All good things come to those who wait, and BLACKOUT will not leave you wanting at the end.
Those who enjoy a descriptive read that engages them like watching a movie will enjoy the flow of this book.
Those who like conspiracy theories will enjoy the dark meetings and subplots that enhance the story line, as well as the cause and effect from the characters.
Those who enjoy pure action stories will not be disappointed. Even in the backstory there is a balance between action and description to keep the reader connected. They will enjoy the simplistic transitions between the multiple plot streams and easy reading.
He is formally trained in Organizational Behavior, Business Processes, Negotiation, Information Technology, Business and Project Management. Much of his experience goes into his writing.
He is a protector of children, a voice for those who have needs beyond their grasp, because no child should suffer when someone has the answer to improve their quality of life...especially if it is free.
He is an outspoken evangelist for the Scottish Rite and Shrine Hospitals whose services to children are at no charge to the family whatsoever. He helps raise money for The Ronald McDonald House, who houses families of sick children during treatment for free, in their annual 5/15K races.
Michael enjoys running. He is on the race and web committees for the Citizens Development Center (Achieve - A Place to Grow), whose work to serve adults with mental and physical disabilities is beyond reproach.
Michael is also a veteran of the US Air Force. He enjoys helping veterans find camaraderie and friendship with other veterans through non-profit organizations like Team RWB with his role as volunteer athletic coordinator.
His likes to write fiction novels in the thriller genre, focusing on technology, historical, and military sub-genres.
This project is already engaging through social media, especially through Instagram. I am currently involving Facebook pages, Twitter, and Instagram feeds to engage more followers in those areas. For Twitter and Instagram I am utilizing targeted hashtags and multiple posts with daily success, despite there not being a way to pre-order the book until the campaign begins. I am considering paid advertising on social media, or on book club websites, to engage more readers. I have begun distribution of business cards that point to the website and social media in my local area.
I am a big fan of multiple plots or timelines. Here are stories I have read and enjoyed, which may or may not lend structure to the way I write:
"THE EIGHT" by Katherine Neville, pub. December 27, 1988
"THE OUTLANDER" by Diana Gabaldon, pub. June 1, 1991
"INCA GOLD" by Clive Cussler, pub. 1994
"CROSS FIRE" - by James Patterson, pub. November 15, 2010
"POSEIDON'S ARROW" by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler, pub. November 6, 2012
It was nearly ten thirty on Friday night when the world switched off.
I enjoyed watching re-runs of a sci-fi show I watched 10 years ago when it first aired so much that I recently decided to binge watch the entire series again and see if I had missed anything. Sitting down after work this Friday evening I was not to be disappointed, as there were several episodes "back to back" that caught my attention. I wondered if I had been distracted or just "busy" when they first aired.
It was like a power outage. No, it was more than that. The world went from “on” one second to total blackness the next. No light, no sound, except for a faint hum I thought was my heartbeat. I could not see or hear anything else. No sound from the TV residual power draining from the set, air conditioner, breathing, nothing.
My first thought was panic, but a little voice inside my head kept telling me to stay alert. Panic would not accomplish anything.
I learned that from my SCUBA training long ago, with full gear on, my head just below the surface of the four foot shallow end of a pool in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sitting on the bottom of the pool in the shallow end, I had been warned that my brain would rebel against breathing underwater. I was not to be disappointed, as every part of my being wanted to jump up and suck in the salty air. I was getting very close to flight mode. I had discussed this with scuba friends prior to leaving on vacation, and common sense told me the only way the rest of my family was going to stay under the water was if they saw me do it. Thankfully, that time, I listened.
Sensory deprivation while watching TV was a crude attempt at an explanation, but the manner in which it happened was certainly strange. Logically, I knew if I had died I wouldn’t be thinking this way. In fact, I'm not sure I would be thinking at all.
I convinced myself I had to comprehend the trouble before I could react to it. I was certain there were probably others experiencing this same phenomenon, and they were not reacting that well to it. I focused on the fact that, eventually I might have to help them after helping myself.
Start over with the basics. Still complete darkness...check. My hands seemed to be moving, but I could not see, hear, or feel them...check. More than that I couldn’t get a grasp of whether I was still sitting, standing, falling, or laying down. Orientation is impossible without light, sound or touch. I moved to thinking of the tortures I'd read in spy novels.
The adrenaline began to make me more hyper, and without an outlet it would quickly send me to panic. I knew I was starting to lose it. I fought to control the flight sensation in my head, since the rest of my reality (apparently my body, too) had apparently disappeared without me.
It was my daughter, Laurie! It sounded like she was standing next to me. Well, actually I perceived it more above me but very close.
I thought it strange that I would hear her voice so clearly. Laurie had just started a new job in Boston, which put her nine hours from me.
My whole being was focused on that singular word that seemed to echo over and over. I tried to speak back, but all I heard was silence. What on earth was going on here?
“Dad. I know you can hear me. Tell me you are ok!”
Tell her I was ok? How the heck was I supposed to do that? She was in Boston, and I was in a big, black void going crazy! I thought of the last time Laurie visited; how she looked when she left; the two of us in the living room with her looking out the picture window. I focused on that image for a second: Laurie standing by the window, her nearly 6 foot frame moving in her cat-like way.
She had been blessed with great form and balance all her life, not to mention she could eat anything and it didn't bother her waistline at all. (I grunted inwardly...definitely didn't take after me!) Lately when she walked into a room she commanded the floor. Some might think her a bit aggressive as she walked towards them from a distance, but the blonde ringlets and soft blue eyes showed her confidence instead of a conquering attitude. Nevertheless, once you had her attention she was typically all smiles.
Startlingly, my image of Laurie suddenly took to moving on its own, looked at me and said,
“Good, you can see me! Now talk to me here.”
Ok, now I am hallucinating as well! The words seemed to come out of the picture in my mind, as if my memory had been overtaken by a will of its own. This was really confusing, but at least someone was trying to talk to me. Process of elimination. I hadn’t actually thought to say that to myself. (I don’t think)
I remembered I was in the picture, too, so shifted my perspective so I was looking between the two of us. I saw myself and thought how odd I had such a clear mental picture of me. It was like I was now a third person in the room. Shocked and surprised at the clearer view of my sedentary image, I decided I looked somewhat like a six foot two flamingo, just not pink. Tall, thin, with this big pooch from the middle to the top. Just as I was about to laugh, I heard (saw) her say,
“That's better. Now think the words into your picture.”
Really?? Well, if she was talking to me through my picture of her, then why couldn't I respond in kind? I wonder....and then the words started coming all at once.
The "picture me" tried to keep up, seemed to hesitate for a moment, then both images turned and looked at me with that look of frustration one gives to a child who won't shut up. Oh, this was grand! I was being chastised for talking too fast....BY MY OWN IMAGE!!
"Ok, fine. I’ll slow down", I thought.
I stopped, took a mental breath, and refocused my thoughts on a short phrase.
“Laurie, what are you doing, and how do I know this is real?”
“Oh my god! Daddy!!”, she cried as she threw her arms around “the picture” me.
I was shocked to see her hugging another man, then realized it was me, which was still sending my brain in circles trying to comprehend. I decided the best approach was to get at the problem at hand.
“Wait a minute? What happened? Why can’t I see you....er, with my eyes?”
There was a long moment of silence where she seemed to just look at my image carefully, like a cat looks at its owner when it wants something. I was about to get impatient and ask again, when she came out of it.
“Oh Daddy, I’m so sorry. You must be really scared.”
I still flinched mentally at hearing her so clearly. Naturally, my image did, too. It was like controlling a marionette with my mind, just "very" lifelike. Watching the physical echo I almost chuckled again, but instead focused on an answer.
“No, at this moment I am very confused, but let’s start with the basics. Where am I?”
I had always been consumed with my work, but I was trained to spot trouble by the way a company operates. I had been a consultant for so long that children slightly older than my own had taken over the jobs I had identified as possible transition points into the company. I look back now and am glad I never took one.
Those kids were faster, smarter, and carried a different kind of baggage than I could imagine. I watched, utterly amazed at the fortitude of some of them, as they rose through the ranks and began changing the strategy and direction of the company...aka my client.
Like most young, hungry people of this generation they also took too many shortcuts. Some gambles paid off, but most wound up being bad decisions that proved detrimental to the 'bottom line'. Of course, the consequence of bad decisions is that the company loses business; much of it due to those rookie, mindless mistakes. Every new executive had an agenda and, of course, wanted profits to climb.
Their Achilles Heel was their craving for immediate gratification, a generation raised on microwaves, cell phones, swipe and click pay systems, and internet apps that do everything except help you bathe.
Long forgotten was the attitudes of courtesy and hard work. Even teamwork was now just a mention, with everyone expecting everyone else to cater to them. They consumed their thoughts with making quick windfalls rather than multitudes over time.
Thankfully I was out of reach. A consultant at the upper level, I was afforded the contractual privilege of seeing things before they happen, yet shielded from the corporate expansion and contraction that was constant and inevitable. I had a Top Secret clearance that they needed for a specific government contract. So long as that reason didn't go away, and I fulfilled my contract obligations, I could sit and watch the show from the sidelines. Gladly! It was a lucrative spot I had landed late in my career, and one for which I was very thankful .
In all consulting, practitioners know the client "knows what they want." A good consultant answers questions about their responsibility, but maintains neutrality on matters where their opinions might not be received as well by the rest of the staff…especially the Executive staff.
Watching the downfall of this company was like a tragedy being played in slow motion on stage. I had seen this particular play before, and I knew the eventual outcome. That made me very nervous, but I had a strange feeling it was lucrative for me to stay and watch instead of getting up to leave in the final act. It was the best decision of my career.
Although I watched it unfold, I was still taken aback that the corporate world I knew was about to implode. I remembered the lessons I had learned from long ago on how to handle these situations. I took a long breath and listened to the speaker at the company annual meeting. Yes, there it was again, in the speech being given by the CIO. He was redirecting all efforts to completing all current projects and constructing an archive of all documentation “for legal purposes”. The beginning of the shutdown had occurred. It would be a matter of months until all operations would cease and the company would no longer be able to pay its employees.
I began working from my home office to be ready to transition out as soon as possible, updating my resume in the process. This was nothing new. I knew to react calmly because this is the world of consulting.
When I was younger I had enlisted in the military and entered Military Basic Training. Fortunately, several non-traditionally aged trainees (‘old guys’, to us teenagers) started explaining the “boot camp” game. They taught us how to play it to win. That sage advice was drilled into our heads whenever our instructors were not around, and so it became as much second nature as the rest of the military training we received.
“Don’t overreact unless it is an emergency and you are in danger, but only to get yourself and your buddies to safety. Work quickly and quietly, even under pressure. Ignore everything around you and do your tasks right the first time. Take everything told to you calmly, even the yelling and screaming, even if your body wants to scream or destroy something. Restrain yourself and look at your situation through the lens of a camera, observing it as if it was a television show and not your own. Give yourself that extra time to clearly understand ALL of what is being said and done, then make your decisions and your actions with logic and innovation instead of emotion. That is how you succeed.”
Those wise words have saved me some serious issues over the years. In this case, seeing the company on the verge of implosion was my first clue. I refocused on closing my projects and watched as the company went from over four hundred people to just under fifty. During that time I closed almost everything except one project that didn't seem to be winding down. I worked more closely with my technical writers to ensure the documentation was correct in case it was to be rolled to someone else to watch.
This lone standout was the classified government project I was hired for in the beginning. It was slightly beyond my clearance level to know exactly what it did, but I was compartmentalized to managing just the hours and materials. I was told it was closing, so I kept the final reports updated and ready to turn in while I waited for the call into the CIO’s office to be given my notice to leave.
Oddly, it never happened. That was eleven years ago.
I’m still managing that one project. I’m still getting paid, per my contract, for doing my job but the company is long gone now. I still get project updates on materials and resources for my reports and I send them to my CIO’s email address twice a week. He gives me feedback on what reports are necessary, and what to look for in the redacted pdfs to put on the next reports.
I've never been curious about the redactions. I like my job. I still get paid through direct deposit to my bank account. My hourly rate has been automatically increased by three percent each year. I have six weeks of vacation each year, which I schedule and take for family times and personal vacations with my wife and children. Strangely, no reports or updates are sent to me during the times I am gone. I return from vacation and start back to work without any overhead or missed deadlines. The lack of email makes the job dull, so I keep my education and experience well up-to-date.
For the first six months I was very unsure about this apparently “virtual” situation. I would think, “Where is the payroll? Where is Accounting? Where is HR? How am I still getting paid?”
I tried to contact a physical body in the corporate office only to find the main numbers had been disconnected. I tried discussing it with my CIO, Bill, in email, but his responses seemed to be vague and not very satisfactory.
He would write, “Look at it this way, we still have a job. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Bill was a typical Texan, full of enough euphemisms, anecdotes, and one liners that would last a comedian a lifetime. We had many great conversations at lunches the first few years. He was a master at steering clear of work related discussions in person. After moving to my home office, we met the first year once a month and then he stopped offering. I supposed it was his expenses were not being paid, so I offered to take him to lunch one time. He declined and told me he was relocating from The Valley back to Texas. I knew his kids lived somewhere in California, so again I was confused.
“What’s in Texas?”, I asked.
“Me” was all he replied.
Cohen chose to wear a black suit with a red and gold “power tie”. His tall frame, trim but muscular, and natural posture was enough to get him in anywhere, and the black and red screamed "get out of my way". Not that it mattered to him, since his mind was not concerned with social triviality. He had long ago embarked on a path he knew would put him near the top, but not so far as to need bodyguards and plans to ward off assassins. Others could have that glory. He had plans of his own, and right now this was a key piece in the timeline of that reality.
He approached a double door in the middle of a long hallway that resembled a hall of state. It was tiled with italian tile that echoed the clicking of the plastic taps on his heels as he walked, and paintings that could rival most palaces with their size and detail. This was very different from the normal government offices he had worked in before. The people who worked there were apparently happier.
He furrowed his brow at the thought of happy people at work, not that he thought they should be angry or sad. In his experience, more incidents tended to happen in secured facilities when people let down their guards. It happened more when they were satisfied than when they were worried. Simple fact.
He held a tablet in his left hand, bound in executive leather, with the hint of an expensive Monteblanc pen sticking out the end. The tablet protected an electronic organizer, for which he had no use, and a pad of paper that was worth more to him than all the tablets in the building. He was 'old school' and proud of it. He recalled the voice of his mentor, a Colonel, for whom he was an aide for 15 years. "Things should be written down on paper, so they are not lost when the batteries run out. Others should be memorized and passed mouth to ear, because they should never be written for all to see."
He only took notes when he had to, and this might be one of those times. He also knew that good presentation opened doors of opportunity, made impossible sales, and could get a GED turned MBA into wherever he wanted. He was certain, because he had done it.
His receding black hair was showing his age, but he didn’t mind. Age had not diminished the rest of his abilities, and he was proud of that fact. His hand-tailored suit fit his fifty three year old body as well as it would someone twenty years younger. His three day a week habit of workouts and running kept him in top condition. The once a week judo kept him limber, and he moved so decisively and quickly that many people couldn’t keep up with him at a walk.
Two very large Marines in immaculate uniform stood at attention on either side of the doors as he approached. A glance from Cohen to the nearest door sent one quickly into motion to open it. The other stayed at attention and kept his post. The suit walked through the door. No words were spoken. No salutes given. He had access, but he was no longer military.
“Are you sure you were able to attach them to the software properly from this end?", he immediately barked to one of the military technicians in the middle of the room. He was still unsure of the technical side of the project, but he knew enough to ask the right questions.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Cohen," came the snappy response of the Captain in charge of the project. He almost snapped to attention and saluted at the bearing and tone of the man heading from the door to the center of the room, then for a split second wondered why he felt the need. He didn't know Cohen's past, as he was fairly new to the project, but if the man was not a former Marine he should have been. Regardless, he was going to perform his role to the best of his ability, as was expected.
"All present and accounted for. Unfortunately, we were not able to fully train all of them before bringing them online, so we are having to find those who are 'having difficulties' and deal with them one by one. It may be some time before we are fully operational, sir."
That last 'sir' was not out of respect for Cohen's demeanor, it was because he was born and raised in the South and did that with everyone. Jason found it added that 'customer service' appeal to his interaction with chain of command, thereby giving him a better standing than his peers.
Cohen was not impressed, either with the Southern hospitality or his answer. He looked around at the stations, saw all the technicians were busy, and calmly walked close to the officer and lowered his voice.
"Jason, you have your orders to get this facility fully operational in the next 72 hours. Unless you want to face that committee yourself and explain these obstacles, I would strongly suggest you improve your efforts to contain this little setback to avoid any 'repercussions'."
Cohen added emphasis to that last word hoping Jason would understand, but he didn't. Jason looked at him and Cohen just shrugged his shoulders. The kid didn't get it, but he knew the Captain would do his best to get things back on track. He was recommended as a rising star, but Cohen wondered if he really had the aspiration for what was about to happen. Cohen tried again, feigning a dumb tone that suggested sarcasm.
"I, for one, am not sure what 'repercussions' at this level actually means."
That caught Jason off guard, and the realization spread over his face in a millisecond. The young Captain was visibly shaken, but just as quickly regained control of himself. He scanned the area to see if anyone had heard the exchange and, finding no obvious lurkers, returned his gaze to Cohen. As well as a politician might find a witty comeback, Jason retorted with calmness and humility in his voice.
"I am following your instructions to the letter. If anyone knows how this is supposed to work, you do Mr. Cohen, but I’m in a little over my head. I know it was above my pay grade to know the entire operation before, but I feel that if I now bear the responsibility ‘of’ the operation, I should be read in more fully. I'm not arguing, sir, just clarifying."
Cohen smiled at his new subordinate and softened. Maybe he did have the stomach for this job, and the next, after all. Yes, the Captain was right. He was in a higher level of responsibility now. When his former commander had been reassigned he was promoted to Captain, all in the span of a month. Jason was still young and impressionable, and had taken well to the relationship with Cohen. He was definitely a keeper for an assistant, and showing he could interact with tact to his commanders as well.
"Jason, you know I can't do that without authorization, but you are right. I will ask for authorization today and get back with you this afternoon. For now, be the iron fist and get these anomalies ironed out, ok?"
Jason stood at attention, gave a quick salute with the hint of a satisfied smile. He didn't care if the man was military or not. He saw Cohen was going to look out for his best interests, and this was going to be a good partnership.
Cohen gave a last look at the control room, filled with hundreds of monitors. He could see a few of the screens had edges of bright blue, indicating the subject was online and operational. Others had green, orange, or red. From what he knew green was learning mode. Orange meant they were in transition to green. These were future issues if they didn't turn to green soon.
Mostly minor issues happened between orange, green, and blue. Red was critical. It was these screens the technicians were focused on, trying to get the subjects to transition. How, or to what, Cohen didn't know.
Two screens were black, and these had not escaped Cohen's current sweep of the room. He scowled. Subjects in these screens had been terminated from the program. They did not transition, and no matter how hard the team in his room worked, they simply could not make it happen.
The decision had finally been made by the committee that they were incompatible with the program. Termination was the only option, and that bothered Cohen. Nobody had told him what exactly was involved in termination from the program, and he didn't ask. He guessed it was for plausible deniability. Whether he could guess from the different information he reported, or simply didn't want the burden, he decided it was better if he didn't know.
Looking back at the black screens, Cohen was still skeptical that these two had been critical components of the program. He knew that, of the ten remaining red screens, losing more than two would be considered a failure. All participation would be terminated if the program was scrapped. He shook his head to clear his mind of this thought and concentrated on the orange screens. Lines of code were in a continuous stream down the monitor. That was a good sign…he hoped.
Satisfied he had all the information he could obtain for now, he looked quickly back at the Captain, who had returned to his duty managing the technicians. Knowing the control room was in good hands, he turned and exited the room. The guard inside opened the door, and he saw the outside guard within view stiffen to attention. He walked through the door and thought of the immensity of the program. Outside, he looked back at the guards as he turned down the hallway. He wondered what they would think if they knew what they were guarding. He gave a short nod and grim smile at their gaze, then continued on to his meeting.