ChinaAir Flight 5026 –
Cflow darts across the intersection, squinty eyes scanning for anything unusual or out of place, his scrawny arms awkwardly laden with a large cardboard box. He spots Tabu scurrying across Av. Belo Campo from the other direction, trying to look inconspicuous, a plastic carrying case gripped firmly in his sweaty hand, the laptop backpack bouncing on his bony shoulders. Cflow carefully props his box against the wall as he digs in his pocket for keys. Glancing up and down the empty side street, he grimaces as his nerves scream. Hot and humid, dead air hangs over the shantytown slightly north and east of Aeroporto Internacional de São Paulo like a soggy blanket. Conditions are perfect.
Corrugated tin burns Tabu’s palm as he kneels on the shanty’s roof to unpack the case. Tabu shakes his reddening hand as he shrugs out of the backpack, glancing at Cflow. Shielded from the street by a rickety parapet, Cflow pulls open cardboard flaps, bends over, reaches down, and lifts it out. Tabu thrills at its high-tech design: a Quadcopter drone mounted with a video camera to document the momentous event. It cost a small fortune in Bitcoin—hard to come by, but virtually untraceable. It’s a shame to see it go.
Fingers sweaty and shaking, Cflow tapes the small payload on top of the Quadcopter’s platform over the camera, making sure the antenna is clear of the blades. His skin crawls as if alive with fire ants. He didn’t think it would be this hard. In fact, he never thought much about it all … until now. Shit! Am I really going to do this? He extends a shaky hand to Tabu, fingers grabbing at empty air. “Gimme it,” he snaps.
Tabu hands Cflow the drone’s radio remote control unit and drops to one knee, firing up the laptop. As Cflow powers up the remote, Tabu checks the recording software for the Quadcopter’s wireless link. “We’re a go.”
Cflow cradles the remote control unit as he bends over the drone to arm the payload. He scuttles back a few feet to crouch behind the parapet. Nodding at Tabu to hit record, he focuses intently on the remote’s LED screen, delicately working the joysticks.
Tabu watches the images on the laptop record as the buzzing Quadcopter lifts off through a black web of power lines. Looking up, he sees the little drone vanish into the thick haze of late afternoon, on its way to the end of runway 27 L.
Golden rays of a sinking sun filter through the gossamer curtains as I study proofs on my laptop, preparing for my next showing from the comfort of my recliner. Callie lounges on our chocolate leather couch, her legs tucked under her, iPad on her lap as she scans her inbox.
Almost imperceptible, yet something … I glance up to catch Callie’s smooth features darken. As her brow furrows, she turns her quizzical look on me, her distress visible. She cocks her head as though listening for faint signals from beyond the ether. Quizzical melts into dismay as she gasps and holds her breath.
“What?” I ask.
Callie shakes her head, leans forward, grabs the remote, and switches on the flatscreen. As it boots, Callie anxiously waits, chewing her lower lip.
Our big screen lights up. I turn my gaze to the TV as she clicks on the Breaking News channel. Garish borders and scrolling text surround graphic live feed. It takes a moment for me to recognize a passenger jet’s flaming wreckage strewn across the rubble of a smoldering ghetto. My heart sinks as I watch, transfixed. The commentator reveals that the horrendous images are the remains of ChinaAir Flight 5026. Chunks of the jet’s fuselage burn out of control, red-orange flames jumping into the smoke-blackened sky, broken structures blazing all around—the charred site reminiscent of a bomb crater. The commentator goes on to say the Boeing 777 was carrying 287 passengers and crew when it exploded on takeoff from São Paulo’s International Airport. The ChinaAir flight was en route to Hong Kong. The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined, but the commentator speculates about an attack, in one breath mentioning half a dozen leading terrorist groups as she notes the 777s relatively clean safety record.
We watch, horrified, as emergency crews arrive at the scene. The commentator tells us that in addition to the potential loss of all passengers and crew, there may be casualties on the ground. My stomach aches like I’ve been sucker punched in the gut. Glancing at Callie, I see tears welling in her eyes.
Suddenly, the TV goes blank and silent, as though someone pulled the plug. Callie looks at me, and I look at the TV’s power button, still glowing green. The screen flashes as the speakers pop. Strange new images waver before our eyes. The pale visage of a Guy Fawkes mask hovers in the center of the screen. Blood red text creeps up the screen, imposing itself over the grinning mask. “We strike this blow for the citizens of Earth. We are Vendetta. We are everywhere and nowhere. Don’t look for us. We are already there.” Another flash and pop. The screen goes blank. Bars of color squiggle across the TV’s face as static buzzes the speakers.
Suddenly, the Breaking News channel pops back on, catching the commentator midsentence. “… apologize for technical difficulties. One moment, please.”
The news cuts away to a Viagra commercial.
“What was that?” Callie asks.
“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Breaking News just got hacked.”
“Who knows? Now I’m wondering if any of that shit was real.”
“You mean the plane crash?”
“Trying Googling it.”
I watch her hit a few keys.
“It’s filling the page … everywhere,” she says. “There’s a video of the explosion …”
The commercial cuts off between frames, replaced by the commentator’s harried features. “I’m told that our broadcast was interrupted, apparently pirated, by the hacktivist group Vendetta. We apologize.” She stops, pressing a forefinger to her ear, listening. “I’ve just been informed that we have a video clip giving more details into the Flight 5026 disaster. Yes. We’ll have it up for you … one moment.”
The commentator’s image is replaced by an aerial view—a strip of asphalt bordered by dirt and grass. A hundred or so feet below, a white, elongated 27 L appears on the runway’s black tarmac. The camera pans to a view down the long runway, an airliner’s white nose and the leading edges of silver wings fast approaching. As the jet lifts off, the camera platform rushes up to meet it. The view is suddenly consumed by the starboard engine’s cowling, turbine blades a spinning blur in its giant maw. A fiery blaze on impact, and the screen goes dark.
My jaw drops as my mouth opens. I’m stunned. All those people … How insane would you have to be to do such a thing?
The commentator reappears. “This video clip and an accompanying message will be turned over to authorities. We can’t release the content of the message until it has been vetted, but we can tell you that the message is allegedly from the Vendetta group claiming responsibility for this tragedy. It alleges that they used a drone armed with an explosive device to attack ChinaAir Flight 5026. The kamikaze drone …”
The TV goes dark, and I glance at Callie as she sets the remote on the table.
“I can’t take any more,” she says.
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Allan Scott, all rights reserved.
A Work In Progress –
Cut-Throat Syndrome, the fourth book in the Lance Underphal Mystery series, delves into the Dark Web, hacking and international terrorism, as well as a paranormal murder mystery. I’m roughly a quarter of the way through the first draft.
Your comments are always appreciated.
The mystery books Dark Side of Sunset Pointe and Flight of the Tarantula Hawk are available on Amazon. Grey Daze is due out later this year and excerpts are up on the blog. Cut-Throat Syndrome will be released in 2015.
For more on Michael Allan Scott, the mystery writer and the Lance Underphal mystery series, go to michaelallanscott.com
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Contributors to photos © Jborzicchi