Novus Diem

by Tom Walsh

Novus Diem breaks the time barrier and clashes hi-tech with Native American beliefs. It pits the strength of a military super power against a people at peace with the world despite a history of injustice. It is a story of a woman empowered by a compulsion to do the right thing and a man that came to believe in her. They risk everything to set the world straight in the face of formidable odds.


Chapter One


Caffiend Café, Ft. Meade, MD


Dawne took a hefty bite out of her sandwich. She rolled her eyes and shook her head as her friend sitting across from her observed her dramatic gestures. Then, looking at her friend eating a salad she said, “Oh my God, I can hear my mother telling me how to eat a sandwich like a lady!”

“Is she also telling you not to speak with your mouth full?” asked Annie. Her clear plastic ID tag hanging from the lanyard around her neck displayed her name as Anoosh Zakot.

“I’m sorry. I’m just starving!” Dawne said.

“I can tell,” Annie said with humor at play in her smiling eyes. “You didn’t eat any breakfast again this morning, did you?”

“No time, I overslept.”

“Sounds familiar,” Annie said, now sounding perturbed. “You really shouldn’t take work home with you. What good does it do you anyway? You need to get a life.”

“You should talk. Besides, what bad does it do me? Crittendon doesn’t care if I come in late. But since the bombing, he’s probably paying more attention.” Dawne chewed on her sandwich while she thought about it. “Maybe you’re right, I’d better be more careful.” She was thinking out loud as she surveyed the group of young techies eating at the outdoor tables of the café.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You’re a scientist.  He’s not so concerned about the people focused on their research,” Annie said following Dawne’s people-watching gaze. “But now if you had weapons or routine surveillance responsibilities like me, he’d probably have your ass.”

“Yeah well, I guess it’s a good thing I don’t then,” Dawne snapped back. “And he would never touch my ass, I promise you that!” Her animated response drew the attention of a few people seated at the tables nearby. She realized that she had lost control of her volume and quickly covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes widened in mock surprise.

Annie laughed, and then responded in a much quieter voice, “I wish I knew what you’re working on that is so interesting it keeps you up working all hours of the night?”

“You might find out soon enough. We’re having some breakthroughs, well, actually, I am having some breakthroughs.”

“Sounds exciting,” Annie said facetiously, “but you’re not really working solo, are you?”

“The team as a whole is tackling the more mundane issues, but it’s way too cumbersome and everything moves in slow motion. I say it’s a classic case of paralysis through analysis. I need something a little more exciting to keep my work interesting, so I’ve got my own little side project.”

Suddenly the crowd at the bar let out a collective “Ohhh!” Some patrons got up from their seats in the dining area and headed toward the bar to get a closer look at the overhead flat screens hanging above the bar.

“World Cup?” asked Annie.

“Annie, that was over weeks ago,” Dawne said hinting laughter. She always found Annie’s lack of interest in current events outside the world of surveillance very amusing.

“Oh my God!” said two other women in unison at the bar.

Dawne put down her sandwich and nodded at Annie as if to say, let’s go take a look.

They got up and headed over to a growing crowd of people gathering near the bar. As they approached the television screens, Annie abruptly covered her mouth and her eyes began to water. They read the CNN banner running across the bottom of the screen: Israel Launches Retaliatory Nuclear Strikes on Iran. The broadcast showed snippets of iPhone video taken from social media sites. Some showed bright flashes on the horizon; others captured rising mushroom clouds in the distance.

“Annie, come on, we have to get back!” Dawne tucked her hand up under Annie’s arm and pulled her in close. Tightening her grip, she assertively led her out of the restaurant. Annie was sluggish, shocked by the news. Dawne struggled to pull her friend through the crowd as the whole restaurant was now making their way toward the television screens. They were like fish swimming against the current and heading in the opposite direction of everyone else.

On the way to the front door, Dawne stopped their waiter and pulled two twenty-dollar bills from her wristlet. “Keep the change. We’ve got to go.”

The waiter nodded with understanding, though he too appeared distracted over the breaking news that now had the attention of everyone else on staff as well. As soon as some of the crowd realized what had happened, they turned around to make their way out of the place as many of them also worked at the nearby Ft. Meade complex.

Dawne and Annie stepped up their pace as they reached the sidewalk.

“Oh my God,” said Annie trembling, now speaking to herself in Farsi.

Dawne looked at her friend and assumed that she had to be praying. “Keep it together, Annie. If Crittendon sees you like this he’ll take you off the floor, and you know he won’t let you back into the ‘big room’ until you’ve had a complete psych eval.”

Annie nodded, looking into Dawne’s eyes and tried to regain her composure.

“Take deep breaths. Come on, let’s walk.” Dawne led her friend down the street as Annie wiped her eyes with a tissue, then she tilted her head back as she walked. She took deep breaths as she tried to calm herself.

After a couple of blocks of walking, Annie grew more composed. “Okay,” said Annie. “I’m good, I’m good now. Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me, I’m always here for you. You know that, right?”

Annie grinned and nodded in response, and they both stopped to hug each other. They continued on and soon approached the outer perimeter security check at their building complex, flashing their ID badges to the guards at the post just outside the parking lot. Inside the compound, a sign with an arrow pointing to the right read, National Security Agency, and underneath, their motto, “Defending our Nation, Securing the Future.” Another sign with an arrow pointing to the left read, USCYBERCOM.  They walked briskly to the left and once past the second perimeter security check they entered the lobby of the main building. On the center wall between the banks of elevators hung a large government seal, “USCYBERCOM, Ft. Meade.” People jammed into elevators and others fought through waiting crowds to get out. The place resembled a buzzing beehive that had just gotten swatted by a grizzly bear.

They were the last to squeeze into an elevator car as the doors started to close behind them. “Sorry,” said one of two military men who caught the doors just before they shut. Even though the car was as packed as a sardine can, the soldiers somehow managed to position themselves into the elevator. Dawne and Annie looked at each other and then started rolling their eyes in synch. One of the two soldiers had wedged himself between them. His tall muscular physique towered over them, and a large rack of brightly colored service ribbons adorned the front of his uniform. They were positioned on his chest and at eye level to the women, so they couldn’t help but notice them as they looked at each other. Annie bit her lip as she watched Dawne pretend to get dreamy-eyed over the soldier’s display. All the while, the soldier stood there like a rock focusing his gaze on the ceiling of the elevator car. Dawne’s play mockery forced Annie to close her eyes and bite her lip to avoid laughing out loud, though it was a welcome diversion from all the seriousness of the current situation. Annie shook her head but appreciated that this was just one of the many gifts of her friendship with Dawne.

“Dawne! Annie!”

They instantly recognized Bill Crittendon’s voice. Craning their heads, they spotted their boss towering over the other passengers in the rear corner of the car. Dawne responded to his callout with a nod.

“Team conference in the ‘big room’ stat.”  

They looked at each other, their eyes acknowledging what they sensed in Crittendon’s voice. Normally a rock-solid guy in the midst of crisis, the developing events obviously shook him too.

The elevator doors opened and most of the car emptied out. People scurried in all directions. Dawne and Annie headed straight to the ‘big room’, otherwise known as Real-Time Global Surveillance Operations, or RTGSO. Just outside, a normally smiling and cheerful Leon Davis greeted them at the security desk where they underwent the usual comprehensive security process. “Okay, let’s move along, ladies.” The guard desk looked like any other you would see in a corporate lobby, but the security technology at the entrance to the “big room” said that this place was ultra-serious.

“Hi, Leon,” Dawne said, somewhat preoccupied.

“This place got a whole lot serious all of a sudden, Dawne-darlin’,” said Leon.

“I’m sure you’ve heard?” Annie asked.

“Oh yeah. They don’t tell us much but when it’s already on the news it isn’t really classified, now is it?” Leon gave hand signals directing two other security guards assisting in the security process. They quickly put the ladies’ clutches in a cubicle, giving them each a respective tag with a number on it. Dawne and Annie completed their retina scans and one at a time entered the security door to the Big Room. Dawne waited for Annie just inside the door so they could walk out to the main floor together. She watched people exiting elevators and getting into the security line as Annie passed through the security door.

“Leon sure hasn’t been himself lately, has he?” asked Dawne. She looked at Annie thinking that she would again try to deflect Annie’s attention away from her own concerns about the strikes in Iran, though she knew in a few short minutes they would be in the thick of it.

“Nuclear warfare has a way of doing that to you,” said Annie.

“No, I know, but he’s been very different the last few days. I mean, do you ever see Leon really down? I’m worried about him. You know, he just found out that his granddaughter is sick, and I’m sure that is weighing on him.”

“Oh! No, I didn’t know that,” said Annie. “Poor Leon, I hope his granddaughter will be alright.”

“Me too. He’s such a sweet guy,” said Dawne as they made their way out onto the main floor of the Big Room. “He’s like the grandfather you wish you had.” Once again, Dawne was momentarily successful in diverting Annie’s attention away from the crisis that might have dire implications for her own family.

Upon entering the room, they could see a flurry of videos flashing on the large far wall. The Big Room looked much like an amphitheater-style college classroom except with desktop HD flat-screens rather than personal laptops sticker-plastered with all the latest mottos of popular movements that college kids affiliate themselves with. Each workstation on the tiered rows or “decks” had at least three flat screens and each deck had eight workstations. The room supported six decks with a middle aisle and two side aisles. At the bottom of the stairs was a small open floor area that could function like a stage. Rising almost two stories from the stage was a solid wall of flat screens that could operate independently or interconnectedly as one large screen. 

Annie and Dawne now sat at their assigned stations parallel to each other, but with a separating aisle between them. Looking around the room, they could see that some of the consoles were doubled up. People had arrived early for their shifts knowing they’d surely be called to come in as a result of the developing situation in the Middle East. Because there were not enough seats for everyone, some people stood along the perimeter wall. The big screen currently showed a large strike map in the middle. The names of strike targets were lit up in red and bold—Bushehr, Darkhovin, and Natanz. Around the names were multiple circles. At the center of the multilayered circles were bright red solid circles where total annihilation could be expected, no survivors. The people in the room understood that the desert sands in these areas were now not much more than molten glass. These places would be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. The circles extended outward into orange and then yellow circles which represented gradually declining levels of damage and fallout. Information from weather satellites was compiled to predict prevailing winds and plotted the direction of radioactive plumes. From each of the town names were red lines pointing to video boxes around the perimeter that ran media loops from a myriad of sources. Satellite photographs, cell phone video, and real-time drone surveillance video made for one big collage of destruction.

Dawne periodically looked over at Annie, keeping an eye on her ability to cope with what she was seeing.

They watched Bill Crittendon make his way down the center aisle of the Big Room. Bill towered over most of the other men at USCYBERCOM.  With a mild manner and a John Wayne saunter, he also exuded the calculating intellect of Coach Bill Walsh. Those old enough to remember thought his mannerisms sometimes resembled the famous coach pacing the sidelines. Crittendon stayed steady in a crisis, typically calculating and prepared for the daily barrage of incidents around the world, however, today’s events were unprecedented.

Halfway down the steps to the stage in front of the towering screens, Crittendon started speaking like the coach of his beloved team. Just as he spoke, the large screen went black except for the USCYBERCOMMAND emblem in the middle.


"Novus Diem" by Tom Walsh


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Murder Mystery

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