A techno-thriller novel that pits a band of renegades against the National Security Agency and their plans for a surveillance state.
Hi! My name's Steve and my project is to self-publish my novel. It's a techno-thriller called Cyber Eye.
Cyber Eye pits a university professor, a plucky college student, a professional spy, and an erstwhile member of the Hong Kong Triads together against the National Security Agency's nefarious plan to subject unsuspecting citizens to an Orwellian nightmare of constant state surveillance--everywhere!
Here are the first three chapters:
Justin inspected his face in the mirror as he shaved his cheeks and trimmed his goatee with an electric razor.
Damn gray hairs.
He set down the razor and reached for the tweezers, plucking an aberrant hair from his chin. Running his fingers around his deep-set hazel eyes, he smoothed out drooping bags and baby crow’s feet forming at the corners. The face that stared back at him once sported a smooth brow, sharp jaw line, and a definable single chin, but time had creased its features and blunted the edges. Short of a crash diet, a personal trainer, Botox, and surgery, no amount of prodding and poking was going to change things. And he wasn’t desperate or vain enough for those solutions…yet.
Huffing, he pulled a comb through his wavy auburn hair and glanced with a wince down at his bulging stomach.
“Jesus, I’m getting old and out of shape,” he lamented.
As if this was the first time he’d noticed. Reluctantly, he stepped on the digital scale.
At his height of five-eleven and weight, he’d always just thought of himself as having a large frame, until a recent visit to the doctor’s office declared him overweight.
He cinched the towel tighter around his waist.
Now just past his forty-fifth birthday, Justin Mazor, Ph.D., had burned the candle at both ends to fast-track his academic career. He graduated Princeton cum laude at twenty-two with a degree in computer science and received his doctorate in electrical engineering from MIT four years later. After a few years in the corporate sector, he was wooed back to MIT to work in the Media Lab and help start its Wearable Computing Project. He spent ten years teaching and doing research until he finally earned full professorship and was given his own research laboratory and staff.
Two years ago, at the pinnacle of his professional career, his wife Cathy had filed for divorce, accusing him of caring more about his career than her. He’d admitted she was right, and her attorney lobbed off half his bank account, the rest of his money going to the mortgage on the pricy loft.
And now he had nothing to show for the last decade but his lab and his work.
No more wife.
No social life whatsoever.
Since Cathy had left him, all he could manage to do was work and sleep, sustaining himself on bar food, coffee, and alcohol. The former whiz kid was now a middle aged basket case.
Wiping off remnants of shaving cream from his face with a towel, Justin vowed to make up for the years he’d devoted to his career at the expense of his life. He needed to start by getting laid. And he had just the plan.
The soft lighting and polished surfaces of his spacious high-ceilinged loft condo welcomed him into the main open room where he donned a pair of dark Euro-style jeans, a brown Merino wool sweater and a black leather sport coat. He stared forlornly at the kitchen counter island, where pizza boxes and empty beer cans anxiously awaited his cleaning lady, as if by some miracle a healthy home-cooked breakfast would suddenly materialize on its own.
At the door the gaping mouths of his favorite Italian loafers awaited his feet and he gave himself a last grudging once-over in the mirror.
He ran his hand through his hair just like the suave actor in the Just for Men commercial.
Not too bad, he complimented himself.
Then his shoulders slumped. Who was he kidding? He was just a middle-aged tech geek with no social skills and no girlfriend.
Grabbing his laptop bag, keys and MIT faculty ID badge from the entryway table, he locked the door behind him and doubted even his prowess with computer technology would be able to get him a date with a campus coed.
But he was going to try anyway.
Justin began the four-block walk from his loft next to the Metro Boston Transit Authority station to his Media Lab office in the sleek tile and glass-wrapped Wiesner Building designed by alumnus I.M. Pei back in the mid-’80s hotshot architect days. Passing the Hayward Street parking lot, he glanced over at his red 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce collecting dust. He rarely needed to drive anywhere. Not when everything he needed—beer, fast food, work—was all within a three-mile radius.
Spring sunshine reflected off the front windows of Boston Baked Beans Coffee Roasters around the corner where he ducked in to get his morning caffeine and sugar fix. In place of the plump barista who usually prepared his daily infusion was a petite coffee-with-cream-skinned girl with dark roast eyes, and long straight hair as lustrous as freshly roasted espresso beans, which was pulled back into a ponytail leaving her bangs to frame her preternaturally perky face.
“How can I help you, sir?” she asked, snapping her head from a biology textbook as she removed the earbuds of her iPod.
“Uh…the other girl—”
“You mean Jen?”
“Yeah, I think so. Kinda short and well…” He gestured with his hands to indicate her sizable girth.
The girl behind the counter covered her mouth and laughed. “Yes, that’s Jen. She called in sick today so I’m filling in for her. I usually work the later shift, which I prefer since it gives me more time to study. You shoulda seen the rush we had a little while ago. I guess most of the work crowd is already at their desks sipping their lattes. So anyway, what can I get for you?”
Justin blinked, not used to the banter. “Well, Jen usually makes me a triple-shot latte with a dash of almond syrup. Oh, and a cheese Danish to go, please.”
“No problem,” she replied, peering at him over the espresso machine. “I see you’ve got a serious habit.”
Justin chuckled nervously, like an addict waiting for his heroin to melt in the spoon. He and Jen never talked this much. Their transactions were strictly business, just like between dealer and junkie. Besides, he had never been very good at making small talk, especially with good-looking women. Except for his ex-wife. Cathy had been as socially awkward as he when they first met in graduate school. But over the years she gradually shed her social insecurities and made many friends and went to lots of parties. Justin, on the other hand, had a difficult time relating to people outside of his lab or lecture hall, which was another reason she had left him.
“Hey, aren’t you Professor Mazor?”
Justin shuffled his feet and squinted at her. “Yes…”
“I took your Introduction to Cybernetics course last semester. Remember when you were talking about how we’ll all have ‘intracranial microchip implants’ in the near future that will give us expanded senses like x-ray vision?”
Justin’s demeanor turned academic. “Of course. But first it’ll probably be infrared vision like some insects have.”
“Well, I got to thinking that psychics and clairvoyants—maybe everybody—could have access to natural extrasensory abilities without having to resort to some chips implanted—”
“I guess I don’t know much about ESP and all that pseudoscience stuff,” he said sarcastically.
“Relax, Professor,” she smiled as she handed him his coffee. “I really liked your lectures. They made me think there’s so much more to human potential than most of us are currently using. So thanks for inspiring me to wonder how we can tap into our inner possibilities.”
“Oh…you’re welcome,” was all he could think to say. This was getting too heavy for him without some caffeine at least. “How much do I owe you?”
“Um…let’s see.” Her nails clacked on the terminal. “That’ll be seven dollars and thirty-five cents, please.”
He fished into his pocket. “Here’s a ten. Keep the change.”
“Thank you, Professor Mazor,” she said in a chiming voice. “I mean, I’m on a partial scholarship, but tips are always nice. By the way, my name is Charlotte. My friends call me Charley. You can call me Charley too, if you want.” She put her earbuds back in and waved goodbye, flashing him a wink.
“Nice to meet you,” Justin mumbled as he turned to leave.
God, that was lame. She’s really cute and I think she just winked at me. I wonder if she was flirting…Jesus, Justin, you really need help. She’s probably just friendly with everyone.
Outside he felt like an idiot for becoming so defensive over her idea about psychics having access to parts of the brain that gave them extrasensory perception. He had never given much credence to the idea that the brain might already have dormant capacities for superhuman abilities. His entire career was predicated upon people needing machine assistance for that.
Several footsteps later, his attention already returned to what awaited him at the lab and he’d forgotten his encounter with the new barista. To compensate for his lousy breakfast, Justin routinely huffed and puffed up the stairs to the third floor of the Media Lab building thinking that would somehow compensate.
He swiped his badge at a door stenciled Special Wearable Computing Project Lab and entered his engineering lab crammed with racks of computer servers, stainless steel tables strewn with microchips and ultra-miniaturized circuitry boards, and a precision-laser CNC machine used for fabricating small mechanical parts.
Alexei Andropov, 28, the lab’s prematurely balding head programmer, swiveled his bear-like frame around from his workstation to greet him. “Good morning, Professor!” he boomed in a thick Russian accent.
“Good morning, Alexei.” Justin set down his coffee and Danish at his workstation facing Alexei’s, took off his leather sport coat, and draped it over the back of his chair. These days Justin usually arrived at the lab no earlier than nine o’clock. He left the early shift up to his lab assistants now.
“Look at you!” Alexei waved his arms toward Justin. “It’s only ten o’clock in the morning and you look like you’re all ready for a night out on the town.”
“Well…I want to get an early start—”
A chime on his workstation announced a visitor at the lab door. Justin leaned over and pressed a key. The screen showed a man who looked like an armored car driver. “Who is it?”
“Special delivery from the Department of Defense.”
Justin buzzed him in and turned to face the door.
The armed courier’s eyes cut from Alexei to Justin. “You Justin Mazor?”
The courier extended what looked like a handheld barcode scanner. “Press your eyes against this,” he instructed with humorless authority.
Justin recognized the device. “I’ve done this before.”
“Oh…were you in Fallujah too?” The courier perked up a bit. “I was a captain in the 1st Marine Division. We had to iris scan all those fucking towelheads before we’d let ’em back in the city.”
“No, no…I was just—”
“Sir, just put your eye against the scanner.” The courier snapped back to his original demeanor.
Justin did as he was told and the courier handed him an envelope that was accompanied by official-looking papers stamped with ominous warnings about wrongful delivery and unauthorized use.
The armed courier spun on his heels and strode out as pur-posefully as he’d come.
Justin arched an eyebrow and took a seat at his workstation. “Excellent,” he declared with satisfaction as he flicked open the envelope with his thumb.
Alexei popped his head around his computer monitor. “What is it, boss?”
“We got our security clearance code chip from DARPA.” He waved a tiny plastic box at Alexei, got up, and went over the corner of the lab to a keypad mounted on the wall. After punching in a string of numbers, a heavy steel box with a tempered glass lid slid out from a recessed vault. Peering through the lid at a pair of titanium-framed half-rimmed glasses bathed in a soft blue LED glow, he recalled the morning two years before when a couple of men wearing dark suits came to his brand new lab.
They had announced they were from the Information Awareness Office of the Department of Defense agency called DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—and wanted to fund his research and development. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Just a month before Justin had been given full professorship and his own lab, but desperately needed additional funding to continue his R&D into advanced wearable computing devices. The two men explained that his technology was a perfect fit for their application and wanted him to continue with his current project making a pair of digitally immersive eyeglasses. They gave Justin a check for ten million dollars on the spot and told him they would be make periodic visits to monitor his progress.
Before they left, the tall gaunt man with the blond buzz cut who had introduced himself as Agent Tennin logged Justin’s identity with a portable iris scanner, handed him a business card, and told him the project was code-named Cyber Eye, operating in conjunction with the TIA, the Total Information Awareness agency branch of the NSA. The card even had a logo with an eyeball inside a triangle atop a pyramid, just like the one on the back of a dollar bill, except that this all-seeing eye was gazing out over an image of the world. Inside the logo was the phrase Scientia est Potentia, Latin for “Knowledge is Power.”
Justin had involuntarily broken out in laughter at the hokey logo, but the agents were dead serious when they told him their meeting had been strictly confidential and they would be watching him.
Back to the present, Justin pressed his thumb onto a biometric pad on the lid of the hardened steel box and it opened with a pshhhh of compressed air. He brought the glasses over to a workbench and carefully set them down on a cushioned pad under a large magnifying glass. Steadying his right hand with his left, he used precision tweezers to insert the miniscule DARPA code chip into the glasses’ left armature. Alexei looked over his shoulder as Justin held the glasses aloft and admired his handiwork.
“They’re finally finished,” announced Justin with a sigh of satisfaction.
“Try them on.”
The Cyber Eye glasses were truly a feat of engineering. Crafted from a lightweight yet strong titanium alloy and carbon fiber, their styling cues taken from the latest eyewear fashion, they looked like an ordinary pair of high-end spectacles. But hidden within the glasses’ sleek lines, black anodized frames, and polished beveled-edge lenses, were cutting edge sensors, optics, and super thin laminate circuitry enabling advanced human/computer interface capabilities.
Justin slid the glasses onto his face. When the nose rests touched his skin the glasses powered up. They could run continuously for five days on micrometer layer lithium polymer batteries before recharging in the box. Facing forward where the frames met the arms was a pair of completely undetectable high-resolution cameras for binocular machine vision imaging, and a single HD camera and microphone embedded in the bridge for video and sound. Now that the DARPA code chip was in-stalled, audio samples, still images, and full-motion video could be uploaded from anywhere in the world to the TIA agency databases via Wi-Fi hotspots, standard cellular networks, and the global array of Department of Defense satellites.
A digital heads-up display appeared before his entire field of vision giving him real-time data feedback about almost all objects and people he looked at. Information was displayed without impairing or obstructing normal vision, like having a virtual reality version of a clear plastic transparency laid over everything in front of him. Justin watched as the systems check finished and an icon bar popped up at the top of the display.
“Did you activate DARPA code chip authorization?” Justin asked his head programmer.
“Sure did, boss.”
While Justin’s eyes stayed fixed on Alexei for two seconds, infrared sensors in the glasses took positioning cues from Justin’s irises and adjusted Cyber Eye’s focal point in space by determining the distance between his eyes’ lenses and corneas. This, in turn, made Alexei’s face appear to Justin as an outlined digital dataset. Justin then initiated the facial recognition application by moving his eyes over the image capture and identification icon at the top of the virtual display. The infrared sensors in the glasses calculated the movement of his pupils relative to the icon’s position in cyberspace and caused the icon to flash as his eyes hovered over it. To the casual observer nothing would seem out of the ordinary for the eyes of the person wearing the Cyber Eye glasses to look up during conversation as people normally do when searching their memory. When he unobtrusively tapped his teeth together a microphone embedded in the glasses’ earpieces picked up the sound traveling through his jaw, performing the same function as the click of a mouse button. As far as the teeth clacking, people usually chalked that up to a nervous tic or stress-induced jaw clenching.
With the click of his teeth, the Cyber Eye glasses captured an image of Alexei’s face and sent it to the TIA agency computers where facial recognition software and a database query returned a positive match and a file. Nearly instantaneously a data cloud of text enveloped Alexei’s head. Justin read the text just as one would read from a computer monitor a foot or two away. He scanned vital statistics, a short bio, and even the most recent credit card transactions the TIA had accumulated on his programmer.
Damn, the Feds have been busy. “You never told me you were captain of the varsity football team at Harvard.”
Alexei’s eyes widened. “Yeah…well I know you don’t care much about athletics. "Wow! Is that really in there?”
“Oh, and I see you reserved a room at the Lenox Inn this weekend. So you weren’t going to tell me about that either?”
“Sorry boss.” His cheeks reddened. “I was intending to tell you I got Trish to cover for me this weekend here at the lab. I’m taking this girl I met at the Laundromat to the Berkshires for a weekend getaway.”
“It’s OK, Alexei,” Justin laughed, clapping him on the back. “Way to go!”
Alexei crossed his burly arms. “Shit, I can’t believe that’s all in there. Don’t you find it a bit scary that the Department of Defense has access to our credit card records and stuff?”
“Yeah, well…it depends on what DOD is going to do with it I guess. Right now all I care about is the multi-million dollar contract for my lab and our paychecks. Besides, I’m going to have a little fun with the glasses this weekend before they come pick them up on Monday.”
“You think that’s a good idea, boss? I mean…I doubt your DARPA buddies would like you taking the Cyber Eye glasses out of the lab without their authorization.”
“You didn’t get authorization from me before you asked Trish to cover you so you can go bone your new girlfriend,” Justin rebutted jealously.
“Sorry, Alexei. Let’s just both have a good weekend. You know I haven’t been on any dates since Cathy left me.”
“That was over two years ago.”
Justin took off the glasses and slowly rotated them, inspecting his invention. He shrugged his shoulders and gave Alexei a pathetic grin. “You don’t have to rub it in. I was just counting on these to help me get laid this weekend.”
Alexei scratched his head, trying to squelch his laughter. “You really think those’ll help?”
“I don’t know,” Justin admitted, shrugging, “but I’m going to give ’em the ol’ college try.”
They both guffawed heartily and elbowed each other in the ribs.
Justin replaced the Cyber Eye glasses on his face, scooped up his coat jacket and turned to exit. “Before you take off today, Alexei, leave a note for Trish that I’ve taken the glasses for some ‘field testing’ so she doesn’t think they were stolen.”
As Justin backed out the door Alexei winked and offered, “Good luck, Boss!”
“Thanks,” Justin replied with a smirk.
Out on the sidewalk, Justin figured it wasn’t too early for lunch so he headed to The Brass Rail Bar and Grill on Broadway where he ate every day. Cutting through a small park, he stopped to admire the leaves budding on a small well-proportioned tree. Spring was his favorite time of year.
On a lark he backed up to get a full view of the tree, hovered his eyes over the image capture and ID icon, and clicked his teeth. Right away a datacloud filled his vision telling him the dimensions of the tree, its probable age and that it was an acer saccharum—a sugar maple. A small bird alit on a nearby branch and started singing. His eyes loomed over the audio capture and ID button and immediately the database told him it was a Kentucky Warbler, oporornis formosus, and judging from his GPS location probably on its migratory route from the Yucatán.
“Fucking amazing!” he said loudly as an elderly woman passing by scowled at him. These glasses work better than I imagined, he thought to himself. Moving his eyes down to the left to clear the text from his field of vision, he continued on to The Brass Rail.
Justin eased into his usual stool at the bar and waited for the bartender to come over. “Hey, Danny.”
The old Irish barkeep sidled up to Justin. “You’re a little early today, Professor Mazor.”
“It’s never too early to drink.”
They both chuckled.
“And you’re all dressed up. Gotta date?”
Justin grimaced. “No…not yet.”
They had been going through the same routine ever since Justin first starting eating here two years ago after his divorce. Danny poured him a scotch and soda and turned to tap his order into a touchscreen computer.
Danny scrutinized his regular. “Did you get new glasses?”
“Uh, yeah…do you like them?” Justin posed.
“Nice. Real modern looking. I s’pose you got those fancy progressive bifocals, too.”
If he only knew.
Justin resisted using the Cyber Eye glasses to run a profile on the barkeep. He liked Danny too much to delve into his personal life. Waiting for his lunch to arrive, Justin picked up a Boston Globe newspaper sitting on the stool next to him. On page A8 a one-paragraph article caught his eye. The caption above it read, “Two Hikers Found Dead on A.T. in Berkshires.” It briefly described that two day hikers, whose identities were still undetermined, were found dead from unknown causes along the Appalachian Trail in western Massachusetts. There was something about the article that struck Justin as very peculiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. “Cyber Eye,” he spoke quietly, prompting the glasses’ voice recognition software, “save as text to file AT1.” The Cyber Eye glasses responded to his verbal com-mand, converting the image to text with an OCR program and saving the article to its onboard memory.
“Did you say something?” asked Danny as he brought over Justin’s food.
Justin folded the paper away. “Oh…no, I was just talking to myself.”
Danny slid an order of The Brass Rail’s signature onion and pickle-stuffed hamburger and cheese fries in front of Justin, and leaned over the plate to whisper in his ear. “Check out the woman who just sat down at the end of the bar.” He cocked his head to his right. “Maybe you should buy her a drink.”
Justin casually turned his head to the side. Sitting four stools away was a stunning thirty-something blonde wearing a tight fitting powder blue business suit over a low cut silk blouse. She glanced over at Justin and caught him checking her out. He turned to examine at his plate, but not before he was able to ID her through the TIA database. The datacloud informed him that her name was Zvetlana Orlov, originally from the Ukraine. Master’s degree in mathematics and cryptography from the University of Kiev.
Beautiful and smart. Just my type.
After Justin had ingested half his burger and finished his drink he summoned Danny back over. The Cyber Eye glasses had given him an opening and the alcohol courage.
“Get me another scotch and whatever she’s drinking.”
The bartender brought another cosmopolitan to the woman and pointed towards Justin. She nodded and took a sip, eyeing Justin with a friendly smile. Picking up her purse, she sauntered over to the stool next to him. The smell of her musky-sweet perfume sent a shudder up his spine.
“Thanks for the drink. My name is Zvetlana,” she introduced herself in a throaty voice as she extended her slender hand.
Shaking her hand, Justin couldn’t help but steal a glimpse of her breasts rising up to greet him from under the sheer fabric of her blouse. “Uh…my name is Justin Mazor.” He initiated the vocal pattern recognition application on the Cyber Eye glasses.
She inched onto the stool and crossed, then uncrossed, her legs. “Nice to meet you, Justin.”
The Cyber Eye glasses returned the TIA database analysis: Russian dialect probably from Crimean autonomous region of Ukraine on the Black Sea. “From the sound of your accent I would guess you’re from the Ukraine, perhaps around the Crimean peninsula.”
“Very impressive. How did you know?”
“Oh, just a wild guess,” he grinned.
“Well, you’re right. I’m from Sevastopol. What else can you guess about me?” she asked, flipping her hair back and leaning in closer to him.
He had to fight the urge to stare down her blouse. “Um…I bet you like numbers and breaking codes.”
Zvetlana snapped her head up. “How the hell did you know that?” she asked with a half-smile, trying to cover her apprehensiveness with jocularity.
Justin had obviously hit a nerve. “Sorry—I, uh…”
Recomposing herself, Zvetlana relaxed her posture and smiled. “No, no, it’s okay. Maybe you are psychic, or something, but you are good! Buy me another drink and I’ll tell you something that you’ll never guess.”
Justin motioned to Danny and he immediately refilled their drinks. She held up her glass and clinked it against Justin’s, then took several sips. Leaning over so he could feel her warm breath in his ear, she whispered, “I’m feeling really horny, Justin, and I really like you. I’m only here for a few days on business. Why don’t we go to my hotel. I’m staying just down the street at the Marriott.”
Justin’s pounding heart leapt into his throat. The ice cubes in his glass tinkled from his trembling hand as he took a gulp to calm himself. He cleared his throat and replied, “My apartment is right around the corner…”
“Wonderful,” she purred. “Just let me go to the ladies’ room to freshen up and I’ll be right back.”
She rose from the barstool and walked to the restrooms. As she sashayed away from him, Justin watched how her high heels accentuated the movement of her buttocks beneath her tight skirt.
Justin finished his scotch and deposited some cash on the bar. With three drinks in him and only half a burger, he was fairly buzzed. He rose a little unsteadily from his stool and uttered, “Cyber Eye, call Alexei.” The Cyber Eye glasses’ voice recognition interpreted even his slightly slurred speech and dialed Alexei’s desk phone in the lab. He meandered over to foyer of the restaurant.
“This is Alexei Andropov, MIT Media Lab.”
The transcranial speakers in the earpieces of the Cyber Eye glasses sent the Russian’s booming voice directly to Justin’s inner ear, preventing anyone from knowing he was receiving an audio signal. Jus-tin shielded his mouth with his hand so nobody would notice he was talking on the phone as he paced back and forth.
“Alexei, it’s me.”
“Alexei, you’re not going to believe this, but I’m taking a woman back to my loft who I just met at The Brass Rail.”
“Nice going, boss! Did you get a picture of her? Send it to me.”
Justin’s eyes went through a series of rapid motions. “Done. What do you think?”
“She’s hot! Are you sure you can handle her?” he chided. “Crimean women are supposed to be—”
“How’d you know she’s Crimean?”
There was a split second of hesitation before Alexei replied. “Oh, I…I can always recognize someone from my country. You know…just like you’d recognize someone from the South,” he said unconvincingly. “Boss, I gotta go. I think my weekend hookup is trying to call me on my cell. Bye.” He abruptly hung up.
Before Justin could ponder this exchange with his lab assistant, Zvetlana materialized by his side, her perfume even more heady than before.
She gave him a sultry gaze. “Are you ready, tiger?”
Justin opened the door for her.
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