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Null_Pointer Chapter 18

This is the serialization of my first mystery novel, Null_Pointer.  It will be released on this blog every work day until it is complete.  You may purchase the novel at Amazon, Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords or order it from any brick and mortar bookstore near you.  Thank you for reading it and I hope you enjoy this free look at the book.

You can find all the chapters of this book by searching for the Null_Pointer Novel tag.

Chapter 18

The music was a smooth and relaxing Jazz Fusion. Dancia preferred classic Jazz like Coltrane or Mingus, but sometimes the new Fusion hit the spot for her. She pressed the padded earphones to her head and sat back in her computer chair. She could easily fall asleep again listening to this music.
She opened her eyes and stared at the computer screen. She was watching the Visualizer that came with iTunes on full screen. It displayed a swirling, trail of light and color that moved with the beat of the music. Dancia had seen someone on #own3d chatting about a cool new Jazz feed he had found before she came home in the morning. She had to see what it was like. Her head was bouncing ever so slightly to the unusual beat.
She did not notice that several of her running programs had shut down. The only programs left running were X-Chat Aqua and iTunes. Everything else was shut down seconds after the buffer overflow. The hiccup that iTunes made just as it hooked up to the feed, was her program dying and a new one starting. One that was under the control of Muse.
A buffer overflow was about the only way for a bad guy to break into a UNIX system. It was caused when a program was flooded with extraneous data into its memory buffers. Muse had discovered a way to break iTunes with a buffer overflow that was caused by a reference to memory that did not exist. It was a pointer in the code that referred to a null value. The exploit was unknown to anyone but him and when used allowed him to gain access to her computer.
He could not take complete control of her computer, as he was only able to access programs under her user name. That was all he needed to be able to shut her off from the outside world by turning off her Mail program and making sure system sounds never reached her earphones.
The version of iTunes she was now listening to was a special version that ran code supplied by Muse. The music and images she was seeing began to lull her into an altered state of consciousness. After a few minutes of the binaural beat infused music she was completely under his control.
The heat was oppressive. Even the warm water from her water bottle felt good sliding down her parched throat. Beck, her driver with the tinted goggles kept looking at her. She sighed as more of the breeze blew at her face like a hair dryer.
“I don’t like this, man, got a bad feeling,” Beck said, looking around at the deserted section of Bagdad they were moving through.
“Come on Beck, you’re scaring me. We’ll be fine. Only a few more klics to go.”
He nodded, but the uneasy look on his face reflected his concern. She gripped the M-16 in her lap and put her finger on the safety. Just in case.
An explosion ripped through the lead HUMVEE in the convoy. Parts of it impacted the glass on their one-ton’s window two vehicles behind the lead. Dancia screamed and Beck tried to swerve around the wreckage following the truck in front of them.
“Son of a bitch! I knew we’d get hit,” Beck yelled as they kept going past the smoke.
Dancia could see figures moving in front of them. She heard the popping sounds of AK-47 rounds going off. Several rounds struck their truck. She pointed her rifle out her window and fired. Anything that moved was shot.
The one-ton truck rocked with an explosion and she was thrust forward into the dashboard. The butt of her M-16 smashed her forehead. Her left wrist broke against the dash. In a slow moving blur, she could hear her wrist snap and feel the sudden pain. She was not wearing a seatbelt and came to rest on the floor of the cab.
Looking up she saw Beck hit several times with small arms fire and slump over at the wheel. The big tan truck lurched forward into the truck in front of them and then stopped as his foot fell off the clutch. There was another violent explosion and a grinding sound as the truck behind them plowed into their rear.
More shots could be heard as the platoon was returning fire. Dancia looked up at Beck. His eyes were open, but he was dead. Pools of blood were forming in his flack jacket and spilling out onto the floor of the one-ton.
She was too terrified to even move. She flinched at every shot fired. Pop, pop-pop-pop. Her heart raced with the automatic gunfire. Her wrist throbbed with pain so badly that she wanted to pass out. The thought occurred to her that she would die here. She didn’t want to die.
She reloaded the M-16 with her one good hand. It was not easy but she managed. She could hear men shouting in Arabic. They were getting closer. More machine gun fire, louder this time. It was a fifty-caliber gun. Hope welled up inside her for the first time. She loved the thundering sound of that big gun.
A bearded face appeared above her. It was an insurgent. His dark eyes grew large when he saw her. He started to holler at her. She shot him between the eyes. There was silence until his lifeless form hit the ground. The side of the truck erupted in exploding bullets.
It took Joshua nearly fifteen minutes to get the few blocks down the street to Dancia’s. There was a traffic incident that blocked Front Street.
The wait seemed like an eternity to him. At one point he even contemplated ditching the Porsche and running. After finally being let through he gunned the little sports car, breaking all speed limits until he skidded to a halt before her house.
Stacey’s car was gone. The front door would be locked. He would have to bust it down or find another way in. Bounding from the car he bolted up to the front porch and tried the door. It was locked. He pound hard on the door then he moved to the front window and tried to look inside. There were no lights on inside. Maybe she had stepped out and was not home.
Bolting up the front porch, he tried the door. Locked like he thought. He pounded on the door, then the window frame as he tried to look in. Maybe she had stepped out and was not home.
But he knew better.
His heart raced. “Dancia! Dancia!” he yelled as he pounded on the door.
Still pounding, then kicking with his foot, he flipped the doormat up. Nothing.
His eyes flashed to the lock. Flimsy. No double lock. I can do this.
He put is foot into it like in the movies. Nothing. Barely a budge. Stepping back, Joshua could feel the panic rising. His heart beat so hard, it was going to jump out of his chest. He breathed in gasps.
I’am going to be too late!
“NO!” He rammed his shoulder into the door.
He stumbled into the room as the door burst inward. Ruined. Not that he cared, or even felt the pain in his shoulder.
The hail of bullets ripped into the passenger side of the one-ton. Her leg caught one bullet grazing her calf. She felt the sting like a snake had bitten her. Most of the rounds went into Beck’s corpse and the ceiling above the driver side. She did not return fire. Hoping that they wrote her off and would move on. The screaming and confusion outside only intensified.
She considered crawling out the driver’s door but she knew they would gun her down before she managed to find cover. More gunfire was directed at her truck. This time the engine caught on fire and started to burn. Either she got out and took her chances or she would burn up in the truck. Her wrist hurt so bad she could barely think straight. She slid up on the front seat and peered out the bullet holes in the side door. She didn’t see any movement. The fighting sounded like it had moved on to the rear of the convoy.
She opened the door and pointed the M-16 outside. Flames were rising fast from the engine and the bulkhead was beginning to feel warm. She had to get out before the fuel tanks exploded. It was a long way down to the ground. She hesitated just long enough for a Marine to appear through the smoke and grab her from the truck. She fell on him as they both hit the ground.
“Thanks,” she said. Then she realized that he was not moving. She looked up in time to see three insurgent gunmen racking the charging handles of their Kalashnikov riffles.
Dancia’s heart stopped. She was about to die. She heard a voice calling her name over and over again. The voice got louder and louder until she could no longer hear the burning truck or the popping sounds of machine gun fire. The repressive desert heat and the smell of cordite faded away.
She opened her eyes and a man’s face slowly came into focus above her. It was Joshua. He had awakened her from the nightmare.
Dancia was wet with perspiration and trembling with fear as she sat up in her chair. She held onto Joshua with a tight grip.
“Dancia, it’s okay. You’re safe now,” Joshua said. He brought her head to his chest in a hug.
Seeing her seemingly asleep at her computer with the padded headphones on, fueled his anger and sent him over the edge. He could not bear to loose her, she was too important to him. Joshua realized in that harrowing instant that he was in love with her. No matter how hard he had denied himself the possibility, he was now fully committed to her in heart and soul.
“I was in Iraq. They were ready to kill me. It was so,” she paused. Her heart was still pumped up on adrenaline, causing her to tremble. “Real. I thought I was going to die.”
“You were under hypnosis and Muse was using your memories of the war to try and frighten you into thinking you were going to die. It’s how he killed Zemo and Glenn. I got here as fast as I could.”
She pushed away from him for the first time. He looked down into her deep brown eyes and saw the anger in them. “How did he do that to me? How could he get to me?” she asked.
They both looked back at her monitor. The screen was black.
“I was listening to a music stream on iTunes.”
Joshua bumped the mouse and hit the Escape key. The music program returned to normal mode. He opened a terminal window and checked what processes were running. Only iTunes and the IRC chat program were running. He looked closer. There were two instances of iTunes open. One process was hung the other running.
“I have no idea.”
She nudged him away from the keyboard. “Do you think he’s still on now?”
“Maybe, I don’t see how he could know if you were still alive or dead. He must have come through the stream kind of like what he did on Glenn’s box to get to him at work.”
She looked at him and nodded in agreement.
“I know who Muse is. It’s a guy I work with named Lawrence Taggert.”
She blinked. “Do you think he thought I was you?”
“No, I’m betting he wants us both dead.”
Dancia checked for open ports. There was a secure shell connection to an open port. She opened a terminal and used it to send a system message to everyone connected to her computer.
Broadcast Message from dancia@dancias-computer.local (/dev/ttyp2) at 8:52 MDT… You lose, FUCKER! I know who you are.
Joshua grinned. Dancia looked pleased with herself. “Let’s make him sweat for a change.”
She ran another command called “who -Hmu” that showed her who was connected to the computer. There was only one connection, herself.
“We have to go to the police with this,” Joshua said.
Dancia nodded solemnly. She looked at him seriously. “Thank you for saving me.”
He put his hands on the back of her head and brought her close to him. Her wrist felt sore as she put her arms around him. But she didn’t care. She pressed against him hard and they kissed passionately, as if they might never kiss again.

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