Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Terminal Connection" by Dan Needles

Terminal Connection
by Dan Needles

Dan Needles, the author of Terminal Connection, stops by to share a guest post and an excerpt from his book.

What if a terrorist were a computer virus, its weapon a defect, and its target the U.S. military's eyes and ears? Welcome to post 9-11 where the lines are blurred between terrorists and superpowers, military and civilian, and virtual and reality. In a war of information everyone is on the frontline.
That's inventor Steve Donovan's nightmare in this technology thriller Terminal Connection.
Moving between reality and virtual worlds, the players in this high-tech, espionage thriller, find danger and death in both worlds. NEXUS Corporation has developed a virtual technology, but a hacker has introduced a deadly virus - a killer who moves through the virtual world paralyzing his victims and taking their lives; but with this virus, virtual death results in real death. Can Steve, the developer of this technology and founder of NEXUS Corporation, find the virtual killer and stop the virus before he becomes the next victim of a technology that will give world power to one man?
Readers who enjoy espionage thrillers, technology thrillers, and military science fiction will find that Needles has woven an intricate plot with characters who are entangled in high-end technology, military secrecy, corporate and political espionage. Needles' intimate knowledge of high technology, secret government and corporate contracts is evident. Terminal Connection is a work of fiction, a novel; but it's clear that Needles understands the world he's written about.

Chapter 1
Monday, June 29, 2019
Steve slammed the office door and stormed through the parking lot toward his black Mustang. Behind him, footsteps slapped against the wet, dark asphalt. Unbelievable. Jack was following him.
Through the steam rising off the hood from the idling engine, Steve squinted into the Mustang’s headlights. He saw only shadows through the rain streaked windshield and held up his hand to tell his wife and daughter to stay put.
Jack Wheeler stepped into the light. “Now son, come back inside. Let’s talk about this.” Fifteen years Steve’s senior, Jack was clean-shaven with a short crew cut. The man stared down at him from his six-foot muscular frame.
Steve felt older than his thirty-five years. From his average build and height he couldn’t help but feel intimidated by Jack. The encounter would surely add additional premature streaks of silver in his already graying brown hair. One thing he knew for sure—Steve couldn’t trust Jack; not anymore. “We’re done talking,” Steve said.
Jack stretched out his arms. “It’s just a VR-enabled Internet browser. It’s supposed to have glitches.”
“Not glitches that kill. The Nexus isn’t ready.” Steve wiped the rain from his brow. He stole a glance at his watch. Seven-thirty.
Jack laughed. “Imagine the scenario you’re worried about. The patch has to fail, followed by an energy surge.”
“Followed by a seizure and death,” Steve added. He looked through the steam that rose from the car hood to its occupants. Tami was going to be pissed.
Jack shook his head. “Son, we might also get hit by lighting. You might get in a car wreck. What’s the difference?”
“We can prevent this, Jack.”
Thunder rumbled above them. The sky had turned darker and the drizzle threatened to turn into a downpour.
Jack wagged a finger. “The release date cannot slip.”
“Really?” said Steve. “Last time I checked I was the CEO.”
“You can’t do this,” Jack said.
Steve turned and headed to the driver’s side. Pellets of rain stung his face as the storm intensified.
“Bankruptcy is around the corner. Things are in motion that I can’t stop,” Jack shouted after him.
Steve shook his head. How could I have selected such an immature bastard for a partner? Tami had warned him. He should have listened to her. Now millions of dollars into the relationship, he couldn’t turn back.
Thunder cracked above.
“We’ll talk Friday after I’ve had time to test things out,” Steve shouted back. He opened the car door and put one foot in.
“Don’t,” Jack said. He had dropped his southern drawl.
Steve met Jack’s scowl.
“Steven?” said Tamara.
He turned to her. “What?”
She raised her eyebrows.
“I know. We’re going,” Steve said.
In the backseat Brooke stared through the rain-streaked window.
“Come on, son,” Jack shouted. “One more round for the road.”  He waved back toward the office.
“We’ll finish this in the morning.” Steve sat down in the driver’s seat.
“Don’t do it. I’m warn….”
Steve slammed the car door. That felt good. A smirked formed but melted as he turned and faced his wife.
She stared down at her watch and frowned.
“What time is it?” he asked. He already knew the answer. Steve put the car into reverse.
“It’s 7:30. The play begins in half an hour.”
“I can’t be late for this,” Brooke whined. The teenager leaned forward from the backseat.
Steve met her gaze in the rearview mirror as he drove forward. “Get your seat belt on.”
“I’m sure your father will make up the time,” Tamara said.
Steve winced. Crow Canyon Road was tough even without the stormy night. “Tam, I….”
Tamara sniffed his breath. “You’ve been drinking,” she said in a low voice.
He shook his head. “Only a couple.” Steve looked into the rearview mirror. Brooke remained perched forward.
“Whoa. Do you drink, Dad?” Brooke giggled.
“Get your seat belt on,” he shouted.
Brooke slumped back into the seat and crossed her arms. Steve took a deep breath and pulled onto the road. He felt a hand on his arm. “It’s no big deal,” Tamara said.
He nodded. The argument with Jack had gotten to him.
Bright headlights shined through his window and a horn blared.
Tamara gripped his arm. “Steven!”
He gunned the engine and negotiated the turn. The oncoming car missed the back end of the Mustang and the car fishtailed. After a second, he regained control.
Brooke’s seat belt clicked in the backseat.
Tamara laughed. “Your father will get us there, hopefully in one piece.”
Steve read the time on the dashboard and frowned—thirty miles in thirty minutes. He pressed down the accelerator and made the most of the 100-yard straightaway.
Tamara leaned over and lowered her voice. “Tell me, really. How much did you have to drink?”
“Only two or three.”
She dipped her head forward and raised her eyebrows.
He laughed. “Really.”
She smiled. The car rounded a corner. To humor her, he eased off the gas and applied the brakes. The car continued to accelerate.
Steve’s heart rate took off and he punched down the brake pedal. Nothing. His stomach felt sick.
“Something’s wrong,” he said.
“Dad?” Brooke asked.
“I’m working on it.” Jesus. He pumped the brakes. The car continued to accelerate, and the back tires squealed.
“Lock your door,” Tamara said.
Steve heard a click as Brooke complied.
The back end of the Mustang slid out. Steve steered into the slide and the car crossed into the opposing lane. He pumped the brakes. Nothing. As the car drifted toward the guardrail and the chasm, Brooke and Tamara remained quiet.
The road straightened and the wheels stopped squealing. He steered back to his side of the road and glanced at their speed—50 miles per hour. How had they survived? The road pitched downward, and the car accelerated. A steep cliff rose to the right and to their left was a deep canyon. He had no place to safely ditch the car.
“What’s happening?” Brooke cried.
“Quiet. Let your dad focus.”
Steve glanced at the speedometer. The car passed 60 miles per hour. A sign warned of a 30-mile-per-hour turn.
“Shit,” Steve yelled.
“Emergency brake!” Tamara shouted.
He reached down with his right hand and yanked on the brake. The arm didn’t budge.
The car entered the next turn, and Steve grabbed the wheel with both hands and managed to stay on the road. He exhaled. Foreplay—the real curve was still ahead.
“Tam, some help, please!” he yelled, glancing at the emergency brake.
“Oh, God!” Brooke screamed.
Tamara reached over and yanked the lever. It didn’t budge. She undid her seat belt and took hold of the brake with both hands.
“Hold on,” Steve shouted. As the car entered the turn, he steadied the steering wheel with his left hand. With his right he grabbed the emergency brake and yanked with Tamara.
Snap. The lever flew back.
The rear wheels lost traction and the car spun. Tamara flew back and then forward, her head slamming against the passenger window.
He turned into the spin and regained control.
Steve could hear Brooke fumble with her seat belt.  ”Don’t!” he yelled as the car began to fishtail again. Steve gripped the steering wheel with both hands and turned into the spin. They were traveling too fast.
“Tam!” he shouted. “Buckle up!” She didn’t open her eyes, and blood was smeared on the window where she had hit her head.
“Tam!” he yelled, and looked up into the rear view mirror. “Brooke! Seat belt! Now!”
“Look out!” Brooke screamed.
Steve prayed for a miracle, but the car tore through the guardrail, left the road, and slammed into an oak tree.
In the distance Ed Bevins heard a crash, followed by the blare of a horn. He stepped out of the shadows and joined Jack in the parking lot of Nexus Corporation. He stood a full head above Jack from his six-and-a-half-foot frame. His salt-and-pepper hair and groomed goatee betrayed that he was older, but not necessarily wiser. National security had demanded this action. A life of public service had bequeathed Ed with the moral flexibility required to be a team player. “Is that the verdict?”
Jack smiled. “He couldn’t leave well enough alone.”
Ed frowned.
Jack slipped the kill switch under his coat that had disabled the brakes. “As you asked, I gave him a chance.”
No, not really, thought Ed.
Above them a flash of light preceded another crack of thunder.
Ed turned toward the building. “I’ll call 911.”
Jack grabbed his elbow. “Give it half an hour—just to be sure.”
Ed nodded.
“So, the first shoe has dropped,” Jack said, pulling out a cigar and lighting it. “Now it’s your turn.”
Ed frowned again. “I get tired of these games, Jack.”
“Sometimes you have to break some eggs.”
Ed took a step toward him. “Maybe you had no problem killing off Steve and his family, but my best friend isn’t a fucking omelet!”
Jack shrugged. “It’s your show. You made the call.”
Ed glared at him. He didn’t need the reminder.
“Stay professional, Ed,” Jack said and took a drag from the cigar. He blew smoke into Ed’s face. “Steve might be dead, but at least he had a spine.”
Ed shrugged and patted his pocket. He felt the other half of the plan, a folded memo that warned of a preemptive strike by the United States against China. His bureaucratic mistake would tie up the loose ends. The memo would just disappear, like so many pieces of meaningless paper did.
He watched as the pungent cigar smoke wafted up through the mist and obscured Jack’s face, except for his Cheshire-cat grin. The deed was done. The Nexus would go out, and his career was secure. And on the other side of the globe, his best friend and his best friend’s daughter were probably already dead.

I'll just start this out by stating the obvious. Dan Needles is brilliant, a mind seducer.
Terminal Connection plays out almost like a movie. Needles takes about four or five completely different story lines and pulls them together into a pulse-pumping-erratic-heartbeat-I-needed-to-go-use-the-bathroom-three-hours-ago-but-I-can't-put-the-book-down-or-I'll-miss-something kind of way.
Reality and Virtual Reality seamlessly swap places throughout this book, and enemies threaten on either front. It takes the question of "who-dunnit" to an entirely new level as Needles opens up the mind and paints virtual landscapes pulsing with danger and adrenaline.
If you liked Ender's Game, if you enjoyed the Matrix, if you have any compulsion at all toward sci-fi, or even simple suspense, this book will leave you wishing for more.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a sci-fi fan. I do enjoy a good mystery, a lot of suspense, and loads of fantasy. Sci-fi never did it for me. Terminal Connection has transcended that; the book became less of a book as I went along, and more of an enveloping action; it happened all around me, not just on the page in front of me. I couldn't sleep when it was all over.
Seriously, it's that good. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Needles is going to be one of the greats.

Guest Post by Dan Needles (originally published on the author's website)
I am asked this question often, and the simple answer is “life.” That is, I cheat. As an independent high end consultant in information technology, my job has me roaming the world, wheeling and dealing with: fortune 500 companies, large government agencies, and secret military projects. At home life has forced me to come to terms with: a wife with a terminal illness and a child with autism as well as two older boys who still need direction and support. Finally, on the community side of things, I started up an instance of NextDoor which last year grew from nothing to 600 members and I became treasurer of the local HOA. In combination: my business, personal, and community life have all provided a fire-hose of ideas and interpersonal conflicts.
For example, this week I am in Beverley Hills working at Cedar Sinai Hospital. In order to get a better taste of the area, I decided to walk the two miles to work. In that short walk I saw the well equipped and funded emergency services fully descend on a private Jewish school due to a pulled fire alarm. As I took a detour to dodge the dozen emergency vehicles that responded, I found a discarded twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. I stooped to pick it up and a perfectly “constructed” woman frowned as if I was picking through the trash – Yes I was in Beverley Hills. Like people I find locations and organizations have their own personalities, and nothing substitutes for direct experience and immersion into the environment.
On the personal front I am in the process of moving which is greatly complicated by the health issues at home as well as working in Los Angeles this week. Juggling between calls of: agents, title companies, and loan companies for both the existing and new home while somehow appearing focused on work has proved “interesting.” Trying to connect to the family from the hotel amidst all the stress is also a challenge.
Meanwhile I’ve had to burn cycles calming the nerves of the community at large regarding my departure. Again, all this chaos and angst provides wonderful storytelling fodder as I internally struggle to manage myself and keep on top of it all.
However, these answers so far are really superficial. There is a deeper reason why I am here at this juncture in my life and it has little to do with outside events. The true architect of my life isn’t as much where I am now or even my consciousness. It is my subconsciousness and living on the spectrum that has determined my place and role in the universe.
In particular, my autism makes the ordinary extraordinary. Autism means I have a short-circuited brain. My senses are supercharge, my brain overclocked, and my emotions are on a hair-trigger. This can be great in a crisis but becomes a major burden in the normal day-to-day events. In order to cope I am forced to imagine and think outside the box and actively manage myself at all times. This is really where the ideas come from as well as the grounding to the main character and their responses. In life I have to analyze everything as it not only helps to navigate reality but it distances myself from my emotions which can be overpowering.
By itself the autism would be limiting as it would also cause me to dodge stress in general. That is where the ADHD kicks in. ADHD drives me to be extroverted and constantly seeking stimulus. This aspect of my personality is what draws the extraordinary to myself (much to the regret of my autistic side.) It is why I thought simultaneously: moving, working remote in LA, and releasing the book Terminal Connection sounded like a good idea at the time. It is also why earlier this year I launched and marketed the NextDoor site for my community and jumped onto the HOA board when there was a SLIGHT lull in work. I simply cannot keep still and have a driving need to be constantly moving and engaged.
As a result, having both autism and ADHD, after 45 years of experience this concoction has resulted in where I am now and why I approach life the way I do today. This approach is what feeds me with a fire-hose of story fodder and causes me to constantly analyze the carnage in order to make semblance of it all and somehow manage the situation. Part of this “digestion process” translates into the act of imagining and penning down novels such as Terminal Connection.

About the Author
Dan Needles is a master of storytelling in the science fiction and urban fantasy genres; but his stories aren't all fiction. His professional experience as an early enabler of the information age at the dawn of the dot com boom and his continued work with fortune 500 companies, government agencies and secret military projects means that Needles places his characters in situations that read like fiction, but often exist in the reality of some of today's top technological, and often secret, corporate and government projects.
Needles' stories draw from the complex tapestry of his career and personal life. As a developer in the early 1990s at Oracle and VISA, Needles was at the forefront of development in the infancy of the information age. He quickly learned that building the complexity necessary in such hi-tech environments required working with people, culture clashes, hidden agendas and the drama of the human condition. His writing reflects this complexity, weaving the inexplicable wonders of new age technology with the relationships and conflicts of the people involved.
On a personal level, Needles has faced similar complex challenges. Having lived with undiagnosed autism since childhood, Needles describes his interactions as one of "decoding" the human condition and everyday situations. As a father and husband he has challenged the medical establishment and sought alternative treatments for his wife's terminal illness and his son's diagnosed autism. His efforts have been rewarded in that his wife's illness has been cured, and the "curable" aspects of his son's autism have been successfully treated.
This personal journey mirrored his professional experiences. The ability to break through denial, accept reality, and take responsibility and maintain independent thought regardless of others' pedigrees and accolades is exactly what is required in the information age and modern global economy. At a personal level he discovered his need to ground in reality, face the truth, however ugly, and stand up for the greater good. This personal philosophy was rooted in his own undiagnosed autism and to what he attributes his personal and professional success.
Needles is a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and secret military projects. He weaves people, process, knowledge and technology into complex solutions to solve the pressing problems of the Internet age.
Dan Needles lives with his wife, three sons, and granddaughter in Austin, Texas.