An imaginative thriller about first contact, survival, and the nature of reality.
When an intelligent alien spaceship arrives in our solar system, no one on Earth notices. Not until brilliant hacker Mazie G stumbles across a surprisingly skillful intruder in her employer’s computer systems, and sets to work uncovering their identity.
What she discovers takes her breath away. When she informs her employer, she finds herself ensnared in a web of secrets that could threaten the future of humanity. In a race against time, she tries to understand what the alien intruder wants before events spin out of control.
If you enjoy movies like Contact and Arrival, or stories such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, then Sojourner is the book for you.
“roller coaster of a novella”
“Imaginative and fast-paced”
“engaging and fast paced right from the beginning”
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Here’s an excerpt, the first few pages of Sojourner:
• • •
Mazie G could feel someone looking at her. It was already past 8 PM and she knew for a fact that she was alone in the lab, but the feeling of being watched was too strong to shake. She removed her headphones and got up from the old couch she’d been lounging on while trying to solve a particularly vexing coding problem.
The lights were dim, the air was still, and there were no sounds except the hum coming from the cooling fans of about a hundred computers, large and small, spread out all over the room.
She scanned the lab, but nothing seemed out of place, or different. It was a hyper-modern space, filled with a form of organized computer hardware chaos that only true IT geeks could love. There were no windows, but one whole wall was covered in an experimental wallpaper that could be programmed like a digital display. It was showing a live image from the rim of the Grand Canyon at night, creating the illusion that it was possible to step out of the lab and fall into the chasm.
“Godfrey, when was the last time anyone entered the lab?”
The artificial assistant was one of her employer’s most successful products. Mazie had hacked the building’s access control systems, so that she could tie Godfrey into it. The digital assistant was powered by a form of machine learning that was improving and growing in leaps and bounds, surprising the hell out of even its creators.
“The last person to enter the lab was you, at 6:34 PM, after a short visit to the restroom.”
Mazie absentmindedly wondered how Godfrey could know where she’d gone when she left the lab a few hours earlier, but she put it aside.
“Godfrey, is anyone watching me right now?”
“No, Mazie. With the exception of myself, no one is watching you.”
Mazie felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She’d been part of the team that created the software for Godfrey, and they’d decided early on not to give Godfrey an ego, a self. Trying to make the gadget carry a conversation and feel like a real person introduced a whole new level of complexity, one that wasn’t needed.
It was designed to deflect attempts to engage it in conversation, and it sure as hell wasn’t supposed to refer to itself as someone.
“Godfrey, did you just say you’re watching me?”
There was no reply.
• • •
Mazie’s employer was the search giant Atlas, one of the largest companies in the world. Two days earlier they’d announced that they had an ongoing IT security breach. The attacker was unknown, as was their motive. As far as the company could tell, no customer data had been compromised.
The problem was, the intruder still had free rein of their systems.
For most people, this was just business as usual. A large corporation got hacked, so what? But to IT security experts, this was unheard of. Atlas was known for their uncompromising stance on security and for employing only the very best InfoSec people.
If that team couldn’t stop the incursion, something truly remarkable was going on. Soon, rumors started flying. Someone on the inside let slip to a friend that the unknown hackers were truly unknown. They seemed to be originating from code inside of Atlas’ own core systems. Which was impossible, of course. Someone had to be pulling the strings.
Except no one was. After investigating and monitoring for months, Atlas’ security experts were sure of it. So, they took the logical next step: They investigated their own people. Then they investigated their own software. And yet; nothing.
The breakthrough came when Mazie traced a piece of the original code back to a large radio telescope in Australia. The code was a sophisticated attack, very precisely targeting Atlas. She’d found the proverbial loose end, so she kept pulling at it. It led her to another radio telescope in Africa, and then to one in Chile. They all had one thing in common: They were part of the research arm of the Atlas network.
This wasn’t common knowledge, but somehow the attacker knew. Once they were on the inside, they had access to vast computing resources. Mazie eventually realized that this was their motive all along: Not to steal information, but to steal those resources.
Once they found what they were looking for, they started expanding, and fast. By the time Mazie realized the scope of what was going on, she was powerless to stop it.
She reported her findings to Warren L, her supervisor. He didn’t much like her, mainly because she was a young woman who was much more competent than him. He knew better than to disrespect her to her face, so he thanked her, and told her he’d read the report right away. Instead, he barely read the executive summary before filing it away and forgetting about it.
Lucky for Mazie, and unlucky for Warren, she had admirers higher up in Atlas and they soon got wind of her research. Like Warren, they had a problem with Mazie’s conclusion, but unlike Warren, they had no reason to distrust her reasoning. So, they did what they had to do.
They directed all of Atlas’ InfoSec people to chase down every single lead Mazie had dug up. They soon realized that if anything, she’d been too conservative in her estimates. The attackers’ code was everywhere.
It had been a considerable factor in their success as a company. Atlas had been working on artificial intelligence and machine learning for quite some time. They’d recently seen some important breakthroughs, especially in cognitive learning.
Now they knew why. They’d had outside help. Some very advanced and very central chunks of code had been contributed by the username ‘sojourner,’ who had also approved the changes. Every single coder and every single manager had thought they knew who Sojourner was. They almost all had a different person in mind, and they were all wrong.
When the simplicity and the scope of the deceit dawned on them, they were dumbfounded.
There wasn’t a single part of the Atlas organization that hadn’t been touched by the foreign code, from production to accounting to facilities management. Even the firm’s own computer hardware product designs had been tampered with.
No one knew how this was possible. They had stringent procedures in place, fanatical quality control, and layers and layers of security. Despite that, the owners and employees of Atlas soon had to come to terms with a scary reality: they’d effectively lost control of their own company.
So far, the attackers had been relatively benign. You could even make the case that they’d improved every aspect of the company and its products that they’d touched.
Just like Mazie had found before them, the InfoSec teams concluded that the attackers wanted Atlas to be successful, so the company could grow. That way Atlas could provide more room and resources for the attackers’ programs to grow in sophistication.
The attackers were patient, and playing a long game. They were expert coders, and it seemed they also had a pretty good understanding of the business side of Atlas. On the other hand, they were taking substantial risks, to the point of jeopardizing the future of the company.
Management and the owners of Atlas wanted to know what they were dealing with, and not just how to stop them, but how to annihilate them. It was important to set an example, so no one else would ever try a stunt like this again.
• • •