The Darkfall Switch

The Darkfall Switch

by David Lindsley

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Overview

The Darkfall Switch by David Lindsley

After a power cut kills dozens of people in the London Underground, engineer Dan Foster uncovers a web of deception centered on a department of the US administration. The blackout may have been initiated by accident, but the trigger is part of a scheme that someone is now desperate to conceal—even if it involves murder. Foster's probes take him to the headquarters of a powerful industrial corporation in the Rocky Mountains, where he finds the plot goes deeper than he could have possibly imagined. The question is—will he be able to unveil the ugly truth before it's too late?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780709091462
Publisher: Hale, Robert Limited
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

David Lindsley was born in the beautiful hill station of Nainital, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Having come to England after India's independence, he became engineering director of a multi national company, and later left to work as an independent consultant. Lindsley's work across the globe inspired him to write a novel series based on the people he had met. His first novel, Far Point, won a prestigious award from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Read an Excerpt

The Darkfall Switch


By David Lindsley

Robert Hale Limited

Copyright © 2010 David Lindsley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7090-9456-2



CHAPTER 1

London's Burning


Furnace heat licked at London. The streets and buildings absorbed and re-radiated it until the city sweltered. It was baking in a summer far hotter and more oppressive than anyone could remember, and for almost three months now, day after day, week after week, the sky had stayed cruelly cloudless, bleached steel-grey by the merciless, incessantly blazing sun. By the middle of each day, the metal and glass of the city's tall buildings were flashing and glittering through shimmering layers of hot, dry air, reflecting the heat and light back and forth to each other, while watery mirages formed on the hot asphalt at the crest of the bridges across the Thames. As the tide fell, what little stream remained under the bridges quickly receded to a trickle, exposing mud that soon cracked into a crazed mosaic. Overhead, the traffic's choking, stinking fumes were trapped between this hard, dry, multi-faceted surface and the blanket of stifling hot air above.

If it was unpleasant at ground level, the stifling heat was almost intolerable deep below the busy streets of Holborn. There, people had been standing on the crowded platform of Chancery Lane Underground station for far too long. All of them were wishing that their uncomfortable journeys could end soon.

They were relieved when a draught of air eventually fanned their faces, heralding the arrival of a train which screeched and whined out of the tunnel and growled to a halt. The doors sighed open, allowing weak currents of fetid air to drift into the compartments. But it was scant relief for the packed occupants as some pushed their way out past others shouldering their way in.

Jostled and crowded by the people around her, Fiona Wilson took a deep breath and squeezed her way into the packed compartment. She grimaced briefly at the rank, sour smell of sweat that hit her nostrils: it was not going to be a pleasant journey. Still, it was only three stops on the Central line to Oxford Circus, so it shouldn't last too long.

She had arranged to meet an old friend she hadn't seen for a long time. After they made contact with each other again, she had persuaded her boss to let her have an extended lunch break so that she could spend some time with her in a wine bar. She had been working extremely hard over the previous few weeks, putting in hours of unpaid overtime, and her boss had been glad to give her this little time off.

The doors of Fiona's compartment hissed closed and the train set off with its burden of packed, hot and uncomfortable passengers. Everybody was concentrating on their own thoughts as they swayed uncomfortably together. It was as if they were all joined in some macabre dance as the train rattled along the tunnel. Everybody pressed against others. Like figures in a Breughel painting, their faces displayed an array of emotions as they concentrated on their dreams or plans.

Fiona gritted her teeth at the discomfort. Never mind, in a few minutes she would be sitting in an air-conditioned wine-bar, the unpleasantness of this journey forgotten as she and her old friend exchanged news of the recent events in their lives.


The Regent's Canal, built in the nineteen century to link the Grand Union canal with the Thames at Limehouse was once a major trade artery, carrying goods from across the world to factories in the North. Nowadays it is largely a leisure facility — and a vital but unrecognized part of the complex electrical network that supports the millions working in the capital.

People who stroll along the towpath see it as a pleasant walkway beside a quiet stretch of water. But, in fact, another vital purpose is served by the canal. Small signs betray it: for example, when other stretches of the canal-side route are asphalted, here the path is paved with solid, square-cut paving slabs. They are there to give easy access to huge power cables that lie buried deep underneath.

As the holidaymakers' boats work their way along the canal and glide under the bridges, their owners could be forgiven for missing the other small giveaway signs of the complex systems and machinery hidden nearby. It would be natural to think that the castellated towers that flank one of the bridges are just another part of London's medieval architecture. But in fact they are modern fakes, craftily designed and built to fit in with their surroundings. Hidden behind their stout, securely locked doors are grey-painted steel panels, bright with flashing lights and glowing screens.

Those panels and the secret lifelines below the towpath are crucial to the seething, humming jumble of office blocks, shops, cafés, apartments and theatres of the city.


Far away from London, in the beautiful setting of a rambling, white clapboarded Colonial-style house in Watertown, Connecticut, USA, Luke Proctor was anticipating making history. The prospect had woken him early, and instead of lying in his bed until mid-morning, as was his normal habit, he was wide awake at dawn, excitedly preparing for the climax of his latest venture.

Because on this day he had a mission to complete.

After a quick shower he dressed hurriedly, scurried to his den and switched on his computer. He waited impatiently while it booted up, his thin fingers nervously drumming at the table-top while he looked out of the window to the gently undulating green of the immaculately manicured lawn outside. His gaze took in the basketball hoop fixed to the white-painted clapboard wall of the old barn adjoining the house – that hoop was a reminder of his father's frustrated aspiration for his son to be good at some sport, any sport. For a moment Luke contemplated it almost wistfully, then his mind snapped back to the present.

He heaved an impatient sigh. He was in a hurry and this morning it felt like the computer was taking an inordinately long time to start.

But then the familiar welcome screen opened up. He took a deep breath, started to tap at the keyboard and after a few moments an image appeared on the screen in front of him.

He scrutinized the picture. Some days ago he had managed to hack into an obscure system somewhere. He didn't know what it was or where it was located. But it didn't matter anyway: wherever or whatever it was, he had been delighted to discover it. The complex firewall that protected it had told him that it was very important, and he had been proud when he had eventually broken the security codes and deeply penetrated it.

It had amused him to defeat the firewall. Whoever had designed it had been good, very good in fact, but Luke had never for a moment doubted that he was even better. He had seen the firewall as an intellectual challenge, and had eagerly responded. Before long he realized that whoever had designed the system had underestimated the brilliance and sheer determination of somebody like him. It had been far from easy: he had been forced to harness the combined power of many remote computers, without their owners knowing, to defeat the barriers. It had taken many hours, very expert knowledge of computers and math – and incredible cryptographic skill – but in the end he had succeeded.

He found that, with a few simple commands, he could actually change some of the features. He had no idea of what he was doing, but it didn't matter. It was as if he was sending out a signal saying: 'Here I am. Respond to me, whoever you are, wherever you are.'

On his previous access he had discovered a block of code that had been extraordinarily well protected. Unusually for this system, nothing about it explained its function. That in itself was odd, because the rest of the system was extremely clear: it was 'well documented', as computer experts would say. In other words, the function of every part of it was very carefully described.

Except this one.

It had stretched to the limits his knowledge and ability – and the combined power of all his harnessed computers – to expose the lines of code behind the barrier, but in the end he had succeeded. But that wasn't the end of it: he was frustrated that every attempt to introduce any sort of change into this system-within-a-system had been defeated.

On this morning he put his elbows on the desk, rested his chin on his clenched fists and stared intently at the screen, his mind whirling. Then a thought struck him.

Passwords are the weak spot of any protection scheme. People worry that they will forget them, so they resort to all sorts of methods of remembering them. Some write them down on pieces of paper, which they hope won't be found. Others use some structured method which will be easy to remember. The designer of the system that Luke had penetrated, with its complex, multi-layered password structure, had used a very simple architecture for each successive layer. The password for each level ended with a number that was ten digits higher than the one below. When he had discovered this fact, Luke had chuckled at the stupidity of anybody who could have created such a secure vault and then left the keys so easily visible. Once the first password was known, and the relationship to the others understood, breaking into any part of the system was extremely simple – at least until he had reached this block. It had defeated him.

But then, suddenly, the Eureka! moment had hit: instead of a numeric link between these passwords, could it be alphabetical?

He tapped at the keyboard, entering what he now suspected was the correct password. Then he almost cried out loud in joy. He was rewarded by the appearance of a flashing red rectangle containing just five words:

DARKFALL SWITCH. ARE YOU SURE?

He didn't understand the first two words, but the sentence invited him to confirm something. He typed 'Y' for 'yes' and pressed the return key.

The red rectangle disappeared and was now replaced by another message:

DARKFALL SWITCH INITIATED

Then an extraordinary thing happened. Another message flashed on to the screen:

SELF-ERASING

And then, almost before he'd had time to read the message, the screen went completely blank.

In London, Andy McGill dropped to his knees, peering over the edge of the towpath into the Regent's Canal. He swore under his breath. A steady cascade of water should have been visible there, pouring into the canal from a pipe just below his position, but there was nothing. There was no patch of dampness below the outlet either, indicating that the flow had stopped some time ago. It was a bad sign. He sighed and settled back on his haunches for a moment, thinking over all the implications. Then he reached for his mobile phone.

McGill was an engineer working for National Grid plc. He had been sent to look at what could have caused the sudden outbreak of alarm signals that had arisen over the past twenty-four hours in the Grid Control Centre, far away at Wokingham in Surrey.

He felt the sun bake his sweat-soaked back as he waited. 'Hi, Peter,' he said, when the call was answered. 'It's Andy. Bad news, I'm afraid: the flow's stopped completely.'

Peter Raynes was McGill's boss, a stoic, barrel-chested engineer who had spent his entire working life in the electrical power industry. He had started his working life as an apprentice with the Transmission and Distribution Branch of the Central Electricity Generating Board and he was now a senior engineer with National Grid.

'Christ!' Raynes' response was bitter and, after a lengthy pause he continued, 'Are you sure?'

'Absolutely. Not a dribble coming out of the discharge. Looks like it dried up a while ago. I haven't found any pump faults, so I'm sure it must be another airlock.'

The cable running under the towpath carried a massive current and it was cooled by water pipes that ran alongside it here and for miles under London's busy streets. For years now the pipes had been prone to the build-up of airlocks and, when these were severe, the pumps could not maintain flow and the cables began to overheat.

On a day like this, when the demand for power was enormous and the ground surrounding the cables was parched, the loss of cooling water was serious.

That morning, the first crop of alarms had warned that something was wrong with the cooling system. These could have been false, but eventually new alarms started to chime in the control room. The cables were indeed overheating. It was not a false alarm.

There was another long interval before Raynes' reply came to McGill's phone. 'OK. I'm sure you're right. Take a look and see if you can pinpoint where it's happened.'

McGill grimaced as he disconnected the call. Finding the airlock would not be a trivial task. The problem could be anywhere, buried under any one of hundreds of nearby streets, all thronged with traffic.

As he stood up he wiped sweat off his brow and looked at the city's distant towers shimmering in the heat. For some reason, the words of an old nursery rhyme came to him: 'London's Burning'. It seemed to him that the city was indeed burning, even if no actual flames were visible. Now, because of a simple bubble of air in a water-pipe, the complex system supporting the entire capital was under threat and the city was being pushed towards the knife-edge of disaster.

He took a deep breath and started to walk to the nearest control centre. There wasn't much he could do, but it would be a start at least.

He was approaching his destination when he heard a sudden sharp sound. It was like a gunshot. He stiffened and frowned. Then, as horrible realization hit him, he started to trot along the towpath towards the source of the sound.

It was a while before he realized that something had changed. He stopped to listen. After that sharp crack there had been a sudden rise in the noise of the nearby traffic – the blaring of car horns, some shouting and screeching of brakes. But now this had been replaced by a strange, eerie silence.

It was as if the city around him had died.

To those who afterwards recalled the nightmarish incidents, several things had seemed to happen at once.

Fiona's train had just begun to slow down on its approach to Oxford Circus when, without any warning, the swaying bodies were suddenly jerked forward as the train ground to an unexpected stop. At the same instant the main lights in the compartment blinked off, leaving only the dim emergency lamps glowing. Their illumination threw ghastly shadows and for the first time people looked into their neighbours' eyes and saw the beginnings of concern. It was little more than an annoyance at this stage – the fear would come later.

All at once they were people, not just lumps of humanity. They were uncomfortably crowded against each other and incapable of escaping.

Fiona felt her heart start to beat more urgently. She tried to peer past the people near her, to see if the train had actually arrived at the platform. If they had, perhaps the driver would open the doors and let them out.

But when she succeeded her alarm rose, because although she could see that the train had indeed reached the station, it too was lit only by the gloom of emergency lights.

For a while, there was a deathly silence in the train. Then people started grumbling under their breath, pointlessly asking those nearest to them why the doors stayed shut. Then the rising complaints were cut short by the driver's voice coming over the loudspeakers. 'I'm sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen,' it said. 'It looks like we have a power failure. I've opened the front doors of the train. Please stay calm and move forward through the train to the front, and then on to the platform. Somebody will give you instructions once you arrive there.'

Fiona relaxed a little. She wondered how long it would take to get the occupants of this compartment out, let alone an entire trainload. There seemed to be an infinite pause before she could hear sounds of movement, and then the people nearher started to shuffle slowly forward. The process of leaving the train was painfully slow. Still, there was an air of cheerful resignation about the crowd and as they reached the platform they continued to move forward to make room for others following on.

Fiona moved with the crowd until she reached the open door and stepped on to the platform. It was marginally less crowded here for now, and slightly less hot, but it was still unpleasantly warm.

It took some time, but eventually the train was empty and everybody was standing on the platform, wondering what to do next. Waiting for the promised instructions. It was getting warmer here: the usual draughts of air from approaching and departing trains were missing and an uncanny quiet had settled over the platform and its massed occupants.

When the promised announcement eventually came it was hardly helpful: 'Attention please!' The metallic voice echoed from the hard walls of the platform. 'There's been a temporary power loss. We expect power to be restored very soon. Please wait for further announcements.'

There was movement and sound from the far end of the platform and Fiona craned her head to see what was happening. In the gloom she could just make out shadowy figures of people emerging from the other tunnel mouth, and hands reaching down to help them climb on to the already crowded platform.

But soon there was no point. The platform was full.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Darkfall Switch by David Lindsley. Copyright © 2010 David Lindsley. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Dedication,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
AUTHOR'S NOTE,
FOREWORD,
ONE - London's Burning,
TWO - For Want of a Nail,
THREE - One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,
FOUR - There Came a Big Spider,
FIVE - Doctor Foster Went to Gloucester,
SIX - Jack and Jill,
SEVEN - Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum,
EIGHT - Ride a Cock Horse,
NINE - Polly Put the Kettle On,
TEN - There Was a Crooked Man,
ELEVEN - Baa Baa Black Sheep,
TWELVE - Little Tommy Tucker,
THIRTEEN - Ring-a-ring of Roses,
FOURTEEN - All Fall Down,
FIFTEEN - See, Saw, Marjorie Daw,
SIXTEEN - Big Bad Wolf,
SEVENTEEN - What a Good Boy Am I,

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