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John Rogers
Fail Deadly
When HelioCorp’s attempt to connect to the power grid fails spectacularly, Joe Mayfield and Louise Napolitani are drawn into a plot by the Sobaki, a triumvirate of Russian oligarchs, to control the US grid, endear themselves to the new Russian Premier, and make a couple of billion bucks. The action of the story overlays Joe and Weezy’s growing relationship as friends, colleagues and now lovers. Joe would tell you Weezy is the smartest, quirkiest person he’s ever met, and he would say he’s an ordinary guy. Weezy would tell you he’s much, much more. They are on their way a long weekend together in a Florida hideaway when the story begins. Fail Deadly is set a few years from now, a world which has predictable technology growth (Bluetooth implants instead of earbuds, self-driving cars, advancing genetic therapy) and the US firewall called the IAC, a hastily built and breathtakingly expensive protective curtain after the depredations of what the media called CyberWar I. HelioCorp’s spectacular failure to connect craters Joe’s work to prepare the company for the most anticipated public stock offering of the year. At first, it looks as if the firewall protecting the grid is the problem, and Weezy, chief analyst at the IAC, is dispatched to fix it. When lights go out in Maine, then Georgia, and Philadelphia is threatened, it becomes obvious that something larger is afoot. As Joe and Weezy begin to solve the puzzle of how to defeat the hack, Weezy gets a cryptic message from Kalju Puusepp, an Estonian chess champion and internet adept Weezy knows by his handle, HoHumJr. Puusepp has been kidnapped by the Sobaki and forced to write the software they’ve used to penetrate the US firewall and control the grid. He is being held hostage in Florida but is able to send Weezy a fail deadly … a ticking time bomb of data that will destroy Sobaki if it pops open and releases incriminating documents to the ’net. Only Puusepp and Weezy can keep the fail deadly from exploding, which Puusepp hopes will protect both him and Weezy from the Sobaki’s simple solution to every problem: termination. The Sobaki’s response: they capture Weezy to force her to keep the fail deadly closed. When she refuses, they torture her brutally in a way that injures her terribly, both physically and emotionally. She manages to stand firm, hoping for help from her hacker friends. As insurance, the Sobaki takes Joe prisoner, too, the better to convince Weezy to keep the data hidden. Weezy’s hacker friends identify approximately where Weezy is being held in the hills of West Virginia. She is freed by a Homeland Security tactical team but further injured in process. It is clear to Sobaki that the project is imploding. They decide to fold their tent, keep the $500 million ransom the US government has paid so far, as well as the valuable software Puusepp has written. Then they’ll kill all the participants and declare victory. Their plan is thwarted by Joe’s last-ditch attack on his captors, in which he is wounded but frees Puusepp to escape and track down the Sobaki. The fail deadly times out, and justice is meted out to Sobaki by the infuriated Premier. The lead member, Mongrel, escapes to reappear in the next Mayfield-Napolitani novel. Joe and Weezy finally get the long weekend they had planned, a chance to pick up the pieces of their lives and rediscover the depth of their relationship.