By Rob Phayre
Compared to the heat of Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, Berlin was freezing. It didn’t help that there was a cold snap underway, and even worse, the heating in the rental flat was definitely playing up. The rattle and clank of the 1950’s piping, brand new after the war probably, but now as quaint as the facades of the buildings outside the warped window. Oderberger Strasse with its chocolate box buildings and bohemian cafes wasn’t Reepamans’ normal choice when it came to safehouses. There were too many people, and too many cameras, but his original plan had fallen through and very few other options were available at the last minute.
Being a careful man, he would normally have pushed back on the task, but The Associate had insisted. He could be that way sometimes. Reepaman suspected that he had an idea why, but also understood that sometimes he just had to do what he was told.
The war, just over a thousand kilometres away to the East was raging, and Russia was eyeing up the energy systems across Europe. The winter demands for power and heating were ramping up and Putins’ vice like grip was all over Eastern Europe. The Middle Eastern energy leaders were playing their political games, an oil production cut here, a supply problem there, and before you knew it oil was back over a hundred dollars a barrel.
Reepaman had seen the spot price for gas on the news that morning and it was just nuts. None of that was his problem, of course, but in a tight hydrocarbon market, anything that played with the energy mix was going to make someone a lot of money if they could crystal ball gaze into the future. That was why the timing on this was so tight. He had been given a very precise timeline for this project, and given its extraordinary reach, the planning had been meticulous.
All over Europe couriers had been delivering boxes, to a series of contacts, provided by The Associate. The boxes had arrived that morning, with very clear instructions, and an envelope with ten thousand dollars in cash. They had all been sent by courier. Not through one of the major ones, like DHL or FEDEX though. There was too much risk there of them using some of their scanning technologies on the packages and discovering their purpose. No, this time around fifteen boxes, had been sent through a number of smaller couriers. The risk had been spread, and they were none the wiser for what they were carrying.
The receivers of the boxes only had to do a few simple things to earn their money. Take the drone out of the box, turn it on at the right time, and place it on the ground at the location marked on the piece of paper in the envelope with the cash.
Reepaman was sat at the rental flats small dining room table hunched over his laptop. The start-up time had passed, and he was waiting for each of the drones to check in. Each one had a simple mobile phone sim-card installed, and it took a few moments for them to start pinging on his screen. Slowly, the red icons on Reepamans digital map of Europe started to turn green.
To the untrained eye, Europe was a big place, but if you had spent long enough looking, you soon worked out that the energy system was one of its backbones.
Reepaman knew that there was a vast interconnected network of natural gas pipelines, gas fired power stations, gas storage facilities, flow stations, and gas decompressors. The system was finely balanced, massively financed, and surprisingly delicate.
Reepaman looked as his map. There were two drones in the UK that were both green on his screen. Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands also had a pair a piece. Spain was allocated four, as it did have the largest gas fired power station in the world. Worryingly for Reepaman, only two of those four looked like they had been turned on so far. The other drones’ icons were in Eastern Europe.
The target list had been surprisingly easy to draw up. Reepaman had started with BingAI and asked a simple question. ‘Which are the largest gas power stations in the world.’ A list of ten notable targets had come up in Europe. A couple of hours spent on Google maps had helped study the general areas but that hadn’t been accurate enough for his needs. Afterall, everyone knew that the exact locations of critical infrastructure could be massaged when it came to geolocations.
Reepaman had had to visit some of the key targets and then done his own research. A hill walking disguise, a GPS, a laser range finder with a digital compass, and a little patience with the Ordinance Survey App was all it had taken. It wasn’t hard and he didn’t need to actually go into any of the sites themselves to get the precise data he needed for his strikes.
For the key sites, the walk had helped him identify some launch points too. It had taken a lot of discipline from Reepaman to stop thinking that it really was too easy.
Only a couple of the targets were actually power stations this time. Generally speaking they had a lot more security measures in place, and short of spending a long time in reconnaissance, which came with its own risks, he didn’t need the exposure. In some of those countries, they were called National Critical Infrastructure, and they had a lot more protection than other places that Reepaman had targeted recently. Some countries, like the UK even published the security guidelines that were needed for some of those sites on the web.
In addition to the power stations, Reepaman was targeting a key pipeline, a couple of critical gas valves and a regassification ship. Reepaman had been a little surprised to discover that as a result of the war, some countries had needed to temporarily hire specialised ships which could accept liquid natural gas from abroad, and then convert it from a liquid to a gas. The countries gas pipelines only accepted the gas in gas form, not liquid. When Russia had throttled back supply on some pipelines, and destroyed a major pipeline in the North Sea it had had a devastating impact on Europe’s gas supply. The regassification ship was a critical target for Reepaman. He knew that if he could shut down the ship, he would shut down the majority of the gas supply for a major country.
He also knew that when the attacks started, gas prices would spike momentarily, and then drop like a hot rock as the traders realised that 3 percent of the worlds gas demand had just evaporated for a period of months. That didn’t sound like much to Reepaman but apparently to the traders, who were constantly battling against supply, demand, transportation, and storage, that was a big deal. Soon, they would be giving it away rather than paying the hundred thousand dollars a day to leave it stuck on a ship.
Reepaman was not going to draw any unnecessary attention to himself by placing any trades though. That was a mugs game, and anyway, he didn’t need the money. The Associate paid him far more than he could ever spend and he had enough money to retire tomorrow. He wouldn’t though of course, he was one of the few that was lucky enough to enjoy his work. He was a true sociopath.
Reepaman looked back down at his map and smiled briefly. The two red icons in Spain had just turned green. Fifteen powered up drones were waiting for his simple launch command. He looked at his watch. There was still twenty minutes to go before it was time for action. He went to the fridge in the kitchenette behind him and grabbed a cola. On the counter was an opened packet of chilli biltong. The dried strips of beef were chewy to start with, but softened up quickly, especially with a mouthful of cola.
Reepaman turned on the large TV that was mounted on the wall in the small sitting room and turned it to CNN. As he sat back down at his laptop the latest weather disaster was getting back-to-back coverage. The constant referrals to global warming gave him a moments thought. His actions today would help in its own small way. He was about to cut gas off from Europe for a period of months. That could only be a positive for the environment, couldn’t it? The fact that millions of people would be cold over the winter wasn’t his problem. Was it?
He stopped himself from going down a rabbit hole. He knew himself too well. If he got engrossed in something, he might miss the vital timing he needed to actually start things off. Reepaman just sat there, slurping cola, chewing biltong and watching the news.
The timer on his phone went off with a tinkling alarm. He turned it off and moved his mouse to the button on the screen that said ‘Execute’. He was beginning to like that word.
The computer sent fifteen SMS messages to the tiny onboard computers on the drones. It took a few seconds, but they all replied back acknowledging that they had received the command and that they were now flying. On board, the guidance systems knew where they were, and where they had to go. These particular quadcopter drones were only sold with an onboard geo-fencing system. It was designed to prevent hobbyists from flying into critical airspace like airports, or nuclear power stations. It was extremely easy to override though for more experienced users, and in fact it had been simple for Reepaman to download the software. He was pretty certain the drone manufacturers themselves created and sold it online.
In this case, the geofencing system would only have stopped a couple of the attacks. Most of the infrastructure being attacked today was discrete and undefended. It was only if all those points were attacked at once that the major damage would be done. And who would ever want to do that?
Fifteen drones flew, following their tiny digital brains to their targets.
Within ten minutes all had successfully struck. The explosions weren’t huge, there were no Hollywood style blasts. They were clever strikes, enough to cause some critical damage, and to engage the safety systems that caused full safety shutdowns. The real magic, as Reepaman learned afterwards, was in tripping the European wide electrical power system. The sudden removal from the energy grid of fifteen percent of its electrical energy supply, caused huge imbalances outside the parameters of the technical design.
As the supply waivered, brownouts occurred. A string of vast industrial power users shut down automatically to protect themselves. They caused the secondary effect of shutting down the demand, just as other major electrical power supplies tried to ramp up delivery. The surge in power was the final straw for the grid and it caused a catastrophic shut down.
In his flat in Berlin, Reepaman looked up as the TV on the wall turned off, and the lights flickered.
Well that obviously went pretty well he thought.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, scenarios and events are imaginary, and any coincidences are unintended.
Having said that.
The technology to execute the events described is here, now.
There are those with the capability and intent to use it…
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If you enjoyed Berlin Brownout, why not start at the very beginning of the series – A Deadly Drone Show
To read more stories by award winning author Rob Phayre
Images created using BingAI