USINDIAMONITOR Dabbles in Sci-Fi Cyber Warrior-Spy Fiction with ‘Subterfuge in the Septagon’

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

As some of you know, I entered the following draft first chapter (since lightly edited) of a much longer work into the Katha Fiction Contest 2017 run by India Currents with the Wellstone Center and got second place.   The novel manuscript has now been completed.  I am going to work like heck in 2023 to have the completed novel manuscript published one way or the other…


In early 2029 I received an urgent call to drop everything I was working on, and head straight to the top floor of the Septagon stat.  Everyone knew this kind of rare summons to the 7th floor could only mean one thing: there was a serious crisis somewhere in the world that required swift action directed by the United States Cyber Force (USCF) General herself.  In other words: big trouble, this is not a drill. 

At the time it came as a surprise.  I had no idea why, or why me.  I had never even met USCF General Nirupama “Nero” Patel in person before in my two years on the force.  I was just a USCF grunt.  For a split second I thought the message may have been sent in error- but there were never mistakes at that level. 

“Top floor” may sound a bit misleading when you work in a bunker somewhere deep underneath Silicon Valley. Even those of us who work down there have no idea exactly where the underground bunker is. Not only are the coordinates classified, it takes a hyperloop ride through a labyrinth of underground tunnels to get to the Septagon.  Riders are utterly disoriented, by design.

 The only way into the USCF global headquarters, a.k.a. The Septagon is through one of seven heavily guarded ground level hyperloop entrances scattered around the Bay Area, equipped with facial recognition scanners.  The entire $30 billion dollar subterranean system was designed and built by a team of free-thinking construction robots and 3D printers that were wiped of all data and decommissioned for scrap recycling as part of the grand opening ceremony for the Septagon in summer 2027. I follow several credible Russian spy-hunter blogs that somehow conjectured that we work directly under the Shoreline Golf Links in San Francisco. I don’t know, Comrades, your guess is as good as mine; try digging around those putting greens and if someone or something blows your head off, there’s a good chance you’re right. 

Uncle Sam seemed to be into the number seven those days.  The year 2027.  The Septagon, for a bunker so-named for its seven walls and a clever play on the mothership, the Pentagon. Only seven living people at any time know exactly where the United States Cyber Force Headquarters is, and the executive suites are–you guessed it–on the seventh floor. Maybe #7 was purposefully used repeatedly because Uncle Sam’s luck had been running really low in the years leading up to the Septagon ribbon cutting. 

When my urgent summons arrived I had been knee deep in diligently probing North Korean missile defense system servers in coordination with Mossad cyber command for several weeks. That project was summarily interrupted by the type of message you drop anything and everything for, including your pants if you had to. 

For the first time I walked past the humanoid robot sentries on the 7th floor lobby that scanned and validated my face and body, and entered the fancy oak-paneled conference room with floor to ceiling digital screens and giant hologram projectors, having no idea what was in store, a bit afraid to find out.  Until then I had strictly been behind the scenes: deep underground, hacking stuff around the world from a safe and anonymous perch.  I really liked my life that way, buried in the Septagon by day quietly racking up wins.  I was extremely good at it.  But nobody outside USCF knew what I really did at work all day.  

It was a cryptic message on my smartwatch in the coldly efficient, standard language and time saving style developed by the Septagon’s in-house AI, simply stating:

“BART JOSHI: Stop all actvty; rprt 2 {7FLconf/rm}; NOW_NOW!”  

This was my first “NOW_NOW!” I’d only heard about this artificial intelligence command before.  Here I was, an Indian-American, a fresh-faced US Cyber Force geek, twenty-seven years old, just two years removed from USCF boot camp, attending my first seventh floor meeting with the entire USCF senior staff. I didn’t even know what the 7th floor looked like.  Access was exclusive and limited.  7th floor meetings usually only included big military honchos from USCF, the White House, or other military branches. 

And then I noticed an unexpected stranger as I sat down at the conference room table.  Two seats away from me at the giant conference table in the middle of the room sat a pretty Indian woman with long jet black hair tied into a tight ponytail, a form-fitting light gray business suit, and that caramel tone I tend to like on both my candy and on my women. She looked about six feet tall and unusually physically fit.  That’s a height almost unheard of in the ranks of full-blooded Indian-origin females as you might also know from experience. The seat between us sat empty. I stared at the ceiling, tried to slow my breathing, concentrated on keeping my heart rate down, and pretended not to notice her as we all waited for the emergency meeting to start. 

“Hi, I’m Manisha,” she said with a sultry Indian accent. I looked over. She was looking right at me with her hand extended in my direction. Stay calm, dude. COMPUTE?

“I’m Bart,” I replied, taking her hand. Man, it was a strong grip. What was this gorgeous foreign national thing doing so deep in the Septagon?  That too in the most VIP part of the whole enterprise?

“You’re… Indian, no?” she asked after a pause, doing that Indian head shake thing where you can’t tell if it’s a yes or a no, approving or disapproving. A no head shake with Indians can be a yes, as in, she was probably saying and gesturing, “You’re Indian, right?” 

“Well, right, I’m Indian-American. Real name my parents gave me is Bh-Bharat,” I stammered, guessing that the name Bart threw her off. Either that or she was wondering if I was named after Bay Area Rapid Transit, and would stammer that out next?. 

“Ah.  Bharat is a nice name, why don’t you use it? You’re named after the great nation of India itself.”

“Yeah, I know.  My family always calls me that, but Bart is easier for all these gringos to pronounce and remember.” I used my head to generally point around the table and room at my USCF colleagues.

“Nice to meet you. I’m here representing India on the new inter-agency task force,” she said. 

Wait.  There’s a new task force with India? And this Indian chick knows about it before I do? 

The USCF general walked in the door, and everybody shut up and stood at attention. There were twenty people in the room, including the general, two lieutenant generals, and all the rest of the top brass, and absolutely no other low-level drones like me I could discern from a quick scan. General Nirupama “Nero” Patel began to speak immediately in her infamous commanding tone. 

“There’s no time to waste this morning.  I’ll get right to it.  First I’d like to welcome Manisha Gayatri from India here today,” she began, looking toward Manisha. “Manisha is on an urgent special assignment with us. She is with the India Cyber Army, graduated first in her class from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, and was ranked #1 in the inaugural India Cyber Army training class as well.” 

Whoa. Pretty impressive resume. IIT and the ICA are both considered top-notch globally these days. I was nowhere near the top of my own USCF class (insert sheepish face emoticon here) or my Georgetown University undergraduate class. Too busy socializing with the other recruits or students, while playing and designing video games in most of my spare time. Yes, video games are a major hobby of mine. 

General Nero got to the point of the sudden meeting for the eager audience holding its collective breath. “We have received extremely bad news.  Early this morning local time, the China People’s Liberation Army was able to successfully hack into and power down an entire US Navy Indo-Pacific Fleet carrier group on routine patrol in the Indian Ocean.  The Indian Navy rapidly deployed to the area and helped us keep the carrier group secure during this episode while they got back up and running- which took over two hours.  There were no casualties, thankfully.” 

There were some gasps in the room before her explanation continued.  This was really not good, definitely not cool, but it was also a bit funny after she informed us nobody got physically hurt.  The event marked an unprecedented show of strength; what China had just pulled off was a very big deal.  Not sinking a whole network of US ships in a live-fire real world game of Battleship but instead hacking into them to render them useless for a while.  Wow.  This had never been done to any American naval asset by any adversary before and we all silently reflected on that.  There was no loss of life, so it wasn’t too soon for me to imagine the snickering around the USCF water coolers that day. Ah, the Navy. Those seamen let the entire carrier group from its most prized fleet go dark over basic sixth-grade malicious code. Should have had a few of us Cyber Force boys and girls on board! 

It got worse.  The U.S. government was right then, as we met, trying hard to keep the situation under wraps from the public, but in a bizarre comedy of errors some excitable Sri Lankan fishermen who randomly happened to be in the area started a giant global Tweetstorm with photos and videos of the six powerful US warships and one nuclear submarine quietly floating in the water like sitting ducks without even their lights working at dusk. So the cheapest boats in the world were pointing an unwanted cell phone spotlight on the most expensive boats in the world.  There was no way for the United States to stanch the gusher of information suddenly racing around the globe in real time.  We watched as the horrifying scene exploded on social media channels in dozens of languages, all over the huge conference room screens, and it began to dawn on me that momentarily I was going to be sucked directly into the spiraling vortex of this disaster somehow.

General Nero continued after a long pause to let us soak in the screens updating the shocking social media and headlines.  “This trash has been up for minutes now.  It’s no doubt a time for celebration for our rivals in Beijing, but not for long.  I just got off an emergency video conference with the US President, the Indian Prime Minister, and my boss, the Defense Secretary. As of five minutes ago President Hubble declared this an act of official cyberwar by a foreign nation-state under Article 79, and wants us to retaliate ASAP. 

“As per protocol there will be zero public mention of a retaliation.  No acknowledgement of who caused this or that it even happened.  The incident is officially being called a US training drill.  The Indian government will also publicly stay silent, but their leadership indicated on the hotline to Washington they are beyond angry that China just took a giant piss in their own backyard swimming pool, and for the first time ever, invoked Article 108 to provide mutual defense resources to the United States effective immediately.  And we will need to keep Taiwan quiet too- because we have intel that this is a prelude to a Taiwan invasion.”

Gulp!  The long-anticipated and feared Taiwan invasion? The big one the world has feared for so long?  The collective stress level in the room just skyrocketed.

“Now you know why Manisha is here.  This is not a drill!  Our number is up today, boys and girls.  This is what we are here for, and train so hard for.  We retaliate against foreign hackers, big or small, with disproportionate force.  Now it’s time for a counter-hack they will never, ever forget.  The mother of all hacks on those motherfuckers.

“Now I am going to brief you on the mission, personally approved by President Hubble just minutes ago, which will entail a secret joint US-India offensive operation to hack into Chinese military base activities on their artificial islands in the South China Sea.  You will specifically be looking for an artificial intelligence program, which we believe executed the US Navy hack and also estimate is about to wreak more havoc with a forthcoming action to invade Taiwan and maybe even territory beyond that in a matter of weeks. We must stop them.  Taiwan has been warned to be on full alert.  We may be approaching the day China has been patiently planning for, for decades, and we are the ones that are going to disrupt their plan.  With everything we have, everything we need.”

The room seemed to let out a collective gasp. I nearly choked on my latte and almost fell out of my seat. It wasn’t the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Space Force, CIA, or anyone else taking the lead.  It was us.  My very own little outfit in a vast bureaucracy of millions of people. But Manisha sat there, perfectly calm.  She already knew. Before a lot of us. Including me. 

“So let’s get to the point.  India Cyber Army Agent Manisha Gayatri will run point for the Indian side of the task force,” General Nero continued amongst the murmurs, “and Officer Bart Joshi will run point for the US side.”  Everyone present, all of whom outranked me, some who’d never even heard of me, turned their heads to look straight at my nervous mug. 

At that point, I did really choke on my latte. Did I seriously hear General Nero correctly?  

Manisha reached over and slapped me on the back patronizingly while I coughed loudly and my eyes watered. “Time to put your big-boy pyjamas on,” she whispered sweetly.  Most of the collection of power amassed in the room looked at me with incredulity, only outdone by the incredulity I felt myself.  Like, they chose this guy?

Leave it to the Indians to screw up how to say pajamas. Oh, and how in the world was I chosen to co-captain the most important mission that the USCF had ever taken on in its brief yet important 2 year history? 



  1. […] Create a new military branch called the United States Cyber Force and fund it with $100B annually. Foreign governments, criminal organizations, terrorists, and rogues of various types are attacking American public and private infrastructure on a daily basis. It could be bank accounts, it could be a gas pipeline, it could be the water utility, a retail giant, or it could be the White House itself getting hacked. Let me ask you something. Who is responsible and accountable for preventing these critical attacks- and hitting those bastards back where it really hurts? Homeland Security? The NSA? The CIA? The Air Force Cyber Command? The FBI? The Army? If everyone is responsible, and everyone keeps getting our billions without consequence, nobody is responsible. You can’t fire someone for doing a bad job if they weren’t told they were responsible for the job. So we keep getting licked. We keep buying 20th century relics like big planes and submarines and rockets instead, such woefully outdated fossils that will not win us the next war, which is very obviously going to be fought in cyberspace/AI battlefields. The answer? Take $100B and focus it on cyber-warfare only- and create a new military branch for it. (shameless plug: for those interested in this topic please stay tuned for my future techno-thriller novel coming out soon) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.