Net Impact

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Donald J. Bingle is the author of six books and more than fifty shorter tales in the science fiction, fantasy, thriller, horror, mystery, steampunk, romance, comedy, and memoir genres.

Random true facts about Donald J. Bingle:
He was the Keeper of the World's Largest Kazoo.
He made up the science of Neo-PsychoPhysics for a time travel roleplaying game.
He is a member of The International Thriller Writers.
He once successfully limboed under a pole only nineteen inches off the ground.
He has written short stories about killer bunnies, civil war soldiers, detectives, Renaissance Faire orcs, giant battling robots, demons, cats, werewolves, time travelers, ghosts, time-traveling ghosts, spies, barbarians, a husband accused of murdering his wife, dogs, horses, gamers, soldiers, Neanderthals, commuters, kender, Victorian adventurers, lawyers, and serial killers (note the serial comma). Of those subjects, he has occasional contact in real life only with dogs, cats, gamers, lawyers, and commuters (unless some of those are, unknown to him, really time travelers, ghosts, demons, serial killers, spies, or murder suspects).
He prefers gamers to commuters.
He prefers dogs to cats.
He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
He was once hit by lightning.
He was the world's top-ranked tournament player of classic roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons for more than fifteen years.
His is a member of the Horror Writers Association.
He was an Eagle Scout.
He is a member of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
He used to write movie reviews for Knights of the Dinner Table, a comic book about gamers.
He is a retired attorney.
He has likely attended GenCon for more years than you have been alive.

Private Message
Advert #270





Dick Thornby Thriller #1


Donald J. Bingle




Cover Design by Juan Villar Padron

D.I.A. Image by Arina P. Habich, Licensed via



This is a work of fiction. All names,
characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. All trademarks are the property of their respective


This book is published by

54°40’ Orphyte, Inc.

St. Charles, Illinois





ISBN 13:


May 2018

Copyright © 2011, 2018 Donald
J. Bingle.

All rights reserved.


This is a work of fiction. All names,
characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. All trademarks are the property of their respective




For Jean Rabe: the
best friend any writer could have.








The squad moved through the
unfamiliar terrain with practiced ease.
Hawk was on point, scanning the all-too-near horizon methodically.  Peregrine and Shrike trailed at an oblique

angle to either side at least a grenade-blast’s diameter behind, side points in
a classic diamond pattern combat formation.
Completing the geometry, Pigeon trailed the same distance yet again

behind them, swiveling his head back at uneven intervals to watch their six.

The landscape sloped sharply, but unevenly, upward
toward the cloudless, frozen blue sky.
Huge slabs of rock, graffiti-free this far from respectable

civilization, were strewn about their path like a young girl’s jacks across the

Hawk flicked his vision involuntarily heavenward
as if a giant, red rubber ball might be descending to crush the squad while the
enormous, granite jacks were swept up by a gargantuan eight-year old.  He chuckled softly at his own paranoia.  He’d seen plenty of bizarre things in his
time, to be sure, especially in this strange land.  This mission, in particular, presented
dangers both from the terrain and from the authorities, should the squad be
detected and an assassination team scrambled.
But big, rubber balls wielded by colossal eight-year olds were not among


He slowed for a moment to verify the coordinates
for the rendezvous against their tortuous progress through the wilderness,
checked the time on the bulky, multi-functional chronograph on his left wrist,
and then pressed the sub-vocal microphone hanging down from his headset against
his neck with his beefy left hand.

He spoke without opening his mouth, in essence
silent to everyone not hooked into the squad’s encrypted digital frequency with
a properly-tuned, algorithmic descrambler.
The sub-vocal mike took a bit of getting used to, but with some practice

it was so effective it sometimes seemed as if the squad members could read each
other’s minds.  “We’re close.”  Hawk gestured with his right arm at the arc
of boulders blocking their vision up-slope.
“In there, no doubt.”

He stopped in his tracks and made a circular
motion with his right hand while sending another sub-vocal command.   “I want a three-sixty scan of the perimeter,
around and above, before we go in.”

Peregrine, Shrike, and Pigeon all stopped and
began their scans, each starting with their individual sector priorities.  Hawk trusted the group, trusted his men—this
wasn’t their first stroll in the wilderness—but he obeyed his own orders, doing
a full sweep in all directions.  Starting
at twelve o’clock and then shifting in uniform increments through a complete
arc in all dimensions, he systematically studied the view with a focused,
penetrating gaze.  After he completed the
process using his own keen eyesight, he repeated the routine with the
magnification turned up full on his precision optical scanner, a device that
was a damn sight better than military grade and for which he had paid a pretty
penny of his own hard-earned cash to possess.

The place was desolate and almost Spartan in its
lack of significant landmarks.  They
never would have found the location for the meeting without a GPS device.  The terrain was trackless, featureless, and empty
beyond imagining.  There were no
buildings in line-of-sight.  Not even a simple
yurt could be found tucked into one of the numerous draws and valleys.  No mine entrances could be spied perched on
the sides of the steep slopes.  The broad
expanse of sky above was vacant, as if from a time primordial.  Not a single plane or jet trail marred the
uniform cobalt; no birds wheeled and screed in the thin air at this
altitude.  The silence of the area was
palpable—they hadn’t seen any wildlife on the ground since Peregrine had
flushed a deer hours and hours ago.

When everyone had confirmed what Hawk’s own
observations had told him, he motioned for the group to continue forward in
combat formation.  Even though he hadn’t
signaled for it, a quick glance back told him they had all, like him, instinctively
crouched lower as they moved into the circle of boulders for the anticipated

Hawk had to scramble hand-over-hand to make his
way through the arc of boulders that ringed the meeting place like jagged
teeth.  Despite his attempts to be
stealthy, he dislodged a few loose stones, which skittered down as he sought
purchase in the crannies between slabs of lightly-veined, gray granite.  He cursed at himself for the clumsy noisiness
of his approach.  When he finally reached
a vantage point, however, perching like a bit of meat caught between teeth
badly in need of flossing, he could see there was no one in the circle of
stones to have heard his less-than-professional approach.  He did a full scan of the surprisingly
grassy, level area forming an oval in the midst of the protective rocks.  The giant chunks of granite appeared from
this vantage almost as if they had been placed with Stonehenge precision to
fortify the simple field.  When he found
no sign of the squad’s rendezvous counterparts or anyone else, he motioned the
team forward and secured a protected covering position with a broad field of
fire on the inner slope of the rocks.

One by one, the rest of the squad entered the
circle and set up secure positions along the eastern arc of rocks and crevices
to await their contacts.  Hawk checked
his chronograph and snarled softly.  The
other side was late.

Never a good sign.

The waiting was merely tedious; the
second-guessing he was doing while he waited was torture.  His mind raced, now unoccupied by the mundane
mechanics of a stealth march through unfamiliar territory in a land more
foreign than he had ever encountered before.
It was a civilization that played by its own rules and was ruled by a

largely faceless coterie of zealous bureaucrats who had immense power and their
own hidden agendas.  Things could happen
here you could never believe, even though the powers-that-be proffered their
citizens a façade of freedom and a semblance of self-determination.

In a place like this, things could go suddenly and
terribly wrong.

So the worries raced through Hawk’s mind.  Was the squad being set up?  Were the rebels they were to meet really
rebels and not government goons on their own clandestine mission, a mission
targeting his team’s destruction?  Had
their long, lonely trek to this place been detected?  Worse yet, had the squad members been
identified and massive retaliation already been put into action, not just here
for him and his squad, but back home where everyone he loved worked and
breathed and played, unaware of his role in this world, never assuming he could
be this person and do the things he had done?

A chirp from Shrike broke his reverie.  A force was moving into the teeth opposite
their positions.  The clatter of stones
cascading down the far side of the fortress rocks gave the approaching group
away even before they could reach the jagged openings allowing entry to the
field spread out below.  The noisy
approach didn’t say much for their capacity for stealth, but then again, his
own earlier approach had been considerably less than ninja-like.  He started to smile at the thought, then
caught himself.  This was no place for
self-deprecating distraction—not here, not on a mission.  The noise could be a ruse.  He signaled for the squad to do another quick
scan in all directions just in case the noise was a deliberate distraction for
a move on them from the rear.

Professional paranoia.  That was his job.  He’d learned from the best.

A quick series of chirps and calls from the squad
revealed his paranoia was misplaced, this time.
He didn’t care.  One day it

wouldn’t be and he would live to talk about it.
Except, of course, he couldn’t talk about it with anyone outside the

organization.  And inside the
organization you just didn’t do that kind of thing—it ruined the whole macho
bullshit mystique of being a big balls covert op.

Oh well.
There was a lot he couldn’t talk about.
That, too, he knew too well, was part of the job.

Finally, what he prayed were his squad’s true
counterparts in this rendezvous came into view.
The first to appear in the v-shaped opening between two boulders stood

up straight in full view and gave a hearty wave to the seemingly empty
field.  Silhouetted by the bright light
of the western sky, he presented a target that was a sniper’s wet dream.  “Anybody here yet?” the shadowy figure
yelled, then looked around the interior of the circle of stones.  “What an awesome place for a party!”

Rebels.  It
had to be real rebels.  It was hard to
fake that kind of oblivious stupidity.

Hawk used a small metal mirror from his pocket to
flash light in his counterpart’s face to attract his attention.  Once Party Dude noticed the signal, Hawk
stood and motioned toward the middle of the field.  Party Dude gave an excited wave and motioned
back to the rest of his people to follow him over the rocks and down to the
field itself, then leaped and skittered his way to the grass with agile
grace.  Hawk signaled for Shrike and
Peregrine to move to the field, too.
Pigeon stayed in his roost, crouched in a crevice with a view both

inside and outside the granite perimeter.
There was no reason to show their full hand yet.  Hawk could call Pigeon in when he needed the

contents of his backpack.  Besides,
someone needed to keep an eye out for threats, whether internal or external to
their little gathering place. 

Hawk moved down toward the field.  It was an awkward climb down, so he didn’t
rush.  Instead, he moved with the
deliberate, methodical style of a trained professional.  Not only would it be embarrassing to tumble
down the slope in front of their counterparts, but he also wanted to convey to
these rebels that he and the members of his team were competent and
responsible—not some fly-by-night goons for hire.  The stakes were, after all, enormous, most
especially for the rebels.  If this
exchange was traced, they didn’t have the kinds of resources Hawk and his team
had to protect themselves or just to disappear, if it came to that.

As he made his way down-slope, Hawk took in more
details about the rebels and the situation, comparing and contrasting the two
groups’ approaches to the mission.
Hawk’s team was coordinated, disciplined, and alert.  Party Dude’s team was disorganized and

casual.  Hawk’s team had arrived on
time.  Party Dude’s crew was late.  Hawk’s team dressed in simple, loose clothing
in a variety of dark, natural shades—the kind of thing that allowed easy
movement and provided passable camouflage in most outdoor settings without
looking like military or hunting camo gear.
On the other hand, Party Dude’s casual, fashionable clothing featured

more logos than the average NASCAR jumpsuit.

The various swooshes and crests and polo ponies on
Party Dude’s gear each would have been understated and tasteful in a
class-conscious preppy kind of way if worn in isolation.  In combination with all the other understated
and tasteful logos, along with a few more garish pieces of affinity-wear
touting energy drinks, software, and special-effects laden movies, the ensemble
was quite dizzying and, frankly, exhausting to behold.

Party Dude’s five-member (that Hawk could see)
team followed their leader down, each exhibiting the same fluid movement and
the same tacky fondness for logoed fashion-wear.  It was like they all shopped for overstocked
and irregular clothing at the same Stop and Swap flea-market in rural
Tennessee.  The group members were all
Caucasian in terms of their facial features, but their movements had an
Oriental feel to them.  Hawk didn’t
really care—whatever they looked like and whoever they were, he knew who they
were doing this for and that made all the difference in the world.

The other group took the field and started
pitching tents before Hawk’s squad finished descending.  Hawk arched an eyebrow as he strode to the
center of the field, proffering his beefy hand to Party Dude for a shake.  Party Dude gave him a fist bump, instead,
which Hawk did his best to adjust to.

“Welcome to our shindig, bro,” exclaimed Party

“Bitchin’ to be here, man,” responded Hawk with
faux gusto.  He didn’t know whose benefit
all this jovial camaraderie was for, but it was best to play along.  “Staying the night?” he asked, gesturing at
the hodge-podge of mismatched tents quickly being assembled.

Party Dude gave a wide grin.  “Absolutely, bro, absolutely.  Nobody comes this far for a meet and
greet.  They come to party.  Relax.
We’ll chat.  We’ll eat.  We’ll discuss areas of mutual interest.  We can have sex, if you’re into that kind of


Hawk stiffened and not in a sexual kind of
way.  “Er, no.”  He waved his right hand dismissively and
tried his best to give a hearty, casual laugh, although it came off a bit
ragged.  “Uh, I gave it up for
Lent.”  Lent had ended months ago, but
Hawk was pretty sure this guy wouldn’t know that.

Party Dude took the rejection in stride.  “That’s cool.
Lots of grunting and groaning and what does it get you?  Better than that, I’ve got a bootleg of the

latest Transformers sequel coming out next month.  We could watch, or maybe I could swap you a
copy for something cool.  Got anything?”

And there it was—the code phrase he had been told
to expect:  “a bootleg of the latest Transformers
sequel.”  Even though it sometimes felt
completely ridiculous to do all this clandestine spycraft crap, especially when
you were standing in a field in the middle of nowhere with nobody else watching,
it paid to have ingrained good habits over the long run.

Hawk smiled.
“Nothing that good, I’m afraid.
Just the never-released pilot for Buffy:  The Vampire Slayer.”

Party Dude frowned.

Hawk knew why.
He hadn’t offered the appropriate item in trade.  He never gave the response to a code-phrase

right away.  Someone who knew the right
phrase to offer, but not the expected response, would always eagerly accept
whatever they were given.  Someone
expecting something else would hesitate.
Or come back around for another try.

Or shoot you.
It wasn’t a game without risks.

Party Dude considered for a moment, then wrinkled
his nose.  “I could get that on
eBay.  Besides, Alyson Hannigan makes a
much better Willow.  What else you got?”

Hawk smiled.
“I’ve got a listing of hidden features in the new Grand Theft Auto

sequel coming out next week.

Party Dude gave him another fist bump.  “Interested?
There isn’t a guy in the world that doesn’t like cars, tits, and

explosions.”  His head tilted to one side.  “Except maybe the Pope. . .”

Hawk laughed out loud.  “Don’t know about the tits and explosions—but
he’s got a Popemobile.  Anyone else you
know got one?”

Now it was Party Dude’s turn to laugh.  “They oughta let you boost one of those in
the game.  Now that would be rad.”

“Sounds like we have a swap, then,” said Hawk,
eager to get the business end of the transaction done, not that what they were
really swapping had anything to do with robots, cars, or whores.

“Sure, bro, after the party.”

Hawk was disappointed not to finish up the
business quickly, but he understood Party Dude’s concerns.  Maybe he didn’t trust someone on his
team.  Maybe he thought his group had
been detected traveling to this remote place.
Maybe he was worried about what a recon satellite would show over a

short time lapse photo spread.  He had
said it all on their first exchange:
“Nobody comes this far for a meet and greet.”  He and his squad had to hang and chat about

topics relevant to Party Dude’s cover so his presence here could be explained
credibly to whoever might inquire.  So,
it was pop culture for males 18 to 30 years old for a few hours.

He could do that.
But Hawk did wonder if this meant his subscription to Entertainment
could be written off as a legitimate business expense … as if his

simple, pedestrian tax returns reflected anything at all to do with this facet
of his life.

Hawk chatted with Party Dude a bit more, then
wandered over to tell Shrike and Peregrine to settle in for the night.  Meanwhile, Party Dude’s team started a
campfire.  Hawk had no idea where they
got the fuel—trees were sparse this high up—but he understood the choice for
their rendezvous spot better now that he knew this shindig was part of the
cover.  It had to be a spot where the
fire and the gathering wouldn’t attract others.
Although a simple campfire can be seen from miles away, the circle of

protective rocks prevented that here.  Of
course, the light of a campfire could always be seen from above, from a higher
elevation or aerial reconnaissance.  But
this site was already well-elevated and an aerial view via high-altitude spy
plane or even passing satellite surveillance tasked to take a look would show
nothing more than what appeared to be an overnight campout/party.

Party Dude was cleverer than he looked.

But apparently not clever enough.

Without warning, there was a flash and the camp
erupted in chaos as an invisible shockwave of pressurized air radiated out from
where one of the rebel’s tents had once stood.
Hawk’s combat sense screamed at him that there had been an explosion,

but there was no smoke, no fire, and no charred debris.  Instead of the sharp boom of an explosion,
there had been a deep rumble.  Hawk
scanned the area, flicking his eyes from point to point in rapid succession,
desperate to acquire more data.  The
data, when it came, made no sense at all.
He watched as some sort of strange orange death-ray bolted down from an

unseen location far above, vaporizing everything it touched in an instant.  In the immediate aftermath of the momentary
pulse, people and objects in the surrounding area were knocked asunder.

Rebels were shouting, fleeing, searching for
cover, and firing small arms randomly into the sky.  Untrained civilians often react badly to
danger, but panic comes in a heartbeat when people are simply being vaporized
by an invisible enemy with an impossible weapon.

There was no reason to be subtle anymore.  “Abort!
Abort!  Abort!” screamed Hawk, as

he dashed toward Party Dude’s tent, calling for Pigeon to do the same, in the
hope of making the exchange before it was too late.  The tent disappeared in a bright flash of
orange light, however, as Hawk approached.
He skidded to a stop, just barely avoiding being touched by the bizarre

orange glow.  He looked helplessly at the
weapon in his hands.  He would use it, if
he had a target, but this situation, this bizarre death from above made
fighting useless.  He raised the gun as
he scanned the field looking for an enemy, looking for some way to retaliate or
simply defend, but he did not fire.

In the few seconds it took for Hawk to assess the
situation, it deteriorated even further.
The orange light fell upon the field again and again.  Each time a tent or a rebel or a gigantic,

granite boulder simply disappeared.
No debris, no crater, no wounded left behind.  Chaotic cries of confusion rang out from the

rebels, but there were fewer voices with each passing moment and it wasn’t
because the panic was subsiding.

“Take flight,” Hawk yelled to his squad over the
tumult of the remaining rebels’ shouts and the soft bass whoomph that
accompanied each appearance of the orange energy beam wreaking destruction on
the remote meeting place.  The
secretiveness of the sub-vocal microphone was not needed for the urgent and
obvious orders Hawk needed to convey, both to his men and to their rebel
counterparts.  “Scatter now!”  He slung his weapon and obeyed his own order.

Someone was going to pay for this screw-up, Hawk
vowed.  He glanced back at the
obliterated camp as he gained height in his effort to escape the strange
fortress of stones.  A lot of people were
already paying for this screw-up.  He
hoped he wouldn’t be one of them.

Hawk doubled his speed.  Survival was his only goal.  He didn’t care what it looked like.


Chapter 1


Dick Thornby didn’t look like anybody’s idea of a spy.  He didn’t have the steely stare and the long, lithe body of the spies of popular fiction.  He wasn’t wearing a designer evening jacket.  Nor did he have the non-descript, average height, average weight, bland, gray, middle-management look of the men favored by the CIA, FBI, and other acronym agencies of America.

At 5’ 10”, with the stockiness of a former
offensive lineman, it was easiest for Dick to buy his clothes at the big and
tall men’s shops proliferating in the increasingly portly suburban communities
back home.  Dressed in a cheap suit and
tie he’d picked up in just such a place, he was perfectly disguised as yet
another small-time American businessman deplaning from the long haul to
Auckland, New Zealand—in coach.  He was
well aware his employer could afford to send him first class, but such
extravagance did not match his cover, so he passed on the luxury, despite the

Instead, he trudged down the gangway to the
terminal with the rest of the unwashed masses, everyone groggy from sleeping
fitfully for too long in seats too small for comfort.  It was easy to stay in character with the
crowd—grouchy and bone-tired from the trek.
He waited in weary resignation for his bags, then dutifully got in the immigration

control line.  With a well-worn passport
and his traveler information form in his left hand and a rumpled trench coat
draped over his right, he performed the familiar traveler shuffle—wait, push
your bag ahead with a foot, shuffle forward, and wait again.  Finally, it was his turn.

The courteous immigration officer gave him a
cursory glance, then flipped open his passport and stamped a page.  A moment later the Kiwi official waved him
through.  No strip search today.

Once in the airport concourse, Dick maintained
cover by exchanging U.S. dollars for New Zealand dollars at the crappy airport
rate, just like other unprepared tourists.
Turning toward the exit, he squinted at the brightness of the morning

sun as he took in the rest of the terminal.
He reached into his carry-on bag and donned cheap, dark, aviator

sunglasses and a rumpled, fabric fedora matched to his trench coat, then
surveyed the scene again.

He looked like a dork, he knew, but the tacky
accessories completed the middle-class traveler ensemble.  Sometimes it was good cover to look like a

Besides, the sunglasses were actually anything but
cheap.  In reality they were highly
sophisticated micro-enhanced lenses issued by his employers at the
Subsidiary.  Along with allowing communications
from headquarters and providing heads-up video/Internet display, the sunglasses
had a variety of other handy features.

Most Subsidiary operatives used a sleek, modern,
wrap-around style for their special shades, but Dick was not nearly cool enough
to pull that off without looking conspicuous.
Aviators matched his look much better.
Of course, just like the fancy wrap-arounds, or even everyday sunglasses

from a discount superstore, the aviators let his eyes roam at will without
raising suspicion.  Along with the hat,
the glasses also foiled most facial recognition software.  The cheap, loose-fitting jacket and baggy
suit pants he wore concealed his muscular physique, as well as the scars he had
picked up along the trail from college football grunt to team leader with U.S.
Army Special Forces to Chicago cop to Subsidiary operative.

Dick didn’t know who had dropped this latest hot
potato into the Subsidiary’s lap.  He
didn’t need to know and he didn’t care.
All he knew was that bad guys were dealing arms.  Not just chicken-shit automatic weapons

(though those killed enough civilians on their own), but major hardware and
top-secret design specifications.  In
this case, someone had stolen high-grade security-clearance plans for a
state-of-the-art item that could help turn the tide in a major conflict and
absolutely blow away the enemy in a minor one.

Dick’s job was to get the plans
back—surreptitiously if possible—but at any cost necessary, if it came to it.



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Best known as the
world’s top-ranked player of classic role-playing games for the last fifteen
years of the last century, Donald J. Bingle is an oft-published author in the
science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, steampunk, romance, and comedy
genres, with a half dozen published novels (
Forced Conversion, GREENSWORD, Net Impact, Frame
Shop, The Love-Haight Case Files, and Wet Work
) and about fifty stories, many in DAW themed anthologies
and tie-in anthologies, including stories in
The Crimson Pact, Steampunk’d, Imaginary Friends, Fellowship
, Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies, Time Twisters,
Front Lines,
Slipstreams, Gamer Fantastic,
Transformers Legends, Search for Magic (Dragonlance), If I
Were An Evil Overlord
Blue Kingdoms:  Mages & Magic, Civil War Fantastic, Future Americas, All
Hell Breaking Loose
, The Dimension Next Door, Sol’s Children,
Historical Hauntings, and Fantasy Gone Wrong.  A number of his stories have been collected
in his Writer on Demand™ Series, including
Tales of Gamers and Gaming, Tales of Humorous Horror, Tales Out of Time, Grim, Fair e-Tales,
Tales of an Altered Past Powered by Romance, Horror, and Steam, Not-So-Heroic
Fantasy, and Shadow Realities

Donald J. Bingle is a
member of the International Thriller Writers, Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, International Association of
Media Tie-In Writers, and Origins Game Fair Library. More on Don and his
writing can be found at



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