I've been re-working The Alexandria Project in preparation for approaching a literary agent. One thing I'm toying with is whether the book needs to get to a quicker, edgier start than the original first chapter provides - such as what follows below. What's your opinion?
Late in the afternoon of December 11, 2010 a large panel truck backed up to a chain link fence topped with concertina wire in a run-down section of Richmond, Virginai. The words “Lowell Wholesale Paper Goods” were spread across the sides of the truck, as well as across the back of the gray coveralls worn by the truck’s driver, Jack Davis.
Jumping down from behind the wheel, Davis entered a number on the battered keypad set on a steel post rising from the cracked pavement, and a section of the fence began to clank slowly to one side. A moment later, and he had backed the truck up flush against the loading dock of the nondescript warehouse inside. By the time he was done, the fence had closed once again behind him.
Davis rolled up the rear door of the truck from the inside, and then unlocked and raised the metal loading dock door. Stepping inside, he threw a light switch, and then stamped on the brake release pedal of the hydraulic lifter parked against the wall. The few bare bulbs in the ceiling above dimly revealed a long row of loading pallets, each stacked nine feet high with large boxes of paper plates, cups and towels.
Closing and locking the loading dock gate behind him, Davis pushed the lifter along the row of pallets, counting down as he did so moved along. When he reached zero, he turned the long forks of the lift to the right and slid them under a pallet, raised it a few inches, and then backed it up. After swinging it 180 degrees, he turned to find not another pallet, but a heavy steel door set in a wall, and beside it a biometric security pad.
When Davis pressed his thumb against it, the door opened inwards into a closet-sized room barely illuminated in weak red light. Stepping inside, he eased the pallet of boxes back into place behind him, lowered it, and closed the door. Only then did he open the unlocked, second door at the other end of the tiny room, first taking care to shield his eyes with one hand.
As usual, even with this precaution the bright lights in the enormous room beyond nearly blinded him. But soon he could clearly see the familiar row upon row of seven foot high metal racks crammed with identical black objects, each the size and shape of a medium pizza delivery box. Every one displayed a row of small, rhythmically blinking white lights, and each was connected to bundles of brightly colored wires. The room hummed softly with the sound of thousands of cooling fans, one to a box. Davis felt more than heard the pulse of the powerful air conditioners that absorbed the waste heat the fans threw off, lest the computer chips in the thousands of servers be destroyed by their own heat.
Walking along the perimeter of the room, Davis saw the guard he was relieving approach from the opposite direction. When they met, the guard stopped briefly to chat and slip on the coveralls he’d been carrying over one arm. Like the semi-automatic pistol the guard wore in his shoulder holster, they were identical to those that Davis wore as well.
“What’s the weather like outside?”
“Sucks. Sleet and more of the same predicted till morning.”
“Figures. Tomorrow’s my day off.”
With that, the guard went on his way. In a few minutes he’d be driving off in the truck parked outside, after first performing in reverse the ritual of entry that Davis had just completed.
Well, the weather won’t be bothering me in here, Davis thought. The room was climate controlled to within a tenth of a degree, and well-insulated by the bombproof walls and roof that had been erected inside the outer shell of the warehouse. The whole bloody world could come to an end outside and he wouldn’t know about it till his shift was over.
Davis walked up a flight of steel stairs that led to a bullet proof, glass walled security booth attached to the wall overlooking the room. He stepped inside after touching another biometric pad, and then began settling in for another long, boring shift guarding the blinking servers below. In front of him were video displays that allowed him to see every inch of the outside of the warehouse, and racked on the wall behind him were a high powered rifle and a shotgun. It wasn’t likely he’d ever need any of the fire power at his disposal, though. One flip of the large red switch in front of him would flood the server room with enough Halon gas to not only put out a fire, but asphyxiate any intruder as well. Not for the first time, he wished that the house where he lived with his wife and their two small children could be as well protected.
But the government didn’t put as high a priority on protecting suburban bungalows as it did on safeguarding its computer network facilities. Some of the most important systems, like those serving the needs of the Pentagon and the National Security Administration, were located not far away at Fort Meade. Others, like this one, were scattered far and wide, hidden in plain site but highly secure none the less.
If Davis had been able to electronically monitor what was happening on server A-VI/147 below, he might not have felt so complacent. True, concrete and steel walls, surveillance cameras and Halon gas were more than adequate to protect the physical wellbeing of his facility against anything short of a nuclear weapon - and Richmond wasn't a likely target for that type of attack. But the data on the facility’s servers had to rely on virtual defenses as well - firewalls, security routines and scanners.