Mike Matson, who has three previous contest-finalist short stories published by The Art of Future Warfare project under the pseudonym Saku, is a writer based in Louisville, Kentucky, with a deep interest in international affairs. He has almost 20 years government experience, and degrees from The American University and the Joint Military Intelligence College, both in Washington, DC. In addition to 13 years in the Beltway before escaping to Kentucky, he has lived, studied, and worked in Brussels and Tallinn. He can be found on Twitter at @Mike40245.
Shadows of an Old Wolf
By Mike Matson
Picking you up at 6. Have your skis waxed. Long day ahead. Dad – WhatsApp
Dad pulled into the parking lot at 6 am on the dot, the black BMW 5 series sedan humming with refined power. His skis were on the roof rack.
I let out a small groan and opened the
door carrying my skis, boots, backpack and duffle bag. I had been out late at the pub and the pounding in my head was epic. I trudged to the car through the fresh powder. The snow and -10 Celsius temperature muffled the sounds of the city. A bus glided by through already plowed streets. We knew winter. Welcome to February in Tartu.
“Tere hommikust Olavi,” my Dad said, handing over a steaming cup of black coffee. He chuckled quietly as I tried not to spill it. “You look like hell.” The bloodshot eyes and stubble must have given it away. He was dressed similarly to me, thick thermal clothing and a heavy sweater. 50 years old and fitter than me. “And good morning to you too, Dad,” I grunted back at him and took a sip of coffee as I buckled in and he pulled away from the dorm. “Mind telling me what this is about?” “I want to show you something.” I waited but nothing more was forthcoming. Estonians are notoriously reticent conversationalists, none more so than my dad. Normally I would take the intercity bus home from university so Dad picking me up was significant. I gave him a look. He glanced back at me without revealing anything. “Your mother packed some breakfast, it’s behind my seat.” As we hit the E263 he punched in the destination on his car’s touchscreen. “Vihi?” I asked. Vihi was not much more than a smudge on the map even before the war. “You’ll see.” I sighed and broke out the breakfast Mom packed. Dark bread, cheese, fish spread and a few pickles. I laid it out on my lap and we proceeded to eat and drink our coffee in silence with Dad’s classical music playing softly on the sound system.
It is an hour to Vihi in central Estonia. Dad didn’t say anything but as we got closer I could feel him getting tense – something about how he was sitting up a little straighter. “There!” he said almost to himself. He slowed and turned onto a secondary road. We traveled about two kilometers through increasingly dense forest. Finally, around a bend he paused in front of a dirt road. He looked at me and with a very serious voice said, “This was Kalev Aavik’s place during the war. He helped me.”
Dad never spoke about the war. He barely acknowledged he fought. The most I ever got out of him was a terse, “I served and did my job. That’s all you need to know.” I had learned a little more from Mom, and a few tidbits from others who had known him during the occupation – Estonia is such a small country it’s not hard to find someone who knew something. I had grown up hearing about the war from everyone but Dad.
What is going on he would bring me here?
Dad selected the car’s deep snow setting and the vehicle hissed and stirred, giving another few inches of ground clearance as the tire treads expanded from highway mode to off-road on the flex tires. We proceeded down the road into a small clearing with a neat house tucked away in the trees. Smoke was coming out of the chimney and the lights were on. Two dogs started barking as Dad pulled up, prompting the front door to open and an elderly gentleman to stand in the doorway. Dad looked at him for a second then turned off the car. He slowly got out and then stood there regarding the man.
“Can I help you?” asked the old man.
“You always helped me, Kalev, whenever I needed it.” The words lingered, and I could see they had a physical force on the man when he heard Dad’s voice.
“Mart? Mart Luik, is that you?” The man took a few steps forward to get a better look.
“Yes, Kalev, it’s me.” Dad smiled and walked forward to close the distance, holding out his hand. Kalev took it with both hands, my Dad’s clasping over his, and they stood there for several seconds, not saying anything. Then they hugged.
“And who is this, Mart?” Kalev asked looking over Dad’s shoulder as I got out of the car.
“This is my son, Olavi. He is going to university in Tartu.”
“Hello, Mr. Aavik, a pleasure to meet you.” We shook hands. Kalev looked back and forth between us.
“After all these years, I figured the Russians must have gotten you. Never heard another word after you had to flee.”
“They came close several times,” was all Dad said in reply.
“Are you here to see me or head into the woods?” Kalev asked. “It’s in a bit of disrepair but we try and keep it up just in case.”
“Yes, to see you, and show Olavi a few things. He turned 18 this fall.”
“Good for you, Olavi, I bet you’re joining the Katseliit,” Kalev said in an approving tone. “Well it is good he sees things first hand, too many kids today like my daughter want to pretend the war never happened. Only interested in making money.”
“Uhh, I’m not joining the military, sir.” I had no interest in the military, I wanted to go into computer science like Dad. Estonia was a huge tech hub, even more so after the war.
“Ahh, I see.” He gave my Dad a knowing look. “Even more important to show him then. Well you better get going, it’s a good trek. I’ll have hot food waiting when you return. And I need to make a few calls, there are some others who would like to see you.”
“That is too kind of you, Kalev. We look forward to seeing you in a few. Let’s go, son.” With that Kalev hustled into the house calling for his wife and we headed to the car. Dad popped the trunk and pulled out his boots and an old army knapsack.
“What do you have in there?” I asked, curious.
“Some old army kit, a snack and so forth.” He left it at that as he put on his boots and skis with practiced ease, shouldering his knapsack with purpose. I did the same with my skis. “Let’s go.”
Without another word he headed out into the woods with powerful strides, pushing me to keep up. There was no talking. He seemed to know the route by heart, never wavering with only a small headlamp to guide the way. After a few kilometers my legs were burning but my head was clearing. My dad was not the biggest man, well less than 2 meters tall, but he was built solid and worked out regularly to stay in very good shape, despite his war wound. He kept his grey hair military short. By comparison I was taller, with blond hair he said I wore too long, and a thinner build. I relied on the invulnerability of youth to stay fit. We skied on into the woods.
We stopped at a clearing in the early morning light. In the distance we heard a wolf howl. Dad and I looked at each other and grinned. Then he suddenly turned serious. “When Estonia is in danger, we head to the woods.” He gestured at the trees around us. “They protect us, and from here we fight. The Forest Brothers… I’ve never wanted to talk about the war.” He looked in the direction of the wolf. “But today I’ll show you.” He considered saying more but stopped himself. Instead he took off.
We skied to an old cell tower site. It had been knocked over and the tower collected for scrap years ago, but the concrete base and metal stubs remained sticking out from the snow. Dad pulled out a compass and handed it to me. “Take a bearing 174 for 500 meters. No using your phone!” I rolled my eyes. As a kid he would take me orienteering, a favorite pastime. I remember what he, a man who made his money from computers, always said. Never rely on technology, it might not be there when you need it. I wondered now standing there in the woods if it was something he learned in the war. I shot a bearing and headed out.
A few minutes later he told me to stop. “You drifted too far left, it’s over here.” He headed to my right. He stopped next to a tree and slung off his pack. From it came a folding entrenching tool. He turned, looked at a spot of pristine snow, and speared it with the shovel. “Dig.”
Giving him a look, I popped off my skis, picked up the shovel and scrapped off the snow, revealing frozen earth. “Keep going, it’s six centimeters under. Use the pick.” I reconfigured the tool and started hacking at the frozen earth. It was brutal work chipping away at the frozen dirt and I was in danger of working up too much of a sweat in this cold. Finally, with one strike I hit metal. Dad leaned in closer. “Clear it off, it’s a conduit cover.”
I expanded the hole and slowly a green metal conduit appeared, maybe 40 centimeters square. There was an embedded handle. It took six tries and when the ice finally released its grip I nearly lost my balance. Dad leaned forward and stared, as did I.
Inside was a small terminal with an attached corded telephone handle. I stood there amazed. This was part of Dad’s war. Buried in the middle of the woods in the middle of the country. And he could find it in the dark 20 years later. “What is it?”
Pulling out a screwdriver and some wire cutters he knelt down and started pointing out parts. “This is a Fixed Cellular Terminal. Before the war we buried these all over the country, connected to cell towers by hard wire. We kept them at least 500 meters from the tower for security purposes. We could go to them, plug in a SIM card here,” he pointed with his screwdriver, “and make calls without being tracked. Drove the Russians nuts.” He smiled. “Pretty low tech but one of the better tools we had. One of my many jobs was to service these.”
“Wait… are you telling me you did tech support?” I couldn’t quite keep a tone out of my voice and got a sharp look from my Dad.
“I did whatever was needed. Tech support was a small but vital part of it. Technology is so fragile when you bring it out here,” he waved the screwdriver at the forest. He reached in and snipped the wires and then unscrewed the four screws holding the terminal in place. He pulled it out carefully and turned it over, looking at it. “Still in good shape,” he said mostly to himself. He closed the lid and handed me the FCT while he put away his tools. I looked at it for a moment until he put it in his pack. “I used this particular FCT for months. I’ll add it to my collection.”
Collection? I knew nothing of a collection.
“Come on, our next stop is another 5 kilometers away.” Another groan from me. Hopefully it was towards Mr. Aavik’s. I was disappointed.
For the next 40 minutes we said nothing and Dad put on a blistering pace. It was fully light now. Estonia is gorgeous in winter. Suddenly we came out of the woods into not quite a clearing. There were trunks scattered all over the forest floor, not cut, but violently shredded. Roots stood out of the ground. The damage seemed to be in large, circular pattern. Dad was watching me. Finally, I got it.
“This is a Putin thumbprint!” I said excitedly. Dad nodded. Putin thumbprints were the nickname the Forest Brothers had given Russian artillery barrages. From the air it looked like a giant thumb had come down and crushed the earth.
“Yes. I was here. It was the day I had to flee back to the city because we had been discovered. They hit us first with thermobaric weapons and then waited 10 minutes watching with drones for people to come out of the bunkers. Then they hit us with Grad.” Dad looked out across the clearing. “Thankfully their aim was just a little off. Our bunker was outside the impact zone. Over there.” He pointed across the clearing.
A real Forest Brothers bunker! We had all been taken to a few on school trips near the city, but those were more museum pieces. We skied to his bunker. I could see the raised outline. It appeared T-shaped and was bigger than the ones I had seen previously.
“This was my assigned bunker. Now you’ll see what I did in the war.” Without hesitation he walked up to the bottom of the T and started removing snow. I helped. Soon a door appeared. There was no lock, but we could both see the door handle and hinges were well oiled. Kalev.
Dad pulled, revealing a ladder going down. We both turned on our headlamps and went down.
I knew from history classes the Estonian Government had made a decision after independence to prepare for the eventual Russian return. While there was little money at first, the government secretly started building a covert infrastructure to support a resistance like there had been in the 1940s and 50s.
Bunkers had been built and provisioned. Only a few a year but each year a few. Covert communication setups had also been prepared. Safe houses in towns and cities were created; weapons caches established; support networks planned; all had been slowly and carefully prepared. Most of the program resided within the Kaitseliit, the all-volunteer civilian defense force, because it was easier to mask what they were doing when they were not on drill, and members lived in every town and village.
When the Russians did come in 2018, the Estonian military initiated their resistance plan. Small units headed into the woods to designated hideouts all over the country to continue the fight after the initial conventional defense was suppressed. Their mission was to keep up the resistance until NATO could liberate them. The NATO plan called for the Estonians to hold on for three months. It took eleven.
The first thing I noticed was this was not a “normal” bunker. There were the typical bunks along one wall and a washbasin / pit commode in the back, but the other wall had a series of desks. In the wall were a number of access plugs. Looking closely, I saw power outlets, an Ethernet port, and some cable ports with fiber still sticking out. I noticed a large hand crank for a long-gone generator.
“Are those server racks?” I asked incredulously. One wing of the T had a series of racks in a configuration a computer science major like me would recognize anywhere.
“Yes, we had a few servers here to help with our computer network attack operations. Keeping them powered and cool was so difficult, we all took turns on that torture device,” he said, gesturing to the hand crank.
Computer attacks? “What the hell did you do in the war?” I had always understood he was an infantryman.
“I was one of the E-Warriors.”
Estonia had a relatively large proportion of highly skilled computer networkers. It was claimed when the Russians attacked many men went to the woods, but others, and many women, went to their keyboards. The civilian cyber resistance efforts were well documented, and except for a few well-known cases, were nothing more than hacktivist level DDOS attacks and web page defacements.
The E-Warriors however, were allegedly members of an elite covert Estonian military unit called the Cyber Hundid. (Cyber Wolves) The stories, such as they were, claimed the Hundid did as much damage as the infantry. The government still kept the names of unit members classified. Nobody who had ever told me anything about Dad’s time in the war had mentioned him being an E-Warrior.
It was also claimed each and every one of them had a Russian bounty on their heads, their families had been targeted for deportation or prison, and almost none of them had survived. I considered that quietly for a moment as Dad went over to the server racks and inspected them.
“The day they found us we had to evacuate quickly because a bombardment was always followed by Spetsnaz.” He was running his hands over the racks. “And I couldn’t be caught with this.” With that he popped off an end cap on a server rack, revealing a hollow center. He reached in with a finger and gently tugged a rolled up piece of paper a few inches out of the metal tube before pulling it all the way out with his hand. He went over to the desk and laid it out. It was a map.
“This was my war.”
Looking at the map I could see it covered the entire central area of Estonia. There were a lot of markings, many I recognized as my Dad’s handwriting. He really had been here. “What are all these lines?” I asked.
Dad started to point. “The black lines are fiber cable, the blue power, the green phone. The circles are cell towers and squares are FCTs. The triangles are access points we had hard wired into phone junction boxes, railroad signal stations and so forth across the region. Gave us direct access to SCADA networks. We could do a lot of mischief with those.”
“And these?” They looked like war chalking signals.
“Those are Russian WiFis. We would go out with signal scanners and map their networks. When we found open networks we would either attempt to penetrate them or degrade their network. Sometimes we just marked the location and gave it to others who would attack them with mortars.” He said it so matter of fact, and I had a hard time reconciling what I knew about my Dad with what he was telling me.
“You can also see where there was overt broadband infrastructure and our covert backup infrastructure. And these,” he jabbed at a series of diamonds. “Those were my lifeblood. That’s where we had our own caches. Not weapons but batteries. And SIM cards. And external hard drives and burner phones and server boxes and cable and so forth. We knew from experience in Ukraine we would need specialized supplies separate from the infantry.” He picked up the map and folded it carefully, putting it in his knapsack. He pulled out the wire clippers again and yanked at the cable, pulling some from the wall, which he clipped and put in his pack. “This is what I came for. Let’s head back.”
He spoke little after that, as did I. It was a lot to process. I wanted to spend the next several hours studying the map and ask him questions but he didn’t leave me any time. Eventually the physical effort of the skiing took over and that’s all I focused on. It took a long time to make it back to Mr. Aavik’s house. When we got there three more cars were parked in front. Kalev came out to greet us again and ushered us inside.
There I found a number of older men and women, all Kalev’s age, and one attractive girl who was Kalev’s daughter, Asta, who also went to Tartu.
The next four hours were spent eating and drinking and listening to the type of war stories I had more normally heard over the years. Tales of close calls, hardship, and daring victories. As was usually the case, most everyone at the table had lost someone or knew someone who had died. They talked about some of them by name, both friends and enemies. In a partisan conflict it was inevitable some would decide to work with the Russians. The war had left some bitter scars.
One of the older men asked the group, “What was the name of that bitch from Lahmuse who spied for the Russians.” That brought an immediate uncomfortable silence to the group and the man’s wife hissed something at him who looked like he realized he had made a mistake. My dad had gone still and there was color in his cheeks.
“Ũlle,” he said stiffly. “Her name was Ũlle.” The silence hung there for a moment and then Kalev spoke up in an obvious attempt to change the subject and the conversation slowly started up again. Nobody spoke about Ũlle again and my Dad eventually rejoined the conversation. I didn’t know what to make of that.
Kalev’s wife had made a big pot of split pea soup, the traditional food of the Estonian army, in honor of my Dad. There was also lots of meat and potatoes and dark bread. Some of the older folks were sipping vodka. My Dad was drinking a Saku Tume, while I was drinking a grapefruit G:N and trying to chat up Asta. I learned a few more things about Dad he had never shared, but even these folks, locals who had helped the Forest Brothers, didn’t seem to realize the specialist Dad had been. Dad eventually announced we had to get back as the wife would start getting worried. He went around to each person to say goodbye, exchanging hugs and a few tears with all of them.
Once we were on the road I finally had time to talk with him alone. “I noticed none of them seemed to know what you actually did, why was that?” He considered it for a few minutes and then finally opened up for the first time in his life about the war, telling me things he had never told anyone before.
“I said nothing because technically I’m bound by oath not to talk about it and I still carry a security clearance.” I didn’t realize Dad had a clearance with the government.
“In university I got an internship at CERT-EE and was working there in 2007 when the Russians attacked us in the first cyber war. I helped with the network defense efforts. It was such an exciting time!” He looked happy. “I also happened to be a Kaitseliit noncom, I had signed up at 18.” That was a pointed rebuke, I was sure.
“After I graduated from TTU I got a full time job with CERT. The military, recognizing my cyber skills, pulled me into the MoD to work on cyber matters. I split my time between the CERT, the MoD and NATO’s cyber defense center as a junior Estonian representative.” I knew he had worked for CERT-EE when he was young but that was about it.
“Turns out I had a knack for cyber operations so I was recruited into the Cyber Hundid and assigned to work on a series of Top Secret projects. NATO helped a lot with money and planning. I worked with Americans, Danes, and Germans.” He looked at me, “The resistance networks are widely known. But the cyber plans were not, and that was my job. I was never so busy in my life.”
“The first project I had only a small role, coordinating with the Ministry of Interior on the EstWin project to lay new fiber cable across the country. There was a classified component. Extra dark fiber kept ‘off book’ was laid to create a backup communication network. Switches, routers, and other needed hardware were purchased, emplaced and configured, but kept offline. FCT’s were buried all over country, both in the woods and in cities. Dark fiber was also laid to Finland to allow communications to continue with the outside world.” I whistled quietly. That was a pretty big project all by itself!
“We also completely rebuilt our Internet infrastructure, having learned from 2007, and from the Ukrainians and Turks. In 2007, we had to take the whole country offline to defend against the DDOS attacks. We rebuilt our national gateways with better defense in depth. Strong points were not just built at the digital frontier, but internally to the network as well. We could selectively isolate parts of the country through internal DMZs while keeping the rest of the country going. It made the Russian’s job much harder to take us down again.”
He paused and took a drink of his water. He seemed to relish talking about it.
“My second job, which was much more exciting, was to travel to Ukraine as an Estonian military attaché. I took six trips between 2014 and 2017, all covert, to learn Russian cyber and electronic warfighting tactics. It was invaluable training! I spent half my time on or near the front lines seeing how the Russians did cyber and electronic attacks at the tactical level, the other half of the time embedded with CERT-UA helping them fight the Cyber Berkut. Almost got killed once near Mariupol from a drone strike. They had zeroed in on my mobile phone signal.” He shuddered at the memory. “Good lesson learned, let me tell you.”
“And don’t think we were alone. Every NATO country had people there watching and learning for the day we might face them. Ukraine was the best thing to happen to NATO. It woke us up to the growing Russian threat and gave us four years to watch how the Russians fought so we could prepare better.
“My last job was peacetime computer network espionage to prepare for wartime computer attacks. They hacked us and we hacked them. It was constant. I worked under KaPo authority since during peacetime we weren’t allowed to do attacks. Always trying to gain an edge, get into someone’s system and hide until needed.”
“You were hacking the Russians?”
“Tried to every day. When war approached the Russian DDOS attacks started a good four weeks before the actual invasion. CERT was on defense for the first two weeks, and the attacks were brutal. They reached a point of 6 million incoming packets per second and despite our best efforts they took us down.” I was impressed. I knew from a history class the 2007 war had peaked at 4 million packets.
“Once NATO declared a partial mobilization, and Estonia went to full mobilization, we were secretly given the green light by our government to conduct our own cyber attacks. The Cyber Hundid can rightfully claim to have fired the first shot for NATO a good two weeks before the tanks crossed the border.” The way he said it I could tell it was a matter of immense pride for my Dad. “We had some successes like messing with mobilization schedules, but nothing with a lasting impact. They just had too many resources.”
We entered the Tallinn suburbs. The rubble from old Soviet-style housing apartments destroyed in the fighting still existed out here in places. But people had learned by now to only see the modern apartment buildings going up. We passed through Mustamäe, which had been one of the Russian native enclaves before the war, so the Estonian government had put it near last on the rebuilding schedule.
We pulled into the garage of our flat in an upscale neighborhood. Dad’s cyber security business had done very well after the war. I now suspected I knew the reason how he got some of the more lucrative government contracts during the rebuilding.
We came in and Mom came over and gave me a fuss about not eating enough and how happy she was to see me. She had dinner waiting. During dinner Dad didn’t discuss anything about the day other than to tell his wife, “We saw Kalev today and a few others. It was good to see him.”
She reached out her hand and held his. “Is he OK?”
“Yes, he was doing well and he called over some others.” Dad didn’t discuss it further at dinner and we ate mostly in silence. I could tell the day had weighed heavily on him.
After dinner Mom shooed us from the kitchen and Dad took me into his study and closed the door. He was carrying his knapsack. He set it on his desk and went to his closet, where he dug out an old trunk and pulled it out. Mom followed a moment later with some drinks and left.
He opened his pack and pulled out the FCT and the snipped cable. He also pulled out a handgun. My eyes went wide. “You own a gun?”
“It was my service sidearm. I wouldn’t be here except for it.” He wiped it with a cloth and put it in the desk drawer he always kept locked. That’s why.
“Did you… you know, kill the traitor with it?” It was the question I had been wanting but feared to ask my Dad since Aavik’s.
He answered without looking at me, like he was expecting the question. “Yes I killed her with this gun, and two other men. They were Russian soldiers.” I expected him to stop there but he surprised me and continued after a moment. “The soldiers I killed in combat and have no regrets. Partisan war is a nasty and brutal business. I saw and spilled much blood in addition to those I killed with this pistol. We were all fighters, the Hundid were no exception.” He sighed.
“But it is different,” his voice cracked a little, “when you are looking her in the eyes as she kneels there in the woods… It… It stains you.” He was looking off into the distance with unfocused eyes.
He took a minute to compose himself and I sat there uncomfortably contemplating my Dad who just admitted he had executed a woman in cold blood and seemingly killed many others. I found it very hard to reconcile with the man I knew. I realized I never really had understood what it meant for him to have fought in the war.
Finally, he got control of his emotions and opened the trunk, which looked like it contained a bunch of old computer parts.
“Here, let me show you what I have.” He seemed eager to change the topic. The contents he pulled out were a mix of typical soldier memorabilia and computer nerd junk drawer.
There was an external hard drive wrapped in a small military pouch. A couple flip phones. Some unit patches, a photo book. A dozen SIM cards. Another half dozen USB drives. I sifted through the thumb drives. “What are on these?”
“Ahh, let’s see. This one has different bootable operating systems. These I think have malware on it. This one… this one was as important as artillery. It had zero day exploits. Probably should return that one to the government.” He smiled and made an exaggerated gesture of putting it back in the trunk.
I picked up another that had SECRET written on in in Cyrillic. “Did you steal this from the Russians?” I asked.
Dad laughed. “No, I gave it to them. This was one of our best sellers.” I must have looked as confused as I felt. Dad explained. “We would drop these near one of their HQs on a city street, or outside a bar they frequented, where someone was sure to find it.”
“What was on it?”
“Porn. They would fear there had been a security breach and plug it in. Once they saw it was porn someone would almost always start sharing files across the network. The malware was embedded in the files. After a certain set time the malware would deploy and start destroying data.” He had a predatory look on his face. “Worked like a charm for months until the chekists finally had three soldiers shot for violating network security protocols. Then not so much.” He flashed a wicked smile. “So we started texting GIFs to them on their phones. Almost never failed.”
I laughed. My Dad had fought the Russians with porn! Then I considered he had also killed people, including a fellow Estonian. His war was more complicated than I had ever imagined.
He pulled out some other items. A faded zippered pouch he opened which contained a typical computer repair tool kit. “Carried this with me all eleven months.” I picked up a patch with a photo paper clipped to it. I held up the patch. “Given to me by one of my Ukrainian counterparts while there in ‘16.”
I looked at the photo and it was a picture of a very attractive woman in traditional Ukrainian dress. The back of it just said ‘Natalia.’ “Was that her?”
With a glance to the study door he grabbed the photo. “Don’t let your mother see that.” I gave him a raised eyebrow. “Don’t worry, I didn’t know your mother then but she’s still jealous.” That’s all I got from him. I smirked.
There was a photo book with his military ID on the inside cover. Most were photos of him and others posing, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civilian clothing. Several were of smashed military vehicles or dead bodies. Dad was in one photo with another man, sitting on a curb smiling. They wore civilian clothes but carried guns. On the street was what could only be described as a Russian soldier who looked like he had been smeared along the pavement. I set the photos aside.
Dad pulled out two more pieces of equipment. “This was my Toughbook, good gear these. Could handle the snow and cold very well. Obsolete now, obviously.” He handed me the other piece. “Frequency scanner. These were absolutely vital for network mapping to allow close-in hack attacks.”
“What do you mean by close in?”
“I mean crawling up to the edge of a clearing and mapping a Russian unit’s wireless network. Combine that with Wireshark on the laptop and we could bust into their systems. Or jam their comms while the infantry attacked. We also hacked a lot of Bluetooth on Russian mobiles. Dangerous work for a pretty low return if you ask me.”
He pulled out a spare laptop battery and a small solar charging panel. “We used to have a saying. ‘Power is life.’ He waved the battery at me. “Without these I was infantry. And I couldn’t shoot worth a damn.” I pulled out a small bag I recognized.
“Yep, a Faraday cage. We kept our phones in them at all times and turned off until we needed to make a call. Like I said, I learned that lesson in Mariupol.”
There were only two items left in the trunk. The first was a thick piece of copper wire. The second was a green boonie hat with the Estonian flag on it. He put the hat on the desk and pulled out the wire. He handed it to me.
“I want you to have this.”
“Not just any piece of wire. I got this the day I was wounded. It was the land line for the Russian 34th Guards HQ. My job was to go with a small team through the sewers and cut the cable in the sewer conduit 30 minutes before the uprising in Old Town was to begin. Cutting their land line forced them to switch to radio at the critical moment and we had other teams deployed to jam their frequencies.
“Our uprising, which coincided with NATO’s final push to encircle the city, helped paralyze the Russian response and sped the liberation of the city.” He looked out the window. “That was my last act. I cut the wire. Then our team was thrown into the assault like everyone else. I got wounded and my war ended.” All I had ever known was he was part of the famous Old Town uprising. Until today I thought I knew why he was there – an infantryman like everyone else.
I had a question. “Why show me this now after all these years?”
“You’ve turned 18 and you’re old enough to serve.” I felt heat rise at my collar. We had had this argument before. I never had an interest in the military. Computers were my interest. Like my Dad.
“Dad, we’ve been over this,” I started. Dad held up his hand and I quieted.
“I’m not one to tell you to serve, that is a decision only you can make. I was merely asked to make the offer.” He looked at me. “I’m very well known in certain circles of the government because of my business, and my past.” He smiled and continued, “You caught the attention of some professors at university who see potential. And maybe a little of your Dad in you. Professors who have an unspoken mission to look for people with your skills. Your name was mentioned to people in Tallinn. I have a friend at the MoD who came to me and asked me to see if you would consider joining the Kaitseliit.”
I was stunned. “You’re showing me all this in order to recruit me into the army?”
“The people asking are serious folks who are preparing Estonia for the day the Russians come again. Because they will. And when they do we’ll fight them like we have fought them every time. We’ll fight them in the woods, and in the cities.” He took a moment and looked at me. “The Cyber Hundid will also be there. As an old hunt, I know our country needs people with your skills.”
“To do what?”
He waved his hand over his desk at all the old computer equipment. “This.”
There was a silence as I looked at the equipment on the desk and then back at Dad. I held the copper wire and twirled it in my fingers a few times. I nodded and set it aside, looking him in the eye. “Let me help you pack this up.”