Blind Sight

Welcome to the preview sample of my work in progress – Blind Sight.

Blind Sight

I’d like to thank my nephew for his outstanding work on the proposed cover.

Chapter 1.  Recapture.

I.  Monitor Station Delta.

Timeline: 2:16am, Thursday, February 24th.

“What in hell is that?”

Henderson frowned as he lifted his gaze from his paperwork – coming from Mitchell, those were strong words.  His eyes narrowed as they flicked to the radar monitor in front Mitchell – it showed a completely unfamiliar pattern.  “That isn’t a radar pattern, what’s it supposed to be?” he asked, as he stood and moved to the specialist’s back.

Mitchell shook his head, “That’s just the point – it’s not supposed to be anything!  Well, maybe some static – but certainly not a resolvable image.  I’m getting it from the satellite we lost three days ago.”

Henderson nodded absently.  Heads would roll over that incident – the Navy didn’t take kindly to losing billions of dollars’ worth of advanced, highly secret technology.  He chuckled, “Yeah.  Soon as the brass can find a scapegoat, someone is going to wish they never enlisted.  Far as I’m aware they still haven’t let State know that bird has flown the coop, so to speak.”  He smiled at the irony in his words as Mitchell keyed in a command, transferring the image from his integrated radio display to the high-resolution overhead.

The hi-res picture sharpened, eliciting a sharply indrawn breath from Henderson as it came into focus.  Shock evident in his voice, he exclaimed, “What the hell did you just do?”

Typing a rapid series of unintelligible instructions, Mitchell glanced at Henderson.  Frowning, he turned his full attention back to the monitor and his keyboard, “Just my job – getting the best possible image I can.  What do you mean?”

Shoulders tense, Henderson straightened as he took a step back, hand moving to the pistol on his belt.  As the 1911 .45 came free of its holster, he raised it, aiming its unwavering barrel at the back of Mitchell’s lowered head.  He spoke in a low growl, “And just how the fuck are you sending commands to a satellite we lost control of three days ago?”

The click of the pistol’s safety disengaging served as emphasis.

Mitchell froze.

After a moment’s silence, Mitchell muttered, “Damnit, Bill.  You nearly made me piss my pants.  Good point.  Truth is, I didn’t even think about it – soon as I saw the first image I started standard resolution enhancement protocols.  But she’s talking to me, and doing everything I ask her.”

A deep drawn breath, followed by a slow exhalation.

Lifting his hands from the keyboard, Mitchell spread their open palms toward the monitor before adding, “So.  You’re the man with the gun – what do you want me to do?”

Pistol steady, Henderson glanced from his aim point on the back of Mitchell’s head toward the display.  Fine sweat beaded his brow as he stared at the object on screen.  Before he could formulate a coherent answer, the image blurred and began moving out of center, prompting him to exclaim, “We’re losing it!  Get it back in focus and track it!”

Mitchell sighed in relief as his hands flew to the keyboard to type a frantic series of commands.  Gradually, over the next ten minutes, the image focused – slowly centering on the display as it did.  Both men were soaked in sweat by the time the object was once more in clear contrast, perfectly centered on screen.

Taking his hands from the keyboard, Mitchell clenched and released his fingers as he stared intently at the screen.  The object remained centered, and in sharp focus.

Mitchell’s shoulders stiffened at the click of the 1911’s safety engaging – they relaxed at the sound of the pistol slipping back into its holster.  Careful to hold his hands open and visible, palms outward, he slowly swiveled his chair to face Henderson.  On meeting his partner’s eyes, he murmured, “She’s tracking it now – without need of my input.  So… maybe we can relax and figure this out?”

Using his gun hand to show confidence he didn’t feel, Henderson lifted it from his pistol and wiped his brow.  His palm came away wet.  He grimaced in disgust as he wiped it off on his fatigues, “Maybe we can relax?  After what we just did?  Mike, you always were a funny fucker…”  A rueful chuckle, “We better get our stories straight, or we’re done in the navy.  Fuck it man, if we don’t get our shit together we’ll probably never see the outside of the brig at Guantanamo.  You want to be a short-timer?  Better get ready to kiss civilian life goodbye – forever.”

A momentary frown, as realization of the truth in Henderson’s words dawned, before Mitchell answered, “Call it in, Bill – and keep it to exactly what happened.  You tell it precisely as you saw it, I’ll do the same.  They can’t break the truth.”

Henderson snorted in derision, shook his head and muttered, “But they can bend it pretty damn far…”  A deep breath for resolve, a stretch, and he held the microphone in his hand.

At a firm nod of encouragement from Mitchell, Henderson murmured, “Alright, the precise truth then, exactly as I saw it.”

Squeezing transmit, voice slow, steady, and sure, Henderson said, “Monitor Central, this is Monitor Station Delta.  Chief Petty Officer Henderson here.  Put the CO actual on – priority Tango Zulu.  I say again – priority Tango Zulu, over.”

A hiss of static, as Henderson released the microphone’s lever, followed by a few seconds of silence before the disembodied voice of the distant operator, which he recognized as Lt. Carter, “Priority Tango Zulu acknowledged Mike Sierra Delta.  Standby.”

Turning to Mitchell, Henderson shook his head slowly before saying, “And now we wait…  Better write your report, Mike.  Do it while this shit is still fresh in our minds.”  A pause, as he passed a fresh notepad toward the specialist.  “I’m doing my first draft on paper, at least I can burn that if I screw it up…  I can’t burn the fucking computers, and we both know they’ll be taking them ASAP.”

After initial refusal, Mitchell took the notepad, picked up a pencil and tried to hide the shaking of his hand by pressing the pencil firmly into the paper as he began writing.

<<<–0–>>>

II.  Early Warning.

Timeline: 2:34am, Thursday, February 24th.

Though Ensign Moore suspected this was just another hazing ritual, he burst out the hatchway to Monitor Central and sprinted down the narrow passageway abutting it.

Two weeks into his first assignment and this was the first exciting thing that had happened – if it wasn’t another joke.  At first he couldn’t believe his luck – three other graduates from the Naval Academy had tried for OBIT-TP, but he’d won the plum post.  The  Orbital Ballistic Identification Tracking and Telemetry Platform…  A typical DARPA acronym, for a game changing idea.  The idea of a global monitoring system capable of identifying and tracking in-flight missiles wasn’t new – multiple attempts had already been made.  All had failed.  But after reading the science behind OBIT-TP, he truly believed it would work.

Perhaps his enthusiasm had been the clincher in him winning the post.

His enthusiasm… something everyone seemed keen to take advantage of by sending him on multiple, increasingly ridiculous tasks.  Surely this couldn’t be another?  That bitch, Lieutenant Carter, had been adamant she couldn’t simply call a priority Tango Zulu for a highly classified program, “Not over the intercom into the Captain’s personal quarters”, had been her words, delivered with her usual haughty, disapproving glare.  Yeah, Jacqueline looked red rot, but her words were like a pool of ice.  Instead, she’d insisted he run, claiming the two warrant officers were needed to man communications, “in case anything else came up…”.  The more he thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed, but if Carter thought he’d take the chance of treating a TZ as something less urgent than life and death… well, she’d soon learn not to screw with him.  She’d laugh through the other side of her face when the CO tore a hole in it.

A grim smile curved Moore’s lips.  He already knew the old man was more than his reputation – far more.  Nope, the CO wouldn’t kill the messenger – as Carter obviously hoped.  He’d listen to the message and treat it with appropriate urgency, while somehow managing to remain in control and unruffled.

Could the CO be in on the prank?  That thought slowed Moore’s frantic feet for a few paces before the Ensign cast it aside and accelerated, almost knocking over a midshipman as he bolted around a tight corner.

By the time Moore reached the Captain’s quarters he was breathing hard.  He didn’t hesitate, just rapped urgently on the gray steel hatchway.

Silence fell at the sound.

Although he turned his ear toward the sealed door, Moore heard nothing.  After counting to ten, he lifted his hand to knock again – halting it as the heavy steel door creaked open to reveal Captain Durn, resplendent in a threadbare navy issue blue bathrobe.

Captain Durn’s slight frown gave Moore pause.  Drawing a quick breath to cover his hesitation, the Ensign saluted and said, “Good Morning, Sir!  Pardon the intrusion, Sir, but Monitor Central just received a priority Tango Zulu.  The Duty Officer sent me down to alert you, Sir!”

Moore snapped his mouth shut as he finished, best the old man knew exactly whose idea of a joke this was – if it was a joke, which he suddenly doubted.  The icy ball forming in his gut wasn’t at all comforting, its cold reached his lips and pressed them into a thin, bloodless line.

Seeing the Ensign’s distress, Captain Durn smoothed his face, allowing a faint smile to reach his lips.  For some reason people under his command seemed to find this reassuring.  Nodding, as though two am intrusions were quite normal, he said, “Wait there, Ensign”, turned on his heel and strode toward his spartan wardrobe.  In less than two minutes he had donned a crisp khaki shirt, pants and the matching cap – though his dress whites were equally ready to hand, the khaki’s lent reality to the situation.  Another minute and he tied the laces on fresh polished shoes – a double bow, as he always used.

Still breathing deep, mind racing as he considered the ever increasing possibility this was a genuine emergency, Moore was startled at how fast the CO reappeared.  Stepping back and aside, he cleared the doorway and followed two paces behind as Captain Durn strode down the hallway he had so recently raced.  As they approached the first corner, Moore boomed, “Clear the hall, Captain on deck!”

Captain Durn suppressed a smile at the Ensign’s almost hysterical shout.  Stepping around the corner, and finding the looming passageway clear, he glanced back at the Ensign and said, “No need for that, I don’t stand on ceremony much… least when there are no Admirals about.”  A chuckle, and he added, “Ensign Moore isn’t it?  So, where did the Tango Zulu originate?”

Startled, and pleased the Captain knew him by name, Moore swallowed hard as his mind raced.  He had been so sure this was some stupid joke, he had barely paid any attention to the message.  Concentrating, he nodded as recollection came, “Monitor Station Delta, Sir.  I believe it was called in by a Chief Petty Officer Henderson?”

To Moore’s amazement, Captain Durn slowed at mention of the name.  The CO’s hesitation lasted barely a pace.  Silence ensued as they marched down the passageway, a silence broken only by the sound of their heels striking the painted floor in perfect sync.

Having gathered his thoughts, Captain Durn waited until they turned the next corner.  It revealed another long, empty hallway.  Pitching his voice low, he murmured, “TZ’s are serious business, Ensign.  They may be only informational, but there are virtually no circumstances in which they’re justified.  Frankly, that Henderson called it in lends this one even more weight.  I don’t need to tell you this, but this matter does not pass your lips again, understand?”

A snappy salute and an affirmative grunt assured Durn that Moore realized this.  If the Ensign had not taken this seriously till now… well, that had just changed.

Facing forward once more, Durn increased his pace.  He really ought to put a complete stop to the hazing of new officers and enlisted men.  Generally in good nature, the light hearted pranks served well to break the ice, while clearly revealing the lines of established authority – something crucial in any military organization.  Yet, when young officers thought a TZ could be a prank, as Moore clearly had… well, that was downright dangerous.

Things would have to change.

Too bad, more time-tested traditions abandoned in the face of progress.

<<<–0–>>>

III.  SAP COIN.

Timeline: 2:34am, Thursday, February 24th.

When Sergeant Venter reached out to shake his dozing supervisor, he elicited a mumbled curse.

Lieutenant Coots sat up, wiped his eyes, glanced at the digital GPS clock and said, “Two thirty?  I hate the graveyard shift – plays hell with my sex life.  OK, what is it Sergeant?”

Venter glanced at his jotted notes before saying, “Sorry sir.  I just intercepted something from that US outpost in Lesotho.  Kind of unusual for them to be transmitting at this hour, but that isn’t why I woke you.”

Coots sat bolt upright as he interjected, “Fuck it!  How many bloody times must I tell you I’m not sleeping!  I think better with my eyes closed.”  Leaning toward the Sergeant, he deliberately crumpled a wad of paper near the radio console as he hissed, “Everything in here is recorded you fucking arsehole, wake up or you’ll be in Namibia before you can spit.”

Venter braced to attention, “Yes Sir!  I meant disturb you, Sir!  I know you weren’t asleep…”

Coots shook his head, the anger in his eyes in silencing Venter.  After a deep, calming breath he threw down the crumpled ball of paper in disgust and said, “Which part of that transmission didn’t you understand Sergeant?”  Reaching out, he snatched the Sergeant’s notepad and read Venter’s hand-written notes, eyes narrowed in concentration.  As soon as he finished, he handed the notepad back to Venter, mouthed a silent curse and said, “Well?”

Venter immediately said, “I’m not up on US priority codes, sir.  What is a ‘Tango Zulu’?”

Coots nodded in relief Venter hadn’t said something stupid like ‘It’s right there on the transcript you just read.’  Venter was new to the South African Police, gaining the rank of Sergeant by virtue of his education – not the usual hard slog through the ranks.  Meeting Venter’s eye, he said, “Don’t worry about it, Sergeant.  You’ve only been in Counter Intelligence a short while, and God alone knows how hard it is to get up to steam with our own acronyms, let alone those of other nations.  A ‘Tango Zulu’ is a US Navy priority code.”  After chuckling, he added, “They’d probably crap themselves if they knew we knew that.  Since they’ve got different coding systems for Navy, Army and Airforce we’ve just gleaned a valuable bit of Intel – that listening post is US Navy.”

After nodding agreement, Venter said, “Can you believe the dumbarse actually gave his rank and name instead of just his call-sign?”

Smiling, Coots mouthed, “Good man”, before saying, “Ya, that is kind of strange.  Anyway, a Tango Zulu is a high priority code.  Unusually, for the yanks, it actually means something.  In civvie, TZ is an acronym for Time Zone – the US Navy uses it to indicate an important informational message affecting all time zones.  In other words, it’s a high priority global alert.”

Coots stopped smiling as he spoke.

After shaking his head, he frowned and said, “Good catch Sergeant, I’m going to commend you for that.  You know what… play the recording back – there’s something else in it that troubles me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

Hand already on his mouse and clicking the Instant Replay icon,  Venter said, “Good idea, Sir.  Now that you mention it – something is off, hearing it again will definitely help.”  His mouse flicked through the multiple channels being recorded, quickly finding the pertinent one.  With a nod of satisfaction, he said, “OK, here it is.”

A mouse click, and the exceptional quality of a truly high end digital recorder filled the sound proofed operation center.  The transmission played back, complete with every bit of static interference, tonal voice change, along with opening and closing microphone crackles.

Henderson’s voice filled the room, as clearly audible as if he was in the room, “Monitor Central, this is Monitor Station Delta.  Chief Petty Officer Henderson here.  Put the CO actual on – priority Tango Zulu.  I say again – priority Tango Zulu. Over.”  A few seconds of dead air, then an unidentified, calm, feminine voice sounded in response, “Priority Tango Zulu acknowledged, Mike Sierra Delta.  Standby.”

Coots nodded, and said, “Again.  Higher volume, suppress other background.”

Venter did as instructed, silencing all other radio channels before replaying the clip.

After listening carefully, head leaning to one side in concentration, Coots turned to Venter and said, “Divert the aerial drone monitoring the Lesotho border to Thabana Ntlenyana.  Immediately.”

“On it, Sir!” said Venter as he complied, typing a rapid series of commands into his console.  Smiling, he turned to Coots, “Drone commandeered and redirected at zero two forty six, Sir!  ETA on target is twenty-two minutes – that border post can’t be more than twenty clicks from the US base.”

Impressed by the speed with which Venter had accomplished the not insignificant task of appropriating control over another SAP division’s asset, Coots nodded, “Lock its laser acoustics, along with its cameras on the US camp.  Oh, better invoke redirection override – do it on my authority, we don’t want some dipshit snatching control back…”  A sigh, and he continued, “How anyone can think deploying a half million rand machine to monitor a ten rand pot smuggling ring makes any kind of sense, I just don’t know.”  A harsh laugh, and he added, “Not that there’s much chance of that – those dope-heads in Contraband are probably all stoned right now, if they’re even awake.”

After typing a few commands, Venter turned a face that was suddenly visibly pale, even in the radio room’s dim light, toward Coots.  After carefully placing his back to the bugged radio console, he murmured, “Fuck!  I just stole control of a drone allocated to one Colonel Mapuranga.  Hope you know what you’re doing, sir – Mapuranga is the brother-in-law to the Minister of Home Affairs.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Venter turned his head and spoke toward the console, voice at normal volume, “I need you to type in your passcode here, Sir.”  Turning his head back toward Coots, voice lowered to an almost inaudible murmur, “If you still want to do this.”

When Coots hesitated, Venter murmured, “I can put the drone back on its last station, sir.  Doubt anyone will even know we borrowed it.”

After a nervous chuckle, Coots shook his head and said, “What the hell…”  Standing up, he moved to the console, masked the keyboard with his body and typed a very long password.  Returning to his seat, he looked at Venter, laughed aloud, and said, “Bet you never thought a Lieutenant’s authority could completely override a Colonel’s.  You chose the right division in SAP, Sergeant – in Counter Intelligence, we can do pretty much anything we damn well please.  With appropriate justification, of course…”

Coots spoke the last directly toward the radio console, enunciating each word with care.

After shaking his head, Coots smiled in satisfaction.  This particular graveyard shift might turn out better than sex after all, it was certainly a damn sight more exciting than watching his pudgy wife undress for bed.  Turning to Venter, he said, “Be ready for their next transmission Sergeant – I  want it triangulated, might as well know exactly who they’re talking too.  Oh, and pipe the drone’s audio feed back to us – live.  Start it right now.  Ya, I know it’ll sound like crap till it acquires target and resolves, but we don’t know how long we have till they’re on air again.”

A few typed commands from Venter, and the discordant cacophony of a shrieking wind, overlaid with a disturbing hiss, boomed into the room.

Both men instinctively covered their ears.

Sheepish, Venter grimaced as he dialed the volume all the way down.

Pinching his nose, Coots blew hard to clear his ears before saying, “OK Sergeant, time to prove your worth.  Start working on a filter to reduce the wind noise.  I’ve been through Sani Pass, and I can tell you that bloody noise we just heard never stops.  I don’t want anything masked from the recording, we can’t risk losing data – but I do want it reduced in the audio stream we’re listening to.”

Venter typed for a few moments, lifted his hand from the keyboard as though at the end of a final exam, and said, “Done!”

Disbelieving, Coots reached over and cranked the volume back up, face contorting in anticipation of the wind’s wail.   It was gone, though a faint hiss remained.  Newfound respect filled his eyes as he turned them to Venter, exclaiming, “Ongefokinglooflik, that is impressive!  Maybe there is something to be said for your fancy overseas education after all…”

Venter chuckled appreciatively, “Overseas education my arse, meneer – I went to Wits.  It’s just as good, if not better – to say nothing of a damn sight cheaper.”  A confident smile, then he added, “Want me to mask the hiss as well, sir?”

Coots considered this for only a moment before saying, “Nah, I want to know when to start paying attention.  Get the visuals on our overhead, and overlay the channel their transmission came on over our audio – just in case they don’t encode.”

After complying with the command, Venter turned the volume down and said, “Pardon me for asking, Sir – but what changed your mind about this incident?”

Pleased Venter had phrased the question in a fashion that covered his earlier inattention, Coots smiled as he responded, “There were three things I didn’t really notice during the actual transmission.”  Grinning wide, he lay his head on his hand, drooped his eyelids and feigned snoring before continuing, “First, the tone of that bugger Henderson’s voice.  Until we played the recording back through quality acoustics, and at a decent volume, I didn’t notice the fear in it.  Whatever this is about, it has him shit-scared.  That’s got to mean something – they may just be bloody yanks, but they’re serious soldiers.”

Venter nodded agreement, adjusting the volume and fine tuning the image on the overhead as he did.

“Second, Henderson said ‘CO, Actual.’  Now, I don’t know about you Sergeant, but there is no way I’ll risk waking up the Brigadier – unless I’m damn sure I have really important news.  This might be serious for the yanks, but it’s still not serious enough for me to take that risk.  I’ve been to northern Namibia – trust me, it’s not a fun place.”

Again, Venter nodded agreement.

“Third, the operator who acknowledged the transmission seemed kind of bored.  That, and the fact they transmitted in clear is probably what threw me off first time around.”  Grinning broad, Coots shook his head as he repeated the motions of a mime emulating sleep.

Venter smiled acknowledgement, then dutifully said, “I don’t understand, sir?”

Face serious, Coots said, “Think about it – the responding operator has no reason to feel fear because she doesn’t know how serious this is.  She probably thinks it’s some scripted exercise – like I did until I heard the fear in Henderson’s voice.  Henderson obviously knows this goes way beyond a mere Duty Officer, who is probably just some poor lowbie stuck with graveyard – just like me.  That’s why Henderson wants the actual CO.  Which brings us to the million rand question…”

After frowning, Venter shook his head, shrugged and said, “Guess you’ve got me again, sir.  What’s the million rand question?”

Though Coots smiled, it never carried to his eyes, “What could possibly happen in Lesotho that warrants a high priority global alert for the US Navy?”

Pursing his lips, Coots frowned as he considered his own question.

About thirty seconds passed in relative silence, broken only by the low hiss from the aerial drone’s audio stream.  The image on the overhead display remained indistinct, yet somehow conveyed motion.

Venter typed into his console, causing the image to resolve into the heat signatures indicative of infra-red optics.

After glancing at the shifting pattern of reds, blacks and greens, Coots said, “And precisely what is the bloody US Navy doing perched on top of the tallest mountain in southern Africa?”

<<<-0->>>

Chapter 2.  Business, Objects & ID.

I.  Investments.

Timeline: 7:45pm, Wednesday, February 23rd.

“I’m not going to tell you again – everything’s going precisely to plan!”  Admiral Fairchild made no attempt to mask the exasperation in his voice.  “Just keep your mouth shut, and keep pressuring your tech teams to search harder.  Increase their workload – the more tired they are, the less chance of them figuring this out.”

The voice on the other end of the mobile call took on a sulky tone, “I won’t let up… the overtime is insane, but I’ve authorized it.”

Fairchild’s voice became dangerously quiet as anger flared, , “Is that what this is really about?  A few thousand dollars in overtime – when we’ve already made millions?”

After a long silence, the answer came back, “If I believed this was necessary, I wouldn’t care – but the science team really think she’ll work.”

Voice harsh, Fairfield interrupted, “I don’t give a shit what they think!  Half of those airheads can’t hit the urinal when they take a piss!   You expect me to feel confident they can target a missile travelling at Mach twenty, on their first try?  Are you willing to gamble fifty million on that chance?  Because I SURE AS HELL AIN’T!”

Fairfield’s jaw clenched as he fought for control.  When no reply came, he breathed out.  Voice a studied calm, he continued, “And don’t forget that’s just the first of seven installments.  No – make that eight… we’ll need to replace the one our good Captain has just lost thanks to his gross negligence.”  The last was said with conviction, in rehearsal for his coming presentation before the Joint Chiefs.

“You’re right, Admiral.  Of course.”

“Increase the pressure on your staff, and stop worrying about nickels and dimes.  Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’m almost at my meeting”.  With a decisive tap, Fairchild disconnected the call.

Over an hour remained before his meeting, but he had more important things to do than calm the fears of drastically over paid fools.  Perhaps he’d been harsher than usual, but the further along this project got, the more disproportionate his risk became.  He had made the decision to scuttle the first satellite on his own, based largely on Durn’s warnings.  Regardless of his opinion of the man, Durn was a fine officer, motivated by devotion more than power.  Unfortunately, like so many not born into privilege, Durn was incapable of understanding how power could only maintained with capital, and lots of it.  The higher Durn progressed, the more intractable he became – and the more dangerous.  Durn had discreetly approached several other members of the Admiralty, stressing his concerns about the OBIT-TP project.  Luckily, the good captain had made a fatal mistake – the personal secretary of one of those Admirals was from a family almost as old as the Fairchilds.  At a chance gathering of Washington’s elite, he’d mentioned Durn’s meeting – Durn’s disloyalty had been the final straw.

Fairfield smiled as he leant forward to lower the sound-proof partition, and instruct his chauffeur, “Get me there at exactly nine forty-five.”  He raised the partition without waiting for acknowledgement.

After unwrapping a His Majesty’s Reserve, he clipped it and ran it beneath his nose, delighting in its aroma.  Lighting the cigar took all his attention as he slowly rolled it, holding its tip well above the lighter’s flame.  By the time it glowed, most of the tension from his conversation had ebbed.  Over the next twenty minutes, he would savor the cigar and unwind completely.

This investment was finally paying off.

<<<-0->>>

II.  Visual Acquisition.

Timeline: 2:49am, Thursday, February 24th.

The murmur of voices stilled the instant Captain Durn stepped into Monitor Central.  Two paces behind, Ensign Moore spoke with a quiet assurance he had lacked not twenty minutes earlier, “Attention!  Captain on deck!”

Granting barely enough time for the operation center’s occupants to snap to attention, Captain Durn braced his arms in acknowledgement before saying, “At ease.  Ensign close the hatch.  Duty Officer, report please.”

Lieutenant Carter, the DO in charge, remained at attention while she waited for Moore to close and secure the doorway before delivering her report.  “We received a priority Tango Zulu from Monitor Station Delta, Sir.  MSD is our two man outpost in the Drakensburg mountains.  Chief Petty Officer Henderson is on logistics, Chief Warrant Officer Mitchell is the monitoring specialist.  I believe you know Henderson, Sir?  He wants to talk to you – personally.  Henderson explicitly asked for CO actual.  They’ve been instructed to standby.”

Durn glanced toward the door before fixing Lt. Carter with a steady gaze and asking, “Anything else?”

Understanding the implied question immediately, Lt. Carter said, “No Sir.  We received MSD’s transmission at zero two thirty three.  The time is now zero two fifty three.  Everyone present and accounted for, Sir.”  She flicked her eyes briefly toward Ensign Moore as she spoke, turning them back to meet the Captain’s as she finished speaking.

Captain Durn nodded acknowledgement before walking toward the warrant officer manning the primary console.  The sailor immediately slid his chair back and to the side, clearing space.  With a small smile of gratitude Durn reached out, took the radio handset and raised it to his lips, “Mike Sierra Delta, this is Mike Charlie.  Charlie Oscar actual here.  Initiate crypt then report.  Keep it brief.  Over.”

For the next twenty seconds complete silence filled the room.

A rapid series multi-frequency beeps issued from the radio, followed by a drawn out chirp and a second’s silence.  A crackle of static, and Henderson’s voice filled the room, “Crypt status confirmed.  Good to hear you CO.  We’re in shit street, sir, and it’s running deep.  Don’t know how he did it, but our specialist is getting data out of the bird we lost three days ago.   Confirm you know the one I mean.  Transmitting image data stream now.  Over.”

A slight frown signaling his uncertainty, Captain Durn turned toward Lt. Carter.

Lips pursing, Carter’s eyes narrowed as she gazed into the middle distance.  About twenty seconds passed before she drew a sharp breath.  Stepping toward her CO, she held out her hand for the microphone, which he immediately relinquished.  Speaking slowly into the instrument, while looking into Captain Durn’s eyes, she said, “Mike Sierra Delta, that’s a negative.  You can’t mean the high bird?  Over.”

A hiss of static as Henderson’s voice again filled the room, “That’s an affirmative.  An affirmative with a capital Aye and a capital Eff, if you get my drift.  Standing by for CO actual.  Over.”

Handing the microphone back to Durn, Carter lowered her gaze to the floor.  She knew the relationship between the CO and Henderson was one of mutual respect, and that the conclusion she had already reached therefore called the Captain’s judgment into question.  Without raising her eyes, she said, “Henderson’s talking about the satellite we lost three days ago, Sir.  All Monitor personnel have been through SAP for it, but that bird was only scheduled to come online in another week.   The top brass is convinced it was hacked, though they don’t know how, by whom, or for what purpose – yet.”  Troubled by knowledge Durn couldn’t have, she covered her hesitation with a cough before adding, “Whoever took control of our bird fired a retro to kick it onto its back.  Then they shut it down…”

No one spoke.

Knowing her next words were an accusation, Carter lifted her eyes to meet the Captain’s, and added, “That pretty much turned a billion dollar instrument into a heap of worthless trash.  In turn, that means suspicion is on some group seeking to hurt us – not steal our technology.  Sorry Sir, but if Mitchell has somehow gained control of it… well, there’s only one possible explanation.  He’s one of the radicals who hacked it.”

Captain Durn’s brow furrowed as he evaluated the troubling words just delivered.  Though Henderson was an ornery bastard, he was also an unquestionable patriot.  Sure, Henderson had been overlooked for promotion and sent into the asshole of the world on a mission anyone could see was a career ender.  But that was only in the eyes of people who didn’t know Henderson.  He knew Bill Henderson.  He remembered Bill’s smile of satisfaction as he shook his hand in farewell.  Henderson had been only too happy to escape the political infighting and red tape that all too often choked a peacetime navy.  That posting had been a blessing, not the curse his enemies thought they inflicted.  Then, on top of his personal knowledge of the man, there was the phrasing Henderson had used in his transmission.  A casual ear might well have missed the messages within it – he knew better.  That, “good to hear you, CO”… now that was bull if he’d ever heard it.  He’d explicitly instructed Henderson to keep it brief… Bill wanted him to know he knew exactly who was talking.  And the words, “we’re in shit street”…, “we’re” not, “I’m”.  Then, further emphasizing how he considered Mitchell, Henderson had described his partner as, “our specialist”, instead of simply using his name – that clearly indicated Mitchell remained part of the team.  Apart from those clues, intended for all ears, Henderson’s words had also held a special message.  A special message intended for his ears only – the cryptic reference, “…an affirmative with a capital AYE and a capital EFF…”  That Lt. Carter was exceptionally bright suddenly became cause for concern – if she picked up the obscure reference to Admiral Fairchild…

This introspection took Captain Durn less time than was needed to smooth his brow and settle his mouth into a grim line.

Lt. Carter snapped back into attention as she watched Durn’s eyes tighten.  Seeing the Duty Officer’s reaction galvanized the three other men to emulate her.  Tension immediately filled the room.

Drawing a breath through his nose, Durn shook his head and said, “Not a chance, Lieutenant.  Nope!  Chief Henderson is a Navy man to the core, and he needs our help.  Correction, they need our help.  You heard him acknowledge they’re in shit street – they know they’re now the top suspects in whatever investigation is underway.  They could have kept quiet.  Quite likely, no one would ever have known if they had.  They didn’t.  Instead of taking the easy way out by keeping their mouths shut, they put themselves in our crosshairs by calling it in.”

Turning slowly, Durn looked from person to person, briefly meeting the eyes of all four.  Two officers, and two warrants.  Good, solid sailors all, and totally trustworthy.  Well, Moore was largely an unknown, but he had scored top of his class at the academy, which meant something – though not as much as the SAP clearance the Ensign had already acquired and needed to even enter this particular operations center.

Seeking to alleviate the growing tension, Durn growled , “And we’re damn well going to be here for them!  Aren’t we?”

Four voices immediately rang out, “Aye Sir!”

Durn let the corners of his mouth creep up in a faint smile as he nodded in satisfaction.  At his change in demeanor the tension eased, slightly.  Once more fixing his gaze on Ensign Moore, he said, “Get on the blower to the mess and have them send up some decent chow.  Don’t take any crap from the mess commander, Ensign.  Tell him I’m in here, and I’m in no mood for nonsense.”

At this, Moore blushed – the other three smiled.  Lt. Carter, obviously the instigator of that particular prank, chuckled before stifling her laughter and fixing her suddenly intent concentration on the image forming on the small, integrated radio data display.

Durn nodded to Moore, confirming his knowledge of the incident and indicating his sympathy.  Turning to address Lt. Carter, he found her jaw hanging agape as she stared down at the small screen.  Raising his voice, to ensure all could hear him clearly, he said, “Sorry Lieutenant Carter, but you’re going to have to share the shitter with us men.  No one will be leaving Monitor Central for any reason… not until I say so.”

Lt. Carter nodded absently.

Turning from the display toward the Captain, voice unsure, she murmured, “I think you’d better come and look at this, Sir.  If that object is what I think it is – we’re all in shit street, not just Henderson and Mitchell.”

<<<-0->>>

III.  Obscured Visuals.

Timeline: 2:51am, Thursday, February 24th.

Turning to Coots, Venter said, “Getting our first visuals now, sir.  The drone is still clicks away, but its optics are really high end.  We should get an audio lock in about ten minutes.”

The camera projected a strange multi-colored image onto the high resolution display.  Coots picked up a laser pointer, turned it on, circled the middle structure with its red dot, and said, “Time for a lesson in infra-red imagery, Sergeant.  Damn!  Doesn’t that look like one shitty little outpost?”

“One second, sir,” said Venter as he typed into his console.  The image on the overhead changed to show an aerial photo, obviously taken from high altitude.  The picture revealed little.  Several structures, made indistinguishable by camouflage netting, sat on a slope covered with scrubby mountain grass.  Muttering, “Well, that was a bust”, Venter keyed another command.  The display reverted to the infra-red image.

Coots chuckled, “I already checked our surveillance photos – that was the best we have.  A strange position for an observation post, though it is well sheltered from wind.  They’re only a few hundred meters from the ridgeline, but what the hell could they be observing?”  After pausing to consider his question, he again highlighted the middle structure, “This is their op-center and living quarters combined.  I recognize the thermals on it – it’s a hi-tech, self-contained, pre-fabricated carbon fiber composite.  Get the drone to focus on that building for our audio feed.  Our laser audio works great on them – we’ll be able to hear them fart.  Doesn’t look like much does it?”

Already concentrating on the commands needed to control the drone, Venter muttered something non-committal.

“Doesn’t look like much, but you’re looking at a hundred grand, US currency – and that’s just for the shell.  God alone knows what the gear inside is worth, but I’m willing to bet it’s a damn sight more than the shell.”  Coots flicked the pointer to a smaller, square structure alongside the first building, “That might be a supply building.  No, hang on, it’s got a weird thermal signature… might be batteries, or a generator?  Anyway, some kind of electrical machinery.”  The pointer moved to three separate squares spaced evenly around the two central structures.  After circling two of them for emphasis, he said, “Residual thermals on these two show they’re solar panels, bloody big ones as well – they must have a lot of equipment to power.”  The pointer flicked to the third square, “And that… that’s probably a radar.  Doesn’t look like it’s active, which is just as well… we don’t want them detecting our drone.  At first light, we can get some decent close-ups.  So, what does this all mean, Sergeant?”

“Looks like a pretty standard listening post, sir.” said Venter.

Coots agreed, “Listening post sounds good, and that’s what it looks like – but my gut says otherwise.  Nothing I can point a finger…”  A crackle of static interrupted him, followed by an unrecognized voice, “Mike Sierra Delta, this is Mike Charlie.  Charlie Oscar actual here.  Initiate crypt then report.  Keep it brief.  Over.”

Already looking at Venter, Coots raised an eyebrow as Venter typed frantically before murmuring, “Sorry sir, the drone can’t target its laser audio until it’s overhead.”

Exasperated, Coots exclaimed, “Throw me a bloody bone! Well, get me a voice-id on whoever that was, along with everyone we’ve recorded so far.  Was that transmission long enough for triangulation?”

Venter glanced at his display, shook his head, and entered further commands into his console.

A harsh, squeaky static hissed into the room.  Sighing, Coots reached over and turned the volume down to almost inaudible.

<<<-0->>>

{Author’s Note: If you like what you’re read, then I encourage you to take a few moments to post a comment here.  Yes, the Captcha is irritating but it serves a good cause – the digitization of old works.  Alternatively, chat with me on Twitter where you can find me as @CGAyling.}

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3 Responses to Blind Sight

  1. Ed says:

    so who is he, Fairfield or Fairchild?

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