Authors: Robert Doherty
Tags: #Space ships, #Area 51 (Nev.), #High Tech, #Unidentified flying objects, #Political, #General, #Science Fiction, #Plague, #Adventure, #Extraterrestrial beings, #Fiction, #Espionage
The Washington itself carried the task force's most powerful punch in the form of its flight wing: one squadron (12) of Grumman F-14 Tomcats, three squadrons (36) of McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornets, 4 Grum-
man EA-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, 10 Lockheed S-3B Vikings, 6 Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk helicopters, and 6 EA-6B Prowlers. But at the present moment, Duncan knew this powerful force was impotent.
"Kelly?" she whispered under her breath toward the dark gray sky as if that person could hear her. The events of the past several weeks had shaken Duncan badly, and she felt a momentary wave of loneliness and weariness sweep over her as she thought of the others who had been with her when they tore the curtain of secrecy surrounding Area 51 asunder.
Deep under Rano Kau her friend Kelly Reynolds was trapped by the guardian computer. That Kelly was trapped because she had gone there of her own free will in an attempt to stop Duncan and Captain Mike Turcotte from defeating the Airlia invasion was something Duncan had thought long and hard about over the past several days, ever since Turcotte had destroyed the incoming Airlia fleet.
Thinking of Turcotte, Duncan's mind drifted south, where she knew he was joining the task force seeking to uncover the secret of Scorpion Base, where the mysterious STAAR organization had had its headquarters.
She could feel the power of the ship's engines vibrate up through the deck under her rubber-soled shoes. She knew she looked out of place on the ship's bridge, among all the sailors dressed in their uniforms. She could sense the military's inherent distrust of civilians from the moment she came on board. It was something she had experienced before and knew there was no way to counter.
The voice startled her. She turned toward the interior of the bridge where naval personnel bustled with the activity necessary to operate this floating city.
A young ensign stood five feet behind her. "The admiral would like to see you in the commo shack."
Duncan followed the officer through the bridge and through a door at the rear.
Shack was a bit of a simplification for the room she entered. Able to communicate securely anywhere on the planet, the "shack" boasted top-of-the-line equipment, including numerous direct uplinks to various satellites.
Admiral Poldan, the officer who had commanded the last failed strike against the guardian computer on Easter Island, had not been a happy man the past few days. He led a task force capable of devastating whole countries, but the alien shield that surrounded the island had withstood the best his fleet could send at it short of nuclear weapons. Duncan knew he was itching to throw that last punch, but UNAOC—for the moment—saw insufficient threat from the Easter Island guardian to authorize such a drastic move in the face of political realities following recent events.
Duncan nodded at the admiral, who was giving orders to one of his men. Done, he gestured for her to join him in front of a large computer display.
"The guardian is talking" was his greeting. "The National Security Agency is picking up alien transmissions."
"To who?" Duncan asked.
"The guardian on Mars."
"Was there a reply from Mars?"
The admiral nodded. "Yes. Yes, there was."
Duncan considered that piece of bad news. The nuclear attack on the Airlia compound on Mars via the Surveyor probe had been kept secret by the UNAOC for several reasons.
One reason had been not wanting to admit that the
attack had occurred under the direction of STAAR, an organization about which they still knew practically nothing. The fact that STAAR had placed the nuclear bomb aboard the probe prior to launch, two years before, indicated that organization had been far ahead of any government in recognizing the threat the Airlia posed, or that there was even an Airlia base on Mars, something that seemed to have eluded NASA for years.
There was also the issue that there was still a sizable percentage of the world's population that believed the Airlia represented good; that the destruction of the Airlia fleet was the most heinous act mankind had ever committed. The progressives, as they were called, felt that a remarkable opportunity for great strides in science—not to mention first contact with an alien race— had been destroyed.
Duncan had been hearing reports that a major reason Admiral Poldan wasn't given the green light to nuke Easter Island was a powerful progressive lobby in the UN. This lobby felt that the guardian computer under Rano Kau was irreplaceable. While that looked clear on the surface, Duncan was concerned that there was more to the progressive camp than was readily apparent. The plan by UNAOC to send up space shuttles to rendezvous with both the mothership and talon seemed a bit rushed to her. Her paranoia, justified in her investigation into Majestic-12, was still alive and well.
There was a growing movement in the progressive camp making an icon out of Kelly Reynolds. Nuking the island would undoubtedly kill her—if the nuke got through the shield—and UNAOC was very concerned that would bring about a martyrdom that might incur severe repercussions from the progressive camp.
Several countries, most notably Australia and Japan, had threatened to pull out of the United Nations to
protest the preemptive strike against the Airlia fleet commanded by Aspasia.
Duncan had been as surprised as Mike Turcotte at the backlash in the wake of the destruction of the Airlia fleet. It wasn't that Turcotte had expected a parade down Fifth Avenue for his daring mission aboard the mothership, but he had not expected to be vilified in so many quarters. Nabinger's interpretations from the guardian computer under Qian-Ling in China had been greeted with much skepticism, given that Nabinger had never made it out of China alive and they had only Turcotte's word that Aspasia had been the enemy of mankind. The fact that the Airlia had destroyed a navy submarine near the foo fighter base had been explained away as an automatic defensive reaction by the guardian computer—as was the wall they now faced around the island ahead of them.
On the other end of the opinion spectrum the isolationists were pressing the UN to forget about the Airlia. They wanted Easter Island and the other Airlia artifact sites ignored. The isolationist thinking was that these artifacts had been on Earth since before recorded history—it had been only man's interference that had caused all the recent problems. In Duncan's opinion, the isolationists wanted to put the cork back in the bottle after the contents had already spilled out.
China had already pulled its representative from the United Nations and completely closed itself off from the rest of the world over the matter. The fact that the UN had launched a mission deep into China to uncover information in Qian-Ling about the Airlia had poured fuel on the fire. There were confusing intelligence reports that there was much fighting inside China, particularly in the western provinces where ethnic and religious groups were trying to break away from the central gov-
ernment using the uncertainty of the current world situation as their window of opportunity. Duncan, talking to several of her contacts in Washington, had heard rumors that the CIA and other intelligence agencies, particularly that of Taiwan, were aiding in this destabilization. So even as she had to concern herself with the alien situation, she knew she had to always take into account the fact that governments were going to act on their base, selfish interests first, and look at the larger, worldwide picture second.
The world had so anticipated the arrival of Aspasia and his ships that the sudden destruction of that fleet had created shock waves that were still echoing around the globe. Duncan had no doubt that she and her comrades had reacted correctly, but many didn't—obviously Kelly Reynolds had not felt that way.
Upon returning from China, Turcotte had relayed the Russian Section IV concern that STAAR was an Airlia front, part of one of the two warring factions that had been on Earth over ten thousand years ago. That was an entirely differently problem that was somehow connected to all the rest. There were many pieces to the puzzle, and so far Duncan was not sure how what she had went together. This new information that Easter Island and Mars were talking verified that all they had won was a respite.
"Can we break the guardian code?" Duncan asked.
"Negative. It's the same cipher they used before when they wanted to talk to each other and keep us in the dark. No messages of love and peace in binary to us." The admiral tapped the screen. "They're chattering back and forth at high speed and high data compression. A hell of a lot of information."
Duncan knew the admiral was worried. The extent of the Airlia's capabilities was not known. The foo fighter
base north of Easter Island had been destroyed—at least all indications were that it had been, she amended now that it appeared the Mars guardian was still active—using a nuclear weapon. The talon ships had also been destroyed in orbit using nuclear weapons in conjunction with the ruby sphere that had been the mother-ship interstellar drive's power core. But what else might be uncovered remained to be seen, and like most of the military men she had encountered ever since they had cracked the secret of Area 51, the admiral was more than a little paranoid. She knew he would prefer to shoot first and figure it all out later.
"Aspasia must have left someone to mind the store on Mars," Admiral Poldan said.
"Or the guardian computer on Mars survived and is still functioning on its own," Duncan noted. "At least we destroyed their space fleet."
"Uh-huh" was the admiral's take on that. "But whoever—or whatever—is left on Mars survived a nuke strike."
"What about the Springfield?" Duncan asked, trying to focus attention on the immediate situation and the reason she was here. "Will the weather force a delay?"
"Weather doesn't affect a submarine," Poldan said. He pointed to a console where an Air Force officer was sitting. "We've got commo with it."
"Do you think this plan will work?"
Admiral Poldan shrugged. "The submarine itself is not attempting to penetrate the shield—if the shield extends underwater—which we hope isn't the case given that the foo fighter base wasn't shielded. We think the probe has a good chance of getting through."
"The foo fighter base probably didn't have a guardian computer," Duncan noted.
Poldan ignored that. "The probe is our best shot to get a look at what's happening on the island."
"No change in the shield?" Duncan asked.
"See for yourself." The admiral handed her several sheets of satellite imagery. He pointed at a dozen red spots in the lower left corner. "That's my fleet."
His finger moved to a black circle that dwarfed the fleet's images. "That's the shield. The NSA has tried every spectrum their satellites are capable of to try to see through, and nothing has worked. That computer is hiding something from us. And the longer we sit here on our butts and do nothing, the more time they have to do whatever it is they're doing."
"Ma'am!" a voice called out from the other side of the communications shack.
Duncan turned. "Yes?"
"NSA was doing an internal security check and they found an illegal tap in the Interlink from this area."
Duncan knew the Interlink was the Department of Defense classified Internet system. "And?"
"They backtracked the tap and it's coming from an uplink into FLTSATCOM from Easter Island. As far as NSA can determine, the guardian is into the DOD
Interlink using some of the equipment we left behind when we abandoned the island."
"How long has it been in?" she asked.
"Over a day."
"And they're just letting us know now!" She turned to the admiral. "Shut the satellite down!"
"No can do." Admiral Poldan had listened to the exchange. "That FLTSATCOM is our only connection to headquarters."
"Admiral, you're letting the guardian into your Interlink and from there into the Internet. What the hell do you think it's looking for?"
"I have no idea," Poldan said stiffly.
Duncan stepped in close to the naval officer, who towered over her. "I don't either, Admiral, but I highly recommend you shut down that link before it finds what it's looking for—if it hasn't already. Unless, of course," she added,
"there's a reason you want the guardian infiltrating the Interlink? What exactly are your orders, Admiral?"
Poldan stared down at her for a second. "I'll contact the NSA and have them shut the satellite down."
He had been sitting in the same place for many days, wrapped in a heavy sleeping bag with a white camouflage sheet covering his position. He was wedged behind a blown-down pine tree, the branches providing excellent overhead concealment, as they were thick and covered with snow from the previous night.
There was always snow here, even at the height of summer. This was the northernmost end of Novaya Zemlya, an island seven hundred miles long that separated the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea. The north tip of the island projected into the Arctic Ocean. It was 560 miles from Norway, north and west.
Archangel was the closest Russian city, over five hundred miles away. The ocean surrounding the island was ice covered year round. The weather was extremely unpredictable, with fierce weeklong storms common. A large portion of the island, south of this location, had been used by the Soviet government for years as a nuclear test site. This precluded anyone coming north by land, even if they could make it across the brutal terrain that had no roads. There were only two ways to this spot: by air or by icebreaker.
The man was on a steep mountainside, overlooking a cluster of buildings huddled around a landing strip be-
tween the base of the mountain and a glacier to the east. The ice-covered ocean stretched as far as the eye could see beyond the small level cove of land, caught between mountain, sea, and glacier.
He heard the other coming long before he saw him. The other was making his way through the thick forest, moving slowly in the thick snow. The first one didn't move, not even when the other stopped in front of him, breathing heavily and leaning on ski poles.