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 lieutenant checked the time. "Sea Eye is at the shield."
On board the Springfield, Captain Forster had also just been informed of the torpedo's status.
"Sonar?" he called out. "Anything?"
"Sea Eye is gone, as far as I can tell," the sonar man reported. "Snapped off, like a door shutting.
"So the shield blocks sonar," Forster summarized the first thing they'd learned so far from this mission. "Weapons?" he asked.
"All tubes loaded and ready," his weapons officer informed him.
"Ten seconds until we power up Sea Eye again," his intelligence officer told him.
"Multiple targets!" the sonar man yelled. "Two eight zero degrees. Three hundred meters and closing."
"I got three clear objects!" The radar man's voice was overlaid on top of the sonar operator's.
Forster looked over the shoulder of his radar man. He recognized the signature. "Foo fighters!"
"Two hundred meters and closing."
"Intel?" Forster yelled.
"Sea Eye is on. All we're getting is a power feedback. Growing."
"One hundred and fifty meters," radar reported.
"They're using the wire to track us," Forster realized. "Cut wire. Complete power down!"
"Foo fighters?" Duncan had listened to the exchange in the operations room of the Springfield before the radio went dead after Forster ordered his ship powered down. "I thought we got them all."
The small, three-foot-diameter glowing spheres were the guardian's eyes and ears. Capable of moving through both air and water, their recorded history dated back to World War II when they had been spotted by Allied and Axis aircrews, following airplanes on their war missions.
A nerve was twitching on Admiral Poldan's cheek. "We nuked their base. We've got two subs watching that location and they've reported nothing."
"Then these had to come from somewhere else," Duncan said.
"Status on the Springfield?" Admiral Poldan demanded.
"She's powered down. Descending," one of his crewmen watching a screen responded.
"The foo fighters?"
"Staying between the Springfield and the shield. Holding."
"That alien computer knows we know how to fight them now. They're keeping their distance."
Duncan thought that was a bit optimistic of the admiral.
"How much water does the Springfield have under her?" Poldan snapped.
"Bottom is four hundred meters."
Poldan relaxed slightly. "She can bottom out and handle that depth."
"And then?" Duncan asked.
"She sits, so those damn things don't attack her."
"Until?" Duncan pressed.
"Until your goddamn politician bosses get off their asses and let us blast the crap out of the island. And destroy these foo fighters like we did the other ones."
Easier said than done. Duncan kept the words to herself.
"Five minutes out!"
The interior of the Osprey was crowded with men and equipment. As it banked, the tie-down cables strained, keeping the gear from rolling. Turcotte went forward and stuck his head in the cockpit, looking over the shoulders of the pilots, while he kept a tight grip on the door frame.
It wasn't hard to see where Scorpion Base was. About a quarter mile to the east of where they were landing, the surface of the ice and snow had been splintered by a powerful force that had dug out a quarter-mile-wide trench.
Turcotte returned his attention to more immediate matters as the surface below came up quickly, a rush of white. The plane was very low now, and the pilot banked hard left.
Turcotte looked down as they flew over. There were several prefab structures on the surface where the digging crew lived.
"Better go buckle up," the pilot said to Turcotte.
They roared over a snow tractor with a large red flag tied off to the top. A man on top of the tractor was holding a green flag pointing in a northeasterly direction. Turcotte went to the cargo bay and pulled the seat belt tight across his lap. His take on military seat belts had always been that their only purpose was to try to keep the corpse with the plane if it crashed.
Turcotte watched through the small window as the wings slowly began to rotate upward, slowing the plane's
forward speed, while at the same time making up for the loss in lift from the tilted wings.
The plane bounced once, then was down. Turcotte could see the snow tractor had a flatbed trailer hitched to it and was heading toward them.
The silence as the pilots turned off the engines was as shocking as any loud sound. They'd lived with that noise for eight and a half hours on the flight down here from the USS Stennis. As his senses adjusted, the steady whine of wind bouncing off the skin of the plane became noticeable. With the airplane's heater off, the interior temperature immediately started dropping.
Turcotte cinched his hood on his Gore-Tex parka. He made sure all his gear was secure before finally pulling the bulky mittens on over his hands.
For this trip, Turcotte had pulled his cold-weather equipment out of the duffel bag that traveled everywhere with him. He was wearing a Gore-Tex camouflage parka and overpants over Patagonia Pile jacket and bib pants that zipped on the sides. He had polypropylene underwear next to his body to wick away any moisture from the skin. Large boots—Turcotte referred to them as Mickey Mouse boots—covered his feet. Despite all the advantages in technology over the years, this outfit was little different from what he had worn for cold-weather training five years earlier. The boots were the same soldiers had worn twenty years earlier. Turcotte was always disgusted with the way the Pentagon would spend billions on a new jet but wouldn't spring to get the soldier a warm boot.
The back ramp cracked open and the blast of cold air slammed into Turcotte's lungs. The air on the tiny parts of his face that were exposed hurt. His skin automatically rebelled, trying to shrink from the pain of the cold, and he felt his muscles tighten as if he could make him-
self smaller and that would in some way make him warmer. He tried to force his body to relax as he walked toward the tractor.
The tractor roared up, treads clattering, placing the trailer alongside the plane. The driver, looking like a bear in his garments, waved down at them, pumping his fist. There were several drums on the trailer, and the crew of the plane began refueling.
"Let's off-load," Turcotte called out.
Once all the equipment was off the aircraft, Turcotte climbed into the cab of the tractor. The other members of the party climbed on board and all grabbed on for dear life as the driver threw the tractor into gear and roared off toward the site of Scorpion Base.
"Welcome to hell," the driver said.
Turcotte didn't say anything. His gaze was focused on the thrust-up ice not far away.
Ruiz buttoned his pants and threw several bills on the ground. The whore scooped them up and they disappeared into the robe she wore. She hadn't even bothered to take it off for their brief coupling, simply hitching it up at her waist. Prostitution was not exactly an art form this deep in the Amazon basin.
Vilhena was the district headquarters for this province, an area bigger than the state of Texas in western Brazil. Ruiz had been very glad to see the small town, population of less than five thousand, appear earlier today after backtracking downstream all night from their gruesome discovery the previous day. Vilhena was remote, but it was the known world.
Ruiz walked out of the house made of cast-off cardboard and squinted up at the sun. It was good to be out from underneath the gloom of the triple-canopy jungle.
"There you are!" A man who had been on the boat
ran up. "The American wants to see you. He is at the governor's office."
Ruiz frowned. "What for?"
"How should I know?" The man pointed at the hut with a knowing smile. "How is she?" He didn't wait for an answer, disappearing into the black hole of the doorway, already tugging at his pants.
Ruiz walked toward the provincial headquarters, wondering why the American would want him. A policeman lounging in the shade didn't even acknowledge Ruiz's approach. He walked down the hallway until a sign on the door indicated he was in the right place. He knocked once, then entered.
Harrison was standing across the desk from the provincial governor, a slight, unkempt man whose primary responsibility was making sure taxes on river traffic were collected, taking his cut, then forwarding it downriver.
"Senor Avilon." Ruiz nodded respectfully toward the governor.
"Tell him!" Harrison yelled.
Ruiz glanced at Avilon.
Harrison grabbed Ruiz's arm. "Tell him what we saw!"
"I don't—" Ruiz began.
"The village. The dead people!" Harrison was shaking Ruiz's arm.
"Mr. Harrison tells me you came across a village yesterday," Governor Avilon said. "He says everyone there was dead."
"They were all dead," Ruiz acknowledged.
"Indians?" Avilon asked, and Ruiz knew where this was headed.
Avilon spread his hands on the top of his desk and gave a wide smile at Harrison. "My friend, many strange
things happen upriver. If I told you half the stories I hear every week, you would be amazed."
"The village—" Harrison began, but the governor cut him off.
"Is all dead, correct?"
"Then there is nothing I can do."
"Something killed those people!" Harrison sputtered.
"Of course something killed them," Avilon agreed. "People die in this part of the world all the time. If you will excuse me, I have much work to get done."
"Tell him about The Mission!" Harrison suddenly said.
Avilon had stopped pretending to work. He was staring at the American with hard eyes. They flickered over to Ruiz, fixing him. "What of this Mission?"
Ruiz spread his hands and put a stupid smile on his face. "I do not know what he is speaking of, Governor."
The governor pointed at the door. "Go home, Mr. Harrison. There is nothing here for you."
"You must block the river," Harrison said, "to keep this death from spreading."
"No one goes up there except fools like you," the governor said.
"You must quarantine this town," Harrison insisted.
"I am very busy," the governor growled. "It is time for you to leave."
Ruiz walked out the door, pulling the protesting American with him.
"Why won't he do something?" Harrison demanded as they stepped out into the street.
"Because he does not think they are people," Ruiz said.
"What do you mean?"
"They're Indians. Natives. People like the governor, they consider the ones who live in the jungle to be less than animals. They die, no one here cares."
"They're human beings," Harrison said.
Ruiz looked more closely at the American. "There is nothing to be done," Ruiz said. He had a pain in his left temple. The beginnings of a headache.
"That is where you are wrong," Harrison said. He walked off toward the river.
"See and know and understand that the end of the world is near." The voice was deep and full of power. "Mankind's crimes are too great! Death will come.
Nation will fight against nation. A monstrous plague will purify, and only those true of heart will be saved." There was an echoing silence before the voice continued. "Do you believe?"
"We believe!" a hundred voices echoed back.
"Do you believe?" the man repeated, his voice testing the people massed on the floor of the auditorium. The lights were turned low, only a spotlight blazed, centered on the screen behind the speaker, ten feet above his head. The light outlined a ten-foot-wide circle that had a representation of a small blue and white Earth in the center. Coming out of the Earth were lines that led to bright silver stars that made up the circumference of the circle. It was a symbol that was becoming more and more familiar around the world: the sign of the progressives.
"We believe!" The people shouting back were all dressed in brown pants and shirts.
"Ours is the only way. Our path is the path of enlightenment and the future,"
the speaker continued. The auditorium was in the center of Melbourne, but the 68
meeting had all the aspects of a church revival in the Deep South of the United States.
"It is not a path for everyone," the man continued. A placard on the front of the podium identified him as Guide Parker. He was a dignified-looking man, with thick white hair framing a patrician face. "It is a path only the chosen can be led to. I have been designated to guide you there. If you believe and trust in my guidance, you will survive the coming darkness!"
"We believe!" the audience screamed back. "We trust you!"
Parker's voice lowered, becoming even deeper. "Your trust must be absolute.
The darkness will take all who do not trust and believe! It will consume the disbelievers. It will consume the enemy of those who came from the stars and tried to help us. We must ask for forgiveness of man's sins against the stars and our own planet. To be helped we must be true. We must believe. Do you hear me?"
"We hear you!"
"Mankind will be blotted from the face of the ground. But we—we have found favor and grace for our belief. We are the righteous. We will be taken up and protected, and then freed once more to populate the world."
A nerve on the side of Parker's face twitched and his eyes lost their focus for the slightest of moments. He raised a hand to the side of his head as a spasm of pain passed through his brain. Then the face was calm once more. He smiled. "We will take action soon. You must be prepared or else the darkness will take you!"
Around the world, in a dozen other rooms like this one, a similar sermon was being preached.
There was no doubt that the wreckage was American—the Chinese lieutenant could still see the "U.S." painted in black on a section of the tail boom. He spit in the direction of the marking. Foreigners, invading the sovereign borders of his country. China had been neglected on the power scene of the world for too long.