Science fiction, fantasy
Flight of the Hive: Subjugation
Chapter 3: Spy Games and Hints
Ship-Mother Malen waited patiently while the Flight-Mother spoke with the other Ship-Mothers. As Ship-Mother of the flagship of the Flight, Malen was aware of much of what occurred within it. Fayon, the Flight-Mother, kept her close in the event that rapid maneuvers were needed. So Malen was usually present as the Flight’s business was conducted across the many ships. The Flight-Mother was determined not to let the errors in the spiral arm be repeated. Losses had been severe, Malen reflected, but not bad enough for Fayon to abort the mission. The loss of Khree would have mortified the entire Flight had they been forced to retreat.
Fayon was just beginning to get feedback from the sensors. Recon had deployed immediately upon Emergence, bless the Great Mother for the Holy Act, but had originally been preoccupied with watching for the Enemy. Now the Recon teams would have begun monitoring all radio and radiation frequencies as well as Doppler ripple effects caused by worm-space Transmissions or Jumps. Recon had its own scouts to send out with sensitive eavesdropping equipment. And their computers were set up to decode or decipher all transmissions from their destination and separate out video transmissions from audio in every wavelength.
Usually they had to search diligently for signals, but not this time. The target was sending out enormous volumes of signals, willy-nilly across the spectrum. There was so much chatter in transmissions that their immediate problem was to isolate a few signals enough to be able to reassemble those into audio or video data. Malen shook her head at the thought of all those radio-frequencies being thrown out into space completely oblivious to who may be listening. She shuddered. This could still prove a trap she thought. The signals are just too loud and widespread to be anything except an intentional homing signal. Malen was no longer as comfortable with this “routine” mission. Homing signals were either for a distress call or a trap in her mind.
But there was no indication that the Enemy was within light-years. Here at their destination, the presence of the Enemy would have required an alteration in the Directives. This was worrisome. With the loss of the Drones, the Flight had lost the interpreters of The Great Mother’s will. Altering the Directives would have to be done without assurance they were correctly following the Mother’s will. They were lucky they did not have to make such a decision. Their mission was still viable.
She did not miss the Drones. Although they were Hive-mates, they made her uncomfortable as they scrabbled about. Malen knew that much of the Flight felt the same way. Part of our less than perfect manufacture, she thought, as the Drones tell us repeatedly. The Drones treatment of the Flight clones precipitated much of the dislike of them. It was hard to be treated like a sub-class race when you were just as much a part of the Hive as the Drones. But the Drones always did that. And when they came on these trips, they had to be watched.
There were occasions when a Drone or Drones would kill a clone. Malen curled her upper lip. One of those now dead Drones had been involved in such an act on an earlier mission. That one she had no regrets over at all. It was lucky that she hadn’t had an opportunity to let some of the more frenetic Warrior clones dismember it. If she had ever had it alone on her ship, it may have met with a tragic accident. The automatic intonation, “Galeta forgive me,” came unbidden to her lips at the thought. Malen was ex-Warrior and she liked to think that particular Drone knew she craved to kill it when it looked at her with its faceted eyes. And that was why it stayed close to the other Drones. Pity she wouldn’t have that chance now.
A blue-suited Services clone squeezed between Malen’s scarlet covering and Fayon’s purple. She offered them both some dark kante to keep alertness levels high. The stimulant was being disbursed to all Bridge-crew as well since they were well into the third cycle since Emergence, Galeta be praised, and they would not stand down to a routine watch level for at least another cycle. Malen watched the clone move away. The young clone’s limbs moved with a fluid grace that was only learned in weightlessness. Idly she wondered what else this Services clone did besides distribute drinks. She snorted, a dalliance with another on her own ship was poor practice for a Ship-Mother.
Malen heard Fayon issuing an order to send mining teams to one of the nearby moons. The Prospectors had reported that moon to have a frozen sea of methane-ammonia. The mining teams could use the bots to strip mine the surface for needed replenishment of resources while the Recon teams went to work. A second report of water-ice was rewarded with Fayon authorizing more mining teams being sent. There was still a small risk that the Enemy would turn up and Fayon would be keeping the working teams down to a minimum until they were more confident.
Behind her, Malen heard the clatter of running feet. Turning she saw a brown-clad Recon clone pushing its way between the mostly silver suited crew on the bridge. It ran up to the Flight-Mother gasping. Fayon made it wait until she finished her other task with one of the supply ships. Then turning she nodded for it to report.
It began to babble loudly, drawing more attention to it on the crowded bridge. Faylon waived the clone forward to her side and managed to hear, “We have a problem, Flight-Mother. Look at these transmissions,” the Recon clone handed Fayon a mem-chit. “Look at what we found.”
Fayon frowned, the clone was on thin ice, Malen knew. This anxiety was unbecoming a Flight clone, reducing its khree. “Silence,” she barked. She took the chit and fed it into her reader. A video flashed up on the screen and began to play. Several calons of silence were followed by the Flight-Mother’s exclamation, “Great Galeta, look at these creatures! Seal the Bridge,” Fayon ordered.
“Andre? Andre LeGalais?” He turned to look at the voice. There stood a man of medium build in a well tailored suit. “I am Christoffer Lowe. I called you at the embassy.”
“Oui. Forgive me. Yes, of course. I sometimes forget myself and use my native tongue.” Andre stood politely, but looked the man over critically. “Would you be so kind as to join me?” He then asked inviting the man to his table in the open air café. Together they both sat, a waiter came up immediately, one of the reasons Andre frequented this sidewalk café. The service was excellent. They ordered some wine. Andre already had an antipasto plate of salamis and cheeses. Andre loved being outside and watching all the people walk by. His eyes followed a pair of attractive young women. Ahhhh, the girls of Holand, he thought watching them recede in the crowd.
“I see you are certainly French,” Christoffer said smiling widely. “I find the warmer climes here much more conducive to scantily dressed women. In Norway, there is a much shorter summer.”
Andre found him a bit crude he thought. “You said that you had some information for me?”
“Yes. As I told you, I work at the Danish Embassy here in Amsterdam. And I was told that you would provide a reward for interesting information.”
“Depends on what it is that you feel that you have, Monsieur,” Andre answered casually. “If it has value, then I may find that my generosity is encouraged.”
“I know that there is a new American science endeavor commencing.”
“No,” Christoffer said. “Astronomy.”
Andre laughed. “What value is there in a few pictures of stars? I do not think you will find me interested.”
“Ambassador LeGalais. Your pardon, but I think if you hear me out, you will find it very interesting.”
“I am not a full ambassador, Mr. Lowe. Merely an attaché”, but the Norwegian knew that or he would not be here. He had his own intelligence information on Mr. Lowe of course.
“Let me tell you the first part; then, if I find your generosity is ample enough, I will tell you the rest.”
Andre tasted his wine. If he was going to have wasted the afternoon, at least he would savor the wine. “Please proceed, Mr.Lowe.”
Chistoffer cleared his throat and leaned in speaking softer, “As I said the Americans have begun a new program in astronomy. I have heard from a briefing given to our Ambassador that they have seen something through their telescopes.”
“Seen something? Like a new star? Something new exploding a thousand light-years away?”
“Nothing like that at all. No, the Americans are suddenly very ardent about astronomy after virtually ignoring the field for years. Rumor has it, they are searching for something of extreme value. I have copies of their evidence of a clandestine space vehicle, possibly launched from Earth that has turned up in the outer part of our solar system. A secret launch.”
Andre was interested, but not convinced there was a value here. “So a launch was not announced. This is not unusual.”
“But the vehicle is estimated to be bigger than the Baton Rouge.”
Andre looked at him blankly. “You cannot be serious. Nothing like that has ever been launched,”
“The Americans think something is there. They have just pushed a $200 million dollar funds authorization through their congress to pay the cost of looking for this. Now they have begun hiring astronomers and tying up observatory time all over the world.”
Andre thought about it. That was a great deal of money to pay for social misfits to stare though magnifying glasses for hours. “You have some proof?”
“Give me 2,500 euros, and I’ll give you this flash drive.” He waived a small bright yellow flash drive in the air. “On it, you will see. If you find it as valuable as I think, my second flash drive will cost you 25,000 euros”
Andre snorted. “I would certainly have to see.” He paused and sipped his wine again, giving himself time to think. He was trained to notice unusual things. It sounded like too irregular an occurrence to be nothing. So it probably was something. The only risk here was if it were worth the euros or not. “Ok. My expense account is large enough to satisfy my curiosity. Give me the flash drive.”
“First here is an account in the Bank of Zurich, transfer the 2,500 euros.”
Andre picked up his phone and began texting. “The money is being routed. If I am being cheated, you will find I am not the forgiving kind. The paperwork I have to fill out will require someone suffer for it.”
“Oh, you will be satisfied.” Christoffer’s own phone dinged and he pulled it from his pocket and peered at the screen. “Ah, I see the funds have arrived. Here, run that and then let’s talk about the full e25,000.” Christoffer tossed the bright yellow flash drive on the table. Andre picked it up and pulled his tablet-phone from his pocket. He inserted the flash drive and began to run the information.
Andre sat very still. He read it twice, then lowered his reader slowly. “Sacre bleu!” he said under his breath, then aloud, “Did you want the 25,000 euros wired to the same account?” He hoped he had asked that calmly.
The smokey room was stale and overly warm. It was filled with the many smells of a cheap bar. The light was hazy and yellow through the windows. Chiang wondered if that was because of the years of tobacco smoke this room has withstood. He calmly motioned gently to his large bodyguard on the other side of the room, who gave one quick nod back, and then walked out. Being a man of slight build, he kept the bodyguard close. His acquaintances tended to try to eliminate him periodically and the big man had saved him at least twice. He looked back at his Turkish friend. He was nodding too, with a large grin on his face as he counted his money carefully. He sighed, the Turk was dependable. He was greedy to a fault and very meticulous about counting every American dollar before he would be satisfied. Chiang had no idea what the dark bearded man’s real name was. He was just, the Turk. About then the man looked up beaming and said, “Excellent. It is all there. Thank you for your purchase.”
“It is always a pleasure to deal with you, Mr. Turk.” Chiang gave a polite half bow.
“Good. Yes. For me, too.” He waved a wad of the $100 bills. “I have another shipment of AK’s coming. And a handful of those French rockets you liked last year. Any other deals coming up?”
Chiang Heung nodded, “Of course, my friend. There are always more deals coming. . . but not at this time. However, please keep me in mind for those missiles. I am confident I will have a buyer for them in perhaps a week.”
“Hey. Have you heard anything about the Americans and their observatory in Chile?”
Chiang was not interested, but arms deals with the Turk required a great deal of chit chat to consummate the deal and keep a good relationship. “Observatory? No. Did something happen to it?”
“Ha ha. No! Not like that. It didn’t blow up or nothing. Ha ha. No, nothing so entertaining. But, they got about a hundred new people there suddenly. It’s very busy there now, day and night. I used to have a good place near there at the port on the coast, to store my packages, but now,” he shrugged his burly shoulders. “It’s too busy.”
Still not interested, Chiang said, “I hope that does not slow your usual shipments. There are six in the next two weeks you recall?”
“Ha. Not to worry. No. I heard that the Americans have seen something in space through their telescopes.” Seeing Chiang’s low interest level, the Turk coyly said, “After they saw it, they lost it. Now it is something that they are suddenly desperate to see again. I hear from the foreman in their construction crew, that all they talk about is looking for something very important.”
Chiang cocked his head. While this had no immediate value to him, he regularly reported to contacts on the Chinese mainland on everything he heard in his travels. It provided free traveling money, though he doubted much he told them was of any real use. But it was something new, and different, to pass along so they would see he was doing his job of gathering information. Who knows, Americans and science, and a sudden flurry of activity? They may be spying on something from that observatory. His employers would probably add a bonus to his usual fees for this little tidbit of information.
The bustling morning’s activity made James DeHavland very happy. More than half of his new staff had already arrived. But over the past two weeks a steady stream of trucks had been bringing supplies and materials for the new staff quarters as well as an expansion to the observatory. Many of the new staff were still acclimating to the high altitude, and the barren vistas around the observatory. The observatory sat on the lava dome that formed the summit of Cerro Chajnantor in northern Chile. The summit was 5,640 meters in elevation, which was about 18,500 feet he reminded himself. Although they were well above any tree line at this altitude, it was their location in the Atacama Desert that probably contributed most to the severe lack of all vegetation up here.
About 5 kilometers to the south-southeast on a plateau, sitting up slightly higher than them, was the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory. That was where the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA for short) sat. ALMA was an internationally ran observatory that initially had been composed of 66 high-precision telescopes, operating at wavelengths of 0.3 to 9.6 mm. It was now expanded to 132 and all of them synchronized to act as one telescope. ALMA was run by the Europeans who called it their southern observatory. His own facility was officially the University of Tokyo Atacama Observatory (TAO), but it was known affectionately by many of the staff as the Hell-hole. He laughed at the name. The Hell-hole was officially the highest permanently manned astronomical observatory in the world. James was rather proud of that as its director.
Although it was summer in the southern hemisphere, the thin air at this elevation was still frigid. Too frigid for Hell, he thought with humor. Ah, well. You can’t please everyone. He finished his reflections and tore his gaze off the sight. Time to get busy. He wasn’t one of the ones who were up all night, but all day he had to analyze their findings to see if there were any indicators of what they were seeking. He headed to the administrative building, which used to be the original bunkhouse years ago.
As he entered, he was confronted with the sound of dozens of anxious grad students shuffling hundreds of papers all at once. The building was now mostly all one room and it was full of people all rushing about doing dozens of tasks. He headed between the students towards the one end of the building that held an extra room, his office. When he got there, he was not too surprised to see Clarice. Clarice was a grad student who acted as his main gal Friday, but for the life of him, he could not remember her last name. Not important, he told himself.
“Has anything turned up yet?”He asked her.
“No, sir. But, Randall said he has something that he wanted to bring to you himself.”
“Randall?” Oh, yes. Randall. A short plump boy who was always desperately seeking praise for whatever he did. Tiresome, De Havland thought, but a good hard worker. He was even moderately bright for an American student. James wondered if he could slip out and avoid him. Otherwise he would have to act suitably appreciative of whatever he had done last night. “Did he say when he was coming over?”
“Here he is now,” Clarice said as Randall burst into his office without knocking. So like Randall, De Havland thought with a sigh. No sense of propriety.
“Professor De Havland,” Randall was bubbling over. “I have something weird happening.”
Weird! Yes, it was pure Randall. “What is weird, Randall,” he asked patiently.
“The stars. We’ve been looking for moving lights, planets, asteroids, that kind of thing. Right?”
“Yes, Randall.” De Havland sighed again. Get on with it he thought.
“Well, I watched several stars wink out last night one after the other!” His pride was clear in his voice.
“And that means…?”
“Non-reflective. The asteroid we’re looking for is non-reflective. It’s a black body. No emissions whatever. But it’s still solid. It passed in front of at least three stars in a straight line with each other last night.” Randall grinned wildly in triumph. Then he sobered, “Either that, or I found a new asteroid that’s not marked in the charts.” He was looking down now. Obviously, that thought had only just now occurred to him.
De Havland smiled graciously. “Why don’t you check that out more fully for the next few nights and come back then? By doing that, you’ll have accumulated a greater amount of data and your analysis would be able to carry more weight. Don’t you think?”
“Yes sir,” Randal mumbled as he turned around and marched out the door. Lord, give me patience, James told himself. These kids they sent me! Some are really too much.
“Anything else?” he asked Clarice.
“You have a message from Karl Wolfgang over at the Hawai’i, Keck Observatory. He wanted you to know that he heard from JPL that they had reprogrammed the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes as well as the three other sister telescopes in orbit to all begin searching as well. JPL told us their latest planetary probe is passing close enough to scan the same area. They redirected its smaller telescopes yesterday.”
“Good.” James looked at his in box. Right on top was a new budget statement from Georgette Jefferson up at the HQ. On it was a sticky note with handwriting on it. Georgette’s handwriting. He read it. Then pealed it off and wadded it up. Silly, Georgette. She meant well he supposed, but her sticky note was a pretty poor way of trying to pass him a discrete message. “UFOs” her note said. The Big boys are looking for UFOs.” Poor Georgette, she was really losing it. UFOs indeed! Well, he had more pressing items like his budget to deal with.