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the eylau sequence.war

It was early morning when Commander Ian William’s eighty minute flight across the Pacific arrived low over the California coast. His unmanned escorts spread out to either side and he felt the thrust of the power plant change as his jet descended into the thickening atmosphere. Reclined comfortably aboard, the commander watched the world around him through his uniform display. The sun shone brightly through gaps in the overcast that partially covered the Mountain. Its rocky southern face was silhouetted against the morning light, giving it a deeply beautiful, larger than life appearance. The capital of California may have been San Diego, but inside El Cajon Mountain was where most locals lived in this largest of California’s underground cities. Built into solid rock at a high enough altitude to avoid even the worst tidal waves, the mountain dwellings were home to hundreds of thousands of Californians.

The commander grunted slightly at the deceleration as his jet roared up the main river valley leading to the mountain. Steering itself off to port, the jet’s destination suddenly reappeared immediately forward, the uneven rocky flanks of the mountain punctuated by landing areas and giant skylights. A short burst of discussion between Mountain Traffic Control and Williams’ aircraft brought the Australian flight low and slow into the military sector along the shallow western slopes. The commander felt a gentle bounce of contact with the landing cradle and within moments his jet was taxied into the low wide doors of the waiting hangar. Behind him, the small Australian escort jets landed in groups and followed in a line like flat, oversized ducklings.

While his escorts were still pulling up in a row next to his jet, Williams took a quick note of his own aircraft’s skin temperature; it was more than cool enough to walk on in his uniform, he ordered the canopy retracted. He stood, rolled his shoulders a bit, unsealed the hood on his uniform and stepped out onto the wing, pausing for a few moments to absorb the sight of a busy Californian terminal. The long, low hall went on for a couple of hundred meters into the mountain. Packed into launch modules were air superiority jets and dual purpose aircraft for flights into low Earth orbit, but nothing particularly large. He knew from his intelligence orientation that the north side of the mountain held other larger hangars for orbital delivery systems and heavier air breathers. The broad curved ceiling of this hangar did not seem to have anything holding it up, but upon closer examination Williams thought he could see opaque structures in a modular network crisscrossing the entire span. Well, it obviously had not collapsed and he generally assumed the Californians knew what they were doing – especially with their gifted Japanese technology.

Williams halted his sight-seeing and looked closer at hand. Standing on the arrival mezzanine a short way down from him was his California State Department contact, Sonya Ortiz. She was smiling slightly, watching him on the wing of his jet. He decided in favor of the unexpected and gave a short, informal wave. She returned the wave and walked further down toward the commander as he stepped easily onto the mezzanine.

“Commander Williams, it is good to see you again.”

“Thank you Miss Ortiz, it is a pleasure to meet you again under better personal conditions, even if the planet hasn't improved much.”

Williams was struck by her generally congenial nature, which had not seemed very apparent from their last meeting. But then again she was a person who obviously knew her business and how to separate that from everything else. In any case, it was the Californians who asked for this visit, not the Australians.

“Well, we are just glad that you had fewer problems with the Selangor this time, but I also see that you brought friends.” she commented, motioning with her arm toward the air supremacy escorts parked obediently next to the controller jet that Williams had flown.

“Is it true by the way Commander, that you are an actual pilot?” she asked.

“Yes mam.” he responded casually, “I can even fly those little guys manually, although it would not buy me anything extra as far as performance goes. It's just something I enjoy.”

“Well commander, if you are here long enough I can possibly arrange for you to fly something a little larger.” she said with that cryptic smile of hers. “But first things first Commander.” she added, cutting straight to business as was her style. “This gentleman coming our way is Jonathan Markham of the National Intelligence Office.” She motioned at a middle-aged man in his seventies walking toward them from the base of the mezzanine’s landing dock.

On that queue Markham arrived and held his hand up in greeting.

“Good morning Commander.” he said in a deep, rich voice. “Pleased to meet you, I hope we will be able to make your stay an enjoyable one.”

“Thank you, ummmm…” Williams hesitated for a moment. In Australia a person in Markham’s position would be a military officer, but apparently not in California. Markham helped Williams out of his information blackout by explaining; “I am a civilian Commander Williams, you may call me Jonathan or Mr. Markham, whichever you see fit.”

“I'll probably call you ‘Sir’ if you are looking for fitness Mr. Markham, but I will try the others. The habits of a lifetime you know.” Williams added with another smile.

Williams was acutely reminded that California had historically avoided government or military exchanges and that his visit might be an important one. He already regretted looking around the inside of their hangar, but Ortiz seemed not to care. “But still.” he warned himself. “Remember, sometimes appearances are everything.”

With introductions out of the way, the party of three walked to the arrival hall and out through the many offices and command centers that made up the military sector in this part of the mountain. Everything was extremely neat and modern. Much of the architecture was gracefully crafted metallic, some of it exotic by Australian standards. Passing out through the Cal-Army transit station, they were soon underway for the short trip into the heart of the city. The Cal-Army transit gateway joined into the civilian sector at what was known as the Third Hall. Williams was astonished by the diameter and great height of the hall itself. As its name indicated, it was the third of seven such cylindrical ‘tower halls’ that formed the core of the city’s inhabited zone. They were all connected by an intricate series of elevators and transit systems.

“Wow.” he blurted out without thinking. In a more subdued tone he quickly followed-up, “Major living areas like this are designed rather differently in Australia, over there they tend to be smaller volume and shorter, but in greater quantities.”

“Well commander, we have the same thing in the form of satellite locations around the mountain, and further south you will probably notice cities look more like Australia. These seven tower halls took a while to excavate – an eighth is already being planned. Please, come this way.”

They passed across the hall to another set of elevators and powered up twenty levels to another transit terminal. Some areas under the mountain were obviously older, with narrower passages and smaller public areas. But most of the construction was kept up to date in the form of wide, spacious passageways with shining walls that dramatically showcased crystalline basement rock revealed by the excavation. Most of the rock was a beautiful cream colored granite highlighted by white volcanic dikes and sills. At points where natural caves had formed, they were incorporated into the architecture with flying bridges. This had given way to ‘designer chasms’ and there were several artificial gorges with exceptionally beautiful bridge and plaza work built into them. Humanity had come a long way since they fled to the hills during the great evacuation.

Before long the trio was standing at the top of the First Hall, an area which mostly housed government offices. A mere eighty feet above them, a few plazas and ceremonial government buildings decorated the mountain top. People could go up there when the weather was tolerable.

“Would you like to enjoy a bit of time up at the top Commander? Jonathan needs to part ways for a while, but we will meet him again later.” The commander smiled and nodded. They took a separate elevator to the surface; Williams carefully noted the MGV modules and countermeasures built into these elevators which actually saw open air.

The morning was still overcast and very cold, but the view was excellent. Down in the valley, scud clouds rushed along in the wind and Williams thought he could hear ice crunching far below. As they walked along the sheltered promenade at the top of the mountain, Ortiz steered back to business.

“Well Commander, I would like to thank you for what appears to have been an excellent transmission of the advice I offered when we spoke last. I had not formed much in the way of expectations one way or another, but I must admit we were surprised by Australia’s – how should I say – distinct response; you obviously anticipated elements of the situation we had not felt confident to share. Our own expectations were merely a halt in activity which might give us time to anticipate a next course of action. I hope the difficult nature of our message was not a personal liability for you.”

“Actually Miss Ortiz.” answered Williams. “It was not as difficult as you might think. When one knows an action is the wisest course, it tends to soften what some people might consider to be objectionable.” He paused as he continued walking, a few snowflakes came drifting by and melted on the walkway in front of him. An icy wind was picking up.

“We were surprised however, at the relatively light slap on the wrist the Selangor received.” With this last observation, the Australian commander looked over at Ortiz inquisitively, not quite raising an eyebrow, he did not need to.

“Yes Commander.” she replied. “We also noticed that. I hope you do not think that California helped to orchestrate this whole thing with the Japanese – manipulating Australia in the process. If that is what you meant, I can at least assure you that nobody works with the Japanese that closely. Even had the opportunity presented itself, we would have needed to consider very closely the various implications. And if we did decide to move forward, we would have relied on more than a single back channel discussion.”

“That was an underlying belief at our meetings; that and the simple conclusion that the Japanese were not likely to care about one side more than the other.” Williams replied.

“Very true Commander, I am glad to see that at least some people in Australia have an idea of how the Japanese operate.”

“Not everybody Miss Ortiz.” replied Williams. “There are some who believed in a California-Japan conspiracy.”

Ortiz half-sneered and half-winced; “To believe that grossly overestimates how closely the Japanese work with anyone but other Japanese.”

With that her sneer transformed into a slight smile, she was regularly pleased with her cynical humor.

“Well,” Williams replied. “I appreciate your candor. I have to admit that after such a long time viewing California as a distant observer of world events, it is curious to see this level of engagement. Do you mind my asking what has been the moving force behind the change in policy?”

“Not at all Commander.” she replied. “I would be happy to explain at least that which would concern Australia.”

Williams privately winced. He had obviously asked exactly the question Ortiz wanted him to. He found himself momentarily wishing he were back on orbital service, somehow that was simpler than these verbal sparring sessions.

Ortiz continued, choosing to ignore the barely noticeable twitch on Williams’ part. “I am afraid I will be answering your question with a question, but so it goes, eh Commander?” she said, looking slyly over at the Australian officer.

“Was that your question?” he asked.

“Haha, touché, no.” she replied with a smile. More snowflakes blew in from the north and the clouds were growing grey and frosty looking; there was a great deal more snow to come.

She looked at him thoughtfully for a few brief moments, like someone preparing to recite something long memorized. “Commander Williams, are you aware of any strange or unusual reports regarding animal life of any kind, possibly in the course of your intelligence briefings or as a result of combat reports?”

William’s facial expression was a blank. He looked over at her incredulously.

“I know, this is not what you expected, but I'm completely serious. Have there been any odd reports of unexplained personnel disappearances, unusually violent wildlife attacks on remote military patrols, anything of the sort?”

Her gaze was steady, she was indeed serious, but Williams was still trying to absorb the question.

“I’m at a loss for the moment Miss Ortiz, I cannot even begin to imagine how or why this would justify a hitherto rare liaison visit. It sounds more like a question for an academic.”

“No.” Ortiz relied immediately. “It is not. But that is understandable Commander. We thought that your reaction would be one of incredulity.”

She stopped walking and looked directly at Williams.

“Allow me to provide a context. A benefit of talking to a military liaison – Commander – is the knowledge that he knows how to keep information to himself.”

She paused to let that sink in and then continued; “Quite a while back, a party of civilian hunters operating outside the border came upon an animal that was extremely unusual.” Looking at Williams to gauge his response, Ortiz decided to continue; “There was only one survivor of the expedition, and the follow up reports were odd and somewhat disturbing. We conducted an investigation to make sure this was not a hoax, and also to confirm that the animal in question did not originate from a single source, in other words that it was not an invention.”

“We have confirmed that the animal in question appears to have been naturally derived, and that its isotope signature establishes it as an Earth based creature. Its general form was also along the lines of known species, albeit with substantial variation.”

“Substantial variation?” Williams asked with a glimmer of doubt in his voice. “Could you be more detailed? How much variation?” he cleared his throat.

Seeing that the Australian was becoming more questioning and not less, Ortiz cut to the point; “The problem with this animal Commander Williams, is that it was exceedingly difficult for five heavily armed men to fend off, it was only killed after the team leader called in an orbital strike on it and worse of all, sequencing indicates that it might never have died naturally – ever.”

With that the Australian’s attention focused more tightly on her words, his eyes narrowed, she continued; “Not only did it appear to be biologically immortal – or nearly so – but its makeup contained large percentages of elements not normally associated with biological life. It was utterly strange, and unfortunately it seems to be an apex predator. Even more unfortunate, it seems to kill for sport.”

Williams thoughtfully nodded his head and paused for a few seconds before responding; “This is very unusual, but why could it not have been sent through more normal research channels. Why not contact the university in Darwin? Or have your own universities contact them, those people talk to each other all the time – more than our governments do.”

With that, she looked at the ground as if deciding how tough to get with him. “What would you have me do with this information? Or not do for that matter.” asked the Australian.

“Report back to your superiors in Australia, keep your eyes open, ask them to keep their eyes open. Inquire amongst people you trust. This is only the most strange of several incidents we have isolated as being abnormal. So far there has not been enough of a trend for civilian news to get a hold on it, and academics are often so immersed in their hyper-specialties that they do not always absorb the big picture. For us on the other hand, the big picture is definitely one of our jobs and in this case it is something that has both come to our attention and been deemed worthy of further investigation. Now as you yourself are probably aware, we as a people are not in the habit of having our heads stuck in our rears. And these are either bizarre isolated incidents, or a trend that should not be left as a mysterious curiosity.”

Williams thought for a moment, but was still not entirely convinced, which was fine with Ortiz. That was better than someone who pretended they understood when they did not. The commander continued his thought aloud; “So California is going to depart from their long held neutrality because of some odd experimental animal left in the wastes? Granted, not dying naturally is disturbing, but if I am not mistaken by looking at these threads, this animal would be slow to develop. How do you know this wasn’t the only one of these things? Why ping Australia for help with this?”

“It’s not so much help Commander.” she replied, “It is the sense among some here that this requires a group effort. Just in case this is part of a worldwide trend which has been off of our radar so-to-speak. Frankly, having something like this happen in a location that is effectively our back yard is not something the government cares to have happen. And to be blunt, if this is the beginning of a bioassault sponsored by a government from outside our region, we will find out who did this and we will get involved.”

Much more soberly now, Williams continued; “So there have been other similar reports?” he asked.

Ortiz looked long at him and countered with a monosyllabic “Yes.”

“How long?”

“Hard to tell, but our current estimate is years.”

“How do you know it is not Australia doing this? Why divulge this information at all until you can find out more?”

“Because” Ortiz replied, “We are confident that Australia has the Eylau Sequence and it is very unlikely that the ES would advise your armed forces to play around at undermining the most advanced country on the planet whilst in the middle of a major war against the most populous country on the planet. Whoever is doing this, our opinion is that it is not Australia.”

“Alright, you have my attention Miss Ortiz, but the thought that nags at me most is why has this phenomenon not been spotted in Australia?”

“Maybe it has and you don’t know it.” Ortiz looked long and hard at Williams.

He paused and nodded his head thoughtfully. He knew little about California, but she was right, they had a reputation. Anything coming from them needed to be considered with care no matter how odd it seemed. And after all, he was a liaison, not judge. He felt he had asked the right questions, and without a doubt she had supplied the correct answers.


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Later that evening Williams was back out in the terminal, standing near his jet. Following an afternoon review with several Cal-Army officers and a visit to the Great Evacuation Museum, he was back on the mezzanine talking to Sonya Ortiz again. She had been absent for much of the day, stopping by long enough for his lunch at the museum. But it devolved on her to see the commander off on his return flight to Darwin.

“Thank you again Miss Ortiz, for your kind invitation. I am sure people in Darwin will be interested in everything we have discussed today.”

“I am pleased Commander.” she replied. “I don’t know how we would have gone about this had you not fallen in our back yard, but there you go, sometimes fate resolves as well as confuses.”

On that note, Williams turned and stepped on to the wing of his jet. As he was about to ease himself down into the cockpit, he paused and turned; “By the way Miss Ortiz, I cannot say where, but we did lose an entire reconnaissance team a few months ago in a remote area of Asia. Gone without a trace.” he looked at her with the proverbial ‘what do you think of that?’ question mark hanging between them. Her eyebrow raised and she cocked her head in thought.

“Yeah.” he said. “Until now everyone thought the Selangor did it.”

With that the Commander eased himself into his jet and the canopy slid noiselessly into position. He needed to return to Darwin, there were a lot of people he wanted to speak with.


Next: 19. Questions for Darwin

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