QUESTIONS FOR DARWIN
For once Stave Gibson was actually in his office
at Australian Army Command in Darwin. He had several intelligence appreciations
of new Selangor defenses being built in the aftermath of the last offensive.
They were obviously digging in deep and intended to keep what they had
always a bad sign.
suddenly aware of being watched, looking up he saw someone standing in the
doorway who had been on his mind a lot. Nengghi! he shouted,
Are you okay? he asked in sudden concern, her extraction date was
Yes. she responded. But I am afraid I failed, they discovered
me and sent me back.
you back!? replied Gibson incredulously, he held her at arms
length, grasping her lightly by the shoulders and glancing for any signs of
physical trauma. She seemed in good health. The Selangor usually liquidated
spies, and typically did so with great alacrity.
did that happen? he asked.
dont know. she replied, But the man who told me to leave said
I should give you this. Nengghi reached out and set an overripe blueberry
in the palm of Gibsons hand, she looked at him in confusion. Seeing the
blueberry he felt as if struck by lightning.
he muttered out loud. Smiling broadly, he glanced up and
down the hallway in a sort of knee-jerk reaction. He thought for a moment, and
then managed to compose himself.
you been debriefed by anyone, or did you come straight to me?
straight to you. she said. In fact after going through
decontamination at the main entrance I was escorted to your office by one of
the security teams. They didnt wait; they just left me at the door
Hmph. he replied, wondering to himself what that meant and how it
was they didnt take the piece of fruit she was carrying. Those questions
would have to come later. Apparently it was not an exploding blueberry so
hopefully no harm done.
did you get here? You obviously didnt contact our people in Singapore for
No, she said. The Selangor man had me sent to South Africa
and back to Darwin with enough money to come here. He even advised me not to
contact anyone. Stave... what does this mean? Did I fail?
looked at her, her eyes earnest and serious. She had been in doubt for days and
needed an explanation. First things first; No, you did
not fail. he said in earnest.
This. he said, holding up the increasingly smashed blueberry.
This is important, and you did it. Okay, so you did great! With
that, he wrapped his arms around her and gave her a long, strong hug. He could
feel her head rest lightly on his shoulder, yes, they both missed each other.
He was having doubts about letting her go into the field again, but he also
knew that it was no longer his decision, it was hers now.
Alright. he said, bringing her back to eye level, Are you
hungry? She nodded her head. Lets go then, well have
some food brought to a debriefing room and you can tell me what happened.
afternoon Gibson was at a theater level meeting, part of which related to new
plans being formulated for an Australian counteroffensive against Selangor
positions on Java. Opinions were split on whether that was a wise course of
action given Japans strikes against the Selangor.
Japanese are against the Selangor, and fighting on Java has no impact on
Japanese resources. said a Colonel Duncan, senior operational planner for
the Java front and proponent of a Javanese counteroffensive. This is
doable, and the Japanese will not get involved. It will restore the strategic
balance to the pre-offensive status, why would anyone hold that from us?
he asked defensively. Gibson smelled the gritty odor of demagoguery in the air.
Because, it could easily spread to other theaters at the very
least low Earth orbit and that would attract Japanese attention. responded Colonel Rusman,
Gibsons commander and head of theater level intelligence. General Frazier
remained silent on the issue, although Gibson suspected the true impetus for a
counterattack was political more than military. If true, the idea needed to be
viewed with suspicion.
so. replied Duncan. What the Japanese did to the Selangor up on
Mars was trivial, and they would be even less likely to intervene directly on
Earth, they dont even care about Earth anymore.
they care Colonel Duncan. replied a familiar voice. Gibson turned to see
Commander Williams, the orbital forces officer he had meet a few months
previously. Williams had just returned from a visit to San Diego at the
request of the Californians. Everyone was deeply curious what that was about.
continued; What they did on Mars was not trivial, and do not mistake
Japans relative lack of interest in Australia as a general carelessness
for the entire planet. Also remember that somewhere on Earth lives an unknown
number of Japanese who are their lifeblood for contact with the rest of
humanity. Their centuries-long history of attention to Californias
welfare is no small matter either. No Colonel, they care, and I agree with
Colonel Rusman, the repercussions would not be worth what gains might be
achieved in central Java. A counteroffensive at this stage would be purely for
national pride and not for tangible gain.
what is wrong with national pride? responded Duncan.
Nothing. interjected Gibson; So long as it is not used as a
crowbar to force something that should be leveraged in some other way. National
pride helps us to fight and win, but it is not an arbiter of operational
planning. Gibson was starting to wonder how this army colonel got his
defiantly looked at the three officers arrayed against him. They had seniority
on him, and they were better placed than him, so he was backing down for now.
But he was obviously working to convince other people of his point, and it was
equally obvious he was not going to give up. Gibson made a mental note to pay
closer attention to Duncans activities.
Alright. Duncan replied grudgingly. We can shelve it for now,
but we need to keep a closer eye on the Japanese and Selangor. We have been
attacked once; we could be attacked again, by either of them.
looked at Rusman. They both knew this Duncan character was after something.
Frazier finally stepped into the conversation. Alright gentlemen, I think
our main points are covered. Operational planners in Darwin are free to make
plans for a prospective counteroffensive, but such an offensive is not
currently on the table. He shot Duncan a cold stare Duncan may
have friends in Darwin, but he was still technically assigned to Fraziers
Java Front Command. And Frazier was a powerful man for good reason.
Regarding our other meeting points, we will continue with construction on
the new defense lines and work more closely with strategic and orbital forces
for a better tie-in during major operations. This last offensive revealed some
weaknesses we need to clean-up before anything else happens. Also, we should
consider assignment of assets for an investigation of the metallic corrosive
appearing in-theater. This may be another Selangor action against us.
With that the general stood and everyone else in the room followed suit.
Dismissed gentlemen, I would like Colonel Rusman and his people to stay,
along with Commander Williams.
Williams looked down the length of the sleek, long meeting table and spoke up;
General, if we could also have officers divisional level and above
remain, including those from Northeast command, I would appreciate it.
General Frazier nodded and panned across the room at the several men for whom
that invitation applied. They all stopped and sat back down again. To the rest
the general gave a brief thank you as they filed out of the room.
Alright gentlemen. continued the general. For the
intelligence portion of our meeting, we will retain our chronological order on
priorities and hear first from Major Gibson, Major:
you General. replied Gibson. As some of you already know, we have
received what may be a backchannel contact from Selangor intelligence. To
this Commander Williams looked up in surprise, this was news to him.
Yes. continued Gibson. We are not going to divulge much more
than that, but I would like you to be aware that this situation exists, just in
case something comes your way. The reference frame code for operators on this
project is NZBLUE, if any of my people end up in your area of command, they may
have been forced far afield by events and probably need your assistance, which
should be rendered as highest priority. This is of course classified and should
not be shared with subordinates. That is all for now. With that, Gibson
Frazier raised his arm again; Commander Williams:
you General. replied Williams. My visit to California may prove to
be a surprise for several reasons. I know many of you may have hoped that
California possibly with Japanese acquiescence was approaching us
regarding military cooperation. That is definitely not thecase, we have not
received even a hint of such interest.
After a few
murmured comments from around the table he continued; Some here will
probably be disappointed with the reason for my invitation. I need to point out
a few items in advance; a) The Californians have long been isolationists and
they consider our current level of contact to be adequate, b) They know what
they are doing just in case any of you were wondering, and c) They have
only contacted us after deciding that their discoveries are not something to be
kept gratuitously secret.
combination of confused looks and intelligent nodding made the rounds about the
meeting table. Williams kept up his outline. So here it is gentlemen,
Im forwarding to you the general outline of our conversations and the
conclusions I have arrived at. But the basic premise is simple: The
Californians have been encountering invasive life that may present a long term
environmental threat. And put simply, they are asking if we are seeing the same
thing. Unfortunately I had to tell them no. The only match came when I was
asked if we had experienced any unexplained missing personnel. I told them we
had a reconnaissance team go missing somewhere in Asia, I did not tell them it
was a trained intelligence gathering group operating in Kalimantan.
Nevertheless, they found even that interesting and asked us to revisit the
incident and any other related events in light of their
stopped and looked around the table. He was glad that most of the officers
present did not act overly surprised. The way the world had gone the last few
centuries, people were willing to believe anything.
gentlemen. he continued. Anything that fits the profiles listed;
disappearances of individuals or teams, encounters with previously unknown and
especially dangerous wild animals and unexpected disruptions to local
ecosystems. Regarding any regional academics who might come to your attention,
politely query them on recent events and let them talk, see if they reveal
anything of interest. This has apparently been a successful formula. Do not
however, share this information yet until we have a chance to assess its
note, Williams paused and looked around the room. It was one of the divisional
officers from the Northeast Theater who spoke up first; Commander, some
things that came up over the last few months in our area along the northern
coast of Papua might be of interest. Until now I had not associated the
two. The officer looked around the room in slight hesitation as he
composed his thoughts. Sir, we have had problems with locals, mostly complaining about leopards
attacking their animals, quite a few people have disappeared also. One of our
men claimed to have seen a panther at long range, but he is known to have an
active imagination and he has been to places where they really have panthers.
As you most of you may know, neither panthers nor leopards are endemic to
looked at him soberly.And the other thing?
Farmers living along the coast have been suffering mass crop failures
inside their remote growing centers. The officer was talking about the
protected crop growing modules kept scattered along the coast. They took
advantage of local rainfall and the general benefits of dispersion. Such
unmanned crop growing modules were common around the equator, where the weather
was not quite so viciously intemperate as further north.
Interesting. replied Williams. Did they happen to report how
the crops failed?
Vaguely. replied the officer. Most failures happened near the
ocean, and in all cases the crops inside and as well as plant growth in the
immediate area were shredded, as if they had been chewed apart finely
shredded was the most common description I heard. They were mystified as to how
anything could get inside the modules to do such a thing, but the general
belief is that some sort of mass migrating insect caused it, like locusts.
However we have not seen locusts in the area, so again, it has been a mystery.
Until now we did not consider it to be a concern to us.
to make it a concern Major. replied General Frazier. He looked over at
Commander Williams. We will pay closer attention to this and see what we
come up with... anyone else? he asked, looking about the room.
At that, the
general stood and punched his index finger in the air, a sure sign that he was
already sliding through data threads in preparation for his next meeting. He
disengaged from that long enough to dismiss the meeting and thank the
participants. Everyone stood and began to clear the room. Major Gibson walked
over to Commander Williams.
Commander, Gibson said. I am very interested in this if you
dont mind. I can tell you now that this metallic corrosive everyone is
blaming on the Selangor well, that could easily be part and parcel of
this invasive thing going on in California. I will keep a closer eye on that
part of the investigation and let you know what I find out.
thank you Major. replied Williams. It is very likely they are on to
Well. replied Gibson. We will certainly pay closer attention
from now on eh? he asked rhetorically with a glint in his eye. The two
men saluted each other and headed out of the room.
Rusman called out to Gibson Oh Major, could you stay for a few
moments. Gibson stopped and allowed the rest of the crowd to filter out
of the room. Returning to his seat, Rusman said No, you can sit over
here, this is not entirely official.
walked around the large table and sat down in the chair Rusman had pulled
mind if I call you Gib, seems like a few people can take that
Sure. replied Gibson.
I have a lot of respect for you, given your service record it is no surprise
that your hunches have a way of playing themselves out just right. The
colonel paused and then went on. You know Gib, working in intelligence
there are a number of husband-wife teams, or ones that are nearly so. In all of
those cases, both parties are highly trained professionals. Yours is the only
case where two such different operational levels are involved
so-to-speak. He paused again. Gibson wisely remained silent but
attentive. No false steps now. he told himself.
continued; I trust you Major ; and I trust your sense of judgment in
people. But you should know that if for some reason this apparently
enthusiastic young woman does not work out, if she somehow gets turned or ends
up becoming a witless puppet in some Selangor scheme
well, it will land
almost entirely on your shoulders. I know you know this, and I just wanted to
make sure you have every chance to change your mind if you are not one-hundred
percent about it.
Otherwise. he said. You have my complete confidence and I
encourage you to keep up the great work. I hear she is a quick study by the
way. The Colonel paused to give Gibson the opportunity to speak.
you Sir. Gibson replied, I have considered all the things you
mentioned and I continue to have the highest confidence. Ill be the first
one to tell you if I start to have any doubts, trust me sir.
do. replied Rusman. Both men smiled and Rusman rose. With a knowing nod
he walked out of the room.
and reviewed the last hour of conversations. Satisfied that his business for
the day was finished, he brought up his display and pinged the name at the top
of his contacts. Within a few moments, Nengghis face appeared in the air
before the Major. She had just gotten out of the shower in Gibsons
spacious quarters and he could suddenly smell the soap she liked to use.
Hi. Gibson said. Guess what? he asked with an impish
Next: 20. One