NZ GCSB Waihopai Satellite Monitoring Facility. Photo by Schutz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7713278

Bret’s Gambit

Part 2 of ‘A Poke in the Fifth Eye

The group gathered in the bunker below New Zealand’s Executive Wing – or ‘Beehive’ as it was known – were listening attentively to a video-link briefing from senior Civil Defence and Emergency Management staff. The city-wide radioactive contamination of the nation’s capital four hours earlier had resulted in the bunker being sealed. No-one was allowed to go in or out for fear of the dirty bombs’ lethal payload rendering the area unsafe. The official on the screen was describing plans for evacuating more than 100,000 people from the CBD and surrounding areas when a Navy signaller, eyes down, handed the Chief of the Defence Force a print-out and headed straight back toward the communications area.

As the Air Force Two-Star read the signal, his eyebrows arched and mouth opened.

“Prime Minister,” he interrupted. “There’s more bad news I’m afraid.”

“What?” she asked.

The sound on the screen was muted although the CDEM Manager, unaware, kept silently mouthing his briefing.

“A Cessna C208 Caravan aircraft was stolen from Wellington Airport a couple of hours ago. No transponder and flying low so effectively invisible to Airways Corporation radar.”

“Did we really have to interrupt this briefing for that?” she replied. “It will have to come down when it runs out of fuel – surely?”

“It already has, Prime Minister. 20 minutes ago, it crashed at high-speed into the Government Communications Security Bureau’s Signals Interception Facility at Tangimoana. The entire facility is on fire and only two staff appear to have survived. One raised the alarm on her cellphone.”

“Let’s talk to that Robert McGregor fellow. See what he’s offering,” she responded.

“Sorry Ma’am. He didn’t leave a number.”

*

The Fletcher FU-24 was a speck on the horizon as she lowered her binoculars and raised the hand-held radio to her mouth. Checking the frequency was set to 121.5 MHz, she pressed the transmit button and said “Waihopai Satellite Monitoring Station. This is your lucky day. I know you’re monitoring this frequency. In five minutes, your base is going to be burnt to the ground. This is your one chance to evacuate.”

She then changed from the standard aviation distress frequency to the pilot-to-pilot channel, 123.45 MHz, and make a second transmission. “Big Red One this is the Grounder.”

“Big Red One,” the reply came back.

“Message passed. Wind is North West at 5 knots. You have the ball,” she continued.

“Big Red One, Roger.”

Minutes later, the Fletcher passed low over her hide which was carefully set into the terrain a few hundred metres from the inflatable domes which concealed the satellite dishes. It banked around to the south east, descending to a height just sufficient to clear the structures at the spy base. Then, with ominous accuracy, it began its first pass. As the aircraft crossed the fence line, the pilot pulled the ‘spray’ lever in the cockpit and a fine mist appeared from the nozzles slung below the wings.

At the sound of the 400HP engine passing overhead, the GCSB Duty Manager broke off the discussion he had been having regarding the earlier radio threat and ran outside. By then, the pilot had executed a steep 180o turn and was heading back downwind on his second pass. Allowing for drift, the spray started earlier and he was one wingspan to starboard of the first run. He flew straight over the duty manager who was covered in the spray. “Oh my God,” he shouted as he ran back inside. “Everyone out now. That’s petrol they’re spraying!”

The entire duty crew ran outside and toward their cars just as the Fletcher made its third and final pass. Everyone was covered in the spray, as were their cars.

“Grounder – Big Red One Complete. Light it up.”

“Wilco – should I give them time to go?”

“Your call Grounder. Time is precious. See you at the RV.”

With that the Fletcher banked steeply and roared off at tree-top level toward the hills of southern Marlborough. Callsign “Grounder” emerged from the hide, slung a back pack over her shoulder and sprinted toward the outer fence. There, she opened the backpack and took out what looked like a stubby shotgun. Breaking the barrel, she loaded it with a 40mm white phosphorous grenade, flicked up the pre-set sights and fired. The M79 was only accurate for area targets between 150m and 350m and she was at the extreme range. That didn’t matter given the whole base was a petrol-soaked potential inferno. Without waiting to watch the result she grabbed the bag after firing and sprinted away toward a vineyard workers’ van parked in the adjacent field between rows of grapes. She felt the heat on her back followed by a muffled ‘woomph’ as the base erupted in flames. As she reached the van, she heard screaming and realised that someone must have left their departure too late.

*

“Are you sure?” Robert asked as he swatted a mossie on his arm.

Joseph Kukk smiled through the SatLink screen in Robert McGregor’s Fijian village home. “Absolutely, Rob. I’ve talked to everyone in the loop and they all agree that the Russian Federation’s claim that all the old Soviet ‘Bravo Class’ diesel electric subs were scrapped is false. At least one has been previously sighted off the coast of South America.”

Angie Santos came into the conversation. “It’s true, Rob. A tourist in one of my whale-watching aircraft snapped a picture of a sub three years ago. We got hold of the pic and confirmed it was a Project 690 Kefal – ‘Bravo Class’ as you call them. Upon investigation, we found that it was sold to a ship breaking yard but not actually scrapped. It’s operated by an international crew and was mostly hauling drugs to the USA. However, once the US tightened up its littoral warfare operations, the risk wasn’t worth it and they disappeared.”

“Until now perhaps?” Rob mused. “Makoto confirmed earlier that they are missing some drums of dirty water and other contaminated material from the clean-up at Fukushima. They have reported it but kept it out of the media for fear of starting panic.”

Rob paused thoughtfully for a few moments.

“OK, thanks guys. The mechanics of the event are coming together. It’s a question of who and why huh?” he offered. “Talk soon. Moce.”

They all mumbled goodbye or waved as Robert leaned forward to turn off the monitor. He lit a cigarette and stared off into space.

*

The congregation gathered, as usual, outside St Andrew’s Anglican church in Bulls after the Sunday morning service. It was an interesting mix of local townspeople, the farming community and personnel from the nearby Air Force base at Ohakea. Amongst the many conversations, the recent attack on the nearby signals station at Tangimoana was a hot topic. That wasn’t on Flying Officer Andy Simmonds mind, however, as he stood off to one side of the driveway in the winter morning sun. He had been seated next to a new worshipper, a young woman, who had arrived just as the service was starting. She walked confidently up the aisle in a mid-length blue skirt, white blouse and light leather jacket, eyed her options and excused herself with what sounded like a foreign accent. She slid effortlessly past his knees to take a seat on the pew on the other side of him. Her smell – citrus and flowers – was intoxicating as she arranged her long flaxen hair over one shoulder and smiled briefly as their eyes met. Andy didn’t remember anything much else from the service apart from their hands accidentally touching as the donation plate was passed. The sensation was electrical.

And now, here she was, standing alone only five metres away coyly observing him and others from under her long, dark eyelashes while looking at her phone. Just then, the local priest, Father John, walked over to her smiling “Hello and welcome to St Andrew’s,” he beamed.

“Thank you,” she said. “My name is Brittany Maarten – people call me Bret.”

Andy rolled the name over in his mind – Bret.

“And what brings you to Bulls, Bret?” Father John inquired.

“I’m going to do a graduate study course at Massey University in Palmerston North. My family have a farm outside Limburg in the Netherlands so I’m hoping to find work in the rural sector to help pay the bills.”

“Well you’ve come to the right place,” the priest responded with a flourish. “Come on, let me introduce you to a few of the locals.”

For what seemed like an eternity, Father John led Bret from group to group. Andy decided that the only way to speed up an introduction was to go join one of the farming groups that she hadn’t spoken to yet. The ploy worked because the group he moved to was the next one on her rounds.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Bret Maarten from the Netherlands. She’s going to do post-grad at Massey and hopes to get some farm work.” Father John had his patter off by heart after 4 groups.

After doing the rounds, it was finally his turn. Before, he could say anything, Bret spoke. “Oh hello, we sat next to each other in church. Pleased to meet you properly.” She flashed him a big, warm smile as she held her hand out in greeting; rocking subtly on one heel as she did.

Andy’s mouth was dry as he croaked, “I…I’m Andy…”

“You won’t get any farm work from Andy, I’m afraid, Bret,” one of the locals quipped. “He’s in the Air Force.”

“I guessed he wasn’t a farmer from the soft hands,” she teased. “What do you do in the Air Force?”

“I’m a pilot,” Andy replied.

“Ooh – I’ve always wanted to fly. Is it hard?”

“Yes and no…”

Sensing chemistry between the pair, the locals started saying their goodbyes and drifting off until Bret and Andy were standing alone in the carpark.

“Well, I’m starving,” Bret said. “I should be on my way and find some lunch.”

“W-well I would invite you to come back to the Officers Mess at the base for lunch but we’re in security lockdown since the recent attacks” Andy offered.

“Mess?”

“It’s where we eat and drink,” he explained.

“Oh, that sounds like fun. It’s a shame about the security thing. I’ve never been on an Air Force base before. Oh well, better be on my way.”

Andy was beside himself. “Wait! I know a side entrance that isn’t guarded. But I’d need to sneak you in to my room without anyone seeing. We could take some food from the café down the road.”

“Ooh, an adventure. I like adventures. Lead on, Sir Pilot!”

Andy’s heart skipped a beat as he unlocked his car door and held it while she climbed in. Her fragrance filled the space in a second as he pulled out onto State Highway 3 heading for RNZAF Base Ohakea.

*

Robert stared into space as he began the ritual of access to his unique abilities. Plenty of people had elements of synaesthesia but few had mastered the ability to use it like him. Pressing fingers to his temples, he closed his eyes and summoned an image of a human body. Inhaling deeply, he imagined himself morphing into the body in such a way that he could ‘look’ inside it. His senses filled with smells, tastes and then a kaleidoscope of fast moving images. He felt warmth then cold; shivered and was comforted by the sensation of being hugged by his parents. Music played and the notes appeared as binary sequences. He reached out to touch the ones and zeroes and, as soon as he made contact, they pulled him in deeper and deeper into himself.

As usual, Rob used the martial arts technique of ‘ibuki’ or diaphragmatic breathing to clear his mind and settle his breathing. He summonsed an image of the yacht ‘Khamun’ sailing into Wellington harbour before launching its drone swarm of dirty bombs on the New Zealand capital. Explosions and fire over the two NZ spy bases. Fukushima nuclear plant. He was then surrounded by images of 9/11, chess boards, the London underground, computer games, Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean – the many faces of leading political and military figures incapacitated recently because of a range of pre-existing military conditions. Amsterdam. California.

When everything is different but the same, Robert thought, as he looked at a fleeting series of social media posts on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit over the last few years. Suddenly, his body convulsed and the images stopped moving. He was in Oxford University, England, several years ago presenting a conference paper on chaos theory applied to climate change. It was morning tea time and a young woman had approached him in the lobby with a smile.

“I really enjoyed your lecture, Professor.”

“Thanks. You’re an Oxford student?”

“Yes, but originally from the Netherlands. I have a question, if you don’t mind?”

“No problem.”

“Do you think there is a case for the use of violence in protecting the environment,” she asked with a coy smile.

“Interesting question. I guess that all depends on the stakes…Ms…?”

“Oh sorry. Brittany Maarten. But most people call me Bret.”

Robert’s breathing began to change and his eyelids flickered involuntarily for a moment. A few seconds went by and he was, once again, staring at the masi-panelling inside his bure in Fiji.