by Karl Klicker
U.S. Army TRADOC Science Fiction Writing Contest
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Sunday May 4, 2042, 1015
Staff Sergeant Annie Treadway, 18 Foxtrot, thought the final paragraph of her analysis through the pulse of her index finger into her PaperThin tablet, classified it, encrypted and saved it, then rolled up the tablet and stuffed it in the cargo pocket of her camouflage trousers.
Crossing the 3rd Special Forces Group compound, the 28-year-old, blonde, athletic NCO, combat veteran of the Fourth Iraq War, bounded up the stairs and into the CyberSof headquarters. A biometer in the foyer scanned her retina, blood pressure and breath and greeted her by name, “Good afternoon Staff Sergeant Treadway.”
“Hi-yo, Bio,” Treadway smirked.
“I need to see the Command Sergeant Major.”
“You are cleared. I’ll let him know you’re coming,” the biometer offered. “Have a nice day.”
“You too,” Annie said, as she passed through the foyer, to the Sergeant Major’s office. The Command Sergeant Major, Johnny “PH” Carwash, stepped out of his office. “PH” was short for Purple Heart, and Carwash had more of those than anyone at Bragg – at least seven. Orphaned at 10, a long time ago, the now-square-jawed, black as night, leathery 50-year-old had survived on the streets washing people’s cars for digital coin. He changed his name to ‘Carwash’ when he turned 18, then joined the Army.
“Hey Treadway! What’s on your mind?” he asked in a gravelly bass.
“Hiya, PH.” Everyone called him ‘PH.’ “Just stuff, but it’s classified. Can we talk in your office?”
With the door closed, the Sergeant Major walked around to his wing-backed leather chair, and offered the soldier a seat in front of his desk. “So whatchya got, Staff Sergeant?”
“Well, Sergeant Major, you know those reports we get on the Veringians building artificial islands off the coast of Vaalbara? Some have air strips, and…”
“Sure,” he replied, but that’s way out of our Area of Responsibility. That’s a 1st Group thing, or a One/Ten thing. What puts this in your wheelhouse? MY wheelhouse?”
Treadway reached into her pocket to pull out the rolled-up tablet. “I know it’s in 1st Group’s AOR; I used to do reporting on Vaalbara when I served with One/Ten. I still track it ‘cuz it’s interesting. Guess I’m a Veringian nerd.”
Carwash gave her a crooked smile. “Didn’t know that. So what is it?” the sergeant major asked, “And why didn’t you just go to the S-2?”
“The major and the rest of the 2-shop are on travel,” Treadway replied. “I’m just holding down the fort for the weekend. I’ve been working out some math estimates in my spare time. Geometry, actually. Here,” she said as she booted the PaperThin and called up an image. “Look at this.” Annie placed the tablet on the Sergeant Major’s desk and turned it so he could inspect the image.
“Check out the arrangement of these islands off the southeast coast. Aside from the fact that this complex is in what we consider international waters, and their claim to territorial integrity is disputed by every regional government, I believe the geometry is more dangerous than the location.”
The sergeant major looked up. “Geometry? OK, I see the pattern. What’s the point?”
Deadly serious, Staff Sergeant Treadway looked the Sergeant Major in the eye and replied, “If they continue this pattern, by late this year, maybe early 2043, they will have a 5-orthoplex. That means…”
Equally serious, the sergeant major said, “Uh, I think I slept through that class. What’s a ‘northoflex?’”
“Ortho Plex, Sergeant Major. Orthoplex. It’s a theoretical 5th Dimension construct that folks like Albert Einstein and others have been working on for the past 150 years. If the Veringians can construct a tangible multi-dimensional configuration, it could allow them to unlock the 6th through 10th dimensions.”
“Uh-huh. I see. Not. So you’re telling me this thing is a weapon?”
“Not by itself, no, but if they can master the 5th Dimension – create a penteract – it would change the face of war forever. Theoretically, with each dimension, they could bend time and location… space. Basically disappear in our timespace and reappear in another time, another place. Un-do a lost battle.” She flipped through the images on her tablet to show him an artist’s concept of a penteract.
“Damn! How the hell does a staff sergeant figure this stuff out?”
“I read a lot. Anyway, since we haven’t inspected these sites in person and don’t really have the tech to read super strings emissions, in person, as far as I know… I would postulate…”
“Don’t use words like ‘postulate’ with a crusty old sergeant major, Annie,” he smiled. “Kidding. Go on.”
“…they could be using the islands, both manmade and natural, as a cover for burrowing into the earth. To create a fully dimensional penteract, or 5-orthoplex, they would need to have nodes beneath the sea as well as overhead. Kinda 3-dimensional.”
“For overhead, you mean like with satellites?”
“No. I thought through that, Treadway answered. “Satellites would be too far from the site. But they could loiter helicopters in the right configuration, or use tethered aerostats or UAVs. This would be a fairly compact system, globally speaking. Helicopters and aerostats would both be subject to prevailing winds, but.... I have that math here,” She said, reaching for a note-dot.
“Don’t need that. Got it. So what do you want me to do?” asked the Sergeant Major.
“Get me in to see the colonel? I need someone with more horsepower than I’ve got to get this to the right people. Someone in Washington’s gonna need to make some decisions on this.”
“Can do easy,” Carwash said. “Is anyone else working on this?”
Treadway replied, “I’ve got a buddy at OGA who dabbles in Scientific and Technical… S and T. Johnny Realeyes. We compare notes on Chatt.”
“You’re kidding. Realize?
Annie explained, “Not ‘Realize,’ but REAL. EYES. He was the only guy in his unit who wouldn’t get the implants to see UV and infrared. Against his religion. Folks call him ‘Realeyes.’ Get it? He left 10th Group for a job with OGA.”
Langley Virginia, 1135, Same Day
OGA Directorate of Operations
Nicholas “Max” Maxwell finished reading the classified message from a colonel Deke O’Brien, 3rd Special Forces Group. Also copied on the message were Special Operations Command, Assistant Chief of Staff of the Army, three people at Department of Defense and three counterparts at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, and Walt Beyer at the White House’s National Security Staff. O’Brien had just been briefed by a Special Forces intelligence NCO at Fort Bragg. The message was classified TS Codeword // Eyes Only // Close Hold. The gist of Colonel O’Brien’s message was, “Do you have a ‘Johnny Realeyes’ in S&T?”
Max tapped the comms tattoo at his Adam’s Apple and spoke, “John Renfro.” Three seconds later, he heard: “Johnny here, Boss. What’s up?”
“Hey Johnny, need to chat with you. Special project. Can you come up to the 5th floor?”
The Pentagon, Monday May 5th 1330
Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict
Career Senior Executive Nancy Rohrbach, A/SD-SOLIC, invited Navy SEAL Rear Admiral Mark Spence, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, and Air Force General Jenny Walters, Strategic Command, into her office. “Thanks for making the no-notice trip, General, Admiral. Coffee?”
“Sure. Thanks,” they replied in unison. Rohrbach called to her assistant to fetch the coffee, cream and sugar.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the traffic on this, but I’ve spent the morning on a secure line with the DNI, Walt Beyer – you know him, a tech geek at OGA, and believe it or not, a staff sergeant at 3rd Group, Fort Bragg, talking about the 5th Dimension.”
The two senior officers looked at each other… then back to Nancy Rohrbach. “Must be pretty close-hold, Ma’am,” said Admiral Spence.
“I’ll fill you in. My folks will get you the complete packet on this before you leave. Bottom line is, pending National Security Council recommendations and the President’s decision, we’re going to need a CONOP in place in a week, and a covert SEAL recon in the Southwest Pacific. The Assistant Secretary of Defense briefed Spence and Walters on the theory, the projections and potential threat described by Staff Sergeant Treadway – amplified by this Johnny Realeyes fellow at OGA.
“So,” she continued. “Worst case, SEALs confirm the Veringians are tunneling. We send a scientific research ship – air quotes – in with some ground penetrating radar to determine the depth of the tunnels. They can get close enough. If the Veringians file a demarche, State will reiterate that we don’t recognize their territorial waters claim and it will drag out in the UN. Once we get the geometry on the tunnels and the islands and can project what they would need for aerostats or helicopters, we wait for the first sign of either. That gives us intent enough to launch a pre-emptive strike.”
General Walters looked to the SEAL, then Rohrbach. “Are we talking about ManDroids, or, you know, nuclear?”
“No, of course not Jenny. ManDroids could…. And I don’t mean to belittle you, but this needs to be a plausible deniability mission. ManDroids are great, but we need human eyes on this – people who can answer questions, exercise judgment, and be prepared to go well beyond AI algorithms. If we go live, this will be a named mission. Operation PINK FLOYD.”
Jenny smiled. “Lasers?”
“Special lasers, General. That tech geek at OGA and his team have a new trick up their sleeves.”
Joint Region Marianas
Nimitz Hill, Guam
Wednesday May 21st 0630
The Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility briefing theater at Joint Region Marianas was packed with an array of one-star generals and admirals, policy makers, scientists, lawyers, and more military of all ranks, huddled around the continental breakfast of coffee, juices and pastry. At precisely 0630, Marine Major General Robert “Knuckles” Bradshaw stepped into the SCIF, followed by Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Gerald Snow. Bradshaw’s booming voice welcomed the team: “Welcome to Joint Task Force Hyperion. Take your seats please.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Bob Bradshaw, Task Force Commander. I’m a MARSOC guy. Chief Snow here is my JTF Command Sergeant Major. I read 0630, 21 May. We have a lot of work to do over the coming week. This OP is classified TS Codeword. What we do on Guam stays on Guam. Go it?”
“Got it, Sir!” was the reply in unison.
“You should have all received OPERATION PINK FLOYD background packages. If not, see Chief Snow and catch up. Quickly.” Gesturing to a Navy Lieutenant, Knuckles Bradshaw continued, “Lieutenant Lawrence here is the SEAL unit commander. Based on the intel his team brings back, presumably by Friday, we will launch NOAA Ship Discoverer II for additional covert recon. They’re loitering 100 to 200 nautical miles off Vaalbara. They can do 20 knots and steam to the Vaalbara island chain in under 10 hours. Priority Intel Requirements are…”
A hand went up in the back of the briefing theater, “Sir?”
The General turned to the voice. “What’s on your mind, Andy?” Bradshaw asked. It was Andy Anderson, the modern day “Q” to the SOF world.
“We all have enormous confidence in the SEALs, but this mission seems ready made for MD-25s.”
Bradshaw paused before responding and looked around the room. “Look, Andy,” he said. “I know you’ve spent your life perfecting ManDroids, but I need decision-makers on site, not AI. The SEAL team will place charges to be remotely detonated – in case Pink Floyd fails. Ever try to spit in a spittoon 250 thousand miles away?” Bradshaw finished his in-brief and the team got down to work.
“Lieutenant Colonel Terry,” Bradshaw called out. “I need to see you.” Terry, a Psych PhD, was pretty much the dean emeritus of PSYOP at the JFK Warfare Center.
Terry shuffled through the body of planners. “What can I do for you, Sir?”
“I need you and your team to gather the right kind of science guys and build a disinformation piece – black PSYOP – for release on the net… It’s gotta read like a peer-reviewed, oceanographic research paper. We need something that will explain what caused calamity on those islands assuming Pink Floyd works as advertised, and an alternate story that explains why the islands disappeared into the ocean if we have to detonate the SEAL’s charges.”
“Roger, general,” Terry replied as he looked for his team.
Bradshaw strode over to speak with John Renfro, who was talking with his hands, explaining something to a female Air Force major. “Realeyes,” said Bradshaw, can you talk me through the proposed effects of Pink Floyd one more time, and this 5th Dimension stuff? I’m a street fighter, not a physicist,” then called out, “STRATCOM. JAG.”
Air Force Brigadier General Tony Portillo made his way through the briefing theater to participate in the discussion. Two JAG officers, a Marine Major and a Navy Commander, followed in trace to listen in. Realeyes explained the implications of mastering dimensional physics – in undergraduate terms. Portillo explained the laser option, “Basically what we’ve got, Sir, is a truck-sized device on the dark side of the moon. We call it ‘The Exacerbator.’ Got a problem? – we make it worse. If you don’t have a problem, we’ll make one. Flip the switch and it moves into position on command. It’s kind of a dial-a-laser, with gas lasers like all-gas-phase iodine, deuterium fluoride and chemical oxygen-iodine, or we can go metal vapor – with everything from gold vapor or copper vapor to helium-mercury or strontium. We’ve got solid-state options as well.”
Johnny Realeyes piped in: “What we’ve been experimenting with is using a combination of laser types, with picosecond pulses to excite changes at the molecular level in living organisms.”
“Humans?” Bradshaw asked.
Realeyes and Portillo looked at each other. “Not yet, Sir,” Portillo replied. “We’ve tested the apparatus on live animal subjects.”
“What we get,” Realeyes explained, “Is something called ‘mass effect.’ Mass as in the “Mass” in MOOSEMUSS. The laser pulses create biochemical changes in an organism that lead to rapid growth in tumors. These tumors will then restrict the functions of adjacent organs. For example, a brain tumor may be generated, leading to a sub-cranial hematoma, rapidly increasing intracranial pressure, and eventually deadly brain herniation. The same effect happens with tumors in other organs.”
“Damn! So it’s true… that’s sick,” the general said, turning to the lawyers. “Is this legal, from a Geneva Convention point of view?”
Commander Jose Ortiz replied, somberly, “Um… it’s not illegal, yet, Sir. That’s all I can tell you.
“But it works?” the General asked. “And we can target specific humans from the lunar surface?”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Get back to work,” the general replied, pensively.
Saturday May 24, 1630
SSN Fargo, submerged 200 feet
Off the coast of Vaalbara
Lieutenant Lawrence, Master Chief (SW) Kurt Teague, and two First Class Petty officers sat in the dry room, pulling off gear and stowing their kit while debriefing with the Boat’s XO and Intel officer. Teague explained, “You know how the Emiratis built those artificial islands off Dubai forty years ago? This is that in spades. We scanned four of twelve islands. Each island has a prefabricated column… maybe 10 to 12 feet in diameter. Didn’t get a read on what material.”
Lawrence added, as the SSN Fargo intel officer took notes, “I’d estimate those columns run 200… maybe even 300 to 400 feet deep. We knocked, ‘politely,’ and got the impression they are not filled with either sea water or rock. Maybe resonance chambers?”
The frogmen completed their debrief as the Fargo made for Guam.
Three days later, observers on NOAA Ship Discoverer II sent an encrypted message to HQ Joint Region Marianas: “Aerostats aloft. Sixteen total. Tethered. Cables approximately 280 to 300 feet. Out.”
Thursday, June 5th 2042
Staff Sergeant Annie Treadway scrolled through open-source news headlines, looking for a treat. After an article on Global Cooling from the National Science Foundation, she spotted this:
Associated Press - The Veringian Guard has just announced they are abandoning an island chain off the coast of Vaalbara. Unnamed sources report that hundreds of soldiers have been med-evac’ed by air and ship, with an unknown number of fatalities. Speculation continues on the relationship between this unexpected turn of events and a recent study published by oceanographers from two American universities, one Australian and a French university regarding the release of microbes from the Marianas Trench. These microbes have been reported following ocean currents, traveling west from the southern region of the Trench and have been blamed for a large number of fish kills in the region.
Annie smiled, and turned to the next article.