Undisclosed U.S. Army Mountain Wilderness training reserve. Present Day.
The snow was still thick on the ground this early in spring. It would be a good obstacle for trainees just up from their bases in Louisiana and Arizona. Shaking his head at the quality of trainees today, he wondered if his sergeants said the same thing twenty-nine years ago when he was the new croot, he scanned the valley below through the thick evergreens. Probably so. 29 years later – since the day after the tower’s fell – he had been everywhere – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iraq, Philippines, Germany, Italy, Turkey, just about every corner of globe where some religious nut was trying to kill everyone who dissented over some extremely obscure interpretation some books written thousands of years before.
Retirement in just under a year really sounded good as he thought he saw some sunlight reflect off of something metallic on the far side of the valley. In the opposite direction of base of course. Damn. CO would have his ass if this area is being used by some group of Jodies when it is supposed to be off limits to the public. They might twist an ankle and sue the Army. He had promised his wife that he would be home tonight. 25 years and Kelsi was still with him through it all since they met at a USO show in Kuwait. Why she put up with him was still a mystery after all this time. He was just grateful that she did.
He blinked and the binocular feature of his field glasses kicked in. He examined the area where he saw the glint closer. No. Not civilian campers trespassing. Something definitely metallic that shouldn’t be there. Uncharted wreckage from a plane perhaps? No crashes in the area that he was aware of but certainly too large to be something carried in by hikers. Fuck. It would have to be identified and reported. No sense in coming out here twice. He had left his personal VTOL at the last clearing – and the area he was going was too thick to use it. He would have to hoof it. Maybe five miles as the crow flew but down to the bottom of rugged valley and then about half way up the other side. Several hours at least. It would give him about an hour to locate the exact site, explore it, and set up camp before it was dark.
He would need to get a few things from the VTOL – just basics and a couple of MREs. Damn. Retirement to a job as a small town cop in some tiny town in Idaho or Montana, if Kelsi would agree – she favored Florida or California – really sounded good. Florida still had a lot of small towns that could probably use a cop or two.
“Oscar base, this is Vulture one.” He tapped the radio on his dashboard and then opened up the rear storage compartment to take out his rucksack and a few necessities for an overnight stay.
“Vulture one. This is Oscar Base.” The male voice on the radio sounded bored – it was about lunch time at the base.
“Reporting in; spotted something that I need to check out before coming in. It is deep in the target valley and I can not get there by craft so I’ll have to hike in. I’ll report in when I know more.” He shouldered his pack and tightened its harness.
“Roger Vulture one. Anything else?” He could almost hear the yawn by the radio operator back at the base.
“Something that caught the sunlight the wrong way; too large to be trespassers. Probably just some old wreckage or abandoned junk. Just want to make sure before I take some trainees into this area next week. It will take me a couple hours to get in there and a couple hours to get back so I’ll probably stay overnight.”
“Happy camping Vulture one.” The radio went dead.
He snorted and started back up the hill separating the small clearing from the valley.
The setting sun was just about to touch the peaks behind him when he reached the shallow river at the bottom of the valley. Much rougher than he thought from his initial examination – definitely a good training area. He crouched down to refill his canteen while taking in the sounds of the area. He saw a few birds and a couple squirrels but nothing larger. There were a few tracks of a mountain lion but they were older. Good to know one was in the area. No sign of the wolves that had been reintroduced to this area a decade ago – they were probably a few valleys over but one could never be sure. He blinked a few times to activate the binocular option and scanned a route up to where he thought he saw the reflection. Just as rough going up as it was coming down. A cushy desk job. Most definitely a requirement for next year.
When it started getting dark, he was still about kilometer from where he thought he saw the metallic gleam. He would have to look for the anomaly in the morning. He found a small patch where he could start a small fire and lay out his sleeping gear. After setting camp, he unpacked his smart phone and dialed the base.
“Oscar base, this is Vulture one.” There was a strange hissing static. He pulled out a small flashlight and examined the phone carefully. No apparent damage; battery was fully charged. He looked closer and the screen had a strange flicker to it like a very old TV with bad reception line moving slowly across the screen.
“This is Oscar base, Vulture one – having a hard time receiving you,” and older feminine voice replied.
“Some form of interference – could be the valley I’m in. I’ll check my gear before turning in and again in the morning. Just to be on the safe side.”
“Roger that Vulture one. I’ll inform the morning shift to be waiting for your report.”
He ended the call. The day’s hike was hard –and he worked hard to always be able showed up the recruits and trainees. Yes, this area would be very good for some training exercises.
He blinked a few times to activate the microscopic view on his field glasses. They had the same bad reception lines running across the lens. The microscopic view still worked, he just had to ignore the bad reception lines. Nothing physically wrong with the phone’s hardware that he could see when he took off the cover and looked at the battery and the phone’s circuitry. He checked the GPS satellite signal that fed most of his information gear – it was also exhibiting some form of interference. Weak but definite. Some sort of electronic jamming out here where there was no electronics save what he brought for himself? Shit.
He blinked a couple more times to turn off the microscopic view and to activate the night vision. Same interference. It had to be very local since the river was only a couple miles away. Too dark to navigate w/o the night vision and the camp was set up. Might as well wait for the sun and start exploring. He let the choir of wolves from the next valley lull him to sleep.
In the early twilight of dawn his eyes snapped open at the sound of something rustling in the underbrush just a few feet away. Small mammal by the sound of it – probably a raccoon or marmot. He rustled his bag a bit to make just enough noise to startle the animal – it let out a high pitched squeal – almost like a small pig and he heard it run down towards the creek. Possum? He sat up slowly and stretched – his breath was foggy in the cold. It had lightly snowed during the night. Cool enough to be glad he banked the fire rather than fully putting it out. Uncovering the coals he reignited the fire, put some water on to heat and dumped some alleged coffee into the water. While the “coffee” heated, he did some morning stretches and packed his gear.
As he finished packing and was taking his first sip of coffee, the phone beeped at him. Let a man finish his coffee for Christ’s sake. Damn desk jockeys. Sigh.
“Vulture one this is Oscar base – over.” A West Pointer on his first assignment from the sound of his voice.
“This is Vulture one Oscar base. Good Morning sir.”
“This is Lt. Santos…How did you…..” The young officer was trying to be authoritative and yet questioning … definitely his first tour.
“Experience Lt. Santos, sir.” He kept his tone neutral and masked the sigh.
“Understood Sergeant. Uhmm. You reported some interference with your technology last night is that still the case?” The kid wasn’t a complete idiot.
“Yes sir, I still am having some interference – I can make out what you are saying but there is a rolling interference bar across the screen and the sound from the phone is more like an old ham radio signal than a digital signal. The other gear that relies on modern electronics is showing similar interference. It was not present when I used the binoculars at the base of this valley – that is about two kilometers to the east about 200 meters lower in elevation.”
“I’m going to ask you explore the region and see if you can find the source of the interference. To our knowledge, there is nothing in the area that could cause this problem and we need more information.”
“Understood Sir. I’m going to need some more supplies. I had only planned on a single over night and the terrain is rough enough that it could take a few days to thoroughly search it.”
“Cover what you can today and I’ll see about getting a squad or two out there to help and bring some any equipment. Go head and let the operator know what you need and we’ll get it out to you asap.”
“Understood sir.” Kelsi is going to give me a few thousand paper cuts, skin me alive, and then start to get nasty.
Second Lieutenant Daniel Santos chewed his lip – a nervous habit he picked up from his mother – may she rest in God’s Merciful Arms – as a child. What to make of this anomaly? Had the Sergeant Major stumbled into something far beyond both their pay grades? Officially there was nothing in those mountains and the area had been reserved for high altitude special forces training since the early days of the Cold War. So what ever was there had to be either extremely old or …