He was used to being treated like an infant. The CIA’s system was cracking by the hour. And the film was practically useless by now.
They were Soviet data tapes from 1978.
Being the head of research in Division 7 was a sleeper job. It meant long shifts with light work. He just had to be on call whilst he was present in the Pentagon. Otherwise, he’d be golfing with his friend from the country club, Magnus.
But Ryan Daniels wasn’t easy going himself. Despite his profession, which involved the investigation of data tapes accrued prior to 2010 (dating all the way back to 1961), Daniels was remarkably stringent about organization. That’s why he preferred the light research coupled with cataloguing.
It intrigued him mostly because of the functioning systems. If something wasn’t working right, it was malfunctional. He didn’t like that. Neither did his superiors. They were busy handing him more material to catalogue. So far, the place looked like a library from the Smithsonian.
It wasn’t a place of books, but of films. The amount of exposure the films received was highly controlled--seeing as the data recorded thereon could easily dissolve in light. As a result of this process, the entire basement (Division 7) was dimly lit in red light.
Kept in tin foil cartridges, the films were scanned very carefully through a procedure called ‘matchmaking’ where light was barely refracted off of the target points on the tape. The computer analyzed and constructed digital models that could be pulled easily for research purposes in the future (if needed).
Dust was a common problem in Division 7. The air had to be filtered in order to prevent accumulation on the scan machines. The lenses were developed by a Tier 1 (top secret) organization under the guise of a shell company located somewhere in Shanghai. The company didn’t like contracting in foreign countries. However, it was seemingly a good place to hide a technological manufacturing depot.
The engineers were from 3M, but two had been elite researchers at SRI. Their clearances were given on an as needed basis. The level of scrutiny each technology team received was very low, though, considering the desire for secrecy.
But Daniels didn’t have to worry about the intelligence committee breathing down his neck either. He was essentially a free man in that clandestine lair, some three miles below the Pentagon. It was so deep in fact that Daniels purportedly knew of the existence of a tunnel linking a private subway only the President was allowed to be ‘escorted’ through.
Magnus was a sharp man, too. Over golf and tea, especially Sunday brunch, he and Ryan would chat openly about things they weren’t really supposed to. But Magnus was part of Division 5 out in Virginia (an upstate site somewhere near a rural town in the middle of buck nowhere: a place the Waltons probably hadn’t even heard of). Over the years the two became good friends, trusting one another by going over the weekly deluge of drama at either facility.
‘They wanted me to do four scans an hour ever since they delivered that new batch from 78,’ Ryan had told his friend.
‘I know what you mean,’ replied Magnus. ‘They really don’t care about overtime nowadays.’
‘It’s the new secretary! He’s too ballsy to know the difference between work and indentured servitude. I was explicit. I told my CO I wouldn’t dare take on that much in a new batch, especially one of the older ones. 1978 data tapes: you can’t establish a record if the film isn’t readable!’
‘Have you ever had that happen with the older films?’
‘Curiously, no. But there were three tapes from 61 that are barely readable. The facsimiles are less than clones, to be certain. That was--oh--three years ago, I believe. And I was certain they’d be pissed about the missing details. Strangely, they weren’t.’
‘The higher ups don’t give a damn about the details of the record, mostly. They honestly would rather burn it all.’
‘Exactly! Hide the evidence; that’s really what they want.’
‘But you never had the films dissolve in the light?’ reiterated Magnus.
‘Of course not.’
Their food was being delivered.
‘Just in time,’ noted Daniels.
The waiter handed each of the men a grilled steak, perfectly charred and seasoned with select spices recommended by the chef. It was a Thursday dish, and they were both having it.
‘You can’t go fucking wrong with the special,’ said Magnus.
‘No, of course not,’ replied Daniels.
Both had PhDs in librarian studies. Both were over the age of 40. Both complained routinely about their wives. And both liked a good Thursday steak at the country club.
‘It doesn’t surprise me, Ryan,’ said Magnus.
‘About that batch from 78.’
Ryan wanted to know more. It was perfect lip sport for some regular old fashioned office drama.
‘I heard the Seals...think it was Team Six: they ended up salvaging some tapes from a Soviet submarine near the Chinese mainland. It was built in 77, but the tapes on board were 78.’
‘Indeed,’ remarked Ryan.
‘That’s not all. They originally thought that the same ship had been scuttled due to a faulty reactor. Lucky for them, the reactor wasn’t even operational. The Soviets had tore her apart in 78, replacing it with diesel.’
‘The commies couldn’t handle the atomic stuff as well as our boys.’
‘What about the tapes? How’d you possibly come across this information?’
‘They had us study the hell out of some Soviet schematics and codebooks from the sub. As sparse as my Russian is already, I was able to decipher the log. The inventory had been cleaned out by our guys according to the checklist provided by our CO.’
‘Henry, Colonel Henry,’ said Ryan.
‘Right. And then that’s when I knew you’d be getting a batch of those films from the sub.’
‘They must be somewhat important.’
‘Maybe, but the way the Colonel sounded makes me think otherwise.’
‘The scan process alone is costly enough!’ argued Ryan.
‘I know, but I just can’t believe they were important since they hadn’t been scuttled by the Soviets. I mean, Chinese scuba divers could’ve easily found the location by chance, since it’s not far from a commercial fishing channel.’
‘It doesn’t mean the Soviets didn’t want to do it. Who knows? They could’ve given a shit less about toasting the films.’
‘Life preservers still onboard, by the way,’ added Magnus.
‘The only other possibility is that they defected or sunk the craft anticipating capture,’ suggested Ryan.
‘I argue even against that.’
‘1978 was the same year the Soviets tested drone vessels. I think they switched the reactor (now, this is just my guess) because it was less costly to drown a diesel powered submarine.’
‘You predicated it was due to incompetence,’ said Ryan.
‘I know. But that’s the conjecture from the rest of the team. Personally, I refute that claim based upon the existence of the films on the sub.’
‘You think it was remotely controlled via navigational tapes preloaded with instructions?’
‘You read my mind, Ryan. I do. I think the Soviets didn’t care what happened to the sub. It was a test run.’
‘But for what purpose?’
‘Who knows? But the boys back home were interested, nevertheless.’
They concluded their conversation some time thereafter. Both parties returned to their mundane labors. Daniels was incensed by the possibility of the existence of navigational data on the tapes.
The digital records, once completed, were shipped up two floors to a near identical complex in order to be proofread. The proofs ended up in the same place where they started, though. The problem was this: after inspection, they were locked inside the tin foil cartridges. The locks were accessed by a unique code known only by select personnel, mainly being the higher ups.
That’s why he considered his job so easy. It was quick and easy after the delicate scanning process. And a new batch arrived infrequently, sometimes months apart; which meant minor cataloguing as needed and zero scanning activity.
The navigational components of the latest batch were different. They could be of some rare scientific value. The insight could be enough to help him land an easier position at the university level. That’s something he envied most of all. But those professorships required tenured years of devotion. A paper on Soviet RC nav computers from 1978 would be more than enough to satiate the university boards.
Before they were sent for inspection, he copied the data onto an encrypted thumb drive. With it, he was certain he could use the set for his bombshell paper.
At home in the Daniels residence, the Golden Retriever, Kirk (named after Captain Kirk) lay sleeping at Ryan’s feet. Mrs. Daniels had just checked on him before she retired for the evening--being sure to make her husband a hot cup of delicious coffee.
The Irish cream was giving him a good buzz. His nerves calmed, he scooted closer to the computer screen.
He couldn’t believe it!
‘Magnus was right!’ he said.
Kirk’s slumber was briefly interrupted as Dr. Daniels rushed towards the printer in the opposite corner of the room. Across his study Ryan darted. Anxious to see the results on paper, he tried to hurry the printer along magically with his fingers.
Finally, after what seemed hours had passed (which was really only several seconds), Ryan beheld the proof he needed.
‘Martha!’ he shouted.
Mrs. Daniels appeared in her nightgown at the top of the staircase.
‘This is it! This is the ticket I’ve been waiting for!’ said Ryan.
‘Calm down, honey. What? What is it?’
After he explained, he let the Irish coffee do the rest. For the Daniels, it was a welcome reprieve to the standard workweek evening. This spontaneous romance wasn’t enough to ease his nervousness.
It meant disposing of the details. It meant destroying one of the tapes prior inspection.
They wouldn’t care. Nobody would ever know what happened to one sliver of those films because no one, regardless of the intense security protocols, cared enough to notice. And when asked where he obtained his information, he could simply argue he purchased the film from a swap meet out of state. The plan was bulletproof!
He replaced the film with discarded tape that was from a botched cassette. In the catalogue he would note that the film was ‘unreadable’ and that would be the end of the story.
He sent the films up to inspection. The data tapes had been digitized and were now being proofread.
Oh shit! I just committed espionage or something like that! He thought over and over to himself. His heart was ready to break out of his ribcage. Alas, the proofreading was complete. Everything turned out fine.
The next time he met with Magnus, he mentioned his cool underhandedness.
‘A perfect act of sleight, I tell you,’ boasted Ryan.
‘And you have this one at your house?’
‘Of course, Magnus. You know me well enough. I wouldn’t keep it anywhere else.’
And Ryan’s mistake had been made.
They were golfing. Daniels was at the peak of his game, so it seemed. He was getting ready to make another drive when his friend decided to take a piss.
‘I’ll go in these trees,’ said Magnus.
And whilst Ryan aligned his shot, Magnus pulled from the brush a hidden pistol. This gigantic weapon was complete with an elongated silencer. It surely needed it, if the assassination was going to be clean.
Magnus aimed his silenced Pfeifer Zeliska .600 Nitro Express revolver at Ryan’s torso.
‘What the fuck?’ asked Ryan, shocked by the presentation.
‘It took me trying on four different pairs of slacks in order to finally devise another method to your end. I decided to hide it among the thicket here. Nothing fancy, to be sure; it is all for your benefit, really.’
‘What the fuck? Why!’
‘You can observe from the afterlife for answers, old friend. For now, goodbye.’
Ryan jolted out of the way. The bullet landed in the ground making a crater the size of a cantaloupe. He took cover behind the cart. Magnus didn’t care.
‘I’ll blow battery acid on you, if need be, Ryan. But I’m not going to play this game all day!’
Magnus fired another round, this time causing the golf cart to explode. Ryan rolled down the fairway. Running as fast as he could, he made his way onto a stretch of road.
More pops and thuds trailed behind him. Eventually, Magnus had to reload.
‘Damn it!’ concluded Magnus.
Dr. Ryan Daniels had escaped to the parking lot where he quickly drove out of there. Magnus couldn’t risk any publicity since he was attempting to murder his colleague.