The Queen in Play
The Queen in Play
Sax Hornsby, with all his staff, sat in front of the office video monitor after the interview with Zovoarcnor in various states ranging from shock to amusement. Sax’s long countenance wore a frown and he nibbled his lower lip in deep thought. That mood was interrupted by Maxine, who still wore her headset. “Sax, you just got a strange message. Want me to repeat it?” She gave him “the look”, a sideways glance that he understood perfectly.
Sax handed her a yellow lined pad, “No. Write it here.”
Maxine wrote, in small block letters, “The white queen is in play. Reykjavik. J.”
Maxine watched him close his eyes and wrinkle up his brow. Then Sax blew out a breath, crumpled up the paper and put it in his pocket. He waited until all other staff had left the room and whispered to Maxine, “Clear my agenda for today and tomorrow and book me on the next flight to Iceland, and do it quietly. Got it?”
“Got it, never heard it.” Maxine just got up and left the room. Sax proceeded to take his desk lighter to the note in his pocket and burned it in an ornate ashtray with the Senate seal.
Within an hour after Zovoarcnor’s broadcast, helicopters and a dozen SUV’s and military vehicles surrounded the antenna farm in Yucca, Arizona. A stern operative who flashed credentials from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and therefore could not have had any legal jurisdiction whatsoever, took command of the site under armed guard, established a perimeter, and escorted the network personnel off the site, bundling them into the waiting SUV’s. The operative installed his own radio experts and tried to contact Zovoarcnor.
All they got was the rotating triangular Embassy seal and the words, “Contact from this station is no longer being accepted, per order Ambassador Zovoarcnor.”
Throughout the world, amateur radio operators who had rigs capable of moon-bounce transmission, received a QSL (general broadcast) message from their peers that Zovoarcnor could be reached on a list of microwave frequencies and times. Thousands of hams pointed their sensitive directional antennas at the moon and made contact. Those rigs were also connected to the Web via a ham radio application called EchoLink. At Zovo’s request, the moon links were opened to 175,000 radio operators worldwide, and through them, to anyone with a computer.
Social networks carried the messages. Zovo was “friended” by tens of millions in a few days.
The Defense Intelligence operative soon learned that his was nearly the only operation that could not contact Ambassador Zovoarcnor.
Two dozen individuals in suits and ties, backed by unidentified soldiers in black S.W.A.T. outfits, descended on Ultradata and broke in both the front and back doors, scaring the daylights out of the remaining employees on duty. The soldiers cleared the front office, the hallway and the lab and, having secured those areas, the suits entered the lab. The lab was stripped clean of everything except odds and ends. Aura’s dress dummy was gone, her electronics cabinet and racks of monitoring equipment were gone and Deepak, Sara, Jaeger and Elexi were nowhere to be found. When the suits got to Jag’s office they found it had been previously ransacked. Under a wheel of his leather executive chair they found a scrap of paper printed with Arabic letters and the Arabic numerals of a Koran sura. They also found spots of blood on the carpet.
After confiscating everything they could stuff into a box and packaging the Ultradata building in yellow police tape, they found a sticky note with a commercial flight number, first class to Vaparaiso, Chile. The blood type proved to be from a Caucasian male of European ancestry.
At that point, the inevitable weakness of all fanatical conspiracies occurred. Having gained power and gathered so many complicit parties, some overly eager operative in the Order made a mistake. During a Worldscope news program the day after Zovo’s broadcast, in the middle of a commercial break, a party of suits with dubious credentials forced their way into the network studio and hauled Galena Lockwood away in handcuffs. When her producers and assistants protested, they were arrested as well. Unknown to the suits, the unattended cameras were rolling. Digital cameras don’t have film that can be confiscated. The whole tawdry mess was witnessed by offsite regional and executive staff while it happened, and then, of course, it was top of the news.
In spite of a barrage of attempts to discredit the Pa’an affair as a hoax, as an attempt to discredit government sources and certain key leaders, in spite of threats to classify the entire proceedings as secret, in spite of hired blogs and deliberate misdirection by prominent talking heads whose pockets were weightier than their ethics, no one in the public believed the negative stories. Instead, the whole affair became the butt of many jokes. People were standing in parks pointing up to the sky, yelling “Hail, Zovo, the ET that phoned home.”
Mentor had put the Grumman Gulfstream jet at Jag’s disposal, and that order was never countermanded. By late afternoon on the day of the Zovoarcnor broadcast, Jag, Deepak, Sara and Elexi, along with several crates containing Aura’s dress dummy and her electronic cabinets, were loaded into the Gulfstar jet with the black tail and gold pyramid emblem. The crew filed a flight plan to Geneva, Switzerland, and took off from Logan Airport an hour before sunset.
As they winged their way eastward toward the approaching terminator and the sun visibly sank in the sky behind them, Jag reclined in the soft leather seating with a fine cognac. Elexi slept in the seat across the aisle while Deepak and Sara watched the darkening Atlantic through the windows.
Jag’s thoughts were occupied reviewing the plan. He pulled off the bandage on his thumb. Perhaps the bloodstains he left in his office were overkill, but when you are up against superior opposing forces, misdirecting their resources is always good strategy. Since he had reported the previous Arabic quotation to the FBI after Aura’s poisoning, he knew they could not easily discount it. The blood simply added credibility. Then, having a team hare off to Chile on a wild goose chase was yet another piece of misdirection. The whole idea was to convince the Order that Jag was operating under a splinter group, which was almost true. If that worked, the resources arrayed against his team would be divided.
Having Elexi accompany him was a bit more difficult. Her cell phone was limited to the U.S.A. and would not work overseas, so he didn’t even have to wrestle it away from her. As long as she was with him and she accepted him as the “master”, she would probably not be much trouble. Primarily, he was sure she would be questioned, possibly tortured, if she was left behind. Once he came to that conclusion, he had no alternative.
It was early morning of a long dark night when they landed for refueling in Reykjavik, Iceland. Jag missed the view coming over the outlying islands, the colorful rooftops, and the soaring spire of Reykjavik Church in the distance. Nights were still fourteen hours long at latitude 64 degrees, and sunrise was five hours away. By plan, the terminal was nearly empty, the duty-free kiosks closed, and the only other commercial flight just arriving. While he waited, he arranged for two of the several crates aboard the Gulfstream to be unloaded. His hired crew handed them off to another crew who trucked them behind the building to another jet, a smaller Citation, waiting out of sight. Deepak, Sara and Elexi followed. There was no way to separate Deepak from Aura’s components in any event. He supervised the cargo handlers and fussed over every bump. Sara had no problems getting Elexi to tag along.
Jag sat in the shadows at the jetway from the flight where Sax was disembarking. When he saw the Senator’s lean features, drawn with lack of sleep, he moved quietly nearby and led him to an alcove off the main way. Neither man said a word until they sat down, completely out of sight from the rest of the terminal, in the dark.
“They got to the Tucson antenna farm. I heard it on the news,” started Sax without preamble.
“We got away just in time. Aura is packed, or at least that part of her. The white queen is no longer pinned. So far, all we’ve seen is a wall of pawns on the other side.”
“The fact that the major players are still out of sight says that they think they can squash us with no trouble,” mused Sax.
“Maybe so. Here comes the London flight now. Hold up a minute and wait for our U.K. connection.”
A small plane pulled up to the jetway and a disembarked a few officers and military types. The tail had an RAF number on it. Last off was a very casual Indian man in a checked shirt and blazer. Sax recognized the combination as a uniform of convenience for a man who probably wore the same thing every day. The man was in no hurry. Sax got up from the dark alcove and intercepted him at the corridor, took him by the arm and led him back to Jag.
“Grant Gupta of MI6, please meet Jaeger Kunstler, CEO of Ultradata.” Grant and Jag shook hands vigorously, looking each other in the eye. Grant spoke first, “My pleasure, do you mind if I call you Jag, or would Jaeger be more appropriate?” Grant pronounced the J like a Y, as a German speaker would.
“Jag is fine, thanks. I know roughly who you are, but nothing about how you may have been briefed.” He waved a hand at Sax, “Where do we start here?”
Sax said, “Well, I always start with ‘blue tulips in May’…”
Grant threw up his hands, gave a short laugh and said, “None of that now. We’re beyond whales and tulips and whatnot.” He faced Jag, “What you need to know is that Sax and I have met before, we trust each other, and we are both investigating the group you call the Order. My piece is their financial doings in the market for fissionables.”
“And, of course, I’m supposedly a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but I might as well be stuffed into a dark closet for all the good that does,” replied Sax.
“We’re a great team. The guy that was executed with a radium rosary – that was my father, even though I never knew him.”
“What happened to the fellow that fostered you – Mentor?” asked Sax.
Jag spread his hands in a gesture of completion. “Dead, along with his sidekick. No, I didn’t kill him. Well, I didn’t intend to anyway. He was running his own splinter group. I think his group had something to do with the fissionables. But it’s the main group that’s after Aura.”
“Is she protected?” asked Grant. “I heard about the raids.”
“We are transporting her to a new location, one we’re pretty sure can’t be traced back to us,” Jag said.
“I don’t want to know it,” said Sax, “Nor I,” repeated Grant. Those were the kind of replies Jag dearly wanted to hear. They told him he was not dealing with spies for the Order or their fellow travelers.
“Did you hear they arrested Galena Lockwood?” Grant said.
“Really? There goes 100 million viewers. What gall!” Sax was astonished.
“Hah. It must have happened while we were in flight. I bet they are still trying to claim the whole Zovoarcnor thing is a science fiction publicity stunt,” said Jag, wryly.
“Yes, of course, and not even their pet politicians can swallow that line. If it was a ruse, why arrest the talking head?” said Grant, “And this Zovo is now all over Twitter and Facebook.”
There were smiles all around, then, “What next?” questioned Grant. “I think the ball is in your court, Jag, or maybe Aura’s.”
“Aura is the white queen. We need to flush out the black king.”
“What about the black queen?” questioned Sax.
At that, Jag grinned, “I understand we are ready to capture the black queen.”
“Really?” Sax interjected. That’s worth ten points.”
“Five, I think,” said Grant.
“What I need to know,” asked Jag, “is the names of the companies that are transporting fissionables. I need their officers, their contact information, their controlling shareholders, and any dossiers you might have on them. Can you gather that?”
“I’ll put my people to work on it. We have some of it already,” said Grant.
“Likewise,” said Sax.
“Aura will set up a way to transmit the data safely. Leave it to her,” Jag got up to leave.
“Exactly,” Grant stated.
“OK,” Sax agreed.
“Jag, here is the name and confidential contact cell phone for a Captain Antoine Lederman, sometimes employed by MI6. He and his group are for hire and trustworthy, so long as they are well paid. You may need them.”
Sax read the information, memorized it and incinerated the paper. That pleased Grant.
“Just like ‘I Spy’.”
“We ought to set up a challenge phrase,” Sax added, “Just in case.”
“Shades of ‘I Spy’ again?” questioned Grant.
“I propose ‘white queen to king’s bishop 4’. How’s that?” Jag said.
“And I would respond, ‘She sure looks good in emeralds’,” replied Sax.
They all laughed at that. One by one, each got up and went their way.
On board the smaller Citation jet, Jag was greatly relieved by the promised cooperation and tried to sleep, but the seats were much smaller and far less accommodating that on the big Grumman Gulfstream. Everyone else was asleep.
From somewhere in China’s central plateau region, a Long March rocket climbed to the zenith. Missile trackers in Alaska and Siberia set off alarms, but the trajectory was not bending back toward any Earthly destination. At an altitude of 200 kilometers, the main rocket expired, was jettisoned and continued its parabola toward a fiery demise over the Pacific Ocean. The smaller second stage accelerated into a high speed Hohmann III trajectory for the moon. It never slowed down to transfer to a Moon orbit. In ten hours the warhead blossomed into a spectacular nuclear fireball that was visible from Cristchurch, New Zealand to Portland Oregon.
The government of the Chinese People’s Republic denied responsibility for the missile and claimed it was launched and controlled by fanatics loyal to the Dalai Llama. The Russians blamed it on the Chechens. The Chechens claimed if they had such a missile, they would have used on Moscow. U.S. satellite photos of the launch area showed an isolated, previously unknown launch site close to the Mongolian border. However, possession of the nuclear launch codes had to involve top security officials in the Chinese government.
The EMP pulse from the blast produced a temporary blackout of all the amateur moonbounce radio receivers on the side of Earth facing the moon. For an hour, the Web and social media buzzed with rumors of Zovo’s demise. Then Zovo quietly re-established communications as if nothing had happened and refused to answer any questions about the ordeal except to note that he had no offensive weapons and, as a product of an advanced technology intended to cross the distance between stars, he had a tough shell. Zovo said nothing about the fact that the missile, launched from 250,000 miles away, had missed a target the size of a tennis ball, and that his shell was highly degenerate matter a million times denser than moon rock.
The incident only magnified Zovo’s popularity and removed all credibility from his opponents.