Down in the Weeds - A Dafydd Owen story.
Everything about the documents the generals courier delivered to my office seemed to be in order. I even had the Admiral pull a few strings and check them out for me, and they showed as completely legit as far as his contacts were concerned. He had a surprise for me when he called me back though.
“You’re back on the active list, Commander.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding.”
“No. You’re listed as ‘temporarily reactivated - detached duty’.”
“Shit. Your buddies gave me a black ops designation.”
“Just covering your tail, Dafydd. It might be to your advantage to wear the uniform for this one and if anyone looks up your record they will be in no doubt as to your right to be wearing it on a NATO assignment.”
So, there I was at the security post of GFAFB, three rings and a curl of gold braid on the cuffs of my dark blue jacket, full salad bar on my chest, waiting for the sergeant of the guard to get off the phone with the base commander.
“Commander Owen? The base commander would like to see you, Sir.”
“He would have been my first port of call anyway, Sergeant. It’s not in my orders but anything else would have been rude. Other than my briefing materials I’m not familiar with the layout of the base so could I trouble you to assign somebody to escort me and my aide to his office?”
“Baransky! You’re up. Escort the Commander and his aide to the COs office.”
Ye gods, it was so easy to fall back into the routine. Instinctively exchanging salutes with the sergeant I gestured the airman towards my vehicle.
I drew a quiet breath as Airman Baransky knocked politely on the door prominently labelled “Base Commander”, unconsciously checking my uniform. I was betting Sarah was trying hard not to bust a gut laughing, seeing how easily and instinctively I’d dropped back into the routine.
“Commander Owen to see you, Sir.”
“Thank you, Airman Baransky. That will be all.”
As our escort moved aside, I stepped into the office and snapped my crispest salute at the ursine colonel getting up from behind his desk.
“Colonel Fuchs. Commander Owen. My orders, Sir.” I handed him a copy of the credentials I’d been provided.
“Have a seat, Commander. I’m not too big on all the Mickey Mouse. It makes the shit that happens on a base like this easier to handle.”
“My aide, Sarah Owen. And before you ask, Sir, yes. My wife as well as my aide.” Sarah spoke up next.
“We worked together for a few years before that though.”
“A little unusual for an officer to have a civilian aide...”
“He was reactivated for this duty, I wasn’t. I was an MP corporal before the hajjis did enough damage to get me a medical out, though.”
“Ok, this says you’re to have free rein over the entire base, including the old missile fields and that we’re supposed to give you every support we can.”
“That would be assigning us quarters, Sir. I have absolutely no intention of interfering with the running of the base or drawing on any of your resources that I don’t absolutely have to. I’m supposed to wander around for a few days, poke my nose into some holes in the ground and then get myself out of your fur.”
“Makes sense since your orders are to verify a full decommission for NATO. Some of the enlisted run ATV’s around the old missile fields. Do try not to get flattened, that would be an awkward excuse to Her Majesty and a shitload of paperwork. You’re already assigned quarters in officers row. You were lucky enough to have sergeant Wallis on duty tonight. He’s about the best dog-robber in the air force.”
“Then, by your leave, Sir, we’ll get on with it and try to complete this as quietly and quickly as possible.”
“Your passes and other base documentation will be ready by tomorrow. You can pick them up from my secretary first thing.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Another exchange of salutes and we were gone.
Once we were in our quarters I reckoned that few US personnel would speak welsh. Fortunately I’d been teaching Sarah the language over the years we’d been together. Provided I didn’t get too idiomatic or poetic, she’d get what I said.
“Ysgubwch y lle, mae angen iddo fod yn lân.”* She nodded and broke out the gear to sweep the place for bugs.
“The place is clean, Dafydd. We don’t need to mess with the language.”
“That’s good, Cariad.. and you won’t need to worry about anyone hearing you late at night.”
“Fuck you, you ass of a tomcat.”
“That’s the idea, my love.”
“Then get your furry ass over here and do it. We can worry about the case in the morning.” I wasn’t going to argue with my wife on that one. We had time and I wasn’t objecting to how she wanted to spend it.
One good night's sleep later - the sleep of the just, or the sleep of the “just after”, take your pick - and a trip back to the base HQ and we had nice shiny official passes to get us into just about anywhere on the place except the vault. I spent my first 30 minutes in a camp chair outside our quarters seeming to stare off into space as I smoked my pipe and worked my way down a huge mug of coffee. What I was really doing, of course, was getting a feel for the flight schedule of the predator and reaper drones that were currently the only airframes based here.
I had Sarah whistle us up a driver and a vehicle and we got a tour of a shitload of damp holes in the ground that used to be missile silos. I was pretty careful to pick destinations that did not include the ones I was potentially interested in. I’d identified four supposedly “decommissioned” silos that could have been the GPS coordinates I had and there was a window of about four hours after dark where there wouldn’t be any drone overflights and I could check them out on the quiet. As the evening fell I was all respectable still, bidding farewell to the airman who’d been our driver and dismissing my “aide” indoors to start on the “paperwork”.
By the time I walked in the door she was halfway into her tactical rig and had mine laid out on the bed.
“I’m thinking the low hill to the northwest? About half a mile out?”
“Works for me. You can cover all four silos from there. Emergency comms plan delta.”
She grimaced. “I hate that one.”
“I know, so do I. But if I get taken down or pulled out of contact, you vacate. You only deactivate the timer on the screamer if I make it out on my own. Speaking of which, fire up the webcam. I’ve a video to record.”
The first two holes in the ground were just that. Holes in the ground, filled with broken concrete and groundwater seepage. When they shut these down they had even made a point of breaching the silo hatch so the hole filled up with even more water every time it rained. I was now quietly moving in on the third.
“Two down, two to go honey.”
“No surface activity within view. You’re clear to move in.”
“Ok, let’s start with the surface hatch.. if this one’s been breached like…. Shit!” I flattened myself to the ground. “This hatch has had its rails welded in the closed position, but it appears otherwise intact. This silo is still sealed. I see recent tracks of ground vehicles. Heading for the personnel access.”
“Still no sign of anything moving near you. If anything’s waiting, it’s below ground.”
“Vacate now. Timer is running.”
I got three clicks back on the radio.
The personnel access hatch was dark, no lights showing but the lock was more recent than the door. I tried the handle and found it unlocked. Somebody was expecting me. Determined to be as non-threatening as possible I holstered my sidearm, flipped up my NVGs and swung the door open. I stepped into the darkness beyond the hatch, letting my eyes adapt, then swung it closed behind me.
“You may as well spring it now. I know you’re watching and I know you’re here. My weapon is holstered and I’m standing still with my paws in clear view.”
“I can only assume that to be true, Mr.Owen, since you closed the door behind you,” a voice said quietly. “My orders are clear, to protect the target from any threat at any cost. Your presence doesn’t concern me as much as your… aide, retreating from her position.”
“Call it a matter of insurance. If I don’t make it out of here, or she doesn’t at least survive long enough to email the right code phrase every couple of hours before I do, the info bomb goes off. However, the parameters are lax enough that we should have all the time we need. If your orders require you to relieve me of my sidearm, it’s a standard tactical holster. I presume you can operate the latch.”
“I could , if I were in the room with you. My bigger concern is the flowing red? hair currently filling my scope and whether or not I should pull the trigger. For both our sakes it may be best to have your aide cease her retreat until we can finalize terms,” the voice continued.
I keyed my mic “Sarah. Compromise alpha. Freeze.”
“However, be aware that both of us are required to be alive when the timer expires, or I can pretty much guarantee that way too much info about your protectee will become very public. It’s a failsafe logic bomb, on the dark net. We miss the deadline to turn it off or even typo a single character in our respective pass phrases.. and boom. Now that we have each threatened something the other one cares about, shall we be a little more businesslike and work out how to get out of here with both our missions intact?”
“My orders are overwatch, I leave the tech stuff to the geeks in the cubes. My concerns are only in keeping the good doctor alive, and hidden from the ones searching for him.”
“Well, since I have no interest in killing him, yet at least.. and I appear to be following a trail that he left himself… we are not yet in conflict.”
“no, no we are not. His trail was known by my superiors, as was your involvement from the start sir. As long as I can do my mission as ordered you are to be allowed to speak with doctor Daniels.”
“That would be acceptable. Can you patch him onto this link without risking compromising his location?”
“That would be against orders sir, you’re to have a face to face with him. I noticed the NVGs on your rig while you were checking the other silos, nice sweeps by the way, very military. If you look to your right you will find a gun safe in the wall, stash your firearms there, it’s rigged so I’ll know if you do or not, then follow the corridor ahead of you to the elevator. he’s waiting for you on sub level 9.”
“Always good to meet a fellow professional. I am carrying a pair of Sig P223’s, and a wakizashi, I will leave the blade with the guns. Other than that, the only things I’m armed with were issued by mama nature.”
When I flipped down my NVGs, sure enough there was the gun safe, standing open with the key in the lock. I pulled the wak off my back and unclipped both holsters from my belt, stashing them both inside the safe. As I reached for the door to close it I had an afterthought.. and stashed my pouches of spare clips too. Somebody as thorough as the voice I’d been talking to probably wouldn't appreciate me bringing live rounds into the presence of his principal even without a gun to fire them out of. With those in place as well, I closed the door, locked it and pocketed the key. I was as inoffensive and non-dangerous as I could be. Admittedly that wasn’t anywhere near harmless, but if the fucker wanted to declaw me then we were going to tangle no matter what. I made my way to the elevator. As I suspected, the only functional button was sublevel 9.
Sublevel 9 was dimly lit, but at least there was functional lighting. Taking off the NVGs I saw a sign on the wall pointing to a “briefing room” - as the sign was more freshly cleaned than the wall was, I took that as a hint and followed it. It led to a plain green-painted metal door that opened at a touch. A table, half a dozen chairs, a door on the far side of the room, otherwise featureless. One chair was occupied by one big fucker of a moose. Even in the shadows his face looked familiar. Fuckit, I’m a brit, I may as well paraphrase Henry Morton Stanley.
“Dr. Daniels, I presume?”
“Yes,” Arnold Daniels replied. “So, you're the guy Raquel found to track me down?”
“Well, to be honest, I was in town for a different reason when I came to her attention. Call it an opportune accident. But yes, she hired me to find you. To break off the chase I need something she’ll believe and stop fretting over. And if you can tell me anything about why Paul had a psychotic break and is still in the looney bin that might help too. I’m guessing it was a visual cue? For both episodes?”
“Yes, it was the easiest way to… clear his mind, the only way to protect him from what I’ve done.”
“So what’s the deal with him being kept there, now that he’s forgotten all that shit and seems to be back on an even keel? Or was that not your doing?”
“I’m afraid that would be the doing of the people hunting me. Once his mind was reset he should have been out of that place within a single day.”
“Then you fucked up. He’s been under all kinds of meds and therapy for months. That’s part of why your wife is climbing the damn walls, without your authoritative voice to fix it. Who could order that? I’m not offering to do anything about it, but it’s at least something you should discuss with your minders here, like the suspiciously competent voice who directed me down here and I’m sure is listening to every word we say.”
I flexed my claws and leaned back in my seat, feigning relaxation.
“Give me something I can use to close this mess out without a lot of people ending up dead, including the two of us.”
to be continued…..
*: “Sweep the place, it needs to be clean.”