The setting sun completed its dip below the horizon and the base became dark. While the electricity had been left on, the streetlights outside the housing areas had been great targets for the overjoyed CLF and PDRA soldiers. No one was more surprised than the Atlanticans with their capture of Logue AFB.
Ybarovich had been the final piece of the puzzle that made it all possible. His knowledge of the base layout and details had shown the invaders not only every weak spot in the defenses but also where the key facilities were. Beyond that, it was world politics that leveled the stage for the Cortinians.
The American armed forces were spread so thin that there was not enough manpower to fill the units sent to the island of Aragon, much less to adequately buttress the crumbling democracy’s own forces. Months before the PDRA propagandists had been whipping up anti-American sentiment drawing on the negativity the media in the US had been selling for years. Afghanistan, Iraq, starving North Koreans, even scenes of stability in Venezuela and Cuba even despite Fidel Castro’s un-surprising death, all became fodder for the third-world rated media on the island.
Yellow journalism[ Jonathan Byrd, 9/3/18, 09:19
The section about media, I found a little confusing. I wonder what your main point was. You show that media is used to control people and that controling the media is vital to controlling the populace.
You show the world media being taken over by US outlets. I’m not sure if your suggesting that is a good or a bad thing. It’s also quite long. Cut it down to the main idea.
You also let us know about WMDs hidden on the island and give a reason for the conflict. This works much better and seams logical.
I think you’ve lost a little of the personal touch that you had in earlier chapters. It felt a bit more distant and less conected to the individuals involved.
You’ve definately moved the story on, and made the themes clearer
David] ceased to exist when all the journalist disappeared. A newer brand of news information had taken its place. There were still staff writers at the major American news sources, they just no longer had to hide the fact that the articles they wrote were stories that told the news from their perspective and political slant rather than the unbiased position true journalists preferred. From there it was not a huge jump for the mainstream media to not only stake its claims on the local news in underdeveloped areas, but to begin subsidizing or outright providing their brand of service and truth to the local organizations. Since they were only just better than clanging two coconut shells together, or a string between two cans, the addition of technology, albeit older technology, was a godsend.
It was a new trend duplicating itself in many hotspots and less developed countries around the globe. For literally decades military leaders had their own support staff that tempered or outright colored the information that came from their actions. Local or tribal warlords and generals now created whole public affair departments, a politically correct term for a propaganda wing. After a few demonstrations of force at home, they began to shop the major news outlets for support. CNN was first to adopt to the change and support them, followed quickly by the New York Times. Members of the staff wrote pieces on how the oppressive regime of the country was controlling all aspects of life. The short-lived memory of the public made it easy to write the same story repeatedly merely changing the names of the players and the country. Each piece romanticized the lure of freedom fighters. Suddenly the cause would receive the support of the general population.
Next came the funding. The new media wings sought out individuals to “support freedom” by sponsoring the tribal lords. As Congress continued to raise taxes, it also opened up new tax loopholes. When they passed the Kerry-Pelosi Act, contributions to causes that fought tyranny and terrorism became tax exempt. Most mainstream media groups then began to staff full divisions, not just for creating the pieces but staff for procuring contributions in accordance with the K-P Act. The artificial wave of patriotism flowed through the population reaching the celebrities and through them the mindless masses that hung on their every word and action. Supporter’s wallets opened up, accounting books on both sides of the transaction were cooked, and the hunger of the mighty media was fed while the general public ate it up. Randolph Hearst would have been proud.
The majority of third world countries served by this new and improved 21st century brand of journalism were unable to access the internet, so almost overnight the newspapers became relevant again for more then just their online content. For all its inherent flaws, it was truly good for the economy to create so many jobs as well as to revive an industry.
The island of Aragon was no exception to this growing trend and created a perfect storm of sorts. The thinly stretched reserve forces of the American military met the full on force of the craft-your-own-story media. Every twelve months a new wave of reserve troops came to Logue AFB to relieve the last wave. The regular guardians of the base rotated deployments to either one of the many active combat areas or to Europe to relieve other posts in a similar manner. The remaining forces stationed on Aragon were either temporarily between combat tours or were people like Ybarovich, a ROAD soldier, Retired on Active Duty, not eligible to retire yet, but too worn out to do anything productive. Every duty station has them, some are just more prominent then others. Ybarovich worked harder than most ROAD soldiers did, but then again, he was further from retirement as well.
Timing, as always, was crucial for this endeavour. Had the PDRA army not contacted Ybarovich the day after he was denied early retirement, or two days after he received an attorney’s bill for the losing battle he was having with his brothers over his recently deceased parents’ estate, then it might have gone down differently. Had the PDRA army waited one more week to attack, the command staff for the newest relief force would have be in place instead of just a platoon of ground troops. Instead, the current force had become complacent and bored. They had seen no action, no hints of a problem, no indication of anything other then just more rhetoric in the paper, and that had become so commonplace all but the most well-trained analysts ignored it. The relief force was still on edge, anxious even after their three-week preparation time in advance of the switch was finished. As the threat seemed more and more diminished, the American commander became bolder until he reached the point he was at now, sending our more patrols then he had men for, at the risk of leaving the base unprotected. His deployment had constantly reinforced his “What Threat?” attitude. The West Point graduate was currently overanalyzing his cavalier attitude in the confinement cell the PDRA had thrown him when they took over. The cell next to him contained the Air Force commander who was overanalyzing his decision to leave all matters of base security in the hands of the Army.
Timing was also critical for the PDRA pullout. No matter how good the propaganda wing was the leadership of the armed side of the military refused to believe in their ability to hold the base longer then a few days. In fact, the point was so well taken that none of the staff argued about PDRA’s ability to hold the base, rather their discussions concerned only how long they would hold it before they had to abandon it. Estimates ranged from three days to three weeks. The shorter timeline matched the amount of time necessary to transport equipment from the mainland US. The longer stemmed from overconfidence in the media’s ability to delay a response based on American public support for the Cortinian cause. At first glance the three week timeframe seemed ridiculous, but when recent past events were factored in, such as another aborted pullout of American troops from Afghanistan, it had merit. However, no one had counted on Nevers.
General Lionel Mandrake was typical of the kind of officer that ran a third world revolutionary army: highly charismatic, intelligent, dogmatic in his support of his chosen political ideology, well trained in multiple forms of combat by many foreign powers including the US, and intimately familiar with the geography and terrain of his native island. Logue AFB had been built slowly over the years, but it had been an American military installation since just after the Spanish-American War. Indeed, it pre-dated not only the current country of Cortina, but also any country on the island. Prior to 1899, Aragon had been a crossroad colony of changing flags. Spanish, Dutch, English, Spanish again, briefly belonging to Napoleon, then back to Spain after Waterloo. Mandrake smiled every time he recalled the patriotic wave of fervor that gripped America near the end of the 19th century which had occasioned normally mild-mannered farmers and factory workers to enter American military service eventually freeing Aragon from its European oppression. The fact that he saw parallels between the American Revolution and this current conflict further demonstrated his own excellent education at oversea schools and pleased him.
Logue’s location had caused him a major concern. Since the post had become American soil long before the current countries on the island, the territory inside the fences had been secured and untouched by native eyes. Mandrake’s intelligence on the post was limited to what could be observed through the fences or gleaned from interviews with the contractors and builders of the post’s infrastructure that were still alive. Until Ybarovich.
While many parts of the island were still without modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity, that was not an indication of a lack of intelligence on the part of the native residents. One of the sharpest minds in the officer corps of the PDRA grew up in the least modernized areas of Aragon. The few people who knew his first name never used it, so he was known only as Major Lothar. A wizard with a computer, he mastered every piece of software he touched. Mandrake had his media support finagle a pirated copy of the geographic information system software the military had three months before he contacted Ybarovich. The GIS database melted in Lothar’s hands. If Ybarovich had not come along Lothar would have loosed his talents on hacking the system instead of just grasping the intricate ins and outs of the system. With Ybarovich the entire post’s database was like putty in Lothar’s hands.
He migrated his view of the GIS to one of the most remote parts of the post, the furthest removed from fences, deep in vegetation, surrounded by man-made hills to the most secretive location on the island. Three bunkers were barely visible in the aerial picture that covered the map. Their footprint in the database did no justice to their size or importance.
Back in the States, a ban on moving nuclear, biological and chemical weapons by any means had precipitated the creation of incinerators or other methods to dispose of aging, or outlawed weapons of mass destruction at their point of storage. The same types of materials that were stored outside the country posed a different issue. They could no longer be shipped back to the shrinking sites in the US. And with intense controls needed to destroy them, there would be no way to do so in place without alerting the countries in which the munitions were that there had been illegally stored weapons in said countries. This resulted in the need to move and hide those armaments somewhere else. Aragon was as good as any other place. As were the hidden bunkers Lothar was so intent on finding.
One contained chemical and biological weapons. Inside were no delivery systems, but artillery shells, shoulder-launched rockets, mortars and every other imaginable round of ammunition that could be loaded down and filled with the vilest materials known to exist as weapons. Another contained depleted uranium and other nuclear rounds. Compared to its companions, the last bunker was innocuous, containing the ordinary ordinance needed for a properly trained military, or a security force.
While Maggie went to start a pot of coffee, Nevers scanned the aerial map of the base contained in the GIS file. The amount of information that could be stored in such a database was enormous, but its true versatility came from its ease in using the data. An aerial photograph was used as a background, with electronic shapes or lines drawn over corresponding structures and metadata cards of information attached. Buildings, roadways, traffic signals, manholes and many other man-made or natural features were modeled and pertinent information stored. What type varied depending on the purpose of the database. Other software, maps or logs could be attached and accessed through the simple graphical interface the system provided.
The system Ybarovich worked on contained all the associated files for infrastructure, maintenance, history, and security on the base. From the lock-down protocols at the entrance gates to the code for opening the electronic gate at the Base Exchange, everything anyone could think of was somehow attached to the GIS program. Quite simply, it was all anyone needed.
A lone road in the uninhabited training areas of the base caught Nevers’ eye. He zoomed in and began panning through the photo to follow the road. It ended in a series of hills. Nevers zoomed in still tighter and could just make out the three bunkers hidden in the trees. From this vantage point, he had no idea of the standoff currently underway at the site on his screen.
The ten soldiers hiding in the cover of the trees and terrain had once been a forty-man platoon before their initial contact with the bunkers. The ferocity and ability of the Air Force security patrols had been underestimated. Two companies of PDRA forces were on their way to the bunker for reinforcement. The few remaining soldiers currently cowering knew they had an advantage: Lothar had used the GIS system to pull up the security program and change the access codes to the bunkers. This advantage was not as strong as the soldiers thought. In fact, this advantage was not as strong as the disadvantage they were unaware of.
Of the three bunkers, the small-arms bunker had been the last to assume fighting positions. As such, the entry port was still open when the radio call from the first bunker warned them of the attack. The codes to the bunker doors had been changed, but would not become active until the locks reset. The small-arms bunker was the only bunker that had kept the port open to stop the reset. Now all three squads of Marines assigned to protect the bunkers were ready for action and armed to the teeth. This would not be a “whites of their eyes” fight.
General Mandrake could have easily taken over the island without attacking the base and risk raising the ire of the United States. It was not only a huge risk but an all out gamble that Major Lothar took convincing the General he needed the whole island. Mandrake’s thirst for power fueled his ego which was the target Lothar aimed and hit. Without realizing he had done it, Mandrake found himself the pawn of both his own propaganda arm convincing him he could pull it off and Lothar’s conniving that he had to do it. Three day Lothar smiled at three week Mandrake knowing that only one of them knew the real reason for the attack.
The bunkers were a critical asset for the invading force. They were not a strategic or even a psychological target. They were not important for any tactical or even a re-supply reason. But the real reason Lothar wanted the base invaded, was the bunkers. The black market for chemical weapons was huge. For nuclear, the market was small, but the prices high. Biological weapons had an almost non-existent market, not because of demand, but supply. The rules of economics made them even more costly to procure and advantageous to sell. No one was making any more, and those who had them were not in the market to share them, so the only way to acquire them was to do as Lothar had—by convincing Mandrake to invade.
Once they had the weapons, Lothar had three different buyers lined up for each type of weapon. After he reviewed Ybarovich’s database, it was clear that many more deals would be made. They had hit the mother lode, and part of the allure was that only two entities would know what had been gained. PDRA and the US, and the US could not reveal it to anyone without risking an international incident. All it would take is to get inside, and right now, that surefire outcome was not a forgone conclusion.
Nevers switched his attention back to the main part of the post. The unknown battle for the bunkers was not his concern or problem today. Ybarovich’s setup was impressive. He had four monitors and had managed to tap into the SIPR net, an impressive feat worthy of a master network designer and an incredible feat for a hacker. On one monitor Nevers had accessed the public affairs office system to copy the earlier broadcast. Even with their own propaganda wing, the PDRA knew good facilities when they saw them. They had overtaken Logue’s studio and were steadfastly working on a new edit of their triumphal video montage for release tomorrow. None of the staff recognized or even could recognize that they had been probed.
Once he had the earlier broadcast, Nevers erased a portion of the PDRA production that got them all scrambling. Most believed it to be a conversion problem from the MacBooks of their shanty office to the high-priced Windows system the Americans were using. No one suspected simple file deletion. Nevers smiled as he backed out of the system as smoothly as he had entered.
Now the monitor on the left was running the footage constantly in an attempt to identify any features outside the prisoner’s holding pen to figure out where it might be. The main monitor in front of Nevers showed the base’s plan view layout, above that, the third monitor had been configured to show an elevation view that panned around as Nevers did below. The fourth monitor on the right has been set up in a perpendicular fashion and had all the metadata packets. As he maneuvered from location to location that data would change.
There were very few clues in the video that were helping the search. In frustration, he leaned back in the chair removing his hands from the controls for a moment. The video was stopped on the best shot he could find. The background showed a sliver of mountain through the window. The window was asymmetric because the border on one side was a very shiny silver color while the far side was dark and much less pronounced. The silvery sill did not continue even across the top or bottom. Squinting at the picture Nevers keyed in on that one point but kept studying the surrounding hills, too. Intently staring he lost track of time and the screensaver popped up.
As he cursed under his breath, he reached for the control pad to the right of the keyboard. Jarring it, the screens all woke back up and the metadata screen caught his eye. Near the bottom was a line of changing text. Previously he had ignored it thinking it was a function of his scanning and panning. Watching it he began to see that it was the parts of the database that were changing. Someone was in the system updating.
Pessimistically assured of the need to retreat in a hurry, Lothar had instructed his team to download the system so that PDRA would continue to have a copy. No longer would there be parts of the island the natives were unable to monitor. A watered down copy of the system was ready to be installed once the copy was complete. Lothar’s men held Ybarovich captive for these two tasks.
The logical place to accomplish this was from Ybarovich’s own desk. Two PDRA soldiers watched him work. One sat in the chair, lazily looking out the window, the second perused the book titles on the shelf. He did not know any English, and Mark knew no Spanish so short of the rote activity of scanning from one book spine to the next nothing made sense to the soldier. He just knew he was bored.
Sweating profusely and without looking up, Mark scanned from his monitors to the two soldiers. Neither really seemed to pay him any mind as he went about transferring everything to his home system.
Things were not going as planned at the bunkers for Lothar.
Without a doubt, he could tell these were not the Air Force guards he had thought. Seasoned veterans were one thing, but these were seasoned Marines ready to fight tooth and nail to defend their ground. Until the third bunker was contained neither of the first could be unloaded. Six Heavy Expanded Tactical Trucks had been waiting just over the top of the ridge out of sight. Now Lothar had been forced to shift them down to reinforce his fighting position. Tactically the best option was a siege but Lothar knew there was no time for that.
Watching the changing metadata served little purpose, yet Nevers continued. Why was it catching his eye? Before figuring that out he snapped back to the still of the video.
The silvery frame on the edge of the picture was the flagpole. Now he had a second point to calculate from. Deftly maneuvering the database, he was able to determine his friends were being held in the MedCom Building in the middle of the complex. From the PDRA point of view, there was simply no better place. From Nevers’s point of view, there could not have been a worse.
Lamenting that fact, he continued to pull up the metadata on the building. By choosing the correct field he hoped to be able to pull up the blueprints so he scanned each field. He identified the right one but it was vacant. The building must have pre-dated electronic plans and had none on file. Nevers sat back in the chair and crossed his arms.
To come so far and fall short sucked. Glancing over he saw the changing metadata again. It appeared to be hung up, not changing as fast as it once did. After a second, it jumped back to life changing but again his eye was distracted by the adjacent screen.
The field had changed.
Ybarovaich had now copied all of the main post structures over. When the Atlanticans first approached him for this task he had started a second database. Watered down, not as complete. He eliminated the most critical aspects without making the database look like it had been altered. To have simply deleted whole shape files would have created suspicion. Which ones to eliminate was harder to figure out. And of course he could not eliminate the files he was unaware of. So the bunkers stayed in the system, but other locations had secrets he knew of. Those did not need to be turned over to the group that would now be the enemy.
Despite the fact that he would never be able to again step foot on American soil, Mark did not want to betray the country he once loved so much that it would cause their embarrassment or eventual defeat. It had been sheer luck that the PDRA Army had taken him to his office to work. It was much easier to switch the databases from here than if he were at home trying to do the same thing. That was one reason why he was sweating so much when he got tasked out to be the patrol squad’s guide.
The decision to eliminate the data on the MedCom Building was not based on the housing of the prisoners there. It had everything to do with the secret, that Nevers now had.
The way forward, to rescue the prisoners, to defeat the invaders, and to get out alive. All hidden in one little piece of electronic wizardry. Ybarovich and Nevers both smiled as they leaned back from the computers. For one, the long day had just ended, for the other it was only starting. But for both the writing was on the wall.