“The Righteous Stuff” – Chapter 14October 25, 2009
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
US OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES
US FEDERAL DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY
“Nate, how are you?” The front-office liaison, an Army lieutenant, stood up quickly from behind his desk and held out his hand, a wide smile on his face.
Nathaniel Stoddard was not willing to waste time on pleasantries with a glorified secretary. He ignored the hand, and kept moving toward the right side office door. “Is the Boss in? This can’t wait!” He already had his hand on the doorknob.
“Well, yes, but he’s on the phone with…” The lieutenant barely could get the word out before Stoddard was through the door and had slammed it behind him. The lieutenant slumped down into his chair. We really need better security in this place, he thought, even if it is to protect us from our own people.
“Bob, this is completely unacceptable!” Stoddard was obviously angry, and that was not something most people wanted to see twice. Normally his New England upbringing gave him an air of reticence, if anything. Angry shouting was not something Stoddard was known for. He stopped just short of the expansive oak desk of his superior officer.
Robert Amory was nominally a Lieutenant Colonel, with degrees from Harvard, including Harvard Law, class of ‘38. His commission and rank was necessary to his position as the final evaluator of intelligence in the OSS. He was not a military man, not in the spit-and-polish department, but he was a lawyer, and he had found it necessary to “handle” Stoddard before.
“Sit down, Major, before you burst a blood vessel. Take a deep breath, then tell me what your problem is. And by the way, Lieutenant Andrews is not just there for show, you know. You could have called.”
Stoddard dropped his rangy body into the chair. He was still obviously angry, though some of the fire was out of his face. “It’s just that, well…you can’t stick me out there! You can’t!”
Amory leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs and regarding his visitor with a level gaze. “I certainly can, Nate. I have the authority, of course. I’d rather that you were happy with it. But before you get ready to go to Donovan, you know I rarely make capricious decisions. Would you care at all to hear my reasoning?”
“I suppose so.”
He’s not giving in much, Amory thought. You better be good at this, Bob.
“First, you know that that facility sits in the middle of a bunch of dry lake beds in the high desert. Second, you know at least that we are testing all sorts of new, well, unorthodox, aircraft out there. With me so far?”
“What most people even in the government don’t know is that we are testing some stuff out there that is, shall we say, a little more unorthodox than people expect?”
“I don’t get it. And how does that apply to me?”
“This is Top Secret-clearance information, maybe higher than that. Our friends in the Alliance have no knowledge of what I am about to tell you – at least we don’t think they do – and I don’t know of more than six or seven elected officials who have any information about this.” He leaned forward, elbows on the desk, hands folded in front of his chin.
“A few years ago there was a crash of a vehicle in the desert Southwest. Luckily, it happened near one of our missile testing stations, White Sands, so we were able to get the remains of the vehicle under cover quickly, without civilian interference. This vehicle was not from this planet.”
Stoddard looked incredulous. “Bob, you can’t be serious. You’re sending me–one of your best field agents–out to the California desert because you have alien problems!” He started to laugh, then stopped when he saw that Amory had not changed expression.
“I’m serious, Nate. We don’t know who they were, or where they were from. We think they had mechanical problems. Some of the more, flexible, minds we can hire are still working on this, almost five years later. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Amory leaned back again, and looked out the window at Washington Park. The leaves on the oaks and maples outside the windows had begun to turn. He made a mental note to replace the trees with evergreens. No one should be able to look directly into the office window of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, especially not from a park. “And…there are a few answered ones. We’ve successfully reverse-engineered a few things. Are you familiar with cermets?”
“Ceramic-metallic mixtures. Able to withstand extremely high heat, with high strength and lighter than nickel-steel by more than half. We’re using various forms of cermets now on high-performance aircraft.”
“Are you trying to tell me that aliens, little green guys, brought us aircraft technology?”
“Gray, actually, but yes. I don’t have time to persuade you now. Frankly, I didn’t need to tell you that much. Suffice to say that we have very exotic technologies at work out there, and the Snakes would love to get their hands on it. And…,” he turned, and leveled his eyes at Stoddard. “These technologies are vital to producing an orbital spaceplane. Some folks at Bell Aircraft, our tame former Nazis, tell us that without such materials we could never build a plane that could fly into orbit. Traditional materials like steel and aluminum, and even titanium, just won’t cut it.”
“So we have the stuff of science fiction at work in California. What about me?” Stoddard still appeared unconvinced.
“No one knows better that you do what a security problem the Snakes are. We can’t tell who’s a Snake spy nearly as easily as they can detect us. Everybody out there is short-haired, and as physically fit as the Air Force can make them. And some of those guys have started to imitate this one hotshot pilot, a guy from Sequoyah, Jack Ridley, so they all affect a drawl now. You know that’s candy for a Snake.”
Stoddard nodded. It was always hard for him to sound like a Draka, with his New England clipped diction. Lots of old Southerners, like guys he knew from Georgia, for example, tried to eliminate their traditional drawl. It made them sound too much like the way a Draka villain was portrayed in the cinema. Those from farther west didn’t feel the same way, and didn’t seem to care how they spoke. Stoddard supposed it was like those folks who put away their Confederate flags because the neighbors didn’t like it. “It’s a tough problem. But I’m a field agent, or I train and run field agents. I’m not a security chief. What good can I do there? Can’t the Air Force security people do their own jobs?”
“You know what to look for. Subtle stuff: body carriage, vocabulary, stuff like that. This is important, Major Stoddard. It may be the most important thing you’ve ever done – even more so than what you did off the French coast during the war. The Air Force has convinced Donovan of one thing, and that is that whoever owns the ultimate High Ground – the low Earth orbital zone – will have the upper hand here on Earth. If we get there first, and the Snakes have to follow, we still have an advantage. If the Snakes get there first, well, you know what happens then. Game over.”
Stoddard sighed, looked down at his hands. “I understand how important the orbital race is. I know your boys in the desert have some fancy stuff we can’t let the Draka know about. But Bob, you know I’m not cut out to be a paper-shuffling security man.”
“We’re not going to make you a security chief. You’re a covert operative. You’re just covert in your own country. How much do you know about aircraft maintenance?”
This is worse, thought Stoddard. Now I’m a damned mechanic. Great.
Nathaniel Stoddard sat down on a bench in Washington Park to think. He knew, deep down, that this was an important mission. He understood completely the difficulties the young Alliance had, and particularly that the United States had, in hunting down Draka infiltrators. Not that we’ve had nearly so much luck on the other side, he thought. The Draka culture was so different, the Security Directorate so pervasive, that infiltration took years to accomplish, often with very limited results. Stoddard himself had run several such operations, one in particular right after the war that had, almost literally, blown up in his face. His team dead, the only decent intelligence asset a mentally-unstable French serf…not a particularly good operation for his record. His people did manage to destroy a family cache of atomic weapons—wasn’t that a horrible thought, families with their own personal atomic weapons—but Kustaa didn’t come back. And LeFarge…how much good was she, anyway? A fragile, Draka–hating Communist was not as unusual as you might thing in the US, but she hadn’t been in the Household as a serf long enough and hadn’t been focused enough to collect decent information. Stoddard looked in on the twins, of course; they were the result of LeFarge’s rape by a Draka “owner,” though they would never know that, if they were lucky. Nice kids. A little quiet and serious-minded, maybe. In fact, he should check in on them now that he was in New York for a bit…
Still, the California desert operation nagged at him. First, he’d be away from home for what could be a very long time. Second, it could be a wild goose chase of the first order. There was apparently no evidence of Draka infiltration, so he would be insurance, or a sort. He could spend the next year, or more, chasing spies who weren’t there.
“What are they building out there?” Stoddard asked himself. He had heard rumors, and he knew his country and the Draka were both racing to get something into low Earth orbit. Several high–ranking military men had made the point, a little too publicly for Stoddard, this notion that Earth orbit was the ultimate “high ground.” Whoever owned space would own the Earth, and in the case of the Draka, that was quite a literal statement.
Each country had spirited away – basically kidnapped – as many German rocket scientists as they could find before the war wound down or before they could be killed in the rains of nuclear fire. Stoddard had been briefed on some of that. A few were even considered upstanding public citizens, now, despite the fact that a very few years ago they were creating the means to drop atomic weapons on New York and Boston. Most of those men seemed obsessed with space, and the idea of travel in it. They were the ultimate mercenaries, seeking to achieve their own ends by signing on to any government that would fund their research. Stoddard doubted they had any idea what uses the governments would find for their spacecraft, and he guessed they didn’t care too much about that. After all, they were Nazi officers, most of them.
Stoddard expected he would find American engineers and scientists who had similar views out there. They probably need someone like me, he thought. Someone really paranoid. But is it paranoia when they really are out to get you?