It was early morning when Commander Ian
Williams eighty minute flight across the Pacific arrived low over the
California coast. His unmanned escorts spread out to either side and he felt
the thrust of the power plant change as his jet descended into the thickening
atmosphere. Reclined comfortably aboard, the commander watched the world around
him through his uniform display. The sun shone brightly through gaps in the
overcast that partially covered the Mountain. Its rocky southern face was
silhouetted against the morning light, giving it a deeply beautiful, larger
than life appearance. The capital of California may have been San Diego, but
inside El Cajon Mountain was where most locals lived in this largest of
Californias underground cities. Built into solid rock at a high enough
altitude to avoid even the worst tidal waves, the mountain dwellings were home
to hundreds of thousands of Californians.
The commander grunted slightly at the deceleration as his jet roared up the
main river valley leading to the mountain. Steering itself off to port, the
jets destination suddenly reappeared immediately forward, the uneven
rocky flanks of the mountain punctuated by landing areas and giant skylights. A
short burst of discussion between Mountain Traffic Control and Williams
aircraft brought the Australian flight low and slow into the military sector
along the shallow western slopes. The commander felt a gentle bounce of contact
with the landing cradle and within moments his jet was taxied into the low wide
doors of the waiting hangar. Behind him, the small Australian escort jets
landed in groups and followed in a line like flat, oversized ducklings.
While his escorts were still pulling up in a row next to his jet, Williams took
a quick note of his own aircrafts skin temperature; it was more than cool
enough to walk on in his uniform, he ordered the canopy retracted. He stood,
rolled his shoulders a bit, unsealed the hood on his uniform and stepped out
onto the wing, pausing for a few moments to absorb the sight of a busy
Californian terminal. The long, low hall went on for a couple of hundred meters
into the mountain. Packed into launch modules were air superiority jets and
dual purpose aircraft for flights into low Earth orbit, but nothing
particularly large. He knew from his intelligence orientation that the north
side of the mountain held other larger hangars for orbital delivery systems and
heavier air breathers. The broad curved ceiling of this hangar did not seem to
have anything holding it up, but upon closer examination Williams thought he
could see opaque structures in a modular network crisscrossing the entire span.
Well, it obviously had not collapsed and he generally assumed the Californians
knew what they were doing especially with their gifted Japanese
Williams halted his sight-seeing and looked closer at hand. Standing on the
arrival mezzanine a short way down from him was his California State Department
contact, Sonya Ortiz. She was smiling slightly, watching him on the wing of his
jet. He decided in favor of the unexpected and gave a short, informal wave. She
returned the wave and walked further down toward the commander as he stepped
easily onto the mezzanine.
Commander Williams, it is good to see you again.
Thank you Miss Ortiz, it is a pleasure to meet you again under better
personal conditions, even if the planet hasn't improved much.
Williams was struck by her generally congenial nature, which had not seemed
very apparent from their last meeting. But then again she was a person who
obviously knew her business and how to separate that from everything else. In
any case, it was the Californians who asked for this visit, not the
Well, we are just glad that you had fewer problems with the Selangor this
time, but I also see that you brought friends. she commented, motioning
with her arm toward the air supremacy escorts parked obediently next to the
controller jet that Williams had flown.
Is it true by the way Commander, that you are an actual pilot? she
Yes mam. he responded casually, I can even fly those little
guys manually, although it would not buy me anything extra as far as
performance goes. It's just something I enjoy.
Well commander, if you are here long enough I can possibly arrange for
you to fly something a little larger. she said with that cryptic smile of
hers. But first things first Commander. she added, cutting straight
to business as was her style. This gentleman coming our way is Jonathan
Markham of the National Intelligence Office. She motioned at a
middle-aged man in his seventies walking toward them from the base of the
mezzanines landing dock.
On that queue Markham arrived and held his hand up in greeting.
Good morning Commander. he said in a deep, rich voice.
Pleased to meet you, I hope we will be able to make your stay an
Thank you, ummmm
Williams hesitated for a moment. In
Australia a person in Markhams position would be a military officer, but
apparently not in California. Markham helped Williams out of his information
blackout by explaining; I am a civilian Commander Williams, you may call
me Jonathan or Mr. Markham, whichever you see fit.
I'll probably call you Sir if you are looking for fitness Mr.
Markham, but I will try the others. The habits of a lifetime you know.
Williams added with another smile.
Williams was acutely reminded that California had historically avoided
government or military exchanges and that his visit might be an important one.
He already regretted looking around the inside of their hangar, but Ortiz
seemed not to care. But still. he warned himself. Remember,
sometimes appearances are
With introductions out of the way, the party of three walked to the arrival
hall and out through the many offices and command centers that made up the
military sector in this part of the mountain. Everything was extremely neat and
modern. Much of the architecture was gracefully crafted metallic, some of it
exotic by Australian standards. Passing out through the Cal-Army transit
station, they were soon underway for the short trip into the heart of the city.
The Cal-Army transit gateway joined into the civilian sector at what was known
as the Third Hall. Williams was astonished by the diameter and great height of
the hall itself. As its name indicated, it was the third of seven such
cylindrical tower halls that formed the core of the citys
inhabited zone. They were all connected by an intricate series of elevators and
Wow. he blurted out without thinking. In a more subdued tone he
quickly followed-up, Major living areas like this are designed rather
differently in Australia, over there they tend to be smaller volume and
shorter, but in greater quantities.
Well commander, we have the same thing in the form of satellite locations
around the mountain, and further south you will probably notice cities look
more like Australia. These seven tower halls took a while to excavate an
eighth is already being planned. Please, come this way.
They passed across the hall to another set of elevators and powered up twenty
levels to another transit terminal. Some areas under the mountain were
obviously older, with narrower passages and smaller public areas. But most of
the construction was kept up to date in the form of wide, spacious passageways
with shining walls that dramatically showcased crystalline basement rock
revealed by the excavation. Most of the rock was a beautiful cream colored
granite highlighted by white volcanic dikes and sills. At points where natural
caves had formed, they were incorporated into the architecture with flying
bridges. This had given way to designer chasms and there were
several artificial gorges with exceptionally beautiful bridge and plaza work
built into them. Humanity had come a long way since they fled to the hills
during the great evacuation.
Before long the trio was standing at the top of the First Hall, an area which
mostly housed government offices. A mere eighty feet above them, a few plazas
and ceremonial government buildings decorated the mountain top. People could go
up there when the weather was tolerable.
Would you like to enjoy a bit of time up at the top Commander? Jonathan
needs to part ways for a while, but we will meet him again later. The
commander smiled and nodded. They took a separate elevator to the surface;
Williams carefully noted the MGV modules and countermeasures built into these
elevators which actually saw open air.
The morning was still overcast and very cold, but the view was excellent. Down
in the valley, scud clouds rushed along in the wind and Williams thought he
could hear ice crunching far below. As they walked along the sheltered
promenade at the top of the mountain, Ortiz steered back to business.
Well Commander, I would like to thank you for what appears to have been
an excellent transmission of the advice I offered when we spoke last. I had not
formed much in the way of expectations one way or another, but I must admit we
were surprised by Australias how should I say
distinct response; you obviously
anticipated elements of the situation we had not felt confident to share. Our
own expectations were merely a halt in activity which might give us time to
anticipate a next course of action. I hope the difficult nature of our message
was not a personal liability for you.
Actually Miss Ortiz. answered Williams. It was not as
difficult as you might think. When one knows an action is the wisest course, it
tends to soften what some people might consider to be objectionable. He
paused as he continued walking, a few snowflakes came drifting by and melted on
the walkway in front of him. An icy wind was picking up.
We were surprised however, at the relatively light slap on the wrist the
Selangor received. With this last observation, the Australian commander
looked over at Ortiz inquisitively, not quite raising an eyebrow, he did not
Yes Commander. she replied. We also noticed that. I hope you
do not think that California helped to orchestrate this whole thing with the
Japanese manipulating Australia in the process. If that is what you
meant, I can at least assure you that nobody works with the Japanese that
closely. Even had the opportunity presented itself, we would have needed to
consider very closely the various implications. And if we did decide to move
forward, we would have relied on more than a single back channel
That was an underlying belief at our meetings; that and the simple
conclusion that the Japanese were not likely to care about one side more than
the other. Williams replied.
Very true Commander, I am glad to see that at least some people in
Australia have an idea of how the Japanese operate.
Not everybody Miss Ortiz. replied Williams. There are some
who believed in a California-Japan conspiracy.
Ortiz half-sneered and half-winced; To believe that grossly overestimates
how closely the Japanese work with anyone but other Japanese.
With that her sneer transformed into a slight smile, she was regularly pleased
with her cynical humor.
Well, Williams replied. I appreciate your candor. I have to
admit that after such a long time viewing California as a distant observer of
world events, it is curious to see this level of engagement. Do you mind my
asking what has been the moving force behind the change in policy?
Not at all Commander. she replied. I would be happy to
explain at least that which would concern Australia.
Williams privately winced. He had obviously asked exactly the question Ortiz
wanted him to. He found himself momentarily wishing he were back on orbital
service, somehow that was simpler than these verbal sparring sessions.
Ortiz continued, choosing to ignore the barely noticeable twitch on
Williams part. I am afraid I will be answering your question with a
question, but so it goes, eh Commander? she said, looking slyly over at
the Australian officer.
Was that your question? he asked.
Haha, touché, no. she replied with a smile. More snowflakes
blew in from the north and the clouds were growing grey and frosty looking;
there was a great deal more snow to come.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a few brief moments, like someone preparing
to recite something long memorized. Commander Williams, are you aware of
any strange or unusual reports regarding animal life of any kind, possibly in
the course of your intelligence briefings or as a result of combat
Williams facial expression was a blank. He looked over at her
I know, this is not what you expected, but I'm completely serious. Have
there been any odd reports of unexplained personnel disappearances, unusually
violent wildlife attacks on remote military patrols, anything of the
Her gaze was steady, she was indeed serious, but Williams was still trying to
absorb the question.
Im at a loss for the moment Miss Ortiz, I cannot even begin to
imagine how or why this would justify a hitherto rare liaison visit. It sounds
more like a question for an academic.
No. Ortiz relied immediately. It is not. But that is
understandable Commander. We thought that your reaction would be one of
She stopped walking and looked directly at Williams.
Allow me to provide a context. A benefit of talking to a military liaison
Commander is the knowledge that he knows how to keep
information to himself.
She paused to let that sink in and then continued; Quite a while back, a
party of civilian hunters operating outside the border came upon an animal that
was extremely unusual. Looking at Williams to gauge his response, Ortiz
decided to continue; There was only one survivor of the expedition, and
the follow up reports were odd and somewhat disturbing. We conducted an
investigation to make sure this was not a hoax, and also to confirm that the
animal in question did not originate from a single source, in other words that
it was not an invention.
We have confirmed that the animal in question appears to have been
naturally derived, and that its isotope signature establishes it as an Earth
based creature. Its general form was also along the lines of known species,
albeit with substantial variation.
Substantial variation? Williams asked with a glimmer of doubt in
his voice. Could you be more detailed? How much variation? he
cleared his throat.
Seeing that the Australian was becoming more questioning and not less, Ortiz
cut to the point; The problem with this animal
Commander Williams, is that it was
exceedingly difficult for five heavily armed men to fend off, it was only
killed after the team leader called in an orbital strike on it and worse of
all, sequencing indicates that it might never have died naturally
With that the Australians attention focused more tightly on her words,
his eyes narrowed, she continued; Not only did it appear to be
biologically immortal or nearly so but its makeup contained large
percentages of elements not normally associated with biological life. It was
utterly strange, and unfortunately it seems to be an apex predator. Even more
unfortunate, it seems to kill for sport.
Williams thoughtfully nodded his head and paused for a few seconds before
responding; This is very unusual, but why could it not have been sent
through more normal research channels. Why not contact the university in
Darwin? Or have your own universities contact them, those people talk to each
other all the time more than our governments do.
With that, she looked at the ground as if deciding how tough to get with him.
What would you have me do with this information? Or not do for that
matter. asked the Australian.
Report back to your superiors in Australia, keep your eyes open, ask them
to keep their eyes open. Inquire amongst people you trust. This is only the
most strange of several incidents we have isolated as being abnormal. So far
there has not been enough of a trend for civilian news to get a hold on it, and
academics are often so immersed in their hyper-specialties that they do not
always absorb the big picture. For us on the other hand, the big picture is
definitely one of our jobs and in this case it is something that has both come
to our attention and been deemed worthy of further investigation. Now as you
yourself are probably aware, we as a people are not in the habit of having our
heads stuck in our rears. And these are either bizarre isolated incidents, or a
trend that should not be left as a mysterious curiosity.
Williams thought for a moment, but was still not entirely convinced, which was
fine with Ortiz. That was better than someone who pretended they understood
when they did not. The commander continued his thought aloud; So
California is going to depart from their long held neutrality because of some
odd experimental animal left in the wastes? Granted, not dying naturally is
disturbing, but if I am not mistaken by looking at these threads, this animal
would be slow to develop. How do you know this wasnt the only one of
these things? Why ping Australia for help with this?
Its not so much help Commander. she replied, It is the
sense among some here that this requires a group effort. Just in case this is
part of a worldwide trend which has been off of our radar so-to-speak. Frankly,
having something like this happen in a location that is effectively our back
yard is not something the government cares to have happen. And to be blunt, if
this is the beginning of a bioassault sponsored by a government from outside
our region, we will find out who did this and we
will get involved.
Much more soberly now, Williams continued; So there have been other
similar reports? he asked.
Ortiz looked long at him and countered with a monosyllabic Yes.
Hard to tell, but our current estimate is years.
How do you know it is not Australia doing this? Why divulge this
information at all until you can find out more?
Because Ortiz replied, We are confident that Australia has
the Eylau Sequence and it is very unlikely that the ES would advise your armed
forces to play around at undermining the most advanced country on the planet
whilst in the middle of a major war against the most populous country on the
planet. Whoever is doing this, our opinion is that it is not Australia.
Alright, you have my attention Miss Ortiz, but the thought that nags at
me most is why has this phenomenon not been spotted in Australia?
Maybe it has and you dont know it. Ortiz looked long and hard
He paused and nodded his head thoughtfully. He knew little about California,
but she was right, they had a reputation. Anything coming from them needed to
be considered with care no matter how odd it seemed. And after all, he was a
liaison, not judge. He felt he had asked the right questions, and without a
doubt she had supplied the correct answers.
evening Williams was back out in the terminal, standing near his jet. Following
an afternoon review with several Cal-Army officers and a visit to the Great
Evacuation Museum, he was back on the mezzanine talking to Sonya Ortiz again.
She had been absent for much of the day, stopping by long enough for his lunch
at the museum. But it devolved on her to see the commander off on his return
flight to Darwin.
you again Miss Ortiz, for your kind invitation. I am sure people in Darwin will
be interested in everything we have discussed today.
pleased Commander. she replied. I dont know how we would have
gone about this had you not fallen in our back yard, but there you go,
sometimes fate resolves as well as confuses.
note, Williams turned and stepped on to the wing of his jet. As he was about to
ease himself down into the cockpit, he paused and turned; By the way Miss
Ortiz, I cannot say where, but we did lose an entire reconnaissance team a few
months ago in a remote area of Asia. Gone without a trace. he looked at
her with the proverbial what do you think of that? question mark
hanging between them. Her eyebrow raised and she cocked her head in thought.
Yeah. he said. Until now everyone thought the Selangor did
the Commander eased himself into his jet and the canopy slid noiselessly into
position. He needed to return to Darwin, there were a lot of people he wanted
to speak with.
Next: 19. Questions for Darwin