began in issue 122.
Chapter 2 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 3: Santander, Spain
The Commander, Anti-Terrorism (North) of CeSID, the Spanish Intelligence Agency, barred his phone and closed the door of his office with a firmness which made it clear to everyone outside that it would stay closed until he chose to re-open it. He needed to clear his head again, and think harder.
Things had started to go crazy at seven o’clock the previous evening. That had been the end of his Sunday with the family. He couldn’t have had more than an hour’s sleep since then, and it was still far from over.
Two huge concurrent bursts of radio energy, the alerts had trumpeted; coming from somewhere up there, very close to each other, and directed at the northern coast of Spain ...
The Spanish army, air force, navy and internal security forces had been on joint anti-terrorist rapid-reaction stand-by for a very long time, with helicopters stationed near the high-risk areas. Bilbao was certainly one of those. His biggest headache.
So, he owned the problem within CeSID. His phone had scarcely stopped ringing. Every imaginable defence and policing agency in and around Europe, and some others that very few people could ever imagine, had gone secretly onto their highest levels of security alert. And they all wanted answers and action.
Sure, it had been feared for some time that subversive elements might try to re-programme an existing communications satellite, for terrorist purposes. But he could offer no explanations to those who were hounding him. No, there were not two malfunctioning satellites in that area of the sky at that time — no, not even one! They knew that anyway. How was he supposed to know what had caused the signals? That’s what he expected someone to tell him.
And it had gone on like that; round and round the same argument, with countless “extremely important” callers (extremely impotent, he had started to call them now), throughout the night and most of the morning.
Then, just when things had begun to calm down, when those callers were probably at last starting to focus on what, if anything, they should tell their minor politicians and the press, there had been that abrupt, very strong signal from the centre of Bilbao itself. That really had worried him; it was probably the precursor to some terrible attack. His people had reacted fast — they had been airborne within five minutes. Then it had all gone badly wrong, with that stupid false lead ...
And there had been no incident, anyway.
What was that signal from Bilbao? It must have generated a strong sympathetic transmission on a particular mobile phone frequency, because the initial reaction of the first monitoring station to jump on it was that a “doctored” phone was being used for something special.
This conclusion was then obviously just simplified down, at the Bilbao HQ, to an abrupt order to the local special branch: “Find a mobile phone at these co-ordinates.” All the Bilbao police forces were on continuous alert for terrorist activity, anyway. Rapid over-reaction this time, perhaps ... because the reports were now suggesting it had not been a phone call, but something more sophisticated ...
Well, whatever the reasons, they had lost those precious early moments — and with every minute that passed now, the chances of picking up that woman grew slimmer. She sounded like the sort of operator who would have an extremely good escape plan. But why do it all in public? Was she a separatist? What sort of signal had she sent? Where to? Who to? Why? And what had been done with the message?
Nobody had come back to him with any answers — not even something on the type of signal. That was what bothered him most. Why couldn’t all those techies crack it? It seemed to be as great a mystery as yesterday’s. So, were they related? They had to be — the coincidence was too great. But then again ... it was certain that no known satellites were misbehaving. And no newly-rich power had tossed up two rockets in the last few days to deploy two new ones! The very idea of that was laughable, of course. No, yesterday’s events must just have been some strange sort of cosmic radiation, something for the eggheads to puzzle over for months to come. Just because the rays happened to strike the Earth near Bilbao, everyone assumed the worst ...
If they did strike the Earth, that is ...
He had been trying to sort this one out in his mind for hours now. Why had there been no reports mentioning exactly where the rays had come to Earth? Surely that mattered? Why had the monitoring agencies only discussed the sources of the bursts of energy, and not mentioned their targets? Didn’t he need to know this, to be able to deliver the goods they were demanding? Without such clues, they were just searching for a needle in a haystack; and that needle wearing the red scarf had made her clever escape, many hours earlier ...
But he could not conjure up the answers. He had to work with what they had been given, and the precious little his team had since discovered.
He picked up the phone and issued two new sets of orders.
To his agents in Bilbao: ‘Get more men. Widen the search. Stay with it till 1700 hours. Then drop it. Debrief at 0800 tomorrow, my office — I want some sleep tonight!’
And to his personal assistant: ‘Another pot of coffee — and find me a sandwich!’
To be continued ...