Chapter 3: Strike Back
“We will not be successful in preventing attacks every time,” Scotty remarked grimly, leaning forward to emphasize his words.
He was speaking to his inner circle, in the first family’s private quarters. Scotty and his wife, Belinda, were sitting on a leather loveseat.
JJ was seated on an overstuffed chair with her son, Noah, sitting on one knee, and Mike, her twenty-four month old grandson, on her other knee. The two babies were laughing quietly as JJ bounced them. JJ held the position of the President’s personal physician. Caleb was sitting in another overstuffed chair, placed at a slight angle to JJ’s. Their legs were touching, and each bounce caused them to rub together. It was distracting, but in a good way.
Ryan Flannigan and Kim were on a couch. Kim was keeping a close eye on her son, Mike, as her mom bounced him on her knee. Kim was still amazed that such a perfect little person had resulted from their union. Ryan was the President’s advisor on Space, and was expected to squash any impediment to mankind getting into space. Kim, on the other hand, was a genius at pulling information from massive databases, on any subject. She had finished her undergraduate requirements at A&M in her first year. She had transferred to Rice University in Houston, and completed her Master’s in Computer Science with minors in Statistics, Mathematics, and Neuroscience in two years. She also worked with her ‘Uncle Bran’ to determine ways to further upgrade the armor available to all host/Companions. Kim had been one of Scotty’s key assistants in the year before his election. Scotty had kept her as one of his inner circle, after he was elected. The first thing she had done, when moving to Washington DC, was enroll at Georgetown University. Her study focus was Bioinformatics, the study of genomics and proteomics.
Ryan’s brother, Flan was there, but he was pacing like a tiger in a cage. He didn’t like to be away from his wife, Joyce, or their son, Nathan. He was also worried about the one time they weren’t successful in stopping a terrorist.
Singer was leaning back against a wall in a ladder-back chair, frowning in agreement with Scotty. He missed Gaby, too, but he was accomplished at pushing worries and concerns into a little box in his mind, and closing the door. He was totally focused on the problem, and running one scenario after another through his mind, searching for a solution.
Flan’s wife Joyce was still at Texas A&M, working on an idea for an electric furnace. She was confident that, in six months, she could have a furnace small enough to fit in a satellite, and efficient enough to be run by solar panels and batteries. If they put rail guns in space, they would need an automated rearming mechanism using the materials found in space. Building structures in space would be more economical if the components could be manufactured in space. An automated electric furnace could smelt orbital debris into many useful items.
Singer’s wife, Gaby, was still in Texas running the restaurant Refugio East. She was in the process of training a new manager for the restaurant, so she could join her husband in Washington DC. Her new manager was also a good candidate for a Companion, so the training was expected to come to an abrupt end, soon. The ability to transfer large amounts of data via Companions was handy.
“He’s right,” Flan rumbled, after the group was quiet for a moment. “We’ve got to find a way to stop them from trying. Last night was the second attempt since the election, and the sixth since you officially announced that you were running.”
“That sniper worries me,” Singer mused aloud. “That hotel was locked down tight. He didn’t have time to reach the street, but he still got away.”
“I know something needs to be done, but I don’t want to commit to an action, just to say that we’re doing something,” Scotty grumbled. “I won’t throw lives away for a show.”
“Congress is primed, after last night,” Belinda pointed out hesitantly. “I think you have enough political capital to get the approval to commit troops. We need to go in and stomp out that infestation of lunatics.”
“Spoken like a true Texan,” Scotty said with a chuckle, before hugging her to his side, and kissing her forehead.
“I’m sure we could kill a lot of lunatics,” Belinda volunteered with a smile, “But I don’t think that sending in thousands of troops would really solve the problem. It would focus more attention on that area of the world, and ISIS would simply use it to entice more volunteers.”
“Belinda’s right,” Caleb grumbled in frustration. “We need to be able to attack in a way that can’t be used for propaganda.”
“What if they didn’t know they were being attacked?” Kim asked thoughtfully.
Ryan looked at his wife as if she had just lost her mind, and asked, “How can someone be attacked, and not know it?”
Kim shrugged, gesturing towards Caleb, Flan, and Singer, saying, “I don’t know. Those guys are the experts. What if their trucks quit running, or their ammunition blew up, or their fuel depots blew up, and there wasn’t anyone around except their own people?”
The feet of Singer’s chair hit the floor as he exclaimed, “That’s it! That would work!”
“How do you figure that?” Flan asked. “We can’t field more than ten combat ready hosts, and some of them need to be here to protect the President.”
“So? Why not create a special unit within Special Forces?” Singer asked. “We’re still expanding the number of hosts. Why not focus on military instead of politicians and scientists? We have a few military hosts now. We can use them as the core for selection and training.”
“What size of unit do you think you would need to make a significant impact?” Scotty asked.
“Unit sizes of no more than thirty or forty,” Singer promptly responded. “Plus maybe another fifteen for remote support. “A group of thirty host/Companions would be large enough to do serious damage, while staying out of the way of the bad guys. A unit that small would be easy to resupply, too.”
“Would you run the operation?” Scotty asked.
“No way,” Singer scoffed. “I wouldn’t mind going, and fighting, but I don’t think I’m the best choice for running a unit that size.”
“Me neither,” Flan chimed in. “Singer and I are good with fire-team, or squad size commands. We’re good with small unit tactical decisions. We would need someone in charge that can make good tactical decisions within a strategic framework. In other words, someone really sneaky.”
Scotty, Flan, and Singer swung their eyes towards Caleb.
“Aw ... Come on, guys!” Caleb complained.
“Okay ... That’s settled,” Scotty said, leaning forward, ignoring Caleb’s complaint.
“Damn it!” Caleb swore.
“How do we recruit for this special unit?” Scotty asked, ignoring Caleb’s rising ire.
Flan and Singer looked at Caleb, eyebrows raised.
“Do I have to do all the heavy lifting?” Caleb grumbled plaintively. He huffed before saying, “Put out an all service bulletin to each service’s special operations groups requesting volunteers. The bulletin should be classified as secret. Announce that a special unit is being formed ... a unit similar to Delta, or better yet, a new subset of Delta. We can set it up in the boonies at the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Base. The terrain will match what we’ll have in Iraq and Syria. Place the initial class at three or four hundred. Then, start training hard, and whittle them down to thirty or forty, based on psychological profile. It should take less than a month. The second or third week of the training, we can begin preparing them for being exposed to Companions. Once we have our team, and they have Companions and armor, we should spend another four weeks training as a team, with the armor. Rinse and repeat until we have a battalion. If we’re going to do this, we might as well get ready for the big show, too.”
“While you’re training up the first unit, we can begin working out battle tactics, support, and resupply. We’ve never engaged in the type of combat we’ll be facing, and I don’t want to spend bodies on a learning curve,” Scotty mused.
“Your armor will be deployed,” JJ pointed out. “Nothing can get through that, short of a fifty-caliber.”
Caleb rocked his hand as if he were balancing something, and said, “They have a lot of fifty-calibers, twenty millimeters, grenades, and artillery. And that .308 round that hit Jimmy last night left one serious bruise.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” JJ retorted flatly.
“Don’t worry, honey,” Caleb comforted his wife. “They can’t hit what they can’t see and we’ll have another advantage. We will be operating with clear objectives and plans, while the enemy will be wondering what is going on. That reduces the danger to the odds of being hit by a car while walking down any street in America.”
Singer was nodding, and added, “Caleb’s right. Establish clear mission objectives, prioritized, and how you plan on accomplishing the objectives.”
Caleb sighed glumly before saying, “I’ll let Bran know that we’re going to have some special needs for this project. Maybe he can pull some of those rabbits out of his hat that he’s been promising.”
“That takes care of fighting the demon, but how are we going to keep watch for the aliens?” JJ asked. “All the preparation in the world is useless if we don’t know when to use whatever we prepare. We need to know when they show up so we can react.”
“I’ve notified key individuals at NASA,” Scotty replied. “US Observatories already have routines for notification when something unusual is found. I’m not sure what more we can do using government resources,” he concluded, frowning at the limitations.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t be using government resources,” Kim mused. “Scotty, can you get some money in a science grant for astronomy?”
“I can, but how would it be used,” Scotty asked cautiously, his eyes narrowing. Kim’s ideas were usually pretty good, but they could sometime be hair brained, too.
“Amateur Astronomers!” Kim replied, as if that explained everything.
“And?” Scotty prodded.
“We set up a program to encourage amateur astronomers,” Kim explained. “Something like ... um ... maybe ... Fifty dollars a month for amateur astronomers that comply with the program rules. The rules would be that they get fifty a month but would need to prove they spent at least twenty hours per month using their telescopes for viewing within the solar system. They would need to submit logs and time stamped digital images for each time slot recorded for proof. An expert in the know can peruse the images to look for anything out of the ordinary, in case the amateurs miss something.”
“Wouldn’t that put us at least a month behind whatever is happening?” Scotty asked, his brow wrinkling in thought.
Kim frowned and shrugged, saying, “If an amateur does see something unusual, they report it immediately. The first to report something unusual gets ... um ... say, five hundred dollars. If multiple people report an anomaly, we pay five hundred to whoever has the earliest time stamp, and two hundred fifty to the next time stamp and one hundred to the third.”
“How did you come up with that idea, honey?” JJ asked. “It’s brilliant!”
Kim blushed but said, “There was a Amateur Astronomers Convention in town last week and I stopped by. It was actually pretty interesting.” She looked at Scotty as she continued, “We can limit this to US astronomers, but I don’t think we should. The attendance at the conference was eight or nine hundred, but I think American astronomers only made up about half of them.”
Scotty was nodding thoughtfully, his eyes unfocused, while slowly saying, “I like it. We don’t expose anything. We get a lot of eyes on from people that love what they’re doing, and at a very reasonable cost.”
His eyes focused and he grinned at Kim. “Girl, you’re a keeper!”
Scotty settled in the chair behind a desk in a secondary office, in a bunker, far below the White House. Arrayed in front of him, in a semi-circle, were the majority and minority leaders of the House and the Senate. None of them looked happy. Political leaders didn’t like being summoned to a meeting, without knowing the details of the agenda. Their egos were too fragile for such rough handling.
There were a few congressmen that matched the psychological profile to be considered hosts to Companions. Unfortunately, none of them were in the Congressional leadership. The walking egos sitting across from him were too wrapped up in their own importance to be viable hosts. Scotty vowed to himself to change that situation in the mid-term election cycle with some judicious campaigning.
“Lady, and gentlemen, thanks for coming,” Scotty began briskly. “I apologize for the cloak and dagger drill, but I had a reason for it. As you may have noticed, we have a problem in the Middle East; specifically, ISIS.”
“Mister President,” the house minority leader interrupted. “If we had followed the plan my party supported, two years ago, we wouldn’t be having a problem in the Middle East.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, I don’t care who proposed what before I took the oath of office,” Scotty said drily. “Your party had plenty of opportunity to resolve the issue, the same as mine had. I can’t base a strategy on the political infighting of the last eight years. This is not about politics. While the Democrats and the Republicans were playing politics, we gave up all the progress we spent American lives to secure, so don’t go there. This is about solving an issue while spending as few American lives as possible. That political infighting is one of the reasons we are seeing so many attacks on our soil. If you want to play politics instead of addressing the serious issues facing this nation, you will find a very difficult election in the next cycle, if you even survive that long. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mister President,” the former House Speaker said, as she cringed back in her seat.
“Good! I asked for the meeting here because I know it’s secure,” Scotty continued. “What I am about to tell you is classified ‘Top Secret - Presidential’. Do all of you understand that?”
The four politicians answered in the affirmative, but with varying degrees of grace.