Patience: A Short Story

This idea for a short story came about when I thought up the little technical curiosity that is the centerpiece of the story. It's something different.

It was always nice to look down at the world from 45,000 feet. You could enjoy the beauty of the earth without having to filter out all the suckers cluttering up the landscape. From here, they didn’t even register as ants. The sprawl and detritus they left in their wakes was invisible. Granted, those suckers had made him a very rich man, but that didn’t make him any fonder of them. For years he had been amazed by how easy it had been to push buttons and manipulate opinion by the right turn of a phrase or strategically recursive sound bite.

Up here, you didn’t have to see the lives broken by misdeeds. It was clean and clear. Not like recent world history at all.

This trip was very special. Thomas Archibald was journeying for the last time. Of that he was sure. Enroute to China from his homeland. Traveling in high style, courtesy of a lot of the people who would be only too happy to see him dead. Enjoying the luxuries of one of his favorite models of private jet. Quietly leased for this one flight. A man like him had to be careful. Particularly a man like him.

It wasn’t everybody who could thumb his nose at the United States and live, in plain sight, to tell about it. Years earlier he had used his wealth and media empire to support a failed coup. Of course it had all been couched in a promise to 'take back America', but at its core it was no different from any banana republic power grab. Exactly what they were taking America back from was pretty nebulous - other than a democratically elected administration and that pesky Constitution.

The President and his family had been lost but the Vice President had turned out to be better at his job than had been supposed. Turned out that the American heartland didn’t consider treason and murder to be appropriate family values no matter how you spun it. An unfortunate and unforeseen complication from the perspective of the conspirators. The fury against Muslims in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks was nothing compared to the rage that flared when the extent of the betrayal became known. And the identity of those responsible. The gallows and firing ranges had been pretty busy with the grim work of retribution, fed by almost every court in the land. All busy handling trials at all levels of society and government. The appeals process took a back seat to expediency. If a case could be moved to a military court, it was.

The work of rough justice had been aided by the fact that the conspirators hadn’t felt a particular need to cover their tracks. After all, they had successfully spread disinformation for years and no one had ever been able to take them to task. They got cocky. They had forgotten that people will go along with a lot when it doesn't directly affect them, but not so much when it does. Their well greased apparatus for disseminating and coordinating information betrayed them for it had created clear paths for the investigators to follow. Details that should have been eliminated had been retained probably in anticipation of the huge book deals that these self-styled patriots imagined would be coming their way.

The so called civilized world was appalled at the carnage. At first, great lengths were taken to ensure that it was all very legal (or at least seemed defensible to those in charge) but the shear volume and speed of it looked more and more like a purge to outsiders. There had been riots, organized attacks and episodes of madness. For a time it looked as if civil war would erupt. In truth, many little civil wars resulted. Every nut job with a grudge streamed from the woodwork. Fortunately they weren’t organized. But squelching them all took a toll on a battered nation. The Constitution turned out to be poor protection from bullets entering flesh. Once people stopped looking to it for protection, things spiraled out of control.

Posse Comitatus was conveniently overlooked. On more than one occasion a smart bomb ended negotiations with some fringe group. In the simple economics of the time, social order by time-on-target artillery was cheaper than trials of large numbers of renegades. As it turned out, the unabridged freedom to bear arms had not resulted in any pockets of resistance that a task force of M1a2 TUSK's couldn’t handle. Granted, a few RPG’s and the like were smuggled in to the country. But once the source of the shipments had been identified, the high altitude regime change in the wrecked city of Pyongyang, seemed to have dissuaded copycats.

Some cool headed leaders from both major political parties finally were able to quell the worst of the violence. The fact that the most rabid factions were among the now glorious dead didn't hurt. They convinced enough people that they had been fooled into becoming pawns to power brokers. The upheaval damn near collapsed the world’s economy, already reeling from a world wide recession. Millions suffered world-wide. Some, directly from the fighting in America, some from the economic turmoil, and some from the small wars that erupted when it was realized that America was preoccupied at the moment.

Relations with Canada would never be the same as U.S. forces had paid no heed to map coordinates when pursuing targets. A lot of the targets seemed to be in northern border states which didn’t help. The official U.S. position of ‘what are you going to do about it?’ pretty much ended the any pretense. Canada briefly considered an EU offer of garrison troops along its border but concluded that fueling the paranoia of the times was probably not in their interests, particularly considering that the great majority of their population lived in tactical striking distance from U.S. bases. The ruins of northern Mexico reinforced the presumed wisdom of that decision. The U.S. had made it clear to the EU that their little offer would not be soon forgotten. In the U.S. the threat of EU intervention wasn’t seen as defending a sovereign nation from the spill over of violence within its borders. It was seen as a long standing wish to see America humbled. It would be decades, if ever, before the rift with Europe was healed. An angry America turned west in search of friends. Ironically the tragic vein that had replaced eternal optimism in the American character helped the nation's relationships with Russia and India.

In addition to stoking the paranoia that quieted calmer voices of reason, people like Archibald served as fodder for those looking to shed foreign influence within the United States. Like most of what transpired during this time, it was a mixed bag. American industries began a renaissance but the impact on innocent foreign nationals was tragic.

There were still occasional flash points where a small group of the disgruntled and well armed rebel wannabes would try something but the police and federal agencies had gotten extremely efficient at handling these situations. They were aided by the fact that the public had no tolerance for their alleged grievances and didn’t protest too much when the government didn’t spend a lot of time negotiating with anyone it considered a domestic terrorist. It would be some time before history would know whether one form of tyranny had grow from the ashes of another.

As for Archibald, he had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death in absentia. He had stirred the pot via his media control, financed some of the preparations for the revolt and had stood ready to spin the cabalists’ message once the green light was given to move forward. He was aware of the timing and location of the attack against the President that would launch the coup. Now, he was the last of the instigators. He honestly had been surprised by the failure of the coup and was even more surprised that the U.S. had survived the aftermath and rebounded. It was a different America to be sure. One that had shed any pretense of really caring all that much about the rest of the world. American political relationships were no longer couched in the rhetoric of human rights and freedom. They were colder, subtler and more politically pragmatic. American policies looked more and more like those of the Europeans which further worried the EU.

The death sentence actually made it easier for him. His homeland didn't extradite to countries with the death penalty. His wealth and media dominance kept him out of jail at home and they had been too close an ally of the US for America to try anything too suspicious on their soil.

America seethed. He liked that. Knowing that his freedom made them crazy. He had hidden away his wealth and they couldn't touch him. True, he had to move about with an entourage of former Spetsnaz the size of a Presidential Secret Service detail, but so what. He could afford it using money largely collected from the very Americans who wanted him dead. He lived very well. His overseas travel had to be limited to countries disinclined to pass him along to the U.S. government but even he had to make certain allowances to reality. He did it as much to tweak the current US President as to enjoy the variety of experiences. The President who had vowed to see him hang before he left office 7 years and 10 months earlier. Fat chance at this point.

Travel wasn't easy but he liked the game. Elaborate decoys were deployed before any trip and even with human intelligence he would be gone before America could bring any of its still vaunted military power to bear. His security service kept track of the comings and goings of US assets and withdrew to safety any time a carrier came anywhere close. Even America couldn’t afford to be everywhere at once.

Not that he would need to play this game much longer anyway. Whiskey and cigarettes would do the work that the DoD couldn't. True, he would be dead in a few months but it would be of natural causes not a US rope. This trip to China was one last opportunity to spit in Uncle Sam’s eye. The simple pleasures of extreme wealth. Never mind that he had taken part in the murder of a decent man and his innocent family for political and economic gain. Never mind that millions had suffered and would suffer from his greed. He was a master at spin even in his own mind.

His security experts had come up with a pretty solid plan that seemed to have worked before. Several different aircraft had been held at different locations and prepped for the journey. Hand picked and vetted crews would simultaneously descend on each and prepare them for take off. No one was allowed near the planes after that. At the last second Archibald would board a randomly selected plane, from one of a number of identical SUV’s and take off. The other cars held families that had just ‘won’ a vacation to this or that place and who would fly in identical aircraft. Very expensive but it prevented any explosive stowaways due to the high risk of collateral damage. And what price was too high for piece of mind? America was trying to rebuild its international image to some degree in order to expand markets for its new goods. So it seemed unlikely they would blow up a bunch of planes loaded with civilians just to get him. It was one thing to slaughter the citizens of a rogue state, quite different the citizens of a country historically an ally. At least he hoped so.

Another clean getaway and a few hours to rest.

Ninety minutes into the flight, the copilot was the first to notice that something was wrong.

The pilot had gone to the head, and the copilot was alone in the cockpit wearing an oxygen mask, per protocol. The autopilot had been engaged 30 minutes earlier and the aircraft had left the track of the northern most ground control station of Archibald’s homeland. They were in international airspace. For a couple of hours they would be out of range of any land based radar stations.

The aircraft’s heading and altitude had changed. The copilot disengaged the autopilot and attempted to take manual control. Standard procedure except that it didn’t work. The autopilot did not disengage and they continued on the new course. The pilot returned and got the news. For the next several minutes they went through a series of procedures to try to regain control.

Archibald's Russian head of security was a man accustomed to noticing details most people would miss. The fact that the plane no longer had the rising sun out its starboard windows was not a subtle detail. Instead of flying almost due north, they were heading east. That was not in the plan. He motioned to one of his men to follow and he went to the cockpit with gun drawn.

The pilots were too occupied to come unhinged by his combat entrance, and it was immediately clear to him that they were trying to respond to a crisis not of their doing.
He demanded an explanation.

The pilot looked at the copilot, then sighed. “We’re in big trouble. There appears to be no way to control the plane.”

Not entirely true.

Twenty thousand feet above and 5 miles behind them a very dark gray aircraft, known to but a few, rode in their blind spot. The plane looked something like the love child of a Lear Jet and an F22. Within the tiny configurable cabin behind its cockpit a young woman from Topeka was operating controls that looked surprisingly like the cockpit of Archibald’s private jet. Her view screen looked exactly like the images coming from Archibald’s low light sensors. That’s because they were. She was very pleased to be a part of this mission. Topeka was still rebuilding.

Archibald had forgotten the two indelible facts of American history; The United States will go to almost any length to destroy an enemy once they are pissed off. And they can be extremely resourceful going about it.

Archibald insisted on one of two types of aircraft for his little jaunts. Both were very advanced. Both used fly-by-wire controls instead of wires and cables. Electronic impulses replaced tugs on wire and software replaced physical connections to the control surfaces. It was much more reliable - unless the US President had engaged the defense industry to create a configurable software program that could be downloaded into the fly-by-wire control systems during routine maintenance of all similar aircraft operating in the region and activated once a human observer confirmed a certain party’s location. Software that could not be accessed in the air. Software that isolated the cockpit controls and which took inputs remotely from a surrogate pilot in another location. In this case one from Topeka riding in a billion dollar spy plane. Yes there would be hell to pay when it got out that they had been tampering with the flight controls of private jets, but what were they really going to do about it. Besides, American planes had already been reconfigured and modified so that the same could not be done to them. As was mentioned before - America was less worried about public relations than in times past.

The black ops bird also had very sophisticated jamming gear to prevent any bothersome communications from the target aircraft once it was discovered that they had been digitally hijacked.

Archibald and company had a nervous couple of hours where they tried various means to regain control without success. Once all the options were exhausted there was nothing left but to await the final destination of the aircraft. They landed on a fairly short strip carved out of a dense jungle on some unfamiliar little isle. They came to a stop on the baking tarmac and the environmental controls shut down by remote command. The shadowing plane that did not officially exist, continued east to rendezvous with an aerial tanker for the long journey back to its hanger in the deserts of Nevada where many of its predecessors had found refuge from prying eyes. It's crew relieved that all the months of waiting in that miserable heat on a largely deserted island was over.

The field was austere. A leftover from one of the last century's wars. One hanger sat about 1000 meters from where the aircraft was parked. Fairly dense jungle came to within 500 meters of either side of the runway. Several dozen heavily armed and camouflaged troops stood 3 meters beyond the edge of the jungle in plain view. They slowly disappeared into the trees once they were sure that they had been registered by the security services on the plane.

Without air-conditioning the temperature was already starting to rise. A tropical noon sun on a black runway in a tin can is not going to be comfortable for long. Ten minutes passed and a single jeep pulled up with a driver holding a white flag and a request that Archibald's head of security accompany him.

After a brief face to face with the American military commander, the security chief returned to the plane. He was convinced that the American had not been bluffing when he'd said that either taking Archibald alive or throwing all the parts in a bag for the forensics guys to sort through was an acceptable outcome to his mission.

Archibald's security chief signaled to his men. They streamed out in single file with hands held high. They would be screened for weapons and transported home. Richer and alive. The flight crew did the same only far less professionally and clearly expecting to be shot in the process.

Archibald had panicked and barricaded himself in the lavatory. The door of the loo did not offer much resistance to a trained soldier. Hands bound, he was led from the plane amid a flurry of the kinds of protests one might expect. They drove him to the hanger where a large plane with US markings was being prepared for departure. He was led up he stairs and less than gently deposited in a chair opposite a large desk. A senior officer from U.S. Airforce intelligence stood next to a Deputy Attorneys General seated at the desk. Next to him was a camera crew displaying the logo of his former news service. It was a nice touch though it didn’t really register with him. Everyone on board looked very pleased. High tech innovation, human intelligence, bold leadership and the warrior mentality were hard to beat.

The Deputy smiled, “Hello Mr Archibald. It’s good to finally meet you. I have so been looking forward to it. Oh, the President wanted me to convey this message. He says don’t worry. He is assured that a new rope has been selected just for your one time use. He’s grateful to be able to put a period to this whole nasty business before he leaves office. Welcome back to United States Territory.”


Michael Lockridge said...

So, how long until your little innovation is reality? Or, how long ago?

Have agents of any kind made contact with you?

Why is dystopia so interesting, so compelling?

Excellent work. Thanks for sharing.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Dystopia is probably compelling for the same reason that people rubber neck at accident scenes. We are glad it isn't us.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Great plot device! A good story. One that perhaps might come true in some fashion, should we as a country ever wake the hell up.

mac said...

Good story.
It's scary how this could actually happen. I belive a lot of self proclaimed patriots might be envisioning a similar scenario right now.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Thanks for reading. It's only the second one of these that I have posted here. The first was back in oct of last year (I finally commented on the true storyline for that one since the romantics who read it then did read it as darkly as I had written it)