©2014, Pete Koziar, all rights reserved
1. Night Caller
There was a sound where there should have been no sound, working its annoying little self into my head, chasing my pleasant little dream off into the darkness, as it pulled me up out of the unworried sleep of the recently retired.
It was the phone. I glanced at the blurry numbers on the clock. Oh-five-thirty. I thought, “I'm retired. I don't have to take calls at anyone's oh-five-thirty anymore.”
Pam groaned, and mumbled, “Answer the phone, Jimmy.”
I sighed, and, against my better judgment, picked it up. I immediately heard a female voice say, “Is this Captain Samuelson?”
“Retired Captain Samuelson,” I replied.
Hold? I was about to hang up, when I heard a familiar voice say, “Good morning, Captain Samuelson. Sorry to wake you this early.”
I sat straight up in bed, suddenly wide awake, and said, “That is OK, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Captain Samuelson, we have a situation where your talents are sorely needed. I can't make you go back on active duty, but I would like to request it of you.”
“I'm honored, sir. What talents are you referring to?”
“You were captain of the Westover, were you not? When it was damaged by the terrorist attack?”
“Yes, sir, I was.”
“You were quite successful in keeping it afloat, and safe in hostile waters. Our country is proud of what you did.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I'm afraid I'm asking you to do it again.”
“There has been an... incident. It involves a foreign ship in US territory. I have agreed to give them aid, but on the condition that we have a representative onboard to advise and assist with repairs and... protecting the crew.”
I sat silently, barely daring to breathe.
“Several hundred marines are already on the scene. I would like you to take command of the entire effort. We'll reinstate your commission at your former rank and rate of pay for the duration of the emergency. Will you do this for your country, and... your world?”
“Can you tell me which nation's ship was involved, or which port?”
“No, I cannot, not on an open line. It has not yet become common knowledge, although I am planning to address a special joint session of congress, and the American people, later this morning.”
I sighed, and then looked over at my wife, who was groggily sitting up in bed, listening to the conversation. I said, “It's that important?”
“You have no idea how much.”
“Yes, sir, I will do it.”
“Good! Your ride will be waiting for you at the Westminster armory in thirty minutes.”
It wouldn't be the first time I had to pack in a hurry. I said, “I will be there.”
“Thank you, and God speed.”
He hung up, and I just sat there for a moment. Pam said, “Who was that?”
“It was the president of the United States.”
2. Got a Lift
Pam insisted on coming with me. I tried to talk her out of it, since we both had our fill of tearful “goodbyes” in unusual places, and I'd rather just get that over with at home. She did point out, in the practical way that wives often do, that this was the only way to get the car back home.
I wondered why this “ride” couldn't just have picked me up at home, instead of making us drive the five miles over to the armory. At least the roads were relatively empty, with only the occasional sleepy commuters.
When we arrived, we were stopped at the end of the driveway by a national guardsman, who carefully checked our IDs. He paused a long few seconds over Pam's, until I said, “Soldier, that's my wife. We're not going to leave her standing here by the side of the road, now are we?”
He stepped back, and almost reluctantly waved us through. Closer to the building were more guardsman, who waved us away from the parking lot, so I pulled over to the curb near the door.
Pam asked me, “Is this it?”
“I don't know.”
“Can you tell me when we'll see each other again?”
“If it's like the Westover, it should be done in a week or two.”
She sat quietly for a moment, then leaned over to say, “I thought we were done with all this.”
“I'll never stop loving you. No matter how exciting the place I wind up in, home is always better.”
“It had better be!”
A civilian walked out of the building, and then stood there patiently. I said, “I'd better go.”
“I'm going to stay here until they make me leave.”
I just nodded. I couldn't trust myself to say any more. I grabbed my sea bag out of the back seat, and walked over.
The man said, “Captain Samuelson?” I just nodded, so he said, “I need to check your ID, please.”
I pulled out my wallet again, and he said, “My name is Gary Miller, with the FBI. Let's step inside for a couple of minutes, while I get you to sign some things.”
“Nobody's here from the navy?”
“Sorry, Captain. You're going to have to make do with me.”
Inside the door was a small suite of cubicles off to the right. We sat down, and he had with him the reenlistment paperwork. After I was done, he handed me a military ID, which looked just like I remembered. I studied it for a minute, looking at the man in the picture, whom I had, again, become. After a few moments, I said, “Now can you tell me about this incident?”
He said, “I'm terribly sorry, I can't, because this building doesn't have a SCIF. I'm going to hand you a courier bag to take with you and open once you're in a secure area. It's got the paperwork to read you into a special access program.”
I started to say, “About that ride...” but I was interrupted by a roaring sound that shook the building and made it impossible to hear. I looked questioningly at Gary, but he just smiled and yelled, “Your ride is here.”
Speechless, I followed him out, where, in the parking lot, a brand new F-35, the vertical takeoff variant, had just landed. The canopy swung open, and the pilot pulled off his helmet long enough to bellow, “Jimmy! Climb on board! We got a ship to fix!”
I recognized him, and yelled back, “Doug! You're lost! If you're looking for a carrier, it's the other way!”
Gary handed me the courier bag and said, “Here are the details on the program. Open it on the plane when you're secure.”
I nodded. I looked over his shoulder, and saw that my wife had moved the car over to the other side of the building so I could just see her peeking around the corner at me. I said, “Give me two seconds.”
I ran over and tapped on the side of the car window. Pam opened it, and I got the chance for one more kiss before saying, “I love you!”
Then, I turned, straightened up, and strode over to the plane. A guardsman put a ladder up for me, and so I climbed into the back seat. I said, “No G-suit?”
Doug said, “I'll go easy on you.”
Once I heard the suction sound of the canopy sealing, he wasted no time. As soon as the parking lot was clear of guardsmen, we were airborne. I wondered what direction we'd head, whether it was Philly, New York or even Newport News. Instead, we turned due north.
I said, “Lot of air traffic this morning?”
“So, what role are you playing in this?”
“I'm your CAG.”
“CAG? Why do I need a CAG? Do I have an air group for you to be captain of?”
“Jimmy, let's go secure.”
I had been briefed on the F-35 cockpit, although I'd never ridden in one before. I pressed the buttons, and read the message on the display, then said, “Verify, cockpit comms secure”
“Comms secure. Please open the bag and sign the paper. You're being read into a special access program known by the codeword 'Jantumeh.'”
“I've never heard of that one.”
“It didn't exist until last night.”
“Who's the classifying authority?”
“FBI wanted it, but the president gave it to NIOC.”
“Good to have it in the family.”
I read over the document, and saw it was the usual kind of thing, generic, with nothing about the nature of the program. Once I had signed it, I said, “OK, I signed it.”
I looked out the window, and saw that we were still heading north, into central PA. I said, “Aren't you going the wrong way?”
“Now, would you please tell me what this is all about, and why I needed an F-35 to get there?”
“You needed an F-35 because we had to get you there quickly, and there may be hostiles in the air. If I tell you more, you wouldn't believe me, so it's better to show you.”
I pondered that for a couple of minutes. We quickly passed the strip malls and highways of southern PA, and then, after a minute or two, I saw Harrisburg fade to the south. I wondered if Susan were up yet, getting our grandkids breakfast. Maybe in a little while.
We now were heading into rolling hills and farm country, away from the coast. I wondered if I had been duped, since there wasn't any water bigger than a creek up here.
Then, we passed over a small mountain, and slowed almost to a hover. Doug said, “Look out your window.”
I leaned over and saw, in the middle of a cornfield, a giant structure of some sort, all lit up, with marine helos parked on a hill to the northwest, and with tents, lights, and activity all around it.
The more I studied the structure, the less comfortable I got. With a shock, I realized it wasn't a structure, but a vessel of some sort. I said, “What the heck is that thing?”
“That is the Davon H'riss, heavy battlecruiser of the D'linwaa.”
I paused, but then finally asked what I was afraid even to think, “That's not of this Earth, is it?”
“No, the D'linwaa are aliens. Welcome to your assignment, captain!”