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Sound and Silence and Holograms

©2009 Brian G. Angevine

 

Chapter 1

 

            “There has to be a better way!” Hondo Sanchez said. “Too many of our guys are getting killed over there. With our superior technology shouldn’t we be able to defeat a bunch of guys running around in the mountains with rifles and grenade launchers?”

            Gordon Plumber scratched his head and rubbed his sore neck. He had been up most of the night talking and drinking with Hondo—something he definitely was not used to. But Hondo was an old friend and they had a lot to talk about.

“I don’t know, Hondo. You were there, you tell me.”

            Hondo Sanchez had been in combat in Afghanistan for a year and had just gotten back. He was angry! He had seen a number of his friends killed and injured and one had even bled out in his arms. There was no justice to it.

            “Well I don’t think another one of our guys should die in that God-forsaken place. There is nothing there that is in our interest to defend and about half of the people would rather live in the stone-age than embrace any kind of democratic change.”

            “Now, Hondo. Is that any way for a soldier to talk?”

            Hondo puffed up his chest and assumed the stance, “Sir! I am a soldier, Sir!” he shouted out. Slumping back down into the easy chair he said, “But that don’t stop me from thinking, now, does it?”

            “I certainly hope not,” Gordon concurred. “But sometimes I think part of the problem with the military is that soldiers are not allowed to think, just follow orders. I can see how that is important in battle since everyone needs to be on the same page and not out doing his own thing. But the guy with his life on the line should have some ideas about how to do things right.”

            “Well, I followed orders in Afghani and it nearly got me killed. I was just lucky that I saw the IED and stopped the convoy in time. Shit, that thing would have blown up at least two of our Humvees depending on when they set it off.”

            Gordon scratched his head again—for some reason it seemed itchy. He glanced up at the ceiling of his living room to see if anything was falling on his head. He always had fantasies about spiders or bugs deciding to jump on his head at any old time. Shrugging off the paranoia he asked, “How did they set most of those off?”

            “At first it was just a guy hiding in the vicinity with a wire attached to the thing. But some of them were so big they blew up the guy setting them off. Then we got better at spotting the guys hiding in the bushes, along with some help from the satellites and the drones that were buzzing all over the place. Then they started using cell phones so they could call in from someplace up on the mountain when they saw the convoy coming. When the phone rang on the IED—BOOM!”

            “They had jammers didn’t they to filter out the calls?” Gordon asked.

            “Not at first, but they do now. But still, every time we adjust something, they adjust to find a way around it.”

            “Well, I think you are right. We should be able to stay ahead of them instead of reacting to everything they come up with. For people who would wish the world to reject all the modern conveniences it is surprising how much they use that taboo technology to kill us,” Gordon mused.

            “That’s why I wanted to talk to you,” Hondo said. “You are the most creative thinker I have ever known for an engineer. Put your brain to work and see what you come up with.”

            “Well, I will need your expertise in battlefield stuff so I can come up with something that might work. What are you doing now that you are back?”

            “Struggling, is what. My wife doesn’t much like the guy I am now, the nightmares, the blank stare in my eyes. I’m afraid she’s going to give up and move on.”

            Gordon’s fingers went to work on his scalp again, “Tell you what. Nothing will help you deal with your problems better than getting busy on something to help other people in your position. I have some grant money for some holographic stuff I’ve been working on. I’ll hire you as a consultant for a while until I can get a patent going. Of course you’ll have to deal with University politics, and in some ways that might be harder than what you went through over there.”

            “I reckon I can learn to get along or avoid the bastards. I certainly had to do a lot of that in the military.”

            The sun was coming up as they shook hands at the door and Hondo clomped out into the street, swiveling his head this way and that, watching for any threat. Gordon shook his head thinking about how most people would have just strolled out to their car and driven off, unconcerned about their surroundings. Combat veterans had a different way of walking and perceiving possible threats. Even now as he watched Sanchez got on his hands and knees to look under the car, then cautiously opened the hood and checked the wiring. Climbing in he started the motor with his eyes shut as if expecting an explosion and then peeled away from the curb and tore down the street at high speed.

            “Shit, I hope he doesn’t kill anyone on the way home,” Plumber muttered.

            His head was still working on the problem when he closed the door and shucked his clothes for a shower. He walked naked through the house on his skinny legs and popped a few aspirin to quell his headache, and then stepped into the shower. A few moments later he was sound asleep with the sun closed out behind heavy drapes. But his brain had not gone to sleep. Typically, for him, the mere act of deciding to think about a problem produced prodigious synapses in his brain that didn’t quit until the problem was solved. That explained his frequent lapses in social graces and seeming aloofness. He wasn’t unaware of other people, his brain was just too busy with other things to deal with what most people would think are normal circumstances.

            Chemical and electrical processes sped through his cranium throughout the four hours he was asleep. Either some idea would manifest itself after his awakening or his brain would continue to parse out time to spend on this problem along with all the others that he was already dealing with. Gordon Plumber had little control over the process other than to get it started and see what happened. Time was measured by work done, not by some artificial timetable of processes.

            Gordon’s brain began to cook up some ideas about holograms, sound suppression, and fiber optics. Something intruded into his dreams and his eyes started to open. The room was blurry without his thick glasses but he thought he saw a moving shape. Somebody grabbed him and threw a bag over his head as he was jerked off the bed. Gloved hands squeezed his arms and muffled voices gave brief orders as they drug him outdoors into the early evening.

 

Chapter 2

 

Gordon Plumber could barely see enough from the loose bottom of the hood to tell that it was just past sunset as he was hustled into a waiting vehicle. It felt like a van when it rocked as his “handlers” jumped inside.

“What are you doing?” he tried to shout. He got out only the first two words before a hand was roughly clamped over his mouth.

He heard a low voice say, “Get his glasses and some clothes.”

A few minutes later the van started moving and Gordon tried to keep track of the turns. But the ride was too long and convoluted and he soon lost track of where they might be. After about a half hour of driving he was pulled out of the van and helped up some steps into a jet airplane with its engines spinning up for takeoff. As the plane roared down the runway Gordon knew it was a small jet, probably a Gulfstream, or Lear. It took only a short distance to become airborne and peel away from the airstrip in a steep climb.

“Good evening, Dr. Plumber,” a man said as the hood was pulled off. “I’m sorry for the rough handling. We will try to make you more comfortable now.” The man wore a beautiful business suit and pulled a glasses case out of his pocket and handed it to Gordon.

Gordon took out his glasses and checked the lenses for clarity. The man in the suit handed him a spray bottle and a cleaning cloth, then sat back in his seat. His surroundings became clear as soon as Gordon put on the glasses. He gazed around the spare but sumptuous interior of the plane, and then stared at his captor.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “Am I being held for ransom or something? I assure you that the University will not pay any ransom and I have no rich relatives.”

The man chuckled and said, “No. No ransom. We did not kidnap you for profit, but for a much larger cause. I am not a crook although some might call me a spook.”

“A spook. You mean a spy?”

A slight nod and an inclination of the head, “Perhaps.”

Gordon started to stand but was restrained by his seat belt. “Just what is going on that you need to treat me this way?”

The man pursed his lips and started to answer, but then said, “Let me offer you some coffee. Would you like a croissant or some fruit? Maybe some dinner?”

Gordon was mad and scared and surprised. “Dinner? Is that what I get for being kidnapped? Dinner!”

“Dr. Plumber, I apologize again. We really had no choice. If you will humor me I will explain everything during our trip.” The man arose and said, “But, please, accept my hospitality and have some refreshments. You will notice you are not restrained nor guarded, so feel free to move around the plane.”

“As if I could go anyplace. Even if you had a parachute I wouldn’t take the risk of jumping out of a perfectly good plane.” He released the seat belt and stood to stretch his cramped legs. His lanky frame creaked as he rose and his head nearly brushed the ceiling.

“You are a tall man,” the suit guy said.

“Yeah, that kept me out of military service. They didn’t have any uniforms that would fit me, I guess.” He made his way unsteadily to the back of the plane where he found a bar and a small table.

Suit followed him and opened a small refrigerator. “Take whatever you wish. It is all free,” he chuckled. “Would you like a beer? How about some wine or liquor?”

Gordon shook his head and felt the headache pound out a warning. “No. I have a bit of a hangover already. I think I will pass on the liquor.”

“Ah yes; you and Colonel Sanchez. He told us you had a little reunion party earlier today.”

Colonel Sanchez? I didn’t know he was a Colonel. And how does he fit into this kidnapping?”

“All in due time. It was Colonel Sanchez who gave us the idea. He felt you were the best candidate”

Gordon shook his head and regretted the action. He definitely shouldn’t have drunk so much scotch. That was unlike him and he was paying the price. “The best candidate for what?”

“Colonel Sanchez will explain all that to you when we arrive. He is, how shall I put this, in a very important position that is not officially recognized by the U. S. Government.”

“So that’s all you’re telling me? I have been kidnapped because Hondo wanted me kidnapped?”

Suit gave a slight nod, more an inclination of the head, “I understand your feelings, but we couldn’t take a chance that you would turn us down. The security risk is too great.”

Gordon’s stomach heaved and he realized he had not eaten anything at all in who knows how many hours. All that scotch was causing problems. He reached for a croissant, spread a little cream cheese on it and took a tentative bite. It tasted good and the whole thing disappeared in a moment. Sipping his coffee he stared across the rim at the impassive man seated in a swivel chair across from him. The narrow plane cabin had a low ceiling with six swivel chairs running the length of the fuselage, three on each side. The back contained a small galley and a head with a storage closet opposite the door in front. Of course the nose was given over to the flight deck.

Nice, Gordon thought. I wonder who pays for this? The Government? Private interests? I don’t suppose I will get an answer if I ask. So, just sit back and relax, enjoy the flight. He peered out the window and saw snowy mountains ahead of them. Looks like Colorado, he thought.

 

Chapter 3

 

Gordon saw a large ski area pass below the plane as it banked into a turn and began to lose altitude. A chain of ski runs slashed the mountains and he could make out several distinct base areas as they flew over at ever lowering altitudes. On the west side of the mountain range two gigantic ski areas dominated the landscape and more were off to the east. Must be Summit County, Vail and Beaver Creek off to the west, he wondered?

The plane lowered into a landing run and made a wide sweep over a lake near a small mountain town. Gordon was surprised they were flying so low this near the mountains. He knew about an airport near Vail someplace but didn’t think there was anything this high up in the Rockies. As they touched down he saw a grid of broken asphalt streets with no buildings crisscrossing a high mountain valley. Snow was abundant and as they taxied to a stop he saw nothing above ground that indicated this was an operating base. A tracked vehicle pulled up to the plane and the guy in the suit handed Gordon a down parka and rubber boots that fit over his shoes. Ushered down the stairs he entered the snowcat. It began moving toward a low slung building that barely broached the surface of the ground. From above it looked like a low mound in the snow. Another tracked vehicle pulled the plane toward the far end of the mound and it disappeared from sight into the hangar.

“Welcome to your new home,” suit said. “You might not think this is home yet, but I assure you it will become a place of extreme importance to you very soon.”

Gordon looked around at the modern underground laboratory facilities. He saw every type of research equipment a scientist could imagine and it was all clean, bright and new. “Hmmm. I don’t know what to say except WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO ME? What right do you have to kidnap me and put me underground like a mushroom? What is your name? Why are you doing this?”

Suit smiled wryly and said, “Step into this room here and all your questions will be answered by someone you know and trust.”

They went through a door into a large conference room with large, flat screen televisions on three walls, a beautiful wooden table gracefully shaped like an oval with tapered square shoulders. The center of the table was inlaid with cherry wood designs that allowed the eye to move along different arcs without ever reaching a perpendicular stopping point. Muted gray covered two walls while the other two were restful blue. The atmosphere was artistic, soothing and yet workmanlike.

Gordon paused in the doorway to take in the surroundings as the door shut with a barely audible click behind him. He noticed right away that the room was sealed and secure, almost like a plush prison. Hondo Sanchez sat at one end of the table, in full dress uniform, and rose to salute him. “Gordon, glad to see you again so soon.” He strode forward and extended a hand, gripping Gordon’s in a very firm handshake.

“Hondo, what is this?”

“Sit down and I will brief you,” Hondo said as he pulled out a comfortable swivel chair and seated Gordon at the table. The video screens came to life and the lights dimmed. “I told you that I was upset about the lack of safety and security for our troops. You gave me a few ideas and I visited with Franklin, here,” he swept his arm toward ‘suit,’ “and he liked what I had to say.”

Gordon turned his head to gaze at “Franklin.” “So your name is Franklin? First, last? CIA? Army? What?”

“Doesn’t matter. You were brought here on Colonel Sanchez’ orders and here we are.”

“I’ll explain,” Hondo said. “The Government wants some system or systems developed that will make our soldiers less vulnerable to the warfare tactics employed by the enemy. The current situation smacks much like the American Revolution where outnumbered and outgunned guerillas fought off the superior power of the British Government. The British had no answer to our hit and run tactics, and we have no answer to the tactics of the Taliban and Al Queda. We kick in the doors of private citizens to ferret out insurgents, drop bombs on ‘selected’ targets trying to kill leaders and wind up killing civilians in the process, fire missiles from drones, and engage in firefights that fill the air with lead aimed indiscriminately. That is no way to fight a modern warfare campaign. We are slaves to the enemy’s technology and style, rather than using our superior technology and style to win the war quickly and without so much collateral damage.”

Gordon had never heard Hondo speak so long. He watched as Hondo pressed a remote control button and a screen showed a convoy of vehicles racing down a dusty, twisty road. Mountains loomed in the distance and steep hills pressed against the berm of the road. As the convoy slowed for a turn a huge gout of flame erupted from the hillside and the third vehicle disintegrated in a cloud of shrapnel and flame. The turret gunners on the lead and follow vehicle began scanning for targets as soldiers poured from the vehicles. Fire extinguishers did little to quell the flames, and clearly everyone inside had perished. Gunfire rattled down from the hills on each side of the road and three more troops fell. A cacophony arose as the firefight escalated and rocket propelled grenades screeched at the convoy. Two helicopter gunships sped into view and began strafing the hills, but one of them went down and crashed and rolled down the steep bank.

Gordon sweated and grimaced. He had never seen such carnage except in movies, but this was real.

Hondo stopped the video and turned to Gordon. “Everyone knows this kind of thing happens over there. But the American people don’t realize just how often it happens. A Predator drone filmed this. It fired both its missiles and strike jets were called in, but the bad guys melted away before the jets got there. We have no way to pursue those guys and no way to figure out where they will hit next. We lost five men in this incident and a load of ammunition sorely needed by our troops in the mountains. The IED was an Iranian armor piercing shell. It doesn’t matter what kind of armor we put on the vehicles with that kind of destructive force available to the enemy.”

“All right,” Gordon said quietly, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. “You’ve scared the shit out of me twice today. First a rough kidnapping and now terrorizing my senses with war footage. Why am I here?”

Hondo Sanchez sat close to Gordon Plumber and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Peering directly into Gordon’s eyes he said, “We need your help.”

Gordon had never seen such intensity in Hondo’s eyes. “How can I help in combat? I’ve never been in the service and sure couldn’t survive boot camp at my age.”

“Holograms.”

“Holograms? How would that help?” Gordon asked.

“You said holograms could look just like the person was standing there talking to you. You said I could believe that it was a real person until I reached out and found nothing but air.”

“Holograms and holographs are different things. Holograms are what you see on your credit cards and DVD cases. It is a way to shift light along a reflective surface. Looked at from one angle a certain spectrum shows up along the ridged surface of the object. As you shift viewpoints, other parts of the color spectrum appear.” Gordon paused and cleared his throat. “This gets really technical, but to make it more basic the holograph or hologram has to have something to cause it to reflect light. It could be a screen, a ridged surface that I mentioned, silver halide crystals in the air, or something that is reflective.”

“So when they show a holograph of a person in a movie it is really reflecting off of something suspended in the air?” Hondo asked.

“Yeah. They might sprinkle halide crystals in the air and then project the image onto that. The more dense the particles the more substantial the holograph appears to be. It also depends on what angle the viewer is to the light source. There are a lot of variables.”

“Hmmm,” Hondo hummed, thinking. “So I couldn’t exactly dispatch a group of holographic soldiers?”

“Theoretically, yes, if there was some object to reflect the laser beams. For instance if we set up a big diffraction screen here in the room and put lasers behind it we could project a soldier who would appear to be standing before you, if you looked from the correct angle. Other observers wouldn’t necessarily see the same thing.”

Hondo said, “So a group of soldiers would require a large screen?”

“Yeah.”

“That wouldn’t be portable, would it?”

“Not really. I suppose if you mounted a screen on a flat bed truck you could move the images around, but the truck would still be there, and of course you would have to have a power source for the lasers.”

“Rats! I thought I was on to something there,” Hondo grated.

“You thought you could send a holographic army out to confuse the enemy?” Gordon laughed.

“I was hoping.”

“I’m not sure what purpose that would serve, to tell you the truth,” Gordon said.

“Well, it could make the enemy reveal himself. Like if a holographic convoy was on the road and they blew up an IED it would be wasted. If we followed up with an attack team we could really damage their operation.”

Gordon thought about that. “Why not just do what they did in World War II. I read that they set up entire airfields with mockups of planes so the enemy would think we had lots of equipment.”

“Well, someone still has to drive the trucks and someone still could get killed. The Predator drones have saved a lot of American lives, and I would like to have something like that idea for the Army. Those poor guys on the ground always take the brunt of the beating. No war has successfully been ended by air or naval actions alone. There always has to be the grunt on the ground.” Hondo leaned back in his swivel chair and locked his hands behind his head. He looked haggard now, weary instead of enervated.

Gordon rubbed his forehead with the palms of his hands, and then ground his fingers into the corners of his eyes. Besides being tired from the emotion of the kidnapping and the tension of the flight here, he and Hondo had consumed more than a little bit of alcohol not too many hours ago.

Hondo looked at Gordon and recognized the fatigue he too felt. “Let’s sleep on this and see what we think tomorrow,” he said. “I’m sorry again about the way we brought you here, but the CIA didn’t want these ideas to be floating around anywhere accessible.”

A private opened the door and stepped to Gordon’s side as he saluted Colonel Sanchez. Hondo said, “Take Dr. Plumber to his room and provide him with whatever he wants to eat. Gordon, you can move about the facility as you wish, but it might be better to stay in your room tonight until I can give you an orientation tomorrow. If you need anything, Private Cornelius will help you get it.”

Gordon rose and looked at Hondo. “I’m not sure if I can give you what you want. But I will give it some thought tonight and we can talk some more tomorrow.”

“Good night then,” Hondo said and walked out of the room.

 

Chapter 4

Gordon Plumber slept relatively well. A comfortable bed and good food, along with some excellent Pinot Noir, helped a lot. Busy all night, his brain mulled over the problem Hondo Sanchez had placed before him. He had never really thought of creating a virtual reality in a war setting. Those experiments worked in computer games, but the medium was carefully controlled as well as the viewing angle of the player. To use virtual reality in wide open outdoors would be nearly impossible on a large scale.

In the morning a primly dressed female soldier escorted Gordon to the mess hall where Hondo and two others drank coffee and waited for him. He recognized “suit” or “Franklin” but not the other man.

The three rose as he approached the table and Colonel Sanchez returned the soldier’s salute and motioned for Gordon to take a seat. “Did you sleep well?”

Gordon sat, pulled the comfortable chair nearer the table, pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and said, “I did okay--considering the knotty problem you gave me to think about.” He glared at Franklin and added, “I’m not especially glad to see you again. I had hoped you drowned in your champagne during the celebration of a successful kidnapping.”

Franklin chuckled and held up his coffee cup. “And a top-o-the mornin’ to you too.”

Gordon sized up the other guy. “You must be the chief goon designated to subdue the victim.”

A grin split the guy’s beefy face. “I see your guy’s observant.”

“This is Chester Franklin and Ivan Radovic,” Hondo said.

“Radovic? Serbian, maybe?” Gordon asked.

“Maybe. But all American now.” The big man smiled and revealed a gold tooth in the front.

“Well, I guess I’m glad you are on our side. But I can’t say I enjoyed your treatment yesterday. My arm still hurts where you manhandled me.”

“Sorry. You were a little more resistive than I thought you would be.”

“So, scientists can’t defend themselves?”

Radovic just shrugged and took a sip of coffee.

“Okay guys, how about some breakfast?” Hondo said. “If you have no special requests we will start with some rib sticking stuff, eggs, bacon, toast, more if you need it.”

Gordon poured himself some coffee and added low-fat creamer. “After that ribeye last night I think I only need a small breakfast. Unless, that is, we are going skiing or something like that.”

Hondo laughed. “No, not today. But I suppose we could work in some recreation later on if you like.”

“So I guess that means you are keeping me for a while?”

Hondo shrugged. “If you don’t mind I would like to pick your brain for a bit. If this project has no future we’ll close up shop. But I still hope we can find a way to help our missions.”

“I’m not sure how,” Gordon said. “But I did have a few ideas last night.”

“Good. We can talk about them after we chow down.”

The breakfast was delicious and hot off the griddle, and nobody had to tip the waiter or anything to get good service. Afterwards the four men sat back and rubbed their bellies.

“How about we give you a tour of the facilities?” Hondo began. “You can see our setup and then we can meet back in the conference room to kick around some more ideas.”

Seated around the conference table Gordon and the others just looked at each other for a moment. “So,” Gordon started. “A hardened, underground lab with oodles of modern equipment, just for a speculative venture we talked about just a matter of days ago? Is this how the Government does things nowadays?”

Hondo sat back and chuckled. “So you think this all just happened overnight?”

Gordon’s jaw dropped a little. “Your visit to me wasn’t by accident, was it?”

“Not exactly.”

“You set me up as a target in advance?”

“Target? I’m not sure about that term. You were the one person I knew who might be able to give me the straight dope on this kind of stuff. If you couldn’t set me straight I was unsure where to go next.” Hondo waved his arms in the air to indicate the whole of the facility. “So is this something you are interested in pursuing with me?”

            Gordon slumped into the swivel chair and idly swung back and forth as restless children sometimes do. His elbows rested comfortably on the armrests and his fingers formed an equilateral triangle in front of his face. “What I’m thinking is that we will need some people who know a lot about sound and light and

 

THESE ARE THE FIRST 5,000 WORDS OF MY FAILED ATTEMPT TO WRITE A THRILLER. I DON’T THINK I HAVE THE ABILITY TO FINISH IT, BUT IT WAS FUN TO START.

 

SOMEDAY MAYBE I WILL PUT IT ON AMAZON.COM