Missing: One Satellite
General Hargett burst through the door into the control suite and bellowed “Where the hell is that satellite, Colonel?” His uniform was almost as rumpled as that of his aide who rushed in behind him.
“No idea, sir. We’re still working on it.” Colonel Fisby’s eyes remained on his monitor. All civilian and military orbital traffic was displayed, including the one for the missing Shrike-37 flashing in red. “I’ve reassigned Collins and Mahmood to help McBride.” The active flight operations control stations were alive with the constant sound of keystrokes as they explored every option conceivable to find the missing weapon.
“How long has it been malfunctioning, Colonel?” Major Carlson, the General’s aide, asked.
“Approximately ten minutes.” Fisby entered a command on his console and the display zoomed to where the satellite should be and a teal cone spread out from the track of the missing bird over the south Indian Ocean. “This is the probable location of the satellite—designated Lambda-Sierra-III—based on its last known location at 0103.”
“Any communications? What are our options?” The General’s face was flushed.
Fisby turned to the flight ops controller to the right. “McBride? Any contact with LS-3?”
“Negative, sir. No communication. She’s gone completely dark.” McBride’s fingers never slowed in their mad race to enter commands nor did her eyes leave the screen. “I ran diagnostics on every −37 in orbit when the shift started a couple hours ago. No anomalies. I can’t think of anything that would cause a complete loss of signal. Even a meteor strike wouldn’t do it—there would still be something even if it was falling out of control.”
Fisby turned back to General Hargett and Major Carlson. “We should be able to locate it with enhanced line-of-sight targeting arrays from Diego Garcia and Mishelevka shortly. Weather satellites show clear skies over both sites.”
“Colonel! Diego Garcia on secured channel 4, sir.” The man’s voice came from the left.
“Thank you, Mahmood.” Fisby tapped a command and the front wall of the control room changed to the secured channel. He was surprised to see a sun-bathed beach in front of teal and dark blue water instead of the drab office he had seen a few minutes earlier. The face of a blond man filled half the screen. “Commander Franks, how are we doing with the ELOST array?”
Franks shook his head. “We aren’t, Colonel. It’s down. Sabotaged. Last time the array was used was five days ago for routine maintenance. Had to have happened since then.”
“Sabotage? Are you sure?” Colonel Fisby asked.
“Yes, sir. When I got your first call I tried to start the array and got error messages across the board for the long range focusing processor. That’s what the delay was—the LRFP is on the opposite side of the atoll from the base. I drove out here to check it out myself. The boards are toast—shorted out. Even a lightning strike wouldn’t do this kind of damage. Someone did this intentionally.” Commander Franks held up a scorched circuit board for the camera to see. “Every one of them is like this.”
“Hold for just a second, Commander.” Colonel Fisby muted the channel. “Collins, have you been in touch with Mishelevka?” Collins nodded. “Good. Have them do a diagnostic on their array and check for problems before starting it up in case this is something triggered by the start-up process.”
“Yes, sir.” Collins turned back to his board and began speaking into his mic.
Fisby unmuted the channel with Franks. “I’m back, Commander. How long to get your array back up and running?”
“That depends on whether we have replacement boards here. If not, figure at least 24 hours. I’ll call you back once I have a better idea.” The front wall of the suite returned to its normal displays as Commander Franks cut the connection.
General Hargett stepped closer to Fisby’s console, “Colonel, what is going on?”
“I don’t know, General. I’m still hoping…”
McBride interrupted, “Colonel Fisby, look at this!” The display on the front wall came to life with lines of code with a subroutine highlighted and blinking. “I checked the onboard control systems for LS-3 and found this. I’m not familiar with those commands but I know this isn’t part of the standard programming.”
Fisby read the code and his face went pale. “Oh shit…. Who last accessed those files?”
“The access code is 75-Delta-42-Bravo. I don’t recognize it, sir.”
Collins called out from his console. “Colonel, Mishelevka reports their array is out, too. They are investigating now.”
Colonel Fisby stood, squared his shoulders, and turned to General Hargett. “General, Lambda-Sierra-III is not malfunctioning. It’s been stolen.”
Author’s Note: I wrote this vignette in response to an Inspiration Monday prompt.