Authors: Erik Hanberg
THE LEAD CLOAK
Book I of The Lattice Trilogy
by Erik Hanberg
The Lead Cloak
By Erik Hanberg
Published by Side x Side Publishing
Copyright © Erik Hanberg 2013
All rights Reserved
Cover Design by Littera Designs
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Thank you, Joy, for encouraging me to start it.
Thank you, Mary, for encouraging me to finish it.
We are the creatures that know and know too much.
Byron Shaw was in a jump. For ten glorious minutes, the men’s room was transformed into a small forested hill at the edge of some Pennsylvania farmland.
The body of Colonel Shaw was in a bathroom stall, but his mind was two centuries in the past, visiting another Colonel—Joshua Chamberlain—who was protecting Little Round Top from the Confederate army that was attempting to flank his position.
“We’ve only got enough ammunition for a single volley,” Shaw/Chamberlain said to his closest troops. “We’ll use bayonets and attack down the hill, the left flank starting their charge first and the rest following, like … like a swinging door. Pass the word down the line and tell them to wait for my order.”
Chamberlain waited for the order to reach the men under his command, his face projecting calm.
Despite the years between them, Shaw could feel how intentional the expression was, how much Chamberlain was masking his fear. He felt the doubting questions begin to bubble up in Chamberlain’s mind. Was this lunacy? How would his family and friends back in Maine remember him if this failed? Was this the last desperate act of a desperate man?
There was no time for such thoughts, though, and Chamberlain pushed his doubts aside. He couldn’t count on any more time from the rebels at the bottom of the hill.
“Fix bayonets!” Shaw/Chamberlain cried.
As the Union line began mounting their bayonets on their rifles, Shaw felt a pinch in his right ring finger. In fact, the small metal ring had gone quite cold, causing the metal to constrict and squeeze against his skin. It would squeeze more tightly if he didn’t jump back from Gettysburg within the next five seconds.
With a sigh, Shaw touched the ring against the implant in his right temple, and immediately Chamberlain and the Union army were gone, replaced by the drab blue metal door of a bathroom stall.
He shouldn’t have tried the jump when he was on duty. He never got to stay longer than a few minutes before his ring pinched with an urgent request. When off duty in his quarters he could jump for a few solid hours, choosing a soldier at random and following him and his thoughts around. Most people would consider that kind of jumping to be boring, but Shaw preferred it … if for no other reason than it allowed him to continue to tell himself he wasn’t an addict.
Shaw washed up quickly and found a young man waiting for him just outside the bathroom door. He was a new face … Yang? First Lieutenant Tim Yang, Shaw remembered. Yang was shifting from foot to foot. His nervousness wasn’t a surprise—it was his first day at the Installation and he’d just interrupted his superior officer in the john.
“I’m sorry, sir, they said I should come and—” Yang started, but Shaw wouldn’t let him finish.
“No apologies. Work here a few more days, and you can be guaranteed someone will have gotten you off the can eight times. Can I borrow your cuff for just a second?”
Yang held it up, confused, and Shaw played with it for a few seconds. “What’s the message?”
“An intruder on the desert sensors. One hundred ten kilometers away.”
“One ten? Shit.” Shaw dropped Yang’s arm and together they hurried down the corridor.
“You see how I wedged the coat sleeve under your cufflink, by the way? Now you’ll always see your cuff. It won’t get lost up the sleeve.”
Yang looked down at his wrist as they walked. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s the easiest way to look sharp in these shit uniforms,” Shaw said, rapping his hand against his standard-issue soft-shelled helmet. “Try it on the other sleeve after we take care of this raider.”
Shaw looked Yang over as they walked. The young man looked like he was trying to find a corner to hide in. “Awfully young to be here, aren’t you?”
“Just a few months away from twenty-four, sir.”
“Shouldn’t you still be in the Academy?”
“My parents believed childhood was for studying, not playing. It meant I went a lot faster than everyone else.”
“No doubt. I wasn’t out of the Academy until I was twenty-six. So. What do we know about the raider?”
“Major Iverson said it was a hovercraft. Flying just a few feet over the desert surface. It’s doing three hundred K per hour,” Yang added, his voice strained. Shaw recognized the note of panic. He’d hoped to put Yang at ease. Shaw remembered his own nerves during his first raid, back before they dulled into routine. All they did now was interrupt his jumps back to the Civil War.
“Any chance it’s just a lost tourist?”
“No, sir. It’s on a direct collision course from West South West.”
“Out of Death Valley. That explains why we didn’t catch the signal until now.”
“Visuals are tricky out there, with the heat. Cloaked planes or drones can get through easily. So instead we have sensors across the desert. But even those can be fooled. If you move slowly enough, if there’s enough sand in the air, or the heat you kick out isn’t much different from the radiant heat … you can get pretty far through before we catch you. How strong is the radiation signature?”
“No radiation, sir.”
“Really?” Shaw’s eyebrows arched and he quickened his pace. No radiation signature meant the pilot wasn’t carrying a dirty bomb. But it was so rare these days that he felt himself growing uneasy. “Conventionals, then. Unusual.”
“What’s unusual, sir?”
“The raiders gave up on conventional weapons years ago. In theory, they’d work well enough, but only if the pilot thinks he can get within just a few kilometers. And no one even tries that anymore. Hmm.” Shaw began thinking out loud, partly for Yang’s benefit. “All right, so we have a raider about a hundred clicks out heading straight for us. At three hundred kilometers per hour we’ve got fifteen minutes before he’s within range to fire a conventional missile.” Shaw grunted. “Well, he’s already closer than a lot of raiders have gotten recently. Who knows, Yang? Not too much farther and you’ll remember your first day as the closest anyone’s gotten to the Lattice in ten years.”
Shaw smiled widely at Yang, his face fully reflecting his excitement. He could feel adrenaline pumping through him at the prospect of an actual fight. Normally the computer would have given his team so much warning that—if he hadn’t been in the bathroom—he would have already dispatched the raider into a cloud of smoke and sand. But today … things might actually get interesting. If there were more days like this, he thought, maybe he wouldn’t have to keep jumping back to the Battle of Gettysburg. As much as he enjoyed the historical battles, they didn’t get his blood pumping—he already knew the outcome. No matter how many times he jumped, no matter the different perspectives he found, the battle of Little Round Top stayed frustratingly the same.
Although the outcome of the fight today was pretty well preordained, too. The lone pilot had nothing but some conventional weapons, probably decades out of date—or worse, made at home. He had no chance. Already, lasers on the ground and in orbit above them were waiting for Shaw’s order to blow the hovercraft out of the sky. If through some shocking feat it could survive those, Shaw still had a small array of tactical nukes under his command. As long as they were detonated more than ten kilometers away from the Installation, they wouldn’t damage the Lattice.
Shaw put his hand on the metallic door at the end of the hall, waiting for his fingerprints, body heat, and DNA to be recognized. Not foolproof, of course, but what was anymore?
It would almost be worth it to let a raider get close, just to put a little thrill into the game, Shaw thought, before immediately pushing the thought away. It’s that kind of thinking that can cost you your job, he told himself.
His hand cleared him for admittance, and Shaw entered the command center. As the door opened, he told Yang, “My first priority is downing this hovercraft, but stay close to me. I know we’re a little different than what you were used to in Geneva, so I’ll do my best to answer any questions.”
The familiar glow of screens lit up the room. Shaw went to the center of the room to the large table and glanced through each illuminated screen. He focused on the map first, confirming everything Yang had relayed to him. The craft was now within 100 kilometers and had less than fifteen minutes before it was within range to deploy its weapons.
Shaw looked for more data about this unusual raider. What game was he playing at, trying to run against the most sophisticated weapons system in the world with—with
“Who jumped to the hovercraft?”
“Me, sir,” Johan Iverson answered from behind his station.
“What’s it carrying?”
“Antiques, sir. Six Interceptor missiles, at least fifty years old. No other weapons. The whole thing looks like it was cobbled together in someone’s garage. It’s lucky it’s even two meters off the ground.”
“No, sir. A single pilot.”
Shaw continued to look over the displays.
“Are lasers targeted?”
“Yes, sir. We’re having trouble bringing the ground-based lasers online for some reason, but both Thunderbolt satellites locked on as soon as the AI found the hovercraft. They’re waiting on your command.”
Shaw nodded. He looked over at Yang, who was standing behind him—just a little too close, like a loyal terrier. Shaw struggled to come up with words to explain to him why a knot was slowly forming in his gut. He looked back at the table and muttered, “Something’s wrong.”
“Sir?” Yang asked, stepping even closer.
“No one flies conventionals at us anymore.”
“Why is that significant, sir?”
“Such low tech … against all this?” His hand swept over the table and the room, encompassing the satellites and lasers in the process. “It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. And yet … it doesn’t feel right. He’s got his heat modulated to the outside air temperature within a hundredth of a degree. It enabled him to get as far as it did without the computer finally recognizing the heat difference. He goes through all that trouble, but he doesn’t even bother buying a dirty bomb? You see what I’m getting at?”
Yang shook his head. “It seems straightforward to me, sir. By the book.”
“And how does the book say we should proceed when we have a single pilot raider this close to the Installation?”
“Make contact with the pilot and warn him off.”
That had never worked once, of course, but Shaw nodded. “Right you are. What frequency is our pilot on?” Shaw called to Iverson. Protocol dictated that whoever jumped to the raider looked for weapons and looked inside the cockpit, taking note of all communication devices.
“Old fashioned wireless. Channel four.”
“Grab the wireless over there, would you, Yang?”
Yang scampered to the wall where it hung and returned with the transmitter and receiver.
Shaw took it up in his hand, noticing the curly black cord that stretched from the console to the microphone. Sometimes he couldn’t get over that people once used things like this. He pressed the button on the side. “Unidentified hovercraft, unidentified hovercraft, you have crossed into restricted airspace. Please drop your speed and turn around. We will escort you out of the restricted area. Do you copy? Over.”