Unknown Mission, Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Private A. L. Snyder stood outside the office of the post commander. He eyed the plastic sign beside the door, which read, “Major Paul Dread.”

Snyder pulled his blue service cap lower over his dark blond high and tight, double checked to make sure his full dress uniform’s jacket and tie were straight, and knocked. This getup was extremely hot and so not his style. Only bright side was that the chicks agreed with his temperature assessment.

A harsh voice snapped, “Enter!”

Snyder went in. A somewhat pale, thin man sat behind the desk, also in full dress, but without the jacket. The major’s light blond hair, streaked with white, glistened under the dim light of the office and his smoky gray eyes were fixed on the computer monitor. He turned the laptop away from Snyder and continued to stare at it.

Snyder saluted and stood at attention. “Private Snyder, reporting for duty, sir!”

The Major ignored him, focusing on the computer screen. Snyder leaned sideways. That explained it. Several naked women filled the screen.

Dread closed the page and turned his head towards Snyder. “Private, at ease.”

Snyder placed his arms behind him and relaxed his stance.

Dread glanced him over disdainfully, almost leering. “So you’re the two bit gang leader from JD that some genius decided could be trusted in the Intelligence corps.”

“Sir, with all due respect, my assignment was approved by you, sir.”

The Major snapped the laptop shut and stood. “No, Private, it was not. It was approved by my predecessor, before he was transferred to Colorado. I had the misfortune to arrive to find a hate criminal on staff. Now, I’m no intelligence officer. This assignment was anything but my first choice, but I can read a file, and I’ve read yours. If you get out of line for one nanosecond, I will see to it that you are court-martialed, and rest assured a flogging will be the least of your concerns. You’ll be as good as dead when the Boise DA gets a hold of you.”

Snyder said nothing. He wouldn’t give the sickly-looking major the satisfaction. Less than three years in the military meant death by hanging. “Sir, may I know my duty assignment?”

The Major pressed a button on his phone. “Gooding, I have a new information tech for you. Meet him outside my office.” The Major turned to Snyder. “Now, Private, go outside the hall, stand, and wait. You’re dismissed.”

Snyder saluted, but Dread ignored him. Snyder marched out of the office and leaned his back against the drywall.

A somewhat portly red-haired captain arrived with Gooding on his name patch. Snyder stood at attention and saluted.

“At ease, soldier.” Gooding grabbed Snyder’s hand and shook it. “Welcome to the Hecht listening post. Come with me, and I’ll show you around.”

They walked down a dimly lit gray corridor to a steel door. Gooding ran his hand across the tag reader. “Admin mode.”

Gooding said, “Now place your hand on the reader.”

The reader said, “Private A. L. Snyder. Set access.”

Gooding said, “Set Access as E-2.”

“Access set.”

The door slid back into the wall.

Gooding and Snyder walked through, and the door closed behind them. Gooding waved. “Welcome to the Information Center, the heart of Military Intelligence.”

Emergency lights on the sidewall struggled against the gloom, making the hallway seem bright in comparison. Snyder looked up at theater-style rows of head-set donned soldiers, each in their own upward-facing cube. Steps in the middle went from the bottom row to the top row, with five cubes on the right and six on the left side of each row.

Gooding pointed to the right side of the aisle. “This is where you’ll start. Privates and Privates First Class begin as Info Techs. Your primary duty is threat assessment. At your workstation, you’ll get a little of everything: e-mail fraud, potential terror threats, even suspicious financial transactions. You may be asked to listen to a phone intercept where our computer has heard the use of a phrase that’s potentially dangerous.”

“How much do you track?”

“What don’t we track? The amount of data we have access to is classified, but unless people have been very careful, we can find out what they’re doing.”

Lovely, I’m part of Big Brother.

Gooding said, “Most of the stuff you get is innocuous. An e-mail gets flagged because the writer says, ‘That’s the bomb.’ If that’s the case, just hit the non-threat button and the e-mail will be discarded. If you’re not sure, ask Corporal Redondo. He’s over the Info Techs on your row.”

Gooding backed off towards the left. “If you mark an item as suspicious, it’ll be forwarded to a Specialist. We have Specialists in fraud, terrorism, technology, security, corporate crimes, and there’s a miscellaneous crime area for referrals to the IBI and local law enforcement. Corporal Redondo will you brief you further. He’s up on Z11.”

Snyder climbed the stairs. Two minutes later, he reached Row Z, and a few seconds later, seat 11, at the far right side of the row. An olive skinned man in his twenties sat at the desk.

Snyder saluted and stood at attention. “Sir, Private Snyder reporting at the orders of Captain Gooding, sir.”

Corporal Redondo stood and saluted back. “At ease, Private. I’ll show you to your cube. It’s Z6, right near the stairs. The new guy always sits there.”

Redondo led Snyder to Z6. Snyder sat down before the console in his snazzy navy blue ergonomic office chair. “This isn’t so bad. Why does the new guy end up here?”

A female soldier ran up from behind Snyder and on through a restroom door.

“Let’s just say this seat requires advanced concentration skills.”

Snyder nodded. “I see.”

“As soon as we have an opening, or you get promoted, I’ll move you. If you need anything, I’m in charge of the Z level.”

“Sir, is a corporal over each row, Sir?”

“On this side; a sergeant is over each specialist row. Come on, I’ll show you the break room.”

Snyder followed Redondo down the stairs. Redondo led him through a set of double doors. As they passed through the door, eight staff sergeants were seated behind a partial wall to their left with a sign that read, “Quality Assurance.”

Snyder turned to Redondo. “Do they check our work?”

Redondo nodded. “The average info tech makes nine hundred decisions a month. They randomly check ten of them. If for the quarter, you have not made at least 90% correct decisions, you’re put on probation. A second consecutive quarter with less than 90% correct and you’re out of intelligence. Generally, guys who wash out here become Military Police.”

“I’m not worried.”

“Not much to worry about. Your decisions are fairly easy. On average, soldiers on the floor get about 94% right.”

He would for sure. This high school drop out had been smart enough to make sure the military didn’t know how much he’d absorbed in Intelligence school. Turned out self-directed, self-paced study was anything but boring. Once he figured out how to hack their system, he could ensure he had the right grade, if necessary.

Snyder entered the break room. A vending machine filled one wall and a holovision window took up the rear with several plain white tables in the center. He walked over to one. “What’s this?”

“It’s an all-in-one game table.”

Snyder stared down at the plain white table. “If you say so.”

“I’ll show you.” Redondo reached beneath the table and handed Snyder a pair of silver-dotted gray gloves. “Put these on.”

Snyder nodded and put the gloves on.

“Name a game.”


The table morphed into a billiards table, complete with racked pool balls. A holographic cue stick appeared in Snyder’s hand. He put one hand on the table and ran the cue stick between his fingers. “Whoa, amazing!”

“Just don’t hang out here all day. Come on, I’ll take you back to your duty station.”

They exited the break room. Redondo said, “So to sum up your expectations: You get up at reveille, you go to mess, you do two hours of physical training, or marksmanship, and then you come here. You have one half hour lunch break, which is brought in and served at your desk. You don’t leave until dinner. Your job is to respond to each situation within five minutes or less. Now, regarding personal use of the net-”

Snyder sighed. I know, don’t do it.

Redondo continued. “We don’t care.”

Snyder arched an eyebrow. “What?”

“You’re going to be here eight hours a day. Four of those hours will be spent on your official job. Just because you’re in the military doesn’t mean you’re not a tech geek, and we know what they want to do, and we lost far too many to big corporations. Most spend their time between alerts honing their skills, and in advanced training modules, but what you do when not responding to a situation is none of our concern as long as you don’t commit a crime.”

Sweet. He’d been promised continued access to the Intelligence school’s riches out on the floor. “Sounds easy enough.”

“Yeah, and, one more thing. Don’t misuse Password Breaker.”

Misuse the program that could give him access to any system on Earth? Perish the thought. “Understood, sir.”

Continued…next Thursday

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