The magpie swooped down on the shiny metal object and picked it up in its claws.
Like all magpies, it couldn't resist a "shiny", and had already collected several
coins, some silver paper and an earing. But, this round shiny cylinder would be the
pride of his collection.
A shadowy man had dropped it outside of the telephone booth and wouldn't miss it
for another thirty minutes. Then the chaos would begin… the magpie now controlled
the nation's satellite network.
The spy who had stolen the coding transponder had just been offered upwards of a
billion dollars for it, but now his body floated face down under a bridge. The anger
in the sunglassed consulate man was just tempering, moving to worry, questioning
whether his fate would soon be the same after the Taliban gangsters caught up with
At about the same time, the new communications officer coming on shift realized he
no longer had the code key to insert into the console and the red "timeout" lamp
was already blinking. There was no way to explain it… he had it a minute ago just
before he visited the compound's latrine. Could he have been pick-pocketed by the
officer in the next cubicle? He had seemed too talkative and had some kind of accent.
As he pressed the alert mushroom button, he was imagining the briefing with the duty
commander and there would be consequences.
A magpie is a curious bird and enjoyed seeing its reflection in the smooth metal
surface. It pecked at the bird it saw there hoping to show it's superiority. The
round metal eyes it saw looked like the perfect attack points and it repeatedly pecked
at them, dissapointed at the other bird's apparent invulnerability. The metal box's
electronics didn't care who was pressing the buttons… the code time was correct and
the random code was transmitted to the network, un-decodeable by any computer, for
the bird's beak had been quick on the buttons.
The trouble with a secure code is that the following codes depend on the one previous
to it. The chain was now broken…the new code just sent to the satellite network was
designed as an emergency interception block. As of this moment no base computer had
a valid decryption code. Since communication with all the satellites had failed at
the same time, the scenario predicted hostile takeover and the nation's condition
was now at emergency status. It would be a further two hours until the computers
generated a follow up code and re-synchronized the network.
The new surface effect warship ready for launch now had it's orders. Though the captain
frowned at the obviously wrong GPS time, which apparently was 20 minutes out, the
orders had all the looks of yet another live fire exercise. Already the computers
were acquiring aerial targets which were apparently invading their airspace. Suddenly
the time and location of normal air traffic as detected by radar returns no longer
matched the predicted norms, and the computer tags updated to "probable hostile".
As programmed to do during advanced alert conditions in the presence of hostile targets,
the computers engaged the chemical feedpumps to the OI laser turret. The crew on
the surface effects ship was just a little bit busy at the time.
The code sent from the key in the magpie's nest was unreadable but the fact that
it had been sent and the approximate location from where, were not undetected. The
resources dispatched instantly were staggering. Agents were scrambled into the city
known to be the signal hotspot. A terrorist organization was suspected and every
person flagged in intelligence files immediately had a government "visit". The search
was complete and thorough, but in 20 minutes it was evident that perhaps the terrorists
had more resources than expected. Even though no exact position could be pinned down,
the code key was now apparently"in the air" and moving at high speeds. Worst yet,
they were moving with amazing precision and obviously had stealth technology too.
Helicopter gunships, EVAC teams, plainclothes, and specialists were now all over
All magpies have competitors in life and for this magpie, the fight was on. The "shiny"
was now an object of conquest. Our bird was slowed down considerably by the heavy
cylinder, but it was still holding its own against the aggressive newcomer. The bird
winged through trees and around buildings, chased relentlessly, until at last in
a desparate dive to avoid a powerline, a 2 G turn wrenched the code key out of the
bird's beak. Falling to the ground, it broke in two. The most shiny part with the
buttons contained the key's EEPROM memory and controls, and it was immediately salvaged
by the aggressor. The other part, containing the radio transponder was snatched up
by the first bird… maybe not quite as shiny but nice and round; still very attractive
to a potential mate.
By now the recovery teams had directional antennas up and were tracking the bird.
It didn't take long to find and capture it, but of course what they really needed
was the memory part of the key to recover the code. The agents now had a very good
idea of what happened to it and were scouring the trees. Time was drawing short.
Back on the ship, the shear number of tagged hostiles was worrying the command deck
crew. By now this exercise had turned into the real thing, the "no communications"
protocol having been implemented. It was necessary to verify each target as a friendly,
before it could be de-tagged. Not all ships responded quickly, and aircraft appeared
to think this was a joke. Time was running out and it was obvious that some tags
would not be confirmed in time. Orders are orders, at DEFCON 1 all hostiles not responding
would be fired upon. The scene was set for a major friendly fire event. With the
technology being as it was, the target may even be out of sight or over the horizon.
With no communications, confirmation was not possible and speeds and positions were
The recovery men were obviously having a difficult time. There was the bird, and
shooting it down was not an option if they wanted the unit intact. The chase was
on! The net launchers succeeded in catching only trees and the bird wasn't going
for the food yet. The motor glider crashed in a gust of wind and the poor guy wit
the jet pack was still in the fountain. The specialists had decoy birds up in the
trees, but the bird wasn't fooled.
Out in rough waters, a motorboat had just seen a red distress flare and was rushing
over to help the other boat. As they drew nearer, it appeared that the hapless fishing
boat had lost her drive on a reef and was foundering dangerously close to the rocks.
As the family aboard the pleasure craft threw over a line to them for a tow, the
pirates aboard the the not at all damaged fishing boat prepared to board and rob
the pleaseboat. The pirates, of course, had not bothered to answer the official sounding
announcement on the radio.
Suddenly the air around the pirate's fishing boat crackled with heat as the infrared
laser beam cut the fishing boat in half lengthwise. The family on the pleasure craft
watched in horror as the ship they were trying to safe burst into flames, beyond
all help now. Even as the pleasure craft pulled away never aware they had narrowly
escaped being killed by pirates, the laser command computers now were targetting
a much larger vessel. The laser mirrors were re-shaping for the next shot, a supertanker.
The magpie was thirsty. It laid down the "shiny" on top of what looked like one of
those places humans put food on they couldn't eat and went to drink at the pond.
Instantly the trash can sprang to life as the agent inside made a grab for the code
key. The magpie made a mad dash for it, squawking loudly, but too late. The best
thing the magpie could do was give the man a good peck on the head and fly off.
The captain of the tanker was worried. He had replied to the radio message 4 times
already, but still the call came to "identify yourself or be fired upon". His worry
turned to panic as he saw the red laser target appear on the bridge structure. He
and the bridge crew rushed down to the main deck, expecting incineration at any moment.
Just for a brief flash, the main laser fired and then just as quickly extinguished,
leaving a 12 inch slot where the captain had stood moments before. On board the warship,
all targets that had been red were now green, and the command deck sighed a breath
of relief… it had been an exercise after all. That decoy target had been a worry
At last! The transponder code… the agent quickly plugged the code key into his portable
console. He would be in for a promotion this year for "duties as assigned". Immediately
all links to the satellite network re-opened and re-synchronized.
The man at the combat station supercomputer noticed the display of red figures and
icons turn green. He too breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced over at the elapsed
time display, seeing that there were still 43 minutes to go before the new code generation
sequence would be complete… a long time in the world of battle.