On Watch


“Sir! We have an unidentified track coming out of the north!” The sudden voice jarred Royce back from his day dream.

“What’s that Lieutenant?” he shot back. “Clarify!”

“Sir! The M-Scan system ‘is showing an unidentified track rising from north of the Arctic Circle.”

Around the room, worried eyes looked back and forth between Captain Royce and their work station screens.

“No – make that two – now it’s four!” the kid was sounding frightened.

“Sarge! Bump up the threat sign one level. Get me SAC on the horn.” Royce turned around and called to a young woman two aisles over: “Crandall!

“Not a thing sir!” was her reply.

Royce shot back with, “Get some self tests going and check with the Individual DEW Line stations while that’s happening!” He turned back to the M-Scan station and gave Lieutenant Murphy, who was watching him instead of his screens, a questioning look. The Lieutenant swung his gaze back and Royce watched as his jaw dropped.

“What’s the problem Murphy?” Murphy’s jaw was working but nothing was coming out.

“Spit it out son! What do you see?” Royce was almost out of his chair when Murphy finally shouted back: “Dozens sir! Hundreds of tracks! They’re heading all over… and they’re all coming from the same polar area! What are they?” the fright was clear in his voice.

“Radar?” Royce called. “Nothing Sir!” came the reply.

“Space! What are our birds telling you?” He asked the noncom who was running the Near Space Threat Detection System. “Nothing sir! was the answer.

“Sir! SAC’s on the line for you. General Thornby.”

“General we have a rapidly developing situation here.”

Royce cupped the mouthpiece and yelled to the Sergeant “Bump Threat up one more level, Sarge!”

“What’s happening, Captain Royce?” the General was brisk. “We have no threat indicators at our end…”

“It’s the M-Scan system, Sir. It’s reporting multiple threat tracks coming from the pole. But no radar readings to confirm and Space sees nothing either.”

“Only that M-Scan doohickey?”

“Roger that sir. We’re not sure why.”

“That’s the system that taps into the ‘interplants’, isn’t it?” the General asked.

“Yes sir. It uses anticipated event analysis to poll the interweb implants in people’s heads. It’s regarded as being an extra level of security for threats that the big hardware can’t pick-up on but that people sense is there.”

“And it’s seeing multiple tracks leading out of the North Pole?”

Royce shot a questioning look at the M-Scan station.

The Lieutenant gave a ‘hands lifted shrug’ and mouthed ‘Thousands’.

“It’s in the thousands now sir. And they’re heading out across the globe.”

“Not just at us?” the General asked.

“No Sir! Everywhere.”

“And this is coming from a system that taps into the expectations of events in the minds of the population?”

‘That’s right, Sir.

Royce turned away to tell the Sergeant to bump Threat level up again. When he turned back he could hear chuckling coming from the receiver.

“Sir?” he asked. “ls there some joke here we aren’t aware of? ls this a training exercise? Why weren’t we told!” he was getting annoyed.

“What day is this Captain?” was the General’s response.

“Day 4 of an 8 day rotation, Sir!” Royce answered.

“No son, not the shift. The date. The real date.” the General prompted.

Royce had to look at the calendar. “December 24th Sir. No – check that – it’s the 25th now, Sir.” He answered and waited.

“And what day is that son?” came the reply.

“What day?” Royce had to mentally step back and think about it. “Oh, yeah. Right. It’s Christmas.”

“That’s right Captain. And the M-scanner is seeing the anticipation of many people, most of them children I expect, thinking about Santa traveling from the North Pole to their house with a sack of gifts.”

“So, we shouldn’t try to shoot it down then?” Royce was feeling really stupid.

“No – I think that would be a bad idea son.”

“OK, Sir. I’m feeling a bit silly now.” He apologized.

“No need to son – this is the first year that M-Scan has been in place. No one foresaw this… now you enjoy your Christmas, son. Merry Christmas to everyone on watch.”

“Yes sir. And a Merry Christmas to you too, Sir!”

(originally published in the Boundary Communicator Dec 2010)


About xamble

Most things I do involve computers. Nowadays that sounds stupid to hear because everyone uses computers. Except I was saying that before the IBM PC came on the scene. (hint: my first programs were entered on punch cards in an IBM-29) Now I mostly use them. Mostly to provide a community service in my small town. Because I could when it was asked and still can. And I'm a wannabe writer. Various books in various states of incompleteness. A few short stories. Might do more of that.
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