Geoff Peale placed the telephone handset back on the duty station's console, took a sip from his cawfee mug, and said, "Finally, an interesting Sunday morning."
He sat back in his chair at the top level of the combat information center at Fort Brighton, the base of the Coronado Defense Forces' 23rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and watched the images playing on the master situation display screens on the far wall. He'd just called his commanding officer, Jack Sanlander, and informed him that there was an "event" occurring with a troop under Geoff's command. Grateful for any excuse to get away from his paperwork, Jack had said he'd be right there.
A couple of minutes later, he heard footsteps as Jack came up to the station. Geoff started to stand up, but Jack said, "As you were, Geoff, geez."
Geoff turned in his seat to face him and said, "Good morning, sir, I hope I didn't disturb you."
Jack chuckled. "Oh, please, disturb me from reading supply forecasts whenever possible," he said as he looked at the master displays. "What's up?"
Geoff turned back around in his seat and said, "K Troop is out surveying the route to that aluminum deposit that Coronado Aerospace is all hot and bothered over, and they've found the wreckage of a vehicle. The wreckage is scattered over a very wide area, and it seems to be from an aircraft. King Six has a Wasp drone with him for the survey, so I ordered it out to help with the search."
"Okay," Jack said as he studied the screens. "The Wasp's feed is in the middle, there?"
"Yes, sir," Geoff replied, "and the other displays are the sensor feeds from King Three and Four, routed through the Wasp. They first found the wreckage."
"Hmm," Jack said as he walked over to the cawfee machine near the duty station. "Want some cawfee?"
"No, thank you, sir," Geoff said as he held up his cawfee mug. "I'm on my fourth cup now."
Jack shook his head. "You've got to take it easy, Geoff. Too much of this stuff will kill you," he said as he turned back to the master screens. He noticed the Wasp's position superimposed over its camera feed. "I don't recall our ever losing an aircraft out that way, do you?"
Geoff shook his head. "No, sir. I called the Flying Circus, and none of their aircraft have crashed or gone missing around this position, nor do they have any record of anyone else losing a plane here. I've called the military attaches from the UMF Army and the Northern Guard, but I haven't heard back from them yet."
Jack looked at Geoff. "You're efficient this morning."
Geoff just shrugged. "It's the cawfee, sir."
Jack rolled his eyes, and looked at the display of King Four's sensor feed. "Hello, what have they found now?" he asked, as he touched a control on the station's console. Speakers in the console crackled to life as they played King Four's audio transmission.
" - large piece here. It's roughly triangular in shape, about three meters on a side. It's different from the engine pod we found earlier. Let's see here ...." The screen showed the manipulators of King Four's Hunter removing the johar grass that was growing over the wreckage. "Hey, it's the nose! Yeah, here's the cockpit. The windows have been shattered ... and there's no seats inside. The crew must have ejected. Wait there's something else ...."
The wreckage suddenly grew larger on the screen as King Four zoomed in on one section of the nose, where some lettering was obscured by vegetation. "Spi ... St. Lo ... something," King Four muttered as he used his Gear's manipulators to clear away the brush. "Ah, here we go, The Spirit of St. Louis...."
Jack's eyes went wide when he heard that. He grabbed a handset off of the console, punched the controls on the console to transmit on King Four's frequency, and barked into the handset, "King Four, this is Crusader Six, freeze!!"
Everybody else in the center turned to look at Jack, but he was so surprised by what he saw on the screen that he didn't notice. He just stood there for a moment, staring at the words The Spirit of St. Louis, painted in gray block letters on the dark gray of the wrecked nose. King Four's Gear had frozen in position; the only movement in the picture was that of some grass blowing in the breeze.
Finally he muttered, "Holy shit," and spoke into the handset again. "King Four, this is Crusader Six. Mark your present position and stand by for orders from King Six." It took a moment for King Four to recover and reply with a surprised, "Uh, Crusader Six, King Four, roger that," but by then Jack had already switched over to an outside phone line. As he dialed, he turned to Geoff and said, "Have K Troop locate and mark all pieces of wreckage larger than one hundred cubic centimeters within two kilometers of King Four's current position."
"Yes, sir," Geoff said as he reached for another handset.
Jack finished dialing, and the call was picked up on the third ring. With a yawn, a bored male voice said, "Flying Circus Operations."
Jack said sternly, "This is Colonel Sanlander of the Hong Kong Crusaders. I want to talk to Colonel Richardson now."
Jack almost heard the man at the other end of the line snap to attention as he stammered out, "Yes, yes sir, right away, sir." There was a brief pause, than an amused female voice said, "Hi, Jack. Why are you scaring my duty sergeant?"
"Nora, we found The Spirit of St. Louis."
There was a stunned silence, then, "You're kidding. Where?!?"
Jack looked at the Wasp's position displayed on the master screen. "About one hundred and fifty kilometers from here. Can you get The Samaritan ready?"
"Hell, yes," Nora said, "we'll get right on it."
"Hey, save me a place, will you?" Jack asked.
"Sure thing. We'll be ready in about an hour," Nora said before hanging up.
Jack placed the handset back on the console and turned to Geoff. "I need a fast vehicle and driver to take me to Kearny Field in fifteen minutes. I'm going out there."
"Right away, sir," said Geoff. As Jack turned to leave, Geoff asked, "Um, excuse me, sir? What was this bird? What's so special about it?"
Jack said over his shoulder as he hustled away from the station, "I'll tell you later ...."
Continue to Part Three