Missed the story so far? Find the previous chapters here:
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – “SULLY HAD CALLED IT RIGHT!”
“Putting aside how I feel about your having hacked our phones, the reason I asked about the cover that Kevin said had been arranged,” Sully explained as he got more tea, “is that I think we are still open to being a part of it all but I also think that we definitely need to hear more.”
Liam, who was also refreshing his cup, agreed with Sully and suggested that since their responsibilities back home seemed to have been covered – even if it was without their actual knowledge at the time and possibly against their wishes – they should try to extend that cover so they could hear much more.
After a brief discussion about the fact that for the time being (and in the interest of security) their actual phones would not communicate outside of the complex, and it therefore being decided that since Veles had arranged the original cover she should also arrange the extended cover, the Commander continued his explanations.
Pulling up all sort of screen displays of news headlines and the such, once they had all re-seated, the Commander explained how they had first become aware of these rogue tanks a fair number of years back. He also explained that at that time either they appeared to be very isolated events or that possible additional events were happening in areas where they simply hadn’t been detected.
Likewise, he explained how there are a whole range of satellites orbiting the earth – which were owned and operated by various agencies within the different world powers – and that the unrest and suspicion concerning these rogue tanks cropping up in different places had resulted in the different world powers – once they themselves had picked up them – challenging and accusing each other over concerning who was behind them all.
“Eventually any intelligence on them was then shared amongst the major world powers and we were tasked with a) getting to the bottom of them and – if needed – b) neutralising them. And it was only when we analysed all of the footage given to us we that started to notice some anomalies in how the tanks were operating.” The Commander explained. “In response to this we set up a detection alert for all the sectors that we could and, where possible, as soon as these tanks appeared we dispatched units to challenge them.”
He looked at the two lads to make sure that they were taking it all in.
“But these units were immediately met with aggression, and that is when – after these rogue tanks ‘recons’ turned into tank battles – the news reports started to appear. The appearance of unidentified tanks rolling through sectors whilst news is I guess only worthy of local news but once they have turned into actual battles it becomes far more newsworthy on a national scale.
The Commander looked at Liam and Sully for a moment before continuing. He could tell by their facial expressions that they were both extremely interested.
“Earlier,” the Commander continued, “when watching the recordings of your previous battles I asked you to pay attention to what happened to all the tanks which were destroyed.”
“Yes that’s right.” Liam agreed. “But to be honest with you that’s the only thing that I could see that they all had in common. The fact that they were all destroyed. They all just got blown up.”
“Exactly!” The Commander told them. “They didn’t just become out of commission or no longer able to operate, they all blew up. And that is exactly what has happened to each and every one of these tanks that we challenged and outgunned or defeated.”
Again he looked at the two lads.
“They blew up. Each and every time and doing so to such an extent that all we were left with were burning shells containing small pieces of fried or roasted equipment, fragments really. Fragments which we would decided to piece together to try and find out just what they were about and who was behind them.” He thought for a moment or two before continuing. “In much the same way as forensic investigators have to at a murder scene.”
“Which is why you don’t seem to know a great deal.” Sully offered. “Because you are always left with so little to go on.”
“Yes exactly.” The Commander confirmed. “But over the years we have at least been able to establish that this ‘probing or scanning’ currently seems to be their main objective. Veles, display probe tank anomaly analysis screen one.”
On the holographic screens in front to them the lads saw images of two tanks displayed side by side. The only difference between the two being what appeared to be a large mauve elliptical sphere towards to base of one of the tanks.
“What you are seeing there,” the Commander explained, “is the result of years and years of our scientists and specialists piecing together those little fragments salvaged from different rogue tanks in different battles. In this particular example it’s a Type 5 Chi Ri. The left hand image of which being standard configuration, the right hand image showing the housing for the probe or scanner that I told you about.”
“So the primary function of these rogue tanks,” Liam observed, “isn’t warfare but research – kind of thing.”
“Yes, you could put it that way.” The Commander confirmed. “That’s actually a fairly good way of putting it.” He added. “Which is why earlier I suggested that these tanks weren’t actually tanks in the traditional sense. Because their primary function is different.”
“To say that as ‘tanks’ they are dummies or front’s, would not be totally accurate. Kevin added. “But to simply call them ‘tanks’ is also inaccurate and misleading.”
The two lads nodded. They could see the truth is what the commander and Kevin were saying in that regard.
“Our problem is,” the commander continued, “that since all their tanks blow up when defeated, we only ever get to examine salvaged pieces which have already been totally fried or roasted. And because of that, extrapolating their exact purpose from reverse engineering them piece by piece has, so far, proved impossible.
“Can’t you just box one in and wait it out until it’s crew surrenders?” Sully suggested.
Kevin and the Commander instantly looked at each other and remained looking at each other for what felt like ages to Sully, and certainly for an awkward amount of time. Especially since both Kevin and the Commander remained silent, saying not one single word to each other.
In truth – had you been a fly on the wall at that time – you could have been forgiven for wondering if some silent communication – some telepathic conversation – wasn’t going on between them. Certainly Sully and Liam both wondered what was going on.
In fact the only thing that was obvious throughout this silent exchange, was that the questions, the considerations, the deliberations – which had in fact resulted from Sully’s question – were so plain to see on both of their faces.
Throughout this silent exchange Sully and Liam simply looked at the Commander and Kevin, whilst also glancing at each other from time to time. And Liam was just about to ask what exactly was going on when the Commander suddenly turned his attention back to the two lads.
Leaning forward in his chair and placing his elbows, forearms and hands on the table, he spoke in a very calm, serious and deliberate manner, directing his next words directly to them.
“This is where perhaps things will make far more sense to you both in respect of why we are asking for your help.” He told them.
It was a statement which immediately peaked the interest of both Liam and Sully alike. The main reason being because with everything they had learned up until now, what they had been told and what they had witnessed, whilst interesting – even fascinating at times – none of it (other perhaps than the involvement of tanks in it all) actually explained why they should both be needed.
“It is also.” The Commander added, very seriously and with a sense of deliberate gravity. “Where you will both need to give me a very clear and definitive answer as to whether or not you are willing to join us.”
Liam and Sully looked at each other. In truth they both felt a not insignificant amount of nervous anticipation. It was one of those times when you really, really need to know something and yet at the same time are not totally sure you actually want to know it.
“None of the tanks in question – none of theirs and none of ours, although admittedly this was not the case for ours in the very beginning, but certainly not now and not for some time.” The Commander told them. “None of the tanks in any of these battles have crews.” He looked at each of the two lads as soon as he had finished making that statement. “They are, at least you would understand them to be, ‘drone tanks’.
For a moment or two neither Liam nor Sully responded. Both trying to take in what they had just heard.
Both having an interest in tanks they had each heard rumours, seen items on the web, about different nations developing such things. But neither of them had thought that they had already been developed. Liam even recalled reading or hearing something about ‘Ripsaw’. A drone or robot tank which had been developed by the US. But in terms of comparison it was far different from the conventional style of tanks.
It was in fact Sully who was the first to speak in response to the Commander’s announcement. And his response was not one which the Commander had anticipated.
A minute or so after the Commander’s revelation it was as if a light bulb had turned on in Sully’s mind and he suddenly announced the words, “See I told you the lack of casualties in all those news reports was weird!”
It was a statement which cause Liam to look at Sully with a slight bit of bewilderment. “Out of everything you could have come up with in response to that revelation, you come up with, “See I told you so,” he laughed.
“Yep, Sully had called it right.” Kevin added.
“But you said that my pointing that out was going to keep you up all night wondering about it.” Liam challenged Kevin.
“Think about it.” Kevin replied with a smile. At that point you had no idea about any of this or of my involvement in it and your possible involvement hadn’t yet been decided. And additionally there were others in the chat. How else was I meant to respond? “Oh don’t worry, I am a secret agent and know all about that. There’s actually nothing to worry about.”?