From the Persian Gulf:
I keep trying to get the connector seated on the damn airplane and for
some reason it will not stop cross threading. This goes on for a couple of
seconds until the TNC RF connector seats straight finally and threads down
to where it is supposed to be sitting. Hop in the cockpit and turn
everything on that I can lay my hands on; Doppler Nav Radar, Data Link,
Search Radar in radiate, mission power, that sort of thing. It is a
little hotter than it was last night so the avionics fans come on at once,
two shrieking whines pushing air at 450 cubic feet a minute to remind
everyone where we are and what is about to happen. I like these little
times just between when the pilots finish doing their preflight checks and
flight quarters starts. Just me, the airplane and an errant receiver
transmitter which has decided that it doesn't like me very much tonight.
Cursing at it accomplishes very little except enlighten Mongo that I am
having some sort of problem. Mongo is having his own battle with a seat
that doesn't want to line up with the mounting in the floor right so it
makes for a pleasant evening of incoherent obscenity all around. Eventually
I elect to deny the transmitter electrical power by pulling the
corresponding circuit breaker in the hopes that this will enable it to
realize that I really do mean business. This does the trick and this time
the software test of the system passes with a minimum of fidgeting.
The whole process takes about fifteen minutes, leaving me with
enough time to wander around the flight deck for a few minutes and then
sit back in the cockpit to monitor the systems until the pilots come out and
take over. From experience with the ghost of the oft verbally crucified
Mr. Murphy, I know that if I decide to leave the computers will go
kooky, the radar waveguides will depressurize, and the navigation system
will decide that the plane is somewhere east of Eden, (or Aden for that
matter.) Hence it has been determined by karma, fate and the sirens
that Yurei will sit on the flight deck until the pilots come out to make
airplane go now. Or something close to that.
I cut the power cord for the television in the helo maintenance shop in
half today; they stood there watching me like I was from Mars. 'EMBRACE
NIHILISM' scrawled in black magic marker across the masking tape holding
the dead end to the screen. Tired of getting yelled at for watching
television when we're supposed to be doing something that we probably have
already finished doing. This is the inherent problem with enlistment
contracts and with efficiency. Enlistment contracts because they are the
mother of all tenure, you cannot be fired once you sign your ass over to The
Man for four years. Efficiency because if you get too good at your job
people expect you to run around like your head is on fire twenty-four hours
a day. People need slack. Too much slack on the other hand means that
someone else is doing what you are supposed to be doing and you cannot be
fired for being a shiftless bum, so we're back to enlistment contracts
The idea that this cruise represents my last LAMPS detachment keeps
rolling through my head as I watch the GPS system doing it's best to not
acquire a new constellation of satellites. For some odd reason the GPS in
the SH-60B requires about fifteen to twenty minutes after you begin
feeding it 115 VAC 400 Hz to finish figuring out where it is, this of course
after you tell it where it is to begin with. (That and it is the firm
opinion of this technician that the satellites turn on and off at random
intervals in order to further complicate the process.) When I came out here
I had set a process in motion at home that I did not think would come as far
as it has, and now things are getting complicated. Watching the satellites
shift signal strength from one extreme to the other I remember the beginning
of what may become a giant mistake.
"Yurei, you ever thought about staying in?" Chief Eckks is sitting at
the desk in maintenance control pouring over the paperwork that I just
completed to ensure it is free from error. It probably has issues, as I
have never been very good at doing paperwork. To be brutally honest, I
could sooner reverse the direction of the planet than do paperwork without
making at least one mistake. This particular Chief is one of those rare
souls on the night shift in San Diego that we respect and like at the same
"I dunno." I seriously at this point do not know, actually the prospect of
getting out makes me a wee weak in the bladder. Leaning back in an
overstuffed chair, another whiff of southern California late summer evening
drifts through the space along with the sound of rotors somewhere on the
flight line. I flip a copy of 'Link' back onto the desk, decide that was a
bad idea and then begin flipping through it as disinterestedly as possible.
Considering where I am in the job market Link is my best friend at the
moment as the Navy's recruiting magazine. More of an internal thing, it
lets the people that are already in read articles by people that have no
idea what they're talking about concerning other commands. The last
squadron I was in has an article in this month's issue, Chief Eckks and I
have already had a decent laugh when I read the text aloud. There is
another article on page 43, something I am reading for the fourth time
tonight. "Hey, Chief, check this out."
"So what's that all about now?" We're standing in the smoking area a few
minutes later, watching the indigo bleed out of the evening and into night.
Chief listened evenly while I read at a measured pace, careful to watch the
tone. This is a dangerous dance for me, I am supposed to be getting out and
everyone knows this. "Drones?"
"Sorta, UAV's." I light the second cigarette still cold and uncertain.
I know what my battleship mouth is about to get my rowboat ass into.
"Unmanned aerial vehicles, black bag shit I think."
"Like what, you fix the things?" Chief is slowly massaging the answers
out of my head.
"No, I fly the things. Turns out enlisted guys fly them." Several
seconds of noise cut into the conversation as an F/A-18 takes off from the
runway a half-mile away giving me time to form the next sentence without
sounding like a goon. Oddly enough, the last time I seriously talked about
staying in I was in Thailand and drunk out of my gourd after unintentionally
crashing the CAG staff party. (Read: The highest-ranking man in the bar
was an admiral, the lowest ranking person in the room was none other than
the Yurei. The next highest-ranking person in the bar above the Yurei was
an Ensign, who thought the Yurei was a Lieutenant and kept calling the Yurei
'sir.' This amused the Yurei greatly, being called 'sir.') I sat with the
CAG LSO (landing signal, officer,) and the CAG MO (maintenance
officer,) who attempted to convince me that I should go to one of the
F/A-18 E/F squadrons when the new model hits the fleet. I thought it was
an attractive offer until it occurred to me that I would have to board a
carrier at some point, something that loonies such as myself do not mix
altogether well with. On the other hand, UAV detachments do not do that
sort of thing hence my narrow ass has a good chance of not getting sucked up
an intake anytime soon. "Chief, you think Chief Gooz could get me a set
of orders there?"
"Yeah, I don't see why not." Chief Eckks knows as I do that if I talk to
the career counselor, (Gozeman, we call him Gooz,) the deal is all but
"You think you could talk to him for me?" I finally break down and say
it, the beginning of the skid greasing necessary for the ticket to be
written on my own terms. I learned from the last time, if you want the
brass ring then ask for the damn thing. If you sit in the shadows and
mealy-mouth around then bad things are bound to happen.
"No problem, Yurei, I'll talk to him in the morning before we go home."
Regarding me with an even eye, Chief shakes his head slowly. "So it's all
"Yeah, black hole secret squirrel." Deadpan, the joke is at the same time a
spoken marker in the conversation and testament to the dream all of us
harbor in the quiet corner. Black ops, black bag, black hole, spec ops,
secret squirrel; whatever synonym that you can think of to describe the
things that go bump in the night it is all the same. There is a cult of
sorts in the military around things that are classified beyond what most of
the people running around ever see. The rumors about insertions of SEAL
teams into places that they aren't supposed to go, the urban myths about
silent helicopters hovering over major cities and spying on the population,
this is black bag. All myths have some start in truth and the only
distinction between beginning and ending being how many minotaurs eat
humans in mazes or how many strange boxes are attached to the system at the
end. I had a daughter once, a girl named Pandora that I brought up from
birth to the point at which someone from no such agency decided that it
was time for her to live somewhere else. Plausible deniability becomes
critical in situations like this due to the need to distance oneself from
the possible repercussions of doing something illegal. The more illegal,
the more cloistered behind heavy steel doors with electronic combination
locks and obscure brevity codes, the blacker the project and the deeper
the hole. If you think that this doesn't apply to people, well, I'm sorry.
I know people that have fallen off of the face of the earth. They're not
dead, just gone. The silence is the strange part as it is universally
accepted by anyone that has come into contact with this sort of work in the
The first problem with black work is that by nature it is sort of addictive
to an extreme. You never forget the little brush with the world so large
beyond what you thought you knew. There are those that are happy not to
know and have no desire to do anything other than what they are told.
Behind the eyes of a small segment lives the bright spark that they know,
that they understand and they're not even going to hint as to how much they
know. This is the one identifying characteristic between a bullshit artist
and someone telling the truth. The bullshit artist is going to try and make
you think that they're the most elite badass to ever walk the face of the
earth. They're going to tell you adventure stories of HAIR-RAISING and
SPINE-TINGLING quality that you could be sold a seat to, but YOU'D ONLY
NEED THE EDGE. They'll baffle you with flabbergasting facts that no one has
ever heard and they'll ask you for your silence. In a conspiracy of two,
they'll lean across the table and whisper about WHAT THEY SAW and WHAT THEY
DID when THEY WERE THERE. In all reality they probably were in charge of
moving pallets of toilet paper across a warehouse for four years.
Chances are that if you are in contact with the military on a regular basis
you have already seen someone who technically doesn't exist and never had
any idea. I hate to say this and burst everyone's bubble but if you can buy
a book about the unit's history or they've been on A&E then this is not
what I am talking about. Organizations like the SEAL teams and the FBI
HRT are just the tip of the iceberg when you start looking at the
intelligence and spec ops community. This church of secrecy has a
congregation and their mouths are all taped shut. Strangely enough this
obscurity worshipping religion results in a serious problem. With all of
the distancing, plausible deniability and covert subversion of the actual
truth going on no one really knows what actually happened several years
later. People remember but as time passes those memories fade, the crews
and teams are broken apart and truth becomes nothing more substantial than a
shifting dune on an anonymous beach. Granted the beach itself does not ever
move, on the other hand the highs and lows are never the same the next year.
Books like the recently published 'Blind Man's Bluff' are an attempt to
catalogue the events that never were, only half of that book itself is
something of a fiction. This is actually a fairly good accounting as far as
the standard goes. No one remembers because this is the addiction. Live
for the now and forget tomorrow.
"Yurei." It is Senior Chief Racine, someone that I have a great deal of
respect for and that I worked for some time ago. In his left hand, a thin
stack of papers and at his right, two people that I have never seen before.
The two Chiefs with Senior have no nametags and look out of place standing
in the smoking area in the squadron patio with the dirtball technician
Yurei and a Senior Chief who is now bumming cigarettes from him. The sun
beams down on the smoking area a full year prior to my talking with Chief
Eckks. "Gotta question for you."
"Senior." We exchange pleasantries and I manage to not seem like an
idiot in front of the two new people with dirty hands, encased in grease and
sealant streaked coveralls topped by a cigarette hanging out one side of my
mouth. Just to complete the picture my hair is poking out at a number of
angles that do not inspire thoughts of military bearing. "So what's your
"You see this?" Senior Racine spreads an 11 by 14 sheet of wiring
diagram in front of me. I know the system well. "You think you could
figure out a way to send audio through here?"
"Yeah, depends on what kind." Thoughtful scratch of one side of the head
and a drag on the cigarette later I have an understanding of what Senior
is after. "Oh. Yeah, I could do that."
"How long for you to have this done?" Chief Thing A speaks in a gravel
baritone from behind arms folded across his chest and doubting eyes. The
question is almost a statement, as if there never were any reservations
about whether or not I would finish. It occurs to me that Senior perhaps
has been talking to them and that I had been picked out for this job when he
first heard. Senior Racine has done this several times before now with jobs
he knew he wanted completed. Chief Thing B perks up slightly and then
returns immediately to staring at me skeptically. I tend to tilt my head to
one side and mumble a bit when I am thinking about doing something
complicated to the airplane. In all honesty this is by no stretch of the
imagination difficult, but when someone brings you a question about sending
audio and possibly narrowband data through a system not intended to handle
that you tend to think. Especially when the external condition of the
people asking the questions not telling you too much about the why behind
the what is added to the equation.
"How much time you got, Chief?" Ponk, the ball goes arcing merrily back
across the net.
"We're looking at a month." Thwap, ball hurtles toward Yurei.
"Gimmie a week. You want the interface hardware done or what by then too?"
"If you please. We'll need supporting documentation and prototype
"When do we see a prototype?" Smock.
"Hopefully by week's end." Donk.
"Standard sub-mini jack here right? 8 ohm impedance or is it something
"Commercial stuff, standard 8 ohm." Blip.
"Hmm, you guys thought about running this down encrypted?" Yurei fades back
and sets the thing on fire with a massive overhand.
"If you can manage." Chief Thing A looks at Senior Racine and then to his
counterpart. Hands are shaken and business cards exchanged, Senior Racine
wanders back over to where I am standing with Chief Davit in the smoking
area after a few minutes of laughing and happy play nice time.
"Yurei, you sure you can do this now?"
"Shit Senior, no damn problem." I mean it too; I already know what I need
from the electronics surplus store before I go home and what I'll need to
steal from work tonight. The interface hardware will be done by dawn, the
paperwork by the end of the week and I will probably have the first of the
firmware tests done on the system in two days. Senior knows this and can
see it behind my eyes.
"Yurei, for all intensive purposes what you are working on doesn't exist
until I say so, okay?" Eyeing me warily Senior Racine looks at Chief Davit
and laughs through a deep smile. "Seriously."
"This thing have a name Senior or should I call it 'The Thingy?'"
"Pandora." Racine grins again and I for the first time I glimpse the
second problem with this sort of thing. "Pandora like as in box."