Can You See Me Now?

by Lubrican

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Chapter Four

He wouldn't have known she sent her message, except for the fact that he'd forgotten to disable the chime. When it went off, he was in the middle of searching for a white pickup in a remote part of an unpronounceable province in Afghanistan. The pickup was loaded with terrorists who had killed a number of civilians in a revenge attack, and then mortared a U.S. patrol sent out to find them, before fleeing. The weather prevented helicopters from looking for them, but infra red didn't care if it was cloudy, so he was called on.

He had set the bird to alert him to any movement above ten miles per hour. It had given him five things to investigate, and he had found what he believed to be the suspect vehicle just as the chime sounded. He filed the chime away in the back of his mind and sent the coordinates of the pickup to Delta 578. He didn't know who Delta 578 was, but he suspected it was a CIA asset. If helicopters couldn't fly in the area, then the only thing they could use against this truck was a drone, which could operate above most weather. He sent along a still photo of the men in the back of the truck. It was clear they had weapons in their hands.

He left his console as it was, and within ten minutes the suspect vehicle he'd notified Delta 578 of had tripled its speed. He zoomed in on the truck, which was still bucking its way along a mountain road. Zooming further, he could see the six men were still in the back of the truck. He punched the button for thermal imaging and saw two more bodies through the roof of the cab. He jerked backward when the whole screen blanked out in a white haze, and realized he'd just seen the drone strike take out the truck. It had overwhelmed the filters in his camera, zoomed in like he was.

He looked at the screen, worried that he might have broken something. It wouldn't get him in trouble. It was official business, after all. But he hated to have to call in a repair tech over doing something stupid like that. He relaxed when the scene normalized into a cloud of dust. Switching back to infra red didn't help. Even infra red can't see through dust.

He logged that job out, noting the time of the strike in his notes, just in case there was some damage to the camera that didn't show up yet.

Then he went on to his next job. It was 1149 hours, Colorado time, when he remembered the chime and looked at his Facebook page.

He was astonished, to say the least. He was also excited. The first thing he did was make a friend request. She hadn't, but she'd suggested it, so he didn't feel like it would be poorly received. Unless she was teasing him. His curiosity became intense as he moved things around. He had two more jobs to do, but he had half an hour before the next one had to be finished, and it would only take five or ten minutes to complete. If he worked it right, he could use one screen to monitor Colorado, while he used another to work on that job.

That would have worked out better if he hadn't gotten the Colorado camera centered and zoomed just as she walked out of the house. He held his breath, waiting, and then let it out in a rush as she lay down ... topless. Five minutes later he was hard as a rock in his pants, as he watched her rub her naked breasts. At one point she waved at the sky, rocking her hand back and forth on her wrist. It was incredible.

He remembered the other job with ten minutes to spare. Steeling himself, he got it done and then went back to her screen. She was still there, and still rubbing. It occurred to him that he'd been a fool to leave her screen active while he processed the other job. What if someone had come in? There she'd be, rubbing the shit out of her gorgeous little boobs, big as life on an official monitor.

He grinned. It would have been worth the ass chewing. There wasn't a guy in the building who wouldn't understand why he'd zoomed in on that. Everybody knew that the various Playboy mansions were the best surveilled spots on the planet, even if it was a violation of policy for that to happen.

He zoomed as close as he dared, and took a picture. He printed it and then took ten more pictures of Cheyenne Mountain. The computer only tracked the last ten photographs taken. It tracked much farther back if the photos were sent somewhere, but as long as all he did was print them at his terminal, it was assumed he was examining them with a magnifying glass or whatnot.

He tucked the picture in the book he'd brought to read, assuming there was time to read. There had not been, but having a book was normal.

It wasn't until he went to his sleep cycle that he pulled it out and, stroking himself slowly, peered at her oily breasts.

Dear Riley. I know most people don't start messages like that anymore, but I guess I'm old fashioned. I can't tell you how happy I am that you've forgiven me. I don't know what else to say. Thank you. I saw you wave. Wow. Just Wow. Thank you for that too. I feel like the luckiest guy on earth. I know that sounds schmaltzy, but in my job you don't have time to date. Actually, the hours are such that most girls can't adjust to dating a guy who works that way. I work 72 hours on and 48 off. We don't get holidays off either. We just work like that until we go on vacation. Luckily, because our hours are so screwy, we get eight weeks of vacation a year. They probably think we'd go stir crazy otherwise. So it's kind of nice to have somebody to talk to. If you don't mind, I mean. I know I pushed myself into your life, and I'll understand if you think I'm a jerk and don't want to talk to me. And for sure I don't want to cause any trouble between you and your husband, if you're married. If you are, he's a really lucky guy. Don't tell him I said that. He'd try to find me and that wouldn't work out well at all. Anyway, thanks again ... for everything. I mean it. You really made my day. Bob

His nervousness about writing to her hadn't prevented him from giving her some information. Probably too much information. Then again, it wasn't against the rules for him to have relationships, on line or otherwise. As long as he didn't compromise himself, or reveal exactly what he did, or who he worked for. He was sure that email would pass muster, if anybody ever looked at it. Plus, there were no real references as to what, exactly, he was thanking her for. So it didn't compromise her either. Admittedly, he had told her he wasn't involved with anyone on purpose, and he had tried to phrase things so he might find out if she was involved. But while she would read a lot between the lines, nobody else would.

He pushed the send button and relaxed. Her next message ... if there was one ... would tell him a lot more.

No matter what it said.

Riley didn't check her Facebook page until almost ten that night. She wouldn't have checked it at all, except she remembered Bob and her message to him.

When she saw the message her heart beat sped up. She could tell it had, and that made her laugh. She was acting like a high-schooler, getting all excited about a guy she didn't even know. She tried to read slowly, but it didn't work.

She was fascinated. He was old fashioned. He was polite. He had obviously seen her ... and seen what she was doing. That meant he'd looked, based on her message to him. They'd had a rendezvous of sorts. She felt her face getting hot at the thought of him peering at her while she teased her breasts. Was she an exhibitionist? No. She didn't want just anybody to see her. Only Ranger Gord ... and Bob.

She laughed, wondering if she should tell him that. What would he think about a woman who fantasized about a cartoon character watching her like Bob watched her?

He liked what he saw. His terseness didn't put her off at all. There was a lot that could be read into a couple of "wows." And the fact that he didn't actually spell out what he liked was good too. He didn't go all explicit on her. The man had manners. He also asked politely, and gave her multiple chances to opt out of things.

He was fishing. That was obvious when she read the part about the husband issue. He was also telling her he was not involved with anybody. That was obvious too. But he did it in a charming way.

If anything, she was even more curious about him now. But Facebook wasn't the best venue to explore this on. She accepted his friend request, but the first message she sent her new friend was her private email address ... the one she checked a dozen times a day. She also told him she didn't look at her Face Book page all that often. The only other thing she said in that message was, "I'm not married. My last boyfriend was a jerk, and he kind of soured me on men in general. But I like a man with manners, even if he's a little naughty now and then. Noon is good for me most days, but that's not a promise."

When Bob came on duty his job sheet was packed for the first part of his shift, so he didn't have any chance to check and see if she'd sent him a message. His first chance to do that was at 2300 hours. He had just finished one assignment, and was ready to begin another, but had twenty minutes free. He read it now, feeling excitement burst inside him. This was crazy. He knew that. She was just some woman he'd happened to zoom in on while she was in her back yard. Not only was it unauthorized, it was silly to think that anything could actually come from it.

Then again ... people met other people all the time on the internet. That wasn't all that much different. Sure, the images they saw were pictures, being displayed by people who wanted to be seen. They weren't spying on each other. But they were thousands of miles away, usually. And sometimes they formed real relationships, that went far beyond being only electronic.

He shook it off. He had work to do. His next job was time sensitive. It probably came from the CIA, or maybe DOD. It involved surveilling a particular spot in the former USSR, beginning at 2330 hours his time, and staying on site for two hours or longer, depending on circumstances. He set the coordinates, and waited for the satellite to turn and focus the camera. When it zoomed in, he saw a single building, set at the front of what must be the Russian equivalent of an automotive salvage yard. There were five acres of cars parked haphazardly all over the place. Some of them were missing significant amounts of their bodies. The target must be the office of this place, based on the flat, metallic looking roof.

He was supposed to follow anyone who came out of that building after 1030 local time, and determine where they went, and how long they stayed. If they went to multiple places, he was to continue surveillance. For some reason a firm termination time of 1430 local had been included, meaning surveillance of the target after that time was not expected to produce anything of value.

He assumed there were no assets on the ground who could do this, and that a drone might be noticed. Whatever the reason they wanted satellite surveillance, it didn't matter. It was his job. It was going to cost someone a real bundle, because sat time didn't come cheap, and that much time was probably upwards of half a million. Whoever the son of a bitch was they wanted followed, they must want him bad.

Jobs like this showed up on his assignment sheet with nothing to interfere. In other words, for the next four hours, his only job was to take care of this assignment. When he first pulled up the target, there was no activity at all. There were no cars in the dirt parking lot, and no movement nearby. He panned back to see what was around the target. Down the dirt road that serviced the salvage lot, there were some decrepit looking houses and a few buildings that had an industrial look to them. The term "Bumfuck Egypt" came to mind. This place was in the middle of nowhere.

His stomach growled and he reached for a snack. He'd put several things within reach because he knew that on missions like this, his internal body clock sometimes reset itself, as if he was actually on the ground he was surveilling. Other analysts had claimed the same happened to them on long assignments. While it was coming up on midnight in the U.S., Bob's eyes were on brightly lit land where it would soon be lunch time, and his body reacted by wanting to eat. To him ... it was almost lunchtime.

There was no activity until 1143, when two cars trailing a cloud of dust pulled up at the front of the building. Two men got out of the lead vehicle. He zoomed and took a picture of the men. He tagged the car in the computer, which would now record the exact geographical location of that vehicle every thirty seconds until he told it to stop. He did the same with the other car. Four men emerged from that one, carrying weapons. Zooming, he photographed them. There were three AKs and what looked like an Uzi visible. The four men took up positions on all four corners of the building. Once they were in place, the two in the lead car went inside the building.

Nothing happened for thirteen more minutes. Then a third car approached. This one was going more slowly, raising less dust. Bob zoomed in tight. It was a Mercedes, and it was white. Based on his experience, that meant it was somebody important in the government. The bigwigs in Russian politics liked white Mercedes for some reason. He tagged that vehicle while it was still moving.

The Mercedes pulled up to the target and the driver, who was wearing a hat, got out. He went around to the passenger side and opened the rear door. One man got out. He went to the building. The driver stayed with the car, leaning against the front right bumper.

Again, nothing happened until almost noon. Then white Mercedes came out and got in his car and left. The computer automatically followed his car, since it was tagged. The four guards outside stayed right where they were. Ten minutes later, one armed man left the building and got into the chase car with two of the guards. They took off in a second direction, the computer also logging their GPS position every thirty seconds. He had to zoom out, because the cars were going in opposite directions.

Eventually, the white Mercedes got to a paved road, which led it rapidly to the city of Novosibirsk. Bob recognized it because he'd seen it before. He'd known the site was in central Russia by the coordinates, but he hadn't been sure (or cared, really) exactly where it was. Now he perked up. Novosibirsk was near a "secret" nuclear weapons storage area that had been "decommissioned" after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He went back to the black car, which wound its way to the same paved road the Mercedes had been on. It was M53, Bob now knew, and in the direction the car was going, it led to that storage site the Russians still thought was a secret.

Bob zoomed back in and started the video recorder. The job hadn't called for that, but he used instincts honed by years of prying secrets out of various nations by simply watching them.

The site was already flagged in the computer, meaning that any activity in or around the flagged area was to be recorded and reported. He wasn't surprised when the car turned off the paved road and crossed a formerly invisible line that only the computer could see, causing a yellow line that surrounded the facility to glow on the screen.

If an uninitiated observer had been with Bob, all he would have seen was something unusual. The car drove along a dirt road for about a mile, to an area that looked like a turnaround. The road ended, and there was a circle of dirt where it looked like one could park, perhaps, or turn around and return to the paved road.

The black car did not turn around. It simply drove to the end of the circle ... and disappeared. The computer beeped, complaining that the target's GPS location could no longer be determined.

What the uninitiated wouldn't have known, but which Bob did, was that there was a mound of dirt beside the turnaround that had a door of some sort in it. That door would accommodate large trucks. The door itself wasn't visible from the sky, at least not from the angle the satellite had. And while it also wasn't visible from the sky, the approach to that door was well guarded. Over the years people like Bob had documented many men, usually riding motorcycles, who came and went from dozens of places along the road that made no sense to the casual observer. Either that area was a favorite place for hundreds of men to stop for a piss, or there were guard positions concealed all along the road. Nobody was stopped, in terms of their papers being examined. That had never been observed.

But on two occasions, analysts had seen cars on that road suddenly bloom into a yellow ball of flame. The wreckage was cleared away immediately, and not by anyone driving a vehicle with flashing lights on top of it.

Whoever these guys were, that white Mercedes had met with, they were important, because they had access to an area the US Department of Defense was intensely interested in.

Half an hour later, the car suddenly reappeared. The computer alerted him with a tone when the tagged vehicle appeared again. GPS location was reacquired. It was a sedan, so Bob couldn't see inside it. All he could do was watch as it returned the way it had come, to the original targeted building.

When they got out and went into the building again, the remaining two outside guards joined them. Bob looked at his watch. It was 0125. He marveled at whoever had planned and authorized this job. Evidently, they had expected everything that had happened to happen, and his efforts had simply confirmed it.

A lot of his work was like that. People gathered bits and pieces of information together. These seemingly unconnected snippets of data were like puzzle pieces, and the right people, with the right instincts and talents, could put those pieces where they might go before the big picture could be seen. He knew he provided pieces of the puzzle to them, but in many cases, the pieces he sent them were duplicates of what they already knew.

Then again, it is one thing to know there is a bird in the forest. It is entirely another to have a picture of that bird sitting on the branch of a specific tree in that forest.

He logged the job out. He didn't have anything else scheduled for the rest of his shift. He let his fingers drift to activate the bird over the central U.S. Most people would have called it "night" and, technically, it was, but the spray of light across the United States made the darkness look alive with activity. His fingers punched buttons and he looked at Riley's house. The filters were already in place and he was able to see the chaise lounge in the back yard. Of course she wasn't on it. She was inside, in bed, asleep, most likely.

He wondered what it would be like to be there with her.

Dear Riley. I feel so silly starting that way, but I can't help it. I hope you don't think I'm a dork. I am sad to say that, if you lay out today, I will miss it, because my schedule won't allow me to look your way. You might think all I have to do is watch beautiful women sunning themselves, but that's not the case at all. In fact, you're the only beautiful woman I've ever zeroed in on. I could tell you stories about some of the guys who got in trouble by watching certain mansions owned by some guy named Hefner, but doing that will get you in big trouble. Actually, I suppose I would get yelled at for looking at you. What I mean is that we don't normally invade anyone's privacy unless we really have to. I really do try to have manners. Anyway, I'm really sad I missed you. Really sad. You're a very bright spot in what can otherwise be a very dull day. Here's hoping I get to see more of you.

He looked at the message critically. He was still worried he was giving away too much. He sat and thought. Why did he even care about this woman? Was it because she was, in fact, the first woman he'd spied at? He knew his gonads were involved. She had taken her top off for him, after all. But she wasn't a spy. Unless spies now laid out, hoping some stupid analyst would do exactly what he had done. Could the game be that sophisticated? He thought back to the job he had worked the night before. Somebody, somewhere, had known that a high level Russian politician was going to meet with some unsavory characters, at a specific location, at a specific time, and that after that, the unsavory characters would go to a secret nuclear storage site (which should be in the control of the Russian government but might not be) and do something there for about half an hour. And whoever that was probably wasn't a Russian, or even in Russia.

Anything could happen.

With that in mind, he put monitor seven on Colorado, his fingers mousing over her house and enlarging it automatically. He watched as the magnification brought the now familiar roof into focus. He jerked as there was movement at the front of the house. He recognized the top of her head instantly. She was leaving the house, and someone was with her.

He leaned forward and his fingers flashed across the console. He zoomed.

It was a little boy. He was small enough that she opened the door for him, but he climbed into the car by himself. She leaned in, probably to fasten a seat belt. Then she got in and drove away. He wanted to follow her, to see where she went, and what she did.

For some reason, that made him feel dirty. He thought about that. Finally, he arrived at the conclusion that it was fine for him to see her half naked in her back yard. She allowed him that. But he couldn't spy on her as she went about her normal business.

She wasn't a spy. She was just a mom, who lived in a cabin outside Colorado Springs. She was taking her little boy somewhere. He wasn't going to be paranoid.

He pushed the button to send the email.

Then he clicked his mouse to turn that monitor to use in his next job.

"Awww," sighed Riley, as she read his email.

"What, Mommy?" asked Curtis. He knew that sound. It meant she was happy.

"Oh, nothing, really," she said. "I was just reading an email."

"Who from?"

"He's sort of a new friend," said Riley.

"Is he coming over to play?"

She laughed, imagining what kind of play that might be. Her nipples crinkled and she was shocked. It had been a long time since she'd had a man, but this was ridiculous. Getting horny over a man she'd never seen, and only "talked" to on line a couple of times?

She read the email again. He was trying to be cagey about his job. That was obvious. He wasn't very good at it. She'd already figured out that her sign on the roof had bagged her exactly the kind of thing she'd been protesting. Somebody who spied on people using satellites had, in fact, seen her sign. It had been creepy at first. Now it was only spooky, or a little bizarre. That was because he seemed like a nice guy. Granted, she knew practically nothing about him. But he could have spied on her for years and she'd never have known it. And he had a sense of humor. His first message to her had proved that.

She couldn't help wondering if he was up there, right now, looking down at her house. She suppressed the urge to go outside and wave at the sky.


She realized Curtis was actually waiting for her to answer his last question.

"Are you lonely, Baby?" she asked, turning her chair to face him. "Do you need someone to play with?"

"I'm not lonely," said her little boy. "You're here."

"Awwww," she said again, and held out her arms.

He rushed into them, burrowing into her chest and hugging her tightly.

"I love you so much," she murmured into his hair.

"I know," he said, pushing away. That had been enough for him.

He went and picked up the car he'd been playing with, and started in again, making motor noises as he drove it along the floor, and over furniture, and even up onto the wall.

She smiled, and turned back to the computer. She had work to do.

But first, she'd write a quick note to Bob.

Dear Bob. Now you have me doing that! First off, I don't care if you're a dork or not. If I like a man, I like him, regardless of "what he is." Second, I'm not beautiful. I certainly couldn't compete with any Bunnies. I'm quite ordinary. Other than the fact that I let a man I've never met look at me topless. I suppose most women wouldn't do that. In any case, I'm sorry you missed me. I did lay out, and I did wave, just in case you were watching. And I'm not mad at you, even if you've been naughty. I should thank you, actually. I haven't had a chance to be a little naughty myself for a long time. It's a delicious feeling to think you're watching me. The jury is still out on whether I'm a closet exhibitionist or not. Now there's an oxymoron. A closet exhibitionist? Don't get in trouble. I don't want you to get fired. Who would watch me then? Noon is still good for me.


She sent the message and opened one of the images she was working on for a book cover. This one was for her own book. She was experimenting with having multiple scenes on the cover, each depicting something from the plot line. She liked it so far, but where the images met, it was a lot of work to meld them.

An hour later she stopped to read Curtis a book, and then made supper for them.

After he was in bed, she worked four more hours and finished two projects.

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