Can You See Me Now?

by Lubrican

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Chapter One

Bob Jeffers leaned back in his comfortable desk chair and stretched. His eyes flitted from screen to screen as he reviewed the sixteen oversized monitors arrayed in a semi-circle around his work station. A desk resembling a recording studio mixer took up the space in front of him, with instruments also embedded in a curved structure.

His hand went without looking to find the coffee cup to his right. It was in its normal place, but was light enough that he knew instantly it was empty. He set the cup down as his eyes zeroed in on a blur of green on one monitor. Casually, he reached forward and manipulated a mouse, clicking once on the blob of green that his experience told him might be interesting. Tapping a button and turning two knobs caused the little green blob to swell on the screen, until he could see the serrated leaves of cannabis sativa. His eyes told him the plants were in rows, which meant they were cultivated, rather than wild. Instruments told him the plants were less than a meter tall, and he changed his initial opinion, deciding these plants were of the cannabis indica species. Rather than leaning forward, he twisted a dial and the image grew even larger. Yes, very dense, wide leaves, probably from some variety grown from seeds brought back by veterans of the Afghanistan war.

He punched another button and typed a short message. Clicking the mouse on a small icon in the lower right corner of the screen, he pinned the latitude and longitude of the marijuana growing operation to the message and hit the send button. The screen automatically returned to its former size.

Within sixty seconds, he had noticed the anomaly, identified the issue, and sent it to the appropriate agency, in this case, the DEA. They now had all the information necessary, including close-ups of the plants, which would generate a search and seizure warrant, as well as the identification of every structure within ten miles of the site, and clear views of all the avenues of entry and egress. Including game trails.

Bob worked for one government agency, but his output went to dozens of others. He had an ultra-secret clearance, which sounded more impressive than it was. He had no access to classified materials, unless you included visual information relating to every highly classified "industrial location" in the country. In the entire world, for that matter, though those other countries had no idea Bob could examine their facilities closely enough to read the headlines of the newspaper lying on the hood of a car, while they perused the same words from only a foot away.

Because his work was so secret, almost nobody knew that he did it. He wasn't married, and wasn't dating. Even if he had been, he couldn't tell his spouse or girlfriend anything about his job. He had a cover story as a systems analyst who did trouble shooting for government computer systems, but he'd never had to use it. He worked seventy-two hours on, and forty-eight off, in a rotating shift. Within his seventy-two hour shift, he worked eight hours on and eight hours off. In that way, when his seventy-two hours were finished, he would have peered down from space at every visible spot on the Earth's surface, at all hours of the day and night.

Not that he was in space. He wasn't. But his eyes were.

Bob Jeffers controlled sixteen satellites, half of which were in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth, and the other half of which crisscrossed the globe in orbits that, over time, would cover every square inch of the planet. He was good at his job, which was spotting irregularities made visible by the satellites. In addition, if some federal agency needed intelligence on a particular spot, anywhere in the world, a request to him, with sufficient detail in it as to what was required, almost always generated a report that solved whatever problem existed. He had even tracked a carload of bank robbers/kidnappers for the FBI, watching the getaway vehicle in real time, and pinpointing its location so the feds could raid the compound where the criminals were hiding. Such use of satellite time was rare, because it took a pretty important crime to be worth the expense, but it happened sometimes. In the case of the bank robbery, the hostages were two children taken from their mother in the bank, and the FBI knew how dangerous the robbers were because they had already killed three people during the commission of the crime.

Generally, though, Bob's life on the job was pretty boring. One of the natural assets he brought to the job was a photographic memory, and he could tell you, without looking at the previous day's pictures, how many cars in a particular mall parking lot had not been moved since the day before. As such, his primary responsibility was to simply look at as many of the feeds as possible during his shift, and then look at the same areas of interest the next day. The differences could be valuable.

On this particular day, the marihuana field had been the only thing of interest he'd noticed. The National Hurricane Center had asked for some shots from two of his birds, but that had been routine, taking only a minute or two. In fact, he had programmed the satellite to send the agency a new photograph every fifteen minutes, which exceeded their request. He knew they'd be happy, though. It wasn't the first time they had needed satellites other than those under their own control.

When his shift was over, he retired to the living quarters on site. He would relax for eight hours, and then start all over again, reviewing any particular areas of interest, and processing new requests as they came in, based on their priority.

He fist bumped Jerry Springman, who was relieving him, and opened the fridge, peering inside to see what leftovers there might be. He preferred to heat something up, rather than actually cook. He had a new book to read, and would rather do that than spend time at the stove. In any case, reading usually put him to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, he was dreaming.

The next time Bob happened to be in a position to survey Wyoming was at 1315 the next afternoon. Out of curiosity, he input the latitude and longitude of the marijuana field he had seen the previous day. It popped up on the screen, still verdant and green. Apparently the DEA hadn't given it a high priority.

He zoomed in again, and his sharp eyes caught blobs of color moving off to one side, where there was an old shack of some kind. Toggling the camera, he moved it and zoomed again. There were three people on the screen. Something looked wrong about them. Two were standing side by side, facing the third, but it just didn't look natural. He hit a button that began recording what he was seeing.

He zoomed again, and saw the forearm of the lone person, the one wearing a black hoody, sticking out in front of the body. Experience told him the elbow was against that person's side. He zoomed yet again, and saw the black glint of a handgun in the hand on the end of that forearm.

Just as he identified it was a gun, the business end spat yellow flames ... twice ... and then twice more. He zoomed back out automatically. The two who had been standing side by side were down, lying with arms and legs akimbo.

He had just witnessed a double homicide.

He tagged the black hoody and instructed the computer to follow that signature. Touching his earpiece, he called the switchboard and asked for 911 for Riverton, Wyoming, or the county that serviced that location. He waited fifteen seconds, and heard a double ring that was picked up almost immediately.

"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"

"I need to report a shooting. Two people were shot, actually, at a remote pot growing site ten miles southwest of Riverton on state road 137. From there, the location is exactly 1,235 meters south. It's on the upper bend of a logging road west of Arapahoe."

"Who is this?" asked the disembodied voice.

Bob ignored the question, looking at the feed, which was faithfully following black hoody. The computer was smart enough that, when black hoody entered a vehicle, it self tagged the vehicle and followed it. He zoomed, trying to gather data on the vehicle. It was an SUV, but moving like it was, he couldn't tell what brand. It was dark green, though, and it was driving east on the logging road.

"Hello?" came the 911 operator. Bob watched the vehicle as he spoke.

"I can't tell if the victims are dead, but the shooter is in a dark green SUV headed eastbound on that logging road I told you about. By my guess, he'll be in Arapahoe within ten minutes. The driver is wearing a black hoody. I don't know if anybody else is in the vehicle."

"What is your name, sir?" asked the operator.

"I can't tell you that," said Bob. "And don't bother trying to trace the number, because you can't. Just trust me and get law enforcement after that SUV. You should probably get an ambulance out to that pot field too, though I doubt those people are alive."

"Where are you?" asked the 911 operator. "Who are you?"

"You're wasting time," said Bob. "Do you really think finding out who I am is more important than catching a murderer, or saving a couple of lives?" He checked the feed again. "Okay, your perp is driving through Arapahoe now. Not much there, is there? Looks like he's going to keep going over to a road marked 138 on my screen. I can't tell if it's gravel or paved."

"We have someone on the way, Sir. Can I get your name, please?"

"No, you may not," said Bob, patiently. He was used to this. They never were. But he only called if it was life or death, so he tried to be patient. "Look, I can't spend much more time on this. I have other things to do. If you want to hold the line open, I can check my screen and give you updates on where the bad guy is."

He didn't wait to see what they were going to do. He'd already spent almost ten minutes on this, and it wasn't on his list of tasks to complete. He swiveled his head and checked the screens he'd been ignoring. His last assignment had been to check a particular building and document what cars and trucks were parked outside it. He had planned to use RL384, a vehicle in low synchronous orbit. That vehicle, though, was in a non-equatorial and non elliptical synchronous orbit, which meant it would appear to oscillate in a figure 8 pattern to an observer on the planet. It was already moving off the target area. Quickly he cross haired the site from memory and hit the button that would take a high quality photograph. He should be able to blow that up and get the needed data. If not, he'd have to use a different bird. That would put him behind schedule. A quick glance at his job sheet showed he had no more specific tasks for twenty-four minutes. He touched his earpiece again, taking it off hold.

"You still there?" he asked.

"Sir, I really must know who you are, and how you know all this information," said the obviously harried 911 operator.

"No you don't. All you have to know is how to catch the son of a bitch who's shooting people, and find their bodies. Hang on."

"Sir! -"

Bob put them on hold again and checked the monitor that displayed Wyoming. The computer was still happily pinned on the green SUV, but it wasn't moving any more. It was sitting outside what looked like a farm house, maybe. Bob could still see the haze of dust left by the vehicle's tires as it arrived. Unconsicouly he reflected on how it must not be a windy day, there. He clicked on the house to get the latitude and longitude, and then noticed flashing lights off to the side. He panned over and saw a patrol car turning off of 138 onto Little Wind River Bottom Road, headed for the crime scene. He touched the hold button again.

"You there?"

"I'm here." It was a different voice. They'd probably called for a supervisor. That was the usual drill.

"Can you patch me through to your car that's approaching Arapahoe? After he checks the victims, I can tell him how to get to where the shooter is. He's no longer mobile. He's in a farm house not all that far away."

"Are you in a helicopter, Sir?" asked the operator, trying one more time. "You need to land, Sir. You're a material witness in a felony. If you fail to cooperate you can be arrested and put in jail."

"Patch me through to your man on the ground," said Bob, calmly. "Otherwise, I'm going to hang up, and you can do this on your own."

"One moment, Sir," came the voice. "I don't know how to do that, but someone else here does."

Bob went back to the perp's camera. He saw someone walking around outside. He watched that person go behind what looked like a shed. He zoomed. It was black hoody, who had pushed the hood back, exposing blond hair. He was burying something. When he was done, he scraped his foot over the site and took the shovel he'd been using around the shed. He put it inside, and then returned to the house.

"Hello? This is Sheriff Tom Rogers, Fremont County, Wyoming? Who am I speaking to?"

"Just call me Frank," said Bob. "You want to snag yourself a murderer?"

"I don't know if I have a murderer to snag or not," said the voice.

"You will in about sixty seconds. You're coming up on a faint road to your right. Take that and follow it for about a mile. It will lead you to a field of pot. You'll see a shack there. There are two bodies lying on the ground in front of that shack. I suspect they're both dead. They got double tapped."

"Who the hell are you, Frank?"

"Just a friend of law enforcement, Sheriff. I'll hold until you're ready for me to tell you where the shooter is."

At least Sheriff Rogers didn't badger him about laws and jail time. Bob watched him park his car and approach the bodies. He knelt, probably looking for a pulse, and then went back to the car.

"Where do I find this son of a bitch, Frank?"

"Go back to 138 and turn right. About four or five miles down the road, there is what looks like a farmhouse on the right. He ... or she ... was wearing a black hoody when the shooting took place. That person has blond hair. Green SUV parked outside, which was the getaway vehicle by the way. Might be some tire track evidence you can use there. A semi automatic pistol was used, and I suspect it's buried in a fresh grave behind the shed that goes with the farmhouse.”

"You're one of them drone people, aren't you, Frank? You work for the Air Force?"

"Can't tell you, Sheriff. I'll stand by until I'm sure you're not going to be killed yourself, okay?"

"You got any rockets on that drone you're flyin', Frank? Cause if you do, you can just blow that farmhouse all to hell if you want."

"Due process, sheriff," said Bob. "Due process."

Ten minutes later Bob watched as the sheriff parked his car beside the green SUV. If he knocked, it was on the way in. Within a minute he was back outside with black hoody, bending him over the hood of the squad car and putting cuffs on him. He got in the car again and called Bob.

"Hey bird man, can you wait until my deputy gets here? I don't want to leave the suspect in the car alone while I go look for that gun."

Bob panned out, and saw the tiny flashing red blip that represented the lights of the deputy. He had just turned onto 138 and was no more than ten minutes from the sheriff's position. He checked his job sheet again. His next task involved taking photographs of a specific area in Iran. He could program that while the deputy got there.

"He's five or ten away," said Bob. "I have to program something, but I'll get back to you."


Bob rolled to the other side of his desk and tapped keys. He clicked his mouse on a predetermined spot on a map of Iran, typed some more, and then pushed the execute button. He rolled back to check on Sheriff Rogers. The deputy was just arriving.

"You there, Sheriff?"

"I'm here."

"The shovel the perp used to bury it is in the shed. No sense getting your hands dirty."

"You're a real hoot, Frank. I'm gonna have to leave the radio to go do this."

"I'll be gone when you get back," said Bob. "Tell you what, though, I'll send you some pictures. Might help with the prosecution, assuming the judge will allow photographs with no known source."

"Push come to shove," said Rogers, "We'll get the state patrol to take the same ones from a chopper. I appreciate it, Frank."

"No problem, Sheriff. Hate to see a bad guy get away with it."

He waited until he saw Rogers dig up the gun, snapped a shot of that, and then hung up the phone. Nobody could trace his call. It had been routed through over a thousand points. He earmarked photos of the marijuana field, the bodies lying on the ground, and the farmhouse, with the two squad cars parked there. He couldn't send them the video of the murders themselves. That could give away too much information. He wasn't really supposed to do this kind of thing. His job was to support national security, not local law enforcement. But his work was so highly classified, that only his immediate supervisor would know what he'd done, and only then if he reviewed every minute of Bob's shift ... which he never did. As long as he got his work done, and people were happy with his video and photographs, nobody ever bothered him.

He made sure all the shots were scrubbed of the electronic signatures that would identify them as having been taken by satellite. It was child's play to find Sheriff Rogers' email address. He emailed the pictures, routing them the same way the phone call had been routed.

Then he checked to make sure the shots of Iran were in the can.

His next shift was one of those days he dreaded. His job sheet had only two things on it, neither of which would take longer than ten minutes apiece, even if he dragged them out. That meant more than seven hours of just looking at the world, trying to find something interesting or dangerous to pay attention to.

It was only natural that he took a look at Riverton, Wyoming. He thought he'd look at the crime scene again, as an exercise in trying to tell what the sheriff had done while processing the scene.

The sheriff, as it turned out, had been a busy man. The marijuana was gone. There were vehicle tracks everywhere. The place looked like a war had been fought there, and everybody got tired of fighting and just went home.

He started panning outward, not really looking for anything in particular, just seeing what kind of terrain Sheriff Rogers and his men had to deal with each day.

Eventually he got bored, and decided to look at Pueblo, Colorado. He had spent a year of his life there, while his parents took care of his grandmother, who had dementia. She required twenty-four hour monitoring, and it took them an entire year to find a facility that could care for her and which they could afford. It happened to be his senior year in high school, and he had lived with his aunt and uncle in Pueblo because "Gran" was living in his room. His parents lived in Iowa, but he thought of the little two bedroom bungalow south of Pueblo on Doyle Road as "where he grew up". Such can be the importance of the things that happen to a boy in a given year of his life.

Over the years he'd seen the changes in Pueblo, not by being there, but by looking down on it, occasionally. The construction was easy to see. Brown scars on the green land always preceded buildings going up.

He found "his" house. Nothing had changed. His aunt had her garden in. He zoomed in, trying to see if he could tell what she'd planted. Only the tomatoes were grown enough to see well, though he thought he could see two rows of sweet corn. He couldn't use the really high resolution cameras without entering his special code. That would set things in motion he didn't want set in motion. Not about something unofficial, like this, anyway.

Bob panned back out and scanned north towards Colorado Springs. He aimed the camera west, to take a look at NORAD. There wasn't much to see. That was good, because that was intentional on the part of DOD. He looked at Pikes Peak. Clouds were rushing up the mountain and across a parking lot full of cars. He followed the road down the mountain, through each twist and turn, all the way to Manitou Springs. It brought back memories of being able to simply look up and be soaked in the majesty of the mountains.

He was trying to think of someplace else to look at when something caught his eye. It was just a spot of white, but it looked out of place. He centered the camera on what was probably a hunting cabin, except it was too close to town. The white was something square, right in the middle of the roof, on one sloped side.

He zoomed in.

He stiffened, and then leaned forward. Zooming again, he stared at the screen.

It couldn't be!

It was almost upside down, but the computer could spin the view if he needed it to. The sat didn't move, but the image could be manipulated. He twisted a dial.

Then he laughed. He took a picture of the white bed sheet that had been affixed to the roof of the cabin, with black letters painted on it that said "HI NSA. CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?" It was written in two lines. Whoever had thought of doing this didn't know much about the NSA's satellites. They didn't need something as big as a bed sheet. That was way bigger than needed. They could have done the same thing on a sheet of poster board. Then again, the sheet had caught his eye, and something as small as a sheet of poster board wouldn't draw any attention unless he was actually looking for it.

He laughed again. Curiously, he started examining the building. It was bigger than a cabin, he decided, maybe a small house. He zoomed back out. The structure was surrounded by trees. There was another building up the road, maybe half a mile. It looked like a house too. Nothing on that roof. He went back to center the sign in the middle of the field of view, in preparation for taking another picture. This would be a hoot at the Christmas party.

As he got it centered saw the spot of color in the back yard. It wasn't a propane tank. He could see one of those, further out from the house. But it was light colored, against the darkness of the green grass around the house. He zoomed in.

It was a woman, lying out in the sun on a chaise lounge in the backyard. It was the white of her skin he had noticed.

He increased the magnification for a closer look.

She had black hair, and was wearing sunglasses. He panned down her body. Nice! She had on a black bikini that complimented her hour glass shape. The sun glinted off her sunglasses and he realized she'd moved her head. He giggled as he reacted to that, his subconscious fearing she could see him spying on her. She might suspect there was a satellite up there, but there was no way she could know he was actively looking at her. Idly, he noticed the chaise lounge she was lying on was one of those old fashioned ones from the fifties and sixties, made of wide, interlocking strands of plastic strips that made the web upon which she was lounging.

He zoomed back out. Other than the sheet, there was nothing about the house that called for attention. There was a sedan parked in the driveway. The grass had been mowed recently. He could see the marks the tires had made, creating signature parallel lines across the dark green of the lawn.

He panned in on the girl again. His imagination created a scenario in which she had read an article about the NSA, or seen something on TV about satellite surveillance, and thought she was clever by making the sign.

She probably didn't think it would be seen, but she had just done it for fun. He zoomed one more step, and ran the view down her body again. She had to be cute, with that shape. Too bad she wasn't tanning topless.

He leaned back, his mind working. He checked his job sheet. Only one job left, and it wasn't for an hour. He looked back at the girl. She was teasing him. She might not know it, but she was.

So ... what could it hurt if he teased her back?

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