We should never have trusted the aliens
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A fateful day – July 3, 1947.
637th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron
Long Beach, Southern California
The spirited conversation around the room had inevitably turned to the following day’s Fourth of July celebrations and planned holiday weekend activities. Half a dozen crew members sat at various workstations in near darkness, their facial features softly illuminated by the glows coming from their radar screens. What had been an uneventful day was drawing to an end with the next shift due to take over within the hour. Nobody had really noticed Betty’s absence from the conversation as she sat with her head down, and her hands tightly clasped over her headphones trying to block out their noise.
‘… please identify,’ she repeated into the microphone, more forcefully this time. Static from her headphones washed like waves onto a shore. Does it mask a response? Lifting her head above the screen partitions, she addressed her colleagues through the thick haze of cigarette smoke randomly dispersed by the slow pulse of overhead fans. ‘Shut up will you, please?’
It achieved the desired outcome.
Curious as to the cause of the late disruption to their day, the crew manning the new high-tech radar installation abandoned their stations, rushed over, and jostled for position in the cramped space behind her. Betty leaned a little to her left to concede them access. It quickly became apparent that the unfolding threat was no ordinary incident. An aircraft of unknown origin had just crossed the US/Mexico border at extreme velocity and altitude. It was difficult to track, with very little profile for the radar to detect. Protocols for entering United States airspace had been ignored; repeated attempts at radio communication failed to achieve any response.
Crossing the southern border about forty-five miles inland from the western coastline, the bogey was heading north at an altitude greater than 70,000 feet. Betty’s initial velocity and altitude determinations seemed completely implausible. She tweaked the radar’s settings with unsteady fingers trying to get a better fix, acutely aware that her every action was being scrutinized by her colleagues.
‘Go find the CO,’ somebody ordered behind her. Outside daylight burst into the murky room to assault her eyes that were conditioned to darkness. ‘And hurry!’
The 637th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was a result of escalating tensions and rivalry between the USA and the USSR. The well-funded and equipped facility was just seven weeks operational, boasting the highest signal-processing radar detection technology operating anywhere in the world. Weapons and warfare technologies were closely guarded as each adversary imagined the other to be well advanced of their actual achievements. Rumors from both sides of captured Nazi Germany advanced military technology exacerbated those concerns. The 637th surveilled the skies of the southwestern United States 24-hours a day with expectations of Russian hostility at any moment. With technological advances towards the end of, and post, World War II unfolding at an incredible pace, it was imperative for the preservation of democracy that the United States of America, the self-appointed leader and champion of the free world, maintain their technological edge against the rising menace of communism.
The role of the 637th was of heightened importance that day, and for the previous three days. Top-secret, experimental jet aircraft testing was being conducted by the Air Force Flight Test Centre temporarily based at Muroc Army Airfield in California. Actual testing would only occur in restricted airspace to the northeast around the Nevada Test and Training Range. The area was strictly off limits to unauthorized aircraft. Apart from border security, an additional responsibility of the 637th was the monitoring of air traffic that might potentially compromise the no-fly zone.
‘The isolation … a good spot for a nuclear demonstration.’
‘Shut up!’ Speculation from behind wasn’t helping she decided.
Keep cool, she thought, as beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. Twenty-seven-year-old radar operator Lieutenant Betty Fielding was the finest the 637th had. Her years of specialized training and extensive wartime experience had prepared her well for this exact scenario she realized. The bogey’s declining altitude and velocity projections required her full concentration … check and recheck.
‘The isolated destination … it can only mean one thing,’ said somebody behind her.
‘A nuclear test,’ offered another. ‘They minimize collateral dam…’
‘That’s it!’ Betty ripped off her headphones and swung angrily around to face them. ‘If you …’
The entrance burst open, again flooding the room with light, to announce the arrival of Commanding Officer, Colonel Stuart Hughes, who forced his way through to stand behind, and to Betty’s right. She balked from the pungent odor of his sweat and felt the heat from his body as he leaned in close to observe her screen. Wearing white shorts and polo shirt, he’d probably been thrashing some of the enlisted men at basketball; a game that he loved and exceled at with his tall athletic stature.
‘Sir, we have …’
‘Jesus H. Christ! Do we have anything that fast?’ It was a rhetorical question that only the colonel himself could comprehensively answer.
‘It’s steadied to a speed just under Mach 1, sir, but it was much faster when I first detected it. More than Mach 2. It’s not responding to my broadcasts.’
‘Altitude?’ Deliberately calm, Hughes took long deep breaths to recover from the game and the sprint over.
‘Steadily descending. I first detected an altitude in excess of 70,000 feet, but it’ll drop through 50,000 any moment. Sir, it’s heading directly towards the Nevada no-fly zone and today’s testing. Maintaining current speed, it’ll enter restricted airspace in about fifteen minutes,’ offered Betty, her thoughts spiked with concern for family in Los Angeles. The fallout …they’ll be safe as long as the wind doesn’t change direction. She swiveled her chair to look up at the CO directly. ‘Could this be an attack, sir?’
‘Get me the officer in charge of testing over at Muroc. Pronto!’
Muroc Army Airfield
Kern County, Southern California
Runways were hectic with late afternoon training and testing, with thunderous reverberations from aircraft taking off, landing, and racing across the skies disturbing the air. The potent sweet scent of high-octane fuel added to the sense of awe and rush of adrenalin one could not help but feel when witness to such top-secret events.
Air Force Flight Test Centre Commanding Officer, Colonel James “Raffy” Rafter, stood alone on the control tower outside viewing platform to enjoy the spectacular display of man defying nature. I love this shit, he reflected. His heart skipped as a massive B-29 Superfortress hesitated momentarily before conceding to flight. Wearing thick-framed black sunglasses and smoking his favorite “MacArthur” pipe, he often imagined himself looking a bit like the famous general himself.
A highly-decorated wartime hero, he’d successfully flown and commanded numerous missions in both the European and Pacific theaters. With the reputation of a strong and decisive leader, he was both respected and feared by those who served under him. Rafter commanded an operation intrinsic to the integration of captured Nazi aerial warfare technologies vital to the development of jet and missile capabilities.
Groom Lake Airfield and its infrastructure situated at the isolated Nevada Testing Range, often referred to as Home Base, were undergoing major upgrades. Rafter had been chosen to head up all future aircraft testing and research from the upgraded facility. His next major test exercise would be solely under his command, with testing in full view of the Groom Lake flight tower. Thinking about that approaching day brought him immense pride. In preparation for the move, he’d insisted on clear demarcations for authority to act in all matters of security. His command now conferred exceptional autonomy and personal authority to defend the Groom Lake project … power that was the envy of many of his superiors.
Lost in thought, taking in the “awesomeness” of his command, he barely caught his name being paged from the loudspeaker above. Rushing inside to the nearest telephone, he took the call from Colonel Hughes. It was a short conversation. That’s it then … the rumors are true, he thought. The Soviets are well ahead of us. The incursion into United States territory, into his new territory, and the attempt to spy on his testing program, would not go unanswered.
Time was short, too short to launch an intercept from Muroc. Several propeller-driven aircraft were in the area to monitor the tests, but they were slow and not armed. The B-29 that had just taken off for the Nevada testing range presented his best and only option. Inside the massive B-29’s bowel ready for launch was a missile equipped experimental Bell X-1 jet. By chance, this aircraft was chosen to carry new top-secret experimental Aim-4 Falcon air-to-air heat-seeking missiles. Rafter didn’t hesitate; the X-1 would make a stand.
The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1 was built for aviation testing purposes. It wasn’t originally designed to carry weapons. However, this highly modified X-1 had been prepared for transonic testing in simulated battle conditions in order to understand the altered aerodynamics of carrying underwing-mounted missiles. They’d never previously been fired from any aircraft. The missiles were considered fully functional however, if not proven.
As an aircraft specifically designed for development and testing, the X-1 didn’t carry on-board radar. Back at the 637th, Betty calculated an intercept solution for the B-29/X-1, instructing the pilots accordingly. Projected intercept would take place less than a minute before the intruder penetrated restricted Nevada airspace.
Rafter pondered the incredible audacity of this attempt to infiltrate his top-secret testing. If the Soviets were planning some sort of demonstration of their superiority … this was it! It was a dangerous, hostile, and unprovoked intrusion, and the exceptional level of technology on display was concerning; his worst fears of Soviet military superiority. We can’t afford to show weakness. His determination … bring it down before it entered the restricted zone.
The behavior of this mysterious intruder wasn’t what might be expected from a hostile enemy. The aircraft descended steadily and predictably as if unconcerned about anything the US military might throw up against it. It hadn’t altered speed or course. Still, it was a complex calculation. The B-29 would steer a course towards the Nevada Testing Range until gaining an altitude of 20,000 feet at which point it would drop-launch the X-1. Intercept would take place in approximately nine minutes, forty miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada
‘Thirty seconds, Captain.’ The B-29 Flight Commander’s voice in his helmet grabbed Captain Matt Done back from the past; a dogfight with an unfortunate “Jap” over the Coral Sea. His first and only kill more than five years previously. ‘Are you prepped and ready?’
Sitting in almost total darkness, alone with his misgivings, he didn’t answer immediately as he considered asking for his new orders to be confirmed. Who is this enemy?
‘Captain, are we green to go?’
Done lit up his instrument panel and adjusted his eyes to the glare. To his right were two red buttons covered by two red flip up safety catches. He reached over and touched them lightly … to know their presence.
‘Checks complete. Green to go,’ he said, eventually.
The enormous B-29 leveled off, and steadied to a predetermined speed of 250 mph.
‘… three, two, one, release,’ came through his headset.
The sleek silver X-1 drop-launched from the specially modified B-29 bomb bay and slipped weightlessly into a silent void. Looking up through the glass canopy, Done judged the moment he was sufficiently clear of his host and turned on all four cylinders in rapid sequence, powering the 6,000-pound thrust single liquid propellant rocket engine into life. G-force pinned his head back hard against the headrest as the nose slowly lifted.
Exceeding 30,000 feet and climbing, he monitored his speed as the rocket engine easily propelled the aircraft through the 500 mph mark. The control stick shuddered violently as the altered aerodynamics, caused by the addition of working weapons, disrupted the aircraft’s normally smoother handling. This weapons-upgraded version of the X-1 had never previously flown faster than 480 mph he realized as he cut through the final high-level cloud and a vast uninterrupted panorama opened before him.
Employing the expert solution prescribed by Betty back at the 637th, Captain Done flicked up the toggle switches to shut down two of the rocket’s four cylinders to slow the tremendous rate of acceleration, assist controlled flight, and extend his remaining fuel burn time to six minutes. He barely noticed the poor aerodynamics though as he tried to imagine his enemy from the incredible statistics of the incursion. Assessing the X-1’s performance to be “within expectations”, he continued to push his aircraft beyond the limits of its known capabilities.
The bogey maintained a steady speed just under Mach 1, at around 730 mph. Leveling off at an altitude of 37,000 feet, it was proceeding directly towards the heart of the Nevada Test Range, continuing to ignore communication attempts being broadcast under direct supervision of Colonel Rafter from Muroc. Done’s preferred scenario was for the bogey to realize it had been detected and change course. It would need to alter course very soon though.
The X-1’s violent protestations expressed through the control grip forced Done to feather back the throttle until he judged a more “reasonable” balance of control against risk. Now well above clouds, he scanned the horizon as the X-1 smashed through 35,000 feet at over 630 mph. As thrilled as he was at setting a new personal best speed, his thinking was consumed with his next action … to question his orders. He’d served with Rafter in wartime; knew his CO would demolish the career of any pilot that showed indecision “in the face of the enemy”. But we’re not at war are we? Heavily conflicted, it was not a decision he took lightly.
‘… requesting confirmation of my orders of engagement.’
An involuntary chill ran down his spine the instant he recognized the voice … its delivery slow and calm.
‘Captain Done, listen very closely. You will force the intruder to change course, you will bring it down if you can. Do not allow it to enter the no-fly zone.’ The broadcast came from Colonel Rafter directly. It would become an order of immense consequence.
Reaching 37,000 feet and a speed of nearly 680 mph, he leveled off and shut down a third cylinder, but continued to accelerate as per Betty’s instruction. Despite pushing his aircraft way beyond safety considerations, he wasn’t going to make the original intercept projection. The added weight of weapons, and the disrupted aerodynamic efficiency they caused, impeded the X-1’s performance. Betty corrected his course to a new intercept just inside the no-fly zone. A short time later a long thin vapor trail came into view.
‘I see it. Something coming from starboard. It looks like … contrails!’
As if privy to the observation, the unidentified aircraft gained velocity at an unmatchable pace. Realizing this was his only opportunity, Done reached over and unlatched the first red firing mechanism. The Aim-4 Falcon missile’s propulsion massively disrupted the aircraft’s clear air, shaking him from his thoughts. Had he fired the weapon? He couldn’t be certain … the actual instant of aggression seemed surreal.
Steering to port away from the missile’s wake, he watched in hopeful anticipation as it streaked ominously towards its target. Nearly out of fuel, he flicked the kill switch for the engine’s final cylinder, ready for the powerless glide to the Groom Lake runways. So, this is how wars begin he wondered as the enemy banked to starboard attempting to put distance between itself and the threat. The heat-seeking missile deftly adjusted course in pursuit leaving a crooked tail of vapor behind it.
Moments before he could witness the outcome, an enormous flash emanating from the fleeing enemy blinded him. Chatter coming through his headset seemed incoherent. He was confused and distant, and he wasn’t even aware of being in the air.
‘… never in the face of the enemy, sir,’ was barely discerned by those listening to his broadcasts.
Without power and gliding aimlessly, the X-1 was still more than thirty miles from its nearest landing opportunity.
637th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron
Betty sensed the agitated movements of her CO behind her as they watched the radar screen and listened to events unfold on the radio. Despite repeated attempts, nobody could raise Captain Done, whose aircraft glided with declining velocity and altitude in a northwesterly direction … the wrong direction. The X-1 should have jettisoned any excess fuel and commenced a glide path towards the Groom Lake landing runways to the northeast.
The question on her mind she dared not speak … is he alive?
‘Don’t lose him, Betty. I want another shot,’ ordered Colonel Hughes, balling his right fist and punching his left palm with force too close to her head for comfort.
She tracked the fleeing enemy as it accelerated to a speed approaching Mach 3. Within minutes, it had left Nevada, and was racing across Arizona and the Grand Canyon. No one actually said anything, but they were all relieved to see it turn away from the heavily populated west coast. Just as it approached 90,000 feet, the aircraft faltered … it began to lose both speed and altitude, and its course became erratic. Radar gradually became blinded by the curve of the Earth as it dropped below 55,000 feet.
‘Sir, what about the 509th?’ Betty offered as she thought back to their briefing that morning. She pulled out a map of northern New Mexico and opened it for her CO’s benefit. ‘The Fourth of July flyovers. The 509th is sending six B-29s to Muroc any moment now. If we could get them to initially steer north, then turn west and spread out at Santé Fe, we might get lucky.’
Betty’s complete and immediate grasp of a much wider aircraft logistics picture wasn’t lost on the colonel. She continued exploring every avenue of discovery possible as her CO watched from behind.
‘Excellent suggestion, Lieutenant,’ his anger noticeably waned. ‘Put out a general alert, then bring the 509th up to speed and ask them to keep their eyes peeled. And then patch their CO through to my desk so I can advise him of Colonel Rafter’s authorization to bring the intruder down.’
509th Bombardment Group Very Heavy
Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico
1854 hours (local time)
The mighty four-engine, propeller-driven B-29 Superfortress stirred American pride like no other aircraft. When the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” onto Hiroshima, it wasn’t just the beginning of the end of the war with Japan; Americans felt safer knowing that such awesome weaponry was theirs to serve and protect them in these troubled times. It was for this reason that a flyover display of B-29s was scheduled for the American western seaboard capitals as part of Fourth of July celebrations … the perfect antidote to help quell public concern over the rising tide of communism and Soviet aggression.
The 509th Bombardment Group Very Heavy operated from Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico. Upon receiving advice from the 637th, Commanding Officer Colonel Sam Curtis ordered the six B-29 Superfortresses scheduled for departure to be given maximum fuel loads, and to be armed and combat ready. He stood inside the control tower looking out as the aircraft scrambled into order for takeoff. Are we at war again already? He reached up with his left hand to stroke the long scar that ran diagonally from cheekbone to lower back jaw on the right side of his face. Surgeons had considered him “lucky” … damned radar. The German Messerschmitt had come out of the sun, peppering his aircraft with machinegun fire, and killing three of his crew. Onboard radar never saw it coming. The B-29s’ fearsome weaponry could bring anything down … but only if they could find it. With no idea at all about what they might be facing or even looking for, he said a quick prayer for the crews then nodded his consent to proceed to the flight controller.
The six enormous aircraft maneuvered into single file at the start of the runway, locked in tight behind each other, and paused. The fury of their engines as they revved hard ready for takeoff was substantially shielded by huge double glazed windows, but still, there was disturbance of epic proportions felt through the walls, floor and ceiling throughout the entire flight tower. A ground controller waved the first aircraft for takeoff; a ten second count between each wave that followed. Good luck, boys … you’re gonna need it.
The bogey had originally been on a course that would take it across northern Arizona and towards Santé Fe, New Mexico. The B-29s were instructed to fan out in an arc 150 miles across with a general heading towards Santé Fe and then to pivot their course westward.
Flight control towers, surveillance stations and patrolling military aircraft with on-board radar were all on full alert across central and western United States. The minimal radar profile offered by the bogey meant that it would be a difficult task for older, less powerful radars to detect. Despite Betty having given advice to assist the radar operators, Colonel Curtis didn’t hold out much hope.
After the B-29s had been in the air for about twenty minutes, the radar station at White Sands Proving Ground in central New Mexico reported a brief contact moving over the Gila National Forest. At an altitude of around 24,000 feet, it had a velocity of about 240 mph with an erratic northeastly course heading. It appeared to be having difficulty with deteriorating weather conditions.
Lieutenant Gatsby, Radarman 1st Class, at Roswell Army Airfield listened intently as the White Sands radar operator described the difficulty he had maintaining contact, and of the strange erratic movements of the aircraft. Despite being well within proximity, Gatsby couldn’t confirm the contact. His radar screen showed an enormous stormfront unexpectedly forming north of the Gila National Forest.
‘He’s using the storm to mask his movements,’ yelled Colonel Curtis, slamming his hand down onto Gatsby’s desk. ‘Redirect the B-29s towards Gila.’
Gatsby wasn’t convinced.
‘Sir, White Sands have been reporting bogeys for several days now,’ said Gatsby. ‘This might not be the aircraft we’re looking for. The Eighth Air Force’s radar countermeasure trials have been causing chaos over there.’
‘Can we get in touch with the Eighth and find out what they’re up to?’ asked Curtis, unfamiliar with the problems reported by White Sands.
‘Their operation is top-secret, sir. It’ll be difficult to get what we need quickly. I could assume that the contact will stay behind the stormfront and plot a solution, sir?’
The Colonel seemed in two minds. Flight tower personnel waited silently as their commanding officer weighed up the options.
‘Split ‘em,’ ordered Curtis eventually. ‘We’ll make an each-way bet.’
Visibility was patchy at best. The unexpected weather front that was now centered about ninety miles southwest of Albuquerque, continued to grow with unnatural haste. Flying conditions across New Mexico deteriorated rapidly, with gusty winds and patchy rain. Even the mighty B-29s were tossed about like toys … no match for this fearsome display from mother nature.
‘I ain’t never seen nothing like this,’ said trainee copilot Paul Andrews, as he took in the unfolding chaos ahead of them. ‘I never even flown in the rain before.’
Senior pilot Neville Waters closed his eyes in frustration. This was meant to be a training flight. Are they crazy? He realized that entering the heart of a superstorm of this intensity would normally be avoided. Only in times of war or aggression were such risks considered because no aircraft was immune to the dangers presented by a weather event of such magnitude. It was testimony to the level of the perceived threat from the USSR that such a high-risk decision by Colonel Curtis to chance the dangerous conditions was made. They would confront the storm’s full wrath in search of their prey.
Having passed directly over Albuquerque, three B-29s now faced the superstorm head on, spread five miles apart at 24,000 feet. The storm’s front stood like an impassable wave rolling menacingly towards them at fifty-five mph, making the combined speed of approach over 250 mph. Spectacular displays of electrical discharge previewed the sinister conflict ahead. Radar operators searched the skies, but they were completely blind to the supercell storm’s dark heart.
Waters decided that there was no point lamenting on their circumstances. You get the job done with the tools that you have. He flashed a wicked smile at his nervous copilot as they slowed their approach velocity to the imposing fifty-mile front of the storm. The smile wasn’t returned.
‘Everyone brace,’ he said over the intercom to the crew of himself plus ten positioned at every viewing opportunity around the aircraft. ‘This is gonna get rough.’
It felt like an auto wreck.
‘Turnabout! Get us out of here,’ yelled Commander Steven West, from his station behind the pilots. There was no argument.
‘Turn to port,’ said Waters, his voice quivering from the turbulence. It would take both pilots to manage the turn. ‘Slow and steady.’
The instruments failed. Radio and the internal communication went down also, Waters realized, likely from a lightning strike. He kept that to himself though, his green copilot had enough to worry about. Bursts of thunder and lightning erupted in every direction as icy blasts flexed their wings; it was difficult to know which way was up. Entering the superstorm had been a huge mistake. The Superfortress struggled as it banked steadily, but gently, to port.
‘There … at my two o’clock!’
It was Waters that made the brief sighting. A sleek dark craft moving stealthily through the storm’s camouflage somehow seemed at ease with the chaos, almost as if it was flowing amid the icy torrents and the spectacular movement of electrical energy. It was about a quarter-mile off to starboard, and at an identical 24,000 feet altitude, moving diagonally across their path to the southwest. The storm almost immediately obscured his line of sight, but it was enough time to make an educated guess as to where the enemy would be.
‘Bank harder to port,’ instructed Waters to his copilot. Then turning back to address his Flight Commander. ‘Off to starboard about a quarter mile.’
Commander West relayed the sighting to starboard-side Gunner Jack Dunnet, who sat with his left hand holding his seat and his right pushing down from above to keep him in place. Not seeing anything at first, Dunnet fired several short bursts randomly into the storm’s ferocity. Then without warning, he saw it, silhouetted against the lightning flashes no more than a hundred yards away. He deftly adjusted the firing direction of his fully remote-controlled, computer-aided twin .50 Browning M2 machine guns.
‘I’ve got you!’ Dunnet screamed over the roar of the storm’s fury and the devastating firepower of his weaponry. He sensed a kill; he’d forgotten to breathe as pure adrenalin pulsed through his veins.
Dunnet watched the shadowy aircraft veer sharply to port, ducking under and barely missing the tail of their B-29, riding the crest of the stormfront as if well-practiced in the art of avoiding detection in such circumstances. It was an extremely risky, but highly effective ploy he considered. The enemy dissolved into the stormy night.
All six B-29s patrolled the New Mexico skies until it became necessary to return to base for refueling. The storm raged on for another four to five hours, finally petering out northwest of Roswell. There would be no Fourth of July flyovers.
The next day
‘… not at this ungodly hour, General. I need facts … not wild speculation.’
Jane Gray, wife of Secretary of the Army, Gordon Gray, stood in her nightdress and listened without making her presence known. It was completely dark in the long, wide corridor except for a small fracture of dim light made possible by the study door not being completely shut.
‘I won’t wake the president for this. And I don’t want hysteria disrupting the holiday weekend. Bed it down quietly … for now.’
The luxury Washington DC residence was one of the perks of her husband’s position. More than a residence … it was a home now. She’d done that. Sometimes though, she wondered if the “perks” were worth it. This wasn’t the first occasion that she’d woken up in the early hours of the morning to find the bed beside her ominously empty and untouched.
‘Cancel whatever leaves you need to, I’ll concede raising our alert status, but … ’
The room was stale and thick with smoke. He looked tired and frustrated as he sat with his elbows resting heavily on the desk. She knew that look well … too well.
‘Rafter? Yes, yes, I know him … Colonel James Rafter, Air Force Flight Test Center. He’s been in the spotlight a lot lately. It’s not quite official, but I can quietly reveal that he’s been chosen to command the new Groom Lake facility. I agree, General … a good choice.’
She decided to reveal herself and slowly opened the door with a tired, but caring smile. Gordon looked up and put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered …
‘Sorry, did I wake you?’
‘Coffee?’ she whispered back.
‘I want Rafter on the job immediately,’ he said, then covering the phone’s mouthpiece he smiled back warmly. ‘Go back to bed. I’m wrapping this up now.’
She pulled the door shut behind her but quietly listened at the door.
‘We could soon be at war with an enemy with vastly superior technology. Make sure Rafter understands the gravity of this situation. I want an interim report on my desk Tuesday morning; a full report Friday. Give him anything he needs to get the job done. And General, raise the alert level … quietly. We don’t want to start a panic.’
Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Roswell, New Mexico
“HOLIDAY STAMPEDE SWEEPS THE NATION”
The old leather and timber chair protested as Sheriff Gerry Wilson leaned well back to put his huge black boots up on his desk. The desk was cluttered with paperwork; files stacked precariously high in places. Finding a space where his feet could rest safely, he lit up a cigarette, sat the newspaper on his lap, and scanned the front page.
Roswell was well prepared for the evening’s Fourth of July celebrations; clean cells awaited anybody foolish enough to cause trouble on the family holiday weekend. With the entire staff of law enforcement officers either on the job now, or arriving for duty later in the evening, there was nothing to do but wait for the calm to turn to chaos. It would be a big night.
‘Line four, Sheriff.’
Red-faced and needing to breathe out completely, he only just managed to defeat his belly and lean sufficiently forward to reach the phone’s cord. He yanked it flinging the phone to within reach and pushed button “four” … his good friend, Con Sanchos.
‘Wreckage you say, Con?’
Just that morning, the Sheriff had been asked by Military Intelligence personnel based at the Roswell Army Airfield to keep a lookout for anything “unusual”. Yesterday, he’d been informed, an unidentified aircraft “carelessly drifted” into restricted airspace near the military’s secret Nevada testing location. The intruder departed quickly though, when aircraft were scrambled into action from Muroc. Too quickly! It had simply vanished off radar suddenly and completely. It might have been detected in New Mexico.
The American people were generally in a state of paranoia over growing tensions with the USSR. Fears of an all-out nuclear war gripped the nation. Were Soviet spy planes capable of such enormous range and speed? Were they then also capable of evading America’s newest radar detection and aircraft technologies? Many believed so, including the Sheriff.
Con’s ranch was about forty miles northwest of Roswell. He described the debris as “strewn over a vast area”. A trench a hundred feet long was gouged deep into the earth with pieces of strange material all around.
‘There’s something else, Gerry,’ Con offered tentatively. ‘I’m not sure how to describe it, but the dogs and horses are spooked, and I have an uneasy feeling about this. I sure would appreciate it if someone could come over here and take a look.’
Sheriff Wilson got off the phone and put a call through to the Intel office.
‘Okay, Sheriff, thanks for calling. I’ll pass this to my superiors as a high priority,’ offered the female duty officer on the other end of the line. Her manner turned from friendly to serious. ‘Please keep the area secure until we’ve had time to send someone out. And Sheriff, this is a matter of national security. You are not to make any records or speak to anyone about this matter unless absolutely necessary.’
‘Okay, Onto it. Please keep me informed.’
He hung up and got back to Con Sanchos, advising him to not touch anything and to call him immediately if anyone was snooping around. The military would be taking full control.
Michael Muxworthy – Disruptive lateral thinking author