Mr “Cold Blue”

A drone, never cleared for flying over domestic airspace, slipped through the night sky above a North American metropolitan area. Eyes, hands and mind were moving the drone in a carefully constructed search pattern, collecting direct readings from an unusual sensing device code-named “Cold Blue.” Even knowing the code name required top-secret clearance, which had been many months in coming for these still young hands and mind. The mind itself had requested this assignment when it knew nothing about it other than that the task had plucked a select number from among his equivalents. The mind thought, I ought to go, too.

Now this individual sat in a specially reinforced and camouflaged trailer on a minor military installation, himself under guard by a special-forces-grade operative who was to have no understanding of what was going on, but whose orders were quite explicit: no one unauthorized allowed in; no operators shall take anything out; action to the contrary is to be interdicted at all costs. The operative carried a short-trigger incendiary grenade for destroying the trailer’s contents in an instant — an object that was a disturbing magnet for all the operatives’ fingers.

In addition to the drone control equipment, “Cold Blue” had a blue screen measuring electromagnetic radiation, at a frequency range that was never identified to the operator. (The unusual blue screen was apparently to be of a type that could not be imaged by external sensors, based on any known techniques.) The output was on two areas of the screen, in the form of a numerical table and a graphical representation of data taken at two-second intervals: a compass direction and an imputed latitude/longitude range of any source, and signal strength in two measures: actual and residual. There were no explanations, no general manual, no protocols except those introduced in a series of training scenarios, not even much in the way of lore among the operators passing each other on shift change — less an overzealous operative decide that national security was being compromised. The only instructions were to fly the drone in established search patterns, to see if a source within that space was emitting a signal in any particular direction, and then, if not, to move on to the next sector. Sometimes particular coordinates were delivered by fax from somewhere in the Washington DC area, with orders to search a particular sector or set of sectors with more thoroughness. And sometimes there were “hits,” which were immediately communicated by secure phone to the number in DC. On some occasions, with the most promising data, the operator would be put in radio contact with a “ground team,” which he visualized as a group like his, moving around a city with a portable, landlocked version of his drone and his trailer.

Once he met Mr. “Cold Blue” himself. The fellow was the type he knew well: one of those showmen, a self-promoter, a self-appointed celebrity, orchestrating his own life as if he were living a drama that an audience actually cared to see. In the operator’s experience, there was never an audience, just irritated and steaming subordinates who would be just as happy if spontaneous combustion removed the celebrity from their midst.

Mr. Cold Blue was a tall, thin but no longer trim individual, with a short manicured silvery beard and equally abbreviated and grayscaled cranial hair. He dressed the dapper ivied and ivoried professor, with horn-rimmed glasses and a distracted look to his eyes and mannerisms. Yet you could tell that he rarely lost sight of his position vis-?is other individuals, and his eyes would tend to whatever chance reflective surface they saw, and evaluate how its tableau presented him. He would place himself in front of and with his back to subordinates when speaking with their superiors, and he had a decidedly unmilitary indifference to exposing his back to doors and windows, as long as he could continue to be the object of focus within the given four walls.

Yet Mr. Cold Blue wearied of his role in this operation. He had the manners of someone who learned military convention quickly and with the eye of a dilettante, but who had no interest to learn it better, despite his obvious intelligence: a sloppy salute, a stooped neck, an indifference to the fine differentiations of rank were all the hallmarks of someone who once thought to understand the military but then chose not to do so. He was also quite obsequious to the plainest jane soldier, which led the operator to assume that he was something of a ladies man, perhaps trailing off into a lech. He would be surprised if the prof didn’t choose his graduate students by their breasts, and perhaps disappointed, too.

Once he asked Mr. Cold Blue about whether there might be a frequency tuner, since he knew equipment or signals might tend to drift — an assertion that showed the analog bias of his theoretical training. The prof looked at his accompanying military adjutant for guidance and assistance in getting the furniture to stop talking to him. “Soldier,” said the latter, “there is no need for a tuner. All further information is need to know.” Here a lay individual might repeat the joke that I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. But how do such jokes work in an environment where that could as easily be true as not?

As distasteful as the adjutant’s little put-in-place felt, the operator knew that there were similar treats for every relationship in this man’s military. The Prof would have felt it, too, of that he was certain. Mr. Cold Blue might never have put his hand out to touch the wall before becoming aware of it, but more likely he had blundered right into it and felt the cold slap of concrete on his face. Through words or just thin smiles, he would have learned: “You’re as expendable as any of us. If you don’t follow orders, you will be assessed a security risk, and the next time you will experience a concrete wall at the acceleration of gravity.”

What had old Cold Blue done to get himself into this situation? In his earlier, headier days Mr. Cold Blue had written a small treatise, published in the proceedings of a minor conference and actually only as a piece of speculative fiction with which he intended to highlight his genius. Don’t give yourself a needless headache — you won’t find this essay listed or collected just anywhere. The title was something akin to: “Quantum paradoxes as communication channels: a quantum mechanical model of hyperspatial communication modes.” Certain parties glommed onto this speculation at a key juncture in time, and encouraged him to develop and test his hypothesis-in-jest. And that encouragement, as they say, has made all the difference.