The Operator in Alaska

Meanwhile and elsewhere — two hands were at duty, and a highly trained operator cursed another day. Oh, he knew what was going on. Shortly after the signal had been declared lost, an officer wandered into the trailer and announced that the program was terminated. In his hands were the operator’s transfer papers. Destination Alaska, a top-clearance location in the remotest Aleutian Islands, effectively immediately. He knew what this meant: he was being shown that his life belonged to them, and that he should keep his trap shut, if he knew what’s good for him. Besides, there’s no sense talking: the program had been terminated, the target lost, the purpose ebbed. Yeah, right. He knew that there was someone new in that trailer right now, looking for the next signal.

Here in the remotest corner of American soil, weather like the 9th circle of hell, he had no way of knowing when they would let him go. Maybe, with good behavior, in a year. Maybe they intended to forget him up here. But that seemed unlikely; there was probably a steady stream of information-rich but untrustworthy souls who needed to be shown their dependence.

The station had ten souls and three shifts. Supplies were delivered when possible, usually once a month in winter. No women, and a fanatically anti- homosexual tone. At least there was plenty of porn and an acceptance of onanism, if one were careful. The denizens seemed not to speak much, and off-shift usually drank themselves severally and singly into a stupor, sometimes in semi-silence. Email and Web were popular, and more than one young soldier left this assignment engaged to a woman he had never met.

Can this be you, a friend wrote, and forwarded him an open request on a military discussion site, from a woman he did not know. “Do you know this man?” it said. And there was his file photo, in uniform. His name and rank. A reference to the city of ________, his last assignment. She gave her rank, too, and had a few stripes on him. “We have some unfinished business,” she wrote. Guaranteed to get your eye, that’s for sure. Damn. He didn’t even know who she could be — his life was every bit that pathetic. But his friend had nothing but admiration.

Yeah, he wrote to his friend, it’s me. I’ll get in touch. He wrote Lieutenant Murphy a short email acknowledging her posting, but didn’t say where he was. She wrote back within hours. “Thanks, _______. I need to speak with you. Can I come to see you?” This time he asked directly: “And you know me how?” She responded: “The professor sends his greetings.” She guessed right that that would have an unambiguous meaning for him. That was an important signal to him. If she didn’t have access to his current assignment, she — or the professor — was going out on a limb to find him. And inevitably he’d be out there with them. But maybe this was his way out. Or was it the test of his mouth- closedness? There was really no way to know, and so the flip of the coin went with negotiating with a babe adjutant. In a PGP encoded message: “I’m at forward base whiskey, westerly longitudes. I don’t think you’ll have much chance to come say hello.” There was no response to that one.