Aphelion Issue 187, Volume 18
August 2014
 
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Video Killed The Radio Star

Lou Antonelli


I'm sorry to laugh, but you do look like a calf at a new gate. Pretty amazing, isn't it?

This chamber was hollowed out with a low yield nuclear device. That's why the bare walls are vitrified. Those ferro-concrete buttresses and piers are still solid after 50,000 years. They're laced with titanium--though I'll never figure out how they hell they did it.

And yes, those cracks in the ceiling are what you think they are. A direct strike on top of this rock.

Anyway, I'm glad you're here. You had to jump through a lot of hoops to get this job. Shit, the folks at Area 51 don't know about this place.

I'm glad to be handing this place over to you. Huh? Oh, I know I sound like a Texan now. I guess you know I'm originally from New York. But after 25 years here, I've picked up a little drawl.

You know, it's funny how you might not think of something for years, and then suddenly something will bring it all back. When you walked in my office a minute ago, there was a particular song playing on my webcast. It was on the charts right at the time I first came here, 25 years ago. Kinda brings it all back, you know?

Video may have killed the radio star--but I'll tell you about a guy who was ready to blow up the whole damn world. Just out of sheer hatefulness.

Let's start at the beginning. Bet you didn't know Three Mile Island wasn't the worst nuclear accident we ever had.

It wasn't even the worst in 1979.

####

I graduated from Columbia University in New York City in May 1979. One of the last big deals on campus were some good old '60s-type sit-ins and banner-waving demonstrations over the Three Mile Island meltdown, which happened in March.

I didn't take part in any of the demonstrations or rallies. I really didn't pay much attention to public affairs. I was too busy getting ready for a comfortable career as an Ivy League electrical engineering graduate. I had already been recruited and hired by a company in Westchester that made computer main frames.

Graduation was on a Wednesday. That following Saturday I was at a party in the East Village. It was great--until the police crashed in. I still had one of those little McDonalds white plastic coffee stirrers up my nose--you know, the ones with little spoon on the tip.

My whole life was changed, big-time. It's hard to work with a computer company that has contracts with the government when you're on probation.

I had a good friend in college who came from Texas, and he had gone back to Dallas that summer after graduation. After I pled out, I got permission to move to Texas. I think both my parents and the probation department were happy to see me go. Send another criminal to the frontier, right?

I tossed all my stuff into a beat?up silver AMC Pacer (Remember them? They looked like gold fish bowls) I had bought for $500 from a little old Communist professor, and hit the Jersey Turnpike.

I drove to Dallas in three days and hitched up with my friend in Dallas.

I had a TRS?80 computer. It was one of the first PCs ever made, and only had a cassette tape for a memory. I banged out a resume in a BASIC program called WordStar and ran it off on a Daisy wheel printer.

I started making the rounds looking for a job--in a jalopy with no air conditioning in Texas in August.

I usually had the local news radio station on as I drove round to distract me as I sweltered. The Shah and his family were wandering the world after they high-tailed it out of Iran. The guy who took his place was a crazy bastard, Ayatollah Khomeini. Sounded like the galoots were loose, as they say in the East Texas Piney Woods.

Next door in Iraq, some strongman had eliminated his opponents and taken over control of the country. We'd hear more about Saddam Hussein, too.

I roasted while I was on the road looking for a job. By mid-August, the mercury had hit 100 degrees by noon each day for a couple of weeks. It barely got below 80 at night.

I developed a bad ear irritation, and I went to see an ear, nose and throat doctor.

He was talkative, and as he looked into my ear with one of the those lighted pointy things, asked me how long I had been in Dallas.

"Well, that explains it," he said. "You really don't have much of a problem. Some simple ear drops will take care of this."

"Have I developed an allergy?"

I thought maybe the change in scenery exposed me to something I wasn't used to.

"No, it's not that," he said. "I see this every so often in people who've recently moved here. It's been over 100 degrees two weeks in a row. When that happens, people who've never gone though a Texas summer sometimes get earaches."

He chuckled as he scribbled in his prescription pad. "The wax has melted out of your ear. The walls of your ear canal are not used to being bare. That's what's set up the inflammation. They need to toughen up."

I thought he was joking, but he nodded seriously. "You'll get used to it. In the meantime, go get yourself some ear drops."

While I was out front paying up, he was behind the counter filling out some paperwork. I was hitting on his receptionist, and trying to impress her. I let slip that I had an Ivy League degree in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science.

That caught the doctor's attention, and he asked me what I had studied. When I told him computer hardware and operating systems, his eyebrows shot up. He bent over and said something to the young lady. I caught one snippet, "new republic".

He walked around to talk to me. "I know someone who needs a good electrical engineer to repair some damaged computer equipment. We belong to the same organization. You can probably make good money--certainly more than whatever you're making now, I'm sure."

I said I was game for just about anything. He asked me whether I had any strong political opinions--which I thought was a strange question. He said he only asked because the man who needed the work done was very conservative and couldn't deal with a political liberal.

I told him--truthfully--I was quite apolitical and didn't pay any attention to public affairs.

I sent off my resume to the address he gave me. The next week I got a phone call. A very formal?sounding lady asked if I could come in for an interview. I dropped off my one suit to the cleaners, got a haircut, and bought a Mapsco street directory at the nearest 7-11.

When I got there the next day, I saw it was a ranch with a house that made the one in *Dallas* look like a double-wide trailer. There were spouting fountains, thoroughbreds munching on the grass, and a private golf course.

I thought I maybe had the wrong place, but they buzzed me in at the gate and told me where to go. There was the six?car garage off to the side of the main house. When I got out I looked around. Boy, the Pacer looked out of place!

There was an office on the second floor of the garage. This heavy-set middle?aged fellow came down some outside stairs to greet me. He had dark slicked?back hair, and three?piece pin?striped suit. He looked more like a New York banker than a Texas Tycoon.

He introduced himself as Norton Burden Hurtt. I tried not to look too surprised. Even I knew he was one of the richest men in the world.

I saw when we went upstairs we were in an opulent private office. He had a large humidor stuffed with $100 cigars on his desk, a vintage pistol in a glass case, and some really impressive hunting trophies on the walls--along with pictures of himself with the last four or five presidents.

He looked over my resume and made small talk. He mentioned something about my personal troubles. Then it hit me, he knew about my record.

I thought to myself, "If he knows I have a record, and he's interested in hiring me--what am I getting myself into?"

Hurtt read me some very specific questions off a sheet of paper about data recovery, adapting power sources, and file conversion programs. It sounded right up my alley. I gave him some answers--which I'm not sure he understood--but which clearly indicated that I knew what I was talking about.

He finally cut to the chase. He said he had come into possession of some computers?-salvaged, he said---but they had no manuals or operating instructions.

Because the data stored on them might be sensitive, he needed the utmost discretion with the project. He had invested a great deal for this equipment, he said, and wanted to protect his investment. He said if we found anything really valuable, the government would try to steal it from him.

Then he went off on a ramble about how the government was always trying to take his money, and how you couldn't trust the government, and they always tried to throw its weight around, yada, yada, yada.

I got the definite impression he was very anti-government. Then I realized he thought we might be kindred spirits, so to speak, in not liking the government.

When he came up for air, I cut to my chase and asked how much the job paid. He quoted me a retainer and an hourly rate. I tried not to swallow my tongue.

"With that money," I thought, "I could go back to New York and buy me a judge to get my sentence overturned."

We shook on the deal, and he asked whether I could make a quick trip the next day to the location where the work was to be done. He said he had a Lear jet at Addison Airport that could get us to San Antonio in a few hours.

I asked him where we were going.

"Enchanted Rock, in Central Texas," he said.

I nodded. I had no idea where that was.

####

The friend I was living with had an old Texas handbook, so I looked up Enchanted Rock that night.

It was very interesting reading. It was a landmark, both in geology and Texas lore.

I still have the page I tore out of that handbook. I grabbed it out of my desk drawer before you arrived:

"Enchanted Rock is located in the heart of the Central Texas Hill Country. It was held in great veneration by the original Tonkawa tribe of the area.

"One legend relates that a band of brave warriors, the last of their tribe, defended themselves on the rock from the attacks of other Indians. The warriors, however, were finally overcome and killed, and since then Enchanted Rock has been haunted by their ghosts. The Indians feared Enchanted Rock so much they would not even shoot arrows in its general direction.

"The pink granite is over a billion years old and is among the oldest exposed rock in North America."

Sounded pretty strange, although from the geologic information in the handbook, the rock didn't sound very impressive. It only rises 325 feet from a nearby creek, and I think it's only 1,800 feet above sea level.

Before turning in for the night, I happened to think to ask my friend, who was a little more up on current events than I was, if he knew what "new republic" meant?

He said it was a liberal news magazine--which puzzled me, in light of what the doctor said about Hurtt being so conservative.

Hurtt's henchmen picked me up in a limo the next morning, and we flew in his private jet to San Antonio and then began the drive into the Central Texas Hill Country.

We had just come over a pass and were still 30 miles away when I saw it. I just said, "Wow."

It looked like it took up half the horizon.

Hurtt, who was sitting opposite me, just chuckled. "I guess it's come into view."

It looked like a big rock that was dropped onto the landscape by a giant. It reminded me a lot of pictures of Ayers Rock I had seen in the Australian desert, except it was pink instead of red.

Hurtt turned in his seat to look out the window. "That is a chunk of the bedrock that underlies the whole North American continent," he said. "It's been exposed over millions of years by geologic processes. I've studied up on it a bit."

He turned and smiled at me. "It's one of the largest such outcroppings in the world," he said, adding with another chuckle, "and the largest in North America that doesn't have dead Confederate generals carved on it."

The rock and surrounding area, Hurtt explained, had been in private hands until the previous year, when it was willed to a nature conservancy, which then turned around and leased it to the state to run as a state park.

Hurtt explained he had bought the mineral rights for under the rock from the same family that had willed it to the state.

We drove onto a ranch within spitting distance of the giant rock. We bounced in a dusty pickup along a recently?bulldozed road until we came to large metal building. We waited for the dust to settle before we hopped out.

I saw there was a meter box big enough to power a skyscraper on the building, so I thought the computers might be inside. But when we got inside, all I saw was a fairly normal looking office. No mainframes to be seen, just a few Apples and a couple of TRS-80s.

We went through a door in the back, where there was a small mine?type elevator. "When we began slant drilling last year, after I took possession of the mineral rights," Hurtt said as we went down in the elevator, "we hit a hollow pocket almost 500 feet below the surface."

"When we dropped in a camera on a cable," he continued, "we saw what you're about to see."

As the elevator slowed, I could see bare light bulbs going off into the distance. As we got out of the cage, my eyes adjusted, and I could see light bulbs strung on wires going down a long tunnel.

We got into a golf cart. The tunnel was circular, but with a flat floor. The sides were seamless, like they had been melted.

We took off, and a minute later Hurtt pointed to a hole in the roof of the tunnel. That was where the drill bit had dropped through, he said.

In a minute we were at an entrance where some kind of large door had once stood. It was inside resting on the floor of the large room we drove into. It looked like a gigantic bank vault door that had been blown off its hinges.

The room was littered with vehicles of all types. Some looked like cars, others looked like trucks--other looked like nothing I had ever seen before.

Some once had tires that had since turned to dust. Other lay flat on the ground like helicopters. I didn't recognize any of the insignia on them.

It was obvious this once was some kind of military installation. I tried to sound as innocuous as possible.

"Umm, Mr. Hurtt, sir, you haven't broken into one of the Pentagon's underground bunkers, have you?"

He didn't say anything as we hopped out of the cart. He motioned for me to follow him.

We walked through a door at the far end of the room, into a chamber three times as large, filled with rows of consoles. Along the sides there were banks of arc lights.

It was much brighter here than in the outer room. As I squinted, I saw a tall man walking towards us with his hand extended. He looked like a preacher, with a white shirt and a tie and a big cheesy smile--but he also had a tool belt.

"Thank goodness, here comes the cavalry!"

"This is Mark Kirby," said Hurtt, "he's the project manager."

I shook his hand while looking around at the consoles and chairs. Kirby could tell I was taking it all in.

He looked friendly enough, so I just popped the question.

"Umm, I don't mean to stick my neck out, but how the heck did the Pentagon lose a missile command bunker?"

"I told you the kid was sharp," said Hurtt to Kirby.

"You've got the right idea," said Kirby. "You're just off by, say, 50,000 years."

He looked around. "Don't be fooled because there's not much dust in here. The place was pretty airtight. From what we can tell, this place was an underground bunker and missile command center all right," he said. "Just like the one we have under Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. But this one was for Atlantis."

I was looking around with my jaw dropped.

"They actually called themselves the Asvins," said Hurtt. "We have some philologists who've been translating documents we've found."

"I guess you'd call it convergent social evolution," said Kirby. "Say something, kid."

"Holy shit!" was my brilliant response.

"Pithy, but appropriate," said Hurtt with a little smile as he walked past us.

Kirby followed him, and after a second, I followed.

I muttered to Kirby, "Is this for real?"

"Pretty big deal, isn't it? A retro?engineer's dream."

The room was probably half as large as a football field, at least three stories high. As I looked at the ceiling, I saw ominous cracks.

Kirby saw that I was looking, too. "I think they took at least one direct hit."

"I guess that explains why the Texas Hill Country is so desolate," I said dryly.

There were rows and rows of consoles. There were keypads with symbols that reminded me of Hindu characters. I realized the black panels in front of many of the keypads were video screens.

"Mark has done wonders inventorying the equipment," said Hurtt, "but we haven't had the nerve to try to power up the computers."

"That's why we need you," added Kirby.

I found a bench, and tested it with my ass. "Uhh, that's one of ours," said Kirby.

I sat down. I shook my head and tried to gather my wits. I saw they were both looking at me, so I tried to say something intelligent.

"Well, first things first. Did they use AC or DC or some other power source?"

Kirby got a look like he had a massive rush of shit to the heart. "It didn't occur to me they'd use DC!"

"Thomas Edison thought DC was the way to go," I said. "OK, first things first. What was their primary power source?"

"Come with me, and I'll show you."

I followed him. My curiosity was overpowering.

By the time I was done looking over their power plant, I was just plain amazed at their technology.

They had some way of pulling electrons straight out of a fission reaction. It was like seeing a plug on the side of an old?fashioned nuclear pile.

"Pretty interesting, huh?"

"I'll say. Somehow it looks like they figured out how to pull the electrons straight out of the criticality."

I looked at the main conduit coming from the nuclear reactor. Someone had already stripped the thick bitumen insulation. I could see the cable was a silver alloy.

"Its in pretty good condition," Kirby said. "There's really been no deterioration."

I was looking over the connection between the cable and the reactor. "This place was abandoned intact?"

"The first people who came in found remains scattered around in a way that indicated the crew committed mass suicide."

"Makes sense, I said. "They lost the war----their homes were gone, and it was probably too hotoutside for them to try to escape."

I turned to him. "This electrical system isn't too complicated. I'm sure you can figure out how to hook up an alternate power source. What did you need me for?"

"I'll show you back in the command center." We took off back in the general direction we came.

He came to a place in the wall that looked like a large fuse box. He pointed to some connections inside.

"For some reason, their utilities and equipment run on different power systems," said Kirby. "I think this is some kind of conversion unit."

I began to putter around with the connections, which were obviously designed for extremely high voltages. "The DC voltage they pulled out of the atomic reactor must have been very high," I said, looking back over my shoulder at him.

"They probably had a real problem in stepping it down. They must have developed an entire different power system for the relatively low-powered computer applications, and they used AC, which functions better at lower levels."

"I had assumed that this was where they stepped down the power," said Kirby. "It didn't occur to me it was converted, too."

"Yeah, well, that's why two heads are better than one. And like you, I have no idea how the conversion takes place," I said rubbing my forehead.

I peered into the box with a flashlight. "But I can see where the AC power is output, and if you get a generator, we can make a connection. That will allow us to power up the computers."

"I'll have someone start on it immediately," said Hurtt, who had walked up behind us. "Will you jot down the specs?"

I scribbled down some info into a pad he held out.

Kirby showed me all over the place that first day. My immediate goal would be to get the firmware powered up. If I could find what passed for their system's bootstrap processor--that's what we used to call it--I could boot up the system from its hardware, and we could begin running through its equivalent of ROM.

I spent that first day meeting some of the other people who were already in place working on the project. There was a philologist, Dan Goldin, who was working on deciphering various texts and symbols. I knew he was waiting to see whether we ever got an output from the old computer units.

####

I went back to Dallas next day, told my friend I had picked up a great job, and I was gone. Hurtt arranged to have my stuff sent back with me.

The hardware looked pretty sturdy and redundant. It had obviously been built to last. While I was looking for the computer system's bootstrap processor, Kirby and the other guys went looking through the computer for faults and other potential electrical problems.

One day, while I was down on the ground under a console with Kirby, I asked him a question.

"This is a big investment of money," I said, "what does Hurtt think he's going to get from all this?"

"Well, there's probably a lot of technology he can patent," said Kirby. "For example, what if we get this place up and running, and we figure out how to get electricity directly from the nuclear reaction?"

I thought about that. "That would be worth a fortune. But isn't he rich enough?"

Kirby laughed. "Rich people never have enough, son. That's why the rich get richer."

By the first week of September, I told Hurtt I thought we were good to go and power up the system. I had an ammeter hooked up so I could determine a steady level to hold the power. I had people standing around with foam throwers in case anything burst into flames.

As I brought the power up, Kirby began to flick some switches. A few of the screens began to flicker and bring up messages in characters that had the philologist Goldin licking his chops.

As I stabilized the current, suddenly there was a flashing on the wall opposite the consoles.

We all jumped at first because it startled us, but as the image came up we realized the central part of the wall had a screen we hadn't noticed before.

Hurtt came forward to get a better look as the image brightened. "They had some kind of mapping system for their missiles, too," he said with wonder.

It was one large screen, and at first we couldn't make out the map. After a minute, Goldin said, "they've got the poles reversed!"

Sure enough, once he said that, you could see it showed South America at the top right, North America below it, and across the Pacific, Australia at top left.

The outlines weren't quite the same--the ocean levels had obviously changed--but once you realized the map was upside down, it was easy to tell what was where.

I saw, once I oriented myself, a starburst-looking symbol that showed our position. I also noticed a similar symbol in the heart of Australia. I learned later the central indication in Australia had been their missile command. It was called Uluru. We call it Ayers Rock. They had put their command center under the biggest chunk of rock they had, too. That also explains the desolation of the Outback.

Unlike in the present day, the Caribbean coastal outline went straight from the Yucatan Peninsula to Cuba. There was a large harbor between Florida and Cuba, at the place where the Gulf Stream starts today.

There were symbols on the map in amethyst and teal. The symbols in amethyst were mostly in Australia and looked like stylized daggers.

The Asvin area was littered with green symbols. Many of then also had a strange yellow symbol alongside them.

Hurtt turned to Goldin, who was standing there with his mouth half open.

"Do you have any idea what these symbols mean?"

He rubbed his forehead hard. "Actually, I do, from ancient Indo-European petroglyphs. The teal symbols are symbols for people. They must stand for cities. The amethyst symbols stand for death."

He turned to us. "The yellow symbols mean sorrow."

"Targets and casualties," Hurtt muttered almost to himself. "Targets and casualties."

####

There were a few short circuits and blown boards at first, but as I first thought, the technology was pretty durable and most of the consoles booted right up.

But the output was inexplicable, and we had both Goldin and another guy who was a machine language translator working around the clock to made some sense of the system.

"I would have thought Hurtt would be more unhappy than he's been," I said to Kirby a few days later while we were working on some simple electrical patches. "He's seems OK with how things have gone so far."

"What he wants is in the ROM anyway," said Kirby.

"The ROM ran the missile command system."

Kirby pulled back the tool he was using and looked me in the eye.

"You really don't know what he's after, do you?"

I shook my head.

"Well, you haven't lived in Texas long enough. I guess you really don't know much about our views."

The pronoun caught my attention.

"I know he's very anti-government," I said. "I guess he wants the feds to keep their hands off his money."

Kirby wiped his hands on an antistatic cloth.

"Jimmy Carter and the gang in Washington are complete screw-ups and traitors. In a few more years, the federal government is going to fall apart because of corruption and stagflation--if the Russkies don't take it over first."

He smiled. "That's why I joined the NRT."

"The NRT?"

"The New Republic of Texas. We want Texas to reassume its historic place as a free and independent republic."

So that's what new republic meant.

"What's that got to do with this place?"

Kirby gestured in the direction of the man translating machine language across the room.

"What do you think he's looking for in the ROM data? The location of the old missile silos. Hurtt's trying to get himself a bomb."

I got a real cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"That'll make old Breshnev's eyebrows crawl!" he chuckled. "If we leave it to Carter, we'll all be speaking Russian in ten years. A free and independent Republic of Texas, armed and able to defend itself, will take up the flag of freedom that America has let fall."

I had never talked politics with Kirby, and now I realized the reason why. I must have seen little indications of his political views. He was a good engineer--but otherwise totally nuts.

I didn't know what to say. "I guess you're right," I mumbled.

Kirby grunted in approval. I worked in a haze the rest of the day. One thing I did pick up later was that the doctor who had referred me was a member of the group.

Now I knew what Hurtt was really after, I was thankful the display we had brought up on the main screen was of targets--not launch sites.

That night I began to set some plans in motion. One of the Apple computers up top had a cradle modem and a dialing program. I stayed up late and made up an excuse that I was running some calculations.

No one else had any experience with micros, and would have known what I was really doing as I sent a message off to my friend in Dallas through a BBS.

The next day, while we were fixing a console that shorted out, Hurtt came by and said a phone call had come in to his office in Dallas. I needed to get back to New York, my mother was sick.

I went through the motions topside of calling home--actually I talked to my friend in Dallas--and took off for a few days.

I got back the third week of September. I told Hurtt my mom had appendicitis, but she was fine now. Thankfully, he didn't have anyone check up on my story.

The next day, when both Hurtt and Kirby were around, I made my move.

"You know, I think I found some new settings for the display on the wall."

"Does that mean there may be ways to change the display?" asked Kirby.

"I think so. I think there are settings that will change the display to different maps. Do you want me to try some?"

Hurtt called Goldin over and I began to make some adjustments. I got the screen to change maps and Goldin held up his hand and whispered something in Hurtt's ear.

"Very good, Mr. Taylor, please leave it right there."

I could see the Goldin taking notes. I looked up at the map and pretended to see something I hadn't thought of.

"I would think, just taking a guess from the way those symbols are laid out, those are the location of the strategic missile silos," I said. "I wouldn't be surprised if some are them are still intact."

Hurtt shot me a stern look but I looked as innocent as could be.

"Hmm, I guess that explains that," I muttered to myself.

"Explains what?" asked Hurtt.

"You know those conduits that run out of this place, that look like a combination of a power line and a co-ax cable?"

Kirby nodded as Hurtt looked at him.

"The symbols closest to here are a little different than the ones farther away. I wonder whether any of those silos had hard links?"

Hurtt looked very, very interested. I looked at him as innocently as possible.

"Well, you know, our military has hard links to some of its strategic defense sites," I went on blandly. "In case of attack, normal electronic communications would be disrupted by the Empts, the electromagnetic pulses caused by atomic bombs."

I continued. "If you have hard links, you can be sure to be able to initiate some of the defense systems manually. I wonder whether they had the same set-up?"

"Is there a way to check whether any of these links are still good?" asked Hurtt.

"I would think if you power them up, and get a complete circuit," I said, "that means there's still something at the other end."

Needless to say, all our efforts were immediately diverted to hooking up the cables, which ran out of a giant relay box underneath the center of the front bank of consoles.

It took about six hours. I was on my knees working on a connector when I heard a gasp from the people behind me. I stood up and saw that one of the symbols had begun to pulse.

"Looks like a good circuit to me," I said.

"One of those missiles sites is still intact. Of course, now we'll have to go through the ROM and find the commands for the missile launch," I added. "To make sure we can disable them. We would never want an accidental launch, would we?"

"Of course not," said Hurtt. He had beads of sweat on his forehead.

Later, Kirby thanked me for my help. "Thanks to your help, we're sure of at least one location. I'm sure Hurtt will want to retrieve that missile himself."

"I guess that's what we're paid for," I said with sarcasm that was lost on him.

####

I quickly learned where the missile launch program was, but I stalled for a few days. In the meanwhile, some of Hurtt's people collated the missile command map with a present-day map of North America.

For my part, I made my own list of where the symbols were. After this was all over, I realized they pretty much tallied with places in North America that have "ghost lights"--places like Sand Mountain, Kentucky, and Brown Mountain, North Carolina.

Which makes sense, once you realize those glowing lights are caused by radioactive gas seeping out of the old silos.

The site with the intact hard-link was in the Big Bend area of West Texas, near Marfa, which has been famous for its ghost lights since the days of the Indians. Quite a coincidence. Also quite a testament to Asvin engineering.

One morning I woke up at 5 a.m. and realized that Kirby and the other guys were already gone. I didn't like the idea they were mucking around without me, so I threw on some clothes, grabbed the elevator and took one of the carts into the missile command center.

Kirby and his crew had apparently been there for some time.

"I knew you've been having trouble finding the missile command controls," he said. "I had an idea of my own and I thought I'd check it out. Two heads are better than one, you know."

Kirby had found the launch commands. I pretended not to be too concerned.

"Just be careful you don't initiate any kind of launch sequence," I said. "Although I doubt any of their warheads have enough fissionable material left--half lives being what they are."

Goldin spoke up. "If they had used plutonium, that would be true. But what I can tell, they used enriched uranium."

"I don't like the way this is sounding," I remember thinking. I pretended to be fishing a pen out of my pants pocket as I punched a signal device.

Kirby had found that a large button in a central console which glowed amethyst when powered up. He figured out it was a launch sequence initiator.

For the next couple of hours I acted as normal as I could, waiting for what I knew was coming.

There was a commotion in the outer room, and Hurtt came running in all flustered. He had just about reached us when the flash-bang grenade went off.

I saw it flying into the room and I ducked and covered my ears. Hurtt and Kirby were knocked to the floor, and they sprawled alongside me.

Special Ops commandos in black swarmed in. We were all quickly rounded up. Hurtt's security had been topside, so by the time the men in black got to us, it was already over. I was impressed by the fact they struck without Hurtt's guards even getting off a warning.

I went over to the man who was obviously the squad leader.

"I'm Taylor."

He grunted and nodded. "Get behind us."

A trio of Special Ops men had Goldin, Kirby and Hurtt in their grips. Kirby looked pained, Goldin scared, and Hurtt was angry and disheveled.

"I will not be treated this way," he shouted. "Do you know who I am?"

The squad leader walked over to him and raised his AK-47 waist high. "I don't give a damn who you are. If you don't cooperate, I can tell you what you'll be. Dead."

He snorted in disgust. "The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the executive branch, and about a half dozen outfits you never heard want you to disappear like Howard Hughes for what you've been trying to do."

"Listen, we're the good guys." Kirby spoke up. "We want an honest, free and Christian government. We should be on the same side."

The squad leader looked at him in amazement. Kirby continued. "We shouldn't be fighting each other. If you're a Christian and believe in republican government, you should be with us."

The leader just shook his head. I leaned in behind him. "Go easy on him. He really believes this shit."

A commando already had Kirby and Goldin in cuffs, and was working on Hurtt. "At the very least, don't manhandle me," he growled. "I don't need handcuffs. I'll come without a fight."

The squad leader made a gesture, and the commando stowed the cuffs while grabbing Hurtt roughly about the shoulders. Hurtt took a step forward, and then jammed his left elbow into the man's chin while driving his right elbow into his stomach.

Instead of running, Hurtt turned in place, shoving the man aside, and he slammed his fist onto the amethyst button.

A shot caught him in the shoulder, and he crumpled. Other shots flew past him.

I ran forward with the squad leader. The amethyst button was pulsing. A bleating sound like a ram's horn came out of corners of the chamber. The symbol that indicated the Marfa location changed color from green to red.

I didn't look up. "I think we have a launch in progress."

The leader shouted at me. "Can that thing fly?"

"If it has an ion propulsion system--and I think it does--then, yes," I said.

He yelled into a radio. In a minute he said, "Damn, radar confirms the thing's in the air and on a ballistic trajectory!"

As I learned later, the location of the silo in Marfa was so isolated only a few scraggly longhorns saw the rocket blast through the sandy topsoil and head into the eastern sunrise.

We looked down at Hurtt, who was bleeding badly and losing consciousness.

His voice was weak, but I heard what he said as he passed out.

"Goddamn all you heathen," he murmured. "Goddamn you all..."

####

A slew of people began talking into radios and walky-talkies. I just kind of backed up against a wall and felt the ice in the pit of my stomach.

I wondered whether there would be a world topside to return to.

Commandos actually skidded on Hurtt's blood; he was dead for all we knew. Not that it mattered or anyone cared.

I caught snippets of the frantic exchanges that made sense later on. Because of our proximity to New Mexico, Cheyenne Mountain notified the Soviets one of our test missiles from White Sands had gone astray--and we were going to blow it up in mid-flight.

A red-faced guy in a suit grabbed me. "Is there a destruct sequence for this thing?"

I told them I'd never seen indication of one. "I guess they just didn't think that way," I said.

Soon it became apparent the missile was heading southeasterly across the Atlantic. Once it was out of the Gulf and past the Caribbean, it was away from any strategic targets.

The squad leader--I later learned his name was Captain Pinnell--muttered to himself, "Where is that thing going?"

He grabbed me. "Do you have any way to identify the target?"

I went to the console and threw the sequence of switches to bring up the screen we first saw when we powered up the place. A symbol halfway between southern Africa and Antarctica was pulsing.

"Where the heck is that? Pinnell asked.

"It must be one of their strategic targets," I said. "Remember, we have radar stations in Alaska. Apparently the Asvin's enemies were based in Australia--and they must have had installations in or near Antarctica."

A man tapped the Captain on the shoulder. "There are no inhabited islands in the area, which is claimed by the Republic of South Africa."

The Captain turned to me. "Is there any possibility that thing will actually blow?"

I shot a glance at Goldin, who was squatting up against a wall in restraints. "From what I know, their warheads used enriched uranium. It might still be good after all these years."

Captain Pinnell spat. "Shit. It might go off from a ground impact."

Another man spoke to him. "Our satellites and tracking radar indicate it's going to impact somewhere in the vicinity of Marion Island, in the RSA Antarctic Territories."

From what I heard in the next few minutes, they were mainly concerned that the Soviets buy their story. The Russian defenses went yellow alert--but they could see the missile was heading nowhere significant and they accepted it was a loose goose, as the jargon went.

Of course, from what I gathered, we never even began to hint it might have a warhead.

In a few minutes, Capt. Pinnell spoke up, after listening intently to his radio.

"It's over. From what we can tell, it impacted on an uninhabited and unnamed spit of rock between Bouviet and Prince Edward Islands."

He looked around. "Everything's copasetic with the Soviets."

"Any indication it might have detonated?" I asked.

Pinnell listened to his headphone. "The Vela 6911 satellite bhangmeter has given a positive reading for a nuclear flash."

He listened. "Probably only 2 to 3 kilotons--but definitely the signature of a bomb."

"What will the Soviets do?" I asked.

"Nothing. They only have surveillance satellites to watch us, not some rocks covered with penguins in the Antarctic," he said. "The only reason we have the Vela satellites is to detect cheating on the nuclear test ban treaty. The Soviets don't have anything equivalent."

Special Ops commandos were beginning to secure the place and move out Hurtt's men.

"What's gonna happen to these guys?" I asked

"I suspect they'll be debriefed and then locked up some place in Nevada," said the Captain.

He was moving around and giving orders to the men. I followed him.

"What about me?"

One of the guys in suits I didn't know spoke up. "Your criminal record will be cleared, Mr. Taylor, and your conviction overturned--as previously agreed.

Captain Pinnell smiled for the first time. "I would think you'll still be needed here, to help us secure and study the facility. You probably have a long-term job."

A few of the special ops were escorting Kirby and Goldin. Kirby looked at Pinnell and me.

"I still believe in the New Republic of Texas," he said. "Texas will be free again."

I took a step forward. "Mark, you may be a nice guy, but even if I agreed with you, this wasn't the way to go about it."

Goldin growled at Kirby. "Keep your damn mouth shut."

They're rounding up the New Republic of Texas leaders across the state right now, Pinnell said after they passed. "But there seem to be very few who knew about this place."

He snapped on the safety of his gun. "As luck would have it, one of them was the doctor who recruited you."

Hurtt was on a stretcher now and a couple of men carried him out. He looked like he was in a great deal of pain.

Pinnell watched as he was carried by. "What a bastard. He was ready to start World War Three because he wanted a tax shelter. "

####

Although no one else had a satellite like the Vela that could detect surreptitious nuclear tests, there were any number of people regularly listening to Vela transmissions, and they picked up the data that indicated there had been a small nuclear blast in the Sub-Antarctic.

We told the Soviets it was an accidental launch of an old Nike missile that was being decommissioned when it accidentally went up. We apologized--profusely but secretly--but noted it proved our default targeting system worked: If a missile is not specifically targeted, its default setting will always send it to crashing the Arctic or Antarctic, where it can do the least harm.

Actually, at that point using such a fail-safe was only in the discussion stage, but after using the story on the Soviets, it was implemented. That's where the idea came from, and it's still in use.

The Soviets were rather tickled at our screw-up. It was one of the few times they had a gotcha on us. There's no way they could have figured out what really happened.

The blame was easy to place, otherwise, in the appropriate circles. The Republic of South Africa had been working on their own secret nuclear program, and in fact had been planning a test in November, anyway. Plus the Israelis were working on a test that they were going to do with the RSA's cooperation.

We just let the information slip out to the right people, and they drew their own conclusions.

Despite the complicity of our government and the Soviets, the news of the Vela detection got out. John Scali of CBS News ran a television report a month later.

The Carter Administration higher-ups pulled the media moguls aside and said, in so many words:

If the South Africans did this, do we want to be a party to starting a race war in Africa?

If the Israelis did this, do we want to be a party to starting a genocidal war in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Remember, Begin and Sadat had been schmoozing it up at Camp David with President Carter only a few months earlier. If the Palestinians thought the Israelis tested a bomb before signing the peace accord, as some kind of insurance--well, God knows what would have happened.

Let's see, the missile flew Sept. 22. Scali's report was on CBS in October. Then in November, followers of that crazy-ass Ayatollah in Iran took the American hostages at the American Embassy in Teheran. Things moved pretty fast after that, and the little incident in the Antarctic Ocean was pretty much forgotten.

Oh, President Carter appointed a blue-ribbon panel of scientists and academics to come up with a report on the Vela data. Their final report said the flash was caused by a micrometeoroid that struck the exterior of the satellite and knocked off a paint chip!

Uh-huh.

By the time that report came out in May 1980, the Soviets were rollicking in Afghanistan--probably emboldened after our stray missile screw-up--and the hostages were moldering in Iran. Reagan had the Carter administration on the ropes. The incident was quickly forgotten.

####

Our government did a little cleanup after the blast, of some radioactive rocks and fried penguins, and nobody has ever been the wiser.

Remember, I mentioned those hunting trophies on the walls of Hurtt's private office, the first time I met him? He was a big game hunter, which is where they got the idea of his having a hunting accident. You probably read about it back then.

After Hurtt recovered, they stationed people all over his place and in his businesses, and then a bunch of dummy companies stripped away his money. Of course, you probably heard that he tried to corner the platinum market. That was just the cover story.

I think he's still alive somewhere, sitting in the dark in the one small house the bankruptcy court let him keep.

Both Goldin and Kirby spent most of the '80s in special confinement. I heard Goldin committed suicide in 1987--whether that was a cover for something else, or whether the isolation drove him crazy, I don't know.

Kirby was released after ten years, and promptly disappeared. Whether he started a new life, or went underground, nobody knows. No one's heard of or from him since. But the Republic of Texas movement revived in the '90s.

Like I said, the day the missile flew was Sept. 22, 1979. It's branded in my brain. Afterwards, I took a break for a little while they set up this place.

I remember paying attention for the first time in months to some of the new music out on the radio. There was a new song out that I hadn't heard since before I went underground, as it were. It really had a different sound. I guess the disco decade was coming to a close.

Yeah, video killed the radio star. Hurtt tried to kill us all. Guess the asshole got what he deserved.

Two months after the event, as we came to call it among ourselves, I was back at work here with the nice setup you see.

I've spent these past 25 years pretty much getting everything up and running, analyzed and then carted off. Everything worth while's been hauled off by now.

You've got the easy job. You get to close down and secure the place for the long term.

I've put in my 25 years. I'm ready for a nice, cushy job at some research foundation. I've got great forged credentials the feds will back to the hilt--and no drug conviction to worry about.

So best of luck on the close down. I'm finally outta here. Don't forget to turn out the lights when you leave.

THE END


© 2008 Lou Antonelli

Bio: Lou Antonelli is a professional journalist who took up writing s-f and fantasy in middle age. He is the managing editor of the Mount Pleasant (Tx.) Daily Tribune.

"Video Killed the Radio Star" is Mr. Antonelli's 40th story published since 2003. He has been published in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada. Some of his credits include Asimov's Science Fiction, Jim Baen's Universe, Andromeda Spaceways In-flight Magazine, Alienskin and RevolutionSF.

E-mail: Lou Antonelli

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