Money For Old Rope

There is a bunker somewhere, filled with a very special scrap metal. A bunker that is constructed of reinforced high density concrete surrounded by a thirty foot electric fence, with an extensive minefield, tripwire system and armed guard coverage.

All this for a load of oversized ball bearings, all neatly stacked in shockproof containers on vibration resistant shelving; in an environmentally controlled storage room three hundred feet below the bunker. There might even be a skip out the back with a load of cone shaped aluminium alloy containers, also going for scrap.

The 318th FIS are based at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, USA. They fly F-15 Eagles. They like flying F-15 Eagles, one might presume. It’s a fast plane, good for blowing things up. Sometimes they blow things up more discreetly that most planes. This is a consideration for the 318th FIS right now.

Captain Roy Hammond is a flight instructor, an advanced flight instructor. You have to be to teach a rookie pilot to fly an Eagle. Eagles are very expensive machines, and the Air Force doesn’t like losing them much. Captain Hammond sits behind and slightly above the fledgling pilot of this two-seat F-15B trainer. He is quite nervous; and this is most unusual.

“What do I do, Sir?” said the rookie through the mouthpiece of his respiration mask. He sounded a lot more nervous than Hammond.

“Bear with me, son.” Hammond replied, trying to remain calm in the light of the strange occurrence.

What was he to do? They had a pair of nine-Lima’s, sure; but were they live? No sir. They had a quad pack of 25lb training bombs. They were no use either. Only the 20mm M-61A1 six-barrel rotary cannon had live ammunition, but that didn’t seem anywhere near enough.

They had been circling it now for forty minutes. The tower refused to believe what they were telling the staff there. Hammond didn’t much care what they believed. He believed it. In addition, he was recording the sight on the training camera mounted on a wing pylon. He had the lens turret fixed firmly on the object. He could barely believe his eyes, so it was reasonable for Control to doubt his garbled, static diffused messages.

“I’m takin’ us back.” Hammond decided. “I have control.”

“You have control sir.” the rookie duly replied, and nothing more was said.

The debrief had some unusual characters present. The rookie pilots and their instructors were there, still dressed in their olive drab G-suits with helmets tucked formally under their arms. The chief instructor, a surly, bulky man with more flying hours than eating hours under his belt glowered at the video screen.

“This some kinda joke, Hammond?” the chief instructor growled, glaring hard at the man.

“Nossir. Def’nitely notsir.” he said flatly, standing to attention and staring directly ahead of him. He was all too aware that all present were looking at him.

One of the unusual characters stepped forward. He was dressed all in black except for his white shirt. Dark sunglasses were removed slowly to reveal harsh grey eyes set in an angular all-American face. He could have been a younger, more refined Clint Eastwood without the perpetual squint; but the Texan drawl shattered the illusion.

He pointed at Hammond and the rookie with one arm of his glasses, his gaze steady. “I tell yer this, Captain Hammond.” He lowered his voice. “You ain’t seen nothin’. An’ you ain’t heard nothin’. Ya clear?”

Hammond was not an unintelligent man. His job required a high level of intelligence, and he did not miss the double negative of the other. “Exactly as you say.” he responded with not even a slight air of insubordination in his tone.

The Chief spoke again after a lengthy pause filled only by the hum from the room’s computers and cooling fans. “These gentlemen are from ERASED. That’s the Extra-terrestrial Recover And Study Evaluation Department for those of you who don’t know.” He glanced at the previous speaker, and gestured for him to continue. “Mister Nash.”

Mister Nash stepped forward, behind the dais from where the chief spoke. He carefully folded his glasses into the breast pocket of his jacket and looked up and then down at the rank and file of instructors and rookies.

“Gen’lemen.” he said dryly. “What we have here, is purely for the attention of ERASED. You need not trouble yourselves with wonderin’ what that thing out there is. I promise you it ain’t from outer space or nothin’, but we have to evaluate. The FBI reckon it’s some new russkie contraption.” Mister Nash was one of the many US government agents who still refused to accept that the Cold War was over. In their eyes, the Cold War would never be over until every ‘damn russkie’ was dead and gone. “There is also the possibility that it is a new test aircraft we know Northrop to be working on. Whatever, you will all keep schtum about this. Do I make myself clear?”

The assembly nodded and murmured in the positive.

“Good. Are there any questions?”

An instructor raised his hand. He was granted permission to speak. “What do we do about flying whilst the U., Aah, I mean the thing is still there?”

“You don’t.” said Mister Nash.

Murmurs went up across the room, but Hammond still stared straight ahead. All had been granted permission to sit down, and he sat tapping gently on his helmet. So they were going to stop him from flying were they? Goddammit.

By ten the following morning, McChord was a flying station again. All crew were being shipped out on the fleet of C-5 Galaxy’s that arrived at dawn. The pilots flew out the Eagles and the assorted other aircraft of less majesty. Civilian staff had been removed in early evening, with ground crews departing with haste as soon as the last of the flyboys had left the nest. McChord only remained a flying station after ten a.m. because of the helicopters. Apache gunships and Blackhawk transporters arrived.

Captain Hammond was one of the last to leave. He saw the choppers. He noticed how they were all painted black, and wore no insignia. He surmised that they were ERASED equipment. There were CIA and FBI officials all over the place, but it was the ERASED team that seemed to be issuing the orders. He wondered where ERASED fitted in the hierarchy of the USA. To judge by the mannerisms of Mister Nash and his assistants, they ranked a couple of notches higher than the President; probably closer to Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell is he doin’ here still?” Hammond had heard Mister Nash say.

The look he had been given by the mirrored shades of Mister Horne and Mister Shultz, the assistants, told him to get out of McChord real quickly.

It was a relatively short hop to Fairchild AFB, and one that Hammond had made before. He was rather disappointed not to make it, or would have been disappointed had he been in any position to be. He lost an engine after barely leaving McChord. The oil pressure of the second engine dropped. He asked for permission to return to base. It was refused. He asked again. He was met with silence. He tried to eject. The charges had been removed. Mechanics were never that careless.

He crashed.

He hadn’t seen nothin’.

They were just ordinary fields. A few trees dotted the scenery here or there. Long straight roads were free of traffic except for slow moving green jeeps and the occasional sleek black limousine. Over the fields the Apache gunships wheeled about, manoeuvring around the object their guns were trained on. Blackhawks came and went, ferrying important looking people around.

There was a fifteen mile exclusion zone around the area. They had had to rehouse a small town and close down a backwater gas station. A media blackout had been enforced, roadblocks were manned by armed guards unsure of their purpose, and the skies were kept free of traffic by the Apaches. All in all, the word ‘cover-up’ was in effect.

There was need for one. Sitting in the middle of a large cornfield was a flying saucer. It had already made an interesting circular pattern in another field, many many miles away in Suffolk, England. Now it just sat there; everything you would expect from a flying saucer, right down to the dull silvery surface and seamless appearance. On its underside, three legs extended down to the ground, ending in broad flat pads (Good for making corn circles). Around it, missile launchers, command centres, operations centres, operation support centres, and operation command support centres had been set up. Most unnoticeably, but most importantly, a single portacabin for ERASED had been set up.

They were all waiting to see what was inside the saucer. A variety of tests had been applied on the saucers hull, and in true Hollywood fashion, all had lacked success.

Then something bizarre happened.

The day had not been going well for Mister Nash. He had had to express his remorse to some guy who was in charge at McChord. Apparently some pilot had died in a crash. That was strange, because he had only been meant to be completely paralyzed. Obviously Mister Shultz had done his job too well, Mister Nash reflected.

It was as he placed the phone back on its receiver and sipped again at his mineral water that he noticed the little man in the flat cap walking by his office, with a carrier bag. He walked to the window and watched the man progress towards the observation area, turning his head this way and that, taking in his surroundings.

Mister Horne saw the slightly irritated expression on Mister Nash’s face. “Wassup, Joe?” he asked.

“That guy.” Mister Nash said slowly. “Who the hell is he?”

Horne got up and looked out of the window. He watched the little man walk around the corner, switching the bulging carrier bag from one hand to the other. In addition to the flat tweed cap, he wore an ‘I Heart New York’ tee-shirt, garishly bright Bermuda shorts, grey socks and brown plastic sandals. It might not have looked so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the little man was obviously getting on a bit. Horne judged him to be in his eighties.

Neither man expected an eighty year old tourist to be wandering the area. They hurried out of the cabin and followed the route the man was taking at a respectful distance. Surveillance was their business, they knew the rules.

They were surprised by the man's progress. No-one challenged him. They wondered why, but curious, they carried on following stealthily. He sat down on the step of a jeep and pulled a shrink-wrapped sandwich out of the carrier bag and ate it. He opened a can of Bud and drank it. He lit a Marlboro and smoked it. He looked just like a tourist trying not to look like a tourist.

The saucer loomed over them. The Apaches whirled around it like angry wasps, with a deadlier sting. The little old man waddled right up to the saucer. Mister Nash could take no more.

“Hey! Hey you!” he shouted. The little old man ignored him.

“HEY!” Mister Horne shouted more loudly. “YOU IN THE BLUE TEESHIRT! I’M TALKIN’ TO YA!”

The old man turned around to face them. He pointed at the red heart that translated as ‘love’ on his tee-shirt, and mouthed the words “Who? Me?” as he stood beneath the massive saucer.

“Yeah, you!” Mister Nash said, rushing up to the man. “What the hell are you doin’?”

There was quite a crowd of onlookers now. Itchy trigger fingers were much in evidence as armed men from various sources appeared to notice the old man for the first time. There was much scratching of heads, puzzled looks, and mutters of “Who’s he?” All onlookers were well aware that you don’t let just anyone in when ERASED were about.

Mister Nash and Mister Horne were soon joined by Mister Shultz. The three men stood in front of the little old man with their jackets pulled slightly to one side, just so he could see that the leather holster and regulation issue Desert Eagle really did mean they meant business.

“Have I done something wrong?” said the old man.

Mister Nash recognized the accent, and his dislike for the man grew with his next thought: great, a Limey.

“This is a restricted area.” Mister Nash said angrily, waving an arm to indicate the scene around him. “Who let you in here?”

The old man looked around. The crowd were wisely dispersing. Best not to be around when ERASED want explanations. He looked back at Mister Nash and shrugged.

“No-one let me in. I came back by meself.”

“Back?” Shultz and Horne echoed Mister Nash’s query.

“Yeah.” the man nodded, indicating the flying saucer. “I don’t like leaving ‘er for too long. Just nipped out for some groceries though.”

“Nipped out for some groceries,” Nash repeated dourly. “You sayin’ this is yours?"

The old man lit up another Marlboro, offering them to the three men, who declined. The he chuckled to himself. “No way.” he said happily. “This is me boss’s. Crikey no, I wish it was!”

They looked at him with varying expressions of perplexity. None asked further, so the man went on, wondering at their disapproving looks. “Err... sorry, but am I in trouble for parking here? No-one seemed to be using it. I mean, I’ve got a licence and everything.”

“Huh?” said Mister Nash.

The old man grinned sheepishly, and then pulled a battered piece of paper from his shorts pocket. “See. Hanka Pternus, licensed scrap dealer. See?”

Nash, Shultz and Horne took off their shades to inspect the paper. The angular writing looked much like any other official type from a licence of any kind. A poor quality passport type photograph of the man was fixed to it. An unrecognizable stamp over the edge of the picture confirmed its authenticity. None of the men recognized the address; or, for that matter, the name of the planet of the address’s origin.

 Nash regarded Hanka Pternus with a suspicious frown. “So you’re an extraterrestrial?”

 “Unless I’ve got a day off, yes.”

“Huh?”

“I stay at home on me days off.”

“Uh-huh.”

Mister Nash felt that all this idle chat was somehow way above his head. He had met aliens before. Some he had killed, some he had communicated with before killing them, and some he had sent to Mister Shultz and Mister Horne; to be killed. Chatting with them about scrap metal and “aren’t you having lovely hot weather, I suppose that’s ‘cause of the hole in your ozone layer, isn’t it?” was definitely uncharted territory.

He also found it hard to accept that any alien could look like an English tourist. The accent sounded Australian though (it seems that all Americans assume that the only English accents are a Cockney one, or the ‘apper clarse’ of the Royals). The man neither looked like an alien, nor acted like an alien.

When he got back around to the subject of scrap metal, Mister Nash found himself on slightly more familiar ground. The man was talking about nuclear weapons.

“‘Course, I can take yer waste. I do a line in weapons grade plutonium; that’s always a good market. Uranium I can always shift. Popular stuff, uranium. Basically matey, if it’s nuclear material, I can shift it. Cash in hand, know what I mean?” He winked, touching his red nose. “Say no more, ekcetera. So, if yer top man’s about, maybe we can, you know, talk reddies, like?”

“Huh? Top man?” Nash said, still reading the scrap dealers licence.

“Yeah, y’know. Your President. This is Washington, isn’t it?”

“Washington State.” Shultz said promptly. He was less disoriented by the alien. In his experience there was only one way to deal with an alien, and that was to shoot it; often many times.

“Well blow me! Never was good at geography.” said Hanka Pternus.

Nevertheless, the President was duly informed. When he heard the news, he had been scanning through some notes he had written for his memoirs, and had run off a few bound copies for friends and family to peruse. When the telephone rang, he was giving his secretary one.

He could not believe quite what the man on the other end was saying. “Nash? From ERASED? What the hell was ERASED? Oh sure, yeah. The E.T. guys, yeah. I know who you mean. You want me to what? A what? Really? A real one? Hey, that’s cool! In a real flying saucer and everything? Cool! He what? Sounds like a limey? You sure? Not Australian? Gee, that sure is weird. And he what? Scrap nuclear stuff? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. You don’t say?” The President bit at his lip, frowned, and then continued. “Say, Nash. You takin’ the piss or what?” Nash went through the whole thing again.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Cool. That’s cool, uh-huh. So this guy’s for real. Cool.”

The president arranged with his secretary to cancel all appointments. These included golf, the sauna, his family, and that funny sounding guy from England, whatsisname.

News like this does not travel fast, but does travel. It travels in a very select manner, carefully filtering through to only those folk who talk about things ‘on a need-to-know’ basis. The news does this by a very simple system: it is called Bugging The President’s Phone. The CIA, FBI, ATF, KGB, MI5, and CNN all do this, safe in the knowledge that no-one would dream of bugging the phone belonging to the President of the USA. Of course they wouldn’t.

The President arrived at McChord AFB at dawn the next morning. To make the meeting easier, Hanka Pternus had conscientiously moved the flying saucer the twenty miles to the airbase. He had upset rather a lot of Apache pilots. They had attempted an escort, but the journey only took Hanka two seconds. One trigger-happy pilot had ‘accidentally’ loosed off a few rounds at the target, sorry, spaceship. Even the twenty millimetre bullets couldn’t keep up.

The saucer had settled in front of a deserted hangar. The President’s personal airliner taxied in across from it. His debarking was an informal one. No-one knew quite what was going to happen, or for that matter what on Earth was going on. The informal theme was carried further by Hanka Pternus, who had changed back into his work-clothes.

He was now dressed in grey overalls. Oil stains and flecks of paint broke up the overall greyness. A pair of boots with external steel toecaps showed evidence of both long wear and dropped heavy objects. On his head he wore a crumpled yellow hat with ‘CAT Diesel’ barely visible under the thick grime. Now he looked like a scrap dealer. He still didn’t carry any of the traditional imagery associated with aliens though.

The President was sure this was some kind of set-up. Nash had introduced him to a short old man who smelt like a disused oil refinery. He had half a Marlboro tucked behind one ear. Apparently this was the alien.

“You’re an alien?” said the President.

“No mate, I’m a Virgo.” said Hanka Pternus.

Someone laughed. The person was led away by more serious looking men. The President frowned.

“Okay then. These guys say,” and he indicated the bowstring tensed figures of the ERASED officials, “that you wanna buy our warheads. Is that right?”

“S’bout right, guv. Got room fer a few more.”

The President looked shocked. “You mean you got some already?”

“Yeah. Bought a job lot off a Russian bloke. Said he needed the cash. Somethin’ about Vodka, or summat.”

Nash felt his palms itching. He was starting to sweat profusely. So the commies had no nukes, huh? That’s good. That’s real good.

Hanka Pternus continued. “I got a load off of the Europeans as well. Good stock too. It were them as put me on to you. Seems like you lot are the only ones as need some shiftin’.” He noticed the puzzled look of the President, and interpreted it all wrong. “I pay good money. Wouldn’t rip you off or anythin’. Got clients all over the universe’ll tell yer I’m an ‘onest dealer. ‘Onest ‘Anka they call me.”

There were a great deal of confused thoughts thereafter. Nash thought it might be a good idea to get rid of the nuclear warheads. He wanted to get rid of them in the sense of shipping them off to Russia on a Cruise or two. The President thought getting rid of them in exchange for some hard cash would be cool. His advisors thought the world had obviously gone mad. They put forth the arguments for and against scrapping an entire nuclear program.

‘Onest ‘Anka listened intently, injecting the words “‘Onest”, “Cash”, and “Good deal” quite more than was necessary.

Most weren’t too happy with what was going on. The very worst thing, and probably the most petty; was the fact that the Russians had done something innovative before they had. Or had they? Where was the proof?

The proof was in the saucer. The President, a few select military officials, advisors, and ERASED were allowed onto the ship to inspect all that ‘Onest ‘Anka had purchased. There were complete warheads, barrels of waste, and boxes of already stripped material. Shelves were full of nuclear material. Robots stripped missiles down, whistling whilst they worked. They even fitted the Fifties image of a robot from a flying saucer. All worked at the weapons of destruction as though they were car parts.

It seemed that America had been the last port of call. Anyone who had nuclear weapons now had weapons onboard the ship. Britain, France, and Germany, all the ex Soviet states, China, and Iraq: all their stocks were here. It was like a dream come true for the anti-nuclear protestors.

A deal was struck later that day. The President reluctantly shook the hand of Hanka Pternus. Big dollar signs were whirring through his mind.

Within a week, Hanka Pternus was off home again. He had got himself a regular bargain.

Of course, none of this ever happened. It’s a work of pure fiction. Everyone knows that. The whole world selling its nukes to an alien scrap dealer? Come off it! Pull the other one!

But the bells did not jingle. No-one ever mentioned the flying saucer ever again, simply because the whole thing had been so unbelievable. Life went on as normal. Soon enough, everyone was absolutely sure that the whole thing was fiction. Occasional threats of nuclear deliveries were made, occasional underground testing was protested against, and CND went on protesting.

The public never found out what had gone on, and never wondered why the world’s nations seemed to be coming out of recession rather more quickly than economists had predicted. International instability came and went as it always had, and soon enough everyone forgot what had happened in the summer of 1994.

ERASED made sure of that. They weren’t too happy about having no nukes. In truth, they didn’t want the Russians to find out, just in case they had some left. The Russians felt this way too. All sides were very tactful whenever the subject of nuclear armaments was broached. They talked mostly of cutting back, only not for very long.

© 1994 Ian "Ed" Henderson