Chapter Ten
An Entirely Alien Approach

False Alarm

General Adminstration Archives - Case 1762 [Ref. No. D1174-505]

...... The tree limbs bowed down in deep waves, as the wind expressed through the woods. Low gray clouds traveled in regatta overhead. I stopped next to the plain rural mailbox to check the address, then turned right onto a gravel drive flooded with drifted earth. In the distance a woman struggled against the wind, taking in her washing, before the dark clouds decanted their loads of rain.
...... Sliding to a stop beside a rusted compact car with new tires, I jumped out and ran to the clothesline. The last few sheets were looped over my shoulder, the clothespins still hooked to the bouncing vinyl line, as the first warning drops of rain came whipping down.
...... Arms loaded with clothes, she held the trailer door open against the gusts. Her shouted words were blown away.
...... I leaped up the rough-cut wood steps and followed her inside, just as the first of the downpour began to hammer on the sheet-metal roof. We stopped for a minute to catch our breath and to listen to the roar of the early spring squall. A young child peered around the doorway at the back, then returned to his own concerns.
...... "Just drop them on the sofa. There's fresh coffee on the stove. Help yourself." She carried her load to the back room.
...... The coffee aroma had filled the tiny livingroom. I found a mug on a hook under the cupboard and served myself. She returned after a long minute.
...... "Thanks for your help, Mr. Driver."
...... I nodded and sipped coffee. "The Sheriff's department must have called you, just as they promised."
...... "They did. An hour ago." She filled a second mug and stirred it with a spoon, the steam wisping away. "But the line went dead before they could say anything more than your name and that you drove a blue Jeep. Did you come about that strange gadget I found?"
...... "Your telephone is out?"
...... "It happens every third storm." She waved it away with the spoon. "The Sheriff's office will tell the phone company, and it'll be fixed tomorrow."
...... "Your report about the unusual equipment, which you've found, was routed to my department. I'd like to take a look at it, if it's not too inconvenient for you."
...... "Sure. No problem. But it'll take a bit of explanation." She pushed the mass of damp crumpled sheets out of the way and sat on the sofa, motioning me to a chair. "That old farmhouse across the field was left to me by my mother, who lived there. The field is all that's left of the farm itself. The rest of the land was sold off years ago. Up to last month, the house was rented."
...... "I noticed the damage when I drove up. The fire looked like it'd been fairly recent."
...... "Yeah. It gutted the entire house. The fire department got here in time to save the shell." She shrugged lightly. "One of those things. No one really knows what happened. Heating or electric. Both were original, and I don't know in how good a shape. Still, it was insured, and I'm living here, anyway. I have, since my marriage fell through a year ago. It's not important. I just wanted to explain why I was poking around there yesterday."
...... "And found some unexplained electronics equipment in working order," I filled in.
...... "The barn's been gone so long, I can't remember it." She shifted slightly. "But out behind the house is an old springhouse, which must be generations old. It's half natural cave, half unmortared stone. Inside, at the back corner, is a gap which I used to sneak into as a child. Hide and seek. But never more than a few feet, so I never knew exactly what was back there. Only what my mother described." She paused to look at the rain sluicing down the window panes.
...... I sipped coffee and let her think.
...... In a minute, she turned back. "I don't know why, but I squeezed in there again. Curiosity. This time, I went far enough back to see a turning, and beyond the turning there's this chain link fence. Not old. No rust. There's no reason for it there."
...... "Is this still on your property?"
...... She nodded. "That's what irritated me. And then, at the top of the fence there's this square copper water pipe, fastened along the ceiling. It goes for six feet then bends straight up into the rock. I searched the top of the hill until I found it again. It goes nowhere! It bends parallel to the ground and ends in a big copper funnel. Just ends. There's a metal rain cover over it, too."
...... "I'd like to see that end also, if you don't mind."
...... She nodded again. "So I got a hacksaw and cut a chunk out of the chain link, enough for me to squeeze through. Beyond the fence the tunnel opens out into a cave, where there's been a lot of excavation work. In the center is this big cabinet full of electronics equipment, like some giant stereo. It's got dials and lights and switches and everything like that. I looked it all over, couldn't find anything I understood, backed out, and called the police. So I suppose that's how you came along here."
...... "I do appreciate it." The sound of the rain on the roof was lightening as the squall moved away. "When the storm's over, perhaps you could show me around."
...... "A little rain won't hurt." She finished her coffee and stood up. "Honey? I'm going to the house for a little while. I'll be right back." She pulled a plastic raincoat from the closet. "He'll be okay for now."
...... I had to watch my step along the path up the hill. The rain and miscellaneous small trickles of running water combined to make the footing treacherous for the unwary boot. The bushes dripped bright beads and wiped their branches on the legs of my jeans.
...... "I'm glad you don't mind walking over," she remarked over her shoulder, as she negotiated a particularly bad muddy spot.
...... "It's nice to get outside." I pushed the binoculars case out of the way for the sixth time. "Most of my job is in a vehicle on the road. Besides, one couldn't have gotten much closer to here in a car."
...... The path leveled out, still twisting through the undergrowth -- the going was easier, although each tree provided a momentary shower, whenever the wind gusted.
...... "Over here." She had stopped by a stone outcropping and was pointing at a galvanized steel rain shield, enameled in dark green.
...... Protected by the miniature roof was the copper water pipe -- a square copper riser with a welded flange. The opening, where it exited from the rock, had been sealed with mortar and waterproofed. Bolted to its flange with stainless-steel machine screws was a right-angle cast elbow, also with brazed flanges. Against this elbow was mounted a square funnel-shaped impedance matcher. It'd been quite a few years since I'd owned a components catalogue -- ten years ago, I could have recited most of the stock numbers for these parts.
...... "It looks familiar," I conceded, unsheathing the binoculars for a long look at the horizon. Right at the edge there might be the flicker of a red warning light -- or it might be my imagination.
...... "That's good." She moved restlessly, unable to stay in any one spot. "I've never seen anything like it. It's weird."
...... "Could we go look at the rest of the exhibit?" I put the glasses away. This would be someone else's headache -- nothing for me.
...... "If you don't mind a shortcut," she warned, starting off up the path.
...... With a little judicious sliding down the rocky inclines, the way to the springhouse was much shorter than the path up the hill. I arrived at the moss-flecked doorway in a small burst of dislodged pebbles but still on my feet.
...... A three-quarter cave had been bricked in with natural stone to form the springhouse. Water burbled out the drain at the far end, and a cool gust of air met us, as she swung open the heavy, hand-cut timber door. Inside, the walls glistened wetly in the beam of the flashlight. Empty wood shelves, so old that the joints were doweled, lined three sides.
...... "Back there. That leads to a bigger cave. My parents thought about enlarging the tunnel, but they never got around to it. They never sealed it off, either." She was pointing to a thin natural fissure in the rock wall, half in shadow.
...... I tried my size -- I'd fit, but I was glad I wasn't any bigger. Within five feet the opening turned to the right. Two feet beyond, a chain link barrier, bolted to the rock, closed off the opening. The links sagged around a slit, cut in with a hacksaw.
...... The fence didn't quite reach the ceiling, and the 'copper water pipe' had been run through the gap, fastened to the rock with U-clamps. Another cast elbow connected it to a copper riser which vanished into a vertical boring in the stone.
...... I flashed the light beyond the chain link barrier. Within three feet the horizontal pipe run terminated in a cast aluminum junction box, serviced by two coaxial cables and a power line. A smaller diameter signal line looped over the box and finished at the mesh barrier. Unfortunately for the installer, the insulation on the signal pair had frayed, where it passed through a cable clamp, negating the intruder alarm attached to the mesh.
...... "Keep going," her impatient voice demanded from behind. "It's only a few feet more."
...... Shoving through the gap in the barrier, I followed the fissure for another eight feet and stepped into a fair-sized natural cave. Mounted in the center were three modern steel electronic-equipment racks, each with a softly humming ventilation fan at the top. The racks were filled with standard-size electronics modules -- several interconnected with standard radio-grade coaxial cable. Their operational lights threw a dim, multi-hued illumination across the irregular floor of the cave. The installation was very familiar, as expected, but it appeared extraordinary against the underground water-cut walls of the cave.
...... "It looks like something out of this world," she softly remarked, her voice startling in the subterranean silence. Somewhere in the distance a drip provided a metronomic click.
...... "It's not, though. It's all standard electronics equipment, probably made in the U.S. by the trademarks." From half-forgotten training, I automatically checked the meters -- high voltage reading a bit low, klystron tuning centered, rf output also slightly low. The equipment was nearing its maintenance period.
...... "You recognize it?" She edged up to stare at the cabinets.
...... "Well enough." I pointed to the various sections. "Microwave receiver, programmable demodulator, modulator, rf generator, mixer, driver amp, microwave transmitter, power supply, high voltage supply, control set-up panel, remote control module. I don't know where that second wave guide goes, but I suspect that if we searched the bushes, we'd find another riser and a second impedance matcher being used as an antenna. All new, rather expensive, top-of-the-line, commercial equipment."
...... "What's it for?" Her voice tone had returned to conversational.
...... "It's an elaborate microwave relay station. Someone, who doesn't want to be known to be listening, is tapping a microwave relay transmitter somewhere a few miles from here."
...... She shook her head, shivering a little in the coolness of the cave. "Shouldn't we do something? Turn it off, maybe? It's on my property."
...... "We leave it just as it is. So far, the owner probably isn't aware that it's been discovered." I flashed my light around the walls. "Somewhere here probably is a second entrance, not that we'll use it. We'll leave the way we came in."
...... "But we've got to do something." She gestured to include the entire cave.
...... "We will." I motioned to the tunnel we'd used. "I'll report in, and tomorrow you'll be entertaining another group of visitors, who most like also will want a guided tour of this place. I'll call the F.B.I., and they'll arrange for the right people."

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