By Rob Phayre
“999 emergency response. Which emergency service do you require?” The British female voice on the other end of the line sounded almost bored as she answered the call. Perhaps middle aged, she had definitely smoked too much in her youth, and she probably thought that she had heard it all before.
Well that was about to change, Reepaman thought as he read out the pre-prepared statement written on the slightly tatty piece of paper in front of him. He had handled it too much he knew, in a rare sign of nervousness, and it was slightly stained from the coffee mug he had rested on it this morning.
The synthesised voice, when he spoke, had been manipulated using a bleeding edge gigabit algorithm dreamt up by his tech support. It wasn’t totally uncrackable, but three and a half million years to decrypt using current supercomputer technology was probably good enough.
“There are five aircraft in the UK which have had explosive charges placed inside them.” He paused slightly, before continuing. “In three hours’ time the first aircraft will be destroyed. I will then destroy another aircraft on the hour every hour until my demand is met. You are to pay two hundred and fifty million pounds, in bitcoin into account @Lover123 on the CoinTradz platform. When the money arrives, the attacks stop. I will not call again.”
Reepaman disconnected the call and didn’t hear the stuttering follow up question from the operator. He knew that all the calls were recorded, and he certainly wasn’t going to stick around to answer any queries. The operator would be franticly trying to trace him, but that wouldn’t do them much good given the measures he had put in place. Burner phones, VOIP, VPN bridges, ISP re-routing and even multiple bounces through three different untraceable Starlink terminals. Again, everything was identifiable given enough time and resources. He would be out of the rental house long before anyone figured it out though.
Reepaman sat back in his chair, reached his hands forward, intertwined his fingers and stretched. The whole thing was in motion now and there was nothing to do other than wait. The last couple of days had been busy with a lot of driving around the country in his van. The vans bodywork looked beaten up on the outside, but if a mechanic had looked under the hood, she would have been impressed at how well maintained everything was. There was nothing visible that made the van stick out, no decals, stickers, or major dents, just a plain vanilla old contractor’s transport.
The journeys themselves had been long, but uneventful. Reepaman had known where he needed to go in advance and had researched all the locations well. None of the sites were closer than three miles to an airport, and they were sufficiently remote, but they were accessible by vehicle.
Reepaman had lied a little bit when he had spoken on the phone just now. The explosives were indeed hidden in aircraft, it was just that they were remote piloted aircraft, or RPA’s. The authorities would eventually work that out, but not before the aim was achieved.
During the road trip, he had positioned five large quadcopters in covert locations where it was highly unlikely that anyone would find them. They were literally in places like the middle of a wheat field, or on top of an abandoned high-rise building. One was even in the middle of a rubbish dump, suitably placed out of view amongst the rolling hills of filth. A slight modification to the drones had left them in a standby mode. They were completely powered down except for a small timer that would turn them on about ten minutes before their departure time.
The drones had been pre-programmed; their GPS guidance systems set already. But they also had another vital modification added that Reepaman was almost proud of. After all, some of the airports might be protected by GPS jammers, though those pieces of kit were restricted in what they were allowed to do in the UK. It was possible, if the authorities worked out what was happening, that those jammers and other defences could be activated.
It was no matter to Reepaman. Each drone was fitted with an inertial guidance package, a system of accelerometers and gyros that allowed the drone to travel the last kilometre without the need for GPS or any further remote direction. They wouldn’t achieve pinpoint accuracy, but within thirty meters or so was quite enough. In fact, now that Reepaman thought about it, There was absolutely nothing to stop the drones hitting their targets, other than his command, sent by his computer. That was almost interesting to him.
The police could literally break down his door right now, yet the outcome was already inevitable. His client, known only to Reepaman as The Associate, had success guaranteed already.
It was extraordinarily easy, Reepaman mused. Modern software tools, available to anyone with small sums of money, allowed valuable information that was wild and out in the world to be simply aggregated. Airports made it even easier. The flight schedules were published months in advance, and if you picked a reasonable time, you could assume that most of the embarkation gates would be occupied. Some mapping software, a little knowledge of what type of aircraft and on which yellow line it would park its nose wheel, some basic math, and all of a sudden you had a pretty solid guess at where the central wing structure would be. 60 meters wide, 70 meters long, packed with fuel and people was a pretty good target.
There was nothing to do now for the next hour or two, so Reepaman went outside to the decking area of the rental house. The sun was shining with an early evening light. He drank in the coloured sky and the sea view whilst he breathed the salty air in deeply. He reflected that it was almost a shame that he would have to torch the place when he left.
Off to his right, his gym was waiting, the grey weights sat there, challenging him sullenly. He pulled off his hooded top revealing a reasonably fit 45-year-old body with a few too many tattoos and way too many scars.
The workout helped, and so did the shower afterwards. With just five minutes to go before his deadline expired, he was back at his desk. The first drone was already awake and flying under its own guidance towards the first target. Reepaman watched it on his extended display.
Whilst he had glanced at his CoinTradz account balance, he wasn’t expecting anything to have been deposited yet. Based on just a verbal threat that would have been silly. No, this first one had to happen before any realisation dawned, and it was going to be ugly. He watched the video feed on one screen, and the rolling map display with the telemetry on another. Drone 1 was still under GPS as it crossed the airfield perimeter at seventy-five feet. The camera was auto slaving directly to the programmed target location. Reepaman watched as it skimmed over the grass towards the aircraft. According to the schedule, this Boeing 737 should be about ten minutes from push back. All 220 passengers and crew were sitting there waiting for air traffic control to give them permission to get underway.
The drone flew straight and true. Reepaman watched the camera feed as the drone crossed the wide grey expanse of the dispersal. He saw the ground handling team look up with surprise on their faces as the drone approached. Then, the screen filled briefly with the white body of the aircraft before it died abruptly and a small red flashing button on the telemetry screen said ‘Contact Lost.’ Reepaman expanded his news aggregator App on what had been the video feed screen. The App was already set to look for certain keywords on Insta, X, Reuters, and others. It would probably take a few minutes for the first news to hit the net, but bad news travelled fast these days.
When it came it was @TedsOnHolidayAgain that pushed the video out. It looked like he must have been a plane spotter or something. Ted didn’t catch the actual drone strike on his video, but he did get the exploding aircraft. Fully fuelled and ready to go, the fireball was immense. As Ted ducked, swore, and brought the camera back up, it looked like there was only half of an attempt to get the doors open and expand the escape slides.
Reepaman watched the feeds for a little while. There was no government comment, just a lot of speculation online. How could a plane just explode at the gate seemed to be the main question. Some people said bomb, some said a fuelling error, and some news commentators suggested electrical issues, but no one knew.
There were a few people in the emergency response services though, who would be pulling up that phone call as they rapidly upgraded it from crank caller to terrorist threat. A lot of people in the security services would have a late night.
As Reepaman was at his desk, he saw drone two wake up and take off. For it, the flight time was about fifteen minutes. He watched the video feed. The rolling green hills turned into a sprawling metropolis. The drone was high enough, and the flight path well enough mapped to avoid the risk of flying into anything like electricity pylons or cell towers. As the major airport came into view there was no mistaking the sprawling layout just outside London. The inertial guidance system came on early. No one really knew what counter-drone systems were on the perimeter there and Reepaman wasn’t taking any risk on this one.
He followed the drone over the airport boundary and watched it as it headed towards gate F42. He grimaced a little as he saw that something was wrong. Firstly, the video stated to get a lot of noise, and then he saw that there wasn’t a plane parked in the target spot.
No matter he thought, as he clicked on his software to take manual control. But then he cursed. Something really was blocking the signal, it must have been a jammer of some kind. Try as he might, he couldn’t control the drone remotely. He wanted to adjust the course and fly it into the plane at the next gate, but frustratingly he had to just watch as it plummeted into the concrete in the empty bay.
He banged his hands down on the desk in a rare show of anger. The game was up. There was no reason for tarmac to just explode and too many people would have seen the drone. Still, he had planned for this, it was always a possibility that due to a delay or technical problem there might not be a target at the set coordinates. It didn’t make him feel any better about the failure though.
He looked across at his CoinTradz account. Still nothing. Oh well, he thought, they have a couple more hours. His brain quickly pushed any of the recent emotion aside as he stood up from his console and walked across the open-plan room to the fridge. He built himself a chicken salad, with heavy emphasis on the chicken and zoned out for a bit.
The next two attacks went as planned, but by now there was a media frenzy and panic across the country. The Prime Minister had been on TV and declared the closure of all airspace and the cancellation of all flights in and out of the UK. Across Europe, flights originally intended for the UK were diverted. Amsterdam, Paris, and Dublin filled up rapidly and had to turn internal flights away to make room for the international flights to land on vapour. Major airlines from the Middle East, Africa and the Americas took huge financial hits as they took their valuable planes and passengers out of harms way. Hundreds of thousands of people were stranded in the chaos and ended up crashed out on airport floors, or for the lucky few, in hotels.
Reepaman wasn’t particularly interested in any of that. His brain didn’t work that way. The pain, suffering, panic and disruption meant nothing to him. For Reepaman, it was the task and the question of could it be done? It was the technical challenge. The detail of the planning, and the execution. If he had any, his friends would say he was fanatical about it. But it wasn’t religious fervour, it wasn’t the money, it wasn’t even a feeling of power that drove him. No, most of the time it was just to see if he could.
He looked at the screen to his right. Interesting. His CoinTradz account was suddenly a lot richer. Drone number five had just woken up though and was on its way to Birmingham airport. He watched it as it flew.
He wasn’t going to withdraw the bitcoin of course. Only stupid people did that, and he wasn’t stupid, and he didn’t need the money. Personally, he was mildly interested to see if they would pay. The Associate would be happy and that was the main thing.
Reepaman got up from his desk and walked away. He didn’t watch the last drones’ final moments as it slammed into the side of the plane. There was probably no one in it anyway. Probably.
If you enjoyed this short story, you can start at the very beginning of the series, or you can subscribe for weekly short stories as part of the #Reepaman series. It’s all free on the authors website www.reepaman.com.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, scenarios and events are imaginary, and any coincidences are unintended.
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