Don't Reply

Mark A Smart

Don't Reply

For Charlotte and Oliver

Chapter One

August 2013

Her phone beeped. Morse code. Dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot. SMS. One dash short of SOS. Funny that. She put the baby in the high chair and picked up the phone from the kitchen table. She unlocked the display and opened the message.

You've been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts.

His phone came to life. Keep this frequency clear a sample of a dance track from his youth. He sat in his company boardroom with six other people, all seated around a large oval conference table.

‘Sorry.’ He said, but the message alert was too much to ignore. With his phone barely visible under the table, he opened his messaging app. You've been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts

‘Bloody spam.’ She said, throwing the phone back onto the table.

Fucking junk texts. He thought as he sneaked his phone back into his pocket.

#

The program he had written to send the texts selected only a thousand numbers. All he had was the operator dialling prefixes that were used by the different mobile carriers; the rest of the number was randomly generated. He didn't know if any of them were active numbers. He didn't know if anybody would reply. But it would only take one reply of YES to set things in motion, one reply to make Nathan Rayner the most wanted man in Britain.

A cool wind blew across Salisbury Plain. The beating sun cast a haze over the rugged terrain. Raynor knew the area well. It had been used by the Ministry of Defence since the late nineteenth century, and the ministry still owned nearly half of the three-hundred square mile grassland. It was a great training ground for British troops, and often welcomed troops from around the world to take part in training exercises. Anyone within earshot would be used to the noise of explosives, along with the sound of automatic weapons fire and the low rumble of Challenger-2 tanks, which is why the explosion that rattled across the plain, seven minutes after the first thousand texts were sent, went mostly unnoticed.

Rayner was taking a risk using the Plains as a test site, but he thought it worth the risk. The only people to be suspicious of the noise would be military personnel who knew there weren’t any exercises in progress. And knowing the military like he did, he was sure it would take hours for anyone to come and investigate. If he was really unlucky, an Apache helicopter might fly over on training exercises from Middle Wallop Army Air Corps base, but the chances of that were slim,

Bloody MOD can’t afford the fuel. He thought.

Satisfied with his trial run, he started to trek across the plain to the abandoned village of Imber.

Prior to World War II, the village of Imber was home to around one hundred and fifty people. In November 1943 the good citizens were informed that they would have to leave to make way for a training ground for the American troops being deployed to assist in the liberation of Europe. The people of Imber, while not too impressed, considered it their duty to contribute to the war effort by giving up their homes. After all, once the war was over they’d been promised they could return. Unfortunately for them, that promise was never kept and the village remains under Ministry of Defence ownership. It is still used for military exercises, mainly focused on urban combat in specially constructed buildings. Only a few of the original buildings remain, including the church, the Bell Inn and Imber Court, which Raynor chose as his base during his short stay.

Imber Court is an impressive looking building. Impressive for the size of the village at least. Now boarded up and pretty much gutted inside, it stands to the north of the village with only a couple of empty training buildings close by. Raynor knew he’d be okay here for a while, just while he assessed the test. He slid aside one of the boards covering a long-broken window and climbed inside. Once the board was back in place and the room once again consumed by darkness, he switched on his Maglite and swept the beam around the room.

His backpack was where he’d left it; untouched. The floor was still littered with spent shells from army urban combat training, and a bullet-hole ridden target of a man holding a gun still hung halfway out of the door to the adjoining room.

He took his laptop and phone out of his backpack and powered them up. He switched on his phone’s Wi-Fi tethering and waited for the laptop to boot up and connect to it. Phone reception out here was poor, but he wasn’t using a mobile carrier, so he didn’t care. He didn’t need 3g, 4g, hspa or edge, he was way ahead of that.

He logged on to his remote server to check the replies. Forty seven YES; one hundred and twenty two STOP and one Fuck off and stop sending me spam. Raynor pictured some wannabe big shot sat in a boardroom somewhere. But overall, he was reassured by the fact that the people of Britain were greedy bastards.

Rayner powered down his devices. Despite being off the grid there was still no point in risking his communications being detected. He grabbed a dried ration pack from his rucksack and ate. He had a lot of planning to do.

He decided to take a cross-country route to the A36, where he’d get a bus to Salisbury from whichever village he got to first. There were plenty to choose from, Heytesbury, Upper Lowell, Codford. The buses ran every hour down that stretch of the busy A-road. He planned to stay the night at Andover, having made a reservation using one of his many fake ID’s. In the morning he’d catch a train to London Waterloo, and then take the tube across to Plaistow where his bedsit was a five minute walk from the tube station.

He would have preferred to stay at Salisbury, he was born and grew up there, but he could never go back for any length of time in case he was spotted by someone he once knew. He couldn’t risk that, because he didn’t exist. The only reason he would go there today was to get a train to Andover. He’d accept that risk for his mission.

#

Corporal Jamie “JJ” Jenkins knocked the door.

‘Come.’ Came the curt reply.

Jenkins walked into the office of Brigadier Charles Saunders.

The brigadier had been an officer for twenty seven years with fourteen years prior working his way up to the officer ranks. He was hoping for further promotion to Major General.

A traditional officer, the brigadier was almost a stereotype of a 1970’s TV sitcom officer or a typical Hollywood representation of high ranking British Officers. He was suffering from being middle aged in every aspect. It was easy to see he was once a man with a bit of muscle, though the easy life of a deskbound officer and not enough exercise had let the muscle shrink and the fat expand. His face was getting more round, and more red, by the day.

Corporal Jenkins had been serving Her Majesty for only seven years, signing up straight out of school at sixteen. He knew from an early age that he’d join the army one day, but he didn’t realise how tough, and often cruel, the armed forces could be. Jenkins stood at five foot eleven inches and was skinny. Long distance runner skinny. His squad mates would often joke about him hiding out of sight behind the barrel of his rifle. That was one of the tame taunts. Very tame. He nearly quit several times, but his determination kept winning him over and eventually he became a respected member of his unit. He still got extremely nervous when addressing the higher ranks though.

Jenkins stood to attention and saluted his superior.

‘At ease’ said the brigadier. ‘What can I do for you Jenkins?

‘Sir.’ replied Jenkins, ‘We’ve had a number of calls from civilians, mainly from Erlestoke and the surrounding area. There have been reports of an explosion earlier this afternoon. Most calls have been enquiries as to whether it was us, and whether it was planned. A couple have been complaints.’

‘Are there any exercises today Corporal?’ asked Saunders.

‘No sir. The last live fire exercises were last week; Challenger target exercises.’

‘Okay, and all munitions from those exercises have been accounted for?’

‘Yes sir, every round detonated and logged, sir.’

‘Very good. What about UXO?’ — Unexploded Ordnance.

‘Highly unlikely sir, we tend not to stray too far north on exercises as the locals seem to get a bit irate. And it’s very rare nowadays to find anything left over from past exercises.’

‘Very well.’ Said Saunders, ‘Get a team assembled and go to investigate. I want all personnel accounted for at the time of the explosion. I want everybody on this base ruled out of any involvement in this incident. Retrieve any evidence that you can from the blast site, however small. And once we’re satisfied that it’s not an MOD issue, contact Five, give them the evidence and let’s get this situation out of our hair. Dismissed.’

‘Yes sir.’ replied Jenkins. He saluted the Brigadier, about-turne ...

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