Lars was an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Pilot with the newly-formed 75th Air Wing of the Luftwaffe. These days the drones could mostly fly themselves so most of what he did was watch what happened on the screen and then writing down whatever went wrong so the engineers could fix it. It definitely wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but he was happy so long as he got to stay out of the trenches in Scotland.
The UAV he was watching - an Airbus Super Barracuda Attack Drone - finally reached its target. Twenty pieces of ordnance soundlessly fell out of its cargo bays into the dark skies over London. Each individual GBU-46 JDAM bomb assigned to its own target and guided by precision GPS with an overall accuracy radius of two point five centimeters. Every one was set for a different military or strategic location designed to further cripple the British forces.
Twenty tiny bursts of light flashed up on Lars’ screen. On the monitor next to it, nineteen display boxes turned green. Clicking on the failed one, Lars sighed. Damn. One of the bombs had exploded nearly forty meters above its intended target. That meant a failure report, which meant he wouldn’t be getting to bed before three. Navigating to the auto-generated after-action report he scrolled down until he found the details for the bomb in the sixty-second drop slot, serial number HFA-21149. Opening the necessary form in a new tab he began to fill it out. When he got to the drop location, he paused. He’d put these numbers in before. Two times in the past month a bomb designated for this location had failed to explode and he’d had to write a report on it. He quickly searched the location in the unified action report system. Three times had German planes attempted to destroy that building and three times they had failed.
The GBU-46 JDAM ordnance had a failure rate of 0.2%. The three bombs in question had all come from production runs without any known defects or quality control issues. One bomb failing to detonate at that location was happenstance. Two was a coincidence, but still possible. Three meant advanced anti-bomb countermeasures, which meant that the low-level building was of much higher strategic importance to the English than Military Intelligence had marked it as. With a sigh, Lars printed out the three failure reports and got up from his controls to take them to his commander. He’d be lucky to make it home before five.
Two days later, Lars was once again watching the feed from a drone flying over London. This time, though, the drone wasn’t going to be dropping any bombs. Its job was to find out what had stopped the first three attacks. The most likely countermeasure against a smart bomb was an extremely strong electromagnetic pulse. A strong enough EMP could hypothetically fry the delicate circuitry inside the device and cause it to detonate early. Knowing this, the Luftwaffe had long-ago developed an air-dropped probe built inside of a Faraday cage. The cage mitigated the effects of the EMP and would allow the probe to survive long enough to transmit video of the specific countermeasures being used. It was a pricy thing to build but well worth it when trying to circumnavigate the protections on strategic targets.
The probe in the bomb bay of Lars’ aircraft was one of these specially-built devices. It was being dropped on what German maps called “Unknown Enemy Strategic Location #4”. Up until Lars filed his report two days ago it had been believed to be a Radio Officer training facility. Such high-level defenses, though, would surely not be wasted on a simple school.
The probe was hopefully going to be able to turn “unknown” into something more useful and provide data about what kind of ordnance would be necessary to destroy it. Staring at his monitor Lars waited for the probe to drop. Its cameras and sensor suite were connected to the German military network via a live satellite feed so that he would be able to manipulate the drone in real-time. Once the UAV reached the preset location, the probe fell. It accelerated rapidly as it dropped towards the ground. Four high-speed cameras created a perfect hemisphere of coverage around the drone as it plummeted downwards through the air. Faster and faster, the tiny probe reached terminal velocity at two hundred meters from the ground. A parachute popped open at forty meters, stopping the rapid descent. Falling slowly would make the drone an easy target for ground fire but ensured stable, high quality video for as long as possible.
The view on Lars’ screen changed. It was as if the drone had passed through a rift in space and been transported to some other city. The skyline of London, which had been blacked to make it harder for pilots to see their targets, was replaced with a merrily lit cobblestone street lined with storefronts being frequented by happy customers out enjoying a Friday night. Lars immediately ran a diagnostic and checked the tracking signal. The faraday cage had registered a massive voltage spike - a sign that the probe had been hit by the EMP that had disabled the three bombs - but everything else was nominal. Lars attempted to refocus the cameras to get a better view of the ground below.
The probe didn’t have motors of its own, so it continued to drift closer to the ground every second. Lars scrambled to record as much data as he could, refocusing the cameras as often as possible to try and examine every new detail before the probe fell to the eye level of the population below. It looked nothing like the satellite photos of the military compound. The street was filled with men and women all dressed in some of the most curious clothing Lars had ever seen. There were children in some kind of creature costumes and a huge street performer who was probably walking on stilts. The buildings were in a rustic style with brightly-painted signs more reminiscent of the Victorian Era than the modern day.
After the probe had fallen past ten meters a few people noticed it and looked up. A woman in a red robe let out a shout as she pointed at the small metal sphere hanging underneath its white parachute, saying something that the microphones on the probe couldn’t pick up. Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew something - a firearm? - it was too dimly lit to make out. A flash of light burst out of the device and impacted upon the shell of the probe. The voltage in the Faraday cage spiked as it struggled to dissipate a massive EMP burst. Lars blinked, stunned. No device that small should be able to generate a pulse that strong. Zooming in, he tried to get a better whatever was shooting at the probe. Another streak of light was already on its way, though. The delicate wiring of the Faraday cage finally fried and the circuitry in the probe burnt out.
Lars sat back as the video and sensor feeds went black. This was huge. Whatever program the British had under development at this base could change the course of the war in an instant. Every war machine on the field had some form of circuitry that could be destroyed by such a device. Even the newest generation of standard rifles were equipped with smart targeting sensors. Tanks, APCs, missiles, smart bombs, and the entire joint European naval and air fleets could be grounded by these high-powered, portable, and focused EMPs. And that wasn’t even mentioning whatever holographic technology the English had used to hide the true design of the compound. Knowing that the enemy had holograms that could fool the cameras on their satellites and reconnaissance planes threw all of their intelligence into question. The high command would have to be informed at once and the facility had to be taken out. If they couldn’t capture and replicate whatever technology the British had then they may as well give up the war as lost.
Hermione Granger was irritated. She had been called in at eight on a Friday evening to deal with a bomb falling in the middle of Diagon Alley as the only one in the Ministry who knew enough about the muggle world to figure out how it got in. It wasn’t her fault that the parliament had started a war it couldn’t win - hell, she even voted for the opposition.
“I need an explanation, Hermione: how did this manage to get into the Alley?” Shacklebolt said as she stepped through the doorway into the Minister’s office.
“I’ll need a minute to examine it, Kingsley. And even then all I can give you is my preliminary report,” she said, walking up to the table with the supposed bomb as Shacklebolt waited. Looking it over, she said, “Well, the anti-bomb wards were first installed in 1918 during the first muggle World War. They were designed to set off the explosive charges at a safe distance above the street so that no one would get hurt. This, though, isn’t a bomb.”
“What is it, then?"
“I'm not sure. It's obviously something electric. Did it do anything when it entered the alley?”
"No, but when Auror Thomas went to pick it up it shocked him. How did they get a machine to work around magic?" the Minister asked.
Hermione thought for a bit, turning the object over in her hands. She continued, “Do you see the wire shell that surrounds it? That looks like a type of shielding that protects against an electromagnetic pulse - the kind of power magic uses when it destroys electronics. The Department of Mysteries has been working with it for years to try and integrate muggle devices into magical ones. The problem is that it doesn’t get rid of the energy, it just stores it and converts it into electricity. If too much power is consumed, it ends up breaking down and discharging the electricity into whatever is near to it like a small bolt of lightning. Auror Thomas was just unlucky enough to be at the receiving end of that.”
Pausing for a moment, Shacklebolt absorbed the new information. “You said earlier that it wasn’t a bomb. If it wasn’t that, what is it?”
Hermione gestured down at the probe. “That’s where it gets very difficult. Do you see this protrusions here on the bottom and these three around the side?”
“I’m pretty sure those are cameras. And this thing sticking out on top looks like some kind of high-powered antenna, which could be used to transfer images wirelessly.”
"Who would be interested in sending cameras after us with so much shielding?"
"My guess?" Hermione said, "It probably has nothing to do with us. EMPs have come into heavier use in muggle militaries. This probably has to do with the war. The Joint European Forces drop thousands of pounds of bombs on muggle England every day. This could be some sort of guidance device for the bombs."
"If it was transmitting, though," Shacklebolt asked, "could the Statute of Secrecy be broken? Could whoever sent this have photos of us?"
"Maybe, but I doubt it. The ward line likely produced a strong enough pulse to break through the shielding the moment the device hit it. You see how the wiring inside the cage looks black and melted? I’d bet that it overpowered the electronics.”
“What do we do if they got the photos through?”
"Well, the Europeans are fighting together. That means that the magical governments of France and Eastern Europe have already made their muggle governments aware of us here at Diagon and know that we're neutral. Then they will have told the Germans and the other people without magical governments, or will at least answer any questions if they're asked. We should probably notify the ICW, but we won't have to send out obliviators unless it gets worse or the muggles spread the knowledge too much."
"Can we keep any more of these out?"
“I can work with the Department of Mysteries to strengthen the bomb wards over the entire magical sector. We'll figure out a way to overpower any shielded devices. We should be able to get something working within a few days.”
“And if more are sent before we’re ready?” Kingsley asked.
“We’ll have to put up temporary wards to overpower the shields with brute force until we have a more elegant solution. It will cause disturbances in the muggle areas bordering the magical sector, but that can’t be helped. We can also station an Auror team on the roof of the Ministry to keep a lookout for anything coming from the sky.”
“That will do for now.” Shaking his head, Shacklebolt continued, “I’ll put in the order for the new wards. Damn the Prime Minister for getting us into this mess.”
“We just have to do enough to keep ourselves safe,” Hermione reassured herself. “We’ll make it through this muggle war comfortably by sitting on the sidelines, as we’ve always done. For every new camera or probe they design we will make ten new spells to counter them. There’s nothing they can do that will prevent us from staying safely out of sight, no matter how hard they try.”
“Hope is always good, Undersecretary Granger.” Shacklebolt gave her a tired smile. “Get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning. All of us will have to put in extra hours this weekend.”
“Yes sir,” Hermione said.
Time was running out for the German army. Not that anyone knew, of course. The European front was marching steadily through Scotland. Just last week the allied forces had secured strategic air superiority over the British. But in General Gert-Johannes Hagemann’s opinion, he had about a week before the war was completely and irreparably lost.
Four days of research had not cleared up anything about the mysterious English energy weapon. The Bundeswehr had cleared out an entire building and filled it with all the specialists they could find - dragging them right off the front lines when they had to. And still, nothing. No one could figure out how the weapon was supposed to work or how they could replicate it. All they had were a few seconds of dark footage shot by a falling probe.
Two more probes had been sent out in the first night but neither had worked. Both shorted out instantly after hitting the initial EMP barrier. This was the one thing that gave General Hagemann hope. If the enemy had spent time to strengthen the defenses around the facility then they might need more time to evacuate it. Now that they knew the Germans had its location, though, it wouldn’t remain in one place for long. If they hoped to capture one of the devices before they were put in use on the front lines they had to do it as soon as possible.
Still, the General saw this pressure as no reason to lose his mind. His team had devised a plan and they were going to implement it. It was dangerous, had a very small chance of success, and would probably cost him his job, but it was the one option he had.
“Gentlemen,” he barked out as three soldiers filed into the room. “Have you been briefed on your mission?”
“No sir,” the lead one answered, “all we were told is to report to you, sir.”
Turning around, the General gestured to the projector screen set up behind him. “Watch this,” he said, then clicked play. The eight seconds of footage that had been so meticulously analyzed over the last week played out behind him as the three soldiers watched attentively. “What you have just seen is a new superweapon. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know how the British managed to develop it. What we do know is that if they manage to get it to their trenches in Scotland and we haven’t yet managed to counter it, we will lose. The imperialists will retake Scotland before marching through Europe and destroying our Republic and our way of life. Millions of your brothers and sisters will die failing to prevent their unstoppable advance as soldiers with these weapons cut through our lines like butter, turning our tanks and vehicles into immobile husks and burning those inside with a thousand volts of electricity. Do you understand the importance of what I am telling you, soldiers?”
“Yes sir,” the three men answered. Their faces did not betray their fear, or perhaps they truly had none.
“We have a very small window in which to capture one of these devices and develop a way to disable it. We know where their research facility is at the moment, but they know that we know this. It is likely getting moved to a more secure location as we speak. Our engineers have modified an drone to carry three passengers. You will be carried to the drop zone and then released. You will not be able to see the landing site, it is protected by a hologram. You will be given GPS landing aids. We will give you a specialized transmitter that has been hardened against even the strongest EMP devices, it should be able to let you stay in contact with us. Your mission will be to recover one of these devices and return it to us. In order to accomplish this we will give you a specialized balloon - you will attach the device to it and let it fly, where a drone will find it and retrieve it. Do you have any questions?”
“What is our exit strategy, sir?” the lead man asked.
“You are to make it through to the front lines in Scotland, where you will be recovered. Is that clear?”
The soldiers nodded. Yes, it was clear. There was no true exit strategy because none had been designed. This was a desperate mission for the future of their country and the freedom of their people. It would be impossible to recover them from deep in enemy territory but the General had no other option. They were to die for their country so that their country might live.
“Good.” The General grimaced. “Now get to the runway. Your plane is waiting and your brothers and sisters are in need. I’ll be watching from here.”
In the basement of the hastily assembled Special Research Division Building the General watched his three paratroopers through a live satellite feed along with his senior staff. The atmosphere was tense. Even if the drone managed to avoid the surface to air missiles and reach the drop point intact, it was still quite possible that the facility was already vacated. Four days is a long time to wait.
From inside the drone the soldiers could not see the missiles streaking towards them, but they could feel the plane as it rolled and shook from the nearby explosions. All too many minutes after they entered the field of fire they reached the target. The bomb bay doors beneath them opened and they silently dropped into the open air. It was a perfectly clear night over London. A nearly-full moon illuminated the darkened city. Against the stars three black shapes plummeted towards the ground.
Guided by their GPS trackers, the men opened their parachutes at the lowest possible altitude. They decelerated quickly, but the screens back at the base showed a worrying sign.
“You’re off-course,” the General said into the microphone. “Correct North, soldiers.”
“What, sir?” one of the soldiers asked.
“You are dropping away from the target. Correct to get back to the coordinates that your GPS’s are telling you to land at.”
“Oh no sir, we can’t do that,” the lead man replied.
The General twitched. His staff burst into worried mutterings. “Yes you can, and you will. Correct course now, soldiers.”
“No no no, we have to, we have to go do something. I think I left my dinner in the oven. Got to attend to that immediately.”
“Are you insane? You are nearly too low to correct. You will land where you need to. Your brothers and sisters will die if you fail!”
“It’s - no, we -”
With dread, the General watched the three soldiers descend below the tops of the buildings two city blocks off-target. With an audible crack the paratroopers landed on the city street. They hadn’t focused on landing correctly and at least one had broken his ankle.
“What the hell was that. Answer me.”
“I - I’m sorry sir. It was like I couldn’t go there. I just had to go somewhere else, and -” the man was cut off by the sound of weapons fire from the window of a nearby house. “Get Cover” he yelled to his teammates as a car of police officers arrived. “Run, run, r-”
The flashes of light overwhelmed the night-vision cameras that the General was watching through, but he didn’t need them to know what was happening. The guns could be heard clearly through the microphone, and the three flatlined bio-monitors told him the complete story.
“Kill the feed,” he ordered. Turning to his medical officer, he asked “What was that?”
“Um- uh, sir, it seemed to be something mental. Maybe an aerosolized spray? No, that wouldn’t have covered such a large area. I don’t know. Something designed to confuse. It’s decades beyond all medical research that we have access to. We could -”
“Can you counter it?” the General said
“Maybe? If we used amphetamines, they could keep a soldier focused on their goal. It would be dangerous, though, and I don’t even know if it would work. We have no idea what kind of technology they’re using.”
“Get some,” the General ordered. “Go. Now.” Looking to his flight engineer, he asked, “When will the drone return?”
“It won’t be, sir. It got hit by enemy fire two minutes ago on return. We’ll need at least a day to modify another one.”
The General put his head in his hands, thinking. Looking up, he said, “You were a pilot, weren’t you?”
“Yes sir. But I haven’t flown in years.” the engineer replied.
“Can you fly a fighter?”
“Yes, I can do that.”
“Good. Suit up. We’re leaving in twenty minutes.”
“Where are we going, sir?” the engineer asked.
“We’ll be ejecting over the drop site, Commander. There’s no time to brief anybody else to do this mission and no other way to get there fast enough. We’re the only two with combat experience here. Now go get ready. The doctor will meet us at the runway with the amphetamines.”
The two-seat Eurofighter Typhoon that roared off the runway at 2:30 am had never seen combat. It served as a trainer aircraft to teach German pilots how to handle the complex fourth-generation fighter. This would be its first real flight into a war zone, and also its last. The external fuel tanks and weapons had been hastily removed in order to increase speed. The two soldiers only needed enough fuel to get to their goal, they didn’t need enough to return as well. The plane accelerated off the runway at full throttle, rapidly gaining altitude. At cruising altitude the flight engineer kicked on the afterburners. Each of the two EJ200 engines jumped to 90,000 kilonewtons of thrust, and the plane shot off faster than a rocket.
The General stayed calm as the fighter broke the sound barrier and continued gaining speed. He had ordered the engineer to keep the throttle pushed all the way down until they got to the drop site. It would surely wreak havoc on the engines, but it didn’t matter. After they ejected the plane would crash over some London suburb anyway. Time was of the essence and they couldn’t wait another twenty-four hours to configure another drone for parachute use. It was a near-miracle that the British had opted for increased countermeasures instead of an immediate evacuation, but General Hagemann was not going to complain. It gave them this last chance to capture their technology before they put it to use against them.
“Sir?” the Engineers said.
“What is it?”
“Two enemy aircraft behind us, seven o’clock. Roughly 40 kilometers out, but they’ve noticed us and are heading this way.”
“Keep going. We’re almost to the drop zone and they won’t risk matching our speed.”
“Sir, we’ll have to slow down in order to eject. If we’re going above the speed of sound when we eject we’ll be instantly knocked unconscious, assuming we don’t die.”
“Will we make it to the drop zone before their missiles do?”
“I think so, sir, but it’ll be close.” The engineer swallowed. Slowing as fast as they'd need to be comfortable, but that hardly mattered. “Decelerating now… Mach 1.8...1.6...1.4 - sir, missiles fired, thirty-five seconds to impact.”
“Eject at five seconds.”
“Yes, sir. Mach 0.9, we are slower than sound - fifteen seconds to impact. Thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six - go!”
The canopy blew off the aircraft as the twin ejection seats shot off. The kick of the rocket-powered seat and the massive kick of the windshear blew both of the Germans back into their seats. The two men arced backwards relative to the plane, watching as it dissolved into a glitter of light and thunder when the missile struck home.
“Are you alright, commander?” the General asked.
“Yes, sir. I believe that one of my ribs is broken, but the drugs are preventing me from feeling the pain.”
“Good. Are you still focused?”
Their fall itself was short. The plane had been flying as low as possible in order to avoid enemy radar and confuse surface to air missiles until they got over London. Amphetamine-fueled determination kept them on their target, even as they fought off urges to go somewhere - anywhere - else.
“Twenty seconds until we reach the holographic barrier. Get the balloon ready,” the General ordered.
Silently, the engineer pulled the deflated weather balloon and helium tank off his back. The tank would explosively pressurize the balloon when the valve was opened, causing it to shoot off into the air. The General unholstered his gun and got ready. They would have ten seconds between crossing the barrier and landing when they would be basically sitting ducks.
“Crossing now.” With a breath, they both watched the darkened London skyline transform into the rustic military compound they had previously glimpsed briefly through the eyes of the probe. Enemy soldiers walked the street below, but none of them had noticed them yet. The General was looking down at one - a man dressed in what looked like a green dress - when the man glanced up. His eyes went wide and he reached for something - one of the energy devices that had been used on the probe. Wordlessly the General pointed his handgun and pulled the trigger, dropping the man with a single shot to the head. The silenced firearm gave a soft thump, but nobody below seemed to notice.
They crashed to the ground at the same time, landing next to the man the General had shot.
“Quickly!” he said, grabbing the stick from the dead man and giving it to the engineer who strapped it to the balloon and opened the valve on the tank.
“Holy shit, they just killed him!” the General looked up to see another strangely-dressed person, a woman this time, raise a similar weapon at the two of them. Everyone else on the street had turned to look.
“Let it fly,” the General ordered to the Engineer as he fired his gun a second time. The people around were quick to react, all of them reaching for weapons of their own. The General looked to his right just in time to see the engineer get struck in the just by a green bolt of light and tumble over, letting the balloon go in the process. He fired blindly into the crowd, trying to keep the enemy focused on him instead of the dark-colored weather balloon that was rapidly gaining altitude. He got off three rounds before one of them managed to hit him and his world went dark.