Arsenal Code Red

Excerpt by R.A. Jetter


Author’s note: It’s a fact, computer hackers have already caused costly destruction to tens of thousands of people, fortunately, none of this prankster-like criminal activity has caused death. At least, not yet! It’s only a matter of time before they do.

Since 1995, the newest commercial airliners built are equipped with digital flight management systems, enabling air traffic controllers to guide an aircraft to a safe landing in nearly any kind of weather. If someone hacked into the system, interfering with the aircraft’s flight management program, giving it another set of instructions, which would the plane follow?

In Arsenal Code RED; two 15 year old boys, playing with the supposed obsolete computers in Denver’s abandoned Stapleton International Airport control tower, draw a 235-passenger flight to Stapleton’s disrepaired runway, The early morning red-eye crashes into the Army’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal – the very place the US Government stores thousands of gallons of deadly Sarin nerve gas. To complicate rescue of survivors, the calamity occurs in one of Denver’s infamous January snowstorms. If that isn’t enough, another airliner is drawn away from the new Denver International Airport toward Stapleton.

Is the second airliner, and others to follow, destined to crash atop the first? Will the survivors succumb to hypothermia or nerve gas? Is the city of Denver in mortal danger? Is this simply a game the boys have concocted… or is it really a terrorist plot?

Chapter One is presented here.


Adam Wachtel opened one eye and glanced at the radio/alarm clock beside the bed. “Damn. Three forty-five.” Grabbing the phone on the third ring… what the hell is going on at this time of the morning that they need me? “Hello,” he mumbled, rubbing his fingers over his eyes.

“Captain Wachtel?” The voice on the other end said. “Lieutenant Baines here, Denver Fire Department HQ.”

Raising his head from the soft, warm pillow, he cocked an ear to the wind howling past the second story bedroom window. Sounds like a real blizzard out there. Predictions called for this late January storm, he’d gone to bed hoping it would bypass Denver. Vague shadows danced on the window, snow-covered branches rasped against the corner of the house. Just what I need on Friday, worst day for a storm, everyone gets careless. “What is it, Baines?”

“We’ve gotten an incident report, sir, sounds like the real thing.”

“Explain, Lieutenant.”

“We need you down here right away, sir! We’ve received an Arsenal Code R.E.D.”

“A Code R.E.D.?” Adam sat up, turning away from his wife, certain he would awaken her. “You sure?”

“A red-eye commercial airliner has crashed inside the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, sir.”

“My God, Lieutenant! Are you positive?” Galvanized by the Lieutenant’s words, he was wide-awake now.

“Yessir, the Arsenal’s perimeter alarm lights are flashing like crazy on our Ready Board, something broke the beams. We’re getting an alert from Denver International Airport, also. Their alarms have been going off left and right, has to be an airliner. I’d bet there are fatalities!”

“Has to be… may be more.” Adam swallowed hard.


Fear knotted Adam’s stomach. Palm moist, he pressed the phone harder against his ear and wasn’t certain he wanted to hear the answer to his first question — “Where inside the Arsenal, Lieutenant?” This could this be the accident he’s dreaded for years. His mind raced.

“Don’t have a location yet. We just know it’s Arsenal property, sir.”

Adam pulled the hand-made quilts over his wife’s shoulders. She stirred. Usually a sound sleeper, he worried his voice was too loud yet fired questions furiously. “You’re sure it’s a commercial? Did it hit anything out there? What about survivors?”

“Hold on a minute, please, sir,”

Adam listened to static on the line. He turned to look at Jean, his wife, awakened by rapid-fire questions.

Static in the earpiece muffled the sound of other voices.. all seemingly traumatized.

“Sir? We’ve just gotten communication with Denver International Airport. It is a passenger… red-eye. Independence Air, Flight 333 — went off their scopes south and west of DIA.”

Adam swallowed. “Definitely Arsenal property. Probably down around 85th or 75th Street, somewhere in there. Lieutenant, we need confirmation right away. Get someone out there.”

“We’re still talking to the information officer, sir.”

“Get your guys moving, NOW,” Wachtel said. “I assume his landing approach was toward the west if he went into the arsenal?”

“Unknown at this time, sir.”

“OK, Lieutenant.” Adam rubbed his hand over his face in a half-hearted attempt to eradicate sleep from his eyes. His brain now working on fear. “If he was coming in on a westerly heading… attempting DIA…”

“We should have a fix soon,” Baines interrupted.

“My God, Lieutenant! That plane’s in the Basin F pond — ten million gallons of hydrazine-laced rinse water used to de-activate nerve gas. Not deep, but deadly… and ninety acres wide… and it doesn’t freeze over.” Adam’s mind screamed with possibilities: the battered, twisted wreckage would be scattered from one end of the pond to the other. Dazed and confused passengers would fight each other to get out as frigid water rushed inside the cabin. Dozens of bodies floated in that pond. “Definitely not a nice place to put a plane down,” he mumbled and shivered. No way in hell could we get all the survivors out of that deadly chemical soup. My God, where are we going to find enough boats for that?

“Sir, where is that on the property?”

Adam blinked at the sound of Baines’ voice. “Northern part. Lieutenant, stop calling me sir. What’s your first name?”

“Robert, sir. Sorry, sir. I’m new to this shift. Been on graveyard a little over a month.”

“Understood, Robert.” Adam put his feet on the cold hardwood floor, hurriedly worked on his slippers and stepped away from the bed. “Get all my Precinct Commanders down there, immediately. Find them. Wake them. Get them to their stations.”

“Right away, sir. Uhm… excuse me, sir, you mentioned nerve gas. Is there something about the Arsenal I don’t know?”

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