American Traitor by Brad Taylor

Chapter 1

April 9, 2019, Misawa, Japan

Jake Shu saw the afterburners kick in, the flight of four F-35 Lightning II aircraft leave the gravity of earth and head into the night sky. It was but one of many flights leaving the airbase, a stream of lights bursting into the night one after the other, some headed out over the Pacific Ocean, others over the Sea of Japan, but this one was special. Special to him.

The cold began to seep in under his trousers, an unrelenting contact from the iron park bench he was sitting on, as if it was asking him to leave. But he could not. He had a mission here, and he would see it through.

The airbase in Misawa was about as far north in Japan as one could get on the main island, leaving him in the upper echelons of cold weather on the spit of land, but the April chill wasn’t bad enough to drive him inside. He was too invested in a small bud in his ear.

Connected to a scanner tuned to the open-net air traffic control frequencies emanating from the tower behind him, he was listening intently. So much so he actually had a bead of sweat on his brow in the forty-degree air. Like a scientist conducting an experiment in a controlled environment, he was unable to alter the outcome once it was started, but he wanted to see the results. All that remained was to watch and wait. Or in his case, listen.

The initial contact from the aircraft sounded normal, which was not what he wanted to hear. He had a lot invested in this particular experiment, and if it didn’t work, he would be the one paying the bill.

The F-35 jet, known as the “Lightning II,” was the most advanced fighter aircraft ever envisioned. Capable of unimaginable things, from stealth penetration to combat control of synchronized drones, it was unstoppable. With construction on each airframe ongoing in more than twelve countries all over the world, it was the finest fighter aircraft ever to take to the skies. The ultimate killing machine, but it had an Achilles’ heel.

Jake worked for a company called Gollum Solutions, a subcontractor of a subcontractor for BAE Systems—a common occurrence in the byzantine world of military procurement. You’d be hard pressed to find a military contractor who didn’t take the profits first and then subcontract out, but in this case the subcontracting company’s name had a double meaning.

It was derived from the riddle of the ring in J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels. Built solely to gain the contract for the F-35, Gollum Solutions promised to solve the riddle through software, and in so doing make the F-35 invisible. Just as the ring could do. As enticingly clever as the name was, what the owners never realized was that there were two sides to the ring, and they would pay a price for it.

The ring in Tolkien’s world was corrupting, with anyone who wore it turning against his nature to serve a different master, and the name Gollum would prove prophetic. Which is where Jake Shu came in. A Chinese American, he was well placed to create havoc for money. A Gollum in his own right, he had worn the proverbial ring, and had been corrupted.

Two months ago, he’d been detailed from his company in Australia to the F-35 final assembly plant in Japan—an unexpected advantage. Japan had the only such plant outside of the United States, with all other F-35s being built in Fort Worth, Texas, and because of it he had an opportunity.

He’d helped with the byzantine assembly process, his expertise being in software integration. He’d done the job he was asked—along with a bit more—and was now wondering if it had worked.

Sitting in the cold outside the control tower, now it was time to see if his inject actually mattered, because a human being was behind the controls. At the end of the day, he could alter the sensors of the plane, but the pilot was king. And yet that man only did what his sensors told him to do. At least that’s what Jake hoped.

His inject was simple: Change what the pilot thought was correct. There was ample reason to believe that his alterations would work. Plenty of pilots crashed because they thought one thing and the unforgiving earth thought another. The difference in those cases was that they chose to disbelieve what their instruments were telling them.

What if the instruments themselves were telling the pilot something different?

The helmet of the F-35 was a monstrosity—a four-hundred-thousand-dollar piece of gear that offered the pilot innumerable feeds, showing him everything that was occurring within his airspace. He could read the world in real time, gaining an unrivaled capability to defeat anything that chose to fight. The pilot read all of those feeds and trusted them explicitly. And it was all software driven.

The pilot controlled cameras that could detail everything around the aircraft, allowing him a 360-degree view that would be impossible without the helmet. He had feeds telling him every threat near the aircraft within a hundred miles. He had sensors that detailed when to fire his weapons, only locking on when the computer told him it was correct, giving him an unparalleled ability to prevent collateral damage in modern warfare. He had more control over his destiny than any pilot in history.

But what if what he was seeing was wrong? If his actual experience wasn’t what was happening? What if his helmet told him one thing, and reality was another?

Jake heard the control tower say, “Comet four-two, Comet four-two, go to thirty-one five. Inbound aircraft at thirty-seven.”

He heard, “Yes. Understood.”

He waited with bated breath, conflicted. If this worked, he was murdering a person he’d never met.