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The Malthus Project

 

 

The Malthus Project

 

A Novel by

J. Dee German

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by J. D. German

 

Shakespir Edition

This E-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or if it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Other Books by J. D. German

Fiction

The Hermetrius Conspiracy – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #1

The Forsetti Solution – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #2

Revenge, Inc. – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #3

 

Non-Fiction

Christian Principles – Food for Thought

Random Thoughts of an A.D.D. Mind

 

The above books can be downloaded free at www.Shakespir.com under the author’s name, J. D. German. They are available in formats that can be read on a PC or tablet computers as well as formats for Nook and Kindle reading tablets from the Barnes and Nobel and Amazon

 

 

THOMAS ROBERT MALTHUS

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.

Thomas Robert Malthus was an early 19th century English economist best known for his theory that population growth will always tend to outrun the ability to increase food supply. He first presented his ideas in An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798. He postulated that certain checks could prevent the predicted population explosion, such as abstinence, moral restraint, marrying at an older age, and restricting marriage of persons living in poverty or perceived as ‘defective.’ He also believed that if these checks were not put in place the resulting exponential population increase would lead to premature death, starvation, and war over dwindling resources, in what is called a Malthusian Catastrophe. Modern farming methods and effective birth control have prevented this prophecy, but mainly in first-world countries. Many third-world countries suffer from precisely what Malthus predicted.

Disclaimer

The people, events, and technologies portrayed in this work are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real-world people or weapons is purely coincidental.

Key Characters

Brian Callaghan Scientist – 32, 6’3”, 200 lb. Black curly hair, blue eyes. Invented an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) beam weapon called Zeus, tested it in a canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lives in an old adobe house in Santa Fe. His research lab is a remodeled old caboose at the Lamy Train Station. Degrees in laser physics and electromagnetic field theory.

Adeen Reilly – Biologist – 30, 5’8”, 135 lb. Red hair, green eyes, freckled, Irish temperament. Searching for a way to stop pine bark beetle infestation in New Mexico forests. Teams with Callaghan to adapt his EMP weapon for that use. PhD in biology, Professor at New Mexico Highlands University.

Maj. Theresa (Terry) Sanders – 34, 5’7”, 125 lb. Blonde hair with curves in all the right places. Army officer tasked with developing a military version of the EMP sterilizer weapon at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). PhD in Physics from MIT. Fast riser in the officer ranks who will do anything to make Brigadier General by age 40.

Josiah Lightfoot – 33, 6’1”, 198 lb. Black unkempt hair. Chief Scientist for WSMR. Works with Terry on the weapon development project, but opposes it on moral grounds. PhD in Plasma Physics. Lives on the Army base at WSMR.

Dr. Akeem Al-Kashif – Director of Weapons Development at Hurley Defense Technologies (HDT). Builds a version of the EMP weapon he names Allah’s Sword using designs stolen from Callaghan..

Eric Pearson – Lead engineer on Callaghan’s EMP beam weapon project. Quits after the EMP beam weapon test failure to work for Hurley Defense Technologies. Later sells weapon design to Col. Sokolov.

Lt. Col. Marcus Wright – Science advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Science and Technology who heads EMP sterilizer development for humanitarian purposes.

Col. Sergei Sokolov – Weapons technology expert for the Russian Ministry of Information. Leads Russian effort to develop EMP beam weapon. Directs activities of four spies.

Matt & Jessica Pauling – Married team of Russian spies living in Colorado Springs. Their mission is to get EMP weapon design for Col. Sokolov, no matter what it takes.

Dimitri Lebedev & Pavel Jovanovich – Two more Russian spies sent to destroy U.S. EMP weapon. Pavel is an expert at making bombs.

Prolog – Six Months Earlier

Akheem Al-Kashif took the package from the man across the desk and cut the wrapper with a razor sharp letter opener shaped like a dagger. In fact, it was a dagger. He laid the contents out on his desk – twenty high-capacity digital storage disks. To look at them one would think they were DVD video disks, but they held something much more valuable than movies.

“You are certain that these disks contain all of the design drawings and specifications for the device?”

The man across the desk nodded his head. “This is the complete package. With this you will be able to build the same electromagnetic pulse beam weapon that Los Alamos National Laboratory is working on.”

“I’m concerned about the timing. If the Los Alamos system is successful before we can complete ours, the Government will own the patent and our considerable investment will be lost. Are you clear about your role in making certain that doesn’t happen?”

“Yes, Akheem. I have already taken measures to ensure their tests will fail.”

“Good. Make certain that you don’t fail.” The big man opened the safe behind his desk and removed a bundle of cash. “Here’s the amount we agreed upon as payment for the design data. Once we begin assembling our system, you will have a new role in the project.”

“Thank you, Director Al-Kashif. I look forward to that role.”

The visitor rose from his seat and reached to shake the Director’s hand, then remembered his place and pulled it back. He turned and left the huge office without looking back.

Chapter 1 – Countdown

Shortly after sunrise over the Sangre de Christo mountains the research team arrived at the Top Secret test site in a remote canyon near the Los Alamos National Laboratory – LANL (pronounced lăn’-ĕl). The dozens of canyons cutting into the volcanic mesa upon which LANL rests were first used during the Manhattan Project – the development of the world’s first nuclear bomb. In the seventy-four years since then, the heavily guarded facility has been home to research and development of cutting-edge military weapons, including miniaturized nuclear devices, high-yield conventional explosives, megawatt lasers, electro-magnetic sources, and biological agents.

The canyon offered two essentials for testing the new weapon prototype – absolute privacy and containment of the powerful output beam. Both of those features were required for the today’s test. The team had been working on Project Thunderbolt for almost two years. This would be the eighth test of the device in the past nine months – the first seven were failures. The chief scientist for the program, Brian Callaghan, had spent the night at the site, going over final calculations, analyzing the past failures, and checking settings on the control systems. As the test crew came into the office trailer they each greeted him with a nod, poured a cup of coffee, and went right to work initializing the computer software that would control the mechanical and electrical subsystems of the device. Thirty minutes later they had all completed their pre-test tasks and took the checklists to Brian for his final O.K.

He called them over and sat on the front edge of his desk, cleared his throat, and looked up. “I think you all know how important today’s test is. It has to work to prove that all these months of work weren’t wasted on a dead-end theory. If this test isn’t a resounding success, Washington is going to cut off the funding and shut down the project.

“After each of the past failures we have redesigned hardware, modified software, and adjusted procedures, hoping to correct whatever is causing the failures. None of these solved the problem. Instead of sending a narrow beam of concentrated energy at the downrange target, Zeus spread it over the mountainside at the end of the canyon. For this test we did a major readjustment of the explosive timing circuits. Our calculations show that this should work – but the calculations for the first seven tests also showed it should work. Are we ready to do this?”

The group didn’t show much enthusiasm in response – mostly just nodding heads. They were thinking about losing their jobs if this test failed. They filed out of the trailer and headed for the blockhouse where they would be protected if the entire system blew up. One wall of the shelter had a long slab of two-inch-thick laminated safety glass so they could safely watch the device during the test. As the loudspeaker announced the beginning of the countdown, most of them crossed their fingers or said a silent prayer, hoping that it might ensure a good outcome.

When the test director got down to fifteen seconds in the count everyone snapped their mind back into focus. . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . .

Chapter 2 – Infestation

The IKONOS satellite circled silently 400 miles above the earth, passing over the North and South Poles once every 98 minutes. With the earth rotating beneath it once every 24 hours, its high-resolution cameras and multispectral sensor array moved across the surface of the earth at 4.2 miles per second, providing new images of any place on earth every three days. One of its unclassified missions is to provide monitoring of the environment for agriculture and forestry applications. It’s classified mission is to provide imagery for military applications.

Although its capabilities are not as good as the dozens of military surveillance satellites in orbit, IKONOS is unique in that it was designed, built, launched, and is operated by private companies – American companies – for the purpose of making a profit. It sells images to support oil exploration, city planning, highway construction, the lumber industry, and several civilian branches of the U. S. Government. One of these is the Department of Agriculture which, among it other tasks, monitors the condition of the country’s forests.

Biologist Adeen Reilly was at her computer workstation studying IKONOS photos of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain areas of northern New Mexico. The infrared images of the heavily forested slopes appeared meaningless to anyone without the trained eye of Dr. Reilly. To her, each fifty square mile satellite snapshot revealed the health of the forest trees below. When she put them together in a mosaic covering the entire area, the patches of dead and unhealthy trees appeared as patches of blue amid the deep red of healthy trees.

Dr. Reilly – Professor Reilly to her graduate students at New Mexico Highlands University – had been studying these mountain forests for the past five years, following the destruction that the pine bark beetle left behind. At first it was only small patches of a few acres each, but as the growing draught left the ponderosa and pinon pines starving for water, the bark beetles moved in on all but the healthiest trees, and the patches began to grow larger. One of Reilly’s students put together a movie of the month-by-month mosaics that made the expanding patches of dead and dying trees come alive. The last two years were alarming. Areas of infected trees hundreds of acres in size now dominated much of the Santa Fe National Forest. Even worse, they were growing at an increasing rate. Reilly’s analysis showed that, by the year 2020 less than 20 % of the trees would be left standing.

Under a grant by the Forest Service, the professor and her team of graduate students were studying the biology of the pest, looking for ways to disrupt its life cycle and end the destructive effects of the voracious larvae. The money from the grant funded a new laboratory at the university, equipped with the latest technology and analytical tools, to unlock the secrets of bark beetle anatomy and reproductive cycle. At this point, they had a thorough understanding of the subject but had not found a way to stop them.

As Adeen reviewed the latest images she felt pressured to find a solution. Her three-year grant would expire in two months and without solid progress to report the Department of Agriculture would discontinue their support. There must be a way, she thought. I just haven’t found it yet.

Chapter 3 – The Final Test

“three . . . two . . . one . . . initiate!” Brian and the team watched as the explosive charge of the Zeus electromagnetic pulse generator ignited, sending a huge spike of power at the instrumented target half a mile downrange. They quickly turned from the window and went to their computers to see what the sensors recorded. Because of the mass of data collected during the shot, it took a few seconds for the graphical results to appear on the screens. When they did there were several muttered obscenities and fists slammed on desks.

The lead engineer on the project, Eric Pearson, turned to Brian angrily. “Shit Brian! Another failure! We covered the entire end of the canyon with the pulse, and spread out like that, it’s not going to damage anything. If we can’t get the beam narrowed down to a foot in diameter the energy won’t be concentrated and it will be useless as an EMP weapon.”

Brian looked down at the floor, feeling that somehow he was the cause of the failures. It was his idea from the start – an electromagnetic beam weapon that destroys nothing except the integrated electronic circuits that were the brains of virtually every high tech weapons system out there. “I got it to work in the laboratory, even though it was only a small experimental device, Eric. I must be missing something crucial to scaling it up to full size.”

“I’m sorry Brian. I wasn’t blaming you. It’s just so frustrating working 18 hours a day, six days a week, and end up with nothing but disappointment. Like the rest of the team, I had confidence when we started that we would create a new weapon that could disable everything from enemy radars to guidance systems of missiles in flight, even spy satellites if we could make it powerful enough. But I think we’ve hit a dead end here. I’m going to update my resume and start looking for something else.”

“I don’t blame you, Eric. I’m going to stay on with the crew to look for the problem and maybe get one more test in before they shut us down.”

“Well, I offer you my sincerest wishes for success, Brian, but I have a wife and kids to support so I can’t wait around for a pink slip.”

“I understand. I hope that you find a new position quickly. If you need me to write a letter of recommendation for you, let me know. It will be a good one; you’re a bright engineer and a hard worker. I’m going to send the crew home for the weekend, so there’s no reason for you to hang around. Go home and surprise your wife with a mid-afternoon hug.”

“Thanks, Brian.”

Monday morning Brian gathered the team around the Zeus system. Eric didn’t show up, but Brian didn’t really expect him to. Zeus was impressive looking – an eight-foot-long, two-foot diameter cylinder with hundreds of cables and stainless steel pipes sticking out from various places. The inside was even more impressive – at least to the engineers and technicians who created it. Instead of integrated circuits, which would have been blown out by the giant EMP pulses, micro-mechanical machines performed the logic and control tasks. By opening and closing tiny valves to let the thin hydraulic fluid flow where it was needed, microscopic gear wheels, levers, and motors performed the functions usually assigned to wires, electrical current, and micro-electronics. It took a brilliant, innovative mind to design these components, and that’s where Brian came in.

Brian was always the brightest kid in class as a child and as a teenager. He ‘invented’ things that would never be practically useful, but that didn’t matter to him. It was the creative thinking process that he fed on. His junior and senior years of high school his science fair projects won first place, and he spent those two summers working for a major electronics manufacturer as a laboratory assistant. After earning his bachelor’s degree in laser systems engineering he immediately went on to get his master’s degree in electromagnetic field theory. He thought about continuing to get a PhD, but was anxious to get to work with what he had already learned.

His greatest interest was in the field of lasers and optics and, when he found out the latest state-of-the-art work was happening at the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, he applied for a position. Six years later he was a leading expert in high power lasers and had several patents in that field, but it was already getting old for him. The challenge and excitement were gone. So he looked for something new and found an opening at LANL doing research on electromagnetic pulse – EMP – applications.

The possibility of creating a giant electromagnetic pulse was virtually unknown until July 9th, 1962, when the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission detonated a high-altitude nuclear warhead over the pacific ocean 900 miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. The EMP produced by the explosion caused electrical damage in New Zealand and Hawaii, where it blew out hundreds of streetlights and disabled the telephone company microwave system.

It also created other unexpected effects. The high energy electrons it generated produced an aurora, usually confined to the North and South Pole regions, over the central pacific ocean for several minutes. Other energetic electrons were trapped in the earth’s magnetic field lines and went on to destroy the solar panels of seven U. S. and Soviet satellites over the next few months.

The first response of both cold war countries was to immediately begin research programs to harden electronic components against EMP. Many years later the research turned towards using EMP as a weapon against an adversary’s military electronics. But there was a problem with that. Although it eventually became possible to generate an EMP with conventional explosives, there was no way to create a pulse that would confine its energy to a small target area from a distance. There was a program to develop low-altitude cruise missiles with EMP warheads that could be set off within a mile or two of selected targets, but the effective range wasn’t much greater than standard explosive warheads, which were a lot cheaper.

After four years of research developing EMP-proof micro-mechanical replacements for electronic components, Brian had an epiphany. What if he could apply his understanding of laser physics, in which light is concentrated into a narrow beam that can destroy targets hundreds of miles away, to generating giant electromagnetic pulse beams? He spent hundreds of hours of his own time developing the theory and exploring ways to implement it before he came up with the answer. An EMP created by an explosive electrical capacitor could be confined in a cylindrical chamber with special ‘mirrors’ at each end to reflect the pulse back and forth at the speed of light until the energy was a million times greater than the original pulse. After the pulse energy reached super high levels, one of the mirrors would be explosively disintegrated, allowing the single-pulse beam to escape from the end of the cylinder and travel as a narrow beam to targets up to 80 miles away. At least that’s what his calculations showed.

Brian presented his idea to the decision makers at LANL, asking for funding to develop a full scale prototype for testing. Brian was highly regarded there for his ability to develop and demonstrate experimental concepts, but without a PhD he wasn’t one of the lab’s ‘golden boys’ who got priority funding for any idea they came up with and they turned him down. But, since Brian developed the idea on his own time, he submitted a proposal to another funding source, the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, DARPA. They contacted him a week later and asked him how soon he could get started and how much money he needed. He told them he had found a deserted canyon within the Los Alamos compound that was perfect for developing, assembling, and testing his device, which DARPA had named ZEUS. After a phone call from the Secretary of Defense, the Director of LANL phoned and told Brian he would have all the support he required.

So on Monday morning, after the latest test failure, Brian was ready to admit that his idea was flawed – there must be some theoretical point that he missed in designing the system. As they stood around the cylindrical device with their eyes on Brian he began his apology. “I’m sorry I dragged you all along with me on this pipe dream. I have failed not only DARPA and LANL, but each of you personally. I only hope that I haven’t sidetracked your careers into a dead end technology with no future. I expect a letter from DARPA within a couple of weeks canceling project Thunderbolt. I can keep most of you on for another month to help dismantle the system and crate it for storage. After that . . .”

Jorge Gonzales, his best technician, cleared his throat and spoke up. “So you think we have a couple of weeks before they shut us down? Well, I think we should try to get one more test in before then.”

“That sounds good, Jorge, but why should we expect any different result than last week’s test? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

“After each past failure we made small changes and adjustments to the system hoping to find the cause. I think this time we should dismantle the entire system, down to the smallest component, check everything against the design specifications, then reassemble it for the final test.”

At that point the test director, Frank Adkins, interrupted. “That’s a stupid idea, Jorge. There’s no way we can do all that just two weeks. It’s a three or four week job at least. We would just be wasting out time. And even if we could get it done we’ll have nothing but another failure on our record.”

Jorge answered angrily. “Who you callin’ stupid, Frank. If we work days and nights and through the weekends we could do it. What do you think, Brian?”

“I like the idea, but you all have been overworked for the last three months. It’s time you rested.”

One of the other crew members added his thoughts. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m in. What do you say?”

All but Frank agreed. ‘What will you accomplish by taking it apart and putting it back together? Nothing will change. It still won’t work.”

Brian had made up his mind. “I understand your frustration, Frank. I can bring in another test director if you don’t want to be part of this.”

“Oh, I’ll stay. Someone has to make sure you guys don’t screw something up.”

“Thank you all for joining in for one last try. Maybe luck will be with us on this one. Let’s get to work.”

Chapter 4 – “It’s Called Teaching, Ma’am.”

As Professor Reilly was preparing to teach her next class on Forest Management she searched online for examples illustrating how insects, parasites, blights, and fungi affect tree health. She found photographs showing each of them in close up shots, but she wanted to close the lesson with a broader view of the damage they can cause. She immediately thought of pine beetle infestation images from the IKONOS satellite. She would use a few of the snapshots from her pine bark beetle project.

“Today we looked at several of the pests that can damage various pine tree species. Most of these affect smaller areas – an acre or two – but there are some that can cause wide-spread damage. Here in the southwest the worst of these is the mountain pine bark beetle, and the Santa Fe National forest to the west of us has been particularly hard hit. I have been studying the problem using infrared images from a satellite named IKONOS. These images are particularly good for forestry applications because the resolution is good enough to see individual trees. This slide is a single seven by seven mile area around the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Notice how many trees are dead or dying – almost 90 % of them There are only a few isolated healthy trees left.”

One of her students raised his hand with a question. “What about that cluster of healthy trees just north of the town. Why aren’t they dead like the surrounding area?”

Adeen looked closely at the image on the large screen TV. “I don’t know. I haven’t noticed it before. Maybe there’s an underground spring or creek that keeps them irrigated. I’ll have to look into that. Thank you for pointing it out, Antonio.

“Tomorrow I’ll talk about the effects of too little or too much water on deciduous trees. Don’t forget the exam next week. If you prepare for it, you will do well. If not . . .

Reilly couldn’t wait to get back to her computer to zoom in on the area of healthy trees her student noticed. “What is it about that spot that keeps the trees healthy – protects them from the beetles?” She asked herself. “It could be a water source, but it’s too large an area for a spring or creek to be the answer. Maybe there is something about their genetic makeup that wards off the beetles. Come on computer . . . wake up.”

Twenty minutes later she had put together a movie of close-up images showing the small area over the past year. As she watched, the pine beetle damage closed in around the thirty-five acre area, but then it moved on past. For some reason the beetles didn’t like those trees. “Let’s zoom in for a closer look at the terrain.” Adeen spent more time talking to herself than to those around her. That’s how she reasoned her way through a problem.

What she saw surprised her. The trees were at the upper end of a narrow canyon. “There shouldn’t be much water there since it would all run downhill toward the mouth of the canyon. And most of the trees are growing on the steep hillside above the canyon floor. What’s going on here? I would love to go there to collect some samples, but that Los Alamos stuff is all Top Secret. They probably wouldn’t let me in. . . . but it doesn’t hurt to try. Dr. Huggins in the physics department used to work there. Maybe he has some contacts.”

Three days later she was at the entry point to LANL getting her temporary visitors badge. They would let her into the upper part of the canyon only, and no cameras or cell phones were allowed. She had to leave those behind at the entry point to be picked up when she left. That was a disappointment. Photographs were one of her main tools for collecting data. She wasn’t even permitted to take written notes. Apparently there was something hush-hush going on in that canyon.

She climbed into a military Jeep with her escort – actually a security guard since he was wearing a sidearm – and they headed off toward Pajarito canyon. Because they weren’t permitted into the lower end of the canyon, they drove to the mesa above the west end of the deep ravine.

“We’ll have to descend into the area from here. It’s pretty steep and rocky. Can you handle it.”

Adeen could have taken it as a ‘me Tarzan – you Jane’ put-down of the weaker sex, but she chose to ignore it. Hiking in the mountains was one of her favorite pastimes and she had the leg muscles to prove it. Coming back up the slope she would leave him gasping for breath.

It wasn’t long before they were in the middle of healthy ponderosa and pinon trees. She stopped to examine several of the trees and couldn’t believe what she saw. There were adult pine beetles everywhere she looked, flying from tree to tree and choosing a place to lay their eggs. But there were none of the sap-encrusted bore holes that the larvae make as they chew their way out of the tree. She took several small plastic bags from her pocket and collected a few dozen male and female beetles to study. She also went to into the bordering infested area, where trees were bleeding sap through the larva holes on their way to a slow death, and collected more beetles. After labeling each sample bag she turned to the ‘escort’ and said with a smile on her face, “I’m done. Race you to the top.”

Back in her lab at NMHU Adeen put each of the beetles she collected into a large compartmented tray. Each beetle was stuck to a square of adhesive on the bottom to hold them in place and alive until it was their turn to be dissected. She had phoned two of her graduate students, Judy and Gail, on her way back from Los Alamos and asked them to have everything ready to test the new batch of insects when she got there.

The experimental procedure was relatively simple and had been used on thousands of bark beetles and other insects in Dr. Reilly’s lab. The subject was frozen solid in liquid nitrogen, then inserted into a microtome – an instrument that cuts very thin cross-sectional slices of the insect – which were then placed on microscope slides. These were put under a high magnification video microscope, which sent digital images to a computer for study.

When Adeen came into the laboratory, Judy and Gail broke off their conversation about who they could set the professor up with for a date and handed her a lab coat.

“Did I interrupt something? You two seemed deep in conversation.”

Gail got a guilty look and stared at the floor. Judy was a little bolder. “We were talking about who would be a good match for you – you know, on a date – or something more serious.”

“And what makes you think I would be interested in that?”

The rumor is that you don’t have a man friend and hardly ever date. That’s a long time to go without . . . male companionship. So we thought maybe we could put you together with a guy we know.”

“If this guy is a classmate of yours he’s way too young for me. I’ve had enough of immature males. Wait a minute; isn’t that term redundant?”

“But you spend all your time working on bugs. You need some fun in your life.”

“Would you believe me if I told you that I actually enjoy my work?”

“Yeah, but not in the way you could enjoy a man.”

“I know where your minds are and I don’t want to go there. Let’s get to work.”

Two days later they had sliced up two dozen beetles and had them mounted on microscope slides, photographed, and stored as images in the lab computer. The beetles were tiny, about the size of a grain of rice, and they sliced each one into 100 slices, so they had over two thousand samples to compare. Doing this with hand and eye would take them weeks, and they might miss some crucial differences. But Gail, the team’s computer whiz, had developed a program to scan every image and highlight differences between selected samples. The computer first paired up insects samples from healthy trees and diseased trees, labeled HT and DT, and then compared them a slice at a time. The differences were highlighted for closer inspection on the lab’s 55 inch ultra high definition TV screen.

Now that the computer’s work was finished, it was time for humans to take over. The three women sat down in front of the screen and brought up the images highlighted by the computer. The first thing they noticed was the large number of images with some kind of variation in anatomy. Every insect, like every person, has anatomical variations from the textbook norm, and the computer dutifully highlighted all of them.

After an hour Adeen was frustrated. They had to zoom in on each highlighted area and visually inspect it to find the differences. It was taking way too long and they hadn’t identified a specific anomaly that could keep the beetles from reproducing.

“Girls, there has to be a better way to go about this – some way to pre-filter the images to cull out the insignificant differences. It could be something in the reproductive organs – of either the males or females. It could be the organs that produce the pheromone perfume that draws the males to the females. It could even be that the DNA instructions for how to mate were defective. Any ideas?”

They all thought for a few minutes, then Judy asked, “Is there a way we could extract some of the female pheromones? Then we could expose the males to it and see if they get . . . excited. If it worked for both the healthy and dead tree beetles we could rule out pheromones as the culprit.”

That’s a good idea, Judy, but no one knows just where the pheromones are produced and excreted. It’s not like there’s a book titled ‘The Sex Life of Pine Beetles.”

“Maybe I could do that for my PhD dissertation, then turn it into a best seller.”

Gail rolled her eyes. “Dream on, girl.”

“We’re brainstorming here so no idea gets thrown out initially. Write that on the board, Judy.”

When Judy finished she turned to the others. “We could carry it a step further. If we can isolate the chemical formula for the pheromone and synthesize it, we can attract all the males in an area into a trap.”

“Or maybe we could make tiny inflatable dolls as sex toys for the guy beetles,” Gail added with a smile.

“Get your minds back where they need to be, girls. Give me more ideas.”

Gail wiped the grin off her face. “I don’t see how we could work with the DNA errors, professor. At least not within the time and money constraints of the project. So let’s focus on the reproductive tract, specifically the ovum of the females and the sperm of the males as the most likely causes. If we don’t find any thing there . . .”

“That’s the best idea yet. Lets have the computer sort out those specific images.”

Gail had a puzzled look on her face. “Professor, that’s such an obvious approach. Why didn’t you think of it. . . . Oh, I get it. You wanted us to discover it.”

Adeen lied. “You’re right. It’s called teaching, dear.”

After ordering the computer to change its search strategy Gail had another thought. “What if I modified the program to subtract the HT image from a paired DT image? Then all we would see on the screen are the minute differences between them.”

Adeen asked, “How can you subtract two images? It’s not like they are numbers.”

“I instruct the software to compare them a pixel at a time, and if the two are the same it puts a black pixel in its place.”

“So we’ll see a black screen with only the image differences showing. What a great idea, Gail.”

“It’s called teaching, ma’am.”

Chapter 5 – Cancelled – Almost

After an all-nighter disassembling the Zeus EMP device they had all the parts laid out on the concrete floor of the assembly room. As they removed each part, they gave it a visual inspection for any signs of damage but found nothing. Now they would call up the mechanical designs on their computers and compare the parts with the specs. There were 1,463 parts to examine, and only Brian, Jorge, Frank, and an electronics technician to work on it. Eric Pearson had still not returned to work. Brian was waiting for him to decide whether or not to continue on the project, but he had several days of leave saved up so it could be awhile.

Since Brian designed most of the system, he focused on the critical components – the ones most likely to cause a failure. The other two worked with the more ordinary hardware. As Brian looked out over the lab floor scattered with the dismantled machine parts he thought of an aircraft hangar with all the pieces of a crashed airplane laid out for the experts to determine the cause of the crash.

“Okay. Is everyone clear about our procedure here? Pick out a part, and inspect it closely, using a microscope if necessary. Then measure all the critical dimensions and compare those with the specified dimensions on the design drawing. If you find any deviation outside the allowed tolerances, add the actual measured value to the drawing in red print. Then we’ll have the computer display the dimension errors one at a time so we can discuss whether it could have caused the failures.”

“What about the electronics? How will they be evaluated?”

“Joseph, our electronics tech, developed a simulator to test each circuit board as if it is actually functioning in the device. That will detect any out-of-spec electronic performance parameters for us to evaluate. . . . So why are you just standing there? Get to work.”

Two days later the inspection process was complete and they started reviewing the identified mistakes. This went faster because most of the parts were within specifications. At the end of the day two of the machined parts were selected to be re-fabricated. Neither of them were suspected of being the problem, but just in case, Brian ordered the new parts from the machine shop.

“We finished up the mechanical parts. Where is Joseph with the electronics testing results?” Jorge volunteered to go get him but before he could leave Joseph showed up waving a circuit board in the air. “I think I found something!” He put the board under the video camera and displayed it on the screen so everybody could see it.

“This circuit creates the timing signals for the firing sequence. The most critical signal is the one that blows away the end mirror to let the pulse leave the chamber. If it’s not accurate to within a couple of nanoseconds, billionths of a second, the energy won’t stay concentrated in a beam. It will spread out, which is exactly what’s been happening.”

That came as a shock to Brian. “What’s wrong with the circuit board? You installed it, Joseph. Did you make a mistake?”

“No, no. I didn’t do anything wrong. The board matches the parts specifications exactly. I realized that the problem had to be in the design. Look at this graph of what the pulse should look like compared to what it actually looks like. What do you see?”

“That’s easy. The actual pulse is stretched out in time. It doesn’t peak until 120 nanoseconds after initiation, but it’s supposed to peak in less that 10 nanoseconds. How can that be?”

“Circuit capacitors are key to the correct pulse shape. The values of these four parts here are much larger than they should be, resulting in the pulse stretching.”

“So how did these get into the final board fabrication?”

“It’s not clear. Dr. Pearson created the circuit designs, then sent them off to a board fabrication shop. The designs we have in our records show the correct value for these parts, so it must have been an error at the fab shop.

“Order replacement capacitors and install them yourself, Joseph. How soon can you get that done?”

“If I run down to Albuquerque now to pick them up I can have the board working first thing in the morning.”

“Do it! And while you’re down there stop by the fab shop and chew the guy out for screwing up our order. Maybe even threaten a lawsuit just to shake him up a little. Maybe he’ll be more careful with our next order.”

Later that afternoon, before Joseph returned, Brian was sitting in his office trying to get past his anger. All this time it was circuit board fabrication error that kept his brainchild from doing what it was designed it to do. And now time was about to run out. “I’d better get out there and help put it back together,” he muttered to himself. As he walked out his office door he heard his desk phone ring. He paused. Should I answer it? It might be bad news about the project. . . . But maybe it’s Joseph with a problem. He turned and picked up the phone.

“Dr. Callaghan? Brian Callaghan?”

“This is Mr. Brian Callaghan.” Brian thought PhD’s were a sign of insecurity, so he didn’t bother getting one, spending that time instead getting hands-on experience in laboratory work.”

“Mr. Callaghan this is Dr. Menkowitcz from the DARPA program office. I’m sorry, but I have to inform you that, given the lack of positive results on the Thunderbolt project, we have to issue a stop-work order. Effective immediately, you are to do no further testing and begin dismantling the system for shipment to a Government warehouse within two weeks. Written orders to this effect are being prepared and should arrive in the mail within ten days. . . . Mr. Callaghan? Are you there? . . .”

Brian quietly hung up the phone and went out to the lab. “Time to gather around the campfire, guys. I just got a call from DARPA telling us the program has been cancelled. They said stop testing and pack up the system.”

Jorge and Frank shook their heads and looked at the floor, thinking about how they were going to tell their wives that night.

Brian spoke again. “But I don’t consider a phone call from someone who says he’s from DARPA to be an official notice. He said we’ll receive official notification within ten days. The way I see it, that gives us until then to continue our work and get off another test. If this circuit board fix solves our problem, we can go back to them on the shoulders of success and get the program reinstated.”

“But the DARPA guy knows he talked to you and gave you specific instructions. How will you get around that?”

“He may have been talking to the janitor for all I know.”

“So we have time to reassemble Zeus and test it with Joseph’s reworked board?”

“It would seem so. . . . So why are you just standing there? Get to work.”

Chapter 6 – Bad Date

By the time Gail had the new software working it was time to quit for the day so Adeen sent them home. The two of them lived with three other graduate student in an off-campus rental. Adeen didn’t like it that two of the tenants were boys – well, probably men by now, but who knows when a boy turns into a man. A lot of older men are still boys. Which is why, at age 34, Adeen had never had a serious relationship.

When most girls started batting their eyes at the boys, Adeen was devouring everything she could find in the library about science and biology. A couple of years later, when the boys started getting ideas of their own, she spent her time with her insect collection – one she would enter in the school science fair and win first place – even though the women judges weren’t really interested in bugs. Boys weren’t comfortable around girls who were smarter than them. That didn’t bother Adeen.

When the senior prom came around, and all the girls who weren’t attached looked for a boy they could coax into being their date, Adeen told herself she wasn’t really interested in being asked to prom. Besides, she was chubby, and no one wanted to be embarrassed by taking her out on the dance floor. . . . But it would be nice to know what it felt like to be in a boys arms dancing . . . or being kissed. But that was wishful thinking.

So when Billy Joiner came up to her after school, she wondered what he wanted. Apparently he wasn’t sure either since he stood there stuttering and trying to get something out of his mouth. But then she smiled at him and the cat let go of his tongue.

“AdeenReillywillyoubemydatefortheprom?”

Adeen was speechless. She stood there with her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide. Billy took one look at her and started to turn away. His first time asking a girl out and she turned him down. She was so shocked that she didn’t even bother to shake her head no. He took a couple of steps backward, trying to get away as fast as he could, before she saw his face red with embarrassment…

“No! Billy. . . . Stop. I mean Yes! I’ll go with you.”

Billy turned back toward her. “Really? You want to go with me?”

She smiled and said “It’s the best offer I’ve had.” Billy wasn’t much to look at, but he was the only one who asked her.

Nothing memorable happened at the prom, or after. Billy was a perfect gentlemen. Part of Adeen’s mind wished he hadn’t been. Perhaps if she were more forward they would have ‘made out’ a little.

But it was that experience that prompted her to spend the summer before college losing her excess weight. She worked out, swam, ran, climbed the New Mexico mountains, and gave up her addiction to sweets. By the fall of her freshman year at college Adeen was down to 143 pounds. She wasn’t skinny; she never would be. But at five feet eight she carried the weight well and was rounded in all the places the boys cared about. Her flaming red hair didn’t hurt either.

When school started she drew the attention of several of the guys at freshman ‘get acquainted’ social mixers, but she didn’t encourage them to approach her. She was there to get an education and didn’t want to be encumbered by messy relationships. At least that’s what she told herself. But the truth was that she felt uncomfortable and awkward around boys and couldn’t carry on a conversation with them. And most of the guys seemed kind of dumb to her, at least compared to her own I.Q. She thought that if the right guy came along – smart and easy to talk to – she might go out with him, but none of the freshmen had that going for them.

But later in the year she found someone she was immediately attracted to. He was a Junior who worked in the biology labs, setting up the experiments and equipment for the students. He would come by the lab tables to check on how each team was doing and it seemed, to Adeen anyway, that he visited her table more often than any of the others. She loved the way he looked her in the eyes and smiled when he was explaining a procedure to her. She made it a point to smile back and ask intelligent questions so he would stay with her a little longer.

One day he asked her to stay after class. He sat down across the lab desk from her and started speaking. “I’ve noticed that you seem to grasp the material much faster than the other students, and you always come to class prepared. Most students don’t bother. You look like you know where you’re going and are in a hurry to get there.”

“My plan is to get my PhD in biology as soon as I can, and then get a tenured professorship at a university so I can teach and get Government grants to make new discoveries in the field of insect biology.”

“Wow. Most freshmen haven’t even thought beyond next week’s mid-term exam. You’re an impressive woman.”

Adeen blushed at that. No one had ever called her a woman before.

“And you’re even more attractive when you blush. It’s a good match for your beautiful red hair. . . . Now look. I’ve made you blush a deeper red. I haven’t upset you, have I?”

“No. It’s just that . . . I’m not used to compliments like that. About my appearance.”

“You want me to believe that no one has told you how much they admire your beautiful hair and face, and your knock-out figure? Where have you been hiding?”

“Oh, I tend to stay buried in my studying so most guys ignore me. I only dated once in high school, and have kept to myself here at university.”

“How sad. But I’m here to cheer you up. My fraternity is having a Roman toga party Saturday night and I wondered if you would like to go with me? Oh, I’m Greg Thompson, by the way.”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t have anything to wear.”

“It’s a toga party! Drape a bed sheet over your shoulder and tie something around the waist and your dressed. Say you’ll go.”

“Well, okay. But I warn you, I’m a pretty boring date.”

“We’ll see about putting some life into you. Where do you live? I’ll come by and get you about seven thirty.”

She thought, Do I want him to know where I live? No, I don’t think so. “No need for that. I’d rather drive myself. That way I can leave whenever I want to. Where is the party?”

As Adeen followed Greg’s directions toward the Sigma Upsilon Tau fraternity house her anxiety was dominating the biological responses of her body. She wasn’t comfortable with nothing but a bed sheet wrapped around her so she spent an hour before she left sewing together a dress that kind of looked like a Greek toga. In spite of a liberal application of antiperspirant, her underarms were dripping with sweat. The butterflies in her stomach threatened to erupt as projectile vomiting. This is insane. Why did I agree to come. . . . what will I talk about. He doesn’t want to hear about my insect collection. . . . What if he tries to kiss me? I’ve never been kissed by a guy.

Now she regretted not dating more in high school. Most of her freshman women friends had already been through this phase – and the next few – before they got to college.

Greg was waiting for her outside the frat house. As she walked up to him he gave her hug – slightly more than friendly but respectable. “Come on in. Let me get you a drink and introduce you to some friends. What do you drink?”

“Oh I don’t . . . I’ll take a beer.” I should have anticipated this. I could have tried some before so I won’t gag. But how bad can beer taste?

He came back with a mild tasting beer, perhaps sensing that it was new to her, and introduced her to several other couples. Many of them had their arms around each other, and a some were sharing wet kisses. She watched a couple of them for a minute or two to get an idea how she should respond if Greg wanted kiss her. The lip part didn’t look too hard, but what were they doing with their hands? The back of the guy’s neck seemed like a popular resting place – they must like that. Some had one or both hands on the boy’s butt, pulling their hips closer together. I wonder if that makes the boys excited? I don’t think I want to find out for myself.

Greg brought her another beer and stood beside her while he slipped his arm around her waist. “This beer tastes a little stronger?”

“It’s just another brand. They ran out of Coors. Drink up, you’ll get used to it.”

She took a couple of deep drinks from the bottle. He’s right. The taste does grow on you. “I hear music. Where is the band?”

“In the basement. Come on, we’ll go down and dance a little.”

“Uh . . . I never learned to dance. I was too busy studying.”

“It’s easy. I’ll show you. You just stand there and move your body with the music.”

As they went down the stairs the music got louder and the light got dimmer. As she looked around she was shocked. There was barely enough room for the number of couples, so they bumped into each other as they danced. She watched a couple of the less energetic girls and thought That looks easy. I think I can do it. Then he took her hand and led her into the melee. Somehow a space magically opened up for them as Greg held both her hands and started dancing. She quickly picked up the beat and moved along with him. This is actually fun. Those beers must have loosened me up.

They took a break after the first dance to finish their beers, then the band started a slow dance number. Greg took her to a less crowded corner and drew her to him. She glanced around and saw that most of the girls put their hands on the guys’ shoulders, or behind his neck, then just swayed in time with each other. She looked up at Greg, put her hands on his shoulders, and moved with his body – which was easy to do since he was holding her tightly against him. After a couple of minutes she relaxed and got into it. The closeness of his body felt good. She was enjoying herself even more. I could get to like this dating thing.

They stayed for the next slow dance, which felt even better that the first, then went back upstairs to get another beer. He stood close beside her, hip to hip, with his arm around her. She looked up at him smiling, letting him know she was having fun. He leaned down and gave her light kiss. Wow. That felt almost electric.

He tugged on her arm and said, “Come on. Let me show you my room.”

“You live here at the frat house? I thought all they did was party.”

“We need a place to sleep and eat, and fraternities provide that at a reasonable price.”

He led her down a hall to the last room on the right, opened the door, and said “Ta da.”

She stepped in and looked around. It was definitely a guy’s room. No decorative touches, unless you count a shelf of athletic trophies as decorative. The walls held banners with the school colors, photos of a school athletic team, and posters of soccer stars. She looked closer at the photos and saw it was a soccer team – and there was Greg in the middle. “So you play soccer?”

“Yes, and I’m the best player on the team. Nine goals last season. I’ve been a starter since my freshman year.”

Adeen didn’t know much about soccer, but she smiled and said “Wow. That must be quite an accomplishment.”

He looked at her a little quizzically. “It was more than that. It was freakin’ spectacular.”

There was an awkward silence for a bit, then he said “Have a seat and tell me about yourself. Where you grew up and all that stuff.”

She looked around but saw only one chair.

“I don’t have another chair, so let’s sit on the bed.”

That sounded reasonable to her, but something started tugging at her mind. She sat beside him anyway and told him about her early life. After a few minutes she realized he looked bored, so she broke it off.

At that point he turned to look at her and asked, “Do you mind if I kiss you again?” In answer she turned her face up to his and closed her eyes. She asked herself, That is the protocol isn’t it? Close your eyes and pucker up a little?

His kiss started gently at first, then started getting more passionate. She didn’t know what to do, especially when his tongue got involved. She started to draw back from him, then decided to go with flow and do what he did. After a few minutes of that they were both getting aroused, except Adeen wasn’t sure what was going on. She had never experienced these feelings before, but she had a good textbook understanding of the human body’s sexual response. That must be what was going on inside her.

He pulled away briefly. “Wow. You’re really good at this. You must have had lots of practice.”

She smiled. “I suppose so.” She didn’t want to tell him this was her first time at it. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

He reached over and ran his hand gently along her cheek. “You are a beautiful girl, Adeen. Especially with the red hair. It’s natural, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but I was bald for awhile.”

He looked concerned. “Did you have cancer treatments that made it fall out?”

She laughed. “No, I was bald as a baby. I was just trying to say something funny.” And I’m not very good at it, she thought.

He laughed. “You had me there. I like girls with a sense of humor.”

There was an uncomfortable silence as they thought about what to do next. He stood up in front of her and reached out his hands. She stood up wondering what was coming next, but he pulled her close to him for a passionate kiss, then whispered, “Why don’t we lay on the bed. That’s a better position for kissing.”

Adeen forced her hands between them and pushed him away. “Stop it, Greg. I don’t want to do this.” She tried to back away from him but he put his hands on her shoulders and forced her down onto the bed. She tried to get away from him but he pinned her to the bed with his body. She tried to scream, but he clamped one hand over her mouth and pushed the other up under her toga. My God, he’s going to rape me. I have to stop him . . . but how. He has my arms and legs pinned down. Then it came to her. She opened her mouth, grabbed one of his fingers between her teeth, and bit down as hard as she could.

He yelled and tried to jerk his hand loose, but she had a bulldog grip on it. She could feel one of the finger joints between her incisors and increased the force. She felt a pop as the joint dislocated, but she continued to hold on. Now she could feel tendons tearing. Good. I’m doing some major damage. She waited until he yanked on it again, then released it. The change in forces tumbled him onto the trash can in the corner.

At this point he was screaming so loudly that one of the faculty men from the party burst into the room. “What’s happening? Who’s hurt?” He saw Adeen first, with a bleeding mouth and disheveled clothes, and looked around for Greg. When he saw him in the corner covered with trash he laughed. “Looks like you picked the wrong girl, Greg.”

Greg whimpered and held his bleeding hand up. “She bit me!”

“I’m sure you had it coming to you.” You two stay here until the campus police get here. He shooed the gathered crowed out the door and reached for his cell phone.

The police took Greg to the hospital and Adeen to the university president’s office. Rufus Howe was waiting when they got there.

“Have a seat Miss Reilly. Now, can you tell me what happed at the Sigma Upsilon Tau house tonight?”

Adeen was silent at first. How much should I tell him? . . . Wait a minute. I don’t have anything to hide. I’ll tell it like it happened.

Her pause led the president to comment, “I can see that you have been roughed up, so I suspect that you were attacked. Please, tell me everything.”

Adeen looked down and realized she hadn’t straightened her clothes or her hair. The side seam of her toga was ripped part way up from when he forced his hand up it. She tried to hold it together as she described what happened.

“Thank you, Miss Reilly. You were very thorough. And that brings me to the subject of what happens next. Mr. Thompson has been the subject of previous reports by our co-eds of sexually inappropriate activities.”

“What do you mean ‘activities.’ Has he raped anyone?”

“I can’t discuss that for legal reasons, Miss Reilly, but his activities were very serious.”

“Then why is he still here?”

“We never had any solid evidence before, like we do in your case. It was just a ‘he said-she said’ situation, and his fraternity brothers always gave him an alibi. We knew they were lying to protect a brother, but we had no proof. Now we do. Your clothes, the evidence from the room, and the faculty member who interrupted Mr. Thompson before he could go too far. . . . He was interrupted before then, wasn’t he?”

“Are you asking if actually raped me? No, he did not get that far. And he wouldn’t have. I’m no shrinking violet. I would have found a way to defend myself.”

“I’m sure you would have. But, again for legal purposes, we’ll have to take you to the hospital and have them get a sample from your . . .

“Vagina. You can say it in front of me. And what they will find is an intact hymen – I’m still a virgin.”

President Howe paused at that, realizing if this goes to court it will be an easier case. Thompson can’t claim that Miss Reilly initiated the action, and his frat brothers can’t testify that she was the campus slut.

“Please be sure that is included in the medical report. Now let’s look at our options on how to proceed.”

“What options?”

“The first option would be to have him arrested and charged with attempted rape. I believe the evidence is strong enough that he would spend some time in jail, even without a trial.

“The second option is to not charge him criminally, but allow you to file a civil case for monetary damages. Frankly, given his parent’s wealth, you could get awarded quite a bit of money.

“The third option is to dismiss him from the university immediately with prejudice, which would make it extremely difficult for him to finish his college education at any other university – in this country, at least.

“Which option you wish to follow is completely up to you, Miss Reilly. I’m sure you would like some time to think it over, so . . .

“No, I know what I want to do. I’ll choose option three.”

President Howe paused for a couple of minutes, worried that she had decided too quickly without thinking it through, and would regret it later. “Do you mind telling me why you made that choice?”

“Mr. Thomson has a long life ahead of him and I don’t want to ruin that with a prison record. So I rejected option one.

“I have a fundamental dislike of lawsuits, unless one is trying to regain an actual loss, or if something like a medical mistake will cost someone future expenses that they should be pre-compensated for.

“That leaves me with option three, which I have no objection to. If he is prevented from continuing his education, it will probably impact future income and employment opportunities. I think that’s enough. However, I would like to take all the evidence and information about what happened with me to store in a safe deposit box. I’ll track Mr. Thompson’s life online and if sexual abuse shows up anywhere I’ll release this information. . . . Oh, and one more reason for my choice. I don’t want the university to have its reputation damaged. You handled everything well.”

Adeen could see the tension go out of him on that last point. “That’s a laudable choice, Miss Reilly, made through sound reasoning. I’m sure the university can find a way to compensate you – no, to reward you for your actions. I’ll see what we can do. On the way out you might want to stop by the ladies room and wipe the blood from your lips.”

Adeen reached up and felt dry, caked blood. “Thank you President Howe.”

Adeen couldn’t sleep when she got home. After enduring the ‘rape kit’ test at the hospital, a woman officer drove her home. At first she felt relief that she was home and it was all over. . . . But was it? Only a few people at the frat party knew what happened, but they might spread it around. On the other hand, it wouldn’t look good for Sigma Upsilon Tau, so maybe they would shut down the gossip.

As she thought some more, she realized how lucky she had been, and started shaking. I guess that’s a normal post-trauma reaction. The release of the fear and tension. . . . That’s strange. I never felt fear through the whole thing. I just figured out what to do and did it. From now on I’ll have to carry some kind of weapon with me when I go out with guys – maybe a knife or some mace.

Wait a minute. I was almost raped tonight and I’m laying here thinking about dating again? That’s crazy. Greg seemed so nice until he . . . until he grabbed me. He was like Jekyll and Hyde. I’ll never know if some other guy will be the same. For all I know most guys are like that – maybe all of them. They can’t control their need for sex, especially when the situation makes it easy for them to get away with it.

She thought about this for a few minutes and came to a decision. I don’t need to date, or socialize with men. Or with anybody! I’m self-sufficient and I don’t need to be close to anyone.

As she reflected more on the evening, and on the decision she just made, she remembered the feelings inside her when he kissed her and held her close – before things got out of hand. If I give up men, I won’t have that feeling again – or know what other feelings I could experience.

“Okay, Adeen. Here’s the deal. No men until I have my doctorate. I’ll postpone those warm, tingly feelings until I’m done with school. After that, well, we’ll have to wait and see.” She said to herself.

Two days later, as she was getting ready for class her phone rang. It was President Howe’s secretary asking if she could stop by briefly before class.

“Miss Reilly, I have spoken to the Board of Regents and they have authorized me to provide you with a reward for your service to us. For the rest of the time you are attending this university, for any level of degree, your tuition will be fully paid by the university. It covers undergraduate, masters, doctorate, and post-doctorate work.”

“I . . . I didn’t expect that, President Howe. You’re too generous. . . . Thank you. Thank you so much. And I do plan to get my Doctorate in Biological Sciences here at the New Mexico Highlands University.”

Chapter 7 – Intellectual Property

Eric Pearson stopped at the guard gate while they checked his identity credentials. His LANL identity badge, which was stamped ‘Top Secret Clearance’ didn’t seem to carry any weight with them. He had to produce his driver’s license and vehicle registration, which the guard took inside to compare it to the display on his computer. As he handed them back he asked, “Who is your appointment with, Dr. Pearson.”

Eric’s showed his displeasure with the delay when he replied “Doesn’t your computer tell you that.” The Guard repeated “Who are you visiting today, sir.”

“I’m expected at the office of Dr. Akheem Al-Kashif, the Director of Weapons Development, and he won’t be pleased if I’m late.”

The guard made a note on his clipboard and passed it to Pearson for his signature. Then he raised the gate and motioned him through. “No matter where you go, you can’t escape the dammed bureaucracy,” he said to himself angrily. “I hope once I start working here I won’t have to go through this crap everyday.” Eric drove into a visitors spot in front of an ultra-modern glass and aluminum building that housed the U.S. headquarters of Hurley Defense Technologies – HDT. He had only been here a few times before, but the building impressed him every time. It will be nice to work in such a magnificent place, he thought.

This building was one of a dozen buildings at the Hurley site. Most were used for developing and testing the latest in high tech weapons for various Government agencies, both U. S. and foreign. The area was forty miles northwest of Barstow, California, in the Rainbow Basin area. Twenty-five years ago Robert Hurley made a deal with the U.S. Government to purchase 260 square miles of an unused Air Force bombing range to build his dream of becoming a major manufacturer of Top Secret weapons systems – the kind that the print media isn’t sure actually exist, but continue to write stories speculating on the appearance and capabilities of future fighting machines.

As an assistant showed Eric into Dr. Al-Kashif’s office the large man got out of his oversized desk chair and walked across the room to greet him. “Eric my friend. It is good to see you again. You had a pleasant drive from Los Alamos, I hope?”

“Going from the heavily forested New Mexico mountains to this arid valley is quite a change for me, but I’m sure I’ll adjust.”

“Please, have a seat.” Akheem said as he motioned to a pair of expensive brown leather chairs behind a small coffee table. “I didn’t know if you had eaten so I took the liberty of ordering some breakfast pastries and coffee.”

“That will be fine, Akheem. I’ve never tasted pastries as good as yours.”

“I have them specially made each night at a shop in Sacramento and flown here on my private jet in time for my after breakfast snack.”

The waiter appeared with a dozen large pastries and strong Arab coffee, which he placed on the coffee table. From past experience, Eric knew to eat only two of the sweet rolls and leave the other ten for Akheem. He would have them devoured within 30 minutes. I guess if you weigh over 300 pounds it takes a lot of fuel to keep you fed, he thought. In spite of his weight Akheem was always impeccably dressed and today was no exception – a perfectly tailored olive three-piece suit, a pastel yellow silk shirt, and a thousand-dollar Roberto Cavalli tie. A pair of Ferragamo Italian dress shoes completed the ensemble.

Eric took his time eating his pastry – Akheem was serious about his eating and wanted silence until he decided it was time to talk. After his sixth delicacy Akheem wiped his mouth and leaned back in his chair, signifying talk could be resumed. “What have you to report about the Zeus testing at LANL. The last test was a failure as planned, I presume?”

“It went exactly as we expected. The EMP beam was so spread out that it would be useless as a weapon. And even better news, DARPA will probably shut down the testing next week.”

“Ah, that is good news. Now we can proceed with our own version of the device without fear that the Government will beat us to it. And with the Thunderbolt project over, your are free to come to work for us now. Thanks to your delivery of all the Zeus design drawings and specifications, we have everything we need to proceed. And, of course, the most valuable thing we have stolen from the project is you, my friend. You will lead the development and testing of our own EMP weapon that we can sell to which ever country – or countries – will offer the most. I think I will call it ‘Allah’s Sword.’”

“I hope the weapon will be worthy of such a name.” Eric added.

“Do you foresee any problems that I can help you with?”

“Nothing technical. But there is the issue of intellectual property. Los Alamos Laboratory has applied for the patent on Zeus with Brian Callaghan as the inventor of record. If our design is too similar to theirs, we could have a legal problem. But I have an idea for solving this. I will revise the Zeus designs so that their source is unrecognizable. It will still operate on the same principle, but will look entirely different.”

“Good. But to be safe, I will make sure there is a lawyer at your disposal.”

“I have one further issue, Akheem – the subject of compensation. We originally talked about an annual salary of $250,000 and a bonus of twice that amount when I demonstrate that the weapon works. But I believe what I bring to Hurley Defense Technologies is much more valuable than that. Here’s what I propose: a salary of $500,000 and a bonus of one million dollars when it is successfully demonstrated.

“Ah, this is a surprise to me Dr. Pearson. I thought we had arranged all that to your satisfaction . . . but I will consider it.”

“Then please consider that I am the only person in the world, other than Mr. Callaghan, who can make Allah’s Sword successful, and he would never work for you.”

Akheem nodded and, as if on some prearranged signal, the assistant appeared at Eric’s side to escort him to his new office.

After Pearson left, Akheem stayed in his chair and continued to eat the rest of the pastries while his mind was wrestling with the issue of money. They recruited Pearson shortly after they got wind of the Thunderbolt program. At first, he kept Akheem informed about the Callaghan’s progress and sent him copies of documents. Akheem paid little attention to the information at that point. His scientists told him the idea was ludicrous and would never work. But it was worth the small fee he paid Pearson to keep an eye on the work. If this thing did work, he wanted Hurley to get in on the ground floor and have a working system before the LANL could team demonstrate their concept.

Then later on, when Callaghan started building the device, Akheem took notice and had Pearson start gathering design information. As the hardware took shape in the Los Alamos canyon, Akheem came up with a plan. Pearson would make copies of the system design computer files so HDT could build their own version. But Akheem also told him to do something to the LANL device to make it fail testing – to sabotage the Thunderbolt Project. Pearson initially said he wouldn’t do that to his friend Brian and that he was through with Akheem. Akheem told him that he would reveal Pearson’s role in stealing the project documents to the Los Alamos Security Office unless he made sure Zeus wouldn’t work.

Now Akheem wondered if Pearson could be trusted to keep his mouth shut in the long run. If HDT developed it’s own EMP weapon and Pearson revealed that the design was stolen, the company would suffer a major loss and possible legal action. Akheem decided that once Pearson got Allah’s Sword working he would be expendable.

Chapter 8 – Scrambled Eggs

Gail showed up early at Dr. Reilly’s lab so she could put the finishing touches on her software to highlight the differences in the reproductive anatomy of the HT and DT pine beetles. Once she got the program working she decided to test it on a couple of sample slices. What she discovered was a big difference in a canyon beetle compared to the others. “The yolks of the eggs are ruptured – they’re splattered all over the inside of the egg. And it happened for all the eggs inside this beetle. This one must be an anomaly. I’ll look at some more.”

By the time she heard Adeen and Judy arrive she had studied several beetles and found the same result – ruptured egg yolks. She put some of the images up on the big screen and caught up with them in the coffee room. “Dr. Reilly, I think I found something big! Come and see.”

“Not until I’ve had my first cup of coffee. My mind needs to wake up.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Ten minutes later Adeen walked into the lab. “Okay. Whatcha got for me Gail?”

She showed her the images.

“Why didn’t you tell me right away! This is important stuff.”

“I tried, but you had to have your coffee first.”

“Well, next time you have something this big, grab me by the hand and drag me in here. How quickly can you check all the other samples. We need to know how many of the beetles from the healthy trees have this same problem. There’s no way these eggs would ever hatch.”

“Give the computer thirty minutes to sort through all the samples and I’ll have the answer for you.”

Adeen returned to her desk and went back to her file of the Los Alamos area IKONOS images. She linked four years of daily images into a jerky movie to see the history of the canyon trees. She watched as the wave of dying trees advanced towards the end of the canyon then moved on past to the slopes beyond. There it is! A year ago the canyon trees started looking sick, but nine months ago the decline stopped and the trees recovered. Something must have happened at that time to stop the beetle attacks. What was it? If the ruptured egg yolks are the answer, why did it start then?

Her thoughts were interrupted by Gail’s appearance. “It’s 100% Ma’am.”

“What’s 100%?”

“The fraction of canyon beetles with ruptured egg yolks. All of them had defective eggs. There were a few from the fringe area where the unhealthy trees border the healthy ones that had viable eggs, but every beetle you collected from the healthy tree patch was sterile.”

“I have to get back to that canyon and see what’s going on there. . . . Could it be a some residual radioactivity from the nuclear experiments they used to conduct there? I’ll have to get a radiation detector to take with me. Gail, you and Judy put together a backpack for me with more sample boxes while I run down a Geiger counter and arrange another visit to the area.”

After making herself a nuisance with the Los Alamos Visitor’s office, she got approval for a visit first thing in the morning. I wonder if they will give me the same escort as last time. He’s probably still sucking air from trying to beat me up the slope.

Adeen spent the rest of the day examining the damaged eggs under a scanning electron microscope. It let her zoom in on individual cells in the egg yolk. She discovered that the nucleus of the egg – the part that would grow into a beetle larva once it was fertilized – was relatively undamaged. It was the larger yolk region that suffered the damage. How can a yolk be damaged so badly while the nucleus is untouched? I thought I might find a tiny parasite in the egg, but it’s a normal egg except for the damaged yolk.

She met with her graduate students for an end-of-day wrap-up of their progress. She showed them the images from the SEM, hoping they might see something she missed. After the meeting Judy announced that she and Gail were going to the favorite campus watering hole for a beer or two. “Why don’t you come with us, Professor. You’re wound up too tight and need to relax a little.”

Adeen surprised them with her answer. “Sure, I’ll join you. Maybe I can think clearer after a couple beers.” Judy leaned over and whispered to Gail. “Maybe she‘ll get picked up by a good-looking guy. What she needs to relax is something only a man can provide.” They both giggled and left the lab with Adeen on their heels.

The three women were sitting around a table at the Highland Brew Pub chatting about ‘girl stuff.’ Adeen mostly listened to the other two and laughed at the appropriate places – when the girls giggled she knew a laugh was expected. She was never ‘one of the girls’ in college so she wasn’t comfortable in this situation, but the beer was good and she was unwinding. Every now and then one of them would point out a man closer to her age, probably another college professor, and say “How about him, professor Reilly? Tall, good looking, no woman.” She would smile and shake her head no.

“Maybe if you tell us what you’re looking for in a man we could pick one for you.”

“The problem with that, Gail, is that I don’t know what kind of man I want . . . or even if I want one at all.”

Judy looked at her uncertainly and asked “You’re not gay, are you?”

“Heavens no. I’ve dated a few times and enjoyed the company, but not enough to take it any further.”

“You mean you have never . . .”

“That’s not for you to know. Stop prying.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. We’re just trying to add something new to your life. You’re definitely too focused on your work.”

“Maybe someday, but not while we’re hot on this mystery of the sterile beetles. The answer could have an enormous impact on how to limit pest infestations. It could even be a good subject for a future PhD student . . . if either of you can pass my class.”

They laughed because they were her top two students and knew she was joking.

Judy asked, “Could we go along with you to the canyon tomorrow, professor?”

“It would be a good experience for you, but the Los Alamos people are very picky about who they allow out there. Sorry.”

Adeen had a voice mail from the LANL visitors office waiting for her when she got to work the next morning asking her to call. She dialed the number and asked for the man who left the message. “Director’s office. How may I help you?”

She didn’t expect to be talking to someone that high up the food chain. “Yes. This is Dr. Reilly from NMHU. You left a message for me to call you back.”

“Thank you for returning my call so quickly. I was afraid I wouldn’t catch you before you started your drive over here, and would have come all that way for nothing.”

“What do you mean for nothing, Director?”

“I’m sorry, but there has been a change in operations at the canyon and your visit has been cancelled.”

“That’s alright. Can I reschedule for tomorrow?”

“No Dr. Reilly, I’m afraid the canyon has been closed down indefinitely. If the status changes we’ll let you know.”

“But I explained yesterday how important my visit is. My research could stop the bark beetle infestation around Los Alamos. . . . Hello? Hello?”

“Damn, he hung up on me. What do I do now? I have to collect some eggs right after they’ve been laid to understand what’s going on. . . . I don’t care if the area is closed, I’m going into that canyon. I can park outside the Los Alamos boundary and hike in, and no one will ever know.” She went by the biology lab and grabbed her backpack on the way out to the parking lot.

Chapter 9 – Spy?

Brian and his crew had worked 48 hours straight with only an occasional cat nap to keep their minds fresh, but they finally were ready for a final test with the correct circuit board components. They were all hopeful and in good spirits, certain they had solved the problem. With this successful test DARPA would have to extend with the project. After all, it would lead to a new weapon that could disable any electronic device it was aimed at without collateral damage to civilians and buildings. What general wouldn’t want that in his arsenal.

“Okay, guys. This is it. Let’s check the settings one more time then head for the block house. Jorge, take one last look around outside then we’re good to go.”

Five minutes later Brian, Frank, and the electronics technician were in the block house waiting for Jorge to join them.

“Where is he? Jorge, get your butt in here!” Brian shouted. He stuck his head out the door and saw Jorge looking down range with binoculars.

“Boss, you need to see this. There’s someone on the slope, behind the target.”

Brian grabbed the binoculars and saw someone moving among the trees. “What the hell are they doing up there? Didn’t he see the classified area signs? Put everything on hold until I get back.”

“We can only hold for twenty minutes, boss. Then we’ll have to reset everything and start the pre-test procedures all over again – a three-hour delay minimum.”

Brian climbed in his four-door Jeep Wrangler with the Edelbrock supercharged engine upgrade, more of an overpowered cross-country SUV than a traditional Jeep, and drove toward the intruder as fast as the rocky trail would allow. He stopped at the base of the slope and looked up the hill. “Hey. What are you doing up there? This is a restricted area. Come down here.”

The person turned to look and he saw it was a woman. “What the . . . I said come down here – now!”

She took one more look at him and started climbing quickly toward the top of the canyon.

Brian said under his breath, “Damn it, she’s running,” As he charged up the slope after her. When she saw him she increased her pace up the slope. “She’s fast for a woman, but she’ll have to stop to catch her breath in a minute, especially at this altitude. No one can keep that pace up at 7,300 feet . . . except me.”

The woman didn’t stop to catch her breath, but Brian caught up with her anyway. “Stop right there. Halt or I’ll shoot.”

That brought her to a standstill with her back toward him. As he walked up behind her she put her wrists together and held them out behind her.

“What are you doing that for?”

“Aren’t you going to handcuff me?”

He realized she must think he was one of the Los Alamos security guards. “That won’t be necessary, but you will have to come with me. Put your hands on your head and turn around.”

“Were is your gun?”

“Oh, I don’t carry a gun. I just wanted to make you stop. You must be in really good shape to keep moving that fast uphill.”

“You’re not the law, are you.”

“No, but I’m the one in charge of this test range, and you were about to be exposed to a beam of energy.”

“Yeah, right. I’m leaving now,” she said as she turned to continue her climb.

Brian put a hand on her shoulder and spun her back around. “No, you are not leaving. If I don’t get this test shot off in the next ten minutes it will set us back half a day. You will stay with us in the block house until after the test, and then I don’t care where you go.”

She looked at him defiantly.

“It’s either that or I’ll call the security police and hold you until they get here.”

She didn’t change her attitude, but started down the slope toward his Jeep.

Brian drove back to the block house faster than he came up the canyon. It was too noisy to talk, so his questioning would have to wait until after the test. He slid to a stop and went around to her door. She just sat there. Brian didn’t say a word. He just grabbed her wrist and dragged her from the Jeep and into the block house. She was protesting that he couldn’t treat her that way but he ignored her.

“You will sit in that chair until the test is over. If you try to get up I’ll have Jorge tie you to the chair.”

Jorge announced, “You got back just in time, boss. We only have two minutes to spare.”

Brian took a quick look at the instruments, then gave the order to resume the countdown. Thirty seconds later the explosive charge went off and the electromagnetic pulse rushed up the canyon at the speed of light. As he turned toward the computer screen to see the results, he almost bumped into the woman standing next to him, who was staring out the thick glass window with her mouth hanging open. When she recovered from her reaction she exclaimed “What was that!!”

Brian pushed her back into her chair. “Later!” he said as he joined the others at the computer screens to examine the test results. He was the first to say something – which was a string of profanities.

“Same damn result, sir. The pulse spread out all across the end of the canyon, just like the first eight tests.” His crew called him ‘sir’ when he was this angry.

After he settled down Brian looked at the woman in the chair and apologized. “Sorry, ma’am. I don’t talk like that very often, but this really upset me.”

The woman replied softly, “Dr. Reilly.”

“What did you say?”

“I don’t answer to ma’am. My name if Dr. Reilly.”

“Are you one of the Los Alamos scientists – out for a morning stroll maybe?”

“No, I’m a professor of biology at New Mexico Highlands University.”

“Well, Dr. Reilly, that’s unfortunate. You just witnessed a Top Secret test. I don’t suppose you have a Top Secret security clearance by any chance?”

“No, I don’t work for the Government. . . . Well, I do . . . in a way. The Department of Agriculture funds my research through the U. S. Forest Service. But I don’t need a security rating for that.”

“Clearance. We call it a security clearance in the business.”

“Whatever!”

Her attitude was starting to refuel Brian’s anger. “You apparently don’t realize how much trouble you could be in here, Dr. Reilly. You could spend time in Federal Prison for this. . . . You aren’t by any chance a spy, are you?”

“Get serious, Mr. . . . What’s your name, anyway?”

“Callaghan, Brian Callaghan. Jorge, check to see if she’s really on the NMHU faculty list.”

“Of course I am! Besides, if I was a spy, I would have an accent – Russian, or Chinese, or maybe Arabic,” she said with a smile.

Brian raised his voice. “This is no laughing matter, Doctor! You’re in real trouble here.”

“What are you going to do, cuss me out?”

That brought a fleeting smile to Brian’s mouth. “What have you got, Jorge?”

“Yep. Dr. Adeen Reilly. And she is doing research for the Forestry Service, investigating the spread of the pine bark beetle in this area.”

“Is that what you were doing in Pajarito Canyon?”

“Yes. I was collecting samples of the beetles. Look in my backpack if you don’t believe me.”

Brian handed it to her and asked her to open it for inspection.

“You open it. You’re the nosey one.”

“You might have booby trapped it with a bomb for all I know, so you open it.”

When Adeen had shown him the sample bags he asked “These mountains are full of forests – and bark beetles. Why in the world would you sneak into a restricted area just to grab a few of our beetles?”

“Because the Pajarito Canyon beetles are special.”

“And why is that?”

Adeen got up and stood in the doorway. “Come out here and I’ll show you. . . . Well, don’t just stand there. Come here.”

Brian didn’t like to be ordered around – especially by a woman – and especially by a woman with an attitude. But he reluctantly followed her outside.

“Look toward the upper end of the canyon. What do you see?”

“A target board instrumented to detect EMP pulses.” Damn, I let that slip out. That’s the Top Secret part, he thought.

“No, beyond that, on the hillside.”

“I see green pine trees, just what I would expect to see in a forest.”

“Now look at the left and right sides of the canyon. What do you see?”

“Mostly dead or dying trees.”

“Bingo! For some reason that patch of trees at the end of this canyon are the picture of health, while most of the trees in this area are dead or dying from the pine beetle infestation. I’m trying to find out why.”

Brian thought about this for a minute. “If it were me I would look at the trees themselves rather than the beetles. Maybe they have become resistant to the beetles – found a way to fight them off. Maybe a natural insect repellant.”

“I like your thinking, Dr. Callaghan, but we have already isolated the cause. The female beetles in this area are sterile; their eggs won’t hatch. So there are no larvae to chew their way out of the trunk and damage the trees.”

“How do you know that if you only now are collecting the beetles?”

“This is my second trip. The first time I collected beetles from the healthy tree and the dying tree areas.”

“So this is the second time you sneaked into the restricted area. That could double the trouble you’re in.”

“The first time I had permission from the Laboratory, and was assigned an escort to accompany me. But this time they wouldn’t let me in, so I took matters into my own hands.”

“How did you get in, climb the fence?”

“No, me and razor wire don’t get along well. I parked on top of the mesa and walked along the fence until I saw where an animal tunneled its way under and I wiggled through.”

“I have to say, you’re resourceful. . . . Just what I would expect from a spy,” Brian said with a smile.

After an awkward silence, Adeen asked, “So what now? Do you call the cops?”

“I don’t want to cause you trouble, so here’s what I’ll do. I’ll escort you back to the hole under the fence and let you wiggle back through, then we’ll both pretend this never happened. How’s that?”

“Can I collect some more samples on our way?”

“Yeah, why not, but make it quick.”

When they were half way up the slope, Adeen slipped on a rock and fell. Brian took a step back and held out his hand to help her up, but she just glared at him pushed herself back on her feet. Another Tarzan type, just like all the other men, Adeen thought.

Brian shrugged his shoulders and started back up the slope.

Forty-five minutes later they reached the fence tunnel. They shook hands and Adeen thanked him for not throwing the book at her.

“Oh, and one more thing, Doctor. What you saw and heard here – erase it from your memory. If you spread it around it will get you back in trouble. And me too. . . . Oh, and one more thing. It’s Mr. Callaghan, not Dr. Callaghan.”

She nodded, got down on the ground, and started through the hole. It wasn’t as easy going back the other way for some reason, so it took her a few minutes to get through. When she was almost there she looked back at Callaghan. “What are you staring at?”

“A beautiful sight, ma’am.”

Chapter 10 – And More Spies

Eric Pearson had just finished another late night going over the design for morphing Zeus into Allah’s Sword. There weren’t many changes, mostly just the outward appearance and a few improvements to the control circuitry so he could claim a new design for HDT – what was known in the business as designing around an existing patent. Even if the operating principle was the same, the Patent Office would issue a new patent and let the inventors sort it out in court.

As Eric walked out to the parking lot for his car, looking forward to sleeping most of tomorrow, his phone rang. The screen told him it was Akheem calling – again. He didn’t know he would be working for a micro-manager who had to know hour by hour how the project was progressing. He decided not to answer it. Sleep was more important than an overbearing boss. But as he stopped at the gate to hand in his badge the guard told him that Dr. Al-Kashif had just called with instructions not to let Pearson leave until he reported to Akheem.

Eric cursed under his breath as he turned his new Porsche Panamera around and went back to his reserved parking space. As he closed the car door he stepped back for another look at his dream car – a sedan with 330 horsepower that could do zero to sixty in 5.4 seconds. The $95,000 price tag didn’t bother him because, with the bonus he would get when Allah’s Sword was successfully tested, he could pay it off in cash. He turned and walked into the building.

“Ah, Dr. Pearson, come in, sit down,” Akheem said with a phony smile on his face. I heard from my spies at Los Alamos that Mr. Callaghan managed to get in one more test of his Zeus device yesterday.”

“Spies? You didn’t tell me you had men up there. Where were they watching from?”

“I have had observers up on the mountain for every test, Dr. Pearson.”

“Why? Didn’t you trust me to keep you informed?”

“Only a fool does not spy on his spies. Fortunately the test was yet another failure.”

“Of course it was. I created a faulty circuit board for the shutter timing. It could never work without the right parts in it.”

“By the way, my men said they encountered a woman sneaking out of the test area. Who would that be?”

“I don’t know. There aren’t any women on Brian’s team. Did they get a look at her?”

“Yes, one of them snapped this photo of her.” He slid the photo across the desk. “Does she look familiar?”

“No. Did she see your men?”

“Yes. They didn’t see her coming and were surprised when she appeared.”

“What happened?”

“They said ‘Good morning. Nice day for a hike, isn’t it,’ and left quickly.”

“Can she recognize them?”

“Maybe, but their encounter was very brief. And she won’t see them again.”

Chapter 11 – A Problem of Scaling

Brian had sequestered himself in his home for the past six days trying to find any errors in his calculations that was causing the beam spreading, but without success. He even went back to his small scale laboratory version of the device, which he named Zeuslet, and repeated his initial tests. All were successful – a tightly focused beam on every shot. So why wouldn’t the full sized version do that?

I need to write a hydrodynamic computer simulation so I can run virtual full-scale tests on a computer. But that would be a huge block of computer code – too big for my home computer. Where can I get more computer power?

At the beginning of the DARPA contract the first thing he did was buy the smartest, fastest desktop computer – a Falcon Northwest Mark V – for the complex computations needed to design Zeus. It had used up almost $7,000 of the DARPA project funding, but it was worth it. But to run the simulation he was about to create even that wasn’t enough computer power.

As he talked the problem over with himself and realized he was limiting his thinking to computers he had access to. “The really big computers have waiting lists several months long, so even if they accepted my request, it would be a long time before my time slot came up. No, I need to expand my search to supercomputers that I can get on immediately. . . like the one right here in my back yard. LANL has fastest computer in the world, called Trinity. If I use that I would only need a few hours, but they’d never allow me on the system. . . . Unless I could hack into it!”

Brian Callaghan got his first computer for his tenth birthday. Popular use of the internet was still in its infancy, with slow, dial-up modems that communicated over telephone lines, and with email as the only social media. From his viewpoint, the best feature of his TRS-80 Color Computer was the availability of game software. But he soon tired of Pac Man and Mario Brothers and started exploring the Internet. It didn’t take him long to graduate to a more powerful computer and become part of the fledgling Internet hacking community. As computers and the World-Wide Web – the short-lived name for the Internet – evolved, hacking techniques followed closely behind. Brian became one of the top hacking programmers in the underground brotherhood. He seldom did the hacking himself, he just provided custom hacking programs to those who did – corporations, financial institutions, law enforcement – and was well paid for his efforts. He did his best to keep his programs away from criminal elements or foreign countries unfriendly to the United States. But he had no control over where his software went after the initial sale.

His first year of college he was approached by the FBI and asked to turn his talents to assisting the good guys break into hidden bank accounts used by the mob. At first he refused, until they told him they had enough evidence of criminal hackers using his programs to send him to prison. So for the next few years he was the star computer hacker for the FBI and a few other three-letter Government agencies. When he entered graduate school he had to cut back on that work because it got in the way of studying, but he still took a few cases – just to keep his skills up-to-date. But by that time had had put aside quite a bit of money.

Now he was contemplating his biggest hack ever – the Trinity supercomputer. The actual hacking wasn’t much of a challenge for him. Doing it without getting caught was the tough part. It took him three days, but he finally found a ‘back door’ into the system that bypassed the firewall and gave him access to the Trinity’s brain. Once he ‘propped the door open’, electronically speaking, he could go in and out at will without danger of detection.

It took him another few days to write the complex computer code that would mimic the operation of Zeus. The strength of such a program was that it could track the generation and emission of the EMP beam one tiny step at a time, so he could examine the process in slow motion and stop the action at any point. This would allow him to determine the exact point at which the beam began to spread out and understand the physics behind it.

The morning after he completed writing the code he sat down at his computer and anxiously loaded it into Trinity through his back door. When it was ready he initiated the simulation and sat back waiting for it to calculate the conditions inside Zeus ten million times – once for each time snapshot. It finished in three hours and forty-five minutes – more quickly than he expected. But it took him four more hours to identify the precise time that the physics began to go awry. He downloaded the results of the short period from just before the breakdown to shortly after to his own computer, then erased all the results and simulation code from Trinity’s memory.

It took Brian three more days of analysis before he saw what was going on. When the EMP beam reached a certain intensity the narrow beam began to repel itself – to push the electromagnetic field lines apart, causing the beam to spread rather than stay focused into a beam. He stared at the result in shock for several minutes, then cursed himself for not seeing this effect during the design calculations. These results proved that Zeus, or any other high-power EMP beam weapon, was an impossibility. The flaw wasn’t in the design, but in the physics of the beam itself.

“But why did my lab demonstrator device work?” he asked himself. He went back over the Trinity results and found the effect begins when the beam reaches a certain power level. “The demonstrator power never reached that level, so the beam stayed focused. . . . Unless I can find a use for spread-out EMP beam, all my work was for nothing! The problem was in scaling up the design to weapon size.” He followed that with another string of curses.

After a cooling off period, Brian went out to the canyon to meet with his team. The gathered in the conference room and waited expectantly for Brian to tell them that he solved the problem and more DARPA funding was on its way. Instead he told them the bad news – that he found a fundamental flaw in the physics that prevented a large EMP weapon from ever working. Brian let that soak into their minds before he went on to tell them that their immediate job was to dismantle Zeus and crate it up for shipping. “Be sure to tag every part with its design drawing identification number so if DARPA finds another use for a wimpy EMP beam they can reassemble it.” The meeting broke up on a somber note. The team went out to begin the disassembly process and Brian went to his office to write his final report to DARPA.

By the end of the week Zeus was packed into several wooden shipping crates. Brian looked over the boxes and was reminded of the scene in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” showing an old man in denim overalls wheeling a crate containing the Ark of the Covenant into a warehouse full of dozens of similar crates that were forever forgotten.

I wonder what DARPA will do with it? Maybe they will find someone smarter than me to figure out a way around the technical road block and bring Zeus out of mothballs. If that happens I want to be part of it, but I’ll never know if the program is revived. . . . I know! I’ll put Eric’s bad circuit boards back in place and take out the good ones. That way they will have to come to me to solve the problem.

Brian smiled as he went to get the faulty timing boards.

Chapter 12 – Eureka Moment

“Any questions? O.K. Don’t forget that your term papers are due by Monday. If they are late, I knock off five points for every day. Don’t come to me excuses like the dog ate your term paper, or your computer died. You still lose five points per day.”

Adeen closed her briefcase after her last class of the week with a sigh. She loved teaching, but she loved her research even more and couldn’t wait to get back to the lab to see what her graduate students had found in their latest analysis of the beetle slices. For the last three weeks, they expanded their search for anatomical differences between the healthy tree and dead tree beetles beyond just the reproductive organs. She had the girls go through every beetle image from head to butt looking for differences. They completed that task yesterday and were ready to go over the results with their professor.

The girls had everything set up for the briefing when Adeen arrived. “We’re ready anytime you are, Doctor Reilly.”

“Give me a minute to get some coffee, then I’ll join you in the lab.”

When Adeen was seated in front of the huge TV monitor Judy began the presentation.

“We started going through the scanned imaged of paired HT and DT beetles at their heads, but soon found out that all we got when the images were subtracted was a scattering of hundreds of small differences between the images. These were very small anatomical differences between the matched pair. Chasing down the sources of these took way too much time, and after we analyzed the first few pairings we saw that they were too small to affect the reproduction or any other function of the beetles. The image I have on the monitor here shows the results of one scan comparison of the brain region.”

Gail took over at that point. “So I modified the computer code to ignore any differences less that 100 micrometers across – about the diameter of a human hair. When we did that we got the results you see in this next slide.” She advanced the display to the same image with the tiny differences removed.

Adeen studied the image for a moment. “There is nothing there. The screen is blank except for the highlighted outline of the beetle’s outer shell and an image of the beetle’s eggs.”

“That’s correct, professor. When the small stuff is removed there are no differences between the healthy tree and the diseased tree beetles other than the eggs. I could go through the complete set of one hundred slices, but most of them look just like this one. Differences only show up in the reproductive organs of the females – the ‘scrambled’ egg yolks. So the bottom line here is that we have no new information. It has to be whatever is destroying the egg yolks.”

“Any ideas about what could be doing that?”

Judy answered. “Yes we do. We thought about how chicken egg yolks are changed by heat when they’re cooked, so we did some experiments with non-sterile beetles. We put them in a microwave oven at the lowest power setting for a short time. The eggs looked just like those collected from the healthy tree beetles.”

“How long in the microwave did it take to cause the change?”

“One second or less. That’s the shortest time available on the oven controls. So we don’t really know how long the change took. It could have been much less than a second. But the experiment had an unfortunate side effect – it cooked the beetles as well as their eggs.”

Adeen thought for a bit and then gave the girls new instructions. “We need to pin down just how quickly this egg damage takes effect, and the minimum microwave power needed to make it happen. I’ll call a professor in the electrical engineering department and see if he can loan us a grad student to modify the microwave to do what we want it to. Since we only need eggs from healthy beetles for this, I won’t have to go back to Los Alamos to collect some samples. Last time was a bit scary.”

The girls both spoke up at once. “You didn’t tell us about that,” then laughed that they said the same thing. Gail followed up with, “We want to hear about it. And don’t leave out any details.”

“I can’t tell you all of it. I’m sworn to secrecy. But I can say that, while I was collecting samples, a man came roaring up in a Jeep and hauled me back to a concrete bunker further down the canyon. He said they were conducting tests of a Top Secret device and I couldn’t watch. He sat me down in a chair during the final countdown to the test.”

“So you didn’t get to see what they were doing?”

“I cheated. I moved to the window just in time to watch whatever it was go boom and shoot some flames out the back. It didn’t look all that Top Secret to me.”

“What happened next?”

“He took me out to his Jeep and delivered me to the hole where I pushed under the fence to get there. He watched as I pushed back through it and hiked back to my truck. . . That’s it. End of story.”

Gail looked her in the eye with a grin and said, “No it’s not. You left out the best part. . . . Was he good looking?”

Adeen laughed. “I didn’t notice. I don’t salivate over attractive men like you two do.”

“So he was good looking!”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Yeah, but we can read between the lines.”

“Quit wasting time on unimportant things and get to work on your new assignment. Get some eggs extracted and prepared for more microwave tests.”

As Adeen was laying in bed that night she started thinking about her encounter with Brian Callaghan. He was good looking. Tall, muscular, dark curly hair, and those eyes. . . blue enough to lose yourself in. . . . Snap out of it, Adeen. Focus on your work, not on Callaghan’s looks.

She tried to force her mind onto other subjects, boring subjects that would lull her to sleep, but images of Brian kept popping up. She decided to think about what she had witnessed that day in the canyon – the explosive flash of the device as it fired, the spikes that showed up on the computer monitors the moment it fired, and the disappointment of Brian and his crew when they looked at the data. Obviously something must have gone wrong, the device didn’t do what they expected. What did one of the men say? Something about the beam spreading all over the end of the canyon. . . . The end of the canyon! Where the healthy trees are! That’s it. Brian’s device is sterilizing the beetles – cooking their eggs. “Eureka” she shouted. “I found it!” A fleeting image of Archimedes flashed through her mind. He was the eccentric Greek scientist who ran through the streets of Syracuse naked after he discovered Archimedes Principal while taking a bath.

Chapter 13 – Lunch With Brian

After her eureka moment Adeen couldn’t get to sleep. Her mind wouldn’t let go of the thought that whatever Brian was doing up in that canyon might be the answer to saving the forests from the pine bark beetles. The device I saw was too big to make portable, but maybe it could be scaled down to fit on a helicopter. Then it could fly over the remaining forested areas zapping the beetles from the air. Or maybe they could mount it on a truck and drive through the forests. I wonder what the range is on that thing? How large an area would it cover in one zap? I have to go see him tomorrow. But he wasn’t very nice to me, ordering me around. Maybe he won’t even talk to me. I did catch him watching my butt as I crawled under the fence. Maybe I should use my feminine charm to warm him up.

Even without much sleep she awoke energized and excited. As she drank her first cup of coffee she opened the public Los Alamos web site and found a list of Lab personnel with their office phone numbers and dialed Brian Callaghan’s number. After several rings the answering machine picked up with the message, “Callaghan here. I’ll be working at home for the next several days. You can reach me on my cell at 505-861-3013 if it’s important. If not, wait for the beep. You know what to do.”

She dialed the cell number and heard him answer on the second ring. “Callaghan here.” She waited for more of a greeting, like maybe ‘How can I help you’ or even ‘Who’s this?” When he said nothing she launched into the words she came up with while laying awake last night.

“This is Dr. Adeen Riley. We met in Pajarito Canyon last week when you were testing your device. I would like to talk to you in person about something important I think I have discovered that will interest you. Is there a time and place where we can meet? Like today sometime?”

“Dr. Riley I really don’t have the time for this right now. I’m busy writing the final report for our testing program and I have to get it out by the end of the week. Maybe next week. I’ll call you.”

“No wait! Don’t hang up yet. Did you say it was the final report for the program? Does that mean that you won’t be doing any more testing in the canyon?”

Brian responded with some bitterness in his voice. “Yes, that’s exactly what it means. The program was unsuccessful because of a colossal mistake on my part and now I have to tell that to my Government sponsor. . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dump that on you. It’s just that I’m in a real funk now with not a lot of prospects for my future employment.”

“What I need to talk to you about may change that. I might even be able to get you some Forestry Department funding to continue your work in a different direction . . . if what I suspect is true. So when can we meet? Because of the sensitivity of your work, I think it should be in private.”

“If you don’t mind a cluttered bachelor pad, we could meet at my house in Santa Fe.”

“I’ll bet my place is more cluttered than yours, so I won’t be shocked. I’m at my place in Las Vegas and still in my pajamas, so it will take me a couple of hours to get there. Anytime after that will work for me.”

“O.K. It’s nine-fifteen now. How does noonish sound? Don’t bother with lunch. I’ll put something together.”

Adeen almost said “It’s a date,” but caught herself and answered “I’ll see you then.” After telling her how to get to his house he hung up without any social niceties, like ‘Goodbye.’

She finished her coffee and headed for the shower. As she finished drying herself she looked in the full length mirror. I’m still attractive enough to turn heads. If I were running down the street in my birthday suit I would definitely draw more stares than Archimedes did.

She picked out her clothes – a pair of tight (but not too tight) jeans, a denim shirt that would show off her hourglass figure if she tucked it in (which she seldom did), and her Diemme Roccia off-white lace up boots that were the latest rage in footwear for the outdoor set. She found them online for half price, but still spent way too much.

Next she sat in front of the mirror, put on some light makeup, then worked a brush through her thick red hair until it shined. When she was satisfied she tied it behind her neck with a blue satin ribbon. After one more look in the mirror she poured coffee to go, grabbed a stale donut off the counter, and climbed in her truck.

As Adeen drove into Santa Fe and through the Plaza she saw the row of native pueblo Indians selling their hand-made silver and turquoise jewelry in front of the Palace of the Governors. She recalled from an earlier visit the building, which was now a museum, that it was built in 1610 by the first Spanish governor of the territory. Throughout its history, it changed hands from the Spanish, to the pueblo Indians, then to Mexican rule, and finally ended up as an American possession in 1848. It is believed to be the oldest continuously occupied building in the U. S.

From there she drove up Hyde Park Road, past the prestigious Santa Fe Institute, a modern ‘think-tank’, to an old adobe house in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountains. As she drove up the narrow driveway she wondered if it was as old as the Palace. She checked her hair and makeup in the rear view mirror and followed a narrow path to the a rustic wooden porch. She was about to knock on the door when it opened abruptly.

“I heard you coming up the driveway . . .” Brian stopped in mid sentence when he saw her. When he recovered his speech he said, “I’m sorry. I think you must have the wrong address. I was expecting someone in old jeans, a scroungy sweatshirt with pine sap on it, and muddy hiking boots.”

Adeen blushed with embarrassment as realized she had overdone the dress up thing.

Brian brought her back from it. “Sorry. That’s just my way of sayin’ you clean up real good.”

Adeen smiled and replied, “Thank you, Brian. But I thought the invitation said the dress was to be outdoor chic.”

Brian, in his ragged jeans and stained T shirt, went along. “Just a minute, I’ll get my tie.” They both laughed, which broke the ice very nicely.

“Come on in. I made creamy baked chicken burritos. It’s the specialty of the house.” Have a seat at the table in the kitchen and I’ll bring you a plate.”

Adeen looked around. “Except for your computer desk everything in here looks like it’s as old as the house.”

“I like the early Spanish settler look. I had to shop most of northern New Mexico to find what I wanted. All of it is original – no modern re-creations. I figure if I run out of money I can start selling it off to pay the bills.”

“You wouldn’t dare break this set up! It’s got more character than most museum pieces.”

“I was only kidding. I’m good at woodworking. Maybe I’ll start making knock-offs and sell them as originals.” He laughed to let her know he wasn’t serious.

He served the burritos on clay pottery that matched the rest of the décor. “Beer? Coke? Water? Tequila? Mescal?”

“I’ll take a beer.”

“I’d ask what brand but all I have is Dos Equis.”

“If it’s served by that guy from the TV commercials, I’ll definitely take one.”

“Sorry, it would take me a couple of weeks to grow a beard like his and practice his accent.”

“That’s O.K. You’ll do.”

As they ate Adeen started into more of her late night rehearsed dialog. “What I want to talk to you about is . . .”

Brian held up his hand. “I’m a serious eater. I don’t discuss things while I’m eating.”

Adeen blushed again. “Sorry.”

After Brian dumped the dishes in the sink they sat down in the living space on two old chairs covered with hand-woven, woolen Navajo rugs. “O.K. Dr. Riley, you’re on.”

“Please, call me Adeen.”

“It sounds to me like you about to put on your professor hat, so it’ll be Dr. Riley for now.”

Adeen thought, I thought we had developed some rapport, but he’s distancing himself. He probably thinks I’m going to pry into some secret stuff.

“Let me start with what my work is about. As I told you out in the canyon, I’m doing research into ways to prevent bark beetles from destroying the pine forests of New Mexico. And it’s not just here. Most of the western U.S. pine forests are heading in the same direction.

“While examining satellite photos of the infestation around Los Alamos I spotted a small clump of very healthy trees surrounded by dead and dying ones in Pajarito Canyon. I thought if I could get into that area and collect some beetle samples from both the healthy trees and the surrounding dying trees I might be able to figure out what’s causing the difference. I contacted the Los Alamos visitors office and they allowed me into the area with an escort. I came away with several dozen beetles from the healthy trees and the infested ones.

“To examine beetles I had my grad students slice each one into 100 slices for microscope examination. It took some work but we finally determined that, for the beetles taken from the end of your canyon, the yolks of their eggs were ruptured – almost like they had been cooked. I couldn’t come up with any reason why that should be happening, so I asked Los Alamos to let me return for more samples. They turned me down and said no more visits would be permitted.

“Well, being stubborn, independent, and driven by a quest for scientific knowledge, I decided to sneak into the area. I collected a few more samples before a very rude man dragged me into his Jeep and sat me down in a chair in a concrete bunker. As you people counted down for the test I realized that if you really wanted me to stay in the chair, you would have tied me to it, so I got up and watched your monster belch fire. You, of course, told me that I had just seen something I shouldn’t have and that if I said a word you would have to shoot me. Do I have everything right so far?”

“Yep. That’s about it – except for the shooting part.”

“Then you escorted me to the hole I came in through and ogled my backside as I crawled back out.”

“I plead the fifth on that. Did you get out without any problems – you weren’t stopped by the LANL security people were you?

“No, but I did run into two men as I climbed out of the canyon.”

“Did they threaten you?”

“No. And it wouldn’t matter if they did. After a bad experience in college I started training in self defense. I’d have no problem taking care of myself.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.

“Back to the topic of discussion. As I was laying in bed last night pondering possible causes for the sterile beetles, I remembered something one of your team said right after the test. ‘Same damn result. The pulse spread out all across the end of the canyon.’ And I had a eureka moment. What if, whatever your gadget is, it sends out some kind of rays – maybe electromagnetic radiation – that’s cooking the egg yolks? That would explain the anomaly. Could that be true?”

“You know I can’t talk about that, so you might as well leave now, because I have nothing else to say.”

“Wait. Let’s just say for arguments sake that what I suspect is true. I don’t know what the device was designed to do, but it might be very effective at wiping out bark beetles. Do you realize the importance of this discovery?”

“It’s irrelevant now. The machine has been disassembled and returned to the Government. If what you postulate is true, there is no longer a way to test it. The ‘ray’ generator is gone.”

“On no! Is there any way to get it back? Set it up somewhere else? We need to do tests and experiments to understand this effect. It might even be useful for infestations of other insects – maybe even non-insect pests. . . . like mice and rat infestations.”

“No. It’s gone for good.”

“My grad students had an idea for an experiment. They put some beetles in the microwave oven at the lowest time and power settings, and guess what? They found the same ruptured egg yolks that the canyon beetles had. Is your device really just a super power microwave generator?”

“No, it’s entirely different. Microwaves would cook the entire beetle.”

“How is your device different?”

“All I can tell you is to go home and Google EMP. Maybe you’ll learn something.”

Adeen was excited. Now she had something to go on. At least she might understand what cooked the eggs, even if it could never be tested. “I would like to keep in contact with you. Can we exchange email addresses?”

“We can do that, but this subject cannot be discussed online. Not even a hint. The thought police might come after us.”

“Thought police?”

“Well, maybe just the FBI, but the result is the same.”

Adeen stood up. “I’ve wasted too much of your time, Brian. I’ll leave now.”

“It wasn’t wasted time. In fact it was quite enjoyable, Adeen.”

“I enjoyed your company too, Brian.”

Hooray. Back on a first name basis, she thought as she started for the front door. “Oh, there was something else I wanted to tell you. After I crawled back through the fence tunnel – under your watchful eyes – I ran into two men on my way back to my truck. They didn’t say much, but they had foreign accents. Maybe they were the spies you mistook me for.

As she walked out to her car, again under Brian’s watchful eyes, Brian thought about the two men. Even though they weren’t inside the Los Alamos security fence, they could have been watching the test with high powered optics. That was disturbing. Was a foreign government spying on them?

Chapter 14 – Reprieve

The first thing that popped up on her internet search when Adeen Googled EMP was an ad for Emergency Medical Products. She also had to wade through hits on the EMP museum of pop culture, Engineered Machine Products, and Ellison Music Products before she found what she was looking for on Wikipedia. She even found instructions for a build-it-yourself electromagnetic pulse generator made out of a camera electronic flash charger and a small coil of wire that ‘could knock out a calculator at close range.’ One reader posted a comment claiming it ‘will take out a neighbor’s TV and various other things’, while another asked ‘Does it work to incapacitate human beings?’ She filed the web address under the ‘Doubtful’ heading on her list of EMP information sources.

After reading through several internet sites about EMP weapons she had gathered enough information to understand what Brian’s device was probably creating. An explosively powered EMP generator can produce a single pulse of energy in less than a microsecond with a peak power 100 times greater than a lightning strike and an electrical current of millions of amperes. As this pulse propagates out from the source it overloads electronic circuits and burns them out. . . . Apparently it can also overload bark beetle eggs she thought. She also learned about the high-altitude nuclear weapon test back in the sixties that blew out some street lights. One of the benefits of the pulse is that it had very little interaction with human and animal tissue so it’s relatively harmless – at least as far as anyone knew.

She was satisfied that she understood how it worked – at least enough to realize that the build-it-yourself version she found online was phony. If only Brian’s generator was still available. We could explore the pulse characteristics that would scramble beetle eggs with the least output power. That way Brian might be able shrink the generator to a more realistic size for insect sterilizing applications. She was brooding over this roadblock when her phone rang. She first thought she wouldn’t answer it. I’m not in any mood to talk right now. But when she saw the caller ID she answered immediately. “Brian? I was just thinking about you. . . . I mean your pulse generator, not you specifically.” How dumb did that sound, she thought.

After a short silence he said “What part of ‘Do not talk about this on the phone’ didn’t you understand?”

“I, uh . . . uh . . .”

“Never mind. We need to get together again.”

“What for?”

“To talk about the weather,” he said sarcastically.

“Oh . . . I’m so sorry, Brian, about . . .”

He interrupted her. “Enough said, don’t make it worse.”

Adeen recovered enough to ask “Do you want to meet at your place in Santa Fe again?”

“No, not here. How about your place?”

“O.K. When?”

“Is this evening too soon? I can be there by seven.”

“That will work for me” she said as she thought about all she had to do before then – clean the house, shower, get dressed (nothing fancy this time), make dinner. Oh, dinner! He didn’t say anything about that.

“Should I fix us dinner?”

“Sure, but make it something simple, like carry out pizza.”

Adeen bristled. “What, you don’t think I can cook?”

“I didn’t say that. I didn’t even think it. I just want to keep it simple so we can focus on what I have to tell you.”

“What is it? Tell me now. Is it about . . .”

“What part of . . . . See you at seven. I’ll bring the pizza.” Click.

Damn, I almost did it again. I’m not used to this Top Secret stuff.

Brian showed up fifteen minutes late, which was a good thing because Adeen was still in the shower at seven. She already had her clothes laid out and had decided on the minimal makeup look, which was a good thing because she finished just before the doorbell rang. She opened the door, out of breath, thirty seconds after he rang.

“I was trying to decide whether I should ring again, but then I thought you might be hiding inside, hoping I’d go away,” he said with a smile.

“I think I’m finally getting tuned in to your sense of humor. Come on in. What kind of pizzas did you get?”

“I didn’t know what toppings you like so I bought two pizzas with different toppings on each half. Everything from naked to the works, including anchovies.”

“Oh, I love anchovies.”

“I was only kidding about the anchovies.”

“Good. So was I.”

Brian stepped back. “I see you dressed down tonight.”

Adeen, in her jeans and NMHU sweatshirt, answered “Yes, but you’re way overdressed in that button-down oxford and khakis.”

“I could run back to Santa Fe and change.”

“Naw, the pizza would be cold by the time you get back.”

Adeen remembered that Brian was a serious eater, so she waited until the dishes were in the sink and the leftover pizza was in the fridge before she asked him into her living room to discuss what she had learned. Brian started to say something, but Adeen cut him off.

“I did some research on electromagnetic pulse weapons, and I think that’s what you were testing in Pajarito canyon. Apparently there’s something about the short pulses and high peak power that scrambles the bark beetle eggs. But since your guy said the pulse was spread all over the end of the canyon, the power level the beetles were exposed to must have been much lower than at the generator output. Am I right?”

“You sure you aren’t a spy? With a degree in physics?”

“No. I’m just a fast learner. So anyway, I was thinking that, since we only need low power for experimenting with the scrambled egg effect, maybe you could build a low power version of your monster that we could use in the lab. I might be able to get some funding from the Forest Service to help you out, but it wouldn’t be much. What do you think?”

“I think you must be clairvoyant, Adeen. That’s what I came to tell you.”

“What? That you could build something like that?”

“No. . . . I already built something like that. Before I got DARPA to support the project I built a small-scale laboratory device to verify that my idea would work. I came to tell you that we could use it to run some tests.”

“Really!! You’re not just teasing me, are you? You really have one that works?”

“Yes, I do. It’s in my lab in Santa Fe. It hasn’t been fired up in almost a year, but it wouldn’t take me long to dust it off and get it working.”

“Will Los Alamos let you do that?”

“I built it on my own. They had no part in it. I filed a provisional patent on it before I revealed it to LANL or DARPA, so I own the patent. I can do whatever I want with my low power version.”

“Oh my God! That’s terrific, Brian. When can we start?”

“How long will it take you to get your funding?”

“That doesn’t matter. I still have two months and nine thousand dollars left on the contract. Can we do something with that?”

“Los Alamos pays me $8,000 a month.”

“Oh . . . I can’t match that. Not even close. I have to pay for my grad students and computer time. I couldn’t offer you more than $1,000 a month for the two months remaining on the contract. And what about your job at Los Alamos? You won’t have time to work on my project.”

“My job at LANL won’t be an issue. Without the DARPA funding they won’t keep me on. I’ll be out of a job by the end of the month. I can take leave until then to work on the bug project with you.”

“But what about after that? What will you live on? How will you pay your mortgage, or the car payment?”

“Oh, I can manage. Don’t worry about it.”

Adeen was hesitant to suggest they go ahead with it. She didn’t want him to loose his house or sell his old furniture collection just to help her out. “I can’t let you do this, Brian. You need to be looking for a new job, not working with me for peanuts.”

“I told you not to worry about it, Adeen. I . . . I have some money put aside. Enough to keep up with the payments – if we eat frozen pizza every night. Maybe I could even afford a bottle of tequila now and then.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ll need to go into LANL in the morning to request two weeks terminal leave, then clean out my office. I should be done with that by noon. You want to come by my house about one o’clock?”

“Are you serious? We can start right away?”

“What? Is that too soon for you?”

“No! No! I’ll be there! Should I bring some beetles?”

“Not yet. We’ll start with making sure the generator still works, then we’ll configure it for your tests. I’ll have work out a way to reduce the output power so we can find out the minimum exposure level that will sterilize the beetles. It might take me a day or two to make the modifications. Then we’ll be ready for your specimens.”

“I have to teach three mornings a week, but I can be in Santa Fe before noon on those days. The days I don’t teach I can get here by nine. Then we can work until nine or ten at night.”

“I can work all night.”

“I’ll need time to get back to NMHU before it gets too late. I’d hate to break down driving through Glorieta Pass late at night.”

“Why don’t you stay overnight in Santa Fe when you don’t have to teach the next day?”

“I can’t afford a motel four nights a week. That would eat up my project budget in no time.”

“I have a spare room. You can stay there.”

Adeen hesitated. I don’t know if I can trust him. I don’t want a relationship – of any kind – with him. At least not for now. . . . But, maybe later.

“I . . . I don’t think I can do that, Brian.”

“Why not? The Victorian age ended long ago. . . . Oh. You’re not comfortable alone with me all night, are you. Is that it?”

“No, no. That’s not it.” Adeen hesitated. “Well, to be honest, yes it is. I don’t know you well enough to trust that you will be a . . . a . . . “

“Gentleman? Is that the word you’re looking for?”

Adeen looked down at the floor and said weakly, “I suppose so.”

Brian looked at her with annoyance. “ Have I ever said or done anything inappropriate?” Adeen didn’t answer.

“Well, the offer is open in case you change your mind and want to save gas money.”

Brian got up abruptly and headed for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow. One o’clock. Don’t be late” He slammed the door behind him.

Chapter 15 – Working on the Railroad

Adeen was still bristling the next morning as she made her usual breakfast of coffee and toast, banging dishes on the counter and slamming the refrigerator door. “Who the hell does he think he is – stomping out of here with without even a goodbye. If he thinks I’m going to sleep in the same house with him just because he pretends to be a nice guy, he doesn’t know who he’s talking to. And I only saw one bedroom in his place. Does he think I’m going to share it with him? There’s only one bed and he doesn’t have a couch to sleep on. How arrogant to think he could get me into his bed so easily. And I don’t want to go there this afternoon . . . I just won’t show up. He’ll probably make a move on me when I walk in the door.”

By the time she had showered and dressed her anger had cooled a bit. I guess I’ll have to go to Santa Fe. He’s my only hope for following up on the sterile beetle mystery. But I don’t have to be friendly about it. And I’ll be late on purpose, just to show him that he can’t push me around. She fixed her hair and looked in the mirror. A faded flannel shirt, baggy jeans with a tear in the knee, hair up in a bun, and no makeup. That should keep his mind off me and on his work.

An hour later she was getting ready to leave for Santa Fe when the phone rang. It was Brian. “Don’t bother coming to my house today. . .

She interrupted, “What! You’re backing out of the deal! Just because I wouldn’t sleep in your one bedroom house with you! You’re . . .”

Brian interrupted this time, anger creeping into his voice. “No, I’m not backing out. I want to meet at my laboratory east of town. It will be a shorter drive for you.”

“Oh . . . Sorry for going off on you like that. It just rubbed me the wrong way when you got an attack of attitude last night and slammed the door.”

“Me? You were the one with the attitude. All I did was suggest you stay at my place and you got rude. . . . Anyway, water over the damn.”

“So how do I get to your laboratory?”

“Get off I-25 at the Lamy exit. There’s a park and ride lot there. I’ll be waiting.”

When she drove into the parking lot, there he was, arms crossed, leaning against the hood of his Jeep SUV. He’s trying his best to be Mr. Cool, but I’ll show him cool – as in cold shoulder.

Adeen drove up next to him and asked “Where to?” No pleasantries; no ‘nice weather, isn’t it’, or the more modern ‘what’s happenin’ bro.’ Straight and to the point – a dose of his own medicine.

He was equally brief with his answer. “Follow me.” He got in his Jeep and turned east on the Old Lamy Trail until he got to the Amtrak train station. The Lamy Station had historical roots dating back to 1909, when it was built by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe to service passenger and freight traffic for the town of Santa Fe. It soon became part of a coast-to-coast railway that featured the Santa Fe Chief, a train that is still run today by Amtrak. It has been a way station for tourists, Manhattan Project scientists and engineers who developed the atomic bomb at nearby Los Alamos, and artists who flocked to the area because of it’s unusual beauty.

Callaghan drove a block east of the station and stopped at an old train caboose parked on rusted rails. Adeen asked “What’s this?” as she got out of her car.

“It’s a train caboose from the old Santa Fe Railway. I brought it in two years ago to use as a laboratory for my EMP experiments. I added a bathroom with a shower and converted the upstairs cupola into a bedroom with a great view of the stars. It already had a rudimentary kitchen, and plenty of shelves to store my equipment.’

“I didn’t think they made cabooses this long.”

“These big cabooses were made for cattle trains. The ranch hands would bring the cattle to a train siding and herd them and their horses into a string of cattle cars. Since they would be needed again at the end of the line to drive the cattle to the stockyards they lived in these cabooses for the trip. They were basically traveling bunkhouses with a wood stove to cook on and an outhouse at the back end.”

“How did they bathe?”

“These were cowboys. They didn’t get a bath very often.”

“It must have smelled pretty ripe in here.”

“Like any odor, once you’re around it all day you don’t notice it anymore.”

He led her up the steps and to the lab. “There’s a second bedroom just inside the rear steps next to the bathroom. That steel-topped thing in the middle of the room is an optical bench – a work table mounted on air suspension cylinders so ground vibrations from trucks and passing trains don’t affect the alignment of critical systems. The hump on the bench with the canvas cover is my lab version of the EMP beam weapon. I refer to it as ‘Zeuslet,’ a small version of the Zeus device you saw in the canyon.”

“This is impressive, Brian. Are you renting it?”

“No, I got a really good deal so I bought it.”

“With some of the money you ‘put aside?’ Just how much money do you have put aside? . . . I’m sorry that just popped out. It’s none of my business.”

“You’re right. It’s not.”

After an uncomfortable silence Adeen tried to improve the atmosphere between them. “So, where do we start?”

“I think this place needs a little house cleaning. Dusting and vacuuming. Can you handle that?”

“So you want me to do the ‘woman’s work?’ Like I’m some kind of maid?”

“No, I want you to do something productive while I get Zeuslet up and running. Once it’s working there will be plenty of ‘guy’s work’ for you to do.”

The first thing Brian did was to take the cover off Zeuslet and re-acquaint himself with its components and operation. He recalled how many months he spent putting it together and testing it. He was ready to give up when he realized the EMP was affecting the electronics. That’s when he created the micro-mechanical control hardware to eliminate the electronics.

He thought back to the night when he fired it for the first time. The EMP generator blew apart and sent chunks of metal flying in every direction. It damaged several pieces of equipment, punched a hole in the roof, and tore the skin on his left forearm. Just a flesh wound as they say in the movies, but it hurt like hell. He should have given up after that, but it wasn’t his nature.

It had taken him three months, but eventually he had new parts machined and put back together. When he triggered the second shot he was behind a thick Plexiglas safety shield. A good thing about his remote location in Lamy was its isolation. If it blew up again the population of 137 would think it was just another drunk letting off steam with his 12 gauge shotgun. But this time there was no big bang – just a muted sound of a small explosive charge collapsing the cylindrical capacitor that generated the EMP beam. He rushed out from behind the safety shield to see what his sensors recorded. He did a little impromptu victory dance when he saw that the narrow beam was concentrated enough to burn out the circuits of the cheap laptop computer he placed in its path.

His goal today was to repeat that experiment – to fire off a shot and have everything work exactly as predicted. Part of him feared that the flaw in his calculations for the large EMP weapons would also impact the scaled-down lab device. Maybe it was always there but he just didn’t have sensors to detect it. But then he remembered that he didn’t need a focused beam for Adeen’s beetle tests. A spread-out beam would work well at the close range of the laboratory.

Adeen broke into Brian’s thoughts. “I’m finished with the Cinderella work. You want me to wash your car next? Or do you have a week’s worth of dirty dishes waiting for me in the sink?

Brian stared at her. “You’re not serious? I ask you to clean up so the equipment doesn’t get dirty when I take the cover off and you take it personally? There’s no call for that?”

“Yeah, right” Adeen answered. “I’m hungry. What’s for supper?”

“There’s chicken nuggets in the freezer.”

“That’s all you got? Typical guy food.”

“If that’s not classy enough to fit your refined tastes ma’am, we can go across the street to the Legal Tender Saloon and get some good food.”

“Do they serve drinks?”

“The bartender is good. He can make anything you want.”

“How about good old fashioned margaritas?”

“The best in Santa Fe.”

“Are their chimichangas any good?”

“I would suggest the chicken enchiladas instead.”

“What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

The drinks had softened the antagonistic mood, so as they finished their flan dessert Adeen thought it was time for conversation. “So where are we, Brian?”

“I think I’ll have it ready to test by noon tomorrow. Can you have some beetles available by then?”

“Definitely. I’ll bring a dozen specimens back with me in the morning. After you zap them I’ll take them back to my NMHU lab to slice them up to see what the eggs look like.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll have Zeuslet ready to go by ten a.m.”

“O.K. . . . I have a question, Brian. When you offered to let me stay with you here in Santa Fe, were you talking about your one bedroom home . . . or this place?”

“I was talking about my caboose lab, with the two bedrooms. I would never get to sleep if we shared a bed at my house.”

“That’s good to know. I’ll be here by ten in the morning with my beetle collection.”

As she drove back to Las Vegas she thought about his last remark. Did he mean that he wouldn’t be able to sleep because he’s attracted to me, or because the bed would be too crowded?

Chapter 16 – The Exterminators

Brian decided to spend the night in the caboose lab. He liked the cupola bedroom on the roof because of the view, and because he could open the windows at night. Lamy is surrounded by desert foothills with natural wildlife that speaks it’s own language at night. Brian liked to lay awake listening to the coyotes, foxes, owls, and other desert animals that sleep in their burrows in the heat of the day and hunt at night when it’s cooler. He could also hear the rapid flutter of bat wings as they hunted insects near the streetlight at the train station. Several years ago he built an audio frequency shifter that lowered the ultrasonic chips of bats to a frequency within the range of human hearing so he could eavesdrop on them. He was amazed at the cacophony of bat voices that were undetectable by humans.

Tonight the usual desert sounds didn’t lull him to sleep as they usually did. His mind kept coming back to Dr. Reilly – Adeen. He pictured the smile on her lightly freckled face, her soft, shiny hair, and the shapely figure that she seldom allowed to show. I wonder why she wears clothes that cover up that figure? Certainly she must know how attractive she is. I’d like to get to know her better, but it seems like she uses her anger to keep her distance from me. I wonder why? It must be her Irish genes – always looking for a fight.

Brian also wondered why he was attracted to her. He had dated several woman in his past, even developing a close relationship with some of them. But it always ended the same way – with the women complaining that he spent to much time at work and not enough time with them. He would pledge to change his ways, but when his work got really interesting, he would spend 18 hours a day absorbed in the latest challenge. None of them understood his passion for probing the frontier of science looking for breakthroughs in new technologies. So a couple of years ago he decided he would stay clear of the complications women brought into his life for now. He was only 32, so there was plenty of time to think about a wife and family later.

But there was something different about Adeen. She had a mind – an intelligent mind that could keep up with his own thoughts and ideas. That would be a first for him – something he didn’t find in his past relationships. But why was she so difficult to get along with?

Brian woke just before six a.m. without having slept much. He laid awake thinking of ways to modify the EMP source to speed up the beetle irradiation process. He considered alternative design changes in his head, thought how it could be modified in a short time, and created a mental list of its strengths and weaknesses. Then he brainstormed another idea and repeated the process. By four a.m. he had the modification he wanted and the expected performance locked in his mind.

The first issue was how to reduce the power output of the device so they could start with low pulse power. He thought of a couple of ways to do that, but it would mean running a separate test at each power level, and then having Adeen examine the eggs. If there was no egg damage they would repeat the process at the next higher level. That approach was way too slow, so Brian explored alternatives. Then he realized that, if he spread the EMP beam out, the power would decrease as the distance from the beam center increased. This meant that they could place several beetles at different locations along a radius from the center to the outer edge to get exposures at different power levels.

The second issue was how long it would take Adeen to examine the beetle eggs. If she took exposed beetles back to her lab at NMHU to dissect them after each test, they would lose a lot of time. Brian hadn’t come up with an answer to that yet. Maybe Adeen would think of something.

By the time she arrived at just after ten, Brian had already modified the device to produce a spread beam three feet in diameter on the far wall of the lab. He mounted a narrow shelf across the beam to put the beetle specimens on. At the center of the beam they would receive maximum intensity, but the ones further out from center would get less and less exposure. He explained his setup to Adeen.

“That’s brilliant, Brian! We can do a dozen specimens in one shot.”

“The slow part will be waiting for you to analyze the results back in your lab.”

“Oh, I figured out a way around that. I brought my slicer and microscope. Since we know exactly where to look in the beetle carcasses I’ll take a slice or two of each beetle right after the test to examine their eggs and get immediate feedback of the results.”

“You’re a smart lady. We could wrap this up in a couple of days.”

“The beetle tests maybe, but I want to test other insect pests too – mosquitoes, grasshoppers, spiders, termites – we could start the world’s first EMP termite extermination company. After that I want to try it on some small mammals that carry diseases, like mice and rats.”

“Smart and ambitious. I like that. But lets not count our eggs before the barn door closes – or something like that. Lets get to the first batch of beetles and see what we find.”

By three that afternoon the results were in, and they were very encouraging. “It looks like the minimum dose to scramble a few of the eggs is very low – just a few microwatts. But at 25 microwatts all the eggs are scrambled.”

“That’s better that I expected, Adeen. That means a small scale EMP generator – maybe twice as large as Zeuslet here, could fly at an altitude of a few thousand feet and irradiate a large area . . . let’s see . . . that would be 12 miles in diameter from 4,000 feet. A helicopter with multiple EMP shots could cover several hundred square miles in a day.”

“Are you serious? With that capability we could the eliminate the entire northern New Mexico infestation in a month or so. This is fantastic!”

“Whoa, slow down a bit. I’ll need to design and build the larger device, and come up with a way to make the EMP generating cylinders replaceable – like cannon shells. Put one in the chamber, fire it, pop it out, and stick in another one.”

“How long?”

“How long what?”

“How long will it take you to get the new airborne device running?”

“I’ll have to do some thinking before I can give you an answer.”

“About how long? Weeks? Months?”

“Wow. Smart, ambitious, and persistent – all in one package. Do you have any other good attributes I should know about?”

Adeen first blushed at the praise, then looked up in anger. “You’re making fun of me!”

“Making fun of you? I’m telling how impressed I am with you. . . . But you had to turn it into a reason to get angry. . . as usual.”

“What do you mean by that remark?”

Brian gave her a hard stare and said, “There you go again,” and walked off.

Left alone in the lab Adeen decided to start writing up the results of their experiments. Her computer battery was dead so she used Brian’s laptop. She didn’t think he would mind. She wanted to send them to her sponsor at the Forest Service immediately, along with a request for more funding to expand their EMP experiments to other pests, both insects and small mammals. She included a paragraph about Brian’s EMP generator and their hope to build a larger one for airborne testing. An hour later she attached the completed report to an email and hit send.

Brian came back shortly after that with a bottle of wine and some glasses.

“I guess I shouldn’t have walked off like that, Adeen. How about some wine to toast our success.”

“I’m sorry I got angry. I have a problem with that, especially with men. Maybe someday I’ll see a shrink and see what that’s all about.”

Brian handed her a glass of wine and raised it in a toast. “Here’s to the future of Reilly and Callaghan Pest Exterminators, Incorporated.”

Adeen raised her glass and said “I’ll drink to that.”

They sat and talked about their idea to eradicate termites with EMP. Brian said he would go outside and look around for some termites in the old wooden buildings for testing tomorrow.

Adeen thought for a minute. “Will the EMP penetrate wood?”

“Sure. The pulses will go through anything except metal. . . . Oh! I see where you’re going with this. You want to zap the termites in their nests, right through the wood.”

“It should be easier than eradicating beetles because all the eggs for the colony are kept in one place, and the queen is the only one who produces the eggs. If we can get her and all the eggs she’s already laid the colony will die out in a few days.”

“That might be the best application to commercialize first. Down in Louisiana the Formosan termites are devouring buildings at an alarming rate. And they’re resistant to most poisons so exterminators aren’t much help. We could corner the market.”

Adeen changed the subject. “So, what are we doing for supper?”

“I could run over to Legal Tender Saloon and get some carry out.”

“That sounds good. I’m too dirty to go out to eat. I’ll take a shower while you’re gone. Bring me one of their brisket sandwiches and a side of slaw. ”

When Brian got back Adeen was freshly scrubbed, wearing sweat pants and an old denim shirt, with her hair tied back in a pony tail. Brian paused and looked at her when he came in the door.

“What! You don’t like my choice of sleep wear? Maybe you were expecting something a little more revealing.”

Brian was getting used to her defensiveness so he didn’t react to her comment. “A little more revealing would be nice, but you look good in that, Adeen. The denim shirt is a nice touch.”

Adeen blushed. “There I go with my attitude again. I’m sorry, Brian. Maybe if I spend enough time with you I won’t have to go to a shrink.”

Brian didn’t know how to answer that. He was definitely starting to enjoy their time together and looked forward to more of it.

While they ate they chatted about their professional careers – how they got where they are today, starting back with high school. Their early years shared several common themes – being the smartest kid in school, a.k.a. The Geek, their non-existent social lives (no one wanted to go out with The Geek), and the mischief their active minds led them into. Brian told her how he made a dry ice bomb – pieces of frozen CO2 sealed into a plastic pop bottle and left in a trash can next to the principals office. As the dry ice defrosted the pressure in the bottle rose until it exploded with a loud bang, scattering trash all over the office. It was a harmless explosion, but the principal and the police didn’t see it that way.

After Adeen stopped laughing she said, “In today’s fear-driven atmosphere you’d be labeled a terrorist and sent to juvenile prison.”

“You’re probably right about that. The Government creates a state of fear about anything they choose – global warming, oil pipelines, greedy capitalists, terrorists – and support it with phony political correctness rules to manipulate the uninformed American public to do their bidding.”

“The terrorist threat is real, isn’t it?”

“Including the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, about 3,000 Americans have been killed by terrorists inside the U.S. The yearly death rate from gun violence in the U.S. is four times that – every year! What’s the real threat here?”

“It sounds like I hit one of your hot buttons.”

“I’m sorry. I try to stay above politics but sometimes the total lack of logic and reason get to me.”

Adeen added “I read something on Facebook some time ago that stuck with me. ‘Logic and reason have no value when dealing with a bureaucracy, a zealot, or an . . .”

“What was that third one?”

“Uh . . . an angry woman.”

Brian broke out laughing, hoping it wouldn’t offend Adeen, but he couldn’t help it. It was right on. He relaxed when she joined him in laughter. “That last one was hard for me to admit, but unfortunately it’s true – for me and many other women. Why are we like that?”

“Because, for the most part, women respond out of emotion, while men are more likely to default to logic and reason. . . . unless of course we’re angry.”

“But why do we go off on emotional rants at the smallest provocation? Why do men make us so angry?”

“I’ll throw another quote back at you. ‘No one can make you angry; you choose to get angry.’ You can just as easily choose to respond from your logical mind.’”

“That’s an interesting way to look at it, Brian. I’ll have to think about that – and see if I can use it to curb my anger.”

“There’s another quote I like that goes along with it. ‘Don’t react – reflect and respond.’ That advice can go a long way toward improving personal relationships.”

“Wow. That’s good stuff.”

“Yeah. It’s easy to say, but much harder to reprogram your mind to follow it.”

“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Brian. I think I’ll go to bed and mull them over.”

“If you open your bedroom window you can hear the sounds of the nocturnal desert symphony. Tell you what. The symphony is really great up in the cupola bedroom. Why don’t you take that bed and I’ll sleep down here.”

“No, I don’t want to push you out of your bed. . . .”

“Nonsense. I can sleep up there all I want after you’ve left.”

That gave Adeen a moment of introspection . I haven’t thought about how this will end. I like being with him. I don’t want this to end. If fact, I might even want a closer relationship. Maybe even long term. . . . Stop thinking like that! He’s not attracted to me. His work is his life. . . . Or am I describing myself?

“What time do you get up in the morning, Brian?”

“Usually at dawn. You can sleep in while I get things ready for another round of tests.”

“Sleeping in is a waste of time. I’ll get up when I hear you stirring.”

Chapter 17 – Broken Sword

Akheem had just finished his morning pastry snack when a sealed package was hand-delivered to him. He recognized the handwritten address as belonging to George, a spy Akheem had recruited from high up in the DARPA organization. He quickly cut the package open with his dagger and slid a single document onto his desk – a copy of Brian Callaghan’s final report on the Thunderbolt program. A yellow post-it note was stuck to the front with the words ‘It doesn’t work. See pages 72 thru 81’ written on it.

Akheem quickly turned to those pages and scanned the text. As he read the blood drained from his face. There was a fatal flaw in Callaghan’s design that made it impossible for Zeus, or any EMP beam weapon that large, to ever work!

“No! No! It can’t be. I have spent millions on Allah’s Sword . . . But it was all wasted on a weapon that can’t work.” Akheem swept the remaining pastries and a cup of hot coffee off his desk and onto the carpet. At that moment he wished he weren’t a devout Muslim so he could scream obscenities for the next several minutes. But Allah doesn’t permit such talk, so Akheem had to swallow his anger and struggle to compose himself. I’ll lose my job over this, he thought. HDT won’t let such a loss occur without firing those responsible. . . . I have to find someone to blame for this. . . . Eric Pearson! I can say he lied to me from the start, that he knew it wouldn’t work. I’ll even claim he has been embezzling money He pressed the intercom button and told his assistant, “Get Dr. Pearson up here – immediately!”

Eric Pearson had been working 18 hours a day on his design for Allah’s Sword and finally had it ready for fabrication. In fact, he had already ordered most of the long-lead-time parts and materials. He didn’t get Akheem’s approval for this, so he was spending HDT money that hadn’t been allocated to his project yet. When Akheem found out there would be hell to pay, but Eric was sure he would have something working by the time the bills reached Akheem’s desk. He had to move ahead quickly – he had car and mortgage payments due that he couldn’t cover out of his salary. He needed the salary boost and million dollar bonus that success would bring. Even his wife was complaining that she needed more money to meet her expensive tastes.

As he was getting the first fabrication orders ready to send to the HDT machine shop his desk phone rang. He picked it up with impatient annoyance and answered. “What is it! I’m busy here!”

It was Akheem’s assistant telling Eric that Dr. Al-Kashif wished to see him in his office, immediately! He stressed that last word, so it must be important. Could the unauthorized bills have reached his office so soon? No, he has probably heard about my progress and wants to congratulate me. Maybe even give me an advance on my bonus.

As he stepped off the elevator in front of Akheem’s door his assistant met him and hustled him into the office. Eric started to sit in a chair facing the desk until Akheem held his hand up. “Don’t sit. You will stand.” Eric was puzzled by this treatment. I’m the most important man in the division. Without me, Allah’s Sword couldn’t be built. He thought about ignoring him and sitting down anyway, but a look at Akheem’s face convinced him otherwise.

Akheem slid a document across his desk. “Have you seen this!! . . . Of course you have, your name is on it as one of the authors.”

Eric picked it up and saw that it was the final report for Brian’s Thunderbolt project. His name was listed as one of the secondary authors, along with Jorge Gonzalez and Frank Adkins, the lead technician and test engineer on the project. “No sir, I have not seen this report. It’s customary to list your co-workers as authors on reports like this.”

Eric picked it up and scanned the pages, then went back to read them more slowly. “This can’t be true. I saw Brian’s small scale laboratory version work. Scaling it up to weapon size shouldn’t affect the operating principle. . . .” Then he saw the last paragraph, with the results of the computer simulation showing the impossibility of keeping a high power beam focused, and had a sinking feeling in his stomach. In an instant he saw his bonus and big salary disappear. Sweat beads were forming on his forehead. His next thought was I’ll have to give back my Porsche.

Akheem interrupted his thoughts. “The bottom line is that Zeus was doomed to fail . . . something about a problem with scaling up the technology.”

“This can’t be true, sir. We both know why it didn’t work – the design changes I made to the timing board.”

“No, that wasn’t it. Callaghan discovered that shortly after you left the project. He corrected the problem before he ran his final test.”

“Give me some time to understand his conclusions and correct the theory. I can still have Allah’s Sword running on schedule.”

“No you cannot! Callaghan’s detailed supercomputer simulations prove unequivocally that a high power beam can never be focused small enough to be a useful EMP weapon.”

“Well . . . Wh . . . What do we do now?”

“What do you mean ‘we’? This is clearly on your shoulders. I believe you knew of the flaw in the theory before you showed up on my doorstep offering to sell the design to me.”

“But I’ve been working for you on this for months – stealing designs, sabotaging electronics, re-designing Zeus so Hurley Defense Technologies can patent it as their own.”

“That’s correct, but now I finally realize you have been stringing me along, taking HDT money to provide us with this worthless technology, and all the while knowing the project would be a failure. My superiors are going to look for someone to blame for this, and it is not going to be me. I’ll tell them you have been embezzling their money under false pretenses. I order an audit that will ‘prove’ my accusations, regardless of what they actually find.”

Pearson realized the auditors would have plenty to work with once the bills for unauthorized purchases came in. “Well then, I suppose we should discuss my severance package. I think one year’s salary plus reimbursement for the expenses I have incurred in moving here and living as befits a high-ranking Hurley scientist would be in order.”

Akheem’s face turned white – a sign that he had gone beyond anger into the attack mode. “Severance? . . . Severance! . . . In my country the severance for what you have done is removal of the offender’s head! As of this moment you are terminated. You are finished here. Don’t even stop to pack up your office. I want to hear from the gate guard within five minutes that you have left the grounds!”

Eric, his head spinning, turned and left the office. Once out the door he turned for the elevator and quickly headed for the parking lot. He wanted to be gone before Akheem thought of worse punishment for him . . . like having his life terminated.

Chapter 18 – Big Brother is Watching

Lee Young sat in front of his computer waiting for something to happen. That’s how he spent most of his work days. Several times a day the computer alerted him to something that required action, usually forwarding an email or a twitter message to a contact in another Government agency. Occasionally an intercepted message was interesting – like the Congressman who wrote his mistress very suggestive emails about what they would do together that night – but mostly it was just highlighting a word or a phrase that was on his watch list before passing it on to someone on his list of contacts.

Today was a slow day. Lee often thought about how boring his job was. He had much more exciting things in mind when he graduated from MIT with a degree in computer science, especially when he was offered a job with this prestigious agency. He envisioned being a highly paid hacker, breaking into the computer systems of foreign governments to find secret information, or even modifying their systems to produce incorrect data. He would be an internet spy for the U.S. Government, surreptitiously roaming through computer networks throughout the world.

But instead he ended up in this tiny cubicle with a desk, computer, chair and trash can, waiting for an alert that one of the key words or phrases on his watch list showed up on the internet. There were several other’s doing the same job in one of the nearby cubicles, each with their own watch list. And in other rooms within the huge building computers were programmed to listen in on telephone and cell phone conversations looking for similar key words.

It had occurred to him that their eavesdropping was just what George Orwell warned about in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ Orwell wrote it in 1949, predicting that his idea of a society under total government control would be in place within 35 years. He was off on his timing, but it seemed to Lee that the U.S. was rapidly approaching Orwell’s nightmare.

His reverie was interrupted by an alarm from the computer. One of his watch words had shown up in an email. He located it in both an email and in the attachment, highlighted all instances of it, and looked up who he should forward it to. The three agencies – DARPA, Department of Defense, and the CIA – were interested in the phrase ‘Electromagnetic Pulse’ and the abbreviation EMP for some reason. Lee made a mental note to look it up on Google when he got home to see what it meant.

Lt. Col. Marcus Wright entered his office after a grueling session of questioning by the House Armed Services Committee about cost overruns on advanced weapons development programs. Lt. Col. Wright was the science advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Defense for Science and Technology. Part of his job was to identify new technologies that could lead to new or improved military weapons systems, for the U.S. or its adversaries. He had several sources looking for these technologies but the most important was the National Security Agency – the NSA. Since they monitored telephone and internet communications looking for key words that might lead to terrorists, foreign military capabilities, or other issues of interest to the Government, Lt. Col. Wright had submitted a list of weapons technologies for them to monitor.

As he opened his computer he saw a notice that NSA had picked up mention of one of those technologies and forwarded the email to his office for evaluation. He opened it and saw that it was a progress report to the U.S. Forest Service from Dr. Adeen Riley, a biologist researching insect infestations in northern New Mexico. The email included one reference to a potential weapon technology – electromagnetic pulse generators. He was about to send it to the digital trash can since it had nothing to do with weapons, but he was curios to see how EMP could be of interest to the Forest Service, so he opened the attached report.

When he saw the results of experiments Dr. Riley performed he wondered where in the world she got her hands on an EMP generator. The only EMP research he knew about was a DARPA project to develop an EMP beam weapon, and he recently learned that the project was a failure. He called his contact at DARPA to refresh his memory.

“Hey Steve, Marcus Wright here. What can you tell me about the EMP beam weapon project you folks were funding?”

“Just a sec. Let me check my computer for the status. . . . There it is. Project Thunderbolt. The work was done at Los Alamos by a researcher named Brian Callaghan. They built a device in a canyon at LANL, but after several months of testing they couldn’t get the beam focused enough for use as a weapon. We had to shut the project down and have the device disassembled and shipped to one of our storage facilities.”

“Would you send me a copy of all the documents you have on the project?”

“They’re classified at the Top Secret level so I’ll have to send a courier over.”

“Thanks. I owe you one.”

Boris Yalenka spent 18 hours a day searching the internet for useful information – something he could sell or blackmail someone with. That’s how he made his money. Over the past few years he had ‘earned’ over a million dollars, which he kept in a Swiss bank under an alias. He never revealed his identity, or even that he lived in Kaliningrad, Russia. Usually he would hack into the email accounts of important people to find something they don’t want the public, or their significant other, to know. But on slow days he searched the traffic flowing over the internet for information about anything of interest. He had a long list of things to look for and his computer was programmed to let him know when one of them showed up. Most of the items on his list were provided by his own government, and included military terms, travel by foreign government officials, troop movements, and middle eastern terrorist locations.

He knew that the National Security Agency in America had a huge staff with some of the most powerful computers in the world gathering information from the internet, telephones, satellites, and covert agents in locations around the world. The Russian Government chose to use a distributed network of dozens of hackers like himself to do the job. When any of them found something of interest they would send an encrypted email to a contact in the Ministry of Information at the Kremlin. If it was useful to them the sender would be rewarded by a deposit in the bank account of their choice. He and several others he knew had a windfall profit during the buildup to the U.S. elections. From what he saw on the news the Kremlin was passing it on to information leakers, like Wikileaks, to stir up trouble.

His computer had just sounded an alert that one of the listed terms, Electromagnetic Pulse, had shown up in an email. He traced it back to the sender’s computer, hacked into their email account, and looked for related documents. He didn’t see any other emails about EMP so he extracted the IP address of the computer and traced it to the name of the owner – a Los Alamos researcher named Brian Callaghan. He typed up a report on the intercepted email and the computer owner, then forwarded the encrypted document to the Kremlin.

Col. Sergei Sokolov awoke at six a.m., eased out of her bed, gathered his clothes, and went into the bathroom to dress. He always tried to leave the women he picked up before they woke to avoid their clinging question “When can I see you again?” For him, there never was an again – it was one and done. He was good looking, under forty, with physique of a twenty-five-year-old, so he never had a problem finding attractive young women willing to take him into their bed. Sergei left three thousand rubles on her dresser and quietly closed the door.

As he backed his car out of her driveway he casually scanned the cars parked nearby to see if any were occupied. One always had to be on the alert for FSB snoops sent by one political enemy or another to catch you in something they could arrest you for. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in the days of the KGB, and he was high enough up the Kremlin totem pole that he wasn’t likely to be spied on, but it was always wise to stay alert.

As he hurried to his office in the Ministry of Information his mind turned toward the large backlog of work facing him. He had sent in several requests for another assistant, but all were denied. His area of expertise was weapons technology, and the three engineers on his staff were good at sniffing out the early stages of development for new weapon systems by the U.S., China, NATO countries, and North Korea. Once they got wind of a new program they stayed on it like bloodhounds to discover who the key players were for the government and the defense industries involved. These names were passed on to the Foreign Intelligence Service, who would try to recruit spies inside the program to keep Sergei’s office informed of progress.

By mid afternoon Sergei had worked his way through a stack of papers and documents and turned his attention to a long list of emails. Some were from others in the Ministry reminding him of upcoming meetings and deadlines, but the ones he enjoyed the most were the reports from his network of watchers looking for something on the internet that might tip them off to new military technologies being pursued by the U.S. and other countries. The first three were updates on the U.S. development of underwater drones – unmanned submarines – that could sneak up on a ship and blow a hole in the bottom of the hull, or plant sensors on it. One of the planned missions was as a silent tail following Soviet nuclear submarines and reporting their location to military satellites that relayed the information to the Pentagon. He already had informers working inside that program so the emails told him nothing new.

The next email got his attention. It concerned EMP, a technology the U.S. and Russia had tried to weaponize for several years. The U.S. had some success installing an EMP warhead in the nose of a low altitude cruise missile, but the limited range made it impractical. As he read the email and it’s attached report he got excited. Maybe the U.S. had figured out a way to make an EMP weapon – a beam weapon if what he read in the report was true. When he saw that the email was from someone at the Los Alamos Laboratory he knew he was onto something.

All the talk about using it to eradicate beetle infestations confused him, though. Surely they would not use an EMP weapon for that. And why would the Forest Service be funding an EMP weapon project. It didn’t make sense. He picked up the phone and ordered his three assistants to his office.

As they filed through the door the assistants wondered if they would be raked over the coals for some mistake or be given a new project. Sergei handed out copies of Dr. Reilly’s report and gave them a few minutes to look it over.

“What do you think caught my attention in this document?”

Feliks Borin, the physicist on his team, spotted it right away. “It’s the EMP device. It sounds like the U.S. has found a way to concentrate the pulse into a beam weapon. For a large enough EMP source that could have a range of a hundred miles or more. But what is this talk about using it to sterilize pine bark beetles?”

“It’s clearly to throw us off the track, make us believe they aren’t developing an EMP superweapon. Notice the computer it was sent from belongs to a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory – where they developed the atom bomb and several other unique weapons. That’s the real give away. If Los Alamos is working on it has to be a weapon.”

“So what do you want us to do, sir?”

“Start with satellite photos of the area around Los Alamos. If they’re testing an EMP weapon there it might be on an outside test range since they have used the Los Alamos canyons for weapons research before. There must be some evidence of it. Go back over the photos from the past two years. Then hack into computers at the Lab, military weapons development offices, and even defense contractors looking for a mention of EMP. I’ll give you 24 hours – we’ll meet here at this time tomorrow.

Chapter 19 – A Question of Wavelength

Brian was up at dawn and outside collecting termites from the nest in a nearby wood foundation. He had to dig a bit but finally found the queen and put her in one of Adeen’s sample cases. He also collected some eggs so they could test them directly. When he re-entered the caboose Adeen had some coffee brewing and sweet rolls heating in the microwave.

“Mmm. I love the smell of cinnamon rolls baking. I read once that the cinnamon roll smell is the odor most likely to attract a man.”

“You made that up, Brian. I’m not trying to attract you!”

“It brought me in from outside, didn’t it?”

Adeen didn’t have a comeback for that so she poured their coffee and put the plate of rolls on the small table. Is he trying to make me mad again? I wasn’t trying to attract him . . . was I?

“I collected some termite samples – the queen along with some eggs that were already laid. As soon as we’re done here we can fire up the generator for a test.”

“Great. We can test them and the rest of the beetles this morning and then maybe hunt for some grasshoppers.”

“You won’t have any problem finding those. The dry weather seems to produce lots of them. Or maybe they’re just easier to see without the healthy green foliage.”

“I want to get started on testing mammal eggs tomorrow so I’ll have to go back to the university tonight to get a couple of lab rats.”

“I might be able to help you out with that. Will kangaroo rats work? We have plenty of them out at night around here. I can put out some live traps and catch a few for you.”

“That’ll work Brian, and save me a trip back to the my lab.”

By noon they had irradiated the termite eggs and found the correct power to sterilize them. After a quick lunch of baloney and cheese sandwiches washed down with Coors beer, Brian went outside to collect grasshoppers while Adeen wrote up the results of the latest tests. Later that afternoon Adeen was dissecting the eggs of several grasshoppers. These were a lot larger than the beetle and termite eggs so she was anxious to see if the EMP would have the same effect on the yolks. After looking at a couple dozen egg slices through the microscope she was discouraged. “This isn’t working on the grasshoppers, Brian. Do we need more power?”

“It’s more likely a problem with the wavelength of the pulse. Electromagnetic waves come in a wide range of wavelengths – the distance between the crest of two adjacent waves. To couple into an object the wavelengths have to be close to the physical dimensions of the sample. The wavelength I was using in Pajarito Canyon was very short – around a hundred micrometers, which was the approximate size of the beetle eggs. The termite eggs were similar to beetle egg dimensions, so the pulse interacted well with them. But grasshopper eggs are about thirty times larger, so if I increase the wavelength to that size, we should get some results. Give me thirty minutes and I’ll have Zeuslet modified for the new wavelength.

By the end of the day Brian and Adeen had tested several dozen grasshoppers. The EMP wavelength had to be fine tuned, but they finally found one that worked 100% of the time. While Adeen recorded the results in her lab notebook, Brian went online to find out how large kangaroo mouse eggs were so he could increase the EMP wavelength to match. With some luck he would have at least one female kangaroo rat in the live traps by morning.

“If I can catch a kangaroo rat for you, you’ll have to do the dissecting. I wouldn’t know where to find the ovaries.”

“I haven’t even seen a kangaroo mouse, so I’ll have to find some anatomy drawings on the internet. What are their habits? Are they easy to catch?”

“They aren’t very afraid of humans. I’ve had them hop to within a few feet of me around a campfire at night. They’re pretty curious creatures. Their nests are interesting, too. They go around collecting things, especially shiny things like can pop tops and even small jewelry, and take them back to their nest. That’s why they’re also called pack rats.”

The tests on the rats the next day went better than Adeen expected. Brian had trapped two females, and by the third test they got the wavelength right. “This is really exciting, Brian! This EMP device could be adjusted to sterilize the eggs of almost any species. Is there an upper limit on the egg size? Something too big to get the EMP waves to resonate with?”

“There probably is. Electromagnetic pulses are rich in short wavelengths – the ones we have demonstrated so far – but the amount of power in the longer wavelengths falls off. At some point the pulse wavelength needed to rupture the yolks of larger eggs wouldn’t exist in the pulse.”

“What’s the longest wavelength? Could it rupture a chicken egg yolk?”

“No, those are way too large to be effected, especially by the extremely low power we could produce in a reasonably sized EMP generator. The longest wavelength available in an EM pulse is about one millimeter – a little larger than a grain of sand.”

“That would cover most mammalian ova, but would rule out reptiles and birds.”

Brian added with a smile “So eradicating all the rattlesnakes around here is out of the question?”

“Yep, it looks that way. But if we eradicated the pack rats, mice and rabbits the rattlers would probably starve to death. . . . or go looking for bigger prey – like us.”

“That would really upset the desert ecology. It could have huge unintended consequences.”

“Good point, Brian. We need to consider that before we go off zapping bark beetles and termites.”

“I have to go to Los Alamos this afternoon to finish up my out-processing paper work. Want me to bring some supper back?”

“No, let’s go out for dinner to celebrate a couple of days of great results. Why don’t I meet you at the Coyote Café downtown in a couple of hours.”

“Great. I’ll see you there.”

Adeen was excited to get their latest results about the EMP effects on other insects and small mammals written up to send to her Forestry Department contact. But when she sat down at her laptop the battery was still dead. She traced the power supply cord to where it plugged into the wall. Everything looks O.K. Maybe this old outlet isn’t working. She went into Brian’s bedroom to borrow a bedside lamp and plugged it into the outlet. Damn, there’s no power here. I’ll have to find another outlet but I don’t want to wait for my battery to charge. I’ll just use Brian’s computer again. He won’t mind as long as I don’t go snooping around in his files. . . . I wonder what I would find if I did snoop a little? . . . No, I’m not that kind of person.

Chapter 20 – Sleepers

Dr. Feliks Borin, Science Advisor to Col. Sokolov, was wrapping up his search through thousands of satellite photos for some sign of where the EMP weapon was located at Los Alamos. So far he hadn’t found anything. He had studied the images all night until his eyes would no longer stay focused, looking for something in the deep canyons cut into the volcanic lava rock by 40,000 years of wind and water erosion. The problem was that sunlight only reached into the narrow, deep canyons for an hour or two a day, and seldom from an angle that would make a building or test facility visible. He knew he was looking for a close grouping of straight lines and right angles – things nature seldom created. But most of the walls of the geologically young canyons and the jagged rocks at the bottom had mostly straight edges.

He had just about concluded that he would have to report to Col. Sokolov that the search was a failure when Nikola, one of his engineers, rushed into his office waving some printouts. “I think I’ve found it, Feliks! I ran the digitized photos from the past nine months through a new computer program that looked for closed boxes – straight lines and corners, and found this. See, right here, in the canyon labeled Pajarito.”

Feliks picked up his magnifying glass and studied the area. “Yes, there it is! Now that we have found the location let’s put together a series of pictures showing the progression of construction. We may even be lucky enough to have caught a test in progress. . . . The human eye and brain are amazing. Once you know what to look for it just jumps out at you. Even if I tried not to see it now, it would still be plain as day. Get some slides put together and we’ll go show them to the Colonel.”

Col. Sokolov leaned back in his chair after listening to what the two had to say, in silent thought. Feliks and Nikola sat patiently, hoping for a ‘Well done!’ But Sergei’s thoughts were on what he should do with this information. After a few minutes he cleared his throat. “These photos make it clear that the U. S. is working on an EMP beam weapon. The photo showing a puff of smoke exhausting from the rear of the device must have caught them just as a test shot was fired. But I’m puzzled by the most recent photos that show them dismantling the weapon and packing it in crates. The photo from the following week shows there’s nothing left at the site except the building. They must have shipped it out at a time our spy satellites couldn’t track where they took it. Where do you think it is now, Dr. Borin?”

“The most likely place is an indoor weapons testing facility. The tests in the canyon were experiments to prove it can work as a weapon. So the next logical step would be to use it as a model for developing the actual weapon version . . . or versions. They could deploy this in large trucks disguised as commercial semis, in specially designed military vehicles, or even in aircraft if they can reduce the weight and size enough. If they deploy weaponized EMP beam generators near any of our computer centers or airbases they could destroy all the electronic devices at the same moment and totally cripple our defenses. We have to stop them. ”

“We have the name of the research leader, Brian Callaghan, but we need to know about everyone who worked on the project and find a way to turn one of them into an informer for us. I’ll activate one of our sleeper cells in that area to investigate . . . and maybe even steal some documents that will tell us why they succeeded when our scientists couldn’t.”

Jessica Pauling woke up at her usual six a.m., put on her running gear, and set out for her morning run. After four years in the Colorado Springs area she had no problem running eight miles though the hilly neighborhood of Briargate in under 50 minutes, but when she first arrived she had to fight against the thin air at the 6,700 foot altitude. It took her three months to get her time below 60 minutes, and another two to get down to her fifty-minute goal. With her daily training regimen she felt like she was in the best condition of her thirty-three-year life. She liked it when her husband, Matt, ran with her on weekends, but he worked out at the gym during his lunch hours, so he was in almost as good a shape as she was.

Neither of them needed to be athletically conditioned for their regular jobs – she as a training instructor for the women’s pistol shooting team at the Olympic Training Center, and he as an investment advisor for the Ferris Asset Management firm. But their other activities sometimes required strength and stamina. As she ran she thought about the other job and remembered their last assignment. Things got out of hand on that one and they had to leave quickly. But they both liked that kind of excitement – she felt the most alive when fear was present.

When Jessica got back from her run she was surprised to find Matt there, standing in the kitchen in the boxers and tee shirt he slept in. “Hi Honey. Why aren’t you at work already?”

“I got an encrypted email. We have a new assignment.”

“Is it somewhere far away?”

“No, it’s only five hours down I-25 . . . to Santa Fe.”

“Great! I can buy some silver and turquoise jewelry from the Indians in the square”

“Sorry, we’ll have to keep a low profile, as usual.”

“Darn! . . . I’m feeling a little frisky after that run. Have we got time to deal with that before we discuss the job?”

“Sure.”

“Let me get a quick shower first.”

“How about I join you and we make it a long shower, Jessie?”

She didn’t give him an answer. Instead she pulled off her top as she headed for the bathroom. He figured anything less than a ‘yes’ meant ‘no’ so he stood there watching her five-foot ten, lithe figure walk through the bathroom door. But just inside she looked over her shoulder and said “You coming?”

He grinned. “I love it when you tease me like that.”

Later they were sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking coffee and developing their plan. Jessica was thinking about how quickly they could get in, do the job, and get out. “This could take us a couple of days, Max. We need to locate four people, and they may not live in the area anymore. I found Santa Fe area addresses for all of them online but they could have been transferred after the asset was shipped out.”

“We’ll just have to play it by ear. I want to take the camera drone along in case we need to do some aerial surveillance.”

Matt had bought a disassembled copter drone from a Canadian on-line hobby store, which was actually a front used by Russian intelligence to ship special items to its spies in the U.S. and Canada. This camera drone was an Onyx Star OH6086 made by Origin Drones and modified by Russian aeronautical engineers to be whisper-quiet during flight. Its high resolution color video camera was augmented with an infrared camera for nighttime imaging. The all-black paint job and super-quiet design made it virtually impossible to see at night, but the Russians had included spray cans of light blue, black, and camouflage paint so he could adapt the color to particular missions. The eight arms including the rotors spanned 48 inches and were detachable for transporting it. Matt had taught himself to fly it in a vacant field east of town and was anxious to use it on its first mission.

“O.K., we can take your new toy, but keep it away from power lines so it doesn’t get fried. Let’s get packed up and check out these Santa Fe addresses”

Brian was making some adjustments to the EMP generator to create a wavelength that would resonate with larger eggs. Adeen was bringing some rabbits back from her university laboratory, and Brian had caught a ground squirrel the day before, so they planned to test these two along with more insect varieties today. After their dinner at Coyote Café two nights ago Adeen seemed to be less guarded when she was around him, but Brian knew that one seemingly innocent comment could set off her anger again. He thought that being around her was like trying to tiptoe through a verbal mine field. But things seemed to be warming up a bit.

When she arrived just after lunch with the animal cages and more insect samples she was all smiles.

“I see you brought bugs bunny’s relatives with you.”

“Yes, but I only had two to spare so we need to get the wavelength right within two shots or we’ll have to wait until I can order some more rabbits. I also want to get some newborn lab rats so see at what stage of development the sterilization begin to work.”

“It’s a shame to have to sacrifice these animals so you can remove the eggs for study.”

“I’ve got a solution for that. I brought a large biopsy needle that I can use to extract some eggs without harm. I also have another surprise. I got some human ova from a young woman who died yesterday in a car wreck. She had a living will donating her body for medical research and I asked a friend in the coroner’s office if I could have one of her ovaries.”

“We may have to wait until tomorrow to test those. I’ll probably have to adjust the wavelength again to work with human eggs.”

“Maybe not. The ova in most mammals, from rabbits to horses to humans, are all about the same size – between 130 and 140 micrometers. So what you set up for the rabbits should work on the human eggs too.”

“That’s good because I won’t have time to hang around and readjust Zeuslet. I have a dinner meeting with someone.”

Adeen’s anger immediately took over. “Who with, a girlfriend – or maybe a wife? You didn’t tell me you were married.”

“No, I didn’t, and I’m not.”

“Is it your ex then? Girlfriend or wife?”

“No, it’s neither.”

Adeen waited for him to tell her who he was having dinner with, but Brian just turned back to working on the EMP generator.

“So, you’re not going to tell me, huh.”

“Why does it matter to you? We’re just colleagues here. What I do or who I do it with shouldn’t concern you.”

“So you’re saying ‘It’s none of my business.”

“. . . Yes, I guess that’s exactly what I am saying. But I go back to my first question. Why do you care?”

“Because . . . because . . . Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know why I went off like that.” Yes I do know. I’m starting to care about him, maybe even have feelings for him. God I’m so embarrassed. My reaction just told him that I do care for him. Maybe I should tell him I’m developing feelings for him . . . but I’m not ready for a relationship yet. I don’t know if I will ever be ready, with him or any other man.

She reached out and touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Brian.” Why did I just do that? Touch his shoulder? Now he’ll think I’m coming on to him. . . . Was I? . . . Is that so bad?

When Adeen touched his shoulder it sent a shock through Brian – a very pleasant shock. Where did that feeling come from? Is she trying to signal something to me? I wouldn’t mind getting closer to her if it wasn’t for that temper. I just don’t like walking on eggshells.

Chapter 21 – The Plot Thickens

Brian walked up to the hostess at the Rio Chama Steakhouse and told her he was meeting Tom Salazar for dinner. As he approached the corner table Tom stood up and gave Brian a hearty greeting. “It’s good to see you Brian! You’re looking well, so everything must be running smoothly with your Los Alamos research.” Tom knew vaguely that Brian ran an important research project at LANL, but the details had never been discussed.

“Things have been better, Tom. The Government cancelled my funding on the project, but I’ve found something new that’s interesting. . . . How are the wife and kids – what are they now, eight and twelve? It was good planning that you had them four years apart so you will only have one in college at a time.”

“I would like to claim it was planned, but it just happened that way. Besides, who finishes college in four years any more. . . . I went ahead and ordered the cheese fondue appetizer for us. I knew you liked it and nobody does it better that Rio Chama.”

“Great. What’s good on the menu. I haven’t been here in quite awhile – in fact the last time was the last time we met for dinner a few months ago.”

Tom said with a grin, “So you only come here when I’m paying.”

“Yeah, it’s too expensive for my tastes. A hamburger and fries is my idea of great food.”

“Balderdash, Brian. You have so much money in your account that you could host dinner here for the entire population of Santa Fe – for a week.”

“Well, you know my philosophy about that. Live simply, reinvest the profits, and fund an occasional charity. How is that tutoring program for the Navaho children doing by the way.”

“That was a great idea of yours, Brian – setting up a trust fund to keep the students challenged and prepare them for college. The way it’s going now almost half of next year’s graduating class will get scholarships.”

“I appreciate you setting that up for me, Tom. I’m glad you agreed to manage it so I don’t have to worry about it. Now, tell me how my investments are doing.”

With Tom’s advice Brian had bought into several stocks and mutual funds when the market hit its lows after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Then he converted them to contra-cyclical bond investments near the market peak in 2007, and waited for the next market crash in 2009 to convert them back into stock investments. Since that time the market had been rising steadily.

“Well Brian, your investment portfolio has doubled several times over the past fifteen years. Even with the costs of your charity funding you still have over three and a half million dollars in it.”

“I can see that on my quarterly statements, Tom. What I need to know is when is this current market boom going to turn downhill so we can move back into bonds again.”

“I would like to believe the new president’s policies will grow the economy and keep driving the Dow higher, but he could fail in so many ways, especially with the opposition party attacking his every move. I think it’s time to start selling off your best performers – a little every month – and putting the money into treasuries again. We can also look at the auto parts industry which should do particularly well if the economy stays flat because people fix their old cars rather than buy new ones. Beer is also a good bet because people can’t afford the higher priced stuff when the economy is down.”

“That sounds like a plan, Tom. Why don’t you email me some recommendations and I’ll look them over. Now, back to what’s good to eat here.”

“The steaks are great, but the prime rib is even better.”

Adeen was alone in the caboose after Brian left for dinner. She poured a glass of Sangria and took a folding chair out onto the rear platform to watch the beautiful sunset. The colors in New Mexico sunsets were spectacular. The reduced air density because of the altitude combined with the extremely low pollution levels create brilliant oranges and reds surrounded by deep blue skies. When east coast artists discovered the sunsets at the beginning of the twentieth century they painted what they saw and sent their work back east, where the art critics attacked them because they used “unrealistic colors.” You had to be here to see how wrong they were.

She let her mind wander to pleasant thoughts – growing up on the Chama River in northern New Mexico with parents who cared for and loved her, walking across the stage to accept her PhD degree, getting her first teaching job as an assistant professor at NMHU, winning her first Government grant to study insect infestations – these were the highlights of her life. But what do I have to show for it? My name on professional papers in leading journals and students who suck up to me for good grades – that doesn’t include Judy and Gail – I have a close relationship with them, although it’s more like mother and daughters. Where is the man in my life. The one who can take my breath away, show his love for me every day with thoughtful little gifts, or maybe just a tender kiss. I’m 34 years old. Is true love passing me by . . . or am I running from it.

Is that what I’m doing to Brian? Pushing him away? . . . But he can make me so angry! . . . No, I remember what he quoted to me. I choose to be angry. Why do I do that? Am I just a weak woman controlled by her emotions? . . . I need to think about where my negative reaction is coming from and deal with it.

She looked up and saw the sunset had faded and the deep blue above it was fading to black. She shivered and decided to go to back inside. With the dry, thin air of the New Mexico desert the heat of the day escaped quickly and a chill descended shortly after sundown. The heater in the caboose didn’t do much to warm her so she decided to go upstairs to the cupola and snuggle under the covers on her bed. She brushed her teeth and, as she took off her clothes to change for bed, she paused to look at herself in the mirror. Like most women she was overly critical of her looks, but tonight she liked what she saw. . . . What would Brian think if he saw me like this? Would he find me attractive – or think I wasn’t his type? A guy I dated once said I had a “full figure” like the painting of Venus of Urbino by the artist Titian. . . . I had to go to the library to see for myself. He was right. But I’ve lost some weight since then and firmed up what was left, so maybe Brian wouldn’t think that way. . . . Oh, why am I wasting my time thinking about this. In a few weeks the project will be over and we’ll go our separate ways.

She turned away from the mirror and quickly covered up her figure with oversized flannel pajamas, then she climbed up to the cupola. She wasn’t sleepy yet so she propped herself up on pillows watched the moonlight softly illuminate the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos.

When Jessica and Matt Pauling arrived from Colorado Springs they decided to go to Brian Callaghan’s caboose laboratory first. That would be the most likely place to find the information their handler was looking for. He hadn’t been very clear about exactly what it was they were supposed to look for, but he told them to photograph anything that looked technical including any blue prints, drawings and reports they came across. They used Google satellite images to study the area and plan their approach.

They arrived at the site just before midnight and parked their 2006 Ford F-250 pickup behind a ridge that hid them from the caboose. Matt bought the used truck just before they left Colorado Springs, purposely choosing one that was banged up a little. With the coating of dust it had picked up on the dirt roads out to the caboose it looked just like a hundred others driven by the locals, so it wouldn’t stand out as something unusual.

They slipped out of their cowboy Levi’s and dusty cotton shirts and were left with their black spandex leggings and pullovers. Once they put on the spandex head and face coverings, they were all but invisible. They climbed up to the top of the ridge and lay down to survey the caboose and its surroundings with night vision binoculars. As Jessica scanned the thermal camera around the area she moved past a warm target, then jerked the camera back to it. She showed Matt the screen.

“What do you suppose that is? Its heat signature is too small to be a human, unless a child is out wandering around down there.”

Matt took the camera and adjusted the heat sensitivity until he could see an outline of the warm body. “I can see it better now. Whatever it is it walks on four legs. From the shape I would guess it’s a coyote.”

“Or maybe a watchdog? That wouldn’t be good if it starts barking. I’ll go back to the truck and get the tranquilizer gun.”

Jessica rummaged around the stuff hidden under blankets and sleeping rolls inside the truck’s camper shell and found what she was looking for – a Pneu-Dart CO2 powered rifle that fired syringe darts. When the darts hit a person or animal a fast acting knock out drug was injected. Within 20 seconds the target lost control of their limbs and fell to the ground.

When she got back to Matt she asked, “Is it still there?”

“Yes, but it moved away from us a bit. It will be a tough shot.”

“Do you want to take the shot Matt?”

“No. You’re a better shot than I am and I don’t want to risk scaring it away. It might come back just as we’re breaking into Callaghan’s lab.”

Jessica looked through the night vision scope to the area where the heat signature was coming from and scanned back and forth. “It doesn’t show up well on this scope. . . . Oh, there it is. It definitely looks like a coyote . . . or maybe a German Shepherd.” She adjusted the focus on the scope, slowly squeezed the trigger. They heard a satisfying pffffft as the CO2 propelled the dart out of the barrel. A second later they heard a brief yelp from the target.

“It sounds like you got him. I’ll go get the stealth drone put together so we can do a fly-around of the caboose. I can hover and look in the windows to see if anyone is up and around.”

Adeen had just drifted off to sleep when she a sharp sound startled her awake. What was that? It sounded like a coyote in pain. Maybe he got too close to a porcupine. She listened for the sound to be repeated. After a several minutes she was about to doze off again when she heard a soft buzz. What kind of insect is that? She listened more intently and was startled by something that moved at the edge of her vision. She turned her head in time to catch an almost invisible blur move past the window. What was that? I’m not even sure I saw anything. It was almost like a ghost. . . . She thought with a smile Brian didn’t tell me the caboose was haunted. She watched and listened for a few more minutes but didn’t see it again.

Matt went up the caboose steps quietly in his soft-soled boots and stopped at the door. Jessica took out her set of lock picks and dropped down on one knee in front of the lock.

“Uh oh. . . . This lock must be a hundred years old. These picks weren’t designed for antique locks. We might have to break in and hope no one is inside.”

Matt reached over and turned the handle. The door opened quietly. “Always try the easy way first.”

“But I wanted to show off my lock-picking skills.” Jessica said with a mock pout.

Matt leaned down and whispered in her ear “Nothing but hand signals from here on. If there’s someone asleep in there we don’t want them busting out the bedroom door with a 12-gauge in their hands.

The first thing they saw when they entered was a large steel table with some sort of contraption on it. Fortunately enough moonlight filtered through the windows to see. Matt moved up to the table and took several photos of the device using a digital camera with an infrared LED illuminator. The light was invisible to the human eye but the camera sensor had no problem with it.

Meanwhile Jessica moved to an old wooden filing cabinet. She found a folder marked ‘Design Drawings’ and spread the contents out on the adjacent desk to photograph. When she finished she replaced the folder and found two more labeled ‘EMP Gen Calculations’, which she also took pictures of. When she moved to a second desk she found papers summarizing the results of some sort of tests involving bugs and small animals, so she spent the next few minutes taking pictures of them. She didn’t sense Matt coming up behind her to look over her shoulder, so when she backed up from the desk she knocked him off balance. When he landed on the floor his butt made a muted ‘thump’. They both froze, waiting to see if anyone in the bedroom responded. After a minute Matt signaled Jessica that it was time to leave.

Adeen’s eyes sprang open at the sound. I know I heard something that time, and it came from downstairs. Is Brian back already? If he’s out with a woman he must not be spending the night in her bed. When she didn’t hear more sounds of Brian moving around she got suspicious. She slithered out of bed and over to the ladder for a look and saw two figures moving around. From their body shapes it looked like a man and a woman, and both were dressed in black. She crawled away from the hole and silently lifted a fire axe from its wall mount. With the axe ready to strike she crept down the ladder. Just as she reached the floor one of them turned toward her and said “Shit.”

Adeen yelled, “Stop where you are or I’ll split your head open!” Now they were both facing her. As they started edging backward toward the door Adeen took a step in their direction.

“I mean it! I’m good with this thing. I hit what I swing at. Down on the floor . . . NOW!”

The two intruders looked at each other, nodded their heads, and started to lay down. But the taller of the two pulled a gun from his holster him and aimed at her. Adeen was about to drop the axe and raise her hands when the gun fired. Something hit her in the chest. He shot me! The bastard shot me. As her knees buckled her last thought was I’m going to die.

As Brian drove up to the caboose he closed the Jeep door quietly. Adeen was probably asleep and he didn’t want to wake her. She was likely to start in with more questions about who he had dinner with. He quietly climbed the steps and opened the door. He left the lights off and walked softly across the floor, but almost tripped over something. What the hell? Did she leave something on the floor? He reached down to move it and felt something soft – a cushion from the couch? But as he tried to pick it up he realized it was a person – “Adeen?”

He reached for the lights and saw her in her laying on the floor. He quickly rolled her over to feel her carotid artery for a pulse, and was relieved when he found it strong. Then he saw something stuck to her chest. A wire dangled from it and connected to a small canister.

“A wireless Taser shell! Somebody shot her with a stun gun! What the?” She was still unconscious, so he gently extracted the projectile from her skin, carefully pulling each of he barbs out so it wouldn’t damage her skin more than necessary. Then he picked her up, laid her on the couch, and got a cool cloth for her forehead. How long has she been out? Taser effects usually wear off within fifteen minutes or so – it couldn’t have been too long. . . . Wait a minute? Whoever did this might still be here!

Brian jumped up and looked around the room. He found the fire axe on the floor and approached the bedroom door ready to swing it. He pushed the door open suddenly, but found an empty room. Then he ran out on the back deck and looked around outside. No sign of anyone. He heard Adeen moan so he rushed back to sit at her side. Her eye’s fluttered open and looked around in panic before they settled on Brian’s face. She sat up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank God you’re here. As she hugged him she began shaking, so he put his arms around her and pulled her close. She nestled her face against his neck in response. They sat like that for several minutes – well after the shaking subsided.

Finally he pushed her back. “What happened! Tell me everything you can remember.”

“ I was up in my bed, about to go to sleep. I . . . I thought I heard a noise downstairs – some kind of thump. I came down with the fire axe in my hand and there were two people dressed in black . . . it looked like a man and a woman. I cocked the axe for a swing and told them to get down on the floor . . . then . . . the big one drew a pistol and shot me. I thought he killed me.” Adeen nestled her face in his neck again and began crying softly. He held her until she was through then helped her to her feet.

“Let’s see what they took.” His eyes darted first to the EMP generator, and he breathed a sigh of relief. “At least that’s still here. I’ll have to examine it later to see if it’s been damaged.”

As they continued their survey of the room Adeen saw something. “My lab notebook is open to the last page I wrote in. I remember closing it before I went up to bed.”

“Did they have any cameras?”

“Not that I saw, but they were scrambling toward the door when I came down the steps.”

Brian thought for a minute. “Let me look around outside to see if they left any tracks behind.”

He came back a few minutes later. “They left boot prints coming down from the hill behind us and another set where they went back up again. On the other side of the hill were a set of tire prints – a pickup by the size of them. They also left a very expensive drone, an octocopter, behind. It has infrared sensors and low-light video cameras. They must have used it to scout things out before they came to the caboose, and were in too much of a hurry to get out of here to take it with them.”

“Maybe they left some fingerprints on it. We can take it to the police.”

“I wouldn’t bet on any fingerprints. These two seemed too professional to make that mistake. Besides, I don’t want to go to the police until we figure out who they were and who sent them. . . . I just don’t understand how they knew what we were doing here. No one but us knows about our tests here.”

“That’s a good question . . . Oh . . . Uh-oh. I sent some reports back to my Forestry Service contact.”

“You didn’t mention where my lab was, did you?”

“No, I just reported the results.”

“So how could someone know where it was sent from?”

Adeen’s face fell. “I think I screwed up. I sent them from your computer because my battery was dead.”

Brian threw his hands up in the air. “My computer is still registered to LANL. If a hacker somewhere intercepted your messages, he could trace the source back to me and LANL, and my caboose here isn’t exactly a secret. They could have gotten that from the LANL files. . . . Shit, shit, shit!”

“I’m sorry Brian. I didn’t think it would matter. . . . are you mad at me?”

“Yes! . . . No, not really. What’s done is done; there’s no use wasting anger on it. But we need to find out who‘s behind this. The work isn’t classified so I can’t see a foreign government being interested.”

Adeen breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t want Brian to be mad at her. Why do I care she asked herself.

Chapter 22 – The Bait

Eric Pearson was on his third bourbon on the rocks. He was thinking about his dwindling bank account and wondering when he would have to give up the good life and go back to work. As he took a sip of the Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof bourbon he wondered if he should switch to something cheaper. He had the same thoughts about the $400 a night Premier Suite at the Trump International Hotel. But in fact it wasn’t those expenses that were eating up his savings – it was the gambling.

He played high stakes poker in the back room with some of the world’s best, and when he beat one of them it gave him a real high. But he lost more than he won, and the few nights when he came away with a pile of cash, the pile wasn’t all that big. But it was big enough for him to delude himself into believing he was winning more than loosing. That’s why it was a surprise to him that his bank statements kept showing a steadily decreasing balance, which steadily increased his anxiety. But he found a solution to that – he quit opening his monthly bank statements. There was a stack of them unopened filling his in-basket.

One thing he had vowed never to give up was the string of attractive women passing into and out of his life. So now he kept his eyes open for his next live-in sex partner and when he found one he dumped his current bed mate to bring in the new one. As soon as one of them started nagging and trying to control him, she was out on the street. That’s where he was now – between women.

He had spent the last two weeks going from hotel to hotel looking for someone new to woo with lies about his fame as a scientist – a silent partner to Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they started Microsoft, the inventor of the cell phone, a developer of the latest high-tech military weapons, the chief engineer for Space-X, whatever came to mind at the time – and the wealth these positions brought him. Women with brains saw through these claims or checked him out on Google, but the shapely blondes closer to the bimbo end of the spectrum bought it hook, line and sinker. He would prefer smarter women, but they just weren’t gullible enough for him to create a connection with. It had been awhile so tonight, in the Surrender Nightclub at the Encore Resort, he was looking for a giggling, mindless, floozy to spend the night with.

Eric woke up alone in his bed. The woman he lured back to his room turned out to be a high-priced hooker. He sometimes wondered if he would ever find a relationship that was more than physical, but abandoned the thought when he realized he would not have full control. Eric was a controller, afraid of not being the one in charge. He often had nightmares about situations where he was helpless, where he couldn’t protect himself from punishment by a powerful woman.

He showered, then called room service to order breakfast – his usual steak, eggs, and a bloody mary with double vodka. As he sat out on the balcony eating, he thought back about his life since Akheem fired him from HDT, when he found out his plans for an EMP weapon, Allah’s Sword, would never work. As soon as Eric realized that he had nothing but his $62,000 savings to live on until he got another job, he sold the Porsche back to the dealer at a $17,000 loss. This left him with a little over $120,000, which he figured would last at least six months. So he booked a flight to Las Vegas to have a little fun before looking for a new job. But now he realized that, at the rate he was spending money, that six months had shrunk to three months or less. He was down to just over $100,000. When he lost his job at HDT his wife filed for divorce, which would add alimony and child support to his bills soon.

His thoughts moved to possible solutions. I could start sending out resumes. With my PhD and program management experience it shouldn’t take me long to land a job with a $200 k or better salary. But I’m having too much fun right now to quit. I can wait another month before I start a job search. If I take bigger risks at the poker table I can build up my reserve and stretch it out even longer.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. King were at the registration desk of the Las Vegas Trump International Hotel. He was a typical wealthy Texas businessman with a cowboy hat, snakeskin boots, and a crudeness that spoke of inadequate social upbringing. He was arguing with the desk clerk about the availability of a Penthouse Suite.

“I’m sorry Mr. King we have nothing left in a Penthouse, but I could put you in one of our Premier Suites. It has most of the amenities of a Penthouse, but it’s not as large.”

“Bobby Lee – call me Bobby Lee. And the misses here is Angela – Angie.”

“Yes sir. But we’re not permitted to use first names with our customers.”

“I have enough money in my bank back in Houston to buy this damn hotel, and you’re tellin’ me you can’t give us the room we want?”

“No sir. All of the Penthouse Suites available to the public are occupied. We have some opening up next week. I could give you a reduced rate on a Premier Suite until then.”

Bobby Lee used his index finger to push his Stetson back on his forehead. You said your ‘public’ penthouses were filled. That must mean you got some private penthouses that aren’t full. We’ll take one of those.”

“Those are available only to our VIP guests. We have two of those available, but I’m afraid that your name isn’t on the list of qualified VIPs.”

“We’ll see about that. I want to speak with the head of this place . . . NOW!”

Bobby Lee’s voice was getting loud enough to attract the attention of nearby guests.

The desk attendant looked around, a blush of embarrassment showing on her face. “Just a moment, sir. I’ll see of he’s available.”

“He damn well better be.”

His wife turned him to face her. “Honey, you have embarrassed that poor girl. Please calm down. Let me speak to the manager.”

The hotel manager appeared a few minutes later. “May I help you?”

Angela flashed him her sexiest smile and batted her eyes. “I really hope you can, sir. My husband and I flew in from Houston on a whim and didn’t have time reserve a room. We’re both tired and have been looking forward to spending our fifth anniversary week in a Penthouse Suite at your famous hotel.

“Let me make a call, ma’am. I think I might be able to help you.”

She increased the radiance of her smile. “I’m not a ma’am . . . call me Angie. And what’s your first name Mr. . . Brandon” as she read his nametag.

Her attention had flustered him. “Forest, ma’am – I mean Angie . . . but we’re not permitted to be on a first name basis with guests.”

“Sure, Forest. Whatever you say. Now would you check on that Penthouse for me?”

Thirty minutes later they were unpacking their luggage in the Vice Presidential Penthouse Suite. “You were spectacular, as usual, Jessie. You had poor Forest wrapped around you little finger.”

“It’s all part of the training, Matt. We’re the best at what we do. Col. Sokolov selected us from among the best and brightest young military officers, trained us in the skills we would need as sleeper agents, and made us indistinguishable from the average American couple. You played the blowhard Texas millionaire perfectly when we checked in.”

“The time at the Moscow Language Institute played a big part. When we left there, we could fit in anywhere in America or Great Britain with any regional accent. A couple thousand hours watching American movies and TV shows didn’t hurt either.

“O.K. Let’s get down to business. We tracked Pearson here by hacking his credit card and checking accounts, and saw how he was spending his money. Tapping into the casino records showed that he was loosing money at poker, and the jewelry purchases at the gift shop revealed his taste for women. So that’s where we’ll go after him – through his weaknesses.”

“The wouldn’t work for us without your skill as at cards. Was that part of your training?”

“No, I had an uncle who was a magician. He started teaching me his card tricks at an early age. During agent training I separated many of my classmates from their money.”

“Did they ever catch you at it?”

“No, I was too good. Even the training instructors never caught on. The key is to lose often enough so it doesn’t look suspicious. Lose the small pots but go after the big pots now and then. Since you build up your winnings slowly, and lose more hands than you win, no one sees what you’re doing.”

“Remind me never to play cards with you.”

“You have . . . and you lost . . . all your clothes.”

Jessica was sitting in the hotel lobby paging through the latest issue of Physics Today. The magazine was part of her persona as Angela King, a bright woman who understood science and technology. It also gave her some interesting topics to talk about with Eric later on. She had on a navy blue, form-fitting pants suit and had her blonde hair up in a French Twist to fit the other part of her new identity; a wealthy CEO of a high tech company. Matt was upstairs watching Pearson’s suite entrance from an alcove at the end of the hallway. They both had been in position for the past couple of hours, waiting for Pearson to head for the casino.

Jessie’s phone buzzed in her pocket. She answered like a no-nonsense business woman would. “Angela here.”

“He’s on his way down in Elevator 3.”

She answered “Got it,” and headed for the elevator with the magazine held against her body just below her breasts. That’s where Pearson would look first. All men did. She wanted him to see what she was reading.

As Elevator 3 reached the ground floor she was standing there waiting to get on. The doors opened and three people got off, but not Pearson. He was still in the elevator staring at her. She locked eyes with him and held it just long enough to entice him. As she stepped into the elevator Pearson started to leave, then snapped his fingers as if he forgot something and got back on. This is going to be easier than I expected Jessie thought.

They both waited in silence – she wanted him to open the conversation.

“Are you enjoying your stay here Miss?”

“Missus . . . and I just got in last night so I don’t know yet whether I will enjoy my stay.”

“Is your husband here on business?”

“I’m here on business. He’s just along for the ride.”

“Oh. What business are you in then?”

“Texas Hold ‘em.”

“So poker is your business?”

“Just for the next week. Then I have to get back to running my company.”

“What kind of company is it.”

“A high tech company that makes classified communications equipment for the Government.”

“That’s interesting. What kind of equipment?”

She gave him the standard answer for nosy questions about security issues; “If I told you I’d have to shoot you.” She delivered this with a stern voice and no hint of humor.

“I’m sorry. I have a Top Secret security clearance myself so I should have known better than to ask.”

She didn’t answer but looked straight at the door in front of her. Conversation over. As the elevator stopped at Eric’s floor he tried one more time. “I didn’t get your name Mrs. . . .”

“And you won’t . . . unless I see you at the high stakes poker game tonight.”

As the door closed he stood in front of it for several seconds. I can’t believe it! A beautiful, smart, rich woman who wants to play poker. I’m definitely going to the poker room tonight.

Matt met her as she got off the elevator in front of their penthouse. “Well, how did it go?”

“Perfectly. He re-defines the word gullible.”

“So you think he’ll be there tonight?”

“Absolutely. He’s hooked and I’m reeling him in.”

“How will you get him at your table?”

“Leave that to me.”

Jessica/Angela waited outside the casino until Matt called to signal Pearson was on his way, then went to the poker room attendant to be shown to a table. “I’m playing Texas Hold ‘Em tonight, and my companion will join me shortly. Can you put us at the same table across from each other? I like to watch his demeanor when I beat him – again.”

The attendant smiled. “Certainly, ma’am. Just signal me when he shows up.” She smiled back. “Thank you. You’re a dear.”

A few minutes later Eric Pearson showed up. Angela nodded to the attendant, who brought Eric to the reserved seat. I don’t believe it. We’re at the same table and I didn’t even have to bribe the attendant. With that kind of luck I’m definitely going to win big tonight.

As the attendant passed the bartender he leaned over and said, “That guy has been coming here for weeks, but this is the first time he brought his mistress. Can you believe a loser like him has a woman like her? Some guys have all the luck . . . with women anyway.”

As the evening moved along Angela made it a point to win moderately by making some obvious errors in her play. Eric was full of confidence, wanting to show off his poker skills, so he took more risks in his play. The combination paid off for him tonight; he was ahead almost $6,000. He wanted to cash out, but he couldn’t leave with her still at the table – he wanted to have a drink or two with her later and see where it might lead.

As if on cue (which of course it was) Angela collected the relatively small amount of her winnings and left the table to cash in her chips. Eric quickly did the same and followed her. He took a deep breath to fortify his courage and commented, “You did pretty well tonight.”

“Not as well as you, it seems . . . what’s your name?”

“Eric, Dr. Eric Pearson. And you promised to tell me your name if I showed up tonight.”

“It’s Angela. . . . Are you a medical doctor?”

“No, I have a PhD in Advanced Electronics.” He emphasized the PhD part to make it sound more important than a medical doctor.

Her response started like she was suitably impressed. “Wow. That’s high tech stuff . . . I have six of them working for me.”

That deflated him and he grappled for an opportunity to regain lost ground. “I’m going to have a drink in the lounge. Would you like to join me?”

She hesitated before answering, so Eric added “But I suppose you and your husband have plans for this evening.”

Angela gave a derisive laugh. “Ha, that’s a good one. We never have plans for the evening . . . or the night . . . or the day for that matter. We each do our own thing.”

“Oh, good. You can join me in the lounge then?”

“Sure, why not.”

Chapter 23 – Hook, Line, and Sinker

As they took a booth in the DJT Lounge someone else entered behind them and sat in a corner booth, out of their line of sight. He was well-groomed, dressed in casual but expensive clothes, ordered a scotch on the rocks, and opened a copy of Golf Digest. Every now and then he glanced up at the couple then went back to his reading.

The waitress came to Angela and Eric’s table and asked for their order.

“What are you having, Angela. It’s on me.”

“No it’s not. I buy my own drinks. . . . I’ll have a Courvoisier Cognac in a heated snifter.”

“Make mine a Tanqueray martini straight up.” Eric added.

They sat in silence until Eric could stand it no longer. “So . . . Where do you live?”

“Down near Houston.”

“Is that where your company is located?”

“Yes, it is.”

“You’re not easy to talk to, are you?”

“My mind is busy right now. Maybe after a drink or so I’ll loosen up”

“I’m patient. I’ll wait.”

She took a whiff of her cognac. “Until then you can do the talking. Tell me about yourself.”

“Well, after I got my PhD at MIT I developed a flight control computer for the Military.”

“Oh? I know most of that hardware. What was it called?”

“If I told you I would have to . . .”

“Yeah, I know. What have you done recently.”

If I want to lure her to my room I need to say something that will impress her, but with her background that’s hard to do. . . . “I developed and tested a new weapon technology for Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

“That’s impressive . . . go on.”

“If I told you I’d – oh, what the hell. You’re not a spy. It was an EMP weapon. EMP is . . . ”

“I know what it is, and what it can do to electronics, so what’s so special about your contribution?” Jessica had learned this much from the mission brief their handler sent them.

“My contribution! It would never have worked if it weren’t for me. I figured out a way to focus an EMP beam like a laser and destroy only the electronics of a specific target. With my advances in EMP theory it will be possible to stop a missile in mid-flight, or bring a selected airplane down. Why, the military applications are unimaginable.”

Jessica answered, “It sounds like you have as good a mind as mine – almost.” She let his ego deflate a bit before she threw him a bone. “But I think you’re smart enough to play some heads up Texas Hold ‘Em – one on one. You and me.”

Silent gratitude ran through his mind. How can I be so lucky. This woman hates her husband and wants to be alone with me at a poker table. It doesn’t get any better – unless we end up in bed together – frequently.

“I think I can work that in. When and where?”

“My suite, tomorrow morning at ten. We each bring $100,000 in casino chips

“Uh . . . one hundred thousand?”

“Yes. If that’s too rich for you I’ll find someone else.”

Eric thought, That’s all of my remaining money. . . . But I can’t pass up a chance like this. And she didn’t play all that well this afternoon. . . . I know I can beat her and leave with half of her money. “No, money’s not a problem for me.”

“I’ll have the house set up a poker table in my room.”

“And where is that?”

“I’ll send someone for you in the morning.” She drained the rest of her cognac and rose to leave. She handed him a card with her phone number on it. “If you decide you can’t afford it, give me a call and I’ll find someone else.” As she left the lounge the gentleman in the corner booth waited a few minutes, then followed her.

Jessica/Angelica was letting her hair down when the gentleman used his key to let himself into the suite. He came quietly up behind her and put his hands around her throat . . . gently. She leaned back for a kiss and a compliment.

“You played that perfectly, sweetheart. The businesswoman in control of the situation – getting him to think with his ego instead of his brain, and tell us what we wanted to know about the Los Alamos weapon. I’ll send an encrypted report to our handler, like I did with the photos from the caboose laboratory the other night.”

“Your new persona was so far removed from the Texas buffoon who checked in yesterday nobody will recognize you, not even the desk staff who watched your loud- mouthed performance.”

“Getting Pearson to fall for the one-on-one poker game gives us the perfect sucker setup. If we run it slowly, letting him win enough to believe he isn’t losing all that much, then taking him for all he’s worth in the end, we’ll have him just where we want him – ready to sell the secrets of the EMP weapon to Mother Russia. Col. Sokolov will give us a medal for this.”

“Yeah, that and five dollars will get us a cup of coffee. I’d rather have a cash reward – but that’ll never happen.”

By five-thirty the next afternoon Eric Pearson was, for all intents and purposes, broke. He had paid for his suite a month in advance, so he still had a place to live for now. And he had $1,300 left on his credit card before he hit the limit. Angela had cleaned him out.

He had expected to win big, and to win big you had to bet big. He won a lot at first, and that encouraged him to bet even more as they continued playing. Sometimes he would lose a large amount, only to win half of it back a few hands later. And he was doing it without betting on risky hands. But he didn’t keep track of wins and losses – he never did when he gambled. So once again his wishful thinking diverged more and more from reality, aided by Angela’s ego-building compliments when he won.

But half an hour earlier Angela declared that she had lost enough money for one day and proposed a final hand – $50,000 – straight poker, winner take all. Eric did a quick count of his remaining chips and was surprised to find how little he had left. He hesitated a minute before answering.

“I only have $32,000 left. Will you take a marker for the remaining $18,000?”

“How do I know you’re good for it?”

“I have ten times that amount in my investment account.”

“You better have it, because I have friends who know how to collect a debt for me. Cut the cards.”

As Angela dealt the cards Eric watched his accumulating hand build towards a royal flush – the holy grail of poker. All he needed for the final card was the jack of spades. Even if it wasn’t a spade, any suit would still give him an ace-high flush – almost unbeatable. He held his breath as he picked up the last card she dealt . . . a three of clubs – his hand was useless! When Angela laid down a full house he broke out in a cold sweat.

Angela smiled and said “Sometimes you just get lucky. How about another game tomorrow. I’ll give you a chance to win it back.”

“No, I . . . I have a business appointment tomorrow.”

“What time can you deliver the cash to cover your marker?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to contact my broker. Sometimes it takes a few days to convert investments into cash.”

“I want it by noon tomorrow. One of my ‘friends’ will come by your room to collect.”

Eric spent a sleepless night trying to come up with a way out of his predicament. I have no assets to sell or borrow against, no personal friends to ask for a loan, nothing. I’m screwed! . . . Wait a minute. Maybe Brian Callaghan can loan me something – probably not the whole thing, but enough to hold off the thugs for awhile. I’ll call him in the morning. . . . But what if he won’t help me? I need a plan B. He took out his Smart Phone and called the airport to book a seat on the earliest flight out of Las Vegas the next day. His credit card would cover it. He had no trouble finding a seat on a 7:25 flight out of McCarran, but when he entered his card number it was rejected. What’s going on. Yesterday I had $1,322 left and now the balance is $12. He went to the bank web site and found that there was a charge for $1,309.42 against his card at 5:21 p.m. yesterday, less that an hour after the poker game ended. He expanded the charge to see the transaction details; someone had purchased a poker table and eight chairs from Premier Game Accessories, Inc. He was trapped – he couldn’t leave town. He couldn’t even rent a car.

At 7:03 a.m. Eric dialed Brian Callaghan’s cell phone number, praying that he would answer. After eight rings the call went to voice mail. Eric’s voice took on a friendly, good ole buddy character. “Brian! It’s Eric. How’re you doing? Hey, I have something to talk to you about – a big opportunity. Give me a call ASAP would you?”

An hour went by with no word from Brian, so Eric called again. “It’s me again. I really need to talk to you right away. It’s important; really important. Call me back as soon as possible.”

Twenty minutes later Eric’s phone rang. He answered before the second ring. “Eric Pearson here. Is this Brian?”

“Yeah, it’s me. What’s so important that it couldn’t wait a day or two. We’re working on an important issue here and I don’t have time for trivial conversation.”

Eric had rehearsed his side of the conversation several times while waiting for Brian’s call. “After I left the project I started a new career as an investment broker. With the probability and statistics background I picked up as an engineer I found that I have a real gift for applying it to the investment market. I’ve made millions for my clients by picking short-term, fast growth companies to invest their money in.”

“Please get to the point Eric.”

“I just found out about a new stock offering that’s going to go through the roof as soon as it goes public, which will happen at close of business today. It’s such a solid opportunity that I wanted to give you the opportunity to get rich overnight.” Eric was talking fast so Brian wouldn’t interrupt again. “All the initial shares are spoken for, but I held back a block for you – a thousand shares at $39 per share. All I need is $39 k from you this morning to close the deal. You can wire me the money . . .”

Brian was losing his patience. “I don’t do investments and I don’t have that kind of money laying around, so I’m not interested.”

Eric’s voice took on a tone of desperation. “But you have to take the offer. . . . I already bought the shares for you. If you don’t I’m out of pocket on the deal, and if I can’t cover it by noon today I’ll lose my job at . . . Goldman Sachs.”

“So – go back to engineering. You have a good record there.”

Eric tried to put a guilt trip on Brian. “My professional record was terrific until you screwed up on the EMP project. Now my reputation is shot and no one will hire me. You owe me this favor.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten in to you Eric, but I’m not interested in what you’re selling. Find someone else to sweet talk into bailing you out. Goodbye .”

When Brian hung up on him panic set in. He broke out in a cold sweat and his heart was racing. Shit! I’m in big trouble here. I have less than five hours before she sends her goons to collect. And what will happen when I tell them I don’t have it? Will they beat me up? Break my fingers, or my arms, or legs? Torture me? Maybe I can stall them if I tell them the funds are on the way . . . but they’ll just show up tomorrow to collect. With no money or credit I can’t even move to another hotel until she leaves town. What can I do? . . . I need a drink. At least the bar will put it on my tab.

Eric was still in the lounge drinking just after noon when Angela and a big guy with a mean look showed up. Eric looked up, smiled at him and said, “Hey there muscles. You must be Angela’s body guard” as he reached out to shake hands. The only response he got was a scowl.

“No, he’s my enforcer. I don’t need a body guard; I can take care of myself.”

“Then what do you need him for, sweetheart?”

“He has certain skills I lack – the ability to inflict maximum pain with minimal visible damage.”

Eric laughed at that. “Well it’s a good thing I’m in a public place where he can’t practice his skills.”

“You’re drunk! We’ll have to take you upstairs to sober you up. Pain is an amazing way to focus the mind.” She nodded to her enforcer, who grabbed Eric’s arm. As he tightened his grip Eric felt a sharp prick in his bicep. He tried to pull away but the grip tightened even more. He was about to say something loud when a funny feeling overwhelmed him. He tried again to speak but nothing came out. His jaw wasn’t working right and his tongue kept getting tangled in his teeth. As he started to slump into unconsciousness the woman grabbed his other arm and they lifted him out of his chair. The man supported Eric’s weight with an arm around his back and led him out of the lounge with his feet dragging. As they passed the waiter Angela said, “Damn fool never could hold his liquor.”

Chapter 24 – The Word Spreads

Two days later Col. Sokolov opened the latest diplomatic pouch from the Russian Consulate in Denver. The enclosed flash drive stick contained two encrypted files. The first one told him that, after Pearson regained consciousness from the tranquilizing drug, he was threatened with loss of some fingers if he didn’t pay the gambling debt he owed a disguised Jessica Pauling. Once he was sufficiently terrorized, he was offered enough cash to pay his debt, along with a monthly stipend to cover his living expenses at the Trump hotel if he would provide them with the complete design of the EMP weapon. The offer came with a threat that if any of the information he provided turned out to be fake, he would be ‘terminated.’ The exact meaning of that word was left to Pearson’s imagination.

Sokolov thought about the impact the payments would have on his budget, but he considered the information Pearson provided – complete design drawings of the EMP beam weapon the Americans were working on at Los Alamos – worth what it was costing him.

The second report was about a Los Alamos scientist named Callaghan. It seems that the lead scientist on the EMP weapon project has left the team and is now working out of an old caboose near Santa Fe with a biologist, Dr. Adeen Reilly . . . Reilly! She’s the one who wrote the report we intercepted. According to what his spies collected, they were using a scaled down version of the EMP weapon in tests involving an assortment of insects and small animals

After reading the copy of Dr. Reilly’s notebook Feliks shook his head slowly. “I don’t know what to make of this Colonel. Apparently Brian Callaghan is no longer working on the EMP weapon he developed and wants to see if a much smaller version can be used as an exterminator to sterilize female insect eggs – an unbelievably expensive approach compared to chemical pesticides. And I have no idea what it has to do with rats and rabbits. It almost seems like it was made up.”

“That’s it Feliks! All the talk about a Forest Service project was a subterfuge. The U.S. Government wants us to believe they have abandoned the weapons program by putting the inventor to work on something meaningless. It’s all a deception. They must have reconstructed the device that was removed from the Los Alamos canyon in a secret laboratory somewhere. We must find it so we can sabotage their work. With the design information we got from Eric Pearson we can build our own, but they have a huge head start.”

Feliks didn’t believe Col. Sokolov’s conclusion, but he knew better than to disagree with his boss. “That makes sense, sir. Another one of America’s tricks. . . . How do you plan to find this secret facility?”

“We will have to question Callaghan, and Dr. Reilly. They know everything about the project.”

“Yes, but why would they tell us?”

“We have people who are experts at persuading people to talk.

Lt. Col. Marcus Wright had forgotten about the earlier notice about a New Mexico biologist who was using a low power EMP generator to eradicate pine beetles until he got an update from NSA. She had sent another progress report to her contact at the Forestry Service, which renewed his interest in Dr. Reilly’s work. When he saw how she had expanded her research to include other insect species and even some small mammals he thought that she might be onto something that could benefit agricultural pest eradication needs. None of this had any military applications that he could see, so he scanned the rest of the report. As he reached the last page his mind jerked him back a couple of pages to reread a paragraph about the effectiveness of the EMP in sterilizing the human ovum. The power levels were too low to have any effect on the rest of the body, but they were high enough to sterilize all the eggs in a woman’s ovaries.

His mind worked on this for several minutes until the realization hit him. EMP from aircraft, drones, or even satellites could be used to reduce the birth rate in selected areas! And that could be used to reduce overpopulation in crowded, economically depressed countries. The beauty of it is that no one would know why they weren’t having any more babies – only the agency controlling the airborne EMP program. Countries like Haiti, India, and even China would give anything to get this technology.

His next thought was to put lid on Dr. Reilly’s work immediately, before anyone else found out about it. He picked up the phone and dialed his assistant.

“Capt. Rowan, I want all information concerning Dr. Reilly’s research on EMP pest control classified Top Secret. Make sure you get all the emails and correspondence between the NSA and our office included.”

“I’ll have to gather everything she sent to the Forest Service. . . . What about Dr. Reilly’s work in New Mexico. We’ll need to shut that down and confiscate their files and equipment. But that will require approval from SecDef to go after them, and that could take a week or more.”

“I want it done immediately, Captain! Do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

“Yes Sir.”

Chapter 25 – Airborne

Brian poured two cups of coffee and took them out to the back porch of the caboose. They sat there for several minutes watching the line between the dawn’s early light and shadow cross the Rio Grande valley towards them.

Adeen broke the silence. “This is so peaceful, Brian. I love to just sit and take in God’s handiwork.”

“Me too. . . Here’s a question to ponder. Did God create things to be beautiful – or did he simply create a mind that sees things as beautiful. In other words, is beauty inherent in the world around us or is the beauty an interpretation of our minds.”

“I don’t think there’s an answer, but a professor I had in college said something that I haven’t forgotten. ‘Without resonance of the human spirit, beauty cannot exist.’ So I guess his opinion was that the beauty comes from within us, not from the outside world.”

“That’s like the old question ‘If a tree falls in the forest with no one around, does it make a sound?’ It all depends on how the word sound is defined. The tree certainly makes the air vibrate with acoustic waves, but we can choose to say that it’s not sound until it is perceived.”

“It’s too early in the morning for heavy thinking. Let’s talk about where we go from here, Brian.”

“Well, it would be nice to know who broke into my lab and tasered you, but unless they come back for another visit I don’t see how to move forward on that question. I’m going to carry a gun from now on in case they return. I have a small Beretta semi-automatic that fits in my jacket pocket. How about you? Have you got a handgun of some sort.”

“No, but I keep a canister of long-range pepper spray in my purse.”

“That will work. Just keep it close by.”

“So what’s next in our research?”

“I’ve been thinking about that and came up with an idea. Since we now have the octocopter the intruders left behind I want to modify Zeuslet to mount onto the copter. Then we can take it up to a pine beetle infested area near Los Alamos and zap some pine beetles with it to see if our airborne idea works.”

“Great idea, Brian. How long will it take to get it working?”

“Two, maybe three weeks. I don’t have to do much to the generator, but I’ll have to find a high capacity battery to power it and figure out how to turn it into a revolver.”

“Revolver?”

“Yeah, like a pistol, so the copter can carry multiple EMP canisters and fire them one at a time. I’ll draw up the design today and get the parts ordered. How about you? What do you have planned?”

“I have to get back to teaching my classes, but the spring semester ends next month so I can spend most of my time this summer over here working on our research. If the airborne tests go well I should be able to get a big grant from the Forest Service to build a bigger generator and fly it in a full-sized helicopter.”

“Sounds like a plan. Let’s get started.”

Three weeks later Brian had the airborne version of the EMP generator completed and ready for its first flight. They decided that Adeen would pilot the eight-armed drone because she knew what forest areas to target. While Brian was building the generator she spent her spare time learning to fly it. It was difficult at first because of all the controls that had to be balanced out, but she eventually figured it out. The copter had a powerful on-board computer that took much of the workload, returning it to stationary flight whenever the operator let go of the controls, and automatically returning it to land at the point it started from.

Brian’s generator design consisted of eight canisters mounted on a wagon wheel type frame that hung below the copter. The biggest problem he faced was how to include the high-voltage circuit that charged the canisters before firing. The circuit and large battery it required added too much weight to the copter. He finally came up with an elegant solution – he would charge the canisters from a generator on the ground before flight.

They both woke up early on first-flight day, eager to find out if their airborne tests would work. Brian had loaded everything into his Jeep SUV the night before, so after a quick breakfast they climbed in and set out for Los Alamos. Brian was glad he bought the unlimited version of the Wrangler. The octocopter wouldn’t have fit in anything smaller.

“This is where we have an ‘Aw shit!’ moment.”

Adeen asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s where you are almost at your destination and remember something you forgot to bring.” They looked at each other and said in unison “Aw shit!” They laughed together at that and started chatting about what they would do with all the money the new grant would bring in. As they turned off the highway to follow a dirt road up to the launch site Brian had chosen, they were too busy talking to notice a camo-painted off-road van that took the same turn. The road had lots of curves so the trailing vehicle was able to hang back and stay out of sight. The two occupants were dressed in hunters’ camo clothing; the rifles in the back completed their disguise as deer hunters.

After climbing one last steep slope the terrain flattened out to reveal a large clearing – an area called Camp May. They were both a little stiff from the two hour ride and stretched to loosen up their cramped muscles. Brian glanced over at Adeen and got a profile view of her in a straight vertical stretch, with her baggy clothes pulled tight across her bosom and butt. She has a beautiful figure. Why does she hide it? Adeen felt someone watching her, with that sixth sense some have, and turned her head toward him. He quickly looked away and blushed with embarrassment.

“O.K. Let’s get set up,” Brain said as he took the drone out and started to assemble it. “Grab the EMP revolver and put it on the ground.”

“Where? Next to the truck?”

“No, set it up fifty feet away. I don’t want it crashing into my Jeep. I don’t think my insurance covers drone attacks.”

Adeen’s first reaction to his comment was to get angry because it showed his lack of trust in her flying ability. Stop thinking like that. He was just trying to be cautious. “How about over here?”

“That’s good, Adeen. Right there. Help me carry the octocopter over to it.”

“Yes, sir,” she answered, a little too defensively.

Damn. There she goes again, taking everything I say as an attack on her abilities. Then she surprised him. “I’m sorry Brian. I didn’t mean to say it that way. I’m working on my people skills, but it’s a struggle.”

“I appreciate that. I need to tone down my own responses. . . . I read a quote once that said, ‘Don’t react . . . reflect and respond.’ I need to do a lot more of the reflecting before I respond.”

“Me too.”

They held each others’ gaze for a moment, then Brian said “Let’s get this monster off the ground.”

After Brian connected the high voltage output from the ground station and charged the eight EMP generators he stepped back and said, “ 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Blast off.” Adeen reved up the motors and they both watched as it climbed quickly to an altitude of 1,000 feet above them. Adeen tweaked the motor angles and watched it move slowly to the left. She stopped it and did the same move to the right. “Drone is airborne and stable, Capt. Kirk. Awaiting orders.”

Brian grinned at her and pointed to the first area marked on the map they had brought. Adeen banked the drone to the left and aimed it toward the GPS coordinates of the first test site. When the GPS read out showed it was over the site she looked at Brian. “Well, here goes,” and pressed the EMP generator firing button. With the drone only a mile away from their location they heard the explosion of the first EMP cartridge lighting off. Adeen watched the video screen closely, trying to stabilize the wild movements of the drone caused by the explosion. It took her several seconds, but she finally regained control.

“I can see one design change we need on the next model. The cartridges have to be directly under the drone’s center of gravity to keep the explosives from knocking it off it’s vertical axis. Are the controls responding normally?”

“Yeah, everything is back to normal flight. Heading for site number two.”

Adeen moved the drone a mile to the right of the previous shot and lined it up with GPS for the next firing. Ka-Boom! Adeen was able to right the craft sooner this time since she knew what to expect. She started to move it to site number three when the crack of a rifle shot rang out and echoed through the trees.

Chapter 26 – On the Run

The men who had followed them were hiding in the brush a thousand yards from the launch site. They watched the drone soar into the sky, then shoot off in their direction. It stopped just beyond their location, paused for a few seconds. Then one of the cylinders hanging below the copter exploded. The two men dove to the ground instinctively –people in their profession have programmed that response into their mind and body.

After a minute went by without another explosion one of the men jumped to his feet. “They know we’re here. They sent an armed drone to kill us! We need to get out of here. . . now!” As they started back down the trail there was another explosion. They hit the ground again, anticipating the impact of some sort of projectile. When none hit near them one of them shouldered a high-powered rifle, drew a bead on the drone copter, and squeezed off three rounds. The aircraft shot off to one side, stabilized for a moment, then slowly settled to the ground.

“Come on. We have to capture Callaghan before they get away.”

When he heard the unmistakable sound of a high powered rifle, Brian pushed Adeen to the ground and covered her with his body. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Those were rifle shots. They might be aimed at us.”

“I can take care of myself, thank you!”

“Lie still until see who’s shooting and at what.”

Adeen peeked out from under Brian to see the drone level out, then settle to the ground near the target area for the last EMP shot.

“Why didn’t the drone fly back here like it was programmed to do?”

“They weren’t shooting at us. They shot the drone down. They might come for us next. Gather everything up and put it in the Jeep.”

Thirty seconds later they were both climbing into his Wrangler when another shot rang out. Brian felt the right front tire give out as air hissed out of it. He dragged Adeen out the driver’s door and started for the line of trees on the hill above them. Two more shots hit the dirt on either side of them.

When they got to the line of trees Brian stopped behind a tree long enough to draw his pistol and fire a shot over their heads. Both attackers ducked behind a rock, so he turned back up the slope and caught up to Adeen.

“That should slow them down a bit.” Just after he said it they heard another rifle shot and a bullet whizzed overhead. Brian jerked her behind a tree. He peeked around the trunk and saw the attackers leave their cover and start back up the hill.

“I’ll fire another shot. When they duck into cover you run as fast as you can to the top of the ridge and take cover. A couple more shots should keep them under cover until I can get to you.”

“Then what? We’ll be sitting ducks up there.”

“We’ll figure that out when we get there. You cross over the ridge to the other side where they can’t see you.”

Brian leaned out from the tree and shot in their direction while Adeen rushed up the last fifty yards and crossed the top of the ridge at a full run. Brian popped off two more rounds and followed her. As he crossed the ridge he had to dig his heels in to keep from going over a sharp drop off. He looked down for Adeen, expecting to see her unconscious at the rocky bottom, but she wasn’t there. He called her name out as loud as he could without alerting their pursuers to their location.

“I’m down here. There’s a hollow in the rocks. But I hurt my ankle in the fall.”

Brian looked to the left and found a way around the cliff to get to her. She had pushed herself back into a large space in the rock face, out of sight from above. Brian joined her.

“How bad is your ankle?”

She answered through gritted teeth, “I don’t think its broken but it hurts like hell. I don’t think I can walk on it.”

Brian thought through their options and settled on a course of action. “When they get to the top of the ridge and can’t find us, they’ll probably go back to the Jeep and wait, so we can’t go back there any time soon. I know of a hunting cabin not far from here. Once they give up looking we’ll go to the cabin and wait while I see what I can do about your ankle. The Forest Service maintains the cabin for anyone who wants to hunt in this area, so there might be some bandages there.”

“Those clouds overhead are getting blacker by the minute. I think we’re in for some rain.”

As if on cue a loud crack of thunder startled them, followed by a sudden heavy downpour. “This should send them back down the hill. We can stay dry here until the rain quits.”

A few minutes later they had to change their plans when the wind shifted and blew the rain directly into their faces. Brian stood up, helped Adeen to her feet, put her arm over his shoulder for support, and lumbered toward the cabin. It took them almost half an hour to get there with Adeen’s injury, so they arrived soaked to the bone.

Brian helped Adeen through the door and sat her in a chair in front of the fireplace. “I need to get a fire going. It’s getting late and the nights up here get cold. I saw a woodpile under the porch. While he was getting the firewood Adeen looked around the sparsely furnished cabin. It was one room with two beds, two wooden chairs, and a small cast iron stove set under some shelves. The shelves held a few cans of food, two rough wool blankets, and a stack of newspapers.

When Brian came back with an armload of wood he saw her taking stock. “It’s not exactly the Ritz, but it will keep us warm and dry until tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? We’re not staying overnight are we?”

“It will be dark soon and we don’t want to be wandering around out there looking for the Jeep. We’ll wait for morning and hope your ankle is better.”

“Can’t we just call someone?”

“I checked. There’s no cell phone service up here. So we’re stuck for the night.”

“I guess the old beds will be okay . . . but where’s the bathroom.”

“Out the door and to the left. You can’t miss it. It’s the small building with the half moon carved in the door.”

“You mean an outhouse?”

“Yep. That’s the one.”

“I’ll wait, but I’m freezing.”

“Let me get the fire going.” He wrinkled up some newspapers, laid some kindling on them, then made a teepee of larger wood over that. He took a box of wooden matches from beside the stove and lit the paper. Ten minutes later the cabin was gathering warmth from a blazing fire.

“Okay, it’s time to get out of these wet clothes.”

“What?!

“We have to hang our clothes in front of the fire to dry. We’ll never get warm with wet clothes on.”

“I’m not going to strip with you in the room!”

“I didn’t say get naked. But our wet outer clothes have got to come off. I’ll wait on the porch while you undress and wrap a blanket around you.Yell when it’s safe to come in.”

Adeen sat there for a couple of minutes after Brian left. If he’s he planning to take advantage of me this would be his opportunity . . . But he’s right. We’ll never get warm in these soaked clothes. She glanced out the window to make sure he wasn’t peeking, hobbled to a corner with her back to the door, and peeled off her clothes. She muttered to herself. When she was down to her long underwear bottoms and bra she wrapped a blanket around her, laid on a bed, and hollered for Brian.

Brian wasn’t uncomfortable undressing with her in the room. She turned away from him, but thought I wonder what he looks like without his clothes. She was trying to imagine that when Brian pulled a chair up at the foot of her bed.

“Turn onto your back and let me have a look at ankle.” She slid the blanket up to her chin and rolled over. She tried to hide her surprise when she saw him naked from the waist up with a blanket wrapped around his hips. Yep. Pretty much what I imagined.

“Give me your ankle.” Brian tenderly touched it looking for painful areas, then tentatively flexed it this way and that.

“Ow! That hurts.”

“Sorry. . . . It seems like you pulled some ligaments on the outside of your foot. The good news is that there’s very little swelling so the internal damage is probably minimal. Stay off of it until morning, then I’ll tear some strips off the blanket to bind it. That should get us back to the Jeep.”

Okay. . . .but I need to pee. How do I get to the outhouse without walking on my ankle and getting soaked?”

Brian gently slipped her wool socks back on her feet, put his arms under her knees and neck and lifted her off the bed. “What are you doing!”

“I’m carrying you to our luxury bathroom.”

The blanket fell open at the top so Adeen crossed her arms over her bra to hide her almost nakedness. “Don’t look.”

“I already did. You have an attractive body.”

She blushed crimson. “How dare you!.”

“Still can’t take a compliment, huh. . . . And I saw you looking at me before you turned your head, so we’re even.”

She relaxed a bit in his arms. Actually this feels pretty good. . . . Why do I keep pushing him away?

Brian held her a little closer. She feels good against me. . . . It would be nice if we could have a closer relationship?. . . But something makes her keep her distance. Maybe I’m not her type.

Back in the cabin Brian started a small fire in the stove and looked to see what he could heat up for dinner. “Fortunately some hunters left a few canned goods behind, but there’s not much of a choice. . . . Campbell’s baked beans, chicken noodle soup, and two cans of tomato soup. What can I fix you?”

“You pick what you want Brian, then I’ll choose.”

“No, you pick first. I don’t want to eat your favorite.”

“The old ‘ladies first’ routine doesn’t work for me. I owe you for dragging me to the cabin, so you pick first.”

“Alright, I’ll take a tomato soup.”

“That solves your dilemma since there are two of them. I’ll take the chicken noodle.”

Brian rummaged around on the top shelf and found a rusty boy-scout style can opener and some plastic spoons. He opened the cans and set them on the stove to heat.

“No bowls or cups, so we’ll have to eat out of the cans.”

He folded some strips of newspaper to wrap around the hot cans and brought them over to her bed. He sat in the chair while they ate and chatted.

“When I was a little girl my mom always made chicken noodle soup when I was sick. There’s something comfortable about it.”

“For me it was tomato soup and grilled cheese. But it had to be Velveeta cheese. Cheddar doesn’t melt smoothly.”

Adeen was sitting up in bed with the blanket just above her breasts. When she looked up she caught Brian looking at her again. She only blushed a little this time.

“Sorry.”

“That’s okay. I’m just self conscious about my body. I used to be fat in high school. My only social life was in the library, alone with books.”

“I can’t imagine you fat. Not with the figure you have now. . . . What kind of books?”

“Oh, mostly science books – biology, physics, biographies of the great scientists of the past. But I read romance novels now and then.”

“That was the same for me – except for the romance novels. The quest to go into space was my favorite topic.”

They sat in silence for awhile, enjoying the fire. “What do we do now, Brian?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet. First we need to find out who is after us . . . and why. I can’t imagine our work with insects is of interest to anyone at this stage. . . . Do you think the two chasing us today were the same ones who broke into the caboose?”

“No, I don’t think so. I got a look at them, not a good look, but it seemed like they were both heavy set men. Why would they be after us? Were they trying to kill us?”

“I don’t think so. They had a good shot at us before we saw them. They could have kill us then if they wanted to.”

Adeen thought for a minute. “If they didn’t want us dead they must want us alive . . . but why?”

“To get information from us I guess – about our work. Which isn’t worth much – at least not yet. It will take a year or two to come up with a system for commercial use.”

“Let’s assume that it’s not the bug zapper they’re after. What else do we know that someone would go to that much trouble and risk to get their hands on? Nothing I’m doing at the university is noteworthy.”

“The only important thing I know about is Zeus – the full-sized weapon EMP device. But that idea didn’t work. . . . Maybe whoever is after us doesn’t know that. I was working for DARPA on that, so they should be the only ones who know it failed.”

“Okay. So pretend it did work. Who would want to steal the technology?”

“Pretty much any foreign government, even those friendly to the U.S. But the unfriendly ones – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – would be more likely to harm us to get the information. There are even other branches of the U.S. Government that could be after what I know.”

“So we’re still clueless. Let’s sleep on it and talk some more tomorrow.”

Brian answered “Good idea” as he put the last of the wood on the fire. Adeen slid down in her bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. “Good night, Brian.”

“G’night. Wake me if you need anything.”

It was early morning, before daylight, when Adeen woke up shivering. The fire had burned down to ashes and embers – not enough to get some fresh firewood burning anytime soon. Adeen considered her options and realized she only had one. She dragged the blanket off the bed, limped over to Brian’s bed, and put her blanket over his to provide more warmth. Then she lifted the covers and quietly slid in behind Brian. The shivering didn’t stop so she snuggled up to Brian’s warm back, hoping he wouldn’t awaken.

Brian thought he was having a dream where some cold, shivering person had crawling up his back. It took his sleep-drugged mind a minute or two to realize that it was Adeen pressed against him.

What should I do here? She’s pretty cold, but if I roll over and wrap her in my arms to get her warm she might think I’m coming on to her. I better just lay still and pretend I don’t know she’s there. . . . That’s hard to do with her pressed against my back like that. I would really like to hold her to me. His imagination went to work on that scenario and how it might play out until he finally drifted back to sleep.

Adeen woke up the next morning snuggled up to Brian’s back with her arm draped over his torso. It took her only a second or two to realize where she was and how she got there. Oh my God. I didn’t think this through last night. I’ve got to get back to my own bed before he wakes up. She slowly withdrew her arm from around his waist

“Oh good. You’re awake. I have to pee and I didn’t want to wake you by getting up.”

Adeen’s face turned scarlet as she pushed herself away from him. “Don’t turn over, I’m not dressed.”

“Really?”

“That’s not what I meant, so don’t get any ideas. I . . . I got cold when the fire went out and came over here to get warm. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Gee, I was hoping you did mean something by it.”

“Wh . . . what did you say?”

“You must know I’ve have feelings for you. I was hoping you did too.”

Through a flash of anger Adeen answered “I haven’t done anything to attract you. How could you think I felt anything for you?”

“I know. You’ve done just the opposite. Keeping me at arms length, wearing clothes that hide your figure, getting angry at things I say – like just now. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part.”

“Wishful thinking. Really? You want me to be attracted to you?”

“Yes, but apparently our conversation here screwed that up.”

After a few minutes of silence she put her hand on Brian’s arm. “I am attracted to you, Brian. I just didn’t see any future in a relationship when we’ll be going our separate ways when the project is over.”

“We have the here and now to enjoy, Adeen – if you will loosen up a bit. Your anger is like a spring trap, waiting for the least little disturbance to set it off. What’s behind that?”

Another long silence. “I was assaulted by a boy when I was in college. It left some scars and negative feelings about men. I’ve been trying to get past it . . . because I don’t want to hurt you. But it’s difficult to shut down an automatic reaction like that.”

Brian rolled over to face her. “I’m sorry about what happened, Adeen. I’ll try to be more understanding and patient – and not take it personally when you get mad.”

That brought tears to her eyes. “Would you hug me Brian? I’m badly in need of a hug right now.”

Brian wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “We’ll take our time letting this relationship grow. There’s no hurry. Just knowing that you care for me is enough for now. . . . Speaking of now, lets get some clothes on and see if we can get you back to the Jeep.

Brian found a sturdy stick Adeen could use as a crutch so their trip up the hill and down to his vehicle went quicker than they expected. Brian helped her into the Jeep and was getting into the driver’s side when he remembered the octocopter.

“I don’t want to leave the octocopter behind. I’ll go look for it.”

“I think it went down over there . . . no, more to the left.”

“Here it is. As soon as I get it disassembled and in the back of the Jeep we’ll head out of here.”

Chapter 27 – Hands Up!

On the way back to Santa Fe they talked about where the project should go from here.

“Is it safe for us to go back to the caboose, Brian? If those men are still after us we should go into hiding.”

“I don’t think it’s time for that yet, but we do need plans to disappear at the next sign of trouble. My house or your place won’t work. They probably already know where we live. Any ideas?”

“Maybe . . . It sure was cozy at the cabin. Maybe we could go back there?”

Brian smiled. “It’s tempting, but we need a place with internet, phone access, and food.”

“How about an out-of-the-way motel with WiFi?

“No, even if we pay cash they have to run a credit card in case we damage the room or steal some towels. Speaking of cash, we won’t be able to use an ATM either. It’s too easy to trace. We’ll need to get plenty of cash before we run.”

“I have a couple of thousand in my bank account.”

“Money is no problem for me. I can get the cash.”

She looked at him quizzically, but he wasn’t going to say any more about that.

“I can take care of that when we’re back in Santa Fe. And I can stop by my place to pack some clothes and other essentials . . . like more weapons and ammunition. Can you shoot a gun?”

“I was hunting in the hills before I was twelve. Like the song says “I can skin a deer and run a trot line. Country girls can survive.”

Brian laughed at that.

After Brian picked up his guns and packed extra clothing into a large backpack they drove back to the caboose. The first thing they did was check to see if anything had been disturbed by anyone while they were gone. Everything in the lab looked undisturbed and, as he poked his head up into the cupola he reported, “Nothing up here either. I guess the bad guys from the mountain chase haven’t shown up. But they might, so we need to be on our guard.” Before backing down the ladder he looked at the bed where Adeen had been sleeping. That’s not wide enough for the two of us, he thought. Neither is my downstairs bed. I hope we can spend some more time together in a bed, but not on those beds. Maybe I can bring that double air mattress in from the truck and blow it up on the floor.

Back down in the lab Adeen was closing up a small suitcase with her necessities. He put her bag in the back of the Jeep along with his back pack, extra guns, and his laptop computer. He had filled up the gas tank on the way through Santa Fe, so he was ready to hit the road whenever they needed to.

When he stepped back into the caboose Adeen met him with a glass of wine in each hand and a smile. “Care to join me on the back porch?”

“If this is the new you, I could get used to it!.” He put his arm around her shoulders and walked her out to the rear platform of the caboose. Adeen moved closer and gave him a hip bump. It may not seem like much, but to Brian it was an intimate gesture. They sat on folding chairs that just fit side-by-side on the narrow platform. They both enjoyed the enforced closeness as the held hands and exchanged highlights of their personal histories. The laughter and empathy they shared drew them closer by the minute . . . until their tête-à-tête was rudely interrupted by the sound of four cars sliding to a stop on the gravel parking lot in front of the caboose.

Before Brian could get to his feet two men with FBI logos on their jackets appeared in front of them with guns drawn. They could hear two others crashing through the caboose back door behind them.

“FBI. Hands in the air! Get down here . . . Now!”

Brian wasn’t easily intimidated. “I’ll have to see some identification first, gentlemen. Those FBI jackets can be ordered from a dozen places on the internet.”

The one apparently in charge – the one who ordered them down off the porch – repeated his order.

“Federal Law requires you to provide identification when confronting an American citizen. So unless you want to break the law, we’re leaving.”

FBI Agent Michael McCall was really pissed. He knew Callaghan was right, but he hated to have his authority challenged, especially with his men watching. But he couldn’t see a way out of this, so he reached into his jacket pocket and took out his ID wallet. He held it out toward Callaghan, but the bastard wouldn’t meet him halfway, so he had to walk up to the porch and hand it to him. He tried his best to convey his anger through his eyes, but it didn’t seem to be working.

Brian took the ID and looked at took his time scrutinizing it. Then he handed it to Adeen. “I’m not sure that’s him in the photo. What do you think?”

Adeen was initially terrified, but when Brian handed her the wallet she relaxed and played along. “I see what you mean.” She looked at agent McCall and asked, “When were you born?”

“It’s on there, lady!”

“Yes, but if you are an imposter, you might not have read the birth date on the ID.”

Brian had a difficult time keeping a straight face.

“14 May 1981.” McCall shouted.

Adeen choked back a smile. “I guess it’s really him, Brian,” as she handed the ID back to the agent.

As she and Brian walked down the steps he asked “What’s this about, Agent McCall?”

“This facility and everything in it is now part of a Top Secret program and declared under the control of the United States Department of Defense. Both of you will be briefed on the classification directive and read into the program.”

Brian was still in a mood to give him a rough time. “How are you going to read us into the program; we are the program. No one else knows anything about what we’re doing. We should be reading you in.”

“Quit being a smart ass, Callaghan. I’m just doing my job.”

“Okay. You can read me in. I have a Top Secret clearance. But you can’t read Dr. Reilly in until she gets a security clearance of her own. And that will take at least a month. Until then she’s free to discuss our project with anyone she wants to.”

“Not if I have her put in isolation until the clearance comes through.”

“Alright. I give up. Go ahead and tell us what we can’t tell anyone else.”

McCall replied, “Uh, there’s a problem with that. You can only be briefed by Lt. Col. Marcus Wright and he’s tied up in an important meeting can’t get here until Friday. ”

“That’s fine. Come back when he shows up. Until then, we’ll just stay here.”

“Uh, there’s also a problem with that. Everything inside is classified . . . and since you two aren’t read in yet, you can’t go inside. We’ll have to keep this place on lockdown until Lt. Col. Wright gets here.

“That works for us. We’ll just stay in my Santa Fe house until then.”

“Uh, there’s a problem with that, too. Until we can go through everything in both your residences those will be locked down also.”

Brian threw his hands in the air in frustration. “We’re caught in a Catch-22 here. Where are we supposed to stay? Camped out at the State Park?”

“That won’t work. We have to provide an escort for you 24/7 until Wright gets you read in. We’ll put you up in the Days Inn until then with a guard at your door.”

Adeen intervened. “The Days Inn! No way. Have you seen that place? Where are you and your team staying?”

“At the Inn of the Anasazi downtown.”

“Pretty fancy on Government per diem. But if it’s good enough for you, that’s where we’ll stay.”

McCall sputtered, “I can’t authorize that!”

Adeen looked him in the eye. “Then call someone who can.”

Chapter 28 – Top Secret

McCall, against his better judgment, allowed Brian to drive his own vehicle to the hotel with one of his agents following in an FBI car. The Inn of the Anasazi, just off the old town Santa Fe square, was built in 1990 – a few hundred years more recent than other historic buildings in Santa Fe – but the architects had studiously designed it to provide the atmosphere of the region’s early native Americans, only with the amenities one would expect from a modern luxury hotel.

McCall watched them drive away from the Lamy train station with his anger still boiling. More and more he ran into people who watch too many crime dramas on TV. They challenged his authority and made his job really difficult. He often wished he had been in the FBI back in the J. Edgar Hoover days, when just the mention of FBI had everyone scared shitless. Those were the good old days, he thought. But he knew he had to push the anger out of his mind to function as the leader of his four-man team.

“Sorensen, set up a watch schedule here at the caboose. I want two men guarding this place 24/7 until we can get it properly locked down.”

“That’s tough to do with only four men, sir. You’ll have to stand watch for a shift or two.”

Damn! I planned to be back at the Anasazi bar working on a couple of their classic Margaritas. But, since I’m the boss . . .

“Yeah. Set me up for the morning shift. I’m going back to the hotel.” Before Sorensen could protest McCall jumped in his car and peeled out of the parking lot.

Just after midnight Dimitri Lebedev steered the truck up to the base of the hill and turned to his partner, Grigory Chernak. “According to the map Jessica and Matt provided Callaghan’s lab should be just on the other side of this hill. I can’t believe we let them get away up on the mountain. Sokolov wasn’t pleased.”

They made their way to the top of the hill overlooking the back side of the caboose.

“I don’t see any movement or light. They’re probably asleep.”

They crept down the hill and around to the back platform of the train car. Grigory quietly climbed the stairs and tried the door knob. “It’s locked, Dimitri.”

“Here’s the crowbar. See if you can pry it open without making too much noise.”

Grigory slid the flat end of the crowbar into the space between the door and the jam and tried to pry against the locking mechanism. “It’s too solid. I cannot break it without making noise.”

“Go ahead and break in. We’ll rush in and catch them by surprise.”

Agent Sorensen and his partner, Walsh, were sitting in the their car out in front of the caboose. He was drinking his third cup of coffee from a gallon thermos they had filled at the local restaurant up the street. It wasn’t doing much to keep him awake though. He had just about drifted to sleep when a loud noise woke him up. He elbowed his partner in the ribs and whispered “Wake up! Something’s going on at the caboose.” They drew their guns and quietly slipped out of the car, keeping low to the ground. The dome light was switched off so they weren’t highlighted when they opened the door.

Sorensen gestured with hand signals – he would go around the west end of the caboose while his partner would take the other end. As Sorensen got a line of sight on the front platform he saw the door standing open. Someone had broken into a Top Secret facility! He positioned himself behind some barrels and shouted. “FBI. Come out with your hands up.”

The two froze when they heard the command. “Shit! How did they know we were coming,” Grigory whispered. “What do we do?”

“We can’t get caught. Sokolov will have us shot. He needs to know that the FBI is involved, so one of us has to get away. You go out the back door with your hands up to get them focused on you while I sneak out the other door.”

Sorensen was about to repeat his order when a man appeared at the open door with hands in the air. “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. I give up.” Sorensen’s partner heard this and rushed around to back to assist in the arrest. Dimitri watched him leave, waited five seconds, then quietly left the caboose. He ran to a nearby cluster of trees and paused to listen for someone coming after him. Other than the FBI shouting orders at Grigory it was quiet on this end of the caboose, so he turned and crept uphill to get back to their truck.

Sorensen didn’t want to question the man here so he handcuffed him and pushed him into backseat of the car. “Watch him while I go inside and see what he was up to.”

Dimitri took the rifle from the truck and climbed up the back of the hill. He surveyed the scene then put the rifle cross-hairs on Grigory’s chest. He would prefer a head shot but the roof of he car blocked that. Sorry friend. He pulled the trigger and saw a red spot bloom in the middle of his chest. Immediately he ran down the hill and sped away in the truck, headed for Albuquerque. He could catch a flight to Mexico City from there that would get him safely out of the city and into a safe house where he could contact Col. Sokolov.

Sorensen hit the floor of the caboose when he heard the rifle fire. “You O.K. out there?”

“Yeah, but the prisoner is dead. I didn’t see where the shot came from. I heard a vehicle engine from over the hill somewhere, so the shooter probably got away.”

“Cover me. I’m coming out.”

They hid behind the car and surveyed the surroundings. When they saw nothing Sorensen slid into the back seat next to the dead prisoner. He found a wallet in his jacket pocket but there was no identification, only a credit card and $320 in cash. “Shit! Nothing here to tell us who they were. You call some people to clean this up. I don’t want the local police involved – not on a Top Secret program like this. . . . And call McCall. Tell him what happened and make sure our two scientists are safe.”

Col. Sokolov was pouring afternoon tea from his 18th century Tula copper samovar when his desk phone rang. “This better be important,” he muttered to himself. “He knows better than interrupt my tea time.” He answered with “Da, Sokolov. Vot!”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you sir, but we just received an encrypted report from Dimitri Lebedev that you will want to read immediately.”

“Yes, of course. Bring it in here.”

He opened the printed message as he took his fist sip of tea, and immediately sputtered it onto his desk. “What! The fool! He allowed Grigory to be captured . . . by the FBI no less . . . and let Callaghan and Reilly get away . . . again. Their orders were to never get captured alive.”

His assistant pointed to a second page. “He took care of Grigory and got to Mexico City himself. If Grigory followed procedures there should be nothing on him connecting to Russia.”

Sokolov breathed a sigh of relief. “Get Dr. Borin up here. We need to figure out our next move.”

When Feliks Borin arrived Sokolov quickly filled him in on the latest report from Dimitri. “So what do you make of this?”

Borin thought for a few minutes. “It seems to me that if the Americans assigned the FBI to guard Brian Callaghan, our suspicion that the high power EMP weapon program is still ongoing in secret is confirmed. We must get our own program underway immediately. If the Americans develop a weapon capable of disabling the electronics in all of our weapons systems before we do they will start a war and win it in days!”

Sokolov jumped up from his desk and slammed his fist down. “Of course that is what they are doing, Feliks. We must build the device from Dr. Pearson’s plans as quickly as possible. I’m putting you in charge. Put together a team to make this happen. Cost is not a factor.”

“Yes sir. Right away sir.”

“Is there anything else you need?”

“This must be held closely, with only necessary personnel granted access. I will need your authority to declare it Sovershenno Sekretno – Top Secret.”

“Of course. Consider it done. . . . What will you call the program?”

“Perun – after the ancient Russian god of fire.”

“Project Perun it is, then.”

Chapter 29 – The Malthus Project

Marcus Wright stood up and walked to the front of the room. From the podium he looked over the twelve men and women sitting on two sides of a long table. Attendees included the Vice President, Gen. Alexander Armstrong head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and Dr. Alicia Marie Martinez, the President’s science advisor. He was a bit nervous because he had never addressed such a prestigious group before. He took a breath and let it out slowly.

“Ladies and gentlemen you are here today to learn about the most important scientific breakthrough since penicillin. The program I’m about to present to you is classified Top Secret, Special Access Required. You have all signed the security document that makes disclosure of anything you hear and see in this briefing today a federal offense. Are there any questions before I begin?”

Someone in the back raised their hand. “How long is this going to take? I have a two o’clock tee time at the Congressional Country Club.”

“I wouldn’t want to interfere with your golf game, sir. You are excused and will no longer be allowed access to any part of this program.” The high ranking official got up and left, his face red with embarrassment.

“I trust the rest of you realize the importance of what I am about to tell you.” With that Lt. Col. Wright put up the first slide of his briefing. It had three words on it:

THE MALTHUS PROJECT

“In the year 1798 Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus published his work An Essay on the Principle of Population. He was the first scientist to point out that, over time, the population of a country grows exponentially while the growth in the food supply will grow at a much slower rate. He predicted that, without some severe checks on birthrate, the civilized countries of the world would all be starving within 70 years.

This of course didn’t happen in that time frame because of advances in agricultural productivity and, more recently, birth control. But these efforts only pushed the Malthusian Limit as it is called out in time by a hundred years or so. Today there are countries, and specific areas within countries, where millions of people are starving. Unfortunately they continue to reproduce prolifically because birth control isn’t available to them.

The Malthus Project offers the opportunity to reduce population growth in those areas to near zero so that, within a decade or two, the population will stabilize and even shrink due to natural deaths. Think of it. The starving children who are nothing but skin and bones waiting to die painfully will no longer exist. And the food resources that the babies and children consume now would be available to feed the adult population – to make them strong enough to work and support themselves and their families.

I can’t release the technical details at this time, but the mass sterilization needed to solve the overpopulation problem can be delivered from the air. An aircraft flying over the targeted area would deliver a very weak electro-magnetic pulse – EMP – that will have only one effect on the population below – it will sterilize the human ova – eggs – within every woman’s body so they cannot be fertilized by the male. The beauty of this is that it is completely passive – no action by potential parents is needed. In fact, they won’t even know why no babies are being born.

The Vice President broke in. “It sounds interesting, but how long will it take to get this project off the drawing board and into the air?”

“Less than a year sir. As it turns out the technology has already been developed and tested as a way to sterilize the destructive pine beetles out in New Mexico. It has also been proven effective on other pests like grasshoppers and even mice. It’s just a question of scaling up the power a bit and outfitting an aircraft with the EMP generator.”

Dr. Martinez spoke up next. “How do we know this pulse would not have other effects on people? Without proof of that we cannot proceed with this project.”

“That’s another plus for this technology. When it was discovered back in the 1960s that nuclear weapons generated large electro-magnetic pulses, extensive tests using monkeys, chimps, and eventually human volunteers were conducted. We now know for certain that there are no negative effects on humans except sterilization of the ova.”

Another person asked “How much will it cost and who’s providing the funding?”

The Secretary of Defense spoke up. “Because so much of the work has already been done the costs are minimal. The defense department will cover the cost for the project.?”

Lt. Col. Wright looked around the room. “Are there any more questions? . . . Alright. I have people putting together the details of the project – schedules, personnel requirements, test locations – that sort of thing. These will be available for you to read within a week. Because of the highly classified nature of the project all documents must be read inside the SCIF – Secure Compartmented Information Facility – we have set up. If there are no other questions I think we’re done here.

As Marcus left the meeting an aide handed him a note. It was from his assistant, Capt. Rowan, telling him he was needed urgently back at the Pentagon. He was looking forward to relaxing a bit after the stressful meeting but today, like most of his days, it wasn’t to be. The note from Rowan didn’t give a reason for the rush, so Marcus spent most of the drive worrying about worst-case scenarios and how he might deal with them.

As he entered the Defense wing of the Pentagon he signaled for Capt. Rowan to follow him back to his office. When the door was closed he turned and said, “Talk to me.”

Rowan knew his boss was upset at the unexpected interruption, but nothing like how upset he was about to be. “Yesterday I had the FBI lock down the laboratory where Callaghan and Reilly are working on their EMP sterilizer and post two guards for 24/7 security. Last night two armed men broke into the structure – an old caboose – before being detected. The agents captured one them but the other got away.”

“Damn it! Give the FBI something simple to do and they always manage to screw it up. I should have sent a half dozen special forces troops out there. . . . I presume it wasn’t a couple of teen-agers looking for drug money. What do we know about the one that was captured?”

“He was shot at the scene by an accomplice He had no ID on him but we got a hit from the Federal Facial Recognition Database. His name is Grigory Chernak and he’s assigned to the Russian Embassy in Mexico City. We’ve suspected that he’s an espionage agent for some time, but never had enough evidence to get Mexico to deport him.”

“If that’s all you have you’re dismissed. Let me know if anything changes.”

“Yes sir.”

As soon as the door closed Marcus called the SECDEF’s office and scheduled an immediate appointment. As he was walking to the meeting he was thinking about why the Russians were interested in Callaghan’s work. Just as he arrived it hit him. My God. This is bad . . . Really bad.

He was shown into the Secretary’s office and stood in front of his desk until he finished signing some papers.

“Okay, Marcus. You’ve got five minutes.”

He explained about the break-in and the capture of a Russian agent in less than a minute then paused.

“Why in the hell would Russia send some people to break into Callaghan’s laboratory. The insect control research he and Reilly are doing can’t be important enough to risk getting a couple of spies caught. We didn’t consider it Top Secret until yesterday.”

“I think the answer lies in why we classified the program. . . . They must know about the potential to control population growth. They want to develop the capability for their own use . . . and I don’t think they’re interested in humanitarian population reduction.”

“By God you’re right Marcus! They could systematically reduce the population in our major cities until our entire economy collapsed. Before long we wouldn’t have enough people left to manufacture the military equipment we need to fight a war. They could just come in and take over. . . . Are we working on a counter-measure to the EMP – someway to protect our women?”

“Not yet sir, but we have to begin a high-priority research and development program to develop a way to stop it.”

“Is there a way we could identify the Russian airplanes carrying the weapons and shoot them down?”

“No sir. They would probably disguise them as commercial airliners. And if they find a way to put the EMP generator on a low-altitude satellite they could sterilize the entire country in a matter of days.”

“This is worse than the nuclear arms race, isn’t it.”

“Yes sir.”

“Work up a plan for accelerating our development program so we can get an EMP zapper operational before they beat us to it. I’ll convene a meeting of the top-level people who need to know what’s going on. I can get you all the funding you need.”

“Yes sir.”

Back in his office Wright and Rowan sat down together to begin planning Project Malthus when Marcus realized he hadn’t asked about Callaghan and Reilly.

“How about our two scientists? Are they safe?”

“Yes sir. They’re in a hotel room with an armed guard at their door.”

“Good. The quickest way for the Russians to slow us down would be to kill them.”

Chapter 30 – Interlude

When Brian and Adeen left the caboose the previous day they went directly to the Anasazi Inn, both looking forward to resuming the relaxed closeness they shared on the caboose porch before the FBI interrupted them. They parked the Jeep behind the hotel, grabbed their bags, and hurried for the hotel entrance, anxious to get checked in. Their FBI escort shouted “Wait up. I can’t let you out of my sight.”

They stopped and let him catch up, then went to the front desk. “I believe you have a room reserved for us – Callaghan and Reilly?”

“Yes sir. Do you want a king bed or two doubles?

Brian hesitated. I want the single king but she might get upset at my presumption. Last night at the cabin was an unusual situation. “We’ll take the double.”

Adeen leaned across the check in counter and whispered to the woman “We will take the king.”

She smiled and held out the key card. “Enjoy your stay.”

Their escort showed his FBI badge and asked to arrange for a chair to be placed outside their door, then joined them in the elevator. As Brian opened the door the FBI guy walked in first and checked out the room, then came out and nodded to them. Brian carried the bags in and set them on the floor as she closed the door behind them. When he looked up he saw the king-sized bed.

“Oh no. They made a mistake and gave us a single bed. I’ll go down and straighten this out.”

Adeen’s first reaction was disappointment that he apparently didn’t want to share a bed with her. But then she realized he may not have heard her whisper to the desk clerk.

She blushed a little. “I asked for the single bed, Brian. . . . But if you would rather sleep separately that’s okay.”

“No, I asked for the separate beds because I wasn’t sure you would want to share a bed again.” Then, after a pause, he stepped forward and put his arms around her. After he held her for a few minutes Adeen tilted her head up and asked “Well, are you going to kiss me or not?”

Brian’s answer was to smother her lips with his. The kiss was a bit tentative at first – the way most first kisses are – but became more passionate after that. [Old movies would fade to black here.]

Later that evening they were sitting side by side on the hotel balcony, sipping a much better wine than what they left behind at the caboose. They had just finished an excellent meal fixed in the hotel restaurant and delivered by room service. Brian raised her hand to his lips for a kiss. “I could get used to this decadent lifestyle. I wonder how long the FBI will foot the bill?”

“That’s a good question. But an even better question is, what’s this Top Secret stuff all about? What we’re doing isn’t anything useful to the Government . . . or even the military. Why all of a sudden are we locked out of our lab and held under guard.”

“I’ve been thinking about that – I didn’t want to spoil the intimate mood between us, but I guess it’s time. Do you have a copy of the reports that you sent the Forestry Department?”

“Yeah, they’re in my ‘sent emails’ file.” She brought out her computer and let Brian read the two emails she had sent from Brian’s computer with her reports attached. They both read them carefully. Adeen finished first. “Well I can’t see anything, unless the army has a huge rat infestation.”

Brian paused to think. “I may have the answer, but I pray I’m wrong. . . . “

“Tell me!”

“They may want to use it to sterilize women – large groups of women. They could fly over designated areas and surreptitiously render the women childless. The population would have no idea why the pregnancies stopped.”

Adeen sucked her breath in. “Oh no. . . That can’t be it, Brian.”

“Maybe not, but if it is we have to stop them.”

“Where would the Government want to use it?”

“It would be a help to overpopulated countries. Reducing the birth rate to near zero for a generation would give their food production and economies time to catch up. There are several areas in the world that could benefit from that.”

Adeen got an even more shocked look on her face. “What about here in the U. S.? The Government could use it on crowded inner city slums, areas with high crime rates, even ethnic communities.”

“I hadn’t thought that far. Certainly they wouldn’t use it against our own country.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Chapter 31 – Sworn to Secrecy

The next morning Adeen and Brian woke up in each others arms in the king-sized bed enjoying the closeness and talking about humorous experiences from their pasts. The knock on the door startled them. Brian got up to see who it was and to tell them to come back later – they had plans for the morning. It was their body guard.

“Sorensen wants to see you two down in the lobby in fifteen minutes. You’re going on a trip.”

“Where to?”

“See you in the lobby.”

Brian closed and locked the door. “I guess I’ll have to take a rain check on our morning plans. Maybe tonight?”

Adeen answered “It’s a date.” As she threw the sheet off and headed for the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later they stepped out of the elevator into the lobby. Sorensen yelled “You’re late. We need to be in Albuquerque in less than and hour.”

Brian waited until they were in the car on their way out of Santa Fe before he asked, “What’s in Albuquerque?”

“Lt. Col. Marcus Wright. He’s in charge of the program.”

“What program?”

“He’ll tell you when we get there.”

Adeen asked, “Why doesn’t he come up here to meet with us?”

“This is a Top Secret program, so the meeting has to be in a SCIF.”

“What’s a skiff? Isn’t that a boat?”

Sorensen was getting a little exasperated with all the questions, so his answer was terse. “It’s spelled SCIF – it’s a spy-proof room where secrets are discussed. They have one at Kirtland Air Force Base.”

Forty-five minutes later they had first-hand knowledge about what a SCIF was like – a windowless room with an armed guard at the door, a large screen display, and behind the walls, ceiling, and floor a cage of copper screening to stop all electronic signals. It was pretty much like any other meeting room except for the security measures. Sorensen sat at the table and motioned for Brian and Adeen to do the same.

After a few minutes Lt. Col. Wright, wearing his Air Force uniform, entered the room and sat at the head of the table. He opened his briefcase and laid several documents in front of him. He looked from Brian to Adeen, nodded his head, then turned to Sorensen and said “You’re excused agent Sorensen.”

“Why? I have a Top Secret security clearance.”

“This is beyond Top Secret. It’s designated Restricted Access Only, and you’re not on the list.”

“But my orders are that an FBI agent will remain with them at all times.”

“The armed guard at the door will protect them while they’re here. You’re dismissed agent!”

As soon as the door was closed Brian turned to Wright. “What’s this all about. We’re not doing anything that’s classified.”

“In due time, Mr. Callaghan. We have some business to attend to first – the matter of granting you two Restricted Access. Miss Reilly I understand you have never had a Government Security Clearance before. Is that correct?’

“Yes, it is.”

“Normally it would take a month or two to do a background investigation and get you cleared, but I’m going to bypass that and give you an interim TS clearance until the real one shows up. I’ll need you to sign these papers everywhere there’s a yellow marker.”

Adeen drew them to her and started reading the sixteen page document. Marcus sat patiently for a few minutes then said “Can you hurry it up? I’ve got a plane to catch. You’ll get a copy so you can find out what’s in it after you sign it.” She looked up at him sharply, then turned back to her reading. When she finished she signed and dated the six marked lines and slid it back to Lt. Col. Wright. “What do we call you? Lt. Col. Wright, sir, Air Force guy?”

“We’ll be working together for the next several months so I’ll allow things to proceed on a first name basis.”

“Several months? I have a teaching job and research to get back to. You can’t take me away from that!”

“We already have. My people talked to President Martinez at New Mexico Highlands University and he agreed to keep your situation there on hold indefinitely.”

Adeen’s Irish temper flared. “Without even asking me? You can’t do that! I haven’t even agreed to work for you on whatever this program is about.”

“It’s not up to you. By the authority of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, you have both been conscripted into my organization.”

“What does a low power EMP pest exterminator have to do with terrorism?” Brian asked.

“Part of that act deals with keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists and hostile countries. It also includes a clause that authorizes conscription of U. S. citizens who have knowledge and expertise that can have significant impact on national security, specifically persons who possess knowledge and expertise in technology areas essential to that security.”

“That can’t apply here. What we’re doing has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.”

“After I brief you on the new program we set up, you will see that it does indeed relate to WMDs. But before I can do that, I need you both to sign the papers authorizing your entry to a Restricted Access program.”

Brian was anxious to hear what Wright was talking about so he immediately signed in the marked paces. Adeen repeated her meticulous reading of every provision of the document as she had earlier. She was on the last page when she read a clause the stopped her short. “What!! What the hell? This paragraph says that if we disclose any information related to the program to anyone outside the Restricted Access team we will go to jail . . . for up to fifteen years!! There’s no way I’ll sign this.”

Brian was familiar with such language from his previous classified work. “That’s typical in programs like this, Adeen. The reason it’s in there is to keep people from going to the press to leak information about classified programs.”

“That’s not what it says. It says if we tell anyone about our work we’ll go to jail.”

Marcus stepped back into the conversation. “This clause has only been exercised three times in the past several decades. The best known case was when Daniel Ellsberg went public with the Pentagon Papers back in 1971. So unless you plan to become an espionage agent or a whistle blower, you have no need to concern yourself with that section.”

Adeen signed it against her better judgment, but she was as interested as Brian was to hear about the program.

After Marcus collected the documents and returned them to his briefcase he turned to face them. “The program is called Project Malthus. It is named after Thomas Robert Malthus, a scholar in the fields of population economy and demographics. . . .”

Brian interrupted him. “Skip the history lesson, Colonel. We know about him. He was the Chicken Little of economics back in the early nineteenth century who insisted the overpopulation sky was falling and would destroy civilization unless strict abstinence and family size limits were imposed.”

“Yes. That’s correct. Your research couples to this topic through your discovery that low power EMP can cause sterility in human females. . . . You see the connection, don’t you?”

Brian and Adeen looked at each other, recalling their conversation the night before. Adeen said, “Pretend we don’t see where you’re going with this. Spell it out for us.”

“Well, the capability to use airborne EMP generators to slow down the birth rate in poor, starving countries is a humanitarian gold mine. If we could use this system over areas of the world where overpopulation is holding back the economy and causing starvation, we can restore the balance of population to available food, which will lead to more jobs and a stronger economy.”

“Do you think these countries would sign up for this – would agree to let us do it?”

“No, of course not. Their leaders would insist it’s genocide; that we’re trying to wipe out their people so we can take over their country. We would have to do it secretly, and stagger the locations and timing of the attacks to avoid suspicion.”

Adeen stared at Marcus. “Did you just use the word attack! That sounds like genocide accusations would be the truth. Is that what our Government is planning?”

“No, no. I didn’t mean ‘attack.’ That’s a military term that doesn’t belong in this conversation. A better word would be ‘exposures.’”

“But it doesn’t change the fact that thousands of young women would be denied the chance to ever have children. That would be a tragedy.”

“Often the few have to sacrifice for the good of the many, Miss Reilly.”

“Those are probably the same words Joseph Mengele told himself when he was doing medical experiments on Jews in Auschwitz.”

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Brian said, “We can’t agree to be part of this program, Colonel. Count us out.”

Marcus looked at the wide eyed. “This is for your country. You have to do it.”

“No we don’t.”

After a long pause Marcus continued. “There’s something I haven’t told you. . . . The Russians are developing this same technology. Without your help they will beat us to it. And who knows what they will do with it – that would be a real Malthusian nightmare.”

Adeen looked at Brian. “That must be who broke into our lab a couple of weeks ago and tasered me . . . and chased us up in the mountains.”

Wright jumped up from his chair. “What! Your lab was broken into two weeks ago? What did they get access to? Did they steal anything?”

Brian turned to him. “Calm down. Nothing happened. Two people dressed in black, a man and a woman, sneaked into the caboose lab and probably took some pictures – of the EMP device, the insect samples we had collected, and Adeen’s notebook. They didn’t know Adeen was asleep up in the cupola and she came down with a fire axe and chased them off.”

“Did her notebook say anything about your experiments with human ova?”

“Yes, but not much. We had only tested eggs from a single cadaver. There have been no tests on live women.”

“That must be how the Russians found out. They hacked someone’s emails. We’ll have to get some initial tests lined up right away – to make sure it will work before we jump in and spend a lot of money.”

Brian thought for a moment and said, “I’ll get started on a plan for the test program right away, Marcus. Give me a day or so, then I can tell you what we will need.”

Adeen gave Brian an astonished look, which quickly turned into raging anger. He thought There goes our date tonight.

On the car ride back to Santa Fe Adeen pushed herself across the seat, as far away from him as she could. Brian tried to talk to her a couple of times but he couldn’t break through her anger. As soon as they were back in their room she slammed the door and lit into him. “How could you, Brian! What they plan to do with your invention is horrible! Why did you agree to go ahead and work on their program.”

Brian stayed on his feet and walked around the room, as if he was deep in thought. He let his gaze wander around the room, then stopped and faced her. “Don’t you see, Adeen? If we don’t help them develop the system before the Russians do, it will be disastrous for America. We already have everything we need for the EMP device. Most of the system is on my design drawings, and the rest is in our heads. This gives us a huge head start.”

Adeen looked him in the eye. “You’re not who I thought you were, Brian. You had me so fooled!” She stamped her foot then went into the bathroom and slammed the door. He thought about pursuing her, but she probably wouldn’t let him in. He thought for a moment, then went over to the desk and took out a piece of paper and a pen. When he had finished the note he folded it and slipped it under the bathroom door. It immediately came back to his side of the door. He went back to the desk and wrote and the front of the folded sheet. PLEASE READSILENTLY! Then he slid it under the bathroom door again.

Adeen was about to shove the note back to him a second time when she saw the printing. What’s going on here. Why do I need to read silently?

Adeen. Things are not what they seem. While I strolled around the room I spotted two hidden cameras with microphones. Our room is BUGGED! We need to talk about this, but we have to get away from here. When you come out I’ll ask you to join me for a walk so we can both cool down. Agree to it – then flush this note down the toilet! . . . And by the way, I am who you thought I was.

She tapped the door twice to let him know she had read it, then opened the door.

“Adeen, can’t we talk about this? You have to see things my way – I can’t do it without you. . . . Let’s walk down to the Plaza and discuss it.”

“Oh, okay. But you’ll have to do a lot of convincing before I’ll change my mind.”

As they left the room Brian told Agent Walsh, their current babysitter, “We’re going for a walk on the Plaza. You can take a break until we get back.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Callaghan. Where you go I go.”

“Alright, but give us a little space. We’re having an argument.”

As they went out the hotel door Brian leaned over and whispered “We’re going to figure out how to get away from here, but we’ll show him body language like we’re going at it while we speak in a low voice – like we’re embarrassed to be arguing in public.”

She flashed him a quick smile then started gesticulating with her hands while appearing to talk to him.

“I think you’ve got it dear.” Brian turned to square off face-to-face and waved his hands around. “The first thing we have to do is get away from the FBI. I’ve got a simple plan worked out to get us out of the hotel tonight. Just follow my lead.”

Agent Walsh backed off to several feet behind them, complying with Brian’s request. He hated to see a couple fight. It reminded him of his parents before they divorced.

She responded loudly, “Do you think you can just push me around?” then winked at him.

“Once we get away I want to get to the caboose and set it on fire. There’s a can of gasoline in a shed out there. We’ll pour the gas under the caboose and that ancient dried out wood will go up like fireworks. Once we do that all copies of the EMP device design will be gone. The only place it will be is in my head.”

She put her hands on her hips and emphatically shook her head no. “Where will we go, Brian?”

“Somewhere that the FBI doesn’t know about. I’m sure they have our life histories from the time we were born by now, so it can’t be anywhere we’ve been before.” Brian got into the act by pointing his finger at her and shaking it up and down like he was saying “Shame on you.”

“I might have an idea on that. I’ll tell you when we get back to the room.”

Brian put his hands on her shoulders and leaned over to kiss her. He finished their conversation with a loud “Thank you sweetheart. I knew you would understand.”

Chapter 32 – An Evil Plot

Major Theresa Sanders had been waiting in General Armstrong’s office for over half an hour, and she would wait the rest of the day if it took that long. She had spent her career following orders, never rocking the boat or making enemies with anyone above her rank. For those of lesser rank she had no such compunction. General Armstrong’s message had hinted he had an important mission for her, and important missions meant fast promotions . . . if completed successfully. With her background – a PhD in Plasma Physics from MIT and breakthroughs in several weapons research and development programs – she was pretty sure that this one would be about science and engineering for some new weapons system.

She was known in the Army as a fast tracker; someone who was promoted ahead of her peers. Her goal was to make Brigadier General by the age 42 – which would make her the youngest woman ever to make General without combat experience. With her five foot seven body with curves in all the right places, and her natural blonde hair always neatly in place, she had all the assets to meet that goal. The Army, more than the other military branches, had a pretty solid glass ceiling that kept woman from rising too fast and too far, but she was a rising star and planned to break through that barrier. . . even if she had to sleep with a General or two. Her relationship with Gen. Armstrong – Alex – had already reached that point. And as long as he was the top General in the Army, that relationship would continue. Her reverie was broken by the entry of the man himself.

As the door closed he walked toward her. “Terry! It’s so good to see you again. It’s been quite awhile since we got together.”

She picked up on his double entendre. “It certainly has, Alex, and my anticipation is driving me mad.”

“Well, maybe we can scratch that itch before you head for WSMR. [White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Acronym is pronounced Wizmer.] Have you ever been there?”

“Yes, but I was only ten back then. My dad took the family to visit White Sands National Monument. I don’t remember much about it except for the total lack of humidity. My skin was already turning to leather by the time we left. . . . If you want me to keep my soft, supple skin don’t leave me down there too long.” She added a laugh to let him know she was joking – almost.

“This one shouldn’t take too long. We have something to start with.”

“Now you have my interest, what is it?”

He gave her arm a quick squeeze to let her know it was time to get down to business. “Have a seat, Terry.”

He started by telling her about the DARPA program to develop an EMP beam weapon and the failure of the test program because of an inherent flaw that defocused the beam. Then he switched to a summary of the work by Callaghan and Reilly to successfully create a small scale EMP insect exterminator. “Are you with me so far?”

“Yes sir, but I don’t see a connection between the two devices.”

“One connection is the scientist who invented both versions of the EMP devices – Brian Callaghan from LANL. His ingenious use of fluidics to replace the electronic control circuits kept the EMP from destroying its own control system.”

“I remember reading about that once in a technical journal.”

“Yes. Now I’m getting to the good part. Using the low power EMP device in his laboratory, he and a biologist he’s working with, Dr. Adeen Reilly, demonstrated that at very low power densities, the female reproductive systems of a wide range of insects and even small mammals shuts down – for good. Their eggs become sterile and incapable of producing offspring.”

“That could have tremendous impact on agriculture – pest eradication without chemicals. Are they planning to commercialize it?”

“I’m not done yet. This part is where the Top Secret Restricted Access kicks in. They found that human reproduction is also disrupted. The eggs in a woman’s ovaries become sterile! Can you see the possibilities here?”

She thought for a couple of minutes. “Well, yes. I think I do. It could be used to reduce the birth rate in overpopulated countries. It would take a few years for the lack of new births and the death rate to whittle down the numbers, but the whole world would benefit. This is really great, Alex. Is the Government planning to build the system?”

“Yes. They created Project Malthus to have Callaghan and Dr. Reilly scale up his lab EMP design and make it operational – make it fit inside a helicopter or airplane to irradiate larger areas.”

“Great! Score one for technology. But where do I come in. If Callaghan is running the project you won’t need me.” I hope he’s not planning to have me work under Callaghan. I need to run programs to get promoted. How can I get out of this without pissing Alex off?

“You don’t fit into Callaghan’s project at all. I have a different plan to develop a larger system for military use. I want you to head that program down at WSMR where the full-sized DARPA device is being reconstructed as we speak..”

Her smile came back in a flash. “I would love to run that program! What military application do you have in mind?”

The General paused for several seconds. “My plan involves a long-term strategic objective – to reduce the future population of potential Chinese military recruits. China is rapidly becoming America’s most dangerous enemy. If we allow them to continue on this path, they will overpower power us within the next decade or two. We will lose our world military supremacy.”

“But this sounds like you will expose them to EMP without their knowledge! How can that be morally right. It would be contrary to the principles our country is based on.”

“My dear, when the survival of our country is at stake, there are no moral principles. Your objections are the same reasoning that almost prevented us from dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. If our leaders had fallen for that, hundreds of thousands more American lives would have been lost trying to win that war. And the same goes for the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany. It killed more people than the Hiroshima nuclear weapon, but it wiped out a major portion of Germany’s industrial capability – industry that was cranking out lethal weapons at a world-record rate. . . . And the beauty of the EMP approach is that no one is killed. Only unfertilized eggs are affected, and those aren’t alive no matter how you look at it. Even the anti-abortion crowd can’t fight that.”

Terry thought for a couple of minutes. My God, is Alex crazy? This system could eradicate entire countries. It would be the greatest genocide in world history. . . But what about me? I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here. If I refuse to manage the program, my career is shot. And he’ll just find someone else to do what he wants – my refusal would make no difference in the long run. At least if I’m running the program I might get a say-so in how and where the weapon is used.

She nodded her head and looked up at Alex. “Yes sir, this sounds like a revolution in military weaponry – no blood, no death, only something that will help China deal with their overpopulation problem. I look forward to taking over command of the development of the most radical new weapon ever developed.”

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to pass this up, Terry. I’ll give you copies of Callaghan’s DARPA reports to read on your flight. I’ll have my executive jet waiting for you at eight in the morning to take you to WSMR. In the meantime . . .”

“No sir, I have no plans – other than a naughty night with you, of course.”

Chapter 33 – Taking Flight

On their walk back to the hotel Brian leaned over and whispered to Adeen. “We can’t discuss our plans in the room because it’s bugged, so what we’ll do is communicate using our laptop computers.”

“But won’t the FBI be monitoring our email accounts?”

“Yes. That’s why we’ll use a Bluetooth link between our computers. It uses short-range radio waves to communicate up to 100 feet, so it never goes out over the internet. Follow my lead when we get back.”

As soon as they were in the room Adeen wrapped her arms around Brian and gave him a long kiss. Then she drew her head back and whispered “That’s to show them that our ‘argument’ is over.”

Brian leaned in close for another kiss and said in a normal voice, “I’m so glad you saw things my way. . . . I’ll get on my laptop and start planning the project for Marcus.”

“Good idea. I’ll do some online research to learn more about EMP.”

In a few minutes they had their laptops synched up and ready to exchange messages. Adeen went first.

Adeen: I just realized that the surveillance cameras were watching us last night when we were doing it. They must have sick minds.

Brian: I think they installed the cameras this morning, while we were in Albuquerque. It’s the only time we were out of the room long enough to plant the bugs. It looks like our repeat performance for tonight isn’t going to happen.

Adeen: Not necessarily. We’ll just have to get creative under the covers and keep the noise down.

Brian: I like the way you think. Here’s my plan – so far. Tonight we’ll wait until our FBI babysitter goes down the hall for a bathroom break, then slip out of our room and head the other way to the fire exit staircase. He’ll believe we’re still in the room asleep. They won’t know we’re gone until morning, so we’ll have a good head start.

Adeen: How will we know when he’s gone for a bathroom break?

Brian: I have an idea for that. Now tell me where we can go to hide out.

Adeen: How about Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico?

Brian: There’s no snow this time of year.

Adeen: That’s the point. Not many vacationers. Less chance of being seen. It’s tucked way up in a mountain valley on a dead end road about as far away from civilization as we can get.

Brian: Great idea! This time of year we can just show up without making reservations.

Adeen: We will need some cash so we don’t have to use our credit cards.

Brian: I’ll call my broker first thing in the morning and have some cashiers checks delivered by courier to a bank in Taos. I have enough cash in my wallet to cover what we’ll need until then.

Adeen: You have a broker?

Brian: Long Story. I’ll tell you later.

Adeen: Are you a millionaire or something?

Brian: Let’s get off the computers now so I can work on a way to keep an eye on the bodyguard outside the door.

Adeen: So you’re not going to give me an answer?

Brian: No comment.

Adeen assumed that Brian earned what a typical non-PhD scientist made – a little under $80,000 a year – not enough to put aside much of a nest egg. But his non-answer piqued her curiosity . . . and made her realize that there was a lot she didn’t know about him.

Brian: I’m going downstairs to download a map from the computer in the hotel’s business center to an old thumb drive stick.

Adeen: We don’t need map. I know the way to Taos.

Brian: I need a different map. One from here to the Mexican Border. I’ll be back in a few minutes.

When he got back he put the thumb drive on the desk and slid it back near the edge, then set his laptop on the nightstand beside the bed. He retrieved a pocket knife from his computer bag then sat on the floor between the bed and the wall. He told Adeen, loudly enough for the bug to hear, “I’m going to do some back and leg stretches for a few minutes.”

As he laid back on the floor he made certain the surveillance cameras couldn’t see him, then he rolled over on his side facing the wall. He picked a spot directly behind where Walsh was sitting out in the hall and started boring a small hole through the sheetrock. When he was through the bedroom side of the wall he continued boring – more quietly this time – through the hallway wall. When he had a hole about an inch in diameter he peaked through and saw the back of Walsh’s pants cuff. Then he took out his cell phone and set it up with the camera looking through the hole. He checked the screen to make sure it was seeing what he saw, then pressed the code that synched the phone’s Bluetooth transmitter up with his computer.

Brian did a few sit-ups so the surveillance people could see him exercising, then he propped himself up in bed. He had already written some code that would make his computer beep softly when the light level seen by the cell phone camera increased. That would indicate that the guard was no longer in his chair. He made sure the surveillance cameras couldn’t see his computer screen, then activated its Bluetooth receiver. Satisfied that laptop screen showed a view of the guards legs he patted his hand on the bed indicating for Adeen to sit beside him. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close as she snuggled up to him. He whispered in her ear, “We won’t have time to pack. All we can take is what we have on. We’ll stop along the way to buy whatever else we need.”

Adeen smiled at him. “You would have made a great criminal.”

He answered, “There’s still time. I don’t know what our future is, but it may involve some unlawful acts.”

“Will we be on wanted posters? I hope they use a good picture of me.”

Brian awoke with a start. They had dozed off and now it was dark outside. He hoped he hadn’t missed the alarm. He gently shook Adeen awake and indicated it was time to get their stuff together for their escape. Brian put their laptops and other essentials in his backpack and her bag, then they sat down to wait. Two hours later the computer alarm went off. Brian closed his laptop, jammed it into his backpack, grabbed his phone from in front of the carved hole and took Adeen by the hand. He eased the door open just a crack and saw Walsh’s back as he sauntered down the hall to the restroom. As soon as he was out of sight they scurried from their room, down the fire exit stairs, and out the back door to the parking lot.

Ten minutes later he drove up behind the hill overlooking the caboose. He told Adeen to climb to the top and see where the FBI agents were. He didn’t want to burn them up with the old train car. He got the octocopter, the five gallon can of gasoline, and a roll of duct tape from the Jeep. By the time she got back to report that both men were in the FBI SUV 100 feet from the caboose he had the octocopter almost ready to launch. He had taped one of the explosive charges used to fire the EMP cartridges to the side of the red plastic gas can, then taped the gas can horizontally underneath the center of the octocopter. When he triggered the remote control to fire the cartridge explosive it would blow the gas can open and ignite the fuel. Now he had to get it in position to catch the caboose on fire.

After the two of them climbed the hill to get a view of the target Brian eased the copter into the air. He flew it up over the hill then down the other side toward the caboose. It was tricky, but an almost full moon gave him enough light to ease the octocopter underneath the caboose and set it down gently between the tracks.

“Okay, time to split. The copter controller has a range of over two miles so we’ll get a head start before I blow it.”

About a mile and a half from the caboose Brian pressed the button to fire the explosive. Even at that distance they could hear the explosion and, when they looked back, see the fireball rising into the sky. “Mission complete . . . now for the escape.”

McCall was awakened from a deep, margarita-induced sleep by the shrill ringing of his cell phone. It took him a several seconds to get his bearings – it always did after a night of drinking. He rolled out of bed and got hold of his phone just as it stopped ringing. Good. Maybe they won’t call back. But as soon as he set the phone back down it rang again. He held it to his ear and mumbled, “Yeah. McCall here.” It was Sorensen.

“Sir, the caboose laboratory has just been fire bombed.”

That woke him up. “What!! Weren’t you guys guarding it? How did you let someone slip past you?”

“We don’t have any idea. It will take a forensics team to sort this out. . . . and by the way, we’re both fine. Thanks for asking.”

McCall heard the sarcasm in Sorensen’s voice and ignored it. “How badly is the caboose damaged? Will we be able to salvage any of Callaghan’s equipment or documents?”

“It’s still burning – there won’t be anything but the skeleton left when it’s over.”

“Where’s the fire department? Can’t they put it out?”

“Lamy has no fire department, and the Santa Fe firemen can’t answer a call outside the city limits.”

McCall answered “That’s stupid,” then started issuing orders.

“Get the best forensic people we have out here. Don’t make them wait for a commercial flight – fly them out on the FBI jet. I’ll go check on Callaghan and Reilly. The bombing could be a distraction so the Russians can grab the two of them.”

Sorensen, realizing that his sarcasm might have pissed his superior off, answered “Yes sir! Right away sir,” before he realized McCall had already hung up.

McCall took the elevator to the third floor and hurried down the hall to where Walsh was sitting. “Is everything okay here?”

“Yes sir. They turned out the lights around ten p.m.”

“We have to move them to a new location. Someone bombed Callaghan’s lab. Get them up and ready to travel. I’m heading for the caboose.”

McCall was just about to get in his car when his cell phone rang. It was Walsh.

“Sir, no one answered when I knocked on the door so I used an extra key card to get in. . . .

“So, what’s the problem?”

“They’re gone. He room is empty.”

“That’s impossible! There’s no way the Russians could get in the door, subdue the two of them without making a sound, then get them back out with you sitting right there. . . . You were sitting there, right.”

“Yes sir. The entire time. Uh, except when I went to the restroom. But the hallway was out of my sight for no more than a couple of minutes.”

“Then the only way . . . You!! You were in on it! You opened the door so they could kidnap the couple!”

“No sir! That didn’t happen. But there’s another possibility. I’m in their room now and I don’t see any evidence of a break-in or struggle. They must have escaped on their own.”

“Secure the room and don’t touch anything. I’m coming up.”

McCall took a look around the parking lot and saw that Callaghan’s Wrangler was missing. “Damn it. They’re on the run.”

He called the senior agent in charge at the Albuquerque FBI office. “Frank. This is Mike McCall. I’m up here in Santa Fe on a babysitting assignment that just blew up in my face. The two of them are on the run and I need the State Police to set up roadblocks around Santa Fe. Can you do that for me? . . . . . . . Great. And I’ll need one of their forensic people here at the Anasazi Inn. . . . . . . . Thanks. I owe you one.”

The only way to get to Taos from Lamy was back through Santa Fe. Brian worried that if their escape had been discovered already the local police would be looking for them. They might have even set up roadblocks already. He drove through the city at just below the speed limit so he wouldn’t draw any attention. Adeen was looking ahead to spot any police cars that might see them.

“There’s one, Brian! A couple blocks ahead on the right. He pulled over a driver and is writing a ticket.”

“Lie down on the seat so he will think it’s just me in the car. They’ll be looking for a couple.”

He watched the officer out of the corner of his eye as they drove past, but there was no recognition. “Okay, you can sit up now.”

Adeen popped back up and resumed her watch. Finally they were out of Santa Fe on U.S. 84 heading north. They both relaxed a bit, but Adeen still kept up her vigilance. When they were almost to the town of Nambe Adeen looked back to see a pair of State Police cars coming up from behind with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

“Uh oh. We’ve been found out. They’re coming up behind us now, Brian. What now?”

“We’re busted. There’s no way we can outrun them.” Brian slowed down and pulled off the road. But instead of stopping behind them the police cars went screaming past them.

Adeen breathed a sigh of relief. “We’re safe. They weren’t after us.”

“Maybe not, but they could be planning to set up a check point up ahead. We can’t turn around and go back to Santa Fe, and we don’t want to get stopped at a road block.”

“Are there any turn-offs that will get us off the highway?”

Brian thought for a minute. “Chimayo! The back way to Taos goes through Chimayo. The turn off is ten miles ahead in Nambe. Let’s pray that they’ve set up the roadblock beyond that.”

McCall was searching the room with his eyes. He didn’t want to touch anything until the forensic expert got there, but if there was anything here that pointed to Top Secret work he wanted to remove it from the room himself.

“There’s something over here sir – on the desk. It looks like a memory stick from a computer.”

McCall rushed over. Tugging his hand into a latex glove from his pocket he picked up the flash drive.

“Do you have a laptop?”

“It’s in my room.”

“Go get it. I want to see what’s on here before the lab guy shows up.”

A few minutes later McCall plugged the drive into the laptop’s USB port and asked Walsh to boot it up.

“What if the drive infects my computer with a virus. I think we should wait for forensics to get here.”

“Do it”

Walsh hesitated, thinking of all the photos of his family that would disappear if a virus attacked his hard drive.

“I said do it!”

Walsh typed in his password and hit ‘ENTER’. The drive held a dozen or so files, mostly old documents. But the one at the top of the list was added this afternoon. McCall clicked on it and a map opened up – a road map of New Mexico. He focused on Santa Fe and saw Callaghan’s escape route highlighted. “They’re running for Mexico! I’m going to catch those bastards. Call the State Police and tell them to send all units to close off I-25 South . . . and any other roads they might take them to Mexico.”

“I’m on it.”

Brian was two miles from the turn off to Chimayo when he saw the two police cars coming at them fast from Nambe. “Damn! They figured out they drove right past us and now they’re coming back to get us.” Brian again pulled off the highway and waited to be arrested.

Adeen didn’t bother to duck down this time. There was no use. “They must have identified the car. Brian. . . . Whatever happens – I love you.” Brian squeezed her hand. They both looked up at the approaching police cars – and were astonished to see them whiz past heading south.

“False alarm. Thank God” Brian said as he drew Adeen close for a long kiss. When they separated she laughed.

“What’s funny? My kiss?”

“No. I was just thinking that I hope the kiss was a preview for things to come.”

Brian joined her laughter. “Definitely.”

Chapter 34 – Taos

They rolled into Taos just after daybreak and stopped at a 24-hour restaurant. Adeen had fallen asleep on Brian’s shoulder and he hated to wake her up, but they had work to do.

“Time to wake up. We need some breakfast.”

She yawned and asked “Did I hear someone mention food. I’m starved.”

They sat down at a corner table with a good view of the front door and placed their order with a tired waitress. While their food was being prepared Brian withdrew his computer from his back pack and opened it up. He needed to find a condo at the ski valley they could rent for cash with no credit card required. Commercial rental agencies required a credit card as a damage deposit. What he was looking for was a private condo owner who would have no problem accepting cash, especially when the IRS can’t find out about it. Tax free money in the pocket.

He started out looking through the classified ads in the Taos News Online. It didn’t take him long to find eight personal rentals under Condos for Rent. He copied the names and phone numbers to his cell phone so he could call later, when everyone else was awake.

Next he called Tom Salazar, his investment account manager, at home. Tom answered with the gravelly throat of some who just woke up. “Hello. This better be important ‘cause you just woke me up.”

“Hi Tom. It’s Brian. Sorry about the early call but I didn’t want this on the call log at your office. And it is important – very important that certain Government agencies don’t find out about it.”

“Now you have my attention. Is this some of your spooky secret stuff?”

“Indirectly, but you don’t want to know about that. I’ll make this conversation hypothetical to keep you out of trouble. Let’s say one of your clients was in a bind and needed lots of money from his account as quickly as possible. And let’s say he wanted to keep the transaction and his name hidden from any of the Government agencies that monitor that sort of thing. What is the best way this man’s account manager could get the money to him.”

“Hypothetically, how much would he need and how soon does he need it?”

“Thirty grand and he needs it today. Oh, and hypothetically, he might be in a Northern New Mexico town and needs it for a down payment on a ski condo.”

“Yes, I think I’ve been to that town – hypothetically speaking, of course.

Tom continued. “The way my hypothetical account manager friend, Joe, would do it is to have his firm initiate an EFT, electronic funds transfer, from the man’s account to an account at a bank in that hypothetical town. That wouldn’t keep it off Big Brother’s radar but with billions in electronic fund transfers happening daily, it would be at least a week or two before the transfer shows up in Government records, and then someone would have to be looking for it.”

“What if, hypothetically, the man doesn’t have an account in the local bank?”

“He would have to open one, but not necessarily in his own name. If he had a hypothetical friend who could open a new account, his name wouldn’t be connected with the receiving bank, making it impossible for the Government to identify where he is located. If the man’s friend wanted the entire sum in cash, the same day, the receiving bank would hypothetically want to talk to the sender’s account manager to verify the legitimacy of the transfer.”

“And would that get the account manager in trouble, non-hypothetically?”

“No, because the manager would only be reporting the fact that the money was indeed transferred from a legitimate account. If the Government wanted access to that account, it would need a subpoena from a Federal judge, and without demonstrated evidence that the transfer is related to a Federal crime, the judge would not be likely to issue the subpoena.”

“Okay. I’ll tell my hypothetical friend to contact his hypothetical account manager and order the EFT to the Bank of the hypothetical town’s name.”

“Glad to be of help, Brian.”

When he hung up he saw Adeen was trying to hold her laughter in. “I think you just became the criminals we were talking about . . . hypothetically, of course.” They were both still laughing when the waitress showed up with their plates of huevos rancheros.

After breakfast they went shopping for food to stock the condo, then clothes. Adeen picked out an outfit that gave her the rich Texas condo owner look while Brian moved upscale from his rumpled shirt and blue jeans look, hoping it might make him less recognizable. Brian insisted they both get a pair heavy hiking boots, just in case. Then drove north a few blocks to the Bank of Taos. Brian waited in his SUV while Adeen went in to open an account.

She went straight to the bank manager’s office. “I would like to open a new account, please.” He was busy going through some paperwork and didn’t like to be disturbed. He raised his head with his standard ‘You’re bothering me – go away’ look, then broke into a smile when he saw the smartly dressed redhead in front of his desk.

He jumped up and extended his hand. “Yes Ma’am. I’m Gabriel Goodwin, at your service. And you are?”

Adeen took an immediate dislike to the man. He reminded her of a greedy used car salesman. But part of her job now was to win him over, so she smiled and said, “I’m Alice Reilly. . . Gabriel. . . . You don’t hear that name much anymore. I like the ring of it. And the alliteration with Goodwin is charming.”

“Thank you Miss . . . Mrs.? Reilly.”

“I’m a child of the ‘I am Woman Hear Me Roar’ generation. I prefer Ms. Reilly. But I’ll let you call me Alice.”

“Uh . . . Uh, I didn’t mean to offend you Ms. Reilly. Uh . . . I mean Alice.”

“No offense taken.” Wanting to make the conversation more cordial Adeen looked around his office.

She saw a photo with Gabriel, a dumpy looking woman, and three chubby children. “Oh, is that your family Gabriel – can I call you Gabe?”

Gabriel beamed. “Yes – That’s Oscar, that’s Gabriella, and the little one is Antonio.”

“Is the woman your wife?”

“Uh . . . yes. Er . . . was. We divorced three years ago.”

“Oh, so you’re single then?” she asked with an inviting smile.

“Yes, yes I am. I am unattached at the moment.”

She gave him an even more inviting smile. I should have been an actress, she thought. I can just make this stuff up as I go.

She was silent, waiting for him to think of the possibilities of a relationship with her. When it got uncomfortable he asked, “So you wish to open a new account . . . Alice?”

“Yes, Gabe. I just sold my old condo in Taos Valley to a gentleman from Santa Fe and I need an account for him to transfer the down payment into. Can you do that for me?”

“Of course, of course. I’ll get out the forms for you.” He opened a file drawer behind him and extracted a sheaf of papers.

“Now, if you will read all this and sign wherever it says to, I can set up an account for you.”

“I don’t want to read all this lawyer mumbo jumbo, just show me where to sign.”

Five minutes later she had her account. “Is there anything else I can help you with today, Alice?”

“Just the funds transfer. The buyer is sending an EFT from his investment account at Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe in the amount of $30,000. I’ll need the money in cash the moment it arrives to lock up a real estate deal at the Angel Fire Ski Resort. That won’t be a problem, will it Gabe?”

“Well, normally we have a 24-hour waiting period for EFTs. . . .”

“But you can waive that for me, can’t you Gabe?”

“Yes I suppose I could if I can talk to the account manager at Thornburg.”

“Oh, that’s not a problem. His name is Tom Salazar. Just call Thornburg and ask for him. Oh, and would give me a call on my cell phone as soon as the money is available?”

“Of course, Alice. I hope to see you often at our bank.”

“Well of course,” she said, as she thought Not a chance buddy.

She and Brian drove up to the Ski Valley while waiting for the money to arrive to look at the eight condos he found in the classifieds. Four of them had listed a Taos phone number to show the property, but first Brian wanted to see the layout of the condo village. Rather than look for an isolated place, he wanted one in the middle of all the summer vacationers so they could get lost in a crowd if necessary.

“What about that one up there, Brian?”

“That’s four stories up with only the elevator and stairs to get us out of there. I’m looking for something on the first floor with windows that open. We want all the escape routes we can get.”

“Right.” She looked over the other seven on the list. “Here’s a good one. Take a right turn up ahead.”

This one looked perfect. Parking right at the front door. A back door that led to the ski lift. And large crank-out windows they could easily fit through. “Call the agent so we can have a look.”

Ten minutes later they entered the condo and wanted it immediately. Tastefully decorated in an antique southwesten motif with dark leather and wood. Adeen went into the dining room and immediately fell in love with the furniture. “Brian, come look at this antique chair at the head of the table. Is it a true antique?”

Brian came in and examined the chair. “This is sort of a ‘throne’ the man of the house sat in during family meals. The high back with ornate carving and one-piece back legs extending above the head rest are characteristic of the territorial imperial era in New Mexico. The pointed finials at the top of the legs don’t quite fit with the period, though. ”

“But is it a real antique?”

“I don’t think so. Even modern copies of this style sell for over a thousand dollars.” He tilted it backward and read the label on the seat bottom. “ Just like I thought – “Made in Mexico.”

“Well I like it anyway. This is how I want to decorate my next house.”

Adeen couldn’t help but feel like they were picking out their first house together – where they would live happily ever after. She knew it was a fantasy, but she let it play out in her mind . . . until triplets arrived. She blinked to erase that memory and went into the master bedroom. Brian followed her.

“A little crowded, but that’s what happens when you try to squeeze four bedrooms into a two bedroom floor plan. And the view out the window is perfect. Thick evergreens extending from the outside wall on up into the forest above. It would be easy to get lost in there.” He looked at Adeen to see if she had gotten the unspoken message. She had. Smart woman. I think I’ll keep her around.

As they were getting back into Brian’s SUV Adeen’s phone rang. “Yes? This is Alice. Oh, hiiii Gabe. Have you got some good news for me? . . . Great. I’ll be over in less than an hour. Same to you, Gabe. Bye for now.”

Brian looked at her with a grin on his face. “Alice?”

“It’s my middle name. I hate it. Don’t you ever call me that, unless you want to make me mad.”

“Gabe?”

“I wanted to get close to him.”

“So you were seducing poor ole Gabe.”

“Yeah, I was doing whatever it took. And if you’re not careful I’ll seduce you.”

“Bring it on, sweetheart!”

“. . . That’s the first time you called me that. Did you mean it?”

He thought for a brief minute. “Yes, I believe I did. . . . I think I’m falling in love with you, Adeen.”

That caught her by surprise. Her suspicious imagination took over. Is he just saying that to keep me around as a bed partner? How can he really love someone like me? I have so many faults that he knows nothing about.

Brian expected an answer. Maybe not ‘I love you, too’ but some kind of expression of mutual connectedness. But as they drove down out of the valley, she was silent.

Brian thought, Boy, do I feel like the fool. Letting my heart show for once and having the door slammed on it. How could I have been reading her so wrong?

Adeen wrestled with her feelings until just before they reached Taos, when she realized If I don’t fix this now, it will never be fixed.

She looked him in the face. “Brian, I . . . I apologize for not answering you back there. My inner demons took over and all I could think about was how unworthy of your love I was. . . . But I just kicked them out of my psyche, hopefully to never return.

“Brian, I do love you. I love they way you treat me as an equal, the way we laugh together, the thrill of being in danger with you – knowing that you will, for certain, get us through it. I love the way you look at me when I can see in your eyes how much you love me.” At this point she teared up.

“I’ve never been in love this far before, and it scares me. I’ve never had someone who loved me as much as you do . . . and that scares me. This is all unfamiliar territory to me, so forgive me if I struggle now and then.”

Brian put his right arm around her and hugged her. “I’m starting to understand all that . . . sweetheart. Forgive me if I get stuck in my male ego now and then.”

Adeen put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

By late afternoon they had closed the deal for the condo. Two weeks rental for $6,000, in cash, non-refundable. It was expensive, but Brian could get more from his account whenever he needed it. Right now they were relaxing on the porch, sipping a crisp Chardonnay – enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery as the sun sank below the mountain peaks and the valley started it’s slide into total darkness. They were really looking forward to a week or two of uninterrupted bliss.

But across the way, in the window of a third floor condo, stood a man with binoculars, watching them. Waiting. [The old movies would play sinister music here.]

Chapter 35 – Zeus Reborn

Maj. Theresa Sanders, Terry, was the sole passenger in the C-37B, a.k.a Gulfstream V, executive jet. It was General Armstrong’s personal jet, on call to go wherever he ordered it to – to play golf in Bahrain, to the annual Army vs. Navy football games, skiing in Colorado, West point annual class reunion( a.k.a. drunken orgy), and vacation junkets for selected senators and congressmen whose vote was needed to support something the Army considered ‘vital to their war-fighting capability,’ such as funds for the latest hi-tech weapon. He had even used it once for an airborne tryst with Maj. Sanders – an event she tried hard to forget. Someone his age with five whiskies in him wasn’t much of a lover, even when she kept telling him what a stud he was. He had finally passed out, which was fortunate because the next morning she could easily convince him he had ‘screwed her brains out’ all night long. Sometimes sucking up for a promotion was a pain in the . . . whatever.

Today she was enjoying his personal jet because it had every amenity she cared for – meals prepared just before takeoff by a world-class chef, any drink she could think of – Sometimes she made up the name of a drink just to see what the bartender, a.k.a. mixologist, would come up with. There was even a full sized king bed in the back for sleeping, or whatever else came to mind. The on-board attendants were completely discreet, knowing that one leaked tale would get them transferred to wherever the chance of getting killed was the greatest.

As the plane sailed through the lower regions of the stratosphere Terry was studying the reports that Brian Callaghan had submitted to DARPA, as well as Dr. Reilly’s reports to the Forest Service that had caught the attention of NSA. With her physics background she had no problem understanding the EMP energy densities required to sterilize insects, small mammals, and human ova taken from a cadaver. She could see right away that she would have to prove that the same output levels would also rupture the yolks of living human eggs. I wonder what it would do to an embryo, she thought.

She also studied Callaghan’s theories, what little there was in the DARPA reports, to try to understand how the EMP beam spread could be reduced enough to give the needed power density at the earth’s surface from a plane at 60,000 feet. It was a question of trading off EMP power output for a tighter beam. Somewhere between the overpowered Zeus device and the underpowered laboratory version, there had to a point where the two parameters were at optimum value. That would be her second objective, after establishing that the sterilization worked on living ova.

That was going to be difficult. She needed human volunteers who would agree to being irradiated with EMP pulses, then have their eggs autopsied to see the result. I think my best bet would be to find women who already have more children than they want – women seeking to have their tubes tied to stop the stream of babies issuing from their wombs. Maybe I can check with the base hospital at WSMR for that.

By the time she landed at Holloman Air Force Base between Alamogordo and the Army Base at White Sands the sun was setting. She was anxious to get to WSMR to see how the re-assembly of Zeus was progressing, but she didn’t want to drive at night, alone, on the deserted highway. So she checked into the hotel on base for the night. She wasted little time changing into casual clothes and heading for the Officer’s Club. Maybe she could hook up with an interesting man.

When she entered the bar there was no shortage of men, most of them loud and boisterous. She had forgotten the officers here at Holloman were mostly pilots – an entirely different breed than those who frequented the clubs around Washington D.C. She wondered if she was overdressed until she realized how many men were following her entrance. She definitely liked to turn lots of heads. She looked around and chose a man sitting alone at a table in the back. He had glanced briefly at her, then looked back at the book he was reading. That’s what I’m looking for – someone who doesn’t look at me with his tongue hanging out. She approached his table and asked “Is this seat taken?” He looked up at her for a moment. “No, and neither are a couple dozen other empty chairs.” I definitely like this man. He will be a real challenge.

“So you don’t want me to sit here?”

“I didn’t say that. Suit yourself.”

She sat down and ordered a whisky on the rocks. This guy was definitely not the wine type. When they waitress brought her drink she took a sip and sat quietly. He’s expecting me to try to start a conversation. But if I sit here silently long enough, he’ll get uncomfortable and open it himself. She used the wait time to look him over – Early thirties, two-day beard growth, thick black hair that hadn’t been washed in awhile. Well-worn shirt and jeans, dusty Tony Lama Ropers – definitely not an urban cowboy.

As he turned the page of his book she got a glimpse of his callused hands. Not the hands of a pilot. A rancher maybe? He has to have some kind of military connection to be allowed in the O’club. He’s too young to be retired from active duty – that takes at least twenty years. Damn, he’s got my curiosity turned up high. Why won’t he start a conversation? I can wait him out.

Thirty seconds later Terry cleared her throat. “What you reading?” He looked at her, held the cover up for her to see, then returned to his reading. Wow! . He’s definitely not what he seems to be.

“That looks really interesting. Does it cover the role of the observer in creating quantum effects? Like in the double slit experiment?”

He paused, slowly closed the book and said “Now you’ve got my attention. Is that something you read in Scientific American, or is there some understanding behind it.”

“As much understanding as anyone can claim for quantum physics. I believe it was Feynman who said “If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you don’t understand it.”

“No, John Wheeler said that, but most of the modern physicists said something similar.”

“Except for Einstein who disagreed with the probabilistic nature of the quantum world with his well-known quote ‘God doesn’t play dice.’ He couldn’t accept that everything wasn’t deterministic. A always follows B, every time. Quantum physics says that A might follow B, sometimes.”

“Steven Hawking had a great come back to that. ‘Not only does God play dice, but sometimes he throws them where they cannot be seen’”

Terry laughed at that. “I’m Terry, by the way.”

“I’m Josiah. It’s not often I meet someone who can talk with me at this level. Especially a . . .” He cleared his throat.

“You were going to say ‘especially a woman.’ It’s okay. I’m used to it. In fact I enjoy surprising people with my brains. What are you doing in this God-forsaken place?”

“What, the bar or the area?”

“Either. Whichever is more God-forsaken to you.”

“I like the country around here. As for the bar, it was pretty barren until you came in.”

She smiled at that. “So what do you do around here, Josiah?”

“I work at the missile range. The job comes with Officer’s Club privileges so I come here one or twice a week to get away. How about you. You’re a fresh face. Why are you here?”

“I just flew in to manage a project at WSMR. I stopped here for the night so I wouldn’t have to drive that lonesome highway in the dark.” She expected him to ask about the project, so she could boast a little by telling him it was classified. But her answer satisfied him.

He looked at her and said “I’m driving back there in the morning. You’re welcome to ride with me.”

“Yes. I would like that. You are the most interesting person I’ve met in quite awhile.”

They both ordered another drink and talked about the latest topics from the world of physics until the bar closed.

“I’ll be out front at 6:30 in the morning if you want a ride.”

“I’ll be there. I’m an early riser. Goodnight, Josiah.”

“Goodnight Terry.”

The ride to WSMR was quiet, without much to talk about. He was surprised to see her in an Army Major’s uniform. He assumed she was a program manager from a civilian contractor at WSMR, but he made no comment.

As they approach the gate to the base he asked “Where can I drop you?”

“I’m staying at the IHG Army Hotel – Building 501. It’s on . . . Aberdeen Avenue.”

“I know where that is.”

“Do you live on the base?”

“I have a house in the Trinity Park housing area.”

She waited for more information – like does your wife and family live there with you? But that was all he offered.

When he stopped in front of the housing headquarters and she started to get out he reached out and touched her arm. “Thank you for last night. I really enjoyed it. I would like to talk with you more.”

That caught her by surprise since he had said barely a word this morning, but she smiled and answered, “I would like that too.”

After getting her clothes put away in her room she called Senior Master Sergeant Yost, the man leading the Zeus reassembly team. “This is Major Sanders. Can you send someone over to pick me up?”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll be over in ten minutes.”

She changed into her camo uniform and waited in the hotel lobby until Sgt. Yost drove up in a HumVee and honked the horn. As she sat down and swung her legs into the door-less vehicle she asked “Okay. What’s first.”

“First we go visit the base commander, General Dole. He welcomes all new personnel before they go to the work sites.” She wondered if she should have stayed in her dress uniform to make a better first impression, but it was too late now.

The General’s secretary showed her into his office. A big, loud man stood up and boomed, “Major Sanders. Welcome to my base. General Armstrong called personally this morning and told me to be sure to get you anything you need.”

She wondered briefly if Alex had shared anything else about her. “Thank you, sir. I look forward to working closely with your people on this exciting project.” She didn’t know how much Alex had told him about the project, but since it was Top secret she wasn’t planning to say any more about it.

“Alex told me not to ask too many questions or he would have to shoot me, so I won’t ask you to keep me in the loop. Just don’t blow up anything.”

“I’ll try my best, General.”

“Before you go I want you to meet my Chief Scientist. He keeps tabs on every project here at WSMR. He’s been cleared into your program, so you will have someone you can go to for technical assistance.”

The General’s door opened. “Ah, here he is. Major Sanders, meet Dr. Josiah Lightfoot.”

It was everything she could do to keep her mouth from dropping open. Josiah gave her a brief smile and said, “The major and I are already acquainted, General. I’ll take her out to the hangar where the EMP device is almost assembled and bring her up to date.” With a hand in the middle of her back he hustled her out of Gen. Dole’s office and into to the waiting vehicle. “Sgt. Yost, let’s get out to the site.”

“Yes sir.”

Terry was impressed when she saw the Zeus EMP generator for the first time. “I expected it to be a lot bigger,” she shouted to Josiah over the din of the mechanics and metal workers. “If this works it will easily fit in the cargo bay of a C-130 transport.”

“The system is more than just the generator. It requires control electronics and a hydraulic pump. For repetitive firing like the mission calls for we’ll need to add a cooling system also, but I think it will still fit. A helicopter is out of the question though.”

“I agree. Has anyone thought about putting it on a satellite? It could cover a larger area from that altitude.”

Josiah stopped and gave her a hard look. “What are your thoughts about the mission, Terry?”

Terry didn’t know if Josiah was cleared for that level of information so she gave him the cover story answer. “Limiting population overcrowding in destitute countries is the humanitarian thing to do. We can have a real impact on the world economy.”

“That’s not the mission I’m talking about, and you know it.”

“Oh. . . . Well, preventing our country from being overrun by the Chinese hoards is just as important.”

“I would have thought that, as a woman, you would be disturbed by the idea of taking away a woman’s ability to have children.”

“But it’s for their own good. And think of the thousands of babies that would starve to death without this new technology.”

“But the objective here is purely military. Think of the potential for misuse if we give the generals a new toy like this.”

Terry thought about the dozen or so generals she knew and realized that Josiah might be right. But I can’t let that get in the way of my own march to make general. . . . Maybe I’ll be in a position eventually to make certain Zeus is used responsively. She didn’t know how to answer Josiah, so she didn’t.

Two days later she and Josiah stood behind a thick barricade with a bulletproof window to watch the first live test of the reincarnated device. When the test director’s countdown reached zero there was a loud explosion accompanied by a flash of bright light. When the smoke cleared they took off their noise-canceling ear protectors and waited for the initial data report. It didn’t take long for the test director to hurry over with some data printouts in his hand.

“Something’s not right here, Josiah. The pulse was so stretched out in time that the peak intensity never reached the threshold for the effect we’re after. It’s down by a factor of ten.”

Terry looked at the data. “That means we would have to be 100 times closer than the operating distance we plan to use. The intensity changes as the square of the range. This isn’t good. We need to find out what’s going on and fix it.”

Josiah nodded in agreement. “Yep. That about sums it up,” then turned and walked away.

Terry spent the rest of the day and half of the night going over the test results, trying to figure out what happened. She even considered the possibility that the measurement equipment was malfunctioning – that the output was up where it should be but the instruments were wrong. But when she looked at the pre-test and post-test calibration data she had to give up on that wishful thinking. She emailed Josiah and asked him to meet her for breakfast at the Officer’s Club. Maybe they could work it out together.

She was about to close her laptop for the night when the new email tone sounded. It was Josiah answering her. “I’m still up and wracking my brain over these results. Can we get together now?”

She was tired but decided to meet him. Maybe they would talk about something other than today’s test. “Sure. Where should we meet?”

“At the office, your room, or my place.”

She thought about the possibilities and took a chance. “How about your place?”

“Fine. I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.”

When Terry climbed into Josiah’s pickup she asked the question that had been burning in her mind. “Does your wife mind if you bring your work home with you?’

“No.”

What about an attractive female co-worker? She thought about saying, but didn’t.

She gave up that line of questioning. “How long have you lived here on base?”

“Four or five years. I don’t remember exactly.”

She joked “Is it your Alzheimer’s”

“No, not yet anyway. I just don’t like to clutter my mind with useless trivia.”

“I wish I were that disciplined. My mind is cluttered with junk that sidetracks my thinking. I think I might have A.D.D.”

“Everyone has a little. It’s not like cancer – you have it or you don’t. It’s a continuous scale from barely noticeable to incapacitating. For me it’s the source of creative thinking. I can consider, analyze, and accept or reject a dozen solutions to a problem in just a few minutes. I envision it like a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower, briefly sampling each one before racing off to another one. People with less A.D.D. are more like butterflies.”

“That’s a great metaphor! I haven’t thought of it like that. To me it’s always been a negative thing.”

“To an adult A.D.D. is a gift, not an anchor. For kids trying to struggle through an education system that wasn’t designed for their kind of mind it can be a real burden.”

With that comment Josiah turned into the driveway of a small, single-story ranch home. It wasn’t new but looked well kept up. The front yard was cacti, yuccas, and purple sagebrush pushing up through a bed of gravel that covered the entire yard. “Nice yard,” She commented. “No grass to mow.”

“It’s called xeriscaping. There’s not enough rainfall here to grow grass naturally and irrigating depletes the water table. It’s required by law here at White Sands. Come on, let’s get down to work.”

When she walked through the front door she immediately knew there was no Mrs. Lightfoot. The décor was typical male minimalist, with no plants, knick knacks, or paintings. The only wall decoration was a large Indian blanket with framed photographs hanging beside it. She walked over to look at the photos. At the top was a black and white picture of an elderly American Indian couple standing in front of a mud hut. He wore a patterned headband and a loose long-sleeved shirt. She had on a similar shirt and headband, but had an Indian blanket around her shoulders and a beautiful squash blossom necklace.

The next photo was the same couple – much younger but dressed the same way – with a young boy standing between them in similar attire. The final photo at the bottom was of Josiah in front of a Cal Tech banner, flanked by his parents. He was dressed in a doctoral gown and held up a scroll that was undoubtedly his diploma. She looked over at the hanging blanket and then back at the top photo.

“This blanket is the one your mother is wearing in the photo.”

“Yes. She wove that. We were Navaho, living on the reservation near Tohatchi. Father raised sheep and mother wove beautiful blankets. It wasn’t much of an income but it let us live comfortably in the Navaho tradition.”

“That was quite an accomplishment – from reservation to PhD. There must have been a lot of barriers to overcome along the way.”

“About the same as a woman getting a PhD from MIT.”

She smiled as she remembered Josiah’s hesitation when he cut off his comment ‘for a woman’ in the club the other night.

“Alright enough chit chat. I have the data printouts laid out on the table in the dining room. We should talk our way through them a step at a time. Would you like a drink?”

“A glass of wine would be nice.”

“I figured the whiskey at the club was to impress me.”

She blushed. “Busted.”

By three in the morning they thought they had it figured out. The key to getting an ultra-short pulse was removal of the end cavity mirror at just the right instant. For some reason that was taking longer than it should.

Josiah explained his conclusion: “In my opinion, the only way to make this thing work is to have one of my electronics guys build a copy of this timing circuit board. The problem is that we don’t have the design drawings – the circuit diagrams – that will tell us how the board is wired. If we can’t get the circuit diagrams we’ll have to reverse engineer the old one, which means removing the components then peeling back the three layers of printed circuits embedded in the sandwiched board. We can recreate the circuit diagram but we’ll destroy the board in the process. That means the new board will have to be an exact copy of the old one down to the last detail, or we’ll be left with nothing.”

“There is another possibility, Josiah. If we can talk to the genius who designed Zeus, Brian Callaghan, he’ll be able to tell us how to get it working. There are two problems with that, though. One, we don’t know where to find him. He’s sequestered wherever Lt. Col. Wright is building Zeus Junior. Two, Alex – Gen. Armstrong – gave me direct instructions not to have any contact with Callaghan or anyone else from Project Malthus.”

“Problem two isn’t an issue, Terry. We’ll just have to contact Callaghan in secret. Problem one is a little tougher, but I have some contacts in Washington who might know where he is. I’ll make some calls in the morning and let you know what I find.”

“Your solution to problem two means I would be disobeying a direct order, which will trash my career if Armstrong finds out. I’m not willing to do that.”

“So your alternatives are to obey the General’s order and stay away from the one man who can keep your project from disaster, or to disobey the General’s order and be a hero for making Zeus work. Seems to me it’s a toss up. Either choice could ruin your military career.”

On their way back to the hotel she thought over what he had said. There was no way around it; he was right. If she disobeyed the order and got Zeus working with Callaghan’s help, there was a pretty good chance that Armstrong would never find out about it. That was the best gamble. She turned to Josiah. “I’m going to gamble on finding Callaghan. Make your call in the morning.”

Chapter 36 – A Question of Scruples

Adeen woke up alone in the bed. She panicked for a moment. Where is Brian? Did he leave me here while he escapes. Abandoning me at a ski resort without a car – or money for that matter? That bastard! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him! But why would he leave me? He’s just like all men. Gets what he’s after then leaves to find another woman. . . . No, that’s not Brian. He’s genuine. And I know he loves me. He would never abandon me.

“Are you up yet, sleepy head?” Brian called out from the kitchen. “I have breakfast almost ready.” Adeen felt relief wash over her. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes, sweetheart.” Did I just call him sweetheart? That sounds too . . . possessive? I hope it doesn’t make him mad. She put on her pajamas and joined him in the kitchen.

“What did you just call me?”

“Uh . . . sweetheart?”

“That’s what I thought I heard.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound possessive.”

“I like it! You can call me that anytime . . . sweetheart.”

She smiled and wrapped her arms around his waist. He responded by turning his head around for a kiss. “Don’t distract me or I’ll burn the French toast.”

“Who’s distracting who here?”

“Okay. You have to decide whether you want me or breakfast.”

“I’ll save you for dessert.”

After dessert and a shower they sat out on the balcony marveling at the scenic beauty of the forested mountains and smell of clear mountain air. The thin air left them a little winded. They had to breathe deeper to make up for the oxygen deficit at high altitude – 9,300 feet at the valley floor.

Brian thought about this. “If we have to take off up the slope into the woods we’ll really be sucking air. I don’t know how long we’ll be staying here, but we probably should be jogging once or twice a day to get our heart and lungs acclimated to the altitude.”

“You really know how to mess up a relaxing moment.”

“I didn’t say we need to start now. I need to get some energy back first.”

“Me too. How about we start after lunch?”

“Okay. What’s for lunch?”

“Are you hungry already?”

“Soon. There’s a Bavarian sandwich shop in the lower end of the village. Let’s just go there. I’m hankerin’ for beer and bratwurst.”

“You had me at Bavarian.”

Terry and Josiah were on the way to work at WSMR the morning after their late night meeting. Remembering how silent he was on their last ride to work Terry was reluctant to start a conversation, but this time Josiah broke the ice. “Did you get enough sleep last night? It was close to three a.m. when I dropped you off.”

“I don’t need a lot of sleep, especially when I’m wired about something.”

Josiah asked, “What had you wired?” hoping it had something to do with him. He was awake until dawn thinking about her. He found her intellect almost as attractive as her physical assets.

She thought for a minute herself, then decided not to tell him what really kept her awake. “I was going over the test procedures to see what we might have missed. Something we did that ruined the timing.” She knew that sounded a little lame, but she didn’t want to admit that she was worrying over her moral reservations about ruining women’s childbearing ability in the name of a military objective. And about the potential to for EMP sterilization to be misused.

Josiah gave her a long look, like he could see into her mind to know what really bothered her. “Well, did you come to any conclusions?”

“About what?” she answered a little too quickly.

“About what we might have done wrong in the test procedures.”

She welcomed the opportunity to divert the discussion away from her inner turmoil. “The only thing I concluded is that we really have to find Callaghan. The device is just too complex to hope we might stumble on a solution.”

“I already made some calls early this morning. Because of the time zone difference Washington was already in full swing when I got up.” He paused, wondering how much he should tell her.

“Don’t keep me in suspense! What did you find out?”

“Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that I know where he was – until two days ago. Actually, that’s the bad news too. The FBI was holding Callaghan and his biologist friend in custody, sort of, in a hotel in Santa Fe. Apparently they found a way to escape and disappear. My FBI contact was a little hesitant to give me the details since they were left with egg on their face.”

“Does the FBI have any idea where they might have gone?”

“They might have headed for Mexico, but they didn’t show up at any of the roadblocks.”

“Well, shit, Josiah! . . . Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why not? It reveals more of who you are. And I find that honest and charming.”

“So you find a woman who can’t watch her mouth charming?”

“Delightfully so.”

Terry blushed at that. Josiah noticed and was even more charmed.

After a pause to regain her composure she asked, “What do we do now?”

“I’m waiting for a callback from a contact I have inside DARPA. He might have something useful for us later today.”

Over the last few miles to the Army Base Josiah seemed to be absorbed in his thoughts. She watched him and wondered what deep theoretical thoughts were surging through his mind. She knew better than to interrupt him.

What Josiah was really thinking about was asking Terry if she would like to come to his house for dinner that night. He might be a brilliant physicist, but he was like a teenager when it came to asking a woman out. He was going over several approaches in his mind, trying to find one that would let him back off with minimal ego damage if she said ‘no.’ He finally decided his ego didn’t belong in the equation so, as they approached the gate he blurted out “Would you like to come over to my place for dinner tonight? . . . I mean if you’re not busy or anything. I guess it was presumptuous of me to assume that you wouldn’t be busy. You probably have already met some other men who want to see you. . . .”

“Josiah, shut up! Of course I would like to come over for dinner tonight.” Then she impulsively leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Josiah was so befuddled that he almost drove right through the gate without showing his I.D. to the gate guard.

Brian and Adeen were nearing the end of their first week as criminals in hiding by starting their day in the usual fashion – sitting on the deck sipping coffee and enjoying each other’s company. Adeen smiled. “I could get used to this real fast, Brian. It feels kind of . . . domestic.”

“It does sweetheart. It’s almost like we’re married.”

“Was that a proposal I just heard?”

“Not officially. Not until this mess is over and we can settle down permanently. But this will do for now.”

She reached out and squeezed his hand. “I was hoping you felt that way, Brian. I’ve never felt so in love, and so loved, as I do with you.”

“Me too.”

Dimitri Lebedev watched them from his room across the street. He had followed them here by putting a tracking device under their car at the Anasazi Inn. A Russian satellite was able to pinpoint their location at all times so Dimitri didn’t need to follow right behind them and risk being spotted. He just waited a day and let the software on his computer tell him where they went. Once he got to the ski valley it wasn’t difficult to pinpoint which condo they were staying in and rent one that overlooked their front door. It made surveillance child’s play.

Once he was settled in he set up an encrypted communication link over the internet with Gen. Sokolov and reported the situation. He was told to stay with them and wait for two other agents to join him before he moved in on the couple. He didn’t know when they would arrive, but he was in no hurry. Life in this decadent American vacation spot was too pleasant to give up soon.

As the Russian spy watched the couple, another couple strolled past, arm in arm and stopped to chat with them. I hope they don’t become friends. That might interfere with my plans to kidnap the woman. As he watched Adeen went out to meet them and invite them onto the deck, where they sat and took the cups of coffee she offered.

When Adeen met them out in front of the condo they introduced themselves as Helen and Hank Trimble. After they were relaxed with a mug of coffee in their hands Adeen asked “Are you two here in Taos on vacation?”

Helen smiled. “That was a good guess, although I imagine just about everyone up here is vacationing.”

Brian spoke up. “Actually many of the folks are up here for the summer, escaping the heat of a dozen big cities. Those folks own their condos and come up for the summer, then return around Christmas to do some skiing. Do you two ski?”

“Hank does, and he’s very good at it. He almost made the Olympic ski team before he broke his ankle.” Hank grinned sheepishly with embarrassment.

“Sorry honey. . . He doesn’t like for me to brag about it. So how about you two? Do you live here or somewhere else?”

Adeen looked at Brian, then started to spin her own story. “Brian and I only met recently. We’re here on kind of a honeymoon.”

“Oh, so you’re newlyweds.”

Adeen paused. “Not quite yet. We’re having our dessert first.”

They continued to chat about their lives, both couples making it up as they went. Hank and Helen said they were from Atlanta, and Brian and Adeen said they were from Milwaukee. The difference was that Helen and Hank knew the other couple was lying, while Brian and Adeen didn’t realize they were hearing a cover story for Jessica and Matt Pauling of Colorado Springs.

They continued to get together for the next couple of days, playing cards, drinking wine, and laughing. After they went out to dinner one night Helen said that she planned to go down to the Taos historic district to do some shopping and asked Adeen if she wanted to join her. Adeen was eager to get out a bit so she immediately agreed. She caught a barely noticeable shake of Brian’s head, but didn’t want to change her mind so she said nothing else.

As soon as they were back inside their condo Adeen confronted Brian. “What did you mean by shaking your head about the shopping trip? I can do whatever I please. We’re not even married yet and you’re trying to control me!”

Brian paused to get his angry reaction in check, then said calmly, “It wasn’t about control. We’re wanted fugitives. Parading around in public is the last thing we want to be doing.”

“Oh . . . I didn’t think about that. When she comes by in the morning I’ll tell her I’m sick . . . that I got food poisoning from dinner tonight.”

“No, you don’t have to do that, Adeen. There’s not much chance of running into anyone who knows us in Taos. Go ahead with the shopping, but just this once. I would hate for us to have to run for it again.”

“Okay. I guess you’re right.. I’m going to watch some TV. Care to join me?”

“Let me check my computer for news first, to see if we’ve made the FBI top ten yet.”

When Brian opened his computer there was a message on the screen saying ‘ LANL-BCALL YOU HAVE MAIL.’ What the heck? That’s my old LANL account. That should have been deactivated by now. He went into the encrypted mode and opened the message.

Mr. Callaghan

I am managing a classified project to revive your Zeus machine and get it working. We finished the re-assembly but the first test was a failure. Can we meet and discuss?

Maj. Theresa Sanders, U.S. Army

White Sands Missile Range

“Holy crap!” Adeen, come see this. She hurried into he room and read it over Brian’s shoulder.

“No! No! We destroyed everything in the caboose so no one could ever build the EMP generator again. Now they have your old device and are apparently planning to make a sterilizer weapon out of it. We can’t burn it up like we did the caboose. How do we stop them?”

“The first thing we have to consider – is this a trap to bring us out in the open? The FBI might have made this up to lure us in. . . . But if it’s true we need to find out where the device is so we can figure out a way to destroy it.”

“You’re not seriously thinking of meeting with this Major Sanders, are you?”

“I think I have to. Otherwise the most destructive weapon ever devised will be in the hands of the U.S. Army and we know how far we can trust them.”

“If you’re set on doing this I’m coming with you.”

“No, we can’t risk both of us getting caught. One of us has to be free to use our ‘nuclear’ option – a media release to TV networks and everyone on the internet.”

“But if we have to do that we’ll go to prison. That’s what we signed up for with Lt. Col. Wright when we were sworn into the program.”

“You’re right. And I don’t know if I have the courage to risk that when the time comes – if it comes. It could be done anonymously, but there’s still a risk they can trace it back to us. But if I get captured, you need to be free to escape and spread the word somehow.”

“I don’t like it, but you’re right. Where are you going to meet her? You can’t let her pick the place – it might be swarming with FBI agents..

“That’s going to take some thought. It can’t be here at the condo, or even in the ski valley. But I can’t risk driving on the open highways and getting caught by a sharp-eyed cop. My license plate and car are on the BOLO list of every police computer in the state. I’ll pull up a map to get some ideas.”

After 20 minutes of studying a map of the area Brian found what he was looking for. He joined Adeen in the living room.

“I think I have the ideal place – the old adobe church in Chimayo, about fifty miles south of here. I can take the old mountain route to stay clear of police cars and the FBI. I’ll leave early tomorrow and be there by dawn, parked on one of the hilltops overlooking the village. There are only three narrow roads into the town so I’ll be able to see if they bring in vehicles to set up an ambush. If it’s only her I’ll go down and meet her.”

“I still want to go with you.”

“I know but it has to be this way. Besides, you have that shopping trip with Helen tomorrow. I’ll send Major Sanders an answer.”

Major,

Meet me at GPS coordinates 35.9893° N, 105.9316° W at 0800 tomorrow. Come alone.

BC

The next morning Brian drove his Jeep up an old trail that climbed to the top of Colina de Pinion, a heavily forested hill with a good view of Chimayo and the Chapel. He waited at the bottom until there was enough light in the sky to illuminate the way. He didn’t want to risk someone from the village seeing his headlights. He backed the Jeep into some brush ready for a quick get away if he needed it. He brought out his binoculars and lay down at the edge of the cliff. As soon as enough light reached the floor of the valley he began his search for surprises. First he carefully scanned the other hills above the village, looking for something that didn’t belong – maybe a straight line among the misshapen trees, the glint from another set of binoculars, or light from a flashlight or cell phone.

When he was satisfied that everything looked normal on the hillsides he dropped his line of sight down to the houses and streets below. Here he was looking for a shiny black SUV like the FBI people drove. He studied all the streets and driveways and saw nothing but old pick ups and rusting cars owned by the locals. He saw one school bus and wondered if they might have come up last night with a busload of agents, but then he saw the flat tire. It was summer, school was out, and no one saw any reason to fix the tire until the bus was needed in the fall. So far everything looked safe.

He continued to watch the town and the roads, but nothing was moving. When his watch moved past 0800 he wondered if she would show. She had sent him a short answer to his last email – I’ll be there. No details about what vehicle she’d be driving or anything else. By twenty minutes past the hour he was about to give up and leave when he heard an engine laboring up the hill from the main highway down by the Rio Grande. As it rounded the last bend he focused his binoculars on it and saw there were two people – a man driver and a woman beside him.

He followed the truck with his binoculars as it turned into the parking lot in front of the church. He focused on the driver as he got out – dark hair, medium build, faded shirt and jeans, boots – definitely not an FBI guy. He moved over to the woman as she came around the back of the truck. Tall, slim – but not too slim – blonde hair beneath a baseball cap with the Army logo on the front . . . Damn it! I told her to come alone. Who did she bring – a body guard maybe? I guess she might have felt uncomfortable coming to meet a stranger alone. I’ll go down and have a closer look.

Terry and Josiah didn’t see anyone around so they explored the church and grounds. Other than a gardener the place was empty. There was an old wooden bench by the front entrance so they sat down and waited. Brian walked up to the rear entrance, through the church, and stood just inside the door. He listened to their conversation for a few minutes until he heard them say something about an upcoming test, then stepped out to confront them.

“I told you to come alone, Major Sanders. Convince me that this guy is not a threat to me and I’ll stay – otherwise I’m gone.”

Terry and Josiah stood and offered a handshake, which Brian ignored. He wanted to show them he was in control of the meeting.

“As you guessed I’m Major Sanders – Terry if first names are okay with you. This is Dr. Josiah Lightfoot, a physicist helping out on the EMP project.”

Brian turned to the man and asked, “How many electrons does the uranium 235 atom have, Doctor?”

Josiah answered immediately, “ninety two.”

“No FBI agent would know that, so I guess you’re who she says you are.”

Josiah shot back, “And how about you? How do we know you’re really Brian Callaghan?”

“The wavelength of the light from a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet laser is 1.064 microns.”

“Okay. You passed. Now what?”

“Terry’s said in her email that the initial test of the re-incarnated Zeus failed. Tell me what failed means.”

“Well, the output was much weaker than I expected and the beam spread was too wide for the planned use of the device,” Terry answered.

“And just what is that planned use, Major?”

“That’s classified, Mr. Callaghan.”

“I figured you would say that. Are you aware that a flaw in my theory prevents it’s use as a military beam weapon?”

“Yes, I read your final report to DARPA, but that’s not how we planned to use it. . . . Forget you heard that!”

Brian laughed. “Now just how do I un-hear and un-remember something.”

She frowned. “You know what I mean. Just don’t ever admit you heard it if you’re questioned.”

“But then I would by lying to a Government official. I could go to prison for that.”

“You’re exasperating!”

“Let me guess what the application is, Major. Is it about sterilizing human females in locations the military chooses? . . . You don’t need to answer that – I saw the reaction in your eyes.”

“I can’t admit to that Brian, but you read me correctly.”

“Let me tell you why I’m on the run from the FBI. The highest level of our Government has approved a similar program run by Lt. Col. Marcus Wright. They claim that their objective is purely humanitarian – reduce overpopulation in areas where starvation is a way of life, where half the children die before their fifth birthday. They want me to design the airborne sterilizer device but there’s no way in hell I’ll do that – sterilizing women who don’t even know about it. Wright told me I didn’t have a choice – other than going to prison.”

Teresa looked down at the floor as she said, “Yes, I’m aware of that program. But I didn’t know you were forced to run it.”

“Adeen and I – Adeen Reilly, the biologist I’m working with – decided we had to remove the possibility of that ever happening by destroying the hardware and design documents so that another could never be built. . . . We burned down my lab and everything in it, even though it made us fugitives. We thought that was the end of it, until I got your email. It looks like I opened Pandora’s box when I created that EMP monster.”

Josiah offered his thoughts on the subject. “I haven’t told Terry yet, but I’m against developing this weapon. What it could do to women is wrong – by man’s standards and God’s standards. One of the reasons I offered to be Terry’s liaison at White Sands was to see if I could get the project cancelled.”

“Josiah! How can you feel that way! If we don’t develop the EMP sterilizer some other country will and use it against us.”

“I’ll take our chances with that possibility. We have time to work on a counter-measure, to find a way to protect our women from the damaging pulses.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say, Josiah. I can’t have you working on my project if that’s the way you feel. I couldn’t trust you not to sabotage the tests.”

“I was hoping I could convince you to stop the development, but I see that’s not happening.”

Brian got up to leave. “I think this meeting is over. Josiah, it’s nice to meet a fellow scientist with scruples.” As he walked away Terry called out to him. “But I need your help to get it working. My career depends on it.”

Brian looked back over his shoulder. “I think you have your priorities out of order, Major. Life trumps career – always.”

Chapter 37 – A Matter of Life and Death.

Helen picked Adeen up after breakfast and drove down the winding road into the valley. Part way to Taos she said, “Uh oh. Something’s wrong with the car. I smell something burning. And look, we’re leaving a trail of smoke behind us! I’ll pull off into the clearing ahead and check it out.” When the car came to a stop next to the dense brush surrounding the pull-out they both got out.

Adeen pointed her nose up and sniffed. “I know that smell, Helen. It’s overheated brakes. The smoke’s coming from the back wheels. Did you leave the parking brake on?” When she didn’t get an answer she turned around and froze. Helen, Hank, and another rough-looking man were facing her. Where did they come from? Just as she started to panic the man grabbed her arm and injected something into it.

“What the hell!! Let go of me!” She yanked her arm loose and managed to get one good kick into the man’s crotch before she felt her knees start to buckle. The last thing she heard was the groaning of the man she kicked.

By the time Brian got back to the condo it was after lunch. He called out, “Adeen, I’m home.” When he didn’t get an answer he went through the place looking for her. He had a twinge of worry before he remembered that Helen and Adeen went shopping. “They’re probably having too much fun to be back anytime soon,” he murmured to himself. I’ll make a sandwich and catch a nap. That early start this morning left me with a sleep deficit.”

He was almost asleep when the doorbell rang. “Damn. That can’t be Adeen. She would just come on in.” He rolled out of bed and walked out to the front door. After a look through the peephole her opened the door. “Hank. Good to see you. Come on in and join me in a beer.” Hank came in and before Brian could close the door a heavy set man pushed his way inside. Brian yelled “Who are you? Get out of here!.” As he turned to Hank for an explanation the other man hit him over the head with something. The curtain of his consciousness immediately slammed shut and he crumpled backwards into Dimitri’s arms.

The first thing Brian was aware of as he came to was the excruciating pain behind his left eye. He kept his eyes closed for a couple of minutes, feeling like he would start spinning around if he opened them. Finally he risked opening one eye and closed it quickly as a wave of nausea swept over him. His ears started working next, but not perfectly. He heard someone say something about “too hard.” That sounded like Hank. Then a gruffer voice said, “I’m an expert with a blackjack. I know how hard to hit.”

Brian turned his head toward the sound to hear more clearly, but Hank caught the movement. “I guess you’re right Dimitri. He’s coming around. Wake up, Callaghan!” The next thing Brian was aware of was a hard slap across his face. That brought his senses back to full power. “What the . . . Who are you? Obviously not Hank from Atlanta! Did the FBI send you?” Brian tried to jump up to confront him but found his forearms were duct taped to the arms of the high-backed dining chair.

Hank’s voice took on a more friendly tone. “Not exactly, Brian. Helen and I work for a different Government. One with great interest in your EMP beam weapon.”

Brian decided to play dumb until he found out how much they knew already. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hank/Matt took out some satellite photos and laid them on the table in front of him. “Not true. This device in Pajarito Canyon at Los Alamos was a classified research project. Once it was tested and it’s true potential verified you dismantled it and shipped it somewhere hidden from our satellites so you could develop it into a military weapon.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Matt slid a copy of the final report he sent to his sponsor at DARPA. “Our Government has informants within DARPA who sent us a copy of this report.”

“If you read it, you would see my final conclusion that the device can never work as a beam weapon.”

“Yes, our scientists read that and rejected it for what it was – a subterfuge to hide the transition of the device into a military weapon that could destroy any electronics in it’s path. It can even pass through walls and burn out all the integrated circuits it encounters. We want to know where the advanced development of your weapon is taking place!”

A flashback to his conversation with Terry Sanders passed briefly through his head. The Russians don’t know about the sterilization application. They’re still chasing the impossible beam weapon idea. Should I lead them on to reinforce their dead-end goal? They could waste a lot of rubles and time on that.

“I’ve heard some rumors that my Zeus machine was taken out of storage, but I don’t know where it was taken to.”

“Of course you do, because you are in charge of the project. There’s no one else in America who could make this work.”

Brian thought he would shift gears on them – abruptly. “So Russia is trying to build their own version of Zeus, aren’t they.”

“No we aren’t.”

“Your use of ‘we’ in response to my comment about Russia tells me who you work for. How far along is your development program? If you’re starting from scratch it’s going to be a couple of years at least until you get a working system.” And then it won’t work.

“I haven’t been given the details but I understand we have your design documents. It won’t take us long.”

Brian thought up a useful lie. “The device better be far away from the city when you test it or it will blow out all the TV sets, communications systems, and medical equipment within a ten-mile radius.”

“We’re smarter than you give us credit for, Mr. Callaghan. Our scientists have built a metal-lined laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology that will contain the EMP burst.”

“So why do you want to know where the U. S. development work is going on? You already have everything you need.”

“Are you that dumb? It’s a race, and the only way we can win it is to destroy your research facility.”

Damn. This just became a high stakes game. I can’t tell them about WSMR. I need to quit talking. “That’s all I have to say, Hank, or whatever your name is.”

Hank/Matt went into the kitchen and came back with a Coors. “That’s an admirable patriotic position, Callaghan. Let’s see if we can change your mind. . . . I’m surprised Helen and Adeen aren’t back from shopping yet. Did you expect her earlier?”

Panic hit Brian in the chest. “No! What have you done with her?”

“Oh, she’s safe and unharmed . . . for now. But that could change if we don’t get some answers from you.”

Brian struggled against the duct tape holding him down. “You son of a bitch! Let her go! She doesn’t know anything.”

“Oh, we know that, Callaghan. She’s useless to us . . . except as leverage to make you talk. You have five minutes to tell us what we need before we cut off her first finger. Then another finger will follow every five minutes after that. Of course we’ll run out of fingers in 25 minutes. But we always have toes.”

“No! You can’t do that. You and that animal with you are barbarians!”

“Actually we’re using a page out of the playbook of American mobsters. We’re no more barbarians than your countrymen are. . . . Well, the clock’s ticking.”

What should I do. If I don’t tell them about Maj. Sanders work at White Sands they’ll hurt Adeen. . . . I don’t have a choice. “ Okay, Okay. I’ll tell you where it is. But I have to see Adeen first. How do I know you really have her . . . or even if she’s still” – Brian chocked back tears – “alive.”

Matt thought for a minute or two. “Alright. I’ll call Helen and let you talk to Adeen.”

Brian thought quickly. “No! you could be using a recording you made before you killed her. I want to see her in person!”

“You are in no position to make demands. But I’ll have her brought over. Dimitri, go over to our condo and get her.

An Hour Earlier

The tranquilizer Dimitri injected Adeen with was short lived. By the time they got her back to their condo the clouds were clearing from her mind. She knew she was laying down on something soft – probably a mattress. After she felt relatively normal she started to get up. That’s when she found herself tied down with heavy nylon straps across her chest and thighs.

Why am I here? What are they going to do to me. Oh my God! They must be the Russians who are after us. Where’s Brian? Her thoughts were interrupted when the heavy set kidnapper looked in on her. He stared at her for a minute – like he was undressing her in his mind. His lewd thoughts were interrupted when Helen called to him from the other room. “Time to take her over to Brian. I don’t want to hang around here much longer, so we need to get him to talk soon. When you cut off Adeen’s finger in front of him, he’ll talk for sure.”

Helen entered the bedroom. “Well, I see our sleeping beauty is awake. You and Dimitri are going over to visit Brian and Matt.” She unbuckled the straps

“Matt?”

“Oh, sorry. That’s Hank’s real name. And I’m Jessica.”

“So what are you, Russian spies?”

“If I told you that I would have to shoot you.” Jessica laughed at that.

“Old joke, but it told me what I wanted to know. You are Russian. Why don’t you have an accent?”

“Because we were trained by the best linguists Moscow University has to offer. We’re what you Americans call ‘sleeper agents,’ completely embedded in your society and indistinguishable from the average American.”

“When Brian and I get out of this, we’ll turn you in. We know what you look like. . . . Oh! We aren’t going to get out of this, are we.”

“Smart girl. Enjoy the next hour or so. It will probably be your last,” Jessica said as Dimitri grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her out the front door.

As soon as Dimitri left to get Adeen, Brian’s mind went into overdrive as it spun through possibilities for overpowering Hank before Dimitri got back. One after another he went through ways he could attack his captor, but rejected them as fast as they popped into his mind. I have to get out of this chair before I can do anything, and there’s no way get free from the duct tape. He tried forcing the chair arms outward, hoping the joints were weak enough to push loose, but there was no movement. . . . Wait a minute. Maybe I don’t have to get loose from the chair.

He looked up just as Hank was approaching the refrigerator to get another beer. When he turned his back Brian straightened his knees and stood, bent over, with the chair back aimed at the middle of Hank’s back. With a roar he charged forward and smashed him against the refrigerator door. He backed up and started to charge again when he saw the man fall to the floor. Brian moved in for a closer look and saw that one of the chair finials had gored a hole in his back. Hank/Matt was struggling to breathe, to fill his lungs with air so he could scream out the agony of the pain. But he could barely get enough air to keep from suffocating.

Brian backed up, and from his bent-over position, looked for something to break the chair against . . . the breakfast bar! He swung the heavy chair around and crashed it into the edge of the structure. Nothing. He tried twice more before he felt a front leg break. It only took a few more swings before the chair was dismembered. He stood up with the chair arms still taped to his own, but his hands were free. He lunged across to the knife drawer and grabbed the longest one he could find. In another thirty seconds his arms were free. He looked up and said “Thank you, Lord.”

He knew Dimitri would be back any minute, so he grabbed a heavy chair leg and stood behind the front door. Just as he got into position the front door opened and Adeen was pushed through, stumbling forward. Brian almost brought the leg down on her head but checked himself just in time. Dimitri wasn’t so lucky – he fell to his knees with Brian’s first blow. Brian stood over him with his club raised for a second blow when Dimitri’s hand shot out and yanked Brian off his feet. The tables had turned in an instant.

They wrestled as Dimitri tried to tear the club away from him. Brian was on his back with the Russian on top, pinning his wrists to the carpet. He worked one arm free and swung the leg at his opponent’s head, but Dimitri shrugged it off with his shoulder and grabbed Brian by the throat. Brian struggled but felt himself getting weaker from lack of air. He was almost unconscious when he looked over Dimitri’s shoulder to see Adeen swinging the long back leg of the chair like a baseball bat downward. He heard a loud crack and the force on his windpipe disappeared. The unconscious Russian collapsed on top of him. He was still weak, but with Adeen’s help they rolled him to the side.

Adeen knelt beside him. “Oh my God, Brian. I thought he killed you. Are you hurt? How did you get free? . . . What happened to Matt?”

“Matt??”

“Hank’s real name. They’re Russian agents who were going to kill us once they got the information they wanted. . . . What were they after, Brian?”

“Too many questions – my head’s still spinning. Where is Helen?”

“Her real name is Jessica and she’s back at their condo.”

“We have to get out of here, now! Check on Hank in the kitchen to see if he’s still alive, then grab your computer and some clothes. I’ll get Dimitri hog-tied with duct tape and get my stuff.”

As Brian was rounding up his computer and cash Adeen shouted from the kitchen. “Holy smoke! What did you do to him. He’s barely breathing. And where did all the blood come from. . . . Oh, I see the wound in his back. That’s quite a hole. No wonder he can’t breathe.”

Adeen peeled off some duct tape from the roll on the table and covered the wound to stop the air leak. Now when his diaphragm tried to suck in air it would come through his windpipe. He started breathing more easily almost immediately. She was looking for something soft to put under his head when Brian grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out the door.

“With a little luck we can sneak into the Jeep before Helen comes over here. I’ll coast downhill before I start the engine so it doesn’t alert her.”

Just as she closed her car door Adeen said “Too late for that Brian. Here she comes.” He looked up and saw her running across the street toward them. Brian started the Jeep and stomped on the gas just as Jessica fired a shot at them from her pistol. He heard the bullet thunk into the side panel of the front door. Her second shot hit the rear tailgate. By the time she shot again they were out of range. Brian had to watch his speed as they drove through the village but once they were on the road down to Taos he drove as fast as he could without losing control – not an easy job on the snake-like road.

“What do we do now, Brian?”

“Other than getting far away as fast as we can, I don’t know yet.”

“You know if they catch us they’ll kill us. We know who they are and what they look like.”

“Do you think they would go that far?”

“Jessica told me that’s exactly what they were going to do with us.”

Chapter 38 – A Change of Heart

After the meeting with Brian, Josiah and Terry drove back to WSMR. Terry sat as far away from Josiah as she could, trying to deal with her anger and disappointment over what he revealed in Chimayo – angry that he was opposed to what could be the greatest boost to her career, and disappointed that their growing relationship was over.

I wonder if I overreacted in firing Josiah. Maybe he was right about the immorality of a sterilizing weapon. It could wipe out entire populations. Even worse, if the U. S. and Russia got in a war with these things they could create an entire generation of childless couples that could send the world back to the stone age just as surely as a nuclear war would. But I don’t want to sacrifice my career. . . . What was that Brian said? Life is always more important than career? . .. Maybe he was right.

She wrestled with this for the next hour, then came to a decision. “Josiah, I’ve been thinking this EMP weapon thing over and I think you and Brian are right – we can’t be the ones who create a whole new kind of war. It’s the same decision President Truman had to make about using nuclear weapons in the war with Japan, and his choice resulted in a world on the brink of nuclear war for decades.”

Josiah looked at her and smiled. “ I hoped that was the conclusion you would reach.”

“Why didn’t you try to convince me?”

“Because it had to be your decision. And I think I know you well enough to believe that you would decide correctly.”

Terry slid across the seat to be next to Josiah. “That feels good – having you close to me,” Josiah responded.

She looked up at him. “I’m developing some real feelings for you, Josiah” and gave his upper arm a squeeze.

“Good, because the same thing is happening to me.”

They drove on in silence for awhile before Terry said, “I hate to spoil the mood, but what are we going to do?”

“What? About us?”

“Well, that too. But I was talking about bringing the sterilizer development program to a halt. We could report that our tests were a failure, that the concept will never work.”

“That would be the easiest approach, especially since the first test failed. We could run a few more failed tests to make it convincing, then tell your General Armstrong that his grand idea was a flop.”

“That’s sounds like a plan. We’ll start in the morning. We can take the rest of the day off” She was hoping he would take the hint and ask her to spend the night at his place, but he drove on in silence.

When he dropped her off at the base IHG hotel she tried one more time. “I don’t know what I’ll do this evening. Maybe go to the Officers Club for dinner.”

“I hear their steak and lobster is good. See you in the morning.”

As he drove off she wondered if he really had feelings for her. Any other guy would have jumped at the subtle invitation to spend the night with her.

Col. Sokolov read the latest report from Jessica Pauling, then slammed his fist on the desk. “How could they let Callaghan escape – again! And how did he overcome one of my best agents and put him in the hospital.” He read the rest of the report about how Callaghan insisted that his machine couldn’t ever work, even to save his woman friend from torture. Maybe he’s telling the truth. But Dr. Pearson insisted the design he gave them would work. Could he be lying?

After Jessica took Matt to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos she went back to the condo. Dimitri had recovered from his attack and was really pissed off. He wanted to get his hands around Callaghan’s throat one more time and watch his eyes bulge out as he squeezed. Jessica opened up her laptop and queried the tracking satellite to see where Callaghan and his girlfriend fled to.

“We’re in luck, Dimitri. They didn’t go very far. Red River is only an hour drive. Pack up, we’re going after them.”

Brian drove his Jeep into a deserted state park campground along the Red River south of town and looked for a spot that was well hidden by trees. They stopped on the way through town to buy some food and drinks, along with a map of the Jeep trails and forest roads in the area. There was only one highway through Red River and if they had to run again he wanted a rear exit. The sun had already set behind the surrounding mountains as they sat by the fire roasting hot dogs.

“The fire feels good. It’s starting to get chilly. Are we going to sleep out here by the fire?”

“No, I only have one sleeping bag. We’ll sleep in the car.”

“The two of us in one sleeping bag sounds interesting.”

“Maybe some other time. I want to be ready to start the Jeep and get out of here if we see anything suspicious.”

“How about a walk in the woods before it gets dark. It’s so beautiful here.”

“Sure. Let me get my handgun in case I need to scare off a bear.”

Adeen’s eyes got wide. “There’s bears here?”

“Very likely. They hang around camp grounds looking for food. Would you wrap the leftover food in a plastic bag and put it in the car? We don’t want to encourage them.”

As they were returning to the camp after their walk Brian stopped short. “Get down, Deen. There’s a pickup that wasn’t there before – across the clearing.”

“I see it. Isn’t that Matt’s truck? Damn, it is. How did they find us?”

Brian drew his gun. “They must have put a tracker on my car. You stay here. I’m going down to have a look.”

“No way. I’m right behind you!”

They crept through the trees to a spot ten feet from the Jeep and looked around. “It looks like Matt’s truck is empty. And I don’t see anyone around the camp.”

“They’re out there somewhere. They have plenty of places to hide; they’re just waiting for us to come back. I’m going to run for the Jeep. When you see me get in the driver’s door run for the passenger door. I’ll have it open for you.”

She leaned over and kissed him. “Don’t get shot.”

He ran, crouched over, to the Jeep, quickly looked around, then unlocked the door. As he crawled into the front seat he reached over and opened Adeen’s door. She just got to the door when the first shot rang out, hitting her in the leg. She yelled and crumpled to the ground. Brian yelled, “Adeen! . . . Adeen!”

“My leg! I can’t stand up.”

“Stay on the ground. I’ll come to you.”

Brian jumped out of his seat and ran around the front of the car. He heard two more shots hit the back of the Jeep and fired his gun in the direction of the muzzle flashes. It was enough to make the attackers take cover long enough to get Adeen into the front seat. He closed her door and ran back to the driver’s side. Keeping his head down he jammed it in reverse and stepped on the gas. As soon as he was in the clearing, he changed gears and sprang forward toward the exit. He almost rolled the SUV as he skidded onto the main highway and turned right. His pursuers turned onto the road a half mile behind him. He roared through the town and yanked the wheel into a sharp left turn onto an old mining road that wound around Sawmill Mountain. It was a steep climb up the side of the mountain, but the big engine had no problem with it.

The road was one sharp curve after another, with tree branches sweeping across the sides and top of the Wrangler almost continuously. He could see the bouncing headlight beams from his truck behind him in the rearview mirror. He heard two rifle shots and hoped the bumpy road would ruin their aim, but with the next shot a bullet came through the rear window and lodged in the back seat. He yelled “Stay down, Adeen. . . . Adeen?”

She answered through gritted teeth, “I’m okay. My leg hurts like hell but there’s not much blood.”

Around the next curve Brian slammed on the brakes to keep from hitting a large branch that had fallen across the road. “Here’s my gun. If you see headlights lean out the door and shoot. There’s a spare clip in the console.” With that Brian climbed out and grabbed the limb. His first efforts only moved the branch a little. He looked around for something to use as a lever and found a fallen trunk of a small tree. He dragged it over and wedged it under the limb. Now he could move it a foot at a time instead of a few inches.

As he lifted again he saw the pickup swing into view thirty yards behind them. Adeen got off three quick shots that forced them to stop. After two more tries the branch finally went over the cliff at the edge of the road. As he scrambled to get back in the Jeep another rifle shot rang out that hit the inside of his door before he could get it closed. Adeen put in the new clip and fired off six more rounds to cover them until Brian got the truck going. A few seconds later he was charging back up the slope.

“I was aiming for the radiator. I hope I hit something that will stop them.”

“Remind me to keep you around. You’re good in a gunfight.”

He watch the Russian truck in the rear view mirror. They stayed right on his tail for a few minutes before they started to fall behind. “Looks like you hit what you were aiming at – we’re loosing them.”

Brian continued around the mountain on the mining road until he came to Forest Road 134. “According to the map this will take down into the town of Questa. We’ll head north from there, but first I have to get rid of that tracker, then get you to a hospital.” He stopped and inspected the underside of the car. He missed it the first time but on his second time around the car he found it tucked up behind the bumper. He pulled the device loose and tossed it in the back seat.

“Aren’t you going to smash it?”

“No, I have better plans for it.”

They continued on to Questa and drove into a truck stop. There were two semis in the parking lot while the drivers were in the restaurant eating. Brian parked out of sight, walked around behind one of the trucks, and stuck the magnetic tracking transmitter under the rear bumper. When he got back into the Jeep he smiled. “I don’t know where that truck is going, but it will lead the Russians away from us.” He turned back onto the highway and headed north for Alamosa, Colorado. According to Adeen’s smart phone that was the closest town with a hospital.

Before he took Adeen into the emergency room Brian put on his camo hunting jacket so he could tell the doctor the wound was from a hunting accident. The small-town doctor had no problem believing the story – he said he treats several hunting accidents every year.

They walked out of the hospital midmorning the next day. Adeen held onto his arm for balance as the walked to the car. “I guess I was lucky that the bullet went through my thigh muscle – through and through as they say on the TV crime dramas. . . . I wonder why they say that? It only goes through once. . . . Now if it went through both legs, that would be a through and through. . . . I wonder where the bullet went after it hit me. We should go back and find it. It’s evidence.”

Brian laughed. “I think you’re a little out-of-it from the pain medication. We need to find a motel so you can sleep it off.” Brian drove through town looking for an old motel that would take cash and stopped at the Pinon Pines Motor Court. The name told him that it had to be at least 60 years old. That’s when they stopped calling them motor hotels, or motels. He parked in front of the office and walked up to the counter inside. No one was there so he rang the bell. An old woman came out of her apartment behind the office and asked “Can I help ya.”

Brian thought What a stupid question. Why else would I be standing here. But he turned on his country charm and answered, “Yes ma’am, you surely can. I would like a room for the night.”

“I’ll need a driver’s license and credit card.”

“There’s a problem with that, ma’am. I want to pay cash and not leave a record that I was here.”

“The old woman nodded and craned her neck to look at the Jeep. “That your missus?”

“Uh, no. That’s the problem. We don’t want her husband to find out we stayed here.

She shook here head and said “That will be $100 for the night, or however much of it you plan to use.”

Brian looked at the handwritten information under the clear plastic countertop. “It says here that your rate is $60.”

“That’s for married folk. For you it’s $100. Take it or leave it.”

Brian took out his wallet and counted out five $20 bills – reluctantly, like he hated to part with it. All part of the character he was playing. Anything else would have seemed suspicious to the woman.

She handed him an old fashioned key – no key cards here. “Room nine, checkout is ten a.m. Put your dirty towels in the tub.”

Brian got Adeen comfortable in bed and went to the drug store to fill the antibiotic and pain pill prescriptions. He also picked up a couple of prepaid cell phones – no built-in GPS and untraceable. While he was gone Adeen tried the TV but without cable or satellite it only had two fuzzy channels. She wanted to take a shower, but there was only a claw-foot bathtub and she couldn’t get in and out of that by herself. I guess Brian will have to help me. I wonder if the tub is big enough for . . . Darn! This leg is going to put a crimp in our sex life..

Brian came back with some carry-out from Col. Sanders. As soon as he opened the bucket and released the delicious smell she realized how hungry she was. “We’ve had nothing since those hot dogs last night. I’m starved.” Brian laid a towel across her lap followed by a plate with mashed potatoes and coleslaw on it. “Do you like white or dark meat?”

She joked “If you really loved me you would know what my favorite is.”

“Yeah, right. It will take me years to learn what you like and don’t like.”

“Does that mean you plan on staying around for awhile?”

“Definitely.”

She blew him a kiss. “That’s the right answer. You’ll get a reward for that.”

“What is it?”

“You get to give me a bath.”

Brian smiled at that. “Just let me know when you’re ready, sweetheart.”

After they ate Brian used the burner phone to call FBI Agent McCall, the one they ran away from in Santa Fe.

“Agent McCall here.”

“Hi McCall. This is your favorite fugitive, Brian Callaghan.”

“Callaghan, where the hell are you!”

“I can’t tell you that, Mike. Adeen and I are on the run for a reason. . . . Listen up, I have something you need to know. The Russians are still after us. They grabbed me, kidnapped Adeen, and threatened to hurt her if I didn’t tell them where my EMP weapon, Zeus, was moved to.”

“Hold on a minute. Do you mind if I record this? You’re already over my head and I want the right person to hear this.”

“Yeah, go ahead. . . . Anyway, I attacked one of them and managed to escape with Adeen. You might find him in the Taos Hospital with a punctured lung.”

“Are they still after you?”

“Sort of, but they won’t catch us”

“Brian, you and Adeen need to come in for protection. You’ll be safe with us.”

“Really? I checked online this morning and saw that I’m 17th on the FBI most wanted list. You don’t want to keep us safe, you want to arrest us. And why am I even on that list?”

“Because you destroyed a classified Government facility.”

“No, I destroyed the caboose laboratory I owned along with designs I created and equipment I built. How is that a Federal offense? It was all my personal property.”

“You know we seized that from you as soon as we got there.”

“Yeah? Where was the court order authorizing that?”

“There wasn’t time for that. It was a national emergency.”

“Sounds like illegal search and seizure to me. But we’ll let the lawyers sort that out . . . if you ever catch me.”

“We will, you can bet on it.”

“One more thing you need to know that one of the Russians told me. They are building their own version of Zeus – an EMP beam weapon. It will never work for that, but if they discover the sterilizing possibilities we won’t be the only ones who have it.”

“Shit! Where are they doing it?”

“The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.”

“Leave that to me. I’ll take care of it. But you have to come in – now! If you don’t . . .”

Brian hung up on him.

The next morning, after a breakfast of egg McMuffins and coffee, they discussed what to do next. They were wanted by both the Government who wanted to send them to prison and by Russians who wanted to kill them, but they didn’t want to stay on the run forever. Brian realized it was time to switch cars. Not only were the police looking for his Jeep, but it now had bullet holes in the tailgate, which were sure to attract attention.

“We’ve been lucky so far, Deen, mainly because we stayed away from cities and popular highways. But that won’t last long.”

“Why have you started calling me Deen?”

“It’s easier to say that A-deen. Call it my pet name for you.”

“Okay, but I get to pick a pet name for you.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I think of something. Maybe I’ll add a syllable to make up for the one you stole from me. How about A-brian, or Brian-A?”

Brian smiled. “I’m sure you’ll find something more clever for me. Now, about the car problem. We need something big enough for all our stuff.”

“And fast enough to outrun the Russians.”

“I got a couple of papers at McDonald’s. Let look at the classifieds for used cars that won’t eat up too much of our cash. I want to buy it from an individual for cash to keep it off Government records – maybe a pickup with a camper shell. I’ll take the Alamosa Valley Courier and you see what you can find in the Pueblo Chieftain. If we can’t find anything in these newspapers we may have to try Colorado Springs.”

It didn’t take long for them both to strike out. Both towns were relatively small with not many vehicles to choose from. “We can access the Colorado Springs classifieds online. They should have more to offer.”

Twenty minutes later they found what they were looking for. A 2006 Ford Explorer XLT with the upgraded V-8 engine for $4,500. It had a lot of miles, but the photo showed new tires and a decent paint job. “Why don’t you call to see if it’s still available.. If a man answers you can turn on your feminine wiles.”

After five minutes on the phone Adeen nodded ‘yes’ at Brian, but apparently she used too much feminine charm because the guy wouldn’t hang up. She finally told him they would leave right away to look at the car and hung up.

“Can you believe it? The guy was hitting on me.”

“Most guys would try to hit on you now that you put your anger issues behind you. That ‘stay away’ attitude is gone. . . . Saddle up, we’re headed north.”

Brian took the mountain road to the Springs to avoid I-25, so it took them over three hours to get there. But it was worth the trip. The Explorer was in good mechanical condition and a test drive showed it had plenty of power. Brian gave Deen the Explorer keys and told her to meet him at a nearby Wal-Mart. After transferring all their equipment from the Jeep to the back of the Explorer they both headed for a U-Store-It yard they found on Adeen’s smart phone. Brian rented a storage unit large enough for the Jeep and drove it in. He closed and locked the roll-up door and joined Adeen in the Explorer.

She looked over and asked, “Where to dear?”

“Well, now that we can travel safely I think we should go south to White Sands to visit Terry and Josiah. If the Russians find out that’s where Zeus is they might be in danger too.”

“Should you send her an email to tell her we’re coming?”

“No, I don’t trust her enough yet. She might have the FBI waiting for us. We’ll show up unannounced and see what happens.”

Chapter 39 – Coca-Cola, The Real Thing?

Eleven Months Earlier

Master Sergeant Jake Wilson returned home from his job in the Test Directorate at White Sands Missile Range Friday afternoon to an empty house, took a cold six-pack of Dos XX to his recliner, and popped the top off his first one – the same routine he’s been following for the last year and a half, ever since his wife left him. Before she left she acquired several credit cards in his name and took them with her to Las Vegas. Within a couple of months she had maxed them all out with high living and gambling, leaving Jake over $100,000 in debt. On a sergeant’s salary he couldn’t make the monthly payments on one of them, let alone all six cards she used.

When he was three or four months behind on all of them he started getting letters telling him that, because he was in the military, they would have to inform his commanding officer if payments weren’t forthcoming. And if they did that his chance of ever making Chief Master Sergeant would be shot. The Army might even give him a bad conduct discharge, which would leave him with no income and no job – and there were no employment openings for a rocket engine specialist anywhere in the country.

He thought his only answer was suicide even though he knew, as a Catholic, that would doom him to Hell. But when things were hopeless enough that didn’t seem like such a big thing. How could Hell be any worse than what was happening in his life now? As he worked on the six-pack he tried to come up with some option, some way out of this, but nothing new came to mind. And with that he made up his mind. Tomorrow he would buy a gun and end it all.

When he arose the next morning he felt better than he had in a long time. With his decision last night a huge weight was lifted from him. He actually had a spring in his step as he got in his car and headed for the gun department of the local Wal-Mart. He turned on the car radio and hummed along with the music, not noticing the Chevy van following behind him. In fact, it had been shadowing him for the past two weeks, but he was so wrapped up in his troubles that he never noticed it.

In the parking lot he squeezed his car between two other vehicles that were hogging more than their share of their parking spaces. As he got out the half-open driver’s door he thought about banging the door against the other car to leave a few dents as retribution for their selfishness, but rejected the idea – for all he knew the other car belonged to some old man or old lady who couldn’t see well enough to park.

He locked his door with the key remote and started toward the store entrance when a dark van pulled up right in front of him. The side door opened and two men grabbed his arms and threw him into the van. It all happened so quickly that no one noticed.

“What the f_ _ _ is going on? Let go of me!” That’s when one of the men shoved a heavy caliber pistol barrel into his groin. Jake got the message and shut up. They handcuffed him to the van floor and duct-taped his ankles and mouth. He thought What irony. I come to the store to buy a gun to kill myself and get kidnapped by someone who threatens to kill me. He couldn’t help but smile a little at that – not easy with duct tape on your mouth.

They drove onto a short residential street in a poor neighborhood of Alamogordo and turned into an open garage. There the men unlocked the cuffs and cut away the duct tape from his ankles. They walked him into the house and sat him down on a creaky wooden chair. One of the men dragged up another chair and sat facing him.

We can do this one of two ways. We can strap you to the chair, or you can cooperate and we won’t need the tape. First of all, before you decide to get away, we have no intention of hurting you. We only want to have a peaceful discussion. Is that clear?” When he nodded his head the man reached out and ripped the duct tape from his mouth.

“Ow!! Sonofabitch that hurt. Why did you do that?”

“Our considerable experience in this area has shown us that ripping it off is the best way. A slow pull hurts much more and for a much longer time. On the plus side, the slow way pulls the whiskers out of your upper lip so you won’t have to shave there for a few days.”

“Let’s get this discussion over with so I can get out of here.”

“It has come to our attention that you have acquired huge debts – debts that you can never pay off.”

“How do you know that?”

“We have a large network of computer hackers at our disposal. . . . We also know that it was your ex-wife who ran up all these debts.”

“So tell me something I don’t know.”

“What would you say if I told you we are willing to pay off all of your debts?”

“I would ask who is ‘we’?”

“We – my government – is looking for people in certain key positions to provide information about a wide variety of subjects. In your case, we would be interested in the status of research, development, and test programs managed by your organization at WSMR.”

“You’re spies! You’re f _ _ _ ing spies. . . . And you want me to spy on my own government!”

“Spying is such a negative word, Sergeant Wilson. Spying is sneaking around, stealing files, getting shot at. That’s not what we want you to do at all.”

“Well, if I won’t be a spy, what will I be?”

“Consider yourself an information associate – you collect information that is freely available to you because of your position and pass it on to me. We’re not talking about secret plans or weapon system designs, just details about what is being developed and tested at White Sands. Things like test schedules, development progress, experiment results – the kind of stuff you put into the monthly progress reports you prepare for Washington bureaucrats. Just make an extra copy, add some details the Washington people don’t want to know, and pass it on to me. It that so difficult?”

“No, but it’s still betraying my country. I won’t do it!”

“Well then, let me explain the alternative, what happens if you don’t agree to help us out. My country’s computer experts will hack into your accounts – credit cards, Army personnel files, bank accounts – and double your debt, stop your paychecks, or repossess your car. They can even create evidence that you have been embezzling government money and depositing it into an offshore bank. And that’s just for starters. . . . Do you want to rethink your answer?”

Jake thought about his dilemma for a couple of minutes before he answered. “Alright, here’s how I want to do this. First, don’t pay off my credit card debts all at once, that would raise some red flags. Just make large monthly payments that will reduce the balances to zero over a few months. Second, I want additional money to be deposited in my bank account – $2,000 a month. Third, I want a written agreement stating everything you just told me.”

“The written agreement is never going to happen, Jake. How dumb do you think we are? But we can take care of the first two items. Keep in mind we may expect more from you in return for the bank deposit.”

“Like what?”

“Like maybe you will take some steps to cause certain tests to fail.”

“That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Then let’s take the $2,000 a month off the table.”

“No, don’t do that. I’ll do what you want.”

As they drove him back to Wal-Mart he thought If they give me something that I don’t want to do, I’ll just tell them I tried but couldn’t make it happen. There’s nothing wrong with lying to spies.

The Present Day

Master Sergeant Jake Wilson returned home from his job in at White Sands Friday afternoon to a house that was still empty – except when he had some women over or threw a party – and poured himself a double shot of Glenfiddich single malt scotch over two cubes of ice. With his added income he had moved way beyond a cold six-pack of Dos XX.

He took the scotch over to his home office and turned on the computer. In a few minutes he had synched up the computer with his cell phone and was downloading several photos he took last week of a new project at WSMR. It had been built inside a large test laboratory at HELSTF [pronounced hellstaff] – the High Energy Laser System Test Facility. Normally this section of the base was reserved for the latest laser weapon technology, but this new device didn’t look at all like a laser. Oh, it was a long, fat tube with a business end and an output end like most lasers he had seen, but that’s where the similarity ended. Lasers needed a way to point the destructive beam at targets, often fast moving targets, usually a very large mirror mounted on a huge set of gimbals that could rotate horizontally and, at the same time, change the elevation. This new device had no way to aim the output. And the lasers all had windows or mirrors at the output, whereas this new device had a fiberglass cover over the output end, like a radar dome on the front of an aircraft.

He didn’t work inside the HELSTF compound, so he didn’t have access to information about the new project. But he had arranged a couple of visits to take care of ‘administrative issues,’ and hung around secretly taking cell-phone photos as long as he dared without arousing suspicion. During his eavesdropping the words he heard most often were ‘electromagnetic pulse,’ sometimes with the word ‘generator’ added at the end.

He looked for development and test information to come across his desk for the monthly report, but this project was super secret with a direct line from the woman in charge, Major Sanders, to someone very high up in Washington. He wished he had more to offer his handler, but the photos and overheard conversations was all he could come up with. He put the electronic photos and a short written report into an encrypted document and sent it to ‘Norton’[email protected],’ his Russian handler’s email address.

When Msgt. Wilson’s report reached Col. Sokolov in the Kremlin he called Dr. Borin to gloat. “I knew the Americans had moved the EMP beam weapon! I was right all along. They just finished installing Callaghan’s Los Alamos device at White Sands Missile Range.

Borin decided to butter him up a bit. “You are always right, Colonel. You have a keen mind for such things.”

“Enough of that, Feliks. I don’t keep you around be a yes man – to kiss my ass to protect your career. I have plenty of other ass kissers to do that. Your job is to help me understand technical things and point out where my thinking might be in error.”

Feliks smiled at Sergei’s humor. “Thank you for reminding me. Now, what do you intend to do about the American machine?”

“We have do destroy it at all costs, Feliks. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes, I do. Any ideas about how to do it?”

“I have two agents who are still in Colorado. They couldn’t catch Callaghan, but they should be able to complete a simple explosives mission. I’ll contact them today”

Jessica and Dimitri had returned to the ski valley condo after Callaghan and Reilly escaped. A mechanic took a four-wheeler up the mountain trail and replaced the radiator, so at least they had Matt’s truck back. Jessica didn’t want to leave the condo until she heard back from Sokolov, but he hadn’t answered her two messages blaming Callaghan’s latest escape on the amazing marksmanship of Ms. Reilly. She didn’t mention that they were only thirty yards away at the time. Not much skill required at that range.

Jessica checked her computer inbox for the third time that day, not expecting a reply from Sokolov, but found an email from him. She smiled as she read it because instead of reprimanding her for her failure he was giving her a new assignment.

Agent Pauling,

We have discovered the location of the American weapon. Your new mission is to destroy. Do whatever it takes to make it happen! I am sending another agent with explosives. You and agent Lebedev will proceed to Alamogordo New Mexico and check in at the Hampton Inn Hotel. Agent Pavel Jovanovic will meet you there. Further instructions to follow.

“Dimitri! Time to pack. We have a new assignment.”

Jessica and Dimitri checked into the hotel after a five hour drive from Taos. There was a message for them to call room 134.

“I am P. J. speaking. Who is him who is calling me.”

“I’m a she – the one you are expecting. . . . Do you have instructions for us?”

“Yes. Meet me in parking lot at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. I drive white Ford cargo van.”

The next afternoon Jessica, Dimitri, and Pavel drove the van southwest to the White Sands National Monument Visitor’s Center Just off U.S. Highway 70, part way between Alamogordo and WSMR. All traffic going to the WSMR Army Base had to pass this location and, from the parking lot, they had a clear view of the traffic. They were watching the delivery vehicles that made daily trips to the base. Several passed by until they saw the one they were after – a Coca-Cola truck. Pavel told them that a spy at the laser test facility reported that every Friday afternoon around 3:30 a delivery man restocked a Coke machine in the test lab housing the new device. This Friday afternoon the truck passed by the Visitor’s Center at 3:03. They would be waiting here for it the following Friday.

That evening Brian and Adeen checked into the Alamogordo Hampton Inn. After finishing their carry-out Chinese dinner Brian opened his laptop and got online.

“How are you going to contact Major Sanders? Do you have her phone number?”

“No. I’ll send her another email and have her come here to the hotel.”

“Don’t forget to tell her your future wife is with you. She might come thinking she’ll have my hunk all to herself.”

Brian laughed. “We’re not even married yet and already jealousy is rearing its ugly head. . . . But I know you were just kidding.”

“Of course I was . . . mostly.”

Brian composed a simple message with Adeen watching over his shoulder and emailed it to Terry:

Maj. Sanders,

My associate, Dr. Reilly, and I are in Alamogordo at the Hampton Inn. It is very important that we speak with you ASAP. Your life may be in danger.

Brian Callaghan

Brian hoped Maj. Sanders read her emails frequently.

Although Terry usually checked her emails several times a day, she had stuffed her smart phone into her purse for the evening. She was over at Josiah’s home again, sitting close beside him on the couch sipping a nice after-dinner Chardonnay. They were growing closer, so their conversations were getting more intimate. Terry was struggling with a decision. I don’t know how he’s going to take this, but I just have to ask him. Here goes.

“Josiah, I want to ask you a question. It’s personal, so if you don’t want to answer, that’s okay. . . . Why haven’t you tried to get me into your bed?’

When he didn’t answer immediately, she followed up. “We’re growing much closer, and we’ve even kissed a few times, but you haven’t followed up. Don’t you find me attractive in that way? . . . You aren’t . . . you aren’t gay, are you?”

Josiah laughed. “No. I’m a red-blooded American male with more than my share of testosterone flowing in that blood.”

“What is it then?”

“Back when I grew up, I was taught to respect women, to always treat them like ladies. I’m old fashioned that way. Now days men and women hop into bed after the first date or two. That’s not love, that’s sex. It’s just a form of recreation to them. I don’t want that kind of relationship. Do you understand?”

Terry looked up at him and smiled. “You just gave me another reason to consider falling in love with you. You don’t find men like that anymore.” But I’m one of those hop-into-bed types. And he’s right – it has never been about love. Not even about recreational sex. It’s about getting ahead in a man’s world . . . and about reassuring myself that I’m attractive and desirable. I wonder what he would think if I told him what I was – a career whore.

They sat in silence for several minutes. Josiah cleared his throat. “I . . . I wasn’t talking about anyone in particular. Just the modern generation in general. Definitely not you. . . . But I’ve heard about the Washington dating scene, and . . . . .” He didn’t know where to go from there.

“You might as well stick your foot in your mouth the rest of the way, Josiah. I know you weren’t thinking about me when you talked about modern sexual morals. . . . . But if you had been, you would have been right. I am one of them. . . . And I just realized I’m ashamed of it. I had that guilt buried until you spoke up.” Josiah didn’t respond.

“Now that you know, I would understand if you don’t want to see me socially again. I know you . . . “

Josiah looked at her with feeling in his eyes. “Terry, shhhhhhh. Don’t ever bring it up again. Your past makes no difference in how I feel about you. The past is gone, but you can make the future whatever you want it to be.”

Terry looked at him with tears in her eyes as he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. Then he raised her chin and kissed her, a kiss she returned with enthusiasm. They were both wondering how they would keep this from going too far where Terry’s cell phone signaled an incoming text.

She read Brian’s message to Josiah. “What do you think he wants?”

Josiah shook his head. “I can’t think of anything right now, but if it truly involves a possible threat we have to go talk to them.”

“I’ll send him an answer saying we’ll be at their hotel in thirty minutes.”

As Josiah raised his knuckles to knock, the door opened. Brian motioned for them to come in and sit down on one of the beds. “We were watching for you. Thank you for coming. We’ve been through a scary couple of days, and that might involve you two soon.”

Adeen stepped forward and reached out her hand. “I’m Adeen Reilly, and I’m more than his ‘associate.’ We’re a couple.”

“I’m Terry and this is Josiah . . . and we’re a couple too.”

They all laughed at that as they settled onto the two beds facing each other. Brian started to talk but Terry interrupted. “Before you go on, Brian, I need to tell you that my position on the new weapon has changed. I now agree with you and Josiah – we have to find a way to permanently halt the development of EMP sterilizers.”

Brian smiled at her. “I’m so glad you changed your mind. In a minute we can talk about how we might be able to do that, but first you need to hear about what’s happened to us.”

Brian went over the past couple of days, telling them about Adeen’s kidnapping, Brian’s questioning, and their escape from Red River. “The Russians will do anything to find out where the Zeus device is located. I threw them off with some vague comments, but when they threatened Adeen I was ready to tell them. Fortunately we got away before it came to that.”

Adeen interrupted. “Don’t let his humility fool you. He’s a genuine hero. He put one of them in the hospital – or the morgue, we don’t know which – to save me.”

“Yeah, and she swings a pretty mean club. Anyway, we were worried that if somehow they find out where Zeus is, they might try to stop the development by kidnapping, or even killing, the two of you.”

“I can take care of that problem,” Josiah declared. “I have a couple of hunting rifles in my truck, and I’ll start carrying a pistol.

“I have my own sidearm. Adeen had to use it to get away from them in Red River.”

Brian’s stomach growled loudly enough for everyone to hear. “We were waiting for you to show up so we haven’t had any dinner yet. How about you guys?”

“Josiah fixed us a delicious Navajo lamp stew and I’m still full.”

“Okay. I’ll go across the street and bring some burgers back for Adeen and me. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

On the way back through the hotel parking lot with the bag of carry-out Brian passed a pickup truck that looked familiar. After walking around to the front to confirm his suspicions he hurried back to the room, keeping his head ducked down. He pounded on the door. “Let me in! Quick!”

He stepped in and closed the door behind him. “The Russians are staying here at the hotel! I saw their truck in the parking lot.”

“Are you sure?”

“It had two bullet holes below one headlight and the grill is new – Adeen’s handiwork.”

Josiah whistled. “This changes everything.”

“Any ideas about how to play this?” Adeen asked.

After an hour of going over the pros and cons of their options they decided to lay low for now and try to find out what the Russians were planning.

“Clearly they know where Zeus is or they wouldn’t be here. The two most likely scenarios are that they’re here to get rid of everyone who could make it work, or they’re going to destroy it somehow.”

“If they could get to the Zeus location on base they could destroy it, but I don’t see any way they can get through security at the base gate,” Terry offered.

Brian thought for a minute. “We need to keep an eye on them to see what they’re up to, but I don’t see how. Adeen and I have to get away from here. We can’t risk being seen. Since Terry and Josiah are new faces, they should stay here in the hotel room and watch their vehicle. If anyone comes out and gets in the truck it has to be the Russians – a man and a woman. If the truck leaves the parking lot one of you will have to follow it to see where they go.”

Terry added, “If we can find out what room they’re in, we could plant a bug – if we could get into the room – and if we had a bug. I’ve seen some web sites that sell spy cameras. I’ll go online and see if I can get some surveillance stuff sent by express delivery. Maybe a maid will leave the door open or something.”

“That takes care of you guys. Where will Brian and I go?”

“Why don’t you go out to my place at the base,” Josiah offered. “The housing section is outside the fenced area so you won’t have to go through gate security. That will put you in position to act quickly if they do get on the base.”

“Great idea! How do we get there?”

“It’s programmed into my GPS. Just press ‘home’ and follow Ms. Garmin’s instructions. Here’s my keys.”

After exchanging cell phone numbers Brian and Adeen went down the back stairs and out the side of the building. They took their time walking across the parking lot to the Explorer so they wouldn’t attract attention, then turned onto Route 70 heading for the base.

After watching them leave the parking lot to be sure they weren’t followed, Josiah yawned. “I better get to bed if I’m going to be stalking Russian spies tomorrow. How about you?”

“You go on to bed. I want to get this surveillance stuff ordered first.”

Josiah went into the bathroom and stripped down to his undershirt and boxers then crawled between the sheets of nearest double bed. He was asleep before Terry could get the hotel WiFi working. After a brief search, she found a site, Brickhousesecurity.com, that provided wireless spy camera systems with built-in audio, GPS vehicle trackers with a five-mile range, and a small pocket-sized device called Spy Finder that detects hidden cameras in a room. Terry bought the Spy Finder to scan their room after the daily maid service to see if the Russians had something planted in their room.

Terry found something else that caught her interest – a video on YouTube showing how to get into a hotel room key-card lock using nothing but a credit card slid between the lock and the door frame. That could come in handy if they leave their room unattended, she thought. So before she went to bed she fished a seldom-used gasoline credit card out of her wallet and went outside to practice on their door. It took a few tries to get the knack, but she practiced until she could unlock the door in less that five seconds.

When she was satisfied with her skill she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed, but realized she hadn’t brought any clothes with her. Damn. I’m not about to sleep in my underwear with Josiah in the room. There must be something . . . . She opened the closet door and grabbed one of the extra oversized pillows. She searched through her purse for a nail file and took the pillow case into the bathroom. A few minutes later she emerged clothed in a pillow case with seams cut out to make room for her head and arms. She put it on and looked in the mirror. “A little snug and not the latest style, but it will work.”

Chapter 40 – Spying on the Spies

When the clock radio alarm went off at six a.m. Josiah got up and looked out to be sure the Russians’ truck was still there, then went into the bathroom to take a shower. He came out fifteen minutes later dressed in his usual jeans and a tee shirt, this one with the Arizona Diamondbacks logo on it. Terry was just getting out of bed and had her back to him until she sensed his presence and turned around. He let his eyes roam up and down and said, “You look good in that, Terry. I’ll give you an ‘A’ for style and creativity. But you’d better put more on if you want me to concentrate on my surveillance job.” She swung her hips as she walked to the bathroom.

While she was showering he went down to the lobby and filled a couple of plates with assorted breakfast goodies. He took his time, looking to see if any of the others looked like Russians, but then realized they probably looked like average Americans. Even that blond at the corner table could be Russian, but I wouldn’t bet on it. With that pony tail, dressed in running shoes, shorts, and a tank top, she’s a classic American health freak. After adding two coffees to his tray he went back up to their room, where he moved the small round table and two chairs over near the window so they could watch the Russians’ truck while they ate.

It was almost noon when Josiah saw a muscular man and a blonde woman walk out to the truck. I’ll be damned. It was the blonde I saw in the dining room. Josiah left the room and hurried out to his vehicle. His quarry was just leaving the parking lot as he backed out to follow them. Traffic in Alamogordo was seldom heavy so he had to hang back to stay unnoticed. As they left town he fell back even further to avoid detection and almost missed it when they turned into a KOA RV park. He drove on past the entrance and stopped a few miles down the road to turn around.

As he approached the KOA again he turned in and stopped at the office. With a ball cap to match his Diamondback shirt and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses to disguise himself a bit, he approached the front desk. A friendly man in a KOA tee shirt came out of the back room.

“May I help you, sir.”

“Yes, at least I hope you can. My sister is arriving later this afternoon in her 30 ft Class C motor home, and I was hoping you had a space for her.”

“It’s a busy time of year because of visitors to White Sands, but I do have a few vacancies left.”

“Could I have a look at what you got?”

“Sure. Feel free to look around. When you pick one out come on back and make a deposit to hold it until she gets here.”

“Thanks.”

Josiah sauntered down the roads winding through the area, stopping now and then to inspect an empty site. The street ended beneath a large oak tree, so Josiah stopped to look up and admire it. While his head stayed pointed at the tree his eyes roamed back and forth looking at the RV sites to the right and left. He spotted the Russian truck parked near the end site two streets down and strolled over one street to get a better look. The site was occupied by a white cargo van. The two Russians were at the picnic table talking with a third man, who must have been the van’s occupant.

Josiah turned up the adjacent street and went back toward the office. He found a vacant site and went over to inspect it – while getting another look in the direction of the van. This will do. We have some cover from other RVs but can still keep an eye on the van and truck. He made a show of nodding his head and turned back to the office.

“Site C-47 looks good. She’ll adore that big oak tree back there.”

As he was handing over his credit card to cover the deposit he saw the Russian truck leave and turn back toward town. After collecting a receipt he drove back to the Hampton Inn and parked his explorer behind the hotel, out of sight of the Russians’ truck. When Josiah entered their hotel room he saw some boxes on the bed with Terry bent over a pile of electronics. “I see your spy stuff arrived.”

“Yeah, it’s all here. It will take me awhile to figure out how to get it working and linked to the input of my laptop.”

“That will have to wait. Come on – we going to rent you an RV.”

An hour later Terry drove a 32-foot Winnebago motor home out of the Cruise America rental lot and followed Josiah south to the KOA park. Brian left the explorer at the front office, walked down to the site he selected, and directed Terry while she backed into camp site.

As he stepped up into the motor home Terry asked, “Why did we back in?”

“Climb up in the bunk over the cab and tell me what you see out the window.”

“I see a couple other motor homes, a beautiful oak tree, and a white van.”

“That van is our target. The Russians stopped there today and talked to a third guy for awhile before they went back to the hotel. Our job for now is to watch and see if the guy is still in there.”

Just as the sun was setting they found the answer. A man – the one Josiah had seen earlier – got out of the van and walked up to the front office. A few minutes later he came back carrying a six pack and a ready-made sandwich.

“It looks like he’s in for the night. Let’s go back to the room so you can get the surveillance gear working.”

Terry gave him one of her mischievous smiles. “Shucks. I was hoping we could spend the night here since there’s only one bed.”

Josiah laughed. “A tantalizing thought, but we have some spies to catch first. . . . I’ll stop at Wal-Mart on the way back so you can buy a granny gown and a change of clothes.”

“What about you?”

“I don’t think they make granny gowns in my size.”

“No, I mean about fresh clothes.”

‘I thought I’d drive to my house in the morning to check on Brian and Adeen . I can bring some clothes back with me.”

Josiah woke up early again and took up his position in the lobby breakfast room. The blonde didn’t show but the man did. As he was filling a tray with assorted breakfast food, Josiah started to fill his own tray. When the man left Josiah paused a minute, then followed him with tray in hand. The man turned into the east wing of the first floor, stopped at a door, and fumbled with his key card while balancing the tray on one hand. Josiah said “Good morning. Lovely day, isn’t it,” as he went further down the hallway. He stopped in front of the last door and pretended to hunt for a key card in his pockets until the Russians’ door closed. Then he went up the stairs to report to Terry.

“They’re in room 134 in the east hallway. Hopefully they’ll leave long enough for you to get in and plant a bug or two.” He looked at the array of spy devices on the desk. “Which one of these do you plan to use?”

She picked one up. “I like this smoke alarm with a hidden camera and microphone inside. It has peel-and-stick tape on the back, so it will adhere to a wall or ceiling and look like a normal alarm. I have it linked to my computer so, once it’s in place, we can see and hear them. I have my laptop set up to record video and audio so we can go back over it. The video even has subtitles of their conversations in case we can’t make out what they’re saying.”

“Are you sure you can get past the lock before someone sees you in the hallway?”

“I’ll use my room key to jimmy the lock, so if anyone comes by I’ll stick it in the key card slot and act like I’m having trouble with it.”

“What about these transmitters to track vehicles with? What kind of range do they have and how do we track them?”

“Maximum range is five miles. We can download an ap for our cell phones that displays a map showing both their location and ours.”

“Good. After breakfast we’ll download the ap to both of our phones. I’ll keep the trackers with me so I can stick them on the truck when I get the chance. Can Brian and Adeen install the ap on their phones?”

“Yep. All they need is the access code. I’ll text that to them later.”

“It sounds like you’ve thought of everything. Let’s eat some breakfast and I’ll start watching the parking lot.”

The Russians stayed inside all morning, but eventually showed up in the parking lot. Josiah gave Terry a quick kiss and grabbed his car keys.

“What was that for, Josiah?”

“In case you get arrested and I don’t get to see you for awhile.”

“Boy, you’re a real pessimist aren’t you.”

“When you go into their room keep your cell phone with you. As soon as they start back from wherever they go I’ll call you so you can get out.”

As soon as she saw the truck and Explorer leave the parking lot Terry put the spy smoke alarm in a Wal-Mart bag and went down the back stairs to the first floor. She approached the door to Room 134 with her key card already in hand and, after a quick look up and down the hallway, she manipulated the card until she heard the latch click. With one more look around to make sure no one saw her she entered the room and closed the door.

She scanned the walls and saw the hotel smoke alarm mounted on a wall to the left of the bed, then went to the identical spot on the opposite wall. She took out the spy smoke alarm, switched it on, and stuck it on the wall. When she stepped back for a look the spy device looked almost like the hotel version. It even had a red light that blinked every few seconds. She stuffed the Wal-Mart bag into her pocket and started for the door when she decided to see if there was anything in the room that might help her figure out their plans. She found some newspapers and magazines on the bedside table, but nothing of interest.

As she continued to search the room she found a computer carrying bag with a laptop in it. She laid the laptop on the desk and opened the lid. It’s probably locked and I don’t have the password, but maybe I’ll get lucky. When the screen lit up she was surprised to see that it hadn’t been shut down completely – there was an array of icons for various programs and documents covering the display. I don’t have time to search through these and I can’t steal the laptop because the’ll miss it. . . . Let’s see what else is in the bag.

In a side pocket she found a memory stick which she plugged into the computer USB port. A few key clicks later all the files from the desktop screen were being transferred to the small storage device. She watched as a box on the screen reported on the progress – three minutes left. She was startled by a knock on the door. “Maid service.” As Terry heard the lock click she ran for the bathroom and closed the door. When the maid comes in to clean the bathroom I’ll be caught. If she recognizes that I’m not the woman who is staying in this room she’ll call security. I’m screwed. What can I do? She called Josiah.

He answered with “Where are you? I expected you to call sooner.”

Terry whispered “Shut up and listen. I’m in their room and I’m in trouble. The maid just walked in on me and I had to hide in the bathroom. When she comes in here to clean she’ll see that I’m not the blonde Russian. There’s nowhere to hide.”

“Get in the shower and pull the curtain closed.”

“She’ll open it to clean the tub.”

“Then turn the shower on. When she opens the door she’ll realize the room is still occupied and leave.”

“But I’ll get all wet!”

“Yeah, but you won’t be hauled off by security. Call me back when you’re clear.”

Terry hung up the phone, stepped into the shower, and turned the water on just before she heard the door open.

“Oh! I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t realize someone was still in the room. I’ll come back later.”

Terry gave her a couple of minutes to leave then turned the shower off. She looked down at her soaked jeans and tee shirt and laughed. “I could win a wet tee shirt contest dressed like this. The towels are all fresh so I can’t use one to dry off. I hope nobody sees me going back to my room.”

The memory stick transfer was finished so she withdrew it, closed the computer, and put it back in the bag. After a look around to make sure everything was where it belonged she left the room and went back up to her room. She was shaking a bit from the close encounter when she called Josiah to report her success.

When he got back to the room thirty minutes later she was perusing the files on the memory stick, but immediately jumped up and went into his arms for the comforting hug he offered.

“You okay?”

“I am now. I was pretty shaky for awhile there. Must have been the adrenalin.”

“Well, you didn’t panic. That’s the important thing. What did you find?”

“Well, first of all the smoke alarm camera is working fine.” She clicked the mouse button and a panoramic scene of the Russians’ room appeared on her computer screen. “When the maid came back I checked the audio out – she sings while she works. Right now I’m going through the files I copied from the woman’s notebook. There are several emails she copied to files and they turned out to be the pot of gold. Several were from a Col. Sokolov, who runs the Weapons Technology Division of the Ministry of Information. These aren’t recent emails so there’s no information about their plans down here, but it’s clear the woman is a Russian spy. Her name is Jessica Pauling by the way, and the guy is Dimitri Lebedev.”

“That confirms what we knew already – it’s the Russians who are after Brian and Adeen. What else did you find in the emails?”

“Not much, except that the guy Brian attacked with the chair, Matt Pauling, isn’t dead. He’s in a hospital in Taos with a punctured lung.”

“Brian will be glad to hear that. He wasn’t trying to kill the guy.”

“So now it’s your turn to bring me up to date, Josiah. Where did the spies go?”

“Their first stop was Wal-Mart where they bought six cases of assorted soft drinks – the kind in plastic bottles. That’s a lot of soda for the three of them. Maybe they’re going to take it back to Russia and sell it on the black market.”

“Where did they go next?”

“They went to a Tractor Supply store and bought a large trash can and three large bags of something – pet food, cattle feed, fertilizer – I couldn’t read the bag labels.”

“Did you say fertilizer!!”

“Yeah, that’s one possibility.”

“Holy shit!,” Terry exclaimed. “They’re going to make an ANFO bomb!”

“What’s that.”

“It’s what Timothy McVeigh used to blow the entire front off the federal building in Oklahoma City – a mixture of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer and Fuel Oil – A.N.F.O. If they only bought three bags they can’t make anything nearly as destructive as the Oklahoma bomb, but they won’t need a lot if they can get inside the Zeus testing lab.”

“But you said that would be impossible because the security is so tight. And getting a trash can full of ANFO inside would be even more difficult. And unless they’re suicide bombers, they will still have the problem of getting away.”

“Should we call the FBI with this information.”

“I think it’s too early, Terry. They haven’t broken any laws yet so the worst that would happen is they get sent back to Russia. We have to watch them until we get have more evidence.”

“What about what they did to Brian and Adeen – the kidnapping and all?”

“There’s that, but I think the FBI would be more interested in catching them with a bomb. That would make them terrorists and nobody has a problem violating their civil rights. They could get thrown into GITMO along with the Middle Eastern prisoners.”

“Alright, so how do we get more proof?”

“We keep watching them, both in their room and when they go out. If we get lucky we can catch them talking about their plans on the spy cam. I didn’t follow them after they left Tractor Supply because I had to get back here to check on you. They probably took the stuff to the van at KOA. We need to be watching that too, so we have to split up. I think I should go out to the RV at KOA while you stay here recording their conversations in the room.”

“What about if they leave the hotel – should I follow them?”

“Definitely. We need to know if they buy fuel oil for the bomb. . . . They might already have it in the van, but if they buy some – it will probably take a couple of 5 gallon cans. If we can catch them will all the ingredients for the bomb, we’ll call the FBI.”

Terry walked over, put her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I want this to be over – soon – so we can get on with developing a relationship.”

“Me too, Terry. Me too.”

With that Josiah and left the room and drove out to the KOA.

He wasn’t comfortable in the cramped cab-over bunk so he went outside with a beer and sat at the picnic table, where he had a good view of the white van. Early in the evening the man got out of the van and walked up to the front office. Josiah gave him a few minutes head start, then followed. When he entered the office the man was standing in front of the small glass-fronted freezer looking over options for supper. Brian went over and scanned the frozen meals himself. After a minute or two he opened up a conversation.

“Is any of this stuff good? I usually eat at restaurants when I’m on the road.”

The man hesitated, then offered with a heavy accent “I like chicken burritos, but I don’t have microwave so I put them on dashboard in the sun.”

“Do they get hot enough?”

“Not so much. But I get tired of refrigerator sandwiches.”

“I’ve got a microwave . . . and an oven. You’re welcome to come over and use it.”

The man hesitated. “No, I don’t bother you. I just get a sandwich.”

“I’ll be watching the ball game on TV with a 12-pack of beer. Let’s buy a couple of burritos to go with the beer and watch the ball game.”

It must have been the beer that changed his mind. “Okay. I come over. But I will pay you for beer.”

“Tell you what. You buy the burritos and I’ll supply the beer.”

The man nodded, grabbed four of the tortilla-wrapped treats, and paid the clerk at the counter.

“Thank you, Mr. Jovanovic.” He waved at the clerk in response and followed Josiah out the door.

After Josiah paid for the beer they walked back to the RV in silence. Josiah wanted to probe him a little with some questions but knew he couldn’t seem too eager, so he waited. Maybe after a few beers he’ll loosen up. But at least I have his last name. That and the accent means he’s probably Russian. . . . But that’s no surprise.

Back at the Winnebago Josiah opened the door and motioned for him to enter, but Jovanovic stepped back. “No, no. You first. Please. I am guest.”

I guess a good spy doesn’t want someone behind him, especially a stranger. It keeps them alive longer.

Josiah was a little concerned about leaving his own back exposed, so he said “Go ahead and sit at the table outside. I’ll microwave the burritos and crack open a couple of beers.”

“Crack open?”

“That’s just an expression we have here in America. It means to open the bottles.”

“Oh. . . . My English is not so good.”

“I noticed the accent. Where are you from?”

Jovanovic looked at him intently, wondering why the question was asked. Then shrugged his shoulders. “Serbia. I am Serbian.”

Josiah went inside and came back out a few minutes later with the beers and burritos. He opened a large panel on the outside of the motor home to reveal a TV set they could watch from the picnic table. “So what brings you to America? Traveling to see the sights? White Sands is one of a kind – nothing like it anywhere in the world.”

Again the hard stare . . . and a pause. “Yes. I’m here to see the . . . sights, as you say.”

Josiah realized he had pushed the conversation as far as he should – maybe too far. He didn’t want to make him suspicious. He heard the crack of a bat and pointed to the TV. “Look at that. A home run in the first inning. . . . You don’t have baseball in Serbia, do you.”

Jovanovic looked up from his burrito. “No. We have soccer. Much better.”

“Yeah, if you don’t like high scores.”

The man laughed at that. “It is not about scoring. It is team play, strategy, tactics. That is why we watch.”

“I guess it grows on you. . . . My name’s Josiah, by the way,” he said as he extended his hand. After a brief hesitation, the man offered his hand. “My name is Pavel. It is pleased to meet you.”

After a third beer Pavel did indeed loosen up – even became friendly. Josiah had been secretly pouring his out on the ground a little at a time to keep his mind alert. During a break in the game Pavel asked, “So, what are you here for. Vacation?”

Josiah thought, Maybe I can dangle a little bait and see if he bites.

“No, I actually live near here. My sister rented the motor home to do some traveling and stopped by for a visit.” That should cover things if he saw Terry out here yesterday. “She’s been on the road for awhile so I let her use my house for a couple of days while I stay here.”

Pavel perked up a bit. “Do you work here?”

He took the bait. “I live on the Army Base that runs the missile range. That’s also where I work. At the base.” In a voice that sounded like boasting – something drunks are fond of – he added, “In fact, I’m a scientist. I’m in charge of all the scientific research that goes on there.”

That definitely got his attention. Josiah could tell he was wrestling with how to get more information. “So what kind of thing do you research?”

Continuing with his bragging imitation he continued talking. “Oh, lots of secret projects – lasers and that sort of stuff. We have the highest power lasers in the world at our High Energy Laser Test Facility.”

“Lasers I don’t know. Serbia does not have those I think.”

“Lasers produce concentrated light beams. Low power lasers are used in lots of things that are probably in Serbia – medical equipment, surveying, rangefinders, package marking. The list is huge. But the lasers we develop can shoot down missiles, airplanes, even satellites.” Josiah wasn’t worried about giving away classified information. All this could be found online and in science magazines.

“Surely this must not be true. . . . I would only believe it if I saw for myself.?

Now Pavel is reaching too far – maybe hinting for a visit to HLSTF so he can try to spot the EMP device. “No, no. They don’t allow visitors. Everything is super secret.”

“Not even someone important like you can bring a friend to see these light beam machines?”

“No, I’m afraid not, Pavel. If I thought I could get you in I’d try, but the guards at the gate check everyone’s identification card before they let them inside.”

They sat and watched a couple more innings and drank a couple more beers – well, Pavel did. Josiah could tell he was thinking hard about something. He finally nodded his head to himself and turned to Josiah. “I read in American science magazine about electric magnetic pulses and how they could cause much damage. Do you have machines that makes beams of those?”

He’s really digging deep now, and taking a big risk in doing so. Time to cut him off.

“No, we only have powerful light beams. Electro-magnetic pulses come from nuclear weapons, not from beam weapons.”

After a short silence Josiah took the conversation in the direction he really wanted it to go. “How do you have enough room in that van to live? Have you got a refrigerator or a bathroom?”

Pavel looked up sharply. “No, just air mattress.”

Josiah went for the big question. “I’d like to see the inside. I’ve never looked inside the new Ford Transit vans. They look pretty roomy. . . . Can you stand up inside?”

Josiah saw instant suspicion in Pavel’s eyes, followed by anger – probably for allowing himself to be played so easily. He replied, “No! I leave now,” as he set his beer down and went back to his van.

Bingo! I hit the right button that time and got the reaction I was hoping for. He has stuff in that van he doesn’t want me to see – most likely the makings of a bomb. . . . I wish the van had windows so I could see inside. Maybe I could look through the windshield the next time he leaves and see something. I might even be able to take some pictures with my cell phone.

Half an hour later any doubts he had were erased. The two Russians from the hotel showed up and quickly entered the van. He must have called them as soon as he left here. I wonder what they’ll do now? I need to bring Brian up to date.

Adeen answered Brian’s cell phone. “Hey, Josiah. How are things going at your end?”

“Not good. Can you get Brian on the phone?”

Adeen switched on the speaker phone so they both could hear. “Hey, what’s up?”

Josiah filled him in on their activities of the past 24 hours, ending with the quick response of Russians to Pavel’s call.

“Wow. You two have been busy. Things at our end are boring. After everything Brian and I have been through I’ve become an adrenalin junkie. I need some action.”

“That may be coming your way soon. What do you think I should do next, Brian?”

“Get the hell outta there, now! They might take you out to protect their plans. . . . Or torture you to find out about Zeus.”

“You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m not used to worrying about someone trying to kill me. I need to do one thing first, then I’ll head for the hotel.”

Josiah left the interior lights on in the motor home so they would think he was still there and slipped out the door into the darkness. He hid behind a neighboring motor coach and moved toward Pavel’s camp site. When he got around behind the van and pickup he got down on his hands and knees and crawled up to them. He reached under the bumper and planted a magnetic GPS tracker on both vehicles, then crawled away and returned to his SUV. After he left the KOA he called Terry and told her he was on his way back.

As soon as he stepped in the room Terry threw her arms around his neck. “I was so worried about you.”

“When I tell you what happened you’ll be even more worried.” After giving her a brief summery of the events at the KOA he asked, “Anything happening here?”

“Oh yeah. Come on over and look at the video.” She played back a recording she made earlier from the spy camera.

“Here they’re just sitting around, not doing much of anything . . . then her cell phone rings.”

“What’s the time stamp on that?”

“Nine sixteen.”

“That’s just about the time Pavel left and hurried back to his van.”

“Wait ‘til you hear her side of the conversation.”

Pavel, why are you calling? You are only supposed to call if it’s an emergency.’ . . .

What!! He actually asked if he could come inside the van?’ . . .

This is bad! Dimitri and I will be there as soon as we can. Keep an eye on him! We may have to neutralize him.’

“That’s when I started worrying about you,” Terry added.

Back in the van the three Russian agents were discussing Pavel’s encounter with the stranger. He described what Josiah looked like, but the other two couldn’t remember meeting anyone like that. Jessica took the lead.

“Well, if he is more than a nosey camper, then he must be FBI, or even Homeland Security. And if he is, that means they’re watching us.”

“But how can they know about us?” Pavel asked.

“They must have followed you when you came here from Chicago, which means you were already on their radar as a possible terrorist. Maybe they tracked your purchases of bomb components from an earlier job.”

“No. I watch all the time and I’m knowing I wasn’t followed to here. I drive on empty roads at night. And every morning I check for GPS trackers with electronic sensor. I didn’t bring them here. They must have followed you here, Dimitri”

Dimitri got defensive. “The two we were after, Callaghan and Reilly, disappeared after we chased them from Red River. We were careful to check for bugs and made sure no one was tailing us when we left Taos.”

Jessica spoke up. “Well, we have to assume the worst and change our plans to meet this new threat. Today is Monday. We can’t wait for the Friday Coke truck. How soon can you get the bomb ready to go, Pavel?”

“If I had diesel fuel I could start in the morning and finish by darkness.”

“That will work.” Jessica answered. “Our contact at WSMR said the Cocoa-Cola truck delivers to the base vending machines Wednesdays and Fridays, but it only goes to the laser area on Fridays. We could hijack it Wednesday afternoon, make an unscheduled stop at the laser facility, plant the bomb, and get out before it goes off. Now tell us how you plan to sneak a trash can full of ANFO into the EMP lab.”

“I have brilliant plan. I mix fertilizer and fuel in trash can. Then I open plastic bottles, empty drinks, and refill with ANFO. I have already put detonator in a drink bottle that you will trigger from cell phone.”

“So what? You just leave the cases of drinks beside the vending machine?”

“No, no. I empty vending machine, replace bottles with bomb bottles, and put detonator bottle in the middle. Then when you call special cell phone number and punch in code, kaboom!”

Jessica smiled. “I have to agree with you Pavel . . . you are brilliant. I guess that’s why Sokolov sent you.”

Pavel beamed at the compliment.

“Come on, Dimitri. Let’s get back to the hotel. . . . I’ll bring a couple five-gallon cans of diesel fuel to you in the morning, Pavel.”

Chapter 41 – Allah’s Sword Reborn

Dr. Akeem Al-Kashif, Director of Weapons Development at Hurley Defense Technologies, was a happy man. He had just watched the first successful test of Allah’s Sword, the EMP beam weapon that Dr. Pearson had developed for him. He gave up any hope for the project when he read Callaghan’s report proving that the beam would spread out so much that it’s destructive range would be reduced to less than a kilometer. But just last month his informant inside the Secretary of Defense’s office sent him a covert voice recording of a meeting outlining Project Malthus. Akheem immediately saw the potential of modifying Pearson’s device to make a sterilizer weapon and had a team rushing to make the necessary changes to Allah’s Sword.

The test he had just watched demonstrated that the device would work for the new application. What was even more important was the effective range. The test proved that from an altitude of 35,000 feet it could sterilize any woman inside a 300 mile circle on the ground. And as a bonus, the current design could be fit into the cargo bay of a commercial airliner, disguising the fact that it was an airborne weapon that could guarantee the targeted country would not be able to raise an Army for the next decade or two.

With this information Akheem planned to open secret negotiations with a country that would pay ten million dollars or more to buy Akheem’s wonder weapon. And once it was used, every country would be clamoring to get one. He could see the possibility of a billion dollar market for these devices. There would be even more profit if they kept the design for the explosive cartridges that fired the pulses to themselves. That way their customers would have to keep coming back for more supplies. Yes, Akheem had lots of reasons to be happy today.

The general and his top scientist were preparing to fly to Paris to meet with Dr. Al-Kashif to finalize the purchase. They also planned to visit the aircraft manufacturer that was modifying an Airbus 380 jumbo jetliner to accommodate their new acquisition. In the contract the general had specified that the exterior of the plane must have no indication that it was actually a weapon platform, and the paint scheme had to be an exact copy of a commercial airline that routinely flew over the target country. They were almost finished with the modifications and he wanted to see for himself how well they had carried out his instructions.

Henri DuBois had been pushing his crew for the past two weeks to complete the work on the A380 before the contract deadline, which was tomorrow. It was exasperating work, especially with the 35-hour work week limit and extra time off dictated by French law. Even if he had to ask for a time extension to complete the work, they were coming up on the shutdown of all French businesses mandated for the month of August. He could keep his workers on the job by paying them huge amounts of overtime, but then he would financially overrun the contract. And besides, all the manufacturers who supplied the parts they needed would be off for the month, so his people wouldn’t have what they needed to do their job. It was a no-win situation for Henri. If he was working for Boeing in America he would be worrying about losing his job if he failed, but here in his country it was almost impossible to fire an employee.

As he was worrying he got a call from the company vice president. “How is that aircraft modification job coming, Mr. Dubois? I trust our client won’t be disappointed tomorrow.”

That’s all I need – someone else reminding me of the deadline. If they would quit calling I might get some work done.

“Yes sir, we’ll be ready for the visit.” Henri lied.

Chapter 42 – “I’ll Take Care of That.”

Following up on his promise to Brian to ‘take care of’ the Russian problem, Mike McCall was in a meeting with the Vice President and the heads of the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, and State Department. After he finished briefing them on what he learned from Callaghan about the Russian EMP work, he fielded several questions.

“Do you know nothing more about its location other than the Institute of Physics and Technology? That’s a big campus.”

“No Mr. Secretary, that’s all the Russian would tell Brian Callaghan, and he had to sucker him into revealing that much.”

“Certainly Callaghan must know something more than that. Bring him in for questioning immediately.”

“There’s a problem with that, sir. We don’t have access to Callaghan.”

“What does that mean, ‘you don’t have access?’”

“Well, uh, we had him in custody. . . but he escaped.”

“This man could be the key to keeping American women from being neutered by an invisible beam, and you let him get away?”

“He’s pretty clever, sir. In fact, he’s brilliant.”

The head of the CIA broke in. “This isn’t getting us anywhere. We need to focus on destroying the Russian weapon. Give me some ideas.”

The Defense Secretary gave his opinion. “The Air Force Chief of Staff believes we could sneak a low-level cruise missile in under the Russian radar and take out the target. Of course we would have to know the specific building to target . . . or else use a small nuclear weapon.”

“An oxymoron if I ever heard one. No matter how we choose to destroy it, we need to locate the device first, and that’s a job for my CIA boys. I’ll have them draw up an infiltration plan to get the information. I think we have a couple of students at the Institute on our payroll, so it shouldn’t take long to contact them and find out what we want.”

It was State Department’s turn next. “No, I disagree with Steve on that. We should let them know through a back channel that we’re aware of what they’re doing and negotiate a way out of this.”

“To negotiate you have to have something to bargain with. We got nothing.”

McCall stepped in. “Actually, sir we do. The Army has secretly moved Callahan’s original EMP weapon to White Sands, and is testing it as we speak. We could agree to a mutual dismantling of both programs.”

“That’s good news. I’ll have my people start drafting an agreement right away.”

The Vice President, who had been silent up until now, took charge. “Alright, here’s the plan. The CIA will find the target location, while the Air Force explores the cruise missile option. The State Department will draft a negotiating agreement, but only as a fall-back position. I’m much more comfortable with destroying the threat, especially if we can take out their team of scientists and engineers at the same time to prevent them from starting over again. . . . Are we all clear on that? . . . Good, then go get to work.”

Chapter 43 – The Big Bang

When Josiah got up the next morning he went to the window to check on the Russians’ truck. “Damn! The truck’s gone. Rerun the spy camera video on your computer. Maybe they said something about where their going.”

“This is the live feed. Dimitri is still in the room but I don’t see the woman. She must have taken the truck. I’ll switch to the tracker map link and see if she’s still in range. . . . There it is. She went to KOA and parked beside the van.”

“Run the playback to see if she stopped anywhere.”

“It looks like she stopped at the gas station briefly, then went straight to KOA. . . . Wait a minute. She just left the KOA and is heading back this way.”

They both sat at the window and watched the pickup pull into a parking space a few minutes later.

“She’s back. Let’s switch back to the spy camera again. You watch that while I give Brian another call.”

“Hey, Brian. There’s been some early activity this morning you should know about. Before Terry and I got out of bed the woman drove off in the truck, but left the guy behind in the room. She stopped at a gas station, then went to see Pavel at the KOA. It was a short visit, and now she’s back in the room. Terry is watching and listening to see if they say anything about her trip, but so far they’re not saying much.”

“I don’t see anything suspicious there, other than what she might have discussed with Pavel.”

“I was hoping to catch her buying fuel oil for the bomb, but no luck there. Where would she go to get the fuel oil? At a hardware store or something?”

“I don’t know . . . Wait! If she stopped at a gas station she might have bought some diesel fuel. It would work as well as fuel oil in an ANFO bomb.”

“That means they’re getting close to their goal of blowing up Zeus. But I still don’t see how they will get on base – especially with a trashcan full of ANFO in the back of their truck.”

Terry spoke up. “We’re missing something here. Transporting a trash can full of ANFO is dangerous. A bump or a pot hole could make it slosh around and set it off. They must have repackaged it into something they can get past the gate guards.”

“We need to keep an even closer watch on them, including this Pavel guy. He may be the bomb maker. We need eyes on him and that van around the clock. We can’t send Josiah back to the motor home. It’s too risky.”

“Here’s an idea, Brian. The cover story on the RV is that my sister rented it and I was staying there so she could spend a night in a real house. So what if we send Terry to KOA pretending to be my sister. She can keep watch on him.”

“I can’t leave the room, Josiah. I need to watch the camera and vehicle trackers. You would have to learn the software, which would take an hour or two. Someone needs to get to KOA soon.”

Adeen spoke up. “I’ll do it. Pavel doesn’t know me so I won’t be in any danger. And I’ll take a gun with me, just in case.”

“I don’t know, honey. It’s . . . it’s not a job . . .”

“It’s not a job for a woman? That’s what you’re thinking. Well forget that crap. I’m going!”

Brian realized he was going to lose that argument, so he finally agreed. “I’ll take you out there now and drop you at the office. You can walk to the RV and try to slip inside unseen. But keep you’re phone ready to call me the minute anything happens.”

“You’ll have a great view of the van from the upper bunk.” Terry added.

Adeen was small enough to be comfortable in the cab-over bunk. She propped herself up with a couple of pillows and lay there watching the white van. She had a good view of the back doors on the van and hoped Pavel would come out that way and give her a quick peek inside, but for the last three hours he’d stayed inside. She saw the vehicle rock on its springs now and then, so there was some activity going on inside, but that wasn’t much help. It could just mean he’s got a woman frolicking with him in there.

As she watched the doors her eyes dropped down to the license plate. The license plate! We haven’t tried to use it to identify him. I bet Terry can access the car registration databases and see who owns it.

“Terry? Adeen here. You haven’t run the van’s license number to see if it gives us anything, have you?”

“No, we didn’t think of that. We’re not very good detectives, are we. Have you got a number for me to work with?”

“Just a sec. Let me look through the binoculars I brought along. . . . . . . It’s a California plate, number 6AFG834. Got that?”

“I’ll look that up and get back to you.”

It was getting dark by the time Terry called back. “Hey. I was starting to think you forgot about me.”

“No, the firewall on the California DMV was tough to crack, but I finally got through. I found out the van was rented from National Car Rentals in Van Nuys. So I hacked into their database to see who rented it. The guy’s name is Pavel Jovanovic. National has his driver’s license number recorded, so I used that to hack into another database to get more information on Pavel. He lives in Canoga Park, a couple of suburbs west of Van Nuys. I searched another database and found that he works at Aerojet Rocketdyne as a rocket fuels technician.”

“That would give him the background to build a bomb. That’s another piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to a plan to blow up something, but not enough to get him arrested.”

Terry wrapped up the call. “Keep watching, Adeen. And let us know if anything changes.”

“Roger that.”

By 9 p.m. Adeen was getting hungry and cursed herself for not bringing food. I guess I’ll have to go up to the office.. With her bandaged leg it took her awhile to get to the there, and even longer to get back with two bags of junk food. As she approached the RV she saw the door was halfway open and froze. She set the bags down and reached in her purse for the gun. Shit! I left it on the bunk in the RV. . . . But maybe I didn’t close the door hard enough and it swung open. I don’t remember hearing it slam, so that must be why it’s open. The shades are drawn so I can’t see if anyone is in there. Oh well. She picked up her bags and stepped inside . . . and met face to face with a man. She started to scream, but pulled it back and thought how best to play this.

“Oh! you surprised me. Am I in the wrong motor home?” That sounded lame.

“N . . . No, no. . . . I am friend of Josiah. Your brother?”

“Ah, yes. He told me he met someone from another camp site. But why are you in here?” she asked as she squeezed past him to put the grocery bags on the bunk.

“Oh. . . . I wanted to return his beer I drank last night.”

“Where is it?”

“I put it in ice box already,” Pavel replied, hoping there was some beer left in there from last night.

Adeen slid her hand under a pillow and got a grip on her pistol, but left her hand there. Now that she felt more secure she looked around and saw the drawers and cabinet doors open. “What were you doing in here. You were going through my things. What are you a pervert? I should call the cops,” she said indignantly. At that point she produced the gun and aimed it at him.

“No, no. No police, please,” he begged.

She paused for dramatic effect and finally said, “Get out of here. If I see you anywhere near my motor home I will call the police – and maybe put a bullet through your kneecap to keep you around until they get here. Now git!”

As he turned and ran out the door she thought to herself, Not a bad performance, if I do say so myself. And there’s that adrenalin rush I was craving. She called Brian to report on the incident.

“He broke into the RV and you let him get away? If you had called the law he might be in jail now. That would screw up their plans for good.”

Adeen’s urge to get mad and defend herself reared up, but she held it in check, took a breath, and replied, “I’m sorry. I didn’t have much time to think

Brian, surprised not to be counterattacked, softened his tone. “I’m sorry too, Adeen. I shouldn’t have gone off like that. I would have done the same thing if it had been me. . . . Except I probably would have shot him in the butt as he ran away.”

The humor relieved the tension between them. “I’m going to come and get you right now. Whatever is going on in the van, I don’t want to risk you getting hurt. And if Jessica or Dimitri show up, they will recognize you for sure. Meet me out at the office in fifteen minutes.”

Wednesday morning Josiah got up early and went down to the breakfast bar to wait for Jessica or Dimitri to show up. He’d been there almost an hour when he saw Jessica stop at the front desk and check out. Uh-oh. Something’s up. I better get Terry up to track where they go. As soon as Jessica left the hotel he hurried up to his room. As he closed the door Terry said, “Hey. Where’s my breakfast?”

“More important stuff is happening – they’re on the move. Fire up the tracking program up while I call Brian.”

“Time to wake up, Brian. The Russians checked out and are headed west toward the KOA. Terry’s tracking them but we may need some help from you two. Get dressed and ready to roll. I’ll call as soon as I know something.”

“Okay, Terry. Where are they now?”

“They just pulled into the KOA. Probably meeting Pavel for something.”

Josiah over heard the conversation on the speaker phone. “Let’s go, Terry! Bring your phone so we can track them from the car.”

Terry had her phone in hand on her way out the door before she realized she still had her pajamas on. “Oh! I can’t go like this. Give me a few minutes to get dressed.”

“Make it quick, Babe. We need to catch up with them.”

While he waited he called Brian. “Hey! They’re on the move – both the pickup and the van – driving toward the base. Head there now and watch for the van or the truck going through the front gate..”

“I’m on the way.”

As soon as Terry was ready they jumped in the Explorer and drove toward WSMR.

“I have the vehicle tracker on my phone screen. They’re barely within range – about five miles ahead. Go faster, Josiah.”

“I’m going as fast as I can. I don’t want a cop to pull us over – we would lose them for sure.”

“Wait! Now they both stopped. Let me check the GPS coordinates. . . . They stopped at the White Sands Visitor’s Center. We should be there in a few minutes. . . . “Shoot! The van’s moving again . . . but the truck’s not.”

Four minutes later they saw the Visitor’s Center sign and turned in to the parking lot. Josiah drove up to the Russians’ pickup truck and slowly circled around it. “It looks empty. They must all be in the van. And I don’t see anything in the truck bed that could be a bomb, so it must be in the van.”

“They could be inside the Visitor’s Center – using the rest room or something.”

“Good thought. I’ll drive over there so you can go in and check it out.”

As soon as she got inside Terry saw Jessica strolling through the wildlife and vegetation exhibits. She went into the ladies room and called Josiah. “Jessica is in here, but she’s just strolling around like a tourist or something. I think she’s killing time until the guys get back from their mission.”

“They won’t come back if I have anything to do with it. She’ll probably wait awhile, then get in the truck and leave if they don’t show up. Come on back out and we’ll go after the van.”

Dimitri drove the van up behind the Coke delivery truck and, just before they reached the roadside pull off, he accelerated to pass it. As they drew even with the driver Pavel reached out the open window, pointed his handgun at the driver and motioned for him to pull over. Just to be sure he got the message, Pavel put a bullet hole in the front door. The driver panicked and almost lost control. When he got it straightened out he nodded his head vigorously and turned into the roadside parking area. Dimitri drove up on the right side of truck where the passing cars couldn’t to see them. Pavel got out and opened the right side door.

“Get out, now!” He pointed the gun at him for emphasis.

As soon as the driver was on the ground Pavel pushed him up against the side of delivery truck. “W . . . what’s going on? Did my wife hire you? It’s about the affair, right?”

Dimitri saw no reason to tell him it wasn’t about his girlfriend as he tied a blindfold over his eyes. “If you keep quiet and cooperate nothing will happen to you. Otherwise . . .” The man nodded his head.

“By the way, what’s your name?”

“Andre Dormand. It’s on the shirt.”

Dimitri raised a side panel on the delivery truck so Pavel could put the explosive soft drink cartons in on top of the ones already there. When they were all transferred he closed the panel and turned to the driver. “We’re just going to borrow your truck and your Coca-Cola shirt for awhile, then you can have them back. Take off the shirt and get into the back of the van.” Pavel was waiting with leg irons fastened to the floor of the van. When the driver was secured Dimitri stuck a needle in his arm and watched as his struggle morphed into sleep.

The two Russians climbed into the Coke truck and drove back onto the highway to the base. “When we get to the gate I’ll do the talking, Pavel. Your accent might make them suspicious.”

“We’re almost there, Josiah. The tracker says the van is just ahead.”

“There it is, pulled off to the side of the road.” He slowed down and turned off the road. “I don’t see anyone around. I’ll get out and look around.”

“Be careful!”

Josiah replied by pulling his gun out and waving it at her. Then he crept silently up to the side of the van and took a quick look into the driver’s window. Nothing to see except black curtains behind the front seat . He went around to the back and knocked on the door. . . . No answer. He tried the handle and found it locked so he went back to the Explorer. “They must have transferred the bomb into another vehicle – one that can get onto the base. I’ll call Brian.”

“Hi Josiah. I’m here in a parking lot outside the base gate, but I haven’t seen the van or the pickup yet.”

“That’s why I’m calling. The truck is back at the Visitor’s Center and the empty van is beside the road about three miles from the base. I think they transferred the bomb to another vehicle of some sort – something that would have no trouble getting through the gate. Have you seen anything?”

“Only a few cars and a Coca-Cola delivery truck, but I’ll keep watching and let you know.”

“If they repackaged the ANFO the bomb could be in any of the cars and we’d never know it. Leave and go back to my house. Terry and I will meet you there.”

The four of them were in Josiah’s living room looking at the computer display on the large-screen TV. He brought up an aerial image of the base from Google Earth and zoomed in on the HLSTF area where the EMP generator was.

“See this large building right here? That’s the lab where Zeus is being tested. It’s an old block house that was used for rocket engine testing right after World War Two.

“So how will the Russians get into the building?”

“There are no security guards there for us to warn. The building has concrete walls two feet thick, so they can’t put the bomb outside and destroy what’s inside. The back entrance over here – the loading dock for deliveries – will be their best bet.”

Adeen asked, “So what’s the plan. They‘ve had plenty of time to plant the bomb and leave.”

“It’s after closing time, so there shouldn’t be anyone in the building to worry about. I guess Brian and I will go over there and look for the bomb.”

Both Terry and Adeen started to protest, but Brian reminded them that, if something went wrong and he and Josiah don’t make it back, someone had to call Agent McCall to report everything. They didn’t like it but realized Brian was right.

Dimitri and Pavel were running late because the gate guard questioned why the usual delivery man wasn’t driving. Dimitri gave him a story about his ‘friend’ Andre being sick and the company called them in at the last minute to make his deliveries. The guard was about to let them through when he noticed Dimitri’s shirt with Andre Dormand’s name on it. Dimitri made up a good reason on the spot.

“I’m not a regular driver, so I don’t have my own company shirt. Andre told me to come by and pick his up.”

The guard was still suspicious, so he ordered Dimitri out of the truck and asked him to raise all the side panels for inspection. He walked around the truck and saw nothing but cartons of drinks so he let them pass.

When they arrived at the large block building at quarter to four and backed up to the loading dock, they found it padlocked shut. Dimitri went around to the front office and asked if anyone had a key, but the guy said why don’t you just bring them in the front door like you always do. Dimitri gave him the story about being a stand-in driver who wasn’t familiar with the delivery procedures.

He went back out to the truck and helped Pavel load a dolly with the soda bottles full of ANFO, then he wheeled it around to the front door and asked the way to the vending machine. He was directed through a heavy steel door into a large room with computers, instruments, wires, and hoses, all connected to a menacing-looking metal cylinder in the center of the lab. He was trying to take it all in – memorizing everything he could – when one of the lab workers shouted “Quit gawking. Load the pop machine and leave.”

He hurried over to the vending machine and saw that it was in a good position to totally destroy the cylinder and all the equipment attached to it. He used the key he took from Andre to open the machine. He had to unload the remaining soda bottles to make room for the ones from the dolly. When he was finished he locked the vending machine and turned the dolly around to leave.

“Hey! You forgot something. You just gunna leave those bottles there on the floor? Load ‘em up and take ‘em with you.”

Dimitri didn’t want to waste any more time so he yelled back “Those aren’t fresh anymore. The company doesn’t want them back. You and your crew can have them for free,” as he hurried toward the front door. He left the dolly in the parking lot as he climbed up beside Pavel and roared out of the parking lot.

By the time Brian and Josiah got to the block house everyone had left for the day. Josiah used his key to get in the front door and they started searching for the bomb. “What are we looking for, Brian?”

“I have no idea. Just look for something big that shouldn’t be there. Trash cans are prime suspects.”

“Do you think they booby trapped the bomb to go off if we mess with it?”

“Maybe not since they didn’t expect anyone to be looking for it. It will probably have a timer or a cell phone attached to a detonator. And it won’t be like in the movies, with a big red digital display telling us how much time we have left to live.”

“So in case I find it first tell me now – do I cut the red wire or the blue wire.”

“You watch too much TV, Josiah. If we find it we need to try to get it outside the building. The thick walls will keep the explosion from hurting us while se call 911.”

Fifteen minutes later they had searched every room, looked in all the trash cans, under all the tables and desks, and even in the toilet stalls, but found nothing that could be the bomb. They met back in the lab and looked around again.

Brian realized something. “I think they would put it as close to Zeus as they could to be sure of destroying it. Let’s go through this room one more time. Try opening the back doors of the equipment racks. Maybe something could fit in those.”

Dimitri slowed the delivery truck as the approached the highway pull-off where they left the van. The driver was still unconscious from the knock-out shot, so they left him on the floor of the Coke truck. As they headed toward the Visitor’s Center Pavel called Jessica.

“Pavel! Where are you two! I figured you got arrested or something so I’m on my way back through Alamogordo to get as far away from here as I can.”

“So what? You thought we would turn you in if they caught us?”

“Yeah, something like that. So what’s the status?”

“The mission was successful. The vending machine is primed and ready for your phone call. But pull over and wait for us. Once the explosion goes off all hell will break loose, making it easier to get away from here.”

“Okay. You got five minutes. I’m in the McDonald’s parking lot.”

When the van got there the three of them climbed into the bed of Jessica’s pickup and looked to the southwest, toward the base. Jessica dialed the number that connected her cell to the phone hidden in a soft drink bottle in the vending machine. She listened to it ring the required six times, then heard click as the phones completed the connection.

Jessica said “Well, here goes. You better hope you know what you’re doing, Pavel. If this thing doesn’t work Col. Sokolov will send you to the coldest part of Siberia . . . if you’re lucky.” Jessica started punching in the nine digit code that would initiate the explosion.

Brian was on his knees looking at the space under a metal staircase when he heard a phone ring. “Is that your phone, Josiah?”

“No, I thought it was yours.” They looked at each other in panic and listened for the source of the ring.

“Over here Brian . . . it’s coming from inside the Coke machine! Wait . . . the ringing stopped. . . . Run!!! Get the hell outta here!” They both ran out the lab door and into the front office. Brian charged out the front door two seconds ahead of Josiah . . . but it was a fateful two seconds. The ANFO went off as Josiah was partway out the door, and it blew him thirty feet through the air into the side Brian’s explorer. His arm smashed through the window as his face put a deep dent in the door panel. He bounced off, causing the broken window to shred the skin and muscles of his forearm. He came to rest on the ground ten feet from the vehicle, bleeding badly from his head and arm. The only good thing was that he was unconscious through it all and didn’t feel the terrible pain. That would come later – much later.

Brian fared better because he had the block wall between him and the bomb. The concussion knocked him to the ground, but he stayed aware through it. He lay stationary on the ground, taking inventory of his body parts, when pieces of the metal roof started falling on him. He managed to curl up in a fetal position with his arms covering his head, which was fortunate, because a twenty-five pound chunk of the air conditioner came crashing down, breaking them both. Before the pain hit him he thought of Josiah. He couldn’t see him, but he yelled out, “Josiah! Josiah! Are you alright? . . . Answer me!” Then the pain from his arms hit and he passed out.

Three miles away, Terry and Adeen sat on Josiah’s couch, anxiously waiting to hear from the guys.

“It’s been too long. Something’s wrong. They should have called by now.”

“Hang in there Adeen. They know what they’re doing.”

KABOOM!

“What was that! . . . The bomb went off. NO! NO! NO!.”

Adeen grabbed Terry’s hand and looked upward. “Lord, protect them. Keep them safe. Please, please, please Lord.” Then she lowered her head and started crying.

Terry kept her wits about her. “We have to do something. . . . Go over there and find them. Come on!” She grabbed her keys and they headed out the door. That’s when they heard the sirens.

Chapter 44 – Aftermath

The smoke and dust cloud from the explosion rose high in the air over the missile range, clearly visible from the McDonald’s parking lot in Alamogordo. The three in the back of the pickup cheered and gave each other high fives. “You did it guys, you did it!” Jessica said as she snapped some photos with her smart phone. “When the Colonel sees these he will be very pleased. I’ll forward them to him now.” When she was finished tapping keys she turned to the other two.

“Time to get out of here. Follow me to Albuquerque. We’ll turn the rental van in at the airport and get Pavel on a plane to California. Dimitri, you’ll have to stay overnight at the airport hotel, then catch the first flight to Mexico in the morning. The sooner we all split up the safer we’ll be. Dimitri, you ride with Pavel in the van until we get to the airport, then I’ll drop you off at the hotel and go on the Taos to pick up Matt. He texted me that he was well enough to go home to Colorado Springs.”

Jessica turned out of McDonalds onto Highway 54 North toward Albuquerque. They made good time for half an hour, then the traffic ahead slowed to a crawl. She called Dimitri. “There must be a traffic accident up ahead. I hope we can get through it in time to put you on the plane, Pavel. . . . Oh, wait. It’s a roadblock! They couldn’t have gotten it set up that fast. . . . I can see ahead now. It looks like immigration officials, so they’re probably looking for illegals being smuggled across the border. Nothing for us to worry about.”

Her assessment proved true when an agent in an Immigration and Naturalization Service jacket took a quick look in her cab and waved her on through. She watched in the rear view mirror as the van approached the checkpoint, only to be waved off to the side for inspection. It must be the enclosed van. As soon as Dimitri shows them the empty cargo space, they’ll let him come ahead. The last thing she saw before she drove out of sight was both men being ordered out of the van as a dog handler approached with a German Sheppard in tow.

As the van pulled forward a uniformed man stepped out and motioned for them to pull off onto a gravel space beside the highway. Dimitri rolled down his window as the man approached and asked “What is it, officer?”

“We are checking for vehicles transporting undocumented aliens.”

“But I have a plane to catch. I’ll miss it if you hold me up.”

“It will only take a couple of minutes, sir. Would you both step out of the vehicle, please.”

Dimitri stayed calm as they got out but sweat was beading up on Pavel’s forehead. Come on, Pavel. Don’t get nervous and guilty looking. Dogs can smell fear on a man.

After his fake driver’s license and the van’s registration were inspected Dimitri turned to get back into the driver’s seat, but the agent reached out and gently pulled him away.

“We’re not quite finished yet Mr. Altizer. (That was the name on the fake driver’s license). Please stand over there.”

They waited for a few minutes until the dog handler approached and led a large German Sheppard up to the van. The dog first circled the van sniffing the tires. After lifting his leg on one of them the dog continued around until he got close to the back door, where he sat and froze, almost like a pointer locked onto a covey of quail. “The dog is alerting positive.”

The other agent asked Dimitri, “Do we have permission to search your vehicle?”

“What happens if I say no?”

“Then we will have to take you in for questioning and you’ll miss your plane.”

“Okay. Go ahead.””

The agent opened the rear door slowly and looked in, then shouted “Code 3! Code 3!” as he stepped back and drew his weapon. “On the ground, both of you. NOW!!”

Another agent came running up with his gun drawn. “What is it?”

“Fertilizer, and what smells like diesel fuel. Bomb components. These guys might be behind that bombing on the base that came in over the radio a few minutes ago.”

“I’ll get cuffs on them and notify the base military police.”

Jessica drove slowly for several miles, watching the rear view mirror, and stopped in Carrizozo to wait for them to catch up. After ten minutes she gave up, realizing that the other two must have been arrested. She continued on through Santa Fe to Taos, staying off the main highways. It was almost midnight when she turned into the parking lot at Holy Cross Hospital. I hope Matt is ready to go. We need to disappear. I don’t think Dimitri will give us up but I don’t trust that weasel Pavel. I wonder if they will release Matt in the middle of the night. I don’t want to wait around until morning.

She walked up to the hospital reception desk. “I’m here to pick up my husband, Matthew Pauling. I understand he was released today.” The woman looked at her a little too long – which should have alerted her that something wasn’t right – then looked down at her computer screen. After another quick look back up at her, she said, “It will be just a few minutes, Mrs. Pauling. I’ll inform the charge nurse that you’re here.” He got up from her chair quickly and hurried down the hall, almost running. That’s where Jessica’s mental alarm went off. Damn! It’s a trap! They were waiting for me. She turned quickly and got halfway to the door when three men stepped into the lobby with guns drawn. “Mrs. Pauling, I’m FBI agent McCall. Get down on your knees and put your hands behind your head.” She thought briefly about reaching for her gun and going out in a blaze of glory, but decided to give up. Maybe Col. Sokolov can trade me for an American spy in a Russian prison.

In another hospital 130 miles to the south of Taos, Josiah Lightfoot was fighting for his life at the University Medical Center in Albuquerque. The trauma to his head and face left him in a coma, and the blood loss from his mangled arm left his blood pressure bordering on non-existent. He was rushed here in an Army helicopter, with paramedics working to stabilize him and praying that they could get him to the trauma center alive. God answered their prayers, but not by much.

There wasn’t room for Brian on the helicopter, but his broken arms could be treated at a local hospital so it wasn’t an emergency situation. He was still in surgery but the orthopedic surgeon told Adeen that none of his injuries were critical and that his arms should fully mend with no permanent damage.

Terry had tried to force her way onto the helicopter with Josiah but someone from the ground crew pulled her away so the helicopter could take off. She immediately got into Josiah’s truck and drove west to Las Cruces, where she could get on I-25 straight to Albuquerque. Outside the town of Bernalillo she was stopped by a state patrolman for speeding, but when she explained the situation, he led the way with lights flashing and siren wailing.

When she got to the medical center she thanked the patrolman and dashed in the front door. She got as far as the surgery waiting room before someone told her she couldn’t go any further. She reluctantly sat down and nervously waited for the surgeon to come out to tell her Josiah’s condition.

Four and a half hours later a woman dressed in surgical scrubs came up to her.

“How is he? Please tell me he’s alright”

“He suffered severe head trauma and injuries to his face. We’ve repaired his facial wounds – for now – but he will require some plastic surgery later. As far as the head trauma, there may be some brain damage, possibly permanent, but he’s in a coma now and we won’t be able to determine the extent of that until he regains consciousness.”

“Can I see him?”

“Not for some time, maybe a day or two. He’s in intensive care and the risk of infection from visitors is just too high right now. I suggest you leave you phone number with the waiting room attendant, then go home until we call.”

Home? I can’t go home. Home is in Washington . . . or is it Josiah’s home at White Sands. I’m not leaving his side until he’s healed . . . and maybe not even then.

“I don’t live here in town. Can you recommend a good hotel nearby?”

“Since I think you’ll be here for quite awhile, the Embassy Suites a few block west of here would be a good choice. They have reduced rates for relatives of patients.”

“Oh, I’m not . . . Thank you Doctor.”

I may not be a relative yet, but I’m going to change that as soon as he’s able to marry me.

Chapter 45 – The Big Bang – All Over Again

Col. Sergei Sokolov was not a happy man. Nothing seemed to be going his way. Yesterday he got a message from a law firm that handles legal problems for Russian Government personnel in the United States informing him that four of his agents were in FBI custody. Dimitri and Pavel he could stand to lose – as long as they kept their mouths shut. If they didn’t he had people that could silence them, even behind prison walls. But Jessica and Matt Pauling were two of his star agents. He wanted desperately to get them back, but according to the lawyers that wasn’t going to be easy.

Then this morning he received notice that his EMP project was going to be cancelled if he couldn’t have it working by the end of he month. He immediately called the project manager, Sasha Petrov, and threatened him with a change of career if he couldn’t make it work by then. It’s amazing how motivating it is to tell someone that they will be transferred to the uranium mines in northern Siberia if they fail. But if Sokolov didn’t get the new weapon working he could end up right beside Sasha in Siberia. No, things don’t get much worse than this, Sergei thought.

When the phone interrupted his thoughts he was almost afraid to answer it. What if it brings even more bad news? But on the other hand, it might be the project manager reporting success. He lifted the receiver and put it to his ear.

“Yes, Sokolov here. . . . What!! How could you let that happen! . . . Was it completely destroyed by the explosion? Can’t it be repaired? . . . Six months! We don’t have six months. The money stops in two weeks. What caused it? . . . Sabotage you think? . . . Well, was it or wasn’t it? . . . If it was destroyed by foreign agents then you can’t be blamed for the failure. . . . Was it someone on your team? Maybe you, Sasha? . . . Don’t talk to me that way, Petrov, that’s insubordination!” Sergei slammed the phone down.

After his anger cooled a bit Sokolov initiated his escape plan. He had been selling Government supplies on the black market for the past few years and had a good-sized investment account hidden in a Caribbean bank. All he had to do was get out of Russia. He picked up the phone and ordered an Army transport plane readied for a flight to Berlin. From there he could take a commercial airline to the Cayman Islands, where he owned a modest beachfront house that he bought for retirement. His ‘retirement’ was coming sooner than he intended, so the renters living there now would have to find a new place.

When he got to the air base he drove directly into the hangar and parked beside the aircraft. As he was unloading his luggage he sensed someone behind him and quickly turned . . . to face his boss, Gen. Vasiliev, accompanied by two armed policemen.

“Col. Sokolov, are you planning a trip?”

“Yes . . . I am flying to Berlin for a weekend vacation. I have been under a lot of pressure lately.”

“I have a much better destination in mind for you. Are you familiar with the accommodations at Krasnoyarsk Prison. . . . No, probably not. You have never visited Siberia. I called ahead and made reservations for you. It will be a very long stay.” Turning to the policemen Vasiliev said, “Arrest him!”

Chapter 46 – Three Months Later

Terry woke up beside Josiah and quietly slipped out of bed so she wouldn’t wake him. He had a rough night – changing positions to ease the pain in his mending arm only to have it reappear inside his head. He was improving, but slowly. He recently finished his third plastic surgery to restore his face to some semblance of his former appearance, but more would be needed over the next six months. The good news was that there was no brain damage.

Terry looked down at him and felt the love swell in her heart. They had grown so close since he come home from the hospital. Terry helped him every day with dressing, physical therapy, and initially, eating. She could tell it angered him that he couldn’t take care of himself, that he had to depend on someone else.

Terry slipped on a robe and went to the kitchen to make coffee. She was comfortable now living in Josiah’s home. She loved the long hours talking with him, sharing stories from childhood and their careers in physics. They traded ideas about the latest discoveries in quantum mechanics, astronomy, the possibility of life in other planetary systems, time travel – anything that caught their interest.

As the coffee finished brewing Terry heard the other two stirring, so she got out extra cups and filled them. A few minutes later Brian and Adeen appeared and reached for their morning caffeine fix.

“Good morning you two. Did you sleep well?”

Adeen smiled at Brian. “If I’m sleeping next to him, I always sleep well.”

Brian put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a squeeze.

“What have you got planned for today?”

“The two online biology classes I teach will take up at least half my day. And I’m working on an idea for disrupting the bark beetle’s sex life with what I call ‘negative pheromones,’ – a biochemical that will cancel out or mask the female pheromone that attracts the males. If this chemical is sprayed over an area, the males will fly around searching for a mate but never catch the scent that draws them together.”

Brian gave her another squeeze. “Ain’t she smart?”

“What about your project Brian. Designing an anti-EMP system that will protect us from another sterilizer weapon? With Zeus, the Russian device, and all your design drawings destroyed is that much of a threat anymore?”

“If I could invent one, Terry, so can someone else. With enough research and development money someone will stumble on it someday. And I want us to have a way to protected ourselves before that happens.”

“But what about the rest of the world?”

“Once I have a working design I plan to put it on the internet so any country can build as many as they need to shield their population from EMP pulses.”

Adeen asked Terry about her future plans.

“Since I resigned my commission as an Army officer I’m kind of at loose ends for now. Once I exposed what Gen. Armstrong was up to my career was doomed, so I saw no reason to hang around. For now I’m content helping Josiah recover. Maybe the two of us can get involved in some state-of-the-art scientific research somewhere. . . . Wait a second. I think I heard him trying to get into his wheelchair. I’ll go see if he needs help.”

A few minutes later Josiah barreled around the corner in his electric wheel chair. “Hey, you all. I see you started the party without me.”

“No, just our coffee. I’ll get you a cup.”

Terry put the coffee on the table in front him and he used his good arm to raise it to his lips for a long drag.

“Ummm, that’s good! They wouldn’t give me coffee while I was in the hospital. Something about interfering with one of the dozen or so medications that had me on. You don’t know how much you need something until it’s taken away.”

Terry squeezed his hand. “That’s how I felt about you while you were in isolation.”

“So which do you like better, coffee or me?”

“”I think I would die without you. Coffee not so much.”

Adeen used the opening to bring up a subject that was on everyone’s mind. “So Terry, have you two set a date for the wedding yet? Brian and I are getting impatient to become Mister and Missus Callaghan.” They had all decided they wanted a double wedding, but were willing to wait until Josiah felt he was ready.

“Josiah says he isn’t ready yet.” She added with a laugh, “I’m wondering if the real reason is a fear of commitment.”

They all looked at Josiah for his usual humorous response. After a minute or two he answered. “Actually it’s something else. I don’t want to marry Terry until we can have a normal wedding night and honeymoon . . . if you get my meaning.”

“Oh honey, you know I can wait for that. We could have our wedding night on our first anniversary.”

“What kind of a memorable wedding would that be? Besides, I don’t plan on taking anywhere near a year to be ready.”

They all laughed at that, albeit a little uncomfortably.

Dr. Akheem Al-Kashif was on the foredeck of his new yacht, enjoying his morning meal of Turkish coffee and a plate of pastries while he reminisced about his good fortune of late. The modification of Allah’s Sword for use as an airborne sterilizing weapon was completed on schedule, as was the delivery to his client. He didn’t know what happened after that and he didn’t care. It had made him rich.

Usually, when a senior staff member of Hurley Defense Technologies completed a sale of high-priced military hardware the company granted him a large bonus – sometimes as much as 10% of the sale price. Akeem didn’t think that was nearly enough, so he came up with a plan to keep the sale off HDT books and pocket the full sale price – ten million dollars. Once the money was delivered to his Swiss bank account he told HDK it was time for him to retire. After a monumental going-away party provided by Mr. Hurley himself, Akeem gave a grandiose speech and left quickly to drive to San Diego to pick up his new 106-foot Westport motor yacht. With a crew of three – the captain, a steward, and a gourmet chef – he sailed for the French Polynesian Islands. But not before finding two southern California beach beauties to travel with him.

Now he spent his time cruising between the three main islands – Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Papeete – enjoying the night life, the food, the women, and the weather. He thanked Allah every morning for providing the idyllic life he led, and wondered now and then if perhaps Allah was granting him his 72 virgins before he left this earth.

Terry, Adeen, Brian, and Josiah were sitting on the deck at the back of Josiah’s house, drinking margaritas and enjoying another spectacular New Mexico sunset, when they heard a car drive up out front. They weren’t expecting any visitors, so Brian volunteered to answer the door. As he got up from his chair two men walked around the house to the deck. “Brian Callaghan. It’s me, Lt. Col. Wright.”

Brian looked at him suspiciously. “Hello Marcus. I see you brought the FBI along with you. Has agent McCall come to arrest me? I thought that was all over and done with.”

“No, I haven’t come to arrest you, and no, it definitely isn’t over with. Have you been watching the news?”

“Those talking heads are a waste of time. All they do is argue and try to talk louder than each other.”

Terry stood up and walked over to the deck railing. “If we had been watching the news, what would we have learned?”

Lt. Col. Wright responded. “This morning an airliner with Japan Airlines markings flew over South Korea and covered the country with EMP pulses – sterilizing EMP pulses. The origin of the plane was North Korea.”

Adeen was the first to react. “Oh my God! All those women!”

Brian was stunned. “Where did they get one? . . . Was it the Russian device?”

“No, the CIA destroyed that some time ago. We don’t know where the North Koreans got their weapon.”

After a few minutes of shocked silence Josiah asked, “What happens now.”

“The president and his staff are evaluating response options as we speak, but because the existence of these weapons needs to remain a closely-held secret, he can’t explain to the public why we would retaliate for an invisible attack by a silent weapon.”

“So back to my question, what happens now? Surely you didn’t travel all that way just to deliver bad news.”

“Of course not! But it won’t be long before copies of the EMP sterilizer will be acquired by other countries . . . . It will be the nuclear arms race all over again, each side with a finger on the trigger looking for a reason to attack with the new weapon. We have to develop some kind of protection from it or the American population will be doomed to extinction in a decade or two.”

“What do you plan to do about it?”

“Well, since Brian is they only person in the world that truly understands the EMP weapon, we thought he would have the best chance of developing a counter-measure.”

Adeen spoke up. “So what do you have in mind, Colonel?”

“We want to set Brian up with a research facility here at WSMR to work out a way to eliminate the threat. He would have carte blanc – all the funding, equipment, and personnel he needs to make it happen.”

Everyone looked at Brian. “The only way it would work is if I have a free hand to manage the project in whatever way I see fit, with no bureaucratic meddling, no delays for an approval process. That would include every level from you, Marcus, all the way up to Congress.”

“I can agree to that. This country is desperate. Anything else?”

“Yes. I want my friends here to be the core of the development team. Terry and Josiah have the necessary technical background, and Adeen is the world’s expert on how EMP affects human ova. Who knows, the answer may by in a drug she develops to protect the eggs from within the body.”

Marcus stuck out his hand. Brian looked around at the others for a nod of approval, then shook it. “I’ll have an agreement drawn up for you all to sign.”

Terry added one more thing. “I want it signed for the Government by the President himself so there will be no question of it’s authority.”

Lt. Col. Wright nodded and turned to leave, but Brian stopped them with one final condition.

“And I want my name taken off of the FBI’s most wanted list, Agent McCall.”

“Consider it done.”

THE END – OR IS IT?


The Malthus Project

Los Alamos Scientist Brian Callaghan creates what could be the next superweapon – A device that can send a concentrated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) beam to destroy electronic circuits in enemy military systems, from airplanes to missiles and even satellites. After initial tests reveal the system won’t work for that purpose, a biologist, Adeen Reilly, discovers that it has sterilized pine bark beetles in the canyon where it was tested. She teams up with Callaghan to develop a version that can fly over infested forest areas and eradicate the pests. But when their tests demonstrate that the technology can also sterilize women, they rush to destroy the EMP generator before it gets into the hands of those who would turn it into a superweapon – one that could sterilize the women of entire countries from a satellite in space. But it’s too late. Other countries, including their own, have found out about it and will do anything to create one for themselves. As romance grows in spite of their contentious relationship they’re forced to run for their lives to prevent this from happening. Danger, suspense, action, and romance characterize this techno-thriller.

  • ISBN: 9781370348152
  • Author: J. D. German
  • Published: 2017-08-28 23:20:24
  • Words: 97966
The Malthus Project The Malthus Project