Authors: Frank J. Derfler
“Fine, Sir. Everything is quiet.” Nelson was one of a crew of Army warrant officers that “the Project,” as the overall operation was informally known, had scooped up when their jobs had become obsolete.
Originally trained in the specialty career field of guarding and maintaining tactical nuclear weapons, these warrant officers mastered a variety of skills ranging from unarmed combat to the mechanics of nuclear physics. As the US Army reduced its inventory of tactical nuclear weapons, the warrant officers found themselves faced with either retraining or separation from the service. Since most of them were within a few years of retirement, as a group they were happy to move over to a joint command that could use some of their special skills. However, while the technology was fascinating, the job was 99.9% boredom. These very bright and hand-selected people needed to feel engaged and Jose’s biggest challenge was keeping up their spirits and motivation.
The operations room consisted of a few comfortable swivel chairs, a console with multiple screens, keyboards, communications, and a video wall. The only other human spaces within the building included a few offices, a combination break room and training room, rooms for the security staff, a small armory, and closets. The other space was a large data center and a small sterile room crammed with lasers, magnets, cryogenic pumps, and sensors. A separate room for power transformers, rectifiers, and a large bank of capacitors ran along the back of the building behind three-foot thick poured concrete blast walls.
Inside the operations room, the video wall could be configured to show anything from multiple Internet Websites to full screen secure videoconferences with the President of the United States. It was the job of the on-duty crew to monitor the world for significant activity and to monitor the status of the primary site in Florida. The crew accessed news feeds, reports from services such as the National Crime Information Center along with special connections to Homeland Security and NORAD-USNORTHCOM inside Cheyenne Mountain. The crews often joked privately that they were the best-informed people in America.
A second warrant officer was at the console and he rose to greet Jose. Jose gave him a quick smile. “Good morning, Mister Ozer. What are you guys doing to keep yourselves busy this morning?”
“I’ve been taking an online course on the National Incident-Based Reporting System.” Ozer replied. “Most of it is pretty basic, but there are some hints on how to get the most out of searches and reports on the system.”
Jose nodded and turned to Warrant Officer Nelson who volunteered, “Grinding away on my law degree, Sir.”
Jose grinned and shook his head. “Please, not another lawyer in the world. Couldn’t you find some legitimate line of work?”
With a straight face, Nelson replied, “I tried to be a fighter pilot, Sir, but my parents are married.”
Jose smiled at the old military joke. His rank as an Air Force major didn’t impress these US Army warrant officers. They were all about his age or older and a Chief Warrant Officer Five could make as much in military pay as a major. In this group, leadership meant a lot more than just issuing orders. Unit cohesion was key. They often socialized together. In fact, Jose met Jelli at a backyard pool party at Warrant Officer Nelson’s house. The meeting was a deliberate setup and their relationship was the talk of the unit.
“How is the General doing?” Ozer asked. The General in this case was Major General Ted Arthurs. He was the commander of the Technical Defense Agency and Jose’s direct boss. Next up the chain from Arthurs was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The total personnel roster of the TDA was less than fifty people, so they felt close to their boss’s boss.
“He’s still sore, but getting around fine.” Jose replied. “He’s worried about his flight status. Air Force flight surgeons hate it when you go unconscious. Although a blow on the head with a tire iron is a pretty good excuse. “
Two weeks earlier, this room was the site of intense activity. In the face of a looming hurricane, the Homestead, Florida TDA facility was evacuated. During the evacuation, General Arthurs was knocked unconscious, beaten, and kidnapped by a crazed murderer. The attacker had been imprisoned under the Patriot Act to protect the secret of the time-tunneling capability of the TDA and wanted his revenge. From this room in Nevada, Jose and his crew, along with the General’s wife Sally Arthurs, put a quartz bead, white hot from its passage though time and space, into the killer’s head in the moment before he pulled the trigger.
The fact that his action violated a standing order from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs against using the facility without his direct authorization hadn’t received a lot of attention so far. An Air Force JAG officer from Washington reviewed as much of the action as he was cleared to know and determined the death to be self-defense. Cleaning up the gore in the Homestead facility was the biggest practical problem that came out of the whole incident. The facility was shut down and classified as a biohazard site for a week. The cause of death, a white-hot glass bead exploding in the brain, was quick, but messy. During the hurricane and the subsequent stand down at Homestead, the Nevada facility picked up the primary mission, but now they were back to being the backup.
“As our resident attorney Mr. Nelson, how are you doing with our concise mission explanation?” Jose asked.
Nelson sat at the console, tapped a few keys, and brought a document up on the screen. Jose had asked him to simplify the unit’s mission for visitors with full need to know. The short mission statement, also known as the elevator briefing because it shouldn’t take longer to explain than an elevator ride, was also a great training tool for the crew.
Nelson said, “The TDA mission has three major parts: strategic warning, image recovery, and offensive operations. Each part has its own codeword classification.”
“We perform strategic warning by monitoring space and Earth-based sensors that record the background radiation and subatomic particles of space. We look for patterns indicating the use of time displacement technology.”
“Image recovery allows us to collect small samples of light from the past. Through computer processing, we can create three hundred and sixty degree images with a limited view.”
“Offensive operation involves sending material back in time to create change.” Nelson paused, picked up an innocuous looking clear quartz glass bead from his desk, waved it around, and then continued, “That’s just about twenty-five seconds.”
Jose said, “That sounds clear to me. The quartz bead is a great effect. I’ll run the words past Sally Arthurs and we’ll put it in the training manual.” In addition to being the Commander’s wife, Sally was the Director of Administration for the TDA. In effect, that meant that she had her finger on the pulse of the organization.
"But you know what, you'd better also cook up something on influencing the path of objects from space that threaten the Earth."
"Yes sir, will do." Nelson replied.
“Major,” Warrant Officer Ozer asked, “here’s something I don’t understand.”
Jose nodded and gave Ozer his attention.
“Okay, the sensor data sources we use for our strategic warning mission, the cosmic background sensors and the magnetosphere sensors, aren’t unique to us. The data comes from NASA, from laboratories doing research into sub-atomic particles, universities and who knows where else. So why don’t some of these other outfits see the same things we do?”
“Good question,” Jose replied. “The short answer is they don't know what to look for. Many organizations capture and use the same sensor data, but the Technical Defense Agency’s computers look for very specific patterns of disruption, particularly in quantum gravity. We take what sensors around the world and in space collect and refine it so that we're looking for changes in indivisible chunks of matter about ten to the negative thirty-five meters in size. That's the Planck Length of matter. Hey, we have to do a full day of processing after a week of data collection and time correction. Who else would do that and why? But yes, theoretically it is possible that someone else could uncover the patterns we look for. But, I’m not sure that they would know what they are looking at."
Jose paused and pointed at a dark console in the room. "It’s just like the offensive mission. The ability to move a tiny object like that quartz bead back in time and to a different place is within the technical capability of many companies, countries, and institutions –if only they knew how to do it. So, we watch and wait to see if they figure it out.”
The second part of the mission involved using the time displacement technology to collect samples of light from the past. These light samples provided complete images of a small place and time, but the process was painstaking, required precision, and a great deal of computer processing power. The more distant the target, in terms of time and place, the lower the accuracy of the sample and the less the chance of success.
The third part of the unit’s mission was offensive operation. This involved sending the quartz beads to a specific time and place with a specific purpose. The quartz bead was the material best suited to the high temperature and pressure involved in time tunneling. The purpose of the shot back into time might be to warn someone of an upcoming problem or, as in the case a few weeks ago, to end a life. The shot lost accuracy in both time and place the further you went from the here and now. Increasing the distance back in time or the location in space required more power, induced more heating, and made the whole action more difficult to do right. So, in some cases they had to be prepared to act quickly in order to preserve accuracy.
"Major, what do you hear about the NASA liaison? When does the spy arrive?" Nelson asked.
"Mr. Nelson, our colleague from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should be here in a very few hours. In fact, as much as I enjoy your company, I should get some sleep so I'm bright eyed and bushy tailed when he arrives. Please remind everyone that the NASA guy isn’t cleared for our whole mission. He doesn’t know about time displacement."
Nelson said, “Got it, Sir.”
Ozer added, "Yeah, but Major, take a shower before you meet him, will you? You smell like... umm.. you smell like you've had a busy night."
Jose laughed himself outside. He headed back to get about three hours of sleep and then a shower.
Chapter 2. "Good Morning NASA"
Tuesday September 1, 2009 0730 Pacific
TDA Detachment 1, Boulder City, Nevada
Excerpt from the Personal Narrative of Mr. Jose Valenzuela
Recorded July 2012
"I was stunned by her! I guess I still am."
Jose was back in the alternate facility at 0730 for the morning briefing with the team in Florida. The large briefing screen showed General Arthurs and his wife seated on a couch in his office.
"Good Morning, Jose," General Arthurs began. "We completed a surveillance run this morning with nothing found. The world looks relatively quiet, but I've been summoned to DC today, so who knows what will happen. Everything good out there?"
"Good morning, Sir. Yes, Sir. Everything is fine here. The weather is good and some of the team will be flying this afternoon as part of our flight training cover story. And, today is the day our NASA liaison arrives. We have some briefings laid on and I'll define some roles and missions with this guy. I've reinforced to everyone here that he only knows a little of the mission and they should keep it that way. "
Sally Arthurs looked into the camera with raised eyebrows for about three heartbeats. "Jose, did you look at the personnel jacket for this liaison officer?" she asked.
"Yes, Ma'am, "he replied. "Ray Dunnan. A doctorate in interplanetary astronomy and a T-38 pilot with astronaut training. Not much to do since the Congress cut back on the manned spaceflight budget, so we get him as a liaison. Pretty impressive resume. I hope he spends more time in Houston than here because there won't be much for him to do."
"You didn't see the physical file, did you, Jose?" Sally asked as a small smile flicked across her lips.