Authors: Frank J. Derfler
"Ah, no Ma'am, I read a pdf file attached to an email." Jose replied.
"Well, I guess the photo didn't print. But, the name of your new NASA liaison officer is spelled R-A-E. And SHE is an astronaut, Ph.D., T-38 pilot who is going to be spending more time in Nevada than in Texas."
General Arthurs decided to bail out his young detachment commander by entering the conversation. "Jose, we do not want her out here in Florida. As far as she knows, the Project is looking for others using real time particle transmission technology and waiting for a chance to knock an asteroid or other space junk out of the sky before it hits us where it would hurt. Keep her away from any mention of the offensive mission or any of the deep history of the Project. NASA wanted us to have a facility someplace out of range of a Tsunami or Florida Hurricane, so you got her out there in Nevada as a liaison to keep track of NASA's share of the budget. That's all on you. Just keep her away from us."
"Uh, yes Sir. I've got it." Jose was internally incapable of any other reply, but his real thought was a big "Oh shit!"
After the videoconference disconnected, Jose looked at the three warrant officers who had watched from off the side. "Thank you, Gentlemen, for not giggling while the general was on the call. Now, did any of you know that our NASA spy is Mata Hari?"
At precisely 0900, the duty officer called Jose in his small office and said, "Sir, the, uh, NASA liaison officer is here."
"Thanks, I'll be right out." He met the NASA rep at the inside entrance of the airlock. "Welcome, Dr. Dunnan,” Jose said, offering his hand. "I'm Jose Valenzuela. We're happy to have you here." As he looked into her eyes, Jose really meant it.
Dark hair and blue eyes made a combination that Jose had always found erotic. Rae Dunnan had both. She was dressed in a business suit with low heels, but she only had to look up slightly to drill her clear blue eyes right into his. Jose thought he could see into her soul through her eyes. He had the initial impression that she was thin and her handshake was both dry and firm. When he was able to unlock his eyes from hers they swept to take in her body. She didn’t seem to notice. As his eyes were coming back up to her face they stopped and fixed on a silver pin on the lapel of her suit. It had a solid ring at the base and three jets of fire pushing up to a star.
"Major, thank you. I'm looking forward to working with you," Rae replied. She has seen Jose’s picture, but the military headshot hadn’t conveyed his good looks. His eye swoop of her chest was just the right length of time to be complimentary without being insulting. She and her friends had discussed how long a guy should take to look you over. The difference between complimenting and insulting was milliseconds.
Jose thought Rae’s voice was charming. Jelly had a tendency to screech. Rae’s voice was level and modulated. She would have no problem addressing a troop formation, talking to air traffic control, or singing a lullaby. As she spoke, Jose also managed to notice that there was no ring on her left hand.
"The facility isn't very large, so let's take a tour and then I've got some of my people lined up for discussions and in-briefings. Oh, by the way, are you settled? Do you have a place to live?"
"That's one thing I want to talk to you about," Rae said. She heard what she said, took one beat, said
to herself and recovered. "I mean I wonder how close I need to be to the unit and what kind of work schedule I'll have."
"Let's go through the briefing and see what we develop. I'll tell you that several of the wives of the warrant officers we have assigned here are Realtors and they would love to show you around the town," Jose said with a smile.
"Do you have a spouse or a significant other as they say?" he asked.
"Nope, just me," she replied. "Not even a parakeet. Long-term relationships are tough to keep when you might go spend a year with some guys in a smelly tin can in space. As the NASA shrinks say, “The mission impacts relationships."
Jose had intended for the in-briefing to last for an hour or so. But, as soon as they got into the part of the briefing on strategic warning Rae unwound her long legs and sat forward. "Are you taking the feed from the NASA Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope?" she asked.
"Yes," the briefing warrant officer replied. We specifically watch the Gamma-ray levels for unusual peaks."
"But what about the low-energy photons?" she asked. "There have been some interesting reports of unexplained time lags in the low energy photons arriving on Earth. I never said anything, but I wondered if it was coming from your tests."
"I'm not aware that we analyze the low-energy photon data," the warrant officer replied. "We have a small committee that developed the analysis database, but low-energy photons have never come up in anything I've seen."
The discussion went on for quite a while and Jose was impressed with the easy way Rae interacted with the US Army warrant officers. "Mr. Ozer, could you put together an informal video conference with Doctor Landry and introduce Dr. Dunnan? It sounds like they’ll have a lot to discuss.
Fred Landry held the title of Technical Director of TDA. A retired Air Force Major General and PhD in physics, he was also a Machiavellian manipulator of the Washington funding process.
"Yes sir," Ozer replied, "I'll make it happen. Dr. Dunnan, would oh eight hundred tomorrow morning work for you? He’s in Japan right now and our mornings are his evenings."
"That would be great, thank you," Rae replied.
"Dr. Dunnan," Jose went on, "I know a little about the near misses from space rocks in the last few months, but could you put together a briefing for the detachment? Then maybe you could do it over video for all of TCA? I'm sure we'll have a lot of questions."
"Yes, Major, I've got a Power Point on my laptop. That's exactly what I want to do."
"How about Thursday at sixteen hundred? We'll have one crew coming off duty and one going on at that time, so we can get the maximum number of people involved."
"That sounds great," she replied.
Rae Dunnan had done a good job reading Jose Valenzuela’s resume she found in the orientation package sent by Sally Arthurs. She knew that they were about the same age. He had gone to flight school directly out of the Air Force academy and earned a good masters degree while he was on active duty. She had earned her masters and doctorate on her own and then was accepted as a NASA astronaut. They were close in age, but she graduated from Air Force flight school several years after he did and he had a lot more flight time including combat missions over Iraq.
Most of her boyfriends and lovers had been academics. After a while, her drive to be an astronaut frightened them. She was attracted to some of the military officers in Air Force flight school, but the class was so competitive that she kept any relationships low key and very temporary. NASA astronauts were mostly married and often querky, so this move to Nevada was a welcome chance to explore new ground in more ways than one.
One thing she had discussed with Sally was the working relationship with Jose. He commanded the unit and Rae respected that. She was part of his staff, but he wasn’t exactly her boss. She still worked for NASA… although under the new administration in Washington they were happy enough to have her farmed out. Sally had basically shrugged over the question and said, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.”
Later, Jose and Rae sat in his office. "I'd rather not be called Doctor Dunnan. Would that work here?" she asked.
"The military is big on titles," Jose said. "It helps us keep our thinking straight. I'd say give it a while and then see how it feels. Some of the people you'll be working with, particularly those from Sandia Labs, have PhDs and get stuffy if you don't use their title."
"Do I have to call you Major when we're not in front of your crew?" she asked.
"Do I have to call you doctor?" he asked.
"So Jose," she said with a twinkle, "how do you see me fitting in here?'
"Well Rae," he smiled, "you need to help us integrate into the real time warning networks and you need to be on call in case we run into something in your field of expertise. I'd say that you should be a part of the sensor planning team and you need to run the mission planning team for any event involving space objects. You need to put together that team. Other than that, it sounds to me like you can set your own hours as long as you can be available here within some reasonable time limit. I check in with the operations desk so they can find me if I might be out of cell phone coverage. That might be a good idea for you too."
"Sally Arthurs came out to Houston to brief me initially," Rae said. "What you just described is what we thought when we discussed it. I thought I might see if I could pick up an adjunct teaching assignment at UNLV.”
"It’s only about a thirty five minute drive to UNLV, depending on the time of day. I'm sure they would be thrilled to have someone qualified in physics and astronomy. By the way, did Sally's initial briefing surprise you?" Jose asked.
"Ha! Stunned is more like it. With the cuts in the manned space program I thought I was being put out to pasture in some liaison job, but it turns out that you are doing some of the most interesting science of the decade… if not the century!"
"The hardest part is keeping it all to yourself." Jose observed. "All of what we discussed today is code word classified. People must have specific access to certain elements of information. Sometimes that's hard to keep straight, but we take it very seriously. The best thing is to not say anything to anybody outside this building."
"We have secrets in NASA too, Jose," Rae said. She thought to herself,
“What kind of a goofball does he think I am?”
Jose felt he had said enough. He wanted to make Rae cautious, but not curious about things she didn't have a need to know. He was grateful when he sensed an interruption.
The door to Jose's office was open. A middle aged warrant officer appeared in the doorway and rapped on the frame. "Excuse me, Sir, but I'm going flying. Anything you need before I go?"
Rae looked at the warrant officer with interest. She eyed the headsets in his hand and the flight bag on his shoulder.
Jose noticed her look. "Dr. Dunnan, this is Warrant Officer Craig Pulliam. He runs the operations side. And, in fact, he is the guy to work with on the mission planning for space objects. I have had the pleasure of flying with him several times and returned safely to the ground each time. "
Pulliam took the hint. "Dr. Dunnan, I'm just going up to build some time. I could use a safety observer for some instrument work. Are you a pilot?"
"She's an astronaut, Craig. That's the pin on her lapel," Jose supplied.
"Only a buck astronaut, Major," Rae said as she put her hand on the pin. This one is silver. I've been through the school. You only get the gold one when you've been past two hundred and sixty four thousand feet." She turned toward the doorway, "I graduated from Air Force flight school, Mr. Pulliam, and I've got a current medical for my commercial license. So, yes, I'm a pilot."
"We'll try not to hold that zoomie training against you, Ma'am. Would you like to go put-put around for a couple of hours in a fairly new Skylane one eighty two? I'll show you the town and the airspace. It's not as exciting as the major's white jet, but mountain flying is always fun."
"The major has a white jet?" Rae asked. She raised her eyebrows and looked appraisingly at Jose.
"Oh, he hasn't told you yet?" Pulliam replied with a grin. "Maybe we'll go re-fuel at Nellis and I'll show you."
Rae looked at Jose. "If you'll excuse me, Major, I think I'll go flying."
"Uh, Doctor Dunnan, you remember those Realtor wives I told you about? Well, Mr. Pulliam's wife is one of them. So beware warrant officers bearing gifts. Otherwise, let me know if you need anything," Jose said.
"Oh, I will!" Rae replied with a smile. “
Count on it!”
she thought. Craig Pulliam looked at her like he had read her mind. Jose never noticed.