Authors: Frank J. Derfler
"So you and Jack did some drinking together?" Jose asked.
"When I was in flight school there were US Air Force officers and then all others. All others included Canadians, Australians, and US Astronauts. For all practical purposes I was a foreign officer student pilot. So...” she let the thought drift off.
Jose said, "Do you want to fly back to Boulder or are you going to stick around here and beg a ride?"
Rae studied her beer bottle. Both she and Jose knew that they couldn't fly in a general aviation aircraft, even as passengers, if they had an elevated blood alcohol level. A joke from her time in flight school, spent with Australians and Canadians, flashed into her head
. “No smoking twelve hours before flight and no drinking within twenty-five feet of the aircraft.”
She stifled the comment. Jose was physically attractive, but he seemed pretty straight laced. She said, "One beer and then we'll let an hour pass?"
Jose nodded and took his iPhone from a zippered pocket in his flight suit. He sent a text message to the Project updating his location and setting a pickup time for the aeroclub aircraft at Nellis.
The same roaring armored truck, it carried diplomatic plates and was almost never stopped by the local police, pulled up as Jose and Rae had nursed their beers along to the very end. Jack jumped out of the cab to the cheers of his mates.
After a proper greeting from his mates, a shower of beer, he hugged Rae and lifted her off the ground. After Jack put Rae down, he turned to Jose, but Jose put his right hand out to shake and simultaneously kept Jack at a distance by putting his left hand on Jack's shoulder. "Try and hug me and it won't be good," he said.
It took an hour before Rae and Jose were able to politely extract themselves from the grateful Australians. Jack and Rae parted with a kiss that Jose thought lasted pretty long.
"Well, "she said after they had been deposited back at Nellis base operations, "that was a very interesting day."
Jose knitted his dark eyebrows and nodded.
Chapter 6: "A Couple of Big 'What Ifs?"
Monday September 7, 2009 1600 Eastern
Technical Security Agency Headquarters
Homestead Air Reserve Base, Homestead, Florida
Excerpt from the Personal Narrative of Dr. William E. Wirtz, PhD
Recorded May 2012
CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET/TA
"Our strength is looking back into time and making appropriate changes. Looking forward is just guessing. So, I needed a good guesser."
Dr. Bill Wirtz sat at his desk and rubbed his hands over his face. Back in 1995, when all this started, he thought that bouncing around the world in airplanes was fun and maybe even a little romantic. His trip back from Japan over the last twenty hours was neither one of those things. The body he lived in and the mind he occupied were completely out of sync.
When Major General Ted Arthurs received the "eyes only" envelope, Ted hadn't even considered telling the Chairman that Wirtz was presently in Japan. The Japanese discussions weren't moving along; each side was trying to see what the other side knew. Arthurs simply ordered Bill home by the first available commercial aircraft. He rationalized that backing away and appearing to let the discussions with the Japanese seem unimportant might be a good strategy. Anyway, it was a convenient strategy for now. He was sure that whatever was in the Chairman's letter was time sensitive. Then he smiled at his own unintended pun.
Wirtz came directly to the Project headquarters from the Miami airport. Arthurs welcomed him, retrieved the envelope from his safe, handed it off, and left the room.
Bill Wirtz was staring at the short hand-written note while wishing his brain would kick into gear. The question from the Chairman was simple. There was no greeting, no introduction, and no signature. There was only one line on the page.
"If the US breaks apart in 2012 or later, what's the cause and what would the pieces be?"
Wirtz groaned. He had only met the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff once, but even then Bill had tried to make the point that the projections done by the Project were backward in time. If you looked backward in history to ask "What if” you had good knowledge of all important factors and could hold everything steady and just manipulate one variable at a time to see what happened. Looking forward was a job for a Gypsy fortune teller with a crystal ball.
He didn't even know what the Chairman knew to make him ask such a question. What would cause the United States to break apart? What forces were already in action? The number of variables seemed infinite.
As he sat, he knew that the only thing he could do would be to run scenarios, perhaps a few dozen would be enough, and see what the outcomes of the various scenarios had in common. But, he would need help. Who could he trust?
Wirtz read the line of text one more time. There wasn't much to remember. He would have burned the page right then, but he didn't have matches or a lighter and he’d probably set off all the smoke alarms in the building. He did have a criss-cross shredder in his office, so he made confetti out of the page. He needed to think and he needed some quiet space, so he left the Project and headed home.
Bill lived in a stone farmhouse on the far western edge of Homestead Florida in what was known as the "Redlands." He was almost in the Everglades. The house was 1950s on the outside and modernized, but comfortable on the inside. Originally an area of intense truck farm agriculture, the Redlands was becoming gentrified. Houses and driveways interrupted fields that delivered three vegetable crops a year and ornamental plant nurseries displaced cabbages, beans, and avocados.
After he got home, despite the setting sun, his body insisted that it was early morning. The house smelled stale because he had been gone for several weeks so he opened the windows and doors. Sleep didn't seem possible. He sat at his computer and idly checked his email. His fingers, more than his conscious mind, took him to LinkedIn. The LinkedIn social networking forum is often referred to as Facebook for professionals. Then, again almost without thinking, he typed the name Janet Dwyer into the search box.
After a moment of processing, LinkedIn delivered no fewer than ten people named Janet Dwyer. Bill scanned the list and found a picture of the Janet Dwyer he remembered, if you added a dozen years. According to the limited information she made public on her profile, she was a professor of history at Georgia Tech's main campus in downtown Atlanta.
Bill shook his head. The last time he saw Janet was in 1995 in Indonesia. They had spoken after that and he had hoped to get her into the Project, but her job as an analyst in the Department of Justice got in the way. As the security concerns built up around the Project, their communications dwindled. But, at one time they had something going in more ways than one. She was still the best "What if" partner he had ever had in dissecting historical scenarios. Their physical relationship hadn't gotten very far in 1995, but they clicked. He knew it.
Because Janet wasn't part of his network on LinkedIn, he had to upgrade from his free membership to a paid account in order to send her an internal message. After the process of paying for the upgrade and then getting setup to create an internal mail, he didn't know what to say. In the end, his momentous message was, "Hi! Can we chat? Please give me a call or send me an email." He added his contact information and sent it off. Then he shuffled around his house for a while, snacked on a can of green beans, which was the only thing to eat in the whole house, and crashed on the couch.
It was a couple of hours later when the vibration and ringing of the iPhone in his pocket woke him. He was groggy when he answered, but wide-awake when he heard Janet's voice. They talked for over an hour. When he hung up with her, his next call was to Delta Airlines. "I'd like to go from Miami to Atlanta tomorrow afternoon. Yes, round trip. But, let's leave the return date open." Without getting off the couch, he used his iPhone to send a text message to Sally Arthurs. "Plan to sleep in." he wrote. "Then Delta to ATL in the PM. Saying hello to an old friend."
He was surprised when his iPhone almost immediately beeped in reply. The text said, "Highly recommend the Ritz Carlton Buckhead. Anybody we know? - Sally"
Bill chuckled, put the phone on his chest, and dreamed. The next day he was early for his flight.
Chapter 7: "Spooky Stuff"
Saturday October 31, 2009 1700 Pacific
Rented Home of Major Jose Valenzuela, Boulder City, NV.
Excerpt from the Personal Narrative of Mr. Jose Valenzuela
Recorded July 2012
"Our unit was small, but we partied hard. When we had our few episodes of terror and high activity, each person knew the other’s capabilities and strengths. I’m very proud of the things we did and are doing!”
"I thought you were going to be a cowgirl?" Jose said in surprise.
"That's just because you like riding cowgirls. Or is it vice-versa?" asked Miss Jacqueline Lea Adams. "I know those boots and spurs turn you on."
Jose smiled. The girl was quick.
Jelli did a runway model's step turn and wiggled her hips. She came out of Jose's bedroom wearing a Little Bo Peep costume that featured a short ballerina skirt, bare midriff, and halter top. The thigh-high white stockings that left a tantalizing amount of flesh exposed on top were something Jose didn't remember from the illustrations of the nursery rhyme.
Since Halloween fell on a Saturday, a party was required. Jose had threatened to attend the unit's Halloween party dressed as a fighter pilot, but just as Jelli's eyes started to burn he pulled a rented Batman costume out of the closet. The tights were ridiculous, but he sort of secretly liked the cape.
"I love your tights." Jelli said. "Do you have underwear on or is that all you?"
"What you see is what I got." Jose replied.
It took Jelli another fifteen minutes of makeup and touchup to get out the door, but when they were in his car she said, "So I get to meet the astronaut tonight? And who are the two people from Florida?"
"Yes, Rae Dunnan will be there. And we're celebrating a wedding with the two people from our headquarters in Florida. Bill Wirtz is a real nice guy. His new wife's name is Janet Dwyer, but maybe now she is Janet Wirtz. Who knows? I've never met her. She's a PhD like he is. Heck, they're all PhDs. They came to Vegas to get married."
"On Halloween?" Jelli asked.
"Well, yesterday. The story is that they had something going on more than ten years ago and they're making up for lost time."
"Hmmmm," was Jelli's response. Then she asked, "How do you get along with the astronaut? And how long did you say she'll be here?"
Jelli was plugged into the unit's unofficial grapevine. The story about the flight he and Rae had during the exercise at Nellis was a big deal. Jose replied, "We have a good professional relationship and she's part of the unit."
"Is she as good looking as I've heard?" Jelli asked with a grin.
"I am told she is. I haven't noticed," Jose replied righteously.
Jelli made a rude noise and then asked, "You need an astronaut for flight training?"
"It's what we do," he replied. Fortunately, they were almost at their destination.
This time the party was at Craig Pulliam's house. The unit had a pretty good rotation of entertainment locations going. The pool parties at Jose’s rented house were particularly popular. Tonight there were cars up and down Craig’s cul de sac and he heard spooky music and sounds coming from some of the houses for the benefit of evening trick-or-treaters.