Chapter 3 Mortals With The Power Of Gods The Last Saturday in August
Savik Kodaly, along with a dozen other suits, descended from the CET corporate jet onto the landing pad at the vast Coherent Energy Technologies complex outside Stamford, Connecticut. As a former cowhand, juvenile delinquent, Green Beret, and still addicted adventurer, he couldn’t help but marvel at the vital part he’d played in steering his friend’s laser company toward this day, one CET had worked toward for over seven years. Today was an existential test for PeaceMaker. If the weapon didn’t work, CET investors would start bailing and support in Congress for the entire weapon system would evaporate. Originally focused on global communications, the CET wonks had developed, in their “spare time,” some daring theories concerning the superiority of free-electron lasers—FELs—over gas-dynamic and solid state lasers. They applied their theories to space-based laser weapons for satellite anti-missile defense and had developed an impressively successful prototype. Greased by insider connections, government grants soon swelled CET coffers. Savik, as chief legal counsel, had helped structure the defense proposal to attract additional investors and designed what everyone proclaimed a brilliant corporate legal structure. CET soon tripled in size. Winston Hughes strode beside Savik toward two waiting shuttles. “Nothing like the fear of attack to get taxpayers to fund the most brilliant discoveries in the history of human-kind,” he said. Winn was not only Savik’s best friend since their days at Harvard Law School. Winn was CEO of CET, and the source for the company’s very very inside connections. His daddy was Ronald Bramfeld Hughes, the Secretary of Defense. “Mortals with the power of gods,” Savik said. “No matter what the Lana Boswells and Claire Aldens of the world think, war will eventually reach into space and we absolutely must control the high ground.” “And any patriot would want to be prepared.” Winn slapped him on the back. “Right?” Two covered shuttles whisked the dozen execs and silent partners from the mini-airport toward the admin building, passing an eight-hole putting green and an artificial lake complete with a pair of honest-to-god white swans. Beyond the greens lay the three-story accelerator that stretched two city blocks in length and hummed in a steady drone. The other men, as Savik himself had done, were probably imagining how they’d spend the fortunes they’d eventually make if today’s test went well. The CET contribution to the total PeaceMaker system was the “IBIS” laser cannon. It looked like a bird’s long bill with wings and was the gravy lode in the entire project. If the test succeeded, and if Congress then passed the needed appropriation, CET would be awarded a two-and-a-half billion-dollar contract. Savik’s personal cut through his founder stocks in CET and his firm’s signing bonus would be 3.75 million up front. The investors would get advances too, and they’d all cash in on megabucks when the first ten satellites in the PeaceMaker constellation were launched. The eventual Defense scenario called for two hundred satellites, which could mean continuing contracts throughout the rest of Savik’s life. And it all pretty much depended on today’s test—that and silencing the peaceniks. Savik would have a hand in that too. Later that evening in fact. The shuttles reached the sparkling water fountains of the admin building, which cast rainbows over an ultra-modern, white boomerang-shaped structure with walls of blue-green glass. One of the men said to Savik as they stepped off the shuttle, “My guts are in knots.” In minutes, the group had reached the tower room where thirty or so specialists and project managers were watching three seventy-six inch TVs. The middle screen received a private CET satellite transmission from a site at Pt. Mugu, California. At the moment it was monitoring the satellite’s platform, launched hours earlier. The talking head said, “The PeaceMaker platform is now in stable orbit fifty miles up.” Great! Stage One, no sweat. On the two other screens, CNN ran a digitally produced animation. With blackness behind it and the blue planet curving below, PeaceMaker seemed to be hovering, protecting, beautiful. Savik thrilled to the images. One of the men placed a Bloody Mary in his hand, but Savik set it aside. “If this test screws up, I’ll most likely want to go puke in one of Winn’s fancy johns.” On CNN, Tawana Thompson said in her distinctive, husky voice, “We are only moments away from this crucial test of all the system’s components. In all earlier tests, PeaceMaker failed to detect or destroy missiles quickly after their launch. Ability to do so would make PeaceMaker an enormous advance in our country’s defenses. A CET spokesman here at Pt. Mugu can tell us more….” She addressed a man in a white jumpsuit. “FELs, free-electron lasers, represent quite a departure from the original Department of Defense space lasers approach. Why the switch to the CET IBIS laser?” Winn’s CET man said, “FELs obsoletes other lasers. The Earth’s atmosphere is generally a barrier to lasers, but FELs allow tunability, a phased array which—” “Tunability?...In simple language, please.” The spokesman answered cheerfully. “It’s like a soldier being able to quickly change his weapon, from a pistol to an automatic to a shoulder-launched Stinger. PeaceMaker can select the best wavelength, say, an infrared beam to penetrate atmospheric interference. We can, for example, deploy both continuous infrared rays and a single, devastating megawatt blast of X-rays. These blasts can be delivered anywhere in space or on the earth’s surface using the infrared rays as the carrier. Like riding piggyback.” “Also anywhere on the earth’s surface?” “That’s correct.” The camera moved in for a close-up on the lady reporter. “This ability to penetrate the atmosphere and reach the earth’s surface is the feature of PeaceMaker that especially alarms its opponents.” The screen cut back to the animation as she continued to speak. “And now some eight hundred miles out in the Pacific, the simulated ‘enemy’ is launching a missile. Stage two.” Savik felt his heartbeat speed up. A male voice on the Point Mugu monitor said, “ATP registers nuclear target acquisition.” “Yes!” Winn yelled, along with the rest of CET project managers and specialists. He explained for the suits. “The system has correctly figured out that the warhead is nuclear. It has nuclear materials. It’s not space junk or a telecommunications satellite run wild.” On CNN, an incessant beeping began. “Ground monitors have picked up the rapid beeping of the missile’s signal. As long as it beeps, a mock bomb is headed toward the USA.” The animation then showed a missile that split into decoy missiles. A tech at Pt. Mugu faced the camera. “Stage three. PeaceMaker systems are scanning decoys to decide which is carrying the ‘nuclear’ payload.” The Pt. Mugu control center appeared on the middle TV monitor. Dozens of analysts were listening to the missile’s incessant, nerve-wracking beeping. Sudden sweat cooled Savik’s temples. Seven years of development…it could all go to hell in an instant. On the screen showing the simulation, the male voiceover said, “The hope is that by being able to blast a nuclear warhead closer to an enemy’s territory early during the launch phase, instead of closer to the U.S., PeaceMaker will deter even the contemplation of such attacks.” Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-- Savik wanted to yell at someone to lower the volume. Clearly the ‘armed’ missile was alive and healthy, aimed at Northern California. If PeaceMaker failed it would be remotely blown to bits by explosives. The talking head at Pt. Mugu said, “Ninety more seconds.” Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-- One minute, fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven, seconds. Hemorrhaging droplets of time. Savik reached for the Bloody Mary and gulped it. Thirty-three seconds, thirty-two…. Silence. Was it…? Techies on the Pt. Mugu TV were bent over their radar screens. Their hands shot up. Voices blasted out a cheer. By the time the successful hit was announced on CNN at 11:19 EST, no one at CET was watching TV. Grown men in expensive suits were jumping up and down, hugging each other, and hooting. When mania finally yielded to mere slap-happiness, Winn stood on a coffee table. “Hear, hear!” he said, “I want to remind you of what Keith Spy-in-the-Sky Hall once said as Director of NRO. ‘With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and…’” Winn yelled out the last, “‘we’re going to keep it’!!!!” The mania returned. The doors to a dining section were thrown open. Champaign corks popped. Cigars were lit. Buffet tables offered caviar, lobster and spitted meats. PeaceMaker would be the heart of America’s Space Corps. America would be safe. The CET men were heroes. And they would soon be rich heroes.