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Von Neumann's War: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Sunday, April 30, 2006 23:21 EDT



Time: Present—all contact with Mars probes lost

    "Well, sir," The president's science advisor George Fines explained, "scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute have actually discovered that the bolometric albedo—that is what astronomers call the spectral content or colors of a planetary image—of Mars has changed over the past year dramatically. But what is even more alarming is that within the past month it has changed at an incredible rate. The current spectrum when compared to the previous one shows that there are now many different metals, gases, and other compounds on the surface and in the atmosphere. This is an unprecedented change."

    "Yes, George. I realize that, but what does it mean?" President Colby replied as he looked out the window of the Oval Office. He was a businessman—top of his class at Harvard. Economic recessions, inflation, hell, even depressions, he could handle. Planets changing colors during his administration was something he wasn't sure he was prepared for. "How's this going to affect us? I'm interested and all that, but it's not like there's a great big comet headed this way that only Bruce Willis can save us from. . . ."

    "If I may, Mr. President," NASA Director Jess Obannon interjected. "The planet got shiny all of the sudden. We don't know why. Then we started losing probes. That . . . doesn't look like coincidence."

    "You're saying . . . what?" the President asked. "Aliens? Little green men?"

    "We don't know, Mr. President," the science advisor said, frowning. "That's the problem."

    "Mr. President, we're trying to gather more data. But we need more time. And, we need a closer look than we can get with Earth-based telescopes." Obannon rubbed his bald head and looked nervously at the President's back. "But, so far we can think of no natural cause for this."

    The President rolled up his left sleeve, then began with his right as he turned to face the NASA bureaucrat.

    "All right then, I want this gagged. Nobody, and I mean nobody leaks this info to the public yet. Anybody that knows about it gets read the National Security Act and the pertinent Executive gag orders. I mean it. The economy is flaky enough as it is right now. No telling what rumors about Mars exploding or little green men will do to the NASDAQ and the Exchange."

    "Mr. President, we might need other astronomers and planetary scientists to help figure this out," the NASA administrator said. "If it's classified we might not be able to convince the best ones to help."

    Fines had dealt with the planetary science community long enough to know that NASA "scientists" didn't believe in secrets except when it came to their personal publications. Most of them hated the military and the intelligence community and wouldn't work and play well with them. He remembered the example of a few years before when the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA, then NIMA) told them that they had found the failed Mars polar lander in some of the other Mars orbiters' imagery and that it was sitting upright on its landing struts. NASA scientists didn't believe it because nobody is smarter than NASA scientists—and the NASA scientists said it was impossible to make such claims from the data available. NASA administrators at the Office of Space Science didn't care or acknowledge that the NGA had spent a mammoth Cold War budget developing spy satellite image analysis techniques that were decades beyond those developed on NASA's shoestring budget. But since they were not NASA, NGA couldn't know what they were talking about—the "not invented here" syndrome.

    Fines knew that NASA scientists were not who he needed. He wanted the best scientists, so he knew not to look to the stagnant "white collar welfare" technical community. There were some smart guys at NASA, but most of them were involved with the nation's spy organizations in some form or other. Brains go where the money is and for decades NASA's budget was much smaller than the intelligence community's.

    "Mr. President, I think we need the space reconnaissance community's help," the science advisor suggested.

    The President tapped his phone, "Judy, get me my NSA, the DCI, and the DNRO in my office right now, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, thanks." He smiled at Fines, "You're right, George. Now, let's get this thing quieted down, shall we?" The President smiled and showed the science advisor and the NASA administrator the door.

    His phone buzzed as he sat back down in his chair, "Yes, Judy?"

    "Mr. President, the national security advisor is here to see you. Should I change your one o'clock meeting with Ambassador Chiaz?"

    "Yes, see if you can delay him until sometime next week, will you? And send Vicki in."

    "Right away, Mr. President."

    "Oh, Judy, as soon as the Chairman, the DCI and DNRO get here, send them in."

    "Yes, sir."



    "Mr. President, from the data that we have it's my conclusion that this is some sort of preparation for invasion," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs stated.

    "Really, Kevin? How would we know that?" Dr. Vicki Johnson, the national security advisor asked. "What if it turns out to be a natural phenomenon? Or if it's unnatural, then what if they're just moving in or building a home? If it's an alien race, they might prefer Mars."

    "Vicki," the President interrupted. "I don't know which thought scares me most. Whether we're talking about preparations for attack or just moving in, we might still be talking about strangers—aliens—moving into our neighborhood. And we know absolutely nothing about them."

    "We need to know more about what is going on, Mr. President," the national security advisor commented. "But how to get that information is the hard part. Mars is a long way away from Earth."

    "John, what do you think?" The President turned to the director of Central Intelligence. "Is there a way to get the recon we need?"

    "Not today, not tomorrow, hell, Mr. President, not even this month, maybe not even this year. We would need to complete a Mars satellite design and build and mission implementation in an extremely compressed schedule. I don't know much, if anything, about that. What do you think, Mike?" he asked the director of the National Reconnaissance Office. NRO handled all the satellites used by the intelligence and military branches and developed the new technologies for the next generation systems.

    "I don't know, either, Mr. President," The DNRO replied. "I would like a couple of weeks to have my guys run some numbers. We would need some budget for this and I mean serious budget."

    "Well, figure it out," the President said. "But if they're preparing for something, do we have two weeks? Hurry. Vicki, John, Kevin, I want y'all to make sure that NRO gets whatever support they need on this. For now this is to be kept quiet. Got it?"



    "Major Shane Gries reporting for duty," Shane said, saluting the Navy captain behind the desk. The officer, the equivalent of a full colonel in the Army, which meant a senior division staff officer or brigade commander, occupied just one cubicle in the large room in the bowels of the Pentagon, indicative of just how important the "Bureau" was considered by the real powers in the building. The desk itself had a high-end monitor on it with some sort of blueprint displayed and was just about covered in paper. Shane didn't even recognized most of the forms on the desk but he did see that most had Top Secret cover sheets.

    "Welcome, welcome," the officer said, returning the salute lazily. "I'm Captain Sparling, as you can see from that plaque on my overloaded desk. Welcome to Chaos Central. I've been eagerly awaiting your arrival, Major. Nay, I can only say how ecstatic I am to see you. Do you like traveling commercial?"

    "I can hang, sir," Gries said, trying not to shake his head at the greeting. He'd expected the usual "you've joined the best outfit in the division" speech. Or fleet, he supposed, given that his new boss was Navy. Not "I'm ecstatic to see you." That had a note of . . . foreboding.

    "I'll give you the quickest run-down in history, Major," the captain said, spinning his computer chair back and forth. Sparling was a short, frankly rotund, officer, which was very unusual to find in the modern military, wearing rather rumpled undress blues. He was balding and entirely unprepossessing, but Shane realized after just a moment that he had about the sharpest eyes the major had ever seen. He gave an impression of casual unconcern, but Shane could tell that there was a mind behind those eyes going a mile a minute.

    "The mission of this bureau is simple in concept," Sparling said, smiling broadly. "So simple I'm sure you can keep up, even if I use words of more than two syllables. We're here to look at projects, that have reached the preacquisition stage and determine if they have 'real world' flaws. There are two sides to that, Major. The first is that we definitely don't want anything going out to the forces, that is not enhancing to their mission. The second is equally important. The U.S. is a world master in combat because we have good training and we have the best damned technology in the world. Each new system that is an enhancement spreads the gap between us and the rest of the world. You ever gotten something new and gone 'Crap, I wish I had this last week when it would have helped', Major?"

    Shane thought about the squad tac-net that they'd gotten just before deploying. It had taken about a week for the troops to really understand it and after that they'd used it to communicate in ways that hadn't been possible days before. He knew guys had been saved by that deceptively simple system; it was far more than just a radio. Then there were some of the new field medical items, like the blood clotter that was made from shrimp shells, that had saved more lives. But he just nodded, continuing to look the officer in the eye calmly.

    "You have no idea how many great ideas the Beltway Bandits think up," Sparling continued, grinning widely. "There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of febrile, bright young minds scattered all over the United States and the world, trying to come up with the 'killer app' for the United States military. Which, next to mass market items, is the largest single market in the world. One item that really catches on and gets wide deployment can make or break a company and certainly those bright young men, and women. If the product gets picked up, they get bonuses and a nice house in the Caymans. If it tanks, they get 'downsized' and have to go into academia where they don't get the house in the Caymans. With me still, Major?"

    "Yes, sir," Shane said, smiling thinly. "You can feel free to use words of up to three syllables or even more; I haven't had my mandatory field grade lobotomy yet." He paused as he said that, realizing it might be a slur on his new boss. But it was way too late to take anything back.

    Sparling really grinned at that and shook his head.

    "You have no idea," was the captain's reply. "The point is that these bright young men, and women—some of the women quite good looking, by the way—will be trying very hard to 'sell' you on some wizmo, our in-house word for wiz-bang gizmo. Your job will be to see if the item has any practical value. You will examine the item carefully, gather all the information you feel appropriate, then fill out a voluminous report, including in it all your experience as an infantry officer with two wars under your belt and a masters in literature with your thesis being on near-future potential technologies to be found in science fiction classics."

    "That's why I'm here," Shane said bitterly.

    "That is why you are here instead of at CGSC," Sparling said, smiling broadly. "Because your predecessor was very very good at finding things that, in his experienced opinion, would never work. So good he turned in not one positive recommendation in three months. And those three months covered over six hundred systems or technologies."

    "That's . . ." Shane said, thinking about it.

    "And that's the other reason I'm glad you're here," Sparling said, reading his mind. "You're going to the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver on the next plane out. Before you leave see Captain Grantworth, who is our administrative officer. She'll give you your homework. Which, since your predecessor left three weeks ago, is over sixty systems or technologies. Some of them you're going to have to decide upon on the basis of the written or submitted PowerPoint presentations. About fourteen are going to require you to go look for yourself. Ten of those are here in the D.C. area, the other four are at other facilities. That's your workload for this week."

    "Yes, sir," Gries said, straightening up. What the captain had just told him was that Shane would be working eighteen-hour days for the foreseeable future.

    "Of course," Sparling said, grinning happily, "at the end of all that work, in the event of a negative recommendation you'll often find that some congressman disagrees with you and will insert a supplementary appropriation, bypassing our recommendation as if it didn't exist. Because you are, after all, just a dumb grunt and what do you know? Or it may be that you are just one voter and the wizmo will employ thousands of voters in that Congressman's district."

    "Got it, sir," Shane said, smiling thinly.

    "You'll notice I have not used words like 'synergize' or 'transformational,' " Sparling said, suddenly serious. "What you are going to see over the next six to eighteen months, though, depending upon whether we can get a filler while you go to CGSC, is going to be just that. Stuff that can transform the face of the U.S. military and even the world. And it's going to be your job to find that one nugget of gold in the crap that might just save your life some day. Have fun in Colorado."



    Caller: . . . and you see Ret, that is why you'll never see the bodies from Roswell.

    Ret Ball: I see. That is very informative Andrea. Next caller is . . . hey hey . . . it's our old friend Megiddo from underground. Go ahead, Megiddo, you are on the Truth Nationwide.

    Caller: Hello, Ret, and greetings.

    Ret Ball: It's good to hear from you old friend. I hesitate, of course, to ask where you are and what you are doing.

    Caller: Right, and I thank you for that. I am lying low at the moment. My former employers have had enough of me and I them. But they have sent their lackeys from the CIA and the NSA to search for me, saying that the knowledge in my head is a danger to national security. Hah! They shall search in vain!

    Ret Ball: Ha ha! What can we do for you tonight, Megiddo?

    Caller: I just wanted to let you know that the situation with Mars has gotten worse.

    Ret Ball: Ah yes! Mars. For some of our listeners out there that are just tuning in, you need to realize that the color of Mars is changing. I myself have seen this with my own telescope. Our friend Megiddo here, has enlightened us on this subject.

    Caller: Thanks Ret. I'll make this short so my burst transmissions are not traced. But the CIA and the right wing conspiracy know about this. They're covering it up and are in fact planning to send a rapid development space mission to the planet to make contact with the enemy and finalize their plans for world domination. They're putting together a set of Boeing Delta Vs with common booster cores that will fling their communications satellite towards Mars on a fast fly-by. This will put them in contact with the masters that are rapidly converting Mars as a base of operations in this solar system.

    Ret Ball: Really? How do you . . . no, I know better than to ask.

    Caller: Thanks, Ret. You are a trooper. But I'm telling everybody now. Prepare, be prepared. The world as we know it's about to disintegrate.

    Ret Ball: Wow! Thanks, Megiddo, we'll keep our listeners posted. Next caller is Ben from Dayton, Ohio. Ben, go ahead you are on the Truth Nationwide.

    Caller: Ha ha, Jesus H. Christ Ret! That guy was so whacked he probably wears an aluminum foil hat on his head!

    Ret Ball: Ah caller, you must be new to the Truth Nationwide. Megiddo has been with us for years. And indeed he does wear an aluminum beanie. He discovered years ago that the remote viewing technology of the CIA can track him otherwise. But to all my listeners, I say this: More times than not Megiddo has predicted something that has actually come to pass.

    Caller: Well, if you ask me he is nuts.



    Reference to mission to Mars forwarded to higher security cell for breach evaluation.

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