An historic landmark work, depicting war as it is and soon will be-the shape of war to come.
Featuring new short novels by:
Larry Bond, who explores the wild frontier of space warfare, where American forces fight a tenacious enemy which threatens every free nation on Earth.
Dale Brown, taking us into the seldom-seen world of the military review board, and shows us how the future career of an EB-52 Megafortress pilot can depend on a man he's never met.
And David Hagberg, who brings us another Kirk McGarvey adventure, in which the C.I.A. director becomes entangled in the rising tensions between China and Taiwan. When a revolutionary leader is rescued from a Chinese prison, the Chinese government pushes the United States to the brink of war, and McGarvey has to make a choice with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Stephen Coonts is the author of seven New York Times bestselling novels, the first of which was the classic flying tale, Flight of the Intruder, which spent more than six months at the top of The New York Times bestseller list. His novels have been published around the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. He was honored by the U.S. Naval Institute with its Author of the Year Award in 1986. His latest novel is America. He is also the editor of two anthologies, War in the Air and The New York Times bestselling Combat. He resides with his wife, Deborah, in Nevada.
Date of Birth:July 19, 1946
Place of Birth:Morgantown, West Virginia
Education:B.A., West Virginia University, 1968; J.D., University of Colorado, 1979
Read an Excerpt
San Diego, California
September 16, 2010
Ray McConnell was watching the front door for new arrivals, but he would have noticed her anyway. Long straight black hair, in her late twenties, casually dressed but making jeans and a knit top look very good. He didn’t know her, and was putting a question together when he saw Jim Naguchi follow her in. Oh, that’s how she knew.
Ray stood up, still keeping one eye on the screens, and greeted the couple. The woman was staring at the wall behind Ray, and he caught the tail end of her comment. “…why you’re never at home when I call.”
Jim Naguchi answered her, Third time this week,” then took Ray’s offered hand. “Hi, Ray, this is Jennifer Oh. We met at that communications conference two weeks ago—the one in San Francisco.”
As Ray took Jennifer’s hand, she said, “Just Jenny, please,” smiling warmly.
“Jenny’s in the Navy, Ray. She’s a computer specialist…”
“Which means almost anything these days,” McConnell completed. “Later we’ll try to trick you into telling us what you really do.”
Jenny looked a little uncomfortable, even as she continued to stare. Changing his tone a little, Ray announced, “Welcome to the McConnell Media Center, the largest concentration of guy stuff in captivity.”
“I believe it,” she answered. “Those are Sony Image Walls, aren’t they? I’ve got a twenty-four-incher at home.”
McConnell half turned to face theWall. “These are the same, soil just an inch thick. But larger,” he said modestly.
“And four of them?” she said.
Every new guest had to stop and stare. The living room of Ray’s ranch house was filled with electronic equipment, but the focus of the room was the four four-by-eight flat-screen video panels. He’d removed the frames and placed them edge to edge, covering one entire wall of his living room with an eight-foot-by-sixteen-foot video screen—“the Wall.”
Just then it was alive with flickering color images. Ray pointed to different areas on the huge surface. “We’ve set up the center with a map of the China-Vietnam border. We’ve got subwindows,” Ray said, pointing them out, “for five of the major TV networks. That larger text subwindow has the orders of battle for the Vietnamese and Chinese and U.S. forces in the region.”
He pointed to a horseshoe-shaped couch in the center of the room, filled with people. “The controls are at that end of the couch, and I’ve got two dedicated processors controlling the displays.”
“So is this how the media keeps track of an international crisis?” Jennifer asked.
“Maybe.” Ray shrugged, and looked at Jim Naguchi, who also shrugged. “I dunno. We’re engineers, not reporters.”
“With a strong interest in foreign affairs,” she responded.
“True,” he added, “like everyone else here.” He swept his arm wide to include the other guests. Half a dozen other people watched the screens, talked, or argued.
“There’s people from the military, like you, and professionals from a lot of fields. We get together at times like this to share information and viewpoints.”
“And watch the game,” she added. Her tone was friendly, but a little critical as well.
“That window’s got the pool on the kickoff times,” Ray answered, smiling and indicating another area filled with text and numbers. “Most of the money is on local dawn, in“-he glanced at his watch-“an hour or so.”
“And I brought munchies,” Naguchi added, holding up a grocery bag.
“On the counter, Jim, like always,” Ray responded. One side of the living room was a waist-high counter, covered with a litter of drinks and snacks.
“It’s my way of feeling like I have some control over my life, Jenny. If we know what’s going on, we don’t feel so helpless.” He shrugged at his inadequate explanation. “Knowledge is Power. Come on, I’ll introduce you around. This is a great place to network.”
Raising his voice just a little, he announced, “People, this is Jenny Oh. Navy. She’s here with Jim.” Everyone waved or nodded to her, but most kept their attention on the Wall.
McConnell pointed to a fortyish man in a suit. That’s Jim Garber. He’s with McDonnell Douglas. The guy next to him is Marty Duvall, a C coder at a software house. Bob Reeves is a Marine.‘’ Ray smiled. “He’s also the founding member of the ‘Why isn’t it Taiwan?’ Foundation.’”
“I’m still looking for new members,” the Marine answered. Lean, and tall even sitting down, with close-cropped black hair, he explained, “I keep thinking this is some sort of elaborate deception, and while we’re looking at China’s southern border, she’s going to suddenly zig east, leap across the straits, and grab Taiwan.”
“But there’s no sign of any naval activity west of Hong Kong,” Jenny countered, pointing to the map. The action’s all been inland, close to the border. I’m not in intelligence,” she warned, “but everything I’ve heard say it’s all pointed at Vietnam…”
“Over ten divisions and a hundred aircraft,” Garber added. That’s INN’s count this morning, using their own imaging satellites.”
“But why Vietnam at all?” countered Reeves. They’re certainly not a military threat.”
“But they are an economic one,” replied Jenny. They’re another country that’s trading communism for capitalism, and succeeding. The increased U.S. financial investment makes Beijing even more nervous.”
Ray McConnell smiled, pleased as any host The new arrival was fitting in nicely, and she certainly improved the scenery. He walked behind to the counter into the kitchen and started neatening up, trashing empty bags of chips and soda bottles. Naguchi was still laving his snacks on the counter.
“She’s a real find, Jim,” McConnell offered. “Not the same one as last week, though?”
“Well, things didn’t work out” Naguchi admitted. “Laura wanted me to have more space. like Mars.” He grinned.
“Where’s she stationed?”
“All she’ll tell me is NAVAIR,” Naguchi replied. “She knows the technology, and she’s interested in defense and the military.”
“Well, of course, she’s in the business,” McConnell replied. “She’s certainly involved in the discussion.” Ray pointed to Jenny, now using the controls to expand part of the map.
“That’s how we met,” Naguchi explained. The Vietnam crisis was starting to heat up, and everyone at the conference was talking about it between sessions, of course. She was always in the thick of it, and somewhere in there I mentioned your sessions here.”
“So this is your first date?” Ray grinned.
“I hope so,” Naguchi answered hopefully. “I’m trying to use color and motion to attract the female.”
“Ray! You’ve got a call.” A tall African-American man was waving to Ray. McConnell hurried into the living room, picked up the handset from its cradle, and hit the VIEW button. Part of the Wall suddenly became an image of an older man, overweight and balding, in front of a mass Glasses perched on his nose, seemingly defying gravity. “Good…evening, Ray.”
“Dave Douglas. Good to see you, sir. You’re up early in the morning.” The United Kingdom was eight hours ahead of California. It was five in the morning in Portsmouth.
“Up very late, you mean. I see you’ve one of your gatherings. I thought you’d like to know we’ve lost the signals for two of your GPS satellites.”
Naguchi, who’d moved next to Jennifer, explained. “Mr. Douglas is head of the Space Observer Group. They’re hobbyists, mostly in Britain, who track satellites visually and electronically. Think high-tech bird-watchers.”
“I’ve heard of them,” she answered, nodding, “and of Douglas. Your friend knows him?” She sounded impressed.
Naguchi replied, “Ray’s got contacts all over.”
Jennifer nodded again, trying to pick up the conversation at the same time.
“…verified Horace’s report about an hour ago. It was number seventeen, a relatively new bird, but anything mechanical can fail. I normally wouldn’t think it worth more than a note, but then Horace called back and said another one’s gone down as well, and quite soon after the first one.”
“Why was Horace looking at the GPS satellite signals?” McConnell asked.
“Horace collects electronic signals. He’s writing a piece on the GPS signal structure for the next issue of our magazine.”
Ray looked uncertain, even a little worried. “Two failures is a little unusual, isn’t it?” It was a rhetorical question.
Douglas sniffed. “GPS satellites don’t fail, Raymond. You’ve only had two go down since the system was established twenty-five years ago. By the way, both satellites are due over southern China in less than an hour.”
Ray could only manage a “What?” but Douglas seemed to understand his query. “I’m sending you a file with the orbital data for the constellation in it I’ve marked numbers seventeen and twenty-two. They’re the one’s who’ve foiled.” He paused for a moment, typing. “There…you have it now.”
Thank you, Dave. I’ll get back to you if we can add anything to what you’ve found.” Ray broke the connection, then grabbed his data tablet.
While McConnell worked with the system, speculation filled the conversation. “…so we turned off two of the birds ourselves. Deny them to the Chinese,” Reeves suggested.
“If so, why only two?” countered Jenny.
“And the most accurate signal’s encrypted anyway,” added Garber. “The Chinese can only use civilian GPS.”
“Which still gives them an asset they wouldn’t otherwise have,” reminded Reeves.
“Unless the Chinese have broken the encryption,” countered Duvall.
“But we need GPS even more,” said Garber. “It’s not just navigation, it’s weapons guidance and command and control.”
Jennifer added, “All of our aircraft mission planning uses GPS now. If we had to go back, it would be a lot harder to run a coordinated attack. We could never get the split-second timing we can now.”
“Here’s the orbital data,” McConnell announced.
The smaller windows on the Wall all vanished, leaving the map showing southern China and Vietnam. A small bundle of curved lines appeared in the center, then expanded out to fill the map, covering the area with orbital tracks. As Ray moved the cursor on his data pad, the cursor moved on the map. When it rested on a track, a tag appeared, naming the satellite and providing orbital and other data. Two of the tracks were red, not white, and were marked with small boxes with a time in them.
“Where are the satellites right now?” someone asked.
Ray tapped the tablet and small diamonds appeared on all the tracks, showing their current positions.
“Can you move them to where they’d be at local dawn for Hanoi?” suggested Garber.
“And what’s the horizon for those satellites at Mengzi?” Jennifer prompted, pointing to a town just north of the Chinese-Vietnamese border. “That’s one of the places the Chinese are supposed to be massing.”
“Stand by,” answered Ray. “That’s not built in. I’ll have to do the math and draw it” He worked quickly, and in absolute silence. After about two minutes, an oval drawn in red appeared on the map, centered on the location. Everyone counted, but Ray spoke first “I count three.”
“…and you need four for a fix,” finished Naguchi.
* * *
National Military Command Center, The pentagon September 17
* * *
“…and without the GPS, General Hyde had to issue a recall.” The assistant J-3 looked uncomfortable, as only a colonel can look when giving bad news Jo a room full of four-star generals.
The meeting had originally been scheduled to review results of the first day’s strikes in Operation CERTAIN FORCE. A total of eighty-three targets in China had been programmed to be hit by 150 combat aircraft and almost two hundred cruise missiles. It hadn’t happened.
“The gap in coverage was only twenty minutes,” Admiral Kramer complained. “Are we so inflexible that we couldn’t delay the operation until we had full coverage?”
“It would have meant issuing orders to hundreds of units through two levels of command,” answered General Michael Warner. Chief of Staff of the Air Force, it was one of his men, General Tim Hyde, who was Joint Task Force Commander for CERTAIN FORCE. Warner, a slim, handsome man whose hair was still jet-black at sixty, looked more than a little defensive.
“Sounds like ‘set-piece-itis’ to me,” muttered the Army Chief of Staff.
The Chairman, also an Army general, shot his subordinate a “this isn’t helping” look and turned back to Warner. The Air Force, through the Fiftieth Space Operations Wing, operated the GPS satellites.
“Mike, have your people found out anything else since this morning?”
“Only that both birds were functioning within norms. Number seventeen was the older bird. They’d recently fired up the third of her four docks, but she was in good shape. Number twenty-two was still on her first atomic dock. All attempts to restart them, or even communicate with them, have failed. Imaging from our telescopes shows that they’re still there, but they’re in a slow tumble, which they shouldn’t be doing…”
“And the chance of both of them suffering catastrophic failure is nil,” concluded the Chairman.
“Yes sir. The final straw is that we started warm-up procedures on the two reserve birds twenty-eight and twenty-nine. Or rather, we tried to warm them up. They don’t answer either.”
General Sam Kastner, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was a thinker, more a listener than a speaker, but he knew he had to take firm charge of the meeting. He sighed, knowing the answer before he started, “What about Intelligence?”
The J-2, or Joint Intelligence officer, was a boyish-looking rear admiral. His normal staff was two or three assistants, but this time he had a small mob of officers and civilians behind him. The admiral moved to the podium.
“Sir, the short answer is that we don’t know who did this or how. If we knew who, we could start to guess how they did it Similarly, knowing how would immediately narrow the list of suspects.
“We know that the DSP infrared satellites detected no launches, and we believe that they also would have detected a laser powerful enough to knock out a GPS bird—although that’s not a certainty,” he added quickly, nodding to an Army officer with a stern expression on his face.
“The Chinese are the most likely actors, of course, but others can’t be ruled out. CIA believes the attack was made by agents on the ground or in cyberspace, but we’ve detected no signs of this at any of the monitoring stations. The Navy believes they’ve adapted their space-launch vehicles for the purpose. Although it’s a logical proposition, we’ve seen no sign of the launch, or the considerable effort it would require. And we track their space program quite closely.”
The frustration in his voice underlined every word. “It’s possible that the Russians or someone else is doing it to assist the Chinese, but there aren’t that many candidates, and we’ve simply seen no sign of activity by any nation, friendly or hostile.” He almost threw up his hands.
“Thank you, Admiral,” replied Kastner. “Set up a Joint Intelligence Task Force immediately. Until we can at least find out what’s being done, we can do nothing, and that includes reliably carry out military operations. Spread your net wide.”
He didn’t have to say that the media were also spreading their net. Television and the Internet were already full of rumors—the attack had been scheduled but called off for political reasons, that the entire exercise was just a bluff, that the U.S. had backed down because of the risk of excessive casualties, and others more fanciful. U.S. “resolve” had been shattered.
* * *
Gongga Shan Mountain Launch Complex, Xichuan Province, Southern China September 23
* * *
General Shen Xuesen stood quietly, calmly, watching the bank of monitors, but wishing to be on the surface. He had a better view of the operation from here, but it did not seem as real.
It was their fifth time, and he could see the staff settling down, nowhere as nervous as the first launch, but China was committed now, and her future hung on their success.
Everyone saw the short, solidly built general standing quietly in the gallery. In his early fifties, he’d spent a lot of time in the weather, and it showed. An engineer, he looked capable of reshaping a mountain, and he had Gongga Shan as proof. It was a commander’s role to appear calm, even when he knew exactly how many things could go wrong, and how much was at stake, both for him and for China.
Shen had already given his permission to fire. The staff was counting down, waiting until they were in the exact center of the intercept window. The “Dragon’s egg” sat in the breech, inert but vital, waiting for just a few more seconds.
The moment came as the master clock stepped down to zero. The launch controller turned a key, and for a moment, the only sign of activity was on the computer displays. Shen’s eyes glanced to the breech seals, but the indicators all showed green. He watched the video screen that showed the muzzle, a black oval three meters across.
Even with a muzzle velocity of four thousand meters per second, it took time for the egg to build up to full speed. Almost a full second elapsed between ignition and …
A puff of smoke and flame appeared on the display, followed by a black streak, briefly visible. Only its size, almost three meters in diameter, allowed it to be seen at all. Shen relaxed, his inward calm now matching his outward demeanor. His gun had worked again.
“Hatching,” reported the launch controller. Everyone had so loved the egg metaphor that they used the term to report when the sabots separated from the meter-sized projectile. Designed to hold the small vehicle inside the larger bore, they split and fell away almost instantly. Effectively, the projectile got the boost of three-meter barrel but the drag of a one-meter body.
Speed, always more speed, mused Shen as he watched the monitors. The crews were already boarding buses for their ride up the mountain to inspect the gun. Other screens showed helicopters lifting off to search for the sabots. Although they could not be used again, they were marvels of engineering in their own right and would reveal much about the gun’s design.
The goal was eight kilometers a second, orbital velocity. First, take a barrel a kilometer long and three meters across. To make it laser-straight, gouge out the slope of a mountain and anchor it on the bedrock. Cover it up, armor and camouflage it, too. Put the muzzle near the top, seventy-nine hundred meters above sea level. That reduces air resistance and buys you some speed. Then use sabots to get more speed. You’re halfway there. Then…
“Ignition,” announced one of the controllers. Put a solid rocket booster on the projectile to give it the final push it needed. “She’s flying! Guidance is online, sir. It’s in the center of the basket Intercept in twenty minutes.”
General Shen had seen the concept described in a summary the Iraqis had provided of Supergun technology after the American Persian Gulf War. American technological superiority had been more than a shock to the People’s Liberation Army. It had triggered an upheaval.
The Chinese military had always chosen numbers over quality, because numbers were cheap, and the Politburo was trying to feed one and a half billion people. They’d always believed that numbers could overwhelm a smaller high-tech force, making them reluctant even to try. Everyone knew how sensitive the Americans were to casualties, and to risk.
But if the difference in quality is big enough, numbers don’t matter anymore. Imagine using machine guns in the Civil War, or a nuclear sub in WWII. Shen and his colleagues had watched the Americans run rings around the Iraqis, suffering trivial casualties while they hammered the opposition.
So the Chinese army had started the long, expensive process of becoming a modern military. They’d bought high-tech weapons from the Russians, fortunately willing to sell at bargain-basement prices. They’d stolen what they couldn’t buy from Western nations. They’d gotten all kinds of exotic technologies: rocket-driven torpedoes for their subs, exotic aircraft designs.
It wasn’t enough. Running and working as hard as they could, they’d cut the technology lag from twenty to fifteen years. They were following the same path as the West, and it would just take time to catch up.
General Shen had seen the answer. He’d seen a vulnerability, then planned, convinced, plotted, and argued until the Politburo had listened and backed his plan. If your opponent strikes at you from above, take away his perch. Take away that technological edge.
Build a prison camp deep in the mountains, in a remote spot in southern China. Send the hard cases and malcontents there. The State has useful work for them. Watch the prisoners dig away the side of a mountain. You need a rail line to the nearest city, Kangding, 250 kilometers southwest That had been a job in itself. Then add army barracks, the launch-control center, and SAM and AAA defenses. It had taken years before it looked like anything more than a mistake.
Meanwhile, design the “T‘ien Lung,” or Celestial Dragon, to fly in space. And design a gun, the biggest gun in the history of the world, the Dragon’s Mother, to fire it Such designs were well within the grasp of the West, but they were barely possible for China’s limited means. Her civilian space program had provided a lot of the talent, as well as a convenient excuse for foreign study and purchases.
“Control has been passed to Xichuan,” the senior controller announced. “Intercept in ten minutes.” A look of relief passed over his face. If a screwup occurred after this, it was their fault, not his.
Shen longed to be in two places at once, but the gun was his, and Dong Zhi, the scientist who had actually designed the Dragons, was at the space complex. Xichuan handled China’s civilian space program, and they had the antennas to watch the intercept.
Everyone in the room watched the central display, even though it was only a computer representation. Two small dots sat on curved lines, slowly moving to an intersection point Then the screen changed, becoming completely black, with the characters for “Terminal Phase,” displayed in one corner.
General Shen Xuesen smiled. He had insisted on the television camera for terminal-phase guidance. Not only was it hard to jam, it made the result understandable. Seeing the target grow from a speck to a shape to a recognizable satellite had made it real, not only for the leadership who had watched the tests, but for the people who had to do the work, who fought the war from so far away.
The image was a little grainy, because of the lens size, but it also had the clarity of space. He could see the boxy, cluttered body of the American GPS satellite, and the outspread solar panels, each divided into four sections.
The controller started counting down as the image slowly expanded. “Five seconds, four, three, two, one, now.” He uttered the last word softly, but triumphantly, as the image suddenly vanished. A few people clapped, but they’d all seen this before, and most didn’t feel the need now.
All that work, all that money, to put a ten-pound warhead in orbit. More like a shotgun shell, the explosive fired a cone of fragments at the unarmored satellite. Filled with atomic clocks and delicate electronics, it didn’t have a hope of surviving the explosion. The carcass would remain in its orbit, intact, but pocked with dozens of small holes.
In fact, the kill was almost an anticlimax. After all the work of getting the vehicle up there, it was over far too quickly.
* * *
Skyhook One Seven, Over the South China Sea September 23
* * *
“We just lost GPS,” reported the navigator. “Switching to inertial tracker.” The navigator, an Air Force major, sounded concerned but not alarmed.
“Is it the receiver?” asked the mission commander. A full colonel, it was his job to manage the information gathered by the ELJNT, or Electronic Intelligence, aircraft. Running racetracks off the China coast, it listened for radar and radio signals, analyzing their contents and fixing their location. The digested information was datalinked directly back to Joint Task Force Headquarters.
“Self-test is good, sir, and the receiver is still picking up satellites, but we just lost one of the signals, and now we’re outside our error budget.” Each satellite over the minimum required narrowed the area of uncertainty around a transmitter’s location. GPS was accurate enough to target some missiles directly, or give pilots a good idea of where to search for their objective.
“So we’ve lost another one,” muttered the colonel.
* * *
USS Nebraska (SSBN—739), On Patrol September 24
* * *
The sub’s Operations Officer knocked on the captain’s open door. “Sir, they’ve lost another one.” He handed the priority message to the skipper. It detailed the loss and showed how coverage was affected for their patrol area.
The captain looked over the printout “Have you compared this with our navigation plan?”
“Yes, sir. We have to change one of our planned fix times. It falls in one of the new ‘dark windows.’ We can move it ahead two hours or back six.”
The captain scowled, more than one might think appropriate for a minor inconvenience. But ballistic missile subs had to come up to periscope depth periodically to check their navigation systems’ accuracy. A few meters of error at the launch point could be hundreds of times that at the target
When the full GPS constellation had been operational, the captain could take a fix anytime he chose. Now there were times he couldn’t That made him less flexible, more predictable, and thus easier to find. He really didn’t like that.
“Move it up,” ordered the captain. “Let’s take a fix before they lose any more birds. And draw up a new schedule reducing the interval between fixes.”
* * *
INN News September 24
* * *
“With the loss of another satellite, emotions at the Fiftieth Space Operations Wing have changed from grim or angry to fatalistic.” Mark Markin, INN’s defense correspondent stood in front of the gate to Cheyenne Mountain. The Fiftieth’s operations center was actually located at Schriver Air Force Base nearby, but the drama of the mountain’s tunnel entrance was preferable to Schriver’s nondescript government buildings.
Markin wore a weather-beaten parka, zipped tip against the chill Colorado wind. His carefully shaped-hair was beginning to show the effects of the wind as well, and he seemed to rush through his report in an effort to get out of the weather.
“Although it is widely acknowledged that loss of the GPS satellites is no fault of the people here at the Fiftieth, they are still suffering a deep sense of helplessness.
“Since the GPS network became active in 1989, it has become almost a public utility. The men and women here took pride in providing a service that not only gave the U.S. armed forces a tremendous military advantage, but benefited the civilian community in countless ways.
“Now, someone, possibly the Chinese, but certainly an enemy of the United States, has destroyed at least three and possibly as many as five satellites. Yesterday’s loss shows that last week’s attack was not an isolated act.
“And the United States can do nothing to stop it.”
* * *
San Diego, California September 24
* * *
Jim Avrell had gone to only a few of Ray’s gatherings. His “discussion groups” were famous throughout SPAWAR, and were always worthwhile. Although Arvell would have liked to go, two preschoolers and another on the way limited his free time.
Tonight, though, he’d made the time. In fact, his wife Carol had urged him to go. After he’d described Ray’s sudden leave of absence and the rumors from the other coworkers, she’d urged him to go and get the straight story.
Avrell was an antenna design specialist in Ray’s working group. He knew and liked the outgoing engineer, even if McConnell could be a little fierce in technical “discussions.” He was worried about their project, which was suffering in Ray’s absence, and about Ray himself. With the brass so upset about GPS, it was no time for Ray to play “missing person.”
The car’s nav console prompted, “Turn left here,” and he signaled for the turn onto Panorama Drive. It had been over a year since he had visited Ray’s place, that time with Carol at a reception for a visiting astronaut That had been an occasion.
But nothing tike this. As he made the turn, Avrell saw the street almost completely lined with cars. This was definitely not typical for a quiet residential community. Avrell ended up parking a block away.
As he hurried up the path, he heard the expected hubbub, but Ray didn’t meet him at the door, and everyone wasn’t in the living room. A group of four men huddled around a coffee table there, and he could see another clustered in the kitchen. McConnell appeared out of the one of the bedroom doors, hurrying. He looked tired.
“Jim Avrell! It’s great to see you.” Genuine pleasure tit up Ray’s race, but there was a distracted air to it And surprise.
Avrell saw no point in dissembling. “Ray, what’s going on over here? You haven’t been at work…”
“I’ve got bigger fish to fry, Jim. Promise you won’t tell anyone what’s going on here? Unless I OK it?”
“Well, of course,”
Ray looked at him intently. “No, Jim, I mean it. You can’t tell anyone. Treat this as classified.”
Avrell studied McConnell carefully, then agreed. “I promise not to tell anyone what I see here.” He fought the urge to raise his right hand.
McConnell seemed to relax a little, and smiled again. “You’ll understand in a minute, Jim.” He called over to the group at the coffee table. “I’ll be right there.”
One of them, whom Avrell recognized as Avrim Takir, a mathematician from the work group, answered. “Fine, Ray. We need another ten minutes, anyway.” Takir spotted Avrell and waved, but quickly returned his attention to the laptop in front of him.
McConnell led his coworker down the hall into his home office. Ray’s desk was piled high with books and disk cases and printouts. The center display, another Image Wall mounted above the desk, showed an isometric design for an aircraft—no, a spacecraft, Avrell realized.
Used to polished CAD-CAM designs where they worked, he was surprised. This one was crude. Some of it was fully rendered in 3-D space, but parts of it were just wireframes. At least one section was a two-dimensional image altered to appear three-dimensional.
“Defender isn’t pretty, but we’re a little pressed for time,” McConnell declared. He had the air of a proud parent.
Avrell, surprised and puzzled, studied the diagram, which filled the four-by-eight display. Data tables hovered in parts of the screen not covered by the vehicle. He started tracing out systems: propulsion; communications; weapons? He shot a questioning look at McConnell.
Ray met his look with one of his own. “Question, Jim. What’s the best way to protect a satellite? If someone’s shooting them down, how can you stop them?”
“They haven’t even confirmed it’s the Chinese…”
“Doesn’t matter who’s doing it!” McConnell countered. “Someone is.” He paused and rephrased the question. “Can you effectively protect a satellite from the ground?”
Avrell answered quickly. “Of course not You’re on the wrong end of the gravity well, even if you’re near the launcher site, and you might be on the wrong side of the planet”
“Which we probably are,” McConnell agreed. “Here on the surface, even with perfect information, we can’t defend a satellite until something is launched to attack it so we’re always in a tail chase. If we’re above the launcher, with the satellite we’re trying to defend, Isaac Newton joins our team.”
“And this is going to do the job?” Avrell asked, motioning toward the diagram. He tried to sound objective, but skepticism crept into his voice in spite of his efforts.
McConnell seemed used to it “It can, Jim. There’s nothing startling in here. The technology is all there: an orbital vehicle, sensors, and weapons.”
“And you’ve been tasked by…”
“It’s my own hook, Jim. This is all on my own,” Ray admitted. Then he saw his friend’s question and answered it without waiting.
“Because I can’t wait for the government to think of it that’s why. The answer is obvious, but by the time they hold all the meetings and write all the Requirements we won’t have any satellites left.”
McConnell sat down heavily, fatigue and strain showing on his face. This isn’t about just GPS or the Chinese, Jim. Someone’s developed the capability to attack satellites in space. That means they could attack manned spacecraft They can probably launch orbital nuclear weapons at us, or anyone else they don’t like. And we certainly know they don’t like us.”
Avrell leaned back against the edge of a table and looked carefully at Ray. “So you’re going to design the answer to our problems.” He phrased it as a statement, but it was still a question.
“Me and all the other people here,” Ray corrected. “Why not, Jim? I’ve got a good idea, and I’m running with it I might not be in the right bureau in the right branch, but I believe in this. Ideas are too precious to waste.”
Inside, Avrell agreed with his friend, but practicality pushed that aside. “You can’t build it,” he stated quietly.
“Well, that’s the rub,” McConnell said, actually rubbing the back of his neck in emphasis. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. I’m going to shotgun it out—only within the system,” he hurriedly added, referring to the procedures for handling classified material. “I won’t go public with this. It’s a serious design proposal.”
“Which needs a Requirement, a contractor, and research and development…”
“And congressional hearings and hundreds of man-hours deciding what color to paint it,” continued McConnell. “A small group can always move faster and think faster than a large one. I want to present the defense community with a finished design, something so complete they’ll be able to leapfrog the first dozen steps of the acquisition process.” He grinned. “We can skip one step already. The other side’s writing the Requirement for us.”
Ray stood and turned to face Avrell directly. “I know I’m breaking rules, but they’re not rules of physics, just the way DoD does business. I’m willing to push this because it needs to be done, and nobody else is doing it”
Avrell sighed. “So who’s working on your comm system?”
McConnell grinned. The guys in the kitchen, but they’ve got almost all the electronics. There’s lots to do. Come on, I’ll introduce you…”
“Wait a minute, Ray.” Avrell held up his hand. “Let me make a call first”
“No. Sue Langston. She’s in graphics.”
Ray laughed and pointed to the phone. Heading out of the office and down the hall, his intention was to check with the propulsion group in the living room, but then he heard the doorbell again. Fighting impatience, he hoped for another volunteer, or the Chinese takeout he’d ordered.
Jennifer Oh stood on the doorstep, and Ray blinked twice in surprise. Another unexpected caller.
“Can I come in?” she finally asked.
“Oh, certainly, please come in, Jenny,” trying to sound as hospitable as he could. His distraction increased. She’d obviously come straight from work, and her naval uniform, with lieutenant commander’s stripes, jarred after the casual outfit he’d seen her in last week. Her long black hair was tied up in an ornate bun.
She didn’t wait for him to speak. “Jim Naguchi told me a little about what you’re doing here. I think it’s an incredible idea.” She held up three square flat boxes. “And I brought pizza.”
“Thank you on both counts, Jenny. Jim’s not here tonight, though.”
“I came to help you, Ray. I can see what you’re doing. I’ve got a lot of experience in command and control systems,” she offered.
Ray suddenly felt that Defender was going to work.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen Coontso
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