Sunday, March 11, 2007

Choices made, Part 5

This is the continuing story of Major Teri Johnson of the Army Space Command and her personal and professional challenges. She has just decided to go on a year-long fellowship to Oxford in the fall, while being involved at the same time in a super-secret weapons project, a crumbling marriage and a fling with a married man. The choices we make...

She woke early as usual and dressed in running clothes. Putting her uniform and boots into her bag she went downstairs. It was quiet, the coffee already made and no Jason. She looked out the window and Sport was in his kennel. She smiled as he saw her and his ears went. Well, not this morning, she thought. He sometimes left early so she poured coffee into her travel mug and grabbed an apple on the way out the door. She drove to a popular running path near work and ran three miles before finishing her drive to the office. The ASC, as they called it, was surrounded by a pair of high fences with barbed wire at the top, patrolled constantly and under surveillance at all times via closed circuit cameras. The guards at the gate were civilian Army employees, mostly retired enlisted men. Inside security was run by uniformed soldiers.

The guards watched as she approached and swiped her card through the gate lock, activating it. She pulled in and they checked her ID and scanned her car. Only then did the second gate open, allowing her into the facility. It was still another hundred yards to the parking lot, covered at all times by security cameras and sensors. There were signs telling drivers not to stop until they reached their designated parking section. She had never tried it and was not in the mood to do so today. Visitors, the few that there were, came in another entrance on the other side, parking in a special parking lot set aside for them and were escorted, then driven to the underground garage in a van where they were met by an escort who would take them upstairs to the security station.

She could remember her first visit here and how impressed and at the same time miffed at the level of security. She was a captain then, had a top secret clearance and was being interviewed by the commander. She took it all in stride, though and was accepted. Later she discovered that the other officer who had been selected to be interviewed had made a stink about the level of scrutiny he had undergone, acing himself out of the job along the way. General Haverman took security very seriously and expected his staff to do the same.

Using her card again to enter the tunnel into the underground parking, she drove down the ramp, into the cool darkness. There were no names or even titles on the parking spots, only numbers; hers was A45. Parking she carried her laptop and gym bag upstairs to the locker room and showered and changed. They were having brass visit today and she wore her new Class-A uniform. New uniforms always made her nervous. She was proud, though, of her decorations, including a bronze star with a V for her actions during the latest altercation in the Middle East. Teri grimaced a little, though, thinking of the friends that had not come home.

Leaving her workout clothes in the locker she took the elevator to the floor she worked on, where she had to use a cipher code to enter. It was early, just before 7:30 and none of the civilian workers were in, but Sergeant Major Vouchly and Colonel Lerner were already in the briefing room, going over the slides for the brass that were visiting that day. The looked up and waved as she passed and she returned it. She took the envelope out of her portfolio and put it, with appropriate postage into the outgoing mail box, then unlocked and entered her office. The building had originally been built as an office building for a major construction company. The Army had purchased it and secured it, but the offices were pretty much the same, spacious and well lit. The windows had been covered with special shielding to prevent any electronic eaves dropping, but the offices were large and well appointed. As the second in command of the Combat Systems Branch she was given a large office, a secretary (a young male E-4 who could type like a demon) and good furniture.

Checking her voice mail she walked down to the briefing room and watched the two men go through the slides. The Sergeant Major was a tall man, over 6 feet, with short cropped hair, a scar on his forehead from a helicopter crash and all the presence that comes with over 20 years in the Army. He also had an MBA and was working on a Masters in Systems. The rows of ribbons on his chest, including a purple heart, showed he had not always been a desk jockey. The Colonel would have been at home at the top of most large corporations in the country. He wore his hair much like the Sergeant Major was tall and well built and had a way of making people want to please him or he would tear them a new one. He and the Sergeant Major made a great team. He had come from Artillery and Air Defense, then through the War College and was on the short list for a star in the next few years. He had an MBA from Stanford and was ideal for the job of running a branch of two hundred sixty people scattered over 10,000 miles and encompassing over 100 skill types, including 20 or more Phd's and more than a few prickly personalities. Teri liked him a lot and would be very sorry to leave his command.

"Morning ma'am," the Sergeant Major said, getting up with his coffee cup. "Want some joe?"

"That would be nice," Sergeant Major, she said, smiling.

He nodded and left for the break room.

The colonel leaned back and looked at her.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what?" she asked.

"You going to take it?"

She nodded.

"I thought so. I know it won't be easy leaving and all, but it will pay off."

She smiled.

"Thank you for your support," she said.

He snorted. "You did it all on your own, Teri, and you know it. Your old man would be proud of you."

Though he had not known her father he knew the story of her fathers' death.

She blushed a little and felt a tingle up her spine.

The mood was broken by the return of the Sergeant Major.

"Sir, let's have the Major here look at slide ten, I think she may have input there," he said, handing her a steaming cup.

The rest of life set aside, she helped them tweak the presentation, pointing out small items they may want to include or change. By the time the office was full they had it ready. She took a break to go to her office and check her emails and answer some calls. It was going to be a long day, she thought as she leaned back and closed her eyes. The program had been in existence before the much talked about Star-Wars program of Reagan, but it had also been very secretive. ASC had struggled for funding and survival through the years. Between Congress and the changing situation in the world it had been hard to get them to understand the need to invest several billion dollars a year in space weapons research. Well, the team had just hit a home run.

One of the things they had been working on for years was the ability to hit something in space with a laser and kill it. There had been tests and even some success, but the power demands had made the applications limited. A year before a team working with some new laser technology had found a way to concentrate a relatively low powered beam in a vacuum that made it not only possible to build such a weapon in quantity, but one that would be feasible for deployment within five years. The implications for warfare, not only in space but within the atmosphere were far reaching. As a result only the people in the Combat Branch, the commander of the ASC and one or two high level DOD people had been told about the development until full scale testing was completed.

Two weeks before she had watched the screen as a laser mounted on the back of a five ton truck with a conventional generator had fired a pulse of coherent light at a drone plane thirty thousand feet above and destroyed it. It fired again and hit the next plane five minutes later. Sweeping around, the laser hit an armored car moving at forty miles an hour three kilometers away and set it ablaze. If she had not known it was real she would have thought it a setup. Today a delegation of generals, congressmen and high ranking civilians from the DOD would attend a briefing and view the film. It was a very important day for the organization, the Army and the country and every member of the team was very nervous and excited about it.

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