A tall young man in a classy Italian suit addressed the group assembled in the room. “My name is Lance Weston from the GGE, which is the Group of Governmental Experts from the United Nations and I have been assigned to investigate a matter of International Cyber Security.” The audience was just a group of six and a soft murmur was the first reaction from the small group, Lance continued, “You have been selected for a critical and highly classified assignment. Your individual skill sets will be collectively essential to the success of a project that will deal with an international cybersecurity threat. The project is titled Athena D.”
The secrecy of the late-night meeting caused great question and intrigue for the five professionals. They knew each other by reputation only and they had been sequestered and separated 3 days earlier so there had been no discussion or speculation up to this point. David Winters, a Laser Technician from San Francisco, possessed skills relegated to medical science, but he was a well-known authority on laser technology. Josh Arnot, also a laser expert but from Dallas, gained fame for efforts related directly to engineering and some space program application. Anna Darwin, a noted NASA satellite expert from Houston and Lisa Atkins, a mobile satellite engineer from Florida, were each seeing each other face to face for the first time although their efforts had crossed at different points of their careers. Stephanie Green, an Astronomer from Chicago was well known in her field for her work on the Hubble telescope. The sixth member of the newly formed team, Patricia Lozano, whose living arrangements always seemed to change according to the project, was a security officer who was familiar with Lance and was chosen for multiple assignments by the UN for security issues.
Lance continued, “We will have 2 weeks to prepare for the operation, classified information will be released to you as we organize the strategy. Technical workbooks will be given to each of you at the close of this meeting which will contain what we know about the areas you will be working with and will also contain questions that can best be answered by your expertise as top masters in your fields.” A white screen moved down in an automated fashion at the other end of the room and Lance walked immediately to the screen. At the tables in the room, all bodies swiveled as heads turned to face the screen. Eyes were wide open in hopes that pictures and diagrams would start to make some sense out of what they had been assigned to.
A picture of a satellite with a dark space background appeared on the screen. Lance began again, “This is the LM-20 satellite launched from Jiu Quan, China in 2005 as an experimental platform. We now have reason to believe that within 3 months the satellite will be activated and using telecommunication ability will become an Advanced Test High Energy Asset or ATHENA.” Lance Weston had become almost animated by his explanation as he was coming to the true concern, “What this means is that China will have put in place a dominant first reaction communication process. Although there is no nuclear threat at this point, activation would upset the balance of nuclear early-warning capabilities and give China an edge in the un-publicized star-wars positioning. In short, China would have a leading first warning system that they could leverage for political and world dominance.” He let that sink in for a moment, then the group had some technical concerns addressed, but not the main question that was on their minds, ‘What are we supposed to do about this?’
The slide changed and now the satellite picture was a bit smaller and an oval shape that seemed to represent an observatory was sending two gold lines or beams up to the satellite, a questioning look filled the faces of all in the room except Patricia and Lance (as if they had seen this movie once before). Lance began the strategy explanation, “From the world’s largest lens-type refractor telescope, triangulating the image with two research-grade mirror type telescopes, we will view and determine the exact location of the main fiber optic lens that will be used by the satellite. We have been provided with the use of a new laser weapon being developed for military equipment and close enough to full operative ability for our use.” Now there was a long pause so that the expertise in the room could start to formulate the reality of this type of event. Lance continued with another political view, “The Chinese have developed this first warning capability in what they thought was total secrecy and only high-level espionage has been able to detect their plans, so our plan needs to be flawlessly secret, so we do not create an international crisis. Before we delve into additional concerns and questions, I want to cover timelines and a summary of the actions we intend to take.”
Lance’s short black hair that had been combed neatly, was now in disarray but the look from his silvery-green eyes was as intent as ever. The screen turned to a calendar with circled dates as he began his summary, “in two weeks, you will be deployed to the state of Wisconsin in the US. Stephanie, can you venture a guess regarding that location?” He turned his look down to the astronomer in the third seat from the front,” and she looked up and answered immediately, “Yerkes Observatory near Lake Geneva.” “You are correct, the location of the telescope power that we will need for this operation. David and Josh, you will be working with the dismantling of the military laser equipment here in Australia and eventually the reconstruction of the laser to be used from the same location in Wisconsin. Anna and Lisa, you will work in concert with Stephanie for pin-point viewing of the vulnerable area of the fiber optics on the satellite to set the timing for when David and Josh will direct a high-power laser beam to permanently neutralize the capabilities of the fiber optics.” From that point, Lance covered a few more details about the satellite’s Mercury Cadmium Telluride and infra-red sensor areas, followed by a myriad of questions regarding laser technology, satellites, and astronomy. Some of the questions were highly technical within specific areas, but the crossover questions between sciences even covered items as basic as the definition of LASER being the light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
The sun was coming up over a stand of bottlebrush and eucalyptus trees and Stephanie could picture the Koala Bears as she looked out the window and realized that they should all get some sleep, so they could dig into this project as early as possible. Two weeks would pass quickly. Project ATHENA D had been launched and the planning phase would begin before the sunset. Stephanie had one more question, but the answer came to her before she had the chance to ask, ‘What did the D stand for? Of course, De-Activation!’ Time to get some sleep.
Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Mike woke up mid-day which was his usual schedule for his 3-day late-night shift. Mike Simmons, an Astronomy major at the University of Chicago, felt fortunate to be selected for post-graduate work at the Yerkes Observatory. He enjoyed the learning experience and the great location in Wisconsin lending to his love for outdoor activities and the Lake Geneva area.
His cell was screaming the beginning guitar riff of the classic rock song “Layla,” that he had programmed into his phone. “Morning Jennifer, how’s your day going?” he asked. “Pretty good”, she answered, “lots of customers and I’d rather be busy instead of sitting around all day. I’ve got a break now, but I guess everybody needs a haircut for Labor Day.” Jennifer Rolland was Mike’s girlfriend and a hairdresser from Northbrook (a northern suburb of Chicago). She continued, “is Yerkes giving you Friday off or do you have more tours this week?” Mike was a tour guide for the infrequent visitors and an after-hour maintenance lead at Yerkes Observatory near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Jennifer would come up to his cozy little studio in Williams Bay (also on Lake Geneva), almost every weekend and she would come up early when he got Fridays off. She always said they were such a perfect pair. Mike was about five foot ten with sandy hair and a muscular build that revealed he spent a lot of time at the gym. Jennifer just about matched his height and being the hair specialist that she was, she had her hair colored about the same tint as her Wisconsin beach boy. Mike had some unfortunate news this week, “Sorry Jenn, they have me working tomorrow. We have a tour group scheduled all the way from Australia.” Jennifer loved spending Fridays with Mike and enjoyed his little studio with a hot tub right in the bedroom and field house brick fireplace in the small main room. “That’s too bad,” she said, “about your having to work I mean. It might be interesting to do your tour with some Aussies. They speak with a British accent, don’t they?” “Not sure of their origins,” answered Mike, “but this group coming from Australia includes a famous astronomer and some other space experts, so I’m supposed to give the group a lot of details on how the telescope works and what we can be seen with it.” Jennifer was at the end of her break and had to get back to her busy day of hairdressing so she closed the call with, “I was thinking of coming up Friday night even if you had to work, but it sounds like you’re going to have a long day, I’ll probably come in Saturday morning and we can do brunch,” “Sounds great, see you then dolly,” Mike clicked off his cell.
Their plane touched down at O’Hare and Stephanie felt quite at home right away. Lake Geneva would be a 2-hour limo drive and she spent the ride pointing out things she was familiar with, but the team showed no interest at all. Tech books were open, and notepads were still being tracked upon to contrive formulas and sequence frequencies. Patricia had no scientific research to complete so she followed along and looked at areas that Stephanie pointed out. “Lake Zurich, like the one in Switzerland?” she asked. “Not really,” giggled Stephanie, “This Lake Zurich is a small lake where bait shops and boat rental stores have been replaced by fancy condos. That 6-story building is where Bill’s Bait Shop used to be. I used to take my dad fishing here on his birthday. We would rent a boat and row out to fish for crappie and perch. We always caught a few and we would go home and clean them and have a fish dinner.” Patricia decided that was enough old home-town stories for the day, so she got out her notepad and started to make calculations of her own. Stephanie wondered at first what the security personnel needed to calculate, and the ride continued in silence from that point on. As they got to the Observatory after driving along the lake and into the woods, those who had not previously been here were in awe over the home of this enormous telescope in the thick woods of Wisconsin.
Lance brought the group into the Yerkes Observatory where he introduced everybody to Mike and his assistant Sarah, “I’m sure you know Astronomer Stephanie Green and she is here with a couple of her assistants, David and Josh. This is Anna and Lisa, both experts in satellite engineering and their assistant Patricia.” Lance had left off the titles of the laser technicians and the security officer, but Mike and Sarah were very impressed by having renowned satellite and astronomy experts at this level at the Observatory.
The tour went through its natural progression and Mike had completed the usual history dissertation of the Observatory, followed by the demonstration of the telescopes. Most of the participants had notepads and Mike could see that there were detailed computations on the pads, so when it was time for questions and answers he was concerned that they might have questions that were beyond his pay grade and technical knowledge of the telescopes. He felt overwhelmed by expertise, but he began the time for questions, “now, what are your questions?” he asked.
The only visitor without a notepad pulled a gun from her jacket and had a directive for Mike instead of a question. She began, “This will now be a government operation that requires the use of these telescopes. You are not in danger, but we need to be sure that there is no interference for what needs to be completed. Lance will explain the objective of the operation.” Lance moved over by the platform of the main telescope and directly in front of Mike. His voice was calm but insistent, “Mike, I apologize for the abruptness and the use of armed security, but this a government assignment and the details of the objective are classified. We will be setting up some equipment and will need all three of the telescopes that you have demonstrated to us to complete the project. We are not terrorists and what we will achieve will be of great benefit to the United States and the entire world. I cannot tell you any more at this time, but you can read the government clearance papers and you will be contacted by the authorities very soon after this is completed. Patricia oversees security and will be keeping you and your assistant under guard while we complete the operation.” He handed Mike the pack of government documents.
Patricia directed Mike and his assistant Sarah to follow her to a platform where she could keep them under her close surveillance, (at gunpoint) and check the outside of the building at the same time to be sure there were no unexpected guests. He had forgotten their names, but Mike could see that this had all been carefully planned. As the two middle-aged scientists were referring to their workbooks and changing the settings on the telescopes, the two guys that were introduced as assistants were bringing in bags and boxes of equipment and setting up to direct the end of some type of nozzles directly out of the open area where the telescopes point to the sky.
As the sun was setting, work continued with some device that was constructed side by side by the main telescope. Mike looked at what he was told were government documents, but although he saw seals that looked like a notary of some type, the approvals could be legitimate or falsifications, he couldn’t tell. His pocket sounded out the beginning guitar for “Layla”. “My cell,” he shouted, and he put his hands up over his head. Patricia moved over to him and angrily hissed, “Turn that off and give me the phone.” He obliged, and she just put the phone on the floor well out of his reach.
Jennifer was in town to surprise Mike by coming in the evening before their planned Saturday morning brunch. She went to Mike’s and was concerned to get no answer when she knocked at his door. Mike never worked into the night with Friday tours, but, of course, the special people were in town so maybe he was giving them some extra tour time. Maybe I could surprise him over at Yerkes.
The team met together at a small table in between the smaller scopes. Stephanie started, “The scopes are set for coordinates and the times we determined. The settings will provide a window of 3 minutes zeroed in on the fiber optics of the satellite.” She turned to Anna and Lisa, “Did you review the scope settings with the calculated flight path of ATHENA?” “Of course,” Lisa answered briskly, with an expression of wonder regarding who had appointed her as the group leader. Anna added in a more congenial and less condescending tone, “The settings correspond directly, Stephanie, and with the calculated area of the optics, I concur with the 3-minute window.” Stephanie turned to Josh and David, “lasers?” This time Lisa shot a scowl at Stephanie and as she started to open her mouth, Anna put her hand up between Lisa and Stephanie and said, “Lisa, let the lead to coordinate this operation fall where it may and stop being bitchy.” Lisa sat back and withheld any comments. Josh said, “Lasers are set for the determined time window of 9:18 to 9:21”. “Those times are correct, and all is set,” returned Stephanie. She continued, “OK, make all of your final calculations and report any contradictions or variations to me. You on board with that, Lisa?” This time Stephanie had the somewhat sour look on her face. Lisa answered directly and with a salute, “Yes, Captain Kirk, and screw you by the way.” Lance finally spoke up, “Stop the bickering, everybody check your calculations and we will do a final test at 9:10, off you go.”
At about 8:45 Josh and David from Laser, met with Lisa and Anna. Lance looked over and asked, “Any problems?” “Just final calculations,” Josh told him. They were talking for at least 15 minutes and Lance and Stephanie assumed they just had to lock in their data, so no more questions were asked. Mike and Sarah sat silently on the platform where Patricia continued to hold them at gunpoint as if her years of training enabled her to freeze indefinitely in a watchful pose with a gun held high and locked in place.
Mike’s girlfriend, Jennifer, decided she would surprise her boyfriend right at the Observatory. She figured he had to impress these high-level people with an extended tour, and she didn’t want to embarrass him. She knew where there was a back-area parking lot that she could reach by driving down a grass path from the adjacent neighborhood. She parked there and decided to sneak up by the building and make sure Mike was done with the group before she jumped out to surprise him with her early visit.
It was 9:10 and the group got together for a pre-test and final data check. Stephanie led the group once again, “Scopes are set, final coordination is the same, 9:18 to 9:21, Laser?” “All set, same times,” David answered this time looking at Lisa as he provided confirmation. “Satellite position”, Stephanie asked, “All set, with same time-lines,” Lisa answered returning a look to David as she spoke. Lance spoke up, “OK we are T-minus 5 minutes, everybody in place.” In short order the telescopes began to move into alignment according to the set coordinates, the laser began a humming sound that served as a signal that the laser would soon send a beam to create the necessary deactivation of the satellite’s sensors and early warning capabilities.
Lance was watching his wristwatch complete with stop-watch capabilities. “We are T-minus 60 seconds, 59, 58, 57.” The security officer had nothing to do but stand guard during all the preparations and meetings, but there would be activity from Patricia Lozano at T-minus 30 seconds. She moved to the middle of the platform and pulled out another gun, “Everybody stop right now,” she shouted. “Telescope can go ahead and look at the satellite, but lasers will not be used. ATHENA D has been compromised.” She turned to Lance and ordered, “Take the gun out of your shoulder holster. Throw it off the platform.” Lance reluctantly complied with her request and the gun landed down by the emergency exit door. Patricia looked at her watch and continued, “We are going to give it 5 minutes just to be sure,” speaking in an even louder tone, “nobody moves. We are going to have a little waiting party.” She obviously meant the wait would be until the window of opportunity for satellite deactivation had passed.
At 9:22 Lance spoke up, “Well Pat, you had me fooled. May I ask what the reason was for you to scrap a long and prestigious career and stop an international crisis from being averted? Do you think there won’t be consequences for you? We’re all witnesses so how do you think you’ll pull this off?” With a crafty smile, she answered, “How do 10 million dollars from Chinese intelligence sound? By the time all of you are found locked in here, I’ll be on a flight out of the country.” As she started to say more about her treachery, the building’s fire alarm sounded and echoed loudly on the telescope housing walls. Patricia looked from side to side pointing her gun out as if to find the alarm itself and shoot it off the wall to bring silence to the shrill sound. She couldn’t see any alarm speaker, but a shot rang out from the floor below. Patricia dropped her gun as she grasped at her shoulder that was quickly showing fresh blood. She fell to her knees and lost control of her hold on the other gun. Down from the main floor a voice Mike recognized shouted up, “Mike, are you there.” Mike started down the stairs yelling, “Jennifer, stay there!” He sprinted down and took the gun from her and pointed it directly at Patricia. Mike quickly yelled, “Lance, get any guns that are laying down near her. I’ve got her covered.” Lance ran over and kicked the one gun near her down off the platform, he saw the other gun and grabbed it and told Mike, “got her covered from here.”
Josh from the laser team looked over to Lisa. “Are we still on point with our extended window?” “Good to go,” she answered. Josh turned the dial and pushed the control which started and humming sound which grew much louder as a searing beam shot out of the telescope portal. David turned to Stephanie’s look of question, “in our last-minute discussion, we set up an extended time window in case there were any equipment problems or timing issues, and now we have used it.” Stephanie moved to the telescope, did a quick check and minor adjustment, then she scanned the viewing window and snapped a button to take a picture of the scope’s view. Retrieving the picture from the process area of the scope, she took it to Lisa for confirmation from a Satellite expert. She looked at the picture, through her arms in the air and yelled, “Athena deactivated!” She looked happily at Stephanie and they fell together in a big hug. Anna and Stephanie exchanged smiles that conveyed a mutual message of, ‘Great job and no hard feelings.’ There was a scream of delight and victory from the entire team that echoed off the walls even louder than the fire alarm which had now been shut off by Mike on the main level.
Finally, Mike had a chance to talk with his girlfriend Jennifer, “How could you have possibly, when did you?” he found himself lost in his own questions, so he just smiled widely and gave her a great big kiss. Jennifer explained her idea of a surprise visit and how she secretly stole in through the emergency door using the codes he gave to her ‘just in case.’ “I heard all the yelling and I could see that the woman with the guns had to be the bad element for what was going on. Remember, you showed me how to shoot pretty good, and there was a gun just laying by the door so…,” Mike put his finger over her shinny glossed lips to quiet her explanation and said, “ssssh”, he wrapped her in his arms and whispered to her, “It’s all over and you are a brave and beautiful lady.” As they hugged, they could hear the sirens outside signaling response to the fire alarm. Mike backed softly away from the hug and said, “We have some more visitors and I better go let them in.”
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