home   |   -   |   A-Z   |  

Chapter 8

Nancy Wambaugh pedaled down the sidewalk on her bike. School was out for the day, and the crisp air and warm winter sun of late June felt good in her windblown hair. Sometimes the teacher made her do things in the first grade she didn't like, but she was delighted with the lesson she had learned today. Her daddy had taught her some time ago to recite, sag-song, where she lived ' Newcastle , New South Wales , Australia.' When she was too young to be ashamed, she would put a little curtsy at the end, pleased at her father's big smile. She had always loved the image in her mind of a new castle , full of princesses and good things, but today she had learned a new grown-up thing about it. She had learned to spell it, and it made a little poem! As she pumped, she sang,

'N, E, W, C,'

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right.

'A, S, T, L, E,'

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right.


Nancy landed on her right elbow and cheek, feet tangled painfully in the pedals of the bicycle. She sucked in her breath from the shock and then wailed as she looked at the blood that began to seep from the long scrape on her arm. She scrambled away from the bike and looked around, hurt and angry. She was sure her older brother, David, had bumped her off the bike with a pillow, that's what it had felt like when the bike tumbled, like when they had pillow fights and David knocked her down. She put her fingers to the sting on her face, and they came away bloody. She screamed louder.

Her cries drowned the hiss that rose above her head. The raucous whisper returned some distance away as Nancy ran towards home.


McMasters's head snapped up from the report he was reading at the sound of the intercom buzzer. 'Yes, what is it?'

'Alan Mirabeau, from the computer section, is here to see you.'

'Umm, ah, yes.' McMasters leaned back in his chair in anticipation. 'Send him in.' McMasters watched as the earnest young man peered around the door and then walked to his desk.

'Sir? You asked for me to monitor requests for certain files?'


'Well, a request did come this morning for some of the inactive files associated with Project QUAKER. Here's a list of the files that were requested.'

McMasters leaned forward to take the proffered sheet. 'The files were transferred out for about an hour, then written back in and deactivated again.'

Long enough to transfer their contents to any active files, McMasters mused. He glanced over the list. They meant nothing to him, and everything. 'Who requested this?' He knew, but he wanted to hear.

'It was a written request, sir. Signed by Mr Isaacs.'

Mirabeau was nervous. He had dreamed of a chance like this to interact with the upper echelons, but this was not what he had envisioned. He wanted terribly to please McMasters, but not at the expense of getting in trouble with Isaacs, another member of the ruling circle. He had not realized that McMasters's seemingly routine and innocuous request was going to put him in the position of spying on Isaacs. Every fibre of his being was attuned to sensing the desires of his superiors and satisfying them. He was in agony at the thought that he could not please one of these men without incurring the displeasure of the other.

'Can you put a trace on this material?' McMasters put a finger on the list in front of him.

'But it's been deactivated again,' Mirabeau protested, but then the light of understanding spread over his face, and his admiration for McMasters increased. 'Oh, I see. You think a copy was kept out.'

'Precisely,' McMasters replied.

The young man concentrated for a moment.

'The file names will have been changed, so a search for them would be pointless. There is no simple way to search for this material, but I can do a sampling of running jobs to search for particular combinations of data and instructions that occur in these files.'

'I want to know when this material is used, and by whom,' McMasters demanded.

'Yes, sir.'

'That's all.'

'Yes, sir.' The young man headed for the door.

'Oh, Mirabeau.'

'Sir,' he replied, swivelling quickly.

'Not a word of this to Isaacs, or his associates.'

The young man smiled with relief.

'No, sir, of course not, sir.' That solved his problem of divided allegiance. Now he was acting under direct orders. He gave a brief bow towards McMasters and then shut the door behind him.

Saturday morning Isaacs paced up and down in front of the check-in counter at Dunes. He felt unmoored, detached from the bearings that had given him stability for almost two decades of his career. He was desperate to get on with this quest, but awash with anxiety over the risks he was taking, risks he had convinced Pat Danielson to share. And now she was late. He stopped to look at his watch and glance down the passageway towards the main terminal. He fought down the urge, born of frustration, to blame her tardiness on her womanhood. She didn't deserve that. She was too good, too responsible. She'd have some good excuse. He clinched his fist on the handle of the slim briefcase he carried and resumed his pacing.

He prayed that some glimmer of understanding, some hint of where to turn next, would come from his hurried unauthorized rump meeting with Jason. He feared that it would prove nothing but a scamper out onto a limb, with McMasters grinning, sharpening his saw. He rethought the steps he had taken, the precautions. He had done everything practical to minimize the chance that McMasters would stumble on to his resurrection of Project QUAKER, but the old bird was canny, there was no way to be absolutely sure. He jumped when the hand grasped his arm. He turned to see Pat Danielson's flushed, excited face.

'Bob Mr Isaacs.'

His irritation at her faded with the relief of her arrival and the infectious sparkle in her eyes.

'Right the first time.'

'Bob.' She touched his arm again, still animated. 'I'm sorry I'm late, but I've found something. I got up early to look over my calculations and then lost track of time.'

'We've got a couple of minutes. Let's Here.'

Isaacs looked around, then took her carry-on bag and led her to a vacant waiting area. As they sat, he inquired in a low voice, 'What have you got?'

'A prediction, I guess,' she almost whispered, leaning towards him. 'I've been running my programs since Wednesday, checking the position and phase of the signal. I can guess with fair accuracy where the signal will come to the surface each cycle.

'The question that has been preying on me is the sinking of the Stinson. That means something destructive can happen when the signal comes to the surface. So I asked myself, why aren't there reports of some destruction on land?'

'I wondered the same thing,' Isaacs remarked. 'One possibility is that much of the path falls along areas of relatively low population density. Maybe most of the time no one notices. Another factor is that we don't really know what to expect. Sporadic reports of strange events could easily be overlooked in the undeveloped countries, even here in the United States.'

'Exactly,' nodded Danielson. 'But occasionally the phenomenon should surface in a region of high population density. That would increase the probability of someone noticing something.'

Isaacs raised a quizzical eyebrow.

'Four days from now, it should come up in Nagasaki about 11:13 in the morning local time,' said Danielson flatly. 'That's 9:13 Wednesday evening, our time. And nineteen days later, July 26, it will surface in Dallas about midnight.'

Isaacs leaned back and looked at her.

'How well can you pinpoint the location?'

'There are uncertainties in the period and location from the seismic data alone, but those are big, sprawling cities. I am reasonably sure there will be a surfacing somewhere within their boundaries.'

Isaacs turned to look out of the window, staring past the aeroplanes arrayed on the tarmac.

'Would it help you to have some of the Navy data?'

'Yes, sir, even just one or two recent high precision locations would allow me to calibrate my curves. We might be able to pin down the site within.' She paused to think. 'Well, maybe a few hundred metres to a kilometre.'

'I may be able to get that,' said Isaacs intently, returning his gaze to her. 'It's very short notice, but I may also be able to get some satellite time to monitor the area in Nagasaki.' He mulled the chances of contacting an agent in Nagasaki who could make an on-the-spot observation, without tipping his hand to others in the Agency.

'Okay, Pat, that's good work. When we get back, I'll try to get some of the Navy information so you can refine your estimates.'

'Aren't you going to have to tell McMasters, to issue a warning to Nagasaki ?'

'We're still on shaky ground here. I'm hoping we can gain enough information on the Nagasaki event that we can go above board in time for Dallas. And with luck, this trip to Jason may give us some insight into the whole mess.'

Danielson looked uncertain, but then their flight was called and they had to queue up to board.

During lunch on the plane, Danielson queried Isaacs about the nature of the group with whom they would meet.

'These people who serve on Jason how are they selected?'

Isaacs paused to swallow a bite of gravy-swathed grey meat.

'Well, they operate under the auspices of the Secretary of Defence as you know. They're quite autonomous though and select their own members. The idea is, I suppose, that they themselves are the best judges of whatever arcane talent is required to participate in a general-purpose think tank. They receive the standard security clearance, but the hard part is getting elected a single no-vote eliminates a prospective member.'

'They don't have any particular framing at defence work?'

'No, they're just required to be the very best in their chosen area of science.'

'How many people are we talking about then?'

'Thirty some. But we'll only see a small group of individuals who may have some particular expertise to bring to our problem.'

'So all these great brains spend their summer vacations worrying about whatever problems are dished up to them.'

'That's about the size of it.'

'And they always meet in the same place this Bishop's School?'

'Generally, yes. The grounds of the school are cloistered and secure. And, of course, La Jolla is a very congenial place to be in the summer. I believe some members rent houses in town, but most of them move right into the dorms. They're converted into combination living and working areas. I guess I see the sense to it. You take a bunch of very bright people and make them comfortable in an environment where they can concentrate and interact without interruption. In any case, it seems to work. Jason has a long record of developing significant ideas and cracking hard problems.'

'I'm sure.' Danielson poked at the food on her tray. 'I find it an ironic mix, innocent little Episcopalian school girls during the school year and great scientists weighing the fate of mankind during summer vacation.'

'I suppose,' Isaacs replied.

'If you don't mind me asking,' Danielson continued, 'I'm curious as to how you could set up a meeting with them so quickly. I would have thought there were all sorts of channels to go through.'

'Normally you're right,' Isaacs assented. 'Another piece of the tightrope we're walking. I've dealt with them before, through those official procedures. I took the chance of calling Professor Plumps: he runs Jason now, a pleasant fellow, I think you'll like him. I hinted at the emergency and let him know this was something informal, something I am doing on my own recognizance, on a weekend like this. Of course, I couldn't come right out and tell him about McMasters's prohibition. We'll have to trust his discretion. I'm pretty sure Phillips is okay. I don't know the others personally. We'll just have to hope.'

He cast her a worried glance.

'Pat, I am concerned about this trip. I hate exposing us, you in particular, but we need some help, some idea of what's going on.' He poked at his green beans then went on. 'Frankly, even without the risk, I always have mixed feelings with these people. Individually and collectively they're very bright. They have an excellent track record for making progress on seemingly intractable problems, like ours, and the fact that they do serve on Jason gives us something in common, I suppose. But I can't help thinking they're still academics. The fact that they choose that sort of life, rather than committing themselves to the front line like some of us are compelled to do, means we have a different mindset. A basically different view of the world, life.'

He shrugged.

'I think I understand,' Danielson said. 'I guess I'm pretty nervous meeting with them for another reason, but it's related. I've never had to do any Agency business in public, outside of Langley, except for that liaison with the Cambridge Research Lab, but that was just work. Now I've got to try to explain what I've done, what I've been thinking, to professional scientists, framed sceptics. It's a little frightening.'

He looked her seriously in the eyes.

'You know your stuff,' he said confidently. 'Don't worry on that account.'

A passing stewardess eyed their trays. They concentrated once more on the food before them. After-lunch, Danielson extracted her case from beneath the seat in front of her and reviewed her notes one more time.

At the Son Diego airport Isaacs called ahead to announce their arrival, then they picked up a rental car and got on the freeway headed north, passing between steep hillocks on either side. Only the tang in the airstream through a partially opened window gave evidence of the nearby Pacific. They turned off the freeway and headed uphill to the west. The crest brought a panoramic view of a sweep of coastline to the right, broken in mid-arc by the jut of Scripps pier. To the left the town of La Jolla snuggled around the hillside and down to the sea. In another few minutes they turned into the gateway of the Bishop's School for Girls, nestled a short distance from the commercial centre of La Jolla.

As they got out of the car, Wayne Plumps called to them. Isaacs and Plumps greeted one another with refined congeniality. Plumps, a Harvard physicist, was, at 68, the senior member and current head of Jason. Like many atlas generation he had nurtured his career both in physics and in defence-related matters on the Manhattan Project during World War 11. A contributor to a wide variety of fields, he was best known for his work on nuclear physics which had earned him a share of a Nobel Prize.

His physique conceded something to age, but Phillips's rangy build still extended to nearly six feet. His thick grey hair was balding, but not exceedingly so. The lock of hair in the middle of his forehead gave the effect of a high rise widow's peak. His longish face displayed kindly blue eyes underscored by pronounced bags. Plumps had come from a monied eastern family and had been raised in style. Although he was among the most highly respected of his colleagues, he had long been regarded as a pariah by some members of his family for not devoting his life to the disbursement of the extensive family trust funds.

Isaacs introduced Danielson to Phillips and they chatted as they moved off down the walk and into a nearby building. Danielson warmed immediately to the physicist's courtly manner which belied his aggressive intellect.

They entered one of the dormitories. The bulletin board in the foyer bore outdated reminders of the school-term occupants. Freshly scattered around were announcements of classes and various activities. In a lower corner, neatly aligned but yellowed with age, was a detailed list of covenants applicable to proper young school girls.

Plumps gestured for Isaacs and Danielson to ascend the stairway which led from the foyer. At the top they paused while Plumps caught up with them and led the way down a hall. At midpoint he stopped, rapped once on the door, then turned the knob and stepped back to usher them in.

The furnishings of the room they entered looked all out of place. After a moment's reflection, Danielson realized that it was a regular dormitory room converted for the summer into an office. The beds had been removed and replaced by a large serviceable desk which stood against the left wall, littered with papers and books. A comfortable old sofa had been shoehorned in beneath the windows opposite, and along the right wall stood a roller-footed portable blackboard. Next to the blackboard a partially opened door revealed a compact lavatory. Extra chairs were placed randomly, adding to the sense of clutter.

Two men sat on the sofa. Isaacs recognized one as Ellison Gantt, the distinguished seismologist from Caltech who had been instrumental in planning the large seismic array. Gantt had receding grey hair and wore dark-framed glasses. His jowls and chin were beginning to sag. The two men rose and Phillips introduced them. The other was Vladimir Zicek from Columbia , one of the world's experts on lasers. Danielson was unsure she would recognize Gantt if she were to bump into him on the street later: he looked like so many other grey, middle-aged men. In a coat and tie he could have passed anywhere as a business executive. Zicek was more distinctive. He was rather small in stature with sharp features and hair combed straight back from his forehead. There was a friendly twinkle in his eyes and his polite continental manner appealed to her. Phillips addressed Gantt.

'Ellison, you're our host here today. Would you amid assembling the others?'

'Of course. Let's see it's Leems, Runyan, Noldt, and Fletcher, isn't it?'

'That's right,' acknowledged Plumps.

Gantt moved into the hallway. Plumps offered Danielson a seat on the sofa, which she took. She realized it put her in full direct view of each new arrival, and she watched with amusement as they filed in over the next several minutes. Each reacted with various degrees of surprise to find an attractive female in the retinue.

Isaacs remained standing, fidgeting at the delay which would be barely excusable by regimented CIA standards. They were all assembled in a few minutes, however. Isaacs conceded even that was admirable for a bunch of prima donna college professors.

Plumps courteously introduced each new arrival and Isaacs checked them off against the files he had studied. earl Fletcher and Ted Noldt arrived together. They were experts in high energy particle physics. Fletcher, a theorist from Princeton , Noldt, an experimentalist from Stanford. They both were in their middle thirties, friends from graduate school. Fletcher was of medium height with shaggy brown hair. He had quick dark eyes set in a square face with the gaunt, tanned cheeks of a long-distance runner. Noldt was a bit taller, but blond and pudgy. A crooked grin and glasses gave him the look of a good-humoured owl.

Harvey Leems, a solid-state physicist from Berkeley , followed in a minute. Leems was tall and bald. His thick, rimless glasses diminished his eyes and contributed to a sour look. He greeted Isaacs and Danielson with a quick nod.

Gantt returned lugging a slide projector and screen which he proceeded to arrange. Last to arrive was Alexander Runyan, an astrophysicist from Minnesota. Runyan's raw boned frame ran three inches over six feet. Danielson watched him come through the door and stop to be introduced to Isaacs. He was wearing a T-shirt that showed a slight paunch, cut-offs, and flip-flop thongs. He moved slowly, almost shambled, but Danielson sensed in him an energy that could be quickly galvanized. A dark beard going salt-and-pepper, particularly at the sideburns, covered a face she thought might be handsome if she could see it all. He turned towards her then, gave a look of surprise and delight and whipped off the glasses he'd been wearing. He stepped across the room and introduced himself, shaking Danielson's hand and giving her a warm smile. His eyes were light grey or green, hidden in a perpetual sun squint that melded easily into his smile. He squeezed between Danielson and Zicek on the sofa. There was an exchange of knowing looks among the scientists. If there were an attractive woman in the crowd, Runyan would be at her side pouring on the charm.

Phillips moved to the small, clear area before the projection screen which Gantt had placed in front of the lavatory door.

'Gentlemen,' he began, 'we are pleased to welcome Mr Isaacs and Dr Danielson from the Central Intelligence Agency. They have an interesting problem to set before us. It's not on our formal agenda, but I've promised Mr Isaacs we'll lend what insight we can. They'll present us with some details and then lead a general discussion to explore the nature of the situation. Mr Isaacs.'

'Thank you. Professor Phillips,' Isaacs began, looking around the room. 'I want to thank you all for giving up your Saturday afternoon on such short notice. As you will see, we are dealing with a problem so foreign to our experience, that any hint of how to proceed will be most useful.'

Isaacs spent ten minutes giving a general but concise review of the surveillance role of the CIA and the parallel operation in AFTAC with particular stress on the capabilities of the Large Seismic Array and the undersea acoustic monitors. He also described the role of the Office of Scientific Intelligence in guiding and interpreting the surveillance missions. He then turned the floor over to Danielson.

Although nervous, Danielson had maintained her demeanour while watching the group file in. Butterflies struck in earnest, however, as she listened to Isaacs. She was intent on giving a professional presentation. She knew intellectually that she was well versed in her subject, but her emotional reaction was tainted by the knowledge that she, as a woman and an engineer, was about to stand up before an audience of male physicists considered the best in their fields.

As she stepped around next to the projector, she was vividly aware that the all male group was equally conscious of her sex. Her voice broke slightly as she began, and she spoke her first few introductory sentences at a low volume which scarcely carried over the faint traffic noise from the window.

'A little louder for those of us who are hard of hearing, please Dr Danielson.'

The admonition came from Plumps, but it was delivered with a warm supportive smile. Danielson heartened and her tone strengthened. She turned on the first slide which drew her attention away from the audience and to her subject matter. Soon she was caught up in the precise intricate web of analysis which, through her deep involvement, was an extension of her own personality.

Danielson's reading of her small audience was largely accurate. Before she began to speak and establish some grounds for an intellectual bond, the instinctive response was to react to her as a female. Not a man in the room failed to run a glance from her softly curled hair down to trim ankles and back and say to himself, 'not your standard CIA type' or variations on that theme. There was a communal embarrassment and the reinforcement of some prejudice as she began so softly, but by and large they were a sophisticated and open-minded group prepared to relate on an intellectual level. Once Danielson got involved in her subject, she commanded their attention, and a growing respect. When she reached her major point, that the seismic signal kept sidereal time, time with the stars, there was a muffled commotion of gestures and excitedly whispered comments that told Danielson that she had established the desired rapport with her audience.

When Danielson finished, Ellison Gantt spoke from his seat in the swivel chair at the desk.

'This is a very strange situation, but let me say for the information of my colleagues that Dr Danielson seems to have a good command of the basics of seismology in general and the nature of the Large Seismic Array in particular. I'd like a chance to study the data she's presented in more detail, but at first sight I have to concur that the signal's a genuine one. I've never seen one like it. It's certainly not the result of normal seismological activity.'

Danielson knew Gantt by reputation. She was pleased by his gesture of support.

Harvey Leems spoke up from his seat near the door. 'Do you have other independent evidence of the existence of this phenomenon something other than this seismological record, that is?'

'Yes, let me speak to that,' replied Isaacs. 'The seismic data is crucial because it told us that something systematic was occurring and led us to look for corroborative evidence. That's the other half of the story.'

He gave a quick smile and nodded at Danielson. As he rose, she took his chair which was more convenient than the sofa. The remnant state of intense nervous involvement with her own presentation persisted. Several minutes passed before she could concentrate adequately on Isaacs's remarks. Isaacs outlined the associated sonar data and the behaviour it portrayed. Whereas the seismic signal was lost in the mantle, the sonar signal proceeded along the extrapolated path to the ocean surface, disappeared for about forty seconds and then retraced its path to the ocean bottom where the seismic signal was picked up once more.

'On the basis of such data,' Isaacs continued, 'about three weeks ago a Navy destroyer was sent to investigate a site of the predicted surfacings. At its first station it recorded and relayed a signal typical of the one I just described. It then took up a position near a second predicted point of surfacing.'

Isaacs paused and looked around at his audience. 'Our data is incomplete, but at approximately the predicted time of surfacing, the ship exploded, capsized and sank. Two hundred thirty-six of the crew were lost.'

Most of the men to whom he spoke stared down at their hands or off to various spots in the room. Only Leems and Runyan kept their eyes on Isaacs.

'There's some evidence that the turbines exploded. There's no proof that the sinking of the ship was related to its mission, but the circumstantial evidence and other events suggest to me that that possibility must be strongly considered.

'We have seen in hindsight that a related event probably occurred to the Soviet aircraft carrier Novorossiisk last April. It was in the Mediterranean on the trajectory Dr Danielson described and at the right time, as nearly as we can tell. Something punctured a small hole through it vertically a few millimetres to a centimetre across and triggered extensive fire damage. There was an associated sonar signal. We suggested a meteorite, but the Soviets rejected the idea: we're not sure why. In any case, that event began an escalating and very dangerous conflict with the Soviets. We needn't go into that here, but to say that the Soviets mistakenly blamed us for the damage to the carrier. Besides direct physical damage, ignorance of the true nature of this phenomenon threatens us with other indirectly related, but very real perils.'

Isaacs paused and scanned around the group.

'It's imperative that we understand this phenomenon for its intrinsic menace, and to contain this related confrontation with the Soviets.'

He looked at them again, satisfied he had made the point. 'To summarize the picture we currently have, then,' said Isaacs, 'some influence moves along a line fixed in space. It travels through the earth or the ocean where its passage can be detected with seismographs or sonar, respectively. It seems to reverse just above the earth's surface and then return on a parallel path. There is evidence that this influence is responsible for puncturing a hole several millimetres across through solid steel. And there is every reason to think that it is something that is an immediate threat to life and property and, indirectly, to our political stability.'

Leems had listened carefully to this extended reply to his first question and raised another.

'If this phenomenon is as dangerous as you indicate, why haven't there been widespread reports of damage? If it really surfaces regularly, that's about eighteen times a day somewhere on earth.'

'I agree that's a point of interest,' replied Isaacs, 'and Dr Danielson has had another important insight in that regard which she just told me about this morning. We think the answer is that, for the most part, the damage is of a curiously limited nature, and the locus on the earth's surface passes through relatively sparsely occupied territory. You've noticed, I suppose, that we are very nearly on the track here in La Jolla. From Son Diego the path stretches across the southwest United States , where there are few people, although it does pass through Dallas/Fort Worth. The southeast United States is also not too densely populated. The nearest big cities to the path are Macon , Georgia and Charleston , South Carolina , both somewhat to the north. From there the path goes across the Atlantic, intersecting Africa south of Casablanca then cutting across North Africa and into the Mediterranean. It passes through the Middle East, but again misses the big cities, going south of Haifa and Esfahan. From there it goes across Afghanistan and Pakistan and through the Himalayas. The path cuts through the heart of China , but misses major population centres. If there were incidents in the rural areas there, as for many of the other affected countries, we might very well hear nothing of it. The path intersects Nagasaki and then proceeds across the Pacific. The story is very much the same for the locus in the southern hemisphere. Lots of ocean, relatively little population density.

'So I suspect most events go unobserved, and that many which are observed go unreported. The probability of a surfacing twice in the same place is small. To any single witness it would be an isolated event with little meaning.

'What Dr Danielson has pointed out is that the seismic signal should come up within a region of high population density occasionally, increasing the chances of observing some associated phenomena. She predicts that the trajectory of the seismic wave will intersect a position within the city of Nagasaki this coming Thursday, July 8, Japanese time. On July 26 a similar event should take place in Dallas.'

'Well, you clearly want to put some observers at those sites,' said Leems, coldly. 'Aren't you jumping the "gun, talking to us now without that data?'

Isaacs stared at Leems for a long moment, then replied in an equally cool tone. 'As I said, the predictions were made after this trip was scheduled. I'm hoping the events which have already transpired will give you some clue to tell us what to look for.'

'Well, what about this business of sidereal time then: what do you make of that?' asked Gantt, attempting to head off Leems's negativism.

'That's one of the crucial issues we would like to raise with this group,' Isaacs replied to him. 'The timing seems to be so special that it must be an important clue, but we haven't been able to utilize it. Perhaps we could get some comment now from you.' He swung his hand in invitation around the room.

'Well, Alex what the hell?' Gantt turned to address Runyan on the sofa.

Runyan scratched his thick beard. 'I'm working on it,' he replied in a testy tone overlaid with humour, picking up the cue from Gantt. There was a general chuckle. 'The sidereal tune would normally indicate an extraterrestrial source. That seems outlandish in this context, but I guess we should kick it around. I deduce we're under attack by an extraterrestrial army stationed on Alpha Cancri aiming tachyonic earthquake beams at us.' The chuckles turned to guffaws. Isaacs smiled wryly, recalling his own fatigued fantasy.

Noldt asked, 'How about a Jupiter effect? Is there an alignment of planets that would cause a tidal or some other effect which would be associated with a fixed direction in the sky?'

'Jupiter effect?' Isaacs queried and Gantt turned to answer him.

'The Jupiter effect is supposed to be a terrestrial upheaval associated with an alignment of the great planets every two hundred years. One version has it that this alignment causes solar storms which eject particles affecting the polar atmosphere. Associated changes in air pressure are supposed to trigger earthquakes.'

'I don't believe any of that,' Gantt went on, 'and have even more difficulty seeing how it could enter here. The regular tides should swamp any such effect. I suppose this might be a resonance of some kind, but it would have to be completely unprecedented.'

'Where's Jupiter now?' asked Runyan. 'Would you have noticed a change due to its motion over the time base you have?'

Isaacs deferred to Danielson. 'Jupiter is about forty degrees away from the direction we're talking about,' Danielson replied. 'That may not mean anything if a resonance is involved. A preferred direction that's a mean of the moon and the sun and Jupiter might be involved. Over the last three months the earth has moved far enough to rule out a preferred direction with respect to the sun, but Jupiter moves more slowly. I'm not sure we could rule that out.'

'Jupiter would have moved through two or three degrees,' Runyan stated, having done a quick mental calculation.

'That's a shift of over a hundred miles along the earth's surface,' Danielson replied. 'If that's the case, we can just about eliminate the possibility of alignment of the trajectory we see with the position of Jupiter.'

Runyan continued thinking out loud. 'The twenty-three degree angle of the earth's equator with respect to the ecliptic is purely random there's no other solar system or astronomical connection ruling out the accidental location of Polaris. A fixed angle of thirty-three degrees with respect to the earth's equator means even less. This thing has to be basically terrestrial. And yet sidereal. I'll put it back to Ellison. What the hell?'

'How do you know the Russians aren't behind this somehow?' Leems asked. 'It seems like some kind of beam technology could be involved, and they invented the techniques. A satellite could be rigged to fire at a precise point in orbit so that it would look as if it always fired from the same position with respect to the stars. As Alex just said, terrestrial, but sidereal. They might do such a thing just to throw us off the mark. I point out that the eighty minute period you report is very close to the time for a satellite to orbit the earth.'

'That's short, though, Harvey ,' said Runyan. 'A satellite takes closer to ninety minutes.'

'Use an array of satellites then.' He turned to Isaacs.

'You have checked the location of Russian satellites, haven't you?'

'No, that hadn't occurred to me -'

'I'm sure you'll remedy that oversight at the first opportunity, ' Leems interrupted.

Isaacs gritted his teeth and Danielson came to his defence.

'But that doesn't make any sense,' she said. 'Why would they use any such weapon on their own ship? And wouldn't we know if they had some technique for generating seismic tremors deep inside the earth?'

'I don't suppose we know everything the Russians are up to,' said Leems with a patronizing tone. 'Perhaps they shot their own ship to embroil us in the very scandal you alluded to.'

Danielson leaned slowly back in her chair, her face flushed. Isaacs shook his head slowly.

Quiet fell on the group momentarily, then Fletcher spoke. 'Alex, you were joking a while ago, but it got me thinking.' He looked around at his colleagues. 'Apparently, none of us can propose a natural explanation to account for the evidence presented: the seismic signals, the sonar signals, the suggestion that something is boring small holes through the earth itself. I can't buy Harvey 's suggestion that it is some Russian plot. There are too many weird aspects. I think we must seriously consider another possibility. Suppose that we aren't dealing with either a natural or a man-made phenomenon?' A deep silence filled the room. 'Suppose there is a, well, an external intelligence behind this?'

The silence continued as Fletcher's words probed a queasy, sensitive spot in each member of Jason. Trained as scientists, they sought to explain the world around them with the simplest rational extension of previous knowledge, but each knew their knowledge had bounds, limits. Each knew the rules of the game could be changed and their carefully honed intuition would be of little use. Each looked for and craved a simple solution, but each knew there was a chance, however small, that Fletcher could be right. They could be facing a situation so fundamentally different than anything they had encountered previously that their training and experience could be meaningless.

'Are you suggesting that there's an extraterrestrial intent behind these occurrences?' asked Plumps. His tone was incredulous. There were mutterings of dissatisfaction around the room.

'None of us here are UFO fanatics,' pressed Fletcher, 'least of all me. But we all know you can't prove a negative; we can't prove other intelligent civilizations don't exist. We know there are a few standard clich concerning how such civilizations are to be discovered, radio emissions and all that. But I convinced myself long ago that guessing at the character of an extraterrestrial civilization by extrapolating the human condition is an exercise in futility. We have no basis for estimating the sociological and cultural evolution of an alien society even if we all obey the same physics.

'All I want to do is to raise the possibility. If we can rationally rule it out, or develop a preferred alternative, then so be it.'

'It doesn't make sense,' proclaimed Ted Noldt. 'If there were an intelligence at work, we should be able to discern a purpose. What we've heard about here, holes drilled through ships, is no benign attempt at communication. It's certainly not overwhelmingly destructive either, an overt act of aggression. What could the purpose possibly be?'

'That's just my point,' retorted Fletcher. 'You're not asking a question of physics, but one of motivation. I submit we're unlikely to fathom any but the most transparent of motives as you said, peaceful communication or war. The true possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. Suppose they're prospecting? Suppose we're seeing the effect of some probe and our existence here is totally immaterial to them? We could be like an anthill which is accidentally in the way of a geologist's test well as he searches for oil. Your first reaction was to think they must be for us or against us. Maybe they don't give a damn.

'Or maybe it's a test,' Fletcher continued, trying to think of unorthodox possibilities. 'Maybe we're dealing with a bunch of extraterrestrial behavioural psychologists who just want to provoke us in a certain way and study our reactions.' Fletcher looked from man to man, defensive but determined to make his point.

'How can we possibly know what their purpose is? I certainly don't.'

Ellison Gantt then spoke up. 'l. think earl feels backed into a corner. Let me take a different tack. I agree with him that we should at least consider this possibility, and that an attempt to fathom motives may be premature. Suppose we assume for the moment that some influence is being boomed at us from a fixed point in space. Is there any way to determine what that influence is and where it's coming from? Could it be something with which we are basically familiar, like a laser or a particle beam?'

'I can speak to that. In fact, I'd been mulling over that very question,' said Vladimir Zicek, his speech hissing with East European sibilants. 'Any orthodox beam device would have a different signature than what has been described here. That is, one can imagine boring a hole from one side of the earth to the other with an exceedingly powerful beam, but one of the characteristics of the present phenomenon is that for half the cycle it goes from north to south, but on the other half it proceeds in the opposite direction. No external beam can do that. A beam must always propagate away from its source.'

'Hmmm, perhaps not a beam in that sense then,' said Fletcher thoughtfully. 'What if some focusing principle is involved? A diffuse source of energy which is brought to a concentrated focus along a certain path. Maybe the source of energy isn't along the line of the trajectory, but transverse to it.'

Fletcher lifted an imaginary rifle to his shoulder and strafed back and forth a few times. Several of those along his line of sight lunched involuntarily. Fletcher stopped squinting through the sight.

'Maybe a neutrino beam?'

There were several loud voices raised in simultaneous assent and dissent. A general hubbub ensued.

Wayne Plumps sensed that it was necessary to assimilate all that they had heard and called for quiet.

'Perhaps this is a good time to take a break for refreshments, ' he said. 'Let's resume our deliberations in half an hour.'

Against a rising background of chatter, the group stood, filed into the hall and down the stairs to a room where coffee, tea, and some cookies were set out.

Phillips escorted Isaacs and Danielson as they queued up. He made a small ceremony of preparing a cup of coffee for Danielson, ensuring she had the desired ingredients, a couple of cookies, and a napkin. She thanked him and then moved off by herself, motivated partly by a desire to be alone to contemplate the afternoon's developments and partly by a suspicion that Isaacs and Plumps would appreciate a chance to converse privately. She stood by a window looking over the parking lot and the playing field beyond, cradling her cup and saucer and munching on the cookies.

'That's crazy,' she heard Leems's voice rising disdainfully over the chatter. 'All the more reason to look to satellites in orbit, one to fire one direction, and another to fire a return shot in the opposite direction. That would solve Zicek's objection.'

A bit later she made out Runyan in a more conversational tone.

' good idea, Carl, couldn't hurt to have astronomers look in that direction. Very deep photographs taken with telescopes on Mauna Kea and in Chile. Who knows what we might see. Maybe I'll call some friends, see what they can do.'

Runyan, speaking to earl Fletcher and Ted Noldt, lowered his voice to a conspiratorial level.

'In fact, the first step is to make sure I have the precise coordinates.'

He winked at them and crossed over towards where Danielson was standing, his thongs flapping on the floor.

Fletcher leaned over to whisper to Noldt.

'Doesn't take him long, does it?'

Noldt smiled into his coffee and shook his head.

As Runyan approached her, Danielson finished her last cookie and wiped her fingers awkwardly on the napkin which she held under the saucer. The gesture attracted Runyan's eyes to her waist where she held the cup. Out of habit, his gaze continued down her legs and then back past her breasts to her face which was in profile to him. Taking pleasure from the innocent voyeurism, he stopped at arm's length from her.

'A pretty little problem you've posed for us here.'

Danielson turned, a reflex smile of recognition brightening her face. She took a sip of cooling coffee and glanced out the window before replying.

'I thought we were on to something significant from the beginning, but I have to confess I don't know what to make of some of the ideas we just heard.' She faced him again. 'Beams from outer space. Could that possibly be true?'

'What do you think?'

She laughed lightly, chiding herself.

'I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind that possibility had been flitting around since I first discovered the fixed orientation in space. I've been refusing to recognize it because it seems so outrageous, but not unthinkable.'

'I suspect most of us feel the same way,' he returned her laugh and laid two fingers on her forearm, a small intimate gesture. 'But we're taking a break here. Tell me about yourself. How did you get into the intelligence game?'

Danielson looked down at his hand. The fingers were those of a craftsman, large and gnarled, ungainly to look at, but capable of deft, intricate movement. She raised her eyes to his face and enjoyed the way his grey-green eyes reflected a sense of humour and well-being.

'Not much to tell -' she began.

While Runyan entertained Danielson with small talk, Isaacs and Plumps discussed the developments of the afternoon and their options for the remainder of the day. Isaacs was not pleased by any of the ideas he had heard. Plumps suggested gently that they should allow the brain storming to continue until they either ran out of ideas or found one on which there was some consensus. They were interrupted by a woman who announced a phone call for Isaacs. He raised his eyebrows at Plumps and followed the woman out.

He returned several minutes later and headed for Danielson, his face grim. He interrupted Runyan in the middle of a funny story, and addressed Danielson.

'There's an emergency,' he said brusquely. 'We've got to get back to Washington.'

As Danielson looked at Runyan with uncertainty, Isaacs turned to Phillips.

'I'm very sorry, but we must go. Something has come up. I'm grateful for your time today.'

'We're happy to be of service, of course. Your problem has intrigued us, and I'm sure we'll continue to discuss it.' 'I hope you will. I'll be in touch as soon as I can.'

Isaacs hustled Danielson around as they gathered up their things and escorted her to the car.

He drove quickly in great concentration for several minutes until he was sure of his course. Then he glanced at her.

'That was Bill Bans. The Russians have made their next move. They've surrounded our nuclear satellite with a pack of hunter-killer satellites.'

'What will they do?'

'Not clear. Bans has called the crisis team for this afternoon to try to get the basic facts together. We'll meet again first thing tomorrow morning and try to anticipate them. If they hold off that long. Damn! McMasters will wonder where the hell I am.'

He drove in silence again for a while.

'That was a very good presentation you gave today,' he said, keeping his eyes on the road. 'You convinced them we've got a real problem. And thanks for coming to my defence when that bastard Leems got on my back.'

'This can't really be a Russian weapon, can it?' she asked. 'Sure doesn't smell right to me, but we should check satellite locations just as Leems said.'

Danielson began to contemplate how she could obtain and sort Soviet satellite positions. They were quiet the rest of the way to the airport.

There were problems getting their reservations changed. They spent an hour and a half in the terminal amid crowds that prevented any discussion of their mission. Danielson could tell Isaacs was tense and fretful. The visit with the Jason team had been intriguing, but inconclusive, and the move of the Russians had caught him up short. If he had been in Washington he would have assembled the crisis team, not left it to Saris. Danielson sympathized with the anxiety she knew Isaacs felt. CIA officials had a right in principle to their free time, but they had better be on the spot when an emergency cropped up, never mind off on another coast suborning Agency policy. Danielson felt exposed herself.

The only seats they could get were several rows apart in the crowded midsection of the red-eye flight. Jet lag and strain caught up with Danielson. She napped most of the way. Isaacs was trapped between a talkative matron and a young mother, squirmy babe in lap. He stared grimly ahead through the whole flight, trying in his fatigue to think.

Chapter 7 | The Krone Experiment | Chapter 9