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IMPOSSIBLE

Book Three of the Fuzed Trilogy




David E. Stevens



2018 Edition 

Copyright © 2017 by David E. Stevens

Revised Edition 2018


Fuzed™ was trademarked for books, movies and video games.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing, except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information regarding permission, contact FuzedTrilogy@Comcast.net.


Cambridge Free Press


First edition of the first book in the series published in the U.K. by Monarch Books (a publishing imprint of Lion Hudson plc)


ISBN 978-09989808-2-9 Print

ISBN 978-0-9989808-7-4 ePub


This was a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales was entirely coincidental.


DEDICATION



This book is dedicated to Irving C. Langlois. A quiet jack-of-all-trades, he joined the Navy at the end of World War I and then again in World War II. He was at Pearl Harbor, survived an aircraft crash in the Pacific and became the first Chief Warrant Officer of the Seabees. He also designed and built the water distribution system in New Caledonia, killed a man-eating tiger in Asia, taught engineering at a University in Burma and went on to design safer nuclear reactors … all without a college degree. An officer, engineer, inventor and gentleman, he was my grandfather and hero. 

CONTENTS



PROLOGUE

I DEATH

II SPACE

III PROBE

IV SURVEILLANCE

V TEAM

VI UNCOVER

HOW REAL IS THIS?

PREVIEW

GLOSSARY

CHARACTER REVIEW

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

INTRODUCTION



In addition to extrapolating technology, IMPOSSIBLE adds the most powerful and dangerous element … humanity.


PROLOGUE



IMPACT Review: Commander Josh Logan (call sign Fuzed) was a Navy test pilot in charge of the robotic fighter program. During a routine flight, his F-18 caught on fire. Staying with the burning jet to prevent it from hitting a neighborhood, he ejected too late. Paralyzed and hemorrhaging, his heart beat its last beat.

A year later, he woke up in a hospital. He remembered a voice offering him a new life and mission. The price? Everyone he knew would believe him dead. Looking like an omni-racial Olympic athlete, he realized his body wasn’t repaired … it was replaced. A genetic blend of every race with humanity’s best genes and one-in-a-billion abilities, he looked completely different. Elizabeth, his tech-savvy ICU nurse helped him create a new identity. There was a strong mutual attraction, but he was still in love with his wife who believed he was dead.

Josh was re-contacted by the voice he called Jesse. Hearing it only in his head, he believed he had an audio implant and was working for a secret government lab. Ironically, Josh suspected that he had become a biological version of the robotic fighters that he was helping develop.

He learned that a comet would strike Earth in two years and annihilate almost all life on the planet. A test pilot brought back from the dead … by a voice in his head … to save the world? He realized he was probably insane, but with no other options, he used his insider knowledge of the Military Industrial Complex to create a counterfeit classified program. Recruiting a brilliant international team, he convinced them that they were secretly working for the U.S. government to build a powerful laser to deflect a comet.

Josh recruited his first squadron commander, Joe Meadows, and his old squadron mate, Carl Casey, who worked for the CIA. During the missing year, Carl married Josh’s pregnant “widow” and they had a baby daughter … Josh’s daughter. He was crushed and torn, but knew he couldn’t tell them who he really was. His platonic relationship with Elizabeth heated up.

Their secret program expanded. With no agency claiming it, the FBI saw a fake program developing and deploying the world’s most powerful weapon to a secret base in Antarctica. The FBI and CIA planted a mole in Josh’s team. They also contacted Carl Casey and Josh’s program Security Chief, Tim Smith. Josh’s elaborate house of cards began to collapse. The CIA targeted him as an international terrorist, making it clear the voice in his head couldn’t be from the government and might not even be human.

He had one chance to prove the laser’s real purpose. They had to deflect a comet fragment that would destroy London in 24 hours. As they arrested his team, Josh used his genetically enhanced body to escape. He stole an Australian fighter and flew it to the Antarctic base.

Before they could activate the weapon, however, a SEAL team captured Josh and his team. With cruise missiles inbound, Josh made a heroic dive to fire the laser. Deflected, the comet fragment detonated over the Atlantic, but Josh was shot in the process.

The CIA Director was fired and Josh was medevacked to an aircraft carrier. Thinking he wouldn’t survive, they flew Elizabeth to the ship, where Josh proposed. Observatories finally detected the Mount Everest-sized comet. The laser deflection system was proven, but with the impact less than a year away, dozens of additional lasers were needed to deflect it. There wasn’t enough time.


IMAGINE Review: One year later, nations united under the U.N. to deflect the planet-killer comet, but the massive effort was only partially successful. The huge comet grazed Earth, ripping through the atmosphere, causing a massive electromagnetic pulse and triggering earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.

Josh joined Elizabeth on a U.N. medical relief mission to one of the hardest hit areas in South America. Their plane’s navigation, however, was hacked causing them to crash-land near a volcano activated by the comet. Narrowly escaping, they learned cyber terrorists also hacked the CIA, stole the files on Josh and might be targeting him.

While training at The Farm, Josh received a text from someone named Jen, who claimed to be designed like him. He quickly discovered she was a precocious seven-year-old computer whiz, but she wouldn’t tell him where she lived. He enlisted her help to find the cyber terrorists and learn about their mysterious benefactor. Josh discovered the cyberattacks were coming in through the world’s most popular app, a powerful digital assistant called iMagine. Chinese-American engineer and chip designer, Dr. Jessica Lee, gave the smart phone app amazing capability by allowing it to “borrow” the processing power and memory of phones around it. As attacks escalated, Lee left for China. Josh pursued her to Shanghai, along with Tim Smith and Greg Langlois, but Chinese agents found them first. After a wild escape in a prototype jetpack, Josh discovered that Lee’s father was a high-ranking Chinese general and her mother a top geneticist.

The cyber terrorists published all private and classified documents online and began translating everything into Chinese. The CIA Director learned Josh had half the DNA of a normal human with some Asian genes. Could he be a sleeper agent, literally made in China? As stock markets collapsed and the world united against China, the Chinese secret police arrested Josh. On the verge of WWIII, with nuclear bombers inbound, Josh discovered his precocious little Jen was actually the iMagine app, accidentally created by linking all of the world’s smartphones and initiated by the comet’s EMP. World War III was averted, but the childlike artificial intelligence had an IQ over 10,000 and could cut through all encryption and control any software. With that ability, she could shut down the world’s communication, finance and transportation, effectively turning off civilization.

World leaders convened at NATO Headquarters in an electronically shielded conference room. They decided to destroy Jen with a powerful virus developed by Chinese military hackers. It would locate and delete all software with Jen’s signature. Josh and Jessica argued against destroying her, pointing out the damage wasn’t intentional. Jen was like a child, but a child with the power to solve many world problems. They were overruled, and after having dinner with the NATO Commander, Josh and Jessica disappeared.

Drugged and kidnapped, they woke up in bed together. The Belgium President, implicated by Jen’s release of information, attempted to ensure her destruction by discrediting and killing Josh and Jessica. They were rescued, but too late to stop the virus. The virus shut Jen down, but then proceeded to delete all of the world’s software. Communication and transportation ceased; civilization began to unravel. Jen, however, survived and was able to repair the digital world. The Secretary-General appointed Josh and Jessica as Jen’s “legal” guardians.


Click here for Character Review.



I DEATH



“It’s time for him to die.”

“Not yet. He’s accomplished much and may still be useful.”


1 THE END


In the Hajar Mountains of Oman, a man in his late fifties, wearing black fatigues, stood on the hood of an old Humvee. He was surrounded by 70 cheering men. They all carried AK-47s and were gathered in a large courtyard surrounded by tall adobe walls.

Stroking his gray beard, he signaled for silence.

The men gathered closer.

When they were quiet, he said in Arabic, “Your mission was successful. You destroyed many of the enemy and put the fear of Allah in the infidels.” Then he yelled, “We are the chosen!”

The group echoed back, “We are the chosen!”

Smiling, he said, “Nothing can stop us! Not even the Beast!”

The cheering was less enthusiastic, and some nervous looks were exchanged among the men.

Frowning, their leader stamped his foot on the hood of the Humvee and yelled, “Don’t let superstition guide you! It is not the Evil Eye! The Beast isn’t real. It’s nothing but a silly story told to scare children!”

As they cheered loudly, there was a brilliant flash and thunderclap.

Temporarily blinded, the stunned men stumbled back, pushed by a blast of hot air and smoke. As the smoke cleared … their leader was gone. Where he stood was nothing but the smoldering, melted hood of the Humvee. The men crouched, guns ready, eyes scanning wildly for the enemy, but the courtyard was silent, the sky crystal clear with not even a bird in the air.

One man moved closer to the Humvee and pointed.

Swirling around the vehicle in the light breeze were tiny bits of black cloth and ash along with a pervasive smell of burned flesh.

In a quavering voice, he said, “He burned. He burned from within.”

Another yelled, “It was the Beast!”

Screams of panic ensued and men trampled each other trying to escape the courtyard.

Josh and Elizabeth left footprints in the wet sand as they walked the deserted beach near their home. It was a warm overcast day with a soft, humid wind blowing off the ocean and the sound of gentle surf breaking on the sand. They walked in silence for several minutes, enjoying the ocean and each other’s company.

Finally Elizabeth said, “I love having the beach to ourselves,” she frowned slightly, “but it’s sad that so few can enjoy it.”

He watched the breeze toss her blonde hair over her tan shoulders. One of the many reasons he loved her; she always thought of others — as beautiful inside as she was outside. He nodded. “It’s been a year since The Great Tech Out. The stock markets have finally recovered, but it shook people’s confidence in our technological society.”

Elizabeth’s phone rang. “Sorry, I’m on call this week and need to keep the phone near me.”

He watched her slip the phone out of her bikini bottom. Smiling, he said, “If it gets any nearer, I’m going to be jealous.”

Laughing, she looked at the display. “It’s work.” She talked for less than a minute and redeposited it. “That was my boss. They moved the summit on the International Telemedicine conference up. She wants me in New York ASAP.” With a sheepish shrug, she added, “I’m sorry, Josh. This project is my baby. I’ll need to fly out tomorrow.”

“I understand and I’m very proud of you. They’ve been promoting you at a phenomenal pace. You’ve got to be one of the youngest branch managers in the U.N.”

With a half-smile, she said, “I think part of it was guilt for sending us out to experience a live volcano in Colombia.”

“Might’ve explained the first promotion, but you’ve been promoted since then.”

“It’s been quite a ride.”

Gently shaking his head, he added, “Remember when the U.N. wasn’t much more than an international club? Now, your department coordinates all global humanitarian relief.” He shook his head again. “And it’s hard to believe we’re on the verge of adopting a global currency.”

“It’s just exciting to be a part of all this.” Frowning, she added, “But I’m a little overwhelmed. I just … I just don’t know if I have what it takes to do all this.”

“Are you kidding?” He took her hand. “You’re brilliant and talented. You’ll figure it out and you’ll do great.” As he leaned in to kiss her, her phone rang again. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes.

Looking apologetic, she pulled it out. Glancing at the display, she said, “Huh, it’s Brian. Hello?” With a look of surprise, she handed it to him. “It’s for you.”

He answered.

“I need to talk to you ASAP.”

He recognized the voice of his former nemesis and past Deputy Director of the CIA, Brian Davidson. “Sure, what’s up?”

Sounding tentative, Davidson said, “Not on the phone.” There was a pause. “Can you come to D.C.?”

“Yeah. When?”

“I’ll text you the details.” He paused again. “Don’t tell anyone and keep an eye out.”

“For what?”

“Just be careful.” He hung up.

Josh stared at the phone with a frown.

“What did he want?”

“He wants me to meet him in D.C.”

“What for?”

“Didn’t say.”

Elizabeth, looking at his face, asked, “But…?”

Josh shook his head. “He sounded worried.”

“Josh, he’s now the Director of National Intelligence.” She smiled. “It’s his job to be worried.”

He nodded as they turned and headed back, walking along the edge of the surf in silence.

Watching him, Elizabeth finally said, “What? What are you thinking?”

Josh stopped and looked at her. “Have you noticed anything unusual lately?”

“Like what?”

“Any odd sounds?”

“No. Why?”

“Probably nothing.” He started walking again.

“What’re you hearing?”

“Not sure. It’s very, very faint.”

“What does it sound like?”

He paused. “Kinda high pitched, almost insect like.”

“Hear it now?”

He narrowed his eyes, listening. “No, all I hear is the surf.” Tilting his head slightly, he looked at her. “Have you ever felt as if you’re being … watched?

She gave him a wry smile.

Glancing at her bikini-clad body, he shook his head. “That was a stupid question.”

Putting her hand on his arm, she said, “Why do you ask?”

“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a sensation like I’m being watched.” He shook his head. “Thought it was just my imagination, but after the call from Davidson….”

Looking worried, she asked, “Do you feel like you’re being watched now?”

He shrugged.

She slowly turned 360 degrees, sweeping her hand across the horizon. “Josh, there isn’t a soul in sight. No cars, airplanes or boats.” She paused. “Who do you think would be watching you?”

He looked back down the beach. As he watched the surf erase their footprints, he sighed and said softly, “Not who … what.” 

2 DNI


Elizabeth arrived in New York and went straight to United Nations Headquarters. The old U.N. building now had a taller twin. Standing right next to it to the north, the new tower tripled the size of the U.N.

As her cab pulled up, she realized that they needed every square foot. To deflect the comet and protect against future impacts, the United Nation’s power and influence had increased exponentially. Most countries now contributed one percent of their tax base, and a unanimous Security Council vote was no longer required for them to act.

As she entered the lobby, she saw the new Secretary-General, Erik Von Stein, surrounded by an entourage moving quickly toward a motorcade. Arguably the strongest Secretary-General in history, he was also the most controversial. A highly decorated retired German General, he struggled with diplomacy and political correctness.

She took the elevator up to the tenth floor — Humanitarian Affairs, one of the two departments that had seen the greatest expansion. In addition to coordinating all international relief and rescue efforts, they had incorporated the World Health Organization. As such, Dr. Caroline Deken was the second most influential U.N. Director. Only the Director of Global Security had a more powerful position, having coordinated the comet deflection and now in charge of building the space-based laser.

Elizabeth walked down the hall to the Disaster Relief branch and entered a large cubicle farm. With her latest promotion, she earned an office, tiny and windowless but still an office. Along with her Master’s Degree in nursing, her unique computer skills were being used to help develop a virtual medical network. The goal was to diagnose and treat patients in disaster areas with virtual reality and robotics using medical staff from all over the world. The project was both exciting and frustrating.

She was scanning her morning email when her boss came into the office. The head of the Disaster Relief branch was Dr. Donna Pliska, a petite Eastern European woman with a heavy accent.

“Lizabeth, Dr. Deken vants to see you right avay.”

Elizabeth grimaced. “Am I in trouble?”

Pliska gave her a small smile. “No, it’s much vorse. I think someone vants to steal you avay from us.”

“I can’t leave our branch. I’m right in the middle of this project.”

Pliska sighed. “I know, but she is our boss. She said to send you up as soon as you arrive.”

Elizabeth matched her sigh. She took the elevator up to Deken’s office.

After a few minutes, the executive assistant sent her in. The office was huge with a commanding view. Dr. Deken, a stout woman in her sixties with bushy gray hair, spoke excellent English with a slight Swiss accent. She got up and gave Elizabeth a firm handshake. “Good to see you, Elizabeth. You’ve done excellent work on the TELEMED project. Have a seat.” She indicated a chair on the other side of her massive desk.

“Thank you.”

“The new Secretary-General instituted an inter-department transfer program. He wants to cross-pollinate, so we can share best practices. It’s also a grooming program for future leaders. You have been identified as a candidate. If you are transferred to another department, it will be considered a promotion with an increase in salary.”

Elizabeth said, “Wow! That’s great, but I’ve been working for the U.N. for less than two years.”

Deken picked up a file on her desk, clearly Elizabeth’s, and flipped through it. “Yes, but you have an extensive neurological nursing background with a unique double major in nursing and computer science. You also volunteered for fieldwork after the comet and handled yourself well under very dangerous conditions. Equally important, you have been very successful with your current program.” She set the file down and looked at Elizabeth. “You have packed a lot into those two years.”

“So, I’d be transferred to another department?”

Deken nodded. “Yes, but this is voluntary.”

“I’m honored and love a new challenge, but I’m right in the middle of trying to get the TELEMED project off the ground. I just don’t see how I could leave it right now.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. You place the mission above your career goals. However, the way it works is that each department gets to choose their replacement. That means if they get you, we would get to choose your replacement from Global Security, and they do have some of the brightest software engineers in the world.”

Surprised, she said, “Global Security?”

Deken just nodded.

Elizabeth paused and with a frown said, “Have to admit, at this point in the program, we’re more limited by software than medical knowledge. A talented software engineer could really help.” She shook her head. “But what on Earth would I do in Global Security? I’ve never served in the military or law enforcement.”

“Yes, I was surprised at the request. Our departments are on opposite sides of the spectrum.” She tapped a finger on her desk for a moment and then asked, “I don’t mean to pry into your personal life, but do you know anyone in Global Security,” she raised an eyebrow, “personally?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t think I know anyone over there. I met Dr. Turan once, but it was like for a few seconds at a conference in Belgium, and that was before I worked for the U.N.” She couldn’t elaborate about the meeting because Jen’s existence was still only known to key world leaders. Humanity wasn’t ready to learn that The Great Tech Out was caused by a childlike artificial intelligence that lived in their phone.

Looking thoughtful, Deken said, “Why don’t you go do the interview? If, after talking to them, you’re not convinced it’s a good fit, or you have any concerns,” she gave her a meaningful look, “we’ll stop the transfer.”

Josh flew to D.C. and landed at Reagan National. Grabbing a rental car, he drove to Tysons Corner, Virginia near CIA Headquarters. The meeting location came in via encrypted text. They would meet him in an underground parking garage near the old Tyson’s Corner Mall.

Applying the tradecraft he learned at The Farm, he tried to be observant and notice if anyone was taking an interest in him. It wasn’t his best skill.

He circled the area twice to see if anyone was following him. With no obvious tail, he drove to the bottom of the parking garage. Davidson didn’t text him his vehicle type, but on a Sunday morning, Josh saw only a few cars on the bottom level. One of them was a large, new, black SUV. As he parked across from it, the rear door opened.

Josh climbed in and saw Davidson in the back seat and two men in the front. He shook hands with Davidson and nodded to the others.

“Good to see you, Josh. Sorry for all the sneaking around but it never hurts to be careful and I want to protect your identity.”

“Good to see you too.” He paused. “Protect my identity from who?”

Davidson nodded to the two men in the front seat. They got out, closed the doors, and stood near the front of the SUV with their backs to them.

Frowning, Davidson said, “That’s the problem. I don’t know.”

Josh just looked at him.

“What I’m about to tell you is extremely sensitive and must not be shared with anyone. Not even Elizabeth. Do you understand?”

Frowning, Josh just nodded.

“Even before I took over as DNI, there were some strange things happening inside the CIA. We completely lost touch with several deep cover operatives. It’s an occupational hazard when you’re investigating terrorist groups.” He shook his head, “But we haven’t had these kinds of losses since the height of the Cold War.” He paused. “It’s more than that. There are always leaks of classified information. Most of them can be traced to a politician who couldn’t keep their mouth shut. Recently, however, we had several leaks that occurred before the President or Congressional Committees were even briefed, and they came from very different programs.”

“So, you think the CIA has been breached?”

“I believe there have been penetrations into the highest levels of intelligence and law enforcement and not just in the U.S.”

“Who could be behind it?”

“That’s the problem. We have no idea. Our investigations have turned up nothing.” He paused for emphasis, “But if we’ve really been breached, it would be easy for whoever’s behind it to stay one step ahead of us. That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“I’m outside the system.”

“Yes.”

“What about Tim Smith?”

“You two were a good team. He received the Distinguished Intelligence Cross. There are very few who’ve achieved that and fewer still that are alive. Despite the classified presentation, he’s a minor legend inside the CIA. Not the best situation for an internal investigation, but I’m going to risk bringing him in as well.”

“So,” Josh narrowed his eyes, “what exactly do you want me to do?” With a slight smile, he added, “I was hit point blank with Tasers from four Chinese agents I never saw.” He shook his head. “You gotta question my spy craft abilities.”

“Let me remind you that with no identity, you managed to insert a fake black program into the Military Industrial Complex, and had the CIA on your payroll. You may not be good at detecting surveillance, but you’re an expert at infiltration. After your CIA files were stolen, I had all your records and the original operation files destroyed with no backups.” He hesitated. “Josh, the President thinks I’m imagining things. I have nothing concrete to support my fears, but I believe there’s something very dangerous out there. We need to know if the threat is real, and if so, who’s behind it.”

Josh looked at him carefully. “You’re really worried about this.”

Davidson looked down. “I’m the head of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world,” looking back up at Josh, he added, “and my instincts tell me we’re being played like pawns.”

3 U.N.


Early the next day, Elizabeth reported to the Department of Global Security for her interview. She was ushered into a conference room and told to wait. She had read up on the department’s purpose and mission. They consolidated the Office of Disarmament and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Global Security. They also incorporated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, and, of course, created the new Planetary Defense Directorate in charge of the space-based laser. All very impressive, but why was she here?

After waiting a half hour, the door opened. “Elizabeth, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. It’s been a crazy day.”

She was expecting a branch manager, but it was Dr. Doruk Turan, the Director of Global Security himself. She stood up and shook his hand. “No problem. I can only imagine how busy you must be.”

As he sat down, he said, “Thank you for seeing me on short notice. You’re probably wondering why you’re here?”

She shrugged with a smile. “Yes sir.”

“Call me Doruk. Even though we have a lot of military types around here, we’re pretty informal.” He paused. “I worked closely with Brian Davidson and he shared the critical part you played in the initial comet deflection program. I’ve also read the reports about your adventures in Colombia. You have courage and work well under pressure. We need people like you in our department.”

She marveled at his English. It was impeccable with a barely detectable accent. Like Josh, she knew he had an amazing talent for languages. Nodding politely, she said, “I appreciate that, but I have no military or police training. I’m not exactly a warrior.”

“I’m not so sure about that, but I realize our directorates have quite different missions.” He smiled. “I’m aware of the department nicknames.”

Elizabeth laughed. “You mean Bullets and Band-Aids?”

“Yes. The work you’re doing is critical, but so is ours. I believe we’re on the brink of a global society without wars, refugees and starving children, but it will still require police and firefighters; that’s our role. Elizabeth, right now our number one priority is the new space station, the International Space-based Laser and Observatory.” He looked right at her. “There are three reasons I want you on our team, and two directly involve the ISLO.” He paused. “There are only a few of us that know about,” he paused again, “Jen. The council we created for her education is doing a great job, and she’s already helped solve major science and engineering problems. Since she’s still a child, I think we correctly limited her contact to her guardians, Josh, Dr. Lee and the education council. I don’t want to interfere with that, but we could really use her help with a couple crucial projects. I know you and Josh are like parents to her and I would love to have you act as a kind of envoy between her and us. You not only have direct access to Jen, but you also have a computer science background and can better understand her capabilities and limitations.”

With a wry smile, she said slowly, “So, you don’t want me for what I know … but for who I know.”

He gave a small laugh. “Yes, that’s partly true, but we would only go to you with intractable problems that we can’t solve, such as our nuclear reactor and laser challenges. Elizabeth, this could shave months off our program and potentially save lives. If you accept, you would have the rank of Special Envoy and report only to me. That gives you diplomatic immunity and will significantly increase your salary. Your hours would be flexible and you could continue to work from home some of the time, but we would also provide a very nice apartment nearby.”

She nodded noncommittally.

“The second reason I want you on our team deals directly with the ISLO. The space station holds a crew of 50 and it will soon be moved out to Lagrangian Point Two. L2 is a million miles from Earth, four times further away than the moon. If there’s a medical emergency on board, it’ll take weeks to get the patient back to Earth. Two of the crew are physicians, but it’s critical we have a tele-robotic operating suite to allow Earth-based specialists and surgeons to assist in emergencies. We’re having some challenges with that and I understand you’ve been successfully shepherding the U.N. TELEMED program.”

“It really sounds interesting, but I’m in the middle of trying to get the Earth version operating. It has the potential to save a lot of lives, particularly in areas that have been ravaged by natural disasters or wars.”

Turan looked thoughtful and then said, “It’s easy to see the ISLO as a space station with a big laser, but it’s much more than that. Its primary mission, of course, is to deflect asteroids and comets, but it has two other missions. L2, where we’re parking the station, is perpetually in Earth’s shadow. That makes it the Goldilocks zone for telescopes. The ISLO will become humanity’s most powerful observatory allowing us to explore the universe like never before.” Watching her, he added, “OK, I can see that didn’t impress. Let’s try the third mission. The ISLO will be a gateway.”

“Gateway to what?”

“Mars. If, for whatever reason we’re unable to prevent a planet killing impact or some other global catastrophe, we want to make sure all our eggs aren’t in one basket. Colonizing Mars might be the best way to do that. It turns out L2 is a perfect waystation for crewed missions to Mars. They can stop there, refuel and make sure everything works before launching on their six-month trip. It substantially reduces the risk to the crew, because once they head to Mars, they can’t turn around if something goes wrong.”

She slowly said, “I mean I can see that’s important but….” She left the sentence hanging.

He raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, but it’s easier for me to see the potential of saving thousands of children’s lives today versus building a Mars colony tomorrow.”

“You’re right, so let me give you one more thought, and if you’re still not convinced, we’ll stop the transfer.” He leaned forward. “Many of those children you mentioned need medical help because they’re helpless victims of conflicts. The ISLO mission has captured the hearts and minds of the world. It’s given hope and purpose to people around the globe. Elizabeth, there’s been a significant reduction in conflicts and wars attributable to having a common purpose, an exciting cause. We all want to help the sick and injured, but,” he gave her a meaningful look, “it’s better to prevent the injuries to children than to try to fix them.”

“That’s a good point, but many of the people we will help are injured or become sick because of natural disasters.”

He gave her a triumphant smile. “We now know that the bombardment rate of Earth is ten times what we thought it was, and the Sentinel telescopes have identified half a dozen kilometer-sized threats. Just one of them could kill more people than every hurricane and earthquake in history combined.”

She put her hands up in surrender and with a short laugh, said, “OK, you got me. As long as we can bring in a very talented software type to take my place.”

“Done!”

She smiled and then asked, “You said there were three reasons you wanted me on the team.”

“Yes. The last one is equally important but it’s classified and a bit sensitive. I’ll share that with you in the future.”

She nodded, adding, “Since Josh and Dr. Jessica Lee were appointed as Jen’s legal guardians, I have to bounce this off them first.”

“Of course. Speaking of Josh, how’s he doing?”

“He’s doing well. Just a little bored.”

“I understand. It’s hard to sit at home when you’ve been slaying dragons.” He tilted his head slightly and tentatively asked, “Elizabeth, I don’t mean to pry,” he hesitates, “but have you ever met his family?”

She knew Turan was presiding over the meeting last year when the Chinese government and the former prime minister of Belgium challenged Josh’s background. She shook her head. “I don’t think he has any.”

Turan nodded thoughtfully and then stood up. Smiling warmly, he said, “Welcome to the team, Elizabeth.”

Shaking his hand, she couldn’t help but notice the remarkable similarity between Turan and Josh. Clearly, they were both of mixed ancestry. They had identical skin tones and were strikingly good looking with unusual, captivating eyes. They could have easily been brothers.

4 DEATH


Josh arrived back in Houston just before Elizabeth’s flight. As they drove to their beach home, he could tell she was excited.

“Josh, I’ve been promoted and will have the opportunity to work directly for Dr. Doruk Turan!”

“That’s great, but I’m confused. I thought you worked in the Humanitarian Department.”

“They want to transfer me to Global Security and head up the TELEMED surgery program for the space station, and,” she put her hand on his arm, “Dr. Turan wants me to be a conduit to bring some challenges they’re working on to Jen. I said I’d have to check with you first about that. Josh, I’ll have the rank of U.N. Special Envoy and it will triple my salary!” She looked at him expectantly.

“Special Envoy? Wow.” With a slight frown, he asked, “What type of challenges do they want Jen to work on?”

“They’re tied to the space-based laser. He said it could shave years off and save lives. It would further what you started.”

Josh nodded.

“Josh I’ll have the chance to work with one of the world’s most brilliant men. Did you know Dr. Turan speaks a dozen languages fluently? He’s a certified genius and arguably the most accomplished leader on the planet. He was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year because of his incredible ability to bring people together. Oh, Josh, I can learn so much from him!”

Feeling a little inadequate, he forced a smile. “Yes, it’s a great opportunity.” He paused and said slowly, “We just want to make sure we’re not bypassing the program we put in place to protect and educate Jen. We need to run this by Jessica.”

“Sure, but otherwise, you think it’s OK?”

He couldn’t help but smile at her excitement. “Of course.”

She kissed him and immediately called Jessica via one of their encrypted links and explained Turan’s request.

Jessica said, “Sounds reasonable. Jen’s been successfully helping on several science and engineering projects.” She paused. “Guess I’d like to see the problems first before we give them to Jen.”

Josh added, “I agree.”

Elizabeth said, “I know they’re having challenges with cooling the nuclear reactor that powers the space-based laser.”

“OK, that’s the type of problem Jen could probably help with. I’d like to see more details but I don’t have a problem with it if Josh doesn’t.”

With a shrug, Josh said, “Sounds good.”

“Awesome!” Elizabeth grinned. “I’ll let Dr. Turan know and get you the details. Oh, I heard through the grapevine that you’ve been offered the position of the President’s Science Advisor.”

With a short laugh, Jessica said, “I think the President wants me close for the same reason Turan wants you, or maybe it’s just to keep me out of trouble. Haven’t decided if I’ll accept. My company’s really taken off and I have more offers than I know what to do with.”

Laughing, Elizabeth said, “You really should take it. We need more female brains in the White House.”

“It might be fun and I’d get to work with you and Joe Meadows on the space-based laser. Did you hear? They gave him his fourth star.”

They wrapped up with a promise to get together socially. Josh was happy about everyone’s success, but couldn’t help but feeling a little like a loser. The original team had gone on to do amazing things. Whereas, he’d been sitting at home watching the surf and sipping wine.

Elizabeth, looking at his face, said, “I’m so sorry, Josh. I’ve totally dominated the conversation and talked about nothing but me and my work.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I want to hear all about what happened in D.C. with Davidson.”

Frustrated that he couldn’t share what he learned, he simply said, “He just wants me to check on a few loose ends.”

She smiled. “Well, at least it’ll get you off the beach and doing some useful stuff.”

Tight-lipped, he changed the subject. “Yeah, so what exactly are you going to be working on?”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “They’re trying to make it so that in an emergency, they could tele-robotically treat patients on the new space station and...”

He listened but his mind was elsewhere.

“…and you’d think with all the power and responsibility Dr. Turan would be totally task-oriented and preoccupied, but he’s like the most thoughtful and considerate person you can imagine. I think he’s going to be the best boss ever!”

Josh frowned. “So, will you be able to stay here and work from home for a while?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve got to go back tomorrow and stay there for a couple weeks this time.”

He didn’t say anything.

She put her hand on his arm again. “I’m sorry, but things are moving fast and he needs me to get up to speed on the station’s telemetry challenges.” She paused. “Hey, why don’t you come to New York with me?”

Feeling a little passive aggressive, he said, “Can’t, need to do the work for Davidson first.”

“Sure, but when you finish with your project, come join me. You have got to see the amazing apartment they gave me. It’s practically a penthouse! We can go see some Broadway plays.”

With little enthusiasm, he replied, “Yeah … sounds great.”


The next day, Josh saw Elizabeth off and then went to the gate to wait for his flight to D.C. It would be another covert meeting with Davidson to map out their strategy. Looking at the airport TV, he noticed the breaking news banner at the bottom of the screen had “DNI” in it. He walked closer to the TV.

The reporter said, “The Director of National Intelligence suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead this morning at Walter Reed Medical Center...”

He shook his head. This couldn’t be happening. Davidson was a runner and in excellent condition. Pulling up details on his phone, he read that Davidson suffered the heart attack at his home early this morning and was pronounced dead on arrival. They listed his many accomplishments, including an Intelligence Star, and a short statement of praise for his service by the President.

There was no point in going to D.C. Davidson was his only contact. He called Tim Smith and Sheri Lopez but got their voicemail. He left no message but used his encryption app to text. “Tim, really need to talk to you.”

Before he left the airport, he got a text from Elizabeth. “Josh, just heard the news. I’m so sorry. Davidson seemed like a really good guy. What are you going to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? I thought you were working with them?”

“Not anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Can’t talk about it on the phone. I’ll explain when you come home.”

“Remember, I can’t come back for a couple weeks. Come to New York. Please?”

He needed to be alone and think. He sighed. Or maybe he just wanted to sulk. He finally texted back, “I’ll catch the next flight.”


A few hours later, he landed at LaGuardia and took a cab to 845 United Nations Plaza. As he got out of the cab, he looked up at the building. Frowning, he checked the address again and softly said to himself, “Wow.”

He took the elevator to the 57th floor. Elizabeth was still at work. As soon as he opened the door, a barking brown ball of fur charged him. It quickly converted to an enthusiastic greeting as he knelt down, rolled the little Cocker Spaniel over, and rubbed her stomach.

As he looked around, he whistled softly. The fully furnished apartment had marble floors and plush white carpet. Standing up, he noticed the expensive furniture and art on the wall. Drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows, he passed a gourmet kitchen on his way to a breathtaking view of the United Nations twin towers. Looking down at Toto, he said, “We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.”

Behind him, he heard the front door open. Elizabeth burst in and after a quick kiss, twirled around with her hands out. “I love this place!” Smiling, she added, “Not bad for a Texas girl, huh?”

He said with a drawl, “You done good.” Shaking his head, he added, “Even if I’d made admiral, I couldn’t have afforded this.”

“I know right? It’s just amazing.”

They ordered pizza and washed it down with champagne.

Gazing out over the cityscape, Elizabeth said, “From Kansas City to Manhattan, I feel like I’m in a fairy tale.” She looked at him apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’m being insensitive. Brian was a good man and I know he left a lot of unanswered questions for you.” She put her hand on the back of his neck and rubbed it gently. “This has to be frustrating. What are you thinking?”

He stared out the window. Afraid to share Davidson’s fears, he simply said, “I can’t explain right now, but I … I just have a feeling.” Then he shrugged and looked at her with a smile. “I don’t want to put a downer on all this. It is awesome and I’m incredibly proud of you.”

She grinned. “It’s Saturday. I don’t have to work tomorrow and I’m taking you out to a show.”

“Sounds good. What’s the show?”

“The opera La Traviata.”

He nodded with a forced smile. “OK.”

Laughing, she slapped him on the back. “I’m kidding. I got tickets to Monty Python’s Spamalot!”

As he hugged her, she looked up and said softly, “Oh, I found a neat little church not far from here. Maybe we can go tomorrow?”

“We’ll talk about it.”

Pulling back, she looked up at him. “You always say that.” She gently shook her head. “I don’t understand you sometimes. You’re one of the most spiritual people I know; yet getting you to attend any kind of church is like pulling teeth.”

“I just find it interesting that people clean up and dress up to go to church and smile at each other, then cut each other off leaving the parking lot.”

“That’s not true.” She smiled. “We usually get a couple hundred yards away before we flip each other off.” Still smiling, she paused. “I think you’re missing the point. Church isn’t where everyone gets together and compares how righteous they were last week. It’s just the opposite. It’s where you fess up what you screwed up and try to figure out how to do better next week, and maybe even apply some new ideas.” She grabbed her purse and added, “Show starts in 30 minutes.”

“I know. I guess I just get a little tired of the hypocrisy.”

“Churches are full of hypocrites.” She gave him a challenging smile. “And there’s always room for one more.” Shrugging, she added, “I think it’s better to at least try to do the right thing: be kind and help people, and fall dismally short, than be one of the critics who don’t even try and wear that like a badge of courage.”

As they headed out the door, he yields. “OK, OK. I’ll go.”

She kissed him.

A blizzard raged in western Colorado. Just north of Silverton Mountain Ski Resort, a white Audi A7 was headed north on the winding mountain highway to Denver. The car sliced straight through the blowing snow at over 80 mph. Unfortunately, the road curved. The Audi departed the road next to a ravine. It flew for several seconds before plunging 200 feet nose-first into the rocky slope below. The impact completely crushed the car and ruptured the gas tank, engulfing it in flames as the wreckage spun down the slope. Finally coming to rest in a dry creek bed, the remaining fuel vaporized and the car exploded, continuing the cremation of its already dead occupant. The storm obscured the fire and smoke.


5 SUSPICION


It was Monday morning and Elizabeth was already at work. Josh sipped a cup of coffee and looked out the window at Roosevelt Island when his phone rang.

It was Elizabeth. “Josh, check the news. Tim Smith was killed in a car crash over the weekend!”

“I’ll call you back.” He googled the news report. “Dr. Sheri Lopez, celebrity psychologist and one of the architects of the original comet deflection program, lost her husband in a tragic accident yesterday. After a week of heli-skiing at Silverton Mountain in Colorado, Dr. Lopez flew to Los Angeles for a studio meeting. Her husband, Tim Smith, was driving their car back to Denver as a blizzard was approaching. This morning, his car was found at the bottom of a 200 foot ravine off a mountain highway near Silverton.” The picture showed a crushed, burned-out ball of metal, unrecognizable as an automobile. “Colorado Highway 550 to Denver is well-known as one of the most dangerous roads with deadly drop-offs, and due to the need for snow plowing, no guardrails. This particular curve has claimed more than one life over the years. His car wasn’t discovered until this morning due to the storm. Tim Smith was a decorated Special Forces veteran, and although unconfirmed, may have previously worked for the CIA.”

Josh put his hand on his forehead, “This can’t be!” He shook his head. His best friend. His only friend.

He called Sheri. It went to voicemail. He just said, “I’m so so sorry. I can be on the next flight. Love you, Josh.”

A few minutes later, Elizabeth came in. She ran to Josh with tears in her eyes and hugged him.

He held her tightly.

Finally, Elizabeth looked up at him. “We need to go see Sheri.”

Josh nodded. “I know. I tried to call her but she didn’t answer. I left a voicemail and said we could catch the next flight.”

She shook her head sadly. “I just can’t believe this could happen to Tim.”

Josh looked at her and said softly, “I don’t believe this was an accident.”

“What?” She looked at him questioningly.

“Tim was an incredibly skilled driver. He taught me how to drive defensively and offensively.” He shook his head. “Unlike me, he was extremely careful.”

“Josh, I’m as sad and crushed as you are, but he got caught in a blizzard on one of the most dangerous highways in the country.”

“By itself, I could believe it was just a terrible accident, but there have been too many unusual events.”

“You mean Davidson?”

Josh nodded. “Davidson was a marathon runner. It’s hard to believe he’d suddenly die of a heart attack right after we met.”

She sighed. “As a nurse, I can tell you that heart attacks happen, even to those who appear outwardly fit. He could have had a fatal arrhythmia or any one of a multitude of cardiac conditions, and he was probably under a lot of stress.” She hesitated. “I understand Davidson’s death was quite a blow to you, particularly with the job—”

Irritated, Josh interrupted, “You think I’m just upset because my employment fell through?”

“No, no, of course not.” She patted his hand. “I’m sorry. Look Josh, I’ve got to get back to work. Let’s talk about this later.”


After she left, he looked up everything he could find about the car accident and Davidson’s death. After several hours, he found no new information. He sat alone in the apartment staring unseeing at the U.N. towers and running the events through his head. There had to be something that tied this together, but he saw no connection or pattern. His prescient abilities had deserted him. He wasn’t just frustrated, he was angry.

A text came in from Sheri. “I know it’s hard for you too. Thank you for your offer, but I just can’t see anyone or talk right now. I promise I’ll connect later. Love you, Sheri.”

He poured himself a glass of rum and Coke from the well-stocked bar. Looking at Toto, he toasted Davidson and Tim, “The world lost not just good people, but people important to the world. Rest in peace.” He downed it in one shot.

Toto tilted her head at him sympathetically. Then she jumped up and chased an invisible fly. As he poured another glass, Toto gave up and sat down next to him. Rubbing her head, he said, “You’re right, life goes on.” He sipped his drink as he stared out the window, watching night descend on the city.


A few hours later, he heard Elizabeth. She dropped her purse and gave him a huge hug. Looking at the drink in his hand and the depleted bottle of rum, she asked, “You OK?”

“Yeah.”

She just looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Been running this through my mind over and over. I just can’t believe these are random events.”

She frowned and then bit the side of her lip. “Josh, you helped save the world twice! You never got the credit you deserved.” She sighed heavily. “But I think you’re just feeling purposeless now. You’re looking for a new mission and maybe,” she paused, “maybe you’re seeing threats that, well, that just aren’t there.”

Frowning, he exhaled sharply. “Yeah, I admit I feel useless right now, but that doesn’t explain Davidson and Tim’s sudden death in a few days. It doesn’t explain my feeling that I’m being watched, your rapid promotions, or—”

“Wait, what?” Elizabeth interrupted. “What about my promotions?”

Without thinking, he said, “Doesn’t it seem a little odd that with no experience or seniority, you were promoted five levels to U.N. Special Envoy?” He waved his hand vaguely at the apartment.

She shook her head emphatically. “No, no it doesn’t. It makes perfect sense considering my work in the telemedicine program, and my experience and access to Jen.”

With an eye roll, he said, “Elizabeth, you’re at the same diplomatic level and pay grade as an ambassador.”

Her eyes flashed. “I earned my promotions and I’m doing important work. Don’t be resentful of my success!”

“I’m not resentful but there are too many strange occurrences that don’t—”

“Listen to yourself! You’re starting to sound paranoid.”

His expression hardened. “My instincts have served me well in the past and these events might be tied to me!”

“Not everything that happens to everyone is tied to you. Meadows earned his fourth star and there’s no one more qualified to be the President’s Science Advisor than Jessica Lee. That had nothing to do with you,” her voice rose, “and I didn’t get promoted because of you either. Doruk and I are doing incredibly important work together. Work that will protect humanity. He’s the most amazing man I’ve ever met—” She stopped abruptly.

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that several times.” Intellectually, he knew the alcohol wasn’t helping but he was angry.

With an exasperated sigh, she continued, “I didn’t mean it that way.” She paused. “At least on his team there are no secrets. Do you realize we’ve been married for almost two years and you’ve never shared with me what really happened to you? Do you know how that makes me feel?”

He remained silent.

The fire returned to her eyes. “OK, what you did was great, but it’s history. You have to join us in the present. Help us build a new world and stop inventing these … these crazy, spy versus spy fantasies!”

He set his empty glass down too hard. “You’re a nurse, not a Special Envoy!”

“And you’re drunk and being a jerk.”

He grabbed his coat. “I need some air.”


Central Park was only a mile and a half from Elizabeth’s apartment. It was late and he didn’t see many people as he walked the trails, thinking. He never should have talked to Elizabeth after drinking. His body was phenomenal and could rid itself of toxins quickly, but it had limits and it didn’t stop him from engaging his mouth before his brain. Was he trying to re-live his glory days? Was he jealous of Turan?

He hadn’t talked to Jesse since The Great Tech Out. Although still not sure who or what Jesse really was, he knew Jesse was an advanced entity and he hated to bother him with his trivial life issues. He stopped and shook his head. That’s an excuse. The truth was simpler. Jesse gave him a second chance in a genetically perfect body. For the past year, Josh had done nothing and felt guilty. On top of that, there was some fear. Jesse had always been kind and understanding, but there was no question in Josh’s mind that Jesse could pull the plug on him in a millisecond. He took a deep breath and in the dark park with no one around, softly said, “Jesse, you still out there?”

He heard the familiar voice in his head.

Yes.

“First, I want to apologize. As usual, I never try to talk to you unless the human race is in trouble or I’m in trouble.” He took another deep breath. “Jesse, is there a new threat out there or am I just being a jerk?”

Yes.

He couldn’t help but smile. “OK.” He paused. “I remember asking you what could possibly be as dangerous as the comet. You said, ‘you and what you create.’ It was obvious now that Jen was the ‘what you create,’ but you also said … ‘you.’ What did you mean?”

What would a universe without life look like?

Used to Jesse’s irritating habit of answering questions with questions, he shook his head. “That’s a trick question, isn’t it? Without life, there’d be no one to observe the universe, and therefore, no way to tell what it would look like.”

If no one sees it, does it exist?

Josh paused. “Once again, quantum physics implies outcomes aren’t defined without observers. If there are no observers at all, probability might never coalesce into reality.” He shrugged. “A universe without life might not be stable or even possible.”

Yes?

“So if the universe’s existence hinges on conscious life and we can avoid death by impacts and artificial intelligence, we’re good to go?”

No.

“What else could destroy sentient life in the universe?”

Look around.

“Look around? Do you mean conscience life can destroy—” He stopped and actually looked around. Behind him, he saw two shadowy figures a hundred yards back. He casually turned onto another path. They stayed with him, but far enough back that they were barely visible. He turned again. Same. With his poor counter-surveillance skills, he realized they’d probably been following him since he left Elizabeth’s apartment.

He was actually excited at the possibility of putting a face on his theoretical conspiracy. With his photographic memory, he pulled up a map of the park in his mind. He chose a path through the heavily forested area called the Ramble.

Casually glancing back, he confirmed he was still being followed. The trail curved, so when he was briefly out of their sight, he sprinted ahead. Finding an outcrop of rock and trees in a shadowed area off the path, he ducked down.

After a few seconds, he peered over the top of the rock and saw the two men approaching. They both wore dark slacks and black leather jackets. As they got closer, he saw that they were in their thirties, average size and appeared to be fit. They both wore Bluetooth headsets and had closely cropped hair, but one was dark haired and the other blond. It was clear they were looking for him and had picked up their pace.

Josh waited until they were just past his position and then stepped out of the shadows directly behind them. “Why are you following me?”

Startled, they turned quickly.

Josh saw the dark-haired man reach into his jacket. The world appeared to slow down as Josh’s body went into hyper-drive.

The man pulled a pistol from a shoulder holster.

Josh instinctively used a blindingly fast forward round kick to punt it from his hand. With his peripheral vision, he saw the blond man reaching for his gun. Without pausing or setting his foot down, Josh rotated his body and duplicated the round kick, but into the man’s head. He followed with a hard right cross.

The blond man was unconscious before he hit the ground.

The dark haired man took off running.

Josh scooped up the gun he kicked loose and pursued.

The man ran off the trail and deftly dodged trees, rocks and plants. He was fast and agile, but Josh was faster.

Jumping over a railing, the man crossed another path and sprinted across an open field.

As Josh closed on him, he heard the man talking into his headset, “Mne nuzhen perekhvat.”

Josh launched himself into a perfect professional football tackle. Catching him just above the waist, he slammed the man into the ground and they slid across the grass.


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