by Bascomb James
I glanced at the caller ID; Ari Kiltonen, the General Manager of my company. “Damn it Ari, this had better be important!”
“Chief, I have an army colonel on the phone demanding to speak with you. He says it’s a national emergency.”
Not this again. Every government on the planet seems to think I should handle their special transport emergencies.
“Ours, sir. He says he’s calling from the Pentagon.”
“Tell him I’m busy saving the world. If he wants to talk he can get his green-clad ass up here for a face-to-face. I’ll make some time at 9 PM. In the meantime, notify Ontario Power Generation Security about the visit and get me some background information on the Colonel or whomever he sends.”
“OK Chief. We’ll go over the arrangements later.”
I clicked off and squelched the urge to throw the phone across the room. “Tom, adjust generator number seven outboard 1.5 centimeters and left 9 centimeters.”
It took the team another hour to position the generators to my satisfaction. The flow was looking good and the field dynamics were smooth and predictable across the entire displacement volume. The crew was watching me intently, waiting me for instructions. Their quiet anticipation gave way to smiles when I looked up from the monitor gave them the “thumbs up” sign.
The air horn sounded three times, the sound echoing endlessly in the cavernous space. OPG workers, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission officials, and the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors headed toward the exits while the crew began moving the delicate positioning sensors and instrument consoles behind the blast baffles.
With things well in hand, I went through a door into the adjacent room. The large room dwarfed the displacement console and monitors. The console area was separated from the rest of the space by waist-high traffic pylons with yellow and black striped tape strung through the handles. The laughingly inadequate barrier was reinforced by three heavily armed guards.
Cable runs and chases radiated outward from the circumscribed equipment. Monitor stands made the area look like a NASA launch center. Everything had its place and the purpose-made system could be broken down and packed for shipment in two hours.
Two of the monitors showed the transshipment room with rib-like displacement generators surrounding the massive 22 meter long by 8 meter high concrete containment vessel. Each generator was mounted on a heavy duty trailer with outrigger supports. Other monitors showed the radiation counts and the harshly lit displacement site.
After checking the field dynamics one last time I grabbed the virtual reality headset and performed a visual sweep of the displacement site. Neat rows of containment vessels and equipment radiated outward toward the horizon.
Tom Quiñones, the team foreman, spoke through the com unit, “The room is secure and all personnel are accounted for. We’re ready for displacement.” He inserted his key into the slot in his console and turned it to the “Ready” position.
“Transponder is active and returning the correct code.” The IAEA inspector reported from his console. The inspector turned his activation key and a second green light appeared on my panel.
“IAEA is ‘GO’ for transshipment.”
I could feel the tension build. All eyes were on the monitors.
The Canadian official turned his key and the final green light appeared. “CNSC is ‘GO’ for transshipment.”
I pulled a security chain over my head and inserted my activation key into its slot in the displacement panel. The blue status light changed to amber as I rotated the key to the MASTER ARM position. “I have three green lights,” I announced. “We’re ready for transshipment.”
No matter how many times I do this, there’s always a nervous knot in my stomach at this point. This has to be perfect every time. There are no Mulligans when dealing with nuclear waste.
I looked to my left, and Tom gave me nod from his console. I inserted my right hand into the security scanner and punched in a hidden code that activated the palm/fingerprint reader. The unit beeped and the amber light changed to red. The automatic klaxons sounded throughout the building, alerting everyone within earshot that something big was about to happen.
This is it! I took a calming breath, counted to five, then depressed the ACTIVATE button with my left thumb. A thunderclap shook the room as air rushed to fill the 1300 cubic meter void created when the nuclear waste containment vessel disappeared from the transshipment room.
A puff of snow and fog appeared on the destination monitors as the moisture in the displaced air froze then sublimated. The scene slowly resolved to show a MACSTOR unit with the proper sequence number parked on the floor of crater Antoniadi in the lunar Southern hemisphere.
“Chief, the displacement room is clean. No ruptures. No radiation,” Quiñones reported.
I deactivated the panel and turned to the inspectors.
“Dr. Richards, we have confirmed the transponder is now on the moon. We also note that your cameras show a container with the proper sequence number in crater Antoniadi.”
I nodded and picked up the com unit. “Get the next unit in here while I do the paperwork.”
“OK Chief, we’re on it.”
I glanced at the destination monitors and noted that the teleoperators were moving a mobile crane toward the containment unit. The crane will pick up the MACSTOR unit and carry it to the unpacking yard where the carbon steel containment cylinders will be removed from the concrete outer shell. Without hydraulic or convection cooling, the nuclear degradation within the fuel rods will eventually heat the cylinder’s contents until the cylinder melts.
As part of an internationally sponsored project, Disposal, Inc. is creating a China Syndrome event by layering the containment cylinders into a small crater--a crater whose bottom is approximately 9 kilometers below the surface of the moon. Lunar scientists calculated that the molten materials will eventually burn through the crust and melt the partially solidified lunar core. A spinning molten core should allow the moon to regenerate its protective magnetic field. Thus, the whole transshipment project has a two goals; safe removal of radioactive waste from the earth while making future lunar habitats a little safer. It was my kind of project.
There was a knock on the door and Ari Kiltonen stepped into the nondescript office OPG assigned to us while we were on-site. Ari was of medium height with china blue eyes and close-cropped brown hair. A dark blue Kevlar vest covered his muscular chest. The Glock pistol and tactical holster were extensions of his persona.
“Captain Katheryn Macrae is here to see you.”
I nodded and closed the background file on the Captain. “Post one of the security detail in the outer office then bring her in. I want you to be present for this briefing.”
Ari nodded and left. I flipped switches to activate the audio and video recording equipment.
Ari ushered the visitor into the office a few minutes later. Captain Macrae was a trim dark-haired woman wearing a black, one-button skirt suit with high-necked silk blouse. Even in heels, she moved with the controlled athleticism of a dancer or a martial artist.
I came around the desk and extended my hand. “Captain Macrae, what brings a Cyber Warfare expert to OPG Darlington?”
Her grip was warm and confident and she projected the cool competence of a professional who had nothing to prove. Tall for a woman, she nearly matched my 5’11” height. As I shook her hand, I was surprised by my reaction to her. I wonder what she looks like in uniform, or out of it, for that matter.
I gestured her to a supplicant chair and reclaimed my seat behind the desk. Ari leaned unobtrusively against the wall where he could watch her face and hands.
Macrae looked at Ari pointedly and said, “I didn’t think the Canadian government allowed armed bodyguards and security personnel.”
Nettled by her opening gambit, I responded in kind. “Did you come down from Ottawa to critique my security arrangements?”
She frowned and said, “I was instructed to speak with you alone.”
I felt my eyebrows rise and I glanced at Ari who shrugged. “That’s not gonna happen,” I said shaking my head.
“Allow me to introduce Ari Kiltonen. Ari is the General Manager of DI and the person responsible for the day-to-day operation of this company. In his previous life, Captain Kiltonen was a Delta Force unit commander. When Ari leaves, you leave. Capisce?”
Macrae’s eyes flashed with anger and her face flushed. “They told me you were an arrogant bastard…”
My temper flared. I waved my hand contemptuously toward the door. “We’re done here. Ari, have someone escort the Captain back to her car.”
Macrae flushed again and held up her hands in surrender. “Wait! I apologize for my remark. Before I provide a brief, both of you must sign Defense Secrets documents. The information I’m about to give you is classified and compartmentalized for national security purposes. You cannot disclose this information without the written consent of the US government.”
I shook my head again and glanced at Ari. Here we go again. This is what happens when agencies don’t share information.
“First of all, I would like to inform you that our conversation is being recorded to prevent misunderstandings. Secondly, you are hereby notified that Disposal Incorporated, its owner, employees, and contractors do not wish to be privy to national secrets and as such, we are not responsible for dissemination of said secrets. Before you deliver your briefing, you will sign an affidavit stating that any and all information provided by you as an agent of the US government, is exempt from the Defense Secrets Acts at the time of disclosure and in perpetuity.”
Anger and frustration flashed across Macrae’s face but she quickly regained her composure. “I can’t sign that affidavit. Mr. Richards, let me remind you that this is a national emergency involving thousands of people.”
“So you say. . . and it’s Doctor Richards,” I said peevishly, just to piss her off.
The rebuke had its desired effect. “Your obstinacy is deliberately placing US citizens at risk and it constitutes reckless endangerment of the public. We could have you arrested and jailed!”
I laughed at the thought. “Are you planning to invade Canada to make me sign your damned paper?”
“American lives are at stake! How can you be so uncaring?”
This woman was really pushing my buttons. “Captain, Disposal Incorporated has only one purpose—to protect you and the rest of this planet from the nastiest and most persistent poisons mankind has ever created. A thousand years from now, an unprotected human will die horribly after a half-hour exposure to the radioactive materials we generate today. Don’t tell me I’m uncaring."
Macrae’s eyes flashed at the rebuke. I leaned back in my chair and tried to ease the tension. “I feel no concern for these ‘at-risk’ citizens because I have no evidence they exist and you refuse to provide any information or proof. If I have any culpability, it’s for refusing to give strangers unconditional oversight over what my group says, where we go, and who we interact with for the rest of our lives.”
An awkward silence filled the room as I struggled to master my anger and outrage. I had been through similar conversations on four continents and the experience was getting old. I sighed and decided to stop shooting the messenger. “Let’s begin again. What do you want from us?”
Macrae opened her mouth to respond then reconsidered. After another uncomfortable pause, I held up my hand and spoke quietly. “Captain, your superiors sent you into the lion’s den with an incomplete brief. Let me explain my position.”
“Nearly every government in the world considers me and DI to be a potential threat. They have tried to acquire my displacement technology through force, guile and legislation. The security establishment is also pissed because I sell shield technologies to all governments and to private citizens. More importantly, I refuse to provide a back door that would allow the government or anyone else to remotely inactivate those shields.”
“I am still in business because I provide a useful service, I don’t challenge the political status quo, and thanks to my matter transporters, I have more money than God. In order to continue this work, I cannot sign secrecy documents with any government, corporation, group, or citizen. All my deals and activities must be fully transparent and above board.”
“Talk to your superiors. If this situation is truly a national emergency, they will find a way to speak to me openly and on the record. Please give Ari your contact information. He will send you a release affidavit for review. You can contact him if you want to schedule another meeting.”
Macrae stood and walked briskly to the door. Ari shook his head and followed her into the outer office.
I was forwarding the meeting video to the last of the secure data locations when Ari returned to the office. He went to the sideboard and poured two neat Bourbons. He handed me a glass and settled into the supplicant’s chair. “Jason, I wish you would learn a little tact.”
“I was within my rights,” I huffed.
“Doesn’t matter. Losers keep score. Losers want payback. You made Captain Macrae and her boss look bad. They’re going to make our life difficult.”
“Look bad? Hell, I thought she looked damned good.” I gave him the boyish grin. “You know,” I think we had a special moment there.”
Ari shook his head and laughed, “Yeah, that special moment just before you opened your mouth.”