Authors: William Hutchison
I’d like to thank my family and friends for encouraging me to pursue the dream of publishing. Special thanks to Sean & Kelly, my kids, whom I love, their mother, Janis with whom I spent 19 years and to my editor, April, who helped me find better ways to spell. To those I know in the aerospace industry where I make my living, apologies for taking liberty with technology and politics. Special thanks to John for help with the cover.
No character, living or dead, is portrayed in this book, but I’ve drawn on life’s experiences and my interactions with several key players I’ve known throughout the years to develop composite characters, some of wh
om are believable, some of whom
are paper thin, but help move the story along. To those characters in my life who sparked this creativity, thank you. Finally, thanks to Dean Koontz and Stephen King whose creativity and story telling abilities, I totally enjoy, study, and try to emulate as best I can.
Copyright 2013 by William Hutchison
Burt Grayson stared at the blinking prompt on the screen of his personal computer. With each flash, his concentration deepened. Almost imperceptibly the pulsating green light slowed its rhythm, matching Burt's heartbeat which was also slowing as he slipped into a state of semi-consciousness.
Suddenly, the prompt dimmed entirely and the screen went black. Simultaneously, Burt's heart stopped, his eyelids drooped and his head slumped forward slightly. Had he not been seated upright, it would have come crashing down onto the keyboard placed in front of him.
After the screen had sat vacant for ten to twenty seconds with no sign of life, the prompt magically reappeared. This time, however, it glowed steadily in the upper left hand corner of the screen, refusing to blink as it had just moments before. Burt sat motionless. His curly brown hair was drenched in sweat. His black, horn-rimmed glasses rested on the bridge of his nose and reflected the stubborn green pinpoint dash of light on the computer screen. The video camera which he had set up to monitor his experiment continued to record in the background, the lens pointed directly at him and his computer screen. Its dull, but soft whirr, as the tape reeled forward combined with that of the PC fan and disk drive, were the only sounds which could be heard in his dormitory room.
The silence was unusual this early at night. It was only eight thirty, October 25, 1990. Normally at this time the dorm would be filled with activity as other Cal Poly undergraduates ran up and down the halls borrowing books, blaring their stereos into the hall or just gathering in clutches bullshitting, and generally making it impossible for anyone to concentrate--especially Burt. The slightest noise would distract him, and he had had to put off running this experiment for three weeks as a result. Tonight, though, Phil Collin's free benefit concert had emptied the dormitory just as he had planned and the ensuing silence had allowed him to reach the state of deep concentration he needed to tune into the computer positioned before him.
Burt's eyes were slightly open--his pupils dilated as he stared into the monitor. The green phosphorous prompt continued to glow steadily and cast its eerie light on his face. Burt's fingernails were starting to turn slightly gray as the circulation in his body slowed.
Suddenly, the green dash on the screen began to glow bright and then dim again. A slight pulse was also being recorded by the electro cardiogram hooked to his right arm.
Burt opened his eyes wide and stared at the screen, letting out a deep sigh as he did. The prompt had returned to its normal blinking rhythm. His pulse was also registering 65 beats per minute beating, at every third flash of light.
Burt spoke. "All right. That's it! I've had it with you." His comments were directed toward the screen and the stubborn, blinking light which taunted him.
Burt continued angrily. "Move, damn it! Move!"
With this last comment, the green dash on the screen began to slowly move to the right a space at a time. As it did, Burt blinked his eyes. The dash stopped instantly. Opening his eyes again, Burt furrowed his brow. His concentration deepened and new beads of sweat appeared on his temples. Gritting his teeth, he thought to himself, "Move. Damn it. Move!"
The dash instantly glided to the right corner of the screen and then stopped--again not blinking.
Burt smiled at his singular accomplishment, and then his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he slumped forward, this time hitting his head on the keyboard with a dull thump. The video camera continued to record the entire event.
Senator Radcliff poured himself another shot of bourbon and leaned forward on his desk thumbing the pages of the latest briefing book he'd received Parlier that day on the SIGMA ONE project. Staring at the graph on the second page he noted the x axis plotted relative investment in destructive power, measured in Megatons of Equivalent arr. On the vertical axis, relative effectiveness of various strategic options was plotted and various project code names reflected the data shown on the scatter diagram. By looking at the points, it was clear to see that the relative bang for the buck for all but one of the numerous options was fairly close, but that the one labeled SIGMA ONE clearly outperformed them all. He chuckled to himself, and his gray bushy eyebrows
rose as he pondered the consequence of the chart lying before him.
The briefing was given to him earlier on his request by Dr. Patterson Huxley, project director for SIGMA ONE. Curing the briefing, Pat had made it very clear indeed that continued funding was an absolute necessity. "A great investment!" he had said pointing to the same chart Radcliff was staring at now. The chart certainly seemed to indicate that. But of course, Pat would say that. This project was his gold watch and as the project director, it was his duty to defend it. And he certainly was a polished briefer. Senator Radcliff remembered thinking that if he had control of all the agencies' budgets that were feeding this gigantic project, he'd be more than glad to cut lesser programs out, just to continue this one hopeful panacea for mankind. But he didn't have that control, and if continued funding was to be forthcoming, - it would be an uphill battle. That's why he'd asked for the briefing in the first place. If he were going to champion Pat's cause, he'd need data. The other Senators on the hill and their staffers would be asking some pretty tough questions now that the federal, deficit was getting so much attention from the press. A few might even try to grandstand and get the project cancelled completely just to feather their own nests by funding their own pet programs with the "fallout" funds from SIGMA ONE. (He grinned at his choice of words and went back to studying the data.) He knew that if he didn't have the answers in the committee meetings, his credibility, the project's future and indeed, any chances he might have for re-election would be in jeopardy.
SIGMA ONE was being pursued by the National Security Foundation, a private agency, not government controlled, and had been since its inception in 1979. This was done to minimize public scrutiny into the actual total funding it was receiving, which by now, in fiscal eighty-eight dollars, approached 5 billion dollars. It was also set up as a private enterprise to minimize the risk to the numerous governmental agencies which were taxed each budget cycle to support it, rather than identifying it with one agency. If it failed, the political consequences of such failure could be shared. Also, with so many agencies participating, the total fiscal risk to any one was minuscule.
Still, the senator noted as he flipped to the next chart that funding had increased some twenty-five fold in the last ten years since the project's inception, and if he had to stand up and defend the outlays in terms of the accomplishments that the NSF had made, he would be hard-pressed to point to any astonishing breakthroughs.
The appeal of SIGMA ONE was simple enough: use thought control to destroy enemy computer data bases and then force the aggressors into surrender, without ever firing a shot. It sure beat blowing hell out of innocent civilians, and there were no known countermeasures to such an assault; if such an assault could be made. And that's what the NSF was to research and find a solution for.
Radcliff poured himself another slug of bourbon and continued thumbing through the briefing. The first five charts were physics mumbo jumbo to him; fraught with equations and pictures of micro-circuit manufacturing jargon. He didn't understand them at all and he doubted that his senatorial counterparts would either. He made a mental note to tell Pat that he'd better come up with a better way to introduce the main idea behind SIGMA ONE.
He did understand the pictures, though. Micro-circuits controlled everything. And micro-circuits were programmed by people. (Isn't that what the picture of the man sitting in front of the keyboard was- trying to say?)
The next chart was even easier to understand. It showed a cut-away view of a Russian missile guidance system. It was beautiful, with every part shown in fine detail. (He wondered how we got a hold of this one.) Each part was expertly labeled and a blowup of the inner workings of the computer showed exactly which parts contained the critical guidance information. Reside this blowup were the words, "with the proper bits of information reprogrammed, this missile would be launched, rise to a height of 900 meters, execute a 180 degree pitch over, and return to its point of origin, wherein it would explode rendering the nuclear payload harmless."
The next chart showed another picture of a Soviet missile; this time deep in its buried silo. Again, another blowup picture centered on the launch control complex and the launch control computer central processing unit was shown. Next to the blowup were the words "reprogramming of this part of the computer would cause engine ignition twenty seconds before outer door opening, causing the missile to collide with the doors and, hence, self-destruct without leaving the silo."