Chapter 2 - The Director
The Cloud - Book 1
Frank looked over the data his old college professor had sent him. This was bad. A cloud of asteroids were coming from the direction of the Epsilon Eridani star system and were heading on a collision course with Earth. If McNeil and his student’s calculation were correct, not even Luna would be safe from impact.
In fact, the largest asteroid was roughly the same size as the moon, more than a few were the size of the Empire State Building, and the rest ranged in size from too small to see to the size of big blue whales and there were hundreds of them.
Damn, Frank thought! There was no way in hell anyone on Earth is going to stop this.
“Director Wiess, you have an incoming communication from Vice President Chambers,” his secretary’s voice rang out from the speaker on his desk.
“Thank you, Amelia. You can push him through to platform one.”
A three-dimensional image of a man from the shoulders up materialized about five feet in the air on the first of three platforms that sat in the corner of his office.
“Good morning, Vice President!” Frank said, directing his full attention on the man.
“Director Wiess, what can I do for the Space Force?”
“We need to set up a meeting with the department heads,” Frank continued, cutting through the formalities.
“All of them. At least, all that can be at the Pentagon tomorrow morning,” Frank replied. “The President needs to be there too.”
“What is so important? Has there been alien contact?” Chambers asked, chuckling.
“This is serious, Collin,” Frank snapped, a bit annoyed. “I just sent an encrypted file to you. Take a look; I’ll wait.”
“Shit,” Chambers swore a few moments later. “Is this real?”
“Do you really think I would joke about something like this? Never mind, I have the scientists that discovered this thing on their way. They will be in later today with all their data. Can we get the meeting set up for tomorrow?”
“I will get it done and let you know what time.”
“Very good. See you then.”
Chamber’s visage dissipated. Now he needed to go talk to his team and see if there were any solutions that he could bring to the table.
Frank closed the files he was reviewing and left his office. Amelia sat at her desk just outside his door, working diligently on the day-to-day operations for USSF and using her TechGlasses as her nimble fingers flew across the keyboard.
“Amelia, please come with me,” Frank said.
She finished the comm she was on and called for one of her interns, spouting out rapid-fire directions as she scooped up her datapad. “Brent, Shanese Caper is waiting on the reports from the cadet training program. Please contact Vincent Toma for those and route all communications for Director Wiess to standard message five,” If urgent comms come in, forward them to my personal comm.”
“Yes Amelia," the eager young man replied.
God, I don’t know what I would do without her, Frank thought. When he had first received the news from McNeil, Frank had immediately told Amelia all. Keeping her in the dark would have been detrimental if he wanted things to get done quickly.
Frank had hired the woman ten years ago, when he had first been given the position of Director of USSF. Her application had been impressive, and he had been astounded when he had realized how young she actually was to have had such a robust resume.
Amelia Zimmer had graduated high school as valedictorian at the age of sixteen, had attended MIT and received her master’s degrees in business analytics, mathematics, and computer sciences. She had then attended Oasis College online receiving her master’s degree in office administration and a certification as a project manager, all before she turned twenty-three.
She had been brought on initially as an intern for the IT department but had been recommended for the position of secretary for his office when her internship ended. Since being hired on full time she had went back to school and received her associate degree in Astronomy in order to keep up with the topics being discussed at USSF.
As they took the lift to the engineering department, Amelia pulled her black hair into a bun with what looked like a set of chopsticks.
“Send a message to all of the scientists, engineers and their assistants. Ask them to meet in conference room A in the engineering department in one hour,” Frank said.
Amelia tapped on her holo-tab for a few moments and then swiped her gloved hand vigorously in front of her face, presumably selecting the correct recipients for the message she had just entered on the Holo-Tab. She had tried to teach him to use a pair of the things a few years ago but he had nearly lost his wits with the attempt and decided to leave them alone.
“There are five assistants and two scientists on vacation currently,” Amelia informed.
“Who are the scientists and when are they scheduled to return to work?”
“Jerry Fisher and Connie Dormer,” Amelia said. “Physicist and chemist, respectively. Jerry is scheduled to return on Monday and Connie just began her vacation today. “
“Comm them both and see if they are in town. If they are, have them come in for the meeting and please stress the importance of it without going into the details.”
“Would you like me to contact their assistants?”
“Yes. If Fisher and Dormer are unable to come, their assistants can work with the other scientists,” Frank said as the lift came to a stop on level nine. They made their way down the hall to the conference room at the end. He had chosen this one for its size and layout. They would need to have enough seating for more than fifty employees.
“Have this conference room prepared for the entire group and contact the Quartermaster for supplies. Cots, blankets, scrubs, underclothing, toiletries, and the like.”
Amelia’s eyes were darting back and forth very quickly as her fingers flew across her Holo-Tab making the arrangements. “Connie will be here in thirty-minutes and Terry has not yet responded. The Quartermaster says that he can have the items you requested by 8 p.m. and the janitorial staff will be up momentarily. I have also taken the liberty of contacting the Felix Bakery to provide breakfast and will contact other restaurants to bring in lunch and dinner as requested.”
Amelia was a phenomenal administrator. Frank knew she was unmarried and that her parents were retired and living in Florida, but it had not crossed his mind that she would not want to stay until that moment. Suddenly turning to his assistant, he caught her attention. “Amelia, will you be able to stay for the duration of this shut-in?”
Her eyes and fingers suddenly stopped their motions and she looked at him. “Of, course,” she responded.
“Very good,” he said. Releasing a breath, he had not realized he had been holding. Frank knew he would not be as successful in his position if not for Amelia and he thanked his lucky stars daily for her.
“Oh, and we will also need enough linked data pads that do not have the ability to communicate outgoing messages but are still able to search the archives within USSF,” Frank said, apologetically at the large, last-minute request.
“I have those arriving in just a few moments,” Amelia said, non-plussed. At his look of astonishment, she explained her thought process.
“When you first mentioned the meeting, I assumed that you would be assembling a team and that they would need to access the information regarding the cloud. I also assumed that the project would be classified since you have requested that I use my strongest encryptions on every communication that has been sent out regarding this matter.”
I need to stop being surprised, Frank thought as he sat and watched a team of janitors enter the conference room five minutes later. They brought in around sixty chairs and two, long folding tables on grav-carts and began to set them up. A moment later, the promised data pads arrived with one of Amelia’s interns and were placed on the large round conference table.
Once the janitorial team and the intern left, two men in Felix Bakery uniforms walked in pushing another grav-cart laden with boxes of pastries, serving trays, coffee thermoses, cups, plates, and utensils and began setting out the feast on the two folding tables. As they exited, their task complete, the scientists, engineers, apprentices, and assistants began to arrive and take seats around the table and in the chairs against the walls.
When Amelia nodded that everyone had arrived, Frank surveyed the collection of the most brilliant minds USSF had to offer and, taking a deep breath, he began.
“All of you that have gathered here today have already signed non-disclosure statements, however, for this project, confinement will be required. Any who are not able to stay confined to this facility for the following two to three weeks, please leave now,” Frank said with dead seriousness to the room of USSF scientists and engineers.
The requirement for seclusion was a rare one but not unheard of as, from time to time, there had been projects that required this level of discretion. So, after several long moments of checking holo-tabs or data pads, a couple of assistants and a few of the scientists and engineers simply got up and left. One, however, raised her hand.
Frank knew the young woman. Her name was Christine Becker and he had personally hired the young woman for the structural engineering department. She was exceptionally bright and had been instrumental in the development of the original deep spacecraft. He was glad that she had not just left with the others.
“Director Wiess, may I speak with you a moment before we continue,” she asked in a soft voice.
“Sure,” he replied.
The young woman made her way around the conference table and spoke so no one else in the room could hear her. “Sir, I would like to stay but I have a daughter who is at daycare and I have no one who could care for her for such a long period of time,” she said, beginning to fidget nervously.
Frank knew he did not want to lose the assistance of Ms. Becker since she would be a tremendous asset to this team and he really did not want to lose the insight she could bring. Making up his mind, Frank slowly nodded his head. “Amelia, please have Willis take Miss Becker to fetch her daughter and the items she will need.” Then turning back to Christine, he added, “I will explain everything when you return.”
“Thank you, sir, I won’t be more than an hour,” she said, following Amelia quickly from the conference room.
When Amelia rejoined him a few moments later, he asked, “Please comm my daughter and ask her if Katie is available this weekend.”
She nodded as her fingers began flying across her Holo-Tab, yet again.
Frank turned back to the group and asked for all portable devices to be turned over. Two security guards collected the devices and took up positions outside the conference door. When they were all settled once again, he continued.
“This morning, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder sent me some dire news. In precisely 912 days a massive cloud of asteroids will crash into the moon and will send it hurdling into the Earth, ending all life on this planet,” Frank announced as he brought up the images and data on the holoprojector. There were gasps around the room. “We already have a vessel capable of sending people on deep space voyages, the Spherion Habitat. Your task is to expand this to save as much of humanity as possible.”
“How certain is the data?” asked Oliver, a young data scientist.
“Good question, in front of each of you is a data pad with access to all data that we have received from Professor McNeil and the two students that discovered the cloud,” Frank said motioning to the devices. “I encourage you and your team to prove the information false for that would mean that I can stop having a heart-attack at the possibility of it being the end of the world.”
There were nervous chuckles around the room as the tension slowly eased. To their credit, the brilliant scientists and engineers reigned in their astonishment and fear quickly and replaced it with looks of determination and immediately began discussing the issue and all possible solutions. He left them to it.
“I have reached your daughter and I am transferring her to your comm,” Amelia said as his comm chimed.
Throwing a grateful look in her direction, Frank headed to one of the offices that were connected to the conference room.
“Hi, pumpkin,” he said, answering the comm.
“Dad, why do you need Katie?” Elizabeth asked, cutting off the pleasantries. “What is going on?”
“Lizzy, something particularly important is going to happen shortly but I cannot talk about it over an unsecure com. I need Katie to help with a toddler who will be staying here for a shut-in,” he explained. “The toddler’s mother is the lead engineer of the Spherion Habitat program and she has no one to care for her for such a long time. We need her working on this project. Can I please borrow Katie, at least for the weekend? If you can bring her, I will tell you in person what is going on.”
Elizabeth’s sigh was audible.
“Alright, dad. I will be there in a bit. Love you.”
“Love you too, Lizzy.”
The com went silent, and Frank rejoined his team. He listened to their discussion and answered question when they asked.
Thirty minutes later, Christine was back with a small girl of about three years, clutching one hand and a Minnie Mouse bag slung over her shoulder. He waved her over and had her follow him back to the office he had just been using to speak with his daughter.
“Thank you for returning so quickly,” Frank said before turning his attention to the little girl. “And what might your name be?”
“Anna,” she responded in a small, squeaky voice.
“It is nice to meet you Anna,” Frank said with a smile. “Do you like pizza?”
Anna nodded her head vigorously causing her curly red hair to bounce madly around her face.
“Very good. I will order pizza for everyone tonight.”
“I like pineapples on my pizza,” she said eagerly.
“So, do I,” he chuckled.
Christine handed her daughter a Holo-tab from the Minnie Mouse bag. “Go sit at the table and watch some cartoons sweetie. Mommy needs to speak with Director Wiess.”
Before Anna took the device, Frank cut in. “We are not allowing outside devices for anyone connected to this project.”
“Anna’s holo-tab does not have any capability for outside communication. I had to have it modified because she kept buying holo-vids using my account.”
“Alright, let me have Amelia check it out really quick,” Frank said with an apologetic look as he handed the device to his assistant.
Amelia took the device and scanned it with her TechGlasses for a moment before handing it to the little girl. “Looks good,” she said with a broad smile. Anna took the device and walked to the other side of the large desk to sit in the oversized, high-back, black office chair.
“What is going on, Director?” Christine asked, all business.
Frank filled Christine in on the details and could see the woman’s mind immediately begin to work. She did not question the legitimacy of the information as Oliver had, just nodded, and set herself to the task.
“I already have a few ideas,” Christine said confidently, though Frank could see worry shining in her eyes when she glanced at her daughter.
“Great! If you don’t mind, I asked my granddaughter if she would come and stay here with Anna so you can focus on the project,” Frank offered. “She will be along shortly, and I will need to hold on to any connected devices for the duration of the seclusion.”
“That would be great,” Christine replied as she handed over her Holo-Tab.
“So, what are these ideas?”