Chapter 57 - Silver Shield, 12 August 2012, 616 days to go.
That day, the Silver Shield operation was sanctioned by the NSA Director with the same security classification as Silver Testament. The goal was to destroy the elimination capsules before they could reach Earth. The Admiral took personal charge of the operation and appointed Ali as his special scientific advisor. He was given a spacious office at Fort Meade, just down the hall from the Admiral’s.
The Admiral also introduced Ali to a weapons expert who had assigned to the team. His name was General Lance Lord. Lance was a tall broad shouldered man, with grey hair and a handsome tanned face. He was semi-retired from the Air Force and lived on a yacht in California. Previously he had run the ‘Star-Wars’ project, which was the Air Force led project to develop space weapons to seek and destroy enemy satellites and to protect the US satellites from electronic and physical attack. Ali discovered that Lance had a very firm and painful handshake.
Ali’s first job was to assemble a scientific team to help him. He opened PowerPoint on his computer and began typing what he knew. He did this often, as a way of analysing complex information and finding a way forward.
First he typed:
Homing beacon found on asteroid.
Elimination capsules en-route to Earth from place unknown.
Estimated time of arrival 25 December 2014, 09.37 EDT
The thought hadn’t struck him until then – but that was Christmas day next year.
He opened a new slide, and typed:
Prevent elimination capsules reaching Earth
If fail in Objective 1, plan to minimize destruction
Ali’s had a scientific and logical mind. He was trained to look at the facts and analyze the situation, and then come up with a solution. He was not conditioned to thinking of the emotional destruction around this, but did give some thought to the PR consequences of this story leaking.
He thought of the movie Men-in-Black where a secret Government agency continually dealt with extra-terrestrials and threats to destroy the planet, while the general population knew nothing about it. He wished that agency existed. He could have just called them and job done. He looked at the framed picture of his wife and kids on his desk, and felt icy sweat on his neck. Unfortunately Men-in-Black didn’t exist, but if he failed it would be the end for his family and billions of people on Earth.
Over the next few days, Ali and Lance brought in their respective teams, and the skeleton plans were fleshed out. Silver Shield expanded to occupy an entire floor in the Fort Meade complex. A digital clock was installed that ominously counted down the time to impact. The Admiral had no need to exert his dogmatic management style on the teams, the clock gave them all the focus they needed.
Ali’s skeleton objectives he had quickly sketched out became the two key objectives of the mission, but the Admiral added a third about press leakage. So under the digital clock, there was a large printed notice that read:
Silver Shield: Objectives
Ali thought this typical of the Admiral, to shorten everything so it was as brief as possible. Lance’s team were working around the clock because given the timescale that Jesus had given them, they had only a few weeks to launch a mission to reach the location of the homing beacon in time. Ali knew from his time at NASA, just how big space was, and how long it took to reach different parts of the Universe. Ali recalled that shortly after joining NASA as a trainee, he had watched the Voyager 2 lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 20, 1977. He could always remember dates like that. But it was not until he had served a further 22 years at NASA before the Voyager 2 space craft reached the planet Jupiter. Of course they had learnt a lot since then and spacecraft were faster, but they still had to travel a third of the distance to Jupiter in less than 2 years.
Nobody had every deployed a space weapon in anger before, but several nations had drawn up plans and conducted tests. Including the US. Lance had disclosed during one of the regular 3-way briefings with Ali and the Admiral, that during his time running the Star Wars program, the US had secretly test fired several space weapons. He said the weapons had deployed successfully, but at that point the Admiral had curtailed the conversation. Ali realised he was trusted to a certain extent, but certain information was not going to be disclosed to him. Secretly he was glad, he knew that the US and for that matter other nations around the world possessed terrible weapons of mass destruction, but as a pacifist he preferred not to know or think about them too much.
Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, Mary was tasked with extracting as much information from Jesus as she could. She and Jesus were surrounded by a small team of specialist child psychologists, and a select team of specialists analysed video footage of Jesus. His every movement was recorded, even his visits to the bathroom. They filmed him in his sleep in case he said something while he was dreaming, but he never had so far.
Every second was on tape, and a 24 hour a day seven day a week operation was set-up by the Admiral to analyse every second of footage. As each team of analysts finished their shift they would send a summary email of anything significant from the tapes. But so far it had yielded no further intelligence.
Each morning Mary had a call on a secure line with the Head of the Analysts team and they discussed a strategy for the day.
The previous day they had tried to talk to him about a mission to find the silver space craft and return home, but Jesus said this was out of the question until his re-birth was complete. But so far he could give Mary no time-scale for the process.
They asked him about destroying the homing beacons and the elimination capsules, but he just said that was impossible.
Working with the education psychologists they began a program to educate Jesus about weapons that used electronic magnetic pulses and even nuclear weapons, in the hope that he may say something that would link a possible destruction method. Although Jesus was a very quick learner, only so much could be done each day, and so far there had been no significant information.
It had just been a few weeks since Ali had been drugged and landed at night in Jamaica. When the Admiral complained that progress was slow, Mary reminded them that Jesus was just a 6 year old boy.
A deep space mission such as this was usually 10 years in the planning. For Silver Shield they had just a few weeks.
Ali had been hugely impressed by Lance and they now had a robust plan that had been conceived in such a short timescale. One major issue was maintaining secrecy of the mission, because if word got out, there could be absolute panic and anarchy in the streets. Launching a rocket was not as subtle thing, and unscheduled launches went around the newswires on the internet like wild-fire. So Lance had come up with the brilliant plan of using the cover of an existing scheduled NASA mission to Mars. This mission called Mars Rover 2, had been planned to coincide with the red planet being in an orbit that was closest to Earth and therefore the easiest time to reach it.
Effectively the NSA had pulled rank on the NASA scientific mission, and hijacked the launch vehicle. Replacing the Mars unmanned Rover 2 vehicle with their own payload of mass destruction. Ali knew that his scientific colleagues would be deeply upset by this, he knew some of the people working on the mission personally. He felt bad, because the Admiral had ordered that none of the Mars Rover 2 team were to be told about the pay-loud switch until after the mission reached Mars. The Admiral reluctantly agreed that it would be necessary to tell them from this point on, because instead of landing on Mars as originally planned, the Silver Shield rocket would use the perfect Mars position to sling-shot around the planet and accelerate on towards the homing beacon on the Asteroid.
On top of this, Lance and his team identified three other rockets that were capable of launch in time to reach the asteroid. One was a US rocket build by Boeing, the second was a Russian rocket that had been built but never launched because of funding cuts, and third was a Chinese rocket that Lance found out about through his personal connections. It turned out that even the CIA, didn’t know the Chinese had this particular rocket.
In an unprecedented level of speed and co-operation, within days leading representatives of both the Chinese and Russian space programs had arrived at Fort Meade, and were fully briefed. It was a huge risk to the secrecy of the mission, but the President realised the consequences and seriousness of the threat.
Lance now formed three teams of weapons experts. The Russian rocket could carry the heaviest payload, and was to be loaded with nuclear weapons with the sole aim of destroying the asteroid where the homing beacon was located. A contract was given to a specialist Russian engineering company to build a vehicle to smash into the Asteroid. They were told it was to analyze mineral samples. The company asked no questions, they were glad of the work. They were even more delighted when they were asked to build a second identical vehicle. President Putin authorized the construction of second Russian heavy rocket, even though it would be too late to reach the asteroid in the deadline, it was a back-up plan and his contribution to Silver Shield.
This was the riskiest launch. If the rocket exploded on the launch pad, and an uncomfortably large number of Russian rockets did, it would cause the largest nuclear explosion on Earth. Although the launch pad was in a remote part of Kazakhstan, the prevailing winds would mean large parts of Asia including India, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and possibly Japan could experience multiple casualties. The worst case scenario was billions of casualties.
While the Russian team was at Fort Meade, an unmarked buff folder was discretely left on the main Russian rocket engineer’s desk. It contained the detailed designs of a new US classified improved thruster engine control valve. It was these valves that had failed on several previous Russian missions. New valves were fitted to the Russian rocket within days. The US and Russian engineers considered the risk factors at launch now to be within an acceptable range. Both the US and Russian Presidents, then authorised the mission.
The US rocket would carry a pulse system that could emit a powerful burst of EMR – electromagnetic radiation. This was like a high powered pulse of radio waves concentrated in the Wow! Spectrum of hydrogen. This intelligence had been gained during Ali and Mary’s discussion with Jesus.
It was hoped that this pulse would disrupt the communication from the homing beacon. In theory the EMR pulse could be activated a reasonable distance from the asteroid, so it was hoped that the beacon could be neutralized sooner rather than later.
The rocket which was already on a launch tower located in the secure Air Force base at Kennedy. As soon as the payload was on board the rocket was launched under the cover of darkness. A press release from the US Air Force press office announced the mission as a military satellite supply mission. The press release was largely ignored.
Lance announced that morning, ‘Bird 2 has flown.’ The team cheered and celebrated with pizza at their desks at lunch.
Within weeks a second Boeing rocket would be assembled at the launch tower. Again this one was going to be too late, but they wanted to send another EMR equipped vehicle as a back-up. They had to be seen to do everything. This was known as Bird 2A. The two Russian rockets were codenamed Bird 1 and Bird 1R.
The Chinese rocket had the most ambitious of the three plans. It would be the slowest of the three to reach the asteroid, but if Bird 1 and Bird 2 failed in their missions, then Bird 3 would be the only hope. The goal was to capture the beacon and then fly it directly into the planet Jupiter. To their great embarrassment the Chinese could not produce a second rocket in time, there would be no Bird 3C. The Chinese premier apologized to both the US President and the Russian President, explaining through an interpreter that ‘it was not a question of money, but 9 women can’t make a baby in a month’.
The Chinese mission was also different because it would be a manned mission. In fact the two person crew would be martyrs. They would have to land on the asteroid, locate the beacon and then fly their space craft directly at the planet Jupiter, and to destruction. This was the closest large object, closer than the Sun.
The mission seemed fanciful, but it was a good chance for both the Americans and Russians to find out how good the Chinese space program really was.
There was a high probability that the Chinese crew would be dead by the time they reached Jupiter, killed by space radiation. Also as Jupiter’s gravitational pull caught them they would accelerate to speeds way beyond any speed that a human had travelled before. It was not clear if they could survive.
On top of this they would arrive after Bird 1, which meant the asteroid could have been blown into millions of radioactive fragments. It after this explosion and the EMR pulses from Bird 2, the homing beacon was still active, then locating the beacon would not be a problem. But in doing so the Chinese crew would expose themselves to deadly radiation.
There was also the not-insignificant challenge of landing a space-craft on an asteroid, finding the homing beacons which nobody knew what it looked like and then taking off again. They would also have a short window before Bird 1R with its second nuclear payload and Bird 2A arrived with its EMR. Both could prove lethal to the Chinese astronauts.
While the back-up Birds could be controlled and delayed, this of course would be a difficult decision at the time.
The Chinese rocket would then have just enough fuel to take off and head towards Jupiter before the massive planet’s gravitational pull caught them and pulled them inexorably towards certain destruction. They would not have enough fuel to return to Earth.
Surprisingly, the Chinese said there were a large number of volunteers for this mission; and not amongst the old and the frail, because fit young people were required to survive it. A crew was selected in secret, the US team asked no questions.
The mathematicians gave Birds 1 and 2 a 60% chance of success, and Bird 3 a 20% chance of success.
Now the Admiral ordered the Silver Shield team to split into two. Lance and the three rocket control teams relocated to Houston in Texas, while Ali, who was concentrating on what to do if the elimination capsules arrived on Earth, remained in Fort Meade.