Chapter 15 - Return
“How many acolytes have you converted in the last two weeks, Deacon Rash?” Yuri-Milost asked as she chewed a large bite of her glazed doughnut.
“A total of five, Yuri-Milost,” Second Lieutenant Hubert Rash responded. “They’re all true believers in the purity and divine origin of the Human race created in the image of God the Almighty. At your convenience, they’re prepared to be consecrated into full membership in The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany.”
“Excellent!” Yuri-Milost murmured as she gulped half her latte.
Wiping her mouth with a large, coffee-stained linen napkin, she reviewed the highlights of the past two days.
Her return to Earth with the data and hardware from the Asiddian encounter had gone as expected. General Blunt had expressed sincere gratitude for the professionalism of Yuri-Milost and Colonel Stoneman. He’d wasted no time turning the data recordings over to his Staff for analysis and comment.
Heinbaum had almost dragged McPherson to the hangar in his excitement to lay hands on the Asiddian samples. Yuri-Milost nearly laughed out loud at the memory of Heinbaum dropping his end of the heavy laser emitter spine on McPherson’s toes. If his foot hadn’t been pinned, the screaming McPherson would’ve grabbed the scientist as he dodged away and slapped him silly.
General Blunt wanted her to rejoin Jenson and his crew in the Chrysalis system within the next two days. The Verbinna was in the process of being refitted with more powerful FLIT gens. Based upon the data provided by Miguel Roemer, Heinbaum had enlarged the artificial black hole fullerenes to a size he calculated would provide sufficient power to withstand the Asiddian laser beams.
He also claimed he was in the process of re-designing the geometry of the Heinbaum/McPherson Defensive Shield. The pompous lab rat told anyone who would listen that the hurried modifications GooYee had implemented to the shield during the encounter with the Asiddian battleship were childishly rudimentary, and only Heinbaum’s genius could perfect them.
Yuri-Milost was determined to hand-select her own crew for the return voyage. The death of the beast was paramount. The opportunity to eliminate him and claim the death resulted from combat with the Asiddians was too unique to ignore.
Gazing at the three men kneeling before her on the intricately woven Persian rug, Yuri-Milost considered her options. Deacon and Second Lieutenant Rash was her particular favorite. He stood 5 feet 11 inches tall with the slender build of a distance runner. His mousy brown hair and matching eyes were nondescript. He never spoke unless specifically addressed, and his voice was a quiet monotone. The man could blend into a crowd of people with complete anonymity. Nothing about his body or clothing drew any attention whatsoever. His best attribute, as far as Yuri-Milost was concerned, was that Hubert Rash was a true sociopath. To Hubert, killing a person was the same as breathing in or out. A life was simply a thing with no more importance to him than a piece of dust.
Lance Corporal Leonard Trakutel had been recruited by Rash over four months ago and initiated as an Acolyte of the Church just before Yuri-Milost departed on her journey to Chrysalis. Trakutel was a quartermaster and managed the weapons cache for the Nevada base. Standing a little over six feet tall, the man sported a curly, red mop of hair barely cut short enough to pass a military inspection.
Trakutel helped Captain McPherson inventory and catalogue all the MA ray weapons on the base. One of the major benefits of having Trakutel as a member of her church was the friendly bond he had with McPherson. The oafish Scotsman trusted Trakutel; yet she had no doubt Trakutel would send Jerome McPherson to his just reward in Hell at her slightest command.
The third man was Lieutenant Quentin DeLoth. In the last few days, Yuri-Milost had taken to questioning the man’s commitment to the Church. She was annoyed with his flagging level of excitement when she demanded favors from him. DeLoth seemed incapable of concentrating on lifting her to appropriate heights of rapture. If Yuri-Milost didn’t know better, she’d think he wasn’t attracted to her.
Her musings were interrupted by the base intercom.
“Colonel Svet Yuri-Milost, report to the Verbinna hangar. Colonel Svet Yuri-Milost, report to the Verbinna hangar.”
Rising, she said, “Make preparations for our departure tomorrow. I’ll make sure you’re included as crew members on my roster. Dismissed.”
“Don’t touch anything without asking me first,” Heinbaum ordered as the two Chrysallaman metallurgists, Dr. Davidd Mkkell and Dr. Thann HannBrr walked through the lab door with McPherson.
“Don’t worry, Heiny. Dr. GooYee has kept us in the loop about your requirements,” Dr. Mkkell said.
“Stop calling me Heiny!” Heinbaum bellowed.
Heinbaum had been consumed with his analysis of the Asiddian emitter lens ever since McPherson had figured out how to remove it from the end of the spine fragment. His experiments had determined it took ten megawatts of electricity to activate the laser beam, but Heinbaum was frustrated by the ray’s fundamental behavior on the materials it impacted. No physical substance seemed able to withstand the destructive power of the red ray except the Asiddian spine material.
Only the Heinbaum/McPherson Defensive Shield provided any protection and even it reacted oddly. Instead of absorbing the power of the beam to strengthen its shielding as it did with the cutter, heat and MA rays, the PDS reflected the darn thing. Realizing he had reached an impasse in his analysis, Heinbaum reluctantly called for advice from the Chrysallaman metallurgists, Mkkell and HannBrr.
Rolling his eyes at Heinbaum’s reaction, McPherson asked the Chrysallamans, “What would you fellows like to see first?”
“I want to focus the Asiddian ray through this,” HannBrr replied.
Reaching into his lab coat pocket, HannBrr retrieved a triangular-shaped, clear prism. One of the corners of the triangular sides of the prism was cut flat on an oblique angle.
Working with keen concentration, HannBrr fixed the prism in a clamp on the workbench and aligned the Asiddian emitter lens so that when it was activated, the red beam would enter the prism through the flat side with the oblique angle. He then lined up mirrors on each side of the prism and angled them toward the white erase board on the nearby wall.
Heinbaum uncharacteristically kept his mouth shut while HannBrr worked on the setup, but McPherson could tell the skinny scientist was intrigued. Longarrow manned the HKG generator and poised his finger over the activation switch. The switch was rigged with a Deadman’s control. Spring loaded to remain open, the switch required 30 lbs of pressure to close the lever connecting power into the emitter lens. If the person pushing the lever released the pressure, the switch automatically opened and shut off the current.
Mkkell offered an explanation as HannBrr was completing his arrangement. “The theoretical purpose of the prism is to divide the destructive beam into its constituent wavelengths so they can be analyzed separately. The beam itself is too deadly for analysis, but by splitting it into its core elements, we may be able to determine its fundamental properties.”
The only response from Heinbaum was a nod.
HannBrr finished his work and backed away from his apparatus. Motioning to Ernest, he said, “Mr. Longarrow, if you please.”
Ernest pressed the power switch to activate the Asiddian laser and two circles of light appeared on the surface of the white erase board. The color of the left-hand circle was magenta. The color of the right-hand circle was yellow. Mkkell walked to the erase board and placed the sensor probe of his portable spectrographic analysis tool into the beam of magenta light. After a momentary pause, the device pinged and Mkkell pushed one of the black buttons on the unit’s control pad. He then walked through the magenta beam to the stream of yellow light and duplicated his sensor readings on it.
Returning to the workbench, he signaled Ernest to cut the power from the HKG. Pulling a small USB thumb drive from its slot on the spectrographic tool, Mkkell handed the drive to Heinbaum and said, “I think the information you need to uncover the secrets of the Asiddian ray is contained in this memory chip. Please let us know if you need any further help.”
Heinbaum hesitated a moment as he looked at the thumb drive. Suddenly he stood and said, “Captain, would you please rustle up some lunch for all of us. The good doctors and I have much to discuss.”
McPherson shook his head in disbelief and left for the cafeteria.
Madelyn Amsley handed the crew roster email she’d received from Yuri-Milost to Tom for his approval, waiting as he reviewed the list. She saw him initial his approval and the hesitation as he handed it back to her.
“How in the world does Colonel Yuri-Milost develop a trusted relationship with a Second Lieutenant and a Lance Corporal after she’s been on this base for less than 30 days?”
Amsley was a 35 year old African-American 5 feet 4 inches tall. She wore oval shaped, steel rimmed reading glasses which hung around her neck by a black, jeweled cord attached to the temple covers. Her auburn hair was always in a bun pinned at the back of her head.
Narrowing her deep brown eyes in thought, she said, “I don’t know. You want me to make some discreet inquiries?”
Nodding, Tom was about to add something when they were interrupted by the chime of the intercom in her Bluetooth earbud.
“General Blunt’s office, Amsley speaking. Yes, Doctor. No, I’m sure he’ll want to speak with you.”
Nodding at the phone, Amsley said. “Dr. Heinbaum sounds excited. Wants to speak with you.”
“Yes, Dr. Heinbaum.”
“General, my Chrysallaman associates and I have made a breakthrough with the defensive shield. Would you have time to come to my laboratory for a demonstration?”
The veiled excitement in Heinbaum’s voice was palpable, and Tom said he’d be there shortly. He smiled at Amsley.
“It must be something real important if Dr. John Heinbaum refers to Chrysallamans as his associates.”
As he opened his office door, he said, “Check out the background and history of the men Yuri-Milost added to her roster. Get me everything including who they’ve been fraternizing with since they arrived at the Base.”
Almost nothing Heinbaum did surprised Tom anymore, but the selfie stick caper was a notable exception. Tom walked into the scientist’s lab and stared in open mouthed amazement at the scene.
Heinbaum held a 4-foot selfie stick and was trying to frame a photo of himself perched on the shoulders of the Chrysallaman scientists, Mkkell and HannBrr, like some kind of football coach who’d won a championship game. Longarrow and McPherson stood beside a nearby workbench making suggestions about proper lighting and background.
Walking to McPherson and Longarrow, Tom said, “You know a psychologist could write a couple of volumes about Heinbaum and still not adequately explain his eccentricities.”
“You’re right, General,” McPherson replied with a grin. “God cracked Heinbaum’s mold before he made him.”
Noticing General Blunt had arrived, Heinbaum said, “All right, gentlemen, I have quite enough shots for my scrapbook. Put me down.”
Handing his cellphone and selfie stick to Longarrow, Heinbaum said, “General, thank you for coming on such short notice. My team has made a monumental leap forward on the defensive screen, and we wanted you to be the first person to see it in operation.”
Gesturing to McPherson, Heinbaum said, “Captain, if you please.”
McPherson walked to the end of the room where he stood with his arms crossed. Blunt noticed McPherson had a MA pistol holstered at his hip. Mkkell and HannBrr placed a small table about 15 feet in front of McPherson. On the table were a MA pistol, a Chrysallaman ray pistol and the Asiddian laser emitter wired to an HKG.
Longarrow walked to the gun table and said, “The original PDS design provided complete protection from the Chrysallaman cutter and heat rays and the human MA ray. The mechanism would not only shield its wearer from those rays, it would absorb the power from the rays and use it to strengthen the shield.”
Heinbaum said, “Ernest, do your best John Wayne impersonation.”
Longarrow picked up both the Chrysallaman and MA pistols. Jutting out his chin and narrowing his eyes in an attempt to mimic John Wayne’s face, he said in a gravelly voice, “Young fella, if you’re looking for trouble, I’ll accommodate ya!”
He then fired the pistols at McPherson. The growling hums of the powerful rays were loud in the confines of the lab. Instantly, a clear bubble of shield protection appeared around McPherson neutralizing the deadly rays. Putting down the useless weapons, Longarrow looked back at Heinbaum and shrugged.
Walking to the white board, Heinbaum drew a bubble shaped curve with a scout saucer inside it and said, “The reaction of the original shield to the Asiddian laser was to reflect the ray instead of absorbing its energy. Since the shield didn’t or couldn’t use the Asiddian ray’s power to strengthen itself, it had to rely solely on the power from the FLIT gen black hole to shield the saucer. The combined power of three rays was enough to begin overheating the FLIT gens.”
As he explained what happened, Heinbaum drew a depiction of the Asiddian laser hitting the bubble shaped curve and deflecting away at an angle.
“The change GooYee made to the geometry of the shield caused it to react to the laser beam like a flat plane mirror instead of a bubble. It was the reflection of the Asiddian’s own laser beam which caused the initial damage to the Asiddian battleship.”
Erasing the bubble shaped curve, Heinbaum drew a vertical flat line. He then depicted the Asiddian laser beam striking the flat plane and reflecting back at its source.
“The ships were so close to each other, the reflected beam impacted the Asiddian battleship. Burned a nice deep hole in it. Even with the geometric change though, the FLIT gens again overheated as they fought the power of twenty combined laser beams. Colonel Jenson was forced to withdraw once more. If his team hadn’t destroyed the Asiddian power generators, the end result might not have been in our favor.”
Gesturing at Mkkell and HannBrr, Heinbaum said, “These two gentlemen provided me with the common sense street-smarts I needed to solve the shield’s problem handling the Asiddian laser beam.”
Tom noticed both Chrysallamans smiled at Heinbaum’s compliment. It appeared Chrysallamans liked to have their egos stroked as much as any Human.
“Please observe,” Heinbaum said as he gave a thumbs up to Longarrow.
Ernest shifted the Asiddian emitter on the gun table so it was pointed at McPherson and pressed his finger on the activator switch. The red laser lanced at McPherson. At the point of impact on the shield, the red beam appeared to form a dim circle of light. Half the circle was tinged yellow and the other half tinged a purplish-pink. There was no deflection or reflection of the beam.
“I may start calling you Houdini instead of Heinbaum,” Tom said as he patted the scientist’s shoulder. “What did you do?”
“I combined Dr. GooYee’s idea of shield geometry with the insight of Drs. Mkkell and HannBrr on light refraction. In layman’s terms, I finagled the shield to act like a prism. The prism shield divides the Asiddian laser into its component wavelengths rendering it harmless. Our FLIT gen is then able to absorb the power of the bifurcated beam and use the power to strengthen the shield. There is an added benefit.”
Seeing the interest in Tom’s face, Heinbaum looked at McPherson and said, “Gentlemen, let’s treat General Blunt to the proverbial icing on the cake.”
Ernest picked up the Chrysallaman cutter ray pistol and walked over to the adult human skeleton hung from a roller stand. It became obvious the skeleton had been rigged because he placed the ray pistol in a specially-fitted sling in the bony right hand of the skeleton and pointed it at McPherson. Walking back to the table, Longarrow picked up a remote control and pushed one of the control levers.
The cutter ray pistol in the skeleton hand fired at McPherson, and the PDS shielded him with its clear bubble of protection. McPherson drew the MA pistol from his holster and fired it at the skeleton. McPherson’s MA ray went through his PDS shield as if it was nothing but thin air and destroyed the cutter ray pistol and the skeleton’s right arm.
Blunt understood immediately. “You modified the PDS so we can fire our weapons through it!”
Tom motioned McPherson to join them and said, “Now if we can just find a better way to wear the PDS than as a necklace, I can really celebrate.”
“Already done,” Heinbaum replied as McPherson walked up.
“Captain, why don’t you show the General your new PDS.”
Grinning like a Cheshire Cat, McPherson unbuttoned the top buttons on his shirt and bared his chest. There was no PDS pendant hanging around his neck.
The frown lines between Tom’s eyes deepened, “Where is it? I know he has a pendant on him somewhere.”
McPherson tapped his chest over his sternum. “Installed two days ago by Doc Satterfield. Can’t tell it’s there except for a small raised place.”
Tom was amazed. Looking closely, he could see a faint rectangular outline under the skin covering McPherson’s breastbone. Heinbaum explained the laparoscopic surgery and special surgical glue Satterfield had used. The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes and recovery time was minimal.
“Mr. Longarrow designed the new PDS implant with a flash memory and Wi-Fi support. From now on, any advances or upgrades in shield development can be uploaded wirelessly,” Heinbaum declared.
“How fast can we get these things installed on our personnel, vehicles and spacecraft?” Tom asked.
“All the spacecraft have been upgraded except the Salterr. Colonel Yuri-Milost will transmit the upgrade to it as soon as she returns to the Chrysalis System,” Heinbaum responded. “Satterfield is training four of his associates on the PDS implant surgical procedure. They’ll then train other doctors around the World. I estimate six months to equip the current FORCE troop level.”