A New Past : Book Three by Charlie Foxtrot
© 2014 by Charlie Foxtrot
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law.
Cover Photo: ©iStock.com/Shaiith
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-7337401-2-8
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The story depicts an alternative, invented "reality" or timeline. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical figures, are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. Some of the characters in the story are based on actual people, but none of the events depicted in the story are actual events. In all other respects, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Warning: This work contains frank and graphic sex scenes between the characters. While the primary plot is not about sex, the characters do have a varied and fulfilling sex life that is portrayed within the context of the story. If works of this nature offend you, don’t read this book. Consider yourself warned.
Acknowledgements: This work was first published by the author in serial format online, at storiesonline.net. A great many readers and proof-readers helped polish the story over time with their feedback and comments. I appreciate all of those who helped make this a stronger tale. -Charlie
Note: This is the third (of three) books chronicling Paul Taylor’s adventures after being flung into his own past. The tale begins in Book One. Readers who have not read the first two book may not follow along with the characters, their relationships, or their struggles.
Table of Contents
This is the continuing story of a man from the future, cast back into his younger self, and working to change not only his own life-trajectory, but that of the world as well. If you have not read the first book in this trilogy, you may not be able to follow the story or understand the characters or their relationships.
For continuity sake, the chapters in this book continue from the number used in books one and two. Thus, the first chapter of Book Three, is Chapter 41 of the overall story.
Poking the Bear
"Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan. This is Golf Sierra Niner, in de-orbit profile, passing latitude eight-nine north on heading one nine zero. Altitude two-one-two klicks, descending. We are broadcasting in the blind and unable to receive communications."
I marveled at the disciplined voice of Terry White, the pilot. We had been on what I considered a routine flight up to PTO-1 for a supply delivery. We'd launched the station in December of 1994, just outside my eighteen-month goal, and had manned it continuously since. Dr. Thomas Culpepper, one of the Season Three interns and now working with Dr. Wilkerson in my materials research team, oversaw the orbital science operations.
I'd joined the flight at the last minute, wanting to review some of the material processes being worked on in the orbiting lab. It was two days docked to the station and then an orbital change to retrieve an end-of-life military satellite for the DoD before returning to Edwards Air Force base with our cargo. That had been the plan.
That changed after a debris hit, following the satellite retrieval.
"Any way to know if we're broadcasting?" Samantha Conner, the co-pilot, asked.
"Negative. Whatever hit us took out at least one antenna array. Once we get lower and we're not ionizing the air so much, our other comms should work." Terry replied. "I just hope no one gets twitchy with something de-orbiting from over the pole."
While tensions around the world had reduced to some extent over the past two years, the START II treaty was still stalled in Congress and the US retained a formidable response capability to a missile attack. Of course, GS-9 was on a published flight path and I was confident the Air Force was tracking us, given our mission to retrieve a military satellite.
"How's our speed?" I asked, as I glanced over my shoulder and out the window. The glow of reentry had dimmed.
"We're below six klicks a second. Why?"
Rather than answer, I flipped two switches on the engineer's panel before me and began typing on the keyboard. After a minute, I sat back and watched the screen.
"Yes! I'm able to connect to the remote telemetry system. Let me alert ops."
I began typing again.
"Ops is online. They can hear our broadcast, but we can't hear them," I said a few moments later.
"That's good news," Sam said.
"It is. Let me see if they are tracking....Shit. High T-34, high fluctuations on M-34, port engine." I typed furiously as I kept one eye on the monitors at my engineering station.
"Any station this net, Golf Sierra Niner broadcasting in the blind. We are losing one engine. Requesting immediate clearance to land...."
"Hill Air Force Base looks closest," Sam said as she checked the track against her display.
"...at Hill Air Force Base," Terry finished.
"Ops says we are clear. They're alerting Hill."
A red alarm flashed and a klaxon sounded on my panel.
"Shutting down port engine!" I announced.
"Throttling down starboard." Terry stated as he monitored his controls.
The cockpit was quietly tense as the two pilots adjusted course and monitored our altitude. I kept an eye on the engines. I had many hours in test firings and simulator time but this was the first trip sitting alone in the engineer's station on a real flight bridge. I was proud of completing all the certifications we had devised for the position but found myself wondering if the training was enough for a real emergency. I pushed those thoughts away and pulled out the checklist for landing on one engine and began reviewing the procedures, just as I had trained.
"Should we stretch for Edwards?" Sam asked.
"Negative," I responded. "Get us on the ground. We should not have lost the port engine from a debris strike. Something else is going on. Let's get safely down. Then we can figure out what happened."
The design of the GO-X had given way to the GS series of orbiters. Hunter and I had been able to reduce the size of the generators and make them integral to the wing base, to allow a streamlined lifting body design that could support both orbital and sub-orbital operations. While this was the ninth orbiter PT Innovation had built, it was only the second of the GS series. This flight was making me wonder if we had missed something in the design.
"I've got the beacon for Hill," Sam announced several tense minutes later. "I guess that means the nav array is intact at least. Come right to two-two-five and we'll then track back south to line up for a straight approach."
"How long is their runway?" Terry asked.
"Runway 14 is 4117 meters long. You should have plenty of roll space."
"Agreed, but let's get the speed down some more. I'm going nose up and drop some speed. Starboard engine at idle," he said.
I felt myself press into the seat as our nose came up and we climbed some while Terry put us into a gentle turn, first further west, and then back to the southwest.
"Looking good," Sam said as she handled navigation.
"Hill is ready for us," I said as I read the brief message from Ops on my display.
"Come right to one four zero," Sam said as she kept an eye on the nav display.
"I've got a visual," Terry said as he banked the orbiter. "We're on the glide path."
I scanned my controls and then pulled my seat belt and shoulder harness tight. While the pilot and co-pilot had windows, the engineering station and the payload specialist stations blocked any view, so I had to rely on the video display to show what the pilots could see through their windows. I made sure the emergency landing checklist was clipped in place where I could easily see it.
"Ten-K to threshold. Angels four-mike," Sam said. We were at four thousand meters and ten thousand meters from the end of the runway. It was a little higher than our typical approach profile.
"Port engine offline. Starboard engine at idle. All indicators green," I said.
"Lowering gear," Terry said without emotion.
I monitored the landing gear indicators.
"Gear is down and locked," Sam reported.
"I've got the ball," Terry said. "High in glide path. Correcting."
I felt the nose come up some and watched the airspeed bleed off and the altitude drop. The deft balancing of forces was an art form that I could appreciate but did not want to try and master. I would have been inclined to drop the nose, which would pick up speed and increase lift in this craft.
"On glide path," Terry said for the benefit of our cabin recorders. Over and over, it had been drilled into me to keep the dialog going on actions and observations to capture as much data as possible.
"Four-K to threshold. Angels one-mike," Sam said. I had wondered why we used the "K" designator for kilometers, but called out "mike" for altitude. Evidently, "Angels" had been used for altitude in thousands of feet, so our pilots had taken the Angels as one thousand, but added "mike" to indicate meters instead of feet.
I brought my focus back to my display.
"Two-K, five hundred meters," Sam said softly.
I took a deep breath and watched our airspeed drop, as the nose came up a little higher. The last two thousand meters seemed to take forever, even though I knew it was only a matter of moments before we pressed firmly against our seats and heard the chirp of tires hitting the runway. A moment after that, I was pressed against my shoulder straps as the brakes were applied.
"Touchdown," Sam said.
I began going through the post landing checklist as Terry and Sam brought us to a complete stop at the southern end of the runway. On my monitor, I saw the base emergency crews surrounding us.
"Sam," Terry said. "Let Paul and I finish the shutdown while you go pop the hatch and let them know we're okay."
"I'm on it," she said as she unbuckled and headed aft to the primary crew hatch.
Ten minutes later, we were all standing in the shade of the orbiter as we looked at the communications antenna array. A small pit was evident in the carbon fiber panel, but there was nothing catastrophic about it. The port engine also looked fine.
"Whatever caused our problems," I said softly to Terry, "It was not a debris strike."
"Daddy, I saw you on TV!" Ali exclaimed as I came into the house in Deer Valley. "You were on a spaceship."
I smiled, stooped to pick up my seven-year-old daughter, and gave her a big kiss on the cheek.
"I was, sweetheart. Did I look good on TV?"
She nodded with a serious frown on her face. "But Mommy was not happy with you."
She shrugged and wiggled to be put down. "I don't know, but she said Aunty Alison was going to tan your hide," she said with a giggle before running towards the kitchen.
I shook my head and followed her to be greeted by cold stares from my wife and head of security.
"I hope you're all right," Jeryl said as she stood and gave me a quick kiss, "because I'm pretty sure Alison intends to see if you've been keeping up with your Krav Maga practice."
I groaned and held up my hands in surrender. "I was never in any real danger," I insisted. "Besides, Sanford was at Hill almost before we got the ship off the runway."
Alison arched a red eyebrow at me. "Sanford was supposed to be on vacation here, this week; not chasing after you. Your detail is in California waiting on your return from orbit. I know you think security is foolish but you still have reasons to be cautious, Paul."
I sat down and nodded. "I know. I think even more so than you realize."
Alison sat up straighter. "What do you mean?"
"Someone managed to plant a software virus on the orbiter. That's why we had to come down at Hill. It took out some comms and caused an engine issue."
"How is that possible?" Jeryl asked. "I thought your protocols would prevent something like that."
"I thought so, too. That's why I called for Sanford to pick me up. I need Alison to get a crack team of computer forensic people together."
Alison was nodding now. "We've got some people on retainer. Were they targeting you?"
"I don't see how. I wasn't supposed to be on the orbiter. It was a last-minute crew change and I don't think any software was loaded after I decided to go."
"And that's something we will verify," Alison said. "I will get a team moving to both the orbiter and the launch prep facility." She stood and glanced at Jeryl. "Can you keep an eye on Rose for a bit?"
"Of course," Jeryl said.
"And you need to be grounded," Alison said to me. "Until we know what really happened. Understood?"
I considered arguing but then realized she was right.
"I do. I even agree," I said after a moment.
"Good. I guess that means I won't have to give you a spanking then," she said with a little smile. She leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek before heading the out of the room.
"But I will if you do something that stupid again!" Jeryl said as she gave me a longer hug. "You scared me, Paul."
I gave her a kiss.
"Paul, do you know an Allen Stenzel?" Tamara asked from the doorway of my office in Stanford. She had some papers in her hand.
"I knew some Stenzels growing up," I said with a slight pang for Wendy.
"I've got a letter asking about job opportunities. It says you knew his sister."
"I did. She was one of my first girlfriends. She died my freshman year."
Tamara's face fell. She fully entered my office and handed me the stack of paper.
The top page was a letter, from Wendy's younger brother, Allen. He had just finished his masters in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and was starting his job search. I flipped through his transcript and resume. He had attended Northwestern for his undergrad and carried nearly straight A's throughout his college career. He had interned at Motorola and worked summers for DigiNet in Chicago as part of a tower build-out crew.
I sat down and motioned Tamara to take a seat as I re-read his letter. I remembered the last time I had seen him, at Wendy's funeral. He was only eight or nine then. The years had flown by.
"Tamara, go ahead and get ahold of him. Arrange a trip out here for an interview. I want you to take lead on it."
"What position?" she asked.
"I don't know. Find out what he is interested in and get a feel for his strengths. From the looks of things, he could have gone back to DigiNet and stayed closer to home, so he must be interested in something else. Find out. Once you get things arranged, end the day with an hour with me."
She nodded. "Got it. I'll get everything set up."
A week later, on a Thursday afternoon, she ushered an all-grown-up Allen into my office. I rose and came around my desk to shake his hand. He was a good looking, tall young man with his father's broad shoulders and easy smile.
"Allen, it is good to see you again. How have you been?" I asked as I guided him to the small meeting table by my windows."
"I'm good, Paul. I'm almost surprised you remember me."
I smiled. "Meeting you was a bright spot in some otherwise dark times. I'm sorry I didn't try to stay in touch."
He waved it away. "I understand. We actually moved a couple of years later. Dad got a promotion that took us to Indianapolis."
"How are your folks?"
"Good. They're in Pittsburgh now."
"So, how has your day been?"
He flashed his smile again. "Great. Tamara went over my background and then took me to meet a few of the start-ups you're investing in down on the first floor. Then I met with Donna and discussed some of my DigiNet experiences. I also had a phone conversation with Dr. Freis in Syracuse. You are doing a lot of interesting things."
I had gotten brief emails from everyone stating what an intelligent and personable young man Allen was, before I met with him. Everyone had liked him.
"Good. Everyone was very impressed with you as well," I told him.
He smiled again.
"I've just got one problem," I said. "I don't know what position you are actually interested in, here."
His smile faded and he looked nervous for the first time.
"Um, I know this may be a bit bold but I was wondering if you needed a junior assistant?"
My first thought was to laugh. My second was to stop and think. Luckily, my first thought never made it to my face.
"That's interesting. I usually have two personal assistants. Tamara is one of them. Joseph is the other. Did you meet Joseph?"
"The British ex-marine?" he asked. I nodded. "Yes, I met him this morning but we didn't say much, other than pleasantries."
I sat back in my chair and thought for a minute.
"Allen, I'll tell you what. I'll give you a shot to see if this is really what you want. You're familiar with our TV show, right?"
His smile was back. "Oh, yeah. I watch it every season."
"Okay, you're going to get your very own version over the next four weeks."
I got up and headed to the door to call Tamara in. She looked a little bewildered when I had her join us at the table.
"Tamara, Allen is going to be your and Joseph's gopher for the next few weeks. When I am on the road, he'll be with whichever one of you is my shadow. If you don't have enough to keep him busy, we'll see what Jeryl has going. I want him to get a sense for the pace and workload you guys put up with from me. If he passes muster and still wants the job, he'll become another PA for me."
Tamara actually smiled at the both of us.
"Just in time to help plan this summer's symposiums," she said with a chuckle. My annual innovation symposium had grown over the years to almost become an internal research convention. Tamara and Joseph had insisted on professional event management help but still ran themselves ragged getting ready for it.
"That can be one task. Do you have a passport, Allen?"
"Great. I've got to be in Dublin in eight days for some meetings with the Power Systems division. You'll come along for that. Tamara, where did you put him up?"
"The Four Seasons, but they have a group booking coming in tomorrow, so we'll have to move him."
"Okay, take care of that. Allen, do we need to fly you home to take care of anything before you start?"
He looked a little dazed. "Um, no. But I'll need some more clothes."
"No worries. Tamara will take you shopping. She knows what you'll need from a wardrobe perspective."
"Any African trips this month?" she asked with a grin.
"No, but we'll be going to the Lab at least once. Get him a couple of sets of desert gear so he won't be too hot."
"Yes, boss," she said with a grin. "Welcome to the madhouse, Allen. I hope you're crazy enough to enjoy the ride."
I shook his hand before she took his arm and headed him for the door. It was the first man I'd seen who she did not make look small. I wondered how they would hit it off over the next month.
"Thanks for making time for me, Kelly," I said as she greeted me at the door of her new house in Georgetown. Since she had first been elected in a special election, she had been required to stand for reelection last year. It had been a virtually unopposed run, with the Republican Party candidate only picking up just under forty percent of the popular vote.
Kelly pulled me in for a hug. "Like I'm going to tell my little brother I'm too busy to meet with him?" she asked teasingly. "Or am I such a poor politician I'm going to send the world's richest man away without at least hearing him out?"
I laughed. "I guess you've got me on both accounts." I paused to look around her house. "This looks like a nice place," I said.
"Let me give you the grand tour," she insisted.
We quickly went through the formal areas of the first floor. They were not what I would have considered to be her style. She agreed. "But I need to entertain and be able to have meetings outside the Capitol or my offices. The first floor is pretty empty unless I'm hosting something."
The second floor was more to my liking. It felt comfortable and private. She showed me into her home office at the end of the tour.
"Before you ask, yes, Alison's folks have been over everything and are handling security. I think she even added an office here in D.C. for them to work out of and rotate through."
I smiled. "She told me. They're actually getting a lot of other discreet enquiries. Especially after the Oklahoma City bombing. I guess a lot of the government feels threatened after that."
"It's a mess," she agreed. "In every briefing, the same questions are asked, and we are told we are safe, but now a lot of my associates are feeling threatened."
"I can't condone his actions, but based on the few things in the press, it sounds like that is part of what he was advocating. I can almost understand his thinking, but again in the end he was an extremist who did not want to actually live in a democracy."
She nodded. It was a rehash of our discussions and interviews when the Unabomber had hit our offices.
"Surely you didn't come all the way to D.C. to check on my security?" She chided after a pause.
I smiled. "No. I've got some meetings in town on Monday and thought I'd check up on you to see how the 104th Congress was getting along."
"Bullshit, Paul. Don't try that game on me. I spend eighteen hours a day dealing with people trying to sell me something. It's almost enough to make me chuck in the towel and come back to the business side of things."
"You're welcome any time," I said.
She waved her fingers at me with our old "give-me" meaning.
I sighed. I should have known better than trying to ease into the conversation. We had covered the family and general business aspects during the tour. She knew I had something that might affect the hill, or I wouldn't have come in person, at least not a full day early for a Monday meeting.
"We're going to be doing some stuff on the show this summer that might raise some questions for your committees."
She had kept her position on the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee for the Senate and also joined the Appropriations Committee as the Chair for the Energy and Water Development sub-committee.
"Which one?" she asked as she pulled out a small notebook.
"Both, but the Appropriations one is probably more urgent."
"Several of our challenges are going to involve the desalination plants in California. Depending on how things go, we might show a pretty stark contrast between what you guys are budgeting and what is really going to be needed to help improve water availability and usage in California."
"And it's going to air as we're working on next year's budget."
I nodded. "Also, it's pretty likely that some people are going to once again ask why the federal government is getting cheap clean power while their bills are staying the same or going up."
"What do you mean?"
"We're going to have excess power for the desalination plants with the latest generator design. We'll be selling it on the open grid. One of our success measures for the interns is going to be how much power is left over from the water creation efforts."
Kelly had been involved enough in the show to understand we weren't talking a couple of kilowatts excess. "How much?"
I shrugged. "My initial numbers are that each plant will supply at least twenty megawatts, which is roughly enough electricity for forty or fifty thousand homes. The Interns are likely to beat that number with the variables they can play with."
"And you can't just make more clean water with it?"
"California is looking at a purchase of thirty stations, partially funded with federal dollars. That will more than cover the gap in natural production. If they make excess water, they are going to need fewer plants, than they've already contracted for. I think the voters are going to want the power to go with their water."
"So, what are your blockers?"
"I've got none. The public has two; PG&E and the unions. It's still the same old issues. It seems like whenever we take one step forward, they push us two steps back."
"So, what do you want me to do about it?"
I smiled. "If I knew that, I'd just tell you. I don't know what might have a chance of working. I do know this could be an opportunity for you to broker a deal that's good for your base and may have national implications. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency falls under your sub-committee for appropriations. Commerce and Science is the focus of your other one. Between the two, you are the only member on both, so if you can think of something, it's a good bet it will have decent support on the floor if it gets out of both committees."
She rubbed her temples and jotted down a couple of notes. "Any carrots we can use to move things forward?"
"We're discussing back-to-back seasons of the Interns. We could probably find some way to work in a congressional challenge in the fall taping for spring airing. It's not much but it might have enough vanity appeal to give you some leverage."
"Why are you doing back-to-back runs?"
"That's the other item. Next year we'll have a sequel. We'll keep doing 'The Interns', but a year from now, you'll also see the premier of 'The Interns - Orbital'."
"Which is the other shoe, right?"
I nodded. "It's got a lot more lead time for the projects, since space is not a very forgiving environment. We're planning a couple of teaser challenges this season to test out the appeal from viewers but it has already tested well with both the network and the applicants for the show."
"And it's going to require us to revisit the charter?"
"No but there might be a call for it from the viewing public. Since we're still defining all the challenges, I thought I should give you a heads up in case you needed any political leverage. Some things are going to have to be done in specific locations but there might be opportunities for other challenges."
"Like what?" she asked. "Help me understand."
"Well, some of the training could be filmed in Alabama at the US Space and Rocket Center just as easily as Houston or Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. If you guide us, we can give some interplay with federal or state representatives from those locations. I would think a few million viewers would have some tourism benefits even if we don't actually have the elected officials on the show. I'm trying to give you some chips to play with, as we talked about a couple of years ago."
"When will you need to know by?"
"We're looking to lock in the new shooting schedule by the beginning of August. We should have the list of challenges by the middle of June. With our current schedule, I thought talking to you now would give you a chance to think about who might be standing for re-election and throwing some positive PR their way or denying them of that opportunity as well."
She was nodding. "I get it. I'll have to review which seats are up and if there is an opportunity. Even the suggestion might be worth some leverage inside the DNC."
"Just keep me out of the actual discussions. I'll do some favors for you, but as soon as I get a call directly from them or the Republican Committee, I'm going to let Tom and Billy make the decisions."
She smiled. "I'll make sure anyone I talk to understands that this is a very sensitive and discrete play that I'm making." It was part of our special arrangement to build her power base without a money trail.
"Who else are you making this special offer to?"
I laughed. "I need to keep a balance, Sis. One of my meetings is at 1600 tomorrow. I'll let you infer as you will."
"George is a good politician. He'll understand and keep the Republicans in line for you."
"And you get the Democrats," I said in agreement.
"Now, why do you think this new show is going to cause problems instead of raise opportunities?"
"Money, why else? One of the challenges will be selecting a longer-term mission objective. The dollars are going to be discussed on national television. What are people going to think about when we are talking about a billion-dollar opportunity? You and I both know that NASA would spend two billion to bring one home. You know I won't. Under the charter, the US of A gets most favored nation status on lift capacity. They get some modest revenue for import/excise taxes. They won't get a billion-dollar windfall for the budget suddenly."
"Are you serious about that kind of money?"
I nodded. "One early concept is asteroid mineral recovery. Depending on what we find, we could be looking at rare earths or precious metals in large enough quantities to skew the short-term market. Market impacts are going to be one of the assessment criteria for analysis."
"How do you plan on making that sort of analysis television friendly?" She asked.
I grinned. "You'll just have to tune in next year and see."
"You do realize you'll need to manage the timing of that message, right?" she asked with a suddenly serious face.
"I think I do. Why do you think I should?"
"Next year is an election year. Bush won't be the man in the oval office in 1997. Depending on how you present it, you could raise an election issue in the debates. Be careful, because you might not like the direction the public runs with that sort of opportunity."
"Shit," I said.
"I don't want it!" Jeremy said with the stubborn insistence only a six-year-old boy could muster as I came into the kitchen and he sat at the table looking out the window.
Mrs. Eccles gave me a look, clearly at the end of her willingness to argue.
"What's the matter, sport?" I asked as I sat down next to him.
"I don't want cereal. I don't like it."
"But that's what you asked for when I gave you a choice twenty minutes ago," Mrs. Eccles chided.
"Is that right, Jeremy?"
"But I don't like it."
"Okay," I said as I grabbed the bowl of cereal and his spoon. "Go get ready for school. We're leaving in five minutes."
His eyes got wide at my words and wider as I dug into his bowl of cereal with his own spoon. I was glad to taste that it wasn't one of the sugar coated, mushy-mouth things they advertised on television but the plain oat squares I usually had. I swallowed a bite and looked at him.
"Get moving. You made your choice. Learn to live with it."
He stared daggers at me before pushing back from the table and stomping away.
Once he was well up the stairs, Mrs. Eccles laughed.
"That's one way to deal with him," she said.
I nodded and asked for a pen and piece of paper.
"I tried the same trick once, when I was around his age. It was just after my father died. We didn't have a lot of choices and Mom only had cereal. She did the exact same thing and sent me off with a note for the teacher."
I quickly paraphrased that note for Jeremy's teacher. The gist of it was that Jeremy had made a choice and was being given a lesson in living with that choice. I also jotted down my number if he caused any problems at school before lunch.
"If it works on him as it did me, he'll never willingly skip breakfast again."
Mrs. Eccles chuckled as I finished eating and then handed her my bowl and spoon before going to check on Jeremy.
It was a quiet ride into Park City to drop him off at school. Once he was inside, I went to the office and handed them my note for his teacher. Bethany, one of Alison's people who she had placed at the school read the note over the secretary's shoulder and smiled. I looked at her and shrugged. She had enough experience with our kids to know that they got stubbornness from both parents.
I gave her a smile and then headed back out to the Range Rover to make the short ride to the offices.
"Good morning, Paul," Allen and Tamara said in unison. They were both with me in Park City this week as we finalized some plans for the summer. It was Allen's last week as an ad-hoc intern. I waved him into my office and closed the door. Tamara gave me a thumbs up before turning back to her own tasks.
"How are things going, Allen?" It wasn't an unusual question. I had been starting each Tuesday morning with it for the past four weeks.
"They're great, Paul. I think I'm really getting an appreciation for how much is happening here. It's a totally different pace than school, that's for sure."
I chuckled. "We hired my first P.A. just before my junior year. Kelly and Candace insisted I get a second one when I graduated, since I kept everyone busy even when I was focused on classes."
He smiled at my anecdote.
"You know you and your assistants are legend on a few news boards, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"There are some web sites for the show that have forums that registered users can participate in. When Tamara showed up in a couple of shots the year after her season, there was a pretty lively discussion going. Someone strung some facts together that being a PA. for you was better than winning the show from a career perspective."
"Well, Matthew was your first and he became one of the SVPs of your company. Sheryl and Donna then became CEO and COO of DigiNet. Tamara actually posted on the site last year stating that while the show taught her a lot, being your assistant was like earning a master's in running a business. When someone else asked her what her next role would be, she only replied 'Secret'."
I laughed. I knew Alison paid people to monitor the sites our names popped up on, but I had never paid them much attention.
"Is that why you sent your letter?" I asked.
"Of course. I like engineering and think it has been a gap in the credentials of your PAs in the past. I figured the worst that would happen is you'd send me out to interview at one of your partners or divisions. When you offered a chance at this, I naturally jumped. Where else can I learn about the business side of things to better leverage my engineering background?"
I at least appreciated his candor. I said as much. "But Allen, you need to make sure that what you learn you can apply to your passion. I've wanted to change the world since high school. What do you want to do?"
He looked at the floor for a minute and then looked me in the eye.
"I know you lost your father at a young age. Losing Wendy had a similar impact on me, I think. I always looked up to her. When I started college, I had a lot of opportunities, but I kept asking myself, 'what would Wendy tell you to do?' Almost every answer was to seize the opportunity; to not take the safe or easy or usual path. Then I would read the paper or a magazine or watch the news and see you knocking down barriers and having an impact on the world, and not in a self-aggrandizing manner. You did things that made you rich, sure. But you always helped a lot of other people while you were doing it. I don't know what I want to do, but I want to do it how you did it, by being about doing something bigger than myself. I don't know exactly what I want to do, but I figure there cannot be a better place to learn how to do it than working for you."
I was humbled.
I thought back to Wendy, my first love, and how she embodied a zest for life even while facing an uncertain future. I thought about her teasing about not being 'normal' or a follower, or settling for average. It was an attitude I had thought about through the years, probably more frequently as I began to have a very comfortable and successful life. It was so easy to lose sight of.
"Then let's make sure that you're learning the right lessons. Your probation period is over, today, if that's what you want."
His smile nearly lit the room.
"I thought you were just having my regular weekly touch point."
"Nope. You've seen some of the most boring, mundane but hectic work we do and done it with a smile. Everyone that has interacted with you over the past three weeks has only had positive things to say about you. Even Joseph gave you a thumbs up and he is not easy to please. The rest of this morning, Tamara will get you through the HR processes and make sure everything is set. You won't have full access until we get your security clearance from the government, since you'll have access to some military information in your role, but until then, you'll be involved in nearly every aspect of the company."
I thought back to my last PA's introduction.
"Just remember, I don't bite heads off babies. I don't expect perfection. I expect you to try hard, do your best, and ask smart questions when you get stumped. Learn from your mistakes. Everything else is window dressing. Alright?"
"Alright!" he said with a smile. "Thanks for this opportunity, Paul. I won't let you down."
"Okay. We've got thirty minutes after lunch for me to brief you and Tamara on a special project. You'll need to put those engineering skills to work."
He looked intrigued as I stood and went to the door to get Tamara. I wondered if he would survive his curiosity until after lunch. Fortunately, I knew how many forms he would be filling out as we converted him from a contractor to an employee.
Five hours later, they were both back in my office.
"Okay," I said as I pulled two folders out of my desk drawer before joining them at the table.
"We are about to start filming a new version of 'The Interns', much as we have done for the past four years. As part of this season, we're also going to tease a sequel to the show, tentatively titled 'The Interns - Orbital' unless we come up with a better name."
They both sat up straighter and leaned in, almost reaching for the folders in front of me.
I smiled. "I have two jobs that are going to need to be closely coordinated and handled discreetly. The first is candidate screening. Tamara, you've been on the show so probably have a better sense of what types of personalities can be successful. However, this is not a twelve to fourteen-week taping. For this program, they will actually be employees for liability and security reasons. We're going to be in production on this for nearly eighteen months. Our psych screenings from the generator engineering school will form the basis for the background checks of applicants, but we need to be discreet about what is going on so we can keep control of the message."
"So how are we getting applicants?" she asked.
"We've been building an applicant pool from our job postings around orbital operations as well as internal postings. We need sixteen candidates. We have a pool of potentials nearly three thousand strong. Your job is going to be the initial screening process to narrow the field to sixty or so for Tom, Billy, Jeryl and me to select from. They can't be told about the show until we actually pick them."
"How do we justify the screening?"
"Tell them that they're guinea pigs for our new screening process for potential orbital job assignments. If they self-select out, that's good to know. You need to account for physical, mental, and psychological conditions in your process. Lila in Dublin can help with some of the assessment criteria. Before you get too far down the path, though, I want you both to go through our ad-hoc orbital prep course. It will take a couple of weeks, but you both need to know what they're going to face once we screen them."
"Orbital prep course?" Allen asked.
"Yes. It's a regimen that we put together before we sent the lab up and started allowing staff to visit. It's got centrifuge and weightless training, spacecraft emergency procedures, a full physical, everything. We cram it into a couple of weeks of eighteen hour days and finish with a hop on one of the orbiters doing either a regular supply run or a delivery launch."
"Cool," he said with a grin. "You haven't already done it?" he asked Tamara.
"No," she said. "I was more than a little jealous that Paul didn't include me when he did it."
"Why do we both need that?" he asked before I could continue.
"Tamara needs it so she understands the first steps candidates will experience when we begin filming. You need to understand it because you are going to help Tom and Billy set the challenges we'll put them through. The first will be the prep course. At the end of the season, we have a live launch on our inaugural mission that is more than putting something into orbit. Determining what that mission is will become one of their challenges, probably around episode five. I'll be pretty involved in planning that challenge out. Depending what we come up with, the final mission might be a stepping stone to our long-term goal but this first season will help set that goal."
"Wow," they said together.
"Wow is right. We start filming the regular season next week. We will begin filming the second show two weeks after we wrap the regular season. Tom and his team are already filming some b-roll material during regular operations. That gives us no more than sixteen weeks to finish putting things together. Once we get you guys trained, I'll want weekly updates on progress and issues. We'll probably button everything down for the first three challenges no later than the start of August. It's going to be aggressive, but I want to get moving on this. If we hit an insurmountable issue, we have grounds to slide a season, but it's going to be tough enough having two full crews going simultaneously next year that I don't want to do if for two full years. Questions?"
They traded and excited look.
Tamara spoke first. "Only about a million. When do we start the prep course? I think everything else can wait until after that so we can get our thoughts organized."
"A GX-3 will be taking you both to Ireland tomorrow afternoon. You'll do the ground portion at the school there and then either back to the Cape or down to Kenya for your final check-out rides."
"Joseph is covering your daily briefings then?"
I smiled. "He will. I'm actually taking a little break before we start filming, so we'll handle issues remotely."
"Going anyplace fun?" Tamara asked with a grin. She had visited most of our properties.
"Actually, we're going someplace new. We're going to meet my Mom and Jim in Barcelona. They actually found a rental there that they have been raving about for the past couple of months."
"It's a cool city," Allen said. "I visited once in high school and once in college. Your kids should love the Park Guell. It was an inspiration for Dr. Seuss."
I smiled. It had also become one of Jim's favorite locations in the city.
"Five more minutes!" Billy called from the side of the pool.
Jeryl and I were in the water with this season's interns, finishing a basic water survival test. Several challenges were on the water this year, and we wanted them to know we were not asking them to do anything we weren't willing to do. Tom had insisted we join them since they wanted some group shots of us all in the water, even if it was only used for opening or closing credits.
Not that I would ever complain about seeing my lovely wife in her bikini, even if it was a modestly cut one. We had been together nearly sixteen years and married for eight, and she still got my motor running with her sexy looks and playful attitude. A couple of the female interns looked at her with a hint of jealousy as all the men admired her lean figure before we jumped into the deep end for the swim and drown proofing tests. We were essentially using the Navy's second-class swim test. We need to know they could survive in the water if something unplanned happened. Billy was acting as the proctor, as Tom and the rest of the team filmed the action.
"Time!" Billy called before blowing her whistle.
I was glad to see all the interns had passed. We had warned them and I guess they had listened. Jeryl and I hung back, treading water, as they all made it to the side of pool and began climbing out. Once the ladder was clear, Jeryl swam over and I followed. I admired her shapely ass as she climbed out and then followed her. Billy handed us both towels.
"Congratulations," I said as they gathered around. "This was not a real challenge for the show, but we will be working in and around the water this year, so needed to make sure you could look after yourselves if something unfortunate happened. We have a few other safety items to go over for the season."
Jeryl stepped forward. "We will insist on using the buddy system, anytime we're on the water. If you're not familiar with it, it means that you're responsible for staying in proximity of your buddy, anytime you're on the water. What that means is that you'll be no more than three seconds away from them and be able to render assistance if they have a problem. You don't have to stick with your buddy for every session but we will make sure buddy pairs are in place before we start any evolution on the water. This system will include our camera operators and staff."
I nodded. "To be clear," I said "when our safety staff calls for a buddy check, everyone, including the staff, will get by their buddy. That includes myself, Jeryl, and everyone else."
I looked around to make certain I had their attention.
"Some of the challenges this year will be on the water with quite a bit of separation. We need to not take Mother Nature for granted so, we'll do regular buddy checks. If you are not able to locate your buddy quickly, your team and individual scores will be penalized. Are we clear?"
"Okay. Things are going to be a little different this year due to some of the logistical challenges of working on the water. Before we get into the actual work, we need to make sure everyone has several suits and appropriate gear for on the water. Billy will take the ladies and Tom will take the men to make sure you are properly outfitted. In addition to regular swim gear, we'll be outfitting you with a new short wetsuit, boat and water shoes, mask, snorkel and fins, and foul weather gear. When we issue the gear, make sure it fits well. It will be yours to keep. Anytime we change locations, make sure you take your water gear with you. Clear?"
There was a ragged murmur of ascent.
"Okay. We have two hours before you are going to be climbing on a bus and heading out to your first challenge. You should only need your water gear and one set of comfortable after-hours clothing."
I smiled as they exchanged looks.
"Cut!" Tom called, even though I knew he always kept at least one camera rolling. "Okay folks, let's get going. We're on the clock now."
They broke into two nearly equal sized groups and followed Billy and Tom away from the pool. We had nine men and seven women interns this year. It was, once again, a good mix of disciplines and backgrounds. During taping of the initial arrival/meet and greet, earlier in the day, several people had been surprised to have three marine biologists and two people with medical degrees in the group. We felt that those would be useful fields to have for this season.
Jeryl stepped close to me and I put an arm around her to give her a quick hug.
"You look nice in that bikini," I said softly.
She laughed. "I'll look even better out of it. Do you want to scrub my back when we rinse off the chlorine?"
"You know I do," I said as I gave her a quick kiss. We wrapped towels around us and headed to the door to get a ride back to the office about a mile away. We made use of the shower in the shared bathroom between our two offices and made love under the hot streaming water.
"We need to do more of that," Jeryl said after we both came and finished cleaning up.
I nodded as I dried my hair and started to get dressed.
"We do. I think that's only the third time we've used this shower together."
"What are the arrangements for us in Monterey?" she asked. The first challenge would be improving the anchoring system and pipeline and power feeds from the desalination barge we had towed to Monterey Bay in the week prior.
"We've got a house rented for the summer on the water in all three areas we'll be working. Tom has a trailer for us that includes a shower that will be by the pier. We're putting the interns up in shelters near the beach. Our trailer will be moved down to San Diego and L.A. when we move there."
"I think the kids are getting excited about spending the whole summer by the water. We really need to spend a little more time with them in Hawaii or Saint Lucia this year. They both love the beach."
"I know. Alison has Philip coming over to help cook and keep an eye on them. Samantha is going down from the house in Utah to watch them, right?"
"Yes. It sounds like we've got everything covered. You do know that Ali is going to beg to be able to tag along once she hears about the sailing challenge, right?"
Ali had continued to be fascinated with our sailboats every time we went to one of our island retreats. At the ripe age of seven, she was already a proficient sailor, though she did not always have enough strength to do everything she wanted. She had already asked for sailing lessons for her eighth birthday, the youngest age Jeryl had agreed to consider them.
"I know. I talked it over with Billy and Tom. They're thinking of letting her ride along on the intro sail that we're planning to use to set up that challenge."
Jeryl shook her head before grabbing a brush. "You know that's how a star will be born. If she is in one episode, she is going to want to be in it each year from now on."
I shrugged. "Hey, if it makes her happy, we can make that happen. What are we going to do if Jer feels left out?"
Jeremy enjoyed sailing but was much more likely to want to swim than sail.
"Maybe you can take him for some of the b-roll skin diving shots."
"I'm sure we'll think of something. He wasn't really old enough, last year, to get excited about the shooting. Ali has been talking about it ever since we told them we were going to be by the ocean for filming this year."
"I know. She seems to be channeling a lot of her mother and Aunt Jyl," I said with a grin.
I glanced at my watch. "We'd better get a move on and get makeup applied. Tom's going to want to start filming the set-up and send-off in less than thirty minutes."
Jeryl laughed and gave me a quick kiss before getting to work restoring her pre-swim wardrobe and makeup. I got dressed and headed down to the make-up room that had been set up on the second floor for use during taping.
Shortly thereafter, we were back in the intern's bullpen area.
"So, now that we know that no one is going to drown, I can talk about your first challenge." I said, after Tom cued me. "Some of you may know about the desalination plants we've built in Africa over the past two years. Those stations not only provided clean water, they also provided power and local school houses for communities along the coast. As part of that effort, we worked with the local people and governments to bring stability to the land and some prosperity to the people of the region.
"California has a similar need for water." Jeryl said, smoothly, per our internal script. "We've been working in conjunction with the state to build and test a different solution to aid California or any more industrialized coastal region that needs cheap, clean water."
I picked up the narration. "Last week, we moved our latest desalination barge to Monterey Bay, where you all will be going. Since this solution will be housed afloat, your first challenge will be to break into teams of four and identify solutions for some of the various challenges a floating, relocatable desalination barge faces."
"Firstly," Jeryl said, "we're looking for methods and approaches for safely anchoring or securing the barge at its optimal off-shore position which is near the hundred-fathom curve, which is typically around ten miles off the coast."
"Secondly," I added. "You need a method to secure the piping that will carry fresh water to onshore connections. Finally, we're looking to have the minimal impact possible to the ocean environment with your solution. Since there are some obvious interdependencies on these solutions, each team will have to address all three aspects of the problem."
"You'll have three days before your first review, though Jeryl and I will do at least daily walk-throughs, if there are any questions. The gear we've provided you and some minimal personal belongings should be all you need. You'll have supplies on site for taking notes and developing your final recommendations. A select review board from the Governor's office will be evaluating your recommendations. I suggest you form your teams on the bus ride down. We'll see you later tonight and answer any initial questions."
"Cut!" Tom called. "Okay, let's get this show on the road. The bus is outside and your gear is already onboard."
They all scrambled to head out to the bus, already sizing each other up to begin forming teams. Tom had a couple of cameras following them, as well as four cameras on the bus already. The two hour drive down should give them enough time to get organized. Everyone moved with the excitement that always accompanied the start of the season.
Jeryl and I headed to our rides to the airport. We were taking one of the GX-3s down to Monterey. Alison and the kids were already down there, along with her advanced security team. Hopefully, they would be settled into the rental house by the time we got there after filming for the day ended.
Jeryl and I kept busy on the short ride and flight, reviewing the shooting schedule for the week, along with the notes for the next two challenges. By the time we landed and were driving to the camp set up for the interns, I was feeling pretty good about our plans.
"What's that?" Jeryl asked as we approached the camp. There were a lot of people milling about the street.
Tiffany slowed and grabbed her radio.
"Romeo-one, what's the status at Sand Castle? Over."
"Romeo-one, this is Sand Castle. We have protesters at the edge of the property, over."
"Protesters?" Jeryl asked as Tiffany turned us down a different street, steering away from the crowd.
I grabbed my phone and called Tom. They were still on the edge of town, several minutes away.
"Yeah, Paul. I got a call from the lead team. Evidently it's a Greenpeace rally demanding we protect the California coastal habitat. Alison's folks are working the crowd quietly. We'll call you in, once she gives the all clear."
Nobody wanted a fan or a protester to hurt someone ever again.
We also had a schedule to maintain.
"I guess it's going to be a long night."
"Who are they?" I asked once security cleared us to edge past the protesters in the wake of the bus carrying the interns. It had taken long enough that we had swung by the rental house so we could drop Jeryl to get the kids in bed. "Greenpeace? The Sierra Club?"
"No," Alison said with a scowl. "It's a group called 'Save our Shores'. The leader here is a man named Seymour Xavier."
I nodded. "And what, exactly do they think we are doing to harm the shores?"
Alison shook her head. "The best we could determine is they are afraid the desalination plants will damage the marine environment and cause problems where the water and power come ashore. They are more passionate than precise."
I thought about options for a minute.
"No signs of violence?" I asked.
"No. They are even being very controlled of their group to make sure they stay on the green space outside the park, so as to not violate their permit."
"Do we know how long their permit is for?"
"They've got seven one day permits. They appear to be very well organized."
"Okay," I finally said. "Let's find out what they really want."
"What do you mean?"
"They probably want some free press for their cause. Have Tom film me talking to them. Let's offer them some of the free PR to defuse the situation. We can always leave it on the editing room floor in post-production if we need to. Keep your folks alert."
Rather than give her time to argue, I looked around, spotted Tom and motioned him over. Alison began talking softly into her radio as Tom and Billy grabbed a couple of camera men. Naturally, we could not keep the interns from following along as the lights turned on and I walked toward the protesters.
"Is Mr. Xavier nearby?" I asked when I was about twenty feet from them.
An excitable looking young woman spotted me and pushed back into the small crowd of protesters. A moment later, she was pulling a fifty-ish looking gentleman to the front of the crowd.
"Are you Mr. Xavier?" I asked as I closed the distance between us and extended my hand. He nodded.
"I prefer Doctor Xavier."
"Doctor?" I asked.
"Ph.D. in Marine Biology," he added.
"I'm Paul Taylor. I'd like to understand what your organization's concerns with our effort are."
His mouth gaped like a fish out of water for a moment as he shook my hand.
I waited for him to compose himself as the camera's continued to roll.
"We want to ensure your and the state's plans are not going to create another mess for our volunteers to clean up. We helped get the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary established, and we don't want you undoing all of our hard work here."
"Those are admirable endeavors, sir," I said respectfully. "Could we discuss specifically what you are concerned with so I might be able to address those concerns? I don't want to do any harm either. If you think we are increasing risk, I'll be happy to sit down and discuss the specifics. I don't think having a bunch of protesters in the background of our filming is going to really help either of us achieve our goals. Do you?"
He looked at the cameras for a moment and then shrugged. "We can talk."
"Okay. So, what do you actually know about our desalination effort?" I knew that they were probably operating under one or more false assumptions.
"You're going to use a nuclear fusion reactor off the coast to desalinate water and pump it ashore. You're going to be pumping contaminants back into the ocean and potentially damaging this protected marine sanctuary."
I nodded. "In general, yes, but I want to make certain we are aligned on a couple of points. How much do you know about our fusion generators?"
"I'm not an idiot. I know what everyone does. I'm a marine biologist by profession."
"Very good. Then I want to correct something you seem to have focused on. You mentioned 'nuclear' fusion which seemed to imply we were generating radioactive waste byproducts. You do know that the European Environment Agency has published several peer-reviewed articles stating my generators do not produce any environmentally dangerous waste, especially waste that increases area radiation levels, right?"
He looked a little flustered on camera. "I have not read those papers, I'll admit."
I nodded. "Have you had a chance to review the CalEPA reports on our proof-of-concept testing for the desalination plants we were testing along the coast for the past three years?"
"Yes, but I'm not convinced they were unbiased reviews since the Governor was pushing for their reports."
"Okay, that's probably a fair concern," I admitted for the benefits of the camera crew. "How about we get the raw data collected during all of those tests for you to review, to ensure their conclusions are backed up with the appropriate rigor?"
"If we are not monitoring the collection of the data, the readings could have been manipulated to support the conclusions presented."
I paused to think for a minute. It was bordering on a conspiracy theory, which I knew I did not want to accuse him of on camera, even if we could edit it out.
"How about we start with a review of the report and data and then you tell me what it would take to verify the data to make you comfortable?"
It was his turn to think.
"I could agree to that," he finally conceded.
"Okay, so the next part might get a little technical. If it does, please stop me."
He nodded again.
"Our plants are positioned on barges instead of built ashore to address some of your concerns. Specifically, we don't want to contaminate any rich ecosystems, either ashore or in the water. Our earlier testing helped us determine that our most efficient desalination efforts are when we are taking deep, cold water into the system to start with. We get that water from below the hundred-fathom level, over six hundred feet down. We believe that also limits the chance of marine life being pulled into the system and harmed."
He nodded again.
"We have some other safeguards as well, to keep curious critters safe. Part of the challenge this week is to come up with environmentally safe methods of securing both the barges and the intake piping for the plants. We then flash boil the water through a process of reduced pressure and high temperature from the fusion generator. We don't add any agents to the water during the process, so you should agree that when we return the brine remaining after the first pass through the system, that we are not introducing any unnatural pollutants back into the ocean, right?"
"Yes, but you will increase the local concentrations of salt and other distilled by-products."
"Absolutely. Is it the amounts that trouble you?" I knew the numbers were so vanishingly small that he would be ridiculed if he agreed. I really did not want him to look like a fool, so rushed ahead. "Our calculations are that we could run tens of thousands of these plants at full capacity, for over ten centuries, before changing the salinity of the oceans by even a tenth of a percent."
He looked surprised at that statement.
"I'll be happy to go over the numbers with you," I added.
"I'd like to see that! If it is truly the case, and you can demonstrate a safe and effective anchoring system, our concerns would be greatly reduced."
"Good. The final part of our challenge for these interns, is to extend the anchoring system in a safe manner to bring all that fresh water ashore. I actually think that will be one of the hardest challenges. I'm particularly worried about that part, since I see us not only having to protect the environment from accidental damage, but also man-made concerns such as marine traffic, and the onshore connections."
He was nodding again. "I could see how that would be a challenge." I thought he was actually going to offer a suggestion, but he caught himself with a glance at the cameras once again.
"So, now let's talk about benefits. I mentioned the brine that is pumped back down the intake piping to discharge near the inlet. Do you know what we found in our tests when we pumped that warm, mineral rich water back down to six hundred feet?"
His head snapped up. "You created an artificial bloom?"
"Exactly. We saw up to a tenfold increase in sea-life around our barges. It actually made us decide that a barge based system had beneficial advantages over the shore based stations we've deployed in Africa. The increased habitat created sustainable fishing populations. Some smart students at U.C. Davis are working on a study to foster fish farming centered on one of our earlier prototypes."
He nodded. "I've heard about that study. It's just getting started, right?"
"In the fall. They are working over their models for data collection over the summer."
"Finally," I said. "These new plants will offer excess power, since we've managed to make the generators smaller and more powerful at the same time. That clean power will come ashore in a shielded conduit, attached to the fresh water piping sending water ashore. I'm pretty sure that power can be used to handle the full distribution of the water into local utility feeds or pump it further inland for introduction to the larger hydro-cycle."
He was nodding again. "That makes sense."
"So, given all that, what do we need to do to address your organizations concerns?"
He stopped nodding, suddenly seeming to realize that I had painted him into a bit of a corner. He had agreed with nearly everything I said.
"I'd like to have some of my more experienced folks review the European papers as well as the CalEPA reports and data. If all is as you state, perhaps we were given some incorrect information that steered us to protesting."
I nodded easily this time.
"Also," he added. "I'd like to see if CalEPA has looked at run-off concerns if you pump the fresh water further up the hydro-cycle. Adding foot-acres of flow through the canals and rivers could have a significant impact."
"I agree. We asked those questions, but never got satisfactory answers. That's why we are targeting local water supplies in the short term."
He nodded in agreement once again.
"Now, I don't want to create the perception that we are buying your group off, but I would be happy to arrange for some additional shelters to be put up and invite you to join the intern's efforts over the week. I'm sincerely hopeful that we can identify solutions that will meet your concerns for protecting the environment. I'd even be happy to invite you into the judging to make sure we are in full agreement on the recommendations we take forward to CalEPA for the anchoring solutions." I had increase the volume of my voice on this last part, and was happy to hear some seemingly genuine applause amongst his supporters.
"I think that could work," he conceded. "Honestly, if all you've said is true, I'd enjoy looking at your solutions and helping your folks work through the options. As Californians, the last thing any of us want is drought, water shortages, or higher power bills or taxes."
His words got an even stronger response since many of the cast and crew were residents as well.
"Okay, Dr. Xavier, let's get to work then," I said as I extended my hand to him once again.
"Great television," Tom said after I had introduced Dr. Xavier and several other leaders of the protest to the interns.
"That wasn't exactly the plan, but I'm glad if you got something you'll be able to use in the show," I said.
"Heck, we won't wait for the show. I've got Billy sitting on the editor's shoulder putting together a cut version with a voice over. We'll be sending it, along with the full tape, out to the news agencies. You just gave us more, better PR to counter the union FUD than I could have imagined."
I thought about it for a minute and then laughed. "I guess I did. I also did what Jeryl, Kelly and you always try to tell me to do; I kept my temper and opinions of their rhetoric to myself. Maybe I am learning, finally."
Tom laughed while Alison just gave me her patented arched eyebrow.
Before I headed home for the night, I grabbed Billy and Alison.
"Billy, I know you're staying near the interns this week. Since these guys are going to be around, try to find out exactly who provided the 'incorrect information' that led to these folks protesting. I'd love to find a smoking gun pointing at the unions or PG&E. Alison, see what your folks can turn up as well."
"Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been...."
It felt like The Grateful Dead were singing directly to me as we stood in the crowd at Soldier Field and let the music wash over us in the hazy, smoke filled arena. Alison thought I was crazy to insist on taking a break from the show to fly to Chicago to listen to a rock band, right after we had taken a break for the fourth of July. Jeryl had shrugged and said she would watch the kids. I was the only one who knew that this was not just the final performance of the Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia, but one of the last times anyone would ever hear Jerry Garcia play.
I tried to stay in the moment, enjoying something I had never experienced in my first life. While it was not as moving as loving Jeryl or our kids, being at a live show of one of the greatest music groups of the modern era was definitely and experience. By the time they got through their final encore, I was more than happy. I let Alison and Sanford escort me out of the stadium, through the slightly buzzed crowd, happy to have been there while I'm sure she was just happy no one had recognized me.
"Did you at least enjoy the music?" I asked Alison as we slowly made our way out of the VIP parking area.
She smiled at me. "It was different," she said. "I never knew you were a fan. This is the first concert you've gone to."
I nodded. "I've listened to their music for a while. It always relaxes me while working."
"I wondered about some of the lyrics."
"Jerry Garcia is a master musician and composer. I always wondered who had more influence on the lyrics. I like the fact that they have so much improvisation in their shows."
"What do you mean?"
"No two shows are the same. Even if they played the same set list, they have parts of songs that are pure improv during the show. They may hit on something in a show that then becomes part of the next version they record, but it might be a onetime sound as well. That's one reason so many bootleg recordings of their shows are around."
Alison looked contemplative in the slow-strobe of the streetlights as we made our short trip to the downtown Hilton on Michigan Avenue. We were both silent as we made our way inside and up to our suite. Once we were securely inside, I was not surprised when she joined me in the bedroom.
Alison gave me a deep kiss and then proceeded to slip out of the black silk pajamas Jeryl had gotten her for Christmas last year. She pulled my sleeping shorts down and sucked my cock into her mouth for a long, gentle blowjob. The feel of her amazing tongue had me to the point of release in a couple of minutes.
After she swallowed my cum, she continued to keep me hard before pushing me back on the bed and climbing atop me. When I was firmly seated in her pussy, she leaned down and kissed me hard before starting her own ride toward orgasm. As her pace picked up, she wrapped her hands under my shoulders and pulled hard against me. Her strong fingers dug into my back as she achieved her own release.
"Thank you, I needed that," she said as we finally parted. She slid down my body and licked her own juices from my still hard cock. "Now we just need to take care of you one more time and get some sleep."
I grinned at her.
"You look sexy as hell, but sound as clinical as a doctor. What's going on?" I asked as I pulled her back up beside me.
"I'm just feeling a little melancholy," she said. "Maybe it's the music and the marijuana haze we just spent three hours in. I don't know."
I kissed her softly and then gave her a one-armed hug.
"I love you," I whispered. "Jeryl loves you. What do you need to be melancholy about?"
She sighed. "I'm fourteen years older than you and Jeryl. It didn't seem to matter a few years ago. As I watch our kids grow up together, it starts to feel wrong somehow."
I stroked her back and listened to her.
"I've had some of the happiest moments of my life with you two, but I'm wondering how I would ever explain to Rose when she's a little older."
"How would you explain it to your god-daughter?" I asked.
She actually smiled and slapped me playfully. "That's your and Jeryl's problem."
"So, Paul, anything you can share about this year's season of 'The Interns'?" Joan Lunden asked.
"That would be telling tales out of school," I replied with a smile.
We were filming a segment for Good Morning America. The network had asked that we do a more in-depth piece that they could include in a live broadcast closer to the season premier. Once we figured out the schedules, Joan had flown out to California to tape the segment.
She smiled for the camera and then looked back at me. "One of the things that appeals to almost every fan of the show, is the mix of physical and mental challenges you present. What types of hurdles will interns face this year?"
"As we say on the show quite a bit, I think it's better to show, than tell. How would you like to face one of the challenges they will experience?"
Her laugh sounded natural and un-forced. "I'm usually up for a challenge."
"Well then let's get you suited up."
"Cut!" the director called. We had roughly scripted this introduction.
"We've got all the gear you'll need," Tamara said as she stepped closer. She was helping cover this challenge as part of our own run through to make sure everything was set.
"What torture are you planning for me?" Joan asked as she stood and began following Tamara to her dressing room.
"No torture. We'll be having the interns do some zero-g work for part of one of their challenges. We thought it might make a good segment for your show, if we showed you in the same environment. We don't want to spoil the challenge, but showing you floating and working with Paul to get used to the environment should be a nice teaser for the audience."
Joan looked a little skeptical.
"Don't worry, I did the full training a few weeks ago. Once your inner ear adjusts, it's kind of fun."
Three hours later, Joan let out a little shriek as she floated away from the wall and found herself unable to get ahold of anything to move under her own control.
"Simulation, my ass!" she said with a laugh.
I reached out for her hand and pulled her back to the small platform we were supposed to stay next too.
"So, as you can see, the interns are going to have to develop some new thought patterns as they work in this type of environment. They will get a couple of days in zero-g for one challenge and have to learn to not just live, but work up here."
I had arranged for a quick hop to Edwards followed by a launch of an orbiter just for the show. The cargo bay had been fitted with a large, pressurized habitat that contained the padded training space they would occupy. Their challenge would be to help improve and finalize the layout of facilities in a zero-g environment, but we did not want to spoil that challenge today.
"I bet they learn to not stray from the handholds pretty quickly," Joan said before deliberately pushing off to sail across to the opposite bulkhead.
I followed her across, nodding.
"I think that is a lesson they will learn quickly."
We finished filming with a couple of mid-air flips before the pilot announced we needed to return to our seats for the start of our de-orbit maneuvers.
"I can't believe you kidnapped me and shot me into space," Joan joked once we were back on terra firma.
"It can't be kidnapping when your producer sends you on the job," I replied.
"I suppose not. I think you just made me the first journalist in orbit. Thank you."
I smiled. "You are welcome. I guess I'll see you in New York in a few weeks."
We shook hands and parted ways.
"Tell me again how I got roped into doing all these shows?" I asked as Joseph went over my calendar for the rest of the summer.
"It's always like this in the run-up to the premier of the show. The Emmys are on the 10th and the premier is on the 14th. Prior to that, you've got the follow-up with GMA on August 28th. Since you are going to be back east for that anyway, Jeryl suggested we accept the request for you to appear on 'Meet the Press'. Then the network decided to put you on Leno, later that week, to help build a buzz."
"And is my lovely wife, who enjoys all these things, going to join me?" I asked, looking at her. We were in our weekly staff meeting that often replaced my morning briefings when we were filming the show.
Tom, Billy, and Joseph chuckled. Jeryl smirked while Tamara and Allen tried to keep neutral faces.
"I'll join you on GMA and maybe Leno. You have to do the Sunday show without me. Alison and Anna will have the kids over in Utah while we're gone." Anna had shifted from minding our kids to Alison's Rose, but still spent quite a bit of time helping keep our two where they needed to be.
"I figured I'd get the kids home from our summer travels and then fly to New York Sunday afternoon. We shoot with them Monday, and then hop back out here for Jay and the final challenge critique and wrapping up on Labor Day weekend."
I shook my head because I knew I was committed by her tone of voice.
"Look on the bright side," Jeryl said. "I haven't agreed on a time for 'Politically Incorrect' yet."
I shook my head.
"Okay," I said motioning to the agenda. "Allen, where are we at on the orbital challenges?"
"Hunter and I have fleshed out the initial training episodes and run them by Dr. Culpepper. Since he's spent more time up in the lab than anyone else, I thought it would be good to get his take on them. It's going to take nearly a month per challenge. Tom said that was in the filming budget."
Tom nodded. I agreed.
"We have eighteen months to film thirteen episodes," I said. We need to make sure we do it right and safely. How do they break out?"
He slid a page with descriptions over and the passed out additional copies. I skimmed it.
"We're adding module two to the station on the third episode? Will that be safe?"
Allen nodded. "All of the long lead-time items are complete. This season is finalizing layout recommendations as part of their final challenge. That gives us two months to modify the module while the new group is training. They are going to be hands on for the docking and then rotate through initial operational training and certification."
"Tom, you're good with this?" Jeryl asked.
"Yeah. It's aggressive, but we have to have enough action to keep the audience tuning in. This set of challenges gets us in orbit quickly enough that we live up to the title. Allen has come up with a slick idea of splitting and covering two challenges each episode that are complimentary, but different enough to keep viewers engaged."
"How's that work?" Jeryl asked.
"Once module-two is up, we will have two teams of four on it rotating every week or so," Tom said. "While in orbit, they will be gathering data and building their zero-g scores. We'll be grading them on their learning and teamwork for various tasks. The groups not in orbit, will be doing more cerebral work down here, either designing mission profiles, framing orbital experiments, meal planning, ground based equipment testing, that sort of stuff.
"Okay. Tamara, with this much information, do you have a good enough feel for the types of candidates we need?"
"I do," she answered. "What I don't know is if we want a specific gender mix. With sixteen interns, we could do some single-sexed teams and some mixed. Billy thought it might give a different dynamic to the show."
Jeryl was nodding, but I was not.
"I'm not sure I want to stack the deck and pander to gender politics. If we have enough strong candidates, we can look at the team organization, but let's get the field narrowed before we discuss that."<