New Sci -Fi Novel in first draft (Arlo – Chapter 16 Going off Half Cocked)

Things are heating up for the characters in Arlo.  Enjoy the next chapter.  Earlier chapters are available in the Blog archive.  Doc

Chapter 16 Going off Half Cocked

“I can’t,” the tall craven man in black repeated.  “I have my work here to do.”

“Baccalaureate degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Astronomy, one of the finest schools in the world.  Surely, this has to be of interest to you,” Marshall continued to make his case.

“Yes, yes.  But you’ll also notice that I dropped Astronomy and moved on to Psychology before entering the Priesthood.  I just didn’t have the math skills for a top tier astronomy, and who wants to be a technician… at best.”

“But instead of doing the math of astronomy you can live astronomy.  Think of the adventure.  You don’t have a family here,” Marshall continued to argue.

“My congregation is my family,” Pastor Stoeber defended.

“Don’t you have an understudy, an Assistant or something who can take over?” Marshall continued.

“Yes, but he is young,” the Pastor rose as if to leave from the Pew where he was sitting and talking with Marshall.  “Surely you have other, better choices.”

“No, we don’t.  Most of the candidates backed out after the news stories.  And the few remaining choices I don’t trust.”  Standing Marshall continued, “I trust you.  We need you.  69 people will be traveling through the void for two years.  I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be dozens of problems that will require a good counselor, and perhaps even a Priest.”

“Pastor,” Stoeber corrected.

“Pastor then.” Marshall deferred.  “We all need you.  Arlo would ask you himself, if he were still alive.”

Pastor Stoeber stared at Marshall, “I don’t think you or I know what Arlo would have asked.  You go too far.”

Marshall knew he had been walking a tight rope on that one, but continued down the rabbit hole, “You may not know, but I do” he lied.

Stoeber looked away.  “I’ll think about it.  When do you need to know?”

“Today, if possible.  We launch in less than three months, and I need you to get through the training as quickly as possible.”

“I cannot possibly answer today.  I need to confer with Bishop Alder of our Synod,” Pastor Stoeber stated firmly.

“Tomorrow then.  I’ll make the travel arrangements.” Marshall tested.

“We’ll see,” Stoeber tried to deflect, but realized that he had been outmaneuvered.

I did learn something from my father, Marshall reflected, as he shook hands with the Pastor and made his way out through the front of the church.

The Psychologist was not the only position where Marshall and his team were struggling to find staffing.  The increased vetting had caused some problems, but the negative news stories that abounded were resulting in attrition that they had not expected.  The dream of deep space flight lost its luster among many applicants when the reality of the risk and danger involved was resounding from both the conservative and liberal news media.

Naomi was waiting for Marshall when he reached the car.  “Well, how did it go?”

“He’ll come,” Marshall almost whispered.

“But….” Naomi left the statement hanging as a question.

Marshall frowned, as Naomi pulled away from the curb, “But, I had to use some manipulative tactics that are more common to my father’s modus operandi.  I hope I’m not becoming him.”

Naomi drove through the light traffic and out onto the freeway before the conversation resumed.  “How is Justin doing on the rest of the staffing?”

“Well as you know the flight crew is intact,” Naomi began.  “No changes there.  Ada has staunched the leaking of the mining crew.  She is still looking for one more replacement in engineering .”  She smiled, “And I was able to persuade Dr. Milner to rejoin the medical team last night.”

Marshall turned toward her, suddenly attentive, “How did you do that?”

“You don’t need to know,” she responded coyly.

Marshall turned away, staring out the window.  The rest of the drive was silent except for the purr of the engine and the air conditioning.

Four weeks before the accelerated launch schedule, Blake gave the all clear.  “The Yankee Hotel is open for business,” he exclaimed on their daily crow’s nest meeting.

“More details,” Marshall insisted.  “Yesterday you were saying you still had some problems with air balancing, temperature controls, and spin.  You solved all of those in one day?”

“Come on Marshall, this is my baby.  I let her know that I wouldn’t let anything happen to her and she just purrs.”

“That’s a cat, not a baby,” Marshall snipped.

“Okay, air balancing problems were tied directly to the temperature control issues in engineering.  The spin has been at a steady 25 percent for the past….. 16 hours.”

Turning and looking at his command team, Naomi, Justin and Ada all nodded in affirmation.  “All right then.  We have two supply launches this week.  We’ll have half the engineering team on each of the two launches,” Marshall confirmed.

“I’ll be coming up as well,” Justin announced.

Blake laughed on the other end, “You sure your stomach can handle 25 percent gravity?”

“I’ll be fine,” Justin blushed.  “I figure I better get up there and make sure you don’t forget to latch on my mining equipment.”

“What about your girlfriend?” Blake teased.  “Seems like this would be more up her alley than yours.”

Justin turned bright red, but Ada sat quietly without response.  Justin started to answer, “I don’t…” but stopped and fell silent.  Finally he spluttered, “I’ll see you Thursday twerp.”

“I’ll have the barf bags ready,” Blake replied like the cat who has just swallowed the canary.

Marshall’s stomach was churning.  Now the launches not only involved equipment, but critical personnel as well.    They had suffered five scrubbed missions in the last eight weeks, but no catastrophic explosions.  Today, they were launching half the engineering team along with his longtime friend, Justin.  He had not slept the night before, and now sat in the spectator bleachers in the New Mexico desert.  He jumped when his cell phone rang.

“Marshall!  Get out of the stands immediately!”  came the preemptive voice of Naomi.

“Where are you?” Marshall challenged.

“Nevermind.  You have to move and move now!  Naomi screamed loud enough that he pulled the phone away from his ear.  “Run!”

Marshall looked toward the craft that was about to launch, and a thread of terror ran down his spine.  “No,” he exclaimed.  He started to run down the stands toward to launch.  He only made it half a dozen steps then all went black.

Hot or cold its a great time to be looking at the heavens


For several weeks now in the lower part of the western sky, not long after sunset for North America you can spot two very bright stars… okay they’re not stars, they’re planets.  I was at first confused as thinking the larger planet is Jupiter and the smaller is Venus.  Well that might be true up close, but actually Venus is the brighter of the two in the night sky.  Monday an Tuesday night are particularly good nights for viewing as the two bodies come closer to conjunction even though they are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart.  Great naked eye viewing, better with binoculars, even better with a small telescope.  Enjoy the wonders of the Solar System.


Harder to find than the real age of a movie starlet

Aloha – Just back from a super fast trip to Edmonton, Alberta, a detour to Jasper, and dashed hopes of a quick encounter with the northern lights.  Among other things it didn’t really get dark until about midnight.

Meanwhile, back at my desk this evening I found an interesting little story about how difficult scientists are struggling to calculate Saturn’s age.  The new Z technique supposedly will solve this mystery.  Like many scientific theories, it is intended to help unlock mysteries of the universe.  All well and good, but I suspect this theory along with so many of it’s predecessors will be abandoned in 50 – 200 years, depending on when someone with more knowledge than we have now, has an aha moment and wins whatever is referred to as the Nobel Prize in 2315.  Meanwhile, congratulations on another stab in the dark.


Chapter 14 of Arlo (science fiction)

Additional chapters are available in the blog archives.  This is a first draft for your enjoyment.  Doc.  Meanwhile, be sure to get your copy of books 1-4 of the Demeter series available on Amazon.*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Chapter 14  Crewcut

“I don’t know who has the worse job,” Justin complained

Dr. Blake Hilst laughed, “Obviously you have the worst job,” he laughed.  I’m off to outer space, while you’re stuck here on Earth with Marshall interviewing technicians, cooks, botanists, hydrologists, and … miners.”

“And you’re going to be floating around avoiding space junk, cosmic rays, and trying to put the round peg into the square hole.  You’ll devolve into a jellyfish in about six months.”

“Hardly!  I’ll have the spin on the system at one quarter EN within two weeks if all goes well.”

“Stop talking acronyms!”

“Okay, one quarter Earth normal gravity on the spin within two weeks, three at the outside.”

“Why so low?” his friend queried.

“We’ll still be under construction for six months.  It’s easier to move equipment around and bring in additional supplies at a slower spin.  The last thing we need is to have a supply ship ram into the LSE.”

Justin scowled at his friend.

“Okay, Life Support Environment.  Happy?”

“Doctor Hilst, you need to get ready,” a technician advised.

Blake turned and moved toward the prep building where he would suit up for launch.

Justin stared after his friend with mixed emotions:  Fear?  Excitement?   Loss?  He and Blake had been close friends for so long, just watching Blake walk away left an empty aching sensation.

As Blake was about to disappear into the building on the tarmac, he turned and waved.

Hope this one goes better than the last launch, Justin waved back.

Forty eight launches had gone without a hitch.  Forty eight loads of segments of a space ship were drifting about like tinker toys.  4.8 million pounds of puzzle pieces were waiting to be assembled.  If the craft had been built of the same materials it equated to twenty nine space shuttles.  But with the plastics and other lightweight materials it would be enough to assemble the framework that was over three kilometers square.  The only fully enclosed area of the ship was the life support environment or hub of the system.  It also framed in a manner that the entire life support unit would eventually have a 360 degree spin that would be totally separate of their thrust systems and mining operation.

Salt Industries had spent over 2.5 billion dollars just launching the equipment, with more to come.  There were still thirty more equipment launches before they even began to put in the supplies for the trip.  The 49th launch, which was mostly piping for the outer rim had exploded on take-off.  The private launch firm they had contracted to lift the load, bore fifty percent of the cost of the shipment.  But it still had been a major setback, and another draw on their the budget reserves.  More significantly, it had brought Marshall and his friends back to reality in the real dangers involved in their enterprise.  Three astronauts had lost their lives in the miscue.

Marshall and his companions occupied a small office within a warehouse where materials were prepared for launch from New Mexico.  Of course they had launches contracted through Cape Canaveral in Florida, and three other locations, but over seventy percent of the payloads were being delivered from the New Mexico site and Cape Canaveral.

They hired a dozen people to work with Blake on assembling the space ship several months earlier.  It took six months to train the construction team.  It would take another six months to train the specialists who would be part of the crew for the duration of the mission.  They delayed hiring the crew as long as possible to avoid unnecessary expenditures for salaries, but the window was closing, with a planned launch date for the mission within the next eight to ten months.

Considering the supplies needed to support one person on the twenty-four month mission, they had created a list and culled through it numerous times trying to reduce the personnel and associated costs over and over again.

The original crew list included 130 personnel  broken into departments of the flight crew, services, engineering, mining operations, and the external scientific research team.  The flight crew included nine members:  pilots, astrogation, and communications.  Services included a number of functions ranging from medical and psychological support, to hair stylists and cooks with a complement of 22 crew members.  The engineering crew included nine specialists in the areas of drive system maintenance, environmental sciences, structural support, and EVA and IVA support systems maintenance.  The mining crew was the bulk of the staffing,  including twenty positions and 81 crew members.  Just supplies for that many crew members, by the time they were lifted into orbit would have topped $20 billion.

Marshall and Justin spent hours over their staffing plan trying to find ways to pare down the costs.  The flight crew was reduced from nine to eight members.  This included the original four pilots, two astrogation officers and two communications officers.  Marshall would serve as the third astrogation officer as an extra duty.

Services was the area where they were able to make severe reductions.  Marshall and Justin determined that all crew members would be responsible to cross train in at least one area.  Areas that were to be covered by one or more personnel included cooking, security, morale, beauticians, fitness instructors, hair stylists, massage therapists, and housekeeping.  Of that group, Naomi was assigned as chief of security and oversight of all services.  The remaining staff included a purser and a five person medical team including a psychologist and pharmacist.  In net, they were able to reduce the service crew from 21 to six members.

The Engineering Staff was a challenge.  Blake was in charge of engineering and was fighting to keep all thirteen planned staff members that included specialists for the drive system, environmental sciences, structural integrity, EVA & IVA systems, electricians and HVAC.  Marshall insisted that they try to find specialists who could work in more than one of the areas.  The target was to reduce the number of personnel from thirteen to eleven using this strategy.

The mining operations were Justin’s responsibility and he was struggling to find ways to cut the staffing in this area.  The mining operation equipment had 360 separate drills.  It was difficult to deny that the drilling, blasting, grinding, and sorting operations would improve in efficiency with more operators.  The only solution they had at the outset was to cross train ten engineering staff, including mechanical and electrical support from the ships engineering group.

“I just can’t cut anymore,” Justin complained.  Frankly, I think the value added for each additional person on the mining staff has a phenomenal return.  We really should up the staffing.  Double it if we could.”

“We’ve been over this a dozen times Justin,” Marshall’s voice rose in exasperation.  “You’ll break the bank before we launch.  You’ve got to find the way to increase the projection production with less staff.  You’ve got all the equipment to do the project you could ask for.”

Arthur Salt provided the solution in the form of Ada Martinez.  Ada graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and went to work for Salt Industries straight out of college.  Her engineering and computer skills helped her rise quickly in the corporation turning one mine after another around financially through improved efficiencies utilizing modern technology.

Ada was a compact dynamo on two legs.  She stood five feet six inches, with jet black hair falling in waves half way down her back.  She was wearing a short blue dress and black heels that cracked as she walked the warehouse concrete floors aiming straight for the small office in New Mexico.  She carried a tablet in place of a purse.

“This is amazing technology,” Ada gushed as she looked at the technical drawings.  “We could level a mountain in days with this configuration of equipment,” then turning to Justin she added in a more serious tone, “But of course we cannot use this type of strip mining operation in most countries in the world.”

“But we’re not using it on Earth,” Justin reminded her.  “And, you’ll note…” he added with a broad grin, “that we are still addressing environmental concerns in the event that Martian’s find our operation hazardous to their health.”

“Yes, this process reminds me of a nightcrawler digging through soil drawing out nutrients as it goes.   So you’re dumping the slag directly back onto the asteroid?”

“Seems the most propitious thing to do.  Otherwise, we’re creating a mass debris field that will be miniature missiles in the form of small asteroids.  The best solution is to reinvest the waste back onto the asteroid,” Justin said.

“Excellent process,” Ada nodded.

Justin beamed.

“Meanwhile, there are several things we can do to improve the efficiency through central operators.  By using an overlay technique, you’ll be able to increase throughput, and reduce staffing requirements.  You don’t require additional grinding operators, as the process is managed by the equipment operator him or herself.  You’ll need at least two more people in your blasting group though.  During the window where you’re operating on site you’ll go to twelve on twelve off operations.  That will work fine if your plan is sixty days of operations to complete the project.  Productivity will slip a little in the last fifteen days, but that is manageable with incentives for production throughput in those last two weeks.  You can manage with a crew of 44 personnel.  That is tight, but manageable.

Justin added, “You mean we can do this whole project with a crew of 44 personnel.”

“There is no we in this discussion.  I was asked to advise.  My feet are firmly planted here on terra firma.”

As Ada left the office, Justin turned to Marshall, “I think I’m in love.”

“Me too,” Marshall snapped in a matter-of-fact tone.  “She just cut our excess budget.  We’re back within the gap analysis range for success.”

Justin was surprised, but Marshall was not, a week later when Marshall announced that Ada Martinez was joining the crew as the mining foreman.

“She said no way when I asked her,” Justin looked incredulous.  “How did you change her mind?”

“You’re looking in the wrong direction if you think I had anything to do with it,” Marshall yawned as he leaned back in his office chair.  “You said you needed her, I mentioned it to Roberto Trujillo, who I suspect passed it along to Arthur.  Arthur is well known for getting what he wants.”

“Well she’ll make a great addition.  I’m a darn good metallurgist and geologist, but I have no idea how to run a mining crew.  Besides, I think I’m going to marry her.”

Naomi, who was sitting across from Arthur swiveled her chair, “You like girls?  I didn’t even know you were aware we existed.”

“Of course I like girls.  But who has time,” Justin turned bright red.

Marshall yawned, “Enough.  What do you think about Vlajimmy Solages?  He’s one of our finalists for suit maintenance.  He also has some skills in HVAC.”

“I don’t remember him,” Justin admitted.  “How many people did we interview today anyway?”

“Twenty-five,” Naomi stated flatly.  “And twenty-five more tomorrow.”

“Vlajimmy Solages,” Marshall repeated.  “Training at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, three years with the European Space Agency.  Wants to see the Solar System.”

“Don’t they all?” Naomi responded sounding tired.

Pyramids on Ceres?

Cameras on the tractor-trailer-size spacecraft captured a pyramid-shaped structure rising three miles above Ceres' cratered surface. NASA scientists are calling it 'intriguing.' (Source: NASA/CNN)

Ceres continues to intrigue as the Space Probe Dawn draws nearer to the dwarf planet.  Another unexpected landmark has emerged as the clarity of photographs increases.  Scientists are referring to the dimple at the bottom of the picture a three-mile high pyramid like object.  Geologically it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If Ceres had a volcanic core that was active in the last few eons we could go with a very large volcano, comparable in size to Mt Fuji (well actually this would be about 3,000 feet taller than that.  Considering that its roots aren’t buried in the ocean, that is a big momma.

Of course for those of us who love science fiction it provides yet another opportunity for speculation.  Could it be a massive pyramid built by an ancient civilization that emigrated to Earth where their planet lost its atmosphere due to global warming?  How about a beacon for interstellar travel?  Your only limitation is your own imagination on what it “could be”.


End of the world

Douglas Adams where are you?  The environmentalists have decided they haven’t frightened us enough with global warming, so they are no upping the ante and predicting the sixth mass extinction on a planet near and dear to us all.  Could we be creating our own doom?  Perhaps.  There is a certain amount of if we keep doing what we’re doing at the speed we’re doing it, there is some cause for concern despite the doomsayers.  From a humanistic perspective it appears that we have managed to overpopulate the species and our consumption at current growth rates and population rates would have an inevitable catastrophic outcome.  From a naturalist perspective such things as the rise of homosexuality, lethargic deterioration into a lower class that has nothing to  do with race, potential water shortages leading to war are all signs of mother nature attacking an overextended population.

The good news for me is that its predicted to occur in about three or four generations.  For some reason this brings to mind all the clerical gurus that have been predicting end of the world events for decades.  When their due date expires so does their credibility.  So scientists who have chosen this avenue of end of the world sign carrying are smart.  They’ll be dead long before their predictions turn out to be unfounded (if they are).  I prefer Douglas Adams to Mad Max so I’m going to stay optimistic.


Sci Fi – Arlo chapter 12 draft available for your enjoyment

Aloha – This is chapter 12 of the new science fiction novel I’m working on with the working title, Arlo.  I’m actually likely to change to title :o)  Again, this is a first draft so beware of grammar and spelling errors.  Chapters 1-11 are available in the blog archives.

Chapter 12  Fish or Cut Bait

“Costs in Phase One are in line.  The Proto-type life support unit is the only item that ran over budget, and that was … 4.3 percent with the modifications that Doctor Hilst made to the design,” Roberto Trujillo reported.

Only four people were present in the Board Room this afternoon:    Arthur Salt; his Executive Secretary, Janice White; CFO, Roberto Trujillo; and legal counsel, Calvin Graham.  Arthur Salt was sitting, but rose and started to pace.  Cost overrun in only one area, but it is the area where we’ll absorb the most construction cost.  If this is commonplace, that ten percent margin you built in will be awfully thin Roberto.”   Turning to Calvin he asked, “Well, Graham.  What kind of deal have we got on the table with Harkin?”

“It has all been pretty hush-hush,” Calvin started.  “Harkin is obviously a flunky.  He hasn’t even been included in the last three meetings.  The initial meeting was held in his office across the street from the Capitol Building; but after that the meetings were moved to the Washington Hilton.  The lead counsel on this is Joseph Krueger.  The only other person I’ve been able to identify is Walter Somervell; not that he wanted to be identified.  He introduced himself as Douglas Somervell.  He was dressed as a civilian.  He is better known in Washington circles as Admiral Walter Somervell.  When I checked, his middle name is Douglas, so technically he wasn’t lying.”

“So what are they offering?” Arthur stopped pacing.

“They’re willing to offer loan guarantees for the whole project.   $66 billion.”

Arthur frowned, “And what do they want?”

“Well, quite a bit.  They want all revenues from the project declared in the United States.  They want the obvious, Salt Industries and your personal guarantees ahead of the government guarantee.  They want a small scientific cadre included in the crew, and allow them to conduct their studies as long as it does not interfere with your mission…”

“How many?” Arthur snorted.

“Five,” Graham responded immediately.

“How much equipment?” Arthur tested.

“I have the list of equipment,” Calvin reached for his tablet.

“I don’t care about the list of equipment, I want to know the weight of the equipment,” Arthur snipped.  “Remember, we are hoping to launch personnel and equipment at $500 per pound.  We have to launch enough supplies for each member of the crew.”  Turning back to Roberto, “How much?”

“Without equipment, about $600 million.  Frankly, the equipment will probably be incidental to the additional supplies,” Roberto advised.

Arthur paced for nearly a minute, the stopped and turned to Graham.  “Okay, they can have the scientists, but with some conditions.  One.  They have to foot the bill for getting that group to the ship.  Two.  They have to pay for the launch of all supplies, including life support for their team.  Three.  They have to be cross trained to assist Marshall’s main mission, and commit to quarter time for that project.  That would reduce Marshall’s crew requirements by one, and two if I can argue it with him.  Afterall, these scientists should be useful for some function or other aboard the craft.”

Arthur smiled, “And Roberto, that should cut our payroll costs by about $150 million.  It’s sad when that sounds like peanuts.”

Roberto quickly replied, “Based on the margin of error we are working on, $150 million is better than peanuts.”

Arthur started pacing again, then stared out the window on the light reflecting off Lake Michigan.  He stared so long that Janice finally spoke up to get his attention, “Mr. Salt…”

Arthur turned facing Calvin Graham, “Something still doesn’t smell right about this:   Secret meetings; unidentified players; and the payback.  Frankly, this isn’t like even backroom deals I’ve cut in the past.  They want something else.  What is it?”

Calvin Graham looked steadily into Arthur Salt’s focused gaze, “Nothing I can find in the deal on the table.  I’m thinking they just want the country to remain number one in space.  China, Russia, the European Space Agency, even the UAE, Japan and other countries are launching missions.  This is a U.S. bannered operation if the government is guaranteeing your loans.”

“That could make a little more sense,” Arthur hesitated.  “It makes more good press for the politicians in office now.  Bigger deal than tax revenues later.”  Arthur sat back down in his chair.  “Let me think on it.”

With that Janice and Calvin left the Board Room.

Arthur glanced over at Roberto, and pointed to a small metallic device about the size of a metal cufflink.  “Well, Roberto, the well this deal is set up I don’t think I’m going to take it,” he spoke slowly.

“I don’t blame you,” Roberto drew a couple of feet closer to the bug.

“Probably the best thing to do is shut the whole thing down,” Arthur continued.

“Any way to salvage the deal?” Roberto asked.

“Two things I think,” Arthur paused dramatically, “remove the personal guarantees for starters.  I’m sinking the entire company into this deal.  No need to leave me homeless if it fails, and have this Admiral Somervell tell me what the government really wants out of this deal.”

Arthur moved back to the area a few feet from where Graham had been sitting, and reattached the bug under the table.


Two days later, Admiral Somervell in dress uniform arrived at the offices of Salt Industries.  He was accompanied by lead counsel Joseph government attorney, Joseph Krueger and two secret service agents.

Escorted to the Board Room, they were met my Roberto Trujillo and Calvin Graham.

“Where is Mr. Salt?” Admiral Somervell asked impatiently.

Roberto Trujillo smiled, “He will be joining as shortly.  He had an emergency call from our Operations Director in Honduras.  We really appreciate your coming to visit us.”

“We were actually on a DOD contract negotiation in Chicago, and thought we’d just stop by,” Joseph Krueger replied smoothly.

Admiral Somervell nodded curtly, “Yes, just happened to be in town.  I don’t have much time.  How long will Salt be?”

“It should just take a couple of minutes,” Roberto assured the guests.

Somervell glanced at Graham, who nodded affirmatively.

“Would you care for a beverage?  Water?  Soda? While we wait?” Roberto offered.

The Admiral stared out the windows.

Joseph Krueger replied, “A water would be nice thank you.  It’s been a busy day.”

The seconds turned into minutes.  The water arrived, and Roberto invited the Admiral to be seated.  “I’m sure Mr. Salt will be joining us any moment,” he glanced  at his watch.

Somervell took a seat, glaring at Calvin Graham, “We don’t have all day.  I have a flight to catch at three.”

Arthur Salt entered the room abruptly.  “Sorry for the delay,” he took in his guests.

Admiral Walter Somervell with tall and of a sleek build.  Kind of like a fast cruiser, Arthur observed.  Kruger was fat.  But he was also tailor dressed, hiding much of the surplus weight in the cut of his suit.  Give him a cigar and he’d be perfect for a political cartoon, Arthur thought.

He reached out his hand to Somervell first.  “Admiral Somervell, pleased to meet you.  My people say that you have the inside track to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Somervell shook Arthur’s hand tightly.

Turning to Joseph Krueger he reached out, “And I’m pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Krueger.  I understand you have an excellent reputation in government negotiations.  At least that’s what my friends at McDonell-Douglas say.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you as well Mr. Salt.  I read the article about how you managed to acquire mining rights in Southern China… quite a coup.”

“That’s a long time ago,” Arthur smiled as he sat down.  “So what can we do for you folks today?”

Somervell responded testily.  “We wanted to get this project of yours off the sandbar.   Frankly, I can’t see what’s holding it up.”

Arthur smiled, leaning back in his chair.  “I just don’t understand why you’re so anxious to do it.  I mean, it is really hard to stop and look a gift horse in the mouth, but $66 billion in loan guarantees for future tax revenue just doesn’t ring right.  Oh, it sounds right for a long-term planner, but for Washington thinking it just doesn’t make sense.”

It was Krueger who responded, leaning forward.  “You’re so right Mr. Salt.  Tax revenues has little to do with the motivation for the Department of Defense.  We actually are very interested in the immediate impact of the metals themselves.  You actually have the potential of providing relief from our acquiring some materials we need desperately  from countries who aren’t really our friends at the present.  Take platinum for example, Even South Africa where the bulk of the Earth’s reserves are located is beginning to use its reserves as leverage for favorable votes and to interrupt our international policies.  We’d like to minimize being held hostage by foreign governments.  More than the tax revenue we’re interested in the minerals you’re bringing back.  We want to make sure they are brought back here.  The U.S.A.”

“Interesting idea, Mr. Krueger.  It is smart business I agree.  But I still find it hard to believe that the politicians in Washington are that forward thinking.”

“Is this room bugged?” Somervell asked abruptly.

“Sweep it every day,” Arthur smiled.

“Humph!  Okay, Salt.  We want the technology.  Simple as that.  As you may have guessed, part of the purpose of the scientific mission we’re tacking onto your ship is to reverse engineer as much of the technology as possible.  You’re doing our work for us, for the government’s future in space.  We anticipate being decades ahead of other countries with the technology and experiences that your team will test on this excursion,” and standing he stated flatly, “and what will you care?  You’ll have made your billions… excuse be trillions.  It will be a wide open race if you’re successful.  And the United States of America wants to be at the head of the race.   And in my opinion its your patriotic duty to help us although I doubt for a capitalist like you that means much.”

Arthur did not respond immediately.  Turning back to the heavy set attorney he responded, with his voice rising ever so slightly, “All right Krueger, we’ll fish with you.  But these are my terms.  Number 1, no personal guarantees.  Salt Industry will take the loan with government guarantees.  My personal guarantees are not needed.”

“Done,” Krueger stated simply.

“I’m not done.  You’ve already heard our terms for including your scientific team.”

“Agreed,” Krueger added.

“Third, since the tax revenue is not really an issue, I want it removed from the table.  We’ll agree to sell all ores and minerals that the United States government wants at ten percent below market, but we’ll run the transactions through our accounts in the Caymens.  You wind up with right of first refusal, along with all U.S. government contractors.  We will sell whatever you don’t want at fair market value wherever we currently do business.”

Krueger looked perplexed, turning first to Somervell then to Calvin Graham.

“Done,” growled Krueger.  “I hope you choke on your filthy lucre.”

“Calvin, work with our legal department to check and double check all the caveats of the agreement,” Arthur smiled as he rose.  “Gentlemen, thank you for your visit.”  Without saying another word or shaking hands with anyone he left the room.


Fifteen minutes later Arthur Salt returned to the Board Room, where Roberto Trujillo waited for him.  “Well, how did it go?” Arthur asked as he slide into his chair.

“Admiral Somervell was fuming as he left, muttering something about … rude SOB…. Out to take him and all his kind out and shoot them.” Roberto smiled.

“Sounds like he’s a communist,” Arthur laughed.

“Did you find out what you wanted to know?” Roberto queried.

“Yes, I watched from my office.  Graham is definitely in bed with them.  I just don’t know if this is a recent betrayal or if he’s been a government plant all along,” Arthur leaned forward.  “The question is what to do about it.”

Roberto leaned in, “I suggest we keelhaul him.”

Arthur chuckled, “If only we could.  We could fire him, but then we’d just have to wait and figure out who the next mole would be.  I think we just keep him where he is, feed him what we want to feed him, and make sure we have an outside firm double check his future agreements… especially this one… for accidental loopholes.”

“You’re adding unnecessary costs,” Roberto replied.

“I don’t think so,” Arthur stood up.  “I think it actually will save us money.  How did you like the deal I cut.”

“Masterful,” Trujillo laughed.

“I’m still troubled.  As big an ass as Admiral Somervell is, I’m uncomfortable with how easily he gave in on my last demand.”

“Well, for now at least you’ve got the deal you wanted… and then some.”

Brightest day of the year a good day for Fathers Day

Summer Solstice passed occurred just about two hours ago.  It would have been a good time to have been at Stonehenge.  Stonehenge is not alone however, there have been standing monuments of one sort or another throughout the ancient world including Egypt, Greece, and within the Mayan world to name a few.  A good day to celebrate Fathers Day this year :o)  Doc

Arlo Chapter 11 – Between Scylla and Charybdis

Aloha – Another edition to the current novel in production.  Always the reminders (a) previous chapters are also available in the blog archives, and (b) this is a very rough first draft so forgive spelling and grammar and occasional context errors.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 11 Between Scylla and Charybdis

It was late, after eleven.  Arthur Salt and Roberto Trujillo were alone in the Board Room.  Even Janice had left the building and hour earlier.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Roberto repeated.

Arthur had been pacing again, but now was leaning back in his high-backed executive chair.  “I don’t want to do it.  I had a plan.  I have no doubt we would be number one in the next three years, five if the economy takes another downturn.  We certainly don’t need to do it.  But I feel that I have to do it.”

“Marshall,” Roberto stated flatly, and Arthur nodded in resignation.

“I’m sure that old devil, Tadashi Koshou would back the project, but at what price.  You know he’s in bed with the Yamaguchi-gumi.  They don’t play nice, and I know they have expanded their operations to the U.S.   I don’t care how clever my son is, he would not come out of that unscathed.  So how are we going to fund this?”

“I see three options,” Roberto’s voice was matter-of-fact, but tired, “Option 1:  take the company public; An IPO.  We’ve been approached three or four times a year for the last ten years.  You then can leverage your stock at probably eighty percent.  At first glance, that is a viable option.  You retain control of the company, or awfully close to control, and close out the accounts from the profits.  But, I worry.  If the publicity of the project goes against us, the stock price drops like a rock and you’ll wind up broke from the option calls.”

“Well that was encouraging.  What are the better options?”

“That was the best option,” Roberto grinned.  “Option 2:  Sell off some of the properties.  You can flip a quick profit if you sell those new planned refineries in Mexico.  The problem is that the buyers would most likely be funded by the Arellano Cartel.”

“I thought they had been broken up,” Arthur leaned forward curiously.

“The head was cut off but no, like bindweed it has too many roots to kill.  They’re looking for different revenue sources and transportation sources and would probably provide the seed money to a seemingly legitimate buyer.”  Roberto responded.  “Most of the properties that you could sell would have some unsavory element in the funding for a cash deal.”

“Other options?” Arthur sat back again, tired.

“A straight bank loan against assets.  This is a huge deal and would require several banks to combine in syndication for the loan.   You still have to worry about call clauses, but we can probably soften those with the right leverage and lawyer.” Roberto looked at Graham’s empty chair.  The problem is that I don’t see how you get $60 billion, or to be safe add ten percent to that, $66 billion.  Banks don’t like to risk money they cannot see a guaranteed return on.  If this project crashes, so does Salt Industries.”

“How much do you think we could raise on loans?” Arthur mused.

“My best guess?  Without other assurances, maybe $40 billion.”

“What debt load can we service?” Arthur rose and started to pace.

“Paying the loans is not the major concern,” Roberto pulled out a spreadsheet.  With current profits, and existing debt load, we can pay out $5 billion a year if we don’t add any new projects and don’t have any major problems.  If we could borrow the money the interest payments would run between $6 and $6.5 billion.  Your assets would be tied up so you couldn’t sell any to cover the gap.  Personal cash reserves from your accounts, selling off some of your personal real estate might give you enough of a pad for three years, but you still have to deal with the principal if the project fails.”

Arthur continued pacing.  “I received an interesting call today; Senator Harkin actually.  He indicated that he had heard that we were considering some sort of project.  He went so far as to say that he had heard that if we needed some help, something might be available.”

“Harkin?  Do you really think you can trust Harkin?  He’d sell his mother for a vote.”

Arthur continued pacing.  “I can’t imagine how NASA could provide guarantees on a project of this size.  It’s three times the size of NASA’s annual budget.  And they’re scraping to fund that launch for Mars next spring.”

“What if it’s not NASA?  Roberto posited.

“Well if it’s not NASA, who….” Arthur stopped mid step and turned back to the table.  “Who has enough money that they could provide loan guarantees at the level we need?”

“Social Security, Welfare, or Defense,” Roberto listed on his fingers.

“Well we damn well know it’s not Social Security or Welfare!” Arthur snickered.  “What in the hell does the Department of Defense want to do with a mining operation?”

“What’s in it for them?” Roberto tested.

“Well that’s pretty easy isn’t it?  Even with all the G&E expenses I can add to the equation, they still come up with they still wind up with a trillion dollar paycheck in taxes.”

“Two trillion if your son’s estimates are good… and even I’m comfortable with his numbers,” Roberto grinned.  But then he paused, “I don’t buy it though.  Yes, the tax revenue makes sense if they make us agree to declare it as U.S. revenue, but the current administration won’t even be in office five years from now.  They can’t think past one tax year on any decision I’ve seen them make in the last four decades.”

“This is a fine pickle,” Arthur sat back down, “Choices seem to be between the Japanese Yakuza, Mexican Drug Cartels, sharks of Wall Street, or the U.S. government.  Don’t we have any good choices?”

“Just say no,” Roberto smiled.  “But I’m with you in any case, in for a penny in for a pound.”

“What happens to you if this all falls apart?” Arthur leaned forward.

“Arthur, you’ve made me a wealthy man beyond my dreams thirty years ago,” Roberto smiled sincerely.  “I retire and spend time with my grandchildren.  I might not be able to call out one of your personal jets, but my mortgage is paid off, my kids’ college is already paid for, and I can still afford an occasional trip to Hawaii even you Salt Industry collapses.  Just don’t do something that will land me in jail.”

“Yes, prison would be low on my preferred options,” Arthur mused as he stood.  “Come on, time to go home.  Better cancel that transfer for Graham in the morning.”


Calvin Graham sat back comfortably in his office.  It was nearly midnight.  The reception had been clear.  He would have to be sure to remove the bug in the morning before the security sweep tomorrow evening.  John Smith will be delighted, he thought.