Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 17

A little to their surprise, Jon and Tanisha were back in their office in Building Four bright and early on Tuesday morning. It seemed strange after the last four days Ė an awful lot had happened, and they could see some big changes coming in their lives, and really, welcome changes.

With Stan, Jennlynn, and Jim still in Washington, they didnít really want to get to work on the Monarch, and there were still some things to pull out of the success of the tests on Friday. The density of RF flux at the target was still a major issue. It might be that the Monarch didnít have to be much more powerful than the Swallowtail, depending on the actual mission requirements, but until what they were doing could be defined, there was no point in exploring that issue. It would have to be worked out in Washington, and they figured that was one thing that was being discussed there. It was clear that much more power was feasible, and the beam diffuser was successful. They really couldnít have asked for much better results from the test, anyway.

Just now the pressure seemed to be off. They threw a few ideas back and forth about figuring out some way of measuring the actual electron flux at the target site without blowing up the test instrument, and they did get some notions, but their minds wandered a little, too Ė wandered, especially, to those minutes high on the old Navajo Bridge, as they looked down at the Canyon Tours rafts floating past far below.

Both of them wondered about what it must be like down there. Crystal, Al, Karin, all the boatmen theyíd talked to always seemed to have a sense of awe about it. And, theyíd been down there how many times? Al, a couple hundred! It didnít take much effort to imagine a green river, red walls rising to a blue sky far above, white water ahead . . . thoughts far from an electron flux detector that couldnít be fried . . .

"Someday," Tanisha mumbled once while she was working at the workstation.

"Yeah," Jon replied from his own desk, understanding her perfectly. "Not this fall, though." It didnít take a crystal ball to tell them that when the Learjet returned from Washington, it was going to be carrying several monthsí worth of work with it.

"Damn," Tanisha replied, understanding him perfectly, as well. "Jon, do you realize what really happened this weekend?"

"Iím still trying to make sense of it all," he replied. "I mean, a lot happened."

"Yeah," she sighed, "In spite of Friday, it turned this place from an obsession into a job."

"Maybe itíll wear off," he said. "But you know what? I donít want it to."

"Me, either," she sighed. "Damn."

* * *

It was late on Wednesday afternoon before the three returned from Washington and showed up in Building Four, but the big grins were evident. "I take it you found what you were looking for?" Tanisha asked.

"Oh, yeah," Stan smiled. "Itís a lot of fun when it comes down like that. Brought a pot load of work back for you, but itís going to be pretty interesting. Did you two have a good weekend?"

"Pretty good," Jon admitted. "Not quite what we were expecting, but pretty good."

"Hey, look," Stan said, "I donít read minds like a couple of people I know, but Iím a little sorry about last Friday night. I know you were a little down at the way it came out after the test, but it couldnít be helped, and I know you sort of got the short end of the stick."

"It worked out," Jon shrugged. In spite of everything that started with Crystal ringing the doorbell, he remembered the disappointment of not being able to share the feeling of the victory of that day.

"In fact, it worked out for the best," Tanisha added. "But yeah, it would have been nice to sit back and share the good feelings with people we could have talked about it with."

"Look at it this way," Stan grinned. "You two gave me the tool I needed to take a technical success and turn it into a financial success. The dividend checks are going to look pretty good the next few years. Tell you what, letís go over the down and dirty in-house stuff right now, all the dirty details we canít talk about over steaks and beer. That ought to give you something to celebrate, and you can tell me a few things, like how you happen to know Al Buck. Heís something else, isnít he?"

"Super neat guy," Tanisha said with a smile, remembering the weekend.

"You know Al?" Jennlynn said, obviously surprised. "Howíd you manage that?"

"Long story, but we can tell you later," Jon grinned.

"He has some neat people working for him, too," Stan added. "Anyway, all the specs and schedules and crap can keep until tomorrow. We can drag a few more people in on it then, and get a team pulled together. Would that make up a little for running you off Friday?"

"I have to admit, this sounds like a good story," Jon smiled, leaning back in his chair.

"Oh, it is," Stan said. "First thing, the reason I had Jennlynn bring you back here is that I couldnít have you around. The two of you are good people, you know your technical stuff, but youíre just too honest. I was playing one side against the other pretty good, and you might have given away the ball game."

"We figured that much out," Tanisha said. "I think thatís why we werenít too hurt about it."

"You got a piece of it, out by the bunker Friday afternoon," Stan said. "I donít know if you figured out the implications. You remember me telling Ricketts that the Swallowtail wasnít a Navy project, it was a Lambdatron project?"

"Yeah," Jon said. "He was trying to make out like it was part of the Butterfly."

"Exactly," Stan grinned. "And that was right after he went to so much trouble four hours before to tell us it wasnít a Navy project anymore, it was a Lambdatron project, but that was before you and Tanisha started to bore a four-inch hole through a mountain with the Swallowtail. I mean, he made a real serious point of it, right in front of General Hanneman."

"Jennlynnís pilot?" Tanishaís eyebrows went up. "But I thought . . . "

"Well, he is retired, and is a hell of a golfer," Jennlynn smiled. "But heís retired out of Air Force R&D, still does some consulting work, and I pretty well knew he had a direct line into his old buddies."

"Jennlynn hired him on her own," Stan said, "But as soon as I found out who he was, I did a little investigating, and figured sooner or later we could make use of that information."

"I get it," Jon said. "Youíre playing the Navy off against the Air Force."

"Thatís how I hoped it would work out," Stan smiled. "I mean, technically, Mike wasnít cleared to be out there if it was a Navy project, but as a Lambdatron project, it was really unclassified as far as the government was concerned, and we could bring who we wanted. Just to be legal in case someone made an issue out of it, no one briefed Mike on what the Swallowtail was all about, or what it was supposed to do. But, he was there and saw the systems test, so he knew we were playing with some hot stuff."

"I did give him sort of a hint," Jim grinned. "Stan and I were talking in the 310 on the way back to Phoenix, and I made the comment loud enough for him to hear that the Swallowtail could knock out an F-16ís flight controller at a hundred miles."

"Well, maybe," Tanisha frowned. "We donít know how hardened it is, and donít know what the flux levels would be like."

"I donít either," Stan laughed. "Neither did he. But how much do you want to bet he was on the phone to Washington within fifteen minutes after we hit the ground at Sky Harbor, telling them the Navy had fumbled a hot project and it was lying there ready to get picked up? Mike may be retired, but heís not stupid, and he knows where his bread was buttered for many years."

"It must have been a hot series of phone calls," Jennlynn said. "Within two hours, he was down at Luke Air Force Base, climbing into an F-15 for a fast trip to the puzzle palace. At least, thatís what he said when he got hold of Stan Saturday morning from DC to set up appointments for Monday."

"But didnít Ricketts call back to his office?" Jon smiled, seeing a true shenanigan had been under way.

"Oh, yeah, he called back," Stan answered. "He told them we finally had something out here and heíd fill them in when he got back Ė but he didnít recognize Mike as a spy from the Air Force. He just wasnít thinking, and he should have been. Ricketts is all right most of the time, but like a lot of fighter jocks, his dick sort of overpowers his brain sometimes. You remember him saying he had some stuff he wanted to do out here this weekend?"

Jon looked across at Tanisha and got a big grin on his face Ė just about as big as hers was. "Youíre kidding, arenít you?" she laughed.

"Nope," Jennlynn smiled with an evil grin. "Remember, weíve worked with him before, but usually the tests were midweek. Thatís why we scheduled the Swallowtail test for Friday. The Redlite is the closest Nevada cathouse to China Lake, after all, and it wasnít the first time heíd been there."

"I have to ask," Jon laughed, "What did he think when he drove in and saw the Lear sitting on the airstrip outside?"

"Not much, actually," Jennlynn laughed. "There were a bunch of Japanese businessmen in there partying, and he knew Skyhook is a charter jet, so he figured it was just another charter job." She shook her head. "I will admit that he was just a little surprised to see me there working, not just hanging around as the charter pilot, but I have to say he parties pretty hard. We blew a pretty good hole in his credit card. Not quite as good as if weíd taken the Swallowtail to it, but close."

Jon shook his head and started laughing, laughing so hard that tears were running down his face before he could pull himself together. "I get it," he finally managed to say. "All the time he was partying, Mike Ė uh, General Hanneman Ė was in DC, plotting to steal the project from the Navy."

"Yeah," Tanisha laughed, "And all the while Ricketts was partying hearty, not knowing heís falling further behind."

"You get the picture," Jennlynn laughed with them. "Hell, he thought he had all the time in the world and never got the chance to have second thoughts. Thereís kind of a cute twist on that: he figured he had a lock on things since he could blackmail us, I mean, considering where he and I were and what we were doing."

"You mean because you were partying for pay, right?" Jon frowned.

"Of course," Jennlynn laughed. "He forgot a couple things: first, itís legal in Nevada, at least in Antelope Valley at the Redlite; more important, it doesnít pay to blackmail a blackmailer, in that position, especially when youíre married."

"Twisted, twisted," Tanisha shook her head. "Iím just glad weíre in the tech side of the business. I donít think I could ever think twisted enough to be on the business side."

"I donít like to be that cute myself," Stan said, "But under the circumstances, it was necessary. Do you remember what the whole point of the exercise was?"

"Yeah," Jon said, "To get the Navy and the Air Force in a turf war over the Monarch system."

"You still donít get it," Stan shook his head and smiled. "Yeah, that was the intent, but it was a tool, not the point. Realistically, the Navy can make a pretty good case that the system is part of the Butterfly contract. We probably shouldnít have called it the Swallowtail for that reason, and we shouldnít have used the word Monarch, since theyíre both kinds of butterflies, but things hadnít developed that far when we named them. The point of the exercise was to burn the Navyís claim on the system."

"To give it to the Air Force?" Tanisha asked.

"No, to keep it ourselves." Stan let out a sigh. "Damn, they ought to give engineering students a class on intellectual property rights, patents and copyright. Maybe Iíll have to set up a little seminar, Lambdatron style, but then, maybe this is one. The point is that if the Navy could succeed in a claim that the Swallowtail was a part of the Butterfly contract, theyíd own the intellectual rights and the patent rights."

Jon and Tanisha glanced at each other wide-eyed, and let out a long, low, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh . . . " That put a different spin on things.

"Right," Stan grinned. "I needed Mike and the Air Force as allies to nail it down. The point is, if it was a Navy system, not only would they own the rights, they could assign manufacturing contracts anywhere they want, once the original contract had expired. On the other hand, if itís not a Navy project but a Lambdatron project, then we own the rights. Iíve been going over your work for months with a patent attorney. Thereís about fourteen patentable innovations youíve turned up so far, and Iím pretty sure youíre going to turn up some more. Even if we get outbid on a production contract, whoever wins the bid is going to have to pay us a considerable royalty."

"I get it," Jon said. "Thatís ongoing income, not just a completed contract fee. That could be worth a lot, considering some of the things the system could do."

"Frankly, I wouldnít mind if someone did beat us on a bid," Stan shook his head. "Production is a pain in the ass, especially when youíre working with a military contract. Youíve always got tons of inspectors looking over your shoulder, picking at every fault they can find to try to justify their existence, keeping us from doing what weíre supposed to be doing, which is breaking the next paradigm. But if we do wind up with the contract, production wonít really be an issue. I happen to know of a company in southern Michigan at the end of a contract to build sonobouys for the Navy. They donít use them like they did when there was a Russian submarine threat, and the company is scrambling for business. Theyíre used to doing production of classified stuff, the tech fit is real good, and they were real interested when we talked to them this morning, even though itís probably a year away from actual production work."

"You got it nailed down, then?" Tanisha asked.

"Not without some blood, guts, and feathers in several Pentagon offices," Jennlynn smiled. "But I have some friends there. I mean, the Redlite is also the closest bordello to Nellis Air Force Base."

"I donít think anyone is going to go to court over it," Stan added. But, as far as you two are concerned, you are still missing the point. Back when you signed your shareholderís contracts last spring, did you read the fine print?"

"No," Jon sighed, "We were up to our butts in trying to figure out the problem with the Butterfly. We glanced at them, signed them, and got back to work."

"Youíre right," Stan nodded, "Maybe weíd better leave you on the tech side and not get you involved in the business side. Lambdatron shareholders who develop patents while on duty share in the patent rights with the company, both as shareholders and as individuals. Iím not much of a Bible-quoting person, but I do remember that it says in there somewhere, ĎDo not bind the mouths of the kine that tread out the grain.í Thatís you two, in this case. Because of the way things work, itís going to be a while before the big bucks fall out of it, and itís hard to say how much itíll be worth in the long run, but itíll be a fair chunk of change, six figures for sure, maybe seven."

"Probably more if you keep rolling out patentable stuff the way youíve been doing," Jim added. "Of course, all the Lambdatron shareholders are going to make out pretty good on it, too. When you get right down to it, that is our business."

"Good God," Jon shook his head. "I thought Crystal dumped a truckload on us Friday night, but here we go again."

"Whoís this Crystal?" Jennlynn asked.

"My sister," Jon smiled. "Itís a long story, and I donít know all of it, but she spent years looking for the place she was supposed to be in life, and she found it. Thanks, Jim."

"Thanks?" the big black man smiled.

"I donít think we quite realized it," Tanisha added. "Not till now. But this is where weíre supposed to be, just like Crystal is where sheís supposed to be. Youíre the one who invited us here, Jim. I never dreamed this is how it would come out."

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