by Joe Shea
August 10, 2012
Barack Obama and the New Green Energy
Fiction by Joe Shea
When President Obama, perhaps a few months too late (only time will tell), finally realized that energy and gasoline prices and their control would be the defining challenge he would face in his fight for re-election, he contacted me and tasked me with implementation of a new technology that could solve the problem of uncontrolled oil and gas prices for now and forever. As a longtime advocate for both the President and alternative fuels, I quickly accepted his secret appointment and went to work.
Now, just a few months after his National Security Directive and Executive OrderIt will only be a matter of months before consumers know that something fundamental has changed: power bills will come down and new applications will blossom everywhere, including automotive applications, which are a bit more expensive - but not prohibitively so. They will eliminate high gasoline prices for the average consumer.
In fact, the conversion of engines to the "new form of energy" that NASA publicly identified in January of 2012 will occur at a cost that reflects the vast savings on electric power, and soon after doing so, will help propel vehicles, fueled for almost nothing, that will put thousands of dollars back into consumers' pockets each year.
Some alert readers will note the quiet but widespread re-engineering of some vehicles that is currently underway to serve this technology, or the celebrated 13,000 MPH flight of the first Falcon 2 unmanned aircraft, which took place in mid-April. These are just a few of the surface indications that something new and big is coming, shepherded into existence with the utmost secrecy by President Obama and offering a sea change that will transform the world energy infrastructure.
To the great satisfaction of more than 2,000 employees, our power technology was the fuel source for the Falcon 2, and our secret facilities were less than 50 miles away when it blasted off from Vandenberg AFB near Santa Barbara. We have no proximity to the auto assembly plant where the new vehicles are being produced, but it is our engine that will power these cars and permit their 1,200 MPG fuel consumption.
Nickel-Hydrogen (Ni-H) technology using a carbon catalyst that creates Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) is also being widely adopted in India and China, whose scientists played key roles in our understanding and implementation of it. Universally, however, implementation programs are being conducted in high secrecy so that those whose financial "oxen" will be badly gored by this technology cannot interfere with it through sabotage, espionage, assassination, or even worse, electoral politics - largely because until this memoir, they have been unaware of it.
How do you bury something as important as LENR research? It starts with the media. The Associated Press covered the Nov. 2011 demonstration in Bologna of Italian engineer Andrea Rossi's Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) device as the only accredited journalism organization permitted to remain inside the building during the entire demonstration, but then did not permit its Science writer, Peter Svensson, to write about it.
Fox News, MSNBC, the American Reporter, Wired, Forbes and other well-known Websites all reported on the successful experiment, but the lack of AP coverage spooked the media Establishment - papers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, which knew about it. Afraid of getting burned, as they felt they had been by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989, they failed their readers, fortunately for us.
In a media-hot environment, LENR research might not have survived, just as scientists Pons and Fleischmann discovered in 1989 when they revealed the results of their tabletop "cold fusion" experiments. The publications that felt "burned" by cold fusion have been the most resistant to any coverage of LENR now. Only time will reveal the extent to which they burned their own readers, but that is another story. In any case, the huge media firestorm that should have been created by the Bologna experiment never materialized, giving us a chance to take the technology "underground," literally.
The cavernous, underground space in which our LENR manufacturing facility is located is equivalent in raw capacity to that of an aircraft carrier, but it has many fewer obstructions - there are no corridors or walled-off engine rooms, for instance - because our LENR generators are far simpler to manufacture and run and are far smaller than any similarly-sized power generators on earth. A 1 Megawatt (1 mW) LENR reactor initially fit inside a 20-ft cargo container, and one a hundred times more powerful now fits in a space one-eighth of that size and generates up to 100mW (one hundred million watts, enough to power 100 aircraft carriers). Our facility is completely powered by LENR, and thus remains completely off the grid, undetectable except from the rare satellite equipped with earth-mapping technology.
And where is it? It’s just north of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley, which itself is just north of the San Fernando Valley, but at the far western end of it, not far from Gorman and Interstate 5, the Golden State Freeway. No special roads were constructed for it even though the highway that runs west from the Antelope Valley Freeway, the I-14, to the I-5, does get a little extra traffic. Disguising The Hole, as we call the facility, was not a huge job. The entrance looks like a large unfinished excavation into the side of a stretch of the Santa Susana Mountains that divides part of western Los Angeles County from Ventura County to the north. In fact, it is very much a finished excavation with a dirt road, blocked near the entrance of The Hole by some round, retractable steel posts, painted yellow, which could pass for a cowcatcher but can stop a tank, coming all the way to the entrance.
What appears to be a massive wall of broken stone is in fact a huge papier-mâché and plaster Hollywood-style prop, pushed open and closed by a single person. The dirt road is accessed by a paved road that shoots north from State Road 42 through farmland, and a left on the dirt road about a mile north of Route 42 takes you back to the entry. Another road from the entry is a straight shot south to 42, about a mile away, and that road is blocked by a typical steel-frame farm gate. Our staff is housed onsite, and their trips to L.A. and Ventura, which are fairly rare, occur in school buses with Ventura County school board markings.
Since we offer everything from an Olympic-sized pool, a decent-sized movie theater (now playing "Battleship") to pleasant dining rooms and excellent food courts onsite - and have adequate medical personnel and care facilities, too - during their six-month contracts some workers never leave the site at all. We only ask that they offer no information to their families or anyone else on those offsite excursions, and they have gladly complied. Our pay scale - starting at $35,000 for a low-skilled assembly worker on a six-month contract - is well worth the isolation, and few feel lonely among thousands of other people of both sexes with similar interests. There have been at least four marriages here so far, and we won’t be surprised if we need to build a pre-school one of these days!
The manufacturing floor, naturally, takes up most of the room. It is about five football fields long, and at any given time about 50 1mW LENR generators are being constructed. Each, with our extensive testing, takes about six months to build. About 20 workers are assigned to fabricate each one, shaping the many pipes and valves and nozzles and other fittings into the finished generator one step at a time. The one thing we cannot tolerate or survive is carelessness. We select our workers by testing them for personal qualities that will not permit failure. They can sometimes be obsessively careful, but that is one obsession well-tolerated by our managers.
Nonetheless, because there are no moving parts on the generators, and the low-energy nuclear reaction is well-insulated from other parts of the devices, the risk of explosion is nil. Although the devices can heat water to about 1,200 degrees Celsius, at those temperatures (or a little above) the nickel begins to melt, and, robbed of its fuel, the reaction stops and the device turns off - a neat fail-safe trick of Nature! Accidents happen when wrenches slip and hot-water valves work loose.
We have had a few burns and a few cuts, but nothing else. Unlike regular nuclear energy, which can be extremely dangerous to workers and the general public when things go wrong as they did in Japan, there is no catastrophic failure possible in devices of this size.
Water is the principal fuel, being the source of hydrogen that is electrolyzed inside the actual reactor. Combined with powdered nickel hydride in the presence of a carbon catalyst, our generic Energy Catalyzers produce the heat that creates steam to power an independent thermovoltaic panel, converting it directly into electricity. This is no different than using oil to heat water and power a steam turbine, except that water as a fuel source is far more plentiful, not to mention cheaper, and immeasurably safer.
While a small amount of gamma ray radiation is created in the process, it cannot escape the radiation-hardened vessel - about a foot long and six inches wide - in which it is contained. In sum, the LENR generators are what sci-fi fans have always dreamed of: cheap, safe, low-cost power generators that will quickly transform the world as we know it.
My office sits in the middle of the assembly floor, and through its glass walls I can see the beginning and the end of the four assembly lines we are running now. There are about 700 people toiling down there at any given time, fastening one pipe to another, completing the intricate and small reaction chambers, testing the finished units and adding the smaller ones into the large ones in their open shipping containers. All the connections are tested and retested to make sure they are functioning properly when they are shipped out, usually to the rural electric utilities, most of which are co-operatives, that will first employ them. The rural electric co-operatives were a natural match for these devices since they are usually owned by down-to-earth people - often ranchers, farmers and grain co-ops in the Midwest and Southwest - who are happy to try anything that will substantially bring down their shared costs.
When we add a 1mW LENR reactor to a rural utility in a lightly populated Texas county, the impact is pretty significant. Once the nominal cost of the unit is amortized - usually in less than a year in those cases - and the price to consumers of the power drops dramatically - we are at the point, under normal circumstances, when the telephone lines and televisions would light up with the happy news. To keep that from happening, we concocted an elaborate cover story for the devices during the roll-out phase and swore the co-ops to secrecy as they used it.
The consumers, with few exceptions, had no complaints about their disappearing electric bills. We told them that part of the reason was that by paying their bills they had helped the co-op pay down the entire cost of their plant, so that now there was just a very small cost of transmission. The few who grow curious about that usually give up in frustration when the co-op management fails to offer further explanations.
We do have competition, however, and we got sort of a collective fright in March 2012 when a group of high school students with an inspired teacher (an electrical engineer by trade) at the IIS Pirelli High School in Rome created their own cold fusion device, the Athanor, in a school laboratory - and then sought a European open source patent on it.
A brief piece on CNN just happened to get seen by President Obama, who conveyed to us his concern that we were building low-cost cold fusion reactors for people who - as demonstrated at the high school in Rome - could and probably soon would build them for themselves. We had to assure him that the Athanor device could not be scaled up quickly, even though it was relatively easy to duplicate.
Our 1mW reactors were the product of some brilliant minds here at The Hole and in university and college labs around the world. Half a dozen American companies, from Brillouin Energy to Leonardocorp to Niche Energy to SRI and JET Energy, Inc., were hard at work trying to crack some of the problems we had already solved by "brute force" - i.e., throwing a lot of money and talent at it until it was resolved. That doesn't always work, but it did this time.
Our goal has been to convert at least 50 percent of the power generation at 300 utilities we'd identified to LENR by 2013, when the President would announce the achievement to the public in a nationwide broadcast. We were less than halfway to that goal in May of 2012, but our progress was steady and so far we'd had no major hitches. The technology, which in the end often seemed painfully simple, was working in situ and there had been only momentary outages, usually due to a need to replace either the nickel hydride or the gaskets amid the pipes on individual units inside the reactors. As Andrea Rossi had initially done with his generators, we had connected the smaller units in series; each produced about 10kW. 100 of them fit comfortably in a half-sized shipping container just 20 feet in length. They were mounted on racks on either side, leaving an aisle in between to service them when necessary.
Each was about the size of a small home office refrigerator, the kind that holds a few Cokes and a few sandwiches and stand next to a desk or in a break room in a small business. Actually, the refrigerator-sized units that composed the 1mW generators would one day be individually sold to homes, where they would sit in a closet or basement and safely pump out 10-15 kW of power for decades at nearly no cost to homeowners.
That second stage of deployment involves commercial manufacturers, however, not the government, which owns the NASA patents. Over the next decade, the Amanas and Kenmores and Whirlpools of our economy would, if all went well, be producing these reactors by the millions - and employing millions of people on their assembly lines to build them, we hoped, and millions more to install them, which involved switching out the incoming power cables with new ones joined to our reactors instead of some coal- or oil-fed large utility many miles away.
Obviously, someone has to lose in this process. While utilities and oil and gas companies could reorient their capital to producing these new reactors, they would never produce the kind of income that the jet-black oil pumped from the sands of Saudi Arabia and the vast pockets of explosive natural gas could. The money from the reactors would flow in amazing amounts to those who first successfully adapted them to the wide-ranging potential applications in the marketplace. There would be only a small replacement market, however, as the carbon catalyst, nickel and piping would take years to wear out; the gaskets would be the first to give, as Rossi learned, and they, too, were cheap to replace.
The President wants our economic recovery to be broad and deep, so we have sowed the seeds of hope and change in many places. Our goal was to spread the technology far enough through the co-ops and smallest utilities that it could not be ignored, outlawed or suppressed by the time the oil, gas and nuclear companies would take notice. A CNN story like the one on the Italian kids was a modest threat to that secrecy, but one that trillion-dollar companies like ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco felt they could ignore.
Unfortunately, the Dept. of Energy leaked like a sieve, so we couldn't work with them at all without risking the entire surprise. It was not easy for the President to free money from the "black" budget usually tapped by the intelligence establishment, but by his designation of our activities as a national security enterprise - which it certainly was - he was able to tear away the relatively small amount of money we needed to do our job. Since our only real cost was for materials and labor, we managed quite well.
There was a precedent for what we were doing.
In the 1960's. when people still thought nuclear power was the way to go, the United States awarded dozens of public colleges - including my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma at Norman - small experimental reactors that soon supplied much of their power needs. That program, whose only real aim was to make friends and deepen and broaden our atomic research, quickly spread around the globe, providing small reactors to nations like India, Pakistan and Iran to solidify alliances that later fell apart - but in India's case, quickly (in diplomatic time) resumed.
Reminded by me of those successes, our deal-makers at The Hole worked tirelessly to implement the President's goal of moving America's economy forward by directly or indirectly putting more money back in people's pockets. We helped the parents of college-bound children by agreeing to supply major private colleges like USC, Notre Dame, the University of Chicago and Harvard with the 1mW E-Cats if they in turn would substantially lower their tuition and fees in some approximation to their savings on power.
We went to the Big 3 automakers and said that if they would reduce the cost of their new cars, we would take care of the power needs for the vast assembly lines. If major retailers like Walmart and Kroger, Winn-Dixie, Publix and Ralph's would cut the price of clothing, groceries and appliances, we'd see to it that their electric bills came crashing down. Microsoft, eBay, Oracle and Apple slashed prices on their hardware, software and peripherals - while tossing out their Bloom boxes, power-saving technology they'd adopted that was one generation behind ours. Bank of America, Citibank and other big financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange, joined us in secret, cutting their credit-card interest rates and overdraft fees in response.
Big industrial and health-care organizations that weren't in the power-generation business, like DuPont, Pfizer, HCA, Kaiser-Permanente and huge service providers like Humana, Aetna, Travelers, Hartford and Globe Indemnity went for similar deals, and so did the networks, CBC, NBC, Fox and CNN, who cut the cost of buying ads with them, along with the big studios, who agreed to chop $3 dollars off the price of non-3D movie tickets.
The deal-makers at The Hole cheered their own successes, like developing regional power-sharing agreements that served fast-food chains like McDonald's, Wendy’s and Burger Kings, making their cheapest items even cheaper. As the President realized earlier than most, bringing the cost of electricity and fuel down dramatically affected every sphere of the American economy, and could help millions upon millions of ordinary Americans to find ways to keep their homes out of foreclosures and short sales and prod them to start supporting retailers and big-item manufacturers again.
Refrigerators, electric stoves, heating appliances and microwaves that had gobbled up their incomes suddenly, implemented with cold fusion, became far less costly, and only the established energy producers, still unaware of our programs, were shut out of the savings.
Suddenly there were jobs where a desperate economic landscape had no jobs, and people could go on vacations again; Disneyland, in Orlando and Anaheim, was a customer of The Hole. And best of all, since power economics is still a rather obscure topic for most Americans, the story didn't leak and the many beneficiaries of the President's foresight remained quiet.
At the same time, if he lost his re-election battle, it would all come to a screeching halt - the program would be exposed, the President would be ridiculed, his friends created by The Hole and our deal-makers would remain silent, and all that money in American pockets would soon start to flow in the other direction. But as the economy began to move, so did the President’s poll numbers - upwards.
I was up in my glass-walled, open-roofed office when the woman on the assembly floor below began to scream, and given the acoustics of The Hole, the sound of it penetrated the glass with ease. I could look right down on the floor and see her, although I couldn't see any blood or other indication of injury. It's pretty hard to hurt yourself so badly with a wrench, I thought, and there was not much more to the tools used on the assembly line.
By the time I found the source, her line supervisor and one of our reliable security people had already reached her. I was relieved to see there was no blood, both palms were on her breasts in a gesture of worry or perhaps despair. Her words were not distinct, and the security guy and the supervisor both seemed faintly amused by whatever was bothering her. Their complacency seemed to stir her to even louder shouts and screams. Soon, they were leading her away, apparently to a nursing station. I put in a call to our security chief and asked his secretary to have him call and let me know what was going on; she told me he had already gone down to the floor to find out.
Meanwhile, I had other problems. For one, at least one coal company unit had come sniffing around one of the smaller rural co-ops we had supplied with the new reactor. The utility may have been trying to transition to our device too quickly and thus had so dramatically cut its orders that the sales rep had no choice but to ask what the hell was going on; you couldn't make electricity without coal or oil, at least so far as he was concerned. He was going to be the first of many to ask these questions, and I thought it better to handle him now than to see his complaints expand. Yet, because it had already reached an internal security unit at the headquarters of the coal company involved, it had become more than just fooling one man; we had to provide a screen of deception now to some very curious and talented investigators. I didn't know how well-qualified I was to do that, because my forte was research; we did have people back in Washington, however, who were skilled in such things, and I made a note to refer the issue up to them.
In the meantime, though, I could call the co-op president and plead with him to order a little more coal, or at least enough to slake the sales rep's immediate suspicions. Since those suspicions had not focused at all on a new energy device, we were not implicated as yet; if our Washington team and the co-op president handled it well, though, we never would be - until the day came when it all would go public. That day was still at least two years away, and if the world media remained as lazy as it is, it might be even longer.
My thoughts raced back to the screaming woman on the floor when I saw the number of security people surrounding her multiply. At least four were on the scene and two more were on their way. Also surrounding her were co-workers that had been at their stations nearby. I didn't want to add to whatever gravity the situation had by going down there myself, at least not just yet; seeing me on the floor beside her would certainly heighten everyone's concern. So my anxiety moved in another direction: what would happen if this woman's issue, whatever it was, got out to the press? How would we explain what we are doing here?
The media has been a reliable ally of free energy secrecy ever since so many felt they were burned by the Pons-Fleischmann announcement at the University of Utah in March, 1989. They had been burned, but they still have not learned how badly, and by whom. As our devices prove, and as validation studies in more than 200 laboratories would show, a handful of powerful academic lobbyists for the "hot fusion" process had outright lied to them about the potential and reality of cold fusion. They had effectively made certain that the $60 billion stream of money flowing to a mis-thought technology that has never lit a single light bulb would continue to flow to them, their project, corporations and universities. Cold fusion would enrich its inventors and manufacturers, by contrast, but it would never eat up or generate the vast financial resources hot fusion requires every year.
Ironically, the science faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had delivered the most crushing blows to Pons and Fleischmann, was now a leading advocate of cold fusion under the rubric of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions. One professor hanged a cold fusion device in the corridor outside his labs on the fifth floor of Building 36 on the MIT campus on Cambridge. An Italian inventor had sold a $1.5 million-dollar cold fusion generator called the E-Catalyzer to an unnamed military organization, believed to be the U.S. Navy. At BlackLight Power in Cranbury, N.J., leading scientists at places like MIT and Cal Tech have validated another novel form of energy called the hydrino reactor, which uses the same cheap materials - nickel, carbon and hydrogen - as the so-called E-Cat but in pursuit of a different theory.
Cold fusion had leapt light years ahead of conventional energy science without the major media - The Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. - taking the least bit of notice. Only smaller outlets like MSNBC, Fox News, Wired and Bloomberg Television had reported on the October 2011 demonstration of the 1-mW (that's one million Watts) Rossi device when it was demonstrated in Bologna, Italy. In another irony, The Associated Press actually had a reporter there but suppressed his story! Soon, the naysayers in the media and the world of academic science would be licking their self-inflicted wounds. How had they missed such a huge, game-changing discovery?
But what if that woman, whom I now saw was struggling with at least two security guards, got some sort of story out to a lawyer, who turned the press on to it? If we could get solid enough intelligence on the woman's lawyer, we could probably prevent that, and even if it got to the press there was surely a cover story we had already concocted to deal with it. What was absolutely vital to us was that the news we were feeding a new generation of energy device into the nation's power grid not get out before we'd had a chance to "seed" a good deal of the electric utility industry. If it did, they would mount a million regulatory investigations, concerns, studies, reports and objections designed to keep themselves in business - at least until they could steal and patent their own technology of the same kind.
The key ally of the oil industry in the free energy battle had always been the U.S. Patent Office, where politicians had planted examiners who were told to routinely reject any cold fusion claims on the basis that cold fusion was impossible. Without a patent, few manufacturers would be willing to risk starting up an assembly line like ours when an entrepreneur in Indonesia, Viet Nam, China or Singapore could then start his own factory and sell the devices - probably with fewer safety measures and under a foreign patent - to his heart's content. So long as the US Patent Office remains corrupt, oil companies could use their money and influence to steal ideas, suppress them or turn them into their own profit centers.
As one oil exec once explained to me, even if cold fusion became a reality it would soon become the property of the oil industry, which might phase it in as slowly as conditions permitted to allow themselves to keep selling oil. He said that it was the energy industry's right to exist that was the issue; for a century it had been kept the world warm and dry, kept the traffic moving and kept nations rich; if something came along to replace oil, it should then be the property of the energy industry that had done so much to preserve our world to this stage. I thought that was pretty imaginative, even if it was highly inaccurate. Even today, 2 billion of the world's people have no electricity or running water; the energy industry had not changed that, and cold fusion quickly would.
I saw a foreman making his way to my office, and opened the door ahead of his arrival. He was badly out of breath, apparently from struggling with the woman, who for now seemed to have calmed down.
"Boss," he gasped, "we've got a problem." I let him catch his breath. He bent over and leaned against the front of my desk for a minute or so before he got his wind back. "This lady, Jane Champion, is nuts."
"What's her problem?" I asked.
"Boss, she thinks this is some kind of secret alien technology. She thinks we're trying to take over the world!"
I felt a little sense of relief, though not much. Crazy people could create problems, and when it came to aliens they could generate a lot of foolish noise, but they were not quite the peril that an injured or sick employee would be if they got to a lawyer.
When the President appointed me to this job, he knew I had some unorthodox approaches to management. Faced with the dilemma of Jane Champion, my response was probably the most unorthodox of my long career in problem-solving.
The Hole had a very able but little-seen maintenance foreman who worked mostly at night, after the assembly lines for the generators close down and employees are at the pool, the movies, the dining rooms, the disco, or in their apartments.
Roger ("Rocky") Korr was an unusual man in several ways: first, he was physically small, maybe a shade less than five feet tall and preternaturally pale. He had suffered all his life from alopecia, a form of complete baldness that affects both men and women; he was hairless, in other words. He had no hair on his head, where his eyebrows should be, or even in his nose and ears. On top of these features, he was incredibly skinny; in fact, many people meeting him for the first time feared he was suffering from anorexia, or self-starvation.
He was not starving, of course, and really had the appetite of a horse; his metabolism was one of those that allowed him to consume huge portions of food without ever gaining weight. In addition to the more prosaic forms of maintenance, such as cleaning the floors and toilets and fixing things that went wrong in the apartments, his specialty at the hole was electrical wiring; there was no issue our complex electrical systems, PA, surveillance and audio-visual setups, cooling, heating and alarm systems might suffer that he could not solve. His brain had a kind of magic about it that allowed him to see what others could or would not; the generators seemed as natural as rain to him even while most of us were in a constant state of amazement and awe over them.
Not all of his qualities were physical, either; he had a great sense of humor and loved to crack jokes and play practical ones; he also had quite a bit of compassion for his fellow man, and could be trusted with a secret. That would be critical.
While Jane Champion was being calmed down in The Hole's equivalent of a TV studio's "green room," I called his cell phone and left a message asking him to come up to my office as soon as he could. Meanwhile, through audio-enabled CCTV, I was able to watch and hear Jane as she talked to our staff psychologist. We had one only because I had foreseen that this special environment might prove difficult to endure for some people, and we tested extensively for indications that some prospective employees would not work out here.
Somehow, we missed Jane Champion. But fortunately for her and us, we had Rocky Korr. Experience has taught me, as it's taught many others, that people who suffer from a delusion will not be dissuaded as to the truth of their delusion by anything short of memory-erasing drugs and electroshock, and there is no certainty of curing their delusion even with those.
Because of our understated but very real national security status we could probably have availed ourselves of other extraordinary means to protect our secrets; those means, though, were more and more often appearing in the headlines associated with suspected terrorists held in U.S. prisons and foreign "rendition" centers. Yet given the gravity of the disruptions an interruption of our manufacturing activities could create, we would be forced to take sterner measures if we could not deal with Jane's fears here and now.
If our generators were not delivered on time, the substantial planning and expense of our partner utilities would have been wasted, and we would have liability for some of those costs; even worse. the reality of our technology would then fall into doubt. The huge positive impact on our economy might then never materialize. and the political destinies of the President and others would be gravely affected. As soon as our failure floated through the wind to the press, there would be such a rash of harsh Congressional hearings that even the Iran-Contra scandal would pale beside them, even though in our case no drug crimes or foreign arms were implicated. If no good deed ever goes unpunished, a good deed is never good until it's accomplished, and even then some will doubt its goodness, particularly those whose profits are hurt.
I didn't need to explain this to anyone except Rocky Korr, who was not very slow on the uptake, but didn't cotton to the idea that he could be passed off to an average American like Jane as an actual alien creature. He didn't feel that different from anyone else, and his parents had raised him not to look at him as particularly different; he didn't think he looked very strange, and he pointed out that neither did his wife or his several girlfriends before her.
He didn't look that strange to me, either; in fact. He reminded me of Dave LeMasters, a friend who drives a taxi in Hollywood, so I took the tack with him that he wasn't especially different or strange, but was strange and different enough to serve our purpose, just like Anthony Hopkins was strange and different enough to play Hannibal Lecter; if you met the man and talked to him, he would seem perfectly normal, just as Rocky Korr did.
That seemed to make sense to him, although I could tell he didn't appreciate the Hannibal Lecter metaphor. He knew how important our work was, but as he said, even if he didn't fully understand it, above all else, he was a true-blue American patriot who would do anything his country really needed him to do. Of such stuff our national greatness comes.
I couldn't interfere with anything the psychologist might try to do to get Jane off her alien obsession. but he was willing to surrender her to me after an hour of counseling had failed to dislodge it. I asked Rocky to stay downstairs until I called him; I let him know I would prepare Jane for what she was about to be told.
She came up with the psychologist, her eyes red and her hair disheveled, apparently expecting to be fired or worse; he graciously made sure she was comfortable and then left us alone. I got her a bottle of water out of my office fridge and poured it into a glass for her. She smiled a gentle smile when she took it from me, and I gently began to probe her delusion.
"I understand you think we're working on some kind of alien invasion, Jane. Is that right?" She mustered the courage to nod. I decided not to waste too much time. "What if I told you that some of the most important technology we have - from the transistor to the microwave - were the product of technology we retrieved from crashed or disabled alien spaceships? She looked at me with wide-open eyes, and I knew I had her. "Whatever you may have seen in the movies," I said, "the aliens who have helped us are not all that different from you and I; they may act and talk a little strange, but they have done nothing to make us believe they would every hurt us. Everything they have given us has worked and has helped improve the well-being of mankind," I said, trying to wax a little bit eloquent.
She nodded as I spoke, a little suspiciously at first and then with more conviction. When I thought she was ready, I said, "We do have some special people here, Jane, and you're one of them." She looked at me expectantly; we'd already gone far afield of her expectations, and she knew something different was coming. But her jaw dropped and her eyes grew even wider when I said, "There's an alien here I want you to meet. We call him Rocky. And I'll need you to keep this a complete secret from everyone you know."
"I knew it!" she said. "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!" I picked up my cell phone and called Rocky and told him to come on up. "Don't worry," I assured her; "he talks English as well as we do." She put her hand over her mouth and gasped as Roger Korr strode through the door.
"Hi, Jane," he said pleasantly. "How are you?" For a few seconds it wasn't clear whether she was going to start screaming again or accommodate herself to a new version of reality. She had gotten up from her chair and moved away as the door opened, but Rocky's harmless appearance and his maintenance "uniform" seemed to reassure her somewhat. But we weren't prepared for her first question.
"What planet are you from?" she asked, a barely restrained eagerness in her voice. Rocky and I had not even discussed that, but he seemed ready.
"I'm from the Pleiades," he said readily. "We've been coming here for thousands of years, but I'm one of the first to live here as an Earthling." I couldn't believe my ears - it came out so smoothly! But part of me was about to be overcome with laughter, so much so that I had to excuse myself. I told them I was going to let them get to know each other. It took a few minutes to get myself under control. and when i went back upstairs they were chatting up a storm about dietary differences and his aversion to sunshine. Frankly, there even seemed to be the potential for a budding romance. I didn't want to think about how that might work.
"Jane, have we answered some of your questions?" I asked.
She looked at me gratefully. "Thank you so much," she enthused. "This has meant so much to me. At least now I can understand the secrecy. I think it is wonderful what you and Rocky are trying to do. It's an honor to be part of it."
A few minutes later, I ushered them both out of the office, and as the door closed the first thing I thought of was President George W. Bush. "Mission accomplished," I said under my breath. The former President would have been proud of me.
"For those who do not know, an E-Cat works by specially processed and enriched (in isotopes Ni-62 and Ni-64) nickel powder being placed in a small steel reactor core. In addition to the nickel powder, certain catalysts are placed in the core, along with a small pellet that releases and absorbs hydrogen gas. An electric resistor heats the reactor core, which induces hydrogen to be released from the pellet. A radio frequency generator is then used to apply frequencies to the contents of the core. The result is a number of different, but safe nuclear reactions taking place that release huge amounts of energy in the form of heat. No nuclear waste is produced, no radiation escapes the core, but the heat produced can be harnessed to do work." -- Hank Mills, peswiki.com
Steve Hale, the big man behind the big desk in the big office at Potomac Coal, the world's largest supplier of bituminous to the coal-fired electrical power plants of America, sat beneath a vivid, almost cartoonish Japanese painting of a giant, fire-breathing dragon, and on good days he felt he was one.
King Coal ruled a vast empire of mines and miners that stretched across countries and continents wherever coal is found. He had leveled mountains by the dozen, sometimes several in one day - albeit in different states and places. Hale wore a $6,000 custom-tailored, light silk, black Brioni suit from Battaglia's in Beverly Hills, the same place oil-rich sheiks and other Mideast potentates, dictators, billionaires and giants of industry bought their suits, and with a light blue paisley silk tie that had set back is wife - which is to say him - by $250. The trappings of his power filled the 3,000-sq.ft. corner office of Potomac's six-story ultra-modern new building near DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C.
There were plaques and trophies of every kind and description, with a large number of them from the United Way and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on whose board of directors he had sat for 20 years. Outside his office, in an anteroom almost as large and as much designed to intimidate - or at least alert to his importance - his powerful visitors, sat one elderly secretary and three much younger and prettier ones. Each had a different assignment - correspondence, scheduling, internal operations - and one included discreet sexual liaisons - to the limited extent he was able - with the boss as a standard feature of her duties.
Today, he was a puzzled fire-breathing dragon. On his desk and on three large monitors were displayed a variety of spreadsheets reflected in a hefty sheet of printouts and one summary page he'd demanded from the Potomac comptroller. His parents hadn't raised an idiot. After a bachelors degree in engineering at the New Mexico School of Mines, he headed off to Wharton for a Master's Degree in corporate finance. He'd done a dissertation over the next couple of Years at Harvard Business, where one of his fellow seekers of learning was the future President, George W. Bush. No, he was fat - maybe 200 pounds overweight - and a bit venal, he admitted, but he was no dope.
Like many insightful men, he didn't believe in coincidences. And it was no coincidence, he knew, that orders from more 25 smaller coal-fired utilities in 7 states - regular customers in some cases for close to a century - were suddenly all off by about 10 percent. It was an inconceivable number, and he scratched his head, drummed his fingertips, tapped his toes and wiped his face with his hand again and again as he double-, triple- and quadruple-checked the numbers. They were right, but they were impossible. Coal supplied 44 percent of the fuel to utilities in the United States, and Potomac consistently supplied about a quarter of that. Oil supplied only one percent. The cost of oil was currently over $92 a barrel and could not remotely compare with the price of coal. It was costly to wet down a carload of coal and then ship it by train from West Virginia to New Mexico, so most utilities didn't do it that way.
Instead, they formed consortiums that took power generated by the coal from mines near or at the site of the mine and sent over the grid to distributors who in turn fed it to the utilities. The utilities didn't actually buy any coal, but their power bills showed how the power they got was created, whether from hydroelectric, coal, geothermal steam, solar farms or wind farms. When their overall consumption dropped, coal took by far the largest hit. But where, then, were these utilities getting their powerl? From whatever fuel -steam, oil, wind, solar, whatever - they were using? Those not getting it from Tri-States Transmission or from XCel Energy over in Amarillo. They were mining their own, or they weren't getting it. And they sure as hell weren't mining it.
The Electric Power Research Institute, whose database was infallible, practically, showed no slackening of demand as a very hot summer rolled on, bringing record heat - and record demand for air-conditioning and power - to more than a dozen Western and Southern states. Now was there any corresponding drop in profits at any of the utilities he'd identified - and there may be a bunch he'd not identified, he realized with a slight shiver. "Clean coal" may have been the most successful oxymoron of all time, but it was selling well as a concept to the morons at the EPA and few utilities were under any special pressure - no more than usual, anyway - to clean up their vented coal dust and smoke. He was out of questions; it was time for answers.
Potomac maintained, at a very heavy cost, a fully-staffed and very able research and industry surveillance unit at its Washington headquarters. As chairman of the board, Steve Hale could direct them in any direction he wanted - and in some directions the law said they shouldn't go. When unruly union reps began to threaten strikes, they often got a friendly visit from R&S staff; when costly legislation bankrolled by Hollywood types looked like it might pass, R&S put on their own Armani suits and started trekking through the endless corridors of power in the world's most powerful nation.
Today their task would be purely investigative, he decided; the first thing was to get clarity about the situation/ That, in turn, would yield the truth about the black hole where 10 percent of his business was disappearing. "Foremost, seek clarity; first. search for the truth" was an old Buddhist axiom to which he always subscribed. And he'd have R&S use their contacts at all the competition to see if they'd noticed the same thing; if so, the competitors could be useful in forming a united front against whatever the cause of their losses was through their industry trade association and the Chamber. But whatever it was, it was baffling. He shifted in his seat and turned in his swivel chair all the way around to look up his favorite painting as he made the first call.
One of those Armani suits in Research and Surveillance belonged to Art Bigelow, a product man at Potomac for 16 years before he joined S&R. That meant he'd been in daily touch with dozens of utilities, taking their orders, short-cutting through delivery problems, encouraging more demand with a constant flow of statistics from the Research branch and whatever else was necessary to keep the customers of Potomac Coal happy and hungry. He'd enjoyed the job and was a little taken aback by his promotion to R&S, especially to Surveillance, but he guessed correctly that it was his military experience and intimate association with so many utility executives that made him valuable - or "invaluable," as Steve Hale had once described him
Yet all his experience left him mystified by the conundrum Hale pointed out to him in a two-hour meeting around the chairman's conference table. At this point, Hale explained, he was calling only on Bigelow to make inquiries; he didn't want to tip off anyone outside the company and risk the panic over stock price and other issues that worried questions would quickly bring.
Compartmentalization was the right way to go until Hale knew more. Bigelow was determined to find the answers, he told Hale, after a long review of the same documents, but he knew only one place to start: at the reduced-demand utilities themselves.
It was Bigelow's considered opinion that the best place to start was at a small co-operative utility, serving a small number of ranchers and homes in New Mexico, whose chairman was a former schoolmate of Steve Hale's. That utility had ordered what at the time was a "pie in the sky" piece of technology called the hydrino reactor, which its manufacturer, BlackLight Power of Cranbury, N.J., said would sustain itself and reduce the cost of power to an unbelievable $0.01 per kilowatt hour.
R&S had cleverly targeted a New Jersey Congressman, a three-term Democrat whose district included the inventor's factory; the congressman's father, then a young senator from West Virginia - the largest coal-mining state - had been a mild thorn in the industry's side, complaining about wages and black lung disease, back in coal's salad days, but he was still considered the industry's friend.. Now the senator's son was a physicist in Congress, and he was all too willing to make sure the inventor's firm got no funding from the Dept. of Energy or anyone else, although it had won a smaller contract for space propulsion studies from NASA. In any case, that reactor - or one like it - had never been built, certified or delivered, so far as anyone knew.
The trade association had gone as far as hiring a flaky former spokesman for the American Physical Society under the table to thoroughly debunk it, and as a result its inventor, Dr. Randell Mills, languished at least a decade in scientific obscurity and mild disgrace. No one from Surveillance had looked in on Mills for years. Now it might be a good idea because a glance at the Web site had revealed some impressive validations of the hydrino technology; but Bigelow half the Chinese scientists on Mills' payroll were or could become vulnerable because of their unpopular H-1B non-immigrant work visas, and Chinese were used to getting strong-armed by obscure government officials. Bigelow could easily pass as one of those, and sometimes had.
A former career Special Forces officer, he had some useful intel-gathering experience acquired in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and knew how to set up a quiet, low-level operation. After Steve Hale had left him at the conference table for an hour with the summary and spreadsheets Hale had amassed, Bigelow felt confident finding the answer would be a piece of cake, even if the issue was unusually complex. A search of Google resources on the Internet was another starting point. A site called e-catworld.com had a number of articles on how an invention by some Italian wacko named Andrea Rossi might impact oil and coal markets of the future - the very far future, he was sure.
So far, there was no certification for Rossi's E-Cat," the Energy Catalyzer, and no independent validation. Unlike Randell Mills’ dozens of articles in per-reviewed journals, Rossi had published his claims only in his own self-published Journal of Nuclear Physics. Bigelow strongly doubted there would ever be broad acceptance of the device, which might well be a complete fraud, Bigelow thought. NASA was also at work on similar technology, for which they credited Rossi in part, and which it said held the same promise. But NASA was one of the most powerless agencies in government; the Congressman and the former APS spokesman could rub their interest in the E-Cat out overnight - all it took was one sabotaged budget request, easily and quietly accomplished at the staff level.
But a further Google search disappointed him: there was no evidence, in the form of press releases or articles in industry journals, except the upstart OilPriceReview.com, which did have a piece on Andrea Rossi's E-Cat and its potential o hurt the energy industry, that any of the 20-odd utilities he was looking at had announced any new, fuel-saving technology, decreased demand factors or much of anything; they were a quiet bunch, he thought. Meanwhile, Steve Hale's friend at the New Mexico utility was dropping a load equivalent to 4,000 tons of first-rate "clean" coal this month, and had been each month for six months now.
Bigelow would talk with the product man on that account, Bobby Black; he must be sweating bullets as his bosses asked him why revenues were down in Black's region by at least $6 million so far this year. And if the utility's demand didn't return to its normal levels, the Potomac planning department wouldn't make provisions for the usual 20 carloads the train carried to it; the new levels would be established by past demand, and a lot of electricity users would suffer blackouts and brownout for the rest of the hot summer. But that was going to take a trip to Albuquerque to see Bobby Black, and then a long rental-car ride to Clovis, N.M., where the Farmers' Electric co-operative was located, serving 6,934 consumers living in Curry, DeBaca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt and San Miguel counties, all on the eastern side of the state about a three-hour drive from Albuquerque.
Bigelow, whose home was in Beverly Hills, flew out from Dulles that evening to LAX, where he caught a cab home. He was glad to be back in LA again; however bad the traffic and the smoggy haze and gang crime was, it was one of the prettiest and friendliest cities in the world, and unlike the hot humid air of Washington, D.C., LA's origins in a mountain desert meant the air was always dry, the climate always moderate, and the sea breezes off the Pacific always generous. You only had to fear earthquakes and mudslides; the rest was pure pleasure. He had the driver detour off the 101 onto Hollywood Blvd. instead of taking Little Santa Monica across to Beverly Hills; on the way. he sent the man in for a personal pizza with mushrooms, sausage and extra cheese at Two Guys from Italy, his favorite spot for a $5 pizza. That accomplished, he headed for home.
From his condo apartment on Brighton Way, Bigelow called Beverly Hills Cab and arranged for a6am pickup the following day. He'd catch a Southwest Airlines flight to Albuquerque and rent from Enterprise at the airport. Bobby Black would meet him at the Petroleum Club, which was not quite as exclusive as the ones in Dallas and Oklahoma City, but still pretty nice. Bobby Black shouldn't have any trouble talking in that environment.
Unfortunately, Bigelow couldn't get him to shut up. Black, a tall, rangy man who moved with the loose limbs of a basketball player, liked to dress all in black with an occasional dramatic splash of white; e looked more like gambler, which he was, than a coal salesman for Potomac. His verbal repertoire depended heavily on a near-encyclopedic mastery of sports trivia, all the better to help him keep his gambling debts under control. History was always a reliable guide to future performance, Black felt, even in the ever changing landscape of pro basketball, football, baseball and hockey. But as voluble as he was on those topics, he was tight as a clam about Farmers' Electric. Bigelow tried a few sallies but was usually rebuffed. He finally decided to hit Bobby Black head on.
"Bobby, what's happening down at Farmer's Electric?" Black said nothing, expecting more questions. "Bobby?"
"Nothing that I know of, Art. Don't tell me that's why you've come all the way down here?" Black responded.
"No, not really," Bigelow answered carefully. "We're looking at a number of our customers who have reduced their demand lately, trying to figure out whether there's a fly in the ointment. Farmers' is down 10 percent through the first six months of the year, Bobby. You must have noticed."
"Of course," said Bobby. He obviously didn't want to say any more.
"We're in a recession, Art. Haven't you noticed? Everything is down - even coal."
"How do they get demand down in the hottest summer in a century, Bobby? Where are they getting their A/C from?"
"Opening their windows, I guess," Bobby said laconically.
"To catch the 105-degree breeze, Bobby? What's going on?" Bobby's usually upbeat mood fell. He was supposed to have answers, and he didn't.
"I just don't know, Art. A couple of other product guys say they've been seeing the same thing. There's just no explanation coming from Farmers' or any of them."
"Have you talked to Chris Martinez, the GM down there?" Bigelow asked.
"I always talk to him. He says they just don't need what they did before. He doesn't say anything when I ask him why." Black looked around at the mahogany panels of the Petroleum Club, wishing he could melt into them. He needed this job.
"Their orders have been consistent almost from 1945, when they opened for business. With the same ranches and ranchers, for the most part. Nothing changes in those counties, Bobby. Ever. It's all the same from one generation to the next."
"And they're not the only ones around here," Black muttered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Bigelow countered. He had grown irritated but was not anxious to show it.
"Up in Continental Divide in Grants, Columbus Electric down in Deming, Otero County Electric, over in Cloudcroft - they're all way down. Nobody's talking. They don't even care if their load levels get reduced. They say they don't need it. They say it's the recession - but we'll come back from the recession. So where are they going to get their coal? Bobby asked.
"Not from Potomac if they don't shape up," Bigelow said. Bobby looked worried. Bigelow lifted his white linen napkin from the table and set it beside his plate. This unproductive interview was over. What Bobby said was true, but it wasn't an answer, Bigelow knew. The answer would have to come from the co-ops. Even if he had to visit all of them. "Not from Potomac," he said again. In minutes, he'd caught a cab back to the Marriott.
Bigelow debated whether he'd take Bobby Black with him over to Clovis and decided against it. Whatever he found out - and he was more determined than ever to find out something - he wanted it kept as secret as possible until he talked again with Steve Hale. Driving across the Land of Enchantment the next day was enchanting, to borrow a phrase. There was no state so beautiful. In the north were the ski slopes and adobe homes from Santa Fe up to Taos and Eagle Pass. Headed toward Clovis, N.M., the terrain was much less pretty, but the amazing colors of the dawn sky and the rugged desert rocks were another thing altogether. He could drive happily around this state all month, he thought. And he would if he had to do it.
Chris Martinez, who'd come to Farmer's Electric a few years ago from the Columbus Electric co-operative in western Deming, N.M., almost 500 miles in the opposite direction, found himself smiling as he fielded a call from Art Bigelow, then enroute to Clovis. The 1mW Energy Catalyzer that the Department of Energy had allowed him to test was proving unbelievably helpful in reducing his costs, but they'd warned him often that he must not alert Potomac or any of its competitors to his new source of power. They would come down to Clovis, hook it up in the cargo container it still occupied, and drive it back to Washington or wherever. His job was to conceal a substantial drop in demand with some of the imaginative speculations that DOE had offered at his orientation.
Bigelow's trip, he reasoned, also meant a free trip to his favorite restaurant, La Conchita's, for a feast of chicken enchiladas with salsa verde, mole and yellow rice, cooked like no one else could. Lying came easily to him, too; people of Latin extraction, he felt, had cultivated the common lie to an art form, mostly out of their cultural habit of avoiding direct answers. Martinez rarely said "Yes" or "No" to anything except an explicit statement, and then he said "Yes" to agree with whatever was said. It was a practice they adopted to survive the oppression of the Spaniards that once ruled Mexico, and had persisted into the present. Today it would be especially useful.
Only when he was talking power loads and usage did he cut through the crap and speak frankly, and that was only with co-workers, not people from outside Clovis and Farmers'. It wasn't a cultural failing, he believed, just a way of keeping the paths of communication greased and families together. It was a lot more important not to fight than to be right, or truthful, he thought. But to deceive a gringo like Bigelow would always be a pleasure, especially when the deception was done at the behest of heavy hitters in Washington at the Dept. of Energy. If he was found out, he would be held harmless by the Lord, and surely by the DOE.
There was no easy way to spot the generic version of the Energy Catalyzer that had been shipped in a drab green cargo container from California. It was parked like an afterthought behind the main power transmission plant, and only a few heavy cable lines linking it to one of the power plants could reveal it played any role. He'd buried it to prevent that. Bigelow would have to go inside the container, and examine the base of the power generator it was connected to, before he could even begin to guess at its purpose. Farmers' secret was safe.
Bigelow was an easy man to talk to, and thankfully, after a three-hour ride during which he'd only stopped at McDonald's for an egg, bacon and sausage biscuit and coffee, he was hungry. Chris steered him to La Conchita's in a flash. A trio of delicious chicken enchiladas, topped with green sauce and a tablespoon of cold sour cream, sat on a bed of rice on a blistering-hot dinner plate in front of him. Bigelow had gone for the beef fajitas, which was also a good choice.
"Hey, the one thing I noticed that seemed a little out of place was that green container thing," Bigelow said, harking back to the brief tour of the power plant he'd been given on the way out to the parking lot. "What's that?"
"That's just a tool shed. Temporary," Martinez lied. "We were having a few failure issues and decided it was easier to fix them here than uproot them and take them somewhere else to fix. It won’t be there too long." Bigelow looked down at his plate; Martinez thought he was satisfied by the answer. In fact, there were exactly 105 smaller E-Cat units inside the container, arranged on racks on either side of a narrow walkway. The 20-ft. container was standard for the 1mW generators, which could power hundreds of homes and ranches by itself. There were others in several utilities, including his former post at Colombus in Deming around the state - a point that had helped Martinez accept the offer from DOE in the first place. He was a little surprised Bigelow had picked up on it. The man had good eyes, Martinez realized.
Bigelow had better eyes than Martinez realized. Typically, power plants were fastidiously kept. Universally, the transmission gear rested on a field of gray gravel and nothing else. For reasons of both safety and aesthetics, you'd never see anything remotely combustible - or anything not essential. Tool sheds were not a part of the picture - and Bigelow realized this one might be part of the problem. But how to probe without tipping him off to his suspicions?
"So what kind of issues were you having?" Bigelow continued.
"Nothing serious," Martinez replied. Bigelow, with his intel background, saw any number of tells popping up on the general manager's face and knew he was struggling to answer. "Just some mild settling - broke some bolts and fittings. There are lots of underground caverns in this area, sort of like Carlsbad," he said. In truth, he didn't know of any but it seemed reasonable.
"That right," Bigelow said noncommittally. 'Settling?" Non-directive questioning, where he repeated a word or phrase that had been said, this time with a question mark, was one of his most productive interviewing techniques.
"Yeah," said Martinez. "Nothing to worry about." Bigelow was quiet. "Happens every few years," he said.
"Unusual to see anything but power plants inside the fence," he said. A chain link fence, 10 feet high and topped with a triple strand of barbed wire, was another standard feature at power plants large and small. They kept the curious and any other intruders out but were rarely needed.
"It won't be there long," Martinez said a bit nervously. "Probably be gone next week."
"Next week?" Bigelow asked.
"Yeah, we've got a state inspection coming up," Martinez lied. "I want it out of there before then."
"When's the inspection?"
"Just before Labor Day," Martinez answered. In truth, inspection came only after an issue, and there had been none.
"Okay," said Bigelow. "Where you gonna put it?"
"Dunno," said Martinez. "But why would you care, just out of curiosity."
"I dunno," Bigelow said. "I guess I'm just unaccustomed to seeing anything but the plants on the gravel."
"Yeah," Martinez said. "It probably does look out of place. I don't like it, either."
Bigelow made a mental note to have Bobby Black call some of his other customers in New Mexico, particularly the Otero and Columbus co-ops. Have him find out if there were any green containers in the plant yard.
"How you have it set up? I've heard of using old containers for backyard sheds."
"Well, it's just a bunch of shelves on both sides of an alley," Martinez said.
"I was thinking about one of those for my sister's place in Northridge. She's paying a fortune for storage and she has plenty of room. They have big back yards there," he said. "I wonder if I might have a look at it?"
Martinez shook his head. "Our insurance won't cover you," he said. "Besides, it's not something we're proud of." In fact, he was very proud of it, but not for Bigelow's consumption. Potomac was a whole big crew of cutthroat pirates and Martinez didn't care what they thought. But no amount of persuasion would make him tell Bigelow or Potomac what was in the big green box.
"Just for a minute," Bigelow pressed. "Just open the door and let me look inside. I've been inside a hundred power yards."
"Sorry," Martinez said. "No way." He felt the enchiladas begin to stir in his stomach; heartburn was on the way.
"Well, Chris," Bigelow said, "I guess you know why we're here."
"Not about our tool shed, I guess," Martinez said, feeling clever.
"Not unless you've got a nuclear reactor in there," Bigelow agreed. He watched as Martinez, his face brown as a ripe pecan, began to pale.
Martinez managed a short laugh. Truth be told, there was a nuclear reactor in there, but not the kind Bigelow was thinking about. It produced almost immeasurable amounts of radiation but he'd been told the underlying principle was a self-sustaining nuclear reaction that didn't require fuel rods or anything like that, and posed no danger to anyone except from hot water, which reached as much as 650 degrees F. The hot water provided the thermal energy for a steam turbine, just as coal did; the only difference was that the low-energy nuclear reactor came free from the government for the first few years and didn't pollute like burning coal does.
"If I did, would you keep it a secret?" he asked, half-serious. Bigelow almost choked on his fajitas.
"Sure," he said, smiling back at Martinez. "I promise. It would be between you, me and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency."
"Well, some of the nuts and bolts in there might be radioactive, I guess. If they were made of uranium. Seriously, that's all it is. Racks and racks of $5 bolts. We hang some tools up at the back end. That's it," he said convincingly.
"Well, we're wondering where you get the money for $5 bolts when your demand for coal is down $230,000 a year?" Bigelow responded. "Are you looking for another product? Anything wrong with Bobby Black?" Personality clashes could be expensive.
"Gee, no," Martinez hurried to say. "Bobby's great. He's always been great. Like family around here. So is Potomac."
"So if we're not doing anything wrong, Chris, what's wrong? Why are we suddenly down by 40 tons a month? Is it the price? I know $48 a ton is a little high. Maybe - I'm not promising - we can do something with that. Would that help?"
"Of course," Martinez said. "But that's not the problem. We just don't want to spend the money and we don't need the fuel."
"I see," said Bigelow. "Well, our planning is not that elastic, you know. You've been down about 10 percent since January, and when the levels are reset you might find it hard to get more coal than you've been ordering. If you need it. If something goes wrong with your nuclear reactor. If you have a meltdown, we can't help you once the planning people reset you. I'm kidding, of course, but not really. When your orders go down so much, we reset."
"I know that, Art," Martinez replied. "I'm hoping we can get it back up there before you do." In reality, he knew, with the E-Cat producing six times the amount of power it needed to warm up, with a couple more of them Farmers' Electric wouldn't need any transmission at all. Telling Bigelow would risk getting Farmers' cut off altogether. Reliable new suppliers were not that easy to find and negotiate with. He only wished he could negotiate the price down, as Bigelow suggested, but he had nothing he could give the man, Martinez realized. And the truth would only cost him money - and probably his job.
Bigelow held up one hand and scribbled with it on an invisible piece of paper when the waitress caught his eye; she hurried over with the check. For $16, the meal was surely a bargain. Already air fare, the car rental and the Marriott room service had cost Potomac nearly $800 bucks. He made a mental note to call Steve Hale. He was going to have to go up the ladder to Joe Castillo, Hale's friend and chairman of the Farmer's Electric co-operative of Clovis, N.M. - and Chris's boss.
Bigelow asked for the check. Doing things the nice way was getting him nowhere.
Steve Hale was not pleased, Bigelow knew. He was usually an easy boss to work for but when he didn’t get what he wanted he could quickly become very different. He was turning different now
"I need to have you give Joe Castillo a call, Steve. Martinez is not talking. But there’s sure as hell something going on. He was lying through his teeth. First it was the liability insurance, and then it was an inspector coming. Said their orders had been too high last year and they were storing the extra in a quarry here. No way he’d let me see what was inside the container. He almost puked on his enchiladas when I asked him if he had a nuclear reactor in there. I was just kidding but it really shook him up."
"How do you figure that/" Hale asked, mystified. "There’s no way anyone’s gonna get a secret nuclear reactor past Homeland Security’s - and they do inspect every one of those utilities."
"Well, some of these new devices that they’re talking about, this cold fusion stuff, they say it’s a low-level nuclear reaction. And the one guy who sells these things sends them to his customers in green containers, in fact. There's pictures on the Internet of them."
"No sh-t," Hale swore. "So what’s next?"
"After you call and say hello, I’ll drop in on Joe and ask him what’s in the container. If he clams up, I’m headed over to Cloudcroft to look at the Columbus power yard. If they’ve got another green container, I’m gonna check Otero and Continental Divide. Take another two or three days. We’ll find out what’s going on with these suckers. I promise."
"Art, you’ve got me worried now," Hale said. "I never believed in any of this cold fusion stuff. As an engineer I could never see it. But now that I search around the Internet, I see there’s some excitement about it. I don’t know of any commercial devices, though - that’s the real mystery. If they have one of these things, where did they get it? They’re not even selling them yet. There’s not much likelihood they’ll be selling them for two or three years."
"I’m no engineer and I don’t know anything about cold fusion and nuclear reactors, but I do know there’s something going on here. I’ll get back to you in a couple of days and tell you what it is, OK?"
"That’ll be fine, Art. Keep me informed. That’s all I ask." A few minutes later, he was on the line with Joe Castillo. They hadn't been that close at the School of Mines; Castillo then still had a pretty strong Latin accent, and Hales was an American aristocrat, a direct descendant of Nathan Hale. Hale was a fraternity guy, and Castillo worked his way through school. If he hadn't had a class with Castillo and needed his help once as a tutor, they'd probably have never talked.
"Joe, I want you to be straight with me," Hale said when the chairman of the Farmers' Electric co-operative finally came on the line."I know you've got something going on there, and I think a few of the co-ops have it. Are you working some kind of cold fusion deal on me?"
"Cold what?" Castillo exclaimed. "Steve, that cold fusion stuff went out the window 20 years ago!"
"Well, I hear it's coming back," Hale said. "The hell with the Second Law of Thermodynamics."
"That's news to me," Castillo said. "So far as I know, it's impossible. It would violate the Second Law and a whole lot of other stuff. Everybody from the DOE to MIT has dumped on it. Have you seen anything about it in the mainstream press?"
"Not much," Hale grudgingly admitted. "There was some stuff in Wired, a couple of pieces by a columnist on Forbes.com, and MSNBC. Bloomberg TV did a little piece. "60 Minutes" did a segment last year. So did Fox News. But that was a year ago. US News & World Report came out with something this week but there's been almost nothing since, until this US News & World Report thing. No one ever ran a validation on it. No real tests, just a couple of hit-or-miss demos with no press around. It looks like a big scam, frankly. That was my take on it."
"You're way ahead of me, Steve," Castillo said. "I haven't seen any of that stuff." In fact, he had read or watched it all; his interest had been omnivorous from day one, whenever that was - a year ago, he guessed.
"But they'd have to get that by the government, wouldn't they?" Castillo asked.
"Sure," Hale said. "But you know how Obama hates us. The whole EPA does, too. They'd have scrubbers on your ice-cream blender if it was up to them."
"Yeah," Castillo agreed. In fact, the Obama Administration was taking steps to deploy clean alternative energy with a vigor no Administration could ever match. Even DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, had gotten $34 million squirreled away in the defense budget for work they were doing with the Italian Dept. of Nuclear Energy, known as ENEA. Most of the solar and wind power stuff had led to grief, but cold fusion was working. In secret, of course. People like Hale, if they bothered to find out about it, would turn it into mush overnight.
"Yeah, that's my take, too, Steve," Castillo said.
"Would you let my guy down there, Art Bigelow, take a look inside that container? Just for a minute, to satisfy his curiosity and let him move on to the next thing?"
"Not right now, Steve, I'm sorry. But I might be able to do that for you next week." He would have to find a container and fill it with racks and parts and tools first; that could take a couple of days. It would be easy to move the E-Cat, but tough to replace with something believable. Hale curt off that line of thought and suddenly solved his problem.
"I appreciate that, Joe, but Art's leaving there later today or in the morning. I don't think he'll get back there in a week."
"I'm afraid I can't help you, then, Steve, even as much as I'd like to. You know Potomac is like family to us."
"Well, thanks for that," Hale said. "I'm sure we'll find an answer."
"I'm sure you will, Steve. You were always a good thinker. It's been good to talk to you."
"Likewise, Joe," Hale said. "We've got to do it more often. If the ECs have a convention or something up here in Washington, be sure to give me a shout and drop in."
"I'll do it, Steve. Thanks for calling!" Castillo hung up feeling a wary measure of relief. He knew Hale wouldn't give up easily, and he was proud of Chris Martinez for keeping his mouth shut. He was pretty dogged when he wanted something. And there sure was a lot of money involved. Co-operatives like his didn't focus on making money like the ones owned by faraway shareholders. Above all, they wanted greater efficiency and lower energy costs. A quarter-million dollars in six months had gone back into infrastructure and just a tenth of it back to the ranchers who owned the place. They were happy with their price cuts and their profits. Hale and his people, he thought quietly, could all go to hell.
Bigelow had the Marriott switchboard schedule a wakeup call for 4am and hit the rack at 9pm. It was the time most of the men working in the mines went to sleep and got up, so no special problem for him - whenever he had to talk with those men, that's when he'd get up.
His six-hour, 350-mile drive across the state to Deming was uneventful except that gas prices were going up every day, along with the price of a barrel of oil. The senior coffee at McDonald's was still $0.74, but that was the only bargain out there, it seemed. He guessed he was spending a good 25 percent more on gas for the rental than he would have last year. And he drove economy cars. I wish there was cold fusion for cars, he found himself thinking. Then he realized he wouldn't have a job if they did. He’d had many a friendly cup of coffee in a miner's country home on a chilly morning, usually with coal burning in the old-fashioned stove that warmed the family through those nights.
Imagine the whole industry out of business, he thought. All those families abandoning coal. If that Rossi fellow's Energy Catalyzer really worked, that could be a real prospect. Some 40,000 miners would be laid off. Billions in revenues that produced all kinds of other things would evaporate. The large shareholders would lose most of their net worth. How would they make a transition to something different? It would be extremely painful for the industry and the people who worked in it, he decided. So painful that he and people like Steve Hale couldn't let it happen. No matter how nice it would be if Potomac didn't have to keep chopping off West Virginia mountaintops. Bigelow realized that if there was a container in Deming, and another waiting 350 miles away in Grants, N.M., he'd better start planning for a new career. Someone had to sell, install and service those E-Cat things, he was sure. The prospect made him shiver.
In Deming, the Columbus co-op was serving just about half as many as Farmers' 7,000 costomers. not counting those with multiple meters. Lance Adkins, the GM, was busy, so he looked up the director of operations, Larry Bright. Deming got its transmission from XCel Energy in Amarillo, as most of the co-ops on the west side and center of the state did; XCel was an old customer of Potomac's, and that was where the real hurt was. Like most of the other co-ops, Columbus didn't take delivery of coal; it went by railroad car, endless wet loads of it, across the Great Plains and to Amarillo into XCel's giant coal-fired generators. All that XCel shipped out was power - huge amounts of it. But they just delivered the power; the co-ops ordered it. Bigelow realized, with a bit of awed admiration, that Hale's sources had to be awfully good to uncover the drop in load demand at each of the suspect co-ops once the power left Amarillo; that was a fancy piece of research, and he didn't even know it was happening.
Bright was a tall, lanky fellow who had played basketball at New Mexico State, where he'd gotten his engineering degree a decade earlier. For a jock, he lived up to his name; he was a bright guy.
"We're trying to figure out why your demand is down, Larry," Bigelow said as they sat down for burgers at McDonald's off I-25 in Deming. The little restaurant was packed; there weren't a lot of lunchtime choices in a town of 15,000.
"I think it's mostly the recession," Bright said. "But did you come all the way out here to ask me that?"
"Sure did," Bigelow said. "Demand is off a pretty consistent 10 percent at co-ops all over the Southwest. Dozens of them. That adds up quick. Places that haven't raised or reduced demand for decades suddenly are shutting our mines down. I want to get to the bottom of it."
"I guess this hasn't gotten out," Bright said. "I can't recall reading about it anywhere."
"Well, we wouldn't want it to get out. Our share price would tank more than it already has. We just want to understand why, and see if there's anything we can do to help." Bigelow took delivery of a big Angus Burger loaded with cheese, bacon, tomatoes, onion and salsa. It suddenly didn't strike him as a good idea if he was going to get up to Grants today. That ride was just as long as the one from Clovis.
"I can understand that. But I'm a little mystified as to why you'd come out here and ask me. I don't have any special insights your research folks can't get."
"It's always the people on the ground that know the truth," Bigelow said. "I learned that doing recon in Vietnam. It's just a matter of getting it out of them."
"Well, I've certainly got nothing to hide," Bright said, maybe a little too quickly, Bigelow thought. He decided to take a leap.
"Let me ask you this, then. Do you have a green cargo container in your power yard?" Bright paled a little. His eyes dilated, too, a sure sign something worried him.
"Yeah, but so what?" he said. "Lots of folks need a little extra storage."
"You wouldn't mind me taking a look inside, would you, Larry?"
"Yes, I would," Bright said assertively. "What's in there is none of your business."
"Just take a minute," Bigelow insisted.
"Hell, no. We don't give tours of the power yard and tool sheds. Jeez, what is this?"
"Not to worry," Bigelow said, hoping he hadn't tripped any alarms in Bright's quick mind. "But that's pretty much the same thing they said up in Clovis."
"Well, I don't know how they do things in Clovis, but we don't open up our sheds and power yards to anyone but the regulators who have to be there. It's not for public consumption," Bright said with emphasis.
Bigelow pushed the hamburger and tray away from him. "I've got to get going, Larry. I’m sorry I wasted your time."
"I hate to see you go so quickly after you took all this time to get here. You're heading up to Grants? It's pretty up there this time of the year."
"Can't wait to see it," Bigelow said. He shook Bright's hand and left. It was a damned long ride. Bright was on the line with Chris Martinez less than five minutes later. It took just a few seconds to compare notes on the Potomac man's curiosity; someone was going to have to alert the DOE, and they both didn't want to; maybe their pals in Grants would do it. They had six hours to warn him.
Towing away a $1.5-million, 1mW E-Cat with interior reactor core walls heated to more than 1,200 degrees Celsius was not something to hurry at; in Grants, a Continental Divide Co-Op operations manager named Mark Bah quickly decided that disguise was the better approach. But how do you disguise a 20-ft. container from a guy who was looking expressly for it? He called the DOE in Washington and spoke with the case officer who had first contacted him. The man's alarm was evident, but he told Bah to leave the entire situation to him. He put in a call to the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office. The county was one of several served by Continental Divide, and the largest source of its 23,600 customers.
Phil Montoya, sheriff of Bernalillo County, was a little taken aback by a call from the Dept. of Energy. His first thought was that something was going wrong at the nuclear plant up in Four Corners, not far from Grants, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Oklahoma met. When the officer from DOE told him what the problem was - or at least part of it - he breathed a sigh of relief.
Grants is a town of 9,500 on the New Mexico-Arizona border that prospered when Route 66 was heavily traveled. Once the "carrot capital" of America, it later became the uranium capital when a Navajo shepherd discovered uranium ore. The uranium bust in 1980 had devastated it, but a long recovery was in progress. It was a pretty little town and Potomac owned several of the many large mining operations there. The town even had a modernistic mining museum, and a caller from Potomac would be most welcome, he thought.
But long before he made the long climb up I-40 up to Grants, which sat at about 7,000 feet, a siren and flashing lights in the rear-view mirror captured his complete attention. It turned out to be a Mexico state trooper, whom Bigelow knew wouldn't be so easy to cajole as a county deputy. He had been going five miles over the speed limit, for heaven's sake, on a highway that was nearly deserted. What was the harm?
Bigelow found himself staring at a red-faced New Mexico state trooper whose height made Larry Bright in Deming look like a jayvee point guard. The man was at least few inches over seven feet tall. Bigelow attributed the red face to the altitude; the man had quickly strode up from his patrol car, and the elevation was already well over 5,000 feet just 50 miles from low-lying Albuquerque.
"What's your hurry, Mr. Bigelow?" the giant trooper asked, quickly scanning the California driver's license and GMAC insurance card proffered at the passenger-side window. "You got an appointment?"
"Not really," Bigelow said. "Just dropping in on some customers up in Grants. I'm with Potomac Coal.""
"Potomac, eh? You were 15 miles over the speed limit," the trooper said. "This ain't the Beltway." The mention of the traffic-jammed ring around Washington, D.C., took the Potomac man by surprise. Not many people knew Potomac, despite its name, was headquartered there."
"You know the Beltway? I'd be lucky to hit 50 there." The trooper wasn't amused.
"I'll tell you why I stopped you, Mr. Bigelow. We have had a little alert out here, and we're keeping our eyes open. We got a call from someone who suggested you were paying a little too much attention to their power plant. I'm not saying you're a terror suspect, but we have to check."
"Jeez!" Bigelow exploded. "I'm an American! I fought in Vietnam and Iraq - Special Forces," he said, regretting it at once.
"Well, we appreciate your service, Mr. Bigelow. It's just that when someone with training like yours starts looking around our power plants, we get a little nervous."
"What do you mean, 'training like mine," Bigelow said angrily.
"I mean improvised weapons training, sir. No need to get upset."
"For Christ's sake," Bigelow practically shouted. "I'm a goddamned patriot!"
"No need to swear," the giant trooper said somberly. "I believe you. Would you mind getting out of the car?"
"Sh-t," Bigelow muttered. He unhooked his seat belt and opened the door.
"Do you have any weapons, sir?"
“Weapons? Hell, no," Bigelow said. "I'm a Potomac researcher, that's all."
"Would you mind opening your trunk, please?" Bigelow shook his head, reached down into the side of the front seat and pulled the trunk latch. He heard it pop open.
"Please stand here at the vehicle with your hands on the roof, sir. Don't take them off the roof, please. Keep your palms face down on the roof." Bigelow muttered a four-letter curse word again. The trooper shot him a warning look.
"Is there anything I should be aware of in here, sir?" the trooper asked, examining the leather suitcase in the trunk..
"Yeah," Bigelow sneered. "My dirty underwear."
"Do you mind if I open your suitcase?"
"What the hell for?" Bigelow shot back.
"Just want to get you on your way, sir," the trooper said politely. "You can refuse."
"Go ahead, then," Bigelow said.
A few seconds later the trooper pulled out a loaded Smith & Wesson .45 caliber handgun. He checked that the safety was on and set it back down in the suitcase, then walked around the car once more to where Bigelow was waiting. "Put one hand down, sir," the trooper said, whipping a pair of handcuffs from his belt. Bigelow knew the drill, and knew better than resist.
"Why did you lie to me?" the trooper asked.
"I forgot I had it, honestly. It's been sitting there in the same suitcase for months. I never take it out. I just plain forgot I had it. I wasn't trying to lie to you."
The trooper looked skeptical. "I'm going to have to take you back to Albuquerque," he said. "I'm sure we'll get this straightened out by dinner time." Bigelow moaned.
"I haven't done a damn thing!" Bigelow protested. "I'm not on any watch lists. You have no right to arrest me. The best you've got is a minor speeding infraction."
"Lying about possession of a weapon to state trooper is a felony in New Mexico, Mr. Bigelow. I don't want to charge you, but I can. So I'd suggest you just shut up and cooperate. Your people will handle the bail, I'm sure," the trooper replied.
"Bail? You mean I've got to be arraigned? I'm going to jail?" Bigelow stared off towards Deming. "I've got it now," he said. "You're trying to keep me from finding out what you've got hidden up there, aren't you? Who put you up to this? Was it Bill Richardson?" The former governor of New Mexico was a former Secretary of Energy and had paved the way for the alternative fuel regime that now helped power New Mexico. Bigelow realized he might sound paranoid.
"I don't know anything about that, sir," the trooper responded. "That sort of stuff is way above my pay grade." Bigelow considered his options. There was no way he was going to talk this road cop out of what was probably his only arrest this week. But Bigelow wasn't going to call Steve Hale to get himself bailed out, either. There was no one at Potomac who really knew what had brought him out to the "Land of Enchantment." Bigelow laughed.
"What was that, sir? Something funny?" The trooper looked at him oddly.
"Nothing," Bigelow said. "Just thinking what my boss is going to say." About 45 minutes, the state patrol car pulled up in front of the Bernalillo County Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque, and the giant trooper led Bigelow down the long marble corridors, down a staircase and to a small office attached to an even smaller two or three-man jail. After he was fingerprinted, he asked for and got his phone call - to a bail bondsman advertised on the booking room wall.
Continental Divide would have to wait.
Ted Olsen, the giant state trooper who stopped Bigelow, was much more than a state trooper: he was a man of real character. As much as he wanted to malevolent lawbreakers he encountered to go to jail for as long as possible, he was equally or even more dedicated to the idea that the innocent should not be tossed into the gears of the American justice system where their reputations could get mangled, careers ruined and lives cut short. Unlike many who proclaim the same goals, Olsen made a point of achieving it wherever possible. He intended to achieve it in the case of Art Bigelow.
Bigelow, he knew, had been the subject of a special Homeland Security alert that originated with the Department of Energy. Olsen knew from spending just a brief time with the man that he was not a terrorist and not someone who belonged on the DHS Terror Watch List. The weapon found in his trunk was properly licensed and Bigelow had a right to carry it; there was no basis for prosecuting him on possession of it, but the researcher had erred when he told Ted Olsen had no weapon.
Olsen had a fierce dedication to both the letter and the spirit of the Bill of Rights, which are enshrined in the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution. His right to be free from unwarranted invasion and to carry arms were just two of the constitutional violations that resulted from the special DHS alert. Now, thanks to the PATRIOT Act, on a hold from the DHS Bigelow could be kept without charges in jail indefinitely. There'd be a lot of wrinkles in that nice Armani, Olsen thought. He wouldn't even get a phone call.
So what was Bigelow's crime? Olsen had determined on the way back to Albuquerque that Bigelow had done nothing more than ask utility officials in Clovis and Deming about the mysterious green containers that sat near their power plants. He hadn't tried to enter the utility yards or the containers and had no tools indicating he had any plan to do so; he had conducted himself appropriately with both Chris Martinez and Lance Adkins, taking them out to lunch and asking lots of questions - but probably none that would be of any interest to a terrorist. His only agenda, apparently, was to do the same at the Continental Divide Electric Cooperative in Grants, N.M. A phone call from Olsen after Bigelow's booking into the Bernalillo County Jail had confirmed that indeed, Continental Divide, too, had a green container in the power yard.
Asked what it contained, Olsen was at first told by a secretary that she didn't know, and then by Operations Manager Mark Dial that there was nothing in it but tools to repair structures and equipment in the yard. When he'd asked Bigelow about the containers, the man either feigned ignorance or insisted he didn't know but that the containers didn't belong where they were and therefore suggested a secret purpose. His company, the biggest coal miner in the business, was concerned because demand for their product was dropping without any explanation, and the green containers at least pointed to one. Olsen himself, when he heard the story, agreed that the green containers were at least nominally suspicious.
But it was Bigelow's discussion of a possible explanation that intrigued him. The Potomac Coal man believed that someone unknown, possibly the government, was supplying selected small utilities with a controversial device that was best described as a "cold fusion" generator that required no fuel once it was started and could run for unlimited periods, producing huge quantities of heat that steam turbines owned by the utilities would then turn into free power. It all sounded rather fanciful and futuristic, Olsen thought, but it was certainly not the strangest idea he'd ever heard. And it was a truly exciting one; his own agency had been crippled by rising gasoline and oil prices, and it had already caused the state to stop hiring new troopers to replace the retirees.
As the tallest man in the entire New Mexico Division of Law Enforcement, Olsen was often called upon to appear at events where it was supposed some important state or federal official would benefit from his protection. Most of those events were in Santa Fe, the state's capitol, so Olsen had eventually grown familiar with a number of the reporters who covered state government.
One of them, Al Romm, had recently been promoted from his government reporting job to Managing Editor of The New Mexican, not the largest but probably the state's best newspaper, Olsen thought. While he wasn't one to drop a dime on officials whom he thought were underperforming if not dishonest, tipping a reporter to a good story that might help Bigelow seemed like an appropriate thing to do in a case where he strongly felt no crime had been committed. If the Potomac man had actually had ties to terrorism, that would be one thing; but that he was only trying to preserve his company's profits and doing so legally was another.
Al Romm, trained at Columbia's famous School of Journalism and then in stints at the Boston Globe and New York Times, was distinctly not a believer in cold fusion. Like many others, he had been encouraged and optimistic about the 1989 press conference at the University of Utah that put Stanley Pons and Henry Fleischmann on the front pages of newspapers around the world, and in his first years as a lower-ranking editor at the New Mexican, he had bought into it completely. So had his former colleagues at the Globe and theTimes, who like Al Romm had made it a front-page headline on the day of the Exxon Valdez disaster, then just trickling across the wires.
When the cold fusion story went bust - disowned by scientists from MIT and many other institutions, and defended by only a few at the University of Texas and elsewhere, Romm had taken a fierce amount of ribbing from fellow journalists and his career had suffered, albeit mildly. No one blamed the story on him. But for science writers and major media ever since, the cold fusion story had become the sine qua non example of bad journalism. Two decades and then some later, no matter how many laboratories claimed to have replicated the original experiment, nor how many distinguished physicists said they had a irrefutable theory to explain cold fusion, there was no going back; it could not be resurrected.
The call from Ted Olsen had not galvanized Romm; in fact, it uncustomarily had failed to excite him at all. Ted Olsen was not a guy he heard from all that often, so Olsen's late afternoon call was certainly something special in a humdrum day at the paper. It absolutely bewildered Romm that anyone, even a noted physicist from, say, Los Alamitos National Laboratories, or a top guy from Sandia Labs would give the idea of cold fusion the slightest credence. That a state trooper he respected was persuaded something of that nature was happening gave him no confidence at all. But Al Romm was a creature of habit, and it was his habit, always, to follow up on tips that came from credible sources. Here in New Mexico, a state trooper had once reported seeing aliens get out of a flying saucer and walk around it before taking off again; that had got the customary 12 inches of print in the New Mexican that weird stories with a credible source always got.
So, on that principle, Romm began some due diligence. He quickly learned through Google searches that more than a half-dozen Web sites and e-catworld.com were now devoted to nothing but cold fusion; scientific conferences and LENR scientists around the globe were a staple of their coverage. Even Nobel Prize winner Brian Josephson seemed to have endorsed the one device Olsen had mentioned, the Energy Catalyzer of Andrea Rossi. But there were plenty of doubts; one man had even started a Web site called wwww.ShutDownRossi.com, which was entirely devoted to debunking the Italian electrical engineer's theories and devices. And Romm couldn't help but notice that photographs and videos of a 1mW device Rossi sold to someone came in - what else? - a common half-size, 20-foot green railroad or semi-truck container.
With a paucity of reporters to send speeding to out-of-the way small towns like Deming, Clovis and Grants, Romm had little choice but to call the official lobbyists for New Mexico utility cooperatives, the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Assn., and then his friend and former Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. Richardson, once Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration, was out of the country; meanwhile, the director of NMRECA promised to call him back after checking around.
His conscience satisfied, Romm resumed working on an editorial about the state legislature's unenthusiastic support for alternative energy.
President Barack Obama sat in the Oval Office at his desk, one made from timbers of the venerable USS Constitution more than a century ago. For several minutes he drew smaller and smaller concentric circles and then a flurry of interconnected small pyramids on a yellow legal pad.
The Bigelow situation bothered him. As a former professor of constitutional law, he knew boundaries were being pushed. The cold fusion deployment was a vital national security activity that Bigelow could easily compromise, but his rights as an American had been trampled.
The President hit a green button on his telephone console and heard it connect with another one in the office of the Attorney General of the United States, Douglas Holder, who answered on the first ring.
"Mr. President," Holder said.
"It's this Bigelow thing, Doug. Are you up to speed on that?"
"I think so," Holder said. "He's being held by DHS in Albuquerque until further notice."
"I'm sure he could blow the lid off this whole energy thing if we gave him the chance," the President said.
"I expect so. And I expect he would, sir" Holder replied.
"Isn't there some other way? Some legally binding gag order?"
"That might be possible," Holder said. "We might be able to make it a condition of his release. That's been done before."
"I haven't heard of that," the President said.
"It's new under the PATRIOT Act," Holder said. "You have to do a lot of careful reading and put a couple of clauses together that most people don't, but we could make it work, I think."
"Good," the President said. "I don't want to hold an innocent man. Even for a couple of days."
"I'm on it, sir. I'll get back to you tomorrow."
"Great," the President replied.
He looked down at his legal pad and scribbled all over the circles and pyramids, ripped the paper from the pad, and crumpled it into a ball. Feigning a jumper, he shot it across the room to a small basketball hoop his daughter Malia had given him a few days before for his birthday. The yellow paper ball hit the 4-inch backboard, bounced through the hoop and fell into the presidential wastebasked below.
"Three!" the President cheered.
A Secret Service agent posted with another agent outside the President's door grinned at his colleague. A carefully muted microphone had not carried the conversation with Holder, but the two men could hear the cheer.
"He's been doing that all week," the first agent said.
The other man chuckled. "Let's just hope he doesn't start going in for layups!"
Art Bigelow felt like a wet dog just pulled out of his master's swimming pool; despite a shower in the open, much-scrubbed stalls of the Bernalillo County Jail, he felt dirty from head to toe and couldn't shake it off.
He'd been led by jailers to a spare, small cell in solitary confinement and left to sit there for several hours until a trustee brought him a tin plate of barely edible food and dishwater-flavored coffee. Not long after that, two men came to the cell with shackles and a stiff black canvas hood. He was forced to don the hood as they connected the heavy chains to his arms, waist and ankles.
About an hour later, he was led out of solitary to a standard interrogation room, he guessed, with one glass wall where other investigators were probably watching. The hood was removed so he could drink a glass of warm water and then replaced. Shortly thereafter, there began an endless series of questions that eventually covered not only his sojourn in New Mexico but his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, his college and high school years, his parents and childhood.
When one interrogator finished asking questions, another would take his place and ask the same ones again, over and over. By the time he'd been questioned by a final third interrogator, this last one a woman whose femininity was apparent only in her voice, Bigelow was utterly exhausted. He hadn't eaten the proffered meal back in the cell, and by now it had been at least 12 hours, he thought. He was finally spared another glass of water and led back to his cell.
He was asleep instantly and awakened almost as soon, he thought. Unable to clear his mind, he followed numbly as the shackles were again chained on him, the hood restored, and was led from the cell again. This time he felt himself drawn along long corridors out of the jail, down an elevator, out a pair of heavy doors and down a flight of steps into the morning sun.
Bigelow felt himself being carefully loaded into a van, where he was shackled again - this time to his seat - and taken to another building a few minutes away. There he was unhandcuffed from his seat, helped out of the van, led up another flight of stairs and through another set of heavy doors, down another long corridor, into a small elevator and up to another corridor; finally, he felt himself being ushered into a hushed, carpeted room.
"Take off the hood," a man with a strong, authoritative voice said. "Good morning, Mr. Bigelow," the man said as Bigelow's eyes adjusted to the light. "I am Federal Judge James Brant." He was an energetic, slender man, in his late forties, Bigelow guessed, and a pair of reading glasses was perched precariously on his nose, giving him a fatherly, Santa Claus sort of air.
"Good morning, sir," Bigelow said.
"Do you know why you are here, Mr. Bigelow?" Bigelow shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the door open and Trooper Ted Olsen enter; in one huge hand he held a set of keys. Olsen stood far behind him in the spacious, well-appointed room, lined with law books on heavy wooden shelves and photographs and plaques on the polished mahogany walls.
The judge acknowledged Olsen and introduced a dapper young man in an expensive suit standing to Bigelow's left.
"This is US Attorney for the County of Bernalillo, New Mexico, Stephen Van Zandt," Judge Brant said.
"Mr. Bigelow, you are here under very unusual circumstances. You are here because the President of the United States has asked that the Attorney General of the United States to intervene to determine whether you can be safely released back into the general population." Bigelow was stunned into silence. His mind became a complete blank, and so he listened.
"You are being held under the terms of the PATRIOT Act because you have been determined to be a threat to the national security of the United States. This is with respect to a project that our government hopes will not only bring abundant energy to the American people but quickly and remarkably restore our economy to health.
"You can be held without trial or charges indefinitely, and you are not necessarily entitled to the services of an attorney or the normal protections of the Consitution of the United States. You stand in the way of that vital national security project, or at least you seem to; the purpose of this hearing is to find out if we can trust you to take the events and the information you have learned and keep it entirely to yourself."
"Do you think you can do that, Mr. Bigelow?"
"Yes, sir," Bigelow said. Truthfully, things were moving so quickly that he had no idea what he was agreeing to, but it sounded reasonable.
"In that case, Mr. Bigelow," the judge continued, "I will ask you to raise your right hand and swear an oath before me and these witnesses that will bind you to silence regarding these matters to the end of your life. Do you understand what I am saying?"
Bigelow nodded. "I do," he said, although he didn't."Unshackle his right arm," the judge said. Olsen stepped forward and took the chain from his arm. "Please raise your right hand and repeat after me, Mr. Bigelow," the judge ordered. Bigelow raised his arm, suddenly light as a feather. The judge read from a typed document in front of him, adjusting his glasses as he read.
"I solemnly swear, under penalty of perjury and other penalties which shall be made known to me and provided to me in writing..." Bigelow muttered the words, surprised to hear how weak and distant his own voice sounded. "I will not discuss with any person, either verbally, in written or in any other form of communication," the judge continued as Bigelow repeated the phrases, "any of the events, conversations, proceedings or any other information that you may have learned or that occurred since the time I left Los Angeles on August 6 to the time of my departure on August 10."
Bigelow got another shock. He thought a single night had passed. He'd been in the county lockup for three days! When the recitation was finished, the judge examined Bigelow with a critical eye.
"Can I ask what was in the green containers?"
"So far as you are concerned, Mr. Bigelow, the containers were empty." The judge looked at the U.S. Attorney, who nodded. The judge looked back at Bigelow.
"Your alternative to silence is either a max-safe prison in Colorado or a stay in our facilities at Guantanamo Bay," the judge said. "And that's where you'll be in a flash if your oath is broken," the judge said. "You cannot discuss these events and any information you have gained with anyone at all, including your boss at Potomac, your wife and family, the media or anyone else. I hope you understand.”
I do,” said Bigelow, shaken to his core. "I do, sir.”
"Good,” the judge said. "You are now free to go. Thank you for your service, sir.”
"Thank you,” said Bigelow, still reeling. Ted Olsen took him by the arm and walked with him to the elevator and then down to the front of the courthouse.
"Mr. Bigelow, we will enforce this oath," Olsen said. "But I'm glad you're free." The tall man smiled. "I need to take you back to the county jail to get your effects, and then we'll drop you at the airport. Will that be okay?"
Bigelow nodded, too bewildered, mortified and tired to speak.
Now, on the other end of the line, Steve Hale was steaming mad. Bigelow could imagine the big dragon behind Hale's desk with smoke flowing out of its ears and a tongue of fire. Hale had taken off on a cursing rant that lasted more than a minute as Bigelow waited for him to calm down. Hale could be arrested for some of the things he said about the President, even unaware of Mr. Obama's conversation with Doug Holder.
"You can't tell me anything?" Hale yelled. "What the hell do you mean you can't tell me anything? I've got more security clearances than Carter has liver pills!"
"I'm sorry," Bigelow said, an uncharacteristic hangdog look on his face. He was glad he didn't have one of those new smart phones that supported two-way video with Skype. It was bad enough to have to listen and to be unable to explain.
"The judge was not kidding. One word and you won't see me again for a long time, if ever," Bigelow said. "This comes straight from the Attorney General's office. I'm not going to take any chances."
"Then you're no damned use to me!" Hale roared. "You get back here and clear out your things. I gave you every chance. I can't believe you would do me like this."
"Sorry," Bigelow said. "I wish I had a choice. I'll be back tomorrow."
"Well, you make it quick," Hale said. "I still wanna know what the hell is going on!"
"I wish I could tell you, sir."
"I'm sure you do," Hale said, slamming down the phone.
For all his fulminations, Hale wouldn't even think of firing Bigelow. The guy probably deserved a bonus check; he'd call treasury and order one up, Hale decided. But no, he wouldn't fire him; there's more than one way to skin a cat, he thought. Someone would talk. He'd make someone talk. Until then, Bigelow could lay low and look into all this cold fusion stuff.
There were all kinds of cold fusion conferences going on; he'd send him to the 17th International Conference on Cold Fusion in Daejeon, South Korea, where bunches of the science people were all set to shoot their mouthes off in mid-August.
Hale had made himself something of an expert on LENR/Cold fusion in the past day, viewing everything he could on YouTube and reading editions of e-catworld for a year back.
This was no joke, Hale now knew. Between the White House and the EPA, someone was out to kill King Coal again.
Joe Shea started the American Reporter in April 1995. Write Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at (941) 462-2616.