Chapter 5

Written by: Hemali Ajmera



Hubert and Penny were seated at the long polished table next to each other.

Men in black suits stood all around the table, their faces grim. Penny, otherwise calm and composed, was now trembling. She could not feel her legs and her clammy and cold hands kept tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, alternating between the left and right.

She felt thoroughly scared and completely foolish. What had she been thinking? That they could single-handedly crack the mystery of Ground 29 and save the country and planet?

Hubert, in contrast, was much more in control of his nerves. Though terrified, he pretended to look unperturbed as the belligerent Driscol pounded his fists again and again on the table, trying to get some tangible information out of the beleaguered students.

“Do you know what happens to people who want to know too much?” growled Driscol.

They didn’t know, but Hubert and Penny could very well imagine what their fate would be.

“Send a message to Carrion. How can she be so careless, letting students loose to get their hands on sensitive information?” Driscol thundered, looking directly at Grojean.

A shock wave crisscrossed Hubert and Penny’s insides. It had never occurred to them that the stern, matronly Dolores Carrion could be a part of this conspiracy. But then why had she granted them access to Prof. Long’s lab?

Grojean walked from his seat towards Hubert and looked him squarely in the eye.

“You obviously know more than you are letting us in on. The question is, who else have you shared the information with?”

A worried look suddenly passed over the faces of the stoic black suits.



*****



Guarded by a small task force of commandos, Professor Long slaved away in the makeshift laboratory 50 feet underground pretending to rework all the calculations. He was angry and felt betrayed and shortchanged - the entire truth had not been revealed to him when he had been commissioned to make the climate exchanger.

When he was approached by an elite group of army personnel to ‘participate in a project of national importance’, he had no idea that he was being recruited as part of a covert operation designed to serve the interests of a selected few. He had been told that POTUS himself was involved but the entire mission was being kept secret so that the country could claim credit for the first ever manned landing on Mars without the Europeans butting in. Their country would then be the greatest on Earth, having conquered Mars!

Long was appalled by the malintent that propelled the whole operation. This was no patriotic undertaking. It was business through and through. Driscol and company wanted to kill many birds with one stone – depose an unpopular President, seize power and claim mining rights on Mars. They wanted to commercialise space unhindered, and become super rich and powerful.

As soon as he started work, Prof. Long realised the scale of the operation. He began to pick up alarming information. What had shocked him most was the involvement of Prof. Carrion. He had discovered that Carrion was a Director in Driscol’s SolarSheild company. She was the one who had insisted that Driscol hire Long for designing the climate exchanger. The headhunting was a ruse to fool the President and his coterie, and of course NASA.



*****



Grojean had given Prof. Long two days. His sharp mind had figured out why the climate exchanger had failed – because Long had wanted it to. Long was a well-known advocate against climate change. His passionate views against the environmental policies of the current administration were often published in newspapers.

Driscol’s men were on the President’s advisory team on climate change. They ensured that the President’s image always remained anti climate change, even advising the President to deny global warming on National television. The preparations for the coup had started a long time ago.

The climate exchanger Prof. Long was appointed to design was meant to increase the water vapour concentration in the atmosphere.  Water vapour, along with carbon dioxide and methane is a prominent greenhouse gas. When these gases interact with infrared radiation, they cause the ‘greenhouse effect’. Since water vapour accounts for about half the natural greenhouse effect, increasing the water vapour concentration in the atmosphere can enhance the greenhouse effect, consequently multiplying the effects of global warming.

The ‘weather’ satellite orbiting Mars, when positioned at the exact coordinates, would aid in increasing the concentration of the infrared radiation reaching Earth, thereby increasing the generation of water vapour in Earth’s atmosphere. This warming would bring about drastic and immediate changes in the climate all over the continent – flash storms, hurricanes, floods and droughts.

Driscol and his men planned to use these catastrophes as an opportunity to create discontent and initiate a coup to depose the President. The chopper crews and special ops teams were on stand-by precisely for this reason. The President had been worried about this sudden deployment but Driscol and company had convinced him that this was necessary to control any protests instigated by environmentalists.

The President, however, was unaware about Driscol’s mining plan, nor had he any inkling about the forced natural disasters that would eventually claim his position. But they were necessary to divert public attention.



*****



“The Legend” Bogart had just finished his gig at Dante’s when a strange sight met his eyes. Two men, impeccably dressed in black suits, sat chatting at the bar. Tactically Bogart seated himself close to the two gentlemen.

“Those two nerds never realised that their interception was a ploy. The Chief wanted them to assist their professor so that the old bloke will get things right this time. Carrion is a genius,” the taller one chuckled.

“I hope they haven’t shared information with anyone else,” said the shorter one.

Bogart instinctively knew he needed to befriend the two strangers. He hadn’t seen Hubert and Penny for the last two days.

Comments

What a welcome break from the reality of the Covid 19 lockdown. You gave us interesting back story that brought things together. The discussion around climate change was succinct and easy to follow. Very enjoyable.The twist at the end was a perfect lead in for the next writer to pick the story up. I also liked the way you separated the parts of the story.
Well, at last, the story is starting to get into another gear. Well done Hemali. Your unique style certainly keeps the strands of the plot together and halfway through there is ample room for the protagonists to move in any direction with the climax still to be decided. Love the bit about the exchanger to be used for increasing water vapour by infra-red radiation means. Loved it and the explanation as to how you saw it worked out and being used. Good chapter, Hemali.