Excerpt for Peacekeeper by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A Novel of Hi-Tech Megalomania


J. Dee German


The concept of a ground-based laser weapon with space-based relay mirror satellites has been studied by the U.S. Air Force for several years. Many of the component subsystems have been designed, built, and tested to demonstrate the feasibility of such a system. The major impediment to developing an operational system is the lack of sufficient long-term funding.

Most of the devices in this novel either currently exist or are within the reach of today’s technology and can be found on the internet. The items purchased by the characters – guns, cars, campers, cameras, drones, etc. – are available products that can also be found on the internet.

The locations, highways, and descriptions of the locales are mostly factual. Tall Pines canyon exists but there are no coal mines in it. You can immerse yourself in the story by following the characters as they travel on

All of the characters in this novel are fictitious and are not intended to represent actual people.

For those readers who are grammar sleuths you will find many errors in my writing, mostly in the dialog. That’s because I write like people talk, without paying much attention to grammatical details.

About the Author

J. Dee German, a retired physicist and engineer, spent much of his 43-year career developing laser systems, from high power weapons designed to destroy aircraft and missiles to low power medical and personal protection devices. Shortly before his retirement in 2008 he participated in tests to validate the ground-to-space laser beam relay concept.

After his retirement he worked as a part-time technical consultant, but searched for something else to keep his A.D.D mind running at full speed. So in 2015 he wrote his first novel, The Hermetrius Conspiracy, and published it as a digital E-book. Since then he has E-published four additional novels and two non-fiction books.

He has just started a new work of fiction titled The Priceless Linen about a historic artifact known as the Shroud of Turin, which could be the cloth used to cover Jesus as he was placed in the tomb after his crucifixion. He expects to publish it in the spring of 2019.

Dee currently lives on a lake in southwestern Georgia and divides his activities between part-time consulting, writing, and serving God.

Other E-Books by J. D. German


The Hermetrius Conspiracy – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #1

The Forsetti Solution – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #2

Revenge, Inc. – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #3

The Malthus Strategy

Hostile Takeover


Christian Principles – Food for Thought

Random Thoughts of an A.D.D. Mind

Soon to come

The Priceless Linen

The above books can be downloaded free from under the author’s name, J. D. German. They are available in formats that can be read on a PC, tablet computers, and E-readers.

Key Characters (in Order of Appearance)

Dr. Alexis Nichole Tesla (Prolog) – 42 year old physicist, high-energy laser expert, hired by Edwin Elliott to head laser weapon development project..

Edwyn Elliot (Chapter 1) – Self-made billionaire, plans to enforce world peace with a space laser weapon, PeaceKeeper, he builds in an abandoned Colorado coal mine.

Dr. Derek Flynn (Chapter 2) – 53 year old engineer, expert in laser mirror design who was also enlisted for Elliott’s laser project. Widower who lives on a lake in southwest Georgia.

Tom Norton (Chapter 2) – Director of the Gunnison River Valley Coal Restoration Project, discovers suspicious activity in the Colorado coal mine used by Elliott.

Terri Norton (Chapter 9) – Tom’s wife. Inherited a gun store in Gunnison from her father.

PeaceKeeper Foundation (Chapter 9) – Members of Elliott’s organization who are ardent supporters of an aggressive stance on U.S. supremacy in the world:

  • Director of the FBI, Adam Hamilton

  • Secretary of Defense Raymond McCauley,

  • Retired 4-star General Alan Aldridge,

  • Senator Kathryn Zapata,

President Arthur Chavez (Chapter 12) – Recently elected President of the United States.

Anton (Tony) Moretti (Chapter 16) – Elliott’s Chief of Security and enforcer.

Dr. Eugene Sharpstein (Chapter 22) – Chairman of the JASON committee who leads the effort to find out who built the Peacekeeper laser.

Special Agent in Charge Kyle Casey (Chap 24) – FBI Task Force Leader pursuing Alex & Derek.

Dr. Dennis Howell & wife Anna (Chapter 31) – A retired surgeon who lives at Lake Seminole, GA, near Derek Flynn. Anna is a computer expert and a world-class hacker.

John Knox (Chapter 40) – Sheriff of Gunnison, good friend of Tom and Terri Norton.


Spring 2017

Alexis was the kind of person who seldom got rattled. Even as a child she was the one who kept her head when others were running in confused circles about some overblown crisis. She was cool, calm, and self-assured – a natural leader in her job as a research and development (R&D) director for a large aerospace firm. After graduating from MIT with a PhD in laser physics and another in philosophy, she rose quickly up the promotion ladder until now, at age thirty-five, she directed the country’s latest high-energy laser weapon development project – a ten megawatt monster that could destroy aircraft, missiles, and even satellites at ranges up to 150 miles. The project had encountered several setbacks, but for Alexis it was a challenging and exciting job – at least it was until she was fired two months ago.

The new American President had campaigned on a platform that included reducing unnecessary’ expenditures on scientific research that didn’t directly benefit the American people. One of the first cuts was the HELLEOS project – the High Energy Laser via Low Earth Orbit Satellites contract – the program she was in charge of. Because other Government work on big lasers had also been shut down over the past few years, Alexis was out of a job at the age of 48 in a field where jobs didn’t exist anymore. The half dozen resumes she sent out had all received negative responses.

Finding a new research job wasn’t about the money; she had plenty of that from the exorbitant salary the aerospace firm paid her. It was about keeping her creative mind busy. She was a Type A personality whose brain ran at ninety miles an hour so boredom and inactivity drove her crazy. She had just about given up hope when she received a letter from the PeaceKeeper Foundation requesting that she appear for an interview. There was no information about the position, salary, or work location; just an 800 number to call to set up an appointment. Mostly out of curiosity she called, and was now waiting for a car to pick her up at her home in Lancaster, California, twenty-five miles southwest of Edwards Air Force Base, where HELLEOS had been under development.

All she knew about the trip was that she would be flown to some location in Colorado for an interview. Her current state of unrest was due to the unknown details of the trip and the job to be offered. She didn’t like this unusual feeling of not being in control. Her reverie was broken by a knock at the door. When she opened it a man in a suit announced that her car was waiting. She looked over his shoulder and saw a Mercedes Benz limousine parked at the curb.

Two hours later Alexis, or Alex as she preferred to be called, was in an Eclipse Aviation 550 business jet flying at thirty-four thousand feet above Grand Junction, Colorado. When she boarded the small lightweight plane she asked the pilot where they would be landing but he just smiled and asked her to please turn off her cell phone and put it in the metal box he held out for her. She hesitated, realizing this would be her last chance to change her mind about a trip that was getting weirder by the minute, but her curiosity about where it would lead caused her to hand over her only connection to the rest of the world. I should have told someone about this trip. I could disappear from the face of the earth and no one would know where to look. Of course I don’t even know where I’ll be, so what could I tell them, she thought.

She looked out the window at the beautiful Rocky Mountain peaks below and guessed they might be headed for Denver since that was the only major airport nearby. But twenty minutes later she felt the plane begin to descend. She looked out the window, expecting to see a city below, but there were only mountains and valleys with an occasional narrow highway. Her view seemed to zoom in on the sight below as they gave up altitude, which alarmed Alex. When she heard the wing flaps extend she hoped there was small local airport a short distance ahead or else they were going to hit a mountain. They were already below the surrounding peaks and giving up airspeed rapidly.

“Excuse me, pilot, but what’s happening?”

When he ignored her she realized he couldn’t hear above the engine noise, especially with headphones on. She heard him say something into his microphone and gripped the arms of her seat, bracing for the impending crash. The mountains were closing in on both sides . . . Then everything went dark.

Chapter 1 – Edwyn Elliott

When Edwyn Elliot dropped out of Cal Tech after his sophomore year his parents were devastated. They had hoped that his dislike of the education system would end if he was sufficiently challenged by a first-class university, but he was still smarter than all his teachers, just as he had been in high school. When he announced he had found a source of funding to pursue a new revolutionary idea his father’s response was “Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard that before and this will end up in the garbage heap of useless technology just like all your other brainstorms. We’re through supporting you – find a real job.”

But their rejection hadn’t dampened his creative energy one bit. The venture capitalist who was funding his project had the vision to realize the true potential of Elliott’s idea. He provided the research facility and support staff needed to demonstrate that Elliot’s idea not only worked, but could be easily adapted to a huge commercial market. His idea? A device that would connect the human mind directly to a computer. A keyboard, mouse, and trackball would no longer be needed to communicate with a personal computer, tablet, or smart phone. The user could just think what they wanted the device to do and it would do it! The slowest link in the human/computer interface had just been eliminated. A person could communicate with computer-based hardware at the speed of thought.

Elliott’s investors immediately patented the idea and soon anyone with an electronic device and $650 to spare could put on a headband and join the new revolution – the fusion of the human mind with computer software. Within a few months, about the time he would have finished his senior year of computer engineering at Cal Tech, Edwyn Elliott was worth over two billion dollars from the sales of the NeuroLink product.

Like some of the recent technology geniuses before him – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk – he used his newfound wealth to extend the frontiers of science and engineering. His first project was to develop an entirely new form of space launch vehicle – a high-speed aircraft that could transition from high-altitude Mach 6 flight directly into low earth orbit to deliver a satellite, and then return to earth to repeat the process – autonomously, with no humans on board. It took his select team of scientists and engineers less than four years to achieve that goal, and now his company, Earth to Orbit, was contracted by governments and private corporations to put a variety of satellite payloads into orbit. Although NASA researchers had been working toward the same goal, the bureaucratic bullshit that blocked their progress allowed Elliott’s company to get it done before NASA could even get their design off the drawing board.

After this success Edwyn Elliott disappeared from public view, leading many to speculate that he was working on a new, secret program to revolutionize another field of technology. But the truth was that Elliott had launched an entirely new enterprise focused on one goal – to bring peace on earth.

Chapter 2 – Colorado Coal

Summer 2017

Tom Norton was the lead engineer on the Gunnison River Coal Restoration Project. The mines in the central mountains of Colorado had closed down over a decade ago, primarily because of the previous president’s efforts to curb global warming by drastically reducing fossil fuel use. But when the new administration realized that fossil fuels played only a minor part in global warming and that unemployment in the mining industry was over forty percent, the old prohibitions were relaxed and legislation was passed to provide federal funding to bring coal mines back into operation all over the country. Tom’s job was to visit the reconditioned mines in central Colorado to make sure that the new installations met current Government regulations. Tom worked for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), a part of the Dept. of the Interior tasked with enforcing environmental standards for coal mine reclamation.

For the past month he had been spending most of his time at the Hi-Tech Mining Corporation’s (HTMC) Tall Pines Canyon site. The company was bringing six underground coal mines surrounding the canyon back online using new technology to once again bring them to profitability. Soon several long trains of coal would leave the valley every day, shipping the high-quality, low-sulfur anthracite coal to power plants throughout the region. But for now the trains carried incoming building materials, heavy machinery, and rails for the coal haulers to bring the coal out of the mine. It was this last item that bothered Tom.

Modern coal mining techniques had discarded in-mine rail transport in favor of low-boy trucks with fat tires to haul out the coal. So why was HTMC going back to the old way of doing things. And the rails they were bringing in were heavy duty stuff usually reserved for large loads – six inches in height and width weighing sixty pounds per foot – four times the normal size rail for this application. He knew the federal regulations had no problem with such large rails, but he wondered why the company would go to the extra expense of larger rail.

The other thing that seemed strange was that one of the mine openings was being enlarged. The six-foot high by twenty-foot wide dimensions that used to be standard entrance dimensions for the old operation had been increased to ninety feet high by two-hundred feet wide. Why in the world would they need an opening that large? He added that to his list of questions for HTMC. He was on his way now to the mine site now to meet with Lucas, review the construction progress, and ask some questions.

Norton had another surprise when he encountered a security gate at the entrance to the valley. As he approached the lowered barricade a uniformed guard stepped out and held up his hand in the universal gesture for stop, then motioned for him to roll his truck window down. The tall, muscular man came with clipboard in hand came over to talk.

“Good afternoon, sir. May I see some identification please.”

“What for? This is a public road and you have no right to block it.”

“I. D. please.”

Tom pulled his driver’s license from his wallet and held it up for the sentry to see, but the man snatched it out of his hand and returned to the guard shack with it where he scanned it into a computer. After a few moments a printer spit out a visitor’s badge with Norton’s picture on it and a list of site areas he was allowed to visit.

“Here’s your visitor’s badge Mr. Norton. Keep it visible at all times. Mr. Lucas will meet you in front of the headquarters building over there.” The man pointed to a two-story metal structure in the middle of the small valley. Norton drove into the parking lot by the main entrance and got out of his pickup. As he started walking toward the building another guard came through the door and ordered, “Stop where you are. Hold your hands out to your sides and kneel down.”

“I will not!” Tom exclaimed as he started toward the door again.

The armed guard drew his sidearm and pointed it at him. “One more step and I will shoot! Get down . . . Now!”

Tom stopped where he was and started to kneel when Gerald Lucas ran out and told the guard to stand down. With his gun still pointed at Norton he replied, “This man is not wearing a visitors badge. I’m following procedure here.”

Lucas looked at Tom. “Didn’t they give you a badge at the gate?”

“Yes, but I left it in the car.”

“O.K.. Go back to the car and get it. That’s the only way this guard will back down.”

The guard gave Lucas a dirty look but allowed Tom to retrieve his badge. After examining it the guard stepped aside and let him pass.

As soon as they were inside the building Tom started peppering Lucas with questions. “What the hell is going on here Lucas? A road block, armed guards, and security badges. What does any of this have to do with coal mining?”

“Calm down, Tom. I’ll answer your questions in my office upstairs.”

Lucas poured a liberal amount of Wood’s High Mountain Bourbon over ice in two glasses and handed one to Tom. After they enjoyed their first couple of sips of the native Colorado whiskey he turned to Tom and said, “O.K.. Now I’m ready to answer your questions. But I have to warn you ahead of time that much of what we’re doing here, our revolutionary high-tech mining techniques, are heavily guarded corporate secrets. With Elliott’s help HTMC has invented ways of processing coal that almost doubles the productivity compared to other coal mining operations, and the company still has patents pending on the machines and procedures that make this possible. I cannot disclose any of this information. With that understanding, what’s your first question?”

“Your incoming trains seem to be hauling a lot of materials and equipment for building and construction. I’ve never seen that much building done in a coal mine before. Why is that?”

“Ahh, that’s an easy question to answer. Our new technology is based on preprocessing the coal inside the mine. We have washers and scrubbers to clear out the coal dust, and machines to crush the coal into the small pieces needed by power companies before we ever load it on the train to carry it out of the valley. These operations are usually done outside the mine, sometimes even after it’s delivered. With our approach the train cars will be loaded inside the mine then delivered to the customers No coal company had ever done this before.”

“I guess that answers my next question. I have seen steel rails delivered to your site that far exceed those usually employed underground. But if you’re going to load the coal trains inside the mine then the larger rails are needed.”

“Anything else I can help you with Tom?”

“Well, there is one other thing. I’ve seen on incoming flat cars what appears to be components of prefabricated buildings – and lots of them. What could you possibly be using those for?”

“That’s another twist of our new mining process. All the employees will live in prefabricated dormitories built inside the mine, to keep them close to their work location and minimize time lost due to travel this far out in the mountains. We’ll construct small towns underground. All of our mines are cut horizontally back into the mountain, not down mine shafts. Some of the work sites are as much as seven miles back into the coal deposit. We can move the portable dormitories right to where the latest coal mining is taking place.”

“Wow, I had no idea your operation was this advanced. I can’t wait to see it. When can I make my first inspection tour?”

“Um, that’s a problem, Tom. Until our patents are approved by the Government we can’t let any outsiders see what we’re doing. It’s all proprietary at this point. But once we have the patents locked down, then you can come in for a look.”

“That won’t work, Gerald. The regulations require that I make regular visits into the mines before I can certify them for operation. There’s no way around that.”

“We have lawyers working on that now, Tom, and expect to have it resolved soon.”

Tom downed the last of his drink and rose to leave. “I see some problems here, Mr. Lucas, that will have to be dealt with before you can open your mines here. . . . Oh, and by the way, you have no authorization to block the road and restrict entry to he valley. This is public land.”

“Actually that’s no longer true, Mr. Norton. We have recently been granted a forty year lease from the Government for this entire valley. So yes, we do have to right to restrict entry to our leased land. Not only are we permitted to add a security gate at the entrance but we are in the process of installing a ten-foot high security fence around the entire valley.”

Tom paused while he took this latest surprise in. “I don’t think you have heard the end of this, Mr. Lucas. I’ll be in touch.”

“Have a nice day, Mr. Norton.”

Chapter 3 – The Young Genius

Twenty-five years earlier - 1996

The young Air Force captain knocked on the office door of Col. Alice Benton, head of the Directed Energy Division at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her one word reply was loud and clear. “Enter.”

He hesitantly turned the doorknob and peeked in. He had never entered a military officer’s office before so he was uncertain of the protocol. He had been conscripted by the Department of Defense shortly after he graduated from MIT with a PhD in applied physics. He asked the captain who cornered him outside his apartment if he had a choice and was told, “Not really. The Air Force scholarship paid for your education and now we want to cash in on our investment. Here are your orders and an airplane ticket. Report Monday morning.”

So here he was, halfway through Col. Benton’s door, wondering if it was time to salute. Do I call her sir or ma’am? I wish they had given me some kind of orientation about military life. I feel like an atheist appearing before the Pope.

“Come in, Capt. Flynn. Have a seat.” She motioned toward a chair perfectly aligned in front of her desk. He entered and was ready to sit down when he remembered. “When do I salute, sir . . . er . . . ma’am . . . . . . . Colonel.”

“This is the scientific side of the Air Force, Captain. We’re not big on formalities. Unless we’re outside or have visitors from higher headquarters. Then you salute. Sit.”

Derek replied “Thank you, ma’am,” as he sat down and watched her study a file folder on her desk. After several minutes he started to feel uncomfortable. Did she forget I’m sitting here? He used the time to study her more closely. She was close to six feet tall, but it was hard to tell when she was sitting down. Light brown hair, deep blue eyes, a few wrinkles showing on her face, which meant that she was at least in her early forties. He looked at the wall behind her desk and saw a photo of a younger version of her standing in front of an F-16 fighter jet with a helmet under her arm. He reappraised her and realized that she had kept the trim figure from her flying days. He saw a glint that drew his attention to the diamond wedding ring on her finger.

Finally she looked up.

“You’re probably wondering why you are here, Captain.”

“Yes ma’am. When I accepted the Government financial aid for my education I didn’t read the fine print . . . The part that said I would be drafted as soon as I finished.”

“You weren’t exactly drafted – the U.S. military doesn’t do that any more.”

“Then why am I sitting here instead of working for a high-paying Government contractor?”

Col. Benton paused as she decided how much to tell him. “Here at the Weapons Lab we are engaged in some top secret research to develop a directed energy device with the potential to destroy ballistic missiles. Looking at your file here you have some critical skills that are essential to the success of the program. To use a trite phrase, your country needs you.”

Derek pictured one of the WW2 posters of Uncle Sam with the caption ‘Uncle Sam needs you!’

“What if I refuse?”

“Then you can spend the next two years sitting at a desk shuffling papers . . . or you can spend it working in the latest state-of-the-art laboratory playing with technology you’ve never seen before.”

Derek paused for a second or two then replied, “You said directed energy device. Does that mean lasers?”

“I can’t say any more until your top-secret security clearance comes through.”

“And when will that be?”

“It usually takes three or four months but I’ve had yours expedited. You should be cleared by the end of the week.”

The following Monday Derek once again sat in Col. Benton’s office, now fully cleared to hear all about the program.

“Good to see you again, Dr. Flynn. Let me give you a quick briefing on the research program then I’ll send you down to the lab to see what I’m talking about. First of all, you were correct in assuming this project involves lasers – very powerful lasers. In fact, when it is finished it will be the most powerful laser ever built.”

“How do you know that to be true? Couldn’t the Russians be working on an even bigger one?”

“No, not any more. After President Reagan drained their military budget with the Start Wars program, they were forced to abandon their laser weapon research.”

“So what kind of laser is your group developing?”

“I was just getting to that. The device uses hydrogen fluoride (HF) for the lasing gas instead of carbon dioxide like the previous experimental devices. We found that the upper limit for CO2 lasers was about 300 kilowatts – not enough to achieve the long ranges we needed. The new HF technology puts out ten times that far at a wavelength that doesn’t interact as much with the atmosphere.”

“Wow! That’s three megawatts . . . but what about the mirrors you need to generate the beam and direct it to the target? Even if you could make mirrors that were 99.9% reflective, the remaining three kilowatts would be absorbed and melt the surface.”

“Aha. Now you see the problem – and why you were drafted, so to speak.” She held up a two-inch thick bound document. “In your doctoral research, described in your dissertation here, you developed a new kind of multi-layer reflective mirror coating that absorbs only one-thousandth of one percent of the laser light – in our case that only leaves 30 watts for the mirror to absorb. We can easily protect the mirrors from that by adding cooling water channels behind the mirror surface.”

“I still don’t see why you need me. My recipe is in that document; you can coat the mirrors using my technique.”

“What’s the largest mirror you have ever coated?”

“I was using gold-plated aluminum mirrors three inches in diameter. If the samples were any larger we couldn’t get the coating uniform over the entire diameter. Why? How large are your mirrors?”

“Twenty-four inches in diameter. And that’s why I need you on my team.”

Chapter 4 – The Retired Genius

Back to the Present – July 2017

Derek Flynn walked back to his small lakeside home in southwestern Georgia after retrieving his mail – three letters and four advertising flyers. The flyers were from local businesses advertising the usual July 4th picnic food and fireworks, while two of the letters were monthly bills for electrical power and cell phone service. The third one, with a return address he didn’t recognize, was probably from a company trying to sell him insurance or get him to enter the latest sweepstakes.

He stopped on the porch, looked out over the lake, and once again gave God a quick thanks for providing this terrific retirement place. The house, surrounded by pine and live oak trees draped with spanish moss, was on a dirt road where on a busy day only five or six vehicles – mostly old pickup trucks – passed by. The grassy front lawn sloped down a hundred feet to the water’s edge, where Derek had built a covered boat dock shortly after he moved in two years ago. His small pontoon boat, a vintage twenty-foot Riverside with a 1957 Johnson outboard attached, was good for leisurely rides on the lake and fishing, but it wouldn’t break any speed records

As he opened the door he took one last look back at the lake, just in time to see an osprey swoop down to catch a fish, which promptly wiggled free and splashed back down into the water below. After getting a Coors from the refrigerator he sat down to read the mail. Since he wasn’t planning to have an Independence Day picnic he tossed the flyers in the trash and opened the letters. No surprises in the bills – they were for the same amount every month – so he put them in the small basket beside his chair. He examined the third letter and thought about discarding it unopened, but it was addressed to Dr. Derek Flynn. He didn’t get many letters that used his degree in front of his name because he generally didn’t use it. He wanted to be called just plain old Derek, so he mostly kept it quiet, especially from the local folks around here. He had heard once that flaunting a PhD was a sign of insecurity, so he avoided using it. But the return address showed it was from someplace called The PeaceKeeper Foundation, an organization he had never heard of, so he opened it. It was from Dr. Alexis N. Tesla, Director of Research, PeaceKeeper Foundation.

Dear Dr. Flynn:

Let me introduce myself. I am Alexis Tesla, the chief scientist on a privately funded effort to develop the largest laser ever built. I am assembling a team of proven high-energy laser experts to design, build, and test this device, and I would like for you to join our team. Six engineers and scientists who have worked with you over the past several years and are now members of my team insist that you are absolutely essential to the success of our program. Some have even told me that, if we can’t get you to join us, they will leave the project.

I have reviewed your professional experience and am amazed at the breadth and depth of your work with a variety of high-energy laser systems. Early in your career the mirror coating technology you pioneered made several Government laser projects a resounding success. You followed that up by developing adaptive optics mirrors – mirrors that can change shape to remove atmospheric distortion and create nearly perfect laser beam focus at ranges of hundreds of miles. I could go on, but the final project you directed just prior to your retirement – proving that with adaptive optics, a laser beam could be generated at a ground facility, beamed up to an orbiting satellite, then reflected from a mirror on the satellite to any location on earth – was your crowning achievement.

I would like to speak with you about joining our team, Dr. Flynn, as soon as possible. We will make the arrangements to fly you to our research facility in Colorado at your earliest convenience. Please call my assistant at 303-555-1256 to set up the arrangements.


Alexis Nichole Tesla

Derek said to himself, “Dammit. Doesn’t she realize that I retired from all that? The high-stress environment of managing a group of people is like trying to herd cats. I already had one heart attack and I don’t plan to have another one any time soon.” With that he added the letter to the flyers in the trash can.

Two days later he received a phone call from a Ms. Helen Spurlock, special assistant to Dr. Alexis Tesla.

“Hello. Is this Dr. Flynn?”

“No, this is Derek Flynn. What can I do for you?”

“I’m calling to see if you received a letter from Dr. Tesla regarding possible employment.”

“Yes, I received the letter, and no, I’m not interested in working for anyone. I’m retired – look it up in the dictionary. Goodbye.”

A couple of minutes later his phone rang again but he ignored it. Ms. Spurlock left a voicemail asking him to please call back as soon as possible, which Derek promptly erased. He repeated that procedure six more times over the next two days. Then the calls stopped. Finally, they got the message, he thought.

On the third day there was a knock at his door shortly after nine a.m., while he was having his second cup of coffee and enjoying the sound of rain on the roof. Who can that be. No one comes to visit me. . . . It must be some Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thought I chased them away the last time when I asked them if they believed that Jesus was God in human form. They said no, that Jesus was the Son of God, not equal with Him. After I quoted John 14:9 and John 10:30 they said I was irredeemable and left in a huff.

Derek got up from his chair and opened the door to find a woman dripping wet with her hair sticking to her head.

She looked him up and down, making him aware that he was wearing only boxers and a tee shirt. “Please come in out of the rain.”

She answered “Thank you,” as she stepped inside. “I’m . . . “

“No, wait. Let me get you some towels. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the room, stopped by his bedroom to pull on a pair of Levi’s over his boxers, and grabbed some large, thick towels from the linen closet. Then rushed back and handed her a couple of towels. After she patted her head and shoulders to remove the worst of the water she looked up at him. “Let me start again, Dr. Flynn.”

He interrupted her. “No titles here, just Derek. . . . Go on.”

“I am Alexis Tesla, Research Dir . . .”

“I know, you’re the Director of Research for the Elliott PeaceKeeper Foundation. I read your letter. Then I threw it away. So what can I do for you?”

“Well, to start with you can stop being rude and hear me out. I flew a long way to have a conversation with you.”

That caught Derek off guard. “I apologize, Ms. Tesla. I’m pretty much a hermit out here and I have lost touch with politeness.”

She responded “Forget the Ms., I’m Alex,” and reached out to shake his hand.

Derek reacted sheepishly as he took her hand and shook it. No soft hands here. She’s a worker, he thought. “Please, come in and have a seat. I can get a fire going in a few minutes if you’re chilled.”

“No, with these towels wrapped around me I’m comfortable.”

“How about a cup of coffee or tea Ms. . . . Alex.”

“Tea would be nice, Derek.”

After putting the tea kettle on to heat he sat down across from her. “O.K., I’ll be a gentleman now and listen to what you came out here to say.”

“Well, to start with, you have a beautiful place here. The lake, the surrounding forest, the wildflowers. Even the spanish moss adds to the charm. Do you see much wildlife?”

“Oh yes. We have deer, raccoons, bobcats, birds, and lots of fish around here. And of course the gators and water moccasins.” He threw those last two in to see how she would react.

“We get a lot of rattlesnakes and an occasional bear or mountain lion out at the site. . . . Which brings me back to why I’m here.

“Our company, the Elliott PeaceKeeper Foundation, has built a facility in the Colorado Rockies, about a hundred miles southwest of Denver, to house a major research and development project. The goal is to design and build a high power ground-based laser, and a relay mirror satellite system, REMSAT, that can be used to force those who threaten peace anywhere in the world to cease and desist.”

“And just how do you plan to do that?”

“We have access to intelligence sources, both from the United States Government and foreign governments, that will allow us to pinpoint the location of major threats to world peace. For example, if North Korea or Iran is about to launch a missile targeted at another nation, our laser relay system will be capable of focusing a high-energy beam on the missile and destroy it as it leaves the ground. Or if we learn that a nuclear weapon is being developed in a hostile country, we can use the laser to burn the facility down. . . . Or even if it’s just an individual or small group of terrorists in a vehicle, we can destroy them. That’s where the greatest advantage of a laser beam weapon comes in – it can pinpoint the threat exactly and destroy it with no injury to innocent bystanders.”

“Won’t the bystanders see the laser beam coming down from the sky?”

“No, the deuterium fluoride laser produces an invisible infrared beam. Anyone watching will just see the target burst into flames with no apparent cause.”

“That’s right out of the H. G. Wells novel ‘War of the Worlds’ written over a hundred years ago. The man was a real visionary. . . . It sounds like the person behind this project is also a visionary. Who is leading this crusade?”

“I can’t reveal that to you – at least not yet anyway. But once you have joined the project I’ll be able to tell you. In fact, you will meet him in person as soon as you arrive at our research complex. You will come, won’t you?”

“Why do you think I have anything to offer the project?”

“Because you have done it before – sent a laser beam up to a satellite relay mirror I mean. I read your file.”

“That was nothing like what you’re planning to do. The low-power laser beam was only ten watts and the ‘satellite’ was a stabilized platform on a high altitude balloon. Your system will be orders of magnitude above that. In fact. I have my doubts that you’ll be successful.”

“I agree with you on that. We will probably fail . . . unless you join us. . . . Oh, and did I mention we have an unlimited budget?””

“I haven’t made up my mind yet. But while I think about it we should get you out of those wet clothes.”

Alexis gave him a shocked look, but actually felt a small thrill. “I . . . I don’t know what you are proposing, Dr. Flynn, but I’m not that kind of woman!”

“Oh no, no, no. That came out all wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that I would . . . that I’m interested in . . . you know what I mean.”

She started to smile at his bumbling attempt to recover from his unfortunate choice of words, but decided to play it out a little longer. “If you have any ideas about a relationship, wash your mind out with soap.”

He blushed deeply at this, mainly because he was starting to have some thoughts about her. Damn. I wish I wasn’t red in the face. She will take that to mean that she hit a nerve with that comment.

“I apologize, Dr. Tesla. I had no intention of offending you. I merely wanted to offer you an opportunity to put your clothes in the dryer before you leave.”

Alexis continued her strategy of making Derek as uncomfortable as possible. He’s kinda cute when he’s embarrassed, she thought. “I don’t think I want to be unclothed in your home. I’ll go to a local motel and take care of my personal matters there.”

“Uh, there’s a problem with that. We don’t have any local motels around here. The nearest one is in Bainbridge, and that’s forty miles away.”

“I can’t drive forty miles in soaking wet clothes!”

“Well, the only other option is the guest room in the back of the house. You can use it while your clothes run through the dryer in the laundry room.”

“I guess I don’t have any choice, do I Dr. Flynn.”

“There are fresh towels in the bathroom, a robe hanging in the closet, and a lock on the door.”

“Is this where your women friends spend the night?”

“No! No one has been stayed in that room since . . . I have no women friends.”

Alexis realized she had invaded his private world and quickly backed off. “I shouldn’t have said that, Derek. I’m sorry. I would grateful if I could use the guest room to freshen up.”

“Apology accepted, Alex. Your tea must be cold. I’ll brew some more.”

“No, hot coffee would be nice.”

“I’ll have it ready when you are finished with your shower.”

“Thank you. Now where is the guest room?”

Twenty minutes later Alexis sat on a stool beside Derek at the kitchen counter sipping hot coffee, wrapped in a plush bathrobe. “Ummm, that’s good. The hot shower felt good but the coffee takes the internal chill away.”

“I have some brandy if you would like some additional internal warming.”

“Yes, that would be nice.”

After he topped off both their coffee cups with a healthy dose of Hennessy Cognac he suggested that, now that the rain had quit, they could sit out on the front deck to watch the sunset. As they sat side by side on Adirondack chairs watching the sun slowly creep toward the horizon across the lake while the fish jumped to snatch insects on the lake’s surface Alexis sighed and said “This is the most relaxed I have been in years. It’s so peaceful here. You chose the perfect place to retire, Derek. No wonder you’re hesitant to leave.”

“That’s why I built my home here. There’s no place on earth that reflects God’s creation more beautifully.”

“When did you build this place? After you retired in 2015?”

“Yes, that’s when I made the decision to live here.”

“Why did you retire? You were at the peak of your career. Your were the world’s expert in several technical fields related to high power lasers.”

“I retired for personal reasons.”

“I don’t want to pry, but I need to know why you abandoned your career. Especially if it might affect your performance as the senior member of the PeaceKeeper development project.”

“I would rather not share that information, but I sense you won’t give up until you have the answer, so I’ll tell you. . . . I retired because my wife, Charlene – Charlie – was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014. I built this place so she could enjoy the beauty and peace during her last several months.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Derek. I shouldn’t have pressed you for an answer. I had no idea. . . . Is that your wife’s photo on the guest room dresser?”

“Yes, it is.”

“She was a beautiful woman.”

“Yes she was, both in appearance and spirit. . . . Her death six months ago was very difficult for me to deal with. That’s why I value my solitude out here. It gives me time to recall our lives together and let go of my grief.”

They sat in silence for several minutes after that, sipping their cooling coffee/brandy, each dealing with their feelings about what Derek had shared for the first time with anyone.

Alexis looked at Derek with tears in her eyes. “That’s so sad. I’m sorry for making you bring those memories back up.”

Derek quickly retreated behind the shield that men use to escape painful emotions. “It’s over and done with. No need to apologize, Alex.”

She was silent for a moment. “No, no it’s not over. It’s something you will have to deal with before you can move on with your life.”

After he didn’t reply she said “I need to be going.”

“It’s dark out there. You don’t want to be on these dirt roads at night. Please, stay the night in the guest room. You can get a fresh start in the morning.”

“I trust you now, so I will do that. . . . Good night, Derek.”

“Good night, Alexis.”

Derek stayed up for a couple of hours, sipping scotch on the rocks and reminiscing. He knew Alexis was right. He would have to find a way to leave the sadness behind. So far he had avoided relationships with women, even just friendships. One of the wives from the church he and his wife had attended tried to take him under her wing, bringing dinner over a couple of times a week and talking about things she and Charlene did together. He tried to respond civilly, but eventually she gave up her attempts to pull him out of his depression.

But maybe now it was time. He felt attracted to Alexis, but not because she was beautiful – she wasn’t in the way most men find attractive. At five foot ten she was a few inches shorter than Derek. She was what is politely called ‘large framed’ but there was little fat on her – her 36 B bust was barely noticeable. The shiny black hair which she wore in a pixie style framed her olive-skinned face well. And in spite of her somewhat manly figure, femininity showed up in how she walked, in her hand gestures, and in her pleasant smile. It seemed like every muscle in her face was engaged when she smiled.

Back in the guest room Alexis lay awake recalling her conversation with Derek. He has a gruff demeanor, but that’s just a defense to keep his feelings in check. It seemed like he was about to break down in tears if I had kept up my probing. I shouldn’t have done that. I wish I hadn’t. . . . No, I’m glad I did. He needs to talk about it more. But I need to be careful. I like him, but a close relationship with a fellow worker could jeopardize the project. I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that kind of woman . . . am I?

Alexis awoke at 6 a.m. sharp like she did every morning – her internal alarm clock was second to none, even when she changed time zones. She only had to look at the time before she went to sleep to recalibrate her internal alarm. She hoped Derek was still asleep because she wanted to leave before they resumed last night’s conversation. She put on the robe and went to the laundry room to get her clothes from the dryer but it was empty. As she entered the living room she saw everything neatly folded on the couch. When she went over to get them a voice from behind startled her.

“Good morning, Alexis. Did you slept well?”

She turned around to see Derek at the kitchen table drinking coffee. “Oh, I didn’t know you were up yet.”

“Who do you think folded your clothes?”

She looked back at the couch and saw that her delicates were on top of the pile. She reached out and snatched them up, tucking them into her robe. “You’ve got some nerve, handling my intimate things. Those are private.”

“I understand, you’re embarrassed about the dainty, lacy underwear you apparently favor. Are they for someone special – like a husband or sweetheart?”

“That’s none of your business! You have no right to ask such questions”

“I opened up to you last night. It only seems fair that you share a little bit about yourself.”

“I didn’t ask what kind of underpants you wear.”

“You didn’t have to. You saw me in my boxer shorts when I greeted you at the door.”

Alexis was silent for several seconds as she recalled what she had seen. Six feet one or two, gray eyes, muscular but with a little extra weight showing around the middle, sandy hair that hadn’t been combed recently, a week-old beard. Not bad looking at all.

Derek cleared his throat to break her out of her reverie. She blushed and said, “I was just thinking of the pile of work waiting for me back at the complex.”

He just smiled and nodded his head. “How about some coffee?”

Thankful the conversation had changed directions she answered, “Yes. I definitely need coffee.”

He turned his back, reached into an overhead cabinet for a cup, and filled it from a high-end Cuisinart coffee maker.

In an effort to normalize the conversation she commented, “That’s a pretty fancy coffee brewer. Are you a coffee connoisseur?”

“No, I got this for my wife. She was picky about her coffee. She ordered coffee beans sent straight from Columbia. . . . All I need is strong and black. Do you take cream or sugar?”

“No thanks. I like mine black also.”

“Good thing. I’m out of both.”

They sat silently, sipping their coffee and waiting for the other to say something. Finally Derek said “I’ve made up my mind. . . . I want to join the project. When do you want me and how do I get there?”

“I need you now and you can fly back with me.”

“I’ll need an hour or so to shower and pack a bag. What time does the flight depart?”

“Whenever I say so. I came in one of Elliott’s private jets.”

Suddenly a light went on in Derek’s head. “It’s Edwyn Elliott! That’s who is bankrolling the project.”

“Good work, Sherlock. Now lets get moving.”

Chapter 5 – In Transit

Elliott’s intercom buzzed indicating a call from his administrative assistant/body guard/enforcer, letting him know that Alexis was on the phone. Edwyn took his eyes off the blueprints of the last part of the complex to be completed, the giant Deuterium Fluoride laser. There were several drawings missing from the stack, simply because his scientists and engineers had hit a dead end. No one knew how to store and handle the DF gas, or how to make mirrors that could survive the tremendous power of the laser beam. They also hadn’t come up with a way to bring the beam out of the mine to direct it up to a mirrored satellite in low earth orbit. His last hope was for Alexis to convince the laser genius from Georgia to come on board. He hoped this phone call was to tell him that Dr. Flynn has agreed to come. Before Alexis left he told her to use any means necessary to persuade Flynn, then gave her a exaggerated wink. They both knew what he meant by that. As he reached for the phone he wondered how far she had to go to convince him.

“Edwyn here.”

“This is Alex. I have Dr. Flynn here on the plane with me. He’s agreed to work for us.”

“Splendid, my dear. When will you arrive?”

“We took off from Atlanta 45 minutes ago so that should put us at the complex in another three hours. Can you meet with us then?”

“Definitely. I’ll clear my calendar. You did a great job, Alex.”

Derek had been dozing until Alex’s phone conversation woke him up.

“Who was that?”

“I called Edwyn to let him know we were in the air and on our way back.”

“And what did he say?”

“He was happy to hear that you decided to join us. I have a meeting with him set up as soon as we arrive.”

“I’m looking forward to getting a look at this complex you spoke of. Tell me more about it.”

“The site is located in Tall Pines Canyon at the south end of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness, about twenty miles northeast of the town of Gunnison. There are six coal mines surrounding the valley, five of which will soon be producing more coal than before they were shut down ten years ago. The sixth mine, at the end of the valley – actually it’s more like a canyon since the walls are so steep – has been enlarged to contain the entire research complex. That’s where you’ll be working.”

“So the entire research facility is located underground? Why would Elliot do that?”

“I can’t tell you all the details yet, but what Edwyn has in mind must be kept entirely secret. The mine provides cover from aircraft and surveillance satellites.”

“How many people work there?”

“Currently about two hundred, but as we approach full operational status the development team will leave and the number will fall to about fifty.”

“How can you keep two hundred people driving out to the canyon and back everyday for work a secret? The satellites could easily pick that up.”

“Except for Edwyn and a couple of his management staff everyone lives in underground apartment buildings located in the complex. That’s where you will be living.”

“What! I didn’t know that was part of the deal!”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds. The complex includes a shopping section, a movie theater, and dozens of opportunities to socialize. It’s kind of like the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos where the scientists and their families lived while they developed the first nuclear weapons.”

“Do you live in the apartments?”

“Yes, I do. In fact I’ll be living just down the hall from your apartment.” Why did I add that? He might think I’m chasing after him.

“That’s great. We’ll be neighbors. Does your husband live there with you?” Damn, I didn’t mean to say that. She’ll think I’m interested in her. . . . Am I?”

“No, my ex-husband lives with my sister. The two of them were having an affair for a year before I figured it out.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have been so nosy.” But I’m glad I was.

“We’d better get some sleep. We’ll be really busy once we get there.”

As the plane approached the front range of the Rockies the pilot came on the intercom. “Time to wake up back there. ETA to the complex is twenty-two minutes.”

“Thanks, Jeff. When we get there would you fly us around the rim of the valley so I can show Derek what’s down there?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Alexis turned to Derek. “Tall Pines Valley is what they call a box canyon, with an opening at one end only. The canyon surrounds an oval-shaped valley floor three and a half miles long by two miles wide. The entrance is at the south end – the north end is part of Fossil Ridge, a twelve thousand foot escarpment made of limestone and embedded with all kinds of prehistoric sea creatures. Some of the workers climb up there on their free time to hunt for fossils, but it takes a good set of lungs because of the altitude.”

“What’s the altitude of the valley floor?”

“It’s at about eight thousand feet, so you will be out of breath a lot until your body acclimates to the thin air. . . . Look to your left. We’re coming up on the canyon entrance now.”

“Is that a gate and guard post down there? Your complex is looking more like the Manhattan project every minute.”

“Of course it does. We’re developing the most revolutionary weapon since the atomic bomb.”

“I haven’t thought of it from that perspective.”

“We’re flying along the east rim now. You can see some of the mine entrances along the other wall.”

As the plane continued its loop around the valley Derek could see the enlarged opening at the head of the canyon. “Is that where the research facility and housing are? Why is the opening so large?”

“You’ll see in a minute. Jeff, take us down.”

The plane banked and headed south, toward the Gunnison airport Derek presumed. But after a couple of miles the pilot banked again and headed straight toward the open end of the canyon, loosing altitude as he went.

“What are we doing Alex? I didn’t see an airstrip down there.”

“You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”

Like Alex’s first arrival Derek saw the canyon walls close in around the plane. He looked up front through the pilot’s window and saw the large mine opening looming before them. He had just enough time to shout “You can’t be serious!” before the black coal walls of the mine replaced the mountains in the windows. The pilot touched down gently – easy to do since there was no wind or turbulence in the mine – and rolled to a stop in front of small building. “I’ll be damned! There’s a landing strip inside the mine.”

As soon as the stairs were lowered Derek poked his head out and looked around. He saw two other business jets parked off to the right and a small car in front of the building. He climbed down the three steps to the ground and turned to offer Alexis a hand. She politely refused his help, but pointed to the car. “This is our ride.’

The car wasn’t a model he was familiar with so he walked up to examine it more closely.

“I see it was built by Tesla, so it must be electric, but I’ve never seen one like this before.”

“Mr. Elliott asked Elon Musk to build a custom design for here in the mine. We don’t want gas powered cars polluting the air down here. We have two dozen of these electric vehicles now with several more on the way. Get in and I’ll drive.”

When they were both seated and buckled in Alexis said out loud “This is Alex. Take us to Edwyn’s office please.” The car responded instantly with no further input from the driver and sped along a roadway deeper into the mine.

“The cars are autonomous, controlled by a central computer that ensures they never crash into each other, or anything else. They aren’t assigned to anyone. They self park at several locations around the complex and whoever needs one takes it. When we get out this one will return to the aerodrome and plug itself into a charging station.”

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