Author: Rick Tobin

“Come in, Hanson. Close the door. What’s up?” A worn senior manager, with tie askew over his crumpled white shirt, sat hunched while peering at three connected computer screens.

His visitor took deep breaths, removing his horn-rimmed glasses, twirling them for effect before sliding his lanky frame into the Director’s tall-backed leather chair facing the massive mahogany desk.

“Jack, we’ve got a problem. I need support.”

“Huh,” Mason grunted, focusing on his screens. “C’mon Phil. Don’t come in late on Friday throwing bullshit. Christ’s sake, you’re the public information officer. What’s so important it can’t wait till after the holiday?”

“This one’s under the radar, Jack. I need your full attention. This is black box stuff.”

The Director stopped, turning toward the PIO. He pulled his lips tight.

“Mr. Hanson,” Mason spoke slowly, with emphasis. “We don’t use that phrase unless the sky is falling.”

Phillip Hanson sat upright, fiddling with a file folder. “We got this FOIA. It just came in. It’s from the Times. They’re sniffing around about Silent Sam.”

“What!” Mason yelled back. “Let me see that. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I couldn’t risk sending it in-house or calling.”

“So you brought a damn hard copy? What if you croaked on the way over? Your dad would’ve had a conniption fit.” Mason grabbed the folder and flipped open the top-secret cover sheet. He grunted hard again, this time turning his head askew. “Your job was to stop snoops poking at our envelope. Were you sleeping?”

Hanson’s neck turned bright red as he put his glasses back over his bulbous nose.

“Okay, I’ll take that. This journalist came out of Cornell. He was doing a piece on Sagan for an anniversary issue when he got the scent on Project A119. I swear I’ve got all the NDAs from everybody who worked on the Moon nuking project. We told the public it was canceled. It was slammed shut and no one, until now, has dug into it.”

“Where did he get this stuff about the Moon and Mars? Do we have a leak?”

Hanson leaned over the desk, looking deep into his mentor’s glare. “I farmed every e-mail. The Agency checked every employee and contractor working on the LCross Mission. There’s nothing. I don’t know how this kid knows. Maybe he’s an amateur remote viewer. Hell, there’s no trail. If anyone knew we nuked that alien base on the dark side in ’09, there was no sign. We covered it with the story about crashing some piece of junk on our side, saying it was about searching for water. Luckily, the PRC never made a fuss about the crater after they mapped it.”

“Skip the history lesson, Mason. Remember, I was Assistant Director then. We worked the Chicoms. But how did this rat figure out about the massive bombardment we did on Mars in March and April in 2012? Damn pesky amateurs saw the plumes, but even top Pentagon brass were left out. Musk knows, but hell, he was part of the terraforming planning. He got his payback in 2010. If this gets out, that we already started the process, without the President, Congress, or the idiot public knowing…it’ll be a shit storm.”

“Ideas? I’m fresh out.” Hanson sighed.

“Get the kid in here.” Mason ordered.

“Seriously?” Hanson replied, his voice an octave higher.

“We’ve bought reporters before. Call the networks. Find a juicy spot on camera. You can’t imagine these journalists’ egos. And if that doesn’t work…”

Hanson gulped, “I know the protocol. He’d better damn well bite. Traffic can be dangerous in New York.”