Diamonds from the Sky
When the "big one" hits the west coast, enough earth is moved to uncover an ancient kimberlite pipe in the Mt. St. Helens region.  A highly decorated military spy satellite image analyst discovers the pipe and has a decision to make, should he be true to his oath and creed, or succumb to the temptations of avarice?

Of course, he succumbs, and so must betray his oath, making him an enemy of the organization that he loves, the US Marine Corps.  He devises machinations to conceal the discovery, and his identity.  He sets up a black market pipeline to move his diamonds and becomes a target of law enforcement. His entrance into the diamond supply underworld creates enemies on that side as well. The military, the police, and the competition become a triple threat, they all want to find him and shut him down, or kill him.

A gorgeous accomplice helps him stay one step ahead of his pursuers and a network of subterfuge keeps the pace high.  A new, secret life in the jet set crowd contrasts with "grunt" life as the main character struggles with separation from his former life.

Are the benefits of immeasurable wealth worth trading for one's family, friends, identity, and ideals?  . . .Oh yeah, rich is worth it, if you can stay alive long enough to enjoy the money.

In progress...

Here is a sample:

“WOW! Look at those hooters,” filled the headsets of every analyst in the control room.  Peter Coulter had a habit of selecting “Main Circuit” whenever anything interesting showed up on his screen.  The men on duty stations with their own respective satellite feeds ignored the announcement while seven or eight other analysts scurried over to Peter’s console.

“OH MY GOSH!  Where is that?  Or should I say, where are those?” one of the onlookers asked, as the 30-something men crowded around the monitor for a closer look.  The 30-inch flat screen was filled with large, full, firm, tanned, model-quality naked breasts.  As the men gawked, the woman rubbed an oil-filled hand over her chest, applying sunscreen, or baby oil maybe, that caused her nipples to rise slightly.

“AYE YAI YAI!” another analyst shouted.

“This is the Playboy Mansion, pool side,” Peter announced to the crowd, and then he touched the upper left corner of his monitor.  A small blue dot appeared under his finger that he dragged across the entire screen.  A rectangular window popped up that showed a grid pattern where he touched four separate spots in the upper left corner.  The popup window represented the 30-foot high, 50-foot wide, front wall of the facility, the biggest homogenous monitor ever created.   With just a few taps of his finger a replica of the picture on his screen flashed onto the upper left of the big screen.  His feed joined a few other pictures scattered over the rest of the situation board, or “Sit-board” as they called it.

The wall-sized monitor could display one big picture, or be separated into individual screens representing selected portions of each analyst’s personal monitor, or any combination in between.  The screen could also be fed from an outside source like CNN, MSNBC, Fox, or even MTV.  Anything being broadcast in open air, or on cable systems, anywhere in the world, could be displayed on the Sit-board.

Peter had selected the idle space in the upper left while the rest of the big monitor was split between several other aerial views.  One section showed a piece of barren desert somewhere in Afghanistan in the green glow of low light imaging.  Another showed a city street in Teheran in the same eerie green, and there was a picture of the parade grounds in front of Kim Jong-Un’s presidential palace in infrared.  A few other areas of high military or national security interest in the daylight portions of the world filled the rest of the board.

Casual observers might guess that Peter’s monitor displayed an Internet porn site, but he was connected directly to the feed from one of the most sophisticated devices ever created--the newest generation of spy satellites called “Microscope.”  Peter controlled number three out of the 20 spacecraft.  At an altitude of 400 miles, traveling at over 18,000 miles an hour, the point directly beneath the satellite (called the “nadir”) passed 20 miles to the east of the Playboy Mansion.  The tracker/pointer in the front end of the spacecraft was locked electronically to the bunny breasts but at that speed, the aspect angle changed constantly.  The gawking analysts would have less than a minute of booby watching before the satellite was out of range.

The last generation of “Keyhole” satellites could resolve objects down to about six centimeters (two and a half inches approximately), depending on good seeing conditions and altitude.  The first generation Keyhole birds were incapable of transmitting a real time image, or even full color.  Their pictures were black-and-white snapshots as flat as a pancake, only resolving down to three meters (just under ten feet) in the best of conditions.

Microscope birds could read a newspaper from outer space, in full color, infrared, ultraviolet, or by starlight, and then transmit the image in real time to Peter, as well as battlefield commanders anywhere in the world.  Targets were stabilized and tracked through 60 degrees, allowing a three-dimensional, near real-time picture when pumped through the super computer envisioning algorithms in the adjacent tech-ware bunker. 

Invisible-light lasers reflected atmospheric ripples back to the satellite’s flexible mirror control system to correct for disturbances that would otherwise blur the image.  Microscope feeds were like standing there in real life, in this case right next to a topless playboy bunny.

To make the show even more interesting, Peter selected another display device called the “Tactical Board” or tac-board, where he brought up a full color 3-D rendition of the feed.  Suddenly, suspended above a 30 by 50 foot table in front of the control room, just below the sit-board, the bunny breasts popped into holographic existence.  The tac-board interpreted the video, running it through a state-of-the-art 3-D rendering program.  Just a few seconds of the feed collected enough angular differentiation to show the bunny breasts in all their 3-D glory.  The upper torso of the playboy model, enlarged to ten feet across, hovered just above the table at the front of the control room. 

But this hologram wasn’t the old style blue-green misty shimmering image.  This hologram was in full color, solid as the rock of Gibraltar, except around the edges where the feed was clipped off.  On the fringes, the image was pixilated into fuzzy sparkling effects that enhanced the overall view.  Shouts rose from the rest of the room as the men at other stations cheered at the enticing, unexpected show.

The tac-board was designed to render battlefields, either in the desert, jungle, or a city.  The 3-D images created by the satellites and the super computers were the basis for combat simulators at U.S. military bases worldwide.  Tanks, helicopters, fighter planes, even foot soldiers wearing virtual reality goggles could move through up-to-the-minute renditions of the streets of Teheran, or anyplace else, after just a few passes from the Microscope fleet.

“Peter, how come you always manage to find the titty shows?” Joe Smith asked over the com-link from his main console.  Not attached to a specific satellite, Joe was the commander of the shift--he watched over all 20 of them.  His console was above and behind the others, reminiscent of a NASA control room, but far less utilitarian.  Wood trim and cushy leather chairs made the room more comfortable for the analysts.

Their facility was in a hardened underground bunker hidden far below the ground floor of a plastic injection molding company.  The “front” corporation made all kinds of products, from baby bottles to dental office disposable suction tubes.  The men underground were military, from every service, and worked six-hour shifts that rotated once a month.  With a total of five crews, there was an overlap in coverage that included detailed analysis of recorded data.  They looked for people, like Osama Bin Laden, or military targets like secret nuclear facilities in Iran.

The workers in the above ground plant thought the men who came and went from the attached three-story office building were just pencil pushing geeks, employees of the mother company.   The secret entrance to the Microscope facility looked like a service elevator, but there was an armed guard at the door.  And every person who entered the elevator was carded on the way in.  When the doors closed behind them they each stepped up to a retinal scanner before the elevator car moved an inch. The elevator calculated the total weight of the passengers and matched it to the I.D. in its database, checking off the weight of each person as they scanned in. Once the guard outside, and the computer inside, were satisfied, the occupants had the option to push “sub-basement,” a floor not available to any other workers in the building.  Business executives and office workers for the injection company normally used the plush front elevators rather than the service elevators.  Building maintenance mechanics were on the government payroll, with secret clearances, but all they knew about the sub-basement was that they were supposed to never mention it.

Joe Smith, a six-three, blond, square shouldered Marine Captain, served as one of five deputy directors of “Operation Umbrella.” Umbrella was the super secret newest iteration of space surveillance and intelligence. The usual controlling agency of spy satellites, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) ran this particular operation off the grid.  Only top-tier security clearances in the NRO even knew Umbrella existed, and Microscope would have been considered science fiction even if word did get out.

The secret nature of Umbrella meant that none of the men working there ever dressed in a military uniform, and there was no saluting or any acknowledgement of rank, above ground or below.  Everybody looked and acted like they were simply part of the civilian work force that supported the plastic baby bottle business.  There were no women below ground because every person in Umbrella was a decorated combat veteran straight out of one of the Special Forces.  Most of them were Marines.  But that was to change soon.

Joe was a superstar among military personnel.  He had served four tours of combat duty, two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and the latest in Iran.  He had been decorated with two silver stars and two purple hearts, but Joe couldn’t lord his service or awards over the rest of the men in Umbrella because everybody in the place had at least one commendation for valor in real combat.

“Look at those things jiggle,” Peter said as the crowd appreciated the view with various catcalls.  The ample breasts shook like two bowls of Jell-O while the satellite raced overhead, changing the view a couple degrees a second, like a news helicopter flying low over the Playboy Mansion. 

Suddenly the playmate sat up, her head and upper torso tilted forward, completely out of the close-up view.  Everybody watching shouted for Peter to pull out.  He scrambled to tap commands into the monitor screen, drawing a small square in the center that showed only a quivering piece of blue and white striped canvas, the back of a reclined, now empty, deck chair.  After five seconds of impatient waiting, the camera zoomed in even further.

“Zoom out you idiot, not in!  Lower left button, lower left!” somebody shouted.

Peter tapped the center of the screen and hit the correct button.  400 miles above Los Angeles, Microscope Three adjusted its lens to remain on the target area while zooming out.  The aspect angle had changed several degrees during the satellite’s time over the Playboy Mansion, but due to the altitude of its orbit and the excellent software algorithms humming in the next room, the view remained on the Mansion.

Older satellites couldn’t stay on a target for very long because their sensors were less flexible, and they weren’t able to correct for atmospheric wobble.  Microscope could view through extreme angles that would have rendered the old satellites useless.  They were ineffective beyond a few degrees.  The sensors on the old birds had less range of motion and long delay times in their data streams.  Only a view straight down was available from Keyhole program satellites.  The new models were not only light years more capable, they were also stealthy.

Stealth satellites were necessary because China and Russia had become capable of knocking satellites down with missiles.  Planners in the superpower countries began working out the details of space battlefields when Sputnik first orbited in the late 1950’s.  Anti-Satellite (ASAT) systems had been in place on ground based and ship based platforms in the USA since the early 70’s.

In the first test of their own ASAT system, China shot down an obsolete satellite in 2007, but the US had been destroying satellites since ‘85, the result of President Reagan’s Star Wars defense initiative.  

As late as February 2008 the US Navy shot down a malfunctioning spy satellite.  They took it out because there was a chance that the bird might land someplace where the general population was at risk, or maybe the truth was more arcane--bad guys might retrieve it and learn our secrets. 

Back in ’08, the ASAT team onboard the missile cruiser, USS Shilo, waited for the malfunctioning satellite’s orbit to get below 150 miles, because it was easier and also because we didn’t want our competitors to learn the real capabilities of our own anti-satellite missiles.  The Pentagon told the world that we needed to protect citizens from dangerous hydrazine tanks, when the truth was probably more about nuclear fuel.

Unlike the older models that lasted 10 or 11 years, Microscope was designed to stay in orbit for a century.  It owed its longevity to the nuclear power plant on board.  Based on Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, electricity could be produced as long as the radioactive pellets stayed hot.  Nuclear generators alone couldn’t produce enough electricity to run every system on the power hungry satellites.  A high capacity linear generator based on a revolutionary upgrade of the Stirling Heat Engine, ran off the nuclear fuel pellets as well. The Stirling ran with high efficiency using the staggering heat differential between the near absolute zero of outer space and the 900 degrees Celsius at the nuclear heater.   Combining those power systems meant that Microscope didn’t require a solar panel.  No solar panels allowed the new generation satellite to employ a low visibility, radar-absorbing exterior surface similar to stealth aircraft.

A couple pounds of nuclear fuel would provide 900ºC for 400 years and the Stirling engine’s ceramic bearings would last at least half that long.  Even if the Stirling bit the dust, the spacecraft’s thermocouple generators would continue to operate primary systems for the life of the thermocouple, theoretically for the life of the heat source.  Far longer than the life expectancy of any of the current group of people who intended to use it.

Microscope was invisible to radar, and very difficult to see in all other spectrums.  Even when maneuvering, the small jets of hydrazine were invisible to high power ground stations or space based telescopes.  In a practical sense, that small shimmering puff of burning hydrazine was undetectable, but it made a big difference in where the satellite passed over the earth, especially with time.  The monstrous computers that calculated the spacecraft’s orbit could send commands to the satellites so that any part of the earth would be in view of at least one of the 20 high-resolution cameras within a few minutes of an order.  A controller like Peter only had to input the target coordinates then the computers would select the best satellite, and the best place to make the correction.

Maneuvering was costly and by far the most budgeted of the systems.  Hydrazine fuel could be replenished by dedicated visits from automated supply vehicles but re-supply was not stealthy.  Maneuvering was only authorized for very special circumstances, and generally not needed, because a single Microscope Satellite could peek at any point on the earth’s surface twice a day.  With an orbit of one hour and 20 minutes, and a daisy chain of all 20 satellites, the spy game enjoyed overlapped views for continuous coverage.  When lined up in such a single file pattern, the nadir of one of the satellites would pass over the target every four minutes.  Two satellites were in range of the target at all times.  The days when the bad guys could wait for a satellite to pass and then move to a different location were over.

The Microscope series was the most secretive piece of military hardware ever created.  Most experts agreed that they were the most capable as well, since the controllers could see where ground assets needed to be brought to bear, and the safest route to the battle.  If an enemy officer was dumb enough to read a plan outside, even at night, Microscope could read it right along with him.

But something was horribly wrong at the Playboy Mansion.  Peter zoomed out and Microscope Three reacted after the time it took the command at the speed of light to reach the bird, move a geared lens a fraction of an inch, then send the new pictures back to Peter’s console-barely five seconds for the whole thing.  But that was long enough to show that the Mansion’s pool area was a scene of chaos. 

A dozen topless bunnies sprinted in whatever direction their reflexes told them was the safest.  That meant bunnies were scattering in every direction, and their paths were wavy, not straight lines to safety, but drunken looking, and then they fell down by twos and threes.  The water in the pool sloshed violently while palm trees swayed like belly dancers.

“What the hell?” somebody said as Peter zoomed out further.  The mansion along with most of the grounds came into view, and then the west wall of the main building collapsed outward.  A few seconds later the roof slumped into the living spaces. 

“Earthquake,” Joe said in a flat voice, devoid of the excitement that filled the room just seconds before. Everybody stared as they watched the Playboy Mansion fall in on itself.  The 3D tac-board mimicked the scene with a detail that resolved even the clouds of dust rolling away from the destroyed building.  The controllers in the front row instinctively held their breath in anticipation of the cloud reaching them.

“Holy shit, my mom lives in LA,” Peter shouted.

“Hit the bricks, I got your back,” Joe ordered over his still open com-link.  “Get up to cell phone coverage and see if she’s alright. Anybody else not on a high level mission who has family in LA, take off--report back in 15.”  Three other analysts left their consoles; they had nothing pending that couldn’t wait for another pass.

Operation Umbrella was secure, too secure for cell phones or even land lines, except for the lines that rang on the President’s or the Joint Chief’s desk.  In fact, only a national emergency, on the order of a first strike launch from a hostile nation, or a major disaster, like this earthquake, merited any kind of outgoing communication at all.  Only occasionally would a call be authorized to connect with someone of lower authority, and the authorization was always wartime military or national security related.

Joe punched the red button marked “Commander-in-Chief” then moved to Peter’s console.