Ninety-nine dreams I have had
In every one a red balloon
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
In this dust that was a city…
99 Red Balloons
Cecilia continued working on some notes for the next day’s class. She hit the “Save” button to retain her Holoprezi slides for her Relativity class. In the middle of the “Save” operation, her computer screen went blank. A moment later, the screen was filled with three balloons. The balloons started on the image of a table top, rose, and went out a virtual window. The balloons continued to rise, increasing in speed as they did. Eventually they rose beyond the confines of the earth and all three settled on the dark side of the moon. The screen returned to her work, and the software continued in the “Save” operation. Cecilia found this rather disconcerting, but for lack of anything else to do, she closed her laptop and went to bed.
The next morning, Cecilia got up early, had a cafe con leche, and read the paper. She saw that the Marlins had, once again, blown their chance to make the playoffs. Dismayed but never defeated, she drove her Tesla hybrid to work to get a jump on cleaning up those emails left over from the previous day. One of the emails was from the IT Manager at the UK mining company, Konecranes. He explained that he’d confronted the person that sent her the threatening e-mail. However, that individual quite vehemently denied knowing anything about it. Further checking led to the realization that the company’s server had been hacked by another computer. They did their own “who is” investigation, and found that the message actually originated in China, likely from their military. They knew this because of contracts they had with the Chinese military to sell them heavy mining equipment. The IT Manager apologized to Cecilia for the intrusion, and promised to fix the security breach that allowed their system to hide the identity of the real sender.
At 9, Cecilia was teaching class with the Ppad connected to the Holoprezi. She was working through a differential equation, telling the class that the orbital path of Mercury around the sun was what Eddington and Einstein knew violated Newton’s Laws and led to Einstein’s theory of the space-time continuum. She was looking at the class when a student pointed to the screen. Cecilia turned around and saw the three balloons rising again. This time each balloon had He written on its side. Cecilia tried to stop the image, but without success. She turned to the class and apologized for the interruption, saying she was getting annoying, anonymous messages and had no idea what this particular image was meant to convey. One of her students raised his hand. She acknowledged him, and he said, “Professor Vasquez, I think the cartoon is a reference to helium 3. The way the cartoon balloons drift and settle on the dark side of the moon might be an attempt to correlate Helium-3 with that location. It’s just a thought.” There was murmuring from the rest of the class, when a Chinese student spoke up. “Professor, you must be aware of the large quantities of Helium-3 on the moon, a fact which has been of great interest to my country for many years now.” Cecilia thought about it and realized her students were likely correct in their assessment of the cartoon. Three balloons – and what would balloons be filled with that could rise that high? Helium. Helium-3? Was her anonymous emailer trying to imply that Helium-3 was being sought from the dark side of the moon? She was aware that the Chinese were exploring the moon, but they’d only established a base close to the Sea of Tranquility, in other words on the side that could readily be viewed from the earth. Nobody was entirely sure what they were doing up there. Their official explanation was that they were attempting to establish a self-sufficient colony for their ever-growing population. But it appeared that someone was trying to intimate that they were mining helium-3 on the moon. But what did that have to do with her? Her work was on Mars, working on terraforming there. That thought flashed through Cecilia’s head, reminding her that she needed to work on her plan to incorporate the additional funding for her project that came as a result of the Russians and Chinese agreeing to increase their contributions.
The class continued without interruption. Going back to her office she opened her computer to check her email. That same message was back – repeated 15 times. “This is getting really annoying,” Cecilia thought to herself. “If you’re trying to tell me something, say it!” Then she heard a voice in her ear. After a few words she realized it was Emily. “Cecilia, it’s obvious whoever is trying to communicate with you wants to hide his identity.” Cecilia frowned, and mind-replied to Emily, “Thank you for stating the obvious!” Emily mind-replies, “Don’t get sassy with me, Missy. Here’s my point – sooner or later he’s going to find a way to contact you when he’s ready. In the meantime, you’ll have to reconcile yourself to this being a one way conversation.” Cecilia thanked her for her words of wisdom. Emily replied, “Well, if you’re going to be sarcastic, I’m not talking anymore.”
Cecilia went home that evening to a good dinner of skirt steak with onions and mushrooms, yellow rice and fried plantains with her mother’s delicious dulce con leche flan for dessert. She’d regained a couple of the ten pounds she’d lost in Lyubertsy, mostly thanks to her mother’s cooking. Her adopted Abuela in Cuba was continually sending her mother her special recipes, and Abuela and her cousin Manuel were promising to come for a visit in the fall before the Bed & Breakfast they ran got too busy.
After dinner, Cecilia returned to her home office and opened her laptop. She wrote an e-mail to Abuela Cecilia, confirming her and her cousin’s visit to Miami for the 27th of October. Next she started working on a presentation detailing her plans for the team to attack the preliminary phases of the water problem. The next thing she knew, a voice was emanating from her computer. It wasn’t Emily this time – it was a man’s voice. He asked, “Have you been getting my emails?” By now, used to this kind of thing with Emily, she just replied, “Yes.” There was silence. Then she asked, “Who are you?” He replied, “I am someone with a story to tell, a story to which you must listen since you and your colleagues’ meddling will be responsible for the likely death of the planet.”
Cecilia replies, “That is a most disturbing accusation. Who are you?” The voice says, “Call me Ishmael,” and then chuckles at the allusion to Moby Dick. Silence again. Cecilia says, “Ok, Ishmael, how did you get access to my phone, computer, friends and relatives?” Again he chuckles and explains, “It is so easy to hack a person’s information. Your passwords were really easy to figure out. I started with your AOL account and kept playing with combinations that included the word ‘Mars’. It was easy after that, because you tend to use the same passwords everywhere. Aren’t you glad I didn’t mess with your credit cards or investment account?”
Cecilia asks, “What did I do that made you so angry and determined to get my attention? Ishmael says, “I shall explain to you exactly what you did. But first, a bit of background. I’m a contract hacker, currently employed by the Chinese government. But just like Edward Snowden, the famous hacker from 12 years ago, I found information that I was horrified about. You see, I was assigned to monitor Russian hackers and their attempts to steal information from the Chinese space agency. Normally this is a very dull job, fending off attempts to get information on stuff like rocket payloads and trajectory algorithms.” Ishmael paused, and it sounded like he took a sip of something liquid, and then exhaled. Obviously the guy was smoking and drinking something.
Ishmael continued with his story. “One day, I intercepted a text conversation between two of my favorite Russian hackers, Boris Badanov and Count Vronsky. Funny names, huh? They love literature and cartoons. Ha ha. Anyway, they were talking about their success in uploading data from the HeM server.” Cecilia interrupted. “Hem server?” He replied, “No – capital H, little e, capital M. At first I thought it must be an American server, but when Boris texted Vronsky the IP address and I checked it, I recognized that it was Chinese, cleverly nested so that you had to know the first four addresses to get to the HeM server. That server is located in Harbin, an industrial town in northeast China famous for its ice sculptures.” Again, Ishmael paused to blow out smoke and take a drink.
“On a whim, I went to Harbin to look around. I found a huge facility outside the town. I bluffed my way in, saying there was concern about a security code breach that I was to investigate. When I got inside, I hid in the computer room until all the technicians left. I went outside to investigate and found that it was a rocket launching and return site. I did not see any landing or taking off, but it was clear from the information on the HeM server that what was happening was that shuttle rockets were flying back and forth carrying Helium-3. And this Helium-3 was secretly being mined by the Chinese on the dark side of the Moon.”
Again, Cecilia interrupted, “Does this have anything to do with that Chinese base near the Sea of Tranquility?” Ishmael replied, “I’m getting to that. It became instantly clear to me that the base near the Sea of Tranquility, Chien Long, was a cover to fool the people on earth. There is an extensive mining facility on the dark side, hidden from view because of the rotation of the moon. They call it Crouching Tiger, or Laohu.” Cecilia found herself amused, saying, “And is it safe to assume that Chien Long means hidden dragon?” Ishmael replied, “You are the clever one – indeed it does. So I decided to send Boris and Vronsky an anonymous message – trying to pump them for information. What I figured out was so upsetting, I shut down my computer, left Harbin and holed up in my apartment in Beijing for a week. What I found was…” The voice stopped speaking. Cecilia said, “Yes? I couldn’t hear you after you said “What I found was.” There was silence on the other end. The connection was broken.