Cecilia blinked, and realized she’d been staring at her computer screen for what seemed like an eternity. She wasn’t entirely sure what made her recall her visit to Cuba 10 years ago. Then she remembered: it was the 10th anniversary of her grandfather’s heart attack. She shook her head and blinked, then looked back at her Mac screen embedded in her work station. She was stuck on a particularly difficult piece of equation. Just then, Mirabel came around the corner. “Cecilia, I’ve been calling you for the past ten minutes – where were you?” Cecilia sheepishly replied, I guess I was daydreaming.” Mirabel nodded, muttering under her breath, “As usual..” Then she lifted her chin, and with eyes wide open said, “You have a phone call from Washington, D.C. Someone in the office of the Secretary of Defense wants to speak with you. I’ll put it through.”
Cecilia straightened up, and smoothed her hair, as though the person calling could see her. Then she recalled with the new smart phones the University had installed a few weeks ago, the individual could, in fact, see her! Then the phone spoke to her: “Telephone call from the Department of Defense, Washington, D.C. for Dr. Cecilia Vasquez. Please accept the call.” Cecilia tried to recall her training of a month ago on how to communicate with the telephone. “I accept?” She said weakly. The voice repeated the message: “Please accept the call.” Mirabel was in the doorway, shaking her head. “Call accepted,” she whispered in Cecilia’s ear. The voice apparently heard Mirabel, and said “The voice print does not match the record for the recipient. Please accept the call.” Cecilia hastily and loudly said, “Call accepted!” The Voice said, “I will connect you.” A second later, a man’s image appeared on the screen of the telephone. “Dr. Vasquez?” Cecilia replied, “Yes, this is Dr. Vasquez. May I help you?” The caller replied, “My name is Colonel Oates, and I’m Deputy Secretary for Research and Engineering. The Secretary has asked me to invite you to Washington for a discussion about your .. research.” Cecilia noted a slight hesitation before the Colonel finished his sentence. “Certainly, Colonel, I’ll be glad to come and talk with you. When did you have in mind?” Cecilia was figuring some time within the next month or so, mentally going over her teaching and meeting schedule. Colonel Oates replied, “We’ll dispatch a Maverick jet from Andrews and pick you up at 0900 hours tomorrow. Can you be available?” Cecilia was taken aback by the urgency in the colonel’s voice, as well as the time frame for her visit. “Certainly,” she replied. Crisply, the colonel said, “Excellent. I’ll email your itinerary within the hour. Thank you Dr. Vasquez.” And with that, the picture evaporated from the screen, and the Voice said “Call terminated.”
Mirabel and Cecilia looked at each other. Mirabel, always the suspicious one, said “Cecilia, what have you gotten yourself into now? Have you leaked any government secrets like that little Snowden boy all those years ago?” Cecilia shook her head, while at the same time her mind raced to try to figure out why her work had all of a sudden become so important. “Don’t be silly, Mirabel. First of all, I don’t know any government secrets, and if I did, I’m probably the last person in the world to leak anything!” Mirabel nodded at that. Well, you’d better get your materials together. I’ll make arrangements for Dr. Suarez to take over your classes tomorrow. How long do you think you’ll be gone?” Cecilia just looked at Mirabel, with the kind of look one gives to say, “how the hell should I know?” Mirabel turned to walk away, saying, “Ay, chica, I don’t know what you’d do without me.” Cecilia laughed. “True, true” was all she said.
That evening, Cecilia went to her condo to pack up a few things and prepare a presentation of her lastest work. After her grandfather’s death, her mother had moved in with her, so they sold the two bedroom condo and moved into a 3 bedroom on Douglas Road. She lost the view of the Bay, but the condo was much newer, near her mother’s old house, and provided an outlet for her mother’s need to take care of someone. Her mother brought her dog Rubio with her, a standard poodle with a sharp bark and suspiciously narrow eyes. Cecilia was half convinced the dog was plotting to push her over the balcony so he’d have her mother all to himself.
As she walked in the door, Rubio bounded over to her, barking and giving her that suspicious, sideways look. “Her mother got up from the sofa, telling the dog “Rubio, sientate, sientate.” As usual, the dog ignored his mistress and continued to stare at Cecilia and growl softly. Cecilia stared back at the dog, saying “Go get in your bed before I give you to the Biology Department for an anatomy class!” The dog went and laid down on his bed. Cecilia greeted her mother, sniffing the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen and saying “I have to go to Washington, D.C. tomorrow. They’re sending a jet to pick me up. Can you imagine?” Her mother replied, “No, I cannot imagine and I don’t think these are safe for flying. They are crashing all the time. Are you sure this is a good idea?” Cecilia assured her mother that she would be safe in a military jet for a 2 hour flight to Washington, D.C.
They ate dinner in silence, other than an occasional request for a tidbit of food from Rubio. After dinner and dishes, Cecilia went into her home office and put together a presentation of her research in case someone at the Pentagon wanted a briefing. At 11, she went to bed, wanting to be fully rested for her debut in D.C.
The next morning at 7 AM, she was driving north on the new Jeb Bush Skyway that ran from the Gables directly to Miami International Airport. The trip took ten minutes in her Tesla electric. When she got to the airport parking garage, she plugged in the vehicle to the charging station adjacent to her parking place. She swiped her smart card to pay the small fee for the power, and took the shuttle over to the far west side of the airport. At precisely 0900 hours, a small jet arrived. She handed her briefcase and small overnight bag to the pilot, who stowed them in the rear. The pilot introduced himself as Colonel Petrie, and asked if she wanted to sit in the copilot’s seat or in the back where there was more room. Cecilia replied “I’d like to sit up front, if you don’t mind. I tend to get a little airsick in the back of small planes.” The pilot replied “I would hardly classify this Maverick jet as a small plane, but you can sit up front if you prefer.” The hatch door opened, and Cecilia climbed in.
The cockpit didn’t look terribly different from her Tesla, maybe with a few more dials and controls. Cecilia put the seat belt on, and the pilot spoke to the control tower for clearance to take off. Within ten seconds, they were taxiing to the runway. A minute later, Cecilia’s back was pressed against her seat cushion, as the jet soared up into the air at a 45 degree angle. Exactly two hours later, they were on the ground at Andrews AFB in Washington, D.C.
A black Tesla electric SUV was waiting for them on the tarmac. Cecilia thanked the pilot for the flight, and she was driven to the Pentagon, a trip that took about a half hour. Right at noon, Cecilia was ushered into Colonel Oate’s office. Colonel Oates said “Dr. Vasquez, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for dropping everything to come and talk with the Secretary.” Talk with the Secretary! Cecilia had assumed her conversation would be maybe with the colonel or some of his staff. But she was going to speak with the Secretary? She nodded at the Colonel and said, “I’m always happy to be of service.” The colonel said “Your meeting with the Secretary will be at 1300 hours. Would you like some lunch?” Cecilia said that would be fine, and they went over to the dining hall for soup, sandwiches and coffee.
At ten to one (1250 hours), they returned to the Secretary’s Office. Sitting on the couch outside her office, Cecilia and Colonel Oates made small talk about life in D.C. The colonel talked about his children and their schools, and how happy they were to have some permanence in their lives after all their travels with him as he moved up the chain of command. Exactly 10 minutes later, the secretary looked down at the screen of her smart minder, and said “The Secretary would like for you to join her in her conference room.” Cecilia and the Colonel rose, and walked through the doorway to the left, into a wood paneled conference room with a long table surrounded by leather chairs. The Secretary walked in from the other direction, and went up to Cecilia. With a firm handshake, she said “How do you do, Doctor, I am Secretary of Defense Samantha Morrison. Please, have a seat.” Cecilia sat down, and took her materials out of her briefcase. The Secretary responded, “That won’t be necessary, Dr. Vasquez. The Colonel has already briefed me on your research. We are here to ask a favor of you.”
Cecilia was surprised at how quickly the Secretary got to the point. But she realized the woman must be extremely busy, with the building tension between Russia, China and the U.S. over water. Cecilia then surmised that those tensions must have something to do with the request for her presence. But what does a cosmologist, working with a team of scientists and engineers on a plan to colonize Mars, have to do with the current problems? The world was facing severe fresh water shortages caused by global warming, and exacerbated by the world-wide use of hydraulic fracturing to capture what little oil remained on the planet. Her research was about … then it hit her. Her team was working on the logistics of terrafarming on Mars. The team was currently stuck on the problem of how to extract water from the frozen groundwater on the red planet. Was it possible this is what they wanted to discuss? She didn’t know, but as Colonel Oates set up the equipment for his presentation, Cecilia thought “It looks like I’m about to find out.”