09 April 2010

"State Secrets"

By Curtis C. Chen

I hadn't even finished my morning coffee when Jake ran into my office with a crazy smile.

"I found the Holy Grail!" he said. "It's in Africa. Democratic Republic of Congo."

"First of all," I said, "I've seen this movie. Bruce Campbell dies, and it just goes downhill from there. Second, how do you know it's the grail?"

Jake hopped forward and pointed at my computer. "I sent you aerial photos. Look at the infrared, and the deep-radar tomography—"

"Okay, okay." I logged into my e-mail. Jake's message was easy to find: OMG I FOUND TEH HOLY GRAIL.

The images were not conclusive. I could tell he had washed them through several enhancement algorithms. The radar view clearly showed an underground catacomb, but the heat-map could have been any large group of mammals. I told him as much.

"That's why we have to go investigate! Right?" He sat down but continued bouncing. "I already requested travel authorization—"

"What?" My right hand curled into a fist. "Dammit, Jake, you can't do that!"

He slumped down in the chair, avoiding my gaze. "I thought you'd be excited."

I bit my tongue. "Look, Jake, this is good work. Really great. Thank you. But I need to pass this up the bureaucracy. I'll let you know when we can move forward, okay?"

Jake nodded, stood, and shuffled out of my office. I got up, closed and locked the door, and picked up the phone.

First I called off Jake's travel request, which would have been denied anyway. Then I dialed the Oval Office hotline. Samantha answered.

"Veep veep," she said. Sam has an odd sense of humor.

"It's Rachel," I said. "Does he have five minutes today?"

"Probably not. What do you need?"

"Jake thinks he's found the grail. In Africa."


"Well, he's found something." I explained what I'd seen in the radar scans. "It may not be Biblical, but it's definitely worth checking out."

"What's the timeline on this?"

"Intel's about a week old," I said. "Jake did the analysis last night, brought it to me this morning."

Sam coughed. She knew that wasn't nearly enough time for me to have shopped it around my own chain of command before calling her. "Rachel, you can't keep doing this."

"I'm dying here, Sam," I said. "Get me back into the field where I can do some good."

I stared down into my coffee and waited for her.

"I'll put the file on his desk," she said finally. "I can't promise anything."

"Spray it with some perfume. That'll get his attention."

"You're adorable," Sam said. "Anything else?"

"Thanks, Sam."

She hung up without saying good-bye. My sister's never been known for being patient.

I sat back down and started assembling a dossier to send to the White House. The one good thing about growing up in a family of politicians is that I'd learned to bullshit with the best of them. I was pretty sure I could talk my way past the NSA and CIA chiefs. The President was another story.


Photo: Carlsbad Caverns, April, 2008