Chapter 7: Espionage
Kent Sorenson was escorting Ryan on a tour of the Black Mesa Research Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kent was the president of the company responsible for the facility, which was in turn owned by the parent company controlled by Élan Dahl. This particular facility was trying to come up with better material and manufacturing processes for exhaust nozzles. This was critical for the rapid turn-around of launch vehicles. Kent was completely unaware of Ryan's true purpose at the facility. According to the brief from Mr. Dahl, Ryan was one of the President's minions, trying to understand how prepared America was to go back to space.
The question of how best to push the process along had been cussed and discussed for several hours. Apparently their Companions became frustrated with the humans arguing. They interrupted the arguments, and announced the probability of success for each point of view of the four people present. That had been Élan, Frank, Ryan, and Kim. One person, supposedly doing the tour for political purposes, wouldn't be suspected of having anything to do with the 'discovery'.
Ryan's assignment was to make contact, during this tour, with two research team leaders. George Starns and Terry Jorgen were the key team leaders in the search for better materials to construct the exhaust nozzles. Kent introduced them as the leads for the materials team. Ryan explained that he was a Texas A&M Graduate and had studied various materials composition for airframes as part of his studies. They were easy to engage in a conversation about material science methodologies, and Ryan even related some humorous student activities in the materials lab at A&M. The scientists were thrilled that a political type actually knew enough about what they were doing to ask intelligent questions.
A series of questions from Ryan quickly had their minds focused on the different chemical mixtures, and processing methodologies. The three men happily settled down to talk shop.
It should have been four men, but Kent didn't know what they were talking about. Plus, they only had three chairs. He excused himself with a smile, and returned to his office. 'Managing a bunch of scientists was often like herding cats, ' he reflected.
Ryan and the scientists talked for thirty minutes before Ryan suddenly 'remembered' a prior appointment. In that thirty minutes, he had implanted the ideas of using nano tubes made from a different material, and processing the materials so the nozzles would have a diamond lined inner surface. When George had an 'ah-ha' moment with the new material mix, and Terry had an 'ah-ha' moment for the processing, Ryan knew his job was completed.
He really did have an appointment; he was supposed to meet Kim for lunch. She was at another factory in Albuquerque doing the same thing he was doing, except with computer chips.
"Hey, Babe," Ryan mentally called through Ed, his Companion, as he walked towards the parking lot. "Mission accomplished. They'll have a new nozzle design confirmed and in production within a week. Are you about ready."
"No I'm not!" Kim replied angrily. "I got the new chip architecture information passed to the team leader, and then I found a spy. I let Élan know, and now I'm on my way to the President's office. The head of security will meet me there. Ryan, nearly everything happening here is going straight to China. The facility is departmentalized, but this Han character has contacts in all of them. Some know what he's doing. Some think they are just being helpful to the company. It's a mess. It might be worthwhile to check the facility that you're at, too."
"Good idea, Hon," Ryan replied. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just mad," Kim answered. "There are too many things that are more important than playing these silly games. We're trying to save the human race, for God's sake, and we have to waste time with spies. It makes me so mad I could spit! I'm here. I've got to go."
"Be careful," Ryan warned, as he turned on his heel and walked towards the President's office. "If anyone connects their bust to you, then you could be in danger."
"Humph," Kim snorted. "I wish they would come after me. I feel like hurting someone. Love you."
"Love you, too," Ryan mentally said with a chuckle, and felt their mental connection recede to a safe place in his mind that he was always aware of.
'Now I've got to figure out a logical way to ask about Chinese workers, ' Ryan thought to himself. The answer didn't come to him until he was being ushered into Kent's office.
"Thanks for seeing me again, Mr. Sorenson. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I forgot something," Ryan explained as he settled into the offered chair. "My only excuse is that I've trained all my life to work in a place like this. It's like taking a kid to a candy store, and telling him to focus on the janitorial services."
"I understand," Kent said with a laugh. "I wanted to fly into space, myself. I was born a little too early, but I know how to run a business, so I sit in an office. What can I do for you?"
Ryan looked embarrassed as he explained, "It's one of those political things that doesn't accomplish a damn thing, but everyone needs to pay attention to it. The Minority and Foreign National Workers in the US Aerospace Industry survey will probably be coming out within six months. They're putting the survey together now. I'm supposed to spot-check some foreign nationals or minorities, and ask them some of the questions to fine-tune the live survey. I saw several minorities when we walked around earlier, and I could have asked the questions then, if I hadn't had so many stars in my eyes."
"Don't worry about it," Kent said with a chuckle, while reaching for his phone. "My secretary can have a list for you, as quickly as the printer can print it. A team leader that will be on the list will escort you. Maybe that will help you, too."
"Thank you, Mr. Sorenson," Ryan said sincerely. "I appreciate your help, and don't give up your dream of flying into space. If President McGowan has his way, you'll be booking tickets to the moon like you would book tickets to Europe, and you'll be doing it within eight years."
"That would be a dream come true," Kent said, nodding wistfully. "I'm not going to hold my breath, though. I've been around long enough to know how easily great plans can be derailed by idiots."
"That's kind of what President McGowan tells me, too, when I get too excited," Ryan agreed with a grimace. "The President has a plan, though, and I think it's a good one. So save your vacation days for that trip to the moon," he advised.
There was a knock on the door, and the secretary entered. Ryan rose to his feet, since a lady was entering the room. She was followed by a dapper gentleman of Chinese decent. He seemed to radiate an aura of serenity to Ryan's senses, one that he could feel from the other side of the room.
"That was fast!" Kent said in surprise.
"Mr. Chao was already here on union business, and the list is less than a page long. It took all of three keystrokes," Sara, the secretary said dryly. "I'm good Mr. Sorenson, but not that good."
"Yes you are, Sara," Kent said with a chuckle. "Don't sell yourself short. Give the list to Mr. Flannigan, please," Kent continued, gesturing towards Ryan. "Ryan, this is Mr. Syon Chao."
Turning to Syon Chao, Kent said, "Syon, this is Mr. Ryan Flannigan. He's on the President's staff, and is tasked with establishing liaisons within the aerospace industry. Apparently our new President really plans to get America into space in a big way, just like he promised."
Turning back to Ryan, Kent continued, "Ryan, Syon is in charge of our Metallurgy Testing Department. He's also the local union rep, so whenever I see him my ... um..."
His secretary looked at him with one raised eyebrow.
"I get worried," Kent finished lamely.
"You have a meeting in five minutes, Mr. Sorenson," Sara announced, before turning and leaving the room. "The attendees are already in the conference room," she said over her shoulder before the door closed.
"I often wonder if she works for me, or if I work for her," Kent said with a shake of his head.
"Actually, many of the managers wonder the same thing," Syon said with typical Chinese stoicism. "Frankly, we hope that you're in charge. She scares us a lot more than you do," he finished with a grin.
"Please don't tell her that," Kent cautioned. "We'll never be able to control her," and then both men chuckled. Ryan sensed that it was an oft-repeated joke between two friends.
"It's good to meet you, Mr. Chao," Ryan said, shaking the man's hand. "How does a department head become a union steward? I thought unions and management mixed about like oil and water."
"There's nothing crooked about this guy," Ed told Ryan. "I think that he is the least complicated, yet most complex human that I have ever met!"
"He feels so ... so tranquil," Ryan agreed. "I can't deep read him, though. It isn't like with Scotty, where you run into a wall. He is more like diving into a clear pool, then realizing the pool is much deeper than you thought, and you can't reach the bottom. We need to figure out a way to get him a Companion."
"Yes, as soon as possible," Ed agreed.
"There are no union rules that preclude such a union, pun intended. And please call me Syon, or you'll have me looking for my dad," he said, returning Ryan's grasp.
His handshake was firm, but not hard, and it carried a sense of power about it.
"Martial Arts!" Ryan thought to Ed.
"Very advanced Martial Arts," Ed agreed.
"Syon it is, if you'll call me Ryan," he vocally answered.
"Actually, Ryan, the men voted for me because they knew that my guard against the union would be as rigorous as my guard against the evil capitalist managers," Syon answered Ryan's question with a grimace.
"I imagine there's a union boss rolling over in his grave at the thought of Management representing Workers," Ryan chuckled.
"Syon, could you answer some questions for Ryan, and then take him around and introduce him to some of the names on that list?" Kent asked. "It's some political thing about minorities and foreign nationals working in the aerospace industry."
"Sure," Syon replied with a shrug. "Can we sit in here while he asks me questions? Your chairs are more comfortable than mine."
"No problem, Syon. I'll let Sara know," Kent agreed as he rose to his feet. "I need to get into that meeting before someone gives the company away."
"If I don't see you again today, thanks a lot for your help," Ryan said, shaking Kent's hand.
"It was nothing. Glad that I could help," Kent said. "Come see us again. I hear George and Terry had a brainstorm while you were talking to them. You're good luck."
"That's good news, and I will. Thank you, sir," Ryan called as the door closed.
"Shall we get started," Syon said, gesturing to the chairs they would sit in.
Ryan nodded, and asked, as he settled in the chair, "Are you a foreign national, Syon?"