The black Chevy Tahoe SUV rolled to a stop in front of the court building. Randall smiled and swelled with pride. An FBI agent, six feet tall and a hundred and eighty pounds of muscle, dressed in the typical black suit and white shirt, got out of the front and opened the door to the backseat of the SUV. Randall couldn’t tell if he was looking at him behind his sunglasses or not, but the agent didn’t utter a single word. Randall got into the Tahoe. The door shut with a snap, then the locks clicked into place.
The SUV moved forward, turning into traffic, and began making its way to the Pentagon. Randall tingled with anticipation. It seemed to him that traffic crawled. Giddy with excitement, he couldn’t wait to get across the bridge and into the pinnacle of US intelligence.
A few minutes later, the SUV slowed, then stopped. A click released the locks, and the door opened again. Randall blinked in the bright sunlight as he stepped out. An Army major stood in front of him, rigid.
“Judge,” the Major stated and extended his hand, shaking Randall’s firmly, “this way, if you please, sir.”
Randall nodded and followed him into the building. The maze of gray passages that followed all looked alike, wall, door, wall, door, just one massive office building. The major pushed the button for an elevator, and when it arrived, they descended a couple of floors. Not a single word had been spoken as they wound their way through the Pentagon. The silence made Randall tenser.
As they stepped off the elevator, the Major guided him silently to a large iron door, stopped and gave a quick knock. The door opened in, making it appear it had opened on its own and no one was there.
“Go ahead,” said the Major. Randall took a step forward. The Major turned and left, leaving Randall on the threshold alone.
“Come in,” boomed a voice. Randall took another couple of tentative steps forward. The door closed behind him soundlessly.
“You’re going to have to actually come in,” an annoyed voice stated.
Randall moved more quickly forward. He hadn’t realized it was a hallway, but a few steps later; Randall went through another, much narrower doorway. The door closed behind Randall with an audible click. Lights came on, and Randall blinked uncomfortably in the bright light.
The interior of the room was solid concrete. No windows, and only one door, also made of concrete. When it closed, the room was sealed up tight. One rectangular industrial style metal table sat in the middle of the room. Three plain wooden chairs were on one side, filled with an Army General, in the height of dress uniform, a chest full of metals, an FBI agent, again in black suit and white shirt, and another individual in a dark navy suit Randall couldn’t place, maybe CIA. On the opposite side of the table, a lone metal folding chair stood empty, clearly intended for Randall.
The General cleared his throat and glanced meaningfully at the chair. Randall puffed out his chest and strode forward. He wasn’t going to be intimidated, he thought scornfully. Sitting down, he had a flutter of fear; perhaps being read into a state secret was more serious than he’d initially contemplated.
The unidentified man cleared his throat, his voice sounded deep as the ocean, “Randall Taylor, today, the fifteen day of July, you are being read into State Secret number 207. This room is sealed. It sits suspended in blank space so that there are no sound reverberations. There are no prying eyes. This room is completed safe and totally impenetrable. I say this so that you know, when you sign the register of this secret you are committed to its secrecy. You will be the ninth person read into secret 207. If there is even a hint of this secret in the public realm, there are only nine persons we need investigate to determine the cause of any betrayal. Disclosure of any sort, revelation of any degree is never allowed. You are, quite literally, going to give us your oath to take secret 207 to your grave. Now is the time to escape, if you feel this is too much of a burden for you. There is no going back. We never forget. If there should be any leak of secret 207, we will not give up until it is rectified and the person responsible silenced.”
The room was deafeningly quiet. Randall wondered if they could hear his heart beating wildly. If there were any other way, he would flee. But Randall liked privilege and power. His newest case, an argument between a large corporation and the government, all hinged on this secret.
The man continued, “Since you are still sitting here, I assume that you want to be read into secret 207, is that correct?”
Randall nodded. The corporation claimed that if they’d been allowed to know secret 207, if would have been possible for them to complete their project, another highly secret weapon, on time, in budget and more importantly, that it would actually work.
“I’m sorry, but you are going to have to affirmatively state your decision,” the man stated in a clipped, efficient fashion, as if they were discussing whether or not it was time to eat.
“Yes,” Randall responded in a strangled voice. He cleared his throat and tried again, “Yes, I am ready to be read into State Secret 207.” His voice was strong and steady. He only wished he’d had the foresight to have a scotch before coming, just to give his nerves the same courage of his voice.
“Good,” the unidentified man nodded curtly. “Let’s begin.”
The General tapped the papers on the table, put his reading glasses onto his nose, and began.
“A concentrated uranium deposit has been found in North America. Our scientists have confirmed that this deposit came from spontaneous self-sustained fission. Uranium 235 is present is sufficient quantities. Additionally, Plutonium 239 is present. It appears that a natural nuclear reactor was present approximately 2 billion years ago. Just as the Oklo deposit in Gabon, the proof was in an examination of the new, lighter elements that had been created. The abundance of these fission products was so high that the only possible conclusion was a nuclear chain reaction had certainly taken place. Here are the things we know:
1. Based on the amount of uranium 235 consumed, scientists calculate the total energy released, 15,000 megawatt-years.
2. That means that the average power output was less than 100 kilowatts.
3. Xenon, a noble gas, resists chemical bonding with other elements and is thus easy to purify for isotopic analysis. Xenon is extremely rare, which allows scientists to use it to detect and trace nuclear reactions.
4. Oklo reactors somehow regulated themselves. The most likely mechanism involves the action of groundwater, which presumably boiled away after the temperature reached some critical level. Without water present to act as a neutron moderator, nuclear chain reactions would have temporarily ceased. Only after things cooled off and sufficient groundwater once again permeated the zone of reaction could fission resume. It was extremely effective, allowing not a single meltdown or explosion during hundreds of thousands of years.
Based on these items, it has been determined that knowledge of the natural reactor could spread widespread panic. One fear would be the safety of the drinking water. As such, this information has been classified.”
The General looked up.
Randall sat there quietly. He didn’t know if a reaction was required.
“Do you want it read again?” The unidentified man asked.
Randall wasn’t sure what to say.
“If you feel that you do not know the information, please ask for it to be read again. You will not receive any of this information in writing, so it is imperative that you take the knowledge with you.” His tone agitated Randall, making him feel restless. He didn’t want to sit through it again, but he knew he didn’t really understand it well enough.
“Please,” he began, but his voice cracked. Randall cleared his throat loudly. “Please, read it again.”
The General tapped the papers, the sound like a crack against the metal table in the silent room, and began again. Not a word was deviated from. There was no change in anything. It was read in the same monotone as before. At the end, the man looked at him. “Again?” he queried.
Randall thought about it. He hated to admit it, but the information was so out of his league that he really did need to hear it one more time.
Annoyed by his own shortcoming, Randall curtly said, “yes.”
Again the secret was read, but this time, it really started to sink it. Randall realized the enormity of what he was being offered. There had been a natural nuclear reactor on American soil. He was totally stunned. He’d had no idea nuclear reactors were ever anything but man made.
“No, thanks.” Randall felt he sufficiently understood what he’d been told. “I’ve got it.”
The man nodded once, flicking his finger. Immediately, the agent placed a glossy black leather folder in front of the man. It was embossed with the image on an eagle, outlined in gold. The man opened it, turned it around and slid it toward Randall. Once more, he flicked his finger; the agent pulled out a pen and handed it over. The man carefully unscrewed the cap, placed it on the other end of the pen and held it out for Randall.
Randall accepted it, surprised by the weight of it in his hand.
The man looked down the end of his nose at the folder. He tapped on the first empty line. The number eight was on the left edge of the page where it had been tapped.
“You will sign here.” The man stated calmly, but with obvious power. “You, Randall Taylor, are the eighth person read into State Secret 207. Let me remind you that by signing your name here, you are taking an oath never to reveal the contents of Secret 207, no matter what form the persuasion might take. Is all of this understood?”
“Yes,” Randall stated, as he swept the pen over the page.