Jonathan Walker dropped a blank CD-R in the tray and pushed the tray back into his PC. As the drive spun up, he looked over his shoulder at his co-worker, Latutama Salote. Like himself, she was a contract technical writer for the TongaSat space imaging satellite ground station control software project. He ran a hand through his thick crop of neatly combed auburn hair as he swiveled around in his chair to face her. "You'll get it all," he mumbled sadly.
Latutama could see the disappointment in his blue-green eyes. "I didn't have a choice in this." The regret in her voice was obvious. Before moving to Menlo Park, California, to join the TongaSat project as a technical writer, this attractive, thirtyish mother of two had once been a Tongan beauty whose graceful, bronze-toned figure had graced travel posters promoting her Pacific paradise 2,000 kilometers northeast of Auckland, New Zealand.
Her girlish figure had rounded over the years, but her kind face with its engaging black eyes and radiant black hair was as exotically alluring as ever. Now those beautiful black eyes would soon be reviewing the schematics and graphics Jonathan had so carefully created to simulate the next generation of payload computer command and control software displays.
Traveling at an altitude of 300 kilometers in a low Earth orbit that crossed over the island nations dotting the western Pacific, the satellite routinely passed over Latutama's home in the capital of Nuku'alofa on the main island of Tongatapu. Equipped with a high-resolution one-meter camera in the payload compartment, it could be used to read a license plate from space with the same resolution as the American KH-1 spy satellites of Cold War fame.
The commercial mission of the TongaSat satellite was to find leaky roofs, silted irrigation ditches, and such. While the demand for these commercial images was brisk, TongaSat's biggest customer was the CIA. In exchange for technology and a free launch of their own satellite, the Tongan royals had secretly joined in the hunt for Islamic terrorists.
In terms of finding leaky roofs, this second generation command and control software offered a partial list of new of commercial imaging services, however the bulk of the enhancements were solely for the benefit of the CIA, and they were not interested in finding leaky roofs. That is, unless the bad guys were sitting under them.
Jonathan looked back at his monitor and rose up from his chair and stretched. "It will take a few minutes to finish burning the CD." His six-foot-tall muscular body loomed a full twelve inches above Latutama as he opened the overhead panel of his cubicle workstation to fetch a thick pile of documents and drawings. He thumbed through the stack, tossing out the irrelevant and outdated papers he'd accumulated and handed the rest to her. "This will give you a good head start."
She accepted them gratefully and smiled. "You know it's political. It was Benny Park's call and I didn't have a choice." Benny Park was a tough but fair project manager who believed in budgets, timelines, and pleasing his superiors, but what angered him about Benny was that he'd used Latutama to deliver the bad news.
He shrugged. "What isn't." The words evoked an unspoken thought between them. Jonathan's contract was due to expire in less than two weeks and without a major project assignment, Latutama would be finishing the project documentation by herself. The thought of going alone saddened her. She'd miss his outspoken manner and gregarious sense of humor.
She pursed her lips for a moment and asked tentatively, "do you think you stepped on somebody's piccolo player?"
He winced with the thought, guessing that he had somehow offended his boss Benny Park, or worse yet, one of Park's superiors. It wouldn't be the first time.
During Jonathan's high school years, the football coach had seen him as the perfect halfback for his team. "God built you to be a natural halfback my boy," the coach had urged him time-and-again to join the team, but Jonathan had seen enough mangled knees and hips to know that he never wanted to suffer a lifetime of pain in exchange for a few moments of gridiron glory.
Rather than join the football team, he became the base drum player for the school's marching band and was well-regarded for his ability to thump a metronome-like beat that could be clearly heard far beyond the colorful ranks of the band.
During a complicated halftime performance in his senior year, the band had to march across a muddy field and, during a precise maneuver, he stumbled into a demure little piccolo player. The two had cascaded to the muddy field in a flailing and embarrassing cacophony of arms, legs, and mortified faces. Without a doubt, it had been one of the most humiliating moments of his life and even ten years later, the thought of it made him wince.
"Yah, Latutama," he reluctantly admitted, "it could be." He then leaned towards his Tongan co-worker and smiled defiantly as he pointed a finger at her. "But you still owe me a CD of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles."
She winked at him as the finished CD popped out of the CD-ROM burner. "I keep telling you Don Ho is Hawaiian. He's not from Tonga."
"I know," he replied with a cocky grin. "I just want it."
She groaned. "OK, Tiny Bubbles it is."