“I can’t believe he told you all that,” Bryce said, sitting across the cafeteria table from Madison. “Wasn’t that classified?”
“I think he just doesn’t give a shit. He’s an old man. What are they going to do? Send him to prison? He’s practically in prison already,” Madison said. “Anyway, when I write the story, I’ll call him a high-level government source and not identify him.”
“Doesn’t the government put reporters in jail when they refuse to identify sources?” Bryce asked.
“If it came to that, I could go ahead and identify him,” Madison replied. “I mean—like I said, what are they going to do to him?”
Cindy looked up from her phone and joined the conversation, “Something isn’t right about this, though.”
“What do you mean?” Madison asked.
“Well, first, Wikipedia clearly says the program was killed before they launched anything,” Cindy said.
“I know,” Madison replied. “But he said they put them up there. And why else would that line item be in NASA’s budget unless he’s telling the truth about that?”
“Wasn’t there a war around that time?” Bryce asked.
“I don’t know,” Madison said. She turned to Cindy, “Was there?”
Cindy tapped on her phone. “Yeah. A big one… They called it the Gulf War.”
“Wasn’t that later? Like around when we were born?” Bryce asked.
“There were two. It’s confusing because the President was named Bush both times, but it’s a different guy for each war. Son finishing what dad started kind of a thing, I guess,” Cindy explained.
“Oh, right. I totally knew that,” Bryce said. “Anyway, if there was a big war going on, maybe the military just used that for cover to do the SDI thing. Tell Congress they’re buying bombs and tanks, but actually spend the money putting missiles into space.”
“You think?” Madison asked.
“I could see that happening,” Cindy agreed. “The government does all kinds of shady shit. But the other thing that doesn’t make sense is the whole idea of Brilliant Pebbles was that it’s not nuclear. That’s why they called them pebbles. Because they were basically just gonna throw rocks at the missiles.”
“Really?” Bryce asked. “That doesn’t seem like it would work.”
“Yeah. It says so right here in the Wikipedia about the program. They were basically heat seeking missiles, like fighter airplanes shoot at each other.”
“Maybe the old guy was confused?” Bryce suggested.
“He didn’t seem confused. He was sharp as a tack, actually. Oh my God, I brought cookies—”
“There were cookies? Way to bury the lead,” Bryce said.
“Bryce,” Madison looked at him seriously. “I’m saying this as a friend. Your closest friend. You need to stop saying that. It was almost funny the first time, but it’s just not funny anymore.”
“I thought it was a little funny,” Cindy said.
Madison rolled her eyes. “Anyway. I brought cookies shaped like rocket ships, but Dr. Thornton and my dad cracked up because they thought they looked like dicks. He called them ‘penis cookies.’”
Cindy chuckled. “Well that is kind of funny. But anyway, if he’s right, that means there are nukes in orbit. That’s crazy.”
“Why is that crazy?” Madison asked.
“Well you said the reason NASA is watching these pebbles is because someone needs to self-destruct them if something goes wrong with one of them, right?”
“That’s what he said, yeah.”
“If you blow up a nuke in space, wouldn’t all the radiation and shit rain down on the planet?” Cindy asked. “Like, after we bombed Japan in World War Two, didn’t a lot of the people who survived end up getting cancer and shit from the fallout?”
“I have no idea,” Madison said. “But if that were true, then maybe that’s the big disaster the old people are preparing for!”
Bryce shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense. If the satellite is in orbit, wouldn’t the radioactive shit just stay in orbit, too?”
“We need to talk to Steve,” Cindy said.
“Who is Steve?” Bryce asked.
“Mr. Harrington. The physics teacher,” Cindy said.
“You call him Steve?” Madison asked.
“He knows my dad. They play cards. He was around my house all the time when I was little, before I even knew he was a teacher. I’ve always called him Steve,” Cindy explained.
Madison checked the time on her phone. “We have time. Let’s go ask him right now!”