Okay, so on we go with the Ripley Chronicles. Time for some mischief, me thinks.
[Yes \\ That, That Is]
Yukio Matsushima sat to Ripley’s right, while Ina Balin slouched to his left, and Ripley was a little upset by the arrangement. After one more run-in with Balin, he was beginning to detest the woman, so he’d hoped that Gordon would keep her beyond arm’s length – in case he decided to reach out and strangle the hell-bitch over dinner. That, alas, would not be the case.
Brennan was seated at the far end of the table, while the remaining five Middies were crowded around the Admiral’s in-port cabin’s massive transparent glass wall – and they were looking at a pinpoint sized Earth and Moon receding behind Agamemnon and her support ships.
Yeoman Joan Carson had come from Hyperion and she rang the ship’s bell at precisely 1805 hours and called the room to order, and then Ripley walked into the cabin and sat. Maintaining .7Gs allowed normal meal service, but it also allowed for deferred shipboard maintenance routines to get underway, as well as the all important showering routine for those coming off watch, like Ripley. He noted that Balin smelled like a goat and scowled.
Carson had a spicy Phanaeng curry ready to go as soon as Ripley took the seat opposite Brennan’s, while the Middies literally dove for their seats and promptly sat at attention. This display of rank and fear, apparently, amused Balin to no end; she sat up in her chair and laughed openly at the Middies as they sat. “Oh, you children!” she said, her eastern European accent pronounced, “you sit so solemnly! We are no longer under acceleration so surely it is a time for smiles, no?”
Yukio smiled. “Yes, just so,” she said to Balin, as always wanting to keep everything calm and harmonious. “It must be difficult working on such a delicate instrument under these conditions?”
“Actually, I find this work easier in zero-G. I can get into and out of the chamber more easily, and I can work more efficiently in the confined space above the reactor shielding. It is under heavy acceleration that my work becomes impossible.”
Yukio smiled and bowed her head slightly, and Ripley studied the crusty old physicist closely while she spoke. What was she doing up here, he wondered. She had to be at least forty years old, ancient in relative terms, at least to the age of the crew onboard Agamemnon, and after reading her dossier she did not possess a single skill that others on her team did not. The obvious answer had to be that she was Mossad – but why would they want her onboard just now, and at this particular time? To learn more details of their mission before Agamemnon left the system? Possible…
Well, perhaps he would learn more this evening.
He turned to Lars Jansen, one of the new Midshipman from Stockholm. “So, what have you been learning this week, Lars?”
“Doppler velocity measurements in phase-sensitive holography, Admiral.”
“And have you made any observations yet?”
“Yes, Admiral,” he said, looking at Brennan. “There are two active sunspot regions on the far side, and one appears to be unusually large.”
Ripley nodded – as he’d already seen the forecasts. “Any possible displacement of our Alderson Point?”
Larsen cleared his throat – then he looked down as if suddenly unsure of himself. Which was exactly what Larsen’s last instructor had mentioned in her evaluation of the young physicist.
“Go ahead, Lars. There are no stupid questions here,” Ripley coaxed. “In fact, I’ve found the most dangerous things happen as a result of unasked questions.”
“I have seen the latest forecast models,” Lars sighed, “and I disagree with it.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Sir, subsurface flows of the measured direct inversion as well as the frequency-wavenumber correlations do not conform to predictions using Fourier domain waveforms. This could occur only under two possible conditions, Admiral. Either the Fourier domain hypothesis is more generally incorrect or there is a super-massive sunspot forming on the far side. As Fourier domain analysis has been used to accurately measure these waveforms and formations for more than a century, this seems unlikely.”
“So, you think a large sunspot is forming?”
“No, Admiral. I said I believe a super massive sunspot is forming. Far-side satellite monitoring went offline two sol days ago, Admiral, so we are currently not receiving monitoring data from the far side.”
Ripley looked at Brennan. She nodded.
“So, Mr. Larsen, have you made any computations about possible Alderson Point displacements?”
“That’s not possible yet, Admiral.”
“Get with Commander Brennan after dinner and we’ll discuss a temporary reassignment to the bridge.”
“Yessir. Thank you, Admiral.”
“Yeoman!” Ripley crowed. “You’ve outdone yourself once again. I am positively sweating in agony!”
“Thank you, sir,” Joan Carson sighed, basking in the glow of his complement.
“A curry that doesn’t make flames shoot out the ears is a waste of time,” he added, winking at Yukio. “Isn’t that right, Commander Brennan?”
Brennan, now red-faced and about to gag, heartily agreed.
Ripley looked over Larsen’s figures and could find no obvious fault in his calculations, but more importantly, neither could Brennan.
“So, this sunspot will take out satellites in Earth orbit?”
“Satellites, yes, but even in LEO,” Larsen added, indicating satellites in a Low Earth Orbit. “Personnel in orbiting stations in low orbit and on the lunar surface will need to relocate to hardened shelters, and all critical electronics protected.”
“How long until this spot rotates into position?”
“Well, here’s the problem,” a pedantic Larsen began grumpily. “A normal CME would need to be aimed directly at Earth to produce this kind of impact, but this sunspot is so large it could be as much as plus or minus fifteen degrees off axis to produce systematic interference. But if a super-large event of this scale is aimed directly at Earth it’s possible surface telecoms will be adversely effected…”
“Mister Larsen, I asked about timeframes?”
“Yessir. Sorry. The sunspot will first rotate into view in one hundred eleven hours, plus or minus two hours.”
“Louise, any simulations on how this might impact our Alderson Point?”
“Not with any reliability, Admiral. In fact, our safest course of action would be to enter a braking orbit now and shelter behind Venus…”
“We don’t have that kind of fuel, and even if we did the deceleration would be monstrous.”
“We have the fuel, Admiral, if we use atmospheric braking,” Brennan added.
“You want to take a brand new hull through that atmosphere?”
“There’s another option, Admiral,” Yukio sighed quietly after clearing her throat.
“And that is…?”
“We accelerate to 3.8 G and slingshot around the sun, and so stay ahead of the sunspot. We will be in a better position to recalculate the Alderson Point from an up-pole orbit…”
Ripley looked at Brennan who grinned slightly. So, Yukio had come up with the idea and Brennan was allowing the Middie to take credit where credit was due, and he nodded understanding. “Okay Louise, get word to Hyperion and her escorts. The tankers will have to reposition and shelter behind Venus, and we’ll refuel when we come back around. Yukio, start on the calculations for the tankers; Lars, would you get your figures off to Admiral Stanton? Commander Brennan, when you get off COMMs would you lay out our course and let’s plan on acceleration one hour after you finish-up.”
Ripley then pulled up his COMMs screen and called Judy on Hyperion.
“We’ll shoot the numbers to you in a minute, but we have the mother of all sunspots about to come around. We’ll need to shelter behind the sun, and we’ll be going up-pole, orbit north to south for our run. My guess is you’re already too close for that. We should make up some time, catch up to Hyperion as she comes around the west limb, so we can start an Alderson Point survey as we clear, see how many Points have been impacted by this thing.”
“Ellen’s still on the station, Denton? Shouldn’t she go down to Maine?”
“She’s never experienced that kind of gravity, Judy. I’m not sure she could survive…not at her age.”
“Do you think the station is the safest place?”
“The safest place would out in the belt but there’s not enough time for that now,” he sighed.
“Armstrong Base, or what about Lovell, down at the South pole.”
“Lovell would work. That has the deepest living quarters. And the fusion plant there is heavily shielded.”
“Call Gordon,” Judy said, but he could see the concern in her eyes, “and see if he can get her down.”
“No one knows about this yet, so he shouldn’t have any problem.”
He closed the encrypted channel and sent a triple-walled text to Gordon, then turned back to the developing chaos on Agamemnon’s bridge – just as the first acceleration warning came out over the ship-wide intercom: “Attention all personnel, heavy acceleration warning, repeat heavy acceleration warning…”
And then he heard a collective groan throughout his ship. One hundred hours at 3.8Gs was near the limits of human endurance, and even bodily functions had to be handled by catheters and cholestramine, which produced a chemically induced state of total constipation for days on end. Until their next period of zero-G, in fact, every human on board would consume a low-fiber liquid protein diet – which Ripley detested.
And then, right on schedule, Ina Balin called – and her ass was chapped…
They were at the mid-point now, halfway between the Sun’s North and South poles, and just before Agamemnon began slingshotting around the South Pole, Brennan executed a mid-course correction. At two million miles from the solar chromosphere, Agamemnon’s Langston Field was handling the intense radiation with ease, but even so Ripley couldn’t wait to make orbit behind Venus. They’d already burned through half their hydrogen and would arrive at Venus with their tanks almost dry, and he didn’t like being so vulnerable – and for so long.
Especially as there were now vast solar quakes disrupting the Sun’s chromosphere. Coronal loops were arcing ahead and astern, and it was just a matter of time before one came up and hit them. Depending on the loop’s intensity, the Langston Field would consume a tremendous amount of energy to stabilize the ship, but as Agamemnon would be the first ship to actually transit a coronal loop there would be vital measurements to make. And not only that. Brennan was already hard at work on her Alderson Point displacement observations, and this data would need to be transmitted to both Hyperion and Norfolk as soon as they emerged from behind the sun.
Then Agamemnon would make for her refueling tanker in Venusian orbit, while Judy on Hyperion refueled and jumped to Mintaka – and into a possible naval engagement with the Sino-Russian fleet. And, what kind of damage would they find once they emerged from behind the sun? Had Gordon and Stanton sent Ellen to Lovell Base, or had she remained on the station? What kind of damage had Earth sustained? The Moon? Only Musk City on Mars would have been beyond reach of this storm, vindicating once again the visionary’s proactive sense of human frailty and the need for a destiny beyond Earth.
“Admiral,” Brennan said from her couch, “we’re finding negligible Field displacements, and we are in contact with Hyperion now.”
“What? Are our orbits crossing?”
“Send them our data,” he said as he established a secure link with Judy. “How’re you doing over there?” he asked his wife.
“No issues. You?”
“We’re sending Brennan’s Field displacements now. Have you been able to make any?”
“Yes. Sending now, but we’re picking up indications that this sunspot was not, repeat not generated internally.”
“We’re trying to determine what could have done this, but it at least appears possible that this event was externally generated.”
“You’re talking about a weapon, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “The most plausible scenario would be a ship jumping into solar orbit and deploying a weapon, then jumping out of the system before anyone was the wiser.”
“If they jumped to a point on the far side we’d never know, would we?”
“That’s the point,” Judy sighed. “This has The Company written all over it. Only thing I don’t like is why do it now.”
“Because they know we’re out here. That has to be it.”
“So they’re trying to delay our jump to Mintaka.”
Ripley nodded. “That means they’ll be attacking soon. Maybe too soon.”
“Concur,” she added. “We’re going to 4.2Gs now.”
“Okay. We’ll match velocities and try to meet up with Hyperion between Mercury and Venus.”
He rang off and gave the order, then he called Lars on the intercom. “What kind of weapon could have generated this sunspot, Mr Larsen?”
“A weapon, Admiral?”
“Hyperion is collecting evidence that indicates a weapon generated this bastard. Get on it. I’ll see to it you get their data, but let your imagination run free. If this was produced by a weapon…?”
“Aye, sir. Understood.”
Ripley switched to the bridge command net: “Commander, increase to 4.2 Gs as soon as possible.”
Acceleration warnings sounded throughout the ship, and this time even Ripley groaned.
(c) 2023 adrian leverkuhn | abw | this is a work of fiction