Well, let’s check in with Denton Ripley and see what kind of trouble he’s getting himself into. Remember, last time he’d run across a massive disruption on the far side of the sun, while preparing to Jump…?
[CSN \\ Helplessly Hoping]
“Admiral,” Midshipman Lars Jansen said from his acceleration couch, “theory is of limited use in this particular circumstance. Theoretically, antimatter could produce such an anomalous sunspot, but at the possible risk of damaging the sun and impacting all life in the solar system. Similarly, a gamma ray burst could displace enough of the chromosphere to generate such a massive sunspot, but the energy required to produce such a burst is beyond our capacity, let alone our understanding…”
“So,” Ripley sighed, “if I read you correctly there’s no one capable of pulling this off.”
“Within the bounds of currently available technology, that is correct, sir. At least, technologies we know of…”
Even on the small screen, Ripley could tell that Jansen was uncomfortable with his position. “Lars, you sound like you’re hedging a bet. What are you not telling me?”
“Admiral, speaking off the record, I think you should perhaps speak to Dr Balin.”
“Balin!” Ripley cringed. “Why her?”
Jansen shrugged. “Plasma physics is not my main interest, Admiral. You should ask Dr Balin what she thinks is possible.”
Ripley looked at the boy – only just fifteen years old and already well on his way to his second doctorate – and he decided to listen to him. This time. Kids as brilliant as Jansen often came up with oddball solutions, but yes, they often did so just in time to prevent really bad outcomes. So he nodded his agreement to Jansen and told him to keep at it, then he switched over to the weapons bay.
“WEPS here, Admiral.”
“Switch me over to Balin.”
The screen flickered once and then he was looking at the hell-bitch. “Sorry to bother you…” he said to her.
“But you’d like my opinion concerning the formation of the sunspot?”
Ripley rolled his eyes. Heads would roll, but he just smiled and nodded. “Yes, any thoughts?”
“Yes, I have a solution to the problem, Admiral, but you won’t like it.”
“Fire away, Doctor.”
“A ship, more likely a drone ship or some other unmanned craft, would need to pick an Alderson Point deep within the sun. When the ship arrived it would need to fire a very powerful X-ray Maser into the sun’s core. The resulting helioseismic oscillations could, I repeat, could produce a sunspot of the magnitude we’ve observed. Of course, this presupposes someone else has our Maser technology, as well as the means to generate a Langston Field sufficiently strong enough to last long enough so deeply within the chromosphere to allow the weapon to come online and to fire.”
“And who might have such technology, Colonel?”
“Colonel? What do you mean by…”
“That was the rank you held in the IDF, was it not? Before Mossad recruited you, that is?”
Balin seemed to deflate just a little, but she was bright enough to realize it was pointless to maintain the ruse any longer. With that in mind, she simply addressed his question as best she could. “The Company was working on a ruby-thorium Maser some years ago, and the logical progression from this would be the development of an X-ray device. Whether or not they possess field technology sufficiently advanced enough to allow deep penetration of the solar radiative zone is beyond me.”
“But if they did? And assuming they had an X-ray Maser? Then what else would they need?”
“If I were to guess? Perhaps ten terra-watts of power would be sufficient to disrupt the core.”
“Disrupt the core…” Ripley muttered, thinking aloud. “Tell me, Doctor. Would such a disruption produce a single sunspot, or would…”
“Oh, yes, I see where you are going. I would need to run a simulation.”
“Get on it. Ask Brennan to assign a middie to help you.”
Ripley switched COMMs to the bridge, then to Brennan’s couch. “Were you monitoring my conversation with Balin?”
“I have the transcript now, sir.”
“I’m thinking of an impact deep within the sun, and continuing reverberations. Get with Yukio and set up a simulation with Balin, and let’s see what they come up with. How long ‘til we can transmit to Norfolk?”
“Okay. Keep me posted.”
He switched over to ship-to-ship and tried calling Hyperion, but there was still no response so he pulled his fluid dispenser to his mouth and sipped some iced cocoa. So many things to worry about, so many permutations. What he needed now was a clear tactical overview and how the Norfolk would respond. “Gordon?”
“Try to get in touch with your brother, find out where Ellen is, then get me a link with Stanton as soon as we get in range.”
“My brother, sir?”
“Look, I don’t know how else to think of him, okay? You cloned his memory, you are in essence a duplicate of the Gordon who accompanied me on Hyperion, correct?”
“So, I can’t call you Gordon and him Gordon, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start referring to you by number, so you need to help me out here, okay?”
“I understand your confusion, Admiral, but you must remember that when we are within range our memory modules are linked, so speaking to one of us is the same as speaking to all of us…”
“Sorry, Gordon, but I can’t wrap my head around that one just yet…”
“Then just refer to Ellen, sir. I’ll take it from there.”
Ripley tried to shake his head but then thought better of it, so he took a deep breath instead. “Okay. Find out where my daughter is, please.”
“Yes, Admiral. I have transportation records indicating she was en route to Lovell Base with Admiral Stanton and…my brother.” He paused for a moment, then continued: “They are secure, Admiral, and I am now in contact with my brother, so links to Norfolk should be coming online soon.”
“Send a SitRep to Stanton, and include all current suppositions from Balin and Jansen.”
“Done, Admiral. Norfolk will receive the transmission in 57 minutes.”
Ripley nodded and turned to his screens. “Brennan? You got a course laid-in for the tankers?”
The strain of Agamemnon’s heavy acceleration was telling as he watched Brennan on his screen, but she was holding up. “We should arrive in twenty hours, Admiral.”
“We should? Why the uncertainty?”
“Unusual solar winds, Admiral, and unknown gravimetric distortions are affecting the fusion reactors. Power output is down almost four percent across the board.”
“Steady or increasing?”
“Is the Jump point stable?”
“Measurements within the chromosphere are not currently possible.”
“So, if I’m reading you correctly all Jump points are theoretically unusable at this point?”
“Then whoever fired that weapon could still be in-system, right?”
“Possibly. If they knew such displacements were likely, it’s also possible they could predict shifts within the chromosphere and predict where each new Jump point might reappear. In either case, Admiral, as we can’t scan for ships in tight solar orbits we may never know.”
Ripley nodded. “Well, see if you can nail down a launch timeframe or even a possible location where they fired that weapon from. They had to be on the far side, right? Maybe we can infer a relative position and work forward from there. Meantime, try to pin-down the new Jump point. Highest priority to that.”
His screen went dark and he rotated his G-couch into a deep recline, then administered a sedative. When he felt the pinch of the needle in his arm he closed his eyes and tried to dream.
And it seemed like only a few minutes later when he felt stimulants coursing through his veins, bringing him back to wakefulness. He tentatively opened an eye but saw Ina Balin on screen – and he sighed as he suppressed a shudder.
“Ripley? You up yet?” he heard the infernal woman screech.
“Go away,” he moaned, then he realized the ship wasn’t under acceleration and his eyes popped open. “What’s on your mind, Doc?”
“Have you considered that our Jump points are being shut down by an outside group?”
“Oh come on, Ripley. Think about it! Some group wants to bottle us up in Sol system so they crash all the jump points in the Sun – and all at the same time. So now we’re stuck here, in system, with no way out unless we’re willing to make generations long sub-light speed journeys.”
“Well, two questions come to mind. First is who? Next is why?”
“Well, the who and the why is anyone who doesn’t want to compete with us. They bottle us up and that’s the end of the problem, right? I mean, look at us, will you? Within a few years of jumping to Mintaka we’re already on the cusp of another large war. Again. It seems like everywhere we go we say we’re trying to expand human civilization out into the stars, yet everywhere we go we set about trying to exterminate one another. If you were an outside group and you were watching us, would you want us moving into your neighborhood?”
“Okay, so we’ve determined you’re a cynic. Bravo! Now, have you found out anything useful about that weapon?”
His screen went dark and he sighed.
“How long was I out?”
“Almost six hours, sir.”
“Anything from Stanton, or Fleet?”
“Ellen is still with Admiral Stanton at the lunar south pole. And Fleet concurs that an outside force, or the company, is behind the solar disruption. We are to try and map as many altered Jump points as possible, and relay that information to Norfolk before we depart. Also, Commander Brennan is under mandatory sleep protocol, Admiral, but we’ve already located four altered Jump points. No, make that six.”
“When will we tank?”
“Thirteen hours, twelve minutes.”
“They will finish tanking within the hour, and they now have the corrected Jump point for Mintaka.”
He switched to COMMs and called Judy, and when her screen came on he could see the bustle of activity on Hyperion’s bridge. “How are you?” he asked his wife.
She shook her head. “I don’t like going in blind like this, Denny. We haven’t had any new intel in days, not even an estimate of current Russian fleet dispersements. Hell, they could have a fleet assembled at the Jump point, just waiting for us to come out.”
“That’s exactly what any freshman at the Academy would do, Judy. I doubt they’ll make it that easy for you.”
She looked at him and then slowly shook her head. “Maybe we should trade places, ya know? Military strategy was always your thing, not mine.”
“Read Admiral Tōgō’s summary of the Battle of the Tsushima Strait.”
“Denton, I don’t have time for…”
“Make time, Judy. Delegate and don’t micromanage your people, and don’t take your eyes off the big picture. Remember: the element of surprise works both ways, especially in a fast-moving three-dimensional tactical engagement, and always deploy your forces to come from unexpected vectors. Read the entire article now, and call me with any questions before you reach your Alderson Point.”
“That’s an order, Captain,” he snarled, and though he hated to pull rank she was having a crisis of confidence, and this was not a good time for that kind of malarkey.
“Yes, Admiral,” she said, flipping off her screen.
“Gordon? Is Lars awake now?”
“Yes, he and Yukio are running another simulation, Admiral. Dr. Balin thinks they are close to a solution.”
“Why are we in zero-G?”
“Coasting to bleed off velocity as we approach the tankers, Admiral. The solar wind is much stronger than anticipated, and we are taking advantage of that while we can.”
“What’s happening with that sunspot?”
“Decreasing in size rapidly now, and it is approaching the apparent limb now. No indications of a second spot forming. And Admiral, we have located our corrected Jump point.”
“Good. How long has Brennan been out?”
“Not quite five hours.”
“Wake her when she’s had six hours and get her up to speed.” Ripley got out of his G-couch and stood, then he stretched to ease the burn in his lower back. “Damn, I hope they’ve got real food in the galley,” he muttered as he made his way to Main Street, but he stopped himself and sighed. No, he’d have to go and mend fences with Balin; she was likely to be madder than a wet hen right now, and he’d have to get her settled down. He turned and walked down to the weapons bay and found her inside the inner chamber again, cussing up a storm as she worked a multimeter into a balky connection.
“How’s it going in there?” he asked.
“What are you doing down here?” Balin growled, her anger still at a low simmer.
“Checking on the condition of my ship. What are you doing in there?”
“Shielding around the input conduit is not holding up under load, and I can’t understand why. It worked perfectly on Earth.”
“What’s different here?”
“Nothing that I am aware of, Captain.”
Ripley sighed. “Did I not hear someone mention gravimetric distortions? Could that affect the conduit?”
“Of course! How obvious! We would need to isolate…” she said as she disappeared back inside the beast once again, but Ripley looked at her and shook it off, then made his way up to the main crew mess and found something made with TVP, or textured vegetable protein, that resembled something vaguely similar to meatloaf – and it even smelled kind of like the real thing, too – so he picked up a tray and went through the line, then he sat next to a couple of enlisted ratings who seemed blissfully unaware that they were sitting next to their admiral. He listened to their smalltalk – the usual stuff about loose women and fast bicycles, of course – while he ate, then he ambled off to his in-port cabin and took a shower. His yeoman had laid out a fresh uniform and she had hot cocoa waiting on his desk while he finished getting dressed.
Then a call from Judy came in and he watched the screen come up, then he entered his authentication code and waited for the connection.
“Okay, I read it,” she began after she appeared, “but I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at.”
“You need a diversion. You need to divide their forces. Then the main axis of your attack shows up, but the key is to hit them with long range gunnery. Don’t let them close on you; pick them off at a distance, then have what’s left of your diversionary force come in from their rear so you can divide their fire.”
She was taking notes now, scribbling furiously as he spoke, and that bothered him. If she really was so tactically challenged she wasn’t the right person for the mission – and worse still, why did Stanton think she was? Then it hit him.
“How many escorts can you detail for a diversion?”
Six DEs. Burke class.”
“Your main force?”
“Hyperion, the FDR and JFK, and three Lafayette class heavy cruisers.”
“Six, and one has an atmospheric ram-scoop.”
“Okay. Send the DEs in first, and have them scatter in three groups on 120 degree vectors. Wait 15 minutes then send in the JFK, and have them set a course for the Japanese colony. A half hour later, go in with the rest of your force. Do you have a good astronomy team?”
“Yes. A few from the last mission are still here.”
“Okay. Odds are if the Russians have a large enough force they’ll try to cut off any escape route to Sol system. If that happens, I want you to join up with me at Alpha Geminorum Ca. Worse comes to worse, send a messenger ship, but you’ll have to locate the Alderson point.”
She looked worried and unsure of herself, and once again it was her expression that bothered him.
“Judy? You have the training, and you have good people all around you. Once again, don’t micromanage, just keep an eye on them while you concentrate on the big picture. If your opponent moves to cut off a retreat that’ll be because they think they have you, and if that’s the case you either try to push on to the Japanese colony or get to me, but expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised if nothing is what you expected it would be.”
“Denton, you should be on Hyperion, not me.”
He nodded. “I’m not sure what Stanton’s objective is, but …”
And just then the line went dead, his screen dark – which could only mean Stanton had someone onboard one of their ships. And that someone, probably a Walter unit, had been tasked with monitoring communications between Judy and himself. Well, he’d suspected as much – and now he knew.
(c) adrian leverkuhn | abw | just another bit of fiction, plain and simple.
[Yes \\ The Revealing Science of God]
Gday mate. When is The Dividing Line, Point B arriving? Keep well.