Welcome back – it’s time for Chapter Two!
I’ll be posting a chapter a day until Release Day – 12/20 – and the link to pre-order is embedded in the title above.
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“How long do you think they’ll keep dragging this farce out?”
“For the fifteenth time, I don’t know!”
“Dammit, Cass, you’re the brains of this operation; how do you not know everything?”
“Because you, my dear Admiral, wanted me to spend my ‘free time’ designing a gas mine and trying to create a plan for Terraforming Niflheim.”
Kendra airily waved a hand in dismissal. “Details. The merest trivialities.”
“Besides, Mac has that place wired to a fare-thee-well; I don’t think they can open a hatch without Harpo knowing it.” The speaker finally looked up from her terminal. She was a tall woman with striking auburn hair, ice-blue eyes, and a serious mien which could instantly turn radiant when she smiled. Aiyana Cassidy, PhD in Optical Engineer, CEO (on leave, maybe permanently) of Heavy Lift Corporation, parent to two daughters, and the Lieutenant Commander commanding the Science Division on the world’s first starship, the TFS Enterprise, smiled now at her wife.
“You know, when you do that I totally lose track of what I was doing,” complained Kendra mockingly. She was several centimeters shorter than her wife, kept her blonde hair in a pixie cut, and had emerald-green eyes. She’d also led a more adventurous life than Cass after their shared childhood in the Northern Imperium. She’d left home after high school to make a name for herself in the sensies, in the California Confederacy. After several years she had been recruited by OutLook as a courier, then an assassin. She had gone into semi-retirement from both professions when she and Cass had reunited. After their marriage, she had planned to settle down, but the opportunity presented by the incomplete starship had been irresistible. She had single-handedly begun the creation of the Terran Federation, and found herself taking on the role of Admiral. To nobody’s surprise but her own, she was good at it, having a talent for gaining the loyalty and devotion of those under her. “It’s like a dose of amnesia.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere, dear,” laughed Cass, standing and stretching. They were at home, at least as nearly as they had a home since the Union, or more properly the Artemis Colony, dropped a KEW on Los Alamos. Their target had been the home that Cass and Ken kept, on the outskirts of the city. It had been totally obliterated by fifty tons of iron from orbit, along with part of their security force and guests staying their home overnight. And a quarter of the city’s population. Artemis played rough.
They had already planned to move onto the station that had been built at the L5 Lagrange point and so were spending far less time on Earth. Then came the attack on the habitat. After the dust settled, Kendra had moved her family onto the Enterprise. Cass already had quarters aboard, as part of the crew; Kendra decided that, as the Enterprise was just the first of what she hoped to be many starships, it would be right and proper for her to have Admiral’s quarters aboard. They combined the two and brought their daughters, Mikki and Lisa, with them while construction of the new L5 habitat continued. Once it was complete, they, along with an increasing number of Federation members, would have quarters aboard there as well.
“Then I ought to do it more often,” replied Kendra, moving into her wife’s arms. She moved her head fractionally for a kiss.
“Mom!” called Mikki, their older daughter. “Lisa’s being a pain!”
“Am not! Mikki’s not sharing!”
Kendra and Cass separated reluctantly.
“They’re asking for you,” said Kendra, gesturing.
“I’ve almost finished!” said Cass. “Can’t you cover for me?”
“Okay, okay. It’s times like this that I really miss the Chief.”
“And the girls miss her too.” Master Chief Stone had become one of the girls honorary ‘aunts’, partly because Mikki was her namesake and thought of the Chief as ‘her’ aunt. She spent a fair amount of time with them when Cass and Ken were away or busy, keeping the girls out of trouble and doing her best to introduce them to self-defense. Of course, the Chief’s idea of self-defense was mostly how to land the first blow, being a retired SEAL, but they had to start somewhere. Now, with both in-system and the Enterprise essentially reduced to acting as a deterrent, the Chief had been able to go and do other things.
“Any word from her?” asked Kendra on the way out the room.
“Yes. All quiet. She ran into Mya, said that the Director started asking some questions which Mikki deflected.”
“Hold that thought.” It didn’t take long for Kendra to referee and she was back. “Lisa wasn’t sharing the one thing we don’t have duplicates of, which also happened to be the one thing she was actually using.”
“Naturally. What was it?”
“Huh? Oh, the spectrometer.”
“Can’t really fit another one in quarters,” agreed Cass. “What were we talking about?”
“Mac and Harpo.”
“Are you sure?” teased Cass. “I seem to recall you losing track.”
“Because of you. I remember that clearly.” She reached down, kissed Cass quickly but with emphasis, and then sat in a nearby chair. “Harpo,” she said again. The ship’s AI, an Alpha-class named Minerva, connected them to Earthside.
“Admiral,” answered a rich, if slightly raspy, tenor. Harpo was another Alpha-class AI, properly named Harpocrates after the Greek god of secrets, who was responsible for the constant monitoring and protection of the Harriman Trust’s assets. He was very, very good at his job; he had found a natural human ally in Mac, and between them they had expanded their reach into active penetration of other systems.
“What’s today’s take?”
“I have uploaded a summary to your implant, Admiral. No substantive change.”
Kendra sighed. “Anything at all?”
“Nothing that I have identified as critical; I have shared it with Diana for her analysis when she has spare processing cycles.”
“Admiral.” Diana was their third Alpha-class AI and controlled the namesake habitat. The new habitat, nearly finished in LEO, would become her full-time home once the construction was finished; until then, her core was in the old habitat, but she could access systems in the new one. AI’s were sensitive to having work done on their ‘bodies’ while they were connected. Diana had once likened it to having body modifications done without anesthetic: possible, but unpleasant. Inasmuch as an AI could be said to prefer anything, she preferred to wait. She also directed all of the Federation’s space operations, from the habitats to the Enterpriseand Endeavour – under construction within her old body – and the reconstituted Wolf Squadrons. She was, to say the least, busy.
“Anything to report?”
“No, Admiral. Nothing from the negotiations. We continue to get sporadic reports from Director Montana’s HumInt resources on Luna, but there hasn’t been anything confirmable.”
“And Njord?” The new habitat was named, by Diana, after the Norse god of the sea and seafaring, which she thought translated appropriately into the 22ndCentury.
“A few more weeks, Admiral. The CeeSea armor is being applied, and all the shields are in place. Commodore Knott borrowed both Ms. Stewart and Commander Sanzari from Enterprise to supervise and advise on the installation of the defensive lasers. The next generation missiles and counter-missiles that were developed by RocketDyne have passed trials and are being manufactured at their facility in Phoenix.”
“’Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,’ eh?”
“Something like that, Admiral. I didn’t enjoy being sliced apart by the weapons on the Braheand don’t intend to repeat the experience. Ms. Stewart, in particular, has been most helpful.”
“She devised a method whereby the half-dozen internally generated lasers could be channeled to various aimable firing ports on the surface, allowing for more precise targeting of any potential assailant. She believes that she can incorporate the same system in the Endeavour without much difficulty.”
“That is good news! Did Val or Engineer Anderson ever come up with a better solution for your mobility?” Both the original and the replacement orbital habitats were immense; Diana was a cylinder a kilometer wide by a kilometer and a half tall. Njord was even larger, a massive mushroom shape, with a length from base to apex of eight kilometers, two kilometers across the stem, spreading to five kilometers at the ‘cap’. When completed, she would be more heavily armed than the combined navies of the four nations that comprised the Solarian Union. Where her current body was built unarmed, and only mounted the most rudimentary add-on missile capability, the Njord was not going to suffer from armament envy. The new habitat’s six lasers were each rated at six petajoules, triple what the Enterprise used to demolish the Brahe. There were also dozens of smaller point-defense lasers, capable of knocking out any known missile carried by Union ships. In addition, she mounted a dozen missile tubes, connected to a pair of central magazines: one for the offensive Lightning missiles, one for the Defender counter-missiles. Her magazines would hold two hundred of the former, four hundred of the latter.
Njord would also be nearly self-sufficient, with power generated by a mix of antimatter and Helium-3 fusion plants, enormous hydroponics bays, a full fleet construction yard, manufactories, chemical refineries, and multiple environmental processing systems. All of this to support a projected crew count that, including families, was projected to exceed a hundred thousand when fully occupied. Resupply could be accomplished by simply capturing an occasional comet or meteor; at least, that was the theory.
The one difficulty was regarding the size. Building in LEO allowed for much more rapid construction. There were numerous means to get supplies and crews up to LEO, being only several hundred kilometers above the surface. There were far fewer means to transport the same supplies and crews to L5, four hundred thousand kilometers away. That did leave the Federation with a difficulty; namely, how do you move several million metric tons of habitat to Lunar orbit?
You could use Wolves. Each Wolf-class Multifunction Orbital Vehicle was equipped with a tractor/repulsor beam, and was capable of generating 200 g acceleration. Unfortunately, that was at maximum power, and if they were trying to push Njord…Diana had calculated it would take all the Wolves nearly a week to push the habitat to its new home, and that was assuming minimal breaks, no accidents, and no malfunctions. There was also the matter of decelerating the habitat into the proper orbit and all the joys of orbital mechanics to calculate.
Enterprise had power to spare, but no conveniently-mounted tractor or pressor beams.
Dr. Valari Roberts, the designer of the warp drive used in the Enterprise, and Dellin Anderson, Chief Engineer aboard the starship, had been recruited to try to solve the problem.
“Essentially,” answered Diana. “They have installed a sublight engine at the centerline in Njord’s keel and plan to use that to accelerate it into position.”
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but won’t just one engine be an issue? Turnaround? Deceleration?”
“Once Njordis accelerated and has broken orbit, they plan to use Wolves for course corrections and to rotate the habitat for deceleration.”
“I suppose that’s better than using all the squadrons,” mused Kendra.”
“I’m glad I won’t be aboard yet,” said Diana. “Managing the maneuver will be tricky enough by remote.”
“Harpo, is there anything to the Union’s threat to not allow Njord into the L5 space?”
“They’re not happy about it, Admiral, but the consensus among their negotiators is that there isn’t anything they can do about it. One junior underminister suggested that, if they were prepared to allow Diana to remain, what was the issue with a replacement station? She was roundly criticized for that.”
Kendra was scanning the summary on her ‘plant. Most of the direct members of the Federation had received implants: tiny combination computer, Q-Net transmitter and receiver, and nanobot factory, embedded in their jawbone. Their connection to the Q-Net, a proprietary version of the worldwide computer network which operated on the same principles as Cass’s transporter, allowed for instantaneous data retrieval and communications. The nanobots worked tirelessly within their bodies, repairing all biological damage, whether caused naturally or accidentally, and making certain modifications to their genetic and bodily structures. Cass had been the first to have a ‘plant, long before the Federation even was a dream, due to her connection to a college friend; they had strongly supported his efforts in increasing the capabilities for years.
“Mya and what’s-his-name, Blackmon, were talking about that.”
“Yes. Blackmon had picked up on chatter that the Union might be willing to allow the habitat’s placement in exchange for a reduction in the exclusion zone.”
“Do you have anything to confirm that?”
“Scanning. Yes. Minister Dent has stated that they will accept that position, should negotiations get to that point.”
“Okay, hold on.” Kendra mentally opened another channel. “Get me Morgan. Yes, I know what time it is. I’ll wait.” She rolled her eyes. Cass looked up, stuck her tongue out at her, and returned to her work.
“Wayne? Kendra. Good, thank you, you? That’s nice. Listen, Wayne, anything new today? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No. No. We could do that. Look, this is unusual, but tomorrow morning, I want you to offer reducing the exclusion zone in return for allowing Njord to be moved into Diana’s place. Start wherever you want, but don’t let them get any closer than a twenty-five thousand kilometer zone. I know it’s radical. When have I steered you wrong? Yes, keep pushing it. It’s going to take time, but as soon as they agree, write it up and get it signed, even if we don’t have anything else. I want that nailed down. No, nothing else. Good night.” She disconnected.
“That should get things moving,” she said.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” asked Cass. “It does sort of tip our hand.”
“Yes, and no. Wayne doesn’t know anything more than what I just told him, so he can’t reveal anything. And you know that rule of OpSec as well as I.”
“What he doesn’t know he can’t tell.” Cass didn’t even look up for that. While she had never been involved in espionage and undercover work, her life with Kendra, and the tales she’d been told, had given her a fair familiarity with at least the basics.
“And if Blackmon picked up on it, then there’s little risk that they’ll think we’re eavesdropping on everything they say.” Kendra stopped and looked over at Cass. “You almost done, hon?”
“Last tweaks,” Cass answered. “Why?”
“I was thinking that maybe the girls need an early night tonight.” Kendra came over and started rubbing her wife’s shoulders. “Then I can collect that kiss you owe me.”
“I owe you?”
“I think so. We can figure it out, come to some arrangement, can’t we?”
“I suppose we can,” agreed Cass. “I suppose we can.”