The Measure of Humanity - Chapter Eighteen

One of the brilliant ideas early in the history of the Terran Federation was the integration of Direwolves with the Endeavour-class starships.

If I do say so myself, that is.

Neither of the first two starship classes were designed with weaponry in mind. and while the Endeavour had a leg up, it was still only armed with a laser. Lasers are light-speed weapons and can only hit what they can see. In order to give more flexibility, to shoot around corners as it were, you have to have a force projector.

Hence the Direwolves.

Heh.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

TFS Endeavour

“Nymeria Actual reports first sweep clear, Captain.”

“Very good, Number One.”

It was late Friday morning. Enterprise had successfully transited to warp right on schedule, and Endeavour was on patrol, bending an orbit between Luna and Earth just outside the officially-recognized 100,000 kilometer territorial border. Her Direwolves were flying a half light-second ahead, ensuring that there weren’t any surprises in store for their home base. They completed an orbit in just over two hours, but could return to Njord in seconds should the need arise. The inner orbit was designed to keep the focus of the Artemis watchstanders on Endeavour and not the habitat.

Kiri thought it was a waste of effort, but it kept her crew busy as well as allowing for further troubleshooting of her still-new starship.

“Captain,” said Ensign Kassidy Yager from the science station.

“Ensign?”

“I’m picking up a, well, a something.”

“Number One?”

Sanzari stood and went back to science. “You’ll need to be more precise, Ensign. What do you have?”

“That’s just it, ma’am,” Yager said. “I’m not sure. It doesn’t match anything in our database.”

“Have you asked Castor for an analysis?”

“Yes, ma’am. He hasn’t seen anything like it, either.”

“I am in consultation with Diana,” added the AI. “The signature bears some resemblance to that of the Titan suicide ship, but the approach is much slower.”

Sanzari peered at the monitors that showed the current trace and the record of the Titan ship.

“I see what you mean. Captain, I think we need to take a closer look at this.”

“Where is it?”

“It’s still pretty distant, about five light-minutes, and the approach speed is only a hundred KPS or so.”

Kiri consulted her ‘plant. “Ten hours?”

“Aye, ma’am, about that.”

“Very well. Let’s do this right.”

“Aye ma’am. Commander Zihal to the bridge,” ordered Sanzari, crossing back to her command chair. “Yager, keep monitoring it. Full spectrum on the scanners. Castor, I want you to get Pollux involved in this as well. If it requires a response from us I want him in the loop.”

“Yes, Commander,” said the AI.

“Captain, I suggest we return one division of Nymeria to Njord, if we have to leave station.”

“Good plan. Suggestion?”

Sanzari consulted the rotation. Direwolves had a theoretical endurance of about twelve hours, but SOP was to maintain four hour patrols. “Division one was just deployed, so two is currently in rest cycle. I’d say deploy Division three. They’re still doing post-CAP briefings, so they’ll be less disrupted, and they’ll just be supplementing the Wolves on CAP on Njord. They ought to be able to get a full cycle’s rest before anything happens, if it’s going to happen.”

“And they’re least experienced.”

“Yes, ma’am, but on Njord they’ll fall under Flashdance’s command, and she won’t let them do anything stupid.”

“Good enough. And what will that do to our CAP?”

“I’ll consult with Double Dip on that, Captain, before I give you an answer.”

Kiri didn’t allow her satisfaction to show, but she knew the temptation for a new XO to try to have all the answers; hell, she’d been one, once upon a time. “I’ll want that before we leave orbit.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

Zihal appeared on the bridge and approached the command chairs.

“Reporting as ordered, XO.”

“Captain, if you’ll excuse me?”

Kiri nodded, and Sanzari took Zihal back to brief her on their new encounter.

The next half hour was busy, though not frantic. The regular watch rotation was maintained, second shift finishing the replacement of first. Nymeria Squadron’s third division was hustled back into their Direwolves and launched back to Njord. Commodore Knott was advised of the situation and gave her approval to the plan.

“The Admiral takes off and everyone suddenly decides to be dramatic,” they said.

“What do you mean?”

Knott then briefly filled her in on the busy morning they’d already had, and Kiri let out a low whistle.

“Minister of War? Quite the intelligence coup.”

“It will be,” agreed Knott. “Once she recovers from her shock. In any case, Captain, good hunting. Out.”

“Zihal, have you been able to firm up any of those sensor readings?”

“No, Captain, not yet. The best I can say is, whatever it is, it’s small. No more than three or four meters long, maybe one across. There are reading which suggest antimatter, but nothing that I can firm up yet.”

“Antimatter?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Number One, status?”

“Division three is deployed and en route to Njord, one is recalled and will be aboard in ten minutes. All other stations report ready.”

“Good. Raynie, a question.”

“Ma’am?”

“You heard what the Commodore said about the Roosa and Charlemagne?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“How did we miss that?”

“We didn’t, ma’am. We were tracking Roosa, and Charlemagne, but it was within Njord AOR.”

Unlike Diana, Njord was well-armed and mounted an active defense. In addition to her integral squadron of Wolves she had six six-petajoule lasers and multiple missile launchers, as well as the most powerful sensors that the Federation’s science teams could design. All of which meant that she was fully capable of defending herself, and so an arrangement had been reached. Njord would be responsible for any encounters closer than a quarter-million kilometers, while Starfleet handled the system from there outward.

“Right,” said Kiri. “Standing order: report movements of any Artemis ships, even if they’re not in our AOR.”

“Aye-aye, ma’am.”

By midday the Endeavour was prepared to do the intercept.

“Still tracking the same course?” Sanzari asked Leard, who’d been glued to her tactical station.

“Tracking same course and speed. ETA to intercept with Njord, nine hours, six minutes, fifteen seconds…mark.”

“Helm, do you have the data to plot for intercept?”

“Yes, XO,” said Ensign Furber.

“Ready, Captain. Speed?”

“Let’s take our time, Number One. Warp one.”

“Furber, lay in course for intercept, warp factor one. Execute.”

“Course for intercept, warp one. Executing,” said Furber. Gracefully the Endeavour’s heading altered out-system, then the warp drive engaged.

Zihal and Yager maintained their scans of the object through the approach, trying to glean every morsel of information they could in the few minutes they had. At Tactical, Leard ran through all her final systems checks, ensuring that the defensive shields would be at full strength when they dropped out of warp and their laser charged and ready to fire.

In less than five minutes they were nearly upon it.

“Dropping out of warp in two, one, zero.” The stars returned to their stationary appearance on the screen.

“Sublight engines engaged,” reported Ensign Cisneros from the Engineering station.

“Match course and speed. Keep us ten thousand klicks distant,” ordered Kiri. At the object’s speed of roughly 100 KPS that gave them more than a minute and a half to analyze and react if it should change course.

“Number One. All yours.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Sanzari opened the comm. “Jadwinski, launch your birds.”

Ensign Ashley Jadwinski, who had taken over the shuttlebay operations when LJ had transferred to Enterprise, nodded even though Sanzari couldn’t see her. “Launching. Nymeria Actual, you are cleared to launch.”

“By the numbers, people,” Double Dip said. “Stay with your wing, and don’t screw the pooch!” She was the first out the bay, with Shooting Star the last. In seconds the seeming chaos settled into six pairs of fighters, moving into position around the object, far closer than the Endeavour would approach.

“Getting readings relayed from Nymeria,” said Zihal. Although the sensors aboard Endeavour were far more capable than anything the relatively tiny Direwolves could mount, they did have the advantage of proximity. As she looked over the data her blood seemed to freeze.

“Captain! It’s another antimatter device!”

Without hesitating, Kiri barked, “Nymeria, back off! It’s another bomb!”

“Squadron break!” ordered Double Dip, and the fighters swooped back, up, down, and away in every direction, putting as much space between them and the threat as they could manage.

“Zihal! I need details!”

“Working on it, Captain,” she said. “It’s hard to get a reading on it; there seems to be interference in the EM spectrum from an onboard device of some sort. Quantum flux and gravitic detectors are doing a bit better, though.”

She gestured to another part of the readouts and Yager nodded. “Metallic shell. High density. Maybe a neodymium alloy. That would explain the difficulty getting good data.”

“Analyze the shell later. You said antimatter.”

“Ma’am.” Zihal returned to the scans again. “I’m reading two hundred kilos plus.”

“By all that’s holy!” muttered Kiri.

“It gets more interesting,” Zihal continued.

“Interesting isn’t good, Commander.”

“No, ma’am, and this is very interesting. I think that the antimatter is divided into twelve pieces.”

“Why would you do that?” asked Sanzari.

“Improve the distribution?” answered Yager. “If this is supposed to be a bomb, then the problem with antimatter is that it gets in its own way when it contacts matter.”

“Okay, that doesn’t make sense.” Sanzari came around to the science station. “Run that by me again.”

“It’s like the old fission bombs,” Yager said. “It’s not a question of putting more plutonium in and you get a bigger boom. You do, up to a point, but if it gets too big it starts damping out the reactions. The same happens with antimatter. If there’s too much, then only the exterior reacts violently enough to matter. The AM on the interior gets blasted out in the explosion, and while each particle will eventually react with matter it’s not adding to the destructive power.”

“So what this design seems to do is parcel out the AM into smaller bundles that will react more efficiently,” finished Zihal.

“And that suggests these parcels are supposed to be ejected?” Yager said, turning it into a question.

“That’s what I’d do,” said Zihal.

“So it’s not so much a bomb as a bomber,” said Sanzari flatly. “And that gives us a new problem.”

“Oh, good. We didn’t have enough problems already. What now, Number One?”

“Well, Captain,” said Sanzari, returning to her position. “If this thing is supposed to eject the antimatter, we can’t just blow it out of space. I can see a couple possibilities, both bad.”

“Let’s see what you came up with.”

“First, we could not be able to destroy it. It might have a more potent version of the shield that the Enterprise encountered.”

“Unlikely,” said Zihal. “The other ship was much larger, which meant it could devote more power to shields. Plus, consider the speed.”

“Huh?”

“A hundred KPS. The other one was, what, 2500 KPS?”

“Oh, of course,” said Sanzari. “This one was launched first, but is arriving later because it’s come in, what, ballistically? So there may have been new technology on the later ship.”

Zihal nodded. “That would be my guess. That and the size differences.”

“One down, then,” said Kiri.

“Well, second, it could be designed to eject the AM if damaged. Then we have a dozen gobsmackingly big pieces to track down instead of one.”

“Couldn’t we destroy them with the laser too?”

“Antimatter reacts oddly to lasers,” said Yager. “Back in the 21st Century, they briefly experimented with creating antimatter with lasers. What they discovered is a tipping point: if they pumped in sufficient energy, then the production of paired positrons and electrons would continue indefinitely. Think of a chain reaction, each reaction powers the next one, on and on and on, and with twenty kilos of antimatter to supply reaction mass…”

“We could have a self-perpetuating antimatter explosion, traveling through the system at 100 KPS,” finished Zihal.

“At least one,” said Yager, continuing the cheery thought. “It depends on how many of them we can track down and target. And these bundles are going to dissipate and disperse quickly, once they’re out of their containment.”

“So maybe blasting it is a good option? Just let them disintegrate before they can do any harm?”

“If we knew their rate of dispersal, that might be a possibility, but…” Zihal shook her head. “And add in the variability of their vectors? We could have a lump that’s still a couple of kilos impact the Earth, or Luna.”

“Or Njord.

“Come on, people, I need options! Every minute brings us closer to home, and I’m not going to explain to the Admiral why Njord has a chunk missing!”

“What about pushing it off-course with the grav beam?” Ensign Furber suggested.

“Eh? What? Come over here and repeat that,” said Kiri.

“I said, we could push it off-course with the grav beam.”

“Zihal?”

“It might work. We haven’t detected anything like a proper engine, just minimal thrusters for course correction. If we were to alter the delta-v sufficiently, we could aim it out of the ecliptic, for example.”

“That sounds like a –”

Kiri’s decision was cut short by an incoming message.

Endeavour, Nymeria Actual. Target just broke up, repeat, target just broke up.”

“Dammit,” Kiri cursed. “Nymeria Actual, what exactly happened? Did anything seem to trigger it?”

“Sending over all of our footage,” she said, Zihal and Yager scrambling to science and Leard bending over Tactical. “No noticeable trigger event.”

“Got them all on sensors,” said Yager. “Thirteen pieces.”

“Thirteen?” Sanzari asked.

“Twelve small ones; those have to be the antimatter bombs. Guidance, power, and thrusters in the other?” suggested Zihal.

“Castor?”

“Evaluating trajectories. Pollux is considering responses based on trajectories. Currently only three on course for impact with Njord; the others will miss and pass in-system…correction. Remaining nine will impact Earth between ninety-five and one hundred six minutes after Njord impacts.”

“I recommend we take them out,” Pollux said.

“Concur, Captain,” added Sanzari. “We’re already in worst-case scenario. What I don’t understand is why they haven’t already detonated. Antimatter needs containment, right? And the power supply for the magnetic bottles just went the other direction. So why haven’t they blown?”

“Oh, shit,” said Yager. “Neodymium!”

“What?”

“Neodymium is a component of the strongest sort of permanent magnet. Essentially, each of those twelve bombs is carrying its own magnetic bottle. And if we break the containers, the magnetic field will rupture. If this AM is all positrons, they’re going to repulse each other and head for the weakest spot, contact the neodymium shell, and boom!”

“So we have to take them out clean. Why are you shaking your head, Zihal?”

“The reason the Enterprise was able to destroy the other ship was they destroyed the power system to the magnetic bottle, which then allowed the antimatter to react. But our laser doesn’t vaporize things like in the old movies the Admiral watches. It punches holes in things very, very quickly. Small holes. And if we punch a hole in the casing…”

“Then we rupture the field and boom. Got it.” She checked her ‘plant. “At least we still have over eight hours to solve this, and we will solve this. Zihal, Sanzari, I want you two working on this non-stop. Bring in anyone from your department you need, hell, steal people if you think they’ll help. Bring in Engineer Stewart; she knows what the laser can do better than anyone.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Nymeria Actual, how are your pilots holding up?”

“A bit spooked but okay,” Double Dip replied.

“I want one on each of those pieces. We’re going to track the remaining part. No closer than a hundred kilometers, understand?”

“Aye, Captain. I don’t know about you, but I plan to live forever. I’m not getting anywhere near them. Okay, Nymeria, you heard the Captain!”

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