The Road to the Stars – Chapter ELEVEN
Now we’re back on track! Like I said, it wasn’t much of a chapter, and honestly I don’t think he noticed. You’re not going to rat me out, are you?
We’re jumping forward a bit now. The plans between Hartman et al and Cass & Ken have been solidified and are moving forward; now, Cass had some thoughts.
Normally I’m all in favor of Cass having thoughts; for a relative ‘innocent’ she has the wickedest thoughts sometimes. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t one of those thoughts; this was about our project.
In retrospect, it’s a good thing there was so much lag time in the early going; you have no idea what a bitch it is to try to coordinate construction, salvage, planning, all while appearing to do something else. It wasn’t the first time I’d done anything like that, but certainly the largest scale, and Cass was a total naif.
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“Kendra, we’ve got to talk.”
“That sounds ominous,” said the blonde, turning from her screen. Summer was in full force, and she was taking advantage of the brilliant sunshine to sit outside their home. Her tall, redheaded wife stepped between her and the sun.
“Hey! You’re messing with my tan!”
“Kendra, I’m serious. We need to talk. About Enterprise.”
“So sit down and talk. It’s too nice to spend the whole day inside.”
Cass pulled a chair around so she could face Kendra.
“Have you decided?”
“Wow. Right for the jugular.”
“I know, I know. It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about it.”
Cass waited for Kendra to continue.
Heavy sigh. “I don’t think there’s any choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Not if we’re serious about the plan. Enterprise could make the difference.”
“And it’s not like she won’t be able to fly rings around anything the Union has. Their scows are designed for flying through the black on nice, slow trajectories, planet-hopping, ferrying cargo around. Frankly, the only reason the UE has had a problem is because they ceded the whole space industry to the private sector. Now, that’s good for us, but not for them.”
“The UN did that.”
“UE, UN, whatever, the bureaucrats who can’t see that it’s raining soup and all they have to do is bring a bucket. They’re all worried about dividing the mud equally, and so we end up with a bunch of jumped-up colonists dropping tin cans on airplanes from LEO.”
“You’re going to go ahead with it?”
“Yeah.” Kendra sat up. “You really know how to ruin a perfectly good lazy day.”
“Lazy for you maybe, I’m up to my eyebrows in paperwork!”
“Like I said. Skills. Good thing you love me.”
That melted her. It always did. Cass held out her hand.
“Come on in. Let’s see what I can do to help you.”
“I thought you said you were up to your eyebrows in paperwork?” Kendra stretched and stood.
“I maybe exaggerated a little. Besides, when I have ever been able to resist you?”
“Well, there was that time senior year –” The banter continued into the office but stopped once they settled in.
“You retained a shuttlebay on the Enterprise.” The way Cass spoke, it was a statement, not a question.
“It made sense to keep it,” agreed Kendra. “Once the hull was in place, we needed ways to access the interior with bulky equipment and materials.”
“And how many shuttles will it hold? The new models, that is.”
“What a coincidence! And you just happen to have a half-dozen built.”
“And tested and certified. They’re good to go.”
“How long until Enterprise is ready?”
“It’s going to be a while yet. The primary hull is pressurized, all the fiddly bits are in place and operational. The bridge, AI network, sublight engines, inertial dampers and grav plates, all good to go. Except the AI; we haven’t awakened it yet. So far, we can get by on the auxiliary computer systems. We also haven’t installed any of the weapons systems, but to be fair, nobody was thinking about arming her until last year.”
“That’s farther along than I thought. But I suspect the other shoe is about to drop.”
“Yeah, the secondary hull is still open to vacuum. The skin is mostly in place, but we’re relying on internal airlocks to keep from venting atmo into the black. The drive is going to be boosted next week, and then we are going to have to seal the hull because there’s no way Val’s going to work in a suit.”
“And vacuum won’t harm the drive?”
“The component parts have been bagged and tagged in an inert atmo mix, so they’re not actually going to be exposed to vacuum, but no. They’re all rated to survive death pressure.”
“Well, we still need your transporters installed.”
“There a problem on HLC’s end?”
“No, just getting all of the redundant systems properly in place. We listened when you emphasized the importance of making it as failsafe as possible.”
This was a familiar topic, so Cass moved on. “You already mentioned weapons. What have you and Val cooked up?”
“There’s the phased particle emitters that we’ve installed on the shuttles.”
“You can’t really call them shuttles anymore.”
“Yeah, but they have to have a really amazing name, you know? And I haven’t come up with one yet.”
“Riiiight. Phased particle emitters. You’d scale them up, I assume?”
“Well, that’s an issue, according to Val. Yes, we can scale them up, but we get less bang for our buck instead of more.”
This intrigued Cass. “Oh?”
“Val can explain it better, but basically the amount of energy we spend to keep the particles properly phased increases geometrically.”
“Oh, so twice the destructive power needs four times the energy?”
“I knew you’d get it! Why haven’t you been more involved in this?”
“I plan to be. You’re going to need a science officer, right?”
“I want the job.”
“Do you want my resume? Or are you familiar with my body of work?”
“No, no, it’s not that. I know you’re qualified. It’s just, well, I don’t want anyone thinking that you get the position because of me.”
Cass’s eyes twinkled. “That’s really sweet of you, but I think I can stand on my own two feet. PhD from MIT, remember? Quantum teleportation?”
“Fair points. Okay. I’ll put you forward as science officer once we get to having an actual captain. But you dodged my original question. Why haven’t you been more involved?”
“Because one, it’s your dream project, not mine, and two, I already had a focus for my work. You didn’t, after handing OutLook over to Cris. You know, I always wondered something.”
“Back when we got married. You told Talbott that you were quitting, right?”
“Right, then she talked me into one more courier run.”
“And we both know what a shitshow that was. The point is, you were quitting. What were you planning to do next?”
Kendra sat in thought for several seconds.
“This is going to sound silly.”
“I did everything for ohana.”
Cass reached out and stroked Kendra’s cheek. “You still do.”
Kendra pressed Cass’s hand with hers. “True. I want there to be a world for our girls to grow up in; that’s the only reason I’ve gone along on this insane ride with Mya and Ted. If it was all about politics, they could go pound sand.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
Kendra cleared her throat and brushed at her eyes. “Awful dusty in here. Anyways, where was I?”
“Everything for ohana.”
“And that was the extent of my plan. All I knew is that I was ready to make you and Derek the center of my universe, and everything else would come out of that.” She stopped, started to speak, stopped again. Finally, she said, “And why did this come up now?”
“No particular reason, just a random squirrel thought.”
“I thought I was the only one with squirrels?”
“You may be rubbing off on me.”
“I should hope. We’ve been together eight years now.”
“So how much of an energy penalty are you looking at to scale up your emitters to a useful level?”
Kendra batted her eyelashes at Cass. “Oh, you say the most romantic things! The ones on the shuttles are rated at two thousand megajoules, which we figure is enough for close-in attacks but not for standing off. A hundred kliks or less.”
Cass was nodding. “Attenuation.”
“Why do I bother explaining science shit to you? You are the rocket scientist in the family, after all.”
“It amuses you?”
“More like it amuses you.”
“Maybe.” There was a definite twinkle in her eyes at that.
“Fine. Then you already know that the phase lock decreases with the square of the distance.”
“How many megajoules?”
“We actually thought about going for just over three gigajoules. That would deliver two hundred megajoules at up to five hundred kliks.”
“At a cost of over five hundred times the energy!”
“And that’s where it all falls apart, yeah.”
Cass sat in silent thought. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to say anything just yet, Kendra continued.
“We’re still going to install a number of emitter arrays around the ventral and dorsal sides of both hulls, but they’re going to be for close-in defense. Basically, we don’t want the Union throwing rocks at us.”
“Can’t beat lightspeed for defense,” agreed Cass. “Did you have any other thoughts?”
“Val had one, which is to mount a spinal laser longi – longitude – along the long axis of the lower hull. She figures that she can get a yield of two petajoules at two light-seconds, in tenth-second bursts, without a huge amount of fuss, but it’s going to take a serious rebuild.”
“And that only allows for a single dimension of attack.”
“And it only allows for a single dimension of attack, yeah. But talk about reaching out and touching someone! We could sit in spacedock and be in position to threaten Artemis City! That could end this little war real quick.”
“Or get us labeled as the greatest murderers since Stalin.” Kendra looked like she was about to protest, but Cass continued. “And don’t tell me you wouldn’t use it. If you build a weapon, you have to be prepared to use it. Otherwise, it’s an empty threat.”
“Which is why we’ve thought of another alternative. We talked to Mya about missiles, right?”
“Right, but those are going to be ridiculously short-ranged! A few hundred kliks, at most, before they burn out and go ballistic.”
“Yeah, but what if we give them just a little bit of a brain?”
“Oh, Kendra, have you been watching Termination again?”
“Terminator, and no. I’m talking about just a little kernel of an AI, just enough to be smarter about the flight.”
“You intrigue me strangely. Go on”
“The missiles for the fleet are going to be dumb, right? Select a target for them, set the tracking, and fire it off at max thrust and hope that it gets through whatever defenses the Union can cobble together.”
“I think we can double or triple the range of the missiles, plus make them harder to detect, with just a bit more intelligence.”
Cass made ‘go on’ motions with her hand.
“It’ll take some engineering, but Val assures me that no single part is that challenging. We have to allow for variable thrust on the engine, we have to set it up for multiple active/inactive phases, and we have to give the on-board processor some flexibility.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this.”
“If the processor is programmed for target A, and it’s fifteen hundred kliks away, then it’s up to the program to calculate how to use the fuel in order to reach the target. That’s going to mean low-power launches, and long coasting periods, but the upside is that during flight they’ll be holes in space while the thrusters are shut down.”
“That sounds promising!”
“Two problems. First, they’re not small and we won’t be able to store many. Enterprise is supposed to explore, not fight, dammit. The second problem is launching them, which is also about the design.”
“Didn’t you plan to have planetary probes?”
“Yes, but they’re basically pushed out the shuttlebay. Low tech solution, but this is our first attempt at a proper starship. We’re going to be happy to get her flying!”
“Then we’re back to emitters and maybe a spinal laser?”
“For now. Val already has ideas for the Mark Two.”
Cass paused, then said, “Maybe we’re going about this wrong.”
“Spacedock and Diana.” Diana was the habitat they had been building at L5. “Maybe I’ve gotten some of your crazy. Are the shuttles still equipped with tractor beams?”
Kendra considered this. Tractor and pressor beams were an offshoot of the gravitonic research that had produced the grav plates. By focusing beams of positive or negative gravitons, a beam could either pull an object closer or push it away without incurring the wrath of Newton’s Third Law. The shuttles, since they had been intended as multifunction vehicles, had been equipped with the most powerful units their power plants could handle, allowing them to function as a sort of tug.
“Yes, there wasn’t any need to remove them.”
“What if we use them to push, or maybe pull, Spacedock out to L5?” Spacedock was in geosynchronous orbit over Houston, making it a relatively easy boost for HLC’s main campus. There were limited living quarters attached for the crew that was building Enterprise, but it was never intended as a long-term installation.
“I’d have to get someone with a bigger brain to figure out the details, but I can’t think why it wouldn’t work. Might be slow going, but that’s not a concern right now.”
“And we’ll have a hell of a time boosting all the way to L5.”
“That’s where the shuttles come in. HLC boosts to LEO, transfers cargo to the shuttles, the shuttles ferry it all out to Diana. And, as a bonus, we can plan on integrating Spacedock into Diana and give us an inherent ship-building and -repair capacity.”
Kendra looked at Cass incredulously. “You just came up with t