The Road to the Stars - Chapter Fourteen

Fuck, this was hard.

Sorry about the language, but I hated this. Absolutely hated it.

I mentioned, a couple weeks ago, about my history with fighting.

It was always something I dealt with personally. Whatever repercussions there were, they were mine.

That's a lot easier than being the leader going into a fight.

And it's nothing compared to after the fight is over, and you have to tell all the surviving family members why their loved one isn't coming home.

Fuck.


Chapter Fourteen


Dear Mrs. Hogshead, I am writing to you to inform you of the circumstances of Chris’s death…

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Price, I am writing to inform you of the circumstances of Carl’s death…

Dear Mr. Horgan, I am writing to inform you of the circumstances of Michael’s death…

Dear Mr. Lewis, I am writing to inform you of the circumstances of Amanda’s death…

Dear Mrs. Kollar…

Dear Mr. & Mr. Cantillo…

Dear Ms. Chase…

Dear Mr. Fones…

Dear…

Dear…

Dear…

She had known, intellectually, that she might have to do this. She’d seen enough vids, read enough books, hell, she’d even acted in one that had a war theme. It didn’t prepare her.

Every one of these letters was going to break someone’s heart. Every single person was a son, daughter, wife, husband, parent, child. And she was going to deliver them in person, once she could. They hadn’t thought about this, hadn’t planned for it, didn’t have anything prepared. No plans. Just her, and her terminal, and her guilt.

She was the admiral. She put everything in motion. That meant she was responsible for everyone, and she hadn’t realized just how heavy that burden actually was. She’d get through this, and then deal with the Union, then drop into Cass’s arms once her wife came home. That might not make things better, but it would make it easier for her to cope. Until then, letters.

The door chime sounded, and Kendra looked up gratefully.

“Come.”

Mac came in, followed by Horst Pipher.

“Hey, Kendra, do you have a couple minutes, I was going over the comm logs with Horst and we may have found something interesting.”

“Sure, Mac, have a seat,” Kendra said, wearily. “Horst, sit down. I’m only the Admiral part-time.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Pipher uncomfortably.

“What did you find, Mac?”

“Well, you wanted Harpo and I to check over the accounts of the crew, right, so we were doing that with Horst’s help, most people had really crappy security, would you believe that someone actually used Password as their password, I didn’t think things like that existed outside of books, anyways, most of them were pretty easy, there were a few that were tougher to get into, but we did, and that’s when we found it.”

Kendra had dealt with Mac for years. She waited.

“This one account, it belonged to a guy named Chris Knepper, it was really locked down tight, I mean multiple passwords, layers of encryption, really professional stuff, and it took us a while to get into it, by us I really mean Harpo, and by a while I mean about half a second, but that’s forever for him, and once he was in the system started to do a purge, we lost some of it but there was one really important piece we caught, most of it at least, and I’ve got a copy on my padd, and here you go.” She handed a tablet over to Kendra.

Installation of program complete. Defenses neutralized,” she read. “Shit.”

“It goes on,” said Pipher.

Airlock controls disabled per diagram. Did we get the diagram?”

“Yes, we already gave that to Diana, she’s run checks and purged all the garbage code from the airlocks, Kyran has another team checking all of them for physical tampering, but it looks like it was all electronic.”

“Why would they need the airlocks disabled? Unless he was going to blow them and decompress Diana?”

“That’s what we wondered,” said Pipher. “The diagram, though, didn’t support that. May I?” He gestured to a screen.

“Be my guest.”

“Diana, please put the diagram recovered from Knepper’s account on screen.”

The schematic image of the station appeared, with two clusters of airlocks highlighted.

“One group is near Engineering, one is near Command. If you wanted to vent the station, you’d want to do it more broadly, and not just at airlocks. You’d need to prevent interior bulkheads from closing as well,” Pipher continued.

“So, what then?”

Mac said, “Well, you know I used to play games online, okay, so maybe I still play them, but not as much, I’m busier now, I don’t have as much time, but one of the games was a first person shooter, and actually I got into it at OutLook because we used it for training, it was pretty good for that, and I was really good at the game, anyways one of the scenarios was assaulting an orbital habitat, kinda like Diana but not as big, and it didn’t have an AI, just dumb systems, I guess it would have been too much to have an AI within a computer game, I never thought of that until just now, isn’t it weird how your mind works, but the scenario was an assault, like I said, and it was from little spaceships, and the game gave us the choice of either going for power or command, and that’s what it reminded me of.”

Kendra had tried valiantly to keep up, but this was tough sledding, even for someone with her experience. She turned to Pipher.

“This was not just a missile attack. They wanted to take over the station.” He continued before Kendra’s shocked expression could change to a reaction. “Once we figured that out, we started looking at the sensor records. That’s when we noticed something funny. Diana, play file Pipher One. Admiral, this is what we’ve put together.”

The screen changed again. Now it showed both Diana, far to the left, and Luna near the right side, with a swarm of yellow dots zipping around.

“This is speeded up, and runs from midnight to oh nine hundred. Each dot is a ship, satellite, something. It’s all tracked –”

“I remember,” said Kendra. “Part of the Accords, everything in space has to broadcast their position.”

“Right. Watch. I’ve highlighted the interesting ones blue.” In just a few seconds, two blue lights departed from Luna.

“That’s the Armstrong and the Conrad, two of their cruisers.”

“Whose? Artemis? Or Union?”

“Oh, Artemis. Is that important?” Kendra didn’t answer, and Pipher returned to his presentation.

“Watch what happens when they reach two hundred thousand kilometers.” At about the halfway point, both bright blue lights disappeared, replaced by two dimmer blue circles.

“What was that?”

“They turned off their transponders. They were still under power, we looked at their courses and they were maneuvering, so they didn’t suffer a mishap, unlikely as that might be for two ships to go dark. No, this was an attempt to drop out of sight.”

“How did we still see them?”

“We sort of didn’t,” said Mac. “You told Diana to concentrate her scanning forward, and she did, but we didn’t realize just how much of her subroutines depend on the transponders to determine whether a detected object is a ship or not, since everything manmade has to broadcast it’s been written into her programming that if there’s not signal it’s not manmade, and those things get lower priority tasking, we’re working on rewriting her code to take that out now that we know about it, but that’s what we think happened, she saw them but wasn’t looking at them if you get what I mean.”

The pale blue dots were now holding a position fifty thousand kilometers away.

“Once they reached that position, they held their distance until the missiles launched.” Seconds later, a blossom of red appeared, away from the dots, heading directly toward Diana. The attack played out in high speed, but Pipher wasn’t watching it. “Do you see the ships?” he said, calling Kendra’s attention back to them.

“They’re following the missiles in,” she observed.

“Yes. They’re not pulling their full accel; we know that they can do 8g, and that’s about 5. But that’s very deliberate.” As the missiles vanished, the blue dots slowed, stopped, and, as the last missile was blotted out by Einstein, started back toward Luna.

“Our best analysis is that those two ships were intended to attack the station, and when the initial attack failed, were ordered to return to Artemis. Their transponders reappear…now.” The dots went from pale to bright, and the ships clearly tracked back to Artemis City.

The screen went dark.

“There you have it, Admiral.”

“Brilliant reconstruction,” said Kendra. “Both of you. Pipher, who else has seen this?”

“Nobody, yet.”

“Okay. Let’s hold off on giving this too much attention. Bring Kyran in on it, but I don’t want to spook people. See if we have anything else on another platform that would support this. Maybe ask Commander Kleve if any of her Wolves picked up a signal.”

“Ooh, good thinking, I like that idea, they might have and not even noticed, I’ll bet they were even more focused on the missiles than we were, come on Horst, we have more work to do!” With a nod both left the office.

“Me too,” said Kendra, turning back to her terminal. “Me too.”

Dear Mrs. Dobrzyn, I am writing to inform you of the circumstances of Ed’s death…



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