The Road to the Stars - Chapter Twelve

This first battle in the Artemis War was a real shock to me.

I'd been in plenty of fights before, going all the way back to my tussles with Shawn, Aiyana's brother.

All through school I was more than ready to pick the ass of anyone who deserved it.

I took a little break when I got into acting, because it wouldn't do to show up for the morning shoot sporting a black eye, but then I joined OutLook and suddenly I had to use some makeup in really interesting places.

And then there was my other career.

But that was all retail, and it was one-on-one. Either I won, or I lost, and the price I paid was purely personal.

This was the first time I had to deal with anything as The Person In Charge.


Chapter Twelve


“How bad is it?”

It was four hours later. Kendra, Kyran, and Mia were gathered in Kendra’s office. Repair crews were working on the exterior, still evaluating the damage and recovering bodies of personnel who hadn’t made it out in time. Mikki and Lisa had returned to quarters with their ‘Aunt’, scared but putting on brave faces.

“Most of the compartments in two, three, and five were evacuated. Unfortunately, we still lost people. Fourteen have been recovered. Eight more have been located, but not recovered. Thirty-nine injured, ten seriously enough that we stabilized them and sent them Earthside in Newton and Bohr.

“How badly are you hurt, Diana?”

“Overall performance shouldn’t be impacted, other than the missiles. None of the damage affected critical systems such as power, environmental, or sensors.”

“Okay, and now for the hundred-thousand credit question: what happened to the missile pods?”

“Sabotage,” said Kyran flatly.

“You’re sure of that?”

“As soon as we cleared the debris fields, I had people I trust out inspecting the remaining pods. They didn’t find any physically tampered with, which meant it was purely an electronic attack. From there, it was a matter of letting Diana dig into their programming. This wasn’t a targeted attempt; they’re all wired to blow.”

“How?” asked Kendra.

“A simple software patch. Normally, the launch command is transmitted to the onboard computer, the onboard computer orders the launch clamps released, allows the pressurized fuels into the reaction chamber, and off it goes.”

“Hypergolic 101.”

“Right. What the patch did was two-fold: remove the ‘release clamps’ command, and increase the quantity dumped into the reaction chamber by two orders of magnitude. So, not only did the valves open all the way, and the fuels were allowed to mix uncontrolled, but the missile was held in place.”

“Boom.”

“Boom. What made it all worse was our plan to launch from non-consecutive pods.”

“To prevent interference from the exhaust.”

“Right. If we launched consecutive pods, we would have just lost a single block and concentrated the damage. This way, each detonation caused the pods on either side, which were primed for launch, to detonate as well. That’s what caused the ripple, the sympathetic explosions.”

“Frak me.”

“Kendra, this was a coordinated attack. The KEW, the sabotage, the missiles.”

Kyran and Mia could see her visibly reining in the impulse to give in to rage and sat quietly, waiting. Eventually, she had herself controlled enough to speak.

“This is on me. If I hadn’t ordered Diana to concentrate on the direct path, she might have picked up the missiles before they lit off their engines.”

“I have to disagree, Admiral,” said the AI. “Even using my most advanced sensors, a Tycho which is not under power would be nearly impossible to detect.”

“Diana’s right,” added Mia. “We were on continuous CAP, and we missed them as well. No, whoever did this was smart, and sneaky. And lucky, too.”

“It’s the smart part that worries me. I can deal with sneaky because it’s what I did for years. Luck runs out, sooner or later.” Kendra shook herself, then looked at Kyran. “First priority is to run down that saboteur. I want everyone who had access to the control programming off the station today. Diana, can you generate that list?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Lock them all out of the system, right now. Start a full diagnostic on your core programming first, then spread out to critical systems, sub-systems, and so forth. I want you to bring Harpo in on this, too, and Mac. I think she’s transferred to the station.”

“Working on it, Admiral. Commodore, I’ve dumped that list to your implant.”

“Thanks, Diana.” They got the “I’m checking something on my implants” look for a moment before they spoke again. “Not a very long list. That’ll leave some holes, but we can manage until I can bring up some replacements. Mind if I tap into the gang at JPL? They’re used to the idea of working in space, at least.”

“Go ahead. I’ll get in touch with Montana at OutLook. Good thing she wasn’t scheduled to come aboard until next week, we need her on the ground right now.”

“Admiral, not to go off on a tangent, but should we evacuate the station?” asked Kyran. “I know that we’re going to need some of the regular crew aboard to repair damage and maintain systems, but wouldn’t the others be safer on Earth?”

Kendra started to shake her head, then stopped. Her daughters were aboard. Did she have the right to put them in harm’s way? Where would they be safe? How could she protect them best? Her staff looked at her, waiting, allowing her the time to process. Eventually, she finished the movement, shaking her head.

“No. Earth isn’t safe; we know that. Oh, there’s much more of it, but there are also more people around, and if the Primus is targeting TF personnel, well, she’s already proven that she won’t stop just because there’s collateral damage. At least on the station, we have a chance to protect them actively, not just hide them and hope. Still, I won’t stand in the way of any non-essential personnel heading Earthside. That’s between you and them. Whatever they’re going to do, though, they should decide soon.” She looked around at everyone, and then nodded her head, just once.

“As for Montana. She’s best set up to hold them until we can figure out the most likely suspects, and she has the people to do the questioning once we do. Mia, you’re going to be in charge of shuttling them down. Be alert! If our Mr. Mystery decides to make a break for it, I don’t think they’re going to care who else gets hurt.”

Mia thought about it for a moment. “I think that the Newton is going to be the best choice. The CM, Matt Riddle, really likes to ride the edge, and his EM, Adam Self, enables him by having the systems tuned for max performance. I can tell Riddle to go max accel all the way to Earth, and have Self dial back the inertial dampers. Give the passengers a taste of six or seven g, and I don’t think they’ll be doing much of anything.”

“No, I don’t think they will. Diana, I know that we’re stretched pretty thin, but can you prioritize construction on the new station? Pull crews off Endeavour if you have to.”

“Yes, Admiral. I can do that, with your authorization for the increased expenses.”

“Whatever it takes. I want the framework done, with the Durasteel skin finished and CeeSea coating applied before we start working on the interior.”

“Admiral, if I may suggest?”

“Certainly, Diana.”

“I agree that the frame should be prioritized, but we should also have at least one antimatter plant and the shield generators installed. Once those are active, we can continue to work on the skin and other parts with greater security.”

“That makes more sense,” agreed Kendra. “Do it that way. Do we have a plan?”

“Start of one,” agreed Kyran.

“One more thing. Mia, I want those goddam spy satellites taken out. It can wait for the other missions to be completed, but it will get done. Today.”

“Admiral, that might not be wise,” offered Mia.

“Okay. What did I miss?”

“Blasting the satellites, while satisfying, will only give the Union, or Artemis, an excuse to attack us openly, before we’ve had a chance to repair. In the larger battle for public opinion, that would make us the bad guys.”

“Dammit, Mia, you just lost a Wolf and crew, Kyran’s lost two dozen people, and my home – my home, Mia – has been wiped off the map! A half-dozen satellites is nothing compared to what those whoresons have done to us today! And you talk about public opinion?” barked Kendra.

“Yes, Kendra!” Mia snapped back. “Right now, if anyone on Earth is paying attention, we just got clobbered by someone, but there’s no evidence who did it!”

“Pipher’s track –”

“Is theoretical and a reconstruction. Where’s the hard proof, Kendra? Where’s the captured ship? The spy? I’ll tell you this right now, Kendra: if you order me to destroy the satellites, I will. But it will kill your Federation before it takes its first step.”

Kendra didn’t reply, simply sat and digested. Finally, she said quietly, “Very well. You’re right. But I want the plan in place to take them out and ready to execute.”

“It will be, Kendra. We’ve been using them for theoretical target practice.”

Kendra nodded acknowledgement. “Dismissed. I have letters to write.”



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