Monday, 2 April 2012

Chapter 5 - November 2072

United Nations Space Command HQ, Moscow

General Fuller sank himself into the datastream, letting the information flow through his consciousness. His idea to let the various air forces and space agencies compile different responses to a possible alien attack had born fruit. In some cases withered and bitter fruit, but fruit nonetheless. The UNSC’s planning and logistics expert system, nicknamed Colossus had compiled the reports into an adaptive simulation. Clever as Colossus was, there was no data on the enemy at all, so the simulation focused only on the human side of the equation.

Not surprisingly the air forces kept their top of line inventory out of their planning briefs, but did manage to include some of what they know about their rivals. Blending the data, full of deceit actually provided the system with enough information to fill in the gaps. For the most part.
Naturally the most reliable data was the UNSC forces and dispositions. Colossus plugged into that information as part of its regular duties. In terms of operational footprint they were also the most developed, so he started there. 

The UNSC’s primary offensive platform was the Dark Wing shuttles, their range enabled them to cover all space up to and beyond the Luna orbit. The weaponry on the shuttles are reasonably light, twin rail guns, two directed energy weapons and eight conformal missiles. Adequate against their intended targets of rogue freighters and shuttles, but would no doubt find themselves lacking against more substantial targets. Officially they were the only offensive platform in Earth orbit.
Fuller snorted at that thought. Colossus ignored the input, it had worked with the General many times.

Defensively the UNSC also deployed the Guardian platforms. These are small point defence drones stationed around Gateway Station. Equipped with micro DEW’s their purpose was identifying and destroying small incoming threats like meteorites and missiles. Theoretically they could handle incoming projectiles as well, but the latest rail gun projectiles travel far too quickly for them to engage. While the Guardians typically floated freely in space like tiny satellites, they could also be attached to larger vessels.

Fuller manipulated the datastream drawing the focus from his own forces and onto the United States. His own familiarity with the USAF showed how frugal the Americans had been with revealing their own space capabilities. They have a number of platforms capable of hitting targets in space, primarily in low orbit, but only a few could reach higher targets. However he remembered a project during his time there for small weapon packs that could be quickly equipped to their and most likely European shuttles as well.

Colossus took note of this supposition, reshaped the form of the data as a consequence.
Fuller trawled through the assembled reports adding his own thoughts to the data. The Russians didn’t mention their increased production capability. The Chinese and Indians didn’t include their Mars mission. Everyone undercounted their nuclear capability.

He spent the morning drifting through the data, he absorbed the various recommendations. His real problem was that they were all very defensive in nature. At best they all formed a last line of defence at Earth itself. If there really was an attack, and he still thought that unlikely, if they allowed the attacker to sit in orbit they had already lost the advantage of the high ground.

It seemed strange, that should be immediately obvious, yet none of the reports considered more than a taken defence in depth. Even the Russians, famous for the same strategy on Earth. Was this an indication of limited strategic thinking now the UNSC was responsible for space security? Or did the various agencies have their own response plans in mind that they weren’t willing to share?
The first thought seemed odd and the second unlikely. And serious space armament effort would quickly be noticed.

Another glaring omission was the lack of involvement of the various private enterprises. Collectively and individually in the case of the Luna Mining Corporation they represented the bulk of the space lift capability. Although this omission was more understandable. The major space powers distanced themselves from the commercial activities of even their own companies. Or so it seemed on the surface. Space politics could be even more convoluted than back on the surface.

It had been lazy of him to try and off-load the plan preparation. He’d wanted to devote more time to the message, but so far nothing new had been heard from the aliens. They’d given him something to start with, but he would need to put a lot more effort into it himself before he could present it to the Security Council in a week’s time.

Australian Finance Ministry,  Sydney

“Those cheap bastards!” The driver was the recipient, but not the cause of Michael Richards’ fury. “Those United-Fucking-Nations bastards!” The driver took it in his stride and kept his concentration on the road ahead. It was a short journey to the airport and he would be free of the tirade by then.

Michael tried to calm himself, anger would do him any good and abstractly he knew it had nothing to do with the driver. He might work for the government, but he had nothing to do with their idiotic choices. He didn’t swear often, he didn’t even like to swear. Sometimes he just had to vent. At least Rachel wasn’t here to reprimand him about it.

A lot of time and money had been invested into his bid to become the Australian government’s official partner in the space elevator project. Michael had identified this project early on as being vital to the company’s future.

The project was run by the United Nations and they were partnered with most of the world governments for feasibility financing. Once operational it would drive the cost of moving goods to and from orbit by a huge margin. The Luna Mining Corporation would take a big hit and rather than suffer from it, he wanted to be a part of it. Michael always tried to take advantage of an opportunity, not be harmed by it.

The next round of funding was intended to expand the project from the initial test platform. According to Michael’s sources the first station should be operational within the year. Already a dozen sites along the equator had been earmarked for new ground stations. The stations would be connected by specially engineered cables to orbiting platforms. People and goods could be lifted into space and dropped back down again.

It was a simple idea.  A simple idea that had taken years of research and billions of dollars to made the idea workable.

For the past two years Michael had been working with his contacts in the government refining their bid. Now at the last minute they had changed their minds. Officially they gave no reason, they just said they were going with a more politically friendly company. Unofficially he had heard that it was pressure from the Chinese via the United Nations that made the LMC unsuitable. Only terrestrial investment was welcome.

This was a golden opportunity, now lost. He forced himself to calm down. It doesn’t matter what was wasted, he had to think clearly. He needed a new solution, something that could compete with the new space elevator. Shuttles could never be competitive enough, not with the energy needed to fly into orbit. He considered whether they could switch the serving only businesses already in space, cut out the Earth market completely. Maybe in thirty years time, he guessed. The reality was that just wasn’t feasible yet.

He had time yet, it would take a few years before the elevator becomes fully operational. As they reached the airport he was already considering new possibilities.

L1 Station, between Earth and the Moon

Life for Hui changed dramatically after her promotion. She no longer seemed to have any time of her own. Her aide and second in command Major Himani seemed to delight in finding more and more paperwork to devote her time to. With his attention to detail and clockwork efficiency, he was the complete opposite of what most in the Chinese military had come to expect from the Indians. It was considered that the Indians were good fighters, but poorly led and equipped. That might have been true a decade ago, things had changed since then.

She had few friends before, it seemed she had none at all now. Where once she’d be offered a lazy salute as she walked by, now everyone immediately snapped to attention at the sight of her.
Sleep now became a rare and precious thing.

Lists and reports filled her waking hours in an endless stream. Dull as this seemed to her, she had already identified some issues and solved them.

The ship’s inventory for consumables had assumed a six month period for the first resupply and as a cost cutting measure provided little leeway. She’d extended that to nine months and added three months extra supplies. She still didn’t trust the optimistic projections of the recycling systems and food growth. The extra mass would lengthen the initial journey, but only by a few days and the extra expense approved without any argument. Another indication that this was no normal project.

That morning had been spent checking yet more lists. She was sure that the Major could have signed off on most of them, but she forced her way through them anyway. Diligence had been one of her strengths as a pilot and proved to be an equal asset as a commander.

Overall the project was on schedule, but every day a new problem would arise that would require her input. This morning’s crisis had been the human waste systems. To save space a new design for solid waste was being engineered. This system wasn’t fully tested, so she ordered it installed on the station. It had failed spectacularly, in only a few hours. The system lacked the required pressure to move the waste and it quickly backed up. The engineers now literally covered in their own mess identified the problem quickly and a solution found.

The Station Commander wasn’t happy about the incident. It was her mission, but his station.  Hui let his rage wash over her. Her decision was the right one, but she could understand why shit spewing into the low gravity toilets would get him angry.

Thankfully she found an escape for herself, if only for a short time. She was required to inspect progress on the construction itself and had taken that to mean an external visual inspection as well as the normal report-based review. Of course she couldn’t use her shuttle for such a task, tempting as that might be, but she could use one of the tugs.

So every few days here she was, cocooned inside one of the construction tugs. Safe from the ever present Major if only for a short while. Sometimes the rules on communication security could work in her favour, it was hardly her fault if the tugs were not equipped with full level security communications now was it?

The tugs were strictly one person machines. An armoured capsule equipped with remotely controlled tentacles used for large scale construction and repair of the ships and station itself. It wasn’t flying in the same sense as piloting the shuttle. It was out in space though and alone with her thoughts.

They didn’t have full drive systems either, just small gas powered thrusters. These were designed for precision manoeuvring, not speed, so only moved the tug slowly relative to the ship and station. With each visit she could see the ship grow larger and slowly take form. Already the main structure was in place, now the forward section was being pieced together. Space suited figures clambered over its surface, the bright flash of welding as they sewed the skin together.

She found further solace in the simulator. Although promoted to Mission Commander, she was still one of the few qualified pilots on the mission. To maintain her skills she was required to spend at least six hours a week in the simulator. Not that she minded.

The timer in her head beeped. Another progress meeting due to start in less than an hour. With a sigh, she entered the commands to send the tug back to the station.

United Nations Security Council, New York

Once again General Fuller found himself stood before the Security Council. And once again the meeting was being held in closed session.

The UN rarely did anything secretly, not at this level at least. Its major strength was its openness. Knowing that the council was preparing to discuss what they could do to interfere with your plans tended to act as a brake on most nation’s ambitions. These days you needed a lot of backup in the Council and General Assembly to push anything too unpopular through. This held true even for the major powers. On more than a few occasions they wished they still had the veto powers they once had.

That didn’t mean the UN lacked operational secrecy, but the top level decision making usually took place in the open, for all to see. The signal had changed that. He had attended more closed sessions in the past few months than he had in the whole of the previous year. He wondered how long this could last before the nations not on the council heard whispers of what was going on and started to tear at this veil of secrecy.

The contact stories had died down in the news feeds as nothing new appeared to happen, but the reports could still be accessed.

Putting those thoughts aside he commenced the briefing.

“As instructed by this council, Space Command has prepared a report with strategies for defending the human race against alien invasion. The full details are contained in the briefing packages already sent to you individually. In this briefing, I’ll cover the top line items and then answer any questions.”

He activated the projection screen, it displayed a map of the Solar System. “To successfully counter any alien invasion we need to operate three lines of defence. The first is intelligence. To battle an enemy, we need to know them. At the moment we have little information to work with, we need a lot more.”

He advanced the presentation, a dotted line showed a possible course entering the system. Several similar lines moved out from Earth orbit to cluster around the invader.

“The first line of defence is acquiring this invaluable information. We propose continuing to track the signal source. Once its course is established we launch a variety of probes to intercept the aliens and report any data they can. At this stage we can’t know what information will prove the most useful, so we need to cover as many bases as we can. That means a lot of probes. We also recommend that some are equipped for cyber-warfare.”

Nods all around the table. Recon should be the first movement in any battle plan. Fuller took the pause to move the display to the next step. A thicker line moved from Earth to Mars.

“The second and primary line of defence is a forward operation.  For this we need to build and equip a warship with the most powerful weapons at our disposal. Up to and including nuclear weapons. A vessel like the Long March would be an ideal platform. “

A sharp hiss from General Po Ling as he heard this, Fuller ignored it and continued. “This vessel would have to have as much survivability as we can build into it as well as throw as much firepower as we can provide.”

“The objective for this vessel would be to engage the hostile aliens at a distance from Earth. Ideally this is where we would win the battle. As with the recon drones this vessel should be equipped for cyber as well as conventional weapons. And the crew commanding this vessel would need to be able to authorise the use of any nuclear option without the undue time delays in having to communicate with Earth before release.”

The sudden chatter in the room was clear indication of how unpopular this option was.

“The final line of defence is Earth itself. If we have to battle the aliens here we are already at a disadvantage. We can attempt to offset that by fortifying the Luna bases and some of the asteroid bases. There’s a range of specific weapons platforms we can built or alter. For example the mag-lev launchers for the cargo-pods on some of the mining bases could be adopted to fire projectiles. Accuracy at any decent range would be limited, but flinging high velocity clumps of material would be hazardous for any nearby vessel.”

“Beyond that we would need to arm any ship we can get our hands on. If it has an engine we arm it and have it ready to fight. Another option would be to armour a freighter as much as possible and just ram the alien ship. It lacks finesse, but against what is likely to be a technologically superior opponent the only chance we have is throw every bit of firepower we can scrape together at it.”
He paused for a moment, looked each delegate in the eye. They had to realise how dangerous this course of action would be.

“As I’ve already mentioned, full details for all these proposals can be found in the briefing packages I have provided. These also include some very provisional budget estimates. Of course if we move forward with any of them we would need to refine these further.”

He saw some faces baulk as they looked at the figures in the budgets. Defending the Earth would not be cheap. The questions started and Fuller steeled himself for a long night.

As he expected the discussion carried on late into the night. The lack of the alien response since the last message and the high cost seemed to have dampened their enthusiasm. With a majority vote the matter would be kept secret until the next review meeting and some small budgets made available for further research and planning.

None of the proposals were approved.

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