Monday, 7 May 2012

Chapter 17 - November 2073

Deep Space Automated Tracking System

Updating target track: UKX7834-101
Timestamp: 0020731125.23.59
Calculating destination vector... [247] [009] [+/- 13%]
Calculating velocity... 53962642 [+/- 9%] km/h
Calculating distance... 116403895260 [+/- 14%] km
Calculating time to intercept... 753 [+/-  11%] days
Calculating signal lag... 4 [+/- 6%] days
EZRead POI: Sedna
Priority override...HIGH

Luna Mining Colony Base, the Moon

“Are you certain?” Michael Richards asked. Jacob sat opposite him, he looked tired, very tired. He’d spent the past week investigating the near miss at the shipyard. A long sleepless week in which he had determined that the event was not natural occurrence. It was a deliberate attack.

“I’m certain.”

Thankfully the attack hadn’t caused any deaths beyond those of the brave freighter crew. A few small chunks hit the station, the holes quickly patched. The shipyard back up and running again in a few hours.


“Two things indicate that the attack was deliberate. First is the shroud that concealed the asteroid’s approach. We were able to retrieve some of the material. It’s a radar absorbent smart material. It’s able to adapt its temperature to the ambient temperature around it. It also adapts its surface in a chameleon like fashion.” He paused. “If we hadn’t been running the sparkle dust test at the right time...”

Michael nodded, they had been lucky. “Do you know who made the shroud?”

“Unfortunately not. There’s nothing unique about the technology, although it has been used in a novel way. It could have been made in Europe, America, anywhere.”


“China, India, Japan. Hell even Indonesia has the resources to make this stuff. It’s a standard stealth material, used on all manner of vehicles. It wouldn’t hold up against military grade active sensors, not at close range anyway. It didn’t need to. This was well planned and executed.”

Michael felt weary himself. He took a moment to compose his thoughts. It had to be China, nothing else would make sense. Without proof nothing could be done. Even with proof what options were there? The LMC might be one of the most powerful corporations in the world, but China was the superpower. Not only that, it was the leader amongst an alliance of super powers.

“You said there were two indications?”

“Yes, we were fortunate to find it. One of the asteroid fragments that hit the shipyard has a groove along its length. The groove is microscopic, but caught the light in a way that interested the repair crew. An industrial forensics team examined it. It’s a micro-fracture. The straightness of it indicates it was created by a tunnelling robot.”

Jacob rubbed a hand across his face.

“I ordered one of the tugs to examine further fragments, some of the smaller ones captured by the Moon’s gravity. One of them had the same groove. Somebody broke that asteroid apart.”


“Most likely to increase the probability of a hit. It would also spread the damage across a wider area, although with an object that massive, it would be overkill. Only I think something went wrong. They didn’t get the spread they wanted. That and the quick action of the crew of Mary’s Jest saved the station.”

Michael nodded. “Is there any way to trace who did this?”

Jacob shook his head. “Nothing concrete. But coupled with the build-up of Asian Alliance military assets at L1 Station and Mars, it has to be the Chinese and their friends.”

“Why the sudden escalation?” As soon as he asked the question he knew the answer.

“They see us the weak point. “ Jacob replied. “To take direct action against the UNOC would risk war. I don’t think they want open conflict yet. Without our ships there will be no trade. What worries me is that if they knew what you are planning they’ll escalate even further.”

“Further? You mean an overt assault?”

“Why not? Who would stop them? The UNOC?”

Michael nodded again, this wasn’t good. “So what do we do?”

“We need to prepare.”

“Prepare how?”

“I’ve had legal look into it. We should beef up our physical security. Not just the bases, but our ships as well.”

“You want to arm our ships?”

“Yes. As I said, I’ve had legal look into it. There are no laws against arming ships. There are restrictions on specific weapons, but we would have trouble getting hold of those. We already have point defences on the stations for meteor defence. We can use the same justification for doing the same with the ships.”

“Why would we need justification?” Michael asked. The question was really to buy time for him to think. He ran a business and yes that involved a certain amount of security work. Especially when working in countries like South Africa where violence was commonplace. He wasn’t quite ready to become commander in chief for a new space fleet.

Jacob could see the concern on his boss’ face. He understood the dilemma. “We don’t want to warn the Alliance that we’re arming against them. Defending our bases is one thing, but when we head to Mars the Chinese will already be there, we may have to fight them. In fact I believe we’re going to have to. Everything points to the Asian Alliance preparing to stop the alien trade at any cost.”


“Indeed. Not only do we need to arm, we need to do it without the Chinese or their allies finding out.”

“How do we do that?”

“I’m not sure. Yet. The meteor defence will get us started, but we’ll only be able to get point defence systems like the DEWs. We need to find allies who aren’t reliant on the Asian Alliance. I have a few ideas where we can start.”

Gateway Station, Earth orbit

General Fuller paced back and forth in his office, or rather he drifted back and forth in his office. Since construction began on Paladin he had spent more time than ever up here on the station. Slowly he got used to the micro-gravity. Now he no longer stuck to the magnetized pathways, he flew through the zero gravity like the rest of the crew.

On an impulse he’d called his daughters, invited them up here. With his rank he had access to the VIP shuttles, they could fly up in style. His ex-wife put a block for the youngest, stating it was too dangerous. He argued, space travel is safer statistically than crossing the street. She would have none of it. The oldest had better things to do than go into space. It wasn’t cool enough for her to waste her time on. He’d been disappointed, but at least the same VIP shuttle meant he could fly to the US and see his youngest.

He ceased his drifting and contemplated the viewscreen. In the distance he could see Paladin hulking shape. It was still far from completion, but the form was clearly that of a warship. Unlike the sleek ships used by the world’s navies, she reminded him of the giant warships from the 20th century. On the planet’s surface, all but the largest carriers and amphibious assault ships were designed for low observability. Graceful lines and low to the water, with Paladin’s large size, the tricks to defeat active sensors wouldn’t work. Instead she would rely on firepower, armour and active electronic defences for her security. Just like those ancient warships that once ruled the seas.

The bulk of her armour was obvious even at this distance. Her weapons weren’t installed yet, but they would be soon. In a few short months the ship would be combat ready. Fuller hoped she wouldn’t be needed.

The problem he faced now was the crew. The UNOC officers were progressing well through their training. Their basic familiarity training now complete. The logistics and research teams next created exercise programs to test their responses. Recently political pressure began mounting to make the observers more integral to the mission. The pressure this time came from the Americans and the Europeans.

Offline his old friend Mike Davis had talked to him about their concerns. They were concerned about the Chinese and Indians subverting the mission, to force a confrontation with the aliens. They wanted to make sure their officers had some say in the command process, to forestall any subversion attempt.

Fuller resisted the pressure, the ship had to remain under UNOC command. It did feel strange to have the Chinese, Indians and Japanese fighting in his corner.

Especially when you considered the latest telemetry from the drone he sent to Mars. He scanned through the data again now. It was a perfect match to the data being sent from the two Mars orbiters. Somehow the Chinese had subverted the drone and now fed him false data. Fuller needed to know what the Chinese were up to at Mars.

He remembered the Russian mass driver experiments out at their asteroid base. They should be able to launch a drone without and exhaust trail for the Chinese to track. A drone’s mass should be low enough that the mass driver would be able to send it to Mars as quick as an ion drive.

He connected to the Russian base, he would speak to Dimitri. Dimitri owed him a favour from long ago, it was time to call that favour in.

L1 Station, between Earth and the Moon

The failed attack on the shipyard sparked an inquiry. Hui had been summoned to Beijing to discuss what had gone wrong. Eventually the board determined that the LMC had been lucky. The operation proceeded as planned, the intervention of the freighter had been unfortunate. A new attack would be planned, along a different axis. No recording of failure had been attached to Hui’s record, but she couldn’t help but feel that failure now following her.

She immersed herself in the ship systems. The ship was much smaller than the Long March. This time she let the pilot do her job and only observed as the resupply ship exited its construction bay. The enormous bay dwarfed the vessel and it was an easy task for the pilot to leave and head into deep space.

Hui kept a close eye on the systems, but the crew knew their tasks. She performed another check on the inventory. Originally the ship was intended to transport the bulk of the weaponry to arm the Long March and Mars Station. Another failure, this time with the robotic mines meant that the Mars Station couldn’t mine its own water and metal.

So instead of weapons and ammunition, the first resupply ship was laden with water, metal plating and perishables for the crew. On the plus side they did have a dozen heavy rail guns in the cargo hold. They also had two of the new combat shuttles, with crews and maintenance. Along with twenty combat drones they would help expand the operational strike radius of the Mars beachhead.

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