Sunday, 13 May 2012

Chapter 19 - January 2074

Deep Space Automated Tracking System

Updating target track: UKX7834-101
Timestamp: 0020740125.23.59
Calculating destination vector... [248] [010] [+/- 11%]
Calculating velocity... 32377585 [+/- 7%] km/h
Calculating distance... 62009551681 [+/- 12%] km
Calculating time to intercept... 690 [+/-  9%] days
Calculating signal lag... 2 [+/- 4%] days
Priority override...HIGH

United Nations Orbital Command Headquarters, Moscow

 General Fuller’s secretary led Monique Abbot through to the General’s office. She declined the offer of refreshments then took the offered seat.

“Minister Abbots. This is a surprise. We rarely see you out here.”

“I prefer to stay in New York, but I knew I would find you here General. Even at this hour. And it is only an hour’s flight.”

Fuller knew it was late, but he hadn’t realised how late. He sent a message to his secretary to go and get a few hours sleep. He returned his attention to the South African Security Council representative.

“It’s always a pleasure to see you. Now how can I help you at this late hour?”

“I wanted to speak to you in person about the new weapon control laws. “

That grabbed his attention. “What new weapon control laws?” His role wasn’t that of a lawmaker, he didn’t have a vote on the Council, even for space matters. However it was customary for him to be consulted.

“How much do you like your job General?”

He wasn’t expecting that tangent. “What do you mean Ms Abbots?”

“Relax General. I’m here for a conversation, I’m not threatening you in any way. I’ve come to warn you.”

“I think you had better explain what is going on.”

“Of course General.” She offered a small smile. “Early next month the Chinese are going to submit a new law. They want to restrict weapons above a certain yield from privately owned ships. They of course have Japanese and Indian support. The EU and the Americans will naturally vote against. They see private enterprise as a counter-balance for the Asian Alliance in space.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Before the vote on this, there’ll be another vote. As you know your command is due for renewal next year. We all think it makes sense that our current commander remains in charge for the duration of the alien visit.”

“You want me to toe the line to keep my job.” Fuller felt some anger, but also more than a little surprise. Monique Abbots had never seemed the type for this kind of play.

She replied with a grin. “Yes I do General, but not in the way that you think. General Po Ling will be visiting you in due course. He will want to you to support their bill. He knows you support private enterprise, however he’ll want your support. If he doesn’t get it, you’ll be replaced.”

“You want me to go against my publically stated opinion? Won’t that strike him as strange?”

“No it won’t. Not if you use the incoming aliens as your justification. You don’t have to be ecstatic about it, in fact some reluctance will help sell it. “

“I do think that private enterprise is the future. While I don’t want them to start arming themselves, there’s no indications that is happening. Beyond the light meteor upgrades the LMC have started. And after that near-miss of theirs I can hardly blame them.”

“That’s not something you need to worry about. That law won’t pass.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“They have three votes. Two guaranteed against. That leaves two floaters, myself and the Russians. My vote is against, they’ll expect that, especially with South Africa’s known ties with private space corporations, especially the LMC. So that makes the votes even, leaving the Russians.”

“They nearly always support the Chinese.”

“True, nearly always. However they will support themselves first. It is very much in their interests that this bill does not pass.”


“Well the point defences the LMC are buying are being supplied by the Russians, and they are a marginally higher yield than the proposed limit. That deal is worth a lot of money to the Russians. Not only that, they want to market their mass driver technology. They see that as a competitor to the space elevator. So they very much want to be seen as a friend to private enterprise.”

She smiled again. “Of course there’s also been a lot of backroom diplomacy. The end result is that the Chinese are in for a bit of a surprise.”

“And my continuing as Commander of the UNOC isn’t such a sure thing?”

“Not if the Chinese think you can’t be relied on. I know you’ve already been sniffing around their operations. If you’re not in charge you’ll find that very difficult. On this the Russians don’t have a stake, so will support their vote. At best abstain. The Europeans might even be pressured into voting against for concessions elsewhere. So play along with General Ling. Give him what he wants, Your term will be extended. We’ll then spring our surprise. Anyway. Think about it.”

“How will the Chinese react?”

“They won’t be happy, but what can they do?”

That’s what worried Fuller.

With that she stood. “Thanks for your time General.”

“Always a pleasure Minister.”

CNSA Resupply Vessel, en route to Mars

The failure of the asteroid strike still haunted Hui. She could accept that the LMC got lucky, but something nagged her about it. The lack of censor in her record didn’t help. It seemed that she required some punishment for her failure, if high command wouldn’t provide it then her own mind would. In her off hours she studied the data of the attack. Over and over again. Unfortunately all she had was some long range optical scans and the Deep Space tracking records from the UNOC.

The radar timeline showed what she expected. The asteroid fragments don’t show up on the radar until they were less than two hundred miles from the shipyard. Still something didn’t seem quite right.

She’d stared at the same sequence a dozen times, maybe more. Played it back in a full virtuality and on her rollscreen. A dozen times, maybe more. Each time it seemed the same. Then it struck her. The freighter started turning towards the incoming asteroid before it is detected on the radar.

Why would they do that?

Hui turned to the optical scans. She compared the scans from the time of the attack. Looking for any differences that might give her a clue. She spotted something, but not what she expected.

The new scans showed two sleek craft approaching the shipyard. Their silhouettes looked familiar. They looked like the Dark Hawks the UNOC flew. Had the UNOC made a deal to base ships there? Or were they paying some kind of visit. It seemed unusual, the UNOC rarely left Earth orbit.

She examined the close-ups, the resolution was frustratingly low, but detailed enough she could see some differences. She accessed the flight records for the time the images were taken, only 24 hours previously. Two shuttles being delivered. Apparently civilian models. The Dark Wings were based on a civilian airframe the Russians exported. Apparently that explained the delivery.

Two thoughts struck her as strange. The first that the LMC had its own shuttle assembly plant, so why buy Russian models? That makes little sense, the LMC and Russian shuttles shared no common technology. The second that these apparently civilian shuttles had the same conformal changes used by the Dark Wings.

Hui assembled her data. She appended her conclusion that the Luna Mining Corporation were buying armed shuttles, then sent the report to CNSA high command.

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