The Road to the Stars – Chapter EIGHT

Ha! I’m sneaking in here before Adam realizes it and doing this post, too!

It’s Kendra again, in case you didn’t figure it out. So we’re talking here about what Adam called The Road to the Stars, huh? Okay. I can roll with that.

You have no idea how much of a headache it was to get the Phoenix Project off the ground, so to speak. I’m not talking about the actual science-y stuff and building of the ship, I mean the bureaucracy and crap I had to go through in order to let the researchers just, you know. Research!

There were fees for potential hazards, fees for disposal of unusual materials, fees for the building permits, fees for the fees, and then there were the bribes! Oh, my Zeus, you wouldn’t believe the bribes! It didn’t help that it was centered at the old JPL in Pasadena, in the California Confederacy. Each of the cities was its own little country with its own rules and petty dictators. The only good bit was since we were at JPL, it all got funneled through their bureaucracy and I just got a monthly bill.

Still.

Anyways, in this chapter, let’s see. What’s going on. Oh, right. I remember. Lynch had just made an ass of himself. Again. Okay. That was a fun dinner, for values of fun.

Stay tuned at the end of the chapter for the audio version!

Chapter Eight

The atmosphere remained tense after Lynch was removed. Nobody spoke for long, long minutes, until the silence was finally broken by Hartman.

“How do you know about Mr. O’Quinn’s Second Fleet idea?” she finally said.

Before Mac could say anything, Cass intervened. “I believe that the industry term is proprietary information, Madame Director.”

“Is that the way we’re going to play now? All formalities? And I thought we were getting along so well.”

Kendra sighed. “We were, until that jackass decided to go off the rails again. Why did you bring him, again?”

Hartman lifted one shoulder in half a shrug. “He was in the initial meeting, and he is the Director of Protective Services. If we’re going to talk about active, armed resistance to the Union then he seemed to be a logical inclusion.” She looked directly at Cass, then Kendra in turn. “Dr. Cassidy, Ms. Cassidy. I apologize for my error.”

A glance between them was enough.

“Accepted,” said Cass, far more lightly than her previous tone. “And please, if we’re going to get anywhere in this discussion, I’m Cass. She’s Kendra. Doing the whole “Doctor Cassidy” and “Ms. Cassidy” is way too formal, not to mention confusing.”

“Then, please, call me Mya. Mr. O’Quinn is Theodore.”

“People usually call me Ted,” corrected O’Quinn. “Not the Director, of course.” That actually evoked a mild laugh.

“Fine. What say we start over, one last time?” Cass suggested.

“With more wine,” amended Kendra. “I think wine will help.”

Wine was distributed and the conversation started again.

“Mya, you told us that you wanted to get the Union off our backs and get the UE into space, right?” Cass looked for confirmation.

“That’s right.”

“Why? And don’t go all noble on me. No politician does anything for purely noble reasons. What’s behind this push?”

“I’ll answer that,” said O’Quinn. “In twenty years, the UE will have starved to death unless we can use our own minerals to improve conditions for our people.”

“Is that just the UE, or is it the whole world? Not to be crass, or cold, but doomsayers have been predicting a Malthusian disaster since, well, since Malthus!” Kendra gestured around her. “Sonora’s in pretty good shape, for example.”

“Oh, there are pockets which will be less impacted,” agreed O’Quinn. “But nowhere is immune. There simply aren’t enough rare earth metals being mined to supply what the UE needs plus satisfy the demands of the Accords.”

“And the demands are increasing,” added Hartman. “We can barely keep up as is.”

Kendra nodded. “And since the Union has the upper hand, no pun intended, they’re aware of everything you try.”

“Exactly.”

“Can’t the UE break the Accords? The Amendment, at least?” Cass looked up from her notes. “That would solve the problem, right?”

“We can break them, but then they drop rocks on us,” said Hartman. “I’m not willing to sacrifice any innocents.”

“But they have plenty of rare-earth metals!” insisted Mac. “It’s all over their systems, they’re trading in hundreds of kilos a week, just about anything you want to name, it’s being mined out of the asteroids mostly, their system security is really shoddy, it’s not even a single system, they might call themselves the Solarian Union but there’s no single organization, it’s just a bunch of colonies that more or less get along, or more or less go along with Artemis, and the only thing they all agree on is that they want the UE to keep shipping up ore, and like I said they have kilos and kilos of the stuff!”

“Can you share that with Mya? Mya, would that allow the UE to get out of the Amendments?”

Mac nodded, fingers working, while Hartman spoke. “We’ve had that information for years, regularly updated. As your specialist just said, their security is truly terrible. It still isn’t enough.”

“Why the frak not?” said Kendra.

“Because they can drop rocks on the UE.” Cass was nodding sadly as she said it. “While they might have a legal right to break the Amendment, that doesn’t do any good if the Union can force the issue.”

Hartman was nodding. “We have no military worth speaking of. Oh, there’s Lynch’s Protective forces, but they’re little more than a glorified police force. There’s no air or sea mobility worth discussing. The craft which is carrying our support?” She nodded at Stone. “You were right, by the way, it’s a Falcon transport. We had to rent it from the Republic of Texas for the duration. We don’t have any of our own.”

“In other words, you can’t project the force you have,” said Stone.

“Yes, exactly.”

“Ted, you had talked about refitting the Second Fleet. You totally stole that idea from Star Blazers, didn’t you?”

“Wha –”

“Hello? Mya, you did a background check on me. What was my hobby before I got into the Diana Project?”

Mya looked inward. “Twentieth, early twenty-first century pop culture.”

“Television and movies – sensies. Once we heard your meeting, and yeah, we heard it all, I did some digging. Wasn’t hard. So you want to turn Second Fleet into a bunch of Argos. How? Did you work the details out?”

O’Quinn looked to Hartman for permission before speaking. “We’ll have to do this in stages. First, evaluate the wrecks for usability.”

“Part of that is hull size,” added Hartman. “Kendra, how big is your warp drive?”

Now it was Kendra’s turn to look surprised.

Hartman looked just a bit smug. “Come now. We have our own sources of intel. Besides, you haven’t exactly been quiet about your projects.”

“Um. No, I guess not. The warp drive itself is fairly compact. Maybe fits in an area two meters wide, five meters long, three meters high.”

O’Quinn was enthusiastic. “That’s great! Almost any hull could take a warp drive then!”

Kendra looked regretful. “No, you really couldn’t. First there’s the radiation that the drive puts out. It’s easy enough to shield, for values of easy. Nothing exotic, or complicated. But it takes space. Then there’s the system that actually manipulates the warp field, and that takes up way more space. Finally, you have to consider that creating a warp field isn’t cheap, in terms of energy. Our test rig has two superconducting capacitors, each of which can store –” She stopped and checked her ‘plant. “Two terawatts. We use those to initiate the field, not run it, but good news, maintaining a warp field takes way less energy. Only about six gigawatts. Oh, and those capacitors need something to charge them. We use a He3 fusion reactor, so there’s that, plus fuel storage.”

“She’s saying it’s not small,” Cass clarified.

“How many cubic meters would the whole system need?”

“Let me ask my project head.” Kendra sent a ping to Roberts, asking her to open a hololink.

The voice started before the projection focused. “Do you know what time it is? Did you ever think I might be  busy with something else?”

“Were you?” asked Kendra.

“That’s not the point,” insisted the scientist, her image appearing. “I could have been.”

“But you weren’t.”

“Well, no.”

“I’ll bet you’re still at the test site. How did it go?”

“No problems at all! We ran up to full power, held it there for six hours, then smoothly collapsed it. Everything worked exactly as it did last time, and the time before. Boss, we’re ready!”

“You’re amazing, Val! That’s great news! Okay, so here’s an off-the-wall question for you.”

“Since when do you announce them?”

“Shut it. If we wanted to install a warp drive, how much space would it take up? Cubic meters.”

“What do you want included? Control runs? Fuel tanks? Sensors for warp navigation?”

“Just what has to be in proximity.”

“None of it needs to be in proximity. We could have the capacitors a kilometer away if we wanted, but we’d pay a penalty in current lost in transmission.”

Kendra resisted the urge to grind her teeth. “Let’s say we wanted to retrofit a ship with a warp drive.”

“Good luck with that! None of the ships your wife builds at HLC is designed for the stresses –”

“Can I have the simple answer, please? Hypothetically, then.”

“Hypothetically? Say five thousand cubic meters. That’s for the drive generator, capacitors, controls, and annie, plus shielding. Doesn’t include anything else.”

“Okay, that’s –”

“And this hypothetical ship better have massive Bussard scoops.”

“Right, good point –”

“And don’t forget the grav plates. Don’t want your crew floating around.”

“Oh, yes –”

“You’ll need good inertial dampers integrated into the design, otherwise, floating or not, that crew’s going to be paste the first time you push the accel.”

“Val!”

“What? It’s a goddam ridiculous question, Kendra! There is one, count ‘em, one, warp drive in existence, and it’s going to be installed in Enterprise just as soon as we get it dismounted and checked over for transport to orbit! We’re building more, but these aren’t like hoverbike engines, you can’t just order one off the shelf. At least for now, after we finish with the essential components, they’re going to be custom-built for the ship they’re fitted to.”

Kendra sighed. “Thanks for confirming what I thought.”

“If that’s what you thought, why didn’t you just ASK that?”

“Long story. I’ll comm you tomorrow –”

“You’re not going to leave me hanging!”

“- and fill you in.” Kendra shut down the link and turned to O’Quinn. “That’s what I thought. No warp retrofit for the fleet. And also no wave motion gun if you were thinking about that. That’s total felgercarb.”

“Felger-what?”

“Never mind. The point is, we can’t do what you’re thinking of. Sorry.”

Cass had been chewing the inside of her lip pensively. “Actually, we might be able to do something.”

Kendra whirled to face her wife. “You’re shitting me.”

“We can’t do a warp drive, or that gun thing, but Ted didn’t say anything about those, did he?”

“Hmm.”

“Ted, what exactly do you want to lift into orbit?”

“In the simplest form, something that will let us take the war to the Union.”

“What about an Orion?” said Cass.

“What’s an Orion?” asked Hartman, interested.

“It’s a really old idea for pushing heavy loads into orbit. Before Photonic Laser Thrusters, someone – Niven? Pournelle? Some rocket scientist – thought of building a big plate, stacking stuff on top of it, and then setting off nuclear bombs beneath it. The detonations would push the plate up with whatever was on the other side.”

“Holy shit,” whispered Kendra. “Nukes?”

“I didn’t say it was good idea,” Cass chastised her. “But it was the inspiration for the PLTs. We do the same thing, we just skip the violent turn-matter-into-energy part. Remember E=MC2? Well, you can apply that here.”

“I get that,” said O’Quinn. “But you can’t be thinking about setting off nuclear weapons beneath a ship?”

“No, I said that’s a bad idea. What I was thinking of was we build a plate, and then instead of nukes to lift it we use the most powerful PLTs we can build.”

“So we lift a plate into orbit? So what?”

Cass looked exasperated. “A plate with stuff on it. We refit the ships, strap them to the plate, and launch. Once in orbit, we release the ships and you’ve brought your war to the Union.”

O’Quinn was stupefied. “That’s brilliant!”

Cass shrugged. “I never said I wasn’t a genius.”

“Wait, wait,” interjected Stone. “Before you all get swelled heads. How are you going to get these ships onto this plate? I thought you all said the Union watched everything and had a nasty habit of dropping rocks on things they didn’t like. You think they’ll be chuffed to let you patch up warships for any reason?”

“Not if they think we’re going to strip them for scrap,” answered Cass.

“Why would they think that?”

“Because we’re going to buy them from whoever owns them and announce our plans to do just that.”

Quickly, Cass sketched out more of her idea. It all hinged on open-handed deception. The first step would be the building of the plate. If asked, it would be described as a new method to get large masses into orbit. PLTs would be built below it, for launch, and on top, for return to the surface. “And that’s all true,” said Cass. “We’re just not talking about what we’re going to launch.”

While the plate was being built, HLC would announce the purchase of the sunken fleet for scrap in the low-key way corporations used for routine transactions. They’d contract out the recovery to another Trust company. Recovery might be tricky, but Cass was confident that the purely technical issues would be worked out. Once the hulks were recovered the real work would begin.

“We’re going to have to make it really look like we’re gutting them for scrap,” said Cass.

“Which shouldn’t be a problem,” said Kendra. “We’re going to have to pretty well take out everything belowdecks to fit in engines, fuel, and munitions. And that doesn’t count the ships that we will be scrapping.”

“Scrapping?” said O’Quinn.

“It all has to look absolutely real. We’re going after the salvage rights to the whole fleet, right?”

“I suppose you would be.”

“Then we have to recover the whole fleet. And we’d start with the smaller units, to evaluate the recovery techniques, so they’re going to need taking care of. Actually, recovering the small ones first will buy us time. We can drag out the scrapping process as a reason why we won’t be working on the large ones. At least, not where we can be seen. The interiors, like I said. We’ll be gutting them.”

“What sort of munitions are we talking about?” said Stone.

“I think our best bet will be missiles,” answered Cass.

“Why missiles? Why not install lasers in the turrets? Can’t beat light speed for weapons.” O’Quinn looked rebellious.

“Because I don’t want to kill anyone we don’t have to, and once you fire a laser you can’t stop it. A missile you can self-destruct before impact.”

“Oh.”

Kendra added, “You really didn’t think this through, did you? “We’ll bring the war to the Union,” you thought, and you grabbed this idea and ran with it. Guess what? War is ugly, war is pain, and war is waste. No, you saw that television show, saw them blowing things up, and your little mind got all sorts of ideas.”

“We might be on board with the idea of resisting the Union. We might even think that having the UE in space will be a good thing. But if you think that we’re going to do anything that will wantonly slaughter people who just happen to be on the other side of a disagreement over exports you’ve got another think coming.”

“Ladies –” started O’Quinn, but Hartman cut him off.

“No. They’re right. Cass, Kendra, if you’re going to help us, then we’re going to listen most carefully to your concerns.”

Cass said, “Not good enough, Mya. You want us to do the work, take the risks, and give you cover. That means we call the shots, not you, not Ted, and not that jagoff Lynch.”

There was a long moment.

Finally Hartman spoke. “I think we can agree to that in principle. We’ll have to work out details.”

“There’s going to be time,” said Cass. “Best estimate we came up with for getting the recovery and refit done is three years.”

“Three years?” sputtered O’Quinn.

“Best case,” reiterated Cass. “Which is good because there’s no way in hell we’re going to settle everything tonight.”

“But you are going to help?”

Cass and Ken only needed a glance; it had all been decided that afternoon, in any case.

“Of course.”

Oh, the good old days.

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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