The Road to the Stars – Chapter Twenty-One

And this is where we started to put it all together.

We knew that the Solarian Union was pissed at us for launching a starship. Maybe we didn’t know why, precisely, but it was pretty clear they were.

What we didn’t expect was them to take action against us. Naive, yes, but none of us were professionals, not at the kind of level we’d need to be to predict what happened.

Lesson learned. First of many, and a painful one.

Right.

Adam’s doing a giveaway for a $50 Restaurant.com gift card, and all you have to start entering is click the next button. Go ahead, you know you wanna!

Chapter Twenty One

“What happened?” demanded Kendra as she entered Diana’s command center.

“There’s been an impact in Los Alamos,” reported one of Kyran’s deputies, Horst Pipher. “It’s been tentatively identified as a meteor strike.”

“Get confirmation on that,” she snapped. “Diana, why didn’t we have tracking?”

“We had tracking, Admiral, once it cleared Luna.”

“Then why weren’t we able to give more warning?”

“Admiral, I am not tasked to track natural objects on a regular basis, only when their projected path intersects with Federation locations, craft, or personnel locations.”

“Forget it for now. What can we do?”

“Emergency services are responding to the impact zone,” reported Pipher.

“Spectography indicates no radiation released; this is consistent with a meteor impact,” added Diana.

“Cassidy to Kleve.”

Mia answered. “Go ahead, Admiral.”

“Scramble your Wolfpack. I want you on the ground to assist with evac. Coordinate with – Pipher, who’s in charge down there?”

“They’re searching for Mayor Doughty now, but the Deputy Mayor, Tom Baldwin, has been alerted.”

“Got that name, Mia?”

“Baldwin.”

“Coordinate with them. Anything they need. Out.”

Kendra thought frantically as more and more members of Knott’s team filtered in.

“Admiral, what’s the situation?” asked Kyran when they arrived, breathless from running from their quarters.

In a few words, Kendra explained.

“And you’ve sent the whole Wolfpack down?”

“They should be launching any moment. Why?”

“You should hold one back, maybe two. Maintain that patrol you’ve set up.”

Kendra considered this. “They could do more good on the ground.”

“And if the Union sees that we’ve pulled our patrols, they might get some ideas,” argued Knott.

“You may have a point. Mia!”

“Admiral?”

“Did you pull the CAP yet?”

“No, Admiral; I plan to have them join us en route.”

“Keep them on station. And hold back one other Wolf. Who’s your most aggressive CM?”

“That would be Max Loosli; she’s the prime CM for the Bell.”

“Keep her and her EM. They can spell the Faraday on CAP.”

“Understood. We’re going to be launching in two minutes. Make sure the sky’s clear, ‘cause we’re going balls to the wall.”

“Sky’s all yours, Mia. Do good.”

“Aye aye. Out.”

“Diana, you heard her. If there’s anything inbound, wave it off, and I want a clear flight path for them. Make it happen. If groundside wants to argue, take ‘em over, lock ‘em out, and let me explain.”

“Yes, Admiral. I’m already in communication with Space Command.”

“I don’t know what else we can do from up here, Kyran. We’ve lost all contact with the house, but I’m not surprised.”

“Maybe you could contact Cass’s replacement at HLC?”

“Oh, right. Kim something.”

“You don’t know her?”

Kendra shrugged. “I’ve been busy.” She held up a hand as her ‘plant contacted Culbertson and Kendra gave her a quick run-down of the situation.

When she finished, Pipher was looking for her attention.

“Admiral, there’s something odd about this impact.”

“Define odd.”

“A few things. Can I show you? Do you have time?”

“Until our birds land, I’ve got nothing but time. Lead on.”

On his displays, Pipher had several images pulled up.

“First, this is the track of the object from when Space Command picked it up to impact.” A line, starting about forty thousand kilometers above the planet, came into view. “This represents just about thirteen minutes. Do you see anything odd?”

Kendra considered it. “No, but I’m no astronomer. What am I looking for?”

“It comes in from ahead of the Earth’s orbital track and impacts on the night side of the planet.”

“So?”

“An object on that orbit is tracking in-system.”

“Lots of junk out there,” objected Kendra.

“Yes, lots of junk, but objects headed in-system are being pulled by the sun. That’s a huge amount of force. Comets on their inbound trajectory have been measured to be moving upwards of four hundred KPS.”

“So they’re fast.”

“Very fast. Admiral, the object was traveling just over fifty KPS. And part of that is the movement of the Earth; the Earth moves in its orbit at twenty-nine KPS. Twenty plus KPS inherent movement for an interplanetary object, that’s just about standing still.”

“Okay. I’m with you so far.”

“Second, nobody spotted this object until it was forty thousand kilometers from Earth. That just doesn’t happen. There are literally dozens of organizations, on Earth and in the Union, that do nothing but track sub-planetary objects. They’re a hazard to navigation, for one thing, and can be a good source of tradable commodities. That’s why the Miner’s Guild is involved.”

“Suspicious, but doesn’t stuff get missed?”

“Oh, yes, but you can extrapolate the path of the object outward. There was plenty of data gathered.” Another monitor showed the same track in red, with another one in blue heading out-system.

“Looks fine to me. What am I looking for?”

“Notice how close it passes to Luna?”

“Yes. Pity it didn’t hit there; they have lots more open ground.”

“They have a rather good observatory on Luna. Richardson. They should have noticed it. Damn it, they have to have noticed it. They’ve reported much smaller objects than this!”

“Again, stuff gets missed.”

“They can’t have missed this! Here, look at this third screen.” Pipher was getting agitated. “Look!”

On the third monitor, both the known and theorized tracks of the object showed, as well as a virtual constellation of points of light.

“Those are Union ships and satellites. We know exactly where they are, just like they know where all of the Earth ships and satellites are. Part of the Accords established that anything that leaves Earth’s atmosphere has to broadcast their location on a common, known frequency. It’s like the old air traffic devices.”

“Thanks for the history lesson.”

“Dammit, Admiral, use your eyes!”

“Horst. You need to calm –” Kyran started to intervene before her deputy totally lost his cool.

“No, Kyran. I see it. Can you magnify this?” Kendra pointed.

Wordlessly, Pipher zoomed in where she was pointing.

“What’s the scale on this?”

“As accurate as the locators. There’s a potential ten meter variance.”

“You’re right. They couldn’t have not noticed. That object came within the margin of error of the location of that ship.”

“Kendra, they could have been proximate in space, but not time,” said Kyran.

“Pipher? I assume you thought of that, too.”

“Monitor four.”

The fourth monitor put it all together and put everything in motion on a loop, backwards from impact, running through minutes in just seconds.

“Can we see just where those two cross?”

Again, the image zoomed in.

“Meters, Kyran, and seconds.”

“And that’s why they would have reported it! That ship would have reported to Artemis City, Richardson Observatory would confirm, and by treaty they would have informed Space Command. It’s one of the few things that works for Earth in the Accords, and they’ve always, always, honored it.”

“Fuck me. Diana, have you been listening?”

“Yes, Admiral. Deputy Pipher’s conclusion is correct. I have reviewed all available data, and would like to bring something else to your attention.”

“Go ahead,” said Kendra, her voice hard.

The fourth monitor flickered, then changed to show just a single object.

“This is the trajectory of the ship that passed closest to the object,” said Diana. “According to their own data, it was launched from Artemis City at thirteen oh six, flew to this spot, lingered until the object passed, then returned to Artemis City.”

“I know what that says to me, Diana, but can you think of some other reason for their course?”

“No reason with more a probability more than eight percent, Admiral.”

“This was no accident, no meteor strike. This was an attack.” There was ice in her voice. “Diana, do we have an exact impact point yet?”

“We have an impact point within a margin of error of five meters, Admiral.” The main monitor lit to show a map of the Valles Caldera, with a red dot for the impact.

“And the location of my home?”

A green dot lit.

“How far away is that?”

“Eight hundred fourteen meters, Admiral.”

There was silence in the command center.

“Recall the Wolves, Commodore. Arm your missiles. I don’t think this is over.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

The Road to the Stars – Book 2 – Chapter 21

Published by gaffen620

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

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