When I get an idea for a book I usually write a chapter or two. I have a half dozen in various stages. I’ll get back to them if I can but the series get first call on my time.
However, here is a little teaser.
A Quick Clean Victory
“What are the numbers?” Commander Three Fingers demanded.
“Oxygen is about one part in five, maybe a little low, gravity is high, eight parts per hundred extra from standard. Spin is about seven-eighths of a standard day. The planet must have a big iron core,” the navigator/astrophysicist Blue mused.
“Temperature?” The officer asked gruffly. He wasn’t interested in abstract knowledge now.
“Well below the zero point of water freezing at the axis ends, all over the scale elsewhere. I’m seeing some areas at near half the scale to boiling, the terrain is rugged with large mountains and active volcanism on several continents. Temperature varies with altitude and proximity to the large bodies of water. It has a big tilt to its axis too. There’s more water than land, and it seems to be deeper than we can measure on passive scan out this far. Once we get well inside the orbit of that big moon I’ll get a reading.”
“Why don’t you sweep it with low frequency radar then?” Three Fingers asked, irritated.
“There is a technological presence on the planet. They may easily detect us, if I go to active scan.”
“Worse than that, I detect neutrino emissions and artificial satellites,” Blue said, quietly.
“People?” Three Fingers asked, tense.
“Not our kind, nor Tigers, nor Bugs,” Blue assured him. “But whatever they are there’s a lot of them. I can already see surface artifacts.”
“Set for stealth running, no emissions, not even internal wireless,” Three Fingers ordered. The flight deck sounded with a brief buzz, as a dozen belt communicators vibrated, and displayed a notice that all com was restricted to hard wired.
“There’s no artificial radiation from other planets in the system,” Blue added.”I’d be surprised if they are advanced enough to detect such low powered emissions.”
“So would I,” Three Fingers agreed. “And the last thing I need right now is any more surprises. I wish we could just pass on to the next few systems, and not have to deal with them.”
“Chances of a planet on which we could survive are so low it would be suicide. We have limited life support, several critical systems without redundancy, leaks it is impossible to evaluate without going EV, and a lot of our spare parts were blown to hell in the beam hole blown through decks twenty-six and twenty-seven by that Bug cruiser. Most folks would say we are unbelievably lucky to take a clean through beam weapon hit and not break up. Have you ever heard of it happening before?” Blue asked.
“No, but odds were pretty slim we’d come out of jump fifty man lengths from the Bugs. They were so close the beam didn’t have enough range to spread. And the bridge record shows they fired faster than any biological reaction time, so it was an automated response. They probably never saw any need to program their systems to hold fire if the target was too close.”
“And we jumped back out on automatic too,” Blue reminded him needlessly. Their problem then had been that they couldn’t turn the faster than light drive off, and nobody had ever proposed such a problem occurring, much less a fix. They had finally cut the power panel to the whole ship, to let it drift, allowing someone to disassemble the drive controls, coasting dark and without any gravity. “The beam was probably still on when we disappeared. I imagine none of them actually saw us until later when they reviewed their cameras as to why their weapon fired, and why there was a sudden debris field expanding away from them. We appeared and left faster than your brain could register it. I just wish our weapons had been programmed to fire automatically too.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Three Fingers assured him. “The tidal forces from jumping out that close will have warped and damaged the Bug cruiser badly. I don’t know about Bugs, but the tidal gradient would have been sufficient to kill or injure most of our crew were our actions reversed. If they didn’t have help close at hand, they might not have had sufficient crew functional to save the ship. Be glad they didn’t have it automated to jump out first if there was a ship too close.”
“Pilot, ease us into an orbit around the metastable point between the planet and the giant moon, with as little observable drive use as possible. Make it a big enough loop we are not silhouetted against the bright face of the satellite. I want to know some basics before we go in any closer. How many natives, some idea what they look like, and the level of their technology. Start accumulating data about their language, and if it has an acoustical component we can hear or speak. I’m exhausted. I’m taking a rest period, as should any of the prime team who have been up so long. I’ll examine your reports when rested, and we change shifts.”
* * *
“How many languages?” Three Fingers asked. Blue wasn’t sure he believed him.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve identified seventeen, but I really expect to find more.”
“This is insane. We don’t have the assets to deal with that many languages. They have world-wide travel, why would they retain isolated languages?”
“I have no idea, but here is something interesting. They use one language for air traffic control. The same language that is used at several widely separated, but large areas on the planet. We’re concentrating on it, because we can record their instructions to an aircraft, and then watch how it maneuvers.”
“That has promise,” Three Fingers agreed. He put his inside thumb along his jaw and his three fingers cupped across his chin, deep in thought. The maimed hand still bothered Blue, after serving with him for years, but he forced himself not to look away.
“They have image transmission, in fact sequence video, which gives us a good idea how fast their nervous systems work and how fast they can react,” Blue boasted. “They are really similar to us. Upright bipeds with a similar face, but only one thumb, thinner, and the young feeding glands are weird, up near their arm pits instead of down on their hips. I’ll put a couple on the screen,” Blue offered.
After a few minutes study Three Fingers asked to make sure, “These are all the same race?”
“Yes, there is quite a wide range of physical size, pigmentation, and hair patterns.”
“I’d have said they are dainty compared to us, except for that fellow,” He pointed out a screen capture of a Suma wrestler, scowling with greased hair tied back tightly.
“Yes, he reminds me disturbingly of my mother-in-law,” Blue revealed. “The same hair too.”
“No wonder you signed up for the deep sky services,” Three Fingers understood at last.
“We have an approximation of their basic unit of length. Their man length is about two of their units called meters. They run an extra one part in ten taller than us – mostly,” Blue hedged. We have their numerals with some certainty, which are base ten, and enough videos had time counters we found there common short time unit is very close to our second. But it appears they count time in increments of sixty instead of a hundred. Don’t ask me why.”
“If it looks like they have never had contact with another race, that’s to the good,” Three Fingers said, “because they won’t have technological weapons. By this cultural stage territorial disputes should be historic, and military weapons a curiosity in museums, if they’ve never faced anything like the Bugs.”
“Maybe…I’ve seen some strange things I can’t explain,” Blue admitted.
“Like what?” Three Fingers demanded.
“We saw several groups of ships like this,” Blue explained, putting an overhead view on the screen. It showed a number of surface vessels clustered around a big ship. “Look at the big ship closer,” he invited and zoomed in on it.
“Aircraft? Fixed wing aircraft on an ocean going vessel? Do they need them for refueling stations? Do they use really low energy density fuels? I can’t see this being economically viable. How big is that vessel?” he demanded.
“Half the length of the Protector,” Blue told him. “Greater than half our volume though.”
Three Fingers contemplated that silently a bit.
“However, they don’t store them all on deck, like we grapple our combat shuttles. They take them below decks on elevators and carry a variety of aircraft. Most of them seem to loiter around the ship awhile, and then land again. They will fly a big oval above the group at about a hundred-sixty man-lengths per second. A few times they would sprint off at three hundred man lengths per second. The thermal signature indicates they use air-breathing rockets.”
“That’s mighty expensive technology,” Three Fingers protested. “Back on Home I, there were only a couple hundred fast couriers using that sort of engine.”
“They have thousands of aircraft using that sort of propulsion,” Blue assured him. “Oh, and while we were watching, a small aircraft left this small island here,” he drew a circle on the screen with his pointer, ” and it landed on the big ship deck. It flew at over seven hundred man- lengths per second. As close as we can see it doesn’t have any wings. It must derive all its lift and control from the body shape.”
“There have been proposals to build such a thing from time to time,” Three Fingers acknowledged. “In theory it could be done, with exotic materials, but it would cost hundreds of times what a conventional aircraft would. The Bugs and the Tigers certainly have never made one, so we have little incentive to make one to match them. It seems like if you are going to that much expense, you might as well go ahead and build an orbital shuttle.”
“Oh, the neutrino emissions I spoke of? It is hard to localize, but it appears some of the ships are nuclear powered. It is an odd pattern, as if it is not just one fuzzy dot localized on the big ship but several nodes in the neutrino detector nearby. You know it doesn’t give a super sharp image,” Blue said.
“Nuclear powered wet navy? It just keeps getting stranger and stranger. We need to send some drones, maybe even a manned shuttle down to collect data. Draw up a list of things that caught your interest. Oh, and send a long range disk drone to get a close look at that big ship. If we ever make it back home, they won’t believe that without pictures.”
* * *
Well away from land in the Indian Ocean, the battle group around the CVN 147 George W. Bush looked for hazards to come to them from the north and west, from the Indian subcontinent or Africa. That didn’t mean they didn’t watch the entire horizon. The Bush was the last built of the three carriers still in service of the double hulled Clinton class. All the new ones were submersibles. It had three times the deck area of the old Ford class. It could launch its entire fleet of aircraft in fifteen minutes, since none of them needed catapult assistance, and it could land them on four capture lanes, staggered at three minute intervals. The elevators took the recovered aircraft down on the inside, in the sheltered space between the hulls, to access three hanger decks.
“Cap three turn to one-seven-three and go to FMP. Climb to 28k meters. We have a radar return that does not fit any known aircraft or missile closing at five, five, zero knots. We wish you to make a visual of the bogey in passing.
“Cap four, go to 30k meters on one-seven-four, and loiter for possible intercept. We are broadcasting the standard warning to turn aside before the three hundred kilometer limit.”
Battle Group Commander Higgins had splashed three intruders in the last two years, who had tried to see how close they could get. Two were unmarked which was disturbing, and one had Pakistani marks which he flat out didn’t believe. Three hundred kilometers was way too close to allow something to approach so aggressively on a direct line for his carrier, but it was published doctrine for peace time, whatever that was. If he had an ongoing attack, he’d open his exclusion zone to a thousand kilometers, and if that happened to overlap the tip of India or Sri Lanka, tough shit. He had eight thousand lives and a couple Trillion dollars in his battle group, and he intended to return home with them all safe.
“Cap three, come left slightly as you will pass at five hundred meters on your current heading. We’d like to get that down to two hundred. Activate your sight camera, but do not go hot on weapons. You may back off FMP after passing and come around.”
Cap three, Alex Davison, put a little pressure on his stick to the left, and then came back on course, flipping the switches for the gun camera.
“Passing in twenty seconds from…Mark!”
At a combined speed of around three-thousand kilometers an hour Alex wasn’t going to read any nose art on what went past, but he was very unhappy at what he saw. At his silence the CDC prompted him. “Can you identify the intruder, Captain?”
“It’s an anomalous circular aircraft sir, very thin in cross section, and silvery metallic, sir.”
“It’s a frigging flying saucer!” he blurted out. Crap. It might be a flying saucer, but if it didn’t turn aside pretty quickly, it was going to be confetti raining down on the ocean. He reduced power and started a long easy turn to the west, getting well away from behind what he was pretty sure would soon be a target.
“Splash him as soon as he is a centimeter inside the limit,” the Director ordered. “I don’t give a damn if he is waving at us, green with deely boopers, he doesn’t get a shot at the carrier.”
“Cap four, turn to one-seven-one and descend to 29k meters. You are weapons hot, repeat, weapons hot. Fire upon target lock. You should have him in range already.”
“Roger, hot and descending,” Hal Roberts acknowledged.
From when he activated the targeting radar, until acquired the incoming craft was only about three seconds. He selected a missile that was designed for head on shots, but once it was released to his designated target it homed on its own radar. A gentle squeeze of the trigger on his stick sent it on its way. It popped from his weapons bay with a lurch, and a slight shudder of the airframe as the port opened and closed to allow it not to drop, but be thrown out. It launched inactive, but stabilized and the engine started. It passed him in less than a half second. It was a measure of his confidence in the weapon that he hadn’t asked to fire two of them. In the time it took him to blink there was an exhaust contrail to infinity from his viewpoint, the actual missile out of sight. In another two seconds there was a hot white spark of light at the end of the white thread. “Splash one,” he announced.
“AWACS confirms debris falling. That’s a definite kill,” CDC told him.
Does that mean I get to paint a little saucer on my kill marks? Hal wondered.
* * *
“Shiny, you’ve slicked drones like that around Bug missiles before. What happened?” Three Fingers asked. He didn’t seem angry, just genuinely curious.
“Oh, I jinked hard,” Shiny said, nervously wiping the bald top of his head that gave him his name. “I have to say that missile could really turn, and it was making radio emissions, I think it had its own radar, besides the one on the aircraft.”
The commander looked at the weapons operator, still sitting at the drone controls, digesting that. “Who the hell could afford to throw away an expensive radar set, on every individual missile they shoot off?” He finally asked. He didn’t really expect an answer, but the tech answered very literally, “Maybe they are all filthy rich.”
“They were repeatedly transmitting the same sequence on several different frequencies,” Blue said behind him. “I think we need to prioritize the words in that transmission in building the dictionary.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Three Fingers allowed. “But I think you can eliminate, ‘Welcome Galactic Travelers’ from your phrase list.”