Trouble with the Natives
by Karlos Allen
Table of Contents
Chapter 4, Chapter 6
appear in this issue.
When they entered the fabrication module Aspen was waiting for them. Singh could tell he’d been getting a little impatient. He covered it with a smile and then held up an object.
Singh looked at it. “This is what you’ve got for us? What is it?”
Next to him Nate sucked in a sharp breath, “It’s an electromagnetic pulse bomb. Anarchists and Luddites like to use them. They’re cheap and destroy technology without killing anyone. Unless of course they’re on life-support. It’s illegal even to know how to build them.” He raised his voice, “Aspen, where did you get that design?”
“This? It’s obvious. I got to thinking about a good way to shut down a spaceship and it seemed that crashing the computer and electrical system would do the trick. For that I needed a way of generating a sharp EMP with what we had on hand. This suggested itself. Elegant, isn’t it?
“The coils are charged by the super-density capacitors, then the explosive charge bursts the aluminum tube and shorts the coils out, forcing the field off the end. These conductive plastic coils are even better than copper wire because they turn superconducting at about a hundred degrees below zero C. The cone surrounding it focuses the burst at the target.”
“Are you saying you came up with this on your own?” Nate asked.
“Yes, why? Is this a known design?
“Yes, the Luddites used it to shut down LA in ’43. Since then it’s been illegal to have this design, even for historical purposes. That model is a five-year prison term itself.”
Aspen drew himself up, “This is no model. This is the real thing.”
Singh raised his voice, “Is it strong enough to disable their ship? It doesn’t seem like it could possibly generate enough of a pulse for that.”
“That’s the beauty of EMP. This isn’t strong enough, but a string of them going off one after another will have a cumulative effect much greater than a single burst. It works even better if the shielding is damaged. The damage we’ve already caused quite likely opened some gaps this can use.”
“How many can we make with the supplies on hand?”
“I estimate about two hundred. If we launch them in a cloud at the ship, and they can get relatively close before going off, we might be able to disable it completely.”
One of the probe techs spoke up. “I see it’s running on cold gas thrusters. That won’t give it much speed. What do we do if the ship sees then coming and just goes around them?”
Aspen actually looked a little deflated. “We... We will just have to make sure that doesn’t happen.” He tried to sound assured and arrogant but it still came out pretty weak. He’d obviously expected that the enemy would tamely sit still and allow his brainchild to vindicate him.
“That’s OK, Aspen. Let’s build as many as we can in the next couple of hours. I would like everyone who isn’t currently working on a project or maintaining the ship to report to Dr. Aspen to build these.”
Aspen came over after everyone had started to work. “Thank you, Singh...”
“Don’t thank me yet, Aspen. That tech was right. However, I do have a couple of ideas myself and I think these will go a long way toward making them work. Good job.” Singh headed back toward the office motioning Nate to follow.
“What’s up, Singh?”
“Nate, I’m going to be honest with you. I need you to support me.”
“We talked a few days ago about the difference between the org chart and reality, remember?”
“Yes, what about it?”
“I’m beginning to think that the people who wrote that chart knew what they were doing. We drifted away from it because it was easy. We’re all academics. The org chart didn’t fit our style, so we ignored it. We can’t do that anymore. I need you to be my executive officer, not just the tech crew’s representative.”
“Unquestioning obedience then?”
“No. I want you to keep doing what you’ve been doing, pointing out where I could be missing something or making a mistake. But I need you to do it in private, and I need you to speak for the whole crew, OK? Not just the techs. We’re all in this together. I’m going to stop referring to ‘science’ and ‘tech’ crews and I’d like you to do the same.”
Nate took a deep breath. “OK,” he nodded, “That sounds fair, I’ll try. But two years of habit is hard to break. How do I find out what the science crew needs?”
“You mean the ‘scientists on the crew,’ right?” Singh looked at him till he nodded. “I would think that would be easy. You’ve already got a close relationship with Deb. I’m sure you talk about a lot of things. Sound her out. Don’t hide what you’re doing. I’m sure she’d be happy to help.”
Nate looked a little uncomfortable, “About Deb and me.”
“What, you aren’t thinking of breaking up with her, are you?”
“No. All this talk about Macaroon though. Did you know station-siders practice marriage?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I didn’t. Deb admired her a lot and because of that, she admires station-siders in general. She... She actually wants to do that. In fact she’s getting pretty insistent about it.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. Deb’s great. She’s got a depth and intelligence that I’ve never seen before, but that’s a whole lifetime she’s talking about there.”
“Well, according to my job description, I’m not supposed to intrude on the private lives of the crew unless it impacts their performance. But I will give you some advice. Come to a decision now. Don’t do anything to deepen the relationship unless you’re ready to go there.
“And if you can’t handle that, get out, don’t jolly her along. It will only make things worse and I won’t stand for it on this ship.” Nate looked up in surprise. “Bad things can happen when people play those kind of games in confined quarters, Nate. Besides, Deb’s good people. She doesn’t deserve that.”
“Thanks, Singh, I’ll think it over. Anything else?”
“No. How long before we reach the knot?”
“About six hours, give or take. We figure it’ll take about an hour to load the sail which gives us about two hours before they get within firing range. I never expected to see space combat, but if it were to happen I certainly never expected it to be so slow.”
“That makes two of us. Alright, I’m going to try to catch a nap. If I’m not on the control deck when we reach the knot, call me, OK?”
Naturally, he couldn’t sleep. By the time they reached the knot, he’d already been in the control deck hovering over Nate for a couple of hours.
“Singh, I’ve been looking at this knot.” Nate called up a false-color image. “It already has a pretty good rotation going on, almost like an eddy in the ring.”
“Well, if we match it we should be able to load the sail a lot faster. We could be ready for them within half an hour.”
“Good, let’s do it.” Singh rolled his shoulders trying to break the tension in his back; pacing was one of the luxuries of gravity you didn’t even know existed until it was gone. He called the fabrication module.
“How’s it going Aspen?”
“Fine, Singh. We’ve built about a hundred EMP torpedoes, that’s what we’ve been calling them. We should be able to build about twenty more before they get within range.”
“Good, do that many and then stop. Everybody down there will need a break and also a chance to make it to the cellar before things get nasty.”
“I would like to go to the control module, Singh. This was my idea and I’d like to have a hand in launching and detonating them.”
“Fair enough, get some food and water in you first and then go there.”
Nate was watching him a little oddly, “Is it my imagination or did he just ask permission to do something?”
“We’ve come to an understanding, Nate. Also, this is important to him and he knows that asking gets farther with me. I just hope it lasts.”
The knot didn’t look like much when they got close, but then knots never did. Singh strapped himself down in the observer’s seat as Nate deftly positioned the ship above the center of the eddy and then started the ship spinning in the same direction. He could already feel his stomach protesting as the speed built up and he focused hard on the display trying to keep everything down.
“OK, Singh, we’re ready to extend the field.”
“Whe-URRAHHCCKK,” Singh watched in horror as the contents of his stomach shot toward the display.
Nate hastily ducked aside and grabbed for some absorbent cloths.“Whew, are you OK ?”
Singh took a deep breath and tried again, “Where. Is. The. Enemy. Ship?”
“Still on course, Singh. It’s right there, no, sorry, that’s a piece of tofu.” He wiped the screen again. “It’s there, still moving away. It’ll be below the horizon in another ten minutes.”
“We don’t,” he gulped, “want that. Extend field now.”
* * *
Krallgh was in the command center watching his ship move further away from the base as Zhrey obstinately continued his search for the natives. How someone like that ever got command of anything was beyond Krallgh. Perhaps there was some truth to the stories of nepotism and corruption in the officer corps after all. Suddenly the Watch Officer signaled him over. “Sir look at this!”
He glanced down. “Put it on the main screen.”
On the larger screen it was impressive. From the top of the ring a wall was rising up. As he watched, it curved around and spun into a gray cylinder, towering above the ring. He saw flashes in it as electrical imbalances discharged. It looked as though a huge thundercloud had appeared in space, boiling out of nowhere. As he watched, it began to shrink slightly, becoming denser and spinning even faster.
“What IS that?”
The Watch Officer was scanning. “I think it’s the natives’ ship, sir. Apparently they’ve run their sail into a magnetized cloud in the ring. I can’t understand why.”
“I can, they’re calling Zhrey to them. What is the mass of that cloud?”
“About 200 kilotons, sir.”
Sreagh stepped into the room right then. He glanced at the screen. “So the natives are making their move, huh?”
“Yes, think it’ll work?”
“I don’t know. It’s certainly got Zhrey’s attention,” he pointed. “He’s broken off the search and headed for that clump as fast as he can.”
Krallgh leaned over to the com officer, “Transmit to the cloud the tracking data and a rundown of the ship’s last known status.” He settled on the command cushion, “It’s time we kept our part of the bargain.”
Suddenly the cruiser changed course. “Sir! I’m reading multiple missile locks on the base!”
Krallgh jumped to his feet. “Extend the particle shield, maximum power! Activate point defenses! Everybody get below. Com officer, sound for orbital bombardment, evacuate all personnel to the deep shelters!” He turned and led the way to the command shelter.
The ship seemed to have been spinning forever. Singh noticed, though, that it wasn’t bothering him so much anymore. Maybe it was because there wasn’t anything left in his stomach. He noticed the co-pilot listening to the low-gain radio and dimly remembered the alien base had been transmitting for some time. On the screen there was nothing but a gray blur now that the sail had been loaded.
“Any word on the remote scanner?”
Nate looked up, “Glad to see you back, Singh. Not yet; it’s working its way though the sail along the axis of rotation. We’ll establish a laser link with it in about twenty minutes. The base reports that their ship — they call it a cruiser — has fired on them. The missiles will be impacting in about a half hour.”
“Good. I think I’m feeling a little better now.”
“I should hope so. The doctor shot you so full of anti-nausea drugs that I feel better. Wow,” he shook his head, “I haven’t seen somebody lose it like that since my initial space training. That guy sells cars now. How did you get into space with a stomach like that?”
“Luck. Pure luck. Good or Bad, I don’t know, but luck is all it was.”
A few minutes later the screen lit up again as the feed from the remote linked in. Nate automatically focused on the base and began zooming in. Soon they could see five small sparks accelerating toward it and a larger spark accelerating away toward them.
The base itself could be seen as a blue dome as though someone had taken their plasma sail and attached it to the ground. As they watched, flickers of light shot upward toward the missiles which responded by dodging and weaving; there was a small explosion and then another as some of them were taken out but two got past. Then there were two much larger explosions as they detonated. Two impossibly bright spheres bulged out from the moonlet.
The co-pilot looked up. “The base has stopped transmitting, Singh.”
“That does not surprise me. Nate, get that footage to Tsao and the Remote Sensing crew. I want to know what would happen if those detonate against our sail.”
Tsao called back with the analysis within a half hour. “We ran this in extreme slow motion. Their shield actually held out for quite a while. Explosives aren’t nearly as effective in space as in an atmosphere. There’s nothing to carry the shock wave, so the real damage is done by heat, EMP and radiation.
“You can see here,” a single frame displayed on the screen, “the field is being pushed down all the way to the surface. I’d say the heat probably destroyed all the surface installations, you can see them evaporating.
“Here,” another frame popped up, “the field has collapsed and the surface installations are gone. Finally here’s a real time picture of the moonlet right now. Notice, the buildings are gone, but there’s no discernible crater.”
“What are the odds anybody survived?”
“Actually I’d say they’re pretty good, if they have any kind of shelters. They probably won’t be able to transmit or receive anything for a while, though. That was probably the cruiser’s immediate intention. They can always go back and pound the base into submission later.”
“Can we hold out against that?”
“No. Maybe near misses, but if they detonate against the sail... Well, our sail is dense enough now that it will transmit the shock wave, then it’ll all be over.”
“OK, but they would have to detonate against the sail to do any good, right?”
Singh rubbed his face. “Nate, I need you to display in real-time the position of the cruiser. I want you to mark off a line at twenty miles out and a second one at five miles out from the surface of the sail. How big is it right now?”
“About ten miles across.”
“OK, where’s the cruiser?”
“Here, still almost a hundred thousand miles out but closing fast. ETA is about an hour if you include their observed deceleration times and they try to match courses with us.”
“That sounds reasonable. OK, give me another line at one hundred miles out. Call the probe control module for me too, please.”
Aspen’s voice came over the intercom, “Probe control here.”
“Aspen? How many torpedoes do you have charged and ready to launch?”
“All hundred and twenty are charged. However, we can only launch about twenty at a time because of the spin. It would take us about three minutes to launch them all.”
“OK. I want you to have a hundred of them ready to go. Hold the last twenty in reserve. It looks as though the cruiser will be in range in about an hour.”
Nate looked at him. “What are you thinking of?”
“I’m not sure. I’m hoping the captain of that cruiser is as impulsive and aggressive when he attacks us as he has been since he launched. Do you notice the style is completely different this time out?”
“Yeah, almost like it’s a different captain.”
“I wonder if maybe our friend Krallgh might not have been the one that off’d Mac.”
Nate’s eyes widened. “I wouldn’t spread that around, Singh. I mean, if there are survivors at the base, we might end up having to mount some kind of rescue. That kind of suspicion could cause a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve already considered that. Besides, we have no proof.” He rubbed his face again, “I wish that ship would hurry up and get here!”
Copyright © 2007 by Karlos Allen