Authors: Chris Hechtl
“I'm afraid everyone in orbit will be too busy fending off Skynet to help much, sir,” the AI said softly. Jack just grunted as he continued staring out into the abyss.
“Well, I knew it wouldn't last forever. Mankind was overdue for a good bloodletting. Long overdue considering the population, environment, and resources. Consider this population control,” Roman said.
“So not funny,” Trevor said, looking at the reports. It was too much for anyone, even an enhanced human to keep up with.
“Who's being funny? I'm being realistic,” Roman said. He closed his eyes. Despite that, he could still see the flashes of weapons of mass destruction going off on the globe spinning below. Some were also going off in space, bright brief strobes of light as hidden weapons satellites came on line, or weapons on the various stations came on line to defend themselves. Lasers were invisible, but missiles and kinetic weapons were not. “Did I ever tell you my family is down there?” he whispered.
“Sorry,” Trevor murmured. His own family was dead. He'd never formed personal attachments; most people who saw his physical body were horrified or scornful. One of the reasons when he did socialize he preferred to do it virtually—or did. Now he was wondering if his insistence on machinery had been misplaced. He was pretty sure everyone who survived the initial onslaught would be wondering the same thing.
“And I've got friends on the L-5 colonies,” Roman murmured, face twisting in anguish briefly as he watched a cloud of kinetic rounds turn a habitat into a colander. Thousands of people were dying in the vacuum of space, and there was nothing he could do about it from so far away. Nothing at all. He knew that would haunt him until the end of his days. The way things were going that might be soon, very soon.
Despite Athena's attempts at protecting the stations in orbit as well as the L-4 and L-5 colonies, some were hammered by weapons anyway. Over the centuries each of the super powers had secreted a few weapons in orbit. It had been an open dirty little secret that the people in power knew and most of the public knew, but everyone tried to forget. Ares had managed to prevent the American platforms from being suborned but not those of the foreign powers.
Hunter killer platforms went after the American and corporate platforms. Ares directed his platforms to defend themselves. They took out many of the enemy platforms, ignoring the corporate and civilian platforms, craft, and pods. The distributed fire of Skynet's suborned platforms proved to be a mistake for the virus; it allowed Ares to take them out one by one.
and other tugs saw the brief spat of violence, but it was over too quickly in their area for them to react.
Athena noted the combat four minutes later and took measures of her own. Lagroose Industries had been contracted by the UN to protect the Earth from potential planet killers for decades. She sent orders to the platforms in L-5 orbit as well as those in Mars and other locations to target all of the military satellites.
Ares had 40 percent of his platforms remaining when the incoming fire tore them apart. An evaluation of where it came from revealed the Lagroose platforms. The A.I. logged the company as a hostile force.
The damage to many of the stations and platforms was done however. Those that did not have meteor defenses had been hammered into air bleeding wrecks. Some tumbled, torn apart by the missiles and lasers. Clouds of debris surrounded them.
They weren't the only ones to suffer damage. Two minutes after the orgy of destruction began, missiles arrived from the outer dark to strike the unsuspecting L-4 and L-5 colonies. Without communications to warn them of the incoming fire, they were unaware that the fire was incoming. Fortunately the A.I. on board were on the lookout for the attack and acted to protect themselves. Gia invaded her station's computer system to take control. She was unfamiliar with the antimeteor defenses so her first defensive fire was wild and uncoordinated. Her genetic algorithms allowed her to adjust on the fly. Once the bewildered station crew realized the threat, they threw themselves in to help.
Athena had already put the Lagroose platforms in L-5 orbit on alert status. They fared the best, taking on the missiles and fire and shattering them with their own counter-fire. They also did their best to defend their neighbors. However, they couldn't cover the entire region. It was too vast; there were too many platforms and colonies obscuring their laser's view.
Atlas and Demeter also had to defend themselves as well as the nearby Axial 1-2 colony pair. Both A.I. realized on their own that if the colony was damaged or destroyed its resulting debris field would be detrimental to their own colony's health.
Those stations in Earth orbit that had survived the onslaught ran a brief damage control effort and then used their station keeping thrusters to break for higher orbits—or to move outside Earth orbit totally. When a few of the other stations noted the movement, they followed in a mass exodus. Only a few stations like Lagroose 1-3 remained.
Jack saw the damage of his orbital stations, but he also saw the spreading pods, craft, and stations that had been left behind in Earth orbit. “Athena, use the whisker laser. Order our people to make for higher orbit once they have their damage under control, but not too high. Order them to help in the rescue effort.”
“Their hands are tied with the prohibition on transmissions,” Athena warned.
“Tell them to do their best. Tell them … tell them to use lasers when they can. Anything.”
“I'll let them know. Anything else?” she asked.
“I feel so damn helpless,” he muttered.
“Be glad it is happening there and not here. You don't want that sort of busy,” Trevor said from the wall screen. “Trust me on this.”
“Any headway on the virus?”
“No,” Trevor replied simply. “We can't risk a sample without compromising our systems or at least opening ourselves up to it. It's too risky, even with an air gap system.”
“Frack,” Jack said, scrubbing his face with a hand. “Get me someone to talk to in Earth orbit to coordinate the mess there. We'll need a SITREP. Survivors, logistics … get someone on our end to coordinate with them too.”
“Will do,” Roman replied. “I've got the chimp duo on it now. Charlie's here working on figuring out our troop situation. Elliot's enroute to Earth.”
“Good,” Jack replied with a curt nod. “Athena, stop all production in the yards. Get everyone working on the relief effort.”
“There are going to be some screaming going on,” Athena warned.
“Hang the bullshit. Lives are at stake! Tell them to put that shit where the monkey put the peanut!” Jack snarled.
“By the time we get to Earth, it'll be too late for a lot of people,” Roman murmured quietly.
“We do the best we can with what we've got,” Jack growled, looking away. “Athena, tell the L-5 platforms to finish their damage control and then get a laser LAN setup—air gapped of course. And get them to launch tugs for the stations trying to get away as well as the rescue efforts. Have them load up on fuel and Lox for them. They'll need it.”
“Understood. Orders sent, sir,” Athena replied.
August 3, 2200, 4:57 PM, East Coast Time
General Murtough saw the nearby Chinese space elevator station rising, and the tug, the lone tug moving in to help. They didn't hesitate, just moved in. There were no orders, no need for them really. Some coordination would be nice.
The problem was communication. That, and they needed a place to put the people once they got them. He looked about frowning.
He pointed out the window and then to the radar display on their HUDs. “The pods. People. We need to get organized. Which means we need to communicate, and damn it, we can't with the radios down,” the general snarled.
The engineering tech glanced at him as the co-pilot looked over her shoulder. When she realized he was not happy, she went back to her instruments for a minute. Finally she got up the nerve and cleared her throat.
“Yes? What is it? What else is going wrong?” General Murtough asked.
“Nnnnothing sir, at least I don't have …; anyway, I've um, got an idea,” she said, pointing to another ship. “We can't use our radio because of the virus. And even our voice communications are digital and integrated into the ship's computer system. But we can use a light to flash signals, sir—old Morse code.”
“If they can figure it out, good idea,” the general said.
“They have to see it first,” the pilot said, “which I doubt. They'd have to be looking right at us and close enough to see the light.”
“One problem at a time. Work on that. We need a place to go, and we need to coordinate the rescue efforts. Work the problem.”
“So we're not going to go to the ground?” the engineer asked dumbly. He shook himself when the general shot him a pitying look. “Sorry, sir,” he mumbled.
“We're not going groundside. Not yet. We don't know where it is safe, and the turbulence from that mess …,” he pointed to the slowly dissipating mushroom clouds. “Hell if I want to fly through any of that,” he said.
“Definitely not,” the pilot said in agreement, shaking his head firmly. “So a station. Which one?”
“Find out what's around us. Who is the closest,” the general ordered. “You've been on the PA to keep the people we've got on board calm. Any ideas?”
“We can reverse course …,” the engineer put in, then shook his head at the general's expression. He ducked his head away. “Sorry, sir.”
“General Murtough is in orbit, sir,” Athena reported. Jack looked up quickly. He had an open line to Trevor, Roman, and the rest. They looked up as well. “He's on a shuttle. They are trying to coordinate the rescue effort.”
“The three space elevators have been severed. L-10 has broken orbit and is headed for deep space. The Chinese station is twirling around and is most likely going to fall back to Earth eventually without an intervention. The Pavilion platform has been severed about ten kilometers above the base. The pieces fell to the ground with massive loss of life and infrastructure. The remainder of the platform is also headed for deep space.”
“And there are people alive?”
“So far no one has been reported, but my information is sketchy. There is, as I pointed out, no coordination, and communications are almost nonexistent at this point.”
“Does the general have ideas?” Roman asked.
“Unknown, sir. He has a fully loaded shuttle, however,” Athena warned. “So they can't take on too many people. They need to unload.”
“Sir, L-2 is still in orbit. We sold her to the Hilton, but they are asking for directions,” Athena stated.
“Tell them to coordinate the rescue effort from there then,” Jack said, remembering L-2. Lagroose station 2 was a transhab hotel, one of his first space stations and therefore one of the oldest. He'd rebuilt her many times and had bought and sold her many times over the past century and a half. But wonder of wonders she, like Jack's Junkyard Palace, were still in orbit. More or less in one piece after the last spat of violence. He winced.
“What?” Roman asked, eying him.
“I'm just imagining what it would have been like in one of those transhab pods. Like being in a balloon with shotgun shells going off all around.”
Roman pursed his lips in a silent whistle.
“Not a pretty picture you are painting there, boss,” Trevor said. “But accurate. Shouldn't they climb to a higher orbit?”
“Athena? The situation?”
“I don't have it. Earth is clouded in debris. I don't know what their radar track is, nor if they have the fuel and ability to maneuver,” she said.
“Frack,” Trevor replied.
General Murtough wasn't sure about his own reactions; he'd think about it all later. For now he had to focus. Duty, training … they say it all came to someone in times like this. Hell if he believed it. All he did know was that someone had to be in charge, and he was it. He'd cry for the dead later.
Despite his advanced age, the general had served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the American defense department for sixteen years. He was neutral to all of the mega corporations, though he had a friendship and history with Jack Lagroose.
There had been a lot of noises made for him to retire. He'd ignored it. It had cost him two marriages, but he was still here, like bedrock, unmoving. Thanks to his genetics and modern medicine, he would be here for a while longer … at least until someone fired his ass. He looked at the ground again. That seemed either likely or moot at this point he thought.
When his shuttle docked with L-2, he made his way through the station's crowded corridors to the command deck. He spent several hours there doing his best to bring order to chaos, tapping his fellow passengers to help. Fortunately, two were on his staff, Lieutenant George Takai and Captain Isis Oleander.
Isis was still adjusting, so he threw her into work quickly. It was ruthless to order her to get her head on straight and soldier, but he needed her services. She needed a distraction, something to take her mind off the family she had on the ground that were most likely ashes. Hell, they all did he mused.