And now, having been given a glimpse of the beginning of ‘Crosses & Doublecrosses,’ and now the end of it, you might understand why I really never wanted to write the 60k words in between. Awful people.
Easter Egg in the Open: give me five LIKES and I’ll post the coda.
One week of Lent left! What to write about now?
Barrett looked west. The sun had just set and the ship was headed due south. The rumor of him speaking to everyone later was not enough to put any brakes on the drunken revelries going on everywhere else on board.
No matter, he thought, looking skyward. Was always interested in space as a kid. Never enough to learn orbital mechanics, though. I wonder where it is?
Over one hundred and fifty miles up and currently over the Pacific, the Hou Yi cruised serenely at over 17,000 miles per hour. Much smaller prototypes had been tested by the Chinese over the past five years: their payloads falling into the Indian or desolate South Pacific oceans. This, however, was a fully operational battle station.
The Chinese, typical for Orientals, had copied a Western idea: Project Thor, the brainchild of Jerry Pournelle in the late 1950’s: dropping an object from orbit and letting speed and mass do their thing: kinetic bombardment. The Hou Yi carried four one meter diameter by six meter long tungsten-alloy rods. An ablative cone on the nose and a small breaking and steering pack on the tail.
In the Beijing Aerospace Command Center, a tech just come on duty spat his green tea partly over and partly onto the control panel. A control panel that was usually dark but for one or two routine lights was completely active: one of the four rods was about to be launched.
The tech ran to the wall and pounded the Emergency button with his fist. What the hell was going on?!
Barrett heard the footsteps – there were several – even over the partying. He didn’t bother to turn.
“Director?” He heard Randolf ask.
“It’s time to retire. Sir.”
I expected this sooner.
“I agree.” He’d still not turned around.
Randolf was indispensable, but not that swift on the uptake. Barrett waved with his right at the goings-on.
“What else is all this for?”
He finally turned around. His Deputy was accompanied by four others: Merkur and Ellsworth he recognized; the two with rifles were rankers.
“Do you, or really, any of you,” he again waved his right hand a little, “recall the circumstances under which Sulla resigned the Dictatorship?”
The riflemen faces were blank. This wasn’t their fight. Barrett was amused that things were going so well for his underling.
“Uh…” Randolf began.
“I see you don’t,” he continued. “With a party of his closest friends, Sulla departed Rome for a villa outside Puteoli, to spend his last days writing his memoirs. And drinking.”
The Director’s ‘semi-professional alcoholism’ was proverbial among ExComm.
Even with the ship making twenty-two knots there was a peculiar shift in the wind. Barrett expected it. He noted the riflemen glancing about. Perhaps, being little more than bipedal animals, they could sense something wrong. The three officers to displace him did not.
“I’m afraid, sir, that retirement will not be an option for you.” Randolf said.
“Won’t it, indeed?”
He saw the Deputy’s scowl, hearing the Director’s echo one too many times.
“No! In fact, you…”
It seemed to be getting brighter. One of the riflemen pointed skyward.
What a cliché, Barrett thought, recalling the odd, random bits of flotsam of his life.
I’m sorry, Callie…
The launch sequence was only two minutes long: longer and an enemy might be close enough to damage or divert the rod before it was in the atmosphere. It was only enough time for a PLA Space Command captain and his aid to rush into the control room and demand to know what was going on…
The protective doors opened. With a blast of compressed air the rod was away from the station. Its tail pointed in reverse of their orbit. One hundred meters away, the braking motors fired, dropping the rod quickly into a lower and lower orbit. Hou Yi continued its silent journey through the sky. Just around the coastline of the former State of California, the rod bit into the atmosphere. The engine was discarded as the cylinder suddenly tipped end-for-end, the stubby fins making minor course adjustments as the nosecone burned away at ten miles per second.
“What in the world…?” Randolf looked up. A meteor? But the timing…
‘There are no such things as coincidences,’ the Director had told every last member of ExComm, from lowest to highest.
“What is this?! What are you doing?!” He demanded.
The Director didn’t raise his eyes. He seemed to be whispering to himself. Randolf took out his service pistol.
The Director looked up. With a most unnatural smile.
“I’m sorry, Randolf, really. I forgi – ”
The engineering and orbital mechanical calculations were slightly off: fifty miles from the target the last of the nosecone flashed away. The little fins did their best to stay on target, but the chaotic turbulence of the blunt nose was beyond their simple programming. With less than five seconds remaining, the rod was drifting off course…
Randolf raised his pistol and squeezed the trigger –
Touchdown. One point four kilometers from its programmed destination. A twenty kiloton explosion. Nagasaki on Earth, again.