A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 33

“What’s the load on this one, Vera?” Sergeant (retired) Pavlov asked of Sergeant Dzhugashvili. He spoke Russian, which Vera had learned in the home from her parents, even though she considered Spanish her first language.

“Five-minute bomb,” she answered, simply.

“I love those,” he said.

“We all do. They don’t hurt anybody . . . well . . . hardly anybody, but they hurt the enemy, bad.”

“What’s the target for today?”

“More like the target for this week,” she answered. “We don’t really have that many drones.”

“Oh, yes, I know. I got them all moved, remember?””

“Yeah, sorry; anyway, this one is for Lumiere, the Capital of Gaul. City Hall, actually.”

“Oooo, that’s going to piss them off.”

Tauran Defense Agency Headquarters, Lumière, Gaul, Terra Nova

Campbell ignored the sirens that filled the air around the headquarters. After all, the anti-aircraft guns they dug out of storage haven’t kicked in yet, nor even the machine guns. Not that they’ll hit anything, of course. Instead, she scanned the extensive reports given her by the Volgan, Vladimir, the sheer scale of the purchases, and the sheer age, in both senses, of some of them, took her aback.

“Does anybody really start planning and getting ready for a war that far out?” she muttered.

Quoi? asked Captain Turenge, absently, as she worked on a report to Janier on the subject of interallied cooperation within the Tauran Defense Agency and the lack thereof.

“It’s the defense purchases made by the enemy, Captain. They were always several steps ahead of any reasonable need. Some of it wasn’t obvious at the time, of course, because they made purchases but didn’t bring all their ‘shopping bags’ home with them. Hmmm . . . wait a second and let me show you what I mean.”

Jan fiddled with her desktop computer, one that could only access and be accessed by the files and computers in the headquarters, itself. There were other computers within the headquarters that could reach out to the global net, but those were completely disconnected from the internal net she was using.

“Come, let me show you,” Jan said, gesturing with her fingers.

Turenge walked over and bent slightly at the waist to rest her hands on Jan’s desk, also bringing her face lower to see the screen.

“No, no, pull up a chair.”

Jan waited until the captain had, and was seated next to her.

Jan entered a query. The screen almost instantly showed a Volgan helicopter, in civilian markings, lifting a slung pallet, somewhere over what looked to be very dense jungle.

“That,” Campbell said, “is a helicopter of SHEBSA, the Servicio Helicoptores Balboenses, Sociedad Anonima, which is to say, ‘Balboan Helicopter Services, Incorporated.’ It was always part of their hidden reserve and we knew about it almost from the beginning, too.

“But here’s where it gets weird. SHEBSA only had so many helicopters until the war began. They doubled their numbers almost overnight. Where did the helicopters to double their numbers come from?”

Jan pointed an oval-shaped, red painted nail at a paragraph on a particular page of Vladimir’s report. “They bought them back in ’63 and ’64 and have been storing them, probably in nitrogen and shrink wrap, ever since.”

“That is foresight,” the captain agreed.

“That’s not exactly right,” Campbell corrected, “Foresight is when you get ready for what might happen at someone else’s initiative or by chance or fate. ‘Planning,’ on the other hand, is what you call it when you are getting ready for something at your own behest.”

Turenge shrugged off the correction. “I think,” she said, “that even if the general ‘ad ‘opes for peace, you and I already knew this Carrera person intended war all along.”

“Not just intended to fight a war,” Jan said. “He intended and prepared to win it.”

Jan’s eyes glanced over the several thick files given her in Saint Nicholasburg. “Are you about done with your report on ‘interspecies cooperation and amity’?” That was their internal code phrase for physical intimidation of the otherwise uncooperative.

“Very close to done, oui.”

“Okay, finish it up and then you and I are going to split the files, then do some math, read some intel reports old and new, and try to figure out just what our armies are facing based on what the Volgans gave me and what we think we already know. We need a solid case because, since Janier’s swung over to the belief that he really did sucker the enemy, this time, he may be a hard sell.”

Through the glass of her office window, Jan felt more than heard the sound of a very large bomb going off somewhere in the city, followed by ambulance and fire sirens. Mentally, she recited the grand joke, Attention, please. I am a Five-Minute Bomb. Attention, please. I am a Five-Minute Bomb. Evacuate the area quickly. I am a Five-Minute Bomb. Evacuate the area quickly. I am a large Five-Minute bomb. My delay is fixed at a maximum of five-minutes. It could be less. Leave the area now! Four minutes, fifty-nine seconds . . .

United Earth Peace Fleet Spirit of Peace, in orbit over Terra Nova

Intel, thought High Admiral Marguerite Wallenstein. Looking at the main screen of the bridge. Must go talk to intel. At about the same time, the intercom sounded off with, “High Admiral? Khan, husband, in intel. There’s something you need to see.”

The bulk of the ship spun around a hollow central axis, a cylinder, called for reasons both practical and traditional, “the keel.” The keel actually contained the bridge, the sail mechanism, some elevators, auxiliary tactical propulsion, and such. It could contain the hangar deck, too, but normally that rotated with the rest of the ship. Outside of that, filling up the bulk of two-hundred by three-hundred-meter ovoid starship, the decks rotated in what was the only way yet found to provide artificial gravity in space.

To leave the bridge, Marguerite Wallenstein stepped out into the cylinder of the axis, then used handholds to pull herself to a transition chamber. Entering this, she reoriented herself so that her head was toward the portal through which she’d just entered. Then she grabbed another set of handholds and announced to the ship, “High Admiral, going to the lowest gravity deck.”

The chamber immediately detached itself from the inner axis and locked itself to the rotating bulk of the ship, then moved slowly in a large groove within the keel. Given the lack of gravity, had she not been holding on tight to the handholds, Marguerite might have fallen to her shapely posterior. A hatch chimed open, giving her notice to move so that the chamber could reattach itself to the cylinder. She pulled with both hands, the movement being more sail than step. To someone on the deck, it would have, indeed, did, appear that the High Admiral had dropped, feet first, through the ceiling.

The ship, sensing the chamber was empty, promptly closed the safety hatch, reattached the chamber to the cylinder, gave the cylinder a little nudge in the other direction, to make up for energy gained in the lock-unlock process, and then gave a very tiny burn to some external rockets to make up for the tiny bit of energy lost to the rotation of the gravity decks in the process.

There were eight such chambers within the keel. The ship’s computer could usually direct them in such a way as to minimize energy loss and fuel expenditure, while maintaining rotation, hence gravity, to the higher decks.

It was always a bit disconcerting to transition even to the lowest of the gravity decks from the microgravity of the transit chambers of the keel. Moreover, the gravity here on the “bottom” decks was so low here it was hardly useful for any real purpose.

There were a number of elevators to move crew from that lowest gravity deck to the higher decks where both serious work and most living were done. Marguerite even had one dedicated to herself and her immediate staff. She usually spurned this, using the curved tubes that also connected the decks because, as she thought, stepping into the tube, It’s just so much damned fun to shoot up the decks under my own power and Coriolis Effect. It’s nothing like skiing and yet it is almost exactly like skiing. Wheeeee!

Hatches and numbers shot by, 2 . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . 5 . . . . . 6 . . . . . 7 . . . until Marguerite began to close on the deck she wanted, Deck 19. She put her hand out and overhead, fingers catching and then releasing handholds to slow herself down, 8..9 . . . 10 . . . .11 . . . ..12 . . . . . . 13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19.

Marguerite paused at the hatch, catching her breath and applying a disciplinary palm to unruly hair. Then, happier than she’d been on leaving the bridge, she stepped out under noticeable and stabilizing gravity, walking briskly and with an approximately normal step to the intelligence shop.