Tanks Alot - Part 6
Martin Scofield had been very busy the last few days, getting Ares base up and running again. The three evacuation vessels, were busy refitting themselves back to cargo/miners. Martin was working on getting the reflective pans rebuilt as well as fixing the damage the debris from their original destruction caused. Two thoughts occupied his mind though. The first was the base needed adequate evacuation for everyone. Secondly how did Anvil get aimed at Ares.
His assistant's voice sounded over the intercom, "Luna Command is calling". Martin went to his desk and opened the command channel. The very familiar voice of Darius Long, the director of security at Luna Base filled the room. Their conversation lasted over an hour with the comm delays, but the investigation was going to to be exhaustive. The data that Martin was required to send was massive. In fact he couldn't think of anything they were not sending. The big stuff like security logs and surveillance footage, back up drives of all the consoles, he understood, but little stuff like everyone's social media, or even waiting and appointment lists at various establishments on base, seemed like overkill. Nevertheless he would gladly collect everyone's favorite color and shoe size if it helped figure out who did this.
Cap was alone on the bridge as usual these last few days, making minor adjustments to the ship’s position to maximize the gravity tractor effects on Anvil's main body. The command channel indicator lit up on Hiroko's console. Cap went over to it, activating the connection. Darius Long shared his concerns and ordered Cap to collect a great deal of data to send.
Cap spent most of the rest of his shift collecting and sending all the files that were requested. He knew the security group was just doing their job and being thorough, but he hated the feeling that they think someone on his crew could be involved. He now had yet another thing to worry about. The security division will find some innocent factoid and blow it all out of proportion, with their witch hunt mentality. “Someone will be blamed, probably one of the tank born, they make good scapegoats”, he thought.
Once all the data was sent Cap spent the last hour of his shift coordinating with the Baton Rouge, and the Tampa, who would be joining their efforts tomorrow. The Baton Rouge is a smaller 46 pan ship that was going to push the smaller piece that they broke off a few days ago. The Tampa was a larger 120 pan ship with 6 tugs. Connie Thompson, the captain of the Tampa also brought extra drones, bringing their total to 20.
Gary showed up for his next shift and Cap looked tired. Cap did not share the information about all the files he had sent to Luna Command, but only updated him on the status of the incoming ships and tomorrow’s agenda.
The next day brought a flurry of activity. The Baton Rouge and it's tugs and drones got busy on the smaller Anvil chunk that was still a threat. The other piece from days ago that had 2 drones on it was augmented by 6 drones from the Tampa to get it done.
Everyone checked each others results and calculations. All signs pointed to the same conclusions no matter how they played around with resources, the main chunk would still get very close to impacting earth. Anvil Prime missing the earth was by no means assured. Even if they could avoid impact, a near miss would be devastating too. An atmospheric pass, depending how deep, could be like dropping a string of nuclear bombs.
The next 3 days went with everything going to plan, the fleet got some good news. The scans showed the smallest piece that had broken off the day Theana got hurt was no longer a threat, so the drones moved from it to the next smallest piece that the Baton Rouge was working on. The extra thrust would get it out of the way in time. However it would take all those additional resources to keep working on it till the last minute.
At just over two days out the fleet got an update from Lunar Command. Massive solar flares were going to flood their area of space with deadly radiation. Additionally the other corporations were now aware of the impending asteroid strike. Adidas will be in communication with them but fears are high that some Corp will panic and launch a nuke at the rogue asteroid. A nuke would be catastrophic to the earth and the rescue operation. If they managed to damage Anvil Prime and break it up, there is no loss of kinetic energy so the damage would be the same, it would be like being shot with a shotgun instead of a rifle.
The fleet couldn't worry about what might happen from Earth, they just needed to go on with what they could control. The solar flares were a big problem. The Tampa and Juarez were using their magnetic fields to augment their pull on Anvil Prime. If they needed to generate a protective field, the loss of pull would be noticeable.
Cap had finished his shift and decided to visit Theana. He entered sickbay to find Hillary just finishing up the latest bandage change. Theana looked up and smiled, happy to see him. "How's the progress going"? Theana asked Cap. Cap sighed and said "We will be able to get all the pieces moved except Anvil Prime. Theana knew a great deal of what was going on from all the updates each visitor gave her. Her concern came through when asking "How close are we to being able to deflect it"? Cap shook his head, "Really close, but the new problem is now there are solar flares". Cap didn't need to explain the problem to her, she knew with the loss of the magnetic field needed for safety the pull would drop.
Cap got up and left, looking really tired on the way out. The weight of the situation clearly taking it's toll. Theana frowned as she mulled over the problem. The next morning Spence came to see her with a tired but focused smile on his face. She looked up and realized she actually missed him. He yawned, "On my next shift, we will have solar flare activity, I think my pushing spot will shield me, but how strong are the fields in the tugs" he asked her? Theana absentmindedly said "They are good". Her eyes widened as she started to try to get out of bed. Spence witnessed her struggles and asked "What's going on"? She seemed very animated "Help me out of this bed and into the wheel chair, I gotta get to the bridge".
Cap was on the bridge in a conference call with Captain Connie Thompson of the Tampa and Captain Gerardo Domingo of the Baton Rouge. Theana came rushing in pushed in a wheelchair by Spence, "
Theana had no idea Cap was talking to anyone, so she launched into her idea. "I have an idea how we can still use the magnetic fields" Cap was surprised at her interruption, then Connie Thompson's voice filled the room, "Who's that, and what's the idea"? Theana was caught off guard, but quickly recovered, "We stack the pans double around the galley, docking bay, and engineering areas, that should protect everyone". She went on, "The pans around the bridge, can't be double stacked, but I can operate the ship from the bridge in my flight suit". Cap took this idea in and did some calculations in his head. Cap nodded his head and said "That might work, we would still be able use the field to pull. Captain Domingo said "That's possible here too, except our configuration would allow for a bridge double stack, and relative protection". Captain Thompson said "We can do it too, this gives us hope again".
The next shift had Shila building pan protected zones around each ship. She would stack the pans in an alternating way to cover any spaces between pans, Shila wondered if this is how brick layers do it. This gave each ship a bulbous zone along each hull. In the case of the Tampa, and Baton Rouge she also built a zone around the bridge. The Juarez more rounded bridge didn't lend itself to stacking and was less protected.
Everyone moved to the protected areas of the ships and operations continued. Cap was looking at himself in the mirror, lamenting the fact they don't make bigger flight suits. His shoulders were to tight and it wouldn't zip up. “It would have to do”, he thought and he went to the bridge. Theana was there in her wheel chair and flight suit. She looked at him and busted out laughing. Cap feigned hurt feelings knowing full well how ridiculous he looked. At he same time they both said "What are you doing here"? Theana answered first "I'm maintaining the ships position and monitoring the field". Cap was confused, "I know this was your idea, but you are injured and should be in sick bay" Theana agreed, "True, I could sit in sick bay and heal doing nothing, or I can sit here and heal, doing something".
Cap couldn't really argue with that, "Theana, I can't let you put yourself at risk, especially after all you have done and been through". He continued, "Besides I'm captain, it's my responsibility". Theana's face softened, "Cap you are one of the best humans I know, but as everyone is always pointing out how we are not the same as humans, part of that is true". She smiled "One difference is we are significantly more cancer resistant". "With my flight suit on and only intermittent exposure between the pan cracks I have a much better chance of survival than you and your tailored flight suit"
Cap once again looked hurt, "This fits like a glove", then laughed "If that glove belongs to a teenager" Cap laughed again but turned serious, "I still can't let you take this risk". Theana became more determined to protect Cap, "Assuming this all goes well and we save the Earth, with your daughter on it. Won't you want to see her cancer free"? Cap had not forgotten his daughter, whether it was him or someone else doing the mundane job of station keeping was irrelevant, "Will you be able to do this, what about the pain"? She became more serious, "I can manage the pain, Hillary gave me some nerve blockers”. She went on, “Besides it's not hard, all we are doing is cadet level driving" Cap nodded, "OK, and thanks" Cap left the room to go change.
On Earth, Kingston Langford the CEO of AMMWEC was screaming at the group conference call, "You tell us that one of your mining asteroids is heading to earth and we should do nothing, but let you handle it". His bluster continued, "We can launch nukes at it and blow it to bits"!
Leo Tamerand the CEO of Adidas rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose hoping to forestall the headache he knew was coming. He couldn't stop himself from wondering, "It's a planetary emergency and he’s still trying to throw his weight around". He was very tempted to lose his temper but that idiot would perceive it as a challenge, and would just escalate the situation. Leo calmly responded, "I know it’s counter intuitive, but nuking it won't change the situation, as I am sure your advisers will confirm". The large screen was full of the images of the other 27 CEO's. This was only the second time in history all CEO s have met in video conference. The other was at the end of the useless armies war. All the other faces were showing annoyance at Langford and his games.
Langford was not deterred "Well if we still had our rail gun we could bust it up into more manageable pieces". Tamerand just looked silently at his screen. He detected a slight smile on the face of Riko Taikyu the CEO of Nissan. Riko simply added, "Well you don't"
Mohinder Ghupta, the CEO of Bharat Petroleum, was a much more volitile individual. "Listen Asshat", then he looked off screen, asking, "Did I get that right"? Apparently recieveing conformation reiterated, "Listen Asshat, This is the reality and everything that can be done is being done". He continued now that he seemed to have everyone's attention, "Our only hope of success lies with the efforts of those ships, if you launch anything at them, you will doom us all". He then leaned forward into the camera making his visage grow, "And if you doom us all then I won't feel bad about launching everything we have at your hat that is like an ass".
Most of the other faces smiled or nodded in agreement. Langford hated being talked to with disrespect, but knew very well that the threat from what was once India was real. He went back to another tried and true technique, deflection, "How did this asteroid get headed our way, was this some Adidas screw up or did you have other ideas", clearly addressing Leo.
Leo Tamerand looked directly into the camera and answered honestly, "I have no idea how we find ourselves in this situation, and trust me a thorough investigation is underway, but our ships and efforts are the only thing that we have going for us" Leo sighed, "In less than two days we will be able to argue and debate, and point fingers all day". Leo paused for effect, "Or we won't". That last sobering statement had everyone deep in thought, even Langford was quiet. Leo went on, "I tell all of you this so as a world if there is anything any corporation can do to help, in our very short time, please let me know".
The world's leaders in the form of CEO s offered responses all of the same thing, that they would look into it immediately. Leo added, "I will make the continuous telemetry of all the ships available to you to access, so we will all know together".
Communications between Luna Command and the fleet shared the recent changes. From Earth the fact that a nuke was less likely. From the fleet that with the pan shielding methods they would still be able to work efficiently.
Theana had been at the helm of the Juarez off and on, but mostly on for the last 27 hours. Shila, Ty, and Driss had all come up taking turns so she could get some naps. her last nap was 10 hours ago but she felt fine and defiantly focused. The countdown to disaster was now at 4 hours and 22 minutes. She knew the collective leaders of the world were watching everything. So far Anvil Prime was still going to impact, but just barely, and the other pieces were going to miss but the one being pushed by Baton Rouge still needed pushing so it wouldn't bite to deep into the atmosphere. Right now impact would be in the Pacific ocean a few hundred kilometers west of the Panama Canal. She knew it probably wouldn't wipe out humanity, but the devastation from the tidal waves and whatever would be thrown into the atmosphere would be globally catastrophic.
T minus 3 hours 49 minutes. The distance telemetry on all the ships as well as numerous screens on earth went from red to yellow, indicating a miss. This was better but still bad, they still needed to push more so the atmospheric invasion was less severe. Every kilometer higher would help.
T minus 2 hours 48 minutes. The closest approach distance was now 12 kilometers above the Pacific, 623 kilometers west of Panama City. Theana knew this would still be devastating to the Earth.
Theana looked at the numbers and wheeled herself to the bridge entryway and shut the door. She entered the lock activation sequence. Theana grabbed her helmet and with grim determination smashed the door access panel, sealing the door. The sparks from the broken panel sputtered for a few seconds then went silent. She calmly wheeled herself over to Navigation station sliding into the chair, and put her helmet on.
Screens in the fleet, on Luna base, and all over Earth registered the Juarez leave it's station and move to the other side of Anvil Prime. The communications channels exploded with chatter only to be met by silence from the Juarez.
Theana had moved the Juarez along side one of the other tugs on the pushing side of the equation. The years of experience moving tugs around with finesse served her well. The front of the Juarez, gently made contact with Anvil Prime. Once contact was established Theana gently increased thrust, the buffering pans deforming in the process. She kept an eye on the conditions of the pans, and was not surprised they were starting to fail. Bits of platinum were flying everywhere. She slowly increased thrust, the rate of deviation on Anvil Prime was increasing. The front four pans that were taking most of the pressure failed in a very short cascade. The bridge environmental failed and all the atmosphere left. Her magnetic boots and the restraints on the navigators chair kept her in place. The deformation to the ship seemed to have stopped, so she increased thrust even more.
Outside the bridge, Donny stood in a flight suit evaluating the door problem. "She's jammed the door" reported Donny. Cap acknowledged that, and conveyed the information to the rest of the fleet. The communication channels were chaos.
Darius Long sat in the meeting room on Luna base, listening to the reports of what had been found so far from the mounds of data compiled on the rogue asteroid situation. A great deal of emphasis was focused on all the tank born, they were the primary suspects. Rhonda Davis was in charge of the team looking into The Juarez. She began her report, "We thoroughly looked into the 4 tank born and found nothing, so we moved onto the rest of the crew, you know to be sure". Darius Long was used to Rhonda being chatty, but didn't interrupt. Rhonda continued, "The navigator, Hiroko Matsuo, had some communication with her brother, Kenji Matsuo, That appear to have some encryption, we haven't broken it yet, but there is something there, I was thinking we might try an older algorithm since it might be something they have used for a long time". Darius held up his hand to stop what he was sure would have been a very passionate review of code breaking techniques. Rhonda paused. Darius said "This is the only lead we have so far, use as much computer power you need, but find out what's encrypted. Darius got up, this signaled everyone get back to work.
T minus 1 hour 37 minutes. Theana's efforts had pushed Anvil Prime a bit farther, closest approach was now 26 kilometers, whereas before it would have been 19. She could feel the shudder of the ship as it fought against a much bigger opponent. She was actually surprised Donny hadn't fixed the door yet, maybe they were not going to try to stop her. Her thoughts were interrupted by a shadow crossing the small view she had beyond the smashed face of the Juarez. The Tampa was moving into position further down the side of Anvil Prime. She watched as it made contact severely deforming the outer layer of pans. Theana thought, "I'm guessing they didn't have a tug pilot do that one" She glanced at the situation display and saw the Baton Rouge had taken up position on the other side of the Tampa, she couldn't tell how well they had made contact.
T minus 48 minutes. The three ships had pushed Anvil Prime to a trajectory that made closest approach now 48 kilometers. This was getting everyone hopeful. If things continued like this, closest approach would be around 75 to 80 kilometers, this would still have the effect of dropping a string of nuclear bombs but they would be weaker and entirely over the pacific.
T minus 12 minutes. Atmospheric friction was too much now, all ships had backed off and gained altitude, Theana knew the Juarez could no longer push without taking catastrophic damage so she reluctantly broke off and moved to a safe geocentric distance above the Earth. The Juarez was the last to break contact. She activated the homing beacon so the tugs could return and waited contemplating what her punishment would be for hijacking the ship.
T minus 0 Official closest approach, 81 kilometers above the Earth, 1267 miles west of Panama City. A 100 kilometer swath of energy was directed to the water below, and ran for another 300 kilometers, along with untold of bits of debris that had broken off Anvil Prime and from the materials lost from the broken pans. If someone was unlucky enough to see it overhead, it would have looked spectacular before it killed them. The people that were watching every other screen in the world fixated on this, collectively started breathing again.
Anvil Prime continued on, towards the inner solar system. It was projected to sling shot around the sun and back out into the outer solar system. It's orbit would be oblong, much like a comets. Ballpark estimates had it returning in 225 years.