Quantum Troopers Episode 14: The HNRV Factor by Philip Bosshardt by Philip Bosshardt - Read Online

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Quantum Troopers Episode 14 - Philip Bosshardt

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Chapter 1

Archimedes’ Lever

"Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world."


Farside Observatory

Korolev Crater, the Moon

February 10, 2049

0130 hours (Universal Time – U.T.)

Like Percy Marks was always saying, nightfall at Korolev Crater came abruptly, too abruptly, thought Adam Bright.

Bright watched the black creep down the crater walls and ooze across the crater floor like a spreading stain. It was always depressing…another two weeks of night with only the stars and a platoon of bathing-challenged astronomers for company. Even the faux decorations in the Fiji Island canteen over in Kepler Wing couldn’t drive the demons from Bright’s over-active imagination. Although maybe one of RoboBob’s fiery mai-tais could. Drink enough of those things and you could sleep for months, maybe even long enough to make it to the end of your tour at Farside. He’d seen people do that.

Bright was pulling graveyard shift today, although in the lunar night, every shift was like graveyard shift. Tending the radars and telescopes of Farside Array, a key node in the SpaceGuard System that scanned the heavens for anything approaching the Earth-Moon system, was a critical job, especially now that the Keeper that Red Hammer and their Chinese overlords had dug up below Copernicus had started bollixing everything from here to Timbuktu.

Bright took one last look out the nearest porthole and begrudged the final wisps of daylight before Farside was fully enveloped in the nightfall. At that same moment, he heard a beeping from his console and turned his attention back to the array controls.

What the hell

Adam Bright looked over his boards, controlling the positioning of the great radars out on the crater floor and the optical and radio telescopes that accompanied them. He quickly pinpointed the source of the beeping…Nodes 20 through 24…the south lateral array…was picking up some anomaly.

He massaged the controls and tried to focus the array better, get better resolution on the target. SpaceGuard didn’t beep without reason. Somewhere in its nearly infinite memory were ephemeris data and trajectory details for nearly every detectable piece of space junk in the solar system, out to several billion miles. Like an overprotective mother, SpaceGuard knew where everybody was supposed to be, right down to the nearest centimeter.

She only beeped and chirped when someone was out of position.

A quick perusal made the hairs on the back of Adam Bright’s neck stand up. The system displayed a list of likely targets, based on radar imaging and known ephemerides. He scanned the list.

Right at the top was the culprit: an asteroid…a small, insignificant asteroid named Hicks-Newman-Rivera-Vargas (cataloged as HNRV 23998) had just found itself nudged from its eons-old trajectory onto a new course.

Something had happened to Hicks-Newman. The half-mile wide asteroid had changed position, just enough to trigger a SpaceGuard alert.

Before he could decide what to do next, Bright was interrupted by the sound of a door opening…it was Max Lane, the shift supervisor.

Lane was a heavy-set bear of a man, who appreciated the Moon’s one-sixth gravity more than most. He had thick eyebrows and a perpetual scowl.

What gives? SpaceGuard’s sending out an anomaly alert. What’s on the board? Lane sat down at a console next to Bright and began tapping at the keyboard.

Bright shrugged. She’s indicating HNRV 23998, but that doesn’t make any sense. We haven’t had any anomalies in that sector in, like, forever.…unless the Keeper’s pulled a quick one on us.

Won’t be the first time that’s happened, Lane muttered. He pointed to a display in front of them. Check out the delta-vee. That’s almost half a kilometer a second.

Bright clucked. That shouldn’t even be possible. What gives? Can you get a read on the new trajectory?

Lane said, I’m trying…but SpaceGuard’s showing Doppler fluctuations…she’s still thrusting…still changing velocity. Bright, check your east and west arrays. Let’s zero in on the vicinity of the asteroid and see if something’s around that might be tugging her off course. I’ll send this to UNISPACE too…they need to know something’s horsing around with a good sized rock out there.

For the next few minutes, the huge radar arrays probed deep space with beams of radio energy. At the moment, Hicks-Newman was several hours away by light signal. They wouldn’t get any returns until nearly midnight, local time. In the meantime, Lane washed the raw trajectory feed from the first returns through the computers. It’ll give us an idea of what we’re dealing with here.

The analysis, when it came back an hour later, made their blood run cold.

Max Lane shook his head. This can’t be right. It doesn’t make any sense. Better set up another run through SpaceTrack and see if we gave it bad data before.

I don’t know, Chief…the numbers seem to match up. Bright brought up a projected plot on their main displays. It showed the nominal trajectory the asteroid was now following. A dotted line showed SpaceTrack’s projected new path, after the velocity change had been factored in.

The path intersected Earth in late May, next year, right before Memorial Day in the U.S., Bright noted. He always took his family to the beach on Memorial Day.

"This thing’s showing an Earth-intercept path and the doppler shows velocity is still changing. We’d better get UNISPACE on the line right away.

The telecom spanned several hundred thousand miles in a three-way hookup: Farside Observatory patched in with UNISPACE offices aboard Gateway Station and UNIFORCE headquarters in Paris.

Kaoru Nakamura was the Earthside chief of UNIFORCE Surveillance Operations. He was emphatic on the screen, as he scrolled through Farside’s data.

Gentlemen, you’re sure of these numbers? I mean, I know the data’s good…but believe me, this cannot happen, short of an actual impact. Do your instruments show anything striking the asteroid? Like something big and moving real fast?

UNIFORCE was represented by a sleepy, rather morose Galen Bosch, the assistant Director-General.

Adam Bright was emphatic. There’s nothing in the data. Something is or has clearly tugged on Hicks enough to change its delta-v by about three-tenths of a kilometer per second.

And the current trajectory, assuming no more changes…?

Bright had checked and re-checked the analysis, washed the data through SpaceTrack half a dozen times. The result was always the same.

Earth intercept, sometime in the last week of May…next year. We’re still tracking, he hastened to add. And we’re still seeing some velocity change even now. But doppler indicates the rate of change is slowing.

Galen Bosch was grim. Then Red Hammer has made good on their threat. Somehow they’ve managed to divert this thing from its intended orbit. I thought we had that Keeper thing reasonably well contained. Dr. Nakamura…can a quantum system, assuming that’s what the Keeper is, do something like this? Can Red Hammer do this?

Nakamura’s image went off screen while he ran down the numbers. Momentarily, he reappeared. Apparently, they can, Director. It’s basically impossible to quarantine a quantum system anyway.

Bosch was working out an idea in his head. If you could land some kind of device, a mass-driver or a rocket engine…something like that, on the asteroid, then you should be able to counteract this…force, or whatever it is, that’s diverting and tugging on Hicks.

Nakamura nodded. In theory, yes. In fact, we’ve already drawn up scenarios like this as an option to the Science Board. We may well be facing this very problem with another asteroid called Apophis. There’s a one in a hundred thousand chance of this baby striking Earth in April 2068. In fact, the Board’s meeting right now at Gateway. But the devil is in the details. Until we know the nature of the force—is it continuous or intermittent?—what’s the magnitude of the force?--where is the source?...I’m not sure we can counteract. Obviously, something has to be done. But UNISPACE has a lot of options and there’s still a lot of time between now and next May.

Any data to help out Dr. Nakamura? Bosch asked. The A-DG would have to brief UNSAC soon and he wanted as many options as he could get his hands on.

Adam Bright had noticed additional effects beyond the course change of Hicks-Newman. At the same time we got anomaly alerts from SpaceTrack on Hicks, the system started giving us a bunch of perturbations…everything going haywire in the outer Solar System. Beyond the orbit of Jupiter, it’s like a big gravity wave just pushed everything aside— he waved at Lane to pull up the ecliptic plots so the others could see. —anomalies with almost every satellite, man-made or otherwise. At Saturn, Calypso, Helene and Epimetheus…at Uranus: Ophelia and Caliban. These are just the early ones, the biggest shifts. There are dozens of these. Even the bigger bodies…Oberon and the like, have shown measurable shifts in position and velocity. It’s like something massive just passed through the Solar System. But we’re tracking no unknown or unreported bodies.

Galen Bosch was studying something off screen. "Gentlemen, I’m willing to bet the source of all these disturbances is much closer to home. Quantum Corps just ran an op down on the Moon’s surface, nearside at Tian Jia…the Chinese base at Copernicus…some kind of weird quantum disturbances there. Recon team found a large swarm under the surface. They tried to contain it and took some casualties. Then the thing up and stopped moving, went deep underground. Nobody has a believable explanation. I haven’t seen all the reports yet but I’m willing to bet there’s a connection."

Nakamura was intrigued with the phenomena described by Bright. There’s a theory about what you’re describing, Farside. I heard a talk on the idea over the Net last year…a conference on perturbation effects caused by extra-solar processes. As I recall, the authors of the paper described ways to effect large-scale perturbations by manipulating local cosmic string structure. Like tugging on the basic fabric of the Universe. All very theoretical…there’s no evidence such a thing is even possible.

Bosch wasn’t so sure. Maybe there is, Doctor. At this point, I don’t think we can exclude anything. I’ll brief UNSAC right away. I expect there will be a full meeting of the Security Council after that. Whatever the cause of this shift in the asteroid’s path, the effect is the same: Red Hammer is making good on their threat. Either we find a way to put Hicks-Newman back on the right path, or we run out of options pretty fast.

He didn’t have to add that one of the cartel’s long-standing demands was that Quantum Corps itself be shut down.

Custer Inn

Haleyville, Idaho, USA

February 10, 2049

2200 hours

Johnny Winger downed the last of his beer and let fly a belch worthy of an entire platoon of nanotroopers. Even the lampshade over the table rattled with the blast.

Mighty Mite Barnes hoisted her own mug. Deeno would be proud of you, Skipper. Right from the heart—

Sheila Reaves concurred. "Or somewhere nearby. Hey, let’s not make this a wake, okay? It’s was a tough go with Moonglow. Yeah, we lost some good people but that’s life in the Corps. Nanotroopers know how to party— she licked the frosting off the mug, then off her lips, —no matter where they wind up."

Custer Inn was a faintly shabby, log and shingle mountain lodge of a hotel, nestled in the piney brow of a small turnout valley off the main road, a mile or so before Highway 7 broadened into Main Street, which was lined