Friday, June 10, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Thirty-Two



2702.4.2.11.58 – Caldwell 50; CFV-B Pallas

The aftermath of Kat’s wake wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable for me as it had been for some of the other attendees. Nova and I had parted with a long embrace and a whispered promise. “We’re going to get through this together, Gus. Just tell me when you’re ready to talk about us. I’ll be waiting.”

Weps, on the other hand, had survived the night mostly intact but looked mortified when he reported for his duty shift and spent the rest of the week trying to avoid both Chief Watson and Doctor Brodar. Robson, on the other hand, appeared to be ever so slightly smug and pleased with himself. Kimi had kept his own council on whether his ‘appointment’ with Kelly Fisher had been of a professional or personal nature, which was probably for the best, as I didn’t want to know whether he was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a patient. Fisher looked happy enough at her Remote Sensing station, so I minded my own business.

Commander Sagar had remained aboard to work with Lieutenant Mitchell on her nebula bomb strategy, much to the annoyance of Captain Fforde-Hughes, who was still sulking in the wake of the Thanatos incident. Fforde-Hughes’s loss was my gain, though, as Sagar's presence inspired Robson to greater heights of efficiency and rigour. Pallas was fully prepped for the jump to the operational insertion point at the fringes of the Crab nebula a full 36 hours before any other ship in the fleet. Robson’s methods were just as scrupulously hard and fair as Kat’s and he had won the respect of the crew easily in the past few weeks. Getting the ship ready early had allowed him to spend more time with Sagar and Mitchell refining the computer models and running simulations to test the feasibility of using our nuclear warheads to spark localised thermonuclear reactions in the nebula. The three of them sat with me in my Ready Room, presenting their findings.

“Based on the density of samples of the hull taken from the behemoth we encountered at ε Gemini and assuming that the behemoths are all of a roughly similar size, we’ve been able to estimate the explosive yield required to destroy an Elder.” Mitchell began, manipulating the images on the holographic screen via unspoken instructions through her neural link. A schematic of the ε Gemini behemoth appeared on the screen, accompanied by a long list of equations and data showing its volume, mass, density and chemical composition. “I can take you through the calculations if you like, but the short version is, to render a behemoth combat ineffective, we need an explosive yield in excess of 10 gigatonnes, TNT equivalent.”
“That’s, uh, quite a lot.” I temporised. “How much gas would be required to get an explosion that big?”
“It’s difficult to estimate precisely, as it’s almost impossible to predict the efficiency of the reaction, but not actually that much. Assuming an efficiency of about 5%, you’re talking only about sixty thousand tonnes of hydrogen.”
“Okay, so that sounds reasonable, but how does that translate to a volume of space in the nebula? The peak density is what, only around one kilogram per cubic metre?”
“That’s the kicker, Admiral.” Sagar interjected. “Even in the densest parts of the nebula, you’d never be able to launch enough nukes and detonate them to kickstart the collapse of a shell of gas fast enough before the behemoth would figure out what we were doing and get itself out of the blast radius. The volume of gas needed to initiate the reaction is too large.”
“So it’s impractical against targets that can move?” I asked.
“Essentially, sir.” Robson confirmed. “Against a dumb target it would work a treat, but the Thrinax are way too smart and too mobile.”
“Damn shame, because it was great idea, Commander.” I turned to Sagar as an alternative application popped into my head. “If we can’t use this tactic against the behemoths, what about the Swarm World itself?”
“Sir, our orders state specifically that we’re not to engage the Swarm World!” Sagar protested.
“I know that, Commander, but maybe the Thrinax don’t. Could it work? I want to consider any option that might give us leverage in the nebula.”
“We need more data about the size and composition of the Swarm World, sir. The theory is sound, but until we know exactly what the Swarm World is I wouldn’t want to make any predictions as to whether we could damage it, let alone destroy it.” Sagar warned.
“Even if we used every nuke we had in the battlegroup and the fusion reaction was unusually efficient, say 10% or so, we don’t have the capability to lay more than a dent on something planet-sized.” Mitchell frowned.
“A dent might be enough, if it’s placed in a sensitive enough spot.” I replied. “Think about it while we're in transit. We should have more intelligence on the Swarm World before we head into the nebula.”
“Very well, Admiral. I have to head back to Tartarus.” Sagar stood to accept my handshake.
“Give my thanks to Captain Fforde-Hughes for letting us borrow you for a few days.”
“I will, sir. Safe journey, Admiral.” Sagar smiled, gave me a perfectly crisp salute and left for the shuttlebay.
“Speaking of loans, Lieutenant Mitchell, we’d better get you over to Erebus. Captain Nyhus is expecting you. I’m hoping you’re going to be able to tell us how to hack an Elder’s brain by the time we reach Crab.”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir.” Mitchell likewise saluted and headed for the exit. 
“Do you really think we can do it, sir? Defeat the Elders?” Robson asked.
“I don’t know, Carl. A lot will depend upon what Number Six’s scouts find waiting for us in the nebula. I haven’t given up all hope, but I’d rather be publicly hanged in Traitor’s Square than take half a million men and women into that nebula on a one-way suicide mission.”
“If it comes to that, sir, they’ll be hanging me as well. I’ll back whatever decision you make.”
“Thanks, Carl. It’s good to know you have my back. You’ve done a great job with the crew the last few months.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I’m glad you think so.”
“It’s not just me, ask anyone in the crew. You seem much happier now compared to when you first transferred from Ajax.”
“I am, sir. Counsellor Harmaajärvi has had a lot to do with that. You were right, Admiral. He has a unique way of helping put things into perspective, once you learn how to listen to yourself. He helped me see how the bad things that happen to you in life make you appreciate the good things more, and how you can change your habits and behaviours to help you accept those negative events for what they are. I'm not sure I believe in one, but if there is a higher power somewhere out there in the universe, they didn’t put us here to suffer and be miserable.”
“You certainly don’t seem to be miserable when you’re around Commander Sagar.” I observed.
“No sir.” Robson grinned. “She’s smart, beautiful, ambitious. It would be hard to be unhappy around her.”
“Yeah, well. Just wait until you marry her.” I joked. “You don’t know the true meaning of suffering until you’re married.”
“Sir!” Robson exclaimed, appalled.
“I’m kidding. Mostly.” I smirked. “I’m happy for you, Carl. Even if it does mean I’m going to lose another XO at the end of the patrol when you two slink off together to command your own ship.”
“We’re not really thinking that far ahead, sir. The mission comes first.”
“It always does. Once you’ve got confirmation that Sagar and Mitchell have transferred over to the dreadnoughts, start the jump countdown. Commodore Powell signalled earlier that his task group has finished their stardrive engine maintenance checks.”
“Aye-aye, sir. I’ll be on the bridge if you need me.”
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