Snippet – The Longest Day (Ark X)

5 Jun

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles

Prologue

Tadpole Prime

No human had ever visited the Heart of the Song. No human ever would.

The Tadpoles – as their human opponents had termed them – didn’t really believe in cities. It wasn’t necessary, under the waters, to live in a compound, let alone sacrifice some of their freedoms to convenience. Even the giant factories they’d built, first on the surface and then in orbit around Tadpole Prime, felt profoundly unnatural to them. Something was lost, they thought, even as their race advanced into space. Ideas – the currency of their society – were slowly giving way to a bland uniformity that was as unnatural as the cities themselves.

It was something that disturbed them, although they would never have admitted it. Their whole society was based on freedom of movement and association. The disparate factions lived or died, stood alone or amalgamated, based on their ability to attract new voices and adapt to new circumstances. Being trapped in an echo chamber, where no new ideas could germinate and grow, was their racial nightmare. And yet, as they clawed their way into space, it seemed to be on the verge of coming true. They knew it …

… And yet, they didn’t know how to deal with it.

The Heart of the Song was the closest thing their race had to a genuine capital city, hundreds of metres below the waves. It was holy ground, sacred to a race that had never really developed anything resembling a religion. A human would have wondered at the lack of opulence, but the Tadpoles cared little for grandeur. All that mattered was that the area possessed excellent acoustics. All the factions could send representatives, if they wished, and be heard. And then a consensus would be reached.

Hundreds of thousands of Tadpoles floated in the water, adding their voices to the song as it rose and fell. Millions of seedlings rushed through the liquid, unnoticed by their older brethren. The Tadpoles knew – and accepted – that most of those seedlings would never grow to maturity, never claim the intelligence that was their birthright. It was the way of things, as unquestioned as the laws of physics themselves. Children only had value when they reached an age to join their voices to the song.

The war had not gone as planned, the Tadpoles acknowledged. It was … frustrating. They’d spent a great deal of time studying their enemy, since First Contact, yet they clearly hadn’t learnt everything they needed to know. The song – the consensus – admitted those points, then moved on. There would be time for recriminations and improvements later, after the war. Their enemies had proven themselves adaptive, alarmingly adaptive. It was not a pleasant thought.

The original plan has failed, the voices urged. Let us take the offensive directly to their homeworld.

The song echoed backwards and forwards for hours. There were advantages to taking the offensive, but there were also disadvantages. And yet, did they dare wait? They’d determined that they shared a region of space with an aggressive, ever-expanding race. Much of the material they’d captured had been incomprehensible – and their alien prisoners very alien – but it was clear that humanity had practically exploded into space. It was sheer luck, the song acknowledged, that they’d encountered humanity when the Tadpoles held a tech advantage. A decade or two later and it might well have been the other way round.

They are already learning to adapt our technology to serve themselves, the voices insisted, grimly. Time is not on our side.

Then we should speak to them, other voices injected. Try to convince them to share the universe with us.

The song wavered for a long moment. Not all of the factions had been keen on war. Wars were risky, they’d insisted. There was no way to know if humanity would fight like the Tadpoles of old or something different, something not bound by the song. But human history seemed to be one continuous liturgy of war. The Tadpoles didn’t understand the reason humans had put so much energy into warring amongst themselves – the captured files were readable, yet incomprehensible – but they were frightened. It was impossible to avoid the belief that the galaxy, the utterly immense galaxy, might not be big enough for both races, even though they could have shared a hundred worlds without problems.

They are inventive, the war factions said. Let us dictate terms to them after we have won the war and removed all danger to ourselves.

They are too dangerous to exist, another faction added. We must destroy them before they destroy us.

The song hissed with indignation. Humans were an intelligent race, the only other intelligent race known to exist. They did not deserve to be exterminated. And yet, the risk of leaving them alive had to be admitted. The Tadpoles were creative, but far – far – less innovative than their opponents. It was all too easy to believe that the humans might come up with something that would tip the scales decisively against them. And then … human history was full of examples of what winners did to losers. If they were prepared to crush people who were their biological equals, the Tadpoles asked, what would they do to aliens?

Let us win the war, the song said. We can worry about the aftermath afterwards.

New ideas flooded through the gathering. An offensive, targeted directly on the human homeworld. It might not succeed in occupying the system – the Tadpoles admitted that the system was heavily defended, even if the human factions didn’t work very well together – but it would devastate the human industrial base. Follow-up raids could target their remaining colony worlds, crippling their space navies for lack of spare parts and maintenance. And then the war would be over, bar the shouting.

And then we can dictate peace terms, the factions said.

It would be risky, the song agreed. But there was always an element of risk in war. They’d thought they’d prepared for everything, but the humans had surprised them. Losing so many carriers to a single ancient ship – a ship so old it had never registered with them as a potential threat – was galling. It was also a grim reminder that, for all of their technological prowess, they could still lose the war. The song was unanimous. They had to win. They didn’t dare lose.

And if the offensive fails? A lone faction asked. What then?

It will not fail, the war factions sang. The fleet will be strong enough to retreat, if necessary.

The lone faction was unimpressed. And what if you’re wrong?

Then we will deal with it, the song insisted. The decision had been made. A thrill of anticipation ran though the gathering. Until then … we must win this war.

Chapter One

RFS Brezhnev, Deep Space

Captain Svetlana Zadornov slept with a gun under her pillow and a knife hidden by the side of her bunk.

It was, she felt, a reasonable precaution. Mother Russia expected her womenfolk to be mothers, not starship officers and commanders. There were only a handful of women in the Russian Space Navy and almost all of them had been harassed – or worse – during their careers, even though they’d all been officers. Svetlana’s uncle, Sasha Zadornov, was a high-ranking member of the Politburo and even his name wasn’t enough to deter the troglodytes who resented a woman intruding into what they saw as a purely male sphere. It was sad, but true – she’d discovered as her career progressed – that her skills in starship command and maintenance were less impressive than the ability to injure or kill someone who thought a mere woman couldn’t possibly offer any resistance to him. Knifing two officers and one rating had done more for her reputation than winning a coveted gunnery award.

And then they sent me to Brezhnev anyway, she thought, coldly. Her lips quirked into a nasty smile as she lay in her bunk, half-asleep. And didn’t that come back to haunt them?

It wasn’t a pleasant thought. Everyone conceded – officially, at least – that Svetlana was qualified to command one of the Rodina’s starships. But there had been no question of giving her a carrier command, let alone one of the modern destroyers or survey ships. She was a woman, after all. They’d given her Brezhnev, a destroyer so old that she’d only been refitted with artificial gravity two years ago. Giving the ship to anyone would have been a calculated insult, but giving Brezhnev to her … it galled her, sometimes. She knew her scores were higher than half of her classmates at the academy.

But if I’d been on one of the modern ships, she reminded herself, I might have died at New Russia.

Her intercom pinged. “Captain?”

Svetlana snapped into full wakefulness. One hand gripped her pistol, automatically. It wasn’t likely that the message presaged an assassination attempt – or worse – but she hadn’t survived so long without taking a few basic precautions. “Commander Ignatyev?”

“Please can you come to the bridge, Captain,” Commander Misha Ignatyev said. “Long-range sensors have detected something you need to see.”

“Understood,” Svetlana said. Ignatyev was nearly thirty years her senior and bitterly resentful at having been passed over for command, again. He wouldn’t call her to the bridge unless he had a very good reason. “I’m on my way.”

She swung her legs over the side of the bunk and stood, feeling the gravity field wobbling around her. Brezhnev hadn’t been designed for artificial gravity and it showed. Her cabin, so tiny she could barely swing a cat, looked oddly slanted to her eyes. Half the lockers were embedded in the bulkhead, high enough to make retrieving anything on the top shelves very difficult. But the design would have made perfect sense, she knew, if the ship hadn’t had a gravity field of its own. There were times when she seriously considered turning the gravity generator off and keeping the crew in zero-g.

Which wouldn’t please the engineers, she thought. The engineering crew weren’t much better than the rest of her crew, although they’d fallen in line after she’d proved she knew what she was talking about. She pitied the poor butterflies who concentrated on acing the political reliability courses at the academy rather than learning how starships actually worked. A hint of technobabble and they’d be drowning helplessly, unable to make a decision. And the engineers would take ruthless advantage of them.

She reached for her jacket and pulled it on, then inspected herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair was cut short, a mannish hairstyle that gave some of her aunts fits of the vapours every time they looked at her. They twittered endlessly about how poor Svetlana would never get a man, let alone fulfil her duties to Mother Russia. She pursued her lips in annoyance, silently cursing the old biddies under her breath. They knew she was sterile, damn them. Children were simply not a possibility.

And it isn’t as if we are still facing a demographic crisis, she thought, as she strapped her pistol into place. We don’t need every woman turning out four kids before she turns thirty.

She glared at her own reflection. Her face wasn’t as sharp as she would have liked, but she was mannish enough not to seem automatically female in male eyes. Most men, she’d come to realise, looked past hints of femininity as long as the woman in question behaved like a man. Sharing crude jokes and defending her territory – with a gun, a knife or her bare hands – wasn’t pleasant, but it was the only way to get respect. And while she doubted she would ever see a carrier command, she knew she’d done well. That was all that mattered.

Opening the hatch, she stepped into the command corridor and walked down to the bridge. A pair of armed spacers stood guard – no naval infantry on Brezhnev – and saluted her as the hatch hissed open. Svetlana made no response. Instead, she stepped through the hatch and onto the cramped bridge. It felt uncomfortably warm. The temperature regulators were probably on the fritz, again.

“Captain,” Ignatyev said. He was a short, dumpy man with a white beard, easily old enough to be her father. His competence was unquestioned, but he lacked the connections to rise any higher. “Long-range sensors picked up hints of turbulence in the distance.”

Svetlana sucked in her breath, sharply. The Earth Defence Organisation had been holding an exercise designed to get the various national navies used to working together, but – as far as she knew – none of the planned operations were taking place anywhere near Brezhnev’s patrol route. Her ship hadn’t been invited to take part, of course. The Russian Navy considered the ninety-year-old destroyer an embarrassment, even though she was a near-contemporary to the British Ark Royal and she’d been kept in active service all that time. But most of her systems were still outdated …

Her armour isn’t outdated, Svetlana thought, coldly. Brezhnev and her sisters had been designed for a very different environment. And that might give us a fighting chance.

There were no holographic projectors on Brezhnev, of course. She bent over the tactical officer’s console, examining the very vague readings. They were faint, faint enough to make her wonder if they were seeing things. Space wasn’t quite as dark and silent as civilians believed and her sensors were old enough, despite the refit, to pick up on something that wasn’t actually there. But she had heard about the alien tramlines. The mysterious contact – if it was a contact – was on a vector that suggested it might have come from the closest tramline …

“Keep us in stealth,” she ordered. “Helm, inch us towards the contact.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Svetlana glanced at Ignatyev. “Send a FLASH message to Putin Station and Pournelle Base,” she ordered. “Inform them that we have detected a contact and are moving out of position to attempt to pin it down. Attach a full copy of our sensor log too.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said. He lowered his voice. “The Kremlin may not be pleased if we abandon our patrol route. Or if we alert Pournelle Base.”

“We have standing orders to investigate all sensor contacts,” Svetlana reminded him, fighting down a flicker of annoyance. She didn’t mind having a lively debate with her XO, but not where her crew could hear. “And the Kremlin ordered us to copy all alerts to Pournelle Base.”

She sat down in her command chair and strapped herself in, then keyed her console to bring up the latest set of standing orders. Ignatyev might well have a point. The Kremlin might be unhappy if Pournelle Base was alerted ahead of time, even though she had standing orders to do just that. But she also understood the reasoning behind the standing orders. The human race was at war and, like it or not, the defence of the solar system and Earth herself was being coordinated through Pournelle Base. They had to be informed of any prospective threat to humanity’s homeworld.

A low rumble ran through her ship as the drives picked up speed. Svetlana glanced at the readouts, hoping and praying that the sensors hadn’t decided to start seeing things. She had enemies back home – her family had enemies. Moving out of position to investigate a sensor contact that turned out to be nothing more than a random energy flicker could be made to look bad, if the wrong people got hold of her sensor logs. And, in the constant battle for patronage that defined modern Russia, it was a given that they would get hold of it.

We don’t need an external enemy, she thought, sourly. We’re perfectly capable of fucking things up for ourselves.

But we do have an external enemy, her thoughts reminded her. And so does the rest of the human race.

She sighed, inwardly. Eighteen months ago, alien forces had attacked Vera Cruz and a handful of other colonies along the rim of explored space. Aliens! Svetlana hadn’t believed it at first, not until her uncle had confirmed it. The entire human race was under threat! She’d been concerned, when it finally sank in, but everyone had believed that the space navies could handle the threat. The Multinational Force assembled to cover New Russia, the largest and most powerful formation assembled by the human race, was invincible. Twelve fleet carriers and over fifty smaller ships, as well as New Russia’s formidable defences. The aliens should have hit the defence and bounced …

Instead, they’d blown it to hell. Svetlana still couldn’t believe it, even though nearly a year had passed since the battle. The aliens hadn’t just beaten the fleet, they’d destroyed it. Sixty ships, including twelve fleet carriers, wiped out in less than an hour. The panic had been overwhelming, when the news had finally sunk in. If the British hadn’t had a single ancient carrier that had been able to stand up to the alien weapons, the war might already be over and humanity would have lost. Svetlana had no idea what the Tadpoles – as the British had termed the aliens – had in mind for a defeated humanity, but she doubted it would be particularly pleasant. Human history showed everything from enslavement to outright extermination.

And we have armour too, she thought, glancing at her status board. Half the icons were dark … she hoped that meant the computer nodes were having problems, again. She was fairly sure they were. Brezhnev was tough, but she’d be in real trouble if she’d lost all of those systems. We might be able to take one or two blows from the aliens before they finish us.

“Captain,” the tactical officer said. “The turbulence is getting stronger.”

“Slow to full stop,” Svetlana ordered. It was an old rule of thumb. Anyone she was close enough to see was close enough to see her too. “Passive sensors?”

“Picking up flickers of power distortion,” the tactical officer reported. He looked up, his pale face suddenly paler. “Captain, power distribution is very similar to the alien masking field reported at New Russia.”

“Then we’re too close,” Ignatyev said.

“Perhaps,” Svetlana agreed. She studied the readouts for a long moment. There was definitely something out there. Something big. If she’d had a proper tactical expert … she buried the thought with all the other resentments. The Navy had sent its finest people to take part in the defence of New Russia, where most of them had died. “Tactical, keep probing for insight.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana leaned forward. Ignatyev was right. They were already far too close to the unknowns for anyone’s peace of mind, let alone hers. But they did have some advantages, ones she wouldn’t dismiss in a hurry. The unknowns couldn’t risk using their active sensors without risking detection – the solar system was seeded with listening stations and scansats – and Brezhnev was radiating almost nothing. It was unlikely, highly unlikely, that the aliens would get a sniff of her presence, unless they had some piece of tech that the human race had never heard of.

And that isn’t entirely impossible, she reminded herself. She’d seen too many images of plasma bolts tearing through carriers as though they were made of paper. If they can see through their own stealth fields, we may be in some trouble.

“Contact,” the tactical officer hissed. His display filled with red icons. “Captain, I have thirteen – perhaps fifteen – carriers and over a hundred smaller ships.”

Svetlana felt her heart sink as she studied the readings. The carriers were all too familiar now, their elegant lines a silent mockery of crude human ships. She’d seen too many images of the alien ships, too, to mistake them for anything else. There were no deployed starfighters, as far as her sensors could tell, but it hardly mattered. The aliens had arrived in force. And if they couldn’t be stopped, Earth would fall.

She kept her voice steady with an effort. “Launch two probes on ballistic trajectories,” she ordered. “I want them to pass through the middle of the enemy formation.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana looked at Ignatyev. “Do a course projection,” she ordered. She suspected she already knew the answer, but she needed to check. “Where are they going? And when will they arrive?”

Ignatyev bent over his console. “Earth, Captain. They’ll be there in less than five hours unless they reduce speed.”

Shit, Svetlana thought.

She’d assumed as much. Earth was still the centre of the human sphere, still home to seventy percent of the entire human race. The industrial nodes orbiting the planet couldn’t be replaced in a hurry, even if the remaining colonies pooled their resources without the normal human bickering. God knew that New Russia had already been lost to the enemy. And who knew what was happening there? Svetlana knew better than to believe everything she heard on the datanet – the Russian media parroted the government’s line, unlike its western counterparts – but some of the horror stories might have some basis in fact. The Tadpoles might be enslaving the entire population.

“Send another FLASH signal,” she ordered, curtly. There was a risk of detection, but it had to be borne. Earth had to know what was heading its way. “Scatter the message – I want a copy sent to every naval base in the system. Inform them of our contact, then attach full copies of our sensor records.”

“Aye, Captain.” Ignatyev didn’t argue. That, if nothing else, indicated just how serious matters had become. “Signal sent.”

“They’re ignoring us,” the tactical officer said. The alien ships were flowing past Brezhnev, seemingly unaware of her presence. “They didn’t even pick up the drones!”

“It looks that way,” Svetlana agreed, dryly. It was good news, she supposed. The drones were sending a constant feed of information back to their mothership, telling her things she hadn’t wanted to know about the enemy fleet. Earth would have some warning of the oncoming storm. “When they pass us, bring the ship about. I want to shadow them all the way to Earth.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Ignatyev shot her a questioning look. Svetlana ignored it. She didn’t have time to explain her reasoning, not now. The alien ships were still too far from Earth to be tracked by the orbital defences, let alone the starships that made up the combined Home Fleet. Brezhnev had to stay close to them, whatever the risk. If the fleet split up under stealth, Earth wouldn’t have the slightest idea that anything had happened until it was too late. Humanity’s homeworld was a pretty big target, but it wasn’t the only one.

Long-range kinetic strikes on the Jupiter Cloudscoops or the asteroid mining colonies will do a great deal of damage, she thought. Maybe not enough to cripple us, but enough to make it harder for us to recover.

“Launch a relay drone,” she added. “Once it’s in place, establish a relay laser link. I don’t want them getting a sniff of us.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said.

Svetlana’s lips twitched. If the aliens detected Brezhnev, the ship would be blown away before her crew had a chance to take any sort of evasive action. She didn’t dare make any radio transmissions when the signals would be passing through the alien formation. That would be pushing her luck too far.

Another shiver ran through the ship. “We’re moving into position, Captain,” the helmsman reported.

“Laser link established,” Ignatyev added. “Captain, the time delay …”

“I know,” Svetlana said, sharply. It would be at least an hour before her alert reached Pournelle Base. Earth’s defenders wouldn’t have that long to prepare to defend the planet against the oncoming storm. “It can’t be helped.”

She shivered, a cold sensation running down her spine. To her, it was a tactical problem; to Earth, it was life or death. Mother Russia was about to face its most severe threat since Hitler’s invasion or the Central Asian Wars. And so was the rest of the planet. Humanity’s homeworld was about to be attacked.

And they don’t even know the enemy is on the way, she thought. Her messages were speeding towards Earth, but they wouldn’t have reached their destination. There would be people sleeping on Earth, or going to work or school or whatever they did all day … utterly unaware of the nightmare bearing down on them. They don’t have the slightest idea what’s coming.

Her blood grew colder. They’d know soon, she told herself. The entire planet is about to go to war.

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8 Responses to “Snippet – The Longest Day (Ark X)”

  1. William Ameling June 7, 2017 at 1:17 am #

    If it is going to take a hour for the message to reach Pournelle Base (assuming it is on the Moon or nearby the Earth, while it is going to take them 5 hours to get there, then they have to be traveling at 20 % of the speed of light. Which is a VERY HIGH velocity to doing in interplanetary space, plus there is the problem of decceleration. At 1 gravity it would take on the order of 70 days to do that. Even at 10 gravities it would take 7 days. At 100 gravities it would take about 60,000 seconds, i.e. over 16 hours. So they would need on the order of 300 gravities to do it in 5 hours or so. Doing something like that ought to be extremely detectable, if it is even technically possible. As well as requiring large amounts of energy.

    I think you need to take another look at your physics and math calculations, as well as times, speeds, and distances (and I am doing a purely Newtonian physics calculation, without any corrections for special relativity, with a lot of simplifying approximations).

  2. Anarchymedes June 7, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

    FYI, Russia doesn’t have Politburo anymore: the Russian parliament is called Duma (Дума, pronounced almost like doom). And Brezhnev is a very unlikely name for a Russian starship: try Suvorov, or Admiral Nakhimov, or, say, Dmitry Donskoy. Or Pokryshkin: a legendary fighter pilot from WW2.

  3. William Ameling June 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm #

    True, but we do not know if his story line history is a projection of our present day Earth, or like a number of other authors, a projection of an Earth with a different history than ours. There are many SF books out there whose past history is different than the history of our present day Earth.

  4. William Ameling June 7, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

    Expanding on my first comment, for SF fans and authors, rounding slightly (about 2%), it takes 100 seconds at 1 (Earth) gravity to get a velocity of 1 km per second, or 100 g’s for 1 second to reach 1 km/sec. This is also only a purely Newtonian physics result, when large fractions of light speed are involved, Special Relativity needs to be considered also. Remember that light speed is 300,000 km/sec (rounding slightly). So it takes about 30,00,000 seconds to reach light speed (by Newtonian physics) or 347 DAYS, i.e. about 1 year at 1 Earth gravity acceleration. You would also travel about half a light year in the process. Alpha Centauri is about 4 light years away.

  5. William Ameling June 10, 2017 at 1:01 am #

    If you are still writing it please do the math on times, distances, speeds, acceleration, scanning ranges, communication lags, etc. carefully, and of course as consistently as possible with what you have established about what can (or can not) be done in your story line/universe/at this date. (which is not always easily accomplished) (see my comments/messages above)

  6. Sam June 14, 2017 at 1:47 am #

    Am I confused, didn’t you already have the tadpoles invade earth in a previous book? I might be out of sorts on this.

    • chrishanger June 18, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

      No – It was just what the Old Lady found when she returned home in TNT.

      Chris

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