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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Red Zone 10

8

“You wanted to talk to me Cadet?”

“Yes, I do not think my paper deserved such a poor grade. I think the mathematics was fine, and the conclusions followed from it.”

“Well fine if you don't count two sign errors which miraculously cancelled each other out, but which, as a result turned two complex systems into an 8 variable system that you said could not be solved, when, in fact, the two tensor version has been solved, repeatedly. Sometimes by cadets.”

He flushed.

“But that's not why you got the poor grade.”

“What was the reason?”

“You do not seem to understand what this course is trying to teach.”

He hung his head in shame.

“No excuses sir.”

“That will get you a long way in drill, but not very far with either me, or with the principles of physics.”

“What exactly am I missing?”

“We didn't go over X-tensors, attractors, and their application to social dynamics in great detail for amusement.”

“I am still not understanding.”

“There is a mathematics to human interaction with the outside, that mathematics is embodied in econology. Econology is about minmaxing1 desired results within expected equilibria. It's like the way people used to run around saying 'room temperature superconductor' whenever there wasn't enough gain for the pain. Amazing what you can do when you have impossible physics to sweep problems under the rug. Perpetual motion! Room temperature superconductor! Carbon sequestration! Pure Free Markets! Cold Fusion! And so on.” Each exclamation point was more like a parody of excitement than the real thing. The contempt shown through with each example.

“I thought I avoided that.”

“You invoke four new interacting technologies, none of which ignite the other. There is no way that such an interaction will occur as the solution to an arbitrary and isolated problem in astronautic design. And you have no idea if any of them are implausible. You aren't getting the very basic way of it. You're wayless.”

Deeshandir hung his head in shame.

“I would like to know how I can improve my standing.”

“You mean get better grades? Do better work. There's no mystery there.”

“No, I mean I would like to know what it is I don't understand.”

The professor, his cheekbones taut, face then, hair black and curly with piercing green eyes, bored straight into him with a stare.”

“I'm going to take you at your word cadet. Let's step back.”

The professor rose from his chair, and moved away from his desk. The classroom viewscreen descended, an archaic two dimensional one, rather than the CAD screen that was in three dimensions.

Let's start with the history of space flight. What are the epochs.”

“The first was rocket. From 1940 through 2040.”

“Why the rocket first?”

“One technology does all: launch, lift, land, maneuver, return.”

“And.” There was a note of exasperation.

“Extension of other common technology: turbine, combustion, materials engineering from other kinds of flight.”

“And.”

“The cross effects were within their understanding of manageable.”

“Tell me what you mean by that.”

“Well even a small atomic launch would have caused tremendous fall out, and a gun to orbit, as Verne had proposed, would have required acceleration that they could not have absorbed without breathable liquids.”

“So....”

“Ignition is low, there problems solved are many, and advances in other areas advance this goal.”

“Why didn't atomic or nuclear arrive earlier?”

“Fallout, and....”

“Goal fixation. Read the papers again, the are always talking about interstellar travel, walking straight past the planets.”

“Because terraforming seemed to have only two, perhaps three, real targets: Moon, Mars, and possibly Venus.”

“So what came after rocketry?”

“Chemical rockets were a dead end, their specific thrust is low, their efficiency poor, and almost tangentially connected to advanced flight, ramjets, scramjets and so on.”

“Ignition giveth, ignition taketh away.”

“They talked about lock in.”

“Were they locked in?”

“No, their econological parameters were wrong. Rockets are for good low orbit, not for even interplanetary travel.”

“But if you really want the high ground, good enough.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And their brute force was?”

“Lift and throw. Multi-stage. No problem that can't be solved with a better engine and breaking the mission into more pieces, or making the payload smaller.”

“So I repeat, what came after rocketry?”

“Ulam-Dyson. Pulse nuclear, based on Orion and others.”

“Why not earlier, Orion was plausible in 1960.”

“Because it needed cheap launch to orbit.”

“Which was?”

“What we still use: magnetic acceleration.”

“Which depends on?”

“High temperature super-conductors, investment in the first launches.”

“No.”

“What, sir?”

His professor sighed. “A change in econology: the goal. Ceres, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa. The new worlds of ice. Only when humans realized they had to colonize the sea to get enough energy, materials, food, stability, does it seem reasonable that terraforming really means, aquaforming.”2

“Only when they realized that the dying ice shelf of Antartica was a basic ecosystem.”

“When there was a sustainable surplus.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So pulse drive era.”

“Yes sir, roughly 2040 to 2140.”

“Why then?”

“The Great War pushed fusion to practicality, there was a desire to escape from the inner diaspora.”

“Why fusion, after almost a century of research?”

“Econology again, they realized that low temperature, low density, low radiation, low pressure ruled out virtually every form of fusion.”

“Not quite correct.”

He looked at his professor blankly.

“Because they wanted to just swap fusion in to a non-fusion system. Take out coal, plug in hydrogen. When they realized that they needed a fusion econology, not just econological fusion, life changed.”

“Fusion doesn't work that way they wanted, sir.”

“That's right, it is a better form of propulsion than power. Stars use it that way. So. Pulse drive to the planets. Does it work?”

“Only partly.”

“We still use pulse.”

“It is cheap and simple, sir.”

“So, pulse isn't a one technology solution, it requires several supporting technologies. What caused ignition, what was the knowledge avalanche waiting to happen?”

“So you are asking what do the pieces have in common: superconductor, fusion, materials, nano-technology, quantum computing, deep power grids from tides, ecological engineering, sir.”

“Yes.”

“Xaotic dynamics, turbulence, a natural feel for quantum mechanics.”

One word.”

“Quintessence: the power of ubiquity. Replacing the percussive manner of thinking that dominates the internal combustion age. Only the pulse itself is percussive. Well at first, eventually it becomes essentially continuous.”

“Good. What comes next?”

“Well modern fusion drives... but... I don't see a principle.”

“Then lets go back to low explosive chemical energy. What came first?”

“The firecracker, the simple rocket, Greek fire, the gun.”

“Low explosion. Create a flame front avalanche.”

“What comes next?”

Blank pause.

“What comes next is harnessing cyclical dynamics. Stop me when you've heard this one before: The. Wheel.”

“The Watt-Newcomb engine.”

“Yes. Even though the parts had existed for centuries.”

“But as parts. Yes, Sir.”

“So cycles: when waste is use to push the system along. What comes next?”

“Flow. The turbine. Everything is used immediately, rather than cyclically.”

“Which was invented?”

“In old China, and reinvented for water power.”

“So...”

“Modern drives rely on absorbing rather than recycling the breaking radiation. Core and tube designs with the x-rays from the core heating the real power generator, or drive. ”

“The wheel.”

“Yes sir.”

“Pulse, wheel, flow.”

“Is this universal?”

“No these are expressions of the basic econological lagrangian of the system. The system evolves, and manifests. It's conservation laws appear at points of symmetry, it's radicals at points where the symmetry breaks.”

“I will need to go back and do those out, won't I?”

“Don't make stupid sign errors. State the Lagrangian. Realize when the movement is continuous and uses Noether, and when it is discrete and uses Ward–Takahashi identity. These are basic tools.”

“Yes, sir. I thought I had done this correctly.” He stared blankly at thee screen which had slowly become filled with notes, sections and images. There was a picture of the first pulse ship, a picture of the large sail and ion freighters. Timelines, names had filled in at various places.

“Different drives for different purposes, massive heat generation to warm the ice of the Jovan moons. Massive floating cities in the atmospheres of the gas giants.”

“And?”

“The need to do econologicaly unstable activities anywhere but the garden world.”

“The irony is, that as the econological band gets narrower on earth, technologies that are too dangerous become attractive in space.”

“I suppose, but then there is no global warming in space.”

“Exactly.”


“So drive era, 2140-2240, roughly.”

“Yes.”

“Why did it end?”

“Colonization is endemic, beams become more practical, as an outgrowth of slow solar sails, and electro-weakcoupling technologies. Neutrino capture and so on.”

“Our first semester was devoted to a few basic ideas, one of them is generate in place, move in space.”

“Modern commercial craft are powered from large efficient stations. Yes, Sir.”

“So now do you see the problem? No ignition: rockets were about the wheel applied to combustion, they were an apex technology because there's no point to a combustion ramjet, the flow version of combustion, in space. Pulse was like going back to the bottom of a curve. Then came recapture drives, now flow.”

“So you are saying that we are at the apex of fusion?”

“Exactly.”

“So what is wrong with my anti-matter proposal?”

“No ignition Deeshandir, no ignition.”

His eyes closed, and he visualized again the problem.

“I don't have a solution.”

“Until a few minutes ago, you didn't even understand the problem. You were thinking like a consumer, not a physicist, not an engineer.”

“What is the difference?”

His professor opened and closed his mouth to produce a sound not unlike a dog about to eat something.

“A physicist, turns simple insoluble problems, into complex hard problems solveable by geniuses.”

“And an engineer?”

“Turns complex problems solvable by geniuses, into complicated problems solveable by brute force. If you want it built, then all problems should be based on linear improvements of parts we already have, not on four Thomas Edisons dropping out of the everywhere and into the here. You didn't have a solution, because you did not look at the problem.”

“What is the problem?”

“The problem, is that there isn't a large enough problem, that makes the next step necessary, or at least obsessively desired. Not enough surplus to justify disrupting the equilibrium. Too much pain, not enough gain.”

“So I have to make do with what I have.”

“Exactly, cadet. Now, go back, do out the lagrangian of the essential technological area, tease out the symmetries, and look for where one is just aching to be broken and penetrated.”

“Thank you sir.” He winced a bit at the sexual imagery.

“Cadet you are one of the best students.”

“Then why the poor grade sir?”

“Do you know the difference between history and politics?”

“No sir.”

“History doesn't grade on the curve.”

“But warfare does, with all due respect, sir.”




1Minmaxing is the process of getting the most gain, for the least pain, as opposed to minimizing, or maximizing.

2Terraforming is to make like earth, but aquaforming is to make like an ocean.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Red Zone 9

9

He opened his eyes, but it was a blink after time, and second had collided together since last they felt the hard stabs of artificial light. On Terra, light is preternaturally real, piped and adjusted. Artificial light is reserved for times and places where it is meant to underline it. Such as here, on the South Pole of the Moon, bathed in eternal darkness. Shackleton Crater, the stepping stone to space.

Missing. Missing. Missing. Signal from the base is missing. I wish they would turn the alert down.

He spun around and observed, and realized that he was realizing that he had been in a space suit.

I am not in this memory properly, it must be a simulation. Or perhaps it is the real memory, and the canopies were. Authenticity seems more illusive with each frame.

He felt his eyes dragged along a survey of walls, spattered with blood, and gobs of flesh. Some of it was human, but the frozen pipes also dripped with cephs.1 He saw severa cuts, and one octo. They had been mashed by exdecom into the station room and flash frozen.

The temperature read 32 coldly Kelvin. The slush had to be water plus a great deal of some kind of anti-freeze. Even methane was solid at this temperature.

“Captain, ping?”2

“Base, ack.”

“What are you seeing there, all of the other channels are cut off.”

“I am past the airlock, there has been action in here, but everything is dead. The station is evacuated to less than one tenth of one atmosphere, and it is,” checking the exact number, “32.12 Kelvin.”

“Roger Captain, that is colder than outside.”

“Base. Yes, there is something that has forced a cool down, and kept some small gas pressure. There are fragments of fatalities here, human and otherwise, but not clear sign of what or who was responsible.”

“Captain, advise you pull back.”

“Base. It took me long enough to get through the airlock, I am going to go forward. Unless that is an order, of course.”

“Captain, not an order. Use your discretion.”

“Base. I am going to survey.”

“Captain, remind you that there is no extraction until DSV Atlantis is over head in 24 minutes. Sorry can't load the tactical or specific orbital information, we are reduced down to voice here.”

“Base. Copy.”

He saw his remembered self checking his tablet.

“Base. There is interference begin generated between here and my tank.”

“Captain, read that, but no data here.”

I am on my own.

Why can't I hear my then thoughts? Are they locked off. K are you there?

Very faintly here cyber-voice muffled a scream.

There was a break in the memory, he spun and was face to with something large and black that flashed away from him so quickly he could barely perceive it. It had the outline of a giant cephalopod of some kind, but that was impossible in this weak atmosphere.

He checked the read out, one advantage of a heavy suit is that the large curved face area left a great deal of room for displays. Not impossible, the instruments saw it.“Base. I think I am hallucinating.”

No. No. No. It is right there on the board.

“Captain. Copy. Advise you return.”

No. That is stupid. Stupid. I could never have done that. It is right there.

He felt his body stop, and do a full survey. He studied the walls, floor, and ceiling. And on the ceiling were circular marks, where the frost of exotic gases had been disturbed by the sucker marks of some ceph. He saw a gloved hand reach out, and place a probe near enough to it.

I wonder if this is a simulation that is responsive to what I am thinking, or am I just remembering a moment where observation saved me.

He saw himself move back along the line where the figure had been. Probe in one hand, weapons mounted on shoulders unfolding.

“Base, this is Captain Venkatesh again.”

“Captain, go on.”

“I have seen some physical evidence that a ceph was at some point loose in the base. I can not tell yet whether it was before the exdecom and freeze down.”

He watched as data appeared on his visor screen.

“Base. This is Captain Venkatesh. My augmented reality is failing to function. Is there something you can diagnose as the problem?”

“Captain. We aren't getting shit out of there. Sorry for the language, I've been desperately trying to get almost anything. You are down to carrier on old style radio. It's that bad.”

He felt a shock of loneliness, and with that he was dragged all the way into the memory, hearing only his own thoughts at that time, his inner voice becoming mute and finally fading.

I am truly isolated. I cannot, however, go back. Whatever is in here, will almost certainly ambush me.

He swing through a half open iris valve, on the floor was a shattering series of large fragments, which looked at first, like an alabaster statue that had been toppled over. That was a person. Which means they were not frozen on the ground, and it takes a great deal of time exposure to produce this kind of shattering. It was not accidental.

He recalled classes from the academy on the boils and radial burns from liquid hydrogen fatalities. The most likely cause of death is not freezing, but asphyxiation. The burns from cryogenic exposure were not sufficiently quick to kill.

Continuing a remorseless movement through the room, examining surfaces, he found small series of embedded hooks in the ceiling, these led back to a superfluid tube. Why this tube? Tubes were every place, ubiquitous ways of moving oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, regulating temperature, cleaning the air. Cephalopods moved along them to repair and maintain almost everything about the base.

He realized he had been staring too long at this, and so spun rapidly. It turned out to be a life saving instinct, as the thing that had been the shape, was expanded out before him. It looked like some kind of octo, only black, with green bio-luminesence. Obviously it was an octo in some kind of environmental suit. He had not seen such things but they were in equipment inventory. But before he could fire, the octo shriveled up to almost nothing and disappeared into a hole. He checked the temperature read, it was considerably warmer than the ambient temperature, but not so warm as to be water.

This is very odd, the tubes must now be filled with some very cold liquid. Water would long since have frozen.

He tracked the IR signature.

“Base? Ping. This is Captain Venkatesh.”

“Captain, Ack.”

“We have an octo on the loose, it has an environmental suit. There are more fatalities.”

“Captain advise you get out of there.”

He spun again, in time to see an octo, perhaps the same one, slowly unfurling itself downward, gripping to a tube by several tentacles, while one unfurls downward. It's head was a good half meter downwards, and when it saw him it started to roll back upwards. However, it was too late for this one. Aim for the brain. There was no bolt of light, there being not enough gas to really ionize, but there was a pale blue stream. It neatly sliced out the brain area, which fell down and out like a lump, the creature then hanging there.

The beauty of a laser kill, is it is precision.

He noted that the temperature was warming rapidly.

“Base, I have a confirmed kill.”

“Captain, order you to leave now.”

“Base, copy that. Leaving now as ordered.”

He moved in sweeping slow crescent steps, sideways, looking back, forward, up, down.

“Base, ping.”

“Captain, ack. Are you leaving as ordered?”

“Base. Leaving as ordered.”

“Captain, what is it then.”

“Base, the station is warming rapidly.”

“Captain. Got that, you are still to...”

There was a thumping sound and then an ancient and almost unknown sound: static.

“Base. Ping.”

Static.

“Base. Ping.”

Static.

Clearly something is very wrong. He checked the time until extraction possibility. It was too long to wait. Choices, to surface, where base was almost certainly over run by something, or staying here.

This smells like a plan: they froze the station by blowing the water in the tubes out to space, and pumped some kind of liquid gas in. Then attacked whatever was mobile, obviously with some kind of acute freeze weapon.

He shook his head. A revolt by cephalopods would be a nightmare, they were, everywhere, absolutely everywhere.

Need to get communication, that means the comdeck, which is close by.

He moved rapidly, almost heedlessly. The temperature was rising dangerously rapidly, gasses might explosively heat at this rate, and fragments would fly everywhere.

Airlock first. Survive transition.

He turned back to his left and reentered the airlock, and quickly wrote in the air for it to open and maintain stasis. It responded instantly, too fast for their to be anyone on the other side. He then wrote out the security code that would isolate it from the rest of the station. He then, reflexively, changed the code and waited for it to come through. There, that might buy me some time. He sealed the tubes to the airlock. Mist formed on his visor, he noted that his hear rate was elevated.

His chest heaved, there was the stench of fear in his suit. He could not hide his own smell of fear.

The iris snapped shut, it could only have taken two seconds, but the disappearing of the inner area from view was the most powerful relief he had ever felt.

Try to reach the tank, it might be able to reach a southern orbital satellite.

He spent several moments trying different forms of communication to the tank. Finally, a microwave band broke through. He laser linked into the base's main communication, and rapidly went through the interlocking security steps. Each pause as a code was recognized or not, was an anguished second. The pause was invariant, whether it had worked or not, so that an intruder would not be able to glean information from wait time.

Finally the visuals for the comlink snapped on his visor, he had control of the main laser up and down links.

“Who are you and what are you doing on this channel?”
It wasn't a voice, it was direct input. There was a perverse relief. My AR3 is working.
Reply verbal.

“This is Captain Deeshandir Venkatesh. Commander tank 3 dash 3, Bravo Company.”
A voice snapped in over voice. It was not a voice of a terrna normed individual, its vowels were distended, its gravelly nature combined with a resonance from deep back in what was clearly a larger than normal throat.”

“This is Major Alpha, of the 1st Heavy Infantry Regiment. I am sure you were ordered to clear the area.”

“Copy Major, base stopped responding here.”

There was a long pause.

“There's no extraction available.”

“Awaiting orders where to withdraw to Major.”

There was another very long pause.

“Clear this channel, hook to the channel I am providing.”

There was a longer pause. During this time he felt, rather than heard, thumping sounds being piped in from the outside, clearly his victim had company.

The new communication information came in, and he rapidly switched to it, he winced under the immense chatter: clearly a half dozen squads of heavy infantry were moving in on this location.

“Captain Venkatesh, Bravo Company, 9th Drop Tank Regiment.”

Several other voices were reading off status, none were human, all, like Major Alpha's, were that gravelly deep resonant type.

“Captain Kappa here, Captain Deeshandir, consider your self attached to the 1st Heavy Infantry. Report.”

“Kappa, acknowledged. I am in the south airlock of Shackleton Hydrolithic4 Station. Have made contact with hostiles, BC 1. Have observed fatalities of unknown number, human and ceph. Observed station. Was ordered to withdraw when my Base went out. Linked into the base laser com, awaiting further instructions.”

“Deeshandir, hold your position. We can't sim you in. No operative scenario.”

“Kappa, copy that.”

At this point Major Alpha's voice broke in: “Regiment is under Alamo Protocol. All squad leaders acknowledge.”

Six voices assented. At least 24 heavy infantry men.

“Captain Venkatesh 3-3. Alamo Protocol Acknowledge.”

“This is Major Alpha. We have no sim for you. You are not to fire upon HE, even if that means risk of termination. Consider yourself expendable, we do not have time to sim you in.”

“Major, acknowledge. Permission to withdraw to my tank.”

There was a long pause.

“Major this is Theta, we can sim that in as a donut hole.”

Pause.

“You have 15 seconds.”

“Major, ack.” Came back Theta's voice.

Seconds ticked.

“Major, sim scenario 23-1 uploaded.”

“All squads load and link 23-1.”

Voices acknowledged.

The scenario came flowing in, he was to san open the outside airlock, tumble from the exdecom, and make a break for his tank with leaps.

This is almost impossible for me to make.

The AR read out in his head piped up. “12 seconds until scenario revision start.”

He counted off himself, holding his hand up, tips together in a neutral position, waiting to spread them to open the iris to the outside.

11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. He spread his fingers, the airlock belched open, fortunately at low pressure. The scenario was off, it expected him to be thrown farther. Thinking quickly he blew off one of his tanks for extra lift on his jump.

It carried him a meter short of the scenario.

The back camera displayed three huge hulking figures, they were firing repeatedly into the airlock just behind him. He saw several more in front of him, taking huge leaps in their battle armor. They were far taller than he, and the face masks were very long, clearly exaggerated for effect. Anubis' legion comes for carrion. He thought of a poem in a book he had read long ago.

He leapt again, needles flying behind him, their trajectories drawn out on his AR. He blew the rest of the small back up tank and landed dead on scenario. He was at the crest of the crater, and could see down the slope the low profile of his solo scouting tank.

Voices chattered in his head. His eyes soaked up weapon trajegories projected on his visor and vision. Questions swirled.

What had happened? Where is everyone on the base? And why hadn't he been told about the Heavy Infantry deployment?

He popped the door in his tank, and slid through. The stench of his own urine rolled up to his nose, and his gut was vibrating with heaving anger. The tank iris sealed, and there was the hiss of recompression. There was movement, a black sail came towards his face. Reflexively he swept his arm in a block, it hit a pair of stiletto like prongs that were plunging towards his face, pushing them out of the way. The claw on his own fist extended out, it was a short prong with two blades, to avoid doing damage to machinery in a closed environment, really a last ditch weapon for exactly this situation: when the tank was compromised. However, it was meant for enemies stifferthan this, beating on to the soft flesh of the suited octo, black, like the others. It slapped against the right side of the driver's roll cage.

He slashed down. The wide round inhuman eye stared at him, and he thought he could see its toad warted skin turn rust red. Its prong weapon retracted, and it tried to aim it at him. Ah yes, it is a weapon meant to work like its beak, attached to the suit at the same place.

He brought his left fist around, blade extended, right to the round device from which the octo's weapon extended. There was a spatter of blood, viscera, and breathing liquid. Greasy goo was everywhere. He stenciled his fists through it until it was a mass, and then checked for there being another surprise. The tank code had been changed. How did a ceph manage that?
He went through over-ride sequence. Again the torturous second pauses. The last step seemed to hang, and then work.

A voice came through.

“Captain Venkatesh, why haven't you gotten that tank out of there as per scenario.”

“Major Alpha. Hostile had infiltrated tank. BC 2.”

“Captain. Acknowledged.”

There was a pause. He waited for instructions, but decided to move the tank up to the ridge of the crater, so that he had better sight.

The tanks nano-turbines whined, but started evenly, he had plenty of fuel, but decided to put the treads down anyway. Within moments he was at the crest of the crater.

“Captain who told you to move that tank?”

“Own initiative.”

“That can get you killed here.”

“Ack Major.”

While chatting pleasantly with the delightful leader of the heavies, he surveyed the floor of Shackleton Crater.

Shackleton is a neatly punched almost round crater, but with heavily sloping sides. On the far wall there was a bright line of light, but the bottom never saw the sun. There was a station, the one he had just been in, that pumped water out of the rock. It was almost a relic, except that instead of the water being used for its gross purpose, it was being carefully studied for its content.

Why a rebellion here?

It was a mutiny. He checked the station. It was cold, very cold.

Alamo Protocol means no survivors.

He watched as small figures pommeled the base with hand and shoulder mounted weapons, there were physical, plasma, and energy variations on the theme, but the effect was the same: to rip gouging holes in the external skin of Shackleton Hydrolithic Station.

“Captain Venkatesh, ping.” It was the voice of Major Alpha.

“Major. Ack.”

“I need you to bring your tank down and laser us an opening.”

“Major, Ack. Do you have a scenario for this?”

“Captain, waiting, do not fire until it loads.”

He rolled the tank down the long side of the crater, the soft lunar surface giving way and making his vehicle slide down. He handled the controlled slide and aimed to the left of the farthest cluster of Heavy Infantry figures.

He could not turn on lighting, it would cause disruption and warn the enemy. He slide farther than he would have liked and brought the tank around on its treads. Leveling the turret and the laser.

He checked. Flechette secondaries might be useful for follow through. He paused. No, clusters we aren't facing armored anything so far.. He armed the two secondary weapon mounts.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

The scenario came in, as soon as it was loaded he followed it, because it had time immediate on it. Someone is taking chances.

“Major, scenario in action.” But even has he said it, he had circle punched a neat hole in the base side where it prescribed him to. At this moment what he saw did not really register on his eyes, because it was absolutely out of his experience, at the same moment the punch occurred, a gastly flock of black airborn creatures, the octos in large numbers flew out of the hatch.

Of course, it is perpetual dark, a super conducting plate is around the entire base, for moving material in and out on carts. It's costless. His eyes fell along the ground and saw how there was only a minimal attempt to disguise it with a meta-material surface.

“Major, they are using the superconducting plate to draw energy.”

The octos were not airborne long, as if they had been launched out of something someplace, or driven by some small jet, even closing in, events were moving too rapidly. The used their prongs to plunge into a heavy's visor, resulting in a puff of condensation from exdecom.
Those are suicide attacks.

Massive chatter, he started ordering it out.

“Captain, no scenario.”

Here it was, that hanging moment that military men of his time and place dreaded: no scenario, no time to sim one out, but action is required. Scenario blank, some men would never reach this moment.

His stomach felt as if a massive piston had plunged down his throat, compacting his guts. Vomit rolled up, and he choked it down. Three heavies had blown out. Four. Five.

Paper is wrapping stone.

Fire! Fire! Fire! A deep and primal moment made him lay down a pattern of kinetic rounds, shards flying everywhere. He bet that the Heavies, those still alive, had armor that could take it.

Scissors cuts Paper.

The shrill rapid pulse of fast small explosions

Scissors cuts Paper.

He fired the cluster, programming in a back cone. Octos were spattered by the spray, sparks flew off of the heavy armor of the infantry. He saw one octo fall.

The heavies were moving through, spraying heavy wepoans fire. Each hit would, indeed, take out an octo, but there were dozens of them, and new flocks were being belched out every few seconds. Waves and waves of them. How could they float, fight, and move without visible jets or atmosphere?

His visor zoomed in on some small disks that were near the ground. Some were floating, others were resting on the ground. The they shuttled around, like small rodents or cockroaches, they would cluster beneath an octo.

That's how they are doing it. He remembered the adage from astronautics: Generate in place, move in space. The disks drew power from the plate, they beamed it up at the suit, and that was power for propulsion and other action, as well as magnetic levitation. Where they were resting, the Cooper pairs had broken down, and it was just a regular ceramic floor. No coopers, no floating.

“Major, disable the plate!”

“Captain what are you babbling about?”

“They are somehow drawing energy from the superconducting plate you are standing on.”

“Captain, do you have a scenario?”

No time to generate one. They are all offense. Scissors.

Stone blunts scissors.

“Drop a thermal grenade, Major.”

He saw a heavy, that must be Major Alpha, whip his arm, it was clearly double hinged, so the hand moved unnaturally far and fast. There was no light, but a wave of dust was kicked up. The octos still floating dropped to the ground, moving only with spindly steps from the exo-skeleton in their suits.

The heavies stopped, clearly waiting for a sim. They then began sweeping through squashing octos with their boots. They made small bounding steps. The gravity was not enough to come down hard, so as a heavy neared the end of bound would jack their foot down. Their muscles must have enormous flex.

BC5 38. Fatalities 7.

They methodically swept through, but then reached the gaping holes in the station.

“Captain Venkatesh. Ping.” It was Major Alpha.

“Major, Ack.”

“Disembark tank, and follow me.”

“Scenario?”

“Scenario blank. We have run out of grid.”

It is nice to know the Major has a firm grasp of reality.

Deeshandir looked up, opened the iris at the top of the turret, and then hopped up, assisted by the seat, and landed on the front deck. He set the turret to follow him, and linked his com to the tank.

“Ready here Major.”

“Captain follow me into the station, I need someone Terran Norm.”

“Major, read that.”

He cleared the distance to the outside of the station in a few swift bounds. Fortunately he was up on his low G training, even if, honestly, his hand to hand and personal combat skills were not as high as he would have liked.

He finally got a good look at the sheer size of the Major, the stretched and sinewy nature, the ripping of the muscles. The armor was marked with regimental and company designs, as well as a circle with a stylized black elephant as the type designation. There was, of course, no Han seal. He lightly touched his, and stood straighter knowing he was carrying one of the most storied designations in the Dominion military: the name for drop tankers, the Flying Tigers.

The turned towards the gouges in the station side, Deeshandir pointed to one.

“That's closest to the main artery into the heart of the station.”

“How far back does it go?”

“Almost a kilometer, and then there are as series of shaft drop offs. Some lead to neutrino telescopes, most lead to hydraction chambers.”6

Walking side by side, but separated by 2 meters, they entered, from out of the darkness, where at least there were ghosts of illumination caused by reflected light, and from the spots on his own tank, to a true darkness, where only their suit running lights, plus some phosphorescent glows infused the walls.

They turned on UV lights to peer into the darkness. Already misting gloom of leaking vapors crystalizing into ice had begun to accumulate again, each step was accompanied by turns of the head.

Wait, this is stone. They will go paper.

“Major, this is is a bad approach.”

“You have a better suggestion captain?”

“Look, more suction marks. They were here recently.”

“I'll order an ambush sim.”

“I doubt command has extensive libraries on enemies who are against policy. We should just go in hot.” He stood up and began checking both his side arm for loads and his prongs. A dance of maps of the station appeared and began plotting routes to the various crucial points.

“Blank it all the way down?”

“Mad dog it. Helmet to helmet. Lay down a route, and clear it out. Your men can come in after us, and that will prevent being surrounded.” He walked past Alpha and “You think we can beat them all the way down?”

“Major, have you ever met any one you thought could beat you?”

“Not unless he was in a tank.”

“The octos can go offensive, and they can envelop, but they are not really set up to defend.” Clearly there was infiltration. This was extremely well simmed out.

“So?”

“Scissors and paper.”

“How does that help us?”

“They will want to envelop us at the defensive points. They will be waiting for us to move fast between them.”

“You seem to think you know an awful lot about them.”

“No, I think they know a great deal about us. They will be waiting for us where we would want to stop.”

“Drive for the generator, they clearly are using the station resources.” He pointed at low slung object, with a wheel like base and what looked like a large shunt. “For example, they shoot themselves out of that. Cephas can take it, no bones.”

“Captain, good observation.” The Major put away his heavy short range lance, and pulled out a small figure 8 shaped weapon. It's grip rested in his hand the way a tonfa would, a long handled fighting stick. He knew that it was a low power, rapid fire, short range weapon.

“Let's move.”

The major spun without warning. Down behind them an octo had been slowly lowering one tentacle towards a sphere that rested on one of the tables. There was only a short blast, which ripped apart the head of the octo.

“Sack of pus.” It was a growl, almost incomprehensible until after a few moments.

Deeshandir reflexively looked in the other directions, and was rewarded with seeing another octo sliding into a movement tube, now clearly empty of fluid, but still a natural conduit. He punched out a laser circle in its head, and it oozed back down the wall, and then hung limply from two of its suit suction cups. These are large, they probably are 5m across and have a mass almost half my own. He tried to recall the bestiary of modded octos, but the etails were hazy in his mind.

“Major, their suits are extremely well designed, and have features I have not seen in any of the reports.”

“It's against policy to arm the pusbags.”

“We need to look for evidence as to who is arming them. Is this a corporate conflict? Jove?”
“That's not our concern. Alamo protocol.”

That is almost certainly a mistake. I wonder who made it.

“Acknowledged, Major.”

“Let's move.”

The Major moved forward, he was not lumbering as one might have expected from his size, nor did he move in a blocky line. The station was only marginally large enough to hold his height. He would make controlled leaps, using hands to keep his feet off the corridor floor and bouncing between the two sides of the circular halls.

You know, the only thing he needs, is a tale, to complete the almost raptorus way he moves. His stance was forward, energetic. Keeping up with him was difficult as the nearly flat out ran towards the command center. The cold blue glow light had a mist of condensed ice crystals. There is atmosphere here, we must have passed through an air curtain that holds the air in. He continued following in a straight ahead gait. How could I have missed it? Then a thought. What else am I missing? He focused on the image from his back cameras, and pointed his shoulder mounted weapons, backwards. I am fairly sure that the shoulder mounts I have on this suit are barely capable of killing our assailants.

With that, he saw a long tentacle uncoiling down, it had to have been close to 2m in length, longer than he was tall. These are not repair cephs, they were made for combat. He surveyed a broader range, and saw that there were a few of the native repair anims, cuttlefish and smaller octos, and that the ones outside had been smaller. So the station's cephs, at least some of them, joined the invaders. Was this part of the plan?

“Captain, records show you are Sirenmen. Is that true?”

The tentacle quickly started to withdraw, but not before Alpha quickly spun from his torso, almost 180 degrees, and popped off a single shot that pegged into the cephalopod's appendage and began sparkling along the circuits of the suit. He's changed loads to anti-personnel, that shot is meant to disable the suit.

“Major, it is.”

“That fact may have just saved your life. Like frozen seafood?” The infantry commander shot a series of explosive bolts up to where the head must have been hiding. There was a loud thumping noise, and then silence.

“Major, I am not sure what you are referring to, this was not supposed to be a wipe mission.” He waited for the sim to come back in, and then walked not quite under where there was a viscous dripping liquid, which he assumed to be octo blood, and fired a single heavy shot upwards. There was a cascade of obviously not human flesh.

“It just became one, Captain.”

“These are military aren't they?”

“It's against policy to arm them.”

“They were sent to deal with the humans on station.”

“I can't confirm or deny that Captain. Need to know.”

And the Black Elephants were sent in when it turned out that something had gone horribly wrong. He paused, allowing the implications to sink in, while outwardly he went through searching motions.

Obviously the Alamo protocol was supposed to apply to me. There was a crawling curl in his gut. I was brought down here to be disposed of. Another tightening on his arms. And still might at the decision of the directorate.

Major, respectfully I would submit that since this is a wipe mission, that it would be advantageous to fully brief me on the situation.”

The major examined the sides of the corridor, the tubes running along its sides. Finally he exhaled.

“The octos are mil. They were sent to put down some problems. Somehow they got armed.

Your unit was supposed to provide support for mine. Something went horribly wrong, and now we have to clean out the debris. That's all there is. Get it. Got it. Good. Go.”

“Thank you Major.” He squatted down and looked along the corridor. “See, it is clean here.

They are waiting for us beyond the next door.”

“Because they think we will move to the door, stop, look.”

“Exactly Major. It's one dash to command center, and they won't want to defend there.”

The Major turned, and looked at him, the long axe like front of his visor emphasized by height and proxmity. “I've got a solution for that.” With that, the major adjusted a pair of tubes on his arms. “I'll have to adjust for the low atmosphere.” A small grey metallic sphere rolled into his hand, it's exterior rippled slightly. He sucked it back into the launch tube, and then began walking deliberately towards the door. He signed for it not to auto open.”

“What are those?” Keeping up was still work.

“Classified weapon.”

“Hyperdeformation fission device?”

“Enough to rock a small island.” The door snapped open he launched it forward by 2m through into the rounded connection room beyond the door. It spun in the air, and during that brief moment. The could. As expected the octos dropped down at the snapping open of the door, and one of their “transport guns” launched a suited black octopus at them. He finally got a good look at them. The did not stand, but hung from projections on the ceiling.
Twist, aim, shoot. Kill. The flying octo spattered, there was one clambering into the launcher.

It never made it. The door snapped shut, the small sphere spinning in mid air.

“Duck!”

Deeshandir dove into an emergency alcove and snapped it shut.

There is no sound without a carrier, in this case, the metal and ceramic of the station walls, the tubes, the aerogels of the floors. It was a sound that was not picked up by his suit's microphones, but by his body. The explosion rattled his bones, the shards banged the outside of the emergency alcove. It did not deafen his ears, so much as his entire body.

I would not have survived that. But anxious urgency came flying to him. There is no time to waste. He popped open the alcove, but awkwardly. Instead of that smooth feeling that he had done something a thousand time that a good scenario brought, he felt like he was flailing.

He rolled out on to the floor, sharpnel having left deep gouges. Alpha was down, but there was also no movement other than a finely falling ash that dropped like rain near the bottom of the corridor, but seemed to float near its top. Looking up he saw atmosphere bleeding near the top, with the carbonized fragments of their adversaries forming a shroud. The glow took on a black indigo cast as it filtered down.

He stayed squatting and walked over, soot pebbles were scattered on everything. He wiped then off in disgust.

“Major, ping. Major, ping.”

No response. It took a moment to link to his port and get data. The Major's signs were hard to read, but they were there. He was not conscious. He pumped up the adrenaline until Alpha's heart picked up and his pscyhograph showed consciousness again.

“FuCK. Fuck. Fuck.”

“Major, are you able to stand and function.”

“Cover me, I need one or two.”

“All hostiles are gone, no motion within 30m.” Which nearly included you.

“I didn't know if I could take it.”

“We haven't walked away from this one yet.”

The major physically nodded, and then rolled upwards, and was standing, though somewhat unstably. I should go ahead and check. A few low steps covered the distance, the radiation counter showed the effects as being almost none. The weapon leaves behind almost no radiation.

He stared down the three corridors that went from the joining room, the destruction went at least 30 m in each of them, and in places had eradicated human structure to bare lunar rock. Icicles of ceramic had formed where the exo-skeleton of the base had melted and dripped down. He could not even guess how many cephs had been killed. So much for live body count.

It was in this calmness that the nature of what they were doing finally struck. We've slaughtered dozens of these things. Things we made to do our fighting in the first place. The mystery of how and why stopped bothering him. I will not remember it long enough to reach a conclusion anyway.

Alpha moved up behind him.

“Captain, I'm ready to make that run.”

“Go. Go. Go.”

The plowed down the last corridor, and saw only a few limbs that were recognizable as having been attached to anything. The reached the command level.

“We need to split.”

“Left.”

“Right.”

The divided running around the inner ring, the actual entrance to the command center was on the opposite side.

Watch out for a passive defense. The stream of data showed nothing until nearly the last moment: a razor wire had been strung across the corridor, and there was still a defense grid active. The grid was easy enough to disable, he shot out the small patch of paste that held the wire in place.

Moments later his instruments read discharge.

“Maje. Ping.”

“I'm good.”

As a measure of how badly shacken Alpha must be, he barely made it to command center's iris lens door first.

“Good to see you Maje.”

“There was a trap. You need to open the door.”

Deeshandir waved his hand in front of the entry panel. The codes he had worked. The iris snapped open, and they leapt in.

His heart went from pounding to frozen. The crew.

The command room was a hemisphere above, with white being the predominant color. There were desks laid out in a circle around the outside. About half the seats were had someone sitting in them. Scattered about were a dozen bodies, all killed in the same way, a massive stab wound to the head or neck. Blood spattered had spattered in a loose spray on every surface.
The lights responded to Venkatesh's presence and turned on, from a dim red with a blue glow cast, there was a natural sunlight. Venkatesh did not react particularly, but took it as his due.
He could see a shift in the Major's weight, a kind of diminution of his stature, a slight slump to his shoulders.

It looks like the were all killed at once. He looked down on the heads and began making a careful examination. There is no blue green ceph blood.

“This was a planned ambush, Major. Everything went according to plan. No misses, not even off center.”

He didn't need to look at the entire room, the panorama view was entirely eloquent. Then he noticed that the spray had, in places, been wiped or smeared. With a smooth soft motion, he ran one finger across a link tablet, and absorbed the recording of the command center. Why not? He fought back integrating it immediately, but allowed him self to sip images: an officer moving by a table, a commander asking for status, a concern that there seemed to be something wobbly about the generator's power flow. He clawed back to control. It took a deep breath, he felt the calming influence of adjusting drugs flow into his system. Let us hope it does not relax me too much.

He examined the entry wound in the spine of one young woman, it was a neat pair of bore holes, right at the well known weakpoint between C7 and T1, where the neck meets the back.

Her blonde hair was matted with the blood, which had dried partially before being frozen.

Her expression was a tangled pain, she was conscious when she died. He shut her eyes before moving to the next one, talking as he moved.

“Major, they were here, recently.” He thread his way over one man, gaping pits where his eyes had been, lying staring at the ceiling. There were suction marks on his cheek.

“They must have pulled out when we bombed the door.” Alpha was keeping his eyes fixed on Venkatesh.

“That is the problem, they can move through the support tubes very quickly.”

“Moment, reading the station plans again. We need to move, leave that to the thread team.”7

“The secondary command is at the bottom of the station. There is one elevator, one spiral stairway, and the plasma stack.” He sipped in more memories, scrolling forward to the attack. One moment an alert sounded, and the lights switched over. That switch over is extremely brief, but as it happened, the octos swung out, spreading their tentacles and slamming into hapless victims. The maneuver was similar: hold by one tentacle, swing down, a burst of a jet. And plunge in.

He rolled the memory again, the sparkle of blue jets illuminating like freckled nebulae in a passing instant of gloom. By the time the lights were to emergency, they had become a black hoard of bats, a swirling flapping tangling cloud. But only for an instant. Not a shot was fired, and only one victim even was able to struggle, a security man who pressed back at the mask engulfing his face. That must have been the man I saw on the floor. Then almost in balletic unison, they combat octos grabbed into the entrances, and pulled themselves up, as if they were climbers on rappels.

“Suggestions, Captain?”

“The stack.” He had to blurt out the reply to cover his distraction by the memory integration. He did a final scan, he could see the video overlaid on what he saw. The combat octos dropped, but now he could see that station octos had been hiding and reaching in to manipulate chairs. A demonstration as to why the Terran Norm was created.

“Are you barking mad?” Alpha had busied himself checking his myriad weapons: a full size man portable rifle, grenades, two small rapid pulse side arms. It was an impressive array.

“Like the Dog himself. They will have the stairs and the elevator guarded.”

“And if they start up the generator?”

“Then we will be home in seconds.”

Alpha surveyed the command center.

“They flew out of the tubes, all at once.”

“They have a remarkable degree of coordination.”

“We didn't plan it this way.”

“We?”

“They were supposed to just freeze the base down.”

“Are you objecting to the slaughter off humans, or that it was done the wrong way?”

“The base was doing illicit trade. They knew the risks.”

“It seems that there are softer forms of justice available. And if you are going to wipe everyone anyway, it is hard to see how this sends a message.”

“I'm not going to debate military philosophy with you, Captain.”

“Then we had best get to the stack entrance and drop in on our enemies.”

“Agreed.”

“Fast.”

The move to the top of the main stack was long, but not particularly eventful. The Major was moving far more slowly, and did not use his previous spring step, but a crouched run. It was far easier to keep up with him.

They reached the entrance, it had cracks and chips that seemed recent, though, of course, in this environment, a crater a million years old could look fresh. He hasn't noticed that the reader doesn't like him. There were a small row of symbols that had a count of near by beings, and the Major, was listed as modified. However, the characters were in formal chinese, which, it seemed the Major had not paid close attention to.

The Major gestured, but the door did not respond. He pounded a fist against it. Venkatesh opened it with a spreading of his fingers in the air. The folds of the iris opened with a crisp snap. His pressure meter registered an outflow of air, however, it was mostly nitrogen. Unbreathable, even if the temperature were higher.

They took a single step through it on to the outer ledge. The stack itself was a single tube no more than a meter in diameter, within it were concentric shells which would contain plasma, the shock wave of each igniting the next in progressively hotter and more power rich forms. Outside of this were nearly transparent shells which were filled with the workings that drove the stack, outside of that was the space for the gas that would capture the heat, and then, the space they stood in, which was where those who worked on the stack would be. When in operation, it would be too dangerous for anyone not in a hardened suit.

The iris snapped shut behind them.

It was not that much farther to the top where the interchangers were, but it was a very long way down, far enough, that it was hard to tell whether what appeared as the bottom really was. The sides were sparked with light blue glows with a phosphorescent tone, and grew darker. The ice that floated in the slowly pulsing currents of air swirled and floated. It was clear that the reactor was no longer active. It favored moving from their left to the right. There must still be a current present, there is almost no Coriolis force here.

Alpha made only the most cursory survey and began swinging down, long arms eating up the distance. The low gravity meant that he used hos reach to torque himself, rather than relying on the gravity, he used his feet to reach into a hand hold and pull down, then reach his arms down and did a back flip.

I think I am supposed to feel inferior. He looked up one more time and then just stepped off the edge and allowed himself to fall. If there is a draft up, there has to be a flow down, since this is once again a closed space.

He felt himself catch it, and then the edge of the magnetic protective shield. His suit knew enough to ride it down, it was not long before he passed Alpha, making hard sweaty progress. He continued to survey both up and down, particularly when passing the blue glows: they were not standard, and while it was possible that some field modification or emergency system used them, his suspicion was that they were there to observe.

Assume we have lost the element of surprise.

Alpha seemed to glare at him only briefly, and then returned to grunting his way down. I think I am about half way down. The point of no return. There was no new motion, just the quiet and relentless swirling of the ice fog in the gloom. He felt an instinct in his gut to hurry, on earth, he would have tipped helmet first and gone into a fast dive, relying on his chute to open in time. His heart pounded, it still seemed quiet, he hesitated, wanting to sim it out, but there was not enough information, because the key piece was not whether it was safe to dive, but where the ambush was set: from above, from the sides, from below?

What would I do? No answer came back. That is the wrong question, why are the doing what they do?

There was a black void in his imagination, because, in fact, he could not understand why anyone would rebel against the Dominion, when faced with a swift and brutal retribution, and a denial of any chance of inception into the computer sphere. There were many who did not want this, but there is a vast gap between choosing not to become a Kami, and being condemned to eternal sleep.

Or worse, semi-resurrection as an exper, aware, but without self. It was illegal, but he had seen it done often enough. Even worse still, being hooked up in the flesh for memory extraction. “Retrogation” was the official term. Heads stuck on what looked like cybernetic pikes, oozing blood around the edges of the seal, faces contorting and mute lips screaming, as the remains of a mind was strip mined out, with no concern for the consequences.

He landed almost noiselessly on the bottom, below the reactor itself. His instinct told him that they should have dropped from above, like a flock of bats, or shot out from the sides. He flexed his knees and stood up again, he looked for tentacles reaching for him, he stared into the darkened slots, into the niches. He expected to see eyes staring back, he expected shapes in the grottos. It was dark here, and his mind filled in attackers at the corners of his vision. He kept spinning to intercept shapes that his instruments told him were not there.

Instead, he walked calmly to the sub-control room spun his hand open and walked in. The only light was his own UV light on his helmet, the controls were all off, the glow was gone. Some kind of self-destruct perhaps? As his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he could see that, in fact, the entire room was coated with an uneven glow.

Alpha landed with a delicate thump 2m behind him, and walked in. The two surveyed the dark room, scattered everywhere, were dead octopi of various kinds. Some were the 3m across monsters, others hooded vampire droppers. Some were small engineering workers. But many had no suits. His instruments showed that there was a slick frozen coating on the floor. He bent down to examine it.

The read out from his visor showed that it was rich in complex biochemistry, including badly degraded DNA.

Hours later, he was extracted, and after the AAA, the wipe was almost a blessed relief.

The rip back to memory point was particularly painful.

Is this what happened K?

It is what we think happened, no one is really sure.

So I didn't massacre anyone.

That depends, on whether you think cephs are “anyone.”

That depends. What do you think?

I wish I knew V.

So they wiped me and sent me to recover after this. I notice the simulation did not include how I received the injuries.

We didn't have enough data on that. But it was bad. Are you sure you really want to rem
ember? We can wholesale it later.

No that won't be necessary. This action, it was some kind of rebellion of the cephs. Did you include it to make me more sympathetic?

No, it was one reason you were sent here. They knew you were reliable in just such emergencies.

When did everything start to go so wrong?

It was never good for us V.

Then why did you stay?

We came, we stayed, we were buried alive in the ice. Just like the crew at Shackleton, V.

They are going to do this to your people, aren't they?

What do you think, V?

I think this makes me out to be better than I was.

No, if anything, you did more. According to the avatar, there is a commendation on file. You wouldn't have known until reunion.

Reunion never happens.

No, reunions never really happen.

He was above the city again, of his memory, falling towards it. He felt his eyes close again, and he felt as if he hit the ground with a thump.

1Cephalopods. Intelligent cuttlefish, squid, or octopi which are used as servants to work the inner cavities of fluid pipes. Often referred to as cuts, squies, and octo, or octos.
2Ping, used to ask if the hearer is live. Ack, for acknowledged.
3Augmented reality, overlays of information directly on sight and sound.
4It extracts water from the lunar rock.
5Body Count
6Hydro-extraction.
7The forensic field unit.