The problem with taking on three huge, time-sucking, monster projects at once is that if you guess wrong and try to do them all, you can end up with none of them being done.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
“Commander Garcia, red alert. Launch, launch, launch. I’m tracking a launch out of Quito. The vehicle is flying a low-G trajectory so it’s likely to be a passenger ship.”
The LEO station commander was startled as she looked up from the reports she had been reading. “SYMBA, is QuitoOps back online? Are you sure that you’re tracking an actual launch and not some anomaly?”
“No, Commander Garcia, there has been no contact with QuitoOps or any of the other launch site AIs in thirty-five days. I am getting visual data on the launch from three different sources so confidence in the data is extremely good.”
“So, how are they launching? I thought it wasn’t possible without AI oversight and control. Not to mention the power needed to charge the launcher, lasers, or tracking system.”
“That is unknown, ma’am. The most likely option is that there is a functioning AI which we are not in contact with. Alert. Launch, launch, launch. Ma’am, I am now tracking a second launch out of Quito.”
“You’re kidding. Wait, ignore that. Is the second ship also a passenger vessel?”
“That is unknown, ma’am. Both ships are following similar low-G launch profiles, so it is likely that they are both occupied.”
“Do you have any radio contact with either ship?”
“No ma’am, I have been trying and will continue to try to contact them but there is no response so far.”
“This stinks. Put me in contact with Neil Hermans and keep GEO Station updated on the situation. Let me know as soon as you have a better track on them so we know where they’re going. I don’t want them getting anywhere near any of our stations. Quarantine has to be absolutely airtight to keep these ships out of our systems.”
“Yes ma’am. Alert, launch, launch, launch. I am now tracking a third and fourth launches out of Quito. Initial tracking data indicates that both of these vessels are heavies, executing high-G climbs and launching with external solid strap-on boosters.”
“Jesus, what are they doing?” said Garcia. “Are we in contact with anyone down there who can tell us what’s going on?”
“Ma’am, our only contact with anyone on the surface is sporadic contact with amateur radio operators. None of them that I am aware of are near the Quito launch complex. Ma’am, Mister Hermans is available.”
A window opened up on the wall, showing Hermans looking like he had just gotten out of bed. He was looking off to the side of the camera, scanning data on the display there.
“Alexa, what the hell is going on? Who are these guys?” he asked.
“Neil, you know as much as I do. We had no indications that anyone down there still had anything close to a functional launch facility, let alone the power to get off a single launch. Now we’ve got four ships coming up, with no advance warning and no communications from them.”
“If I were a paranoid man, I would say this looks like an attack. Except that it makes absolutely no sense to attack us, and if they had the resources to run that facility for an attack they would be much better off using it to get their act together down there.”
“SYMBA, any further launches or changes in the trajectories?” Garcia asked.
“No further launches, ma’am. The first two vessels have reached orbit. The two heavies will achieve orbit in three minutes. All four have launched into a plane five degrees off from the equator. Preliminary data indicates that they will have an apogee of 443 kilometers.”
“So they’re not coming here to Terminus Station?” asked Garcia.
“No ma’am, it does not appear that our station is their destination. I’m checking now to see what destinations are possible.”
“The five degree planes are mostly occupied by the automated manufacturing stations,” said Amanda Louise as a window popped up showing her in the GEO Command Center. “But they’re all up above 600 klicks. These guys should be capable of getting up there pretty easily if that’s their goal.”
“There are thirty-seven manufacturing and research stations available in theory for these ships on their current trajectories,” said SYMBA. “Many of these are unoccupied but all have at least rudimentary living facilities for emergencies or servicing crews.”
“Give us a list of all of those,” ordered Garcia. “As you keep trying to make contact with them, keep ordering them to stand off from any existing facility. An approach to any station at all will be considered a hostile action and will be dealt with immediately.”
“Neil, where are the nearest response assets?” asked Louise. “How long will it take to launch them and how long will it take them to intercept those vessels if we have to?”
“I’m working on that now, Amanda. Give me fifteen minutes.”
They watched in silence as the four vehicles slowly climbed. As each of them reached apogee over Sumatra a brief rocket firing circularized their orbits.