matapam (pamuphoff) wrote,

_Outlaws of the Solar System_ Part 30



"OK, the waves are nice and predictable." Simon watched his screen closely. "I wanted to record several of them, see if they are regular and so forth, before I started the experiment."

"You don’t have to lecture, Professor!" Spider yelled from the pilot’s station. "I’m not in any f…hurry."

Simon grinned. The very pregnant Kirby found zero G very comfortable, and was taking navigation lessons from Spider. They’d been out here for nearly two days already while he fine-tuned his gravity wave detector grid. He grimaced at the screen. Fine-tuned! Barely adequate was what it was. It would never do for a shipboard system, and the first test had shown that it mattered where the generator was relative to the wave when it jumped. But that was just an engineering problem. He’d figure it out, hell, he just might write up a paper for publication, and sit back and let the terrestrial engineers fuss over the details. He stretched out and floated, one eye on the screen and most of his mind busy composing a world shaking paper ‘Faster than light travel’ or ‘Gravity Wave translation produces FTL travel’ some thing like that. The screen showed the wave starting to bottom out. Enough.

"OK, lets run the whole series, as planned." Simon called forward.

The murmurs that might have been navigation lessons ceased. "OK, I’m recording up here." Spider called back.

Simon cued his models and sat back to watch. The wave frequency was three hours, so he’d set the ten models to jump every eight minutes, with the first model triggered five minutes after the trough. "First hopper going . . . now." Simon bit back a curse. The active beacon died but the passive reflector sat there.

"So it ain’t just the trough and peak that don’t work?" Spider asked rhetorically.

"Doesn’t look like it." Simon took his fingernails out of his mouth long enough to answer. The minutes slowly crept off the timer. "Second model going . . . now." And this one did go. Simon let out his breath in relief, and spotted the passive reflector return popping up on the far edge of his screen.

"Damn!" Spider reverted to his habitual speech, "That sucker jumped, umm, thirty thousand kilometers." He sounded stunned.

Simon felt a bit stunned himself, as the figures scrolled up on his screen. "In zero point zero two seconds. That’s five times the speed of light." His academic training kicked in. "Roughly speaking, at first look."

Spider snorted, "Roughly speaking, I think you’ve developed a FTL drive. Congratulations. Now untold billions of humans will spread over the galaxy in the future on Monkey Drive ships."

"Did you sit up all night thinking that up?" Simon demanded, suppressing laughter.

"Not all night." Simon demurred, "But I knew I was going to need a smart ass remark sooner or later. Whoops," he yelled, "There goes your third one."

"It won’t go as far," Simon hovered over the screen, "There, yeah, they’re just popping straight through the wave. The closer to the base, the further in three D space they’ve gone. There’s some critical point though, at which it doesn’t work. Is it distance or something to do with the wave form? If it’s distance, it won’t keep working as the waves get larger. Maybe more power?" his voice trailed off as the next model jumped, shorter again. It looked like his first working hypothesis was going to survive the test. Next he needed to run a series of jumps right around the point where fizzling turned into jumping. And alter the models so that he could put a rat on board, or maybe he should start with yeast packets or amoebas or something, to see if animals could survive gravity wave jumping. Next model, even shorter. Oh, yes. And the gravity waves should be so much larger, the further they got from the sun. Damn, would Earth based physicists be able to duplicate his results? They could get micro jumps like the Venus magnetic couplers had experienced, but would that convince them? The sixth model jumped on schedule, shorter. Well, if they didn’t believe him immediately, they’d believe him when he started jumping around the galaxy. Yep, to go where no ichimp has gone before. He grinned helplessly, then started laughing. The seventh model jumped and he reached out and touched the screen where it would reappear, yep. Right where it belonged. "Eight will land there and nine there, and ten will probably fizzle." He fought to get his laughter under control. Very undignified. Eight jumped and reappeared, the clock scrolled down, nine, right where he’d called it, and ten, yep fizzle.

"You called it, Monkey boy." Simon yelled back, glee in his voice. "Let’s go collect your toys and head home. This deserves a celebration."

Between Spider’s precision piloting and Kirby’s growing expertise with the waldos he had very little to do, but he enjoyed the EV time, floating in space. Back inside with his models, he kept watching through the porthole as they closed in on the Chamberlain. By the time they got there, the scoop was fully deployed and the construction workers were slowly cycling back in through the airlocks. Spider grumbled a little about having to dock on the inside of the frame, but not at all about standing off until all the workers were out of the way. There wouldn’t be many more excuses to expend fuel on this journey, and Simon suspected that Spider was going to miss flying.

Spider slid them expertly between two of the huge fuel spheres, and underneath the living sphere nestled between them. What from a distance looked like a tightly packed assembly, up close proved to contain a lot of empty space. The construction crew had built a dock to Spider’s specifications during the fueling stop. The ship hung balanced between LS one and LS three, with the skeleton of an airtight corridor leading to a new airlock installed in the tram vestibule of LS one. Over the next few months they would finish it, but for now they’d have to suit up to get out. Simon, still watching out the port, glanced over at el three, the Piggies home, and was surprised to see workers still out.

"I thought all the workers were back in?" he asked, frowning, "Hey, this batch isn’t wearing overalls, they have hard suits on. What’s up?"

"What the fuck?" Spider frowned, "Have they’ve got the tram station switched over to airlock operations?"

"I don’t know, I don’t see them now." Simon hesitated then shoved back from the porthole. "I think the Colonel ought to know about this."

"Good luck trying to reach them from here," Spider told him. "It will be better to get into the el and call from there."

Simon poked irritably at the ‘Cannot reach the network’ message on his screen, "Yeah. Let’s go."


Kirby went first, floating easily through the cage of the skeletal walkway to the airlock, and punched the controls when she felt the faint vibration through her hand where it gripped the rail. She looked back to see who’d bumped it hard enough for her to feel it and saw the men coming in fast with jetpacks. "Spider, look out!" was all she had time for, because one was already behind him, weapon in hand. Spider had been paranoid all his life, and even nine months of knowing her hadn’t mellowed him much. He spun and whipped out the longest and strongest of his arms, and took a laser flash to the cyber housing, which shrugged it off as easily as armor. Kirby’s couldn’t see what was happening, but she for damn sure knew she was trapped in a cage and her first priority was to get out. She kicked herself toward Spider, grabbed a handhold long enough to spin and shoot past him feet first into his opponents face, hook his laser wielding arm and spin: she let go when she felt the bone break, and kicked off to ram the second man as he touched down. When he spun, she grabbed the jetpack, cheap civilian model and yanked the control leads loose. She removed the laser rifle from his hands and shoved him off. His bad luck if he didn’t eventually hit something he could grab. The third man coming in received an irreplaceable FTL model broadside from Simon, and Kirby aimed her purloined rifle at the next, but flinched as sparks from a near miss showered her hood. Simon shot past her, "Get inside Kirby, we need to call out the troops, fast."

She was turning to follow when the pain lanced through her arm. Something hit her from the back, and she was shoved into the ship’s airlock. Spider hit the emergency close and the hatch slammed shut. As the air roared in Kirby bent over in pain. Not her arm, which Spider had a hold of, and which appeared to have taken a shot along the length of the forearm. Had she been hit twice? She ran her free arm down her stomach as another cramp hit. Spider hustled her ruthlessly out of the airlock and ripped his hood back, "Kirby, talk to me!" he demanded frantically.

"What?" she asked, and only then realized that she could only hear him through the hood, she popped the front seam and peeled it back, angling her shoulder to look at the smoking ruins of her comm set inset in her collar.

"That was close." She said, inanely. The front of her skin suit was undamaged, and she realized with a sinking feeling that she knew exactly what the cramps meant. "Oh," she curled up for another, "This is really bad timing." She squeaked, then took a breath as the cramp ended and asked, "Did you get hit? Did I get hit more than this?"

"I’m fine. I just hope to hell Simon got inside." He stripped the skin suit off her arm, and grunted satisfaction, "Mostly hematoma, the laser just barely grazed your skin." He dropped her arm abruptly, "I’m going to get us out of this maze and over to where the antennas can pick us up and then yell bloody murder."

"Good idea." Kirby panted slightly, another contraction? Already? The books she’d read had said labor started with hours of widely spaced contractions. Hours. Plenty of time to get around to another airlock and get to the doctor.

Chapter Fifty Five

"…with jetpacks and hard suits, armed with lasers. We spotted them first coming out of the Piggies’ tram station, so I think Beringar’s trying something." Simon spun down, the adrenaline high dropping almost visibly. "What, I haven’t a clue." He looked at the figure floating nearby. "I have one of them, I think he’s unconscious, not dead." He ended dubiously. He curled up in the air of the tram vestibule, surprised to find himself cold and shivering. He had the man’s laser rifle, more because he didn’t want it floating around loose, than with any intent to use it. The tram door hissed open and the Colonel popped out. He just nodded to Simon and grabbed the floating man.

"Let’s get both of you to sickbay." His voice was fast and clipped, a little high. Simon recognized the same symptoms his mother showed when she was in overdrive. "I really want to talk to this guy." With the els tucked in close, the elevator was sidelined and they just floated down a short corridor and into the el. Cherry met them halfway to the clinic, frowning at the cavalier way her patient was being towed.

"Are you alright, Simon?" by the razor sharp glance she sent him he judged the question rhetorical and just nodded. "Get his clothes off him, gently with the right arm, it appears to be badly broken."

A few other marines trailed in to help, the ranking officer grabbed the man’s pouched belt and whistled as he opened the first section. "Sir, laser limpets." He held it open for inspection. "What were they planning on cutting hole in? Us?"

"And the ichimp els, probably," Simon put in. "There were a lot more of them out there. I think they just came after us because they realized we’d seen them."

The Colonel was already out of the room and on the comm. From what Simon could hear of his growls he was directing troops that were already suited up. He turned back, "All of you up to control, time for the power suits. Move." His eyes fell on Simon, "Monkenstein, stay here and try to warn all the els there could be problems. Those charges were designed to penetrate, so there’s a risk of decompression." Then he was gone.

Simon reached for the comm. Engineering first? No. Construction HQ. A lot of them might still be suited up. "Chris? Simon. The Piggies have saboteurs outside with laser limpet hole cutters. Can you field a search crew? The Marines are headed out to stop them, but there aren’t enough of them to search the outsides of the els for limpets that have already been emplaced."

"We’re on the way."

Simon dialed up engineering, "There are Piggie saboteurs outside with limpets, can you sound decompression warnings for only our els? We don’t want to warn them, although I suspect they know they’re blown." Receiving another affirmative he keyed off the comm and turned to Cherry. She had the unconscious man’s arm in a rigid cast and bound to his chest, and was peering through an instrument at his eyes. "Have you seen mother, lately?"

"I think she was piloting a pod, she should have come in just after the workers were back inside." She looked at him apprehensively, "She wouldn’t have anything to do with this!"

"Except," Simon pointed out, "To fight them." He frowned roughly in the direction of Spider’s airlock, fumbling with the laser rifle. He knew how to use it, but could he? "I think I’d better keep an eye on the airlock here."


By the time Chuck got to the bridge, the Piggies were being escorted out by Lieutenant Conde’s troops. "Line them up along the wall." He snapped, glaring at the group. "If any of you know what Beringar is up to, I would appreciate your telling me right now." They all looked indignant, ignorant and out of the loop, except for Sharpe, the one experienced pilot the piggies had. He looked stubborn. "Are they sabotaging the ichimp els, the Marine’s, or both?" Silence. He could hear the blood pounding in his head. "Are they trying to decompress the els, or snap the cables?" Silence. "Lock them up, put a guard on them. If they try anything, kill them." He was nearly whispering with the effort to stay calm. "Then get into the hard suits fast. Baker, Wisdom and," he hesitated, "May, piloting. That will give us one squad for each column. Lieutenant Conde," He turned and headed for the docking bay, "Take Wisdom, and Sergeant O’Malley’s squad. Sergeant Eddings, take Baker’s pod and I’ll take May with Wolfe, Herring and Deveroux."

Ivan shot up to them braking with a bone crunching thud into the wall next to him. "What are they doing? The els are sealed, everyone’s trying to get into skinsuits or airtight compartments in a total panic."

"There are people EVA with limpets." Chuck kept it short. "Want to help us go kill them?"

"Yeah." Ivan cracked his knuckles, "Starting with Beringar." He swung away, but was back in seconds, catching up to Chuck as he reached the docking bay. "His tram is locked in place halfway into the station. We can’t go that way."

Chuck nodded and grabbed his armor. "We’ll have to go in through the tramway airlocks, a dozen at a time." He pointed along the rack, "See if any of the body armor will fit you. I don’t have enough troops to lend you any, do you have anyone who can fight?"

"A few, I’ll keep them in engineering, though. The Piggies must mean to take it intact."

Chuck nodded agreement with his logic. "We’ll clean up the saboteurs that are EVA, and meet you to take el three." He reached over and grabbed one of the spare laser rifles, and extra power packs and handed them over. "Go down to el one and use Spider’s airlock. See if you can keep any more Piggies from leaving el three." He grabbed a helmet and reached inside to manually reset the radio channel. "You’ll be able to hear all of us on one and talk to me on two." He told him, handing it over.

Ivan nodded, and grabbing a motley assortment of armor and weapons clicked off toward the tram.

Chuck finished sealing his armor over his forearms, and turned to the suited soldiers waiting for him. "OK, we’ll ride on the outsides of the pods and see what’s going on before I get too detailed. Let’s go."

Chapter Fifty Six

"OK, Spider, stand off, relay our transmissions and play catch if necessary while we clean these rats out." Chuck worked to keep his voice slow and deep. No need to start the adrenaline overdose yet. "And keep your eyes open, let us know where you spot any of them."

He was perched, along with Wolfe, Herring and Deveroux, on the exterior of the pod. May Huang had expressed a preference for outside work herself, but he’d needed her piloting more. The rest of the pilots he’d left with Freeman. With the Piggies under arrest, she needed them more than he did. Hell, he didn’t have enough troops to need more. If the Piggies had lasers, he didn’t want to split his troops up to less than his undersized squads of six.

"Sir?" Kirby’s voice came over the comm, "Checking on the way out, besides the troops exiting el 3, I spotted movement on els 8 and 11 on the way out. Plus, el 15, the mall, and el 13, the school," her voice got suddenly breathless and painful, "have to be considered prime targets." She wheezed.

The school. All the kids from the Foundation labs. He hissed. "OK, May, take us to el 13. Eddings, el 15, look it over and commit troops if you see anyone, then work your way forward checking each el. Lieutenant Conde, I want you to check out eight and eleven, use your troops and Eddings’ if they aren’t engaged." He could feel the gentle acceleration as his pod shifted away from the others. El thirteen was in the fifth tier, they slid in between the fuel spheres, and May got a spotlight on the el. It was defuse enough to light up the entire side. He saw nothing until they slid underneath. Then the figures in hardsuits were everywhere. He spotted four immediately, on the hull of the el, and then more cruising down the frame, heading for the next el, or Engineering. His helmet gave each figure a faint red cast, echoing the small-scale schematic high to the right.

"OK, let’s clean up this bunch first." He kicked off and the others fell in, Wolfe and Herring expertly flanking him and Deveroux to the rear. On the other channel, the volume low, he could hear May Huang reporting the situation to the other squads. Spider’s relay was working, there was a bit of an echo, in the complex radio shadow of the fuel spheres, but no one was out of communication. May murmured in his ear that Conde was dropping one team at eight and taking the other to eleven. "The Piggies’re operating in teams of four." She said, "There are at least eight teams. They may have enough to mine all the ichimp els at once." He saw the pod drifting through the framework as the first laser fire flicked out. His helmet traced its path in yellow. They were firing at the pod. He snorted a bit. They’d have to be incredibly lucky to hole the pod with that, luckier yet to cripple it. As he thought that a red line flashed from the surface of the el to the pod and he could see the puff of vapor as atmosphere blew out.

"Son of a Bitch!" May Huang sounded startled, but not hurt, "Where did they get those?"

"The energy profile doesn’t match anything off the shelf," Herring reported, "I think they must have made it themselves."

Following the line on his display back, Chuck brought up the magnification and studied the man with the new weapon. Bulky, packed like a mule. "Looks like backpack energy source. Troops, eyes open for backpacks, shoot at will." Then he touched down and twisted to skim the surface.


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