A or B


A story by Ken Ramsley

Available on Amazon Kindle


March 19, 2138

To the Committee on Government Reform

Madam Chairman:

If you will kindly indulge my brief introductory remarks, the main point of my testimony today addresses a grave concern that affects our nation and the world.

Attachments:

First, you will find the personal journal of Dr. Rice Jackson, our Stage 1 chief orbital dynamicist, and the last surviving crewmember aboard Asteroid 224473, affectionately known as ‘the Hive’ by those who lived and worked and died there.

Additionally, I have delivered a complete archive containing status reports, systems telemetry, audio transmissions, recorded camera video, and a trove of similar data collected from the renegade control-center aboard the asteroid. 140 petabytes in all.

Lastly, to ensure that the events of a year ago are fully reported to the public in their entirety – as of this morning – my written testimony and associated archives have been fully communicated and received by major news organizations throughout the world and across the inner solar system.

Remarks:

Responding to industry pressure, four years ago congress repealed our nation’s ‘enduring commitment’ to the ICLSP (International Cis-Lunar Safety Protocol). Soon after, most industrialized nations followed suit and decertified their own commitments, thereby ending worldwide treaty prohibitions that, for over a century, have prevented the redirection of large asteroids into Earth-centric orbits. As a consequence, several major asteroid mining operations are already inbound seeking to enhance their market advantage through increasingly rapid and reliable ore deliveries. However, rather than summon the specter of accidental collisions with the Earth so recently debated – today I wish to draw your attention to a related threat.

As it turns out, humanity’s ability to redirect asteroids the size of a small city has unleashed the far more dangerous specter of asteroid terrorism on a scale far beyond “mere speculation” in scope and daring. In fact, government reports on the events of last year aboard Asteroid 224473 – the first known example – are generally correct, though woefully incomplete. As already reported, the ISSF (International Solar System Fleet) “ended the rebellion.” However, key events in the vicinity of Asteroid 224473 and related recommendations have been redacted or completely expunged from official government reporting, thereby grossly misconstruing the true extent and nature of the conflict. For example: The ISSF expected a civilian rebellion. However, unknown to anyone until it was too late, the ISSF expeditionary force engaged a well-equipped and determined fighting force. Other points missing from the official record include:

1. Prior to the initial engagement, several leaders of the rebellion may have escaped. If this is true – their identities and whereabouts remain unknown.
2. The leader of the rebellion was likely killed. However, this remains unconfirmed, and considering the clever planning of their operation, his demise should not be assumed.
3. The Stage 1 mining crew escaped from the battle. However, investigators have thus far failed to interview more than a handful of these surviving eye-witnesses.
4. At the conclusion of the battle, a nuclear weapon was detonated in the vicinity of the asteroid. As a consequence, the entire ISSF taskforce, all remaining terrorists aboard the asteroid and their conscripted Stage 2 workers were entirely annihilated.
5. It is unlikely that the nuclear device was deployed by the terrorists. However, it is unknown why the weapon was detonated in such close proximity to the ISSF taskforce.
6. By destroying railgun maneuvering systems and the crews to operate them, the ISSF battle group inadvertently set the asteroid adrift on an uncontrolled trajectory.
7. Until today, most of the events that took place during and after the battle have never been reported – including how the terrorist plot was ultimately defeated.

Most startling of all, the flow of reports from the Stage 1 team to their employer on Earth clearly contained descriptions of ominous and potentially catastrophic activities. Yet, rather than petitioning governmental authorities for assistance, the owners of Asteroid 224473 chose instead to cut their losses and walk a path of unmitigated inaction. As a consequence of corporate foot-dragging, ISSF commanders were unable to fully estimate their situation and were forced to rely on sporadically intercepted radio communications. Although the worst-case scenario was avoided, the lessons of Asteroid 224473 remain abundantly evident: If our nation along with the entire world continues to suppress and avoid and deny the possibility of an asteroid hijacking – the next group of hijackers may succeed.

In the end, the terrorist plan for Asteroid 224473 was ultimately thwarted by the imagination and perseverance of individual miners and technicians who faced the facts, stood across the breach – and with no margin for error – did what needed to be done. For the sake of sober preparation and in the honest memory of our lost co-workers and ISSF Marines, I submit this report to you, to your committee, and to all of humanity in the hope that no one will ever forget the events of the Hive.

For your careful consideration,

Cameron A. Trenton
Asteroid 224473 Chief Communications Officer
Stage 1 Expedition


Part One


Day 684, 7:30 a.m. HST

Hi Jamie,
On several screens, Cam and I are symbolically waving farewell to the combined cargo and passenger sections of our transport ship. Imperceptibly at first, it is slowly lifting back into space heading for the next asteroid destination on their flight plan. Before leaving, the transport ship severed its last connections with our ‘In-flight and Landed Habitation Module’ leaving it behind on the asteroid surface.

We call these things a ‘Hab’ for short, and inside our particular Hab, most of the Stage 1 crew travelled six months from Earth. Now permanently attached to the asteroid, the Hab will provide pressurized storage, airlocks on the surface, and a well-anchored landing platform for future transport ships.

Until we mined out our living quarters, we continued to live aboard the Hab. Today we spend most of our time below ground away from solar storms and reasonably well-shielded from cosmic radiation. Like before, we still watch the rising and setting of the Sun, and other celestial events, but nowadays through video channels projected onto screens in our subterranean crew quarters and work areas.

It’s a little rough down here and hardly hotel-quality construction. The finer details of long-duration asteroid habitation will come later. For now we are excavating heavy equipment workspaces, wiring up control and power systems, building and testing mining robots, and sending test samples through our ore-processors. We also have dormitory rooms to build before a hundred Stage 2 “worker bee” miners arrive in seven weeks – a deadline that keeps our blood pumping.

Officially we are the Stage 1 Self-Reliant Advance Team. ‘Rats’ for short – which means that we are stuck on this rock until mining operations begin in earnest at L2. Some like my roommate, Cam, are here until the next transport passes through, heading for Earth. I’ll stay the whole two years, which is how long it will take to reach L2 and settle into a stable halo-orbit. That’s the Lagrange point I told you about – four times farther from Earth than the Moon. It sounds like a long way from our future customers, but it will be dozens of times closer than any previous major asteroid mining site. We are the first large mining operation to give this L2 trajectory a try – and it’s a big reason why we are working so hard to get this right and keeping things quiet along the way. In this business, bad news can cost a trillion dollars, and our employer is equally obsessed with public relations as they are with owning their slice of the solar system.

Day 683, 8:10 p.m. HST

As of tonight, our entire Stage 1 team will finally live two to a room inside spacious subterranean crew quarters. To celebrate, Cam and I are taking our afternoon tea the old-fashion way, made inside plastic bags with injected hot water derived from chondritic ore. While it steeps, we spin our plastic bags in the air like pizza dough to simulate the effect of gravity, then squeeze and knead the contents with our fingertips into special space-rated teacups. There is a tiny bit of natural gravity here, but not enough to drink normally, and so the cups come with a sipper lid a lot like the cups you had when you were a toddler. Of course, all of this squeezing and kneading and spinning and drinking from a space-rated container may seem like more trouble than it needs to be. Yet, making tea is a ritual, and out here where change is commonplace, any sort of routine that makes the place feel a little bit more like ‘home’ is always welcome.

Day 682, 8:30 p.m. HST

Lately, we’ve been preparing for the arrival of the Stage 2 ‘big bertha’ orbital maneuvering guns that will be used once we slow the asteroid rotation to nearly a dead stop. Until the big guns arrive, we’ll continue to slow our rotation using our smaller ‘de-spin’ guns. Shooting a railgun is nothing more than running a rocket engine. According to Isaac Newton, when it comes to producing acceleration, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. As it turns out, shooting a projectile down a gun barrel has the same accelerating effect as sending burning fuel out the end of a rocket engine nozzle.

Chemical rocket engines, however, are terribly inefficient, and we discovered a long time ago that using electricity to accelerate plasma to high velocities is much more efficient. With fusion reactors to make lots of electricity and a nearly limitless supply of raw iron ore to make projectile slugs, it turns out that we can produce enough railgun power to move an asteroid into almost any orbit we want.

We accelerate the slugs with superconducting electromagnets and spin them to maintain flight stability. Partway down the barrel, the slugs get so hot that they literally turn into a wad of ionized plasma that leaves in a bright flash of vaporized iron nuclei and free-flying electrons.

Quite a show.

One of my research projects back in graduate school included testing reaction wheels by spinning them well past their design limits to discover where they would really break, and more than once without any warning they flew apart with a huge bang. That was a long time ago. And when I think about spinning railgun slugs inside a magnetic bubble, I realize how my career these days is all about keeping expensive equipment from flying apart in opposite directions.

In the space business, finding interesting work is never a problem. Mining and research operations always need experienced engineers to keep their asteroids, moons, and planets running. Most people working off-world wind up on the Moon, Mars and the larger asteroids. Personally, I prefer working in the true space frontier – places where people have never lived before. Once the Jovian frontier opens up, for every expedition to Europa and Ganymede, they will need a hundred general-purpose space-qualified engineers like me. And if the Jovian expeditions don’t work out, I can always cast my lot with the ever-expanding diaspora of adventurers and pioneers, and offer my services to some newly-colonized backwater of the solar system.

 


Sample End

Total Length: 81 pages


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