The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Six

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“They’re moving something down there, Admiral.” General William Ollinger had joined Carrington by hologram, seated in an empty area about four feet to the left of his desk. The floor of his ready room was transformed into a map of Earth via the same holoprojectors that created Ollinger’s image and showed constant, real-time updates based on data coming in from the fleet. A large, red ray of light represented Ollinger’s stylus as he indicated things. “Just based on our ongoing surveillance we’re sure this continent is the center of Earth’s material production.”

Carrington’s AI offered him a name. “Africa, is it? I seem to recall learning most of the materials in the original Colony Fleet came from there. Is it still a major resource hub?”

“Hard to tell if they still mine there or not. Records show the continent was built up a great deal in the century or so before Departure but estimates at the time were that less than a quarter of the available resources had been exhausted.” Ollinger zoomed the map in until they were only looking at the central portion of the continent. “A lot of the inland jungle was deliberately left intact at the time and that’s a decision that UNIGOV has apparently held to.”

“Which doesn’t surprise me.” Carrington pulled up a transcript of one of his talks with Director Mond and did a quick search. “I was told that, ‘The influence of martian society left planet despoiled and suffering at every level and time must be taken to allow it to recover.’ That’s supposedly why they abandoned so many cities, for one thing.”

“Well they haven’t gone to quite that extremity in Africa. In fact, Africa and Asia have the highest population per square mile of anywhere on Earth. But it’s fairly obvious they’ve chosen particular parts of the planet and just left them alone. Ironically, that’s what makes it so easy to tell what they’re doing now.” The red light of the stylus moved over the map until it paused on a point in the middle of the land mass.

A large mountain range protruded along the western side, not on the ocean but not far from it. The AI filled in details like the location of abandoned cities or towns, active settlements and what looked like mining or refining operations. Last but not least it indicated an intermittent line of energy signatures between the mountains and the ocean. “They’re taking something to port.”

“That’s what it looks like, sir.”

“Do we know where it’s going?”

“No, sir, but we know it’s not normal behavior. We started seeing these movements eight hours ago and there hasn’t been a similar spike in activity in the region for the duration of our stay.”

Carrington fought the urge to hunch over his desk and stare at the hologram. He’d done some of his best thinking in that position, back in his academy days, but he was too old now to get away with that kind of thing for long. His shoulders and back wouldn’t let him. Instead he folded his hands in front of him and rested his chin there, saying, “Do we know what it is they’re mining there?”

“You can get just about anything you want but copper, cobalt and lithium are all strong possibilities. We don’t have specific mineral surveys from that time period available so we can’t say for sure. There’s a good way to find out, though.”

“Oh?” The admiral perked up a bit. “What’s that?”

Ollinger tapped his stylus on his desk in a very self satisfied way. The map panned over to the eastern coast and quickly zeroed in on a massive oceangoing vessel anchored in a port there. “We could go down and look at it. This pulled into port an hour and twenty minutes ago. Two guesses as to what it’s for.”

“Would you look at that.” Carrington worked his tongue about his mouth for a moment, practically salivating at the tempting target they’d stumbled on. “It can’t really be that easy, can it? We just fly down there and scoop up a freighter full of critical materiel from under UNIGOV’s noses. There’s got to be a catch.”

“I don’t think there is, sir.” The holo changed to show the ocean between Africa and the continents where the Copernican ground forces had landed, what the Fleet was referring to as the American Theater. “The disassembler field they deployed over Anaheim is nasty but it requires a huge amount of ground based infrastructure. A power plant. At least a dozen magfield generators. To say nothing of the huge volume of raw nanotech necessary to create an effective nanolathe effect over such a large area. Based on the specs we think the Anaheim emplacement has we’re pretty sure we can determine how far offshore the field can reach.”

A thin line of red ringed the shores of each continent, leaving the vast center of the ocean untouched. “Not very much, is it?”

“No, sir. Even if we planned our entire trip up and down in a straight line I think we could avoid ever having to run the risk of passing through one of those fields. Not that I think UNIGOV could possibly build them over so much coast land so quickly. Still better safe than sorry. That still leaves us with plenty of ocean to nab the ship when it starts moving.” A number of potential courses cut through the ocean to various ports of call. A moment later the potential approaches and timing for strikes on the ship from orbit were added in.

Carrington studied them for a moment, then asked, “Why haven’t you projected routes to continents other than North America and Europe?”

“Given the placement of the port of origin that made the most sense. South America is already rich in minerals and the other continents would be easier to reach from the other side of Africa.” Ollinger frowned. “Of course, this is UNIGOV. They might not have any other freighters still in service.”

“In which case this port might be the closest port of call for the freighter.” The admiral spent a long moment just watching as the holoprojection ran through a looping animation of Newtonian fighters swooping down on the freighter over and over again. “Didn’t you say that South America was also rich in minerals? Why aren’t they taking from there?”

His Newtonian counterpart thought just as long. “Well, now that you mention it, we didn’t think much about that. Africa was the source of materials for space ops in the past and we just assumed UNIGOV would stick with that source in the present. We can’t be that specialized on Newton since rare earths are particularly rare there but other supply lines tend to lay down in that fashion. Specific industries tend to source materials from specific locations.”

“Yes, but UNIGOV is deeply invested in breaking from those kinds of conventions.” Carrington drummed his fingers on his desk for a long moment. “What do we know about the South American deposits?”

Ollinger had been scrambling to figure it out. “Even less than the African ones. But they’re all on the western side of things, just like in Africa.”

“Practically a straight line from there to Anaheim.”

“Maybe they’re moving the goods to Europe instead?”

“Possibly. Do we know if the mix of materials in South America is any different from what’s in Africa?”

The general actually laughed at that. “Not the foggiest. Of course I don’t think any two continents are the same in anything but that doesn’t help much. It could be Africa has more of what they need that South America but I’m not ready to bet lives on it.”

“Agreed.” Carrington sighed, signaled his AI then rocked back in his chair and threw his feet up on his desk. His AI interrupted the live feed from his hologram pickups and continued to show him sitting normally. “We don’t know enough about the situation on the ground. Have your techs had any luck figuring out why we can’t get back in contact with the landing team?”

“They think it’s something to do with the nanotech scattering the signal.”

“Yeah, our boys are working on that angle too.” He rubbed his hands over his face, suddenly very tired.

“Everything all right over there, Admiral?” Ollinger looked over to his left, which must have been where Carrington’s holo was in his office, because there wasn’t any reason for him to look that concerned otherwise.

“Did you ever think you’d spend hours a day thinking about copper and radio signals when you signed up for the service?” Carrington waved at the map, momentarily forgetting that the general wouldn’t be able to see it.

But one way or another Ollinger got his point because he laughed and said, “No. I signed up after watching that movie you Copernicans made. Did you ever see it? The one about Rear Admiral Bahai running the Galilean Lunar Maze?”

Long Way Down,” Carrington said, a grin creeping onto his face. “That movie single-handedly tripled Spacer Corps recruitment.”

“There were two guys in my class besides me who decided to join up after watching it and practically the whole dorm turned out for the showing in the square sophomore year.” Ollinger twirled his stylus around his fingers. “Of course you can’t actually sneak through the Galileo moons that way. The rings around the planet aren’t thick enough to scatter modern scanners much less EMG pickups and the studio completely cheated the mass of the moons outside of maybe Minerva. There are only six possible alignments of the planet and its satellites that allow you to freefall from outside the rings all the way down to Diana. All of them take a lot longer than forty hours.”

Carrington gave the general a surprised look. “You know, you Isaac boys put a lot more thought into that film than we ever did.”

It was Ollinger’s turn to sigh. “Maybe. But it turns out it didn’t matter that much in the long run because EMG made the freefall tactic obsolete just a couple of years later. Not that reality and movies have a strong connection anyway.”

“True enough.” The admiral leaned forward to sift through his own files, absently toggling his holofeed back to live. “I’m sure Bahai spent more of his time thinking about fuel supplies, mineral resources and personnel allocation than he did free falling past gas giants too.”

“Ships logs say he thought the whole maneuver was silly at the time.”

“Did it to prove that making a purely ballistic approach over a period of eight days was an impractical way to fight a war.” A smile tugged at Carrington’s lips. “Knocked half the Lunar Alliance out of the war instead.”

Nostalgia filled the space between the two men for a long moment. Finally Ollinger said, “We could just sink the transport. Your opening bombardment went off fine so I’m sure any ship in the fleet could put a missile or two in it from anywhere inside lunar orbit.”

After another moment of sifting through files Carrington shook his head. “We’re at war right now so there’s nothing wrong with hitting transports but I’m not sure it’s the right move just yet. I’d bet a month’s salary we’ve got better intel than they do. Let’s not tip our hands and reveal how much we can see of what they’re doing down there just yet. I’ll have the archive boys sift the files. Maybe we can put together an idea of what it is they’re moving around and why. I want your destroyers to keep tabs on South America and… Australia, see if they’re moving materiel out of those areas as well. The longer they think they can move in the open like this the better idea we can get of their operational norms.”

“We can do that.” Ollinger folded his hands and leaned back. “Have we decided what we’re going to do about the landing team?”

“There are a couple of potential plans on the table. The techs are working on the disassembler field problem and I’m looking at several other locations we could land a second team to try and retrieve the first.” Carrington got up and walked out onto the map, his feet disappearing into the holographic terrain. “We’ve misunderstood the Earthlings repeatedly. I’m not ready to commit to a major action until we’ve rectified that shortcoming.”

“Maybe you should go down and figure them out yourself.”

For a long moment he stared at the freighter. “Maybe I should.”