ORIGINAL FICTION: "Free Are The Stars, Part III" by Richard Anderson [Conclusion]

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PLEASE NOTE: This is the conclusion of a three-part story. Part one is available here: And Part Two is available here:  

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It might have been women's intuition or just logic but Natsuki was right: they were not going to just let them go. Even as Hull was sending ships to pick up the last of the refugees from Low Earth Orbit, America made its move.

The still Pacific morning was broken on Kwajalein Atoll as a modified anti-ballistic-missile missile was fired. Its solid fuel first stage burned bright as it sailed into the air while at the same moment its twin left the pad at Vandenberg Air Force base in California. Both missiles were modified with a Centaur third stage to boost their kinetic kill vehicles into near earth orbit. The Centaur stage kicked in at 90 kilometers and boosted the 20 kilogram warhead to escape velocity.

Separating from their boosters the two warheads used their sensors to look for their respective targets. If either missed, its velocity would take it out of the earth-moon system entirely, and it would go into orbit around the sun. But neither was going to miss. Both were the product of fifty years of development and tests.

The one from Kwajalein locked on to transfer station number three. The twenty people on it had no chance, and were killed instantly as the warhead struck the station. The kinetic energy released had the force of a low yield nuclear warhead.

When the warhead from Vandenberg struck, Roger Edwards was on the observation deck taking a break from his work on the orbital shuttles. He was drinking coffee from a plastic bulb, looking out at the ungainly structure that was transfer station seven. He saw a bright flash at the far end of the station and stared dumfounded as he watched module after module of the station pitch up and away from the earth and crumple like so many soda cans. It was like a crack of a whip. Stunned, Edwards watched people being blown into space from the collapsing modules. As the wave of destruction reached the observation deck, his one thought was that he regretted not telling Diana that he loved her before she left.

#

Natsuki felt rage building in her as she read the report on the attacks. The United States had destroyed two unarmed and peaceful space stations, killing two hundred people. ‘No: two hundred citizens of the Federation, who have given their lives in the cause of freedom,’ thought Natsuki.

“Ayeka, where is my husband?” asked Natsuki as she ordered her desk computer to open a comm channel to Armstrong Base on the moon's near side.

“I do not know, Lady. Mihoshi is also missing.” Ayeka bowed as she answered.

“Find them. I need them here,” ordered Natsuki.

Thoughts of her husband left her as her desk screen came alive with the picture of an aged Afro American.

“Commander Jackson, can we respond?” Jackson was the consortium chief of security, now in command of Federation security and defense.
“Yes, Madam Chairwoman. We have two kinetic warheads ready.” answered Jackson.

“I want both of those launch sites destroyed.”

“Yes, Madam. We have a launch window in two hours, it will take five hours for the weapons to reach their targets after that.” answered Jackson.

“Do it.” ordered Natsuki, her rage overpowering her normal polite manner.

As Natsuki cut the connection to the moon, Ayeka came back into her office and handed her a computer tablet. Natsuki started to read the message on its screen and her heart sank. It read:

Announcement from John Hull CEO of Orbital Dynamics Unlimited and the President of the pilots union: Today we have been attacked by the forces opposed to our freedom. To answer this attack the pilots union and all the spaceflight companies of the Federation have formed the Guard. Volunteer space crews are now moving ships into positions to cover all possible trajectories from Earth to Luna and New Eden with the goal of intercepting any and all threats to the Federation. The men and women of the Guard pledge their lives and sacred honor in defense of our families our homes and our freedom.

It was signed ‘John Hull.’

Natsuki opened a private channel and called Hull. After a few minutes her desk screen came to life with a video feed. Hull was on a ship under acceleration, and smiled at the camera.

“Hi, honey.” He said.

“John, what do you think you are doing? you are needed here.” ‘with me’ she wanted to add.

“Natsuki, I am doing my duty. Would you have me do anything less?”

“No husband, I would not.” she admitted, and there was an awkward pause.

“Now, where is Mihoshi?” she asked just to change the subject. She wanted him here, relatively safe, and not out being a hero, but she knew she couldn’t say that.

The screen split and the image of Mihoshi appeared.

“I apologize, Lady Natsuki. I could not stop Master John from his course of action, so I will share his fate.” she said as she bowed her head. Natsuki unconsciously reached for the screen, her hand lightly touching the image of her husband.

“I love you John,” she said in a low voice. She held her hand to the image, then straightened her shoulders and took on the vestige of the proper master of a Japanese household.

“Mihoshi, make sure that on your return that both of you report to me so you can be punished accordingly.” She cut the connection. She couldn’t go on, and didn’t want to effect their morale. She knew the ships where unarmed, and the only way they could stop an incoming warhead was to ram it. Natsuki bowed her head and started to cry not caring if anyone saw her.

#

Jackson stood at the launch control panel, looking out at the linear accelerator. The weapons were called Arrows by the men who designed and built them. They were being readied for their first and last flight to Earth. The time counted down to when the colonists would strike back for the unprovoked attack on the stations.

Sixty minutes to go.

The accelerator was in Oceanus Procellarum - the Sea of Storms - on the moon’s nearside. It was called ‘Armstrong Base,’ and Jackson thought it a shame the name Armstrong would forever be linked to this action. Jackson himself didn’t have any doubts about what he was doing. As a young man, he’d been a marine officer. He’d served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He knew the face of war and was not afraid to look into it again.

Nor did he have doubts about attacking the country that he once severed. America had changed to the point that he did not feel it was his country any more. He thought back to '09, which started out with such promise, but then the country had become something else. The government had picked up a taste for control and for taking people’s property to an extent he would not have thought possible when he was growing up.

Five minutes to the launch window. Jackson took the fail-safe key and turned it from safe, passed auto, to manual.

“Sir, you’ll lose a little accuracy in a manual launch,” one of the technicians said.

“Son, I have never liked letting computers do my killing for Me,” Jackson replied.

He removed the protective covering over the manual launch button, and poised his finger over it. When the timer hit zero he pressed the button. It was a bit anticlimactic. One moment the Arrow package was sitting on the cradle of the accelerator, and the next it was shooting down the track almost too fast for the eye to follow. No noise or rumble. It disappointed Jackson. ‘At lest when you fired a rifle there was a crack and a kick,’ he thought.

The Arrow package shot down the accelerator track at over a hundred g's acceleration before it was thrown into space. At two hundred kilometers above the moon's surface, a solid fuel booster fired to correct its trajectory. Normally the accelerator was used to send capsules of helium-3 to earth. These were given just enough energy to escape the moon's gravity and then slowly spiraled towards the planet until they made a soft splashdown in the Sea of Japan.

This launch was differentL They used max power, placing the arrows on a high energy direct trajectory for an impact with Earth.

At the halfway point the package split into two warheads. Each had their own boosters to guide them to their separate targets. Five hours later both Arrows entered the upper atmosphere. Now they were simply unguided iron cores, sheathed in an ablative heat shield to keep them from melting on the way in, and to reduce any loss of velocity in the terminal phase.

Above the Kwajalein launch complex there appeared a brilliant fireball then the Arrow stuck. Almost a ton of iron moving at orbital velocity converted its kinetic energy into heat. It would be estimated later that the blast was equal to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Since most of the energy was directed into the island it simply ceased to exist. A new perfectly round lagoon would form from the impact crater. The dead were estimated at six hundred air force and civilian personal.

At Vandenberg the death toll would be much higher. The Arrow stuck right in the center of Space Launch Complex Six. The Air Force had actually readying another space station-busting missile at the time, so it was swarming with personnel. Six thousand were later Estimated dead. The impact had two side effects: first, it started a forest fire in the park that ringed the base. Second, it caused the San Andreas fault to slip, resulting in an earthquake that was felt from San Francisco to San Diego and as far east as Las Vegas.

#

Nikolas Jaworski was in bed with a twenty-something bubblehead he’d meet at one of the anti-spacer rallies when the quake hit. They both ran into the backyard nude and stayed there until the shaking had completely stopped.

Nikolas went inside and grabbed two robes and two pair of flip-flops, then returned to the frightened girl. After dressing they both went around to the front of the house and saw other neighborhood folk in the street. The damage looked light at first glance.

Nikolas heard some fool say that the spacers had just nuked LA, but since he couldn’t see any sign of that when he looked toward downtown, he put it out of his mind. There had been wild rumors ever since the blackout, and people were starting to gossip about the most outrageous things. Not even he could believe it all.

“What happens now?” said the girl clinging to him like a frightened child.

“Don’t know, but somehow I don’t think the spacers are going to come down without a fight.” he replied. He suddenly realized he’d never even told her his name.

#

The Prime Minister’s trip to a Shinto shrine in northern Japan would cause little comment in the press. Politicians did these things every day. After the photo opportunity with the head priest was over, he was led to a back room, allegedly for private meditation.

The well dressed older man waiting in the room gave the Prime Minister a little head-bow and motioned for him to sit. There was Saki on a traditional floor table. After pouring himself a drink, the Minister lit a cigarette and indicated it was time to begin.

“The polls show that support for government action against the consortium has dropped to a new low. Reactivating the old fission reactors to end the rolling blackouts have caused the green coalition to call for a vote of no confidence in the Diet,” the man said. He took a sip of Saki, and the Prime Minister caught a glimpse of tattoos on the man’s arm as his sleeve rustled with the motion of his arm.

“And that concerns the Yakuza how?”

“We supported the Prime Minister when he first ran for office, and we wish to support him still,” the man said to the prime minister, politely avoiding using the word ’you.’ He continued, “I have a message that might help the minister to decide the correct course to take in these perilous times.”

The Prime Minister took a drink, and a drag on his cigarette. He stared at the man for a long moment, then nodded his head.

“The message is from my niece, Lady Natsuki. She will guarantee helium-3 deliveries to Japan at no increase in price. All that is needed is to withdraw our nation’s claim on the Moon and the New Eden Habitat; the Minister can keep the assets his government has already taken”

#

The President was visibly unnerved. The attacks happened just hours after the Director of the CIA was found murdered in a motel room just outside of Washington.

“Was it nuclear?” she asked as she swept the situation room with her eyes. The Joint Chiefs, the Secretaries of Defense and State, all just stared back at her. The silence was broken by her science advisor, a grey haired old man that looked out of place in the room.

“No! Madam President, they were kinetic energy weapons. Most likely fired from one of the linear accelerators on the Moon.”

“And our response?” she asked, looking squarely at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“I am afraid there is none, Madam President,” he said, “if we would have attacked the Habitat and the main Moon base first, perhaps, but now any strike would easily be intercepted, and hitting another orbital station wouldn’t change that.” The General said this with a hint of accusation in his voice. He’d wanted to destroy the Habitat first thing.

“The whole point was to get the Habitat and Moon bases intact. Destroying them would have made this all pointless,“ she said with some heat. She didn’t like his tone, and she would remember it.

“I am afraid it is pointless, Madam President,” the science advisor abruptly offered, “I knew both Hull and Nakamura. they wouldn’t have set a plan like this in motion if they didn’t already know they could win. Unlike the Pentagon, I do believe they really are self sufficient. They don’t really need any commerce with Earth. They can survive and even flourish without us. Whether we live or die is immaterial to their survival.”

He paused for a moment to let that sink in, but before anyone could say a word he continued, “Even if by chance you could destroy the linear accelerators, the spacers could just move an asteroid to strike earth, and that’s the end of everything. Madam president, we can not win now.”

#

It has been a week since the counterstrike, and Natsuki and the board had continued to take action. First. she ordered ships from the guard fitted with railguns for interception of any incoming weapons to New Eden or Luna. She wanted no more martyrs. Second, she’d sent a crew to the solar power station in geosynchronous orbit over North America. She was having the station restarted and modified. The plan was - when ready - to use the the station to project high energy microwaves at American and Japanese satellites to shut them down. This, it was hoped, would continue the pressure on the US government with no additional loss of life.

From the news reports they overheard from Earth it appeared that the strikes against Kwajalein and Vandenberg had started a political firestorm. At first the government tried to claim they were unprovoked attacks, then Natsuki had a statement released stating that they were in retaliaiton for the attacks on civilian stations and the deaths of their crews. The statement went concluded with a warning that the Federation would only strike if attacked but if it was attacked, and that it claimed the right of self defense and would destroy the launch sites and any facilities that aided the attackers. This started a public debate that was ongoing. It seemed that most people in the US didn’t like the idea of spacers who could attack at any moment, and they demanded the government take actions to stop them.

All this was happening when Hull's ship came in with the last people from the orbital stations. Low earth orbit was now empty of any Federation personnel. To make sure that Hull didn’t leave without seeing her, Natsuki had Federation security arrest himand bring him to her office.

“Sorry husbandm but you seem to do things with no regard to my wishes,” she said Hull plopped down on the office couch. She was seated behind her desk, wearing a conservative blue business suit.

“Not true, Natsuki. It needed to be done and I had to be part of it.”

Natsuki sighed and said, “John, like all men, you sometimes think like a child.” He started to protest, but she held her hand, and continued, “You are a member of the governing counsel, and the CEO of a major corporation. You have pressing responsibilities here.” Natsuki stood and walked to where John sat and concluded, “Besides, your daughter may like to meet her father.”

Natsuki opened her jacket and placed Hulls hand on her belly.

“I was told this morning that you are going to be a father.”
That ended the conversation for some time.

#

Stalemate was the situation that the Federation and Earth found themselves in. The American government insisted that they now owned New Eden and Clarke City; and of course the Federation insisted that they were now an independent nation outside of even UN control. The Japanese had remained strangely quiet since the first weeks of the crisis. Nether side wanted to back down, but both realized that to fight it out would cause unwarranted destruction. It would be an uneven battle if it turned hot again: the nations of earth had years ago let the technology of spaceflight slip from them and into the hands of private companies. All but a few of these were part of the consortium. Most of the best personnel had left earth before the conflict began, and the few that remained had found that the Spartacus plan had somehow destroyed all relevant data and wiped their computer files.

Most of the advanced reusable vehicles had been moved to orbit, so there was only old expendable boosters available, and most didn’t have the power to lift heavy loads beyond low orbit. On the other hand, the Federation held the high ground. If worse came to worse they could just use more Arrows against ground targets, or hit the world with something vastly bigger.

As the politicians on Earth raged about the evil and insane people in space, the Federation started to make itself into something real. The constitutional convention convened in Clarke City. Representatives were elected from the rank and file employees of the consortium's member corporations. Natsuki moved heaven and earth to limit management’s involvement. She believed that for this to work the people needed to do it themselves, and that This might be the only time in history the populist idea could really work. The Federation was composed almost entirely of highly educated scientists, engineers and technicians. Most were of an independent mindset, which suited Natsuki. Even though she was no atheist, she was very influenced by Ayn Rand and other libertarian thinkers.

That isn’t to say Natsuki was going to leave her unborn child’s future world to chance: She was the Chairwoman of the governing broad the CEO of Nakamura Heavy Industries and the head of the Nakamura clan. She was, at this moment in time, the most powerful person in the Federation. Her father had taught her not to let something like that go to waste. She had agents in the convention that would surreptitiously help her guide it to an acceptable outcome.

#

“Ayeka, I wish this package taken to Clarke City and delivered it to the name written on it.” Natsuki said this as she handed her bodyguard a large old style manila envelope. In accordance with Japanese custom, she didn’t actually say she wanted Ayeka to do it, but this was implicit. “I also want you to stay and assist with the operation there.” Ayeka bowed and started to back out of the room.

“Ayeka, no killing. Use judgment on what is best, but no killing. Is that understood?”
“It will be as my lady wishes.” Ayeka gave a low formal bow and left the room.

#

While the convention continued, Natsuki set out to make sure that the the consortium’s member companies followed through with the final part of project Spartacus. At a meeting of the board, she had the High Frontier Foundation formed with the mission of exploring the solar system and developing new space technologies.

The big move came next: to give the Federation ninety percent of the consortium’s stock, and the rest would to go to the Foundation. Natsuki used threats, promises, and bribery to get it done, but in the end the board voted for it.

#

Hull walked into the back room and found Natsuki praying on her knees before the Buddhist shrine. Not wishing to disturb herm he went out into the garden and sat looking at the simulated night sky. The habitat was in its night cycle and holograms were projected with realistic space views. Hull did not pray much. Like his father, he believed that the best prayer was a persons actions. ‘God helps those that help themselves.’ the senior Hull would tell John when he was young.

Natsuki came walking out. She was starting to show, and it made Hull want to jump up and help her over.

“John, I need a very important favor,” she said while sitting next to him.

“Anything,” Hull said as he placed his hand on Natsuki's swollen belly.

“I need you to resign from the board before the constitution is ratified.” Hull sat straight at that.

“But why?”

“I need you as the director of the Foundation. It maybe the most important job in the Federation.” She went on to explain the true mission of the Foundation, and the final part of the plan that their fathers had for mankind, though that is a story for another day.

#

After the Federation constitution was ratified, it became politically impossible for the governments of Japan and the United States to keep insisting New Eden and Clarke City belonged to them. The public opinion in Japan was overwhelmingly in favor of just letting them go, and in the US it was almost an even divide. Several large nations - seeing an opportunity to weaken the United States - started to back the Federation in the UN general assembly. On May 20, 2043, the government of Japan renounced all claims to their space assets. That same week the American President asked congress to pass a bill turning the problem over to the UN. She felt that it was the best that could be done. Her political situation had become a no win one, and she knew it.

It would take until 2047 before the UN security counsel fully recognized the Federation, but for all intents and purposes the Federation was an independent nation in 2043.

On August 3 2043 Natsuki Nakamura became the first President of the Solar Federation.

The End

Copyright 2010, Richard Anderson

NEXT WEEK: We'll be starting a new story, a novella by Dr. Charlie Starr

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