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Von Neumann's War: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Thursday, May 25, 2006 19:16 EDT



    Roger Reynolds, Alan Davis, and Tom Powell sat at their usual table for their Tuesday after-work meeting. This time they were joined by John Fisher, Alice Pike, Major Shane Gries, and one of Gries's noncoms, Master Sergeant Thomas Cady. When Shane had been told he could "have anything or anyone he wanted" to help with the Program, the first thing he asked for was Cady. Traci was sitting in as well, this time letting herself be served instead of serving – for Traci, that took some getting used too.

    "I can't believe I'm sitting in a Hooters in Huntsville, Alabama discussing the end of the world," Alice said, shaking her head and picking at her salad.

    "Can you think of a better place?" the master sergeant asked, taking a sip of beer.

    "Spazos?" Alice asked. "Marsel's in Paris? The French Riviera?"

    Roger did his wing trick and dipped the meat in ranch dressing.

    "Been there," Gries grunted. "Nothing there you can't get here and with more friendly service."

    "Poulet au vin et herbs?" Alice insisted.

    "Garcia'll fry you up some chicken breast in wine in a flash," Traci said, primly. "I mean, it'll be Sutter Home White Zinfandel, but it adds a touch of extra caramelizing to the onions, anyway."

    Alice just sighed in desperation.

    "So the data that Traci is telling us about does two things for us," Roger said, stuffing the deboned chicken meat in his mouth.

    "Yeah, what is that?" Alice asked.

    Roger held his hand to his mouth as if to say that she should let him finish chewing. He washed the wing down with some draft beer then replied.

    "We've got this shiny tubule impacting the Moon that she captured with the Hubble. There is no dust plume at the surface. This means whatever this tubule is, it's slowing down and landing softly without creating any sort of plume. That means they definitely have reactionless drive systems. The other thing it tells us is that these things have finished with Mars and moved to the Moon, perhaps."

    "That second one isn't certain," Alan said, seriously for a change. "Maybe they have enough in numbers at Mars so as not to matter if they send a few to the Moon."

    "No way," Traci said, flipping her hair behind an ear. "Look at the diameter of this tubule. It has to be at least three hundred meters in diameter. And the damned thing stretches out about 100 kilometers from the planet. What the hell is it?"

    "Well, I'd say its pretty goddamned obvious that it's a lunar invasion force," Gries grunted into his beer glass.

    "No shit, Sherlock!" Traci smiled and hit him on the back making him slosh beer all over his uniform. "I mean, how or what are the things making up this tube. Is it solid? Is it a chain of sub-vehicles? The Hubble just doesn't have the aperture to resolve what this thing is made of. All we see is a long, shiny, tube. And why does it only stick out a thousand kilometers. I mean, why not all the way to Mars? They've got more than enough mass converted there based on our calculations. They could just throw a solid tube from one planet to the other."

    "You were right, Rog," Alan said with a grin. "We should've hired her a long time ago." "Well, Alan, when you're right, you're right," Roger admitted. "And Traci, I have no idea. I could see it as being a relative motion thing, but they still have enough mass to compensate."

    "It's a launch window or something," John said, setting down his untouched beer and picking up a wing. "Maybe it's some sort of air traffic control corridor. This has to be a bunch of things in formation. There is no way that is a solid object sticking out of the Moon like that."

    Dr. Tom Powell sat his beer down and started scribbling on a napkin. It was obvious to Roger and Alan that they needed to ignore him for a while and he would come up with something brilliant. The others had learned to ignore him most of the time anyway.

    "I have a question," Sergeant Cady asked. "If this tube sticking out of the Moon is so big, why can't we see it?' Cady having seen the wing trick reproduced it perfectly his first try and stuffed the chicken into his mouth. Tom was too busy to notice what he had done.

    "That's a good question, Thomas." Alice replied. "I was thinking the same thing. But I'm not an optics person, I deal with atoms, substrates, junctions, gates, and hole pairs."

    "What?" Shane asked.

    "Itsy bitsy things down at the atomic level," Roger translated absentmindedly.

    "Its simple telescope optics, y'all," Traci stated. "The Hubble has a primary aperture diameter of 2.4 meters. That's a powerful telescope, but it can only resolve about a 150 meters at the distance from the Earth to the Moon. The tube is maybe fifty meters, max, in diameter. The tube is just too small in diameter for the telescope to see. Now you might see a little bump in the long dimension. I'm not sure why we don't on that one."

    Alan rubbed his chin. "Yeah Rog, why is that?"

    "Traci," Roger adjusted his Roll Tide cap and turned it around backwards. "Why can't you see the light from a planet around a distant star very easy?" Roger waited a few seconds for the light bulb to go on over Traci's head. He could see in her eyes that she figured it out.

    "Of, course! You clever bastard, you." She said. "The Moon is reflecting way more light than the little tube. So it's just washed out."

    "Atta girl!" Roger swigged at his beer, proud of himself and his new pupil.

    "Is there a way to get a closer look at this thing?" Cady asked. "I mean, it'd be a lot easier to figure out how to blow'em up if we knew what the hell they're."

    Gries nodded approvingly to the Sergeant. "Yeah Doc, how's about it?"

    Before Roger could respond Tom slapped the table, "Gravity!"

    Alice nearly fell off her stool.

    Gries sloshed his beer again.

    Thomas choked on a wing.

    Roger and Alan were used to it.



    "What about gravity, Tom?" Alan asked.

    "That's why the tube isn't any bigger and doesn't stretch all the way to Mars."

    Roger and Alan had often thought that Tom was autistic because he had a tendency to answer a question that had been asked ten minutes earlier. This was just more data in support of their theory.

    "You want to expound on that a little, Dr. Powell." John asked. Everyone else seemed either indifferent or afraid to ask.

    "Most certainly, I shall. You see, a tube this size if it were the length of the distance from Earth to Mars, well, that would have significant mass. That would really affect and effect the things in the solar system that function due to gravity. The orbits of the planets or asteroids or comets might get a little perturbed. Not much, but enough. The tides would get confused and it might even confuse the lunar orbit. These things are smart. You see?" Tom smiled and snapped his fingers.

    "Uh, sorry Doc, I don't see." Gries said.

    "Of course," John replied.

    "I see," said Traci. "But why not just land all asunder?"

    "Alright, hold on a minute and let's get everybody up to speed." Roger held up his hands. "Tom is saying that if these things maintained a tubeway from Mars to the Moon this large that it would be so massive that it would fuck the orbits of the planets up."

    "Well, I wouldn't have said it quite so crudely," Tom responded with a smile.

    "Crude or not, correct right?"

    "As near as makes no difference," Tom said. "Also, the relative position of the planets is constantly changing. A solid tube wouldn't work anyway."

    Roger laughed at his friend's expression. He'd heard it a million times and it was funny every time he heard it. "Ok. So these things do not want to F up the gravitational mechanics of the star system. That makes sense. If they plan to take it over and keep it for themselves, they wouldn't want to muck it up too much."

    "Dr. Reynolds?"

    "Yes, Alice."

    "Please do me a favor and promise not to speak that way in front of my daughter. She is incorrigible enough as it's," Alice scolded him politely.

    "Right, sorry," Roger said with a sheepish laugh. "Anyway, these things appear to fly in a broad sweeping disoriented array then conglomerate when they get close to the planet and all land at the same place. Loosely speaking."

    "Sounds right," Tom agreed with a nod. "That's why the Hubble didn't pick up any of the mass prior to landing. For that matter Spacewatch probably would have spotted it if it was solid."

    "Yeah but what makes no sense to me is why they don't just land all over the place like Traci said. Why would they care?" John asked as he adjusted his tie clip.

    "You know, I have no clue. That's alien motivation for you: It just makes no sense." Roger wiped his hands on his napkin, removed his ball cap, rubbed his fingers through his brown hair thoughtfully, and put his cap back on.

    "I never thought of it that way," Traci said with a grin at Roger. "Now we're supposed to read alien minds."

    "Sir, you want to handle this," the master sergeant said, tipping his beer to the major and leaning back.

    "Right you are, Master Sergeant," Shane said solemnly. Gries finished off his beer with a burp and waved his glass at the young brunette waitress at the bar then pointed at the near empty pitcher on the table while holding up one finger. "I'm looking forward to hearing this," Roger laughed.

    "You see, Doc, this is why you need us," Major Gries said, pointing at the sergeant and himself. "Just like there's a logic to all your rocket science stuff, and calculation to why you can't see that bump on the Moon, there's a logic and precise calculation to combat. The enemy action plan is simple: it's a beachhead assault. It's the wildest damned beachhead assault I've ever seen, but that is what it's. When you perform an assault, especially on a protected front where you have limited access of movement, you have to push as many fighters into the AC…"

    "What's an AC?" Alice asked, curiously.

    "Hah, you guys have got all your acronyms but the military invented them!" Cady said, grinning.

    "Access corridor," Shane said, shaking his head. "The idea is to push as many fighters into the AC as you can. Think about the landings at D-Day; we pushed as many soldiers onto the beach as there was room for them. You don't even consider full logistics for the forces, since you know they're going to be attrited." Gries stopped for a breath as the waitress showed up with a new pitcher.

    "Attrited?" Alice asked again, frowning.

    "A bunch of 'em are going to be dead and don't need any more food," Master sergeant Cady said. "Ever." He started to pour from the pitcher and got a slap on the hand.

    "That's her job," Roger, Alan and Traci chorused.


    "Now," Shane continued, sipping his replenished draft. "If there is an entire planet I'm going to attack, the action plan would be to action the enemy's system with either distributed force systemology or direct action…"

    "Now you're just making shit up," Roger said, shaking his head.

    "He's not, he's not," Cady said, shaking his own. "This is how he always talks when he starts lecturing about killing shit. It's all 'action plan' this and 'directed force structure' and 'attrition phase' and whatever."

    "And those are?" Alice asked, leaning back and putting her hand over her mouth as her eyes crinkled.

    "What we're gonna do to the motherfuckers," Cady responded, ticking off his fingers. "What guys are gonna do it and the part where we're trying to kill them faster than they're killin' us."

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