Stardock: Part 9

With that debacle over, we went back to our dorm, changed out of costume and ate. I could write more about hanging out in our rooms that night, but there’s not really much to tell. Sunday morning allowed time for people who wanted to attend worship services to do so, and then we spent most of Sunday afternoon practicing first aid.

By five, we were all waiting in an airport somewhere near NYC. I hesitate to say a “secret” airport because it was clearly used, but it definitely wasn’t commonly used by passenger planes. I don’t think I saw any, but I couldn’t be sure because we rode there in a cargo truck with no windows–just seats in the back. The roof was made of a partially transparent, but not clear, plastic.

We unloaded the truck inside the hangar. I happened to look through the mirrored windows on the door as we waited for our plane to arrive. Even though it wasn’t snowing, it still wasn’t warm. A Fedex jet landed on the runway as I watched, but it didn’t taxi in our direction afterward. I decided that watching for our jet was probably more akin to waiting for a pot to boil than it ought to be, and considered finding someone to talk to.

It might have been a fun place to hang out under other circumstances, but not with people. It felt like it was only barely heated. Water, and other fluids pooled on the floor. Machines and tools hung on the wall or lay on shelves.

Building something might have been a good way to pass the time, but with all the parts meant for airplane repairs, it was a given that I’d annoy somebody.

Turning away from the mirrored windows, I found Cassie walking toward me. She wore a Grand Lake University hoodie, jeans, and atypically, her hair wasn’t in a ponytail. It hung loose around her shoulders. She wore the backpack I’d made for her, the one that changed into light armor–barely powered armor at all, actually. I’d designed it to be more of a disguise.

“Hey, thanks,” she indicated the backpack with a gesture of her hand. “This will help keep me sane. Mom doesn’t want me going out in costume at all outside of Stapledon. With this, she might not even recognize me.”

She grinned.

I wondered if handing her the suit had been a good idea.

Frowning for moment, she said, “I’ll have to give you back the sword and gun before you leave. I can’t exactly take them back to D.C. when I’m trying to avoid the Nine.”

I sighed, and slumped a little. “I know. I was pretty sure the aliens would attack Stardock while we were there. It seems like the Hrrrna have to be working with the machine races somehow, and if they’re desperate enough to attack other aliens here on Earth, I’d think they’d want to go after Stardock too, and soon.”

Cassie shrugged. “At least you’re thinking ahead. I’ve been talking to Vaughn, Izzy and Daniel, and fuck, I’ve been left out of everything. You guys went up to the Xiniti jumpgate, met the Hrrrna, and got attacked by flying robots, and you know what I’ve been doing? Hanging out in the D.C. super compound. I mean, yay, I’ve been getting some training in, but I’ve barely gotten a chance to use it thanks to the Nine. First chance we get, we should take them down, you know?”

I eyed her. “You are kidding, right? The last time we got anywhere near the Nine, we ended up in the middle of nerve gas and a nuke. I mean–”

Shaking her head, Cassie said, “The nerve gas was no big deal. The worst I got out of it was a runny nose. The nuke? That was scary, but you’re forgetting the best part. You blew up Rook’s hand. Talk about badass.”

I opened my mouth without saying anything for a second, and then managed, “I try not to think about that.”

“Still awesome,” she said. “You know he’s got an artificial hand now? I saw it on SuperTV. So yeah, that’s another great thing about being near no one I care about. I get to watch TV and hang out with the Liberators which isn’t nearly as fun as their fanbase imagines.”

I frowned. “You’re going to Georgetown, right? That can’t be all bad.”

She gave another shrug. “It’s not so bad, but I can’t even use my name there. Lim says they’ll transfer all the credits if I go back to Grand Lake, but what are the chances of that? The CIA always wanted me in D.C.. I’m pretty sure they’re planning to have me take over for Dad the second I’m out of college. It was always part of my plans, but it doesn’t sound as fun when I don’t think I’ve got a choice.”

I nodded. “I can see that.”

I’d planned to say more, but heard footsteps, and turned to notice Patriot Jr. coming over. He wasn’t in costume. This was Patriot Jr. in civvies. He wore a red, button down shirt, open to about the third button, showing muscle. Tan, he had curly brown hair, shot through with spots that were sun bleached blond.

Most of the time I’d seen him, he’d been chatting up one of the women, or hanging out with his friends. He’d been grinning or laughing. Now, he looked serious.

I realized I didn’t know the guy’s real name.

“Hey,” he said, “we got assigned together, but I don’t think we’ve talked. I’m Blake–Patriot Jr, in costume. I was thinking maybe we could talk about ways to make the unit work better.”

I looked up at him. This wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d guessed he’d been about to tell me how it was all my fault. “Why me?”

He raised an eyebrow, and tilted his head as he looked at me. “Why? You’ve been in the middle of some major stuff. Plus, you train with that freaky guy–Gunther–all the time, right? And you’re in the advanced fighting groups even though you just started? And you’re a brain.

“Look, we didn’t do so well, and my advisor said you’d probably know how to fix it.”

I adjusted to that idea, and wondered who his advisor was. I had ideas for how to fix our unit, but I hoped everybody’s advisor wasn’t saying the same thing. I wasn’t that good.

“I’ve got a few suggestions,” I said. “The first is that instead of looking at us like a bunch of people with powers, you should look at us like we were a ship or something. Second–”

My phone started beeping. It was the beep I’d set for alerts that came in on the common protocol my grandfather had designed. I started to say, “Sorry,” but then I realized Patriot Jr. wasn’t listening to me. He was pulling out his phone. So was Cassie.

In fact, so was practically everyone in the hangar. The few exceptions probably didn’t need their phones to find out what was going on.

I took my phone out of my pocket, and clicked on the screen. An alert appeared. “As of forty minutes ago, Earth spacecraft detected a planetary bombardment. Guardian and various Defenders groups have been mobilized to attend to the situation. Metahumans should gather their gear and contact their local Defenders unit to find out if their services are required.”

Patriot Jr. stared at his phone. “My dad’s got to be going up there. I hope it doesn’t get too bad. Do you guys think they’ll send us back to Stardock?”

It was a valid question, but neither Cassie or I were paying attention. We were staring at the next alert. Haley had sent a yellow with the message. “The League jet has detected that one of the asteroids was aimed directly at Grand Lake’s downtown. Another one is heading straight for New York. The jet’s AI thinks that it’s a feint or a distraction, and Lee agrees. All League members and friends near Grand Lake, please respond.”

I wanted to call Haley back, but I didn’t want to prevent her from talking to people who were actually in Grand Lake. She didn’t have many people to work with–Camile, Sydney, and Marcus for sure, and maybe Chris. Maybe Larry if he wasn’t helping someone else.

I wondered if I should be getting back there.

Isaac Lim walked through a door near the rear of the hangar. He held up his hands to get our attention, and shouted, “Suit up, everyone!”

28 thoughts on “Stardock: Part 9”

  1. I would have thought Nick would have figured protocol if caddie was simultaneously notified and Patriot Jr. via separate system that it was bad enough to warrant suiting up anyway, and ignored the message and just brought it up on the suits systems.
    Also by the time Lim walked in I would have thought that half the room would have been died up (some of them can change pretty quickly) and the other half would already have started suiting up.

  2. ” I could write more about hanging out in our rooms that night, but there’s not really much to tell.”

    Wow…didn’t think this was a journal or blog or something by Nick. First indication I can remember of this.

    “The roof was made of a partially transparent, but not clear plastic.”

    but not clear, plastic.

    An asteroid bombardment? I guess they’re going for a situation where everyone knows they did it, but no one can prove it. Not all that easy to smack an asteroid into earth’s surface these days.

    Also, got to say this is one of those rare times when music I’m listening to matches up a little bit to the story.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I96lXa3aVuQ

    The song started picking up to lead into part 2 just at the end when they start getting the calls.

  3. “Look, we didn’t so well, and my advisor said you’d probably know how to fix it.”

    Missing the ‘do’.

  4. “The roof was made of a partially transparent, but not clear plastic.”

    You, sir, have either driven trucks before, or unloaded them, or had some reason to walk inside them. I’d be willing to bet, oh, a few nickels on that.

  5. “I wanted to call her, but I didn’t want to interfere with whatever she was trying to do.”
    To call who?

  6. There were a couple of missing a’s/the’s in this one. The first was.

    “A Fedex jet landed on runway as I watched”

    The second came not to much after it, but now I can’t find it. At least I thought there was a second one.

  7. [[I could write more about hanging out in our rooms that night, but there’s not really much to tell.]]

    I’m with Psycho Gecko. I think this is the first indication we’ve ever had that there is a context to the narration, like Nick is writing in his journal or memoirs or something like that. Up until now it’s been entirely without reference to an in-universe source, like he was a narrator in a movie or something.

    I mean, if that’s going to be the conceit it’s fine, but it feels pretty jarring to only have him mention this is being written down this single time, after hundreds of chapters. It jumped out at me immediately.

    1. Nick’s addressed the reader a few times–not often though, and quite spread out. Probably no more than three times in the last 6 years.

      I’ve always been curious as to who first person narrators are addressing and know in this case. That said, in the long run I may take references out. I don’t know yet. It depends on if I like the results.

  8. It is not. Nick does the same thing in Space Date.

    Nick:I’ll write that again with more appropriate emphasis.
    I had a spaceship.
    In. My. Basement

  9. I think the reason this instance of Nick addressing the reader(s) directly jumped out at PG, myself, and others is because it seems to indicate that Nick is writing, rather than speaking. That’s not unheard of, but it is more the exception than the rule when it comes to first person narration, in my experience, so readers may notice it more. Also, it occurs right at the beginning of the segment, so we aren’t really caught up in the flow of the story yet. That said, I don’t think it’s a problem; just very noticeable (more than the prior incidents, I mean).

    CG

  10. The thing about the narrative explicitly being someone writing something down being narration is that it greatly decreases the impact of cliffhangers. “Did Nick die from this?” Well, no, obviously not since he just wrote it down.

  11. First – It could be posthumous writing, via a medium or something. Magic is extant in this universe

    Second – there are things worse than death.

    Third – Even if the first two aren’t true, that only ensures Nick lives. I’m rather worried about everyone else at this point.

    Remember, War, from the omnisphiere, lost his entire species.

  12. C-fractional bombardment. We need MOAR of it. No exceptions.

    PS:
    What happens if someone puts a VASIMR drive on a large asteroid, accelerates it for a couple of days Earthwards behind the cover of the Sun, does a tight partial-slingshot around said Sun and hits the Earth with a multiteraton planetburner at half the speed of light some sixteen minutes later? I doubt anything the Earth has would be able to stop something the size of Ceres, for example. Even with hundreds of thousands of nukes that humans got, I doubt we could blow up a rock as bug as Washington. And I don’t mean the city…

  13. Well, if it’s already at half the speed of light compared to Earth, anything coming from Earth towards it will carry a large amount of potential energy in reference to the asteroid.

    So accelerate starships at it, ramming speed. They will have a closing velocity of .5C + whatever velocity they can build.

    Something like that is what you would want Sean around for, if it’s an iron based asteroid. He couldn’t do the whole job himself, but put him and guardian up there. He rips the moon apart, Guardian teleports the pieces into the sun. This of course requires that Guardian and Sean both be ready to act within minutes on any given day.

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, the Jay and the Kay typically operate on opposite sides of the sun from one another, so there is no hiding spot behind the sun to accelerate things in?

    Lots of ifs, but yea, something the size of Ceres at high velocities, would be crazy. Using standard rocketry though, I believe the mass of fuel required to accelerate Ceres to half the speed of light would be something close to the mass of the entire planet Earth.

  14. You’d probably need about 0.00015 times the mass of Earth in hydrogen to accelerate Ceres at 14% lightspeed, about 15 times that much for 50% lightspeed. Luckily, there’s loads of hydrogen in the universe and ramscoops are fairly efficient. Once you got a large enough ramscoop tied to a multistage fusion plant and a VASIMR drive, you can start moving around planets because the universe is basically an ocean of fuel. Of course, the components of that propulsion system would each need to be the size of New York.

    Stopping a planet once it gets going though -even a dwarf like Ceres- is kinda hard. The Empire State building hitting it at half the speed of light will barely even faze it – you’d need over a trillion such impacts to completely stop it, though probably not more than a couple hundred thousand to break it up. Of course, if you do break it up Earth still gets burned. Not that Earth would really mind – it’s far too large. But anything on its surface and in the upper half a kilometer or so of the crust will be seriously singed.

    As for Sean stopping it with his powers? Even if it were pure ferrous metal, it would still be a target with three million square kilometers of surface, weighing a billion times as much as all human construction on Earth combined. Sean has never been shown to be stronger than a nuke at most. I seriously doubt he could even move something that could take hundreds of thousands of impacts with major spaceships at relativistic speeds to even damage.

  15. Math *AND* Wall Of Text Warning.

    Ram scoops won’t work, pipe dream. Momentum differential between the vessel and the fuel at random velocities cause math failure. This was recently proven by a bunch of eggheads somewhere. I can dig it up if you can’t find it. Even ram scoops could work, you have to get the payload up to extremely high velocities before a scoop could even begin to collect significant fuel.

    Unstaged acceleration – carrying all the fuel with you all at once – otherwise you have to spend how long building staging or a fuel launcher system for a planet?

    Hydrogen/oxygen fuel. Perfect exhaust velocity 4462 m/s
    50% speed of light = 150,000 km/sec
    Ceres mass = 9.4×10^20 kg

    Initial mass of Ceres + the fuel required to get it to 50% of light speed
    3.740223267793797×10^35 kg

    http://tinyurl.com/mncwqwp

    Mass of Earth = 5.97×10^24 kg

    Sorry, the mass of the Earth is a rounding error compared to how much fuel you would need for a direct acceleration of Ceres to half of light speed.

    Mass of the Sun = 1.99×10^30 kg

    Even the mass of the sun is a rounding error for the fuel requirements to get Ceres moving that fast.

    There are ways to improve those numbers, but when you are talking about masses in excess of small asteroids, or mission delta V greater than a few percent of light speed, the numbers can get scary. *FAST*

    Jim’s been playing fast and loose with some physics. That’s to be expected in superhero fiction, but I’ll call you on your numbers above, which I think you believed to be accurate.

    Even accelerating Ceres to 15% of light speed would take 2.25×10^25 kg (kilograms) of oxygen/hydrogen fuel (a bit less than 4x Earth’s mass) unless you built some absurdly huge space infrastructure to deliver fuel to it a “little” bit at a time.

    The Sean + Guardian thing was an amusing side. Against something the size of Ceres, he could spend months chipping away at it, I agree. Against smaller asteroids though, if the whole asteroids were too big for Guardian to teleport, the two of them working as a team could do wonders.

  16. Come on, you don’t use the ramscoop to take up the interstellar medium on the vessel itself. You use it like a scramjet to compress the interstellar medium into the narrow cone as you move along, down into a tube through the center of your vessel. With enough initial speed that compression leads to fusion within the tube, a small part of whose energy you can tap to produce loads of power. And that energy you use on the exhaust to produce impulse via further magnetrohydrodynamic acceleration of the already accelerating ionized byproducts of the fusion. No mass carried along with the ship. No mass accelerated to follow the ship. Only an open fuel intake and fusion chamber, followed by the open VASIMR drive. And the exhaust velocity should be near the speed of light for such a system.

    The only major problem is that for a fusion scramjet to work on interstellar medium you’d need to be going at about 1% lightspeed before you get ignition.

  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramjet#Feasibility

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_Specific_Impulse_Magnetoplasma_Rocket

    VASIMIR can impart up to a 50,000 m/s delta V, which is far less than the 1,000,000 m/s delta V that you would have to impart to the ions to accelerate in system against the solar wind of the Sun. Going away from the Sun, in interstellar space, once you get over 500,000 m/sec, your going to have a harder and harder time accelerating against the interstellar medium.

    VASIMIR adds nothing to the Ramjet system, it only hurts it.

    What would the energy signature look like for a ramscoop capable of accelerating Ceres? Hell, the energy output from the scoop capable of relativistic acceleration of a planetoid would potentially be enough to erase all life on Earth from millions of kilometers away, so why bother with the planetoid at all?

    🙂

  18. (Sorry Jim, I’ve actually been doing a good bit of research into different methods of space propulsion recently. It should stay civil here, but if you say cut it out, I’ll stop.)

    1. Farmerbob/Belial: I have no problem with this sort of discussion. I’ve always loved hard science fiction, and so I’m not bothered by the occasional discussion of the physics of space travel and various techniques to do it.

      In the case of Legion, I’ve deliberately not let those sort of tendencies on my part take control. It might be fun sometimes to do a hard SF take on superheroes, but LoN isn’t that kind of story.

  19. Why people always think in 1D? Guys, a small deviation in an asteroid orbit, a deviation created by a force perpendicular to its trajectory, will make it miss Earth.
    It is not a context of the kind: an alien race capable of interestelar propulsion gave a certain amount of energy to a piece of rock and I have to find a way to apply at least the same amount to stop this rock.
    If this was the context, Earth would be lost. The alien race will always be able to give more energy to the rock than you can apply to stop it.
    But, if you detect the rock far enough away, you just have to make it miss our planet. Apply a force perpendicular to the speed of the body. Weird because you will be giving it more energy but it is similar to Judo where you use the enemies momentum against it.
    Forget brute strength when dealing with a superior adversary.

  20. There’s no real need to accelerate Ceres to significant relativistic velocities. At a mere 0.0018c, it’d deliver more kinetic energy than the gravitational binding energy of Earth. It would hit not just hard enough to ensure the extinction of every living thing on Earth, not just hard enough to completely destroy the planet, but hard enough that gravity would never pull the resulting scattered debris back together into a planet again.

    If your goal is for the human race to cease to be a concern, that’s probably sufficient overkill. Accelerating Ceres up to a couple hundred times that velocity is just a waste of energy.

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