Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 41

Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 41

Chapter 13 – Home World High Jinks

“Marshal Ovaki will see you now,” the secretary said.

General Brine paused at the door to watch her sashay back to her podium. Long flowing lilac and indigo hair cascading down onto a very pert bottom made her worth a look. Her metallic purpurrot dress in a crushed velvety cloth unfortunately retained imprints. These included a distinct outline of a large male hand on her right buttock.

Brine knocked and walked in without waiting for a reply.

“Ah, Petrov, thanks for popping over, have a seat,” Ovaki said.

“Your secretary’s looking a little flushed, Sam,” Brine replied.

“She’s a charming girl but a bit forgetful. She mislaid a file so I had to admonish her.”

“So I saw.”

“Scotch?”

The marshal produced a bottle and two glasses.

“Plum brandy for me, if you have it.”

Nancy-boy’s drink, Brine correctly predicted the marshal’s next sally.

They went through this ritual every time Brine was summoned to the marshal’s office. Why Ovaki couldn’t just get on with it and pour him a plum brandy was beyond Brine’s comprehension. Possibly it was some sort of psychological dominance display. Maybe Ovaki actually liked scotch and really couldn’t understand why no one else did. God knows, he drank enough of the filthy stuff.

Brine asked, “Well, what was so urgent and confidential that I had to rush over in person?”

“It’s about the damned Bight colonies.”

Brine groaned and took a gulp of the brandy.

“Not again, haven’t we wasted enough energy not to save money on those mudballs. Don’t tell me some idiot politician on The Council has decided to make the little coup the colonials are cooking up a cause célèbre.”

Ovaki tried to reply but Brine was in full rant mode.

“It’s not as if we want the Bight colonies particularly. They’re an economic sinkhole of no strategic value. The only reason we fought a war there last time was to stop Terra getting them. That was purely for reasons of national prestige. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of even our politicians to come up with some face-saving form of words that will give the colonials independence in practice while maintaining Brasilia’s prestige among the Homeworlds?”

He finally ran down and glowered into his glass. Ovaki took the opportunity to get a word in edgeways.

“That was the plan. However, it’s not some politician who’s dropped a grenade at the mess dinner this time but the poxy academics.”

Brine was genuinely astonished.

“What? Who cares what academics think?”

In Brasilia’s socio-economic structure academics ranked somewhere between poets and classical dancers in that they were decorative items. You had to have some around to show you were a sophisticated society but only an idiot would take their advice on anything that mattered.

Ovaki continued. “It’s not what they think, it’s what they’ve discovered. Have you heard of unbihexium?”

“No,” Brine replied.

“It’s element 126, a super-actinide,” Ovaki said helpfully.

Brine didn’t bother to reply. The marshal knew very well he hadn’t got a clue what that meant. He doubted Ovaki had heard of unbi-whatever until he read the plastic file lying on the desk.

Plastic files were secure isolated data pads disconnected from any outside communication system and code-locked. They could only be read when activated by someone whose DNA, epigenetics and proteomic patterns matched the lock. In this case that was probably only Ovaki and possibly his secretary.

“Super-actinides are transuranic stable elements,” Ovaki said, didactically. “Except this one becomes unstable in the presence of a continuum field.”

Brine shrugged.

“So it’s another explosive, so what?”

Ovaki explained.

“It doesn’t explode it implodes, sucking in energy.”

“And that makes it important enough to fight a war over because…”

“Because tiny amounts can be used to refreeze ship’s heat sinks while in transit.”

“I can see that more efficient ships would be useful…” Brine began.

Ovaki silenced him with a gesture.

“No you don’t see. This stuff makes possible massive battleships with near infinite range at full speed. We can build fast armored transports that carry huge loads – including metals. In short, we could build an invasion fleet that could conquer a Homeworld. All it takes is a few kilos of unbihexium. Right now no one knows how to make the stuff in usable quantities but the navy found a source in the Bight Hinterland with shiploads just waiting to be mined.”

“Oh dear God,” Brine said finally catching on. “If the Terrans get their hands on it…”

“Quite! I want you to plan for a major invasion across the Bight. I know,” Ovaki held up a hand to forestall a list of reasons why that was next to logistically impossible.

Brine considered. “Our army is already overcommitted in a dozen brushfire conflicts with Terran proxies this side of the Bight. It will take time to recruit, train and equip new formations.”

“Time is what we don’t have so hire mercenaries.” Ovaki said. “I have a near unlimited budget for this operation. That is how seriously element 126 has rattled the Standing Security Committee. For once the political parties are in tight agreement. The politicos see their personal cozy little universes threatened.”

A hologram marker winked over Ovaki’s desk. He waved a hand and it disappeared.

“Just my secretary telling me she is going to lunch,” Ovaki said, in answer to Brine’s unspoken question.

“She’s quite a babe even by your standards.” Brine said, recalling the pert bottom. “Where did you find her?”

“She came highly recommended by a colleague in Security.” Ovaki replied. “He had to unload her in a hurry. His wife bumped into her at a reception and discovered she wasn’t as homely as my colleague had implied.”

“I can imagine the scene,” Brine said, chuckling. He raised his glass, “To our wives and loved ones; may they never meet.”

The babe in question often lunched outside the Department of War building. Today was no exception. She hurried across the open square into the warren of alleyways housing cafes and shops that serviced the staff who worked in the various government offices around the plaza. Her gait was a little stiff. Her bottom still smarted from the spanking administered earlier by the Marshall.

He enjoyed catching her out in little errors because it gave him an excuse to indulge his obsession with pert bottoms. In this case the filthy old perv’s habits were useful as they distracted him from wondering why the unbihexium file had gone missing. It was sheer bad luck he asked for it while she had it linked to her pad.

She sat down somewhat gingerly on a bench outside a small restaurant specializing in spiced food from Rautmala, an unimportant Homeworld in the Terran sphere of influence. She opened her bag to find the sandwich she had purchased earlier. She also took her pad out of her bag and watched a catch-up program about a popular soap opera as she ate.

She blinked back tears. The food aromas and restaurant music reminded her of the Rautmalan boyfriend she had met on holiday and with whom she had fallen deeply in love. She hadn’t seen him in months, not since he had been picked up by the Rautmalan Social Protection Guards for ownership of proscribed texts.

Terran Security had promised to use their influence with the Rautmalan authorities to free her beloved if she did the odd favor for them occasionally. Favors like copying high security files using one of a suite of apps they had added to her pad.

The catch-up show was a Terran app with special features marked only by an inconspicuous green light in one corner. After a few minutes the light turned yellow and disappeared indicating that the unbihexium file had successfully downloaded into the restaurant’s espionage equipment.

She finished her sandwich and returned to work.

#

General Brine worked late that evening in his office. He often did but rarely on something as important as planning a war. However there is a point when exhaustion sets in and further action is counterproductive. He buzzed his secretary who had stayed to access necessary files and send out the streams of orders that would start the slow and ponderous wheels of the Brasilian military spinning.

“We’ll call it a day, Trixie. Thanks for working late.”

“My pleasure, sir, is there anything else before I go.”

“Yes, we will need to start again at eight. It’s hardly worth me going all the way home and back. I think I’ll stay in town tonight. Would you let my wife know?”

After a moment’s thought he opened the link to his secretary’s office again.

“And send a message to Mistress Fairhead asking if she wants to meet me for dinner at nine.”

“Of course, general, at your club?”

“Correct, goodbye Trixie. Get a good night’s sleep as we have a busy day tomorrow.”

“You too, sir.”

“Oh, I intend to.”

 

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Comments

11 Responses to Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 41

  1. Cobbler says:

    In the first snippet this discovery was made aboard the Brasilian Research and Exploration Ship Reggie Kray. Commander Frisco promptly declared the discovery Top Secret. Brasillia is prepared to commit to otherwise-useless war to gain control of a secret the Braslian Navy already has? Say what? Does this make sense to anyone else?

    Is it that magnetars are so rare? They don’t seem to be. We’ve already discovered a bushel of them. Centuries of stellar exploration must have found magnetars in job-sized lots by Allenson’s time.

    What exactly is the motivating MacGuffin here?

  2. Randomiser says:

    This is the only magnetar they know has unbihexium. They can’t afford to abandon it to a tiddly fledgling independent nation who might use it against them and certainly won’t be able to protect it from other home world’s who might think possession of it was a real good idea. Information that is just lying around out there has a way of getting found by others. Not to mention the possibility of espionage!

    • Doug Lampert says:

      It may well also be the only Magnetar they can navigate to. We know there are constraints on where they can go. The original study went to this one, so we can fairly conclusively deduce that its the most accessible one of its type that they have available, and its not all that accessible. Who knows how bad number two is to get to?

      Even if they know where 50,000,000 others are, so what if they can’t get to them?

      • Cobbler says:

        Something like that may be true .It wouldn’t take much handwavium to limit access to the unobtanium. But you’ve got to wave those hands or the plot makes no sense.

        I haven’t read enough Lambshead to expect anything from him. I expect better from Drake.

        • Johnny says:

          It might require little to no handwavium at all; it might be politicians making decisions on little data and not consulting those actually in the know. It’s been known to happen.

      • Johnny says:

        A-ha! Mystery solved. We’ve identified only about 20 magnetars so far. http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/~pulsar/magnetar/main.html

        The closest one appears to be about 48oo light-years away. I remember in the first novel, all of human habitation fit in a 1000 light-year diameter sphere. Therefore while there are many magnetars, they are all so impossibly far that they’d have trouble mining them. Furthermore, once you have a magnetar, you have access to pretty much all magnetars due to obtaining all the unibihexium you need.

  3. ” the navy found a source in the Bight Hinterland with shiploads just waiting to be mined.” The issue is answered. They know of one source, as stated in the text.

    • Cobbler says:

      Waiting to be mined? It’s not impossible. Poul Anderson’s based Mirkheim on the same conceit. But when did that discovery happen? IIRC they found a source by some ship wrecking maneuver.

  4. It happened in an early chapter.

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