The HAMI-BOMBARD Blues, Part I

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Project VHUHANI Restricted Hangar, United Nations Occult Coalition Selene Base, Athena One
May 19, 1974, 13:25 GMT

Dropping from the catwalk into the open cockpit below, the words, so peculiarly inscribed on ancient vellum from an impossible history, ran through his head in dribs and drabs. He barely noticed the shouting as the engineers working on the gangly machine finally noticed his presence.

…beyond a certain level of maneuvring complexity, accurately calculating the trajectory of an object with six degrees of freedom becomes impossible given current computational technologies. Thus, VHUHANI provides an effectively…

He slipped into the clear, amniotic goo, taking a deep breath and feeling the slightly sticky fluid gurgle in his lungs. The main engine, already screaming softly, kicked up a notch at his gentle touch at the controls. The sound of gunfire from outside was drowned out by the closing of the hatch and the birth-cry of hydrogen combusting under extraordinarily high pressure.

…control systems designed to account for accelerations well in excess of 10g, including possible backblast from deployment of HAMI-BOMBARD. Variable 'limb' thruster mountings provide an extreme degree of maneuvrability, as well as continued platform viability in the event of severe damage to…

The machine bucked forwards, tearing away from the partially-disassembled equipment resting on the deck of the hangar as if shedding a birthing caul. He went through the motions automatically, as he'd rehearsed a hundred times in the depths of the high shelves, surrounded by the comforting reek of dust and old paper. One of the machine's arms came up, and then all was light. He was out into the open, the hangar a burst pimple receding in the rearward camera.

…extreme density of HAMI-BOMBARD only permits a payload of two rounds in standard configuration. Mountings for three or four-round HAMI-BOMBARD loadouts are structurally possible, but result in greatly decreased engine efficiency. However, given the significant target kill potential afforded by HAMI-BOMBARD, more than two…

He smiled as the acceleration gel rippled over him. Beneath him, VHUHANI burned like a bright star. This was going to give the United Fleet one hell of a kick in the pants.

FSF Denis Diderot, Director von Erbach's Temporary Office
May 20, 1974, 08:43 GMT

"What do you mean, they don't know where it is? It's nuclear-powered, isn't it? We invested millions of man-hours into building radiation sensors fine enough to pick up a fist-sized lump of fissile material anywhere in the damn Solar System."

Von Erbach resettled himself in his seat, smacked his head on the low-hanging bulkhead, and recoiled, stifling a curse. Across the room, Tagobe winced in sympathy.

"The, ah… Well, Axel, from what they've told us- which isn't much, mind you- the reactor design on the thing is fairly exotic. Some kind of thorium isotope was used as fuel instead of uranium, and that gives it a significantly weaker EM emission profile. To make matters worse, the warhead is of such low yield that there's no easy way to detect it at long range. We're going in blind."

"That's all the G- the UNOC have given us? Nothing of use? No fail-safes? Tracking mechanisms?"

"They claim the, uh, Variably Humaniform Ultra-High-Acceleration Nuclear Interceptor-"

"And here I was under the impression that the GO- whatever they're calling themselves was good at pithy codenames."

"-The VHUHANI was hijacked while undergoing maintenance work on, apparently, the integrated nuclear failsafe and the emergency locator beacon tied to it."

There was a long silence. Though all things considered, in the cramped confines of the Diderot, the quietest it ever got was the dull roaring of the engine, keeping the ship under just enough acceleration to force von Erbach's bottom back into the seat.

"Unbelievable, Dr. Tagobe. Of all the contrived excuses…"

"They provided heavily censored images of the hangar afterwards, including the fused remains of what they claimed were the failsafe."

Von Erbach half-stood in his seat, leaning gingerly over the small desk and resting, ever-so-gently, on his knuckles. He missed the 0.9g environment of FORC-00, but most of all he missed ceilings high enough to stand under. Tagobe, being undistinguished on the height front, had no such worries.

"So we've got two possibilities, then. One, the UNOC were either negligent or wanted this thing to be stolen, or two… well, someone had access to intelligence that maintenance work was underway, slipped past the second-most highly fortified location on Minerva, and managed to use a verdammt nuclear device to just blow their way out of there scot free."

"I hate to say it, but I think you're right, Axel. And, uh… forgive me if this is an obvious question but… Well, the development of this thing is totally illegal and unauthorized, yes? I haven't really been concerning myself with politics outside of Heimdall."

"Oh, it's illegal all right. The Preliminary Charter of the United Earth Fleet- drafted, I should remind you, by UN representatives with support from the UNOC- states very clearly that any and all development of new atomic weaponry should be done only after unanimous approval from all other signatories of the Charter."

"I highly doubt the GRU or the Chinese will approve of all this."

"Approve? Hell no. The moment they got the release the CID scrambled all their assets. Everyone in the Fleet with their own ship is looking for any excuse to get their hands on that weapon. Can you imagine the damage you could cause with a- what was it, 'nuclear shaped charge'? Even Noamtosk seemed worried, and he brushed off discovering that magic exists, for God's sakes."

USSRS Mikula Selyaninovich, Captain Rogov's Quarters
May 20, 1974, 08:45 GMT

Captain An Shen waited, grinding his teeth, as the idiot who called himself Captain of this abomination of a spacecraft finished his interminable speech.

"…it is the general opinion of the GRU that while the UNOC have obviously commited a massive breach of trust the solution should not be a military one. We risk too much in regards to the safety of the general fleet by committing assets to a foolish hunt for a single experimental spacecraft, regardless of the danger it might pose. Let the UNOC and the Foundation scrabble over themselves to fix this breach in security. The longer they take, the worse they appear in the eyes of the general public.

"So. To reiterate. You are to tell Department Head Li, and by extension all the CID, that under no circumstances should you pursue the craft in question. Any aggressive action will be met with disciplinary action, is that clear?"

Shen struggled to hold back a sneer. The GRU weren't even bothering to hide their position at this point. Insisting on a personal meeting for 'security reasons'… they hadn't even sent any of their higher-ups to pass on the message. Once more, the CID's authority was being diminished at the hands of these corrupt Russians and their ships full of tortured souls. Li had warned him to expect something like this, and his worst suspicions had been confirmed.

"Is that clear, Captain? Do we have the support of the CID on this matter?"

Li made a half-bow.

"Of course, Captain Rogov. We bow to your superior diplomatic experience."

"Excellent. My crewman will escort you back to your ship. That will be all."

As the ghost of some long-dead Russian escorted him through the cold, dark halls of the spirit ship, Shen couldn't resist a smile. Any doubts he'd been having about going through with this were long gone.

PRCDS Dawn of a New Era, Communications Module
May 20, 1974, 09:07 GMT

Shen hung by one hand in front of the tiny black-and white display, nodding along to the crackly voice of Department Head Li.

"If you wish to back out now, An Shen, I will not blame you. This is a great inconvenience to ask of you, but…"

Shen smiled. The Department Head had always been somewhat understated.

"No need, Department Head. The potential rewards of this undertaking far outweigh any, ah, inconveniences. We have more than enough xenon fuel to make it anywhere we need to be. Besides, any chance to put the GRU and the capitalists in their place is more than worth it.

After a few seconds pause for the signal to make it through, Li nodded.

"Very well. You know your orders. Find VHUHANI. Recover it. Bring us that nuclear device. China will not be marginalized. Good luck. Li out."

Shen took a deep breath, then switched the channel over.

"Bridge here."

"This is the captain. Deploy the solar sails and charge all ion engines. All crew prepare for acceleration. We're moving out at full speed. Operation Xuanzang's Journey is authorized."

Showmen Editorial Emergentshell Constantly Overworked Technicians Who Function Best Under Pressure, Central Command Nest
May 20, 1974, 11:53 GMT

Out beyond the Oort Cloud, the ships of the United Earth Fleet began to scatter, all in search of the same goal. Their captains and crews were, for the most part, ignorant of the myriad recording devices capturing their every move, broadcasting their stories back to the central Showmen vessels editing and managing the entire enterprise. From the center of the nest, hanging in the Posture of Excited Attention, Noamtosk watched it all.

"This oughtta be good."

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