This is the twenty-ninth episode of No Marigolds in the Promised Land, a serialized Compact Universe novel. To get the entire novel, go here for details.
Dedicated to Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
Log Entry: 0709 – 16 Mandela, 429
Good morning. I’m having what may be my last cup of real coffee, my last reasonable facsimile of real food, and my last good piss in a flush toilet. Today, we cram good ol’ Rovers 57 and 114 full of small drones, freeze-dried coffee, ration bars, and emergency medical supplies. Persephone is working on programming a spider and a dalek to function as a surgical team so she can have hands in cast I’m incapacitated.
This morning’s note of joy from the drone announced that the “secret vessel” ™ is headed for Dakota to pick up equipment for the rescue mission. Okay, first question. You’ve built a ship to travel interstellar distances. I realize warp drive is not wormhole travel, but if ships are equipped with thrusters, free-fall guidance systems, and EM drives for in-system travel, why would you not include projection drive on a warp ship?
Second, why send a ship that’s probably going to take a month to get here. If they sent it to, say, Amargosa via projection drive or through a hypergate, then I could see warping here. I’d wait a week for that. But every day, it seems our intrepid pioneers of an outmoded FTL theory are getting stuck somewhere.
I’m tired, oh, powers that be back on Mars and Earth, and I want to go home. And Navy, you owe me. You’re the ones that didn’t bother to defend this place or give us an emergency means of communication home.
And let me say this to our beloved Fleet Admiral: Fuck you.
But, since Fleet Admiral Vu is a moron, and his underlings have to engage in skullduggery to do what a decent civilization should do without thinking anyway, I’m packing the rovers in case the land squid turns out to be very hostile or I can’t come up with a way to…
Persephone, is it possible to make a fusion reactor catastrophically explode?
Technically, our fusion weapons are miniature fusion reactors that have no place to vent their energy. Why?
I want to make a bomb. I big one.
That’s right. The Kingdom of Farno and Empire of 2 Mainzer is about to become a nuclear power.
At this rate, I’ll crack FTL by myself, and the Navy can suck it.
Yes, Admiral Burke, I am pissed. Please relay that heartfelt fuck you to Fleet Admiral Vu at your earliest convenience.
0909 – 16 Mandela, 429
Awis, second moon of Frankenstein, Anpetu Wi System
The light at the end of the tunnel exploded into a giant orange ball of cloud someone had dubbed Frankenstein. Anpetu Wi and its core world, Dakota, had been settled and run by the Sioux and Cherokee nations of Earth’s North America, but someone had a warped sense of humor in naming the rest of the Anpetu Wi’s planets. One planet, with a high sulfur content in its crust and prone to volcanic activity, had been dubbed Quetzec Cul, a Qorori phrase that Friese discovered translated loosely as “Montezuma’s revenge.”
“Americans are weird,” was all Danaq said when Friese found this in the ship’s database.
“Awis Control,” said Shonsi as the ship settled into free-fall, “this is the CNSS Alcubierre, here to retrieve a shuttle for classified mission to the rim.”
“Alcubierre, Awis Control,” said a stern male voice, “we had no hypergate ticket and no evidence of a wormhole. You’re not a projection drive ship. Where did you come from?”
“Control,” said Havak, angrily punching a button on her armrest, “this is Commander Linda Havak, Alcubierre Actual. Our presence, mode of propulsion, and mission are all classified. Please refer all questions to Admiral Burke, Tian Regional Command.”
“We did,” said Control. “All we got was stonewalled.”
“Is the shuttle ready or not?”
“Here it comes,” said Danaq. “The Navy’s left hand didn’t bother telling its right hand what to do.”
“Mute,” said Havak. “That’s because the Fleet Admiral has his head up his sizeable ass. Open comm.” She waited a beat. “Control, we had technical difficulties in getting here, as I’m sure the hyperdones sent by Admiral Burke informed you. That shuttle should have been ready two days ago.”
“‘Well’ is a hole in the ground with water at the bottom. Where the hell is my shuttle? We’re on a rescue mission.”
Friese bit her tongue, wanting to chime in with “What are the coordinates to Well? And do they speak Humanic there?” It was funny during basic.
“It’s… um… at the Dakota Yards,” said Control. “We did not have one to spare here.”
“You mean you could not have sent an EM drive ship to Dakota to pick it up?” Havak was out of her chair and pacing, glaring at the swirling clouds below as though she could see the faceless man on Awis. “Are you telling me that I’m going to have to commandeer an EM ship to go pick one up?”
“Holy shit. Who am I speaking to? Are you Navy or Border Guard?”
“Cybercommand, ma’am,” said Control. “E-4 Tamarcho, Commander.”
“I want your O-5 or O-6 on the line right now! And tell her or him that Admiral Burke has court-martialed flag officers for less.” She muted, leaving the poor enlistee saddled with her wrath. “This may take a while. Danaq, find us a berth. Shonsi, Friese, take five. I’ll send for you when we get our ride to Dakota.”
Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
1019 – 16 Mandela, 429
I’ve done the math. I’ve combed our admittedly fragmented database. I even checked the owner’s manual. And there is a way to build my own fusion bomb from a rover. Whoo hoo!
The good news? Like Persephone said earlier, Compact fusion weapons tend to be commercial fusion reactors deprived of a place to send their power. So why don’t fusion accidents involve mushroom clouds and thousands of people vaporized? Because fusion reactors in a normal setting can’t even function under those conditions. The reaction simply stops. If there’s an explosion, it’s either hydrogen or helium from the core escaping or the water pumped through the system breaking free. You have more problems from a violent thunderstorm.
Which brings me to the bad news. Just by their very nature, the reactors here on Farno, formerly Farigha, are all commercial. Even the rovers’ reactors. By the time a rover’s reactor is deprived of shedding any energy it produces, the reactor will have shut down, and you basically have a tank of hydrogen and some radioactive scrap metal that needs buried for about fifty years.
See, fusion is all about lasers. In commercial plants, they’re not even powerful enough to create a fusion reaction to breach containment. Anything that would create such a breach would also disable the lasers. So no kaboom. A wise woman once told me there’s always a kaboom, but in this case, there’s no kaboom. Mars’s view of Venus will continue to be obstructed.
In fusion weapons, you need have overpowered lasers fusing too little hydrogen in too small a space. You can actually change your mind about using one until about ten seconds before detonation, though if it’s mounted on a missile or a kinetic rod, those on the receiving end will call you a dick for all eternity unless you destroy the delivery system. Missiles explode. Kinetic rods pretty much do what the fusion device would have done.
My delivery system will be the rover. But I need to overpower the lasers. For that, I’m going to need to take a little trip. There are five rovers parked in the first pit stop on the way to the next dome. Two of them are shiny and new and were meant to be used in the construction of three more domes. Once online, our next project, while heating up the surface of Farigha and pumping tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, was to build an enclosed underground highway to ring the equator and link all the domes. Since that’s not happening for a while, the Citizens’ Republic of Mars can do without a couple more rovers.
In reality, they can do without the fusion generators for those rovers. I’m going to replace the anemic lasers inside the fusion plant for Rover 19 with larger ones used by the drones for construction. Those, I’ll rig up to two fusion cores lifted from the newer rovers. The lasers inside a rover’s fusion core are powered up by the solar wrap and only draw enough energy to compress whatever hydrogen is in the system. The resulting helium is drawn away, cooled, and vented, which makes a fusion-powered device on this planet easy to spot.
I plan to disable the safeties, cap the helium vent, and pump enough energy into the core to fuse all the hydrogen at once. There’s not much left in 19’s core, which I put in Rover 57 to use it up. Conservation and all. But I can swap 57’s original core back and use 19’s for the bomb? Sure, I could use a new fusion core for my improvised nuke, but I have to live here after I blow up the land squid. Working on the assumption Burke’s ship is going to stumble around for months until the idiot in Antarctica gets his head out of his ass and sends a warship, I need all the fresh power supplies I can get. There’s enough hydrogen in the core from 19 to make this work, but I’d have to switch it out for a new one in a few months. And really, when you fuse all the hydrogen at once, why do you need a full tank?
Persephone will power up and drive both rovers from the pit stop herself. In the meantime, I’m going to swap 57’s original core back in and give 19 its old core back. Then I have to gut 19. Rip out the life support, the soft brain, and the supply storage. In fact, I’m going to have to rip out the control console. Persephone will drive 19 as well remotely. There will be no soft brain for her to inhabit, so 19 will be basically just another drone.
All this is to make room for the two fusion cores I plan to install. These will be vaporized at detonation. It’s really an inefficient way to make a bomb. But then look at the design of World War Era hydrogen bombs. Those set off fission reactions to trigger a fusion reaction. Dirty and wasteful, and I wonder how Earth ever recovered from just the dozen or so bombs that were fired.
Persephone calculates that we have three or four days before the land squid arrives at Solaria, more if it decides to investigate the vaults under New Ares and the pit stops. She’s found a freight drone idle in the desert since the night of the Event. We hope the land squid will get curious and try to take it apart.
Now, you may be asking yourself why I would want to make a fusion bomb to destroy the modern alien version of a Viking lander. Fair question. It is, after all, like swatting a fly with a starship’s railgun. Unfortunately, if the fly is carrying white fever or ebola, and all you have is a starship’s railgun, then the railgun is all that stands between you and certain death. Or five days of hallucinations, shitting out of every orifice, and the disappointment that you will survive in the end if it doesn’t kill you first. I don’t know what the squid can do. I don’t know its defensive capabilities. I do know it will quite likely not survive a sudden blast of heat about the temperature of the surface of 2 Mainzer. And since this whole enterprise is designed to keep me alive until whoever the hell Burke sent gets here, I’m going with the literal nuclear option.