The first videos of the battle arrived at the Lunar Station with a 45-minute light delay from Jupiter. Arn Lasserman, standing well over two meters tall, scratched his auburn beard and decided to share the unedited battle footage as it came in. The closest person Arn had to an ally was the Lunar Station Commander, Johannes Pellaeon, strawberry blonde, wisp thin and tall, with a nervous and calculating demeanor. In charge of the entire Lunar Colony, he was the steady tactician who managed negotiations with Earth for all resources on the moon. From food and oxygen to soil cultures, it was all under Pellaeon’s care. His demeanor was reserved and quiet; his calm face and dour complexion reflected the grey, unchanging landscape of the moon. His stride was measured and even, as he inspected the corridors on his way to the engineering wing.
Arn had invited him to his office, with overhead flat screens and half a dozen worktables covered in smartglass, all showcasing holographic projections of fission reactors, radiating coolant junctions, and his latest breakthroughs in lunar dome construction. The array of monitors gave his office the feel of a factory floor, with different views of sectioned assemblies zoomed in on specific areas, and sets of 3D holographic displays showing charts with performance variables measured over time. As Engineering Director, all research and scientific efforts were under Arn’s supervision. Pellaeon was the only civilian on the lunar colony who outranked him.
In sharp contrast to his technological expertise, Arn was a brusque, impatient man. Already through his first drink, he was standing over his wet bar, a selection of crystal decanters stocked in-depth with clear and colorful liquors. Looking up at the ping of the door chime, confirming his identity, and approving the profile his automatic scanners suggested, Arn opened the security doors. Pellaeon arrived in his crisp uniform, neutral grays with muted blues, and Arn pointed to the table where they would watch when the live videos began. Pellaeon asked for a tall scotch and Arn poured three fingers over ice. They both needed to steel their nerves before watching the battle. Calliope had already warned Arn of the treachery of Mattias.
Arn had the live feed from Calliope’s cameras because he was the one Calliope trusted most. He had huge floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the new solar fields that would open more possibilities on the moon. Soon there would be enough power to make and clean as much water as they chose, running the filters day and night, ending all water rationing. Showers could last over a minute and the idea of a bath or even a pool would no longer be ridiculous.
Arn dimmed the smartglass controls for the windows, and met Pellaeon’s eyes as they both realized this whole station could be for nothing if humanity lost the impending battle. Longer showers and other conveniences would not matter if they stirred up the aliens and didn’t finish them off. Arn pushed the main video feeds to the three largest monitors and sipped pensively.
Pellaeon leaned against one of the work desks set up around the office, holding the already half-finished drink in one hand. He and Arn settled in, watching the videos with rapt attention and few comments. The screens showed unedited battle footage live from Calliope’s array of telescopes pointed directly at the newly discovered alien asteroid. The videos of the battle were live, but with a forty-five-minute delay because of the distance out to the Trojan asteroid fields trailing Jupiter’s orbit. It had taken months of planning and building to create the ships flying to fight the aliens.
Six of the ships had been of Calliope’s design, led by Jared, their best pilot and most experienced flier. The other six were designed and built by Mattias, whose plans called for massive ships, ten times the size of Calliope’s fighters. Mattias’ ships carried hundreds of his refined missiles, the latest in offensive technology. Calliope had boosted the power supply out of her smaller fast-breed fission reactors to increase the power to her lasers, to create an effective offensive weapon of her own.
Calliope was supposed to be in this room, watching her ships with Pellaeon and Arn, but she was not. Arn looked around, a guilty feeling, knowing they had let her down. She had begged to lead the ships out instead of Jared, flying them against the enemy. Everyone involved thought that risking her would be too much against an enemy of unknown strength and unknowable capabilities. The military segment of the station, led by Admiral Sirchan, thought they had the situation under control and needed no help from this skinny slip of a girl.
The compromise had split the forces into two teams of six fighters that were supposed to work together. Mattias was to finish six ships of his design and Calliope was to finish six fighters of her smaller configuration. This spirit of cooperation ended when Mattias launched missiles to destroy Calliope while testing her craft in lunar orbit. She used her lasers and destroyed the nuclear tipped missiles, but the resulting electromagnetic pulse knocked out her electronics, rendered her ship adrift in space, and she was presumed dead.
She escaped death by riding a drone, hauling parts and robots, out to the asteroid field trailing behind Jupiter in the planet’s gravitational wake. She had been planning on making a secret installation and had all the parts required to set up a reactor on the metal and uranium rich asteroid. On the journey, she created plans for an outpost to have a shelter when she arrived. In transit, she designed the rest of the base and main cannon for the asteroid. She had travelled farther than any human had ever been, tagging along on her ad hoc resupply drone. In a few months, her outpost was now a fully functional station with camera feeds, telescopes keeping sentry duty, and a cannon through the center of the asteroid. She planned her entire station around an enormous fission reactor hooked directly into the extensive supplies of uranium within the asteroid. How she had been eating and surviving were still a mystery. With an immense supply of power and metal, she could build almost anything except food. Her transmission showed an exhausted and emaciated girl.
Calliope had wanted a high-powered station capable of defending itself and having engines capable of moving it. In the months before the planned battle with the aliens, she had set her builder bots to create nothing but 3D printers capable of making everything she would need. While she perfected her plans, she set her resources to creating as many builder bots as possible.
Her newly formed army transformed the entire asteroid. She tunneled a core to creating the biggest cannon in the solar system. First, she used Arn’s fission reactor plans to power her army of workers. She used this army of builder bots and 3D printers to transform all the materials of the asteroid into an army of rovers, batteries, and defensive armaments. She also made arrays of telescopes, cameras and surveillance equipment.
Sent through Calliope’s laser communications array, the videos were all focused on the alien activity, first discovered eight weeks ago. The aliens had been excavating an asteroid, intently working, unaware of Calliope’s station or its construction.
Arn and Pellaeon watched the aliens fly in and out of the central tunnel of the asteroid. There were many theories as to what the aliens were building, but none substantiated. Was the entire structure one large hive? Their shimmering hulls and shape defying construction made it impossible to tell which ships they had seen before and which were new, and thus no count of how many there were. The myriad of identical workers reminded them of Earth. Their actions seemed disconcertingly like wasps or bees hovering around a nest.
Arn and Pellaeon had concentrated on finishing their ships for attacking and destroying the aliens. The reality, after months of preparation and travel, was that the battle would begin a full five hours earlier than anticipated. The entire station had been scheduled to be in the auditorium at midnight, to watch the fate of humanity unfold. Instead, Arn had gotten Calliope’s message that Mattias had accelerated his six ships ahead of his rendezvous with Jared’s squadron. Mattias was attacking the aliens on his own, thinking his missile technology would easily destroy the aliens within their asteroid. For the aliens being attacked, this would effectively cut the human force in half. Half could be dealt with and destroyed, while the other half would come and face the prepared and fully warned alien fleet afterwards.
Calliope had informed Jared’s forces of these events, and Jared had accelerated to catch up, but he would still be late with his six ships. How late, would depend on how he chose to accelerate and push his pilots to join the fight. Calliope hoped the cannon she created through the middle of her observation post would tip the balance of the battle in favor of the humans.
When first getting Arn’s call, Pellaeon almost thought Arn was playing a joke, his mean-spirited sense of humor was well known. On reflection of Mattias’ erratic interpretation of lunar station rules, Pellaeon decided this was no joke. It was Mattias who had tried to kill Calliope and forced her to escape to her self-imposed exile out in Jupiter’s orbit.
Pellaeon said, “What about Admiral Sirchan? Won’t he want to see this live?”
Arn snapped, “Sirchan? He is the one that saddled us with that idiot Mattias in the first place. If Sirchan doesn’t know Mattias has forged ahead on his own, let him find out in due course.“
Pellaeon knew there would be consequences for cutting out Sirchan, the moon’s sole provider of supplies from Earth, but the immediate threat was from the aliens. “Arn, in case all twelve ships get destroyed in this battle, what would be our plan?”
“I already have builder bots working around the clock on two more ship engines. The hulls are easier to make and can be done more quickly. Calliope sent me plans to double the number of lasers fore and aft on the ship. The power split from the reactor is pretty good. So, if we lose all our ships, we’ll have two more here, ready in a week or so.”
Pellaeon recoiled. “Around the clock? You know I want the robots all constantly supervised. What if we wake up and they drilled a hole in a wall? What if we don’t wake up?”
“I think we are past this argument.”
Pellaeon thought about what a stubborn fool Arn was and opened his mouth, then closed it as another idea occurred to him.
“The rumors are true? Calliope is still alive out there, and building as fast as our entire station? I thought that it couldn’t be true, the amount of things she is creating. It all sounds like the wishful thinking of desperate people.”
“She has designed and created an enormous cannon, an entire station to control it, an army of builder bots, and a laser-line communications array to broadcast it all back to us. She said she has an escape ship in case her asteroid is overrun, and now she says that Mattias has arrived early by almost six hours. You may doubt anything you like, Commander, but for me, I will never doubt that girl again.”
Pellaeon said, “It can’t all be true. How much of that could she really have built in the time she has been up there? How is she building more than we are?”
Arn looked angry and bit back his first answer. “She isn’t, really. She has her robots working around the clock, completely unsupervised if I know her. She has my plans, the real work, and is just running the robots constantly.”
Pellaeon thought it over. “Still, she is building so much.”
Downing his drink, Arn said, “It’s the type of things she is building. We built complicated ships and processing systems. She dug a tunnel and configured a supercollider in it. The supercollider is set to overload and fire and she calls it a cannon. Brilliant invention if it works, but simple. She left the whole thing in vacuum. It’s a lot simpler.”
Pellaeon made a face.
Arn furrowed his brow and tried to think of ways to explain. “Once we do the hard work, the science, the planning and the testing, it is easy to execute on them. The latest builder bots can be left alone to do the work. Digging, reinforcing tunnels, hauling dirt, and pulling ore, these are simple tasks, and we could do tons of it just by creating tons of bots. We could do a dozen tunnels here, we don’t even know if her scheme to aim a supercollider will work.”
“Weaponize a supercollider?”
“They were always dangerous, if you accelerate the particles and miss the configurations it could be an enormous explosion.”
Pellaeon frowned. “Is that safe?”
“Not in the least. It would be enough to take out the entire Lunar Colony if we did it here and it wasn’t aligned perfectly.”
“How did she get it right, then? Are we sure she is still alive up there?”
Arn laughed and pointed at his hanging monitors. “Who said she got it right? She has more titanium and aluminum than we do. I think she picked a really good asteroid for metals and uranium.”
Pellaeon made a noise in the back of his throat. “Isn’t she supposed to bring an asteroid like that back here, for the entire moon to use?”
Arn smiled. “Well, we took the last three from her when she brought them in, didn’t we?”
Arn watched the logic of this sink in on Pellaeon’s face.
“Damn that girl. At least she can watch over the battle, make certain we win it. Is she even watching this?”
“Of course. Whose cameras do you think these are? She is not only alive, she may have tipped the balance of this fight in our favor. If her cannon works.”
Arn emphasized the if.
Pellaeon said, “That cannon is what worries me. Who knew that was possible? Or that she could do that? If that cannon works, it could change the nature of our warfare.”
Arn ran his fingers through his great auburn beard, scratched his throat scruff, and considered this.
Pellaeon interrupted, “Mattias is there? I thought he launched on time for the rendezvous with Jared’s force? This couldn’t be a mistake then?” Pellaeon paused to consider this, continued, “She is out there, watching this live? And you’ve seen Mattias and his six ships? This isn’t hearsay? He has arrived early?”
Arn said, “Yes, he has arrived early. I have seen Mattias and his ships. She broadcasted them.”
Arn adjusted the smallest screen and zoomed hard onto what looked like almost nothing. After zooming considerably, Pellaeon and Arn saw them. Unmistakably Mattias’ ships, with their fat rear-ends, built to house fusion reactors that were not yet feasible, let alone created.
Pellaeon said, “There is no chance this is some sort of mistake? Is there any way this could play to our favor?”
Arn looked into the bottom of his now empty glass, took a moment to think how to answer, and looked at Pellaeon, “How could it possibly be? What would ever be helpful about dividing our forces? This must be some stupidity on the part of Mattias; it must be his fascination with those idiotic missiles. He must think he will win the whole battle himself before anyone else even arrives.”
Pellaeon was aghast, “Would Calliope even help Mattias? I expect she would shoot him first. He has been trying to kill her for some time.”
Arn said, “You might think she would make him collateral damage. I know I would, but she will watch. She is hungry for revenge, but cold. She knows our fate rides on this battle. If we reveal ourselves to the aliens, and get our asses kicked? You understand what sort of message that would send.”
Pellaeon did. There was nothing a predator liked more than killing and eating a weaker prey. And with that, the ships came into sharper view. A loose array of all six ships flying in a line, was sliding into their view screen.
Pellaeon groaned, “Why are they flying like that? Shouldn’t they form up and get shoulder to shoulder with the ships? Shouldn’t they fight as a unit?”
Arn folded his arms and picked up the bottle and took a swig. In the talking and watching, he had misplaced his glass. Unable to move his eyes from the screen, his hand clattered around, and giving up, he took another drink from the bottle.
The footage was like a nightmare, worse than anyone could have dreamed. Watching the first six ships piloted by Mattias approaching the alien asteroid felt like a slow-motion scene in a horror movie. Mattias had launched his missiles and they accelerated from his ships in a large cluster, rocketing to the alien asteroid. Watching humanity’s hopes flying in a single cluster was agonizing.
Mattias’ faith and certainty in his missile technology was complete. He shot what must be almost all his missiles at the alien asteroid. The missiles tracked into the asteroid, and then, nothing. No explosion, nothing. The missiles had gone into the asteroid, disappeared inside a small outer hole where the alien ships clustered and returned, but there seemed to have been no reaction. The suspense was horrifying, and the expectation palpable. A large flare of heat erupted as the asteroid dissipated the explosion. With no great show of fireworks, no enormous explosions, there was only one clear answer, the missiles were completely ineffective against the aliens. The aliens had some way of electromagnetically containing the blast. It was the worst possible disaster.
Pellaeon’s mouth pulled back in a rictus of horror as the asteroid broke apart and the alien ships separated, and took on a life of their own as their engines flared. The entire alien asteroid had been hollowed out and reconstructed, from the interior out, as ships. Interlocking, fully functional, piloted craft. All set to break apart and punch through Mattias and his meager fleet of six.
The aliens swarmed quickly, engulfed and ripped apart Mattias’ meager band of ships. The videos changed abruptly, with a streak of bright, intense, light flashing through the aliens. Calliope, from a distance, fired repeatedly into the intense crowd of alien ships. Her huge cannon pounded away relentlessly. The aliens swarmed like a hornet’s nest of coordinated action, forming a spiraling funnel of fighters heading directly at Calliope and her asteroid cannon.
The alien ships blurred as they flew faster than the telescopes could focus. A second telescope had a view of the sheer number of alien craft getting silenced by the giant laser blasts from Calliope’s cannon. This telescope was on a smaller piece of debris that Calliope had nearby, to triangulate the views together as a single 3D rendering. The alien ships sparked, vented air, and melted. Some breaking apart totally, others that were only grazed would sometimes simply continue accelerating on their trajectory, lost to the battle. Arn wondered if perhaps the controls within the ships were fried with the aliens trapped inside, or if the inhabitants were cooked as well.
As the aliens swarmed onto Calliope’s asteroid, still taking incredible losses as they closed the distance, Calliope’s surface defenses popped up in unison and started pounding the alien force at close quarters. Pellaeon pumped a fist and drained his scotch as he watched the battle unfold.
Jared and his ships could be seen arriving on the scene. His force came into focus as the telescopes on Calliope’s asteroid registered his six fighters. They were following up the tail of the long line of attackers, flying in a tight formation, approaching alien ships from behind, methodically culling numbers.
The following jump cuts of video from camera to camera were impossible to follow as the fight went around and around the small asteroid at high speed. The asteroid wrenched into the melee, spinning as if of its own accord and suddenly turning in a different direction.
Finally, Jared’s ships were seen flying past a camera, all six still in formation. The holes in their hulls and the battle scarring were visible even without magnification. The ships flowed past and the footage dropped off.
Calliope popped on screen in full vac-suit, helmet on, and gave a brief report, “All alien ships destroyed. They fought to the very last ship. Jared’s ships are coming in to land while we search through the video of the battle to see if any of Mattias’ ships made it out alive.”
Arn noted grimly that Calliope looked like hell. She was talking into the camera under emergency yellow lighting with dust hanging all around the air behind her. She looked gaunt and haggard, and her eyes were sunken and puffy. Arn couldn’t tell if that was just the sweat she was bathed in or if she had been crying as well. Her cheekbones looked sharp, and the planes of her face were angular and prominent.
Arn said, “She looks worse for wear, but solid.” Arn shook his head. “What she did was truly heroic.”
Pellaeon smiled; he was elated with the results. He loved a good, tidy political solution. He cared more for results than heroism. Mattias had been such a thorn in the side of the administration. Pellaeon almost didn’t regret his death. Almost. Pellaeon was wise enough to know that Mattias was just the point of the spear of the moon’s senior military commander, Admiral Sirchan. Mattias had been wielded with great care and skill to be a weapon and an obstruction to all of Sirchan’s supposed foes.
Sirchan was the one who had wanted enormous ships, enormous plans, and total control. He had been corrupting the engineering process since his arrival on the moon, breaking protocol and fraternizing with civilian designers and subverting the designs from the very beginning. Pellaeon wished Sirchan had been on one of the ships that did not survive. Mattias could have been steered into some low-level post. Having to watch Mattias lead his six ships into a slaughter was hard to watch, no matter how much he brought it on himself.
Pellaeon asked Arn, “We are only 45 minutes behind the action?”
Arn was already running the early scenes of the battle watching Mattias and his ships and tracking their flight trajectories on a data pad.
Arn sat next to Pellaeon, leaning in to check his figures. “Calliope hooked me into her live feed from that asteroid.”
Pellaeon looked at Arn, “It was an impressive win. That cannon Calliope made is incredible.”
Arn nodded, “I suppose you could say that it has been field tested, no? Scientifically proven beyond any doubt?”
Pellaeon looked at Arn, in no mood for humor. “Sirchan will want that cannon. He will want it above all else.”
Arn frowned. “Not even Sirchan can be that short-sighted. Calliope is clearly the golden goose. She will create more cannons, more inventions. Not even Sirchan can be that stupid.”
Pellaeon shook his head. “He will get what he wants; he controls all supplies to the moon. He is that stupid and more. That rare combination of stupidity, luck, and bravado. He has made his own rise, escaping out from under mistake after mistake. I will tell you about it sometime. For now, we need to inform the station that we have won.”
With that Pellaeon left. Neither toasted the victory. For both, the win was too bittersweet, the alien capabilities too great, and the astounding achievements of Calliope were sure to unleash another power struggle on the solar system. Her lasers on the ships were certain to cause enough trouble. Her enormous asteroid cannon could start wars with people fighting to control it. The cannon was a great power with no real controls attached to it. Arn saw the implications and knew enough of Pellaeon to know that he did as well.
Earth would not be immune from wanting that sort of power. Calliope could put holes in cities from orbit if she liked.
Arn knew a little of Pellaeon and his history. Pellaeon had commanded ground forces and liberated a lot of small enclaves of humans either surrounded or subjugated by aliens and their technology. Most official accounts tended to remove the fact that aliens had landed on Earth and conducted ground offenses during the invasion. It was all rumor and hearsay, but Arn had been well connected into the mesh of military officials and contractors from his time making nuclear submarines. He had contacts throughout the United States Navy and heard rumors from politicians as well.
Arn winced, recoiling at the memories and put down the bottle. Watching the battle had drained him. He felt weary and sent out a meeting request marked urgent, summoning an all hands meeting for nuclear engineers on emergency level priority. He would tell them and show them all the video. He needed to buy some time to think through the consequences of this battle.
Arn needed to know how Calliope returning triumphant, and an irate Admiral Sirchan would play out. Arn didn’t like any of the conclusions he was coming to. He decided he would have to go through Pellaeon or even call some of his own contacts back Earth-side to try to get Calliope off the moon as fast as possible. Arn stopped to consider if she would even come back, an ugly thought. He saw nothing short of all-out war, that asteroid-sized laser cannon was something that Sirchan would not leave to his usual behind the scenes machinations. This was something he would stick his neck out for. Sirchan might risk a great deal for power like that.
If Calliope had thought she had seen Sirchan play dirty already, she hadn’t seen anything yet. Sirchan would go berserk and Arn wanted the moon to be ready. Arn had a few contacts he could meet with to try to help keep the peace. He decided he better get in touch with a few of the more heavily armed ones first.