Authors: C. T. Christensen
Text copyright © 2014 Charles T. Christensen
All Rights Reserved
Tuesday, 8 September 2133:
1336 hours Uniform Time (UT).
“WARNING – ENTRY INTO ATMOSPHERE AT CURRENT VELOCITY EXCEEDS SCREEN SYSTEM DESIGN LIMITS.”
“WARNING – DRIVE SYSTEM OPERATING AT LIMITER SETTING.”
Lieutenant Josiah West of the United States Federation Navy, rather curtly, cut off the mounting stream of audio alarms: “Acknowledged; take all internal systems and life-support offline except for nav, command, recorders, and inertial compensators. Bring the secondary reactor online and increase power to the forward screens by thirty percent; screen limiter override is authorized. Initiate start-up sequence for the mass-lock system. Redirect all command input to voice only and close forward shutters. Seal all bulkheads. Erect the crash-cage on my mark.”
then reached to his left and lifted the survival suit helmet off the clips. Given the normal operational purpose of Kaleidoscope, the high level of maintenance it received, the system redundancy, and the massive structure that made it such an oddity in the modern Navy, it was not a normal procedure for anyone onboard to be wearing a survival suit. But, this was a post-maintenance check ride and Josiah knew people that knew people in R&D, so he was checking their latest model for comfort and general operational problems.
opped to look at the unusual and heavy helmet. The new model suit incorporated detuned features of Marine powered combat suits. It was heavier and thicker than a normal light-duty survival suit and incorporated light armor, powered joints, a level 2 med package, and a Styer series IV integrated com and surveillance system without the weapons and combat upgrades, of course. He smiled slightly as he lowered the helmet over his head; he might be about to give this suit a test that would go down in the record books.
As it reached the lower neck ring he gave it a slight back and forth turn
to aid the alignment sensors. An audible “CLICK” indicated proper seating and the internal displays lit and sequenced through a systems check. The film screen video system on the inside of the closed helmet shutter illuminated and gave him a view that was near impossible to tell from an eyeball version.
ost of the lights on the command deck had gone out as well as most of the control panel. The glow of the forward screening field as Kaleidoscope punched into the atmosphere was abruptly cut off when the blast shutters slid up to cover the large flat panels of the ceramo-plast ports--the only direct vision panels in the entire ship. He also knew that the passenger deck had gone dark and quiet at the same time though he couldn’t hear the blower noise stop because of the shrieking that was starting to pick up as Kaleidoscope did something it wasn’t really designed to do.
orst part was the activation of the crash-cage. He had only experienced the antique mechanism once before at the Academy. If you were claustrophobic it wasn’t a happy memory. The cushioning of the chair ballooned explosively in coordination with the painful tightening of the harness to contain and position his body as the explosive bolts holding the pilot’s chair to the deck fired, and a gas piston rammed it back to the cage locks. Once locked and all alignment sensors were satisfied, the upper and lower cocoon sections slammed shut with a very loud and very disturbing crash: Elapsed time - two seconds. With the primary objective of protection now accomplished, the headrest sensed the presence of a helmet and attached back-up power, air, and com links to the neck ring plug points.
The inertial comp
ensators were fully combat rated for the era that the D model Panther had been in service, but little had been done to modernize the Kaleidoscope’s system because the design of those systems was dependant on a particular vessels’ structural design; Kaleidoscope had never been altered to accommodate them. That being the case, driving the compensators much past their normal limits could result in damage to human organs when it tried to suppress motions like heartbeats and breathing. The cages were intended to give that last bit of protection in an extreme situation. The Panther D originally had crash-cages for all four, unarmored, crew members on the command deck, but Kaleidoscope only had cages for the remaining two pilot positions, and they had not been used in fifty years. By current technology standards it was crude, but the standing joke was that they could keep a side of beef alive. The activation of a crash-cage had always been looked upon as the act of someone with few remaining options.
“WARNING – FORWARD SCREENS ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR THE ORDERED POWER INCREASE. SERVICE LIFE WILL BE SEVERELY DEGRADED.”
“Acknowledged! Transfer main display to my helmet system. Display overhead trajectory data and projected impact point of the Hahn Station and Kaleidoscope’s position.”
main screen display filled his field of vision as it shifted to an overhead view of Northern China and Russia. The Hahn-Wright Survey Station was a leftover from an earlier era and was in the process of being fitted with a low-traction drive system in order to move it from a polar orbit to an equatorial orbit where it was to be scrapped. Something had gone very wrong while passing over the South Pole. It had been knocked out of orbit and was now down to 130 km and 6 kps as it crossed the North Pole and entered the Russian Control Zone. Impact point calculations had narrowed to an area that covered the Northwest portion of the city of Beijing, China. It was a densely populated area and something close to a million tons of scrap metal was about to land there at a few kilometers per second. Kaleidoscope was up to 30 kps and down to 100 km heading North across the South China Sea.
Admiral 6 this is OTC. You have crossed into controlled flight-level airspace without clearance and are approaching a declared emergency situation. What are your intentions?”
West ignored the
com and continued giving orders to Kaleidoscope, “Calculate time to intercept and mass-lock the Hahn Station holding three kilometers in front of it and oriented for a reverse atmospheric entry.”
“USING CURRENT POWER LEVELS TO THE DRIVE AND SCREEN, REQUIRED INTERCEPT POSITION WILL BE ACHIEVED IN FIVE MINUTES TWENTY SECONDS.”
“WARNING – SERVICE LIFE EXPECTANCY FOR THE DRIVE AND SCREEN ARE NOW BELOW MANUFACTURER SPECIFICATIONS.”
“Acknowledged! Calculate the time to ground impact with us in that position and display it on the main screen. Disregard reporting all service life estimates that exceed that time.”
“ESTIMATED TIME FROM ASSUMING ORDERED POSITION TO IMPACT IS ELEVEN MINUTES.”
“Display power settings on the main screen for primary and secondary reactors, fore and aft screen systems, drive system, and mass-lock system. Also display loads on primary and secondary cooling systems.”
percentage list appeared to the left side of the main display in his vision.
“Increase power to the main drive as needed and any other system as needed to get us into ordered position in minimum time. All safeties off; disregard all system duration failure warnings beyond fifteen minutes from now. Defeat of all limiters is now authorized by pilotin-command. That is a system override order.”
“WARNING – ALL LIMITERS DEFEATED. INITIATING HIGH-G MANEUVERS.”
In spite of the compensators; in spite of the heavy cushioning; in spite of the reactive armor and joint locks; in spite of the helmet lock; in spite of the cocoon that pressed him in place with only room to breathe; what happened next was beyond anything he had thought possible. The last thing he saw before his vision became a blur was most of the power level numbers going straight up. Intellectually, he knew that Kaleidoscope was capable of far more than its original design specifications, but this was a shock.
It had begun life as a D model Panther Marine assault boat. Many an old-timer owed their lives to the sheer strength and ability to sustain damage that the D model had demonstrated on many occasions. But, they had passed into history and Kaleidoscope was one of the last known examples outside of a museum. It had been rescued from the breakers by Vice-Admiral--now Admiral--Arthur Jacks. It became his personal shuttle and a training device for a lot of system techs. Because it was so far out of date, there was almost no chance of getting original parts. So, it became sort of a running joke and contest between groups of techs that did training on it to see what outlandish and jaw-dropping system they could squeeze into it: Hence, the name.
With the weapons and combat systems stripped out
, and a relatively small area set up for 60 first-class passengers, the voluminous remainder of the D model presented some interesting possibilities. Every vessel in the Navy requires a full record of every system, operators manual, repair, modification and addition since the day the keel was laid. The size of the file for Kaleidoscope matched that of the typical light cruiser.
If it weren’t for safeties and limiter
systems built into the master control program, some of those additions would never have been possible. Even the massive and reinforced Aligned-Carb-Alloy hull structure was no match for the drive coils that had been pulled off a Cantor class tug that was headed for the breakers. Fed by every watt that the two reactors pulled from a scrapped heavy cruiser were capable of delivering, the drive coils were easily capable of pulling out of their stub wing mounts and ripping Kaleidoscope to pieces if logic synchronization was lost. The master control program has just been told that Kaleidoscope need only live for another fifteen minutes.
The noise and vibration were all that existed. The old model compensators couldn’t completely damp out the stresses and gyrations Kaleidoscope was going through. The shrieking of the atmosphere was growing and the forward screens were being pushed far past their normal limits. Then there was the crashing from the passenger deck. Things were being ripped off their mounts.
Suddenly...it stopped. Or...
almost stopped. The howling of atmospheric penetration was there but the vibration had settled down to more of a heavy bouncing.
“NOW IN STATIONARY POSITION RELATIVE TO THE HAHN-WRIGHT SURVEY STATION THREE KILOMETERS IN A LEADING POSITION ORIENTED FOR A REVERSE ATMOSPHERIC ENTRY. MASS-LOCK SYSTEM OPERATING IN EXTREME OVERLOAD.”
“WARNING - TIME TO IMPACT WITH GROUND LEVEL 12 MINUTES 15 SECONDS.”
“WARNING - MANUFACTURER HULL STRESS LIMITS ARE NOW BEING EXCEEDED - POSSIBLE FAILURE - TIME UNKNOWN.”
“Start increasing power to the drive. Hold our position and exert a maximum effort against the Hahn station. Limit any power levels only if increases would bring estimated remaining operational time below time to impact. Push the compensators to any level that will help structural integrity. Cancel cross-link consensus mode, and switch to single mode. Hold compensator level to normal combat program sequence on command deck.”
His eyes focused again and settled on the power level display. In the more than a yea
r that he had been the command pilot on Kaleidoscope he had never seen any of those numbers showing three digits. Being well acquainted with all of the systems involved made his heart skip a beat; it must be possible to fry an egg on the deck of the machine section right now.
The mass-lock system was the current level of attainment in the pursuit of a true tractor/presser beam. It could lock on to another mass object but not manipulate it. The ship emitting the beam became a ridged part of the object it locked onto. That worked fine for the usual purpose of moving things such as a tug would do. The two emitter housings that had been built into the leading edges of the stub wings supporting the drive coils had to be glowing. He had no idea the mass-lock system could absorb that much power. As he envisioned the, probably fatal, damage being done to the boat, the numbers began inching even higher.