(Written by Rob Kelk; posted January 15, 2007; revised April 2, 2007)
18:37 GMT 30 June 2011
Near the Asteroid Belt
"So what's so hard about getting an asteroid to Earth?"
"Yeah! We can do this ourselves - we don't need to pay those Rockhound chislers what they want to do the job!"
"Sergei's got his car chained to the tow cables, and ... it's on the way!"
There was a chorus of cheers from the enterprising Fen who had decided to put their very own space base in Earth orbit, to compete with The Island.
Then there was an explosion in Sergei's ship. His friends watched in horror as his lifeless body floated out of the new hole in the top of his car... which didn't slow down.
00:11 GMT 1 July 2011
Earth-Luna L5 Station Stellvia
"Yes, Mr. Secretary, I believe we can, but you'd better have a contingency plan just in case ... Oh, I see; we are the contingency plan... We'd best get to work, then. I'll be in touch, Mr. Secretary." Noah shut off the communications link with the United Nations Space Affairs Secretariat and turned to the senior staff of the Stellvia.
Yoriko looked up from her console. "The telemetry's coming in now. The asteroid's on a collision course with Aukland, and it's coming in at 0.03c."
Kohran looked shocked. "Point-oh-three-cee? How?"
"There's a converted car with a 'waved engine towing it," Noah answered. "The pilot's dead. According to his friends, he had a vacuum still in his back seat and something went wrong with it, and he didn't armour his outer hull properly."
"That poor man," whispered Sora.
"Yeah... But the car's still running, and still towing that hunk of rock. When will the idiots learn that Rockhounds uses those expensive safety measures for a reason... Anyway, Rockhounds can't handle a tumbling rock with the gear they've got nearby, the Warsies have most of their ships out on maneuvers right now, and everyone else the UN can think of isn't answering, so we're all that's standing between the Earth and that asteroid. We have slightly over eight hours before it hits Aukland. How are we going to stop it?"
Yayoi cleared her throat. "I have an idea..."
05:24 GMT 1 July 2011
Between Earth and the runaway asteroid, inside Martian orbit
"I hope to Belldandy that this works." Noah and his staff were in three ships, trying to make visual contact with the asteroid they were trying to stop.
"It should work," replied Yayoi from in front of the pilot's console of the Epsilon Blade, the first of the ships taking part in the operation. "Both Sora and Kohran worked the math and came up with the same answer. If you can't trust your top engineers, who can you trust?"
"Enough chatter," snapped Noah from his place at the secondary control console. "There's a city full of people whose lives are in our hands right now. Focus."
"You started it..." began Yayoi, who quickly stopped talking when Noah glared at her.
Sora's voice came over the bridge speaker. "Virgil Samms calling Epsilon Blade - do you read me?" The Virgil Samms was, quite literally, the fastest ship in Fenspace. Built with the absolute minimum amount of crew space, an oversized engine, and a walkie-talkie, it could hit 0.2c in a straight line. What it couldn't do was keep its occupant alive for more than a quarter-hour... unless the occupant was an android.
"We read you, Sora," replied Noah. "Anything to report?"
"Yes, sir. I see it; it's exactly where we expected it to be."
"Thank Ghu for good telemetry. Yayoi...?"
But the 'Blade's pilot was already manipulating her controls. "Laying in a course paralleling Sora's, and transmitting instructions to the Vulcan's Hearth." The Vulcan's Hearth was a cargo hauler (owned by a company headquartered in New Zealand) usually found on the Mercury-Earth run. It had been rented by the United Nations for this operation, and Yoriko was on its bridge.
"Right." Noah thumbed a switch on his panel. "Kohran, how are you doing back there?"
"Ready to go!" came the reply over the intercom. "There's only the one prototype implosion round ready to use, Noah; are you sure you want to be the one who fires it?"
The only human on the ship thought for a moment, then sighed. "Are we absolutely sure that there's nobody left alive in that car?"
"We're positive," replied Yoriko over the communications link. "The owner's friends recovered his body two hours ago, and they all agree that he travelled alone."
"So there's no chance that there'll be any complications from whatever-it-is that keeps the miracle goop from hurting people. Fujisawa, transferring fire control to your console." Noah tapped a few spots on the touchscreen, and the railgun controls there went dark as they lit up on Yayoi's board.
"Receipt of firing control acknowledged."
Kohran's voice came over the intercom. "The round's loaded and ready, sir!"
"Good," answered Noah. "Head down to the engine room and get ready for phase two."
"On my way!"
06:33 GMT 1 July 2011
"Vulcan's Hearth to Epsilon Blade - we're here!"
"Epsilon Blade to Vulcan's Hearth - glad you could make it. Epsilon Blade to Vulcan's Hearth and Virgil Samms - hold your positions relative to us; the fireworks are about to start." Noah turned to Yayoi. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, sir." Yayoi's hand was already poised over the weapon controls.
"Let's show off our mastery of gravity tech, then. Take out that car's engine."
"Aye, sir. Firing one round."
Because its own engine was being re-tuned in flight, the Epsilon Blade shook as a munition shot from its railgun. Yayoi tracked the round: "Twenty seconds to impact... Fifteen seconds... Ten... Five, four, three, two, one... impact."
The implosion round hit Sergei's car, and every gravity meter in the area spiked. The round srunk in upon itself, smaller and smaller, until it was a pinpoint - and then it sucked itself out of the universe as it became a micro-black hole, taking the car's front end with it. It dissolved almost immediately, of course, but it had done its job; the asteroid was no longer under powered flight.
There were cheers throughout the flotilla. Noah thumbed the intercom to the engine room. "Kohran, your five-million-dollar prototype worked. Remind me to let you build more when we get back home."
"Ready for phase two?"
The asteroid was no longer moving under power, but it was still a menace to navigation and might still hit Earth eventually. Phase two of the operation would remove those problems.
It took the Vulcan's Hearth ten minutes to maneuver in close enough to the asteroid to almost touch it, because of the ship's size. It took the Virgil Samms the same amount of time to move in, because of its paltry maneuvering controls. Once both of those ships were in position, the Epsilon Blade took ninety seconds to move into its position - the third point of an equilateral triangle drawn around the asteroid.
"Epsilon Blade to Vulcan's Hearth - hold position relative to the other two ships and keep your drive active."
"Understood, Noah," replied Yoriko. "I'm just along for the ride, right?"
"You and me both, pretty lady. Epsilon Blade to Virgil Samms - are you ready, Sora?"
"As ready as I'll ever be..."
"Okay. Yayoi, are you ready?"
"The controls indicate we're ready, Noah."
Noah shook his head. "I can see that. Are you ready? I know you have some problems with using gravtech this way..."
"It's my pre-programmed fears against the lives of thousands of people, sir. I can handle it."
"All right; I trust you. Epsilon Blade to all ships - countdown from five to zero."
At that, any external observer would have seen all three ships' drives begin to glow silver with the massive power being put through them. Bubbles of that silver power formed around the ships, touching the asteroid at three points.
"Five, four, three, two, one, NOW!"
The bubbles around the two smaller ships started spinning in place, grinding against the asteroid. After a few seconds, it was obvious to anyone with sensitive instruments that the asteroid was both slowing and being moved onto a new course. After a half-minute, the asteroid popped out from between the ships, serenely floating off in a new orbit that would take it nowhere near Earth's.
"All engines stop," ordered Noah. The bubbles disappeared. "Damage reports, please; I need to know how much this bit of world-saving just cost..."
05:00 GMT 2 July 2011
Earth-Luna L5 Station Stellvia
The Vulcan's Hearth had finally brought the Virgil Samms back to its home port; the smaller ship's engine had burnt out when its purposefully-unbalanced drive field was shut down. It was moved to drydock beside the Epsilon Blade, which had managed to limp home only because it had two engines to begin with. (The Vulcan's Hearth, which hadn't unbalanced its drive, was still in excellent operating condition and had already gone back to its owners.)
The station's senior staff were in an unusual circumstance - being personally rewarded by the United Nations' Secretary of Space Affairs, on television.
"... and I'm sure that I speak for all the citizens of Aukland, who are watching this broadcast this fine evening, when I extend my deepest thanks to the crew of this fine space station who saved both Aukland and Earth from certain destruction."
"Please, it was nothing," replied Yoriko. "We were just doing what's right."
After a few more minutes of pleasantries, the ceremony was finally over, and the video feed shut off. "Right," said Noah once he was sure the New Zealanders we no longer listening, "we'll be sending you the bill for ship repairs."
"What? Your assistant just said you saved Earth because it was the right thing to do!"
"That's why she saved Earth."
"What about the gratuity Rockhounds promised us for doing this job?" asked Yayoi.
"That only covers half of our costs. Ships don't grow on trees..."
"Except maybe at the Stone Temple," whispered Yoriko.
"That's just a rumour," Sora whispered back.
"As I was saying," interrupted Noah, "ships don't grow on trees - we need to build them, or re-build them, to be ready for the next asteroid that somebody tosses at Earth."
"All right, all right, we'll pay your bill. Mercenary bastard..."
Noah glared at the secretary. "My parents were married long before I was born."
"But he's not disputing the 'mercenary' part..." whispered Yoriko with a grin.
Noah turned to look straight at her. "For that, you get night operations duty for the rest of the week."