|The Beginning of the End
Author: The-Old-Contemptible PM
Read n' review, lads. I may add more chapters depending on feedback- here's hoping there's feedback at all. My first story for this site.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi - Words: 2,451 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 1 - Published: 05-05-11 - id: 6966674
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Over the Scottish Countryside
The Mil-9 "Hip-7" transport helicopter cruised over the Scottish woods at a leisurely clip. Inside, fifteen soldiers of the 33rd "Black Bats" Special Operations Unit made last-minute weapons checks.
"Ten seconds!" yelled Captain Dmitri Savilov. The weapons checks became slightly more frantic. Savilov himself snapped a clip into his Nikonov AN-94 assault rifle. He could have done it earlier, but it felt satisfying to do it. It was the final preparation.
The helicopter had been painted in "night" camouflage, or irregular blotches of dark blues and grays. Small LEDs had been set into the fuselage at intervals, which twinkled like stars. From a distance the helicopter (combined with custom-built noise dampers) would appear nothing more than the night sky itself.
That was what the Russians were counting on.
Sea-Land-Air-Missile Shield (SLAMS) Uplink Station Alpha (Scottish Section)
Captain Jean DeRosier, commander of Station Alpha, strode through the main hall, leading from the entrance to the control area.
Alpha was responsible for twenty-seven satellites, stationed mainly over the Americas, including one directly over Kennedy Space Centre. Although just a precaution, the Space Centre possessed facilities that could be converted to launch ICBMs, and the SLAMS network had to cover all the bases.
It was this efficiency that would be their downfall.
The helicopter banked slightly and finally came to a hover at a secluded clearing in the woods. Since no vehicles could be used on this mission, a surveillance team had spent months scouring sat photos for a suitable LZ.
Inside the "Hip", two trap doors were opened in the floor of the helo. Ropes attached to jettsionable magnetic clips were pushed out. The four squads lined up by the ropes, two to each rope. At a signal from Savilov, they slid down, then began the (short) process of securing the LZ.
DeRosier grinned as he overlooked the long rows of technicians, tapping at keyboards and tweaking dials. It felt good to see his men doing their job. They acted like what they were, cogs in a well-oiled machine.
DeRosier walked to his office, still grinning. He had done well to get this post, a nice cushy one far behind any conceivable battle line. A good place for a computer geek. But really, they were all computer geeks here.
Of course, they had a weapons locker, veritably bursting with Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifles, but it had been a long time since basic training, probably the last time any of them had fired a weapon.
In any case, DeRosier reminded himself, they had a quartet of missile-and-machine-gun armed "Hunter" combat drones. They would be more than enough.
The black-ops team emerged from the woods, surrounding the Uplink in a sort of half-circle. The range of "Hunter" combat drones was well known, and the soldiers were steering well clear of them. Carefully Savilov eased a small black box out of his pocket. The drones' multi-sensor pods contained acoustic sensors as well, and they would zero in on any loud noise.
The box was, in fact, a drone control, scavenged from a now-defunct EF military base. The good thing about this box, though, was that it could interact with any EF drone. The team had obtained emergency shut-down codes from a mole within the EF's Enforcer Corps. Carefully, so as not to make any noise, Savilov punched in the numbers. The effect was instantaneous. Immediately the drones stopped in their tracks, sparked, and went still. Savilov almost laughed. Too easy.
Moving slowly, the team approached the outer blast door. The day code for that door had been obtained from that same mole. Savilov entered it, then moved to the secondary door, this one requiring a fingerprint scan.
Seeing as they did not possess the finger of a worker, the team had no choice. The explosives expert, Gorshkov, moved to the door, C4 in hand.
By this time, DeRosier was deep into his one guilty pleasure: World of Warcraft. He and his orc tribe were conducting a raid on a human fortress when a muffled boom rocked the building. Almost immediately, red lights began to go off, and alarms wailed
"Shit!" DeRosier yelled. He leaped from his chair and ran towards the main control room. Panic would be setting in, and he couldn't have that.
Once inside, the team had moved with marked efficiency, quickly locking down the control room. As Captain DeRosier sprinted frantically around a corner, Markusov, company sniper, had topped him.
The technicians, huddled together in the centre of the room, took DeRosier's death as a portent of what was to come if they didn't cooperate (and rightly so). They were only too eager to show the team to the mainframe, where Savilov reached into a blastproof pouch and grabbed a small Kevlar CD case. He opened it to reveal a compact disc, which he inserted into the computer. A "loading" bar appeared on one of the screens.
Once the program had been completely downloaded, the disc ejected. The program had now embedded itself into the computer network, which would make it virtually untraceable until it began to run. Then, as per their orders, the black-ops team quickly and efficiently locked the technicians in a storage room and headed outside.
The air was cool on Savilov's face as he walked outside, pulling down his balaclava. The adrenalin pounding through his veins slowly subsided, and his heartbeats calmed. He safetied his Nikonov, then turned to his radioman.
"The mission's complete. Request extraction"
Twenty minutes later, they were heading home.
The disc Savilov had inserted into the mainframe was in fact the "Stiletto" virus, designed by Russian computer technicians to affect the fire control system of a SLAMS satellite. Since the SLAMS system detected all rocket launches, it was small matter to write a program that would cause a SLAMS satellite to misread a harmless civilian rocket launch as a Class-II nuclear-armed ICBM. Since the SLAMS system displayed the type of rocket launched on the controller's screen, then gave him the option whether to allow or deny a laser strike, it would be a simple matter. Invariably the controller would allow a laser strike if the launch was "read" as an ICBM. It was almost too easy.
In this case, the civilian rocket was the Freedom 4 lifter.
Kennedy Space Centre
Cocoa Beach, Florida
"A record crowd has amassed for the launch of the Freedom 4. Over one million people have pushed and shoved their way into the official viewing area to watch as the final piece of the Freedom Star orbiting battle platform is put into place. These astronauts have an historic task, and only the best were chosen to receive this honour. And here come the astronauts now! Five of our best and brightest, and we wish them all the best as they embark to ensure America's rightful domination of the cosmos— and beyond! This is Tom McMaster, CNN Newsworld."
Tom McMaster stepped out of the frame and drew a finger across his throat, signalling for his cameraman to stop filming.
"Not bad, Tom" his cameraman, "Jimbo" Hill, remarked. "Hell, might even get shown this time." McMaster grinned.
"Shut it, ya Texan asshole. What d'you know about television anyway?" They shared a chuckle.
Hill fiddled with a few switches, than gently set the camera down on a pile of equipment boxes. He was a tall, burly fellow, with a handlebar moustache, ratty T-shirt, and drooping gut. He took off his sweat-stained Confederate-flag baseball cap and fanned himself with it, then strolled over to where McMaster was. They both stared at the rocket.
McMaster picked up a plastic cup and swigged deeply, then grimaced.
"Tastes like stale horse piss" he growled, a phrase borrowed from Hill. Hill punched him lightly in the arm.
"Hey, little buddy," he said, "you're learnin'" They chuckled once more, then directed their attention towards the rocket.
On the long elevator ride up to the rocket, Col. (USAF-SSC) Russ McConnell checked his launch suit for about the fiftieth time. There really was nothing he needed to check on the bulky orange thing, but it was a sort of security ritual, a good-luck thing.
McConnell, a fit, fiftyish, soldier with a gray crew cut and trimmed moustache, had made about twelve launches in various vehicles. Each launch he had checked his suit on the elevator ride up. His rate of failure, malfunction, abortion, etc., was zero. Every launch he made (apart from some small quirks; every launch had a few) had been a complete success. McConnell wasn't particularly superstitious, but better safe than sorry, he figured.
As the elevator reached the top, the astronauts snapped their helmets on and bid each other the traditional "Godspeed" before boarding the rocket.
Settling into his "astronaut couch", McConnell reflected on this mission, possibly the most important one of his career. It would also be his last. He planned on announcing his retirement once they had landed. He was acutely aware of the fact that, once this mission was over, he would most likely never go up again. To that end, he would have to concentrate extra hard to absorb every possible sensation of this mission.
He nodded to himself and began working his way through the pre-launch checklist. Twenty seconds passed, most of it spent trying to push a button or twist a knob or flip a switch, while wearing a pair of the biggest, bulkiest, gloves imaginable. Somehow, he managed to complete his checks. Suddenly, the voice of Mission Control crackled in his helmet.
"T-minus ten seconds. Good luck boys" Familiar pre-launch adrenalin flooded McConnell's veins.
"T-minus six seconds. Ignition sequence start" The entire launch vehicle began to shake, as if straining to leave the ground.
"T-minus five. Ignite booster rockets" The rumbling shake now became a rattling roar.
"T-minus four, three, two, one, ZERO! Godspeed boys! America flies with you!"
"T-plus three. You have cleared the tower"
McConnell felt his mouth stretch into a tight smile. They were off.
The controller of the JFK Space Centre area was jolted out of his boredom by the notification that a Class-II ICBM had been launched from JFK. A satellite was in position, ready to strike.
Not knowing much about US affairs (and not particularly liking the US either) the controller was somewhat oblivious to the fact the Freedom 4 was being launched that day. Still, if the system had read it wrong, and the launch was a civilian one, the controller preferred not to know. Since they had only had two malfunctions in five years, he figured the US was probably testing some new ICBM design. This could only mean they were planning to build ICBMs. Which was a gross defiance of international law. Whatever they got, the controller was sure they'd deserve it.
Smiling grimly, he authorized a laser strike.
SLAMSAT 143453 was perfect for this job. The satellite had been charging for three months, since its last tests fire. At full power, a SLAMSAT could keep up continuous, almost invisible, laser fire for up to ten minutes at full power. Thirty seconds at full power was enough to take down most missiles.
The SLAMSAT locked on to the Freedom 4's heat signature, made a minor course correction, and opened fire.
Aboard the Freedom 4
Six seconds after liftoff, the orbiter jolted sharply. McConnell was alarmed at first, but when nothing further occurred, he settled back into his seat. All launches had their quirks. So far McConnell's luck had held.
About a half-second later, Kevin Thompson, the flight engineer, reported abnormal heat readings from the boosters' fuel tank, a huge gray cylinder secured to the orbiter with explosive bolts. McConnell almost laughed. Malfunctioning heat sensors were nothing new. He had just begun to relate (in response to the young officer's worried tone) a long story about how, on his first mission, the heat sensors had malfunctioned and he'd almost aborted the mission, when the fuel tank, and the rocket boosters, and the internal fuel tanks within the orbiter itself, exploded. The Freedom 4 was blown into thousands of twisted, charred pieces of metal and flesh that began to fall slowly and inexorably towards the launch site.
The evacuation of the launch site had taken shorter than expected. The civilians seemed to understand the bits of flaming metal and whatever else was up there would take almost five minutes to fall back to earth, and they had vacated the premises in a surprisingly orderly manner.
Preliminary reports stated that the laser beam which destroyed the Freedom 4 had come from a Scottish-registered SLAMSAT attached to the EF division. President Belzer immediately arranged a secure phone call with the EF's administrator.
"I assume you've already heard of this…accident. It was an accident, wasn't it, Administrator Kreisler?"
The President's first barrage was calculated to put Kreisler on the defensive. It worked, too.
"We have spoken with the parties involved. They have determined that the fire-control system malfunctioned"
Kreisler's voice sounded weary, the sort of weariness that comes only from suppressed anger.
"Sure," said Belzer, a sneer in his voice "like how your anti-aircraft system malfunctioned when you brought down that U2?"
"We…" Kreisler protested weakly. Belzer cut him off.
"Like how your police force malfunctioned when you arrested and tortured our ambassador for an assassination committed by an African warlord?"
"That was— we didn't know! Our evidence—"
"What evidence? We asked for it. You couldn't produce any."
"We had! We just…" his voice trailed off.
"You had evidence? Did that malfunction too?"
Kreisler exploded: "Du Verdammte Arschloch!"
"Language, Heini, language"
"Fuck you, you warmongering, mind-game-playing asshole"
"Fuck you too, you fear-mongering, heartless SOB"
Standing near the President, listening in on the extension, two officials of each nation gaped with disbelief at the exchange currently going down. They exchanged worried glances, and, for the moment, were all thinking the same thing: This is not good.
Several minutes later, Belzer slammed the phone down, a tight grin on his face. So it was official: the tenuous friendship between the EF and the USA was over. Belzer would need help if he was going to take them on, and he knew who he was going to ask.
President Kapalkin would probably be expecting his call.