A Job for Ash
After arriving at Alchibah we put ourselves into a slightly inclined equatorial orbit 600 miles up from the surface. This would give us a good view of the temperate regions though we would have to scan the polar areas at a later date. The inclination permitted stereo views to be processed from shots taken on different passes. We certainly had enough to look at for now. The ship’s instruments were scanning Alchibah’s physical data. Things like atmosphere, cloud cover and densities, magnetic field strength, surface temps, water coverage, volcanic activity, and, as much as deep radar permitted, mineral deposits. We were taking in thousands of images for the colonists to examine. There was a big screen set up in the dining area and some of the most interesting were shown for all to see. At least four people were involved in examining every image and rating them for colony site suitability. This was such an important decision that everyone’s input was needed.
I was still busy but had found a few moments to sit with Janie in engineering. Arte Clark had been there when I entered but shortly he left saying that he had something to attend to and would be right back.
We were looking at upland plains, others were viewing coastal areas and still others near shore islands. Each screen shot had a location based on latitude, easy to figure, and longitude based on the tip of what we were calling Meridian Island. As the magnetic field data came in we also recorded the deviation data. Luckily ‘Magnetic North’ was such that non electronic compasses would align with their needles pointing so that east was in the sunrise position but the location of the magnetic pole was some 30 degrees away from the geographic pole. This could have been an indication that the two magnetic poles were about to reverse, something which has happened many times on Earth, though never when science was advanced enough to study how fast it happened. Whatever mineralogical data was available was tagged and coded into the image header for inclusion into the main database. Any comment on the images anyone made was also included into the file.
I heard the entry door slide open but didn’t turn around, figuring it was Arte returning.
“Hello, Bartlett and Good Morning Ms. Cantarubias.” came a voice softly from behind me in a Southern drawl I almost recognized. I turned around slowly. It was Ashcroft William Andrews IV.
“Why hello Ash”, I said, then waited for him to say something.
“Well Bart”, he began, “My cousin Andy told me you were the one who collected all that data from the time we exited the Alchibah end of the wormhole and you needed it analyzed. Just exactly what are you looking for?”
“There are actually two things…. Do you know if Andy is available?“
“Last I heard he was going to meet me here. Said he wanted to talk to me, before I met with you. Guess that’s water under the bridge.” Ash said this with a most deprecating wan smile.
I merely returned the smile. I was working on it, but hadn’t completely gotten over his recent involvement with the UNWG! “First of all we’re trying to see if there are any wormholes closer to Alchibah than the one we came through; the one that leads back to Sol. Ones that might be too small, or too far out of position to occult a star, but large enough for a ship to travel through, even if that ship was smaller than the Mayflower, say about the size of a freighter. Capt Travis is worried we may need a bolt hole.”
“Ok, I can see that,” he paused a second then said, “What’s the minimum size the wormhole could be and how would the data reveal them?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on size, it has to do with tidal effects and I need to check the numbers again. A small out of position wormhole would show up by causing some kind of stellar movement unexplainable by ships motion. It might be so slight in fact I‘m not even sure it would show up in the data. That’s the problem that has me stumped right now. So much data to scan at such high levels of precision.”
Ash just grinned, “My ballgame Bart, if it’s there I’ll damn well find it!”
Janie, who had been silent till this point, said in a tone that dripped with venom. “And just what makes you so sure you can locate something the Mayflower’s comps have been working on for six months and found no hint of?“
Ash, somewhat taken aback, began to say something just as the engineering door opened once more and in walked a figure in a chameleon field jacket with ‘Stuart’ over the right breast pocket. “Ash, what did you do to Herr Dokotor Kellerman?”
He turned away from Janie and looked over to Andy with a puzzled expression and said, “Just gave him some documents and had a short discussion, Why?”
“Cause he is mumbling stuff about crazed southern mad dogs and I know I have not talked to him. So, cuz who else is left?”
Ash said, still looking puzzled, “It’s a mystery to me.”
Andy glared and said, “ What have you got on the UNWG coming after us?”
“Short answer or long one?” Ash asked.
Bart suppressed a laugh and said, “Short one for now, publish the long one in the E/A!.“
Andy did laugh and agreed, “Short, I’m thirsty, been up for 23 -E- hours!”
Janie said, her tone a bit less grim than brfore, “You’re always thirsty Andy!“, and then, with some genuine warmth, “It looks like you need to do some more reading. The Earth hour and the Alchibah hour are so close you don’t need to mention which one you’re using. I’ve switched over to the Alchibah hour mode already. Not sure about the rest of the time system though.”
Ash, thankful for the brief interruption, went right straight into his lecture. “OK, when we bugged out the bad guy’s had plans but, no budget. That means, no program in place. Projecting from their base, which does not include the Lancer’s drives; we can project three scenarios.”
“But they have the Lancers drives now and may have had them for some time.” Janie interjected.
“Well yes Ma’am, as much as a renegade MD could have given them” …. and clearing his throat Ash began again:
“One, they want to come and nuke us and have it done with. They have to develop the drives and life support systems to put a four or five man deep penetration Fighter/Bomber and get it here. My projections show at least 6 (launch and use) years to develop and then deploy. If that case We can expect them in 4 years -E-.“
Ash looked over to Janie and said, “I haven’t figured out the time system yet either so when I talk about my former masters I’ll use their time.“ Janie’s expression remained neutral and so Ash looked at me and continued. “Good news is that Lancer should be able to blow them to hell!”
“Two, they decide to attempt a military takeover. We are looking at a cruiser with at least 200 troops and a time frame 10 years down the road. Remember they have to bring what their elitist mind’s think is overwhelming force! We should be able to stop that with the Lancer and an up gunned Mayflower hidden in the asteroid belt!”
“Three, they try to beat us with more population. This is the max threat. We are looking 20 years down the road and our best defense is a solid infrastructure and just maybe the Capt.’s bolt hole!”
“That’s how I see it, now, can I get a drink?”
Finally my turn to get a word in edgewise. “Did you have the key, or have you broken the encryption on the rest of the cruisers files?”
Looking somewhat sheepish Ash replied, “Well not exactly it’s tougher than I thought, but I’m thinking about ways to attack the problem and am going to work on it as soon as I get the wormhole search started.”
“Good, Captain Travis gave us an almost verbatim version of your summary about a month ago. We need more and newer information if you can get it.” Ash nodded his head.
“Andy a word with you before you go?” taking his cue from that, Ash proceeded to make his exit. “I know you say he’s good but is he that good?”
“If he’s not I don’t know anyone else who is.” Andy replied thoughtfully. “I’ll keep on him. Ash needs to be liked so badly that he will drive himself harder than anyone else could.”
“The twerp gets on my nerves”, Janie said. “And that Southern accent he switches on and off at will!”
Andy laughed, “He’s like that. You love him or you hate him. But we don’t turn the accent on or off darlin’, we just sometimes ferget to suppress it! Anything else Bart?”
“Nope. Good enough for now, get yourself that drink and I’ve got to get some sack time.”