For decades the Space Consortium of America has searched for new ways to harvest resources beyond an increasingly depleted Earth. The ultimate plan is about to be ignited. So is the ultimate threat to humankind. . .
Battle-hardened Captain Ry Devans and his crew of the Mars Orbiting Station-1 are part of a bold plan: resurrect the once-active molten cores of the Red Planet with synchronized thermonuclear explosions, and terraform the hell out of that iron-oxide rock for future generations. It’ll change history. So will the strands of carbon-based Martian cells that have hitched a ride on the ship.
Dr. Karen Wagner knows the microbes’ resistance to virus is incredible. It’s the unknowable that’s dicey. Her orders: blow them into space. But orders can be undermined. Two vials have been stolen and sent hurtling toward the biosphere. For Devans and Wagner, ferreting out the saboteurs on board is only the beginning. Because there are more of them back on Earth—an army of radical eco-terrorists anxious to create a New World Order with a catastrophic gift from Mars.
Now, one-hundred-and-forty-million miles away from home, Devans is feeling expendable, betrayed, a little adrift, and a lot wild-eyed. But space madness could be his salvation—and Earth’s. He has a plan. And he’ll have to be crazy to make it work.
“Detonation Event starts with the unusual proposition that the greatest difficulty in terraforming Mars will be not geophysics but Earth politics--rising quickly to open warfare. Interesting and intelligent.”
Author of Hammer's Slammers
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.67(d)|
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Two retaining arms were released from the dock and withdrew into the shuttle body. A slight sense of weight shift was the only indication that the spacecraft was now buoyed by ion power. Ry Devans gave a single tap on the throttle and the shuttle glided forward. He retracted the shields from around the bridge, leaving all sides transparent. Three hundred feet above loomed the bay ceiling, with the floor forty feet below. Everything awash with light was part of the landing bay. It was large enough to handle the simultaneous space traffic of a vacation tour ship, planetary shuttles, individual fliers under jet pack power and drones, but right now PS-9 was the only vessel of size in motion. The darkness of space waited beyond the gulf of brightness.
Devans eased the shuttle out. The long dock slowly slid away while space-suited workers and drones walked, worked, and flew about. The activity halted. All humans faced the shuttle and touched right hand to opposite shoulder.
A little surprised by the nonstandard display, Devans stood and returned the gesture, then sat again as a vast gray wall, the color of moon dust, took the place of the dock area. Bold lettering scrolled past them:
COLUMBUS BAY, SCONA MARS ORBITER ONE (MOS-1)
Through the transparent floor panes, Devans glanced down at the scorch marks on the lower wall and floor below.
No expense had been spared on landing bay safety measures, including the ultimate precaution: the Rams of Death. They lurked at the innermost sections of the bays: slabs of titanium with diamond claws and booster rockets. Part bludgeon, part interceptor missile, they lay in wait in a series of vented alcoves inside the hull of the station. Any accident that could not be contained in a hurry would soon find itself intercepted and jettisoned into space by a juggernaut of brute force.
More evidence of this crept into Devans' view through the side panes. Jagged scorches and scrapes still marred the walls. A hundred missions since the tragedy, and these scars locked his gaze every time. These were the result of superheated plasma streams against the metal of the bay; the grave marker of PS-4 and several of her crewmembers.
Ion engines are safe. Nuclear fusion engines are surprisingly safe as well. But on PS-4 both suffered explosions. The ion drive failed completely. The nuclear reactor remained intact but went into overload. Fail-safes failed. Navigation was compromised. The shuttle spun and ricocheted off and burned the massive bay wall.
All decks of MOS-1 went code red.
The diamond claws of Columbus Bay's first ram tore deep into PS-4's belly and held her fast, kept the distressed shuttle from careening to other parts of the bay.
Jagged cracks formed along the shuttle's engine funnel. Superheated propellant found new pathways of escape, scorching the sides of the bay wall. The shuttle banged against the side wall on its way out, but the ram had gained immense velocity in only seconds. Chemical rocket propellant filled the bay like smoke as the emergency ram forced the shuttle out toward space. A massive plume was pulled into space after the two. MOS-1's engines fired at full reverse for emergency evasion.
The comm link with the pilots held until the final explosion.
The shuttle pilots fought to gain enough control to send the rocking, twisting mass away from the massive orbiter. The directional funnel disintegrated. Blinding light and superheated plasma gushed forth in torrents, mixing with the chemical propellant from the ram rocket. The hull had cracked first outside the engine room, despite its reinforced walls. The captain gave the order to abandon ship. Three escape pods blasted outward. The final explosion came seconds later and a thousand miles away, and the shockwaves sent tremors throughout the fleeing space station.
All of it was captured on visual record.
The external footage — shocking as it was — did not compare to the internal video feeds that auto-engaged inside the doomed shuttle.
An explosion went off in the ion engine room. The two engineers at the main control console vanished. A second explosion occurred outside the sealed chamber of the nuclear engine. Compromised but not destroyed, the reactor surged toward overload.
Emergency shutdowns never occurred. Fuel pellets flooded the fusion chamber. PS-4 rocked violently back and forth. Security analyst Ivanka lurched into the engine room and was thrown against the wall and onto the floor. She fought to stand, then severed the metal housing and hydrogen feed line with a laser cutter, but the fusion continued unchecked. The computer fail-safes had gone offline. Ivanka slammed bloodied hands onto manual shutdown levers. Jets of freezing gas sprayed into the reactor.
The captain's order to abandon ship came over the speakers.
Realizing the situation was untenable, Ivanka ran for an emergency escape pod as copilot Ry Devans ran toward her.
Cracks tore through the fusion reactor, blasting plasma and light throughout the engine room. Equipment ignited and melted. Smoke filled the shuttle, illuminated by red flashing lights.
In the bridge and passenger bays, survivors scrambled for the escape pods as electronics blew. Water pipes burst and spewed steam. The tiled floor caught fire and the hull softened. They fought disorientation and velocity as the shuddering craft hurtled into space along with the attached ram rocket. Two escape pods blasted away, then a third.
The last of the onboard video footage showed the disintegration of the ship's interior.
Outside, the ram fought for direction against the shuttle's fusion engine. It did not fully succeed, but together they described a death spiral through space. The shuttle hull stripped away shield by shield, section by section, then the shuttle's heat overwhelmed the protective shields over the ram's rocket engines. A final blinding flash destroyed both vessels.
That MOS-1 escaped relatively unscathed was miraculous, and a credit to preventive engineering.
Survivors of PS-4 had been deposed to tell what they knew of the events.
Among them were: copilot Ry Devans, navigator Lassiter Nuro, and communications officer Bradley Fresnopolis, who now had a robotic leg from the ordeal.
SCONA refused to label it sabotage. Insufficient data, the publicist explained.
Insufficient explanation, Devans returned. A child could see the timing was too much for coincidence. It was sabotage. It was terrorism.
SCONA: No proof, and no one or group took credit. Therefore, accident.
Devans recalled the cuts and burns on Ivanka's body as he pulled her into the escape pod with him. She died in his arms before they could make it back to MOS-1. He and Kirsten Ivanka had been ... he didn't know what to call it. They had made plans for the future.
Now he blinked in an effort to clear the images and the faces of the crewmembers who had died that day.
He wondered if it would be better to just go ahead and resurface the cosmetic damage. Two other meridians had suffered less serious incidents and had resurfaced their bays. It was not his call, but Devans concluded once again they should remain as both reminder and memorial. The MOS-1 facilities manager replaced and reinforced the true structural damage and left the cosmetic outer layer. The chief officer agreed that leaving the scars served a purpose: part warning,part memorial.
Devans cleared his throat. "PS-9 navigating exit." The words came slowly. "PS-4 ... a very bad day. Everyone was on edge for months afterward. Earth returns tripled."
The officers worked in silence. Bay Control fell quiet as well.
Devans stared at the stars beyond the bay.
A new voice then, low and conspiring but unable to cloak its youth, just behind the two pilots. "Ever notice how the MOS, for all its size and capability as a space habitat-slash-spaceship, is like a blob-organism and we're the waste product on its way out the chute?"
Devans blinked and reached to mute the comm link. "They probably heard that, Goldilocks."
"Since when does that bother you, Cap?" the new arrival said.
"Bitching from me is one thing. Bizarre uttering by unauthorized personnel in the flight pit is another."
"I'm authorized, else I wouldn't be here."
"Not at flight crew level you're not, kid. Just because you play Mayan Ball at G-force one point five with Helena and the others in that bay tower doesn't mean their director won't notice. Rand's auditors are always looking for ways to needle my ass."
"Well, you hit 'em with that 'mindless skin-bags' thing," the newcomer said.
Nuro cut in before Devans could respond. "You might be waste product, Trent Wagner. But the rest of the PS-9 crew are little more functional than that." He engaged holographic switches and checked redundancies. "Besides, why is a junior astrophysicist speaking biology? You just get off a link with your sister?"
"Quit tryin' to exchange fluids with my sister, Nuro. Not cool!"
A crack of a smile from the bald man.
"Gwen could be your daughter, man!" Trent Wagner added.
"She's your elder sister, remember?"
"Three years isn't enough to justify. That's a daddy complex."
"Younger cousin, maybe. Now I don't think we're related, but you can't say for sure until the helix comp, right?" Nuro chuckled.
"Save the DNA comparison. Gwen doesn't need to see half-century guys."
"I'm only thirty-two, kid."
Nuro shrugged his round shoulders. "Hard life. Besides, you her gatekeeper? I don't recall her saying so during dinner and drinks in the Luminosity Café."
"Ugh. Just spatz me in half next time, K? Besides, Gwen's already headed back to MOS-2. Her week of lab work with our biogenesis team was completed yesterday. Not sure how you got her number from the one time she met me at the bay."
"She found me."
"I don't question Fate."
"Uh-huh. I think Fate says to stick to your own generation, pops."
Devans let the banter dull the memories. He summoned a laugh. "Kid, Nuro could crush you like a bug. And if you don't start checking with me prior to flight ops, I'll have him bounce you out of the flight pit, understood?"
"Yeah, yeah. You two lurched into bay prep like you passed out under a booze tap last dark," Trent Wagner said.
"You know I don't drink," Nuro said, without taking his gaze from his readouts. "Unless it's with a lovely lady."
"And when I tell Gwen how often that happens she'll want to rethink her new daddy," Wagner said.
Nuro laughed. "Nobody signed an exclusivity contract."
"As for me," Devans said, "I can handle my poisons."
Nuro and Wagner stared pointedly at Devans. Behind them, Navigator Burroughs cleared her throat.
"Nothing wrong with a little exuberance on certain special occasions," Devans added.
Trent placed two lidded coffee containers in the holders on the narrow center console between the pilots. "Point is, somebody's gotta keep you flight jocks mentally locked in."
"We're too old for a babysitter, kid. So this is how you slithered past the guardian of the gate?" Devans swiveled and frowned at Burroughs, whose station was closest to the bridge door.
"What? He had Earth coffee," Shannon Burroughs said, her eyes widening at the brim of the cup. She wiggled in the chair. "I mean, don't you smell it?"
"I smell something all right. Speaking of age discrepancies, he's too young for you, SB. You know that, right?" Devans said, turning back to his holographic displays as she made a face at him. "Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Copilot Nuro?"
The copilot's fingers jabbed at a keyboard made of projected light beams. He gazed at first one, then the other subject before returning to his keyboard. "Kid barely shaves, so yep."
The intruder raised his brows. "Hey, I shave ... every couple days. And come on, you have to recognize my waste-exit analogy as an accurate one."
Devans raised the coffee cup from his side of the stand. He took a sniff and a sip and arched his good brow. "Maybe."
Grinning, Trent Wagner leaped down the broad stairs to the angular nose of the spacecraft. There, a long acrylic table stood bracketed in a parallel position to the hull walls of the same material, allowing a one-hundred-eighty-degree view of space. Each bolted chair had access to holo projection and physical monitors, with ample space down the middle. Devans maintained the greatest use for the table was eating meals with an incredible view.
Bay control came through the speakers. "Exit confirmed. Good luck, Nine. Give the firecrackers our regards."
"Knew you could lighten up, Helena. See you in a few hours. Mr. Nuro, if you would elevate us on par to the observation panes of Bay Control."
"Aye, Captain." Nuro muted the transmission. "Requesting you remain fully clothed."
"What's one more moon around Mars?" "Nobody wants to see your craters and scars."
"Hmmm," from the navigator.
"Nobody with any sense," Nuro added.
Devans reactivated the comm link and stood in the shaft of one of the recessed lights. He raised his right arm and touched his left shoulder. Through the transparent nose of the spacecraft, the blinking lights and operations room of the Columbus Bay tower control were easily discerned. There, the protective shields had also been withdrawn, revealing the standing figures in the tower who returned the salute.
Devans grinned at Helena, Fres, and the other members of her group. "Fourth rock from the sun, people. Initiate departure, Mr. Nuro."
"Link request coming through," Shannon Burroughs said, from behind Devans.
"Link away, Shannon."
A pause, then the voice of Bradley Fresnopolis. "Devans, Devans, where can ye be?"
"Lost on the ocean, without a place to pee," the captain of PS-9 said, with a small laugh.
"It never made much sense, but so what?" Fres said. "I've got a bulletin for you, old man."
"Yeah, old man?"
"We're a hair from DE. Keep it reasonable down there."
Devans was mildly surprised. "Did you just go full grandma on me, Fres?"
"Bah. Don't get lazy, old man."
"The crew'll keep me straight, old man. Are we gonnagum kiss now?"
"However it goes ..." Fres said.
Devans' grin slowly vanished. He finished the old line the friends had shared for a couple decades now. "Always there."
"You buy the beer when we return, Granny Fres," Devans said.
"You got it."
PS-9 exited the bay and fell in a slow graceful arc away from MOS-1. The orbiter was so large it eclipsed the sun and cast a wide shaft of darkness. Thirty seconds more and a five-mile gap of space grew between it and the man-made moon. Devans scrutinized his readings.
The copilot pressed a button and focused on the engine's readout, watching as the power surged from the nuclear drive. The shuttle trembled slightly. "Within limits. Venting heat and light, Cap."
"Thank you, Mr. Nuro. Stand by."
The monitors showed the yellow-white glow of the fusion drive overwhelm the blue of the ion drive and begin to reach into space. It illuminated the sides of the shuttle around the side vents. Sensors registered the heat increase.
"Suggested course marked and uploaded. It is now discernible on your holos of the region."
Devans raised a brow at her projected path, shown ingreen. "Rocks?"
"Scanners indicate zero asteroids and minimal fragments between us and the planet."
"Official shield recommendation?"
Devans, still standing, glanced over his shoulder to find Burroughs smiling at Trent Wagner. "Could I trouble you for the official recommendation on shuttle protection, Navigator?"
Burroughs blinked. "Uh, radar indicates zero asteroids and minimal fragments between us and the planet."
"Said that already," Devans returned, as dryly as he could muster.
"Oh, I did, didn't I? Shields can be recessed until we enter Martian atmosphere, then closed."
"Yes!" Wagner leaped up onto the center oblong table.
"We'd get a little toasty without shields for entry, so thank you for that recommendation," Devans said.
"You're welcome, CapD!" Burroughs winked at him.
"Uh-huh. See those boot heel marks on our wall at about seventy degrees?" Devans pointed them out to Burroughs. "That was from the last time we cut the kid a break."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Detonation Event"
Copyright © 2019 John Andrew Karr.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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