Read Troy Rising 1 - Live Free or Die Online
Authors: John Ringo
THE MAPLE SYRUP WAR
It is said that in science the greatest changes come about when some researcher says
'Hmmm. That's odd.' The same can be said for relationships: 'That's not my shade of
lipstick... 'Ñwarfare: 'That's an odd dust cloud... ' Etc.
But in this case, the subject is science. And relationships. And warfare.
And things that are just ginormously huge and hard to grasp because space is like that.
“Hmmm... That's odd.”
Chris Greenstein, in spite of his name, was a gangling, good looking blond guy who most
people mistook for a very pale surfer-dude. He'd found that he was great with the ladies
right up until he opened his mouth. So his public persona was of tall, blond and dumb. As
in mute. He had a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and a PhD in astrophysics. The first
might have gotten him a really good paying job if he could just manage to get through
corporate interviews without putting his foot in his mouth. The second generally boiled
down to academia or 'Do you want fries with that?' He had the same problem with academia
he had with corporations.
Chris was the Third Shift Data Center Manager for Skywatch. Skywatch was an underfunded
and overlooked collection of geeks, nerds and astronomy PhDs who couldn't otherwise find a
job who dedicated themselves to the very important and very poorly understood job of
searching the sky for stuff that could kill the world. The most dangerous were comets
which, despite having the essential consistency of a slushee, moved very fast and were
generally very big. And when a slushee that's the size of Manhattan Island hits a planet
going faster than anything mankind could create, it doesn't just go bang. It turns into a
fireball that is only different from a nuclear weapon in that it doesn't release
radiation. What it does release is plasma, huge piles of flying burning rock and hot
gases. Over a continent. Then the world, or the biosphere at least, more or less gets the
big blue screen of death, hit reset and start all over again with some crocodiles and one
or two burrowing animals.
One comet killed the dinosaurs. Most of the guys at Skywatch made not much more than
minimum wage. It gives one pause.
The way that Skywatch looked for 'stuff' was anything that was quick, cheap and easy. They
had databases of all the really enormous amounts of stuff, comets, asteroids, bits,
pieces, minor moons, rocks and just general debris, that filled the system. They would
occasionally get a contact from someone who thought that they'd found the next apocalypse.
Locate, identify, headed for earth? yes/no? New? yes/no? Most of it was automatic. Most of
it was done by other people: essentially anyone with a telescope from a backyard
enthusiast to the team that ran the Hubble was part of Skywatch. But thirty-five guys
(including the two women) were paid (not much more than minimum wage) to sort and filter
and essentially be the child of Omelas.
Chris was a nail biter. Most people who worked for Skywatch for any period of time
developed some particular tick. They knew the odds of the 'Big One' happening in their
lifetime were way less than winning the lottery fifteen times in a row. Even a 'Little
Bang' was unlikely to occur anywhere that it mattered. A carbonaceous asteroid with a
twenty-five megaton airburst yield like Tunguska was unlikely to occur over anything
important. The world is seven tenth's ocean and even the land bits are surprisingly empty.
But living day in and day out with the certainty that the fate of the world is in your
hands slowly wears. Most people stayed in the core of Skywatch for less than five years if
for no other reason than the pay. Chris had started as a filter technician ('Yes, that's
an asteroid. It's already categorized. Thank you... ') six years ago. He was way past his
sell-by date and the blond had started going gray.
“It's a streak. But it's a really odd streak. The algorithm is saying it's a flaw.”
The way that asteroids and comets are detected has to do with the way that stars are
viewed. The more starlight that is collected the stronger the picture. In the old days
this was done by having a photographic plate hooked up to a telescope that slowly tracked
across the night sky picking up the tiny scatter of photons from the distant star.
Computers only changed that in that they could resolve the image more precisely, fold,
spindle and mutilate, and a CCD chip was used instead of a plate.
When you're tracking on a star, if something moves across your view it creates a streak.
Asteroids and comets are closer than stars and if they are moving across your angle of
view they create such a streak. If they're moving towards you it creates a small streak,
across the view a large one. The angle of the sun is important. The size of the object.
Serious researchers didn't have time for streaks. But any streak could be important so
they sent them to Skywatch where servers crunched the data on the streak and finally came
up with whether it was an already identified streak, a new streak, a new streak that was
'bad', etc. In this case the servers were saying it was 'Odd.'
“Define odd,” Chris said, bringing up the data. Skywatch researchers rarely looked at
images. What he saw was a mass of numbers that to the uninformed would look something like
a really huge mass of indecipherable numbers. For Chris it instantly created a picture of
the object in question. And the numbers were
odd. “Nevermind. Albedo of point seven three? Perfect circle? Diameter of ten point
one-four-eight kilometers? Ring shaped? Velocity of...? That's not a flaw, it's a
practical joke. Who'd it come from?”
“Max Planck. It's from Calar Alto. That's the problem. Germans...”
Calar Alto was a complex of several massive telescopes located in Andalusia in southern
Spain and was a joint project of the Spanish and German governments. The German portion
was the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and despite its location, Max Planck did most
of the work at Calar Alto.
“Famously don't have a sense of humor,” Chris said. He looked at the angle and trajectory
again and shrugged. The bad part of working for Skywatch was worrying about 'The Big One'.
The good part was that nothing was ever an immediate emergency. Anything spotted was
probably going to take a long time to get to Earth. “Mark and categorize. It's not on a
track for earth. Angle's off, velocity is all wrong. Ask Calar to do another shot when
they've got a free cycle. And we'd better keep an eye on it because with that velocity
it's going to shoot through the entire system in a couple of years and if it hits anything
it's going to be
“You know what it looks like?”
“Yeah. A Halo. Maybe it's the Covenant.”
Chris picked up his phone groggily and checked the number.
“Chris? Sorry to wake you. It's Jon. Could you come in a little early today? We've got a
“What's up?” Chris asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. Jon Marin was the Director of
Skywatch. He knew his managers didn't get paid enough to be woken up in the middle of
their, equivalent, night.
“It's Halo. There's been an... anomaly. We'll talk about it when you get in. We've got a
video conference with Calar at four. Please try to be there.”
“Yes, sir,” Chris said. He looked at the time and sighed. Might as well get up, day was
shot to hell anyway.
“Good afternoon, Doctor Heinsch...”
Jon Marin, in spite of his name, looked and sounded like the epitome of a New York Jewish
boy. Which was what he was. His first PhD was from NYU, followed by MIT and Stanford. His
brother was a top-flight attorney in New York who pulled down a phone number every year.
And his mother never let him forget it. He kept trying to point out he was a doctor to no
“Doctor Marin, Doctor Eisenbart, Doctor Fickle, Doctor Greenstein...”
“Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.”
“As first discoverers we have named the object the Gudram Ring. This will, of course, have
to be confirmed. But there is an anomaly we are having a hard time sorting out. We had a
cycle which was doing a point to that portion of the sky but when we attempted to find the
ring, it appeared to have disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” Chris said. “How does something ten kilometers across disappear?”
“We wondered the same thing,” Doctor Heinsch replied, soberly. “I was able to get
authorization to do a sweep for it. It took three full sweeps.”
“Your sweeps cost about... ?” Dr. Marin said.
“A million Euros for each. But something that was once there and now is not? We considered
the outlay appropriate. And we were right. We finally found it. Here is the new data.”
The astronomers leaned forward and regarded the information for a moment.
“It slowed down,” Chris said after a moment. He finally found a finger that wasn't chewed
to the quick and started nibbling. “Was there... It didn't have anything to cause a
gravitational anomaly. It's coming in from out of the plane of the ecliptic.”
Most of the 'stuff' in the inner solar system lay along a vaguely flat plane called the
'plane of ecliptic.' Earth, Mars, the asteroid belt, were all all formed when the sun was
a flattened disc. The outer layers cooled and congealed into planets and then life formed
and here we are. We are all star stuff.
If the ring had been coming in along the plane it might have passed a moon or planet and
had a change in velocity, what was referred to as a 'delta V.' But there weren't any
planets 'up' in the solar system and it was inside the Oort Cloud.
“Correct,” Dr. Heinsch said as if to a particularly bright child. From the point of view
of 'real' scientists, those who can do, those who can't teach and those who can't do or
teach work for Skywatch.
“Is this data confirmed?” Dr. Marin asked very cautiously. Skywatch generally only made
the news when they screamed 'The sky is falling!' Since every time they'd screamed that it
hadn't, they'd gotten very cautious. And this wasn't the sky falling. This was...
“Absolutely,” Dr. Heinsch said. “However, we have sent it to you in raw form. We have also
contacted the Russian, Japanese and Italian Institutes.”
“Yes,” Dr. Marin said, nodding. “I think we need to stay very cautious about this until we
have a confirm all around...”
!” Chris blurted.
“We need to be very
,” Dr. Marin said, turning to glare at Chris.
!” Chris said, waving at the screen. “At the current rate of delta it's going to come to
rest somewhere near
“About thirty million kilometers,” Dr. Heinsch said, nodding. “Between the orbits of earth
and Mars in about two and a half months. What it does then, of course, is the question.”
confirmations on this before we take
action,” Dr. Marin said.
“I'm sure we will have those quite quickly. I would request that you contact Palomar for
their take. Good day, Doctors.”
Planning for shots by the big telescopes of earth's major countries is blocked out months
and even years in advance. They also cost a lot of money.
As the terminator circled about the globe that night, all such scheduling was put on
indefinite hold and dozens of telescopes pointed to a very small patch of the sky.
There was, of course, a huge outcry amongst 'real' researchers who had grants to study
oxygen production of Mira Variables that, naturally, were more important than anything
else that could possibly be happening especially with those bunglers at Skywa... A WHAT?
And then the press found out.
“The Gudrum Ring has settled into a stationary position in the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange
point,” Dr. Heinsch rumbled, looking at his notes. “The position it has taken is not
entirely stable but it seems to have some form of stabilization system. Since it was able
to maintain delta v such as to decelerate into the system, that ability is self-evident.
However, the L2 point creates a stable point of gravitational interaction which is why so
many space telescopes are placed there. Power output for stabilization is, therefore,
reduced. As of now, we have no idea as to its method or purpose. Questions?”
“What is it for?” the first reporter asked.
“And I repeat, we have no idea as to its method, we don't know how it works, or its
purpose, we don't know why it is here. At this moment, it is as enigmatic as the monolith
“Office of the President. If you would like to leave a message for the President of the
United States, press one. For the Vice President, press two. For the First Lady, press
The phone bank for the general contact number for the White House was not in the White
House. It was in a featureless office building in Reston, VA. There a group of seventy
receptionists, mostly women, received calls from the general public directed at the
In the early days of telephone, all calls were listened to, notes taken and daily they
would be collated and tracked. This took a lot of people looking over the notes and
figuring out what they meant. But there were general tenors. Do a three part scale. 'I
love the president so much I want his sperm.' 'The president's an idiot.' 'The president
is going to die at four PM on Friday.' So then there were standard forms. Then computers
came along. And Caller ID and voice recognition and automatic voice synthesis and phone
What the seventy people did was mostly let the computers handle it.
But if you worked the phone tree hard enough, you could get a real human being.
“Office of the President.”
“This is not a prank call,” a robotic voice said. “This system cannot normally block
Caller ID. Please look at your Caller ID.”