Earth's Zero Hour
The manuscript for this novel is under revision. Publishing date has been moved to Q4 2018.
Another Long Day
Admiral Joshua Striker left his fourth meeting this morning tired and hungry. As he walked the halls of Bastion Alpha, he returned the salutes of military personnel as they passed by and said hi to the civilian workers that made eye contact.
He stopped at the entrance to the Promenade to decide on where to eat when a young Lieutenant approached him. She saluted and said, “Lieutenant Virginia Matson reporting for duty Admiral.”
Striker was tall at 6’ 3” and looked down at the 5’ 7” lieutenant. He did not recognize the lieutenant or remember any scheduled arrival for today. He looked down and to the right to activate his glasses facial recognition scanner. Lieutenant Virginia Matson just arrived on the Bastion Alpha less than ten minutes ago. She was wearing the standard issue glasses, but they were not yet transmitting her identity and job classification. He then brought up the main menu and checked his calendar with a few blinks of his eye. He had no meeting scheduled today with a new lieutenant.
Striker said, “Welcome to Bastion Alpha Lieutenant Matson. I didn’t have anything scheduled. Are you arriving early?”
“Yes Admiral,” Matson said. “The nano-rails were scheduled for repairs but one finished early and I was able to catch an early transfer.”
Striker scanned his calendar and found a meeting scheduled with Lieutenant Matson in two days. He deleted the meeting with two blinks. “You’re two days early. Is this your first position in space?”
“Yes Admiral,” Matson said. “I’ve hardly slept at night. I’m so excited to be here.”
Striker thought about pawning her off on someone else, but he couldn’t do it now. He remembered how excited he was on his first assignment in space. “I have a very busy day scheduled, but I was just going to lunch. Would you care to join me?”
“Oh, I’d love too.”
“Excellent!” Striker said. “I was just deciding on where to go but you make the choice easy. Follow me.”
They walked across the crowded Promenade to a doorway with a neon sign over it that said, Café Anywhere. They walked past a line of people to the hostess podium. Striker said, “Table for two please.”
The hostess replied, “Right away Admiral.”
A waiter stepped up holding a tablet and said, “Hello. My name is Jason and I’ll be your waiter. Follow me please.”
They walked through dark, narrow corridors with doors every 10 to 15 feet. The waiter stepped into one of the rooms and motioned them to sit at the small table for two in a dimly lit room. Then the waiter asked, “What theme would you like today?”
“I’d like the Nile cruise ending at the Aswan Dam temple. Make it fifty minutes long please,” Striker said.
Matson had no clue what the Admiral was talking about and didn’t like what appeared to be a romantic setting in a cheap restaurant. She was about to say something when the walls of the room came alive. The wall panels made the illusion of a bright sunny day in the desert. Their room became a small, covered patio on the side of a river boat floating down a river through bright yellow desert sands. There was a slight warm wind in the room. She saw water buffalo on the river bank and could even hear people speaking Arabic in the distance.
“Oh my,” was all Matson could say at first. “This is so beautiful. I actually feel like we are floating down a river.”
“The Nile river to be exact,” Striker said with a smile. He always loved to see a newbie’s reaction to Café Anywhere.
The waiter said, “I’m glad you like it. Have you decided on something to eat or should I come back in a few minutes?”
“I’ll have the Mediterranean Lamb Lunch,” Striker said as he sat down.
When the waiter looked at Matson she said, “Oh, I have no menu.”
“Sure, you do,” Striker said. “Check the menu on your glasses. Bring up the main menu and blink twice on Café Anywhere.”
“Wow,” Matson said. “That is convenient. It was right there at the top.”
“The glasses are context sensitive,” Striker said. “They know where you are and what you’re doing. They bring up the most likely menu item to the top of the list.”
“I’ll have the sliders and a coke,” Matson said.
“I’m sorry but we only serve water or coffee to military personnel on duty. We don’t have soft drinks.”
“It’s expensive to transport liquids into orbit,” Striker said. “You can buy flavor packets or tea bags if you don’t like water.”
“Water will be fine. Thank you.”
“You’re really going to have beef sliders when you’re in the Egyptian desert?”
“The menu is so big.”
“Try the Greek salad. You’re from California. You should love it.”
“Alright, then I’ll have the Greek Salad and water.”
“If you need anything, let me know by tapping this button.” The waiter pointed to a button on the edge of the table nearest the door. “I’ll return with water and then your meal.”
When he left the room, Striker said, “I’ve been reviewing your record. Graduated in the top five percent of your class at UC Santa Barbara on a military scholarship. Boot camp in the California desert.” Striker looked at the desert drifting by them and said, “Sorry if this brings back bad memories.”
“Oh no, not at all.”
“Good scores in combat training, marksmanship, gunnery, starship systems maintenance, intelligence, mathematics, and just about everything short of flight school. Tell me, why would a person with your skills sign up for a logistics officer role? That is why you’re here, correct?”
The waiter returned with their water.
After he left the room, Matson said, “I was working toward a billet on a fleet ship but there were hundreds of people in front of me. I really wanted to get into space quickly, so I started looking for the shortest path to a job in space. Logistics officers were in high demand with low applications.”
Striker frowned and said, “Logistics is the life blood of our mission in space. Without moving hundreds of tons every day we cannot hope to defend Earth.”
“I promise you, I will do an excellent job. I’m not here for the minimum shift and ready to bounce. I’ve been studying logistics and I’m excited to do this job.”
“Tell me what you have studied.”
“When I found out I was assigned to Bastion Alpha, I started studying everything I could about station logistics. For instance, you have 125 Mark 1 Starfire Fighters and 75 Mark 2s plus 100 Starfire Ship Killers all Mark 1.”
“Why does that matter,” Striker asked.
“The Mark 1s are a heavier design with more armor, heavier weapons, and physical ammo. The Mark 2s are lighter and faster. A Mark 1 consumes a ton of ammo for every 5 minutes of heavy fighting. The Mark 2s use energy weapons and plasma bolts so they use almost no ammo, but they use more fuel and need parts replaced after 10,000 shots fired. The logistics requirements are completely different for those two fighters and we need to plan replenishment based on battle plans.”
Striker lost his frown halfway through Matson’s description, and said, “Very impressive.”
“Thank you, sir. And thank you for the opportunity to be here. I really want to be here, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. You can count on me for anything.”
“Be careful what you ask for Lieutenant. You may get it.”
“Ok, that’s a little scary but the offer still stands.”
“Noted. Remember, this conversation is being recorded.”
“It is? How?” Matson said as she looked around.
“Bastion sees and hears everything you see and hear. Every action you take on your glasses is recorded.”
“What if I’m taking a shower?”
“Take off the glasses first.”
“Ha, right. And point them the other way I guess.”
“Or leave them in another room. Just remember there are bio sensors in the ear pieces that not only uniquely identify you, they track your vital signs. If you take the glasses off for too long and don’t tell anyone, we’ll send a rescue party.”
“Oh, so if I sleep with them off I need to tell someone?”
“Their context sensitive. You’re an officer so you have a private room. If you take them off in your room, no one will care unless you don’t report to your next shift. If you’re in a space suit repairing something let’s say, and we lose your signal, someone will come much faster.”
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“The fact we are here at all is amazing.”
“I don’t understand why I didn’t receive training on these glasses before I shipped out.”
“They are top secret along with half the tech on these battle stations. If you shipped out on schedule, someone would have met you at the airlock and taken you through training.”
Then the waiter came and delivered their meals.
When Matson tried the Greek Salad she said, “This salad is excellent!”
“All the food here is top shelf.”
“It looks like we’re coming to a dam with a huge lake behind it.”
“That’s the Aswan Dam. Watch what happens here are we approach the dam.”
The scenery around them faded slightly. When it returned they we in the lake sailing near the shore. A large temple was visible in the distance.
“That was weird.”
“That part always makes me laugh. I’ve been on the Nile and sailed to the Aswan Dam. They skip a lot of laborious work getting from one boat on the Nile to another in the Lake.”
“Why were you in Egypt?”
“We had some joint maneuvers with the Egyptians. Pre Zullies.
“It’s what we call the Zalthurians.”
“Zullies. Got it.”
“Anyway, I took some time off to see Cairo, the Valley of the Kings and Queens, the Nile. Archeology is a hobby of mine. Hobby might even be overstating it.”
“That temple is beautiful. Do you know what it is?”
“Yes, it’s Abu Simbel. It was much lower, near the river. When they built the dam, they moved the temple to this location stone by stone.”
After enjoying their food for a few minutes, Matson asked, “So why are you here Admiral?”
“The answer to that is a very long story. The short answer is I am a lot like you.”
Curious, Matson said, “How so?”
“I was in the Air Force when the coup happened is Washington. My superiors wanted me to commit treason and I said no. They threw me in jail. After the Zullies left, I met Jeff Smith and was inspired by his story. Like you, I always wanted to go into space. I also wanted to deliver some payback for what the Zullies did, so here I am.”
“My dad was in the Marines in Okinawa. He met Jeff and Amber there. I was ten when the coup happened in Washington DC. I never knew about it until after the Zalthurians left. We were all duped.”
“And here we are, 800 miles above the Earth, preparing for an alien attack.”
“I’m ready to fight Admiral, and I swear I will not let you down.”
“I believe you Lieutenant. I truly hope I never have to place you in harm’s way, but if it comes to that, I think I can count on you.”
“Thank you Admiral.”
“I need to get to my next meeting soon. You’ll need to report to the Warden of the Dock. They control all shipping and lead the logistics department. There are four Wardens that rotate shifts 24 by 7. They will define your role, assign you to a work shift, and assign quarters. They’ll also assign you a buddy to help you learn about life on this Bastion.”
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me Admiral.”
“Thank you for your service to humanity.”
“Don’t we need to pay the waiter?”
Striker touched his glasses with one finger and said, “We already did.”
A Hard Pill
Admiral Striker surveyed the busy command deck of Bastion Alpha, Earth’s most powerful orbital fortification and the command center for Earth’s space defenses. All three of Earth’s Bastions were always a beehive of activity. Alpha was the largest with extra armor, communications, and command staff. Omega and Centauri Bastions were of equal size and outfitted with weapons systems similar to Alpha, but Alpha always received the latest upgrades first before replicating them to the other two. The three Bastions along with thousands of defense satellites form the last line of defense in space against the anticipated alien attack.
The first line of defense is the Fast Cruiser Fleet commanded by Admiral Xiao Li. Admiral Li is small. Only 5’ 1” but she has piercing eyes and a commanding presence. The crews on her 22 ships would fly straight through the gates of hell if she asked them too.
Next in line is the main battle fleet commanded by Admiral James Goodwin. Admiral Goodwin is very charismatic and a capable leader. The crews of his 43 ships know they are the pride of the entire planet. They fight to protect the human race from a horrible fate should they their mission fail.
The crews of these fleets are the finest on Earth. They have the latest technologies and most advanced weapons systems. No expense is spared in outfitting these ships. They are constantly being upgraded with the lasted advancements as our scientists analyze the alien technologies left by the Zalthurian’s hasty departure from our moon.
All these high-tech ships and infrastructure were created for Earth’s Zero Hour. The point in time Cain warned that the Zalthurians would attack Earth.
Admiral Striker left the command deck and walked into his briefing room. As he entered, a lieutenant called out, “Attention.” Everyone stood. He said, “At ease. Please be seated. Fleet Admiral Mendez will join us shortly on the view screen.
The room was large by spaceship standards with twelve seats, a large table, and view screen three feet from the table. Only the three Admirals were in the room with a junior lieutenant guarding the door. He activated the local signal reader on his glasses and saw a list of names. Randy Jones was the guard’s name.
Admiral Li and Admiral Goodwin continued debating the merits of a recent fire control upgrade. Li said in a thick Chinese accent, “I would much rather fire twice with less accuracy than fire once.”
Goodwin replied with an English accent, “I’d rather hit once than miss twice.”
“My ships are smaller. We don’t have your energy reserves so we close range before firing. We almost never miss. I think we should change the standards between our fleets to optimize on the best systems for our battle style vs standardizing everything between us.”
“That makes sense to me. I’ll support you on that,” Goodwin said as he nodded his head.
Then the main view screen lit up with the words ‘Video Request: Fleet Admiral Xavier Mendez.’
Striker accepted the request and Xavier Mendez appeared on the view screen. Everyone stood at attention.
“At ease,” Mendez said. “Please take a seat. Thank you for coming on short notice. This transmission is on a secure tight beam channel. Is the room secure?”
“Lieutenant Jones,” Striker said. “Leave the room and ensure we are not disturbed. Security Protocol Delta.”
“Yes sir,” The Lieutenant said with a crisp salute before leaving the room.
“As you know, the tenth anniversary of Cain’s warning is only a few weeks away. What do you make of the increased number of Zalthurian Scout sightings?” Mendez asked.
“We’ve analyzed the sightings for patterns,” Li said. “We have dropped sensors on every planet, moon, and big rock with no luck finding a base of operations. At every sighting, whenever we approach they leave and then drop off our radar.”
“But the number of sighting have increased,” Mendez said. “They’re getting closer to our defenses. Do you think they are about to attack?”
“We have no way of knowing for sure sir,” Striker said. “We are at the end of the time window Cain shared with us of 7 to 10 years until they attack. They must know that waiting only makes us stronger.”
“I’ve discussed this with the Commonwealth’s Security Council,” Mendez said. “The member nations want the fleet deployed and all defenses placed on high alert. Do you agree with their assessment?”
“I do not sir,” Goodwin said. “My ship’s crews can only stay on high alert for so long. If we start too soon we risk having our crews worn out and demoralized before the battle even begins.”
“I agree sir,” Li said. “The crews need rest and rotation on a regular basis. If we go to a lower alert level, we can maintain crew moral and readiness for years if needed.”
Mendez thought a moment, then said, “Very well. You are ordered to alert level Yellow Two. I want daily updates on the Scout sightings and your analysis so far.”
All three Admirals said, “Yes sir!”
“Thank you Admiral Li and Admiral Goodwin,” Mendez said. “I need a private word with Admiral Striker.”
“Yes sir,” Admiral Li said as the admirals left the room.
Once they were outside, Mendez said, “One more thing. Every analysis of our battle plans leads to the same result, we lose all our space forces to the Zullies after a long battle of attrition. Their technology advantages are too big for us to overwhelm.”
“We will find a way to defeat them sir.”
“I admire your spirit, but that won’t be enough. They won’t use biological or chemical weapons, and they won’t bombard us into the stone age. They don’t want our planet. They want our people. That means they have to come down to Earth to get us. The only chance we have to make every step of their assault cost them so much that they lose the will to invade.”
“What are you saying Admiral?”
“I am saying that we need to fight back hard at every stage of their invasion. I am ordering you to fight to last man at every engagement.”
“Is there any flexibility in that order Admiral?”
“No. Striker, we need to break their spirit. Break their resolve. The psychologists believe that if we put enough blood on their hands, they’ll back off. It is our only hope.”
“Surely there must be another way?”
“Are you listening to me man? It’s the only way.”
“Are you telling me that if I find myself or my forces at a strategic disadvantage that I cannot retreat?”
“Yes, that is what I am telling you Striker. Fight to the last man, the last ship. The last bullet, the last erg of energy.”
“I am a soldier. I am ready to die for a just cause. I am ready to put people in harms way, but only if there is the slightest chance of success. I won’t waste people’s lives on senseless actions. You’ve got to give me the flexibility to conduct this war in a way that inflicts the maximum damage on the enemy!” Striker said in an increasingly loud voice.
“That is exactly the outcome I want, but you cannot run. If we run from the Zullies they’ll follow to wherever we go and kill everyone there until they have 5 billion people to murder in their factories.”
“I know what we are fighting to prevent, but I cannot follow that order.”
“Don’t do anything hasty. I’ll send you some secure files. Review them, then decide. You’re the best person alive for this job Striker. I know what I’m asking is a hard pill to swallow. I’m not doing this on a whim. Please! For me, review the information I’m sending you and think about.”
“I doubt it will change my mind sir, but I’ll take a look at it and get back to you tomorrow.”
“Thank you. Be sure to set aside about two hours to read through the briefings and really think it through. Mendez out.”
Infrastructure and Logistics
Admiral Striker is in charge of all Earth’s defensive forces in near Earth orbit. By rank Goodwin and Li are peers, but while in Earth’s orbit, Admiral Striker is their commanding officer. Striker is also in charge of the Fleet’s Space Docks, Orbital Manufacturing Facilities, and Orbital Research Labs. While Admiral Striker is not responsible for the day to day operations of these other facilities, he is their Commander in Chief. It is his responsibility to defend them, keep them secure, and stock them with the basics like air, water, and food. His command staff is a huge logistical team that works 24 x 7 to keep all the space stations supplied.
The Space Stations are connected to Earth by a dozen nano-rails, hundreds of freighters, and three Bean Stalks. Each technology is a marvel in and of itself.
The nano-rails are made from carbon nanofiber ribbons, reverse engineered from Zalthurian iron nanites. Each ribbon is connected to the orbital ring hastily created around Earth to simplify moving material into space. Up to on ton of people in space suits or cargo rides in a lift that climbs up twin carbon nanofiber ribbons to a platform on the orbital ring. The lift is unloaded into a shuttle that transports people and cargo to their destination. The lift returns to Earth either with passengers, cargo, or empty. This transportation method is expensive to build but cheap to operate. With nano-rails, a VIP can travel to space, complete their mission and return to Earth in one day. The can take off near Denver and land in Russia, China, or India.
Freighters, much like the Space Shuttle of old, were the back bone of all logistics until the orbital ring, nano-nails and Bean Stalks were built. All new freighters are simple space planes launched by 120-mile-long mass drivers on a magnetic track sealed in a vacuum tube and propelled at 4 Gs. Their engines ignite as they leave the plasma sealed tube. They climb until they link up with a solar powered rotating hooks whose momentum lifts the freighter into higher orbit. Upon arrival, freighters deliver their cargo, then glide back to Earth to be refit and sent up again. Now they primarily move high value cargo.
Bean Stalks are the next generation system for moving bulk cargo from Earth’s surface into orbit. The design uses a platform made of Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Hydrogen organized into a matrix that is light and strong. Cargo sits on top. The platform is surrounded by an electromagnetic shell forming a cylinder that extends upward into the atmosphere. An electromagnetic bubble is formed under the platform that propels it upward a few 100 feet. Hot gases are pumped into the cylinder and ignited by two beams of energy. The wave length of the energy beams passes through the electromagnetic cylinder without disturbing it, but where the beams cross, there is destructive interference that ignites the gasses inside. These gasses heat up and push the cargo platform upward. The rate of ascent is governed by the volume and composition of the gases injected into the cylinder. When the platform reaches 100 miles high, the cylinder is turned off. The hot gasses blow away in the breeze and the platform is captured by a Space Plane that delivers the platform to a rotating hook. The platform and all the packing materials for the cargo are recycled by space manufacturing facilities into whatever the logistical office requires that day.
Hundreds of tons of cargo are moved into space each day where 3,000 people staff Earth’s orbital infrastructure. An additional 500 people operate Earth’s Fleets and Space Dock. Another thousand civilians staff the privately funded space manufacturing and research centers. An additional 400 tons of cargo are ingested each day from mines on asteroids or the Moon.
The Space Dock is separated into a civilian section and a larger Military section. Private enterprises have begun exploring the inner solar system. Today a group of scientists are heading to Mars to further look for signs of life. A group of academics are heading to Earth’s Orbital Research facility and some miners are returning from exploring asteroids for minerals. There is always something going on in Strikers scope of command.
After meeting with Admiral Mendez, Striker had to meet with his senior staff to raise the alert status to Yellow Two. This alert level restricts the travel of all non-essential personnel, increases internal security, and requires each space platform to stock up to one week of essential supplies locally in case of an attack that disrupts regular deliveries. Striker’s logistics team will be working overtime to meet these demands in addition to the Fleet’s resupply.
As he reviewed the status of various critical systems with a group of Lieutenants, the Warden of the Dock sent an urgent message to Striker marked ‘For your eyes only!’ The message only said, ‘Call immediately’. Intrigued, Striker excused himself from the current meeting and went to his briefing room. After typing in the code to connect to the Space Dock, his screen flashed ‘Calling: Warden of the Dock’. After a few seconds the Warden appeared with a concerned look on his face.
“Admiral, several miners have returned from the asteroid belt. They had three ships running on autopilot. They were all pretty shot up. There is only one survivor. He says they were attacked by Zullies.”
“Can you get a plot on where they came from and when they were attacked?”
“Yes sir. I have someone working on it right now. They were exploring asteroids near Ceres.”
Striker punched in the code for Admiral Li. She appeared on the view screen next to the Warden. “Admiral Li, we have mining ships returning from near Ceres. The sole survivor claims they were attacked by Zullies. Can you prepare your fleet and depart immediately?”
“Yes,” Li said with enthusiasm.
Then she noticed the look on Strikers face and said, “I am sorry about your miners, but this could be the break we’ve been waiting for.” She then left the camera’s field of view as she gave orders.
When she returned, she said, “We can be underway in five minutes. When can you give me more information?”
“In about 10 minutes.”
“Call me when you have something. Li out.”
The screen flickered, and the Warden’s image now filled the screen. The Admiral started tapping the desk in front of him. They waited in awkward silence a few minutes until a young Lieutenant entered the field of view.
“Admiral Striker!” The Lieutenant said. “Sir, we have the coordinates of the rocks they explored and where the attack happened.”
“Send all the information to my command channel now,” Striker said. As he spoke he typed a text to his staff with instructions to forward this information to admiral Li immediately.
“Good work Lieutenant,” Striker said. “How is the last miner doing?”
“He just passed away on the operating table sir. As soon as they opened his suit …”
“I understand. Striker out.”
What Striker understood was that modern space suits were excellent at preserving human life, but once the suit was opened, the marvelous technology that held a person together could then spill a person’s guts all over the operating table. Sometimes the suit was all that kept the person alive. Striker still had nightmares about a man he tried to save after an accident on a Cruiser he commanded.
After setting aside that bad memory, he communicated the new information to Admiral Goodwin and called him on the video phone.
As the picture appeared on the view screen he said, “Admiral Goodwin. I am raising our alert status to Yellow One.”
“Why?” Goodwin asked. “Twenty percent of my ships are in space dock right now. Does this have to do with Admiral Li leaving in a hurry.”
Alert level Yellow One required ninety percent of available ships be ready for action. With twenty percent of his ships still in space dock being resupplied, Goodwin could not meet the new requirements. “Yes, it does. Three mining vessels just returned to space dock with heavy damage. The crew were dead except for one miner. He said they were attacked by Zullies. Comply with Yellow One as soon as feasible.”
“Do you think we found the alien base?”
“Maybe, but I’m more worried it’s a trap.”
“I doubt it.”
“The Zalthurian’s seem pretty unimaginative when it comes to strategy and tactics.”
“I hope your right. Striker out.”
Earth's Zero Hour
Buy in Q4 2018