INT – DAY – Officer’s mess
Helton, Lag, Kat, Harbin, Bipasha, Allonia. On the wall and table screens is a lot of text, and a star-system planetary diagram with a dozen planets on it. The fourth planet is alone on one side of the star (at the 12 o’clock position), with most of the planets are almost completely on the far side (between the 5 and 7 o’clock positions). A gas giant is at the 3 o’clock position at the outside edge.
Kat: Language is pretty clear. Open offer. Anyone can show up to fight them at that time and tech-level.
Allonia: But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? There are BILLIONS of folks that despise them. Even most other Muslims think they’re freaks. It’d be suicide.
Kat: Their supporters can show up, too. No limit.
Bipasha: That nut has been tossed off HOW many planets? He can’t have THAT many, can he?
Lag: You might be surprised. He’s crazy, but VERY charismatic. He talks a great afterlife. Pushes the Sharia “convert, submit, or die” very vigorously. Sells it well to the scraps of society- people who are failing LIKE being told they are victims, it’s not their fault, and THEY should be the rulers. Demagogues sell line that with LOTS of failed messages.
Harbin: Dustbowl is a hell-hole, but he can’t get kicked off because HE’S the government.
Helton: Dustbowl? I thought it was New Medina.
Lag: Officially. Early colony there was founded by a radical religious sect, called it that. Once it was sort of going, they kicked off or killed all the hired labor and technicians. They all promptly died off because they didn’t know how to operate the machines, and were not willing to work hard enough or learn enough. Their building were taken over by ANOTHER radical religious group that like the architecture, who basically did the same thing. Not enough terraforming machines, not enough water, same problem. They thought “God will provide” meant free stuff, and didn’t include work or technology. Next group who took over was at least smart enough to make sure enough of them could run the machines and grow food, so they squeaked though the Blackout. They got taken over by this nut claiming he’s the Mhadi, Allah’s final prophet, bringing the end times and all that. Still a very dry world. Low grav, thick air, easy farming in a few well-designed river-valleys downhill from TFPs, but mostly a hellish dust-world. Not enough water to trap and release heat, or transport it globally, so it’s hot in the day, cold at night, dusty year-round.
Allonia: But this fight offer… It’s stupid. If they lose, they all die. If they win, they don’t get ANYTHING!
Helton: Megalomaniacs are never after what makes sense to you or I.
Lag: I suspect you’re right. Time-line is VERY tight. Tech limits are VERY low – a bit more than Roman era, no archery or siege weapons. One big flat spot. One day.
Harbin: And with that planetary alignment, there’s going to be no sneaking up around planets, but ships can transition unusually close to the planet. No telling WHAT’S going to show up until it’s right ON you. As a naval battle-field goes, NOT pretty.
Lag: So he WANT’S carnage. Why? Too many followers?
They all sort of lean back and ponder.
Bipasha: They can’t make any money on it, even with video rights, which they don’t lock up.
Harbin: Don’t capture any land.
Kat: No specific people or groups challenged, so he’s not after a particular person.
Allonia: Capture people? Hostages and ransom?
Kat: Hmmm… Maybe, but wording on that is pretty standard. Wouldn’t make a lot, unless they broke contract and went down the piracy road. Risky. He’s a nut, but not a stupid one.
Helton: What if it’s not about the battle, but the challenge?
Helton: Some sort of propaganda value. Expect anyone to take it up?
Lag: On a time-line this tight, that restricted, no time for intel gathering or training… Not many. Certainly no professional soldiers I know would.
Helton: So, if every experience swordsman looks at it, says “it’s a TRAP!” and ignores it, then either no one or a handful of wanna-be’s with a grudge show up, and… what? What’s he gain?
Ship AI: (OC) An old media tactic. Issue an absurd challenge with ridiculous claims, then when no one shows call ALL your opponents cowards, weak, immoral, and congratulate your followers on their bravery and toughness for scaring them off. A media victory. If a few amateurs show up, beat them and claim a HUGE battlefield victory, parading bodies and prisoners, because cameras like gore and spectacle, saying they were the best the enemy had to offer. If you lose, run and do it again, while claiming a giant conspiracy of un-believers that used trickery to win.
Harbin: THAT’S him. Dishonorable. Most of the suicide and civilian-target bombs in the last five years are his followers. He makes stupid wars turn ugly, stirs up hate and division. A lot of folks will WANT to go after him. I lost a cousin three years ago to one of his chemical bomb attacks.
Bipasha: Sounds like a stretch, though. Level compliance guys with cameras would be everywhere.
Lag: But if he’s got his supporters running most of the cameras, and on the observer teams, they can effectively write the story by what they show and say.
Helton: Soooo… while this challenge is out there, what are the legalities of going after him, now, knowing he’s there?
Kat: Complicated. Not smart. Much cleaner to get him on the field. Any assassination attempt that misses would play right into his hand, if you’re right about the propaganda angle. We can only be sort-of-sure he’ll be there on THAT day.
Helton: So he’s safe for a little while. Smart. At least safe from professionals, then he gets a propaganda win.
Lag: (to Taj) Any current data on how far the message has gone, or projections on number of troops trained for this level that are available, or could get there in time?
Ship AI: (OC) Best guess, a few hundred well trained – the 13th Mountain Shield Company is off contract near New Medina. Lots of uncertainty, otherwise.
Lag: Damn. Excellent soldiers, but nowhere near enough. Last reports I saw said he might have thirty to fifty thousand followers at his complex. Even with guys that highly trained, a few hundred on an open field against fifty thousand is not a good match. Not a Thermopylae situation.
Helton gets a narrow-eyed, thoughtful look, and rubs his chin for moment.
Helton: How long would it take to train some guys from scratch?
Harbin: It takes years to fully train a good soldier.
Helton: No, not that. Just some guys in good shape for this.
Harbin: This tech level? Six months or so to be really good.
Helton: No. THIS battle. THIS planet. This one PLACE. This one TIME. Few unknowns. Minimal maneuvering. This EXACT tech level. If they are already in decent shape. How long?
Harbin and lag look at Helton hard, like they are trying to figure out just what he’s getting at, or how he’s thinking about getting there. After a pause-
Harbin: … Maybe three months to be solid. More or less, depending on the men and facilities, and the NCOs available.
Helton: How many would be the minimum you’d want to land with?
Lag: No less than two thousand. What do you have in mind?
Helton gets a slowly spreading grin on his face. He pauses dramatically.
Helton: Time travel.
INT – DAY – Borealis main dining room
Large and tastefully done, there are scores of tables. At the Captain’s table there are a dozen guests dining with Captain Soto, including Penger Trask and his wife (not seated together). They are clearly having a good dinner. In the background, through windows and on screens are various ships coming and going from the large orbital space station they are attached to. Helton and Lag walk briskly toward the table. As they approach, Captain Soto sees them, and his face lights up as he welcomes them.
Captain Soto: Ah, and here we have the hero of the hour, the man who rescued us from the swirl at Tau Piper! Welcome, welcome! Please, have a seat!
Soto waves to a waiter to bring more place settings and accommodate them. Trask smiles when he recognizes the pair of men, and waves cheerily in greeting. The pair walk to the table and waste no time getting right to the point, looking serious.
Lag: We need your ship.
Captain Soto look very surprised, and several emotions play across his face for a moment.
Captain Soto: I’m not sure I understand-
Helton: We’d like to charter your ship, the whole thing, for about three weeks universal time, starting now. About half your crew with it – flight ops, food service, laundry, docs, massage and physical therapists, mostly. No live entertainment or luxury services. How much?
Captain Soto gets a very serious face, looks at them acutely.
Captain Soto: We do not normally DO charters. Are you serious?
Lag: Absolutely drop-dead serious. MANY lives are on the line. We can end a couple of wars, stop a lot of bombings. How much?
Captain Soto: This is normally the sort of thing that would need a VERY high level of approval-
Penger Trask: I’ve worked with these two before, captain. If they say it’s life-and-death, it IS.
Helton: And I recall doing you a favor quite recently, where you would have been left stranded a lot longer than that.
There is an expectant silence at the table, as everyone looks at him, deep in thought.
Helton: Your ship has less than two thousand passengers on board. There is space available for more than twice that on the station, and slots available on liners over the next two weeks for people to continue on their way. We are in a hurry.
Captain Soto: How long expected subjective?
Helton: Three to four months.
Captain Soto looks very surprised at that. Again, his face is a play of emotion, as he runs numbers and expectations.
Lag: We can provide most of the food along the way.
Captain Soto: You are going into someplace dangerous, I expect. Crew will want to be paid up front. Some passengers and crew will raise objections on contractual grounds… A hundred million, payable in advance, for things to happen fast.
Lag and Helton wince at the price and condition.
Penger Trask: Done.
The others look at the CEO in surprise.
Penger Trask: (to Helton and Lag) You saved my ass once, while taking risks to save others you didn’t know. Risks you were not being paid enough to take, but did because it was the right thing to do. I’m not sure what you see coming, but if I can return the favor – (turning to Soto) consider it cash in the bank, Captain Soto. I know they are good for it, even if they don’t have it in their pocket this second.
The people at the table might be wealthy, but even THEY are not used to something that big, moving that fast. They hold their breath. Captain Soto sticks out his hand to Helton, they shake once, and it’s a done deal.
Helton: If you’d please make an announcement, we’d like to be detaching in an hour or less. We really ARE in a hurry.
Penger Trask: (drolly) Are you ever NOT in a hurry?
Helton: On alternate Thursdays, it seems. Eat fast, unless you want to hitch a long ride.
Fade to black