Cavan called back around mid afternoon to say that Voler and a
number of other leading astronomers had been called to a meeting at the White House, as
well as top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, the Departments
of State and Defense, NASA, and the principal security agencies. It was being given a low
profile to avoid media attention, but a lot of encrypted communications traffic was
passing between departments involved in orbital and lunar operations and space agencies
overseas, and all kinds of routine business was being canceled. There was a lot of strain
and tension in the air. That was about as much as Cavan knew.
An hour later, Judith called Keene in his office to say she had
Idorf on a link through Amspace. "You did it!" Keene got up to close the door
with a foot and then resumed his place before the screen. "Good girl. I knew
youd hack it."
"It wasnt me," Judith told him. "I was still
working on it. This is incoming. Hes calling you." Moments later, Keene found
himself looking at the lean, hawkish features with the reddish hair and raggedy beard.
Idorf didnt look in the friendliest of moods; neither did he have time for social
"Dr. Keene, Im sorry if this is inappropriate, but I
dont pretend to understand how things work in your world. Im contacting you
because you are a person who gets attention and can convey a message to the proper people;
also, I respect you as someone whose word can be relied upon. I cannot say the same for
many of the others that Ive been hearing recently. My impression is that they are
likely to say anything they think I want to hear if they believe it might get them what
they want. Im told this is what you call politics."
Play this ree-al easy, Keene told himself. He tried to look
composed. "I appreciate the compliment, Captain Idorf. How can I help?"
"Are you aware that the departure of our delegation is being
"No, I wasnt. I knew there was a block on communications,
and in fact was trying to get through to you via Amspace to find out more. Im back
in Texas now, away from it all. Whats happening?"
"The transportation that was supposed to be made available to
bring them back up to the Osiris is not forthcoming. I am also informed that the
emigrants who have been booking earlier flights to the Tapapeque base in Guatemala have
been put on hold." Keene started to inject that he knew something strange was going
on in Washington, but Idorf went on, "Today, I announced that if your government was
not going to provide a shuttle to bring our delegation up, I would send one of our own
surface landers down to get them. I was warned off by Terran defenses, Dr. Keene!
They advised me that any such unauthorized landing would be treated as a hostile act, and
the craft seized. So, are we at war now eh? Does Earth jump to the only kind of solution
it has ever been able to conceive for any problem?"
Keene was aghast. "My God! Look . . . I know somethings
"Ah, but thats not the end of it. Two hours ago, I was
advised of an intention to send a military boarding party up to this ship and asked to
cooperate peacefully for our own security and protection, whatever that is
supposed to mean. . . ."
"Jesus Christ! I"
Idorfs hand appeared in the foreground on the screen, pointing
a finger. "Very well, they have made their rules clear. Now this is what I would like
you to convey, if you would, to whoever down there should hear it. Years ago, when
relations between our two societies were more strained than in recent times, there seemed
a real possibility that Earth might send an expedition to take over Kronia forcibly. We
devoted considerable effort of the kind that produced vessels such as this one also to the
development of advanced defense systems, and it has been our policy ever since to build
all new ships with a dual-role capability. The Osiris is armed, Dr. Keene. The
weapons that it carries are of extreme potency. We will fire upon any craft, manned or
otherwise, that attempts approaching closer than one hundred miles without authorization,
whether or not it acknowledges further warnings. I trust you will have gathered by now
that I am not of a mood to make jokes. Im hesitant to put this to the people
Ive listened to today, because I fear they might attribute the same slipperiness to
my words as appears to apply to their own. But as I said, you strike me as someone who
will put in the right way, to the right persons. Have I been clear enough? And if so, will
you do as I ask?"
Keene eased himself back in the chair and exhaled a long, silent
whistle. "Yes. Perfectly clear, Captain. . . ." He thought furiously about how
much it might be wise to divulge. Finally, he decided that the way to respond to candor
was with candor. "I already knew that the ship was armed," he said. "When
we visited you, a colleague and I strayed off the path we were supposed to be on, and saw
inside one of the hub cupolas. The machinery looked like an ejector, and whatever it
launches is obviously nuclear. What is it? At a guesssome kind of fission-pumped,
multi-pointing beam device? X-ray laser, maybe?"
Idorfs eyebrows arched. "I respect your frankness, Dr.
Keene. And you are remarkably well informed. Each capsule deploys a gigajoule charge and
generates multiple, independently targetable beams at a ten-thousandth of an Angstrom. I
dont think I have to spell out what that would do to a target at a hundred
Or a thousand, Keene thought to himself. "I am a nuclear
engineer," he said. "And I worked in plasma physics research for a while. In
fact Ive been involved in studies of that kind of system. How much of the
specification are you prepared to release?"
Idorf shrugged. "As much as it takes to convince them."
"I think I can do that for you," Keene said dryly.
"Okay, let me ask you for some numbers." He paused and looked at the screen
quizzically. "But first . . ."
Idorf waited. "Yes?"
"Whats going on? Do you know any more than I do? . . .
What is this all about?"
"Nobodys told you yet, eh?"
Keene showed his palms. "Ive been trying to find out all
day. Its almost like you said. The whole of the Washingtons acting as if there
is a war about to break out."
Idorf regarded him fixedly for a few seconds; then, he seemed
to make up his mind and nodded. His expression was grim. "Yesterday evening,
I passed some news down to Gallian that had just come in from Saturn. Our observatories
there have been able to make measurements that wont be possible here for
a few more days until Athena moves farther out from the glare of the Sun. It
seems we can forget further speculating about whether the electrical environment
can be altered, Dr. Keene. Athena has come out from perihelion on a changed
orbit. It isnt going to cross fifteen million miles ahead of Earth as
was previously thought. Its coming straight at us."