The Universe - or Nothing

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
ISBN: N/A
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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Excerpt

Chapter ONE

The recon-patroller's leg and torso-pads fine-tuned their tensions as Lieutenant Pete O'Hare shifted position. His eyes ranged the banks of flickering lights around him. An aberrant indicator caught his eye and he mind-stroked a sensor control. Satisfied, he moved on; the greens held firm.

Planet Pluto arced into view from starboard, half a million kay distant. The mottled moonlet, Charon, orbited the mother planet tightly. Only tanktown Coldfield's dome and its hard unblinking lights broke Pluto's drab crust. A dozen or so rutted trails formed a network that connected encapsulated outposts to each other and to Pluto's solitary city.

The recon-patroller's omni-directional screen displayed the huge cylinder that floated in space behind him, its gravity-enhanced rotation barely perceptible to O'Hare's vision. Five-meter high orange letters glowed brightly along its blunt bow and stern, and on each quarter sector of its exposed surface, proclaiming the huge cylinder as the UIPS SLINGSHOT LOGISTICS DEPOT.

Space transports, no two alike, rode their magnetic-beam's moorings along the Depot's flanks. Space tugs and barges labored in all directions, taxis charged about, and space-cranes swayed above dozens of platforms that protruded from the Depot's hull.

Leviathans off-loaded to barges as other ships in a multitude of shapes and sizes grappled with cargo from flex-conveyers that snaked from the Depot's gaping portals. Slender, multi-armed space cranes raised and lowered crates, bundles and modules, and arranged, aligned, connected and disconnected gear and cargo in all directions.

Aggregations of netted or tethered girders, platforms, multi-meter-wide conduits in hundreds of shapes and lengths, and modules linked by stabilizer-beams crossed open spaces, pulled or pushed by robot tugs controlled from the station's cargo control centers. In trains or clusters, machines traversed the open stretches between the Depot's portals and nearby transports in their final step toward a long journey.

The brightly checkered Depot slipped from O'Hare's screen. A deployment station to O'Hare and hundreds of his colleagues, and to more than four centuries of his predecessors, the Depot was as much home to him as his permanent station afloat in space between Earth and Luna.

"Time," O'Hare silently flashed the code that opened his spunnel channel to Keeper. "This is a Slingshot Tac Ops from Red Fox to Keeper. I am hot to trot on Point Charlie off Fandango Force Field. All coordinates green for Scout Operation Xray Delta slash Four. Time for go is 2112 slash 14 Solar. Keyed to transmit status on Spunnel Channel 9212, scramble 38. Confirm. Over."

The response was equally silent, registered directly in his consciousness. The message's clarity was unaffected by passage through hundreds of spunnel boosters that linked O'Hare to a shielded bunker beneath Luna's surface.

"Keeper to Red Fox. Your orders to scout Planet Pluto Zone confirmed. You are cleared to start at 2112 slash 14 Solar....