12 November 2017

Armistice Day

     "It's over!  It's over!"  The radio and ansible operator came shouting out of his cubicle and bounced down the passageway to the Command and Control compartment of the FCS-chartered Observation Starship Freya.  He rounded the corner past the Captain's quarters and slapped the hatch frame, "Skipper, it's over!  They made a truce!"  There was a faint mutter from the other side of the curtain; Freya's commanding officer had been asleep.

     The duty pilot and astrogator gave the radio op wary looks.  It was widely belived that all dittybops were half-crazy to begin with and a few years ago when the massive, awkward FTL communicator was installed, the odd sounds it picked up only supported the theory.  Before they could speak, Captain Bonham slid back the curtain that screen his tiny quarters from the bridge and leaned out, rubbing his eyes, to ask, "What's over? We run out of eggs already? Dammit."

     Freya had been skimming through the edges of the Linden/Lyndon solar system for three months shiptime/half a year realtime already, fast passes through while monitoring USSF/NATO radio traffic and as much passive ship-spotting as they could manage, alternating with FTL "hops" to reposition.  The ship was superluminal at present, which allowed the FTL-comms ansible to operate.  Normally, this meant only routine traffic and occasional personal messages, nothing that merited excitement.  "I knew those powdered eggs weren't gonna last."

     "No, Skipper, the War!  The War's over!"

     "What?"  Bonham blinked.  "Over?  Who won?"

     An alarm sounded at the Navs position, yellow light flickering in syncopation with the beeps.  The astrogator and pilot both ignored it.

     The radio op waved the flimsy again and it fluttered from his hand in the low acceleration.  "We did!  Um, I think.  It's over!"

     Captain Bonham reached out and gently retrieved the slip of thin paper.
     NR0112 CK 80 1989NOV11 0900UTC ALLSHIPS ALLFORCES AUTHENTICATORS ORANGE/RETICULAR/OOGAMOUS. AGREEMENT CONCLUDED BETWEEN FCS AND US/NATO ENDING HOSTILITIES EFFECTIVE 2300UTC THIS DATE. STAND DOWN IMMEDIATELY. AT 2300UTC ALL STARSHIPS TO RETURN TO HOME PORTS AND AWAIT FURTHER ORDERS. ALL OCCUPIED AND CLAIMED-CHARTED ASTRONOMICAL BODIES TO REMAIN ASSIGNED AS-IS ON THIS DATE SUBJECT TO FREE AND DEMOCRATIC DETERMINATION BY PRESENT INHABITANTS. ANY FORM OF OPEN CONTACT WITH EARTH EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED. USSR PLUS COLONIES STALINA MIR AND NOVY MOSCOW ARE NOT SIGNATORY.  COMMANDING OFFICERS TO CONFRIM COMPLIANCE ON RECIEPT. OOGAMOUS/RETICULAR/ORANGE AUTHENTICATORS ENDIT ENDIT

         The war was over.

*  *  *
     General Gerald Filiaggi, CEO of Mil/Space and — after round after round of consolidation and takeovers — effectively in command of all military forces deployed at the behest of the shadowy Federation of Concerned Spacemen, sat at his desk and thought wistfully of cigars.

    Even after decades of operation, the enivironmental budget at the Mil/Space shipyard and HQ on Trinity'S airless moon A was tight and he wasn't going to allow himself a luxury his staff couldn't share.  There was a fine Cuban cigar in a tiny glass humidor on his desk, smuggled off Earth in defiance of good sense and wartime necessities, and he glared at it.  Something was up at Linden/Lyndon, that much was obvious, but exactly what wasn't clear.  The USSF carrier Lupine had briefly docked with intelligence/surveillance/scout carrier ships Vulpine and Caprine and a number of lesser vessels, and all had departed on different vectors.  Vulpine had definiely left for the indpendent settlement of Smitty's World — Filiaggi made himself not use the term, "pirate base," since the too-clever Johannn Cameron Harper Smith had managed to make himself and his barren, frozen world essential to both sides over the last decade.  That ship and its vector worried him.  A delegation from the FCS Board hes been meeting with representatives from Earth under Smith's auspices for months, but that was all he knew.  They made periodic reports that said nothing of the talks.

     Filaiggi scowled at the cigar and grunted.  The FCS were a bunch of wooly-thinking eggheads, who treated the military as hired help.  Of course, Mil/Space was hired help; the FCS Board was firmly determined not to be a government, and outsourced every function that it could not manage to avoid. 

     The computer terminal to his left clucked twice and lit up, neon-orange letters rapidly filling the screen:
     NR07734 CK81 RELAY VIA FCS LOKI AUTHENTICATORS WEAVERBIRD/QUENCH/ORANGE QUOTE 1989NOV11 0900UTC ALLSHIPS ALLFORCES AUTHENTICATORS ORANGE/RETICULAR/OOGAMOUS. AGREEMENT CONCLUDED BETWEEN FCS AND US/NATO ENDING HOSTILITIES EFFECTIVE 2300UTC THIS DATE....
     Fourteen hours — now twelve — was an insanely short period of time.  The ansible couldn't reach any ship in realspace and at any given time, most of the FCS fleet and its charters weren't in FTL transit.  He swore quietly, then reached for the intercom.  "Joyce?  You see this?  Get Loki to confirm, that's Maurer in command, and once he does, have them Jump out and relay it again over my name."  His assistant murmured confirmation back but Filiaggi barely heard it.  The FCS negotiators, sworn to secrecy on the subject, had overlooked something.  Earth didn't have the ansible.  This deadline was insane. There was no way USSF was going to be able to notify all their starships and installations by the deadline. "Hang on, hang on — Hold that message. Tell Loki to stand by.  I need to add something."  The Ops summary was in his inbox; the points of contact had been stable for weeks, both sides just watching and waiting, no real action.  He had a fair sense of who was where, but it was going to take detail work.  Maybe they could even get the USSF ships to back down.... He reached for the intercom again, and stopped suddenly.

     "Snookered," he said to himself.  "The clever boys have been snookered and they damn near swept me along."  He flipped the intercom switch.  "Okay, here's the deal: add this to the message: tell everyone, all ships, anything NATO or USSF can observe, hold position.  Take no action. Ships are not to return to home ports until we send out a courier."

     The intercom asked a question.

     "Because it's a setup!  No, not the peace; you see everything that passes my desk, Joyce; there isn't any point to more fighting.  They're done and we're done; we're out here and they can't haul us back — and they know we won't mess with the Earth.  It's a stalemate. But their damn armistice timetable is a setup and the FCS eggheads fell for it.  USSF isn't run by complete idiots.  They have to suspect we've got faster-than-light communications and I almost confirmed it."

*  *  *
     Freya and her sister ships hung on for weeks, kept to their schedules and avoided conflict. It was a mess; but what mattered was, the inconclusive and spiteful War was over. Over, as the USSF negotiators had insisted upon, at eleven p.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month; but it was months before word reached every part of the far-flung frontier, carried on the faster-than-light spacecraft of Mil/Space and USSF.

     It was another decade before USSF managed to build ansibles of their own.