“I’m failing to see your point in all this.”
The General was pissed and frustrated. Pissed because in the last two weeks he’d had nothing but a mounting pile of satellite telemetry flowing into his office and frustrated because it seemed nobody had any clue as to what to do about it.
“It’s one of ours.”
The ESA tech had been transferred in, officially an attache to NATO he’d become the go between for the combined military strike force that had been put into force. Operation HALO was shaping up to be the largest movement of weaponry in human history.
The General snatched up the tablet in the tech’s hand, pawing through the data. The initial low resolution blurs picked up by the Hawking telescope gained definition, not only as the object grew closer but as more eyes turned to look at it.
“It’s still a blur,” the General said.
“In the visual spectrum yes.” The General bit his lip at the patronising tone of the younger man. “But the spectroscopy reports are painting a clear picture. The elemental breakdown matches the profile of an old-bloc Yankee test shuttle.”
The General whistled and swiped to a composite overlay of an archive photo and the spaceborne object. If he squinted just right…
“The thing’s gotta be at least fifty years old. Nobody in that continent has had power for a lightbulb since the Clock. No way they could put a man in the sky.”
“It’s unlikely it’s manned sir,” the tech said, taking back the tablet and throwing up a flight trajectory on the wall screens. “The orbital dynamics, the metalurgy, the sheer velocity it showed up at…”
Seeing the look on the General’s face, he switched tack and expanded the flight path.
“This is Earth.” The General resisted smacking the squirt. “This is the shuttle.” A glowing red dot appeared, hauling ass towards the blue dot. “The last known launch by NASA was fifty-four years ago. That gives us a twenty-seven year outward journey. But they couldn’t do a full burn out, they have to turn around.”
“I get it. Orbital mechanics, all that jazz. They burn out, flip and use the thrusters to slow down.”
“Not exactly,” the tech said, tapping again to show a projected loop. “You see, that would mean they would have been accelerating for at most 27 years. And that’s assuming they started at full burn on the way home and didn’t kick on the brakes.”
“And the problem with that is?”
“They’re going too fast.”
“They’ve been flying for 27 years, I don’t think speed is a problem.”
“Given the orbital calculations, based on the maximum projections of the chemical fuel available at the time, there’s no way they could have attained the velocity we’re seeing. Think snail vs e-racer.”
The General was getting flustered. His face was red, nothing a good scotch wouldn’t fix. His impatience was evident.
“So the answer is?”
“They jumped. The Americans must have cracked it. A jump to a high warp factor for three minutes would put them beyond the Oort cloud. A burn from there would be enough to get up to speed.”
“You mean to tell me, that not only did the Americans break the lightspeed barrier first, but they’re test vehicle is on it’s way back home?”
The tech nervously tugged at his collar and zoomed in on the two dots on the screen.
“Not only that Sir. When this thing hits, it’s going to have more energy than a hundred megaton warheads.”
Prompt originally posted by OB1_kenobi on reddit and received 2 upvotes.