PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 21 of 44 )
“ The Road to Hell ”
In the Original Hebrew of the Old Testament the deity is referred to in two ways, the personal name YHWH (Yahweh - Jehovah/Iubhar, commonly translated as "the Lord" in English versions) and by the generic Hebrew term for "god," Elohim. It is partly through the use of one or other of these terms (or a combination of them) along with the style of writing that biblical scholars have identified the four different original authors of the Pentateuch (Five Scrolls - i.e the Torah).
Third Fleet Reserves Battle Group departing Torgo Superbase
In orbit over planet Torgo III
08 Feb 2681 (2681.039) 0900 ZULU
Jackson, first mate of the late Elizabeth watched as the flotilla cast off moorings, boarding gangways and umbilicals. A few puffs of hydrazine from steering jets set the bows of each ship turning with infinite slowness to the correct heading, toward the Elohim jump point. He shook his head and turned away before they started their main engine burns.
The five ships slowly gathered pace as they left the station; three escort carriers, the TCS Miles D'Arby, TCS Iwo Jima, and TCS Okinawa in line astern flanked by the TCS Glyndwr, a Caernaven-class patrol frigate and the TCS Achilles, a Tallahassee-class cruiser. These vessels themselves were both veteran workhorses, a token escort. Not that the group particularly needed an escort, not yet anyway, for the danger would not face them until they rendezvoused with the other Confederation and Border Worlds forces to face humanity's greatest ever challenge, a foe even more terrifying than the Kilrathi that still dogged the nightmares of most of those old enough to have fought in or lived through the great War. If the Kilrathi were still nightmarish, what mental scars would the horrific Nephilim leave, even if they were defeated? All this and more preyed on the minds of every single man and woman aboard the warships as they slowly accelerated towards their fate.
TCS Miles D'Arby, running-up
to the Torgo-Elohim jump-point
Flight Wing Rec Room
08 Feb 2681 (2681.039) 1613 ZULU
"So, do you believe any of that scheisse about a wormhole?" Herman "Mongrel" Stück asked as he lined up his shot on the pool table. Stück was one of the Excalibur pilots, a dour German who struggled to see the bright side of anything.
"Sure. Why not?" Major Harold "Viking" Svensson was puzzled by the query.
"Well -- we never managed to engineer one." Though the angle of contact was accurate, Stück struck the two-ball far too hard and it refused to enter the pocket, instead coming to rest hanging in the jaws of the pocket.
"Ah, so where the greatest human minds failed, no one else can possibly succeed? A bit arrogant isn't it?" Viking tipped the ball gently in and the cue ball continued on to line up on the four-ball, the three having been sunk on the break.
"I just thought -- "
"To start with, we gave up when Akwende developed the jump drive." Viking dropped the four-ball into the left middle and then rapidly potted the 5-ball into the bottom right-hand corner, "besides, we were going about it the wrong way: We were looking at black holes and gravitational perturbation of the material universe."
"Ja." Mongrel barely suppressed a groan as the six-ball too disappeared into a pocket.
"Well wormholes from black holes were a fallacy to start with. It doesn't work that way. It's Einstein's fault, really." Down went the seven.
"He postulated the Einstein-Rosen bridge, a 'wormhole' between a black hole and a 'white hole' where everything that entered the black hole ended up. He screwed it up in two ways - he forgot that a black hole would be spinning, and that the singularity blocks the wormhole. Both of these points are really part of the same concept, though. The thing is, everything in the universe is rotating, and that a star that collapsed into a black hole would also be spinning. That angular momentum is conserved (or a part of it is) and amplified due to the density of the collapsed star - the same is true for white dwarves and neutron stars."
"Yeah," Viking spread his arms and the pulled them into his body, "like when an ice skater pulls their arms in when they're spinning, and they speed up? Same thing. Even if a star loses 99% of its angular momentum in the supernova, that 1% is amplified by an extremely dense back hole. Almost unbelievably dense for an average-mass black hole, not infinitely dense, but near."
"You mean the hole should spin infinitely fast?"
"That's the thing, though - just like everything else in the universe, it can't exceed the speed of light, even as a tangential velocity. But it doesn't have to - at a certain rotational velocity the centrifugal force from the rotation equals the gravitational pull, and the event horizon disappears leaving a naked singularity. A maximal black hole."
"Yeah. If you look at it another way, the inner and outer event horizons merge and break up leaving just a ring singularity. It's a ring, not a point, because it's spinning. Even if the black hole is 'normal' and has event horizons though, you can travel through the singularity, right through the middle." Viking leaned back down to the table. The eight-ball was tricky, not due to the angle of the shot, but getting position on the nine.
"What happens then?"
"You appear somewhere else - either in this universe or in another, depending on your point of view. You can even travel through time -- but only forwards. To go backwards you need to break the speed of light. That takes more energy than there is in the universe. Unless you have a naked singularity..." Viking smashed the eight into the side pocket, screwing back and coming off two rails to line up almost straight on the nine-ball which itself rested on the cushion.
"It breaks the laws of the universe; creates matter or energy from nothing, and allows time to travel backwards... astrophysicists don't like to talk about it. Besides, it probably can't happen." The nine-ball gently trickled along the rail and dropped into the pocket.
"The black hole drags space time around with it, so presumably some angular momentum has to be given to the universe itself. Even if the universe isn't infinite, and even though that momentum diminishes with the inverse square law, the size of even a closed universe is so immense the rotational velocity of the hole can't be high enough."
"Er... okay," Mongrel said, unsurely, "but you said you could travel through a black hole -- you said you couldn't earlier."
"Oh, you might be able to travel through the 'hole (if you survive spaghettification) but it's not a wormhole -- there's an infinite number of destinations depending on the precise parameters as you pass through the plane of the singularity. You can't have a single stable wormhole, even if you had a static black hole -- the first matter or energy entering it causes it to close."
"Spaghettification sounds like a nice technical term," said Mongrel, sarcastically.
"Because of the steep curvature of space-time around a black hole -- the difference in the strength of the pull between your head and your feet is so great as to pull you to pieces. It's more severe the smaller the 'hole. But the time for the passage also decreases with the diminishing size of the hole -- the time interval is probably so short that it wouldn't have time to effect you, but I wouldn't like to try it."
"An 'average' size hole would be able to literally pull your molecular bonds apart, possibly even atomic nuclei..."
"Unglaublich! Mein Gott...!"
"And if you used a super-massive black hole like at the center of a galaxy, the radiation from the accretion disk would certainly kill you, even with the strongest shielding we have. Fancy another game?"
"Nein." The German shook his head, "but if you're saying wormholes and stuff are impossible, how can you believe this man's story?"
"The Nephilim must be taking a different approach. Something other than gravity."
"What else could tear apart the fabric of the universe?"
"Oh, most things. Gravity is a very weak force, but it acts over infinite distances. The strong forces in atomic nuclei are so powerful as to be almost unbelievable. Given all the things we still don't know about the universe it seems stupid to dismiss the possibility of a wormhole out of hand: I mean, it may be a wormhole in time rather than space."
"Consider this: these Nephilim are more advanced than us now, and if they are the creatures of the Kilrathi legend they can have advanced little since they were already viewed as immensely powerful 'star-gods' then, thousands of years ago. Perhaps they are the same creatures: not merely the same species, but the same individuals!"
"It is a possibility, I suppose," Mongrel nodded slowly, "as you say, we know nothing about them, and little about our own universe. This conversation has done little to cheer me up."
"No one ever said astrophysics was a barrel of laughs -- why do you think I liven up my weekends by getting shot at?"
"You are a unique individual, Viking." As the German walked away, he left Viking pondering if his parting statement had been a compliment or an insult.
Flight Wing Rec Room
08 Feb 2681 (2681.039) 1937 ZULU
Robert "Robber" Bell, his wingman Malcolm "Mad Dog" McKaig and Jack "Blade" Scott had joined Viking in the pilot Rec area. People were laughing and cracking jokes and the night before was almost forgotten. Viking had apologized to Robber almost as soon as he walked in, but Rat and the other Bearcat pilots sat in the opposite corner of the room, their own clique deliberately apart from the other. Rounds for each group were got in at different times so that they didn't have to be at the bar together or even pass as they traveled back and forth, whilst the Excalibur pilots had a poker game going in their own squadron area. A rift had been formed in the flying community that would have to be healed, but neither side wished to offer an olive branch. Whilst the protagonists were present, good friends from the squadrons avoided each other's gaze. The pool table, within earshot of both parties, stayed unused.
"You know," Robber said as the conversation inevitably turned to flying and the relative merits of various types, "I'm wondering what mission we're going to be used in."
"Well, technically our T-bolts are classed as heavy fighters, but lately we've been used more in the light attack role."
"Yeah," Blade agreed.
"Well have you seen these things' stats? Have you ever tried catching a cat?" Robber asked him.
"My sister's cat. Fucking thing can run me ragged."
"Well, give that cat a gun and you'll know what I mean. If we have to tackle these Nephilim fighters they're going to run rings round us."
"That's why we've got tail turrets. I heard we'd be used as bomber destroyers. Ah, hell, plans go out the window when you go into combat. We'll manage."
"I hope so," Robber told him, "way back in the 20th century, there was a war. Well, I say a war, though war was never actually declared. It was a civil war, the North versus the South of a poxy little hellhole in southeast Asia, half swamp, half jungle-covered mountains. Vietnam, it was called. The United States of America decided to help the South, because the corrupt fascist dictatorship in power there was being attacked by communists. The thing was, the South didn't seem to want to win it, and America's politicians didn't seem to win the war either. It was all a bit of a farce, and it would have been funny except for all the people pointlessly killed in this "war."
"You see, there was an aircraft in the war used for a purpose it wasn't designed for, too, and it took massive losses. The F-105 - and no, not the Tigershark. It was officially called the Thunderchief, but everyone called it the 'Thud.'" The other T-bolt pilots started to take more notice at the mention of one of their own aircraft's nicknames, and they started to listen to Robber's story more closely.
"It had been designed to deliver a single nuclear bomb, toss bombing it with an 'over the shoulder' lob, and running for home, but despite that, it had been given a gun. Then this 'war' started, and they hung 'iron' bombs on it. This was before they had any guidance systems or software to tell them where a bomb would fall, mind you. Then they ordered them to bomb this city, Hanoi, but only allowed them to use certain routes to and from the target, so that the enemy always knew where they would come from. And there was only one piece of cover, too, a low chain of hills. They nicknamed them 'Thud Ridge' because so many of these aircraft ended their days there."
"So here they are, aircraft fulfilling a role they were never intended for, flying along routes where all the enemies air defenses were, and they weren't even allowed to shoot at these missile systems, not until they'd been shot at first, anyway, and often not even then. And they weren't trying to attack useful targets either, because usually the politicians wouldn't let them. They had fighter escorts, too, but those fighters hadn't been given a gun."
"Yeah, they'd said 'guns are obsolete, you don't need them with these new missiles.' But the missiles had been designed to shoot bombers, not other fighters (this was when America was paranoid about the Russians suddenly attacking them with hundreds of nuclear bombers). And the missiles barely worked, but that was mostly the politicians, too. They said that these enemy fighters had to be visually confirmed as enemies. By the time they were, they were often inside the minimum launch distance for these missiles, which couldn't be launched in a frantic dogfight either, because they had low "G" and other tolerances. They had little chance of taking out enemy fighters in the air, and they weren't allowed to bomb the enemy airfields either to destroy them on the ground."
"So these Thuds had to fly a hundred missions as a tour of duty. In World War II it had only been 25 for bombers and 50 for fighters."
"My god... were they all killed?"
"Surprisingly no, but it did damage the American superiority complex. They even made predictions as to when the Thud would become extinct."
"No, but they stopped using it as a bomber. They gave it another suicide mission instead -- Wild Weasel."
"It's hard to believe."
"But it's true," Robber assured them, swirling his pint in his glass. "The point being that we're going to be sent out there in obsolete craft to fly suicide missions, just like those old Thud pilots were. We'll be lucky if half of us make it back."
The silence was suddenly deafening, all conversation killed. Blade had to do something to break the mood.
"Whose round is it?"
TCS Miles D'Arby; Bridge
08 Feb 2681 (2681.039) 2000
"Sound General Quarters. Prepare for Jump."
"Aye, aye, sir." Every Confed ship jumped at battle-stations, much as the old-time sailing ships had met the dawn, because you never knew who or what would be there to greet you, "all station report ready, sir."
"Very good. How long to Jump?"
"Sixteen seconds. Fourteen... ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, jumping NOW!" The three small escort carriers with their own token escort of cruiser and frigate entered the swirling maelstrom and vanished.
TCS Miles D'Arby in the
Pilots Rec Area, About A Day Later
09 Feb 2681 (2681.040) 2115
"See the Nephilim are all over the news now," Viking commented.
"Aye, but the broadcasts are three or four days old," complained Tony "Rat" Carruthers.
"Yeah, true enough, but that's par-for-the-course, isn't it?" Robber pointed out, "interstellar comms aren't exactly fast at the best of times, and this is war."
"Even so," argued Rat, "something doesn't smell right."
"Okay, yes, the TC and BW governments could have waited to see whether to allow it out or not - if the news broke on one of the independent news agencies first, well, that'd be a few days old anyway, and they could release the stuff with no one any the wiser."
"I suppose so, but you're always suspicious and paranoid, Rat."
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. 'Sides, I've simply accepted the true face of human nature, Rob."
"Not everyone is as devious as you, Rat."
"Thanks." Rat grinned. "I appreciate the compliment!"
"It wasn't meant as one," muttered Robber under his breath.
09 Feb 2681 (2681.040) 2230
"Shit! Guys, you better come see this!" Major Michelle "Maneater" Ross, Black Knights CO, shouted urgently.
"What's going on?"
"Shut up and listen!" She pointed to the HV [Holo-Vision]. It was the TNC on the TCN [Terran News Channel; Terran Confederation Network].
"That headline again: We have just received word that the TCS Bunker Hill has been lost with all hands in the Nephele System. This is still as yet an unconfirmed report, and we'll bring you more details as soon as we get them."
"Christ, I had friends on the 'Hill..."
"Shit," Rat kept saying, over and over, rubbing the hairs on the back of his neck, trying vainly to press them back down, "shit, shit, SHIT!"
"When was that?"
"About two days ago, I think -- yeah, the seventh. Hot news travels faster."
"Shit." No chance of helping, no chance to do anything. A strange feeling -- the news was "up to date" and immediate but at the same time sterile, old news. A feeling of helplessness pervaded the atmosphere. "I suppose it had to happen sooner or later, didn't it?"
"True, but I'd rather it had been later."
"I wonder what else has happened in two days?" Robber asked, the question rhetorical.
"I don't know, Rob," Blade stated the obvious, "but I'm sure we'll find out."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"If there is anyone left to tell us what happened," contemplated Mongrel, morbidly.
"Guess we'll just have to do what we're normally told to do in these situations."
"Hurry up and wait."