Beyond the Sky: Chapter 37

E = mc^2

  Fluorescent lights glared down on the War Room’s circular table. To Delvar’s left, the wall bore projection boards showing maps and positions of forces. At right, technicians stared into amber-glowing console screens.  
Warmaster Nellan lowered his phone. “Julan reports the Malgies are sending jets. Their skimmer fleet will be in range soon, how should he proceed?”
Delvar leaned back. “Don’t give those corpse-eaters a finger-length! Tell them to evacuate the island, or they will be fired upon.”
An attendant approached. “The Prime Minister is here, as you requested. Shall I send him in?”
“At once!”
“The plan was the doing of a small number,” Carter explained the dizzying array of sonolinguisitic representations flashing across the screen. “Many do not approve, but they do sympathize.”
Glint asked, “Can you tell them to stop?”
“The reply is, ‘too late’.”
“Tell them what Captain Benson told me! That killing so many people, it’s wrong!”
“They will not listen,” even the Thinking Machine sounded resigned. “You must understand, these people, this species, has suffered much in recent decades. Ships pull in fish by the trawler-load, while from above your rivers discharge waste and effluent. When similar processes occurred on humanity’s homeworld, their seas died.
“The Deep Ones have no industry underwater, no process of mechanized farming. Many faced starvation. The War Against the Sea was their last desperate action, a long-shot to buy time and remove the boot from their necks. And someday soon, the surface-dwellers will realize the truth, and fear them no more. If nothing changes, they and the Stilt-Striders will be first in a wave of technological extinctions.”
The explosive shell was half-dismantled, now. Selva removed a hollow hemisphere of metal from underneath, then lifted out a silver-plated orb, small enough to fit in her hand. “It is disarmed.”
“That’s the—”
“Pit,” Abdul said. He unslung a hard-shell container of sorts from his shoulder, setting it on the ground. “Give it to me.”
Velli realized he spoke to her. She eyed the thing, the killer heart of an atom bomb, contemplated touching it, and exclaimed, “No!”
The rusted doors across the room thumped, and broke in. A half-dozen soldiers streamed in, tan-colored rifles raised. One barked something.
“Amalgamation.” Velli lifted her hands. Cepics and two Slee. She resisted the urge to blurt out, it’s not what it seems!
“We cannot use our deflectors,” Selva growled as she stood.
“What? Why?”
She nodded to the pit she held overhead. “Repulsor fields interact with fission neutrons, any particle with mass.”
“Which means?”
“Reflect enough of them back,” Abdul stepped away from the box when a soldier gestured with his barrel, “and you get a criticality accident.”
“The plutonium flashes blue, and we die in agony a few days later,” Selva clarified. “That’s what the box is for, to nullify exterior fields.”
An Amalgamation soldier shouted something which probably meant, “Stop talking!” They had thicker, padded helmets, different from Mespreth’s. Outside was an armored vehicle.
Selva shouted, “Duck!
Velli threw herself to the ground. Gunfire erupted, bullets pinged off metal and thudded into wood. One smacked into meat, someone got hit. Selva dove for the container, shoved the plutonium inside, and slammed the lid. Jumping up, she raised her arm and a holographic outline similar in shape to an old-times shield projected from her suit—deflectors. Bullets bent away, shattering into fragments when the force imparted on them grew too great.
Velli examined her shirt. Was it her? It happened, people got shot and didn’t realize. Across the crate, Abdul stumbled and fell. She hurried over, staying behind Selva’s deflector. His stomach bore a wound, offset slightly, red blood trickling forth.
The Malgies stopped firing, and reloaded. Selva fired a low-power stunner blast, they stumbled and beat a retreat, ducking back in for volleys. “Get him up!”
Velli helped Abdul to his feet, he already had a bandage or gauze pad out and was covering his wound. Selva took the nullifier box, and the bomb casing full of parts in her other hand, and hurried out the rear door after them.
“We’ll have to hope we find that second bomb before it’s too late.” She headed for the scoutship, still parked in the ruined street. Abdul hobbled along, one hand over Velli’s shoulders.
From behind, on the sea near the horizon, a gargantuan flash erupted.
Had she been looking, with vision enhanced, she might’ve seen a metal cylinder float to the surface, bob up and down, and activate.
The nuclear device inside was a complex apparatus, assembled with tolerances measured in micrometers and nanoseconds. At its heart sat a plutonium pit, less than half a critical mass, hollow at its center. Over this went a dense uranium shell, then a lighter one of aluminum. Alternating segments of explosives surrounded this, wreathed in wires and ensconced inside a casing.
A circuit completed, sending impulses down the wires. Detonators atop each lens touched off, and the process began. The pit did not move at first, remaining still as the shockwave rushed inward. The aluminum pusher slowed it, let it build. The uranium shell, the tamper, began to shrink, blast pressing upon it from all sides.
A narrow gap of air separated the tamper and pit. Momentum increased, carrying it inward. The pit was struck, and began to implode. In its inert state, before firing, the plutonium was subcritical—while occasional fission events occurred from natural decay, the neutrons they produced dissipated away before others could be triggered in sequence. The shockwave, however, compressed it. Density increased. Now, when a nucleus fissioned, particles struck others and set them off in turn, like pins in a bowling alley.
The chain reaction began. The tamper’s movement kept it confined, carrying it inward as the pit continued imploding. Fission within heated it to plasma, a fraction of its mass liberating into energy. Radiation pressed outward: x-rays, gamma rays. The implosion slowed, stalled, and reversed.
A second sun came to the Land.

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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