Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Nutty Nuggets

"What are we looking for again?" said Liu, the technician from Mars Spacefleet.

"Ejecta from Perdita, of course.You saw the images we got from Alaunt. One of what hit Perdita shredded the cargo module and blew debris on a diverging course. The hydrogen tanks were holed too, but we're not going to waste time looking for hydrogen in space. You have the cargo manifest." Church, agent for Tranjovian and its insurance agency, was a stubby, thick-lipped, stocky man with heavy eyebrows. Perdita had gone silent on an unmanned low-energy trip to the Jovian moons and Alaunt had found what was left of her hull after a tedious search of her extrapolated course.

"Right." said Liu,  as a document came up on his screen. "Spare parts and luxury goods: fine wine, single-malt scotch, Napoleon brandy, macadamia nuts and cashews."

"The liquids will have frozen that far out, so we'll be looking for nutty nuggets. A pretty unique spectral signature beyond Ceres."

"Another 20 minutes until the next data from Baskerville. The time lag...."

"Your people willing to pay for a manned mission?"

"Hell no!"

"Mine neither. We'll live with the time lag"

"That rock pile tore up Perdita pretty bad" said Liu as they waited for the next data feed. "Tough luck!"

"Luck! You know, you ought to take a look at the statistics on loss of mission beyond LEO some time. You might learn a little something about the insurance business. We probably have ten volumes: manufacturing defect, processing error, design fault, system failure, programming error. Even inputting the wrong measurement units. You know what we don't have actuarial data for on loss of interplanetary missions?"

"Asteroid impact?"

"Bingo. Space is big."

Three weeks later, Church was back in the control room.

"Eight confirmed tracks of, uh, nutty nuggets" said Roberts

"Good. That will give us a sense of the limits of the debris field. Now we switch our search filter: aluminum, plastic, semiconductors"

"Mr. Church?"

"What's left of the bus, Liu. You don't think the Belters hit Perdita with unguided rocks do you?"

"The Belters? You think the Belters looted Perdita?"

"Hell no! You read too much classic SF. Do you have any idea how much delta-v they'd need to match courses from inside the belt and get away afterwards? How long a manned mission would take? Go ahead and look it up. God knows we've got plenty of time before we hear anything from Baskerville. But putting a few hundred kilograms of rocks on a collision course with Perdita? Piece of cake"

Several minutes later, Liu looked up from the screen. "Ok. Looting doesn't make sense. What's their game?"

"Well, you know the Belters have been trying to sell us navigation hazard warnings for the smaller asteroids, for a lot more than we think they're worth. We could read this as a bid to convince us that that threat is bigger than we think. Or just as 'Nice shipping line you got there, sure would be a pity if something were to happen to it accidental like'. But we think they were playing an even bigger game."
Oh?" said Liu.

"Somebody shorted Transjovian shares before Perdita was lost. To prove who was behind it we need to show the courts that it wasn't an accident. Alaunt needs to find some bit of manmade hardware in the debris cloud that isn't from Perdita. Fortunately, the debris from the places that were hit on Perdita won't look much like part of a midcourse  and terminal guidance multiple kinetic weapon bus. But now we will need some luck."

Five weeks later, they had it.

1 comment:

Migly said...