Cold War: Finale

Awakened from a 30 year orbital slumber, the U.S. Air Force satellite slowly warmed from within. Even though it was comprised of 20th century technology, its multi-billion dollar design ensured it was revivable and operable despite the thousands of blistering hot and cold orbits during its time in space.

Off the books and a blatant contravention of the Outer Space Treaty, the satellite served no benevolent function for science or humanity. It was a weapon- Advanced Tactical Directed Energy Weapon originally designed to shoot down Soviet ICBMs or satellites. During its three decade sleep the security threats the laser was built to counter had changed and new ideas for its use developed along with it.

Capable of dozens of shoot downs in a single burst of focused x-rays, the nuclear powered ATDEW was reprogrammed to pierce the Earth’s atmosphere and reach down with a laser capable of destroying a two city blocks. Now the energy coursing within its nuclear heart was refashioned for the melting of Earth’s most enigmatic lake. The laser would split the cold and with a single dense beam of energy turn Baikal back into water. Should this work and the momentary burst of energy fully warm the deepest lake in the world, then it would be replicated around the globe.

But as the ATDEW returned to life and shifted its stable orbit to hover above its terrestrial target not all of humanity was ready to embrace the plan.

***

“The American government’s arrogance has jeopardized humanity,” the Russian ambassador to the United Nations shouted from the Security Council chambers. Broadcast to the world and those watching from orbit, the debate between the two superpowers intensified with each blast of rhetoric and saber rattling.

His American counterpart leaned forward into the microphone, “Mr. Ambassador, it is your country that unleashed this global catastrophe! A highly suspect experiment led to this. Russia is to blame and since your nation refuses to remediate this massive problem my government is more than willing.”

“We are NOT willing to accept blame for the Great Freeze! And if the source of the disaster did happen to originate within Russian territory, WE will be the ones to remedy the problem! Not laser gun-slinging space cowboys!”

“We are on the brink of extinction and these idiots are starting a new cold war,” Sonja pointed to the Earth broadcast.

“Sonja, this is a cold war,” Alex Mehta replied meekly. “The governments are in flux, dear. The U.N. has taken over humanitarian efforts for 30 nations that have already collapsed. Only the G8 survive in some fashion and now they’re faltering. America has to do something.”

“By using a giant laser to melt lakes,” Sonja shouted. “How stupid! This is the kind of juvenile problem solving that created the environmental crisis on Earth to start with!”

Her frustration born from distrust of politicians and magnified by the series of fatal decisions made by humanity. She also stared out the thick ballistic glass to the icy world below and ached for her home.

“Dad, why don’t you come up here? Stay with me,” Sonja glanced to the fading green equator. Her father, the man whose money and technology created the first humanitarian space station and inspired a generation, remained behind on Earth. His voice as frail as his thin, cold visage beamed up to the space habitat from his small home in Panama.

“I know you’re worried about my safety. But I will be fine. And if I die, its nature’s way, you know that.”

“Death is the only thing we truly have in common with the natural world. Everything else is mankind projecting laws or morals. Death is ubiquitous,” Sonja’s tremored voice was joined by her father’s, many miles below.

“It snowed here today,” Alex coughed to avoid the conversation. “Remember when we came down here and bought this house? Four rooms a mile from the beach. Beautiful.”

“Your only ostentatious purchase, dad,” Sonja smiled at the flatscreen image of her father.

“I think your mother would say it was the private jet,” Alex cut his laugh short. “Sonja, did you hear what the Russian ambassador just said?”

Sonja spun to the monitor now scrawling a translation.

“We will shoot down the American space weapon if it attempts to violate our territorial space.”

***

The ballistic missile sat atop a growing column of pure white smoke rising over the Pacific Ocean. Interceptor “Pautina” separated from the submarine launched missile as it reached the top of the atmosphere at the edge of space. Its ascent went from violent and noisy to smooth, silent and elegant.

In orbit it would give chase to the 100 foot long ATDEW as it nudged itself into firing position over Siberia. It was never clear if the targeting of Baikal was strategic or spiteful. The world stopped trying to figure out the motivation when the United States announced the laser was in place and prepared to fire.

Equipped with their own Cold War relic technology the Russians chose war in space rather than on Earth to settle the question of the most technologically advanced nation left on the frozen world. The “Spider Web” was a micro-attack satellite designed to ensnare and harass enemy satellites with a massive net. Entangled and disabled, the enemy satellite would then be sent it to its fiery death in the atmosphere.

The Pautina’s sensors array, coordinating with a small Russian telemetry ship floating at the equator, drew within five miles of the American space cannon. After two more orbits the Russian attack satellite closed to 400 meters as its 100 yard wide titanium net blossomed out.

Small tanks in the pod’s tail stirred and a jet of high velocity gas shot the Russian attack satellite directly towards the lumbering American satellite. The laser armament however was not entirely helpless as it possessed a quiver of defensive weapons to ward off attacks.

A series of explosive bolts shed a panel on the American satellite to reveal a beehive of a dozen tubes. Nested within each tube were 500 tungsten ball bearings and a high explosive charge. Radar warning receivers within the American laser cannon sensed the closing Russian attacker and responded. The defensive ejector spewed a hyper-velocity tungsten swarm between the American and Russian satellites.

The tungsten balls fanned out and tore apart the Pautina’s extended net, leaving it in taters to whip about like an octopus. The forward velocity of the Russian satellite continued, now as a cloud of satellite killing kinetic shrapnel.

As the decimated Russian attack satellite fell on the ATDEW’s gleaming hull the space laser’s nuclear heart reached critical mass, exploding in a brilliant instant. Focused down the cluster of twelve exotic metal rods, the energy release from the nuclear detonation shot x-rays from within the rods in the direction they were aimed- Baikal.

***

An icy gloom clung to the deep tundra of Siberia in a permanent twilight. The glow of a cloud shrouded sun grew brilliant when the clouds evaporated in a two mile wide oval over Lake Baikal. Steam geysered and ice exploded into a massive frigid mushroom cloud. The x-ray laser shattered the deeper ice, melting and boiling down 1,000 feet.

In the millisecond before nuclear detonation, the American satellite was struck by the high velocity debris of the disintegrated Pautina. Thrown off by the impact, the focused x-ray burst etched a line across the sky, diffusing and spreading over the curved surface of the Earth. Instead of the massive burst of x-rays remaining focused in the few seconds of its life, the American laser pulsed wildly. Arcing away from the lake, the laser sizzled across the tundra, melting ice and burning the forests still clinging to life. At its high altitude, the space-based laser flash burned and blistered hundreds of miles of Russian terrain in a ten mile wide, 500 mile long oval.

Gas exploded with a sound heard a thousand miles away. However, no one was around to see or feel the destruction. Instead it was observers in space, like those aboard the newly expanded International Space Station and the Mehta Space Habitats who could witness the destructive majesty of a plan gone awry.

***

A glow just over the horizon flashed green and red as the nuclear pulsed x-ray ended its life. The sweeping electromagnetic pulse disrupted communications between the space stations and Earth, as well as permanently frying vulnerable electronics in satellites spinning around the frozen globe. The remaining Earth cities went dark as fuses were blown, wholesale, reminding those left behind of the dominating cold.

Sonja Mehta saw the flicker through the porthole in her quarters. Strangely, she swore she felt the now fortified space habitat module shutter as if an ocean wave had crashed over a ship’s bow.

“We all cling for life on a fragile lifeboat adrift in the ocean of space,” Sonja’s breath clouded the porthole chilled by the vast, cold vacuum of space. The Earth, already obscured by terrestrial blanket of white, grew that much foggier.

The End.

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