A blog where Stephanie M. Belser test-drives her fictional stories.
Expect the occasional
"stall, spin, crash & burn".

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Under Construction

(A FF challenge)

The astronomers were puzzled. Stars were disappearing. They were not proceeding to either brown dwarfs or blowing up. They were fading away and then just winking out, with barely some faint infrared signature remaining. It wasn’t random, there seemed to be a pattern. The stars were not that far away, at most 100 light years. They were largely in a single direction from Earth.

Nobody was too concerned. Not until the satellites that were observing the Sun began to detect a very faint decrease in solar output. It was barely detectable, but a small drop in the Sun’s output could cause an ice age. A larger drop could result in the “Goldilocks Zone” shrinking in, placing the Earth in the “too cold” region.

Then somebody thought they saw something odd transiting across the Sun. Every telescope capable of direct observation of the Sun was trained on it. Most of them saw it; something very large that was clearly not just in orbit, but was under seemingly intelligent control. It was leaving something behind it, like a trail or a spider’s silk. When they looked really closely, it was more than just a trail, it was a lattice.

The lattice was going up all around the Sun. It only took a day or so for someone to connect the earlier stellar observations and concluded that someone or something was building a Dyson sphere around the Sun and that may have been what happened to the other stars. Which meant that sooner or late, there would be no visible Sun and everyone could figure out what that meant.

Within 48 hours of that revelation, the leaders and top scientific advisors of those nations capable of launching spacecraft met in Geneva. The president of France wanted to know if the sphere-builders knew that the Earth was populated. One of the scientists from Russia caustically asked if, when building a road, anyone cared how many anthills were in the way. One politician asked if anyone had a theory why the Dyson sphere was being built. The Russian, Vasilii Massalsky, asked in turn what difference that made.

The decision was made to try and signal the builders. Powerful radio transmitters began beaming sequences of prime numbers towards the Sun in a wide range of frequencies. As far as anyone could tell, the sphere-builders took no notice.

The leaders met by video-conference. They quickly decided to send a stronger signal: A series of nuclear weapons would be launched towards the lattice. But to demonstrate no hostile intent, the weapons would be detonated half-a-million kilometers away. Three weapons would be launched, one by the Americans, one by the Chinese and one by the Russians. They agreed to coordinate the launchings so that the three blasts would occur simultaneously.

The launch date was set for the earliest possible day, which was in three weeks. Each nation basically took a booster rocket that was slated for a satellite launch and mated a thermonuclear warhead to the rocket. Normally it would have taken months to design and build the spacecrafts to carry the weapons, but time was of the essence. Society around the globe was starting to become unhinged. At this rate, civilization would end before the solar output did.

The Americans had rockets ready at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral. The Chinese were launching from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. All of the governments had their launch facilities ringed with soldiers with orders to shoot to kill, without warning, anyone approaching the sites. Some people thought that the launches were interfering with Divine Providence and marched to stop the launches. They found out that the “shoot-to-kill” orders were being obeyed.

The Russian launch took place at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Massalsky, along with many other authorized spectators, watched the nuclear-tipped Angara rocket rise into space. It was a flawless launch. As the sight of the rocket dwindled to a tiny glowing dot high in the sharp blue winter’s sky, Massalsky turned to a fellow scientist, Dmitri Petrov, and asked: “Dima, remember how I said in Geneva that road-builders took no notice of ants?”

Dmitri kept his eyes on the rocket’s flight and answered: “Yes, Vasya.”

“How do you think they would react if they disturbed a nest of hornets?”

Dmitri dropped his binoculars.

Vasilii had his answer within a week.


Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

"They found out that the “shoot-to-kill” orders were being obeyed."

Great line!!

This is a very cool story, Stephanie! I love the idea here... and you have hit on exactly how we would react were something like this to happen.

I LOVE the ending... leaves the reader asking... "hey! What happens!" I LOVE those kind of endings!!

Smashing read! Well constructed... good flow...a lot of fun to read! It looks like it was fun to write as well. Thank you for sharing.

Veronica Marie

Anonymous said...

My first love is SF. Cut my teeth on Heinlein, after all. Not seeing enough of it in these challenges. I wish oh wish that I could write it.
Loved this. Great story.

Eck! said...

Heh! Be prepared to deal with hornets.

Build a sphere around the sun, nukes. Ya really gotta be kiddin.

A true short in the realm of the greats that wrote short for Analog and Amazing SF stories, Fantasy&SF, and Asimov's.


Anonymous said...

Ouch! We humans get too cocky for our own good. Wholeheartedly agree about it being a true genre short.

I really, really appreciate the fact that the Russian is the one being wise. Too many US-centric geniuses I see these days. ;)

PerSagaX said...

Great idea, and a fantastic ending. I love how the metaphor changes. Definitely has the Heinlein ring to it.

Angie said...


Tara Tyler said...

SUPER cool!
i want more!

Anonymous said...

Ooooh... chills. Very cold and hard. Goodbye human race! Great story. : )

Anonymous said...

Whoa, great ending! Chilling. A somber reflection of human nature.

Lindsay Mawson, Thriller Writer said...

Curious! Neat idea about the road. Where was it going and why? Good job!

Stephanie Belser said...

Thanks. The road, though, was an analogy. We don't know what the aliens were building.