Cold and Steel Episode 2: Asteroids


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Cold and Steel

Image of the AEDF1 Fleet Command Emblem. An acoustic cover of Major Tom by Peter Schilling begins to play.

TEXT: AEDF Outreach Media Presents:

Montage of AEDF filmstrips throughout history- NG2 craft in black and white, photographs of primitive space-suits on the surface of the Moon, excavation of Lunar sites, NG vessels over Antarctica, censored images of Howler noocraft3, engine tests, space station construction.

TEXT: In Cooperation with the Department of Personal Efficacy and Wellness

Montage of AEDF personnel at work; donning spacesuits, conducting experiments in laboratories in low-gravity, constructing the keel of a torch vessel on the surface of the Moon.

TEXT: Cold and Steel: Stories from the High Frontier

Cut to black. Music continues.

TEXT: As part of the production of Cold and Steel, AEDF and U&IIB personnel were given personal cameras and told to record whatever they believed other Authority personnel should know about their lives and work. These are their stories.

Music fades, replaced by an electrical hum and the sound of echoing footsteps. Handheld "selfie" shot of Catherine Merton walking down a stone-walled hallway lined with pipes and electrical equipment. Her footsteps are oddly spaced and her gait bouncy, indicating low gravity.

TEXT: Episode 2: Asteroids.

SUBTITLE: Created by Researcher Catherine Merton

MERTON: Hi everyone! I'm Catherine Merton, Operations Officer on the Sauron Laser Installation, and welcome to the dark side of the moon!

She stops and turns the camera to a porthole window, showing the lunar landscape outside. The window is caked with lunar dust.

MERTON: The Solar Ambient Reflection Weapon- that's the official name for Sauron, the laser system we run here- is the Authority's main asteroid-deflection system. The small Lunar sites all have their own little lasers, to stop rocks from coming in too hard, but our purpose here is a little bit fancier- we stop or deflect stuff that might hit the Earth.

She moves away from the window and continues down the hall.

Most of the Sauron equipment is shut down at the moment- it's been up here since the Seventies, needs a good dusting, hahaha! But anyways, we still have an operating staff here working with AEDF orbital assets to coordinate asteroid defence across the Solar System. Today we're running intercept drills on a rock out past the Moon's orbit that's got a 15% chance of hitting Earth within the next 30 years, so I figured I'd show you the place when it's fully operational. Or at least as operational as it gets, haha!

Merton stops at a bulkhead door. A hand-painted plaque shows an image of a black tower with a flaming eye, with the caption "SoARn: Impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky"

TEXT: SoARn Command Center "Mordor 1".

MERTON: The people who built this place were huge Lord of the Rings fans, haha! This is Mordor One, the nerve center of the Installation. From here we can coordinate the nine main SoARn emitters, a fleet of several dozen orbital mirrors, and, if need be, the entire AEDF fleet.

She scans a card on the door, which hisses open. The room inside is darkened, its walls covered in large CRT monitors and projector screens. A half-dozen people are speaking over radio headsets. Merton brings the microphone close, whispering.

MERTON: Only SoARn Nine is running at the moment, so we're coordinating with the Aura and the Pipemaker. Over there in the front row is Ram Singh, our plotter- he points the laser and aligns orbital mirrors when we need to do shots outside the Installation's field of fire.

She zooms in on Singh, a heavyset man wearing a turban. The screen in front of him is covered with complicated geometrical diagrams, and a blurry image of a slowly-tumbling asteroid. Singh does not turn to face the camera.

SINGH: …take it up three seconds, Pipemaker, compensate for the y-axis rotation. Okay, not quite. Try another second? Yeah, yeah. Looks good on my end. Aura, do you confirm? Okay, next we'll bring in BM-24, should be aligned in thirty-seven seconds. Can you confirm-? All right. We're going to see a lot of ablation, so get ready to…

The camera pans over to a man in a plaid shirt. He is wearing slippers, and has his feet propped up against a console covered in dials and readouts. He is speaking into a telephone receiver.

MERTON: Bill Lonsdale, he's Power Management. He's the one who actually fires the laser system, and keeps them running cool enough.

LONSDALE: …Listen, Ellie- I don't care if the eggheads over at Site-109 need an extra two dozen kilowatt-hours for their fun little experiments. We're running a Goddamn orbital laser cannon here- we need to output about, say, seven hundred megawatts over the next three hours or someone on Earth is gonna get hit by a Goddamn rock. Yes, you tell them that. Well I know. Well… well thank you. I owe you one.

He notices the camera, gives a nod and a wave. Merton pans over the rest of the room.

MERTON: Pietro Maringuez, he's running the cooling systems- we dump most of the excess heat into the regolith here, use it to melt and collect ice that we can supply to other lunar Sites. Then, uh- Jessica Walsh, she's steering orbital mirrors by remote- Jessica, got a minute?

Walsh, who is casually dressed and whose console includes several joysticks, turns to the camera.

WALSH: Sure, Cath. I can spare fourty-five seconds or so?

MERTON: What're you up to? For, hah, for the folks at home?

Walsh indicates the screen on her console, showing a plot of dozens of green pips moving in orbits around the Earth and the Moon.

WALSH: Well, to make a long story short Sauron was supposed to use a few big lasers plus focused sunlight to knock asteroids out of the way. The big solar collectors never went up after the budget cuts in the Eighties, but we have the BMs- banking mirrors- that we can still use to tighten things down a notch. Ram programs trajectories, I guide them into place.

Walsh's console beeps.

WALSH: Speaking of which- if you'll excuse me-!

She takes over the controls. Merton continues to pan across the room.

MERTON: Lieutenant McCauley is our fleet liaison, he's working with Fleet Control to make sure no one's in the path of the asteroid or the laser beams- wouldn't want someone to get cooked, it's happened before, hahaha. And last but definitely not least is Maite Soto, she's our radar technician.

Soto turns away from a radar plot and makes finger guns at the camera.

MERTON: Maite is collating radar and laser rangefinding data from the Installation and a couple dozen other AEDF ships, probes and satellites in the Earth-Moon system to get an accurate fix on where the asteroid is, where it's going, and how its course will change when the lasers start to hit it. She's the one who has final say over if we've given it enough of a push to get it out of Earth's way.

Merton turns the camera back to the main screen.

MERTON: If we were running the array at full power I'd be coordinating all this, but the Pipemaker and Aura are doing most of the work, so I get a chance to talk to all you fine folks.

Image cuts to an exterior view of the Sauron Laser Installation. It is a spindly metal tower with nine sets of rails running up its sides. A mobile car with a dome-shaped laser emitter is attached to each pair of rails. One of the cars is at the top of the tower, while eight more sit at its base. Several of them are visibly disassembled.

MERTON (V/O): Sauron is two hundred and fifty meters tall- tallest manmade object on the Moon, actually- with nine emitters. Each of them can sustain about twenty megawatts indefinitely, though if we draw power from the entire Lunar power grid- takes a serious threat to do that- we can manage thirty gigawatts or so from each emitter for about 60 seconds. Produces a ton of heat, obviously, and the other Lunar sites don't like it when we cause rolling blackouts, hahaha!

Camera cuts to a closer view of the emitter on top of the tower. It is slowly rotating to track a distant target. A series of pipes leading off it are glowing red-hot.

MERTON (V/O): People sometimes call Sauron a death ray- which I guess is true, our side job is shooting down space anomalies if we have to- but most of the time it's basically a really big heat lamp. We heat the surface of the asteroid, make it melt or turn to gas, and the pressure that generates changes its course.

Cut to a low-resolution shot from a spacecraft camera of a slowly tumbling asteroid.

TEXT: AEDFS Aura Exterior Feed

MERTON (V/O): This is a pretty small rock, and we don't want to use up too much juice- hydrogen fuel is expensive- so we're doing a nice slow burn on this one, just a long shove really.

A section of the asteroid suddenly flares red-hot, clouds of gas and dust pouring off its surface. Several other smaller areas light up a few seconds later.

MERTON (V/O): All AEDF ships have their own laser arrays for asteroid deflection and defense- those dots you see are the beams from Aura and Pipemaker. We'll keep this up for about three hours, and do a second confirmation burn in twenty-four hours, just to make sure. If all goes well, sometime in the next 30 years this rock will be a beautiful shooting star!

The rock's rotation is visibly slowing down as more gas and dust pours off its surface.

MERTON (V/O): So next time you see a meteor shower- well, chances are it might be one of ours! From all the team here at Sauron, keep watching the skies, haha!

Video fades to black. Major Tom begins playing.

TEXT: Catherine Merton has recently completed her fifth two-year term on the Moon. While the Sauron laser remains inactive for overhaul, its team coordinates on average one asteroid deflection every two months.

SUBTITLE: AEDF Outreach Media, 2019.

Playback ends.

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