The world of Tarachne is what might be generously called a Klingon protectorate. A planet that has avoided occupation by voluntarily submitting to Imperial control. This act of servitude had spared them the unpleasantness on invasion. And for their acquiescence, their taxes and supply of natural resources, they were allowed to continue governing their own internal affairs without overt interference from their Klingon overlords.
But that arrangement was made long ago and the galaxy has changed. In recent years, the alliance with former adversaries the Federation has softened the application of Imperial control on many worlds of the outer marches. And, inevitably, this relaxation has lead to revolt.
For worlds that have spent many generations under the Imperial yoke, especially worlds that have avoided the messiness of conquest, such as Tarachne, revolution does not come easily. Patriots must be incited out of their inertia by a powerful and charismatic leader. A personage with a mastery of propaganda and oration who can stir the blood and sway the intellect of a previously comfortable and inactive population. One who can convince citizens to sacrifice their lives and fortunes to battle an enemy they didn't even know they had.
The name of the Tarachnean who has risen to fill this role as savior, his thoughts, his motivations and even his name are irrelevant. What matters is that the Klingon High Council has ruled him a serious threat to regional security and for that he must die.
That will not be an easy task for the target is well aware of his status as an enemy of the State and has taken many precautions. He has collected a fanatical bodyguard and cadre of informants to protect him from any native turncoat. He is protected from off-world assassins by his anatomy, different enough that no Klingon could disguise himself as a local. The Tarachnea are no barbarians either, having developed or purchased beam weapons, power shields, transporter scramblers and advanced scanners.
Lastly, they are mildly telepathic, essentially precluding the use of native spies, turcoats and traitors.
And while Tarachnean interplanetary fighters playing hit-and-run with Klingon battlecruisers fosters only lukewarm but growing support on the homeworld, a military operation in the heart of a major city would surely swing the balance from insurgency to outright revolt.
This rebel's death must be a message that the Empire will deliver swift justice to criminals and their co-conspirators yet remain benevolent towards law abiding Imperial subjects. It must be a message that, while the Empire has been patient up until this point, that patience is not boundless and should this contrariness continue, the Empire has full means at its disposal to exact a terrible price. Set down upon the entire world if necessary. It must be a message that the Empire should be likened to a force of nature; mysterious in its means yet quite clear in its effect. And, it must be a message to Federation allies that, while the Empire does not brandish its claws as it once did, it still bears teeth. To have all these messages, the rebel's death must be singular.
Assassination, it is said, is the highest form of public service. It can alter the political destinies of entire worlds at the minimal cost of but a single life. Millions, or even billions of lives on both sides can be spared the horrors of war by the suitable application of abject mortality.
Any butcher can kill, but to convey the full depth of political influence requires an artist.
For Kordite, the waiting is the worst part. Weeks of study and preparation build to a crescendo but, in the final moments there is the interminable quiet before the end game. The wait for the target to be in just the right place at precisely the right time.
In this case, the target will be making an inspirational speech before a large assemblage in what they have called the "Capital in Exile", Tarachne's fourth largest city. In preparation, the event organizers have set up transporter jammers to ensure that no one arrives or leaves unexpectedly. Secret police with scanners are scouring the city for non-natives. Even more secret telepathic police are searching minds themselves for nefarious intent. Orbital satellites have set an outer perimeter to warn of any approaching cloaked vessels. They would not be able to prevent their approach or pinpoint their location with enough certainty to launch an attack but even a few minutes of warning would allow the target to escape.
So, Kordite will have to deliver the Imperial decree of execution as a sniper. A single shot from far off. He looks through his rifle's scope set to its widest field of view. A touch of a button on the stock activates the targeting computer and powerful gyroscopes spin up to stabilize the rifle on the target.
At least, it is where the target will be shortly.
Kordite stretches his joints, then tenses all his muscles. The tension now will allow the muscles to be relaxed when that state is most needed. He takes a final moment to glance around him, a sniper's habit of looking for any potential threats before he focuses all his attentions and energies on the target.
The action is likely wasted as he expects to see no enemies here at the upper reaches of the Tarachnean atmosphere. Aside from the curve of the planet below and the fierce, naked stars above, his only companion is a Tarachnean communication satellite drifting nearby. He has been using its presence as his only concealment after having been dropped here a dozen orbits ago by a very small automated shuttle pod. It's presence, entering and then leaving the system, was calculated to embolden the Tarachnea. To play off the target's defiance and ensure that his appearance at the rally is on time.
As Kordite hurtles west to east, the rifle begins to shift as the target rolls across the horizon. Kordite presses his helmet against the rifle and his head against the inside of the helmet as he touches the control to begin increasing the magnification on the targeting display.
From a field of view encompassing a Tarachnean province, Kordite zooms in to a prefecture, the city, a district and finally, a neighborhood, each step becoming more clear as he looks through less and less atmosphere. The barest twist of the wrist adjusts the gyroscopes slightly to bring the crowd filled square into view just over the rooftops of medium height buildings at the perimeter.
Space is said to be cold and a vacuum is indeed quite cold, but it is also an excellent insulator. The heat of Kordite's body and equipment has nowhere to go, no molecules to pick up that energy and carry it away. And the energy of Tarachne's star is absorbed by Kordite's suit makes it even warmer.
Heat is the enemy of a sniper. Sweat blurs the vision, the heart runs faster and atmospherics waver, all distractions and detriments. To combat this, cooling fluids circulate throughout Kordite's suit, absorb his body heat and lower his metabolism to just above hypothermia. Large fins on the back of the suit, like the great wings of an evil insect, radiate the heat away.
But at this extreme magnification, the pulse of Kordite's slowed heart shows appreciable jump at the targeting crosshairs even with the dampening effect of the gyro-stabilizers.
Kordite brings up the magnification more and centers on the podium. He identifies individuals on the stage, each one having earned their own death sentence. The target is not among them.
"Now", he thinks. He is straight overhead, looking down through the least amount of atmosphere. At this angle, thermal waver is minimized.
Time crawls painfully by as Kordite's trajectory takes him past the optimum angle.
"Now. Now. Now."
The target at last appears at the back of the stage and proceeds towards the crowd. Kordite imagines the sound of the crowd's adulation and judges the target's pace. He considers sluing the rifle from the podium to take the shot immediately before his descending angle places buildings, vegetation or even a greater thickness of atmosphere between the podium and his high vantage. He weighs the time constraints against the difficulty of hitting a target on the move and chooses to wait an agonizing few additional moments.
He will have only one chance either way.
A slight movement of his thumb activates the pre-firing sequence. A stream of protons are released from their magnetic containment into a hand-sized touroid set in front of the trigger assembly to interact with anti-protons already swirling within. Particles and counter-particles are drawn together and annihilate themselves in a burst of energy. The quantum soup beyond plasma cascades upon itself, a raging inferno racing around the circuit, straining for release.
Kordite's view zooms in upon the target's back, now having reached the podium. The slight motions of atmosphere, breath, heartbeat and arteries cause the crosshairs to waver across the target, swinging as far as outstretched arms.
His thumb presses down with slightly more force and energetic antimatter forces stream out of their magnetic captivity into a translucent, amorphic carbon rod. Electrons absorb the furious energy then discharge that energy in precise measure, stimulating the next atom to do the same. The energy reflects back and forth between the ends of the non-crystalline diamond barrel, half again Kordite's height in length, and are allowed to exit one end only when the waves of energy are in precise lock-step.
The laser slices down through the Tarachnean atmosphere. The intense energy begins to ionize gasses and those dust particles not vaporized diffuse the beam into the faintest, glittering column.
By the time the beam has reached the planet's surface it could not even compete with a warm breeze. Someone looking straight into the sky would not even see it against the backdrop of the sky.
But this is not the weapon. It is a pathfinder to push some of the atmosphere out of the way for what is to come.
A small fraction of the energy returns, some reflected from various levels of the atmosphere and even a few photons from the target himself. The strength and frequency shift of these photonic echoes feed into the rifle's computer. The processors turn this into calculations of varying densities, opacities and molecular sheer, adjust the crosshairs slightly and present concentric circles of varying probabilities of precision.
These circles Kordite's ignores. He can allow himself to focus only on perfection. He sets a pattern of controlled chaotic motion that allows the crosshairs to waiver in a predictable motion over a measured amount of time, maximizing the opportunity for a lethal hit should the shot be less that perfection.
He waits . . .
Waits . . .
Almost . . .
The signal to fire, a fractional increase in pressure by Kordite's thumb, reaches the trigger through nerves and muscles at just the moment that the last heart valve slams shut at the end of a heartbeat. The antimatter energy that did not go into feeding the vanguard laser is driven from one magnetic cage to another where a piece of hell waits to be unleashed.
As atomic masses increase, so decreases the nuclear stability. The heavier elements become more and more radioactive, decaying to their lesser cousins more and more rapidly. But there is a line where magic happens. These huge nuclei become as stable as the base metals of iron, copper and lead.
This particular mass of extremely rare and difficult to produce metallic vapor, costing as much as a small starship, has been primed with energy.
Just as electrons can absorb and store energy by leaping instantaneously to higher energy levels, so to can this nuclear isomer rearrange its protons and neutrons to store even more energy. A million times more energy.
And just as the laser gives up its energy in a single wave, so to does this metastable gas give up its energy under the prompting of an antimatter induced x-ray stream. The energy climbs smoother, peaks higher and sustains that peak better than the matter-antimatter reaction that fuels it. Hotter than the fires of creation, the energies pulse and swell against the straining magnetic fields within the rifle's stock.
It is a perfect supernova going off next to Kordite's head.
The energy races down the barrel where a moment before the carbon laser was blasting the way. The phased gamma rays pass through the diamond rod as easily as through pure vacuum. A thousand dilithium coils surrounding the barrel's length feed off the residual energy from the antimatter reaction, redirect and refine it into a warp field that attempts to drive the colliminating gamma flux beyond the laws of the universe.
The warp coils fail to do this but fail so spectacularly and with such precision that the wave near the rear of the pulse leave the barrel at the same moment as the waves at the front, building the amplitude of the pulse an additional three trillion times.
It is at this fraction of a moment, when Kordite's heart is preparing to contract for it's next beat, that the recoil of the spoonfull of sub-atomic particles accelerated almost instantaneously to relativistic speeds slams into his shoulder.
The suit's integral inertial dampers and force field reinforced rigid structure ensure that Kordite is not torn in half and sent spinning into deep space. The heat-radiating wings also act as complex counterbalances, keeping the rifle as the central axis of impulse. After the shock of impact wears off a few heartbeats later, the rifle is still pointed at the planet and Kordite can begin assessing the outcome of his endeavor.
His once elliptical orbital path is now nearly vertical with easily enough energy to slip the bonds of Tarachne's gravity well, each moment taking him higher and pushing the limits of his scope's resolution. He resets the gyroscopes and, starting with a low setting, begins ramping up the magnification again.
Whether or not Kordite was successful, a small device connected to that once nearby communications satellite will begin broadcasting a message. The Klingon Empire will not only take responsibility for the attack but will glorify it. The only apology will be that it did not occur sooner. The message that this was a "warning" will obsfucate any failure.
Whether or not Kordite was successful, the planet will shortly be swarming like a disturbed nest of angry insects. Rebel fighter craft will leap into the sky from their hidden places to deliver retribution. Kordite is a very exposed target with a bright radiation trail pointing straight to him.
A cloaked vessel waits far out in space. It sits quietly, far from the Tarachnean sensor satellites, its crew knowing only to watch for a warp-energy spike and collect the source of that radiant energy. If it looks like the Tarachnea will capture this source, or even get close enough to scan and identify, it is to be destroyed.
If Kordite was successful, he will activate a small transponder. It is a deception that he hopes might convince the crew of the cloaked ship to expedite his rescue rather than simply vaporize him should it look that the Tarachnea might claim their prize. Kordite hopes to invoke the unswerving loyalty that only money can buy.
If Kordite failed, an execution sentence may await him on his return to the Empire even though the practical effect of a near miss might be the same and has already been factored into the political equation. Nevertheless, the Empire does not reward failure, even a calculated one.
The image through the scope begins to shake as an entire day of adrenaline and tension is allowed a release. Kordite notices the cold. Muscle and joints ache. He loosens his grip on the rifle so as not to transmit too much shaking to the scope.
He can now see the chaos in the crowd. Tarachnea are attempting to evacuate the square and are bunching up at the egress points. This soon after the event there are many witnesses standing is shocked inaction who have yet to realize what they have seen.
There are bodyguards clustered around the podium. An empty space opens in Kordite's gut when he fails to see the target's body on the stage.
There is nothing more he can do. With all the energy of the rifle expended he can only watch. Next time, he will use a micro-transmitter slipped into the target's last meal and a hypersonic homing missile. Of course, at this point it is unlikely that he will live long enough to make such an attempt, even if the High Council felt so inclined to try again.
Kordite searches for the point of impact. There should be a mark nearby indicating where the gamma ray energy had struck but he cannot find it amidst the moving limbs of the bodyguards. Very shortly, though, they should be moving the principal away from his position bent down over the podium to a more protected location.
Kordite is surprised that he hasn't been moved already. Are they not professionals?
Finally, the bodyguards begin to move the principal towards the rear of the stage, only not very far. They lay him out flat behind the podium. Fluids spill out from the torso.
The intense gamma ray pulse had struck the target in the back of the skull, the brain had absorbed the energy and changed to a superheated steam. The head exploded, delivering the High Council's message in what must have been a spectacular display.
Kordite begins to laugh.
|http://www.tasigh.org/kordite/impact.html -- Revised: 18 May 2002
Copyright © 2000, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman