Starts with a little bang
(with beta reading by Star Ranger4)
“Cathy, they finally delivered the last parts of the Laser!”
‘Laser’ Cathy thought, the one with the ‘capital L.’ She could hear that Lisa was excited. After the attack on Jenga Lisa had become one of the catgirls that pushed the hardware upgrades of the Space Station forward. The new large laser cannon was just the most recent part of it.
Not that Cathy would disagree, she was trying to make the catgirls take their personal security more seriously as well. But personal training was not as popular as building more hardware gadgets.
“Yes, I heard about it a few minutes ago. We already have the reactor from Whistlers and the Weberite grav lens is already in place” Cathy responded. “How long do you think it will take to assemble the whole thing?”
“Oh, just a few days I think” Lisa said and smiled. “We already have most of the support structure in place, now its just assemble the lasing chamber, install the cooling system and connect the power supply. And then, just shoot it through the lens and watch the fireworks!”
One of the problems with Jengas outer defense network had been the lack of a larger weapon system. The few point defense laser cannons had been good to shoot down a missile and wreck one of the attackers space fighters, but if they had come with an armored vehicle Jenga would have been defenseless.
“Tell me as soon as you make enough progress for a first test. As soon as its installed and tested, I will get the paperwork done to update Jenga’s shipping register” Cathy offered. It was good that they did not had to put an exact tonnage of Jenga into the register, otherwise they would have to add to it every few weeks.
“Sure, you will be the first to hear about it... together with everyone else on Jenga!” Lisa said and laughed. “But maybe you know whats the status of the other large order I made?”
Cathy shook her head. “Sorry Lisa, still no news... these things are a little bit more difficult to get than our over sized laser, but I am sure we will get them in a few weeks. No need to get impatient, we have still more than enough work to do with the other upgrades. And don’t forget to attend the personal combat lessons I will do tomorrow, you have already missed a few of them and getting some basic knowledge in hand to hand combat and small arms is as important as the Laser!”
“I have so much to do Cathy” Lisa complained, “maybe we can delay them for a few weeks?” But she could see that Cathy was not amused about the suggestion.
“No way Lisa, you need to do it regularly... otherwise all the training will be for nothing.” Cathy said. “I do not want one of us in a dangerous situation and not knowing how to handle it anymore.”
Lisa sighed and nodded.
‘Data Mining’ had always been the little boring brother group of the Code Breakers in Space Patrols Section 7b. They didn’t hack into enemy systems, they didn’t write up firewall code, create hunter killer bots for active defense or fight rouge AIs.
Data Minings job was much easier and more difficult at the same time. They had to keep track on the insane amount of information the Fen produced in the Interwave and tried to filter out things that could become dangerous or interesting for Space Patrol.
Like the code-breakers and -hackers, the group had a large proportion of AIs doing the work, AIs were just better keeping in touch with the constant flow of digital data running through the Fenspace backbone networks.
“Jeff, I have something interesting for you I think” a loudspeaker announced and the avatar of one of the AIs appeared on screen.
Jeff Patson was one of the few ‘Meat’ people working for Data Mining. Officially his job was to oversee parts of the groups operations and make sure to report anything unusual to his boss. Most of his coworkers said his job was to keep annoying administration people out of the groups work. They could not appreciate it anyways . ‘Make sure they just don’t bother us, we are only doing our job’ was a common remark Jeff heard.
“Okay, tell me what you got” Jeff responded, putting a data-tablet away. “I thought this would become a calm day, maybe I am wrong again.”
“This is our data about Catgirl Industries and the heavy weapons they have.” The AI avatar displayed a smiled as it called up the file. “As you know, they are buying the parts for a large scale laser cannon at the moment.”
“Yes, I know. Its a little bit over sized for a commercial space station, but I thought we decided to ignore this one?” Jeff answered, curious what his digital minions had dug up this time.
“Yeah, we did. But then one of us noticed that the catgirls sent a small group of representatives to Europe last week. They were on a tour through a number of larger universities and companies, looking for some special equipment.”
“Are you sure that its not about the laser?” Jeff asked, looking over the file.
“Yes, I am sure. I managed to contact a friend at one university, and he told me that they are looking for some special electromagnets.” The AI said and displayed a picture. “These magnets are mostly used in building compact particle accelerators.”
“So they are trying to add a particle accelerator system to their new laser weapon? Catgirls with Superlasers and Ion Cannons?” Jeff asked. This was an unsettling development, currently particle beam weapons were restricted to a few ships operating with Great Justice.
“Maybe, I don’t know. The only other thing I got is that from the design and number of magnets, its very likely that the catgirls are planning to build more than one of these things.” A list of items popped up on Jeffs screen, projecting a number of parts onto the design of a known linear accelerator. “Maybe five or six of them.”
“Six particle beam weapons on a mobile space station? THAT sounds like a Death Star in progress. I am sure my friends at Coruscant will be pissed if Jenga will be called the Death Star afterwards! I will get this to my boss as soon as possible. Tell everyone that you all did great work, and copy all the raw data on my pad.” Jeff stood up, his hands moving towards the off switch of his monitor.
“I will Jeff, I will... good luck dealing with the administration. We will send flowers if you don’t come back.”
“Geeks!” Jeff said and sighed. “Why could Space Patrol not hire a bunch of droids, at least you can whack them if they get too crazy!”
He still heard the AI laughing as he left the room.
“You said we got the last package?” Lisa asked, grinning like mad. “Was hard enough to get all the stuff, traveling to Earth to buy things is just a pain. Why do not sell they this damned things on Ebay or another web shop?”
“I think the market for large electromagnets is limited, most likely they are only producing them on demand.” Cathy replied and chuckled. “But please be careful, we burned up a lot of our hard currency to get them, next time I would like a supplier in Fenspace... or a plan how to build them ourselves!”
Lisa nodded. “Sorry about this, but these things are a still to special to buy them in Fenspace. I bet the large Factions could build them, but they are not selling stuff like this. That’s really mean.”
“It doesn’t really matter, we got everything we need.” Cathy was already hearing catgirls whispering about a lack of Exocomps, the new project was drawing them like mosquitoes attracted to a fire.
“I will inform you when we fire them the first time, we will have a huge party afterwards!” Lisa replied and turned around, heading towards the new modules for their new project.
They had gathered a group of 14 catgirls to work on this project alone, while others had created six new Modules for the accelerators. A the moment they were mounting the Whistler Fusors that would supply each of the machines with energy.
“Hi Lisa, how did Cathy reacted to our news?” one of the catgirls shouted and waved, nearly dropping some thick cable she was working on.
“Good, I think she is looking forward to the party we will be doing afterwards.” Lisa said and grinned. “And of course to the results of our first tests. You know, she is pushing every project that can help the defense of Jenga in the long run at the moment.”
They both got back to work, there were still a lot of superconducting cables to put in before they could install the first magnet.
Jeff was lucky, the boss of Section 7 had enough time to see him right away.
“Mr. Patson, you send me a message that you want to see me? Some new data your group acquired the rest of Space Patrol has to hear about?”
Jeff nodded. “Yes. I think you still remember the memo I sent you that Catgirl Industries is gathering the parts for a large scale laser cannon for Jenga.”
His boss nodded. “Yes, I remember your report about the ‘Turbolaser’. We expect Catgirl Industries to announce the cannon in their public spaceship record of Jenga soon. It will disturb some Fen, but I don’t think its really something to worry about. But I am sure there is more you want to tell me, right?”
“Yes... we got some evidence that Catgirl Industries has sent a team down to Earth to buy some special magnets” Jeff continued. “Magnets which are normally used in particle accelerators.”
“Let me just make sure I got you right. The catgirls did not only built a capital ship laser that will punch through most non-military ships in a shot, they also trying to buy parts for a particle beam cannon? That sounds a little bit too crazy.”
“Not one particle cannon,” Jeff corrected his boss, “according to my sources they were down on Earth a few weeks ago and bought enough parts for at least five linear accelerators, maybe even six of them. I think my friends on Coruscant could become pretty angry about this.”
The man behind the desk in front of Jeff leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Six particle accelerators, you are sure about this Jeff? How reliable is this information?”
Jeff took a look at his tablet. “Pretty reliable, it was confirmed by a personal contact on one university involved in the trade. And I just got the tip that they are building quite a number of new modules for their station at the moment, enough to house a lot of new hardware. Soon they will have Jenga fully armed and operational!”
His boss sighed, Jeff was known for his references. “I know that the catgirls at Jenga have been going a little bit crazy since the Tanglewood Boys did their raid, but I don’t think they are THAT crazy. They were always part of the reasonable Mads. Maybe we should just ask them.”
Jeff thought about the idea for a moment. “Interesting idea, but it might work well. We had always good contacts with Jenga. And when they got attacked, they did not called some friends to help them, they called us.”
His boss nodded. “Exactly. That’s why I propose to ask them instead of starting a secret investigation. I just need a volunteer to do so.”
Jeff knew it was time to get out of this room fast, some invisible trap was closing in around him quickly. “I will ask the rest of the crew on my the way out. Glad you think its not that serious boss.”
Jeff was just standing up as his boss begin to grin. “Wait, I got a good idea. I think you are really a good candidate for this field mission. You know, if you don’t do a field mission for years, you get rusty and might even be forced to skip a pay raise!”
This was the most stupid excuse Jeff had ever heard. “Boss, you know... my group needs me, they will be in panic mode if they have no one who deals with real life. Or they might just become bored and do something crazy.”
“Sit down... and stop spilling such nonsense.” His boss said and Jeff sat down again with a sigh. “You wont be away for a long time, and your friends will be fine without you as long as the mission would take. See it as a paid vacation! Traveling Fenspace, make a tour on a space station full of catgirls. Some people here might pay for it! Get a free time slot next week and visit Jenga to see what is going on.”
“Maybe I can borrow some Stormtroopers from home?” Jeff asked, he wasn’t sure he liked this kind of field mission. “Or is it too late to pretend being allergic to cat hair?” His boss just nodded. It was way too late.
Cathy turned down the volume of her intercom quickly, what the hell was going on?
“Lisa, calm down. What is going on?” she asked.
“CATHY!!!” the voice whined again.
Cathy was worried. It wasn’t Lisa’s style to whine like being a child being told ‘no Christmas this year’. “Lisa, where are you?”
She heard someone on the other end start crying and then the connection was dropped.
“Cortana, give me a fix to Lisa, I think she need help.” Cathy was not in the mood for a long search.
“She is in the new experimentation area, yes I think she could need someone to hold her” Cortana answered. “You better hurry.”
Cathy did not wasted a moment and started running to the closest elevator. It took her just a few minutes to get into the new modules.
Lisa was cowering in the small control room at the command console, weeping. Another catgirl was standing near Lisa, shrugging helpless at Cathy.
Cathy floated into the control room and walked over to Lisa, sitting down besides her. “I am here Lisa, whats happened?” she whispered.
Lisa looked up and embraced Cathy, still whining silently. Cathy put her arms around the catgirl, just waiting until Lisa wanted to talk.
“Cathy” Lisa whispered, “its... its... its not working!”
Cathy was worried. This was not the first time one of Lisa’s projects did not work, in fact a lot of projects at Catgirl Industries had to start over an over. “Just tell me” she asked, “what is the problem? Alignment of the particle beams, energy consumption, anything else?”
“No, its just not doing anything!” Lisa said and wiped with her hand over her face. “We have energy, the accelerators should be running, we finished waving the control rig. But it does not do anything when we punch the start button and we have no clue why!”
“Its okay Lisa, its okay... maybe its just a bug in the controller, or an unknown quirk.” Cathy said to calm down Lisa. “We will find out soon, I am sure...”
“No, its not that easy” Lisa responded sad. “We checked everything, we even rigged a second control circuit together. But the whole system just wont fire, none of us have a clue.” She chocked slowly. “We have burned up a lot of our Earth money and produced a failure.”
“We will find out what has happened, it will be a stupid Quirk... it will take time, but we will find out, I promise” Cathy said, giving Lisa a hug. “You just need a break, you have worked too hard since you have beaten this space marine. Take a break, you will need it.”
Lisa blinked a few times, then she looked suspiciously at Cathy. “What do you mean I will need it?”
“We just got a radio call from Space Patrol. They are sending one of their officers to Jenga, they want to talk with us about our new Heavy Weapons” Cathy said. “He will arrive in a few hours.”
“If he wants to take away our Laser I will claw his eyes out” Lisa hissed angrily. “There are too many Fen always talking about staying peaceful and not arm Fenspace... and they never step out of their secure enclaves and have to fight for themselves!”
“I am not sure its that serious” Cathy said slowly, “they are just sending a single officer. If they planned to take away anything, they would have sent more than that. But we will see...”
“Yes” Lisa spit out, “that must be the day of the great news... damned.”
“Here is Jenga Tower to Jeff Patson, you are cleared for hangar A, please put your car into the second slot.”
“Hangar A, slot 2” Jeff repeated, then he switched off his microphone. “They say the solar system got small with the wave... but sitting in this damned car for hours is not really that fun” he murmured, then concentrated on getting into the parking area.
He still remembered the words of his coworker. ‘Yes, catgirls are cute and fluffy, most of them anyways. The crowd on Jenga has always been a very nice one, they are playful and friendly, don’t be surprised to see a sleeping catgirl in a comfortable and warm place. But always remember, catgirls have claws. Stay careful!”
Jenga became larger and larger in front of him while he was flying towards the first hangar. ‘One advantage of asteroid settlements... lots of space for parking cars’ he thought and grinned, as the car finally touched down on the surface of the space station.
A few warning lights flashed as the door behind him closed, then a light on the wall switched to green and the door in front of him opened. A pair of catgirls was waiting on the other side. Jeff stepped out of his car.
“Hello, I am Jeff Patson, Space Patrol” he said and smiled, “thank you that you had enough time for my visit.”
The catgirl on the left smiled back. “Welcome on Jenga, I am Cathy and this is my friend and coworker Lisa. We always have time when Space Patrol wants to talk about something. What can we do for you Mr. Patson?”
Jeff looked at the second catgirl for a moment. This one was not smiling, but he could not put a finger on what was really wrong.
“Space Patrol got some strange rumors about your ‘upgrade’ for Jenga a few weeks ago” he replied carefully, “and we thought it would be best to talk with you directly about them.”
“Lets go to one of the conference rooms,” Cathy said and nodded.
Jeff followed her through the space station until they arrived in a small room with a table, a few chairs and a large window showing a starry sky. They sat down all three and Cathy looked at him.
“Its quite simple” Jeff started, “Space Patrol got some rumors that you are upgrading the weapon capabilities of Jenga, upgrading it much more than we had ever thought. While we are not really worried about it, some other Fen might be.”
Cathy scratched her head, Lisa looked downright angry to Jeff.
“I am not sure what you mean” Cathy finally said, “we have bought parts for a large scale laser cannon. Its not finished, but I think it will be comparable to a large caliber weapon used on Great Justice ships. Definitely nothing spectacular.”
“We need this laser, otherwise the Boskonians will just come back and we will have nothing to shoot them down” Lisa added. “Why the hell is space patrol worried about it? I bet White Tower or Prometheus Forge have more than one of this things.”
Jeff blinked a few times. He had expected some excuses, but a downright denial? Did they expect to hide their other heavy weapons behind their laser purchase?.
“I am not talking about the laser, I don’t think anyone would be worried about it after your battle here a few months ago.” Jeff said calmly, hoping they would just admit what was going on. “I am talking about the additional heavy weapons you acquired parts for.”
Cathy and Lisa looked puzzled at each other, then to Jeff. “I have no clue what you are talking about Mr. Patson” Cathy said.
“I am talking about your purchase of special electromagnets to build a group of particle accelerators” Jeff continued calmly while looking back and forth between the two catgirls. Something strange was going on here.
Lisa was rolling with her eyes and even Cathy could not prevent herself from grinning like mad.
“Just to be sure Mr. Patson... you are here because you think we are building a couple of particle beam weapons?” Cathy asked him and laughed.
Jeff just nodded, he was sure that he was missing a major joke.
Cathy stood up. “Lisa, I think we should show Mr. Patson his particle beam cannons.”
The two catgirls began to lead Jeff through a number of corridors. Cathy was explaining him some minor details of the internal design of Jenga while Lisa was just smiling.
‘What the hell happened?’ Jeff wondered, ‘one of the catgirls was downright hostile about my questions until I told them we knew about their particle beams. And now they are happy and want to show them to me?”
But Cathy had denied to tell him right away what the two had in mind, she just said “you will see, you will see” and continued their tour through the space station.
Finally the group arrived at another one of those huge airlocks, this one with a changing room in front of it.
“You need one of this spacesuits with a maneuvering harness” Cathy told Jeff, “the next modules has sometimes hard vacuum inside, and it does not produce artificial gravity. Without the suit you cannot enter it.”
Jeff let the catgirls help him into the suit, then they put on a suit themselves.
“The visitor suits don’t have a tail, but the rest is similar. The floating harness will make it possible to navigate inside” Cathy told him. “You will see, its quite easy to use.”
“Quite easy to use” Jeff murmured, imagining all kinds of crazy accidents that might happen to him soon. “I hope this thing has a speed limiter.”
Cathy nodded. “Don’t worry, they are limited to normal walking speed, and you have to enable three dimensional rotation by saying ‘rotate’. I will keep an eye on you and you will be always connected to the communication system” She smiled, then she signaled Lisa to open the airlock.
The airlock was leading into a big open Module, at least twenty meter across in all three dimensions. On each of six surfaces of the cube, Jeff could see a smaller opening into another Module. In the Module on the opposite side of him he could see an installed particle beam.
‘A small dedicated reactor, a 20 meter long accelerator tube, some strange electronics and an airlock behind it. And most likely one of them in each attached Module, so they can shoot in all directions at once. Strange design’ he thought, carefully navigating into the large cube.
“I think that are the accelerators you heard about” explained Cathy and pointed to the middle of the large central cube, “but as you can easily see you got something wrong with them.”
In the middle of the cube was a strange network of electronics and small tubes, connected to the walls by a large number of cables. The network left an empty sphere exactly in the center and had openings to all six sides.
It took Jeff a moment until he got what Cathy was pointing too. “They are shooting inward, right?” he asked slowly.
Cathy nodded. “What you see here is the new accelerator system of our Little Big Bang Labs! If you want to look at the outward end of the accelerators you will see that they are closed. This is a place of physics, not a weapon system!”
Lisa sighed sadly while looking at the central sensor. “And it does not work...”
“Does not work?” Jeff wasn’t sure how to take this comment. “So it is not finished?”
“Just follow me into the control room over there” Cathy said and pointed into one direction of the cube, where Jeff could see a door and a room behind a glass window. “Be careful, artificial gravity is present behind the airlock again.”
They all slowly floated over to the control rooms airlock. Inside the room Jeff could see a large console with controls of all kinds, none of them with any kind of activity. There were also three projectors for holographic displays, all of them dark. They closed the airlock behind them and took of the helmets.
Lisa looked at Jeff and pointed to the console. “We finished waving them this morning... but... but they don’t activate. We tried multiple times, we even tried to install a bypass and fire them manually. But nothing happens!”
Cathy put an arm around Lisa, who was looking as she wanted to start crying again. “We will find a way to fix it Lisa...”
Jeff didn’t really listened to Cathy, he was standing in front of the large control panels, looking over the countless of buttons, switches and sliders on the surface. Directly on the left through the large glass window he could he could see one of the particle accelerator tubes. He let his hands slide over the surface of the panel, trying to imagine how the colliding beams would look like.
He could feel something like static electricity building up under his hands.
He turned around and looked to Cathy and Lisa. “May I try it?” he asked, “of course only if it is not too complicated.”
Cathy and Lisa looked a bit puzzled, but Cathy nodded. “Its not complicated, the firsts tests are just some simple settings to calibrate the other beams. You will just have to wait until we have evacuated the experimental chamber.”
Jeff nodded. He had not to wait that long, there were not that many catgirls inside the experimentation area. ‘Green’ he decided for himself, ‘of course the beams will be green!’
Cathy pointed to the console. “Its just this two levers to connect the capacitors with the accelerators and then press the red button.”
Jeff’s eyes seemed the twinkle as he grinned and nodded.
“COMMENCE PRIMARY IGNITION!” he ordered and pressed the red button, which began to pulse in a red light.
All over the console lights and small monitors began to light up and everyone could hear a load hum coming from the experimentation area, which quickly increased in volume. A bright green flash illuminated the window to the experimentation area as the particle beams fired for the first time.
Cathy blinked unbelieving, but Lisa squealed happily and threw her arms around Jeff, giving him a kiss and hugged him hard.
‘Fired Death Star, got purring catgirl’ thought Jeff with a grin, patting Lisa on the back. His friends at work might be right about catgirls having claws, but this was feeling rather cuddly. “You see, we got it running” he said, which made Lisa to nod happily, still not willing to let him go.
“Hope to see you back one day Jeff” Cathy said as she shook Jeffs hand at the airlock. “I hope we were able to reassure Space Patrols fear about our ‘upgrade’ for Jenga.”
“Yes, I am sure you did” Jeff said and nodded. “Just keep your whole program reasonable and let Space Patrol try to do the rest.” He looked behind Cathy for a moment. “So what is Lisa doing, I thought I would see her here...”
Cathy grinned. “She is really busy with the new labs running a longer experiment at the moment. But as you know she is more than happy about your great help, it might have taken us ages to recognize THAT quirk.”
Jeff smiled. “Yes, Lisa is really a nice one” he said, “I would never have guessed that she built this lightning tower you told me about. Much too nice for something like this.”
“Never underestimate a catgirl engineer under pressure” Cathy chuckled, “but I am happy that she relaxed a bit. Had not heard her purring for weeks.”
“Then I was happy to help... not sure when I will have to chance to visit you again, my AI team really needs someone to keep administration out of their way.” Jeff replied.
“Just ask them to get some free time too, I am sure Cortana will like some visitors from Space Patrol.” Cathy mentioned. “Have a pleasant flight back!”
“I will think about it, make sure that the station is not overrun by some other bad guys in the mean time!” Jeff turned around and entered his car.
While the air was pumped out of the parking slot, he was already trying to imagine what his boss would say if he heard about the inverse Death Star.