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[ICW] Starting Hard

z-Alexis Layton

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“Mr. Stibbons?”

The voice intruded into his dream, waking John up. He jerked and set up in his chair, glaring at the woman at the door. It took a moment to recognize her. The shapely brunette woman was one of the ISW technicians, an unfortunately named Hettie. It’d taken seconds for the nickname ‘Hot Hettie’ to be adopted when the men talked amongst themselves. But more important to John at this moment was the tension in her face and the fact that she’d come to his office rather than calling him. John may have still been asleep, but even asleep he realized the significance of that. The portly man was on his feet before he’d thought about rising and grabbing his mug as he shambled toward the door.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as entered the main hallway of ISW. Even at this late hour there was quite a bit of traffic. The Interstellar Sensor Web was the first line of defense against the Nips and the Zi’s. When something happened in these silvered hallways, it could mean the start of a war.

“We’ve lost touch with Cheyenne,” Hettie told him over her shoulder.

John frowned. Cheyenne was a frontier colony, not too far from the Yellow Corridor. The Nipponese Empire hadn’t even pretended to make a salvo across the border in years. “Last transmission?”

“Regular check in last week. Choppy,” Hettie said, quirking a pretty, dark eyebrow. “Someone was saving power.”

“Of course,” John sighed. Ships could travel faster than light, but messages could only travel as fast as the energy they used. Even lasers couldn’t go faster than light. So the only way to get transmissions in time to matter was to shorten the distance they had to travel. The current method was to create a temporary, micro-wormhole to connect point A and B. Making a Layton Tunnel required a substantial amount of power, something that could be in short supply on a colony. To save energy, colonies opened the Layton Tunnel right before they sent the message and closed it again immediately after. Sometimes, someone got sloppy and closed it before the message was through. That disrupted the message, making it break up and sound like an old radio wave transmission. “How late are they?”

“They weren’t,” Hettie said. “They were early. We got a choppy SOS.”

Hettie got several steps ahead of John. She stopped and turned to see him standing in the hall. “John?”

“I… I was just wishing I was wearing a clean shirt,” he said. It seemed wrong to stand on the brink of a war in dirty clothes.

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