A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
(Jack London)

Himmelsschmiede had started to look like real space structure. The central hub for the manned portion was in place – thus providing a safe space for the work crews. And the spokes were going up. It was a fragment only of what the station was planned to look like, but one could see the way ahead. For the dinghy pilots it, however, meant to be relegated to taxi duty. In plain terms, most of the time, there was nothing to do. And if a job came along, it was just: hurry up and wait until I’m back...

Ershter Lutenant Yankel Kerschbaumer didn’t complain. It was all right. The material dumps of the Four Sisters made movements precarious. One had to watch out like a hawk. And people could die up here indeed. Two workers had already been lost. There were no wounded in this environment, only deaths. It had been a shock, but the mission had priority. A short ceremony had been held on board of the Feuerdrache, and on to work it had gone…

Kerschbaumer’s ‘friends’, the Ukrainians, the Hungarians and the other foreigners were also in the game now, among the crews on the Four Sisters. Well, not all of them. The transporters didn’t carry all of their dinghies. Each harboured only one – for rescue purposes. The rest had been removed in order to gain more cargo space. There was no contact; the transporters were just coming, discharging, and moving away again. In the process, the material dumps were growing outwards.

It looked like chaos. And part-way it truly was… It was impossible to keep record of all the stuff floating about. The engineers knew in which order the parts were dumped, and all of them were labelled. However, working away one batch before the next arrived didn’t work. Hence, you had a long trail of floating residue – and flocks of workers squirreling around in search of wanted parts.

Okay, there was no surplus. Eventually, all parts ought to be integrated. But it was unsettling nevertheless…
 
An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.
(Victor Hugo)

The Russian fleet was preparing to go into orbit around Mars. The Indians were gone already. After a sojourn of only ten hours on Syrtis Major Planitia, they had taken off again – and were now heading for home. Strange fellows, these smooglyzhopi… Howsoever, one had got one’s hands full with matters of one’s own; so, thank you for getting out of the way…

The decelerating process was almost accomplished. Radar said distance to Mars was decreasing on schedule. Svarog would be the first to be captured by Mars’ gravity, followed by Khors, Stribog and finally Indrik Zver. One was going to spend two days in orbit and prepare the landing operations. The ships would touch down in different locations – north pole, south pole, equator at Arabia Terra and near Valles Fidelis.

Generál-mayor Drubchev had reserved Valles Fidelis for Indrik Zver. He wanted – in the flesh – to look into these huge canyons, which the Hammer mission had discovered. One said there was nothing on earth equalling these enormous rifts; and most probably there was nothing in the whole solar system that did match them. They were deep, really deep. One might send a dinghy down and do some drilling. And perhaps one would find life…
 
All men, however highly educated, retain some superstitious inklings.
(H. G. Wells)

It was one of these rare, precious moments: all quiet on all fronts. Josef Dembitzer was lazing in his chair and marvelling over the sight of scenic Old Bialystok. Wasn’t it beautiful? And utterly archaic? Well, sitting snugly on the top floor of a highrise it was easy to philosophise about current times and times gone by. The Heymshtot was safe as long as her big neighbours were busy with themselves.

In Russia, the electoral campaign was absorbing all national energy. Nobody could tell who was going to win. The Rodinyadniki had started a desperate attempt to win votes by sending their starships to Mars. It didn’t look as if this stunt should work, but you never could know in this spectacle… Nevertheless, Dembitzer thought the Neokadéty were going to make it. They were promising a free-market friendly policy, something that should attract many urban voters.

And in Germany, Strauß wasn’t moving at all. The man was doing everything to avoid the need of convening the parliament. He was the acting chancellor – and determined to remain acting as long as possible. Well, he couldn’t succeed for ever; sooner or later, that Miss Hitler was going to be elected chancellor by the majority she had managed to organise. She was another proponent of free-market friendly policies. One might even enter an era of peaceful cooperation between the great powers.

After near nuclear strikes and hostile infiltration attempts, this should be a welcome change indeed. The Heymshtot ought to profit from it. The ruling Linksbundists weren’t free-market friendly at all, but at least they weren’t stupid…
 
Bureaucracy, the rule of nobody.
(Hannah Arendt)

A pusher NPP? Peter Vogel had been astonished when hearing of the considerations pondered by the Kastenmüller staff. The Stelzner proposal to build Arx in earth orbit and then push it to Jupiter was inspired. But designing and constructing a pusher NPP was rubbish. The NPPs did have detachable tail ends, didn’t they? Why not detach them – and install them on the central axle of Arx?

The limiting factor in NPP size was the pusher plate. The plates were already as large as Krupp was able to manufacture them. More wasn’t possible with the current state of the art. And the only known way to bring a pusher plate into orbit was attaching it to an NPP. But once in orbit, the pusher plate – as integral part of a tail end – could peregrinate to other uses. Okay, that individual NPP was going to be disabled, but that couldn’t be helped.

However, if you took three tail ends and fixed them to Arx you would be able to navigate the capital whopper to Jupiter. And if you sacrificed three more NPPs, you could even circumnavigate the need to roll over the widget at mid-journey. Yeah, three at one end of the central axle – and three on the opposite end, that would make Arx truly mobile. For the price of six disabled ships, you gained a mobile space station. Why had nobody else thought of this solution?

He was currently working out a memo for Doctor Rüchel, who had asked for it when being briefed on the possibility. Nothing had been decided yet. But the chances for Arx being assembled in earth orbit were distinctly on the rise…
 
History is just new people making old mistakes.
(Sigmund Freud)

The Caribbean had become a quiet backwater. The Amis had all scarpered to the new lands in the north, so it seemed. Did they really need the ships up there? Or was it about the crews? Were they required for other purposes? Command Ic, who was reading the Ami newspapers and listening to their broadcasts, said he couldn’t tell. And the Venezuelans were only shrugging their shoulders. No Yanquis, no distress, why worry?

Capitán de corbeta Julius Nyerere, the new naval ops officer, was still trying to understand what the new rules of the game might be. Patrolling was okay, but it soon became very dull when there was… – nothing – no civilians, no US Navy, just nobody. Hence, one could safely reduce the frequency of the patrols. But what then do with the crews? It was nice to have some threat menacing you if you were a soldier, otherwise something essential was missing…

Reducing the force ought to be the rational approach, but there were memoranda of understanding with the República de Venezuela that governed troop strength – and the consortium was loath to negotiate new ones. Nyerere knew that would be useless to press for changes; the bosses wouldn’t budge. But keeping the men occupied was necessary nevertheless. Soldiers – and sailors – without a mission were a constant peril to discipline.

Well, one still had the Opaque Woodlands. There were Middle Africans over there, training their army. And Sikuku Enterprises, an important element of the consortium, were operating the port of Puerto Cortés. Sending ships to visit that port should be all right – even on a regular basis. And thinking of it, they also could go to Veracruz in Mexico. Yeah, that should do… Reduced patrolling, port visits and normal training together would keep the crews busy…
 
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The idea of disembodied spirits is wholly unsupported by evidence, and I cannot accept it.
(Herbert Spencer)

There was no progress. No armoured vehicles capable of operating under nuclear war conditions were coming forth. And Qilin, the Great Qing’s nuclear spacecraft, still was a paper project only. That admiral, Ji, was a gimp, an old wizened gimp. The technical director, Professor Tang, was said to be a capable scientists, but evidently he was no apt organiser. Even the cursed xiao Riben guizi and their gaoli bangzi underlings had come further. It was galling – with a straight option to become humiliating.

Field Marshal Dang Gangjun was getting impatient, much more impatient than usual. Why was it that in this country nothing ever got done? And the Little Man from Sichuan was smiling and insisting that everything was fine. The economy was booming – and growing mightily, which was even better. There was no reason to worry, according to him. Qilin was going to be built – and the armed forces would get what they needed. – Yeah, at one time or another…

Even the frigging Kelings had now been to Mars – while the Middle Kingdom hadn’t made it to earth orbit yet. And one was still relying on xiao Riben missiles for nuclear deterrence… This was bad, very bad. But the Little Man wouldn’t listen. One needed to have patience. Educating the masses required time; developing the economy required time; you couldn’t force things, they had to grow. But eventually, one was going to beat them all. Perhaps not in our lifetime… But surely the next generation was going to do it. – What holy crap…
 
Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.
(Ambrose Bierce)

Back in her office at Prerow, Helga von Tschirschwitz was busy catching up with recent developments. Her folks were processing the material taken in orbit; it was going to take several days until she could examine the whole lot for usefulness. Anyway, she should visit space more often, it widened the horizon – and gave you a feeling of humility at the same time. – Okay, the Indians, of all people, had landed on Mars, for less than half a day, and were now on the way back. Funny people… And the Russians had just arrived in Martian orbit and were about to land.

Well, the Red Planet was old hat, let them toy around. – Gustav Stelzner, however, had kicked off an intriguing debate. Assembling Arx in earth orbit would be an enormous improvement. The NPP feeder band to Jupiter would mean a terrible strain for men and material. Could the wodge be moved out after assemblage? That was the question the experts were checking at the moment. If it should be possible, one would be making a huge step forward. And Bruno Bredigkeit could scale down his enormous training programme to normal size…

Building Arx and Phönix in earth orbit would be great, a dream come true for the PR department… Helga hoped the boffins were going to give the nod. Seeing Himmelsschmiede go up, she was able to appreciate the option of manufacturing structures in orbit. With the NPPs as suppliers, it was a walk in the park – well, almost… But for sure it was far better than shipping workers and material to Jupiter and assemble the stuff out there. Six months out, six months back – one complete year in transit, mind-boggling…

What else was up? In Berlin, they were still playing procrastination games – or Strauß was and nobody knew how to stop him. But Strauß was good for RRA; so, this mustn’t bother her. – The Ottomans were still crafting their NPP, not much progress there… And Japs and Chinamen were even further behind. Yeah, the big game was between Russia and Germany, everything else was just décor. Perhaps the new Russian government was going to initiate something like Arx or Phönix as well. Or would they duck out?
 
There are cases in which the greatest daring is the greatest wisdom.
(Carl von Clausewitz)

The Valles Fidelis were mind-numbing. Indrik Zver had touched near the widest segment of the canyon system. The Nyemtsi had named it Bremer Chasma. It was located roughly in the middle of the system, where all ravines seemed to meet – and was about 8.5 km deep, measured from the ship’s landing site. The system was vast, far too vast to explore it completely.

One had to focus on taking samples and searching for life. Currently, one was preparing a dinghy for the dive into the abyss. Ládno, it wouldn’t be a dive, rather a leap. It wasn’t possible to launch dinghies from landed NPPs. You had to disembark the boats in space and then have them land close to the ship. That was an awkward procedure, but had worked well.

The dinghies were no planes; they had to operate like rockets. Under Martian conditions, fuel supply was just sufficient for one start and one landing. Hence, the boats had to be refuelled after touchdown – from the supply carried by the NPPs. This also meant the error margin for the leap into the abyss was extremely small. One had to painstakingly survey the ground – as far as that was possible from this distance…

Generál-mayor Drubchev regretted that he couldn’t go down with the dinghy. But space was limited: three crew and two scientists – plus the drilling equipment and the sampling stuff, more wasn’t feasible. Aga, he was the vozhd and his place was on the bridge of Indrik Zver. Although the image quality of the monitors was lousy… But he would be on radio. That ought to do…
 
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What happened to the former Dutch East Indies ITTL? Since they were broken up ITTL would they be better of or worse compared to OTL?
 
What happened to the former Dutch East Indies ITTL? Since they were broken up ITTL would they be better of or worse compared to OTL?

They are still suppliers of coveted resources and thus do reasonably well, even if progress, particularly in the Muslim dominated countries, isn't glaring.
 
If the future and the past really exist, where are they?
(Saint Augustine)

Searching for parts in the Bertha quadrant: the stuff came in parcels which were coded and numbered. Helmut Teichmann knew what he was looking for – and where in the cloud it ought to float. The scooter was approaching the place. Reading the labels required getting quite close. This was RNB-4-67-G; he was searching for RNB-4-68-B. That should be the one over there. Yep, found…

Darn! It was the final part. Now it was his duty to bundle together the shroud and carry it to the collection point near Himmelsschmiede. He informed Feuerdrache control about the delay – and went to work. The part – an electric motor – was quickly strapped to the scooter. Wrinkling up the shroud, however, was quite a challenge. With two persons it would be a cinch, but alone he had to struggle to get it done.

All right, job accomplished… Another report to control – and back to Himmelsschmiede it went. These scooters were useful instruments. They were like a sledge where the skids had been replaced by rockets. You steered them with a kind of control stick and two pedals. The load section was large enough to strap anything to it. Size didn’t matter out here, only mass.

Himmelsschmiede came into sight. The scooters weren’t fast on purpose; it would take almost half an hour until arrival. Teichmann checked his gauges. Air and temperature were okay; air supply was good for another hour and power was at seventy percent. No need to worry. But he would have to change supply units once arrived. This was easily done at the sanctuary, which had been installed for this purpose.

Yeah, being a trained kosmonaut did have its advantages on this mission, although officers typically were not required to do manual work. But somehow, RRA had missed to hire NCOs for the job…
 
Philosophy – A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.
(Ambrose Bierce)

Semyon Filipovich Prosinyuk was the Neokadéty’s chairman and candidate for imperial chancellorship. As an academic turned businessman – and a successful one to boot – he might count as the archetype of the neo-liberal ideal. But, of course, ideals were counting little in politics. In fact, Prosinyuk was an excellent networker and a very convincing dealer in mutual benefits.

Moreover, he had secured the support of the Russian heavy industry. Rozhdestvenskaya and the other magnates previously had backed the Rodinyadniki, but Prosinyuk had wheedled them to come round and prop the Neokadéty. That was very useful – in regard to the financial situation. But it was also vexing many urban Liberals. After all, Raisa Rozhdestvenskaya couldn’t be called the classic exponent of liberalism.

Ládno, all that didn’t make the Neo-Liberals the winners by default. Russian society was deeply rifted. Reckless parties, like the Environmentalists, the Peaceniks or the Animal-Welfarists might gain more support than was due to their harebrained programmes. Worse, the KP, the peasants’ party, could be trusted to buy votes on a large scale. Who could really tell what was going on in remote rural areas and the vastnesses of Siberia?

And on the extreme fringes, the Rodinyadniki, the True Believers and the Marxists were lurking for every voter they could capture. – In addition, the Semichastny government had staged this Mars stunt with the NPP fleet. Right now, it still was impossible to gauge the possible effect of it. – And one mustn’t forget the non-voters, a group growing more rapidly than the followers of any party…
 
We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. – You must be, or you wouldn’t be here.
(Lewis Carroll)

SMS Antje had been detailed for executing shift change at Mondstadt. It wasn’t a big deal, but a welcome change from discharging construction parts in orbit. Oberstleutnant Manfred Weller was the only army representative who had made it to become captain of an NPP. All other slots had been taken by navy and air force guys – as if the army wasn’t the senior service.

Okay, he wasn’t infantry, the crown of all arms, but engineers, armed artisans; however, he held a doctorate in civil engineering and had been a teacher at the technical high school of Braunschweig. Hence, he was more than on par with his naval and aerial comrades in command. And perhaps he was the only one of the NPP captains who really could appreciate the tunnelling work done here at Mondstadt.

It was an amazing maze. A lot of it was age-old lava ducts. Finding them had enabled the Mondstadt crews to achieve fabulous progress rates. Yeah, and one was producing water… Indeed, turning lunar rocks into water was a miracle in itself. But it worked: they had built a basin, as large as small swimming pool, that was filled with pure lunar water. Okay, they had energy galore; with sufficient energy, you could accomplish everything.

Gravity up here was alarmingly low. Was it really enough to keep the human body hale? The scientists were still investigating the issue of weightlessness and microgravity. One knew that bones and muscles were gradually being reduced. That was why kosmonauts sojourning under zero gravity had to do physical exercises every day. But did it also affect the brain? Were kosmonauts menaced by soaring stupidity?
 
If gold rusts, what then can iron do?
(Geoffrey Chaucer)

The narrative did make sense, but the formulas wouldn’t match. Georgy Flyorov had checked it repeatedly. Andrei Sakharov had asked him for it. It was the stuff the spooks had stolen from the Nyemtsi. Andrei was trying to make sense of the paper since some time. – Khorosho, it was very advanced material. The Nyemtsi had made stupendous progress in this field – the Weizsäcker Suns, Little Phönix, and now their plans for Arx and Big Phönix. They had gained a lot of practical knowledge.

Nevertheless, maths was maths. The formulas ought to make sense, the narrative wasn’t really important. What was wrong? This Fuchs character had done it already: his fields had worked, undoubtedly. So why were the formulas telling something else? Andrei thought it might be slips. After all, the paper came from a university workshop, where Fuchs had worked with students. Maybe he had just improvised in order to make something clear that had been debated.

Aga, or it was a ruse. What if the Nyemtsi had figured out that the Okhrana was spying for the magnetic field formulas? Might they – might Fuchs – have composed faulty formulas? – But Fuchs had to know that you couldn’t lie in the language of maths. What the hell was going on here? Khorosho, he would check it again – against the formulas of Weizsäcker’s universal field theory. Perhaps that helped to identify the glitch…
 
I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.
(Oscar Wilde)

The Russian fleet was back in orbit around Mars. Had one found something? Life perhaps? One didn’t know. The scientists were working on the samples, of course. But their means were limited. The final analysis would have to be done at home. Yes, one had found water, liquid water – below Bremer Chasma; this was a fact. But life? Certain building blocks for life certainly were contained in the samples drilled out of the ground. More couldn’t be said, said the eggheads.

Generál-mayor Drubchev was mildly disappointed. Khorosho, he hadn’t expected outright Martians, nor real beasts, but at least something like mosses, lichen or mildew. No, said the scientists. If at all, it would be monads, very basic life forms. Ládno, it couldn’t be helped. He had to see that the fleet, keeping with his orders, returned to Earth and landed at Shishmarevo on the tick for the national elections on June 13th, Russian calendar.

Until then, one still wouldn’t know whether one had found Martian life. That was a real pity. Would the arrival of the fleet alone suffice to capture enough votes for the Rodinyadniki? – Aga, that wasn’t his problem. His problem was to get the fleet safely back to Earth.
 
Hunger is the best sauce in the world.
(Miguel de Cervantes)

Stick it out was the name of the game. Unfortunately, there were no sadhus aboard Sheshanaga; these holy men certainly would enjoy binge fasting. Nobody else did. One had entered the final phase: no food left, only water. Naval lieutenant Kalpesh Jintur, the chief pilot, was checking his reflexes every six hours. He was the one who counted. The offer to reserve sustenance for him, he had declined. Being a lone eater among starving men had felt wrong, utterly wrong – and the captain had agreed with him.

Theek hai, it meant taking a risk, a tremendous risk. Hitherto, his reflexes were alright. But what if he lost consciousness at the decisive moment? It mustn’t happen… In Earth orbit, there were satellites that would gauge Sheshanaga, and there would be Puri control, reading these meterings and guiding him. It was very improbable that he should collapse while being talked home by Puri control. And in need, there were his copilots, ready to take over…

No, one needn’t be afraid. It would work. – One had been on Mars, if only for ten hours, and one would return home safely. – He had stood on Mars, on Syrtis major Planitia. There were photographs proving it. Crazy, flying to the Red Planet for a photo session…
 
The war office kept three sets of figures – one to mislead the public, another to mislead the cabinet and the third to mislead itself.
(Herbert Henry Asquith)

Statistics, quite a useful tool in some respect: you could learn a lot about things that were not obvious in everyday life. But one mustn’t overrate the significance of many data. Everybody was attempting to massage the figures for his own benefit. However, official statistics were generally considered to be trustworthy. The statistics department of the imperial ministry of finance had an impeccable reputation.

Helga von Tschirschwitz was studying the latest release. Yeah, steel production had risen significantly, small wonder. Building steel structures in space was quite an enterprise, but Himmelsschmiede was only a snap compared to Arx. Could the industry really shoulder the task? Concerning mass, Arx was Himmelsschmiede times forty-four in total. But construction time was twenty times that of Himmelsschmiede.

Hence, the mass to be produced at any given moment was about twice of what was required right now. That should be manageable indeed. An increase of twenty percent instead of ten was well within the capacities of the German steel industry. Looking at it from that perspective was helpful. Arx was going to be really huge, but the effort required at any given moment would only be twofold of the current one.

Indeed, this information was reassuring. The mammoth project, broken down to wieldy parcels, became perfectly doable. And it wouldn’t overburden the economy. If anything, they would earn well and prosper mightily, provided they could hire the extra workers…
 
The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects.
(Adam Smith)

It looked as if the training organisation for Arx construction could be scaled down, but it was too early to take any final decision. Yet, one had to adjust planning to the changing circumstances. If Arx should be constructed in Earth orbit, the previous requirement for the workforce could be slashed. Still, the current team of RRA kosmonauts employed at Himmelsschmiede would be too small; one needed approximately twenty teams of that size.

However, it should be possible to employ them all at the same time. The old plan had called for five hundred guys shipped out to Jupiter every six months, hence the transhipment of ten thousand folks in ten years. Now, one might do with a total of thousand workers and engineers – well, better with one thousand and five hundred, just to compensate natural depletion.

Therefore, one still would need Raumkolonie as training site – because one still had to employ civilians. But the number of volunteers already enrolled should suffice for the task… Indeed, the revised figures were looking good. Generalmajor Bruno Bredigkeit felt relieved. Everything that avoided the NPP noria to Jupiter was an improvement. And reducing the training time requirement to less than two years was also an improvement.

Okay, there was no decision yet. The old plan was still valid. Starting to execute it would create no harm. One could easily abbreviate the procedure, once the plan was changed. There would have to be a transition period anyway, while Raumkolonie was evacuated by the previous users and refurbished as a training site. Yeah, and the four old nukes would be dismantled…
 
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