Starworld is a novel by Harry Harrison, author of innumerable science fiction novels and stories. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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July 02, 2012
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Excerpt from Starworld by Harry Harrison
The battered freighter had been on fusion drive ever since it had passed the orbit of Mars. It was pointed at Earth--or rather at the place where the Earth would be in a few hours time. All of its electronic apparatus had been either shut down or was operating at the absolute minimum output--behind heavy shielding. The closer they came to Earth the greater their chance of detection. And their instant destruction.
"We're taking the war to them," the political commander said. Before the revolution he had been a professor of economics at a small university on a distant planet; the emergency had changed everything.
"You don't have to convince me," Blakeney said. "I was on the committee that ordered this attack. And I'm not happy with the discrimination target program."
"I'm not trying to convince. I'm just enjoying the thought. I had family on Teoranta ..."
"They're gone," Blakeney said. "The planet's gone. You have to forget them."
"No. I want to remember them. As far as I am concerned this attack is being launched-in their memory. And in memory of all the others savaged and destroyed by Earth down through the centuries. We're fighting back at last. Taking the war to them."
"I'm still concerned about the software."
"You worry too much. One single bomb has to be dropped on Australia. How can you miss an island that big, an entire continent?"
"I'll tell you exactly how. When we release the scout ship it will have our velocity and will accelerate from that basic speed. The computer cannot make a mistake because there will be time for only a single pass. Do you realize what the closing velocity will be? Tre-mendous!" He took out his calculator and began punching in figures. The ship's commander raised his hand.
"Enough. I have no head for mathematics. I know only that our best people modified the scout ship for this attack. The DNA-constructed virus will eat and destroy any food crop. You yourself prepared the program to pilot the ship, to locate the target, to drop the bomb. They'll know it's war then."
"It's because I worked on the program that I am unsure. Too many variables. I'm going down for another test run."
"Do that. I'm perfectly secure, but please yourself. But watch the time. Only a few hours more. Once we penetrate their detection net it will have to be hit and run with no staying around to watch the results."
"It won't take long," Blakeney said, turning and leaving the bridge.
Everything has been jury-rigged, he thought as he went down the empty corridors of the ship. Even the crew. An unarmed freighter daring to attack the heart of the Earth Commonwealth. But the plan was wild enough to work. They had been building up speed ever since they had shut down the space drive, well outside the orbit of Mars. The ship should hurtle past Earth and be safely away before the defenders could launch a counterattack. But as they passed the planet the small scout ship they carried, secured to the outer hull, would be launched under computer control. This was what worried him. All the circuitry was bread-boarded,lashed together, a complicated one-shot. If it failed the entire mission failed. He would have to go through all of the tests just one last time.
The tiny spacecraft, smaller even than a normal lifeboat, was secured to the outer hull by steel braces equipped with explosive bolts. A crawl tube had been fixed in place so that the scout ship shared the larger ship's atmosphere, making installation and servicing that much easier. Blakeney slipped in through the tube, then frowned at the circuits and apparatus bolted onto the walls of the tiny cabin. He turned on the screen, punched up the inspection menu and began running through the tests.
On the bridge an alarm sounded hoarsely and a series of numbers began marching across the watch operator's screen. The political commander came and looked over his shoulder.
"What does it mean?" he asked.
"We've crossed their detection web, probably the outermost one from Earth."
"Then they know that we're here?"
"Not necessarily. We're on the plane of the ecliptic ... ."
"The imaginary plane, the level on which all of the planets in the solar system ride. Also all of the meteoric debris. We're too far out for them to have caught any radiation from the ship so we're just another hunk of space junk, a ferrous meteor. Now. The web's alerted to us and more apparatus will be trained in our direction. Laser, radar, whatever they have. At least it should work like that. Well find out soon. We're recording all their signals. When we get back we'll have a record of everything. When it's analyzed we'll know a good deal more about how their setup works."
When, the political commander thought, not if. Nothing wrong with the morale. But there was anotherhalf to this mission. The virus strike. He looked at the time readout and called through to the scout ship.
"We're entering the red zone now. Less than half an hour to separation. How are you doing?"
"Just finishing up. As soon as I clear this program I'll join you."
"Good. I want you to ..."
"Pulsed radar locked onto us!" the watch operator called out. "They know we're here." An auxiliary screen lit up near his elbow and he pointed to the readout. "Our reflectors have been launched. So where they had one blip on their screens before they now have a half dozen all the same, but separating at different speeds on different courses."