One of the officers took over for him and explained the reason. "All intercontinental nuclear missiles are designed for sub-orbital trajectories," he explained. "Their booster stage simply doesn't carry enough fuel to boost a nuclear warhead to such a high altitude. Not a single one of all the world's nuclear missiles can reach that high."
He suggested that this might have been the reason why the killer satellite has been put into such a high orbit. He suggested that the reason why Nicolai had failed, might have been due to the simple fact that Russia had lost most of its technological capacity. He said, fifteen years ago, it would have been easy to shoot the killer satellite down, but no more. He explained, that once the Soviet Union was split apart, Russia had lost a large portion of its high tech industries. A lot of these were located in the Ukraine. "In the olden days," he said, "we had the engineering and manufacturing capacity to put something together in a hurry. We would have destroyed this satellite easily in those days."
"It seems we have lost the capacity to survive," said another officer. "We lost this capacity when we could no longer keep our country together," said another officer. He said to Steve that it takes the combined effort of a large nation to support these kinds of industries. He said that he was sorry that nothing could be done under the present circumstances.
"We are just as stupid," I said to Steve. "If we hadn't shut down the SDI project we would have had the capability now to take out the death star. Instead of killing the SDI to ease the tensions with the Soviet Union, we should have made every effort necessary to get the Soviets to join in the cooperative development of it, as the SDI concept had originally been designed to be developed." I suggested to Steve, as gently as I could, that we were as much to blame as was anybody else.
At this point Steve lost his cool. "The death sentence upon humanity is being too calmly debated," as he but it. "You talk about it with the same tone of voice as if someone had just explained when the next bus leaves the station." He swore at me and at the Russian officers, but immediately apologized. He told the officers that Nicolai had repeatedly warned the government that this type of situation could happen if they didn't restructure the makeup of the Soviet Union so that everyone would be enriched by joining hands, and that this stronger bond should have embraced America as a partner against their common enemy. But they wouldn't listen! He said it all happened exactly in the manner the fondi had foretold, who had told him in their confident arrogance that they would win in the end, and we wouldn't be able to do anything about it.
"Do you know what this means?" he said to the captain. "It means that everyone on this planet is doomed."
"Surely, there must be something that can be done," I said to the captain.
"Nicolai didn't have a chance," the old captain replied, "but there may yet be a way to save the rest of the world," he added. "We are not dead yet, and while we're still alive, we will fight. We will think of something" He spoke something in Russian to one of the other officers who then explained to us that in the last years of the Soviet era an anti-satellite system had been developed that never got past the prototype stage. "The project was shut down," he explained. "It was too expensive, but the prototype was never destroyed." The officer explained to us that the captain thought the prototype might still be functional.
"Nicolai would not have had access to it," the captain added, "even if he knew of its existence, because the project had never been transferred to the military. The people of the Strategic Rocket Forces had not even been told about the project, much less the Navy." His eyes now began to sparkle. "I know somebody who might help. My friend Petrovitch told me two years ago that the system had not been decommissioned. It might still be operational."
"But you must bypass Moscow," Steve urged him. "Some traitor may want this depopulation to succeed. He will stop you."
"That's not a problem," said the old war-horse and grinned. "I have no friends in Moscow. The Navy doesn't have many friends anyway. That's the reason why Nicolai has developed a network of secure communication channels for the Navy. We have the capability to reach anyone without interference. All the important things are accomplished in this manner, and on a basis of trust." He asked Steve to follow one of his officers and bring his data on the satellite's orbit.
The captain turned to me with a smile, saying, "If those systems are still operational, consider the job done."
This was the first time I had seen the captain smile, almost like Nicolai had smiled. This meant that we had a reason to hope again, rather than to despair. We all knew that it would take far too long to build a brand new anti-satellite system to save civilization.
Steve had been gone with the Russian officers for twenty minutes, which seemed like ten hours, and the old captain had gone after them. I had been told to remain on the bridge. So, I just sat there, helplessly. I actually prayed.
When Steve and the captain returned, they were both smiling from ear to ear. "Petrovitch confirmed that they can do it," the captain said. "They will be ready in time. They confirmed the target can be attained in time, with half an hour to spare."
"Their plan is to surround the satellite with three small nuclear explosions," the officer explained. "That's how the anti-satellite system was designed to work."
"And Moscow?" I asked.
"They won't know anything about it until the mission is complete." The captain grinned as he explained this. "We are patriots," he said proudly. "We have our roots in Russia, not Moscow."
Steve and I decided to wait on the sub until the time had come when we should hear back from them. Until then, radio silence was maintained. Nicolai would have been proud of the captain. I hoped that Nicolai would live long enough to shake his hand. The captain was a man who took his responsibility as seriously as Nicolai always had.
The return call came precisely on time. One of Petrovitch's crew played on his CD blaster the final portion of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It was a fit opening for a great celebration. It also said something about the quality of the men. The music said that we had won the battle. We had won, not entirely because of the still functioning anti-satellite system, but mainly because of Petrovitch's men, their ingenuity, their love for humanity, as well as that of our own, and that of many others.
The destruction of the death star was a sublime achievement, a sublime moment to be alive. The sublimity wasn't in the end of the death star. It lay in that which had achieved its end.
I embraced Steve and the captain, and some of the crew as the victory message was relayed on the intercom after the music was cut off. I said to them that we had just fought the biggest battle in the history of the world, and had won.
The submarine crew invited us to remain on board for the night. They also invited the others. Thus, for the first time in many years, Ross' monitoring station was left deserted for the cause of a celebration.
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