Time Bomb

Originally published at: Time Bomb | The Associated Worlds


REPORT: MERI-11-5122


DESCRIPTION: The following comprises a transcript of conversation occurring in the forward (open) hold of the Magpie-class debris recovery vehicle CMS Comber’s Bounty, in the minutes immediately preceding its destruction. The transcript was recovered from a surviving buffer memory of the local voice command system node and as such is of limited quality and records only local sounds.


FLTCOM: — you brought this thing onto my ship without checking, you —

[silence, approximately 6s]

FLTCOM: Because you did not bother to check what this “marvelously intact” piece of wreckage was before you brought it aboard. In contravention of procedure, good sense, and every other consideration but the chime of coin behind your eyeballs.

[silence, approximately 14s]

FLTCOM: Oh, yes. It’s an antique. As I profoundly hope did not occur to you, the VI-4 libration point is most famous for the Battle of Meridian VI-4. What we have here – is your camera on? – is a Type 95 Deep Javelin, one of the most ridiculously deadly torpedoes the Bureau ever came up with. Yes, it’s centuries obsolete, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly.

[silence, approximately 7s]

FLTCOM: Let’s start with the drive. See these nice, shiny nozzles? There’s your first clue. They’re as pristine and unsullied by use as your cerebrum. The nuclear salt-water drive on this never fired. That means these tanks are still full of highly enriched uranium tetrabromide, which is unlikely to have decayed enough to help us. If any of the valves marinating in the corrosive nuke-juice decide to fail, we get a nuclear drive plume in here. And if the damn stuff has crystallized on the baffles by now, we could get a critical assembly by poking it too hard.

[silence, approximately 2s]

FLTCOM: The warhead? That’s just a nice, safe, nucleonic shaped-charge driving a plasmated beryllium filler through whatever’s in front of it. That would be Mechanical Switching Three, Auxiliary Avionics, and most of the rest of the ship, if you weren’t clear on that. That uses the X-rays. The gamma rays, meanwhile, they tickle the off-axis lasing rods to give it some extra punch. And that little thing on the nose that’s less than a foot from the bulkhead? That would be the proximity fuse set for a couple of miles. Arms as it leaves the tube, and yes, it is armed.

[silence, approximately 15s]

FLTCOM: Do? What I am going to do is return to the bridge and put out a distress call for the Orbit Guard and the best EOD tech in the system. What you are going to do [sigh] Much as I would like to strap something with the apparent density of your skull to the nose of this catastrophe as improvised shielding, you – assuming you wish to board any starship in the future as something other than ballast – are going to return to your cabin, stay there until instructed otherwise, and while you are contemplating the number of different ways in which you have probably killed us all, you can memorize every single damned illustration in the Dangerous Debris Diges —



Sounds like the commander was a tad too focused on reaming his subordinate a new one instead of evacuating the ship or dumping the payload into space.

Also, our first under-the-gills look at a torpedo! These are fired from AKVs?

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“Bitch later, safe and disarm or dispose and detonate first.”

Guys, even humans can walk and talk at the same time. :laughing:

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“I am an EOD Technician. If you see me running, try and keep up.


Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.

You have here a bomb that is literally frozen in the process of exploding, because some tiny piece of that very clever machinery has got stuck. You absolutely do not - even if you were a big enough ship to carry small craft - do anything, anything that might provoke said machinery into unsticking itself. (Like, say, cause vibrations or apply force to it.)

Sit back, relax, and wait for the EOD technician. This ain’t amateur hour.

(In actuality, they got unlucky because thermal expansion of metal due to having a nice warm ship nearby reconnected the broken firing circuit in this particular dud and it went off anyway, but the Flight Commander was doing the right thing by clearing the bay and not attempting to screw around with the bomb.)

We’re back in the past again for this one: the reason you’re seeing a torpedo here is because the favored weapons mix was different back then, that’s all. Melonpedos of this vintage are not a useful weapons system in the age of the kinetic barrier.

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aaaand melonpedo is now my new fav term of the day.

You have here a bomb that is literally frozen in the process of exploding, because some tiny piece of that very clever machinery has got stuck. You absolutely do not - even if you were a big enough ship to carry small craft - do anything, anything that might provoke said machinery into unsticking itself. (Like, say, cause vibrations or apply force to it.)

Can’t they leave through the airlock though? Or is the expectation that they wouldn’t possibly be able to reach minimum safe distance in time just by jumping?

Or does even that run the risk of blowing it up, because if so I’d be afraid of walking, talking, breathing, or hell, even existing.

Although there’s an easy solution to the last problem.

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I’d guess more along the lines of “anything that would provide sufficient acceleration for minimum safe distance would also set off the bomb.” It’s not that you couldn’t very, very gently abandon ship, but that won’t help. (The reverse procedure would help — that is, having an EOD tech very, very gently board. Sadly, we didn’t get that far.)

However, if this much of a recording survived, there’s a decent chance cortical backups did too… though the poor fool might wish otherwise once the inquest gets through with them.

Even with the advantage of cold-gas EVA packs… no, you aren’t going to be able to run away from the nuclear weapon in time. (You’d probably be better off going to the galley and hiding in the fridge.) They might have abandoned ship once there was somewhere useful to go , but that requires talking to the EOD people to obtain such a place.

(Also, celestime law has a few things to say about captains who intentionally render their vessels not under command in the middle of emergency situations, none of them complimentary.)

Maybe, or maybe it’s another example of why offsite backups are important. Either way, a certain someone is in for a lot of uncomfortable conversations with at least three insurance company representatives and the Court of Admiralty.

hey man it worked for Indiana Jones…

Also I find myself wanting to subscribe to Dangerous Debris Digest now

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I can’t speak for military ordinance, particularly of the ship-to-ship nuclear variety, but this is roughly how a certain class of laboratory oops are handled. When I was at university, an idiot in another class made about a cup and a half of (obviously unstable) nitroglycerine. We were all instructed to calmly walk out of the building and muster at the safe point until a headcount could be done. The bomb squad came, carefully removed the beaker to the grassy courtyard outside, and detonated it. Then we all went back in for afternoon class, now featuring bonus “This is why you label ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING” vigorous lecture.

On a semi-related note, if VI-4 is known for being the site of a major battle, VI-4 will probably have a designated “it is safe to blow stuff up here” point, for things that are stable enough to be transported to said point but too dangerous to physically dismantle. I am basing this on 1) many places in Europe making sure no cables etc are buried under some parks, even if it would be far more efficient to do so, so that said parks can be used for bomb disposal and 2) every major chemistry lab I’ve been in has a grassy area right outside that is under the control of the lab, where “oh shit!” substances can be transported.