As they approached Ariel-an iceball moon it would have been pointless attempting to terraform- they had been buzzed by the Base Commander and given clearance to land. Clarissa had noticed that Captain Hanson had worn a naval uniform, although the other staff she had been able to see wore the Company overalls of the Wesley Mining Corporation: the premiere mining company in Uranus orbit. Captain Hanson had hinted that there had been additional developments since they had made their initial emergency call.
The ‘Lois Lane’ was drawn down into an underground hanger, and the crew and passengers entered a mid sized mining base, with accomodation for maybe two dozen staff. Currently there were only about half this complement, and as they entered the living areas they were greeted by Captain Hanson, and a pair of armed and armoured security guards.
“Glad you were able to make it so quickly” said Hanson, “AS I hinted there have been a few developments over the last couple of hours.”
“What exactly has happened?” asked Clarissa. “A crash we understood?”
“Not exactly” replied Hanson. “We service a number of remote mining stations from here on various moonlets or remote locations on Ariel. One of these is situated on R 453236- a chunk of rock about 10 km in diameter: nothing more than a piece of captured space debris really. It has value however- a rich seam of Lanthanum. There’s a largely automated mining facility on it, but it’s also staffed at times, currently by Dr. MacDonald and Henry Soames, two of our staff.”
“Twelve hours ago our shuttle approached on a standard resupply run, and apparently was given clearance to land. We were in contact with Joe Kobalski, the pilot at the time. He descended down into the hanger, and then we heard weapons fire, and screams. We’ve been unable to re-establish radio contact since, and the base isn’t responding. We are now without a ship here, and that was the basis for our original call.”
“Two hours ago a 5 megaton nuclear explosion detonated on the far side of R 453236. I think Professor Kiddmann had best explain?” Here Hanson turned to a wiry man in his late fifties, with wild white hair and moustache. He spoke precisely, and with a faint german accent.
“The explosion appeared to shift the orbit of the asteroid” said the Professor. “Ten minutes before you landed there was a second explosion and the orbit shifted again.”.
“To what purpose?” asked Tim.
“I think” said the Professor, “That whoever is doing this is trying to shift the orbit of the asteroid. At this point of the cycle R 453236 is on a converging orbit with Titania. My theory is that the explosions are meant to adjust the convergence sufficiently that the rock will make a decaying orbit into the surface of Titania.”
“And that’s bad, is it?” asked Anwyn.
“The event could well be catastrophic, and could easily destroy the colony” the Professor replied. “My calculations indicate that if the adjusted orbit can be finalised, such a collision would take place in 5.76 days.” There was a short silence.
“We have only one option available.” said Hanson. “With your craft on hand we can send a team onto the base, and hopefully stop whoever is doing this.”
“This might be achieved by preventing further explosions which might finalise the new orbit.” said the professor. “Alternatively it might be possible to set up a chain reaction in the stations nuclear power plant which will cause a catastrophic failure within the asteroid.”
“Ye’ mean blow the snecker up?” asked Chick.
“Correct” said Hanson.
“Well why didn’t ye say so laddie?” replied Chick.