Fire in the Sky

“Those lights? They’re nothin’, kid. Just ships shooting it out for control of low orbit. Nothing to worry about. There’s only three kinds of light show you need to watch for…”

“A streak of cloud like a contrail coming straight out of the zenith, a bright glow at the tip on the way down, and a big debris cloud where it touches down. Looks like some god stuck his finger down from heaven and squished the target. That’s an orbital kinetic strike. Don’t worry about those – if it’s close enough to kill you, it just did. If you can see it, you’re safe.”

“Then there’s the ones that are just lines of light that flash on and back off, no cloud, ’cept for the debris at the base. That’s a graser strike. And if you can see it, it’s killing you.”

“See, grasers are lousy weapons to hit groundside with; air disperses the beam too much. Those big ones they mount on super-caps have enough beam strength to do it, but they still scatter – meanin’ the scatter itself is hard gamma, and lots of it, everywhere inside visual range. So if you see a blue line flash in the sky, start taking your antirad meds. Well, not the iodide or the cobalt or the chelators, ’cause there’s no fallout to speak of, but all the rest of ’em.”

“And last, there’s the scatter of light-streaks like shooting stars, only jagged, ’cause they’re jinking across the sky dodging the gridfire. That’s a combat drop. As long as they’re long streaks, they’re coming down distant. Just call it in.”

“If they’re short? Then the war’s coming to you. But look on the bright side, kid. At least if they’re dropping on top of you you won’t be seein’ graser-flash any time soon…”