CS Unyielding Order, Litash high orbitals.
“Special package CALYX HOLLOW on the rails, launch when ready.”
“Permissive action set, authentication 0x991AC38575AA0D0E. Admiral, do you wish to deploy the weapon?”
“Deploy it. Right in the starport center, Mr. mor-Calarek.”
“Aye-aye, ma’am. Right in the center.”
90,000 miles above the surface of Litash, battered in places but still mostly untouched, a near-imperceptible thrum was felt aboard the battlecruiser as one of its axial missile tubes opened and spat out the CALYX HOLLOW package, a tiny cylinder of gray-painted metal. Twin flashes of light, one upon the ship’s hull and one upon the package, marked the invisible beam of a plaser reaching out from the ship and burning off a fragment of the package’s ablative propellant; and at this touch of thrust, it began to accelerate downwards into Litash’s gravity well.
CALYX HOLLOW was a weapon almost trivial in design. No trigger or detonator was needed, and no guidance system fitted. Once it had been launched, the weapons package simply tumbled on a ballistic trajectory into Litash’s atmosphere. A few surviving ground weapons attempted to engage it, without hope of success with the orbital and ground sensor networks both smashed, but even had they been able to target it, it would have made no difference to the outcome, for the best they could achieve would be to fragment the casing early.
But the tough casing remained intact, cloaked in the plasma shock of its uncontrolled reentry, until only a few miles above the planet’s surface the stress of burn-throughs ripped it apart, shattering the delicate containment system within it and exposing its contents to the planet’s air.
Strangelets. Unstable particles, kept artificially intact within the weapon; generated in nature in tiny quantities, harmless due to the speed of their decay. But this was no single strangelet generated by a cosmic-ray impact; within CALYX HOLLOW’s containment was a mass of strangelets calculated to cause immediate prompt criticality. As they spilled into the relatively thick baryonic matter of Litash’s air, they merged with nearby nuclei, catalyzing their immediate collapse into more strangelets, and more, and more…
From the Unyielding Order, light flared over the target, blossoming instantly from a blue-white pinprick to an eye-searing flare hundreds of miles across, driving a visible miles-deep ripple of atmosphere before it, only to crash back into the hollow remaining as the flare itself collapsed – and the display blinked out and filled with sensor failure warnings, while the particle detectors screamed and fell silent as the radiation wavefront swept across them.
Caliéne Sargas’s throaty chuckle filled the silent bridge. “Ha! Well, Cyprium, now we know the damn thing works.”
“Indeed. Although I’m considering passing a note along to the design team about their stand-off range estimates – that was a bit closer than I’d’ve liked.”
“Captain, damage reports as soon as possible, and contact the rest of the squadron for theirs. And have the Surgeon-Lieutenant report to the bridge with his rad-test kits.”
She paused, then added, “And get someone out there in a cutter to find out if the planet’s still there.”