Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Part 5: TANSTAAFL!

As last we saw, the Citizens of Free Luna have just beaten off Earth's punitive strike to put down their rebellion. Now the Loonies are striking back.

They're going to throw rocks.

"A maximum of instructive shrecklichkeit with minimum loss of life. None, if possible" -- was how Prof summed up doctrine for Operation Hard Rock and was way Mike and I carried it out. Idea was to hit earthworms so hard would convince them -- while hitting so gently as not to hurt. Sounds impossible, but wait.

Critics of Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima have argued that it would have been just as effective and less deadly so simply allow representatives to witness a test explosion of the Atom Bomb. I'm sure Heinlein had heard this argument, and I suspect he probably disagreed with it. Yet here he has the Loonies to do something similar: demonstrating their capability to deploy a Weapon of Mass Destruction without actually killing any more people than they have to.

Perhaps this analogy is unfair. A closer analogy would actually be Pearl Harbor. The original Japanese plan was to strike the U.S. Navy so hard and so decisively that America would lose the will to fight. It didn't work.

Prof's concern about inflicting unnecessary casualties is precisely because he does not want to galvanize the people of Earth into anger and retaliation. Luna cannot survive a fight to the death with Earth as its enemy; so they have to leave Terra room for the possibility of becoming friends.

Luna has no spaceships of it's own, and no weapons, other than a few laser drills modified into defensive artillery. But it does have one important advantage: it's position on top of Earth's gravity well. This is the ultimate high ground; and they are going to take the old chestnut of dropping a penny from the top of the Empire State Building and multiply it by a factor of millions. (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used a similar idea in their novel Footfall).

Using Mike's powerful radar telescopes, they have identified unidentified target locations on every continent, in every major nation on Earth. For the past two months they have been preparing canisters similar to the ones formerly used to ship grain to Earth, filled with rock that they will fire at these targets. Hitting the targets should be no problem; it's just a matter of ballistics, and aiming Luna's catapult was the first job for which Mike had been programmed.

They flood the airwaves with warnings to stay away from the target sites, mixed with propaganda. They want everyone on Earth to know what's coming.

Manuel is well into implementing Operation Hard Rock when he finally makes contact with Prof. Communication with the city of Hong Kong Luna was disrupted during the attack and Mannie had feared Prof had been killed. But he also learns that Ludmilla, the youngest wife in his family was dead, shot by one of the invading soldiers. Manuel returns to be with his family in mourning. Most Loonies "conserve" their dead, recycling the body's components into the Lunar ecosystem. Little 'Milla's atoms will now be mingled with those of Black Jack Davis and the rest of the family members now gone in the Davis family greenhouse, providing nutrients for the roses.

Back to the attack. The initial barrage of rocks will take three days to reach Earth. So far, None of the nations of Earth have come to terms. So as not to distract Mike from the delicate task of monitoring and correcting the trajectories of the missiles, Manuel suits up and goes on the Lunar surface to watch. The Sun is mostly behind the Earth and the North American continent lies in night as Mike counts down.

And suddenly that grid burst out in diamond pinpoints!

We hit them so hard you could see it, by bare eyeball hookup; didn't need binox. Chin dropped and I said "Bojemoi!" softly and reverently. Twelve very bright, very sharp, very white lights in perfect rectangular array. They swelled, grew dimmer, dropped off towards red, taking what seemed a long, long time. Were other new lights but that perfect grid so fascinated me I hardly noticed.

Mike is delighted.

"A bull's-eye. No interception. All my shots are bull's-eyes, Man; I told you they would be -- and this is fun. I'd like to do it every day. It's a word I never had a referent for before."

"What word, Mike?"

"Orgasm. That's when they all light up. Now I know."

This sobers Mannie and he cautions Mike not to get to like it too much. "If it goes our way, we won't do it a second time." Mike has other sobering news: one of Earth's Peace Cruisers has just left Earth orbit and is on it's way and will arrive in a day or two.

Manuel returns to the sub-basement of the Complex where the bulk of Mike's mainframe resides but is soon called up to the Administrative Offices for an emergency Cabinet meeting. It seems that initial reports from Earth are claiming that Luna used atomic weapons and that thousands or more are dead. One of the Cabinet members, a self-important representative from Novylen named Wright who claims to speak for the "intelligentsia", is howling that the rock strikes have made Luna guilty of crimes against humanity.

The reason for the casualties is that it seems thousands of sight-seers deliberately went to the targets to watch. As for the claim of atomic weapons, Prof is puzzled. Luna has no nukes.

I turned to Wright. "Did your brainy friends tell you what happens when you release a few billion calories in a split second all at one spot? What temperature? How much radiance?"

"Then you admit that you did use atomic weapons!"

"Oh, Bog!" Head was aching. "Said nothing of sort. Hit anything hard enough, strike sparks. Elementary physics, known to everybody but intelligentsia. We just struck damnedest big sparks ever made by human agency is all."

The Cabinet accepts his explanation, (Except for Gospodin Wright, who is a putz), but Manuel isn't finished. He's tired, hasn't slept in days and has had enough. Pointing at Wright he says: "Either that yammerhead goes... or I go. don't seem to understand issue. You let this yammerhead climb on my back -- and didn't even try to stop him! So either fire him, or fire me."

It's an ugly scene. One by one, the other members of the War Cabinet side with Manuel. "Manuel, it works both ways," Prof says sadly. "What you are doing is forcing me to resign. Goodnight, comrades. Or rather, 'Good morning.' I'm going to get some badly needed rest."

Everybody needs rest by this time. After a good nine hours of sleep, they reconvene. Prof is there. Nobody mentions what happened the previous night. Nobody mentions Gospodin Wright. In fact, Manuel observes that he never saw Wright again.

But there are still matters to discuss. Stu has been secretly negotiating with Doctor Chan, the Chinese representative Manuel met on his trip to Earth. China might recognize Luna, but wants them to cancel the bombings on Chinese soil first. The Cabinet discusses the matter intently and decides to stick with their plan. More immediately, Luna has to prepare for the upcoming attack, now less than 24 hours away. The most vulnerable domes must be evacuated; but Prof insists that all evacuation must be voluntary; he refuses to coerce people out of their homes.

They expect the Earth cruisers to bomb their catapult; this is why they built the second one. Since there is a danger that "David's Little Sling" might get cut off from the rest of Luna, they have already transported an auxiliary computer to the site to handle launches from it. The auxiliary is a mainframe formerly used by the major bank in Hong Kong Luna. Mike affectionately refers to it as "my idiot son." It is not and will never be self-aware as Mike is, but it's smart enough to run the necessary ballistics programs. Mike asks Manuel to go out to the site and ride herd on the auxiliary computer in case it needs help. On all levels, Prof and the others are executing a radical decentralization of vital systems and government so that if any part of the Luna Colony is destroyed, the rest can carry on.

The bombing of Earth continues, still limited to uninhabited targets, with one big exception: the North American Space Defense Command in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. It's a military target, and fair game. It had taken a hit during a limited nuclear engagement of the previous century (called "The Wet Firecracker War") and so the mountain itself is empty of life. Mike keeps hammering the mountain with rocks until he apologetically tells Manuel that the mountain isn't there anymore. Manuel would also like to drop one on the Federated Nation's Administrative Headquarters in Agra, but because of its close proximity to the Taj Mahal, he knows Prof would never forgive him if he did.

But the Loonies only have so many rocks prepped to shoot out of the catapult; and the next attack from Earth is on it's way. The defensive laser gunners are able to bring one down by blinding its sensors; but several receive fatal or near-fatal radiation burns when the cruiser's H-missiles detonate. A second cruiser manages to damage the main catapult before it too is brought down. Earth is now announcing that the threat from Luna is ended. It's not; Little David's Sling is still operational; but with at least two more cruisers orbiting Luna they have to be careful when to use it, lest the cruisers get a fix on the catapult's radar. The war now becomes a game of Chicken as Mannie hopes that Earth backs down before they run out of rocks to throw.

Then the announcement comes: Great China denounces the actions of the F.N. and announces that it will recognize Free Luna and is ready to negotiate. India quickly follows suit, followed by Egypt and others. Before long the F.N. itself accepts armistice and withdraws the orbiting warships. The revolution is over!

Manuel returns to L-City in triumph and there Prof delivers a victory speech. It occurs to Mannie that the destruction of the main catapult very well might have been part of Prof's plan all along: now it won't be possible to ship Luna's resources to Earth at all; at least for a long time. Prof joyously announces that Great China has committed to building an Earth-based catapult to permit two-way shipping between Luna and Earth. "But that lies in the future. Today -- Oh, happy day! At last the world acknowledges Luna's sovereignty. Free! You have won your freedom --"

And then... right there on the podium, he dies.

It is quite a while before Manuel has the chance to call up Mike; and when he does he learns that all phone service to the Complex is out; the Complex was a major target for the last round of orbital missile bombardment. He goes down in person to talk to Mike... and gets no answer.

He works just fine ... as a computer. But won't talk. Or can't.

Wyoh tried to coax him. Then she stopped. Eventually I stopped.

Don't know how it happened. Many outlying pieces of him got chopped off in last bombing -- was meant -- I'm sure, to kill our ballistic computer. Did he fall below that "critical number" it takes to sustain self-awareness? (If is such; was never more than hypothesis.) Or did decentralizing that was done before the bombing "kill" him?

I don't know. If was just matter of critical number, well, he's long been repaired; he must be back up to it. Why doesn't he wake up?

Can a machine be so frightened and hurt that it will go into catatonia and refuse to respond? While ego crouches inside, aware but never willing to risk it? No, can't be that; Mike was unafraid -- as gaily unafraid as Prof.

Now years have passed and Mike is still silent. Manuel knows that Mike is as dead as Prof -- but how dead is Prof? The yammerheads wound up more competent than Prof expected and are turning Luna into a law-and-tax-ridden government just like the ones on Earth, despite Prof's best intentions. It turns out that Heinlein's Libertarian Utopia was possible only under the iron dictatorship of the Warden; once the Loonies could govern themselves, as Prof feared, they began forging new chains of their own.

The novel ends much as Huckleberry Finn does, with Manuel considering "lighting out for the Territories" to find a less-civilized place to live.

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