The revelation that Ed has a universal constructor is not one which should have surprised me back when he was explaining the plan at that lightning-fast briefing. The stuff he's built in the past, out of plain old raw materials like scrap metal and wood and glass, would, if we're being honest, have required warehouses full of highly specialised machinery to create. I never devoted a huge amount of thought to the problem, just assuming the apparent magic he was working down there was due to his towering intellect like everything else, but in retrospect I should have been more curious.

I guess he has his reasons for never explicitly telling me about the UC though. Like so many of his inventions, a universal constructor is one of those devices which is dangerous if you just tell people it exists.

Still, even with this deus ex machina of an engineering solution in our posession, constructing a pair of giant wormholes would obviously require two more things - lots of electricity (though no more than we already have access to) and...

"So, Ed. I never got around to asking you. What exactly are you building this wormhole out of? Where are you getting the raw materials from?"

"The UC I first made is actually pretty small - much too small for our purposes. So while I was constructing the green wormhole from the program I wrote way back when, I had Tyro coding up a larger version, a big black thing with a hopper which is currently sitting here at the port. We're at the port because this is a good place to find all the raw materials we need: metal, plastic, water for hydrogen and oxygen, copper, silicon. Basically anything is usable... The mechs are stripping the place down and hurling it into the hopper as fast as they can. It's all they can do to keep up, to be honest. Then the formatted output is fed directly through the green wormhole and straight to you."

"You reckon we'll complete it in time?"

"Unquestionably," says Ed. "With enough spare time for a cup of coffee, no less. Defending it when it's built is the hard part."

"You really think it's going to come under attack?"

"Any minute now."

I close the channel and wait nervously, listening to the dim humming noise of the wormhole growing past me and the buzzing of mechs patrolling around.

A thought occurs.

"Marcus, how come I can hear this wormhole growing past me and mechs buzzing around, in deep space?"

"Ah. That's a new tactical plugin. It takes the feed from your sensor inputs and interprets them into three-dimensional surround sound effects. Aural cues are extremely important in a combat situation, but the mech's armour is essentially sound-proof, and even given the external microphones, there's a limit to how useful actual sounds can be in combat, especially in space. Whereas with this plugin, you can hear things coming - even supersonic planes and rockets, and even in space. The plugin's a very simple software algorithm, not hugely intelligent, it's anybody's guess how it'll interpret some events, but it knows to go 'boom' when there's an explosion and 'whoosh' when something whizzes past you at high speed. The Coalition is hoping to turn it into something really sophisticated, though, something a trained pilot can use to almost fight a battle by ear. Or at least augment the usual readouts and alarms and things."

"It seems to be working pretty well."

"Well, beware of screeches, it screeches sometimes."

Minutes pass, and continue to pass. After a short while I dig out the keyboard and mouse I pinched from Ed's basement what seems like an eternity ago. I plug them into the still-operational ports in my seat's arms and get Marcus to temporarily give me control over the mech. It's a LONG time since I flew but it's surprising how it all comes back - I find myself unable to recall the key combinations for certain manoeuvres, then instantly tapping them out without even thinking a few seconds later.

A faint but growing bleep almost gives me a heart attack until I realise that it's the front end of the wormhole, come full circle. People controlling the other mechs - which are all unmanned - exchange instructions with Ed, and the tail end emerges from the red wormhole, which then shuts off. There are more exchanges, and four mechs drag the two ends together where they connect neatly.

Further graphics appear on my screen, added by some unknown force, perhaps Tyro: a translucent red cylinder which marks the projected path of the asteroid and a deep blue ring for the edge of the wormhole, which is much too thin to make out for real at the far edge. The latter widely encircles the former, which plunges down towards India far below me, needle-fine at the endpoint.

From above, where I now carefully take my mech, the wormhole is just a blue curve across space - from the right angle, a curve across the face of the Earth itself. For a second I can take in this dazzling view, then the Earth completely disappears and is replaced by empty space, for the two large wormholes have now also been connected.

With care I pass my mech through the ring - being two-way, it's far safer than the bread-slicer of yore. Then, on the far side, I turn around and see the other side of the world.

This wormhole isn't diametrically opposite the Indian impact point, as it doesn't need to be. Instead it's low over North America. The view, bluntly, is spectacular.

A minute or two passes, and I loop around the edge of the second wormhole and pass through again, emerging on the far side of the first, nearly back where I started.

"It's working," I radio to Ed, knowing several people have most likely verified this to him already.

"Splendid," he replies.

As the countdown drags on past the five minute mark, I ponder the form that the attack will take. Space battle is a difficult thing to figure out from first principles. What would work in space? Assume they know what they're dealing with and choose something which would be most effective against what we have. Any given mech is shielded against jamming and electromagnetic interference - plus it can receive encrypted remote commands on a thousand different frequencies, meaning remote hijacking isn't an option. Nukes aren't very effective in space. Missiles can accelerate basically without limit in vacuum, but can be trumped with a well-targeted railgun slug... What beats a railgun slug?

Anything?

"Ed, is—" I begin, but am interrupted by a monumentally loud and unpleasant noise - a thousand simultaneous but finely distinguishable horrendous screeches, each blazing its own meticulously plotted 3D path diagonally through the audio environment of my cockpit. I glance at the radar and catch sight of a rapidly fading orange-red trail for each noise - rapidly fading after shooting through local space at six nines of c. A jolt and a sudden onset of acceleration signals that Marcus has resumed control of my mech. Mech pilot chatter, mostly profane, explodes around me. I can hear weapons powering up - both real sound transmitted through the armour on my mech's limbs and simulated noise based on detected energy signature changes in the other mechs. Railgun slugs, somebody shouts, they were railgun slugs, high energy.

A fragment of wormhole pinwheels across my field of vision.


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