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Author Topic: The Awakened  (Read 4606 times)
AFB
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« on: April 29, 2009, 07:47:06 PM »

Waking up to a combat alarm was definetely not fitting in with Andrew "Reaper"'s understanding of a good time. A long day of training flights, manouvres, endless quips and ramblings of the group's trainer, a veteran appropriately codenamed "Brute", a relaxing evening at the bar with a glass of clear, burning liquid, and long awaited soft bed left the mind pleading for mercy and five more minutes. But then again an old saying came to mind: "3 things you cant do without risking certain death- ejecting at hyperspeed, firing a rocket inside your own shield and missing a Brute-headed drill." So Reaper forced his eyes open and searched for the switch. Surprise drills were something of a nightmare, well, at least they promise a day off when they finally happened. And whats more, they actually included real combat scenarios (fighting drones is far from real, but what's to ask from a young squad who never crossed lasers with a real enemy?). Quickly putting on his full body suit of vacuum protection, he headed outside his quarters and to the lift connecting decks of the carrier, yawning as he walked.
Somewhere inside the clouded subconciousness a thought pestered that something was missing. Still a bit slow, the pilot scratched his brow, to help stimulate the grey matter. Oh, yeah, they were supposed to announce that this is a drill over the intercom for the rest of the crew. Even though he was still a bit cloudy, Reaper was sure that he heard no such thing. Well, operators are people too...
Just as he held out the hand to select the third deck, where the "classrooms" were, the comm came to life and said in a distressed tone:
"All crew to battle stations, level three alert! All Viper squad members are to assemble in briefing room 5. This is not a drill!"
The finger braked a millimeter away from the button, and slammed into the one above. Adrenaline flow immedeately rejuvilinated the body, and the brain was ready to work double shift and double speed. Level three alert is serious, as well as the fact that they used briefing rooms, which were normally kept for emergencies. This could mean only one thing- this "real" fight will be real.

-*-*-*-

The room was already half full, and Reaper quickly took an empty seat by his co-pilot, mechanic and co-ordinator, Tommy Jordison, or "Owl". Rest of the squad quickly arrived, all stern-faced, and all hiding contained nervousness behind mask of determination. Brute was already here, this two metre tall and wide giant with a mechanical left eye and ear would probably jump out the docking bay than be late when he's in command. As the last two people walked in, he cleared his throat and stood at a desk by a holographic projector. The noise died down instantly and twenty-four eyes stared at the speaker.
"To the business, gentlemen. Yesterday we received long-range scanner reports of unidentified fleet advancing across Red Zone." The screen lit up, demonstrating thirty ships of crystalline form. According to scale, smallest ones were less in size than standard 4 meter "Stormhawk" light fighter, then came three bigger corvette-sized vessels, roughly 60 metres in length, and finally, a large 512 meter capital ship." Alien activity is quite usual here, due to ease of subspace access, as you know... Now. Twenty three minutes and twelve seconds ago we received transmission from outpost "Borderline-delta". They are under attack and description of enemy matches what you see here. Titans already jumped out to help, and repelled the enemy, however they cant pursue as it would leave station vulnerable to another attack. Which is where you come in." The screen displayed a map, depicting current location of carrier "Darknova" and the outpost. Small green and red triangles depicted the friendly Titans, second of the squads housed on Nova and retreating enemy towards large red squares, the capitals." You will jump out to Borderline, primary task is to provide protection and relieve Titans to full on attack on enemy capitals. If all is clear, we will be right behind you, and provide repair crews to station. You will then Join Titans in attack. Finally, we will go in and engage the enemy capirals while you mop up their fighters. "Crow" will be your squad leader, but listen to Titans too. All clear?" Twelve heads nodded in sync. "Now, any questions?"
Crow raised his hand.
"What combat capacity does the enemy posess?"
Brute took a pause and turned to Owl. Without waiting for the word, the latter ran his eyes over the holograms of enemies and drew a conclusion:
"My guess is the corvettes have either beam or torpedo systems. The carrier has both, along with some kind of shield. The fighters are probably pulse weapon systems."
Predicting enemy weapons and defenses from an image was Owl's talent on a genetic level. He was seldomly wrong even with ships of unknown specifications. He wasnt wrong now either.
"Bravo, son. The corvettes have torpedoes, rest is consistent with the intel from station."
Looking at his trainees, he added in a quieter voice:
"You've been sharpening your claws, Vipers, now its time to use them. Squad, to your craft!"

-*-*-*-

The hangar, understandably, was the largest room in the whole ship, running from the force-fielded hatch on the stern of the slightly triangular ship, with its "nose angle" cut off, through the center and leaving only 50 or so meters between its back wall and engines. That space housed the powercore, and four decks above contained all the secondary facilities- biofarm and storage facilities, crew quarters, briefing rooms, training facilities, kitchen and mess hall, the list was impressive.
Having three separate platform levels for smaller craft, and hollow centre for larger, more powerful craft, Darknova could theoretically house over a hundred fighters and two corvettes inside, however extremes like that were a rarity. The current complement of hardware was twenty seven light Stormhawks, twelve of which were assigned to Vipers, eight heavy Morgensterns, flied by Titans and several salvage craft, for retrieval of disabled or ejected pilots... Or whats left of them after battle...
The maintenance crew was already running last-minute checks on the dark pointy shapes of fighters. As the squad raced out of the lift towards their ships, they quickly buzzed through the results of diagnostics, checked the systems (no matter how professional the mechanics are, one can never be too safe or sure everything is to scratch, until checking things for yourself), before climbing inside and getting sealed in the small cabin with a smile of eagerness from ear to ear. Climbing the metal steps on the side of the slender Stormhawk, Reaper automatically patted the nameplate, containing serial number and a badge- an anime-style hooded figure with a scythe and a huge polar owl, above a profile of a snake's head, mouth open, with huge fangs ready to tear apart the enemy. Strapping himself into front pilot's seat, Reaper heard Owl sigh behind him, as his fingers danced on the keyboard. Waving to the technician outside, Owl signalled to his partner- all set here. With a hiss of air, the cockpit sealed shut. Both hands on the controller, Reaper turned the helmet-encased head behind. Owl typed away, completely absorbed in the monitor, muttering under the breath. One's professional termins and secrets were always a book in a foreign language for the other. Reaper, for example, easily got lost in all the tables and charts on the screen ofhis mechanic, while Owl could not tell apart one attack manouvre from another. However, both excelled at what they did know, making a more than competent duo during training. And now they were about to find out just how much they are worth in a baptism by fire.
With the last preparations behind them, the crew retreated as the individual ship slots on the hangar platforms got sealed off with a force field. The slots were connected to launch tunnels, drilled through the hull of the carrier. This system ensured that there were no collisions between ships entering and leaving the hangar. This also allowed for an unbroken cycle of repairs on incoming craft during combat, without leaving the ships waiting in line at the entrance, as repaired fighters were immedeately launched out via the tunnel.
The mechanism sealed the hatch behind the fighter, leaving it in complete darkness. The radio emitted some white noise, before the squad members verified their status. The transmission then switched to the flight control operator, counting down:
"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, rollercoaster is go! Good hunting!"
The magnetic rails accelerated the ship along the tunnel. It wasnt perpendicular to hull's surface, otherwise it would be too short, instead it was made at an angle, giving it about hundred meters in length, more than enough to get the craft to good speed. Just meters away, the end hatch opened, releasing stream of gas and the ship into open space.
Just as they cleared the carrier, the ship's speakers came to life with an upbeat rock melody. Most pilots had some habit for flight- some had photos of family on the speed gauge, some said a prayer, there were even case when someone took a pocket size autonomous aquarium. When dealing with death and shock of loss every day, pilots needed something to keep their mental integrity intact, and the superior officers encouraged this sort of thing. Because some people could never again come near a fighter even after recovery, let alone fly them.
The opening riff shifted into the rhythmic tune, Muse, Plug in Baby, remembered Reaper. He had no idea where Owl got his hands on a data bank of centuries old music, ranging from blues to death metal, and sometimes grumbled over which ones to listen. He smirked, as he remembered the nine hour battle between mechanic and ship, which refused to play ancient data formats. Nerves, brains and a large spanner battled microchips and program codes, and the former won through perseverance.
Flying in open space was a one of a kind experience. The ultimate freedom made the blood rush through veins, and never ceased to amaze time after time. After first flight, many pilots return with a mysterious glint in their eyes, smiling into the distance, their minds still navigating the empty void of vacuum...
The space itself was not black, as many planet-citizens believed. Space had a myriad colours, from distant stars, nebulas and gas clouds, it was far from dark. On a reddish horizon, which earned the region the name Red space, Reaper saw the massive bulky shape of their home carrier, now some distance away, and tiny nimble dots of squadron members, leaving blue exhausts from the engines.
The comm beeped, and Crow came online, ordering the squad to form up into wing formation. As Reaper put the pedal to the metal, the dots moved closer, growing in size, until the closest ship took up a quarter of the cockpit screen, and the sound of engines resembled roar of infernal fires. In actual fact, it was not the actual sound of engines, but one generated by computer. It was another touch applied to make pilots feel comfortable in almost dead silence, as well as being useful for tracking direction of other craft. Arranging themselves into a flock of birds-like arrow, the leader took position at the tip, and reported to base that they were ready to jump out. Receiving final acknowledgement and farewells, the tiny ships took off, accelerating, until the space outside turned into a stream of white lines, and the engines roared, entering subspace, and for a couple of seconds, distorted guitars and drums and voice of Matthew Bellamy, were the only sounds in the cabin, as the computer could not replicate what was happening outside.


"My plug in baby
Crucifies my enemies
When I'm tired of giving.
My plug in baby
In unbroken virgin realities
Is tired of living..."


The inside of the fighter fell into darkness, as the cockpit reflected the incoming light. Hyperspace is brighter than a sun, a fact that still causes scientists to scratch their heads in vain. Other than that, it feels just like flying in normal space, except for that slight change in sound of engines. However, feelings are deceitful, as anther thing that defines hyperspace flights is the speed, many times over the speed of light.

The jump took exactly 4.0 seconds to complete, during which they travelled 0.005 light years. Materialising in a white flash, followed by the roar of the exhausts, the Vipers came into full view of the outpost. Space here was filed with a reddish fog, some kind of gas illuminated by the nearby star, and was almost completely empty. Almost, because there was a huge snowflake-like shape of the station hanging in vacuum some several thousands of kilometers ahead. And there were clouds of debris littering space all around it. The HUD highlighted a formation of eight green dots beside the hull of station. "Yeah, thats right," Thought Reaper, "It will take much more than a bunch of light fighters to take those monsters out..."
As they approached, Crow opened the comm channel.
"This is Crow, Viper Wing Captain. Nova sent us to relieive you."
A short buzz of static and the lead Titan replied in a deep baritone:
"This is General, I read copy. Perfect timing gentlemen, we just finished patching up." He chuckled to himself, and continued, "It's been all clear since we gave them the boot, but better stay on your guard, they'll be back. These guys are definitely out of their minds..." Without explaining, he ordered his squad to break defensive formation and prepare to jump out, before switching off the comm. The green dots slowly edged away from the station, accelerating as they went. Morgensterns, unlike normal fighters, had to sheathe their guns before flying at hyperspeeds, or risk them being ripped off the hull, which explained the delay. This was because unlike other fighters with fixed guns, Morgesterns had them mounted on turrets, able to track targets independently of ship's movements. The advantage was clear, as the pilot could concentrate solely on evasive maneuvers, leaving computer, or his co-pilot to gun down the enemy. Their hull was also much thicker and heavier, bringing the heavy fighter somewhere between a conventional interceptor and a corvette firepower-wise. Sure, they were slower than lighter craft, and not as agile, which made them vulnerable to missiles, but in right hands, one ship could pretty much slaughter an entire formation of Stormhawks, or any equivalent.
Following them with an envious glance, Reaper took up his position, putting the dark metal hull of station between his ship and the star. Owl stared at radar, scanner and ship status diagnostics at the same time, cursing under the breath. Catching his friend's look, with a sigh, he spoke up:
"I was just trying to work out the size torpedo effective radius." Pointing to the area of buckled and torn station hull, he continued, "According to the calculations, it had no explosive warhead." The helmets obscured the facial expressions, but he could clearly visualize the look of dumbfounded astonishment on Reaper's face. "I know, I thought that too, but look, the debris shows no sign of explosion, no explosive residue... Nothing. I think it was a sound bomb. It had a sampler and an emitter, which set it to the frequency of the station, and that caused structural resonance. Deeply strange..."
Regaining his ability to communicate, Reaper inquired:
"Why?"
"They need a medium to work. Here, they worked because we are in a cloud of gas, more or less consistent."
"Makes sense, so why is that strange?"
"The weapon is too specialised, it had to be designed to this specific gas. The zone is quite small, why would someone go to trouble of producing a weapon of such limited use?"
Reaper shrugged, and admitted that he had no idea.
"Even if its limited, it has a d**n good punch. Maybe they prepared it just for this attack, since they knew what conditions they're fighting in. Either way, I doubt its our business, command is probably investigating this. If you have nothing to do, run a scan of the area, we are war!"
Owl snorted with a look of a man who is still convinced in his opinion, but nevertheless leaned forward and started studying the computer monitor. Some five minutes later he couldn't resist yawning.
"Nothing, the whole area is quiet like a graveyard." After a short pause, he resumed typing, and said:
"Think I'll access station records of how the battle went, maybe it will come in handy."
Reaper only shook his head, as if saying- do what you want.
As he watched, Owl felt that his face involounterily shifted into an expression of puzzlement.
"General was right, they are insane."
Reaper looked at him with interest.
"Which is because?.."
Playing the recording again, this time through pilot's monitor, he explained:
"They succeeded at the unexpected part of surprise attack, look." pausing the recording he resumed, "Look, they come out of nowhere, they were not even on long range sensors. And now watch what happens."
After several minutes Reaper felt like he understood nothing. An excellent entrance of two corvettes and twenty five fighters was followed by a period of complete inactivity, lasting several minutes. Even a private would call this absurd, if you achieved advantage of surprise, use it before enemy prepares...
"Sensors picked up a scanning beam, probably calibrating their weapons. Ok, now they start launching torps, look at fighters." The torpedoes worked spectacularly- some kilometer away from target they erupted in a white flash, and released a shockwave, visibly advancing through gas. Once it reached the station, it began to shook violently, and several sections began to desintegrate before the eyes. But then more strangeness of enemy began. Their behaviour was even more puzzling and idiotic than before- instead of staying clear of station's guns, they began to swarm around it, firing in disarray. Out of twenty-five ships they lost four in first minute and a half, before Titans finally answered SOS. From there on things became even more interesting- science station's offensive capabilities are much less than a competent fighter wing, due to immobility, not to mention the class of fighters involved. Yet the enemy completely ignored that fact, and engaged the squadron. In just over half a minute over three quarters of the alien fighters turned into clouds of molten metal, when they finally sounded retreat. The corvette only launched a single torp at them, and according to records it was the only thing that did any sort of damage, which as it turned out was much less than what they did to station. They vanished even faster than appeared. Owl stopped the playback.
"Either they have no brains or understanding of strategy, throwing flying garbage balls at a fortified defensive position... Or we have missed something."
"Send this over to tactical command when they arrive, save them time... When do they plan to jump in by the way?"
Owl looked sideways at the display and repled:
"Another twelve minutes and four seconds." And once again submerged into world of tables, diagrams and digits.
Time edged on agonisingly slow. The coast seemed clear, and waiting for the enemy to show up was like waiting for rain in the clear blue sky. And somewhere out there Titans clash face to face with an alien enemy, they definetely have no time for random thoughts...
Stop, said Reaper to himself. Only fools and newcomers look for glory in battle, former out of the adrenaline rush, second out of romantic idealation of the subject. Reaper definetely wasnt the former, and while he was the latter, he counterweighed that with the amount of after-shock stories from people who fought, lost comrades and suffered extensive injuries, stories far from romantic. So he knew the simple truth- dont look for battles, they'll find you. Enjoy life while you can.
That seemed to help, but not for long. Now, his mind kept coming back to the scene of combat. A thought that they left something out, something extremely important, which wasn't helping the cause. Suppressing the urge to hit his head off the control panel, Reaper launched another scan of the area, on the alert for even slightest signals. However, there was only the debris...
A rapid double beep sounded like a trumpet before the battle. The screen printed out "Energy surge detected" and gave an imprint of energy profile.
"Hey, do you have an idea what this can be?"
His co-pilot raised his head and ran his eyes over the image.
"Some kind of scanning beam, probably Nova ran a scan before moving out."
The metronome in Reaper's head suddenly quadroupled its beat, and his breath quickened. He felt that there was something wrong, and that something was just beyond his reach. Out of despair, he jogged the memory, from when they came here to their view of battle report. Enemy ships appear, they wait, and wait, and wait... Then they start firing...
Full stop! Reverse! A scan of the station to "calibrate weapons"! But the sensors only show empty space! Yet the stronger outpost sensors did not locate them until close distance either... Can they really be approaching, somewhere in the field of broken metal and plastic parts, pieces of ships and unexploded missiles...
The revelation hit him like a hammer hits the horseshoe on the anvil, sharply and brutally.
"Tom." he called, and Owl jerked his head up involounterily, either because he was addressed by his actual name and not callsign, or just because of the grave voice of Reaper. "If the torpedoes had no explosive charge, can it be that they are multi-use?"
"Yes... But they'd need time to build up the charge again..." his voice trailed off, as he came to realisation. They were static like statues for a single moment, before bursting in a whirlwind of activity.
"Shields!" barked Reaper, breaking orbit. The order was completely unnessesary, as Owl already hammered the keyboard, squeezing out every last juice of power from the core. Turning on the comm, he shouted in the broadest frequency: "Shields up and brace for impact!"
Before he finished the last word, space erupted in a familiar white flash and a massive shokwave approaching their position.

-*-*-*-*-*-

The ship stalled, as if it hit an asteroid, and from somewhere inside came the low grunching sound. The hull and the instruments began to vibrate, reminding of earthquakes. The comm was alive with panicked shouts of those who were taken off guard. However neither Reaper nor Owl seemed to hear any of those. Their eyes were transfixed on the shield/hull integrity indicator, former slowly creeping towards 0% mark. The vibration intensified, but they still sat there, unable to move or even breathe, seeing death approaching. However, somewhere in the gut was the feeling that the worst has passed. And as if confirming that, the rate the blue shield bar declined slowed down, finally stopping at roughly a fifth of original capacity. Immedeately the duo burst into action.
"Scanning for other charges..."
"Get me engines and at least one of the plasma disruptors. We don't need shields, they won't take another hit either way."
"I read three more power surges. Seven seconds!"
The ship surged forward, exhaust gases pouring in a stream behind it. The proximity alert beeping itensified, as they neared the target. A cloud of debris obscured the vision, but the eyes, trained over hundreds of hours of simulations immedeately picked out an oddity- one of the pieces was too evenly shaped. Acting on instinct, Reaper unleashed a torrent of highly volatile plasma contained in low-power force field bubbles. He did not stop until an explosion threw apart the metal garbage, causing a wave in the reddish gas.
"Good, two more, distance- 50km."
The fighter jerked, as pilot put in a sharp turn. Another series of fireballs and two more explosions. Reaper did not even have time to be surprised how fast he was reacting to the short and snappy instructions from Owl. And for good, otherwise he would probably do much worse had he time to be nervous. Now, he just had a job to do, and nothing more.
----------------
One minute sixteen seconds of battle passed in a flash, accompanied by fear of not being fast enough, and elation when shots found the target. One minute  sixteen seconds of white-knuckled gripping of the controller and unblinking stare at the scanner. And their hard work paid off- apart from the first, no other charge went off. Some were a close call, others spotted miles away, but in the end result is all that matters.
Reaper slumped against his chair, feeling like he ran a couple of laps around the carrier hangar, he realised he was still gripping the controls. The adrenaline rush dissipated, leaving behind heavy breathing and sweat, but inside the pilot was euphoria.
"Viper squad, this is Darknova control, what the hell happened here?"
With a cough, Crow replied:
"We... Would like to know that too. Reaper, Owl?"
Exchanging glances with his companion through helmet visors, Owl sighed and replied via comm channel:
"I'll explain, however full story won't be short."
The control considered for a moment, before answering:
"Ok give us the summarised report,. If anyone is damaged or needs recharging, return to hangar, we have crews on standby."
As his mechanic began his summary of their escapades, Reaper sent the ship towards the opening hatch of welcoming home.

""


Will be contd tomorrow 1
« Last Edit: May 06, 2009, 12:47:55 PM by AFB » Report to moderator   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2009, 07:14:19 PM »

Updated... Once again 13
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