Episode 29 – The Battle for Mother Planet
Previously on Animus…
War has come.
Having traveled backward in time, Jacob Kale and his companions have infiltrated a heavily secured LOPO facility orbiting Earth. They have bravely faced the fearsome Supreme General Vereor and the cunning Director of Deviant Control, Korynn Fleming. Having rescued the captive Coalition agent named Alec Troy, they struck an unlikely alliance with their enemy, Admiral Benneth Dyson, who gave them safe passage to his flagship, the Benedict.
Meanwhile, Coalition forces under the command of Captain Frederick “Bear” Crosley have engaged the enemy Atlas Fleet in the Wexel System. This ferocious engagement came to an abrupt halt when Triumvirate Admiral Drake withdrew his forces and ran back to the Mother Planet, after having been alerted by Fleming that Jacob Kale was spotted.
Hidden aboard Drake’s flagship, Commander Murray and the brave marines aboard the Coalition corvette Lilith’s Omen have taken control of the Crusader‘s docking bay. The ship’s engineer, Rashid Jallaq, has successfully hacked into the Crusader‘s core systems, and now, they wait for the right time to take control of the ship and turn it against Drake’s own escort craft.
Aboard the Triumvirate flagship Benedict, the heroes are forced to stand by and watch as Korynn Fleming uses the power of LOPO technology to murder Benneth Dyson’s wife and three children. Fully aware of who Jacob is, and now fueled by betrayal, Benneth Dyson has formed a blockade with his Mother Fleet, and is prepared to take out any Triumvirate vessels who dare to confront him.
The Battle for Mother Planet has begun.
Earth, Sol System
September 21st, 2193
Y.S.A.D. Benedict sported an expansive bridge, designed with an elevated, oval-shaped command platform. It was elevated above the mundane duty stations, and allowed the Commanding Officer to pace amongst the primary posts without interfering with their operations. Every crewmember was given an easy view of the angular forward window and the large tactical projections hovering across it.
Admiral Dyson’s blood ran hot with betrayal as he paced along the walkway. One by one, Drake’s vessels jumped into the Mother Planet’s vicinity and began adopting themselves into an attack formation. With every movement of those ships, Dyson saw an echo of his children in their final moments; with the lumbering approach of Crusader, the memory of his dying wife flooded him like the deafening roar of an apoplectic opera. He would have seen the skies of Earth filled with his rage, were Drake to turn against him; he would have spilled Drake’s blood across the upper atmosphere like the cascades of light upon a solar dawn.
“He’s not answering our hails, Admiral.” There was a certain trepidation that hung upon the words of his seasoned comm officer.
“Admiral Drake is a bloodhound. Fleming’s web of deceit will have caught him. He will not back down.” Surrendering to fate, Dyson turned to his senior strategic officers, who were hovering in silence behind the command ring. They remained loyal to him, at least for the time being. “The flanking vessels will protect the Arctic and African sectors. All others are to adopt the Centauri Formation. I don’t want any of our starfighter screens falling into friendly fire.”
There was hesitation in some of their eyes. He was asking them to coordinate fleet movements designed to fire upon one of the Alliance’s most important battle groups. There couldn’t be any space to question his judgement. Without breaking pace, Dyson opened a channel to the entire Mother Fleet.
“This is Admiral Dyson. Many of you have questions about what is happening today. Unfortunately we are short on time. Suffice it to say that the Atlas Fleet and other elements of our own sovereign government are caught in an act of treason, and must be dealt with. Should any of these Deviant elements move against us, we will do what we must to keep the Mother Planet safe. We will preserve our Society. That is all.”
As he switched off the comm unit, Dyson peered at the array of vessels facing them. Much to his chagrin, Drake was still advancing. Within moments, he’d cross into the no-fly zone established just beyond the range of Earth’s massive orbital defense platforms.
Suppressing a sigh, Dyson straightened his tunic. “So be it. The moment he crosses into the no-fly zone, commence firing.”
Peter Drake’s eyes were ratcheted upon one object alone; The Benedict. There she was, the largest, most heavily armed destroyer the Alliance had developed. Her size alone dwarfed the Crusader and her escort cruisers combined. Somehow, Dyson had retained control of his Mother Fleet; hundreds of vessels were squared off against his full armada, like smaller insects hovering beneath their behemoth queen.
He watched with ire as they flew between Earth’s orbital defenses. These massive space stations were created to keep the Mother Planet impenetrable. They had no engines, no propulsion systems, and were permanently anchored in a geosynchronous orbit over the home planet of mankind. Outfit with hundreds of heavy weapon emplacements, they could create a web of destruction that was considered impenetrable by enemy spacecraft. No deviant force had ever moved upon the Mother Planet in the history of mankind, and it was due to the terror these defense platforms were capable of unleashing.
As they broke through the web of platforms, Dyson’s vessels opened fire. Brightly colored dots shot forth, reaching through space in an agonizingly slow crawl toward his vessels. As they grew closer, their perceived speed would increase. War was upon them.
Drake approached Captain Roberts at the command station. He rapped his ceremonial baton behind as he walked, and a scowl was painted across his pockmarked face. “Return fire, all vessels. Ready for evasive maneuvers. Unleash all of our starfighter groups.”
Captain Roberts leaned forward and began disseminating Drake’s orders. Torpedoes and missiles of varying type departed from his ships, leaving blue ion trails in the thin atmosphere behind them. Beneath the return volley, Drake’s starfighters began pouring forth, forming up into triangular shaped strike groups.
It was civil war, and when the first wave of munitions intercepted each other, the skies were filled with enough carnage that the citizens of the European and Asian continents could see it taking place above, filling the night sky with the bright flashes of war and a glowing hue of destruction. It was almost as if space itself had been filled with fuel, and the two Admirals had struck a match in divergence.
The vessels closed on each other, joining a mass of warring starfighters who exchanged blows in a torrent of death. Casualties mounted as the smaller flanking vessels of each side took each other out, like pawns in a vicious match of wit and will. Drake, ever growing angrier with each report, issued an order to have his flanking vessels advance on the Benedict. The Hallifax and Relinquish shifted forward, offering protective fire while firing their strongest weapons upon Dyson’s flagship.
Dyson and Drake were likeminded in their battle strategies, with Drake having trained under Dyson for many years. Both commanders made to have their vessels fly through each other’s lines, so that they might pit strength against will with close range, broadside attacks. Drake breathed heavily as the Benedict approached, and he counted down the moments until his vessel was to be rocked by the Benedict‘s powerful starboard batteries.
But it would not happen. Captain Roberts came out of nowhere, grabbing Drake by the shoulders to get his attention. “Admiral!” he cried, and turned to point at one of the tactical projections. “Deviant vessels jumping in from sector thirty-seven!”
Sure enough, Captain Crosley and his Coalition warships were flashing into existence, and were quickly forming up alongside of each other.
They’d been tracked!
“Deviant slime!” snarled Drake. “Change of plans! All vessels, regroup at sector six. Signal the orbital platforms!”
Shoulder to shoulder with Commodore Chan, Captain Crosley watched as Drake’s warships turned hard to port. They were headed toward Earth’s orbital platforms, having lured Dyson’s vessels far enough away that, with luck, they’d fall under the protection of the platforms before Dyson’s armada could win the battle. They left behind a field of wreckage, some of it still burning in the thin haze of Earth’s upper atmosphere.
“Drake versus Dyson?” asked Crosley, legitimately surprised. “Look at the patterns of destruction. Dyson must have set up a blockade, and Drake engaged them. Look, he’s letting Drake go, and returning to sector 1-A over the African continent.”
Commodore Chan took out a stylus and began navigating through a three-dimensional holo-scan that hovered nearby. His motions tracked the movements of Drake’s fleet with ease. “He’s positioning himself between their primary defense platforms here, and here. Dyson won’t follow them, those platforms would tear even the Benedict to pieces.”
Crosley nodded. “They know each other well. It’s a stalemate, for now. Everything depends on our next move.” Crosley folded his arms, and scowled at Chan. “What I want to know is, why in the hell were Drake and Dyson exchanging fire over their own skies?”
“What do we do, Captain?” asked Chan.
Crosley considered the question for a few long seconds. The Coalition task force had formed up in a standard escort pattern upon emerging from the jump nodes, but there was still a healthy distance separating them from Drake’s armada. Much worse, Drake’s movements had put the civilian transit corridor between them. Because Earth’s immediate vicinity was so heavily militarized, civilian vessels were only permitted to travel to and from the Mother Planet within a narrow sector of space. Drake had shown the audacity to use it as a shield. Should Crosley send his ships around the transit corridor, they would be dangerously exposed to powerful fire from the defense platforms. There was no way that they could gain the upper hand using that strategy.
Chan filled the silence with a thought. “He won’t use antimatter torpedoes, not this close to Earth.”
Crosley nodded, but another idea had struck him. “He wants us to go around the civilian corridor, so why don’t we go through it?”
“What if he fires on his own vessels?”
“He won’t. Look, the way he’s positioned.” Crosley pointed at the small dots that signified the Atlas Fleet. “He expects us to go around. He’s guessing that we expect he’d fire on his own vessels, but he would never do such a thing. It would be treason!”
Commodore Chan stood back a bit, hesitation in his eyes.
“I haven’t come this far to let that space slug outsmart me,” growled Crosley. “Punch up the Hunt Link. Dispatch all corvettes and frigates equipped with tow cables, and haul out the largest cruise-liners and mass-transit ships. As soon as they’re clear, we move through the corridor. If I’m right, we’ll catch him with his britches down.”
It was a risky move. Crosley was relying on a hope that Drake dared not be so cold as to fire into the civilian transit corridor. If he did, he would undoubtedly destroy civilian vessels, where the Coalition ships would have nothing but enemy ships to target. It would give them the upper hand, at least for a few precious moments. Crosley didn’t have time, however, to hope on a prayer. This was war. As a commanding officer, he had to make quick decisions like these, and let the chips fall how they would.
Once his orders were dispatched, Crosley’s corvettes and frigates moved off toward the largest of the civilian ships. They began firing tow cables, engines flaring as they fought to haul the largest ships off course and out of the way. With a fools hope, the plan would work, and they would sneak through the fleeing vessels, catching Peter Drake by surprise.
And so it was that Captain Frederick “Bear” Crosley, a man who held no love for God or any other power in the universe, began to pray.
The stolen L.M.V. Praetor burst forth from the underbelly of Benedict, ejected from her primary docking bay. She was immediately surrounded by Alliance starfighters as they accelerated to meet their foes.
Captain Metler felt incredibly nervous. He’d never been surrounded by so many Alliance starfighters, and the mere fact that they were flying at his side was a stretch to comprehend. He could sense trepidation from the others, especially Jane and Riles. Having served with them ever since the Centauri War, he could almost read their thoughts.
Jacob had manned the helm station again, with Jane at comm and sensors, Riles at tactical. The mass of starfighters were forming into squadrons of eight. Above them, the Benedict and her flanking warships had opened fire on Drake’s battle group with every weapon available. They were so close that the torpedo launchers were visible, dropping their warheads from the destroyer’s many launch points. Even the massive laser emitters could be seen rotating and charging, moments before cutting into the void.
“Let’s not show our hand too quickly,” said Metler. “Cut weapons power to ten percent and engage enemy starfighters. Veston, monitor enemy chatter. Keep on the lookout for any surprises from Drake.”
Brilliant colors flooded the Praetor‘s bridge as the opposing volleys collided. Within moments, a mass of enemy starfighters came upon them, with red and gold tracers preceding them. An eerie silence had taken the bridge, clashing oddly with the maelstrom beyond. The Praetor‘s advanced weaponry ripped through the starfighters like cardboard, and her powerful shields absorbed every attack with ease.
Through the bedlam, the Crusader and her escort vessels kept spewing volley after volley toward Dyson’s flagship. Riles was getting grumpy. “C’mon, Cappy. Lemme at ‘im!”
“Not yet, Riles! Not yet!”
Captain Metler sat forward as they punched their way through the swarming fighters. After a few moments, he motioned toward one of Drake’s escort vessels. “Alright, Riles. Target Hallifax, twenty percent power. Disable their lasers and torpedo…”
Metler trailed off when Drake’s vessels ceased fire and pulled hard to port. As they took for a new heading, the enemy starfighters broke off their ferocious dogfights and raced for their berthing warships.
“What in the name of,” said Jacob.
“Benedict is calling off the attack,” interrupted Jane. “Drake is headed for the defense platforms!”
“Follow them!” Metler leapt to his feet. “Belay that fire order, Riles. Form up alongside Drake’s fighters. Veston, make us look friendly!”
Riles grumped and sat back, frowning. Jane worked hurriedly at her station to mimic the transponder signals of Drake’s starfighters, while Jacob guided the Praetor into an escort formation. They were, once again, playing friend to the enemy.
“Drake wouldn’t call off the attack so quickly,” said Metler. “That means Crosley’s here. Jane?”
“He’s right,” she replied. “Christ, he’s brought the whole Coalition fleet!”
Metler seethed. “Damnit, Bear! His heart is bigger than his brain.”
“Crosley’s armada is blocked by the civilian transit corridor,” she added.
“Not for long. He’ll either go around them or he’ll go through them.” Metler came back to his command chair, both enraged at Crosley’s boldness and enticed by the scent of his prey. “Riles, keep a close bead on the Hallifax. If I’m right, Crosley won’t break off. As soon as he comes through that corridor, give her hell.”
“Full power?” asked Riles.
“Try not to get too excited, Riles,” quipped Jane.
“You ain’t seen me excited, sweetheart. Not yet!” Riles cracked his knuckles and focused on his targeting system, smirking. “Y’all ‘r about to see some motherfuckin’ fireworks.”
From his position between Earth’s orbital defense platforms, Admiral Drake had given himself one disadvantage; he wouldn’t be able to anticipate Crosley’s next move. The mass of civilian ships scrambled his sensor abilities, and the Coalition warships were jamming LOPO’s surveillance satellites. Regardless, Drake didn’t consider it a problem. He was confident that Crosley would come around the civilian corridor one way or the other, especially when he realized that Dyson might turn and fight at his side. He doubted that Crosley would let the encounter turn into a stalemate.
He did not, however, expect for the Hallifax to come under attack.
He came upon Roberts’ tactical officer in a fury, demanding an explanation. The officer scrambled at his station, eventually pulling up an external view of the Hallifax. It was being assaulted by a form of weaponry he didn’t recognize; tiny blue globes of energy that pierced her shields with ease and were ripping chunks from the hull. The camera tracked these incoming weapons and focused on the vessel releasing them. It was small, resembling one of LOPO’s intercept craft but flying with the speed and maneuverability of a starfighter.
“Port batteries, target that vessel!” snarled Drake. “Scans?”
“Negative, Admiral! All our scans are being reflected back!”
“Concentrate all port batteries! Stop that ship!”
The Crusader poured forth bloody retaliation, but the vessel’s shields absorbed the onslaught with ease. Drake had never seen anything like it before. Even his lasers, which were powerful enough to slice clean through a vessel of that size, simply disappeared in curved flashes against the ship’s impervious shields. Relentlessly, the small ship maintained its onslaught, in spite of coming under fire from other Legionnaire vessels nearby.
“I want that ship wiped out!” he screamed.
Halifax listed to port, her systems failing. Other warships joined in the onslaught, but the pestering vessel seemed to be indestructible. Like a wild dog, Drake’s eyes danced between the external view and the civilian transit corridor.
What he did not expect was to see Crosley’s warships, piercing through holes in the civilian corridor and opening fire upon emerging. He’d been outsmarted.
Eyes widening, Drake snarled. “That irreverent, deviant bastige. Alert all commands! New targets at 125 mark three. I want those ships lured into platform range, at once!”
“Kiss my grits!” cried Riles. The thrill of battle excited him so; Praetor‘s weaponry, when fully unleashed, had made quick work of Y.S.S.C. Hallifax. They were soon the target of Drake’s warships, who were concentrating their fire upon the rogue vessel.
Colonel Wilco’s voice cried over the intercom from the engine room. “Shields down to sixty percent! What the bloody hell is going on up there?”
“Kale, get us out of here,” ordered Metler. “Make for the platforms and head for the Benedict. They won’t fire on each other at that range, and the platforms batteries are too slow. Riles, target the Crusader‘s ventral guns as we pass.”
They began a pass beneath the Crusader. Riles had begun firing on the flagship’s powerful laser batteries, when something terrible happened. The bridge was filled with an ear-splitting noise, and an entire section of the starboard bulkhead was torn clean into space.
Metler instinctively slammed his restraints closed as the air violently rushed out into space. He fought not to scream when, of all people, General Vereor began climbing through the hole and onto the bridge. His lungs were empty, and a burning pain filled his chest and ears. He reached for the weapon at his side, only to find that it had disappeared, likely drawn out into the void. They were sitting ducks; Vereor’s mechanical legs were clamping into the deck as he approached, a sneer on his half-machine of a face.
As Metler fought not to black out, he saw Jacob releasing himself from the helm console. He’d snatched a helmet from mid-air as it rushed toward the opening, and threw it over his head while the vacuum drug him toward the hole. Twisting about, he collided violently with Vereor and wrestled him off balance. They spun out into space mere moments before an emergency force field came to life and sealed the opening. Air rushed back into the bridge, re-pressurizing it in seconds.
Jane was the first to find her voice, and she shrieked in anguish. “Jacob!!”
Gasping for air, Metler released his harness and ran forward, taking the helm.
“What the hell is he doing?” cried Riles.
“Jane!” shouted Metler, his voice hoarse from the torment. “Keep a bead on Kale, damnit.” He grasped the controls and spun the Praetor about to continue its journey past the Crusader‘s stern. “Riles, give me that damned volley!”
“People!!” he shouted.
Metler steadied his nerves and watched as the orbital platforms tried to track his flight, but their batteries were too slow at this close range. As they broke between them, the whole spread of Dyson’s armada came into view.
“Captain,” breathed Jane. “I’ve got Jacob, but… sir, we can’t leave him out there!”
“Tow cables, Cappy,” cried Riles. “I can lock onto ‘im with the tow cables!”
Metler, however, had his eyes locked upon Dyson’s armada. An idea formed in his head, and he began to smirk.
“Hold on, Riles. I’ve got an idea. Veston, hail the Benedict. We’re going to need her help.”
Jenice Murray paced the length of the Lilith’s Omen cargo bay, watching impatiently as the marines ran to and fro, treating their wounded and preparing for another deployment. When Rashid Jallaq emerged from the maglift, she came upon him hurriedly.
“Rashid, report. What’s going on out there?”
“Crosley’s ships have broken through the civilian corridor and are engaging the Atlas Fleet. Drake’s maneuvered to let the orbital platforms open fire. They’re taking heavy damage!”
“It’s now or never.” Jenice grabbed Rashid by the shoulder and gestured toward his touchpad. “Is it ready?”
Rashid gave his touchpad a quick glance, then resignedly nodded. “I think so, yes.”
“Do it. Give us fifty seconds to prepare the marines.”
Rashid keyed a series of commands into the touchpad, then looked back at her with a dutiful nod. “It’s done. Fifty seconds.”
Jenice spun about with a fire in her soul. “Major Grisham, it’s time!”
Grisham spat out his half-chewed cigar and flashed Jenice a salute. “Company B!”
“Tenn-hut!” cried the company’s sergeant. With those words, the marines under Grisham’s command stopped everything they were doing and came to abrupt attention.
“Marines, we move on the bridge!” growled Grisham.
The sergeant stepped in front of Grisham with fire in his battle-hardened eyes. “Alright, ladies, you heard the man! Get those clips out of your assholes and form up! Move! Move! Move!”
The marines formed into squads and charged down the boarding ramp, ready for blood. They were soldiers of the 10th Battalion; “The Bandits” of the 1st Specialized Brigade. Grisham had every reason to be proud. He walked up beside Rashid and Jenice, grinning. “I’ve never seen a finer collection of marines in my years. Brutal, precise, efficient.”
“Indeed, Major,” agreed Rashid.
“No sense hanging back, Commanders.” Grisham withdrew two spare Renegade Mark II pistols, handing them over along with two spare clips. “Don’t let me get to Drake first, it won’t be pretty.”
Jenice took the pistol, cleared the chamber, and smacked a fresh clip into place with her iron hand. “Don’t worry, Major. He’s got a debt to pay.”
Jacob’s mind went numb to the dizzying swirl of stars and the maelstrom of battle that surrounded him. Vereor came at him from every angle imaginable, viciously striking with intent to kill as they spiraled through the vacuum. Like acrobats they danced, somehow avoiding stray weapons fire that would have been powerful enough to vaporize them both.
On and on they went, for what felt like an impossibly long time. Jacob began wondering if he could outlast Vereor. There was nowhere to run. Vereor actually had small jets built into his mechanical implants, which let him maneuver in the vacuum. Kale had nothing to control his flight aside from the defensive strikes against his foe, and the way each blow diverted his free motion through space. His only choice was to persist.
Unexpectedly, Jacob felt something latch onto his armor. Looking down, he saw a large, magnetic grappling cable, which had secured itself to his utility belt. He reached for it angrily, thinking it must be some tow cable from one of the enemy ships; but then, his eyes tracked the tether and saw none other than the Praetor raging past. He realized what they were doing moments before being yanked along behind the ship. Riles must have targeted him with the grapplers, and now, whomever was at the helm was piloting the ship to help him maneuver through space.
Praetor led him at mind-razing speeds through the explosive battle. Vereor gave chase, jets blazing from his cybernetic boots. The Praetor jerked to the side, and Jacob was sent spiraling toward the General. He screamed a furious battle cry and aimed his boots at Vereor’s midsection. When they collided, Jacob struck his foe hard enough to knock Vereor’s thrusters offline. The General flailed off into space, defeated for the moment.
“Jacob?” Jane had patched into his helmet’s comm.
“Jane!” he closed his eyes to catch a moment’s relief from the mind-warping spin of stars and spacecraft. “What the hell is going on!?”
“Are you bloody mad!?” she cried back.
“You need to get out of here!”
Her voice sounded reluctantly defiant. Panic crept upon him. “What do you mean, not yet?” he cried. “I’m gonna get vaporized out here!”
“Would you shut up and listen to me?” Jane snapped. “We’re coming upon Platform L-200. Once we blow a hole in it, we’re going to slingshot you aboard.”
Jacob gulped. “Have you gone bloody mad?”
“We’ll have five seconds to get through before the emergency shields come online.”
“Yes, we” answered Jane. “Just shut up and get ready!”
Jacob swallowed nervously. “This was Riles’ crazy idea, wasn’t it!?”
“Shut up and hold on!”
The Praetor banked about and aimed herself at the very same orbital platform they’d been aboard, not so long ago.
“Hold on, Jacob!” repeated Jane.
Jacob grabbed hold of his tether, as if it could help to stabilize his flight (or rather, his nerves). The space station grew closer, and small streaks of red a blue came forth. The Praetor extended her shields, blocking the weapons fire and keeping him from a most unfortunate encounter with a plasma missle. Breathing deeply, Jacob released his grip and stretched out his body, preparing for a free flight toward the hole that didn’t yet exist.
“For the record, I don’t like this!” he cried.
The Praetor fired. A hole was blasted in the platform’s hull, and the Praetor banked hard to port. With a click, the grappling cable unlatched itself, and Jacob was sent on a death-flight toward the platform.
He cried out uncontrollably, but set his eyes upon the opening, determined to make it through alive.
The battle had opened up once again. When Crosley and Drake’s forces had faced off, Dyson had finally brought the Mother Fleet to bear. Crosley’s ships attacked from below, Dyson from above, forcing the defense platforms to cease fire. It would have spelled certain doom for Drake and his warships, but he had one trick left up his sleeve.
Throughout the battle, Korynn Fleming had been secretly gathering warships from the System Fleets spread throughout the galaxy. These battle groups were tasked with defending their native planetary systems, and were only summoned away in the most extreme conditions.
Such as a flashpoint war over the Mother Planet.
That was why Drake, even though his Atlas Fleet was facing slaughter, could pace confidently amongst his bridge crew. It was only a matter of time before the reinforcements began to arrive, and when that happened, he would finally prove his superiority in battle.
Unfortunately for Peter Drake, he never had the chance to revel in victory.
An alert siren came to life, and the Crusader‘s bridge crew clambered about in confusion. Drake glowered at the sudden activity, and came upon Captain Roberts with ill intent. “Captain, what the hell is going on?”
He needed no explanation. The Crusader, in all of her glory, had begun firing upon her own escort craft. She’d targeted the Relinquish, battering her shields and scalding the hull.
“Roberts! Explain this!”
“I… I can’t!” stammered Roberts. He punched at his console violently, but the computers were unresponsive. “We’ve lost fire control, helm control, everything… Admiral, we are firing on our own vessels!”
“It’s Murray!” Drake seethed. “Find out how the hell she got into our systems and lock her out! Now!”
Before Captain Roberts could respond, a A bullet whistled through the air and pierced his hair. He slumped forward, and with a tiny explosion, the incendiary bullet splattered bits of Roberts’ skull and brain across Drake’s ugly face. Shocked, Drake spun about and looked at the maglift doors, which were open. Instead of a lift car, there were a handful of Coalition marines, leaping from grappling cables in the empty shaft with weapons blazing.
Everything happened so fast. The marines took out Drake’s security teams with the utmost efficiency, then moved upon the bridge crew without remorse. Shocked, Drake simply watched for a few short seconds, utterly crippled by his hubris. He finally thought to whip about his ceremonial baton, but before he could use it, a familiar face was upon him. He threw up a defense, but she swung a metallic hand through the air and caught him square in the temple. Drake saw stars, and grabbed hold of Roberts’ corpse to keep from collapsing.
“Remember me, you son of a bitch?”
Jenice Murray grabbed Drake by his shoulder and threw him to the deck with all of her might. His head bounced against the cold steel, and he groaned in agony. He saw her push the dead Captain from his command chair, then she came upon him once again. He raised a weakened arm to try and block her, but it was no use. She came down upon him with a pistol in her hand, and with a crack, his world went dark.
Jacob skidded across the deck and slammed against the interior wall with a painful thud. Jane and Riles followed, wearing the same LOPO armor that had kept him alive in the vacuum. Emergency shields flashed to life and stopped the decompression as they skidded to a halt nearby.
Their maniacal plan had worked.
Jacob ran over toward them, joining Riles in helping Jane to her feet. “Jane?” he asked, incredulously. “Riles? What the hell!?”
Riles pulled a spare rifle from behind his back and shoved it at Jacob. “Keep yer shirt on, Jakey. We got work to do.”
“He’s fine!” answered Jane.
“Listen, rabbit, we need you t’ stay here and distract Vereor.”
“You have to hold him off, okay?” pressed Jane.
Jacob looked between them stupendously. They were so rushed, he didn’t want to waste any of their time. He chose, albeit reluctantly, to trust them. It had worked so far, after all. “Alright, fine.”
“You got yerself fifteen minutes ‘fore this place goes nuke-ular,” said Riles. “If yer shiny ass ain’t off this platform…”
“I’ll make it.” He smacked Riles on the shoulder with confidence. “Just make sure your asses are out too.”
“Ain’t my first rodeo, Kale!” Riles motioned for Jane to follow. “Come on, sugar.”
Jacob glimpsed a scowl beneath Jane’s helmet a moment before they departed, running at full speed down the terminal corridor. He had no idea what they were planning, but whatever it was, it most likely involved setting the station’s fusion reactor to go critical. That would be messy. They also expected Vereor to follow, which made sense. Vereor seemed bent on confronting him, and if he could distract the General from his friends, then whatever hairbrained idea they’d come up with just might work. And so he waited, struck by an odd feeling, as if he were meant to be there; meant to encounter the fearsome General one more time.
He was correct.
One of the terminal’s many airlocks slid open. Vereor stood inside, silhouetted in darkness. The expansive terminal remained empty, as if Vereor wanted to confront Jacob alone. After a few moments, Vereor stepped out of the airlock, bringing color to his mechanically altered body.
“Very brave of you, Jacob Kale.”
Jacob kept his cool. He spoke evenly, without letting emotion taint the rhythm of his response. “What do you want with me?”
As Vereor approached, his footfalls struck the deck with resounding thumps. “Your friends have misguided you.”
“That’s not something you get to decide.”
“You must learn your place, Kale.”
“I have,” challenged Jacob. “I’ve learned many things, General, the least of which is that your senseless violence is an abomination! What of those children? Do your motives warrant the punishment of the innocent?”
“Innocent,” scoffed Vereor. “For Benneth Dyson’s betrayal, many more die needlessly. Is that what you wanted, Jacob? So disappointing. The foolish escapades of Dyson and your deviant friends will cost thousands of lives. Is that what you were created for, Jacob?”
“You and your people hold no power over me,” answered Jacob. “Not any more.” He triggered the faceplate to recede, so that he could look his opponent in the eye. “You have failed, General. I no longer belong to anyone but myself.”
“You don’t know yourself,” he retorted. “You can’t hardly begin to understand who you are; what you are capable of.”
“Then tell me,” Jacob challenged. “Enlighten me once again of my importance to your filthy Triumvirate!”
“Look inside of yourself. You will see.”
Vereor’s response confused him, to be sure. Caught off guard, he quickly became entranced by something that glowed yellow inside Vereor’s cybernetic eye. It felt strangely familiar to him. Without warning or provocation, Jacob’s mind expanded beyond its natural scope, much like when he’d guided his companions through a time warp from the future. His perception and awareness extended beyond himself, until he looked upon the terminal from some nearby distance.
He was shaken, concerned. A seed of paranoia sprouted in his soul, for what power could Vereor possess, if he were able to force Jacob into this state of mind? He backed away, but he could not turn his eyes from the yellow glow in Vereor’s eye. He was caught, like the fly inside a spider’s web. Vereor’s words began to echo in his mind, as if they were his own thoughts manifested.
Look inside of yourself, Jacob. Look inside…
He no longer stood in the docking terminal of Orbital Platform L-200. Instead, he saw himself in a room, a facility not unlike MedLab 4 on Klius Station, but larger and more extensive. He was naked inside some sort of capsule, but he was not alone. He was one member of an entire grid, capsules bearing similarly unclad humans of varying shape, color, and size. Their bodies were pierced with intravenous tubes, and crown-like devices rested upon each of their heads. Men and women in white lab coats walked to and fro, inspecting these devices with fascination as they shot yellow beams of energy into their foreheads. The color was not unlike that which glowed inside Vereor’s eye. In fact, it was one and the same, entrancing them just as Vereor’s glare entranced Jacob.
Knowledge coursed through him at impossible speeds. Complex mathematical equations, the grammatical structure of ancient languages, submarine nautical physics, the exact construction of a solar power coupling array. Just like those compressed streams of raw energy, this vast knowledge was being injected into his brain like a common medical serum.
His memory flashed again. This time, he stood free of the capsules, clad in an enigmatic white gown. A short, cleanly dressed woman stood before him, smiling with a soft, mirthful grin upon her asian face. She was speaking in eloquent Cantonese, but he understood her perfectly. He was created by them. Created to be the utter perfection of a human being. He was created to be loyal… he could never stray from his servanthood to the Great Triumvirate, else he would simply cease to exist. He believed it, then, as if this truth were a part of his being. He believed that should he ever stray, should he entertain even the slightest thought of Deviancy, he would cease to exist. He would become meaningless… no Jacob Kale, no Subject 804.C.
He was meant to serve them. Nobody else.
As if released from a tightly drawn bow, his mind was thrust back into the docking terminal where he stood. He gasped, and grew dizzy with a pervasive pain not unlike a migraine. Vereor caught him as he staggered forward.
Looking up, Jacob saw that he was being held against Vereor’s armored chest, like a wounded child leaning upon a father for comfort.
“You understand now, don’t you?” Vereor murmured. “I… can’t let you go.”
Jacob was flooded with grief and closed his eyes. So much had happened in his short life; far too much for one man to bear alone. Vereor would bear it with him. With a rush of comfort, Jacob slackened his muscles and rested against the General, surrendering his guard.
He was home, at last.
The battle had spun into a senseless brawl. Reports of vessels disabled and destroyed came in faster than Crosley would have hoped. Had Dyson’s forces not joined in the effort to pin Drake, the battle might have already been decided. On the contrary, their combined strength had done terrible damage to Drake’s flanking warships, and they had even destroyed one of his starfighter carriers. The battle wasn’t without loss. When the orbital platforms had opened fire, two of Crosley’s most critical frigates were crippled. C.S.F.’s Bravery and Steadfast now drifted aimlessly amongst the rubble, having shut down their reactor cores to avoid a catastrophic breach.
The engagement had taken a surprising turn when the Crusader began firing upon her own vessels. Crosley recognized the way she moved and engaged her escort vessels; they were battle protocols of his own design. That meant that Jenice Murray had taken control of the Crusader, and with a quiet smile, Crosley began to think that they might have a chance to win.
No battle of such a scale had taken place since the Territory Wars. With Dyson’s Mother Fleet in alliance with his, Crosley realized that the operation would officially mark the Centauri War as the second most important battle in the Coalition’s history. It would later be called The Battle for Mother Planet, and it would mark the first Coalition victory against the ruthless Civil Triumvirate.
The conflict had not been without its fair share of twists and turns to be sure, but Crosley could never have expected what came next.
All throughout the Sol System, Alliance reinforcements flashed into existence, filling the jump nodes that linked Earth with the explored galaxy. They couldn’t have been vessels from the Bonded Fleets, for they were all present and accounted for. No, the enemy had prepared for this, either deliberately or by some manner of decisive thinking. These vessels had undoubtedly been withdrawn from the Sector Units and System Defense Fleets, whose sole mandates were the defense of Triumvirate star systems. According to Alliance protocol, they did not belong here, but they had come nonetheless.
With a great sense of loathing, Captain Crosley signaled the retreat. Just like the Centauri War, they had been overpowered. They would run back to Animus IV, licking their wounds and praying for the sustenance of secrecy. Nothing could stop the might of the Yellow Star Alliance.
Nothing… save for a miracle of fate.
“Engine’s holding,” answered Johnny Wilco, who’d come to the bridge when Metler had proposed his lunatic idea. He’d taken Jane’s station at comm, and Jameson had taken command of tactical. The smell of war seemed to have brought his senses back in full. ”Shields nominal at forty-five percent. I’d avoid those platforms if I were you.”
“We’ll go after the Crusader,” decided Metler. “Target their engines.” He guided the vessel through space, knocking debris away with her powerful shields as they screamed through the fray. It was then that Metler realized the Crusader had turned and was firing on her own vessels. Beyond that, he recognized the way Drake’s flagship was adjusting course and engaging its own ships.
They were Coalition attack patterns. Maneuvers he had designed with Frederick “Bear” Crosley. It could only mean that somehow, Jenice had taken command of Drake’s flagship. She was alive!
“Do you see that?” he cried.
“What?” asked Wilco. He wouldn’t have known the attack patterns; they were traded by hand, never via the Coalition’s information network.
“Crusader. She’s using our own goddamn attack patterns. Jenice is aboard that ship!”
“Blimey!” cried Wilco.
“Move into an escort formation,” cried Metler. “Target anything that gets close to that ship!”
They were so thick into the midst of battle that he’d no idea of the Alliance reinforcements that were jumping in all around them. It didn’t matter. His heart soared, for Jenice was not only alive, but she’d accomplished a task that just might save the Coalition and turn the tide of the battle. He could smell victory as strongly as he imagined the sweet scent of her flesh.
Grinning, Metler spun the Praetor into a tailspin and hunted, now, with renewed vigor.
“For Christ’s sake, they’ve designed this place like a bloody maze!”
Jane led Riles on a maddening chase through the twisting, confusing corridors of Orbital Platform L-200. Rifle held aloft, he scanned the corridors as they ran, but they encountered few enemies, and they were easily sniped. Following the same schematic she’d stolen during their earlier visit, she’d had no luck locating a link to the Society Feed.
“Fleming runs this place,” remarked Riles. “Director of Deviant Control? Reckon there’s some way t’ access the feed somewhere.” He spun around a corner ahead of her, checking it out before motioning for her to go ahead. “This place gives me the creeps!”
“There’s nothing on this blasted map,” Jane answered. “And why are there no soldiers? Anywhere? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Fuck!”
“Don’t get yer panties knotted, sweetheart,” quipped Riles. “We’ll find somethin’.”
“That’s what I’m telling you, there’s nothing here! How much longer until the core goes critical? Are you sure Dyson was able access the reactor controls?”
“Six minutes, forty five seconds,” answered Riles. He grew frustrated with her rambling, and was finding it difficult to remain calm himself. “Dyson’s confirmed it twice now, Jane.”
“And I’ve got the recording,” she went on. “You’ve got the backup?”
Riles didn’t answer. He’d stopped short, staring at a door nearby, but Jane kept on walking.
“I mean, maybe if I could find a bloody comm interface of some sort, but they’re all closed-circuit channels, no outbound links…”
“…worthless to crack into something that self-cycles every three bloody seconds…”
Stopping abruptly, Jane glowered at him from beneath her helmet. “Riles!” she hissed. “Hurry up!”
“Maybe y’ ought’a slow down there, precious!” He pointed his rifle at the door. “Central Communications Interface.”
With a gasp, Jane doubled back and skidded to a rest near the door. She looked at it, then reached out to grab Riles’ elbow. “Riles, you’re a genius!”
“Aw, shucks. Genius?” He scuffed his foot in jest while she hacked into the security pad. “You sure know the way to a marine’s heart, sugar.”
Before Riles could clear the room, Jane had rushed in and began searching the computer terminals inside. Riles thought of a few choice words, but he kept them tactfully to himself. They were on the brink of something huge, and he dare not distract Jane now. As she went to work, he searched the room for any signs of trouble.
The central communications interface was complex, consisting of multiple relays that fed into a single terminal. Cracking the rigorous security was a tough job, even for Jane Veston. She’d never encountered such detailed protocols, and her nerves were spiked. She felt much like her childhood self, a waif, hiding from LOPO’s ever-watching eyes throughout the European Province. Only this time, so much more than her own life hung in the balance of her next move.
Jane’s efforts went awry when she accidentally triggered a security program, buried so deep inside the code that she’d completely overlooked it. Not only did the room go dark, but a series of red lights came to life, and the relay terminals began shutting down, one after the other.
“Ssshit!” she hissed.
“What?” asked Riles. “What is it?”
“The relay terminals. They’re shutting down, I’m locked out!”
“What can I do?”
“Pull the black cables, plug them into the green ports!” answered Jane. “Hurry!”
Riles went for the nearest relay terminal. There were a handful of black cables, and he fumbled through them for a moment. “Which black cable?”
“The big one!” she cried.
There were different sized cables amongst the spaghetti of wires, but Riles quickly guessed which ones seemed to be the largest. “You do like ‘em big,” he joked.
“Jesus Christ, Riles!” she hissed. “You have to do this in a specific order! Terminal five first.”
Riles circled the cluster of computers until he found terminal five.
“I got it, I got it!” Quickly unplugged the largest black cable, Riles replaced it into a bright green port. “Done.”
“Six, got it.”
Following her instructions, Riles worked without retort as she directed him to each terminal. When at long last they were finished, the central access computer came back to life.
“Good! Riles, good!” she breathed.
“Hurry up, Janey, this place is gonna get real hot if we don’t scoot!”
Driven by fear and desperation, Jane’s fingers danced. Line upon line of code scrolled past. Halfway through, she inserted a small data crystal and resumed. The code was so heavily encrypted it appeared as complex glyphs scrolling past faster than Riles could make sense of. Anxiously he checked the timer on his wristcomputer and began to sweat. They were running out of time.
“Uh, Jane? We got four minutes ’til this place goes nuke-ular.”
“It’s nuclear, you berk,” she spat. “Not ‘nuke-ular’, nuclear.”
Angrily, Riles pounded his first into the nearby wall. “Alright, that’s it, we’re going!” He grabbed at Jane, but she shrieked in fury and shrugged him off.
“Damn it, Riles!!”
Riles backed off, blinking. He was about to jump out of his skin; it would be preferable to having his atoms vaporized by a nuclear blast.
“There!” she cried. “It’s done!”
Shell-shocked for a moment, Jane stared at the computer terminal. It began to display the LOPO insignia, before flashing to an image of Source Director Lei Maiyao. They had done it! She’d planted the very recording that had been buried in Helen Dyson’s monitor. Dyson had extracted it and transmitted it to them while they’d searched for Jacob in the fray, not long ago. It would broadcast itself across the entire Society Feed… every man, woman, and child in Proper Society would know what their leaders had done.
Riles grabbed her fiercely and drug her to the door. “Come on!”
Jacob wasn’t sure how much time had passed, for his mind had gone utterly numb. Vereor led him down many corridors, keeping one hand on Jacob’s shoulder in a manner that struck him as brotherly. He couldn’t recall ever having a brother or a father, but it was comforting to him. Weary and worn, he no longer remembered why he’d come there in the first place. The only thoughts echoing through his mind were those of the visions he’d experienced. The mechanism that filled his mind with knowledge. The words of the asian woman, indoctrinating him with a kind of loyalty that he simply couldn’t ignore.
A loyalty he was powerless to ignore.
General Vereor led him through an airlock. They boarded a small, three-man craft, with a pilot waiting inside. As soon as the airlock sealed up behind them, the spacecraft ejected itself from its berth and soared downward, headed for the Mother Planet.
Jacob gazed lazily at the bright darkness below him. The sun was just starting to rise over the planet’s horizon, sprinkling the dark grey clouds and clusters of metropolitan light with beams of orange and white. Thin, glowing lines, extending from the solar power couplings to the metropolitan centers they powered far below, were slowly muted as the sun’s rays infiltrated their mark against the peaceful black. A soft sigh escaped his lips and he leaned against the bulkhead, wanting nothing more than to sleep. So desperately he wanted to dream, for he’d never dreamed before. He wanted to dream about the Triumvirate, about Proper Society; about all of those things he knew so little about, but yearned so desperately to understand. He’d been created by them, for them; he understood it at last, and was but a breath from accepting his inheritance in full.
Before he was fully defeated, a voice interrupted his reverie like the the obnoxious buzzing of a gnat. It flickered about inside his helmet, forming syllables and structure. He made to swat it from his ear, but the General had left his helmet on and he was too tired to remove it himself.
“..read? I repeat, critical mass in thirty seconds. Jacob, do you read me?”
He recognized the voice. He recognized his name. Like waking up in his glass prison by the unforgiving cry of a siren, his mind was flooded with a sharp awareness of his predicament. The pain that raped his head on that not so distant day was so terrible. He could have chosen to ignore it. He could have choosen not to spill forth, released from his prison amongst a thousand shards of glass. He could have just resigned once more, content to sleep.
But that is not what happened.
“Critical mass in twenty seconds! Goddamnit, Kale, respond!!”
Jacob suddenly pictured Jane Veston in his mind. He could see her face, bloodstained, red from stress, hair disheveled as she shouted at him. “KALE, RESPOND!!!”
There was such raw fear in her voice that it shook Jacob to his deepest place. The dreary wanderlust fell away, and his body jolted. With a gasp, he pushed himself from the wall and made for the airlock. All he had to do was turn that large, red lever, and he’d be free.
With a reluctant hiss, the airlock released, and the hatch was blown. Jacob let himself go, spewing out into space as the escape pod sped away. His head buzzed incessantly and his vision blurred, while the Earth spun about around him. Stars, fire, and debris from a hundred vessels littered the expanse, threatening to shut him in at last.
Finding a last bit of strength, he closed his eyes and forced words to form in his dry throat.
He reached blindly to his belt, activating the homing beacon that would show them his location. Then, a blinding light eclipsed all that he knew, and an unbelievable heat spread across his body.
The darkness took him, and he was finally at peace.
Book One will conclude in Episode 30: “The Epilogue”