Titans (Part 1)
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:56 PM
"...Put simply, such a force was far out of place in protecting the Canis Majoris system from the impending Covenant invasion.
"In fact, as only two light-years separate the Majoris star from the Eridani star, and a mere eight light-years stands between Delirium and Earth, at least one member of the United Nations Star Command Joint Staff should have been able to recognize the need to withdrawal the Second Fleet Group, unless of course there had been an agreement between Delirium and Earth Command in regards to fighting the aliens at the former planet, in some form of preemptive engagement. However, as best as can be determined from official dispatches, no such order was ever given by Earth. Thus, we can conclude with some certainty that it was the initiative of local commanders within the Delirium defense structure who approved of the engagement itself.
"Furthermore, it was well known that the aliens had been massing a fleet of staggering scale around Reach in preparation for their strike against Earth, and it was certainly known that the aliens could launch a successful attack from the Epsilon Eridani system on Delirium without slowing their buildup of forces. Clearly aware of this fact, the Covenant had dispatched a battle group of some scale to the Canis Majoris system. Again, how such knowledge was overlooked by Earth but not Delirium command is utterly unknown. Nonetheless, a Covenant fleet launched from Reach orbit on 10 September, 2552.
"It took them two days to arrive..."
--- From, A History of The Later Great Colonial War
This beginning, seen through bursting stars and growing worlds, is in what we have learned all that we now know. Riding high across our sun things have still not changed, and why? We will survive this fall in our time, this glimmer of another's hope. Those who traveled so far across endless stars to ravage us shall fail in that duty. Oh, we speak of death and horror but the truth is known- we cannot be defeated. We are immortal in our glory and genius, and they, so contrived and single-minded, are heartless. Alien and bestowed with the energy of that name, they are beasts seeking but to kneel at the feet of men. Our worlds burn, yes, but in chaos we will prevail.
Star split to spiral and blooms twine,
Bleeding distance comes sweeping as morn
Flowers over flamed horizon shine.
Fall, fall further.
Pale shore bleach warming of mine
Own birth and land thence seen scatter torn
Star split to spirals and blooms twine.
Spirals of his sight and a stream of worlds. Magnificent space a pristine definition of beauty. Temples rise and fall before what can be seen, as men live and die before what they know. Planets glow in star fire, ringed by an apex of light. Ice burns as flames flicker and thus is it known endless. A man grasps but falls. A great ship is dashed amongst the sea. Towers of marble crumble at whim. Oh, the glory of this godless age! And our oblivious end draws nearer still....
Closing these eyes blinked upon this sign
Imagined dark lay new light as born
Flowers over flamed horizon shine.
Do you see it now?
Glory straight elemented sun-line
Streaks over our world worn.
Star split to spirals and blooms twine,
Night sky. Stars seen from solid ground; up. Street lamps fading backwards from empty windows high above vacant streets. Like a summer's eve anywhere. And to see it all ruined, how can it be described? In a thought: as men burned the New World, we died to that equally alien. We all saw it, and still fell helpless to stop it. It comes closer now, one moon vanishes behind a thousand starships and another burns in primal fire. The day streaked sky falls into darkness. Horror rains from the clouds.
Vision bathed white symphony such of wine
Bright, yet ourselves known true forlorn
Flowers over flamed horizon shine.
A million bodies stacked high....
False found brilliance fine!
Hark its coming stare rising over mountain horn-
Star split to spirals and blooms twine,
Flowers over flamed horizon shine.
And triumph! Yet, a dream?
Lana opened her eyes. An alarm sounded, blocking out the constant drone of powerful engines. Unnatural air flowed in circles, moving from one end of the cockpit to the other, before being vacuumed and recycled. Her breath was icy, clouds of moisture forming when she exhaled. The heaters had failed. She ran a gloved hand across the dashboard, deactivating the alarm. Blue trails, like a tunnel of fire, raced past her view, the chaos of slipstream gliding around the ship. Ice had begun to collect on the windshield, tinting her view. She reached above the windshield and flipped a set of switches. After a brief moment she felt heated air flow back into the cockpit. Lana shook her head, trying to clear away an after image left from the dream. Checking a number of electronic readouts, she found her ship to be in working order, aside from the temporary heater failure. She tried to relax, zero gravity flight always made her nervous. Without warning another alarm sounded. She recognized the pitch as the faster-then-light indicator. The ship would be dropping back into real space in five minutes. Reaching to her helmet she activated the heads-up-display. A long string of numbers rattled off, giving her approximate location, speed, and fuel load-out. The best she could judge, the ship was somewhere, roughly six billion kilometers from planet Delirium. She leaned her head back, resting against her seat. It would almost be time to kill the engines, and make her approach in real space. Reaching down to a side panel, she flipped away the faster-then-light deactivation safe guard, then killed the main switch. The ship took a sudden bump, jostling for several seconds like an airplane caught in terrestrial turbulence.
As the estimated-time-to-arrival counter reached the zero mark she flipped the twin ion engine ignition switches, listening as the slip-space engines powered down, and the ion drive came online. A long whining alarm began, followed shortly by the windshield tinting over. As the alarm reached its apex the main engines silenced. She set her hand against the ship's master ignition switch, waiting several seconds for the ion engines to finish starting up. She flipped the switch forward, then quickly back. Within a second the windshield went black, a blinding flash of light engulfing the ship. She felt herself thrown forwards, then pressed back against her seat as the ship's inertial dampers countered for the sudden change to real space. The alarm went dead, indicating that the switch to real space had gone through successfully. The windshield changed from opaque to transparent, the cockpit's interior lighting coming on.
There, centered perfectly in the windshield, like a great pearl, hung the paradise world of Delirium. Four hundred million souls, a world of ocean and beauty. For a moment, Lana could hold no thought, as her vision and mind trailed over that marble in the viewscreen. Aside it spun a pair of moons, countered off so that tides refused to act with any consistency. From three-hundred-thousand kilometers she watched Delirium float and turn- and orbit in unity. And there was something else, something hiding just beyond the waking morn of Alpha Canis Majoris; she could see the new day widening over Delirium's vast seas. Briefly, she wondered how many people would be eating breakfast and how many dinner- how many would great a new day, and how many would sleep until another morning dawned.
A proximity alarm went off. Looking to her right, through the heads-up-display, Lana could identify the outlined shape of a United Nations Star Command frigate, bristling with antennae, and communication equipment. She was deadly close, almost brushing the ship's armor. She grabbed at the controls, burning her ship's engines to open some distance on the frigate. Her sleek transport shuttle responded quickly, minute engine bursts propelling her away from the much larger warship. Through her windshield she watched as the frigate slipped away, half a kilometer of brute engineering vanishing from view. It was only one of many. Lana could see them in the distance, small images enhanced by the heads-up-display. Each ship grew progressively larger as she closed distances with Delirium. After passing several frigates, she slipped beneath the endless bulk of a Titan-class battleship. She pulled in low, avoiding the warship's massive ion engines. She watched in awe, a sudden shadow cutting across the cockpit, as the battleship blocked out Delirium's sun, the rising Majoris. Looking skywards she was given the illusion of flying upside down, the ship's features rolled past like a planet's horizon. The effect became total as she passed a long spire of communications equipment. Thinking fast, she made a quick burn, rolling the shuttle one hundred and eighty degrees to counter the unnerving horizon effect. Like water the cold grey of hull metal washed over the windshield. After what seemed an eternity, Majoris's terminator threw itself across the shuttle, the battleship vanishing like all the others. Yet still they came, each ship like a star; a single pinprick spread across the void.
Looking down upon it, one could feel its glow: a world seeing back. Like, water reflections it seemed. A great spiral of cloud was condensing somewhere over the southernmost Pole- like a swarm of thrown steam caught in the wind and flashed over sand. There was ice, great staggering caps of it; they stretched on endlessly. Continents of green forest and quite deserts. Strewn water in puddles, as lakes. Moving jet-stream from dieing clouds and new born rain ran over the ocean and fell off the horizon. And, more indifferent still, single pinpricks of detail: human cities and ships seemed almost lost amid the green and darkling blue. Seventy kilometers and they could see all this.
Truly, it was like sailing into the distance of a painting. Alexander, of countless titles, stood aboard the battleship Titan and considered this moment. Of the ship, he neither new nor cared much, it was simply another work of steel and industry, wrought in some horrible shipyard four years ago. It was captained by a competent man- the noted German commander Maximilian Herrscher, who's career in the United Nations Star Fleet had been so far distinguished by several encounters, two of which had resulted in established one-sided victories. Particularly, Alexander could recall the man's much lauded victory at Orleans, where the Sixth Fleet narrowly escape destruction- only to escape it once again at Reach. Oddly enough, defeats could pass for victories these days without one blinking an eye, such was the state of the Empire.
He was a commodore, an admiral of a United Nations Star Command armada; the Second Fleet Group. He was a competent man, or so his position claimed, for few individuals, at least those outside the Joint Chiefs, rose to a higher position in the fleet. And a fleet it was that now lay spread around him in celestial orbit: the prow of the Revenge, named in the archaic British style for its guns and title, arched not more then five and a few kilometers off the Titan's bow, as the pocket battleship Prey drifted silently away to the west, over a vast plane of ocean and titling islands. Such constructs meant nothing alone, and this Alexander knew, to him they were united or destroyed, and that was the end of it. Delirium fell below him, visible to the naked eye through the large sheet of quartz built into the ship's control room. He could hardly describe the effect it had upon his senses, except to those who had experienced it equally- but it was awe made tangible, if such words do the slightest of credit.
As a man, as a human, Alexander had known love. That for another and that for his people and his world. In all its own, he had experienced nay enough emotion to tilt a feather scale if need be. But despite his well met acquaintance with such finer aspects of human thought, he still found himself standing upon the deck of a ship of war. To kill in this hatred had meaning- he knew- just as to love in a passion had feeling, for indeed, he hated them all. The alien, the Covenant. There could be no rationale about it, and it was that which Alexander saw as both his fear and their terror: the utter lack of motive which encompassed their actions. Had they not fired the first shot? Had they not killed and killed when peace had been sought? Oh, how he hated them all. The Covenant... the very name; it chilled him. Yet, it was this hatred that led him to the paradoxical love he felt for his people. Soon, if unknowingly, he would lead his fleet into an inferno unlike any humanity had ever seen. Historians of new have likened the coming battle to that of endless naval conflict, ranging from Greco-Roman to Napoleonic and beyond. Reach; that supposedly great battle were a single alien fleet had defeated a sorrowful collection of men, paled in comparison. What was to now be seen would be battle of hundreds of ships, countless numbers, spread across the sky like the stars themselves... and all of them burning in fury. Circumstance had placed this battle, and this Alexander soon knew: it seemed fitting that the smallest of battles should yield the greatest of importance, as it had been at Reach, while the largest of battles should in the end mean nothing.
Nothing, this is what came to be known in truth, for the battle had already been predicted. Alexander could see it all played out in his mind hours before it would even begin: the aliens would arrive, spread themselves into an unimaginative and ridiculously simplistic formation and drive straight for Delirium proper. The fleet of Earth would valiantly stand against that which threatened, and be utterly destroyed as a result. Devastated, those few remaining ships would limp back to Earth for her final defense, while the Covenant killed four hundred million people. They would call it a victory back on Earth. But this time it would not happen in such a manner, and the Second Fleet Group would instead prove what all great admirals had known for so long: winning the war is not everything.
"Captain Herrscher, order the Sixth to form a battle-line," spoke the admiral, referring to his fleet- one of the three fleets comprising the Second Fleet Group. The order waited, the dumbstruck captain standing still, his head turned in Alexander's direction. Before responding he was quick to look to his observations officer. The women gave a shrug, indicating that there were no enemy ships within fleet radar range. Alexander looked down upon the captain, his eyebrows furrowed under the brim of his naval cap, his gaze insisting.
"Yes, sir," was all Herrscher spoke to his admiral. The captain turned away, passed on the order. Alexander was rewarded immediately with a striking view of four capital-ships, his own included, forming into a standard battle-fleet. They were arrayed directly before the Titan's bridge; the Prey and Aurora on his right, with the Revenge on his left. Alexander could see the remaining capital-ships of Eighth and Fourteenth fleet still standing awkwardly at the ready, their brilliant hulls near vanishing in the rising Delirium sun.
"Take us to twenty-thousand kilometers, please," spoke Alexander, hands clasped behind his back. Herrscher relayed his order, and after a moment, the four ship fleet began to ascend, maneuvering engines pushing the big ships into a higher orbit. Support craft scuttled around in a vaguely coordinated manner, as smaller civilian ships scurried to avoid a collision amongst the military maneuvering.
"What...?" Lana whispered to herself, as a series of proximity alarms once more strummed into life. She looked up, craning her neck around until she could see the polar oceans of Delirium. Cabin lights hummed lowly, new light from Majoris providing far enough illumination. Her radar display appeared distorted, and showed not a single space-bound contact. Still, the alarms sounded. She could see nothing save the vast outstretch of ocean some hundred kilometers above, tilting away as her shuttle orbited in slow revolutions. Even the mass of military shipping and naval warships that had so cluttered her view had drifted away, out behind the planet's horizon. There was simply nothing... Through her tinted windshield ice crystals brushed past in silence, warm orange light casting strong shadows.
Turning down to the control panel before her, Lana flipped off the alarms manually and was rewarded by a moment of tender peace. She pushed up the sunglasses resting on the bridge of her nose, and increased the tinting on the ship's windshield. Her heads-up-display flickered and added a contact point to her radar system. From behind and below- twelve kilometers away as the observation computer calculated- a single ship tilted into view. Increasing the power of her active radar yielded further information, which scrolled back across the display. The small black ship was civilian in make, nothing more then a light-transport. Its power-plant spiked, and a moment later Lana saw a plume of ion burst from one of its maneuvering engines. The ship slid sideways and began a lazy descent towards Delirium, no doubt carry passengers to some polar city. Those passengers would just be waking now, relieved that their hour-long trip was coming to an end. Most likely a few of those passengers would even now be gazing out their view-ports, gauging the size and make of Lana's own shuttle, and wondering its story.
By all rights, despite the lack of viable terminology caused by space-flight, it was indeed a 'morning'. Lana had known this when she first arrived, but only now did she grasp the desire that had clung to her senses: she wanted to walk across a Delirium shore as one might do on arriving to a vacation resort. She had rested, and now wished only to act, but in a more physical sense of the word. Plying through space, however marvelous a thing, left one vacant of a constancy that could only be wrought by the touch of earth and soil and sand. Smiling, her mind convinced, Lana watched the transport disappear into Delirium's atmosphere, clouds obscuring the craft as trails of flame embraced its hull in a harmless manner. She would finish an orbit, which- by looking to her display and switching between space-time and local-time- would take about forty-minutes. Then she would bring the shuttle down, make sure to find a coastal city, and spend a morning in relative comfort. Things could wait a day or so, and besides, she owed it to herself and her ship to take a little rest now and then. She closed her eyes and felt the sunlight filtering through the windshield on her eyelids. Still it felt warm, the feel of Majoris' light sifting through quartz and sweeping into the somberly lit cabin. Then it darkened.
Lana opened her eyes. A new alarm was sounding, and she looked out through the windshield. A shadow of foreign starships blotched over the glorious Alpha Canis Majoris like an ugly smear on an ancient masterpiece, as the ripple of a faster-then-light shockwave vanished off at the edges of her vision.
More ships slipped in behind her view, arching calmly over the Delirium horizon. Lana turned her head, a radar warning signaling the reappearance of the United Nations star-fleet, a full armada compliment drifting into the sunlight of the new morning. Windows gleamed and portholes shone, running lights tapering off as daylight cut into the shadows of the fleet's bulk. Lana rubbed her eyes, holding aside her sunglasses with one hand. She could count a near dozen ships with her own sight, while the computer scrolled off data and listed endless information across her display. There were hundreds of ships, ranging in scale from lowly escorts and sloops to the single largest warship ever built. All radiant now. Lana turned her head away, looking back to the controls spread before her.
She had personally witnessed a fleet engagement several years before, between rebel mutineers and loyal elements of some nameless Star Command armada. It had been a brutal display as she recalled, hulks left dashed and sundered, burning from end to end where they had been split and gutted by raking gunfire. Nuclear weapons had been detonated and the void had crackled with their energy as men burned alive in an inferno of radiation and firebombs. It was something she had wished to forget, and until this day had remained satisfied in that. But here she could hardly look away from the engineered glory now arrayed in her vision. One word slipped into her mind and held firm- 'unity'....
Titans (Part 2)
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:57 PM
"Sir!" shouted the observations officer, her voice echoing across the tranquil bridge, "Covenant battle-fleet... holy god..." she trailed off.
Herrscher spun on his heals, turning to face his admiral and relay what information was now blatantly obvious. Alexander stopped him with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Captain, inform your observations officer that such a breach in naval etiquette will not be tolerated again," spoke the commodore, his gaze still steady. He sighed slowly and removed his cap, tapping it at his side.
"Admiral, what are your fleet orders?" enquired the competent captain. And it was a reasonable question all things considered, especially given the clear size of the fleet now arrayed before them. Yes, he knew they would come. He had heard the stories, and even seen the facts behind them- brief tales and lists of numbers all leading to one inevitable conclusion: the aliens were coming for Earth. Launching an offensive against Delirium as a pre-emptive measure before the Second Battle Group could be withdrawn to Sol would be a sound military maneuver, and of this the Covenant were aware. What they were not aware of was Alexander's intentions. His orders- a personal message from Fleet Admiral Commander-In-Chief Earth Defenses- had called for a withdrawal to Earth three days ago.
But Alexander had no intention of leaving.
Rather, he spoke with the definitive nature of a man resigned to witness his own death. "Captain Herrscher, order the Eighth fleet to our starboard echelon, and tell them to form up at twenty-five-thousand kilometers." He paused and allowed the German a chance to relay those orders.
"Fourteenth fleet is still..." started Herrscher, but was cut off by Alexander's level voice.
"...Standing by? Yes I know. Tell them to follow to our port echelon in three minutes."
The Captain looked to his Admiral quizzically, not fully understanding what the man had in mind. Alexander smiled, seeing the expression upon Herrscher's face. Perhaps it was time to elaborate somewhat, and at least test the waters for what he had planned.
"How long until the Sixth is within prow cannon range?" he began, and then looking out to the right of the bridge canopy, added, "and when will the Eighth be in position?"
Herrscher turned to his navigations officer and relayed the questions. The man shot back an answer after only a moment's notice- which the Captain relayed. Alexander nodded his understanding upon hearing the respective figures of three and two minutes. The aliens would be charging their plasma batteries now, readying for the first shot. That would take a few moments, but it really didn't matter. The plasma would never draw nearer then a thousand kilometers.
"Operations officer onboard the Aurora reports enemy fleet makeup as planet-killer type, alpha variant," reported the Titan's communications officer. Alexander understood the looks of dismay which skittered through the bridge, but refused to equal them: this too he had expected. And for that reason he applauded the crew before him.
"Gentlemen, you are about to witness the greatest slaughter ever dealt upon the Covenant by a fleet of man," the Commodore began. "I suggest you lose the disheartening looks." A fleet of twelve frigates, six cruisers, two battleships, and the plant-killers themselves; any number of support craft equipped with massive, albeit slow firing, plasma reserves now stood to face the Second Fleet Group. Thus, his three fleets would be pitted against a collection of ships less than half his numbers. It was to be a true slaughter. Evidently, the Covenant were only now realizing this.
Of course, Lana held no illusions- those ships twisting and accelerating out beyond Delirium's orbit were aliens, the Covenant, whom she had until now held the good fortune of never confronting face-to-face. But she knew well of their exploits and was aware that should they win the day here, Delirium would never again see a sunrise in life. However, Lana also knew from taking a single look to the United Nation's armada, that the aliens could not win this fight. They faced staggering odds, and when in naval action such odds equated victory itself. She considered again what she saw before her: a suicidal charge by a Covenant fleet into the assembled guns of humanity. Should not she follow through then in her right to that title of human? Yes, it was a shuttle she commanded but Lana was no simpleton; a pair of seventy-five millimeter chain-fed cannons could be brought to bare at the mere tapping of a switch. Their depleted uranium rounds could tear through a good measure of steel plating- or so the trader from whom Lana had acquired them had boasted- and that meant that even the vaunted Covenant armor could be beaten at poorly sloped locations.
Across her display rolled what statistics the shuttle's computer could draw up on the alien fleet. Lana flipped down a pair of master switches and waited. Green identification tags crystallized and the windshield tint darkened to its battle-ready stature. Steel plating slid in over the glass and the windshield suddenly shrunk in size, the majority of Lana's display now being projected via her heads-up-display rather then the windshield itself. A second layer of quartz folded down between the steel and glass, auto-firing bolts locking the three pieces together. Fifty feet behind her, the ship's hull performed a self roll, bulkheads slipping away to reveal the cannons until then concealed inside the ship. Breach heads slammed down and the thousand round drum-chain magazines required of such weapons locked into place. Recoil compensators flew open, preparing for the inevitable havoc the firing of such weapons would cause with such a small craft.
Taking one last look at the planet above her, seen out the top of the cockpit-canopy, was all she needed to finalize her decision. She would not be left out of this fight.
Alexander allowed himself his moment of early victory and near laughed at the foolhardy bravado the aliens would now certainly display. Surely, they had assumed all of Earth's forces would be in the process of withdrawing back to Sol, and thus a simple attack-fleet could dispatch the planet Delirium without the slightest of worries. No, they had not counted on the utter hatred held for their kind by a man without fear. They had never, and could not possibly, have predicted Alexander.
"Gunnery reports prow cannons ready to fire," relayed Herrscher, his mood lightening upon seeing the determination still held by his Admiral. Indeed, the German had never faced such one sided odds before: always it had been himself with the underhand, and those times had been the greatest of his naval career. Now, the advantage was theirs.
"We shall destroy them here without mercy," continued Alexander, "and you will have a true victory." He nodded his thanks then to the gunnery officer, and looked to the ship's captain. His fleet order would be simple, concise, and guaranteed to deliver victory.
"Captain, order the fleet: volley fire, nuclear rounds- fifty megatons." Herrscher shouted his orders with gusto, the same optimistic energy that invigorated his Admiral now flowing to himself and the crew. Somewhere deep inside the ship the Captain knew that a pair of thousand-millimeter breaches were opening. Half a kilometer of un-rifled smoothbore cannon was being automatically loaded with seven-ton warheads who's blast radius could melt reinforced concrete from thousands of kilometers away. He himself had ordered the use of such weapons innumerable times, and knew that even the aliens were utterly incapable of matching the brute power from the fusion reaction which resulted. However, never before had he employed thirty of the weapons at once- that from the two combined fleets. And then, even then, another fifteen guns stood ready in the immortal form of the Fourteenth fleet less then a thousand kilometers distant.
Herrscher was beginning to understand what was unquestionably the admiral's plan- hammer the aliens from the fore, closing range, then turn for a broadside of what would amount to over a hundred macro-caliber guns in the five-hundred millimeter range so popular of United Nations Star Command ships.
The deck plating shuddered as breach doors closed and compression rams slid open. Alexander looked to his right and was rewarded by the sight of six capital ships and countless additional craft- the Eighth Fleet in all its glory. This opportunity would never again occur, yet Alexander was more then thankful for it now. Out, beyond the curving edge of Delirium, and silhouetted against the stunning Canis Majoris, the Covenant fleet lit up- plasma batteries charged. Alexander wasted no more time. Words spoke louder then actions for the first time in half a millennium.
Never had such a thing seemed possible until now, seen through her own eyes. The shuttle's windshield vanished to near black in tint at first, then slowly lightened as it adjusted to what was now occurring no more then a thousand leagues distant. Countless megatons of energy erupted in the perfect silence of space and swallowed the alien fleet whole. The nuclear storm boiled and raged and then seethed over its foundation engulfing the very void in its briefest life. A glorious ball of iridescent energy fumed, racing outwards at the speed of light. Twin glistening spheres of energy shot away, curving out for endless kilometers until they passed Lana herself and fell upon Delirium, mixed with the solar light glistening in beams. Her shuttle rocked gently, physical energy and condensed photons pushing against the ship in small volumes and thus causing certain maneuvering engines to fire in compensation. Instruments on the shuttle counted the dramatic increase in what could not possibly be solar radiation and Lana noted it as unimportant given the armor shielding protecting the shuttle. The nuclear furnace gone, Lana waited while the shuttle's instruments returned to normal.
It took a few moments, but before too long she was again looking through her display at the alien fleet. The computer, no doubt still frazzled from the radiation bombardment appeared sluggish but still reactive. To her left, backwards and away from the planet above, the United Nations' ships maneuvered and increased their velocity, closing quickly with the Covenant. To her right, the alien ships sat vapid and distraught, hulks sitting lowly and at odd angles, while other ships had simply vanished and the computer scrambled to locate them where none could be found. It appeared for all the world as though some great wineglass had shattered and left its shards floating on a plane of water. This fight would soon be over, and most likely before Lana could even close the distance required to engage. Regardless, there was always glory in the pickings, no matter how slim, and for that matter, Lana fired her main engines and began to close with the aliens.
"Excellent shooting, gentlemen," began Alexander after the nuclear cloud had dispersed. He had expected success but even this he could not have imagined. The entire alien fleet, all eight capital ships and all twelve frigates lay scattered or gone. The big alien battleships were twisted, their hulls scorched with nuclear energy and endless fire. Massive holes lay melted in their metal frames. The cruiser's armor and shielding had proven utterly useless against the cumulative volley fire, leaving not a single one of the ships wholly intact. What remained aside from those somewhat discernable forms were mere pieces and ruins. As much was confirmed by both the Titan's and Revenge's operations officers. The alien fleet had been completely destroyed from a single volley. It was true victory in that, and Alexander applauded himself for the foresight to prepare his battle plan for mass of firepower, not elegance of maneuvering.
However, he was also not a man to take what he could see for granted. "Close with the enemy, captain Herrscher, and make sure the fleet stays in good formation."
The captain relayed his orders, keen but equally weary of what lay ahead. One of the lower echelon officers spoke something that the commodore did not quite hear. Herrscher leaned closer to the man and listened, then turned to query the commodore.
"Admiral, the Fourteenth congratulates us on this victory and requests orders," spoke the German without showing an ounce of jubilation. In his career, he had found such early glory near always fleeting. He would not be disappointed in that belief.
Alexander was even now considering the very possibility that he had been set a trap, and though the chances of that were truly slim, it seemed intelligent to remain cautious in his maneuvering now. For that reason he ordered Herrscher to hold the Fourteenth in Delirium orbit in the event a second Covenant fleet were to arrive in a more strategic location.
Herrscher did as he was ordered and returned to the Admiral's side for a moment's respite while orders carried across their distances.
"Captain, cannon autoloaders processing," reported the master-gunnery officer. Herrscher noted the information and made a quick calculation. It would take the loaders and scrubbers a few minutes to clear the twin breaches and re-strip the barrels. Add to that the time required to sufficiently cool and reload the weapons and he was looking at well over a dozen minutes until a second firing could commence. Of course, he had expected nothing less, and was thankful for the presence of the Fourteenth Fleet with its fully armed cannons still standing in reserve. As the scattered alien fleet grew larger in the viewscreen, the captain turned back to the gunnery officer.
"Prepare for broadside firing," he told the man, and waited while the order made its way down the chain of command. Alexander nodded his approval as the five-hundred-millimeter side cannon doors slid open. Great stretches of the ship craned apart, massive doors hinging free and folding away. Running lights clicked on in the vacuum and twenty-ton rail sliding hydraulics pumped forward. All along the Titan's hull, for what amounted to easily a kilometer of length, the extended barrels of three decks of guns rolled into place; muzzle suppressors, velocity inhibitors, oxygen fuses and all.
The master-gunnery officer turned back to his captain and spoke a few words. "Guns are oxygen flooded and prepared for firing, sir." Herrscher smiled curtly as the ship shook beneath his feet. The brief shudder vanished as oxygen pumps quieted, signaling that all hundred guns, port and starboard, were prepared to fire. Autoloaders chimed and gears rolled as the appropriate caliber of ordinance was fitted home. Alexander turned his head from side to side, eyes scanning the two fleets arrayed before him. Truly a formidable amount of firepower stood in position; countless fleet guns prepped and loaded. Distances continued to close with the alien fleet, if it could be called such a thing anymore.
"Halt at three thousand kilometers," the commodore ordered of the Titan's captain. Closest to his view, Alexander watched the Aurora's engines fire in reserve, massive ionic thrusters pulsed as the ship's drive engines burned their exhaust backwards. He could feel the same occurring onboard the Titan but it was hardly the same to see it directly before him. Thrust spun and vented from the entire combined fleet, energy spewing awkwardly into the void as billions of tons of mass slowly ground to a total halt. So precise and fluid was the movement that at one point Alexander could feel both thrusters burning, one pushing and one near pulling the ship into position. In front and behind him lay the thousand guns of the Sixth and Eighth fleets. Such a waste it was to spend so much effort on this pitiful display of what men would label the Covenant's 'power'- typified by the ability to destroy entire planets. But this was nothing in that regard. Like brushing aside a few grains of sand with an engine of industry designed to crush boulders.
But a weary man the commodore was, and now he could but wait. The Covenant planet-killer fleet had been destroyed, and he would not waste his current combined firepower on such an unworthy target. It would be far better to wait for the alien's next move- and no doubt there would be one.
Two days had elapsed since the Covenant planet-killer alpha fleet had left Epsilon Eridani. They had not traveled alone. To minimize the time between Delirium's death and a unified move on Earth, the aliens had sent a further pair of battle-fleets some fifteen minutes behind the alpha fleet. Just as the aliens could not possibly have predicted that one man with a vendetta would hold back an entire star-fleet to face them, that same man could not have possibly predicted how the aliens would operate without missing some small fact, some detail. Yes, Alexander had predicted another move by the aliens, but of this scale? Two battle-fleets, over fifty capital ships and countless support craft? No, that would be far too many for any man to assume... And it was for that reason, that as the Sixth and Eighth United Nations' armadas waited, a pair of slip-space shockwaves appeared in both Lana's and the Titan's windshields. Time stretched out and the shockwaves rippled like rain on water. Starships appeared, blue and shimmering with horrible radiance and fell across the void. They moved with terrible speed, some unknown force still pulling them towards Delirium with unmatched velocity. So it was that they plied directly between the combined human armada and finally halted. Massive blue hulls sat aglow not more then a dozen kilometers from the blunt prows of the United Nations vessels.
Words tried and failed, and there was a moment when Alexander knew fear. He opened his mouth to speak but said nothing. Instead he gasped, eyes wide. Fifty kilometers away, orbiting beneath the hull of the Prey, Lana squinted through her sunglasses, trying to make out the shapes that had so suddenly shot into view. The two commanders, separated by meters of armor and kilometers of space both connected what was before them at the exact same moment. They were brushing the shields of the Covenant ships so close they sat. Ion plumes, vented from the Titan's maneuvering engines and scattered across space, lit the alien shields with a near beautiful fire. A moment of respite while computers calculated and human minds rationalized. A moment more while lungs filled with air and muscles tensed.
Plasma batteries charged. Countless divots of light shone new, brighter then the backdrop of stars a thousand fold over- cutting through the Titan's running lights. The bright grew, a florescence showering over the curvature of the Aurora and Revenge alike. Below and above the quartz bridge, covering the vertical and horizontal they sat. A hundred alien ships. Alexander dared not speak, but in that he felt oddly comforted: though he stood now faint minutes from his death, he stood in the same sense faint seconds from his victory. Composure was quick in coming- respite and action. Lana saw it first, cradled below the great shone hull of the revered Prey; the hideous way in which thing warped and twisted.
The Aurora, hardly distant in Lana's vision, burst asunder, ripped and dashed across the void. So fast it happened, she saw but a brief shift of light and then a spiral of solar energy; then only the spreading of debris. Plasma flew thick, from every angle, and engulfed the battleship like nothing she had ever laid witness too. It was utterly incomparable. The great battleship, ruined and burned brightly for a moment more before its own hull seemed to shrug off: the entire ship exploding. A nearby support craft burned its engines in a feeble attempt to escape its own death. Hardly had the prow of the ship began to maneuver before it too was caught up in the star-wrenching explosion. Vast sections of the shattered United Nations warship flew wide, hurling through the void. Lana watched in horror as a piece of the debris, clearly visible and still glinting with plasma tendrils, swung head wards- and collided with a corvette. The quarter kilometer steel and titanium chunk of refuse cut the smaller craft clean in half, then ricochet off into space in a violent spin.
Maximilian Herrscher spun on his heels and shouted the most relevant order of his command. "Fire at will!" Further screams and echoes burst into the air, voices overpowering as the unstoppable mechanisms of warfare cut in over human controls. Cannons adjusted and fired. No volley of united fire, but instead a pure smattering of shellfire from un-rifled breaches. Oxygen ignited, burning instantly. Charges lit afire, and barrels shuddered- shells accelerating up towards and surpassing the speed of sound a thousand fold. Inside the burning air, great cacophonous explosions echoed as each shell left its chamber. The sound however would be instantly silenced once the air fell cold out upon the vacuum of space. The battleship Titan shuddered across its entire endless bulk. Flames licked from the edges of cannons, point range and hell.
Herrscher smiled in his glory- as what little remained of the Aurora fell across his vision, retribution in the form of twin broadsides scored home across a collection of alien ships. Compression rams burst a moment later, the Titan's deck plating shuddering slightly as more case-less five-hundred-millimeter shells were loaded home for a second firing. Alien shields flamed bright, trying with desperate futility to absurd the energy that threatened to tear and rip at their ships. Alexander, the commodore, sighed deeply as he watched. To his left and right both, a pair of Covenant cruisers glowed in deep hues of blue as their shields faltered and failed.
"Weapons loaded, sir!" shouted the master-gunnery officer. Herrscher nodded his approval and responded directly. "Full broadside fire, destroy those cruisers," he ordered. Alexander spoke then, orders to the Fourteenth Fleet.
"Tell them to prepare nuclear rounds, bow guns, fifty-megatons," spoke the admiral. Herrscher crooked and eyebrow, curiosity still reigning amongst the confusion.
"Sir, what do you...?" he was cut off as the deck shuddered. Port and starboard guns fired again, volley and concentrated. Vibrations ran under the hull's armored plating as the great cannon auto-loaders worked their open breaches. Massive gashes opened in the Covenant hulls, the cruisers' thin armor failing to stop the half-meter in diameter hollow-core ammunition. Explosions peppered about the alien ships, splintered horribly like shattered wood. Alexander smiled in triumph- as the Covenant ships cracked apart along their bowlines, another dozen cannon shells struck home: the Prey and Revenge coming to the aide of their flagship. In recognized glory, twin star-fires burned like lit torches. End to end, raked by cannons, the alien ships shattered. Brief cheers rose from the Titan's bridge crew as the Covenant cruisers exploded outwards.
Kilometers distant still, the Eighth Fleet engaged their targets, guns blazing in silent fire. Another human battleship fell to an onslaught of unified plasma fire. More then a thousand men died in that instant, but the commodore could afford them no sorrow.
Alexander responded now to Herrscher's question. "Captain, order the Fourteenth to fire their guns the moment any Covenant ship approaches Delirium beyond our perimeter." Herrscher understood now the admiral's intent. It was a grim business to fire upon one's own ships, but in this fight it had now become a necessity.
Titans (Part 3)
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:58 PM
Over her head, out beyond the glass and steel of her shuttle, great plasma fire scored home against human hulls, as in return yet greater shell fire tore apart alien armor. Glowing and plumes, fire and metal. A silent clash of Titans. Lana smiled beneath her flight helmet, feeling her sunglasses weigh down as the shuttle accelerated. It was all in scale that things became clear, a scale for which Lana could grasp almost none of it. Here she stood, singular amongst the massive, yet untouched. The dragon fighting the giant has no time to consider the peasant who watches from below with awestruck eyes. The computer counted now, seeing distance change. Green hues marbled over the heads-up-display in a rolling fashion. A plasma tendril slid passed the windshield, scoring carbon over the automatic tinting quartz. No doubt, the weapon had been fired some time ago but lost the connection to the ship which had fired it, or even more likely, had simply been forgotten. Now it spun away in graceful arcs destined to send it crashing into the surface of Delirium's lifeless crater scared moon. It would be hours before it arrived of course, and no doubt its impact would be little noted by any survivors of the raging battle.
A support craft appeared in Lana vision as her shuttle slipped under the hull of a badly savaged Covenant cruiser. The big blue hull of the alien star-ship lay broken and torn, lights flickering on and off where it had been cleaved apart by gunfire. As she rolled out from under the ship's shadow she saw the alien support craft directly ahead. The smaller ship, roughly twice the size of her own craft was wavering between maneuvers, that was clear enough. Its ion thrusters burned oddly, and it appeared to be pivoting on the spot rather then actually accelerating. The alien ship most likely carried only a single plasma battery and armor thin enough to wrench apart with small arms fire, let along Lana's seventy-fives. She decelerated, moving to a slower state of constant-velocity before readying the twin cannons. Hydraulics pumped and oil flowed as the guns rotated to place themselves squarely over the alien ship. In her heads-up-display a targeting reticule overlaid itself perfectly with the green silhouette of the Covenant ship.
Rotary ammo-feeds spun, and the twin closed breaches hammered. The shuttle rocked, then smoothed as the inertial dampening systems fired to compensate for the increased weapon recoil. Scores of energy plumed up across the alien ship's shields as the craft grew larger in Lana's windshield. Ejected shell casings flung themselves into space, the brass linings clattering silently off strewn debris. A moment's peace as the first ammo-belt exhausted its supply of ammunition. Lana flicked a switch above her head, and the system began to reload, the old belt being looped back into the ship's auto-loading system for reuse. Meanwhile, a second belt clipped into place, then stretched out over the duel breaches. Lana smiled to herself, seeing the hopeless alien ship glow brighter under its failing shields as it attempted to ready a plasma torpedo. It was a mere exercise in futility.
The cannons hummed back into life, cutting clean through the alien's shields. Then, protective shields gone, rending apart the ship's thin armor. Shattered translucent armor mixed with blood as the small Covenant craft was punched apart. Atmosphere vented and a fire struck up on the ship's rear deck. A moment later the seventy-five millimeter shells hit the ship's plasma battery and the whole system back-looped into a great splintering explosion. Lana cut her fire and began the reloading process again, before accelerating her shuttle away from the debris storm of alien blood and bodies and metal.
Alexander fell to the deck, his admiral's cap spinning down across the hull plating. The great battleship listed to one side for a moment before being righted by a series of engine burns. Groans of stress rose up from the ship's hull. The bridge crew shouted new orders as alarms sounded.
"Report!" ordered the ship's captain. One of the officers rattled off some statistics that Alexander could hardly hear. Best he could judge from the impact, the Titan had been struck along its starboard rear side by a plasma torpedo. This was not the first time the great battleship had been hit in such a manner, as Alexander was aware. Back at Orleans the entire engine housing had been blown clean off by a penetrating plasma round. Replacing that vast section of ship had required a total refit and near a month in space-dock. From the nature of this impact though, it appeared that the plasma had deflected off the battleship's sloped armor, and thus most of the energy had dispersed back into space rather then onto the hull.
Alexander stood and spoke, brushing his hair back into place but ignoring the loss of his cap. "Where did that torpedo come from?" he enquired almost causally.
The space in front of the Titan was thick with debris and scattered armor plating of both the Covenant and United Nations' variety. Rouge plasma bolts still curved about absentmindedly. Out of the corner of his eye, just to the edge of the ship's quartz windshield, he watched with some sense of pride as a small civilian shuttle tore into one of the alien's plasma frigates and destroyed it. Just beyond that he could see the hull of the Revenge, afire from countless hits, still engaging multiple targets even as it threatened to be overrun. A glint caught his eye as fuming plasma overload and a Covenant ship exploded.
Finally, Herrscher shouted back to the admiral an answer. "Operations reports that it was a rouge impact, sir." Alexander nodded, then steadied himself as the deck rocked from a another broadside firing. A cheer went up from the gunnery station, positioned lower on the bridge some meters distance from where Alexander stood. In response, Herrscher ordered the battleship to be brought around to the port to reform the fleet's battle line. The admiral began to understand the junior officer's jubilation as the Titan's engines fired and the great ship began to turn towards the port; a pair of Covenant cruisers slipped into view, one positioned behind the other, but both with identical holes in the five-hundred millimeter range through them. Herrscher smiled broadly, as Alexander applauded the sight- two ships ruined by a single shell.
After a moment both the Revenge and Prey had fallen back into formation, along with several still operation frigates and a handful of corvettes. The Sixth Fleet still appeared an impressive sight, even after the beating it had taken. Of course, it was the presence of the Titan itself that still held the illusion of unstoppable power. That single great battleship stood as a keystone in the whole formation, the flag to which all ships could rally. Even with the Revenge horribly damaged, and the Aurora gone, the Titan seemed to more then make up for those losses. Alexander felt this and knew it- he was still standing on the bridge of a weapon not so much a ship, and though to him it was still only the instrument of his own victory, he would be a fool to not admit that the ship stood for more then a simple tool. It was an image of power made tangible. Even the ship's name had been chosen to reflect that very truth.
Off in the distance some kilometers away the Eighth fleet was reforming itself, but its own battle-line fell far shorter then that of the Sixth's. Fewer battleships remained, and of those, fewer still remained unscathed. Still standing at the ready, in a half-orbit over Delirium, the Fourteenth fleet waited for its duty to be called upon by a single order. In his heart of hearts, Alexander still wished that his lips would never utter such an order. But if need be, the time for its calling drew closer. His resources were becoming stretched, his forces frail, even with the still indomitable might of the Titan unscathed. He needed to change what was bound to slip from his grasp. He needed to regain control.
"Captain," began the admiral, looking to Herrscher, "call the Eighth fleet's battleships into our own line. Pull the Sixth back and join the two..." he stopped and stepped down from the bridge, walking over to the navigator's command console. Maximilian followed the commodore intently, eager to see what his commander had in mind.
Alexander ran his fingers over the console's schematics himself, isolating a single coordinate. "Here, form the new line here," he spoke to the ship's captain. Herrscher was instantly aware of the position's importance, however, maneuvering the two fleets there would be difficult. The twin armadas would have to force their way backwards through the entire assembled Covenant star-fleet. But in that lay the genius of the plan, as any human mind could see. The Covenant wanted to take Delirium, not fight the human starships which stood adamantly in position between that goal. Alexander would be giving them exactly what they wanted; rather then chase the aliens back to Delirium in a fruitless endeavor, he would allow them their escape by positioning the fleet behind the alien armada. An open door to Delirium... and straight into the guns of the Fourteenth fleet. Alexander saw his victory, and knew he could achieve it now. All he needed was a manner of luck, and utter faith in the armor of his flagship. In the former he did not believe, but in the latter he held total confidence.
"Order the Fourteenth to make ready," the admiral finished. Herrscher nodded his approval of the plan and relayed the command to his subordinates.
At first she could not believe her eyes. Lana cut in under the bulk of the vast Titan class battleship, using the giant's size as a shield from the chaotic plasma fire. Her guns finished reloading, and she clicked off the weapon's reengaged auto-safeties. Turning her head, Lana watched as the massive starship fired a burst from its dorsal maneuvering engines and began to list about in a slow turn. In that there was nothing odd- the ship had been maneuvering as such for almost the entire duration of the battle. Rather, it was the direction that the battleship now faced which had changed: the flagship, along with her remaining two escort battleships had both positioned themselves facing the alien fleet. Off in the distance slightly misconstrued in her vision, she could see the remains of the Eighth fleet performing the same maneuver. Odder still, it was at this point that she noticed, from all the battleships in her view, vast lateral doors sliding back. Like giant automatic pistols cocking, huge brass shell casings suddenly shot free of the open doors. Lana instantly recognized the casings as those of a meter-caliber shell; the prow mounted macro guns of a United Nations battleship. As the casings fell away and drifted off into the blackness around them, Lana could see new rounds being pushed into the breach- just before the lateral doors slid closed again, shell ejection process complete. Closest to her, Lana watched a pair of casings shoot free from the twin breaches of the Titan. A thought struck her.
Lana did a quick distance check with her computer, and had the results displayed across the dashboard. Delirium was still, despite all the maneuvering and coordination of the battle, roughly twenty-thousand kilometers distant. Yet, the United Nations' armada was now preparing to push further away, giving the alien's a clear run at the planet. Lana knew things could not possibly be as they seemed, and was instantly reassured when she rolled the shuttle in a half-loop and decelerated with a counter burn to leave her facing back at Delirium. The shuttle's computer chattered and displayed new green outlines over her heads-up-display. A moment more and the faint images were grouped into a single listing: the Fourteenth fleet. Lana smiled beneath her flight helmet, grasping the magnitude of the fleet maneuver about to occur. She made a quick engine burn, swinging the shuttle back around and into the raked prow of the Covenant fleet, now turning in kind back to face the human ships which bore down upon it. A distance counter appeared, beginning at a hundred kilometers and decreasing.
"Fifty kilometers, captain!" shouted the ship's observations officer. Herrscher hardly needed the report however, he could just as easily see the alien ships growing larger through the quartz windshield. The engines still burned as the battleship's velocity increased exponentially, giving the massive bulk of metal the energy it would require to beat the recoil from its own prow guns. Herrscher enquired one final time as to the status of the massive weapons, and was swiftly given a report by his master-gunnery officer. The duel cannons were reloaded, nuclear tipped with small six-hundred-kiloton tactical nuclear devices.
"Right," replied the German, "communications," he continued, speaking to the offset communications officer positioned to his left.
The junior officer spoke up after a moment, removing the headset from around his ears. "Sixth and Eighth fleet reports weapons prepared." Alexander and Herrscher both acknowledged the man, the former giving a nod to the ship's captain. Herrscher returned the gesture and spun back to face the bridge crew, clicking his heels on the deck plates. Looking closely through the windshield, he could even see the glint of ejected shell casings falling from the now closed breaches of those battleships around him. Silence fell across the bridge. Herrscher screamed his single worded order. Alexander saw each moment as an eternity. Horrible blue hues glared from the frontal plasma batteries of the alien ships arrayed before him. A smaller corvette broiled and died at the guns of a Covenant craft half its size. The Prey took a hit against its engines from a stray plasma bolt. The residual energy glowed like a burning fire in the cold of space. And then everything came crashing down faster then any man could react.
Breaches flooded and burned. The deck rocked up, then kicked back down in over-compensation. The entire ship near slowed to a crawl as recoil shuddered through the hull. Great bolts of plasma loosed from the alien ships, a full onslaught meant to equal that being hurled back upon it. The two fleets collided at less then fifty-kilometers distance. To an absent observer, the entire array resembled some terribly twisted chess game: the pieces were positioned perfectly, from the largest of starships to the meekest of sloops, on both sides. Slight distance stood between them in anticipation of the first move, but there the metaphor ended. Volley cannon unleashed from the prow of the entire human armada, near fifteen guns firing in unison. Nuclear flames licked the hulls of the Covenant fleet. Cruiser after cruiser vanished into the inferno, shields pushed to their breaking points, then falling away and burning hellishly. More then one ship was hit head on by the shells- their shields stripped, the macro rounds punched clean through the alien ships' frontal armor, deep into their hulls, before bursting outwards. A good dozen Covenant ships had fallen by the time the fire and radiation spilled back upon the human craft.
Less then fifteen kilometers stood between the Covenant and the United Nation's armada by this point.
Alexander had only the time to take a single breath before the alien's plasma weapons found their marks. It was the last breath he would ever take. He used it as best as man in his position could; he screamed. Blue plasma hit the bridge of the Titan tore in half, exploding against the lower hull violently. The two chunks of burning plasma wrought duel carnage, one melting into the bridge, the other destroying part of the lower gun-deck. On the bridge atmosphere exploded outwards, vanishing into the void instantly. The screaming of three dozen men and women was silenced. Alexander blinked- then the air still inside his lungs burst.
Maximilian Herrscher dropped to the deck, his empty lungs gasping for air. Radiation klaxons blared in silence. Someone's head dashed apart as it hit the steel bulkhead of the bridge and vanished into space. Blood collected on the floor, only a moment before the gravity failed. Bodies writhed in silence. Blood splattered over instruments and panels and twisted around the bridge, freezing slowly. Sparks flew as chunks of plasma-mixed-quartz burned holes in the deck. Herrscher felt the deck shudder beneath his legs again and again as the Titan's guns continued to fire despite the destruction of its bridge. It was sickening. A light exploded, the gas inside the bulb expanding irrationally before vaporizing into space. The human mind had never been meant to understand what was occurring. A body lay twisted around a steel support beam, the hopeless women's spine snapped instantly.
Staring straight through the void, nothing standing between him and the hell they had all entered, he watched the Sixth fleet die. The glorious Revenge, already butchered and maimed and burning lay ruined and twisted, surrounded by swarms of Covenant cruisers. The hull of the Prey had been scorched and tortured to her limits. Like warriors of old caught in the heat of senseless battle, she had suffered more then any could endure. Herrscher could see the crackles of energy starting to appear around the battleship's distant engine housing. It would only be a matter of moments before her entire hull shattered under the strain of her bursting fusion reactor. Invisible and almost too distant to be seen with the unaided eye, bright flares of light erupted where the Eighth Fleet had been. His vision snapped back for a moment as a human frigate, engine out of control, drove headlong into the hull of an alien starship, its shields gone. Darkness clawed at the edges of the captain's eyes, and the resulting explosion seemed unimportant and infinitesimal. His death grew closer as the seconds drained on. At least their guns were still firing- Herrscher could still see and feel the slight vibrations filtering through the bridge as the five-hundred-millimeter broadside cannons fired and reloaded without cease. Something was dieing outside.
But, though his admiral lay dead at his side, it would not be his time to fall yet. Great bulkhead doors fell closed as Herrscher blacked out, and atmosphere pumped back into the room. Gravity returned, and the world fell around him....
The explosion tore out a massive section of the ship's hull, and Lana winced at the thought those who had just in that moment died. But she could offer them no respite, for she had herself to think of now. Ruins and ruins and death surrounded her. Ship after ship of both colors burned, as others lay drifting and afire in silence. The computer struggled to keep count of countless dynamics as each ship winked out or broke apart. A shield-less cruiser drifted into view, its alien hull motionless and scored by countess weapon hits. Lana fired her engines, and brought the shuttle in for a low rake across the cruiser's hull. Holes opened in great gashes, atmosphere venting and fire burning. She came in closer, letting her engines burn slowly. Finally she fell away from the ship, twisting down between another pair of cruisers, their plasma batteries charging. A United Nations' corvette passed overhead, and Lana maneuvered to follow it. The corvette fired a quick salvo of rounds, shredding a Covenant support craft that had stood in its path. Lana came up alongside the human ship, burning her maneuvering engines to place herself directly alongside the vessel. The corvette fired a burst from its dorsal maneuvering engines and began a slow spin, then suddenly ignited a side engine, kicking the entire ship up on end. Drifting backwards in such a manner, the ship coasted sideways towards a Covenant escort. Lana was about to pull ahead of the corvette and engage the escort when the former ship loosed a quick volley from its turret gun and destroyed the alien ship. After a moment, Lana noticed that herself and the escort had, through their brief maneuvering, pulled in ahead of the Titan, which she could see- even without the computer's assistance- was the only human capital ship still in operation. Assisted by its escorts, the great starship was plying, by means of pure brute force, a path through the mass of alien vessels. Lana felt more reverence for the battleship now then she had those few hours ago when first setting eyes upon it. Not only had it survived the entire battle to this point, but still it carried on, shrugging off its opposition. To be truthful, Lana could see several areas of the ship scored by plasma, but it seemed of no matter as the ship's guns continued their unstoppable firing.
A burst of plasma whipped past Lana's windshield. The torpedo curved away and impacted into a drifting piece of debris, shredding it and melting into several chunks of plasma-debris. Lana's communicator crackled to life. A distorted voice screeched in over the shuttle's speakers for a moment and then cut off. A second later and the voice returned, normalized.
"This is the computer intelligence, Def, speaking from the United Nations' corvette Painted Sky," began the voice. Lana looked through her heads-up-display to the ship she had positioned herself along. Indeed, it was the Painted Sky.
"Civilian shuttle," continued the artificial intelligence, "please assist me in neutralizing the threat to your starboard." Lana did a double take, suddenly aware of the Covenant support ship accelerating towards the Titan's escort screen with its plasma battery recharging. Flicking the reload switch on the shuttle's seventy-fives, Lana acknowledged the Painted Sky's request. The two human ships- if a ship commanded by a computer could be called such- curved away from their battleship and closed with the alien. The Painted Sky fired first, its guns both larger, longer and more numerous. They scored a pair of successive hits, dropping the alien's shields in an instant. As the corvette began to reload, Lana brought up her fully-loaded seventy-fives and fired. Ripples waved over the shimmering hull of the Covenant ship, and it near instantly began to list as the impacts themselves pushed the entire craft off course. Lana's shuttle overshot the support ship, still holding alongside the Painted Sky.
"Thank you for your assistance," Def spoke again, before rotating its corvette in place to go finish off the alien ship. Lana clicked her communicator in conformation, and heaved away back towards the still imperial bulk of the Titan. The battleship grew closer kilometer by kilometer, and in the distance behind her Lana glimpsed the hull of the Painted Sky as it tore apart what remained of the Covenant ship. She turned back to face the United Nations' battleship, and her eyes widened.
As if a miracle itself had occurred, they were free of the alien armada. Open space loomed out before her vision. Alpha Canis Majoris could be seen in the distance, still aglow. Lana's shuttle floated alongside a pair of corvettes, a destroyer and the Titan itself. A third corvette, no doubt the Painted Sky, maneuvered alongside the battleship and waited. The huge starship, every kilometer of its length, suddenly began to heave to starboard. Lana flipped her weapon's reload switch once more, and set the shuttle into a long turn. The tattered remains of the Sixth Fleet followed suit. Starlight glinted in with mixed sunlight from Majoris behind her- a solid cloud of debris lay strewn for kilometers where the two fleets had engaged each other. Lana could count a dozen hulks, and maybe fifty or more ruined starships floating amongst the debris. Both Covenant and human ships converged in their silent graves. The entire Eighth fleet lay buried there, her six capital ships gone, along with three battleships from the Sixth fleet. Above and to her right, the Titan finished its maneuver. It must have been the oddest of sights- five escorts, one of them a civilian shuttle, defending the Untied Nations Star Command flagship Titan, the largest starship ever produced by the navy of Earth.
Of the alien fleet, Lana could say little to suffice: hidden amongst the debris field were countless ion glows, the back engine housings of several dozen Covenant cruisers and battleships, all accelerating towards Delirium.
Titans (Part 4)
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:59 PM
When Herrscher opened his eyes, he was gazing up into the eyes of a man some years his junior. Immediately he realized the man was wearing the uniform of the ship's medical staff. The captain sat upright, heedless to the protests of both his head, and the medic. He quickly absorbed his surroundings: the bridge's quartz paneling was gone, that much was obvious, replaced by closed emergency bulkheads doors. Half of the bridge, the section housing weapons and navigations had been utterly destroyed by the quartz-plasma shower that had flowed freely through the bridge during its zero gravity state. There was blood everywhere. The ship's guns were silenced, that much he could tell by the lack of motion in the deck. Someone was walking about with a Geiger counter- watching as radiation levels surged.
Herrscher looked to the medic. "Am I all right?" he queried. The medic nodded back, and spoke some words about lung damage and increased radiation exposure, but none of his words seemed immediately urgent, or completely worrisome. Across from him, the body of commodore Alexander had been draped, and placed alongside the recovered bodies of those junior officers who had died. By his count, Herrscher figured some half of the bridge crew had been killed. Those still alive were being tended to by medical staff. Then it hit the captain.
"What's happening?" he asked of the medic. His response was less then adequate. The captain looked about the bridge for his observations officer but could find the women nowhere. In exasperation, he stood and turned to walk from the bridge. His footsteps fell struggling in eternity.
Herrscher activated his communicator, which seemed to still be functioning despite the beating it had no doubt received from the sudden radiation burst. "This is captain Maximilian Herrscher," he spoke, and was relieved to hear his voice enhanced by the ship's speakers as he walked. "I need a bridge crew to meet me at the secondary bridge, and get a damage report."
He walked, passing engineers and other personal, none of whom seemed to understand what was happening. Up ahead, as he walked through an open bulkhead he saw his gunnery officer, running with a report in hand. Herrscher called to the man, and tried as best he could to run, but found the attempt fleeting; his lungs burned with the simple effort of walking.
"What can you tell me?" he asked, as the man recognized his captain. The gunnery officer looked to his report and began to speak.
"Sir, we've just pulled out of the debris field," Herrscher nodded at hearing this- not as much time had elapsed as he had predicted, "the fleet stands at ourselves and a few light ships ranging from civilian to Eighth fleet in origin."
"And the armada?" enquired the captain, referring to the Fourteenth fleet. The gunnery officer looked back to his repot. "Nothing as of yet, sir."
Herrscher turned, heading into the secondary bridge. The room was small, dimly lit. The bridge crew stood at some seven men and women, a skeleton crew for managing such a ship as the Titan. Herrscher saluted those assembled briefly, before taking his seat at the head of the room. Indeed, through the single quartz wall he could see the debris field they had fought so hard to escape. The vast scale of it took a moment to register in relation to Delirium proper some twenty-five thousand kilometers away.
Then, as he watched the alien hulls fade into the distance- watched as their frames fell darkened across Delirium's light- silent thunder rained from the horizon of the planet. The gun's of the Fourteenth fleet spoke with furry, and the space before him lit up in a great nuclear glow.
Herrscher's eyes squeezed closed against the light and in that moment he knew victory....
Lana looked to the space above her and watched the burning debris of a hundred starships fall....
The hull of the Titan reared up and burned. Paint melted away as the side of the ship was scorched by intense heat and waves of radiation. Metal fragments of the hull melted and slid clean off, flung into space in goblets of liquid steel. The ship's gravity failed as her engines cut out. Ion engines stopped spinning as the power reserves drained. Herrscher had no time to think, let alone shout orders. The nuclear shockwave burst and rolled over the battleship. A moment. Terror. The quartz windshield exploded, throwing Herrscher backwards. Crystal fragments met and paused, then flung themselves outwards in rapid decompression. A dozen bodies fell to the abyss....
Lana, hidden beneath the hull of the Painted Sky, watched with awe at the sight before her. The corvette melted away into streams of liquid metals, her thin hull ruptured at a thousand points. Above her further, behind the infinite expanse of the battleship Titan, huge sections of hull and debris melted and vanished. The ion core exposed itself after a moment, then ruptured. End to end the ship crackled and separated. Things seemed, at that moment, to pause. Nuclear light eclipsed the glowing of Majoris, only in turn to be silhouetted by the resulting exposed fusion as the Titan's ion inhibitor core melted. For a moment- that instant- Lana saw no shadows. There was only light. The alien's were gone, scorched from Delirium by the Fourteenth fleet's volley, but in turn so was Lana's world. She and everything around her was coming to an end.
The Titan vaporized. Flame licked about and engulfed Lana's vision and everything around her burned....
I'm only the messenger.
Fall, fall further.
On an open plane of water infinite and forever, Lana found herself sitting. A man stood over her, flight uniform leaving no reminder.
"You ask who I am?" he spoke simply.
Lana's eyes looked up to the figure above her.
"I am Damuis, immortal spirit of your present. I am a traveler." He paused for a moment, eyes searching the blanketed horizon nostalgically. He stopped and crouched down beside Lana, leaving himself at her level.
Lana looked down to the water below her and, removing her gloves, ran a finger over the water's surface. It was icy to the touch, yet visibly shimmering as though Caribbean in nature and state.
"What's happening?" Lana asked, standing.
Damuis smiled, rising from his crouching position to look Lana in the eye. "I asked someone that same question a long time ago, and they were kind enough to provide no answer, but rather let me discover for myself."
Damuis turned back to face Lana, energy in his eyes. Damuis' smile widened, and Lana could feel something approaching from the distance.
Damuis looked away, up to the empty sky above him.
The soldier stepped off the eternal plane. Lana saw it happen, saw him as he watched behind his-self as the water receded and vanished forever, lost in what could only be time. It was something he could never articulate, traveling from impossibility to immortality. Yet, it was somehow akin to falling. For endless space he felt it, the beginning of his journey.
He took the final step into nothingness and fell. Darkness enveloping around him, and pulling him down. His body went limp, there was no need to resist. And then everything rushed away. Lana stood empty, then, after a moment, felt herself falling- falling with him....
She was immortal. She had stood against time, space, the galaxy. She had seen worlds end, planets die, and stars extinguish. She had seen the spirits, the angels, and the Ring. The Ring, oh, that construct of simple genius. Yes, she had seen it with her own eyes, beheld the stars over their pale hue of silver and wrought iron. She had been there by her own will, and, should she have ordered it, she could have stopped it all. Her mind, pulling apart time, would have thrown the whole human race back: from the Ring, from her world, and from the stars themselves. She would stand upon the planet, her planet, named for her sun, and her soil would be virgin once again. Yet... though her will would strive ultimately to tell otherwise, she did nothing. She was a fool, and she knew it.
She fell further. Deeper.
It was no dream.
He waited, long after everything was said and done, long after the stars and he were alone. And it was just as he said it would be. Crystal, perfect, silent once more. And as he could retell history itself, he placed himself upon that world's golden shore, lit by a pale sun, and watched the water sit still. This was long his dream, since coming to that planet. It is a spirit's mind that wants nothing more then perfect still.
Calm like the waters of Vega, calm like the ether between stars, his soul would see itself back where he had begun his journey, on a plane of endless water. He would see himself then, with all his faces: the face of man who watched his home burn; the face of man who did nothing to stop what he could easily have; and the face of a man who had lost hope. Why, only when the infinity of time had crushed his soul, did he realize this he could not know. But there, upon that beach, when all the lights of the sky had finally gone out, it struck him all the same. That sudden realization of what he had allowed. What he had done.
I've been watching you.
I've been watching everything, be it the end or the beginning or the apex. I've been here all along. I've always been here. A few peddling words, if you so please? An excuse for these ears? Oh horror to hear such things as I have seen. Blinded should you be as a witness. Oedipus took his own sight, and what horror had he been placid witness to? Fervor and dreams. His hands grasped away, clutching emptiness, that which he could never reconcile. So what of these men we have known? Giants who once spoke immortal words and lived for greater means, all gone and far now. Would you know of Socrates, gone and dead? 'Took his own life a the cusp of a glass, drugged with passionate flame. Oh, horror to tell on. Ghosts who walked our world these past days. And who are you to dare stir their memories? You of fallen resolve. What of Alexander would you ask? Of Caesar would you tempt with hindsight, or Nero with forethought? Might you whisper behind the back of Achilles, blowing words of delusion? Folly, for blown dust answers no questions, as you speak ever false. Oh yes, I know you far better then you could ever imagine. You read of Homer, read of Napoleon, read of Voltaire. You scatter their thoughts and arrange them again, then proclaim your truth and righteous mind.
But where you have read falsehoods, I have seen time immortal. I have stood with Scipio over the dunes of Carthage. I have rode with Henry into muddied hell. I have spoken no words at the oration of Pilot. I, who have seen all this, know far better then you. So I say no words, and judge no thoughts, but rather stand humble as sails billow or swords fall. You who would speak ill of Nelson's command know precious little of what words can twist unto yourself at the sight of horror. I, who stood upon the galley deck of the Victory as Nelson sprawled empty handed as Montcalm at Quebec could utter no speech. Oh, to see what had been travesty then and again resurrected whole knew the power of thornned words. Tennyson's brigade barreled unto a breach- yet their glory vaunted no victory. The light horse died hand in saber, and to follow the charge, one cannot but think back- oh so far back- to an ill lit room of feminine décor scattered over by plum and slithering asp. Bare breasted maiden dies while I yearn to travel away, farther then ever before, only to another hell. Woodstock burning as Egyptian incense flavors sacrament and open stars ply through forested world anew. Babylonian tongues greet my sight while quieted warriors sleep off another escaping soul. Mighty fur trees billow the licking flames of the Temple of The Moon. Cannon thunders upright as air flaunts and ground is torn. Cossacks ride through swathes of grain as Polacks meet their fate pistol in sword. Beaches bathed bright in blooded depth while metal hulks lay rusting and burned. Noblemen leading Oriental slaves to African deaths, the tales of Marathon still fresh in their minds. Quieted Frenchmen kill in awe, as the Ocean's newly opened.
I was on the Pinta. I wept with Kubla. I argued with Isabella and murdered with Cortana. I was there, we were all gathered and seamless. And you? You are just their shadow.
Lana wept. The Spirit held her.
"Now go," he spoke, one immortal being to another.
"What do you want me to do?" she managed between falling tears.
"What I could never do," he began, "I want you to change everything."
Lana's hands clutched deeper against Damuis' body. "Yes. I can. I will."
Damuis smiled. "I know. Now go."
Lana threw her arms wide.
Caught by a blanket and drawn into the blankness all around her. She smiled with the last of her energy, as she felt everything change....
Quartz burst outwards... then fell back in together. Steel twisted... then straightened. Plasma struck... then retreated. Time rolled ever onwards... then skipped backwards. A man died... then rose to his feet.
When Herrscher opened his eyes, he was gazing up into the eyes of a man some years his junior... Herrscher could hardly understand what the man was saying- he must have been knocked unconscious- the man was shouting something but Herrscher could not comprehend it. Suddenly the man was pushed aside and a hand extended to Herrscher's aide. The German grasped the strong hand and pulled himself to his feet. He found himself standing side by side with Alexander, his admiral. The bridge shone as though freshly polished. Each officer and crewmen walked with an imperial grace- nothing Herrscher had witnessed before.
The captain gripped a hand rail at his side, leaning onto it painfully.
"Not so much drink perhaps next time," joked Alexander. Herrscher smiled, oddly aware that something was out of place. It took him a moment to realize that one of the ships, which had been positioned so perfectly in the windshield a moment ago, before he blacked out, was gone. It had most likely been destroyed, but still....
"Sir, we've just pulled out of the debris field," shouted one of the junior officers. Alexander nodded his approval. Herrscher was hit with a sudden wave of déjà vu but found it passing quickly. Alexander smiled to the ship's captain, his grin near ear to ear.
"We've done it, Max," he spoke in quieted tones, but was hardly able to conceal his glee. "We've done it," he repeated again. Herrscher nodded, beginning to understand.
"Pull back by three-thousand kilometers, if you please," instructed Alexander. Herrscher's eyes narrowed, his expression conveying concern to the commodore. "We don't want to get hit by the shockwave now do we, Max?" spoke Alexander in recognition of the captain's confusion.
"Of course," replied Herrscher, the thought so obvious now.
"The Fourteenth is requesting orders, sir," spoke the operations officer, her voice calm. Alexander nodded. "Tell them to fire at will". Herrscher turned away from the windshield and squinted as the guns of the Fourteenth fleet lit up the blackness. The Covenant fleet, leading and still headed straight for Delirium proper, would be wholly caught in the ensuing fireball.
The day was theirs.
Guns fired and flame swept the alien fleet apart. There was a moment of respite as the nuclear shockwave reached out and brushed harmlessly against the Titan's hull. Vibrations ran through the battleship, and cheers went up from the victorious crew.
One of the lower echelon officers spoke something that the commodore did not quite hear. Herrscher, briefly caught by another wave confusion, leaned closer to the man and listened, then turned to speak to the commodore. "Admiral, the Fourteenth congratulates us on this victory." Alexander smiled his thanks, and signaled for a response to be sent.
Herrscher was certain he had said those very words before, perhaps less then an hour ago. He shook his head, but the feeling remained. It felt for all the world as though he was not actually acting and choosing, but rather reacting to something predetermined. Alexander walked down from the bridges' floor, coming to stand at Maximilian's side.
"Something wrong?" he enquired. Herrscher turned away from the admiral, and looked out through the windshield. Only humanity remained. Delirium, and the ship's of Earth.
"No," finished the captain, "everything's perfect." He had survived where all those tens of thousands had fallen. He had prevailed so that he could make a final difference. The captain turned his gaze down to the planet below him. He would never let them fall again.
"Orders, admiral?" requested his navigation's officer.
Herrscher smiled, facing Alexander at his side. Looking to the Fourteenth fleet, now re-assembling around the Titan, the admiral sighed deeply. It was time to change. Time to save his people and his world. Time for the beginning of the end.
"Nil Desperandum," whispered Alexander, his eyes glowing with radiant fire. The Battle of Reach was distant history. The Battle of Halo just a rumor, and the Battle of Delirium was yet to be written in the history books. But there was one last battle to win, and he would be there for it....
"Set course for Earth," was all he need speak.
Sun streamed through Venetian blinds, over warm fawned plants. Ocean licked at sunlit beach through open window. Birds fluttered from another room as the smell of cooking bread rose subtly. Warm air billowed through open windows, curtains blowing. A man's voice echoed from the kitchen, tender and harmonic. Pillows embraced a young women, her hair twittered about a strewn bed. She blinked and woke, smiling.