Hope, part two
Posted By: badger<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 June 2006, 12:06 pm
'Harvest' Class Frigate 'Rome'
0.8 light years from Hope
Commander Riley stood on the bridge of the Rome, staring at a star that seemed far larger than the others, around that star was his home, his wife, his entire future. That star, that beacon, was Hope, in all its myriad forms. Riley turned as his first officer, Lieutenant Commander Maxwell, approached.
"Thirty-two days we've been out here, with nothing to report, not even a sensor ghost. What did we do to piss FleetHQ off?" Maxwell only shrugged and handed over a report for Riley to sign. Riley took it and hid his anger, Maxwell was a quiet, organised man, vital to the ship, but not what Riley had wanted in a replacement First Officer. Maxwell's predecessor, Adams, had been charismatic and a real pleasure to work with, but she had been promoted, to the flagship no less, and he was stuck with a clerk. He signed the report and handed it back.
"Carry on Number One," Maxwell saluted and walked towards the hatch off the bridge.
"Oh, Maxwell, we'll do a battle drill tomorrow, along with a test firing, make the preparations," Maxwell nodded, and left the bridge. Riley sighed and turned to look out over the bow of the Rome
"Sir, all decks, all stations report No Change," came the reply, Riley nodded and went back to staring at Hope.
The Rome continued it's lonely patrol through the black, unaware that she was being tracked. Shadowy figures in a shadowy control room gave orders and the vessel vanished into slipstream.
Riley's shift was nearly up, Maxwell would arrive to relieve him at any minute he mused, trying to wrest his thoughts away from his cot. Stifling a yawn he turned and opened his mouth to say something.
He never made it.
"Unscheduled Slipspace rupture, off the starboard bow!" came a cry. Riley was suddenly wide awake.
"Combat alert Alpha! Identify that ship, FlightOps, Scramble!"
"All hands prep for battle manoeuvres, combat teams secure key sections," the ship's AI spoke quietly, his voice seeming not to carry beyond the bridge, but it would be emanating from every speaker on the ship. Moments later Maxwell raced onto the bridge, looking abnormally flustered
"What's going on?" he panted
"Sir! No IFF or transponder from unknown vessel, silhouette data does not match any known configuration!"
"We've got an unknown contact on an intercept course. Tactical status?"
"Sir, main cannon ready to fire, missiles armed, shields nearing full charge, air complement in position," Riley stood still for several seconds, and then seemed to twitch,
"Ops, run silhouette data through all files, closest match," Riley glanced at Maxwell and nodded
"Coordinate activities, and prepare a beacon with all data regarding the unknown vessel, just in case," he said quietly. Maxwell nodded and hurried to the Ops station.
"Sir!' a crewman yelled 'possible match, target rated sixty-seven percent likelihood Covenant vessel!"
"God help us," Riley muttered, "God help us,"
"Enemy vessel is showing energy build-ups all along lateral surfaces!"
"Helm, punch it! Evasive manoeuvres. Gunnery, let them have it, fire at will!"
The Rome's oversized engines, mounted on the ventral surface of the hull, fired, propelling the frigate off its programmed course and towards the purple speck in the distance. The large Phase Pulse cannon mounted on the frigate's dorsal structure swung, adjusting for the course change, before crashing back, sending brilliant azure energy blasts towards its target. Moments later a swarm of missiles erupted from tubes concealed within the Rome's hull and shot towards the Covenant vessel. Points of red light began to form on the Covenant vessel's hull, growing perceptibly larger by the second. The pulse blasts exploded in eruptions of blue flame against the Covenant ship's shields, seconds later the missiles hurtled into the maelstrom, adding fuel to the roiling could of flame that clawed against the shields. Before the fire had time to burn itself out the Covenant shot back, four brilliant red torpedoes leapt from launchers and headed towards the Rome.
"Incoming ordnance, four torpedoes closing rapidly" Rome's voice had no more emotion in it than if he'd remarked on the weather
"Positive impact against enemy shields, Sir, power fluctuations detected in enemy shield generation points," a crewman shouted. Riley nodded.
"Helm, evade those torpedoes, Gunnery, maintain fire, Comms, raise FleetHQ,"
"Sir, long range communications are being jammed, I've never seen anything like this,"
"Keep trying, ETI torpedoes?"
"Torpedoes will impact in five seconds if we maintain this course,"
Riley stared at the TacScreen in front of him, for the next few moments he had to trust his crew, and present an image of confidence for them. He kept his eyes fixed on the representation of the Covenant vessel before him so he wouldn't stare at the red pinpricks burning towards him and his ship, the vessel was tagged as a destroyer he suddenly noticed, the sheer ridiculous quality of that thought almost made him laugh. Rome once again flickered into life.
"Impact in three," The pilot dumped emergency boost into the engines and tried to swing away from the torpedoes
"Two," seeing the torpedoes adjust their course he swung the other way, sweat beading on his brow
The first torpedo caught the Rome a glancing blow as the pilot desperately changed course. The second was less lucky and ploughed full tilt into the already weakened shields. The blast from the torpedo was completely dissipated, but at the cost of the shields. The generators overloaded, causing points of fire to appear over the hull. The force of the impact caused the ship to shift sideways, throwing most of the crew off their feet.
"Nav! Plot an emergency jump out of here, take us anywhere!" Maxwell yelled, while helping Riley off the deck.
"Yes Sir! Jump in three, two, on
" He never finished the countdown, the third torpedo ripped along the Rome's ventral surface and slammed into the engines, which exploded, tearing a huge hole in the aft quarter of the ship.
"Sublight and slipdrives disabled, no estimates on repairs!" Riley took a deep breath.
"Launch the beacon," he said quietly, Maxwell looked at his superior, aghast
"Launch the beacon, before the next torpedo hits," Maxwell could only nod and turned to the Ops station. Riley simply stared out the viewport, not at Hope anymore, but at the torpedo that appeared to be burning straight towards the bridge. The fourth torpedo shrieked over the bridge and tore the main cannon clean off its mounting.
Riley slowly woke up into a world of noise and confusion. Alarms blared, and voices clamoured, each certain of their self-importance. It took him several seconds to fully understand his surroundings, and then it all came flooding back, the Covenant
"Sir! Enemy destroyer is closing on our position, enemy bandits are moving to engage our air complement!"
"Status report?" someone asked, the voice sounding familiar Riley suddenly realised it was him talking. He wiped a hand across his brow, and stared in amazement at the blood he found there.
"Hull breaches, decks One-through-Five and Seven-through-Thirteen. Engines disabled, main armament is gone, comms are down, sensors limited, life support has failed on three decks and is on minimum everywhere else, no contact with engineering
" the list seemed to go on and on, Riley listened in amazement, the Rome, his ship, his home was doomed "
compartments Nineteen-through-Twenty-two on deck Thirteen are gone, no contact from deck Thirteen behind compartment Twelve
"Sorry Sir. Um Sir, what should we do?" the crewman was doing his best to hide his terror, Riley gave him a weak smile
"What's the Covenant destroyer doing?" Rome flickered into life, his pedestal was damaged and he kept losing cohesion
"If the Covenant maintain their present course then they will pass us by, missing us by about two kilometres," Riley watched as the Covenant vessel grew larger and larger, his mind straying to his wife, back home on Utopia and a single tear trickled down his cheek.
The Covenant destroyer fired one last torpedo and disappeared into Slipstream.
Reach Class Battlecruiser 'Aaenid'
Patrol Route Five
9 days on patrol
Squirrel sat in the cockpit of her Mark IX Dart interceptor, on the busy hanger deck of the Aaenid. she hit a small switch on the console before her and two struts slid from the bulkhead behind her head. The struts extended, one over each shoulder, and locked in place. As soon as they locked the cockpit canopy automatically slid shut. Squirrel did a final pre-flight check and hit three of the four switches on the strut to her right. A high pitched whine filled the cockpit as the engine came to life. She gave a thumbs-up signal to a member of Groundcrew and whacked the side of her helmet to make sure it was on properly. The tech nosed his Dockloader into position and began to push the small interceptor back onto the lift up to the flight deck.
A second fighter was waiting on the lift, also painted in Revenant squadron livery. Its pilot gave a small wave and the lift went dark. The bright white light that punctuated the hangar gave way to a more subdued red glow as massive blast door slid down, sealing the lift off from the hangar. A slight jolt shook the pilots as the lift moved up, slowly at first, through a series of blast doors. As they travelled the atmosphere was steadily being removed, their canopies popping at the pressure change. With a shudder the lift stopped on the flight deck. The deck was huge, running almost the entirety of the Aaenid's two kilometre length, large enough for the entire Combat Air Group to be launched at once.
Badger looked around the deck before keying the comm system
"CAP, Revenant Three. Light'em and report back," Squirrel reached up and hit the final switch on the right strut, the whine that pervaded the cockpit changed instantly into a deep roar, the ship shaking, straining against the maglocks that held it in place.
"Badger, Squirrel, I show green, ready to fly,"
"Revenant Three, Hurricane Five and Six, ready to go," came the confirmation from the two Scimitar bombers and their crews.
"Badger, Shortarse, two greens and ready to rock," Badger nodded to himself.
"Aaenid Control, CAP. We have green lights, requesting launch clearance,"
"CAP, Control, you have clearance. Lights blue, path clear, local, don't run off now,"
"Roger that Control, as if we would. CAP? Punch it, burn for free space," He opened his throttle and was pressed back into his seat by G-forces as the maglocks disengaged. The Dart shot along the hangar on frictionless landing gear, similar to a Maglev, before soaring up and out of the cavernous bay and into open space. The five-ship CAP soared away from the Aaenid before looping round to do a fly-by.
"Ok boys and girls, keep it tight with your wingman, don't get too excited if you actually see anything. Hurricanes stay close to home, Watchtower hang back, into the baffles, Revenant Four, on me," the formation broke up, the lumbering bombers, matching the Aaenid's course and speed, taking up position just above the forward dorsal turret. The fifth craft, a Broadsword multi-role vehicle decelerated, and took up a position in the Aaenid's baffles, where the interference from the engines made sensor readings less accurate. The Broadsword was a fantastically useful craft, she had a small jumpdrive installed which, while not as powerful or as fast as the Forerunner-Portsman pinpoint engines on capital ships, was more than capable of long distance jumps. This ability, when combined with the crafts versatility, it could operate as a shuttle, boarding craft, recon, AWACS, C and C, electronic surveillance, repair platform, test bed and weapons platform with just an hour in a hangar for refit, made her invaluable to the Navy.
Badger led his wingman on a series of runs over the hull of the Aaenid before taking up position just ahead and below the bridge of the battlecruiser. His ship, a Dart, was the standard interceptor of the Fleet, stunningly agile and with a thrust to weight ratio that could only be classed as dangerous she was every pilot's dream. Ten metres from nose to tail, nearly half of the fighter's fuselage was engine, with weapons, fuel, electronics and pilot riding in front. Just behind the cockpit was a ring, attached to the ship by a series of struts, this ring was covered in thrusters and was integral to the Dart's manoeuvrability, a good pilot could flip the interceptor nose-for-tail in two ship lengths.
After three hours of boredom and banter the patrol was almost over, Badger shifted uncomfortably in his ejection seat.
"Let me out of this cockpit, I need to stretch my legs,"
"Sod stretching, I need a drink," came Squirrel's reply
"You always need a drink, but we've got eighteen hours until our next shift, I'm sure you'll have time,"
"Trust me I know that all too clearly, I've got every hour planned out, a little gambling, a little drinking, will be fun,"
"Only you," Badger said with a sigh, glad she couldn't see the smile on his face, he had to sound chiding and mature when he was leading a patrol, but her plan did sound like fun.
"CAP, Control, relief is on the deck, clear forward,"
"You heard her kids, break off positions, form on me, prepare to land," it took Badger several seconds to realise something was wrong, by that time it was too late.
"Jacknife, what are you doing? Stay with me," Hurricane Five's voice sounded angry, but there was a hint of worry in his tone.
"Hurricane Six, do you copy? Hurricane Six, respond," the bomber hadn't begun any sort of manoeuvres and was now, slowly, passing in front of the exit from the flight deck. Badger hesitated for an instant before issuing orders.
"Shortarse, burn to Hurricane Six's position, pull them away!," knowing even as he said it that it was too late. Fire ringed the bombers nose as the crew ejected, their capsule speeding from the drifting vessel. The other members of the CAP could only stare in horror at the scene that unfolded. Amazingly most of the launching ships managed to evade the bomber, whether by luck or piloting skill they could never tell. The lead ship, a Dart from Revenant Squadron, didn't have the tie and slammed full tilt into the doomed bomber. For a brief instant the two ships seemed to have survived the crash, locked together by the force of the impact they spun erratically before the compressed fuel in the Dart's nose detonated, reducing both ships to debris, and the Dart's pilot to molecules, in an eruption of flame. To Badger, watching from his position above and to the rear of the ship, it seemed like a miniature nova had erupted in temporary life, before dying to nothingness.
"Control, CAP, we have a confirmed collision, I repeat, confirmed collision," the pilot's voice echoed out of the bridge speakers. Adams spun on her heel, it had all happened so fast she hadn't had time to respond.
"Emergency alert! Scramble disaster units!" alarms began to ring throughout the ship, she paused, thinking what needed to be done.
"Pull the affected squadrons off the duty roster and begin an investigation into what happened," she didn't see Cairns stride onto the bridge, and jumped involuntarily when he spoke mere metres behind her.
"What's going on Commander?"
"Midair collision Sir, disaster units are launching," Cairns suddenly seemed very old, and tired.
"Did we lose anyone?"
"Don't know yet Sir, the Scimitar's crew punched out, there's not much chance the Dart's pilot made it though," Cairns gave a small nod and turned away
"Very well, carry on Commander," he said, quietly, before slowly walking off the bridge, he paused at the rear hatch for an instant to say
"Oh, and Adams, no limit on alcohol in the pilot's room for the next five hours, they'll want to mourn their friend,"
"So, do they know what happened yet?" it could have been the alcohol but Shortarse's voice was really starting to annoy Squirrel.
"Something to do with a cascade failure caused by binary decay in the control module, that's what the Chief said anyway, not sure I fully understood it," she replied, downing another hit of ersatz whiskey, she had long since lost count of how many shed had.
"Doesn't matter anyway, Sabre's still dead, why is irrelevant," she continued, impressed that she wasn't slurring her words. Shortarse seemed shocked and stared in amazement at her friend.
"What? You thought it mattered why he died?" Squirrel said, slowly realising that Shortarse wasn't staring because of her words, she angrily cuffed tears from her eyes, completely unaware that she had been crying.
"Sauvage, Squirrel, are you ok? Just I've never seen
" she trailed off as Squirrel rose to her feet and looked around the crowded room.
"You know what? I'm out of here," she muttered before striding out.
Badger eventually found her in Revenant's dorm, by which time his anger at being sent to find her had abated. She was sitting on her cot, racked with tears, she raised a bloated, tear-stained face as he came though the door.
"Well this is new, cant say I've ever seen you cry," she managed a weak smile
"Not quite my normal look is it? At least not any more,"
"What? It used to be?" she seemed momentarily confused and he took the opportunity to sit down next to her.
"Squirrel, what's wrong? Sabre's death hit us all, but you didn't know him that well so
?" she looked him in the eye and sniffed
"Nothing, its just, well, today made me think of things that were," she paused, searching for a word "best left forgotten, lets say,"
"You don't have to tell me, but it may help, you know?"
"Its just, well, if this gets out I swear I'm going to kill you, its private, I don't even know why I'm telling you this really," and she began to talk, about her past, how she had been forced into an abusive marriage at sixteen, how she'd suffered at her husbands hands for five years, developing her violent streak and near dependence on alcohol, how he'd walked out one night, leaving her battered and bleeding on the floor. He had never returned.
"When you're that young you adapt to things, you don't know any better. I thought that was how all couples lived, I loved him, and even though he did all those things, even though he left, and I'm glad he did, it still hurts, even now," somehow she'd kept talking through all the tears and now she broke down, he hesitated and started to put his arm round her.
"Squirrel, it going to be al
" he never finished, she sprang to her feet, fury etched on her features
"Damn you! And your fucking sympathy, I don't need you or your clichéd reassurances!" she turned to storm out of the dorm, he was on his feet just as fast.
"Fine then! If you don't need anything then what do you want?" she turned and strode over to him, so close they were almost touching, he tensed, fearing a blow.
"What do I want? You really want to know?" he nodded, still recoiling inwardly from the expected blow. What actually happened stunned him. She grabbed his head in both hands and kissed him, her tongue flicking into his mouth. He could taste the tears on her lips and the whiskey she had drunk. Badger was so shocked he didn't respond and she pulled away, her eyes flicking over his face.
"Well, do you feel bet
" he never finished, her mouth once again clamping over his. This time he had the presence of mind to kiss back and, without giving it any conscious thought, he was unzipping her flightsuit and pulling it back off her shoulders while she pushed him back towards the cot.
"Adams, we have new orders, FleetHQ has issued a general recall, they want us back at Terra Nova right now," his first officer looked surprised
"What's caused the recall, Sir? Trouble in the Belt? Shipping accident?"
"Whatever it is its led to a full fleet recall and upgrade to Alert2, that should be enough, Commander" she noted the chiding tone in his voice and inwardly swore.
"Yes, Sir, shall I move the ship to a position to jump back home?" Cairns shook his head
"No, if we hold our position then a jump window straight back home will open in two hours, have us ready then,"
"Yes, Sir, and Sir? It's my watch," Cairns stared at her incredulously for a second, then smiled.
"That so? Very well then, the bridge is yours Commander," he was still smiling as he left the bridge. Adams swore inwardly again, Riley had wanted things to be done by a relaxed book, subordinates carrying out their tasks and carrying out all the little bits of protocol that were required, Cairns seemed to want to be in charge of the ship, he was the boss, everyone did what they were told. She sighed, seemed she still had a lot to learn about her CO.
Squirrel opened her eyes, and instantly regretted it. The bright lights in the dorm seemed to sear into her brain. She bit back a groan as the first outriders of the hangover swirled against the corners of her mind. Keeping her eyes screwed shut she sat up and gasped in pain as the full weight of the hangover hit her. She held her head as the pain rose to a crescendo before ebbing away, only to return again, she groaned, more in anger than anything else.
"That sounds lovely," Squirrel raised a two-fingered salute to her tormenter and leant back, the cool metal of the bulkhead helping to drain some of the pain.
"So, how much of the last few hours do you remember?" the question brought her up short, in her experience drunken nights rarely made sense when you first woke up, whether you remembered it all or not. She sorted through the memories, trying to put them in order, and then
"Oh no, I, we, didn't, did we?" she asked the question, already knowing the answer, knowing herself, and how she acted.
"I'm such an idiot," she heard him sigh, while trying to focus on the strange flashes of colour that swirled in your vision when you screw your eyes up tight
"Look, Squirrel, it was an emotional day, the was a lot of drinking, and we're both adults, adults make mistakes sometimes,"
"So is that all I was to you? A drunken mistake?" her anger seeped into her words, anger at herself for what she had done, at him for letting it happen, and at the emotions that swirled in her head, the confession she didn't even want to think about.
"What? That's not what I meant, I only meant
"I know what you meant,"
"Hey, you seemed to regret it a few minutes ago," indignation made his tone sharp.
"Well you seemed to earlier, wait, Squirrel!" even as he'd said it he knew he had gone too far, she ran out of the dorm without a backward glance.
"Are we ready, Commander?"
"Yes Sir, the ship is ready for jump, course is locked in, all stations report ready for jump,"
"Very well then, execute jump, Number One," Cairns heard her bustle around, then the starfield outside the bridge disappeared, replaced by all-encompassing darkness. Cairns stared in wonder, Slipstream always fascinated him, but he never had a chance to study it before the tunnel of darkness once again exploded into light. And light it was, Terra Nova shining like a sun below them. He looked round to see the Navigations Officer frantically taking a bearing, the tension on the bridge was palpable, real fear filling the air.
"Groundmap, SatTraj and orbital telemetry confirm, stable equatorial orbit over Terra Nova," the officer said, unable to keep the smile from his face. The bridge erupted into cheers as the tension was released. Cairns let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding since they decelerated and gave Adams a small smile. Even with pinpoint jump engines decelerating so close to planet was spectacularly risky.
Cairns took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, he was back, he didn't know how long for, he supposed he should call his wife in New Bristol, but she had long since learnt to cope with his long absences by sleeping her way round the male population of his town. He shook his head; he'd rather stay on the ship.
"Ops, establish link with FleetHQ, I don't know how long we'll be here for, but we may as well get comfortable,"