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Titans (Part 3)
Posted By: Mr Bill Jr V<mr_bill_jr_5@hotmail.com>
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:58 PM

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      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.