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Apex - A Zenith Collaboration (Part 1)
Posted By: Zenith<brandon@berkeleyhigh.org>
Date: 3 June 2002 5:04 am

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     The marines snapped to attention "Captain on deck", the drilled routine kicked in as Captain Isaac English stepped onto the command deck of the UNSC Faraday. The navy command crew hardly battered an eyelid as they continued their duties, monitoring their consoles. Returning the salute he briskly walked over to the main tactical screen leaving the marines to return to their guard stances outside the bridge.
     "What's our status Lieutenant Bowden?"
     "Passive sensors still negative for Covenant activity. Big Brothers been having fun sweeping a path for us with the 50 mm autoguns, there's some big chunks of debris floating around in the tail, but nothing he can't handle. Apart from that nothing out of the ordinary."
     "Time for the final phase, I just hope its been worth it. Big Brother bring up the system map. Plot the asteroid trajectory, its closest point to Epyon II and the shortest course to bring us into orbit."
     The ships schematic morphed into a map of the solar system and zoomed in on a small sector, to the left hand side sat the large body of the Epyon II colony planet. The rich blue ball was 86% ocean, the remaining three major land masses housed sixty million colonists and heavy water generation plants which produced large amounts of deuterium, the fuel source for fusion reactors that powered starships like the Faraday. The Planet had dropped out of contact a full month ago, the ONI reconnaissance vessel sent to investigate had detected three covenant starships in orbit. The Covenant strength could could be estimated but the data from the reconnaissance mission showed that the planet surface had not been boiled away from orbit. Which meant the Covenant had mounted a full scale planetary invasion. A task force had been mobilised centring around the carrier Hermes which carried four squadrons of Longsword single ships along with a large assault force of marines. The Faraday had be assigned as escort along with the frigate Rio, which had a much shorter and less illustrious combat history then the Faraday and her crew.
     A dotted green line ran past the planet and a yellow trail peeled off the line close to the planet and curved to loop around the planet indicating the course they were to take. The plan for a straight out assault had been vetoed by fleet command after the intervention of the office of navel intelligence. There liaison to the UNSC astrophysics division had pulled the system data for the intelligence package on the system. The data contained one piece of information which the analysis had highlighted as relevant, the planets own astronomy experts had discoed the asteroid Faulkner three years prior to the invasion and had been deeply disturbed by their tracking, which had calculated a possibility of the asteroid hitting the planet on its next pass. The UNSC astrophysics department had investigated and calculated that the asteroid would be a near miss. What was most interesting about this was that the asteroid would pass by very soon. And so here they were hiding in its wake using it to mask their approach. They had jumped in on the far side of the system and dropped in behind the asteroid after using one of the systems gas giants to slingshot around and match velocities. The heavy armour and point defence guns had allowed them to survive in its tail. In his twenty year naval career he'd never been involved in such a risky and insane plan but so far it was working.
     The black haired, black moustachioed face of the ships AI materialised in the holotank. Big Brother had an uncanny knack for knowing when he was needed. "The Hermes has transmitted a final assault plan and time scale for the attack. The admiral wishes to initiate the attack as soon as we are in place." As he spoke the AI automatically affixed tags to each stage along the plotted course, counting down to the millisecond at which point the action was to be executed. Range, speed and course information floated by the flashing icon indicating the ships present position. Captain English considered the data for a second, tapping in a series of commands on a console he called up the written orders from the Hermes.

United Nations Space Command Priority transmission 00452N-93
Encryption code: Red
Public Key: file/charlton-five/
From: Admiral Zacarius Noventa, commanding officer, UNSC Hermes/ UNSC Sector Six Commander/ (UNSC Service Number: 02657-19785-ZN)
To: Captain Isaac English, Commanding officer UNSC Faraday/ (UNSC Service Number: 02682-18085-IE)
Classification: SECRET (BGX Directive)

/Start file/
Isaac my old friend,
looks like we've got the jump on these ugly bastards this time. Try and keep in silent running mode as long as possible, we don't want to tip them off. Hermes' AI tells me they won't detect us if we bring the reactors out of standby mode but keep power levels low. The asteroid and its tail will continue to mask our energy signatures. When the clock hits zero we bring everything to full power and manoeuvre out of the tail, Hermes' AI will designate your targets. We hit them hard and fast, move into orbit and deploy the marines. Your authorised to deploy tactical nuclear weapons if necessary.

You know what to do, If all goes well I'll meet you dirt side to celebrate the liberation.

/end file/

     Looking over the tactical map once again Isaac straightened his uniform brushing off a piece of lint that seemed to appeared since he'd left for the bridge. Walking over he lowered his body in into the 'Hot seat' and composed himself ready to spearhead the attack.
     "Engineering initiate reactor power up procedure from standby mode, bring the core to the level specified by Big Brother. Warm up the engines and bring us to the highest ready state in silent running mode."
      "Aye Sir, commencing primary reactor restart now, opening injector valves and increasing reactant flow." While he replied Ops officer's fingers danced over the console as he relayed the orders setting the AI and engine room crew to their tasks.
     As the officer sounded off the various power up procedures, Big Brother brought the ships status diagram on the main display. The animated schematic showed an overview of the ships systems in a diagrammatic form. Power level bars indicated the various power levels around the ship, the primary reactor turned from a yellow outlined standby indicator to a low, short red bar growing from zero level. The reactant flow indicators running from the reactant storage tanks to the power core slowly pulsed as they pumped small amounts of reactant into the core to initiate the fusion process.
     "Reactor core at 0.4% level and climbing at 3.6% per minute, reactor will reach specified output in approximately 14 minutes. Directing plasma flow into the drive arrays and initiating engine pre fire protocols."
     "Weapons, charge the magnetic accelerator cannon and prepare all standard ordinance for deployment. Remove the safeties from one of our nukes and have the other two on standby."
     "Aye Captain"
     "Flight control, scramble fighter crews and commence pre-flight checks. Navigation initiate Cole Protocol, generate our escape vector and then wipe the navigational database. Lieutenant West make preparations to override the reactor safeties."
     As he issued combat orders the captains usual stoic expressions became more animated, filled with youthful vigour. His youth however was now far behind him, his once athletic body had started to sag and bulge as he passed into middle age. The thinning head of hair slowly fading to grey, but the price of ages also reaped the benefits of experience. The experience of nearly thirty years of on warships, making him one of the fleets most seasoned combat veteran. While others he'd been at the academy with had risen through the ranks he'd been happy operating in the outer colonies, running his ship his way, he was a spacer to the core a desk job would be a demotion.
     "Lieutenant Bowden sound duty stations. All missile and gun crews to their posts, wake the backup command crew and activate the secondary bridge. Issue orders to the Major Breithaupt and his troops to prepare for orbital deployment. Give everyone ten minutes to get into position them go to red alert and seal all bulkhead doors ready for combat."
     "Big Brother I need you to run final system diagnostics, double check you sensors and targeting systems I want every shot to count."

     A gloved hand landed on the technicians shoulder, startling the ginger haired mechanic as he oversaw the final checks. "Is she fuelled up and ready to launch Hooch."
     "Yes Ma'am, Johnson and Hayes have been putting in extra hours on the engine array, we've re aligned the the thrust vectoring nozzle after it was knocked out of alignment from you last engagement. We've also cleaned up the thrust vents, there was some residue build up which we burned away with the laser. The Dorsal armour has been patched up but it won't survive a direct hit."
     "Don't worry I don't intend on getting hit. You better get to somewhere safe crewman."
     "Yes Ma'am, Just bring her back in one piece!"
     "What about me?"
     "Oh yeah, look after yourself too." The technician flashed a grin and jogged off towards the airlock. Shaking her head Lieutenant Bradley boarded the Longsword through the nose ramp, hitting the retract panel as she continued on into the cockpit. In the co-pilots seat Flight Officer Collins was already busy starting the power up procedures. Bradley slipped into the pilots seat and keyed in her authorisation code, releasing the security locks on the ships key systems. Strapping herself into the seat she quickly scanned the indicator panel for any irregularities. "We ready to go Collins?"
     "Sure thing Lieutenant, Atmospheric seals activated, tanks are full, systems diagnostic green. Sensors are active and all ordinance loaded."
     The helmet clicked in place, sealing her flight suit. The cabin was pressurised but all flight crews wore an armoured space suit, a life saver if the hull is breached. "Internal comm. check, you hear me Collins."
     "Loud and clear."
     "Internal comm. check confirmed. switching to squadron channel now," "Black Talon Leader, to all Black Talons report it."
     "Talon Two, prepped and ready."
     "Talon Three, everything is set."
     "Talon Four, online."
     "Talon Eleven, systems green."
     "This is Talon Twelve ready to kick some ass."
     "Don't get to cocky O'Riley, It'll be real embarrassing if some Rookie Cov vapes you."
     "Sorry Lieutenant, just a bit excited."
     "Try and keep it under control."

     "This is Black Talon Squadron Commander to Tower, all fighters good to go."
     "Hermes flight control, acknowledge Talon leader. Mission is a green light, All fighters proceed to your designated launch bays and await the order to commence the attack, good luck Talons."
     "That's your queue Collins, hit the elevator switch."
     "Releasing landing platform locks, activating hydraulic system." Through the cockpit windows the cavernous hanger bay seemed to lift away from them. As they descended into the large elevator shaft battle preparations continued. Dropships hovered around the hanger like worker bees. Picking up troops, cargo crates and vehicles ready for the assault before moving to their holding stations. The landing platform descended through several decks, giant bulkhead doors sealed above them. As they reached the bottom of the shaft, the hatch in front of them slid open revealing the long fighter launch tunnel. At the far end of the tunnel armoured doors separated them from space. The Carrier boasted forty-eight launch tubes allowing it to deliver its four squadrons of Longswords into battle in seconds. A further twenty small hangers opened to space, each one capable of being totally sealed off from the rest of the ship. The bays were designed to pressurise and depressurise. Acting as airlocks allowing fighters, shuttles and dropships to pass in and out of the Hermes' giant internal hangers without needing to depressurise this massive volume. The launch tubes were actually over pressurised prior to launch using waste gases, on launch the doors would burst open and the ship would be sucked out into space.

     The counter ticked down on the main display: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... The ship shuddered as the port emergency thruster fired automatically accompanied by a series of automated burst from the manoeuvring thrusters, shunting the frigates course onto the precisely calculated trajectory. The ships AI was in total control firing up the main engine. The inertial compensators quickly counteracting the acceleration of thousands of tons of armour, machinery and weaponry. Captain English braced himself against the main display, staying upright and composed through the course correction. The schematic power levels shot up as the ships systems jumped into combat mode. Big Brother was running the entire show precisely to timetable.
     The point defence guns cut a path through the tail blasting apart the debris in their path into a fine cloud of dust. Micro fragments hammered against the panoramic armoured glass viewport, the layered structure reducing the sound to nothing as the frigate sailed through the surviving debris like it was a simple rainstorm. The asteroids tail debris surviving the hail of depleted uranium rounds were harmlessly deflected off the one-point-four metre thick titanium A battle plate which enveloped the whole vessel. After Twenty-three seconds stars and the blackness of space filled their vision as the warship burst out of the asteroids tail, hot in their wake came the massive bulk of the Hermes and finally the Rio brining up the rear.
     "Battle station, sensors to active mode, scan for targets." Energy flowed into the primary sensor dish as it emitted electromagnetic radiation, EM spectral sensors picking up absorption, and reflection of the waves. The banks of computers resolving the data into complex three dimensional image of the surroundings. Automatic identification systems ran checks of every object returned comparing it to an immense database of ships and objects. Within a fraction of a second It had picked out several vessels and matched them as accurately as possible by a whole series of criteria to the IFF database.
     "Sir I've got positive identification on three targets, confirmed enemy vessels. Two covenant frigate types and a single destroyer type vessel."
     "Big Brother give me all available data on ship types, switch to tactical display and triangulate their positions." "Weapons I want firing solutions."
     "Captain Hermes is transmitting fire orders over tactical encrypted channels. Frigate zero-two is ours, re transmitting fleet tactical data to our longswords"
     "Transfer target designations to database, lock on archer missile pods A through E, for first volley, have F till J ready for a second volley. Cut main engine and line up the main gun, Attack procedure Chi-Seven."
     "All weapon systems locked in to fire control computer."
     "Initiate weapons barrage."
     A swarm of 130 Archer missiles erupted from the launch tubes, the missiles flight control computers firing the vernier thrusters curving the missiles path round to line them up with the beautifully curved shape of the nearest covenant frigate.
     "Enemy forces have initiated manoeuvres, they're launching fighters."
     "Deploy our Longsword squadron."
     The bridge lights dimmed as the the hull shuddered as the ships spinally mounted magnetic accelerator cannon let rip, spitting out a superheat ferric tungsten round.
     "Longswords launching, they're taking up fleet escort positions."
     The pulse lasers on the Covenant vessels were already alive, dazzling flashes of lethal plasma picking off the missiles with pin point accuracy while the vessel banked to bring its primary plasma weapon to bear.
     The zoomed in forward camera feed filled the view screen. The thinning cloud of warheads closed, the glowing red bolt flew straight past them and slammed into the frigates centreline. The silver sheen of the shields flared and died as the round continued on, tearing from port to starboard with tremendous force. The superstructure crumpled bending the hull so the head and tail of the vessel were badly out of alignment. A second later the surviving archer missiles hit home, blossoming into fireballs which died away as fast in non combustible vacuum of space.
     The captain voiced the question crossing everyone's mind, "Did we take them out?" Hands skipped fevourously across the keypads, the camera still focused on the hulk as the chunks of debris torn from the hull floated away. "Any sign of activity?"
     The aliens answered the question for him, neon blue flashes of pulse lasers flared along the mangled wreckage of the hull. English was knocked to the floor as Big Brother triggered an emergency thruster blasting them out of the path of half the barrage. The other half slammed into the ship bow section, boiling the armour away.

     Lt. Bradley fired triggered the belly thrusters and rolled before sliding the engines back to full burn, the Longswords smaller mass meant it easily accelerated to overtake the massive UNSC frigate "Lock missiles onto the damaged section of 02, we'll leave the Seraphs to the point defence guns." Pulse laser fire streaked out in all direction as the Covenant ships computers tracked the humans fighters and missiles. Talon three vanished from the radar as alien plasma incinerated its hull, peeling the ship apart with ease. Another glowing bolt of death sailed passed as they closed in, the targeting computer beeping became a constant tone as they came within range. Depressing the trigger on the joystick two missile streaked from the wing mounted launch tubes, their glowing tails rapidly vanishing into the distance. With a flick of the thumb She selected heavy rockets and pulled the trigger emptying an entire rocket pod before firing thrusters and flying on straight past the frigate.
     The Missiles were joined by others from Talon Squadron, concentrating their fury in the crater bored through the frigate by the MAC gun. Talon Six's shots went completely wide, another missile and scored the edge of the Crater, leaving nineteen missiles to exploded in the heart of the vessel, the blasts tearing the superstructure and snapping the ships spine. Detonations of dumb rockets across the ships shiny purple skin scored the armour, and cut into the exposed decks and ignited the pressurised atmospheres, lighting up the ship as it broke in two and started to drift towards Epyon II.
     Cutting the Longsword engines Bradley used the thrusters to flip the fighter around to face the battle, firing the engines to slow the fighter, they'd have to orbit the planet to come back round into the battle but if they didn't kill some speed off they'd slingshot away. The main view screen displayed the zoomed footage of the battle, tactical data scrolled down the side. Frigate 02 had been obliterated. The Rio had exchanged fire with 01, its armour had take a hammering but in returns its missiles and main gun had pulverised the smaller alien vessel. As she watched The Hermes' two MAC cannons fired again, ripping two giant gashes across the belly of the destroyer as it manoeuvred, the glancing blows tearing across the surface rather then coring the ship from bow to stern. Red energy started to amass along the seam running down the lateral line of the Covenant destroyer as the longsword slipped behind the planet losing the visual on the battle. It'd take a minute for them to come back around an rejoin the battle, by that time the human capital ships would also be swinging around the planet and bringing themselves into orbit.

     Isaac English picked himself off the deck, pain throbbed through his forehead. He'd come down hard, catching his head against the holotank as the emergency flight manoeuvres threw him off his feet. He was still slightly unsteady on his feet but used the console to steady himself. "Damage report."
     "Two forward point defence guns destroyed, forward communications antenna off-line, armour reduced to 500 mm in some places. Hull integrity has not been compromised. If it wasn't for Big Brothers actions we'd be flash fried."
     "Weapons, Ready second volley."
     "MAC charge at seventy percent and climbing sir."
     "A squadron of Longswords from the Hermes have drawn the frigates fire, they're concentrating there fire on the MAC round impact point."
     "Ready second archer missile volley, bring us back on course. Lets hope those fighters bought us more time"
     "They've done more than buy us time. I'm detecting extensive damage to the enemy vessels mid section, They've ceased fire and no longer under its own power."
     "Lets not give them a chance to get out of this then, launch Archer pods F and G immediately. What other enemy capital ships are in range?"
     After consulting his terminal for a second the sensor officer transferred a list of statistics for the main screen. "Frigate 01 has been destroyed, Hermes and her fighters are still engaging the destroyer, its suffered two mac rounds and is still fighting back. We'll be in range for a further sixteen seconds before we have to break the engagement initiate reverse thrust."
     "Weapons get that lock now!"
     "We won't be able to hit them with the MAC, locking archer pods now, we'll be able to launch warheads for a further thirty seconds till we loose contact. Firing solution locked in."
     "Launch H to J, Initiate brakeing procedure and bring us into a steady orbit helm."
     "Warhead detonations confirmed on 02 massive structural failure, major debris will enter the atmosphere within an hour but the projections indicate little danger to the populous."
     All they could do now is watch as Big Brother took flight control, swinging the ship round and firing its massive main engines in the opposite direction to their motion. English pressed his hand against his head injury, inflicting a severe jolt of pain. As he removed the pressure the pain subsided, his hand came away bloody. It would have to wait until the engagement was over to get it checked out by a doctor in the infirmary. For the moment he signalled for a marine to grab the med kit and apply a dressing, no sense bleeding over a perfectly good uniform.
     Along the main screen the tactical diagram of the battle displayed the engagement with diagrams, text and numbers. The green delta shaped icons of longsword fighters peeled away from the red graphic of the Covenant destroyer, releasing dotted lines which grew towards the target. The larger representations of the Hermes and Rio continued on their approach vectors following in the wake of the Faraday, releasing more dotted lines towards the Alien vessel. the Faradays own dotted lines also stretched out, the tag counting down to impact. As the various lines made contact with the destroyer circular impact templates overlaid the blast area. Even such an advanced alien spacecraft could not hold out against the barrage, the red destroyer vanishing from the map.
     "This is Admiral Noventa to task force, enemy capital ships have been neutralised. All capital ships go to orbital holding pattern and commence troop deployment, the Longswords can mop up the last of the fighters. Excellent work everyone."

     The armour plated hulk of the UNSC frigate Faraday slipped around the planet, transgressing from the blackness of the night side to the brilliant light of a new day. The sun emerged over the curvature of the planet, radiating its warmth through the vacuum of space. Golden rays streamed through the massive main window, filling the bridge with light. As the ship moved into the new dawn tiny explosions rippled across the planet facing side of the vessel. Small thrusters came to life as the ejected drop pods plummeted towards the surface, commencing atmospheric entry as streaks of flame. The compact craft resembled UNSC escape pods, but these were not crewmen abandoning ship, but the men and women of the Orbital Drop shock troopers, an elite division of the UNSC marine corp. The black hulled drop pods each carried a squad of heavily armed combat veterans and their equipment, delivering them straight from a ship in orbit to their objective in the shortest possible time. When the pods hit the ground they'd emerge from the crater firing, taking out the target before the enemy even realised what's happened. In this case the ODSTs were to secure landing points for the rest of the marine ground forces.
     As Major Breithaupt and his troops streaked in like a meteor storm. The Faraday's flight controller was already busy overseeing the deployment of the regular forces and supply craft, as one by one dropships and heavy lifters launched from the ships hangers and moved to join the growing formation as the Hermes emptied its vast internal spaceport, hundreds of fully laden pelicans, thousands of troops and sufficient supplies to fight an extensive ground campaign hung in orbit ready. Longswords patrolled the fringes of the formation ready to provide air support to the planetary assault.
     The Surgeon gently probed the wound, English grimaced as the delicate fingers inspected the tender flesh. The doctor dictated to his medical notes as he worked. The intercom panel beeped and crackled to life. "Captain, Lieutenant Bowden here. The ODSTs have established the forward base and signalled the all clear so the assault force is commencing atmospheric entry and now. We're also tracking a group of civilian vessels heading our way, a real mix of craft. Hermes has delegated us to deal with them but they're refusing to return to the planets surface or power down and wait in a holding pattern." English flinched as the antiseptic spray was applied on the wound, stinging terribly. The captain tossed a grey eyed stare at the doctor.
     "If they're in need of urgent medical care or supplies they're best suited heading for the forward base."
     "As far as I know they're not after medical care, they won't wait. They want us to evacuate them from the system immediately."
     "Put me through to their lead vessel, I'll try so speak some sense into them."
     "Patching you through now, channel open."
     "This is Captain Isaac English of the UNSC frigate Faraday, all our crews and hanger bays are tied up with troop deployments. As my lieutenant has told you you are best off returning to the planet surface and making contact with the relief force. Or we can place you in a holding pattern and you can dock when we have an available slot, which won't be for a while."
     The voice that came through in reply was ragged and desperate , almost shouting the reply in frustration. "We don't have time, you don't understand We're all gonna die! They're gonna kill us all!"
     "Calm down sir, We have eliminated the Covenant fleet, the star system is under our control and we are in the process of routing out their ground forces. There's nothing to worry about."
     "You don't understand, Captain the Covs didn't take this planet with three ships, the came with a fleet three times that size. They had a carrier and destroyers and frigates and hundreds of dropships, we managed to evacuate some of the cities but the military was slaughtered, along with everyone else who was too stubborn to retreat. We managed to hide out in the under sea mines and bases waiting for the UNSC to send reinforcements. We've been monitoring them through the planets sensor grid, the majority of their fleet left only an hour before you arrived. They pulled out most of their troops and there has been lot of traffic between the vessels that were left in orbit and the rest of the ships. They've tricked you, they knew you were coming. Recall your troops and go to slipspace before it's to late. Nearly everyone is dead down there, you've got to save us, we need to leave the system now."
     The haunting reality of the mans words hit home, the Cov ships had easily been over powered. He certainly would have expected more of a fight. They'd assumed the Cov sensors were similar to their and had the same limitations. If the Covs new so precisely we were coming, they must have detected them. "Are you sure about this?"
     "I've got the proof, im transmitting the sensor logs now." An image of Big Brother appeared on the nearest console in the infirmary, nodding once to confirm his analysis of the data fitted with the mans story."
     Moving his finger horizontally across his throat the Captain signalled to Big Brother to cut channel. Waiting a second he pressed the intercom button and signalled the bridge. "Lieutenant, send the transmission to the Admiral, top priority. I want a full system scan, squeeze as much as you can from the sensors. Clear the civilian craft to land in docking bay two and have some marines there to escort them to cargo bay six. Go to combat alert and cancel our troop deployment."
     "Do you want us to wait for you to reach the Bridge before lock down?"
     "No you take command there, I'll finish up here and head to the secondary bridge."
     The doctors voice butted in, "I beg your pardon sir but you have suffered a head injury, I need you to stay here for observation."
     "Sorry but that's not going to happen. Just finish of the dressing." The ships doctor grunted and then complied, he knew enough of the captain that he wouldn't be ignoring medical advice unless necessary for the ship and its crew. He dressed the wound and then the captain slipped into his boots and slung his jacket back on as he headed for the door.

     On the Bridge Lieutenant Bowden was in control of the situation, the Admiral had already responded, scratch the ground action and ordering the evacuation of all troops and any civilians they could find. They'd held the planet for less than ten minutes before and they were already pulling out! Bowden tried to emulate his mentor, patrolling the deck glancing across to the main tactical screen. He'd been ecstatic when Captain English had selected him as the second in command. Now he would get a chance to prove himself "Any result on that scan."
     "Nothing Sir, system is clean, wait a second. I'm detected slipspace portals, a closely packed cluster. Putting it on screen now."
     "No need, only the Covs can use slipspace that precisely. Release reactor safeties and scan for targets, lock a nuke on the centre of their formation fire the engines and break orbit. How long to the Covs are in range?" The green portals fizzled in space revealing the simmering purple starships.
     "One minute seven seconds."
     "Sir, one Carrier, two destroyers and three frigates, looks like the rest of their fleet." Bowden subtlety shook his head as a single thought crossed his mine God help us...