Chapter 2: Apollo

It has been a hundred and forty years since Apollo had launched. On board, her crew sleeping safely in suspension while the ship streaked across the barren, fridgid darkness of space. Back in Sol, Earth had slowly been reaching for the stars. Earth's first jumpgate, capable of reaching several light-years made contact with nearby stars possible, bringing systems like Alpha Centauri and Lelande under the control of Humanity. Colony ships were sent, and new planets populated. This expansion, however was soon to be checked in a terrible way.

Seaman Roberts was terrified.

What the hell was going on? The green ships had appeared out of nowhere and had dropped onto Earth’s Defenses without warning. The orbital cannons had been brought to action stations and the fleet had been called back from Jupiter, but their defense grid was being overwhelmed by the massive firepower of the alien fleet. Roberts looked up from his engineering console in combat information center on the 15th Spoke Orbital Railgun Platform to see what the lieutenant in charge was thinking. He looked panicked too, dumbstruck by the confused chatter on the command frequency that was being piped through the loudspeakers. It was madness:

A panicked squadron commanders called in:

“Sir! They just dropped in inside our formation! They’re coming out of nowhere!”

The gruff, instantly recognizable voice of Admiral Greer came on over the loudspeaker:

“Son, I need you to calm down! Regroup and retreat to rally point Alpha!”

Roberts looked back at his console. The rapid firing of the station’s railgun was quickly redlining the cryogenic plant. The station rumbled as took fire. Every second, its orbit took it closer and closer to the enemy battle group and the fleet’s kill zone. Roberts watched in horror as status readings for the station’s armor began to drop precipitously. The station shook again, and the Lieutenant looked at him, eyes wide for a moment.

“Roberts! Give me our status.”

Roberts looked at the console, considering.

“The gun can’t maintain this kind of fire for much longer sir, the rail temperatures have been at the redline for the last twenty minutes, and they’re starting to rise again. I’ve tried shifting the cryogenic load, but its not helping.”

“And the damage report?”

“We’ve lost pressure in the ring modules and everything below bravo deck. ring 1 is still structurally sound, but ring two looks like it was knocked off its hinges. I’ve tried to stop its spin, but its just tearing away sections, that’s why we’ve lost pressure down there. It’ll stop in the next few minutes, but the RCS system is straining to maintain attitude against the torque. I don’t know what to do, sir! There’s too much damage to the plate to begin to describe! I don’t understand how it’s possible! I mean what are they shooting us with, sir?”

The lieutenant once again looked blank, shaking his head as the station rumbled again. This time the lights went out for a moment and artificial gravity dropped before emergency lighting came on. Roberts tightened his seatbelt.

“What happened!?” the lieutenant barked.

All around the CIC, the stations reported dropped connections with the rest of the station. Robert’s console was running on battery power now, but it couldn’t reach any of the other stations. He tried his radio, but got nothing. Over the yelling from the various consoles about dropped connections, Roberts could hear the command channel, still coming through on the loudspeaker:

“God Damnit General, I’m doing the best I can! They’re too many of them and our ships just can’t seem to touch them!”

Another voice, an older man; scared, but composed and insistent:

“You cannot let them maintain orbit, Admiral! That last run just wiped out half of Osirus! In twenty minutes they’ll be over Europe! You have got to do something!”

Greer came back on again:

“The Cruisers are engaged in the kill zone, and the fighters don’t have the punch to take out those monsters! We’re completely committed! There’s nothing more I can do!”

Roberts looked around the CIC. Everyone seemed frozen in panic. The chaos of losing power had been superceded by the shock that the station was dead in the water, and then by the realization that worse was happening all around them.

“Admiral! I am asking you to retarget the Orbitals on those ships!”

“And let more of them slip the kill zone? That’s insanity! There’s nothing more I can do up here!”

“I don’t give a damn what’s going on up there! If you don’t retarget those orbitals, down here it’ll be the god-damned apocalypse!”

Suddenly a tremendous figure pried open one of the access doors and pulled itself into the room. It was over seven feet tall, and clad in black, reflective metal. He was a man, but like nothing any of the crew had ever seen. He pulled himself purposefully to the radio console and grabbed the headset off of the Lieutenant, opening his shiny, reflective faceplate to speak into the microphone.

“Admiral, keep the fleet on station. Reinforcements have arrived.”

Greer came back on the radio:

“Who the hell is this, and what the hell are you talking about! The whole fleet is engaged!”

“This is Colonel Singh, UNSMC . I’ve got all the reinforcements we need. Will advise. Out.”

He tossed the headset back to the Lieutenant, closed his visor, and addressed the whole CIC:

"The railgun just blew. The whole engineering section is gone. I need some volunteers: Who here has had vacuum training?"

Roberts instinctively raised his hand, right before remembering that vacuum and zero-g training made him sick to his stomach.

"Good. You're all coming with me."

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NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

(This message has been edited by Captain Pharris (edited 07-30-2004).)

The sonar picked up some of the booms on the bottom of the ocean. The bridge of the Aeneas was silent, the crew looking upward, frightened and mystified.

"Something's going on up there," said Charlie Tanaka, the most wanted man in the seven seas. His hand reached back, instinctively, and brushed the handle of his dagger for comfort. "Any reports, Zave?"

Adam Xavier shook his head. "I haven't been able to intercept any news reports. I find it hard to believe that someone would start another war. Maybe it was an accident of some kind." Tanaka shook his head.

"Listen to those explosions. The pattern. Those are precision bombings, and if we can hear them down here they're either ICBM's or orbital." He sighed. "Something very big and very bad has happened. How are we on supplies?"

"We've got a year's worth of food and water; everything else should last us indefinitely."

"Good. Find us a cave somewhere where we can go and never be found, in case someone comes looking for us."

"Will do." The vessel picked itself up off the sea floor and sped away, silently. The other small vessels in his pirate fleet were scattered around the Atlantic, going after small targets. He figured they'd be as safe there as they would anywhere else.

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-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

(This message has been edited by Taeskor Cicion (edited 07-30-2004).)

"They've picked up off the bottom and are heading out at around thirty knots, heading looks like around 130° We'll lose contact in around ten minutes. You think we spooked him?"

"No way. Not even the Anead could have sniffed us this far out."

Captain Sackler looked over his sonar operator's shoulder and thought. The Aneas could travel silently at nearly twice the speed of the USS Caveat , meaning that Tanaka would be well beyond their ability to track him unless Sackler revealed his presence by speeding up to give chase.

"If we move fast, we might just slip into his baffles before he gets to far away, then we can speed up and he probably won't hear us till he turns."

Sackler picked up the handset and called his dive officer.

"Conn, Dive. Put us into his baffles and then bring us up to chase speed. Once we're on course, reel out the ELF Antenna, I want to know what's going on up there on the surface."

Sackler turned back to his sonar operator. Let me know if ANYTHING changes. If he burps and you hear it, I want to know about it, and see what you can get on that surface noise."

Sackler walked out of the sonar room onto the bridge. The booms worried him, but he hadn't gotten any sort of message about it on the narrow beam system. Reeling out the antenna, he'd be able to pick up the fleet chatter and might be able to figure out what was going on. Until then he was going to follow his current orders: Find and capture Charlie Tanaka, retake the Anead, or, failing that, destroy them both.

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NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

"There's a bubble in our wake, sir." Tanaka looked up from his chair at the sonar operator.

"What?"

"We've got extremely advanced passive sonar on this thing, sir. It can even pick up turbulent water movement. The wake we're leaving in the water is breaking before it should be. I think something's in it." The pirate king frowned.

"Let's use this baby's new equipment to our advantage. Get the red herring up and running."

Back aboard the Caveat, it seemed for a moment to the sonar operator that the Aeneas's engines had suddenly shut down, but then the signal was back. Must've just been a glitch. The sub continued to follow the pirate sub's engine noise -barely audible but detectable if you knew what you were looking for- on into the deep.

The crew was completely silent, all bridge lights and non-essential systems offline. Tanaka looked out the front ports and saw his pursuer slowly pass. Almost, almost...a little farther and we can escape... Somewhere, a crewman dropped a tool. Damn. Plan B.

The Caveat's sonar operator's eyes grew as a faint sound was detected from below and behind them. Before he could even alert the crew the Aeneas's engines roared to full power from dormancy, and the pirate vessel was right behind them. "This is Charlie Tanaka. We're faster, stronger and better armored than you, all our tubes are flooded and we're dead on your tail. Surrender now or they'll need a comb to sift your remains off the seafloor."

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-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

(This message has been edited by Taeskor Cicion (edited 08-06-2004).)

"All Stop. 5 degrees up on the planes, give me a slow rise. Make it look like we're just drifting."

Sackler thought for a moment. The pirate was right on all counts. The only card he had was range, with the Aneas less than 100 yards off the stern, Tanaka would have to make space before firing to avoid damaging himself, even the Aneas didn't have thick enough armor for that. By going dead in the water, Sackler hoped to maintain that range, rather than trying to maintain it while tearing across the seafloor at thirty five knots.

"Status on the rear tubes?"

"We've got two fish loaded, but they will definitely hear us flooding the tubes."

"Tell me about it, they sniffed us three miles behind them in their wake."

Sackler reached for the handset to call back to Tanaka. When the ELF radio ponged and a message scrolled out of the printer. He tore it off and read the message. He froze. He read it three more times before he picked up the handset.

"Captain Tanaka, I have some very bad news for both of us."

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NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

Tanaka thought for a moment. The one true advantage his opponent had was contact with the outside world. Why hadn't he radioed for assistance? Sackler'd followed the Aeneas for long enough to have just called in a torpedo bomber and blown him out of the water before he knew what hit him, or at least another ship. But no reinforcements had appeared. Whatever was going on topside was big, and it was bad. Tanaka turned to face his bridge crew.

"Gentlemen, ladies, the ship we're behind may well be the only source of knowledge we ever get about what the hell's been going on up there. And although he didn't word the phrase exactly, I believe he just offered us a truce. He and his crew are obviously just as scared as we are, and I think I'm going to take him up on that offer." A few mutterings were heard from crewers, but most were as anxious for information as anyone. Tanaka leaned down to the comm microphone. "This is Tanaka. I and my first will shuttle over to the Caveat in exchange for two of your men coming here. Then we'll talk. I don't think I have to tell you what will happen in the event of our capture, deaths, or mistreatment. Deal?"

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-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

(OOC: Someone's watched the Halo 2 trailer too many times. I'll have to see if I can get in on this...
I'm referring to Pharris's original post; around retargeting the orbitals. Check the original trailer, not E3.)

(This message has been edited by Pallas Athene (edited 08-16-2004).)

(I haven't watched it at all, but I'll be sure to try if there are parallels here.)

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-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

"So, which viewscreen has the more important data?" asked Doc.

"Ishima, though it's not like we can alter either one." replied Darkk.

"They nominated you for the Senate?"

"I do technically live in Omisha."

On the screen to Darkk's left, the battle of Sol was playing out. Behind Jupiter, where the humans couldn't see it, lurked the gateship, dropping fresh carriers right into the thick of battle. It pulsed with energy, calling ships from the orbital yards of Cantharis. Darkk's operators could read the signatures like a neon billboard, and they read off the data. "Now summoning two carriers. Now summing 2 gunships and 3 cruisers. Now summoning an HVD."

Darkk didn't want to hear it anymore, so he activated his implant jack to hear the data from the elections back on Ishima. "Vendetta Cooperative's out-of-nowhere showing is still quite impressive, but it looks like many of their bids might have fallen flat. With 317 of 783 districts reporting in the Presidential race, we believe Gramitzan will win it for the Labor Party after the unexpected bow-out of the Conservative Party's candidate in an obvious bid to beat the VC. Despite carrying every last protectorate district, the VC's efforts at winning the Senate also appear to be stalling out. The core districts haven't given them any victories. Darkk's questionable military record appears to have cost them one of their Omisha seats, despite their making their strongest showing there. Back to Inisha in the newsroom."

"It appears that the fears of a Vendetta Cooperative showing powerful enough to force a reluctant Ishiman people into war have been blunted by the Peace Coalition. This just in, the statisticians have now called it for Gramitzan. We have President-Elect Gramitzan with us to talk about that."

"It is very deeply disturbing the lack of concern for life of so many of our client races. The trauma that they went through with the Cantharans seems to have had a more profound effect than our sociologists initially feared. The fact that 3 districts voted unanimously VC, not one dissenting vote, is disturbing in and of itself. We must show them that revenge is not the answer. The very name of Vendetta Cooperative is truly indicative of the tensions boiling over."

"What about the discovery that 2/3 of military contracting is held by those affiliated with VC?"

"Although that is seriously disturbing with the current political climate, if the underlying issues can be addressed, this would not be so much of a problem. Our purely defensive military has no major role in politics at this moment."

"Thank you."

"I'd just like to mention that we still believe we can work out or differences. Although the Vendetta Cooperative and the their Ishiman Ally the Sentient Rights Protection Party have lost their bids for control of the Senate and the Presidency, we look forward to working with them in building the next coalition. The latest Cantharan aggression, happening as we speak, will be addressed, and I do plan on protecting the rights of sentient beings, despite their claims. I just do not countenance the use of military firepower against a nation which has not, despite their claims, attacked us. The Cantharans are merely playground bullies. An economic and political initiative I am working on will allow us to change them without needless bloodshed."

"We go now live to the concession speech of Grithia, the VC candidate for Presidency. She did, however, win her senate bid so I imagine we will see more of her in the future."

Darkk cut off the link. Grithia had been his wife for years now, he didn't want to see the indignity of her defeat. Or the looks on the kids' faces. He'd need something to cheer them up.

"Sir, the humans appear to have retargeted the Apollo's laser system onto the Gateship."

"They finally found it, eh?"

Darkk shrugged. Wouldn't matter. The shield on the Cantharans' was even better than his shield. He'd calculated he could survive a collision with one of those big asteroids from the "death belts" as the miners called them. The ones that blew up and took whole fleets with them.

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"Dang that's a lot of solar panels."

"They don't have antimatter or something?"

"What the heck is something like this for, anyways?"

"Who knows, but it sure is having a hard time defending itself. It's just focusing on the Gateship like it can barely turn."

"Wing Leader Somn here. We cut loose the north solar array, proceeding to deploy antimatter charges."

The liquids in the laser's cooling system glowed spectacularly as the charges dispersed them, and the gigantic violet blossom, visible from Earth, marked the death knell of human resistance in that system. The mopping up operation might take awhile, but they no longer had a weapon that could turn the tide.

Darkk leaned back in his chair. It was a battle that could easily be won if the Ishimans would let it be. 15 HVD raid groups could pound flat the Gateship before it knew what hit it, since it was merely hiding from the Humans. Darkk even had 15 raid groups on his "on call" list. The problem wasn't going away on its own, though. It was obvious politics couldn't do it. This had been the political arm's big last chance.

(2000th post)

This post has been edited by Fleet Admiral Darkk : 27 September 2004 - 01:57 AM

"You know that feeling when your foot falls asleep?"

"All over my body, General." Replied Pharris with a jittered nod.

"Just checking." Reid replied as he mixed them both a bloddy mary.

Reid Magnuson slid the cocktail across the table with striking percision considering Cold Sleep syndrome.

Pharris took a long swig and grimaced. "Jesus. Maybe a little tomato juice with the vodka and tobasco next time, General?"

"Reid works just fine 'colonel'. And if your sleep was just like mine, you'll welcome the warm up."

Nearly a century andf a half had passed since the launch and the 'big nap' as the crew had come to call it. Turnover had happened nearly 50 years ago on Earth (though no more than 4 years and eight months on the ship) and the Apollo was now decellarating, with the dominant sail moving further and further out. By now, it was over 50 miles ahead of the ship, gaining exponentially.

"Well," Reid said with a groggy sort of clarity, "now's as good a time as any". He grabbed for the comm device on the bar with a still half-frozen hand. The screen was was quite cooperative with his request to acces the skeleton crew on the bridge. "This is General Magnuson to the bridge. Please report."

"Bridge to General Magnuson." The response was without delay. "Decelleration is within -.000000108% predefined parameters, well within safe zones. All non-shedualed crew are still in stage 3 hibernation. We've have a class AA2 meteor impact on the interior sail, which was repaired in 32 seconds; no serious adverse effects on the mission."

"Thank you crewman. Anything interesting from Earth?"

"Well Sir, Osirus has been declared the official capital of Earth, We've had two successful colony missions, and I'm just hearing about some sort of contact with a new alien race."

"A new one?"

"Yes sir, showed up in person... and..."

"In person... And?"

"..."

"And What, ensign?"

"Sir we may have a problem."

Reid's stomach sank with the silence. The fact that there was a contact with an alien race with ships present sounded like nothing more than a surprise attack. It wasn't two seconds afterwards that he felt as though he were floating above the bar.

"Ensign, report!"

"General, we have just lost contact with the SOL!"

"Has it been mistrageted?"

"No sir, it appears to..."

"What the ###### has happened, ensign?"

"Sir, it appears to have terminated..."

Reid sinking feeling was now an acidic burning. "Terminated!? Explain, ensign!"

"Terminated, sir." The terror in the ensign's voice was now overriding his discipline. "Gone, disappeared. Just like everything else from Earth."

Pharris watched as Reids face took on the stone complexion from the days of the War, and knew what was coming.

"Colonel, we are at a Code Red. We have lost decelaration power, and lost every contact with Earth itself. Wake all personel, and initiate plan Omega-Ninety-One."

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