Sunday, 25 November 2012

21 today


"BROOK, I NEED YOU, NOW!" Brook woke with a start, hand instinctively grabbing for the crowbar. Sounds like Si is trying to get into the sleeping cabin again. She swung her legs out of the cot, iris display telling her she'd been asleep for fifty four minutes after a long shift. What is going on? She stepped towards the door which remained resolutely shut. No sign of that berk trying to break in again. 
"BROOK, SHIT, SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT. FUCK" but his voice wasn't coming from the other side of the door. It was from her communications augment. The realisation made Brook stumble, still half asleep. 
"Si?" she tentatively spoke out loud. 
"Thank fuck" Si replied, he sounded freaked out. "The main bay, my drones are stuck. The AI won't talk to me. Fuck. The other ship's nearly on us. Something is wrong"
"Si, slow down" Brook was struggling to catch up. "What is going on?"
"There is something wrong with the ship AI. It won't release my drones. Engineering AI wouldn't respond. So I asked Phelps to have a look" a nervous pause "I can't get through to her now"
"When did you send her? Why didn't you contact me?" Brook was beginning to focus.
"About half hour ago. You were off-duty. Didn't want to piss you off any worse by waking you" 
Brook was out of her cabin and running, gravity provided by the ship still breaking in order to enter Europa orbit after the drop ship deployment. She tried to raise Phelp on the communications augment, but was only greeted by static.
"Hurry" urged Si.
"When did you lose Phelp?" Brook sub-vocalised, her actual voice would have been interrupted by the exertion of her current sprint. 
"'Bout three minutes after she entered the main-bay. She said that she'd got to the drone control mechanism, then broke coms"
"Ok, I'm nearly there"
"Brook, listen, we got to get the drones out"
"I think finding out what happened to Phelp is slightly more important than you playing space fighters with the other ship" Brook replied briskly. 
"Shit, Brook, that's the point. I don't think they're playing"
"What are you talking about?" Brook had reached the drone control room, and was hastily pulling on a vac-suit. 
"They released two drop ships seven minutes ago. Just after that, they released drones which are coming straight at us. Hard"
"So? Just part of your stupid games, isn't it?"
"They’re hitting us with some hard-core electronic warfare. I can barely keep up with it. This is for real, Brook, trust me”
Brook wouldn't trust Si as far as she could throw him in 5g, but the admission that he was struggling must have hurt him to make, especially making it to Brook. She stepped into the airlock, gripping her crowbar tightly. 
The main bay was dark, not even the emergency lighting was on. Brook flicked on her suit lighting, but that only gained her a few metres vision. A lighting command to AI went unanswered. An instruction for a spotlight engineering drone was similarly ignored. What the heck is going on? Brook worried Something to do with Gumelar? She hadn't seen the Sergeant for a while. 
Brook moved cautiously towards the side of the bay containing the drones, suit lights casting strange shadows on the hull. The weight of granddad's crowbar felt good in her hands. 
"You need to hurry Brook" Si's voice made her jump, but she managed to not scream. 
Keep it together girl she told herself, before replying to Si. "Why? What's going on?"
"Couple of minutes till they get here. They just launched long range ordinance, that'll hit in 30 seconds unless I can divert it" his words came fast, the picture of him in her feed looked flustered. 
"WHAT?!" Brook stopped dead, the seriousness of the situation starting to become apparent. "Why isn't the ship AI on alert? Shouldn't we be headed to crash vats?"
"Ship AI won't acknowledge the threat. I'm getting this from my own bypasses. Hurry up"
Brook had restarted her journey to the drones, now at a jog, but her brain was still turning things over. 
"So it was you?"
"What was?"
"That went through the wall behind the b4 equipment store to get to the AI?" 
"No idea what you're talking about. You at the drones yet?"
"Then how you bypass the AI?" 
"The fuck Brook? I get past the AI cos I'm fucking awesome. You know that. What the fuck you on about equipment room walls for? Now get to my drones. FUCK!"
"WHAT?!" she stopped again.
"I can't intercept it all without my ladies out there. HOLD ON TO SOMETHING"
Brook was just about to ask another question when everything turned to chaos. There was no sound in the main-bay, but the explosions were spectacular enough purely in the visual spectrum. For an instant she got to appreciate them, before her body was hurled across the bay, and smashed against the hull side. Suit lights extinguished, the only light remaining was from the small plasma fires licking at the walls of the bay, and from the stars visible outside through the holes ripped in superstructure of the unresponsive intervention ship. 
Si had no visual feed in the main-bay, just what he'd managed to hack into Brook's augments; communication, location, vital life signs. 
All went blank.


"WHAT IN THE TWATTNG FUCKING FUCK WAS THAT?" Sully was jerked violently against his restraints by the force of the explosions. 
"We're taking fire. Ship AI unresponsive." The calmness of Fuller under pressure was a stark contrast to Sully's demeanour. 
"Most likely"
"What the fuck do we do?"
"YOU DO THE FUCK AS I TELL YOU, WEASEL FACE" Sergeant Gumelar's voice boomed across their feeds "YOU SIT TIGHT. PREPARE FOR LAUNCH"
"Launch? What?" said Sully.
Evacuation  beamed Fuller direct to Sully. It was impossible to convey emotion in a single word of text, but Sully suspected that even the big marine was now starting to worry. 
"Sarge, can't we help on the ship?" Fuller said over the link, the front of calmness at least maintained, if not the actual feeling. 
"Under control marine. Launch in five seconds. Four. Three. Two. One"
Sully braced himself, the drop was never a pleasant experience, as despite the high g absorbing gel inside the tac-suit, his stomach always felt like it was trying to make its escape via his ears. 
Nothing happened. 
"Negative on the launch Sarge" Fuller was suffering the same inaction as Sully. 
"DOLPHIN RIDING TWAT WEASELS. STAY WHERE YOU ARE" Sergeant Gumelar's link blinked off. 
"Shit shit shit shit shit shit" Sully was breathing hard, trying to get a grip. 
"Si?" Fuller was at least thinking a little straighter, pinging a coms request at the drone controller. 
"Fuller? Shit man, you guys ok?" the panic in his tone was something Sully had never heard before.
"Yeah. We got no outside or AI feeds though, what's happening?"
"Everything's turning to shit, that's what" Si grumbled
"Need a few more specifics"
"Ok, shit, well, we're under attack"
"We guessed that bit, what else?" asked Fuller.
"I can't get my drones out, something wrong with the release mechanism. The AI won't let go"
"Are engineering on it?"
"Yes, no, shit, I don't know. I lost Brook"
"Brook?!" Sully and Fuller said at once. 
"She was down in the main bay when that first volley hit. I keep trying to get through to her but I can't. Shit guys. This is fucked up" 
"Tell me about it" Mason added, her image popping up next to Si's in the marines' iris displays. 
"Mason, we're under attack up here" Sully explained to try and quickly head off any more gloating from her. 
"Join the club boys"
"Why? What's happening down there? We don't have any visual on you" Fuller questioned, his image frowning in the feed.
"The ship that is currently fucking you guys up there threw a couple of drops ships down here. They didn't contain puppies and bunnies"
"So what did they contain?" Sully was wary as he asked this
"Titans, two of the fuckers"
"What?! Who tenders Titans for a sodding probe recovery?" Fuller's calm outer shell was starting to crack. 
The Titan was one of the most expensive war machines created in the modern world. At over seven metres tall and five tonnes in weight, they loomed imposingly over the battlefield. They were humanoid in shape, complete with ominous red lights where the eyes would be. But their psychological impact was nothing compared to the physical punch they packed. Lower arms were represented by large auto-cannons, the left usually some kind of pulse weapon, the right spitting out explosive shells. Missile silos were built into the shoulders and chest, with multi-directional beam weapons on top of the shoulders. Heavy armour and a top of the line electronic warfare suite made them hard to damage. 
Especially by knife wielding plastoids.
"OK FUCK WEASELS, LISTEN UP" The Sergeant was back, and had been listening in. "Marine Fuller, pass your Thumper bio-link to Sulamah, then go find your girlfriend and release the drones. Mason, wait for support, do NOT engage the Titans. Yet. Si, you keep those drones off us. Play dirty, think like the little snivelling weasel that you are"
"What do I do?" Asked Sully.
"Sit tight Sulemah, you'll be moon-side as soon as I've wrung Billington's flabby fucking neck"
"And the pirates?" Mason spoke up.
"You not dealt with them yet?" Sully was curious to see how his competition was doing, even despite the seriousness of the wider situation.
"They've proved to be more, er, resolute than I anticipated"
"Forget them for now" Gumelar interrupted "Stay mobile"
"Will do" Mason ended the link, followed by Gumelar and Si.  
"Stay safe done there" said Fuller, with only he and Sully left on the link.
"Ostrich versus Titan. Can't wait" Sully said with gallows humour, but there was a small part of him keen to actually be doing something.


Gumelar would have angrily stomped over to Billington's small office come cabin, but had to settle for grumpy bounces as gravity was slackening off. Their ship was entering orbit, surrounded by a haze of wreckage from the first drone salvo. She was sure more salvoes were coming, Si's frantic whimpering from the crash vats told her that much.
She had no idea why they were under attack, but to her that didn't really matter right now. This was a combat situation, and combat required a very steady presence in the here and now. Too much daydreaming about the whys and wherefores was liable to get you dead. Decades of practise had taught her this, and now was no different. 
"BILLINGTON" she pounded on his cabin's door. The ship liaison had been unresponsive to her contact requests ever since the mysterious other ship attacked them. "BILLINGTON, YOU IN THERE?" more pounding. 
The ship rumbled, lights flickering. Not as violently as before, but it had been hit again. Why was the AI just sat there taking it? Gumelar silently rebuked herself for thinking about the wider problem. For now this cabin door was her world. This soon to be ex-cabin door. 
Gumelar had come prepared. She always made sure that her machine shop was fully prepared for all eventualities, for bent and broken drones especially. You wouldn't believe the amount of different ways that the dumb fuck trainee marines found to damage her drones. There was rarely training run that didn't result in the following days spent repairing. She didn't trust the engineering drones to do the work for her. The fact that she couldn't stand Brook was one aspect, but the more important fact was that she was just plain better than them. The drones were her domain, her one joy. 
Getting the dents and scrapes out of large heavy drones took some large heavy equipment. Including the rather gruesome item she'd lugged over to Billington's cabin. Designed to manipulate armour back into shape, it looked like a sleek black crocodile, jaws capable of exerting metal crushing force. She worked the jaws around the electronic lock assembly of the door, turned the machine on and watched with grim satisfaction as it ripped the device clean of the door. This exposed the locking rod that kept the door sealed against the bulkhead, and was the next meal for her device. With that crushed she dropped the tool, which fell gently in the low g, and hauled the sliding door open. 
Billington hanged, crying. Hanged in the tie-turned-into-a-makeshift-noose sense, and also in the doesn't-work-in-next-to-no-gravity-sense as well. Gumelar sneered, produce a stubby knife from the folds of her uniform and unceremoniously cut him down. Before grabbing him by the throat in a much more effective means of strangling.
"What. The fuck. Is going on?" she leant in close, almost smelling his fear.
"Central AI. It says we do not exist. I think I messed up"
"What do you mean, don't exist?" even in full g Gumelar was strong enough to hold a man up by his throat, in low g it was too easy. 
"We have been erased from Lanark Horishmo fleet records. It is my fault I think"
"That erasure what's making the AI fuck up?"
"I would suspect so"
A part of Gumelar was curious as to what this incompetent shit weasel had done to piss off LH quite so badly, but that wasn't going to be of use at the present time. 
"What is the AI telling you right now?" she demanded.
"That it is in an error state. Basic functions only"
"Basic functions like life support?"
"But not combat manoeuvring?"
"No, engines were shut down"
"Can we release the drop ships?"
"Our lifeboats can still be used for an emergency evacuation"
"And the drop ships?" Gumelar didn't care about the lifeboats. Little more than a crash-vat dropped out of the air lock, they were a last resort for a ship abandonment. 
"Only the lifeboats may be released with AI in an error state. All other Lanark Horishmo equipment must remain on board for subsequent salvage" Billington sounded like he was reading out of a corporate handbook. In fact, he probably was, eyes flicking about. 
Gumelar slapped him. 
"Release the drop ships" she said.
Another slap. Wanton violence always helped her think. 
"Tell the AI that the lifeboat release shoot is blocked. We are loading survivors onto the remaining drop ships as a result"
"Yes" Billington’s eyes flicked up as he contacted the ship AI.
"AI authorises drop ship deployment"
"Excellent" she slapped him again, but that was just for her satisfaction. Letting Billington go, the man cowering into a floating foetal position in the now zero g, she pushed off his desk and back out into the corridor. 
"Sulemah, you're green to go" she instructed Sully over a new coms link. 
"Yes maam" Sully quickly replied. 
             "Good hunting" Gulemar said gruffly.

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