War Interviews

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Mobius 1
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War Interviews

Post by Mobius 1 » Wed May 21, 2008 5:31 pm

I originally did a couple of these for National Novel Writing Month, but since I failed at reaching my 50k word goal, I decided to make an ongoing serial out of the concept. Here you will find interviews with those who experienced pivotal moments of the war and lived or may not have lived to talk about it.


Contact
[Former Intelligence Agent Li Walden]

November 26th, 2596
Larson Inner Sol Penitentiary, Military Block
Mars, Post War


[The room is silent, its sole inhabitant sitting solemnly at the table. He is of indeterminate age, although my records put him at 36, although his grey hair and sharp blue eyes make him look much elder. He looks up as I enter, the only acknowledgement of my presence. I take my seat in the chair opposite him, setting my chatter on the table and setting it to record and transcribe the conversation. The prisoner looks up at me again, his glum expression offering no hope in his future prospects. He begins to speak, his voice raspy and low.]

Li Walden. My name, that is. Not that that means anything, I’ll never see the light of day again. Not since I went public. The public didn’t need to know they said. Mass panic. All that stuff. I didn’t believe it. Still, they tucked me away into this hole- treason. I didn’t care. Turns out I was right. The public took the news pretty well, they knew we were losing, and went along their jolly way. It wasn’t until they hit home that the hysteria came around.

I had only been in the agency for two months when we got the first signals. March 7th, 2582. I still remember the day. I was a listener, see. I sat in a room all day and liaised with constructs that took in every little bit of information that computers sent them, and then churned it into something useful. My, that is, Intel’s ship, was on the Fringe- supposedly looking for first contact. Well, it wasn’t first contact per say, since we’d already encountered our share of nasties. It’s, what, two hundred years later, and they’re stilling horror stories about the buggers, the Scorpia? We hadn’t encountered anything approaching them for a couple centuries. Sure, minor forms of life, but nothing like an gigantic intergalactic civilization. Nah, we, everybody who was on the prowler [an cloaked starship with a substantial sensor array, a purely reconnaissance vessel], thought we were the only ones out there. Totally empty, I guess that’s how we preferred it.

I was just about to get off shift when Clancy, the AI, stopped me. I turned around and inquired as to what the problem was. Clancy relayed that extreme-range sensors had just picked up a large object, approximately seven hundred klicks across. I shrugged, it could be an asteroid, whatever. Sometime we found abandoned superconstructions and ringworlds, we didn’t make anything of it, we just passed on the location to the boys at Anthro. So, I just thought this thing was another ringer, we find them once every few months or so.

I remember Clancy giving something of perturbed sigh and telling me that the structure was inhabited. There were moving ships, lifeforms, everything. Then, right as he said it, transmission interceptors went off the scale. Of course, everything was coded, we didn’t have a chance of deciphering them. But a couple weren’t. The crew had started to assemble in Ops by then. I think were all a bit freaked when Clancy played the audio messages over- it was this deep, guttural sound, full of “-ahk” sounds that made it sound as though the speaker was choking. There was a fair bit of clicking, the deep throaty type, not the high-pitched cliché type you see in bad invasion stories. Yup, we were pretty creeped.

Then one of the long-range drones got a visual. It was a shipyard, a bloody shipyard- but you should have seen the ships [By now he seems to have overcome his monotony, speaking animatedly, loudly, gesticulating wildly]. I would say that you should have seen the ships, but, hey, you’ve seen all you’ll need for the next few millennia. These things were huge, from thrity klicks on up. I think we even saw one that clocked at two hundred. Two hundred. Christ, that’s huge. Biggest we got is the Brute Hope, she’s only seventy-five. Remember all those protests when that babe was commissioned? Nobody wanted it. We thought it was just another way for Admiral Gibson to compensate.

What were your first thoughts?

Hell, I’d just discovered a gargantuan alien shipyard, and I didn’t even come up with a cool one-liner. I think I said something lame to the degree of “I guess we’ll be needing the Hope,” or “Ohmigawd, we’re screwed. Call Mars and get their best diplomats, we’re gonna need ‘em”

To tell the truth, we were trained in emergency first contact situations, but I don’t think the top up top even counted on us talking to them, they always encouraged us to hightail our way out, call for backup. But the backup would never arrive. We would be on our own. Cause right then, the jamming hit us. It damn near overloaded the sensor array, caused an explosion in module six, injuring Chief Ichan and knocking out argrav. That’s right, for first contact, we were floating around like fish. And all I can remember thinking was “Hey, I bet those guys down in the mess hall have their hands full.”

Did they notice you?

One of the ships broke off from that deep-space shipyard, looking like a gigantic manta, closing in, purple lights pinging along its length and back up. Scared the crap outta South, he fainted. Yeah, it was at that moment we all lost it. Coolness under pressure, my big fat New Californian butt. I’m sorry, but the sight of a fifty-klick long behemoth coming in our direction as though it had known we’d been here all along and wanted to shoo us away scared the hell out of us. We were cloaked, for god’s sake. We were from the Office of Intelligence, the blackest, deepest pile of conspiracies and intrigue around. We were s’posed to be hardasses. We were weak at the knees.

The ray-like shark of a ship turned towards us, its nose quivering as if to say “Hehy! Chehp! Geh ahf meh prahpahteh!” Now, they taught us that if the contact became hostile, we were to terminate to target.

How?

With extreme prejudice.

Explain.

The Cap kept a couple of Bearclaw missiles on board. Huge fellows, somewhere around a hundred thousand megatons. Those VF-980s are hardcore, I’ll tell you that. What, thirty klick blast radius. Overwhelm anything, those capship killers. We kept the pair, as they were fired staggered. First knocked out the shields, second went right to the heart of the chip and blew its guts out. The package also included a couple hundred mini escorters, intercepting all anti-missile fire. We thought that these babes would totally destroy the ship.

Did you fire on them?

We didn’t get the chance. The ship must’ve been some sort of patrol, it fired at us. Plasma weapons, they also had some pretty advanced super heavy autolasers.

[He sighs]

Ripped the first quarter right off us. We lost a hundred good people, vaped out into cold, hard vac in less than ten seconds. We had totally lost sensor by then, as well as our single defense, the missile tubes. Thank whatever deity there is in this dark universe that the VF-980 CSKs didn’t go off. We’d’ve all been dead.

We lost shields and any sort of maneuvering ability. We could only go straight forward, right towards that shipyard. The alien vessel closed in on us, circling its kill like some wild jackal. Only now did I get a good look at. It must have had hundred of ship swirling around it like gnat swarm- fighters, destroyers, patrollers, missile boats- wow. The thing wasn’t entirely solid either. We could see parts of it superstructure, at points we could see entirely through. It was a clear grey, with purple flashes running down its length and into its four trailing superstructures, presumably where engines were. It had only fired a single shot, a single turret, from somewhere on the port bow, which had cut through our shields and all our armor and whacked our konker off.

Well, the blast had severed a pretty essential power line on our boat and mangled the reactor for the cloaking system. Clancy was almost offline, the shot had hit his comp center. I remember; his voice was garbled like hell. Couldn’t understand half of what he said. Ensign Kerry understood it, he explained it to us.

[He pauses]

The reactor was going to overload in ten minutes. The cloaking system used a controlled antimatter/matter reaction to produce energy, it was the only system available with the current tech base of the time with enough output to satisfy the hunger that cloaker had. The shielding mechanisms for our a-mat reserve were failing, and when they were gone, they would react with the surrounding matter, creating a big enough explosion to reach the CSKs and set them off.

There was no choice, the captain realized. We had to abandon ship.

We had two slipstream-capable transports in the hangar and four slipstream-capable lifeboats. More than enough for the entire crew. All of them were armed, although, with just a pair of point-defense laser strips, they weren’t gonna do anything special.

You should’ve been there. It was hell. Everything was shakin’, the lights and life support had failed, sparks were flying, blood clogged the passages. We were a bit low on air, I remember Clancy’s last act was to seal those passageways leading to the deep black at subsection 9, about a hundred meters from the actual point of attack. We were all bumping into each other- but of course, all that we could here was that goddamn incessant klonking of the red-alert signal.

Things were already pretty bad, and when mean bad, I mean absolutely horrible, the scariest thing you’ve ever experienced in you life- but it was going to get a lot worse.

I was climbing my way up a vertical passageway in zero-g, when I ran into somebody. I thought the person in front of me was taking a break- after all, making your way over several hundred meters of dying ship in ten minutes is pretty strenuous. I knocked on his boot, tried to say something encouraging. “Hey, buddy, I know it’s hard, but we gotta move.” He didn’t respond; he was as stiff as a rock. I grabbed his boot and, this time, tugged on it.

He was clutching the ladder with both hands, and I remember the most horrible sound when I pulled. Some sort of splurch, something awful. He came down as I pulled him by the boot, but his arms stayed attached to the rungs. They had separated at the shoulder.

I looked into his face, expecting to see some sort of horrendous injury inflicted by a collapsing beam above. I wasn’t off about the injury part, although it was totally different. His entire visage had been melted off, right down to the bone. His forehead had been pierced, grayish-purple stuff steadily leaked from the hole. The skin on the fringe of the damage was charred, as though burned away. He looked up at me, and I looked down at him, at his lipless, grinning mouth, empty sockets, and still smoldering nose, and pissed my pants.

Then I heard a growl. From right above me. It was the deep, clicky, throaty growl I had mentioned earlier. Not the nice growl. Slow as can be, I looked up.

I was probably the first person to see one, to meet one.

It was tall, around three and a half meters. It stood horizontal in the ladder tube, feet magnetically attached to one side and shoulder scraping the other.

It was probably seventy percent leg. It must’ve had three, four knees, although I couldn’t tell though all that armor and spines. Its feet were huge, about a meter across. Sitting on top of the legs was a compact torso, with two arms branching off at forty-five degree angles from the top of the torso, with two elbows and many fingers, two thumbs, something like that. One arm held what I assumed to be the most badass rifle ever, the other something I only realized four weeks later to be a knife. [He waves me off] Everything was so blurry. Well, mounted right in the center of that chest, not on top of the torso, but extending straight out on a thick neck was its head. Well, at least it had two eyes. That’s about as humans as it gets. Below that was this gaping, huge maw, about the shape of half a vertical oval. Lined with teeth all the way through. Alongside the vertical sides of the mouth were hundreds of these little holes, which we now know are their auditory and olfactory senses. Even further, on either side, was a vertical row of these horizontal square-ish horny knobs that curved to a backwards point. There were three of the knobs, albeit larger, on the back of his head.

I had just made first contact. And in the cramped confines of the ladder tube, there wouldn’t be any diplomatic relations. It was time for split decisions- the thing had killed torso boy and was probably gonna kill me. He was presumably apart of a boarding party from that aggressor dreadnaught.

[What did you do?]

I shot him in the face. Sure, I didn’t have to empty the entire mag, but I didn’t know jackshit about this creature, its physiology, or anything. I just wanted it dead. You know how mentioned earlier I didn’t have a one liner? Well, this time I did. “First contact with a fifty cal, you goddamn ugly sonuvabitch.” Blood flew everywhere, but, of course, it wasn’t red, with was white, with the opaqueness of milk and like a fine mist in the zero-g. He was dead alright, he wasn’t gonna get up- his head had exploded on the first shot, fifty cals and do that. I was so pumped on adrenaline at the moment, I didn’t care. I just shoved the carcass out of the way and continued up the ladder, leaving torso boy and bullet sponge behind to burn when the reactor went off.

I just barely made it to the recon gunship (an oxymoron if I ever heard one…) in time. A security tac guy, one of the seven we onboard, dragged me halfway across the hangar, practically throwing me into the hatch. The bird was a modified Gento gunship variant, the pan-forces main dropship, missile boat, and gunship. The marines used it, the flight jockeys, used it, the naval guys used it, and we loved it. Good ol’ bird. Fortunately, I was in the main compartment, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like, in the two side-mounted rapid deployment pods. I crawled to the far side of the cargo bay, towards the corridor that led to the cockpit, and puked. There weren’t many people on board, thank god, vomit is damn nasty in weightlessness.

Things were getting really hairy then, the reactor was in the final stages of decomposition. Everything was quakin’, and so was I. We were still taking people on board, the two tac security guys made sure of that, using maneuvering packs- I have no idea where they found them- to help crewmembers aboard. I had only just turned my head to observe the loading guys when marine number one’s chest, ribcage, just exploded. Gore bones, organs, everything. I think I had a lung hit me. Purple plasma boiled forth from the room, stitching the interior of the craft and killing two more people, one in the head, another a medbay chick who got hit in the ear and was spun around the midair, the wound plastering to my chest, blood everywhere. There, coming into the hangar, were two more of those creatures, with a rifle in each hand and purple, superheated death leaping from the muzzles into the bodies of my crewmates. The other tac guy took cover behind a bulkhead. I was still in the open, frozen as plasma flew all around me, it was a miracle I wasn’t hit, I was so scared I couldn’t will a single bit of me to move. The guy was facing me, his back to the aliens. I could see his face, it was livid with terror, his eyes wild, perspiration slicking his body. He held his MX pistol with both hands, arms straight, gun down by his waist. He was breathing heavily, chest bobbing up and down. He looked at me, shouted something- I couldn’t hear him over the din, the roar of the plasma rifles. I guess it was somthing about, moving I would never know.

He moved, unclipping a grenade from his belt and thumbing the activation switch; it glowed a bright blue. He swung around and threw the grenade at our attackers. I swear, he only let his forearm out for the grand total of a second- a bolt hit him right in the arm, melting it right off. He screamed and fell forward, his head exposed- the next bolt him full in the face, sending brains spraying across the cargo bay and splattering across all the walls.

Fortunately, his last action had not been in vain. One of the aliens looked at his foot at the ‘nade thunked off it, warbled something high, and then was gone in a flash of orange, as was his partner.

The pilot punched me to get this attention. He asked if there were anymore people coming. Looking around, I realized I was the only one still alive in the cargo bay, everybody else was floating around, bumping off the walls and each other, missing limbs, heads, huge holes in their chests. I turned away from the sight of look at the impenetrable mirrored shades the pilot had on and shook my head expressively. The guy swore and, before I knew it, had engaged the energy shield on the open rear hatch, keeping the atmosphere in somewhat as he zoomed into space. Somehow, he said, the back hatch was jammed. I guessed he also didn’t have inertial compensators for the bay; I had to grab a hold of a rung to keep from being thrown out of the rear of the craft. Still, I had a front row seat for all that gonna happen next.

Somehow, I found the Captain’s voice in my mind, through my standard neural impact. The guy was broadcasting omni-spectrum from the bridge of the prowler. He’d refused to get the hell out of dodge and wanted to go down with his ship, to buy us some time. He was giving some speech about the beginning of the end and wishing us luck- I didn’t truly here, I was too mesmerized with the sight of what had been my home for the last six months burning silently, the front quarter still floating dead in front of the rest of the ship. If I looked closely, I saw the flash-frozen bodies floating in space around the severance.

Brazen bastard, the Captain. He powered up the engines to his ol’ boat and drove her forward, pushing her first quarter with what was left of the boat. I guess there was a slipstream right over the shipyard, he punched the prowler to full throttle and jumped into the slipstream right as he reach the fringe of the shipyard, right as the reactor exploded.

That’s a special type of naval tactic, that is. Explode something right as it enters slipspace. And you’ve got an explosion ten times as worse stretching in a straight line ten times more massive. Pity it needs to be over a slipstream, we could’ve used that tactic a million times over during the following years. Well, the explosion, combined with the CSKs, the three reactors onboard the ship, and all the stuff in the shipyard- well, they say you can’t have explosion, fires in space. I think we just proved them wrong. Boy, I thought those fireworks were the end to the longest short peril of my life, but I wrong. Dead wrong.

It was only just beginning.

[Li Walden was released four days after our interview.]

Strike
[Colonel Leo J. Bateau, Marine Corps]

November 29th, 2596
Adder’s Sports Bar, Los Angeles
New California, Post War


[I’m late in arriving at the bar, but Leo Bateau doesn’t seemed to care. A strongly built man, his sharp, short black hair and even sharper green eyes contrast his face, which is extraordinarily pale, a result of a gazing plasma wound or all the years he had spent inside powerarmor. I see him in the back of the room, watching the bombardment game with passing interest. He seems surprised when I sit down, but I know it to be an act. A full Colonel, Bateau has survived the war with more than his share of tale. A Carnage Marine Mech Pilot early in his life, he became a Storm Commando during the last three years of the war, participating in many high-profile black-ops assassination missions that were instrumental in bringing an end to the way. He takes no notice of my transcriber as I place it on the table, but he slides me a tall beer glass from his end of the worn, pre-war steel counter. Watching the final depressing results of game, he turns towards me and flashes a charismatic smile before beginning to talk.]

I grew up on Titan, or at least near it, we were on an orbital asteroid base towed in during the 24th century. I joined the Marines as quick as I could, right out of school. Thought it was a good idea at the time. Still, I was competent with a gun and a pretty efficient killer, the drill sarge told me that much. I had been assigned to NewCal back in ’77. about when the inevitable election riots were breaking out. I mark that as the point in time when I got started down this path [He gestures at the scars covering the other side of his face, ones that I had not noticed earlier due to his orientation to me and the wall]. My squad got a lead on a terrorist plot to exploit the chaos, kill some higher-ups. Okay, that’s nice, I told myself. Save the day, get some glory, it’s all good. It was sole unit operation, N-CALCOM was in chaos after the first bomb hit. We safely got into their compound, Lewis was on his halfway on his way to disabling the bomb. Then ev’ry thing went right to hell.

The Lieutenant got hit, as did our squad leader. We had done our share of damage, the terrorists had done theirs, but they were clearly winning. Bullets and Lasers were flying and strobing everywhere, and let’s not forget the occasional RPG. I was running for my life, there must’ve been five of them on my tail, and I didn’t have any ammo, for rifle or pistol. All I had was a measly knife, and I’m not Ian “Dusk” Smith. I rounded a corner, and there it was: a mech suit, an old Terminus mark four. It was about four, five meters tall, all armor and agility. It was basically a very big, very fast power armor suit. It had a couple laser turrets on the shoulders, autocannons and rocket launchers of each wrist, grenade launchers on both calves and a large, over-the-shoulder railgun. It was about as ugly as Carnage suits get, but, to me, it was a supermodel. I strapped in as fast as I could.

[How did you know how to pilot it?]

Oh, it was a secondary MOS I had. Not Carnage Marine, though, those guys are the elite of the Marines. Just combat exoskeletons. That and heavy weapons. I got to pilot one of the Mark Threes in a war games exercise on the Atlantis Training Center, and I was reasonably confident I could do so now.

I had only just shut the hatch when they came around the corner and started firing at me. Bullets sparked, lasers boiled, but nothing could get through the substantial armor of the Carnage mech. Familiarizing myself with the controls, I sent a burst of fifty cals in their direction, splattering them across the walls. I then moved out through the enemy compound, slaughtering every one of those bastards I could find. The cavalry didn’t arrive until five minutes after the last militant had fallen.

Needless to say, the higher ups heard about my feat, and I was fast tracked into the Carnage Marines and, a year later, into the officer candidate school. I was a fresh second lieutenant when the orders came down. It was an audacious plan at best, in my opinion. A preemptive strike against what could be a hostile alien race? No one knows what they were thinking. We had gained a surprising amount of detail since that attack on the prowler. The creatures that had been aboard the presumed boarding party were called Nahktars, or least that’s what it sounded like phonetically. We had rough translations of their language, and we knew this race headed up a massive polity that referred to themselves as the “Ark”. We knew of at least twenty other races, with probably hundreds, thousands more to go. And here we were, a thinly spread fledging galactic civilization with a military geared towards special ops and counter-insurgency. Hell, we hadn’t seen a true war in over a hundred years.

The target itself was probably the toughest in the galaxy, The Ark itself, an artificial planetoid like you see in old science fiction movies like Old Familiars or Star Wars or The Logical World. My entire unit sent to fight in the most dangerous location in the galaxy, one score of Carnage Marines against millions of hostiles.

We were a varied bunch for the mission. I had a K-3 Scythe model, while at least five guys had the new Mark Five Terminus. Captain Adamson had a Ronin K, with his own personal Ocean Repeater and Ravaging Launcher. I think he came up with the names himself, he was a big fan of those campy mecha shows and I don’t think any self-respecting weapons designer would call their gun that. Who knows, who cares?

Intelligence had somehow procured an Ark ship and a Nahktar traitor. They didn’t explain how, they just gave him to us. We were supposed to infiltrate the planetoid and destroy or overload its reactors in some way to destroy, or, at the very least, disable it. The reasoning behind this preemptive strike was simple- the Ark served as the Ark’s political and military capital. The head of the snake, if you want to call it that. Destroy it, and the resulting chaos may give us enough time to prepare for the eventual invasion and meet it with overwhelming force. Because, they told us, invasion was inevitable, and any advantage we could get would help us out immensely.

The traitor, his name was Trego. At least, that was the shortened, phonetic version. His real name was way to long and impossible for us to pronounce. With his deep, mottled red color, deep gold face, and long, diagonal scar across his face, he was quite a sight to behold. At four and a half meters, he was tall, even for a Nahktar. His eyes were an ugly yellow, flecked with black. He knew English Standard; the boys in Intel had taught him that.

This Nahktar was pretty high up in the command structure, he was a rising star within the navy, and he commanded a spec-ops subgroup. He never really explained to us why he has turned traitor; he just was on our side.

He got us in, alright. Right through the hangar and taken as cargo boxes towards a turbolift transit hub. He let us out; I’ll never remember the sight.

The place was huge. This room alone must’ve stretched for tens of kilometers, with gigantic pieces of machinery and turbolift in every direction. The lights, the colors! We were awed, we were amazed. Trego gave us our coordinates, directions to give to the tube to take us right to the reactor and out again, and then he said he had to go. His movements were becoming suspicious to command, he said. Besides, he quipped, he wanted to be as far away from this station as possible when we overloaded the reactors.

He turned and approached a nearby lift, the doors sliding open. I suddenly felt trepidation, the air had become too silent, and the lights in the lift indicated that no car had come near down that tube for our entire time in the room. I turned towards Trego, raising my right wrist, aiming my machine gun- right as the doors to the massive lift opened and an absolutely humongous Ark mech walked out, accompanied by a small horde of tanks and armored Nahktars. The mech itself was at least ten meters tall, all black, grey, and red, with short stubby legs, a round cockpit, a short right arm with a plasma cannon mounted on it, and a long, long left arm tipped with what seemed to be part rocket launcher, part war axe.

Needless to say, I gulped.

Plasma, bullets, rockets, fletchettes, shot, slugs, lasers, grasers, grenades, EMPs, poison darts, and even a antimatter charge or two were thrown in every which direction. IT was utter chaos. We lost a lot of good people. I personally saw three of my comrades die, taking the Ark mech down with it in an explosion that ate up everything within a hundred meters of it origin. My suit was about the same height as the taller Nahktars, I found myself in vicious hand-to-hand more than once.

The worse part, I must say, were the tanks. They were saucer-shaped, floating on an antigrav platform. Ringing the circumference of the main saucer were seven ball laser turrets, point defense. These on their own were pretty bad, I saw a guy sliced into four pieces by several at once. On top the top turret were mounted two thirty centimeter plasma cannons, facing in opposite directions. They had this one tactic where the turrets would spin one-eighty when firing, creating a three-sixty circle of boiling flame.

Still, I found a pattern. Using a rail-launches concussion grenade or two, I would knock a Nahktar on its back and bound forward, placing a foot on its upper legs to keep it from getting up and then firing point-blank, with my wrist autocannons, into its face. Messy, but effective.

To put it in a short manner, we were hopelessly outmatched, though we did do damage. We fought our way through The Ark, our numbers being thinned out by the massive numbers of soldiers, their most powerful weapons. We must have killed hundreds, if not hundreds each. After slaughtering the ambush party, the survivors (eleven of us) made our way towards the reactors, using the coordinates the double agent, Trego, had given us. He must not have thought we’d survive the ambush, we at first thought the codes would be worthless.

Surveying our squad, what was left of it, I remember how Trego had gotten away after the tube skirmish. I vowed that if I ever ran into that bastard, I rip him in half. Though, I suppose I should be thankful on one front, his overconfidence in the ambush team had allowed him to give us the true directions.

But eventually, only myself and the captain were left. We had reached the antimatter containment chamber, where all the reserves were kept. Big, heavy zero-inertial vats with the antimatter suspended in a vacuum to prevent all contact with matter. Working efficiently, we sent up several small nukes in rings around each vat, at least eighty in all. Just to be sure, we hid at least eleven EMP grenades throughout the room as a backup if the nukes were disabled. The electromagnetic pulses would knock out the immulsion fields holding the amat, letting it touch the insides of the tanks and, theoretically, blow a hole in the side wall. We had no idea if this would work, the vats were extremely well armored, virtual fortresses, with a quadruple layer of walls and secondary immulsion fields. Hence, the amount of nukes. They were a special type, bunker blowers, designed to destroy the first layer of armor and send a secondary, equal nuke into to hit the second layer, and so on. So, each nuke we put on the vats was actually a set of four.

We were on our way out, when I noticed in utter lack of troops being thrown in our direction. They had their surveillance on us, why didn’t they throw all they had at us onto these obviously dangerous intruders were sufficiently dead? I mentioned this to my Captain, in a quippy sort of way. He ignored me, and we ran for ten more minutes, meeting no opposition whatsoever. I mentioned this to Adamson once again. Once again, I didn’t get a response. However, it wasn’t because of his ignoring me. He was gone, absolutely and wholly nonexistent. I couldn’t find his IFF tag anywhere on my sensors, it was as if God himself had simply picked him up and swirled him away.

I would have fretted over this, but at that moment, it seems as though the gates of hell had been opened and focused in my direction. They threw everything, and the kitchen sink at me. I gave up fighting, I just ran. Every after my suit had been destroyed, I just got out, still in my regular marine’s armor, and ran on foot, firing the occasional shot with my MX pistol to keep the bastards at bay.

I finally found some sort of hoversled. The controls were simple, in that kind of adrenaline pumping situation where it seemed the entire Ark military was on my tail, I didn’t have time for an easy learning session. I rammed the thing into high gear.

It went fast. I had left a cloaked beacon in the hangar bay I had entered, unbeknownst to my team. It seemed the Nahks hadn’t found it or moved it; it was shining bright for me. I wove my way through so many explosions, so many plasma bolts, so many darts more than enough for the entire armed forces. I didn’t pay any attention to the countdown clock; I had something near ten minutes left when I reached the hangar, every bone in my body exhausted. I was totally spent. My duffel bag full of ammo and scavenged Ark plasma pistols, was nearly empty, all of my scavenging wasn’t doing any good when all you turned up was a inoperable plasma rifle as long as you are tall.

The hangar was empty, except for a couple of small one-Nahk fighters and a row of escape pods against one wall. I made for one of the fighters, not thinking of the obvious differences in the controls and physiological designs. I was half delirious.

There was a bark, a hiss, and a plasma bolt flew by my face at the distance of two inches, literally burning parts of my skin clean off. I yelped and flew to my knees, clutching my burns. I still managed to turn around and see my assailant.

It was Captain Adamson. And Trego. The squad leader stood relaxed, a plasma rifle up against his shoulder. My mind was in overdrive, a high speed series of ohshitohshitohshit ohshitohshitohshitohshit.

I threw my shoulder to the ground and rolled, right as Adamson fired his rifle again the bolt passing through the space my head had previously occupied, singing the hairs on the back of my neck. Tears and blood were everywhere, I left of streak of it on the floor as I rolled, my face pressed into the cool, alien metal for a short second before I was up on my knees, my pistol up and pointing at Adamson.

He paused, and glanced at Trego, who shrugged- or at least tried to imitate the human expression. Adamson lowered his rifle from his shoulder, but still kept it zeroed on me from his hip.

I started by stating the obvious: “You’re a turncoat.”

He nodded solemnly. That was something I wasn’t expecting. Usually, traitors are wholly unrepentant for their acts, with an attitude that seemed to be nothing more than walking around and thinking “Screw you, chap.” Nervously, I shifted my ammo duffel bag around to the front of my chest.

That was when I noticed the pistol Trego had stuck into Adamson’s back. I for a second, felt hope. I raised my pistol as at Trego, trying to see through the blood- and Adamson shot me.

Just like that. In the chest.

I fell to my knees, my vision blurring over. Then I fell forward on my face, dead.

[Huh?]

Of course, I wasn’t dead, ding-dong. The chest piece of my armor had stopped it. I had slipped a piece of scrap metal from my totaled Scythe before I had begun my pedestrian flight. It had already protected me from one bolt; the entire front of my armor had been singed half off. That was why I moved my duffel bag around, to block the wound. The blow had ripped my duffel bag apart, practically disintegrating it and spilling its contents on the floor in front of me. I fell onto said weapons, feigning death.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t count on two of the plasma pistols I was lying on to have a battery breach. They went off with an audible pop!, lifting me up, still horizontally parallel to the floor, facing downward. My pistol was still in my hand. Looking up, I surveyed the situation in front of me. Trego was whipping away from Adamson, who was raising his own rifle, swinging it towards me and Trego, I didn’t know. Trego had moved his gun towards me, now, his hand tensing. With my arm bent, I placed two wild shots in his direction, one connecting in an arm, another in a leg. He was spun backwards by the heavy caliber, but wasn’t dropped.

Convulsing my body, I turned my rise into a front flip, heels over head, then head over heels, landing on my feet, leaning to far back. I took a small step backwards to regain my balance and threw my gun hand outward, emptying the mag at Trego. The Nahktar barked in his own alien language, spinning to the floor, before coming up again, and quick, as thunder, hit Adamson with a long, spinning kick from his extended leg, crumpling the Captain and sending him flying to me. I knew my Captain’s back was broken from the blow, but that didn’t stop him from lifting me off my feet and pushing me all the way across the hangar. I slammed into the bank of escape pods, the wind knocked out of me, Adamson laying on top of me. Trego bounded forward, scooping Adamson’s discarded plasma rifle off the floor. In two might hurdles, he was there, the burning metal of the rifle’s muzzle searing into my cheek [He points towards the large two-seventy degree crescent on his cheek, almost indistinguishable from the paleness of the original plasma burn]. Now, Trego, he doesn’t like to mess with you. Unless he’s got a burning need to be somewhere, he’ll execute you right away. No procrastination. And for him, there is no overkill- only “open fire” and “Pass the reload”. So, since I obviously wasn’t dying, I looked slowly up at Trego.

There was a large blade sprouting from his chest. White blood splattered all over me, the walls. He looked slowly down at the wound, then at his attacker.

Adamson was barely upright, with officer’s saber clutched in both hands as he drove it up from behind into Trego’s chest. Then, with superhuman strength, even impossible from the complete body enhancement restructuring he went through when he entered the Carnage Marines; he heaved Trego’s body laterally. Somehow, he slammed Trego into the wall without ripping the blade out, before pulling the blade around and using it and his uninjured leg to spin the alien around and kick him into an open escape pod hatch. I sprang up; hitting what my translation software told me to be the emergency release button. The tunnel leading into the pod sealed itself, a triple set of metal doors sliding across the passageway. There was a hiss and a roar, the escape pod blew outwards and away from the Ark, before its automated system jumped it to the nearest inhabited system. There was a purple flash of light, and the pod was gone from my view out of the viewport.

Of course, it was at that moment when security decided to show up. No time for an explanation period or a one-liner, I blindly fired my pistol over my shoulder as I dragged Adamson into another escape pod, by back to my attackers. Plasma whizzed over my shoulder, splashing against a closed escape pod hatch.

I heaved the Captain into the passageway, which was about three meters in diameters and led down five meters into the pod. I fired my pistol a bit, but I felt a tugging on my undershirt. Looking down, flicking a large knife into my hand from a wrist sheath, I saw it was only Adamson, looking up at me, imploringly. He coughed violently, blood spraying his white chest armor. His voice was almost impossible to hear over the racket: “Bat… ateau, They, those… bastards, they have…” more violent coughs. “-they have my wife and kid…”

Surprised, I threw my last grenade at the onrushing crowd, forcing them back out of the hangar. But they were starting to jump down from the upper levels, the balconies ringing the hangar on three sides. Taking Adamson’s plasma rifle, fired it on full auto in wide arc, cutting most of my attackers down as they stood. More than once, I hit a incoming grenade or rocket in mid-flight. I had no time to reflect on the awesomeness of this, as I looked back down at the Cap when he said those words. “Who, the Ark?”

He shook his head weakly, “No,” he managed. “Deck-”

A plasma bolt sailed down the passageway, sizzling against the far hatch raising the temperature in the tunnel considerably.

“Go,” he said. Despite his dwindling strength, he snatched the rifle from my hands and took a grenade off his belt. “I won’t make it back to ISA territory, I’ll do the expected thing and… *argh* …take as many of them with me. That… grenade,” he waved the one in his hand. “Is fifteen megatons. Bring it… bastards.” He smiled.

He pushed me, hard. I didn’t need a second warning. Upon our arrival in the station, we had released a worm into the system, a program one step down from a full-blow AI at system disruption. I was getting flashing warnings all over my screen- the worm was being systematically deleted and I needed to get away within the next five minutes unless I wanted to locked out of the pod or shot down on the way out.

Hurling myself down the passageway, rolling as the third hatch opened in front of me, I handed in the middle of a circular room, roughly seven meters in diameter, chairs all around. My translation matrix told me which button to hit, I was out in a heartbeat. Zero-G hit me like a stone, ironically, I was slammed against a side wall. I maneuvered myself turn on the single viewscreen, I focused itself on the hangar. Say what you will about the size of the Ark, that pod went fast. I already saw fighters chasing after me, missiles being launched, plasma spewing, when the ship fell into a slipstream and safety.

Looking down, I realized I still had two missile files blinking. One was a video of the Ark for about five second after I left; we had tossed a couple drones out into hard-vac on the way in. The drone had been knocked out in the blast directed towards my direction, but I knew seconds were four more than the countdown indicated the nukes were to explode. Nothing had happened. However, if I zoom in, I could see several flashes from through the energy field protecting the atmosphere of the hangar. Then video ran out.

The second was the video from Adamson’s recorder. Each and every soldier in the armed forces has a recorder implanted; recording everything the solider sees through his or her eyes for mission review. While the things were partially dependent on the human to living to work, they had, at times, worked for up to five minutes after death.

Tentatively, I opened the file. I wanted; I hoped to witness Adamson’s final, heroic acts. I had it all planned out in my mind, the sadistic whackjob I was, am. He would hold them off until his mag ran dry, then they would come forward and inflict some terrible, fatal injury. Right as the character died, his hands would always flower open to reveal to wonderful prize- a live grenade. Boom, heroic redemption done. Who knew, maybe they might had cut off his head and arm, they’d play with the arm, whacking each other on the head with it, as the fizzing body-less head stared on, with decreasing video quality, as one wrong hit flowered the hand open and dropped the grenade down at their feet.

[He laughs, running his hands through his hair.]

Geez, the war hadn’t even truly started yet, and I was already batshit insane.

[His smile fades, his eyes turn cold. I eye him, guessing the next part: “He wasn’t dead?”]

Not at all, that goddamn sonuvabitch. He was still alive and kicking. They fixed him up rightfast, he was up and conversing with them like they were old chaps. I think I even remember him saying something to the tune of “Pity about Trego. He’s probably still alive.”

Who the hell was on whose side? I marveled that as the video went blank. We must’ve forgotten about the transmission, how I could link in and watch through his eyes.

Oh well.

I didn’t reach a planet until a month later. That lifeboat may’ve had fast sublight engines, but, boy did it suck balls in the ‘stream. My body’s internal reserves cold only keep me nourished for half that time, and the onboard stores of food and drink weren’t exactly human friendly or edible.

I landed half-starved, half-mad, on a little planet called Artemis. It was backwater-place, with a middling garrison. The only thing it had going for it that month was that the 60th Expeditionary Fleet was anchored there, for reasons only his Noodly Appendage knows.

Boy, I didn’t know jack about that planet, but I got to know Jak and that pretty little planet during the few weeks. I think the entire galaxy got to.

In the end, it was a failure. We failed to destroy The Ark, and I only barely survived. It was covered up, forgotten. Definitely not the best day for Intel.

[Leo J. Bateau is the Director of the Cadre for Tactical Intelligence. He lives on Mars with a wife and two children.]
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Mobius 1
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Re: War Interviews

Post by Mobius 1 » Wed May 21, 2008 5:36 pm

Longbow
[Captain Sarah Grissom-McDonnell, Marine Corps]

December 2nd, 2587
Shore of Loch Glenmorran, New Scotland
Luna, Post-War



[I find her at the shooting range, easily blowing open target after target as they bob and weave at speeds of over a hundred miles an hour over four klicks away. Her short blondish-red frames her head and she peers down the scope of her large rifle. Expert Sniper and part-time Storm Commando, Sarah Grissom-McDonnell has a privileged life, her father a high-ranking Marine, her mother the head of a large industrial multiconglomerate. Cool, calm, and collected, Sarah is entirely sane, something that is rare quality amid the various mental problems most assassins display. Sarah was present during the Occupation of Tartarus, the second battle in the Human-Ark War]

I wouldn’t use the term “abandoned”- we just had to pull out for awhile while our forces regrouped. But, no, while I might be modest, I won’t deny the fact that my shot was the central and most important one of the battle.

Tartarus, what can I tell you about that rock? Well, it was pretty much covered in jungle, rainforest all over, dense as can be. Beautiful place, I must say, I always had something to think about all those days in that tree. The place was really remote, far side of the world, just lets you appreciate how far we got into the Milky Way before the war, you know? I believe we held the planet because of its mineral importance, while the mines were largely automatic, there was a respectable garrison and patrol fleet stationed there.

Sure enough, the Ark showed up. I don’t know why I regard that battle now as inevitable, as with the term “sure enough”, especially since it was the second or third battle of the and one of the few small victories in those first few years, the sort of things that give you hope for the future.

Somehow, through the initial chaos and confusion that unfortunately accompanied every battle of the first few years of the war, I got left behind- with about fifteen thousand people. The Ark was raiding the planet all over, which was actually a little ray of sunshine: because of the planet’s important mineral deposits, their Navy didn’t vape the planet outright. Good for them, if I must say so.

I was out, assigned to cover for the refugees and take down any ranking Nahks I could find. I had stationed myself up in a tree, an absolutely huge one, about three hundred meters up and deep within the branches. I must’ve only had enough food to last for one meal, maybe two. I only had a single Hooah! Bar, but, hey, those things are delicious.

The patrols were all around, scanning everything, trying to hunt down the refs. I didn’t know their location, which was good on me if I was ever captured. Not that I had a doubt that I wouldn’t be, but it was good to know I wouldn’t and couldn’t betray my fellow soldier. Still, I was pretty sure they were hiding in the basin, if you know what I mean…

I had been part of a dedicated scout and sniper squad, devoted before the attack towards surveying the jungle and “clearing” it of the natives, mean bastards who had some pretty nasty form of antimatter launchers, and that was about it. I must’ve lost half my squadmates to the loin-clothed natives, the other half towards the Ark. In the end, all there was, was me and another woman by the name of Garlitr, or, was she preferred, Gar for short. She was located about forty miles from me, deep in a highly elevated swamp that had some pretty good sweeping ranges.

The dick-to-chick ratio in the sniper clique has always been pretty low, perhaps for fifty years now. It may be that we’re quieter, smaller, who cares? All I know is that I’ve only met two other male snipers in all my limited experience with the Corps, one who got his face melted off by a grenade five minutes after I met him and another, some guy named Stinger who just couldn’t take off his shades. He’d walk around all day, and night with them on, not taking them off for the scope, nothing. I don’t know what his adventures were, but I’m pretty sure he’s still alive, working as a merc.

[What were your weapons? What did you have on you?]

Well, for my primary weapons, my main gun, I had my trusty Barrett Colt XM 220. [She hefts it from beside her seat, flipping around her arm into her lap. It is a vicious thing, with a thick, stretching barrel and large, partially clear magazine] Armor piercing lethality to seven thousand meters, with a twenty millimeter ramjet payload. Five round mag, a detachable auto-stabilizing bipod, is completely field-strippable without tools and fully air- and watertight when assembled. Fires these nice Colt RRR projectiles at mach four; the rails propel them to pretty impressive speeds already, and the onboard mini ramjet engines kick in once out of the barrel, adding some extremely impressive speed onto it. Terminal velocity is achieved at five-hundred meters. Not much can survive a hit from that round, it takes cap-ship grade armor to stop that sort of kinetic energy in its tracks.

The scope, up here, has a ten klick zoom range and thermal imaging across the UV and IR bands for limited penetration of target walls and armor.

As more and more snipers switch over to the lighter, higher-capacity plasma rifles, even from the dedicated hardcore L-560 laser rifle crowd, I’m proud to have gotten such a nice gun. [Sarah’s father, High General Sam Grissom, is currently CMO of the Marine Corps, a position he achieved post Second Siege. He was a three star general at the time of the Occupation of Tartarus] It has served me well.

Besides from the XM, I had a small CWS- a neato little combo weapon system, it must’ve had a small three-shot burst nine millimeter barrel, a twenty millimeter grenade launcher/grappler, and this coolest thing of all, an experimental system called the PUG. I think it stood for Pulse something Gun, no one ever remembers what the “u” stands for. Well, I’m not a tech head, but I think I could explain to you how this works: a small, highly radioactive crystal, I believe it begins with a “U”, that’s where the “u” comes from, in suspending in a small tube about the size of a half liter water bottle. Around it is a circular device that emits another sort of radiation- Sorry, I don’t know how to describe it- and which in turn causes the crystal to react and give off a third type of energy, which is funneled out of the tube about the size of a small coin at the end the tube. The blast is only harmful when it hits the air, where an extended magnetic field keeps it from dissipating until it reaches its target - it’s not corrosive to the inside of the gun. Since the only power needed is to “scan” the crystal and emit the radiation, you can get an inordinate amount of shots off each battery.

I must say, it was a pain in the butt to carry all that ammo; but I understand, it was keep it all separate or put it all in a singular omni magazine where you had to use up all the shots of another ammo when all you really needed to change out was the one that you were currently expending.

To top it all off, I had a rather standard mark one mod zero combat knife and a long belt of grenades of a rainbow of types. You name it, I had it. With the exception of singularity, antimatter, deletion, memetic, and nuclear, I was like an armory up in that tree.

People always talk about how long I was up in that tree to take that one shot. To be honest, it was only two days- nothing in sniper time. I’d been moving for three weeks evading the patrols, it was only when I lost them did I get settle down in that tree.

I suppose it was Gar who kept me going all those days. I couldn’t raise anybody on the channels, nothing; the survivors were either totally underground or dead. To know that there was another living human being out there was a great relief. Just to here the voice, and not the endless clicks and “-ahk”’s of the Reps was something to be motivated with.

My food was totally out, that Hooah! bar, to tell the truth, wasn’t that filling. I was starving, but I could easily collect water from the near constant rainfall. At least I didn’t dry of a dry mouth. It bad, but I lived through it.

I think the tensest moment was those few minutes right before the shot. There had been an absolutely gigantic firefight only a half-hour before, with explosions and planes and tanks, the largest battle since the planet’s fall. I didn’t know if the Ark was wiping out the survivors or the survivors were launching a resistance, but it made me damn tense.

Up ahead, in a clear about three klicks away, there was the Ark command HQ. I hadn’t been able to take any shots because of a shield generator that covered the vicinity that undoubtedly had a program analyzing impacts or fluctuations and determining the source of the fire. All I could do was watch helplessly as the Ark commander, who, after a couple days of observation I had determined to hold the high rank of System Master, a rank we now know to be relative to Brigadier General, Rear Admiral, or Minor Marshal in our armed forces.

I had been in greater contact with Gar over the past few days, sharing our findings and observations. She was closer to the enemy encampment than I; I don’t know how she stayed undetected. Unfortunately for her, her chances of being found increased every day we were out there, as the Ark commander gradually kept stepping up the intensity of his ground patrols. So it was no surprise when she contacted me, telling me she was right next to the Headquarters. The problem was, she had been captured. I saw her through my scope, kneeling in front of the Master’s Dropship, the System Master himself holding a plasma pistol to her head.

I could hear his voice over the rustle of the forest, the roar of the far off fires, speaking perfect English, with a slight Titanian accent: “Human Sniper: we know you have hidden yourself out there, your scope probably on us. So, I dare you: shoot, put me down before I do the same to your friend. Save her, if you dare!”

He was baiting me, I knew that. One shot and they’d know my exact location, probably drop a mortar or two on my location. Still, I clenched the pistol grip of my XM tightly, bunching up, even though that was number one thing they teach you not to do in the sniper school. I tried to calm myself, but I saw Gar glance in all directions over the forest, affixed on what she thought was my location, and shake her head.

The Nahktar didn’t see this, but the outcome was all the same. “No answer?” he yelled, his voice cool, evil, malicious. “Fine!” And with that unisyllabic exclamation, he clenched the grip on his pistol, which barked, spraying Gar’s brains over the green grass.

There was a sudden silence as Gar’s body crumpled underneath her, blood pouring from the headless stump of a neck. Calmly, the System Maser holstered his pistol and walked off into his dropship, the hatch closing behind him.

The ship was rising out of the shield, right as Gar’s body exploded, creating a fireball ten meters in every direction and rocking the Master’s d-ship. I barely had time to figure out that Gar must’ve strapped a dead-man’s explosive pack under her armor when I pulled myself out of my shock and reoriented my rifle on the Master’s d-ship, right on the engines, and gloated over the Nahktar’s arrogance before pulling the trigger.

The bullet flashed outward, igniting at two hundred meters and smashing right into the ship’s engines. Smoke began to pour from the hole, the d-ship wobbled, then dived right into the shield covering the clearing right as it exploded, overloading the shields and obliterating everything in the vicinity. The explosion blew into the forest, fire taking up everything within a mile.

I packed up as quick as I could and moved to my fallback position in a deep cavern system ten klicks to the south. I was almost caught by two different patrols, but I managed to evade them and didn’t have to kill a single one.

Little did I know, that my single ramjet bullet had thrown the Ark forces into total chaos, that, combined with the thumping they had gotten from the rebel forces, allowed the fleet time to reorganize their forces and withdraw the survivors remaining on the planet. We got them all out in time, right before reinforcements arrived to quash the resistance. I was given a promotion, despite the fact that my father, before the battle, had given me a direct order to pull out, to retreat with the initial withdrawal. Life can be ironic like that, to tell the truth.

[Senior Captain Sarah Grissom-McDonnell was terminated by a Tyrax aboard the bridge of the Brute Hope during the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity. This has not stopped the rumors of her survival]

Arrowhead
[Minor Marshal Sean Breckinridge, Air Force]

November 30th, 2596
Atlantis Military Academy, Flight School
Sol Asteroid Belt, Post-War


[Minor Marshal Sean “Rapier” Breckinridge lives up to his callsign. Short and wire thin, the fifty-four year old pilot currently teaches Aerial History classes at the Atlantis Fight School, locating in the Sol asteroid belt. With short, white hair and beady blue eyes, Breckinridge flew early on in the war before being promoted to Minor Marshal after the First Siege of New California. It is surprising he does not have nay robotic limbs, as this loss of limb was a very frequent injury amongst pilot during the war. I meet him in the dogfight theatre, a cavernous room armed with hundreds of holoprojectors to show records of the greatest and most noteworthy clashes of the history of aerial combat.]

I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: we got our asses kicked during the first two years of the war. The only, I mean only place that there was some semblance of victories were in the Air Force. Everybody else got overran, they had to change their entire fighting style. Hell, look at the Navy: they had to go from a medium-sized force of medium-sized cruisers, totally standardized, to a few very super dreadnaughts protected by hundreds of small, expendable destroyers. The Marine Corps went from a stand-up, straight-up battle machine to a force of quick sabotage, extraction, and protection. In and out. But us at Air Force, no way. We had it going. We had balance combined with limited specialization. Something the Navy and Corps never managed.

Take the Vt-6, the standard fighter of the forces. Balanced in everything: Weapons? Two medium-range autocannons, a point-defense laser strip and a missile launcher, convertible to a small bomb bay. Armor and Shields? Excellent, can take quite a beating before going down. Speed and Power Generation? Agile and respectable. Sure, it’s no X-2, but it can hold its own. ECM and Sensors? Standard, same for the slipstream driver. Good, dependable machine right there. Had a medium-range.

Then you have the specialization: the F/S-92, from Lockheed Boeing, our stealthed extreme long range recon plane. Light, agile, not too heavily armed or armored, meant to get in and out undetected. Still, I’ve seen some decent Ninety Two pilots unleashed total hell with their onboard missile racks.

There’s the Sukhoi Su-97, sometimes nicknamed, in true Warsie fashion, the “T-Wing.” Now that was a damn fine fighter. Pretty menacing, with a sleek, black fuselage and dual forward swept wings. A smaller set near the engines on the back, mounted on either side of the sensor and ECM package. The main, large set, was set about 3/5 down the plane. I suppose, now that I think of it, the plane, while menacing, was actually simple-shaped. Just a long, square body with two large, round engines mounted side-by-side on the back with the long cockpit and two autocannons mounted right on the nose. What made the plane odd was that fact that it filled both the roles of a bomber and an interceptor. I don’t know how to explain it; you’d think when you cross those two you’d get a regular old multirole plane. But no, it had large, modular bomb bay, four missile tubes, and really fast engines. Quick, precise, surgical bombing strikes. Kinda breaks the mold of the lumbering giant of an easily defeated death-pooper, y’know?

But, kind of like the large gun selection in the Corps, there was some petty corporate jockeying for the next big fighter. For, while the Vt-6 was a decent fighter, it was also aged: it had been in service for almost fifty years, enduring year and year of upgrades and remodels. Now, there were two new planes that finally made it into the final battle two replace the Vee Tee Sixer: the Kuritek BAM and the Froktar-built X-1 Arrowhead Microfighter.

The BAM, it was a change in the standard mold for an ISAF plane: I think the only real standard asset we had on our ships was speed; we needed it. The Ark planes were fast, light, agile, and in huge numbers. We needed the dogfighting skill. The BAM, which I believe stood for Bombing Assault Machine (A pretty lame name if I do say so myself, more of a backronym than anything.), wasn’t that fast, it wasn’t that agile. But it was very heavily armored, shielded, and armed. Why weave your way throughout all your enemy when you could just blow them any with several hundred missiles?

I think that was Kuritek’s mistake, using that as a selling point. It came across to the brass as though the Bam emphasized the ability to press a button over actual skill: a mindset that has prevailed for several hundred years, effectively slowing the autonomization of our forces. Sure, we had AIs, but not walking Terminators [Actually, the Marine Corps did put in a Terminator-like model made by Microsoft termed the ACU, or autonomous combat unit. They were a modest success, usually operating as solo units or as “accessories” to special operations teams, a term the fully aware droids detest]. The Pilots pride themselves on their high standards, their raw skill, more than anything else.

And then there was the Arrowhead. God, I’ve never seen such a fine plane. Beautiful, and only five meters long, I guess that’s where they got the term Microfighter. Extremely agile, heavily armed, shielded, and mounting a slipstream drive, making it the smallest manned craft with faster than light ability. And this thing was fast. I’m not lying when I say that this thing was quite possibly the fastest manned craft in the galaxy [True, the original X-1 Arrowhead was rated for three hundred thousand gee’s of acceleration. The follow-up, the X-2 was rated for just under a million gee’s.]. And expert pilot could weave rings around any sized force. That thing, that beauty, mounted two automatic Spitfire plasma cannons, the most advanced on the market, and a long missile tube, two smaller point defense laser cannons and even a tractor grav beam for close combat situations. It had a stealth system, it had everything. The cutting edge for fighter technology as we knew it.

The problem was, it was too fast, too agile, even for our pilots. The Arrowhead took a god’s touch, because it was about as twitchy as could be. Fineness and pure skill is what was needed; only 0.001% of fighter pilots could ever handle the craft. I think the only place I ever saw a pure Arrowhead squadron was with Colonel Easly’s Raptor’s Rogues. Those guys were the best soldiers, pilots, commandos in the entire Air Force, maybe the entire military. Hell, it must’ve taken some extreme connections to put all those pilots in one squad, but when you’re Jak Easly, that’s Monday.

Neither craft took over for the Vt-6, in the end. The BAM is seeing limited service, mostly in the gigantic, heavy capital ship battles, like those by New Cal and the Spazzer Asteroid Belt. The Arrowhead holds the position of the Holy Grail amongst Pilots, the ultimate achievement. Even with the ten kilometer long Spartan-class dreadnaughts, there’s only bound to be five, at most.

And what about the Ark? To this date, we’ve only encountered two different models: the Juet’lak and the Switchblade. The former is the phonetic pronunciation of the word, straight from the mouth of the Nahk, the second the assigned codename.

The Juet’lak? Simple plane, to tell the truth. A rectangular box, around five meters long, with a single pilot, two tiny wings with some plasma cannons mounted on. Cheap, fast, attacks in swarms. No shields, no armor. In fact, I don’t think the Ark ever mounted Nahktars in as pilots. Usually, since the Ark sucked at artificial intelligence technology, they mounted a lesser species, most commonly a Terina or an Urok. The Juet’lak pilots never displayed much skill, they weren’t meant to. Simple cannon fodder, that’s all they were. A good Human pilot was worth five, maybe ten Juet’laks in a furball.

But then there was the Switchblade. I don’t think anybody in R&D would be crazy enough to think this up. The Switchblade was similar in shape to an Arrowhead, about ten meters long, only while the Arrowhead was stubby, with the points cut off and a fat tail, the Switchblade was sleek, sharp. And sharp it was. The wings, which, unlike the Arrowhead, met at the front in a point, were razor sharp, filed to a single molecule along the edge. What was the use of this, you ask?

The Switchblade literally sliced its opponents it half. To accomplish this, it had no shields, just heavy, heavy armor. It was very fast and agile, almost a match for the Arrowhead itself. The pilot, usually a suicidal Nahktar ace, would line up its enemy on a straight run and run a wing across it, which, when in use, was wrapped in a highly dangerous energy field. The victim could be sliced in half, spinning out of control or exploding outright, which the Switchblade, usually still nearby, would be caught in and survive thanks to it heavy armor.

Only the most suicidal pilots would do runs on our Capital ships. You’d think they were acting as futile kamikazes until they went right into your ship, aiming for the engines, or if, they had a particularly pressing death wish, the reactor. They’d come cutting right out the other side, a bare inch ahead of the tailing explosion. Such was the armor and sharpness of the Switchblade that it could survive cutting through a twenty-kilometer ship from stem to stern without a single scratch.

Obviously, the Switchblades were extremely hard to put down. They could take an amazing amount of punishment, even if you could hit them. They could even out-maneuver a Fire and Forget Quick Air-to-Air Maneuver Missile (FaF-QAAM missile, the premiere anti-fighter missile of the Air Force) with relative ease. This was a job for an X-1 and several nukes.

I would know, as I took three head-on during the Battle of Singularity.

The battle, a gigantic dogfight (the second biggest furball in the war) was named as such because it was waged entirely around the Xeriar Black Hole. An entire wing of Vt-6s (about 140 planes) and a five-man flight of Arrowheads were ambushed by about four hundred Juet’laks and four Switchblades.

I was Demon Three, a Major at the time. Had just been promoted after being the only surviving pilot from the massacre at Artemis. Our squadron was assigned to long-range recon while the Vt-6s moved to rendezvous with the local fleet: We ran into the cloud of fighters first. They had been using the interference from the singularity to mask their approach, as a consequence, we didn’t catch them until they were right on top of us.

Such is a serenade to the Arrowhead that only two of the squad were knocked out from initial barrage. Wilkins had a plasma missile it her at the wing root, punching through the shields and cleaving his plane in half; a large section of steel went right through his head; he was dead pretty much instantly. Saratova had his engines knocked out by a firestorm of plasma, his death would be slow, sucked into the accretion disk of the black hole.

The Vt-6s arrived by then, and the situation went from bad to chaos. Missiles, bullets, and plasma were flying everywhere, pilots were dying left and right. I immediately pulled my X-1 up, relative to the black hole, to escape the dogfight before diving back in with a barrage of pencil-sized micromissiles and rapid-fire plasma cannons. Spinning my plane in a circle, seemingly out of control while “falling” (my momentum was still preserved from the initial burst of the engines), I sprayed plasma in every which direction, my targeting computer overseeing minor adjustment in the in the alignment of the cannons to make sure the bolts only hit Juet’laks. In that initial maneuver, I knocked out thirteen planes, crippled seven others, stopped a Switchblade from lining up the beads on a flightmate.

Pulling my plane back up, I saw the Switchblade line up again and do the dirty deed to my flight lead, slicing his plane in half and exploding out of the detonation, before coming around and bringing its sights onto me, a line of plasma stitching my direction. I hit the underbelly thrusters, pushing my plane back to but still keeping my upwards orientation, before setting the computer on forming a firing solution for the zipping Switchblade.

Quickly, I hit the big red button on his joystick, firing a missile at the enemy pilot. It saw this, and fired his belly thrusters, making his plane go vertical in the relative sense and then hitting the retrothrusters, sending his ship into reverse. Then, firing his bow belly thrusters and his dorsal aft thrusters, he flipped his fighter head-over-tails, reorienting it to face his me. The aggressor missile zoomed by overhead, just as the Switchblade fired his own missile at right at me. It came out high, before doubling back behind me, on my tail, right as the Switchblade, passed me, coming in close for the early kill. He was right underneath the belly of my craft when I fired my own thruster, pushing me up and him away from me.

He still got me though, even if was only a tip of the wing. It cut long and shallow, right across my missile magazine and knocking out all the detonators on my micromissiles in one deft swoop. They could fire and track, the just wouldn’t explode.

He was about hundred kilometers behind me, each of us heading in opposite directions, when his missile scythed in between the pair of us and dropped onto my tail, gaining ground, eating it up as I flipped my own Arrowhead around, spinning it- it was still traveling in the same direction, only the plane was reverse, so my nose was facing the end of his plane and head-on with the missile. I fired a stream of plasma at the closing projectile, which swiftly dodged. Crap, I kept thinking to myself. I didn’t have any EMP or anti-missile missiles, and my point-defense lasers had had their power line cut in the Switchblade slash.

Spinning my X-1 eighty degrees, I headed straight towards the black hole seeing this, the Switchblade flipped over, rocketing after me, just on the tail of his own missile. Acting quickly, I jettisoned a missile before catching it with my tractor beam. Then I jettisoned the tractor beam, catching it on the missile. Finally, I remotely flipped the missile over and sent it blaring in the direction of the chasing missile. The Switchblade’s missile moved to dodge, but the tractor beam, mounted on the missile, caught it just at the tips of its grasp and pulled it with it. There was a sizzle as the enemy missile’s detonator shorted, rendering the missile inoperable like my own, but was still towed along.

I was feeling good, right as my HUD started screaming; a loud, shrill tone that served to alert me to the fact to that two other Switchblades had me in their sights and were jockeying to satisfy their pilots’ ego and be the first to gut me open. They were coming straight at me, head-on, while I had the original Switchblade still closing in from behind, oblivious to his own missile heading towards him. Swearing, I tore my fighter around again and reversed directions, heading away from the pair of new attackers and following the missile pair instead. Feeling that the chase was on, the two bogeys hit their overdrives, boosting after me.

We came together in an intersection of metal and fire. The first Switchblade, seeing his own missile was heading straight for him, panicked and juked left, which brought the missile pair away. Instead of hitting him in the cockpit, the missiles sliced across his wing, sparking the onboard explosives and fuel. I pulled my Arrowhead up hard right as the two Switchblades, going to fast to pull out, careened right into the doomed Switchblade, desperately turning and trying to fire their thrusters but still maintaining their forward momentum. They crashed into the Switchblade right as the two missiles went off, the concussion burning through the cockpit in the first Switchblade and hitting the reactor, blowing the pilot to his paradise and taking the two other jockeys with him.

The blazes of the blast licked my heels as I executed a wide loop, pulling up right behind the explosion and flying right through it.

I had twelve hours of mop-up work to look forward to after that. We had won that engagement, one the few victories in the first few years of the war. Unfortunately for my ego, the fourth and final Switchblade had escaped, jumped away when the battle had gotten too heavy.

At least, we supposed, he had escaped: he could have been sucked into the black hole. In all, we lost twenty-seven pilots to the black hole, and the singularity ate untold numbers of the light Juet’laks, sucking them into its maw.

The Singularity Furball had done one thing, though: it had given us hope. For a few months, we fighter pilots, even those who weren’t present at the dogfight, we looked upon as gods, we raised morale anywhere we went, and we kept people fighting even after the cause seemed hopeless.

People need hope, I must say. Even if it comes at a price. But, then again- what price are we going to be willing to pay to receive it?
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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