Flag in Exile–Snippet

11 May

Chapter One

“Are you sure that this ship can stand up to the Trolls?”

Captain Janine Herald swallowed the response that came to mind, although she couldn’t blame the politician for worrying. The average person didn’t know just how close the UN was to defeat, but anyone with half-decent sources in the military would have a good idea of how badly the UNNS had had its ass kicked in the last eighteen months. Thousands of ships had been lost and millions of personnel had given their lives to slow down the Trolls ever since the first battle over New Marseilles. And yet the Trolls were still advancing on Earth.

“Yes,” she said, dropping into the lecture she’d given almost every day since Phoenix had arrived in Earth orbit. “Phoenix carries a standard antimatter cannon that is superior to anything the Trolls have shown us, as well as a multitude of primary force beams and pulse cannons. Her disruptor shields are enhanced and each of her fusion plants are capable of meeting the ship’s power requirements on their own. We should be able to hold our own against a Troll cruiser.”

Memories flitted through her mind as she watched the politician examining the briefing notes, those few that the UNNS had declassified for their eyes. The first Troll ships, appearing out of nowhere and attacking without provocation, mighty force beams tearing human ships apart as though they were made of paper. Her own desperate fight to get the ship – the ship she’d inherited after her commanding officer was killed – out of the fight before the Trolls blew them apart. Dark teardrop ships, advancing remorselessly through space and firing on undefended planets. No one knew how many civilians had died in the war, but it seemed likely that the Trolls were more interested in genocide than slaves. They’d bombarded human settlements on a hundred worlds.

She shook her head as she caught sight of her own reflection in the status board. Her eyes looked haunted, particularly when compared to her flaming red hair, cropped short in accordance with military regulations. It was a look shared by many others who encountered the Trolls and lived to tell the tale, the grim awareness that for all the valour demonstrated by the UNNS and the various self-defence forces of colony worlds they were still losing. Humanity was on the brink of slavery – or destruction.

“But it will take time to produce more cruisers like Phoenix,” William Lehman pointed out. He was from Mars, the representative to the UN Assembly from the red planet. Mars had already been hit twice by the Trolls, one attack leaving the famed orbital shipyards in ruins and the other depopulating Lowell City. “Do we have enough time to build them?”

“We have to hope that we do,” Janine said, feeling a touch of genuine admiration. Most politicians would be demanding immediate gratification, which was what they’d been doing throughout the war. She didn’t share the opinion of some of her fellow officers that First Admiral Ivanovo suicide was the Security Council’s attempt to cover up its own blunders by murdering the man who had advised them, but civil-military relationships were rapidly becoming poisonous. The series of political representatives on UNNS ships was proof that the civilians no longer trusted their military. “A few of these ships and we would be able to give the Trolls a bloody nose.”

But there was only one Phoenix and there wouldn’t be another for several months. Area 51, the UN’s top secret research station, had managed to duplicate some of the alien technology, but what reports Janine had been permitted to see suggested that they didn’t fully understand what they were doing. The Trolls had technology that was at least fifty years ahead of the best that humanity could produce.

“I hope you’re right,” Lehman said. He would have had access to top secret briefings. He’d know just how dire the situation had become. “I think that…”

The entire starship rocked violently, like a boat that had been hit with a sudden tidal wave. Janine caught her hand on the console as the alarms started to sound, indicating that the starship was under attack. But they were in Earth orbit, with nearly a thousand military ships and a network of orbital fortifications. Even the Trolls would hesitate to take on such a force, wouldn’t they?

She tapped her communicator as the ship rocked again. “Report,” she barked. “What’s happening.”

“Captain,” her XO said, “we have multiple hostile contacts coming out of flux space right on top of us. Earth is under attack!”

Phoenix shook again as gravity waves pounded her hull. The Trolls had come up with a more precise version of the flux drive than anything the human race had invented, giving them a degree of tactical flexibility that every human admiral envied. If they were jumping right into Earth orbit, they’d be able to open fire before the defenders even realised that they were under attack.

“I have to get to the bridge,” she snapped. Lehman nodded, looking confused – and terrified. He didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do. “Stay here and don’t touch anything!”

Her crew was still running to battle stations as she ran through the ship’s corridors and into the bridge. Phoenix had had only just started to carry out the series of drills that should have turned her crew into a finely honed machine; she’d hoped for several months to iron out the kinks before taking her ship into battle. The UNNS had shuffled a great many crewmembers about in the hopes of making up the losses after the disastrous battles of Retribution II and Avalon. Crewmen and women who should still have been at the Academy had been rushed forward, commissioned in haste and sent out to serve on the front lines. Few of them had returned from their first encounters with the enemy.

“Captain on the bridge,” Commander Michael Swami, her XO, said. She barely knew him; the UN had pulled her previous XO out of her ship and given him command of a battlecruiser two weeks ago. “Captain?”

“Prepare for operations,” Janine ordered, harshly. They should have spent more time drilling, and drilling, and drilling…until they could bring their ship to battle stations in their sleep. A quick glance at the status board showed that half of the ship’s stations hadn’t reported in yet. “Get me a sit-rep, now!”

“On the main screen,” Swami said, as her ship started to come to life. “The system is under attack.”

Janine looked at the display and saw disaster unfolding. Thousands of Troll starships had jumped into Earth orbit and opened fire, engaging the defenders with their terrifying beam weapons and ripping them apart. Report after report of destroyed starships flashed across the display, each one once the pride of humanity. A battleship died after ramming a Troll starship directly; a pair of destroyers held off an enemy ship long enough for a civilian liner to escape into flux space. But humanity was badly outnumbered – and losing.

They hadn’t come after Phoenix directly, Janine realised. The cruiser was docked at the L4 shipyard, where she’d been shown off to the politicians. It was quite possible that they’d assumed that she was being repaired and dismissed her as useless, a ship that could be ignored until the active fleet was destroyed. Green icons winked out of existence on the display, each one another starship destroyed by the enemy. Janine could almost hear their crews crying out in rage as the Trolls blew their ships apart.

“Orbit Four is taking heavy fire,” the tactical officer reported. Orbit Four, the oldest space station in orbit around Earth. It hadn’t been designed for modern warfare, even though its defences had been enhanced in the eighteen months since the war had begun. Janine watched helplessly as the Troll beams blew right through the station and started a chain reaction that ripped the structure apart. “Orbit Four has been destroyed.”

“All systems online,” her XO reported. It had taken too long. The Trolls could have killed them instantly if they’d decided to destroy the ship before she could power up. “Captain?”

“Disengage from the docking clamps and then prepare to take us towards Earth,” Janine ordered, sharply. Humanity was bleeding the Trolls, but it wasn’t enough. They were cutting down the remaining defenders with brutal efficiency. “Bring the main weapons system online and stand by to engage.”

No one – no one human, at least – had tested the antimatter cannon in action. Janine had been impressed by the reports of the cannon’s destructive ability – superior to the devices invented by the Trolls, according to some of the scientists – but there was no way to know how it would perform against the Trolls. They’d introduced humanity to a whole series of energy weapons that outperformed the missiles human starships used as their primary armament. Surely they would have some defence against their own technology.

Phoenix quivered as she undocked and twisted in space, bringing her prow around to bear on Earth. It was all happening maddeningly slowly…and hundreds of human ships were dying every minute. Janine listened with half an ear to their broadcasts as they slipped into open radio transmissions, a clear sign that the orbital command and control network had been destroyed. The UNNS’s final battle was also likely to be its shortest. And with the number of ships from the various self-defence navies in the Sol System, it was quite possible that humanity would never be able to muster another united fleet.

“This is Dover…taken heavy hits to starboard; damage to all decks…”

Mao reports attempting to ram a Troll ship…”

Rio Grande signalling loss of all fusion reactors; Trolls reengaging…

“All hands, abandon ship! I say again; all hands, abandon ship!”

“Admiral Zhou has been killed. Identify current senior officer; I say again, identify current senior officer!”

“Holy Mary, they’re everywhere! They’re everywhere…”

“145th Starfighter Wing engaging the enemy…”

“The Angry Angels have been taken out; Wild Cards, move up and attempt to push the enemy back. We have to win time for Earth…”

“This is Captain Jones on Renegade. I am taking command of the fleet. I say again, I am taking command…”

Renegade has been destroyed. The bastards are targeting our commanders!”

“Not one of them gets past us, do you hear me? Not one of them gets past us!”

Janine stared at the display and felt utter despair. The UNNS was fighting bravely, but it was futile. Phoenix couldn’t get to the battle in time to help, not with her half-trained crew unprepared for major combat operations. There should have been more time to prepare…she cursed her own oversight, even though she’d been ordered to show the politicians that Earth still had a chance to resist the enemy. And what a joke that had turned out to be.

“Captain,” the tactical officer said, grimly, “I am picking up four enemy ships advancing towards us.”

Janine gritted her teeth. Every instinct in her body demanded that she open fire, ripping the aliens apart with weapons humanity had stolen from them. But she knew that it would be futile. They might kill one alien ship, perhaps two…and then the remainder would blow Janine’s command into space dust. Humanity’s last hope would be gone.

“That’s confirmed; they just hit Tokyo. Tokyo has been destroyed!”

Sideburn just rammed one of the fuckers; they both died!”

“This is the United Nations General Assembly addressing the alien fleet. We surrender; we say again, we surrender!”

Broadcast has been crippled; her crew is abandoning ship…”

Janine shook her head. She had fought in the first battle of the war, seen friends and comrades die before they realised that they were fighting an enemy who didn’t play by the rules humanity had painstakingly learned since the Traders had first sold humanity the keys to the stars. Whatever else happened, she didn’t intend to give up the fight. Those weasels in the UN might feel that if they crawled on their bellies before the Trolls they’d get to keep their lives, but she knew better. The Trolls had murdered millions of human civilians whose only crime had been living on worlds the Trolls wanted for themselves.

“Bring up the flux drive,” she ordered. Jumping out without taking the time to run calculations was dangerous, sometimes lethal, but direct combat with the alien ships definitely would be lethal. “Start power-up sequence, now!”

“Enemy ships in firing range in two minutes,” the tactical officer reported. Humanity’s only advantage was in firing range, and it was a paltry advantage when the Trolls could simply swat human missiles out of space. “Should we engage with missiles?”

“Negative,” Janine ordered. They couldn’t hurt the Trolls without using the advanced weapons – and that would show the Trolls what they’d invented. “Jump us out of here as soon as the flux drive is powered up.”

“Captain,” the XO said, “I must remind you that regulations clearly state…”

“You want to stay here and die?” Janine demanded. He was right, technically. The UNNS did have strict regulations on blind jumps; they advised all starship crews to avoid them where possible. But the alternative was being blown apart by the Trolls. “Get the drive online, now!”

Phoenix shook again as more Troll starships jumped into Earth orbit, gravity waves announcing their arrival. The remainder of the UNNS was fighting, but the odds had grown even worse. A handful of civilian ships, pressed into military service, jumped out, hoping for safety somewhere – anywhere – else. Janine had at least one destination in mind, yet where could the civilians go? The RockRats? But the RockRats had been targeted by the Trolls too.

“Alien craft are locking weapons on our hull,” the tactical officer reported.

“Flux drive is on line,” the helmswoman snapped. “Captain?”

Janine braced herself for the jump. “Get us out of here!”

The flux drive activated and she heard the hull screeching in protest, just before the universe went dark around her and she crashed down to the deck.

***

“Get that goddamned door closed!”

“I’m trying, mum,” Luke Ferguson yelled back. Their freighter was docked at orbit five, where they had been supposed to have been taking on war material for the outer colonies. Instead, hundreds of people seemed to be trying to cram themselves into Wanderer’s cargo hold, even though they’d push the light support well past capacity. He lifted his voice as he tried to yell at the would-be passengers. “You have to get away from the door!”

He was sixteen years old. They probably wouldn’t have listened to him even if he had been a clear adult. The panic in their eyes made it clear that they just wanted safety, whatever the cost – and whatever they had to do to get it. He saw a man, big and nasty enough to be a military officer, pushing a young girl aside to get through the hatch and into the ship. Luke shuddered as soon as he saw him, silently grateful that there was no way the intruder could get onto the bridge. Why was such a man not at war?

The ship seemed to shudder again as Troll weapons bit into Orbit Fire. They seemed to be ignoring Wanderer for the moment, although that would change the moment they realised that she was trying to escape. Orbit Five was massive, built from the remains of one of the first asteroids towed into Earth orbit, but she couldn’t stand up to the Trolls for long.

“Do it now, damn it,” his mother – the ship’s commander – ordered. “We can’t stay here!”

Luke closed his eyes and hit the control. The hatch slid closed remorselessly, slashing through the flesh and bone of anyone caught between the two sides. He heard screaming from those lucky enough to have only lost an arm or a leg, unable to quite believe what had happened to them. Luke had grown up in space and had learned, rapidly, that space was never safe, but he’d never killed or mutilated anyone before. But then, he’d never been in a war zone before either.

His hands danced over the controls, undocking the freighter from Orbit Five. It should have been a smooth process, but the system seemed to have taken some damage – or there were people still trapped in the airlock who would die when Wanderer left the space station. It would have been a sensible precaution, but this time it would get them all killed.

“I can’t get us free,” he yelled, hoping that one of his mothers would know what to do. The standard override wasn’t working. “They’re not letting us go.”

“We’re going to have to jump out,” his other mother said. They were too close to Earth’s gravity well, except it was clear that the Trolls would destroy them if they started to try to make it to high orbit. A jump so close to Earth would be safer than facing the Trolls in a barely-armed freighter. “Stand by…”

Luke looked over at the refugees and shivered. It didn’t look like any of them knew anything about space travel; they’d probably never been further than Luna or Mars. The Luna Free Port had a reputation so interesting that his parents had forbidden him from going until he was at least twenty-one.

“Everyone get down on the deck and cover your ears,” he shouted. He could barely be heard over the sound of crying children and people having hysterics. A blind jump was always unpleasant. This one would be worse; they’d bring part of the station with them. “Cover your ears and…”

The universe darkened around them, as if it was preparing to sneeze, and then the entire starship rocked badly. For a horrified moment, he was sure that they were all dead…and then he felt the ship come out of flux space. They were alive, for the moment.

But where were they?

And what had happened to Earth?

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6 Responses to “Flag in Exile–Snippet”

  1. ppaulshoward May 11, 2012 at 3:26 am #

    “This is the story of the last Earth cruiser Phoenix leading a rag-tag fleet to safety”. [Wink]

    Good start. [Smile]

    • chrishanger May 11, 2012 at 3:53 am #

      LOL – I was thinking more of building up a fleet to strike back, eventually. Adama never seemed to think of rebuilding, even when the Pegasus turned up.

      Chris

      • ppaulshoward May 11, 2012 at 4:26 am #

        Yep, I know your plans but I “just had to say that”. [Wink]

        Of course, poor Adama never could lose the Cylons long enough to think about building new ships. [Wink]

  2. The Deposed King May 11, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Sure he did. When they got to the planet at the end of season three. Of course he utterly squandered their star fighter production capability during that period.

    i’m not sure if this felt too abrupt jumping into the story like this or not. But its definitely got potential. Lots of potential.

    The Deposed King

  3. Allen Choate May 12, 2015 at 4:31 am #

    Great start to this second story!!!!!! Have you been able to finish it?

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