Lihana-Habu system, Lagrange point 4, 2 light seconds from both Lihana and Habu.
Shoiwei 8th fleet corvette, hull number 85, the WCS Mortis, primary engines shut down.
Belle makes her way onto the small spacecraft’s bridge, with her albino hair braided and tied. She sports a tan, Terran Mediterranean skin color, dressed up in a wrinkled, standard Shouwei uniform, black and gold and once proud. Her eyes meet those of the bridge’s crew, six of them, two of Alliance origin like her, the rest Taianese, a melting pot of Terran races and failed animal augmentations. The crew sit in a semicircle at their computer terminals, all staring at the center hologram table of the bridge.
Ryo, Asian in descent, gunner, has his feline tail curled up intensely, rested on his thighs.
Ira, Egyptian, communications officer, watches with her hands clasped at her mouth.
Donatello, European, pilot, resorted to slamming his eyes shut and massaging his nose bridge.
Li, missile technician, can only look on with her dog ears folded back.
Shumi, medical advisor, scratches at the fur on her back hand nervously.
Only Joku, the second-in-command, notices Belle arriving at the bridge. His filed claws dig into his armrests, making a small screeching sound in the otherwise dead silent room. “Your orders, captain.” He grinds his teeth.
No order comes. Belle can only watch with the rest of her crew as the Dove class surveyors in Lihana’s orbit capture static-riddled footage of Sisia, home to two million souls, pummeled by a mix of laser blasts and kinetic bombardment by the Spear of Aezimon forces. Screaming and crying amidst flames, the floating city sinks beneath the Venusian planet’s cloud-tops into the hell below.
Alas, after a painfully silent twenty minutes, with the surveyors themselves destroyed, the hologram going blank, Belle supports herself with one hand pushing along the table as she stumbles into the captain’s seat. With her right leg atop the other, she brings her head down to be supported by her right arm, her hand now nursing a splitting headache.
“Vengeance.” She mutters as she closes her eyes.
Belle opens her eyes and speaks louder, firmer. “We go and tear those moon-frackers a new one.”
The crew nods and go back to their consoles. Li gets up from her seat. “I’ll go see if I can help Rel’ye get things back online faster. I’m no use here if we’re dead in the water anyways.”
“Go ahead.” Belle then turns to Ira. “How much longer till we get in contact with command?”
The comms officer shakes her head as she continues typing away furiously. “FTL is down for good, but I can try sending decoy packages to confuse the moon-frackers’ hackers. We should be able to talk to the Claire by then.”
The captain sighs. “Alright, that’ll do.” She pulls up the hologram to review the footage of Sisia’s fall. The WCS Claire… flagship of the Shouwei 8th fleet, in all its proud black and gold and poor-ass glory, captained by an Admiral who’d rather be the Empress herself rather than serve her. Belle silently groans at the thought of having to talk to her again, before bringing her focus back to studying the Spear of Aezimon’s newest war crime.
Lihana-Habu system, upper atmosphere.
Ryo wakes up to the angry chirping of his alarm system, followed by the gentle shake of the ground beneath him. Slightly annoyed, he yawns and opens his eyes, then gently tapping on his cryo-pod seal, causing it to open. Like the rest of the inner system colonists, Ryo uses an all in one cryo-pod for sleeping, waste extraction, virtual reality, and emergency biological shutdown. It was, and still is, fairly awkward to crap and pee in the bed, but space is at a premium in the colonies, especially since they only had a decade or so before coming into these far out systems to prepare, and only a year to actually build here.
“早安(Zao an), sis.” Ryo mutters as he steps out of the cryo-pod and pushes his body into his bio-suit like a hand into a glove, stumbling somewhat in the pitch-black darkness of the room.
“Good morning.” Li follows suit. The brother waits until Li remarks, “I’m ready,” before feeling for a switch on the wall, turning it off, causing the solar-panel blinds to roll up, allowing the harsh solar light to flood through two of the four walls. The room is barely large enough to lay six of the cryo-pods on the ground. On one wall mounts the siblings’ data pads, along with a flat closet for storing clothes and small, personnel items. One the other wall are two brilliantly black and gold uniforms in pristine condition, next to them of a poster depicting a pretty-faced, brown haired lady with her hands at her hip, looking up proudly at a fleet of fish-like Shouwei ships. “Join us; complete your duty.” Is spelled out at the bottom, in both Alliance English and Taianese Chinese.
Li takes the larger of the two uniforms, then looks at Ryo. “Today’s the day.” Her canine ears perk up and dance side-to-side.
“Yeah, it really is.” Ryo buttons up his own uniform, his feline tail brought into a U-shape, gently swaying.
The two make their way down five flights of stairs in their housing complex, greeting friends passing by as the two chow down on dense nutrient bars with slices of fish meat sandwiched between carbohydrate mesh with vitamin pellets mixed in. Approaching the exit, Ryo and Li simultaneously put on thin, completely clear plastic helmets connected to portable oxygen tanks before stepping out into the open, exposing themselves to Lihana’s sulfuric acid atmosphere. It really wasn’t all that bad; Lihana’s upper atmosphere had enough natural radiation shielding to all the colonists to do away with more complex suits, and the acidic air itself wasn’t enough to kill anyone instantaneously, and was quite easy to combat with the resistant bio-suits, which were already a part of Ryo and Li’s life anyways as space-farers.
The entirety of Sisia’s ground level buildings, its apartments, greenhouses, offices, and common centers stand beneath a great geodesic dome, an engineering marvel composed of aluminum glass panels and supported by interlocking, carbon nanotube trusses. With the city sealed, the dome maintains a lower pressure inside compared to the outside, allowing all of Sisia to float above the cloud tops. Beyond the domes are additional light receivers, besides the ever-prevalent solar arrays mounted on the building walls and their window shutters, taking energy collected by the solar fields in orbit to not only power Sisia’s industries, but also to continue the monstrous task of maintaining the city’s internal pressure, as leaks sporadically occur at weak spots in the dome walls.
Ryo and Li continue their way along the pedestrian roads that are more like canyon passes underneath the sprawling towers, Alarie’s light trickling down to the surface. Where there isn’t walkway there are ponds of acidic water, filled with plants bioengineered to be resistant to the otherwise-fatal solution. It’s a relatively ancient technique, developed on Venus back in the Sol system precisely for the same purpose, yet it hasn’t lost its practicality. Funny, they first come from Sol to this sector, settle in the Tai Pan Empire, then exile themselves to this remote system only loosely connected to the greater Wangdiao Colonies. Home, where is it now?
Li is the first to spot their Alliance friend sitting at a bench along the pathway, busying himself with a novel on his data pad. “Hey Donnie,” She walks up quietly and gently taps him on the shoulder, then smiles. “Always lost in your books.” The older man looks up, then smiles back, “I suppose so,” proceeding to stand up and lightly hug Li, then walks up to Ryo and does the same thing. Years ago, the Taianese siblings would’ve been staring daggers at the Alliance nobody, but all of them have been hard at work building this new home, at first sharing only a common cause, then mutual respect for each other’s work ethic, and finally friendship. It is this friendship that has led them to their first military assignment together.
“Will Marie be alright raising Jason alone?” Ryo asks.
“Of course.” Donatello replies, leading the two siblings down a flight of stairs to the basement floors. He taps open an airlock, after which the three take off their oxygen helmets. “She’s pretty tough; hardly flinched through labor. Still can’t believe I’m a father now.”
Ryo nods. Jason is one of the first children born in the Alarie system and the Wangdiao colonies as a whole. The cycle of generations occurring here will further cement their independent status, from both Tai Pan and the Alliance.
They make their way downstairs through one of many upside-down towers hanging from the bottom of Sisia’s platform. Here on the bottom half of the Sisia, draped in perpetual shade, are its air and space ports and the mineral and gas refineries. Sulfuric acid is drawn directly from the surrounding atmosphere, converted into hydrogen for fusion, oxygen for breathing, and water for a wide variety of applications. Carbon dioxide is likewise sucked in, the carbon taken out for construction and biomass. Rocks and ore are carried up from a carbon nanotube tether anchored to the hellish surface of Lihana, broken down into iron and titanium and lithium for all the high-tech needs.
The trio board a small, winged shuttle, designed to carry passengers and cargo to and from orbit. “Captain Belle will meet us in orbit of Habu. Seatbelts.” Donatello winks as they get into their cushioned seats.
As Ryo feels the g-forces pushing on his body as they leave Lihana’s gravity well, he looks through the window, back at Sisia, forever growing smaller from view as it strides along the cloud tops. “Things are going to be just fine,” he remarks to himself. But as his now-home disappears from view, the man can’t help but feel a small despair that this home he, his sister, and his friend helped so carefully build will be reduced to the mercy of the wings like a popped balloon.
Lihana-Habu system, Lagrange point 4, 2 light seconds from both Lihana and Habu.
Shoiwei 8th fleet corvette, hull number 85, the WCS Mortis, primary engines operational.
3 hours after the fall of Sisia.
Belle and the rest of her crew have activated their maglocks to stay on the floor of the bridge as the Mortis’ engines roar furiously, sending vibrations throughout the ship. None of the power generated has been put into thrust, or even maintaining basic artificial gravity within the hulls. Instead, all of it has been diverted to creating a tight communication beam with the WCS Claire as the SoA forces continue to blast the Lihana system with jamming signals. The energy put into it is enough to burn through the hull of a ship within a kilometer’s range. With the lights heavily dimmed one the bridge, a small, green LED brightly glows on one side of the center command console, a telltale sign of, alas, a steady communication line with the Shouwei’s flagship.
“Kkkshh… this is the WCS Claire, requesting security codes for recognition…” As the static dies down, a voice comes through the speakers. Belle nods to Ira the comms officer, who takes out her data pad and announces, “Gamma theta theta, echo lambda mu, lambda lambda iota.” There’s a two second pause, then another five seconds, then finally two more seconds before an older, female voice rises. With FTL communications down, the time lag of messages, even within the system itself, has become noticeable.
“WCS Mortis, this is Admiral Theresa St. John. Captain Belle Lacon, is that you? I’ll spare you what’s left of pleasantries. As of this moment, the Iron Heart naval shipyard is under attack, and we’re moving in to assist. It’s been reported that the WCS Cynthia has been destroyed before she could get out of dock. The Lance has been surrounded defending what’s left of the Habu cities.”
The crew of the Mortis look around through the non-existent windows of the bridge. Out there, more than half a million kilometers out, of the three battle cruisers of the Shouwei 8th fleet, one already perished, one is taking its last stand, and the last one is scrambling to get into position.
The Admiral continues, “I’m sure you’ve heard the news at this point. That Sisia has fallen. We’re helping with those who managed to evacuate, but there aren’t many.” Donatello turns around and looks at the wall, hiding tears. Ryo and Li go to comfort him. Right… Belle thinks to herself. He had a family there.
“This atrocity will not go unavenged. Survivor accounts recall monsters tearing through the security and disabling the city’s redundant safety systems.” The captain’s eyes widen. That’s bio-weaponry, which means…
“… This can mean only one thing, captain. Our previous suspensions of the Heise’s illegal biological research on Ak-Hal-Ta are confirmed, and that they’re using this surprise attack to test their results.” Ak-Hal-Ta, the largest asteroid in the Heeban fields of Aezimon’s orbit. The Shouwei has long requested access to the station located underneath the rock’s surface, but the SoA have continuously pushed back, citing the act as the Shouwei overreaching their jurisdiction boundaries.
“The rest of the 8th fleet has its hands tied in defending the system. Your vessel is in the best position to stop the bioweapon production and divert the Aezimon fleet. Return a orbital trajectory plan and I’ll approve it and send you on your way.” There it is. A suicide mission.
Belle folds her arms as the rest of her crew start arguing. “A single corvette? Seriously?” Ryo protests. His sister retorts. “We do have anti-matter warheads onboard.” She shrugs. “We could always go out with a bang.” “If we can even get there.” Joku brings a finger to his beard, his claw scratching at the hair. “They’ll see us coming.” As the captain listens to her crew, she spots Donatello quietly tapping on his data pad. His eyes are red after the crying, but there’s something else there… a ferocity.
“Donnie, what do you have in mind?” She raises her voice, leading to the rest of the Mortis to look at the pilot. In response, he raises his data pad, showing its display. On it is portrayed the orbit of a comet, wrapping around Lihana and going through the Heesan fields. “Kharon-Xi. We can hide behind its radar shadow, or take its signature for our own, whatever you decide, captain. It’ll get us close to Ak-Hal-Ta before they can react.” Donatello starts shaking slightly, his freehand gripping his chair. “Let’s go tear those moon frackers a new a-hole.”
There’s a silence in the room. Then, Belle nods. “We’ll hide behind it. Doubt the ship will be able to maintain a false identity. Give me orbital trajectories to the comet, then to Ak-Hal-Ta.”
She then turns to the command console, announcing into the microphone. “Admiral, I’m sending you our plan of attack now.” After a minute, a message returns. “Your plan has been approved, captain. Good luck, Mortis. Claire signing off.”
Without a word, the crew of the Mortis go to their stations. The lights in the bridge brighten, artificial gravity returns, and the central command console lights up with a hologram, showing the Mortis’ current position at the Lagrange point, its parabolic trajectory towards the comet Kharon-Xi, and the predicted insertion into Ak-Hal-Ta’s orbit. At a hundredth of the speed of light, it’ll take the crew two days to reach their destination.
The floor and walls hum around Belle as the corvette accelerates forward. Joku turns his seat towards her. “How do we know this is going to work? We could be walking into an entire flotilla of gunships.” Belle shakes her head. “Judging by the size of this invasion fleet, the moon-frackers don’t have a lot back home. They have all their eggs in one basket as we have, except they have the advantage of throwing the first punch.” That was an understatement. If they were still using the analogy of eggs, the SoA managed to send half of the Shouwei’s eggs flying. She then turns towards Donatello. “Donnie, what do you know about the Kharon-Xi?”
“It seems to be a dirty ice ball like the rest of them, captain. We were going to send a mining vessel to grab all the water on it, but, you know… this all happened.”
Belle nods, then pulls up what images they have of the comet in their data bank. “Hopefully it’ll be least surprising of everything that has happened in the last few months…”