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2014-07-22 01:15:38
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FTL: JUGGERNAUT

Chance Hensley
July 21, 2014





As we jumped into the home system, my stomach knotted. I could see the main station, surrounded by rebel ships, like a noose, tightening around everything we stood for.

We were late. My crew mates and I let out a collective gasp at the sight. Tiny, the enormous Rockman, broke his usual silence, catching everyone off guard with his gravelly voice. "The Flag ship, we must find it."

The rockmen were huge creatures. Their outer shell, akin to a humans skin, but much thicker was made almost entirely of rock. Believing honor above all else with personal strength a close second, they made great soldiers, and were often used as boarding parties, and were the first in the fight when their ship was boarded.

His words propelled us all to action. I quickly shut down all peripheral systems, hoping to keep us from being detected while we searched. Tiny turned and lumbered from the room, undoubtedly returning to the Weapons System Bay to prepare for what was bound to be a hectic few hours. The lone Engi crew member, Zelo turned to the sensor array and began searching for the signature of the SS Zeromus, the Federation flagship and mobile Headquarters in times of duress. Another Rockman crew member, Gray, followed Tiny from the room. Gray was half the size of Tiny, but was absolutely vicious when it came to hand to hand combat. She would likely be going to her station, just outside the ships hatches, ready to repel any would be boarders. The last person, His Excellency Peridus The Third, as he insisted on being called, became totally still. In this state he barely took breaths, and could not be disturbed. Perry, as we all secretly called him, was a slug with immense telepathic abilities.

Slugs were another odd creature. They were basically a giant version of an earth slug, but they were intelligent and nearly every member of their race had telepathic abilities. Often, they used these abilities to swindle people of their money, to quietly gather intel, or to foresee coming attacks.

After a short span of time, Zelo turned to me and whispered, "Zeromus found. Location, Sector OE, lat 32 long 184 lay 70. Currently engaged with Rebel Ship Juggernaut." Being an Engi, this speech was normal and at times like this the no nonsense factual delivery was actually quite calming. This time however, Zelo's words ran a chill up my spine.

The Engi were a strange race. Not quite human, not quite machine, they were something in between. They could take any shape, but preferred to maintain a humanoid appearance around other races. Millions of tiny nano machines comprised their bodies, though they still required oxygen to breathe. Master mechanics and Engineers all, there was nearly always at least one Engi crew member aboard any ship.

I pondered our options for a time. We could have tried to use minimal propulsion to avoid detection, but it would have taken us the better part of an hour to reach them that way. On the other hand, if we tried a full out sprint every ship in the system, friendly and hostile, would have detected us almost instantly. Ultimately it didn't matter, becuase as I sat and mulled we were hailed on the ship to ship radio by a group of defense force ships.

"Kestral class ship, this is a federation light defense force. We have no ship record for you. Reply or be shot down. You have one minute." An idea struck me instantly.

"Defense force. This is the Light Cruiser Kestral Class Avalon, under direct command of General Alket himself. Ship ID 25003. We have intel for Alket's eyes only.' I waited as the captain of the ship confirmed our identification, then continued after the all clear. "Captain, we need your help. We want to make a run for the Zeromus, but we lack sufficient arms to repel all attacks en route. Requesting an escort for a Type S high priority mission." Behind me Perry returned to an aware state.

The radio was silent for a long minute. The other captain was no doubt discussing my idea with the captains of the other ships in the battle group. "Avalon. We have one battle class cruiser, three scout class cruisers, and two skirmish class light cruisers. We are at your command."

I grinned broadly then turned on the ship wide comms. "Power up shields, weapons, and have FTL jump on standby." Zelo stood and went to his post in the engine room, where he monitered the engines power levels and the FTL systems. Seconds later, a hum started and a slight vibration ran the length of the ship. That was the shields charging up, ready to deflect any lasers blasts aimed toward us. Next came the clanks of the weapons bay doors opening, freeing our firepower, two hell class missile launchers, a gatling laser, and two ion cannons.

The Avalon was funded completely by the federation and there fore was one of the most effective light cruiser in the fleet. Its weapons were capable of taking out much larger ships, having the ability to shut down vital systems with the ion lasers, pierce ship's hulls with the hell missiles, and destroy weapons and start fires with the gatling lasers. It was a formidable ship indeed.

With the ship ready, i used the light thrusters to turn the ship onto a direct course with the Zeromus. "Battle group, javelin formation, battle cruiser at the head." The ships maneuvered into position as the nearer rebel ships began turning their attention on us. They knew we were here.

I cracked my knuckles, cracked my neck, then said a quick prayer. It was time.

"FULL FORWARD! Tiny, conserve ammo. Fire at danger targets only. Perry, get on the sensors and help him mark targets. Zelo, keep the engines on high as long as possible, we're on a tight schedule. Gray, help where needed." The ship rocketed across the sector, my hands flying across the controls. The ship dodged and rolled at my whim as missiles and lasers we couldn't physically see or hear ripped by.

"Contact right!" The captain of the battle cruiser veered hard right, bringing itself between the Avalon and the enemy ship. It's shields absorbed a barrage of laser fire that likely would have shredded our own. Quickly, a missile salvo was launched from the battle cruiser, leaving nothing but salvage where there had once been a ship.

Perry spoke beside me, "ETA ten minutes." Outside the ship, one of the skirmish class cruisers took a direct hit. The Avalon surged forward momentarily, pushed by the force of its explosion. "Engine critical, failure in approximately four minutes. FTL systems off-line." Zelo's voice came across the radio, as calm as ever. "Reroute excess power to shields, maintain speed." I ordered calmly. If we didn't take another hit we would make it.

"ETA six minutes. Sir, if we cut the engines, and all power, we could coast the rest of the way." Immediately I saw what he was getting at. If we could cut enough power to stay off sensors, the battle group could peel away, and we could coast the rest of the way nearly invisible. "Zelo, you heard him do it, on my mark."

I switched the coms to the battle group. "Battle group thanks for the escort, but we have a different plan now. Peel off on my mark." I opened all com links. The enemy would be able to hear me now too, but it wouldn't matter. "3...2....1....Mark."

Simultaneously, all systems except for life support, sensors, and gravity were killed, and the battle group peeled away. It worked perfectly. All enemy ships followed the battle group.

I stood and walked back to the engine room where Zelo was busy working on the engine. "Will we have all our power when we reach the Zeromus?"

Without looking up from his work Zelo replied in his usual measured tempo. "Heat damage is low. Stress was extreme but seems to have done minimal damage. Will need a full tune up as soon as possible. Some small components are fried but can bypass with minuscule loss of power." He paused and looked at me. "Will be nearly full power if I work fast." That was as close to being asked to leave as it got with Zelo, so I nodded and made my way to the Weapons Bay.

"Tiny. How's the guns?" Tiny gave a nod, and crossed his arms. That would likely be all I got out of him so I went to the hatch, where grey was leaning against the wall.

"You ready." I asked.

"That depends. If I know you, just getting to the Zeromus isn't gonna be enough." If rockmen could raise they're eyebrows I was sure hers would have been way up there. But she was right. The forces here we're not enough to repel this attack. On top of that coordinating a mass FTL jump into the sector of all away ships would take more time than they had. My conclusion had been made almost as soon as we had jumped in. The Avalon would have to take down the rebel flagship. Problem was, even with all their firepower, I wasn't sure we could do it.

"Well, captain, I can say with no small bit of confidence that we're all with you no matter what." She chuckled slightly, " just try not to get us all killed."

I grinned widely. "I'll see what I can do about that grey." I turned and walked back to the bridge.

We were nearly there. I could see the two ship's lasers flashing back and forth on the sensor's vid screens. It looked like the Zeromus was barely surviving. Repeatedly, the flagship's lasers raked down the side of the ship, the Zeromus' shields barely keeping together each time as the Zeromus' own lasers were busy shooting missiles out of space. It suddenly hit me what we were getting ready to jump into. But first I had to dock with the Zeromus and hand over the intel.

I sat at the controls and flipped on the radio. "Zelo, I need light thrusters, we're docking with the Zeromus."

"Thrusters up captain."

Behind me Perry watched the sensors diligently. "We're still invisible sir."

Docking with the Zeromus went smoothly. Upon docking I ordered the crew to stay aboard the Avalon in case we had to beat a hasty exit and entered decompression. When the doors on the Zeromus side slid open I found myself staring down the barrel of four blasters. "Relax gentleman, Ral Forlun, captain of the Avalon ID number 25003 reporting."

"General Alket is awaiting you on the bridge sir. Follow me."

After a lengthy walk, I found myself face to face with General Alket for the second time in my life, and he was no less imposing the second time around. "Captain Forlun. I trust your mission was successful. You have something for me?"

I nodded and removed a small disc pack from my sleeve pocket. "Full coordinates of the rebel HQ, the strongholds in the area, as well as a well hidden ship yard. It is believed they are building some type of cruiser prototype there." I saluted, struggling slightly to regain my balance as the ship shuddered from a missile impact. "Also sir, I would like to volunteer to attack the rebel flagship. Your situation seems dire, sir."

Bright blue eyes searched mine for a moment. The General was perhaps in his early fourties, and was probably in better shape than I was, even if he looked a bit haggard from the current battle. "Do you have a plan other than becoming a martyr soldier?"

"Yes sir. We have enough firepower aboard the Avalon to do major damage to the flagship, but we lack any defensive measures other than our shields. The Avalon was built for quick, lethal strikes." General Alket looked interested so I continued. "Now, the Avalon is also fast. I believe that if they target us with missiles we can run them back in front of your ship, where you can use your lasers to blast them, giving us another run."

While I finished up the General began to grin. " I'll do you one better, captain." He motioned behind him. "We have a squadron of fighters that I was saving, an ace in the hole. Take a couple as an escort. They have anti missile metal scrap mines."

I found myself grinning with him. "Yes sir. Have them scramble when we leave. The rebels aren't going to recognize us, but they'll know we're a major threat. We'll likely get a lot of attention, maybe you'll have time to do some damage yourself." I snapped off a salute and turned to leave.

"Captain." Alket's voice stopped me short. I turned around. "Sir?"

With a serious look the general pointed at me. "I don't like martyrs son."

Don't die. The message was clear. I saluted again. "I understand sir."

A few minutes later, back on the ship, I quickly briefed the crew, ignoring what I was sure was a smile on gray's face. With the briefing done I returned to the flight controls and strapped in. The familiar hum came, as well as the slight rumble of the shields and the clank of the weapons bay opening. "This is it guys. Let's do it." I disengaged the docking locks and steered away, careful to stay out of the rebel flagship's firing line for the moment. On cue, four fighters fell into position behind us.

I didn't need to tell them the mission. I was sure they had been briefed and were likely the best pilots on the ship. With a flick of the wrist, I brought the thrusters to full power and shot out into open space, the attack squad on my heels.

We were immediately greeted by a energy beam ripping through space just off our left side. Center stage was ours. I rolled away from the beam, followed by a shuck left as laser fire slashed by the nose of the ship. In the weapons bay, Tiny unleashed a missile barrage, hitting the back quarter of the flagship. However, none of the missiles scored a breach. A reinforced hull was likely to blame. "Tiny, see if you can hit that energy beam." The weapon itself stuck out on the nose of the ship, making an easy target, which tiny bulls eyed with the next salvo. By that time grey had begun picking out targets with the Gatling laser, probing the flagship's shield for weak points. She hadn't found any yet.

I was forced to roll again, narrowly dodging a barrage of laser fire. Afterwards I had to pull a tight loop as I spotted a number of missiles speeding towards us. After a short delay, the fighters behind me did the same, dropping a clusters of anti missile mines. The missiles targeted the mines, exploding harmlessly above the ship as I looped back around and under.

We had closed on the ship, but to my disdain, I spotted defense drones floating around the ship. They were programmed to shoot down missiles that entered their range. After we destroyed their beam weaponry, they must have deployed them, realizing we were going to get into close range.

"Gray, try to pick off some of those drones." I was answered by several barrages of laser fire and the destruction of several drones. The remaining drones spread out to cover the holes Gray had created.

Suddenly, there was the sound of metal tearing and oxygen escaping into vacuum. The sound quickly ceased as the ships only major augment, an adhesive the ship automatically deployed to repair breeches was released. The problem was in what had caused the breech. The flagship had launched a boarding drone and it had hit dead on target.

I could hear signs of a battle behind me in the common room as Gray and Tiny defended the ship from the boarder. I had no doubt that they would best the seven foot tall drone. They couldn't fire the weapons while they were fighting it however.

With no weapons I went into evasive maneuvers. I dodged laser barrage after laser barrage, my hands dancing across the control board. After a short time, the sounds of the battle ceased. A couple seconds later Gray came over the radio. "Captain, the drone damaged the Gatling laser controls. It's offline."

"Damn. Perry, find the drone bay on that ship and relay it's location to Gray. Gray, I want you to lock that room down with the ion blasters. Don't let them fire another boarder." This battle was starting to go down hill, and I needed to figure out how to end this.

Perry, wisely ignoring the fact that I hadn't used his preferred name, dropped into a trance.

Zelo came across the coms next. "Captain. Engines are red. Components failing. Overall failure imminent." It kept getting worse.

"Hold them as long as you can." Our only shot was to get into their shield and strike the bridge. But with the defense drones hanging there in space it was risky. And with the engines failing there was no guarantee we would be able to escape the resulting explosion.

"Ok guys, this it it. Hang on tight. We're going for the bridge. Tiny, I want you to give it everything you've got. It's now or never." The comm was silent as the realization of what I had planned sunk in. The silence was broken by none other than Tiny's voice. "Understood captain."

I grinned. These guys were the best crew I could have asked for. "Ok, going in on my mark. 3...2...1... Mark." I forced the ship into the shield. The shaking was brutal, and I was glad for the straps crossing my chest keeping me seated. Once through, I tried my best to dodge the drones littering the space inside the shield, but it was a losing battle. As the shield was pelted by the drones it quickly weakened. Just as I came upon the bridge, the shields failed and a drone smashed into the hull directly above me.

I struggled with the controls, trying to maintain a roughly straight flight path to give Tiny a good shot.

I heard the volley go off, felt another collision, and then I lost control of the ship, and seconds later consciousness.




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