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Interlude: Stella

Interlude:  Stella

Stella…
You’re streaking beneath the flak cloud of the Clan cruiser, strafing everything that looks like a weapon, your hand cramping from holding the flight channel open with your thumb and the trigger down with your index finger.  You’ve been firing your main drive non-stop since Agamemnon took off, and at the edge of your vision you’re watching the reaction mass indicator plummeting towards zero.
“We’re heading to 179 once we’re clear of these cruisers,”  Summerville’s voice is all business, but relaxed.  You feel her behind you, a mile-long behemoth, burning from a thousand wounds, hurtling through the battle with no regard to her own safety.

There are fewer and fewer voices on the flight channel.
“Normandy just bought it!” cries Flannery.  Soon after, she too goes silent.

You clear the cruiser and come to 179.  There’s something in the way.
“Destroyer.”  You call out.
“We’re going through it,” replies Summerville, infuriatingly calm.
You decide to go around, expending the last of your autocannon ammunition against its dorsal anti-torpedo guns.

Then there’s nothing left but clear sky between you and the mass driver.  You give the throttle a nudge, even though there’s nowhere for it to go.  Agamemnon lets out a massive broad-spectrum burst transmission, the local EM spikes as she fires her hyperpulse generator for the last time, like a battle-cry.  As your ship’s communication system tries to disassemble it, your reaction mass runs dry.

Agamemnon, still accelerating, rockets past you – the forty-meter-tall letters streaking by just meters from your wing.  You miss the rotation of the centrifuge by a hair, her long body streaming past, and finally the massive transit drives.

The computer blurts out the part of the transmission meant for you.

You sit…stunned…as Agamemnon crashes into the mass driver.  Stunned…as your ship follows a ballistic trajectory into the expanding cloud of debris.  Stunned…as chunks of metal the size of small villages hurtle around you.  Stunned…as your ship rockets out the other side of the explosion, none the worse for wear but for some minor dings.  Stunned…as you watch New Samarkand getting bigger and bigger in your view.

“Ship…repeat last…”

Becker’s voice, “Tell the fighters thank you from the Agamemnon.  And thank you, major.”

Stunned.
Finally, “Did that sanctimonious bitch just promote me?!?!?!”

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Ascension Finale – 10 November 2012

Ascension Finale – 10 November 2012

As the enemy fleet jumps in and forms up, a number of events take place on Agamemnon.

First, Stella discovers that Flannery, newly promoted to Lieutenant Junior-Grade, is imitating her in many ways.  Stella let’s out a battle cry in the launch bay, inspiring the pilots considerably.  Second, Gerst shows up to stand watch at the main reactor with Corbett in tow.  He tells Janks that “there ain’t no non-combattants today”.  Janks accepts Corbett back for duty.  Finally, Vail arrives on the CIC with Jameson and Sims in tow and formally presents Becker with Admiral’s stars.  Apparently, Rance had done the leg-work into Star League military law and found precedents for the disconnected promotion.  The battle begins with a cutscene.

As the opposing fleets close, a message spreads through the galaxy, from HPG to HPG, broadcast and rebroadcast on every frequency….

“This is colonel Becker of the Agamemnon.

We are at war.  If you haven’t yet faced them, know this:  Their technology is better than what we have.  They never forgot.

Our enemies are the remnants of general Kerensky’s Exodus.  It failed, and this is what came.

You may try to negotiate with them, if they are even willing to talk at all.  I suspect they are headed to New Samarkand to destroy it.  With all the consequences that will have, for all of you.  It may be that bending your knees to them will preserve your lives, for now.  But you will be little more than slaves. Or you can choose to stand against them.  To fight them, to protect what you have, those you love.

If you have ships near New Samarkand, I ask that you send them to aid in the defense.  Not just for its own sake, but for yours as well.  If New Samarkand falls, it will have grave impact on the rest of the settled worlds.

The Last Legion of the Star League stands at New Samarkand.  Will you stand with us?

And to you of the Clans who are listening:

I knew general Kerensky.  Two centuries ago, I chose to go into exile with him, as did the crew of the Agamemnon.  Through fate’s throw of the dice, we never got to join them.
I see now what general Kerensky’s children have become.

What you are doing is not what he would have wanted.  He _chose_ to leave, and with him went almost all of what remained of the Star League Defense Force.  By choice.  We _chose_ to leave.  Because we believed in him.  His dream was to return and rebuild, to aid the settled worlds and return them to their former glory.

We will keep general Kerensky’s dream alive.

If you wish to attempt to tear that dream apart, we will stand against you.

We still keep his vision.  You can still be his legacy.  Cease your attacks on the worlds.  Join us instead in returning what was lost, rebuilding what was destroyed, to fulfill general Kerensky’s dream.  Honour his spirit and his memory, and help us protect and rebuild the world as he would have wanted it.”

The battle group engaging Agamemnon is centered on a huge battleship, easily twice the mass of Agamemnon, as well as a pair of cruisers, several frigates, a destroyer, two flotillas of Union-class dropships, and several squadrons of fighters.  The ensuing battle is pitched and brutal.  Briscoe is lost in the first volley, putting Stella in charge of Agamemnon’s squadrons.  Normandy uses her maneuverability to slip behind the lines and cause havoc to the smaller warships, and Alabama valiantly tries to prevent one of the cruiser groups from flanking the engagement.

Over the course of the battle, Alabama loses combat effectiveness and jumps clear of the engagement.  As Agamemnon is being forced to engage both a heavy cruiser and the Ghost Bear mammoth battleship, a group of smaller warships join the fight, led by the Hard Eight, commanded by Gentleman Roderick Black, who had survived Cerberus because “you obviously underestimate my ability to run like a little girl from danger”.  Black’s fleet engages the cruiser and allows Agamemnon to focus on the battleship.

Becker orders a small flotilla of Leopard-class dropships that had been rigged with explosives to advance on the mass driver.  They manage to clear a generous percentage of the mass driver’s destroyer screen, but do only minimal damage to the superweaon itself.

Multiple torpedo hits strike both sides of the pitched battle between the battleships, until finally Chief Galliard fires a volley that deals the killing blow to the enemy.  The session ends with a cutscene.

Mitch, the Normandy finishes a loop and pulls around the burning hulk of the massive Ghost Bear battleship and your breath catches, your heart sinks.

 

“Holy…holy shit….  Faro, let’s do a flyby.”
You close in on the Agamemnon, the despair rising as the details get clearer.  You switch over to the flight channel.
“Flight, Normandy, fire report, request Actual.”

 

 

Kim, on the CIC, Colonel Summerville is still trying to get his arms around the damage control situation, and you’re conferring privately with the fleet captains, Natasha Kerensky is speaking.
“Despite our best efforts, the rimward flank is falling to pieces.  I fear that our options are quickly being reduced to ‘lose New Samarkand’ or ‘lose New Samarkand AND the fleet’.  If we have any chance of getting out of here, we’re going to need a rear-guard or they’ll tear us to pieces bringing up our transit drives.”

 

Lieutenant Baker chimes in.  “Admiral, I’ve got Vagabond…sorry…Normandy Actual on a flyby with a fire report, he wants you to hear this.”
You set down the receiver.  “Alright, let’s have it.”
Mitch’s voice crackles in over the CIC loudspeaker.
“Okay Flight, you’ve got an uncontrolled plasma fire out of the ventral conduit aft of frame seventy-five, and another from the dorsal conduit just forward of frame fifty-three threatening the main reactor and the launch bay fuel reserves.  Damn…it looks like you took that nuke in the receiving dock, the primary recovery bay is exposed to space in several places.  The flight center and forward particle cannons are completely gone, and it looks like this end of the K-F drive might have been affected in the explosion.”

 

The CIC has fallen dead silent during the report.  All eyes are on you, and yours are locked with Colonel Summerville’s.  Something passes between you and his features soften, he smiles sadly and gives the tiniest of nods, then walks over to the comm station, puts a headset on, and starts conversing quietly.

 

You take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Weps, what’s the status of the forward torpedo tubes?”
Chief Galliard doesn’t miss a beat.  “Ma’am, I believe the gun crews are dead but I retain remote control of the weapons and loaders.”
“Very well, transfer fire control of the forward torpedo bays to the Helm.  Chief of the Boat, make your heading two-three-nine-karem-four-six, ahead one-eighth.”
“Aye, skipper!  Helm, hard to port to two-three-nine, aft thrusters to z-minus-seven, ahead one-eighth.”
You take a long, slow look across the CIC and lock eyes with every soul in turn.
“Secure your stations, clear the bridge.”
You pick up your handset and switch to the ship-wide comms.
“All hands, this is Admiral Becker.  Abandon ship.  I repeat, all hands, abandon ship.”

 

 

Stella, you’re between targets when Colonel Summerville’s voice comes across the fleet-wide channel.
“All players, be advised, Agamemnon is under immediate threat of reactor breach, we’re abandoning ship.  We’re about to light up the sky here – use it to start your run out of the well.”
The radio explodes with activity as elements of the fleet attempt to disengage and fire their transit drives.
“Dire Wolf secondaries, move to sector seven and cover the fighter recovery.”
“Belisarius, establish a picket across sector two.”
“Fury S-A-R you have ten minutes to grab as many pods as you can, then get the hell back here.”
One voice comes through on your squadron channel.
“Agamemnon Echo Lead, Kojiwa Flight, we have berths for your squadron, approach from starboard for recovery.”
You squeeze the stick so hard your gloves creak, switch your comms over to the fleet-wide channel, and reply.
“Now listen to me, Kojiwa, you tell Admiral Ling that the last legion of the Star League makes its stand at New Samarkand. We’ll be here when you get back.”
You switch over to the Agamemnon channel.
“Alpha, Charlie, Delta, make sure nobody harasses our escape pods, Bravo…Flannery…we’re the tip of the spear, let’s make sure the old girl gets where she’s goin’.”
“Roger that, Captain.”
You switch back to the fleet channel and start hearing reports….
“Echo Lead, Dire Wolf Blue Squadon, we’re with you.”
“Kojiwa Fox here, what’s left of us anyway, call it, Echo.”
You line up next to Normandy off of Agamemnon’s burning bow and take a deep sigh.
“Well…okay then…”

 

 

Kim, you’re slowly pacing around the map table in the silent CIC, watching the fleet maneuver and the escape pods trickle away from the ship.  Agamemnon feels strange beneath your feet, the vibration of the deckplates isn’t right, the sound of the power plants strained.  Once everything appears to be moving the right direction, you climb into the primary helmsman’s seat, ensure you have control of the forward torpedoes and grip the ship’s control yoke for the first time since you woke.
You’re trying to figure out how to maneuver the ship where it needs to go without a pilot in the second seat, when Justin steps down from the engineering station and settles in behind the controls.  He flips a few switches and lays his hand on the master throttle between you, giving you a warm smile.
“Your orders, Admiral?”
And in his eyes you remember…everything….  When you first met on Agamemnon’s landing deck.  The endless arguments.  The tour that changed everything on the run to Earth at the end of the Amaris rebellion.  Your shore leave together on Santiago.  The days.  The nights.  Every moment since you first met – and you can see that he remembers too.
You lay your hand over his, fingers entwining over the throttle, blinking back tears.
“All ahead Flank, Mr. Summerville.”

 


Janks, you had to take the long way around to the nearest bank of escape pods, and you’ve been picking up wounded along the way, using carabiners to chain the unconscious or immobile together in trains to be pulled by your men.  Corbett is hooked to Captain Milet, trying to treat her severe plasma burns while Gerst pulls both through the passage.
You reach the escape pods, pile everyone into the nearest, take a second to look around to make sure you’re leaving no one behind, seal the door, and trigger the launch.
After a very brief high-G burst, there’s silence.  No klaxons.  No sound of explosions.  No strained wail of metal.  Just the sound of Corbett giving chest compressions to the wounded engineer.
“one…two…three….four…five……one…two…three…four…five”
Out the viewport you see Agamemnon burning from a hundred different wounds.  You see a swarm of sixty, maybe seventy miscellaneous fighters – mainly Agamemnon’s own Shivas, but dozens of others as well – form up around the Normandy ahead of her.

 

Then her main engines ignite…and she soars.

 

You’ve never seen a ship that big move so deftly – it requires a flight crew that’s as intimate with each other as they are with their ship.  With her screen of fighters blazing a trail, she loops around the wreck of the mammoth and passes between two heavy cruisers.  The fighters raze the weapons along the enemy ships so they can’t fire as Agamemnon deftly threads the needle.  You see dozens of tiny starbursts as the fighters are destroyed, and Normandy takes a broadside from a naval particle cannon that sends her spinning off into the void, aflame, but they give far more than they take.

 

A woman’s voice comes over the civilian rescue channel, raspy, choked-up.  “Thank you, Agamemnon.”

 

It doesn’t take long before the enemy realizes what’s happening.  One of the mass driver’s destroyer screen makes a valiant attempt to put itself between Agamemnon and the superweapon, but it’s ravaged by a pair of her heavy torpedoes, and like a flaming sword she barrels right through the remains and plummets into the side of the mass driver.
The superweapon cracks down the middle with secondary explosions occurring all along its length, and begins to break up.

 

Off in the distance, you see the fleet engage their transit drives and speed away, while the Clan forces immediately begin reconfiguring for a ground assault.

 

Your escape pod begins to rattle as you enter the atmosphere, becoming one of tens of thousands of falling stars in the skies over New Samarkand.

 

Thus ends Chapter Two.

 

 

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