She was fighting to keep up with her pilot. It was so insane. This girl was so driven! Their partnership was one of practicality. They had to depend on one-another, after all. It was up to her to keep the armor running, and everything working just so. Especially the most important part – the shield. This armor was designed with something none in its class had ever had – a sector shield. By being able to focus particle energy on ejector panels, they could move the shielding around to any part of the machine. This kept the power draw only to what they needed. Instead of a kinetic barrier on all sections that could be worn down fast with enough fire, they could focus it specifically on where it was needed, which meant keeping the shield active for hours longer than any barrier before it.
Their time in battle could be upped to 200% more than any other armor before them. But keeping this system running was brutal. It required someone who could keep track of an endless amount of information about the enemy and attacks coming in at once by a system that was incredibly demanding on her mind. Funneling the data directly to her. It was so much, most days. But that’s why they were a team. They could process the load together, so her pilot would be able to use the data on where to go and who to target, while she could use the data on where to defend and other systems in the armor. The first two-person armor. A design like none other.
This battle was madness. Over a giant natural resource satellite in orbit around the planet. If this place fell, they would have no problem taking the rest of the planet. Local military was no match for Directorate might. All they’d have to do is move in and crush any local resistance and leave occupational forces to keep watch while the Fleet moved.
Explosions everywhere. So much carnage and death. An allied armor ripped open from a massive particle beam. The pilot would have been vaporized. Worse ways to go. The beam was from an assault cruiser coming around some wreckage. Bad move. They were moving too far out from their defensive position. An attempt to make a break? Couldn’t be that. The Fleet had them surrounded in all sides. This battle was about attrition. Either they would wipe out Protectorate forces, or they would hold out until reinforcements. So much rode on this.
But that was besides the point. She focused her attention on the cruiser.
“Move out of the firing range of that thing!”
“No shit, genius!” Ever the angry one.
“I’m not talking about the guns. I’m talking about getting away! Bombers are coming in from point 52 tac 87.”
Weird to be treated like a superior officer from the one at the controls, but it was true. She was her superior, not that she’d ever lord that against her. With all they had gone through together, that would be cruel. It wasn’t something she wanted anyway.
Coming about, they decided to watch the show. Several bombers had used the wreckage to mask their approach the same way the cruiser had done. It worked both ways. By the time the guns of the ship could come to bear, they had already launched their payload. Blue lasers jetted out among their bombs, taking out several, but they were too close. The stars lit up red and yellow as they hit home right on the engines. Plumes of blue fire went bursting out. An overload! Such a beautiful color, for something so awful. The flame spread further and further, until it was pouring out all over the ship. The crew was likely being cooked beneath the hull.
“Bad way to go,” the pilot whispered.
She had nothing to say back. It was so captivating. Then the core ignited, and the whole thing blew open like a soda can in below zero weather. The fire burst out, then exhausted the oxygen it had, and extinguished. The crew never had a chance.
Seeing the fire, it brought back memories. Had it only been two years?? Maybe a little more? Felt like an eternity. In another life.
The sound of the waves crashing against the shore greeted her. Sunlight was just starting to come through the window. Was it really that early? Too early for any decent person to be up, but she really had to pee. Stumbling down the hall to the bathroom, it was a sad state of affairs for how dead she looked. Didn’t help that saying she was indecent was putting it mildly. Too early to care about that too.
After finishing, she stumbled back to her room. There was a sound from the hallway.
“I am totally scarred. Could she at least put on a robe or something?!” Kid brother! That registered enough for her to feel more than a little ashamed. Whatever. She had to see him getting dressed for blitzball. That scarred her for life too. So the little creep could take it!
Mornings like these were the best. Still another hour to get some sleep, she was going to make the most of it. Once dawn broke, she knew where she was going to be.
The smell of the waves was so inviting. From the bow, at the controls, she brought the boat out of the harbor. Another catering gig. The catch was likely to be pretty substantial. This year had seen a real boon to the fish numbers. Some real monsters coming in. Calm waves today. No headwind, just little whitecaps. Almost made it boring, but best not to complain. This many patrons today, it meant good money, regardless of what the catch was.
Poor kid down below had to actually deal with these people. He was a nice guy. Had some very cool tats of all the places he had been. Never been off-planet, but had been to everywhere on it. No longer a colony world, they were part of the Directorate proper now. Over 2,000,000 people lived here. From ports to the farming communities, this garden world had developed into a popular tourist attraction for those seeking to escape the bustle of the big cities on their own worlds. Or those who wanted freedom from the endless regulation of the Directorate.
Now out of the port, she accelerated to a nice pace. Couldn’t rush too much with these off-world types. They got jittery. But you also had those who would bitch at you to go faster. No pleasing everyone, right? Best to hedge your best on something gentle. Would mean the vast amount wouldn’t bitch as much. She looked down at the company jacket she wore. Hated it. Such an ugly color. Another day. Straightening her company hat, she opened the window and let the sound of the seabirds and the salty breeze greet her.
Taking a look at the scanner, she saw that reports were coming in of a good haul coming in 70 kilometers to the south. Nice! A close one. Maybe they could catch their limit before midday and she could go home early!
Nice dreams always crash and burn the hardest. For the first hour, they were catching like crazy, but then it died. Their patrons were annoyed. She keyed into the scanner, but nothing was coming in for good hits. Just a lot of dry runs. Hitting up a couple contacts she had at the port and ship captains, she got a tip for a good hit 120 kilometers to the east. Worth a shot, right? After having the patrons get their lines in, she gunned it. A little fast, but they were getting antsy. It sucks when things are going great for a while, only for them to suck.
The next place was also another pretty good haul, for about an hour or so. Then it all dried up. But she did get to see something pretty cool. There was a school of fish moving, with scutter sharks coming in and nabbing them up. All the thrashing and churning. Had some patrons wondering if they could try and hook a shark, but their attendant pointed out what a horribly bad idea that was. Scutter sharks were no joke, They could easily bite through the lines they had, and even if they hooked one, the chances of getting it in was minuscule. You’d need a harpoon and some rope for that kind of haul. One guy actually asked if they had that. She smiled. This guy has vision.
Well past midday, she got one last tip for a decent haul further south. Once the patrons got some lunch in them, it was a better afternoon. Their last stop was not too bad. Slow at first, but things picked up. An hour to evening, she pulled the boat back into port and docked it. Now her and the attendant had to unload all the coolers filled with fish. Some of the guys were talking about what they would be cooking. One dude said he wanted to weigh his fish. Her role in this ended at tying off the boat and unloading stuff. After that, the boss gave her her pay and she went home.
Getting back, the family was already talking to her brother about his next game. Being related to a celebrity sucked. Barely an acknowledgement of her existence as she came in the door. Heading over to the fridge, she pulled out some local fruit and took it to her room. Now to another monotonous night of reading Net articles and watching meaningless vids to kill time. This was her life. What her life would likely always be. But there was a story in the news. Another brushfire conflict with the Protectorate. More and more of this was in the news. Not that she cared. Or at least, she thought she didn’t. The reality of the fact that their world was close enough to the Protectorate for the war to come here pretty fast if peace talks failed did strike her. Did her parents know? Did anyone? Who here knew what danger they were in? But she put it out of her mind. No one would look for a fight here. This world offered no strategic value to anyone. The military forces were a garrison at most. No big natural resource satellites to acquire, no big factories or shipyards to take over. All this world had was farmland and fishing boats. They wouldn’t have even joined the Directorate if it hadn’t been impressed upon them by the representatives who came to visit. They didn’t want to risk this world going to the Protectorate. They’d gotten visits.
She shook her head and keyed out of the system. This wasn’t her problem. It was never her problem. Not like she wanted to be part of any of that anyway. Being the helmsman on a fishing boat paid the bills just fine. Or at least it would, once she got out of the house. One step at a time. For now it was just getting something saved up, and building a resume as a future boat captain. Once she had her own boat, then she could make her own money. No more getting wages and commission based off of the haul. One can dream, right?
Another day, another trip out to sea. Today was looking to be no more interesting. Three hours into a good spot, there is a call that comes in.
“Come in Blue Angelray.”
She grabbed the controls. “I read you, Yellow Jacket. How are things with you? Good haul?”
“Fuck that! There’s a fight going on in space! Right above the planet!”
The world suddenly dropped away. “What?! How?!”
“Got word that a Directorate ship is under attack.”
The thought made her heart stop. The Protectorate was here?! Was this the start of a war? She didn’t want to focus on it. It was too ugly to even consider. Keep to what is happening now. The rest can come later.
Half an hour goes by, and reality comes crashing down. Or at least several hundred tons of it. There is a huge blaze of blue in the sky above. Everyone looks up, and so does she. A massive blaze of blue light, shimmering everywhere. First one, then another. Finally, a trail of smoke that is heading down. Drifting forward, toward where they are! The crew is getting nervous. So are the patrons. Blue fire and black smoke, plummeting from the sky. Kind of beautiful, in a twisted way. It is coming forward, and getting lower and lower. The navy blue metal is shimmering in the sunlight as it comes down. At first it was wondering where it was going, now she realized, it was coming down towards them!
“Everybody, lines in! We’re out of here!”
Nobody had to be told twice. The patrons were too scared not to listen. The crew and ran to secure everything, while she brought the engine online.
“Now get your asses inside and strap in!” The crew ushered them inside and she didn’t wait to hear if they were seated. There was no time. She hit the accelerator. A couple of fishing poles went flying off the back, along with one of the patrons gear. The smoke was now so close! They could make out the size and shape of the vessel that was crashing towards them. A smaller ship. A cruiser. A vessel for recon. So many holes blasted in it. Billowing smoke and fire was everywhere.
She powered the vessel towards the shore. It wasn’t close, but that ship was going to hit the water soon. And when it did, it would create a massive wave that they had no chance of outrunning. Not in a fishing boat. That’s when the wind from the crashing ship hit them. Everyone was thrown around as the boat was pushed over so far that it nearly capsized. Once she got it sitting right again, she powered the accelerator as fast as it would go. They’d have a matter of seconds to beat the worst of it.
The shore was a magical place that had never looked more distant in her life. In the distance, there was an explosion. The ship had finally impacted. Daring to look toward the horizon to her backside, to the left, she saw a massive plume of blue fire rising towards the sky. Fear gripped her. Heart pounding. If they didn’t get there in time, get to high ground, everyone in this ship would be dead.
That’s when they smashed into the sandy shore. Without a second thought, she jumped off of the helm and opened up the compartment inside.
“Ditch your shit and run! Head for high ground! Now!”
It was up to them if they listened or not. Some of them looked hurt. She wasn’t about to wait and find out. Like a demon possessed, she took off running. The crewman from yesterday caught up and outpaced her. The sound of everyone behind yelling after them. The dunes down the way got pretty high.
Chancing a look back, the crewman’s eyes got wide.
“The water’s receding!”
“Shut the fuck up!” she snarled. There was some agreement behind her. Just keep running, she told herself. No matter what, keep running. Even if you have to go until you die, don’t stop running! All the endurance working on a boat was finally paying off. Up and down the sandy dunes. A sound from the distance. A crunching, twisting sound. The wave impacting their boat? It propelled her faster. Got everyone else behind them moving too.
Minutes passed, Up and down dunes and she didn’t even know how far she’d come. Finally, she could go no further. Crashing to the grassy dune, her legs gave out. Everything did. Breathing harder than she ever had before, she just laid there. Finally, she willed herself up to look back at the ocean.
It was beyond description. The water was so close, but it had stopped. It was heading back out to sea. The boat was smashed to shit on one side. No way was it going to be salvaged. But the radio may work to signal where they are. She knew this part of the shore. Too far from anywhere to walk, but close enough to get rescue.
The real show-stealer was out at sea. In the distance, the blue flames were still pluming, then, in an instant, withered away. She’d heard about reactor explosions, but this was something else. Those who had kept pace with them stared with her, in awe and horror. Most of the crew and patrons made it, but they were talking about people they didn’t see. Bad way to go. Now to begin the long, slow walk back to the boat, to see if they could get a rescue.
Hours later, the ship that picked them up docked in the harbor. Her parents came running to meet her. Even her brother embraced her in a big hug. Her boss came down as well. A portly, balding man, but with a kind heart. He gave her a hug, and talked with everyone who got back. Nothing but nice things said about her. How she had done everything she could to save their lives. That was nice, if not a little untrue. Her own life had most definitely come first. Being able to save everyone else was an afterthought.
That’s when she noticed all the emergency ships and shuttles coming in. Drop vessels came into dock at the spaceport. From where they were, they saw men and women being dropped off. They looked terrible. Coated in grim, burned to a crisp, or ripped to pieces. It was horrifying to watch. She didn’t want to think about it.
Triage was set up in the park outside of the government building. Prefab buildings were immediately set up and wounded people were taken inside. The wave had hurt a ton of people. It had demolished a seaport on the other side of the bay. Their cove thankfully was spared the worst of it. Dozens of people killed, hundreds injured. Whole ships and their crews were swallowed whole. It was blind, stupid luck that they didn’t get caught up in the wave. But the worst of it was the Directorate military servicemen and women who were brought there. So many horribly maimed, burned, mutilated, or the blind few who got off lucky with a few scratches.
She walked through it all, having to give a statement and identify the bodies of a couple of people found at the wreckage of her boat. One was a patron, the other was a crew member who was trying to help her. It seems she had a broken leg and couldn’t run. The crew member did everything they could to help, and died with her. So awful. Broke her heart to think about. As she stepped through that place, listening to the screaming and crying, there was a cold, numb feeling inside.
That night, she had a dream. Of being on that ship, in uniform, seeing the ocean coming up and being trapped. In it, she died in a hundred ways. She drowned in a cabin that filled with water. In another, she was burned to death in blue flame. Then her body was slowly crushed by the hull. People all around, begging her to help. What could she do?! The only thing open was to wait and die. Waking up in cold sweat, it occurred to her what she had to do. There was only one option.
It had been a long argument between her and her family about this. It was a journey she made alone. Even her brother seemed unusually angry at her. He was a sports star. What did he care? But she knew the truth – she couldn’t let this happen! To anyone! All of those hurting and crying people before. How many of them wouldn’t be here if she had been there?! How many mothers and fathers wouldn’t be checking to see if their families were on the casualty list if her skills to helm a ship were put to better use being able to fly a fighter, or a starship?
If they wouldn’t stand with her, then she’d walk this path alone. They hadn’t seen what she had. Her skills on that boat saved the lives of almost everyone. Now she would save the lives of her fellow men and women in service to the Directorate.
Stepping into the Directorate Naval Enlistment Office, an older woman looked up from the desk.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah. I’d like to enlist.”
Until next time, a quote,
“A man who neglects his duty as a citizen is not entitled to his rights as a citizen.” – Tiorio