Thursday, August 12, 2010

week 18: 'shatterer of worlds' prologue

If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty one...
I am become Death,
The shatterer of Worlds.”

From the Bhagavad Gita

Prologue: Shatterer of Worlds

“I remember the dead silence on the bridge as we realized we had just ended a decades-long war. Victory was ours. We had fought long and hard. We had fought for so long that we no longer cared what the price would be to win. And when the price was far too high, we didn't even realize it until it was paid in full. I sat comfortably in my command chair with a grin until I looked down at... everything. I looked and saw it all burning. It wasn't what it used to be. Nothing was left but a hell of flame and nuclear dawn. My grin disappeared as I thought to myself... My God, what the hell have we done? What the hell have I done?”

- Fleet Admiral William Murdoch

The vastness of space is one that man will never fully comprehend or even know. A time once passed when this infinite mystery was romanticized and even sought after. This, however, is a different time. Space is nothing more than a cold, black, and unforgiving mass of monotonous everyday. This void is intangible and all who once cared for it are confined to metal birds or drifting masses. Its infinity is alluring only to those who have not been trapped within its imprisonment of expanse and dreary. Humanity is left to roam it not by desire but by necessity.

Earth is a forgotten dream.

Humanity is not what it once was. Exploration was always going out into the depths, but always looking to the point of return. That return was the home one could hold on to; a necessity of true sanity. For every journey there is always an origin. This, however, is no longer the case for humanity. Like a man falling from the edge, humanity searched desperately for something to grasp. Identity, home, and place: all lost. Yet, they held firmly to what they could. Nations, despite having not the land whence they were founded, remained.

Of course, the remaining nations stand divided. These were once allies in the war that wrought the destruction of earth, yet none can decide where to go from there. Uncharted territory, literally and figuratively, was all that lay ahead. None of them are truly right, for none can know. Infinite possibility brought about only infinite disagreement. Hostilities ensued, yet idealists begin to prevail. Humanity readies itself to accept its position as an outcast race since none still live who remember the dream of earth.

The dream is no longer to go out into the stars, but to make the stars a suitable place for dwelling. All of this talk of unifying humanity is fantastic in theory, but humankind shall always be human. Conflict shall always remain and fears of hostility never shudder. The process of unifying humanity is a long ordeal that requires patience. Forward motion, however, occurs and most welcome it.

Commander Dana Morgan Halsey never cared much for the politics, merely the service. She pondered these things, but only in light of how they affected her duties as commanding officer of the USS Iroquois, an American Saratoga-class frigate. The effects, unfortunately, were starting to bleed over. NATO's command was put under restructuring that was said to be transitional so that when the final unified system is implemented, it will be a smoother transition along the way. The result thus far has only been confusion. The French and the Germans are sometimes hostile towards British and American ships, despite at times taking orders from the same set of admirals. Problems between militaries ran scarcer and scarcer, however, as the transition went on.

The Iroquois was a smaller ship with a crew of only twenty-five, including Commander Halsey. There were four decks and only adequate facilities. Since Iroquois was only a short-range vessel, it didn't need much at all. Their task was patrolling the expanse between Raumstation Berlin and Delaware Spaceport, the highest traffic zone for freighters transporting goods between German and American stations. The patrol's task was mostly to see to it that the freighters were behaving and that no pirates or other groups would try anything. This was unlikely as this shipping route was one of the most secure in the galaxy.

This was a dull assignment, but Commander Halsey knew the purpose of her posting. She had been serving admirably as an executive officer aboard larger ships for some time. In fact, her career up until now had been fast-tracked. Halsey was only in her early-thirties and already a commander with a command of her own. It was a small command, but its true purpose was obvious: the Iroquois was a stepping stone. The brass clearly wanted to test Halsey's ability to command. And a test she would get indeed....

“We've reached waypoint delta, commander,” helmsman Ensign Jeff Wilson reported. “Taking us down to cruising speed.” There was a rush and a lurch as the ship slowed from translight velocities.

“Initiating sensor sweeps,” operations officer Ensign Donald Ballard said. “Look, all I'm saying is that Colt's newer models have more efficient cycling.”

“Yeah, but it slows the round down,” Wilson retorted.

“Not by a considerable margin though, especially considering it's still a magnetically-accelerated round.”

“Speed affects everything in gunfire though, I'm betting my Beretta could outrange and outshoot your Colt anyday.”

“Yeah, til it jams.”

“You've both got it wrong,” Commander Halsey interrupted as she pulled her jet black hair behind her ear.

“Oh yeah? What do you use, commander?” Wilson asked.

She opened her holster and drew her pistol. She racked the slide after ejecting the magazine and handed it to Wilson, “It's a Smith & Wesson Model 8908 custom .386 Magnum magnetically-accelerated electronic handgun.”

“Damn,” Wilson coveted. He released the slide and looked down the sights. It was nickel-plated with black rubberized grips tailored exactly to Hasley's hands. This pistol is the subject of obvious envy. “How's the balance?”

“Nothing short of perfect,” Halsey replied as Wilson handed the pistol over to Ballard.

“How much did this cost?” Ballard asked.

“A lot,” Wilson answered the somewhat rude question for Halsey.

Suddenly, Ballard's console beeped wildly. He handed the pistol back to Halsey and reported, “Commander, I'm picking up a general distress signal.”

“Origin?” Halsey asked as she slammed the magazine into the handgun and pulled the slide.

“Looks like a French freighter,” Ballard told her as she finally holstered her gun. “And it looks like it's way off course.”

“Try hailing them.”

“I'm getting no response.”

“Well, looks like something's finally happening,” Halsey joked. “Wilson, lay in an intercept course for that freighter, full afterburner.”

“Aye, aye.”

Ballard reported, “Its registry marks it as the Opulence and the best I can tell, it's gunning straight for the Harris belt.”

“An asteroid belt?” Lieutenant Richard Crichton, the hardassed tactical officer told them. “Can't be coincidence.”

Halsey agreed, “Add to that, they're only sending a general distress. Put the ship on full alert; we aren't going into this thing unprepared.” She walked away from the forward bridge stations and over to the holographic display at the center of the bridge. This is the Combat Information Center, or CIC. “AI, display a three-dimensional map showing our location, the location of the Opulence, and the Harris Belt.” Within a few seconds a blue image showing exactly what Halsey requested appeared. “Now display a trajectory of the point of both ships upon our arrival.” Again, a few seconds passed before her request was displayed. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath.

“Ma'am?” Crichton asked.

“We'll be in the asteroid field before we intercept,” Halsey replied. “Put whatever power you can into the shields, and Wilson, see if you can get us moving any faster.”

“Engines are already being pushed to the safety line, ma'am,” Wilson told her.

Halsey nodded, “Alright, let's not push it too hard then.”

“Commander, as soon as we reach the asteroid field, we'll have to slow down,” Wilson said. “I can't maneuver the ship in asteroids going full speed.”

“Do what you have to, but we need to help that ship,” Halsey turned back to the CIC. “AI, update the display with plausible maneuvering speeds once the asteroid field is reached. Best estimate.”

After about ten seconds of calculation, a synthesized male voice spoke, “Error. No accurate charts of the asteroid field exist, further the chances of the Opulence getting through the asteroid field without damage are minimal at best.”

“Make the best guess you can.”

“'Guessing' is not within my parameters.”

Halsey rolled her eyes, “Make the best estimate you can then.” Under her breath, she sighed, “Damned AI tech.” In an instant, the hologram changed to the commander's specifications. They would be deep within the field by the time they reached the freighter. This was, however, the information she needed. “Now, display the locations in real time.”

As the computer worked to calculate, Crichton exclaimed, “Opulence has entered the outer layer of the field, from what I can tell, their shielding systems are offline and they've taken light damage.” The holographic image confirmed this. “Commander, I don't think it's very likely we'll be able to reach that ship before it's completely destroyed.”

Halsey bit her lip and stared at the holo-image as she planned her next move. She looked down at her uniform and straightened it out: duty. The choice is so obvious. Rather than argue with Crichton, who was second in the chain of command, she gave her orders, “Fire up the point defense cannons and superheat the engines.”

Crichton replied reluctantly, “Aye, aye, bringing defensive guns online.”

“Is the Opulence in missile range?”

“Ma'am?” Crichton's eyes shot open.

“What if we fired a few Longbow missiles set for concussion blast to try and clear the way for them?”

Crichton thought it over, “Original, but without their shields, I can't guarantee we won't do more harm than good.”

Halsey approached him at his station, “Make sure you get solutions for far enough ahead of them then.”

“I'm just not sure I can do it.”

Halsey grabbed his shoulder, “There could be hundreds of people on that ship. We have to do everything we can to save them and right now, those missiles are the only option. Whether they really know it or not, they're depending on you.” After a pause, “I'm depending on you.”

He took a deep breath and replied, “Aye, I'm computing firing solutions now.”

She nodded to him with an admiring smile of approval. Crichton was a good officer, but needed a little more grooming to be a great one. The Iroquois was likely a stepping stone assignment for him as well. Really the only permanent crewmen were pilots or engineers trained specifically for frigates. These officers were rare and none except for the chief engineer were assigned permanently to the Iroquois. The ship was simply on too unimportant an assignment to put specialists aboard.

“Commander,” Wilson said, “we're approaching the outer rim of the asteroid field, I need to slow us down.”

“Do what you have to, but you need to push yourself on this one.”

He grinned, “I always do.”

“Are the point-defense systems online?”

“Yes, ma'am, they're set to automatic and targeting the asteroids,” Crichton replied. “The computer's having trouble computing a firing solution for the missiles in the asteroids.”

“Do your best, Lieutenant.”

“Entering the field now!” Wilson exclaimed. “Brace for maneuvers!” Halsey grabbed a handlebar on the bulkhead just as the ship jerked hard to the left. They could all hear the booming of the point defense cannons roaring to life.

“I've got a firing solution!” Crichton exclaimed. “Firing missiles!” The lieutenant eagerly hit the big red button. The Iroquois, being a Saratoga, had only a pair of missile hardpoints.

“AI, switch the holographic display to real-time,” Halsey said as she returned to the CIC. With minimal waiting period, the readout changed. The Iroquois, in its splendid streamlined design, was in blue with a pair of red streaks shooting before it. These streaks were the missiles. The asteroids were represented by white and the Opulence was yellow.

“Commander!” Crichton exclaimed, “Another starship just dropped out of translight!”

“Identify it!”

“It's a French cruiser, the Jeanne d'Arc,” Crichton told her as his console suddenly started flashing. “They've locked on to us!”

Wilson said, “They must have gotten the wrong idea about the missiles, commander.”

“Send them a transmission telling exactly what's going on here!”

“Too late, they've fired a full salvo! Eight missiles inbound!” Crichton shouted.

Halsey shook her head as she struggled to keep it all together, “Maintain course!”

“They aren't responding to our transmissions,” Crichton said.

“Keep trying, meanwhile we've got to save that freighter!” Halsey said as she saw the Iroquois' missiles detonating just before the Opulence, which pushed a grouping of asteroids away. She saw the eight red streaks representing the Jeanne d'Arc's missiles racing towards them. “Evasive maneuvers, Jeff, see if you can put some asteroids between us and those missiles. Crichton, are the forward batteries in range to fire on the Opulence?”

“Uh, yeah, they are, I don't see-”

“Target their engines and knock them out,” Halsey ordered. “That should slow them down.”

“Preparing firing solution,” Crichton worked his panel, “and firing!”

“Brace for impact!” Wilson cried. With violent force the ship slammed not once but five times as the French missiles struck her hull. Halsey shuddered at the deafening sound and the intense electrical flares. Debris flew to all places as the ship shook violently.

Halsey fell to the ground as electrical panels exploded all around her. She wasn't the only one. Ballard lay on the floor to her side, his face bloodied. As the decks continued to rattle, she checked his pulse, “He's gone!” Without thought, her instinct was to take his post, but when she did, Halsey saw that the panel must have overloaded in his face.

Crichton made the report, “Damage across all decks; blew right through the missile defense systems. The Opulence's engines have been disabled and they're slowing down.”

Halsey nodded as she struggled to catch her breath, “Wilson, get us out of here! We'll let that cruiser figure out what to do with the freighter.” She wiped her face and saw blood. It was only then that she felt the gash on her cheek. It didn't matter.

“The starboard engine is unresponsive and the navigation systems are clunky at best,” Wilson told her.

“Do what you can!”

Wilson's response was instantaneous: the Iroquois jerked hard to the right. “I'm pushing her as hard as I can, commander.” The decks bumped as they collided with an asteroid.

“Superficial damage,” Crichton reported. “Careful, Wilson.”

“I'm doing the best I can!” Wilson looked nowhere but his console. “We've cleared the field!”

Suddenly, Crichton exclaimed, “Oh, shit! Brace for-”

Halsey remembered nothing more than seeing a bright light followed by a brief sensation of flight. After that, however, there was nothing but pure black. Well, except for the flash of excruciating pain.

She awoke in the CIC. Her head throbbed and it took her sometime to realize once again what had just happened. It took her even longer to notice the disarray, debris, and clutter. The only lighting flickered on and off. She heard electrical zapping and jolting. Halsey sat up and clutched her side as she noticed the bleeding. It wasn't bad. She dizzily came to her feet and at first struggled to gain her balance. As she did, she took her first good look around.

She was at the front end of the CIC, where Wilson's station was. A forcefield separated her and the rest of the ship. The reason for this was obvious. Half of the CIC was completely gone. Halsey saw space and the asteroid field they had just narrowly escaped. Everything was completely ravaged. She could see that an entire half of the ship had been blown off. There was nothing left.

“Commander,” a voice moaned very softly. It was Wilson, who sat at his station.

Halsey carried herself over to him and asked, “Wilson, are you alright?”

“Never better,” he moaned clutching his side. It bled; there was blood all over.

“What happened?”

He coughed, “You hit the deck pretty hard when the Mag slug hit. It ripped the ship right in half. I pulled you in over here just before the hull buckled. I had to turn on the forcefield,” Wilson said choking up, “I had to. Crichton was still out there. We're the only ones left,” he coughed again. “I guess the French just assumed we were all dead. I sent out a distress beacon, so help should be on the- on the-”

“You did well, ensign,” Halsey told him as he grew paler and paler. She put her hand on his.

“Commander,” he wheezed, “It's so dark. And so cold.” Wilson looked right into her dark blue eyes, struggling to catch each breath.

“Yeah, it is,” Halsey said softly. “Go ahead and rest, Jeff, you've earned it. Help is on its way and it's all thanks to you.”

“Yeah,” he coughed again, “I'm so tired.”

“Close your eyes, Jeff. It'll be okay.”

He did and soon after, his breathing ceased. Ensign Jeff Wilson faded from existence. Halsey had filed for his promotion. She suspected a bright future in store for this man. This brightness was replaced by a dark and cold death. Halsey looked at him once more and then let go of his hand. She stood and took another look around. There was nothing. She looked out into the vastness of space and felt so alone. Her entire life had just been suddenly destroyed. Space was empty, just the way she felt.

Then it hit her. A good captain goes down with the ship. The crew was dead and the ship was gone. It had to be done. Halsey pulled her Smith & Wesson from its holster and looked it over. She had never needed to kill anyone before with it and that is why she found her present situation almost an irony. With minimal hesitation she raised the pistol to her temple. It was all gone and soon that was to be even truer. Just as she began squeezing the trigger to end it all, a console bleeped.

The Commander put the gun back and pressed the button. A static-filled voice filled the silence, “This is Captain Jonas Rivera of the USS Tallahassee to the USS Iroquois please respond.”

Halsey punched in the appropriate buttons, “This is Commander Dana Halsey of the Iroquois. It's good to hear your voice, captain.”

“I'll just bet. We're sending a rescue shuttle immediately and we'll begin salvage operations shortly. Captain Rivera out.”

When the line cut, Halsey slumped down to the floor. She regretted even contemplating suicide. But still, she felt alone and so hopeless. Her world had just been shattered. Her very first command was an utter and complete failure. Perhaps a second chance was out there. But her only thoughts were to how she didn't deserve it all. She is the sole survivor.

This is the tale of that sole survivor.

Shatterer of Worlds

Writer's Note: This is the prologue chapter for a novel I'm writing at the moment! Hope you enjoyed it!

Other Note: while the novel still exists, this prologue is now irrelevant to it.

1 comment:

  1. Quite good. I liked how you set up squite a few conflicts; inner, political, environmental...
    btw, for the german station, Raumstation, Bahnhof is technically train station, but many Germans consider it to mean any type of station. You could also say Platz.