SK Fleet Holding Zone 2-Alpha
They came in hundreds of sorties, wave upon ceaseless wave, which rapidly
became indistinguishable and turned into a grayish torrent, a veritable
flood of machines spewing forth from the inky blackness of interplanetary
space. Cybrid minds each and every one of them, all programmed with one
single, unwavering, purpose - to wipe humankind off the face of Planet Mars.
And it was only the most recent part of a grander Directive, a genocidal order
which was even now being carried out across all known human-inhabited parts of
the Solar System.
The Human defenders met their foes in kind, fighting back on multiple fronts.
In the deeper parts of space, warships engaged each other in mortal combat,
while escort carriers on both sides disgorged entire payloads of fighter
craft which zipped their way above, under, and sometimes into, the capital
ships, at fanatical speeds which made their atmosphere-bound cousins seem
to stand still by comparison.
In Mars orbit, the fight was no less frenzied, as the combined Human Alliance
fleet dug in, and attempted to intercept the transport carriers before they
could get into atmospheric re-entry positions to unleash their cargo of Hercs,
tanks and flyers onto Mars. Every successful intercept of a carrier meant that
the people on the ground could live for a little while longer, a few tens of
minutes perhaps, and get into the evacuation transports which were going
about the impossible task of getting everyone off the doomed planet. And
every successful re-entry module shot down equated into an extra few minutes,
or maybe seconds even, for the evacuation effort. Time was running out - and
yet the Cybrids kept coming. The beleaguered Humans found themselves vastly
outnumbered, and yet they fought back - and died in the dozens by the minute -
to buy more time for the tens of thousands still streaming into the spaceports,
jamming into and overloading the waiting transports' maximum stated capacities
by at least two, three or even more times.
The call for evacuation which had been going on for weeks - for space-going
ships of any kind to rendezvous with the Human warfleet elements anchored in
parking orbits - went into overdrive, as the limited number of air/space
transports turned around in record-breaking times and uploaded hundreds of
refugees into any ship which could carry them. The people poured into mammoth
TranStar cargo freighters, converted bulk ore carriers and Mars-Terra Express
delivery vehicles. Even tiny space yachts - pleasure craft which used to be
reserved for the rich and famous - managed to squeeze in just a few more.
Daredevil transport pilots braved heavy crossfire, flying their craft directly
into mil-carrier hangars, offloaded dazed passengers onto the flight decks, and
blasted away back to the surface again for yet another round.
The list of ships, civilian and military, able to take in refugees shrank
rapidly, as the transports unloaded their human cargo. Resources were stretched
to limits, and beyond, as the few remnants of the Grand Fleet struggled to
accommodate the load, the rest of the fleet having left long ago, recalled to
partake in the defense of Mother Earth. The combined ships of the independent
factions, including the Stormkeepers, the Orion Faction and others, chipped in
to help, but found themselves unable to cope satisfactorily with both fighting
and docking operations at the same time - an exceedingly dangerous, easily-fatal
mix under any sort of circumstances.
In the end, Task Force Genesis-P could no longer be held back from the action.
As Roger Simmons watched from the bridge of the destroyer [SSK] Predilection
where he had entered with permission from Captain Bernard Lai himself, the
seven-ship group disengaged from its holding area and began the drive towards
M1-ODP. The orbital defense platform had been keeping the Cybrids at bay
for the past hour, but were now calling frantically for backups on its westward
flank. And Genesis-P was the only group which had the ships to fill up the
gap, with its three destroyers, four frigates - and no fighter cover. The
orbitplat's AstroStars, already stretched thin by the incoming Cybrid
space-fighter waves, found themselves in the unenviable task of stretching
themselves even thinner and further apart to escort the task force into
In what would be one of the defining moments of the Battle of Phobos - as it
would be known later - Captain Lai spotted an incoming Cybrid destroyer
heading directly for the orbitplat at flank speed, blithely ignoring the
AstroStar fighters and DarkRage bombers rising up to meet it. It was
a threat that could hardly be ignored - an inopportune head-on collision with
the station at any of a number of key structural points might just take it out
of the action, offlining its power or weapons systems - and removing a key
obstacle to Cybrid dominance of the space immediately above Stormkeep Spaceport.
It was a difficult decision to make, between risking the potential value of the
precious cargo on board the [SSK] Predilection and the immediate lives of the
thousands still on the surface.
In the end, the choice was made glaringly clear when the Predilection's
sister ship, the destroyer [SSK] Predestinate went down in a hail of
fire. Barely four seconds later, the Imperial frigate Isorla met the
same fate when it wandered into nearly the exact same spot in its
combat maneuverings. The 'brid strategy was quickly deduced - the pattern of
suppressive fire laid down by the surrounding ships would leave a narrow
corridor wide open for their destroyer to charge in toward the orbital
platform at high speed.
In a move that would later be commented on by some as brave and derided by
others as foolhardy, Captain Lai ordered the ship to drop into cloaked mode
and pour all available power on tap to intercept the enemy ship. Still seated
on one of the few observer's seats on the bridge, Roger winced as the
Predilection shoved aside fully-loaded transports in its way, and ploughed into
fighters on all sides who were unaware of the vessel heading, cloaked and
dangerous, directly toward them. Some of the smaller craft were merely
deflected through some kind of bizarre shield interaction effects, but others
were not as fortunate - they ended up as dull thuds resounding on the forward
Just as Roger, sickened by the unavoidable deaths, was thinking that he could
not take in any more of this, the Predilection had come within breathing
distance with the Cybrid vessel, having successfully slipped through layers of
other 'brid warships blazing away at other targets. The captain commanded the
Predilection to turn on its axis, simultaneously dropping out of cloak and
firing all forward guns into the target destroyer's main drive, which turned
the engines and tail guidance sections into molten slag. The Human ship stood
on its toes, riding a tail of nuclear fire as it sought to reduce the tremendous
velocity that it had accumulated after two minutes of hard acceleration. The
same vector which had taken the Predilection towards its prey was now taking
it further and further away, from the moment that the ships passed. Undaunted
by the constantly changing positional dynamics, the Predilection unleashed bolt
after bolt of charged particle beams into the Cybrid ship's tail, augmenting it
with flights of missiles from emptied racks, which homed in on vulnerable
spots and slammed into their target amidships.
After another quarter-minute, a bright nova flared momentarily, briefly
occupying the volume of space where the Cybrid destroyer had been just before
the energy beams from the Human ship found their way into the main reactor core.
The Cybrid fleet reacted belatedly to this unorthodox maneuver, so intent that
they were on their previously assigned tasks, that only at this moment did
their targeting sensors register the high-energy demise of one of their
fellow vessels. As they acquired the Human ship responsible for this audacious
move, Captain Lai once again repeated it, this time in reverse, cloaking the
ship and setting it in a parabolic run back to the orbitplat it had just saved.
This time, he slowed the ship down and re-materialised it into view as it
approached its task force and rejoined it in a battle whose tide had been
steadily turning against the Human forces.
As hundreds of pairs of eyes, both Human and electro-optical, watched, reacted
and sent signals back to their masters to fire at nearly anything that moved,
space itself became hazardous territory, as bolts of crisscrossing energy,
accompanied by high-velocity kinetic rounds and twisting swarms of missiles
carried random death to anything in their paths, Safe navigation became
highly improbable as the crossfire density increased, and friendly fire became
an all-too-common phenomenon as snap shots taken in the fleeting situations of
close combat ended up hitting own ships instead. Cybrid fired upon Cybrid, and
Human scored hits on Human. The situation degenerated into pure attrition as
losses mounted on both sides.
All this could hardly be discerned by the observer on the ground, however,
save for occasional bright flashes in the night sky, and streaks of Cybrid
re-entry pods heading towards the surface. Desperate layered intercepts
were attempted by the orbital platforms, and in the upper atmosphere,
flights of StratoStars, and as it became clear that the pods would be hitting
ground soon, dozens of Mars-adapted air-breathing fighters threw themselves
at them. Knight DawnRisers and Banshees alike, together with SK CrimsonStars
and a variety of air-borne interceptors fought the re-entry vehicles all
the way to the ground.
In the defensive system surrounding the Stormkeep Protectorate, those pods
that the StratoStar fighters missed were handed over to hitherto-hidden
surface-to-atmosphere last-ditch HAL-SDS turrets. The heavy auto-lasers
swung and tracked the incoming intruders, long-range targeting mechanisms
detected and corrected for refractory and other path-altering factors as the
stratospheric defense systems fired, took note of the error distances,
corrected and fired again, in a rapid-fire hailstorm in reverse, as dozens
of pods were brought down.
Across Mars, similar systems constructed around major cities shot down
scores of Cybrid pods before they could even reach the ground. And yet many
more broke through, some by sheer chance, and most others by altering their
flight paths midway, landing further away, outside the ranges of the outermost
concentric defenses. These had to be met by none other than the final, ultimate
line of defense - the Hercs and other ground forces that would meet the Cybrid
onslaught halfway and slug it out with them toe-to-toe in the empty plains and
rolling hills outside the cities.
For the small numbers of Human Predators that were built, it was a beginning of
sorts, as the results of the research, time and effort into reconstructing the
alien weapon platform were finally put into active duty. Out of the dozens
of chassis bodies built, given the limited anti-grav modules available and the
barely-tested construction techniques required, only ten were made to be fit for
combat. Mole Research, with the help of its manufacturing facilities, churned
out seven working Predators, out of which four were farmed out - two each to
the most highly-qualified pilots in the Red Armageddon and the Black Death
Union squads. The Stormkeepers brought out three units, of which one, the first
SK copy, together with the one that Roger had previously fled away to
ShadowStorm Base in, had been loaded up into the [SSK] Predilection beforehand.
In all the engagements fought on the ground, in many cases, it was the arrival
of the Predators on the scene that changed the tide of battle decisively in
Mankind's favor. Boosting directly behind enemy lines, the Predators sowed
havoc as they brought their weapons to bear on vulnerable areas, and thereafter
using their speed and agility to rejoin the main battle group. Max Kayne, the
plucky pilot who had survived the earlier run-in with Caanon's Knights, led the
Rebels in an impressive 12-straight kill record in a 15-minute engagement,
making him the first Predator ace, twice over. This was matched only an hour
later by [SK] Zeke of ShadowStorm fame, who drove his Predator to make
14 Cybrid kills in 20 minutes in a more prolonged battle that finished with
nothing at all left of a huge co-ordinated invading force that had threatened
to storm nearly all the way into the northern flank of the SK Protectorate zone.
It certainly helped that the pilots were handpicked and trained for the task,
and arguably among the finest that the various squads could field, but the
superiority of the Predator platform itself showed through and through, throwing
numerically-advantaged, well-coordinated forces into a confused, turning
melee of Hercs trying to catch the dangerously elusive flying tank. And it
was with immense regret that the ranking officers of the various squads fielding
the Predator had to recall their units in the final stages of evacuation,
bringing them back into the fleet lest the ultra-advanced technology fall into
the Cybrids' clutches.
The beginning of the many successes of the Predator platform, was however,
eclipsed by the end of the Human occupation of Mars. The battle was over in
just four days, as the Cybrids overwhelmed the last of the ground-based
The remaining humans left on the surface retreated into the tunnels,
sealing themselves deep in the twisting networks in scattered, isolated
communities. With barely a year's supply of food left between them, and
the Cybrid warforms stomping all over the land, whose unchanging mission
was to continue to execute the Prometheus Directive, the ultimate fate
of these groups of people was, at best, uncertain.
In space, the human fleet fared slightly better, managing to drive the Cybrid
fleet momentarily to the far side of the planet, enabling
the transports to traverse the air-space boundary just a few more times,
carrying the last of the evacuees on board already-overcrowded ships.
The Stormkeepers Fleet refused to leave until the last possible moment,
when the transport [SSK] Alacrity brought up the final batch of refugees
from Stormkeep Base, together with the base's commander, [SK] Venom. Once
that was accomplished, the SK Fleet separated as pre-arranged, half of it,
including [SSK] Predilection and its Task Force Genesis-P, going back to Earth
to make a last, final stand against the main Cybrid armada, and the other
half following Harabec Weathers to Titan, where, it was hoped, alternate
arrangements could be made to ensure the continuity of Humankind, should
Earth be lost to the machine invaders.
With cloaking devices installed onboard, the Human fleet burst its way out
of Mars orbit, in carefully-choreographed movements, with no room for error,
or discovery by the pursuing Cybrid forces. The exact movement vectors had
to be pre-arranged, and continually corrected to the point of perfection until
the moment the ships cloaked, as once they did, there was to be no further
way for the bridge crews to determine the relative positions of the ships.
A decoy fragment of the fleet, nicknamed Task Force Redirector, remained
uncloaked for as long as possible, and used innovative strategies, including
the use of large-scale active holographic projections, to lure part of the
Cybrid fleet away from the escaping forces.
Once it was determined to be a safe distance away, Task Force Redirector
engaged cloak, and slipped quietly into the shadows of the night.
"Thou art done, [SK] Roger?"
"Indeed, StormAldur Tsoron. I shall present it at the ceremony.
My apologies if I have, in my haste, left any details out, though
my fellow SK's have been most gracious in rendering their help
toward the recollection of these... memories. But, of course,
this is only a preliminary piece. It shall, of course, receive
"I, Tsoron trust that thou hath done.... a most excellent job.
It shalt be thy most unique contribution to the Chronicles."
"If you say so, [SK] Tsoron. And I am as deeply honored to be able
to complete this work as I am to receive the honor that is to be
bestowed upon me."
"It shalt start in one hour. Then, the world shalt be thus informed
that, with the dawn of the new year, thou shalt also be conferred
thy new level... Tempestkeeper Roger."
Dedicated to :
The Stormkeepers Squad
The Starsiege Universe
... and all who have enjoyed the journey thus far ...
Low Ee Mien
[SK] Louie G3L