The StormKeepers Chronicles
Volume V "Rebel Conversion"

Copyright (c) 1999 by Low Ee Mien
All references to Hercs and the StarSiege Universe (c) 1999 Dynamix Corporation

Chapter 5 : A Beginning, an End

my notes

SK Fleet Holding Zone 2-Alpha
Mars Orbit

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 position.

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 hull section.

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 defenses.

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.

Darkstorm HQ
Planet Earth

"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 further corrections..."

"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."

The End

Dedicated to :

The Stormkeepers Squad
The Starsiege Universe
... and all who have enjoyed the journey thus far ...

Low Ee Mien
[SK] Louie G3L