Saturday, July 16, 2016

Closing One Book, Opening Another

Months ago, the Shifting Horizon was sent out, along with a dozen other ships, to find a faster route through jumpspace to the Pentacus system. Today, that mission was accomplished. After some confusion, the gang realized that they were finally back home, and much cheering and back-slapping occurred. Acting Captain Grainer personally congratulated each one for a job well done. The jump route they found had indeed chopped the trip in half! The mission was not only a success, but a resounding success!

After the cheers died down, the Captain calls for a moment of silence for those lost. And 30 seconds into that minute, news arrives... Earth has fallen.

Queue the "Wait... what?".

In the months past, the already disliked UEA had begun making various "anti-riot" laws that had the opposite effect - mass demonstrations, many of which turned ugly. There were mutterings of revolt, of seceding from the UEA. UEA Peacekeepers were spread thin, fire-fighting small uprisings and quelling riots. Suddenly, 16 days before the Shifting Horizon arrived in known space, all traffic from Alpha Corvi ceased; all UEA ships in the area massed for a raid, but never returned. A second expedition of Duul'Tlak ships also set out, never to return. No one has any information from the blockaded systems. Alpha Corvi, Leporis A 4, Earth, and the Alchiba system are completely cut off. Attempts to find alternate routes from Bardron to Leporis have failed. Luckily... there's a brand new route back.

An emergency senate was formed, a new federation: the Allied Planetary Federation; they commissioned a ship from L20 Industries, a much larger ship; they also sent the crew of the Shifting Horizon on a mission to gather as many ships as possible. Of all of the ships in the fleet, the officers of the SH were the most experienced. Grainer was given full Captain status; the others were upgraded to barely a step below. The Julians split up, and managed to convince every single system to give their best. The Shifting Horizon was retrofitted to become a new ship - the APF SS Oncoming Storm. Taking the new fleet, they rushed through the new jumpspace route in record time, and arrived on the far side of Earth.

The previous fleets floated in a merciless kill-box, dead. It was up to the Oncoming Storm, two other battleships, four fleets of destroyers, and four flights of fighters to take on the four AlSec battleships, four fleets of destroyers, and four fleets of fighter.

The two sides met in battle... in the first round, the AlSec deployed their ships in a classic attack - battleships against destroyers, destroyers against fighters, and fighter protecting the battleships. The first salvo ended with AlSec losing every single battleship, and a fleet each of destroyers and fighters; the APF fleet lost their destroyers, but managed to survive otherwise. The second salvo was just as brutal; the APF elected to hold the Oncoming Storm back, and attacked fighters and destroyers evenly, while AlSec deployed everything they had against the battleships. In vain; AlSec lost all but one fleet each of their destroyers and fighters, while the APF fleet lost only a single battleship. 20 minutes too late, the AlSec reinforcements arrived, and were quickly slaughtered.

However, during the battle, Captain Grainer heroically gave his life, taking out a communications array and decimating the destroyers. As his crew jettisoned, he ordered his ship to ramming speed, saving the crew and the destroyers.

At the conclusion of the battle, Julian 1.1 was voted Captain of the Oncoming Storm; Julian 1.0 captain of the destroyer fleets, and Kiri was somehow put in charge of a capital ship of her own.

Earth was saved, but had suffered a heavy toll - half of its population was gone. Dead or vanished, few knew, and fewer still spoke of it. The cleanup took three months, purging AlSec from the system, and providing aid where it was needed.

Finally, they found a lead - an off-the-maps science base, near the Edge. Traveling there, they were greeted by a hostile force of humans and Kchk'Trrs, as well as a strange, alien creature who seemed to be teleporting around quite a bit. While most of the humans and bugs posed little threat, there were two that nearly ended the lives of several of the crew:

First, the teleporting creature nearly managed to teleport Julian 1.1 outside the ship; his armor full of holes from a crazy-powerful robot, he would have suffocated before he could get back in. Second, Gadget did his usual tactic of tossing a bunch of explosive cord at an enemy. Unfortunately, this enemy happened to be carrying 2 detonation packs, several EMP and thermal grenades, and some self-propelled missiles. The cord exploded for a total of 40-something damage, which was enough to not only punch through his armor, but set off all the armament he was carrying.

For 100 damage, plus 27 points of EMP damage. In a large blast radius. With 20 points of armor piercing.

Let me be clear. This was enough damage that it would have completely destroyed the Shifting Horizon. That is not small arms fire. That is not even quad-linked laser cannon fire. That is capital ship class railgun fire. It blasted a hole in the station big enough to set a jeep inside.

Oh, and Gadget? He was inside that blast radius. Did he soak the damage? Oh yes. He spent the black chip he had just picked up. Talk about lucky. Of course, he was reduced to "seriously bleeding out" not long afterwards, when the strange creature gutted him like a robot fish; two rolls (and rerolls) later, Gus managed to get him repaired, though his missing arm will have to be taken care of back on board the ship. Julian 1.0 got teleported outside, but made himself a new door and waltzed right in.

The teleporty-dude, however, wasn't done. He bounced around, nearly wounded a couple more people... then got caught by a Duul'Tlak sword. Shaken and wounded, he attempted to escape, but could not; Julian 1.0's guns reduced him to a bleeding corpse.

...which sank through the floor and vanished. He did leave behind his sword, a strange, fear-inducing blade that does Str+2d6+2 damage. Not too bad, actually.

Scraping any useful data, the crew abandoned the science station, and launched a single torpedo into it. Heading towards the coordinates they found, they arrived... outside the Edge. The universe was much, much bigger than anyone had dreamed; the Edge, as it was known, was not a time/space anomaly, but a wall - a huge, spherical wall, wrapping around the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Outside the exclusion zone, the universe looked much different. Systems were farther apart that science had calculated, orders of magnitude farther. Jumpspace still worked, but it would take much longer to get where they wanted to go. And this far from known space, they were on their own...

And thus ends Book 3: Corruption, and begins Book 4: Darkness.

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