Foundation Orbital Research Compound 05, CACC
July 13th, 1973, 00:23 hours GMT.
"Sir," Lieutenant Mackie said, inputting a code into her consoles, "They're hailing us."
Cooper sighed, "Visual?"
Mackie shook her head, "Audio only."
"Turn down the alarms in here and put him on."
"This is Vladimir Vernadsky, Main Intelligence Directorate Division "Psychotronics". I apologize for my brevity, but there is something wrong with my vessel. I am aware, as you are, that the Earth is gone. We are under standing orders to investigate your role in the disappearance. Unfortunately my brethren have decided that this means your destructions. I am well aware that this will not bring us any information that we do not already know.
Our battle plan is to fly our ships in close formation until we can engage with short range weapons. We have already fired the kinetic impactors. You must stop them before they close the distance. I will try to help from here.
"FORC-05 actual, responding. Can you hear me?"
"The signal's gone sir," Mackie flipped another switch. "I have multiple radar contacts. No more radio contacts, though we're hailing across all frequencies with multiple organization codes."
"Ensign Jennings," Director Cooper turned away. "Reboot the CIWS computers and make sure they're fully operational. We can't have them fucking up on us like the last live fire exercise."
"Yes sir. Give me 10 minutes and we'll be able to shoot anything they throw our way out of the sky," Jennings replied, before hurrying out of the room.
"Colonel," Cooper stopped as the man stepped forward, "I need you and your prototypes out there. We'll synchronize our fire control data as soon as possible, but I want your birds in the air immediately.
"Yes sir," Colonel Leonard replied, snapping his hand up to salute.
Cooper would've laughed at the absurdity, but the man was about to put his life on the line for them all, so he nodded and smiled instead.
Foundation Orbital Research Compound 05, Hangar Bay 4
July 13th, 1973, 00:35 hours GMT.
Colonel Leonard breathed slowly and evenly in the thick fluid of his ship's cramped command bridge. Through the murk of the perfluorocarbon gel, intended to protect them against high accelerations, he could see his crew, hunched over partially-installed control panels. The DCVP Ace of Diamonds's engines ignited, and the ship flew out of the hangar followed shortly by its sister ships. They accelerated with ponderous grace- no one had expected to be using the experimental Countermeasure Vessel testbeds in any serious capacity, and their engines weren't entirely designed for the weight of the armament they carried.
Leonard tapped his comm console, "Ace of Diamonds, Hangar Clear."
"Captain Wesker, King of Clubs, Hangar Clear."
"Queen of Spades, Hangar Clear." Captain Jennifer Jackson, their newest pilot, reported.
"Whooo." Came the familiar and completely inappropriate voice of Captain John Ulner, "Jack of Hearts here, Hangar Clear."
Leonard chuckled, then tapped his console again, "Jack. Calm it down a bit. We've got hostiles incoming. King, you've got quadrant one, Queen, you've got two, Jack, you've got three and I've got four. Enemy approach is along a polar orbit from planetary north, above the ecliptic, so we'll be supplementing the CIWS in the top hemisphere. Be ready to shift if needed to the bottom half of your quadrant. Don't push your coilguns too hard, and remember that we still haven't quite nixed those coolant loop issues. Good hunting."
A round of confirmations filtered through the open channel. Leonard looked down at his targeting computer and began to analyze the data. Twenty large projectiles- too fast to be missiles, too big to be kinetic impactors. Only two ships, thankfully. The weapons were going to arrive in 25 minutes, the ships in an hour. Maybe an hour and a half if they were lucky.
54,451 Kilometers from FORC-05. High Earth Orbit.
July 13th, 1973, 00:55 hours GMT.
They'd burned out to a significant distance, dropping chaff clouds on the most likely approaches and warming up their coilguns. Now, they waited. Leonard had always believed firmly in the old platitude that combat is boredom punctuated by brief moments of terror. The best he could hope for was more boredom, but terror, according to the data pouring in from the four DCVPs' radomes, was already on the way.
Leonard caught a slight violet flash of light outside the bridge's tiny porthole. His eyes went wide as the flash of light was followed shortly by the sensors registering an impactor exploding violently as it encountered the chaff swarm. He allowed himself a momentary internal smile as the violet flashes lit up the sky in front of him. And then the tracks on the computer screen began to bend.
"All ships! These things are changing course! Fall back and prepare for intercept of guided missiles in quadrant 4."
The helmsman pulled back on the control stick, the fluid of the bridge swirling as the bow-heavy vessel swung around, attitude thrusters flaring. They matched the trajectories of the projectiles, nuclear engine burning cherry-red. He hadn't thought that impactors this large could be so agile, but they were now actively avoiding his chaff cloud. If he was lucky they'd caught the first one before it had fragmented. He wasn't counting on it though.
One question still rang in his mind: how were they being guided?
8 light seconds from FORC-05. Interplanetary Space
July 13th, 1973, 0:55 hours GMT.
Vladimir Vernadsky looked at the other Vladimir Vernadskys and frowned. The apparitions surrounding him moved from station to station, preparing for the grim work ahead of them. The engines began to stutter. Vladimir knew that without a connection to Earth their energy reserve was limited, but the rest of his crew did not care. They'd set course for a close pass on the Foundation station, and they'd get one shot. The howling deep inside his ship intensified.
If he couldn't stop this, one shot was all they'd need. Worse yet, if the Foundation couldn't stop the missiles already flying ahead of them, it wouldn't matter. The Global Occult Coalition, the Foundation, someone was going to need to help them when the ships finally shut down. His degrading fellows didn't understand that. All they had left to them was confusion and rage.
54,423 Kilometers from FORC-05. High Earth Orbit.
July 13th, 1973, 00:55 GMT
V-13 opened his eyes for the first time. V-20 had just exploded. There was an invisible wall in front of them, but he knew the solution. They'd go around it. He could feel the ships around him. 18 of his brothers and 4 of the others. The others would be the problem.
V-13 chanted to himself, bringing the calm he needed to redirect his cage. The spirit energies behind him ignited and he directed him on a new path. A small cloud of metal tore towards him, but he evaded it with contemptuous ease. It would take longer to kill these thieves, but they would still die.
52,679 Kilometers from FORC-05. High Earth Orbit.
July 13th, 1973, 01:15 hours GMT.
"I've got multiple encounters," Captain Ulner, for the first time since Leonard had met him, sounded worried, "Gunner's having trouble getting enough metal in the air. I'm starting to think these guys are a little smarter than a guided missile, sir."
Leonard grunted as he tracked the firing solution on the nearest target. The topside coilgun sprang to life, firing a spread of tungsten at his target. He was rewarded with a small flash of light. Wesker had managed to kill 3 clusters but his weapons systems had overloaded during the last engagement, leaving his ship dead in space. Jackson's tally was 7 clusters and rising. Ulner was still struggling to shake the 5 clusters that had decided that he was their target, and not the other way around.
None of them had fragmented yet. Leonard's tally was 4. That left 1 cluster unaccounted for. Small red warning lights had started to flicker on the master console each time he altered course.
"Queen!" He said, punching his comm.
"Yes sir?" Jackson's voice answered in his ear.
"Go help Jack. The minute those things decide to break off, we're screwed."
"What about the last target?"
"I'll handle it."
Leonard's telemetry indicated the last target was headed straight for the base.
"Bring us around! Throttle to full!"
34,502 Kilometers from FORC-05. High Earth Orbit.
July 13th, 1973, 01:15 hours GMT.
V-13 was alone now. His fellows were all lost or stupidly pursuing the wrong targets. He was the only one who knew the true enemy. The Foundation and their evil would be eradicated.
His pursuer was gaining on him though. How was that possible? He tried to increase his velocity, but he felt drained. The energy. His energy! It was gone!
He closed his eyes again and flew apart in a rage. Suddenly a single kinetic impactor became a hundred crowbar sized missiles in an ever widening constellation.
6 light seconds from FORC-05. Interplanetary Space
July 13th, 1973, 01:25 hours GMT.
Vladimir Vernadsky looked over the weapons officer's shoulder. He felt the energy that fueled these copies waning. This copy of him didn't seem to care about anything anymore but the range indicator, which showed, to Vladimir, a uncomfortably small number. He passed his hand through the spirit's abdomen, and grabbed at something invisible. The half-man disappeared. Vernadsky stepped forward and pressed several buttons. The gamma ray emitter targeting system found purchase, the ship next to them. He fired, and a slight buzz reverberated throughout the ship.
Now there was just one ship left. Vernadsky closed his eyes and raised his hands to the ceiling, while slowly, the spirits around him… simply disappeared.
Vernadsky smiled as his own energy was restored. The imperfect copies no longer a drain on his own power, he reached out with the ship's spirit engines, decelerating it with layer upon layer of psionic force.
9,564 Kilometers from FORC-5 - Medium Earth Orbit
July 13th, 1973, 01:25 hours GMT.
"Colonel. I'm preparing to intercept. Jack's taken some heavy damage. Three of the clusters are down. I can't get him on comms but he seems to be active."
"FUCK," Queen screamed into the comms. "Colonel. I got the last one. But the Jack of Hearts has ceased contact. Their reactor-"
"Understood. You're too far out to assist here. Give King a tow, and get back to base as soon as you can."
Ulner and Leonard had come up in training together, but they all knew what they were getting into when they'd launched this morning. Leonard could mourn later.
Right now he needed, desperately, to get ahead of this cloud. The red warning lights on his console intensified.
Foundation Orbital Research Compound 5, Director Cooper's Office.
July 19th, 1973, 9:22 hours GMT.
"Telemetry from Colonel Leonard's DCVP indicated that his engines were on the verge of failure." Cooper did his best to avert his eyes from O5-10's silhouette.
"I have the telemetry in front of me, I was asking for your conclusions on the appropriateness of his actions."
"Ahh. There were approximately 100 impactors, his actions eliminated 42, and the point defense managed to reduce the remainder to 4."
"What happened next?" O5-10's electrolarynx made it impossible to determine the emotion behind these questions, but this had all the hallmarks of an interrogation.
"2 of the impactors missed the station. 2 did not. 1 hit in the residential section, and 1 struck the D-class wing."
Cooper couldn't see 05-10 very clearly, but he was sure the man was shifting his position before asking his next question. "Casualties?"
"A couple D-class, and Dr. Marko as well. He appears to have ignored the evacuation order."
Cooper stopped and searched the information sheet in front of him. "D-1153 and D-2045."
O5-10 stopped for a moment before continuing. "What do you think would've happened if all 100 of the impactors had made it through?"
"Point defense was surprisingly accurate. Probably 4 more impactors would've struck the station. Given that the strike on the residential section was nearly catastrophic on its own… I'd say the Colonel made the right call."
"Alright. I want the full report before the end of the week."
The computer screen went black, and Director Cooper breathed freely for the first time in several minutes. He took a few moments to collect himself, then pressed a button on his desk. "Send Miss Jackson in."
"Yes sir," came the reply from the intercom.
Captain Jackson opened the door, walked in and took a seat.
"Miss Jackson, I'd like to start by…"
"Captain Jackson," she interjected.
"It's Captain. Not Miss."
"Oh." Cooper felt his face go slightly red with embarrassment, "I apologize. Captain Jackson." Cooper tried to get back on track, "I'm sorry about your friends. Ulner and Leonard were good men."
"The Ace and Jack crews knew what they were getting into. They saved lives, there's no greater tribute than to keep living in their honor."
"Still. Leonard sacrificed himself by cutting in front of that last swarm. And you accounted for half of the downed clusters."
"I just happened to be in the right places at the right times."
"I've been empowered to grant field promotions." Cooper pulled a sheet of paper from one of the stacks in front of him. "Since you're probably the best pilot we have right now, this seems to make sense."
Jackson took the sheet of paper and glanced over it. "You want me to take on Leonard's old command?"
"We do, yes."
"I can do that."
Cooper stood up, "I have another meeting in an hour I have to get ready for, but later today the command staff will be having a meeting. 1300 hours."
"I'll be there, sir." Jackson stood and saluted Cooper crisply.
Cooper was caught flat footed by that, and tried to do his best to return it properly. The two stood there for a couple of seconds looking at each other before Jackson laughed. Cooper didn't quite keep it together either.
"We have to work on that salute, sir." Jackson said, turning to the door.
"Yes we do." Cooper said, sitting back down.