Armchair Mecha Pilot
White Knights - A Military Sci-Fi LIGHT Story by Silverwind.
This is a story I'm writing based on some characters a group of friends and I came up with while we were all in Secondary School - I'm lucky to still be friends with them now, and we're all pretty much still into comic books, gaming, and sci-fi. I'm the only one who's really carried on in a creative fashion with the things we came up with though.
Admittedly the story isn't great on science or world-changing ideas... but I enjoy writing it, it's fun, and it has some exciting action in it. Or I'd like to think so, and I've posted it here to be enjoyed by others.
More to follow after the first part.
A light snapped on somewhere high overhead in the vast, darkened chamber. The sudden shock of brightness stung the Leonine Antherians’ eyes, adjusted as they were to the darkness. His ears twitched at the sounds of movement in the darkness, and the scents of people. Nervous, angry, curious – their emotions came through strong in the mingled scents in the council chamber.
He’d been put on the spot, they were trying to make him squirm. Forcing calm, he stilled his twitching tuft-tipped tail, and folded one hand into another behind his back, craning his neck upwards and meeting the eyes of the man staring down at him from behind steepled fingers.
Arnold Stack, the current leader of the Confederation, and as such, also the leader of Defence Command, the Confederations’ military forces. Human, he had tanned, pinkish skin, and a receding grey hairline, kept neat and short above his pressed white shirt collar, and spotless black suit. He looked down at Mandros with an expression somewhere between sneering disgust and curiosity.
“You’re aware of the situation,” he said finally, in a voice laden with contempt. “That there are civilian lives in the balance, and more at risk. Not to mention, should the word of this get any further into the press or world at large, then the press will have a field day with our internal policies, and dicing us apart to analyse what went wrong. And the blame will fall squarely on your head – after all, you lead to it happening, as everyone in this chamber knows”.
Mandros adjusted his tie slightly, before replacing his hands at his back. “As I have said, many times,” he replied in quiet, even tone, “I take full responsibility for what happened previously, and as I have also said before, President Stack, I am ready to do something about the problems I have caused”.
He paused, and cast his eyes around the chamber at the shifting, half-seen forms. Humans, Tessons, Antherians of various species, Atlanteans – how many were on his side, he wondered? Many of them had to be – he wouldn’t be here otherwise. Favour with council members had got him here, after the last mistakes he’d made. He’d spent all his favours getting this second chance, and he wasn’t going to waste it.
He turned his eyes back to Stack, who lowered his hands, and then leaned forward, fixing him with a firm stare.
“All right. You have your chance, Mandros. But you get one chance – Fire Phoenix Squadron is standing by to launch – and to blast that colony out of the skies if they have to. It’s a preferable outcome to Blackwind and his misbegotten cohorts using it for whatever they’re planning”.
Lights went up behind him, and a holographic matrix display sprung to life with pixellated blurring, before resolving into crystal clarity. The upper hemisphere of Terra 2 showed, revolving slowly, with the shapes of a colony cluster hanging stable above. One of the cylindrical, petalled tubes flashed red, and the display zoomed in to highlight the colony.
“You have twelve hours, then DefCom will take their turn. Fire Phoenix squadron will strike the colony with Omega missiles, and try to knock out the Dark Knights – before they finished whatever they’re doing to that colony”.
Mandros raised an eye quizzically – “Dark Knights?”
“Apparently, Blackwind used the name in his last ‘address’ to use four hours ago. So, what’s your plan”.
Mandros turned to study the image, formulating a plan, before turning back.
“I’ll tell you soon. In the meantime – I won’t let you down”.
The light snapped off, and Mandros stalked away. The huge doors to the central chamber, older than anything else in the city, opened and he stepped out into the bustling corridor, the silence of the chamber behind him.
Immediately his aide was on his left elbow, handing him his briefcase, and speaking rapidly, eyes moving to guide Mandros through the crowds. “Mike is assembling the team. They’re crewing up the Knights’ Lance now, and will be ready to brief en route. Nina’s waiting on the roof helipad to take you straight to the Castle”.
“All right,” he said firmly. “No time to waste – we have twelve hours to carry out the operation – and that includes transit time, as well as operational time”.
“Then let’s go,” replied Baxter, steering him towards the staircase, between groups of worried looking people and towards the roof. A few flights of stairs later, they emerged onto the roof. A cold wind whipped across the roof, and Mandros wrapped his overcoat tighter, as his black mane tossed and whipped in the chill, and the growing wind from the sleek helicopters’ rotors.
He briefly turned, and looked over the city below, spread out in a grid of lights. Everyone down there could be in danger. People of all the races – Tesson, Human, Antherian, Atlantean - all together in the Confederation, on the Core Worlds and the Outer Colonies for the last two centuries, working and living as a whole…
And none of them knowing quite how or when they got there – no history survived from that time. It was a mystery that perplexed everyone, everywhere, and was the focus of questions, essays, study groups and all manner of other investigations and projects across society.
A mystery that can wait for now, he thought – there was a problem at hand to deal with that demanded immediate attention and action.
He turned back to the chopper. Nina was in the front seat, the Hyena Antherian over the controls, checking her instruments, before looking out over at him. Baxter was holding the door open, the fair-haired human ready and waiting.
The lion ducked under the rotors and ran for the door.
A hundred miles away, on the outskirts of the city, lay the Castle. Part fortress, part military base, and part laboratory, it was one of the most recently constructed building in the city, and on the planet. Built within the last two years, it had been rebuilt once already – but nobody liked to talk about that incident – especially anybody on the base.
The nearest other buildings were miles away, and the base sat in its’ own plot of land, set aside and paid for by DefCom for the express purpose. Security was provided both by hi-tech and reliable low tech means – double layers of high fences, ditches and earthen berms, all beautifully landscaped to look like garden features, teamed with motion sensors, cameras, pop-up defences, and command-armed-and-detonated buried explosives.
At the heart of the concealed - yet just obvious enough – defences was the base itself. Somewhat sprawling, yet still well laid out and carefully designed, it was both functional, and aesthetically pleasing to behold.
Inside, Mike Summers, leader of the White Knights Special Missions Squadron of the Defence Command turned away from the screen of the communications suite as Baxter signed off after giving the order to move out.
“Jessy, Whitewind, Mace – did you copy that?”
His voice was firm, resolute, and commanding – all qualities that befit his position as leader. Giving a nod to Josh, the Antherian computer systems expert, he strode rapidly from the communications centre and into the corridor, heading for the Armoury – there was no time to waste. A moment later his communication implant buzzed, signalling an incoming call. Two more brief buzzes told him there were others on the line.
“Emerald,” he called out to the bases’ omnipresent AI. “Patch me into a party call”
“Roger,” replied the AI’s female voice. “You’re connected.”
The brown-haired human touched one hand to his ear as a habit, more than through necessity, as he walked.
“Mike,” came Jessy’s voice. The redhead was his wife of some years now – and also acted as the third in the chain of command for the unit. “I’ve recalled the others from off base, and sent word to Talian to prep our armour. How long do we have?”
“Mandros is on the way back here from the Capitol Chambers in the Skyhammer. We need to be ready to leave as soon as he arrives”.
“Right,” came another female voice, this one with more solid undertones. Whitewind, the Antherian second in command of the team, even though she was newer to the unit than Jessy or Mace were. Her experience and connections had made her a perfect choice to take the post – she was also well-liked by everyone, in the time she’d been here so far.
“Mace and I are heading to the Armour Bay. We’ll co-ordinate with Talian and get the suits loaded aboard the Knights’ Lance. We’ll be more than ready to get moving when the boss arrives”.
“Right,” confirmed Mike, taking a turn into an elevator, and riding down, heading for the Knights’ Lance docking bay, below the surface “I’ll check with Nina, and check our course and the travel time to the target – we don’t have time to waste.”
“See you on the ship,” she added. “Out”.
Mike rode the elevator in silence, his thoughts a wild mess. Their first mission since being reactivated, and he knew they’d be watched like hawks – especially since it was against Blackwind, and the others’ who’d followed his lead in defecting from the White Knights. They had to prove they were still reliable, that they could be trusted, and the time and money spent on the squad and its’ equipment had been worthwhile.
“No pressure,” he said to himself wryly, with a grim smile. “Just an everyday mission…” he shook his head and sighed.
Had things stayed the way they had been, had the squadron stayed together as it had, then normally, he would’ve spoken to Londo, his former second in command, and close friend, to confide his worries. But Londo had been reassigned after the incident with Blackwind, back to the DefCom special tactical fighter squadron he’d originally been headhunted from, the Diamond Snakes.
Mike sighed as the elevator doors swished open. The leonine Antherian had been a close friend, and an incredibly reliable second in command. He’d also been a powerful fighter, and popular with the other members of the team. It wasn’t that the others weren’t good at their job. Certainly, they’d been fantastic in training – it was just that so far, he hadn’t had the same connection with them. Old and the new, he thought, stepping out of the corridor, and into the catwalk that lead to one of the Knights’ Lance many access points and hatches.
Below him, the huge shape of the ship spread out, it’s smooth curves and lines filling the underground launch bay from wall to wall with its’ impressive wingspan. The sleek blade-like nose extended away, wide and gently sloped, towards the front of the bay, and the huge door that lead to the launch tunnel.
The ship had been damaged in their last mission, but now she was ready to fight again, after months of work. Talian had worked improvements into the design, and the vixen had promised that it would be like a brand new vessel. Easily the rival of the ship Blackwind and his cronies had stolen – or so he hoped. If everything went well, it wouldn’t come to that.
He stepped into the hatch – fingers crossed.
Somewhere above, on the ground level of the base, Whitewind stepped into the Armour Vault. Instantly, she caught the scent of familiar friends – Mace, the Tesson member of the group was in the room, as was Talian, the Antherian scientific and technical expert. Their conversation halted as she stepped in, greeting them both with a nod, and a wag of her tail, which was returned by Talian.
“How do the suits look?” she asked, taking a look around the room, at the cylindrical chambers, each holding a suit of the advanced powered armour that set the White Knights aside from regular DefCom infantry or Special Forces. Out of the twelve chambers, only six now held suits.
The missing ones…
“It looks good,” said Talian, looking up from a handheld computer, plugged into the terminal alongside Mikes’ armour. “The latest OS has gone in without a hitch, and the suits’ batteries are at full capacity. The new high density batteries will give an much longer operating time than before. And I manage to finish adding a layer of anti-beam laminate before the order came through too – so that ought to help, should we come up against – well. You know”.
Whitewind nodded. “Blackwind,” she said, voicing the name of their former colleague with disgust. He, and the three defectors, had taken four of the suits when they’d turned against the SMS. The other two had been destroyed – Londos’ suit and Talians’ were both destroyed in the same incident – his saving her life from Blackwind.
Nobody talked about it at length, though; especially not Talian, who still carried wounds from the incident – and not just physical ones either. The whole team was missing something.
Not to mention someone – that she was here showed that. Whitewinds’ suit belonged to someone else before it had been reformatted and rebuilt.
She’d never met the woman she’d replaced – an Antherian feline, named Cleo – but the others – they’d known her, been friends with her… she had boots to fill.
“Glad to hear you’ve upped the game,” Whitewind said, realising she’d been absorbed in her thoughts. “I think we can use any advantage to make an impression this time. It’s not just the bad guys who’ll be gunning for us either”.
“Yeah,” added Mace, joining into the conversation. “Everyone’s looking for an excuse to shut us down. Mandros had to call in all his favours to get us a chance.” The Tesson shook his head, his too-perfect smooth green skin gleaming under the vaults’ soft lighting, and his black hair solidly shiny and equally too neat – the best, he claimed, he could mimic the human form, with his natural shape-shifting abilities, shared in kind with the rest of his species. All the same, it was the face all of them knew.
“I spoke to Chace, about it not long ago – she’d pledged to support Mandros, and argue the case for reactivating the Special Missions Squadron program, and get a second squad online, as well as the White Knights – but no one would agree to that. Getting us back up and running was challenge enough, and getting all our equipment back – they were going to turn the Lance into a museum ship! And the Thunderblade into a target! Can you believe that?”
“It’s insane,” sighed Whitewind, turning around to look at her armour, reaching up to take hold of her helmet and lower it to her eye level, buffing a smear from the glossy blue surface with her sleeve. “It’d be a step backward to scrap any of this tech – You outdid yourself, Tali,” she said, looking back over her shoulder at the older, red furred vixen. Talian smiled in response, sighing equally and removing her glasses, pinching the bridge of her muzzle and looking around the room.
“I didn’t do it all alone,” she said as she looked about the room, “but I appreciate the comment. It was always meant to be the best it could be, the cutting edge, for the tip of the spear. Just what you need to tackle anything that comes up… hopefully, and as long as we have funding for it, of course…”
“Well, for now, we do,” added Mace, resting one smooth green hand on her shoulder. “And your designs and tech is helping us all, like it always did”.
Whitewind smiled at the friends, and nodded, looking back into her helmets’ blank yellow eyes, and seeing her own reflection. She’d be looking out through them in only a few hours, as she had in all the training she’d done so far – except this time, it’d be for real, with live ammo and live charges in her weapons, fighting and working for real to help out other people in trouble.
“Well?” asked Mace now standing alongside her, as Talian worked at the main console, prepping the occupied armour cylinders to move down their chutes to the almost identical chamber aboard the Knights Lance a hundred feet below. “Ready to go?”
“Almost,” she said, returning the helmet to its’ place on the rack. “Just staring myself in the mirror,” she said with a smirk. “Wanted to see if there was anything there”
“Careful,” replied the Tesson, looking up at her helmet, and then back to his own armour. “You might not like what you find”.
Whitewinds’ ears flattened at the comment, and she was about to ask what he meant - but she was cut off as Talian activated the armour transfer, the soft blue lighting replaced by hostile red. A siren warbled three times, and the fronts of the capsules slid closed, the six suits descending from the room, and far below to the waiting ship.
The lights returned to normal, and the sirens shut off, leaving silence in the room. Whitewind turned to Mace, but the Tesson had already moved away, talking quietly to Talian, and going over systems information on the handheld pad – something the white-furred vulpine didn’t need to contribute to. Instead, she let her eyes rove across the bay, and the empty tubes – and two filled with the remains of Londo and Talians’ suits.
Goddess forbid that we end up with more.
All three of their communicators chirped, and the room was filled with Emeralds’ voice, the AI calm and collected as ever.
“Skyhammer landing on pad two. All White Knights and Ship Crew personnel report to the Knights’ Lance for briefing and launch procedures immediately”.
“There’s the call,” said Mace. “Let’s go!”
Far off, in another star system entirely, in high orbit of Terra 2 on the orbiting colony New Johannesburg, things were not altogether well.
The streets were quiet, with not even the emergency services on the streets, fighting the fires that had broken out in Blackwind and his allies initial assault on the residential space-station. The small contingent of DefCom troops had fought back valiantly, using their few PowerMover exoskeletons, but the much larger and less manoeuvrable machines had proven no match for the smaller and far more agile powered armour suits. Blackwind, Dace, Sheen, Denzi and T’ai had torn their way through the defenders, before Blackwind had grown tired of the feeble sport, and gone to work on his main goal, taking Sheen with him and leaving the others to continue hunting down the DefCom troops at their leisure – it would lure the White Knights to them, and keep the civilian population under control as well.
This then, was why Second Lieutenant Skye Tarannis was huddled in her heavily damaged PowerMover in an alley between two factory buildings, urgently rebooting her systems, and hoping to whatever or whoever was listening that whichever of the cruel, sadistic and terrifying armoured demons that had come to the colony had left her alone for now.
She and her squad had deployed after the front line forces – they were more of an engineering and logistics battalion, after all. They wouldn’t have even been here, normally – New Johannesburg was a stopover on their route back to Antheria, after a tour of duty assisting in civil engineering on the new joint colony on Pavonis Three. Last week, she’d been building roads and sewers, not dodging beams and bullets. Her PowerMover was used to handling construction materials and power tools – not an autocannon rifle. Flustered and drawing in sharp intakes of breath, and trying to stop herself from sobbing in confusion, fear, and sadness, the blue-and-white vixen almost yelled in relief as the PowerMovers’ OS returned to full status – she’d had to debug it after the green and purple one – Denzi? – had peppered her ‘mover with particle beam cannon blasts, the excess of electromagnetic energy overloading her systems and putting the PowerMovers’ targeting, sensor, and navigation systems into wild feedback loops and errors.
Unable to fight back, she had watched as her squad attempted to defend her, her CO, Scott, telling her to run – and she had, as they were shot to pieces, sliced apart, and toyed with by the armoured maniacs. So, she’d run – and she knew, they let her go, saving her for later, along with the few soldiers she’d managed to link up with.
The young vixen looked at her monitors, the PowerMovers’ head swivelling to take in the men and women around her. Four of them remained, all armed lightly with rifles, and one lone light machine-gun. Nothing that would – as experience had proved – damage that terrifying armour or even apparently slow it down. She wasn’t even sure that the rockets on her PowerMover or its’ autocannon would do the job – although she wasn’t sure she’d seen a straight hit yet either.
“What now,” asked one of the soldiers, at last breaking the silence. “We can’t sit here forever. And we can’t be the only ones left, either. There’s got to be some others. We should come up with a plan, or something. Find some way to fight back, or-“
“Quiet,” growled the oldest amongst them – and the highest ranked. A gruff son of a bitch of a Snow Leopard Antherian, he’d grunted his name as ‘Cash’ and left it at that. His gear marked him out as some kind of Special Operations soldier. No one knew how he’d ended up here – two of the regular grunts had dragged his unconscious body with them. He’d come around a short while later.
Skye watched the conversation with interest, as Cash looked out of the mouth of the alley, looking down on the smouldering fires further down the colonies’ cylindrical landscape. Sporadic gunfire still came to her speakers from outside, and the static-plagued sounds of the tac-net.
“He’s right,” she said, cutting through the tense silence again. “We can’t just sit here, doing nothing. There must be something we could do. Send a message, contact other survivors, or head to a depot and-“
“Shut up!” hissed Cash, flashing a look to the PowerMover. “Don’t you think that’s already been done? We know there’s help coming – we were told that already. It just takes time – and if we want to stand a chance of fighting back, we need to wait for that help to come, not throw our lives away-“
“What about the others?” asked an exotically beautiful Atlantean woman who was also part of their rag-tag group “the other survivors, I mean. We can’t just leave them out there to face those –those things. If they’re alive, we should be doing something!”
Skye rose, the PowerMover standing with her, half the height again of everyone around her. “She’s right,” spoke up the vixen, her voice distorted with tinny reverb from the speakers. “We can’t just leave them out there to get slaughtered by those… those monsters, we have to do something to help them, don’t we?”
She looked around at the others, raising her rifle to emphasise her point. “We’ve still got weapons, and we’re still in one piece,” she said, with a wavering voice, and conviction the wasn’t sure she felt all the way through. Still, it was the least she could do for the rest of her squad – they’d done as much for her.
“We could create a distraction,” the PowerMover pilot said, feeling her resolve harden as the others began to pay attention, coming to their feet and beginning to check their weapons and ammo. “Lure those armoured freaks away from the other troops, and then escape before they reach us-“
“All right,” said Cash, cutting in and now facing the rest. “But what then? Got any ideas?”
“I’ve got one,” said the Atlantean woman, nervously, before reaching into one of her equipment pockets and pulling out three blocks of plastic explosive. “We could use this?”
They looked to the Snow Leopard, who nodded “All right. Let’s see what we can do”.
Skye felt a thrill rise inside her gullet – maybe they’d give the armoured attackers something to think about after all, and maybe-
A thunderous explosion rumbled from overhead, and the PowerMovers’ proximity alarms sounded at the same time as yells and shouts came from the others gathered in the alley. Cash fired upward, yelling for them to run, while Deanna, the Atlantean, screamed and curled into a ball. The other two yelled at Skye, firing upwards as they began to retreat, unwilling to leave her behind. The vixen felt anger thunder through her veins as she cranked the ‘movers head skyward, searching out for the shapes of the armoured-
A flash of light registered in the optics, and then a searing burst of pain surged through her right arm, followed by the hot, burning pain of a wound, and the warm trickle of blood inside the suit. Breaches registered. A detached part of her brain informed her calmly it was a laser wound, while the rest screamed in animal panic. A ghostly vision of lilac and pale green armour moved with lithe agility down the sheer walls of the buildings, dancing from side to side, as Cash snarled and fired a grenade from an underbarrel launcher. The explosion rained more dust and debris into the alley, the noise a torrent adding to the confusion of shouting, gunfire, and collapsing walls and tearing metal from the fire escapes and drainpipes.
The pounding mass of sound and confusion closed in on her, and she clenched her spasmodic right hand on the triggers inside her PowerMovers oversized arms, the hands of the suit clenching in response on the trigger of the autocannon. High explosive rounds hammered out in a roar to cover every other noise, sawing back and forth across the enclosed space as she forced her sluggish body to move, urging the oversized mechanised suit to flee from the shape that loomed out of the darkness, laughing in a mocking, devilish tone.
“Run,” the voice said, “Run, so I can chase you!”
Flames danced in reflection from the gleaming suit as Skye backed away, bracketing the suit as it stood, statue-perfect and tall against the backdrop of carnage. Compared to the PowerMover it was small, slight, and sleek – but ten times as deadly. Snarling in anger and baring her teeth, the vixen thumbed a trigger as the targeting reticle projected over the eyes turned red with a full lock-on. A barrage of micro-missiles from the pod on the PowerMovers left shoulder corkscrewed through the air towards the suit, closing in with dreadful finality – before the thing leapt and was obscured by explosions.
Skye screamed her frustration and hosed the smoke and flame with her autocannon as she backpedalled her ten-foot suit in awkward steps
“Die!” screamed the blue furred vixen, tears streaming in frustration and anger, ears flattened and lips drawn back in a primal snarl. Obscenities, curses and wordless animal snarls coloured the air from her speakers as she fired at the half-seen shape, which, it seemed, was trailing fire and blackened fragments.
She pounded the streets, firing until the autocannon overheated, and the ammo counter ran dry, and then she reversed the weapon wielding it like a club and willing the thing haunting her, mocking her, to appear-
Looming out of the shadows, the armoured form dropped in front of her, lithe, feminine and slender. Light gleamed from every angle and curve – and it was too close. Skye swiped one armoured fist at the figure, but it – she – ducked aside, more agile than any PowerMover could hope to match. A blade sprung out from somewhere, gleaming in the light, and the ‘movers HUD sprung into brilliant red with a dozen warnings of exterior breaches. She stumbled back, raising an arm to block an incoming swipe, the blade screeching through armour and components. The armoured attacker laughed, a deranged maniacal sound, as she pressed against the strength of the exoskeleton, matching it. Until the arm began to bend at the elbow – the slight, sleek powered armour suit was overwhelming the PowerMover.
Desperation and shocked disbelief overwhelmed Skye – the Antherian could not believe that a person-sized, slender and slim armour like that could overwhelm, and even outshoot, a PowerMover – it just was not possible! Desperate for anything, the vixen triggered the close-in weapons, short-range sub-machineguns, and watched as the rounds spattered harmlessly off of her opponent, leaving dinks and smears across the surface of the armour.
The extended arm of the Mover gave up the fight, the armour buckling and her arm within bending the wrong way with a wrench of muscles and a stab of pain. She staggered back under the force, and straightened, determined to meet her fate eye to eye –
And saw Cash, standing behind, levelling an anti-tank launcher. Skyes’ eyes widened as the flash and smoke from the muzzle appeared to blossom in slow motion, and the plume of white smoke crossed the gap between the Snow Leopard and the armoured figure like a line on a page. The impact of the munition blasted the armoured warrior clear of the ground and into a crumpled heap, the back of the suit a mangled, shattered mess.
“No more time to waste,” called Cash, dropping the now-useless tube, and stalking closer. “We have to find somewhere to hide – and get help,” he added a moment later. “Can you move?”
Skye felt pain throb through her arms and body, and tried to rise in the collapsed PowerMover – but nothing replied. The exoskeleton was dead.
“Not in this thing,” she said with a wince. “But I can get out of it. Give me a hand!”
The two of them fled from the scene, leaving the wreckage of the ‘mover and fleeing into the alleys and byways of the residential area as the fires began to spread.
Moments after they’d gone, the recumbent shape of the armour stirred.
The Skyhammer touched down on the surface helipad, rotors a blurring disk and the engines whining as the passenger helicopter settled onto its’ wheels. The rotors had barely stopped turning before Baxter, and then Mandros hopped out.
The burly, huge-framed figure watching them from the edge of the pad loped forward, bowing his head in greeting as the pair reached him.
“Marcus,” said Baxter in greeting. “Are we ready to go? This is a time sensitive mission, after all”.
“Everything’s as squared away as it can be. All we need is Nina to pilot the ship, and we’re ready for the off. And of course, sir,” the huge tiger Antherian added, nodding to Mandros, “Your word to go, sir”
“Take it as given,” said Mandros as the pad rumbled, and then began to descend to the hangar level below. “As Baxter says, time is of the essence, and there’s none to waste. The longer we spend getting to New Johannesburg, the longer Blackwind and his crew have to wreak havoc. And the longer DefCom holds out against him, the more casualties they’ll receive”.
The pad came to a hissing halt, emerging in the hangar level. Marcus and the others moved at a quick step to a second elevator, that lead lower to the Knights’ Lance hangar, ignoring the resting shapes of the aircraft and vehicles around them – they wouldn’t be needed this time out. This would be a stealthy mission.
They descended again, this time emerging into the ship launch hangar, and coming to rest on the same walkway Mike had used earlier. As the trio stepped off the elevator, a nearby door opened out onto the same catwalk, with its’ two passengers – Nina, who still wore her flight suit, and Meghan, the other combat-ready member of the team.
“Sir,” said the young Atlantean, with a flustered voice. “I, um-“
“At ease,” said the leonine Antherian with a smile. “No need for formality – we don’t operate that way, remember?”
The raven-haired, elfish woman grinned shyly and nodded. “Sorry, you’re right. Just a bit nervous, what with my first proper as a member of the team, and all that, I mean, I fought before, but-“
Marcus rested one huge hand on her shoulder and smiled. “You’ll do fine,” he rumbled. “You’ve had the training – and you did fine before, too”.
“I’ll say,” added Baxter. “Don’t think many of us would be here, if it wasn’t for you”.
The group reached the Knights Lance entry hatch, and headed down the main corridor to the bridge, in the nose of the ship. Everyone on the bridge turned as they arrived, and Mike vacated the command chair, gesturing to Mandros to take his place – although the black-maned Lion refused.
“It’s an operational mission,” he explained, “and that means it’s your command. I’m just here to advise, and to monitor. And if you need any help, of course”
Mike hesitated, looking around the room from behind his shades. It didn’t feel right to him – but every pair of eyes watched his face, waiting for his word, not Mandros’ word. He searched out Jessy, his wife watching him with lively, green eyes, and a patient, knowing look. She raised an eyebrow and tipped her chin to the seat. Whitewind too, had a steadfast, resolute look and nodded firmly when he met her eyes.
Slowly, he turned around, and sat back in the seat, settling into the chair, and resting his hands on the controls in both arms.
All at once everyone moved, taking their stations. Nina moved past, heading for the pilots’ station at the front of the bridge, in its’ recessed pit. Everyone else settled down, as the ship came to life. Stations lit up, their holographic displays materialising in mid-air above each console. Information flowed steadily, and the members of the team settled into their roles.
“Ready?” asked Mandros quietly from behind him.
Mike swivelled in his chair to regard the lion, and then back to the others. “Josh,” he asked in a firm voice. “Transfer Emeralds’ central programs and routines to the Knights’ Lance core, and run the backup on the base network. Whitewind, confirm we’re clear for an orbital ascent with DefCom local commands. Nina, how are our power levels?”
“Emeralds’ transferred and ready,” replied Josh over the intercom from the computer systems room. “All one hundred percent, and operating normally”.
“All ascent paths are authorised, and there’s no air traffic in the area – we’re clear for launch”
“All power levels at one hundred percent, and systems are nominal,” finished Nina, tapping the touchpad screens, before looking back over her shoulder at Mike. He rubbed his eyes beneath his shades, pinching the bridge of his nose briefly, before nodding and giving a smile, casting away the last of his doubts.
“Right! Beginning launch sequence!”
Power throbbed through the ship, and status lights changed colour, the bridge bathed in blue light as the launch sequence engaged. The Knights’ Lance reverberated with the heavy sounds of disconnecting utility tubes, and stabilising clamps.
“Utility lines disconnected, and retracting,” stated Jessy, bright green eyes focused on her monitors. “Life support now fully autonomous and running at nominal levels”
“Good,” confirmed Mike. “Are we sealed?”
“Affirmative,” replied Mace with a nod, his smooth green skin gleaming with an almost liquid sheen under the blue lighting. “All external hatches and ports are sealed, bar essential systems. We’re tighter than a councillors expense budget”.
Mandros smiled at that, and a small chuckle ran around the bridge.
“All right,” added Mike. “Time for the fun part – open the launch tunnel, and flood the bay”.
Whitewind and Nina moved as one to comply, and ahead of the thick bridge windows, a wide rectangular hatch on the far wall of the massive bay slid open with heavy grace, a dark tunnel beyond. Sirens sounded three times, and then with a rumbling rush, water spilt in through grated ports high on both walls, rapidly rising past the level of the windows, and flooding through into the tunnel itself.
“We’re submerged,” confirmed Whitewind. “Retracting cradle”
Hydraulic arms swung pads nestling against the smooth white fuselage of the ship away, and it listed slightly before resting on it’s own buoyancy. With a final command from Mike, the engines ignited, virtually flash-boiling water at the stern of the ship, before it nudged slowly into the tunnel, where it hung for a moment on one final command, the door cycling closed behind the mighty ship.
“In position,” confirmed Nina. “Ready and waiting,” the Hyena added, checking an overhead monitor. “External tunnel doors open”
Magnetic induction coils embedded in the walls of the tunnel charged, interacting with inlaid elements in the ships hull – and like a huge railgun bullet, the Knights’ Lance surged through the water, picking up speed as the continuous sequence of magnetic accelerators blasted the ship forward, the plasma rockets adding to the furious speed, the tunnel angling upward for launch, until the speed reached critical levels.
At the surface, the water was still and resting, almost four miles from the inland location of the base itself. Seabirds wheeled peacefully and lazily in the evening sky – before the water erupted in a violent fountain of white, and the sleek, blade-sharp, winged form of the Knight’s Lance erupted from the water, thundering into the air on plumes of white smoke and a rainbow of water droplets rising into the sky until it became a sparkling dot in the early evening sky.
TO BE CONTINUED…