"He hoped it was not true"
Admiral Terachi stood watch over the troop deployment. It was mind boggling in scope. No operation this large had ever been attempted in his lifetime, let alone in recorded history. He was glad to be alive. Glad to be a part of what was sure to be the planet's final fight. He just wished he could be there with the soldiers - the battle forces. He just wished he could die with them on the fields of honor. It would be a most glorious death, but refusing artificial implants was a choice he would stick with. At 35, a year younger than Colonel Jon-Azon, he was already one of the oldest people in Terrania and probably too old to fight anyway. Besides, the battle ahead was too important to leave some of the life and death results to chance. Someone would have to make some of those decisions. Terrania would have to make some of those decisions. I am Terrania.
The Imperator was not a religious man. Besides religion being frowned upon by the battle nation in general, he just didn't have the time for it. He hated those that thought they did. He only had time to hate, now. To him, the Believers were not much better than the scholars were. The scholars are an embarrassment to humanity, he was known to try to explain on occasion. To avoid spilling their blood on Terra-Actual, they often presented ridiculous attempts at a final solution to the Over-world War such as ignoring the conflict above and focusing on life below or even negotiating with the goddamned slaves.
As if either race was fighting for anything less than their own survival, achievable only by the complete annihilation of the other. Optimism was an escapist luxury someone in his position could not afford to entertain and yet these assholes had the audacity to speak of the possibility of ending their eradication by having faith in the unseen or attempting to converse with soulless, mechanical objects. Fucking Believers. He was especially dubious of the Sanice Mosquainne and her class. He thought of them as a more extremist version of the Meredin class and wished he lived only about a century prior, when religion was still completely outlawed under the laws of the new Lex Fannia. If Metal Rain hadn't left Terrania always in need of new soldiers, he probably would have already had all Believers adjusted.
A war is won by the sacrifices of the brave, not the babble of cowards and as much as he respected the courage and intelligence of his commander in chief, he worried about the influence the man's nonmilitary, cowardly chief advisor might have on him.
Secretary Bran was a great secretary who had never seen combat, one of the few military men of his age in Terrania with such a dubious distinction. A scholar who just happened to be smart enough to make it to the top of the Battle Nation's command elite without proving his worth in the battle forces. In that sense, he was one of a kind. Maybe there was something respect worthy in that. At least, Terachi thought to himself as he took another sip of his cold water, at least he's not one of those religious assholes.
The lonely, disfigured man took a deep breath, breathing in the humid, almost poisonous air of the docks. Imperator and supreme commander to Earth's most powerful standing military alliance was a distinction that was beginning to feel increasingly hollow to him. Still, the familiar smell of the dead ocean water, mixed with the poison and blood of the artificial slaves, the fear of the cowards and the anticipation of heroes always gave Terachi a warmth he felt was unique to himself. Unique to the heart of Terrania.
He watched Colonel Jon-Azon prepare to rally his unit. Although he couldn't hear what his former ranker in arms was about to say, he could almost imagine it and the thoughts were enough to give him a slight little internal chuckle. It was a good relief after his latest disappointing meeting with the highly recommended Rochellean sky captain.
The fate of some lives could not be left to chance. He had already decided their fates. Someone with the skill was needed to execute his wishes. Even though the captain came recommended by one of his own most loyal to order, the blue-eyed devil was too much of a maverick. Damned descendants of Meredin always lacked discipline. The only other person with the necessary discipline and loyalty he could think of skilled enough to pilot the supremely top-secret Over-world designed Ethereal fighter was the exceptional sergeant in his own personal guard. The one who showed promise in the Order. The funny one.
The tough skinned, self-tortured man leaned onto the railing of the main dock's command balcony. Only the top ranking few who had served their time on Terra-Actual and now run Terrania had access to this exclusive spot. Jon-Azon should be here instead of there, he thought, but the stubborn asshole insisted on remaining one of them. He constantly refused to become a general, and took the mention of promotion to the rank as a direct threat, often retaliating with threats of his own.
Terachi knew there was a part of himself that was envious of the overrated, facially bruised man. The colonel would get to die a true hero's death while he remained locked in some room under the ocean or on a glorified boat somewhere blabbing with the cowards who had put the glory of battle behind them, or in the former student of Meredin's case, avoided it pretty much completely. Fucking Bran.
Suddenly, a heavy, dull reverberating sound filled the disgustingly damp air. It was as if a powerful distant city generator had been activated and covered by something dulling its sound. To avoid injury, Terachi quickly had to let go of the railing as it began to vibrate rapidly, along with every other surface, to the rapid rhythm of the repetitive sound. Terachi's first thoughts as to the source of the trembling were not only frightening, but also the only theory he would have ever come up with under those circumstances, even if he had more time to think about it. Those first thoughts were correct.
The immediate activation of audio and visual alarms throughout the docks confirmed the suspicions before they could even be second-guessed. At least up to this point, it was fortunate for the people of Terrania and by extension, the PCAS, that none had ever felt or heard these dull sounding vibrations before, but now it seemed that good luck had suddenly ended. Terachi knew what caused the sounds and his heart began to race uncomfortably; those are the TDS.
Letting go of the railing and putting his single hand on his chest as if to clasp his heart - weakened by too much unprotected inhalation of toxins in the docks, he thought of the ancient proverb. The one that spoke of the guns of Honolulu. He hoped it was not true. Even as he actually heard their truth, he hoped it was not so.
Admiral Terachi was not a religious man. He was not a Believer, but at the moment he heard the guns of Honolulu, and just for that moment, he wished he knew a prayer for his people.
Without warning, Terrania's final battle had just been brought to their front door.
"Of course, any self respecting scientist in the field understood the implausibility of the grey goo scenario, but as with all science-fiction, it made for a great story." - Joseph Tolmeer, Author
The young Mona of Clarra knew she wasn't the only one, the uproar of the ocean as it suddenly and ferociously exploded high above the soldiers’ formations like liquid pillars of fury and came crashing into the docks had to have caught everyone else by surprise as well. She felt the vibrations then heard the alarm and like everyone else, the two seconds of red, flashing warning lights and annoyingly screechy alarm sounds could not prepare her for the attack of the black ocean as the docks depressurized and the dark waters made their move for conquest.
Cammy instinctively grabbed Mona's hand and led her. She wasn't sure where Vanny was but hoped she was safe. It would only be seconds before that water came crashing down, but if they moved quickly enough, that's all they would need.
"Get in your transports!" was the last thing Mona heard over the commotion as she fought her own way through the ever increasing flood to enter her subfly. Whatever was going on, it was obvious that it had not been planned. She wanted to continue living and she felt the best way to succeed at the moment would be with less thinking and more action. Rochelle had all but confirmed a Sanice Council agreement for her and Twombles. This glorious battle would make her a ranker and certify it. All she had to do was live.
Finally strapped into her seat, Mona hardly felt safer and understood that Cammy had other responsibilities to tend to. They were submerged now and the subfly was repeatedly rocked by the shockwaves of powerful underwater explosions. The cabin was uncomfortably quite. Mona looked around at the other Death Walkers. Most of the girls were holding hands. Many were quietly sobbing. Almost all had their eyes closed. We're more like Dead Walkers than Death Walkers, she thought. Twombles might have found that irony funny. Live, she told herself.
Mona was suddenly startled by the sudden pressure of a hand squeezing her right arm. It belonged to a wide-eyed and terrified Vanny. Mona felt a sense of surprise and relief when she noticed her beautiful, lonely friend next to her.
"What's going on out there?" Mona managed to ask, wondering where Major Cammy had gone. She observed the stream of tears that started coming down her friend's face.
It was clear Vanny wanted so badly to be able to answer her friend's question but she did not know how. Vanny did not have the answers. You're going to die, the voices kept repeating, unheard by Mona. An overwhelming sadness suddenly gripped Mona's chest. None of them could really imagine what was about to happen to them. Mona wanted to wake up so badly - but she could not; she wasn’t dreaming. Mona thought about what Twombles would tell her. Stay alive above all else. She would do so. She would make sure her Rochellean friend did so, too. The vessel shook as it continued its drop into the murk. The girls were headed to the battle no one was expected to survive.
"I finally got dad to tell me that I'd get my own robot if I went with him to Dr. Park's house! My own robot!" - Melissa Adamson, from her diary (2020)
As he gripped his flight-stick to the point of cutting off circulation, Eagle Eye Jimmo had never been more determined in his life. Having heard the announcement before the meeting, he had to pull some incredibly delicate strings to be allowed to pilot this subfly.
Your skills are needed in the skies now, the admiral had told him. Jimmo had sensed that there was something on the admiral's mind, but he also saw the meeting as an opportunity. His mate official was a celebrated underwater subfly pilot, just as much as he was in the sky. Jimmo had always believed he could be just as good as she could if not better. It was important to him not to just be the best in an area, but in all areas he felt he had a talent for, and that included piloting the submersible flying crafts.
The admiral never really got to say what was on his mind because Jimmo had hijacked the conversation. Terachi had brought up the issue of trust, which Jimmo had found unusual. Every now and then, he did divulge sensitive information to his sanice, but she was his sanice. She could be trusted and he could not think of how Terachi could know. It was a major reason Jimmo had decided to control his talks with the investigating panel and keep them away from that issue. He knew time was on his side and sooner or later they were going to have to grant him his wish and let him pilot a subfly, what else could they do? Besides, piloting a subfly in the air had to count as flying too, and he was the best at that. He just kept arguing the importance of the Death Walkers unit and how it would be safer to put the best pilot in charge of safely delivering the unit to its base on Terra-Actual. The admiral kept retorting that there would be little to no threat between Terrania and the mainland bases that would require his specific expertise and that there was a more important mission for him. Well, I guess they must feel pretty stupid now, he thought as he observed the threatening battle around him. He was surprised to catch himself briefly smiling at the thought. He wondered what Terachi had in mind.
Although his specialty was in Skyscreamer troop deployment and extraction and F6X Dragonfly air dominance tactical combat, Eagle Eye also believed himself to be an unproven subfly pilot ace. Cammy had always argued that piloting a subfly in combat was much more difficult than his fighters, but, just has he had always argued he could have been a great Valkyrie if the order really existed, Jimmo could not accept the idea that he might not be the best at it as well. Whatever the case, his subfly skills had never been put to this difficult a test and he was extremely glad the girls in the back were not seeing the same things he was.
Subflies generally made better submarines than aircraft. The fact that vehicles of their size could be capable of flight, from a vertical nautical takeoff was testimony to technology's unlimited potential when given the necessary time to explore it. Roughly the length of the long discontinued California class destroyer of humankind's ancient glory days, most were one and a half times as tall and few were several tones heavier. Their thick armored hulls were capable of withstanding severe beatings and that's exactly the kind of beating the subfly fleets escaping Terrania were currently receiving.
Although he knew it would not actually happen, Jimmo could not help feeling that his jerking flight-stick might actually break his arm. He had never seen fireworks before, but had learned about them in Terrania's museum. A series of awe inspiring, bright and colorful explosions on a darkened backdrop; like what he was currently surrounded by.
Several hundred if not thousand torpedoes were descending like a new metal rain toward the sanctuary of life below. Terrania's perimeter defenses; guns that rapidly fired munitions the size of medium-sized desks at a rate of 120 a minute, were working overtime. These were not independently propelled torpedoes, but instead munitions using advanced rail technology of such design and fired at such velocity that they could travel through miles of ocean, break the surface and still penetrate the hull of an USAF B-52 bomber at 20,000 feet. Over the last few centuries they came to simply be known as the Terranian Defense Systems or TDS, a name far removed from their original title.
The TDS were auto trackers using a limited IFF system. These 'If-Friend-or-Foe' tracking technologies were self contained, and not accessible to the Varentra slave army. The stream of shells, calculated to avoid friendly fire, that were flying past Jimmo's subfly created chaos for the vessel's maneuverability, but it did not compare to the havoc the shockwaves from exploding torpedoes and other subflies were imposing on his ability to effectively maneuver the craft.
Jimmo had always got a thrill from danger, he believed it was what made him the best pilot ever born, but he still could not shake the realization that currently, every second that his subfly, the Death Walkers and himself were alive was nothing more than luck in its purest form.
All subflies were now simultaneously in the water and many had already been lost. Several subflies were slowly and silently sinking toward the ocean's bed as either bright, flaming ghosts of glory past or invisible shadows in a dark ocean long deprived of health. These subflies carried the PCAS’ remaining new recruits and whether they were informed or not, none were expected to return whether because of their combat inexperience, or that they were supplied with what remained of Terrania's heavily compromised and mostly ancient armor – if any at all. They had no idea that even if they made it to the battle and survived, unless they were miraculously shielded by something else, they would probably die from radiation poisoning on the surface of the planet.
None of this mattered to the Eagle Eye as he fired on any torpedoes he was able the get a lock on. As far as he was concerned, he was just delivering the soon to be dead, anyway. What awaited them was beyond his control, but he would get them there. The several Varentra torpedoes that swished passed him caused more undercurrent than the TDS rail munitions, and more guilt from Jimmo because he would imagine the enemy missiles had all successfully hit their target before they actually did.
He squeezed the trigger even harder. He told himself that he should be doing more of this - more of something. He had to be making a difference. Subflies around him crumbled and sank. He was supposed to be the best.
The subflies were generally not as effective offensive machines underwater as they were in the air. Their underwater munitions were limited to metallic, rotating bladed discs rapidly fired with enough velocity to slice through 6 inches of steel from 3 miles away. Any torpedoes hit by one exploded on the spot. So many of the submergible missiles were being struck and exploding above the ascending fleet as the subflies approached the surface that Jimmo began to feel as if he was about to enter a whole new world; a world created entirely out of fire in water.
The electronics in the cockpit began to act up erratically. Some flickered while others shut down entirely. He clenched his teeth in determination, knowing that if they made it through the bright yellow and red cloud of flame and shockwaves ahead, they would break the surface where the source of this onslaught would undoubtedly be waiting.
He hit a switch preparing the subfly's antimatter thruster to give them their vertical launch and send them airborne. Even after the relentless bombardment, the thruster still functioned. As they broke the surface, relief quickly turned to something Jimmo feared the most, fear itself. Hovering above the water, destroying anything that emerged was the largest and most universally feared Varentra design on Earth - a City Hunter.
"So basically, you have what amounts to these dumb sub-molecular de-materializers called Earthnites, great for cleaning up the world, oil spills, air pollution and all that good stuff, but they’re also essentially compatible with the intelligent immunization nano-cultures called humanites… You know, the clever ones? Call me paranoid, but what, other than the lack of sufficient energy is to stop the intelligent swarms from controlling the destructive ones and eating everything up?" - Sticky Dee, Comedian
Secretary Advisor and chief of staff Bran of Meredin kept pace with his commander in chief and even now, when life had wound down to its final 10 hours, he could not help but feel sorry for the man.
To Bran, Lital was a great and tragic leader. A man forced to make daily decisions that were always more likely to lead to the brutal demise of his people than anything for anyone to cheer about. Right now, the man just wanted to see the remaining humans of his dying city - the sanice and the children. He was searching for happiness in these final moments and did not want to have to worry about what was going on above the water for some time.
Bran did not know how to tell the man the news he had just received from Admiral Terachi, who had successfully made it back to Kuntafa aboard the Desdart. A City Hunter had discovered the location of Terrania and had not only severely damaged the main dome, but had already destroyed almost half of all the subflies that departed after the initial attack.
Looking up at the mobile battle fortress’ ceiling above, Bran wished he could have walked on Terra-Actual at least once before the existence of the solar system's third planet inevitably ended.