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Before the Storm

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Author's note: It's not edited completely yet, but I did want to get opinions on it - good and bad.
Author's note: It's not edited completely yet, but I did want to get opinions on it - good and bad.  « Hide author's note
Chapters:   « Previous 1 2 Next »

The Beginning of the End

Chapter One

It had been a long day.

Amelia Reynolds leaned back in her seat aboard the transport airship, shutting her eyes for a moment as her assistant babbled something in her ear about the next day’s plans. However, all Amelia was concerned about was making it through the four-hour flight back to the Melenian, the warship where she’d spent the last three months living. She’d only gone down to Mele to see about important business matters that now didn’t seem so important. She was too tired to remember what most of the matters had been about. Hell, she was too tired to even function properly.

Stretching slightly, after cracking her fingers, Amelia took the glass of water one of the attendants had offered her. It was going to be a horrendously long four hours. She was just glad she wasn’t stuck with the other idiots who’d decided that going to a birthday party would be the highlight of their week.

Of course, she’d been invited to the president’s 53rd birthday bash aboard the Lynian, but they were nearly six hours away, above Lyn’s capital city, Petrius. All government officials - except her - were due to be there. She was close to the president, yes, but that didn’t matter. She’d send him a card or something later and use the excuse that she’d had too much work and simply couldn’t get away. That excuse usually worked anyway.

She shifted, resting her head against the cold metal of the bulkhead. It was welcoming - Mele was in the middle of one of its hottest summers yet, and it had been an oven down there that particular day. She’d already tugged off her suit jacket and tossed it into the seats across from where she sat and was now considering kicking off her heels.

“Ma’am?”

“Hm?” She glanced up to see the co-pilot of the small ship.

“CAG James McKinley is on the com, requesting to speak with you.”

She nodded, getting to her feet, the pinching pain of her heels coming back as she followed the man up the aisle, past the other civilians and passengers, toward the cockpit. It was considered a large ship, made of the same metal that all other ships were made of. It was generally used to carry passengers, crates of supplies, and smaller transport vessels back and forth between the planets and warships.

She had to duck down when she entered, the ceiling lower than she expected as she stepped down several steps. He reached over and handed her a wireless headset that she slipped on over her head, positioning the tiny, wire thin microphone near her mouth.

Melenian, this is Ambassador Reynolds. What can I do for you?” She said into the microphone, settling herself down into one of the seats behind the pilot himself, the seats usually reserved for the attendants if needed. In front of them out the wide view screen across the front of the ship was nothing but empty space dotted by a few distant stars that glittered like pinholes in a black sheet. Bright balls of space dust glowed as hot, if not hotter than the sun and provided heat and light to the planets Amelia called home.

“Airship 4309, this is CAG McKinley.” A familiar voice echoed back across her headset. “How far out are you?”

She glanced at the pilot, who could hear everything through his own headset.

“About three hours, sir.”

“Good. We’re on our way back to our usual coordinates after a supply run. We’ll meet you there right on schedule.”

“Affirmative, sir.”

"CAG, I was told you wished to speak with me?” Amelia asked. There was a moment’s pause, before both the pilot and co-pilot politely removed their headsets.

“We’ll leave you alone to your conversation.” The pilot said, flipping a switch that read ’autopilot’ before he unbuckled himself and got to his feet. “We need to double-check the straps holding down the ships in the hangar, anyway.”

Amelia nodded, waiting until both of them had left the cockpit, the door shutting quietly behind them.

“You may proceed, CAG.”

“It’s funny when you’re serious.” He said and she smiled to herself. “How was Mele?”

“Hot and boring. Meetings every hour for six hours about pulling strategies and such. The air conditioners were broke in the meeting hall at the government building, so they had these giant fans that we practically had to scream over to be heard.” She muttered. “I did manage to pick up my dress.” She added.

“I guess I’m not allowed to see?”

“Not until the wedding.”

“Stubborn.”

“Don’t start with me, James McKinley.” She warned and chuckling came from the other end. “Everything going okay back on the ship?”

“You mean to ask if Ian has whipped us all at cards yet or not?”

“I’m trying to be serious! You’re not supposed to be playing cards. You’re supposed to be protecting the Planets.”

“From what? Space dust? Come off it, Amy. There’s nothing to do up here anymore except run through practice drills that we’ve been over hundreds of times. The RACODS aren’t coming back.”

“Do you even know what RACOD stands for anymore?”

“Robotically armored . . . something. Something to do with the last names of the scientists that made them too, I think. I just know they’re not coming back.”

“You never know.” She said serenely. “And don’t call me Amy. You know I hate that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“James.”

“All right, I’ll tell them to stop playing cards and go pretend to be doing something important before you get here.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Fine.”

“I’ve got to go so, I’ll see you when you get back. Love you.”

“Love you, too. Be safe, James.”

“Always.”

She removed the headset and hooked it on the back of the co-pilot’s seat, reaching for the door. She passed the pilots in the aisle as they came back from the hangar bay and she returned to her seat. Her assistant, Logan Garner, waited.

“Madame, they need you on Lyn in two days.”

“For what?” She nearly groaned.

“The president wants to go over some recent strategies that came up in the last meeting. And to attend his party that evening celebrating the anniversary of his term in office.”

Amelia frowned. All the President of the Planets did anymore was party. The least he could do was settle the workers’ labor union strikes on Demia. But no - every other day they had an excuse for some sort of party, wasting more government money. Eventually they were going to run out of ideas for parties.

“I will try to come, but I have plans already made for that day. Personal plans.” She stated before Logan could check her planner, which was opened in his lap. He nodded and scribbled something down in her planner a few days ahead. “Anything else? I need some sleep before we reach the Melenian.” She continued, looking around at the other passengers - most had already nodded off.

“You have a meeting with the Governors next week, and the ambassadors want to meet sometime to run several new ideas by you.”

“Oh, is that all?” She asked, not bothering to bite back the sarcasm. Logan’s lips twitched, almost as if he wanted to smile. Amelia had never liked politics, and yet she had stayed in them. Why, she would never guess. Probably because it was such a good paying job, and she didn’t know how to do anything else. “But all right, schedule the ambassadors to meet with me next Friday, before my lunch with the diplomats.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She shifted in her seat, kicking off her heels and pulling the blanket around her that had been provided. Her gaze drifted to the circular view port, watching space pass by, stars glittering in the distance. Things in the planets were much calmer than they had been twenty years ago. She’d been ten when the RACODS had come from nowhere, destroying every major city on all four of the planets and seriously injuring the warship Corinthian, which had been the only one close enough to put up a fight against them. She’d been on board that particular ship when the attack had happened, having lived on it with her family. She still remembered the horrified faces of her parents and the other crewmembers. It was a sight she would never forget.

Sighing, she tugged a hand through her pale blonde curls, pulling them out of her eyes. She shifted once more, trying to get comfortable. The leather seats were hard and weren’t exactly the best place to try and get some sleep.

The RACODS had disappeared after the attack - no one still had yet to figure out where they’d come from or where they’d gone. This was exactly why people were still on alert and afraid after twenty years - scared they might come back and destroy all of humanity. Most people believed their original attack had been a warning of some sort, and if the humans didn’t change their ways, they’d come back and kill them all. Problem was no one knew what to change about their ways to prevent them from coming back.

It seemed Amelia had just dozed off when the ship suddenly shook, throwing her out of her seat and onto the floor. Several confused people shrieked in shock and fear as they, too, were thrown. Awake and very alert now, Amelia picked herself up, stumbling down the aisle. Logan was attempting to get to his feet as well, grabbing the backs of the seats to help himself up. The ship pitched again and nearly threw Amelia to the ground once more, but she hung on to the back of a nearby seat, glad that she had thought to kick her heels off earlier - otherwise she would have already tripped on her face.

Finally, she made it to the front of the ship and entered the cockpit. The radar was beeping violently, and she knew by the looks on the pilots’ faces that there would be nothing but bad news.

“What’s going on?”

“A ship is firing on us.” The co-pilot said as the pilot swerved the ship again and Amelia fell into a flight attendant’s chair, gripping the sides. He was struggling to control the ship as something flashed outside the ship. “Oh God . . . .”

“What?”

“The ship is sending out RACOD signals!” He replied sharply, pressing his headset into his ear, his entire face as white as a sheet. Amelia was sure she looked about the same by the way her pale hand now contrasted on the dark wall of the cockpit and the way that her hand was shaking, making it rather hard to keep herself in an upright position. “I’m getting reports that they’re everywhere! Attacking the planets and the warships!”

Amelia inhaled, trying to calm herself. She was the highest official on the ship at that moment, which put her in charge. Thinking quickly, she leaned between the two pilot seats. “Is there anyone on here that can fly one of the Pegasus ships I saw in the hangar bay when I came on board?”

“Only myself.” The pilot replied.

“Go. Use a Pegasus and start jumping the others on this ship to the Melenian. We won’t make it there in three hours if RACODS are attacking. Quickly, please!”

“Who’s going to pilot?”

“He will.” She nodded toward the co-pilot. “I’ve only flown a double-seated Cobra ship, but these things can’t be too hard. We’ll try to shake the ship. You do have weapons on this thing, right?”

“A few, but . . . .”

“Then go do as I’ve ordered. He and I will take it from here.” She said, nodding to the co-pilot, who still looked pale. With some hesitation, the pilot left the cockpit. Amelia fought to take his spot, pulling the headset over her head and pulling the seatbelt across her lap. The ship shook again, the blip on the radar growing closer.

“Prepare weapons for launch. If you have any defensive grids on this ship, raise them to high level. I need you to tell me how to fly this thing, and attempt to fire up the jump drives.”

“Steering console, missile fire, and acceleration are here . . . .” He pointed quickly to the things in front of her, rattling off their names. “If you can handle those, I can get the rest.” He added. “But there’s a problem - we don’t have jump drives. They were taken out to be put in the newer models.” He said slowly. She could feel the muscle in her jaw jumping, suddenly rather angry because she remembered now, and knew the person who had ordered the jump drives be taken out.

Amelia said nothing, her palms sweating. RACODS were dangerous - she wasn’t even thinking about where they’d suddenly come from, just how they were going to get away from them. She’d seen the damage they could do and didn’t want to go through that again. Memories of the destroyed ship she’d almost died on flickered through her mind and she decided she definitely did not want to relive that experience.

“Warship Melenian, this is transport 4309, do you copy?” She spoke into the headset.

“Barely, 4309.” A crackling voice came through. “There’s some sort of interference with the coms.”

Melenian, we have a RACOD raider approaching. We need help straight away.” She said, glancing around. A button was flashing, signaling the hangar door was opening below.

“We have the same problems, 4309. We’ve got three flagships!”

“We’re trying to hold off this raider but more are sure to find us. We don’t have the equipment to gain a hold of the Corinthian, Lynian, or Demian. We’re going to try and reach you. We have civilians on board, and right now we’re using one of the Pegasus ships to jump them to you.”

“Copy, 4309. Be quick about it!”

“Roger that.”

Amelia glanced out the view screen. The pilot had gotten into one of the Pegasus ships, managed to launch, and was now flying beside them. She flipped frequencies on the com to local.

“Can you hear me, pilot?”

“Loud and clear, 4309. And the name is Andrew Danbury. Call-sign Solar.”

“Well then, Solar, be on the look out.” She replied, glancing at the radar. It appeared the blip had stopped and was just sitting there, waiting.

“Making that first jump now, ma’am.” Solar’s voice rang out. Amelia nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see her.

“All right. Proceed.”

There was a loud screech like a firework being set off and the ship beside them disappeared. The radar began to beep again. The raider was in motion.

“Make sure everyone is buckled in.” Amelia said to the co-pilot, who nodded, pressing a button to speak over the intercom.

“Attention passengers. Make sure you are buckled up and do not get up, unless the pilot comes and tells you to come with him. We are evacuating the ship, so remain calm and this will go smoothly.”

Her hands gripped the steering console. She’d been ten the last time, but had watched the commander and admiral give orders on what to do, and had listened. She’d always been an observer. She remembered bits and pieces, but not enough for this situation. If Solar could get all the passengers off the ship, including herself and the co-pilot, they’d be all right. If they could make it to the Melenian without dying, they’d be even better.

“This is Solar, back from the first jump.“ Jumps for small Pegasus ships only took a few seconds, thankfully.

“Loading passengers in the Pegasus now - looks like two more jumps ought to get it - one more load of civilians and then you two.” Solar’s voice came across the com.

“Affirmative, Solar. Be quick about it.” She repeated the earlier message from the warship. “The RACODS are almost here.” Amelia replied.

“Roger that, 4309.”

The raider was close enough on that radar that she knew she would have visual contact any moment.

“Solar making jump.”

“Proceed.” She murmured as the co-pilot tapped her shoulder. She looked over - he was pointing out the view screen on his side. Leaning over to look, Amelia paled.

The raider was coming right for them. The ship was silver, the shape of a round flying disc with markings all along the top, around the tiny view ports just barely visible from where Amelia sat. She assumed the markings were some ancient language that the RACODS spoke. Some people on the planets claimed to be able to decipher them, but she’d never personally met someone who could.

Well, Amelia thought. This is it.

“You ready?” The co-pilot asked. She took a deep breath and nodded. She’d never flown in her life except in the back of a double-seated Cobra, and even then the most she’d done was press a button to release a missile. These weren’t the exact conditions she would have chosen to actually learn to fly, but when you had to, you had to.

Amelia turned the ship so that it was facing the raider, pressing down on the button that fired what little ammo they had. The plasma bullets reflected off the silver shell of the ship and Amelia frowned. Well, that plan was blown to hell. Plasma bullets were made of material that could piece any substance - but apparently, RACODS had found a way to make sure their ships couldn’t even be dented by them.

“They’re missile locking on us.” The co-pilot said. “We need to dodge.”

“Er, okay.”

She suddenly turned, sending the ship sideways, attempting to dodge whatever missile lock the raider was doing. If the ship had been small, she probably would have sent it into a barrel roll.

“Please don’t do that again.” The co-pilot said weakly, going from pale to green. She ignored him.

“This is Solar, 4309. Are you all right?”

“Fine! Just hurry up with that last jump!”

“It’s in progress!”

Amelia forced her attention back to flying.

“They’ve still got a lock on us. We can’t shake them.” The co-pilot reported. A red light suddenly began to flash in the cockpit, an annoying beeping sound accompanying it.

“What does that mean?” Amelia asked, worry, at last, beginning to sink into her voice.

“I - I don’t know! That’s never happened before!” The co-pilot cried. Amelia shut her eyes for a brief second, her heart about to leap out of her chest. She looked over. The co-pilot seemed to be having problems controlling the ship as a silent prayer fell from his lips. “It’s shifting into automatic pilot mode!”

Amelia frowned as she tried to turn the console. It wouldn’t budge.

Perfect.

“Then I hope this thing holds up to missiles.” She said wryly, glancing at the radar. Another blip, this one smaller, had appeared - a missile. She paled again.

“Missile approaching. Fast.” The co-pilot confirmed. Amelia began to press buttons. Any button that looked like it might help she pressed while glancing at the radar every few seconds. The missile was growing closer.

“Brace for impact in fifty seconds.” She said, watching the radar. Her hands clenched into fists. They were going to die.

Suddenly, the door to the cockpit opened - there stood Solar, looking frantic.

“Let’s go!”

Amelia didn’t hesitate, running with Solar and the co-pilot through the now empty passenger area and down a set of stairs to the hangar where the Pegasus ship waited. She was counting in her head: forty seconds . . . thirty seconds . . . . They climbed in, Solar managing to make it to the pilot’s seat. He pressed a button as Amelia scrambled into a seat, strapping herself in as they zoomed out of the hangar bay.

“Jumping in 3 - 2 - 1!”

There was a flash of white and the same firework sound as the jumps before. For a moment there was nothing but a floating sensation that eventually evened out. She opened her eyes, realizing they’d made the jump. She sighed in relief, falling back into her chair. From where she sat, she could hear Solar and the co-pilot laughing, relieved.

"Melenian, this is Solar, formerly of Transport 4309. We’re coming in for a landing.”

Amelia leaned up, looking out the small view screen ahead as they began to make their descent onto the landing belt. Her stomach churned. The Melenian had reported flagships in the area. Flagships were the large, almost colony type ships that RACODS controlled. They were vessels that held hundreds upon hundreds of raiders for fighting and carried several nuclear bombs on board for any purpose the RACODS seemed fit to use them for.

The Pegasus ship hit the landing belt and the large metal doors shut behind them. Depressurizing the entire port side landing belt began before the platform they’d landed on began to lower into the hangar bay. Amelia was out first, glad to be safe on the familiar ship.

“Your presence is requested in Central Control, ma’am.” One of the marines approached her, speaking. She glanced back at Solar to make sure he and the co-pilot were in good hands. Assured, she followed the man in uniform from the hangar.

The Melenian was built like the Corinthian. All the warships were built alike, with only a few minor changes in the designs. There were always at least ten to thirty decks that made up a ship, sometimes even more. A maze of halls, two hangar bays, a landing belt, and hatch doors that led to various quarters, meeting rooms, observation decks, and ammunition storages made up most of the ship. There was at least one medical bay, but other areas such as cargo bays and hangar bays could be converted into a medical triage if needed, or a disaster shelter. Hydroponics sectors were down on the lower decks, as well as the water tanks and food storage areas. It was made for war, able to support a large crew for several months, perhaps even years if needed.

Central Control, or CC, as most referred to it, took up the entire front of the ship. Large arching view screens started at the lowest level and spread halfway around before coming to a peak at the top, allowing sight to the vast expanses of space ahead. It was dizzying, if one was unfamiliar with them. Radars and other machines she couldn’t even begin to describe lined the walls, officers manning each part of them in a daily routine. As always, there was a blur of a activity, the men and women rushing back and forth between the controls and consoles, checking this and that.

There were three levels of controls and on the lowest part in the center of the room were higher ranked officers gathered around a large round consol. A holographic map of the solar system was projected in the middle of the table. Amelia glanced at each of the men around it, but none were the face she wanted to see. Sighing, she took the set of spiral stairs in the corner down to the level they were on, finally speaking.

“I was told someone wanted to see me?” She announced and all three looked up at her, halting in their plans.

“Good evening , Miss. Reynolds. Am I to understand you piloted a transport airship while its pilot performed several jumps in a separate Pegasus in order to get civilians on board this ship safely?” The black haired one asked, gazing at her with such intense blue eyes that they probably could have bore a hole through her skull. Amelia frowned slightly.

“I did, Admiral Williams,” she replied. “It was on my orders that the civilians be transported here,” she continued.

Admiral Ian Williams looked at her with mild curiosity. He’d always been a rather good friend to James and herself, but she hadn’t spoken to him in ages. Nearly a year, it had been. The two behind Ian were watching her, too. Major Brian Allen and Commander Richard Flint.

“Well done then, Miss. Reynolds.” Major Allen said. “That will be all. I assume you’ll be heading to McKinley’s quarters now?”

Amelia nodded, turning, silently leaving CC, exiting up the stairs and down a long hallway. She knew her way around the ship like the back of her hand by now so, she let her mind wander as she walked.

When she reached her fiancé’s quarters he wasn’t waiting for her like she’d assumed he would be. Assuming he was probably getting some pilots in line, she flopped down on the couch in his room, propping her feet up on the coffee table after kicking off her shoes. It had been a long day. One that she wanted to forget, but somewhere deep down Amelia had a feeling there would be many days like the present to come. If the RACODS had truly returned then it was sure to be a long road ahead.

Letting out a deep sigh, she shifted, trying to fall asleep, the adrenaline from the earlier confrontation finally easing in her system.
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