1) Inside City Hall, taking the wide, blue-carpeted hallway that faces E. Dark wood panelling partly covers the marble wall, and in the panelling, above the doorway, in golden capital letters, one can read the words: New Hero Assignment.
We waited. Ironically, the dense nebula that MoonSec chose to hide its secure gate in, also hid us from their sensors while we worked to fix the systems bug that had halted our operation last shift. At last, the Fleet Captain gave his briefing: Dauntless, outside the ring of mines, was to taunt enemies to make a gap in the ring, through which the other ships would move, close in on the stations, and deploy their marines to capture them. Once the data we needed was retrieved, all ships were to retreat through the same gap in the mine field.
2) Through the hallway, to the marble-paved, marble-walled corner where, in two more marble-columned niches, stand more marble statues of Hero with Fist on Chest and Heroine About to Fly Up.
Rolling Thunder, however, had no need to go through normal space. We took up position to galactic N of the minefield, and jumped past the obstacle, right next to the factories. The Captain was calling the jumps, I was scanning ships and keeping a set of coordinates ready incase we needed a quick exit. At that point, things got busy, and my awareness of events narrowed down onto our immediate vicinity. It looked as if the large factory bases I had scanned started breaking up into fleets of Unukalhai ships – I don’t know if they fooled our sensors, and if so how, and I’m far from happy about it. With the tech teams, we’ve gone over and over the arrays and the software that’s supposed to make sense of what we read. There doesn’t seem to be any malfunction. They’re inclined to think that either the so-called factories were actually destroyed as the Unuk ships flew out, or they were emitting false signals, so that once we got close enough our sensors actually picked up the real signatures of the Unuk fleet. That would account for the sudden transformation. Or I blinked, or I was looking at the Comms console at the crucial moment. But there was also a ship-wide sensor glitch that left us stranded in the dark for precious seconds, and I need to find out why.
3) Down the marble stairs (we’re facing N), to a hallway so wide it’s practically a ballroom. More blue carpet. A Field Trainer on the left, one on the right, in their unmistakable red and white uniforms.
Rolling Thunder did a fair amount of dancing around, avoiding confrontation when she was outnumbered. There seemed to be no pause in the number of Unuk ships pouring out of the “factories”, so I ran the scanners as fast as I could, in those moments when power wasn’t pouring into the jump drive or into the manoeuvre thrusters.
4) The first door on the left (in the W wall), dark wood, carved marble lintel supported by carved marble pilasters, is the poshest Janitor closet I’ve ever seen… From the outside, at least.
Dauntless kept a whole Unuk fleet busy, and our other ships scattered to deal with even more Unuks; then they approached the Blackwater stations in turn, dropped off our marines, and waited while the marines did what marines do best. All that time, Dauntless was keeping the Unuk fleets away from the stations so they couldn’t destroy the data we needed.
5) Continuing along the hallway past some dark wood cabinets with two lamps (brass body, white lampshade) on them, I reach the double doors that lead in to the E.L.I.T.E. offices: Enhanced Logistics for Insight and Tactical Excellence. Somebody got paid to come up with that acronym.
We aimed to get USFP ships to surrender, so the EMPs were flying around fast; with the Unuks, we didn’t have to be quite so careful. Dammit.
6) Inside the office, an expanse of charcoal grey carpet, and Susan Davies standing there reading a newspaper (a newspaper! Made of actual paper!) as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, as if she didn’t have any work to do.
I ask myself, with every single ship of theirs we shoot into radioactive dust… But there’s no answer. Perhaps he saw sense years ago, and found some other way to come to terms – no, I’m fooling myself. He never could admit when he was wrong. Perhaps he got promoted out of harm’s way – not bloody likely. He’d want to be out there close and personal, leading a fighter wing, showing off, like the days when he used to outrace the Skull gangs on his jet-bike in the streets around Perez Park. Perhaps he died in some engagement on the far side of the sector, and I’m tormenting myself over nothing I can change. Which holds true, either way. So, stand in truth, serve in honour, fight with courage; it’s all I can do.
7) Standing in the NE corner of the office, to the right of the doors, stands Derek Amberson: dark hair, dark beard and moustache, dark shirt. He seemed so intimidating when I was tagging along with one of my parents…
We stood by as our sensors uploaded the data we needed – it felt like for ever, though it was mere minutes. And that was when we saw the massive Griffzungenschwert class Unuk super-dreadnought. Ponderous, and deadly. Shield values I haven’t seen since… I need to check back in my logs… 281115-2237. That was a Unuk Xenophobe class. I think the Griffzungenschwert has more. It took a concerted effort to bring her down.
8) Behind Susan Davies is a wide counter, on which rests a rather old-fashioned computer monitor (Paragon City bureaucrats never seemed to mind spending money on colossal marble statues, but when it came to upgrading the tech in their offices, suddenly the funds weren’t available…), two desk lamps, some leaflets.
Then, as we were making our way to the Gate to leave, we saw Terran destroyers emerging. I dreaded the thought of another fight with our own people, but the Fleet Captain ordered us to fire an EMP and transmit the data we ‘d just recovered, and as soon as they received it, they surrendered. I don’t think I imagined a collective sigh of relief on the bridge.
9) Behind the counter is a door, like the janitor’s closet door but without the label. Instead, there is a numeric keypad beside it. I don’t know the password. I’ve never seen what lies behind this door.
We made our way back to Krisenda Gate and on to Cerberus, bothered by a few pirates on route, but at this point, they felt like minor annoyances we had to get out of our way so we could finally prove to Cerberus Command that we were right. By this time, it was becoming apparent just how energy-expensive a jump drive is, as Rolling Thunder would jump ahead of the fleet, but then be left behind trying to recharge its fuel cells. It was a strange mixture of athletic leaps and pathetic limping along on impulse.
10) To my left – the S side of the desk stands Rachel Torres. She hasn’t aged a day… She’s still a head taller than I am, and wearing her running shoes, jeans, t-shirt, hair in a ponytail, dark eye make-up. She coughs from time to time. I’d say she should have stopped smoking, but dammit, your personal habits become irrelevant when your whole planet goes up in smoke.
Near Atlantis Gate, Gate Control launched a cruiser, but as we transmitted our data it surrendered. Then, as we neared Command, we sent them the data about MoonSec’s secret Weapon, requesting it to be forwarded to the appropriate authorities. It was satisfying to be able to read out the message that came over comms from Cerberus Command: “My God, how did MoonSec get taken over by USF? This explains everything. Commodore Bert”. I’d love to know what exactly he means by “everything”. And how, indeed, MoonSec came to be taken over by USF. If there’s even more to this than we already know, it might end up buried in layers of security. Dammit.
11) Out again through the door, back to the hallway, past a second set of cabinets and brass lamps, and the double door into the offices of S.E.R.A.P.H.: Scientific Experimentation Research and Application to Paranormal Humans. Yes, somebody got paid to come up with this acronym, too. We were in here quite frequently. There’s… no, there was something about Paragon that increased the number of viable mutations as a proportion of the general population, and there was a corresponding increase in research.
We jumped through the gate to Promethean Sector, and on to Promethean Command. The Fleet Captain sent “Promethean Command, this is the 4th Light Division. We’re coming home.” I suspect the cheers on our bridge were echoed on each ship in the fleet.
12) In the corner immediately to my left (SE) are seven bookcases and an old-fashioned water-cooler. I don’t know what it was that made so many Paragon citizens embrace old and inconvenient tech. Perhaps it was a clinging to some archaic idea of normality, in reaction against the extraordinary people who flew and jumped over and ran at super-speed through our streets.
The celebrations didn’t begin immediately, of course, it was all serious business at first, delivering ship’s debrief and the full division reports; and that’s just the beginning, because there will be a full, formal enquiry that will require the Fleet Captain’s presence. And while that takes place, and Command decide what to do with the data we brought back, we are reinstated, but won’t be sent to the front lines or into serious action until the process is complete.
13) Continuing into the offices along the S wall, a computer desk with a high-backed office chair behind it, and on it, again, an old-fashioned monitor and keyboard, while the computer tower sits on the floor beside it. I ask myself now whether the computer’s guts were quite as old-fashioned as the cases suggested. Was it all for show?
However, since we are back, it was time for the promotions that had been made while we were fugitives to be formally ratified and entered into TSN records, and for two new promotions to be made: both Blaze and Garion rise to Lt.Jr., among general celebration.
14) And on to the SW corner of the room, where Charlie Sparks stands in front of more bookcases in his usual black jeans and faded grey denim jacket. Dammit, he’s tall, I barely reach his shoulders. Did they give him the job because he could reach the top shelves without getting a ladder?
And now the paperwork (funny how we keep calling it that) is done, the logs completed, and more images of Paragon dredged up. I even had time to stop by in Benjamin’s and get some food that isn’t rations, so I have no excuse to put off the editing of those articles now.