Waif Class Orbital Transfer Shuttle
LDS-OTS15 Jerrie Cobb
22,214 Kilometers from Earth
The Waif was nearly a fifty-year-old design, and Jerrie Cobb was rapidly approaching her fiftieth year in space. She was a solid old girl, a compact armored cabin sat above a small fusion motor for short range on-orbit burns, powering the shuttle from station to station in the Earth-Luna sphere of influence. Her current owners, listed in UN databases as the Laughing Dog Shipping Company, had welded bulk cargo containers onto the outside and then strapped yet more containers into the interlocking grips on the container surfaces. This had the effect of nearly burying the hull of the vessel in the mass of metal shipping cans.
Inside one of those containers, inside a spacesuit and clutching a gauss rifle, Margaritifer Ross counted down the final minutes before she and over two thousand of her fellow comrades in arms in the Free Sky Tribe stormed the Malacca Elevator Station for the betterment of workers across the system. Stories would be told for generations about what she and her comrades did today in the universal struggle against capitalism. Margaritifer was a teenager, a scrawny waif of a girl with deeply tanned skin and black hair she kept hacked off above her ears. She would turn twenty if she survived the several months remaining until her next birthday, but, she already considered herself an adult. After her parents were killed in an asteroid mining accident, she had grown up entirely amongst the Tribe, and among the Tribe, she was as grown up as it got.
She navigated the warren of interconnected compartments and hollowed out shipping containers with the ease of a long term spacer, migrating from her tiny closet of a cabin to the egress point she and her people would be using.
Moments ago, Margaritifer had felt her heartbeat jump from calm to racing as the Jerrie Cobb began her final course adjustments, leaving her assigned orbital trajectory in the wake of Anton Hellas’ kinetic kill vehicle strike on the Malacca Elevator Station. As the attack occurred and thousands perished in and around the station, the speaker in her suit had begun beeping insistently, informing her that the next phase of the plan was about to begin. On that cue, she and all of her comrades in the boarding parties began making their way to their assigned positions for the operation. The jovial camaraderie and banal treatment of the approaching conflict had vanished into a grim determination. She saw steely eyes, set jaws, and twitching trigger fingers as she climbed through the three-dimensional environment.
With one eye, Margaritifer watched an external video feed on her suit hud as her ship approached the crippled space station. The kinetic weapon had torn a gaping hole in the main ring and scattered a long glittering tail of debris out from the station and reaching downwards towards the planet’s surface. Matte white military vessels were moored all around the station, and more ships buzzed around it, shining spotlights on the damaged areas of the ring.
This was the riskiest portion of the operation, if the military vessels realized what was going on too soon, they would surely all be killed. All it would take was one nuclear missile to end all their lives. They had to get in amidst the UN forces, where they would be hesitant to use their heavier weapons to fight back.
To that end, the Jerrie Cobb was broadcasting that it was off course and simulating a thruster malfunction that was bringing it in under the station. Margaritifer slid into place and strapped into her suit harness as the countdown clock continued.
“Ready to send some UN toadies back to Mommy Earth the hard way?” Kaya Twopallas asked with a grin from the harness across from her. The lanky, green-eyed orphan boy ran his fingers suggestively up and down the barrel of his gun.
“You know, some people, like the Open Sky Tribe, they think we should talk to the plutocrats, figure things out peacefully,” Milo Smalls said from beside him.
“They do, do they?” Margaritifer asked, “They would, sitting pretty out on Triton, they don’t see things like we do. Frankly, on behalf of Ceres, they all deserve to die.”
“Amen to that sister,” Kaya said, clapping two fingers to his shoulder as the countdown reached ten seconds, “Never forget what they did to us.”
“I haven’t,” Margaritifer replied with a grim smile.
At zero, dozens of tiny shaped explosives hidden in among the shipping containers detonated, simulating a debris strike on the container cluster and scattering the shipping cans in the direction of the station.
Margaritifer’s container unfolded itself and dumped her into space with the thruster harness attached to her back. About half the boarding teams were launched across the void in only their suits, while the other half, carrying heavier weapons and equipment, rode the shipping containers in under the guise of debris.
The teenager soared through space, the Earth hanging like a beautiful jewel in the sky, moored in place by the impossibly long elevator cable as the station loomed large in front of her. She took a few moments to admire the view before adjusting her course slightly with the thruster pack.
As she approached the station, she was able to take in the full scope of the damage that it had taken. Buildings had buckled and deformed, venting to space as they lost structural integrity and flooding the area with an enormous halo of detris. The sections of the ring adjacent to the impact had been deformed by the strike, the newly exposed edges of the structure were twisted and stretched out into long accusatory fingers of metal. The ring continued to spin, but it was no longer spinning evenly around the elevator cable, it was off course and crooked, subjecting parts of the structure to shifting gravity fields and tilting corridors.
Margaritifer flipped herself over so her feet were pointing towards the station and adjusted her course again, trying to keep herself lined up with the ghostly path through space that her hud projected in front of her. The entry point she and the fifteen others on her strike team would be using was highlighted with a glowing callout, a large armored glass window into some sort of senior officers lounge.
She couldn’t see the rest of her squad, they were all running dark to mask their approach, but she knew they were there. The suit hud told her roughly where each of them should be if they were on course, all vectoring in towards the same point.
The windows began growing large, fast, as the station rushed up towards her, and Margaritifer fired her thrusters hard, arresting the velocity the ejection from the ship had imparted on her. As she braked, she trained her rifle towards what was now down from her perspective, towards the glass ceiling of the officer’s lounge, and squeezed the trigger.
The fifty caliber gauss rifle discharged a five round burst, launching the large caliber explosive rounds down ahead of the teenager. She knew her fellow squadmates would be doing likewise.
The armored window was designed to survive micrometeor strikes at up to fifteen kilometers per second, far higher a speed than the rifle was capable of accelerating a round up to, but the explosives in the core of the rounds detonated as they slammed into the reinforced glass, hurling a tiny depleted uranium sabot into the material even as the rest of the round exploded.
The sudden volley pushed the window beyond its structural limits and the glass shattered in a glittering starburst as the air in the room was blown out into space along with several unwitting occupants.
Margaritifer braced herself and continued braking as the floor of the officer’s lounge raced up to meet her, and she bounced hard into the deck and was hurled sideways and pressed to her knees as the angular momentum of the station slammed into her. She rolled and came up into a crouch with her weapon ready as the other members of her squad hit the deck around her.
She activated her comms system and went active with her sensors, eyes darting all around the destroyed lounge. Above her head, she could see out into space, the vast arms of the ring sweeping up on either side of her, and the elevator cable and central station seeming to rotate in place like a spinning top as the ring rotated around it.
“Squad check in!” Eli Sixhebe roared as he crashed onto the deck.
“Down safe!” Margaritifer said into her microphone, joining a chorus of similar responses from her squadmates. Eli disseminated the next set of orders to them all through the suit systems, and a new ghostly line appeared on Margaritifer’s hud, leading through a sealed door and deeper into the ring station.
“Ivanova, Borealis and West, you have point, get some breaching charges on that door, we’ll vent each chamber to space to clear our advance of hostiles. Twopallas, Ross, you’re on vanguard, watch our backs. Use explosive or armor piercing rounds in the station, switch to ceramic when we board our target vessel, we don’t want to damage the prize. We clear?”
The squad all keyed up in unison and whooped with anticipation. Margaritifer looked at Kaya and nodded to the boy, theatrically cocking her weapon. He pounded his shoulder with his fist and splayed his hands out before him in a spacer’s salute.
“Like you say, sister, we kill ‘em all,” Kaya said through the suit channel.
“Cut the chatter,” Eli responded sharply, “We’re on battle comms.”
The advance team breached the hatch with an explosive charge and pointed their weapons into the airstream as debris and atmosphere came roaring out from the room beyond.
“Move out people! Eyes on a swivel!” Eli shouted through the speaker system, directing the soldiers forward. Margaritifer kept her eyes peeled on the other sealed hatches, watching for signs of a counterattack as the main body of the strike team rushed forward into the adjacent hallway. Emergency pressure doors had slammed down every few meters in the corridor and the advance team was working its way through each one in sequence, venting each segment of the station into space as they went.
Margaritifer followed in their wake, seeing the carnage their passage inflicted each step of the way. Bodies exposed to vacuum littered the corridor, and debris was strewn everywhere by the sudden windstorm as each section was vented.
The chaos of the kinetic weapon strike served as the perfect cover for their attack. The station was already a disaster area with tens of thousands dead, many more wounded and the structural integrity of the ring severely compromised in many places. The station networks had been knocked out and power and life support were on the fritz. Margaritifer doubted the people they’d killed during their boarding even realized what was happening, if they had time to consider it before their sudden deaths, they might simply surmise that their sections of the ring had finally succumbed to damage inflicted by the initial disaster.
She refused to let herself get complacent though, she was still aboard what was once one of the most secure military installations in the system. They would eventually realize what was happening and begin fighting back, and she had to be ready for when that happened.
The squad reached an elevator and forced the shaft open. Inside the shaft, they sabotaged the lift mechanism and sent the elevator car crashing to the bottom of the ring before rappelling down after it. Their target was one of the military vessels moored to the outside edge of the station. Ten squads would converge on the airlocks for each vessel, attempt to force their way inside, and seize control of the ships. If successful, they would disconnect from the station and engage their FTL drives to escape.
Margaritifer remained on alert as the last of the squad began descending the elevator shaft. She peered around the ruined and depressurized corridor with her gauss rifle at the ready as her team breached the door at the bottom of the shaft and sent a gust of air howling up through it.
The girl nodded to Kaya, and the other teen began descending the elevator shaft to join the rest of the strike team. She was about to join him when movement in her peripheral vision brought her whipping her weapon around, every animalistic warning sensor in her body jammed into red as her eyes locked onto the figure staggering out of a side corridor in an emergency spacesuit.
The two figures both froze as they considered one another; the UN woman in the emergency suit began putting her hands up and backing away down the corridor slowly. Margaritifer only had a few seconds to process what was happening before the figure would pass out of sight. She winced as she pulled the trigger on her rifle.
The first two explosive rounds caught the figure in her center of mass, the third had drifted upward from the weapon’s slight recoil and struck her square in the face. Her head and chest detonated in a starburst of gore and viscera as the explosive rounds tore the front of her body apart. Margaritifer forced her eyes away from the horrific scene as the urge to vomit nearly overwhelmed her.
“Ross! What’s going on up there?” Eli’s voice demanded through the suit speaker.
“Sorry, nothing sir,” she said glancing up and down the hall again, “There was a survivor in an emergency suit, I took care of her.”
“Is the area clear at the moment?” He asked.
Margaritifer forced herself to look up and down the corridor again, trying to gloss over the charnel house she had created in the hall. It was empty.
“It’s clear,” she breathed into the microphone.
“Then get your ass down here before anyone else shows up,” Eli instructed harshly.
Margaritifer gladly turned away from the mess and began descending the elevator shaft. Ten levels below her, the squad was slowly and clearing a path towards their target vessel, continuing to vent the station to space as they went. Margaritifer secured herself to the rappelling line and jumped off into the abyss.
Malacca Elevator Station, Main Ring
22,236 Kilometers from Earth
Maeve O’Donnell peeked out into the hallway and found it abandoned aside from the mutilated body of Katie Hawthorne. Maeve’s heart was thundering in her chest as she tried to work the communications channels on her emergency suit, but all the station’s networks were showing as offline or unavailable and neither the emergency suit, nor the phone in her pocket had the transmission reach to connect all the way down to where the ships were docked.
Maeve and Katie had been in one of the records rooms just before the attack, going over digital files on the crew of her new ship. Maeve had had Katie promoted to Commander and was planning on having her serve as her First Officer on the Mercy Given.
Over the years of working with her, Maeve had grown quite fond of the young woman and had hoped to one day aid in her command aspirations. But now, all of Katie’s hopes and dreams had been reduced to scattered bits of brain matter coating the corridor. Maeve had no idea who the invaders were, but their willingness to snuff the life out of a promising young woman made her furious.
She still had no idea what exactly was happening at large. First, there was a huge crash somewhere and all the emergency systems started activating, then the networks had all gone down, and now there seemed to be armed soldiers roaming the halls killing survivors? Maeve had to get to her ship, had to get to a communications relay, had to make contact with someone and figure out the bigger picture if she had any hope of surviving the events underway.
The group of soldiers that had come through and killed Katie had descended an elevator shaft towards the station’s hangar deck, where the airlocks and access points for the shuttles and docked ships were located. The way they had entered was obvious from the folded in pressure doors leading back towards one of the lounge areas.
Maeve had no desire to encounter the enemy soldiers until she was properly armed and equipped, so she went the opposite direction, retracing their route of ingress back towards the initial entry point.
There were bodies everywhere of people who hadn’t made it to safety before the invaders unceremoniously cracked their rooms open and let the space in. Maeve issued a silent prayer to the lords of war for the lives lost, quietly vowing vengeance on those responsible for the disaster she had become a part of.
She strode out into the destroyed officer’s lounge, looking up at the structure of the station. The damage that had been inflicted was just shy of apocalyptic; a huge chunk of the ring was simply missing and the entire structure had been deformed by that event. Vast glittering trails of debris twinkled in the sunlight, and Maeve involuntarily shivered as the scope of the damage and the number of probable casualties penetrated her core like a kinetic impactor.
Distant flickers of light illuminated a battle happening in space around her. Ships were fighting, firing at one another, but Maeve still had no idea who was attacking or why. The scene had an otherworldly brilliance to it: the smooth hulled UN ships darting about like angels, the twinkle of light off the station debris, the high-velocity stillness occasionally punctuated by the occasional brief trail of fire from a PDC, or the blinding sparkle of light as a PDL scattered in all directions, and all of it, in utter silence.
If Katie had been alive, she would have tried to talk Maeve out of what she was about to do. But they’d killed Katie, they’d left her ruined body cooling in the hallway. With no one nearby to present a voice of reason, Maeve decided to act. If it killed her, well she wouldn’t be dying alone today.
She began to climb slowly and awkwardly through the shattered windows that had roofed the lounge. She had to stack furniture onto the bar to reach the lip and then actually pulling herself up through the opening left her bones feeling every year of their use.
The emergency spacesuit had no magnetic grips to hold Maeve to the spinning ring, but the outside of the ring structure had maintenance gantries and catwalks strung out all across the surface. It was still risky without magnetic boots or a harness or something, but Maeve wasn’t about to just sit around waiting to die, and that seemed to be the other alternative available at the moment.
Maeve finally managed to haul herself out of the breach and lay panting on the inner surface of the ring. The ring’s wide horizon swept up and away from her, with the elevator station in the center seeming to wobble and gyrate as it spun in place. Maeve knew the elevator station was stationary, what she was seeing was an imbalance in the spin of the ring. The structure was slowly losing integrity as the centripetal force peeled it apart bit by bit.
The former Commodore took off at a run across the top of the ring. It was several hundred meters to the edge of the structure where the gantries descending the to the bottom of the ring could be accessed.
As she approached the edge and began slowly clambering down the interlocking stairways, ladders, and catwalks that clung to the exterior, a pair of ships began swinging in close to the station, exchanging long trails of point defense with one another as they danced around the ring structure. The first ship was a UN destroyer that had already taken a beating in some fashion, with huge gashes and holes in her matte white armored cladding. The second was some sort of civilian transport ship, which was firing PDCs out of shipping containers at the UN vessel.
The destroyer lashed out with PDL bursts, popping shipping containers like balloons as the laser weapons raked the other vessel’s surface. The transport ship pulled away from the ring then began turning back towards it again as it neared the elevator station. Lasers tore through the rusted hull and with a small series of chain reaction explosions the containers broke away from the transport, tumbling away in all directions. The crippled transport ship turned its engines on full burn and accelerated straight into the ring, slamming into a distant section of the surface opposite the breach from where Maeve was standing. A tremor in the station surface built all the way to a minor earthquake as the fusion reactor in the attacking vessel detonated and bathed the station in a blast of light and radiation.
The shaking continued as the light of the blast faded away, and that was when Maeve realized the explosion had compromised the structural integrity of the already damaged ring. The section of the structure she was on was being pulled away from the center station by the force of its rotation.
Maeve swore and tried to connect with any nearby communications networks on her device. She briefly established a connection with the destroyer, but then it sped away towards another part of the conflict, where yet more PDC fire was erupting in the distance.
She grumbled as the signal strength dropped to zero and she sighed and continued frantically climbing down the outside of the ring. The spin gravity was falling away as more and more of the rotational velocity escaped to be converted into inertial velocity, leaving Maeve groping at the support posts and handrails as her feet were held to the catwalk with increasingly little force.
As she reached the bottom of the ring, she saw a ship undock from its moorings and execute an immediate warp jump, tearing another chunk from the station as the shear forces wreaked havoc on the docking bay it had been moored in. Maeve’s blood finished running all the way to ice cold as she realized the attackers were stealing their ships, military warships armed with nuclear weapons. It shouldn’t have been possible, the ship’s AIs should have stopped them, but she watched as another ship undocked and immediately turned its guns on a passing UN cruiser before also vanishing into a ripple in spacetime as their warp drive fired.
She took off at a run, she had to warn the Mercy Given while there was still time. She raced down the hanging catwalks as quickly as she could in the fading gravity, trying to get in communications range with one of the ships. She started to pick up a signal from the UNDF Ticonderoga, but as she frantically tried to connect to their network, the ship engaged its warp drive while still locked to the dock and tore away a huge chunk of the nearby station hull. The catwalks rattled and screeched as the shear point crunched itself together in a blast of light and debris.
Between the proximity to the warp activations and the detonation of the terrorist ship’s fusion drive, Maeve knew she had probably already received an extreme dose of radiation and would need extensive anti-cancer and radiation sickness treatments if she survived, but she ignored the tingling in her skin and the uneasiness in her stomach and raced onward down the catwalk.
Finally, the UNDF Mercy Given’s network appeared on her hud, and she desperately pressed the connect button. She let out a huge breath as the network connected and immediately she established a line to the bridge.
“Mercy Given, Captain, is that you?” The voice of Lieutenant Commander Pandora Eisley asked through her suit speakers. “There’s some sort of attack going on aboard the station, the networks are all locked down and–”
“Yes, undock, undock now, seal all docking ports and airlocks there are intruders aboard the station,” she said as quickly as she could get the words out.
“I’ve sealed the hatches and ordered a security team to the airlocks, but we can’t undock,” Dora responded, “The networks have us locked out and won’t accept our codes to release the docking clamps.”
“Then rip the damn clamps out of the station, there are intruders onboard armed with high-powered weapons and breaching charges, I think they’re trying to make off with our ships which means you need to undock now. Pass the word down the line to the other vessels.”
“Acknowledged,” the Lieutenant Commander replied breathlessly.
Malacca Elevator Station, Main Ring
22,236 Kilometers from Earth
The wide open concourse of the spaceport had turned into a battlefield. Margaritifer’s strike team and six other teams had merged on this area of the spaceport and exchanged fire with the surviving UN forces, those who had been in spacesuits on the concourse when they broke the air seals. The fighting was fierce, clawing back bulkheads one at a time, venting a section of hallway, dueling with the survivors, and then repeating the process another ten meters down the corridor.
The deck rumbled and the spin gravity began to slowly fade away as the low-level shaking continued. The battle outside must have been progressing on schedule, which meant Margaritifer’s squad was starting to fall behind. Their progress through the station had begun to flag as the defenders started to rally and coordinate with one another. Their networks were still crippled as had been promised, but that didn’t stop them from physically talking to each other.
There were far too many Terrans to fight and claim the station, likely there were already dozens more military vessels converging on the elevator from all over Earth’s orbit. The Tribe’s plan relied on getting in and getting out before enough forces could be mustered in response. If they lagged behind, they would be left behind, encircled, and killed. Victory or death, it was that simple. By virtue of the damage they had inflicted on their foe, they had already won a great victory for the Tribe this day, it was just a matter of surviving to enjoy it now, and Margaritifer very much planned on living.
Her strike team broke through into the chamber containing the airlock access to their target vessel. The advance team went to work breaching the airlock, while the rest of the squad set up a defensive perimeter in that segment of the corridor. The station continued to groan and creak, and then with a sharp bang, the gravity suddenly fell away entirely, leaving everyone momentarily groping for support and locking down magnetic boots. The airlock started to groan and shriek as the vessel beyond fired its thrusters in an attempt to escape the station.
“The clamps will hold them, keep working!” Eli encouraged the soldiers, keeping his weapon trained on the sealed door, waiting for the attack from the far side. The advance team finished wiring up the breaching charges and began backing off as the metal around the airlock emitted another groan of protest at the stress it was being subjected to.
Eli nodded and they blew the hatch, rushing inwards weapons blazing as the defenders were suddenly exposed to vacuum. The strike team raced forward to claim their prize.
Malacca Elevator Station, Main Ring
22,236 Kilometers from Earth, Sol
Maeve kept running, racing down the hanging system of catwalks, trying to get closer to the Mercy Given as the battle surged in local space. Stolen warships ripped into UN loyal forces, joining in battle with the makeshift pirate flotilla that had led the station assault. Another series of tremors vibrated through the metal grating in the catwalk and gravity fell away entirely, the section of station had broken from the ring and its velocity vector sent it drifting away from the station.
“They’re about to breach our airlock,” Dora reported defeatedly, as Maeve clung to the gantry for dear life, “We can’t break out of the dock.”
“Use PDLs, cut yourself away, collateral damage to the station is considered acceptable,” Maeve ordered. Another vessel was released by the station clamps and engaged its warp drive. Somehow the invaders had taken control of their networks from the governing AIs and smart systems, yet another impossible feat to pile onto their list of accomplishments.
The Mercy Given’s point defense lasers twinkled as the destructive energy reflected off the nearby hull. It flash heated the structure and melted deep gashes into it, ripping through clamps and gantries with burning light and leaving the edges molten hot. The ship continued to heave against the ruined clamps, and then finally, the battlecruiser broke away from the docking bay in a shower of debris and molten metal.
“Are you secure?” Maeve asked into the microphone demandingly.
“Standby,” Dora replied.
“Fuck,” Maeve swore and started trying to climb along a support strut to stay in communications range as the ship slowly drifted clear of the docking gantries. The battle around the station was intensifying with more and more ships joining in. Ships continued to jump out of the fight into warp, but it was impossible to tell if it was invaders escaping with stolen ships, or loyal forces fleeing the battle to escape destruction after taking critical damage. Even as the battle grew in scope, the chunk of ring Maeve was on continued to drift away from the combat zone, giving her a wide vantage point from which to observe the conflict.
“Are you secure?” Maeve asked again with agitation.
“Standby please,” the Lieutenant commander repeated.
“Dora what the fuck is going on over there?” Maeve barked into the microphone.
Dora said nothing, she just started keying up and Maeve heard the sound of gunfire through her speakers. “You hold that corridor! You hear me?” Someone was shouting in the background over the roar of small arms fire.
A UN Destroyer tumbled past the ring fragment, drifting dead in the water and venting gasses from dozens of wounds. Maeve thought the total death toll might be approaching fifty thousand, just from her own personal tally. She held her breath as the firefight played out in a staccato of gunfire, punctuated by incoherent orders being shouted over the din and cries of pain as the forces exchanged casualties.
Maeve was so engrossed with the conflict on the Mercy Given, she didn’t notice that the ruined destroyer was drifting closer to the ring fragment until it blocked out the sun, looming larger and larger as it tumbled nose to tail towards the wrecked gantries.
Well, I guess this is how I die, Maeve thought to herself as the hulk cartwheeled over her head and slammed tailfirst into the side of a docking bay. The catwalk kicked and buckled, folding and twisting up on itself suddenly and bucking Maeve off in the process. Maeve was slammed against a support pole as it bent itself in half, seeing stars as she rebounded off the collapsing gantry and was sent tumbling into space.
“Secure the ship, Dora, take care of her,” Maeve said softly as the blood pooled in her head and feet from the rotation that had been imparted onto her, making her dizzy and lightheaded. She could still hear the ongoing firefight through her suit speakers, but it was gradually growing distant and static filled as Maeve drifted away from the ship.
The sun and the earth and the battle and the ring fragment all spun past one another in an endless and unstoppable precession as Maeve tumbled. She tried to steady her breathing but she was spinning quite rapidly; nausea and lightheadedness continued to build and her vision began to contract down to a point. She resisted the urge to panic and start hyperventilating, which would only accelerate her journey to unconsciousness. Instead, she and slowly and deliberately accessed and activated the emergency transponder on her suit, finishing the activation sequence just before her vision blurred out completely.
Maeve took another slow deliberate breath, watching the blurring fading scenery rotate past her as the unstoppable tendrils of unconsciousness finally claimed her as their own.