Phantom Pains

10/24/2016

by Xepharious Wryn - A story of family amidst a sea of death in the fight to save Origin

She'd slipped away from her nanny-drone because she wanted to 'see' mommy. Ellie stood motionless in a small viewing compartment perched on a prominence overlooking the capital docking ports. Since moving to Indigo station only two months ago her mommy would take her to watch the ships come in during the rare times she wasn't out on mission. They'd play a game to see who could spot the uncloaking scout first and talk of Ellie's day or plans to come. In the game, her mommy had taught her to look for that tell-tale glare as the light of a star hit the fluorescing shields of a de-cloaking ship. Her mommy had called it the 'Angel's Halo' and said that scouts like her were the guiding angels to everyone in space. Ellie liked thinking of her mommy as an angel; as her angel. Ellie was getting good at it to; finding the 'Angels' first. She'd call out her win which always earned her a congratulatory hug and a kiss on the head.

Staring intently out into space Ellie jumped slightly as the first of many large scorpion-like ships streaked into view almost directly in-front of her. Using the field enhancers she'd gotten on her last birthday she could just make out more than 10 additional ships coming into station keeping near their bigger brothers. These had to be the ugliest lopsided insect-like ships she'd ever seen too. Within second they'd reached out to each other to create an ominous web of light as they began to swirl about one-another. Rather than swirl, the larger scorpion ships, clad in a distinct mottled tan, black, and green held their position as if to declare their incredible danger. She remembered the urges of her nanny-drone now. It had tried to lock her into a strange room with several other children before zipping off to somewhere else. It had said she'd be safe there but how could she be safe without mommy? Were these the ships she was supposed to be safe from? Mommy was her angel, she'd be back to save her from the bad-guys and she'd be the first to see her come home too. Ellie took a deep breath and perched onto a bench to wait. Mommy was coming. She gasped and came to her feet as all of space around her shattered. Her entire vision was filled with a sort of yellow sparking of eerily silent concussions as the point-defense systems of the city sprayed defiantly forth. Mommy was coming soon.

*****

The final reports from Skyreach Tower trickled in via the neural communications network; it was a total loss. Thank gods everyone had been evacuated during the early hours of the morning. All those weeks of work lost. It was going to take them a long time to recoup some of those losses too, especially all of the materials that were too far along to be quickly retrieved. She thought of the half-constructed hulls that had just been torn into like abandoned spacetrash.

She sat several thousand kilometers off the northern hemisphere of the Indigo City foritizar-class station and tried to focus on how her inaction might actually save so many lives... including her daughter's. Her eyes swiveled to the brilliant blue and green eden which lay below the entrenched station. How many escape pods could make it planetside if they failed? Please let Ellie's be one, please. It was going to be a long night. Over 300 cruise missiles spit forth like a storm of teeth spat from so many beasts, vicious creatures who'd tasted blood and were now high on their presumed victory. She could almost feel their hunger directed not at her, but at all that she held dear. They had to hold the night.

*****

Warning sirens sounded loudly all around Ellie but she could only stand transfixed and staring out into space. Engineers ran by out in the corridor oblivious to the lonely child. All about the station, space lanes normally filled with local traffic altered to the frantic movements of technician crews risking everything to reinforce exterior shield emitters, if only to squeeze a mere few more seconds out of them.

The dance of death laid out before her was mesmerizing. She had seen death before... her father had died before her eyes when she was only two. Unclear memories of a single blaster shot and the mountain of a man standing between her and monsters threatening to take her... she pushed it out. Her mother had come to save her then too. This death was different, the silence in the observation deck made it worse than her father's sacrifice somehow. She knew that the monsters out there were here to kill her and her mommy and that scared her a lot. She imagined the spirit of her father enveloping the station like the shields and asked him to hold strong for her and mommy again. Cessy had said The Spirits were real and she would know; her mommy was a Mystic.

Ellie's hands pressed on the forcefield and she tried to make sense of what she knew to be the battle for their survival. Were any of those ships out there friendly? No ships had launched from the station but she spent enough time with her mother watching in this compartment to know that sometimes 'blues' came from space too. She'd have to ask mommy why friends were called 'blues' again, her favorite color was red and that must mean that 'reds' couldn't always be bad-guys. There were no reds or blues or even greens, oranges, or purples to be seen from the tiny little abandoned and forcefield enclosed observation deck. Only the occasional flare of an explosion gave indication of the battle within that dance of lights. Those bursts of light were short and quickly silenced by greedy space and the shields about her beleaguered home continued to pulse and ripple. They should have colors, so she could know who her friends were out there. How was she to know that every last ship in space around them was decidedly unfriendly and every ally was tucked safely in their docks waiting out the storm right along with her?
The entire section shook as a shield emitter not more than a kilometer away erupted into a shower of sparks and shrapnel that consumed the small cadre of techs desperately trying to reinforce it. In confusion, Ellie watched the delicate shield pulse and thin just long enough for two more deadly sleek green and silver tubes to pierce the power clusters just aft of the mangled emitter-turned-shrapnel. Ellie was momentarily thrown back and landed heavily against a viewing bench. She opened her eyes again quickly. All she could see was a blurred image of the commemorative plaque set in silver upon the contoured metal bench which had just bruised more than her senses. She couldn't make out the letters of the inscription and turned to see if perhaps she could still see the battle outside. The lights flickered and for just a moment she imagined that she saw a small halo of light somewhere high and to the left of the fleet. Her mind couldn't process the damage her head had taken or the existence of a solar lensing effect as the forcefield rippled, but she saw the halo. "I win Mommy!"

The lights and the forcefield failed.

*****

As the last hold-outs of the shield gave way she watched as her horror turned real. There were blooms of escaping debris and explosive gas just before the emergency armor hardeners kicked in. It was a glancing blow but one that was all too close for her racing heart. They'd made it through only the first act of this morose theater and once more the game turned to one of resupply, reinforcement, and waiting. The amassed enemy fleet reformed, dropped their transfers, and as one slipped quietly back into the shadows of space on a return trajectory for their beachhead towers further inside the system. They had little need to batter at the now reinforced armor of the station when that emergency power would simply exhaust itself in a matter of hours. They'd be back to engage the diminished citadel soon enough.

She yearned to dock, to go to her Ellie who, even now, was surly huddled scared against the cold nanny-drone deep in the city. How could she be here, trapped within a Buzzard and oh so helpless? Where was the next scout to reprieve her? Lost... killed by friendly fire during the desperate fight. They had held, and she couldn't ask for more from the fates. This calm before the next storm would be so horribly short; only about 24 hours to prepare for the last stand, their last breath. So few allies lost; it was one too many blessings and her cynical nature screamed at her that the balance of the cosmos left little luck for tomorrow.

The communications network opened in her mind; "Lt. Lethrov, please see to the disposition of our exit." Her heart dropped... she'd have no reprieve tonight. As she slipped silently into warp she took one last look back at the tired station and froze it in her mind. If they were sending her to the high-sec exit it meant one of two things: Either the enemy had released their hold over the vital wormhole; granting Indigo City a fleeting chance to bring in more allies and supplies, and granting her a chance to return home; or it meant that she was replacing a scout who was now lost to the fight and she would be stationed there until it was all over, win or lose. She came out of warp just in time to see the Onyx, bubble up, contemptuously end an allied scout's wreck in a pitiful puff of small missile-fire. A cold hell settled on her and threatened to consumer her. She might never see Ellie again. She widened her orbit of the already heavily used wormhole. It growled at her as if mocking her fate but she had no intention of becoming ensnared within its de-cloaking rage or the entrapping warp disruption bubble that still spilled forth from the prowling cruiser. Her only ray of hope lay in diligently tracking the enemy supply lines. Their allies may just barely hold an advantage when the next day broke over Indigo and only she could inform command if they did. That deathly cold of doom snapped at her still small element of hope. She called up an image of her daughter via her ocular implant and used it as a shield against the darkness as another Rattlesnake class battleship emerged from the wormhole. She prayed; to Bob, to the gods of her childhood, to any being that would listen. Let. Them. Hold.