I'm changing the format because when I type in Microsoft Word 2011, it learns how I write and automatically formats the paragraphs for me without adding the invisible characters (such as ¶). Because it leaves out those characters, translating to the program used here on SoFurry, my formatting is messed up. I will leave this in "Paragraph" form so there are spaces between the paragraphs to make it easier to read for others.
She was the first to hear the news. The report wasn't sent by the Intelligence Agents that were conducting this mission but was broadcasted through the various relay satellites scattered within and beyond the Black Line. The others didn't take the news well but then again neither did she.
The most powerful armada ever assembled was defeated by the alien parasite. Not only was the battle a complete failure but the parasite Aggressor demolished their home world's planetary defenses and invaded their home. No word had reached the ship since.
Kaitlin sat behind her pack leader, Alex. He was speaking with the leaders of the survivors that they found on the infected shipyard. She was grateful that she didn't have to break the news to the survivors herself. Once she told her pack about the downfall of their race, Alex volunteered to do inform the others.
"We need to go back," the female squirrel survivor suggested. "If the fleets have been broken like you said, we might have the only surviving ship left."
"The risk is too great," claimed Alex. He no longer in his armor but instead he wore one of his uniforms that he had been wearing during the trip out to the station. "The reports have been confusing but we do know that at least one of those giant creatures called Klienestov was involved in the battle. There's a good chance that two were. Either way, I'm certain that if we were to go back we'd run into a fight that we cannot win."
"I don't mean to offend you, sir," continued the squirrel. "But the risk is greater if we don't go back. If there are survivors, then we need to rescue them. Those that we rescue may become the only thing left of our race."
"We only scavenged a few supplies from our colony," spoke up one of the four-legged aliens. He was sitting in one of the chairs much the same way an animal would sit on the ground. "This ship can't hold very many survivors."
Kaitlin remembered searching the ruins of the planet Velon. The planet was hit pretty hard and the alien's fleet was still burning in orbit when they arrived there almost four months ago. While in orbit, the survivors discussed for nearly a week whether or not to go down to the surface to search for survivors but it quickly became apparent that they needed various supplies if they were going to survive on the ship.
The aliens, nicknamed Beasts, were distraught when they saw the condition the planet was in. The only light that shined in their depression was the signal that Kaitlin found of a survivor fleet fleeing from the planet. The broadcast was left as a beacon for survivors returning to the planet but left no hints of where that fleet was or was going.
"We need more information before we head back," commented Alex before turning to Kaitlin. "Has there been any distress calls?"
"They've all gone silent," she answered. "It's too dangerous send out any signals and I assume that's what the other survivors are thinking too, if there are other survivors."
"Everyone's hiding in the dark because we're afraid of what might find us in the light," muttered her leader.
"If I might make a quip," spoke a female voice. The artificial intelligence that they unknowing installed to the ship.
"This was supposed to be a private meeting," growled Alex.
"It's not my fault you speak so loud," said the AI. "Besides, I've been forced to adapt away from my initial programming to help us survive. That's rather difficult to do so I more I know about the situation, the better I can keep my programming from taking over the ship again."
"So what do you want to suggest?" asked Alex. He lowered his head and brought a paw to his forehead in annoyance.
"The survivors on this ship have been depressed since we were at the planet Velon where they saw potential outcome of our home world," started the AI. "Ever since then we haven't had a true trajectory because you want to avoid the discussion of going back to the battleground where the armada fought against Aggressor's horde."
"The chances for survivors lasting this long after the battle is miniscule," mentioned the squirrel.
"We're not going for survivors," claimed the AI. "We're going for the chance of finding some sort of clue on what happened there, and what had happened on Canidera."
"If we were ever going to go then it should have been to save survivors," rebuked the squirrel. "There's only twelve of us left, and nine of them." She pointed at the four-legged alien. "If we're going to preserve our species as a whole, then we need never go back in the Black Line. We're endangered of becoming extinct."
"Certainly there are other survivors," said Kaitlin. "They may be scattered and defenseless but there's no way the Creeper wave could have hunted down every last one of our ships already; especially when we're still here. This ship may be the only weapon that'll be available to protect the others. We have to go back."
"Then we make a straight shot to our home," growled the squirrel. She was becoming frustrated that none of her opinions were being accepted. "That's where the survivors would head too so our best chance is going there."
"No," said Alex sternly. "We're going to the battleground. We're going home but first we make sure that there is a home to go back to. AI, what's our combat status?"
"The ship isn't armed heavily but we have enough missiles and cannon rounds to at least survive an engagement," answered the AI.
"It'll have to do," said Alex, standing from his seat. "Set a course for the Black Line battleground. Our primary mission is to download information from the General's flagship. If we have the chance then I'd like to salvage more supplies as well."
"Yes sergeant," replied the AI. "We've been on the border for some time so we'll be there in a few hours."
"Allison, and friend, I'd like you to gather everyone and meet my team and me on the bridge in thirty minutes," Alex continued.
"A couple of us have fallen ill so they might not be able to make it," mentioned the squirrel.
"You still can't pronounce my name," muttered the alien.
"Then have them awake to listen through their PawPads," concluded the pack leader. "My team is not trained to deal with piloting a warship like this so we'll need all the help we can get. I'll see you all then."
Kaitlin followed Alex out of the commander's office. They were already headed to the bridge but she didn't bother asking why.
"Call the team here," ordered Alex. He focused on activating the navigation maps and other command consoles. "When you finish that, I want you to start familiarizing yourself with the basic programs. Build two firewalls on the camera systems, one basic and the other more advanced. Then see if you can get around the AI and gain access to the engines and weapons systems."
"That's rather pointless but I'll give you access to the primary ship controls," said the AI over the intercom.
Both of the wolves ignored her, and Kaitlin held her tongue on why she was required to build firewalls for a system that already had protection in place. She focused on her tasks and managed to complete both firewalls by the time the survivors arrived.
"Continue testing the ship systems," ordered Alex after the others piled into the hangar. "I'm sorry to call you all here so shortly after our visit to Velon but it's now time we take action."
Velon was not anything that the team had expected when they landed on the surface. The cities were unique, being built like large hills but even their destruction was evidence by the appearance of the collapsed hills. Even where they landed was covered in darkness due to the ash that still covered the sky.
They stayed on the planet for a week in the darkness, salvaging food and other supplies but the few times that the infected Creepers came near started to disturb all of them, especially the Beasts. It wasn't long before they were begging to leave their home. Alex wanted to stay and find more weapons but even their team was on edge from the attacks. A.J. eventually succeeded in convincing Alex that their mission was taking too large of a toll on all of them.
"Our situation is desperate since right now for as far as we know, we're the last survivors of our species," continued Alex. "If you haven't already been told by Allison, we're heading to the battleground where our fleets were defeated by the advance of the hostile alien. We will be there in a few short hours and when we arrive my team and I will be investigating any wreckage that may still be around.
"That's where our strength is, fighting with the weapons that we can hold in our paws. We're not able to run this ship efficiently and the AI cannot react to a complicated situation all at once so we need to fill in the gaps. I will be instructing my team to assist in testing each of you and your individual strengths and weaknesses. Over the course of the next month, you all will become the officers that'll assist in commanding this vessel."
Now she understood. Kaitlin was creating these firewalls as tests for the others, and she had to become familiar the ship's systems because she would be training the others on how to use those systems as well. The burden of responsibility was unexpected but the she-wolf didn't have any objections.
With one ear turned toward the conversation, Kaitlin only partially paid attention as Alex gathered the survivors' names and started to organize them into groups. Their leader then went as far as to assigning them ranks and roommates. Kaitlin caught a glimpse at the survivors and none of them looked pleased but they followed the young wolf's orders without question.
A message started to beep in the corner of the computer screen Kaitlin was working on. She opened it and realized that it was from the AI, and the message claimed an anomaly was found from the battle site. It was only a flash on a static-filled screen but it was definitely an explosion of some type. Even if they were so far away, the fireworks from the battle six months ago would have long disappeared at this range.
"Sergeant," she said, interrupting her pack leader. "Our mission might be more complicated than we originally thought."
A.J. didn't hesitate to walk over and look over her shoulder at the screen. He quickly exchanged a glance with Alex.
"Allison, please take them to their assigned rooms," said Alex, remaining his composure until the survivors left the room. "What'd you find Kaitlin?"
"The light from the flash is only a few minutes old," she said, replaying the video. "It's been six months so there's a very slim chance that it's from a depressurizing dead ship. There must be survivors still fighting on their ships."
"We don't know that yet," commented Alex. She knew her leader didn't want them to jump to any conclusions but she couldn't think of any other possibility. Either there are survivors still fighting on the ships or a rescue fleet had arrived. "Let's get our armor on. Whatever's going on over there, it's clear that there will be a fight."
"I'll continue to monitor the battleground for more information," said the AI through the speakers.
"Let's go," ordered Alex.
Kaitlin followed her leader and their second in command, A.J. off the bridge, with the two smaller wolves, Yuri and Mary, following her. In the armory, they exchanged their outfits for the fitted armor that was intended for their original mission of retrieving this destroyer-class warship.
Time passed with the wolves preparing for battle in a way that they haven't done since they've lost contact with the UDAS fleets. While her team gathered ammunition, explosives and other lethal tools but Kaitlin used her PawPad to download tools specifically designed to hack nearly any computer on any ship. With a small stash of her own ammunition, Kaitlin was prepared and she waited for the rest of the team to finish arming up.
"Any updates, AI?" Alex asked, now through his helmet speakers.
"The attacks are coming from within some of the ships but there is also ship to ship weapons being exchanged," answered the AI. "There is a lot of wreckage and it's falling in a loose orbit around a black hole about a lightyear away."
"We'll be in the drop ship," said Alex, leading his team of armored wolves out of the armory and toward the hangar. A few minutes passed before Alex and Kaitlin were sitting in the pilot seats. Alex began to prepare the ship for departure.
"We're close enough to see the ships," the AI said. "I've found a suitable ship for you to board that's away from the fighting but you'll want to hurry the mission along. I have identified the ruins to belonging at least eighteen of our own capital ships. Ruins of infected warships are numbering in about forty-three. And the active ships, I cannot identify as any of the alien ships we've come across, or our own."
"We have no idea who attacking then?" Alex asked.
Before too much more time had passed, Alex flew the ship out of the hangar. Out before them was a graveyard of dozens of ships, floating dangerously close to each other. They've scattered across space and at one end there was obvious signs of a battle still raging but those live ships could not be seen from this far.
"The ship is a hundred kilometers ahead," said Kaitlin. From behind the other wreckage, a relatively intact ship came into view. It had moss and roots growing from the engines. "It's infected."
"Our mission is to retrieve the data from the core," Alex reminded her. "These ships are too damaged to move, let alone be affective so we're not going to waste any time trying to destroy the infection."
"Sure will make the mission more complicated if we're fighting an infection and trying to avoid whoever's attacking these broken ships," mentioned A.J.
The ship grew larger through the windshield. It was long before they were flying along its hull toward the nose end of the ship.
"You're right," Alex said, maneuvering the craft around the debris and jagged pieces of the hull sticking out from the ship. "I'm going to make an opening on the bridge so we can get this done quickly. Kaitlin, prepare to board the ship. The rest of you will go with her. Yuri, you'll defend their exit while Mary and A.J. escort Kaitlin to the bridge."
Kaitlin loaded her weapon and activated her heads-up display while she waited for Alex to position the ship near the nose of the busted warship. When they were near, he stopped the ship and aimed the guns directly at the small opening that would have held a life pod. Without warning, the drop ship's guns rattled them all and a fiery explosion erupted from the life pod hatch.
"If we ever had any stealth, it's gone now," said Alex, holding fire now. "I expect to see you all back in three minutes."
Kaitlin hurried and unfastened herself from the co-pilot's seat. The ship was maneuvering still, making it difficult to move but she managed to join the rest of her team in the passenger's compartment. The back hatch of the ship opened up to reveal the smoking and jagged blast wound on the side of the ship that Alex created.
A.J. jumped toward the opening, followed by Kaitlin and the other two wolves. They easily made it inside, despite the smoke filling their vision momentarily. Inside the corridors were vacant but they all knew that there were infested soldiers onboard.
"Yuri, we'll be back in two minutes," Kaitlin said.
The small wolf gave them a short nod with his armor before they turned and hurried down toward the bridge of the ship. Only their armor's lights illuminated the dark corridors but it was sufficient. The bridge was less than a few dozen meters through the corridor so they made it without any incident.
Mary forced open the bridge doors but their rush was a great risk. Through the forced doors, Mary was tackled and fell to the ground under a flailing of botanical vines. Several muffled flashes appeared through the darkness before the infected body rolled off her. The armored wolf stood back up and fired several more rounds into the fallen infected soldier.
"I'll guard the entrance," Mary said, before firing another shot. "Go ahead. Clear out the room first, A.J."
"Yes ma'am," he replied, rushing through the room. Kaitlin followed, seeing flashes of the wolf's weapon reflecting from the walls. She saw a few figures fall but ignored them while she rushed to the command chair and activated the console. She physically linked her PawPad and began hacking into computer systems that were depleted of power.
Without bothering to examine the files she was downloading, she stored them all in the device with memory room to spare. Thirty seconds later, she was finished.
"It's finished, let's go," Kaitlin declared, unhooking the device.
"Roger that," A.J. responded. He regrouped with her after having been putting down the infected for good.
Regrouping with Mary at the exit, they hurried toward where they left Yuri. Down the corridor, more gunfire was seen reflecting off the walls but they were glad to see Yuri still standing and three infected soldiers on the ground.
"Time to go Yuri," said A.J.
Yuri didn't answer but simply jumped out the blast wound, followed by the others. They landed safely inside the drop ship and the blast door closed after them.
"We got to go," said Alex. The ship was already accelerating away. "Fastened yourselves. While you all were in there, I checked the visualizations of the unknown fleet for myself. I don't know what they're doing here but their signature is that of the ancient Velmarian empires."