It's been twelve years since the invasion. Twelve years since Earth, once a shining jewel of life in a vast black sea of nothingness, was bathed in the bloody crimson aura of total global war...
Twelve years since Hell on Earth.
The human race almost perished in the holocaust, as wave after wave of the evil, inhuman force attacked with a fury that seemed the spawn of Hell itself. The invading army swiftly overwhelmed the Earthly military forces, and was almost able to cut off the massive spaceports being used by the evacuation ships.
A handful of hardy military veterans were able to blast through the otherworldly gauntlet and re-open the spaceports, just long enough for the evacuation ships to transport their weary human cargo away from the embattled planet.
The Marines struggled to hold off the evil invaders until the last of the gigantic vessels cleared the launch-pads. As the ships lifted up into the skies, wave after wave of the ghastly army could be seen converging on the doomed spaceports and their human defenders. Firefights of intensities never before witnessed ensued, but were blotted out by the thick exhaust of the fleeing ships. No one knows what became of those brave men and women, but one thing is certain...
Never before have so many owed so much to so few.
Once in orbit around the planet, the decision was made to identify the primary invasion sites, and to bombard them from space. Tears flowed openly, as missile after missile was rained down upon the shattered world, for nothing would ever be the same again.
Following the bombardment, special military teams were dispatched to the surface to wipe out the remnants of the evil forces. After nearly a year of intense conflict, mankind descended from the skies to reclaim their desecrated homeland. The war was over, and the time for reconstruction had begun.
Through many years of massive effort, the debris of war was nudged aside and societies were re-established. As lands were reclaimed, mankind continued to encounter remnants of the invading force. To this day, small battles continue to erupt as mankind strives to tighten its grip on its precious homeworld...
Out of the flames of battle arose a new, global mindset among the people and governments of the world. International bickering and petty border disputes became policies of the past, in the shadow of the new, inhuman threat.
The United Nations arose from the ashes and, through the Planetary Defense Initiative, established a new branch chartered with defending the Earth against possible future invasion. This branch is known as the Earth Defense Council (EDC).
With its creation, the EDC was given control of the world's military forces. These forces, as a whole, constitute the EDC's active arm, the Earth Defense Force (EDF). In addition to planetary defense, the EDF is responsible for exploring nearby solar systems for signs of (potentially hostile) lifeforms.
To this end, the EDF has launched several short-range exploratory cruisers over the last 12 months. Each of these vessels is manned by a small contingent of military and scientific personnel, and is equipped with a wide array of tactical, defensive, and scientific hardware.
Most importantly, these ships contain the latest Personnel Transport (PT) systems developed by Union Aerospace Corp., the leader in transportational research. These units allow personnel to directly travel between the cruisers and target planetoids, freeing up mechanized shuttle units for hardware transport.
All of the cruisers launched so far are destined for nearby solar systems. Two of the short-range vessels have already arrived at their destinations and have begun exploration. Preliminary scans have revealed no signs of intelligent life, but more data is expected, as teams are scheduled to begin making planetfall soon...
However, it seems that a problem has surfaced. It must be something pretty damn important to warrant an oh-two-hundred- hour wake-up call from your CO, and an armed escort to a flight direct to the Northern U.S. EDF base near Billings, Montana. You're one of the best, and you're being called in on what amounts to an emergency. That spells trouble. BIG trouble.
You sit in the office of your CO, Gen. Bill Robinson, awaiting his arrival. You pour yourself a hot cup of coffee and try to prepare yourself for whatever it is he's about to tell you. You've been here many times in the past, on many so-called "emergencies", but never before has the hair on the back of your neck bristled like it's doing right now. Something is seriously wrong.
With a pronounced 'click', the door opens. You snap to attention. General Robinson strides into the room, barely pausing to shut the door behind him. He's not happy.
"At ease, soldier."
You breathe and reach for your cup of coffee. "What's the problem, General?", you ask.
"Have a seat, son. You got yerself some coffee? Good. We need you to be awake on this one." He turns to stare out the window towards the starry Montana sky, breathes deeply, and continues...
"Seems we've lost contact with one of the exploration cruisers, the Icarus"
"The Icarus sir? She was the last one launched, wasn't she?"
"Affirmative. She was headed for the Beta Pictoris system. All systems were go as she arrived, and scanning of the five known planetary bodies was commenced."
"Well, it's probably best if we let her logs answer that." Fixing you with a concerned glance, Gen. Robinson quietly hands you an unmarked dossier, containing several pages of hard-copy. "Go ahead, take your time, son. You need to understand this." With that, he turns his silent gaze back to the night-time sky.
You remove the hard-copy from the tan envelope and begin reading...
Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Normal EDF Icarus Log, Entry #324 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 9/17/2024, 15:43 TX: We've cut the hyperdrives and are approaching Beta Pictoris 5, the outermost of this system's 5 planets. The new hyperdrives performed famously. We were able to push them to +3.267% most of the way, and they never complained a bit. Crew is in good spirits. Looking forward to a fast scan and a quick trip home. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Normal EDF Icarus Log, Entry #373 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 10/23/2024, 11:07 TX: Just like Beta Pictoris 5, Beta Pictoris 4 is a dead, icy rock. Prelim scans show no signs of life whatsoever. We're closing up shop here, and moving on to Beta Pictoris 3. Crew still in good spirits. The simulators are operational, and the troops are putting them to good use. We have to keep on our toes, and the sims are the next best thing to being there. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Normal EDF Icarus Log, Entry #392 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/02/2024, 19:53 TX: It's been a busy day. Our initial prelim scans of Beta Pictoris 3 briefly showed a possible life-source. Subsequent scans showed nothing. Spent most of the day calibrating and testing the scanners to make sure we weren't seeing things. Secondary scans came up with something, but Science is still analyzing the data. Simulator usage is up slightly, but still within parameters. Our troops are looking forward to some action. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Normal EDF Icarus Log, Entry #393 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/03/2024, 05:30 TX: The boys in Science came through for us; we've got something here on Beta Pictoris 3. Lots of vegetation down there, and an oxygen-based atmosphere not much thinner than Earth's. The big story is that there's more than just plants down there: we've found several isolated areas that appear to contain non-natural structures and slightly elevated CO2 levels. There is intelligent life on Beta Pictoris 3! We're preparing a recon-drop for 08:00 this morning. Looks like we'll get to stretch our legs a bit. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Normal EDF Icarus Log, Entry #394 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/03/2024, 08:30 TX: The PT receivers were successfully deployed to the surface at 07:31, and our boys went through at 08:00, right on schedule. Communications were established by 08:05. Good luck men, and God speed. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Urgent EDF Icarus Log, Entry #395 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/03/2024, 14:23 TX: Communications reports that hostile lifeforms have been encountered. Several members of the drop-team have been killed, and the rest are attempting to get back to the PT's for return to the ship. Our boys are in a hell of a fight down there. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Urgent EDF Icarus Log, Entry #396 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/03/2024, 14:51 TX: What's left of the team came back through the PT's a few minutes ago. We tried to shut them down as soon as they were through, but we weren't fast enough: some of the hostiles got through too. A firefight ensued, in which all hostiles were killed. Unfortunately, they took some of our boys with them. All bodies have been moved to Science for examination. The PT section is utter chaos right now. Fires need to be put out. Capt. Fairchild out. <EOT> Encrypted ULF Transmission Priority: Urgent EDF Icarus Log, Entry #397 Capt. Devan Fairchild - Verified ED: 11/03/2024, 19:23 TX: -SOS---SOS---SOS- The hostiles weren't killed in the initial firefight. They've broken out of Science and are loose on the ship. Science, PT, Engineering, Simulator, and Bay sections have all been abandoned. There's more on the ship now than initially came through, so we believe they've reactivated the PT systems. The few of us that remain have barricaded ourselves on the bridge, and what little firepower we have isn't going to last long. I fear the ship is los<EOT>
You look up from the hard-copy to see Gen. Robinson peering at you intently. You know that look; you've seen it many times before, and you know what it means.
After taking another sip of your now lukewarm coffee, along with a deep breath, you quietly ask, "How long 'til lift-off, sir?"
A sad smile crosses the General's face. "See now, that's another problem, son. We don't have anything available that can get you out there. What we DO have is the possible location of an older- model hyper-shuttle..."
A wry grin creeps across your face. You've flown hyper-shuttles before, and there's absolutely nothing in the known universe that can bring a man closer to God faster than one of these babies... and they're damned expensive, too.
"Intelligence tells us that the former IRS had a stash of all kinds of goodies somewhere in Florida, including a fully functional hyper-shuttle, some light-duty cargo loaders, and a lot of small-to-medium armaments."
His visage turns even more somber as he continues, "Problem is, the depot was overrun early in the invasion, and that small depot hasn't exactly been at the top of our 'reclamations' list."
The General's eyes narrow as he fixes you squarely in his grizzled stare...
"What we need is one man, or a small team, to slip in there, liberate the shuttle, get to the Icarus, and 'sterilize' it. Lord knows why, but someone up top seems to think you're the one to do it. Are they yanking my chain, son?"
Locking eyes with your CO, you consider the implications of his words. This only takes a fraction of a second...
"No sir, they're not. I'm your man."
A hint of a grin almost appears on the General's weathered mug. His gaze softens and he appears to breathe a sigh of relief.
"Good. We've got a jump-jet fueling and loading right now. Lift-off is scheduled for eleven-hundred hours."
Dropping his gaze for an instant, Generals tone suddenly turns to one of sincere concern.
"One thing you should know before you go charging into this, son", he continues softly , "the Beta Pictoris system is damn near the edge of the shuttle's range. She'll get you there, but unless you can refuel from the Icarus, it's gonna be a one-way trip. You understand this, don't you?"
"Yes sir," you reply as you set your half-cup of cold coffee down on the table in front of you and rise to stand at attention.
"Permission to begin preparations, sir?"
The same sad smile reappears on the General's face. "By all means, son, please do. And God speed."
You turn on your heel and stride towards the door. Your mind is already swimming with the countless preparations you have to make for this trip.
"One last thing, soldier...", the General calls to you as you reach for the tarnished brass doorknob. "We need the Icarus back, but not with an entire army of hostiles on board. If things get ugly up there, and it looks like 'sterilization' is impossible, I want you to trigger the self-destruct and get your butt outta there."
"I understand, sir", you reply. Giving the General one last glance, you pull the door open and head down the poorly-lit hallway.
As the door closes behind you, the General turns his gaze back to the starry Montana sky...
"Give 'em Hell, son."
Storyline by Brian Kidby
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