Operation: Liberate! (Just Another Day At The Office, part 7)

Written by Shpilkus on . Posted in AE Stories

33 libreate_00(Author’s note: if you haven’t read the earlier parts of this story, you should read that first before enjoying this story. Start with “Just Another Day At The Office”.


“It’s FREEZING in here!” Midori Yuki, the group’s medical officer shivered and sipped a cup of hot chocolate. She was bundled in a sweatshirt and jacket, but still felt chilled to the bone in the Great Hall of the Museum of Antique Warfare. Over the course of the last eighteen hours the Resistance had been attempting to recharge an antique Corvette housed there, using power from the mini fusion plant aboard their fast sailing ship, the Alyra. The museum had turned the environmental controls to as cold as possible a setting to help keep the power transfer cable cool. So far it had worked, and the power transfer had approached completion without a problem. But to Midori and Nika, the other female member of the team, it seemed as though the museum had dialed the temperature all the way down to “Arctic”.

“That’s ‘cause you’re a woman, you ladies are always too cold. I like it, it’s refreshing!” retorted Ace, the group’s young pilot. He was clad only in a t-shirt and shorts. Midori shook her head and said, “You should really put on a jacket or something. How are you going to save us from the Drekons if you catch pneumonia?”

“Don’t worry so much, Mom.” He joked. “Where I grew up this was Springtime weather!”

Sam entered the Great Hall, holding a cup of coffee and yawning. He looked over at the Corvette which had apparently acquired a new decoration at some point while he had been asleep in his bunk on board the Alyra.
“The ‘Phoenix’, huh?” asked Sam, nodding in the direction of the front left side of the ship where a name had been painted on the hull in crude white lettering.
“Appropriate, don’t you think?” replied Ace with a grin on his face. He had flecks of white paint in his hair.
“Yes. Yes, I do,” mused Sam, sipping his coffee. “Except of course the part about it igniting and turning into ashes at the end. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Cheers.” He raised his coffee cup in salute to Ace.

Just then, a chime sounded from the cockpit. Ace immediately sprang to action and clambered up the side of the ship into the cockpit. The female voice had returned. “Charging complete. Stellar Drive at 100 percent. Please disconnect external power before engaging primary systems. Thank you.""YES!” shouted Ace, pumping a fist into the air

Brent Ward and Peter Mjin, the group’s engineers, disconnected the power coupling from the rear of the Corvette. “Good timing,” remarked P.J. Nath, captain of the Alyra. He had just entered the hall. “I was coming to tell you two that the fusion plant was down to just about nothing. I doubt there’s enough juice left in it to cook us breakfast at this point, let alone get us home.”
“We’ll worry about getting home later, P.J.”. Jeremiah looked over at the engineers. “This is what we came here to do.”

For the next few minutes, the engineers and their helpers removed the portable fans from near the Corvette, and coiled up the power transfer cable.
“We’re ready, J”, said Peter Mjin. He and Brent Ward had already placed a series of shaped charges along the rear wall in order to blow it out in anticipation of making an exit for the newly-revived Corvette. Now that it was fully charged up, it was time to provide a way out.

Turning to address his comrades, Jeremiah loudly called out, “All right, let’s clear this room, folks! Again!”. Resistance members started to pick up equipment and belongings and make their way around the corner to a safe distance away from the Great Hall.

5 minutes later there was yet another call of “Fire in the hole!” and a loud bang sounded from the Great Hall. The engineers had done their job. Sunlight streamed through as the dust cleared, and it showed that the rear wall had been blown out neatly. The vast majority of debris had landed on the outside of the museum. At first glance it looked like there was ample room to move the Corvette through.

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 “Well done, gentlemen!” Jeremiah clapped Brent on the back. “Ace, it’s showtime!”
“All RIGHT!” Ace shouted as he headed toward the cockpit.

Jeremiah called out to him, “Nothing fancy, please – just see if you can ease her outside and park her on the lawn. For all our sakes, be careful!”
“You got it, J.”

Ace entered the cockpit and began to look over the instrumentation. He had spent most of the past night studying the cockpit controls and interfaces, and while much of it was familiar there were still some things he didn’t yet recognize. For now, he focused on propulsion and helm controls which were quite similar to the Trade Ships he flew.
“Main power engaged, check. AntiGrav Initiators – check”, he said to himself as he pushed a series of buttons on the console. “Now to just ease her up ever so slightly...”

In a flash, the Corvette rose sharply off the pedestal and impacted the roof of the transparent aluminum enclosure with a loud bang. Ace hurriedly applied some lateral thrust to nudge the ship out of the open side of the enclosure, but the ship took off like a shot in that direction, impacting and then dragging along the side wall of the Great Hall with a horrible scraping sound. Finally, he got her put down on the floor of the hall.

The resistance members swarmed over to the ship, concerned. The engineers immediately began checking out the hull for damage. “I’m fine, thanks for asking!” Ace exclaimed ruefully as he poked his head out of the cockpit. Fortunately the ship was undamaged save for some scrapes on the armor plating.
“What happened?” Jeremiah inquired, a look of concern on his face.
“She’s SUPER-sensitive, J. I just need to get used to her a bit. The Trade Ships I am used to are heavy and slow – like flying a giant slug! This one – well, this one is more like a graceful and very fast bird. I’ve just got to compensate for the power and I’ll be fine.” His tone turned serious as he looked Jeremiah in the eye. “I can do this, J,” he said calmly.

Nodding, Jeremiah said. “I believe in you, Ace. Just remember that this bird is the only one we’ve got, so take good care of her”. Turning to the engineers, he asked, “Any damage?”
“She’s ok, J – just a few scratches. It’ll buff out” Brent said with a smile.
“Ready to try again?” asked Jeremiah.
“Yes, sir!”

With that. Ace climbed in and the group cleared the hall. Once again the Corvette lifted off, but this time slowly and gracefully. Ace applied a tiny amount of lateral thrust and the Corvette moved away from the wall to the center of the hall. Once there, he began a slow rotation to align with the hole in the rear wall. Gently, he applied forward thrust and eased the Corvette through to the courtyard beyond. Hovering over the grassy area, he engaged the landing gear which smoothly deployed from the underside, and set the ship down on the ground. Watching from inside, the members of the resistance breathed a collective sigh of relief as this next major hurdle was surmounted.
“Drekons, here I come!” Ace called out as he made his way out of the ship.
“Not so fast, Ace. We need to work on a few things before we send you into combat.” Ever the voice of reason, Jeremiah pointed out that Ace had no experience with weapons systems or targeting computers. “How about we set up a practice range and you spend some quality time with the Phoenix?” It was the first time Jeremiah had used the name Ace bestowed on the ancient fighting ship, and it had an effect on the young pilot. Ace was grinning broadly as they strode towards the museum together, discussing their next move.
“Can you believe that?” Sam turned to Nika in the Great Hall.
“I’ve seen some amazingly weird stuff the last month or so, Sam. I’ll believe just about anything these days. Let’s get you logged in again, whaddya say?”

Sam agreed. He hadn’t been online since the previous evening, and he was awaiting a reply from Speedy about the status of near-orbit space. Logging in to the IGCBCS system from their makeshift command post, Sam found several messages waiting for him. Thankfully, none were red, which would have indicated he’d been attacked again.

The first two messages were from users in different guilds offering both condolences to Cestus III, and more importantly temporary NAP agreements. These would help protect [CSTS3] but ultimately they needed to get their users back online to be effective. Sam replied to [RUGGS] Lord Crab and [DOJI] Traktorka, accepting the NAP offers and thanking them for their wishes. He also reminded them to be vigilant regarding the Drekons in real life.

Unfortunately there was no word from Speedy. His previous communication had confirmed that the latest scanner runs had still showed that the space around their planet was devoid of enemy ships. Sam sent another request asking Speedy for an update. There was not much else to do online. He confirmed that no one from [CSTS3] except for Speedy and himself had been logged in since the invasion. Most if not all of the guild were showing the “inactive” tag which made them juicy targets for the rest of the online universe. Hopefully their mission would change this soon before it became too late.

Ace spent the rest of the day practicing flight skills in the fields surrounding the museum. Towards evening a loud crack and sizzle indicated that he had fired the ship’s weapons for the first time. Monitoring from the command post, Nika smiled as she heard Ace call “woo-hoo!” over the comm, indicating that he had hit his intended targets, a row of hay bales. They were reduced to ashes, and small fires broke out in the surrounding field which The Chief and Juan Obi promptly put out. Ace continued practicing well into the night until Jeremiah grabbed the comm from Nika and ordered him to land and get some food and sleep, or else.

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Another day went by, and still no word from Speedy. Ace spent the entire day working on his flight skills, vaporizing lots of hay bales in the fields around the museum. Sam watched for a time, impressed with how quickly Ace had learned to maneuver the sleek ship. He was really quite good, and kept the other resistance members busy putting out small ground fires started by his successful target runs.

Shortly before dinner, Nika approached Sam with a sad look on her face. “Can I talk to you alone for a sec?” she asked.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I just got a comm from HQ a few minutes ago. It’s bad news, I’m afraid”, she said. “The Drekons raided over in Britannia yesterday morning. Specifically - they hit the Spaceport.”

Sam’s face went white in horror. “No. Tell me he wasn’t there when it happened…“
“I’m sorry, Sam. Speedy’s gone. He was working the scanners when the raid happened, along with several other members of the local resistance cell. The latest count is 18 dead, with many more than that injured. And the Spaceport was totally destroyed.”

Sam sat down hard, visibly shaken. This was horrible news indeed. It explained why Sam had not received a reply from Speedy online. It also meant Sam was now the sole user of [CSTS3] able to access the IGCBCS system. Most importantly, it meant they no longer had the ability to check the orbital space around their planet for Drekon reinforcements. When Ace was ready to engage the Drekons, he would be flying blind.
“Thanks for letting me know, Nika.” He put his face in his hands, distraught.

She laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Sam. This stinks. I’ve got to go tell Jeremiah, but I wanted you to know first.” Nika left to inform the others while Sam sat in his chair, feeling numbed.

At dinner, Jeremiah held a planning discussion for their assault on the Drekon ship. He first led a toast to Speedy for his invaluable contributions to their efforts, and vowed not to let his work be in vain.

Jeremiah began, “Here’s the plan. We’re going to assume that Speedy’s information was correct, and there were no Drekons in orbit at the time of his last scanner readings. We’re also going to make an assumption that they have not sent reinforcements to Cestus III either.” Several voices started to speak in protest, but Jeremiah held a hand up. “Before you get all upset, keep in mind that we’ve seen no evidence of Drekon activity beyond their one ship, and Speedy was a trusted member of this resistance.”
“Yeah, well it’s been a while since that last scanner report! I don’t want to fly into a Drekon battle fleet!” This came from Ace.
“It’s a chance we have to take. The Drekons have been nothing if not predictable. Their daily raids have kept to a pattern since the day after the invasion. There is no reason to believe they have sent any additional fleet here now – why would they need to? It’s safe to assume that they don’t know about the Corvette or we wouldn’t be here to talk about it,” Jeremiah added.
“Now, to limit exposure we’re going to send Ace on a ballistic sub-orbital flight plan. That means he should be able to get to the target in New Liberty in around 2 hours from here. On the slim chance that there are additional hostiles in orbit, he’d be visible for a very short time if at all.” Turning to Ace, he said, “The Phoenix is fast, and if you do get spotted you should be able to get away from just about anything.” Jeremiah’s words didn’t quite have the comforting effect they were meant to, but Ace remained quiet.

Jeremiah went on, “The rest of us will monitor from here. Nika has set up a command post with telemetry and remote data feeds from the Phoenix. In addition, we’ve arranged to have a spotter on the ground in New Liberty to provide real-time intel and reports.”
“I believe you may know our spotter, Sam,” Nika said. “He’s a new member, a local from New Liberty. In fact, he said to say ‘hi’ to you and also ‘I told you so’”.
“Really? Who?” Sam had no idea who she might be referring to.
“Some guy named ‘Joe Waxie’. Ring a bell? Anyway, he’ll be watching the Parliament grounds from a bombed-out office building only a block away from the Drekon ship and communicating to us the whole time. If they make a move, we will know about it and can warn Ace. But being that close to them – he is a brave dude, indeed.”
“Wow, he’s my neighbor from back home!” Sam was a bit surprised by this. It seemed like ages ago, but Joe Waxie had actually been the one who suggested that Sam attend the resistance meeting in West Liberty that started this whole adventure. Now he was a member of the resistance – and putting himself in harm’s way.

Jeremiah spoke next. “All right, then. As much as we’d like to give Ace more practice time, we have to balance that against the fact that our people are being attacked every day. It’s time to act now. Therefore, I have decided that tomorrow we will wait for word from HQ that the Drekons have done their daily evil deed. As soon as we hear that, Ace will launch. No delay. We know that the Drekons do not go out twice in a 24-hour period, so that gives us a pretty big window to strike. What we don’t know is whether they will spot the incoming threat and respond to it. We also don’t know if that will matter. All our data and research indicates that our Phoenix should be more than strong enough to destroy that Drekon ship. But just in case, Ace – if you don’t succeed you are to get the heck out of there, understand? Do not be a hero – get yourself and the Phoenix back here safely.”
“Got it, J. I’m not going to hang around any longer than necessary, don’t worry about it.” Ace replied.
“The Chief wants to know if there is a ‘Plan B’ in case the Corvette isn’t strong enough”. This came from the enigmatic security officer, who always spoke in third-person. “Perhaps a ground assault? The Chief could lead it...”

Jeremiah held a hand up to stop him. “Let’s worry about that later, Chief. If the mission fails we are unfortunately back to the beginning. So let’s not fail, shall we? On that note, let’s eat, I’m starving!”

Logistics officer Juan Obi had prepared a feast for them – which was no mean task considering that the Alyra had no power, and the museum had no kitchen. Nevertheless, the resistance group hungrily dug in to the meal and excitedly discussed the plan and their potential liberation.

Later that night, Sam was still in a deep funk about Speedy. He connected to the IGCBCS, not sure what it would accomplish. He had 1 message waiting for him, thankfully not a red one. It was from a user with a strange name, [MHUNT] Full_Metal Goon. He offered best wishes over the situation with the Drekons and more importantly, a permanent NAP agreement. Sam had never heard of the user’s planetary guild, and a lookup showed that they were small, with very few members. “I wonder how they heard about our situation. What the heck, every little bit helps!” Sam thought to himself. Sam sent a thank-you, accepting the offer, and signed off. Without Speedy to talk to, Sam found little motivation to stay online.

On his way to his bunk on the Alyra, Sam passed Nika. “Isn’t it exciting!” she asked. “We’re going to launch tomorrow, and finally take out those Drekons!”
“Yeah, that’s awesome, can’t wait”, Sam replied sullenly.
“Still upset about Speedy, huh?”
“Yes. It’s funny, though... so many people have died, and yet this one bothers me the most. And I never even met the guy.”

Nika looked Sam in the eye. “Well, if our plan works tomorrow, no one else needs to die at the hands of the Drekons. Speedy died so that we could do this. We need to honor him by pulling it off successfully. And for that we need everyone to be at their best tomorrow. I’m counting on you to help out in the Command Center, so go get a good night’s sleep ok?” She leaned over and gave Sam a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks, Nika. I’ll be there, and I’ll do my part. He deserves no less, that’s for sure!” Sam said goodnight to Nika and went to his bunk. Unfortunately, sleep eluded him. He lay awake for a long time, thinking about Speedy, mostly, but also the whirlwind of events that had led to this point in time. Less than two weeks ago he was holed up in his darkened suburban home, eating cold canned food and hoping not to be killed by a Drekon raid. Now, the eve of their planet’s liberation was here, and he was a part of it. He was also now solely responsible for their planet’s online existence in the IGCBCS universe, and it weighed heavily upon him. Sam felt like things had happened so fast that he was losing his grip on them. Part of him yearned for the dull, monotonous days of “SIM mode” back in the IGCBCS offices. It felt like ages ago, and at the same time only yesterday, when he and his office partner Fred discussed the “Legend of the Drekons”. A legend that turned to be all too true. Deeply troubled, Sam finally fell into a restless sleep.

The next morning, the Great Hall was abuzz with activity. Nika was awaiting word from HQ that the Drekons had returned from their daily raid, and that would be the signal to launch the assault. Ace spent the morning flying some last-minute practice runs, coming in at a steep angle towards the hay bale targets out in the fields beyond the museum. He was hitting the targets consistently, and his flying looked professional - a lot smoother than his first awkward attempts had been just a few short days ago.

The tension and anticipation remained high all day. Lunchtime came and went, with still no word from resistance HQ. Sam noodled around aimlessly in the IGCBCS system, trying to defuse the jitters he was feeling. He adjusted his queues and sent some more requests for cease-fire and NAP agreements, but grew tired of it after a short while.

Meanwhile, Ace continued to tear up the fields surrounding the museum grounds. Even though the mission was serious, it was obvious he was having a great time putting the old Corvette through its paces. In the late afternoon he even did a dramatic series of aerobatic loops which drew cheers from his fellow resistance members, but frowns from Jeremiah.

Finally towards sunset as everyone was preparing for dinner, Nika abruptly got up from her chair holding an earpiece to her head, and shouted. “Everybody listen up! I just got the word – the Drekons have returned from their raid. Unfortunately they hit in West Wiccawillow today and there were mass casualties. But more importantly they are back in New Liberty now and it’s GO TIME!”
“This is it, folks! The moment we’ve been working towards.” Jeremiah addressed the crowd. “Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do now. If we pull this off, tonight we dine as free men and women again! Places everybody! Nika – give Ace the launch order. We are GO!”

Nika keyed the comm and relayed the news to Ace. Sam took his place in a chair beside Nika in front of the telemetry monitors.

On board the Corvette parked in the field behind the museum, Ace began to do his pre-mission checks. He took deliberate care to make doubly sure everything was set correctly. “Ballistic sub-orbital flight plan filed in the nav computer, check. Coordinates entered into targeting computer, check. Laser cannon safeties are set to ‘off’ and they are unlocked and ready. Remote telemetry is, um, telemetry-ing. Whatever you call that.”

Nika chuckled at the young pilot’s enthusiasm. Sam watched as a series of data streams began to display on the monitors in front of him. His heart was beating fast as he realized he was about to witness history: the first launch of a fighting ship on Cestus III in almost 500 years.
“Estimated flight time, 2 hours. All right, all systems appear to be GO. Next stop, New Liberty! Here goes nothing!” Ace shouted as he punched the throttle controls.

The Corvette gracefully took off and began a very fast, sharp ascent. As members of the resistance and museum staff watched together in awe, It quickly headed out into the sunset skies over the waters of Atlantis. It was gone from sight after only a few seconds, and with it went the hopes of an entire planet.


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Story sent by Shpilkus for the AE Stories event.