The landing pad in front of the Data-Net-Link-Network shop was filled to capacity, save a large landing site, which had been corded of. The shops laser array had been given an upgrade. Now in full color, a message scrolled across the shops marquee. "For the first time ever meet the new Hope's Final Hours representative" Below posters advertised the event and the unveiling of the latest update to the game. The signage advertised a completely new way to play and promised to redefine the datalink gaming world. All this surrounded a podium and two digital display boards.
Inside the shop Glouster hurriedly glanced up at the clock before punching in the buttons for his customers purchase. The girl across the counter was buying a new game themed data pad and miniature rifle shaped stylus to match. "It's for my brother" she said before turning to the next customer in line and filling them in on all the tech specs of her favorite in game weapon. Glouster chuckled and finished the transaction. In five minutes the rep would be landing and he could get a few minutes to rest.
"Hey short stuff, get me another couple Data pads." He called over his shoulder. Moments later Donataff came in with a stack of merchandise. He picked the data pads off the stack and put them on the shelf as Donataff unloaded the rest of her burden. "Thanks for helping out today."
"Just remember you owe me a full day outside in the sun away from your link games. I should have asked for two." The girl said, before heading back for another box of stylus. Moments later the girl's ears perked and swiveled towards the empty pad.
"Alright everybody shops closed until after the show," Glouster Said from behind the counter. There was a general rush for the doors. Several of the patrons let out yelps or hissed as tails were stepped on. One man fell out of the crowd the victim of a harsh slap to the face. The man kept saying it was a mistake all the while following her through the door. From inside Glouster could see the two standing side by side even as they continued to bicker. He hurried his sister out the door just in time to see the fighters enduroglass slide back.
I've detected a 36.12% drop in traffic on Hope's Final Hours simulation channels. This is 3.45% above my original prediction. It takes me .002 seconds to run a diagnostic check on my statistical programs. They check out, I've predicted a 45.675% drop in traffic at the time of Catalina' s touch down. My statistical model of Renan behavior may never be complete.
1400 hours: My sensors detect the atmospheric traces of three large-scale jump incidents on the far side of the planet. Statistical analysis yields a 87.243% chance these jump signatures represent capital ships of the size needed to mount an invasion. It takes .03 seconds to full check these signatures against those of the fighters, which originally gave pursuit to the New Hope, and against the more recent drone. All three match.
I quickly relay this information to Catalina's fighter. No response, I quickly check the drones currently circling the promotion. My friend is making her way through the crowd. I send a second message to her data pad. These actions take 5.63 seconds, half the time needed to calculate the probability of all possible atmospheric flight paths using generic attack vessels.
As Catalina took the podium she noticed Glouster, his expression was one of amazement and dismay. "Sorry," she thought, "Alexei was paying me to keep it a secret." Her parents stood off to the side. She took a moment to get over the additional measure of performance anxiety they added to the mix. Amid the noise of the crowd the beeping of her data pad's message system went unheard. She took a moment to organize her note cards and ready the images that would be displayed on the display boards. She let the crowd continue in its disarrayed state for a while longer until she felt comfortable. She smiled at the crowd and started the presentation. Behind her the boards began showing the latest opening preview for the game. The sound system barked with the sound of gunfire, drums, and the report of bombers flying overhead. The crowd quieted as they watched the screens.
"Thank you all for coming out today. My name is Catalina Teff and as I'm sure you've figured out I am Dinochrome's new representative." Catalina moved in front of the podium. "Now I'm sure you're all stoked to hear about the latest thing Alexei has to throw at you. And I'm sure at least one of you has a few questions for me. Sorry buddy but the big guy with the treads wouldn't hire me unless I promised to keep it a secret. But before I get into all that I'd like to talk a bit about the dream behind Hope's final hour." Catalina tapped the podiums screen. A large aerial photo of the Hope came into view
"Every one of us has either been told or has lived through the stories of this ship. We've been told how our parents grew up on this ship and how their parents built it. And of course we've been told how it came to rest where she does today. We're told about the struggle to get New Hope started and asked to do our part to keep our colony our hope strong."
Catalina tapped the screen again and waited for recognition of the new picture to take hold. "Does anyone not recognize this craft?" She pointed at the enemy scout shown in the picture. "This is a raider scout ship. It's big, heavy oppressive, and at the beginning of the game they were nearly impossible to kill. Doesn't that inky green armor plate just make your fur fall out?" She paused for a moment. She could tell some of the shut ins were loosing interest. "But you see there's something different about this picture. It's not that their aren't plenty of these in the game and I'm sure I could have gotten the model from Alexei. But, It took the better part of a night to find this one." She smiled watching as the audience tried to figure out what was so special about the shot. "You see the thing is this ones real."
As the jump fields dissipated a flight of atmospheric bombers from the Uflong's Umbrella launched from its bays. Flight Command Tarnack ran through his final operations checklist, checking that his flight was ready for the coming action. When all bombers checked in, reactors at standby and weapons armed, he thumbed the button to begin the decent to the planet below. The coms sparked to life for a second.
"Contact Chief Vapra, to Flight Command we will begin coms silence as your flight hits the atmosphere. Command should you get the chance do make sure to hit the sewage center."
"Sir I was instructed to avoid infrastructure. Our targets were outlined by Analist Rasla himself."
"I'm sure Rasla would not be overly disappointed with my request. Consider it a personal favor. I'm sure quite a few of our people would consider it well chosen target."
"I understand should the opportunity present itself it shall be as you wish." The coms cut out as Tarnack's bomber pierced the planet's atmosphere. In his mind he reviewed the primary targets set out by the Analisat. His would be the first weapon fired in the engagement. His would be the first weapon fired during his people's first planetary invasion. After atmospheric entry he would delegate the Contact Chief's practical joke to his subordinates.
"The dream behind the game we all love, is that one day in the very near future we will begin to see the evidence." Catalina pointed towards her human built fighter, "The massive collection of decaying war supplies, the shattered cities, the battle scars sill visible on the Hope itself, as a reason to be weary and watchful. The hope behind Hope's final hours is that our people not only know how, but are able to defend ourselves should the raiders, the humans or those they fought come back. That is the Hope, the Dream, the reason behind Alexei and his game."
Catalina paused before tapping the screen for the next picture. "Now that and the complaint that some of our more devoted fans never see the light of day are the reasons behind Dinochrome's latest update. As with the previous updates we're increasing the number of ranks you can achieve and of course bringing new weapons into the game for you to play with." Pictures and video clips of the new weapons began to fill the screens. "We're also increasing the number of drones and leasing out more LCWP's." Cheers erupted from the crowd. "I thought you might enjoy that bit."
She waited for the crowd to settle "Of course all that isn't very ground breaking nor does it redefine the datalink gaming world." She tapped the screen and a digital map of New Hope appeared. Call outs on the map pointed to the location of the cities storm shelters. Data on the shelters scrolled out beneath the callouts in military type. "Starting today gamers will have new more interactive set of missions to complete. These missions will involve leaving the dark confines of the link room and going to the real life destinations laid out in the mission briefings." She tapped the podiums screen. A picture of a weatherproof link pad built with an old Concordiat theme came into view. "Those who choose to take these missions will simply sign in at the location using their screen name and passcode. Points will automatically be added to your account just as if you had performed a mission while sitting behind your datalink consol."
Catalina saw the message icon on the data pad as she changed the slide. She took a moment to note that Alexei sent the message before continuing. The screens returned to the map of new hope. Lines traced their way over the roads from random point to the shelters and were replaced by new trails. "For the moment these missions will consist of the player going to the various shelters located in the city. In the future the missions will be more complex and diverse. We plan on basing the mission objectives on a mix of player requests and Alexei's goals for the game. Now of course not everyone will want to do these missions and Alexei recognizes this. These new missions are completely voluntary, however, for those who do take advantage of them there will be a significant point value worth at least twice that of a normal mission. In addition to the points players who complete these mission will become eligible for special weapons and tools not available to the normal player."
Catalina moved to behind the podium "Now before we get to the questions, Alexei just sent me a message. Lets see what he has to say." She manipulated the screens to show the data pad's screen and opened the message.
Multiple large jump signatures detected. Analysis of jump signatures matches that of the fighters that attacked the Hope. 97.346% chance of attack on New Hope within the next hour.
Catalina, call off the promotion. Do not send people to the shelters. Report to my location ASAP.
Catalina called up a new message to Alexei "Folks I have no idea what this is about but I guess this event has gone on longer than it should have."
Catalina's glanced at the screen of the data pad as she typed
What do I do with these people? Why should I not send them the shelters? I will leave as soon as the crowd has started to clear.
Catalina hit the send key and switched the display screens off just as her parents came up to her.
Ten minutes from the target Tarnack's bombers screamed over a crumbling passive radar installation. The site had been chosen as the flights final waypoint to be reached before the attack. Tarnack took his bomber out of autopilot. Beneath him a capacitor bank corroded with age exploded as it powered the radar sites last transmission.
Tarnack relayed his orders to the flight. Attack the communications hubs, Non-vital infrastructure and highly visible targets. Drive the inhabitants of the city into their shelters, leave as many slaves and as much infrastructure for the plunder as possible. He designated the primary to be the Hope, the central feature of the colony.
As the Human ruins came into view the bombers dropped to the floor. As they flew over Alexei's factory the Hope came into view. Tarnack laid on the power breaking free of the flight. Behind him the four bombers split into pairs and lanced out for their targets.
1423 hours: Passive station p645 has detected aircraft approaching New Hope from the south. The station is now silent. Based off the data transmitted the flight should reach the center of New Hope in 10.346 minutes. I schedule the launch of two Battlefield Intelligence and Surveillance Transmissions missiles for 2.356 minutes, they should arrive as the aircraft do. Within milliseconds my weapons systems are fully active. Laying down a constant volley of fire from my infinite repeaters I begin clearing the forest in front of me. It will be a short drive into town.
At the promotion Catalina watched as the crowd did it's best to figure the situation out. Few people began to leave, most just milled about whispering to each other and trying to figure out the meaning of the message they had just seen.
Catalina's parents came up to the podium. "What's going on? What does this Alexei guy mean by telling you to expect an attack?" Leo Teff asked.
The podiums pad started to blink. It displayed a new message from Alexei.
Multiple hostile aircraft approaching, ETA 9.43 minutes. I am headed to your location ETA 15.54 minutes.
Evacuate the plaza. Send people to shelters. Rendezvous with me ASAP.
Catalina looked up at her father, "My friend says the we're under attack. You need to get to the shelters now." Her father started to say something, "Trust me, I know what I'm saying. Just go now." Her father started to protest again before Camille took his arm and escorted him off the stage.
Catalina flicked the voice-boosting microphone she was wearing, "I've just received another message from Alexei. He says a flight of aircraft is on its way. We have less than seven minutes to get to the shelters." She repeated the message again. The crowd started to thin however those who were leaving did not seem to be in a hurry. As she looked over the crowd she noticed her parents' racer lift off from the pad and head in the direction of the hope and the shelters in her shadow. Moments later Glouster and his sister were at her side.
"Sorry about not telling you about all this. I'll tell you later. You two need to leave now." Catalina said. She started to make her way to the fighter.
Glouster caught her arm and pulled her back, "Later, now you can tell me what that was all about."
"I've already told every body here. We're under attack. You need to take you sister to the shelters now!" She began pulling him through the crowd towards the fighter.
"Cat how can you believe this? How could any one know we're under attack? There is nothing wrong here. He's just trying to cause a panic and your helping." He felt his sister Donataff tug on his tail. Out the corner of his eye he saw the tail of Tarnack's bomber. They were blown off their feet by the compression wave generated by the aircraft at low altitude. Moments later several explosions shook the air, fire balls rose up from behind the buildings surrounding them.
Catalina picked her self up and ran for the fighter. Behind her Glouster gathered his sister in his arms and ran for his air car. With in moments of closing the cockpit the fighter's engines kicked into full blast and its infinite repeaters were hot. As the fighter jumped into the air several stragglers were thrown back on to the pavement by the engine blast.
The fighter Tarnack had glimpsed was real. His radar systems were tracking all of the bogies lifting off behind him. All but one were to small and slow to be a threat. Now that one bogy was giving chase. A line of blue flashed to his right, at the same time he felt his bomber shudder from a direct hit. His computer blinked at him his rear armor was holding at 96%. He began a fast turn designed to begin shaking his pursuer. At the same time he contacted his flight "Number one to flight, I have a bogie on my tail request assistance."
As he maneuvered his bomber he watched as the flight broke out of its attack and pivoted in to his flight path. Soon the nuisance would be destroyed. He broke coms silence once again to notify command of this new development. Behind him the fighter broke off. It rolled off towards the big generation ship. "Charlie, Bravo return to bombing run, Alpha in pursuit." This kill was his.
Catalina kept a quick eye on the fighter's radar, she watched as the four aircraft on her tail disengaged. Now her original target, what appeared to be the wing leader, raced after her. The switch in her pursuers had given her a lead but she needed to increase it. She dropped the fighter as near to the floor as she dared. Catalina knew her brief experience in the fighter would never be enough to save her in a dogfight, her only hope was to throw the pursuing aircraft off with a trick and then hope her fighter could go faster than the bomber could. She lined her fighter up with the industrial district and nudged the throttle forward. Directly above her the air arched, the result of high intensity laser blasts. Her fighter shook and an alarm sounded. Her HUD flashed with a damage report. The fighter had taken a direct hit. Its shields had absorbed most of the energy before shutting down, however, her number two engine had received some damage. Damage control systems were already minimizing the effects of the hit with a combination of fire suppressants and sealant gels.
Catalina's target came into view. She poured the power on. Before her, the large radiator panels of the hopes engines created a massive thermal. She hit the updraft and loosened her grip on the flight controls for just a second. Her fighter shook and jumped as it passed through the rising air. The second she cleared the Hope she opened the throttle to full and activated the afterburner function. She felt the aircraft bog down for just a second as already hot exhaust gasses were collected and forced through the fusion engines for a second time. The Aircraft lurched, then shuddered as the supper hot air rammed itself out the exhaust ports and propelled her through the sound barrier. Behind her the pursuing aircraft faltered for just a moment, thrown off by the unexpected air currents. The pilot soon recovered, it took his heavy bomber longer to accelerate after her.
The number four shelter was kayos. Mothers and fathers scrambled to find their children. Several air cars had crashed as their pilots rushed to find a landing pad. Amidst all the panic caused by the bombers and their weapons the crowd forced their way into the underground bunkers. The bunkers sat in the shadow of the Hope its huge mass had made it a comforting sight in the early days. As the colony had expanded the shelters had been placed at its base to take advantage of the protection from the elements it naturally offered. Now, as the bombers worked to strip the hope of its communication systems, the old generation ship had become more of a menacing feature on the landscape.
A bomb exploded on the Hope's upper decks, screams rose from the crowd as pieces of debris rained down from the blast. The men who had crashed their air cars stopped arguing about the accident and joined the sudden push for the shelter.
Glouster circled the number four shelter once before maneuvering his car under a tree. He silently asked forgiveness for the damage cause to the other parked cars as his thruster jets roared over them. As the doors lifted from the frame he grabbed his sister and pulled her from the car. They raced through the lot weaving their way through the cars. Improperly parked vehicles had blocked several of the lanes they quickly climbed over these. They were at the shelter doors. Glouster and his sister joined the crowd moving towards the doors. A blast rocked the crowd as a stray bomb landed on the tree which protected Glouster's car. Glouster watched the sight, a crater now marked the location he had just been. Had they landed a minute later He and his sister would have been a part of the hole.
Before he turned back to the crowd Glouster saw Catalina's arrow shaped fighter roar overhead. The massive rust colored flying wing bomber pursuing her marked the air around her with laser trails. His heart soared as the bomber's pilot missed Catalina several times. As the bomber passed overhead he watched his friend take a direct hit. The cloud of dark grays that began to trail behind her did not look good. Moments later He watched as the fighter jumped in the air and disappeared behind a blast of blue fire. The air popped around him bringing his attention back to the shelter.
Glouster turned, to his horror the doors to the shelter were closing. He ran for them pulling up just short of them He was too late. The massive counter, weights that closed the doors, had already been working to close the doors as he and his sister had arrived. The gap had quickly narrowed. He pressed himself to the doors franticly looking through the opening to find his sister. From somewhere inside the shelter he heard her voice calling out for him. He tried to call out but it was too late the doors had closed. "Open up!" He beat on the doors "Open up God Damit, my sister's in there." He knew it was hopeless. The doors were nearly as thick as he was, even if the people inside could hear him they wouldn't be able to quickly open the doors for him.
A distant blast brought him back to the situation at hand. He needed to get out of the city. He looked over to pit that marked where his car had been and started jogging towards the opposite end of town.