A Broken Ladder
A Valuan legend states that before the age of airships and air balloons, the people of the ancient world, over many years, built a ladder from which they could see the entire world...
"We're getting some unusual readings here."
Dannel leaned over to look at the console. "What is it?"
"Some kind of power spike over on Soltis - and it's getting stronger!"
A frown crossed Dannel's face. Soltis? What were those Silvites up to now? Fighting a war on three fronts was hard, would be harder if it wasn't that everyone had to do the same - but from their position in space, the Yellow Civilisation had an advantage. The Red satellite network was no match for the amount of resources they'd invested in this foothold in space. Arrogant though they were, not even the Silver Civilisation could match it. The space station, and the miles-long elevator stretching up to it from the continent's highest mountain, were one of the world's greatest achievements. Dannel had no real doubt that, eventually, it would be the Yellow Civilisation that won the war, ruling unchallenged across Arcadia. No matter what the Silvites were up to.
"It's some sort of energy beam!"
Everyone stared intently at one display or another as the strange beam rose above Soltis, rapidly visible to the naked eye even from space. Well above the atmosphere, it abruptly split six ways, the beams following Arcadia's curvature to an extent, but bending outwards-
"The Moons!" someone shouted. "They're aiming for the Moons!"
Dannel shrugged. "Let them. They can't do any real damage." There wasn't any way the station could stop them, either, but the Yellow Moon was far too large to be seriously damaged even by a Gigas - which this wasn't. Intelligence hadn't managed to confirm whether the Silvites had ever even managed to build one. If they had, they'd never used it.
The beam struck the Moon, and Dannel watched the readings from Soltis spike still higher. What kind of power were they pouring into this thing?!
"The Moon - look!"
The control room was built safely in the centre of the colony, away from direct attack, but large screens acted as windows, if sometimes slightly disorienting ones when they showed views in completely different directions beside one another. On one, Dannel could see the Yellow Moon - beginning to glow more intensely.
"The Moon's power readings are starting to match Soltis'! They're synchronising!"
Dannel cursed. "Have you notified the station commander?"
"First thing I did, sir," responded the communications officer, a young woman by the name of Allin, "but he was still inspecting the weapons emplacements - there's no way he can get back here in time!"
Then it's up to me, Dannel thought, still staring at the glowing Moon. But what could they do?
"Its surface is destabilising!"
It was true. Even as he watched, the Yellow Moon's surface quaked, violently ejecting chunks of rock. Ordinarily, Moon Stones only fell infrequently - this was already almost a year's worth in less than a minute, and it was showing no signs of stopping!
"Notify the continent! They have to activate the defence grid! Arm all weapons and try to pick off the Moon Stones - there's no good saving them for the enemy if we don't have anything left to fight for!"
The orders were obeyed almost instantly, the station going into full alert, as Dannel stared at the Yellow Moon. Had the Silvites done that? How? In the background, he could hear Allin talking to their ground-based counterparts, forgetting or dropping half the correct protocols in her haste - and he couldn't blame her.
"Ground control, come in! We have Moon Stones falling in immense numbers! You have to activate the defence grid!"
Someone else swore, closer by, drowning out whatever response might have been returned. "We're right in their path!"
"I know!" Dannel snapped. "If we can hold them off us then we'll be keeping them off the continent, so we're fighting for our lives and our country! Now get those weapons firing!"
Deep in the core of the station, he couldn't hear the weapons fire for himself, but he could see it on the screens. From the station's defensive weaponry to the missiles that were meant for pinpoint strikes on planetary targets, everything but their most powerful weapons was being pressed into use. And still it wasn't enough.
"They're getting through!"
"We have to evacuate!"
"No!" It was practically a shout, cutting through the panic of the control room, fuelled by frustration and rage. "We stay, and we fight! What do you think you'll be able to run to? Where do you think you'll go? If we lose now, we lose everything! Our people are depending on us!"
Several people settled guiltily back into their seats, and Dannel felt a fierce satisfaction. "I don't care what it takes, we're holding off those Moon Stones! We can do this!"
Almost everyone in the control room responded with an affirmative, some half-hearted, but most determined. They were with him. And they'd protect their people - at all costs.
The station shook at the impact of a Moon Stone on its outer hull, and then another.
"Hull breaches in Sections G-1 and D-12!"
"Seal them off! Lock down all the doors and keep fighting!"
Another shudder, stronger this time.
"That was a big one!"
"Hull breach in Section A!"
"They're getting past us!"
"But we're thinning them down!" Dannel countered. His gaze had switched from the still-erupting Yellow Moon to the view of the cloud-swathed continent below. Fiery lines marred the sky above it as the first Moon Stones began their plunge through the atmosphere, and a chill fear gripped him for the lands below their grey cloak. They had to protect them...
The station shuddered again - and again, and then a third time.
"More hull breaches!"
"Get all non-essential personnel as close to the centre as possible!" he ordered, cursing himself for a fool for not thinking of it sooner. Every minute wasted was another life lost. "Everyone but the gun crews! Hurry!"
Allin began relaying the orders across the station as another officer, known to most as Sev, spoke up.
"Sir, the impacts are causing us to drift - we're losing stability!"
"Then bring us back into position!" The station rested at the equilibrium point between Arcadia and the Yellow Moon, where all forces cancelled out - but it was an unstable equilibrium, and if they moved even slightly, they'd rapidly drift further away. Ordinarily, the space station was well equipped to deal with that, but under the constant barrage of Moon Stones, it would be a constant effort, and its thrusters were only so strong. But Dannel would die before he'd give up. "We just have to hold on until this stops!"
"Will it stop?"
"Of course it'll stop!" If only because at some point there would be no Yellow Moon left, however unlikely that was. "Just hang on!"
As if to punctuate his words, another Moon Stone slammed into the station.
"Hull breach - we've lost one of the laser emplacements!"
Dannel swore. Not only had they lost the lives of the people operating it - the targeting systems were only semi-automatic, and still needed someone at the controls - but they were down one weapon against the onslaught. And looking at the continent below, the clearer patch they were leaving seemed almost pathetically tiny.
Another shudder, and another. The litany of damage went on, the Moonward side of the station growing pockmarked with holes, weapons emplacements failing one by one, and Dannel thanked the Moons that the more powerful weapons for planetary strikes were largely housed on its Arcadian side, protected by the bulk of the station.
"We've lost power to Sections A, all of B, and C-2 and 3!"
"Another laser emplacement down!"
"We're getting a blind spot above Section A! We can't hit anything too close!"
"Hull breach in Section G-3 - critical damage! The computer node is down, we've got no data on G-1, 2, or 3!"
"How long is this going to go on?!"
He wished he could answer that last question. How long had they been holding off the Moon Stones? He wasn't sure - it felt like hours, but it couldn't have been even one. Another shudder rocked the station, and Sev turned to him with a horrified look.
"That was the elevator, sir! One of the Moon Stones hit it - it's been severed!"
Dannel bit back a curse. "Disconnect and jettison the rest!"
"All of it! Now! Sever it from the station! We can't have it trailing below us!"
Sev obeyed, practically biting his lip. "...Detachment complete, sir."
Dannel watched the long, trailing 'ladder' of the twin elevators fall away below them. It was incredibly strong, he knew, to withstand all it had to go through - too strong. Atmospheric entry wouldn't destroy it. "Now destroy it before it can hit the continent!"
"Sir!" the weapons officer responded. Almost immediately, missiles flashed out from below them, striking downwards at the falling elevator. The most practical way to and from the station, without it, the majority of people would be stranded here until the continent could send a shuttle up, even assuming they did survive. Several explosions bloomed along its length, and finally, it shattered. The damage might not be completely averted, but it would be greatly lessened... and Dannel turned back to the oncoming Moon Stones, which still showed no signs of letting up.
"We're drifting towards the Yellow Moon!"
With the trailing mass of the elevator gone, the station's centre of mass had suddenly become a little closer to the Yellow Moon, and it had begun to drift out of position. With several of the thruster systems already down, Dannel had been counting on it.
"I know! Don't correct it - the Moon Stones that hit us will push us back."
The station shook again and again under the repeated impacts, and yet more gunnery emplacements winked out, destroyed under the relentless hail. Other than the constant damage reports, the command centre was filled with a tense, desperate silence.
"We're moving back into the equilibrium position!"
Dannel started. So soon? The last impact had been a monster, taking out several sections in one hit, but even so! Another shudder rocked the station, and he nearly fell to the floor.
"That was Section CC-6!" someone shouted.
CC-6 was practically a core section! Much closer, and they'd start tearing through the computer core, or the power generators!
"Sir, we can't take much more of this!"
"We don't have a choice!" Dannel snapped through gritted teeth. The space station couldn't run, and even if it could, he wouldn't allow them to abandon all the people below, the people they fought for. The floor beneath his feet shuddered again, and again, more and more Moon Stones getting through as their defences grew weaker and weaker.
"D-14 and CC-7!"
And still the rain of Moon Stones continued to fall. Looking at the Yellow Moon, Dannel wasn't sure anything had changed since it began. It had to stop soon - it had to! But there was no sign of it doing anything of the sort.
"DC-6, core breach! We've lost attitude control!"
Dannel swore. "Get a maintenance team up there to reroute it!"
"Can't do that, sir! There's nothing to reroute - attitude control was housed in DC-6!"
He brought his hand down on the chair beside him so hard it hurt, hard enough to make its occupant jump. "There has to be a way!"
Sev just shook his head. "That's a negative, sir. We're out of control."
"Well - then keep firing! We'll take out what we can before we get too far away! Which way are we drifting?"
"Towards Arcadia," someone replied. He couldn't remember his name.
Dannel was silent for a long, long moment. The space station, already riddled with holes from the barrage of Moon Stones, would fall through the atmosphere and eventually into Deep Sky... or even strike the continent. Its greater mass would give it far more force than any of the Moon Stones could ever impart.
"Try and plot our course. We have to know where we're falling to." Amazingly, he kept the shaking in his hands out of his voice. If they fell towards the continent, it would be up to him to destroy the station before it could impact. Up to him to sacrifice the lives of everyone aboard, in order to save the people below.
The station shuddered again, and Dannel gripped the chair beside him to avoid falling.
"Sir, I've plotted our course!"
"Where are we headed?!" he snapped.
"Sir, we're... we're headed almost directly for the city!"
No! Dannel shut his eyes, jaw clenched. They couldn't be! But he already knew it was true... already knew what had to be done. When he opened his eyes again, his face was outwardly calm, all emotion locked away. "Arm the Meteor-class warheads. All of them." All five, in fact. They'd been the Yellow Civilisation's strongest space-based weapon. It was predicted that not even the Silvites' shield would hold up against them for long.
"Armed and ready, sir!" came the response a few moments later.
"Good. Now bypass all safety protocols, and set this station as their target."
"Do it! Or do you want us to take our entire civilisation down with us?!"
Silence fell across the command room, only a few seconds of it, but it seemed to stretch on far longer. The station shook again, but nobody even called out which sector had been damaged this time.
"...Yes sir. I'll try."
Dannel nodded. "Tell me when they're ready." A pause. "How long do we have until impact?"
"Couple of hours, sir," reported the first man, and Dannel smiled grimly. Good... they had time.
Another impact rocked the station, and this time the lights flickered, the consoles momentarily inactive. Each began to reinitialise, but the rapid start-up sequence seemed painfully slow, and the station was hit another two times before they could even find out what had just happened.
"That was DC-7 and almost FC-7 as well! At this rate we'll break up before we even hit ground!"
"We're starting to turn!"
Dannel stared at the screens as if he could will the Moon Stones out of existence - and then there was a final, bone-jarring impact, and the entire room went dark. Even the artificial gravity gave out, leaving Dannel clinging to the back of a chair as the floor seemed to fall away beneath him. His face paled in horror as he realised what this had to mean. The station's power core had been destroyed, and there was no longer anything that any of them could do to affect what was happening outside. They would crash, and their people would die with them.
Riddled with holes, powerless, its most powerful weapons armed but unfired, the space station tumbled from its orbit towards Arcadia. Seared by its entry into the atmosphere, battered by even more Moon Stones, it fell inexorably towards the Yellow Civilisation's greatest city in a tremendous fireball. The defensive weaponry still surviving fired helplessly at it, along with the ragged remnants of the fleet and even the Gigas, Yeligar - but there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. It was too vast. Slamming into the city, the space station and its five deadly missiles exploded with such force that the resulting crater went clear through the bottom of the continent, leaving only a gigantic hole, bigger than any other crater Arcadia had ever known.
But Dannel's heroic battle had bought his people time. Time enough for some to escape the city, and although they still suffered through the Rains of Destruction, and though many more of them still died, some survived. In time, they returned to settle along the edge of the crater that had once been their great city... and in time, a new Yellow Civilisation grew from those few who had survived the fall of the old, on the continent known as Valua.
Skies of Arcadia and its characters (c) their respective owners, none of whom have anything to do with me. I hope you enjoyed this story! Please let me know what you think and how I can improve!
More civilisations to follow as and when I get them written: Purple, Green, Red, Blue, and, of course, Silver.