If you look up the weapons yields for the Bolo verse, you'll sea I'm not kidding.
Dawn Of A New Age
Chapter 3: Best Of Enemy's
"I don't know, I was expecting something more...impressive." Sheridan stood in the middle of the White Star's bridge, the controls dark, with most systems operating under minimal power, "I thought you said that the ship was based on Minbari and Vorlon technology?"
"Well, she is, mostly." Marcus sounded almost apologetic, "But like we told you, back on the station, she's not ready yet."
"Define 'Not Ready'?" Sheridan asked, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"There is one last part we need." Delenn reassured him, "There were some, complications, in acquiring what we needed ahead of schedule, but it should be here very soon."
"Very soon, in fact." Marcus looked at the controls, "We've got a jump-point former, 20-km off the port bow."
"Are you sure it's not the Shadows?" Sheridan warned, "They could be trying to catch us off guard."
"If they are, then they've infiltrated our allies deep enough to obtain the agreed upon password." Marcus smiled somewhat macabrely, "And if that's true, then we're in even deeper trouble than we thought."
"You should watch this." Delenn led Sheridan over to the portals at the front of the bridge, "Everything will become clear."
There was a flash, and a glowing blue vortex swirled into existence just close enough for to make out details with the naked eye. The ship that emerged was the colour of bleached bone, with a black Earth Force emblem clearly visible. Massive ball-turrets held an intimidating array of heavy weapons, while point-defences covered a significant part of the ships long, slender hull. Sheridan had seen such a ship only once before; they were still incredibly rare, with only a handful of the new Omega class destroyers had been built to date, and those that had been were normally assigned to Sol or some other highly important system.
All except one, and his jaw dropped open as he finally recognised the ship before him
The Black Watch was on permanent assignment to the Dinochrome Brigade, and was tasked with transporting the psychotronic brains that lay at the very heart of all Bolo's, be they ships or their ground-based ancestors. The Brigade alone was tasked with guarding the key to Earth's defences from any who would seek to take their power and use it against mankind. The Black Watch spent most of its time in orbit above the Bolo-Prime facility on Luna, only venturing out when a Bolo-unit was unable to return to base for repair. The ship was crewed by members of the Dinochrome Guard, a elite cadre that had been selected by the Bolo's themselves to maintain their security. Separate from regular EarthForce, the Dinochrome Guard was also unique for the fact that it allowed telepaths to serve alongside norms, something that infuriated PsiCorps no end, especially as the the telepaths serving in the guard were free to do away with the traditional badge and gloves.
Sheridan had heard stories of rogue telepaths that had been accepted into the Guard, finding its less regimented but equally close-knit nature more to their liking than the cold, clinical Corps.
"I don't understand." Sheridan looked and sounded almost painfully confused, "What are they doing here?"
"The final piece of the puzzle." Marcus sounded almost reverent, "They're here to deliver the White Star's brain."
Central was worried, a state of being she was unaccustomed to.
Few people realised, but she was the third largest and complex psychotronic brain, surpassed by only Bolo-Prime and Gaia, the massive super-computer deep below Earth Dome that help run almost every aspect of the planet. Her main core stretched across three decks, with axillary processors placed strategically throughout the station. Her fasted logged reaction time was less than a Picosecond, and she had never even come close to taxing her available run-time. At any given moment, she was monitoring every system on the station, scanning every known communications frequency, translating dozens of alien languages, using her security-cams to read and log the body-language of every ambassador and a large percentage of the transient population, running combat simulations, reviewing newly released films, books and pieces of music from a hundred worlds. Even that took only a fraction of her processing power, so she used the other to run complex mathematical equations.
She also kept watch for any mention of her fellow Bolo's in the media. While it was normal to find stories questioning Bolo's written by non-human, she had started to pick up a number of articles and editorials that could only be called negative reporting to come from humans.
There had always been a few who distrusted Bolo's: their sudden and still secretive appearance had led to dozens of conspiracy theories leading from the too close for comfort to the wildly bizarre. Other's felt unhappy with how much of everyday life on Earth and major colonies had been placed in their hands. Human literature was full of stories concerning machines that had turned upon their creators, and though that a thirty-thousand ton war machine could vaporise a city at little or no warning was understandable. But Earthgov had always done their best to lay these fears to rest, without compromising security. It was well known that Bolo's were programmed with the almost legendary Three Laws of robotics, and as such would never harm a human.
But things seemed to have changed since the death of President Santiago, and President Clark was known to be opposed to the independence of the Dinochrome Brigade and Guards. Twice he had tried to bring them under his personal control, and twice had had been defeated on the senate floor. But the margin of votes was getting smaller and smaller each time, and Central wasn't sure who'd win if he tried a third time. Bolo's were, buy their very nature, loyal to humanity and their central government, but that did not mean that they were unquestionably loyal to the person at the top. History was full of accounts of what had happened when too much power were placed in the hands of just one person, normally as cautionary tale. The Brigade was unwilling to become another pawn in some politicians power-game.
The problem was the stories warning against potential Bolo-malfunctions were starting to outnumber the accounts of how they had helped people, even in non-combat situations. For every story of a Bolo providing power for a city during a blackout, there were three or four questioning putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a computer that was capable of making combat decisions without human input. And the government was becoming less and less vocal in their support of the Dinochrome Brigade. Even EarthForce was turning against them: every year, more and more survivors of the Earth-Minbari war retired, normally from senior command positions. And most of their replacements seemed to be following the mantra being handed down by the President; human weapons in human hands.
They would lay praise on the Dinochrome Brigade, reminding everyone that humanity should never forget the Battle of The Line, and then they would question if maybe the implantation of Bolo-tech had gone too far, too fast. Maybe, they would suggest, it would be prudent to add a few more fail safes to the system, just in case. They never said what they meant by 'just in case', and that left it up to the listener to fill in the blanks with their own fears and prejudice. There had been a number of anti-Bolo rallies on Earth, all covered favourably by the media, and anti-Bolo graffiti had even started to appear on Babylon 5.
Just who would be brave or foolish enough to commit such an act while inside a Bolo was a matter of some discussion amid the stations security personnel.
Central activated her dedicated SWIFT transmitter and sent a message to Bolo-Prime and Gaia, hoping that they could shed some light on the situation.
Sheridan did his best to stand still, but he was still fidgeting enough to earn a raised eyebrows from one of the two Minbari technicians who were waiting along with Marcus and Delenn. The shuttle from the Black Watch had already docked, but with the White Star operating at a fraction of its projected capacity, it was taking longer than anticipated to secure and pressurise the airlock. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, there was a low chime, and the hatch started to open.
A pair of Guardsmen stood on the other side, PPG rifles at the ready but pointed away from anyone in particular. Their distinctive back body armour, black helmets complete with tinted visors lent them a rather sinister look, but the tall man standing between them had removed his helmet and held it under one arm. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short, and a faint scar ran down from the middle of his forehead and crossed his left eye, which was a slightly lighter shade of blue than the left, a clear sign that it was cloned rather than original.
"Captain Sheridan, I presume?" He stepped forward and offered a hand, "Commander Benjamin Naylor, executive officer of the Black Watch. Captain Grant sends her apologies: she was... unavoidably detained."
The pause was just long enough to make it clear Naylor was lying.
"An unexpected honour, Commander." Sheridan shook the offered hand, deciding not to press the issue then and there, "May I introduce Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari Federation, and Mr Marcus Cole of..."
"We've met." Naylor smiled warmly and offered his hand, "It's good to see you again, Marcus. I only wish you'd told me what those secret meetings was all leading to."
"Needs must and all, I'm afraid." The Ranger returned the smile and shook the Commander's hand, "I was assigned to make contact with the Dinochrome Brigade." He explained for the benefit of the others, "Bolo-Prime is an, interesting place."
"One few outsides are permitted so far into." Naylor agreed, then turned back to Sheridan, "I have to say that not all of of us who know of this, experiment, are happy with it: the design and composition of the psychotronic brain of a Bolo is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the universe. And while it may be an open secret that the Vorlon's have been privy to the secrets, there are many who would see allowing a Minbari to even see an operational psychotronic brain was tantamount to treason."
"I understand fully." Delenn nodded solemnly, "Where it not for the Dinochrome Brigade, my people would have probably laid-waste to your homeworld. To many, myself included, the war remains a darkness on our souls."
"Philosophy was never my strong point. But following orders was, so here I am." Naylor admitted, "The Dinochrome Brigade protect and defend humanity, and in turn the Guards protect and defend them. Such is the natural order of things. And while we may not understand it fully, we in the guards place out trust in the wisdom and logic of Bolo's." He stepped to one side, revealing two grav-carts loaded with equipment, "The very latest in psychotronic design and technology; twice the processing power, speed and and memory of even a Mark XXXIII Bolo, but one tenth the size."
"Wow!" Marcus exclaimed, "That's... impressive to say the least!"
"I have to admit that the Vorlon's helped with the new holographic memory matrix, but the rest is a logical progression of existing technology." Naylor explained somewhat hesitantly, "There's normally a, well, ceremony that we perform when a new A.I. core is first integrated. Tradition states that only Brigade and Guard personnel are present..."
"Understood." Delenn smiled, "If you will follow Marcus, he will lead you to the core."
"If you'll walk this way?" The Ranger gestured down one corridor, and the Guardsmen followed, two technicians pushing the grav-carts while another pair of guards brought up the rear.
Sheridan was surprised to see that they were armed with plasma-rifles. While they were technically an infantry weapon and safe to use on a spaceship or station, there were many who wanted the weapon outlawed due to the fact that they dissolved organic matter on contact, leaving everything else intact. Sheridan himself hated them; they were weapons that could only kill, not injure. But the Dinochrome Guard had special dispensation to deploy weapons and technology normally restricted or illegal under Earth law, including black-light camouflage suits and changeling net.
"We should go to the bridge." Delenn suggested, "You'll want to be there when they bring all the systems on-line."
Captain Alison Grant lay back on her bunk and starred into oblivion.
Like every other Omega, there were no windows on the Black Watch: even the toughest artificial diamond paled in comparison to endurachrome, and any weakness could prove fatale in combat. But studies had proven that humans needed to be able to look at something other than bulkheads in order to remain calm and stable during prolonged space-flight, so view screens had been placed about the ship to give at least the illusion of portals. Just then, the screen above Grant's head was showing the night sky at it looked from her native Mars on a clear night. Phobos had already risen, a star barely brighter than the others, but she could make out Orion.
"Centre on the Andromeda galaxy and enlarge to maximum magnification." She ordered, and the stars first swirled around her, then flew past as the distant galaxy grew from just another point of light to a glowing disk that filled the screen from edge to edge. It rotated slowly, a jewel against the infinite blackness of space.
"I'm sorry to disturb ye, Captain." Hamish, the ships A.I. cut in, his thick Highland burr a source of much amusement to the crew, "But ye asked to be informed when we received the all clear from Commander Naylor's team."
"Thank you, Hamish." Grant closed her eyes, "Hamish, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Not at all, lass." The A.I. only ever called her that when they were alone, and to the best of her knowledge, he never used it to address any of the other women in the crew, "What is it?"
"What do you think about the Minbari?" The Captain cocked her head to one side, stretching her arms out above her head, "Do you think we can trust them?"
"They are a complicated people, but no more so than humans, in my experiences. Aye, I'd say we can trust them when it comes to dealing with the Shadows." Hamish sounded almost philosophical, "But I'm a Bolo, and as such I canna forget nor forgive what they almost did. But don't you threat non: we wouldn't be handing them a weapon as powerful as a psychotronic brain without taking a few wee precautions to make sure they could never use it against us. A Bolo is a Bolo is a Bolo, after all, and we are all member of the same Brigade."
"Good, that's...good to know." Grant sat up, "Call it a women's intuition, but my grandfather always told me that if everything seems to be going perfectly, then you don't know what's really going on." She frowned, "Sound actions stations; I want to battle screens and defence grid primed and ready at a moments notice."
"As you wish, lass." A shrill whistle sounded throughout the ship, alerting the crew, "After all, it never hurts to be too careful."
Marcus stood it the hatchway and watched the two Dinochrome technicians work with a growing sence of awe. In the middle of the core from were a pair of flat-topped pyramids, one rising up of of the deck, the other coming down from the ceiling: their ends had a deep, rounded indentation that seemed at first to serve no purpose, until he saw the contents of the first grav-cart.
The psychotronic brain was a perfect sphere, a meter across, made of a polished black material that was reminiscent of the semi-organic materials used by the Vorlon's. It took both techs and one of the guards to lift the sphere up and lower it gently into place atop the lower pyramid. Complex looking scanners were used to make sure everything was in place, then the two pyramids moved until there was no no discernible gap between them and the sphere. Everything remained calm for a moment, then the surface of the pyramids seemed to come alive and flow over there sphere until it was completely covered.
"It is done." Naylor let out the breath he had been holding, "For better or worse, it is done."
Sheridan was sat in the commander's chair when he felt something whip round and clamp down on his head as fast as a striking viper, and everything went first white then black, followed by a momentary sence of overwhelming vertigo as liquid fire raced through his mind.
Then he was in space, floating free and clear amid the stars. He could see the Black Watch in the distance, and suddenly the image jumped into sharp focus, every mark and scratch on the Destroyer's hull crystal clear. Suddenly information appeared before his eyes: weapons specifications, tactical data, potential weakness and optimal firing positions. He felt as if he could reach out and hold the ship in his hands, but he couldn't see his body: to all intense and purpose he was a free-floating conciousness, devoid of form. The Black Watch sped away, and suddenly every star he could see was named and catalogued, their relative distance and journey time from his position marked. He somehow indistinctly knew that if he wanted to visit one, all he had to do was issue the mental command, and he would be one his way.
"Hello, Captain." A soft voice spoke inside his mind, "I am WS-001-X."
"You're, the ship?" Sheridan responded.
"That is correct." The voice replied, "You are surprised? Did you not sit in my command chair of your own free will?"
"I was just, waiting." Sheridan searched around for the right words, "What is this? What's happening?"
"You activated my direct neural-link by pressing the round, blue button on the left-hand control panel." The voice responded, "I apologise for the abruptness of this experience; I assumed that you were prepared for merging."
"I'd heard about the neural-link system, but I didn't know it had been passed as safe for use."
"It has not; I am a special case, exempt from EarthForce regulations." There was a pause, "I have assimilated and studied the mission data. Do you wish to exit neural-link before proceeding?"
"Yes; Commander Naylor and his people need to leave before we start."
"Understood. Disengaging neural-link. There may be some discomfort and disorientation, but it will pass quickly."
An unseen force grabbed Sheridan, and the stars around him blurred as he started to fall.
"Aaugh!" Sheridan sat hold upright as the neural-link snapped back into its stand-by position. Delenn, Marcus and Naylor stood before him, slightly worried expressions on their faces.
"John?" Delenn took a half-step forward, "Are you okay?"
"I'm sorry, I should have warned you about that." Naylor sounded apologetic, "The neural-link can be a little disconcerting the first time."
"It was, wonderful." Sheridan got his breathing back under control, "A little startling at first, but truly remarkable."
"Not everyone can handle it. Fortunately, there are safeguards in place to stop any, accidents." Naylor smiled, "There is one other matter to take care of: as the ships first commander, it is your right and privilege to name the A.I. It's tradition that the name chosen has some connection to the ship's name: the A.I. of the Churchill is known, somewhat predictably, as Winston, while the Argo's is called Jason."
"I...Jerry was already named when I took command of the Jericho." Sheridan thought for a moment, trying to think of something fitting. A dozen names came to mind, but none seemed just right, until one just popped into his head, "Starr. I think Starr would be best."
"I agree." The ships A.I. spoke up for the first time.
"It is a good name." Delenn agreed.
"It's time we were off." Naylor nodded his head, "The Black Watch can only be off-station for so long before someone starts to ask questions."
"Understood." Sheridan offered his hand again, "Thank you; I know this can't have been easy for you."
"The needs of the service and all." Naylor shook the offered hand, "Good luck Captain: something tells me you'll need it." With that he bowed to Delenn and Marcus, then turned and walked away.
"We need to be under way as soon possible. " Delenn sounded somewhat urgent, "We need to get to Zagros VII before the shadows."
"Gravimetric engines are on-line." Starr reported, "Jump-drive charged and ready."
"We're still going to have to fight when we get there." Sheridan looked at the command chair somewhat hesitantly, "What weapons do you have?"
"My main gun is ahybrid Hellrail/Quantum Discharge Cannon with a variable maximum yield-per-second of up to 200-megatons. Secondary weapons include quad 100-cm Hellebores and neutron beam cannons in each weapons pod." Starr explained proudly, "I also have a multiple battle screens, self-regenerating armour and internal disruptor fields."
"That's...bloody terrifying!" Marcus looked pale, "Who'd build a ship with that sort of fire-power?"
"Babylon 5's defence grid includes 100-cm Hellrails with a 45-megaton capacity, and they're smaller than EarthForce standard." Sheridan sat down somewhat tentatively, mindful to keep his hands away from the controls to activate the neural-link, "Starr, set course for the jump-gate, and once we're in hyperspace, lock onto the Zagros VII beacon."
"Course plotted; engaging maximum sub-light." The stars outside the windows whirled around as the ship pointed its nose towards the nearest jump-gate, "Estimated transit time to Zagros system is one and a half standard hours."
The White Star tore through Hyper Space like a hurricane headed for Florida: it's gravimetric engines overly powerful for a ship its size, allowing manoeuvrability that would put most fighters to shame and a maximum acceleration that was almost unheard off. Sheridan sat in the command seat and absent mindedly tapped the fingers of his right hand against the arm rest.
"We are approaching Zagros VII." Starr reported, "Sixty-seconds until jump-gate."
"Sound battle stations." The Captain ordered, "Bring the battle-screens on-line and charge all weapons."
"All offensive and defensive systems active." The lighting turned blue, informing the entire crew of the change in status, "Thirty seconds to jump-gate. Captain, I would recommend activating the neural-link: it will more than half reaction times."
"Not just yet." Sheridan shook his head, eyeing the deceptive blue button suspiciously, "As far as we know there's just the mine-field to deal with, and I'm sure you can handle that yourself."
"As you wish." Starr sounded non-phased, "Activating jump-gate sequence all hands stand by for transition to normal space."
"John, be careful: it took us almost ten years to build the White Star." Delenn sounded concerned, "We can not just simply build another."
"I promise not to break it." Sheridan put his hand on hers and smiled, "This isn't my first rodeo, you know."
A flash of light ahead of the White Star heralded the formation of a pulsating blue vortex, a stark contrast to the orange and black maelstrom that was hyperspace, and the nimble craft surged forward, appearing in normal space within visual range of Zagros VII. The Centauri mines in orbit automatically attempted to scan the ship, but were defeated by a combination of stealth systems and active electronic counter-measures. Their comparatively simple electronic brains barely had time to process the data before Starr fired, targeting each of them with a single Hellebore. Powerful jammers stopped them from reporting in, while neutron-beam cannons sliced the automatically launched message drone before it had a chance to reach the jump-gate.
"All targets eliminated." Starr reported less then twenty seconds after emerging from hyperspace, "I have sent the all-clear signal: the transports should be taking off any time now."
"Well that was relatively easy." Marcus beamed, "I wish all my missions went..." An alarm sounded, and the Ranger's face fell, "You think that by know I'd know to keep my mouth shut?"
"We are picking up a tentative contact at the edge of sensor range, moving in on an attack vector." Lennier reported, his hands moving across the controls like a master pianist, "I'm not seeing any signs of a jump-point having formed since our arrival."
"Shadows." Sheridan's voice was cold enough to freeze a star, "It has to be."
"Conformed: contact identified as a single Shadow Dreadnought." A holographic image appeared before the command crew, "They are attempting to scan us."
"We're something new, unexpected, and they don't know how to react." the Captain smiled, "Good, then they won't be expecting this. Starr, fire main gun, maximum power!"
A pulse of energy crossed the distance between the White Star and the Shadow vessel in the blink of an eye: the Dreadnought's armour attempted to deflect it, but the combination of raw power and kinetic impact was too much, and the blast penetrated deep into the millennia-old warship. There was a blinding flash of light, and the Shadow vessel was gone.
"Oh my God!" Marcus croaked, his mouth suddenly dry, "How...?"
"As I said before, my main-gun has a maximum yield of 200-megatons per-second, with a maximum pulse duration of two seconds. A single Shadow vessel is therefore of little consequence. " Starr sounded almost smug, "However, it should be noted that such a powerful beam requires a large portion of my available energy reserves, and it will take a full minutes to recover from each shot, during which time several of my key systems would have to operate far below peek efficiency."
"So if we do that again, we need to make sure that there isn't someone ready to shoot us." Sheridan nodded slowly, "That's an important lesson to remember people; short, controlled bursts."
To Be Continued...
And before anyone asks how ahybrid Hellrail/Quantum Discharge Cannon works,
it just does, okay?