LAST EDITED ON Apr-26-16 AT 00:03 AM (EDT)
[Observing the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster by fixing the text encoding and bumping this item to the top of the Minis forum. --G.]
Monday, September 19, 2005
51°23′23″N, 30°5′58″E (80 miles north of Kiev)
Ukraine, Earth, Centaurus Sector
The SDF-17 was taking an almighty pounding.
The ship, hovering at an altitude of 2,000 feet above ground level, was under heavy fire from not one but four Cossack-class heavy cruisers of the Commonwealth of Independent States Aerospace Defense Force - sturdy vessels fitted with potent beam weapons based on "borrowed" Salusian technology. Unable to fight back, the Wayward Son hunkered down within the glowing green capsule of the Total Barrier, weathering a storm of particle beams and heavy missiles that seemed like it would never let up. To make matters worse, the SOL orbital defense network in the region was online; every few seconds a bolt of sun-hot plasma would streak down from the heavens and smash against the top of the barrier, pushing it inexorably closer to failure.
On the bridge, the mood was one of total exultation. Every time the ship shuddered with another heavy hit, the bridge crew cheered like spectators at a barn-burning Battlesport match. On the IMAX-like master holographic display at the front of the room, everyone watched the Total Barrier creep toward overload as if they were watching the donation tally at a telethon for the worthiest of causes.
Commander Benjamin "Gryphon" Hutchins, executive officer, whooped as a SOL beam blasted the shield dead-center above the bridge, sending a shockwave rippling downward through the room to scatter papers and overturn Captain MegaZone's (fortunately empty) coffee cup.
"Whoo!" he cried. "That one would've parted our hair! The SOL targeting crews are really on the ball today."
"Yeah, I wouldn't want to have gone up against this crew back in '97," Zoner observed.
Weapons officer Kei Morgan punched a key on her console, opening up a communications channel. "Come on, you guys!" she yelled exuberantly at the Cossacks' crews. "Put your backs into it! Do you want us to blow up today or not?"
"Not to worry," replied the deep voice of the CISPVO task force commander, Commodore Henry Gloval. "We shall double our efforts!"
"That's the spirit!" Kei replied.
"He's not kidding, either," sensor officer Yuri Daniels reported. "I've got four more Cossacks and a Potemkin - I think it's the Potemkin - just coming into firing range."
The pounding intensified. The Total Barrier's status bar moved into the yellow zone. Everybody cheered. A few moments later, the pride of the Russian aerospace defense fleet, the mighty battleship Potemkin, made the definitive statement of the day, unleashing the mightiest weapon in Earth's spaceborne arsenal at the time - a super-heavy beam weapon its designers called, perhaps a trifle unimaginatively, the Nova Cannon.
The Nova Cannon's beam slammed into the SDF-17's Total Barrier portside amidships, causing the whole field to strobe crazily for a second. Had the fortress been unshielded, the blast probably would have been sufficient to sever the pylon connecting the main body of the ship to the spacecraft carrier Prometheus, the nerve center of the SDF-17's Veritech fighter operations, which everyone on board - especially the crew of the Prometheus - would have found highly inconvenient.
As it was, the SDF-17 suffered no damage - but the hit was enough to spike the Total Barrier's status bar clean into the red, setting off alarms and triggering a countdown on the master display.
"Total Barrier backlash event in 20 seconds," the ship's machine intelligence, Eve, announced calmly.
Zoner, grinning from ear to ear, punched a key on his command chair's arm and said, "That did it, Hank! You guys better haul ass outta here, 'cause here comes the Earth-shattering kaboom!"
"Roger, SDF-17, withdrawing," Gloval replied.
Fifteen seconds later, the Total Barrier cooked off, releasing all the energy it had absorbed during the Wayward Son's beating in a single nanosecond pulse of unbelievable intensity. The superheated shockwave smashed out from the brightly glowing energy shell like the plasma shell of an expanding star, vaporizing everything in its path. On the ground beneath the fortress, everything within a radius of 10 miles was instantly annihilated, creating a perfectly circular crater of gleaming black-green glass. Beyond that, the energy wave scoured the ground and the waters, burning away everything but clean soil and bedrock, for more than 50 miles around. In the air, there was nothing to destroy; Gloval's ships, prudently firing from the outer edge of their range envelope, had had plenty of time to pull back to a safe distance and watch the fireworks.
In moments, it was over. The insulted atmosphere continued to thunder and reverberate for a few minutes thereafter, and the sudden superheating of the ground created some interesting wind patterns for a few hours, but aboard the Wayward Son, all was covered by a sudden, eerie silence. Then everybody on the bridge broke into one more wild, spontaneous cheer. High fives made the rounds, and then Zoner called for a sensor report.
"Radiation levels normal," Yuri said, peering into her viewfinder. "Ground temperature is 1,200 degrees and falling rapidly. No particulate matter. All contaminants destroyed." She turned in her seat and grinned. "It worked just like ReRob's calculations predicted."
At the engineer's station, Rob Mandeville doffed his poorboy cap and swept it through an elaborate bow. "Thank you, thank you - though I have to admit it was Eve who did most of the math."
Zoner punched the intercom all-call on his conn. "All hands, this is the captain," he announced. "Mission accomplished. The area is clean."
A great cheer resounded throughout the fortress's hull.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Novaya Prypiat, Ukraine
The WDF Corps of Engineers construction crews had cleared out the day before, leaving the city of Novaya Prypiat empty and gleaming in the sun, its towers and graceful arches reflected in the placid waters of Lake Pravik. Throughout the city, teams of soldiers and civilian technicians had spent the last week putting the finishing touches on their masterpiece, while others carefully arranged millions of meticulously decontaminated and restored personal effects in thousands of brand new homes, which now stood waiting for their owners. An air of anticipation hung over the whole city. In Memorial Park, at the center of the city, banners were hung and facilities provided for half a million people to assemble.
At a little past midnight, the first of the buses and trucks began arriving at the end of Bandazhevskiy Bridge, where smiling Ukrainian Army and WDF Tactical Corps personnel in white gloves, directing traffic, removed the barricades and let them through. For hours, vehicles streamed across the bridge and the other four bridges into the city, watched over by the soldiers on the ground, patrolling helicopters and Veritech fighters in the air, and the looming bulk of the SDF-17, parked on her titanic landing gear near the edge of the lake.
The operation would continue well into the afternoon, and the speeches and celebrations would begin in the evening. There would be pomp, circumstance, fireworks, military bands, an air show featuring demonstration teams from forces all over the world, the Wedge Defense Force, even the Royal Salusian Navy. There would be tears and laughter and expressions of astonishment that such a thing could have been accomplished in so short a time - that an area thought poisoned forever, or at least until long past living memory, could have been cleansed by fire, then rendered so beautiful and inviting by skillful hands. Situated in the center of its beautiful, perfectly circular lake, surrounded by rings of handsome farms and carefully, artfully disarranged forests, Novaya Prypiat was the new crown jewel of eastern Europe, a stunning example of a modern Galactic Age city: the first of its kind on planet Earth, built from the bedrock up in a mere six months.
Standing on the observation platform at the very top of the SDF-17's conning tower, watching the lights of the vehicles start to move across Bandazhevskiy Bridge, six people - Gryphon, Zoner, and ReRob, Kei and Yuri, Commodore Gloval - silently reflected on all this, and also on the fact that none of it mattered right at that moment. Oh, it was all important, it was all significant, it was all historic.
But right now, all that really mattered was that the people of Prypiat were coming home.
"Cleansed by Fire" (a Golden Age Mini-Story) by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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