tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Rask Rebellion

The Rask Rebellion

bySnekguy©

Authors Note: It took a while, but here's something substantial to read through while you're all in quarantine. Remember to deploy chemical countermeasures against hostile organisms, and wear your rebreather if you go EVA!

Special thanks to my buddy SketchyWarrior for his help with the UNN armored vehicles and their tactics.

CHAPTER 1: PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

The sound of claws scratching against the metal deck echoed through the cramped corridor as the Crewmaster made his way to the bridge, ducking under exposed pipes and bundles of electrical cables. This warren of winding passages was made for humans, not Borealans, his eight-foot stature requiring him to hunch over to avoid hitting his head. Their smell still permeated the vessel, but it was fading now, overcome by the scents of oil and alien machinery.

His furry ears brushed the doorframe as he emerged into a more open space, finally able to stand upright. Before him was a room occupied by half a dozen console banks, more of his kind hunched over before the glowing, holographic displays. They waved their clawed fingers through the projections, adjusting their course, and tracking radar contacts. The bridge was a little more homely than the rest of the ship. As the command center, the bare hull had been decorated with crimson drapes in the traditional style, the flowing fabric cascading from the ceiling to the carpeted floor. A large window wrapped around the room, occupying his entire field of view. The glass doubled as a monitor, displaying information in small boxes that the crew were moving around with gestures from their furry hands, the angular hull of the frigate visible beyond.

It extended into the distance like an artificial horizon, tapering into a dull point a good two hundred meters in front of them, the subtly raised conning tower giving them a fine view. It was broken up in places by the streamlined blisters that housed the ship's railgun turrets, and the closed hatches of the torpedo launch tubes. The vessel bristled with weaponry, but it was all stowed, as they were not on a combat patrol. The hull had once been painted with a stealth coating that was as black as the space beyond, but it now sported a more fitting red, the color of Elysia. Intricate scenes of battle and hunting flowed across its surface like a tapestry, their brilliant gold gleaming under the light of the system's twin suns.

The finely engraved, ruby-red armor that the Crewmaster wore over his silken tunic clanked as he rolled his shoulders, a long cape sewn from rainbow spider fur glittering with iridescence as it trailed behind him. He stalked over to his throne, taking a seat on the padded chair, his long tail slotting through a hole in the backrest as he leaned into the crimson leather. Most of his crew were wearing their pressure suits, but the Furious Swipe was a sound vessel, she would not forsake her master.

"Report," he grumbled, resting his face in his palm as he gazed out at the starfield. "What is our present course?"

"We sail over the territory of the Rask, my Alpha," one of his crewmen replied with a deferent bow of his head.

"Radar contacts?" he asked, scratching idly at his fiery mane of orange hair.

"Some Coalition, and one jump merchant, but we have adjusted our trajectory accordingly."

"Very good," the Crewmaster muttered, waving a hand at the viewport. "Show me the ground."

The inky blackness of space faded, replaced with a camera view from the underside of the frigate. The planet beneath them was mostly desert, its surface blasted by the heat of the system's primary, scant wisps of white cloud drifting through the atmosphere. Borealis had no oceans, no continents, all of its water was locked within the great lakes. They shimmered as their sapphire surfaces reflected the suns, encircled by bands of lush, green jungle that served as bulwarks against the ever-encroaching deserts. The greenery trapped moisture to create a micro-climate, swirling clouds seeming to cluster over the country-sized oases, their borders dividing up the different territories.

Elysia was one of them, his home. How he longed to return to the shore of its endless lake, to walk between the stone edifices of its capital once again, to feel the wind in his hair. Captaining a ship of the Elysian Navy was a noble station, one earned through great deeds, but it tended to get a little dreary.

His feline eyes turned to the territory that they were cruising over. Unlike most, the jungle band that should have shielded it from the sands was broken in places, the desert spilling through the breaches. It almost looked like a giant grazing animal had taken huge bites out of it. The lake itself was relatively small, a puddle compared to that of his own nation. He could only just make it out, as it was sandstorm season, the obscuring clouds visible from space.

Its inhabitants, the Rask, were a hardy people who were more accustomed to desert life than most. They were notorious bandits and pirates, raiding caravans, and making incursions into neighboring territories in ages past. Their admittance into the Coalition had somewhat curbed that behavior as of late. Rask and Elysia were technically allies, but old rivalries persisted.

The Rask did not have a Navy, nor did any of the other Borealan territories, which meant that Elysia ruled the skies. The Patriarch had been forward-thinking enough to cooperate closely with the Coalition when the aliens had made contact, the resulting prosperity allowing him to purchase technologies that were hundreds of years more advanced than anything available on Borealis. Many other territories now followed Elysia's lead, but their headstart had expanded their influence greatly, making them the planet's only superpower.

The radar operator to the Crewmaster's right faltered, his round ears twitching as he frantically scanned the holographic readout of his console. A crimson warning light bathed the bridge in its glow, alien icons flashing on the window.

"What is the meaning of this?" the Crewmaster demanded, rising from his chair. He didn't recognize the symbols, and it wasn't his station to know them.

"The ship's mind warns that we are being locked, my Alpha," a flustered crewman replied.

"Locked?" he demanded. "By what?"

"I...I do not know, my Alpha. The skies are clear of enemies, there are no hostile ships in radar range."

"Put out a call to all ships in the vicinity and warn them that we are being erroneously targeted," the Crewmaster ordered with a wave of his hand. "The humans must have mistaken us for a pirate skiff, or perhaps our systems are malfunctioning. Order the ship to run a diagnostic on her sensors."

"As you command," the crewman sitting at the comms console replied, the other Borealans on the bridge turning their heads to look back at the Crewmaster. One of them paused to wipe her pink nose with the back of her furry hand, her ears swiveling to track him, her reflective eyes darting about the room. This had never happened before. The Elysian Navy had never seen combat, let alone in orbit above their own planet. Nobody quite knew how to react.

"Eyes on your stations!" the Crewmaster snapped, the bridge crew hastily turning their attention back to their displays. "You are like a litter of frightened kittens! The humans built this vessel for war, and she is crewed by Elysia's bravest. There is no excuse for doubt."

"The ship reports no fault in her sensors," the radar operator continued, his fingers moving through the orange projection.

"Coalition vessels report no lock," the comms officer added. "Should we ask them what to do?"

"No," the Crewmaster replied. "Tell the ship that she is to locate the source of the lock."

"She is triangulating," the radar operator said, watching his readout intently.

"My Alpha," the comms officer began, the Crewmaster turning to face him. "The Coalition vessel Rubin wishes to speak with you."

"Very well," he grumbled, "put them through on the main speakers."

There was a hiss of static, and then an alien voice rang out.

"Captain of the Furious Swipe, this is the UNN CIWS frigate Rubin. Our sensors show that you're being locked from the ground. Are you in need of assistance?"

"From the ground?" the Crewmaster hissed in the Elysian tongue, the radar operator shaking his head in reply. He switched back to English, the language of the humans, clearing his throat before replying. "Captain of the Rubin, this is the Furious Swipe. Our radar systems are unable to determine the origin of the lock. We thought that it might be one of yours."

"The sensors on those old Mk I Clovis frigates are a little slower than what we're using," the Captain of the Rubin replied. "Our systems show a missile lock originating from the surface of the planet, we're burning to cover you."

"Very well, Rubin. We await your arrival," the Crewmaster replied. "What could be targeting us from the ground?" he asked once the connection had been closed. "A Betelgeusian fleet could not have slipped through our defenses, there is an entire Coalition flotilla stationed in orbit."

"Still scanning," the radar operator replied. The Crewmaster waited a few moments longer, his furry, orange tail flicking back and forth beneath his cloak in irritation. "She has it," the crewman declared, swiping to bring the image up on the viewport. "Something just launched from the Rask territory, it moves to intercept us."

"What is it?" the Crewmaster demanded, "a missile?"

"Ship's mind reports that the speed and mass of the object correspond with a missile," he confirmed, failing to mask the uncertainty in his voice. "Three minutes until contact."

"Arm all weapons!" the Crewmaster snarled. "Prepare to launch torpedoes, activate the defensive guns!"

The blisters on the hull began to open up, railgun turrets rising from their protective housings, pivoting their long barrels as their systems ran diagnostic checks. He watched as one of the ball-shaped defensive turrets swiveled, its long cannon rotating as it angled in the direction of the incoming projectile.

"Put our bow towards the missile, present as small a target as possible," the Crewmaster ordered. "How far out is the Rubin?"

"The humans are maneuvering between us and the projectile now."

"Show me."

One of the crewmen brought up a telescopic camera view on the bridge window, zooming in on the human vessel. It was close, but being close in space still put them hundreds of kilometers apart. The frigate was not unlike their own, perhaps a little bulkier in design, its hull painted jet black save for some blue trim here and there. It bristled with defensive cannons, its engines burning with blue flame as it decelerated, appearing to fly backwards relative to the Furious Swipe. The purpose of CIWS frigates was fleet protection, their guns and missiles were designed to shoot down torpedoes and fighter craft. As much as the Crewmaster resented needing help, he already felt safer in the frigate's presence.

"Let the ship's mind manage the defensive guns," he warned, "the last thing we need is friendly fire."

"The Captain of the Rubin wishes to speak with you again, my Alpha," the radio operator said.

"Very well, put him through."

There was another crackle of static before the human's voice was transmitted. Their Captain was remarkably calm and casual, considering the situation. Unlike the Borealan crew, the aliens were battle-hardened.

"You've got an ASAT headed your way, Furious Swipe," the human began. "It's a fast-mover, but nothin' that we can't handle. It's leveling out and entering high orbit now, maintain your present course."

"ASAT?" the Crewmaster asked, his question directed at the weapons officer.

"An anti-satellite weapon, my Alpha, designed to destroy targets in orbit."

"Make sure that the Patriarchy knows what's happening," the Crewmaster began, addressing the radio operator. "Ask them for further instructions. Once this threat has been eliminated, I want the Lord Patriarch's blessing to answer this Rask treachery with a rain of fire."

"Aye, Crewmaster."

As they watched, the CIWS frigate loosed a stream of interceptor missiles, rising from its angular hull in all directions on plumes of blue hydrogen flame. They angled themselves towards their target, shooting off into the darkness in a swarm. In mere seconds, their thrusters had grown dimmer than the stars surrounding them, the projectiles fading from view. The Crewmaster sank back down into his leather chair, watching intently.

There were a series of bright flashes, and he pounded his fist on the armrest.

"Ha! Report. Was the missile intercepted?"

"I-I do not know, my Alpha," the radar operator replied hesitantly. "Sensors show that...all of the intercepting missiles are gone, as is the Rask missile. But I now see a cloud of smaller objects heading towards us."

"Debris?" the Crewmaster demanded.

"I...I do not know."

"Emergency call from the Rubin," the radio operator announced, the Crewmaster nodding.

"Furious Swipe, take evasive action," the human Captain said. He sounded alarmed now, his calm demeanor forgotten. "Angle your nose up ninety degrees and start burning."

"What has happened, Rubin?" the Crewmaster asked. "What is your situation?"

As he watched, the CIWS frigate began to pivot, the small thrusters along its length shooting jets of flame. It started to burn away, its main engines flaring brightly.

"There's an expanding cloud of shrapnel heading our way at about eight kilometers per second. Our CIWS guns can't stop it. You gotta move, now!"

"Do as he says!" the Crewmaster bellowed, the helmsman almost jumping out his skin before keying in the commands. The frigate began to climb away from the planet, the G-forces pressing the crew into their seats, the view on the window still tracking the Rubin.

Tracer fire began to spew from its many guns, painting glowing trails across the blackness of space, its point defense systems trying desperately to ward off the incoming projectiles. They wound together, the overlapping streams of bullets putting on a beautiful display, but it was too late.

The Rubin was ripped apart, innumerable slivers of jagged metal tearing through it like a giant shotgun blast, its armor no match for something moving at that velocity. The Crewmaster watched in horror as the state-of-the-art warship began to drift, its engines sputtering out, the guns going silent. There was a sudden, violent explosion as the ruptured fuel tanks ignited, a blue-tinted ball of flame blasting the entire aft section to pieces.

They only had a scant few seconds before the deadly cloud reached them, the Crewmaster's claws digging into the leather of his armrests, the acceleration making him feel like there was a Krell standing on his chest.

"Brace for impact!" he hissed through gritted teeth, watching as their own point defense guns began to fire. Time seemed to slow, what couldn't have been more than twenty seconds feeling like an eternity was passing by. There was a sudden sensation of cold, then everything went dark and silent...

***

The Admirals stood around a circular table in their pristine, white uniforms, their breasts adorned with medals and colored ribbons. Many of them couldn't physically attend the meeting, as they were light-years away from the station. Instead, they appeared as shimmering, life-sized holograms. The lights in the conference room had been dimmed, the dark mahogany paneling on the walls contributing to the dingy atmosphere. The great wheel that gave Fort Hamilton its nickname rotated past outside the windows, providing artificial gravity, the field of stars beyond seeming to spin around them.

From within the center of the table was projected a holographic image in wavering blue, lighting up the grim faces of those physically present with its pale glow. It showed the curvature of a planet, a smattering of numbered icons displaying the positions of nearby ships, clustered in fleets and squadrons. As they watched, a dotted line was drawn along the path of a projectile as it rose through the atmosphere, moving towards two of the targets. It broke into pieces, sending a spreading cone of shrapnel in their direction, the men watching in silence as the vessels were erased.

Admiral Murray straightened his cap, the golden UN insignia above the rim catching the light. He was an older man, in his late fifties, and his Australian accent complimented his tanned complexion well. All eyes in the room turned to him as he began to speak.

"This morning, at oh-nine-hundred hours, there was an unprovoked attack in Borealan orbit. A projectile was launched from the planet's surface, striking the UNN Rubin and the Elysian frigate Furious Swipe. All hands were lost."

A worried murmur passed through the ring of Admirals, Murray gesturing to the hologram with a gloved hand.

"The projectile was a MAST, a Multi-stage, Anti-capital Spread Torpedo. It's a weapon manufactured by the UNN, usually destined for planetary defense forces on remote colony worlds where a fleet cannot reasonably be stationed. Its purpose is to counter all known methods of point defense, including cannons, missiles, and lasers."

The hologram shifted to show an exploded diagram of the weapon, a long, white tube with stabilizing fins that was adorned with Navy markings. The Admiral zoomed in on the nose cone, the model opening up to show what looked like a tightly-packed bundle of railway spikes.

"This is the warhead. Once the missile is traveling at about eight kilometers per second, and the target is lined up, it releases these kinetic energy penetrators. This creates a cloud of high-speed, armor-piercing projectiles that spread out over a large area, making getting out of the way very difficult. At those velocities, even battleship armor is not impervious. We designed this weapon to kill Hive fleets. The idea was that a colony could fire a cluster of these and shred anything in orbit while they waited for a support fleet to arrive."

"Where was it fired from?" one of the Admirals asked.

The hologram zoomed in on the planet, showing a ring of dense jungle. Within its bounds was a body of water that would have given Lake Superior a run for its money.

"The Rask territory," Admiral Murray continued, clasping his hands behind his back as he began to pace in front of the table. "We now know that this was a preemptive strike. Shortly after the attack, a message was broadcast across all frequencies. It was in English, they wanted to be sure that we would hear it."

The hologram shifted yet again, this time displaying a visualization of a sound clip. A female voice came through on the speakers, harsh and rasping, her rolling accent immediately recognizable as that of a Borealan.

"Today, the Rask Matriarchy demonstrated its power by destroying the spacecraft of the interlopers, once thought to be untouchable. Let it serve as a warning, for there will not be a second. For too long, our people have been subject to the will of others, and our voices have been ignored. With the backing of the aliens, the Elysians spread their influence across Borealis, trading their dignity for trinkets and favors. The Coalition, while it proclaims to represent all, makes pariahs of the Rask. We face unjust suspicion and scrutiny from our supposed allies, and our Security Council vote counts for nothing when we are drowned out by a mob of sycophants. Our way of life has been eroded, our pride wounded, our trust betrayed. Our warriors die selflessly for their cause, and our only reward is scorn. But no more. We will not allow ourselves to become clawless, we will not grovel for the approval of those who do not understand our ways. Today, we have severed ties with the Coalition, and we have declared war on Elysia. The sands of Borealis belong to her hardiest children by right, and we mean to restore that natural order."

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