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I want to tell you guys about the greatest game I ever played that you never heard of: a Tribes 2 mod called 'The Great Tribal War'.
The game was a treat and was clearly a decade (or more given the state of FPS games today) ahead of its time. Between Tribes 2 and later Planetside, it started a love affair with Dave Georgeson and I can't tell you how disappointed I was that Everquest Next got killed off. Well, the game was also absurdly moddable. You didn't even need to download anything to play most mods.
One of the mods was called 'The Great Tribal War'. It's been 15 years and I can still tell you that this mod - this game - is something far beyond what I've ever seen before or since.
To give a very brief rundown on how Tribes 2 worked, every player had jetpacks and a backpack that could mount equipment. Could be a personal shield or a tool you deploy in the game world like a mobile turret, or even sensors so you could see enemies from farther away. There were also vehicles - fighters, bombers, tanks, transports. The gist of the game was some sort of team-based objective match. Capture the flag, typically.
Anyway, Great Tribal War, using an engine trick, would run on a map that was several square kilometers in size. I think it was roughly 16x16km (typically these maps were modeled in scale size of real locations like survey data of the Maroon Bells). Across the map were 'bases' that were marked with waypoints. About fifteen of them. Bases in this case were just indestructible, empty structures. Most were fairly large, but dwarfed by the map scale.
Each team would spawn in opposite corners of the map on a completely defenseless starting point. Each team had a "switch", which was a goofy nickname we gave to what was a mobile spawn point. If the spawn point were deployed and powered by a generator, your team would spawn around it. If it were unpowered, undeployed, or destroyed, the team could no longer spawn and the game was over when they were all killed. Obviously this was the objective. You also were given deployable vehicle pads and vehicles you would use to spawn vehicles you'd use for transport and war.
The point of the game was to pack up your team, move into one of the empty bases, and then find and kill the enemy. There was a beautiful strategy to it: because the bases were so numerous and far apart, the enemy could be hiding in any of them. The basic scout fighter has a powerful radar in it that could find enemies - so you had a choice. You could sneak into a base, hide your transport, and set up a stealth location so that enemies couldn't just fly by and see you... or you could set up powerful external defenses, which would make it easier to protect yourself, but the enemy would know where you were without having to manually get out and check every base on foot. It was also typical to have your transport (with the switch and most of your team carrying base construction equipment) escorted by fighters who could shake off pursuit, as well as sending out scouts of your own to try and find the enemy transport early.
It was also extremely common to use decoys. Because each team typically only had about 12-15 people on it you couldn't typically spare a whole lot of people to scout, because you'd need to defend your base. So while you might use your transport to fly your team to their base, you might then have a few guys jump on board and then fly the transport to draw away attention to decoy bases. Once the game got rolling, you'd typically have several bases set up and linked by teleporters (because of the size of the maps and the fact that only one player could carry one piece of equipment, and couldn't fly a transport while wearing it, it would require a minimum of three people to set up a basic base, which would mean a pilot, someone carrying a generator, and someone carrying an inventory station).
From then on, it was war. Games could be over in twenty minutes, some literally went on for four hours or more. Fighters would weave through canyons in dogfights crossing several kilometers. Mountaintops became strategic mortar locations. Feint attacks were common, as was last-minute 'switch' relocations to keep the enemy guessing.
One base was located very high on a mountaintop, in the middle of a cloud layer. This made it very foggy and hard to attack with ground forces because they could rain mortar fire down on you from afar. However, we devised a strategy - because of the thick clouds, they couldn't see the sky very well. However, they had a sensor network up that would spot us a mile away. Using terrain masking, we brought our dropships around the backside of the mountain near the base (the mountaintop extended above the clouds). We needed to take out the sensor network, so we had a single infiltrator sneak into the base and place a targeting beacon on the sensor. Targeting beacons (and laser pointers) would put a 'shoot here' HUD element up that would easily guide mortar and grenade launcher fire. While we had two heavies mortar their sensor, a bomber and a dropship flew high overhead. Once we got word that the sensor was down courtesy of our spy, we inverted our ships and began a vertical burn downwards, flying towards the ground (the aircraft were turbogravs - they didn't have lift, they had thrusters underneath that would counter gravity, so turning upside down would cause you to fall). At the last minute when we broke through clouds, we flipped and did a vertical burn to slow us down, allowing our troops to jump out while the bomber provided covering fire and worked on their turret defenses.
Another time the enemy set up position in a base at the bottom of a different mountain (remember, these mountains were true to scale, we're talking thousands of feet from base to summit). This proved to be a poor decision as the base had a well-known weakness. For much of the game we set about building a base on the mountaintop. Turrets. Sensors. Jammers. Teleporters. When the time came, we rained an enormous amount of mortar fire on the base while our skirmish troops would ski down the side of the mountain (a maneuver in Tribes that would turn terrain mostly frictionless, allowing players to cross terrain like it was a skate park. Yes it was as cool as it sounds). We fought our way into their base only to learn there was literally nothing there. Then came the calls for help from our base. They knew we were staging an attack up there and had covertly moved their base. While we prepared for the assault, they had set up a forward operating point inside our own basement. Within minutes they had blown our generators and taken out all our defenses, and in one move, wiped us out.
There's not really any footage of this game out there on the internet. There's this not very interesting video that demonstrates the scale of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Com6xzG13-Y
Thanks for reading this far (if you did). I still say that this is the absolute best game I ever played, and I'm shocked that the concept has never, to my knowledge, been explored thoroughly. The pace of the game was slow, so that's going to be a problem with market penetration, but for a one-man labor of love from 2002/2003...
Humans Are Architects [CH2]
It had been six years since Earth's first battle with the United Syndicate. Many new technologies were learned through the reverse-engineering of the Syndicate ships and the interrogation of their crews. Earth's defence forces were now equipped with energy shields and powerful sensors. The Syndicate fusion reactor designs were being used all over Earth, creating for the first time an economy where electricity was practically free. However, not one sapient on any captured ship knew how the hyperdrive worked. Some of them knew how to maintain it, but they didn't know how to make fuel for it -- and the logistics craft had been destroyed in the battle. Stuck in their home system, over the past six years the nations of Earth had worked together in relative harmony to create the most powerful defenses possible.
The first sign that something was wrong came when the hyperlane exit point began glowing again. The exit portal was an order of magnitude brighter than it was when the Fifth Frontier Fleet had moved into the system. Human scientists calculated the size of the incoming fleet, and it was much, much larger than expected. The United Syndicate no longer considered Earth to be a bureaucratic hassle -- humanity had proven itself to be a military threat.
The Syndicate warships arrived to a death-trap. As soon as they dropped out of hyperspace, hundreds of gigatons of laser-catalysed fusion bombs exploded, sending shrapnel and radiation in all directions. Briefly, from Earth's perspective, they outshone every star in the sky a hundred times over. At the same time, the defence stations near the sun blasted the incoming fleet with randomly distributed lasers.
Twenty ships, mostly smaller ones, were destroyed in seconds. Even the largest capital ships had their sensors blinded by all the bombs. The lasers continued unabated. Then, the attacking fleet, still more than a hundred spacecraft strong, raised their combat shields.
Even the massive laser arrays could not penetrate the capital ship shields once they were fully operational. An electromagnetic pulse cannon, built into a large ice-ball in the Kuiper Belt, was able to destabilize the shield of one ship... for a few milliseconds. (The cannon in question was promptly destroyed using an antimatter missile.) A desperate attack by a suicidal drone fleet was shut down by a Syndicate laser CIWS. Upon seeing the utter failure of the most powerful Earth weapons, many human captains decided to run, hide, or (in the case of automated ships) self-destruct. Within twelve hours of the attack, the commanders of the Sol Defence Stations unanimously agreed to scuttle the laser arrays and surrender. Governments Earthside also surrendered a few minutes later. The second battle of Sol was over. The occupation of Earth was about to begin.
"Comm line is open. Report."
"We have successfully destroyed all local space-based military assets. Interrogation of prisoners has revealed that the enemy has been unsuccessful in reverse-engineering our hyperdrives. All members of the Human ruling caste have been sent to the Core Worlds for re-education. We'll leave a small guard force to keep the workers in line until we can colonize this world. No rush, though -- it's pretty much barren, and there's a lot of dangerous wildlife."
"Understood. We'll get some agents along when we have the chance. In the meantime, your fleet is recalled to Arcturan Station in Sector C37 -- tensions are heating up. We'll send an order package shortly."
"Yessir. The fleet will be underway within a standard cycle."
Somewhere in Nunavut, there was a cabin. In the basement of the cabin sat half a dozen humans, who drank, complained about the alien occupation, and drank some more.
"You know," said Daviad, who had drank quite a lot by this point, "We've got guns and stuff. We should kick the nasty buggers out!"
Deniigi agreed with the general concept, but found some flaws with the proposed solution. "I don't think it's so easy. If we start shooting aliens, they send more. Or just bomb us."
"Only if they think it's us who need bombing" said Sulvan. "Say, do you still have that bear muppet?"
With a large hiccough, Daviad nodded.
"In that case, I think I have a plan. It starts with warning the aliens about the dangers of bears..."
The New Zealand Aerospace Museum was home to many artifacts of the past. From an ageing Sopwith Camel to the only surviving Falcon rocket, its collection was one of the largest worldwide. In the cockpit of SpaceShipOne, Ricard, the head curator, was speaking with a local welder.
"So, anyway... if you want me to lose any of the smaller pieces, I'm sure that can be arranged. I have some plans that you can take a look at too, if you want."
"Uh, truth be told, I may already have some stuff in my garage. I've figured out a recipe for ablative armour that seems quite effective."
"Really? Have you tested it?"
"Yah. Not nearly as good as the military stuff, but it's dirt cheap. I've been trying to build a shield generator, too, but the commercial designs require some sort of ceramic thing that the aliens have banned."
"Well, congratulations on the ablative armour, at least. If you need anything, let me know."
(21:27:14) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: yeah so don't say what your doing for secrecy but we should probably coordinate somehow
(21:27:48) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Good idea. How about we all do our stuff six months from today?
(21:28:33) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: 4th of july? bad idea. their going to be paying more attn then other days
(21:29:27) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Oh, I hadn't thought of that. 1st of August, then? I have all the info from the pre-conquest interrogations (don't ask how), and turns out the aliens don't like the heat, so they might fight at lower effectiveness.
(21:29:54) guest1 [message encrypted]: you really think we can do this?
(21:30:16) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: 9mil of us and 5k of them. why not?
(21:30:18) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: We have to try. And plus, they don't seem to think we'll do anything at all. We have the initiative here.
(21:30:48) guest1 [message encrypted]: Get the word out, then. Coordination only works if we're coordinated.
(21:31:05) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: but if the slimies know were doing it they'll kill us, so get the word out *quietly*
(21:31:16) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: "slimies"? Really?
(21:31:36`) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: im trying to invent new racial slurs here
(21:31:40) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: be positive
"Anyway", explained Pau, a construction worker, "I have a plan."
Ella, his longtime friend, was dubious. "Oh, really? And this time it won't be something like 'punch a xeno in the face day'?"
"When will I ever live that down? No, this one is sensible. We build tanks and attack the aliens until they stop fighting back. We then proceed to liberate other towns, one after another, with our tanks."
"You had me convinced until "tanks". Where do we get tanks?"
"Well, I was wondering about that too. Then I remembered an old folktale that my ma told me."
"Oh, perfect! Folktales! Should we call upon the faeries for aid too?"
"Hear me out. If you knew the story, you might understand. Have I ever told you the story of the reasonable man who did unreasonable things?"
Daviad spoke in a low whisper. "They're entering the cave. Be very, very quiet... okay, now. Go in with the bear."
Sulvan and one other person, animating the bear muppet, walked up to the mouth of the cave and played some prerecorded angry bear noises through a portable speaker. After a few moments Daviad whispered again. "Alright, they've probably told their superiors about the bear. Now activate the radio jammer. Let's get the party started."
As they entered the cave, Zorpak activated his headlamp. The wildlife monitoring team looked around cautiously, wary of the dangerous wildlife the locals had warned them about. Zorpak took out a small biomonitor and began scanning the area. Suddenly, the device beeped, the mini-map indicating they were surrounded by warm-blooded animals. Then a loud noise came from the cave entrance: a low, animal growl.
Zorpak whirled around and saw the bear, which was now letting out a loud roar. He shouted into the radio. "Bear! There's a bear! Remember what they told us, everyone! Get close together and wave your arms!"
The bear didn't seem intimidated, roaring again and beginning to stalk towards the wildlife team. Every aspect of its movement made it out to be a vicious predator. Zorpak raised the Bear Spray, a chemical weapon developed by the natives to fight these creatures. He squeezed the trigger, squirting a acrid cloud of mist towards the bear. The bear shook itself off and continued. Zorpak became frightened, shouting into his radio. "I used the Bear Spray and it didn't work! It didn't work!"
Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, the response from the base was nothing but static. Zorpak's teammates tapped their headsets too, indicating their radios were broken. The bear was still advancing.
After the entire team let loose a second salvo of Bear Spray to absolutely no effect, Zorpak gave the order to switch to mag-rifles. It was in that moment, when they were fumbling with their weapons, holding neither Bear Spray nor mag-rifles, that the bear collapsed into a heap, bright lights turned on all around them, and a human voice boomed from a megaphone: "We have you surrounded. Drop your weapons, NOW!"
A terrified Zorpak was the first to comply.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the revolution" began Ricard with some theatricality, "In several months' time, you will be shooting yourselves into space to fight the oppressor in orbit."
He waited for the cheers to die down before continuing.
"With all due respect to our engineers, who have developed and built military hardware in less time and with fewer resources than it took me to build my shed, your ships are terrible."
The engineers, tired from weeks of sleepless nights and the knowledge of more to come, nodded agreement.
"Your weapons are little better than pop-guns. You don't have any shields at all, and your armour is made from tar and baking supplies. Your engines were stolen from ageing museum pieces! In every engagement you fight, the enemy will have larger ships than you, better weapons than you, and will have the defender's advantage."
The entire room was now giving him their full attention. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- Ricard's flair for the dramatic, he was a very powerful speaker.
"The only way that we can win this is through superior skill, tactics, and the element of surprise. I am therefore tasked with turning you out-of-work asteroid miners into useful fighter pilots. It will take time, and it will be hard, but if we all put in as much work as we can, we can pull it off."
(06:48:11) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Managed to capture some alien troops last night.
(06:54:27) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: Dammit! Now they know there's a resistance movement! You complete IDIOT!
(06:55:09) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Calm down, we jammed their comms and framed bears. And now we have some shiny new alien toys.
(06:55:38) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Be nice, Caffeine. And Yeti, do tell!
(06:55:46) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: sorry
(06:56:01) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: No worries, secrecy's important. Anyway, we now have translators. I'll post a torrent once our resident egghead turns it into something that can run on human computers. Also weapons and power armour.
(06:56:26) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Are their weapons / armour even remotely usable by a human?
(06:56:58) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Well, when you get down to it they're basically humans. Sure, they have three legs, curved spines, don't really have heads, but they could easily be a weird earth animal. We think we can mod their suits for human users.
(06:57:18) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: and as for the guns, we rip 'em apart and build our own guns using the parts. It's easier that way.
(06:57:19) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: I guess so, that makes sense.
(06:57:45) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Anyway, with the alien gear, we'll do some crazy awesome stuff on Aug. 1st.
(06:58:13) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: I look forward to congratulating you in person when you succeed.
Ella climbed onto the soapbox and surveyed the tanks. There were six massive hulks of concrete and steel standing before her, bristling with weapons. To the side sat twelve smaller vehicles, covered in corrugated armour with several gun-ports. The large ones were indeed based on Pau's story, but wanting a bit more mobility, Ella had dug up and modernized an old design New Zealand had used during the Second World War. Noticing that the tank crews were waiting for her to speak, she began.
"Right now, we're doing a last-minute retrofit, because we just found some designs for shield generators that only use materials we have access to. We will still deploy on schedule. We're going to be joining up with a commando force from the Canadian arctic -- they're going to be great mobile firepower, seeing as our tanks are pretty slow."
One of the commanders called out to her. "We gonna be doing some more training, then, to learn how to coordinate with 'em?"
Ella considered this for a moment. Ideally, the crew should have some training to work with the Canadians -- but this was such short notice, and they were going to move out in less than a day. She decided that morale and alertness would be more useful than a few hours of training.
"We've done so many scenarios with infantry support that I don't think that will be necessary. Today may be your last day on Earth. Do whatever you want with your time -- but please show up tomorrow well-rested and without hangovers."
As the crews gratefully set off to enjoy themselves, Ella knew that she didn't have to worry about them getting drunk or staying up all night. They wanted to be alert as much as she did. She wouldn't allow herself any relaxation, though. As soon as they left, she took out one of the folders she used for tactical notes, and began sketching revised battle-plans that included the commando forces.
Daviad woke up to the sound of the alarm and quietly got dressed. Today was the day. In about two and a half hours, the improvised tanks should be rolling into town. He and his friends had spent a lot of money to rent these hotel rooms, but it would be worth it -- the balconies provided great firing positions. Plus, they needed a place to sleep.
After hanging the Do-Not-Disturb card on the doorknob and blocking the door with a chair, Daviad roused the rest of the team. After eating a quick breakfast, everyone began checking their weapons, confirming that everything was charged and ready. Seven months, four ambushes, all leading up to today. The atmosphere was very tense.
After what felt like days of waiting, Daviad received an encrypted message. It was short and to the point. "Entering town. Prepare for a fight."
In a farmer's field, at around fifty minutes to midnight local time, three dozen rockets were revealed. They had been smuggled in and carefully hidden for the past week, but now they were almost ready to launch.
The platoon leader checked his watch. The next alien occupation air patrol would be coming in three hours. Although the timing was tight, they had to complete all the checks before they could safely launch.
The pilots sat in their fighter capsules as technicians scurried about, testing and checking. Some tests were somewhat improvised: the technicians would fire an antipersonnel laser at each capsule twice, once to test the shield, and then with the shield turned off to test the armour. One of the capsules had a defective shield, which "flickered" slightly, allowing some of the laser through. The ablative armour held up, and the technician knew there was no time to troubleshoot it -- he simply swapped it for the spare shield generator, and then confirmed that the new shield worked.
One of the command capsules, which had a crew of three, had a slow leak. With only thirty minutes to launch, the technicians, with the help of the crew, lathered the outer hull with dish soap while overpressurizing the capsule, welded a small cap over the source of the bubbles (and therefore the leak), and covered the area in duct tape. The crew made sure to triple-check their pressure suits. Just in case.
"Mission Control" was the semi-sarcastic name given to a group of computers and radios in a nearby cave. They supervised the setup, but they also had several news channels running on TVs in the background. When they started to see a Breaking News story about enormous war machines moving into a small town in Texas, with other reports of riots and resistance coming in, they decided to trigger the launch. All the important checks were done, and the technicians were ready to get away from the rockets at a moment's notice. Within two minutes of the decision, there were multiple loud booms as forty people in thirty-six makeshift rockets began blasting towards their increasingly confused enemy.
"Sir, we're getting reports of a disturbance in Sector B4-Central, planetside."
The commander of the occupation forces took a sip of coffee, a drink he developed a fondness for after a friend in the exploration team introduced it to him. "What kind of disturbance?"
"The natives, uh, appear to have formed a small army. They're declaring independence from the United Syndicate, sir."
There had been a few members of the ruling caste who had escaped immediate detection, but they were only able to evade capture for a few weeks. Had one remained hidden and raised an army-in-exile? The commander decided to start with a simple question.
"They seem to be unhappy with us, sir. They want to end the occupation. We checked the archives, and it seems to be a quirk with this species, they attack their rulers every so often. I've prepared some literature from the former local ruling caste on how to deal with it."
"As long as it remains isolated it can probably be controlled. Deploy some light vehicles, but I don't want any shooting if it can be avoided. I'll look at the info."
As the orders were relayed to the planet, the commander began to skim the first digitized book.
"Let's see... I'll start with Chapter Six -- this is no principality, but it was conquered through 'our own arms and ability'."
Pau was in the lead tank, inside a steel bathtub. There were no windows -- instead, three large monitors displayed the live feed from six cameras on the shell of the vehicle, and one camera from each other tank. The cannon was controlled remotely. Although there were three people in the tank, they all had armour between them, and any one of them could control all functions if the other two were incapacitated.
The tanks made it a decent ways to the centre of town before a few alien vehicles made a roadblock. The alien vehicles shouted an ultimatum through loudspeakers -- something about surrender. Pau spoke into his headset. "What is that thing, and can we fight it?"
He got a response. "They're basically patrol buggies. Their plinky mag-cannon can't hurt our big tanks, but they might pose a threat to the smaller ones."
A quick evaluation: They had six large armored vehicles and twelve small ones. Each of their vehicles had a cannon large enough to damage the enemy, who had brought four buggies. This was decidedly unfair, and it was probably a good idea to keep it that way.
"All units: fire at will."
The buggies were efficiently replaced with smoking wrecks. Only one managed to get a shot off, and that shot was absorbed by Pau's tank's shield. As the armoured vehicles continued moving forwards, Pau activated his vehicle's integrated bullhorns and began ad-libbing a call to arms. "All citizens of Earth, join us! This is a revolution! The occupying tyrants are unprepared and caught by surprise!" He continued at some length. At first no-one reacted, most people still hiding in their homes. Then the pre-planted actors came out of their houses, intentionally drawing attention to themselves. It had the desired effect: Once a few people moved, peer pressure kicked in. More and more people armed themselves however they could and joined the group. Soon there was a mob five hundred strong, chanting and yelling, moving towards the spaceport that was the primary target of the attack.
The constellation of thirty-six spacecraft entered an eccentric polar orbit around Earth. Their orbit would swing them all the way up to the alien space station, they would do a quick flyby, and then hopefully fall back towards Earth before taking too much damage from the station's guns. Their goal on the first pass was to disable as many surface-mounted components as possible.
There was no hope of sneaking up on it. Geostationary orbit was far away from Earth, so the station saw them coming a long way away. Within minutes of the station coming over the horizon, two ships near the station started burning to intercept the fighter constellation. In one of the three-person capsules, Ricard, in command of the constellation, pulled up an image of the incoming ships.
They were nearly identical: two ships of the same class. They were fifty metres from bow to stern and eighteen metres across at their widest point. They appeared very aerodynamic, so they were probably designed with atmospheric flight in mind. They were accelerating at 0.1 gees, so they didn't have as good a thrust-to-weight ratio as the fighters -- but given their size, they probably had fusion reactors, meaning they had almost unlimited ∆v. The commander noticed similarities to the smaller ships of the first alien attack, so these ships were probably fairly old. Nonetheless, they each had two railgun turrets, and Ricard thought it unlikely that the human shields could absorb a single hit from one of them. They would have to evade.
The alien vessels were hurtling towards the constellation, and their radars were scanning. Their railguns -- or rather, the radars aiming the railguns -- were not accurate enough to be effective at this range, but once they got within about six or seven hundred kilometres they would be deadly. Although the constellation would only be within six hundred kilometres for less than two minutes, that would still be enough for most of them to get shot.
Ricard split the constellation into four smaller groups. As they approached five thousand kilometres from the alien vessels, each group burned in a different direction. The orbital change was significant, and it would be impossible for each alien ship to intercept more than one sub-constellation per orbit.
The two alien vessels did not split up. Both burned nadir, pushing themselves towards Ricard's group. After sending a message to the other sub-constellations, Ricard made a plan to hopefully evade the two ships.
At ten minutes to contact, he had his group burn prograde. The plan would involve entering the effective range of the railguns, and he didn't want to stay there for very long. Accelerating seemed like a good idea.
One minute to contact. He grabbed his mic. "Everyone, point zenith, prepare to burn." RCS thrusters fired, bringing all the fighters pointing in the same direction.
Ten seconds to contact. It was time. "Everyone, burn now!"
The first railgun shell missed due to the unexpected acceleration. The alien ships slowly rotated and began burning zenith to follow the fighters, but they were outpaced by the fighters' superior acceleration. They continued firing, and four fighters were destroyed. Their pilots died instantly, the kinetic force of the impact roughly equivalent to a small nuclear bomb. The fighters' responding shots were largely ineffective, dealing some superficial damage but little else.
Very soon, the fighters were out of effective railgun range, the alien ships carried away by their own orbital velocity. The alien ships were practically undamaged, and half of Ricard's sub-constellation had been destroyed, but at least it would be more than an hour before the ships came around the planet and would be able to engage the fighters again. Ricard ordered a small correction burn, bringing the remainder of his sub-constellation back to intercept the station and join up with the rest of the fighters.
The commander of the occupation forces cursed at his aide. "Your books are useless! The first one is a rant about mercenaries that repeatedly insults the reader. The second one is a song about how human blood is a fertilizer. And this! This is an autobiography of a man who never existed, living in a colony that never existed, who started an organization that never existed to fight another organization that never existed, and explaining capitalism, AI, and railguns along the way!"
The aide apologized profusely. "I'm sorry, sir, this is what our searches came up with. I can try again if you'd like."
The commander rolled his shoulder, roughly the equivalent of a human shaking their head. "That probably won't help. What's the status on those unregistered spacecraft?"
"They've evaded our intercepting ships and are headed our way, sir. We estimate they'll be within range in one twentieth of a local cycle."
The commander cursed again. There officially aren't any swear words in United-Standard, but unofficially there are many vulgar loan words and rude idioms. "Stupid out-of-date landing craft! How am I supposed to fight a battle with a pair of glorified transports?"
After taking a moment to compose himself and looking at the map, he gave some new orders. "I want the ships to return to synchronous orbit near the station. They can't evade us if we don't chase them. Get all hands to battle-stations, but maintain the hold on communications for now. Planetside command is still delegated to regional leaders. Ideally we can deal with this without getting either of us being brought before a tribunal for incompetence."
Daviad saw the mob moving downtown. Light tanks patrolled through the alleyways as the heavy tanks (and a few light ones) moved down the middle of the road. The crowd energy was intense, and Daviad took the opportunity to pump his team up a bit, and soon everyone in the room was whooping and cheering.
The cheering was silenced by the engine sounds of three alien helicopters. They descended near the crowd and hovered at building level. A few seconds passed, and a third of the crowd fell to the ground, screaming in pain. Some sort of microwave weapon, thought Daviad. Yep, one of the helicopters has a big antenna on it. He took aim with his plasma rifle, motioning for his teammates to do the same with their weapons. On the count of three, they fired.
The plasma shot tore through the helicopter's fuselage as the kinetic projectiles damaged the antenna and stabilizer propeller. The helicopter spun out of control, crashing into a house. Daviad winced, not knowing if there was anyone in the house. He took aim at the second helicopter anyway.
The other two helicopters fired into the crowd, not recognizing where the shots had came from. Daviad's team destroyed the second helicopter as the tanks tore into the third with heavy machine-guns.
Some fifteen people had been shot in the few seconds before the helicopters were taken down. Far from pacifying the mob, this simply incensed them. This was no longer a rabble -- it was a riot.
The alien soldiers guarding the spaceport had little to no combat experience. They were utterly unprepared for the wave of screaming humans that descended upon them. One group managed to retreat to a defensible position, and were able to force the mob to retreat. Their success was short-lived, though, as Daviad's crew attacked their position from behind, mag-rifle rounds bouncing off their power armour. Sulvan grabbed a key-card from an alien corpse and opened the door to the spaceport, allowing the mob to pour in as the tanks secured the area.
Pau and Ella exited their tanks, speaking with Daviad's team briefly. Ella had bad news. "They're sending so many troops. Every alien within two thousand kilometres is converging on our position. We're going to be overrun."
Sulvan spoke up. "Aren't there riots breaking out everywhere? How can they send everyone our way?"
Ella looked down. "Most of them have already been suppressed. Not everyone has tanks or power armour."
Pau looked at the spaceport. "I've got an idea. Let's go to space."
On board the Orenat, the cargo freighter landed at the spaceport, two dozen alien guards pointed their guns towards the cargo hatch. With the freighter landed, control priority was held by the spaceport to facilitate loading of cargo. Even though the spaceport was overrun, controls inside the spaceport still overrode those inside the spaceship.
As the hatch opened, flash-bang grenades and bullets flew in as mag-rifle rounds flew out. The firefight was brief, with power armour-wearing humans charging in to surround the defenders. Within two minutes, the mob had reached the bridge.
The human leader spoke United-Standard in a robotic voice. With the power armour covering his entire body, he almost looked robotic itself. Along with all the other humans, he had his rifle pointed at the surrendering alien on the bridge.
"Alright, you. You are the captain of this ship, correct?"
The captain meekly responded in the affirmative.
"My allies have sent me schematics for this ship. I know its capabilities. Do not try to fool me. Activate life-support in the cargo holds and take off. Do not make any transmissions."
The captain unsteadily got up and began pre-flight procedures.
Erenchiz, in command of the two alien ships in orbit and captain of the Meranin, received the distress call from the Orenat.
PRIORITY MESSAGE BEGINSOnly one ship would be needed for the rescue, so Erenchiz moved to rendezvous with the Orenat and left the other ship on intercept with the fighter constellation.
SPACEPORT UNDER ATTACK BY HUMAN FORCES
ORENAT ESCAPED WITH CIVILIAN SPACEPORT PERSONNEL
THREE INJURED ONBOARD
PRIMARY COMMS DAMAGED
LIFE SUPPORT DAMAGED
NEED TO DOCK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
PRIORITY MESSAGE ENDS
Next to the Meranin's interior hatch, medics were standing at the ready. A field hospital had been set up as they waited for injured to come onboard. The distress message had not told them how many evacuees there were, so every patch of floor, wall, or ceiling had been converted to a sleeping area. As the hatch unsealed, Erenchiz floated towards it and extended his appendages in greeting.
It came as a shock to all onboard when a flash-bang grenade was flung through the opening.
The boarding action was nearly bloodless. Using the captain and medical personnel as sapient shields, the mob literally flew through the ship and took control of the bridge. The Meranin had no marines on board, and indeed only a few small arms. It was a bigger challenge for Daviad to convince the mob not to kill the prisoners than it was to take them in the first place.
Ricard received the encrypted message: "Alien warship captured. Please rendezvous." Finally, some good news. Unfortunately, his fighters didn't have the ∆v to rendezvous with the captured ship -- it was in an equatorial orbit, and they were in a polar orbit. No matter. He asked that they join up with him and waited. They agreed.
The other ship had returned to the station with less than half an hour to spare. The captured Meranin, along with the constellation of fighters, was on its way. Against larger targets such as the station, the railguns had an effective range of two thousand kilometres. Moving at a relative speed of 4.3 kilometres per second, they would be in range for just under eight minutes -- and would then move away from each other for another eight minutes, but the efficacy of the railguns would then be drastically reduced.
It wasn't even close. Ricard had given the order to use as much ∆v as necessary, so the fighters nimbly accelerated this way and that, dodging hundreds of railgun rounds. The Meranin got the first shot against its erstwhile allies, knocking out one of the station's turrets in the opening salvo. By the time the constellation flew past, the enemy ship was destroyed and the station had been pacified. On board the Meranin, Pau, Daviad, and Ella agreed that they had won -- there was only mop-up left. Amid jubilation and hugging, Ricard yelled at no-one in particular through the radio, his voice playing in the Meranin's bridge. "This is it. It's time to take the fight to our Syndicate friends. No star is safe from us now. I've just reviewed the plans for that ship you're on, and it's true. We have captured the secrets to faster-than-light travel!"