Dawn of the Third Age
Chapter 1: End of Peace
It is the dawn of the third age of mankind, 25 years after the Human Covenant War. The Humans and the ex-Covenant member race, the Shangheilli, are now at peace with one another and most of the scars from the war have healed.
This is now a new era of exploration and discovery as both humans and their Shangheilli allies are now exploring the rest of the galaxy, not content to stay in their own corner of the galaxy.
The year is 2577, and the new age begins NOW.
In orbit of Babylon
The Space above Babylon is busy with ships from both Human and Shangheilli coming and going at all hours of the day. The space was also filled with groups of warships, patrolling the system. Ever since the Human-Covenant war ended humanity had learned its lessons well, never again leaving any of their colonies without protection again. In fact, nearly ten percent of humanity is in the military at all times now.
One of these groups berthed at the orbital complex of Babylon was an Exploration Battle Group, one of several that had been commissioned recently to explore the uncharted areas of the Sagittarius arm of the galaxy.
It was centred on the Explorer ship Cortez, a massive vessel five kilometres long with a blocky bow which houses the shuttle bay, sensors and habitation section. Behind it is a long scaffold structure used in the construction of jump gates. Going aft is the Engineering section with eight large fusion ion drives. It is equipped with the most advanced interceptor grid, the Mk.4, and a small number of light plasma beam/pulse cannon turrets.
With the Cortez were two Tiger class Destroyers, the Agamemnon and the Persephone. The Tiger class destroyer was built around its primary weapon systems, the newly developed Particle Accelerator Cannon and two 600 ton MAC guns, and its six large ion fusion drives with a heavily armoured mid-section with two long hangar bay pods flush against the hull, and was roughly 1.5 kilometres long. Looking from the front you could see that the destroyers were hexagonally shaped, the bow looking from the side looked like the head of an alligator with a very blunt nose. Lighter pulse/beam cannons were arranged in clusters of four with four clusters on the dorsal and ventral hulls and a long line of cannons along the broadsides of the ship.
There were also two Illustrious class light carriers, the Illustrious herself and the Indomitable. They had a basic wedge shape with two banks of engines in the rear and a long hangar deck that went from bow to stern. Along its side were 24 cobra launch bay doors for the rapid deployment of Aurora Starfuries. They are lightly armoured, but heavily shielded craft with a decent Interceptor grid for its size and a number of plasma cannons mounted ventrally and dorsally.
Rounding off the combat element were eight Wolf class gunships, roughly 250 meters long they had an aerodynamic hull, looking much like a big flying wing, with large powerful engines mounted in the wings with a very tight Interceptor grid, the tightest ever deployed on a ship this size, and eight pulse cannon turrets mounted in such a way as to give them the ability to fire all of them forward in an alpha strike as well as provide full spherical coverage.
Coming along with them were two civilian Phoenix class Fleet tender/supply ships, the Clarions Call and the Fortuna Major. They was outfitted with only their Interceptor grid and shields for defence, but they were a huge ships, 2.5 kilometres long and capable of carrying tens of thousands of tons of cargo in their vast holds, including fuel, spare parts, food, water and ordinance, carrying everything the battle group would need for a year
Onboard the Agamemnon a young man in a grey captain's uniform was in the ship's bridge, just ahead of the ship's CIC, Combat Information Centre, stood looking out at the view that the bridge's huge view screens could offer. They covered the entire front section of the bridge and wrapped around the top half of the rest, giving the bridge crew an unprecedented view outside that very few onboard could get, since the ship had absolutely no windows. The bridge and CIC was buried deeply in the alligator head of the ship, and the bridge was the only place that offered such a good view of the surrounding space, and Captain John Sheridan, along with the bridge crew of the night shift were taking the opportunity to just look out at the view of the planet and the surrounding space.
From one of the side corridors that led out to the starboard side of the ship came a no nonsense looking female officer, Commander Susan Ivanova, her long brunette hair spun tightly into a ponytail carrying a couple of electronic pads. She immediately saw the captain standing by his command chair, looking out at the view.
"I thought I'd find you here," she said, making her presence known.
"Just taking a look at the view before I have to go back to the paperwork," he said plainly.
"Well unfortunately for you this needs both your signature and thumbprint right now, otherwise the paper pushers at command will bury us in an even bigger mountain of paperwork," she retorted, shoving the pad into his hands, the captain grunted in annoyance at his 1st officer's interruption and signed the damn thing with the attached stylus and pressed his thumb onto the thumbprint scanner, then went back to admiring the view, paying special attention to another vessel parked outside.
Following the captain's line of sight she spotted the behemoth that Sheridan was studying. "The Cortez, sir?" she asked curiously.
"Yes, she's commanded by an old friend of mine, Captain Jack Maynard. He actually served during the Human-Covenant War and was supposed to be an admiral by now, but when the Navy began designing the Explorer class ships and he got the request to become part of the new explorer fleet he jumped at the chance".
"Was he your first commanding officer, sir?" Sheridan nodded.
"Yes, on the old Nova Dreadnought Iowa. One of the finest officers I ever served under. Taught me pretty much everything I know about command". The captain then changed the topic. "We still not back on schedule, Commander?"
"Yes sir, the supply ship Fortuna Major is still having trouble with their navigational systems, they say their AI is on it, but she's a civilian Dumb AI and you know how slow one of those can be. Sometimes I wish civilian AIs weren't so simpleminded," she lamented.
From one of the many holographic emitters placed around the bridge a young man wearing Ancient Greek warrior garb sprang forth with lines of code cascading over his body, giving off a soft golden colour.
"Granted civilian AIs may be a little less sophisticated than full military Smart AIs, like myself, but are still quite capable Commander, and I would appreciate it if you wouldn't speak so degradingly about my kind," said Agamemnon, the ship's built in artificial intelligence and resident 5th generation Smart AI, based upon the highly successful 3rd generation Smart AI Cortana.
"I'm just saying that civilian AIs just aren't as good as full military AI, like yourself and the others, even the Dumb AI on the Wolf class gunships are better than those glorified, oversized calculators..."
"Enough Commander, Agamemnon," Captain Sheridan quickly stepped in. "I will not have another argument here on this bridge about AI sentience and rights."
Both Agamemnon and Commander Ivanova muttered apologies. Agamemnon knew he shouldn't have brought it up while on duty, while Commander Ivanova remembered that most AIs, or at least Smart AIs, were based upon scans of real peoples flash cloned brains and had many of the same emotions and mannerisms of the original person.
"How long will it be before we're ready to depart?"
"If the estimate made by the Fortuna Major's AI is correct we could be on our way within the next four hours," Commander Ivanova replied.
"Good, then let's continue with the preparations, I'll be in my office," he said, moving off to the side to his day cabin, there were still a number of reports that needed his attention.
Hyperspace, just beyond the Sangheili Commonwealth's border
In the dark red and stormy environment of hyperspace, a fleet of twenty ships, all in grey and light green colour schemes with a weird looking pair of pincers on the bow, and guns fixed in every conceivable firing arc, were riding a hyperspace beacon to a nearby Sangheili colony. The fleet had detected a new set of hyperspace beacons, and were going to investigate if this new species was either to be conquered and exterminated or left alone, to be conquered at another time.
These ships belonged to a race of humanoid felines, with a penchant for war and conflict, the perfect little agents of chaos. Their race had already taken roughly half of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, with Alaca and Balos firmly under their control, the Abbai and Brakiri home worlds blockaded, and the Drazi were fighting a war of attrition at several of their outer colony worlds. These races were older than them, and more advanced, but they were still victorious. They are called the Dilgar, and they were coming out of their self-imposed isolation with a roar. Most of the smaller League worlds have already fallen with most of the older races holed up in their home system or fighting a war of attrition like the Drazi and these little conflicts, or cleanup operations as they're called by the Dilgar, could last for several more years.
This battle group was part of the Ever Victorious 1st Strike Fleet, one of the most hardcore and experienced veterans of the League conflicts. Lead by War Captain Vir'Sha, a Dilgar in his middle years with grey lines of hair appearing, is one of War master Jha'Dur's most capable War Captains, with experience going back to the capture of Balos.
On the bridge of his flagship Vir'Sha was getting impatient.
"How long until we reach our target," he barked at his navigation officer.
"Another hour sir, the Hyperspace currents in this area of space is most difficult to navigate," the navigator responded.
"Very well," the War Captain muttered. He was not known for his patience, but he was a strong and capable leader, in Jha'Dur's eyes, with a ruthlessness that made his enemies cower in fear.
The Fleet continued on to their target.
The beacon they were heading for came from a UTG jump gate, open to both UNSC and its allies vessels, but no one else could use it, something Vir'Sha had not expected. Jump gates back home were usually open to everyone and the destruction of a jump gate was the same as declaring war on all sentient races that used them.
Located close by was a recently established Sangheili colony, with ten thousand inhabitants and was a joint venture with the Lekgolo, who used their enhanced strength of their Hunter form to help mine the planet for its vast natural resources for trade with the humans and other former Covenant species.
The colony had a single star base in orbit, a central sphere 400 meters in diameter, an inner habitation ring outside the sphere and an outer docking ring. Adding to the defence were 25 defence satellites covering the planetary settlements, and three old Covenant frigates for anti piracy; even if the old covenant was defeated there are still elements that are actively attacking and raiding colonies.
The stillness of space was then disturbed bye opening of five blue independent jump points. The Dilgar had arrived.
In hyperspace at the same time the Cortez Exploration Battlegroup was on its way toward unexplored space, when it got the distress signal from the colony.
Onboard the Cortez a man in his late fifties, but looked to be in his late thirties thanks to modern medicine, was lightly snoozing in his quarters when he was awoken by his hand Link.
"Yes, what is it", said captain Maynard. "We're receiving an emergency transmission on the interstellar emergency broadcast frequency, sir. A Sangheili colony appears to be under attack by unknown forces," said his xo.
"Do we know the colonies status?"
"Negative sir, all we know is that they are under attack and it started roughly half an hour ago. It's one of the newest frontier colonies, sir, and you know that those sorts of colonies have only a skeletal defence".
"Is there anyone else who can get there to help?"
"No, sir, both our navy and the Sangheili are spread pretty thinly in these parts".
"Very well, how long would it take for us to get there?"
"45 min, sir, depending upon the hyperspace currents, but our warships could get there in half the time if they go on ahead. We weren't built for speed, sir."
"Get me a line to the Agamemnon," Maynard ordered.
He waited a few seconds as the CIC patched him in to the stellar com system and got in touch with the Agamemnon's Captain.
"John, I assume you've heard the latest?"
"Yes sir, just got woken up by my xo myself, what's the plan?"
"I want you to take the Agamemnon and the rest of our combat forces to that colony, at maximum burn, the Cortez and the transports will follow you and stay in hyperspace until the attackers have been dealt with. You know, these are the times I wish I was still in command of a Nova."
"Aye sir, however may I suggest that we keep the Indomitable and two of our gunships with you and the transports, you weren't meant to go into battle you know," said Captain Sheridan knowing that there was no way that Captain Maynard could fault his logic.
"Well Swamp Rat I guess I'll just leave you with these parting words; May god stand between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk. Do the UNSC proud."
"Aye sir," said Captain Sheridan as he saluted and the channel closed.
In Hyperspace nine combat vessels broke off from their flagship and made a hard burn for the Sangheili colony, not knowing that their action would signal the end of a peace that had lasted for twenty five years.
At the colony the battle was not going well. The Dilgar had destroyed two of the three frigates that were guarding the colony, and the last one had nearly no shields left, and had damage to almost all sections. The defence grid was barely holding together, but many of the defence satellites had fallen to the fast and very powerful Thorun attack fighters. The space station was still in the fight, unleashing plasma torpedoes and plasma lances at the attacking fleet. The Dilgar weren't stupid however, so they launched their fighters to take out weapons emplacements, and defence satellites. Their war ships stayed out of effective range of the stations plasma weaponry, while still in effective firing range for their particle lasers, stabbing constantly into the stations shields, weakening them significantly.
While the station and defence satellites are busy, two Dilgar Tratharti Cruisers move in on the colony priming their mass drivers for firing.
At that moment Sheridan's forces came through the local Jump Gate and saw what happened next. The cruisers fired their mass drivers and struck the colony, eliminating everything and everyone not in a shelter. That act made Sheridan's blood and everyone on the UNSC warships blood boil.
"Launch all fighters, and prepare to engage the enemy. I want firing solutions on those ships yesterday", he ordered in a cold voice.
"Aye sir," said Ivanova and carried out his orders.
Thunderbolt Starfuries began launching from the Agamemnon and Persephone and Aurora Starfuries from the Illustrious.
Squadron Leader Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Sinclair was rearing to go in his Thunderbolt Starfury in the launch tube of the Agamemnon with his RIO, along with the rest of the twelve fighters of Ghost squadron. The same squadron his father commanded during the Human Covenant war.
"You ready for some action Mitchell," he asked his best friend and RIO.
"Always am, skipper. Always am. Weapons are hot and we are fuelled and ready to go."
"Just the way I like it."
With that Ghost squadron was flung out of the launch tubes at full speed out of the Agamemnon's portside launch, while Eagle squadron, Lieutenant Commander Sakai in command, launched from starboard. The Persephone and Illustrious launched their own fighters just after the Agamemnon's launched.
The Starfuries quickly formed up by squadron into V Formations, went to full burn against the enemy fighters. The first to fire were the Auroras who fired two AMRAM anti-fighter missiles each at the approaching Thoruns. Half executed evasive manoeuvres while the other half fired their nose mounted rapid fire bolter cannons. Some of the missiles got shot down, but because of the sheer volume of fire several Thoruns got themselves blown up. Those that went evasive almost had to black themselves out just to avoid getting hit, unfortunately since the missiles were programmed to find a new target, once the target lock was broken, many more fighters were destroyed when they came out.
Then the Auroras came into pulse cannon range. Using their superior manoeuvrability, they came at the Thoruns at oblique angles, and the Thoruns could not turn fast enough to face them, the Terran fighters shot at them from their blind spots before they could react.
Next came the Thunderbolts, they launched a pair of their own missiles, only these were the new Phoenix cluster missiles, each containing ten smaller missiles, and a carrier vehicle with a very large conventional warhead which would turn the armoured nose casing into an oversized fragmentation grenade which would slice and dice any fighter stupid enough to get to close. Almost 90% of the Thoruns were destroyed outright, the rest attempted to retreat towards their carrier vessels.
"Bring us into firing range and have gunships split up into pairs and flank that fleet", Captain Sheridan ordered. The Agamemnon surged forward with her main guns primed and her MAC guns locked and loaded.
"Tactical, target the smallest capital with the MAC guns, have the Persephone follow suit, let's see what these people are made of," said the Captain.
"Targeting solution plotted, locked on," Ivanova reported.
The MAC guns of the Agamemnon and Persephone opened fire in tandem, targeting two Dilgar frigates each. Two of them were destroyed outright, their shields having been disable by plasma torpedoes from one of the Sangheili frigates, the other two that still had fully operational shields had big chunks torn out of them, their shields taking the brunt of the hits.
Vir'Sha was in a fury. "Close the distance with those ships and blast them out of the sky, I will not be humiliated."
The rest of the Dilgar fleet moved to intercept the Agamemnon and Persephone, so they could fire their heavy bolters. One minute after Sheridan's strike, the gunships attacked, destroying the remaining frigates and flying at high speed, weaving between the Dilgar cruisers and Dreadnought, crippling the two mass driver equipped Tratharti cruisers and destroyed two more cruisers, and severely weakened the Dreadnoughts shields.
"Bring us into pulse cannon range and prepare for a full Alpha Strike on that fleet, have the Persephone follow suit," Captain Sheridan ordered.
"Aye sir," Commander Ivanova responded. "You heard the order tactical, prepare for full Alpha Strike, communications relay to the Persephone."
The Agamemnon and Persephone lined up and their respective tactical officers turned all weapons control to the AI, because an AI worked a lot faster than a human could. As the two destroyers closed the distance to their enemy, they also came into range of the Dilgar plasma bolters. The Dilgar fired every gun that they had, trying to destroy their tormentors.
"Now that's just rude", commented Agamemnon as he activated the ships rapid fire interceptors. Light blue Gatling pulse cannon fire clashed with white hot plasma bolter fire. The much weaker shots hit the more powerful plasma bolts, the reaction of two different plasma bolts hitting each other, dissipated the enemy's fire. However, due to the sheer volume of fire some were bound to get through and they did. The shots that got through were so few and far between that they almost didn't put any strain on the shield.
"We're in range, sir," Ivanova reported as three bolts of plasma impacted the shields simultaneously in three different locations, shaking the ship up a little.
"Fire at will," the captain responded.
As one the two Tigers unleashed the full arsenal under their command, first the Longbow anti-ship missiles, the replacement for the old Archers. Next the heavy plasma cannons mounted amidships and the smaller pulse cannons firing in pulse mode followed by the PAC and MAC guns. The four MAC guns fired six hundred ton silver slugs, while the mouth of the PAC seemed to charge up with a visible bright green glow then unleashed a powerful bolt of green energy, flying twice as fast as a MAC round. All this firepower, under the direction of their shipboard AIs crashed heavily into the Dilgar lines, the AI concentrating the ships fire on one or two targets at a time.
War Captain Vir'Sha could only watch as his battle group was reduced to scrap metal all around his command, a Meshakur class dreadnought, one of the most powerful warships constructed by the Dilgar, next to the recently built Sekmeth class Battlecruisers. On the viewscreen he saw what those two ships were doing in all their horrifying glory, an Ochlavita class destroyer, a long slender vessel with a pair of wicked pincers on the bow with a mix of both anti-fighter and anti-ship guns covering it, being split wide open by a PAC round, blasting through its shields and armour to set alight the ships fuel stores, splitting the ship in two parts, bodies of the crew being violently ejected into space.
Vir'Sha had seen such things before, but normally not one of his own ships, and the sight unnerved him greatly. He took a look at the tactical display to the side of his ship's bridge and saw that twelve of his ships had already been crippled or destroyed, and a thirteenth was about to be destroyed by a pair of those small accursed gunships, flying along the cruiser's hull and taking out anything that looked like a target and caused one of its reactors to go into meltdown from a lucky shot.
"All jump capable ships are to retreat immediately; we must escape while we can," the War Captain ordered. The Dilgar Dreadnought and two smaller cruisers opened up jump points, quickly escaping into hyperspace followed by another three heavily damaged cruisers, the rest were left to their fate.
The Agamemnon and Persephone's Alpha Strike ended and the rest of Vir'Sha' fleet was either severely crippled or totally destroyed. Captain Sheridan sank heavily into his command chair, the adrenaline rush of battle leaving him exhausted.
"Damage report," he requested tiredly.
"I've taken no significant damage captain, but we lost a couple of Aurora's as well as a Thunderbolt. All crew were rescued though," Agamemnon reported.
"Commander, I want you to organise boarding parties to the intact enemy ships, see what you can find on those ships. I want to know who they are and where they came from because I expect high command will want to know that".
"Aye Sir," replied Ivanova. Better get Major Garibaldi on this.
In the new graveyard of ships above point bravo, the guns were now very much silent. The dead do not care who lives or dies, they just exist as carcasses and stared out into the void. Now the living must prepare for the coming shadow for it may well engulf and corrupt them into something far worse than death.
AN: I hope you folks enjoyed reading this, hopefully improved, rewrite, and please R&R, I cannot improve without feedback.