by Ocean Seven
A short story about the death of a venerable old spacecraft, the FFS Downspiral
|[Track: Don't Panic by Evader Music]|
Scene: Upper atmosphere, Aurora IV, ISCS B-36 Galaxy, ISCS 44-92075 Galactic Wall
**0:00 - 0:40 - Opening Preamble [Descent]**
"Mains one, two and four are down and out. Five and eight are down but we're attempting to restart. Three, six and seven are still lit. Most of the booster cluster is in similarly sorry shape, and the auxiliary cluster is totally destroyed."
"VAS zero one through zero four come back in good shape; zero five has errors and some damage, but it's still lit and isn't expected to fail, but the igniter is toast. Zero six, obviously, is about ten thousand kilometers behind us and in a million pieces. Zero seven to one four are in various states of damage; just at a glance, the ones that are still lit you can be damn sure won't come back if we lose them, and the rest are just dead weight. Shame we don't have those explosive ejectors they have on the CSSHMI Fortress legs or we could at least shed that mass."
"We're definitely coming down here, sir. J-Shield is functioning and coming back online, however."
"No new contacts since the ram, sir."
"Keep the J-Shield shut down then, we're not going to need it and it'll pop if we lithobrake anyway. Reform airshield to reentry."
"Aye, sir, J-Shield null, airshield to entry."
**0:40 - 1:39 - Opening Rise [Turbulence? Engine ignition failure or engine failure at 1:01]**
The collossal ACV shook despite the airshield. The Downspiral was capable of atmospheric operation, but as a massive, blunt rectangle, was not ideal for the task. The airshield, airtight in the depths of space, was permeable in atmosphere and thus not fully effective; now and then the ACV would plough through dense patches in the atmosphere, which would slam hard against its flat nose, making the hull rattle violently despite its famed resilience.
It was the sixth or seventh big bout of turbulence that Main 8, having been relit alongside Main 5 minutes prior, failed, simultaneously with VAS 05. Down to half her main engines in atmosphere, and barely half of her verticals, the already tense situation turned grim, with projections showing the ship practically scraping the ground, with just two kilometers of room to spare- more than enough of a reserve for the ship, had she been in peak condition.
As a precaution, all nonessential crew were ordered to evacuation drivers.
**1:39 -2:11 - Pre-Combat Segment Rise [Immediately prior to igniting remaining VTOL engines]**
"Forty thousand and dropping."
"Standby for vertical reignition."
"Cap-4 voltage's going haywire, ejecting starboard modules eighty-four and eighty-five, standby for shock. Ejecting... now."
A muffled rumble as two huge cubes were blasted clear of the ship, disintegrating immediately after contacting the high velocity airflow screaming past the Downspiral's flanks, fragments adding a few more gouges to the scarred plating, knocking a few of the gun batteries off.
"Shit, Cap-5 and Cap-6 are going nuts, fuck it, switching to direct reactor drive, cable can take it for a while."
A subsonic shriek coursed up from the reactor, three kilometers behind the bridge, spinning up from its normal revolutions as it began to fluctuate, bypassing the capacitors and directly powering the damaged engines.
**2:11- 2:55 - Combat Segment Begin [VTOL ignition, altimeter countdown, descent tension]**
"VAS gimbals are in position, sir!"
"All available power to VAS... now!"
The ship shuddered as ten of its sixteen VAS engines surged, and began to list lazily to port.
"Main Three to afterburner, fight that roll!"
The vibrations increased in intensity as Main Three flared brighter, its damaged vector plates struggling to keep position. The list decreased slowly, but the heading projection edged dangerously closer towards the mountain ridge.
The VAS thrusters and Main 3 began to glow an angry orange, as the sink rate lazily began to decrease- it wasn't going to be pretty, and they hadn't expected a miracle, but it was maddeningly slow nonetheless. The projection was still dangerously close to the side of the mountain, but at least began to climb upwards, giving them some more breathing room.
**> 2:47 - 2:56 - Combat Segment Gong [Brace order, ACV clips first mountain at second gong]**
It didn't last.
The ACV's tortured hull shrieked again as it ploughed through another rough patch.
The heading projection dipped, turning red.
"All hands, brace for low impact."
Another shriek, more sinking. A low, steady tone began to drone on over the cacophony as the projection line turned solid, indicating that they were, in fact, going to clip the ridge- but only from below, and only just.
But it was going to reset all the progress they'd made with pulling out of the dive all the same.
The human members of the remaining bridge crew tensed as they watched the ridge draw closer through the AR panelling. Even the captain, enhanced as he was, was still white-knuckling his console. The seven foot god of war calling the shots behind him, however, was stoic as ever, if perhaps giving a bit of a grimace, old habits from a more human era trying to take over.
"Impact in five. Four. Three-"
The Downspiral shook with the fury of a thousand atomic bombs as it slammed into the top of the mountain ridge, its chin buckling with the impact, the compression crushing the forwardmost AML batteries that weren't sheared off as the ridge slid against the underside.
Those in the ejection drivers barely felt a jostle, nestled in shock-absorbent padding, and most of the bridge crew- tense, but not fully tensed due to the seven foot monster deliberately counting down two seconds late, in anticipation of them tensing too much- took it well, thanks to the bridge's shock absorbers, dampers, their suits and harnesses. Most of them were still lifted an inch or two out of their seats, to slam painfully down thereafter.
**2:56 - 3:39 - Combat Segment Con't [Main engine failure, Bitching Betty indicates descent rate will result in impact of second range]**
Concurrent with the impact, Main Eight sputtered out and died as its housing cracked internally, allowing exhaust to engulf its compartment. Swiftly overpressurized, the compartment's connecting surfaces were bent out of position, and the already weakened casing failed spectacularly as pressure mounted from its exterior, severing the engine at the injector, which then blasted the whole thing out of the ship. Not cleanly- the violent vibrations causing it to oscillate as it went out, pulping the already damaged compartment and pulverizing through the retaining wall towards the weaker booster ring, the engine's exterior structure shearing off early on, and the remainder of the five hundred meter internal root wobbling out like a demented noodle. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of destroying Main Seven's external housing partway down the line, although the compartment held internally and the root itself, critically, remained undamaged.
That was the good news.
The bad news was when all of the remaining VAS thrusters in the aft segment failed and VAS zero two was ripped free of its mount, VAS zero one evading this fate by virtue of being crushed as the chin collapsed inwards, pinning the thruster between the bent forward bulkhead and straining rear bulkhead, despite the gimbal having snapped.
The automated warning system's dull tone evaporated post-impact, replaced by the shrill warble of the master caution, half the annunciator panel lighting up, and a monotonous warning from Bitchin' Betty that, paraphrased, dutifully informed the crew that they were not only not going to pull out of the descent, but they were, in fact, going to hit the second range head-on if they didn't do something, and fast.
**3:39 - 4:23 - Combat Segment Drawdown [Engine restart reports failure, ejection of crew, impact]**
"Engineering, damage assessment."
"None of the remaining engines that went down are responding, and I'm sure you heard Bitching Betty."
"Noted. Remaining bridge crew, you did your best. It's time to evacuate."
"Don't start, there's nothing to gain by us riding this thing to our deaths. He gave you an order, move your ass!"
A mad dash of clicking harnesses and boots on sterile paneling.
"And you, sir?"
The captain hesitated at the doorway, directing his query at the seven foot monster, still standing calmly in front of his seat.
"Staying, naturally. I owe it to this ship to see her down to her final rest."
The captain looked back at the looming mountain range, swept his gaze across the now deserted bridge, and nodded once.
"Best of luck to you then, sir."
And he was gone.
As the door to the bridge closed, the giant sighed gently, and remotely keyed the bridge to attach to the guide rails and move forward. The quiet hum of the internal generator was all that was audible, aside from the occasional high shriek that bled through, as the bridge traversed its track forwards, passing through multiple, thick blast doors. The rumble of the evacuation drivers firing was only barely perceptible as the crew was hurtled out and away from the stricken ACV, borne aloft on powerful ascent engines, appearing to any onlooker as a great pair of wispy wings bursting forth from the Downspiral's deck.
It only took the bridge twenty seconds to move to its forward position, connected to a physical viewing slot at the front of the ship, but even for the seven foot monster, it was an eternity. Not out of the stress of impending impact, but out of a desire to see out the ship with his own eyes, and watch the range that would be the ship's final resting place fill the slit.
As his eyes took the sight in, his mind communicated with the ship for the last time, their shared connection lasting hundreds of thousands of years of simulated time. As the mountain filled the viewport, the seven foot giant took a step back, and stood beside his command chair. Had anyone been present to see this, they would have found it a bit odd that he would not seat himself, but to the giant the seat was occupied by the spirit of the Downspiral's AI- an old fragment of his mentor, from a time before he had splintered off and took the 753. LRM and its attendant fleets, and the one who had given him his body.
Giving the AI form- trivial, for the time frame called for- the seven foot monster relaxed once more, closed his eyes and simply waited, letting the venerable AI revel- briefly- in its newfound true mortality, alone and free.
**4:23 - 4:41 - Final Drawdown (Mute at 4:36)**
The last second was the longest. The seven foot monster could never truly filter everything out- the benefits were excellent in and out of combat, but were a bit of a downside in situations like these, even if it was mostly symbolic- and the AI, mortal now as it was, was still 'projected' by the ship, and thus still had behind it the capacity to make that last moment draw out for nearly as long as it wished.
But all things must come to an end, and after a satisfying eternity,
. . .
A spectacular, reverberating, all-encompassing noise accompanied the crumpling nose, the sheer mass of the ACV ploughing nearly a kilometer straight into the mountainside before even its legendarily durable armour cracked and buckled in its fight against the creation of hundreds of thousands of years of patient, glacial progress by plate tectonics. Even as the relatively hollow hangar section collapsed like an accordion between the mountain and the rapidly advancing rear segment, the colossal ACV's reactor underwent its final, terminal shutdown. Explosively detached from its mountings, the oscillating reactor shook itself apart, exposing its payload. The rear segment of the ship finally caught up with the rest of it, promptly slamming the rear wall of the reactor's enclosing module against the volatile payload.
Where there would have been a nine kilometer long ACV accordioned down to a kilometer and a half of pulverized scrap, a third of which would have been left outside the kilometer-deep hole the machine had punched into the face of the mountain, there was now the brilliant blinding light of an IBAE BAAES SSBCV-77 D-Class MWP reactor payload going nova.
Visible from orbit for a brief moment, the nova outshone the local star, before swiftly dying down into an obscuring cloud of dusty debris rocketing into the upper atmosphere at an astonishing rate, the thunderclap of air rushing in underneath audible to anything left undeafened from the explosion.
Where there was once a mountain range with a kilometer and a half of debris jutting out of it, then a brief nova, there was now hundreds of millions of metric tons of dust, and an angry, raw crater, surface still boiling away, radiating away the furious heat of the heart of one of the most iconic machines of the GDA.
And so it was there, buried under what remained of the mountain, having fallen back down to the earth as dust, that the seven foot monster found rest and respite for a time in the closest state to a true death as he could achieve.
He would be needed again- and would be found by then- but for now, he simply slept, one with the ashes of a friend put to rest.
VAS: Vertical Ascent System; sixteen large, gimballed engines that can be deployed from the bottom of the sides of the Downspiral and her sister Juggernaut-class ACVs, the SwarmCarriers. They're arranged in two groups of eight, with a gap in the middle of the ship, and can be stowed away when not needed. They are primarily to keep the massive ship aloft in atmosphere, but are gimballed to enhance the ship's ability to turn and rotate in space as well.
Mains: The SwarmCarrier's main engines are a ring of eight massive engines situated around an even larger central engine, on the rear of the ship. The whole engine bank is concentric, with the boosters forming a more numerous ring around the mains, and the auxiliaries an even larger and more numerous one around the boosters.
CSSHMI Fortress: Coronet Steel Superheavy Mechanized Infantry is a designer of very large engines of war, primarily 'walker' type vehicles. The Fortress in question is one of their largest designs, and its ability to explosively eject any of its many legs if they become jammed due to battle damage is referenced- the VAS engines aboard the SwarmCarrier do not have this functionality.
CIC: Combat Information Center.
LiDAR: Light Detection and Ranging
J-Shield: Juggernaut Shield, one of the most powerful energy shields in the canon, it is exclusive to the Juggernaut- and WMD-class SwarmCarriers, and are durable enough to survive heavy ramming, although even they will be brought down with enough violence. Here, the ship's Juggernaut Shield has been brought down due to heavy, extended fighting- the CIC is asked to check the LiDAR, and reports there are no new contacts, indicating that there is nobody out there but them- they have destroyed everything else in the battlespace, but in turn, have been crippled. The Juggernaut Shield was also designed specifically to allow the SwarmCarrier to ram through larger asteroids, but here it is indicated by the unnamed 'seven foot tall monster' (This is Legion General Third Class Ocean Seven, well after the events of the Fourth Great Defensive War) that it doesn't need to be recharged- it's powerful, but not going to do them any good when 'ramming' a planet.
Airshield: The SwarmCarrier is additionally equipped with a strong airshield, a shield that allows the vessel to retain an atmosphere. As the SwarmCarrier is, as the name implies, a carrier vehicle, this allows it to open its massive frontal hangar doors without needing to depressurize and repressurize its huge, five kilometer long hangar bay. The airshield can be tuned to become aerodynamic for atmospheric use, making up for the SwarmCarrier's completely flat and very un-aerodynamic nose.
ACV: Armoured Combat Vehicle. The in-universe alternative term for military-use spacecraft, with the term spacecraft, or 'crafts' being typically used for smaller ships such as bombers, fleet tenders, and very small patrol ships. Nearly everything else from Frigate-sized to the largest vessels are otherwise termed ACVs.
Bitching Betty: The name given to the monotonous, automated voice found in military aircraft (and many civilian ones) that warns the pilot in a calm, neutral voice of various things such as low altitude and overspeeding. Its neutral, female voice was chosen to help convey important information in critical situations, as panicked humans tend to follow or listen to those who seem calm and composed, and this has saved many NATO pilots in crises. However, it also triggers routinely in non-critical situations, where its monotonous, repetitive nature is a bit less appreciated, hence the affectionate nickname 'Bitching' Betty.
753. LRM: 753rd Luft- und Raumfahrttechnik Machinenbaugruppe (753rd Aerospace Engineering Shipyards), the premier aerospace naval designer of the GDA.
IBAE BAAES SSBCV-77 D-Class MWP:
Imperial BioAndronian Empire BioAndronian Aerospace Engineering Shipyards Self-Sufficient Battle Carrier Vehicle Mk. 77 Delta-Class Mobile Weapons Platform, colloquially known as the 'SwarmCarrier.' A massive, no-nonsense brick of an ACV, at 9.2 kilometers long, three tall and two wide, excluding the extra length of the engines jutting out (which are largely contained within the rearmost segment of the rectangular vehicle.)
It was designed by Snpr Mk.VIII, when he was still working under the auspices of the Imperial BioAndronian Empire (IBAE), though along with 753. LRM, most of the SwarmCarriers were brought over to form the new Global Defence Army (GDA) fleet when he splintered off, disillusioned with how the IBAE was handling universal affairs. Specifically, this is the Juggernaut-class variant, with the WMD-class used solely by the IBAE's Four Quarters Home Defence Fleet being even larger variants. Rumours abound of several experimental versions launched long ago, completely automated, and with self-construction capabilities integrated into their hulls, allowing them to reach an arbitrary size if given enough time and resources...