The convention hall was silent, save for a few people shifting in their seats and a single, awkward cough. Many people in the audience scoffed at the crackpot ideas they just spent forty five minutes hearing while others were deeply fascinated for a variety of reasons. Most, however, were utterly horrified. Having just made their final points, the three men stood on stage with a projected image behind them depicting brainwaves that had been digitized. The three men expected the silence and when they felt enough time had passed for the audience to process what had just been said, the central figure began to speak, “In conclusion, we have adequately proven that environmental catastrophes, overpopulation and unregulated corporate greed will result in the collapse of society in the coming decades, eventually resulting in human extinction: a concern many of our colleagues share. Our hope lies in our technological abilities, not in deaf politicians or impotent NGOs. Even if we somehow agreed to act now, there would be no way of turning back the clock so saving the planet is a fool’s errand and yet, there is hope for our survival. Due to the recent alien invasion, humanity has made several scientific break-throughs, resulting in mankind advancing by centuries in a short period of time. Due to these advancements, we have found ways to transfer human consciousness into mechanical armatures. The only way for organic life to survive is to eradicate organic life. We must allow technological evolution to take course,” the man raised his fists in the air as his voice rose, “Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you once again… Abandon the flesh! Enter the Second Phase!”
Russian farmhands drove tractors across a massive field, the sun barely rising over the trees on the horizon. One driver yawned and took a sip of coffee from his travel mug just before something caught his eye over his shoulder. He turned his head just in time to catch a glimpse of a flying object heading toward the grove of trees in the distance. It quickly disappeared in a flash of light as it hit the ground. Moments later, a series of massive explosions erupted across the farm, destroying hundreds of acres in a second.
“As you know, the Second Phase’s weapon is called Angel-1,” Kisi explained to the agents, “It’s a self-driving aircraft launching somewhere in the Ural Mountains. It is meant to have a one-way path halfway across the globe, releasing thousands of computer-guided drones before self-destructing. These drones will fly to strategically located farmlands and burn them down using napalm. The result: a third of the world’s farmland destroyed in 24 hours.”
“We’re looking at food shortages, riots, potential societal collapse all over the globe,” Mansoor explained further, “The results of this attack would not be immediately felt but would have long lasting repercussions.”
At Headquarters, Sean Pierce stood in front of a wall-sized screen displaying the world map with multiple satellite images with Kim Seoyeon at his side. “Satellite shows something big moving out of the Urals right now,” Pierce explained over radio, “Thankfully, it’s not as fast as the Cloudburst. Hats off to Rex Robinson for that.”
“Do we know the targets?,” Mansoor asked.
“Seoyeon can tell you that.”
“So I looked up the largest farmlands in the world,” she began, “There’s a bunch in China and Australia, but I think the first few stops are in Russia since the weapon is coming from the Ural Mountains. After that, it’ll probably hit China and go from there. I managed to predict its trajectory and the targets it’s most likely to attack so you can get ahead of it. Sending it to you now.”
“Good luck, Badges,” Pierce said proudly.
Once they got the coordinates, Bronson arched the Cloudburst through the air, then hit full-throttle, “Hope everyone strapped in.” At high-hypersonic speed, they set out across the North American continent and in the span of a little over 30 minutes, were in Russian airspace. “Coming up on the Ural Mountains,” Bronson said as he slowed the Cloudburst slightly, “Klausman, you’re up.” Klausman moved to the co-pilot’s seat and turned on the weapons’ display, “I have it on satellite imaging.” He displayed the image to everyone in the cabin. A silver, spherical object moved over the mountains with two dark wheels crossing over it, forming an x-pattern. As Klausman zoomed into the image, they noticed round hatchets along the wheels which resembled eyes.
“Do you think they know we’re here?,” Alam asked.
“If they don’t, they’re about to,” Klausman answered.
The wheels on Angel-1 began to rotate and shift around the craft, one “eye” opening as a metal tower began emerging. The tower held a long row of car-sized drones with white bodies and black wings. “Weapon systems ready,” Klausman announced as hatches slid open along the bottom portion of the Cloudburst’s wings, displaying two rows of missiles. The Cloudburst moved into the path of the Angel-1, still miles apart from one another and not visible to the naked eye. The drone at the end of the tower lit up as it went online; large metal couplings opened and the drone’s thruster ignited. It flew into the sky before dipping down as it made a path to its target. Klausman’s display showed the trajectory of the drone, “Missile locked,” and he quickly pressed a trigger, “Firing.” The projectile shot forward, arching into the air as it followed the drone. The explosion wouldn’t have been as big if it hadn’t been for the napalm onboard the drone. The orange globe lit up the sky, followed by smaller globes stretching past the clouds. The Cloudburst passed through a portion of the flames as it sped toward its destination. The windows in the cockpit and cabin became dark and clouded as the ship burst through the other side, trails of flames following it as it made its way toward the Angel-1.
“Nice one,” Jones shouted excitedly.
“Not to be that guy,” Bronson began, “But this thing likely has far more drones than we have missiles.”
“We have to find a way to shut that thing down,” Mansoor added.
As the ship flew closer to Angel-1, the team could see it clearly out the windows, a silver orb partially hidden behind clouds. “Hey, Bronson,” Alam called out with a smile, “That’s no Moon.” Bronson laughed loudly, “Ah, well done.” The floating weapon dwarfed the Cloudburst by quite a bit with their ship’s small size and speed being a potential advantage against the behemoth. In a secluded bunker, the Second Phase High Command watched a series of holographic screens providing a 360 degree view around the weapon, and they quickly spotted the approaching ship. Angel-1 was rushed into launch due to IMD involvement, resulting in some systems not being available such as radar or automatic defenses. Because of this, the High Command saw to it themselves to use manual override in case of attack. Their metallic bodies didn’t move but their digitized, unified minds began taking control of different facets of the Angel-1.
The extended drone-tower retreated back inside the wheel, a round, metallic door sliding shut behind them. The wheels turned once more, resting vertically along the surface of the weapon before revolving once more with a smooth, silver surface facing the IMD craft. “Can’t be good,” Bronson jerked the ship to the side, “Brace yourselves. They’re not too keen on what we’re doing.” A dark line was seemingly drawn down the center of the weapon before both halves separated and slid back, revealing a tall, glowing cylinder with several feet of coils and machinery connected to it. Due to the size of the weapon, it looked like a canyon made of solid steel. The cylinder glowed brightly, purple energy gathering up before a beam exploded from it, creating ambient sound that echoed through the mountains, followed by vibrational waves. As Bronson dipped the craft down, the vibrational wave struck, shaking the entire ship and rattling everyone inside. The Cloudburst dropped suddenly and with the drop in altitude, warning alarms began blaring throughout the ship. Bronson pulled back on the tiller, bringing the ship up and around to the rear of the Angel-1. It began to revolve as it chased the smaller craft.
“The bad news is that they have a defensive weapon,” Bronson called out, “The good news is that thing can’t bloody maneuver.”
“We can use its size against it,” Mansoor opened the emergency compartment, quickly retrieving twin jet packs, “If it has trouble locating us, it’ll have trouble locating two human-sized targets.”
“I am both excited and nervous about whatever plan you have,” Jones told her.
“Good because you’re a part of the plan. So is Frakes.”
While Mansoor explained the plan, Angel-1 turned and released another blast. Bronson brought the ship across the horizon, far from the waves but it also put a great deal of distance between them. After losing sight of their target, the High Command began checking their holographic screens as well as all available sensors. In the sky, Bronson looped around and began flying to the rear of Angel-1. “We’re moving in fast and they’re gonna notice us in a second,” he warned, “You gotta make it count. Also, you better hope they keep their weapon engaged.”
“I know the danger,” Frakes told him as she placed a helmet over her head. She and Jones stood at the side hatch, wearing protective gear and jet packs. Jones finished putting on magnetic gloves which were identical to the pair Frakes was already wearing. “Ever so chipper,” Jones turned to Alam, “You sure you’re ready, Alam?”
“Directing two targets in free fall from a moving aircraft onto another moving aircraft is easy enough,” he gave her a knowing smile, “But Kisi is gonna help me focus my power just in case.”
“I’ll be guiding you the entire way.”
“Hold on to your arses, she’s turning `round,” Bronson warned the team as the Angel-1 turned to face them. Bronson pulled up as he passed over the ship and another blast erupted underneath them, bouncing the ship into the air. Jones and Frakes were already wearing magnetic boots to secure them inside the cabin and Alam used his telekinesis to ensure he wouldn’t hit the cabin ceiling. Bronson righted the ship and then nose dived toward the massive, open hatch in the surface of Angel-1, just above the cylinder. “Approaching target,” he called out, “On my signal”. Alam opened the side hatch while holding himself in place using telekinesis as force winds entered the cabin. Bronson called out, “Now!” and pulled up, flying the ship just above Angel-1. Frakes and Jones leapt out of the side hatch, telekinetic energy swarming them as they dropped toward the metal ledges below. Once they were in range, they turned on their jet packs and quickly flew to an outcropping that was roughly the length of a surf board. They used their magnetic boots and gloves to stick to the surface of the weapon as their ship flew off into the horizon. Frakes used her phasing powers to slip through several feet of metal while Jones remained outside, still hanging on and hoping that she wasn’t detected or that the force winds wouldn’t send her to her doom. A moment later, a phased hand jutted out, snatched her wrist and then rendered her immaterial before pulling her inside.
Frakes and Jones dropped down onto a metal catwalk inside the craft. Jones looked out and marveled at the spherical rows of drones intertwined like a bizarre Escher sketch, the contours of which, could scarcely be made out due to the maintenance lights along the multiple catwalks that rose and fell in the center. The architecture could only come from the creativity of three human geniuses while the practicality could only have been achieved through computer processing. It was chaotic but orderly. Frakes, as expected, was less distracted. She reached into her pack and removed two explosive charges, “It’s best to drop one charge at the top and one at the bottom”. Jones took the charges in her hands, “Let’s hope we get the lot of `im,” then teleported away. She appeared at the end of a tower at the top of the sphere, standing on a drone. She set the charge, making sure it was secure before activating the countdown timer, then she leapt off, dropping down a few stories before teleporting to the bottom level. She placed another bomb on the catwalk next to another drone before teleporting back to Frakes. “We only have a minute,” she told her as she held her hand and the two phased through the inner wall. They went into freefall once again as the Angel-1 left them behind, still in pursuit of the Cloudburst.
Frakes and Jones fell through the clouds and had a sprawling view of the mountains below; a second later, their jet packs flared, sending them into the air. Meanwhile, the Angel-1 set its sites on the Cloudburst in the distance. “Incoming,” Klausman warned as he watched the approaching weapon on his radar. The metallic orb took aim and readied to fire. Inside, a bomb exploded, creating a massive chain-reaction as orange globes erupted in a circular motion along the top dome, quickly making its way to the center. Below, a similar wave of explosions began to erupt and moved upward. The outer shell of the Angel-1 began to crack as violent bursts began to puncture it from the inside. The defensive weapon exploded in a ball of flames before it could fire, followed by several more eruptions. Inside a hidden compound, the High Command watched silently as holographic screens began going offline one after another. The Angle-1 began slowly descending toward the mountains below, black smoke following it. It soon hit a mountain top, releasing one more eruption that could be seen for miles. Large chunks of the mountain top broke apart and fell into the valley below along with twisted metal and machinery. The High Command sat in darkness. There was no emotional reaction.
The Cloudburst hovered on the precipice of a cliff and waited. Soon, Frakes and Jones swooped down and entered through the side hatch. “Great work, everyone,” Mansoor said with a slight smile. “Great plan,” Jones sat her jetpack down and breathed a sigh of relief as she brushed her hair back. “Drinks on me when we get back,” Bronson flew them into the distance, “Let’s take `er home.”
NOTE: I hope you enjoyed the completion of this first storyline. We’re taking a break from Badges for a little while so I can introduce another title. I figured I can only do about three series at once and with Cavalier and Winghaven both continuing their storylines, this is a good chance to shine a light on another corner of my little universe I got going here. Stay tuned.