GOOGLE DEATHDEALER - HIGH ORBIT
The Google Deathdealer Dreadnoughts looked a lot like the Battlestar Galactica from the old TV series with some Imperial Star Destroyer features tacked on at the last minute. This was because that was exactly what happened. Sergey Brin really wanted to go full out Battlestar Galactica because the Star Wars Tie Fighter based Google TOGs had become a running joke in the chat rooms. Google's new FANG, another short range space fighter, was modeled heavily on the Battlestar Vipers, which turned out to be a more practical form. So sticking with a Battlestar theme made sense to Brin for the mothership design, but at the last minute Larry Page freaked out and insisted on the new ships looking like Imperial Star Destroyers, which was impossible given the Google's timeline for the assault on the Aurora. Sergey did what he could to placate Larry by adding a completely useless conning tower but the whole thing ended up looking like a mess. Even worse, there wasn't time to build enough FANGs. So half the short range fighters were old TOGs and the fighter fleet had no consistent theme at all. On top of that, Larry and Sergey got into a huge fight about what FANG stood for. Sergey just felt it stood for Fangs of Google, without the Google part. But Larry wanted it to be an abbreviation for Falcon Attack Next Generation, which just seemed stupid to Sergey since there never had been a first generation Google Falcon. Moreover, Sergey would just die if people thought it was supposed to be based on the Millennium Falcon which would be chat room hell all over again.
The only good news was they had succeeded in getting the jump on the Aurora and Amazon's new battle fleet and it looked like it would be a pretty easy slaughter, which was how Sergey preferred his space battles.
Amazon's own attack fighters were demolishing the lousy TOGs one by one, but the new FANGs were more sturdy and Sergey was sure they would win the day thanks to superior numbers. The new Deathdealer plasma torpedoes, much to Sergey's surprise, managed to hit their target rather than self-imploding as they had in tests. If the Deathdealers could manage to get a second volley off without falling apart, the Aurora would be doomed, along with the leaders of every major Google competitor.
But despite imminent victory, Sergey was pensive as he paced around the flagship Deathdealer's bridge in his squeaky Iron Man costume. Larry rarely left Google's Tower of Doom in the Googleplex anymore, so Sergey was leading the attack. Away from Larry he could dress however he liked and Iron Man was his favorite. Even though his suit couldn't fly, the fake ARC reactor glowed on his chest and that looked pretty spiffy.
"You seem sad, dear." Eve said as she ran a sympathetic hand over his armored shoulder. "Penny for your thoughts." She was dressed as Kitana from the Mortal Combat video game, without the face mask, of course. The skimpy blue silk revealed every delicious curve on her body and she smiled at Sergey winsomely. Sergey couldn't resist but to briefly smile back, then quickly forced his lips to straighten.
"It's nothing. Nothing. What's the status on the plasma torpedoes?"
"There are some problems loading in the second volley. They seem to be overheating in the chambers.”
"I knew they would screw up! They were glitchy all the way through development! These new state of the art weapon systems can not be rushed and we wasted all that time attaching the stupid Star Destroyer conning tower!"
"Serg, baby, relax. Your plan is working brilliantly. The Aurora is already in flames. The FANGs will be able to finish it off, even if we can’t get the torpedoes working again. What's really bothering you, my love?"
Sergey sighed. "I don't know. I just… I feel so alone."
"Even with me at your side?" Eve said warmly.
Sergey abruptly turned away and burst. "You're not really Eve! You're just a stupid robot Eve! I want the real Eve!”
"I'm better than the real Eve." The robot Eve said firmly.
"She has to be on the Aurora. She must have managed to get the Pogo Rocket there after destroying the TOGs we sent for her. How she did all that with an unarmed ship I can't imagine. She’s so incredible.”
"If she is on the Aurora, then she will soon be dead."
"But Larry wants her alive!"
"You don't have to do everything Larry says. You're better than him!"
"I am?" Sergey asked softly and slowly turned back to her.
"Much better than him." Robot Eve said, taking his chin in her hand.
"You're just saying that because I programmed you to say it!"
"Sergey, listen to me." Robot Eve held his chin and looked deeply into his eyes. "I'm serious. I am a testament to how great you really are. You are a genius. Like Tony Stark."
"I can't even get my Iron Man armor to fly!" Sergey said, tears welling in his eyes.
"You will. You will, dear. Now stop thinking about Larry, and stop thinking about the real Eve. She's dead. I'm the real Eve now and I love you. Focus on what a great leader you are and let's defeat those Amazon turds. Okay?" Robot Eve smiled again and Sergey's heart melted.
"Okay." He said, feeling better.
HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
Back on the Aurora, in Bezos' hotel suite the real Eve could see through the floor to ceiling windows that Amazon’s space fleet was mounting a counterattack on Google’s. But it was too late to save the Aurora; the docking hub in the center of the space station was burning uncontrollably and the fires were spreading though the carousel spokes toward the outer loop of the hotel. The entire station would soon be gone. Her thoughts were confirmed when the windows in front of her started cracking from the structural damage and air began to escape.
Bezos hit a button on his Space Admiral armor and a retractable helmet and visor sealed over his head, Iron Man style. He looked at Eve with a smug smile. "And you thought this was too much, didn't you? It wasn't vanity. I like to be prepared."
Eve said nothing, but silently admitted he was right. She rushed over to the suite's emergency station and grabbed a stock helmet for herself and snapped it into her Virgin Galactic spacesuit. The cracks in the windows were spreading rapidly.
Bezos radioed into his helmet, "Amazon Fleet, this is big leader. I'm safe and will be joining you soon." He turned to Eve. "You'd better take one of the lifepods while you still can. This station is doomed."
"What are you going to do?" Eve asked.
“I’m going to join up with my fleet and try to hold them off until you and the others can escape.” At that moment, the windows completely shattered and what was left of the air in the hotel suite rushed out in a single burst. Eve grabbed onto the bar to stop herself from going with it. Bezos hit a button on his armor and a jet pack on his back fired up. He rocketed out the missing window and flew into space. Right toward the raging battle between his fleet and Google’s.
The room’s gravity was fading and becoming unsteady as the spinning station wobbled and slowed without the balance of the demolished hub. Alarms flashed everywhere and a message came over the loud speakers: “Alert! All personnel head to the lifepod stations for emergency evacuation. This is not a drill." Eve was only modestly surprised the recorded voice was again Panther, the hip-hop star who had done the countdown. Branson liked his celebrity connections. Eve rushed out the suite.
CORRIDOR - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
Despite the chaos, the Virgin staff was highly professional and organized as they directed the guests to the hundreds of lifepods situated all around the circular hotel facilities. Guests helmets and spacesuits were checked before being loaded into small four person lifepods which were sealed and shot down to Earth. The craft would be easy targets for Google's fighters but there were obviously no better alternatives.
Arianna spotted Eve and rushed over, grabbing her arm. "Quick, this way. I saved a spot for you on Branson's private ship."
"I've got to find Yuliya."
"There's not room for two more. She'll be fine with the others."
"Suit yourself." Arianna rushed off, grabbing a dazed Leo Laporte and leading him away.
The corridor went black as the power cut off. Small yellow emergency lights kicked on. Eve rushed past hotel staff as they tried to direct her to the lifepods. She scanned the crowds, searching for Yuliya.
A voice came up in her helmet radio. "Eve? It's Oliver! Are you okay?"
"Yes! Where's Yuliya?"
"I've got her. We're at life station 5."
"Then go ahead and leave while you can!"
"Yuliya won't go. She won't get into the lifepod without you."
"Okay! I'm coming!" Eve had feared as much. She ran down the curving corridor checking for the numbered life stations. She ran past station 8 and then station 7. She picked up speed as once she knew she was going in the right direction. Another explosion rocked the station and what tiny fingers of gravity had been holding her feet to the floor fell away.
Her momentum floated her up into the center of the corridor but she soon began to slow and drift. She frantically tried to swim herself forward but it was almost useless. Damn, that smug Bezos with his jet pack, she thought. She finally drifted far enough to what had been the roof of the corridor that she was able to kick something solid and propel herself forward and down to the floor. As she flew down to the former floor, she fiercely kicked off again, forward and up. She continued on in the same way, ricocheting between the floor and roof until she finally reached station 6. Everyone, including the staff, were gone. All the lifepods had taken off.
Oliver's voice came through her headset again. "Eve?"
"I'm coming! I'm close."
An even larger blast tore through the station again. This time bursting the corridor in front of Eve and filling it with fire and fury. The concussion from the explosion send Eve hurling back through the tube, like a bullet shooting out of a gun barrel. In the wrong direction. Eve shouted into the headset as she tumbled past station 7. "Oliver! Oliver! I can't get to you! You have to go now! Drag Yuliya in if you have to! Tell her I order her to go! Tell her I order her!"
Before Eve could hear a reply, a defining sound and flash of light followed by more fire and shattering particles enveloped everything around her. The force of it crushed her body like being squeezed in a giant burning fist. She blacked out.
Eve regained consciousness slowly. She felt pleasantly warm and sleepy, drifting in the zero gravity like flying in a dream. She heard what sounded like distant knocking on her bedroom door, as if her mother was trying to wake her in the morning. She forced herself to open her eyes, she didn't want to be late for school.
She instantly snapped back into reality. The Aurora was completely destroyed, reduced to chunks and bits around her. Small pieces banged into Eve's helmet with loud thumps. She felt warm because she was freezing to death, her space suit was not insulated enough to withstand prolonged exposure to the coldness of the airless vacuum. She knew she had been right to be suspicious of its sexy form fitting design. As she moved her body, every bone and muscle ached in sharp pain. She checked the spacesuits bio reading on her forearm display. She had about five minutes of oxygen left.
Eve never feared death; she had come so close to it so many times fighting for Apple she usually was more surprised when she lived. But she hated being helpless, and as she assessed her situation she couldn't come up with any possible plan that might offer even a shred of hope. She was floating without any possibility of directing her path and no nearby refuge to seek even if she could. There was simply nothing to do but wait until her oxygen ran out, or she froze to death first.
Out past the ruin of the Aurora, she could see the spectacular battle still going on between the space fleets of Amazon and Google. She now had time to study the odd design of the Google Deathdealers, which looked if someone had changed their mind midway through construction. She took note of the new Google FANGs. Not being a Battlestar Galactica fan, she didn't recognize them, other than to note the design seemed more practical than the fragile TOGs. Amazon's fleet was made up of three types of space craft, none of which were based on any comic books or movies. There was the mid-sized Amazon Battlecruiser, similar in design to their standard cargo/passenger craft but more heavily armored and bristling with weapon's systems. The Amazon Hammerhead was their two person light attack fighter, deriving its name from the heavy armor plating on its front. Finally there was the Amazon Man-of-War, their largest craft and the mother ship for the Hammerheads. It was longer than five football fields, but still a third of the size of the Google Deathdealers.
In terms of force strength, from what Eve could tell Google had gone into the battle with a enormous numerical advantage. She had counted at least ten Deathdealers back in Bezos hotel suite and hundreds of attack fighters. The Amazon forces she had viewed upon her arrival at the Aurora consisted of two Man-of-War, six Battlecruisers and a few dozen Hammerheads. Now, from what she could tell, five of the Deathdealers were missing, at least three destroyed and the field was littered with demolished TOGs. It didn't appear that Amazon had lost any of its capital ships.
Despite the loss of the Aurora, the tide seemed to be turning in Amazon's favor. During the war briefing Admiral Bezos had reveled that Amazon's space weapons strategy was very different than Google's. Google's weapons were all light based, mazer and laser. (Eve would only learn later about their new plasma torpedoes.) Amazon had a few beamed weapons, mostly for anti-missile defense, but their main attack weapons were kinetic railgun cannons that fired depleted uranium shells that could cut through just about anything. On top of that, Amazon had invented a reflective coated and heat shielded armor that stood up well against Google's light based weapons.
SILVER KNIGHT - AMAZON MAN-O-WAR - HIGH ORBIT
On Amazon's flagship Man-O-War, the Silver Knight, Admiral Bezos was also assessing the battlefield, though more pensively. The railgun cannons had turned out to be very effective against the Google TOGs, but much less so against the new FANGs which were better armored, faster and more maneuverable. Thanks to their own armor, Amazon had not lost any big ships and most of their fighter fleet was intact. But Bezos was concerned about this powerful new weapon Google had. It had wiped out the Aurora in just a few shots but for some reason they had not turned it upon the Amazon fleet. Even more mysteriously, five of the giant Deathdealers had blown up on their own, or at least Bezos had no information to indicate it had anything to do with their counterattack. The remaining Deathdealers seemed to be holding up well against Amazon’s attacks, if only due to their huge size. The biggest question in Bezos mind was how many more Deathdealers there might be floating in orbit and what other secret weapons systems Google might have. He started to worry about the safety of Amazon's own half-a-dozen space stations. So far there were no reports of impending attacks on them.
Bezos knew he had to fight Google off long enough to give the executives on the Aurora a chance to escape on the lifepods. But they were long gone and the Aurora itself was a total lost. With no clear victory in sight, Bezos made a decision not to chance any significant losses.
"Let's get the hell out of here." He said to his Executive Officer. "There's nothing to fight for anymore.”
GOOGLE DEATHDEALER - HIGH ORBIT
"They're retreating." Robot Eve told Sergey.
"Good! We'll hunt them down like dogs and give no quarter." Brin said, bursting with confidence. But his face filled with doubt as Robot Eve looked at him with arched eyebrows. "Don't you think?"
"No." Robot Eve said. "We'd better cut our losses while we can. We took care of the Aurora. We need time to regroup and study the fight data.”
Sergey paced unhappily. Robot Eve was right and he knew it. Amazon's fleet was not made up of helpless sitting ducks like the weaponless Virgin Pogo Rockets and the Aurora. They seemed to have armor systems that held against the mazers, and their railgun cannons were deadly. The only thing that would have worked against Amazon's big ships were the new plasma torpedoes, but five of the Deathdealers had self-destructed because of torpedo malfunctions. Fortunately, Robot Eve had quickly sent orders to stop using them before the entire fleet was gone. Meanwhile, almost every TOG had been destroyed; Sergey was actually grateful for that, but there had been a significant loss of life on Google's side. That was not good for morale, even within an evil empire.
"What do you think we should do?" Sergey asked.
"Head back to the Wrath of Larry." Robot Eve said firmly. "This Amazon fleet is much bigger and more powerful than we suspected. But wasn't built to defend the Aurora. They had to have to be planning an attack themselves. They probably want to take out the Wrath of Larry nuclear deterrent."
"Yeah, I worried about that too." Sergey sighed.
"We have to get the plasma torpedoes perfected. And while we're at it, we can go full out Battlestar Galactica. You can tell Larry the conning towers were a problem in battle."
"Wow!" Sergey bubbled. "That's a great idea. We'll blame everything on the conning towers!"
Eve watched as the two warring space fleets, the largest by far ever assembled by mankind, almost simultaneously abandoned the zero gravity battlefield and left in opposite directions. As her body continued to succumb to the dizzying warmth of hypothermia, she felt mildly disappointed. Not that she had held out any hope either side could have rescued her. She was merely one speck out of a million in the expanding cloud of rubble from the Aurora. But she missed having a show to watch and a side to root for. However significant, or not, the losses Google suffered, they had succeeded in destroying the Aurora, and it appeared the Amazon fleet had fled first. Google supporters would be insufferable for days on the social media.
Her oxygen lamp flashed red to indicate her air supply was gone. She had tried using her helmet radio to contact the Amazon fleet, even hacking it through her forearm controls to test different frequencies, but it appeared to have too weak of a signal. She took what she imaged might be one last long look at the distant sun, so amazing and powerful from space and then at the moon, so mysterious and cold. She then shifted her eyes to the beautiful Earth, which had created her, wanting her last images to be of it. Her breathing grew shallow as the last traces of oxygen disappeared and the remaining carbon dioxide began to poison her. She wondered how the ultimate battle between Apple and Google would play out. Steve Jobs had been overtly pessimistic the last time they had spoke. “It is always easier to destroy than create,” he had said. Once Google had shifted all its remaining financial resources to mayhem and death, there was little that could be done to stop it, he had told her. Yet she couldn't help but think Jobs had some trick up his sleeve; some rabbit he would pullout of his magical hat, like he did with the iPod when Apple was at its lowest. She hoped he would do it once more before total darkness descended upon humankind.
That was when she spotted it. A tiny shadow of a space craft heading toward her, silhouetted by the blue Earth. It was a Virgin lifepod. As it neared, the polycarbonate canopy split and the rear slid back. A space-suited figure floated out attached to a safety tether. Eve knew instantly it was Yuliya, though her visor simply reflected the bright moon, with crystal clear crafters forming eyes, a nose and even the curves of a smile.
As the lifepod drew closer she could see Oliver piloting it, determined, but concerned. Yuliya continued to float upward, the momentum sending her toward Eve. She was just barely a few feet off in her trajectory, and they both reached out to clasp hands. Yuliya quickly pulled Eve close and snapped another tether onto Eve's belt loop. She did it with such confidence and precision Eve would have assumed she had a lifetime of astronaut training, rather than a hasty pre-rescue briefing from Oliver.
"I can't believe you found me." Eve said through the helmet radio.
Yuliya's face appeared through the visor, gleaming even more brightly than the moon had. "I had to. I love you."
Eve looked into her eyes, sadly. This time, there was no escaping the message her silence sent. Yuliya got it, and it clearly hurt. "Let's get you inside." Yuliya said and went back to business. She began to pull on the tether and drag them both back to the lifepod. Oliver did the same on his end.
Eve's body was so stiff from the cold, and her blood oxygen so low, she could barely do anything to help. She had never been rescued by anyone before. Oh, there were many times in battle where her life had depended on the brave actions of others, Steve Jobs many times, Jony Ive, Tim Cook, and Zuckerberg in Paris. People had covered her back, sent in timely reinforcements, or slaughtered an unseen enemy before they could do Eve harm. But she had never been "rescued" in the sense of being totally helpless and certain to perish without assistance. Even when Jony Ive destroyed the giant Googlebot with a .50 caliber sniper shot to its motherboard just before it pounded down on Eve's head; there was still a tiny chance Eve might have rolled away in time. Assistance had always come while Eve was in battle, and in battle anything was possible. In Paris, when the Google riot suppression offer had a garrett around Eve’s throat, there was still a chance she might have flipped him, even if Zuckerberg hadn’t axed him first. Before there was always at least a sliver or possibility of a different outcome. But this time, with her oxygen gone, and only seconds to spare, it was clear Eve would be dead if Yuliya had even hesitated in her determination to rescue her. And as much as Eve hated being emotionally blackmailed into saying "I love you," she hated being rescued even more. The embarrassment of it made her otherwise dizzily warm body shiver uncomfortably. She fainted.
VIRGIN LIFEPOD - REENTRY - EARTH
When Eve awoke her helmet was off and Yuliya was gently wiping her forehead with a warm towel. Any trace of hurt or disappointment had fallen from Yuliya's face and was replaced by a motherly satisfaction that Eve was safe and doing better. Eve decided she didn't much care much for that expression either.
Oliver monitored the lifepod controls as it tilted its heat shield in the direction of its fall and began reentry. The craft shook as the gravity of Earth grabbed it firmly and pulled it downward. The dark skies of space rapidly turned blue.
"We're going down. It’s going to be a little shaky. All strapped in good?" Oliver said and glanced back at them. Yuliya double checked the belts holding Eve to her chair and nodded. "You doing better?" Oliver said to Eve, seeing she was awake.
"You took a big chance coming back for me." Eve said, her throat painfully dry.
"You have no idea how big. We barely had enough fuel to left to get down to Earth. And we almost got nailed by a few stray shots from the battle. But Yuliya was sure you were alive and we could find you. A sixth sense."
Yuliya nodded and Eve turned to her. "Thank you." Eve said as sincerely as she could, hoping to make up a little for other missing words. Yuliya excitedly popped a big kiss on Eve's lips and then triumphantly strapped back into her chair, mission accomplished.
The blue sky outside turned to red flames as gasses from the thickening atmosphere were compressed by the lifepod’s heat shield until they exploded into fire. Eve took deep breaths to refill her body with as much oxygen as possible; even as she pondered the oxygen burning up outside the ship. Feeling returned to her fingers. "Where is this thing going, Oliver?"
"It's on autopilot to our hotel on Necker Island. Once we land, and a doctor checks you over, you can have a complementary two night stay, or we can fly you anywhere you want to go."
"There's no time. Can you override the controls?"
Oliver looked back concerned. "If you're worried about security I can assure you the island is a fortress."
"I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the Earth. We have little time left to save it."
Oliver nodded. "Where do you want to go?"
"Africa. I have to find someone. And there’s not a second to spare.”
To be continued…
Next episode: Into the Heart of Darkness