Early Sunset

Specialist Jamie Perth
Scorpia's Atmosphere on mission day 1 at 1640 hours

“What the frack?”

The bumps and shaking of re-entry had only just settled, when SSGT Loza uttered those words. Jamie looked towards the cockpit, watching her tap against the DRADIS screen, flicking switches and turning knobs over the communications panel with her gloved hands.

“What’ve you broken this time, Sam?” SFC Matheson asked.

“Gimme a sec, Sarge,” she said, checking the dashboard again. From what Jamie could see through the cockpit’s windshield, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Blue skies with only a few wisps of cloud. Perfect weather for atmospheric flight.

“It’s… like we’re in a comms black out, sir. That, or we’re being jammed. But I can’t detect any disruption signal. SNR’s over 40, margin’s good. Bandwidth is good…”

“Give the frequencies a scrub,” Matheson suggested. Then, jokingly, “Have you tried turning the wireless receiver on and off again?”

But the pilot didn’t smile. “Okay. Starting to pick up a bit of chatter. A lot of chatter, actually. But signal strength’s not quite good enough to get a good reading.” She momentarily looked out the canopy, as if something outside might give her an answer to her problem. “Argentum ATC, Backspin. Requesting clearance to enter control zone.”

There was no response.

“Argentum ATC, Backspin. Acknowledge.”

Out of absolutely nowhere, a shockwave of pure force suddenly slammed against the Raptor, sending Matheson off his feet, having just unbuckled himself from the chair and making his way to the cockpit to assess the situation. His entire body smacked sideways against a set of seats, and he fell to the floor. Alarms blared, the sound of engines overcompensating, and the awful dragging sensation in everyone’s stomachs as the craft went into an uncontrolled plummet.

Jamie’s heart had risen to over twice its usual rate, and the first thing that came to his mind was how this would be the final minutes of life he had left. Trapped in a Raptor, falling out of the sky, smashing into the ground or sea below. Pure fear gripped him, paralysed him, and for the briefest of moments he wondered if the harrowing terror alone would be enough to kill him right then and there. The slightest relief came when the Raptor seemed to stabilise somewhat, settling into a steadier course, albeit still turbulent.

Sergeant Matheson lifted himself off the floor, his back clearly aching from the impact moments ago. “What the frack was that?!” he shouted.

Instinctively, Jamie’s first priority was the patient. He looked over at the monitor displaying the vital signs. Stable so far. The unconscious crewman was perhaps the calmest out of anyone in the cabin, but only because of the anaesthetic drug being infused into his veins. He slept soundly in a deep coma, eyes closed shut by adhesive tapes, breathing tube pulling slightly at the corner of his mouth.

“My… Gods!” Loza said. She had her eyes fixated at the horizon ahead.

The cloud cover they’d been in the midst of had cleared completely, blown off by a blast wave to reveal a massive mushroom cloud climbing up into the sky, a toroidal fireball rising from the surface. A glowing semi-spherical cap formed its upper height, with gas vortices curling around the base, appearing just over where the great city of Argentum used to be. A distribution of energy from a single weapon, so vast and so sudden, obeying physical laws of nature which cared not of the intentions of its Cylon manipulators.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps well over a million lives, gone in a single instant.

Families – mothers, fathers and children. Brothers and sisters, young and old. Lovers and friends, rich and poor, the innocent and the guilty. Everything that represented the best and worst of human society on Scorpia ceased to exist, obliterated in a billowing shroud of destruction.

Unbeknownst to its victims, the same was occurring in the skies over Scorpia’s many other cities, and on inhabited planets across all four Colonial star systems. Never had death struck so many in such a short time, in just one of many fractions of a second, shorter than the smallest unit of time recognisable by any human nervous system. Every person within a five-kilometre radius of the low-altitude nuclear explosion’s hypocentre hadn’t had the chance to notice a thing. Huge bursts of gamma rays and X-rays had soaked into the bones of the now-dead, those closest to ground zero, heating them into fluorescence, their bodies disintegrating almost instantaneously with the detonation itself. Victims that had been further away were not spared a similar fate, vaporised by the searing energy front radiating in every direction.

Jamie looked out the window, frozen in complete disbelief. A weight of emotions assaulted him and the rest of the Raptor crew with such power, more so than the physical force of the shockwave that had struck their craft less than a minute ago. The horizon turned an incandescent yellow, then a violet-red so bright it seemed to outshine the sun itself.

And as the mushroom cloud drifted further up, the sky began to darken.

——————————

Spc Jamie Perth
Critical Care Paramedic
Colonial Fleet Reserve

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