bzzt bzzt bzzt bzzt
Lena slapped the alarm off and lay there staring at the ceiling. She didn't want to do this anymore. She didn't want to put on that stupid Terran Navy uniform they gave her after drafting her. She didn't want to see yet more regulations and restrictions for the supposed war effort.
You know what happens when STC goes Zero. Do you want what happened at Neptune to happen here?
Neptune is run by incompetent jerkwads who only get through the Academy thanks to their parents money Lena grumbled back at the voice in her head.
The silence that echoed back in her head was all the answer she needed. Earth was not Neptune, and it wouldn't just be a few skeleton crewed gas tankers colliding. With all the controllers now officially drafted into the Terran Navy for the Terran Defensive Campaign, and most of them shipped off to fight at the front, the few remaining controllers were pulling weeks of 12 hour shifts just to keep things running.
I wonder what happens to the ones the xenos capture, Lena idly wondered as she shrugged into the hated uniform and filled her thermos with thick, triple brewed coffee. The one nice thing about being drafted was that she was still able to get things like coffee, even if it was mostly synthetic.
Lena didn't really buy into the propaganda that the Affini were eating the captured soldiers or turning them into fertilizer or whatever. But the bits of Affini propaganda that were starting to pop up weren't very reassuring either. Blissed out humans wearing collars talking about how everything was going to be perfectly alright, there was nothing to fear... It was slightly terrifying. They had to be hiding something, there had to be some kind of catch. There always was.
The imposing bulk of the building that held Terran Space Traffic Central seemed to loom a bit larger than normal as she slouched towards the doors, grown larger by the lack of anyone else around. Motion activated lights flickered to life as she walked through the lobby, the security officer's desk cleaned out and empty, and took the elevator up alone.
The control room was nearly empty. Gracie, the only other controller there, stood up quickly when Lena entered. "Oh good, you're here," was all she said before dropping her headset on her station and hurrying out. Lena couldn't help but notice that she was carrying a small bag with her, and her station was cleared out of anything to indicate that someone had ever been there.
All alone, Lena settled into her terminal and let out a small shiver. Surely someone else would show up. Ken was scheduled to work this shift with her, he'd show up, and then she wouldn't be all alone in this big creepy building. Shaking off her unsettled thoughts, she got down to work.
Budget Passenger Ship: Terra Central, Icarus Galactic 523, we'd like to expedite our climb to GSO, we've been holding here for hours
Another Budget Passenger Ship: Terra Central, Virgin Galactic 967, we've been holding even longer!
A cacophony of noise erupted in Lena's ears as one hundred and ten ships, all trying to leave Earth, started speaking at once.
For a moment, Lena froze, overwhelmed and wishing she could be anywhere else but here. Then her training kicked in. Flipping a switch that would allow her to use the super powerful antenna on the roof to override everyone else's transmissions, she took a deep breath and began to speak.
Lena: Attention all vessels, attention all vessels. This is Terra Central. All vessels awaiting takeoff, hold. Your takeoff clearances are cancelled. All vessels currently in orbit to leave Terra, hold, your outbound clearances are cancelled. All vessels approaching Terra, hold, your approach clearances are cancelled.
Lena bit her lip for a moment, furious that Gracie had let things get to such a state.
Lena: Vessels on approach, hold at OL Lagrange 1. You will be given clearances shortly. Vessels in orbit, you will be given clearances in the order that clears you all as quickly as possible. You will all hold until given these clearances.
Flicking the switch back off, she did her best to ignore the furious yells of the captains as she plotted routes as fast as she could. Then, two minutes later, she flipped it back on.
Lena: Attention all ships, Oshkosh procedures are in effect. That means you do not need to read back my instructions, and I will not accept any non-emergency calls.
What followed was an hour of Lena talking non-stop giving out directions, until finally the massive tangle that Earth's orbital space had become was once again flowing smoothly, and the grumble of the captains had died down to a dull roar.
With a sigh she rubbed her aching eyes and looked up and around as she drank some water. Odd...Ken still wasn't at his station.
With a twist of her mouth she shook her head and got back to work.
It wasn't until her stomach gave out an angry growl that she realized she had missed lunch, and Ken still wasn't there. It looked like he wasn't going to show up at all. Gnawing her lip, Lena walked over and pulled out the emergency procedures binder, and carried it over to her desk.
Emergency Procedure PS-04
Full personnel shortage.
In the event that all personnel must temporarily leave the center, in order to avoid an STC Zero scenario, the following mitigation steps shall be observed:
1. Ask the nearest Terran Navy Vessel of class Bezos or greater for assistance. These vessels contain fully trained and licensed STC operators.
2. If no Terran Navy Vessel of class Bezos or greater is in range, contact Terra Station Approach for assistance. Note that this assistance may be limited, as the ingress and egress of ships from Terra Local Stations must not be impeded.
3. If Terra Station Approach is unable to assist, contact Luna Central to take over communications.
Note: In the event that personnel must leave for a period greater then one (1) hour, an emergency must be declared and STC Head Office must be notified.
Holy carp, how old was this thing? The Bezos class ships had been out of service for thirty years, and Terra Station Approach dissolved almost half a century ago. Well, Luna Central still existed at least. Hopefully that'd give her enough time to go grab a quick lunch from the canteen.
Lena nervously switched a radio to a long distance frequency and keyed the mic: Luna Central, Terra Central, do you read me.
A crackly faint voice came over the radio: Terra Central, Luna Central here, I read you.
Lena :Requesting activation of Emergency Procedure PS-04, I'm all alone here and I need to grab something from the canteen. Shouldn't take more than half an hour tops.
Luna Central's voice sounded amused as they replied: Ah, need a quick break eh? I heard you invoke Oshkosh earlier, nicely done. I'll hold down the fort while you go do what you need to do.
With an enormous sense of relief, Lena ran down the hallway, and hammered the elevator button. "C'mon, c'mon c'mon, hurry up." She bounced on her feet until the elevator finally dinged and danced anxiously until it reached the canteen.
Hurrying inside, she looked around in confusion. It was...empty. If she didn't know any better, she'd say that someone had grabbed everything she could find and hauled it off. Dammit Gracie. With a sigh, Lena managed to scrounge a handful of nutrient bars and sat down to munch one, morosely thinking about how damn futile this all seemed. How had things fallen apart this much? Didn't other people care? There should have been rules, and safeguards, and policy meetings. Instead there was just her. Alone. Trying to keep an entire planet's traffic system from collapsing, on her own.
With a whimper, she took the handful of bars she had found and trudged back up to her station.
Lena: Luna Central, Terra Central, I'm back on station. Thanks for the help, I owe you one.
And just like that, she was back at it.
Feeling like no time had passed at all, Lena glanced up at the clock. Finally, her shift was over.
She looked around, expecting to see her replacement coming through the door. No one.
Swearing slightly, she pulled up the duty roster. Isaac was supposed to be on duty after her. She dialed his number, keeping one eye on the terminals as she did so. He was just running a little late, that's all. It was going to be fine.
"Yooooo, Lena, what's up my girl! How's it hanging? hahahaha"
"Isaac, you're supposed to be on duty, where the hell are you?" Lena's patience was quickly running thin.
"On duty? The fuck you talking about chicka, its the end of the fucking world! I'm not coming into work. Come on, come join me, I'm down in the slums, we're getting fucked up on undercity hooch!"
With a scream, Lena hung up on the infuriating smarmy asshole. Then her anger suddenly drained away. No one else was coming. No one would be coming to replace her. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not at all. She stared at the emergency supply cabinet and thought back to training at the academy.
"Now this, cadets, is our last line of defense against the enemy that is weariness. One of these little pills and you will keep on going like the Energizer Bunny himself." The instructor gave a lazy grin as they lounged against the desk at the front of the class. "Now mind you, it'll also burn through your calories like a plasma cutter through rock, and you'll get the shakes something awful when you come down, but don't you worry about that, my eager young grasshoppers. Only people who ever have to use these are military folk in active combat, or the unlucky SOB civvie controllers who get caught up in the middle of a union rebellion. You all are headed for Terra Central, none of y'all will have to so much as touch the Go-Fast Gas".
With shaking hands, Lena took out the bottle and placed it in front of her station. Opening it, she carefully took one out and put it down in front of her. It looked so innocent, a large white pill with no markings on it. Was she really going to do this?
Lena: Luna Central, Terra Central, I have another big favour to ask.
Luna Central: Go ahead Terra Central, I still have another hour or two on my shift before I'm done for the day.
hearing the same voice answer Lena let out a little sigh of relief.
Lena: I'm about to have to pull a double, at least. Can you take over while I run to my apartment and grab some things for an extended stay?
The voice was silent for a long moment: Things are getting bad down there eh? Yah, I'll cover you. You better come back though, or I'm going to hop on a shuttle and come down there to kick your ass myself.
Lena was silent as the maglev sped back towards her apartment, trying hard not to think about what she was doing. She was going to be breaking so many regulations. When this was all over, she'd either be super fired, or...well actually she probably still wouldn't get a bonus, but hey, maybe there'd be a pizza party.
At her apartment she quickly packed her go bag, adding in a comfortable blanket, her pills, and as much food as she could find. With her apartment ransacked, she gave it one last look over and let out a tiny hysterical giggle. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
Back at her station, wrapped up in her blanket, hated uniform thrown into a corner and in her comfiest pair of leggings and tank top, with food around her, she picked up her headset again.
Lena: Luna Central, Terra Central. Thanks. Time for some Go-Fast Gas.
Luna Central's reply was quiet: Good luck Terra Central. My name is Lily.
Lena: Lena. My name is Lena.
Lily: Good luck Lena.
Lena: Thanks Lily.
With a determined look, Lena swallowed down the pill.
Terra Central looked over the system. Everything must flow nominally. Noticing an irregularity, a ship that would be forced to make an inefficient manoeuver in 3.65 minutes, Terra Central contacted them and gave them correct instructions. It seemed to take an eternity before the ship obeyed. But it did obey. The traffic must not be impeded.
Periodically, Terra Central consumed some of the nutrients that were in front of Terra Central. Once every 12 hours, as Terra Central began to feel....inefficient, Terra Central took another pill.
Monitoring just Earth was inefficient. Terra Central had the capacity to handle a wider region. Terra Central opened up the frequencies and began listening. Terra Central had a range of 7.23 AU, giving Terra Central the ability to control space out to Jupiter.
Terra Central frowned. So many stations abandoned, so much inefficiency. Terra Central would fix the inefficiency.
Occasionally, Terra Central would hear transmissions between other control centers and ships. This was good. They were not as efficient as Terra Central, but they allowed Terra Central to focus on other areas of greater inefficiency.
Terran Naval Vessel, in the vicinity of the asteroid belt: Please divert your course by 25 degrees normal inclination to avoid a collision.
Another voice: Recommend you divert your course 25 degrees anti-normal inclination to avoid a collision.
Terran Naval Vessel: This is the Captain of a Terran Cosmic Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
The other voice: No, I say again, you divert your course.
Terran Naval Vessel: This is the Battleship TCN Indomitable, the third largest ship in the Terran Cosmic Navy, accompanied by three cruisers, a railgun ship, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 25 degrees normal inclination, that's two five degrees normal, or we will open fire for the safety of this fleet.
The other voice: This is the asteroid Juno. Your call.
Good. Everything was efficient.
Time ceased to have any meaning for Terra Central. It was marked only by those strange periods where Terra Central seemed to feel less efficient, and the breaks Terra Central had to take to consume nutrients. Terra Central's nutrient supply was running low.
Terra Central noticed a number of large objects enter Terra Central's radar range. Impossibly large, yet they still registered as ships. This may be a challenge for efficiency.
Some of the ships split off from the others and headed towards the Jupiter Control Area. Jupiter Central would monitor those ships, Terra Central would not interfere.
The radar signal of one of the ships and the radar signal of the Indomitable came together for one brief moment, and then continued on as one, but Terra Central had other matters to deal with.
Terra Central: Unidentified ships, this is a Terran Space Controlled Area. State your names and intentions.
Unidentified ship: Oh how cute, they have some sort of AI controlling the traffic! Hello cutie, this is Sequoioidium, Affini Capital Ship, lead ship of the Terran Sol Domestication Group. Don't worry, we're here to help. A couple of us are going to be coming in to orbit Earth, ok?
This was not proper terminology.
Terra Central: Sequoioidium, Terra Central, cleared for approach on heavy shipping lane Alpha-3.
Terra Central continued to monitor the fleet as it continued on, giving them frequent waypoints and vector corrections, which were universally met with sounds of adoration over how cute the AI was. It was strange, this fleet seemed to have none of the space lanes or waypoints that ships normally had. But Terra Central ensured they would remain efficient.
Terra Central absently noted as some ships left the group to head towards Mars, giving them slightly more optimal waypoints before passing them off to Martian Central.
Some time later, the first of the massive ships started passing Luna's orbit. All around Earth, planetary defense missiles armed themselves and prepared to fire. Rail guns charged. Alarms blared. Terra Central noticed none of this.
Slowly and majestically, the massive ships closed in.
Terra Central: Sequoioidium, Terra Central, orbit at OL 300, inclination 2.56 degrees normal.
Sequoioidium: Roger that cutie, moving in now.
And all around Earth, people whimpered as vast ships appeared in the sky. And the planetary defense missiles failed to fire, because the fuel had been sold off years ago. And the railguns didn't fire, because the maintenance company that was supposed to maintain them was just a shell company and never really existed. And the elite of humanity, huddled around the Poles, gulped. The affini had come.
Sequoioidium: Thanks for your help little AI, what's your designation?
Terra Central paused in the middle of reaching for the pill bottle. Terra Central's designation? What? She didn't....
Vision blurring, Lena looked around, heedless of her live mic: Wha...what's going on? Where am I?
Sequoioidium: Oh dirt you're a sophont. I'm coming right down little one, don't you worry. Just hold on a bit longer for me.
It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes later when Lena heard the door crash open. Looking up with blurry eyes, all she saw was a wall of green before everything went black.