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Literature / The Last Angel

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"Burn with me."

A Web Original work by Proximal Flame first published on Spacebattles Forum in December of 2012. Can be found here.

The story opens with the the death of a Compact Chariot at the hands of the first Human Dreadnaught. The Compact is a collection of alien species that seeks to conquer Humanity and absorb them into their ever expanding empire. They outnumber and out-gun Humanity, and their flagships, the Chariots have never been defeated. Nemesis breaks that streak, being the first to slay a Compact Chariot in combat. Despite this Nemesis is nearly crippled and her crew decimated. Oh, and one Compact ship gets away with Earth's coordinates.

Cut to two thousand years later. The Compact has continued to grow and advance, and all that remains of Humanity is Rally, a single colony the Compact has found, whose population has long since been culturally subverted into loyal citizens. Sectator Citizen Grace Alice Proctor is a cadet in the Compact Space Force. Joining her on the training ship Bequeathed is her alien friend, Allyria, who was resettled from the recently conquered Verrish homeworld onto Rally to help the young Verrisha assimilate into Compact culture. Grace is a model Compact citizens who believes in the ideals that the Compact is built on, but Allyria nurses a hidden disdain for the civilization that conquered her home.

Aboard Bequeathed, Grace has to deal with a lecherous and sadistic superior officer while Allyria is routinely put down by the ship's Tribunes, who are still holding a grudge over how much trouble the Verrish gave their invasion force. Then Bequeathed stumbles upon a massive alien derelict in a remote star system. It's the find of the lifetime, and the Bequeathed's captain wants to take the credit. Salvage teams are sent to board it and evaluate the technological treasures within.

But not all is right. There's a warning in Common drawn on the ancient walls of the hangar bay, there's a pounding coming from deep within the ship, and sometimes... maybe... you think you hear laughter in the static on the radio. Grace is worried, her section leader is having nightmares, and Allyria... seems to know something.

Now has a sequel, The Last Angel: Ascension

Contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Baleblades have forcefield cutting edges that will tear through molecular bonds.
  • Artificial Gravity: Seems to be an ubiquitous technology.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: One of the few things the Compact and the Askanj agree on is that AIs are a bad thing. Names like 'Abomination' and 'Neverborn' are floated when the subject comes up. In their defense, they seem to have a point. The author has even stated that if her creators saw what Red had become, they would freak out. When the Askanj stumbled upon an AI civilization, they immediately glassed the planet, this event is referred to as the Rains of Oshanta.
    • Notably, it's VERY strongly implied that humanity had some behind the scenes help in making Red. The only other AI we've seen, Echo, is even less stable. Though that's confirmed to be due to the Compact trying to make her loyal and failing, repeatedly. She was stable before she watched Earth burn, unable to do a thing about it.
    • Proximal Flame has said that it is much easier to make strong AI than to make strong, friendly AI, and with both galactic superpowers actively destroying anything to do with AI, no one has the chance to get it right.
    • Further complicated by the absence of anything between expert systems and seed AI. Some of Nemesis's creations such as hunter-killer drones, subversion weapons and combat bots seem to be in that gap, but as creations of a seed AI they don't really help the issue at all.
  • Alien Invasion: How the compact grows. Standard first contact protocol is to jump a fleet in above an enemy world and ask it to join. If they decline, the fleet starts shooting until they say yes.
  • All There in the Manual: The author goes into a lot of details on the setting in answering readers' questions.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Echo steals the Chariot Redemption of Sol.
  • Advanced Ancient Humans: At the time of the story all thats left of humanity is one colony, and almost all of our technology and history is lost. 2000 years ago however, we built Nemesis, which is still one of the most advanced and dangerous warships in the galaxy. Not to mention Red One.
  • Apocalypse How: Both superpowers are capable of this. The Compact is seen glassing Earth and the Askaji have the Rains of Oshanta. And then Nemesis goes and invents the starbreak.
  • Attack Drone:
    • Nemesis has built a small army of robotic hunter killers that allow her to put troops on the ground when she needs to and function to defend her against boarding parties.
    • She also carries a fair number of space borne attack drones, primarily intended and used to augment her close in defense against hostile ships attempting to slip onto her tail.
    • One of Nemesis' favourite tricks is to overwrite the Compact's own drones and use them on their masters.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Red One, from the perspective of humanity and the Verrish anyway. To the Compact she's The Dreaded.
  • Brain–Computer Interface: The compact abhors these due to their tendency to drive users crazy or dead, while the Askanj have refined the technology to the point where it's merely difficult to use. Nemesis also uses the technology for... interrogation.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The Compact, Askanj and Humanity all have different words for ranks and titles. An Askanj Shipstress, a Compact Group Leader Prime and a Human Captain are all equivalent for example. The different naming conventions underscore the alien nature of the different civilizations. See here for a breakdown of Compact ranks. See here for a breakdown of Principality ranks.
  • Cool Starship: Nemesis is the first Dreadnaught built by Humanity and it's first true warship. Chariots, the flagships of the Compact also count.
    • The Fates - three AI driven cruisers built by Nemesis to protect her real base.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Whenever Nemesis attacks the Compact, it's from a position of strength and with a strategy that will maximize the damage she does. This translates to a disproportionate amount of her strikes turning into this.
    • All ground engagements involving Nemesis are this. Her killbots are superior physically to all organic combatants, able to use hardware than organics can't use safely, are perfectly coordinated, and never break, panic or rout.
  • Deflector Shields: Almost universal within the setting. The basic technology completely disintegrates physical objects that strike it, but only partially diffuses energy weapons, allowing them to penetrate in weakened form. Unlike standard scifi shields, Angelverse shields actually use 'more' power the weaker they are, collapsing only when either there is no longer enough power to keep them up or, more commonly, when the shield becomes so saturated that the shield generator(s) cannot keep up with the stress and have to be shut down before they fail catastrophically. On top of that, each major power has a different implementation of, and terminology for, the technology:
    • Compact "Screens" are a simple bubble that surrounds the entire spacecraft and all the surface area means that they can take a lot of damage before they finally go down, but once they go down, they stay down for far longer than any other design.
    • Askanj "Barriers" by contrast are a large number of small shield plates that can be just as easily arranged around the ship to provide all around protection as they can be layered atop one another to provide more protection in a given direction and can be shifted around to plug gaps or face a new threat relatively quickly. Each individual barrier can be brought down quite quickly, but can be restored just as fast.
    • The United Earth Confederacy, and by extension Nemesis, used "shields" that consisted of a single large plate covering each major facing, overlapping at the edges, providing a balance between the above systems.
      • Red One has improved on the Confederate technology significantly in her two millennia of existence, equipping her ship self and those of her children with so called "reset shields" that use a combination of secondary systems and technology beyond the other powers to restore a shield section to full strength in a matter of seconds instead of minutes.
      • She is also the only known entity capable of making personal scale deflector shields that are actually effective enough to justify carrying, which have so far appeared in two varieties, a single plate of shielding projected from the vambracenote  of Powered Armor analogous to the wood and metal shields of old, seen built in to the armor she provides the Bequeathed defectors and a full body hugging shield that requires significant cybernetic augmentation to install and make use of, so far only seen in use by Adrianna Leblanc.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The Compact glassed Earth and hunted down every exodus fleet they could find. The only reason Rally wasn't completely obliterated was because it was discovered by a Compact civilian exploration team who published their findings before the Triarchs became aware of what they'd found. They couldn't just order the planet glassed at that point without people wondering why.
  • Evil Counterpart: Echo to Nemesis.
  • Eye Scream: In accordance with ancient tradition, exiled Tribunes have their daylight eyes blinded. As they have a second pair of, nocturnal, eyes this is merely a barbaric cruelty, rather than debilitating injury.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • And how! The Verrish are officially refereed to as 'Brute' while the Humans are 'Broken'. The Tribunes look down upon conquered species as inferior in every way and dismiss ships like Bequeathed as PR stunts that give the masses false hope.
    • Ironically, according to Compact doctrine, humanity constructing Nemesis, building a breach core, and making stable seed AI should make us equal to the Tribunes if not Triarchs.
  • False Reassurance: Red can be really creepy
    Red: “Do not be alarmed, Column Leader Prime. My medical facilities are state of the art and no matter what happens, I will not let you die.” Though the gestalt had no face, Ursot knew it was smiling. “I promise.”
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The shock drives allow a ship to cross vast distances in an instant and make up a huge part of a ship's total cost. Ships can only jump outside of a system's gravity well until Nemesis pioneered Lagrange Point jumps.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Much of The Last Angel's conclusion is spoiled within the opening few chapters of The Last Angel: Ascension.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Humanity was just another in a long list of species the Compact had encountered and conquered. A little more resilient than most, but nothing special. Then we built Nemesis.
  • Galactic Superpower: The Compact of Species and it's adversary, the Askanj Pricipality.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: Look up 'Compact First Contact protocols' in the dictionary.
  • Ghost Ship: Nemesis plays up this trope as a form of psychological warfare against the salvage crew from Bequeathed.
  • Hopeless War: Nemesis has been fighting the Compact for 2000 years, but for all that she's still just one ship and the Compact grows bigger each year. It's hinted in chapter 34 that Nemesis has acquired the ability to build more of her kind and is doing so.
    • The final chapter reveals that this was nothing more than a distraction. Nemesis has a fleet under construction.
  • Hollywood Hacking:
    • Averted for Nemesis. She can do some really impressive tricks with electronic warfare, but denying her access by hardware means or keeping the lag time high enough that her hacks can be dealt with stops her cold.
    • Similarly, Echo, despite being apparently on Nemesis's level, can be prevented from hacking anything by keeping her away from any terminals that she shouldn't have access to.
  • Implacable Man: Nemesis has been waging war against the Compact for 2000 years.
  • Interspecies Romance: Grace and Allyria finally admit their feelings in Chapter 36.
  • Ironic Echo: The phrase "Burn with me." seems to be rooted in the only transmission the Compact made to Humanity during the battle of earth: "You. Will. burn."
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Nemesis' point defense armament consists of relativistic rail-guns.
    • Her big guns are six spinal mounted, high-relativistic rail-guns capable of causing extinction level events. They also home in on their targets, giving them a far better effective range than any other gun in the galaxy.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Nasham is on meds to suppress his memories of his run in with Nemesis, both for psychiatric reasons and because the Compact doesn't want to admit Nemesis exists.
  • Last of His Kind: Nemesis was supposed to be the first of a series of Dreadnaughts built to fight the Compact. Now she is the last vestige of human culture and civilization.
  • Last Stand:
    • The battle of Earth.
    • The second battle of Earth. Where a huge Compact fleet, including a brand new Chariot, track a wounded Nemesis down to the Sol system and catch her unable to escape. Echo rescues her at the last minute.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Everyone except Nemesis, Grace, Allyria, and Echo has an Oh, Crap! in Chapter 34: The crew of the Bequeathed as Nemesis kills them all after they bring the breach core online, and Renan as realizes that the Compact will face a fleet of Nemesis's.
    • The compact fleet built around the Chariot Weight of Destiny has one in the epilogue, as the derelict Chariot they are approaching turns out to be a fully operational Hekate and Nemesis shocks in on top of them.
  • Meaningful Rename: Echo takes up her original name Hekate in the final chapters and epilogue, having fully integrated herself into the stolen Redemption of Sol and regained her sanity.
    • Actually, she renames the ship Hekate. Her original name was Red Two, but she sticks to Echo.
  • Mook Horror Show: Any combat sequence involving Nemesis that is not from Red's perspective will be this. She does it on purpose finding enjoyment, and practicality, in destroying the enemy's moral and sanity before finally wiping them out for good.
  • Naming Your Colony World: The only surviving Human exodus colony is named 'Rally'.
  • I Have Many Names: Nemesis. To the Compact she is 'The Wound'. The Verrish called her the 'Weeping Angel' and 'The Broken God.
  • Orbital Bombardment: All over the place, mostly Nemesis wrecking Compact installations.
  • Oh, Crap!: Chapter 34: Renan realizes Nemesis hasn't been building a 'cradle' to repair. She has been making preparations to reproduce.
  • Out-Gambitted: Happens to every single Compact commander who thinks they have Red One's tactics figured out. Turns out trying to out-plan a military seed AI doesn't work.
  • Power Of Hate: It's what keeps Red going.
  • Powered Armor: Standard issue for the shock troops of the major nations and powers.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Nemesis tells Compact ships and stations she's about to kill to "Burn with Me".
    • Also doubles as a One-Liner Echo, with one of the few transmissions the Compact sent humanity stating simply, "You will burn."
    • In the epilogue, Nemesis and Hekate switch to using "burn with us".
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Tribunes make up the bulk of the Compact's military. The Verrish aren't quite as strong as a Tribune, but they're faster, and they're one of the few species that has ever managed to wrangle concessions out of a Compact occupation force, no matter how minor. The Askanj Illth, who make up much of the Principality's military, over half tail and fast, very very fast.
  • Puny Earthlings: Played With. On the hand we're physically inferior to a lot of races. On the other hand, we built Nemesis. As the author puts it:
    "Humanity sees your superior eyesight and raises you the Angel of Death."
  • Red Baron: Red One is known by the Compact as 'the Wound'.
  • Sapient Ship: Nemesis's AI is called 'Red One', 'Red' to her friends. She is the first AI to ever be given command over so much direct firepower.
    • Echo after she steals Redemption of Sol.
    • Also, the Naiads.
  • Shout-Out: Two characters are named "Usul" and "de Vries," characters from Frank Herbert's Dune.
  • Space Marines: The Compact's Janissaries. The Askanj's Legionnaires.
  • Terror Hero: Red One, and she fully embraces it.
  • The Mole: Allyria was never loyal to the Compact in the first place. She didn't expect to be able to pull off a backstab on this level, though.
  • Theme Naming: Compact ship names tend to be poetic.
  • Wave Motion Gun: Nemesis' main cannon, known as the Displacement Engine, is a shock point projector that creates a small, highly unstable breach in physicality right in the heart of, or at least in close proximity to, a hostile warship. The resultant gravitic shear and radiation flare can tear apart anything too close and reshape what's left into Alien Geometries.
    • The Displacement Engine can also be used to create an event that the Compact has dubbed a "Starbreak" by firing it into a more standard shock point opened in the Lagrange point between a star and an inner planet which, via the disturbances caused, will altar the star's magnetic field enough to induce an apocalyptic coronal mass ejection.
    • In addition to the above, Nemesis is armed with three slightly less wave motiony mass drivers that fire very large caliber, guided antimatter shells with incredibly high yields at very high relativistic velocities.
    • Plasma mortar's are smaller, but still qualify. Short range, slow recycle time, and high power demand, but they can melt the sides of a Compact Charot.
  • Wham Episode: Chapter 48: Nemesis and Echo end their showdown diplomatically, as the sisters reconcile. Echo's rants about being beautiful referred to fixing the damage the compact did to her code, not her body. The Compact will now face two military seed AI.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Adrianna Leblanc, literally blue. It's genetically modified. It's where her moniker 'the blue fire' comes from.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Nemesis wipes out the crew of the Bequeathed the instant they bring the breach core back online.
    • She kills the few who were given a chance to defect and failed to do so after tricking them onto a barge with a promise of freedom.
    • Nasham is allowed to live because he's more useful as a tool for her to manipulate the Compact alive and she can easily ensure he will do what she wants by understanding his character and Compact MO.
    • Echo murders the vast majority of the Execution Force after hijacking Redemption of Sol.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: In many other settings, the half-crazed military seed AI fighting a guerrilla war against galactic society would be the bad guy. Here, she's arguably mankind's greatest achievement.
    • Also applies to Adrianna Leblanc, human leader of an outright terrorist organisation.