|HTL CHAPTER 113: TIGER HUNT PART 4 - EYES OF THE FLEET
Written by Raptor
"Advance knowledge cannot be gained from spirits, inferred from phenomena or projected from the measures of Heaven, but must be gained from the actions of man, for it is the knowledge of the enemy's true situation."
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
"Brave comrades are the warrior's most cherished gift."
- Kilrathi proverb (from the Fifth Codex)
Flight Wing Briefing Room,
BWS Valeria, Loki System
0400 Hours, 13 February 2681 (2681.044)
Lieutenant Colonel Ruth "Lynx" Lofton was still hastily finger combing her damp hair as she hurried towards the briefing room. She hadn't been able to resist the thought of a hot shower after her last patrol, and she was running late as a result. Normally she wouldn't have given a damn about either how her hair looked or being right on time. This was the Border Worlds, after all, and bending the rules till they resembled pretzels was a fact of life. Given the situation they were in though, having a Squadron Leader rushing into the briefing room late and dishevelled would not make a good impression.
With that thought in mind, she paused for a second outside the briefing room door, tucking a few stray strands of blonde hair into place, and checking her blurred reflection in the shiny metal surface of the door. Border Worlders weren't much for spit and polish either, but the Valeria was literally only weeks out of the construction yards, and it showed. Lynx noted gloomily that her reflection had a few more streaks of grey hair than she remembered. At forty-two years of age, she was one of the oldest of Battlegroup Valkyrie's Squadron Leaders, most of whom were in their early to mid thirties. The pilots they commanded were even younger. Hell, even the Wing Commander was younger then she was.
That wasn't to say that the pilots were inexperienced. While youth and inexperience were often synonymous, in this particular case that generalisation was about as far from the truth as it was possible to get. As young as they were, the flight wing's pilots had more flying hours and combat hours under their belts than any other wing in the Combined Fleet. The senior pilots had seen action as back as the Kilrathi War and the Black Lance Incident, while even the "rookies" had been blooded in the Bush or at Cynium, to say nothing of almost weekly skirmishes against Kilrathi raiders and pirates. Pilots out here at the edge of human space often saw more combat on a single cruise than some pilots in the safety of the Inner Worlds saw in years. That was one of the reasons their hair tended to turn grey early.
That wealth of combat experience also made the Valkyrie pilots easily as effective as the more lavishly equipped Confed flight wings. What they lacked in technology and state-of the art fighter craft, they made up for in the skill and ability of their pilots. Over the past two weeks, they had amply proved the old adage that the pilot was as important in fighter combat as the aircraft. They had destroyed several hundred Nephilim fighters and an enemy carrier group in the Tyr and Nephele systems, a performance that had thoroughly discredited the narrow-minded view that the Border Worlds Navy was only fit for second line duties.
Now, they were pulling the most dangerous duty in the fleet, drawing the attacks of three enemy carrier groups so that the rest of the Combined Fleet could sneak up on the Nephilim fleet and rip it apart. As the Wing Commander had explained it, they had two very simple goals. First, entice as many Nephilim fighters into attacking them as possible, leaving the rest of the Bug fleet dangerously short on fighter cover. And second, try to survive the firestorm of destruction that three carriers would rain down on them. The first part would be easy. As for the second, well, that remained to be seen.
Lynx finished smoothing her hair and then walked calmly into the briefing room, giving no sign that she had been hurrying. The rest of her unit, the Ghost Warrior recon squadron, was already seated by the time she got there. Lynx glanced at the clock on the wall, and saw that she was only a couple of minutes behind schedule. Not bad at four o'clock in the morning.
"Alright, first the good news," She said, as usual skipping the preamble. She wasn't much for idle chatter, especially at this time of the day. "I'm sure that you've already heard that the Reaper and the Harbinger Squadrons ambushed and wiped a Nephilim fighter probe late yesterday. What you might not know is that the Black Angels, backed up by the Retaliators from the Littenia's Star Killer Squadron, did the same to an identical probe a couple of hours ago. The Nephilim are finding out that sending fighter groups into the asteroids to search for us will be a costly exercise."
That news brought grim smiles and appreciative whistles from the assembled Arrow pilots. They knew that the battle was just beginning, and that it would get much harder from now on. Still, the news that they had hurt the enemy this early on was great for morale. While they were planning to draw the enemy into attacking them, it just wasn't in the Border Worlders to passively absorb the attacks. Whenever possible, they were going to hurt the enemy as much as possible. It might not be conventional military wisdom to think about hurting the enemy when their own survival was in doubt, but then, Border Worlders had never really set much store in conventional wisdom. Or in wisdom of any sort, if you believed certain uncharitable souls.
"Hey, when do we get a piece of that action?" One of the pilots called from the back of the room.
"When we get a new Wing Commander!" Major Jameel "Paladin" Ul-Huq, Lynx's second in command, shot back.
That comment drew a chorus of groans from the Arrow pilots, along with a few wry smiles. They all knew it was true. Raptor firmly believed that the serious fighting should left to the heavy fighters, while light fighters focused on patrolling and information gathering, much as the light cavalry of centuries past had done. It seemed that High Command had the same view, because Battlegroup Valkyrie had been equipped with four squadrons of heavy fighters but only one unit of light fighters.
When she had first met Raptor during the Battle for the Bush, Lynx had thought that the newly promoted Wing Commander had simply been looking to make his mark by pushing an off-the-wall idea. The results that idea had achieved during the Bush had gradually brought her around. Early in the Kilrathi War, light fighters and heavy fighters had been more or less evenly matched in a dogfight, with the firepower and shields of the heavies being countered by the speed and agility of the lights. That was no longer the case. The simple fact was that heavy fighter design had progressed in leaps and bounds over the last twelve years or so, while light fighter design had remained much the same. Heavy fighters had still had thicker shields, larger missile loadouts and more powerful gun arrays, but the modern heavy fighters were also much closer in relative speed and agility to light fighters than their predecessors had been. The heavies still couldn't stay with a light fighter for long, but then, with their brutal firepower, they didn't have to. The simple fact that that all known factions in the galaxy, from the Border Worlders to the Andorrans, the Confederation to the Nephilim, the Kilrathi to the Black Lance, had chosen heavy fighter designs as their premiere fighters said a lot.
Lynx hated to admit it, but unless something changed soon, the days of the light fighter as an effective dogfighter were numbered. If their future role was in information gathering though, then she was determined to see that they did that job as well as possible. Light fighters might not be able to stand up to heavies in a fight, but they had strengths that were uniquely theirs. They were faster, had smaller sensor profiles, and when you got right down to it, were more expendable than the heavy fighters. That made them ideally suited to the dangerous task of flying recon missions near or even behind enemy lines. Ever since the time she had fought in the Bush, she had worked hard to form a unit of pilots who were ideally suited to fly that kind of mission. The Ghost Warriors were the result. Their motto, "knowledge is the greatest weapon", reflected the philosophy that Lynx constantly drummed into her pilots. They might not be able to hammer the enemy like the heavy fighters could, but in their own way, they could do just as much damage. All the firepower in the universe was useless if the fleet couldn't find the enemy. That was what the Ghost Warriors did. They were the eyes of the fleet, finding and tracking the enemy before calling in the big guns to wipe them out.
That attitude tied in well with the philosophy espoused by Battlegroup Valkyrie's commanders. Border Worlders had always had a reputation for flying well and fighting hard, but the senior officers believed that if they were to have any chance against more powerful and more technologically advanced opponents, they also had to fight smart. That was why those who had helped put the battlegroup together had included units with specialist capabilities. In addition to the recon abilities provided by the Ghost Warriors, the battlegroup had a unit of Stalker electronic warfare craft to confuse and blind the enemy. Both the Ghost Warriors and the Stalkers were stealth capable, as were the Excaliburs from Taipan squadron. The battlegroup's fighting style involved the use of their specialist recon, EW and stealth capabilities to put the fighter and bomber pilots in the right place and at the right time to inflict maximum damage on the enemy at minimum cost to themselves. To date, it had been a highly successful strategy.
"Alright, moving on," Lynx said firmly. "I know you were all looking forward to a break after your patrols, but that's not going to happen. As I said, the Nephilim have found that sending fighter probes into the belt isn't going to find us. The SWACS we borrowed from the Valley Forge picked traces of a capship group moving in on us about half an hour ago. Unfortunately, the SWACS lost them again because of interference from all the Loki VI debris. Admiral Hanton wants that group located ASAP. The last thing we can afford is to have an enemy capship group sneaking up on us. We need to know the strength of that group, its location and likely movements, and any other information that we can find."
"Our job will be to sweep the asteroid field, starting from the last known co-ordinates of the group, and working in towards our carriers. We'll be flying under cloak, so rely on your passive sensors, and avoid active scanning unless you absolutely have to. Also, please remember that the ECM and RHAWS modifications that hide us from Nephilim anti-cloak sensors might not be 100 percent effective. Our fighter patrols have been told to stay away from the area to avoid alerting the enemy, so stay alert. If we run into trouble, we'll most likely be on our own."
"We'll be working in three flights of four. I'll be leading Ghost Flight, Paladin will be leading Revenant and Saracen will be leading Spectre. Launch time will be…"
Recon Arrow 001 (Ghost Warrior Lead)
Inside the Loki VI Debris field, Loki System
0600 Hours, Feb 13 2681 (2681.044)
Lynx squinted at her sensor board, as if that simple act could squeeze more information out her scanners. So far, the scanners had told her nothing useful. The reason was that the Arrows had entered cloak as soon as they had cleared Battlegroup Valkyrie's launch pattern, minimising the possibility that the enemy's own long range scouts would be able to detect them and warn the capships. If the capships knew that they were coming, the chances of the Arrows finding them would be slim to none. If the Nephilim scouts managed to vector large numbers of enemy fighters on to the incoming Arrows, the chances of the Border Worlders returning to the Valeria were even smaller. To survive and to succeed, they had needed to stay cloaked throughout their mission.
Unfortunately, cloaks worked both ways. They distorted and absorbed outgoing energy, hiding the Arrows from both electronic and visual detection. To a lesser extent, however, they distorted incoming energy, making it harder for the Arrows to find their targets. To make matters more complicated, the Arrows couldn't use their most powerful scanners, as active scanners would broadcast large amounts of energy out of the cloaking field, acting like a beacon to the enemy. Instead, the Arrows had to rely on passive sensors, which by their nature were shorter ranged and less specific than active scanning. As if all that wasn't complicated enough, the various asteroids and bits of debris left over from the destruction of Loki VI further shortened the range of the passive sensors by blocking any signals they enemy might be transmitting.
In short, finding the enemy under these conditions would have been just about impossible for most pilots. When creating the Ghost Warrior Squadron though, Lynx had taken great pains to find recon pilots who were ideally suited to this particular task. She had looked for experienced Arrow pilots who were methodical, determined, technically astute, and able to remain alert through long and often boring patrols. They weren't necessarily the best fliers or the most accurate sharpshooters in the Border Worlds Space Force, but then, they didn't have to be. What Lynx had wanted, and what she had gotten, were the best recon pilots the Union. She had then driven them without mercy in one training mission after another, both in the simulators and out in space, moulding those individual pilots into a unit that prided itself in getting the job done regardless of the cost. The Ghost Warriors had already proven that in Nephele, when four of the recon pilots had sacrificed themselves to gain the information that had allowed Battlegroup Valkyrie to wipe an enemy carrier group, as well as letting their Marines rescue the survivors of the doomed Bunker Hill group. Lynx was confident that if anyone could find the enemy capships under these conditions, the Ghost Warriors could.
That confidence was fulfilled less than half an hour later. A flashing light on her control panel indicated an incoming tight beam message from another Arrow. As with their scanners, the cloaked fighters couldn't risk giving away their position by carelessly broadcasting energy from their communication systems. Instead, they relied on a scrambled signal sent via a frequency agile transmitter that was as secure as the techs could make it. Even with all the precautions though, any message was a risk, so all her pilots were under strict orders to maintain communication silence until they found the enemy. Most people in the galaxy believed giving strict orders to Border Worlders was an exercise in futility, but that wasn't quite true. It wasn't that Border Worlders had anything against obeying orders; it was simply that they saw no point in blindly following the directions of a superior. When they saw a logical reason for those orders, they followed them just as well as anyone else did. Of course, what any one Border Worlder saw as logical was open to question, yet another reason Union Squadron Leaders tended to get grey hair early.
Lynx hit the transmit/receive button located beside the flashing light, opening a communication link with the other fighter.
"Ghost Three. I'm trailing a Bug CAP at 333-46-330, distance 25,000 klicks."
"Bravo Zulu, Three. Ghost Two, Ghost Four, rendezvous at said co-ordinates."
Lynx eased the flight stick down and to the left. The nimble fighter responded smoothly, pulling crisply into the turn almost as soon as she moved the stick. She pushed the throttle quadrant on her Arrow up to the stops, but didn't pull through the stops into the afterburner zone. Much as she would have liked to hurry, flying at afterburner speed in the debris field would have been a "Maniac move" at best, as even a small chunk of rock could easily punch through the Arrow's fragile shields at high speed. Of course, there were times when afterburning couldn't be avoided but there was no sense in courting death needlessly.
Even at only 500 KPS though, it took the fighter less than a minute to cover the distance. As Lynx approached the co-ordinates given to her by the other pilot, her sensors picked up the IFF transponders of the three other Arrows in her flight. Ghost Three was being flown by Captain David "Goliath" Goldberg. Goliath was an excellent recon pilot, but his "lone wolf" flying style and his chronic reluctance to take responsibility for pilots under his command meant that he would never advance beyond his current rank, even in the Border Worlds. As a matter of fact, he had been on the verge of being washed out the Space Force altogether before Lynx had found him and had him transferred to the Ghost Warriors. The kind of missions flown by the unit, which mainly involved operating singly or in small groups under the direction of a flight leader, suited Goliath just fine. Ghost Two and Ghost Four were being flown by Captain Sean "Blaze" Connell and Lieutenant Mary "Paddy" O'Rourke respectively. Paddy had the opposite problem from Goliath, being too cautious and by the book. That wouldn't have mattered in some other Space Forces, and might even have considered any advantage, but not in the Border Worlds. Lynx had high hopes for Blaze though, who had shown both initiative and good judgement during previous missions they had flown against the Nephilim. He would make a good flight leader one of these days.
The Arrows linked up, keeping a good distance from each other to minimise the risk of collisions and to give themselves room to manoeuvre. The cloaked fighters couldn't see each other, of course, so the transponders were only way they could keep track of each other. The transponders used the same encrypted and frequency agile systems as the comm. systems did, minimising the possibility of the enemy using them to home in on the Arrows. Balancing the need for secrecy with situational awareness was a constant juggling act for the Arrow pilots, and they were all aware that the slightest mistake either way could lead to disaster.
Ahead of her, Lynx could see the glowing engine exhausts of a trio of Moray medium fighters. Lynx quickly ordered her pilots to shadow the enemy craft. With a little luck, the Arrows would be able to follow them all the way back to their ships when they finished their CAP. The enemy fighters showed no sign of being aware of the cloaked fighters trailing them, and Lynx silently thanked the Almighty for that.
The news at the start of this campaign that the Nephilim were able to detect cloaked fighters had come as a rude shock. Without the protection offered by the cloaks, the Arrows would have been easy prey for enemy fighters. That was how the pilots sent to track the enemy carrier group in Nephele had died. However, as it turned out, the sacrifice of those brave pilots had given the rest of the Ghost Warriors a much better chance of survival. The doomed pilots had kept transmitting data back to the Valeria right up until the end, including information on the anti-cloak sensors the Nephilim were using to track them.
The Valeria's techs and science officers had then used that data to reprogram the fighters' ECM and RHAWS systems to selectively jam the enemy anti-cloak sensors. The enemy pilots would see no returns from their sensors, leading them to assume that there was nothing out there. The Valeria's Excaliburs had already tested the reprogrammed counter measures just before the fleet had jumped out of Nephele. The systems had worked fine then, letting the Excaliburs ambush an enemy patrol. A quick ambush was one thing though, and trailing enemy fighters across thousands of klicks was another. If the new counter measures didn't work as advertised, Lynx and her pilots would be in a world of hurt.
Think positive, Lynx chided herself. She would simply have to trust the Valeria's techs to know their jobs, and focus on doing hers. She tapped the afterburners for a split second, using the extra speed to close in on the nearest enemy. Keeping a good distance back would have maximised the Arrows' chances of escape if something went wrong, but keeping close minimised the chances of losing her target in the debris. Now it was simply a question of waiting for the enemy pilots to lead her to her target.
Recon Arrow 001 (Ghost Warrior Lead)
0750 Hours, 13 Feb 2681 (2681.044)
The enemy fighters maintained their CAP for nearly an hour after the Arrows began shadowing them. By the time the Morays broke off their patrol and accelerated away, Lynx's nerves had been stretched as taut as piano strings by the strain. She hauled the Arrow around so sharply that she nearly overshot the fighter she was shadowing, and had to chop the throttle to compensate. Cloaked or not, popping out of a turn right in front of another fighter would have been a bad move. The lightly armoured Arrow was almost certain to come out second best in a collision with any other fighter. Come to think of it, the Arrow would probably have come off second best in a collision with a paper kite.
Apart from that near miss though, the rest of the shadowing operation went like clock work. Just before 0800 hours, her passive sensors began picking up large amounts of infra-red and electromagnetic radiation. That much radiation could only be coming from a capital ship, or more likely several ships. The Arrow's computers began analysing the emission patterns, trying to match them up with known Nephilim warship profiles. A few seconds later, the computers spat out their results. There were definitely several Orca class destroyers out there, and probably Barracuda class corvettes as well. That was confirmed less than five minutes later, as the fighters moved within visual range of the enemy warships. It seemed the destruction of their fighter probes had stung the Nephilim into sending a sizable force to hunt down the Border Worlders.
"Ghost Flight, Ghost Lead. Split up and start recording."
Lynx eased her Arrow behind one of the Orcas, and punched a button on her control panel that activated the Arrow's built in video cameras and other passive recording devices. From this point, the Arrow's computers would record the data without any further direction from her, and transmit the information back to the Valeria via tight beam laser link. The information would be sent out in real time, so that it wouldn't be lost if the fighter was destroyed. All recon pilots were aware of the grim fact that they were more expendable than the information they gathered.
Once the computers had finished gathering all the data they could on the Orca, Lynx moved on to her next target, a pair of Barracudas who were trailing the destroyer. As the computers began the laborious task of squeezing every drop of information out of the sensors once again, she took her own count of the ships around her.
From what she could see, there were about a dozen ships in all, six destroyers being escorted by an equal number of corvettes. Assuming that those destroyers were carrying the standard complement of twenty fighters each, the capship group wouldn't pose a major threat to the Border Worlds carrier groups by itself, but it could cause some major headaches when combined with a fighter strike from the Nephilim carriers. On the other hand though, a group this size would make a pretty juicy target for Border Worlds bombers, so it wasn't all bad news.
It only took a few more minutes to gather the sensor data on the warships, but the Arrows remained on station till 0930 hours, trailing the enemy group to establish its movement patterns. By then, the Arrows had been in flight for nearly five hours, and Lynx decided that enough was enough. The Arrow's life support system could only sustain a pilot for seven hours, and the four Ghost Warriors would need close to an hour and a half to return to the Valeria via an indirect route. Flying a straight course back to their ship was naturally out of the question.
"Ghost Flight, Ghost Lead. Time to RTB."
The first hour of the flight back to the Valeria was uneventful, the cloaked fighters evading the enemy BARCAPs and roving scouts with ease. With their data already sent back to the Valeria and with the long mission almost at an end, the thoughts of the pilots naturally turned towards breakfast and the prospect of a rest, the first decent break they would have had after nearly 18 hours of patrol and recon duty. That, naturally, was when Mr. Murphy stepped in, and it all went to hell in a hand basket.
The first sign Lynx had of trouble was when her sensors picked up a flight of enemy fighters, mostly Morays lead by a handful of Manta heavy fighters. Fighters operating this far from the enemy ships were most likely scouts themselves, trying to find the Border Worlds carriers. There were about a dozen of the enemy fighters, and Lynx wisely chose discretion over valour. She reported the position and strength of the enemy group to the Valeria, and then began leading her flight around the enemy fighters. Some of the Valeria's CAP fighters would no doubt arrive momentarily to deal with the Nephilim.
The rapidly flashing warning light on her console was followed almost instantly by the shrieking howl of the Arrow's cloaking device disengaging. The universe suddenly faded from the black and white view imposed by the cloak to glorious full colour. The sudden assault of colour left her momentarily disorientated, and she had to blink several times before she could read her displays.
Lynx's heart sank as her brain processed what the displays were telling her. The Arrow's cloaking crystal had given out at the worst possible moment. No two crystals were exactly alike, and it was impossible to predict exactly when one would fail. For that reason, Confed had a standard policy of replacing all cloaking crystals after they had been used for eighty percent of the mean failure time. The Border Worlders had fewer crystals to go around, and it was common to push the crystals to ninety or ninety-five percent of the mean failure time. They usually got away with it, but not this time.
"Ghost Lead, Ghost Three. Those fighters are headed your way. We'll cover you."
"No!" Lynx snapped. The recon Arrows only carried four missiles each, and would have no chance against the Nephilim, especially not when they were massively outnumbered. She had to salvage as many of her pilots as she could, not throw their lives away in a lost cause.
"Goliath, listen to me. Our Arrows are the only eyes the Valeria has. Your job now is to get those crates back on the deck. You read me?"
"Davie, I took a chance on you. Don't make me wrong. Please."
"Aye, Colonel. We'll tell the CAP to hustle." Goliath said reluctantly, and Lynx breathed a sigh of relief. Goliath had been the one most likely to do something stupid. Simply yelling orders at him wouldn't have achieved anything, but he felt he owed her for keeping him in the cockpit, and Lynx had made full use of that. Paddy and Blaze would see the sense in what she had ordered them to do. These high tech Arrows and their specialist pilots were vital to the success of this campaign. They simply couldn't afford to lose all four of them. It might be harsh, but was part of the code that recon pilots had to live by.
With nothing to lose now, Lynx activated her active radar and began scanning for the enemy fighters. She swore as she realised the lead Mantas were only 10,000 klicks away. She punched her afterburners and broke away from them. Even as she did it though, she knew it was useless. The Arrow had a top speed of 1400 KPS, just 100KPS more than the Manta. In open space, that difference would have allowed her outpace her enemies. In the debris field though, she had to constantly keep evading, which was costing her forward speed. By contrast, The Mantas were blazing towards her with a reckless abandon that would have made Maniac Marshall proud. Then again, it wasn't so much of a risk for them, as their shields and armour could absorb impacts that would have ripped the Arrow apart. It was only a matter of time before they closed to within weapons range.
Lynx knew that her only chance was to stay ahead of the Nephilim till the Valeria's fighters arrived. The thought of afterburning straight for the Valeria was tempting, but she knew that it would a disaster for the entire Border Worlds force. They simply couldn't risk the Nephilim finding the carriers this early in the game.
The missile alarm shrieked as the lead Manta launched a pair of heatseekers at her. Lynx didn't go evasive, knowing that was just what the enemy pilot wanted her to do. Instead, she punched out decoys in a steady stream. It took her six decoys to fool the missiles, and the Arrow had only had sixteen to begin with. The missile alarm shut off, and then began shrieking again almost at once. The Nephilim had a lot of firepower on their side, and they could afford to be generous. This time, there were four missiles, and she had no choice but to go evasive.
Luckily for her, the debris proved a help as well as a hindrance. Two of the missiles explode harmlessly against a large asteroid as Lynx dodged behind it at the last second. The other two missiles exploded against missile decoys, but by now Lynx was down to only five decoys. The time she had spent dodging the missiles had allowed the Mantas to close in, giving her no chance of staying ahead of them.
Lynx decide that it was about time to take the offensive. She punched the afterburners once again as the Arrow hurtled back around the asteroid, accelerating past the lead Manta before the pilot realised what was happening. She dragged the stick back into her stomach, using every bit of the Arrow's agility to pull the fighter into a tight, hard loop, and ending up on the Manta's six.
Lynx knew that the Arrow's puny armament of lasers and ion cannons would have no chance of breaching the Manta's defences before the other fighters destroyed her. Instead, she jammed her thumb down on the missile release, unleashing all four her missiles in a single salvo. Two of the warheads managed to strike home, ripping the Manta apart.
As soon as she had released the missiles, Lynx pushed the Arrow into a snap roll down and to the right. Plasma bursts from the other fighters streaked past her, some only missing her by metres. Try as she might though, she couldn't break out the deadly crossfire. First one, and then another, and then another of the deadly bursts struck home, tearing through the Arrow's fragile defences to rip the fighter apart.
The Nephilim fighters regrouped, beginning a systematic search of the area, trying to figure out where the lone fighter that had suddenly appeared on their scanners had come from. They were still trying to figure it out five minutes later, when the Excaliburs from Taipan Squadron dropped out of cloak right behind them, wiping them out with brutal precision.
Lieutenant Colonel Alex "Skywalker" Witt began scanning for Lynx's lifepod as soon the last Nephilim dissolved into flame and debris. He swore softly as his scanner picked up the debris from her Arrow, but no sign that she had ejected. Either she hadn't had time to eject, or she had opted not to, knowing what the Nephilim did to captives.
"Valeria, this is Taipan Lead." He said sadly. "I've found what's left of Lynx's Arrow. No lifepod, over."
"I'm sorry, Skywalker." The communications officer said, and then paused for a second. "Colonel, we were monitoring Nephilim communications throughout. They didn't send any transmissions. It wasn't for nothing."
Skywalker nodded, and cut the channel. He understood what the other officer was trying to say, that Lynx's sacrifice had kept the Nephilim from realising the Border Worlders were operating cloaked fighters, the way they would have if the other three Arrows had dropped out of cloak to engage them. It had been well meant, but he had had been barely been able to keep from biting the man's head off. Lynx's sacrifice wouldn't have been for nothing even if the Nephilim had realised Lynx was flying a cloaked fighter. She had kept the carriers safe from discovery, and saved three of her pilots by putting their welfare ahead of her own. That was testament to her as a person, just like the fact that her pilots had respected her enough to follow her last orders was a testament to her as a Squadron Leader. She would be remembered and missed by the Valkyries for many reasons, not least as a brave comrade who had given everything in the line of duty.