Thanks again to all commenters and readers. Chapter 21: Siege Razor’s perspective From outside, Oasis station looked as if it may very well have been abandoned many years ago. In the murky sunlight which was largely hidden behind the ghastly orange clouds, the typically shiny dura-steel shell looked aged beyond its years. The constant battering that it had taken from sandstorms had also gone a long way to make the place look a derelict hulk. In reality however, the base at this time was undoubtedly as lively as it had ever been. As I was sprinting across the platform to my fighter which was waiting on a nearby landing platform; I noticed three laser tanks moving into a position to cover the launch pads. I’m not sure what class they were, but they looked modern. I just hoped that they didn’t contain Retros. I couldn’t see any Kilrathi ships, not that I especially wanted to look for them outside of my cockpit. I’m guessing that they were still a little way out. Maybe they were still descending into the atmosphere. A deafening whine drowned out the sound of rushing wind as two Sabres took to the sky. My own fighter was only a few meters away. The ladder was already in place and the guy holding it was looking at me with a face that showed an utter lack of hope. He expected to die here. Miserable bastard. I ascended the ladder; it took me longer to get up the thing in the wind. When I finally stepped into my cockpit and closed the canopy, the resulting stillness in the air felt surprisingly comfortable. I felt almost at home in this thing. The ships systems soon started coming to life around me. My eyes fixed on the radar as it lay featureless before me. When it finally came to life with a short electronic hiss, I noticed nothing except for a large cluster of light blue dots with a handful of darker blue ones circling them. My engines finally came online. I hit my ventral manoeuvring thrusters and pushed myself off of the ground, then I hit full acceleration, pulled up and climbed into the air. “Oasis Station, this is Fire Wings leader. What are we looking at?” It took them a while to respond. For an instant I wondered whether the Retros had gotten through to the bridge already, then a face, a Confederation face, appeared on my com screen. “Fire wings leader, this is Oasis, we count fifteen Kilrathi fighters, all Vakoths by the look of it. We’re also picking up two bigger contacts, they look like troop transports.” “That’s it?” I’d half been expecting him to tell me there was a H’varkann in orbit, along with all its escort ships and at least three hundred fighters. “That’s it ma’am. There’s nothing else on sensors.” “Understood.” “I’m uploading a nav point to all your onboard computers, that’s where the cats are coming in from.” The face vanished from the com screen at pretty much the same time as the nav point appeared on my radar. This didn’t look right. If it weren’t for the troop transports, I’d assume that the Kilrathi had just sent an advanced wave past the Hermes to weaken the base’s defences. On their own however, they would be hard pressed to soften us up enough to clear a path for the troop transports. Unless… Realisation hit me like a punch in the gut. Unless they had inside help, which presumably took the form of the Retros. They’d waited until some agreed time to attack and thereby cause chaos at the base. They’d probably try to sabotage systems from within; maybe even turn some of the base’s weapons on us. Of course they had the marines to contend with, and after the show in the bar, I doubted that the Retros would fare too well. Maybe the Kilrathi knew that too. Perhaps they figured that they could use apes as cannon fodder to make their lives easier. The first of the Kilrathi contacts appeared on the radar and I abruptly stopped caring. My job was to stop them getting through and that was what I had to focus on. It wasn’t like I could be much help anywhere else after all. “All fighters, break and attack. Try and lead them to the base’s defenders, but don’t let them get a shot in.” A few people responded with ‘aye ma’am’s’ and so on. Most people were too busy picking targets and readying missiles. I’d assumed command of the base’s remaining fighter detachments shortly after arriving. The reason for this simply being greater experience. The previous wing commander hadn’t been especially happy about this, but hadn’t made an issue of it. As it stood, we had eighteen ships. Seven Hellcats, (as many as the base could accommodate), and eleven Sabres. The Hellcats were basically replacements for the handful of modern day fighters the base had that the Retros had stolen. The Kilrathi Vaktoth outclasses both kinds of fighter, and there was no shortage of the, which didn’t do much for our confidence. Add to that the lack of experience in the majority of the Sabre pilots, tank and turret crews. This was not going to be easy. Two minutes later “Watch it Whisky 3, you’ve got one on your tail.” “I can see that!” Came back the irritated response from the pilot. “Lancer, focus on one of his wings, see if you can’t…” I closed the channel. They were taking too long. The Vaktoth would annihilate the Sabre before the gunner’s brain told his fingers to press down on the fire button. I abandoned my target and peeled off to the left, lining myself up behind the Vaktoth. It was a long way out, and the sun made it difficult to see, but it was still in missile range. I locked on a friend or foe missile and fired. The missile struck the Vaktoth in the midsection, I think, but didn’t break through the shields. The enemy seemed to sway a little under the impact but soon recovered. “That was a missile by the way.” I said over the radio, trying to force scathing pomposity into my voice, “I’m guessing you’re too stupid to figure that out yourself.” A snarl was my answer, and the Vaktoth soon turned towards me. I kept moving towards him for a few seconds then swung around and ran back the way I’d came. My rear shields started taking hits. I pulled right and downwards slightly; trying to keep my ship in his forward display. I needed him to focus on me. And that he did, right up until two missiles from the station sailed past my fighter and tore his ship to pieces. The vapour trails that the missiles had left in their wake hung in the air for as long as I could see. On closer inspection they were just two among dozens. There were still a fair few Kilrathi ships around so I was guessing they weren’t all faring with as much luck. Blue streaks of light shot out from one point below me, they seemed to be chasing a Vaktoth across the sky, the Kilrathi pilot seemed to be dancing around them. Whether this was just a coincidently picturesque series of evasive manoeuvres or just him showing off I couldn’t tell, and didn’t really care. I switched through contacts until I got his ship, then I closed on him and fired with full guns. He had a harder time evading two sets of gunfire. Not long after I landed my first hits, the laser fire from the tank below finally found its way onto his shields. The cat took his ship into a dive to the floor, I almost followed him, then I realised that I wasn’t in space and would probably plunge nose first into the dirt if I tried. Damn planetary engagements. His ship was hard to make out next to the dusty ground. I tried to track the fighter as best as I could and let off a few shots at the green crosshair on my screen. Only a few hit home. The cat didn’t seem to care. After a few seconds, he fired. The fire from the tank died out a few seconds later and I noticed an explosion next to the base, followed by another a few meters behind it, and then another. Those tanks each carry a crew of four. I accelerated again and unleashed another string of gunfire. Soon after gunfire shot out from three different points on the surface, all pointing at the Vaktoth. It seemed some of the tank crews had witnessed the destruction of their comrades.