Front Lines

Kilrah

Spaceman
So, when does the next chapter come out? I’m sure everybody around this thread would like to read some more of your great story.
Well I’m sure you have more important things to do right now, but try not to let it die, ok? When you have the time please continue. I’ll be waiting, as well as many others.
 

McGruff

Banned
The only thing worse than bad Wing Commander fiction is good Wing commander fiction you have to wait for.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Thanks again to all readers and commenters and sorry it’s taken me so long to update. Things have been surreal here to say the least.

Chapter 7: Opportunity

Razor’s perspective


Sleep was fast becoming a fleeting fever dream. Whenever I closed my eyes I could see screaming officers, pinned down by debris, screaming for anyone to save them from a ship that was dying around them. I could see people trapped behind fallen bulkheads which stood between them and the escape pods. I could hear the screams of people whose voices I had never before met.

That was often the way with carrier groups. Pilots rarely moved from one ship to another. Sometimes engineering staff or medics would be loaned to a damaged ship, sometimes the captains would need to discuss assorted mission briefings and discuss strategies, (although this typically took place onboard the Hermes.)

My point is that I’d never met any of the people onboard the TCS Boston, to me they were just the faintly remembered contents of the destroyer that hovered outside the Rec Room window. Now their faces, or at least the faces that my mind saw fit to give them wouldn’t leave me alone. For reasons known only to itself it felt the need to remind me every few seconds that those people were dead.

I didn’t feel guilty, at least not on a conscious level. I had done my best and I had failed, there were too many Strakha and not enough of us to cover our ships before the Boston went down. Those were the facts, and as an unwritten rule, you faced the facts. In this case the facts were that I couldn’t save the Boston, none of us could, and any bullshit subconscious thoughts to the contrary had to be pushed aside and ignored.

Easier said then done.

I couldn’t summon the energy to push away the ghosts of the Boston’s crew. I was too tired from the shock of losing a ship, the last of the adrenaline leaving my system and worrying about Fool, who if nothing else appeared to be doing alright. Tired though I was though, I wasn’t going to get to sleep this night.

Having Salamander constantly breathing down my neck, (literally) wasn’t helping either.

Summoning what strength I had left, I shifted onto my back, placing one foot on the floor to ensure I didn’t fall out of the bed, (which was barely big enough for one person). I shifted my shoulder so that Salamander’s head was resting on it, unfortunately his head just rolled sideways and he started breathing into my chest which was equally annoying.

Yes, despite what the others have undoubtedly told you about our ‘reluctance to confess our feelings to each other’ or however they’ve phrased it, we had in fact taken care of that months ago.

We had also decided to keep this strictly to ourselves. Couples onboard the Hermes were typically subjected to endless strings of ‘awww’s’ and other insufferable taunts. If we had gone public we’d never have heard the end of it, especially from Fool. His mastery of witty taunts had been used for evil as well as good.

So we stayed silent, deciding to preserve our dignity and not degrade our love with scores of people debasing us. Besides, what with the friendly hostility between Fire wings and Death’s shadow squadron, I was technically sleeping with the enemy.

Unfortunately, our silence hadn’t saved us, thanks largely to Salamander; the man couldn’t keep his features in check to save his life. His obvious worry whenever I got stuck with even the most meaningless of tasks was easier to see then a Kilrathi would be in a public library. Every other day Torrent or Adish, or both, made a point of saying ‘Why don’t you just tell him?’ I’m sure Salamander had to put up with similar questions, of course in his case they were well deserved.

A series of coughs and weary mumblings preceded Salamander’s rise from sleep. Semi conscious, he moved his head off of my shoulder and back on to the pillow, the rest of his body moved away a few seconds afterwards.

I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him move in his dreamlike state. In the midst of war, defeat, death and hardship, it was memories of moments like this, times when the war retreated into some dusty cupboard in my mind and waited patiently to be let out, (which never normally came when I tried to sleep annoyingly), that I cherished. In spite of everything, I still had moments in my life that I could call happy.

One such moment came when Salamander ventured too far left and vanished over the side of the bed, landing in a graceless heap on the floor of my cabin. I remember briefly thinking that it was a good thing I’d bought that Kilrathi rug online. I’m not sure if it was genuine or not, but it made the place look more welcoming then the grey deck plating.

I looked over the side of the bed as the still dazed conscious Salamander stared absently at the furry rug below him as his mind sluggishly worked to figure out what had happened.

I was able to keep myself from laughing for maybe two seconds. At the sound of it, Salamander looked up at me and from the look on his face that somehow merged joy and irritation, had come to the conclusion that I’d pushed him out.
“Snoring was I?” He asked, pushing himself to his feet as he did so.

I laughed again and he cast a glance at the time display on the far wall. I couldn’t see it from here but seeing as he advanced back towards the bed I guessed that there were a few hours left before the day officially started after he moved back to the bed.

I slowly moved over, careful to avoid the fate that had just befallen Salamander. He inserted himself back within the bed and turned around to face me, his right arm under my waist and moved up my back. His left arm brushed a few stray strands of hair behind my ear and came to rest on the back of my head.

I returned the embrace and rested my head on top of his. For a long while we just lay there, silently enjoying our own feelings of contentment.


Four hours and 39 minutes later

I woke up and was amazed to see that I’d been able to fall asleep. The ridiculously bright light that served as an alarm clock shone overhead and would continue to do so until I left my quarters. The Navy didn’t want any pilots oversleeping or taking a long time to get up, and these lights were the invention of Chief technician Gary who, largely out of a resentment for pilots, strove to prevent it. As such the Hermes was the only ship that had the things.

I moved one weary hand about the bed, searching for Salamander, only to find that he was nowhere to be found. I blinked a few times before this actually set in. This wasn’t an overly surprising occurrence, one of us normally got up early so as to ensure that no one saw the both of us exiting the same cabin, or one of us exiting the other’s cabin.

Gathering the scattered pieces of my uniform from the floor I headed towards the shower.

Twenty minutes later

I found Salamander in the Rec room, downing a coffee a bowl of assorted white synthetic white stuff that would today serve as breakfast.

I snatched some food of my own from the bar and headed towards where he was sitting.
“Morning,” he mumbled through a mouthful of food as I sat down.
“Morning,” I replied, trying to suppress a grin, no one was around but it was better not to get complacent.
“You might want to hold your breath as you eat that, I think they use this stuff to sterilise the toilets.

I prodded the white stuff with my fork before deciding to start with the coffee.
“You look happy,” Fool said happily, appearing out of nowhere and sitting himself in the third seat at the table, “Fun night was it?” He flicked his gaze back and forth between us as he did so.

I responded with an appropriate swat to the head, injuries or not he wouldn’t get away unscathed from that.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
He grinned and pushed himself to a half standing position.
“Seriously though if you want privacy I’ll…”
“Just sit down you idiot,” Salamander said whilst grasping one of Fool’s shoulders, (the undamaged one thankfully), and pushing him into the seat.
“How’s the arm?” I asked before he let out another wisecrack.
“Still pallid.” He replied eyeing the deathly pale hand, “That reminds me, are either of you heading out today?”
“Nope, fate saw fit to spare me from patrols today.” Unfortunately it was Salamander who said that, not me.
“I am,” I said, “Fire wings are being sent to scour the system. Tactical thinks the Kilrathi might send a few more surprises our way before they send their fleet in.”
“Yeah good cover story,” Salamander said, pointing his empty coffee mug at me, “I’d wager that Trent thought he could force more on the job training on you lot. God knows you need…”

He cut himself off and grunted as I kicked his below his left knee. This was becoming something of a ritual, he’d insult my squadron, I’d kick him, we’d laugh and move on. An interesting rut to get stuck in.

The two of them shared a moronic laugh, I considered kicking the both of them but decided against it.
“Anyway,” Fool said after a moment, “The colonel wants me to get to grips with this thing,” he gestured at his arm, “Up for a run in the simulator major?”
“You don’t need two people to break into your arm,” I said with a grin of my own, “You just want one of us to go play with you, right?”
“What the?” I swear his face went pale, “No, I just thought that…”
“The computer does generate more realistic enemy targets,” Salamander said, “It would be more help in the long run.”
“And you already know that.” I added.
“Look, just forget it alright…” Fool’s voice had risen, his youthful pride howling in pain, and earning stares from a few weary crew members.
“No don’t worry,” Salamander said, clapping Fool on the shoulder, “Come on, let’s go do battle.”

He was almost laughing as he spoke. He nodded to me by way of goodbye and made his way to the lift, Fool almost reluctantly followed, the fun of the challenge apparently having vanished.

I barely had time to down my breakfast, which as Salamander had said actually did taste like toilet cleaner, before I was called to the briefing room.

Ten minutes later

“Alright people, quieten down, we don’t have time to waste here. The attack yesterday has provided us with a unique opportunity.”

The room fell silent. Unique opportunities were normally good things, assuming all went well, something that hadn’t been happening much recently.
“Judging by sensor data retrieved from footage of yesterdays fight with the enemy, we have discovered that one of the jump engines built into a Strakha was knocked out by flak fire. Ordinarily we’d have expected the pilot to have activated a self destruct but by the looks of things we must have taken that out too because this image was taken by tracking station Sierra 3 half an hour ago.

Trent pressed a button on the podium and a section of the screen changed to reveal an image of a floating, critically damaged Strakha drifting peacefully through space.

“The pilot’s life support system has almost certainly given out by now considering the way its moving, assuming of course that we didn’t kill him ourselves. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to bring this thing back intact; and also that the cloaking device still works, if we can reverse engineer one of those things, it could be a great boost to the confederation war effort.”

Another series of mumblings broke out across the room; cloaking devices were a fanciful aspiration for pilots and technicians aside. The thought of sneaking up, unseen on a group of hairballs and unleashing hell into their tails before they realised what was happening sounded more fun then the dogfights that we typically endured. I’m sure Adish would also probably rejoice at the thought of being invisible during a torpedo run.

“I need six volunteers to go out there and bring this thing in.”
“Six sir?” Said 1st Lieutenant Florence ‘Badger’ Mortimer, “That’s pretty heavy for wreckage retrieval.”
“Considering the importance of what that ship may contain we’ve decided not to take any chances. Now if there are no other questions, who wants a milk run for a day’s assignment?”

I stood up, along with everyone else in the room. This sounded shorter and less dull then a patrol.
Trent looked across the gathered faces, trying to remember off the top of his head who was due for time outside. I knew that wasn’t me, and I guessed he did too so I’m guessing he picked me because of seniority and experience, sometimes that was a good thing, most often though it was a curse.

“Alright, Razor you’ll lead the mission. Um, Scribe, Sparky, Beck, Kodiak and who else? Trout, you get this run.”

We sat down, I noticed a few frowns of disappointment and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the, (hopefully), tedious patrol that I’d avoided.
“Computer, display alpha.”

The Strakha image disappeared and the map display zoomed in on a specific area. The Hermes’ icon and a single nav point were visible, as was an asteroid field.
“Judging by the current speed and trajectory of the enemy fighter, you should run into here at Nav one, or at least somewhere close to it. We believe that the pilot steered his craft towards this asteroid belt to ensure it was destroyed in the absence of his self destruct system. We don’t expect you’ll run into any enemies but stay sharp nevertheless, the cats have already caught us off guard once so far, I don’t want it to happen again. Questions?”
“Sir,” this was Sparky, “If we do encounter any enemies, should we engage or just report their position to the Hermes?
“Razor makes the call, but retrieving the Strakha is of the highest priority, if you can engage the enemy then do so.”
“Yes sir.” I replied.
“Anyone else? Alright then, get suited up, you launch in ten minutes. Dismissed.”

To be continued
 

Marc

Commodore
checking... checking... yep, I'm still hooked. I wonder if there'll be a printable version in the end... like a PDF version with a good cover-art.
 

Kilrah

Spaceman
As usual, great job!
Thanks for keeping it going.

Marc said:
checking... checking... yep, I'm still hooked. I wonder if there'll be a printable version in the end... like a PDF version with a good cover-art.
I vote for that as well.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Thanks again to readers and commenters. I’ll keep in mind this PDF suggestion for nearer the time the story finishes, (God only knows when that will be). As for cover art, I’m somewhat hampered by the fact that I have little artistic talent, still, I’ll keep the suggestion in mind and see if an opportunity of sorts presents itself.

Right, enough of my yammering.

Chapter 8: Surprise

Razor’s perspective


The six of us had been flying for what felt like a solid day, meters were covered slowly and the distance on the nav map between us and the Strakha, (that may or may not be at the nav point) didn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

Conversation was sporadic, younger pilots argued about largely nauseating topics such as who was the better pilot, who would receive their ace of aces medal first, who had the more interesting facial hair and so forth, I wasn’t really paying attention. I was tempted to order radio silence if only to shut them up, unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any reasonable justification for doing so and I didn’t want to receive a lecture from Trent about misuse of the radio.

At the academy, one thing you heard every other hour without fail were the words ‘stay sharp out there’, or something to that effect. The wisdom of those words had been proved countless times with each careless pilot who died because they hadn’t been paying attention to their radar.

Normally, when you knew that there were plenty of Kilrathi in whichever system you also happened to be in who was ready and willing to kill you, this was an easy thing to do. When you were in a virtually deserted system it became somewhat more difficult.

I know what you’re thinking, what with all that’d happened recently we shouldn’t assume that there were no cats about. There might still be some Strakha lying in wait. These were valid points, but something in our heads, experience, instinct maybe, I don’t know. Whatever it was told us that all was alright and it was ok to be careless. It felt a lot like high school, I spent many a happy lesson carefully drifting off into thought.

The bottom line was, Strakha aside, the tracking station reported that it was all clear in the Brimstone system, and the trajectory of the Strakha indicated that they were heading back towards the jump hole. Also, if any did decide to pester us, there were six of us, and last and most probably least, being modified to carry jump engines had had a debilitating effect on the Strakha’s manoeuvrability.

A few more minutes passed in utter silence, except for the white noise of the Hellcat, after which a new conversation spontaneously broke out. This one seemed more interesting then the others.
“I hear we’re getting a new destroyer.” Uttered Sparky mater of factly. He made it sound as if the data was for an Admiral’s eyes only.
“Oh yeah?” Replied Scribe wearily.
“Yeah, the TCS Okinawa. Brand new destroyer, fresh out of space dock.” Now he sounded like a car salesman.
“Great.” Muttered Kodiak uninterestedly, “So why is it the rest of us don’t know this.”

What I could see of Sparky’s face seemed pleased when it appeared on the com screen, maybe he’d been hoping someone would ask this.
“I listen to things.” Came the somewhat anticlimactic reply, I’m not sure what I was expecting really.
“You mean you overheard some bridge officers talking about it when you were busy drinking to the memory of the Boston right?” Asked Captain Brenda ‘Trout’ Perez, echoing my, hell probably all of our sentiments. “I know what you’re like Sparky, any excuse to hit the bottle and you leap on it.”
“Fuck you Perez”
“That’s Captain to you lieutenant.” In an instant, Perez’s voice had snapped to the stern, merciless tone typically reserved for irate academy instructors. It didn’t seem to phase Sparky though.
“Sorry, fuck you Captain.”
“That’s enough, both of you.” I had no intention of flying with a bunch of bickering idiots on my wing.

Another silence emerged, and I briefly found myself missing the Chang Cu system. At least there I had the Kilrathi to keep me from getting bored.

I almost wished that they’d hurry up and move their fleet in.

Two and a half hours later

“I can see it.”

All of us instantly looked to our radars at the sound of Lieutenant Beck’s report. The next second, a small red dot appeared in the central circle. I switched to my weapons display and locked on an Imrec, just in case.
“Alright people,” I said, my focus now much easier to maintain, “Keep your wits about you. I know it looks dead but you never know, let’s do this properly and make sure we don’t get any nasty surpr...”
“I’m picking up something else.”

A silence followed this, why Beck felt the need to keep the information to himself was, initially, a mystery.
“What is it Beck?”
“It’s” He cut himself off, confusion interfering with his voice, “They’re ours. Three Thunderbolts.”

His earlier silence suddenly made sense. With a mission such as this, Trent would make sure that no friendly ships got in our way. Everyone wanted this mission to go smoothly considering the potential importance to Confed. So who the hell were these guys?
“This is Major Samantha Baez of the TCS Hermes, please identify yourselves.” By this time, three blue dots had appeared on my radar. They weren’t moving.

Silence was my answer.
“This isn’t right.” Scribe muttered under is breath, “What are…”
“Quiet.” I hissed to him. “Unidentified Thunderbolt wing, this is Alpha wing out of the TCS Hermes, we are involved in a salvage operation of potentially critical importance and your presence here is an interruption of that operation. Withdraw from this area at once.”

Again we waited, each of us silently trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. Part of me expected to receive a flickery message from the lead pilot saying that they’d been knocked off course due to a few chance encounters with either Kilrathi or asteroids, and in another part of my brain that I was certain was mistaken, the possibility that…

“Holy Christ!” Screamed Sparky, his voice cutting through the silent tension like a battleaxe, “Incoming missiles, they’ve…”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence.

In the last few seconds of his life, Sparky had pulled frantically at his flight controls and moved to jettison a decoy, but the missiles hit, probably, before his hand reached the console.

A short yelp of pain cut him off in mid sentence, then the green digital head on the radio vanished behind a stream of fire. Then the radio cut out.
“No!” That was Trout, her voice fused with disbelief.
“What the hell are they doing?” Scribe shouted, as if any of us would know.
“Break and attack!” I snapped, my shock finally pushed away by the years of experience and training. “Take them alive if you can. We need to find out who they are and where they came from.”

Having said that I doubt that any of us, myself included, would be inclined to show mercy after what had happened to Sparky.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I was shooting at Confederation ships, they had just destroyed one of my wingmen, they were the enemy, simple as that. I couldn’t allow myself to ponder on the absurdity of the situation.
“You’ll pay for that you fucking Mandarin bastard!” Beck’s voice was, understandably, filled with rage considering his friend had just been blown to pieces. I wasn’t sure whether these were Mandarins or not, they’d been lying low ever since Ayer’s Rock was put to the torch. Like I said though, that didn’t matter right now.

One of the Thunderbolts was heading straight for me, I hit my afterburners and charged on a course straight passed him, he opened fire as I did so, my port shields vanished almost instantly, as did some of my armour.

I swung around after I was behind him and instantly found mass driver discharges smashing into my forward shields. Whoever this was, their reaction time was impressive to say the least. They were however, flying in a perfectly straight line, presumably to make operating the rear turret easier. This was more of a benefit for me however.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
I strafed to the left, and then to the right as his turret began to track me. After a few seconds of this I let fly two friend or foe missiles.

No matter how good their reaction time, the pilot didn’t stand a chance of evading the two missiles with such a short distance between our ships.

The Thunderbolt jolted forward as the two missiles tore into it. The rear shields of the beast vanished as swiftly as my port shield had, a number of hull segments also were torn off of the fighter.

I closed the distance slightly before following up with a neutron and ion gun salvo. I landed several hits, if it had been a Dralthi it would have exploded. Thunderbolts however were renowned for their durability. It required a lot of pounding to kill one.

I shouldn’t be trying to kill one in the first place, what the fuck is…?
Not now! Stay focused.


Alright, to be honest staying focused wasn’t as effortless as I made it sound.

“This guy’s giving me grief guys. Get him off me!”
“Alright, hang in there Kodiak, I’m on my…”

Beck’s sentence was brought to an end by the sound of n explosion behind somewhere on his controls, instinctively he shielded his face from shards, even though the helmet was designed to do exactly that, some aspects of human nature you just couldn’t fight.
“Ah shit,” he said, after swerving out of the sights of whoever was firing at him, “My radar is fried, I can’t see a thing. I can’t get to you Kodiak.
“I’m on it.” I said, “Trout, finish this one off.”
“Got it.”

I swung my ship away and hastily searched for Kodiak’s fighter. When I found it I noticed that she’d taken engine damage. A lot of it, it seemed she wouldn’t last long if I didn’t get to her quickly.

The key word there being ‘seemed’. When I got close enough I noticed that Kodiak, despite an obvious loss of manoeuvrability in her Hellcat, was still managing to evade the majority of her attacker’s fire. Of course that could have just meant that he was a poor marksman. It didn’t really matter in the end.

I waited for far more seconds then I would have liked for the lock chime t sound, and then launched off two leech missiles. We’d been equipped with these just in case the Strakha turned out to be not quite as dead as we expected. The Kilrathi had duped us before with ships that only appeared to be crippled. Then again, we’d done the same to them from time to time, probably.

The pilot made a decent job of evading the missiles, but to no avail. The decoys and rushed afterburner slide only delayed the impact.

At first it looked like nothing happened. The damage to the Thunderbolt’s shields was pitiful. I’d never seen Leeches in action before, they were a fairly new addition to the arsenal and before now there’d never been a great need for them.

The pilot swerved around and began what looked like another attack run at Kodiak. I hit my afterburners and headed towards him, readying my last friend or foe missile.
“Whoo! That’s one of the bastards gone.” A sinister grin broke out on my face at this news from Scribe.

The Thunderbolt was still heading towards Kodiak. I opened fire the second the green crosshair appeared on my HUD. The pilot pulled his ship upwards; but it didn’t change course.

As the first of my hits impacted on his shields I realised that the Leech missiles must have worked after all, except that judging from the ship’s movements, shield strength and the fact that a string of gunfire was heading in my direction, it seemed like only his engines were damaged.

Another Hellcat opened fire on the Thunderbolt as I strafed out of the way of the incoming gunfire. I pulled upwards slightly, re-acquired the target, returned fire and watched as his dorsal shields collapsed.

After what may have been less then a second of successive pounding from two angles, the Thunderbolt’s canopy blew, I stopped fire and instructed the second attacker, (Scribe), to do the same.

A pilot was launched from the canopy shortly before the ship’s self destruct activated itself.

I examined the pilot briefly, definitely human, these weren’t commandeered ships.

With five Hellcats raining down fire upon him, the third Thunderbolt wasn’t too much of a pest. Especially when he’d already taken damage from two friend or foe missiles, courtesy of yours truly. I couldn’t see who got the kill shot.

There was some triumphant chatter after the battle but this soon died out when we remembered that Sparky hadn’t made it through.

For a few moments there was silence as everyone tried to catch their breath. After these moments had passed, Scribe said it for all of us.
“What the Hell was that? Why are our guys shooting at us?”

No one answered right away, I inhaled heavily once, trying to force memories of Sparky’s dying scream away until I was no longer in the cockpit.
“Listen, one of them ejected, when an SAR shuttle arrives and taken him back to the Hermes we’ll figure out just what the hell happened here. Until then let’s finish what we came here for.”

I paused as I hurriedly located the Strakha on my radar.
“Right, I’ll tractor that thing, Scribe and Kodiak, you cover me. Trout, you and Beck keep an eye on the ejection pod under SAR gets here.”
“Understood.” Trout answered, her voice sounding numb.
“Whatever.” Beck replied a few seconds after. Not exactly a textbook response considering he’d just lost a friend I decided to let it slide this once.

“Alright, Kodiak, Scribe, let’s get going.

Six hours later

As you can probably imagine, Colonel Trent had a few things to discuss with us upon our return.

“Tactical’s analysed the flight recorders from your ships, with the exception of Beck’s which was damaged beyond repair. We’re all pretty convinced that these, people, attacked you without provocation and that you followed standard procedures prior to the engagement.”
“Thank you sir.” I’m not sure exactly why I was thanking him but it seemed the most appropriate thing to say.
“It will still be several hours before the SAR shuttle arrives, we’ll commence a chemtank interrogation when it does.” He paused and momentarily gave us a facial expression that looked vaguely like he had just swallowed engine grease.
“Do you have any idea who these people were? Or why this happened.”

I cast a quick glance at Kodiak and Scribe. They both shrugged.
“None sir. But I can’t believe they just stumbled across us, or that Strakha for that matter by accident.”
“Agreed.”
“Speaking of,” Scribe butted in his voice sounded scornful. Maybe he thought Sparky had died to retrieve a worthless heap of junk. “What’s the word on that Strakha Colonel? Are we going to unravel the secrets of cloaking devices soon?”

Trent shot him a glare.
“Its too early to say. We’ll be moving the thing to the Confederation’s headquarters at Vespus. One way or another, you all did good work out there. And I am sorry about Sparky.”

I nodded once, I didn’t see the other’s responses.
“Unless there’s anything else you’d like to add…?” None of us answered this.
“Very well then, dismissed.”

To be continued
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Thanks again to all who have read and commented. I’m feeling temporarily inspired, hence the quick update.

Chapter 9: Necessity

Adish’s perspective


At least I couldn’t say I was bored.

Mine deployments should by all rights be tiresome affairs, and usually they were just that. Move so many meters, deploy a mine, move on another few meters, deploy another one, move off when you’re finished and wait patiently for the other ships to drop their mines. Spend your time pointing out large gaps in the field which could be exploited.

As often as not however, mine deployment missions involved a race against time. Either you finished first and got the hell out of there before the Kilrathi did, or the Kilrathi arrived first and used your slow fighter which had numerous high yield explosives strapped to it for target practice. That made such missions tense things at best.

Normally a destroyer or two would have been sent to help us. Our Longbows could carry roughly sixteen mines each, however since we had been outfitted with friend or foe missiles for defence purposes, we were carrying only eight mines apiece.

I’m not sure how many mines a destroyer could carry, but it was undoubtedly much more then we could. Just one of them would make this job go a lot faster.

However, considering what was likely to be coming through that jump hole any time now, and that any cap ships in the area would likely meet their demise if they stayed too close to the enemy’s entry point, it had been decided that we’d have to do this the slow, safer way.

Having said that, no one was too optimistic about our chances of survival if the enemy came through whilst we were still working. Granted we stood a higher chance of getting back to the Hermes with our lives, however Longbows were not renowned for their ability to outrun hostile ships. Enough Darkets or Vaktoth on our tail and we wouldn’t stand a chance.

I shook the thought from my head and brought my ship to a stop as I reached the new nav point. I spent a few seconds shifting the beast in order to get as close to the nav point as possible before I deployed the sixth mine.
“Proceed to next waypoint.” Uttered the insufferable computer voice for the sixth time. Why the person or persons who had designed this thing thought we needed to be reminded of such things as where to fly I did not know.

We weren’t expecting any friendly ships to come through the Chang Cu jump hole so we’d disabled the self destruct. Each of these mines wouldn’t explode until they a) collided with a Kilrathi ship, b) collided with a careless Confederation pilot, or c) malfunctioned.

The seventh nav point wasn’t too far away. There were already a number of mines clustered n this area so I slowed to a snail’s pace. The radar was no help, the yellow dots had all fused into a single yellow section that covered over half the radar. I had to rely on my eyes, and I couldn’t see much to begin with.

Fortunately I didn’t hit anything. I launched the seventh mine at the nav point.
“Proceed to next waypoint.”
“Ah shut it.”

The eighth waypoint was in a nicer location, several kilometres away from the jump point, there weren’t too many mines around the area either. I’d half expected it to be right next to the jump buoy, along with fifty mines to contend with.

I increased speed once I was away from the largest clusters. Getting to the eighth waypoint wasn’t a problem.
“Mission objectives achieved.” The computer uttered pleasantly once I’d deployed the last mine.
“This is Haajanen”, I said, trying to keep relief out of my voice, “I’ve finished here, your turn Mongoose.”
“About time, I thought the war might end before you got finished.”

Maybe I should have responded to that, but I was abruptly too weary to do anything except fly over to the four assembled Longbows and two Thunderbolt escorts that were pointed at the jump buoy. Waiting to hurl torpedoes at whatever came through the jump point, assuming something came through that is.

My mind began to wander the second I took up a position near the jump point. Specifically it wandered towards the question that had been on everyone’s mind recently, why were our own people shooting at us?

The ejected pilot from the Thunderbolt wing that Razor’s wing had taken out two days ago had committed suicide before the SAR shuttle had returned to the Hermes. He had done this via the aid of a cyanide pill concealed in his flight suit. The marines were caught off guard and could not stop him in time; no one was expecting the man to end his own life.

What we had been able to determine was that the wing had launched from the base on Brimstone 2. The base’s commander had vowed to start an investigation to weed out any more potential traitors in our midst.

The most popular theory so far was that we were dealing with Mandarins. God knows that the majority of them would be willing to die for their moronic cause, and Confederation pilots had been known to defect to the society of Mandarins in the past.

This was all speculation however, in reality we didn’t have a clue who these people were, or even if there were any more of them. Those three we had dealt with might have been the only ones for all we knew.

I shifted in my chair slightly, trying in vain to get comfortable. Despite the systems built in to the seats that massage the muscles or do something to prevent deep vein thrombosis, extended sits in a fighter had a habit of feeling like sitting on concrete.

“There’s a film on tonight in the Rec room,” Torrent said from the Thunderbolt on my right, “You going?”
“What is it?”
“Something called Vengeance’s fire. Its new, popular back home apparently.”
“Let me guess, another riveting action movie designed to stir up patriotism among the civilian population.”
“I think you’re reading too much into it. It’s the popular genre at the moment.”
“Maybe, still, I don’t think its for me. Maybe I’ll sit this one out.”
“This one and every one, it wouldn’t kill you to step outside your quarters for more then just meals.”

I sighed and was on the verge of acquiescing when it happened.

Light erupted on my view screen; even with the protective visor it was a strain to see anything. At first I thought a cluster of mines had detonated, then, in the top left corner of my view screen I noticed a hint of swirling blue light.
“Oh my God.”

“Look at the size of that thing.” Uttered one pilot in disbelief, I couldn’t see who. Whoever it was though, they were right. That wormhole was huge, as was what was about to come through it.

Although in reality it was probably only a few seconds, to us it felt like an eternity between the jump point opening, and the sight of the claw like bow of a H’varkann class dreadnought emerge from it.
“What the fuck is that?” Screamed one pilot, the second Thunderbolt pilot I think, I didn’t recognise the face. Clearly they hadn’t read the latest edition of Joan’s fighting spacecraft.

Disbelief was my first reaction. These ships were almost mythical, due partially to the newness of these new Kilrathi behemoths, but due mostly to the fact that almost no one had ever seen one and lived, no one human anyway. Just one of these annihilated the Quinson carrier group. Imagine how much more easily it could deal with us.

Intelligence reports, the ones that humble first lieutenants were allowed to see, stated that the Empire only had one of these things. In terms of practicality however that made little sense.

After the initial disbelief wore off, fear began to replace it. That ship was a monster. Gun turrets seemed to cover every square inch of the gigantic hull. The sizable docking bay in the centre of the bow looked ready and willing to spew forth God knows how many fighters at us.

“All ships,” Major Jennifer Reed, our Wing commander was almost screaming at us, “Run! Fall back to the Hermes, Mongoose get the hell out of there!”
“Yes ma’am!”

It was surprisingly difficult to break eye contact with that beast. Don’t ask me why but some instinctive part of me felt it would be safer not to turn my back on it. Rationality soon set me straight and I soon found myself afterburning away from the dreadnought as fast as was possible.

I switched to my rear view display and noticed a number of explosions erupting on the hull, the mines detonating on the ship’s shields. If they were having any affect you wouldn’t know it. The tactical display showed all four sections of the H’varkann’s shields as blue, indicating that they were still at near full strength.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
I shook my head in disbelief. Just a few of those mines could take out a Dubav class light carrier, granted there was nothing light about what was following us, but still with the amount of mines we’d been piling up in the last three days, you’d expect that at least some damage would be done to the dreadnought.

A sudden flash of red caught my eye on the radar.
“Incoming fighters!” I shouted before switching my targeting display to show the new arrivals. “Vaktoths, four of them.”

I checked my fuel gauge; I seemed to be running out of fuel twice as quickly as normal.

“Make that eight.” Torrent said after a few moments, “They’ve launched a new wing.”

Shit!

I checked my display again, hoping that the mines might be wearing down the shields of the dreadnought. No such luck. We might as well have been throwing rocks at them.

Suddenly, something started to make sense. Sending that titanic monstrosity in first allowed them to clear way whatever defences we may have left lurking around for them, be that fighters, capital ships or mines. That H’varkann was also clearing a nice path for the rest of the litter to follow. Even if it did take some damage it would be superficial at best, easily repairable.

An unexpected Kilrathi scream then sounded on all our radios, the pilot presumably intending to spit out an insult but instead amusing us all with his dying howl after he blundered into a mine.

An unexpected grin broke out on my face, at least some of the mines were taking out enemy ships. First blood to us.

This momentary respite soon came to an end when I saw a familiar face on the com screen.
“They’re shitting all over me, I can’t dodge…” Mongoose’s words degenerated into a scream as her fighter was gunned down by the H’varkann’s flak fire. This scream was also cut off in an instant. Death it seemed didn’t take long when one of those things was dishing it out.

In answer to any shock, sadness or further disbelief that might accompany this death, my mind forced itself to focus almost of its own accord. I spared one hating glance for the thing following us before I turned my attention back to the radar.

Two more red dots vanished. A savage laugh almost escaped my lips. Drakhai these weren’t.

We were putting distance between ourselves and the dreadnought, however the Vaktoth were closing on us. We couldn’t hope for the mines to take them all out, or that our rear turrets would be sufficient to take out our pursuers.

We continued running for another two minutes before Reed’s face reappeared on the screen.
“Alright, everyone arm two friend or foe missiles, on my mark, full stop and come about. Launch your missiles at the closest target and then keep running. Try and get a ship no one else is shooting at.”

A round of ‘understood’s’ and ‘yes ma’am’s’ followed this. I prepped two missiles and selected a Vaktoth that was little under nine kilometres away. This was wasteful, and there wasn’t time to plan our attack and ensure that we didn’t all take out the same target, but we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t stick around for a dogfight.
“Now!”

Almost in unison we stopped, I swung my ship around and pointed it at the approaching Vaktoth, waited, heard the lock confirmation, and fired.

The missiles sped away from me and towards my target that was already beginning to evade the missiles. I tracked them as best as I could on the radar as I swung back around and re-activated my afterburners.

The enemy fighter remained undamaged, I’m guessing the missiles impacted on a decoy. Other enemy ships weren’t so lucky however.

Torrent’s target died, as did Reed’s as well as two other Kilrathi fighters. They were down to just two pursuers, and one of them had taken a fairly serious hit.
“They’re falling back,” Said Lieutenant Ryan Schneider after we’d been running again for another thirty seconds.

I grinned again as I imagined those two pilots trying to justify their failure to their C.O. A shame that zu’kara didn’t count for the kill board.
“I’m picking up more enemy contacts,” Reed stated, “looks like two Fralthi carriers just jumped in behind the dreadnought. I’m also picking up four Dralthi heading our way.

I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

I resisted the urge to look at fuel gauge, I didn’t want to know that I had about three seconds worth left. I also didn’t want to give anxiety a foothold.
“New contacts,” Reed said again, “Kamrani, transports, at least five Sorthak.” She sighed, I could almost feel the sadness emanating from it, “This is it boys and girls. They’re here. It is imperative that at least one of us gets this data back to the Hermes. We can’t let them be caught off guard by that thing.”

Be that as it may, escape seemed doubtful at best. We had a fair lead on the enemy ships, but the gap was closing, on top of that we were running out of fuel, and the bombers were slowing everyone down.
“Stay alive all of you, that’s an order.”
“What? What the hell are you talking about Major?”

It wasn’t until I saw one of the blue dots on my radar head back towards the ever growing collection of red and orange dots that I knew what she was talking about.
“Are you insane?” Screamed Schneider.
“Get back here Major,” I added, “Your dying won’t slow them down.”
“We don’t have any other option, I’ll buy you as much time as I can, and I’ll take as many of these hairy bastards with me.”

Part of me wanted to turn back and fight alongside her into a quasi-heroic death. This was pointless though, even if all but one of us turned back to fight, we wouldn’t hold back the advancing fighters for long. Reed had made her choice, all I could do was try to make it count for something.

A lot of yellow dots began to emerge from Major Reed’s Longbow. Each heading towards a red dot.

Some veered away whereas others appeared to fly straight into the missiles. One of the red dots vanished. If the pilot had any thoughts about dying he kept them to himself.

I wanted to pull my eyes away, to force myself to focus on something other then my wing commander’s upcoming demise. Still, she was making the ultimate sacrifice for us, the least I could do was pay attention as she did so.

Kilrathi fighters closed in around her, I could picture it with unnerving clarity in my mind, her bomber being smashed from all sides, her own weapon’s fire becoming more sporadic, her shield’s failing, segments of hull being torn away.

And then she was gone, the red dots moved away from each other to reveal the absence of a blue dot among them.

I felt a stinging behind my eyes and tried, with limited success, to stop the tears before they arrived. This wasn’t the time for mourning; not that my body seemed to care about this however.

They were still heading towards us; Reed had given her life to slow them down for maybe twenty seconds. I could only hope it would be enough.

To be continued.
 

Kilrah

Spaceman
I’m speechless. It’s so great.
I hope the next chapter doesn’t take much time to come, because I’m so curious about what happens to those guys.

Excellent job!
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Greetings again and thanks to all who’ve read and commented.

Chapter 10: Hunted

Torrent’s perspective


I never thought I’d be so enthused about flying towards an asteroid field.

Captain Karl Von Tieschowitz, the highest ranking pilot left in our wing, had discovered a nearby asteroid field that lay not too far away from us. Distantly I remembered the awkward flight path we’d taken on the way here to avoid it. He’d ordered all of us to charge at it at best possible speed. It was the best chance we had of evading our pursuers.

It was lucky that on of us had been paying attention to the Nav map. All I’d thought to do was run and if possibly run faster. I’d have to keep this incident in mind for future reference, assuming I lived through it.

Rather unsurprisingly, the largest problem that we faced was one of fuel. We’d be able to get pretty close to the asteroid field with afterburners, but after that we would be forced to fly towards it at cruise speed, giving the Kilrathi more then enough time to close the already narrowing gap between us and blow us all away. Also, even if we got into the field, there was nothing to stop their far more manoeuvrable ships following us.

What we needed to do was lose our pursuers in the field, then shut own as many systems as possible, if our electronic emissions were sufficiently low, we’d be able to move away from the Kilrathi unnoticed.

Hopefully.

I checked my tactical display, the closest ship to us were a wing of four Dralthi that had jumped in with two enemy cruisers. They were a little over 23 kilometres away. What fleeting hope I had that we’d be able to make it to the field without incident died with that discovery.

Seven minutes later

My speed indicator switched from 1000kps to 380kps. I still had a drop or two of fuel left, but one of the Longbows had run out, and it made more sense to stay together. None of us probably would have been able to accomplish anything more then a fifteen centimetre lead anyway.

The distance between us and the Dralthi was closing fast. I could imagine the looks on the Kilrathi’s faces now that their prey could no longer run fast enough to evade them.

The asteroid field was visible, barely, I could make out brief hints of grey rocks in the distance, they seemed very far away.

My ‘lock’ light sprung to life abruptly, sending a surge of panic through me. I released a decoy and pulled upwards, hitting my afterburners ad spending what little fuel I had left as I did so.

The alarm and the lock light died in unison. The missile had detonated on the decoy. I didn’t feel much in the way of relief seeing as I was now falling behind the others.
“We’re not going to make it with these hairballs hounding us,” Tieschowitz said suddenly, “All units, break and attack, let’s make this quick people.”

I pulled my ship around and launched one of the four remaining image recognition missiles that I had left at the nearest Dralthi. It was somewhat helpful that the pilot had neglected to deactivate his afterburners when eh engaged us, he was probably trying to close the distance to make targeting us easier.

The downside, for him anyway, of dong this was that he had little time to evade the missile heading at him, and also the increased speed of the collision resulted in greater damage to his ship.

The explosion ripped off the right wing of the Dralthi, sending what was left of the ship into an uncontrollable spin. I fired off a few shots for good measure, and sure enough the rest of the enemy fighter exploded.
“That’s one down.” I said quickly, trying not to waste time in acquiring a new target.

My rear turret suddenly sprung to life, I switched to my rear view display and noticed a second Dralthi hovering behind me.

He opened fire a second later.

My ship shuddered under the multiple impacts. None of the shots missed.

I pulled right, the Dralthi stayed with me, after a few second he opened fire again, the first shots barely missing me, the next few tore away what was left of my rear shields.

My ship shuddered again, and my hand was knocked away from the flight controls.

Then the shuddering stopped.

I pulled away regardless, not wanting to tempt fate. I checked my radar, the Dralthi was gone, and a blue dot was moving away from where it had been, I checked my contact list quickly to see who it was who ad presumably just shot the enemy off of my tail.
“Thanks Adish.” I said quickly.
“Don’t mention it.” He replied, “Two down.”

I activated my damage control display. My rear turret was gone, as was most of the durasteel armour I had in that section. My engines had taken minor damage that according to the computer was seconds away from repair. Not nearly as bad as I had feared. I had expected to find myself confined to 50kps for the next hour or so.
“Three down.” Tieschowitz added after a few more seconds. The enemy were beginning to succumb to our greater numbers.

If our roles had been reversed and confederation pursuers had been suffering at the hands of the Kilrathi, the surviving pilot would most likely fall back and join the second wave of fighters closing in on the enemy.

The remaining Kilrathi had other ideas.

I pulled my ship around so as to get him in my gun sights and readied another missile. We didn’t have much time left. The Sorthak were closing on us. In our current condition we were no match for them.

The Dralthi veered to the left, he was moving very quickly, I wondered briefly if he was in fact going to pull back to his friends after all. That was until I saw his ship collide with Lieutenant Schneider’s Longbow. The Dralthi went up immediately, Schneider’s fighter spun momentarily before coming to a stop.

The entire aft section looked charred and mutilated. Pieces of hull had been torn away, atmosphere was leaking from one hull breach, fire from two others.
“Schneider,” Tieschowitz shouted, “What’s your status, can you still fly.”

After a second, Schneider’s face appeared on the com screen. Accompanied by smoke and what sounded like a continuous electrical discharge from somewhere behind him.
“My engines are shot, that bastard took out every…” he cut himself off, barely keeping a lid on his panic, I couldn’t blame him, “I’m dead in the water.” There was another pause, this one longer. “Look, all of you keep going, I’ll stay here, try and distract them.”

Tieschowitz’s face appeared on the com screen but it was a few seconds before he said anything. He was clearly struggling with the responsibility and the hard decisions that he had to face. These weren’t things typically cast upon Captains.

I have to say however, he performed well.
“You heard him,” he said after a moment, “We have to keep moving, quickly people, we don’t have much time. The Hermes needs this data.”

Ordinarily we could have trusted the tracking stations to report this find to the Hermes and the other ships in the system. Unfortunately, a fair few of the Strakha that had destroyed the Boston had encored with the destruction of the three tracking stations that monitored the jump hole. The stations boasted neither heavy armour nor decent defences, and several kamikaze wings had been able to slip through the flak fire.

This left us effectively blind. We did not have any Prowler class corvettes in our presence, sending a destroyer or a cruiser to the jump hole would be foolish to say the least and would leave us with one less ship with which to fight the enemy.

It was pure luck that we had been where we’d been when the Kilrathi came through. It was a truly a miracle that we had survived this long.

We started moving again, each doubtlessly cursing themselves for wasting time, and then cursing themselves for considering listening to what were doubtlessly going to be Schneider’s last words a waste of time. That was what I did anyway. At this time my mind was largely becoming a mess. The Sorthak were closing quickly, and the chances of us reaching the field before they reached us were becoming slimmer by the second.

In the radar I noticed a small swarm of red dots advancing on the stationary blue dot. Schneider’s Longbow wouldn’t even slow them down. All it would take was a few gunshots and he’d be gone. He probably wouldn’t be able to even return fire.

As the five red dots closed in on Schneider, his face returned to our com screens. I think he was crying.
“Jamie, Cassandra, this is for you.”

As his face vanished from the screen, space lit up behind me.

I switched on my rear view display and witnessed an explosion far more powerful then the destruction of a Longbow should have been able to produce. An explosion like that was often the result of a small cap ship blowing up, or…

Mines.

In that instant it made sense. Schneider had waited until the Sorthak were close enough, then he’d detonated all twelve mines in his ship’s arsenal. It was surprisingly, and almost a little disturbingly comforting when I realised his death would have certainly been quick and painless.

I checked the radar. Only two Sorthak remained, I fired up the tactical display and noticed that one of them was in no better shape then Schneider’s bomber had been in before he sacrificed himself. The other appeared to have stopped completely; the explosion must have damaged his engines.

The first of the remaining Sorthak’s wasn’t foolhardy enough to continue the chase. The dot on the radar soon moved back towards the orange swarm behind us.

“He’s done it.” Python, (the second Thunderbolt pilot,) was almost shouting, “They’re falling back.”
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
“And they can’t reach us before we reach the field.” I added, my voice betraying a weariness that had abruptly fallen upon me. I pushed it away as best as I could. We weren’t out of the woods yet; not nearly.
“Don’t get careless,” Tieschowitz added, “the cat’s got careless and look what’s happened to them already.”

He was right. We’d been hopelessly outnumbered, and we’d had a H’varkann to content with, and on top of that we’d already taken out thirteen enemy fighters and severely damaged four more. Not bad.

“I’m reading new hostile contacts,” Adish uttered, relief at the Sorthaks’ defeat evident in his voice, “Darkets, eight of them.”
“They just don’t learn do they?” Python added.
“We’re almost at the field,” Tieschowitz said, “maintain radio silence, and deactivate all systems except engines, radar, shields and life support once we get inside the field.”

Now came the hard part, or the easy part, depending on how fate favoured us in the field.

Eleven minutes later

In the course of my career I had noticed two different types of asteroid field. Some were largely empty and allowed plenty of room for ships to manoeuvre and after burn without too much risk of collision just so long as you employed a little common sense.

The second type of asteroid field was so densely packed that the space dust has a hard time moving through it. This field fell into the latter category.

This did have its good points, the density of the field made it all the more difficult for the Kilrathi to locate us, if things kept going as they did we might be able to sneak through the field and run back to the Hermes. Unfortunately, the density of the field also resulted on restrictions on our speed. We were travelling at 120kps, at this speed the H’varkann may very well reach the Hermes and Brimstone 2 first.

Actually that was unlikely, the Kilrathi would assemble their fleet first, maybe send in a few patrols to determine or perhaps weaken our defences. They wouldn’t strike for a day or two at least.

I could still see the H’varkann. By now it was a tiny blotch in the corner of my rear view display. I couldn’t tell exactly how far away it was, but I knew that any other ship in both the Confederation and Kilrathi fleets would be invisible at this distance.

Even if we were able to warn the Hermes, there was little they’d be able to do about that abomination except run away from it. We didn’t stand a chance against it.

But we couldn’t keep running.

Retreating only pushed us back further into a corner. The Kilrathi weren’t overextending themselves, and they weren’t going to. We needed to draw the line somewhere.

Desperation and defeat had stared us in the face twice before, once before the now legendary mission of the TCS Tarawa, again at the battle of Earth. Now the Confederation was feeling the noose tightening around its neck for a third time. We were falling back on all fronts, and losing many more ships then the Kilrathi. We needed to…

I shook the thoughts away. I’d had this train of thought several times before and no good had ever come out of it. Besides, an asteroid field wasn’t a good place for a daydream.

I pulled my ship underneath a large piece of rock that lay in my path, smaller fragments impacted on my shields, not doing any considerable damage. I didn’t know how long we’d be in this field, the majority of our navigational equipment had been deactivated to lower our electronic emissions. All we had to go on was one white crosshair telling us what direction to fly.

It was a shame we couldn’t rely on autopilot in a field of this density. I could use a rest after the overly eventful sprint into this field. But that wasn’t an option. Maybe colonel Trent would give us some time off after we got back.

You humans are laughable creatures, shying away from every challenge fate gives you.

Along with the memory of Z’ratmak’s assessment of humanity, I could almost see the stern look of disapproval on his face at my desire to be out of the firing line for a while.

Z’ratmak thrives on hurling himself into danger with barely any regard for his own wellbeing. More then one marine under his command had been known to describe him with such adjectives as ‘insane’, ‘suicidal’. To him, the quality of one’s life depended on how many adrenaline rushes had been crammed into it. I’m sure he’d love this situation; if he were a pilot that is.

I shook this thought away as well and silently cursed myself for my complacency.

I looked ahead, taking in the view of endless grey rocks. There seemed to be no end to the asteroid field.

Three hours later

For what seemed like hours, we just sat there, staring at it.

They shouldn’t have been able to see us. We were still in the field. The end was now in sight, however the inconveniently placed Kilrathi light destroyer and its two Vaktoth escorts. No doubt they’d been placed there so as to prevent our escaping out of the field and warning the Hermes, or failing that, they could simply radio our position to the rest of the Cats and the chase could start all over again.

After a few more seconds of staring, Tieschowitz’s face appeared on the com screen.
“Listen up people,” he said in a rushed voice, “We don’t have a lot of time before the fur balls lock down on this transmission. Adish, you and I will both launch a torpedo at the destroyer. Python and Torrent take out the escorts and do it quickly. If we’re quick we might just blast through without the rest of the beasts noticing us. Let’s go.

With that he closed the com channel and increased his thrust to maximum. That was a risky thing to do considering we were still in the asteroid field, but what choice did we have?

I powered up all of my ship’s systems, increased power to my engines and sped out of the field. Well, I guess sped isn’t a suitable choice of words really.
“Python, take the one on the left, I’ve got the other one.”
“Right.”

I fired all of my remaining image recognition missiles at the Vaktoth. The pilot didn’t react at once, maybe he was surprised to see us.

When he did react, it was with experience that he dodged the first missile. He deployed a decoy and strafed to the left. The first missile sailed gracefully into the decoy and exploded.

The second two fared better. The pilot didn’t even have time to scream.
“Got one!” I shouted.

I pulled up the second Vaktoth on my targeting display and moved after it. Judging by the way it was moving it seemed that Python had the same idea that I did, although his missiles looked to have met with less success.

I noticed gunfire in the distance that seemed to be coming from a Thunderbolt; it was somewhat difficult to tell at the distance that seemed to have grown between our two ships very quickly.

As I continued to move at an agonisingly slow pace towards the dogfight, I heard a pained Kilrathi voice on the radio. There was no accompanying face.
“My clan shall avenge my…”

The voice was cut off as the area was lit up by the exploding destroyer.

Almost involuntarily, I let out a celebratory cheer. Even if we met our death here, that destroyer kill strengthen my belief that we’d taken enough of them with us.
“The second Vaktoth is down.” Python said after a few more seconds, “Killed the fur brained fool as he was gawping at the toasted cap ship.”
“Great,” Tieschowitz replied, “Let’s move it people, we don’t know if they got word of our position off or not. Resume radio silence.”

I quickly set my speed to full and re-entered formation with the others.

Four hours later

All of us except Tieschowitz actually laughed with sudden joy when the Hermes appeared on our radar. When the H’varkann had come through the jump hole, I’d never expected to see her again.

Jake Coben’s face appeared on our com screens before we could request landing clearance.
“Holy shit, what happened to you guys out there?”
“We’ll explain when we get onboard.” Tieschowitz replied, his voice echoing all our desires to get out of the cockpits.
“Fine, you’ve got clearance as soon as the two Arrows from Delta wing are onboard.” He paused and shuffled closer to the com screen, “They’re here aren’t they.”

I can only assume that Tieschowitz nodded in response because Coben’s face took on an abrupt look of shock.
“Shit.” He murmured to himself. After a few more seconds he closed the channel.

After a few seconds the two Arrows disappeared from sight.
“Good work everyone.” Tieschowitz said, already accelerating towards the carrier. “Me and Torrent took the most damage so we’ll head in first.”

I increased my speed and headed for the launch bay. Enjoying the fact that for the moment, the threat of an upcoming Kilrathi attack was drowned out by my own relief at being back alive.

I knew this feeling wouldn’t last long, especially considering three pilots who hadn’t been so lucky. Triumph rarely went untainted in this war.

To be continued.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Sorry it’s taken me a while to upload anything, I’ve had exams to contend with as well as writer’s block. Thanks to all readers and to Kilrah for commenting.

Chapter 11: Revelation

Fool’s perspective


As you can probably imagine, things were a little tense onboard the Hermes at this time.

As me and Adish were making our way to the briefing room, we noticed more then a few jittery looking officers and technicians running from here to there, some with assorted pieces of equipment in their hands. We also received more then one irritated shout of ‘watch where you’re going’.

Being in a system with a H’varkann class dreadnought on the other side of it is an experience probably a lot like having a scorpion loose in your cabin. Even if you can’t see it, you still know that it could, and would probably kill you.

That’s not a great analogy. I never could think of a better one though.

We shared a life with two bridge officers who were staring intently into a sheet of paper. A coded Kilrathi transmission maybe. They didn’t seem to notice me and Adish entering the lift when it stopped. I felt a brief stab of envy for the distraction that had been granted to them.

I tried as best as I could to calm down as the lift went down to Flight Control. It wasn’t easy. I kept remembering Chang Cu, the Kilrathi force advancing steadily, no matter how much of it we stripped away we couldn’t stop them. Confederation positions were overrun or obliterated, the dying screams of Confederation pilots became disgustingly familiar to me.
“Congratulations on the promotion.” I said quickly, hoping that conversation would get rid of the memories.
“Thanks.”

There was no mistaking the guilt in Adish’s voice. Part of the reason he had been promoted was to even out the number of senior pilots in Adjudicator squadron. Tieschowitz had also been promoted to Major to replace the late Major Reed.

Despite the fact that his experience, kill scores and abilities made Adish more then deserving of his promotion to Captain, being promoted because someone has died and they need replacements has a habit of making pilots feel guilty, apparently, it feels like spitting in the face of the dead.

I was yet to experience anything like that.

The lift came to a sudden jolt which caused the piece of paper the bridge officers were glaring at to float gracefully to the floor. I was offered a moment’s distraction in watching them both getting in each other’s way trying to catch it in mid air.

And then it was gone, and the tension returned, stronger now, as if angry for its short lived banishment.

Three Minutes Later

Trent was late.

Not surprising really, considering the doubtless meeting with Commodore Ammadon, messages from HQ and strategies that had to be formulated, (or strategic withdrawals that had to be planned). There was a lot to do and not nearly enough time to do it in.

The briefing room was overly crowded thanks to the fact that both Death’s Shadow and Adjudicator squadrons had been crammed into it. Conversation was sparse. Some people looked ready to shit themselves, others looked disappointed. They’d probably assumed that we’d be pulling out of this system less then a week after we’d arrived.

Adish and Torrent sat on either side of me; both of them were boring into the tactical information terminal with their eyes, trying to will it to reveal the future to them.

When Trent finally arrived, silence fell upon the room in an instant. The air suddenly felt colder.
“Listen up people,” there was an edge of nervousness in Trent’s voice, almost unreadable, “Because we don’t have time to waste. First of all, I don’t know what you may have heard or what assumptions you may have leapt to, but we are not going to abandon this system.”

Someone close to me uttered a muffled expletive. I couldn’t blame them. Another person cheered, I don’t know who, but Trent cast a contemptuous glare in their direction.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Trent continued, “Even without the H’varkann in this system we’re outnumbered and outgunned. Many of you probably think this is suicide. And it may very well be.”

He paused after that and we waited in silence and shock. Just what the hell was HQ thinking?

When Trent spoke again, I felt like someone had dropped a bucket of ice cold water down my neck.
“We’re going to destroy that piece of oversized cat dung, and anything else that gets in our way.”

How do you respond to that?

Trent spoke up before anyone could point out flaws in this plan.
“Many of you have doubtlessly heard about what happened to the Quinson carrier group. We can’t destroy one of these things by conventional means, but if history has taught us anything, its that unconventional strategies has led to the greatest Confederation successes.”

He had a point there.

Trent tapped a few controls on his podium and the ghastly image of a H’varkann class dreadnought appeared on the screen. For a moment we were looking at a side view image, and then it quickly shifted to show us the bow of the creature.
“This is the weakest point of the dreadnought. Anything that makes it to the flight deck can avoid enemy flak fire.

The screen changed again, this time to a mission map. In one corner were a series of blue icons, one of which was the Hermes. In the other was a considerably larger collection of red dots, and an outline of the H’varkann.

“The first thing we’ll have to do is thin out the enemy’s escorts a little. The techs have already rigged up a couple of decoys that should convince the Kilrathi that lightly defended Confed capital ships are heading towards us, when they arrive, you’ll take them out.”

The screen started to move, red arrows broke away from the main swarm and were quickly intercepted and destroyed by blue ones.
“After that,” Trent continued, “We move on the dreadnought.”

With that, the entire collection of blue icons, the Hermes included, advanced towards the now smaller collection of red icons.

“Your job will be to cover the Hermes whilst it moves on the beast. We’ll stay directly in line with its bow to avoid flak fire, but as you know that thing’ll have more then enough fighters to make our lives difficult.”

The screen zoomed in on the Hermes and the H’varkann. From this angle it simply looked like a mesh of blue and red wires.
“We will launch a total of twelve ship killer missiles down the enemy’s throat. According to our date the beasts are more susceptible to damage from the inside, and six of our missiles should snap the thing in half.”

The computer started moving again, the Hermes disappeared and a series of missiles descended into the flight deck of the H’varkann, then it tore apart into a cloud of digital debris.

There were some murmurs, some hopeful, most of them were sceptical. That was a nice plan in theory, but there was a lot that could mess it up, and there was no way that the Hermes would be able to escape it this went wrong, and the chances of that happening were a lot higher then the chances of this working.

Still, what was the alternative?

“Before that however,” Trent uttered, “We have some busy work to take care of.”

The screen changed again to show the green, chequered outline of Brimstone two.
“We’re evacuating non-essential personnel and their families from the base whilst we still can. Three transports will be heading for the Gateway system in the next six hours. The first transport is leaving in twenty minutes. Salamander, I’d like you to oversee the escort.”
“Yes sir.” Salamander responded from somewhere in front of me.”
“You can choose your own wingman for this one.”

There was a moment’s pause.
“I’ll take Fool sir.”

I felt marginally pleased. This seemed simple enough, and it was doubtful the Kilrathi would notice us leaving. Also it sounded better then waiting around for the first strike mission.
“Alright,” Trent said, “I want the two of you to leave immediately, two Thunderbolts are waiting on the flight deck.”
“Aye sir.” Salamander said as he stood up.
“Understood sir.” I added.

Forcing my way out of the line of seated pilots was troublesome to say the least. Torrent didn’t make things any easier by sticking her leg out to trip me up. I managed to correct myself before I hit the floor but it still made getting out of the briefing room troublesome.

I guess it could be argued that this was well deserved considering I made a habit of doing the same to her when the opportunity presented itself, but that’s not really important.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Twelve minute later

“Brimstone evacuation transport alpha this is Major Carl Mclean from the TCS Hermes, we are standing by to escort you to the jump point.”
“Copy that Major. The final evacuation shuttle is currently on route from the planet. Once its docked with us we’ll be ready to move out.”
“Understood.” Salamander’s face disappeared from the com screen, only to come back a second later.
“Fool, get in formation on the port side.”
“Got it.”

I hit my engines and carefully moved myself into position alongside the transport. It was one of the older, Clydesdale models, bulky and bulbous, and was also bogged down with civilians.

Brimstone 2 wasn’t just a military base, since the Confederation’s capture of the system and the construction of Oasis station, it had become something of a miniature colony. Since no one had expected this to become a front line area, people had seen nothing wrong with starting families there, or inviting their own families to join them from home. (Although why anyone would want to bring their loved ones to that God forsaken, sulphurous wasteland is something of a mystery to me.)

It was comforting to know that these people would, probably, escape this system with their lives, unlike the rest of us.
Pessimistic bastard. My head chortled at me in response to my grim thoughts for the umpteenth time.

Not much was said as the shuttle slowly climbed out of the atmosphere. Salamander wasn’t at his most talkative and I didn’t want to try and change that. Unlike most of us, he had the added burden of knowing that the woman he loved was facing death along with him.

Razor had been temporarily transferred to Oasis station to help bolster the base’s air support in case the Kilrathi launched any strikes on the base. Of course if the H’varkann got through the Hermes it wouldn’t much matter how many fighters we had on the planet.

She would be leaving the first thing tomorrow.

The fact that I would probably be dead before too long hadn’t really sunk in yet, I’d forced myself to focus on the task before me, but I couldn’t do that forever, the second I returned to base and tried to sleep then the mental images of my upcoming death would doubtlessly plague me and if I was lucky ensure that I only got ten minutes sleep before I found myself in the biggest fight of my life.

Eventually, the shuttle docked with the transport, unloaded its passengers, undocked and headed back towards the planet.
“Hermes wing, this is the Memories of Amazon” (No doubt named by some nature enthusiast to honour the memory of the late Amazon rainforest. “We are staring our approach to the jump point.”
“Understood,” Salamander replied, “Come on Fool, let’s get this done.”
“Yes sir.”

The transport began its path towards the jump point at what was probably walking speed. This had the makings of a long day.

Two hours later

The time passed amazingly quickly.

As it turned out I was wrong, I didn’t have to wait until I got back home for the mental images of doom began to invade my head. Alongside a surprisingly vivid dying scream which accompanied a mental image of my fighter exploding, I also envisioned the charred wreck of the Hermes, and the sickeningly triumphant faces of the Kilrathi as Oasis station was reduced to rubble.

I didn’t need this. But the part of my brain that saw fit to throw these things at me didn’t care too much about that.

Salvation came in the form of the com screen springing to life. It was Salamander.
“I’m reading new contacts on radar, three Hellcats and one shuttle. Stay sharp kid, you know we may have traitors in this system.”
“Understood.”
“Approaching Hellcat wing, this is Major Carl Mclean of the TCS Hermes, kindly identify yourselves.”
“Major,” came the response from a nondescript looking pilot in one of the Hellcats, the flight helmet read ‘Csatlos’. “This is Gamma wing from Oasis station. We’ve just been informed that the ship you’re escorting may contain Mandarin terrorists, no doubt you’re aware of their recent activities in this system.”
“I’d heard,” Salamander responded, his voice confused and somewhat sceptical, “But I thought the perpetrators were yet to be identified.”

The pilot’s voice re-appeared with the same professional nonchalance.
“This discovery has only recently been made by the base’s investigators. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it. Nevertheless, intelligence indicates that there’s a Mandarin terrorist onboard that transport. The shuttle we’re escorting contains a security force tasked with hunting down this individual.”
“Can I get confirmation on these orders?” Salamander replied, his voice marginally suspicious.

For a few seconds the Hellcat pilot remained silent, he appeared to be looking at something on his right hand computer display.
“I’m afraid not Major, if we wait too long the Mandarin may realise we are onto him. We must be quick.”
“Then can you confirm to me that you are in fact not Mandarins intent on seizing this transport?”

Another silence followed this, the pilot’s eyes formed an almost hostile glare. After a moment he sighed in what appeared to be exasperation, then spoke up again, his voice different now, more dramatic.
“Enough of this charade. Fighters, destroy these infidels. Soldiers, seize that abomination and proceed to the rendezvous coordinates.”
“Fool, break and attack. Memories of Amazon, take evasive action.” Salamander said with remarkable composure. I was too shocked to respond for a moment.

A few neutron blasts to my shields pulled my from my trance.
“Engaging enemy now.”
“Take that shuttle out.” Salamander said, his cockpit jostling slightly, suggesting weapons fire on his part, “If they dock the people inside won’t stand a chance.”
“On it.”

I half expected the whole thing to be more dramatic, two or three of the attackers would try and keep me from the shuttle, I’d be trying to score hits while it moved ever closer to the transport.

Instead all I did was fire off an Imrec missile. The shuttle wasn’t nearly manoeuvrable enough to evade it and the pilot’s piloting was nothing special. The shuttle ripped apart after the missile impacted on its hull, taking a vast number of…

Retros?

It didn’t seem possible, they couldn’t be in Vega and they couldn’t get hold of modern day Confederation fighters; but I didn’t have time to worry about that.
“Contemptible sinner.” One of the hostiles spat at me, “You shall pay for spilling the blood of our righteous warriors.”
“How so?” I shot back, “Are you going to start singing?”

With my reputation for witty insults, I really should have been able to think up something better then that. I was better at ridiculing Kilrathi.

I swerved to the left just as a string of ion bursts appeared where my ship had been.
“You couldn’t hit a cow on the ass with a shovel.” I chortled amiably over the com. I then killed my engines and watched as the woefully inexperienced pilot passed overhead, by the time he figured out what had happened he already had gunfire ripping away his rear shields and tearing his engines apart.
“Fool,” He shouted, “You cannot hope to defeat a warrior favoured by G…”

It seems he was wrong.
“That’s one of the fighters down,” I said, then added hastily, “I got the shuttle too.”
“This one’s just about done.” Salamander said. By the looks of things, the two pilots he was facing were a hell of a lot better then their idiot friend who’d just gone up in flames.

I hit my afterburners and sped towards the ship on Salamander’s six. On the way, I noticed the Hellcat he was firing on explode.

Another face appeared on the com screen, it was the one who had tried to fool us earlier.
“You may have saved our contemptible lives for now, but there will come a time when the technological abominations shall be wiped clean of this galaxy, as well as all of their soulless slaves.”
“He’s not getting away that easily, Fool, he’s heading past you, shoot him down.”

As soon as I heard the missile lock confirmation I fired. Before waiting to see if the missile would even find its target I opened fire with cannons.

The Retro’s ventral shield vanished, making the missile’s task easier. The ship vomited fire through the subsequent hull breach and spun wildly for a few seconds before it detonated.

Yet another silence followed as me and Salamander both caught our breath and tried to make sense of exactly what had happened.
“This is the Memories of Amazon,” The jittery voice of the com officer said suddenly, “What the hell was that about?”
“Memories of Amazon, resume your path towards the jump hole and maintain radio silence, there may be more of them out there.”

After a moment’s more reflection, I moved myself back into formation. I soon found myself feeling very tired.

We didn’t need this.

To be continued
 
Top