The Great War
Chapter One: Galatea
The transport rocked as it exited subspace, the mottled blue-white of subspace shifting into a field of stars, a nebula visible as a small but still noticeable spot through the viewport. He leaned against the viewport, staring dully ahead, idly noticing the large station only a hundred kilometers away or so.
At this distance, it was little more than a blur, but he could see the Antares Station in his mind's eye, the great, slowly rotating disc, the long spar coming from it's middle on either side, with countless freighters and transports docking and undocking from it. He supposed it would be more quiet as civilian traffic was no doubt at a minimal, although he suspected there would still be a few cruisers guarding it, their fighters shifting to and fro.
"You don't seem terribly excited."
He snapped out of his reverie and looked over at the small, grinning woman seated next to him. "You've been about as lively as a dying fish since we left Aquilae Station."
"Was that a while ago?"
"Well, there was the jump from the station to the Antares jump point, the transit to the jump point, the jump through...about three hours. Most of the people on here are either excited or scared, you're just bored."
He glanced around, and could tell she was right. Nobody on the flight seemed particularly good at reading faces. "I've been out this way before. Haven't been around it in a few years, but this is nothing new."
"And being sent to go fight the Vasudans doesn't bother you?"
"I learned I was going out nearly a year ago. Between pilot training and travel time, I've gotten over it."
"You're a pilot?" She cocked her head. "That's what they decided I was fit for, too." She held her hand out. "Tanya Velikova."
He shook her hand. "Vincent O'Reilly." She had a firm grip, he noted. "You don't seem terribly bothered either."
"Never been into space before!" She looked around with a grin. "It's not quite as luxurious as the movies show it, but the view is incredible." She ran her fingers through her crew cut. "On the other hand, the haircuts aren't great."
A voice from the cockpit cut in. "Standby for turbulence, we're about to re-enter subspace." The transport began to shake gently as the blue-white portal began to form, the edges visible through the viewport. Tanya leaned over Vincent, her mouth half-open.
"Still haven't gotten used to it?"
"It's only my fifth trip through subspace."
He nodded, then found himself leaning against the viewport. They were only in subspace for a scant few seconds before the portal re-opened, the transport exiting. He furrowed his brow.
"That's odd. Where is it?"
The transport came around, a gigantic ship coming into view, a massive if somewhat ungainly looking ship, like a great sword hanging in space, bristling with cannons and antennae, a gigantic hangar bay on it's lower section. Most of the great battleship became obscured as the transport began it's approach to the hangar.
"Transport Bravo-Two, Galateawelcomes you to Antares."
Tanya's mouth hung low enough that her chin nearly touched her collar, and Vincent couldn't help but feel impressed by the sight. He, and Tanya as well no doubt, had seen Orion-class vessels in news reports and movies, but seeing one in the flesh was a wholly different feeling.
The transport quickly moved across the space separating them into the docking bay and setting down with a bump and the sound of escaping gas as the clamps attached. A minute or so passed until the light over the ramp went green and the door slid open, leading into the colossal hangars.
Tanya hopped out of her seat, first in the transport, followed by Vincent and the rest of the passengers. He gazed around the deck as they stepped down, awestruck by the sight. The hangar seemed to stretch on forever, with hundreds of technicians working on dozens of craft. Vincent could pick out several types - Apollo and Hercules fighters, Athena and Medusa bombers, Poseidon-class haulers, and a few boxy Elysium-class transports like the one that had brought him to the ship.
"Looks even bigger on the inside."
* * * * *
A badly scarred woman paced to and fro behind the podium, gesturing periodically with her prosthetic arm.
"Pilots, welcome aboard the Galatea. I'm Captain Shan, commander of Galatea's second wing. You pilots will be replacing some of the casualties we sustained during the recent Operation Thresher. You're only the tip of the iceberg. Current casualty counts across the Fifth Fleet have us at five hundred and four pilots dead, fourteen missing." Which meant they'd been vaporized, or otherwise reduced to a fine spray of dust.
"The Vasudans still have a strong grip on the jump node to Vasuda Prime, but their inner-system assets have had supplies cut off, which means they're lacking reinforcements and supplies." Captain Shan reached onto the podium and flicked a switch, the screens switching from the GTA symbol into a still image of three huge, bizarrely shaped warships. Vincent leaned over, examining the bizarre shape. They resembled swords broken near the hilt, with the broken end forming the engine section, covered in brown-purple mottled armor.
"These are the core of the Vasudan's Third Fleet - Akenaten, Seti, and Ramesses, all of the Typhon class. Familiarize yourself with them and their known complement. Anubis scouts, Horus interceptors, Seth assault fighters, and Osiris bombers." The Captain stepped down, nodding to them. "I believe you're all scheduled for squadron briefings. The squadron briefing rooms are on the other side of the corridor as you leave. Suicide Kings down to the left, Rhinos dead ahead, Sabers to the right." She waved her hands at them.
"Get going, you're already late."
Vincent stood, Tanya bobbing at his side. "Damn. Five hundred pilots dead? That's, what..."
"About sixty percent of the Fifth Fleet's pilots. Mostly from Galatea, Bastion, Stalwart, and Vigilance."
"Oh. You read the briefing docket on Thresher?"
"I had a long flight from Mars."
The two of them turned to the right and headed into the 44th Saber's briefing room. The room was about a third full, the seasoned pilots turning in their seats to see the rookies file in.
"So what happened to Captain Shan?"
One of the more experienced pilots heard Tanya's question. "She rammed a bomber making a run on the Galatea. Ejected before the impact, but the blast and shrapnel..."
Tanya went a little pale, but seemed to retain her characteristic exuberance.
"Wow. She's a badass."
"Hell yeah she is." He turned back around to face the podium as the squadron's CO walked in. Vincent furrowed his brow, this wasn't the commander he had seen in the briefing docket.
"I'm Lieu-excuse me, I'm Commander Stiles, I'll be taking command of the Sabers." He looked a little young to be commanding a fighter squadron. Vincent grimaced. It looked like Thresher was causing some rapid advancements. "To new pilots, welcome to the squadron and the Galatea. We'll be leaving Galatea for the next few days to reinforce the GTC Orff and GTC Surtur in the Betelgeuse system."
He flicked a switch, displaying a series of shots of Vasudan fighter craft.
"We've had problems in this region with Vasudan raiders, most likely remnants from our taking of the system three months ago. Mostly just scattered groups of fighters, operating out of the system's asteroid belt. We'll be hitching a ride on the next group of transports, and from there assist our cruisers in mopping up. Since we've had about a fifty percent reduction, we'll be mixing our veterans and rookies together. I'll command Alpha Flight, along with Martinez. Blake, Victor, you'll be flying with us. Harbison." The veteran Tanya had spoken to nodded. "You'll be flying with Snipes, along with O'Reilly and Velikova. Connelly..."
Chapter Two: Eve of Destruction
The briefing stretched on for some hours, until finally they were scheduled to head out. Vincent sat in the pilot's seat of his Apollo fighter, examining the controls. They were like second nature to him, considering how much time he'd spent in the simulators at Basic and on Antares Station. He flicked the power on switch, a gentle hum running through the craft.
"Harbinger to Beta Flight, check in." Harbison's voice cut into the near-silence.
"Javelin, all set."
"Beta Three, ready to roll." Even through the static, Tanya seemed
"Beta Four, ready."
"Remind me to think of a callsign for you two." Snipes' voice cut into the channel.
"Beta Transports are already waiting for us. Form on my wing." Harbison's thrusters activated as the hangar doors slid aside, Alpha and Gamma flights already departing to either side. Vincent hit his thrusters, pulling up the rear of the formation. Ahead, he could see their two freighters waiting with magnetic clamps extending. He hadn't seen the new Poseidons up close before - they looked vaguely like legless, boxy gorillas, complete with dangling 'arms'. He maneuvered his fighter to one side, Snipes to the other. The ship trembled as the magnetic clamps attached.
"Alright, from here it's no stops until we rendezvous with the Surtur."
The six transports jumped into subspace.
* * *
From there, it was only a scant few hours before they entered the Betelgeuse system. Vincent held one hand up against the bright glare of the many suns. The channel opened and his shipboard computer noted a transmission above his authorization being sent in the vicinity. A moment later, he heard chewing through the channel.
"Hrmm...we've got a problem, Harb. The Orff can't make subspace, and it's about a four week journey from it's position to the rendezvous point. They need an escort and someone to go inform Galatea that they need a repair crew. Rock paper scissors for it?"
"Damn it. Alright, decouple from your freighter. You two are on escort, we'll head back to get a crew." Transport One turned and re-entered subspace while Vincent worked to decouple his fighter from the freighter.
"Alright, truck driver, we're off, you run along now."
"Bite me, Snipes..." The transport entered subspace. Vincent reoriented his fighter, and he entered subspace only moments later at a slightly different vector. Seconds later, they emerged in the shadow of a cruiser. It looked more like an old space station than a warship, complete with a tiny spinning radar dish and dull gray plating.
"GTC Orff, this is Beta Flight. We're here to provide escort."
The open channel went quiet, and a moment later, Snipes switched to the private channel.
"Alright, rookie, now you learn the difference between training and real life. They ever teach you to take a nap in the cockpit back in basic?"
"Well, time to learn. We're gonna be here for a while. Don't wake me unless it's urgent."
The channel went silent. Vincent leaned back in his chair and tried to relax.
The cockpit was phenomenally uncomfortable. He found his eye resting on the chronometer. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Hostile jump signatures. "Wait, what?" He sprung upright, looking out the canopy as four blue-white discs formed in space. Red blips appeared on his radar.
"Snipes, wake up! Vasudan fighters!"
"What!" The voice on the other end sounded incredibly clear for a guy who'd been napping only minutes before. "Orff, alert Alpha and Gamma Flights that we're under attack. Engaging enemy fighters! Stick close to me, kid."
He targeted one, glancing at it. "Well, that's a mercy. Anubis-class fighters, nothing fancy."
"Yeah, because we're sitting in the pride of the GTA armada, kid...target the lead fighter and fire missiles on my mark...mark!"
Four missiles streaked away from the two fighters, flying across the separating space in a flash and impacting the fighter, blasting it into debris. Vincent pulled up the next one and squeezed off a shot, the missile punching through the cockpit canopy and rendering the pilot 'Missing in Action'.
"Break and attack!"
The Vasudan craft opened fire, gold bolts of energy streaking across space. Vincent felt his craft shake under an impact here and there, but the armor plating held. He nudged the craft to the side and swung it around, letting inertia carry him. The Vasudan streaked past his sights, only for his finger to twitch. Bolts from his ML-16s punched into it's fuselage, turning the craft into a ball of quickly extinguished flames.
In his peripheral vision, he could see Snipes right on the tail of the last Vasudan fighter. A moment later, he opened fire, shredding the craft and leaving it as little more than another spray of debris floating across the system.
"Nice flying, rookie. Believe we're two for two. Don't get cocky, though, Anubis jockeys are the worst of the worst. I'm surprised they weren't just loaded with bombs. They do that a lot."
"So I'd heard." He engaged his engines, pushing past his inertia to head back towards Orff.
His radar beeped loudly. "More..."
"You don't need to keep telling me, break and attack!"
Another group of four - two Anubis class, and two of the vaguely turtle-looking Seth-class fighters. "Watch out for the Seths, they're armed to the teeth. Heavy and slow-turning, though."
Vincent targeted one of the Anubis' and fired his missiles, then one of the Seths and did the same. His loadout beeped - all missiles launched. He gritted his teeth and readied his grip on the main cannon. The missiles streaked towards the fighter. The first pair impacted the Anubis where the bottom two fins met the fuselage, reducing the back half of the craft to glowing debris, while the Seth dove starward, spinning and firing chaff out the back, the missiles detonating several hundred meters short.
He pulled up behind, using his superior speed and manueverability to catch up to the Seth, and opened fire. The first few bolts stitched the top, leaving deep score marks in the armor before the Seth spun and opened fire. Darts stitched across his armor plating, blasting holes in his ship. Shrill alarms began to ring within the craft.
"I'm hit!" He twisted on his wing, away from the spray of fire, then brought his nose down and fired at it's thinly armored side plates. The first shots were absorbed by the armor, but the next punched through. The fighter suddenly went dead in space, not manuevering at all. Just drifting on it's current vector
"Looks like you got the cockpit, rookie. So, we're four and four. How's your ship?"
"Seems to be holding together...portside missile launchers are slagged, two maneuvering jets fried, and I've got a fuel leak."
"Not too bad."
Vincent sighed and sagged in the seat, still half expecting more - the radar beeped. He looked up, only to see four Apollos emerging from subspace.
"Gamma flight has arrived. Beta, you stand relieved. Head back to the Surtur, repair crews are inbound."
"Thanks for the assistance. Set course for the rendezvous."
The two fighters jumped into subspace, emerging seconds later near a near identical craft to the Orff. The Surtur hung in space, surrounded by freighters, transports, and fighters, with a great, barren brown planet below, a small torus-shaped station half constructed.
"Go ahead and land on the station. It'll be a while before Gamma and the rest of Beta get back, and I don't think you had an opportunity for rack time back on Galatea. This's how it's going to be for the next year or so, kid, until we get some leave. Well, there is one other way to get a break."
"Oh? How's that?"
"Get shot down."
Chapter Three: The Field of Battle
The sound of a loud thump awoke Vincent from his sleep. He glanced around, nothing apparently there, until he heard a voice from above.
"Oops. Was a bit loud there, wasn't I?"
"Evening, Tanya." He settled back down into the bunk.
"Heard you saw some action. Vasudan raiding squad bit off more than they could chew?"
He nodded, then shook his head. "Yeah. Was a little closer than I would have liked."
"You came back alive and unharmed. And your Apollo should be fit to fly before we start sweeping the asteroids tomorrow. Command says there's three squadrons in the asteroid field. Well, there was, now there's two and a spare flight."
"I wouldn't count on it. Most of the ones we engaged were Anubis, and apparently they just throw them around like candy."
"You've got candy?"
"Oh. Well, yeah, but they're still part of a squadron."
The loudspeaker clicked on.
"Sabers, report to the hangars."
"Damn it!" Tanya dropped down from her bunk. "Next time I get to stay behind and do the hair-raising patrol followed by a nap."
"Deal." He slid his legs off the bed to the ground, stepping into his boots and pulling his uniform jacket on, then turning into the corridor. From there, it was only a short walk down the corridors to the hangar. They walked in to find that most of the pilots were already present.
Stiles nodded to them. "Alright, standard sweep. We break into our flights and sweep around the larger asteroids for any sign of Vasudan presence. They've got to have a base of some kind. We find it, contact the Orff and Surtur, blow it up, head back to Galatea. Any questions?"
"Good. Let's head out, then."
Vincent headed to his fighter, climbing onto the wing to give the damage a quick inspection. Aside from the lack of a paint job on the damage, it looked fine. He nodded, then dropped into the cockpit, picking up his helmet and pulling it on and pulling the mask over his face.
"Beta Four, ready to launch."
"Beta Flight, launch."
The four fighters shot out of the bay, and a second later entered subspace.
* * * * *
The flight arrived in the asteroid field moments later. Vincent glanced around and saw...nothing. Just stars, distant planets, and the sun.
"Did we miss our target?"
"No, Four. Welcome to the Betelgeuse Asteroid Field...if you'll look to our left, you'll see a rock about the size of a house about twenty kilometers away. The next closest rock larger than a thumb is about twelve thousand kilometers ahead of us. And you were expecting hundreds of rocks, constantly smashing into each other."
"Yeah, a bit."
"Nothing so exciting. As we move, you'll notice smaller rocks about the size of your finger bouncing off your armor plating occasionally, though. And that's why this is going to take forever. We can't use max speed because they'll still make a very nasty dent in us at that speed, and we can't just jump from rock to rock because we need to scan for Vasudan fighters..."
"Cut the chatter, Javelin."
Beta Wing seemed to almost ploddingly move through space, checking rock after rock, the patrol stretching on for hour after hour.
Vincent glanced at the chronometer. They'd been at the patrol for about six hours now, and assuming the other three flights had covered the same amount of territory, they'd searched about one percent of the large asteroids in the system. Of course, the system had been swept prior to them - about twenty percent of the field had been searched.
They were going to be doing this for a while.
"L.T., I've got something on my scopes. Might just be some funny ores in one of these asteroids..." Tanya's voice cut into the channel. "Wait, it's breaking up!"
"Break, break, break!" Harbison's voice cut Tanya off. A spray of shrapnel came from the asteroid, followed by four Seth fighters. Vincent glanced down at his scopes and saw further subspace portals opening behind them.
"More behind us!" He pulled back on his stick. Eight Anubis-class, just to slow them down.
"Nuggets, engage the Anubis! We'll tackle the Seths! Beta flight calling Alpha, Gamma, Orff, Surtur, have engaged full Vasudan Squadron, requesting reinforcements!"
"Copy, Harb." Stiles' voice cut in. "Wait, we've got incoming!"
"This is GTC Orff, we're calculating to make the jump to your locations, Alpha and Beta. Gamma is no longer responding to signal. Hold on until we can make the jump."
Vincent breathed slowly, trying to focus on the eight incoming fighters. They weren't as good as him, they were sluggish, poorly armored, and badly armed.
"I'm your wing, four." Tanya's voice cut in. "Just take the lead and I'll keep them off your back."
"Start firing missiles, let's thin their ranks." Vincent did the same, and a torrent of missiles came from them. After the first two craft were blasted apart, the others wisened and split up, the missiles unable to keep lock.
Vincent pulled in behind one of the scattered ones and squeezed the trigger, his bolts cutting the fins off and dropping the fighter into an uncontrolled spin into what was left of the ambushers' asteroid. He swung his fighter around and selected a new target, only to find it diced in half b
efore he could pull the trigger.
"Good shot, three."
"Happy to help."
They'd trimmed off half of them. They had a chance. The remaining four had reformed and were coming straight at them.
"Break right!" Vincent broke left, pulling away from Tanya. The Vasudans did as expected, split in half to pursue. "Spin to face me and put at full throttle, then sweep them off my back. I'll do the same."
He put words to actions and performed the maneuver, the enemy weapons cutting across where he was a moment before. He dropped one of Tanya's pursuer's into his sights, pulling the trigger and sending lasers into it's main structure, tearing the craft in half, then switched his attention to the other and fired. The shot cut off half of it's top fin, but the craft remained flying.
"Damn." The Anubis juked and bounced, obviously piloted by someone better than the average imbecile who was usually crammed into those things. It opened fire, spraying gold bolts into Tanya's undercarriage, her Apollo tearing apart. "Tanya, eject!"
He didn't have time to watch with two Anubis still alive and trying to kill him. He squeezed the trigger, spraying bolts in his target's direction. It bounced and weaved around most of them until it's luck ran out, a series of bolts shearing off a side fin and bringing it into a spin, whereupon he finished it with a quick shot.
The last one panicked, flying away from him before vanishing into subspace. He panted for a moment, then turned to the last of the fight. Snipes and Harbison against two surviving Seths, all four fighters battered and ready to come apart if you sneezed at them too hard. One of the Seth's burst into flames and tumbled into the distance, barely recognizable as a fighter. It was almost over. Then Snipes' craft broke apart, just before Harbison finished the job by dropping a missile up the last Seth's tailpipe.
"This is Beta flight...all enemy craft destroyed, but I have two pilots EVA. Need rescue transport before they get sliced apart by this field!"
Vincent pulled his fighter around, trying to spot any floating bodies. "Come on...where are you..."
Barely seconds later, an Elysium transport arrived. "Rescue here...we've got two life signs EVA. Deploying teams."
* * * * *
Betelgeuse Station's medical facility was bare bones at the best. Vincent paced nervously in the hall. He hadn't known Snipes or Tanya for more than a day, but they were the closest thing he had to friends in this neck of the galaxy.
The good news for today was that the Vasudan group in the asteroids was believed eliminated, and a front-line squadron like the Sabers could get back to the front lines. GTC Surtur and Alpha flight had destroyed a squadron of enemy fighters and their hidden base, and Beta flight a second squadron. The bad news was that they had lost all contact with Gamma flight, and both Alpha and Beta flights had suffered casualties.
One of the medics stepped out.
"Ensign Velikova is going to be alright, Lieutenant." Harbison seemed just about as nervous. "But I'm afraid Lieutenant Snipes didn't make it. A micrometeorite broke through his cockpit canopy and perforated his abdomen. He died on the table. I'm sorry."
Harbison turned away and slammed his fist into the wall. "Damn it." He stood there for a few moments, catching his breath. "You're...you're off duty for today, O'Reilly. Get some rest. We'll be headed back to Galatea in a few hours."
Chapter Four: Out of the Dark...
The trip back to Galatea was mercifully short and unpleasantly silent, Tanya still being out cold and Harbison still coping with the loss of half the squadron. Within a few hours, though, they arrived at the rendezvous with Galatea, the transports slowly drifting down into the hold. A medical team was waiting to give the injured pilots a look-over after they were brought off the transports. The unwounded - at least physically unwounded - pilots were off duty.
He found himself wandering the corridors of the great warship, finally making his way to the mess hall. Some food - he didn't really look to see what - was in a deep serving pan, he ladled some onto a plate and went to find a seat. A screen was on, playing the credits to some movie. A moment later, it shifted to bombastically announcing a GTA Special Bulletin.
"After the incredible success of Operation Thresher, the Vasudans are on the verge of losing the Antares system altogether and with it, bringing us one step closer to a glorious victory. In a press conference earlier today, President Crane had this to say."
The image shifted from a nondescript, dark-haired woman speaking with all the interest that a dog takes in economic theory to a man who looked like he aged a few decades in the span of a few years. He leaned on his podium.
"Our fleets will not stop their advance until the Vasudans cede all territory that is rightfully Terran to the dominion of the Galactic Terran Alliance - Beta Aquilae, Sirius, Alpha Centauri, Aldebaran. These are all rightfully ours, and we will not stop our advance until we have taken it!"
"In other news, Vasudan forces were decimated today in a glorious battle in the Betelgeuse system. GTC Surtur and it's escort engaged a numerically superior Vasudan force and annihilated it with minimal casualties, fully expunging the Vasudan threat from that system."
"Disgusting, isn't it?" A man dropped into the seat beside him, the pips of a Lieutenant Commander on his collar. "Welcome to the life of a fighter jockey. You lose half your squadron, and the media calls it 'minimal casualties, and a glorious victory.' They've been doing it for the past fourteen years, ever since the war started. Couldn't tell you how many times I've seen that."
Vincent nodded, then saluted awkwardly.
"Don't salute, we're off duty. Might not really be regs - I don't actually remember anymore - but I'm tired of seeing it anyway. Louis Cale, seventy-third Rhinos."
"Vincent O'Reilly, fourty-fourth Sabers." He spooned down some of the food, then grimaced with regret. It was worse than he feared.
"You need to get chow while it's hot, rookie. It doesn't actually make it taste -better-, but when it's hot you taste it less."
He smiled slightly and glanced back at the report. They seemed to have switched it up a bit.
"What makes a Vasudan so unreasonably aggressive and hostile?" The screen switched to a view of a Vasudan, slowly rotating. They were bizarrely shaped, only humanoid in the loosest sense with incredibly long legs and a highly slender torso, the arms and legs connected to it by thin bones. Their heads were curiously shaped, looking like almost amphibian, with a large mouth and heavy jowls. Their body looked skeletal, skin tightly stretched over the bones.
"It's difficult to say. The Vasudan is rigid minded and has difficulty adapting in new situations. As many of us already know, the war began as a result of a trivial error as a result of the incredible complexity of the Vasudan language."
Vincent sighed, wondering why he was still listening to this.
"This war can, and must continue until the Vasudans learn to tolerate other races in the galaxy. Until then, we must fight to defend ourselves, for the future of Humanity, and all the galaxy." The program came to a close with a display of the GTA symbol.
"They sure don't get any less over the top. The Media Corps needs to clean house." Cale shook his head. "See you later, rookie."
Vincent nodded and spooned down a few more mouthfuls of the
unidentifiable food with a grimace, then stood and headed for his rack.
* * * * *
He awoke a few hours later to a loud thump over his rack.
"I just woke you up again, didn't I?"
"Yep. So they let you out of medical?"
"Yeah. It was mostly just psych evaluations." She paused for a moment, then her voice came back, sadder. "I heard we lost Snipes."
"Yeah. You okay?"
"He was your wingman."
"I didn't really get a chance to know him." He shook his head. "We should get some sleep."
The room went quiet for a few minutes, then the intercom cut on. "Sabers, Suicide Kings, Rhinos, report to the command briefing room in ten minutes!"
"Dammit to hell..."
* * * * *
Captain Shan leaned on her podium, looking like she was about ready to rip someone's throat out with her teeth. "Last night at nineteen hundred, Lieutenant Alexander McCarthy - squadron leader of the 49th Vultures, GTD Intrepid, defected to the Vasudans along with his entire squadron - personnel and craft, along with support ships. They attacked a GTA science facility and seized the designs and prototypes for the Avenger prototype cannon."
Tanya leaned over. "I didn't know you -could- defect. I haven't seen any Vasudan pilots here..."
"We spotted his freighter entering Antares and managed to track it to a rendezvous point. We estimate ten fighters, all Apollos, and presumably an equal number of Vasudan craft. Due to the recent casualties sustained by the Sabers during their work in Betelgeuse, we will be deploying all three squadrons to capture or terminate McCarthy and recapture the prototypes."
Shan continued. "The Suicide Kings will be pleased to hear we've recieved a full squadron of Valkyrie interceptors. Try not to wreck them like we did the old Angels. The Suicide Kings will go in first to break up enemy resistance, followed by my flight and the Sabers. We will disable McCarthy's transport, hopefully with him onboard along with the prototypes. Rhinos, you'll come in last and wipe out any remaining resistance. We don't have a lot of intelligence here, so we're going to have to play this by ear. Any questions?"
"No? Good. Report to the flight deck, we're headed out in ten minutes."
* * * * *
"Alright, Sabers. Form up by pairs on me, and prepare to jump."
All together, thirty-two fighters entered subspace, and emerged a second later, close enough to spit at a whole mess.
"I count twelve rebel Apollos, two transports - one Vasudan, one Terran, and thirty-six, repeat, three six Vasudans. One squadron each of Anubis, Seth, and Horus craft."
Shan seemed to hiss into the channel. "Suicide Kings, engage the rebels. Sabers, with me. Rhinos, do what you do best."
The Suicide Kings took their shiny, streamlined Valkyries and jetted forward at incredible velocities, while the sluggish, boxy, but intimidating Rhinos in their Hercules fighters headed towards the Vasudan force. Vincent wiped his hand on his flight suit, then gripped the stick tightly and pushed the throttle to the maximum, following Shan's Apollo right into the center of the enemy.
"Target the transport's engines as soon as you come into range, but be careful!" She shot forward on approach to the transport. One of the Anubis' attempted to get behind her, but found itself shredded by combined gunfire from the rest of the squadron. Already, the Suicide Kings had the rebel fighters well tied up, and the Vasudans seemed hesitant to come closer to the Rhinos.
Shan dove at the weak transport, a single turret firing near-helplessly at her. Her cannons lit up, spraying bolts at it's thrusters, blasting them apart one by one. It took her a scant few seconds before she was finished. "This is Ironclad. Transport disabled. All craft, engage the enemy! Wipe 'em out, don't let any of the traitors or aliens get out of here alive!"
Vincent broke, Tanya flying at his side, and dropped his crosshairs over a Valkyrie trying desperately to get away from a tenacious Horus pilot. The Vasudan opened fire, the beams coming down to cut the fragile interceptor to pieces when a stream of laser fire followed by a pair of missiles struck the Seth amidships, splitting it in half before a fuel explosion consumed most of the wreckage.
"Appreciate the assist, Saber Eight! Drinks on me." He swung around, heading after the incoming Vasudan force.
The Vasudans shot out to meet the Rhinos, their Horuses and Anubises far ahead of their more sluggish Seths lagging behind. The pilots were brave - and also incredibly stupid. Suddenly, the tight formation of Hercules turned into a porcupine of missiles and lasers, Vasudan fighters vanishing from radar one by one, and then the rest of the squadron fell upon the already spooked Seths.
A few tried to escape. None succeeded.
* * * * *
Vincent stood on the flight deck, watching as the prisoners were dragged past in handcuffs, guards on either side. One of them started shouting.
"Don't you know what happened at Ross One-Twenty-Eight? The Vasudans are the least of our worries now!"
"Would you shut up..." The guard smacked the unruly prisoner with his baton, then dragged him along. Shan was standing there, no longer looking predatory, just angry.
"Traitorous bastards...did you want something, Ensign?"
"Er...did something happen at Ross One-Twenty-Eight, sir?"
"We lost contact with the local communication facility. Nothing important."
"Nothing like how we lost contact with Gamma flight in Betelgeuse?"
Shan glared at him. "No. Nothing like that at all. Is there anything else?"
"No, just waiting for my flight to be ready to leave. I hear I got escort duty for taking the prototypes back to Beta Cygni. Heading out in about ten minutes."
She tilted her head. "Well, somebody has to do it, Ensign. Good luck out there, the Vasudans aren't going to take this sitting down.
Vincent nodded and climbed back into his cockpit, pulling his helmet on and getting ready to leave.
Chapter Five: ...Into the Night
Roughly an hour later, the three of them were making their approach to the Beta Cygni node, escorting a craft that appeared to be two black boxes with a rod connecting them, and a spinning solar panel attached to the rod.
"All I'm saying is that we could use some new ship designs. The Orions look good, but these science craft look like we get them from a bargain retailer." Tanya chattered into the channel. Vincent grinned, leaning back into his chair. He settled back for a long, dull trip.
Tanya's voice cut in. "Incoming jump, two thousand kilometers ahead. It's...hostile cruiser - it's the Taurus. Along with about a full squadron of fighters!" The Taurus was one of the Vasudan's Aten-Class destroyers. While no match for a typical Terran cruiser, the Aten was more than a match for three fighters.
"They'll be on us in about two minutes." Harbison gritted his teeth. "Hold formation."
More signatures appeared on his board. "Wait. More ships jumping in...computer can't recognize them. It looks like...they're engaging the Vasudans!"
Vincent checked his sensors. Sure enough, several of the Vasudan blips were vanishing, and there were strange, indistinct blips on his radar.
The captain of the Plato cut into the channel. "Four, try and get one of the unknown on visual...I have a bad feeling about this."
He grimaced, but complied, pushing his throttle to maximum. Outside his viewport, he could see ever-closer flashes, and soon the scoop-shaped Vasudan cruiser was visible in the distance. It was being pounded hard, one of the front tines already sheared off, and venting atmosphere in half a dozen places.
"Taurus has just about had it..."
A ship cut across his vision, moving incredibly fast. Vincent pulled back on his stick, bringing around to pursue it. It was bizarrely shaped and hard to make out from the space around it, black with glowing red lines across it. Bizarrely shaped, covered in protrusions and blisters.
"I've...I've never seen a craft like this before. I don't think it's Vasudan."
"Transmit your sensor logs, four."
He flicked the switch, opening the transmission, then looked out his view screen at the cruiser. "Cruiser's reactor core is going critical!" He slammed his throttle to the front and headed back towards the Plato as the cruiser detonated in a massive shockwave. He felt his Apollo bounce around, but no claxons went off.
"The unknowns are jumping out."
He sighed. Maybe that would be the end of it. Plato grew in his viewport until he slid back into his formation. "Let's take advantage of this while we can." Harbison said. "Taurus is down, Vasudans are gone, we're clear to the node. We can let Command figure out what happened."
Gamma flight, Ross One-Twenty-Eight, and now this. This wasn't going to be the end of it.
"What do you think, four?" Tanya's voice came through. "New alien race? Do you think they're friendly?"
"I'm sure we'll find out."
The formation moved closer to the node, passing through the debris field.
"One minute to the node. We're almost there, Beta flight."
His radar beeped. "More unknowns incoming, they're making an attack run!"
"Cover us, Beta, we need to load the prototypes into our escape pods!"
Vincent pulled up on one wing and headed for the unknowns, bringing his ML-16s and missiles online. "Only four. Pick one off, then break and engage." Harbison said.
"Yes sir!" He dropped his crosshairs over the lead target and squeezed the triggers, firing lasers and missiles at it, joined by shots from Tanya and Harbison. But a moment before impact, a red barrier shot through with white appeared a meter or so in front of the fighter, the bolts dissipating and the missiles overshooting.
"They've got some kind of shielding. Lasers ineffective, missiles can't get a lock!"
"Damn it! Continue to engage! Try to get their attention!"
The aliens continued on their vector headed right for the Plato with no signs of stopping, even as their shields were struck again and again by the lasers. Vincent gritted his teeth and hit his thrusters, headed straight for one. It fired, red bolts striking his armor and setting off claxons, but then it broke to the left, headed away from the Plato. His jaw dropped, stunned at the thing's agility, it didn't even slow down, just completely changed directions.
He dropped in behind the craft and continued firing, most of his shots missing as the enemy danced, coming back around at the Plato.
"Plato, you've got incoming missiles!" Harbison's voice broke through his focus.
The aliens began launching rockets at the helpless science vessel, the warheads striking the craft on it's midline, shearing it in half. A section at the front of the science vessel exploded outwards and an Elysium transport emerged.
"This is the Plato's crew! We're in our escape craft, cover us!"
The aliens seemed disinterested in the escape pod, the other three jumping out. Vincent's target continued to dance. He gritted his teeth, continuing to fill the space around it with laser fire, then squeezed off one of his missiles. The weapon shot out of his bay and into it's shields. The craft's entire shield flashed bright white, and then he scored a hit with his primaries, blasting off one of the blisters. The alien fighter spun around like it was in pain, firing at him. He broke, more claxons going off as the bolts tore into his armor plating.
Then nothing. Where was it?
"This is Plato Escape, we read sensors clear. Thank you, Beta. Entering subspace now. Good luck."
"You too." Harbison sounded only a little less exhausted than Vincent. "Beta Flight, return to the Galatea."
"Copy that, sir." Vincent flicked his switched, bringing his Apollo into subspace.
* * * * *
"This is Admiral Wolf." The voice of a tired old man came from the ship's intercom. "At 0835 this morning, Alpha flight of the Seventy-Third Rhinos and Beta flight of the Fourty-Fourth Sabers were both engaged by a race of unknown aliens. I have recieved reports that over the past eight hours, there have been at least six other contacts with these aliens in the Ross 128, Ikeya, and Betelgeuse systems. Until we make further contact with them, Command has designated these new aliens as 'Shivans'"
The Admiral paused for a moment. "Terran Command has little information on these new enemies. At this moment, we have yet to engage their craft in significant number, but their fighters have successfully destroyed GTSC Plato, GTC Surtur, and GTC Kraken. No attempt to communicate with them has been successful, and their craft are vastly superior to anything in the Terran or Vasudan arsenals. Worse still, their ships have shield systems nearly impervious to the energy weapons in our arsenal, while our missiles are unable to achieve firing solutions. Our technicians are modifying the new Avenger cannons, and believe they will be effective against the Shivan shields."
He cleared his throat. "As of 1500 hours, a cease fire exists between the Galactic Terran Alliance and the Parliamentary Vasudan Empire. Both the GTA General Assembly and the Vasudan Parliament have declared an open state of war against the Shivans. This is a dark day for all of us. May God be with us. Stand together, and we will pull through. Admiral Wolf out."
The intercom went dead. Vincent leaned against the wall of the head, cold sweat running down his neck. An open war against these new aliens. The Vasudans could be fought, but the only reason that he was still alive is because the Shivans didn't seem terribly interested in killing him. He looked in the mirror and felt a cold shiver run up his spine - the pale, haggard looking man staring back didn't seem to look anything like him, right up to the two days of growth.
"You okay?" Tanya seemed to appear out of nowhere at his shoulder. He looked at her - she looked exhausted and haggard, her already pale skin looking almost gray.
"Just a bit shaken up."
"Hey, cheer up! The most devastating war in human history just came to an end."
"Only because a worse one is beginning."
"Gee, aren't you cheery. Relax. So these Shivans have a few fancy toys, we'll figure them out, turn their weapons against them, beat them. They're just fighters, and I hear they're rushing the Avengers into production as soon as they've finished modifying the design."
"Let's hope so."
Whoo. Okay, so that's the first leg of the story. I'm already at work on the second part. Please note that I greatly desire feedback, criticism, stroking of my ego, so on.
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