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.
, 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."