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
, 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
, 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."