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.