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
, 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."