Link to Chapter 4 Part 2
Chapter – 5: Darkness Approaches
October 10th, 2367 – 14:00 Hours, TGT
It felt a little odd to Sacks, being brought in for a briefing where he was the only one there. It felt to Sacks as though he was back in high school and had been sent to detention. Quarterdeck was far from empty, but everyone else was maintenance personnel.
“Later today, we’ve got a major
operation planned,” began Snipes, “It’s pretty much the climax of Phase 2, but we need to know where
our primary target is before
we can move against it. Our job… yes, I said ‘our’ job, because I will
be joining you out there, will be to locate a Shivan fleet. Somewhere out here,” he pointed to a large region of the nebula on the monitor, “is a group of Shivan cruisers, corvettes, and one destroyer. We need to identify exactly how many ships there are, what class they are, their patterns, and of course, where
“Stealths would be fast and hard to detect, but we’ll need to get close to the enemy, so our captured Maras are the craft of choice. We will be mounting weapons, but we won’t be participating in any combat if all goes as plan. We will need to launch our main strike no later than seventeen hundred hours, so we’ll have an operational window of about two hours. To cover more space we’ll be conducting nano-jumps from one region to another, since the potential search area is so vast. We’ll be scanning for any indications of recent activity, such as ion trails. Any questions, Lt.?”
“Just one,” began Sacks, “this is the third mission where we’ve had advanced knowledge of Shivan activities. Now a fixed cargo depot located before the nebular evacuation, I can buy. A supply convoy, well maybe you managed to work out a pattern to their supply routes. But an entire destroyer and a cruiser group… you’ve got some kind of special
intel. Where is this info coming from?”
Snipes gave him another glare. Snipes liked to work with intelligent pilots, who could notice consistencies and inconsistencies, draw hypotheses and conclusions. But he didn’t like it when he was forced to keep some info from his own people, and someone had noticed enough to see through the deception. The line ‘that information is on a need to know basis, and you don’t need to know’, was not one Snipes liked to deliver… especially to people he respected.
“The following information was not to be revealed until Phase 2 had ended, and only to those who volunteered to stay beyond, but you’ve impressed me, Lieutenant and I get the feeling that you’ll be volunteering to stay.
“When I was flying those Mara beyond Knossos 2, we detected a few devices of unknown purpose. They were clearly Shivan, but they were unlike anything ever encountered. I got a scan of one of them before the Shivans detected us. My readings were passed on to GTVA researchers who have determined that they were some kind of communications nodes, which allow the fleet to stay in contact with their version of Command over great distance.
“Now, I’m sure you’ve heard about project ETAK that Bosch was working on, and that it was essentially a Shivan communications system. In actuality it had three major objectives. The first was to recover enough Ancients records to locate and activate the Knossos. The second was a quantum pulse modulator, which is designed to attract the Shivans, but it somehow prevented them from initiating hostilities with the source. The third was the actual Terran-to-Shivan translation software, which had been in a portable computer system aboard the Iceni. Fortunately, SOC was able to steal a backup prototype of the ETAK translation computer late in the rebellion. Combining this with testimony from the rescued Iceni crew, we were able to interpret and copy the program.
“GTVI used this software to translate the data from the scans I made, which gave us limited deployment info on Shivan activities within the nebula. We’ve also been using it to facilitate our commandeering of Shivan vessels.”
“But the longer the time since you acquired the scans,” concluded Sacks, “the less certain we are about their positions.”
“Correct, but that is the most
that I’m willing to reveal at the moment,” finished Snipes, “now since we’re short on time, I’m gonna have to cut this off. I’ll see you down on the flight deck.”
October 10th, 2367 – 15:17 Hours, TGT
A pair of Mara class fighters exited subspace in a right-stagger formation, into a nebular region just as empty as the one they’d just jumped from. Sacks and Snipes had been searching the nebula for nearly an hour, and had jumped three times already, not including the initial jump from the Yorktown, spending no more than twenty minutes at each location. The pair then split up to cover more ground, keeping a narrow band active data link between them, both to stay in contact, and to share sensor data. As a result, the usual concerns about maintaining radio silence didn’t apply.
“Commander Snipes,” began Sacks, finally breaking the silence, “I’ve been meaning to ask you a personal question.”
“Ask away,” replied the senior pilot.
“When I asked you about your missions with Lt. Cmdr. Anderson, I got the impression that she meant more to you than just a fellow pilot, or even a friend,” Sacks asked, choosing his words carefully. Snipes took several seconds before answering, and his tone of voice suggested that it gave him some degree of discomfort.
“You presume correctly,” he replied, but then quickly added, “not that it is any of your business.”
“It may not be my
business, sir,” continued Sacks, “but it may be Commander Tanner’s”
“What does this have to do with her
,” asked Snipes, clearly not too pleased at hearing that name entering into the conversation.
“Obviously you weren’t listening to the comm. chatter during the blockade run,” he reminded Snipes, “Commander Tanner is her older sister.”
“Oh,” replied Snipes, simply, then added, “if she picked up on the same… impressions
that you did, then it might explain why I’ve been getting the feeling that she doesn’t like me.”
“It’s not that,” reassured Sacks, then corrected himself, “or I guess I should say ‘it’s not only
that’. Everyone from the 77th has had some
kind of issues with authority during our careers. Lizzy… Cmdr. Tanner doesn’t like being ordered around by junior officers, regardless of their credentials. You may be Acting Squadron Commander, sir, but as a Lt. Commander, she
. Evidence of your… skill, is only hearsay at this point, but it’s enough for her to give you the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise her dislike of you would be less… subtle.”
“Well, at least I know that it’s not entirely
personal,” concluded Snipes, with a sigh, “speaking of being more than friends, I’m getting the impression
that you’re more familiar with Commander Tanner than one would expect… if you take my
“We’re as discrete as we can,” he admitted nonchalantly, “but I would be a fool to think that no-one else, particularly from my own wing, knows about it. While we’re on the subject, Alexia didn’t by any chance mention anything about her family to you, did she? I only ask because I know that there was some bad blood between the two of them. They seemed to resolve it in the end but I haven’t had the chance to discuss it with Lizzy in any detail.”
“Sorry,” Snipes apologized, “but when we were together, we were both… eh, undercover… with the NTF. When you’re a spy, you tend to not share a lot of your personal details, even with your handler.”
This exchange was followed by nearly ten minutes of further silence, until Snipes spoke again.
“Lieutenant, I was speaking with Commander Habu after debriefing this morning,” he began, “and he mentioned to me something about you dreaming of this Operation before you were even told about it, including who would be involved.”
“That’s… kinda overstating it,” downplayed Sacks, then explained as best as he could “what I do
remember is quite metaphorical. Something about crossing a bridge that was on fire over a lava-filled lake or ocean. I couldn’t even be sure that there was
a far side. All my fellow pilots were with me, especially Lizzy. The bridge was burning but it was only on the outside, so it was perfectly fine on top. Everyone was kinda waiting for me to go, but they’d go with
me, which was the reassuring part. I had that dream the morning of the Shivan attack on the Hood.”
“You’re right,” agreed Snipes, “it does
lack some clarity, but I can see the parallels. Habu said that you knew that Corporal Mars would be with us?”
“He was among the crew with me at the bridge,” Sacks confirmed, “when I was talking with Lizzy, I decided to go with it and see if the dream was right. Also, when you were delivering the briefing aboard the Aquitaine, some of the things you said made me remember it and then I started to notice the parallels.”
“Anything else you can tell me about what’s to come?”
“Nothing that we don’t already know, like the fact that there’ll come a point when we have the option to turn around and go back… the end of Phase 2.”
“Well, I’d look forward to hearing about any more dreams like these that you have,” wrapped up Snipes, “but there won’t be much of an opportunity before the end of Phase 2.”
“So we’re nearly there,” surmised Sacks.
“By about 0600 tomorrow morning,” admitted Snipes.
“Scans look clear, sir,” Sacks said, bringing an easy end to the conversation and returning to their military formality.
“Very well,” replied Snipes, “prepare to jump to our fourth search area. Close formation.”
The two fighters emerged from the dusty realm back into each other’s visual range and rejoined. Seconds later, the two entered subspace and disappeared. Following this exchange, the two spoke very little to each other. They both seemed to come away with a new respect and familiarity for one another. Thanks to their mutual admissions of clandestine romances, and to a pair of sisters no less, they now seemed to each other, to be nearly brothers-in-law… family.
October 10th, 2367 – 15:37 Hours, TGT
Jen Manetti stepped through the narrow, guarded doors of the Yorktown’s bridge, and steeled herself for the conversation to come. She had only twice before stepped onto the bridge of any
GTVA capital ship… once aboard the Hood when she was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant Junior Grade some three months earlier. The other was aboard her previous posting on the GTD Aeneas with the 42nd Sun Dancers, when some inflammatory remarks she’d made about the X.O. had found their way back to the Admiral. Not long after that, she was shipped out to the 77th. In fact, she was glad to be away from the 42nd, as she didn’t get along with anyone in that squadron… even her wing-mates. Manetti could have contested the charges against her, and she probably would have won. It seems that the quote repeated to the Admiral was paraphrased and taken out of context. However, she had wanted out of the 42nd, one way or another, and for her, managing to both stay in uniform and in the cockpit was a win-win situation.
After confirming her identity and clearance with the security guards, neither of which were Mars, Manetti proceeded onto the bridge and took in her surroundings. In layout, it didn’t look all that different from the Hood’s bridge, except that the lights were dimmer and there were fewer crewmembers manning stations. In the center of the bridge stood a tall female Vasudan (not that any of them could be classified as “short”), wearing the rank of a Commander, and the badge of the ship’s Executive Officer… Pu’Nef. Like Sacks, Manetti still hadn’t grown accustomed to the Vasudans… not in person anyway. She was still appalled by senseless massacre of Vasudans… military and civilian alike, by the NTF and its supporters, but she still felt uneasy around them. “Well, I guess we’re all just a little bit prejudice at heart
,” she admitted to herself.
“Commander,” Manetti announced her presence to the Vasudan.
“Ah, Lt. Manetti,” replied X.O. quickly once she turned, without needing to give any noticeable thought to recalling her name, “what brings you to the bridge. I would expect you would be familiarizing yourself with the Vasudan craft.” It had been announced about a half an hour before, that the next major mission would include Terran pilots flying Vasudan craft, which filled a niche that Terran designs couldn’t.
“I intend to, sir,” assured Manetti, using ‘sir’ despite the Vasudan’s gender… though the Vasudans had been briefed on standard Terran protocol for the title. “But I was hoping to have a word with Major Kaplan, if possible.”
The X.O. gave her what could loosely pass as a surprised look, then replied, “The Major is currently in a strategy session with OpCom and will not exit for several hours. Is it urgent?”
For a moment, Manetti thought about simply telling the X.O. that it was a personal matter, which was the closest thing to the truth that could be summed up quickly, but she knew that an answer like that would get the shrug-off from anyone, especially at a time like this. She then hit on an idea to… fudge the truth just a little bit.
“Perhaps,” she began, “there may be a security breach with classified intel. I need to confer with the Major to determine if my suspicions are correct.”
The X.O. sized her up for a moment, then picked up a closed circuit communications handset and radioed the Strategic Operations and Planning room.
“S.O.P…. Bridge,” began Pu’Nef, Manetti hearing only one side of the conversation, “Lt. Manetti wishes to speak with Major Kaplan.” A pause followed, then, “Concerning a possible breach in classification containment… She feels that a moment with the Major will clarify the matter… Very well. Bridge out.”
Hearing the “very well” made Manetti’s hopes lower somewhat, though the Vasudan translator device chooses its language without considering the inferences that the listener might interpret from it.
“The Major will speak with you in ten minutes in the Pilots’ Briefing Room, near the S.O.P. He will speak with you for no more than five minutes,” finished the X.O.
“Thank you, Commander,” replied Manetti. She saluted, then turned and briskly exited the bridge.
October 10th, 2367 – 15:40 Hours, TGT
Sacks and Snipes had completed their fifth jump and had been scanning the nebula in silence for only a couple of minutes, when Sacks’ scanners started to show activity nearby. Without needing any vocal communication, his radar feed was directed to Snipes’ fighter, who immediately broke from his flight plan and joined his wingman, as Sacks turned to intercept the new contacts.
“Do you see anything yet?” asked Snipes when he’d entered close formation.
“Just your average nebular soup,” replied Sacks, raising in eyebrow, “but my radar is
picking up something
out there… perhaps many
somethings,” he added after a moment when more undefined contacts began showing up.
“This could be it,” concluded Snipes, the anticipation clearly audible in his voice.
“I have a confirmed contact,” announced Sacks, “reads as a Rakshasa class.”
“The contacts are spread out in a partial linear deployment,” observed Snipes, “take left and go for the lead ship. I’ll take right and check out their rear. We’ll curve around their perimeter and reform on the far side.”
“Copy that, sir,” acknowledged Sacks, and peeled his fighter away. As Sacks approached the lead ship and awaited the contacts to resolve themselves, a bright energy discharge, a lightning flash from some distant nebular storm, illuminated the scene ahead of Sacks, and he was able to briefly make out some shapes of those vessels ahead. By far the largest silhouette that Sacks could identify was that of a Ravana class destroyer.
Manetti had been pacing about in the briefing room for eight minutes, but it seemed like the better part of an hour to her. She spent her time trying to word how she would ask if Sacks had been let in on the mission ahead of time, but more importantly she tried to think of how to tell Major Kaplan that she’d pulled him out of a strategy session because of an alleged dream.
The doors opened suddenly, startling Manetti out of her thoughts. Kaplan strode through rather briskly and approached Manetti without any pretense of formality.
“Please be brief, Lieutenant,” he said, “as our coffee break won’t last forever, and I don’t want all the good stuff to be gone by the time I get back.”
“This may be nothing sir,” answered Manetti, trying her best to put on her most disarming but serious expression, “but I need to know if you discussed our current operation with any other member of the Hood’s crew, prior to its destruction.”
“Only Rear Admiral Troy and Captain Sunderland,” answered Kaplan, then he crossed his arms and angled his head down at Manetti and added, “Why? Has someone indicated advanced knowledge of our plans?”
“Yes sir, in a way,” then Manetti paused, hoping to indicate the delicacy of her situation, “It’s Lieutenant Sacks, sir.” At this Kaplan’s expression relaxed, he let a soft smile form on his lips, and gave the barest hint of rolling his eyes. “He indicated that he had known about our mission and some specific details because of a dream
he had back on the Hood. Apparently, he told Commander Tanner that he knew that one of our security officers would be present… but at that time we hadn’t received any news as to whether he’d even survived the Hood’s destruction. Did you have any personnel slated for this operation before
the Shivan attack?”
“I had a few pilots I was considering” began Kaplan, then he gave Manetti a wink and a smile, “yourself included, but we were planning on recruiting starship crew and pilots
from all over the fleet. The Shivan invasion accelerated our plans, and the rescued crew of the Hood were right there, so it was a match made in Heaven… or Hell depending on your viewpoint. As for Lt. Sacks’ dreams, I wouldn’t put too much stock in them, but neither I nor anyone else in my chain of command gave him any advanced info prior to our entry into Gamma Draconis. I’d say he’s just made some good guesses that turned out to be right. I wouldn’t go losing any sleep over it.”
“Thank you for clarifying, sir,” concluded Manetti.
“Don’t mention it,” replied Kaplan, but then tightened his expression, then added, “but the next time you pull me out of a strategy session for something this
trivial, I’ll personally have you brought up on charges. Is that clear?”
“As a vacuum, sir” assured Manetti.
“Dismissed,” Kaplan finished with a nod, and Manetti saluted, then exited the briefing room. As she exited, Kaplan stole a glance out the corner of his eye at her tight, uniform-clad butt. Kaplan was an officer first, and a man second… but a close
second. He’d been deputy director of the liaison office for Galactic Terran-Vasudan Intelligence and Special Operations Command. Easy money said that he’d be dropping the “Deputy” title by the end of the year. He’d orchestrated several aspects of major SOC activities these past twelve months, taking over for the dim-witted butt-kisser that had working the NTF case for nearly a year before that. His predecessor, a Lt. Colonel named Darvis, even had the gall to tell the director that Bosch would never gain enough support to effect a coup in Polaris, let alone Regulus and Sirius. Darvis continued with one blunder after another, until he mistakenly believed that the NTF would hold a bunch of Vasudan officers they’d captured for ransom, in exchange for a withdrawal of their forces from Sirius. Instead, the rebels killed the Vasudans and took Sirius on their own. Emperor Konshu demanded retribution and the responsibility for the error had fallen squarely on Darvis’ shoulders. After that, Kaplan had been assigned the post, and he set out with everything he had to prove that he could exceed their expectations.
Kaplan had orchestrated the insertion of multiple spies in to the rebel ranks. He’d even managed to orchestrate the defection of an entire cruiser to the rebels, allowing their crews to be reassigned throughout the fleet. Penetrating ETAK had been the biggest challenge, but he eventually managed to recruit enough informed sympathizers within the NTF to chart the project’s figurative outer boundaries and get an idea of what it might be about. After a picture of its purpose began to materialize, Kaplan managed to convince the Director and even the GTVA Security Council that it was in their best interests to allow Bosch to escape from Deneb, so that he might continue to pursue ETAK. It was a gamble, but he convinced them that it was worth the risk… and fortunately he managed to break even. The timing of the Knossos discovery clearly indicated that it had been activated prior to the Deneb incident, and the later NTF’s successful defense of Sirius and invasion of Epsilon Pegasi were also determined to not be a direct result of Bosch’s escape, and thus not Kaplan’s fault. That said, Kaplan was under pressure to obtain results. The successful capture of the GTT Sunder and other intel. sources had gone part way towards vindicating Kaplan’s approach, but as the civil war rapidly neared an end, and Shivan activity intensified, new approaches needed to be taken.
The current Operation, dubbed ‘Fearless’, Kaplan himself had originated, though it changed several times since its inception. At one point, he was even considering the possibility of performing multiple instances of it, but the sudden shift of firepower in favor of the Shivans necessitated some… changes. The GTVA Security Council’s decision to seal the nodes leading beyond Capella, trapping the Shivans, and anyone who hadn’t made it through, meant that whoever stayed behind, would need to be self-sufficient and inconspicuous. Kaplan found a way to see to both. Unfortunately for him however, Kaplan ended up assigned as point man for the Operation… which meant on-site control… which meant, he’d be there all the way.
The reason for him being essentially banished from the rest of society was not evident from his service record. He didn’t get a one hundred percent return on the Bosch gamble, but that hardly warranted a response like this. No, there were two major contributing factors that led to Kaplan’s forced reassignment there. The first came down to politics. In his rapid advancement, Kaplan had made many enemies. Some he’d stepped on during his advancement and were aiming for payback. Others were simply rivals who saw the chance to maneuver themselves into a more favorable position. A few however were related to the second reason, which came down squarely on Kaplan’s personal life. He sought advancement there too, and unfortunately in his choice of companionship. As a younger man, Kaplan had tried maintaining romantic relationships, but he always found the flaws in the women he dated and was looking for someone better. Eventually, he dispensed with the idea of a sustained relationship at all, seeking to ‘sample’ as much as possible. As a result, Kaplan became known as quite the womanizer, and his exploits soon branched out to include married women… including those of his fellow officers. It was then that his personal choices caught up with him. When these indiscretions became known within the community, his fate was sealed.
Now Kaplan was off on an operation that would test him in ways he’d never even conceived, and effectively send him deliberately into oblivion. Within all this however, he still found the time to entertain his personal vice, as he replayed Manetti’s exit from the room moments ago in his mind, wondering how her butt would look in a tight skirt… or less.
A split second replay of the preceding conversation brought Kaplan back to the coffee he wanted in on, and he abruptly let his daydream evaporate and exited the room. As he cruised the hall back to the S.O.P., Kaplan chuckled quietly, shaking his head over the very idea that a dream of one of his pilots could predict the outcome of an operation that he hadn’t even settled on at the time.
After completing their perimeter maneuver, the Mara class fighters piloted by Sacks and Snipes, finally reunited on the far side of the Shivan armada. The distance still kept Sacks’ radar from being able to detect the Ravana, but he insisted to Snipes that the destroyer was
there and hadn’t been a trick of the light. He then led Snipes through the heart of the Shivan formation, as their radars detected additional vessels, until it settled on the fleet’s command ship, the Ravana. In the fifteen minutes that followed, Sacks and Snipes drifted through, scanning all the warships in the fleet for their engine signatures and tactical status. In all, two Lilith, four Rakshasa, five Cain, and a Moloch… in addition to the destroyer. Multiple fighter wings prowled the area, but the modifications to the BSCD-X seemed to function, and both fighters maintained their anonymity.
After that, Snipes brought them to a position just within their ability to detect the fleet, but hopefully far enough so that their transmission would be overlooked.
“Omega 1 to Yorktown,” began Snipes, “are you receiving?”
“We read you Omega,” replied the voice of the Vasudan X.O., “Report your findings.”
“Confirmed encounter with enemy cavalry,” reported Snipes, causing Sacks to raise an eyebrow at the odd code word, “transmitting details now. Deploy Phi wing at the indicated coordinates.”
“Acknowledged, Omega. Phi wing will be on station in two minutes. You may return to base at that time,” confirmed Pu’Nef.
“Rodger, Yorktown. Omega wing, out,” concluded Snipes.
As Sacks had a few minutes to kill, and since he was not working with eyes glued to his instruments or video displays, Sacks took a moment to relax. It was then that he noticed a small metal panel among the instrument displays. He’d noticed one aboard the Mara fighter he’d flown previously, and it had had cereal number “SCC-C-03”. Sacks couldn’t be exactly sure what it meant, but he guessed that it referred to the fact that it was a captured Shivan craft, and the 3rd of the group. However, the cereal number on this
Mara however, was “SCC-C-05”. “Could it be?
” wondered Sacks.
“Sir, is this the same fighter we captured this morning?” he asked Snipes.
“I wondered if you were gonna notice that,” replied Snipes with a bit of a chuckle, “I told our tech boys to make sure to have it ready for you for this mission. I figured that you might find it rewarding to see the fruits of your labors.” It was then that a small blue signature appeared on Sacks’ radar, and then vanished.
“Phi wing, on station. You may return to base, Omega wing,” announced a Vasudan voice out of nowhere.
“Copy that, Phi,” replied Snipes, “Stay on my wing, Omega 2. We’ve got to clear Shivan sensors before
The pair cruised further away from the Shivan armada, until no sensor contacts could be detected at all. At that time, the “JUMP NOW” indicator flashed on Sacks’ HUD, and he punched the subspace drive sequence and disappeared though the vortex.Link to Chapter 6