October 10th, 2367 – 20:12 Hours, TGT
Lt. Vantu was beginning to feel both anxious and bored. Bored because very little had happed over the past hour, but anxious because something always
seemed to happen whenever he thought either “This will be uneventful
,” or “at least the situation cannot get any worse
,” and he was on the verge of both. He and the rest of Phi wing were keeping an eye on the jumpnode to Gamma Draconis, in anticipation of their withdrawal. The Shivan cruiser group that had been there when his wing had arrived in the Nebula that morning was still there, so plans were being readied to make a strike against it as part of their escape plan.
As Vantu was making his perimeter circuit, his fighter approached the region where the cruisers should have been, but he was met with nothing more than nebular gasses.
“Phi wing,” broke in Vantu over the secured Comm., “ready yourselves. Cruiser group Omicron is no longer in its previous position. It may be preparing for a strike against our warships.”
“I have it,” reported Phi two, “the entire cruiser group is making for the jumpnode at flank speed. Perhaps they are preparing to set up a crossfire zone on the other side of the node as did our forces in Gamma Draconis when the Neo Terrans entered the system.”
“Doubtful,” countered Vantu, “four cruisers are hardly enough to effect a jumpnode blockade.”
“Perhaps they already have warships in place and need fighter cover,” suggested Phi three.
“Possible,” conceded Vantu, “I will report to Lt. Cmdr. Snipes and request instructions.”
October 10th, 2367 – 20:15 Hours, TGT
A volley of blue Triple-A beams form the Pershing tore into a Nephilim bomber, severing its port-side wing, causing it to break up and its reactor to breach. The Manticore escort had fallen prey to an unexpected Cluster-TAG launch from Theta One, and was drifting. On the far side of the engagement, Sacks and the rest of Delta wing were locked in battle with the Nahemas.
“I HATE Nahemas!
” he thought to himself as he raced after his target. Sacks had already thrown two Venoms into his target without a hit, and the wing was too far apart for a Cluster-TAG to be of any use, so Sacks had to resort to traditional dogfighting. The bomber was attempting to lose Sacks with wide turns, but he simply cut the corners off the turns and gained on the bomber despite its speed advantage. Closing to within just a few ship lengths, Sacks let loose with Disruptor and Circe fire, and rapidly disabled it. Then for good measure, Sacks took out its Comm. and Weapons subsystem, before reporting it as secured.
During this, Hik-Soh and the rest of Tau wing were tangling with the Asteroth escorting the Basilisks. Fortunately, the Asteroth is far less dangerous than the Mara, and they made quick work of them. Unfortunately, The Basilisks were carrying long-range heavy missiles, and managed to unload a volley towards the transports before Xi wing could destroy them.
“Incoming warheads!” warned Kaplan, “can anyone intercept those missiles?”
“Negative, Major,” replied Hik-Soh, “the weapons are not bombs. My targeting computer cannot acquire them.”
“What’s their target?” asked Mallory.
“They appear to be heading towards Lambda Two,” informed Hik-Soh.
“Lambda Two, evacuate aboard the Yorktown, immediately!
” ordered Kaplan.
“Hold off on that, Major,” countered Mallory, “I’ve got an idea.”
“What are you up to?” asked Yuka, leading Zeta wing.
“Just trust me, Lieutenant,” urged Mallory, “this’ll work.”
“You’re up,” conceded Yuka, “what do we do?”
“Just follow me,” replied Mallory and raced off at full afterburner ahead of the Yorktown. A cluster of heavy missiles then emerged from the mists and Mallory swerved around ahead of them and headed back. As the rest of Zeta wing pulled in alongside Mallory’s fighter, they approached the Yorktown, and Lambda Two.
“Alright everyone,” began Mallory, “pull away gently and start dumping countermeasures.”
A trail of small decoy beacons began flowing behind the four fighters of Zeta wing, and sure enough the heavy missiles veered away from their intended target. The missiles soon overtook Zeta wing, but they were quick enough to pull clear of the enemy weapons, and the missiles had been pulled sufficiently off course that they couldn’t reacquire the transports.
“Excellent work, Zeta wing!” congratulated Kaplan, “we’ll have to add that trick to our defensive strategy manual.”
“This is Recovery Teams Bravo and Charlie,” called in the support ship again, “We’re back for our second load.”
“Team Bravo, grab the Nahemas,” ordered Kaplan, “Team Charlie, you’ve got the Manticores.”
“Copy that, Major,” replied the pilot of Charlie One, “Our maintenance team aboard the Darkness has indicated that they will not be able to sustain any more captures after this batch.”
“Acknowledged, Team Charlie. We’re deploying another pair of Hygeia class to swap out Delta and Theta wings’ capture-support missiles for standard issue. We’re giving you Tornadoes and Harpoons.”
“Lambda wing reporting,” announced the lead transport, “all our ships have reported that they’re loaded and ready to depart.”
“Copy that, Lambda,” replied Kaplan, “you’re clear to undock and depart at your discretion. We will load eighty percent of our crew onto the escape pods and launch them immediately. The remaining crew will depart aboard the Sunder and Har-Wer.”
Fifteen seconds later, just like clockwork, the two ships arrived as per the plan.
“Sunder here,” called the transport, “we’re here with the Har-Wer to extract the last of the Yorktown’s crew.”
“Stand by, Sunder,” ordered Kaplan, “Lambda hasn’t cleared the docking approaches yet.”
“Affirmative, Major,” acceded the transport, “we also have a coded message from Lt. Commander Snipes for relay. Transmitting now.”
“Lambda Wing here,” announced the lead ship, “we’re clear. Jumping out now.”
“Copy that,” replied Kaplan, “Sunder and Har-Wer, you are cleared to dock. We will have a slight change to our plans. It appears that our escape route through the Gamma Draconis jumpnode may be in enemy hands on the far side. Commander Snipes wants the four Mara from Omega wing to recon the far side before our ships jump through.” He then turned to Commander Habu who was monitoring the pilots’ transmissions, “Commander, assemble a wing of pilots and see to the mission personally. Make sure you only
assign pilots pre-selected to withdraw with our forces.”
“Won’t that reduce our available force of Shivan craft for… whatever we’re gonna be doing beyond Phase 2?” asked Manetti.
“Command doesn’t want to lose those assets,” explained Kaplan, “they only sent them along to launch Phase 2 so we’d have some Shivan craft to work with.”
“Beta Two to Major Kaplan,” broke in Dupuis, “We’ve got some major
Shivan activity here. By the size of the signatures I’m reading, I’d say they’ve deployed some capital ships.”
“Sounds like it’s time to wrap things up,” summed Kaplan, “launching escape pods now.”
“The last of our recovery ships have just warped out,” reported Sacks, “and all our missile stores have been swapped out.”
“Omega wing, is now launching,” announced Habu as his four-ship wing of Mara exited the Yorktown’s fighterbay, “awaiting jump co-ordinates.”
“Uploading now, Omega. Good luck. The Sunder and Har-Wer have just docked,” announced Kaplan, “I’m issuing the final evacuation order now. We’re leaving all turrets on automatic. The Maahes will have situational authority until we undock aboard the Sunder. This is the Yorktown, signing off.”
“Beta One here,” announced Carlyle “I’ve got multiple bomber wings closing on your position… Seraphim, Nahema, and Taurvi. I’m also reading escort wings of Mara and Dragons. Estimated time to contact, sixty seconds.”
“Once our transports and escape pods are clear it will matter no longer,” reassured the captain of the Maahes.
“I’ve got a reading on the Shivan capital ships,” reported Dupuis, “I’ve got a Moloch class, two Rakshasa, and a Lilith. They’ve also sent out two wings of Asteroth and one Aeshma ahead of the formation.”
“They’ll try to gain a sensor lock for their beam cannons,” deduced Sacks, “Delta wing, engage those fighters!”
“Epsilon wing, moving to assist,” added Manetti.
“The escape pods have cleared the Yorktown,” announced the captain of the Maahes, “begin jumping in sequence. Estimate twenty seconds for all pods to withdraw.”
Running at full afterburner, Sacks and his wing outpaced the Ares class of Epsilon wing and entered missile range with the Asteroths.
“Conserve your missiles,” ordered Sacks as he locked up a bandit with a single-volley of Tornadoes while using his Circe cannons to weaken its shields. A snap of the secondary trigger was all it took for the quad-cluster of warheads to turn his target into scrap metal… unfortunately, Delta wing was outnumbered four to one. Those odds were quickly improved as a sudden rush of Trebuchets raced by Sacks and slammed head-on with the Aeshmas, which were just about to enter the fray.
“Thanks for watching our backs, Epsilon wing” spoke up Sharpov.
“I’m always here for you,” replied Rashid.
“This is the Har-Wer,” reported the transport, “we are loaded to capacity and undocking now. We will await you at the rendez-vous.”
“What is your status, Sunder?” asked the Captain of the Maahes.
“Only twenty more crew members to board,” replied the pilot, “including Major Kaplan.”
“Please expedite your departure,” urged the Maahes, “the Shivans will enter beam-cannon range at any moment.”
“We’ll try to buy you some time,” offered Sacks as he took down his fourth Asteroth, “Delta wing, we’ll rush the cruisers and distract their turrets. Epsilon wing, prepare to take out their main guns with Trebuchets once we give you sensor contact.”
“Will do,” replied Manetti.
“Deltas, switch to your Disruptors and try to take out weapons or sensor subsystems,” added Sacks.
“Shivan wings are approaching our sensor range,” warned Yuka on the far side of the engagement.
“I hope we get out of here soon,” commented Mallory, “’cause I’m not
looking forward to tangling with Dragons again!”
“I’m in range of the port Rakshasa,” reported Cobb, “I’m going for its weapons subsystem.”
“Delta Two, go for the Lilith class, starboard side, low,” ordered Sacks, “I’ll take the Moloch. You ready Epsilon?”
“Locking on now,” replied Manetti, “aaaaannnnd, FIRING!”
Sacks weaved his fighter tight to the hull of the corvette, crisscrossing from one side of the hull to the other, dodging both enemy defensive fire and the random spines that protruded from the hull. All the while, Sacks pulsed his Disruptor cannons at targets of opportunity across the corvette’s hull. A twin-shot of Trebuchets then rocketed in and hit the Moloch’s main ‘eye’ turret, taking it out in a burst of flame and shrapnel.
“This is the GTT Sunder,” reported the transport, “all personnel are aboard. Undocking now.”
“The last of the escape pods have entered subspace,” announced the Maahes, “Yorktown evacuation has been completed. All vessels formup on our position.”
“The Shivans are now within our sensor range,” warned Hik-Soh, “They will be able to directly target our ships, or at the very least, track our subspace jumps.”
“It’s already being take care of Tau leader,” replied Kaplan aboard the Sunder, “Hamako, begin jamming now.”
“The Hamako, when did she
get here,” asked Mallory in complete bewilderment.
“We’ve been here for some time Zeta Two,” replied the AWACS ship, “we’ve just been running in ‘Ghost Mode’.”
“All fighters, break off your current engagements and close on the Warspite,” ordered Kaplan.
Just then, a series of beams from the cruiser wing slammed into the Yorktown, leaving huge gashes down its surface.
“The Yorktown’s taking a pounding,” reported Yuka.
“Better it than us,” retorted Kaplan, “stand by for self-destruct.”
Just then, a cluster of warp signatures formed behind the destroyer, and a group of Shivan transports emerged, and closed on the Yorktown.
“What the hell
are they doing?” commented Mallory.
“They appear to be attempting to dock with the Yorktown,” observed Hik-Soh, “perhaps they are puzzled by our recent activities and seek to gain intelligence?”
“That’s certainly a shift from their typical behavior,” added Rashid.
“Well, they’re coming away empty-handed whatever their intentions are,” summed Kaplan, “all ships have cleared the blast wave. Transmitting auto-destruct, NOW!
As the Shivan cruiser group prepared to take up defensive positions around the Yorktown, the destroyer suddenly began spewing flame from between the armor segments. A fireball erupted out of the fighter bay and several of the turrets exploded from within. After a couple of seconds, a series of massive explosions tore the destroyer apart, hurtling vast chunks of debris in all directions… and into the nearby Shivan warships and transports.
“WOAH, YEAH!” cheered Sharpov as the Shivan corvette buckled and spewed flames from the debris impacts.
As the rest of the pilots cheered at the destruction of the Shivan warships, Sacks couldn’t help but feel a little hollow at the victory, as this was the second time he’d had to watch as an Orion class destroyer that he’d served on, go up in flames.
“That ought to keep them busy for a few minutes,” declared Kaplan, “Warspite, Pershing and Maahes, initiate jump now.”
“Acknowledged, Major,” replied the captain of the Maahes, “We will see you there.”
“Uh, am I the only one concerned that we’ve just taken out our only launching platform and base ship in the entire
nebula?” asked Mallory, sounding somewhat irked.
“Don’t be, Zeta Two,” reassured Kaplan, “we’ve got a new posting all ready for you. All pilots remaining beyond Phase 2 are hereby reassigned to the GTD Fearless.”
“GTD Fearless? Where the HELL
did…” began Mallory, but his voice trailed off when the truth came to him.
“Oh my GOD!
” added Manetti.
“Major, what class
of destroyer is the Fearless?” asked Yuka, though the answer in his mind was a near certainty.
class,” declared Kaplan, his words full of pride and accomplishment. “All fighters, prepare to jump out alongside the Sunder. The Hamako will follow after ten seconds. See you all on the flipside. JUMP!
A series of blue dots signaled the group’s departure. Soon after, a final jump vortex formed in the mists and the Hamako disappeared into it. The Shivan forces that remained were in no
position to contest them.
October 10th, 2367 – 20:42 Hours, TGT
Sacks and the rest of Delta wing cruised leisurely past the Sunder, towards the group of Terran and Vasudan capital ships that congregated around the newly-commissioned GTD Fearless, and a small troop of Shivan supply craft. Even Mallory and Sharpov were silent as they tried to come to terms with the fact that this alien abomination of a destroyer would be their new home for the foreseeable future.
“This is the Fearless,” announced the destroyer’s Comm. officer, “Xi and Theta wings, formup on the GTCv Lemnos. All other arriving fighters, approach our starboard side bay and follow indicated beacons. Sunder, approach clear to Docking Port Three.”
“Acknowledged Fearless,” replied Kaplan, “On approach now. Lt. Commander Snipes, report your status.”
“We’ve got transports and escape pods performing final crew transfers as we speak,” replied Snipes aboard an Elysium, “I’m heading to the Warspite myself. Omega and Phi wings report no contacts at the Gamma Draconis jumpnode, friendly or otherwise. The Hampton Roads has been stripped and evacuated, and scuttling charges have been set. The Fearless has the detonation codes. We should be ready to go in less than five minutes.”
Delta wing locked on to their NAV beacons and closed in on the front of the fighterbay. As they passed by the main hull, Sacks got a cold shiver, as he noticed the Triple-A turret that had nearly toasted his bomber that afternoon.
“This is twisted
,” commented Sharpov as the slots on the front of the fighterbay loomed ahead, ready to swallow his fighter.
“I’m sure it will feel just like home after a couple weeks,” reassured Sacks, though not without a slight degree of reservation himself.
“Final crew transfers are complete,” reported Snipes, now on the bridge of the Warspite, “we’re ready when you are.”
“You are cleared to depart,” approved Kaplan, now on the bridge of the Fearless, “To all departing ships, good luck, and Godspeed.”
“To us all,” replied Snipes, “All ships, your subspace transit co-ordinates are being uploaded. Initiate jump sequence.”
With that, subspace vortices, both big and small, formed all around the fleet and a number warships, transports, freighters, and fighters, vanished into them. In the end, only the Fearless, the lifeless Hampton Roads, and a smattering of transports and freighters remained.
October 10th, 2367 – 21:00 Hours, TGT
“Welcome aboard the GTD Fearless, pilots,” announced Tanner, in a large, poorly lit room just outside the fighterbay. Due to the hastily-converted nature of the destroyer, many comfort and convenience features that pilots had taken for granted aboard GTVA ships, were not present. Sacks had to exit his fighter while still in his pressure suit and glide towards the improvised airlock on momentum. “Conversion of the destroyer for Terran and Vasudan use is an on-going process. While onboard, try to stay in areas marked in green. Areas in yellow may lack gravity plating or lighting. Areas in red still lack any life support. We don’t have carbon recycler equipment installed yet, so we’ll be resorting to field rations for the time being. Water recycling support is only at minimum, so I’m afraid there’ll be no major hygiene facilities for the next few days.
“With Commander Habu and Lt. Commander Snipes recalled to Allied space, I have been assigned as your new senior pilot onboard. For those I haven’t met, I am Commander Elizabeth Tanner, former squadron commander of the 77th Black Sheep, of the late GTD Hood. Major Kaplan will announce squadrons and assignments at 0800. He will also have a round of promotions and commendations to award.
“These are your pilots’ Data Interface Pads.” She continued, as the devices were distributed to the pilots, “They include the ship’s layout, restricted and inaccessible areas, as well as hygiene facilities, so familiarize yourselves with them.
“Until we’ve dispensed with our Terran and Vasudan support vessels, we will need to maintain a CAP to guard against uninvited guests. I’ve assigned six pilots to the task. You will be flying converted Shivan fighters, so you should take the training modules before launching. Twenty pilots will need to be on standby in case we run into trouble, but the rest of you are free to get some sleep.
“Now I know you all have plenty of questions regarding the whole purpose of the operation, and what we’ll be doing beyond Phase 2. Major Kaplan has assured me that all will be revealed at tomorrow morning’s briefing. No information will be released before that time… even to myself. That is all. Dismissed.”
All pilots in the room flipped open DIPs, where they received their flight assignments, and crew lodging. Sacks was relieved to see that he had no mission orders beyond some shut-eye. The ship’s internal configuration appeared rather bizarre, not adhering to the traditional layout of lateral corridors and vertical lifts, instead having segments intersecting at acute angles from any vector, including above and below. While disorienting, engineers deemed it most effective to include gravity field netting on all surfaces of the primary corridors, so crew could transition to corridors heading outwards at non-lateral directions.
After leaving the fighterbay access corridor, Sacks and several pilots stepped out into a main corridor, and were forced to perform a ninety degree forward transition to match the new surface. It was akin to standing upright, taking a step forward while falling towards what would have been a face-plant into the floor, and instead finding one’s self standing upright again, having appeared to now have just come from a hole in the floor.
The group headed forward through the ship for a couple of minutes, before reaching another juncture and again step-falling into a new corridor. Since the secondary corridors were too small to support all-round gravity nets, the floor had to be marked properly so someone didn’t accidentally step into one from a primary corridor from the wrong direction, and attempt to walk on the roof. Maintenance crews continuing the conversion assured the pilots that safety rails and sloped transition ramps would be installed as further guard against accidental improper corridor transfers and the rapid-orientation changes when stepping from one to the other.
After heading into the secondary corridor, several pilots split off and headed towards a compartment labeled as the mess-hall on the charts. Sacks and the rest of his old Gamma wing team however, continued on towards the pilots’ temporary group quarters. As they approached the room, they passed by a dimly-lit adjoining passageway and Sacks caught sight of a figure silhouetted against the poor illumination. Although his face wasn’t visible, Sacks recognized the figure by his stature. Sacks then turned his upper body and feigned a cough, but he briefly locked eyes with Manetti who was walking behind him, then glanced towards the darkened figure. Manetti followed Sacks’ gaze and observed the figure, and it took less than a second before she too realized who it was and her eyes widened and she let out a barely audible gasp.
“I’d better hit the head before turning in,” she said and turned for the passageway, “I’ll catch up with you.”
“Five minutes, Jen,” advised Sacks.
“Eh, isn’t the head up that
way?” asked Sharpov, motioning further down the corridor beyond their quarters.
Sacks glanced down at his PID and replied, “What’s your point?”
“Ah, nothing, sir,” conceded Sharpov, though still somewhat puzzled.
The pilots entered the room and found their assigned bunks, which had been hastily assembled, by the location of their personal effects. They had each changed out of their flight suits, done their basic hygiene routines and were dimming the already limited lighting in preparation to go to sleep, when Manetti entered the room. Her hair was messed up a bit and she was clearly making a great effort to contain her joy and relief, as she prepared for bed. Sacks glanced at his watch and quietly chuckled, seeing that it had been more than seven minutes since she’d left them in the corridor.
“That must’ve been quite the BM,” commented Sharpov, skeptically.
“Eh, right… yeah,” she replied, “I’ve been holding that one in since we were in Capella.”
The remark caught Rashid off guard and she nearly choked on her own chuckle.
“I hope you’re feeling better,” added Sacks behind his smug smile.
“Much… better… thanks,” replied Manetti after taking a refreshing breath.
Over the next minute, the pilots began to mellow as they each drifted off towards unconsciousness. Before that could happen however, Mallory’s softened voice sounded through the room. “Pleasant dreams, Percy,” prompting smiles from around the room, Sacks included.
Sacks, Tanner, Sharpov, and a large number of pilots and crew stood on the plateau atop the rocky tower which rose out of the volcanic sea that surrounded it. They all looked back across towards the edge of the precipice, linked by the deceptively rickety rope and wood bridge. Pilots and crew members could be seen crossing back towards the cliff and the safety beyond. A few of them had successfully reached the far side, and demolitionists appeared to be rigging the far side of the bridge to be blown away. Then there came a cohesive rumbling and bubbling in the lava below, which grew in strength. Suddenly there was a massive eruption of white-hot molten rock below the bridge. The fire and super-heated rock blasted skyward and fell upon the bridge encompassing most of its span between the tower and the cliff.
The group on the plateau looked back in horror, but without any personal fear, as those they’d come to know as friends were consumed by the flames. When the glare of the eruption had subsided and they could stand to look back once again, the bridge was gone, and the near portions of it hung loosely against the edge of the platform.
Sacks looked back towards the far side, and for a moment he could make out the helpless face of Lt. Commander Snipes, as he held in his arms the scorched body of Alexia Anderson. Then the smoke from below rose up and obscured the view, and from that moment on, none of the far side of the precipice could be seen. There were just the flames, and smoke, and magma, and the lonely bridge leading away from the plateau into the unknown.
Sacks awoke with a start, with beads of sweat on his brow. He looked over at the clock on the wall, which showed 2367/10/10 – 21:35 Hours, TGT… he’d been asleep for less than five minutes. After quickly replaying the dream in his mind before it dissipated, Sacks knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that some catastrophe had befallen or would befall their comrades who had returned to Allied space. Sacks briefly considered calling the bridge and giving them the warning, but he knew that no-one would take him seriously… hell
, he wouldn’t even take himself
seriously over a dream, but he just knew
that it was true. Besides, Sacks’ brain was telling him that it really
wanted to go back to sleep, and so he relented and closed his eyes.Link to Chapter 8