Link to Chapter 8
Chapter – 9: The Truth And The Consequences
October 11th, 2367 – 6:47 Hours, TGT
Sacks rolled over in his bunk and in his near-conscious state, made out the sound of voices nearby. Opening his eyes, Sacks was briefly taken aback by the alien surroundings, until he recalled where
he actually was, and how
he had gotten there. He then looked across the room and saw Manetti and Rashid sitting on the former’s bunk, in somewhat quiet conversation. Sharpov was absent from his bunk, likely making a visit to the head. Yuka was still asleep while Mallory was listening to some music on his headset.
“But that guy never takes anything seriously,” said Jen, obviously trying to dissuade Fatima from something, “how can you expect him not to move on when the fun’s over.”
“The clown attitude is just a façade,” countered Fatima, shaking her head, “it’s his way of coping with stress.”
“Just don’t commit yourself too quickly or too early,” warned Jen, “wait ‘till you see him at his worst, or vise-versa. Oh! good morning, Percy,” Manetti quickly changed the subject as soon as she realized that Sacks was awake.
“Did you sleep well, sir?” asked Rashid.
“Did you dream
well?” asked Manetti, with a bit of a sheepish grin.
At that moment, the door opened and Sharpov walked in, clean shaven and with damp hair. Fatima’s eyes lingered on him for a little more than a second, and Manetti gave her a subtle nudge to break her gaze. Sharpov’s arrival prompted Yuka to rouse and Mallory to remove his headset and to give Sharpov his customary “Hey” greeting.
“Sleep well, yes,” resumed Sacks, “as to the second question, while I did dream
, I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘well’.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Mallory, entering the conversation.
“I dreamt that most of those that went back to Capella… didn’t make it out,” replied Sacks, with a sigh. At his words, everyone in the room stopped what they were doing, and there were a few moments of silence.
“How?” asked Rick Yuka, the first to speak up.
“Well, all of my dreams have been metaphorical,” he began, “dealing with us crossing on a bridge over a sea of molten lava. Most of those that returned back to the edge of the cliff where we started from were killed when a massive eruption hit. Some
made it to safety, but most didn’t.”
“What about us?” asked Manetti, sounding a bit spooked.
“The bridge back was destroyed,” replied Sacks, “but the one leading onwards from the rock plateau we were on, stayed intact.” This was followed by another period of uncomfortable silence, but this time it was Sacks himself that broke it. “Anyway, dreams or not, it’s nearly 0700 and we’ve got to get ourselves ready for the briefing in an hour, so Yuka and I had better hit the head.”
“Just watch your head on the way in,” joked Sharpov, prompting Manetti to roll her eyes and Rashid to conceal a smile and a blush.
“Lame,” called back Yuka before the door closed.
October 11th, 2367 – 8:00 Hours, TGT
Sacks’ Gamma wing-mates were with him in one of the primary access corridors. To save space, crew members were standing on all surfaces of the corridor, giving a very odd sensation of hearing conversations from above him as well as to the sides and behind.
A make-shift platform had been erected some a bit down the corridor, suspended high enough that it was at the exact center of the space between all surfaces. Sacks caught sight of a drained Lizzy standing near the back of it. “MAN
,” he thought, “she must have been up all night. I hope she gets a rest soon
Beside her was an older man that Sacks didn’t recognize at first, but by the Captain’s rank chevrons on his arm, Sacks guessed that it was Captain Grant, whom he’d heard had opted to remain behind rather than Evac. with the other half of his crew. “This could get even MORE interesting
,” thought Sacks, sarcastically. He guessed that his little improvised assistance to the Hampton Roads during the Darkness capture must have gained him a few brownie points in the Captain’s eye, “assuming he even KNEW who I was from the Damocles incident
,” he conceded, but Sacks didn’t know enough about the man to know if he was one to carry a grudge beyond all reason.
As Major Kaplan stepped forward to the podium, which projected ahead of the platform, appearing as Sacks noted, to be not unlike a pulpit, the conversations died down as crew members waited with breathless anticipation for the briefing that would define their existence from here on out.
“Good morning,” he began, his thin veil of confidence hiding the newly planted sense of worry and doubt. “This briefing is being broadcast to all aboard the Fearless and via directed laser link to our fighters on CAP. Firstly, let me say that I am humbled by the countless demonstrations of skill, intelligence, and raw guts that I have witnessed over the past few days. If you can all maintain this level of excellence, then I am supremely confident that we can achieve complete success in both our upcoming missions and the Operation as a whole. Well done.” Kaplan then let that sense of praise and accomplishment reverberate through the gathering before moving on to less positive news. With a heavy sigh, he continued.
“However, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you of certain events that have transpired back in Capella during our absence. Command had a contingency plan in place to keep the Shivans from expanding beyond the system. They had retrofitted two moth-balled Orion class destroyers loaded with Meson warhead devices, and rigged them to detonate during subspace transit to the Epsilon Pegasi and Vega systems.”
At this revelation, the pilots of the former Gamma wing exchanged surprised glances, each recalling their conversation over lunch the previous day.
“The Bastion successfully collapsed the Epsilon Pegasi jumpnode,” continued Kaplan, “while the GTD Nereid was sent to collapse the Vega node. Command launched a diversionary attack against the Gamma Draconis jumpnode in an attempt to draw Shivan forces away from the Epsilon Pegasi node. Unfortunately, during that engagement, the Colossus fell to a frontal attack from a Sathanas class juggernaut. That’s only the half
of it though. As Command was withdrawing the remainder of our forces through the Vega node prior to the Nereid deployment, the Sathanas fleet, which had established a ring of ships around the Capellean sun, triggered a supernova in the star.” At this, shocked, white-eyed glances were shared around the room, except among the Gammas, who were furrowing their brows and turning to look at Sacks. “A number of warships, transports, freighters, and medical ships were not able escape the system and were consumed by the blast wave. It is my sad duty to report that the Lemnos, Ptah-Nu, Sparta, Notus, and Lambda
wing did not escape the system. Unfortunately, we have no reports on which fighter wings may have escaped. The supernova has blocked out all transmissions, so we have no way of knowing if the Nereid was successfully deployed, but since our operation here is independent of all outside support, we will continue as planned. However, there will be a list posted of those personnel who at last report, were listed to be aboard those ships known to have escaped.”
Kaplan paused for a few seconds to allow time for the inevitable exchanges of words that are to be expected after such a revelation, and then resumed.
“Now that that’s
out of the way, it’s time to move on to the purpose that has brought us out here. You have all participated in Operation: Fearless. The obvious goals thus far have been to capture and secure enough Shivan ships, hardware, and supplies, to be able to conduct missions behind enemy lines without detection. The next several days will be spent continuing the repair and conversion of the Fearless to suit out needs. Once we’re sufficiently prepared, the Fearless and her support ships will proceed through Knossos 2 into a binary star system known to reside beyond, and through a third Knossos device sighted in that system, and from there wherever our leads take us.
“Operation: Fearless includes in total five phases. Phases One and Two have been completed. Phase Three involves conducting reconnaissance and a limited contingency for combat, so long as we are not discovered. Once we have either acquired enough intelligence, or our presence is compromised, we will then proceed with Phase Four, which involves overt disruption of enemy activities. Phase Four is not
likely to last long, as the Shivans will soon track us down and deploy a large number of forces against us. When that occurs and we are in imminent danger of being overwhelmed, our orders for Phase Five are simple… find any possible avenue of escape and do everything in our power to elude the Shivans, either by out-running them, or by hiding. Under ideal circumstances we would also search for a way to return to Allied space without
leading the Shivans there as well.
“Our most obvious targets of interest are naturally the Shivans. We will attempt to learn as much as possible about them, particularly their military and command hierarchy, their technology, and their total fleet deployment, including the size of their empire. We will however also seek to learn any information about their culture and social structure. Of special
interest however, will be Bosch and the NTF. Command has very little data on Bosch’s plans once he left his fleet behind, and only those of his crew who were extracted by the Shivans along with him, had any knowledge of them. Command is most
concerned with the nature of the relationship between Bosch and the Shivans and wishes to know if there is any co-operation between them. Our initial objective is to locate the NTF renegades… Bosch especially.
“Assisting us in this endeavor is a specialized Shivan translation program, which we acquired from the NTF as part of Bosch’s Project ETAK. It enables us to perform partial translations on the Fearless’ onboard Shivan database, control the ship’s primary systems, and communicate with other Shivan vessels as needed.
“Our next order of business concerns OpCom, short for Operation Command. As you know, the individuals who make up the team have been responsible for primary strategic planning thus far. However, our team also includes linguists, anthropologists, and many other scientific representatives who will attempt to decipher the nature of the Shivans and their technology. Also among them is an officer who defected from the NTF when Bosch ordered his fleet to make the run to Gamma Draconis, Lt. Commander Cameron Barrett. He will be acting as our expert on Bosch and his tactics, as well as a consultant regarding ETAK.” Kaplan then turned and gave a perceptible nod to a young, dark-skinned officer seated with OpCom, who returned the nod.
“Before moving on to squadron assignments, there is one significant announcement I’d like to make. Traditionally, the needs of a disciplined military have required quite restrictive regulations concerning the interpersonal relationships of its officers and enlisted crews. Romantic relationships between the two have been forbidden, and among officers or among enlisted, they have been restricted to those serving on different postings. Since our current situation negates transfers and since we can expect to be completely cut off from all Command authority, I have chosen to withdraw
those regulations. Romantic relationships of any kind are now permitted, so long as they do not affect your performance.” At this, all around the gathering, eyes widened, heads turned, and whispers were exchanged. Sacks and Tanner locked eyes from across the room, while Manetti gave Rashid a friendly, subtle elbow to the ribs. The thought of being able to openly express affection was both tempting and slightly disappointing
for Sacks, as he knew that breaking the rules and trying not to get caught, was all part of the turn-on… as many other crew could attest. “They must
however be reported to the ship’s X.O., who will attempt to avoid conflicts of interest via scheduling and also attempt to provide favorable scheduling and possibly even joint quarters.”
“Next, as already stated, Commander Elizabeth Tanner is our new senior pilot aboard. I had originally planned to form a new group of squadrons for the Operation, but with the destruction of the Hood and the availability of her pilots, it seems that a large portion of our personnel have been inherited from that destroyer. In fact, only a mere fifteen percent of our pilots are from squadrons not
based on the late Hood. I have therefore decided to preserve the Hood’s squadron names and assignments, with a few changes. With Commander Tanner’s new duties, a portion of her squadron command duties will be delegated to a deputy. Vasudan pilots will be integrated into all four squadrons, but due to the required ergonomics of sleeping arrangements, all Vasudan pilots will be segregated from Terran pilots, but only
in this aspect.”
Following this, Kaplan relinquished the podium to Tanner, who proceeded to hand out a series of promotions and commendations to pilots and crew members for courage and ingenuity. Among these, Corporal Mars received recognition for his quick thinking in countering the Shivan internal defenses, apparently defeating the largest number of enemies with the fewest number of forces at hand. Lt. Soo’Nes was recognized for her wing’s efficient tagging of enemy warships, allowing the first wave of the Darkness’ cruiser defense to be taken down in record time. Mallory even received a Distinguished Flying Cross for managing to decoy the Shivan heavy missiles that would have surely destroyed the Lambda Two transport during the evacuation.
Then came the promotions. Phil Carlyle was promoted to full Commander and granted official command over the Black Knights. Lt. Ka-Rek was promoted to Lt. Commander and integrated into the Black Panthers as its deputy squadron commander. By far however, the pilots of Sacks’ Gamma wing received the highest number of promotions, with each receiving one rank advancement. Sacks himself, now a Lt. Commander, and was assigned as Tanner’s deputy. That meant that he would be acting as Alpha One for all Black Sheep solo missions. It also left Gamma Wing without a lead, for which Yuka was selected, while Manetti was given lead of Delta wing. Mallory remained with Gamma, but Sharpov was moved to Alpha wing and Rashid followed Manetti.
“Thank you, Commander,” resumed Kaplan, taking the podium back from Tanner, “With the continuing conversion of the Fearless, we will be unable to challenge any major Shivan assault on our position. As a result, we will need to maintain a low profile for the time being. We are continuing to receive supplies from the Sunder, the Sinai, Ba-Pef and Monthu, via Sigma and Iota transports. We estimate that all supplies from these ships will be aboard by 1800 hours, while stripping critical components will take us until about 0400 hours tomorrow. Systems are also being removed from the Hamako. We will be retrofitting one of our Asmodeus class freighters to serve as our new AWACS ship.
“Until we can complete these critical tasks, our position will remain vulnerable, even with the jamming field in place. We will therefore be maintaining double the standard CAP. We will also have one full third of our pilots manning fighters in the bay on stand-by alert. The rest of you might think it the right time for a game of cards or something, but we need you at peak performance. Those pilots not on CAP, stand-by, or on sleep period, will be undergoing rigorous training in the sims to familiarize yourselves with both our new Shivan craft, but also on Shivan flight procedures. Just being able to fly
Shivan craft won’t be enough. You will need to fly like
Shivans to properly blend in. Your individual PIDs will be updated with your orders and training curriculum. Attendance is mandatory.
“Commander Tanner will be handing out flight assignments following this briefing. Squadron Commanders remain for your Quarterdeck briefing. The rest of you are to return to your assigned squadron briefing rooms and await your mission orders.
October 11th, 2367 – 8:35 Hours, TGT
Aboard the GTM Galen, Lt. Commander Christopher Snipes sat in a narrow stall in the medical bay, which occupied most of the ship. The chair was rigid and uncomfortable but he still managed to nod off a few times for some precious few minutes of sleep… the only
sleep he’d gotten in the past day.
Beside him lay Lt. Commander Alexia Anderson, not on a bed but within a sealed hood as various machines kept her alive and repaired her injuries.
Her condition was critical
, but stable, the doctors had told him. The next two hours would be critical… that had been four hours ago.
“Her physical injuries are being healed,” a female Asian doctor had told him, “We’ll be able to pull her off life-support in a couple of days, but the neurological trauma is another matter. We had to induce coma to protect her higher functions. If she hasn’t come out of the coma in that same time period… well, it could end up being quite
some time before she awakens.”
Snipes understood those kinds of prognoses all too well. “Thank you, doctor,” was all he could muster.
Snipes wished he could reach into the hood and take her hand, but it wasn’t possible.
“Lt. Commander Snipes,” a deep voice broke him out of his thoughts. Snipes looked up to see three Marines standing just outside the stall.
“Yes Colonel?” he responded after seeing the rank insignia on the lead officer’s arm.
“I have orders from Command. You’re needed for debriefing, immediately
,” the officer informed him, with no room for misinterpretation.
“Very well,” he conceded, “we’ll use the conference room.”
“Negative,” the Major commanded, “our orders are to escort you to the GTD Comey in the Deneb system. Your transport is waiting.”
Snipes looked worriedly over at Alexia under the hood, her machine-controlled breathing causing her chest to rise and fall with an eerie regularity.
“It’s alright, Chris,” called another voice in the room, just outside the narrow view from the stall, which Snipes recognized immediately as belonging to Admiral Petrarch, who stepped into view. “I’ll have someone sit with her. You’ll know immediately if something changes one way or another.”
Snipes nodded to himself subtly a few times before rising shakily to his feet and grabbing his uniform jacket from the back of his chair. “Thank you, Admiral. Colonel, lead the way.” Snipes still took one last glance back at Alexia before yielding the vigil to another pilot, bearing the squadron patch from the 107th Ravens. Snipes gave him an extended stare. Not one that was threatening in any way, but one that tried to convey the severity of the task Snipes was passing on to him. The pilot responded with a simple but serious nod.
“Let’s go,” he announced to the Colonel and they headed off to the nearest airlock. Aboard an Argo, packed with refugees, Sacks watched through a small viewport as the Galen came about and entered subspace, on course for the jumpnode to Beta Aquilae where, he was told, Lt. Commander Anderson would be delivered to a medical facility to look after her until she woke up again.
Snipes felt a lurch as his own transport leapt into its own jump vortex, on its course to deliver him back into his life of espionage and secrets, which now seemed a little lacking.
October 11th, 2367 – 9:00 Hours, TGT
At the Quarterdeck briefing, sacks learned that the 77th would be spending the entire time in training modules, while the 58th would handle the CAP for the shift. OpCom also wanted Knossos 2 to be kept under surveillance, which was right up the 58th‘s alley as well. The 91st and the 139th would each maintain two wings on standby should unexpected trouble find them however. All would be flying retrofitted Shivan craft.
The rest of the afternoon, Sacks was in the simulators, or receiving instructional briefings… basically lectures, from members of OpCom’s science division on Shivan behavioral theory. It was something completely foreign to Sacks’ piloting instincts.
“While under standard mission protocols,” the instructor continued, “Shivan fighters maintain absolute discipline. They follow formations exactly and don’t deviate. The few times Shivans do
send transmissions, the content appears to be something akin to a data packet rather than chatter.”
“We’ve seen Shivans breaking from formation all the time,” challenged Mallory.
“Those were combat
situations,” reminded the instructor, “I’m talking about standard mission protocols. Combat protocols appear to be less rigid, allowing their pilots the freedom to engage at will.”
of us have piloted the Mara in close proximity to the Shivans without needing to hold our formation precisely,” pointed out Sacks, “we didn’t need any special training for that and the Shivans never paid any attention to us.”
“For the limited
duration of those missions, yes; you were able to operate without drawing suspicion,” agreed the instructor, “but if we are to survive in the middle of Shivan territory without support, reinforcement, or the possibility of escape, and complete our operational objectives, we can’t afford to step one tow out of line in the Shivans’ eyes.” The instructor paused and Sacks stayed quiet, suddenly understanding the gravity of their predicament.
concerned about an enemy infiltration, we get suspicious, we observe quietly, watch for patterns, and when we are certain that we have reasonable cause then
we act. The Shivans respond to suspicions by eliminating the source of the anomalous behavior before anyone of us would even become
suspicious. You wouldn’t want your wingman to get incinerated by a Shivan Triple-A beam just because he drifted out of formation.”
“Ouch! That’s a stupid way to go,” commented Sharpov.
“It could be even worse than that,” considered Cobb, looking a bit pale. “Scenario: The Fearless has to pass in close proximity to other Shivan warships. One of our pilots breaks formation as you described, but they are nearest to The Fearless, and our turrets don’t blast it. The Shivans decide that not only is our pilot
being insubordinate by breaking formation, but the Fearless
is being insubordinate by NOT toasting the fighter, so they turn on her too. Mission over; everyone dead.”
The instructor nodded to her and continued, “Now you see why knowing and mimicking Shivan behavior is so essential. Your first modules will cover formation flying, escort maneuvers, and docking protocols. After the break, we will cover communications. Thankfully you will never have to actually speak
to the Shivans vocally, even with
the translation program,” he added with a chuckle before resuming, “You will however need to learn message formatting and syntax, and it isn’t something you can do at your own pace. You will need to compose and transmit your message in under two seconds.”
The lecture continued for another ten minutes before the Instructor sent them to the simulators. Sacks couldn’t remember the last time he had been expected to learn so much in such a short period of time, but he needed to adapt or perish. He was also Deputy Squadron Commander now, and had to set an example.
It had been a long time since Sacks had made the effort to be a model officer. It reminded him of his earlier career, before the Skulls… before the day he first disobeyed a direct order… before the day he lost his blind faith in his superiors… before the day had he lost his innocence. It was both a good feeling, and a worrying one. Sacks had gone through a career-threatening choice once before… that’s how he had become who he was. If he tried to become the dependable, disciplined officer he’d been before, he wasn’t sure if he could handle the despair of disillusionment if he had to make a similar choice again.
Sacks slept hard that night. The day’s training had been stressful and Sacks was tired, but a part of him was also worried. Every night since just before the Hood’s destruction, Sacks had dreamt of the lava sea and the rope bridge, and he was reluctant to face what cryptic and tragic hint for the future it might present him with, especially now that his commitment to the path ahead was sealed. Sacks considered hitting the make-shift gym that had been set up and just power-through the night, but he found himself nodding off and decided to brave the bombardment his subconscious mind might send his way, and try to get some sleep.
Sacks was unconscious in less than a minute, and while he did dream, and dream of strange and metaphorical things, likely prompted by their training sessions, nothing of the bridge or the lava field entered his mind.
October 12th, 2367 – 7:00 Hours, TGT
Sacks awoke to his alarm, feeling both that he’d had the most restful sleep that he’d had in ages, but also feeling that he needed another of the same duration to finally feel restored. Regardless, duty called. It was the Black Panthers’ turn for training, while the Black Sheep took over CAP and recon duties.
Wings from the 58th were rotating in as Sacks led Alpha wing out of the Fearless’ port flight pod. Commander Carlyle’s wing was also returning from their shift monitoring Knossos 2, flying their spiky Asteroths as they passed by Sacks’ wing in their Mara.
While a few GTVA fighter craft were kept on-board for special contingencies, they would all be flying Shivan craft, ALL the time. Being the Shivans’ current primary space-superiority fighter, the Mara would be the bread and butter of the Black Sheep, though a few Dragons had been salvaged.
Black Knights would be mostly flying Shivan interceptors as their scout craft, such as the Manticore and the afore-mentioned Asteroth, but there were still a few wings of Pegasus and Ptah class on-board should the mission profile require it.
The Black Panthers needed bombers, and OpCom decided that the Taurvi and Nahemas would be the best fit, but managed to retain a couple of wings of the massive Seraphim bombers for specialist roles.
Finally, the Black Mantas ended up with one quarter their force of Basilisks, another quarter worth being Aeshma, and the rest as Mara which were being fitted with additional armor, redundant shields, and space for additional weapons in their primary bays. The Mara’s secondary bays were large enough to place them easily in the heavy-assault class, so the upgrades seemed the natural way to make a more combat-worthy Assault Mara.
As support ships, several Azrael class were given shield emitters and were fitted with missile storage racks and on-board repair equipment to fill that role. Alpha and Gamma wings would make up the CAP for the current watch, while Delta kept a lookout on the Knossos. Sacks had been on an uneventful patrol for over an hour when a transmission from the Knossos region broke the silence.
“Fearless, this is Delta wing,” began Manetti, sounding somewhat concerned, “we’ve got Shivan traffic closing on the Knossos.”
“Our patrols have been reporting Shivan vessels passing through the Knossos all night
, Lieutenant,” replied the duty officer, in a somewhat dismissive tone, “there’s no cause for alarm.”
“If your reports call six Sathani and about a dozen other warships ‘no cause for alarm’, then you may want to redefine your threat analysis,” shot back Manetti.
“Did you say ‘six’?” asked the duty officer after a few seconds of silence.
“You heard me right,” replied Manetti from her cockpit. The rest of her wing held tight formation as their group of four Mara passed within the fleet which was making for the Knossos. They were passing about two hundred meters off the port side of one Sathanas, while another was above and a Ravana cruised five hundred meters beneath. Several other cruisers and corvettes occupied the formation that filled that area of space, and Manetti’s wing was right in the middle of it.
“Delta 1,” reported Rashid in the element lead position, “these ships are showing damage, but I’m not identifying any signs of weapon impacts.”
“Fearless, request mission update,” demanded Manetti.
“Delta wing, this is Fearless actual,” broke in the voice of Captain Chennault, “OpCom requests you obtain scans of those warships. Split your wing into pairs to speed the process.”
“Understood, Fearless Actual,” confirmed Manetti, “Parker, stay tight to my wing. We’ll get scans of those Sathani. Rashid, take Hik-Soh and hit the destroyers and cruisers. Remember to keep your formations tight. Break in 3…2…1… break!”
The four Mara deployed to scan their marks, the Sathani taking the longest due to their size.
Back at the Fearless’ combat air patrol, Sacks listened intently to the reports coming from the Knossos. He was proud of Manetti’s performance, as she seemed to be stepping up nicely, keeping a cool head and seemed able to make quick and intelligent decisions. Sacks was so distracted by the discourse that he nearly missed it when a cluster of vortices opened in the distance outside of his detection range.
“Fearless, we’ve got company,” he reported as his heart rate began to edge up. “Moving to identify. Alpha wing, hold formation and match my speed.” With Cobb on his wing, Sacks’ Mara moved swiftly towards the vector of the new arrivals, which soon displayed as undefined hostiles on his radar.
“We’re in trouble,” deduced Sharpov, “it looks like we’ve got Shivan forces closing on our position, and allied ships in full view.”
“How quickly can we Evac the remaining personnel from those ships?” asked Captain Chennault, turning to one of his bridge officers.
“Not soon enough,” was the reply.
“We gotta to take them out before they get into radar range,” recommended Mallory from Gamma wing in element lead.
“That may not be an option,” warned Sacks, as he stared at the hostile indicators now fully resolved. “The Shivans have brought four fighter wings and a Rakshasa. There’s no way we can take them out before they detect our ships.”
“Fearless, launch Beta and Epsilon wings,” recommended Lieutenant Ambrose, leading Gamma wing.
“Belay that,” interrupted Sacks, his voice having lost its intensity. “We can’t afford to be exposed this early
,” he thought. “This is why I HATE the burden of command
.” “Fearless, I recommend all available turrets open fire on any GTVA ships we have left.”
“WHAT?” asked Sharpov, “Are you nuts
? We’ve still got people
on those ships!”
“Either by Shivan reinforcements or our own guns, anyone on those ships is dead already!” challenged Sacks. “Once the Shivans detect those ships, if we aren’t shooting at them, they’ll know
we aren’t legit. Operation: Fearless will fail before it even gets any traction, and we’ve got no means of escape!”
“I am reluctantly in agreement with Lt. Commander Sacks,” concurred Chennault, understanding what that would mean.
“It’s alright,” came a voice from the Hamako, now stripped of its AWACS subsystem. “We all knew this was a possibility. Just promise me one thing… find out whatever Bosch is doing with the Shivans and put a stop to it. This is the Hamako, signing off.”
“All turrets and fighters,” began Chennault with a heavy heart, “engage all GTVA craft. Shoot to kill.”
Mallory could hardly believe what he’d heard. He’d been ordered to destroy an unarmed friendly, but no matter how wrong it felt, he couldn’t deny the consequences if he didn’t
destroy it. It brought back some uncomfortable memories from early in the NTF conflict. He’d been serving aboard the Carthage when the rebels had seized an Arcadia in Alpha Centauri. Mallory had been part of the force sent to retake the station, and had been ordered to shoot down transports fleeing afterwards.
His commanders had informed him that all ships were carrying both rebel troops and classified data stolen from the station. Mallory had lined up on his target, an Elysium and prepared to fire, when a message came through from it announcing that they were carrying civilians. The voice sounded military to Mallory, and his superiors agreed and ordered him to disregard the transmission and open fire.
Mallory opened-up with Subach and Prometheus-R fire, joined by a volley of Tempest rockets. The hull breached and cargo and supplies began shooting out into the cold vacuum of space. Bodies followed, which Mallory had expected, but when he saw a child among them his heart stopped. As the transport continued to break up, Mallory watched in horror as the bodies of what were clearly civilians spewed out into the void… thrashing each for a few seconds against the inevitable.
Mallory pleaded for rescue ships but none were sent. He was frantically reporting on the tragedy until Command ordered him to return to base for debriefing. The squadron commander assured him that he wasn’t responsible for this clear breakdown in intelligence, but Mallory didn’t feel
blameless. He’d been sulking in the pilots’ ready room, considering making an appointment with the combat psych officer, when the rest of his wing returned, sounding boisterous and victorious. They were cheering each other for their skill in preventing any of the fleeting transports from escaping, when his wing leader approached Mallory sitting in the corner. When Mallory explained what had happened, the other pilots seemed less fazed, and his wing leader simply said ‘at least you finally got your hands dirty’. Fury rose in Mallory and he attacked his wing leader. It took five other pilots to finally pull Mallory off his target, who ended up in the medical bay. That was the beginning of Mallory’s downhill slide. He could never bring himself to trust his commanding officers on critical intelligence again.
This was different… Mallory knew this, but it didn’t make it feel any less wrong. Mallory swallowed, lined up his sights on the Sunder, and fired his weapons. As his Shivan energy bolts ripped into the Argo’s cargo bay, the ship sent out one last static-filled transmission… directed at Mallory’s fighter.
“Good luck and Godspeed,” was the message, which was abruptly cut off as the transport was consumed in flames.
Sacks and the rest of Alpha wing rushed into the area and finished-off the Hamako, while other Shivan wings followed and engaged the few Elysium and Satis transports that were also present. With their turrets stripped, the transports couldn’t even put up a token defense to the attack. All that remained was the freighter Sinai, which was torn apart by the forward beams of the Rakshasa.
Knowing of the slaughter they’d just been forced to perform, Sacks felt doubly depressed after experiencing relief when the arriving Shivan craft paid them no notice and continued on their course. The Fearless had launched Mu wing stealths to tail the Shivans for thirty minutes to ensure they didn’t double-back.
When their watch was complete, Sacks was in a haze as he delivered the debriefing from their ordeal, and listened to Manetti’s report on Shivan activity near the Knossos.
“We scanned sixty percent of the ships we encountered before they jumped,” she recounted, “and they all had the same damage we had initially detected, but readings show that it wasn’t from weapons fire, but from extreme heat and radiation exposure.”
“Our best explanation,” joined a science representative from OpCom, “is that these ships avoided the Supernova shockwave by jumping to the system’s outskirts, then as the wave approached they jumped again to a point deeper within the system, avoiding the shockwave itself. The inner regions would still be perilous, but their ships could survive long enough to jump back to Gamma Draconis.”
“Any explanations yet on why
the Shivans blew Capella?” pressed Parker.
“Only speculation, Lieutenant,” replied the officer. “It ranges from a simple show of force to opening some kind of hyper-node, but we have no way of confirming any of it at this time.”
As the briefing ended, the dismissed pilots headed for the mess hall, Alpha and Beta wings in silence without any real drive in their steps, while Delta was engaged and talkative, obvious to their colleagues’ depressed states. Sacks managed to split off from the group and staggered into a darkened corridor. He stood there motionless for nearly a minute before delivering a thundering punch to the wall before him. The pain reverberated through his knuckles, wrist, and all the way to his shoulder. The pain felt… justified, like he deserved it, but it wasn’t enough… it could never
be enough, for what he had done… for what he had had
Sacks bent his head over with his fist still firmly planted into the wall, and despite all of the psych training and years of experience, his eyes started stinging until the tears started flowing. He quietly sobbed and redoubled the pressure on his fist, until he felt a pair of hands wrap around him… one around his waist, and the other over his tensed arm. He turned his head abruptly to see a female form in the dark that was a few inches shorter than him, who he recognized instantly as Lizzy. She said nothing, but peered into his eyes, until he reluctantly withdrew his fist from the wall and accepted her embrace.
“How can I… look at myself… in the mirror again, and see anything other… than a murderer?” he asked her between shaky breaths, “and not just any murder… I knew what I was doing… it was my call.”
“Don’t you do that,” Lizzy tried to console him, “you did what had to be done. It was the right call.” She knew that that argument wouldn’t make it any better, so she decided to go with the brutal truth… something that she was good at, but lowered her voice to a whisper. “This will be with you forever. You’ll never get over it, but you will get past it. You’ll vow to make their sacrifice mean something, even if you have to lay the blame all on Bosch.” Sacks didn’t reply, but nodded his head.
He missed his mess hall time, but he couldn’t have eaten even if he had been there. The rest of Alpha and Gamma wings could only manage a cup of coffee before heading off to their racks. Sacks joined them some time later, after Tanner had spent quite some time just holding him. She had recommended to the X.O. that their wings be kept on light duty for the next day, and had the Combat Psych Officer hang out in the Pilots’ Ready Room informally to try ease them through the trauma, and soon they were ready to fly again… though still somewhat somber for the experience a while longer. Crews continued to repair and convert The Fearless and her escort of support ships, while pilots continued training and scouts kept watch, waiting for their chance to leave the oppressive nebula forever.