“Sensors read all clear, Admiral,” reported the executive officer. “Barring a few faint residual energy readings, there’s no one else out there anymore.”
The admiral nodded. “All hands stand down. Assume level 3 alert status. Let’s get a wing out there, and keep all pilots on standby.” He sighed, and addressed the two Paladins. “I will assume full responsibility for what has happened here.”
Mikhail shook his head. “There will be no question to your course of action, Admiral. They attacked first. Self-defence was the obvious and necessary reaction, and my report to the Toa will reflect as much.”
David turned to the damage control officer. “What was the extent of the damage to our hull?”
“Respectable enough, but no threat to us. She had no chance of breaching our hull what so ever. The nanites have already started regeneration of the damaged armour plates, and the Charity will not be needed for repairs. ” the officer replied.
David nodded his thanks, then turned to the weapons officer. “Did you recognize that weapon?”
“Not really. I mean, I’ve seen the theory for that sort of weapon, but it’s not been perfected enough for use in the battlefield,” the weapons officer replied. “It’s a photon beam, firing a stream of accelerated particles, and is capable of immense and precise damage, though it creates incredible amounts of heat. The closest thing in our arsenal are the firestorm and ion beams. But the ion beam is considerably different in its workings from a full-fledged photon beam.”
“But these people have obviously solved the heating issues. And have mass produced it, or we wouldn’t find a small ship like that mounting it,” Admiral Lewis pointed out.
“Yes sir. I should add that the projected plans for such a weapon that I saw meant that only a of destroyer and above would have sufficient space to mount that weapon,” the weapons officer added.
“So there is the possibility that they’re more advanced then we are?” Mikhail asked.
“No. Well. Maybe in certain areas. They, for example, do not display any shield technology on their capital ships. It’s possible they don’t have shields at all,” David replied. “I won’t be able to know more without investigating the wreckage.” He looked up at the admiral. “Permission to do so?”
Admiral Lewis nodded. “Go ahead. Do you need an escort?”
David shook his head. “No. My Raijin should be sufficient.”
The admiral nodded again. “True. Then get to it.”
Twenty minutes later, David was strapped into the Raijin’s open cockpit, typing commands on the keyboard as a technician waited for his signal. Satisfied, he pushed the keyboard aside, and activated the main reactor. The familiar hum of the reactor filled the cockpit, as his HUD added more details as more systems came on. “Alright, good to go,” he said.
The tech nodded, and pushed himself away from the Raijin as the cockpit folded shut. There was a moment of darkness before the panoramic view came online. “Transferring Raijin to launch deck,” came the launch officer. David felt the Raijin began to rise to the catapult, as he watched the catapult gradually enter his vision. “Raijin now on launch deck. Synchronizing to catapult and increasing linear voltage. Catapult deck opening.”
Before him, the Blade’s catapult doors opened, revealing the unending darkness of space. The lights on the signal above turned from red to green, and the launch officer said, “Linear voltage at max. Launch timing transferred to Raijin. Launch at your discretion, Immortal Markinson. Godspeed.”
“David Markinson, Raijin, taking off,” he replied, and rammed the throttles open. David was pushed back into his seat as the catapult flung the Raijin out of the Blade. Once clear of the Blade, he set his bearings, and headed towards the wreckage of the two destroyed ships.
Unnoticed by anyone in the Tyrean fleet, almost eight kilometres distant, a small blue portal disgorged a shape. After a few moments, the shape, with a razor thin profile and covered engines, began inching closer to the three Tyrean ships.
The assembled senior officers of the taskforce sat quietly in the Reverend’s briefing auditorium. The display before them was real-time, if somewhat out of date, transmitted from a quietly inserted Pegasus II from the location of the Knossos portal. The fleet was assembled, and once the briefing was over, they would be going in.
All eyes were on the small collection of ships before them, each unlike anything ever seen before. They weren’t Shivan, that much was obvious. They also weren’t Vasudan, or Terran. Of the four ships, it was the central ship that drew their attention. Shaped like a dagger, it easily dwarfed the other ships, and estimations had placed it as larger even then an Orion or Raynor, though failing to reach Juggernaught class.
A wing of four fighters was patrolling around the fleet, each one sharing the same forward swept wings and forward canards, making them look distinctly similar to some Old Earth atmospheric fighters. What stood out where their engines. Unlike Terran or Vasudan strike craft, they trailed lines of silvery black, again, nothing they had ever seen before.
“The key is obviously that ... destroyer of theirs,” said Senior Captain Dylandy, commanding officer of the Cossack squadron, finally breaking the silence in the room. “I suspect it’s handling logistics for their fighters, and it’s the logical flagship of the operation.”
“I concur,” added Rear Admiral McAllen. “The Warlock carries sufficient bombers and fighters to easily overpower any anti-fighter defences they might have, and with support from her and the Reverend, it should be quite easy for our strike craft to break through.”
“The problem, gentlemen, is whether or not they are hostile,” Admiral Vincent Kunkka said. “True, they did come in through a Knossos, but there is no evidence to suggest they are hostile.”
“They did destroy the Visigoth and Bismarck, sir,” Takahashi pointed out.
“That’s true, but the records we got indicate that the Bismarck fired first, and if that were so, they would be well within their rights to return fire. And judging from what we can see from this distance, and hit by weapons of that
calibre would be instantly fatal for a cruiser,” Rear Admiral Sergei replied.
“Something’s happening,” Dylandy cut in, forestalling any reply Kunkka or Takahashi had. They could make out two doors opening, and a few moments later something launched out. It was unlike anything any of the GTVA officers had seen before. It was a humanoid machine, holding some weapon in one hand, and a shield strapped to the other, and even as they continued to watch, two ... wings spread open, and it sped up significantly, trailing glittering prismatic particles and it sped away from the destroyer.
“What is that?” Kunkka asked, as the pilot of the Pegasus followed the path of the machine with his camera. The machine accelerated and braked rapidly, and did some acrobatics, as though its pilot was getting the feel of the machine. After a few loop the loops, the machine stopped moving, and remained motionless for a while, then its wings aligned themselves, four to a side, and it moved on again. It seemed to be moving even faster before, and a mild glow surrounded the wings, and for a split second there, it seemed to be teleporting forward every few seconds.
“I have no idea,” Sergei replied finally. He glanced around the room, and all the senior officers present were equally mystified or horrified at the capabilities the machine had shown.
Kunkka turned to glance at the comms officer behind him. “Are we in contact with the Pegasus?”
“No sir. In order to keep him safe, we’re on radio silence. We can contact him with radio bursts, though that might compromise him,” the officer replied.
Kunkka considered his options. “Never mind then. We want to get much as we can now, though I would like if he focused on the ships again.”
The Pegasus pilot seemed to be thinking the same thing, for the camera panned back to the collection of ships.
“Look. More of the robots, there,” Dylandy pointed out.
Sure enough, four more of the humanoid machines were launching from the destroyer, though they seemed to be launching from vertical tubes near the base of the ship’s towering superstructure. They were distinctly different from the first machine. The first one carried similar armament, but seemed to lack the elaborate wing system, instead having a pair of large thrusters that gave off the same silvery black trail as the fighters. The second resembled the first machine, but had no shield, only a long-barreled rifle, and instead of the two large thrusters, had a single smaller one and two extensions flanking it the thrusters. They could barely notice that four objects seemed docked to the two extensions, before the third machine blocked their view. It was much bulkier, obviously heavily armored and carrying what looked like a large-bore cannon in each hand, and two more cannons were folded at its waist. The fourth and final seemed identical to the first, save what looked like the hilt of a sword extending from between its rear thrusters.
The four machines aligned themselves in a different direction, and moved off in formation, leaving silvery black trails.
“Where are they headed? Can anyone tell me?” Kunkka asked the room.
“They seem to be headed towards the asteroid field, sir,” the comms officer replied almost immediately, tapping the display to bring up the charts alongside the image. He fiddled with the controls a bit more, and the approximate position of Kunkka’s battlegroup appeared on screen, and so did the position of the unidentified ships. “Based on their position and alignment of their ships, I expect their heading in this direction. Into the asteroid field.” A red arrow extended from the unknown’s positions and sure enough, headed right towards the heart of the asteroid field.
Kunkka scratched his chin as he tossed over this new information in his mind. “We have nothing in that direction, do we?”
“No, sir,” replied the comms officer.
The admiral nodded, and turned his attention back to the viewscreen. A few more moments passed as they continued watched the wing of fighters making another turn around the fleet.
Takahashi suddenly frowned. Something was wrong. Then it hit him. “Where’s one of the fighters?”
“It’s right there, isn’t it? All four ... of ... them,” Sergei trailed off as he realised there were only three fighters making the pass round the bridge.
Kunkka leapt to his feet. “Get that fighter out of there!” he roared.
Before the comms officer could reply, the viewscreen shuddered violently, then began flickering with static. Just as the screen winked out, they could all glimpse the other three fighters beginning to close in.
“Well, I guess they know we’re coming for them now,” Takahashi said to the silent room.
“Unknown fighter disabled sir. Salvage ship now inbound,” reported Fang Admiral Ashley. Claw Admiral Lewis nodded. “And the Combat Frames?”
“En route to the sensor anomaly, sir.”
“Good, good. Are we in contact with the Pride yet?”
“Negative, sir. The comms tech report that they do have sporadic contact, but it’ll be a while before we have a reliable communications link. I took the liberty of squealing a message through indicating our safe arrival, sir.”
Lewis nodded his approval. Ashley was sharp, and quick on the uptake. Five years of service together had showed him as such, and he had already sent in his recommendation for Ashley’s promotion. Once this was over, Ashley would be able to take command of his own battlegroup, having completed all the necessary tours required to reach that esteemed position. Reaching that position at the age of thirty two was unheard of, though he was fully of the mind that Ashley deserved it.
“Well done, Ashley. Well done. I want you to squeal another message with a request for suitable reinforcements, but nothing too intimidating. Also, ready the marines in one of the Griffons, and get ready to launch them once the Frames call in.”
“Yes sir,” he replied, then turned back to the bridge and started calling out orders.
Lewis leaned back in his command console, watching the bridge bustle around with quiet efficiency.
Duran Lowell leaned back in the cockpit, as the autopilot easily navigated the 70-ton Nightingale through the asteroids. “So gentlemen, in short, they pinged something interesting, and are sending us to investigate, and clear the way for a possible follow-up insertion by the groundpounders. Got it?”
“And lady,” piped up Katherine Estellise from her 65-ton Cyclone.
“You said ‘gentlemen’. I’m no man. And I don’t think there’s a single gentleman among you savages, anyway. Except maybe Duke.”
A deep chuckle filled the airways. “Now, now, miss. There’s no need to be calling people rude names now,” Duke Harrison said. “I’m many, many things, but a gentleman, I ain’t. Just look at my buddy here.” Duke piloted the 120-ton Marauder heavy support frame, and it suited the large, heavily-built man just fine.
“Duke might be offended you called him a gentleman, but I’m offended you said I ain’t one, Kat,” Arthur “Raven” Preacher, pilot of the other Nightingale, cut in. “Why, I’m the soul of manly gentleness, kindness, chivalry, and all those fancy terms that you might use to describe gentlemen that I don’t know about.”
“I agree with Kat. None of you are gentlemen except for Duke,” added Lieutenant Emma Trillyson, the Blade
's flight controller. She was back on board the Blade
, but maintained full contact at all times, as was the norm for flight controllers. “Especially you, Raven. You might be named after a knightly king, but you are a far cry from him. I still remember you failed attempts to chat me up after you had a couple of drinks.”
“She’s got you there, Raven,” Duran said, laughing.
“Bah. Teaming up on me as always. I don’t know why I bother with this bunch of disbelievers,” Raven said in mock exasperation.
“I remember this one time, in training camp, yo—“ Duke started.
“No need to, uh, bore people with that story, eh Duke old buddy?” Raven interrupted suddenly.
“I really wanna know what was it at training camp that happened. You always stop him from telling the story. How can you be so selfish?” Kat said in mild indignation.
“Well, miss, if you really wanna know, I can always tell you if you ask nicely,” Duke offered.
“Really?” Kat asked, surprised.
“Really. Shoot, if you’d just asked me before I would’ve told ya. But you never bothered to ask, so I never bothered to tell,” Duke said matter-of-factly.
“That’s ... true,” Kat admitted.
“Duke! How could you? You promised not to tell!” Raven objected.
“No, I didn’t. You didn’t ask me to promise not to tell. You never said anything like that back in the day,” Duke pointed out.
“Duke can you tell me too?” Emma asked sweetly
“O’course, Miss Emma.”
“Duke!” Raven yelled in desperation.
Duran listened to the chatter with no small amount of amusement. Like all the Combat Frame sticks, they were formed during their initial basic training days, and had a very strong rapport as a result. They were normally attached to the 57th Combat Frame Claw’s Third Fang, but as they were the only convenient stick on planet when the Blade was due to leave, they had been transferred on along with their machines. So far this stint had been interesting, and they were the first Combat Frames to sortie in this unknown space. Well ... first after Immortal David, of course.
“Alright, alright. Ladies, 60 seconds to combat zone,” Emma said, interrupting a verbal exchange, to put it mildly, between Raven and Duke about Raven’s mysterious misadventures during training camp. “Handing command over to the stick commander. Duran, you have the conn,” she said, using the traditional words always used when transferring control of a Combat Frame stick.
“Roger that Emma. Alright ladies, form up behind me, weapons free, fingers on the triggers,” Duran said, flicking off the autopilot and suiting his actions to match his words. In his command consoles, he could pick up the minor activity on the Frames that meant they were combat ready. The Cyclone’s scope slid out of the way, and though he couldn’t see it, he knew the Dreads’ safety lock was released, allowing them to launch instantly. The Marauder’s hand-held beam cannons slid down the arm rack, the firing grips and triggers sliding down into its waiting hands, as the waist cannons unlocked from their safety position, and on its back, the two double-barreled plasma cannons slid up and onto its shoulders. Raven’s Nightingale, like his, had no outside motion to display its battle readiness, though Raven’s large anti-ship sword rose somewhat higher, to be more easily grasped if the need arose.
“Arrival to combat zone in 30 seconds,” he announced over the comms.
“Taking point,” Raven replied, as his Nightingale slipped around Kat’s Cyclone and Duke’s Marauder.
“I’m guessing that’s the reason we’re here,” Kat mused.
Up ahead, a large asteroid, far larger than anything else in the field loomed. Various metal structures jutted out from it, and the asteroid had obviously been converted to a base. Or the base converted to an asteroid.
“Nothing, Duran. Radar is all clear, though the asteroids are giving some interference. Plenty of metallic returns, nothing that’s giving off a notable power signal.”
“This is Duke. I’m holding off and establishing a firing position.”
“Roger. Alright, Raven, Kat, let’s go in a little closer.”
The Marauder split off, heading for a convenient asteroid. Duke flipped a switch and the feet on the Marauder closed up into massive spikes, and Duke drove the spiked feet into the surface of the asteroids, then hit another switch. Smaller spikes shot out into the rock, firmly anchoring the Marauder to the surface of the asteroid. Position established, Duke began monitoring the area carefully, keeping his cannons all at full charge.
As they closed in on the asteroid base, it was clear something had happened here. “Asteroids around the base have been cleared, or consistently removed. We’re looking at a perimeter that’s somewhere between 1.5 to 2 klicks in width. Plenty of space for a small fleet. Multiple wreckages, some with size that could be consistent with a frigate-sized vessel. Smaller ones are probably fighters, or other similarly sized objects,” Emma reported. She was monitoring their overall sensor net, collating information from four separate sensor nets of differing sensitivity and range, and pick out the important information. “Based on the wreckage positions, I’d say they were attacked without warning, and had no time to mount a proper defense.”
“How can you tell?” Duran asked.
“If it were a proper defense the larger wrecks would be closer together. They’d have formed a solid line to anchor any reasonable defense. This one, the wrecks are all over the place. Same with the fighters. If you ask me, I think they were ambushed.”
“Alright. Split up and examine for more data, but keep in radio contact. I don’t like this,” Duran ordered.
The three Frames spilt apart, Kat closing in on the base, Duran moving up to investigate the metallic structures, and Raven headed towards the wrecks. “Plenty of damage to the exterior,” Kat observed. “Nothing resembling weaponry we’re familiar with. Explosive marks consistent with chemical explosives, and numerous scorch marks similar to impacts from energy blasts. Not sure what caused those though.”
‘Those’ referred to various large, deep gouges in the surface of the asteroid, slashing across the surface with no discernible pattern. There were large holes also punched into the hull of the base, though they didn’t know what caused them.
Duran clicked his mic in acknowledgement. “Raven?”
“Negative on life signs. Look at this, bossman,” he called.
Duran turned to see Raven nonchalantly pointing at one of the wreckages. It was a crescent-shaped fighter that mildy resembled a bat. He saw at once what Raven was pointing at. A neat hole was blasted right through the cockpit.
“Poor bastard,” Duran said.
“Yeah, I thought so too. Very accurate and very high powered, whatever did this. Watch.” Raven angled his head down on the fighter and triggered a burst from his head plasma cannons. The short rain of blue bolts was stopped short by a flickering blue field that sprang to life moments before the bolts hit the fighter. “Shield’s still on. And she still has power, even if it’s dying out. “
“Which means this was still recent,” Duran concluded.
“The bridge ... or well, it looks like the bridge ... has been ... blasted open,” Kat said, and only those who had worked with her for as long as her stick had, could pick up on the thread of revulsion and horror in her voice.
“It’s the bridge alright, but ... “ Emma’s voice trailed off.
Duran flew up to her side, and saw the scene before them. It was indeed most likely to be a bridge, with an obvious command deck, and consoles in lower trenches. But the consoles were covered in bits of flesh and had a deep red tinge. Various body parts were strewn around, and it looked like a storm of blades had hit the console crew. He glanced at the edge of the metal, noting that it was scorched, much like the gouges.
“Guess the residual radiation of the weapon caused their bodies to burst,” Duran mused. “Now these are poor bastards.”
He glanced at Kat’s Cyclone which remained motionless. “You alright, Kat?”
“Yeah ... Yeah, I’m fine,” came the shaky reply.
“Right, then can you get your Dreads to poke around and map the insides as far as possible? Don’t want the groundpounders going in blind.”
“Got it.” The Cyclone turned away, paused, and took one last look at the scene, before moving away.
“Well, at least we got one good piece of information,” Emma said.
“What’s that?” Duran asked.
“We probably know what the locals look like now. Or some of them, anyway,” Emma answered.
Lewis glanced up at the vidscreen, which showed Emma’s face. "You noticed it too, eh?"
"Yeah. Those are human body parts."
“Sir. Admiral Lewis, sir,”
Lewis woke instantly to the voice outside his quarters. “Yes?”
“Sir, we have established reliable contact,” reported the voice. Lewis recognized it as his adjutant, a Lieutenant Danny Wilson.
“Alright. I’m on my way.”
Twenty minutes later, Admiral Lewis strode onto the command deck. He had a split-second to notice the entire bridge were on their knees, whilst the two Immortals were standing at attention. Mildly he wondered when Immortal David had returned before his attention was drawn to the vidscreen looming over the bridge, and the face in it. Instantly, he too fell to one knee. “My Lord Toa,” he uttered in surprise, “This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Hardly, Lewis. I did send you across what, I’m told, is half the universe. And apparently into hostile territory too,” replied Toa David Keller, supreme ruler of the Toa Republic.
“Sir, the native ships did indeed fire upon us without prior provocation, but I have classified that as an isolated incident, and that hopefully the native government will be more open to negotiations of a peaceful sort,” Lewis replied, looking up at the youthful face of the Toa.
“Which is why you requested reinforcements, Lewis?” The Toa asked, tilting his head as he considered the still kneeling Lewis.
“Sir, while peaceful contact is still the ideal case, the amount of firepower leaves me to believe that our initial fleet strength will be insufficient should push comes to shove. Hence my request for more ships,” Lewis answered.
The Toa nodded. “You may all rise. And at ease you two, and do try to keep the grins off your faces.”
The crew rose to their feet, and the two Immortals snapped off textbook salutes a bit more theatrically then necessary.
“I have considered you request, and noted the part where the reinforcements shouldn’t be too intimidating. A good addition, considering the tense conditions in which any negotiations will take place,” the Toa continued.
“As such, I am dispatching the Daedalus squadron, the Arrestor
, the Divinity
and the Pride of the East
to your location, along with their attendant crew, Combat Frame Claws and fighter squadrons. If it becomes full-blown war, then more forces will be dispatched as necessary. Is that sufficient, Lewis?”
Lewis had a split second to realise the amount of firepower now in his hands, and saluted at once. “Yes, sir! More then enough.”
“Good. Then that's it then.” The Toa looked at the assembled crew, then added, “Conduct yourselves appropriately in this new world, and know that my desire is first and foremost for peace and not for war; remember this in all your duties. Do this, and much honor will be rendered unto me,” he said ritually.
“It is our honor to do as the Toa demands. Honor unto us is honor unto you,” Admiral Lewis replied, completing the ritual.
The Toa nodded, and the screen winked out.
Admiral Lewis looked round at the assembled crew. “Well. Since you were so kind as to let an old man like me sleep in, someone want to bring me up to date?”
Before anyone could reply, the comms officer called out, “Reinforcements arriving through the portal, sir. I read seven Dirk escorts, one Arbalest missile corvette, one Longbow missile corvette and a Swarm-class assault carrier.”
The bridge looked out at the portal, where multiple blue openings were appearing, and the three large ships exited, surrounded by the Dirk escorts. “Claw Admiral Lewis, this is Fang Admiral Yen Lo-Wang on board the Pride of the East, leading the reinforcements as ordered by his Lord Toa.”
Lewis stood up, a grin on his face. “Welcome, Yen. So the Toa sent me the legendary ‘Farseer of Akapolis’, eh?”
Yen’s face appeared on the display, in a grimace. “Not you too.”
Lewis laughed. “It’s good to see you, Yen. Join up with the fleet and assume holding position. We’re expecting contact anytime soon.” He turned back to his crew. "Now. An update if you will ..."
“Exiting subspace, Admiral Kunkka. Reading multiple signatures present, more than we initially expected,” reported Rear Admiral Sergei.
“So, the Knossos is functioning properly, and they are able to reinforce,” Kunkka muttered. “Not what I would have liked.” He stood up.
“Have all fighters standing by for launch, and transmit on all available channels.”
“Yes, sir. Commlink standing by.”
“This is Admiral Kunkka Blackthorn, of the Galactic Terran Vasudan Alliance 7th Fleet, 10th Battlegroup. I request a meeting to parley, and negotiate for the return of my pilot,” he broadcast.
Minutes past in tense silence.
“Sir, that destroyer is moving forward. All other unknowns are holding,” Sergei said.
“Reading a total of twenty fighters in a tight pattern around their fleet, and eight of those robotic machines holding position in a rough line,” reported the sensor officer.
“All ships hold your position, and do not fire unless fired upon,” Kunkka ordered.
“Sir, some of those machines and fighters are moving forward, and more fighters are launching,” warned Sergei.
Indeed, four of the man-like machines were moving forward, along with a dozen of the fighters, even as more fighters exited one of the newcomers. “So that must be a carrier of some sort,” Kunkka mused.
“Sir, they are still closing the distance,” Sergei warned more urgently now.
Kunkka could sense the tension among the crew, and noticed the gunnery officer glancing nervously at his console. “Hold your fire, hold your fire,” Kunkka ordered again.
“She’s slowing,” the sensor officer announced, with a palpable sense of relief.
“Incoming comms, sir. Patching it through.”
The viewscreen turned grey with static, then flickered once, before displaying the picture of a refined looking man with salt and pepper hair and eyes of cold steel. ‘A Terran?’ Kunkka thought, concealing his surprise with some difficulty.
“Greetings, Admiral Kunkka. I am Claw Admiral Lewis Dekker, commanding officer of the TRD Blade, and admiral of this expedition fleet you see before you. I hail from the Tyrean Republic, on the other side of this portal. Do you come in peace?”
“That depends on your purpose for crossing over into GTVA space, Admiral,” Kunkka replied. “As it is, you destroyed two of our ships the instant you crossed over into your territory, and captured my fighter, taking my pilot hostage. You will excuse me if I am less then inclined to believe that you are here to talk.”
“My ship was fired upon. I merely acted in self defense. The same for your stealth fighter,” Admiral Lewis answered. “As for our purpose, we merely wished to see what was on the other side. It seems your own government did the same thing, with rather disastrous results, it seems.”
‘How does he know about the Second Shivan Incursion?’ Kunkka wondered. “Then you will understand if we too wish to know for ourselves if you do not have an entire invasion fleet waiting on the other side.”
“I can assure you we most certainly do not, since we have better things to do then wait around a ... Knossos portal, was it? We have better things to do then wait around a Knossos and come rampaging through like a horde of barbarians, destroying a once thriving planet of yours by making its sun go supernova,” Lewis replied blandly.
Once again Kunkka was caught off guard. ‘He even knows about Capella! How ... ‘ Then it hit him. The pilot! They must have interrogated him. “I guess interrogating my pilot seems to be one of those ‘better things’.”
“Hardly. He hasn’t left his ship. Not by choice, I assure you. We were nice enough to give him some food and water though. Far be it from us to starve a prisoner,” the Tyrean admiral replied. He turned and looked off screen for a moment and said something Kunkka couldn’t make out. He exchanged a few more words with someone off screen and then nodded, before turning back to the console. “Regardless, are you allowed to speak for your government, Admiral Kunkka?”
“Yes. I am permitted to do so in this matter,” Kunkka replied.
“Good. I enjoyed talking with you, Admiral Kunkka. But I shall let wiser, and above all else, cooler heads take over negotiations now. I hope to see you soon. And in person,” Admiral Lewis said before getting up and moving away. Moments later another person sat down. He was very different from the Admiral, however. His hair was silvery blonde and his eyes were a bright electric blue, and Kunkka felt they were peering into his very soul.
“Greetings, Admiral Kunkka,” he began, “I am Paladin Mikhail Kerensky, and I have been empowered by our Toa to speak on his behalf. We regret the loss of your two ships, though their captains left us no choice in this matter. And we will release your pilot and ship to you immediately. Like the good Admiral Lewis has said, he has not been harmed in anyway.”
“That is good to hear, Paladin Mikhail,” Kunkka said, glancing up at his Sergei.
Sergei nodded, and looked over at the sensor officer, who answered, “Two of their fighters are launching, and the Pegasus is with them.”
“I have contact with my pilot. Let me talk to him first,” Kunkka said.
“Of course, Admiral. Take as much time as you need,” Paladin Mikhail replied.
“Patch me through to the Pegasus,” he ordered. A few minutes later, the helmeted face of the Pegasus pilot appeared on the viewscreen.
“Sir,” the pilot greeted.
“What did they do to you, pilot?” Kunkka asked.
“Nothing, sir. They somehow shut down my fighter, then took me back to that big carrier of theirs, and then locked my whole fighter up in some hangar. I didn’t get to see much, except a few glimpses when they came to give me some food,” the pilot answered.
“I see ... well done, pilot. Dock with the Damocles for debriefing.” He paused, then added. “Welcome back.”
“Thank you, sir,” the pilot replied, and the comm channel closed.
Kunkka turned to the view screen displaying the Tyrean Paladin. “It seems you did treat my pilot well. My thanks for that.” The Paladin inclined his head in silent acknowledgment. “If you truly come in peace, then be welcome, though you will understand that if we are less than welcoming at first.”
“Of course. It is only natural. I would be more inclined to order an invasion had you welcomed us with open arms instead of questioning our presence here,” Paladin Mikhail replied. “As it is, we –“
Whatever he was about to say was interrupted as Sergei suddenly cried out, “Sir, I’m reading a distress signal coming off the port side of the fleet. It’s a Hermes pod, sir! They’re hailing us, I’m patching them through!”
A panicked and bloodied face appeared on his viewscreen. “Don’t trust them, Admiral! They come preaching peace, but they bring bloody war! My home ... my family ... all gone! Glassed by them! They—“
Before the man could finish, emerald bolts lashed out in rapid succession, tearing through the escape pod’s hull with ease and causing it to explode.
Shocked silence filled the bridge. Kunkka looked at Paladin Mikhail, cold fury rising in his veins. “So. You come preaching peace, but destroy an entire planet in cold blood!?” he roared. “There can be no peace with people as brutal as yours! Consider this an official warning, Tyrean
, to get the hell out of GTVA space if you value your misbegotten, worthless lives!”
Mikhail’s face was blank of emotion as he replied. “I know you will not believe me when I say that I do not know why the escape pod was destroyed. But know that we will not back down, especially when we are not in the wrong. The Tyrean Republic is here to stay. We will not attack ... but we will defend ourselves if you choose to do so. This concludes our negotiations, Admiral.”
The screen turned blank as Mikhail cut the commlink. Silence, too, filled the Tyrean bridge, as the GTVA fleet warped out through their portals “Which turret was that?” Mikhail asked no one in particular.
“C-compression turret sixty, on the portside, sir. A report here says it was taken off the battery grid because it failed to boot during initial tests after the jump,” replied the weapons officer nervously.
“And yet now it mysteriously activates, destroying an escape pod, which sent god-knows-what message to the GTVA. And now they believe we destroyed a planet. Wonderful,” Mikhail muttered, getting up from the command console. He glanced at David and Lewis. “I think you two need to tell the Toa what happened.”
David blinked. “’You two’? What about you?”
“That is obviously a set-up. Someone’s setting us up for war with the GTVA. And they knew we were crossing the portal. Or had crossed the portal. We need to know more,” Mikhail pointed out.
“So you’re going deep cover?” Lewis asked.
“Yes. David can serve as royal liaison in my stead. And don’t forget Combat Frame strategy is his forte. Mine is sniffing stuff out. So that’s what I’m gonna do,” Mikhail answered.
“Well. I don’t see an alternative. We do need more intel than what we got from that base. Go ahead then. I’ll hold down the fort here,” David said.
“Right. I’ll send you updates the usual way. Expect to hear from me soon,” Mikhail said as he strode out of the bridge.
“’The usual way’?” Lewis asked.
“Usual for us Immortals, Admiral. You probably don’t want to know more than that,” David replied.
“True,” Lewis admitted. He thought awhile, then asked, “So am I to assume I am the supreme commander for this theatre?”
“You may and you are. We don’t have anyone else qualified on hand at the moment. It’s all you, Admiral. A defensive war should be sufficient till Mikhail gives us a solution,” David said. “Sending a message to the Toa about this new development is the thing to do now.” He glanced over at the comms officer, who nodded and turned to the console.
‘Anubis, launching. Anubis, launching.’
David and Lewis looked up at the ship wide PA announcement, then glanced out the window. They caught but a glimpse of its shape as it melted away. “There he goes. Let’s hope he can find something,” Lewis said. David nodded.
“Sir, communications link establish,” the comms officer reported. “Star Admiral Harrington on screen.”
Harrington’s face loomed over the bridge. David instantly noticed the lines of worry that were all but invisible to those not close to him.
“What’s wrong, Harrington?” David asked.
“Hnnh. You beat me to the question, David. Well, you asked first, so fair enough. The Feds somehow learnt about Operation Fencer, and they were waiting for us. Orbital sats, prepared depots, the works.”
David shrugged. “Still, with the assets we had, pushing into the Karos Fields shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Even if they were prepared for us.” He considered his words again. “There’s something else, isn’t there.”
“Yeah. Ian Fielding and Edward Parklane are the overseers for Fencer. And Ian was in the southern sector when he said he ...” Harrington paused, then continued with a carefully neutral expression. “Smelt something in the wind.”
“Something in the ... “David stiffened, then glared straight into Harrington’s eyes, and saw the confirmation in the depths of his eyes. Immortals had a strange connection with the beings responsible for who they were. And the event that had made the Immortals who they were was the very war that had nearly resulted in their people’s annihilation; the Enskeleon Conflict. They could always ‘smell’ the Enskeleons, no matter where they or the Enskeleons were.
And the Immortals were very certain the Enskeleons could do the same.
It was for this reason that every major conflict had Immortals overseeing it in the field, though the public did not know this. It was but one of the Immortals’ mysteries that was kept from the public for their own safety.
“Does the Toa –“
“Way ahead of you. Even before Ian could report back to him, he had already sent the Shadowhunter and the Wraithborne his way, and the Nighthawk is in transit to the Karos Fields as we speak, and more of the First Fleet’s battlegroups are on standby to be dispatched to the Karos Fields.
David whistled. The Shadowhunter and Wraithborne were the most dangerous destroyers in the Tyrean fleet, with service records and kill banners unmatched in the battlegroup, and the Nighthawk itself was legend for surviving the final strike with the Enskeleons.
“Yeah, I know. Well, it is something one of us sniffed so ... Anyway, did you need something?” Harrington asked.
“Oh yes. I nearly forgot myself. Open hostilities have commenced with the GTVA. Mikhail has gone to gather intelligence from deep cover. A transcript of events leading up to open hostilities will be squealed out soon,” David reported.
Harrington put his hand on his forehead and rubbed it for a few moments. “Alright. I’ll relay your message. Will you require reinforcements?”
Lewis stepped up into the view. “Yes sir. I would request my battlegroup be deployed to reinforce this location.”
Harrington squinted at Lewis. “You are ... Lewis Dekker, correct? Commander of the 8th Fleet’s Seventh Battlegroup? Hmmm. Deploying an entire battlegroup might be seen as an act of aggression by us.”
“The extra ships will be necessary for us to maintain an effective defensive line, since it will allow us to rotate ships out as necessary. If not that we will need more supplies to assist in restoring the asteroid base.” Lewis replied.
“True. But I do not want more ships than necessary deployed in GTVA space. Though I am not against reinforcing your position ...” Harrington tapped the desk as he thought. “You are sure the GTVA does not know about the base?”
Lewis nodded slowly as he answered. “Yes, we are. It was where we obtained our initial cache of intelligence on the GTVA, and seems to be a pirate outpost of some kind. But it is in a sad state, and restoring it is hard with the limited supplies at hand.”
Harrington nodded. “I will authorize the additional deployment of the force equivalent of four heavy capital ships and attendant fighters and Combat Frames. In addition, I am deploying the logistics ships Edinburgh and Avencourt as well as the constructor ship Contingency to your location. Use the Contingency to repair the base and fortify it and establish repair facilities. You can use it as a forward base. With three logistics ships, you should be able to keep both the base and frontline supplied while using the last to ferry supplies. The additional deployment should give you enough firepower to hold off the GTVA and rotate units to keep them fresh.” He paused, and looked at Lewis. “Is that sufficient?”
“Yes sir. More than enough,” Lewis replied.
“Good,” Harrington replied. He turned to David. “David, I need to speak to you personally, if you please. Kindly have the communications routed to your quarters, and provide them with your key to have it encrypted.”
David blinked in surprise. “Alright.”
Harrington nodded, and the screen flickered off, as David made his way forward and took out his crystal key that would encrypt the transmission with his personal key. He handed it to the officer and watched as the officer inserted the translucent crystal into the encryption slot. A few minutes later, the officer took it out and handed it wordlessly back to David.
“Well, I’d better go see what he wants,” David commented as he walked towards the bridge exit.
“Yes. I have a defense to organize,” Lewis said half-distractedly, mind already on the upcoming battle at hand.
Took a long time for this portion. To be totally honest, the fic has gone way, way, way past this part. I just keep adding, but not posting.