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Offline Trivial Psychic

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"Operation: Fearless" a Freespace Story - Chapter 7
Link to Chapter 6

Chapter 7:  The Choice

October 10th, 2367 – 19:15 Hours, TGT

   The spacious flight deck of the Yorktown seemed somewhat less crowded than before, as many of the pilots were still off covering the captured SD Darkness.  It felt odd to Sacks to be receiving a mission briefing from anyone other than Snipes or Tanner.  Instead, standing behind Kaplan, waiting his turn to speak, stood Commander Habu.  In recent days, Sacks had become so accustomed to having Tanner nearby among the pilots that he found himself subconsciously looking around for her.  Manetti too was uneasy.  She had not known ahead of time that Mars was to be part of the boarding party.  It had become general knowledge that they’d encountered heavy resistance towards the end, and hadn’t yet completely secured the destroyer.  Manetti had yet to receive any word if Mars was alive or dead… again.

   “Well, congratulations one and all,” began Kaplan, his enthusiasm tempered behind his perpetual smug poker face, “despite a few surprises and considerable improvisation, the SD Darkness is now in our possession.  We expect that our marines will have eliminated the last Shivan presence aboard the destroyer by twenty-two hundred hours.

   “The Hampton Roads made it to the same position safely, but as expected, her subspace drive is completely shot.  Plans are being set in motion to empty the corvette of all useful supplies and equipment, before being evacuated and scuttled.  Its crewmembers will each be given the option to return home or remain and assist in our Operation beyond Phase 2.  Indeed, the time has come for you all to make your decisions.  As you all head out to your next mission, you will each pass through enclosed voting booths.  Terran pilots, all you will need to do is place your thumb on the appropriate indicator… “Stay” to remain for Phase 3 and beyond, “Go” to return to Allied space.  Since Vasudans don’t have distinctive epidermal formations, all pilots will pass through a separate booth and provide a bio-secretion for genetic identity conformation.  The same options will be available, written in Vasudan script.

   “Our final mission includes two primary objectives.  The first involves the capture of many Shivan fighters and bombers.  A number of them were already captured aboard the Darkness, but a fair amount were damaged beyond repair during our attack.  The success of the Operation requires us to possess a certain quantity of Shivan combat craft in our arsenal, so further captures are necessary.  While this is going on, we will also be in the midst of an evacuation of the Yorktown.  Transports and escape pods will be carrying personnel and supplies off the destroyer.  Additional transports will be arriving from the Darkness’ present location as well.  Once the evacuation is complete, the Yorktown will be scuttled.  Commander Habu will provide you with further mission details.”

   The Vasudan officer strolled forward and addressed the assembly.  “The capture of the Shivan craft will require the use of a number of new and special issue weapons.  For this reason, those wings directly responsible for disabling them, will have their craft, weapons and loadouts pre-selected.  Delta and Theta wings will fly Erinyes class and will be assigned this task.  As primary weapons, you will be mounting one bank of GTW-19 Circe, to disrupt enemy shields, and Akheton SDG Disruptors to disable engines and other subsystems.  Your secondary weapons however, are special-issue.

   “The first is the GTM-15-X Venom missile.  It is based on the chassis from the Harpoon, but its warhead has been replaced by one similar to the GTM-31 or Disruptor Missile developed late during the Great War.  That weapon was designed to completely shut down a cruiser or other small ship for a short period of time.   The Venom has a charge intended to shut down a fighter or bomber for nearly an hour.  During that time, the target will be completely without power, unable to move, fire its weapons or communicate.  It will also shut down the target’s shields once it has been hit.  In fact, the Venom has been under development for some time, but progress was stalled until recently, while its designers searched for a method of ensuring shield penetration, so the weapon could strike the hull and deliver its payload.  Recent advances in particle physics have yielded a method to synthesize neutronium, which is both high-mass and lacking any charge.  Each Venom missile possesses a thin skin of neutronium around the warhead.  The minute quantity has a fairly negligible effect on the missile’s mass and maneuverability, but the neutral charge allows the warhead to penetrate any and all shields, delivering its payload directly into the target.

   “The second new weapon is the GTI TAG-D, also dubbed the “Cluster TAG”, by pilots who have tested it.  It is built upon the chassis from the GTM-10 Piranha missile, however the sub-munitions have been replaced by heat-seeking variants of the TAG-B.  In addition, the spawning detonation has been upgraded to incorporate an EMP warhead.  The TAG-D is most useful for TAGging entire formations of enemy bombers.

   “Complimenting the TAG-D is our third new weapon, an experimental form of Triple-A beam which, like the Disruptor and Venom missiles, is designed to strike the target with an electronics-disrupting effect, capable of rendering a fighter, bomber, or other small target, completely incapacitated.  The GTCv Warspite has had all of its existing Triple-A weapons replaced with the experimental disrupting variant.  For this reason, the corvette has been withheld from our engagements thus far, as its disruptive weapons would have been less useful.  A direct hit against even the heaviest of bombers will result in the same disruptive intensity as the Venom.  Three glancing blows by the weapon will also achieve the same result.

   “Beta, Rho, and Xi wings were deployed to engage a formation of Shivan fighters, then draw them back to our current position.  The Shivans will not know that our main command ship is at this location, and will deploy fighters and bombers in pursuit.  Once they’ve entered our vicinity, our network of sensor probes will jam their outgoing transmissions, ensuring that they do not call in for any major reinforcements too soon.  Eventually however, when they have deployed enough small craft against us without any contact, they will follow up with capital ships to determine the extent of our presence.  Our intention is to have completed our recovery and evacuation before this occurs.  Due to our intensive jamming however, we will be out of contact with our own forces guarding the Darkness.

   “Wings Epsilon, Tau, and Zeta will be tasked with providing primary cover for this mission.  If the enemy arrives in sufficient force that our capture and recovery activities cannot keep up, these wings will be charged with destroying those extra hostiles, as directed by OpCom.  The Triple-A cannons of the Yorktown, Maahes and Pershing will be partially linked into the TAG system, but will disregard any target designated by the TAG-D missile.  Once the recovery activities have been fully completed, Delta and Theta wings will be met by support ships, which will swap out their missile stores for more conventional weapons.

   “Once recovery and evacuation has been completed, and the Yorktown scuttled, your Nav systems will be updated with jump co-ordinates for the Darkness’ current position.  All our vessels will congregate there, after which time all vessels and fighters returning to Allied space will execute a jump to the Gamma Draconis Jumpnode and withdraw.  A number of our pilots have been pre-selected to return to Allied space, as our evacuating capital ships will require an escort regardless of the number pilots which may choose to withdraw.”

   Habu then bowed his head slightly and gave what could be interpreted as a sigh, and continued, “Over the past two days, I have spent a considerable amount of time in combat alongside many of you, and though our time has been brief, I feel as though all Terrans and Vasudans present both here and guarding the Darkness, have become an integral part of my existence, one that I will not soon forget… or replace.  It is therefore with considerable regret that I must inform you that I myself have been pre-selected by Command to return with our forces to Allied space, and will not be remaining.  To those who have chosen to remain or will choose to do so, may the Emperor in life, and the spirits of those who have passed, be with you and watch over you from this day forth.  Dismissed.”

   Sacks felt a small lump in his throat forming, as Habu finished his farewell.  He swallowed it back and forced a blink to clear the mild stinging in his eyes, then turned to the exit, which he was the closest to.  Sacks walked to within just a few feet of the Terran voting booth, when he stopped in his tracks, and knew that all eyes in the room were on him.  Sacks peered around behind him at the group who had followed him, and gave a warm smile of resolution and entered the booth.  He didn’t even slow down as he calmly but firmly placed his thumb over the “Stay” button, and exited the far side.  To indirectly make his decision known to all present, Sacks began to sing an ancient Earth song that he’d learned from his great grandfather.

   “I’m on a highway to Hell!” he sang at a respectable volume and with great confidence, “No stop signs, speed limits, nobody’s gonna slow me down!”

   As Sacks continued towards the launch bay, pilot after pilot entered the booth and exited with equal resolve.  When the votes were tallied, the decision had been unanimous… all pilots present had chosen to stay… and they would not be the last.

October 10th, 2367 – 19:25 Hours, TGT

   Tanner, Parker and the rest of the pilots listened from their cockpits as Snipes filled them in on the closeout of Phase 2.  They would continue to hold down the fort while Shivan fighter and bomber craft were captured and towed back to the Darkness, and the Yorktown was evacuated.

   “Once the Yorktown is cleared out, the destroyer will be sent an automated self-destruct signal.  All warships, transports, and fighters will then withdraw to our current position.  Following that, all ships returning to Allied space will execute a jump to the Gamma Draconis node and depart the system.  Phi wing is already patrolling the region to ensure our forces will have advanced knowledge of any enemy presence there.

   “Those ships departing will also be carrying those crew members from vessels throughout our fleet, who have opted to withdraw as well.  Pilots on active patrol should be receiving their Stay-or-Go option interface at this very moment.”

   In Tanner’s cockpit, one of the modular display interface panels switched to the simple stay/go option.  Tanner moved her right hand over to the panel, but stopped short, retracting her fingers slightly.  It was at that moment that an encrypted, private message was received by her fighter’s Comm. system, from Snipes.

   “I’m guessing that you haven’t quite made up your mind yet,” he began, “so I should probably tell you that based on a conversation I had with Lieutenant Sacks this afternoon, I feel that he’ll opt to stay.  Also, I asked him about his dream, and if it’s indeed prophetic, then the rest of the Hood pilots will base their decision on whether he stays or goes.  I thought you should know.”

   With that, Tanner extended her fingers and with full determination, pressed the “Stay” key.  She then, paused for a moment, before activating her Comm. system on general broadcast.

   “This is Commander Elizabeth Tanner, Squadron Commander of the 77th Black Sheep.  To all pilots returning to Allied space, I wish you all good luck.” As Sacks had expected, the fact that he and Tanner were and item was hardly a complete secret.  Therefore, Tanner had just effectively informed the entire group present, that Sacks was staying behind.  After a few seconds had passed, Snipes came back on the open Comm.

   “The full tally is now in,” he began, “and the vote is united… all pilots have opted to remain.  Now that that’s out of the way, I must inform you that by order of GTVA Command, I have been instructed to withdraw to Allied space.  I’m sorry, but I won’t be going with you.  Since Command has given the same orders to Commander Habu, your new senior pilot will be Commander Elizabeth Tanner.  I know that she will do right by you and watch out for you all.  Congratulations, Commander.”

   Tanner was about to reply, when Snipes sent her another private message. “And I mean that.  Also, if you’re at all worried about your sister, don’t be.  I’ll watch out for her.”

   “Thank you, Lt. Commander,” she replied on an open channel.

October 10th, 2367 – 19:30 Hours, TGT

   “… unfortunately there is both limited space on the transports and other warships being evacuated, as well as aboard our vessels that are remaining,” continued Captain Grant, as he briefed his entire crew over the P.A., “As a result, no more than half of our crew may return to Allied space, and no more than half can remain.  OpCom have granted me discretionary powers to preselect a certain number of crew to remain or withdraw.  I have also given stay or go assignments for the remainder of the crew, however you may each indicate your preference in a personal message to the X.O.  She will grant a certain number of trading, but know that the balance must be maintained.  If the whole lot of the crew chose to go back, then I’m afraid the ones that are assigned to stay behind are out of luck.  That is all.” As Captain Grant replaced the mic., he noticed that his X.O., Commander Madrid, was eyeing him with veiled displeasure.

   “May I assume that I’ve been assigned to the Phase 3 crew?” she asked with more than just a hint of dissatisfaction in her voice.

   Captain Cecil Grant gazed back at his first officer with a slight upturned smile at the right corner of his lips.  Though he needed to keep discipline aboard his ship, he enjoyed a good practical joke whenever the opportunity presented itself, and since this command was effectively at an end, some lax in protocol on his part could be excused.

   “I’m sorry Laurel,” he began, putting a feigned veneer of coldness “but I need you to look out for the crew…” At those words, Madrid set her jaw and slumped her shoulders, resigning herself to the fate of exile, but Grant wasn’t done yet. “...while they make the run back to Allied space.  I can’t trust anyone else to get the job done.”

   Madrid narrowed her eyebrows in confusion and looked up at her C.O. “So, I haven’t been assigned to stay?” she asked, her voice soft and quiet.

   “No, you haven’t,” replied Grant, as the smile spread across his face, “You’ll be aboard the GTCv Warspite, along with a number of our crew.”

   “Which ship will you be returning aboard, sir?” asked Madrid, but she had a feeling that she already knew the answer.

   “You’re young,” he began, “and you’ve got your whole career… your whole life ahead of you.  This was my last command posting,” he continued, his voice taking a bittersweet tone.  “There’s nothing left for me back there,” he motioned with his head in a completely random direction, “I doubt there’ll be any new ships to command for a while so I’ll likely be reassigned to a desk job.  My wife’s been dead for nearly five years now, so I’ve got no one to return to.  Perhaps out here, I can make a difference.”

   Madrid sniffed and suppressed the tears welling up, and then in a complete disregard of protocol, she stepped forward and gave Grant a small kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you, sir,” she replied, “we all owe you our lives.  I’ll make sure Command knows of your sacrifice.”

   “Thank you, Commander,” concluded Grant, resuming his Captain’s demeanor, “now, please co-ordinate crew assignments.”

   “Aye, sir,” she replied and withdrew to her station.

October 10th, 2367 – 19:45 Hours, TGT

   “Yorktown, this is Delta One,” announced Sacks from the cockpit of his Erinyes fighter, “I’ve got Allied fighters warping in.”

   “Rho wing here, objective successful,” came the message from one of the arriving fighter wings, “the Shivans should be deploying recon. wings in less than a minute.”

   “Excellent,” congratulated Kaplan from the Yorktown, “Rho and Xi wings, assume close escort of the Yorktown.  You’ll be cover for arriving and departing transports, freighters, and escape pods.  Beta wing, assume wide deployment and keep an eye out for enemy contacts.”

   Soon after, a cluster of three moderately-sized jump vortices opened ahead of the Yorktown.

   “Incoming jump signature,” announced Yuka flying as Zeta One, “reading Friendly IFF.  My radar has their IDs as GTT Notus, GVFr Monthu, and GTFr Ba-Pef.”

   “Notus, give me a status update on the Darkness and her escort,” ordered Kaplan.

   “Our marines have completed securing the destroyer,” reported an officer aboard the transport, “Team 2 is on board and has begun retrofitting.  We’ve also begun shuttling unnecessary crew off the Hampton Roads.”

   “Good.  Everything is going according to plan,” concluded Kaplan, “begin your docking maneuvers.  We’ve got cargo ready to offload.”

   As the ships closed in on the destroyer, a cluster of small blue orbs shimmered in the distance.

   “Beta Three here,” called Lafeyette, “Shivan fighters are jumping in.  We’ve got six Mara on attack vector.”

   “This is Theta wing, moving to intercept,” responded the lead pilot, as his team raced off to the enemy contacts.

   “Theta wing, you’re outside our effective Triple-A range,” warned the Warspite, “you’ll have to take them out yourselves.”

   “Copy that, Warspite,” replied the pilot, “Theta Wing, lock on with Venom missiles for a head-on pass.”  As the three Erinyes fighters closed on an enemy twice their number, both sides acquired missile locks and opened fire.  Two of the Mara sustained direct hits and tumbled away, powerless, but the remaining four launched swarming missiles at Theta wing, which was forced to break off of optimal firing position to evade the missile volley.

   “Theta wing, withdraw and bring them within our Triple-A range,” ordered the captain of the Warspite, “Tau wing, prepare to TAG those fighters for us.”

   The Erinyes fighters kicked-in their full burners and bolted back towards the corvette with the Mara on their tails.  Then the four sleek, Serapis fighters of Tau wing raced in from the right flank and locked on to the Shivan fighters with TAG-B missiles.  Three of the Mara shifted their attention to the new arrivals, while the fourth broke the opposite direction and attempted to evade.  Missile volleys crossed through space as the fighters closed on each other.  The fourth Mara was set on by Theta wing, which laid into it with streams of Circe and Disruptor fire until it was disabled.  Two of the remaining Mara were hit by TAGs and pummeled by indigo-colored Triple-A fire from the Warspite and were rendered neutral.  The final Mara had managed to evade all missile fire, so it was eventually destroyed by concentrated fire from Tau wing.  Unfortunately, Tau Three took a missile volley on its starboard wing and couldn’t hold its course.

   “Tau Three, attempt to manually center your thrust axis, then cycle your Automatic Input Control Synchronizer,” suggested a flight mechanic aboard the Yorktown.

   “No effect,” reported the Vasudan pilot, “I will not be able to remain in combat.”

   “Very well, Tau Three,” conceded Kaplan, “withdraw to our secondary position.  We’re uploading the co-ordinates now.”

   “This is recovery team Bravo,” called out the wing of Hygeia support ships departing from the Yorktown’s cargo bay, “We’re heading out to recover the disabled Shivans.  Please provide cover.”

   “Zeta wing, keep those support ships protected,” ordered Kaplan.

   As the Hygeias split up and headed off to their respective targets, Sacks and the rest of Delta wing loitered around on the Yorktown’s opposite flank.  Despite his dream, Sacks was worried about how many pilots from those guarding the Darkness would agree to remain beyond Phase 2.  More importantly, he was doubting whether Lizzy would chose to stay… until he remembered what she’d said when they thought he might be discharged just after the Damocles incident, and his doubts evaporated.  Sacks then glanced down at his radar momentarily and spotted the shimmering red blips at the fringe of detection range.

   “Delta leader here, I’ve got contacts.  Alright people, let’s stay within the Warspite’s Triple-A range,” ordered Sacks, “we’ll advance at one third speed until we know what we’re dealing with.”

   “Right with you, sir,” replied Sharpov.

   “Bravos four and five have docked with their targets and are jumping out.  Bravo two is on final approach,” reported Kaplan.

   “Contacts resolved,” announced Sharpov, “we’ve got four Taurvi bombers with another six-pack of Mara on escort.”

   “They’re still out of Triple-A range,” commented the Warspite’s captain.  Sacks knew that they were outnumbered, but he had some broader tactics to draw on… and most notably, some new weapons.

   “We’ll hold position at 2 kilometers out and let them come to us,” concluded Sacks, “Deltas two and three, use your Venoms to neutralize the bombers.  Zeta wing, be prepared to take down any warheads they might get off.”

   “Are you gonna take on the entire escort yourself?” asked Delta three, Ensign Layla Cobb, in complete disbelief.

   “Me and one corvette,” summarized Sacks.

   “Is he always this reckless?” Cobb asked Sharpov.

   “Aggressive and determined, yes, but not reckless,” corrected Sharpov, “you’ll get used to it if you’re around him long enough.”

   “They’re within three kilometers,” reported Sacks, “let ‘em have it!”

   Cobb and Sharpov had each locked up on a Taurvi and sent out a single shot volley.  As the wing of Mara closed on Sacks, he switched to his Cluster TAGs and sent off a single missile, then turned about sharply.  The Mara attempted to evade, but they were already within the EMP blast radius.  Sacks tapped the detonation trigger and the Shivan fighters were thrown aside by the explosion. The EMP prevented them from acquiring missile lock on Sacks or the rest of Delta wing.  As they attempted to maneuver sluggishly to protect the bombers, they were then struck by the TAG missiles released by the initial detonation.  The helpless fighters were then struck hard by the disrupting Triple-A beams from the Warspite, until the entire wing was adrift and out of action.

   “WOW!  I’m sorry for doubting you, sir,” apologized Cobb.

   “The Taurvi are down and out,” announced Sharpov.

   “That’s ten more ships ready for extraction,” reported Sacks. “I wonder how many support ships they’ve committed to this,” he thought, “or how many we’re gonna lose when they all bug-out.”

   “Charlie and Tango teams are standing by,” replied Kaplan, “deploying them now.”

   “This is the GTT Notus,” broke in the transport, “we’re filled to the bulkheads.  Undocking now.”

   “Monthu here, we are ready to depart.”

   “Ba-Pef, now undocking.  We will see you all at the rendezvous.”

   As the three ships moved to depart, another cluster of jump vortices formed ahead of the Yorktown.

   “Lambda wing, here,” began the lead ship, “ready to receive cargo and personnel.”

   “All our dockpoints are clear Lambda,” replied Commander Pu’Nef, “but please proceed quickly, as the Shivans are likely to step up their attacks.”

   “Bravos One, Two and Three have secured their targets and are jumping out,” announced Kaplan.

   A small cluster of jump signatures then opened near Sacks’ fighter and six Nephthys class Vasudan support ships emerged from subspace.

   “Recovery team Charlie is now on station,” reported the lead ship, “we are moving to acquire the Mara.  Team Tango should be along momentarily.”

   Thirty seconds later, a group of four Isis class jumped in near the Taurvi.

   “Recover team Tango, here to secure the bombers.”

   “What took you,” asked Sacks.

   “We were still in the process of relocating personnel from the Hampton Roads,” replied the lead ship.

   “This is too quiet,” remarked Mallory from Zeta wing.

   “I’m with you,” concurred Sharpov, “they must be getting ready to kick it up.”

   “I couldn’t agree more,” added Carlyle from Beta wing, “in fact, they’ve just arrived.  I’ve got a wing of three Nephilim class bombers with an escort of four Manticores.”

   “I’ve got contacts here too,” reported Dupuis patrolling another approach vector, “Four Nahema, unescorted.”

   “They’re really bracketing us this time,” joined in Lafeyette, “there’s a four-ship wing of Basilisks with an escort of Asteroth, equal number.”

   “There’s too many of them to recover,” concluded Sacks, “which wings do you want us to go for, Major?”

   “Hmmm… decisions, decisions,” mulled Kaplan, “Delta wing, go for the Nahemas.  Theta wing, you’re on the Manticores.  Epsilon wing, destroy those Nephilim.  Xi and Tau wings, take out the Basilisks and their escort.  Try to limit your engagements to distances within our Triple-A coverage.  We are slaving all standard beams to key off all TAGs NOT fired from Delta and Theta wings.  Engage your targets, pilots!”

[Continued in Next Post]
The Trivial Psychic Strikes Again!

 

Offline Trivial Psychic

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  • Snoop Junkie
Re: "Operation: Fearless" a Freespace Story - Chapter 7
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.

   “Ravana 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
« Last Edit: April 18, 2021, 04:34:20 pm by Trivial Psychic »
The Trivial Psychic Strikes Again!