Link to Chapter 1
Chapter 2 – Through Hellfire
Percy Sacks stood alone, overlooking a vast chasm, filled with fire and molten rock. The heat and smoke billowed up from the depths, obscuring his forward visibility, giving only the barest hint that the far side of the chasm even existed. Above him, the sky was black, save for a small amount of glow reflected off the cloud deck, lit from the fires below.
Before Sacks there lay a rickety old wood and rope bridge, extending over the chasm off into the infinity of the smoke and flames. Sacks looked over his shoulder at the way he must have taken to get there. The path behind him was barred heavily by a reinforced double door, with the words “No Re Entry” stenciled over it in yellow letters. Sacks thought to himself that that door seemed quite out of place, among the stone and earth and sand, but before he could follow that thought any further, he noticed that before the path reached his perch on the precipice, it curved away in another direction, heading away from the fire chasm. That path seemed safer and easier, but it also appeared lonely, boring, and it faded into obscurity.
Looking ahead again, Sacks realized that the bridge was on fire, but it wasn’t burning itself. Closer inspection revealed that not only was the fire only on the outside of the bridge, but that the bridge wasn’t made of wood and rope at all. The wood was actually the strongest steel, and the rope was made of steel cables, wound tight and true. Sacks recognized that the path ahead wasn’t as much of a deathtrap as it first seemed, though still dangerous.
Sacks was still not quite sure whether he should take the road less traveled and step off into the unknown, when he felt a hand take his own… warm, firm, and caring. Looking to his right, he saw Lizzy standing there, radiant and joyous. Her usual scowl was replaced with a broad smile. Her usually tied-back hair was flying free and loose in the winds. Her pale green eyes, usually cold and haunted, were bright and sparkling, as though the whole weight of the universe had been lifted from her shoulders, and she was now free of all worry. He then became aware of others standing beside and behind him. He saw Manetti, Yuka, Mallory, Sharpov, and Rashid, all in their flight suits, and all baring the same expression… determined, and confident. Behind them, he could make out more pilots from the 77th, looking ready for the battle they’d spent their entire lives preparing for, without fear and without remorse. Behind them, Sacks spotted more familiar faces… other pilots and crew members from the Hood. Sacks could even make out the deceptively cold expression of Corporal Mars. Sacks then realized that they were all waiting for him to start out. They’d go with him. They’d watch his back and he’d watch theirs. No one would be alone or abandoned.
The fire and molten rock spewed upwards on either side of the bridge, and the ground beneath his feet shook, but Sacks didn’t even flinch. He felt empowered as the full meaning came over him… it didn’t matter if they stepped into the bridge and it gave way and they all fell to their deaths. As long as they all faced this peril together, they’d fear nothing.
Confident and without reservations, Sacks gripped the side of the bridge with his left hand, while holding onto Lizzy’s hand with his right, he stepped onto the bridge and into the unknown. Undaunted, he continued forward, and his squad mates followed… proud, and fearless.
Voices then echoed through the smoke… vague and distant. Sacks stopped and focused on the voices. As he did, the fire, the smoke, the bridge, his fellow pilots, Lizzy… all began to fade away.
He’d been asleep, and he was hearing the ship’s P.A. system spouting messages. “Wasn’t that thing NOT supposed to broadcast into the crew racks during rest periods?
” he thought, but it took a few more seconds for his groggy brain to catch the greater implications… “Except in cases of emergency. What Day is it? What happed yesterday?
It had been nearly thirty-five hours since his wing had had their flight status revoked… since he’d seen that GTVI officer. Sacks, as part of his flight status revocation and disciplinary action, had spent the day doing various tedious jobs, including cleaning out the waste extraction system… thank God for the breathing mask… what a SMELL! He hadn’t been allowed to spend time in the pilots’ ready room, so he had retired to his rack early. “GOD! It’s not even 0500 hours!
” Sacks groaned and wrapped his pillow around his head. “What ELSE happened yesterday?
Sacks recalled watching a piece of a briefing from Command while he was cleaning up in the Mess Hall. The Iceni had been intercepted; Bosch and his senior officers had escaped aboard, of all things, a Shivan transport, along with all the ETAK technology. The surviving Iceni crew had been rescued/captured by Command before the Iceni self-destructed. Command found out where the transport had gone and sent fighters after him from the GVD Psamtik… “Oh GOD! The Psamtik… the 2nd Knossos, and at least one more Sathanas!
” Sacks was fully awake in a shot and quickly tuned his hearing into the voice over the P.A.
“… until such a time as we have more information. I repeat, we are now at General Quarters. All personnel should report to their combat duty stations at this time. All pilots will report to their fighters and be prepared for immediate launch.” The normally calm and composed voice of the ship’s X.O., Captain Paul Sunderland, was beginning to convey genuine concern. As he continued, Sacks had already pulled out a fresh flight suit and was readying himself for combat, both physically and mentally.
“Shivan forces have begun entering into the Capella system through the Gamma Draconis Jumpnode. We do not yet have any information regarding the number and type of Shivan forces, but Rear Admiral Troy will address the crew via audio links in ten minutes with more information. That is all for now.”
Now fully into his flight suit, Sacks glanced over at the alert light on the wall. If it was flashing, it meant that his wing was to report to the hanger for combat, but it was dark. “Screw that
,” thought Sacks “there’s no way that I’m staying cooped-up in my rack while the Shivans take MY ship apart.
“Come’ on, people!” he barked at the rest of his wing-mates, who still lounged in their racks, “it’s ‘Go Time’!”
Mallory was the first to rise from his truncated slumber. He first looked at Sacks, then at the alert panel, then back at Sacks. “What’s going on, Percy?”
“We’re at General Quarters,” he replied, putting the finishing touches on his flight suit and grabbing his helmet and gloves, “Shivans are entering Capella.”
Rashid poked her head out from behind her rack’s curtain, and too looked at the alert panel, and shrugged. “We’re still revoked from flight status. They’re not calling us.”
“The X.O. said ‘ALL pilots will report to their fighters’. Official status or not, we’re still fighter pilots and they’re gonna need every one of us they can get,” Sacks concluded as he made for the door. “Get yourselves ready for flight and meet me at the launch bay. Also, keep your ears open for the Admiral’s briefing over the P.A.”
“Where are you going, sir,” asked Manetti, already on her feet and getting into her flight suit.
“I’m going to get our flight status’ reinstated,” he replied in cold determination, “just get yourselves ready and meet me there!” and barged through the door.
With the computer’s help, he’d caught up with Commander Tanner not too far from the Squadron briefing room. She was issuing orders to several pilots in the hall, while still getting herself ready for flight. Sacks approached at a jog, but she hadn’t seen him and then headed out for the launch bay at a jog as well, still issuing orders to pilots following in tow. Sacks switched to a run, which was a general no-no onboard ship, but he needed to catch up to her. He called to her a few times by rank and title, but finally, as a last resort, called out “Lizzy!” Clearly picking his intensity out from the sea of voices, Tanner stopped, looked back, and shrugged as she saw Sacks jogging up to her. She turned and issued a final set of orders to the other pilots, then sent them ahead.
“I’ll catch up to you in a few minutes,” she concluded, then turned to Sacks, “I already know what you’re gonna ask, but there’s nothing I can do. Only the Admiral can overturn an order from Command to suspend a pilot’s flight status.”
Sacks’ visibly shrugged, but only for a second, as he determined a new course of action. “I’m not givin’ up yet. I’ll see you out there!” he called back as he headed to his wing’s launch bay. He had only made it a few steps, when an announcement tone rung through the P.A. Voices surrounding him became muted… footfalls quieter. Everyone listened intently for the voice they’d all been waiting for.
“Attention, all personnel… this is the X.O.” began Captain Sunderland, “stand by for a briefing by Rear Admiral Troy.”
“Thank you,” started the Admiral, after a few seconds. “Time is of the essence, so I need all of you to continue to perform your duties as best as possible, even during this briefing.”
Rear Admiral Gregory Troy was approaching retirement… at least, by fleet standards. He had enlisted with the GTA Fleet during the Great War, flying with the 158th Tomahawks, a fast bomber squadron, from the GTD Truman… until that ship was destroyed by the SD Lucifer while trying to hold the Deneb jumpnode, following the fall of Vasuda Prime. After that, he was briefly assigned to the Bastion, but after the collapse of the Sol Jumpnode, he was reassigned to the GTD De Gaulle, seeing combat against both the GTI during the Hades rebellion, and the Hammer of Light in 2336, alongside the PVD Guardian.
Soon after, the massive economic decline early in the Reconstruction Era, forced the GTA to drastically slash its military budget, and Troy was discharged from the service. Within a decade however, he was reinstated as a command level officer, serving as X.O. aboard the GTC Ravage under Captain Petrarch during Operation: Templar. Troy continued to rise through the ranks until the NTF Rebellion came. Many high-level defections forced the GTVA to dig deep for its flag officers and Troy came out of it as a Rear Admiral. With the retirement of the Hood’s former C.O., the green Rear Admiral was given her command, and soon understood why it wasn’t a highly desired post. Despite this, Troy chose to accept the position and did everything possible to do well by those under his command, fighting tooth and nail to overcome the stigma of the cursed ship. He used every avenue available to acquire better craft and assignments for his pilots… though mostly failing in that respect. Regardless, his pilots respected Troy for his efforts, and did their utmost to confirm his faith in them.
Now, he was giving them perhaps the most dire briefing he had ever given, and the burden of command was beginning to take its toll on him.
“As many of you are aware, ten hours ago, pilots of the 203rd Scorpions, flying from the GVD Psamtik, attempted to apprehend Admiral Bosch aboard the NTF Iceni. They encountered a Shivan presence in the immediate vicinity, which was apparently evacuating Bosch and his Command crew, as well as the ETAK technology. Bosch activated the Iceni’s self-destruct sequence, but the Vasudans were able to evacuate the surviving crewmembers and whatever further data they could find, before the frigate was destroyed. Further excursions were sent to intercept the Shivan transports that Bosch and company escaped on, but instead encountered a 2nd Knossos portal, in a Shivan-controlled region of the nebula. Command deployed the Psamtik to probe the far side of the portal, but before she could make the jump, she was met by a second Sathanas Juggernaut, which quickly eliminated the destroyer. Following this incident, GTVA forces in all nebular sectors began encountering a vast increase in Shivan activity, directed towards the jump node to Gamma Draconis. Additional Shivan Sathanas Juggernauts were detected among these forces, and Command ordered a full evacuation of the Nebula and subsequently the Gamma Draconis system. As of twenty minutes ago, Shivan fighters and cruisers began entering Capella and have been attacking GTVA positions throughout the system. A further escalation of Shivan activity through the node is expected at any time, and Command estimates that the first of nine, I repeat nine
Shivan Juggernauts will begin entering Capella in less than ten minutes.
“Command has accelerated its plans to evacuate all civilian personnel, prior to evacuating military forces. A group of refugees will make a run for the Epsilon Pegasi jump node, but its escort is not yet prepared. Command has ordered these civilian vessels to congregate at our location until the escort is in place. We must hold this position until that happens. Once the civilians have evacuated our position, all pilots will execute an immediate jump to 3rd Fleet HQ. The Hood will meet you there.
“Command has indicated that, once all GTVA personnel have evacuated Capella, they will execute a plan to keep the Shivan advance from expanding beyond the system, but they have not briefed me on the details.
“Further updates will be provided in mission. Good luck, and may God protect us. That is all.”
With that, personnel resumed their duties in full, while others who had little to do but sit and wait, tried to comprehend the ramifications of what they had just learned.
Sacks and Tanner locked eyes for a few seconds, and a silent promise of survival was exchanged. Sacks then resumed his hastened trek towards his wing’s launch bay, while Tanner headed off towards hers. “This is BAD
,” he thought. In less than a minute, he heard pilot chatter being broadcast over the P.A. While he couldn’t make out the voices or what was being said, he could clearly hear the agitation in the tone… the Shivans had found them. Then he felt, rather than heard a thrum in the ship. Going over to a nearby bulkhead, Sacks placed his hand on it and felt a rhythmic vibration… the Hood’s defensive guns were firing. He needed to get into space, and fast
. Minutes later, Sacks arrived at the launch bay just ahead of his wing-mates.
“Are we good, sir?” asked Yuka, readying his helmet.
“We will be,” replied Sacks vaguely and headed into the cockpit access corridor. When he reached his fighter, Sacks inputted his personal access code, which normally would initiate a power-up of the fighter and allow him to select his desired weapons, and also open the cockpit canopy so he could ready himself for launch. This time however, the computer response was disappointing, but hardly unexpected:
‘Access Denied: Flight Status Suspended’
,” exclaimed Sacks, though he hadn’t actually expected it to work.
“What now, sir?” asked Manetti, looking as though they’d just hit a brick wall. Without answering, Sacks reached over to the internal communications panel, and punched the code for the bridge.
“Bridge here,” replied the tinny voice of the communication’s officer.
“This is Lt. Sacks at Launch Bay Four. I need to speak to the Admiral, on the double.”
“I’m sorry,” replied the officer, sounding increasingly agitated to Sacks’ ear, “I’ve been given explicit orders that the Admiral accept messages from members of the senior officers only
Sacks was about to make another attempt, when the ship was bucked sideways, and a strong impact shock rippled through the bulkheads… they’d been hit. The lights flickered a few times as Sacks and his fellow wing-mates clawed their way back to stable, upright orientations. He could hear a flurry of raised voices over the comm., but couldn’t make out the words.
“Then, can you put me through to the X.O.?” this was his last ditch attempt, short of hacking the launch mechanism… and he was no computer expert. The Admiral could refuse to speak directly with a crewmember, but the X.O. was his liaison to the crew… he couldn’t do any blanket refusals. Sacks expected the next transmission to be from the Comm. officer, telling him that the X.O. had denied his request personally. Instead, after a few long seconds, the voice of Captain Sunderland came over the line.
“This is the X.O. This better be either good or brief,” he said in a hurried tone.
“I’ll try to be both, sir. I want flight status for myself and the rest of my wing reinstated.” It was a few seconds before the X.O. fully registered his request, and replied.
“That’s one hell
of a tall order. Besides, I don’t have the authority to do that.”
“The Admiral does
,” continued Sacks, pressing his point, “I can’t speak to him directly sir, but you can.”
“Give me one good reason,” the X.O. said, his voice strained, then quipped, “then give me a better one.”
“You said in your page that you need all
pilots combat ready,” Sacks began, using his most obvious and straightforward rationale, “Status or not, we fall under that category.”
“You’ll have to better than that,” replied the X.O. quickly. Just then, another series of impacts rocked the Hood, but less intense than the initial one. At that, Sacks spoke one last time to the X.O., with all the conviction he could muster. “If the Admiral’s report is any indication, the safety of all GTVA citizens hangs in the balance, and you can’t afford to leave to leave even one
. pilot out of the cockpit… and like it or not, sir, we’re the best that you’ve got!” The moments ticked away.
“This is it
,” he thought, “Either he agrees with me and we get ourselves into space, or they send down security and have us all escorted to the brig and we probably die when the ship crumbles under a Shivan attack
.” Little did Sacks know that during the confusion of the recent impacts, the comm. line to the bridge had been accidentally put over the speakers, and Sacks’ tirade had been heard by everyone there, including Admiral Troy. Sacks, still unaware, had just lowered his head in resignation, when the flashing red ‘Access Denied’ message on the interface panel, was suddenly replaced with a green ‘Access Granted: Flight Status Reinstated’, domino chaining to those of his wing-mates. Before Sacks could say anything, the voice of the Admiral himself came over the line.
“Good hunting, Gamma wing… and Sacks, I’ve just countermanded an order from Command for you and your wing. It’s my neck on the line now. Don’t make me regret this,” he added with no room for misinterpretation in his voice.
“Roger, sir, and thank you. We won’t let you down,” replied Sacks, “OK Gammas, it’s ‘Go Time’!”The interface screen switched to the loadout options available. Sacks chose Subach lasers for both primary banks with Hornets and Tempests for his missiles. He typically would swap out one Subach for Disruptors, but his experience said that he’d be facing fighters and bombers, with no need for disabling weapons. Sacks then pressed the “commit” button and climbed into the cockpit of his Perseus fighter, strapped himself in and put on his helmet and gloves. The cockpit sealed and locked, and his fighter was swung out and down via lifts into the fighterbay, with his wing-mates close behind.
“Gamma wing, you are cleared for launch,” came the LSO over the combat channel, then added, “Good luck.”
“Copy that, Hood,” replied Sacks, “Come’on Gammas, let’s go get ‘em!”
Gamma wing blasted out of the fighterbay and into the foray of combat. Sacks updated his Escort List, noting which friendly targets he needed to cover. The Triton class GTFr Sulla, Argo class Lambda 1 & 2, and the Hippocrates class medical cruiser GTM Vesaslus. These ships were in formation on the Hood’s port side, on the opposite side of the destroyer from the current combat zone.
Looking back at the Hood, Sacks could make out several scorch marks on the hull, indicating the impact points of enemy torpedoes. Checking his radar, Sacks took stock: one wing of Maras, one wing of Manticores, and two wings of Taurvi bombers. The defending fighters were getting some help from the Leviathan class cruiser GTC Rampart, with its multiple Triple-A beam emplacements. Sacks was about to order a lead/cover attack on the bombers, when a new group of jump signatures signaled the arrival of a wing of four Nahema bombers at the far side of the engagement. The on-board computer designated this wing, Scorpio. These were in perfect position for a run on the civilians.
“Gammas five and six, you’re on warhead intercept,” Sacks ordered, “The bombers themselves are secondary. Evade fighters, and engage only if you’re in trouble. Cover each other. Everyone else, we’re on the Scorpio wing. Break!”
Sacks and his group diverted all power to their engines and blasted off to meet the new arrivals. As they approached, each attempted to obtain missile lock on their respective targets, but a new threat warning echoed through their cockpits… the escort fighters for the Nahemas were warping in… Manticores.
“Attack pattern Theta!” barked Sacks. For this formation, Gammas two and four would engage the interceptors, while one and three would engage the bombers. Sacks pulled his fighter into a high left turn, coming back onto Scorpio wing from above. Sacks cut loose on the lead bomber from behind with Subach fire, while obtaining a lock with his Hornet missiles. His volley of fire took the Nahema in its weakened shield vector, and the bomber was torn apart. Sacks transitioned over to the second bomber, but the remaining three spread out and kicked-in their afterburners. Sacks was surprised that the they were able to actually out-pace him. He then caught sight of Gamma 3, Lt Manetti, running at full afterburner in pursuit of Scorpio 4, firing aimed shots from her Subachs. When the Nahema ran out of afterburner reserves, it dropped to standard propulsion, and Manetti pounced, unleashing a full barrage with primaries, while obtaining a target lock, and unleashed a pair of Harpoons, taking the bomber in its starboard engine nacelle. The engine sputtered, then exploded, spinning the bomber end-for-end, breaking up as it went. Two down.
It was then that Sacks heard a repeating cracking noise through his comm. system, and a cluster of reddish-orange energy bolts passed by his canopy. His targeting system warned him that a Manticore was sweeping in on his tail. The crackling he’d heard was the interference caused by the energy projectile passing near his fighter, being interpreted by his communications system. All forms of energy weapons had this effect… beam weapons too. Each weapon type had its own distinctive interference pattern, leading to a distinctive sound heard by nearby pilots.
Sacks had already begun an attack on Scorpio 2, when the Manticore began its attack on him. Rather than break off, Sacks stayed with the bomber, constantly jinking his fighter every few seconds. Every volley of fire Sacks directed at the Nahema, he made from a slight deflection angle. After several jinks, Sacks faked another, but instead stayed with the Nahema, throwing off the Manticore long enough for Sacks to get a missile lock. He let loose with a full volley of Hornets, then before he’d even confirmed their effectiveness, Sacks punched the burners to max and roared off in an oblique angle, with the Manticore close on his tail. Just over a second later however, he suddenly chopped his throttle and tapped the reverse thrust, causing the Manticore to overshoot and slide directly into Sacks’ targeting brackets… just over a fighter’s length away. Sacks then laid into the interceptor with his primaries. The Shivan attempted to evade him by doing jinks of its own, combined with pulsing of its afterburners. This evasive maneuver made it difficult for Sacks to score effective hits on the fighter.
Firing with only one bank armed, Sacks would have the advantage of fire rate at the cost of damage per volley. Linking both primary banks would cause more damage per hit, but he would take a penalty in fire rate. This is caused by the energy capacitors mounted to each bank, which can only recharge at a certain rate. A double-rate discharge is more taxing on the power supply, leading to the delay.
Sacks hated the loss of fire rate more than the loss of per-hit damage, but he’d found a way to get the best of both worlds. Sacks linked his two banks of four Subach HL-7 cannons, then flipped a switch he’d installed himself… a custom and off-the-books modification. With this switch activated, linking weapons would cause each bank to fire alternately rather than in unison. The penalty of recharge still occurs, on each bank, but since the banks alternate the result is a greater steam of fire than would be available for a single bank firing solo. That said, using it with weapons of differing fire rates and recharge times would lead to an asynchronous fire rate and possible failure of the patch-job, so Sacks only used it with like banks.
Laying out a heavier, continuous stream of fire on the dodging Manticore, allowed Sacks to land considerably more hits on the fighter, until he’d breached its shields and shredded its paper-thin hull.
Sacks was just about to congratulate himself, when a pair of Maras descended on him from above and ahead. Sacks had closed the distance back to the main fight, and now it was spilling onto him. Sacks was about to break into the attackers, when one of them was torn in two before his eyes. Clearing his vision after the flash, Sacks made out Gammas 5 and 6 firing Subachs and Tempests. The second Mara broke off, but Sacks took advantage of its flinch, and too combined a volume of primary and secondary fire to turn the Shivan fighter into scrap metal.
“Scorpio wing is history,” called out Mallory.
“That’s the last of Cancer wing,” joined in Yuka, signaling that the Manticores they’d been dealing with were splashed too.
“Reform near the Hood,” ordered Sacks.
“No more hostiles on my radar,” came the voice of Commander Tanner, on Combat Communications Channel level 2 (CCC2, or C3-2), “so far so good. Nice of you to join the party, Gamma wing.”
Encrypted combat channels were divided into three levels. There were also several channels within each level, but the lower the level, the fewer channels. C3-1 was reserved for communications from Command or fleet flagships. Only one channel would exist for each system. Any messages over this channel would be heard by any allied military vessel. C3-2a would typically broadcast within a single combat zone, whereas C3-2b would be restricted to those fighters associated with one destroyer. There would be multiple C3-2a channels in play in most “hot” systems, but if a major engagement was in progress, then the combat zone would be split into multiple C3-2b, one per destroyer group. C3-3 would be limited to those fighters or bombers within a wing. Therefore, there are often dozens of C3-3 channels in-play, of course depending on the number of wings taking part. Beyond combat channels there were, in theory, an infinite number of civilian and open frequencies available, however the clearest frequency channel was often chosen for more official but unencrypted messages, such as the hailing of a ship.
“Well done pilots,” thundered the voice of Command, “but Shivan forces are continuing to enter the system, so we’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. Furthermore, our escort group is not yet in place.”
“Who will be providing primary escort, Command?” asked Tanner.
“Primary fighter escort at the node will fall to the 70th Blue Lions from the Aquitaine, but we’re coming up wanting for capital ships to provide covering fire.”
“The Blue Lions?” she repeated softly, in near disbelief.
Just then, a larger subspace signature opened off the Hood’s port side opposite the convoy. For a moment, in the blinding light from the jump vortex, Sacks thought that another Triton was arriving, but a quick check of his radar warned him that a Lilith class cruiser had just jumped-in, with a wing of Asteroth flying escort.
“This is the Rampart,” called out the Leviathan, “the SC Naphula is in our sights. Gunnery sergeant, OPEN FIRE!” A tube of bright green energy blazed across space, leaping from the nose of the Rampart, taking the Shivan cruiser it its engine section. A secondary explosion indicated that the cruiser’s engines had been destroyed, but there was no time for celebration, as before the Rampart’s volley had finished, the Naphula returned fire with its more powerful red beam. Sacks’ gut turned, as he watched the Shivan’s beam take the Rampart it its upper nose. For a split second, the static interference from both weapons echoed through Sacks’ Communications; the high-pitched hum of the Terran weapon, and the sizzle of the Shivan one. Then the green beam terminated abruptly, and a heavy explosion spewed from the Rampart’s nose. A second later the beam exited from the Rampart’s engine compartment, shrouded in flames and debris, having punched right down the cruiser’s centerline. Secondary explosions rippled across the cruiser, spewing from the exposed sensor panels on the cruiser’s flanks. A few seconds passed before the Rampart’s hull buckled and an explosion just ahead of the engine compartment broke the cruiser’s back. The internal shockwave continued to break up the cruiser’s remains.
“Command, we’ve lost the Rampart,” announced the voice of the X.O., “Gunnery control, I want
This time however, it was the Naphula who managed to get the first shot off, owing to its more sophisticated heat sinks. The Shivan beam struck the Hood near the engine subsystem, but it only lasted mere moments, before the Hood responded with a full broadside of two heavy green beams, and a third lighter beam which slashed down the cruiser’s flank. Unable to escape owing to the earlier exchange of fire with the Rampart, the Naphula had no option but to accept the energy barrage, before itself succumbing to the onslaught. A large explosion took it at the mid-section, flinging its forward booms away from the cruiser. Other chunks of the cruiser drifted away as the explosion cleared.
“Good shooting, Hood,” called out Tanner.
“Perhaps,” replied the voice of Admiral Troy, surprising Sacks, “but the Shivans got the ‘lucky’ shot. We took a direct hit to our subspace drive. On top of that, the energy feedback from the explosion caused an overload in the bridge damage control console. Captain Sunderland was right next to it.” Sacks gazed down at the engine section, and could make out the section of hull plating blown clean off, revealing a burn mark of red-hot glowing metal.
“How bad,” asked Sacks, but he had the sinking suspicion he already knew the answer.
“He’s down… hard. They’re taking him to the medical bay.”
It was then, that Sacks noticed that the Asteroth interceptors that had accompanied the Naphula were closing on the Hood. Something about the way they were moving told Sacks that they were more of a threat than a simple interceptor.
“Gammas, Libra wing is closing on the Hood. Take ‘em down! I’ve got a bad feeling about them.” Moments later, a volley of missiles streaked away from the Shivans. “Those are no anti-fighter missiles. DAMMIT! I HATE it when I’m right!
” thought Sacks, then updated his orders. “Gammas, Libra is firing anti-subsystem weapons. They’ll be going for the beam cannons.”
“Delta wing,” called Tanner, “Take down those warheads!” Delta wing, flying Myrmidons, opened up on the approaching missiles, but two slipped through. In a flurry of electrical discharges, the missiles took out the Hood’s secondary slash cannon, and the main chin turret. Concentrated bursts of fire from Gamma wing made quick work of Libra, but the damage had been done.
“Request status update, Command,” began Tanner, “When will the escort be ready?”
“We’ve managed to scramble a Sobek class corvette, the GVCv Nebtuu. She’s taken damage from engagements in the Nebula and is not at full strength. Hopefully it’ll be enough. Unfortunately, the 70th Blue Lions have been held up and are not yet in position.”
“Then I suggest you get on the horn with their Commander and tell her to…” Tanner continued, her voice becoming more impatient, until she checked herself and calmly finished with, “hurry herself. We can’t hold out forever, Command, and the Hood’s been disabled. If her subspace drive can’t be repaired, she may have to be evacuated.”
“Hood, load all non-essential personnel into escape pods and launch them when ready,” ordered Command, “have them rendezvous at 3rd Fleet HQ. We’ll deploy a repair team and try to get your subspace drive back online.”
“Thank you, Command,” replied Troy, “but our drive system has been virtually destroyed. A repair could be quite… time-consuming.”
“Nevertheless” asserted Command, with that single word.
“Acknowledged,” conceded Troy, “the first group of pods are launching now. Alpha 1, assign some cover for our escape pods until they jump.”
“Roger. Beta and Delta, that’s your job.” After the fighters confirmed their orders, there was an unsettling silence, lasting for the better part of a minute. Sacks had heard some sayings about combat with the Shivans. First, that as long as further reinforcements are available, the Shivans never give up on an attack, they only escalate it. Secondly, if there is a drop in activity but there are
more ships that could be deployed, it means that they’re about to hit you with something big
“This is GTVA Command to all allied elements in the Capella system,” announced Command, abruptly breaking the silence, “Shivan Sathanas-class Juggernauts have entered the Capella system. The blockade force at the Gamma Draconis jumpnode has temporarily withdrawn to evade destruction. Expect multiple Shivan warships to enter the system unopposed until we can reestablish the blockade.”
“Command,” followed Admiral Troy, “On my own authority, I am ordering a general evacuation of the Hood. I do not anticipate that we can maintain this position long enough to repair our subspace drive, no matter what
help we get.”
“Very well Hood,” Command had conceded this time, “proceed.”
Less than a minute had passed and the second wave of escape pods had just jumped out, when the tension finally broke. With the limb of Jupiter 2 framing the scene, a large jump vortex formed some distance off the Hood’s port side, and that which emerged was the angular bulk of a Shivan Demon class destroyer… designation: SD Rusalka. The Hood’s gunnery control officer never even waited for the confirmation order. Since the emitter buffer was still charged, he ordered the last remaining portside beam to fire at full power at the new arrival. The beam quickly sheared through the head, high on the starboard side, then dug into the main hull armor in the same sector, and unfortunately, that was that. Moments later, the Rusalka’s dorsal secondary beam struck the Hood’s aft armor. The low-pitched interference roar echoed though Sacks’ comm. system.
“What’s your status, Hood!” Sacks called out.
“That hit took out our engines. There’s no way the Hood can get out of this engagement. I’m sorry pilots,” replied Troy, somberly, through a faltering Comm. system, “I’m afraid that we won’t be going with you.”
“The Rusalka is launching fighters,” warned Rashid, “I’m reading three wings of Mara and two of Taurvi.”
“We’re reading a power surge from the Rusalka,” Troy said, “This is the end. Good luck Percy. Your father would be proud.”
With that, a pair of heavy beams sizzled from either side of the Demon’s head. One punched into the Hood’s forward section where armor was light, while the second struck a third of the way forward from the back. The forward beam sheared off the entire forward twenty percent of the hull, while the rear beam, after a few seconds, punctured the armor in that section. Chunks of the armor spewed away from the impact zone, as the beam tore through the inner hull. The beam fizzled out before it could complete its journey through the hull, but a series of explosions under the adjacent dorsal hull plating indicated that it had dug deep. Sacks had quickly realized the significance of this region of the hull and his heart sank… the fire’s location corresponded exactly to the bridge. Molten slag spewed out of the hull breach left by the beam.
Within moments, another volley of beams tore into the Hood, blasting away great chunks of the hull. Additional explosions fore and aft erupted from the destroyer. The central hull cracked down its centerline and broke apart, however in one last act of defiance, and in eerie recognition of its namesake of four hundred years previously, it fired one last volley from its main battery, which had just reached full charge before the reactor failed. The beam successfully struck the Rusalka, vaporizing a portion of its dorsal support structure and upper turret. Debris from the destroyed structure rained down on the main hull, causing several secondary explosions, but the Demon remained intact and combat worthy.
“Command, we’ve lost the Hood,” reported Tanner, the sadness showing through her mask of command. Then her voice regained its composure and she pressed Command. “The Shivan fighters will be on top of the convoy in less than a minute and there’s too many of them for us to deal with, especially without cover fire. Ready or not, those civilians have got to withdraw!”
“Understood, Alpha 1,” replied Command, “all vessels are to jump immediately to the Epsilon Pegasi Jumpnode. Fighters, keep the Shivans busy until they’ve departed.”
“Copy that, Command. All pilots, engage the Shivan fighters, but stay clear of the Rusalka. We only need to keep them busy for a minute.”
Some sobbing could be heard over the comm. channels… it was Manetti. It wasn’t common knowledge, but Manetti had been maintaining a close
relationship with another crewmember… none other than Corporal Mars. It had started when she’d gotten a little drunk on leave while they’d been Deneb the previous year. She’d gotten into a fight with an officer from the Phoenicia who had tried to get fresh with her. Since neither wanted to be brought up on charges, they’d each refused to comment on the incident and had been each thrown into their respective brigs until they’d sobered up. Mars had been in charge of the brig on the Hood at that time, and it was a slow night otherwise, so the two got into a conversation. It is said that if you see someone at their worst and find that you like them, then you’re already half way to loving them. After that, the two were a discrete couple.
A certain few engineering crawlspaces had been known hangout spots for discrete couples. A Lieutenant in charge of status checks for that section on the night crew had a pretty good underground business going. Couples would pay him to look the other way and lax on status checking for those locations, for an hour’s time. In exchange, the Lt. would make sure that there wasn’t any double booking. He even began bringing in little “extras” for his clients, like chocolates, alcohol, condoms, and even “romantic implements.”
For a while, he’d really made a killing, until the X.O. found out. It had nearly cost the Lt. his career, but when the X.O. brought it to the Admiral’s attention, Troy told him that a crew, this crew especially, needed to have an outlet for their physical needs, against regulations or not. He said that as long as there were no disease or pregnancy issues, and as long as personal issues didn’t interfere with their duties, then he would turn a blind eye. The deal was, if anyone ever found out that anyone at the command level was aware of the operation, then it would be shut down and the Lt. would be court-martialed. The success of it depended on the crew believing that they were sneaking behind the backs of their superiors. From the perspective of the users of the system, the transition was completely transparent, with the exception of the fact that the fee the Lt. was charging dropped suddenly, and stayed consistent. In reality, ninety percent of its revenue was being confiscated by the X.O. and redirected to a fund to purchase items of comfort for the crew… including condoms, which would be handed out to users, free of charge. The users kept to the strict guidelines of safe practices, and there was very little bleeding over of personal issues onto duties. The system had worked.
Now Manetti wasn’t sure if Mars was alive or dead. Sacks needed her focused.
“A lot of the crew got away, Jen,” began Sacks, using his calming voice, “but for those that didn’t… well, we’ll mourn for the dead later. Right now, the living need us.”
“Right with you, sir,” replied Manetti, shrugging off her tears.
Within moments the two formations merged, and the fur-ball ensued. Missiles and energy bolts danced like fireflies on a warm summer’s eve.
After about thirty seconds, Command broke through over the comm., “The civilians have completed their jump to the Epsilon Pegasi jump node. 70th Blue Lions have been sortied.”
“Copy that, Command,” replied Tanner, “all fighters, prepare to jump to 3rd Fleet HQ.”
“Negative, Alpha 1,” countermanded Command, “there has been a change of orders. You are to jump to the GTD Aquitaine. Your jump coordinates are being uploaded now.”
“Roger, Command. All fighters, clean up the remaining hostiles and prepare to jump.”
“Alpha 1,” warned Delta 1, “the Rusalka is launching another wave of fighters.”
“Concentrate on those we’re engaged with. We’ll clear ‘em out before the next set get here.”
“All nearby hostiles eliminated,” announced Alpha 2 some twenty-five seconds later, “the second group will be on is in fifteen seconds.”
“All fighters,” began Tanner, “jump NOW!”
Across the sky, miniature blue orbs blossomed into jump vortices, each accepting a fighter into the arms of safety. Beyond, remaining hull fragments of the Hood were plunging into the upper atmosphere of Jupiter 2.Link to Chapter 3 - Part 1