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Offline Trivial Psychic

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"Operation: Fearless" a Freespace Story - Chapter 4 - Part 1
Link to Chapter 3 Part 2

Chapter – 4:  Raiders on the Storm

October 10th, 2367 – 01:30 Hours, TGT

   The flight deck of the Phoenicia was a hellish copy of the Aquitaine’s.  While that destroyer’s had been used, worn, but intact and organized, the Phoenicia’s was barely functional.  Holes torn in the bulkheads had been patched up with loose bits of scrap.  Piles of debris littered the outskirts of the room.  On top of that, the whole room stank of oil, lubricant, and scorched insulation.  In place of the elevated platform, which had been on the Aquitaine, there was a number of cargo containers shoved loosely together.  Repair crews continued to work despite the gathering that was taking place among them.

   Alpha and Gamma wings, along with several other Terran and Vasudan pilots stood row on row, facing the improvised platform, as Major Kaplan addressed those gathered.  The emotional and physical strain of the events of the last twenty-one hours were beginning to wear Sacks down.  He found himself blinking more than usual, and occasionally his longer blinks would leave his eyes rolling upward while they were closed.  He also had a pounding headache from all the bright contrast of beams and explosions against the blackness of space.  Medical personnel moved down the line, injecting each pilot with a stimulant.

   “According to the assessment of our engineers,” began Kaplan, “The Phoenicia can be repaired sufficiently to withdraw her from the system within our timeframe, however as not as soon as we had hoped, therefore we will have to rely on a backup plan.

   “Our original plan would have us bring our entire force into the nebula all at once, but instead we will have to send a small crew ahead to reactivate the Yorktown, as well as another group to perform our first mission of Phase 2.  For the details, I will once again defer to Lt. Commander Snipes.”

   Snipes stepped forward to the front of the platform and addressed the pilots.  “I apologize for the injections, but many of you have been awake since 04:30 hours yesterday, and Command isn’t taking any chances.  These injections, one for Terran body chemistry, one for Vasudan, will allow you to remain awake and alert for the next several hours.  The rest of your fellow pilots will be catching some sleep in the meantime.

   “Theta and Mu wings will be providing escort for the GTT Notus, GTT Sunder, Lambda 1 and 2, Iota and Sigma wings, and the Hamako.  You’ll be getting cover fire from the GTC Sparta and GVCv Maahes.  Delta and Tau wings will be providing escort.  Most of these vessels will initially jump to the Yorktown to off-load cargo and personnel.  After that however, they will participate in our first operational mission of Phase 2.”

   At this point, the medical officer reached Sacks, and pressed an epidermal absorption syringe to his neck.  The sensation was akin to the coarse tong of a cat licking his neck for a moment, and then it was done.  Sacks felt a momentary wave of dizziness wash over him, but being a pilot he was able to remain upright and visibly unfazed.  When his head cleared, Sacks’ headache was gone, and his chronic blinking subsided.

   “Hey, this stuff really DOES work,” he thought to himself, then followed up with, “I hope there aren’t any side effects.  Probably more in long-term repeated use.”

   “At this time, I must inform you that many of the fighters and bombers you have been using up to this point will not be used for any missions beyond evacuation of the Phoenicia.  Terran craft available will include the Ares, Erinyes, Pegasus, and Boanerges.  The Ares will be our primary heavy assault, the Erinyes will cover interceptor, space superiority, and some assault, the Pegasus will obviously be our scout, but can also act as an interceptor, and the Boanerges is obviously our primary bomber.  Vasudan craft available will include the Serapis, Tauret, Ptah, Sekhmet and Bakha.  We will have some additional craft available for a select set of missions for Phase 2, which brings me to the first mission.”  Snipes then activated the partially functional wall display, which flickered often, but did its job.

   “Once our convoy has entered the nebula and safely jumped, Omega wing will jump directly to its first mission.  Omega wing will consist of four pilots that I have personally selected.  This mission requires solid nerves and improvisation.  Pilots that will make up Omega wing will be called forward.  If you are called, remain behind after the rest of the pilots have been dismissed.  Those of you who are not called upon will be reorganized into a mixed, improvised squadron of Terran and Vasudan pilots.” Snipes paused, then pulled out a clipboard.

   “From the 77th Black Sheep,” he began, “Commander Elizabeth Tanner and Lieutenant Percy Sacks.  From the 203rd Scorpions, Commander Habu and Lieutenant Ka-Rek.  All other pilots report to briefing room two for your mission details.  Some of you will be called upon to assist Omega wing.  Dismissed!”

   The remaining Terran and Vasudan pilots filed out towards the briefing room. “Omega wing, forward,” called Snipes.  The four pilots stepped up to just ahead of the podium, and Snipes stepped off.  “Let’s take a walk,” he said and headed off towards the back of the bay with the four pilots in tow.  At the back they passed by a pair of security officers guarding a scorched door, who saluted when Snipes approached, and opened the door for him.  They passed through a small connecting corridor, and then through another door also covered by security.  The four pilots then stopped dead in their tracks, as they gazed upon the four Mara class fighters being held in maintenance clamps.

   “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Sacks began with a bit of a smile, “let me introduce you to your new rides.  For the purposes of this mission, you’ll need to be able to interact with Shivan forces at close range, without drawing attention.  For this you’ll be flying these Shivan Mara class fighters, which our engineers have modified for Terran and Vasudan use.  I have personally flown in one, so I know that they’re both safe and combat worthy.”

   The four pilots continued to stare past Snipes in disbelief at the fighters of their enemy.  Sacks didn’t know if his instincts were telling him to draw his sidearm and open fire, or if he should walk over to it and give it a kiss.  The only tangible thought crossing his mind was, “I can’t believe that I’m gonna fly THAT!

   “If I can pull you away from the beauties for a moment,” interrupted Snipes with an ironic smile, “your briefing is set up at this end of the bay.”

   Fortunately, the screen Snipes had set up was facing away from the Maras, otherwise they might never had heard a word he said.

   “Your first objective is to scout ahead of our convoy and assess the enemy presence at the nebular jumpnode.  The Hamako will jump in and try to keep any Shivan forces from calling in for assistance.  After the convoy completes its jump to the Nebula, it will then jump to rendezvous with the Yorktown.  Your wing however will jump to another set of coordinates.

   “The rest of our pilots won’t be made aware of the primary objectives of Phase 2 until they are aboard the Yorktown, but since your wing is jumping directly to your next mission, I’ll fill you in now.  With the exception of escort missions, most of Phase 2 will consist of the capture and recovery of Shivan cargo and craft, including fighters, bombers, transports, freighters and… other craft.”

   At this, Sacks was noticeably surprised.  “And here I thought we were gonna be trying to cut off the Shivans supply lines or something,” he thought. “If we were gonna be destroying cargo and freight, that would fit, but capturing… that means either study or… we’re gonna be USING them.”

   “Before our forces withdrew from the Nebula,” continued Snipes, “a SOC scouting wing detected a Shivan supply base, located just beyond the outskirts of a region of intense EMP activity.  It is patrolled by two wings of fighters, one of Astaroth interceptor fighters, and one of Aeshema heavy assault.  There are also a number of sentries deployed.  Your first objective is to scan all cargo present, as well as any transports that might be there.  Above all, avoid engaging any of the Shivans until the Hamako arrives.  If you do, you run the risk of the Shivans deploying reinforcements.  The Hamako will have two wings of escorts, flying Erinyes.  Once the AWACS arrives, your primary objective is to eliminate all hostiles, including the sentries.  Pay special attention to any fighters that might threaten the Hamako.  If the ship goes down, or if its AWACS subsystem is disabled, this whole party’ll be for nothing.  Also, some of the Shivans may attempt to escape from the combat area.  If they are successful, they’ll bring in reinforcements… same result.  Once the hostiles are down, continue to provide cover until our cargo recovery operation has been completed.  To confuse the Shivans, we will do everything we can to extract the cargo from the pods rather than just running off with them wholesale.  Once the recovery is done, you will destroy the empty cargo pods and anything else deemed unworthy of recovery.  After that, we’ll withdraw to the Yorktown.

   “Just as your less advanced fighters and bombers are being withheld from Phase 2, all weapons in use for Phase 2 and beyond will be the most advanced available.  For this mission, we advise you to use the new UD-8 Kayser.  It is a quantum leap over your older Subach HL-7.  The Kayser has a more noticeable energy drain and reduced fire rate, but its damage factors have been augmented considerably.  You may also chose between the GTW-66 Maxim cannon and the older SDG Disruptor.  The Maxim has high factors for hull and subsystem damage, fire rate, and range, but it has limited shield damage and a high energy drain.  Additional new weapons will be available once you reach the Yorktown.  For missiles, we’re recommending you mount one bank of the Tornado missiles, which is an improved variant of the Hornet, though you are permitted to mount Harpoons if you wish.  For your second missile bay, we recommend that you mount a bank of Stiletto II missiles, should you need them to disrupt a target for capture, but you may choose to carry Tempests, or additional anti-fighter missiles.  Although it is available, we highly recommend against using the GTM-55 Trebuchet, as its extreme range within the nebula is of little use.  Any questions?”

   A Vasudan male, Commander Habu, raised his hand, and Snipes gave him a nod to proceed.

   “I have done extensive historical research concerning the Shivans encountered during the Great War,” began the Vasudan, in his calm and respectful voice.

   “Is that anything like his ACTUAL voice?  Does the translator pick up inflections and voice tone?” thought Sacks, who had limited experience with the Vasudans, especially face to face.

   “Including those partially classified documents concerning the capture and subsequent use of a Shivan Dragon class fighter,” continued Habu, “During a reconnaissance mission in the Deneb system near the Vega jumpnode, a Terran pilot flying the Dragon encountered difficulty evading Shivan fighters.  Terran engineers could not conceal the pilot’s biological signature from the patrolling fighters.  He was detected but was able to escape unharmed.  Has this issue been overcome?”

   At this question, Snipes sighed and lowered his head slightly, “I’d say eighty-five percent yes, but let me explain,” he replied, “Prior to this mission, I flew these fighters,” he nodded towards the Maras, “on a covert mission beyond Knossos 2… which is still classified.  We were testing an experimental device, which was meant to conceal our bio signs and make them appear Shivan.  We were able to get quite close before being detected.  Afterwards, our engineers concluded that the probable reason for the failure was due to our failure to take in account that every Shivan fighter and bomber type features a different type of Shivan for its pilot, with a different bio signature.  The signatures we were using came from some Shivan bio data scoured from the old GTI archives after the Hades rebellion… apparently they were from Seraphim bombers.  We’ve recently acquired bio-scans for additional pilots types, including Mara class.  The BSCD-X, for Biological Signature Camouflage Device, Experimental, has been recalibrated for the new signature.  In theory, it should protect you better than it did my wing.  However, our engineers may not have taken all variables into account, so no guarantees.”

   “So we’re the Ginny pigs of this outfit,” summed Tanner.

   “In a way,” replied Snipes, then a moment later his eyes widened and a smile crept across his lips, “In fact, since I am the one planning these missions, I think that we should include this as a kind of ‘BONUS’ objective.  Once you’ve finished scanning the cargo, and once our support team is ready to jump to your position, Commander Tanner will attempt to make a close pass by one of the fighters to see if they notice that you aren’t Shivan.  Be prepared to assess any aspect of their response… if they react at all.  The rest of you, get ready on a hair trigger.  If they make her, blast the Shivans to hell and call in the Hamako.  Any more questions?”

   A few moments passed and Snipes was about to dismiss the group, when Sacks spoke up, “Who were the other pilots who flew alongside you beyond Knossos 2?” he asked, but his gut told him the answer before he’d asked the question.

   “A couple of pilots from the 99th Skulls, Xinny and Zero,” he replied, then added, “but don’t ask me what their real names are.  As you very well know Lieutenant, everyone in the 99th knows each other by call sign only.  The other pilot was a… friend of mine.”  Sacks could see the fondness in his eyes, and the slight nostalgic smile on his lips.  “A pilot from the Aquitaine.  She’d flown with me on some…” he cleared his throat slightly, “undercover missions with the NTF just after the Colossus’ first deployment.”

   “Lt. Cmdr. Anderson, right?” Sacks asked, his tone of voice giving every indication that this wasn’t really a question.  Out of the corner of his eye, Sacks saw Lizzy turn her head slightly to look at him, then back up at Snipes.

   Snipes’ visible reaction was one of complete shock and disbelief. “That information was supposed to be classified,” he said calmly, with just a hint of hostility, “How did you obtain it?”

   “You just told me, sir,” replied Sacks, but then he smiled and added, “call it gut intuition, sir.”

   Snipes, narrowed his eyes slightly, but Tanner cut in, “I can vouch for Lt. Sacks’ ‘intuition’.  It has helped him in and out of the cockpit.”  She then gave Sacks a brief glance that said, “We’ll talk later.”

   “Very well,” concluded Snipes, suspiciously, “anything else?”

   “Only the most important thing,” spoke up Ka-Rek, “When do we launch?”

   Suddenly, the lift cranes began swinging the Maras from the center of the bay, inserting them into a series of stalls along the wall, just big enough for a fighter’s nose to fit.

   “As soon as you leave this room,” replied Snipes, “Dismissed!”

October 10th, 2367 – 01:55 Hours, TGT

   Ahead of Sacks, sat what would appear to the unaided eye, to be a completely empty expanse of space, which was being guarded by a Rakshasa class cruiser, two wings of fighters, and eight sentry guns.  However, when enhanced by sensor scans and displayed on a HUD, the significance of this region is manifested… for this was the jumpnode to the Nebula.

   Sacks was still getting used to flying the Mara class fighter.  For all of its enhanced speed and maneuverability, as well as a hull strength and missile capacity that would normally be reserved for a heavy assault class, Sacks had trouble getting over the fact that there were no cockpit windows.  His external visuals were a series of video screens, as well as an enhanced helmet mounted display system.  Sacks’ major argument against relying on such a system, was concern over nebular EMP interference obscuring the image.  However, the engineers had assured him that the sensors, displays, and all components between, were quadruple-shielded against EMP and anything else one might expect to encounter in combat conditions.

   “Phoenicia,” called the digitized voice of Cmdr. Habu, flying Omega 1, “The Shivans have a minimal defense in place near the jumpnode.  Only a single Rakshasa cruiser is on station.  The details will be relayed to you momentarily.”

   “Confirmed, Omega wing,” replied the voice of Major Kaplan, ‘Acting Command’ for the operation, “Take your wing through the approach vector for the jumpnode and set your sensors to read for trace ion signatures.  We need to know the volume of recent travel through the node.”

   “Omega 2,” added the voice of Snipes, from the GVCv Maahes, “when your wing passes by, head over and get a scan of that cruiser.  Auto-designation has labeled it as SC Halphas.  Set your scans for bio signatures.”

   “Copy that,” replied Sacks, flying as Habu’s wingman.

   “Phoenicia, this is Omega 3,” began Tanner, flying as second element lead, “Has there been any update on the Allied Blockade of the Gamma Draconis jumpnode in Capella?”

   “Communications with Command have been somewhat spotty,” replied Kaplan, “but it appears that the Shivans have begun attacks throughout the system.  Command can’t spare any ships to reestablish the blockade, and the Colossus sustained damage to her engines and fighterbay during its run-in with the Sathanas at the jumpnode.”

   “Will the Phoenicia be able to make its run safely?” Tanner followed up.

   “There’s no such thing as ‘safe’ at this point, Omega 3,” concluded Kaplan, “we’ll just have to wait and see.”

   “We are passing through the approach vector now,” broke in Habu, “relaying sensor scans.”

   “Hhhmmm,” commented Kaplan, “looks like a number of craft passed through, as recently as just a few minutes ago… Sathanas included.  However, based on their overall volume and frequency, we should have a window of about fifteen minutes.”

   “And we have already lost a few of those minutes since the last vessel passed,” commented Ka-Rek, flying Omega 4, “We should hasten our plans.”

   “Agreed,” replied Kaplan, “Omega 2, what’s the status with the cruiser?”

   “Approaching now, Phoenicia,” Sacks responded, “Don’t rush me,” he wished he could say.   Sacks flew his fighter up from underneath the cruiser from an oblique angle, then cut his speed so that he could complete his scans without needing to actually stop.  Within moments, Sacks’ scans were done and his fighter slid gracefully by the cruiser’s waist spines.

   “Scans complete,” he reported, “transmitting now.”

   “The jumpnode is as clear as possible,” concluded Habu, “I recommend you begin the attack immediately.”

   “Confirmed,” replied Kaplan, “Omega wing, split up and take up attack positions near the sentries.  The Maahes and Sparta will deal with the Halphas.  Attack as soon as they arrive.”

   Twenty seconds later, Omega wing was nearing final position when a triad of blue orbs opened a short distance from the jumpnode, and the Maahes, Sparta, and Hamako emerged.  A volley of fire from the two capital ships left the Halphas intact, but reeling and disabled.  The sentries were taken down almost immediately, and the four Mara from Omega wing raced off engaging their Shivan-controlled brothers.  A wing of Erinyes and a wing of Serapis, swooped out from behind the Maahes and joined in the foray.  After a quick volley of Maxim fire from Delta wing, the Halphas went down with a breached reactor, and the Serapis fighters of Tau wing made quick work of the second wing of Manticores.

   “That’s got it, Kaplan,” reported Snipes aboard the Maahes, “All hostiles are down.  Stand by to deploy the Convoy.”

   “Omega wing, take up position fifteen hundred meters from the jumpnode perimeter, and assume a wide deployment,” ordered Kaplan from the Phoenicia, “We’ll use your transponders to calculate a closer position for the Convoy to jump in so they won’t have as long to reach the node.  Maahes, Sparta and Hamako, proceed to the node at full speed.  Delta and Tau wings, assume point for the Maahes.”

   “We are in position, sir,” reported Habu, “deploy the Convoy at your leisure.”

   After a few seconds, jump vortices shimmered into view, and the group of transports emerged, along with another wing of Erinyes and one of Ptah class stealth fighters.  At their close range, it only took the lead ship, the Notus, some fifteen seconds before it was ready to make the jump.

   “I must compliment you on your quick action against the cruiser, Delta wing,” praised Habu.

   “The Maahes and Sparta did the hard part,” came the voice of Jen Manetti, coming from Delta 1, “we just finished the job.  That said, these Maxims really do shorten cruiser engagements.”

   “It’s good to have you with us, Manetti,” called Sacks, feeling prideful in her accomplishment “and leading Delta wing, no less.”

   “I’ve got Sharpov and Mallory watching my back while we watch yours, sir,” replied Manetti, “They gave Yuka lead of Theta wing, with Rashid as second lead.”

   “Those are some sweet lookin’ rides, Omega wing,” called Yuka from the wing of Erinyes following the convoy.

   Sacks gave a slight chuckle, then boasted, “With the six of us out here, the Shivans don’t stand a chance.”

   “Ahem!” Tanner cleared her throat forcefully.

   “Ah, not that they’d stood a chance otherwise,” he offered with a smile on his lips.

   As he finished, Sacks noted that Iota wing transports were just departing, and that the Sparta and Maahes were some twenty-five seconds behind, with the Hamako trailing.

   “Theta wing, departing now,” called Yuka, “see you all on the other side.” At that, Theta and Mu wings entered subspace and disappeared.

   “Omega wing, the Hamako will be the last ship to depart before your wing,” announced Snipes aboard the Maahes, “you’ll be responsible for providing cover until she withdraws.  That ship and crew have saved my butt on more than one occasion, so don’t let anything happen to her.”

   “The Shivans will not harm the vessel, Lt. Cmdr.,” replied Habu, “I assure you.”

   “Phoenicia, this is the Hamako,” interrupted a young dark-skinned Terran male with a French accent, “our scans indicate the presence of multiple subspace shear-fronts forming within the nebular jumpnode.”

   “Oh, CRAP!” called Mallory, “How many of those things have they got, anyway?”

   “Latest count was up to twenty seven,” replied Kaplan, “not including those that jumped in before your arrival.  Hamako, how soon do you expect their arrival?”

   “Less than a minute, Major,” replied the AWACS, “but we’ll be long gone before they jump in.”

   “Omega wing, stay behind and get a count on the juggernauts and anything else they send through,” ordered Kaplan.

   “Roger, Phoenicia,” replied Habu, “Omega wing, we would do well to clear the jumpnode before their arrival.  Form on my wing and we will proceed five kilometers out from the arrival corridor.”

   “Hamako here,” announced the AWACS, “we’re five seconds from our jump.  Projected Sathanas arrival in twenty seconds.  See you in the nebula.”  Then the ship departed.

   “Perhaps our wing should have been named Alpha-Omega,” joked Ka-Rek, “Since we are both the first on the scene, and the last to depart.”

   “FILO,” précised Sacks.

   “What?” asked Tanner, confused.

   “First In, Last Out,” Sacks explained, “it was a term used by fighter pilots four hundred years ago on Earth to describe roles such as missions to suppress enemy anti-aircraft defenses while other aircraft attacked the primary target.  They were the first to arrive in the combat area and the last to leave.”

   “It fits,” agreed Tanner.

   “The first Sathanas is entering the system,” interrupted Habu.

   All four Maras turned to watch the first Shivan juggernaut plough its way into the system.  Several minutes passed as a total of six Sathani entered the system in succession.  They were accompanied by several freighters and transports, which followed the fleet as the juggernauts jumped out again, presumably on their way to the Capella jump node.  The last Sathanas deployed two wings of fighters, which took up position near the jumpnode.

   “It looks like that’s all she wrote, Phoenicia,” announced Tanner, as the last monstrosity departed.

   “Good job, Omega,” praised Kaplan, “proceed to the jumpnode and follow the convoy.  You’ll have to follow at full burn if you want to catch up with them.  They’ll need you to scout the far side of the node before they can enter the nebula.”

   “Acknowledged,” replied Habu, “Departing now”.

   Omega wing glided by a wing of fighters Sacks had never seen before in person, but they appeared to be the infrequently encountered Aeshma, heavy assault.  Sacks wondered to himself if he might be flying one of those in the near future.

   Moments later, the four Maras flew unopposed into the node, and jumped away.

October 10th, 2367 – 02:27 Hours, TGT

   After traveling at full afterburner through the subspace corridor, Omega wing eventually caught up to and passed the convoy, which had slowed to allow the Hamako and the two capital ships to take the lead.  Now they were about to leave subspace and enter an environment, which three days ago, Sacks had assumed that he would never get to see… the infamous Nebula.  It had been discovered less than a month ago, after one of Admiral Bosch’s cruisers located and activated the Knossos device in Gamma Draconis, which stabilized a jumpnode that had collapsed many millennia ago.  The cruiser’s entry through the node into the nebula had attracted the attention of the Shivans, which subsequently made a completely unexpected introduction in Capella, destroying the GTC Vigilant and her escort.  Investigation of the Shivan presence by the GTVA led to the discovery of the Knossos and the Nebula beyond.  All the recent events had stemmed from this.  Now the Knossos itself was gone, destroyed by Command who believed that its destruction would reseal the node, preventing the Sathanas from completing its jump into Gamma Draconis.  Unfortunately, the device had been active long enough to allow the node to remain stable without it, and for an unknown time to come.

   Upon entering the nebula, Sacks first thought was that his screens were malfunctioning.  He could see nothing, though his radar showed the presence of both the node, and his wing.  Then, the auto-contrast kicked in, and Sacks was greeted by the shifting and drifting color patterns of the nebular gasses.

   “Omega wing here,” reported Habu, “we have entered the nebula.  There is no sign of any Shivan activity.”

   “Good work, Omega,” replied Kaplan, the distance now beginning to interfere with transmission, “we’re sending the lead ships through first.  The Hamako will also extend your sensor range, so be prepared to engage any hostiles before they detect the convoy.  We’re not yet sure if the AWACS jamming range is as great within the nebula as it is in clear space.”

   “We await their arrival,” concluded Habu.

   Soon after, the Maahes, Sparta, and Hamako exited subspace and took up position.

   “We’ve extended our sensor range,” reported the Hamako, “no hostiles detected, yet.”

   “OK then,” called Snipes, “Let’s get this over with before the next wave arrives.  All transports, enter the system and begin jumping in sequence.”

   In tight formation, the four Argo class transports jumped in and glided away from the node, as Sigma wing jumped in behind them.  Soon after, Iota jumped in with Theta and Mu wings escorting.

   “This is the Hamako, we’ve got hostiles entering sensor range at a distance of seven kilometers,” announced the AWACS, “By the speed, I’d say that they are freighters… and they appear to be unescorted.”

   “Lt. Cmdr. Snipes,” began Sacks over an encrypted C3-2a frequency, “given our objectives for Phase 2, do you want us to try to capture those ships?”

   “Negative, Omega,” replied Snipes, “we’ve got to empty our transports of supplies and personnel first.  We’ll just have to let this one pass for now.  Good call though.  We just might be able to take advantage of situations like this in the future.”

   “What are your orders regarding the Shivan transports,” inquired Ka-Rak, “Do we destroy them?”

   “Negative, Omega,” ordered Snipes, “our ships will be able to jump out before they enter sensor range.  There’s no need to give the Shivans any further indications of activity here.  Let them go.”

   “Iota wing has departed,” reported Mu 1.

   “OK, that’s everyone,” concluded Snipes, “All ships, jump to the Yorktown.  Omega wing, get a scan of those freighters and their cargo, then proceed to the next phase of your mission.  Good luck.”

   With that, Omega wing was left alone once again, as the Shivan freighters crawled into their limited sensor range.  One Asmodeus and two Mephisto class, all heavily laden with cargo, emerged from the mists.

   “Omega 2, scan the Asmodeus, Omega 3, the port Mephisto, Omega 4, the starboard,” ordered Habu, as his fighter took a leisurely pass behind the freighters.

   The three fighters took deflection approaches to their targets, then dipped down to scan them at the last.  On final approach, Sacks remembered that he’d last set his fighter’s scanners to Bio mode to scan the Halphas, and reset them to general mode.

   Once the job was done, Omega wing reformed without needing communication, reset their subspace drives, and headed out to their next job.

October 10th, 2367 – 02:46 Hours, TGT

   Sacks was beginning to feel a few of the minor side effects of the stimulants… a slight gas buildup, a mild itch at the point of entry, and an odd shifty feeling in his eyes.  He shook these off and peered into the gas looking for Shivans that his eyes might see, but his sensors might not.  “Maybe another side effect is paranoia,” he thought.

   “We are still ten kilometers from the depot,” noted Habu, “maintain formation and our approach speed.  We need to allow time for the cargo to be unloaded at the Yorktown, before the transports will be ready to proceed.”

   Jen Manetti sat in her fighter leading Delta wing, ahead of the Maahes and the rest of the group.

   “Any sign of those Pharos beacons, Hamako?” she asked.

   “We’re still getting their long-range signals, but it’s difficult to plot distance with those.  Until we get their short-range signals, we won’t know how far away they are,” replied the AWACS operator.

   “We can’t keep loitering around aimlessly until we get a signal,” declared Snipes, “Delta wing, move ahead of the convoy and try to localize the signal.”

   “Ah, Lt. Cmdr.,” replied Manetti, feeling herself a bit out of place preparing to second-guess a superior… particularly one not from her squadron, “if we move ahead, we’ll be leaving the AWACS coverage.  The Shivans could detect us and send reinforcements.  I advise you send Mu wing instead.  Being stealth, they’ll be harder to detect, and they can cover the distance much quicker than these Erinyes can.”

   “That’s some sharp thinking there, Delta,” commended Snipes, “Mu wing, you heard the lady.  Engage stealth mode and proceed a maximum of ten kilometers ahead.  Spread your formation out keeping a distance of one kilometer between each of you.”

   “Acknowledged Maahes,” replied the Vasudan pilot, “we will maintain radio silence until we have either reached the distance indicated, or localized the signal.”

   With that, the Vasudan Ptah class fighters, disappeared from Manetti’s radar, and rapidly accelerated out of view.  For nearly four minutes, there was no contact, until a transmission came through.

   “Mu wing to Maahes,” reported the pilot, “we have detected the short-range signal.  Now relaying the data to the Hamako.”

   “Hamako here,” joined the AWACS, “The Data has been received.  The beacons are some fifteen kilometers from our current position.”

   “It’ll take forever to get there under normal propulsion,” commented Snipes, “We need to empty our cargo ASAP.”

   “Can we risk a nano-jump, sir,” asked Manetti.

   “Not until we know the location and status of the Yorktown itself,” replied Snipes, “if the Shivans have found her we could be jumping blind directly into a hornet’s nest.

   “Then may I suggest that Mu wing continue towards the beacons and reconnoiter the Yorktown?” suggested Manetti again.

   “I was just thinking the same thing myself.  You’re two for two Lt.” Snipes added.  “Mu wing, close your formation and follow those beacons.  Locate the Yorktown and confirm if she’s intact and alone.”

   “By your command,” replied Mu 1, and then cut the signal.

October 10th, 2367 – 03:05 Hours, TGT

   After completing its nano-jump, the convoy cruised alongside the inert bulk of the GTD Yorktown.  Manetti, gazing at it through her cockpit window, was conflicted in her emotions.

   Over the last several hours, she had become accustomed to the mismatch of ungainly appearance over ergonomics and advancement of the Hecate class, so the angular construction and weathered ruggedness of the Orion class should have seemed repugnant to her.  She was however feeling nostalgic, owing to the familiarity with the late Hood of the same class.  Best described, it was as if she had grown up in one of those old farm houses from ancient Earth she’d read about in romance novels, then as a youth moved away to live in the modern efficiency and grandeur of a city, such as could be found in Capella or Beta Aquilae, and then had been forced to return home to that old farm house again for one reason or another, and felt it both lacking in conveniences, but comforting in its wholesomeness.

   Manetti watched as the larger Argo transports began docking to the Yorktown’s ventral in succession, while the smaller Elysium and Isis transports entered through the main bay.  Within minutes, the destroyer’s running lights came on, and over the course of the next thirty seconds, the Yorktown was awoken from her slumber, going from drifting flotsam, to battle-ready destroyer.

   “Hello gorgeous,” commented Sharpov.

   “Yorktown here,” came a voice over the Comm., though dampened with a bit of static, “we’re powering up the primary systems, now.  The fighterbay crews are running their systems check at this time.  They should be able to begin loading fighters aboard in ten minutes.”

   “No rush, Yorktown,” replied Snipes, “we’re gonna need our fighters for another mission.  Deploy a support ship to top up their weapons.”

   “Mu wing here,” reported the stealth fighters out of nowhere, “we have completed deploying the sensor probes.  They will both warn us of any approaching Shivans, and jam any attempts to scan beyond them.”

“Well done,” replied Snipes, “close on the Yorktown.  We’ve got a support ship making the rounds to top up your stores.  We’re gonna need you for our next mission pretty much immediately.”
“What’s the mission, sir?” asked Manetti.

===========

   “Shivan supply depot entering sensor range,” announced Habu, “all pilots begin your approach runs now.”

   “I’m reading seven cargo units, eight sentry guns, and two fighter wings, with four fighters apiece,” reported Tanner, “no transports though.”

   “One looks to be a SAC 3,” added Sacks, “we’ll probably need a few Argos to empty that thing.”

   “Make that cargo unit your priority, Omega 2,” ordered Habu.

   Omega wing casually broke up and moved towards their respective targets.  Sacks’ cargo unit was at the far end of the depot, but because of its size it took him a lot longer for his fighter’s scanners to get a reading on its full contents.

   “I am reading anti-fighter missiles in SAC 2-1,” reported Habu.

   “SAC 2-2 contains what appear to be modular fighter or bomber engine components,” reported Tanner, “Our tech boys will have to figure out that part.”

   “The contents of SAC 2-3 are fighter fuel,” reported Ka-Rak

   “My scanners are still trying to sort through this thing,” Sacks added, “You’d best keep moving.”

   “Confirmed,” replied Habu.

   “OK,” Sacks reported finally, “Scans are complete, and my computer is chewing on the data.  It reads as…” his eyebrows arched reflexively, “looks like we’ve got the components necessary for Shivan beam cannons.  I’d say Triple-A by the size of them.  Power conduits, energy capacitors, and the emitters themselves, enough for three of them.”

   “Good work Omega 2,” replied Habu.

   Just then, an energy vortex opened some distance out, and a vessel emerged.
“Omega 2,” called Habu, “Investigate the new arrival.  We will continue to scan the cargo.”
“On my way,” replied Sacks, and pulled his fighter tight to the cargo unit and cruised over its surface, then accelerated towards the location of the warp vortex.  Within twenty seconds, Sacks’ fighter was able to get a fix on the signature.  “I’ve got a reading on the target.  It’s a Dis class freighter, and it’s got a cargo unit attached.  No fighter escort.”

   “Get a scan of its contents, Omega 2,” ordered Habu.

   “Stand by,” Sacks added.

   “SAC 2-5 is carrying refined deuterium,” reported Tanner.

   “SAC 2-6 contents appear to be some form of biological fluid,” said Ka-Rak, sounding puzzled.

   “Switch to your Bio scanners for a more detailed reading, Omega 4,” ordered Habu, “The contents of SAC 2-4 would appear to be anti-subsystem missiles.  What are your readings on the new arrival Omega 2?”

   “I’m just entering scanning range now,” replied Sacks, as he pulled his fighter over the freighter and dropped down above it, into scan position on the cargo unit. “Whatever it is, it’s big.  Certainly not the mix of the last one.”  Another few seconds passed as Sacks’ fighter finished the scan and displayed the results, “it appears to be large engine components for… a Ravana class destroyer.  You’d better check in with Snipes before they start the extraction.  He may have plans for this one.”

   “Confirmed,” agreed Habu, “Omega wing to GTD Yorktown, are you reading us?”

   “We’re reading you, Omega,” replied Snipes, “transmit your findings.” Several seconds passed until Snipes came back on the Comm., “Good find, Omega 2.  Those engines are integral to Phase 3.  We’ll need them recovered.”

   “That may be a problem, Yorktown,” advised Sacks, “they’re inside a Shivan SAC 3 cargo unit.  Based on the size of the components, I don’t think that they can fit within an Argo class, and the size of the cargo unit would negate us using a Triton for recovery, even if we had one with us.”

   “We may not have the opportunity to get these items again,” pressed Snipes, “Options?”

   “Just one,” suggested Sacks, hoping that he wasn’t reaching, “there is one freighter available that could do the job.  Unfortunately, it’s not under our control… at the moment, if you catch my drift.”

   “Are you packin’ some Disruptor cannons, Omega 2?” asked Snipes, his optimism rising.

   “That, and one bank of Stilettos,” he replied, happily.

   “Good old intuition,” joked Snipes, “We’re sending the Hamako ahead with Mu and Delta wing.  The Hamako can jam communications without being detected.  Omega, as soon as you see Mu wing, engage the Shivans.  Omega 2, your target is the Dis freighter.  Disable and disarm it.  We’ve got enough supplies to reactivate her engines within a few minutes.  We’re loading them and a squad of marines into an Elysium.  Omega 3, its time to become that Ginny Pig you were talking about earlier.”

   “Acknowledged, Yorktown,” replied Tanner, sounding less than enthusiastic, and headed for Capricorn 4, an Astaroth.  She adjusted her course to take her fighter within two hundred and fifty meters off Shivan’s bow.  A few seconds later, she passed the fighter, apparently without incident, but then it broke formation and followed her.

   “Yorktown, the Shivans are tailing my fighter,” she reported, apprehensively, “They must know something’s wrong!”

   “Stay cool Omega 3,” reassured Snipes, “are you being scanned?”

   “Affirmative,” she replied.

   “What are they focusing the scans on?” asked Snipes.

   “The Shivans are scanning my weapons system,” she reported, “They must realize my guns aren’t stock Shivan!”

   “The Hamako is in position,” reported Snipes, “Mu wing is closing.  Omega wing, engage at will.  Weapons free.  Omega 2, secure that freighter!”

   Tanner skidded her Mara to the left then pulsed the afterburners and quickly chopped engine power.  The afterburner pulse had faked an escape attempt causing the pursuing Astaroth to engage burners follow.  However, Tanner’s quick drop on power had caused her attacker to streak out in front of her.  It took just two pulses of her Kaysers to pierce the Shivan’s shields and punch through hull to the reactor.

   The rest of her wing took down their targets with equal ease and turned on the remaining Astaroth and the sentries, while Sacks laid into the Dis with his Disruptor cannons.  Sacks concentrated his fire on the dorsal cannon, until its electronics fried with a burst of electricity.  With the turret out of commission, Sacks could then launch his Stilettos at the freighter’s engines without concern of them being intercepted before impact.  A single missile, with a few shots from the Disruptor cannon was all it took.  Although the freighter couldn’t escape, its remaining turret could still pose a problem for the recovery operation, so Sacks cruised his fighter to the Dis’ underside and gave another volley of Disruptor fire.  Another flash of electricity and the freighter was unarmed and unable to escape.

   “Mu wing here,” reported the leader of the stealth fighters, “a member of Leo wing has broken from the main formation and is heading for the Hamako.”

   “Not a problem,” replied the confident voice of Manetti, “Delta wing is here to provide cover.”

   The Aeshma class suddenly halted its approach of the Hamako, when it detected Delta wing closing.  Before the fighter had a chance to make a run for it, a volley of Kayser fire shredded it completely.

   “This is Mu wing,” reported the Vasudan, “the remainder of Leo wing has been eliminated.”

   “All sentries are down,” reported Sacks, having entered the main engagement long enough to take out the last one.

   “Excellent job, everyone,” congratulated Snipes, “we’re deploying our transports now.  Delta wing, keep a close guard on the Hamako.  Mu wing, perimeter patrol.  Omega wing, if any Shivans jump in and threaten our transports, give ‘em a thrashing.”

   It wasn’t long before the three Argos, four Elysiums, and two Isis class exited subspace and began their work.  It took all three Argos, to empty the contents of the SAC 3.  Iota 4 had marines and the repair equipment aboard, and she docked with the Dis freighter, while the remaining transports each took a SAC 2 cargo container. The last cargo unit was left for Iota 4 when she finished dumping her load into the Dis.

   It took a total of ten minutes for the recovery to take place.  Detailed, close range scans had to be made of each unit to verify the safety of their contents and to make sure that they hadn’t been booby trapped… which had been encountered during the Great War.  Getting the Dis’ engines back online had been rather easy, but learning its control mechanism was complicated.  Fortunately, Snipes and his people had anticipated this, and had included a device, which could quickly assume control of primary systems such as engines and subspace drive.  Communications were done via a portable transponder brought aboard, as the Shivan Comm. system needed a control interface overhaul, as well as allied channels added to its database.  Fortunately, the ship was ready for jump by the time all the cargo had been recovered.  The SAC 3 though had taken the longest to clear out.  Lambda 2 was just pulling out when the Dis radioed that it was ready for jump.

   “Good job,” concluded Snipes, “Omega wing, destroy the cargo pods.  Hamako, when that’s done, you along with Delta and Mu wings will return to the Yorktown.  Omega wing, follow after fifteen seconds.”

   “Copy that Yorktown,” replied Habu, “Omega, enjoy your target practice.”  Taking their cue, Omega wing opened up on the cargo, with Kayser and Maxim fire, shredding the helpless metallic containers.  Shortly thereafter, the other allied craft jumped away, leaving Omega wing alone briefly.

   “Well, here we are again, first in and last out,” commented Tanner.

   “I surmise that we will be called upon for many such missions for the duration of Phase 2,” predicted Habu.

   “Omega wing,” called Snipes, “your jump coordinates are being uploaded now.  We’ve got your racks all prepared for you, so get some sleep after debriefing.”

   “May the Emperor be praised!” exclaimed Ka-Rek, at the thought of sleep.

   “Omega wing, jump now,” ordered Habu.  The four Maras jumped out, leaving nothing but a field of debris to mark their recent activities.

Link to Chapter 4 Part 2
« Last Edit: March 25, 2021, 07:13:46 am by Trivial Psychic »
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