[ AN INTERLUDE ]
On boarding approach to TCS Midway
The Nephele System, Vega Sector
JAN 22 2681/2681.022; 1800 Hours (CST)
In the abyssal darkness of space, two identical starfighters blazed toward their destination. Each majestic fighter had a thin fuselage, with two supporting wings jutting out from each side, with each pair connected to a threatening weapon array. The rear of each fighter bore a four-point star, with a white circle enclosing it. The fighters were small, barely holding the pilots, the systems, and the mechanisms needed for operation.
They were Piranha fighters of the Terran Confederation, speeding through the speckled black heavens.
"Cmon, Maestro, lost your touch? Ive been ahead of you since the last jump point!" shouted 2nd Lieutenant Lance "Frosty" Casey, piloting the Piranha that had, for the last few hours, been roaring ahead another lagging Piranha. Lance R. Casey, son of the late-but-honored Major Michael "Iceman" Casey of the TCS Tigers Claw, looked little like his father. He had wide eyes, a small frame, and brown hair that fit his innocent boyish appearance. His father had a more muscular stature, with thin lips and an appropriately stoic appearance. The entirety of Caseys appearance was concealed beneath a thin flight suit that afforded him little comfort.
Racing Casey in his own Piranha was fellow 2nd Lieutenant Maxwell "Maestro" Garrett. He was not one for losing, and was confident that he would be the first of the two Confederation officers to touch down at their destination. His ruffled black hair, pasty skin and sharp appearance were also concealed beneath his thin, bothersome flight suit.
"Watch and learn from the Maestro himself!" the fellow 2nd Lieutenant responded with arrogant defiance. Maestro, a long time Academy buddy of Caseys, pitched, yawed and ignited his afterburners just to get ahead of his comrade. However, Maestros actions worked with little avail. For a brief moment Maxwell was a few meters ahead, but he couldnt maintain his speed. Frosty roared past him toward their destination.
Their destination: the TCS Midway.
First of her class and type the megacarrier Midway was the beacon of a new decade. The 2680s were going to be the beginning of an epoch without war, and a new pursuit of peace. The Terran Confederation was finished with the preliminary tests of their most powerful capital ship, and her shakedown cruise was about to begin. The Midway was to depart for her official maiden voyage.
The TCS Midway was a pinnacle in technology, mostly on account of her size and offensive capabilities. The largest capital ship built to date at 1,830 meters, the Midway stood tall among the stars. Her overall hull design consisted of two elongated L-shaped superstructures housing the crew and six fighter bays and several large engines to move the ominous vessel. A command section that jutted out against the flatness of the ship connected the two lengthy sections. The command section housed Engineering and the main Command Bridge. The megacarrier was lightly armored when compared to her size, but that was accounted for with dense and protective shields.
This new type of ship, the "megacarrier" (technically, "heavy fleet carrier"), was threatening in its main purpose. She could stand alone in many engagements, or lead fleets in numerous campaigns without stopping for repairs. Another more economic purpose had been in mind with the Midways construction. The Admiralty, Senate, and Assembly Master Senator James Taggarts Armed Forces Committee had thought that by producing one large, seemingly unstoppable capital fleet carrier it would make up for spending money needed for civilians on mass Armada expansion. The Senates plans had one downside though: if (a big if) one megacarrier were to be destroyed, it would deal a fierce blow to the Navys offensive and defensive capabilities.
For this reason the Midway was a risk, a costly, albeit worthwhile one.
Casey, who had valiantly reached the destination first, followed through the usual by-the-book regulations of docking clearance that had been drilled into him only weeks before in Flight School off Hilthros in the Sirius System.
"Just hope they got all the bugs worked out," Casey sighed, surveying the magnificent handiwork of the shipyard facilities on Orion Station at the L5 point while being summoned through the port-stern entrance.
"Relax," Maestro assured. "Confed hasnt seen any action in years." He paused, rethinking that a little as he spoke, "Well, okay... maybe not including the Secession War, the Second Kilrathi War, and maybe the Cynium Campaign."
Once off the communications channel, Casey let out a low whistle of respect and amazement. "This is gonna be fun."
"Take us in, Casey," his friend urged over the channel. The two scout fighters, carrying new pilots, (AKA "fresh meat" to the local veterans) arrived finally at their destination.
Combat Information Center
1805 Hours (CST)
Commander Patricia Drake, Commander Air Group (CAG) of her ship's three flight wings, turned away from the communications console in the CIC, giving a knowing look to Commodore Christopher Blair and Captain Daniel Wilford. The two men nodded grimly.
All three of them had read the report of Major Leeward Washington of what had transpired in the Kilrah System on 2681.019. The recon group from Outposts Bravo and Delta jumped to the site of K-105. They did not reestablish contact. The Kilrathi colony on Kilrah 6 and a previously unknown Kilrathi smuggler/insurgent base on Kilrah 7.4 were destroyed. Surveillance Outposts Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta attacked, then were presumed destroyed. The Kilrah System itself was still presumed to be in full enemy control. Then, the first of seven recon missions was dispatched into the Kilrah systems from Talq Naval Station. It did not return as scheduled and all contact was lost. Talq sent a FLASH message to Earth and went to full alert status. Major Washington and Hugyn Squadron then discovered the remains of a smugglers base on Kilrah 7.4 during the seventh recon attempt from Talq. Major Washington quickly completed his recon of Kilrah 7.4 and returned to Talq with photos and a possible enemy artifact: an irregular slab of hard, crystalline substance, with a hand-print of one of the appendages of the alien enemy within its central cavity. Washingtons was the only recon mission of the seven to return as scheduled, and the others were presumed lost. Recon missions were terminated pending the analysis of known data. Then, on 2681.020, a strike group, led by the corvette TCS Brack, was dispatched from Talq to Kilrah 6. It was destroyed.
An initial Terran Confederation Intelligence Assets (TCIA) report on the incident had already been compiled and dispatched. The enemy race had already been codenamed the "Nephilim," after the Hebrew legend of the "giants in the earth." Two races suspected by Confed Intelligence and TCIS to be the Nephilim were the Mantu, a paranoid race of explorers last heard to be skirmishing at the Kilrathi's outer marches, and the enigmatic "star gods" of ancient Kilrathi myth and the Prophecy of Kt'lan, or rather "The Prophecy of Sivar." The "star gods" supposedly were a race that fought the Kilrathi in 1320 B.C. at the dawn of their civilization and Cult of Sivar, a race that challenged the warriors of Kilrah to battle but left, pronouncing the Kilrathi unworthy of their attention but promising to return and battle the Kilrathi when they became worthy.
All three in the darkened CIC had read the reports, heard the myths, the prophecies, yes, but now it was becoming very real for the Confederation.
"Its happening again... isnt it?" Blair asked several long moments later, his back to Drake and Wilford.
Neither would answer, because they both shared Blairs grim feelings.
"All we can do is continue with our mission," Captain Wilford spoke, hopefully. "If worse comes to worse, there will be others to hold the line."
Blair winced, turning slowly back around as he started out of the CIC, walking past Drake and Wilford. "I hope so, Captain," he said behind him. "I hope so."
Entrance to Recovery Bay One
1810 Hours (CST)
Interrupting the sterile gray deck plates of the cavernous Fighter Bay was the presence of the Terran crew. Hurriedly they rushed about, arranging mechanisms, checking systems, all in preparation of departure time. Now that everything was said and done, pertaining only to setting down their fighters on the ship, Lieutenants Casey and Garrett dropped their bags on the hard metal deck of their new ship assignment.
I couldnt go to a rainforest and see anything greener than those two plebes, 1st Lieutenant Jean "Stiletto" Talvert thought. By the mannerisms and expression of the two young pilots conversation, Jean guessed Garrett was mirthful, frivolous, and somewhat flamboyant. On the other hand, Lance Casey, son of the respected late Major Michael Casey, appeared to be an innocent "by-the-book" plebe with hopes of proving himself. But to whom? The Confederation or his late hero father? Talvert considered.
Those two greenhorns are of the Diamondback Squadron, under my command. Just great, she thought. Of course, she considered, everyone had to start his or her career somewhere. Their first assignment was an opportunity to prove themselves on a vessel that would be the center of action for a few months to come... and she knew for a fact that something was going on out there that the Brass wasnt letting anyone on about.
Max Garrett fished through his bag. With a delightful grin he finished his search, pulling out a yellow bottle.
She knew all about the yellow bottle. Before Garrett had left for the Midway, he had been involved in a "fling" with the Altairian Consulates daughter. During that fling he had not only stolen the daughters virginity, but a valued bottle of Altairian brandy from his private reserve.
It was time to welcome them, or more appropriately, to intervene in whatever rascality they were planning.
She marched over to the two officers, and shocked them out of their conversation with an order. "Ten-hut!" she barked.
The two jumped instinctively to a perfect Academy-hammered attention stance. In his surprise, Garrett dropped the bottle. Slowly, with some moaning of impending doom from the Lieutenants, the bottle rolled to a stop under her right heel. She picked it up, holding it up in front of her new wingmen. Stiletto, her blond hair and light tawny skin exhibited under the bright lights, gave them both a look filled with disappointment and superiority. It was a perfect combination to make two lowly plebes lives a bit harder to get used to on their first assignment.
"Second Lieutenants Casey and Garrett, I presume." Her condescending tone and words betrayed her knowledge. She knew who both of them were from reading their Academy histories.
"Maestro," Garrett stated his callsign.
"Maestro?" Another look of disapproval was given; Stiletto liked to call this her "bitch" look.
"Okay, Maestro," she said, chastising the name with her tone, "I am First Lieutenant Jean Talvert, callsign Stiletto," she announced. "Im acting commander of the Diamondback Squadron: your initial assignment here on the Midway."
"Howd a first lieutenant like her get to rate an entire squadron?" Maestro whispered. Good, already he didnt like her. Now he had to keep that disdain on the ship, and off the battlefield.
"Because Im that good, Mr. Garrett," she answered. Maestro hadnt realized her field of audibility. "Hmm, apparently your reputation precedes you. It seems the CAG would like to discuss that little incident with the Altairian Consulates daughter."
"I guess it really was his private reserve," Casey murmured. The Icemans son finally spoke, Stiletto noted, and took a jab at Maestro, too!
"Shut up!" Maestro whispered. The two reaffirmed their stances.
"And you, Mr. Casey." Jean neared Lance and addressed him with a voice of stern authority. "If you think that having a famous father is gonna cut you any slack around here youre dead wrong."
Keeping his eyes forward, Casey spoke quietly, "With all due respect, Im here on my own merits."
Jean had to hand it to him that the plebe had fire, a quiet fire. He also told the truth, shown by his exemplary flight and academic scores back at the Academy and Flight School.
"Lets hope so, because around here you live or die by your flight stats. Understood?"
"I did get the highest scores of any cadet at the Academy," Lance remarked. Maestro agreed, as a true friend would.
It was true; Lances scores had been high. Visual files from the flight data also showed that the kid was a good pilot with great moves. Several things on his flight records bothered her though "And the most demerits, according to your record," the 2nd Lieutenant said. Maestro agreed with that also. Good. Garrett knew what to say and when to say it, most of the time.
The Diamondbacks' squadron commander continued, "This is a make-or-break shakedown cruise for us. I dont have time to play babysitter." A voice was low and threatening, telling both of them that she meant business and only business. "Got it? Now get yourselves registered on the system. And stow the swag before the CAG sees it. Youre in enough trouble as it is," she told Lieutenant Garrett.
With that, she walked away. Her first agenda for the day was complete. 1st Lieutenant Jean "Stiletto" Talvert had given an official greeting to her new wingmen.
Air Group Rec Room
1830 Hours (CST)
"A plebe," the heavy, disgusted voice announced.
Casey looked up, and knew right then that he had drawn too much undue attention to himself. He was new, he was young, and he was green. The 2nd Lieutenant had full knowledge that because of those facts the first month or so would be hell, but Frosty thought that as long as he kept quiet then nobody would take notice of him. He would let his flight stats speak for him.
Already he had
caused somewhat of a commotion in the Pilots Bar, a large
den that served social functions as well as the wetting of ones
whistle. The beige, dimly lit room was full of off-duty pilots,
veterans and the like exchanging heroic tales of battle (stories
in which the spinner of each yarn was usually the protagonist).
He had completed registering with the ships system and had set up his bunk, afterwards taking a quick shower. He was now in the Rec. Room, trying to stay cool, but right when he had entered he had spoken too loudly, drawing attention. He sat down at the nearest table, and the snobbish veteran pilots at that table left. If the prior events werent bad enough, he had just knocked over several shot glasses, causing another commotion.
"Fresh off the Recovery Deck and still reeking of the Academy," the owner of the voice continued. The man, a veteran pilot, in his early forties had an obvious superiority complex. It was also obvious that he didnt treat just plebes this way, he was a jerk to everybody.
In the Confederation, Casey noticed, a pilot with a superiority complex usually had skill to back it up.
"Shoo, plebe. Get lost, okay? This isnt the sandbox, all right? This is the table for the big, bigHey!" The arrogant losers "supporting" pilots posse left him, but he continued dressing Frosty down. "This is the table for the big boysBlack Widow Squadron," he told the younger man.
A voice over the ship-wide channel asked for a Major Todd Marshall. The veterans eyebrows perked up Lance knew that this Major (how someone that old could still be one was a laughing matter) was Todd Marshall. The Major told his posse with authority that he was saving the best of his story for later, and for them to hang out. Lance doubted any of them would be here when he returned.
"I dont wanna see you at this table again, plebe," Todd opened an empty threat to him. What was an aging fossil like him able to do to me anyway? The Lieutenant joked to himself. In response, Lance tried to stare down Marshall but all he got was an undaunted "woo-hoo" as he left.
Lance was now alone at the table, adding another pissed off senior officer to his mental list. This assignment was getting worse and worse.
Unexpectedly, a dark-toned man sat down at his table. He had a friendly face, with wrinkles of laughter and full-hearted cheer. He possessed black curly hair with an odd dash of gray in it. He was somewhat stocky, but his features showed his determined character. "Congratulations," he commended, "You just met, and pissed off, Maniaca legend in his own mind."
A long pause followed that sentence, but was broken by thick laughter from the two of them.
"How you doin? Im Casey."
"Hey, Im OHearn. They call me Zero. Since youre new here let me show you around Pilot Country. Youre currently in the rec room, home to malcontents, drunkards..." He pointed at Frosty. "And trouble-makers."
"Sounds like my kind of people," replied Casey, jokingly.
"Over theres your self-serve bar," Zero said, pointing to the right, and then to the left of the massive den. "Theres your flight simulator." Finally, he indicated behind himself. "And of course, the infamous killboard. Cmon, theres much, much more."
With the Midways two-kilometer length, Frosty knew there was truth in Zeros words.
Air Group Briefing Room
JAN 26 2681/2681.025; 1855 Hours (CST)
The Briefing Room had been described to Frosty a day earlier by Zero as the "nerve center of the entire ship." He meant that the ICIS (Integrated Combat Information System) relayed all tactical data to this large, rectangular room, and was processed by the Confederations best to be organized into missions to be carried out by the crew.
It was innovative, Casey admitted.
"Good first day at work, honey?" Maestro asked on their way in.
"Yeah," Casey responded with a hard edge. "Ive been on board less than an hour and Ive managed to piss off just about every senior officer in sight, including Commodore Blair."
During an earlier introduction to the Briefing Room, Commodore Blair, the Midways "ACAG" for the duration of their present voyage, had walked in right when Lance was going on and on about how overbearing he seemed. Blair hadnt liked his spiel one bit, and Casey couldnt blame him.
Still, Blair just seemed so so full. He had been involved in nearly every conflict of the century, usually in ending them, and his records were picture-perfect. His looks were somewhat distinguished, given his late middle age; a rustic goatee formed below the sideburns of his dark blond hair, with a few more lines of woe ruckling his face. Even now he was helping that shiny image of his by overseeing the "official" maiden voyage of his design dream: the first megacarrier.
Blair didnt seem to have too many hard feelings since the incident, though. Right now he was in the room talking with urgency to an officer standing at the podium. She had dark black hair, a face less wrinkled than Blairs, and light skin. Her eyes protruded silently a look of heavy responsibility, and that was understandable.
The overbearing Stiletto directed Maestro and Frosty to their "assigned" seats with no small amount of cocksuredness. They were positioned at the front of the room before the podium where the CAG would announce the days missions. He spotted Colonel Jacob "Hawk" Manley, the wing commander of one of the megacarriers three fighter wings,probably Caseys ownwhom he knew to have flown with his father along with Blair and Marshall.
The 2nd Lieutenant wondered where the CAG was, and who filled the position. Outside of the decidedly rare Vesuvius-class of supercarriers, which carried 400 fighters spread out into 4 entire fighter wings, the Midway-class of megacarriers was the only capship to warrant a CAG due to its multiple fighter wings, as more than one fighter wing assigned per capship constituted an "Air Group." Another thought crossed his mind as he faced forward, though "Whos that talking to Blair?"
"Thats the CAG; Commander Air Group," Zero answered. "Shes hard as they come," he asserted.
"Yeah, weve met. It wasnt pretty," Maestro added. His face showed a picture of emotional torture, telling Lance silently that she had dressed him down big-time.
"All right, lets get started," Commander Patricia Drake, the CAG of the Midways three wings (comprised of 9 squadrons3 in each fighter wing to a total of 252 fighters), announced. "We have a change of plans. As of now, the Midway is on full alert status." Immediately the pilots expecting an easy time aboard the capital ship moaned heavily in disappointment, knowing that their plans had changed. "At 0400 hours we received what appeared to be a Kilrathi distress call. Tactical has tried to verify this message fragment but so far whoever sent it has stopped transmitting. Since were the closest vessel, HQ has ordered us to assess the situation."
Without warning, a stocky hard-faced man with long gray hair entered the room with a fast walk. Wrinkles of extreme stress lined his face like a second skin. Without even looking at his uniform, Casey knew it was the commanding officer of the Midway.
"Attention! Captain on the deck!" the CAG ordered, with precision all sitting officers stood attending. The man before them, taking over the podium, was Captain Daniel Wilford.
"As you were. Im sorry to interrupt, Commander.
"A live feed has just come in from our SWACS patrol that jumped ahead to the Hrekkah System. This is a need to know for all squadrons," the former CO of the infamous BWS Intrepid said sternly. He turned toward an officer manning the forward station, "Open Channel 3-1."
The main screen lit up, displaying an image of pure carnage in the system. Debris totally composed of Kilrathi hulls floated among the stars. Everyone looked in horror as the SWACS commander described the situation data the sensors had recorded.
" Probably lost three full wings of fighters, but didnt getem all before they got hit. Nothings moving now. It could have been two, maybe three carrier groups."
The entire room of flight officers cringed in horror at what was being said. The senior officers, even Blair, looked on with a stoic exterior, but even a plebe could tell they were holding something back.
"The computer reads a Fralthi II-class. She seems to have missed most of the blast. Whatever hitem completely obliterated the whole damn fleet." With that, the recorded message ended.
Behind Captain Wilford, Colonel John "Gash" Dekker (O-6) stood. He was a burly figure clad in flak armor holding a mean-looking M-58 Laser Assault Rifle, his rigid appearance, complimented by his carefully shaved goatee, a figure somewhat reminiscent of a twentieth century entertainment wrestler. Wilford continued through the horror-stricken faces of all in the room. "As no contact can be established with any Kilrathi ships, on recommendation of Colonel Dekker I have decided that as of now this is a Marine Operation. Commander?"
Again the flight officers moaned, knowing they would be assigned to escort duty of a Marine dropship instead of a full offensive, which they would have enjoyed more in this dire situation. Even if Casey was green he knew the situation was bad, and that no presence could go undetected in obliterating an entire fleet.
The CAG proceeded after Wilfords news was complete, quieting all of the pilots. "All right, before we begin, Lieutenant Casey: Lieutenant Talvert has recommended that you lead the Diamondbacks, based on your exemplary Academy record. This is highly, highly unusual, Lieutenant."
Zero, Maestro, and the other Diamondbacks avidly congratulated him, while Frosty himself was simply caught in wonderment. Not surprisingly, Stiletto simply bore a wolfish smile on her face, not saying a word.
"This is not a training exercise. Dont disappoint her," Drake said, threateningly. Lance didnt need to hear her twice, though; he knew the consequences of his actions, helpful or harmful. "Pilots, now check your ICIS for mission details and assignments."
At his seat, he turned his personal display toward him, reading the visual and audio data off it. A vector display accompanied by audio told him what was needed of his squadron.
"Your wing will deploy when the Midway jumps into the Hrekkah System," a pleasant, synthesized female voice explained. "Panthers from the Black Widow Squadron will provide primary escort for a Marine LC, with your Alpha Wing providing additional support. Escort the Marines to the remains of the Kilrathi fleet. Your objective there is this Fralthi II-class cruiser. SWACS scans have detected faint life signs aboard. The LC will dock with the damaged ship and Colonel Dekker will lead a detachment of Marines aboard to recover the ships data log and locate any survivors. When the Marines have returned to their ship, escort them back to the Midway."
The display shut off once he was done. A walk around the park... our first mission a proving ground for the rest of my career, but a walk around the park... the 2nd Lieutenant thought.
Commander Drake finished up the briefing, "Before I dismiss you, I believe Commodore Blair has a few words? Commodore...?"
This invitation to speak to the flight officers was not Blairs idea on any part, which could be told by his surprised, but wondering, look. Slowly he moved away from his position in a shadow at the left side of the room. With confidence building, he spoke. "As you may know, the Midway is not yet fully operational. And for many of you, this will be your first mission outside the Academy." Confidence built itself into a distinct order placed within his voice. Still, Casey couldnt ignore the worried look in his eye. "Keep in mind youre Confeds very best. Watch your butts out there," he warned. The speech was simple, effective, and truthful. They were words to follow in a tough situation everything Blair knew.
Casey had to hand it to the man; he still had fire.
"Good luck, people," the CAG concluded. "Dismissed." Each of the flight officers departed through the respective set of doors to the bays to man their fighters. Commotion about the mission was low, but expected.
Instead of going along with the rest of the pilots, Lance stayed behind to talk with Stiletto. "Hey, thanks for the opportunity. I wont let you down," Casey said, sincerely. This was his chance to make up for prior embarrassments. This was his chance to prove himself.
"Forget it, Lieutenant," replied Talvert. "Just make sure I dont have to come and save your sorry ass." As she had done before, right when he had come on board, she stalked off. He thought he saw a flicker of a grin form on her lips as she turned, but he couldnt be sure.
Attractiveness aside, there was only one definite, absolute term right then for what 1st Lieutenant Jean "Stiletto" Talvert was: