: “ Opening Moves ”


Planet Tartarus III, Tartarus Heavy Industries Orbital Shipyard
The Tartarus System
January 25th, 2681

Okay, Josh, bring'er up to full power. Take it nice'n easy."

"What are you, my mother?" Josh blurts out in exasperation. "I told you, Jimmy, I've got it down pat. I mean, this is what? The seventh Halsey so far? I'm not exactly new to this."

"No, I'm not your mom. I'd have swallowed," Jimmy retorts. "Now do your damned job, and bring her up to speed. Minus the backtalk, if you don't mind," he concludes, sarcastically.

Damn those Cats for taking down the Fletcher and Nelson, he thinks bitterly, subconsciously tapping on the artificial leg he received after a Kilrathi destroyer had raided the system, supposedly manned by renegade Kilrathi. The two Halsey-class corvettes, undergoing preliminary testing before delivery to the fleet, were all that had stood between the station and the Cat destroyer. The Confed destroyer normally serving as a picket had gone chasing after what was later found to be a decoy.

"Yeah, yeah... whatever," Josh says dismissively. From years of experience in various Terran shipyards, he brings the latest of the Admiral William Halsey-class corvettes, the BWS Gunichi Mikawa, up to full power without any complications, his only response that of a tight-lipped smile. "Reactor's up to full power, and all systems are nominal," he announces. "We've got ourselves a newborn warship."

"Yeah, minus the teeth," a vaguely feminine voice calls from the weapons station.

"Well, you can't have everything fresh from spacedock, Terri. And he did say 'newborn.'"

"I know, but it'd be nice," she replies, a hint of wistfulness in her voice. After the Cynium Campaign concluded, Terresa Jensen joined the ranks of the unemployed, dismissed from the Confederation Space Navy as what was referred to, only partially jokingly, as an "administrative casualty." Her rise from a lowly gunner was littered with write-ups and chewings-out for repeatedly telling the Weapons Officer aboard the Arlington what a horse's ass he was. That everyone aboard the destroyer thought the same of him meant nothing to the review board, who didn't look beyond the record of the Weapons Officer when reviewing her record, especially not past the Navy Cross for Gallantry Under Fire he earned during the closing months of the First Terran-Kilrathi War.

Fortunately for Ms. Jensen, though, she caught the attention of the CEO of Tartarus Heavy Industries, one Duncan MacDonald. He hired her almost literally from the unemployment line as a weapons expert for the Project, which eventually became the Admiral William Halsey-class corvette after a brutal competition for a new UBW corvette design. Already, her skill had prevented numerous costly mistakes in building the Halsey-class, after the BWS Jack Fletcher and her sister ship BWS Horatio Nelson were destroyed while buying time for the colony.

"Umm, Jimmy...?" De Vasco, a contractor for the UBW Navy, calls uncertainly from the communications station, positioned right next to the sensor station. "We've got something funny going on here."

"Oh, what are you babbling about now?" Jimmy blurts as he stomps over to the sensors station.

"Babbling my ass, Jimmy - this is for real. I'm reading tachyon emissions from the Freya jump point. Were we expecting anything coming our way?"

"No, we weren't," Jimmy responds as he heads over to the communications panel. With most of the Saratoga Battle Group on the opposite side of the planet, the likelihood of reaching them directly was minimal. "Get me a line to the TCS Saratoga. Bounce it off one of those geosync sats."

"Roger that."

"Battle Group Saratoga, this is Tartarus Heavy Industries ship Hotel Seven," he calls, using the designation for the ship until it's accepted into the UBW Navy. "I'm reading tachyon emissions from the Freya jump point. Wait..."

He gasps as numerous ships of unknown design start to pour through the jump point. "Saratoga!" he yells. "I'm reading multiple unknown hostiles emerging from the jump point. I repeat, multiple hostiles of unknown design coming from Freya!" Unthinking panic slips into his voice as he glances over De Vasco's shoulder at the sensor data.

"We read you, Hotel Seven. Stand by, will advise."

"'Stand by' my ass, Saratoga! Get your lazy asses over here and play war, dammit!" Jimmy opens his mouth to speak after taking a deep breath, but is interrupted as a thick meaty hand pulls him away from the station.

"Saratoga, this is Commander Marino, Border Worlds Navy. We are reading multiple unknown hostiles, and request immediate assistance," the owner of the hand says calmly. "We are releasing from dock to investigate unknown hostiles."

"Are you fucking nuts!?" Jimmy blurts out. "We're only one ship. Hell, we don't even have any missiles or torps! This ain't a warship, and we ain't combatants!"

"Well, you are now," Marino replies as he smoothly draws his blaster, aiming it at Jimmy's head. "Man the starboard turret control, Mr. Jameson. Now."

"Y-yes, sir!" Although scared of combat, the idea of being beheaded by a blaster bolt seemed even less appealing. He flops into the gunner's seat, his hands flying over the controls as he brings the turret on-line. Although a stranger to combat, as a contractor for numerous capship construction projects, he is well versed in operating combat systems. That the situation was a live-fire incident and not a test run was rather distant in Jameson's mind.

"Terri, man the aft turret, and shitcan the 'chauvinist pig' comments. Josh, man port turret." He flips a switch at the comm. station, and calls to the Engineering Section. "Marghakh, come up to the bridge, post haste. We got us a combat situation, and I need a Weapons Officer."

"Coming," a voice growls from the intercom speaker. Marghakh, the sole Kilrathi in all of Tartarus Heavy Industries, was bar none the best engineering troubleshooter in the entire corporation. Under her watchful eye, as the old cliché goes, miracles are done right away; the impossible takes a little longer.

"Okay, here goes nothing." Marino slips into the pilot's seat, and activates the engines. As they come to life, the Kilrathi engineer pops through the floor hatch, gravity generators only running at .25 G for testing purposes. "Strap in tight, everyone, we're going dancing," the officer announces. "Hotel Seven to Platform Alpha. Disengage docking clamps on my mark. Three... two... one: mark!"

A heavy "clunk" echoes through the ship as the station's docking clamps disengage, the umbilicals disconnecting, retreating to their storage positions. "Good luck, Hotel Seven," the station communications chief says. Lord knows you're gonna need it, he thinks.

Under the best of circumstances corvettes were expendable. With no warhead weapons for a pre-shakedown ship manned by a mostly civilian crew, the current circumstances were far from "best."

"We make our own luck, Platform Alpha. Thanks for the kind word, though. Marino out." With years of experience piloting corvettes, going back to the old hand-me-down Ventures from Confed, Marino moves Hotel Seven away from the station on maneuvering thrusters, then slowly thrusts towards the jump point, accelerating smoothly.


BWS Hotel Seven
Approaching the Freya jump point
Nine minutes later

"Any further info on those ships, Hotel Seven?" the Saratoga's CO asks, the channel's signal shifting out of clarity as the corvette closes on a heavy communication jamming field thrown up by the unknown hostiles.

"Reading multiple bogies, but I can't get a clear picture yet. Our sensor systems aren't fully operational yet."

"Roger, Hotel Seven. Saratoga out."


TCS Saratoga

"Commander, do you know this Commander Marino?" the Saratoga's CO asks her Exec.

"Commander Charles Marino? Yes, sir. He and I went to the Fleet Academy together in Houston. Got dumped after the False Peace back in '68 after only a few months in service. Went to the Landreich and signed up as a 'vette captain. Kicked some butt, took some names, and all he got was a T-shirt. Still one of the damnedest paper maché warship commanders I know of, Border Worlder or not."

The Captain's dislike of the Border Worlds was well known by most people. That she was assigned to protect UBW space was viewed as irony by some, karma by others, and downright funny by most.

"Big question of the day: will he follow directions, or be yet another damned hotshot 'you Confed pukes don't know shit' Border Worlder? Short form please, Mr. Jefferson."

"Short form: the former. He's bold, but not stupid." Unlike certain carrier skippers I could name, he thinks to himself.


BWS Hotel Seven
Two minutes later

"De Vasco, get me some readings. Stay ready to initiate a fighting retreat, everyone. We ain't yet a full warship."

"Then why head out there?" Terri asks from the aft gunner's station.

"Because that's our job, Terri. We're nothing if not expendable. In any case, we've got a mission now, so stay sharp, and we might make it home for dinner. What've we got, Tactical?"

"So far there are four large masses, cruisers or larger, seven destroyer-sized objects, twelve corvette-sized masses, and many fighters of various masses. Images are being processed now, although more ships are emerging from the jump point."

"Okay, burst what we have off to the Saratoga before we get too deep in their jamming, and then we're heading in for a closer look."

"Are you fucking nuts, man?" Jimmy yells. "We'll never make it!"

"We're going to see about that, Mr. Jameson. Now man your turret, and stay glued to the tracking. Comprende?"

"Yeah, I got it."



TCS Saratoga
Three minutes later

"Sir, I believe we might be facing the force the TCS Midway is warning us of right now."

"Thanks for the info, Communications," Jefferson replies sarcastically.

"Indeed, Mr. Jefferson," a soft, contralto voice says from the access hatch.

"Admiral on the bridge!" an ensign called out a split-second later.

"As you were. Captain Jefferson, I want a full alpha strike up and heading out in ten minutes. Destroyer and Cruiser fighters to provide BARCAP, and everything we've got aboard the Sara out in that strike package. We're going to show them how the Terran Confederation reacts to intruders."

"Yessir." The Saratoga's CO consults with the Navigation Officer and Tactical Officer, glancing over her shoulder occasionally at Admiral Foleyeva, wondering how she manages to keep calm when being this close to death. Woman must be made of liquid hydrogen, she thinks.


BWS Hotel Seven

"Skipper, we have lost contact with the carrier group. The jamming's too strong for our transmitters," De Vasco notes.

"Acknowledged, Communications. Stay sharp, everyone."

"Always. Dull claws don't work very well," Marghakh notes.

"Yeah. What's the current status of that alien fleet?"

"Numerous capship masses, accompanied by many fighter-sized masses. Details don't match up with anything on record, for what little that's worth." Given that Hotel Seven was not yet a full-fledged warship, that their database was incomplete was far from surprising to any aboard. "We also have company coming. Looks like an alpha strike package. A lot of fighters of varying masses."

"Aye, Sensors. Okay, everyone, I think we've just about exhausted our welcome. Time to retreat. Marghakh, gimme all you've got from the engines. We ain't fit to take on an alpha strike. Terri, stay sharp. The rest of you, too, but especially you Terri. You're covering our ass the most."

"Gotcha, skipper. Not often I get to watch who's looking at my butt," she giggles.

Marino just quietly groans, concentrating on piloting the ship.


Saratoga Alpha Strike
The Tartarus System

"Moondog, this is Swede. I'm reading a 'vette running like a bat out of hell from the UFOs, being chased by a whole goddamned armada!"

"Roger, Swede. That'd be the Halsey that went out to play spy." The Vampire wing leader switches channels. "Border Worlds ship, Nosferatu Lead. Do you copy?"

In reply, a scratchy voice says, "Nosferatu Lead, Hotel Seven. We've got a hostile alpha strike on our ass. Looks like they're loaded for bear, even though I don't know who 'they' are."

"Roger that, Hotel Seven. Rendezvous with the fleet. Sensors say that toy of yours ain't suited for an engagement."

"That's a big affirmative, Nosferatu Lead. We were just getting ready to do a shakedown cruise when they stopped by to chat."

"Hell of a wake up call, huh, Hotel Seven?"

"Yeah... good luck, Confed Alpha Strike. Hotel Seven out."


BWS Hotel Seven

"Sir, the Confed strike is outnumbered by the unknown strike package by at least a factor of seven," the Comm Officer says.

"Good luck, indeed," Marino says under his breath.

"You humans had best be as good now as you were during the wars."

"Peace don't mean sleeping, Mary. No matter what those dinks at HQ think."

"So you say," the Cat replies suspiciously. Had the humans had been any less lucky, or that inbred idiot Thrakhath any less stupid, they might not have survived the Battle of Terra, she thinks to herself, using the human name for the engagement. Like many Kilrathi, she had some difficulty adjusting to the new peace following over 40 years of conflict.

"Skipper, we've got some unknown's angling straight for us!" Terri calls out.

"De Vasco, take a look at those fighters."

He consults the sensors for a second. "Masses read heavy fighters. Closing at roughly one thousand KPS. Probably running on their afterburners, if they have such things."

"Roger that, Jose. Terri, engage as soon as they come into range. Priority in order of distance."

"Gotcha, Charlie." She targets the closest fighter, just barely within range of the rear turret's particle cannons. "Opening fire," she reports, the sound of the guns firing echoing through the ship.

While she targets the fighter, though, the others are closing on the Halsey, tucked in neatly beneath the protective shadow of the corvette's wings, rendering them immune from the port and starboard turrets.

"Vampire! Vampire! Vampire! Inbound Vampires, and I don't mean the new Confed toys," tactical calls out, as the yellow blips of missiles blink into existence.

"Terri, engage the missiles."

"Gotcha. Recommend evasive and decoys now, boss."

"Already on it," Marino replies calmly, De Vasco activating the jammers and dropping decoys as the ship jinks away from the inbound missiles. Unfortunately, though, Hotel Seven only have five decoys, which are quickly expended.

"Fuck, they didn't ta - "

The corvette shudders as three torpedoes smash into it, disappearing in a massive fireball.


Alpha Strike

"Moondog, the 'vette bought it."

"I saw that as well as you did, Wyvern. Now pay attention to the job."

"Alpha Strike Lead, this is Momma Hen. New orders: engage the alien strike force."

"Roger, Momma Hen. Alpha Strike Lead out."

The vastly outnumbered Terran fighters wade into battle, engaging the Nephilim.

"Oh, fuck! Mayday, mayday, Nosferatu Six is in..."

"Son of a bitch! I can't shake him! Get him off - "

"Woo-hoo! Squash one bug!"

"Yeah, got the son of a bi - "


"Shit, there's too many of them! They're all - "

"What the hell are they saying?! I can't underst - "

In short order, the Confed Alpha Strike is whittled down, the superior quantity of the hostiles overwhelming the beleaguered Confed forces.


Carrier Battle Group Saratoga
Several minutes later

"Captain, the strike package is gone. Barely even scratched their capships. Two corvettes and a possible destroyer, plus a whole metric butt-tonne of fighters."

"Aye, tactical, comm, open a channel to the battle group," the Admiral says, cutting off the Saratoga's captain.

"Opening a channel to the battle group, aye," the on-duty comm officer confirms. "Sir, there's heavy comm jamming, so we may not get the word to everyone."

"Understood, Comm. All ships, Battle Group Saratoga. This is Admiral Foleyva. We're going to engage the enemy. Weapons free. I say again, weapons free. Good luck, and kick ass. Saratoga out." She turns to the Captain. "Captain, we need to get word out to Confed, jamming or no. Any suggestions?"

"The Excals," the Saratoga's CO replies without pause. "They're the cloakable recon models and haven't engaged the enemy."

"Aye. Make it so."

"Aye, sir. Comm, get me a laser link to Phantom Wing." As the link is established, the Captain glances at the map briefly before speaking. "Phantom Wing, this is Captain MacDonald. Do not engage the enemy. I say again, do not engage the enemy. Set course for Port Hedland, and get the hell out of here. You can't do anything without teeth, and we can't get through the jamming. You're our messengers. Uploading all relevant data to your databanks, including a count of the bug fleet. Good luck, pilots. MacDonald out."


TCS Saratoga
Seven minutes later

"All ships, this is Admiral Foleyeva. We are going to engage the hostile fleet. Fight as if your life depends on it, as it just may. Destroyers, engage the enemy, focusing on their capships. Cruisers, stand by for close quarters battles. Everyone, stay sharp. We're going to need to fight smart here. We don't have the luxury of numbers. Kick ass, Battle Group Saratoga. Foleyeva out."


TCS Brisbane

"That's our cue, ladies." As if one unit, the four destroyers from DESRON Three leap forward towards the Nephilim. "Engineering, if you've got any spare electrons lying around, we sure would appreciate it if you'd squirt them up to the AMG turret."

"Aye, Captain. Consider them squirted. On second thought," the engineering officer adds, "if we find them, you've got them. That first one sounded kinda sick."

The Captain of the Brisbane, a commander recently recalled to active duty from the TCNR, laughs weakly. "Yeah, it does," he admits. "Do what you can, then." I'm getting too old for this shit.


TCS Saratoga
Ten minutes later

A bright flash temporarily blanks the viewscreen as the carrier shudders under another torpedo hit, then fades to the emptiness of space.

"Sir, the Brisbane just bought it!"

"I can see that," Foleyeva replies calmly, masking her anger behind an impersonal and uncaring facade. "Status report," she calls out.

"They're all over the place, Admiral. We're screwed... turrets three through nine are off-line, our escorts are nearly gone, and - "

A stray Manta smashes into the bridge, its torpedo detonating on impact. More Mantas follow, launching a spread of torpedoes at the beheaded and fatally wounded carrier, a blinding explosion marking her end, followed shortly by the last of the cruisers as an Alien capship missile slams into it.


Shepard Station
The Port Hedland System
Two days later

"You've got a serious shitstorm coming down your throat, sir. At least half a dozen carriers, over a dozen cruisers and dreadnoughts, and a whole shitload of smaller ships. Several thousand fighters, I'd say, plus God knows what else," Lt. Colonel Victor "Kraut" von Braun announces as he walks into the station CO's office, still wearing his flightsuit, his helmet under his arm. "We barely got out of there ourselves, what with the bugs swarming all over the place."

"So I gather, Mr. Von Braun. You and your men have my personal permission to empty the bar's stocks, after the Intell weenie speaks with you. Dismissed."

"Yessir." With a sharp salute, Kraut turns, and leaves, walking towards the nearest head.