: “ Mad God’s Rage ”


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Tactical Update - For Your Eyes Only :

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January 27th, 2681 (2681.027)

Fleet Admiral Wellington Leonard (CINC, ConFleet)

TO :
President David Quinson (Terran Confederation)
President Harold Cale (Union of Border Worlds)
Fleet Admiral Robin Singh (CINC, Union of Border Worlds First Fleet)

This is a priority 1 Alpha-1 EYES ONLY message, to be destroyed immediately after reading. No copies are to be kept.

Gentlemen. We are, to put it bluntly, in deep shit. In fact, our best analysis indicates that we're roughly neck deep and sinking fast. As you all know, our forces have been on alert ever since we received the TCS Midway's burst message from H'hrass, warning us of a Nephilim attack fleet ripping through the Kilrah Sector.

At 1050 Hours on the 25th of January, that fleet struck the Tartarus System in Border Worlds space. All units stationed in or near the system were lost, including the fleet carrier TCS Saratoga. A major Border Worlds industrial facility (Tartarus Heavy Industries) was also wiped out in the attack. The only survivors from the attack were a flight of recon Excaliburs, who were ordered by the Saratoga's CO to jump out and report back to us. Since then, there has been no contact with Tartarus. We must assume that everyone in that system has either been killed or captured.

I don't need to tell you that this information could cause a sector wide panic if it is released. The last thing we need is panicked civilians hampering fleet movements or evacuation efforts. Therefore, no information is to be released to the media. Even our own officers will only be informed of this fleet if and when they need to know. We need to keep this situation under control at all costs.

According to the Saratoga's Excalibur pilots, the Nephilim attack fleet consists of:

(02) Tiamat-class dreadnoughts
Leviathan-class heavy fleet carriers
Hydra-class Heavy Cruisers (at the least, probably more)
Orca-class Destroyers and Barracuda-class Corvettes (at the very least, probably many more)

The data we got back from Midway estimates that the Leviathans and dreadnoughts have roughly the same number of fighters as our Midway-class megacarriers (about 250-300 combat craft each). When you factor in any fighters that might be carried on the cruisers or destroyers, we're looking at a total fighter strength of 2,500 to 3,000 combat craft (did I mention we were in deep shit?).

This enemy fleet poses a clear and present danger to the security of both the Confederation and the Union of Border Worlds. The entire Border Worlds region is open to attack. Not only that, this fleet has the option of slicing straight through the Border Worlds and into the Vega Sector. Needless to say, our individual battle groups and capship squadrons have no chance of standing in its way. Any of our units unfortunate enough to be in the path of this fleet will swallowed up just like the Saratoga was.

To counter this threat, I'm mobilizing Confed Third Fleet (based in Torgo, partially in Masa), along with the Border Worlds First (and only) Fleet. These are the only forces I can deploy without authorization from the Confed Senate. I'm afraid, though, that it'll be a cold day in hell before our esteemed Senators strip their home systems to help planets on the frontier. They will most likely insist that the Fourth (Dakota) and Seventh Fleets (Vega) and First Fleet (Sol) be held back to defend the home sectors. For the time being, Third Fleet and the Border Worlders are on their own.

The combined Confed/Border Worlds fleet is tasked with intercepting and holding off the attack. As this operation is being conducted in Border Worlds space, it will fall under the command of the most senior Border Worlds officer (namely, Rear Admiral Erin Hanton of the Border Worlds First Fleet). The fleet will rendezvous in the Nephele System, before moving out to meet the enemy.

The Combined Fleet will consist of :

- TCS Yorktown (Concordia-class fleet carrier, plus escorts)
- TCS Bunker Hill (Concordia-class fleet carrier, plus escorts)
- TCS Valley Forge (Concordia-class fleet carrier, plus escorts)
- TCS Endeavour (Endeavor-class light carrier, plus escorts)
- BWS Valeria (Arcadia-class fleet carrier, plus escorts)
- BWS Littenia (Arcadia-class fleet carrier, plus escorts)
- BWS Freedom (Ranger-class light carrier, plus escorts)

- 8th Confed Cruiser Sqn (4 Plunkett-class CAs, 4 Murphy-class DDs)
- 15th Confed Destroyer Sqn (8 Murphy-class destroyers)
- 18th Confed Destroyer Sqn (6 Defiance-class DDs, 2 Magellen-class FGs)
- 1st Confed Torpedo Boat Sqn (12 Los Angeles-class torpedo boats)
- 6th UBW Corvette Sqn (4 Adm. Halsey-class corvettes, 1 CVE)

Unfortunately, both the Concordia and the Arcadia-class carriers are heavily outclassed by the Nephilm carriers and dreadnoughts. Each fleet carrier has only 90-100 combat craft. Even counting fighters carried by the cruisers and destroyers, the total fighter strength of this group is only about 750 fighters, a quarter of what the Nephilim have. I hope this Admiral Hanton is as good as she's reputed to be, because our people are going to be slaughtered otherwise.

I'm currently calling up all of Third Fleet's reserves, along with UBW Navy and Homeguard units, but we can't get them in the field for at least another two weeks. In the meantime, the Combined Fleet will have to keep the Nephilim away from Confed space, as well as heavily populated Border Worlds systems. I just pray that our ships can hold out till we can get help to them. If not, then God help us all.

Signed, Fleet Admiral Wellington "Duke" Leonard


Meanwhile, on the Union of Border Worlds frontier. . .

TCS Chimera; Bridge
The Dakota System
January 27th, 2681

“Sir, Ghost-riders 5 through 8 have relieved Ghost-riders 1 through 4 at the jump point. Ghost-rider 5 reports no activity near the jump point," the Chimera's comm officer said calmly, but his voice cracked slightly on the last word. He wasn't anywhere near as calm as he pretended to be. No one on the Chimera's bridge was, not after nearly forty-eight hours on combat alert.

"Good. Weapons status?" Lt. Commander Jarin Huxley asked, turning towards his weapons officer.

"All gun turret capacitors still charged, missile banks still loaded, torpedo tubes still loaded. Sir," the defense officer said, her flat tone showing just how irritated she was. Huxley had asked the same question less than ten minutes ago.

"Of course. Thank you," Huxley said. He silently cursed himself for that slip, minor though it was. It wouldn't do the crew's morale any good if they thought their commanding officer was cracking up under the strain. They had enough to worry about as it was.

The trouble had started about a few days ago, when they had received a warning message from ConFleet HQ on Earth and Jupiter Starbase. The message had simply warned them to be on alert for a possible enemy incursion into Border Worlds space, without going into any details. That message had also stressed, quote "The absolute need to avoid alarming the civilian population," unquote. That was typical of the way Confed did things nowadays. The galaxy was more or less at peace, the economy was booming, the voters were happy, and the last thing Confed wanted was to upset the general population.

Huxley suspected that was why the initial message had been so vague. If nothing came of this alert, Confed could simply shrug the whole thing off as a false alarm (besides, he was only a lowly lieutenant commander - the ConFleet machine believed in telling its officers as little as it could... anyone who didn't have a rank of O6 or higher was kept in the dark as long as possible).

At first, he hadn't been too worried by the alert. It was probably just some desk jockey at ConFleet getting his or her undies in a knot about nothing. After all, the Kilrathi had been hammered at Cynium, the Black Lance had been hunted into apparent extinction, the Andorrans were lying low (not to mention on the other side of human space), and Confed had signed a mutual defense treaty with the Border Worlders. There was no known force in the galaxy that could challenge ConFleet.

The so called "incursion" was probably nothing more than a band of pirates, or a few renegade Kilrathi raiders. In any case, he had been more than confident he could handle them if they dared show up in the Dakota System. He commanded a brand new, state-of-art Murphy-class destroyer, bristling with gun turrets, missile launchers and torpedo tubes. He also had two further Murphy-class destroyers under his command, the Medusa and the Manticore. Each destroyer carried eight Tigershark-class multi-role fighters, twenty four fighters in all. He had been sure that enemy force that jumped into this system would soon regret do so.

At least, he had been sure of all that until about forty-eight hours ago. That had been when they had lost all contact with the neighboring Tartarus System. What had really worried Huxley - no, make that what had really scared Huxley, was the fact that the fleet carrier TCS Saratoga had been patrolling that system, along with her battle group. The Saratoga carried close to a hundred fighters, and had been escorted by several cruisers and destroyers. The only thing could destroy a battle group that powerful was another carrier battle group. If there really was a Kilrathi (who else could it be?) battle group coming for them, then not only were they in deep shit, but the war was back on.

Huxley had sent a warning message to ConFleet HQ as soon as they had lost contact with Tartarus. So far, all he had head from them were a few reassuring noises, and an order to keep his ships right where they were. He was to hold his position and wait for reinforcements from Confed's Third Fleet to arrive (Third Fleet was the primary force tasked with defending the Border Worlds region). He was not, repeat not, to send any ships or fighters into Tartarus under any circumstances. Huxley had gotten the definite impression that ConFleet was panicking about something. Just who or what they were panicking about, he had absolutely no idea.

Huxley had then done the only thing he could do under the circumstances. He had ordered his group to full battle alert, and ordered a round-the-clock watch on the Tartarus jump point. He was under no illusions that his force could stop an enemy force that had taken out the Saratoga, but they had a duty to the colonists living in this system. If any enemy force did jump in, his ships had to hold them off till the Third Fleet arrived. The Tigersharks had been flying non-stop since then, monitoring the jump point, as well as patrolling the rest of the system. As for the crew aboard the three destroyers, all they could do was wait for the enemy force to show itself.


Tigershark Ghost-rider 5
Dakota System, Near The Tartarus Jump Point
About Two Hours Later

Captain Naomi "Hammer" Mubuto took her hand off the flight-stick for a few seconds, flexing her fingers to ease the painful cramps that had been setting in. The four Tigersharks under her command had been circling the jump point for the past two hours. That was all they had been doing, circling. Flying around and around the jump point endlessly, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Waiting for that jump point to flare open, spitting out something powerful (and no doubt hostile), right into their laps. No one knew just what had happened to the Saratoga, but there were plenty of rumors and theories among the Tigershark pilots. The smart money was on the Kilrathi. There had been some rumors recently that they were getting restless. After all, if the Cats could recover from the loss of their homeworld in the First Kilrathi War, then it was possible, just possible, that they could have recovered from the pounding they had taken at Cynium.

Hammer shook her head slightly. The big problem with that theory was that it had been less than an year since Cynium. No-one, not even the Kilrathi, would be stupid enough to start another war so soon after such a major defeat. Still, the Kilrathi theory made a lot more sense than some of the other ideas that were floating around. The more far-fetched ideas included a secret army of Black Lancers, and even a split within the Confederation itself. The simple fact of the matter was that none of them had a clue what was out there, except that it was powerful enough to take out a carrier battle group.

Right now, Hammer was definitely wishing she hadn't volunteered to be posted to the frontier. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had spent her early career with the First Fleet (stationed in the Sol Sector), well away from action on the frontlines. This posting allowed her to get some valuable frontline experience, experience that would look good the next time she went in front of the promotions board. She wasn't planning on staying a Captain the rest of her life, and she knew that promotion tended to be slow in the peace time military. Until two days ago, everything had been going exactly as planned. She had already notched up three kills against pirates and smugglers working the frontier. That would impress the promotions...

"Contact! Definite spike in tachyon emissions!"

Hammer grabbed hold of her flightstick. A spike in tachyon emissions usually preceded the opening of a jump point. Sure enough, the jump point flared open in a blaze of white-purple fire a few seconds later. A cluster of red dots appeared on Hammer's radar screen at the same time, fighters that were jumping into the system. The fighters were well within visual range, and they looked nothing like any fighters she had seen before. She took a quick count of the fighters, and came up with a total of eight.

Hammer locked onto the nearest fighter, and waited for her fire-control computer to to process the target. The image of the fighter appeared on her targeting display less than a second later, along with the words: TARGET UNKNOWN, confirming what she had already guessed. The computer, which could recognize any craft flown by Confed, Kilrathi, Andorran, Border Worlds, and even Black Lance forces, simply couldn't find a match for this fighter in its database. So who were they?

Hammer opened a comm channel to the fighters. "To unknown contacts: You're in violation of our space. Stand down and identify yourselves."

The unknown fighters held their distance for a few seconds, then all of them suddenly went to full afterburn simultaneously, closing quickly on the Confed fighters. The jump point flared open behind them, and a small capship emerged, a corvette judging by the size. The lead unknown rippled off a missile, aimed straight at Hammer's Tigershark.

"Oh, shit! Break and attack!"

Hammer hauled the flight-stick back and to the left, at the same kicking the left rudder and slamming the throttle into full afterburn. The maneuver altered the Tigershark's position and velocity in the X, Y, and Z axes simultaneously, making it much harder for the missile to track her. Hammer made the missile's job even harder by punching out three decoys in rapid succession. The missile flew straight past the first decoy, but detonated harmlessly against the second.

By now, Hammer's three wingmen were closing in rapidly on the enemy fighters. The enemy fighters were attacking in a loose swarm, with no sign of co-operation or teamwork. The Tigersharks, by contrast, were flying in tight formation. As they closed on the enemy fighters, all three Tigersharks cut loose with a hail of Dragonfly rockets in a head-to-head pass. The rockets were unguided and fairly weak, making them tough to use in a hard turning dogfight. In the head-to-head pass though, the concentrated salvo of rocket fire ripped through the enemy formation like a reaper scything through wheat.

Two of the enemy fighters fireballed in brilliant explosions as the rockets blew clean through shielding and armor, with another fighter spinning out of control. The Tigersharks added to the damage by cutting loose with a full salvo of FoF missiles as they finished their attack run. Two more enemy fighters detonated as the self-guiding missiles found their targets. One of the Tigersharks, Ghost-rider 7, blew at the same time, as the enemy fighters mobbed her with maser cannon fire.

Hammer joined the fight just as her wingmen finished their first pass. She pounced on the crippled enemy fighter, putting it out of its misery with an IR missile at point blank range. Another enemy fighter detonated at the same time, as Ghost-rider 6 executed a outside loop, reversing on the fighter that had been tailing him, and then blowing it away with a pair of IR missiles. Hammer didn't have time to celebrate though. One of the enemy fighters nailed Ghost-rider 8 less than ten seconds later.

That made it two on two. Hammer broke hard left, and accelerated towards the enemy fighter nearest her. She rippled off both her FoF missiles as soon as she had a decent launch angle on her target. The fighter broke away from her, dropping a trail of decoys behind it. One of the missiles detonated against the decoys, but the other slammed into the fighter's rear shields. Hammer followed up the missile attack with a gun pass, stitching the fighter's exposed stern with volleys of laser and mass driver rounds. She slammed the stick down and to the left, following her target through an evasive break, and kept pouring cannon fire into its stern. The fighter's spine snapped in half, and then it began to disintegrate.

Hammer turned away from from the wreckage, searching for the remaining fighter. Her head whipped around as something exploded to her right. She quickly saw, though, that it was the enemy fighter that had been destroyed. Ghost-rider 6 pulled up on her on starboard wing, and then flashed her a thumbs-up. The other pilot looked like he was seriously pumped from their victory over the alien fighters.

Hammer knew the feeling, but she also knew they had to get away from the jump point as fast as possible. She ran one quick sensor sweep over the corvette, which was still loitering near the jump point, and then turned around and locked in full afterburn. Ghost-rider 6 stayed tight on her wing as they ran back towards the Chimera. It was then that she realized that she still hadn't reported this encounter to rest of the group. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she railed at herself. What would have happened if all four of us had been destroyed? She quickly opened a comm channel to the Chimera.

"Ghost-rider 5 to Chimera, Ghost-rider 5 to Chimera... contact with unknown hostile fighters."

"Say again, Ghost-rider 5?" The comm officer sounded like someone had a vice-grip on his throat.

"Repeat, contact with unknown hostile fighters. Ghost-rider 5 and Ghost-rider 6 returning to Chimera. Ghost-rider 7 and Ghost-rider 8 down, no life pods. Enemy fighters are not Kilrathi, repeat, not Kilrathi."

The jump point behind them flared open again, and another fighter squadron poured out, along with another corvette. The Confed pilots continued running. Luckily for them, the enemy fighters seemed more interested in securing the jump point than in chasing the Tigersharks. The Confeds kept their scanners trained on the jump point till they were out of sensor range. They saw the jump point flare open again. And again. And again. And


TCS Chimera; Bridge
About The Same Time

"... Enemy fighters are not Kilrathi, repeat, not Kilrathi."

Lt. Commander Huxley tried to keep his face still as he listened to Hammer's words. If he was anything like the other people on the bridge though, he probably was not doing a very good job. The tension they had all been under for the past two days had just been ratcheted up yet another agonizing level. The enemy was now in this system, and three destroyers would have to try and hold off a force that had taken out a full carrier battle group.

He could hear the buzz of whispered conversations rising all over the bridge. They were all worried about the enemy, of course, but that wasn't what the whispering was about. There was one common thread running through all the conversations. If the enemy wasn't Kilrathi, who the hell were they? Where did they come come from, and why had they attacked? None of them knew, and they weren't going to find out any time soon.

"Enough!" he snapped. "Helm, set course for the jump point, flank speed!"

"Aye, aye, sir, course set for the jump point, flank speed," the helmsman replied.

The destroyer leapt forward as her powerful engines surged to full power, pushing her to her flank speed of 240 KPS. In spite of the situation, Huxley couldn't help feeling an equally strong surge of pride, pride in the power and grace of his ship. No matter what happened, he was confidant that the Chimera would give a good account of herself, as would the other destroyers.

"Comm, contact ConFleet HQ, inform them of our situation."

"Aye, sir. Contacting ConFleet HQ," the Comm Officer said, and then swore savagely seconds later. "Sir, we're being jammed! Jamming source is near the jump point!"

"Well, get past it!" Huxley ordered sharply.

"Aye, aye, sir," the comm officer said, but he didn't sound too confident. Their out-system transmissions were being jammed, preventing them getting a signal out to Confed. A ship's comm array just wasn't powerful enough to cut through jamming this strong. Still, the enemy jamming net wasn't complete yet. Maybe a full power directed pulse could get through...

The three destroyers had been stationed several hundred thousand klicks from the jump point. At flank speed, it would take them about twenty minutes to reach the jump point. That had been designed to prevent the enemy from surprising them by jumping in a massive force. The distance would also give them enough time to recall all their Tigershark patrols.

Huxley spent the next few minutes finding new and interesting ways to bite his fingernails. The other officers kept their heads down, avoiding their commander's attention, and checking their stations for anything they had missed. There wasn't anything, of course, all their systems had been ready for combat throughout the last two days. Still, it was better than simply worrying, though they did plenty of that as well.

The Tigersharks patrols linked up with them as they raced towards the jump point. More fighters launched from the destroyers' hanger bays. The fighters kept in tight formation with the destroyers, forming a protective shield around them. Hammer and her surviving wingman were among the last to link up. Huxley ordered his comm officer to hail Hammer's Tigershark as soon as the two fighters linked up. It seemed the enemy jamming wasn't so effective at blocking in-system communications.

"Any estimate on enemy strength?" he asked.

"We counted about 50 fighters and four corvettes. There were still ships coming through when we got out of scanning range, though. Sorry, Skipper."

"No, retreating was the right thing to do," Huxley said, and then went back to biting his fingernails. It really didn't matter. There was no way they could stop the enemy bringing through as many ships as they wanted. He wished they could have mined the jump point, but the destroyers had not been outfitted with mines when they had been sent here. They had been sent here to patrol this system, not to blockade it, and Confed (in all its infinite wisdom) had deemed it a needless expense.

They came within scanning range of the jump point about two minutes later. The tactical officer sucked in a deep breath as his screen lit up with red and orange dots. He had no way of know the class of the enemy capital ships, so he set his scanner to classify the ships by mass. The scanner spat out the results a few seconds later. According the mass analysis, there were about twelve corvettes, a similar number of destroyers, two cruisers, two ships that were about the size of a megacarrier, and about 200 fighters. And there were still capships coming through. A lot of capships coming through.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God..." He breathed quietly, so quietly that no one heard him. No one on the bridge, that is. He hoped that some higher power was indeed listening to him, because they could use all the divine help they could get about now.


Tigershark Ghost-rider 5
About The Same Time

Hammer would certainly have known how the Chimera's tactical officer felt. The surviving twenty-two Tigersharks were now deployed in front of the destroyers, ready to meet the first onslaught from the enemy fighters. Of course, seeing that they were out-numbered ten to one, the first onslaught would about all they could meet.

She checked her Tigershark's loadout for about the fourth time in as many minutes. She hadn't had time to re-arm after the last dogfight, but she was in good shape. Her fighter was undamaged, and she still had three IR missiles, two heat-seekers, and a full load of Dragonfly rockets, along with thirty or so decoys. Fuel could be a problem though, she had burned most of her supply afterburning away from the jump point. Then again, she knew she probably wouldn't survive long enough to run out of fuel.

The tactical feed from the Chimera now showed about about fifty or fighters breaking off from the main group, and afterburning to intercept the Confed ships. At least the enemy hadn't thrown all their fighters at them simultaneously. They had some chance getting past the fifty fighters to attack the capships. Some chance, just not a lot.

The Confed fighters rippled off their FoF missiles in a concerted salvo as the enemy fighters rushed at them, and then followed the attack with salvos of rocket and cannon fire as they closed in. The teamwork of the Confed pilots once more allowed them to inflict heavy casualties on their opponents. Nearly twenty enemy fighters fireballed in the first pass. This time, though, the return fire from the enemy fighters ripped through the Tigershark formation. Eight Tigersharks went down in flames. Only two of the pilots ejected. More Confed fighters were going down each minute, even though they were inflicting much heavier losses on the enemy.

The destroyers also joined in the battle. Their heavy laser turrets raked incoming enemy fighters with sheets of violent energy. Image-Rec missiles raced away from their launchers, slamming into the enemy fighters, and then detonating with explosive fury. The laser and missile crossfire took down several more fighters as the destroyers raced through the enemy fighter screen. The destroyers too paid a price for their success. The Manticore exploded into a thousand fragments as torpedoes from the enemy fighters slammed into her. The Medusa began to lose speed as more enemy fighters raked her engines with volleys of plasma cannon fire.

Hammer saw another enemy fighter angling in towards the Chimera. She recognized it as the same type of fighter that had fired torpedoes at the Manticore, a squat, heart-shaped craft with menacing red stripes. If the fighter did launch its torpedo, the Chimera would be finished. And if that happened, the entire group would go down without inflicting any significant damage on the enemy. She kicked the Tigershark's left rudder, and then afterburned directly towards the fighter. She ignored the chaos of the dogfight swirling all round her, her attention fixed on her target.

She armed all her remaining missiles, knowing that she would only have one missile pass at the fighter before it launched its torpedo. She eased the stick slightly down and to the left, finishing up directly on the fighter's six, a perfect launch aspect. Even as her heat-seekers began locking on the fighter though, her Tigershark shuddered as it was hit by plasma blasts from another enemy fighter.

She held her position, waiting out those two agonizing seconds it took a heat-seeker to lock on target. The sharp, growling tone of a missile lock sounded in her earphones, even as the plasma blasts ripped through her shields and began eating into the Tigershark's armour. She jammed her thumb down on the missile release, cutting loose with a full salvo of IR and HS missiles. The enemy fighter was blasted to atoms, without ever releasing the fatal torpedo.

A massive explosion rattled the Tigershark a split-second later, as the plasma blasts ripped into the engines. Hammer flinched, waiting for that next, final explosion, but it didn't come. She reached down and grabbed the yellow and black striped ejection handle, yanking it as hard as she could. Her cockpit sealed itself off, and then explosive bolts fired, blasting the cockpit clear of the crippled fighter. The cockpit was now a self contained life pod, one that could keep her alive for several hours.

It wasn't until later that she and the other ejected pilots would wish they had died with their fighters.


TCS Chimera; Bridge
About The Same Time

The Chimera shuddered as an enemy fighter kamikazed into her bow. The fighter exploded harmlessly against the destroyer's phase shielding. The shields flickered, but they held. The Chimera and the Medusa were now almost through the enemy's outer fighter screen, and the enemy pilots were getting a little desperate. The destroyers now had a shot at some of the capships doing picket duty for the enemy fleet. The bad news, though, was that fourteen of the Tigersharks were now down, leaving the only eight to defend the two destroyers. Those Tigersharks wouldn't last long either.

"All turrets, target that corvette," Commander Huxley ordered. They were going to go down, no question about that, but he was determined to inflict as much damage as he could before that happened. Besides, the longer they held off the enemy here, the more time the colonists on Dakota would have to prepare in some way.

The Chimera's laser and missile turrets now switched their fire to the small enemy ship, raking it with gunfire and missile warheads. The Medusa joined in the attack, pouring her own fire into the enemy ship. The corvette's shields failed under the concerted attack, and then it blew apart in a spectacular explosion. There was another enemy corvette and a destroyer closing in.

"Turrets, target the corvette to starboard. Torpedo room, get me a firing solution on that destroyer."

The Chimera's turrets switched their fire to the second corvette. The Medusa once again joined in the attack, but this time her fire was slow and sporadic. Her shields too looked like they were failing, as enemy fighters raked her with plasma cannon fire. She started breaking up under the assault, and then her reactor went critical. The fireball from the overloaded reactor washed out in all directions, consuming the fighters that had been attacking her, along with a pair of Tigersharks that had been trying to defend her.

"Torpedo lock!"


The Chimera shuddered again as several anti-matter torpedoes raced away from her bow tubes, trailing streaks of fire as they hurtled towards their target. The warheads bypassed the enemy destroyer's phase shielding, impacting directly on its bridge, and vaporizing the forward half of the ship. The destroyer's stern stayed intact for a few seconds, and then began to break up. The corvette too began to break up as the Chimera's turrets found their mark.

"Torpedo room, target the..." Huxley broke off as the Chimera's deck pitched violently. With both the Medusa and the Manticore gone, every enemy fighter in the vicinity was now focusing its fire on the Chimera. The deck continued to pitch as she was pounded on all sides. The Tigersharks near her exploded one by one, torn apart by the hail of enemy fire.

"All turrets, go for the fighters! Damage report!"

"We've lost the..." The next words were drowned out by an ear-splitting roar as a hail of plasma blasts tore through the Chimera's bridge, blowing it apart.


New Warsaw City
Dakota Three, The Dakota System
About Six Hours Later

New Warsaw's streets were quiet. In fact, they were just about deserted. The city looked more like a ghost town than the capital city of a thriving colony. There were nearly fifty thousand settlers living on Dakota Three, most of them in New Warsaw and two other cities on the planet's southernmost continent. The settlers had flocked here in the years following the First Kilrathi War. Most of them were people who had fought for Confed during the War. Confed's economy had been in a severe depression at the end of the war, and most of the returned servicemen and women had found themselves out of work. There just weren't enough jobs to go around, not after the Inner Worlds and their industries had been devastated by the Kilrathi assault on Earth.

Both the Confederation Senate and the governments of the Frontier Territories (the Union of Border Worlds hadn't been formed back then) had encouraged settlers to migrate to planets like this one. The Frontier Territories needed people, and Confed had been hoping that minerals exported from the colonies would help spur its own economy. Of course, that hadn't gone as planned (thanks to Tolwyn and his Black Lance), but the colonies were well established by the time relations between Confed and the Union had gone sour.

Dakota Three itself had turned out to be an excellent site for a colony. It sat right in the middle of the green band (the distance a planet could be from its star and still support life). As a result, the planet had excellent growing conditions all year round. Within a few years of settling here, the colonists had not only been growing enough food to feed themselves, but also exporting food and cash crops to nearby systems. Dakota wasn't exactly bursting with raw minerals, but there were enough iron, aluminum and titanium deposits to support a small scale mining industry. All in all, the colony was doing very well, and would probably be doing even better in the future.

That wasn't to say that life here was perfect, of course. There were always risks involved in living so close to the Kilrathi frontier, risks the colonists had known and accepted when they had come out here. So far, though, they had escaped the worst of the Second Kilrathi War. A small colony in Border Worlds space was beneath the notice of most Kilrathi commanders. There had only been a few incursions by Kilrathi raiders, and those had been swiftly dealt with by the Border Worlds Navy. Over the last year, things had looked even better, with Kilrathi being defeated for a second time, and ConFleet agreeing to provide additional security for the Border Worlds Union. Just about everything had seemed to be going right for the colonists.

All that had changed over the last few hours. Commander Huxley had sent one warning message to the colonists when he'd seen the full size of the enemy fleet. (Confed's orders be damned. The civilian population had a whole lot to be alarmed about.) The colony's few transports had already lifted off, carrying a handful of refugees to the Rostov jump point, and hopefully to safety. Since then, the remaining colonists had barricaded themselves in underground cellars and air-raid shelters, waiting for the worst. No-one with any sense was still out on the streets.

Of course, no-one with any sense would be working for TCN News. The whole point of being a reporter was to put yourself in harm's way, and relay the events happening around you to the viewers sitting at home. TCN had a policy of stationing at least one reporting team on each planet, so that they could always have a man (or woman) on the spot whenever anything newsworthy happened. That was why TCN reporter Jo Robbins and her camera man were on this planet in the first place, and why they were out here on the streets. This was the story that could make their careers.

They had spent the past few hours wandering the deserted streets, waiting for something to happen. When it did happen, it happened suddenly and violently. A powerful energy beam flicked down out of the sky, smashing into the city's northern end. The two journalists were over a kilometer away from ground zero, but the massive explosion was clearly visible, as was the column of smoke and debris that was flung up into the sky. Robbins immediately placed herself between the camera and the impact site, making sure that both she and the column were clearly visible.

"You getting this?" she demanded, shouting to be heard above the noise, as several more beams pulverized the north end of the city.

"I'm getting it, babe, I'm getting it," the camera man replied, making sure his Tri-D camera was transmitting. They were going out live to the rest of the galaxy. The signal from the camera would be relayed to a planetary relay transmitter (very similar to a relay station), which in turn would broadcast a powerful, virtually unjammable translight burst back to TCN. The viewers weren't going to miss a single second of the action.

The energy beams continued pounding the city, moving southwards at a steady, relentless pace. Behind them, they left only craters and smoking rubble. The city was being slowly and systematically wiped off the map, with no thought being given to the lives or hopes of the people who had built it. Even the cellars and air-raid shelters were no defense against the bombardment. One by one, they too were being wiped out, both they and people inside blown to bits. It was as if some insane god had decided that this city had no right to exist, and had reached down with all his power and fury to sweep it away. The same thing was happening all over the planet, though the people here had no way of knowing that. Each of the other two cities was being pounded as well, as was every other settlement, no matter how small or isolated. The enemy was performing what humans in another century might have euphemistically called "Ethnic Cleansing."

Robbins kept up a running commentary on the destruction of New Warsaw, though she hardly needed to bother. The horrific images would speak for themselves. This was genocide pure and simple. She was so wrapped up in reporting the story that she almost lost sight of the fact that she was standing in the middle of a doomed city.

"Uh, babe..."

It was only then that she realized that the energy blasts were now getting uncomfortably close. The two of them started shuffling backwards, still keeping the camera trained on the destruction. The energy beams were still catching up to them. They turned around and started jogging, then flat out running from the beams. No matter how fast they ran, though, they couldn't outrun the beams. Another beam stabbed down, just a few meters behind them. The force of the blast lifted them off their feet, and then smashed them back down, snapping their bones in hundreds of places. Long before that though, the heat from the beam had melted the flesh off those bones.