PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 15 of 66 )

: “ Fate’s Edge ”


The Masa System, Union of Border Worlds
2200 Hours, 11 Feb 2681 (2681.042)

Richard worked feverishly, realizing the lack of time he and his brethren had as he slapped a hulling charge onto the inside side of the hull, and heard its magnetic clamp cling to the ships hull with demonic tenacity even as he begun arming it with a flick of the switch. Behind and all around the former pride and glory of Tanfen Sutari sector fleet beeped the fearful orchestra of the hulling charge's compatriots.

Seemingly in a sorrowful chorus, the charges heralded the death of the great ship. It was barely repaired, just only enough to have hull integrity and engines. The blood stains of decompression and the gore had not even been cleaned out yet, with internal partitions and hulls torn and shredded, as if it was a ghost ship. All the damned thing needs is St. Elmo's fire and we have the first damned flying Dutchman Galaxy in history, he thought.

“Throw me another charge!” yelled Marle as she looked up from the stairwell, and one of the Galaxy’s main keel support struts. Mai reached out with one hand into a satchel full of additional charges and tossed it to her even as she armed another one and slapped it onto the hull with her free hand.

Next to Marle, near the airlock stood the instigator of this case of galactic arson, who was even now partaking of it by arming a bomb of his own. Max wiped sweat away as he missed the arming switch at his first attempt, nearly touching the trigger that would cause it to explode immediately instead of via remote control. Taking a deep breath, he tried again, this time causing his charge to beep confirmation that it was armed and ready.

He was quite aware of the destructive potential of the little package in his hand. Loyalist Marines and Walking Steel troopers used such charges to force their way into capital ship hulls and to destroy critical shipboard structures to sabotage engines, bridges and key support struts. If something could turn durasteel into a molten mass of constituent alloys and penetrate something like a Kilrathi dreadnought's outer hull (not that it had been tested in practice on the real thing, but TAARD did attempt it on a defunct wreck before), it could quite easily turn himself and everyone else nearby into disassociated particles of organic matter. If even one could do such damage, the fact that he was arming the entire Kaikuhur with every hulling charge the Branch possessed turned it into quite possibly the largest flying explosive device in the sector.

By his calculations, the amount of explosive charges he had armed the Kaikuhur with could quite possibly shatter or seriously damage practically everything within a hundred Ks, not to mention that he had armed the reactor to meltdown and also contribute plasma mass to the explosion, essentially rendering it into a miniature firestorm. And that was only the explosion. The release of shrapnel from the ship would quite possibly take out several additional enemy fighters. He hoped it would be enough. It had to be to thin out the massive numbers of the enemy approaching the Fleet and its precious living cargo, now hiding on the dark side of the planet and shut down to hide from enemy sensor scans.

It was part of the desperate plan he had concocted. From scattered reports and the previous battle with the dark horde, the Aliens seemed to attempt whenever possible head hunter missions, and the Command Galaxies was the most obvious target possible, being the literal command ships of a sector fleet. The Kaikuhur, already badly damaged and nothing more than a hull with an engine now, was the only choice. The rest carried refugees or supplies too valuable to be lost or jettisoned. Might as well, the 'Memory was still relatively intact and far too valuable to lose.

He hotwired the Galaxy's communications net to squawk distress signals so loud that even the deafest Porhenner back on Charybdis could hear it loud and clear. In addition, Captain Petrov volunteered, along with a three other pilots to act as a decoy, flying the Fleets remaining Arrow fighters to make a false pretense at the importance of the ship by acting as escorts as it tried by remote control to "flee." For this critical part of the operation, he could not delegate it to anyone else, it had to be him.

He dashed to the command deck controls to arm the package he had set there earlier. As he ran up, he saw Celes near the gym, where it seemed so long ago, he had sparred with Marle and Richard on a ship like this one. Now, Celes was wiring it up for destruction. She seemed methodical as a drone on a Corp assembly line as she planted one charge after another, but paused as she saw him pass by, almost as if she was distracted by a vision from the divine Pantheon. Max gave a nervous grin, as he ran up the stairwell and did his task, specially modifying the ships internal ambient and environmental systems.

In minutes, the Kaikuhur was ready for its final voyage into the heart of the foe. The cockpit was now fitted with an autopilot that responded to a corresponding control unit on the Memory, along with a detonator, while its transcomm was boosted beyond normal levels with false IR readings inside to give the impression that there were passengers. Max gave one glance back at the spartanness of the Kaikuhur before he closed the hatch to the shuttle. So much, it seemed changed ever since he came to this sector of space. From pup of the family to Lord Commander of Sutari. He shook his head even as he urged the last Loyalist, Celes, aboard. She appeared flushed as she accepted his arm while Max thumbed the button to seal the hatch shut.

She whispered a thank you before she turned her back and made herself busy checking her combat harness. Max scratched his head in bewilderment. “Hatch secure. Bring us back, pilot.”

The light shuttle, riding piggyback all this time on the Kaikuhur, released its docking clamps and dove off, back to the 'Memory, its afterburners blazing like shooting stars. Max made a call to the 'Memory itself, “Status report?”

“Hotel Indigos are at 120k’s and closing. They haven’t detected us yet. Quickly, sir!” said one of the techs on board.

“Begin Operation Trojan.” With a slight clumsy lurch, the Galaxy begun moving under its own power as it begun transmitting loud bursts of transmissions in all frequencies while powering up for a run to the jump point. The four Arrow fighters escorting the doomed Galaxy begun moving off in close escort formation, giving the image that the Corp was attempting to evacuate their leaders, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Their orders were to give the image of defending the transport, to get as many of the Alien foe, especially their lighter high performance fighters into range and then to fall back rapidly to the pre-established defensive line just off Masa orbit.

There, he would have to defend the refugees planetside, and the Corp's own personnel. He had given orders, should the situation become untenable as well as whenever there was a possible chance, for the refugees to make a run for it, while he, and all the combat capable units and volunteers the Corp could muster would buy time. Most of Kyra's Marines were planetside while she was on the 'Memory coordinating point defense and her ground troops via data link. He had run though hundreds of possible scenarios in his mind, even ran through them with the local datacore's massive processing capability and actuararian expert systems. Most of them concluded statistically that he was going to die a horribly painful death. How comforting. And the though of being a POW to the monstrosities was even worse.

The Archer in his holster seemed strangely heavy and real to him. The finality of its massive caliber round comforting in a sense from the possible horrors the enemy might inflict. Then again, other thoughts went though his head. To die without a heir was to die a hungry ghost, doomed to wander in limbo forever without offspring to worship his memory and give offerings of food and hell bank notes. Thoughts of Celes and Kyra wandered in his mind. They seemed both special in their own way. One so frank and possessing a fierce love of life, and the other, delicately beautiful, yet incredibly strong in the ways of battle, and strangely also, so vulnerable, with an ocean of secrets she seemed so reluctant to reveal. And both were going to end up buying the farm with him on what was essentially a fools errand. The Archer in his holster seemed even heavier. Should he do it first, to avoid them being captured? Why? Why did he care? A voice shook him from his morbid train of thought.

The shuttle pilot chirped, “Milord, Hotel Indigos have just exited the jump point and are forming up.”

Max nodded tiredly and anxiously as he walked over to the cockpit, and glanced over the shuttle pilots shoulder at the radar. Strange, but a small blessing. The alien's were jumping in normally. From filtered UIS reports, it seemed the Alien armada possessed the unprecedented ability to create their own wormholes through which they could send nearly any size of ship. Max gave a bitter smile as he could imagine what TAARD would give to get their hands on such technology, much less ISD. Knowing Sue Yen Ng Lai, she would have had something on that line being researched even now or acquired through her massive network of contacts. Even as he watched, the Aliens jumped through, in pairs, in triplets and more through the jump point. Then again, the Arrow pilot noted no silhouettes larger than corvette size. Could the Aliens' wormhole technology be located on larger capital ships only? Irrelevant perhaps to the situation at hand, but quite useful to the higher ups in TSF and TASC. If they could cripple a larger capital ship, they could perhaps board it with elite teams of Steel, Highlanders and Loyalists to capture the technology and thus, gain a marketing and technological advantage over Porhen Engineering.

If the aliens followed their tactical doctrine, they’d all swarm through in a massive wave, unlike the Confed or even Kilrathi practice of sending jump capable scouts first to secure the area and to prevent an ambush. Strangely, this time, they "did" follow Terran doctrine. Where he expected the rest of the incoming alien flotilla, nothing passed through the jump point. So far, only the lighter medium fighters, what Confed dubbed the Moray, or as the 101st had begun dubbing them, "siu mor kwai" or "sai kwai." Little devils or ghosts, for their speed and terrifying nip from their glowing green armament, passed through, followed by beefier heavy class fighters, of which the only close analogy to function that TISD had been able to pinpoint was as capable, if slow dogfighters equal to a Thunderbolt or more. The fact that the things literally lumbered about blasting all in sight like a blinded thug, prompted TASC pilots to dub the heavier alien T-Bolt clone a "Thug" or "Kalaris."

If the Kaikuhur exploded now, it could only take out a few small ships, not exactly worth several million credits of Corp money or thousands of lives, if the analogy be compared. Max keyed in a teletype message and sent it by laser link to Petrov's Arrow. The message appeared on Petrov's HUD in glowing green letters.

[To Birddog Leader-Fish too small, have to string out line. Can you hold on?]

There was a derisive snort from the other side as computer dictation software bursted a message back. Captain Petrov, formerly Lieutenant, gave a wry grin of amusement as he flexed his now healed right arm when he read the glowing green text. It seemed that of late, he had definitely been earning every single credit of his pay in service to Tanfen and the Families, and more besides. Unfortunately, he most likely was not around to spend it. But then again, neither was his employer. If he was going to go down, he was going to have an honor guard to follow him into the afterlife as large as Lord John's, if not more. He swore, along with his beleaguered squadron to not go down until they took at least three of the bastards each with them. He looked out right, to his wingmate and showed the TSF hand signal that said "Mission is go," even as they followed the Kaikuhur to a pseudo vector to the jump point that led them dangerously close to the incoming Alien fleet. His wingmate relayed confirmation by blinking his wing lights, followed by Birddogs 3 and 4.

[Understood, Lukaris Leader. We’ll give ‘em a show they'll fall for. Birddog 1 out.]

Surging ahead of the main pack, Sai Kwais accelerated to attack range and prepared to attack the booby Galaxy. The fact that it pulsed so brightly like a beacon seemed to act like a lure to the alien flotilla. Petrov looked at the threat display, and noted derisively that the stupid Aliens didn’t seem to understand squadron cohesion and let off their lights to go play first. He had to hold on until he could take out most of the light fighter swarm, or enough of the mediums to have a temporary tonnage or performance advantage in this small sector of space. He gave another snort when a trio of Alien corvette sized ships jumped in, followed what appeared to be a pair of the terrifying things that were dubbed Devil Rays by the gwailo. Whatever Sutari branch had left wasn’t going to do much good, not at those odds.

Max signaled a technician as the light shuttle docked with the 'Memory to begin the show. The Kaikuhur seemed to maneuver in fear to avoid the oncoming horde as its remote control rig gave it the illusion of being manned. Its remaining overhead laser turret begun plinking away at the faraway horde, even as it begun spraying out chaff rounds out its rear launcher. Max’s hand hovered over the switch that would send the Kaikuhur on its final voyage as he watched the tactical Tri-D holomap before him on the command deck.

The Kwais begun opening fire, letting off warheads that looked more like vine grown barbs ejected from underslung orifices in their fleshy hulls. Until now, Petrov was still not sure whether there "was" a pilot in those things, or the thing was both ship "and" pilot. He keyed off Birddog Three and Four to intercept the warheads as he and "two" continued with the Kaikuhur. Three and four keyed their Arrows gun arrays to lasers and begun to rapid fire them to complement the Kaikuhur's point defense system, even as they let off an IR warhead each to intercept a warhead.

They couldn’t waste too much ammunition though, but they still had to put up a good show to convince the aliens of the worth of the target. Streaks of light blazed through the night, at incredible speeds like tracer rounds as on board targeting computers recalibrated and continued tracking the incoming warheads. Through sheer luck, one beam of light intercepted one of the organic warheads, causing it to burst open like a poppy seed pod, releasing strange pulsing spores that exploded like a Spiculum would. As the Alien warhead died, its explosion caused fratricide in its mates as another pair exploded in its aftermath. One Spiculum ImRec missed its target, to speed off into the void until it ran out of power while another one hit its target, taking out first one, then another pair of warheads. But six more surged past Birddogs Three and Four, like piranhas as they angled for optimum attack angles at the Kaikuhur. In their simple organic minds, they only noted the brightest possible glow of life -- the engine -- and sped towards it as fast as they could to fulfill their ultimate inbred directive in their short engineered existence.

The remaining overhead laser turret splashed one warhead, while Petrov and his wingmate splashed a pair each, but one impacted off the hull, shearing off the defunct radar array on the underside. Perhaps the thing had been primed for shield penetration but had hit only hull armor instead, ruining its targeting protocol. Petrov breathed a sigh of relief at that. The Kaikuhur's shields were defunct, and if that damned warhead actually hit its target, he would have been caught at ground zero of the resulting explosion, turning him, and his loaned Arrow into bits no larger than a thimble.

The owners of those organic warheads were in gunnery range now, and it seemed that its larger cousins had sped up enough to catch up. Petrov's HUD blinked a solid red as the whole damned alien wedge decided to turn their attention to him and his explosive charge. A good thirty or so fighters were nearly in range, while the rest, including the aptly named Devil Rays hung back with the corvettes which angled themselves at the Memory, ignoring the escaping Kaikuhur. Divide and conquer it seemed. Smug bastards.

Petrov flicked the arming switch on his joystick, helpfully illuminated in yellow and black stripes to reveal his missile array. He checked his HUD. Two Spiculums, and three dummies, two of them civspec grade were all he had left. Empress teeth, he wished he had his T-Bolt with its hammerblow array of warheads and front gun Sunday punch. The ride he was in had peashooters and enough armament to possibly "annoy" a bunch of Sekuritat Sunday pilots or a Porhenner freighter-not a bunch of rabid raving psychotic mad killer aliens bent on sending him, his employer and everyone else with him to hell. He silently swore that should he ever survive this fiasco, he would park his ass back on Laifen, and never look down on homeworld Customs flight duty ever again as demeaning.

"All right, ladies and gentlemen, put up a good show. Close escort, draw as many of‘em in as we can, then fall back."

A chorus of "rogers" and "understoods" ringed back as he and his small flight squared off against three times their number, all the while conscious that they were protecting a massive explosive device. They formed into a wedge against the incoming horde and begun engaging the leading elements, while fortunately the rest swarmed in for the kill at the Kaikuhur.

Petrov gritted his teeth has he went into a high G turn that nearly sent the inertial dampeners into shutdown and let off a full gun volley that stabbed into the side of a medium fighter, causing it to spew out effluent and pus as it spun around and around as if it had lost control, only to implode in a muffled explosion of flesh, bone and chitin farther away that sent ichor splashing on his cockpit. Small green splats that looked like, for all intents and purposes like roadkill back on Laifen.

Birddog Three was not so lucky as a massed swarm of Alien warheads sought her out, and smashed through her shields, tearing both her, and her cockpit open. Torn bits of flesh, flight uniform and bone filtered into local space as the Arrow, bereft of control sped off into the darkness like a rocket sled bereft of control. Strangely enough, Birddog Three achieved vengeance in death as her ride slammed head on into a slow to dodge Alien heavy. The Arrows dented frontal hull, like a proverbial arrow stabbed into the heart of the Alien heavy fighter with the sound of tearing durasteel as it overwhelmed its shields and then into its unholy flesh like a stake. Both vanished in purifying flame. Two and Four were dodging desperately, but were still holding their own. Sort of.

"We’ll remember you in the Halls, Chai," mouthed Petrov as he tried rallying the remainder of his flight. Even now, most of the Alien flight swarmed around the Kaikuhur, stabbing it, shredding it like a pack of wolves in a killing frenzy. In fact, about four or five Kwais were hunting him now. There wasn’t a better chance.


Petrov keyed in his flights comm frequency, and screamed, “GET OUT -- NOW!”

He slammed down on the afterburners, the G forces pushing him back in his seat as he desperately sought to clear the blast range of the explosion. Two and Four followed him, streaking like shooting stars, their engines like white hot novas.

Max noted at the same time as the message blasted into his ears on the commnet to thumb the detonator. The Kaikuhur shuddered as another spear of Alien energy tore into its wounded side, causing it to lurch as large rents in its hull tore even wider. Then, the signal came through. The silent halls of the Kaikuhur, now ticking in time to its explosive cargo were there one moment, and then were gone in a white blaze of light the next. Places, memories, all disappeared in the purifying white light of annihilation.

The Alien fighters closest to ground zero seemed to blister as their organic hides were flayed with the fury of the fires of hell before bone like spars and pulsing organs showed past their chitinous armor and then incinerated into oblivion.

Alien ships farther away rocked and then spun end over end before being pelted with shrapnel. Shields splashed as they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of kinetic projectiles from the Kaikuhur's fiery death before more shards passed through the shields and quite literally stabbed the ships to death, exposing their tender insides to the harsh vacuum of space. Some Alien fighters literally imploded like balloons from decompression. And then, the shockwave hit, pulsing outward as the charges consumed the ships engine. The Alien survivors were subjected to the aftermath shockwave, sending them careening into each other like tenpins. If space transmitted sound, the sickening crunch of bone, chitin and hemorrhaging organs would have resounded as a vengeful, and careless god tossed Alien fighters here and there and right into each other, causing them to smash and tear apart like the victims of a vehicle accident. There were, quite literally no survivors as the flash compensator on Petrov's cockpit faded away and revealed a shattered puling mass of dead alien fighters.

Birddog Four, milliseconds slow to escape the blast turned end over end as he sought to control his flighty ride. Three and Petrov gritted their teeth as they rode the ending wave of the shockwave. He rode it out fine, and so did three, but Four seemed wounded. A stray shrapnel piece had sheared off one of the Arrows control ailerons, contributing to his spin.

Petrov screamed, "Status check! Birddogs, report!"

Four seemed to pause in space, though his indicator read that there was still life in it. Three hovered protectively over the fighter, even as the Alien survivors that escorted the corvettes, noticeably royally pissed at the trick played on them begun to take unhealthy interest in the surviving trio of Arrow fighters. Petrov banked next to three and looked over at the hunched from in Birddog Three’s cockpit.

"Willy!!! You there? Answer me!"

A woozy voice answered him. “Er… yes, boss. But I’m gonna need a ton of aspirin and a TPRO hostess after this.” The pilot shook his head and rubbed the apparently massive swelling egg near his forehead.

Petrov let out a sigh of relief and was conscious of the time. Stray shots plinked all around him, even as Three sprayed out ion bolts to keep them interested and off his wingmates.

“If we ever survive this fracas boy, it's Ghenting for all of us. Form up! We’ve played our dirty trick and now the bad boys are pissed. As arranged!”

The three Arrows sped off, back to high orbit where the last remnants of Tanfen Sutari TASC remained.