PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 16 of 66 )
“ Fate’s Edge ”
Command Deck, Starry Memory
The Masa System, Union of Border Worlds
2225 Hours, 11 Feb 2681 (2681.042)
Max gave a grin of savage joy as he watched the explosion. Beside and behind him, his retinue and Kyra gave nods of satisfaction as nearly a third of the Alien swarm died in the blaze of light. One of the techs on the command deck waved for Max.
“Milord, our long range ladar scans have detected survivors. Approximately sixty Stingray-class interceptors/capship interdictors, and three Barracuda-class corvettes.” The female tech’s face was highlighted in bloody red as Max walked over to her display. He leaned over.
Dozens of red dots, pulsing like cancerous growths, were approaching, as expected along the most direct vector for the Fleet. Now was the time to find out whether his plan worked or not. If not, he would be joining his uncle and meeting his ancestors. But no. Not that easy. His mother had taught him, nearly made him swear the Tan oath to "Never go down without a fight." He had thinned down their numbers, now, it was a fight to the death.
A million doubts passed through his mind. Why should he even care about these people, who owed him, and the Family nothing? Or for the matter, why should he pay a damn about these uncouth Union Marines, with their savage nobility? Or how Lieutenant Kyra would, in all sense of honor actually keep her word when all she had to do was simply hijack and commandeer the Fleet, like what Hanton had done scant days earlier? He shook these thoughts from his head. Now was not a time for doubts.
“Patch me in to our pilots, fleet-wide transmission, secure channel.”
The tech nodded and turned to face the screen, pressing a number of buttons rapidly, and typing in at blinding speed encryption codes and orders on the fly that would enable the local Tanfennet node to serve as a communications nexus to any and all ships connected to it.
“Patched in, milord, you can begin now”, she handed her communications headband to her lord, and quickly gestured how to put it on, with the throatmic lavaliere.
Max nodded, donning it with a practiced gesture. Time was short. “All wing leaders report in.”
A chorus of reports sang in his ears, though they were a sad few compared to what Tanfen Sutari originally boasted.
“Alpha Flight standing by.” They were his tactical flight, with the remaining Thunderbolts and half the remaining Hellcats. They were to act as BARCAP and defend the fleet from any enemy units that broke past the booby trap and the perimeter screens. Scraped together from the remnants of four other units, the 101st-"Last Ones Standing" were to also act as a mobile reserve, should the rest fail.
“Beta flight reporting.” The few he had left of Sutari's escort fighter wing were among the most vengeful of the Families’ fighter units, first with a grudge against the House von Trisp, now with a major axe to grind with the Alien invader. The unit stationed at Sutari had lost their squadron leader and almost half their ground pounder brethren, not to mention half their squadron to them. They piloted the light Arrow fighters and the remainder of the Hellcats and also took in Birddog Flight.
“Delta Reserve reporting.” This was the last fighter unit left to him, and it was not much at that. The horrible fact that the only reason it qualified as a squadron was that it had banded under it every remaining Orion picket ship and missile boat left in the Fleet, along with half repaired fighters loaded with half munitions. There were not enough spares to go around. The only saving grace they had were two Longbow bombers that were originally converted to be bulk courier shuttles and now reconverted back to milspec status, each one loaded with the remainder of the Corp’s torpedoes, and also sporting about two advanced IFF warheads each; TAARD prototypes that were supposed to go on test trials, and now marshaled in defense of the Fleet. The pseudo-Longbows wouldn’t last long in a dogfight though, they were missile platforms at best. Much of their strong armor and legendary shielding were stripped from them.
“This is it. This is our line in the sand. This is our stand against the darkness of the night, defending what we believe to be right and just. Now… give them hell!”
There was a chorus of affirmatives and oaths of vengeance as the defenders prepared to sell their lives dearly. There was no thought of Kyra, or Celes, or even of anyone else as the totality of warfare consumed his psyche. The gathered fleet, all that could fight was in high orbit above Masa, as local orbit was swirled around with space debris that could hide fighter signatures. Ammo was precious, and each shot had to count.
Alpha Flight opened up first, using their heavy array of missiles to thin out the Alien armada. But they came too fast, much too fast, smashing through the fragile defensive line, and blatantly targeting anything that showed up or moved. One Corp fighter was rammed by a Devil Ray, causing its shields to splash and then its hull to crumple like tissue paper as the Devil Ray skewered it and its pilot in its rush to engage its brethren.
Beta Flight then charged in, mixing it up and trying to give Alpha time to disengage and then allow them and Delta to continue firing. Fire and fall back. Fire and fall back. And soon, even that dissolved into a horrendous dogfight as fighter and capital ship swirled in a dance of death. The Memory tried hanging back, but was sucked into battle, with Kyra again manning a turret while Max oversaw the battle. Max heard it all over the open commnet, the song of war. In all its fierce terror. And in the back of it, the fact that this time, he was going to fall in battle, this time for good. No cavalry, no Confed reinforcements this time. He heard a harsh scream as a shot impacted through the shields and into a lower deck, causing alarm klaxons to scream and blast doors to shut, even as he heard desperate thumping from people caught in the damaged section that faded into fearful silence, overtaken by even more terrifying voices on the open comm.
The harsh grunts of victory of each kill as each pilot locked their legs tight to perform their high-g maneuvers and keep the blood in their heads. The wrenching sound as fighters meant to fight a war nearly a generation ago almost bend and buckle under the stress of maneuvers they were never meant to accomplish along with the screams of the dying; flaming to death in their cockpits or screaming in agony from decompression. The harsh ululating screams of the dying alien foe as they taunted and died in droves served to frame the pageant of human bravery and suffering.
“Can’t get lock! Can’t get lock!”
“I’m on him!”
“Tango Three, on your six!”
“Can’t... shake… aaahhh!”
“Die freak! Die! DIIIEEE!”
“Its got lock! Its got lock! Can’t shake - AAAIII!!!"
“EJECTING! Oh God! Nuh-no, please! NO, PLEASE…”
“That was for Raider leader, scum!”
“Few more seconds… missiles away! Burn in hell!”
A Thunderbolt jinked and dodged as it let forth bolt after bolt of crimson plasma flame at an onrushing alien corvette. The bulbous thing seemed to writhe and shrink as bolt after bolt overwhelmed its strange flesh, yielding weird explosions of flesh and pus to float off into space as the Alien thing seemed to roar and rear in terror. Geysers of blood and matter flew up to fill the surrounding space with floating globules of itself as the ship was skewered and singed by the white hot plasma. It retaliated, sending back streams of white light. The Thunderbolt jinked again and again, closing the range; its ion thrusters flaring brightly in the night before loosing a torpedo. It blazed white and hot, like a holy lance sent to pierce a heart of evil. Job done, the pilot slammed up and right; turning away as the torpedo penetrated the thing like a bullet did into an animal, punching through it; tearing through alien flesh and bone. Rending through neural connections and smashing vital organs. The Alien corvette was flailing about in pain, sending forth random beams of death. One beam seemed to fly across space like an energy blade, slicing the Thunderbolt in half as it tried to evade. The pilot was incinerated; his fighter was cut in half. In almost slow motion, the Thunderbolt’s armor plates flaked off in chunks, revealing its engines and internal workings, before they too split apart and fragmented into hundreds of shards. However, the pilots sacrifice was not in vain. The Mark VIII Tanfen torpedo; its precisely machined warhead detonated, sending an anti-matter explosion roaring through it. The Alien corvette seemed to bulge as its chitinous flesh tried to contain the nova within but failed, exploding into white annihilation.
Max stood his ground as the Memory shuddered from another hit, clenching his hands onto the holomap table. He gritted his teeth and shouted out on the open frequency to the silent and fearfully hiding Sector Fleet on the dark side of the planet. The aliens were now fully entangled with him, the jump point had nothing guarding it. Now as a time to make a run for it.
“MILADY ELAYNE!! GO!!! TAKE THE FLEET AND GO!!!”
From the dark side, a hundred suns ignited as the ships, led by the frigate Melissa, sped for the jump point, leaving the doomed defenders behind.
Another blast rocked the Galaxy. He read an indicator. Shields were almost down, and damage control couldn’t repair what was essentially a floating sieve in space leaking oxygen. Max sealed the faceplate on his spacesuit, not that it could help much. He would much rather fall in battle than be captured by the enemy. The Archer seemed to beckon to him now, seducing him with the certainty of oblivion. Never, he would never go down without a fight.
He looked out at a viewport and spotted a familiar Arrow fighter. Birddog Leader.
The battered fighter waggled its wings and spoke, “It was an honor to serve you, milord commander.” It then turned, as it flung itself at another oncoming horde of Alien fighters, its pilots voice a clarion call to battle, “IN HER NAME!!!”
Max gave a sad smile and looked at the holomap. He had essentially accomplished his mission. Sort of. There was no time to evacuate the ground refugees, but he had done the best he could. Tanfen's own were now halfway at the jump point, too far away for the aliens to intercept for now. He had indeed given a good accounting of himself against the Alien menace. Three times he fought them, and now, this was the last fight. And in this, the torn bloody remains of dozens of the alien enemy around him were testament to his determination. There was only one thing left he could do to ensure the convoys safety.
“Pilot, give me ramming speed. We’re going for one of the corvettes.”
The pilot swallowed grimly and wiped the cold sweat away from his brow as he confirmed the order. “Aye, milord. In Her Name, a course for one of the corvettes. And we’ll see the heretics in hell.”
The dying 'Memory surged forward on its last knees as it aimed itself like a lance at the heart of evil. Max keyed a channel to Kyra up in her turret. “You heard that?”
“I did. And… it was nice knowing you. You are one of the bravest, most honorable men I have ever had the pleasure to serve with. Family Gan would have been proud to have a son like you.”
Max only gave a wan smile. “And you, too.”
Celes turned around at that from looking at the viewport, her uniform and face smudged with sweat as she fought oxygen fires with the damage control teams. Richard and Marle was elsewhere. No one else was on the bridge, the comtech off to treat his own wounds. Though she seemed remarkably calm at her end, her lips quavered. “Milord… Max… I...” She reached one hand forward.
And then, something unexpected happened. Though grateful, Max was becoming extremely annoyed at fate yo-yoing him around like this. The jump point flared bright with real space eddies as the fabric of time itself was ripped asunder. Through it came wave after wave of fighters and several capital ships. Though their hulls seemed outdated, the ships gleamed with the telling steel gray of massive upgrading. Arrows, Hellcats, Thunderbolts and Longbows poured through the jump node, followed by corvettes and frigates. All of them came in the carmine, argent and azure trim of the 360th Tactical.
Already in battle formation, curt orders were being relayed to each of the fighter wings. The two Caernaven frigates that made up the incoming small fleet, along with a modified super freighter acting as a fighter transport, with several corvettes in picket formation, made to intercept the enemy corvettes and launch torpedoes. The fighter transport, along with several super freighters carrying munitions, spare parts, armaments and spare pilots hung back with a pair of corvette escorts while the rest surged ahead into the darkness, tone locks ringing in their crews ears as they sought torpedo lock against the massive organic monstrosities. Fighter flights that forged ahead of them fell into an armored wedge, the Thunderbolts leading with the Arrows and Hellcats siding the formation and the 'Bows at the back.
At the forefront was a lone Bearcat, painted in black with white trim. They certainly weren’t Confed, but they were reinforcements nonetheless. “The cavalry’s here boys!” whooped the fleet wide commnet as the Bearcat pilot throttled the afterburners and accelerated into the fray, leading the starfighter squadrons following it. The two frigates and the few corvettes the fleet came with begun opening fire as they loosed forth Lancer torpedoes and streaks of gun fire at the flank of the alien corvettes. Swarms of Alien fighters broke off from the melee to shred the new threat, granting Sutari Fleet breathing space.
“Who the hell are they?” muttered Kyra as she tracked them on her damaged turret, ironically noting that this was a bad case of déjà vu yet again.
The pilot, noting the arrival of reinforcements, prudently avoided his collision course and narrowly avoided the corvette by inches, causing both ships' shields to spark and splash.
“Farlon, zoom in on the lead Bearcat” said Max as he pointed over Farlon’s shoulder at the comm screen.
The main screen fuzzed up, then zoomed in, and zoomed in again. On the side of the Bearcat was the symbol of an upright burning sword. He gave a low whistle.
“That, Kyra, is the Avenger Wing... the Corp’s best starfighter squadron,” he took a look at the strategic map. “But I only see one of them. The rest of the IFFs show the fleet to be the 360th Laifen Tactical.”
Max then peered more carefully at the lead fighter, and nearly gave a gut wrenching sigh. Emblazoned like a defiant little gesture at any attacker on the side of the Bearcat, beside the burning sword that denoted Avenger Wing was a symbol he recognized very well. It consisted of a stylized heart encircled by a pair of angel’s wings, surrounded by a diamond field.
The Corp often awarded concessions to those who deserved it, and it was common practice for high ranking officers and aces to deck their chosen fighters out in nearly any color scheme they chose, barring something so outlandish that the enemy would die of laughter or the Corp would die of shame. In that regard, it became preferred to emblazon a fighter pilot's sigil, affiliation or coat of arms instead. A great many pilots, notably those originating from the Families, or those wishing favor from a Patron, bore their Family coat of arms. A select few like the pilot in the Bearcat were so damned good at their job that they had the right to make their own.
The pilot of that fighter was a girl. He remembered little of her in his youth, except what he had to endure of her through Laifen Academy. That particular girl was stuck up, more vindictive than all of Family Tan put together, and more precocious than a bunch of TAARD techies let lose on a new project. She also proved to be a genius, and skipped Max's grade by three years to actually finish with a Masters Degree in Nano-Robotics. That girl had no patron Family, yet she persevered through sheer guts through the ranks, and though she had the brains, she had the attitude to match it. Max took a class with her before, several in fact, and no matter how hard he tried, she always sat at least one seat away from him. Always, she would carefully, regardless of his status (the instructors at the Academy made a particular point that no one was going to ace a class on their bloodline, and made it rock policy that a students own merits made it through, and that only) choose the most choicest invective to account for his incompetence at his subjects. In fact, he remembered that she took particular delight in sniping him down for his abysmal marks in Advanced Mathematics and Advanced Hyperspace Mechanics.
After she graduated and Max was still doing his final year before ending up for Business Practicals, he heard that despite her bright future in TAARD, who actually asked for her by name, she went and applied to TASC, where they found out that she had a greater knack for piloting than she was at calculating how to make something work. So much of a knack that she was instantly, after the appropriate vetting ended up in Avenger Wing.
At the promotion ceremony, where he was still a student, and a cadet, she gave him a raspberry when the Commandant was giving a speech. She got off scot free, since the Commandant didn’t see anything, but he saw Max give a look of annoyance, which the Commandant translated at being annoyed at his speech, upon which he promptly hauled him off after the ceremony, and subjected him to the most time tested of torments at Laifen Academy, cleaning the communal bathrooms with a toothbrush.
He thought that after he graduated, and she disappeared off into wherever Avenger Wing was normally transferred off to, he would be rid of her for all eternity. So much for that pleasant thought.
Until now. Of all things that can happen, this just had to happen. Her name? Evelyn Del’Arnen Lim. Apparently the span of years she had disappeared off into did not dissipate her irreverence at authority, nor her skill.
As the formations of light and darkness closed in on each other, the Homeguard pilots begun reforming their formation, forming into a vertical wall facing the enemy. Much like the wedge that was their initial formation, the centre of the wall was held by T-Bolts and Longbows, while the outer edges were held by corvettes and light fighters.
Though the Bearcat fighter was old, and temperamental, with its experimental ion engines; the loving care of the Corp’s own engineering turned it into a 25 meter power house. The ion engines problems were rectified, in addition to increasing the power output through new engine design. The armor itself as well as the shielding were the best money could buy and its suite of four tachyon guns and twin ions still boasted their milspec ratings.
Nowhere was this more apparent as the Bearcat pilot did something nearly impossible. The fighter accelerated ahead of the pack, ripping loose with a ripple volley of IR missiles and bursts from its quad tachyon guns at a pack of Alien light fighters, turning the lead alien fighter into an expanding puff of flesh and bone. The pilot jinked to the side and shut off the starboard thruster, sending the fighter into a horizontal portside slide maneuver while rolling all the while in a barely controllable spin. The remaining two fighters of the pack were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. A pack of ravening HG fighters were blazing away from 8,000ks and were closing in. The Alien flotilla, acting as one, regarded the new threat as a bigger one and begun disengaging, speeding at the fresh units like a pack of rabid piranhas, leaving the torn and tattered remnants of the 101st hanging in orbit like rag dolls.
What the average Tanfen pilot lacked in skill, he more than made up for in sheer firepower. A wall of plasma and laser bolts were reaching out to lance the Aliens. And the devil itself was ravening the sides of the Alien fighters, its port engine flaring brightly, literally turning the ship around and behind the Alien fighters in an elliptical turn. The Bearcat then re-engaged both engines, ramming it forward as it went for a full gun salute at the "engine" of one enemy fighter before it even realized where the Bearcat had gone. The last fighter panicked and charged the oncoming HG horde and was shredded into jerky. The entire skirmish lasted less than fifteen seconds.
The Bearcat flew through the meat cloud of the dead Alien fighter as it made a victory roll. It then pulled sharply up in a dime turn in the opposite direction before afterburning its way at more of the Alien invaders. The pilot seemed to be a combination of sheer guts, skill and near homicidal bravery. Or, as his mother put it once, "Either very brave, very stupid, or absolutely assuredly guaranteed stark raving crazy."
“Oh my God - whoever that pilot was, he… she… wasted two of the buggers in less than ten seconds.”
And then the Homeguard formation known as the wall of fire sounded, sending of thousands of kilojoules of light and missile contrails into the enemy. Like a sledgehammer, the combined fire of so many guns executed the Alien horde and turned it into shredded jerky. But the survivors kept coming, lead by one wounded corvette type ship. Missile reloads cycled, gun capacitors recharged, and then the wall of fire opened up again. Amazingly, there was one survivor, the Alien corvette, trudging on determinedly at its attackers and still firing its beam weapons. The Bearcat pilot afterburned at the corvette, strafing its engines and then let off its remaining payload in ripple fire, causing the corvette to tear itself apart.
And then, space was deafeningly silent.
Ivanov Petrov looked at this, and then begun sniggering. Then he begun laughing. And laughing out loud. And joining him was the victory whoops and cries as the 101st, battered and wounded, still triumphed against the odds. The fleeing Sector Fleet, seeing the strange turn of events decelerated and paused at the jump point. Fate does indeed play a strange game indeed.
Minutes after, the Colonel leading the task force, the Bearcat pilot, and strangely enough, someone onboard the Mountain Carp, his mother's personal corvette wanted to meet up with him. Each docked in turn. The Bearcat fighter first on the upper docking hatch. Max formed his semi-official staff to greet each one, including this Corp Ace that he was so reluctant to meet. Kyra wiped the sweat from her brow and noted how anxious Max was at the approach of the pilot. ‘Must be someone big’ she thought.
The first thing out of the airlock was a leather boot slicked in glossy plastic. Then, a petite young woman walked in, removing her helmet and letting her reddish blonde locks swirl out of her helmet like a golden tidal wave.
As soon as she walked in Kyra started to immediately hate the pilot. No, it was not professional rivalry. She was a Marine. This woman that just walked in was a pilot. Entirely different branch of service. Yet, one look at her and she already begun to feel irritated. The woman was still dressed in her clinging flight suit, done in the dull brown of TSF forces. Either the suit was made to be body-hugging (which she noted normally wasn’t, not from what she had seen the TSF pilots wear), or she was wearing one size too small. Every inch was emphasized on her and on blatant display. Though it wasn’t all that impressive, the packaging certainly enhanced what she had. The velcro plasteel jackboots and gloves only made the woman more stylish.
Bitch, thought Kyra silently.
The woman was of average height, tall enough not to considered short, short enough to be considered petite. Her eyes were bright green and wide and innocent looking. Her hair was cut long and flowed like a golden mane behind her. She smiled on seeing Max and then theatrically parted her hair as she batted her eyes in feminine grace. If it wasn’t for the fact that she had viewed her handiwork in space, Kyra would have believed her to be… she hesitated to use the word… something worse than bitch. A shit of the first order... if not more.
Kyra stood at stiff attention, behind and to the left of Max as Richard and Celes stood behind him. Her eyes bored in like sniper sights as the woman single handedly ruined several centuries of feminism in one display of blatant ’seduction'. The woman looked at Max up and down like one would a cut of meat. “You must be acting CEO of Sutari?” She noted the ducal ring on Max' hand.
“I-I am… I...” he reached out his hand. Kyra nearly felt tempted to whack her head in disbelief. Maximilian was acting like a boy seeing a woman for the first time. Then again, he was one.
The woman gave a perfunctory bow, bordering on mischief but deep enough to show respect before she rose up and took Maxim’s hand. She shook it gently and lingered on it, letting him feel the warmth of her hand before releasing it reluctantly. Max did not realize that the woman before him was someone he had so disliked in his younger days. She had filled out, boyish curves and short locks of hair into the woman before him. Though her irreverent attitude hadn’t changed much.
“Airwoman Evelyn Sims milord of the Tanfen Avenger Wing. And your name, milord?” She noted his wide eyed gaze with pleasure and leaned just a little bit more forward.
“Er… Maximilian… er… just call… me Maxim.”
“Pleased to meet you then, Lord Maxim,” she stood back and grinned like a little girl. A tech came in and nodded towards Max to come over for a minute to read a status report. When his attention was turned, Evelyn gave a look just as bad back at Kyra. If eyes were lasers, there would have been hull decompression then and there. Both women simply looked at each other. Evelyn made a face and stuck her tongue out.
Kyra’s face nearly turned white from shock. If she held her vibroknife then and there, she would have seriously considered giving this Evelyn a manicure and a haircut then and there.
Celes didn’t even profess interest and simply stared at Max. Richard rubbed his stubble and grinned. He had been in enough campaigns to know when to stay out of a cat-fight. He’d rather wade into a fistfight at ten to one odds then end up in a cat-fight between women. They were more vicious and dangerous, no doubt about that. It looked like Kyra and this Evelyn had a bone to settle with Max. Celes, too, from the look of it. The voyage, if not the whole adventure, was going to be interesting.
A tech signaled the arrival of his mother's corvette. He was curious to see who would be aboard.
As soon as the man walked through the hatch from the docking stairwell, he froze. The swagger, the walk, that face Corp legend talked about. The black sheep of the family that grandfather never mentioned. It was him. Kian Tan. His uncle? Here? His mother mentioned him several times, and told of his tales fighting for the Corp and then disappearing mysteriously into the fringes of society years ago when his mother was still a girl. He heard enough stories to imagine what he looked like. The long armored duster. The youthful face with the old eyes. That self confident smile bordering on a sneer. The short cropped hair. The Archer riding on his hip. It was a Corp legend come to life. Legends said that he could take an entire clip of Archer rounds and still stand up. Whispers were made that he could crush concrete blocks with his bare hands.
“U-Uncle Kian...? Is that you?”
The man smiled and held out his hand. “That I am, Lord Maximilian.”
The change in attitude in Richard was immediate. His perpetual self amused grin turned absolutely serious as he gave a stern salute of deep respect at the man. “A pleasure to have you aboard, Lord Captain!”
Kian smiled and clapped his shoulder, "At ease, Lieutenant. Remember, I am here incognito. For now, I am merely 'Kian.' No Lord; no Captain. I am in your report - a Freelance Strategic Consultant.”
Richard grinned again. "Aye aye, sir, it's still good to see you again.”
Lord Captain? Uncle Kian was a Loyalist Marine, and one high enough to deserve to be called a Lord, too...? Richard was a veteran of many battles, and the deep reverence he had for his uncle spoke volumes of just how capable his uncle was. He would be one to watch closely.
The last one, the Colonel of the task force arrived in a shuttle, revealing himself as a stout man, crew cut, with a small goatee and a grim demeanor. He bowed and then shook Max’ hand. “Milord, Colonel Nataku del Huay of the 360th reporting to relieve Tanfen Sutari Branch defense forces.”
Behind the Colonel, was Cele's TISD counterpart, a tall man that seemed outstandingly plain. “And my aide, Commodore Alain Radick.” Technically he was a captain, but so was Max too, but now that he was Lord Commander, someone else, the commander of the Memory was captain. On this ship, Radick was, as a matter of courtesy referred to as Commodore. Radick gave a grim nod and stood back, like an uglier mirror image of Celes to Huay's rear and right.
Max nodded as he received them both and received the Colonels standing orders, to have been given to the Commander of the local Branch, and now, to him. “Milord, we must discuss the disposition of Sutari Fleet.”
Max nodded again. “We do, Colonel. If you all will follow me to the Command Deck please.”
Over strangely refreshing cups of hot coffee, they went over Sutari Fleet's status and the refugees' status. It was too dangerous to leave them here now, regardless of what Hanton said. If , as TPRO Chief Hutchins said, anything happened to them now, it would be a media debacle even she couldn’t cover. Nevertheless, what had happened could have been positive PR at its best, Tanfen units defending innocent civilians like wounded lions defending their cubs. Hutchins could have drooled over the positive publicity opportunities that offered. After some debate, it was decided that with the added airlift capacity of some dozen additional capital ships, they had to carry the refugees of Tyr yet again to safety. There could be no other choice. The aliens could come back again.
The 360th made transport easier, though the Colonel gave a grim look at Max before he acquiesced with a reluctant "Your will be done, milord," by fitting a few hundred refugees each onto each capital ship in the 360th. With the added airlift, the procedure could be accomplished in but a few hours, and with its additional fuel stores, they had a better chance at making it home. With Kohlingen destroyed, and even with additional fuel reserves, the choices of places that could dock a massive fleet of merchant freighters was distressingly short. All out species war kind of did that to commerce and transport.
Colonel Huay noted that it wasn’t practical, and suggested to actually just get the hell out of Dodge, and leave the civilians of Tyr to their own devices since the Corp had done more than enough for them. They had been all packed and ready to go, quite literally, and now, they had no place to go. Radick glanced at Celes as their superiors argued over the holomap. Radick raised an eyebrow as his glance caught a region of space Celes also knew and recognized. Nifelheim, site of one of Tanfen’s most covert fighter testing bases, and also, the basing and refueling facilities large and diverse enough to handle a Sector Fleets needs. Celes made a covert hand gesture. Radick gave a terse nod of agreement.
“Milord Maximilian, I can offer an alternative to our solution, fulfilling your needs.”
Celes licked her lips as she made what was perhaps a violation of her covert profession. “There is a Tanfen facility in Nifelheim that can handle Sutari Fleets needs adequately and where we can proceed to Branch Aloresa.”
She stepped forward, pausing and looking at Radick who gave another nod of confirmation, as she keyed in the coordinates of the base so that it appeared before them, glowing as a set of coordinates. Evelyn gave a whistle of awe. “So that’s where the black barn is. I always wondered what our boss meant by going on an extended joyride in ‘hell.’”
Max turned around to Evelyn. “Black barn?”
Evie bounced her head up and down. “Yup, fighter parlance for a prototype fighter testing facility. I was wondering just where my expert system flight program was going to, since TISD was so damned vague when they impounded my thesis for TAARD.”
Kyra raised an eyebrow now. “Thesis?”
Evie gave a false look of dismay. “Oh dear. I forgot to mention it to you, ‘Lieutenant.’ I do so happen to also hold a Doctorate in Expert AI System Development. So sorry to disappoint you."
"Neanderthalic moron," she added inaudibly with a cheerful smile.
Kyra shrugged. “No worries,” she spoke, then adding quietly, "... airhead."
Colonel Huay cleared his throat, ending the staring match.
Max nodded as he keyed in additional astrographic data. “Set course for Nifelheim then.” Kian simply sat back and watched the whole thing quietly, nodding in approval at his nephew’s decision making. He would have to talk to him later, in private regarding his role here. But it seemed that he was not needed to get him out, the boy already had the makings of a leader.
Far away, Lady Schala Gan gave a nod of confirmation as her runestones gave an indication that the light had claimed a significant victory over the dark. The slick gray stones, etched with rough lines that only she and those from ancient times knew, told her much. And it told her that the pendulum of fate was swinging. It was still in the balance, but swinging towards the light now. All the players were in place, now all that remained was how the endgame was played.