PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 34 of 66 )
“ Further Down the Spiral ”
to hand, and foot to foot:
Nothing there, save death, was mute;
Stroke, and thrust, and flash, and cry,
For quarter or for victory,
Mingle there with the volleying thunder."
TCS Valley Forge; Gunnery
The Loki System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 14 2681/2681.045; 1229 Hours (CST)
“C’mon, you bastard! Hold still!" TCN 2nd Lieutenant Jim Daniels shouted around an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth at a Lamprey which had just changed course by 90 degrees in a quarter-second.
"Red Manta! Bearing 3-0-0 degrees," his co-gunner Sergeant Mark Jorgen reported. Jim shoved over the controls, turning the huge, revolving turreted laser battery on its axis to face the threat. The red fighter fired a missile and darted away, a friendly Shark from the 71st FW hot on its tail. "Oh shit! Torpedo!" Jorgen shouted.
"Ive got it," Daniels replied, irritation at the Sergeants panic in his voice. Daniels pressed the large firing studs on the controls and the paired capital lasers spat a dual-stream of lethality at the homing projectile. Several blasts scored home, and the MIRV torpedoed vanished in an incandescent flare.
Another damnable Lamprey darted towards the Forge, its shield-killer cannon spraying the weakening shields with strange ring-shaped bolts. Daniels chuckled, crewing on the end of his cigar. "Goodnight, roach," he said quietly, depressing the firing studs. The bulbous little fighter was wracked by the rapid-fire lasers and detonated in a shower of slimy gore.
Jorgen grimaced at the sight. "Stingray cluster, Bearing 2-1-0, Angle 13," he read off the radar display.
"Roger that," Daniels replied, swinging the large turret around once again. "Say hello to papa," he said with a chuckle, firing and blowing one of the clustered Stingrays to charred bits. The other two Stingrays darted away. "See? No worries."
"Pilot in trouble, Bearing 1-0-0," Jorgen read off without replying.
The turret swung around and slammed a Devil Ray with a sustained burst. The fighter jinked away and darted below the carriers horizon. "Damned suckas tough," Daniels said aloud. "What else you got for me?"
"Shit?" Daniels repeated in confusion, looking over at Jorgen, who was looking watching a trip of Stingray clusters on a strafing run right towards them. "Yup, thats definitely shit, all right," said Daniels, futilely swinging the turret towards the attackers. "Definitely shit," he repeated as a flurry of heavy plasma bolts darted towards the turret
OMEGA STRIKE, -0005 H Hour
323RD FIRE BALLS (THETA WING)
F-110A Wasp 001
[ Theta Lead ]
Space, the vicinity of Carrier Battle Group Auriga (CVBG-A)
1230 Hours (CST)
The tide would wash over them soon. There were just too many of them. The HUD radar amongst the MFDs was chock full of red blips. They were everywhere. Above. Below. Right and left. In front and loads more behind. One could as sure as hell get killed by only flying straight for five seconds as you would ultimately crash into one of them. An obstacle race. And a run. Much more than a fight. Lt. Colonel Avery "Virus" Hale tried to see it cold and rationally. And indeed there was a cold peace in and on him. Or was that death already?
Hale could not tell any longer. Too weary he was, weary of a lifetime of fighting and getting nowhere but keeping himself alive. He felt empty, exhausted. There were no thoughts, no feelings, no hopes, no fears he could perceive from inside of himself. He had seen his squadron dying. Of the nine Wasps that he had before only four still were. Next to him was the ever-fiery, ever-wily Captain Luke "Kamikaze" Causey, his fighter still held together by whatever invisible force there was, by whatever little will or hope or luck "Kamikaze" had left. When Hale selected Causeys fighter it was all red like a Bloody Mary. Causey was a goner.
Damn it, Causey, not you, Hale thought to himself. Hed remembered the parties after-missions, Causey usually being the life of with his "Beer Baron of the Valley Forge" boasts he was fully able to back and then some. Of all the men, women, and aliens in his squadron, Causey had perhaps come the farthest as a pilot... and a friend.
So much was clear. They all were done.
When the Lancers and Talons had taken down the Hydra, the Fire Balls had to hit the flight deck for reloading and refueling. Theyd have to hold the line during the updated combat briefing and the regrouping for the major strike against the Tiamat. The line they had to hold. However, they would not be capable of holding it any longer.
"Somebody still got a missile? Anybody ?"
" some SRB Booster juice ?
" afterburners? Decoys?"
A short but shrill laughter -- close to insanity -- was the only answer.
"Keep your act together, people!" Lt. Colonel Hale responded inevitable. Only functioning. Like a machine. Tired of living, but still not dying, he was.
"Big Bang is commencing now," they were informed via the main tactical channel by Trebek personally. The second phase had begun. The elimination of the Tiamat-class dreadnought, Omega Strikes overall objective.
"Strrike, issen-ding us the Mosq-keet-toes, Ker-nel," Hale was informed by his faithful Firekkan XO, Major Ktik. When she appeared on his vidscreen VDU he believed he saw behind her specially designed helmet to make room for the Firekkans rather big beak that she had slightly opened. The equivalent of a weak attempt of a Firekkan smile. He had got pretty good in interpreting the Firekkans mimic-speak.
"The Mosquitoes." The way Captain Causey had said this said it all: What could they do? The lightest fighter of them all. But shortly after followed the Cat with their heavy fighter-bombers.
None of all this reached 2nd Lt. Escobar "El Diablo" Forsythe. Nothing would -- no, nothing could reach him anymore. He was beyond. Beyond it all. He was experiencing a major league anxiety attack. Only he was not noticing it. He did not know what he was doing here. Where and why he even was here. "I cant remember shit," he moaned, completely lost. His flightsuit was drenched with sweat. Sweat was pouring down his face. He could taste it. Salty. It burned. He was starting to rip off his helmet. He heard a faint familiar voice.
"Are you okay?"
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Alpha Eight, do you copy?"
"El Diablo, yo -- talk to me, man!"
But he could not begin to fathom this voice. It slipped away. Everything slipped away. Nothing he could grasp. Round and round in circles he was flying. A merry-go-round. He saw the white little ponies right next to the motor bikes. Kids sitting on them. Laughing. And there was fire works around. He smiled brightly. Brighter. His eyes opened up. Madness to be seen in them. He started laughing. A loud powerful laughter. His foamy mouth wide open. A ball of light showed up. Rapidly expanding. A forceful thunder bolt, he simply did not hear anymore.
Next -- cold darkness. And a silent command channel.
The spiral continued... never up, only further down... always further down...
F-110A Wasp 001
[ Theta Lead ]
1235 Hours (CST)
Some time after the last exchange of fire, Hales vidcomm flickered to life. "Virus, this is Coroner," Major Kurt "Coroner" Powell appeared on the Fireballs comms VDU. "How do you read?"
"Coroner, Virus -- loud and clear. Go ahead."
"Were your relief, sir. Send your boys and girls for hot turn-arounds. Youre not going to do much good without any missiles."
"Thats a negative, Major Powell! We cant spare the fighters."
"Goddamnit!" Coroner seemed to be ignoring both the other mans rank and any notion of comms discipline, "The only way were going to win this is by keeping people alive long enough! These bugs throw away lives; we dont! With missiles and burners we stand a chance. Staying up here like this is pure suicide! Dont be a fucking hero! We can hold them for a few minutes."
Lt. Colonel Virus Hale took a glance again at his scanner, showing how badly Kamikazes fighter was beaten up. This wasnt a chance to save his own life, it was a chance to save Causeys.
"All right, well be back as soon as we can." Virus gritted his teeth and peeled his vic of Wasps toward the carrier. Between them, the Bloodfangs and Piranhas could handle anything thrown at them.
722ND MOSQUITOES (SQUITO WING)
001 [ Squito Lead ]
1238 Hours (CST)
Coroner looked, then looked a second time just to be absolutely sure his eyes were not deceiving him at the new, freshly-appearing red blips on his Piranhas HUD. When he was satisfactorily convinced it was not paranoia but that those fairly close-ranged hostile blips were really out there, Major Powell gave a grunt a that spoke both of his disgust as equally as his vehemence.
As Squadron Commander of the Mosquitoes, he was in no hurry to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, the late and proud Major Ulyssus "Flyboy" Grant, and watch his whole squadron around get picked off like some kind of sick wholesale by the bugs. By their fighter stats alone, regardless of his pilots skill, the "light" recon/scout-designed F-106 Piranhas they flew made the Mosquitoes the underdogs of the Forges 71st Fighter Wing by default -- it didnt help when they were being asked to deal with wave upon wave of Aliens that were supposed to be being dealt with by the other 71st FW elements.
"Just where the hell are the Gunners and the Hopes?" Coroner demanded angrily over the comm, "Theres another frigging wave coming in!"
114TH WHITE HOPES (SKY RAIDER WING)
101 [ Sky Raider Lead ]
1242 Hours (CST)
"The Steel Gunners are nearer the Forge, waiting to catch any we miss, and the White Hopes are right here," Major Paul "Kraut" Hartmann told the irritable Mosquitoes CO, his voice sounding calm and steady in the efficient German manner.
"Yeah," growled Dan "Bugfix" Burdock over the comm, "were here now. Better late than never, eh?" Somehow when Hartmann stepped out of the cockpit at the end of a flight his flightsuit always looked as if it had been freshly pressed. Then a glass of schnapps and a cigar. Discuss the kills as if they had been stags. An afternoon hunting trip, Burdock was probably thinking cynically. Perhaps awarding himself a silver cup for the mantelpiece with every kill?
No, that wasnt fair. Hartmann had to know this wasnt sport and he genuinely had the interests of the squadron and its pilots at heart. It was just that he was so damned perfect, unruffled. The stress and pressure didnt seem to affect him. Yet why had he suddenly slipped into German earlier, and started to stammer? Maybe he did feel the pressure. Burdocks expression hardened again on the VDU. Bugfix should understand his drinking then. He had never put the squadron in any danger with it. He wasnt an alcoholic, he just needed the bloody drink.
Oh, Christ. It dawned on him what he just said. He was a drunk. But what did it matter if he did his job? And just who did Hartmann think he was to judge him?
"Well take the little shits," said Coroner, "your Sharks can take the Skates."
"And my warrior brethren will gladly take the larger adversaries," also agreed Kal Shintahr Jhathar nar Vukar Tag. "They will be a foe worthy which which to test our mettle!"
323RD FIRE BALLS (THETA WING)
F-110A Wasp 001
[ Theta Lead ]
1250 Hours (CST)
The Fireballs had landed and their Wasps were rapidly being re-armed on the flight deck. They could have sent for one or two of the Forges Condor-class SAR/Refueler shuttlecraft, but Hale knew that just as it was suicide for the Fireballs in question to remain fighting without rearming themselves, any man or woman that piloted one of those shuttles out to the Fireballs would be equally suicidal -- the small, completely defenseless Condors were easy pickings for the bloodthirsty and increasingly numerous Alien scourge the 71st now fought. The Fireballs had powered nothing down and the running reactor and associated dangers massively increased the risks to the ordies and refuelers working around the spacecraft on the deck, but it shortened turnaround time to only a few minutes.
"Fireballs, button six," ordered Lt. Colonel Hale. As soon as his last two pilots came up he on the squadron channel he ordered Kamikaze to shut down and get out of his shattered fighter.
"No, sir. I must refuse your order."
"I refuse your order, sir. We wouldnt be on the private channel if you hadnt expected it. I am not sitting here watching from a frigging porthole as you and other people die up there."
"That Wasp of yours is only holding together with duct tape and prayers!"
"What difference does that make? Ive got shields, and Ill have missiles, boosters, and reheat. Theyve got to hit me to kill me. I can help. I need to help."
Hale considered his pilots words thoughtfully. They had the ring of truth to them, and hit home with Virus. "Okay, Causey. And... thank you -- it would have been bad ordering you to your death. It was even worse ordering you to stay."
"Virus, Strike. Your birds are fed and watered. You are clear for launch. Good luck and good hunting."
722ND MOSQUITOES (SQUITO WING)
001 [ Squito Lead ]
1253 Hours (CST)
Skate interceptor cluster bombers. Another Nephilim cluster fighter. The concept had been tried on Earth several times -- biplanes hung from airships, piggy back fighters, towed fighters and other even stranger contraptions. Theyd never caught on, but the situation was far different for the bugs. Stingray interceptors/capship interdictors, impressive on their own, combined to form huge guns. Rays carried around a group of tiny fighters to avenge it when it died. And skates came into battle joined, ready to unleash CSMs and other nasties. They had to be stopped before they could get to the injured Forge. A pretty tall order for the meager resistance she could offer, made more difficult by the fact that when you shot the cluster you had three targets instead of just one. And there were plenty to start with.
There was no way even an ace could have a high enough SA to survive in this mêlée for more than a minute or two, if not for shields. Thank God for shields. Come to think of it, thank every deity ever invented on Earth or anywhere else at a time like this. Even an atheist tends to like all the help he can get at times like these.
The Skates came in fast, trying to blast through the CAP straight to the Forge, but most clusters were split apart on the first pass. Lacking the capability to fire their large weapons, instead they readily joined the large dogfight, eager to kill the humans opposing them.
"All CAP elements, the Forge is getting hammered by these bugs!"
"Were getting almost all the Skates and Mantas -- what the hell is hitting you?"
"Lampreys are eating our shields and -- goddammit -- there he goes again! A Devil Ray keeps strafing us."
"Copy that," Powell said, "the little bugs will zap the little bugs for you, if someone will keep the big buggers off our back!"
"Ah, roger that."
Coroner broke away from the single Skate-M he had been chasing and headed toward the Forge. Fuck the escorts. His and their job was to protect the carrier. The carrier carried the Flight Wing, the battle groups primary weapon. Without it they may as well pack up and go home there and then.
He selected one of the vaguely pineapple-shaped Lamprey shield-killers. A bloodsucking little creature that would have a hard time killing something half its size, it was doing a good job of softening up the Valley Forge for other enemy craft.
The first Lamprey didnt last long, despite its evasive tactics under the Piranhas small guns. The second took a lot longer. It had seen him coming and jinked wildly before getting some separation and reversing into him, rushing headlong to its doom. Coroner didnt flinch as it hurtled towards him, trying to pummel his shields into submission. He knew it was harmless. He didnt even grit his teeth. So when his Piranha was hit it came as a complete surprise. His head snapped forward, bouncing off the HUD and then the canopy before hitting the instrument panel. Though stunned he instinctively broke hard left without thinking about it, and as his brain got its bearings again thoughts came into his mind. Some at a run, others at a more sedate pace. He knew he should have tightened his straps but liked to be able to look over his shoulder and see his six properly. His six, which he had neglected to check whilst concentrating on his slippery target. But what had hit him? There was blood in his mouth and his tongue seemed to be choking him. It was swollen and sore -- he must have bitten it, probably while his head was being smashed around. But by what? And where had the Lamprey gone? He blinked a few times. Bright flecks crossed his vision, and there was a ringing in his left ear. Still jinking, his brain not in control of his bodys conditioned responses, he thumbed the closest target button, another instinctive action. Then he realized what had happened: A Devil Ray space superiority fighter. The Devil Ray. An ace.
"What the fuck are you Cats doing? Youre supposed to be tackling these bastards -- get this fucker off my back! Get him off my back, now!"
Kal Shintahr Jhathar nar Vukar Tag emitted a ferocious growl, then spoke, "Even a Kilrathi warrior cannot destroy foes in two different places at once, my friend! Have patience, and I shall dispatch your foe if you cannot!"
"Just do your frigging job, fur-face! Kill him before I come over there and kill you!"
"I shall excuse your insult, monkey-boy, as you are under a great deal of stress. Yet, take care! Do not insult the Warrior of Kilrah who is about to save your life!" In seconds the Devil Ray was being demolished by the Bloodfang Mk2.
"Thanks, furry, but remember: If we both get out of this, therell be a reckoning. We have unsettled scores."
"Boryangee, bak! Past grievances from other conflicts have no bearing on the present, human! Kilrathi Clans have warred for eons. You humans are no different. An old foe is now an ally, and we have a new enemy; a common enemy! Can you not see that? What honor is there in fighting old battles, forsaking this one? Have you no honor?"
I dont believe it, Coroner thought angrily, a goddamn murdering treacherous Cat lecturing me about honor? Fury burned within him for a long moment. And then... The Cat had saved his life, yet the scars on his chest throbbed, and seemed to burn. How could he forget with that reminder scored forever into his skin? Forgive and forget? Bullshit. He wouldnt forgive, and couldnt forget. But for the time being, he would let it slide. Put it aside, for now.
"Thanks for the assist. Now, without further ado, lets kill the rest of them!"
"Yes, my friend -- let us kill them, not each other. We will kill them together, or have a glorious death in the father of all battles!"