PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 44 of 66 )

: A Gathering of Forces


 


BWS Defiance; Ready Room
The Loki System
0700 Hours, 14 Feb 2681 (2681.045)

Attention on deck!"

Everyone in the room, almost all of them wearing the coveralls denoting them as flight deck crew, came quickly to their feet as Sgt. D'ress -- known as "Duress" for more reasons than just her last name, serving as an unofficial liaison between the Wing's pilots and its supporting deck crew -- called the group to attention upon seeing the Deck Boss -- also Deck Division's commanding officer, after a faulty warhead detonator package caused an explosion that killed the previous holder of that job -- enter the room. As the most junior member of the Vindicator squadron, and a turret gunner at that, Sgt. Tabitha D'ress was considered to be the most "expendable" member of the carrier's flight wing for such a dull and ultimately pointless position.

A tall, hefty woman passed through the doorway, and strode towards the podium before the rows of seats with a speed one wouldn't expect from her bulk, just barely within fitness requirements. "As you were," ENS Burton -- freshly promoted from MCPO when given control of Deck Division -- said dismissively, waving for the men and women to return to their seats with one hand as the other wiped a grayed lock of hair from in front of her eyes. Her blush at the enforced formality was partly hidden by her swarthy skin, a gift of her Indian heritage.

"This isn't Confed, y'know," she noted with a wry grin, eliciting a few chuckles from the crowd. Once the room fell silent again, Burton continued, "As you know, for this engagement we've been given two 'loaner' units from Battle Group Valkyrie, a Jaguar squadron from the Valeria by the name of Dragon Riders, and an Avenger flight from the Freedom, the Hell Knights. I want y'all to play nice with them. They're not used to the way escort carriers do things, but with the losses of this campaign we can't afford to blow them off just because they're used to those nice big decks that can support sloppy landing approaches."

A thin, bony hand rose from the back row, signaling a request to speak. "Pardon the interruption, ma'am, but who's commanding the squadrons?"

"The Dragon Riders are commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel Quinn Lane, callsign 'Bubbles.' No, don't ask why. I don't know, and I'm not betting on the reason being a matter of pride on her part. As for the Avengers, they're commanded by Major Jonathan Hitchcock, callsign 'Pauper.' Again, don't ask."

"Is there anything we CAN ask about?" one armorer asked in mock exasperation.

"Yes there is. You just asked it," she answered with a grin. "All fun aside, make'em feel at home. But, for God's sake, tone down the flirting with the flight crews. We may not exactly have the reputation of having Confee 'spit and polish,' but these are professionals, the best that the Union has to offer; from Kilrah to Cynium, they were there. Don't make them embarrassed to have to work with you guys and gals. On the other hand, don't let them push you around, either. That is still your flight deck, no matter how many ribbons their dress uniforms bear. If they continue to give you trouble, then you talk to me, and The Law shall be laid down." As the Defiance's Deck Boss, on the flight deck, her word was directly backed by the Captain. Due to the smaller crew complement and the slightly more lax crewing practices of Union of Border Worlds warships, there was no counterpart of the Terran Confederation's Flight Control Officer position, thus no one else that could give orders on the flight deck.

In unison, the entire deck crew replied, "Yes, Mother," managing to keep straight faces afterwards only by heroic efforts to resist the urge to laugh.

Rolling her eyes, she started to head towards the door. "Dismissed," she said casually, shooting a withering glare at Duress in hopes of stifling the continued formality of coming to attention when an officer entered or departed. "Nice kid," Kathrine commented to herself, "but annoyingly overzealous. We've gotta work that Confee attitude out of her, before someone strangles her in frustration." While walking back to her office to do some paperwork, a slight grin crossed her lips as another thought came to mind. "Then again she might enjoy someone trying it, too." Though not the toughest, fastest, or most "bad-ass" of the Marines aboard the Defiance, she'd earned her reputation as an ass kicker several times over, seemingly enjoying the challenge.

 

TCS Chicago; Captain's Quarters
0730 Hours

Inside his small quarters, Colby laid asleep on his rack. By no means comfortable, it was passable when exhaustion had sat in. Beside his rack, mounted on the wall, was an information panel. It had readouts of the ship's activities such as course, speed and other readouts that were of interest to a captain. Just below that was a comm panel. Similar to every other comm panel in fleet ships, it had a mic/speaker and several buttons. Each button represented a specific department or location. One was labeled, "Bridge" while others were, "Wardroom," "CIC," "Engineering," and so on. Then there was the Push-to-Talk button. This morning, it was the Bridge button that illuminated, the voice on the other end that of Commander Galloway.

"Bridge to Commodore Colby."

Mildly irritated from being awakened, Colby rolled over in his rack, looking at the panel and pressing the Talk button. "What do you want?"

"Bridge to Commodore Colby."

Colby looked at the panel and pressed the button again. "This is Colby, go ahead."

"Commodore Colby, this is the bridge."

Colby pounded on the comm panel. "Does nothing work on this damn ship?"

Overhead, a ship-wide announcement was heard. "Commodore Colby, your presence is requested on the bridge."

Colby groaned, swinging his feet over the edge of the bunk and working to freshen himself up. Long ago, he'd gotten into the habit of not changing out of his uniform, as captains of ships rarely get more than a few hours of sleep at a time. By remaining in uniform during catnaps, valuable time was saved when the Captain was needed again.

On his way to the bridge, Colby stopped by the wardroom. He poked his head in the galley and saw the ship's chef working to prepare the noon meal. Since his promotion the mess chef had functioned as Colby's enlisted aide, performing basic tasks wherever necessary.

"Wiggins, have someone look at my comm panel. The damn thing is broken."

"I'll pass that along, sir, we'll get it fixed" Wiggins said.

Colby smiled. Since his promotion, this was the best surprise. He'd gotten to know Wiggins and been constantly surprised by how thorough the man was. Colby definitely thought that this man was on his way to bigger and better things and Colby would definitely do what he could to help. He made a mental note to ask Wiggins what his aspirations were.

Turning to leave he added, "Oh, I'll want to take dinner in my cabin tonight." He read the expression on the chef's face and added, "Not feeling too social today."

Always proper, Wiggins nodded and said, "Of course, sir," and went back to his preparations.

 

TCS Chicago; Bridge
A Few Minutes Later

Once on the bridge, Colby made his way to the XO. "What's so damned important?"

Cdr. Galloway glared at Colby for just a moment before reporting. "Sir, we just received the go message from the Defiance. The 6th UBW Corvette Squadron will be rejoining us for a time. We've been requested move up to a rendezvous point, and Commodore Riviera has expressed a wish to speak with you when convenient."

"Well then, set course for the rendezvous point, ahead two-thirds" he says snidely. The 6th BW corvette squadron and the 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron had split from them for a time after they had left the main fleet, to minimize the chances of being detected as they hunted for the enemy carrier group. "I shouldn't need to be here to tell you that." Colby began to walk off the bridge, calling over his shoulder, "I'll establish contact with Commodore Riviera from my cabin."

Galloway just glared at Colby as he left. The Weapons officer walked up to Galloway and said, "Someone's awfully grumpy today. Suppose someone's been into the sauce again? Man, I just wish someone would straighten him out once and for all."

Galloway's eyes widened as he stared at the young Lieutenant. "Is that a threat against your captain, Lieutenant?"

"Of course not, sir, but you and I both know that he's not half the leader that we need. Maybe he was once, but he's just dead weight now. He's not only causing more grief and headaches than ever before, but he's totally unpredictable. One minute he's your best friend, the next he's yelling at you for something you did a month ago. Come on, do you actually think that if we'd have been in port when he killed that crewman in engineering, he would have been allowed to just walk away from it??" The young officer paused a moment, fitting the pieces together. "We haven't even reported that incident, have we sir? We're just going to write him off as a casualty and no questions will be asked, right?"

Galloway was silent for a moment, confirming the Lieutenant's suspicions. "Yeah," Galloway says, "he's definitely got a serious problem."

The Lieutenant walked back to his post and Galloway mumbled, "One that someone should fix."

 

TCS Chicago; Captain's Quarters
0740 Hours

Colby settled behind his desk and activated the comm terminal. A radioman in the radio room answered, with whom Colby requested to be put through to Riviera. Less than a minute passed before Colby saw the image of Riviera on his screen, the Border Worlder having only to activate the comm panel in his quarters as he worked on plans for the next strike. A red light on the side of the screen blinked a few times and then glowed green, indicating that the channel was secure.

"Commodore Riviera, this is Commodore Colby. I understand that we'll need to work closely on this one."

"That's my understanding as well, Commodore," he replied, waving a hand at the various folders and data cards sprawled out on his desk, the only clutter in an otherwise spartan room. "I'm sure you know the situation, but let's recap. Admiral Hanton has a specific mission in mind for us: tackling a Nephilim force composed of a cruiser, carrier, three destroyers, and four corvettes, plus their fighter cover. Have you received the data on it?"

"I have" Colby said. He picked up a folder on his desk and looks inside. "Plans from Admiral Hanton indicate that she plans to draw most of the Nephilim fighters away before we get there, so fighter cover should be light. Have you any initial ideas on how to handle them?"

"Well, I was thinking of dividing our forces and using them to separate the Nephilim force. That way they'll be easier to handle, picking them off a little at a time. Maybe have my 'vettes and the PT boats hit the light Neph ships, assisted by your fighters and the Jaguars the admiral is loaning me. That would just leave the cruiser and carrier for your destroyers and the loaner Avengers, and if they're free the corvettes. I also think my carrier should tuck in with the destroyers. It would only slow down the PTs and Halseys, and of course, 'speed is life,'" quoting the fighter pilot's maxim.

"Doubly so when rumbling with those Orcas. Corvettes and PT boats -- especially not the latter -- don't have the firepower for an out-and-out slugging match." Hopefully, Riviera noted silently, he won't be too offended at the "baby talk." I don't want to just assume what he does and doesn't know. Ass-u-me. "I'd guess they're guarded by 45 to 50 bug fighters, the minimum I'd want around if I had an exoskeleton."

"I was thinking the same. We'll have to hit them hard and fast before they can recall their fighters from the scrap with Admiral Hanton's group. So what's your force look like?"

Riviera sighed quietly. "It's not pretty. Two of my corvettes are dead, and the other two are low on torpedoes. No reloads, since we've not been able to resupply," he explained. "With the First Torpedo, though, that shouldn't be a great problem. Fighters are better, with the Avengers from the Freedom and Jaguars from the Valeria. Full strength, with a little better loadout than the peacetime wing, with the Jags replacing Intruders and Avengers stepping up to the plate for the lost Vindicators."

"Good. Commander Crisologo is the CO of the 1st, I'll contact him and let him know that for the duration of this battle, he'll be under your command."

"Aye. If you'll pardon me, I have some preparations to make before we meet at the rendezvous point. See you there, Commodore."

"Godspeed, Colby out."

"Godspeed to us all," Riviera muttered to the now dark view screen.

 

TCS Denver; Officer's Wardroom
1220 Hours

Commander Wehrmann finisheed up his lunch, listening to the other officers' chatter in the wardroom when she walked in. One could feel the tension rise in the room as the former squadron commander, Major Lewis, sat down across from Commander Wehrmann. Anything but slowly, the other officers left one by one.

Bunch of traitors, Wehrmann thought to himself.

"So am I to live out my days updating and sending out sitreps and fitreps for the crew?" she lead out with.

"If you keep that tone up, then I'd have to say yes, probably so."

She just glared at him for a full minute. He continued eating, which made her fume all the more.

"You had no right to ground me, and certainly not for this long! When am I going to get back in the cockpit again??" she demanded.

Wehrmann stared at her, wide eyed that she would even propose him letting her off the hook. "You killed a man, Maria! Your belligerence to the shore patrol was heinous, and I hear they're considering banning all Confed ships from the port at Rulas III! Your conduct sparked three other brawls ashore from personnel under your command, and you barely escaped a life sentence on that planet! And you think you're command material!?!? To tell the truth, the only reason that we haven't returned to homeport to hand you over for court martial is our present situation. I strongly advise you to view this as your twilight tour, Major, because I can guarantee you that when we do dock, you will be smartly escorted to the nearest brig!"

Lewis stood silent, unaware previously of the gravity of her situation. Her parents, Academy professors, friends alike had all warned her that her temper would one day get the best of her, but up until this point, she had relied on her good looks to get her out of most situations. Wehrmann now stared into the depths of her soul, seeing her worst fear: being taken out of the cockpit. She stood defenseless before him. Confusion, anger, depression, fear, all these and more surged through her at a rapid pace. Wehrmann slowly made his way to the door and her primary emotion once again took control.

Lewis blocked his path, throwing a finger in his face. "You and I both know that I'm the best pilot on board this ship. We also know that we're going to need every pilot and every ship out there when the shooting starts up again. You don't have a choice but to put me back on flight status."

He took a step closer, bringing himself within centimeters of her face, and brought his voice down to a whisper. "We also know that you're not the leadership that this squadron needs, or can afford out on the battlefield."

"The pilots need me," she offered.

"The pilots have barely noticed that you're gone," he lied.

"You need me," she said.

"I can make do without you," he countered.

"You want me," she almost whispered.

This time, Wehrmann was struck speechless. Without realizing what he was doing, he bridged the final few centimeters between the two to embrace Lewis in a passionate kiss, her hand traveling to his groin. After what seemed like forever, he whispered back, "You'll be back on the flight roster."

 

TCS Chicago, Bridge
1645 Hours

Galloway glanced at his watch. Colby had asked to be awakened at a certain time and it was getting close. "Glen, you have the Conn. I'll be right back."

With that, the Galloway headed off the bridge to Colby's quarters.

 

TCS Chicago; Medical Office
A Few Minutes Later

Ensign Shane Marks sat behind his desk updating the crew's medical records following the latest round of Space-Crud tests. Even in this advanced era, personnel were still prone to sustaining minor discomfort to fairly major symptoms as a result of shifting from real planetary gravity to artificial gravity. Not to mention the various degrees of gravity on each different port they stopped at, there were also various diseases at each port -- most of which had been charted previously. As a result, after each port-call, it took the medical officer aboard roughly a month to give the entire crew a clean bill of health again. Monotonous, but one small step in the ladder of a military medic. This day would be anything but routine, however.

A frantic call came in over the PA system, "Medical! Get to the CO's quarters, double pronto!" It was Galloway, Marks realized. He leapt from his chair and strode out the door in less than a heartbeat, grabbing his med kit on the way.

Upon his arrival at Colby's quarters, he bolted through the already opened door and stopped. Colby laid sprawled face up in the middle of the room. Galloway was kneeling beside him, performing rescue breathing. Marks would have run to Colby quicker, but one more moment of hesitation was caused by the state of Colby's quarters. There are empty liquor bottles lying around and spilled on the floor. Marks ran over to Colby, pushing Galloway out of the way as he performed a quick exam. Sweat formed on his brow as he groped at Colby's wrist, then his neck. Turning to Galloway, he said, "I can't find a pulse."

 

TCS Los Angeles
Engaging the Nephilim forces
One hour later (1752 Hours)

The nerve-wracking boom rumbled as the nimble craft jarred violently again, another barrage of energy fire beginning to chew through the armored hull of the Torpedo Boat. 3 Morays swarmed around the craft inside the mle that was the initial engagement zone. Nearly forty enemy fighters lit up the radar screens, raking across the exploding storm of battle near the enemy battle group. The Angeles jarred violently again as another volley ripped through the weakened shields.

"GODDAMNIT!!! Get these fighters off our asses before they start punching fucking holes in it!!!" Lt. Commander Crisologo snarled to anyone who would listen on the open comm channel. The man was in his late twenties, about 28, but he never admitted to it. He had a build of an average size with a height just below six feet. He made a mad dash to a fire extinguisher, spraying off a blaze that blew up near his command chair. He cursed as he slapped at a small burn mark on the leg of his set of Navy Blue BDUs, the uniform unique to the PT boat crews. He leapt back on to his command chair as a single Tigershark screamed across the view screen, followed a moment later by a Manta, which itself was under fire from an Intruder behind it.

 

Jaguar 204
About The Same Time

"Ah gotcha, Angel, don't you fret none. Yee-haw! Come git some bugs! Ol' Blackjack's got some bug spray for ya!" Though normally an Intruder IV pilot, Lt. Wilson's craft was down for repairs. With Lt. Wellington's arm run through by the shrapnel that killed the Deck Division CO, she was unable to fly her Jaguar. Needing every available hand to fight, Caesar gave Blackjack a crash-course qualification in the heavy fighter, a move the loquacious Texan doesn't seem regret in the least. "Gawd, I like this firepower," he muttered as his tachyon cannons ripped into a Moray, shredding the alien fighter's shields while driving it off of the Los Angeles' tail.

 

Jaguar 201
About The Same Time

"You may even get to keep it," Reese commented, the Texan's mutter not quiet enough to avoid being detected by his helmet mic. "Just remember you're flying a heavier craft that don't turn as good. Like when you have a Manta on your tail," Caesar added, sailing over the other Jaguar's canopy to engage the Nephilim fighter tailing Blackjack after dropping a pair of ImRecs at another Moray harassing the TCS Los Angeles. "Watch your back, Jack."

 

Loki System
Near The Enemy Battle Group
Over The Next Few minutes

The Valeria's Jaguars were embroiled in an all-out battle with the bug fighters, keeping them busy enough for Hydra Flight's Vindicators from the Defiance to take down the extra shield generators on the Orcas in relative peace. "Peace" being if you ignore the maser turrets seeking to swat the light bombers from the sky.

 

Jaguar 201
About The Same Time

"Gryphon Flight," referring to the name assigned to the 4 remaining Jaguars of the BWS Defiance's original heavy wing, "break off from the fighter engagement and pull some teeth. Draco Flight," the name for Valeria's Jaguars, "keep them busy. Gryphon Flight is going to be defanging destroyers so Hydra Flight can do their thing."

 

BWS Halsey
1805 Hours

"Niven, follow us in. Start your lock on Orca Two."

"Commencing lock, opening up with the tachs," the Halsey's Weps noted. "Gonna shove it right down their damn throats," he growls, fiery eyes belying the softly spoken words. "Shit! Fire control just went. All weapons to manual aiming. Unable to obtain torpedo lock."

"I don't believe this," Donnovan muttered, activating a secure laser link to the other Border World corvette. "Niven, we just lost our fire control computer. Manual guns, no torpedoes."

"You kick access panel two?"

"Huh?"

"Panel two. Kick it. Trust me. Give it a solid whack with those boots of yours, Bill."

"If you say so, hon." Donnovan turned to face his starboard gunner. "You heard her, kick panel two."

"Umm, okay," the gunner said uncertainly, the starboard turret falling silent for a moment as he rose from his seat enough to kick the indicated panel as hard as he could. "I'll be a son of a bitch!" the gunner exclaimed as the FC computer re-engaged, hopping back into his seat to resume defending against enemy fighters.

"Lock in five, four, three, two, one. Target locked."

"Then what're you waiting for, an invitation? Let'em rip!"

After sparing a glance at the target readout, Donnovan wished he didn't, noticing the destroyer was only 3,500 klicks away according to the digital readout, the few remaining maser turrets signifying the bugs' continued attention to the oncoming armada as they wore down the forward shields.

"Aye, skipper. Torpedo away, running true. Niven's torp doing the same."

"Gotcha, Jimmy." Activating the comm, the Donnovan called out, "Fork in the road, Niven." The corvettes peeling away from each other to loop around for a second passed, the rear turrets strafing the Nephilim capship to suppress its maser fire increasing the chances for the Border Worlds Lance torpedoes.

 

TCS Los Angeles
About The Same Time

Just beyond the bedlam of the fighter battle, Crisologo saw the two Border Worlds corvettes engage the Nephilim destroyer at point blank range, exchanging energy fire with the larger warship before raking it with a torpedo from each of the UBW craft. The destroyer erupted in a spectacular explosion as fighter craft from the DESRONs and the BWS Defiance tore into the fray, the corvettes whipping around to engage another escort.

 

Tigershark 307 (from TCS Balboa)
About The Same Time

2nd Lieutenant Edward "Burn" First slammed down on the afterburners, letting the agile fighter scream above the marred surface of the TCS Los Angeles. Burn demonstrated the touch of skilled marksman as he gently tilted the targeting reticule of his energy cannons into the line of one of the torpedo carrying Mantas. The flashing burst of energy struck across a short 30 meters, punching through the withered shields of the Nephilim heavy fighter. He watched the rippling energy oscillate before pulling the trigger once more. The blazing streams of energy tore through the hardened alien carapace hull before ripping its still-unknown energy core, instantly igniting the alien fighter into a fireball.

"One more time!" Burn let out his victory cry, pulling into the aft of another Manta.

The space battle was in complete chaos, the lighter ships from the two sides in the thick of battle. Over 40 smaller craft from each force were swarming the battle scene, the heavy human fighters outnumbering the alien mediums and heavies, with the superb flying of the combined Terran forces only increasing the gap given the lack of the usual Nephilim numerical superiority.

Groups of Excaliburs, Thunderbolts and Tigersharks from the Confed destroyer squadrons mix it up with bug fighters as the Murphy-class destroyers break off and go after the enemy cruiser and carrier. Torpedoes launched at medium range by the Thunderbolts take out the remaining corvette while damaging a Destroyer.

 

Excalibur 802 (From TCS Lucas)
About The Same Time

"Watch your tail, Alpine!" Capt. Rebecca "Becky" Hernandez warned, swinging her Excalibur around the Los Angeles. Her eyes were trained on the attacking Morays as massive bolts of energy ripped apart one of the bug fighters. The TCS Santa Fe's forward weapon batteries unleashed a fury of energy at the fighters filling the space between it and the TCS Los Angeles.

Without saying another word, the veteran fighter pilot dove towards the sole Devil Ray of the Nephilim fighter group, the bulk of its heavy fighters away at the strike on Battle Group Valkyrie. She guided her well-tuned fighter right behind its aft section. The sweet tone of a missile lock rung in her ears as the two missiles lurch from under the belly of Excalibur, streaking towards the fighter within milliseconds as it detonated, previously weakened from another engagement in the current fracas.

 

TCS Santa Fe; Bridge
About The Same Time

"Engage that intact destroyer, hail the other PTs, tell them to follow us in. FIRE!!!" Signs of damage flickered red on the main Video Display. The destroyer's weapon batteries trained their weapons on the Santa Fe as the Confed boats unleashed a spread of torpedoes.

"Right behind you, Reed," Commander Liard of the TCS Las Vegas replied personally to the captain of the Santa Fe. Engaging the massive destroyer from the port side, both torpedo boats press in hard, closing the 10,000-klick gap between them. Commander Reed watched the spread of torpedoes streak across into the crisscrossing storm of point defense around the Orca-class destroyer. One, then two of the four torpedoes blew up harmlessly in space as the Orca trained its turrets guns on both Torpedo boats.

"Sir, Orca is launching torpedoes, six of them, and half are headed this way," the Santa Fe's Ops Officer reported. Commander Reed turned his head to the weapons officer, the young gunner's mate knowing what he wanted to hear.

"Impact in 7 seconds, sir." The veteran skipper took only an instant to come up with a plan as he stared at the enemy torpedoes on the viewscreen. The dark glistening hull of the Alien starship bristled with its massive weapons and energy turrets in its strange asymmetric design. The massive organic ship bombarded the Las Vegas as the torpedo boat returned fire.

"Show me the path of the Orca's torpedoes!!! Now ours!!!" The weapons officer took less than a second to superimpose the crossing lines on the map as both torpedoes intersected each other. The weapons officer caught on quickly to the Commander's plan.

"The torpedoes will cross in 3... 2..."

"Detonate the remaining torpedoes!!!" Reed ordered as he watched the remaining 2 torpedoes ignite in darkness of space, engulfing the Orca's torpedoes and turning them into a blossoming blaze of fire in space.

"Torpedoes have been destroyed. The Vegas's torpedoes are going to impact in 5 seconds."

The spread of another four torpedoes streaked across the superheated patch of space, trailing the red glow of burning residue as they continued on their trajectory.

"The damn thing isn't attacking the torpedoes!" 1st Lt. Hartigan exclaimed in surprise.

"We blinded it..." Reed mumbled, keeping his eyes on the viewscreen.

"Impact in 3... 2... 1..." A spread of four Matter/Antimatter torpedoes slammed into the hull of the Nephilim Orca, igniting the surface of the ship with flashes of light before ripping the destroyer apart with the force of the explosions. The bridge crew roared up in a cheer as they watched the obliteration of the Nephilim warship.

 

TCS La Junta; Bridge
1809 Hours

"Finish off that Orca!!!" Lt. Grate shouted into the open comm channel.

A pack of four PT Boats sped around the damaged Nephilim destroyer, firing in all directions. Armed with dual Heavy Mass Driver Cannons, the PT Boats had the punch of the Plasma Cannon of a Devastator with a faster rate of fire. The La Junta pulled a hard turn, setting itself up for another bombardment with its powerful cannons.

The small Torpedo Boat curved towards the starboard side of the Orca, lining itself up. Suddenly all weapons on the Nephilim destroyer ceased firing, then unleashed their full fury to the La Junta. The massive barrage of energy fire brutally hammered the Torpedo Boat, the continuous hail of energy ripping through the shields of the ravaged human vessel.

"SHIELDS ARE DOWN!!!" the ops control yelled, straining to see through the smoke and dimmed red lights around the bridge. Minor explosions began to erupt every time a single bolt of energy tore through the armored hull. The klaxon blared around as hull breaches peppered the tiny ship. The loudspeaker was screaming out a damage report from engineering while weapons control launched everything that they have, ignoring a need for an order. His helmsman yelled at him through the chaos while struggling to steer the ship clear.

"We cannot survive any more of -- "

The TCS La Junta ignited with a flash of white light from the inside of the ship. The reactor core ruptured, the Del Rio, Las Vegas, and Sacramento watching in horror as it vaporized in a massive conflagration.

 

TCS Del Rio; Bridge
About The Same Time

The retaliating volley of the Del Rio's twin Mass Driver cannons raked across the weakened hull of the Orca, triggering explosions on impact. The flashing bursts flared across the heavily reinforced armor surface, the bridge crew able see the visible cracks widening, exposing the burning chaos within the destroyer. It took a few seconds before massive explosion tore through the port side of the ship, cleaving a massive area of the ship's hull. A sight never seen by the crew of the TCS Del Rio, exposing to space the number of decks running straight through the ship. The ship began to drift off in an unguided direction, the alien hulk continuing to burn brightly within the darkness of space.

The Del Rio's viewscreen's left corner window appeared with Commodore Riviera. The image flickered and wavered but was audible.

"Let's finish this up. Two of your PTs are reporting heavy damage and cannot engage the Nephilim ships. Lt. Commander Crisologo, I want half of the remaining 1st Torpedo to cover those ships while the rest of the PTs and my corvettes help finish off the remaining Nephilim ships. That should be ample firepower to wipe out those sons of bitches."

"Is he serious?!" Helmsman 3rd Class Herman Wellington spat out with a surprised look on his face.

"The man knows what's he's doing. Let's finish this."

 

TCS El Paso
1815 Hours

"Hey, wait a second," the El Paso's captain muttered as he provided fire support for the corvettes as they attacked the heavy bug capships from the rear, the hammer to smash the cruiser and carrier against the anvil of the DESRONs. "I recognize that spic. He was Confed during the first Kat war. Served under Hanton, even."

"Small world," the weapons operator muttered, his focus on the remainder of the alien fighters. "Border World torpedoes impacting in four, three, two, one, impact. Both hit, carrier engines destroyed."

"Very well. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but were those torpedoes Lances from the first Kilrathi war? I've not seen detonations like that other than in Tri-D movies of the first Cat war."

The sensors operator checked her controls and nodded. "Yessir. Those were war-era Lances."

"Sneaky sons of bitches must have had those stashed somewhere," he said with a chuckle, open admiration in his voice.

 

Avenger 301
1820 Hours

"Chicago reports cruiser down!" the Avenger's co-pilot screamed into the inter-comm, not able to contain his excitement.

"Confirm. Carrier?" Major Hitchcock snapped. He got his callsign because he never had words to spare, in combat or out of it.

"The corvettes took out her engines, sir. She's dead in space."

"Good. Diablo Flight, go."

All six of the Border Worlds bombers flew in unison towards the helpless enemy carrier. One by one, they lined up their attack runs, arming the deadly warheads that could shred any warship. The few enemy fighters still buzzing around them were easily brushed off by the human fighter pilots. The Nephilim never had enough fighters for this battle... and were about to pay for that.

Lock tones sounded in all six cockpits. Six thumbs smashed down hard on six sets of firing keys. Six bombers peeled off as six sets of torpedoes streaked towards the crippled Leviathan.

The warheads plunged straight the carrier's shields. The sheer force of their impact took them deeper still, though the armored hull, and into the heart of the wounded giant. There, they exploded, deadly anti-matter blasts that tore the carrier from the inside erupting. The warship groaned, shuddered, and ripped itself apart. An eye for an eye, a carrier for a carrier, though none of the Border Worlders knew this yet.

"Scratch one flat-top!!!"

Once all of the Nephilim craft were destroyed, the various squadrons regrouped to lick their wounds and count the missing. For once, the Border Worlders got off lucky, only one of the capships having sustained significant damage. The BWS Defiance was short a few turrets, and had a gaping hole in its port bow from a Squid that didn't manage to avoid hitting the carrier while boosting away from a Tigershark that was engaging the alien interceptor. Two Border World fighters, one Intruder and one of the remaining Vindicators, were destroyed, and another half dozen needing varying degrees of repairs.

Confederation forces, however, didn't fare so well: in addition to the loss of the TCS La Junta, two PT boats needing massive repairs to be combat ready, as did the TCS Manchester of the 15th Destroyer Squadron. On the fighter side, six TCSF craft were lost: four Tigersharks, one Thunderbolt, and one Excalibur, with another three fighters requiring minor repairs.

 

BWS Defiance; Bridge
1900 Hours

"Bring up the Chi-town, Comms. Put me through to the Captain," Riviera ordered from the bridge of the BWS Defiance.

"Aye, sir. Commander Galloway on the horn."

"'Galloway'?" the Commodore asked in confusion as the commander's face appeared on the viewscreen, though difficult to discern through the static caused by damage given by a lucky stray shot of a Manta's plasma gun. "Where's Commodore Colby, Commander?"

"He's resting right now, sir," the destroyer skipper smoothly lied. "There was an accident earlier, and he's currently under doctor's orders to rest. I'm currently in command."

"Very well. Until given further orders by Admiral Hanton or when Commodore Colby is fit to resume his duties, I'm taking temporary command of Confederation forces. Border Worlder or not, I am currently the senior officer until Commodore Colby returns to duty. Besides, this is just a pleasure cruise," Riviera added with a wry grin. "I don't think there will be much further happening. Do keep an eye out, though. Save the celebration for when we return to our respective ports," he cautioned the TCN officer. "Any questions, Mr. Galloway?"

"None, sir. Forming up now."

"Very well, Chicago. Riviera out." After the screen turned dark again, the Commodore turned to the on-duty communications technician. "Pass the word to the rest of the local fleet. Captain Bernard, you have the bridge. I'll be in my quarters." Riviera walked with a heavy step off of the bridge, earning a brief look of concern from Bernard, who shrugged and returned his attention to the status of his ship as the door slid shut behind Abbey's commanding officer.

 

TCS Los Angeles; Bridge
Several hours later

After a few hours of rest, Alex felt a bit better, until the losses from the battle finally got to him. The La Junta was destroyed with all hands, the loss of several crewmembers on board the Del Rio, Las Vegas, San Francisco, La Jolla, El Segundo, and most notably the Sacramento, all of which received their share of Nephilim cannon fire. Opening a channel to all of the PT boats, Lt. Commander Crisologo stood up and gazed into the view screen. Alex wore a new set of Fleet Blue BDUs with the sleeves properly rolled above his elbow (US Army style). In his hand he held a box two by three feet. Clearing his throat, he started his little informal ceremony.

"To those who know about the 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron, there is history in such a craft. I was waiting for the day when we were going to be tested in the fire and come out victorious. I believe that day has come. This is a day where we can say we have earned the right and a day we can always honor our comrades who died alongside us. There was a point in 20th Century history, where the United States Navy had an elite force of PT Boats that fought in the rivers of a place called Vietnam. These men served a purpose, and a mission that could only be accomplished by them. They identified themselves with honor by wearing this." Alex opened the box to pull out a black beret. He adjusted the black beret, revealing the insignia of the 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron, the silver NERV Leaf over a Confederation Star. He placed the box onto the chair before wearing the black beret and continued his address of the torpedo boat crews, "To all the Torpedo Boat Captains, look under the seat of the Captain's Chair, and you will also find a box similar to this one." One by one Alex passed out the symbol of the Terran Confederation's Torpedo Boat's testament of fire, handing one over to each of his crewman and Marines. "There are eleven Berets inside that box, to the crewman and the Marines who serve on board, they are a part of this as we are. Let victory bring us home. Godspeed to all of you."

 

FIN