PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 55 of 66 )
“ End of the Spiral ”
“Stand to your glasses ready,
This world is a world full of lies.
Here’s a health to the dead already
Hurrah for the next man to die!”
- From "Stand to Your Glasses!" (WWI)
Planet Laifen, Union of Border Worlds
14 FEB 2681/2681.045; 1700 Hours ZULU
The Patriarch paced the
grounds of his massive stateroom, deep in thought. His steel gray hair would
turn even greyer at the thought of the things occurring now at the borders of
the Family’s domain. Even now, Union and elements of the ConFleet Naval forces fought a desperate battle to halt an enemy that was like
a force of nature. Near unstoppable, relentless, with no possibility for
negotiation or mercy. The fact that the Confederation were doddering about the
issue by withholding the Inner Worlds Fleets and more concerned with saving
their own hides was both amusing, and exploitable. One thing the Terran
Confederation did not skimp on was arms purchases. Their Confederation Branch
was making landmark sales records, almost as much as back during the K-Wars
when Confed simply bought weaponry as soon as it rolled off the production
line. The same held true for the Union in this hour of crisis.
Only yesterday did the Union authorize the purchase of nearly a hundred thousand tons of munitions, spare parts and armament worth several billion credits to be delivered, to, of all places, Nifelheim, the site of their secret prototype testing base. There had been several objections from the Families as to using what was supposedly a top secret base for a battleground, but they were annulled when both Family and invited Union strategists pointed out the rather obvious benefits of Nifelheim Station in rather glowing terms. Not to mention, most of all, that Nifelheim was insured down to the last bolt. From his own sources, he had ascertained the Admiral’s plan. It was audacious, but it did emphasize the Unions strengths as well as maximizing the use of local terrain. Tanfen’s natural tendency to fortify sensitive areas to the point of being strongpoints capable of holding off even a Porhen hunter killer unit only made more sense to the Admiral’s plan. The only thing the plan lacked was enough ships to pull it off.
Certainly, the killer satellites they had placed throughout the area would take
a toll on the enemy. In addition to the anti-matter mine fields and the
conveniently placed asteroid belt made it difficult to maneuver if one did not
have an exact astronavigation map of local currents and gravitational
influences. If one did not have an exact nav map, a ship could be shredded in an
asteroid field by unpredictable asteroid movements or run astray of small hails
of micro-meteorite fragments that could shred shields and tear through hull
armor like a battery of gauss rifle rounds.
Tanfen ingenuity insured that certain larger asteroid fragments were kept in place with small geo-stationary boosters and then reinforced in sections with durasteel hull plate so that fighters could use it to pick off incoming enemy fighters as they passed through the gauntlet. They were protected by both the rock and durasteel, like a fighter-sized bunker of sorts, along with the added bonus that the fighter itself was difficult to detect barring visual sighting. The ferrous quality of the asteroid field made detecting another hunk of metal an equally difficult, if not nigh impossible task. Still for all of the Union’s bravery and Tanfen’s sheer ingenuity, the Darkness’ sheer numbers would most likely prevail. It would be a difficult battle, certainly, but no one said that life, or fighting for it ever was easy.
Tanfen normally insisted on cash, preferably upfront, and were adamant at selling on credit. Nevertheless, a Union victory was the only acceptable outcome. Any other alternative, and the Corp would risk losing all they had built up over the years in the Union. Tanfen Confederation and Tanfen Andorra could handle the load, but the Homeworlds were just that-their home. No one else could take that away from them. Ever since their forefathers left the shores of China, and a host of other countries in search of a better life, they all wanted, needed, fought and bled for one thing. A home.
After centuries of sacrifice, they had found not one, but two. And not even the hordes of Hell were going to take it away from them. Being rather cash strapped at the moment, the Union instead allowed Tanfen mining claim concessions on several other worlds, as well as generous tariff and duty rates. That was business. That was acceptable.
One thing neither the Patriarch, nor the Families Lai and Gan would budge on however, was the issue of additional reinforcements to the front. The Senate, even though it passed a bill ordering all Homeguard units to the front lines, had little effect on the TSF. It was all the more amusing since the L&J with simple aplomb denounced the move and invoked Clause 78. A Homeguard unit had a right to defend its homeworld first, in light of an obvious threat. Simple as that. No other clause barring a direct order from the Union Supreme Court could overturn that, and at the rate things were going, getting a legal case sorted through before Armageddon occurred was not on the high list of priorities of any government. The Senate was literally jumping up and down in anger at that. They could take all the time in the Courts if they wished. Not that Tanfen cared. Family and corporate lives were already lost as it is. To throw more into the struggle was stupidity, and sheer waste. And the Homeworlds were to be defended, at any cost.
His gaze took in the wall of weaponry that graced one panel of the room. Some he captured on the field of battle when he was much younger, some were gifts from those who knew the Family well, others were curiosities, oddities and rare weaponry brought in from nearly every civilization and culture known to humanity. An Egyptian khopesh sat in a place of honor along with an ancient Chinese butterfly sword, in itself sitting above a notched and well-worn regressive two-handed sword. Other oddities along the wall were a Porhen Jaeger vibro hatchet, still stained with blood and an ancient slug thrower, one of the first weapons created from ancient times on Earth that fired caseless rounds. In faded writing on its polished sides, the well maintained weapon still read H&K G-11. The patriarch gave a wry smile and thought of grabbing the two handed sword off the wall, like he had when he was younger, and then go out and simply cut his problems down to size. But seeing that at the stage he was at now, a pack of L&J attack lawyers were more effective than a ravening pack of Loyalists with him at the head. Subtlety does count, even with the Corp.
A coreward map of the galaxy on the far end of the room depicted the crescent like wedge of the Union of Border Worlds, and highlighted in green, Tanfen facilities and outposts. Slowly, as reports from the front from TISD and the TSF reached Laifen, the map updated itself, showing the battlefront, as well as lost or destroyed Tanfen facilities glowing in crimson. He did not need to see the screen.
The numbers were already burned in the back of his eyes, after dozens of meetings with fellow Family members and Gan and Lai representatives. Harsh words, harsher arguments and a feeling of grim desperation surrounded them all. Billions of credits in shipping lost, hundreds of Homeguard mortally wounded, or worse in the hands of the Children of Darkness, and Porhen Industries even now gearing up for a concerted knockout punch that could hurt even a mighty mega corporation. And even now, the Union Senate was insisting that it remain neutral from Tanfen’s Blood War with its mortal enemies, yet, still insisting, even demanding that Tanfen assign more and more of its TSF to Homeguardsmen duty.
Leaning back, seemingly out of sheer disrespect of protocol, was a green haired woman, equally as old with gray streaks in her hair, taking a glass of chilled water. Though she was clad in full body armor, she was equally at ease in it. Every time she moved, her armor, Archer and reg claymore jingled. At the door were two of her brethren, also clad in full body armor, and holding their naked blades point down on the floor as sentinels. She had little doubt the seemingly impassive sentinels would burst into action at the drop of a pin. She had trained them that well.
"It’s about ten minutes to show time, milord.”
"I know Branford, yet, you drink?"
The woman nodded and grinned. "Aye, water it may be. But steady nerves I need now milord. To calm the nerves for I worry more for your safety than yourself."
The man snorted. They had been through more scraps and skirmishes than almost anyone else alive in the Loyalist Order. "Bah - you worry for me more than my wife. See her? She is calm… collected."
Branford gave a snigger. "Right. Then why is it she was prancing up and down yesterday and demanding Sue Yen to clad you from head to foot in a personal force shield, not to mention Class III body armor?"
The Patriarch simply shook his head. "I will be fine. She is easily
flustered. I know the risks and…"
The screen behind him changed from the disposition of corporate assets into the rotating stallion head logo of the corporation, followed by the TISD logo. Branford stood up and walked up to, and behind his right. Sue Yen Ng Lai appeared on the screen, her face framed with elegant raven locks of hair. Her eyes caught the president.
"Milord President, this is an unusual transmission that I feel requires your direct attention. It comes from the UIS, and is appended with our standard security protocols and comes on a secure channel, but is still untraceable. The proper passcodes were given, and if my assessment is correct, I have President Cale of the Union of Border Worlds on the comm. Should I let TPRO handle this?"
She left it unsaid that most likely Cale was insisting that Tanfen commit more of its TSF to Homeguard duty, and then engage the Nephilim on the front lines or at least act as roving combat patrols near the front lines. No matter, he would deal with it properly. He had more important concerns, namely the Blood War.
"Patch him through please, Miss Sue." Branford stood out of the holo cameras radius and crossed her arms even as she silently muttered to herself. ’The Ice Queen, and her accursed political machinations, not to mention damned politicians…”
Sue faded, to be replaced with the UIS logo of a raven, and then the symbol of the Union of Border Worlds. The Patriarch put on his best smile as President Harold Cale of the UBW appeared.
"President Cale, what a pleasure to see you. How may I help you?"
"I’m fine. Have you eaten yet?"
The Patriarch nodded. He was an astute man to honor his culture so. Back in the ancient days of immigrants off to distant lands, to have a meal was a luxury, so much so, his ancestors, and the Family’s ancestors often asked each other when they met whether they had eaten. It was a custom handed down, and now used as a customary greeting with old friends.
"I have, Mr. President. If you like, I would like to invite you here to Laifen, to sample our fine cuisine. A scallopian fang mignon perhaps?"
President Cale gave a smile and nodded. "In good time, Patriarch. In light of recent events, I’d like to discuss your commitment as a member of the Union of Border Worlds, and in regards to that, your commitment towards the defense of the Union."
"As I have stated before, Mr. President, in this hour of crisis Tanfen Corporation must defend that most important of its assets, the Homeworlds. I have already spared all I can, including providing logistics support, and additional materiel at a generous concession to your frontline forces. In fact, the convoy is away now, escorted by the TCS Hades."
Cale gave a nod. "It is so, and I thank you for your generosity, but please do reconsider, for the sake of everyone in the Union. As you know, the Confederation has still refused to commit the Inner World Fleets to the battle. Andorra does not even care. We are in this alone. The TSF and TASC are the largest pool of trained troops we have that can move on such short notice to reinforce and commit to the front lines."
"Your compliment is appreciated, but the TSF have their duty to protect the Homeworlds, Mr. President. I feel we have made that point clear in the Senate."
Cale leaned closer to the screen. "I understand also that the Families have been suffering a spate of financial, and legal altercations, not to mention several incidents with Porhen Industries of late. And that your assets are being redeployed to deal with these problems" He left it unsaid that the Blood War was already nearly at its bloodiest pitch. The recent full-scale battle on Gemini Prime certainly provided enough propaganda and hate for both sides. Not to mention the financial and legal war happening even now. Weaker subsidiaries were being snapped up now, by of all things, non Feud involved corporations seeking to cash in on the conflict.
"Yes, that is true. We have been having…disagreements with our associates in Porhen," the Patriarch put it mildly.
"If I said that in a quid pro quo arrangement that I can relieve your burden somewhat would you reconsider TSF redeployment? Unofficially speaking, as I understand, about several UIS agents would be having a junket on Laifen. Perhaps, if you would speak with them, they could assist you in your difficulties?"
The Patriarch could read between the lines. He was assigning the UIS to assist Tanfen, in exchange for brute military assistance. During the Secession War, and the recent Black Lance Incident UIS was infamous for and specialized in industrial sabotage and subversion to impede the Confees… as well as fatal accidents. TISD Intell combined with UIS skill made for a powerful combination. Certainly, brute force was not quite possible at the moment in the Blood War. The situation now called for subtlety. Even though both sides employed combat troops, skirmishing was occurring mostly at places out of the public eye. Most of the war still occurred in the Trading Pits and in the halls of finance, power and legal justice. Having assets there would be more useful. For now.
"Interesting. By sheer coincidence, I recall the 44th Blades were to be reassigned for transfer to Nifelheim soon."
Cale stopped breathing for several seconds. The 44th Blades, “Damned for all Eternity” were an anti-Porhen unit, specially trained to counter Porhen offensives and consisting almost entirely of members who despised Porhen to the core. The UIS had earmarked them before. Their fighting style was merciless, relentless and brutal. They did not fear death. They welcomed it. That the Corp was willing to relocate one of their most veteran units to the Union spoke of great faith and commitment.
"I see, Lord Patriarch. I appreciate your frank exchange of ideas. I will forward a list to Sue soon." He left it unsaid that the list was the set of code phrases to activate UIS deep cover agents in Porhen and near Porhen affiliated facilities and also to get them to do interesting things.
"Always a pleasure to speak to you, President Cale. The 44th should arrive within 72 hours at Hellespont. Please give Hanton my warmest regards. Thank you for your time."
"You, too. Good day." The screen faded, to show the Tanfen logo once more.
Branford shook her head. "Milord? Have you lost your mind?"
The patriarch chuckled. "Oh no, Branford… far from it. It was a relatively fair exchange. Brute force for subtlety."
Branford gritted her teeth.
"Milord, Bellamy had the 44th earmarked to move out to defend our forward
base at Maywan. Without those reinforcements, we can’t extend our reach on the
Archipelago. We’ve almost reached their main HQ planetside. Just a bit more,
and we’ll crush them and wipe them from the face of the planet!"
"I know. We can shift several elements from the 160th and the Cougars to hold onto the line, but our primary concern now is to staunch the flow of collateral damage from the accursed Porhenners. We have achieved most of our military goals, but TISD has taken grievous losses of late. We cannot keep allocating TSF units to protect our convoys and holdings and continue being on the defensive. UIS offers that chance for us to shift the balance of the war. They can make up for that loss of the 44th, and drive Porhen from the Union, at least, their more overt holdings and cause a loss of their momentum, enough to perhaps also impede their advance."
A bell chimed. "We can argue over this later, Branford. It’s show time."
"Aye, I’ll inform the pilot."
CARRIER BATTLE GROUP AURIGA, CVBG-A
TCS Shrak’har; Flight Deck
The Loki System, Vega Sector, Downing Quadrant
1715 Hours (CST)
Ensign Jediah Wright, "Jed" to those that knew him, maintained a quiet post beside the primary hangar of Catharx’s Fralthi II-class cruiser, the Shrak’har. The now-busy beehive of shuttlecraft activity and techs still cleaning up the aftermath from CVBG-A’s "Omega Strike" didn’t even seem to affect him, let alone bother him away from his reverie.
"Heya, Jed," came a voice that should have been familiar to Jed, for it belonged to Lieutenant JG Amy St. Germain. A love interest of his, of a sort.
"Hello, Amy," Jed replied after a considerable pause. "You all right?"
Amy forced a smile for her friend. "Yeah, hangin’ in there. You, on the other hand... man, you look like shit. Getting any sleep?"
Amy wasn’t in her uniform at the moment, Jed noticed as the woman came up to kneel beside him and rest an arm of comfort on his shoulder. Jeans, sneakers, and a baseball cap that would be more likely seen on some greasy tech than the former senior comm officer of the late, great Valley Forge.
"Well, here we are, Jed," Amy said after a heavy sigh. "After all the shit that went down... the two of us are still here, huh?"
Jed turned weakly to exchange a glance with her, and then returned to his lonesome stargazing out the viewports. "Yeah... we are, I suppose."
Amy gave his shoulder a clap, and then rose to leave. "Look, I’ll see you around... catch up with each other -- hasn’t been a lot of time for that recently, y’know."
As Amy left the Kilrathi cruiser’s flight deck, Jed shook his head scornfully. Not at her, of course, but at the sheer magnitude of just how dismal the situation was that he and his few surviving peers now found themselves trapped in.
Looking about at Jed’s Cat hosts as they scurried about with their business, he couldn’t help but feel that maybe his late friend Matt Turner had gotten the better half of the deal with his own fate. "Yeah, Amy..." Jed spoke to no one but perhaps his own inner demons, "... we’re still here, aren’t we?" He brought his hands to bury his face in them. "And I suppose... I suppose we should feel pretty fucking lucky about that, shouldn’t we...?"
Unspoken scorn from the Kilrathi around, wounded fellow humans from the Forge that the Cats’ med bay couldn’t hold tended to, dead looks from flyboys that had seen enough fighting in the past few weeks to sate even the most bloodthirsty, cocksure pilots of the Space Force’s ranks.
Jed Wright may have survived one Hell... but it was only to fall into the embrace of his very own.
They’d traveled the downward spiral only to go further down... were they now, at last, reaching the end?
1720 Hours (CST)
Visible in the main viewscreen of the Shrak’har, fires and explosions still wracked the shattered hulks of the Nephilim vessels and TCS Valley Forge. No more than a broken and twisted shell, she tumbled forlornly in the void, seemingly still writhing in the agony of her death throes. Debris and wreckage crisscrossed the scene of destruction, plasteel and ceramite fragments and even body parts that spun lazily between the remains of once-mighty warships.
Dodging between them were also several SAR-23 Condor shuttles picking up escape pods. Many pods were packed with injured and exhausted survivors but plenty of others contained only corpses, those pods unable to get far enough clear of the Valley Forge and the Tiamat dreadnought before their final deadly embrace.
"How many have we rescued?" Kalahn Catharx nar Vukar Tag dai Nokhtak, the TCS Shrak’har’s CO -- and as such, the CO of CVBG-A’s remains -- asked without shifting his gaze from the macabre but compelling panorama displayed on the viewscreen.
"Around a thousand, my liege," Shintahr Jak’ra nar Sho’lar, his XO, informed him. Catharx did not reply, standing a silent vigil for the dead.
One thousand, he mused, one thousand out of over three. It beggars belief that a man could kill so many of his fellows at one stroke. Two thousand enemies, yes, but friends and comrades? What was Schaefer’s motive? What sort of a man could do that, and why?
"How long has the SAR effort been going?" Catharx demanded.
"More than three hours, Kalahn."
"And the last survivors? When were they picked up?"
"Approximately an hour ago, my liege."
"Call off the search," Catharx ordered. "Recall the shuttles and plot a new course: We will rendezvous with the rest of the fleet."
"Aye, my liege."
With that Catharx turned and stalked from the bridge.
Kalahn’s Private Quarters
1739 Hours (CST)
TO : firstname.lastname@example.org
CC : intell-reps@confedHQ.com
FROM : email@example.com’har.crew
SUBJ : CARRIER BATTLE GROUP AURIGA STATUS REPORT (INTERIM)
Battle Group Auriga achieved her mission in the vicinity of Loki IV-6 on 2681.045 c. 1415 Hours Confed Standard Time.
The primary mission target, 1 (one) Nephilim Tiamat-class dreadnought was destroyed.
Secondary targets 1 (one) Hydra-class cruiser, 2 (two) Orca-class destroyers and 3 (three) Barracuda-class corvettes were also destroyed.
Approximately 100-150 enemy fighters were also destroyed.
Battle Group Auriga losses are as follows:
TCS Valley Forge, a Concordia-class fleet carrier
40 A/C, breakdown as follows:
3 x F-106 Piranhas
18 x F/A-105 Tigersharks
6 x F-108 Panthers
6 x F-110 Wasps
2 x TB-81B Shrikes
2 x B-7 Dauntless
4 x Bloodfang B Mk2
Air wing casualties are 27 KIA, 13 MIA (see attached file for listing).
Current casualty figures are estimates, but approximately 2,000 TCN personnel are KIA/MIA. In addition, 17 TCMC were KIA.
Among the TCN casualties are Captain Eldon Vandermann (MIA, presumed dead), Lt. Commander Ishii (MIA, presumed dead) and Commander Nathan Schaefer (KIA). Ranking Chain of Command officer is Lt. Susan Anderson.
Remaining battle group & composition as follows:
TCS Shrak’har (form. KIS Shrak’har ras Kt’ann), Fralthi II-class cruiser
Shintahr Vrahnek nar Vukar Tag commanding
TCS Nagato, CAA-08, Plunkett-class heavy artillery cruiser
Cmdr. Tomoyasha Hotei commanding
TCS Ohlander, DD-17, Murphy-class destroyer
Cmdr. Andovar Podovsk commanding
TCS Condor (form. BWS Condor), FF-135, Caernaven-class patrol frigate
Capt. Abraham Watterson commanding
* Kalahn Catharx nar Vukar Tag dai Nokhtak has assumed temporary command of CVBG-A following destruction of Valley Forge. Awaiting further notice from Confed HQ.
Kalahn’s Private Quarters
1829 Hours (CST)
TO : firstname.lastname@example.org’har.crew (re-routed)
Message from email@example.com
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Reply-To: _blank <email@example.comHQ.mil>
From: _blank <firstname.lastname@example.orgHQ.mil>
Subject: Request for Intel Report update
Date: 2681.045 00:49:02 +0200
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
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FROM : email@example.comHQ.mil
SUBJ : Request for Intell Report update
ATTN : Lt. Col. Ethan Coliver
Herewith you are requested to submit a detailed (as detailed as possible) intelligence report about the latest happenings on board the TCS Valley Forge, CV-53. This report is primarily be directed into the events/reasons for the sudden change of command from Captain Eldon Vandermann to Commander Nathan Schaefer, the status of the findings as why Vandermann was taken under arrest and the apparent negligence of the CIC that lead to the sacrifice and subsequent destruction of the Valley Forge.
Independently to your report there will be an investigator assigned to the case. JAG Major Helmut Hoth will be arriving within the next 24 hours to lead the official hearing and to assist in the investigations.
We expect your full report ASAP.
"Ah, thank you, Kalahn, sir," said Lt. Commander Ethan Coliver, still head Intell spook of the CVBG-A remnants. He’d been allowed to access to the Shrak’har’s equivalent of a captain’s day cabin to personally receive this high priority message.
That was quick! he thought, referring to the very unusual short time this intelligence report came after Valley Forge all-too-recent catastrophe.
"Sir," he addressed the Captain. "May I ask whether and if when you sent a report to Confed HQ and/or to Fleet Operations at Torgo…?"
[Fleet Operations at the 3rd Fleet HQ based in Torgo was the one in charge for the HTL campaign on the Confed side of it.]
"That was about an hour ago, Lieutenant Commander. A bit less, even. Why do you ask? Is there something the matter?" Catharx asked. His furred cheeks rose so that his felinoid eyes narrowed and could only be seen as yellow slits. A typical sign of attentiveness for a Kilrathi.
"No, nothing wrong with that. Just being curious. My job, you know…?" Coliver was quick to put it down. Not too quick hopefully to be suspicious for the superior senses of a Kilrathi, he hoped right after. He was relieved when Carthax turned around with a content groan and dismissed him.
A very contemplative Lt. Commander Coliver left the captain’s private quarters. Less than an hour. "This report is primarily be directed into the events/reasons for the sudden change of command from Captain Vandermann to Commander Schaefer."
Why? he asked himself. Sure that was as much of a legitimate question as any, yes… and yet…
Coliver felt that feeling in his stomach. That old and well-known feeling came back to his gut, the same one that told him there was more to the story when he began investigating those murders on the Forge. That feeling now that told him something was going on here - of that it was certain.
Hmmm… almost seems like we’re being watched. He froze in mid-thought. We are being watched...