PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 66 of 66 )

: The Tiger Hunt
PART 18 OF 18 : THE LAST RETREAT

"The true leader offers his Warriors in sacrifice only when there is no
alternative; the true Warrior offers himself in sacrifice in the knowledge
that only thus will the battle be won."

- Kilrathi Proverb (from the Seventh Codex)
 


BWS Valeria; Bridge
Loki System, Near The Loki-Nifelheim Jump Point
2100 Hours, 15th Feb 2681 (2681.046)

Admiral, Intell reports that they've finished compiling our recon data with the reports from the other battle groups. Downloading to your terminal now."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Admiral Hanton said absently, her attention focused on absorbing the data now coming up on the screen in front of her. The units of the Combined Fleet had by now gathered at the rendezvous area near the jump point, ready for the next stage in the conflict. The Admiral had already decided what that next stage was going to be, but before she committed to that decision, she wanted to review the complete data from the Loki campaign one last time, and make sure there was no detail she had overlooked.

Admiral Hanton was honest enough with herself to realize that she also wanted to reaffirm the decisions she had made in this stage of the battle before she moved on to the next stage. In a campaign as brutal as this battle to hold the line was, where losses were heavy and the deaths of hundreds of good men and women was almost a daily occurrence, it was all too easy to lose confidence in her own plans and strategies. That data in front of her was a concrete way of measuring the gains from her decisions against the costs, a way of answering the nagging doubts that crowded into her mind in the dark of night. It wasn't much, but it was all she had.

As expected, the Border Worlds fleet carrier groups had taken the worst losses. They had been put in the unenviable position of playing the bait in the trap that Admiral Hanton had set for the Nephilim. The Border Worlders had lost 85 fighters altogether, either destroyed or so badly damaged that they were unfit to fly. That was over 40 percent of the 200 fighters they had at the start of the Loki battle. They had also lost the fleet carrier Littenia, along with several escorts. For all intents and purposes, the battle for this system had cost the Border Worlds Union a complete carrier group, a massive loss considering that the entire Border Worlds Navy had only a handful of fleet carrier groups to begin with.

The Admiral smiled slightly. Of course, Border Worlders being Border Worlders, they had made Nephilim pay for that loss, and pay dearly. The Nephilim had lost roughly 750 fighters to the guns and missiles of the Border Worlds pilots, along with roughly a dozen and a half capital ships. Of those, the Border Worlders had killed about 400 to 450 of the enemy fighters, along with the bulk of the capships, during the all out assaults when the Nephilim had come at them with all guns blazing. Naturally, those big assaults were also where the Border Worlders had suffered most of their fighter losses, as well as all their capship losses.

The remaining 300 or so fighters and the remaining capships had been destroyed piecemeal, either when the Border Worlders ambushed Nephilim scouting groups early on in the battle, or when they had crushed Nephilim nuisance raids during the nights of the 13th and 14th. In these smaller battles, the Border Worlders had often been able to gain numerical superiority (or at least fight on even terms), allowing them to inflict heavy losses at a low cost to themselves. By combining massive raids with constant harassment, the Nephilim commander had hoped to stretch the Border Worlds pilots to the breaking point and beyond, in the end overwhelming them. As the numbers showed, that strategy had backfired in a big way.

Those who had compiled the report who had also added a footnote on the fighter kills, which differed in some respects in those from earlier battle reports. There were a couple of reasons for that. First, the fact that the Nephilim outnumbered them so greatly had provided a target rich environment, which generated a lot of kills, but also some confusion over kill counts. Second, the Border Worlders had eschewed the traditional dogfight in this battle whenever they could, relying instead on dirty tricks and weapons of mass destruction like nuclear tipped CSM missiles, which again made kills harder to ascertain. Last but not least, Nephilim cluster technology clouded kill counts, as there were no hard and fast rules on what could be claimed. (Did Remoras count? Is vaporizing a Skate-B cluster one kill or six? Does breaking up a Stingray cluster without taking out any of the Stingrays count as a kill? Et cetera, et cetera.) The final figures were therefore Intell's own estimation of the damage the Border Worlders had done.

In a comparison of direct losses though, the Border Worlders would at best break even. They had destroyed more ships and far more fighters than the Nephilim had, but the loss of the Littenia had hurt them severely. However, the true price the Nephilim had paid for attacking the Border Worlders had been paid indirectly. The aim of the battle in this system had never been for the Border Worlders to take on and destroy the Nephilim. The victories they had achieved, while impressive, were just the icing on the cake. The cake itself was the fact they had kept the Nephilim carriers and their fighter wings focused on finding and attacking the Border Worlders for three whole days. By drawing off so many of the Nephilim fighters, and splitting up the Nephilim fleet, the Border Worlders had rendered the Nephilim wide open to attack by the Confed carriers and capship squadrons.

As for the Confeds, they had played their part to perfection. The two Nephilim dreadnoughts, already damaged during the Nephele battle, had fallen behind the Nephilim carriers as the carriers moved to attack the Border Worlders. The Yorktown and the Valley Forge had been able to hunt down and destroy those dreadnoughts as they lagged behind, short on fighter support and too far away from their carriers for help to reach them. Meanwhile, the Endeavour group and the 8th Cruiser Squadron had been able to ambush and wipe out one of the three carriers attacking the Border Worlders. Similarly, the lighter capship units, lead by the 15th DESRON and supported by the escort carrier BWS Defiance, had been able to ambush and eliminate a second carrier group. Unfortunately, the third carrier had seen the way the tactical situation was developing, and had been able to disengage in time.

However, that one escape certainly didn't overshadow the fact that this carefully baited trap had been a great success. In addition to the two dreadnoughts and two carriers, the Confeds had been able to eliminate four heavy cruisers, nearly 30 destroyers and corvettes, and roughly another 650 Nephilim fighters. The reason the fighter kill was so low, of course, was that most of the Nephilim fighter cover had been battering itself to pieces against the Border Worlders. The total number of kills in this system, counting both those made by the Confeds and Border Worlders, came to two carriers, two dreadnoughts, half a dozen heavy cruisers, over 40 destroyers and corvettes, and about 1,400 enemy fighters.

This operation had also proven, if any more proof was needed after the last two weeks, that Confed and Border Worlds forces could work very effectively together. Each had depended on the other. The Border Worlders had survived because the Confeds had been able to hunt down and eliminate the Nephilim carrier groups fast enough to prevent them form being overwhelmed. The Confeds had been able to able to gain the kills because the Border Worlders had willingly stuck their heads into the tiger's jaws, keeping its attention focused on them, and not on the hunters sneaking up behind it.

Unfortunately, the hunters had taken their share of losses as well. The most severe of those was the loss of the Valley Forge, who had gone down fighting and taken the enemy dreadnought with her. The Valley Forge had played a pivotal role in the campaign to date, and her loss would be deeply felt throughout the Combined Fleet. By a miracle, though, both her battle group and a good portion of her fighter complement had survived, and were now based around the strike cruiser TCS Hades, which had joined the Combined Fleet in violation of direct orders from ConFleet HQ. There had already been protests lodged with the Border Worlds government, requesting the return of the Hades and the arrest of her captain for mutiny. As far as Admiral Hanton was concerned, ConFleet HQ could go perform an anatomically impossible act upon itself. The Hades' skipper had put his freedom and his career on the line for a chance to hit the Nephilim, and she wasn't going to meekly turn him over just because someone who wore a few stars more than she did said so.

Fighter losses had been heavy as well. The Valley Forge group had been the hardest hit of the Confed units, losing 40 fighters, but that was counting the fighters lost with the carrier. The other groups had fared much better, attacking as they had in the face of light enemy fighter cover. The Endeavour group and the capship force had lost about 15 fighters apiece. The Yorktown had only lost two, though there were another two dozen fighters who would be out of action for some time with severe damage. Those losses, along with the 85 fighters lost by the Border Worlders, brought the total number of fighters lost to 157. However, the fleet had gained a dozen fighters when the Hades joined them, so the "net loss" was 145 fighters.

The losses in the Loki campaign had been heavy, all right. Had they been worth it? In terms of cold, hard military logic -- the Admiral refused to let herself think of it in any other terms, for the sake of her sanity -- the answer had to be a resounding yes. The recon data had confirmed that the trap Hanton had set in this system had broken the back of the Nephilim fleet once and for all. The once mighty Nephilim armada, which had started the battle against the human fleet in Tyr with six carriers and two dreadnoughts, was now down to a single carrier. The rest of the fleet, even counting those reinforcements that had trickled in through the wormhole over the last two weeks, was now down to two cruisers, a dozen destroyers, and half a dozen corvettes. The total number of fighters was estimated at 600, a mere shadow of the 3,500 or more fighters that the Nephilim had at the height of their strength. The humans smashed the Nephilim fleet as a credible threat, it was a simple as that.

Of course, the net losses in the brutal battle fought across three systems were far from one-sided. The Combined Fleet now had only 350 operational fighters from the 750 it had started out with. In other words, they had suffered over 50% fighter losses in just two weeks of fighting. The pilot situation was somewhat better, as many of the pilots who had been shot down had been recovered safely. Even so, well over a third of their pilots had been lost in action, with several others injured. The remainder were all exhausted by two weeks of nearly non-stop combat, patrols and alert duty. That exhaustion was mental as well as physical, coming from the knowledge that at any moment they would have to throw themselves into battle against overwhelming odds. So far, they had held up, but they were fast approaching their limits.

The pilots weren't the only ones who had suffered heavily. The Combined Fleet had started the battle to hold the line with six operational fleet and light carrier groups; Battle Group Valkyrie and the Littenia group from the Border Worlds Navy, as well as the Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Valley Forge and Endeavour groups from ConFleet. Of those, the Bunker Hill group had been lost outright. The loss of the Littenia and the Valley Forge, along with the losses of escorts from their groups and from the other carrier groups, meant that the fleet had effectively lost two more complete carrier groups. As with the fighters, that meant they had lost 50% of their carrier strength in just two weeks. Human casualties were far worse than among the pilots, with literally thousands of good people killed when those carriers went down.

Similarly, most of the capship groups had been reduced to about half strength by the bitter fighting they had seen in the Tyr, Nephele and Loki systems. The 8th Cruiser Squadron, which had started out with four cruisers and four destroyers, was now down to three cruisers and two destroyers. The 15th DESRON was down to five destroyers from the eight it had started out with, while the 18th DESRON was down to four from eight. The 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron was down to five from the twelve boats it had started with, while the 6th Corvette Squadron was down to two corvettes from four. As with the fighter pilots, the crew of the surviving capships had been worn out by the constant fighting, and were badly in need of a break.

In a nutshell, that was the state of the two fleets. The massive Nephilim armada was now at a fraction of its former strength. However, because it had been so much bigger to start with, it still had a two to one edge in fighters, though the humans were now ahead in capship strength. The humans, who had started out with a much smaller fleet, had lost about half their strength. While they were now in the better position, they were hampered by exhaustion and mental fatigue. Also, they were running short on missiles and other supplies. However, the humans did have an ace in the hole, because they now had the reserves in Nifelheim to support them. By now, the reserve groups should beefed up Nifelheim's defenses to create the perfect killing ground. Not only that, the reserves would have plenty of supplies.

For Admiral Hanton, the crucial question now was whether to go after the Nephilim here and now in this system, trying to end the battle with one decisive strike, or to draw the enemy to the next system, where the reserves, supplies and prepared defenses were waiting. The thought of trying to finish the battle as fast as possible was the most tempting one. She had no doubt that her pilots and crews could finish the remnants of the Nephilim fleet if ordered them to, even without the help of the reserves and the defenses. It would do a whole lot for her peace of mind if those Nephilim ships were wiped out here and now.

However, there were also good reasons for stacking the deck in her favor as much as possible before the final battle. Admiral Hanton had spent most of her life in combat, and she knew that there was no enemy as dangerous as one that was fighting for its survival. With nothing to lose, the Nephilim would fight and nail, and had the potential to cause heavy losses among her pilots and crews before they went down. Those losses would be minimized if the humans had a chance to a rest, however brief, before the main battle, if the humans were fighting on ground that suited them, and if the numbers were in their favor. The addition of the reserves would give the human fleet the advantage in both fighters and capships.

The arguments for either course of action of action were equally compelling. In the end though, it was the thought of what all that the men and women under her command had achieved over the last two weeks that swayed the Admiral. They had thrown themselves into battle time and again against massive odds, doing whatever needed to be done, whatever Admiral Hanton had asked of them. Many of them had paid the ultimate price for that courage, sacrificing themselves so that the battle could be won. In the same way, the Admiral had not had any hesitation in issuing orders that had sent them to their deaths, because that had been the only way the battle could be won. What she refused to do though, was to sacrifice any more of them than she had to. They deserved better, especially after all the courage and loyalty they had shown throughout the battle. She had to give those who were left the best possible chance of going back to their lives and families. She owed them that. Two-way loyalty might be a concept as old as warfare, but it was just as important now as it had been in the time of warring tribes and feudal warlords.

"Signal the fleet," she said abruptly to her comm officer. "We're pulling back to Nifelheim."

 

BWS Valeria; Bridge
Jumping Into The Nifelheim System
Loki-Nifelheim Jump Point
2300 Hours, 15 Feb 2681 (2681.046)

The jump point flared open in a crescendo of white-purple fire, as the tachyon fields generated by several Akwende drives ripped apart the fabric of creation, creating a hole in the space-time continuum. A flight of Excalibur heavy fighters hurtled across hundreds of light years. The fighters instantly disappeared as they entered the Nifelheim System, their cloaking devices hiding them eyes and sensors alike. The Excalibur pilots quickly detected the fighters and capships that were waiting for them in Nifelheim. The IFF codes checked out though, and the all-clear signal went back to the rest of the fleet.

The Vampires from the TCS Yorktown jumped though next, followed by the fleet's Panther squadrons. Two weeks of combat duty had raised paranoia to an art form among the crews and commanders of the Combined Fleet, and they were taking no chances, even when jumping into a system that had been secured by friendly forces. Right after the fighter units came the lighter capships, jumping into Nifelheim in rapid sequence. After them came the carriers, with the ships of the 8th Cruiser Squadron forming the rearguard.

Once the cruisers had come through the jump point, and the Valeria had secured from jump stations, the bridge officers turned their attention to the fighters and ships that were waiting to meet them. The welcoming committee included two squadrons of fighters, one of whom were flying Marauders and Intruders while the other flew Excaliburs. There were also two capships, one a Border Worlds light cruiser, the other a Confed heavy cruiser. The fighters accelerated slowly towards the Combined Fleet, while the two cruisers held back.

"Open a channel to those fighters," Admiral Hanton ordered her comm officer.

"Aye, aye, Admiral," the officer responded, and then added a few seconds later. "Link open, Admiral."

"This is Admiral Erin Hanton, CO of the Combined Fleet. You have no idea how glad we are to see you people," the Admiral said warmly.

"Lieutenant Colonel Paul Onslow, CO Scrapper Squadron, Border Worlds Militia," one of the Intruder pilots replied. "And the feeling is mutual, Admiral. We were half expecting..."

"Major Michelle Ross, CO Black Knight Squadron, ConFleet Reserves," one of the Excalibur pilots cut in sharply, sounding annoyed at being left out.

"Sorry," Colonel Onslow apologized. "As you can see, Admiral, both the Confed and Border Worlds reserve groups are here, plus some extra back up that we picked up along the way. There's a whole of lot Confeds, Border Worlders and Tanfenners here who are cocked, locked, and ready to rock."

"All of our groups are assembled a little further into the system," Major Ross said. "The capships will escort you to the staging area, Admiral. Our two squadrons have been ordered to cover the jump point. There are another half a dozen squadrons on their way in reinforce us, so you don't need to worry about watching your backs."

"Excellent. My pilots and crews could certainly use a break, so it'll be good to have someone else take over the watch for a while," Admiral Hanton replied. "Now, I'll leave you to your job. Valeria out."

"Get some down time, Valeria. God knows you deserve it," the Militia Colonel said before shutting down the link.

"Helm, match the speed and course of those cruisers. Maintain 10,000 klicks separation to allow us room to maneuver," the Admiral ordered, hiding a smile. In any other service, Colonel Onslow would have been severely reprimanded for presuming to give advice to an Admiral, but that was just par for the course in the Border Worlds.

"Aye, Admiral."

"Comms, signal the other units to the same. Also, order the Wing Commanders to begin cycling their squadrons back to the ships as those reserve squadrons come in. Once the fighters are on board, all pilots and crews except for essential personnel are at liberty till 1200 Hours tomorrow. The reserve units will give us time to scramble if the Nephilim come in before that. Tell the crews to grab as much downtime as they can."

"Aye, aye, Admiral."

All around her, the Admiral could see the bridge crew already beginning to relax, some of the tension and strain that had been so evident over the last two weeks starting to melt away. She knew that they would make the most of the 12 odd hours she had given them, a much needed break between the struggles they had seen so far, and final conflict that was still to come. As for herself though, she simply didn't have the time or the inclination to relax, not until this battle was finished once and for all. She turned her attention to her computer terminal.

 

ACCESSING DATABASE....

PLEASE ENTER REQUEST.

REQUEST : ASTROGRAPHIC DATA, NIFELHEIM SYSTEM

ACCESSING FILE...... ONE MOMENT, PLEASE

DISPLAYING DATA NOW


Nifelheim System Data : Nifelheim is a single K-series orange main sequence star that supports six planets, detailed below.

Nifelheim I : This planet orbits Nifelheim at a distance of 0.2 AU, half the distance from Mercury to Sol. However clouds of various corrosive nitride compounds reflect a great deal of the star's energy, meaning the temperature only ranges from 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than the metal-melting temperatures of Mercury's surface. Still, the temperature, the corrosive atmosphere, the lack of free-standing water, rough and broken terrain and gravity of 1.47 G all combine to make Nifelheim I almost uninhabitable. People still try because Nifelheim I holds vast mineral wealth, especially radioactives, industrial ores such as iron and bauxite, and various crystals and gems.

Nifelheim II : The sole habitable planet in the Nifelheim system, Nifelheim II orbits its star at 0.6 AU. 80% of its surface is covered by water and this, coupled with the tropical heat and 1.1 G gravity, makes it uncomfortable at best. People suffering from any respiratory ailment, especially asthma, are urged to ensure they have appropriate medication close at hand. The atmosphere is a standard oxygen-nitrogen mixture that means that while respirators may be helpful they are not required.

Most of Nifelheim II's surface is covered in lush jungle similar to the Amazon rainforest of Earth in the early nineteenth century, except for the capital city. The cooler polar regions have temperate forests; however even at the poles the 27-hour day often reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Several of the lusher polar regions, as well as most of the equatorial belt, have been declared a nature reserve open only to research expeditions studying the vast variety of flora and fauna. The harvesting of native flora and fauna in approved areas is Nifelheim II's major industry, unlike the rest of the system, which focuses on mining. Seventy percent of the system's population of 150,000 call Nifelheim II home.

Nifelheim III : This world is a medium gas giant, similar in size to Neptune in the Sol system. It orbits Nifelheim at a range of 1.8 AU and is the innermost planet to have any moons. It plays host to 4 medium moons, 10 small moons and 12 moonlets.

Nifelheim IV : This world is a large gas giant almost as large as Jupiter in the Sol system, however it is more often likened to Saturn for its spectacular rings. Nifelheim IV has a large number of moons including one giant moon, one large moon, 8 medium moons, 11 small moons and 7 moonlets. It orbits the system primary at a distance of 3.4 AU.

Nifelheim V : Nifelheim V is an airless terrestrial world almost as large as Earth but much less dense, accounting for its low gravity of 0.69 G. A small mining operation on this world focuses on harvesting its large reserves of light metals such as bauxite and sodium, as well as modest amounts of certain rare and exotic minerals. It orbits the system primary at a distance of 6.6 AU.

Nifelheim VI : Nifelheim VI is a small world, approximately the size of Pluto, ringed by a small asteroid belt. It orbits the system primary at a distance of 25.8 AU and in turn is orbited by 3 medium moons, 6 small moons and 11 moonlets.

Other Features and Notes : In addition to its planets the Nifelheim system also possesses two asteroid belts, one at 1 AU and one at 13 AU. The inner one is heavily industrialized with most of the thirty thousand miners making their homes on Avernus Station, the main starbase in the Nifelheim System, in the heart of the belt. This belt also contains an experimental fighter-testing base, jointly operated by the Border Worlds Union and the Tanfen Corporation. The outer belt has a much smaller population and is a far more dangerous stretch of space rife with claim jumping, theft, sabotage and outright murder.

Infrastructure :  Nifelheim II is the heart of the Nifelheim system with nearly three quarters of the system's population living in the capital city of Jorgenson's Wreck. Approximately thirty thousand miners and support personnel live and work in the inner asteroid belt, leaving just over nine thousand scattered throughout the various other settlements.

One of the system's larger independent facilities is the Aligheri Correctional Facility on Nifelheim I, a mine that uses prisoners sentenced to hard labor as its workforce. Housing almost a thousand prisoners and staff, the Facility produces three quarters of the minerals mined on the system's inhospitable innermost planet.

As mentioned earlier a large portion of Nifelheim II's surface area is classified as a nature reserve. Two corporate research centers and one research centre run by the UBW government study various aspects of the planet's ecosystem and biosphere. The government-run centre is currently studying the possible effect of weather control on the planet. One of the corporate sites, run by the Tanfen Corporation, is located on the floor of one of the oceans assessing the commercial potential of the aquatic flora and fauna. The third center is located in the heart of tropical jungle doing the same thing to the jungle ecology that the Tanfen facility is doing to the oceanic one.

One of the major problems faced by any protected ecosystem is poaching and Nifelheim II is no exception. Despite the best efforts of local authorities smugglers and privateers do a roaring trade in whale teeth & ivory, seal fur, summerfig wood and various other goods from the restricted areas. Rumors abound of a well-organized criminal syndicate coordinating most of the smuggling from a base in the outer system but no evidence has been found to support this theory.

END OF FILE

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LEAVING DATABASE....

 

BWS Valeria; Command Briefing Room
Fleet Staging Area, Nifelheim System
1200 Hours, 16 Feb 2681 (2681.047)

Admiral Hanton had called a meeting of all the Combined Fleet's senior officers, along with those from the reserve groups, to update them on the current situation and to map out a strategy for the battle in this system. The Nephilim still hadn't jumped in after them, but it probably wouldn't be very long now. If there was one thing you could count on about the Nephilim, it was their dogged persistence. They never gave up, never retreated, never surrendered.

The Admiral was gambling that even though the humans now had the edge, the Nephilim would still try to finish the battle once and for all. It just the latest in a series of gambles she had taken over the last two weeks. Those gambles had paid off, and she had out-thought the Nephilim at every turn, taking a human fleet that had been massively outnumbered and had very little hope of survival at the start of the battle to very brink of victory. If the Nephilim remained true to form, this battle would be over very soon. If not, and the Nephilim actually ran, the humans would have to hunt them down. That would be time consuming, but hardly difficult.

As usual for these meeting, only the officers from Battle Group Valkyrie itself were physically present in the briefing room, with the officers from other units taking part via vid-screens that had been set up around the room. Looking at the officers, Admiral Hanton could see that the short break had done them all a power of good. Most of the people in the Combined Fleet had done the sensible thing, catching up on much needed sleep. That hadn't stopped some of the younger crew from holding a few low-key parties, letting out some of the stress they had all been under.

Now, they were all bright eyed and eager. They wanted to finish this just as much as the Admiral did. They all knew that pulling back to Nifelheim had been very differ ant from all other withdrawals they had been forced to make over the last couple of weeks. This time, they hadn't been forced to retreat in the face of a superior enemy force, but had simply pulled back to rearm and regroup. They all knew that this had been the last retreat. Now it was time to finish it.

"Alright, let's get started," the Admiral said. "Now, I'm sure that most of you know some of the details of our situation, but none of you have the full picture. That's what this meeting is about.

"First, the tactical situation in Nifelheim. Virtually all the system's population has been evacuated over the last two weeks. The only people left here are our forces, militia pilots, and volunteers who are manning the defenses. That'll leave us free to maneuver and fight in this system without worrying about collateral damage. I don't have to remind that you that forces which are on the verge of losing often do desperate things. If the Nephilim resort to using nuclear or biological weapons, there won't be any civilians caught in the firing line.

"Second, the fixed defenses. As I understand it, the reserve groups have been able to install orbital defenses around Nifelheim II. There were also already defenses in place around Avernus Station and our fighter-testing base. In addition, the reserve forces have sown the jump points leading into the system with inactive, sensor-stealthed mines. Our techs believe that as long as the mines are inactive and not emitting tracking signals, the Nephilim won't be able to detect them until its too late. The bombers from the reserve groups have just finished mining the jump point we came through."

That last was merely a sensible precaution. Even inactivated, the mines could be dangerous to ships that were jumping in. Bad things tended to happen when a ship tried to jump into a space that was already occupied by a solid object, as it was physically impossible for two objects to occupy the same space at the same time. When that happened, both objects often vanished without trace.

"Third, the state of the reserve forces. Both the Confederation and Border Worlds reserve groups have brought about 125 fighters each. While these are mainly second line craft, they should be more than enough. In addition, there are another 50 odd 'surplus' fighters from the Border Worlds reserve group. These will be flown by pilots from the main fleet who have lost their fighters.

"We also have another 36 fighters from this system's own defense forces, which are based on Avernus Station and Nifelheim II. The fighter testing base can contribute two squadrons of prototypes and test fighters, and another two squadrons of frontline fighters from their defenses, which is 60 fighters in all. That, along with the 350 fighters left in our fleet, gives us a total of almost 750 fighters."

The Admiral allowed herself a slight smile as she relayed that in order. Some of the resources at her disposal, such the surplus fighters from the Border Worlds reserve group, were there purely due to luck. The rest though, including the fighters from Avernus Station and the fighter-testing base, were there due to good planning. The reason that she had chosen Nifelheim as the site for the final battle over two weeks ago was because it had so many resources and defenses ready to use. They would be final nail in the coffin for the Nephilim.

"Okay, that's the situation. Here's what we're going to be doing..."

The meeting went on for another couple of hours, as the officers sorted out all the details of movement and logistics. The basic plan the Admiral outlined, though, was elegant in its stark simplicity. Once the Nephilim jumped in, a radio signal would activate the mines, sealing off the jump points, and locking the combatants into this system. The humans would then use the mines and fixed defenses as an "anvil," trying to pin the Nephilim against them. The human fighters and bombers would act as the "hammer." First the fighters would use their numerical and tactical superiority to rip apart the Nephilim fighter cover. The bombers, along with massive fighter escort, would then wipe out the Nephilim capships. This battle would be unlike any the humans had fought so far, because this time it was the humans who were going for the kill.

It should be simple.

It should be easy.

It should be a cakewalk.

Right?

Right?

RIGHT???

 

FIN