PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 11 of 44 )

: Retribution
PART 3 OF 3

 

About Two Hours Later...

Deep Space, Nephele System
Near The Nephele-Alcor Jump Point
0815 Hours, 08 Feb 2681 (2681.039)

The strike group reached the target area without major incident. The only opposition they had run into had been small patrols of Nephilim fighters, which had been swiftly dispatched by the prowling Retaliators and Bearcats. Now, as they approached the jump point, the pilots braced themselves for what was likely to be a massive and brutal fighter battle. If all the careful planning and preparation paid off though, the brutality would be inflicted by the Border Worlders on the Nephilim, not vice versa.

The Nephilim fighters were aloft to meet them as they came within scanning range. The doomed Nephilim patrols had been able to give their comrades enough advance warning to scramble everything that could fly and fight. Thanks to efforts of the Bunker Hill's pilots, the total number of Nephilim fighters came to a little over 250 craft, much less than the 400 plus fighters that the Border Worlders had been preparing themselves for. Not only that, somewhere between a third and half of those fighters showed heavy damage. The Bunker Hill pilots had most certainly made the Nephilim pay. Still, in a fair fight, these 250 fighters could inflict some serious damage on the Border Worlders.

But then again, Border Worlders never did fight fair.

The first attack came as the two groups of fighters warily closed in on each other. It came not from the Border Worlds fighters, but from the Stalker EW craft. Just as they had done during that final battle in Tyr, the Stalkers began blasting a haze of electronic "noise" that scrambled Nephilim radar, communications and tracking systems, effectively leaving their targets deaf, dumb, and blind. This time, the Nephilim tried to counter the jamming by switching radar and comm frequencies, but the Border Worlders had prepared for that, and kept saturating the area with broad spectrum, frequency agile jamming. The systems aboard the Border Worlds fighters had been synchronized to the jamming, allowing them to use a handful of frequencies that were left unjammed. No matter how hard the Nephilim tried, they could never lock on to those frequencies, because the frequencies kept changing. All that preparation was paying off, and it gave the Border Worlders a massive advantage right from the start.

Now that the Nephilim were reeling from the jamming they were being subjected to, it seemed like the perfect time for the fighters to attack. Once again, though, the Border Worlders did the unexpected. The Retaliators and Bearcats broke away from the blinded and confused Nephilim fighters, as did the Jaguars and Excaliburs at the front of the wedge, giving the bombers a clear field of fire. With only two cruisers to take out, the Dauntless' hadn't needed to pack ship killer torpedoes into all their torpedo slots. Six of the bombers had each used up four of their torpedo slots for that little "surprise" they had planned. All six of the bombers opened fire at once, launching a total of two dozen Mace warheads into the heart of the closely packed Nephilim formation.

With their radar and communications disrupted, it took a few seconds for the Nephilim to react to the strange missiles being fired into their midst, and by then it was far too late. Each Mace yielded a massive thermonuclear fireball that ripped out in all directions. The fighters that were nearest the warheads when they detonated simply vanished, vaporized by the raw fury of disintegrating atoms. The fireballs swallowed these fighters and kept racing outwards, eager to consume the fighters that were slightly further away. These fighters disintegrated as the fierce heat melted and ate away at their hulls. Other fighters spun away out of control, spewing gases and bright green fluids, their structural integrity all but gone. All in all, the Mace attack managed to destroy or disable over a quarter of the Nephilim fighters, with dozens more left severely damaged.

And now, the Border Worlds fighters did attack. The Retaliators, Bearcats, Jaguars and Excaliburs that had broken away now swooped back in, raining missiles down on their reeling opponents. The Intruders opened up with missiles at the same time, as did the bombers and the Banshees. In fact, every craft that had anti-fighter missiles on board was launching those missiles as fast as it could. The Border Worlders knew that the jamming and the Mace attack had given them the edge, and they weren't going to let the Nephilim claw their way back. They intended to keep punching till their opponents were down and out.

The massed missile salvo ripped huge swathes through the Nephilim. With so many of their vital systems scrambled by the jamming, the Nephilim couldn't decoy the missiles, and nor could they retaliate in kind. They couldn't even dodge, because they couldn't see missiles coming on their radar screens. As such, the effect of the relentless assault was devastating. The fighters that had already been heavily damaged, either by the Bunker Hill pilots or by the Mace attack, simply disintegrated as the missiles hit them. Dozens of them fireballed brilliantly, debris exploding in all directions. Fighters that had been intact to start out with were crippled and sent spinning out of control. By the time the rain of missiles ended, less than a hundred of the Nephilim fighters were still intact, many of these trailing long plumes of fluid from their damaged hulls.

Now, with most of their missiles exhausted, the Border Worlds fighters swooped into engage the Nephilim with their guns, and the attack finally developed into a battle rather than a turkey shoot. For their part, the Nephilim hurled themselves at their attackers, desperate to do some damage. Even now, though, it was hardly a fair fight. The Border Worlders had a two to one advantage in numbers now, and the Nephilim were still being hammered by the jamming. They were deaf, dumb, blind, outnumbered, outgunned, and in many cases crippled. The Border Worlds fighters worked in twos and fours, singling out enemy fighters and gang banging them till they went down. The Nephilim fighters were systematically burned down and as each Nephilim fighter fell, more and more Border Worlds fighters ganged up on those that remained. The Border Worlders understood that this was war, not a cricket match, and that fairness had no place here. They were going to show the Nephilim the same mercy that the Nephilim had shown the crew of the Bunker Hill, which was to say none.

Yes, it was brutal. Then again, it had been brutal for the innocent civilians on Dakota and Hellespont who were wiped out the Nephilim because they had chosen to live in the wrong system. It had been brutal for the citizens of Tyr, forced to be uprooted from their lives and homes and dreams. It had been brutal for all those caught in the path of the Nephilim invasion. The Nephilim had shown no compassion, no mercy, and no willingness to retreat or to turn aside. You can't negotiate with an opponent like that or show him mercy. All you can do is fight him to the end. The Border Worlders knew that this campaign against the Nephilim was going to be what the Kilrathi called a Gatagak'vu, a war of annihilation. It would last until one side or the other was wiped out. Them or us, it was as simple as that. And as the Border Worlders saw it, much rather them than us.

Once the last of the Nephilim fighters had been hunted down and burnt to ashes, the Border Worlds fighters turned their attention to the five capital ships. These had turned around and were running for the Alcor jump point once it became clear that their fighters were being overwhelmed. They still wouldn't escape if they made it to jump point (as the Border Worlds bombers, Stalkers, shuttles, and most of the fighters were jump capable), but it made the whole operation much more complicated.

The ships had been about 150,000 klicks out from the jump point to start with, and they had closed that distance down to about 30,000 klicks by the time the Border Worlders caught up with them. 30,000 klicks, though, was still a good five minutes travel at a speed of 100 KPS (which seemed to be all the Leviathan and the damaged cruiser were capable of), an eternity when under attack by swarms of fighters. Now it was simply a question of whether the Border Worlders could knock them out before they reached the jump point.

The damaged cruiser was the first to go down. The ship had already been shattered by the torpedoes slammed into it by the Bunker Hill pilots, and it would only take a few more hits to put it down. For that reason, and because they were running low on time, the Border Worlders didn't attack it with Blinders or HARMs or Dauntless' as they had planned. Instead, a flight of Avengers simply raced in at full throttle, using their guns to knock out the aft shield generators, before launching a spread of sixteen torpedoes at the cruiser's stern. Nine of the torps were destroyed by the cruiser's guns, but the other seven blew apart its engines, and vaporized the aft quarter of the ship. The cruiser detonated spectacularly, literally disintegrating as secondary explosions ripped through it. However, the Avengers paid the price for their daring attack, with two of them being shot down by the cruiser's missiles as they broke off from their torpedo run.

Meanwhile, the other Border Worlds craft were systematically taking down the other three escorts. The first stage of the attack on each escort came from the Stalkers, which launched several Blinders at each ship. (Theoretically, one Blinder could generate enough "noise" to knock out each capship's radars, but that took several minutes. By hitting each ship with multiple Blinders, they could fry each ship's radars much faster, within about a minute.) The missiles had been specially designed to penetrate phase shielding, and they punched through the shields of the escorts without any trouble, attaching themselves to the hulls and doing their deadly work. The headlong rush of all three ships faltered and slowed as their radars and sensors went dead.

Next came the attack from the fighters. At least one, and often two, squadrons of fighters concentrated on each escort. They raked the hulls of the ships with gunfire, systematically clearing off the turrets and shield generators in record time. Right behind them came the flights of Avengers and Dauntless. A few seconds wait for torpedo locks, and then the warheads slammed into the hapless ships, blowing them apart one by one. As the attacks on each ship had been carried out simultaneously, all three were out of action with three minutes of the destruction of the damaged cruiser.

The destruction of the escorts simply left the Leviathan to deal with. The trouble was, the Leviathan was now less than a minute and a half away from the jump point. The trick was to disable it quickly, without blowing it apart and killing the captives that they had come to rescue.

At this point, hitting the Leviathan with Blinders would probably be a waste of time. However, the Border Worlders still had an ace up their sleeves. So far, they had been using guns to clear the hulls of the escorts, which meant that none of the HARMs carried by the Intruders had been used up yet. The two squadrons of Intruders raced in, their missiles already locking onto the Leviathan's turrets. All the fighters launched their missiles simultaneously, before breaking away in all directions. The salvo of missiles arced towards towards the Leviathan like a pack of hungry barracudas. Turrets all over the Leviathan's hull exploded in brilliant showers of fire and debris, leaving the carrier as toothless as an old
crone.

However, the Leviathan was really moving for an old crone. It was now only about thirty seconds from the jump point. A trio of Dauntlesses moved in behind the ship, using their particle cannons to take out the rear shield generators. An agonizing few seconds while the torpedoes locked, then a pair of well aimed torps into each of the main engine banks, and the Leviathan was crippled. Another pair of torpedoes from the third Dauntless shattered the jump drive, just in case the Leviathan's inertia took it near enough the jump point to attempt a jump. The rest was merely clean up work. The fighters skinned off the last few remaining turrets, while the bombers put the launchers and all except the aft portside hangar bay out of action. As far as they knew, the Leviathan didn't have any more fighters left, but there was no point in taking chances.

Once that was complete, the Border Worlds fighters deployed themselves in a spherical defensive formation around the crippled Leviathan. The Marine shuttles, which had been hanging back so far, now began moving forward. The fighter and bomber pilots had done their job. Now it was all up to Hess and his Marines.

 

Shuttle Valeria Alpha
About The Same Time
0848 Hours

Lieutenant Hess checked his rifle one last time as he heard the all clear from the Wing Commander, and then took a deep breath. He eyed the gaping opening of the Leviathan's hanger bay, visible now through the shuttle's viewports, and wished once again that Lieutenant Kalsowski and her Bravo Platoon were with them. Kyra and her people had been working with the Tanfen ships in Tyr, and they had stayed with the Tanfenners when they had jumped into Masa. Admiral Hanton had wanted the Marines there to see to the well-being of the refugees, as well as to keep an eye on the Tanfenners. The Tanfenners had been behaving a little strangely since their CEO had been killed during the final battle in Tyr. The logic of leaving the Marines to keep a eye on them was sound, but Hess would much rather be working with Bravo Platoon on this operation than with the Littenia Marines. It wasn't that he had any reason to doubt their competence or dedication, it was simply that he preferred to have people he knew watching his back.

He shook his head, pushing that useless thought out of his mind, and turned towards the rest of the Marines. He wasn't much for pep talks (Marines didn't need such things anyway), but he wanted to make sure they all had their mission objectives uppermost in their minds. The officers and NCOs aboard the other shuttles would be doing the same thing.

"All right, listen up, numbnuts. Our primary -- not to mention only -- objective here is to get the Bunker Hill survivors out. We're not going in to blow that motherfucker up, and we're not going in to rack up a high Nephilim body count. I know that some of you are itching to pay the Nephs back for what they did to the Hill, but this is not the time. The flyboys can afford to go medieval on the Nephs, because that's their job. Our job is to get in as fast as we can, grab the prisoners, and haul ass out of there. We're working on a tight schedule here, because we don't know if or when the rest of the Neph fleet will show up, so we can't afford any delays. Any of you go psycho in there, and your ass is mine. You read me?"

"YES, SAH!"

By now, the shuttles were almost at the hangar bay. The four Pelileu assault shuttles that were carrying the Marines took the point, while the others hung back. They would be waiting outside till it was time to pick up the captives. There were a few tense moments as the assault shuttles reached the entrance of the hangar bay. If the IFF codes and phase shield frequencies obtained by the Ghost Warriors weren't enough to fool the Leviathan's shields, this rescue mission would be over before it had began. The four shuttles lurched as they reached the shield boundary. The shields flickered slightly, and then minute gaps opened up, letting what looked to them like "friendly" craft through. The gamble had paid off, and the Marines were in.

 

Aboard The Nephilim Carrier. . .

The assault shuttles began dropping fragmentation bombs and other ground suppression weapons as they soon as they entered the hangar bay. Using such weapons inside a confined space was risky, but nowhere near as risky as trying to land and unload the Marines amid a hail of Nephilim fire. As they had expected, the Nephilim had been smart enough to figure out just why one of the landing bays was being left intact. There were dozens of Nephilim, some armed and some not, swarming all over the hangar bay. The bombs tore through them, ripping their bodies apart and flinging the fragments in all directions. A few sporadic bursts of fire slammed into the shuttles, as did shrapnel and blast from the bombs themselves, but it was nothing the shuttles' shields couldn't handle. Most of the Nephs that survived the bombing were torn apart by the shuttles' laser and stormfire guns.

The shuttles touched down, and the Marines charged out. They hit the ground firing, their guns ripping apart the few Nephilim that were still standing. As they fanned out to secure the hangar bay, their battle cries filled the smoky air, mostly the same battle cries that Border Worlds Marines had shouted for decades. This time, though, there was one more cry, one that was taken up more and more of the Marines: "Remember the Bunker Hill!"

Securing the hangar bay was the easy part. Once the Marines hit the corridors and tunnels leading into ship, the shuttles' weapons could no longer help them. This was where the Nephilim, having learnt from their earlier mistake, hit them in force. The Nephilim hit them from several directions, including from the ceiling, dropping down on the Marines with crushing force. Some of the aliens were armed with similar weapons to what the Marines had, but most seemed to rely simply on their size and speed and claws. Against the heavily armed Marines, though, that technique got the Nephilim wiped out in fairly short order. The tough body armor worn by the Marines absorbed the worst of the Neph's blows, and the fury of the Nephilim attacks was no match for the sheer firepower wielded by the Marines.

Still, for each Neph the Marines hacked down, there seemed to be five more to take its place. In the ten minutes or so it took the Marines to fight their way down two levels, Hess saw nearly a dozen of his people go down, either blown apart by the Nephilim who had weapons or taken down by sheer weight of numbers and torn apart. Now they ran into a further problem. The data they had received from the Ghost Warriors had given them only an approximate location for the captives. To find them, the Marines had to search each compartment, while fighting off further attacks by swarms of Nephilim. That took another ten minutes, and the deaths of another dozen Marines. Lieutenant Hess wasn't quite going nuts, but he was getting close to it by the time they found the prisoners.

"Over here, sir!"

The people in the compartment screamed and cowered back as the Marines burst in. Hess realized that the Marines, their amour splattered with gore from the Nephilim they had blown apart and blood from their fallen comrades, and their hands bristling with weapons, must look nearly as terrifying in the near darkness as the Nephilim they had come to rescue these people from.

"Easy, easy! Border Worlds Marines! We're here to get you out. Who's in command here?" Hess shouted, giving the prisoners a quick once over. There seemed to be about a hundred and fifty of them, though it was hard to tell amidst all the confusion. They mostly seemed to be in good condition. Strangely, all of them were wearing Confed Navy uniforms.

A tall, red headed woman wearing commander's rank tabs stepped forward. "I am. Commander Alexia Sheldon, TCS Bunker Hill."

Hess nodded. "Are these all the people that survived?"

"All that survived, yes," Commander Sheldon said bitterly. "They took away all the pilots right after we were captured. We heard them screaming for nearly three hours..."

Hess swore softly. Of all the bad ways of dying that he could imagine, being tortured and slowly torn apart by the Nephilim was the worst. "All right, get your people moving, Commander. We're getting out of here."

Eight more Marines died while they were fighting their way out the ship, as did thirteen of the freed captives. The Marines did their best to keep the Nephs away from the captives, but it was damn near impossible to stop the Nephs that dropped from the ceiling. Without the kind of heavy armor that the Marines had, the captives had no chance against a Nephilim's claws. By the time they climbed back up two levels, both the Marines and captives were shaking with exhaustion. At least, the Marines told themselves it was exhaustion. The near darkness of the Nephilim ship, the tight corridors with their glistening walls, the stench and the strange sounds, not to mention the strain of fighting off the constant attacks, would have been enough to unnerve even the most hardened campaigner.

As they neared the landing bay, though, the Nephilim attacks suddenly, inexplicably, faded away. Everything went quiet. As they said in every B-grade holo-vid, too quiet. The only reason that it had become a cliché, though, was because it was true. A sudden change like this simply wasn't natural.

"Hold it!" Lieutenant Hess ordered sharply. "1st Squad, 2nd Squad, keep covering the front. 3rd, 4th, cover the rear. Rest of you, watch the ceiling. Radio! Get your ass over here!"

"Sir?" A Marine who was carrying an elaborate communications rig on his back hurried forward.

"Contact the shuttles. See if they know what the hell is going on up ahead."

"Yes, sir," the Marine said crisply. He unloaded the rig and began expertly manipulating dials and adjusting switches as he tried to raise the shuttles, all the while staring intently at a fold-out screen. Meanwhile, the other Marines continued scanning the area around them, alert for any sign of trouble.

After a few seconds, Radio nodded. "Got it, sir."

The screen switched to show the face of one of the assault shuttle pilots. Even underneath the helmet, there was no mistaking the relief on the pilot's face. "Lieutenant! We were just about to contact you. The Nephs are massing in the hanger bay."

The view panned away from the pilot, and towards the exterior of the shuttle. Hess swore softly as he realized that the shuttle was in flight, hovering just outside the hangar bay. The view panned into the bay itself, and Hess swore again. Waiting inside the landing bay were well over a hundred Nephilim. Unlike the Nephs the Marines had faced earlier, all these Nephs seemed armed to the teeth. There was no way the Marines could take them on. That explained why the Nephs weren't attacking them anymore. They had figured out a better way to trap their prey.

The view switched back to the pilot. "We had to pull out, sir. We used up most of our bombs and stormfire ammo in the landing, and we couldn't hold them off with lasers alone. The Retaliators are about to try something though. Their CO wants you to pull your people back at least 200 meters from the landing bay."

"Do it! Marines, fall back!" Hess barked. Whatever the Retaliators were going to do, it was bound to be messy. He had seen the kind of firepower those fighters carried, and he had no wish to be anywhere near them when they cut loose.

The Marines scrambled back, taking up new positions. Hess did a quick scan to make sure all was secure, and then turned his attention back to the screen, which was still once again showing an external feed.

Commander Sheldon pushed her way forward. "What's going on? In case you haven't noticed, Lieutenant, the hanger bay is back that way."

Hess shook his head, and pointed at the screen. Technically, Sheldon outranked him. If she had been a Border Worlds officer, that wouldn't have mattered. He could simply have told her to shut up and stay out of his way. However, Confeds took rank a lot more seriously, and this wasn't the time or the place for an argument about chain of command.

The external feed from the shuttle now showed four Retaliators, flying line abreast, head for the hangar bay. Hess caught his breath as he realized just what the pilots going to do. They were going to use the same IFF trick the shuttles had used to get into the landing bay, and then use their guns to clear out the Nephilim. Normally, of course, taking out ground troops was no problem for fighters. Their heavy guns could tear through infantry with ease, while their speed and agility prevented them from being hit. Not only that, their shields could shrug off the few hits they did take.

However, in the confines of the landing bay, the fighters would have to give up their speed and agility. They would have to hover and enter a slugging match with the Nephilim. This wasn't like when the assault shuttles had burst in. Then they had the element of surprise, only some of the Nephilim had been armed, and their frag bombs had allowed them to take out the Nephs quickly. The Retaliators were in for a much tougher time. One infantry weapon couldn't do much against a fighter's shields, of course, but the massed fire from dozens of guns could bring a fighter down in fairly short order. Not only that, if the Nephilim had portable missile launchers, the fighter pilots were as good as dead. They were gambling, taking their fighters into a battle they were designed for, and hoping they could pull it off. Hess had never thought much of flyboys who killed opponents dozens of kilometers away from the comfort of their cockpits, but he had to admit that these flyboys had real guts.

The Retaliators disappeared from view for a second as they entered the hangar bay, before the shuttle pilot shifted his craft to keep them in front of the camera. The Retaliators were now inside the bay, still line abreast, and swinging their noses down to fire at the Nephilim. The Nephilim brought their weapons up to track the hovering fighters. Both groups opened fire more or less at the same time.

Hess and Sheldon involuntarily flinched back when they saw the scale of firepower that was being unleashed inside the hangar bay. The fighters' powerful cannons, of course, tore deadly furrows of destruction through the landing bay. The trouble was, the Nephilim weren't standing in neat rows where the fighters could mow them down by the dozen. They had dispersed and taken cover. The fighters had to use their autoslide abilities to track individual clumps and groups of Nephs before burning them down.

In the meantime, the massed gunfire from the Nephilim washed over their shields in waves, causing them to flare and coruscate with violent energy. More and more Nephilim were dying by now, but the protective layers of shielding were being stripped away one by one. Soon the armor of the fighters began to melt and slag, growing red and blue and white as gunfire ate closer to their hulls. At the same time, fighters' tachyon and stormfire cannons kept up their brutal assault, and Nephilim died by the score.

Then, suddenly, one of the fighters fireballed in a brilliant explosion. The burning fighter crashed in one corner of the hangar bay, the fireball consuming over two dozen Nephilim who were unfortunate enough to be near by. Debris from the explosion caught the nearest Retaliator, punching through what was left of the armor. The Retaliator's starboard engine vomited fire, and the fighter dropped sickeningly towards the floor of the landing bay before the pilot caught it and shut off the engine.

For a few more seconds, it looked like the fighters might lose their desperate gamble, but in the end, the massive firepower of their cannons won out. Soon there were only scattered clumps of Nephilim left around the bay, and with their sporadic fire split among three targets, the Retaliators' shields began to regenerate faster than the Nephilim could take them down. The fighters methodically burnt down the few Nephilim that were left.

"You people are crazy, you know that?" Commander Sheldon said in awe as the firing inside the bay died down. "I think I was safer with the aliens!"

Hess grinned at that, and then his face quickly turned serious. He quickly switched back to the shuttle pilot. "Can the shuttles land past that wreckage?"

"Yes, sir. The fire isn't big enough to be dangerous. We're bringing the shuttles in now."

Hess nodded and then turned back his Marines. "All right, form up and move out! Let's get out of here before the Nephs try something else!"

It seemed, though, that this had been last gasp by the Nephs. The Marines quickly reached and secured the landing bay, while the three Retaliators hovered over their heads like watchful birds of prey. Several of the shuttles were in the landing bay now, and the Marines quickly herded the captives in, before piling back into the assault shuttles. The shuttles lifted off, and then turned around and accelerated out of the hangar bay, followed by the three fighters.

They had made it.

 

Deep Space, Nephele System
About The Same Time
0934 Hours

As the last of the shuttles and fighters cleared the landing bay, a pair of Dauntless moved in on the helpless carrier. It only took a single spread of torpedoes, four from each of them, to shatter the carrier's spine. The Leviathan broke in half, and a series of secondary explosions consumed the stern, while the bow began to slowly break up into smaller chunks. With that, the strike force turned away, leaving the wreckage of what had once been a fearsome carrier group in their wake.

Any way you looked at it, it had been a successful operation. They had wiped out a powerful enemy carrier group, avenged the destruction of the Bunker Hill, and rescued 138 survivors. However, even successful operations came at a price, and this one was no different. They had lost 11 fighters from Battle Group Valkyrie: 2 Avengers, 2 Intruders (White Knight Squadron), 1 Stalker, 1 Jaguar, 1 Retaliator, and the 4 recon Arrows lost earlier. They had also lost a further ten fighters from the Littenia group: 3 Bearcats, 2 Retaliators, 3 Avengers and 2 Stalkers. That brought the total losses from the operation to 21 fighters lost, with 14 pilots KIA (8 from Battle Group Valkyrie and 6 from the Littenia). They had also lost 31 Marines (14 from Battle Group Valkyrie and 17 from the Littenia). It had been a successful operation, yes, but also a costly one.

As they made the flight back to the rendezvous point, the thoughts of the pilots and Marines were strangely similar to what they had been the previous evening, a subdued mix of elation and regret. The elation was because they had, in some small way, helped strike a blow for victory and for the entire human race.

As callous as it sounded (and cold military logic often did sound callous), the engagements fought over the last two days had resulted in an overall victory. The human and Nephilim fleets had started out with roughly the same number of carriers. The reason that the human fighter pilots were outnumbered 4 or 5 to 1 was because the Nephilim supercarriers could carry so many more fighters than a human fleet carrier could. In purely military terms, wiping out two supercarriers with their battle groups and all their fighters (600 or more) in exchange for one fleet carrier battle group with 100 odd fighters was a better than even trade.

But of course, none of these people were callous enough to think about what had happened in purely military terms. They didn't fly through the place where the Bunker Hill had gone down on their way back, but now that the fighting was over, their thoughts were of Hill's crew. They were thinking of the brave pilots and crewers who, despite the incompetence of their commanders, had fought the good fight against overwhelming odds. The fact that they had been defeated in no way diminished either their courage or their sacrifice. The Bunker Hill's crew might be gone, but they wouldn't be forgotten.

 

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
-Laurence Binyon

FIN