PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 19 of 44 )

: On the Brink
PART 2 OF 2

 

Sindri Star Squadron (Strike Group Bravo)
Nav Point Four, Nephele System
2000 Hours ZULU (H Hour + One), 08 Feb 2681 (2681.039)

“All right, people, let's do this way we planned," Colonel Alvarez's said, his voice brisk and businesslike as it came over the comm system. "Sindri Stars, Felines, Arkrunners, your job is to deal with the Nephilim fighters. Once the fighter cover is thinned out, try and knock out as many of the defensive turrets as you can. Dragonslayers, you're to hang back with the destroyers till you're ordered in. Remember, we're relying on your Thunderbolts to take those capships, so anyone who loses his ship trying to be a hero had better hope the Nephilim get to him before I do. Clear?"

A stream of affirmatives from the squadron leaders and flight leaders answered the WC. The Sindri Stars, Fearless Felines, and Arkrunners all tapped their afterburners, accelerating to 1,200 KPS as they surged out ahead to meet the enemy. The powerful Panthers from Fearless Feline squadron took the point, while the Tigersharks from Arkrunner Squadron flanked them on the right, and the Sindri Stars on the left. The Excaliburs and Thunderbolts from Dragonslayer Squadron hung several thousand kilometers back, as did the two Murphy-class destroyers, the TCS Perez and the TCS Mirabel. The Yorktown herself was another hundred thousand kilometers back, away from the immediate battle zone, but close enough to recover badly damaged fighters.

Ahead of the Sindri Stars were the enemy capships, three Orca-class destroyers and a Hydra-class cruiser. The Yorktown battle group would ordinarily have had no trouble destroying such an enemy group, but with the Yorktown's Vampires, bomber squadron and escort cruiser already busy dealing with another group of enemy warships, it was going to be a tough fight. Modern phase shields could block almost any fighter weapon, so it was up to the Thunderbolts and destroyers to take out those warships.

By now, the Nephilim fighters were racing to meet their Confed counterparts. There were about seven dozen or so fighters, about the number that would have expected from a capship group of this size. The fighters were of all types, from the baseline Morays to the more powerful Manta heavy fighters and bombers, from nimble and fragile Stingrays to the extremely lethal Devil Rays. Still, three squadrons of Confed fighters should be able to handle this many Nephilim. The odds were "only" about two to one. (One of the top ten signs you're having a really bad war: You're grateful when you're only outnumbered two to one.)

Captain Selena "Minnie" Martinez took her right hand off the flight stick of her Piranha light fighter for just a split second. Almost of its own volition, her hand moved to touch her left shoulder, then the right, then her forehead, then her chest. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Captain Martinez was devoutly Catholic, and she always took the time before battle was joined to ask the Almighty for aid. She grabbed the stick again just before the two groups of fighters merged.

Martinez and her wingman, Lt. Eric "Demon" De Villiers, singled out one of the Mantas, working as a team. De Villiers intentionally overshot the Manta as he turned towards it, sliding in front of it, and then dragging it into Martinez's gunsights as it pursued him. Martinez slammed her thumb down on the missile release, and a pair of heat seeker missiles blew the Manta to atoms.

"Hey, those capships are still launching!" De Villiers commented as he formed back on Martinez's wing. Her attention focused on battle around her, it took a second for the significance of those words to penetrate Martinez's mind.

"What???"

"Those ships... they're still launching fighters! Dozens of them!"

"Oh, shit!" Martinez exclaimed, trying to figure out what had happened. The answer wasn't hard to find.

The Nephilim had pulled a double cross on them. The gambit of having Strike Group Alpha fly an indirect route to avoid incoming fighters had been a good one, but it had been totally unnecessary, because those fighters had never been there in the first place. Instead, the Nephilim had thrown most of their fighters at their main target, the Yorktown, keeping half in their launch bays to hide the fact. It seemed that the Nephilim, normally so dull and predictable, were capable of the occasional flash of brilliance. That was one of the problems of dealing with a new and unknown species, it was so hard to figure out how they thought.

The Confed fighters were now twice as badly outnumbered as they had previously been. Martinez quickly radioed the information back to the Yorktown, and then saw something that made her swear again.

"Yorktown, some of those fighters are coming your way! Scramble the Wasps!"

 

Flight Deck, TCS Yorktown
2010 Hours

Major Matthew "Cougar" Pierce ran out of the Death Stingers' locker room and into the flight deck. His squadron, the Death Stingers, was launching to intercept incoming the Bug fighters before they could get in range of the Yorktown.

Cougar strapped on his helmet and climbed into his Wasp, then lined up with the rest of the Stingers for the launch cue. One by one the interceptors launched into space, then immediately formed up. As he pulled in next to his wingman, Cougar keyed his comm.

"Okay, Stingers, we got a lot of bogeys out there on the way, let's get'em before they get close to the Yorktown. Engage booster packs now."

One right after the other the Death Stingers engaged their boosters and rocketed towards the incoming groups of Bug fighters, moving at ten times their normal speed.

As they approached the Bugs, the boosters began to run out of fuel and jettison automatically, allowing the Wasps to maneuver more effectively. As he slowed back to his normal speed, Matt immediately targeted the nearest fighter and opened fire with full guns. The unfortunate fighter, a Manta, flew straight through Cougar's line of fire and was torn apart by the constant barrage of tachyons and mass drivers. As the alien fighter exploded in a brilliant ball of golden flame, Cougar rolled to his left to search out another target.

He switched to charging mass drivers and got a Squid into his sights. He held it for as long as he could, then let the trigger go, sending a powerful burst at the speedy fighter, clipping its shields. He switched to IRs and waited for a solid lock. As soon as the bracket turned red he fired the missile and watched it tear through the weakened rear shields of the Squid and right into the engines before it detonated, ripping the fighter apart from the inside. Matt watched as the bright green fireball expanded, and just as he was getting ready to take out another, he heard one of his pilots screaming on the comm.

"Oh shit! I got one on me, he's firing missiles! Somebody help!" Second Lieutenant Jefferson "Slash" Mitchell yelled into his comm. His wingman, First Lieutenant Samantha "Belle" Dupree, tried to take out the missiles, but two of them got through and detonated on Slash's rear shields, sending his Wasp out of control.

"Come on, dammit, get back in control..." Slash muttered as he tried to regain control of his fighter. Finally he leveled out, and let out a sigh of relief just as a Manta coming up from his left flank opened fire with full guns, destroying Slash's Wasp immediately. He didn't even have time to scream.

Suddenly, Belle's Wasp appeared out of nowhere and fired a swarmer at the Manta, destroying it easily. "That was for Slash, you bastard," she said with a hint of steel in her usually soft Georgia accent. Cougar watched as she turned and started after a Skate.

Switching back to tachyons, Cougar went after another Squid. He didn't see the Devil Ray creeping up behind him until it was almost too late. As the Bug superiority fighter was about to open fire on Cougar's fighter, a swarmer slammed into it, followed by a barrage of tachyons and mass drivers, destroying it immediately.

"What the hell?" Matt said as he turned to see what happened. He saw another Wasp pull up near his, and his comm crackled.

"You should be more careful, Matt," his XO, Captain Kristen "Huntress" Clark said, "I can't bail you out all the time, you know."

Matt grinned. "Thanks, Kristen, I owe you another one now." He rolled to starboard and opened fire on a Skate, making the fighter's shields glow. His own shields flashed as another fighter shot at him, but he rolled and dove, easily evading the guns. He found his target again and started to open fire when he saw another one of his pilots in trouble.

First Lieutenant Kara "Maiden" McPhearson had taken heavy damage to her starboard side. Fighting to keep her Wasp under control, she had managed to help take out one of the pesky Skates. She was about to fire a swarmer at a Ray when her Wasp was pounded by enemy fire, followed by a missile hit. Her Wasp went spinning out of control, and Maiden fought desperately to stop the fighter's wild spinning.

Unfortunately, her ship was too badly damaged. She heard her wingman, Second Lieutenant Rick "Slider" O'Brien, yell at her to eject, and just as she was about to, she saw a large green blob in her view. With a scream that sent chills down the Stingers' spines, Maiden and her Wasp were consumed in a fiery explosion just as Slider took out the Manta with a swarmer.

"Fuck!" Cougar pounded his fist on his HUD. He watched as his pilots took out the remaining fighters, and as they formed up he heaved a sigh. "Good work people," he said sadly. "Let's go home."

After a moment of silence for their fallen comrades, the Death Stingers turned and headed back for the Yorktown. Their orders were quite specific. Their first, last, and only priority was to protect the carrier, not join in the massive dogfight.

 

Bridge, TCS Yorktown
2015 Hours

A audible sigh of relief echoed through Yorktown's bridge as the Major Pierce reported the last of the incoming fighters destroyed. With her fighters engaged, and the destroyers too far ahead to provide covering fire, the carrier would have been a sitting duck if even a few of the fighters had gotten through.

At the same time, the relief was tempered by the knowledge that they were still in deep shit. Given enough time, the Yorktown's fighters might be able take on and defeat the massive number of enemy fighters facing them, might being the operative word. In the meantime though, the enemy capships would be able to overwhelm the Perez and the Mirabel. Without the destroyers, the battle group would be doomed. The enemy warships could close in and destroy the Yorktown at their leisure.

Admiral William Kennedy, newly promoted to commander of the Third Fleet after Admiral Victor Rayak had been lost in the destruction of the Bunker Hill the day before (oh yeah, that's just what I need to be thinking about right now), ran his fingers through his thick gray hair, trying to figure a way out of this mess. Kennedy wasn't a paper pusher like the late Admiral Rayak had been, but he hadn't been in an all out fleet battle since the end of the First Kilrathi War. He knew that he had already made two crucial mistakes, first by underestimating the devious nature of the Bugs, and then by letting the Yorktown herself get so close to the fighting. The next mistake could be fatal.

He turned his attention back to the central ICIS display, which provided a minute by minute picture of the battle as it unfolded, trying to find something that he had overlooked. The ICIS provided no help whatsoever. All of the battle group's resources had already been thrown into the battle against the Alien warships, and those resources weren't going to be enough. The Admiral called for Captain Ramirez and Colonel Alvarez, the Yorktown's skipper and WC respectively, hoping that they could see something he hadn't. The Captain was at his side instantly, but Alvarez took a while longer. She was still shouting orders to the fighter controllers when she joined the other two officers.

"You know the situation as well as I do. Suggestions?" the Admiral asked.

"We could recall Strike Group Alpha," Alvarez said tentatively.

"Not a good idea," Captain Ramirez said sharply. "Admiral, they're probably already engaged by now. Besides, pulling them back would let the Bug ships they went after a free shot at us. We would just end up being sandwiched between the two groups."

"Fine. Then we need to request backup from Admiral Hanton," Alvarez said. She saw the look of distaste on the Admiral's face, a distaste she shared. No-one liked having to beg for help. "Admiral, being too proud to ask for help is what got Rayak killed. And the longer we wait, the more good people are going to die."

"Agreed. We also need to put some distance between us and those warships, buy time till help gets here," spoke Captain Ramirez.

Admiral Kennedy nodded, turning to the other bridge officers. "Helm, bring us about 180, flank speed. Comms, signal the destroyers to join us, and then send a message to Admiral Hanton requesting any reinforcements she can spare."

"Aye, aye, sir," the two officers said almost simultaneously. The Yorktown shuddered as the helm officer pushed her into a rapid turn, the acceleration absorbers not quite able to compensate. In the distance, the two destroyers did the same, falling back to support the Yorktown. The carrier group wouldn't be able to outrun the enemy warships, but forcing the Nephilim into a stern chase just might buy them the time they needed.

Meanwhile, the fighters fell back as well, establishing a defensive line to protect their capships from the enemy fighters. Admiral Kennedy watched the battle unfold on the ICIS screen, horribly aware that each one of those blue dots that winked out could mean another of his pilots was gone, another life snuffed out.

 

Bridge, BWS Valeria
2022 Hours

"Admiral! Message from the Yorktown, priority one."

"On screen, Lieutenant."

Admiral Hanton realized as soon as she heard the message that the Yorktown group was in big trouble. Admiral Kennedy had spread his resources too thin when he divided up his group to engage the two enemy groups simultaneously. Admiral Hanton was beginning to wonder if she hadn't made that mistake herself when she split up her fleet. So far, her plan had brought great success, with the destruction of two enemy carriers and over a dozen other warships, but also the loss of the TCS Bunker Hill and her group. The loss of another fleet carrier now would doom the human fleet. The entire plan stood on the brink of failure.

She shook her head. She wasn't going to let that happen, but she wasn't about to go back on her plan either. Fighting conservatively while being massively outnumbered was a sure path to defeat. The most dramatic victories of the First Kilrathi War, such as at Vukar Tag, had been achieved by the commanders who were prepared to take risks. She had to back the crews and pilots under her command to make the plan work, while she herself had to keep controlling the flow of the battle to get the outcome she wanted. Right now, that meant finding some way to help the Yorktown.

The plotting table in the center of the bridge showed the position of the Fleet's various carriers and capship squadrons, now scattered all over the Nephele System in a fast moving battle with the enemy. The BWS Valeria and Littenia were too far away, as was the Endeavour. The TCS Valley Forge was closer, but not close enough. Most of the capship units were too far away as well, but there was one that might do... Task Force Abbey. A small group of Border Worlds corvettes and an escort carrier. It wasn't much... but it just might be enough.

"Comms, get me a link to Commodore Rivera on the Defiance."

"Aye, aye, Admiral."

A few second later, Rivera's face appeared on the main viewscreen. Admiral Hanton launched straight into her orders before he had a chance to speak.

"Commodore, I need you to assist the Yorktown group. They're engaging a group of Nephilim warships, and have run into unexpectedly heavy Nephilim fighter support. They're currently at these coordinates, 214-36-128, about half an hour away if you go all out. I want you to go bail them out. Clear?"

 

Bridge, BWS Defiance
2025 Hours

"Yes, Ma'am. I understand. Aye, Ma'am, best possible speed. Aye, Admiral. Riviera out."

The Commodore nodded to the comms officer to close the link after the Valeria's end of the link was terminated. "Okay, boys and gals, we're gonna play 'Cavalry to the rescue' for the Yorktown Battle Group. Seems the bugs had a few spare ships up their sleeves, or whatever the hell substitutes for them. Navigator, set course for the coordinates she just gave us, best possible speed. Comms, set up links to the 'vettes in the Ready Room in five minutes, and have Reese join me and the captain down there. Also, tell the deck boss to rig one torpedo hardpoint on each Vindicator with that jury-rigged missile setup of Ski's. Admiral Hanton didn't mention us engaging the capships, but I wouldn't bet against it. Better to have torps available for just in case."

Riviera turned to Captain Bernard. "Captain, if you don't mind...?"

"Right behind you, sir," the Captain replied, falling in behind the commodore as he exited the bridge.

 

Ready Room, BWS Defiance
2033 Hours

"Okay, so there's the plan, until we get a calm get-together with the Yorktown people. Now, if there's nothing else...?" Riviera looked around at those present, physically or virtually. After they shook their respective heads in the negative, he continued. "Good. Dismissed. Get ready for the party. Looks to be a blo... Err, to be a big bash."

"Blowout" was not exactly a term one wants to think of in the vacuum of space.

 

Dragonslayer Squadron
2042 Hours

"Heads up, Baron! You've got a dozen incoming!"

Major Wilheim "Baron" Von der Graf swore as he turned his Thunderbolt towards the threat. Or rather, as he pushed the stick in the right direction and waited for the fighter to turn. The Thunderbolt, derisively known as the "Lead Sled" had hardly been the most agile of fighters even in its day, and that had been a decade ago. Still, for such an old warhorse, it sure had a lot of teeth.

The Thunderbolts and Excaliburs of Dragonslayer Squadron had been meant to stay out of the fighting, but someone must have forgotten to tell the Nephilim. The Confed defensive line was holding for the most part, but a breach had been inevitable given how badly they were outnumbered. The Confeds had better pilots, fighters, and tactics, but it seemed that quantity had a quality all its own. The Nephilim were able to double team and gang bang the human fighters. Very few Confed fighters had actually gone down yet, thanks to some superb teamwork, but it was only a matter of time as they ran out of fuel, missiles and decoys.

The dozen fighters that had broken through, mainly Morays and Stingray, had perhaps been emboldened by their success, and made the mistake of attacking the Confed fighters head on. Only four lived long enough to realize that going head to head with a tight formation of heavy fighters is not a good idea. Two of the Dragonslayers, a Thunderbolt and an Excalibur, went down in the exchange. The four surviving Nephilim fighters were taken down by the Excaliburs without further loss.

The Baron deliberately turned his Thunderbolt towards the main battle, and pushed the throttle to full military. The rest of the Dragonslayers followed him. They had stayed out out this battle long enough. The original plan was FUBARed anyway, and it looked like the defensive line was getting downright leaky in places. If enough of those fighters got through and made a concerted run on the Yorktown, the Wasps wouldn't be able to stop them. It would be all over.

"Dragonslayers! Hold your position!" Colonel Alvarez's voice crackled over the comm.

"The plan's FUBARed, Colonel! They're getting pounded!"

"I said hold your position!" Colonel Alvarez's tone clearly said that a wrong answer would earn the Baron a court-martial.

"Yes, Colonel," Baron said bitterly. He cut his throttle and turned back. A Border Worlder could blow off a direct order and get away with nothing more than a bad ass-chewing, but for a Confed officer it was career suicide.

"Good," Colonel Alvarez said in a calmer tone. "We've got reinforcements coming in. You hit them together. Understood?"

"Yes, Colonel." I just hope they get here soon, he added silently.

 

Approaching Yorktown Battle Group
2052 Hours

"Cavalry to the rescue!" Reese called out on the general comm circuit as the Defiance's air wing tore into the Nephilim swarming the Confed fighters. He chuckled under his breath as some wag played a recording of the traditional "charge" bugle call.

"That's for Shotgun, you sonnovabitch," a pilot growled as a Moray vanished in a blinding flash a few moments later, falling victim to concentrated tachyon fire from one of the Jaguars.

"Aello, keep it frosty. This is business, not personal."

Shoulda known letting her run around with that twerp would be bad news, he thought to himself.

"Roger, Caesar. Sub-zero, even," 1st Lieutenant Samantha "Aello" Wellington replied before switching off the microphone.

Sons of bitches were playing with him till I got there, she thought darkly, closing her eyes a moment as the scene from the Tyr System replayed itself in her mind: A pair of Mantas plinking at Shotgun's Vindicator until she approached, when they let rip with full guns and destroyed the fighter. The fact that her and Wizardess' Jaguars had made short work of the fighters in reply was little consolation.

With the surprise addition of the Defiance's flight wing, the Nephilim fighters, by no means an organized group, became even less so. They had already been worn down by the tenacious defense of the Confed pilots, and they had no counter for the fully fuelled and fully armed Intruders, Jaguars and Vindicators that now tore into the battle. At the same time, Dragonslayer Squadron, finally released by Colonel Alvarez, hit the Nephilim from a different vector. The battle lasted another twenty minutes, but the outcome was no longer in doubt, the combined human fighter group tearing the Nephilim fighters apart.

As the tide of the battle shifted, the Nephilim warships broke off their pursuit of the Yorktown, as did the Nephilim fighters that had remained with the capships. Instead the Nephilim group executed a 180 and accelerated away. Wisely, Admiral Kennedy decided to regroup his forces before going after them. He had already been given one bad fright because he had stretched his resources too thin. His first priority right now was to ensure the security of his battle group.

 

Approaching BWS Defiance
2124 Hours

"That's the last of them, Mom," he announced to the Deck Boss, jokingly referred to as the wing's mother, a role for which she looked to be old enough for all but the oldest pilots. "Requesting landing clearance."

We got off lucky, Caesar thinks to himself. Only two Intruders, a Jaguar and one of the precious Vindicators lost in the engagement with the Nephilim, though the addition of Confed forces with which the UBW pilots have never flown had made their jobs more difficult.

"You're cleared to land, Caesar. Standard approach, no wreckage do dodge."

"You know, Caesar, we really need to give these boys and girls some serious sim time," Wizardess said over a private channel after the deck crew started to pull her craft from the flight line. Aside from three veterans of the Cynium Campaign a year ago, most of the Defiance's flight wing was far from packed with experienced pilots, with many of them having just earned their pilot's wings the preceding year. Most of the veterans had been snapped up by the new fleet carriers.

"We haven't the time, Wizardess," he replied. "They either learn, or die, no matter who wishes what," he concluded coldly.

Caesar's tone sent a shiver down Wizardess' spine. "I've heard that tone before, but can't place where," she muttered after having secured the comm system.

"It'll wait for later," she decided as the seal on her cockpit broke open, admitting the smell of a modern carrier flight deck at war.

 

Bridge, BWS Defiance
2130 Hours

"Sir," the Comm Officer said to Riviera. "Admiral Kennedy from the Yorktown Battle Group wishes to speak with Abbey's CO's. Yorky's wirehead makes it sound like the Admiral is not in a wondrous mood."

"Understandable, given what we just saved him from. Thanks for the heads up anyhow, and route the usual suspects down to the ready room, post haste."

It took a few minutes for the "usual suspects" to arrive, and the Admiral clearly wasn't happy about being kept waiting.

"All right, gentlemen..." The slight accent on the word "Gentlemen" was audible even through the the comm link. "... Our SWACS shows that the the Nephilim warships are regrouping a few hundred thousand klicks out from our position, possibly preparing to make a second attack. The strength of the group has remained the same, three Orcas and one Hydra cruiser, so they haven't had any further reinforcements. We estimate that they have only two or three dozen fighters left. I'm tasking your group, along with our destroyers and Dragonslayer Squadron, to track down and eliminate those ships. The rest of Yorktown's squadrons will remain behind to defend the carrier from further surprises. Good hunting."

 

Nav Point Five
About 2200 Hours

"All right, let's do it," Reese ordered, as the two groups of capships began firing the first shots, and the fighters began their deadly dance.

Wizardess looked at Caesar's Jaguar, a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. I know there's something I should be remembering here, but I can't figure out what, she thought.

The pilot's musing were cut off a moment later by a burst of static from the comm system. "Ohshitshitshit! Petrov requesting assistance. Got a Manta on our ass and no tail turret. Can't shake hi..."

The transmission suddenly died, along with the corvette making it as the Manta fired a torpedo at the ship point-blank. The bug fighter, however, was too close to the blast for its own good, losing all of its forward shields and almost all its armor. What little remained of its defenses wasn't enough to save it from a full gun salvo from the lone Intruder IV slashing across the Manta's flight path and hammering the pounded ship with deadly accurate fire. It followed the dead corvette into oblivion.

"Let's heah yeah, squeal like a pig, boy!" taunted the Intruder IV's pilot, LT Jimmy "Blackjack" Wilson, as he angled off to engage the next bug.

From the death of the Petrov, though, burst forth the "life" of two torpedoes, streaking towards the Hydra's engines, followed by a single torpedo from both the Niven and the Halsey to the farthest alien destroyer.

 

Bridge, BWS Halsey
2205 Hours

"Shit, they got the Petrov!"

"Steady as she goes, Pete! We've got our own fucking jobs to do, so what happened to them don't happen to others. Like us, you dig?"

"Yeah, I 'dig.' Twelve seconds to impact. Forward turret engaging the cruiser." The Weapons officer looked out of the cockpit window, watching the crimson particles from the Halsey's heavy tachyon cannons rip into the Hydra's own gun turrets and hull between checks on the status of the torpedo they launched. "Yeah, douchebags. Come get some."

"Oh no you don't," mumbled the starboard gunner, flashing a feral grin as her particle cannons tore chunks off of an approaching Manta, causing it to veer off and become embroiled in a dogfight with a Jaguar.

The other gunners, in contrast were quietly engaging the fighters foolish enough to wander into their respective firing arcs, the heavier capship versions of the veteran particle cannon reaching out to smite those who would try to stop the corvettes from performing their mission.

"Three... Two... One... impact! The destroyer is space dust!" the Weps cried out victoriously as the explosion lights up the darkness. "Both torpedoes impacted, sir. Looks like they lit off the fuel cells, because that son of a bitch went boom!"

"We all saw that, Pete," Commander Donnovan replied dryly. "You really need to up the Ritalin dose. You know that, right?"

"Sorry, Bill. I just get antsy when it's my homeworld's ass on the line. Petrov's torpedoes impacting in two, one, NOW. Fuck. Both torps failed to detonate. Insignificant damage to the Hydra's engines. They're still on-line."

As if in proof, the cruiser turned towards the Confed destroyers, bringing to bear the turreted guns on the side not raked by tachyon fire from the Border Worlds corvettes, the undamaged turreted weapons hurling bolt after bolt of energy at the approaching Murphys.

"Fuckin' A!" the starboard turret gunner blurted as a Vindicator, trailing debris from a mortal wound, rammed the alien cruiser's bridge, its torpedoes exploding on impact and completely obliterating the structure. The pilot's sacrifice blinded the enemy ship, reducing but hardly eliminating its threat.

"Weps, keep engaging the turrets. Starboard turret, you too. Sparky, pass the word to the Niven: engage the bug cruiser's turrets. Confed screwed the pooch on those Murphys, and gave them shit for anti-capship guns. Probably betting the half squad of fighters would make up the difference. Also contact Reese to get those clunker 'Vins plunking at the cruiser. Lord knows they ain't good against bug fighters."

 

Bridge, TCS Perez
2212 Hours

The surviving two Orcas, meanwhile, had their own concerns, namely the Confed Murphy-class destroyers that were now engaging them. The defending Nephilim fighters were now primarily fighting the UBW and Confed fighters, keeping the main engagement primarily one between human and Nephilim capital warships.

"All guns, target the aft turrets on that Orca!" Commander Tolbert ordered. "Weps, how long till we have a torpedo lock?"

"Four seconds, sir... shit! We've lost it!"

The destroyer they were pursuing had executed a hard turn to starboard at flank speed, breaking the lock. The Perez's helmsman executed a following turn without being ordered to, bringing the Orca back within the firing arc of the Murphy's torpedo tubes. Meanwhile, the Perez's laser turrets continued to rain fire upon the Orca, systematically knocking out the rear maser turrets that could shoot down their torpedoes.

"Twelve seconds to lock... eleven... ten..."

"Oh, shit!" the sensor officer yelled. "Sir, the second Orca is on a collision course!"

"Evasive... no, hold your your course! Maintain the lock!" Tolbert yelled. He had just realized where the first Orca was headed. Within a few seconds, it would have a clear shot at the Border Worlds corvettes as they attacked the cruiser. If the Perez broke off now, the Orca could destroy one or both of the surviving corvettes. He couldn't let that happen, not after the Border Worlders had saved the Yorktown from being overwhelmed.

"Three... two... one... LOCK!"

"FIRE!"

A salvo of torpedoes streaked away from the Perez, impacting directly on the Orca's engines. The explosion of the powerful matter/anti-matter warheads literally vaporized the engine section of the ship, and a series of secondary explosions ripped the remaining hull apart. Better yet, with the torpedoes gone, the Perez was free to maneuver.

"Hard to port!"

The Murphy began rotating away from the second Orca, trying to get clear of the Nephilim ship's suicidal rush. Even as they began to turn, though, Tolbert knew that they couldn't get out of its path in time. Their only hope of survival lay with the TCS Mirabel, which was even now lining up a torpedo shot on the Orca.

Tolbert's mind flashed back back to Tyr, where the Mirabel had managed to do almost exactly the same thing, blowing away a corvette that has tried to ram the Perez. Come on, you can do it, he urged silently. It was almost as if the other crew heard him. A torpedo spread raced away from the Mirabel's bow tubes...

It didn't work this time. Even as the torpedoes hurtled out of their tubes, the Orca slammed into the Perez's midsection. The sheer kinetic energy generated by thousands of tonnes of metal moving at several thousand meters per second was enough to snap the Murphy's spine, as well as collapse the Orca's forward section like cardboard. Explosions ripped through both ships as their reactors breached, and the Mirabel's torpedoes arrived just in time to add their own fury to the destruction.

 

Bridge, BWS Halsey
2218 Hours

"Son of a bitch!" Commander Donnavon breathed as he saw what had happened to the Perez. One brave son of a bitch, he added silently. Once this was over, he was going to recommend that destroyer's skipper for a medal. There was more to these Confeds than met the eye, more than just an unlimited budget and a lot of fancy equipment.

"Bill, the cruiser's turrets are down!" the weapons officer reported. The concentrated rain of tachyon fire from the corvettes and Vindicators had finally defanged the massive Nephilim ship, opening it up to torpedo attack.

"Torpedoes locked?"

"Yeah. The Niven and the Vins report the same."

"FIRE!"

The command was echoed on the bridge of the Niven, and heard in the cockpits of the Vindicators. A swarm of torpedoes slammed into the cruiser, punching deep into its hull before exploding inside. Massive secondary explosions rocked the giant warship, blasting even more holes into its hull, and consuming it from the inside out. As the last of the Alien capships died, its death throes overshadowed the smaller explosions of the few remaining Nephilim fighters.

Mission Accomplished.

 

Combat Information Center, TCS Yorktown
2230 Hours

Col. Alvarez peered at the readouts charting the battle. The Yorktown and the Border Worlders had taken out a total of two heavy cruisers, six destroyers and close to 200 fighters between them. In her gut, she felt frustration at not having been out there with her people. The stale shipboard air and the clinical, blinking lights of the viewscreens made her feel like an appendix in this metal organism.

Now that the battle had ebbed, the Yorktown's fighters were slowly drifting back to the carrier. The next readout displayed the missing fighters and pilots. They had lost 20 fighters altogether, with the loss 14 pilots, gunners, and NFOs. The Border Worlders had lost a further eight fighters with seven killed. The loss of the Perez and the Petrov, though, brought the final death toll into the hundreds. Though the loss of the destroyer would hinder the Yorktown's chances in this war, the deaths of its crew hurt worst of all.

The comm officer called out. "Colonel, the first few fighters are about to land," he said. Alvarez nodded. She surveyed the CIC and saw nothing there for her to do. At that, she walked to the lift and descended to the flight deck.

The Flight Control station hummed eerily with a low din of radio chatter and computer tones. Alvarez looked up at the display and saw a Vampire making its approach. The battered fighter looked as if it had just survived a sortie through hell. The pilot intoned a single word as he glided in. "Landing..."

 

FIN