PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 24 of 44 )
: “ Not Exactly as Planned ”
Many people like to look out to the stars and lose themselves in their beauty. The small, bright points of light glimmer in the sky and captivate them, sometimes for hours. Within this time of serenity and peace, they think of all the things they hope for: family, wealth, power, fame. The things they believe will make them happy.
He is just like the many other stargazers in the galaxy. He often looks up to the heavens and sees the things that would make him happy. The only difference is that what he wants the most comes to him with the extinction of an entire race.
What he wants the most is revenge.
The cold steel superstructures of the ships that made up Light Carrier Battle Group Aurora glided slowly and smooth across the canvas of space as the group patrolled deep in the Nephele System. Around the group, a number of Piranha and Tigershark-class fighters kept formation as they waited for any signs of trouble. While at the moment, there were no threats in the area, it would only be a matter of time before there was.
In the middle of the group of ships was the TCS Endeavour, one of the Confederation's latest carrier designs. Although dwarfed by ships of those in the Midway and Vesuvius classes, it was still able to satisfy most mission objectives and was a very versatile ship.
Commanding the little ship was Captain Robert Griffin, a wartime veteran of the Confederation. Despite his relatively young age of 47, Griffin knew the ins and outs of commanding a capital ship, carriers in particular. He knew how to use the weapons he had at his disposal, he knew how to gain tactical advantages over his adversaries, and perhaps most importantly, he knew how to get to get the best performance possible out of those under his command.
This time, it seemed to have backfired though. While he was sure that everyone was working as best they could, one crewmember made it obvious that he or she were working to his or her highest potential. Unfortunately for Griffin, that crewmember was the turncoat he and the rest of the crew were trying to find.
Now in addition to holding off the Nephilim onslaught that loomed around them, the crew of the Endeavor had to face a threat from within. Fighting a war on two fronts was not a good thing to do in general; it was even worse when the odds were stacked up against you.
Officer Conference Room
1000 Hours, February 9, 2681
Captain Griffin sat at the head of the large rectangular table that was situated in the center of the well-lit Conference Room. To his right was Admiral Miller and the WC, Paul Taylor, while to his left, Commander Stevens and Lt. Commander Halverson were seated. Numerous reports and statistics were laid across the table for them to review and analyze thoroughly so that they could determine the best course of action they could take.
Griffin keyed in a few commands into the keypad that was embedded into the desk. The commands triggered a change in the large monitor on the wall behind him. The spinning Confederation star quickly faded out to a map of the Nephele System, specifically their patrol territory.
"Fighter patrols along with SWACS Seahawks have been scanning the system on a regular basis. However, we've had no indications of any hostile or unusual activity within our sector so far," reported Griffin to those in the room. "As we speak, fighters from the Hunter and Falcons squadrons are patrolling along a 5-point route with Seahawk-02."
Colonel Taylor continued the report on the current patrol. "They are currently scanning areas within Nav-3. As things stand now, they have yet to encounter any unusual readings and are proceeding normally. We expect them home within the next hour or so, barring any complications."
Admiral Miller nodded and briefly glanced over to the map displayed on the monitor. He then turned his attention to Stevens and Halverson. "Anything to report about our turncoat, Commander?"
"Other than the letter to a member of the Emerald Falcons, nothing new has developed," she said. "We're currently trying to trace the terminal code to see where the message originated from."
The Admiral's expression turned a bit sour. Having a threat such as a traitor on board a ship during a time of crisis was an extremely dangerous circumstance. A quick look of disappointment flashed across the Admiral's face before Lt. Commander Halverson spoke.
"He's covering his tracks well. Any time we get a lead on him, we end up walking up into a dead end," he said. "However, since we've intensified the search over the past day or so, he's seemed to have quieted down. Looks like he's not willing to try anything else while we're so actively hunting for him."
"Not yet, anyways," chimed in Taylor. He received a quick look of anger from Commander Stevens for his comment.
Stevens turned her mind back to the report. "Yet again, we've scrambled security codes for the security protocols of the communications system. And we've also added a special encrypted tag that will be embedded into all authorized transmissions. If he tries to send something out to anyone, we'll know about it."
"Good," said Admiral Miller. "With the firepower and numbers at the disposal of the Nephilim, its absolutely vital that we do not allow them to discover our location and get the jump on us."
The four other officers nodded in agreement and there was a brief silence in the room. "Is there anything else to report, Commander?" Captain Griffin then asked.
Commander Stevens looked down at her data-pad for a moment, looking for anything she missed. "Only that we have been sifting through the personnel records looking for crew members that may have some sort of motivation for this. It's a long shot but we're looking to cover all of the bases so to speak."
Griffin nodded. "Very well. You'll continue with your investigation." He then looked around the room. "Is there any other matters to attend to?" he asked.
"Just one," said Colonel Taylor. "I would like to recommend that we increase our combat air patrols around the battle group. The longer we stay in the Nephele System, the higher the chances are that we will face enemy forces. I don't want to get taken down early because we didn't have sufficient support out there if they pounce on us."
"Sounds like a good idea," agreed Griffin. "Set up a revised schedule with the appropriate departments and get the additional patrols started ASAP," he ordered.
Taylor nodded just as the ship's internal communications system chimed in and a message came through from the bridge. "Captain, we've lost contact with patrol wing Ranger-Alpha. The last communication was cut off in mid-sentence with no warning or indication as of why."
Griffin looked at the others in the room and quickly, Lt. Commander Halverson offered an explanation. "It could quite possibly be the Nephilim. Communications blackouts were reported just prior to their attacks in the Kilrah System."
"I'm on my way to the bridge," said Griffin as he shot up from his seat. "Have helm set a course for the last known position of the patrol wing."
A blinding light flashed across his eyes as the doctor checked his pupils. Once the nurse took away the light, his eyes kept its focus on the bright white ball that seemed to hang in front of him. Slowly, the ball disappeared as his eyes adjusted back to normal.
The nurse came back and put an armband around his upper arm. She smiled warmly at him. "Just relax," she said as she keyed in a command into a console attached to the arm. Slowly he could feel the band tightening around his arm.
The nurse looked at the console and noted down his blood pressure level onto a data-pad. She then took off the armband and passed it off to another nurse who was attending to another patient.
The nurse turned back to him and looked down at the information on the data-pad. He was getting impatient. He gave the clock a quick glance and then looked at it intently. He smiled.
The nurse looked at him to say something and noticed his smile. "Is there something funny about that clock?" she asked politely.
He looked back at her, the smile still plastered across his face. "No. Just an amusing... joke that popped into my head," he said rather quietly.
The nurse nodded understandingly... she thought she understood.
"Well, your medical checkup doesn't appear to have any abnormalities within it, but it look to me that you've been under a lot of stress as of late - "
She stopped in mid-sentence as the ship rocked slightly. A few seconds later, one of the wall monitors switched to an internal communications system. The message came from the engineering section of the ship.
One of the engineers was on the screen, his uniform slightly tattered and black marks from smoke and blood all over his face. Behind him, smoke billowed out from various pieces of machinery and sparks flew from a number of control panels. "Medbay! There's been an explosion down here! We need medics down here now!"
Almost instantly, the medical bay became extremely busy. Doctors and nurses prepared their equipment and rushed out to attend to the emergency. Many of them were also barking out orders to various other personnel in the room.
"Nurse Davies, grab an emergency medkit and head down there!"
The nurse in front of him gave him a brief glance and then rushed off to do her assigned task.
Excellent, he thought. This would give him the chance he needed to get out of there.
"Damage Report!" bellowed Captain Griffin over the confusion and activity that erupted on the bridge the instant after the ship was rocked.
Comm Officer Jesse Coins spoke up. "Captain, reports are sketchy right now. But there has been confirmation of an explosion in the engineering section. Thruster Control Room," he paused to get confirmation on the affected area. "Baker."
"The cause of the explosion?" asked Griffin, his calm demeanor hiding the turmoil that boiled within him.
"Unknown, sir. However readings were all normal before the explosion."
"A bomb," said Commander Stevens quietly.
"Not a chance!" retorted the ship's security chief who was standing beside her. "The engine room has been locked up. No one without a tech uniform or proper clearance has been able to get in there!"
The Commander looked at him wide-eyed. "Damn! That's it!" she exclaimed as she slammed her hands against the railing she was leaning on. "Come on, Chief," she said as he spun around and headed for the lift doors. "We've got to get some people together and search this ship!"
A slightly confused security chief looked at the Captain and Admiral Miller before turning around and rushing off to catch up with Commander Stevens.
All the while, during this time of chaos onboard, no one noticed the group of red dots that had briefly showed up on the radar. Unbeknownst to the crew of the Endeavour... the Nephilim were on their way.
Lt. Jesse Coins sat at his station and was monitoring the internal communications traffic onboard as the crew tried to get the situation under control. Another light flashed on his console, indicating a communication from one of the other ships in the battle group, specifically the TCS Clarke. He switched to that channel and responded.
"TCS Endeavour. What is it, Clarke?"
Captain Kleigger appeared on the small view screen at his station. "Endeavour, what's going on?" he asked.
Coins instructed Kleigger to switch decryption keys before reporting in. "We've had an explosion onboard. We're attempting to assess and contain the situation."
"An explosion? What happ - "
Kleigger's image was scrambled and then cut off completely. Coins' hands flew across one side of his console, attempting to reestablish the connection. Quickly, he put two and two together. "Captain! Communications are being jammed!"
At almost the same instant, the scanner operator cried out. "Captain Griffin! We've got inbound enemy contacts! ETA 8 minutes!"
A brief look of horror flashed across Griffin's face. Of all the times to have the Nephilim attack...
"All personnel to battle stations! All personnel to battle stations!" Griffin shouted over the internal communications network. "This is not a drill! All fighters launch immediately! We have incoming!"
Black Dragons Ready Room
Commander Garrison instinctively looked up as Griffin's voice boomed over the loudspeaker. Less than a second after the announcement, Garrison bolted up from his seat and rushed to his locker. As he moved, he yelled to the other pilots who also were making mad rushes for their flight gear. "Move it, Dragons! Let's go! Let's go!"
The pilots of the Black Dragons squadron donned their flight suits, grabbed their gear and dashed out the doors of the ready room. In the corridor, pilots from the other squadrons were also running down towards the flight deck as the lights flashed and the sirens sounded.
The bittersweet sound of the sirens that signaled a magnum launch filled his ears. The time had come for the Nephilim to wreak havoc upon this little ship and its crew. One by one, the weaker race, his race would drop like flies to the superior pilots of their opponent. Chances are that he would not survive, however that was not important anymore. The only thing that mattered was that the Nephilim would march past the Endeavour and the rest of the Confederation on their way to their final assault on the Kilrathi savages.
Lt. Colonel Pattenden's Hornet squadron accelerated significantly ahead of the rest of the Endeavour's flight group as the booster packs of their Wasp-class Interceptors burned and pushed them on towards their targets.
"Hornets Five, Six, Seven, and Eight bore in on the left! Nine to Eleven on the right!" ordered Pattenden through the comm system. "Hornets One to Four will go straight in. Lets hit'em hard people!"
The ships broke off accordingly and seconds later launched a powerful barrage of long ranged missiles at the Nephilim.
Its been said that the first few kills in a battle are the most important. Pattenden and the rest of the Hornets squadron came to fully realize this as their missiles impacted on some of the enemy fighters. They exploded with more of a "oop" than they expected. "They have bombers mixed in with the group!" exclaimed one of the pilots.
Pattenden rifled more orders into the comm unit. "Concentrate on those bombers and heavy fighters! We can't let them get to the battle group!"
The Wasp interceptors blew right through the center of the enemy fighter group. There must have been around seventy enemy ships in the wing. Obviously they were coming in with a full-scale assault.
At about the same time, the sleek and powerful Panther-class fighters of the Black Dragons and Emerald Falcons squadron met up with the enemy group. Their weapons fire tore through the lighter fighters like a hot knife through butter. Charred debris with white-hot glowing edges spun quickly by the Confederation fighters as they ducked and dodged to avoid being hit.
Cmdr. Cameron glanced down at his radar. It was spray painted with red dots, an indication of the immense number of fighters that challenged the Endeavour battle group.
To his right, the CIWS turrets of the TCS Copernicus reverberated and flared wildly as they shot out at the incoming Nephilim fighters. The hulls of the fighters shattered as the powerful weaponry tore through them. One by one, the fighters went down. But there were so many of them to fight off. Taking one down didn't seem to do anything to lessen their numbers. But the valiant pilots and crews of the Endeavour battle group fought on.
"Consider one more bug squashed!" yelled Chris "Madcat" Serraino as his Panther-class fighter flew through the wreckage of yet another scorched Nephilim fighter.
"Chris! Watch your six!"
Madcat took a look at his scanner and saw two red blips approaching his position at breakneck speed. He spun his fighter on its axis, trying to evade the gunfire that erupted from the two ships as they rocketed over his head and out in front of him. A couple of potshots to the back of one of his aggressors did little but bounce off the shields.
Another fighter came up on his rear as the original two banked around and came bearing straight down on him. The horizontal thrust pod that sat on the top of his fighter swung around, causing Chris' fighter to turn tightly as he attempted to get away from the three fighters that had him in crossfire.
It was no use. He didn't have a chance.
The weapons fire from the Nephilim ships first cracked his shields as if it was an eggshell and then pierced the armour, putting holes into the ship as Chris struggled to hang on. The fighter shook violently, being tossed and turned as the weapons fire and not the pilot took control of its movement.
Two Confed fighters came into help out. Two Confed fighters didn't make it in time.
Chris' fighter disintegrated as its power plant exploded. No physical trace of its existence was left. Except for the three Nephilim fighters that had brought it down.
And even they didn't last long. The two Confederation fighters attacked them with a vengeance. One of their own had gone down and hell would freeze over before they would let that go unanswered.
The battle raged on. Numerous Confed pilots lost their lives. An even greater number of Nephilim pilots met the same fate. There wasn't going to be a winner in this contest. In any war, there never is. Both sides weren't fighting to win anymore. They were fighting to survive.
Or at the very least, trying to make sure that their comrades survived.
Lt. Colonel Dave Pattenden's Wasp Interceptor had already done its job in the initial stages of the battle. Armed with a variety of missiles and equipped with a booster pack, Pattenden and his squadron in their Wasps had eliminated the Nephilim bombers before they reached striking distance of the battle group. Now, with the limited dog fighting capabilities of the interceptor, he had to help fend off the swarm of bug fighters threatening to overrun them.
Pattenden allowed his shields to recharge briefly after he took out another one of the bug ships. His few spare seconds quickly disappeared as one of his pilots cried out for help over the comm.
"Mayday! Mayday! I'm being ambushed by four bug fighters! I need help!"
The voice was that of squadron's youngest pilot, Mike "Hotshot" Ford. In a move that could almost be described as a reflex, Pattenden spun his fighter around in a 180-degree circle and accelerated to Ford's position. As he closed in, he could see Ford desperately trying to maneuver out of the way of the weapons fire of the four enemy ships. However, it was only a matter of time before they took him out.
Pattenden jammed his finger down on the trigger and his fighter let loose with a barrage from its tachyon guns and mass driver cannons. Seconds later, one of the Nephilim light fighters, named the Moray by Confed Intelligence, buckled under the attack and exploded, briefly confusing the other three fighters.
Pattenden wasn't about to let up. Quickly he switched targets and opened fire again. Despite the superior speed and maneuverability of the Moray-class medium fighters, the pilot was still trying to regain control and was easy pickings for Pattenden.
He continued to strain his fighter to the limit, banking around just in time to see two metal cylinders detach from a Nephilim heavy fighter and streak in towards Ford's damaged ship.
He couldn't shoot them down. He couldn't divert them.
So he just hit the afterburners and said a prayer.
Mike Ford watched as the fighter of his squadron commander flew directly into the path of the oncoming missiles. The two missiles impacted with the fighter, causing a violent explosion that destroyed the ship as well as eliminated the threat that the missiles posed to him.
His wide-eyed gaze was fixated on the burning wreckage that was once the Wasp interceptor that belonged to Lt. Colonel Dave "Renegade" Pattenden. He didn't even flinch when the group of three Confederation fighters sped over the top of his ship with their guns blazing. At that moment, the entire universe stopped except for the spinning pieces of debris that floated outside of his cockpit.
Garrison closed his eyes for a split second and collected his thoughts. He respected Pattenden. He liked the way he operated. He'd be damned if he let these bugs get away with taking him out.
"Dragons! I want every last one of these bastards burnt to a crisp!"
Garrison's voice resounded over the comm with the sound of anger, with the sound of determination, with the sound of revenge.
And if you were watching the battle unfold, you could tell that the pilots of the Black Dragons squadron could all hear it in his voice.
Iceman's fighter veered to one side before quickly banking to the opposite side in a maneuver that seemed like it would have nauseated the average pilot.
Phantom, Twilight, and Jade formed up and proceeded to dive in with a three-pronged attack against a group of Nephilim fighters.
Marauder and Road Runner caught another enemy fighter in a crossfire attack while it tried to evade the guns of the Murphy-class destroyer, TCS Copernicus.
Garrison himself rounded up the rest of the squadron and bore down on another set of enemy fighters that were regrouping after an attack run.
The sheer intensity of the regrouped Dragons squadron alone would have been enough to worry any squadron of pilots. But when an entire flight wing takes up the same attitude, those on the opposing side are in for a rude awakening.
The fire had been lit. The nerve had been struck. Now the Nephilim ships were going down in the blink of an eye.
Explosion after explosion lit up space as the pilots of the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing, with a refreshed sense of determination and focus eliminated their opposition. Once they were done, the only thing left in the vicinity was their fighters, their battle group, and a whole lot of debris.
Garrison looked at his sensors. Things were all clear. "This is Commander Garrison. Attacking force has been eliminated," he said quietly over the comm.
Admiral Miller's face showed up on the VDU and his voice rang out on the speakers. "Excellent work, pilots!" he said enthusiastically. "All pilots are to form up and return to the ship."
Garrison nodded. "You heard the Admiral, pilots. Form up and head home."
Garrison climbed down the ladder and onto the cold steel flight deck of the TCS Endeavour. He took off his helmet and let out a long sigh, as if to vent all of his tension and frustration. It didn't work.
He looked around the deck. As usual, it was a buzz. The overworked and many times under appreciated technicians and deck workers ferried the fighters, many of which had taken a noticeable amount of damaged, to the service bays.
To one side of the bay, the pilots of the Hornets squadron attempted to calm down their youngest member, Mike Ford. The loss of their squadron commander had him acting erratically and irrationally. Not that you could blame the kid. Pattenden did sacrifice himself in order to buy some time for Confed fighters to eliminate Ford's attackers.
Garrison closed his eyes, trying to block his mind from the world around him.
Silence was such a peaceful state, but one that invited chaos. So calming yet so terrifying.
What a double-edged blade.
Garrison opened his eyes to see one of his pilots, Lt. Commander Julia Williams walk up to him. She looked tense, almost frantic and her eyes darted around the flight deck before settling on him. "Cameron, have you seen Cat?" she asked. "I haven't been able to find her anywhere."
Garrison's expression turned dark and sad.
"No..." she said, her voice trailing off. She shook her head. "God no," putting her hand over her mouth, tears welled up in her eyes as she went quiet.
"We lost Madcat as well."
Garrison and Williams turned and looked behind them. Iceman approached them, sliding his hand along the smooth metal skin of one of the squadron's Panther-class fighters as he walked towards them.
Garrison nodded and said nothing for a moment. He looked back sympathetically at Williams and spoke. "The WC will no doubt want to do a mission debrief soon. Let's get cleaned up and rested a bit before he comes calling."
Williams nodded slowly, her emotions threatening to overwhelm her. "Yes sir," she said quietly before turning around and making her way towards the lift.
Iceman walked up beside Garrison. "From what I gather, we lost around ten pilots out there," he said as he looked around the flight deck. "The Clarke looked banged up as well. I'm sure there are a number of casualties aboard that ship."
"Wouldn't doubt it," Garrison said. His mind was wandering. He rubbed his chin and looked at Iceman wearily.
Iceman simply returned the look and slowly walked towards the lift.
Officer Conference Room
TCS Endeavour -- approximately two hours after the battle
"Have you finished your investigation, Commander?"
Commander Heather Stevens looked up towards Admiral Miller and nodded. "Yessir, I have," she replied. "We have come to the conclusion that Lt. Colonel Dave Pattenden was indeed the crew member who betrayed us."
Colonel Paul Taylor's body tensed and he grit his teeth.
Stevens took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts and choosing her words before continuing with her report. She didn't want to believe it. She didn't want to believe that Pattenden could be the guilty party in something like treason against the Confederation.
But the signs pointed to him.
"While searching for the missing technician's uniform, we found one of the Hornet squadron pilots near death. He claimed that he caught Colonel Pattenden attempting to break certain security barriers within the computer system and was shot because of it."
"Furthermore," she continued. "We examined the weapon that was found near the pilot. It was registered to Colonel Pattenden."
Miller nodded. "And what about this technician's uniform you so adamantly went searching for?"
"We found the uniform in Pattenden's locker," Stevens responded quietly. "We've also cleared Lt. Jeff Black of any suspicion. His was the uniform that was stolen."
"Where is this wounded pilot now?" asked Colonel Taylor. Despite the fact that there was no love-loss between the two of them, he wasn't even nearly convinced that Pattenden was a traitor.
"He died shortly after due to the extent of his injuries."
Taylor clenched his fists. Now there was no way for him to find out for sure if that flyboy's story was true.
The group sat quietly for a moment. It was the Admiral who broke the silence. "Very well then. I do not believe that there is anything left for us to discuss about this matter," he said. "Since Lt. Colonel Pattenden has been identified as the culprit and with his death during the last engagement, this investigation is closed."
The officers in the room looked around at each other without a word.
Things hadn't gone exactly as planned. The death of a pilot, his transformation into a martyr proved to be the catalyst that turned the tide of the battle against the Nephilim.
His sacrifice rallied the pilots of the TCS Endeavour against the Nephilim. It had allowed them to survive against the onslaught of the ones the Kilrathi referred to as "star gods."
Now, with the "revelations" that the senior staff of the TCS Endeavour have been provided with, Lt. Colonel Dave Pattenden had a shadow of doubt cast upon him.
If things go exactly as planned, he would not be known for being the focal point of their motivations... but the reason for their downfall.