PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 3 of 44 )
: “ Lurking in the Shadows ”
Hate is a powerful thing. Some say it is a bad thing, an unnecessary waste of energy. He does not say that.
Hate has been defined as intense hostility deriving from fear, anger, or a sense of injury.
A sense of injury.
Is that not what the Kilrathi did? Injure the human race? Striking down upon us from the first moment of contact? Attacking us without provocation, ravaging our colonies, killing the innocent, murdering our loved ones.
Hate is a powerful thing. He says it's justified. He says its necessary.
So what does that mean? It means he will utilize his hatred, focus on the Kilrathi, and make sure they pay for their savageness. And in the end, he will be spared and he will triumph in his victory.
How can he do this, you ask? Because hate is a powerful thing.
About 0400 Hours, 07 Feb 2681 (2681.038)
The Tyr-Nephele jump point ripped open and cast a bright blue and white glow on the surrounding area. One by one, the ships of the Confederation's Carrier Battle Group Aurora spilled out from the jump point and occupied the space around it. The bow of the TCS Endeavour emerged from the jump point as it followed the group's cruiser, the TCS Resolute into the Nephele System. Shortly after the two destroyers and two frigates that made up the rest of the group entered the system.
The Piranha-class fighters of the Endeavour's "Hunter" squadron darted out from the launch bays of the ship and began to patrol the area. They were taking no chances. Even though the remainder of the Third Fleet/Border Worlds task force was present all around them, and the cruiser squadron was guarding the jump point behind them, the Endeavour's command staff did not want to be caught with their pants down. After all, they did not know everything there was to know about the enemy.
"Hunter-1 to home plate. Commencing CAP, over."
"Acknowledged, Hunter-1. Proceed," replied the Endeavour's comm officer before adding cheerily. "Enjoy the flight."
The pilot shook his head and smiled. "Roger that, home plate. Hunter-1 out."
With that, the Piranha-class fighters ignited their afterburners, split up into pairs and proceeded with their assigned flight plans as the Aurora Battle Group headed towards the rest of the fleet.
Lt. JG Jennifer Mackenzie looked out a window in the ship's lounge as the engines of one of the Piranhas lit up, quickly propelling the fighter out of sight. She looked down at her drink as she swished it around in the glass. Times like these were always hard. Losing a pilot during combat is tough to deal with. Losing four can be devastating. Jennifer let out a long sigh and looked out the window again.
She had just transferred into the Emerald Falcons squadron not too long ago and had just been getting used to the pilots in her new squadron. The squadron even managed to adapt with the sudden changes in the roster and had begun to gel together as a team.
Then there were the Nephilim.
In seemingly endless waves they came at them during the final operation in Tyr, only a few hours ago. The Falcons had been assigned to a screening assignment along with various other squadrons from the Endeavour and the Bunker Hill. The Nephilim came down on them hard. Wave after wave of various fighters had pounded them as they struggled to hold their position. The Falcons had held them off admirably. Performing even better than most people had expected. But they had still taken their share of losses, maybe even more than their share. A third of the squadron had been lost in Tyr. But no one seemed to care. They had completed their mission and that seemed to be the only thing that mattered.
However, for Jennifer, there was more to it than that. There were the exchanges of fire, the explosions of fighters, the screams of pain, the utter chaos of the situation that she and the rest of the squadron had been thrust into. Never before had she seen such a savage an assault as the Nephilim had brought upon them. The Nephilim had been so deadly and ferocious in their strikes, she felt lucky and surprised that she was still around to even contemplate her experience.
"Hey, Falcon," said a voice from behind her.
Startled, she jumped, spilling her drink on the table. Quickly, she grabbed a napkin and started to dab at the liquid on the table. "Um... uh... hi, Kevin," she said nervously as she tried to clean up the mess as fast as she could.
Kevin McCarron looked down at her, slightly amused by her reaction. "Need any help there?" he asked kindly.
"Uh... no... no thanks. I'm fine," she replied quickly. "I can handle it."
McCarron nodded and then motioned to the seat across from her. "May I?"
Jennifer glanced at him quickly and then nodded without looking at his face. McCarron gave her a puzzled look because he couldn't figure out exactly what had her so tense. Obviously the situation they were in got to everyone, but Jennifer looked extremely troubled by something.
He ordered a drink and then looked back at Jennifer. "So," he started off. "How are you holding up with all that's going on?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she responded hastily. Then she looked at him and took a deep breath. "Actually Kevin, I'm a bit of a wreck," she said as she gave him a weak smile. "I can't believe we lost a third of our squadron out there," she said as she shook her head.
Kevin glanced out of the window to his right. "Yeah... I can't believe it myself. Those enemy fighters just kept coming."
He paused for a moment. "It could've been worse, you know."
"Yeah, I know," she responded. "But four people. Gone... just like that."
"But eight of us came back. And the odds were definitely not in our favor. At least we're still able to sit here now and talk about it," he said as he smiled at her and put his hand on hers. "Now more than ever, we gotta look out for each other."
"You're right," Jennifer agreed half-heartedly as she nodded and quickly pulled her hand away. "We gotta look out for each other." She bit her lip and darted up from her seat. "I have to go, I'm... I'm late for my shift," she said.
Kevin looked at the clock and then turned back to Jennifer but before he could utter a word of protest, she was on her way out of the lounge. He sighed and leaned back in his seat as he looked out the viewport.
He watched as Jennifer got up and left her seat, leaving the other lieutenant behind. He played with the gold wings that were affixed to the left side of his chest. He picked up the data-pad that sat on the table and started to key something in. A wry smile appeared on his face as he typed. Another letter to another innocent casualty. He finished typing and sent the letter. It truly was a shame that his plan did have its side effects. After all, in order for it to work, young Jennifer would have to be one of its sacrifices.
"I see the intelligence and scouting reports are actually being relayed down to us now," said Iceman as he walked down one of the Endeavour's corridors alongside his commanding officer, Cameron Garrison.
Garrison nodded in reply as he looked down at one of the data-pads that were in his hands. "Yeah, they're coming down to us now. Taylor's been a little more forthcoming with the information after the drumming that the Falcons and Hammerheads took back in Tyr," he responded. "I still say that if we had been given the information sooner, we wouldn't be looking at this many casualties so far."
"Probably not," Iceman replied with a voice devoid of emotion.
The two men stopped at a door and awaited the arrival of the lift. "You talk to Jenn, yet?" asked Garrison.
Iceman looked up from the data-pad he was reading and shook his head slightly. "No. Not yet," he replied.
Garrison nodded. "I wonder how she's holding up. Adjusting to a new squadron during combat situations is tough enough. Having to deal with losses on top of that is brutal."
"Yes, it is," Iceman agreed, his eyes still on the data-pad. "And the way to find out information, is to simply ask."
Garrison eyed Iceman as the lift opened. The two men stepped back as a couple of officers exited the lift and saluted as they walked by. Garrison and Rashid returned the salutes and entered the lift. The lift doors closed and ferried the commanders of the Black Dragons squadron to another part of the ship.
TCS Endeavour; Bridge
Captain Griffin stood with his hands clasped behind his back in front of one of the viewports located on the bridge. He looked out at the wondrous expanse that surrounded his ship. It was a sight that no one could get tired of: stars twinkling across the black backdrop of space like diamonds shining in the sun, comets streaking across the sky, gaseous nebulas of intense colors, and planets slowly rotating on their axis' like shiny marbles spinning in slow motion. It seemed like one huge choreographed production.
"Status report, Captain," said a voice that brought his thoughts back to the current situation.
He turned around and was handed a data-pad from a young officer. "Thank you, Ensign," he said as he looked down and read the information that was given to him.
Admiral Miller walked up beside Griffin. Griffin glanced over to his side and nodded in acknowledgement of the admiral's presence. Miller looked out of the window. "The fleet's securing from jump stations. We'll be splitting up once those cruisers finish mining the jump point. We have received our orders and destination from Admiral Hanton," he said calmly."
Griffin nodded. "All right. We'll get underway within the hour," he replied. "The Clarke is finishing up some minor repairs of damage suffered during the Tyr Engagement." Griffin turned to his Comm officer, "Mr. Coins, signal the battle group. Tell them we will be moving out in 45 mikes. Provide them with the necessary coordinates and flight plan."
"Aye, aye skipper," replied the Comm officer as he turned back to his console and began to carry out his orders.
Griffin smiled and shook his head slightly. Admiral Miller stepped closer to Griffin and lowered his voice. "What news do you have of this traitor?" he asked.
Griffin frowned and looked at the Admiral, "We have not found the culprit yet. Commander Stevens and her team is working on it," he said. "The good thing is that we haven't had any more disturbances yet, but I don't doubt that once we engage the Nephilim again, he will take action."
"If that commander of yours cannot do the job, I will find someone else who can," replied the Admiral harshly. "We cannot afford to have someone running around spilling our plans and capabilities to the enemy."
Griffin hid his contempt for his superior's words. "Commander Stevens is more than capable of getting the job done. She will find out who is responsible for this and get them. I have the utmost confidence in her abilities."
The admiral nodded. "I hope your confidence isn't misplaced, Captain. For all of our sakes," he said before walking off.
Griffin watched the Admiral as he entered the lift and shook his head. Arrogant son of a bitch, he thought. The Admiral's lack of trust in his crew was a personal insult to Griffin. The men and women who served on his ship were some of the Confederation's finest, and for the admiral to question their abilities and their determination was pure insolence.
TCS Endeavour; Combat Information Center
About The Same Time
Commander Heather Stevens rubbed her temples as she looked down at a computer monitor, waiting for the next file to load up on her screen. They had been at this for a couple hours now, searching through the crew's personality profiles for anything that would shed some light on who this mysterious crewmember that had betrayed them was.
"This is like searching for a needle in a haystack. The folks on this boat are pros. I highly doubt he'd stick out like a sore thumb," said one of the officers that were helping her.
Another man tossed a data-pad aside and nodded in agreement. "Besides, this guy seems to be generally psycho. He couldn't have been able to get on this tub if that was on his file."
Commander Stevens sighed. "You never know. He probably wasn't this crazy before, but he may have had psychological problems. This whole Nephilim thing has him turned inside out," she said. "And we really don't have much of a choice. There isn't much else we can do at the moment."
The officers nodded understandingly. What the commander had said was the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, looking a little further down that line also told them that they weren't going to find their turncoat like this.
The door to the CIC opened and an engineer walked in carrying a repair kit. He saluted Commander Stevens and then looked to the younger officers. "Hey folks, someone call about a fucked up terminal?"
"Hey, Eric," said Lt. John Rochester as he motioned towards one of the terminals at the back. "That one over there... you'll get about 5 minutes out of it before it just shuts down. I've got no clue why it's acting up like that."
Eric smiled as he moved over to the terminal. "Blanks out on you, eh? Maybe it just doesn't like the operator," he smiled.
"Ha-hah, very funny, Lee. Just get to work," John snapped back with a grin.
Eric sat down in front of the terminal and started his diagnostic routine while the other officers got back to searching through the personnel records.
"Hey, John, get this," said Eric.
John looked to him with a questioning look. "You know Jeff Black, right? Somehow the guy's lost one of his jumpsuits," Eric said with a chuckle. "You'd think that a 26 year-old military man would be able to keep his clothes in order."
John laughed. "Gives you a lot of confidence in his abilities as an engineer, don't it?" he said jokingly. John then turned to Commander Stevens. "Maybe it was our ship that fucked up our man," he said with a grin.
Commander Stevens smiled and shook her head. "Who knows, Lieutenant. I think I may be headed for the nut house by the time my tour is up."
The group laughed and joked around a bit more, easing the tension and stress in the room. The distraction worked well for them since they had been stressing over the personality profiles without a break for some time and the reprieve was a welcome one for Stevens and the group of officers that helped her.
The door to the room opened again, pouring bright light into the dimly lit room. The Chief of Operations on the ship, Lt. Commander Kevin Halverson poked his head in. "Commander, we're heading out soon," he said. "Captain wants you on the bridge."
Stevens nodded. "All right, Kevin. Thanks," she said before looking towards the group of people seated at the terminals. "Keep at it, guys, hopefully you'll be able to find something."
Stevens got up from her seat and left the room, leaving the technicians to their work.
Lieutenant Victoria Williams walked into the busy ship's lounge. She smiled at the sudden change of the atmosphere around her; from dull and dreary halls to lively sounds of conversation and soft music. Looking around briefly, she found where her sister, Julia and their friend, Catherine Waller were sitting and made her way to the table.
She walked up to the two of them. "Hey there, what's up?" she asked with a smile.
The two other women looked up. "Hey, Vick. Take a seat," replied her sister. "We're just talking about the last encounter we had with those aliens. Did you glance at your VDU when they were firing out comments?"
"Damn things looked like grasshoppers or some kinda bug, if you ask me," Catherine added.
Vicky laughed. "Bugs, eh? No... I didn't get a good look at them at all. Only thing I do know is that there were a whole lot of them out there."
Julia shook her head in disbelief. "They caught us off guard, that's for sure," she said. "Did you hear about the Hammerheads and the Falcons? Those bugs did a number on them. Lost a third of their squadron each."
"Horrible, isn't it?" said Catherine. "And we can't even get them any reinforcements. They've got to wing it with 8 pilots."
Vicky shook her head. "My god... and that's from the screening operation?"
"Yep. That's the op they were on," Julia replied. "And get this: Garrison said that the WC was holding back on us. He had more info on the enemy than he let on he had. God knows why he'd hide that from us. We could've really used it."
Catherine shrugged. "I don't know. It just doesn't make sense. You don't need a lot of intelligence to figure out that if we had that info, we'd have had a much better chance against them."
"With something like that, its disturbing not knowing his motives. Damn strange if you ask me," said Julia as she finished up the last of her drink.
Vicky looked at her. "You know, maybe I should actually order some -- "
"All pilots of the Black Dragons squadron, report to simulator room 3," the P.A. speaker blared.
"Then again, maybe not," she corrected herself.
Catherine and Julia both smiled at her and got up. "C'mon sis, we got some practicing to do."
Julia shook her head and smiled before getting up and following the other two to the simulator room.
TCS Endeavour; Bridge
Commander Heather Stevens walked onto the bridge of the ship. Captain Griffin looked back towards her. "Ah... Commander. We'll be getting underway in a minute or two," he said. "Please ensure that all stations are ready for departure."
Stevens nodded and went over to her workstation beside Lt. Commander Halverson as the Captain continued giving out final orders. "Comm, send a message to Admiral Hanton, the Endeavour is ready to get underway."
Lt. Coins, the Comm Officer nodded and went to work. After a moment or two, he spoke up. "Message sent, sir. We have the go ahead."
Captain Griffin nodded. "Good, signal the battle group that we are heading out. Helm, set a course for our designated patrol point, engines at full."
"Aye aye, sir. Engines at full."
TCS Endeavour; Emerald Falcons Barracks
About The Same Time
An exhausted Jenn Mackenzie lay back on her bunk. She shook her head as she thought about the encounter with Kevin in the lounge. She couldn't believe that son of a bitch tried to make a move on her at a time like this. Jenn took a deep breath and exhaled as she reached above her to grab a data-pad. Keying in her password, she access her shipboard email account to see if she had been graced with anyone's mail.
In this case, "cursed" would have been a better word for what she received:
"Even though I will try to reason with her for you, sweetheart, you must realize that Lady Death is not known for her mercy. With any luck, the fate of the universe will not necessarily apply to you. The Reaper."
Jenn jumped up and threw the data-pad down. Her breathing had increased and her heart pumped faster than ever as her hands trembled with fear.
As if she didn't have enough to deal with already...
In another part of a ship, a lone figure sat in a dark room. As the engines powered up, his heartbeat and breathing increased. Soon he would take the next step towards salvation and revenge. His deeds would not go unnoticed. He would prove to the Kilrathi that they could not get away with their savage acts. He would prove to the Nephilim that he was worthy of their mercy. And he would laugh as the Kilrathi burned in flames of retribution. Even if it meant that the rest of the universe had to burn with them.