PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 42 of 44 )

: Dreams of the Dead
PART 2 OF 2

 


Tanfen Kohlingen Branch
Sector Main HQ
1800 Hours, 10 Feb 2681 (2681.041)

Tanfen Kohlingen was placed in an out of the way system, the better to conduct its business unobserved by government eyes. Nevertheless, it looked more like a military base than a business hub for a major mega-corporation at the moment. In more peaceful times, a visitor would have been delighted to see the green vistas by which the Corp grew continental wide rows of produce and crops, turning the once arid but nitrogen rich planet a pleasant, if unremarkable green blot in the galactic landscape. On the other side of the planet though, like a paradoxical evil side to it was the murky brown of continent wide planetary mining operations. Massive automated mines churned out mineral wealth for the corporate machine. All in all, it was a rather peaceful place. Not anymore, though.

Lining the jump point was a Corporate frigate, packed with milspec armament and as many torpedoes and missiles that TASC could mount without overloading its bays. Beside, behind and around the lone frigate were hundreds of mines. Hastily sowed, each of the mines gave off a dull menacing red glow as it was released, rolling around in space from being flushed from their mine layer transport only to stop and self activate. The minelayers, modified Galaxies with multiple compartmentalized external cargo hulls, opened each one to vacuum, flushing out their deadly cargo. According to pre-established doctrine, minelayers were supposed to follow a pre defined seeding pattern to ensure maximum granulation of the minefield, but this was hardly a time to follow a rule book. Every second was precious.

Joining the frigate in its task was every ship that could be spared to defend the jump point-corvettes, Union gunships and picket ships, light merchantmen with hastily welded on quad laser turrets and anything else that could fly and fight. Behind them in loose formation arrayed throughout local space were the local Branch’s star fighters, Arrows, Hellcats, Longbows, Thunderbolts, and even a trio of Sabres.

On the ground, Kohlingen’s HQ, and its accompanying starport were ringed by hastily deployed defenses. Automated Turret Mounts lined every approach to the site with concentric rings of firepower. Set on automatic, their simple AIs would target and destroy anything that had no Tanfen IFFs. Beside, around and behind them were layer upon layer of haphazardly laid cluster mines. Entire Square kilometers were sown with mines as low flying Galaxy minelayers strew their cargo carelessly to empty their holds and begin the process again. Behind the mines and turrets lay hastily excavated earth works as the permacrete of the area was torn up, and the planet's rich black soil was thrown up into trenches, foxholes and tank defilade positions. In these trenches lay TSF troopers, and some of the regional Homeguard units, all of them issued with assault weapons, even anti-tank missiles. In defilade positions, the few IFV’s the local TSF company had were arrayed with their weapons facing the horizon. Some of those IFVs bore a rapier and rampant palomino, and in those vehicles, unlike those that did not bear the insignia were pilots that had sky gray berets and a calmness that was almost terrifying. Everyone else was nervous, talking among themselves, checking and rechecking weapons. Not them. They had already checked them thrice, and they were ready to rock and roll. Their ground brethren, also wearing sky grey berets and body armor waited calmly in position beside the gathered Homeguardsmen, calm eyes scanning the horizon for the enemy.

Inside the command HQ, a woman of regal bearing awaited reports. Dressed in sky grey armor, she proudly bore the image of a rampant palomino and vine encrusted rapier on her breastplate. Her long grey hair flowed like a banner behind her as her thralls hurried to do her bidding. She sat in the command center, her force pike, her constant companion throughout her younger years, and now brought back into service again one final time sitting in full view. She was the sectors CEO. Her daughter was being evacuated, but her position as Lord Commander dictated that she remain here. Desperate calls to the local militia units, mobile Homeguard regiments and even the Union Navy had said that they were AOYOI. No reinforcements were available. All were siphoned off to either protect their own territories, or as reinforcements for some unusual fleet action that the local TISD representative had been unable to pinpoint. The best that could be said was that the Corp could flex their considerable defensive might, though that paled before the threat to come.

“Milady, I urge you against this action, there is still time and place to ev...”

“I ask again, Harrington -- status report on Operation Tango-Orion.”

There was a shuffling of feet, and a grim nod. “Milady, the datacore and prototypes have been evacuated. Our dependents are even now being loaded onto the transports. TMMN says that evac will be done in about fifteen minutes. Then, they will need ten minutes on full drive to head for the jump point.” The man leaned forward, “Please, milady, there are other options, for your sake, please…”

She turned to glare at her seneschal, her ice blue eyes looking like firestones. “You know the statistical figures as well as I do Harrington. There is insufficient time for our dependents to evacuate before they arrive. You may leave if you wish, Harrington. You have served me and Aleina well. Go with honor.” It made perfect statistical and financial sense to buy time. Their lives would buy the time needed so that their dependents could escape. Financially speaking, "defensive" units and Honor Guards were expendable resources towards the protection and defense of the Family and Tanfen. Their dependants could have been evacuated first, but the future of the Corporation had to be taken into account -- if those R&D prototypes and the datacore were to be lost, Tanfen would be ruined.

Harrington gave a grim shake of his head. “No, milady. My place is with you, to the end. For Lai.”

The woman did something a Lai was rarely known for, much less do. She clapped his shoulder, acknowledging his bravery. That was a rare thing to do, and only made it more special.

“For Lai.”

She turned from him, facing the massive screen that was a characteristic of all Corp command centers.

"Once all fighters are launched... arm all technicians and auxiliary personnel and order them to prepare to defend the shelters and all other defensive positions."

"But… is that wise? They are not combat trained."

"I know -- if we fail, there is no more need for auxiliary personnel. This is all or nothing. Arm the auxiliary personnel when they have finished their duties." She stood up.

He swallowed, "Yes, milady."

Every step possible, in fact, everything that had happened so far, was done to ensure their families had the best chance to escape from what was to come through that jump point. Those that remained behind, including her small personal bodyguard of Highlanders, would fight to the death with the cold aplomb and logic the regiment was infamous for to defend their families that were even now being loaded onto the transports. Many people in the rest of the galaxy fought for things like flag and country; empty entities that simply denoted affiliation. The Families, and those who served them fought for something more tangible -- for their own kith and kin. Loyalty to their own family and the Families themselves was what held them all together, and what would bind them in death, much as it did in life.

In high orbit, much like everywhere else on the front lines, massive transports sat, their engines glowing azure and white as they idled. They were waiting, desperately as dozens of their smaller brethren were moving things up from orbit into their holds. Their ship captains had hardly ever seen combat before; at most pirate raiders -- this situation was from their worst nightmares. They all fought every reaction to flee. The Homeguard units arrayed before the jump point, and waiting on the ground had their orders. Buy time. At any cost. They knew what would happen to them, but they all kissed their wives, their husbands, their parents and their children goodbye, wore their armor, girded their laser rifles and prepared to face death like warriors.

Seconds passed. Minutes passed. Pilots and crewers sat hunched, anxiously over instrument panels as they awaited the inevitable assault from the legions of hell. Prayers and last rites to every God in the pantheon were being chanted, chaplains gave the final blessings on the fleet network.

Then, from out of the blue, the jump point flared. And through it came abominations, hideous evil things that reeked of evil and corruption. And this happened before the small flotillas was fully in position, causing chaos which was rapidly quelled by stern captains and squadron leaders as capital ships and fighters fought to align themselves to face the threat.

Harrington rattled off the numbers. “Milady, ground stations detect one cruiser, eight corvettes and at least a hundred fighters of various types.”

“All units, buy time for the fleet to evacuate. Make the scum pay for every inch of ground they take.”

The minefield only slowed them down. Dozens of fighters ploughed through the minefields, taking ridiculous casualties until they actually forced a way through, leaving dozens of serrated and torn corpses behind. Some of the destroyed alien fighters twitched like dead manta rays, spewing ichor and fast freezing effluent and pus into the void as they died. Not that it mattered much to the enemy. Behind the fighter wave came the cruiser and corvettes. The few mines that stood in their way simply popped and did no more damage than a peashooter would do to a berserk Loyalist Marine.

The Corp capital ships and fighters begun fighter a delaying and defensive action, retreating, fighting the alien enemy and making them pay for every inch of space they took, until they were back to back in high orbit, the escaping Sector fleet but scant kilometers behind them.

“Sir! No more transmissions from Squadron 16!”

“Raider Squadron Leader is down! I repeat Raider Leader is down!”

“Tender Falcon’s Nest taking heavy damage!”

“Fighter escort casualties at 35% and climbing!”

“We’ve lost the Orion!”

"Can't shake… AAA…"

"Die! Die! Die!"

"Oh God! Please! No! Please no! PLEAAS..."

A blinding flash of light erupted on part of the fleet that had to face the Alien threat first. A comm officer blinked rapidly at the expanding cloud of gasses, then swallowed hard before making the announcement.

"We've lost the Annette!"

As the tide of battle turned against the defenders, the cruiser and its corvette escorts plowed through, attempting to intercept the convoy like a swarm of chitinous beasts in the darkness.

"Fire control, you may fire at will," said the regal woman as her main screen indicated that the Alien flotilla were within reach of her warheads.

Outside, a small team of technicians and HG troopers hunkered down as they heard the order and responded... sending a blazing white spear of light launching from the earth. The half track the ground to space missile launcher was mounted on bucked as it launched the warhead, releasing a small gout of foul smoke and the stench of burned chemical fuel. And after that, the missile crew launched another. And another.

In orbit, the remaining HG fighters swarmed, desperately fighting for every inch and delaying the oncoming horde. The frigate, and its captain, more used to fighting a Porhen offensive were unused to a fleet battle. Nevertheless, he did his best. Launching a spread of decoys to stop incoming Alien warheads, the frigate fired multiple volleys of Valiant torpedoes at an enemy corvette, smashing it like a hammer crushes an egg and causing it to blow apart in a puff of flesh and chitin. It repeated this on another corvette, until its launchers ran dry. The alien fleet still advanced uncaring however much his efforts at taking out their weaker kin. Something had to be done. The cruiser seemed to be the biggest threat, and it seemed to be the natural leader of the Alien flotilla. The frigate however, had nearly expended its desperately small ammunition store, using it up in a few moments.

However, it still possessed spreads of dumbfires and a pair of heat-seekers. Seeing the enemy cruiser attempting to plow past the blockade, it tried to stop it. To no avail. One slashing energy beam sliced the frigate, overloading its port shields and wounding it badly, sending bubbles of oxygen and dying crewers out into the void. Sparks appeared as internal systems overloaded.

Its captain was not done, though, and rolled over as fast as he could, just barely dodging another energy weapon volley before a stray shot impacted on its intact starboard shields. To an observer, the frigate seemed to charge the Alien cruiser upside down. The frigate's captain realized it wouldn't last long against something that outclassed it so, then took a calculated gamble and released its dumbfires at the cruiser, ordering its launchers to volley launch its entire spread in one convulsive burst of firepower and hoping to at least cripple the cruiser so that it could not pursue. No such luck. The Aliens' anti-missile defenses intercepted the warhead swarm, fired at such extreme range and blew it apart. Then, the cruiser went to work on the frigate, smashing it out of existence.

Around this massive battle, both sides fighters, both human and not, weaved in and out, fighting desperately. But there were more Nephilim than Terran, and though TASC did their very best, the likes of which would impress the ancient aces of Terra's history, they were but leaves in a typhoon of death. One by one they fell. The cruiser, after taking apart its largest threat surged forward with its corvette escorts, intent on purging the convoy it could see beyond planetary orbit of life. And then -- the warheads struck.

First one, then another. Each Great White surged up as its advanced AI calculated the best way to intercept and cause maximum damage. First one corvette, and then another, all of them seemingly unaware of the threat below took in a warhead, each like an armor piercing round through their soft fleshy rear engines, before expanding suddenly as if its armored hide sought to contain the raging fire within. Then, each exploded, showering local space in chunks of gore. Whoever was commanding the Alien fleet realized the threat the base posed, and that as long as it stood, the convoy was not reachable, not without massive losses. And the cruiser responded, seemingly growing as orifices opened up within it. Then, pod shaped things, without TASC nor any form of interference to stop them charged into the atmosphere.

“Milady, enemy dropships have broken past our perimeter and are going for terminal drop six K’s north in sector Gamma.”

“Prepare for ground assault.”

They came like a tide of evil, what seemed like hundreds of millions of them, until even the once pristine green sen from orbit was colored the mildewed corrupted grey of rotten flesh. From what the ground pounders could see from below, dozens of shooting stars fell-destroyed TASC and Alien fighters, crashing down from orbit. Beyond that, streaks of light and missile contrails could be seen like a light show, eerily silent and ominous. The HG officers shook their heads, though, and ordered their men to pay attention. They had their own problems.

The chitinous swarm surged on the horizon, seemingly eclipsing the land in a moving tide of chitin and evil. Their strange ululating cries and chirps made lesser men panic and flee. And then they charged -- ignoring the fact that they were doing so over a massive minefield. Dozens of alien arms, legs and chunks of chitin flew into the air as the buried mines did their work, tearing huge chunks in their formation, sending dozens of them to meet their dark maker, but many more still came. Many, many more. They crawled over the bodies of their fallen, charging forth, uncaring of the casualties they were taking. Those few Homeguard with missile launchers begun taking potshots, taking out several of the massed alien bugs, but more kept coming. Wherever one of the abominations died, another two were ready to take its place. They were within firing range of their defensive turrets now. No mortal army could have taken losses like this and still kept coming. They were unstoppable.

A captain raised his arm with a clenched fist and lowered it. "All units, fire at will. Make every shot count."

"Maulers are opening fire."

The heavy autocannons mounted on the automated turrets selected their targets and opened fire, their massive bursts lighting the night with blasts of bright orange and white light. Spent shells fell out of the barrel in a constant stream as they tracked and let loose ruin on the things. The first wave seemed to slow and pause, before their bodies exploded in bursts of ichor and appendages. At least projectile weapons hurt them. But more kept coming. Alien bodies piled up like cordwood, their separate body parts forming shards and multi-colored stains that stained the landscape for miles around. Yet they kept on coming.

The IFVs opened up with their own phased gatling lasers and mass drivers, cutting wide swathes into the enemy, but they averaged about a few seconds before simply exploding apart from whatever weapons the aliens used. Those piloted by the Highlanders fared better, one IFV actually reversing, then charging the Alien enemy, firing as it went and crushing dozens with audible crunching and screeching noises under its armored treads before being swarmed under and torn apart, with the sounds of Archers going off as the Highlander pilots inside drew their guns and kept firing as their own vehicle and themselves was torn apart around them. In scant seconds, the front perimeter was breached.

The captain raised his TS-01G to the lip of the trench and squeezed the trigger. OPEN FIRE!

One infantry man reloaded his rocket launcher, cursing under his breath when the loading mechanism jammed for a second. "Give me a hand, brother," he asked the soldier next to him, amused at himself when he noticed the tingle of fear in his voice. "C'mon, it's not as if your gun could do you much good."

"Up yours," the other replied humorously, reaching over to steady the rocket launcher. They had sorted the problem out in a matter of moments, and both hunched down as the weapon started firing automatically, pumping out five rockets in ten seconds.

"Reload," the first trooper shouted, raising his head over the rim of the trench to see what they had accomplished. "Oh, shit." At first, he stared at the masses of Aliens that had been broken by projectiles, laser beams, ion charges, and fire, but eerie movement made him raise his gaze. "Prepare for a serious butt-kickin', brother," he shouted, pointing to the new wave of Aliens that was heading their way. Whereas the majority of the first wave of bugs had been unarmed, those carried something in their bizarre limbs. He watched, fascinated, as one of the bug warriors raised the delicate object and pointed it at an automated turret. A bright beam of energy shot out and played over the armored surface, then he had to avert his eyes, for the resulting explosion threatened to blind him.

The soldier cursed under his breath. "Inform HQ that the bugs are starting to deploy armed troops in numbers. Tell them that we're running out of time." He glanced at the rocket launcher, noticing with an odd sense of detachment that they only had four more magazines for the weapon. Twenty rounds. After that, they would have to rely on their laser carbines.

"I'm on it."

The first trooper jammed another magazine into the launcher and armed the weapon expertly, grinning savagely when the first missile shot out and headed for a formation of bugs that was heading their way. The warhead exploded in mid-air, turned into a cloud of fire and metal fragments that ripped into Alien bodies, shredding their chitin armor. Jets of liquids whose nature he could not even guess were sent forth, and the trooper smiled. That missile had killed at least five bugs, and several other seemed to have been injured. He ducked quickly when a searing blast went over his head, then laughed crazily when he realized that he had barely escaped death. "Get off the comm, man," he shouted to his compatriot. "Looks like the bugs have spotted us."

"No time to boogie. We've gotta fight," the other concluded, gripping his carbine with trembling hands. The first soldier could not blame him. It was one thing to go into a battle where the odds were even; but this was another matter entirely. No matter how many bugs were killed, there were many more to come. They shook their triangular heads upon receiving wounds that would have crippled the strongest man and charged on; they stomped through fire, shrugged off broken or shredded limbs. They were the worst kind of enemy: the one that does not know fear.

"Okay, here's the deal -- our company commander just told us that we've got to hold out a few more minutes."

"Very well." He counted to five, then reached for the launcher, which had just spewed forth the last missile in the magazine. "At least we're not gonna die in vain," he muttered to himself, surprised that he did not feel fear, even though the aliens had advanced another hundred meters.

"Look at the bright side," the other said darkly, "you won't have to pay back that mortgage you took on your new hovercar." They both were distracted by what only could be battle screams. "What's that?"

"The volunteers," the first soldier said calmly, now completely fearless. "They know they can't survive this one, but that doesn't stop them." He watched, fascinated, as one of the volunteers, according to his fatigues a medic, charged into the mandibles of an Alien warrior. The xenomorph did not even bother with a weapon; it simply lashed out with one of its limbs, tearing its prey's guts wide open. It shook its triangular head, its eyes glowing ferally. Just as it shrieked, the dying man reached out and flung a grenade. The resulting explosion masked killer and victim from the eyes of the onlookers, and when the smoke had cleared, nothing was left.

"We're out of ammo," the first soldier noticed absently, grabbing his rifle. "Let's get over to those volunteers. They might need a hand." He received a quick nod of assent from his comrade, and both set out on their perilous voyage. Only a hundred steps lay between them and a group of technicians, but that was open ground, and since the bugs were liberally using energy weapons now, every step taken by them could be their last.

They crossed the last dozen steps by dashing madly towards safety, then jumped down into a trench, scaring the hell out of a couple of technicians who were fumbling their weapons.

"Take it easy, boys." The first soldier reached out and snagged a rifle out of the hands of a young man who was barely old enough to grow a beard. "Don't hold it like that," he advised, miming the younger. "Put it on the lip of the trench, and set to rapid fire. That way, you might take one or two of the bastards with you."

The young man stared at them. "You are HG troops! You will defeat them, won't you? Won't you?"

Both HG troopers dropped their gazes. "Let's get to work, son," the first said, training his weapon at the aliens, whose vanguard was now merely fifty paces away from them. Had it been an ordinary enemy, he would have let them come closer, especially since the troops fighting at his side were untrained and thus, likely to miss with most of the shots they took. However, the Aliens were extremely strong and sturdy, and their resilience to mortal injuries was such that they would likely overwhelm the defenders if they allowed them to get any closer. He closed one eye and took aim, grinning savagely when his company commander whispered through his ear link, "Fire!"

His repeated his commanding officer's order, and was gratified to see that every single one of the volunteers did as told. Many of them were trembling, but none broke rank to flee.

Hundreds of energy bolts streaked out, shredding and slicing into the oncoming horde like a purifying flame.

The Aliens returned fire, but they missed with most of their shots, which surprised both HG troopers. It did not occur to them that their implacable foes might have a reason for doing so, that they might prefer handling puny humans up close and personal, where no mere human being stood a chance at besting one of the alien invaders.

"Okay, time to drop the rifle, old boy," the first of the soldiers said calmly, gesturing towards the vanguard of aliens, which was now almost upon them. He nodded to himself when his company commander issued the order to drop their rifles and resort to their heavy handguns, the Archers. At the range the Aliens were in, their Archers would do much more damage.

With a resounding clatter, the entire Homeguard company dropped their laser rifles and drew their Archer heavy pistols. A cross between a heavy automatic and sub-machinegun, Archers were respected and feared weapons. Those Homeguard with CAS suits armed their gatlings and stood shoulder to shoulder with their lesser brethren and let loose a wall of hot lead at the oncoming horde. The leading waves of the alien horde staggered, paused, then exploded like eggs put into a microwave. Their ichor rained out in torrents. No human army could have seen that devastation, and kept coming. They did. The surviving hordes stomped over the bodies of their charred comrades, their mandibles and claws clicking eagerly for the prospect of combat.

"Now we're gonna get it," the second HG trooper observed calmly, ducking expertly when an energy bolt singed past his head. He checked his gun and cursed. "I'm almost out of ammo." He looked at the youngster fighting at his side and grabbed his shoulder. "Fall back to the perimeter. Spread the word! Go! We can't win this one. Buy us a little more time back there!"

The pimply young man stared at him, his mouth wide open. "What about you?" he finally asked, his own fear apparently forgotten.

"Screw us," the first trooper chimed in, hastily tossing a grenade over the rim of the trench, then ducking down when a sheet of flame washed over the Aliens that had almost reached them. "Go! We'll follow in a minute." He grinned wolfishly when an alien forelimb brushed over his helmet. The soldier drew his vibroblade and lashed out, severing the limb with a single stroke. He glanced over his shoulder, noticing that many of the volunteers were indeed scrambling for the perimeter, where they might find refuge -- for a few moments.

"Time to make our exit, old boy," he commented casually, flinching when another Alien bore down on him, its mandibles clacking with anticipation. A shot rang out, momentarily deafening him, and the alien vanished from view, hurled backwards by a heavy projectile.

"Let's go seek the Captain," the second HG trooper shouted, clutching at his forearm, which sported a long gash from which blood spurted forth in a red jet. He paused, then turned his head, puzzled by something he could not lay his finger on. "What the hell is going on? They should have overrun us by now."

"Beats the hell outta me. Let's not wait for them to get their act together -- let's scramble. The Captain might need us."

Both soldiers climbed out of the trench and started withdrawing, covering their retreat by hurling grenades, both smoke and the standard variety.

"There they are! But what are they waiting for?" The first trooper pointed to a roiling mass of aliens, which had stopped just a handful of paces away from the trench they had just left.

"I guess they don't want to spoil the fun by rushing us," the other huffed, grimacing when the pain in his forearm intensified. "Don't question their motives. Let's link up with the rest of our company."

One minute later, they reached the next line of defense, where they were greeted by other survivors, with whom they traded tired smiles. "The
commander was worrying about you two," one of the guards observed, a grin on his face. "Told us you two would get lost in your own lockers."

"Up yours," the first HG soldier shot back, smiling to take the sting out of his comment. "How's the Captain doin'?"

"He's trying to reach HQ." The sentry turned his head, his mouth opening wide when he saw the alien vanguard, who had apparently decided that it was time to finish off their adversaries for good.

The gathered men in the trenches, the volunteers, the technicians, all raised their rifles as one and begun firing. Hundreds of energy bolts streaked out, shredding and slicing into the oncoming horde like a purifying flame. The Alien corpses were piled sometimes eight or ten deep in strong points of resistance, yet they kept coming. HG troopers kept firing until they ran out of ammo, and then reloaded, and kept firing, but ultimately, there were more bugs than ammunition. As the bugs charged, dozens of HG troopers seemingly doubled over, and exploded from the inside out, their internals torn apart by some eldritch force the aliens were using. It was nightmarish, it wasn’t even a clean death as dozens of HG troopers just simply died screaming. Many fled, but some of the volunteers stayed on. The Highlanders were calm, even when half their number died, spattering the survivors with their brethrens' blood, and just simply kept firing.

The Captain shouted an order to his men, "Drop rifles! Arm Archers! Fire at will!"

With a resounding clatter, the entire Homeguard company dropped their laser rifles and drew their Archer heavy pistols. A cross between a heavy automatic and sub-machinegun, Archers were respected and feared weapons. Those Homeguard with CAS suits armed their gatlings and stood shoulder to shoulder with their lesser brethren and let loose a wall of hot lead at the oncoming horde. The leading waves of the alien horde staggered, paused, then exploded like eggs put into a microwave. Their ichor rained out in torrents. No human army could have seen that devastation, and kept coming. They did. The surviving hordes stomped over the bodies of their charred comrades, their mandibles and claws clicking eagerly for the prospect of combat.

“Shit, sir! We’re almost out of ammo!”

The sergeant squeezed off a shot, taking an alien in the head. “Fall back! Fall back! Fall back to the perimeter!”

The Guards were being pushed savagely by the alien horde. One slow to move trooper was grabbed and thrown into the swarming alien pack by a drone. Ear splitting screams filled the air before it was mercifully ended by a blood-gurgling scream.

The Captain shouted into the comlink, “Have the fucking things been evac-ed yet?”

“Two more minutes, Captain.”

“Fuck you. I don’t have two more minutes! Those bastards are pushing us to the wall!” The comm went dead.

Part of the line broke, two troopers falling down, dying. Their insides turned the earth bright crimson. He raised his rifle, and dropped his useless comlink and thumbed the trigger. His rifle blazed bright orange as tracers and lead slammed into the aliens.

If we're going to die, we’ll take the bastards to Hell with us.

One of the damned things fell down. The other kept coming. It was too fast, and he couldn’t draw a bead on it at this range. He dropped his rifle and drew his vibroblade in one smooth motion, flicking it on and filling the air with a metallic hum. The hideous thing gave a lunge. He parried, and then went for a slice, taking off one of the monstrosity’s arms. It howled, drooled and seemed to go berserk, then charged him again. He gave a roar and went for a high overhead chop, connecting just before the accursed thing's razor sharp claws could grasp him and rip him to shreds. He stepped back, gasping at the amount of energy expended in such a short time. The thing seemed to stand still, before it’s head became loose, hanging on by a thin shred of flesh on it’s neck before it and its body fell to the blood stained battlefield. One down, a million to go. Those Homeguard that ran out of ammo for their Archers drew their mono-filament blades and bayonets and went hand to pincer, screaming, kicking and fighting for all they were worth, and died with defiance on their lips.

The first soldier ducked under an Alien forearm, then howled with pain as the thing whip-lashed him, piercing his body armor in at least two places. He swung his vibroblade, cutting out its legs beneath it, then realized that only one other was approaching him. Yes, the Aliens wanted to play, and they would not deprive themselves of the pleasure by sending too many in all at once. He turned around to scream a warning to his friend, who was fighting at his side and was set upon by another Alien, but when he opened his mouth, a terrible lance of pain shot through his chest. The first HG soldier turned his head fractionally, amazed by the effort necessary to perform such a simple gesture. He looked down on his chest, noticing with a faint sense of wonder that the barbed forearm of an Alien warrior had pierced him. Oddly enough, there was no pain, only a faint sense of exhilaration. This was what he had trained for his entire life. His hands were growing numb, but he still could reach down and arm one of his remaining grenades. "Fire in the hole," he managed to croak, forcing a smile onto his face as the world around him erupted with the brilliance of the sun.

The Highlanders as one used up the last of their ammunition, and drew their force pikes. Then, they charged forward like a cross between a pikeman formation and a horde of martial artists as they swung their charged pikes in wide arcs, causing ruin and death among the rushing horde. Every moment that passed was a change for the Sector Fleet to escape, and they were going to give them that chance. Their swings caused seemingly white aftertrails in the air as they brought bladed death to the enemy. Though they fought with coordinated discipline, sheer numbers slowly brought them low. First one trooper died, then another, and another, all with the cold sneer of a triumphant martyr on their face. The last Highlander fought on, his pike leading the way, and his face still calm and calculating. An Alien tore an arm off, causing him to stagger, but he didn’t even flinch. He calmly swung his pike in an arc with his remaining good hand and his lifeblood flowing out like a geyser from the other and then threw it like a spear to skewer an alien in its compound eyes before reaching into his web-gear, and pulling a pin. The explosion tore the horde around the Highlander into unrecognizable little pieces of Alien flesh.

There was a slight lull in the battle. The Captain looked around. This wave was beaten, but at savage cost. From a total of a hundred Homeguard, he was now down to only two dozen. And he could see more on the horizon. He thought of his wife-to-be back on the transports, and how he would never see her again. But he knew she would be taken care of. Tanfen always did. He slammed his last clip into his rifle, then jacked his last two rounds into his shotgun and stood shoulder to shoulder with his men for the last stand. He gave a savage grin. It was a good day to die. Burned and wrecked vehicles dotted the landscape. The corpses of a million of the aliens along with his troops littered the ground in a multi-colored field of ichor, chitin, and human blood.

He looked up at the leaving shuttle, carrying with it the innocents he and his men paid in blood for. He hoped they were worth it. No matter. He was almost out of ammo. He gazed at his ammo counter, five more rounds. His shotgun was empty, his vibroblade was almost out of charge, and he was down to eight men. The only thing left to do was give a good accounting of himself. He patched into the HQ’s channel, “Milady, we’ve done our best. We’ll try to take as many of them down as we can. Be expecting company. Captain Galiel out.”

“Proceed, Captain. You did well.” She watched as Captain Galiel switched off the connection. She did not want a reconnection, she knew what was going to happen. Kuan Yin receive his soul in Her gentle hands.

Her attention was on a small subset of the screen that was still functioning, showing the last transport and those being loaded on it. Her grand daughter, her large brown eyes seemingly reflecting the doom that was to befall those left behind. She did not understand what was going to happen, except that grandmamma said that she was going on a long trip. She rubbed her eyes and begun crying, her mother trying to comfort her as harried technicians slammed the loading door shut and signaled the pilot to launch, and then afterwards raising rifles that they had little idea how to use and joining the fast failing perimeter defense.

“Goodbye, Petal. Remember me in the Halls,” said the regal woman.

She then turned her attention to another small sub-screen, showing her launcher crew. The small camera, mounted on a HG troopers helmet seemed to shake and shudder. She caught a glimpse of the oncoming horde, and the troopers desperate voice. "Home One, we have hostiles incoming. We'll…" and then the screen turned into a jumble of confusion as the trooper opened fire with his assault rifle, along with a few other techs, their harsh shouts overlain with the ululating cries of the aliens. There were screams of agony, before the helmet fell, its owners gory head rolling into view, and the helmet rested on the ground. Gunfire continued sounding, a technician and a Homeguard's foot apparent in the camera as they stood back to back and kept firing. The HG trooper exploded, showering the tech in gore. The launcher behind them exploded with the trooper, sending shards of metal flying. The tech gave a shout, staring into the gun camera on the helmet, his face desperate and stained with blood. "EMPRESS IN HEAVEN!! HELP US!! FOR HER SAKE-HE~!!" There was a blood curdling scream. The woman disconnected the transmission.

Shouts, gunfire and then death screams rattled in the hall outside. She stood up, her regal bearing belying her years and activated her lance, feeling it hum with barely leashed power. The blast door seeming to crumple from multiple repeated blows. Suddenly, a massive appendage tore through. Her remaining staff drew their Archers, firing them with trained bursts, tearing whatever owned the thing apart. Massed firepower formed a sleet wall of lead and energy shot that drove the abominations back for a few seconds more. However, more things burst through, tearing the door like tinfoil. The screaming begun as her few men begun dying. Spatters of blood splashed the once pristine screens of the command centre as if someone had decided to establish a slaughterhouse there. Suddenly, a little chime rang that told everyone that the last of the fleet was far enough to jump out.

Harrington knelt behind a console, desperately reloading his MLS-101 before rising up and firing, only to take an alien energy bolt that took out half his torso. He gave her an agonized smile and a gasp “For Lai…” before death claimed him.

The woman gave one final glance at a readout, making sure the fleet was out of the blast radius. She then gave the alien enemy a wintry smile as she slammed her hand down on a button painted in red. ‘We shall see Yen Lo Wang together, abominations’ she thought with grim satisfaction.

EVE’s voice said pleasantly, “Self-destruct initiated in T-Minus 30 seconds.”

The woman strode forward, doing what she had not done in decades as her vibro lance danced and flashed and sung to the song of war, alien appendages flying and ichor spraying about in a welter of gore and flashing blade. Her heart felt lighter than it ever had, each spin of her blade adding more to her honor guard into the afterlife.

“For LAAAIIIII!!!”

“T-Minus 0,” said EVE simply.

Everything turned white.

The whole base, and everything up to high orbit simply disappeared in a pillar of light. Swarming Alien fighters, chitinous Nephilim infantry, all faded in the harsh light of anti-matter annihilation. Things were simply there, and then they weren’t.

The Nephilim cruiser, hanging overhead in low orbit tried to swerve out of the way, but was caught in the blast. At first, it seemed to weather it, before pustule like turrets, cilia like communications nodes and multifaceted viewports in its organic hull simply fell away and vaporized as the whole thing was subjected to the force of God’s fury.

Then, entire chunks of its chitin like armor were flayed away, revealing the ichor encrusted contents. Coelacanth-like armored compartments seemed to swell before bursting from decompression. Pus bubbles and membranous skin seemed to form as the alien ship tried to control the damage, at least save some part of itself for regeneration, but even that prospect was denied it. The purifying flame of the final shockwave scattered it into a thousand shards, sending its inhuman contents and its bonelike internal framework into a hundred directions in local orbit, only to have these fragments burn up on reentry like shooting stars. Perhaps there was one for each that had given their lives to buy their kin time to escape the murderous onslaught. Fitting epitaphs for those who had fallen in honorable defense of their families. Around local space were the shattered hulks of those who didn’t fall into the atmosphere, metallic tombs for those who gave their lives. The frigate rolled in the void, torn nearly in half and still burning from escaping oxygen fires. A destroyed Longbow, its missile racks empty and with a blood spattered cockpit turned end over end in the darkness

The remaining Nephilim fighters, and ships grouped up, hideously cut down in size to but four or five dozen fighters and several corvettes, unperturbed by a disaster would have caused panic in a Terran battle group, and proceeded onto their next objective via the now unguarded jump point. The loss of their cruiser meant that they could only do a few jumps now, but that didn’t matter. Prey were prey, wherever they ran, and nothing could change that.

A group of Terran refugees that evaded their initial scouring of the planet that Terrans would call Tyr VII was next.

 

FIN