PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 5 of 44 )

: The Fallen
PART 1 OF 3

Nephilim or Nefilim, comes from the Hebrew word nfl, "to fall." They are literally "the fallen ones," angels that fell to Earth from the stars, slept with the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the sons of God, the Giants of the Earth, the heroes of old. All this happened before the flood. [c. 6,000-8,000 BC, i.e. the end of the last Ice age].
 


T
CS Bunker Hill
Nephele System, near the Nephele-Tyr jump point
Approximately six hours after jumping in
1000 Hours (CST), 07 Feb 2681 (2681.038)

“The Fleet is splitting up. Nephele is a big system and we have to find and destroy any bugs that have already followed us here before trying to stop any more that try to," explained the WC, Colonel Harold Morrison.

"Each carrier has been assigned an area which will have to be searched. There's some sort of interference in our sector, disrupting both communications and long range sensors, so unfortunately our SWACS birds are virtually useless. It's back to the war era standing patrols and long-range fighter sweeps."

"You gotta be shittin' me!"

The Wing Commander ignored the outburst and continued, "There are only two jump-points we really have to worry about, Alcor and Loki, since we don't expect the bugs to jump back into Kilrathi space. And if they do, they and the Cats can exterminate each other while we sit back and enjoy the show."

"Therefore the highest priority has been given to the Alcor jump point since that leads to Vega. We are to search out and destroy any and all Nephilim ships we find within our allotted search pattern and then hold the jump-point until further notice. Let's try and put on a good show. Admiral Rayak has just transferred his flag to the Bunker Hill and we want to make a good impression." The WC left the raised dais in the center of the briefing theatre amongst a chorus of groans and mutterings of disbelief.

Next up to the platform was the Panther squadron CO, Lt. Colonel John Hoffman, or "The Boss" as he was universally referred to. No matter what the regs said, he was the one the pilots took their directions from, not the desk bound Colonel Morrison. After a quick glance to see that the WC really had left the room, he hunched forward, leaning on the podium and gave one of his characteristic snorts of disapproval.

"All right, boys and girls, forget that puke, his word don't mean shit. I do not know whose bright fucking idea it was to put a desk jockey in charge of the wing, but the guy should have his balls crushed - " There was a rather feminine but loud cough from the back of the room, and the Boss grinned, chiming in, "Sorry, balls or tits, crushed between bricks."

"What that idiot forgets is that the bugs won't just be trying to pass through this system, they're going to rip through it. We don't know how many groups of these insects there are, where they're going or what they are going to do when they get there. We know jack shit. The same as fucking usual, really. Get used to it, lads and lassies, because that is what being in the military is all about. We're nothing but mushrooms: Kept in the dark and fed on shit."

"You will probably have heard by now the report that the Midway managed to close the wormhole the bugs were coming through. The bad news, however, this isn't some 'mopping-up' operation: We don't know how many bugs had already come through, 'cept for the fact that it was a shitload, so don't start celebrating yet - there's still a lot of fighting to be done.

"In my opinion we shouldn't be out here on our own without the 1st, 4th and 7th fleets - and who knows what the others are doing. We shouldn't have fallen back, and now that we have fallen back we shouldn't split up our forces and fuck around here. The fighting is going to center on Proxima again, just like it did at the end of the war; it's still the most expedient route straight to Sol. But since we are here, we're going to do the job we've been assigned."

"Son of a bitch...!" the same disgruntled pilot again voiced his opinion, gaining a deadly glare from the Boss.

"I don't like this any more than you do, but nobody forced you into your jobs. You all wanted to come and fly fighters. Well, now your flying'em. Quit your whining."

"The SWACS can't do the job they were intended for, that is, sit safe and cozy within a short sprint of Mother and tell us what's going on all over the system, so we're going to have to take'em out on recces, and see if they can burn through the jamming at a shorter range. We have five of them on board. We'll need to keep at least two back here so that we can have one up at all times, therefore the other three will be deployed with one in front of the carrier, one out on the left, and one to the right. That way as we patrol nothing should sneak up on us."

"Yeah, right!"

"If I hear one more peep from you that isn't 'Yes, Sir,' you'll be facing the bugs flying a paper fucking plane! Is that absolutely bloody clear to you?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Good! All right, now the good news. You might have noticed that the targeting computers are giving designations to the bug ships, and we also believe we can translate some of that crap they keep transmitting on Guard. Much of this data has come from the Midway.

"We've extensively studied gun camera film from both the Midway encounters and our own engagements in Tyr, and these bastards are nowhere near as nasty as we once thought. Their main weapon was surprise. Given the unknown nature of the foe and the horrific, organic nature of their ships and insect like appearance of their pilots, it understandably scared the shit out of a lot of people when they first came up against them. Hell, I even browned my speed-jeans the first time I encountered'em. It was probably the same at the beginning of the war when we faced the Kilrathi for the first time. We beat them, we'll kick these bastards' arses, too." The Boss turned and aimed the remote at the viewscreen, which sprang to life showing alien ships being obliterated under a hail of Confed fire.

"Right, you may think you know all this by now, having faced the little shits a few times, but I'm going to run through what we know anyway. If you get bored, tough, but something you pick up here might just save your tail and the fighter it's sitting in. All right?"

"The standard alien fighter seems to be the Moray. Luckily it isn't all that fast, maneuverable or heavily armed. Better armed is the Manta, which seems to be a heavy fighter-bomber, but it's not too fast or agile either. Squid are much faster and have some good guns on the nose but aren't too aggressive: Fast head-on passes coupled with an extension and another high speed pass is usual. Plus they don't seem to be seen anywhere except near the alien capital ships, so we think they're short range interceptors, roughly comparable to our Wasp, but not nearly as good. They're very fast under reheat, but without it they're surprisingly slow."

"Another fast attack craft are these Stingrays which have pretty good guns, and can combine with two others to form an even bigger gun. The ones you really have to watch out for, though, are Devil Rays. They really are mean bastards. Very fast, very agile, and very powerful."

"There are also these slow, cumbersome Rays, with their Remora entourage. We haven't really worked out what those Remoras are there for yet, because they only come into play after the Ray's dead. Come to think of it, we don't really know what the Ray is designed to do either - they never live long enough for us to find out!

"However weak their fighters are, though, the enemy do massively outnumber us, and unfortunately Confed hasn't seen fit to equip the Bunker Hill with the usual heavier types found on a heavy fleet carrier, Vampires and Devastators. Even so, I can honestly say I'd rather face this many Nephilim than half as many Kilrathi.

"Anyway, onto the details: Blue Slime [Navy Intell] reckons that the only way the bugs could be jamming this sector is with a large transmitter array, either mounted on some sort of orbiting station or fitted to a large capital ship. They also reckon that these Nephilim have some sort of a 'hive mind' that allows them to keep in contact with each other, and that this jamming transmitter and comms setup are probably built into the same doohickey. The jamming might even be an unintentional side effect of the constant transmissions that lets them stay in touch. If it is mounted to a ship it is likely to be the 'mother ship,' something like a queen bug, or at least somewhat similar."

"'The Mother Creature?'" someone asked, half-jokingly.

The Boss nodded. "Knocking it out could really hamper alien operations in this area, at least for a time.

"The slime and science boys have therefore devised a gizmo to work out here this thing is, kind of like our missiles' home-on-jam capability. The only thing is that it can only give a strength and bearing, so to find where this thing is we're going to have to do a triangulation. However, since we can't communicate over large distances, another carrier's SWACS can't do it for us. We're going to have to send one of ours out on the 'grand tour' of the system and try and get two or three readings, and therefore a location. The SWACS will have a four-ship of Panthers as an escort.

"In the mean time, and in case it doesn't work, we're going to do a reconnaissance-in-force in our assigned area. Since we're expecting lots of little bugs and big bugs, too, we're effectively going to be sending out strike packages to do the recces, rather than the old wartime fighter sweeps. On top of that, we're sending our destroyer escorts ahead with their Tigersharks acting as scouts. If the shit hits the fan they should buy the Bunker Hill time to back off a ways and organize a counterattack."

"As usual there will be an SWACS orbiting safely within a short sprint of the carrier. With this interference they won't be able to see much, but they might be able to give us a little advance warning if the carrier group is attacked. They will of course have the usual pair of Panthers as HAVCAP." [High Asset Value Combat Air Patrol]

The Boss seemed to become bored with the whole proceedings and scratched his left eyebrow.

"Any questions?"

"We just jumped into this damn system- how the hell did the bugs set up a jamming center so quickly? And if they can build something like that, what about fighters or capital ships?"

"I honestly don't know, and I doubt the slime does either, although they would never admit it. Besides, as I said, we're not sure it's a jamming center, it could just be one or more of their ships. You've seen those ships like I have: Maybe they grow the bloody things. I hope not, but at this time we just don't know. Any other questions?"

"Will we still be able to keep in contact with the carrier over all the interference?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. I hope so. I doubt we'll be able to stay in contact with the rest of the fleet, though."

"Ah, shit..!"

"Yup," the Boss agreed, "well, what are you turkeys waiting for? An engraved invitation? Let's go, people!" The briefing theatre rapidly emptied except for the Boss. He rubbed his sinuses and let out a long hissing sigh.

 

Bridge, about the same time

The WC stepped onto the bridge and paused for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The area was still called the bridge, but the large darkened room was really a command and control center designed to monitor and control the movement and operations of not just the Bunker Hill herself but her entire carrier group, including every capital ship, fighter and shuttle. More than a dozen officers worked at their own comm stations or consoles, mostly holding their own individual conversations with people elsewhere and unseen, creating a constant background of chatter. Figures mainly: Times, distances, bearings and velocities, sparsely interspersed with a few ship types and tactical callsigns.

In the center of this organized chaos, right in front of a three-dimensional representation of the system and everything in it, sat arguably the two most important people in the battle group: The Captain and "Strike." Strike was the universal callsign for a carrier's flight control officer, the person who directed all the carrier's flight operations.

With them sat a man important in rank but not in reality - Admiral Rayak, CO of Third Fleet, having newly transferred his flag to the Bunker Hill along with his XO, one Commodore Geoffory Arnold. His R-Type shuttle had rendezvoused with the Hill just after they had jumped into Nephele, fresh from the Torgo Superbase. The Captain hadn't been happy about it, but there wasn't anything he could do about it, either.

"Ah, Colonel Morrison," the Admiral's smooth voice greeted him, "we were just about to call you up here. We're a bit worried about all this interference."

"The Admiral," the Captain explained carefully, "was wondering if you had any idea why the Nephilim would suddenly try to jam us."

"With respect, sir" the WC frowned, "I'm not at all certain that it is jamming. It seems more like interference."

"Nevertheless," Rayak cut in, "it severely hampers operations in this area, if not the entire system."

"Actually, sir, I think it may be a good sign."

"Just what the bloody hell do you mean by that?" Rayak exploded.

"Well, sir," the WC continued calmly, "we know they seem to have some sort of a hive mind. They have to talk to each other, and there seems to be evidence in the analysis of these transmissions that suggest they're communications rather than deliberate jamming."

"So why should it suddenly start now?" asked the Captain.

"I can think of a couple of reasons. The bugs are spread out over a much larger area now - maybe their transmissions have to be more powerful to keep in touch with one another, or they may been using a different communication method before and have had to change, either because we've already damaged their comms or because it won't work over these distances."

"I've just had another thought," the Captain said slowly, "the interference started shortly after the Midway took out their gateway..."

"Supposedly took out the gateway," Morrison interrupted. "Things are pretty FUBARed back at HQ at the moment."

"The interference started shortly after the Midway supposedly took out their gateway..." The Captain continued doggedly.

"You're saying that it's an interdimensional transmission?!?" Rayak was almost having a fit.

"I never said that, sir."

"Preposterous!" Rayak was now being stared at by virtually the entire bridge crew, "Good God, man! Don't be ridiculous! They've simply found a way to jam us, that's all."

"Well, even if that is true," Morrison argued, "that's still a good sign."

"I still don't see what you're driving at."

"If they're having to change their tactics, try new ways of tackling us, we must be doing something right."

"Hmmph!"

"Is that all, sir?" Morrison asked, trying to keep his tone neutral.

"Oh, yes," Rayak was already light years away, "you're dismissed."

"Thank you, sir," Morrison said, saluted, spun on his heel and strode briskly from the bridge.

 

En route to Navigation point three,
Approximately fifty minutes later, 1100 Hours

Lieutenant Sean "Warrior" Harper eased back on the throttle as he slipped into position on the right of "Hero," also known as Captain Anthony Mitchell. Their pair was on the wing of the Boss and "Chatterbox," otherwise known as Captain Roger Elliot. Behind the lot of them came the four Shrikes. Off to the right were the Tigersharks, also a four-ship. The group were intended to be able to tackle whatever the bugs threw at them.

Warrior used the trim control to lock his Panther's velocity to its current vector and performed a vertical and horizontal visual autoslide check of his surroundings. Disengaging the Shelton slide he kicked hard with his left foot, rapidly rolling the craft around its own axis, and a quick stab with his right foot stopped the roll exactly in the level position.

The conventional airfighter controls of having the rudder on the pedals had long since been discarded, since fighters no longer used their wings' lift as the primary turning force. Pitch control stayed the same, but yaw had been moved to the stick, and roll control to the pedals, which worked remarkably well. However, in fighters with an atmospheric capability it was usually possible to reverse the controls, intended for use after re-entry. However, this change had been implemented in the days when most craft had very similar pitch, yaw and roll responses. The newer fighters coming off the production line with thrust-vectoring often had radically different response rates of yaw/pitch/roll and this switch was a neat feature, particularly for the Vampire, for which a quick roll either left or right and then hauling back on the stick to use its incredible vertical plane agility was a much faster way of tracking a target than using its (very respectable but rather slower) yaw rate.

"Everything's clear," Warrior declared, with about as much conviction as he had in the 'lone gunman' theory. How the hell was he supposed to spot some small black craft against the background of space when that space was black, too?

"Boss, these bugs ships are black, right?"

"Looks that way. Very dark, anyhow."

"Well, it's just that if the scanner's bugger-all use, and since these things are black... it's just, you know, the thing about space is, well, your basic space color is, well, black. You see what I'm getting at, Boss?"

The worst of it was, the Boss could see exactly what he was getting at. The excellence of scanners during the war and after had meant that visual searches by the mark-one eyeball weren't considered much. Bright red and blue warpaint was used on the fighters, which were adorned with nose art and kill markings. After the war it was just as prevalent, and in fact, especially since the enemy was usually Border Worlders and pirates in similar craft, it had grown even more garish. Loud, large, high-visibility identification marks were painted straight onto the shiny metal finish. Even if the Nephilim were jamming their own scanners as well with this interference, whatever the hell was causing it, (which in any case he severely doubted) they'd still have a huge advantage even with simple visual acquisition.

"Alright, fine, when we get back, you can get out the paint and paint all the squadron's Panthers black, okay? Of course, you can try and ask the bugs to paint themselves bright red as well, but you know, I'm not quite sure how they'd take that. Perhaps you'd like to invite them over for a beer and we can discuss it, along with why they want to kill all of us..."

"Jeeze, I'm sorry I pointed it out! I mean, we're only all gonna die, hell, it's not like it's anything bloody important!"

"Yes, alright, Harper. I'm not very fucking happy about it either, but bitching about it doesn't help, so shut the hell up!"

Suddenly green blobs of ectoplasmic goo sliced through the Panther finger-four. Warrior though the blasts looked like some space giant had just sneezed. He executed a high "G" barrel roll to the right through sheer instinct. Another blast hurtled up through the area of space he'd just vacated. Looking up (down?) through the canopy of his inverted Panther he could see several flights of Nephilim fighters sweeping up from their blind belly position.

"Bandits 5 O'clock low! Break Right!" Warrior hollered the warning as another barrage of the strange fire tore through the flight. Chatterbox's Panther was hit and visibly shuddered, but seemed to be intact. "They're Squids. Must be a capship around nearby!"

"Who cares what they are? Blow'em away!"

"Yes, Boss!" Warrior replied emphatically.

Glancing over his shoulder to see that Hero had pulled onto his wing to cover him, he selected ImRecs and locked up the first Squid. He didn't launch, instead squirting his full energy banks' worth of full guns straight in its face. It refused to pull out of the collision course, also blasting away with its own guns. Luckily the curious green blobs of whatever-the-hell-they-were seemed to miss, and he was left playing chicken with an alien ship with a closure rate of over 3,000 KPS. Warrior came out of burner and yanked back on the stick. Unfortunately the alien pilot had had the same idea and the two ships smashed heavily into one another.

Having gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, Warrior was surprised to survive the impact, but it seemed only to have taken off a couple of layers of shields. Chopping the throttle to idle, Warrior dropped behind the Squid and gave it a few blasts of full guns. It suddenly shot away from him. As he firewalled the throttle, Warrior thumbed off the ImRec which streaked out to crash into the Squid's aft section, removing its rear shields and some of it's armor. However, from the almost dead-stop he'd been at, it had left him well behind, and out of guns range to finish it off.

Suddenly he was aware that it had reversed and was now heading straight for him. Warrior was reminded of the darting attacks some fish make, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized that the Nephilim fighters did seem to almost swim through space. The eerie revelation sent chills down his spine.

As the ITTS targeting reticule appeared over the fighter speeding toward him, he fired a burst of full-guns and then bunted the stick. The squid flew over the top of him and he hauled the Panther around, viciously retarding the throttle so as not to overshoot: He'd been surprised at how fast the squid decelerated the first time, and had chopped the throttle to nothing too late, only to then be left trailing in its wake. This time as he came out of the turn where he expected it to be, he pushed the throttle to full military power ready to ignite the 'burners when it tried to outrun him.

There it was, a perfect, slight deflection shot as the squid clumsily tried to reverse into him. Warrior raked it from stem to stern. Showers of smoke, sparks and what looked almost like blood or slime flew off it, but it stubbornly refused to explode.

"Warrior, break left now!"

As this warning was shouted, his missile warning klaxon also assaulted his senses. Punching out a couple of decoys and breaking as hard to the left as he could he saw his attacker as it flashed by his right shoulder, a short, stubby little fighter with a single glowing yellow exhaust: A Moray. Warrior reversed hard into it, changed targets and let fly an ImRec that he quickly followed up with a short burst of full guns as he just about rammed it. The Moray vaporized with a surprisingly large explosion for its size. The Panther was jolted by the blast, but completely undamaged.

"Splash one Moray! They ain't so tough!" Warrior cycled through the targets on his scanner for "his" Squid, but it had disappeared. Hero probably got it. Next up was a Manta that had got in behind him. He turned hard into it, narrowly missing a Squid that blasted past with a Panther hard on its heels, and soon got in behind the Manta. Although it couldn't get out from behind his gunsight, its squirming was managing to put off his aim enough so that the high energy usage of his guns coupled with the Manta's tough shields and armor meant that he was having little effect.

"Oh, bollox! Fox one!" Warrior let loose another ImRec. The space between him and the Manta suddenly turned almost white as it spewed a myriad of decoys whilst barrel-rolling first left and then right. He didn't know where his missile went; it certainly didn't track the Manta. He was about to launch another when his Panther was hit heavily from behind. Breaking up and right whilst simultaneously rolling the craft hard to the right did as he'd hoped - hardly surprisingly his attacker couldn't follow the maneuver. It was another Manta.

As Warrior rolled out of his dizzying spiral the Manta behind started to line up on him again whilst the other that he'd originally been following turned back toward him, trapping him in the middle in a terrifying crossfire. Realizing that they were probably flying as a pair with one dragging him for the other, he suddenly remembered his own wingmen.

"Get these bastards off me!" Warrior pleaded whilst turning hard left. A Moray was now coming in from about his seven-thirty position, firing madly. How is it that one minute there just seems to be you and the guy in front, and then the next second the entire galaxy seems to be filled with bad-guys? He asked himself. Jinking hard and dropping in and out of afterburner he tried desperately to throw off his pursuers' aim.

"Warrior, stay in that left hand turn a sec, but ease it up a little... okay, hold that turn a sec... got the fucker! Now reverse. The other Manta should end up in front of you," the Boss had come to his rescue.

Sure enough, when he broke right the other Manta had got too close and was forced out in front of him. At close range Warrior let rip another missile which smashed heavily into the Manta. Miraculously, it still had some armor left on its aft section, but Warrior let fly with the guns. At point-blank range they rapidly stripped off its remaining armor and shredded it.

"Good Kill, son!" The Boss gave him the thumbs-up as he came close by on Warrior's left, afterburner glowing brightly, right on the tail of a Moray which was quickly blown to pieces by his guns.

"Thanks for the save, but where's Hero?"

"He punched out. Chatterbox has gone with the Shrikes while we finished off these here. We better get over there."

"Over where?"

"That huge, gigantic, fuck-off destroyer right in front of us."

"Holy shit... I though it was an absorption nebula! It's huge!"

"Yup." That was it, his entire comment. Warrior only knew one man who could convey so much feeling and information in one simple syllable, and flying on his wing, he suddenly felt a whole lot safer.

Chatterbox skimmed low over the surface of the destroyer. The Nephilim destroyers had been assigned the Confed reporting name "Orca," but he couldn't see why. Killer whales were just friendly, oversized dolphins that had picked up an unjustified reputation. This thing looked like it had come from the deepest depths of some deep sea trench, or perhaps his worst nightmare. Its surface seemed slimy and strangely organic, and apart from the fact that it bristled with huge gun turrets, it put him in mind of the crashed space vessel in Alien, one of the classic 20th Century sci-horror movies he was fond of. The holo remakes just weren't the same. His other quirk, the one that gave him his callsign, was that he never shut up. He muttered on incessantly, in the cockpit, in the bar, in his sleep, even while making love.

"Look at the size of this thing... ugly bastard. Flick left, line up that gun... take that, you mother! Hah! Squid coming in from 3 o'clock high... no problem, single firing pass and he's away. Okay, next gun..." and on and on. Every thought he had seemed to be immediately transmitted to his mouth like a running commentary. No one told any secrets to Captain Elliot, not unless he wanted it to be known to the entire sector.

"Alright, how many guns is that now, six? Shrikes should be able to find some blind spots now for their torpedo runs, if we can keep the bugs off their tails. Let's get it on. Quick blast of 'burners, closest target, still the Orca... okay, try it now... Manta crossing left, roll in up his butt. Missile up the chuff and finish him with guns. Stop squirming, you bastard! Right, he's a goner - who's next?"

Warrior and the Boss had also entered the fray, the Boss grabbing himself a Devil Ray. Warrior tried to stay with them, but gave up and latched onto a Moray that was stupid enough to attack him.

"That's the engines gone - she's dead in space!" the leader of the Shrike flight informed them. Another few seconds and hopefully the bridge would go, too, although Warrior had the horrifying thought that it looked more like a major nerve bundle than a bridge...

A small fighter zipped past a fraction after its blast. It seemed to be all a flying gun, with small stubby wings and an engine. Warrior locked it up and barrel rolled to its six O'clock position. Suddenly two more identical fighters appeared and they locked together. Suddenly they/it did a 180 and Warrior was suddenly staring down the barrel of an even bigger gun.

Mesmerized like a rabbit in headlamps it took the first powerful hit to bring him out of his trance. He wrenched the stick hard back into his stomach and the Panther shot straight up. A glance at his shields and damage display assessed the damage. It had cleaned his shields and taken most of his armor off, but he'd got away with it for the time being. On the other hand, he'd taken his eyes off it and his targeting computer was still locked onto the Moray.

Where the hell has that flying gun got to? Warrior stabbed the "closest target" button and locked onto the Stingrays, working their way into his rear quarter. Breaking hard right he instinctively flinched as it opened fire, but luckily the shots flew over the top of his craft. As he zipped past the Stingrays, one of the Tigersharks rolled in on them, opening fire with its rocket pods. The Stingrays were rolling and weaving, trying to put off its aim, but without warning one of the three exploded and the other two split apart instantly, flying in different directions. Warrior took one and the Tigershark driver was still glued to the tail of the other.

Warrior gave the heavily damaged craft a couple of seconds full guns, and it disintegrated in front of him, the blast utterly enormous. The Panther was flung about in the shockwave, and it took Warrior a second or two to get it under control. Then he realized what had happened. He had chased the Stringray close to the Orca, which had taken that particular moment to explode. There were now only a few fighters to worry about...

"How's everybody doing?" Boss asked.

"Lost my no-claims bonus, Boss," Warrior quipped.

"Not a scratch here, Boss. Well, okay, I tell a lie, maybe a scratch or two, but no serious panel-beating..." Chatterbox seemed to be okay, too.

The Boss was worried and puzzled. Everyone still flying seemed all right but they'd lost a Shrike (no ejection) as well as Hero and the Tigershark pilot Colin "Jock" McGregor who were going for a spacewalk. Not only that, the Nephilim seemed unfazed by their mothership's demise. Their destroyer was nothing but a smoking hulk, and when he'd fought the Kilrathi, something like that had taken most of the fight out of them. They wouldn't surrender, but they always seemed to seek an honorable death from a Confed fighter's guns rather than try and escape to another ship and face the dishonor of having lost their own. These bugs just didn't seem to care. They also didn't seem to worry about their own survival: "My death means nothing - you shall fall!" was their favorite dying statement. Assuming the translation was right. Fighting these creatures was like nothing they'd ever faced before.

Warrior dispatched the Moray he was on with, and selected the closest target. It was nowhere near him. He turned onto it, but it was going to be dead long before he got there; it had the three remaining Tigersharks and one of the Shrikes all over it. That was it, the only enemy in scanner range. Warrior took a glance over his systems. He now had no armor on his nose or left side, no missiles, a couple of decoys, a few seconds AB fuel left, and 12% core damage. Could be worse.

"Let's get the hell out of here," the Boss suggested.

"Amen to that," Chatterbox agreed. There was something chilling about the shattered remnants of the Nephilim destroyer that sent shivers down his spine. Something unnatural.

"Let's go," Warrior seemed to read Chatterbox's mind, "the sooner we get the fuck out of here, the better I'll feel."

As they formed up to leave, Warrior asked guiltily, "what about the guys who ejected?"

"SAR's on the way. They'll be alright. Unless you wanna stay here on RESCAP?"

"Screw that!"

"Right," the Boss was exasperated, "then shut the fuck up and let's go!"

 

Debriefing
About half an hour later
1130 Hours, 7 Feb 2681

"The good news is that the SWACS found the source of the alien transmissions," explained Colonel Morrison, "The bad news is that since we still can't transmit through the jamming, we've had to send one of the Panthers to a carrier in another sector so that they can organize a strike to take it out. Until that time we're still blind. Still, that was good work out there people. Well done."

Again the Boss shook his head as he prepared to address his pilots. "Yet again, that guy had made a fundamental error. We are outnumbered here, boys and girls. We have very few of these nice, new, shiny spacecraft. If you get a few of them and lose your own ship, that is a net loss. We don't know how many ships the bugs have exactly, but all estimates agree that we are massively outnumbered! Bring your 'planes back with you! Don't get me wrong, I'm not concerned for your safety; I could happily live without seeing half of your ugly faces ever again, but I need those fighters. We need those fighters. We were lucky today. We met a single destroyer, on its own away from its battle group. Next time I don't think we'll be as lucky."

Twenty boring minutes later, after all the important details had been gone through, out came the gun camera videos and the beers. Things loosened up, and soon the room was resounding with laughs, groans and cheers. Over the top of this commotion Warrior almost didn't hear Hero and Jock come in. They'd obviously both been picked up by the SAR shuttles, but Hero was having an argument with the Boss. Then Warrior's own gun film came on and he was slapped on the arm.

"Hey, you're up!"

"Yeah, okay..." Warrior turned around and started to watch his kills, soon forgetting the troubling scenes unfolding behind him.

 

CONT...