PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 13 of 28 )
Ashes to Ashes
TCS Atlas (Plunkett-class Cruiser)
February 3, 2681
Captain James Krugan sat in his quarters. He hunched over his desk, sweating in the heat of his desk lamp, which seemed to him to be blazing hot now. His bloodshot eyes scanned the sheet of paper laid out in front of him. He scratched a few words on it with his pen, scanned it again, then tore it apart and took out a clean sheet. He sipped at his glass sitting at the corner of his workspace. On the floor beside him were at least a dozen sheets of similarly mutilated paper. He began to write again. On the page he detailed some kind of battle plan, including fall back routes and flank movements.
The names Konstantin, Floky, Ephrael, Bethor, Agmar, and Stein were listed on the left of the page. Next to them another list included the names Davis, Edwards, and Russ. After a little more adjusting to details Krugan sat back, and then smiled wryly and smoothed his long moustache with his hands. The two other shadows that stood over his desk examined the paper, then nodded in satisfaction.
TCS Cicada (Murphy-class Destroyer)
With his weapon firm in his right hand, Aaron dropped carefully off the catwalk. Somewhere nearby, the enemy was lurking. He had heard it's slow, determined breaths as it tread the walk below. No doubt alerted to his presence, his drop was not as stealthy as he had hoped. His left hand found it's way back onto the forward brace of his flame-thrower. Slowly he advanced out into the passage. His heavy boots plodded as he walked the smooth surface of the empty corridor.
His ear twitched. Behind him. He took a few steps forward to a grate in the ceiling, and heaved himself up into the opening. He listened to the soft steps as they came closer and closer. Through the steel mesh he watched as the shadow began to move past, as it did so he carefully, oh so carefully, swung the grate open. He gripped onto the ceiling with his left hand and lowered himself down. His feet intentionally hit the ground with a thud. The enemy spun around, Aaron's hand flipped back onto the brace, and the fire roared from the mouth of the flamethrower. The enemy twisted and turned in its death throws, blasting a volley of shots at the ceiling with its rifle, and witnessing it's own end reflected in Aaron's blast visor.
Aaron stepped out of the combat simulation. He heard Rebecca swear under her breath as she took her rig off and jumped out too. "Once more I emerge victorious! What is it? Five to one winning odds?"
"You got me in the back!" she complained, nostrils flaring.
Aaron's mouth widened to a grin. "Because you didn't cover it. Perhaps you need to brush up on your tactics before you take me on next time."
"It's funny how you said that last time. I'm sure you've got this thing rigged." She ignored Aaron as he chuckled to himself. "Anyways, when is this meeting 'sposed to happen? Y'know, between the captains?"
"An hour or so," he replied. "Krugan's got some master plan or something. Enjoy's his master plans. I think it's got something to do with ego. Can't be sure about that though." It wasn't hard to detect the sarcasm in his last remark. "So the XOs are in charge while the captains relax."
"Oh great," Rebecca scoffed, "An ex-Marine pyro turned executive officer in charge of a Confederation destroyer. Just what the bugs need to get an edge." She grinned at him.
"Now, now, now. Be nice. Wouldn't want any extra duties to perform during the Captain's absence, would we now?" The grin on Rebecca's face seemed to falter and another emerged on Aaron's. She walloped him fair in the guts and strutted past.
"That's it, mopping duty for you..." he managed while regaining his wind.
One Hour Later...
The bridge was fairly quiet. Just how Viktor Konstantin liked everything to be when anticipating the arrival of enemy forces. He wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but Intel had insisted they would run into only fighters, corvettes, and destroyers when they made the first hit and run strikes against the enemy fleet. How unsure they could be. He needed facts, even with the rest of the fleet backing him. One simple misjudgment could screw up all his plans. It would be difficult, but he would need a plan that could cover all options, and it mattered now.
Krugan was brooding over strategies on the Atlas. Shortly the all the captains would converge there to discuss these strategies, and they would leave their executive officers in charge, just in case. He didn't trust Krugan, but it was important to consider him, simply because he was too valuable to them. Maybe that was the problem, he didn't quite know. Rumors persisted that Krugan was not all too stable. Rumors aren't to be trusted, but there was that small shadow of a doubt none-the-less. If Krugan was up to something, that small seed of doubt would have been planted intentionally.
And yet what of Aaron? Colonel Aaron Floky, a decorated Marine Officer hangs up his M-47 for an executive position in the Navy before shifting his commission to the Space Force. Majored in demolitions, sabotage, pyrotechnics and various covert operations. As Captain, Viktor should know Aaron's background, yet there was none. Nor for that matter was anything listed on James Krugan. Then it hit him, straight in the face like a set of brass knuckles. What of the possibility that Floky and Krugan could be working in unison? What if Krugan held the leverage of the Atlas, and Floky held the leverage of the Cicada? It was a deadly possibility, and one that could not be ignored. Viktor could remove Aaron's grip on the Cicada, but Krugan was another matter, and even though Viktor pulled the strings, they held the rope.
He couldn't risk an incident now. He would have to let things run their due course. Regardless of the consequences. Through the reflection of the glass Viktor saw Aaron step onto the bridge. He turned to face him, and each of them saluted. Aaron was sweating - another dream, Viktor thought. It had been getting worse.
"Everything well, Captain?" Aaron inquired.
"Indeed," Viktor replied, "Nothing out of the ordinary." Apart from those recent thoughts which still jabbed into his brain, that was.
"Very well. The shuttle is standing by to take you to the Atlas, Captain."
"Good, then I will be going." They saluted again. "XO has the bridge."
Viktor turned and began to head for the flight deck. His talk with Aaron was intentionally brief. He had too many suspicions running through his mind. It was bad for him. It would be worse when he boarded the Atlas.
Several Hours Later...
The meeting had concluded and the captains were now hastily returning to their commands. Krugan had one more thing to do before he resumed his own authority. He removed a pen and the slip of paper from his uniform. With the pen he put a strike through the names Floky, Bethor, Davis, and Stein. He turned to his console and proceeded to transfer the contents of the paper onto it. The names he had stricken out, along with his own, were listed below the plans on the left of the document, the remaining names were listed on the right. He then classed the document as a Confidential Emergency message, and sent it to the fleet commander.
He leaned back into his chair and wiped his worn eyes. He had discovered much because of this meeting. Not strategies. He had no need to discuss strategies, because he had planned them as any other good commander would. No. He had discovered who he could rely on, and who he couldn't. And that was important, oh so important. He now had the perfect tools to aid him in his plan. After the current strafing runs against the Nephilim were resolved, Krugan would contact his emissaries, without the scrutiny of the other captains, and organize himself.
TCS Cicada (Murphy-class Destroyer)
Aaron was dismissed by Konstantin early. He had asked for a reason.
"You need some rest," was the reason given.
It was, of course, a correct assumption. He didn't, however, want to rest. Because rest meant sleep. Sleep brings dreams. That was what he feared. Children dying; mothers crying. He could smell their burnt flesh drifting through the air like a spectral entity, searching its home, him. The blood that poured into his eyes, blurring his vision. A vampire. His wanton desire for blood, as it dried on the grimacing contours of his frozen face. Burnt but frozen. The daemons hailed him from the twisting inferno. A self styled god, not of his will, of his action.
He jumped as the speaker at the door pierced his daydream. It was Rebecca. He walked, almost stumbled to the door and it slid aside. His head was lowered as he stood there. Slowly he lifted his brow to look her eye to eye.
"Are you all right?" she inquired. She comprehended his form. He was sweating, black rings had taken position beneath his eyes, which were now beginning to look bloodshot.
"Yes," he tried to lie, but he knew to her that he looked like one of those vicious entities that taunted and chided him in his sleep. "W-Wha... Who sent you?"
"Came of my own accord. But Viktor wouldn't have dismissed you without good reason, and the comm officer said you were beginning to look a little worn."
He laughed. She tilted her head in confusion as to the joke. She reminded him of a lost puppy. He laughed again. "I'm sorry. I seem to have misplaced my manners. Won't you come in?" He stood aside and she took up his offer.
To her, his room seemed abnormal. Apart from the things one would usually find, there was very little evidence to suggest the presence of a human. Maybe that was what disturbed her. On his desk was a string of dog-tags, half a dozen long, an unopened bottle of Vodka and his sidearm. On the wall was mounted some kind of customized flamethrower. It had two barrels, and two canisters. Upon further inspection she might have been able to identify the other various tweaks and adjustments to it. One thing she did notice was a small engraving of a heart, with a cross cut from it's centre. She turned to Aaron who was now seated on his bunk.
"So what's the problem?" she asked, "Why do you so often seem like death warmed up?"
His eyes drifted. "When I was in the Corps, I was in command of an elite team of weapons specialists. Things ranging from Demolitions to planting targeting devices. We were sent on an op to destroy an enemy communication and logistical establishment. We discovered that the facility was civilian occupied as well as military. After much debate, we decided to carry out the plan. On the way out, we were sprung by security and my team sacrificed themselves to allow my escape. Upon reaching safety I detonated the explosives. But what I knew that my men didn't, was that it wasn't a logistical station, or a communications station. It was a chemical research laboratory chosen as an example by my superior officers. I killed my men, and thousands of innocent lives, for an unworthy cause."
Rebecca seated herself beside him. "And this is what those dreams are about. I can't understand your pain, but I can understand why. I've got three hours. Get your rest, I'll watch over you."
Aaron stood in darkness. His body was numb, probably from shock. He felt it difficult to move. Ahead of him were five figures. He walked towards them, the guiding figures. They were dressed in black. Black suits, black ties, but white shirts. They wore dark glasses. He drew closer. One of them moved his hand and some kind of light flared from it. The light fell to the floor, and a blue and yellow flame rushed along the ground towards him. The flame reached him and he was instantaneously engulfed in a conflagration of burning chaos. He moved wildly, and desperately, not knowing what to do. Pain shot through every tendon in his body and he fell to his knees as his skin began to slide from it's firmament. A cavernous nose smelt that oh so familiar smell. He clawed at himself, desperately screaming for help. It came to him, and it looked warmly upon him. But it came too late.
Several Hours later...
Aaron stood on the bridge conversing with Lt. Colonel Rebecca Stein and Colonel Marcus Ephrael. They were closing in on the Nephilim forces, but apart from pre-strike preparations, nothing out of the ordinary had happened during the past hour. It seemed that even with three of the most senior officers at the bridge, the absence of the Captain (who was lying low for some reason, as were the other captains) had the crew on edge. Still, Viktor was a most respected, and trusted officer. To hear the XO and his buddies talk about so many loose topics should have been a comfort.
"Sir?" the officer at tactical spoke up in a tiny voice. She pointed at the screen in front of her. "Incoming hostiles, sir... Short range..." The three officers rushed to the screen in unison. There, sure enough, was a formation of red blips.
Aaron turned his head back to Ephrael. "Marcus, get your squadrons into that void right now."
"We've already got eight birds out there. Edwards and Russ from the Atlas' Roving Guns are leading them. Do we really need more pilots?"
"Maybe, maybe not. But there are ten Nephilim out there. That's greater than one to one odds, I'm not taking any chances. Our mission may be hit and run, but I intend to annihilate any targets. Now you get those Stormriders airborne."
"Yessir." Ephrael grabbed Rebecca by the arm and forced her into a run for the flight deck.
Aaron picked up the intercom. "Attention. Our first strike action is underway. Radar confirms ten bogies. All available pilots are to scramble immediately. This is not a drill. This is the XO." Aaron slammed the mike back onto the panel. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Deep Space, Tyr System
The Stormriders adopted a wedge formation in front of the Cruiser Squadron, while half of the Roving Guns held echelon positions on the flanks of the squadron. At the head of the lance was Marcus "Black Owl" Ephrael. He waited patiently, his engines in synch with the cruisers and destroyers.
"Alright, team. We have ten fighters, Manta-class and Moray-class on scope. Let them close in first. Hopefully they'll get close enough for the Destroyers to shred them with turret fire. Don't go for the Morays until all Mantas have been eliminated. Those could be bomber rigs."
Ephrael waited for several recognitions. "All right... Edwards, I want your Roving Guns to stay tight with the squadron. Any torpedoes are to be intercepted by you, clear?"
"Never fear, Black Owl, the Vindicator is on the case!"
"Okay. Stay tight, folks, here they come!"
The Morays careened into the line of Excaliburs, spraying gunfire randomly amongst the formation. The Stormriders began to break apart and join the dogfight. Ahead of them, the screen of Mantas loosed a stream of torpedoes. The Roving Guns kicked in their afterburners, and began to intercept. Three of the Morays were immolated in the concentrated fire of the Destroyers and Cruisers, and as the rest of the Nephilim began to break away two more went up in smoke.
The Roving Guns kicked their afterburners into over time and out flanked the Mantas, pulling around behind them. As the Morays began to retreat into their confused comrades the two squadrons adopted V formations and boxed the Nephilim in. Out of the corner of his eye, Ephrael noticed a substantial portion of the nearby Nephilim fleet break off and head towards the Squadron. He hoped they were seeing this on board the Cicada.
TCS Cicada (Murphy-class Destroyer)
From the bridge Aaron surveyed the skirmish outside. Seven down and so far no casualties. Caught in a crossfire, the Nephilim could do nothing but attempt to afterburn out of there, but they tried to fight. As such, each of the Nephilim fighters were to be annihilated, one by one. Aaron began to laugh. How dumb can these aliens be? Then he realized. The joke was on him. As he watched the last of the red blips disappear on the HUD, the blue marks were suddenly confronted by a new wave of reds, and a number bright orange ones.
Simply one word emerged from his lips. "Fuck." He lifted the mic from the radio set again and spoke into it once more.
"Attention, all personnel... The current Nephilim threat has not been neutralized. Current status confirms a substantial force of incoming fighters. A number of capital ships have directed their attention towards us as well. As of now, the entire squadron will be on scramble. This is the XO." As the mic returned to its position, Aaron bit his lip, and tasted the blood in his mouth.
TCS Atlas (Plunkett-class Cruiser)
Joel "Tyrant" Huang slammed his microphone down in a similar fashion to Aaron. So the roaches wanted to play hardball. He spat on the deck, not the most intelligent thing an XO could do, but he couldn't give a shit what the other officers thought. Least of all those under his command. He stalked over to the Helmsman. "All ahead flank -- we're going to mow right through these bastards."
"Yessir," the Helmsman replied sharply.
Through the viewport Joel watched the Excaliburs scramble from their respective destroyers. He suddenly decided he would like a couple megacarriers under his sleeve -- possible or not -- he'd love to see that green ooze splattered all over the shiny new metal. He chuckled at the thought.
He could now see the other ships in the group accelerating alongside him. He couldn't wait until they plummeted into those Nephilim destroyers. Justice deserved, he thought. Then when he was ready, he would turn things around...