PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 24 of 28 )
“ Common Heroes
TCS Chicago; CO's office
Somewhere in the Tyr System
2100 Hours, 2681.033 (Feb 2)
Captain Colby sat behind his desk with his eyes closed as he emptied his glass. A knock at the door startled him, and he quickly placed the glass in the desk drawer. He couldn't let the crew know their captain was drinking again.
The door opened to reveal his yeoman. "Sir, we've received a message from Captain Que."
The yeoman handed the message to Colby and exited. Colby pulled his glass from the drawer and again poured a drink. His eyes scanned the message as he poured the drink, a maneuver he'd performed many times. He was halfway finished reading when he emptied his glass, and poured another.
"So, Que-ball is sending the 18th, huh? It's about time."
He picked up his phone and pressed the button for the bridge. "This is the Captain. Have the XO meet me on the bridge."
Colby set the glass on his desk and looked at the bottle. Only a fourth left. He tipped the bottle and drained it all at once.
TCS Chicago; Bridge
Colby stood behind the plotting table, his XO at his side. They were looking at a tactical map of the sector, and considering their situation. The 15th DESRON was just barely staying ahead a larger Nephilim force that was pursuing them after their first strike. Ahead of them, the 18th DESRON was en route to their position. Colby again thanked God for that miracle. He'd personally held no hope for any reinforcements from the rest of the fleet, and here was another whole squadron of ships sent to to assist them.
"Okay, Joe. Any suggestions once the 18th joins up?"
"Well, I'm wondering if we can use the 18th somehow to surprise them. The problem is that there's absolutely nothing out here. No asteroid field, no planet to hide behind, nothing. Maybe if they all went dead in space...
"No, it would take too long to power back up. Besides, they'd be defenseless in the meanwhile. What about if we swung around, so that we were running away from the 18th? Then they could sneak up on them from behind...
"The thing that worries me there is the crossfire. With the 18th on one side, and us on the other, it would be like forming a circle with a firing squad. We'd be bound to hit friendlies with our torps somewhere along the line. Should we consider running to another system where there might be more chance of cover?"
"No, I asked Captain Que about that, and he said that Admiral Hanton wanted it contained to Tyr. We can't jump into systems held by the Nephilim, and we can't lead them into undefended systems, either. I see his point, even if Tyr is a bugger try to hide anything in. Our orders are to lead the Nephilim around for a couple of days, then link up with the 18th and wipe them out. I guess the only benefit there is that there's no cover for them to hide behind, either. No, best option I see is a full frontal assault."
Cmdr. Galloway groaned at the thought. "That's going to be ugly. "
About The Same Time
"Come in," Wehrmann said.
The door opened slowly, and Maj. Maria Lewis entered. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"What have you been up to lately?"
"The Master-at-arms has kept me busy, sir."
Wehrmann got up from his desk and walked to Lewis. "I'll get to the point; we're getting ready to head back into combat and with the loss of Captain Ruebaker, I need someone who can lead. I am, therefore, rescinding your punishment. You're returned to flight status."
She was grinning uncontrollably as she moved closer to him. She threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug. When she pulled away from the hug, their eyes met. There was an uneasy silence as the two stared at each other. Finally, Wehrmann turned his back as he poured a cup of coffee.
"All right, then. We should be receiving our orders shortly. From there, you'll lead the squadron. That's all."
Lewis didn't really want to leave, but was unsure of what, if anything, just happened. She backed to the door, and quickly exited. Once gone, Wehrmann sat in his chair and shook his head.
"I shouldn't do this. I can't do this," he said to himself, and then smiled. "But I think I'm going to."
TCS Asimov, Flagship 18th Destroyer Squadron; CO's quarters
About Two Days Later
0425 Hours 2681.036 (Feb 5)
A thin ray of light cut into the darkened room as the door creaked open. To Capt. Bishop, it was just as intense as a lighthouse.
"What?" came the groggy, muffled voice.
"Sir, the 15th just came on long range radar. Captain Colby is wishing to video conference with you."
"I see. I'll be there in a moment." The 15th had done the first part of the job, keeping the bugs busy for a couple of days, and preventing them from interfering with the evacuation. Now came the hard part.
The young Lieutenant turned to leave the stateroom.
"Oh, Kelli, make sure that there's fresh coffee in the wardroom." The Lieutenant acknowledged and closed the door behind her. Bishop stood up, pulling on his shirt. He'd slept in the rest of the uniform, but the various ribbons and pins on the uniform shirt made sleeping in it almost impossible. As he tucked it into his trousers, he headed for the bridge, stopping by the wardroom for the first of many cups that day.
"Captain on the bridge!"
"XO, how long until we rendezvous with the 15th?"
"About five more hours, sir."
"Do we have tactical on the enemy force yet?"
"None of our own, sir. We're still being fed that data from the Chicago. Their data shows the Nephilim fleet pursuing in a loose formation. There doesn't appear to be a whole lot of structure, but we do believe that we've identified the flagship. Heavy cruiser, sir, one big bastard."
The two men walked to the plot console where red dots indicated the estimated positions of the enemy fleet, and blue dots indicated the positions of the 15th and 18th destroyer squadrons. There was a slightly larger red dot towards the center of the Nephilim group of ship.
Well, well, Bishop thought to himself, you must be the brain. I wonder how they'll function without you.
A comm tech called out from the corner of the room, "Sir, the video conference is ready. Captain Colby is waiting."
"Put it through to my ready room."
Capt. Colby's holographic likeness appeared above the Tri-D holoprojector atop Bishop's desk. "Morning, Bruce. Sorry to drag you out of bed so early."
"No problem, Colt. Goes with the territory."
"I assume that you've been briefed on the situation?" Colby asked.
"Yeah, Capt. Que gave me the full monty. I was just going over the tactical data again. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, the way I see it, there's a cruiser in the center of the Nephilim force, which will be the flagship. That should be the first target."
"I agree," Bishop said, nodding.
"Okay, here's what I want to do. Let's take the 15th straight in. We'll target that ship and focus our strength on that. Meanwhile, I want you to fan out and squeeze the fleet from the outside in. I'll launch fighters, but they'll probably be needed on the inside, with us."
"Quick and dirty, huh? Well, it sounds like a plan. Seems to me that combined, we even the odds a bit. Let's kick their butts back to the roach motel they came from."
"All right, Bruce. When we reach each other, you go ahead and keep speed, and fan out into attack position. I'll pull a 180 and head straight in. Wish us luck."
"Done. See you on the other side. Bishop out."
TCS Chicago; Flight Wing Briefing Room
Colonel Ward shifted nervously behind the podium. "So, right before the ships pull the 180 back towards the Bugs, we will launch all fighters. We head in first, clearing a path for the destroyers. Once they enter the Nephilim force, we will break and attack any enemy fighter cover. It's going to be one giant mêlée in there, so stay with your wingman."
"Sir, at what point do we pull out?"
"We don't. We're staying until every Nephilim ship is destroyed."
There was a moment of silence as the pilots soaked that bit on information in. It truly was the thought, "we all go home, or none of us go home." Slowly, the pilots accepted the search and destroy mission. Over the course of the next few hours, they would all prepare in different ways. Some would go to the simulators, some would pour over the tactical reports hoping to gain some tidbit that had been missed, some would pray, and some would try to catch a few minutes of rest.
Inevitably, all of them would go through the same emotions. There would be the tense anxiety, then the impatience to just get on with the mission. Then would come the fear. It always came. The good pilots knew how to channel that emotion, stopping it from developing into full-blown panic. Then again, there would always be the rookie who wet his pants and ran to get clear of the mess. They never made it.
"All right then, that's all. We're looking at launching in just under two hours. Everyone be on the flight deck, prepped, and ready to go. Good luck."
"Sir, the 18th is 20,000 klicks out."
"Launch all fighters."
Through out the ship, sirens blazed and lights flashed red sounding the magnum launch. Down on the flight deck, the first pair of Tigershark fighters punched out of the ship. The pilots pulled their craft hard to port. They began to circle as the rest of the squadron formed.
"Slow to one quarter and come left to course 025."
"Slow to one quarter, left to course 025, aye," the helm acknowledged.
"Comm, relay those orders to the rest of the ships."
"Weps, confirm all tubes loaded. Begin tracking the heavy cruiser in the middle of the enemy force."
"Sir, confirm all tubes loaded and ready. Beginning to track large target in center of Nephilim force."
TCS Asimov; Bridge
"Captain, the 15th is beginning to turn."
"Roger that, XO," Bishop said. "Increase speed to three quarters. Ready all stations for battle."
Aboard the bridge, preparations began to be made for the impending confrontation. Torpedoes and missiles were loaded, tracking systems began zeroing in on potential targets and all around the ship, there was an increased sense of adrenaline.
TCS Chicago; Bridge
"Sir, steady course 025."
"Are all of the fighters clear?"
Cmdr. Galloway made a quick check on a display. "Confirm that, skipper. They're all away, and heading into the fray."
"Thanks, XO. Ahead full. Get ready, boys and girls. It's going to get hairy."
"Sir, the Nephilim ships are beginning to slow."
"They're getting ready to fight..." Colby said to himself. "Weps, once you have a lock, fire at will."
"Colonel, the squadron is formed. Ready to engage."
"Copy that," Ward said. "All fighters, follow in formation." With that, he pushed the throttle to full and headed for the Nephilim force. Already, he could see tiny red blips appearing on his radar as the Nephilim fighters emerged from the larger cap ships. "Here they come, ladies and gentlemen. Stick with your wingman; render assistance to friendlies whenever possible. We're all in this together. Break and attack."
The Confed ships broke into a dozen two-ship formations, each with its sights set on a different Nephilim fighter. For a moment, it was almost like a giant game of red rover. Each force was on their respective side, trading volleys of fire. In an instant, that was past. Now, the fighters were intermixed. Confusion became the reigning thought as dozens and dozens of ships occupied a small amount of space, each one trying to eliminate another.
"Hammer, you've got one on your tail. Break right!"
"Breaking right! Get him off of me Coach!"
As Hammer broke right, an enemy ship close behind, Ward was able to come up right behind the enemy. Inside Ward's cockpit, his targeting reticule glowed a bright red and sounded a high tone, letting him know that his missiles were locked. He let fly with the first heat-seeker, simultaneously blasting the ship with cannon fire. As the missile found its way to the Nephilim ship, a second missile from the right impacted on the ship finishing it off in a huge ball of fiery flame.
Looking at his radar, Ward saw that the pilot was Maj. Lewis from the Denver. "Thanks for the assist, Maria!"
About The Same Time
"Fire!" Bishop shouted.
Another torpedo spread shook the ship as it rocketed away. Moments later, it impacted on another of the Nephilim destroyers that were on the outskirts of the force. Already, the enemy force seemed to be in disarray. Two of the enemy destroyers were destroyed, much of the fighter cover had been taken out, and Colby's unit was wearing away at the five corvettes and one cruiser at the heart of the force. On the other hand, a couple of his own ships were not looking good. The Bradbury was taking heavy damage, along with the Sterling. Within the mêlée, the Denver and Waterloo were both feeling the press as well.
"Comm, get me Ward on the line."
A moment passed, then "Go ahead, skipper."
"Colonel, I need some of your ships to provide some cover for the Bradbury and Sterling. Can you manage that?"
There was a pause, "Roger that, Captain. I'll dispatch what I can."
"It's much appreciated."
"All right, people. I need all ships from the Miami to go and provide cover for the 18th. Specifically, the Bradbury and Sterling ships are badly damaged. Everyone else, since fighter cover had been reduced, begin targeting those turrets on the capships."
The fighters from the Miami broke to cover the 18th while the others began to take the teeth out of these capships. Occasionally they were diverted from their tasks to assist other pilots who had a lasting enemy fighter latch on, but it almost seemed that the fighter match had been a cakewalk.
TCS Chicago; Bridge
Colby grabbed the mike and keyed it for all the ships of the 15th to hear. "All ships, concentrate fire on the cruiser. Her shields are low - let's take them while we can!"
Moments later, missiles and torpedoes raced away from the destroyers toward the cruiser. They seemed to detonate at once, sending the cruiser through a massive chain reaction of internal explosions that destroyed the ship from within. A white-hot explosion finally engulfed the cruiser, leaving the remaining Nephilim ships without a leader. They all seemed to break off instantaneously.
"They're running for it!" Colby yelled into the mike, "don't let anyone escape!"
TCS Bradbury; Bridge
Cmdr. White looked on as the Sterling, now confronted by three fleeing destroyers, was raked by fire. She visibly shook in the view screen with each blow. He had given the order to render assistance, but they had been too far away. The Fighter cover from the Miami had been insufficient, and five of the eight fighters had been destroyed. The remaining three had been forced to run back to Miami to rearm, leaving Sterling exposed.
"Commander White, this is Captain Bishop," came the call over the P.A.
Keying the mike, White answered, "You've got to help them, Bruce!"
"We're on our way. Joe, you're too battered. Get clear before they toast you, too!"
Just at that moment, the Sterling exploded in a white ball of flame. White turned to the radar intercept officer.
"Did anyone get away?"
"We're not reading any beacons from escape pods, sir. All hands were lost."
White returned the mike to its cradle. Then, pointing to a single enemy destroyer he said, "Target that ship. Fire at will." He turned to the helmsman, a 19 year-old boy with blonde hair. "Set an intercept course for that ship. Ramming speed."
The helmsman stared back at the Captain with a blank gaze. White pulled the young man from the seat and sat himself. He entered the navigational data, and set speed to flank.
"All hands, abandon ship," he said as calmly as if he were requesting a refill of coffee. Aboard the bridge, people stood in silence. "Get off the ship!!" he screamed.
A Few Minutes Later
Colby looked at the tactical plot. Two destroyers from the 18th had been destroyed, the Bradbury and Sterling. Among his own ships, the Waterloo had been destroyed; the Dallas had been badly damaged and was heading back for refit; the Denver was seriously damaged, although still fighting; and a total of nine fighters had been lost. Through it all, they had destroyed sixty four Nephilim fighters, eight destroyers, three corvettes, and one cruiser. There were two enemy corvettes remaining, but the remaining two frigates and four destroyers from the 18th, along with the remaining five destroyers from the 15th (minus Denver) were making quick work of them. Colby walked to the comm station.
"Relay this message to Hanton: mission accomplished."
"Yessir. Do you want me to include the losses, sir?"
"No. I doubt that it would matter, nor would she care," he said with bitterness in his tone. "I'll be in my cabin. I don't want to be disturbed."
Colby headed to his cabin and locked the door behind him. He sat behind his desk and opened the drawer. Inside, he withdrew his sidearm and a tall bottle of vodka. The weapon lie on his desk as he began his routine of banishing the memories of these past few hours. He pulled the slide and chambered a round. With time and drink, he would soon feel none of the pain that engulfed him now. Throughout the day, the weapon rested beside him.