PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 26 of 28 )

: Dark Skies

 

BWS Freedom, Battle Group Valkyrie
Tyr System, Vega Sector, Union of Border Worlds
1400 Hours February 5th, 2681 (2681.036)

“So, with the commandeering of the Tanfen ships, and that raid on the fuel depot, we can evacuate a lot more of the civvies from Tyr. But this also gives us a lot more targets to cover when the bugs jump us. And that is exactly what they’ll be doing. The diversionary strikes have kept the bugs busy until now, but they've finally gotten wise to our buildup. Long range scouts and sensor probes have already detected a sizable group of Nephilim fighter craft inbound to Tyr VII.”

“That makes what, at least four dozen civilian ships to cover with a single squadron? How does her highness the Admiral propose we pull THAT one off?”

Commander Jarin Beleforte sighed and shook his head. His squadron exec, Lt. Commander Will Vaughn had been slipping a lot lately, becoming more argumentative and also withdrawn. Jarin didn’t quite know how to interpret his old friend’s attitude at this point, and so had a close eye kept on Will at all times.

“Vaughn, we have the Reapers, the Taipans, the Harbingers, and the Dragon Riders as reinforcement wings. Since Lt. Colonel Leung hasn't had much flight time lately, I’ve been given command for this operation. I’ve arranged to have the Harbingers with their Bearcats and the Dragon Riders with their Jaguars on station with us for the duration. I’m leaving the Taipans and the Reapers in their Retaliators and Excals in Tyr’s sensor shadow so they can get a jump on the bugs if we need it.”

“Leaving us with around one fighter a transport before we call in the reinforcements. It’s going to be tight if they hit us in force. We’ve
still got three of our birds from the Spitfire down,” commented Ensign Alexa Sheldon.

Jarin nodded towards Shade and smiled grimly. “Not quite. We also have twelve each of Tanfen Homeguard Hellcat Fives and Thunderbolt Sevens at our disposal. Now, before you start bitching about how they’re only civvies, these people are from Tanfen. That puts their quality just a step above your average civilian. Altogether, that gives us over 100 fighters in all, nearly as many as the Bugs have. There will be no capital elements with us on this op though, so if the Nephilim throw anything heavy at us we’ve got to make do with a dozen Tanfen pilots slinging a single torp each. The only plus side to the munitions situation is that each of our Intruders has been outfitted with the new long range ImRecs, courtesy of our dear and loved friends in the Confederation.”

A few of the pilots chuckled at the dripping sarcasm in describing Confed, while others groaned, getting the feeling that they were probably being passed inferior equipment while the Confed front line fighters got the more refined versions. Though it didn’t really bother them deep down, because the Border Worlders had always inherited the technology Confed didn’t want or need anymore. The Excalibur and Bearcat fighters among Battle Group Valkyrie’s forces evidenced that.

“We all know this is going to be tight, folks. We’re going to have to fight harder than we ever have before. However, unlike previous battles you people have been in, this time there is no retreat. We have nowhere to fall back to. There are over one hundred thousands souls depending on us,” Jarin paused for a moment, “Now with all that bullshit out of the way, let's get out there and kick some bug ass. Dismissed!”

 

Flight Deck, BWS Valeria
1 hour later

Lt. Colonel Quinn “Bubbles” Lane sat in the cockpit of her Jaguar-class heavy fighter, finishing the final prelaunch checks. She had been a pilot with the Border Worlds militia since the first Kilrathi War, and had seen action from Hyperion all the way down to McCaffrey in the Enigma Sector. During her basic flight training with the militia, one of the other recruits coined her callsign, noting that when she had entered training she had been a bit of a bubblehead.

“Everything clear up there, Colonel?” asked the Valeria’s chief tech.

Quinn brushed a few strands of strawberry blonde hair out of her face and checked her status board for a final time. “I’m in the green, Chief.”

“Great. Give us a couple more minutes to get the rest of your squad checked and we’ll sign you folks out.”

After nodding to the Chief, Quinn strapped herself in and pulled a datapad from a slot near her right knee. Keying it on, she began to run through the mission specifics one last time. Commander Beleforte’s plan called for the Dragon Riders to cover the ships assembled closest to Tyr itself, with the Harbingers and Black Angels forming a screening force oriented in the direction of the suspected Nephilim approach vector from the Hellespont jump point. The Taipans and the Reapers were hidden in the planet's sensor shadow, not only to act as surprise reinforcements but also to prevent the Nephilim from slingshooting around the planet and straight into the transport fleet. Their fighters bristled with guns and missiles, so any Bugs that ran into them would in for a nasty shock.

She was still reviewing the datapad when the Chief called up to her, “Yo, Colonel, time to get this show on the road.”

Quinn immediately placed the datapad into its closable slot and sealed her helmet to her flightsuit. A slim five minutes later, the 62nd Heavy Fighter Squadron had launched from the Valeria. “Let's keep it tight, if and when the buggies come I want concentrated firepower on their antishipping fighters. They are the priority for us. Leave the lights and mediums to the rest of our little friends.”

“Moonlight to Bubbles, vector locked in. ETA to transport fleet approximately fifteen minutes at top speed,” said Major Jodie McKenzie.

“Confirmed. All units accelerate to top speed. Don’t want to be late to our first party with our new friends.”

 

In Orbit around Tyr VII
Approximately 15 minutes later

A seemingly uncountable number of ships stood in geosynchronys orbit above Tyr 7’s spaceport. Three squadrons of fighters from Battle Group Valkyrie held formation at the fringes of the transport swarm. Shuttles flitted to and from the planet’s surface, ferrying the now-refugees to their passage away from the alien warpath. And even as the Border Worlds and Tanfen ships scrambled to pull the civilians away from the planet, the Kilrathi Kn’thrak closed in on them.

The Tanfen fighters were farther out, acting as the advance warning for when the bugs arrived. The civilian pilots had demanded to be the first into battle, since Tanfen ships and crews were right in the firing line. Jarin had no problems letting them. First ones to burn, he thought.

“All right folks, listen up,” he said, “Keep your eyes open - it’s been awfully quiet so far and the Nephilim should be coming out to play any minute now.”

After a good number of affirmatives, Jarin leaned back into the padding on his chair and waited, keeping his eyes on his scanners. The Tanfen T-bolts and Hellcats were at the edge of its thirty thousand klick radius. He shook his head and yawned lightly, then said, “Transport fleet, this is Angel One, report status of transfer.”

“Angel One, this is transport fleet command, reporting sixty percent of civilians transferred. Current estimates show thirteen more hours until completion.”

“Roger that, Angel One ou - ”

“This is Hellcat Four to all vessels, hostiles detected at maximum range, moving to engage.”

Jarin snapped back, “That’s a definite negative, Hellcat Four. Thunderbolt wing fall back ten thousand klicks. Hellcat wing, hold position. Harbingers, move up and join the Hellcats. Engage only as the bugs enter missile range. You know the drill.”

Despite a good amount of grumbling from the Tanfen fighter squadrons, they followed orders. Nearby, the eighteen Bearcats of Harbinger squadron hit their afterburners to quickly join in formation with the Hellcats. The Thunderbolts moved back into position midway between the outer fighter screen and the fleet. Then, Jarin issued the order to move the Black Angels forward five thousand kicks, to act as additional support for the Thunderbolts. The Dragon Riders tightened up their formation into the Nephilim approach corridor, completing that just as a message from Lt. Colonel Yu Fei Leung, the Harbinger commander, came in.

“Bandits are in range. Moving to engage now.”

 

Harbinger Squadron
Same Time

“Colonel, I’ve got over one hundred and twenty Nephilim craft incoming. Looks like about thirty bomber type craft, Skate-T class, plus God knows how many torp carrying Mantas.”

“Confirmed, Half-life. All right folks, target the bombers and fire missiles as they lock. Go get them!”

At that moment, Lieutenant Jared “Half-life” Bowman fired a pair of LRIRs at an incoming Skate-T. Upon impact the bomber split into three smaller craft, each somewhat damaged. Holy mother... he thought to himself.

Another bomber fell to missiles and spawned three more Skates. A frantic call from one of the Hellcats crackled over his radio. “Holy shit! We can’t kill even them without more of them popping up! Somebody do something!”

Phalanx quickly silenced him. “Keep it together, god dammit! Just keep shooting, we have to thin out enough of the bombers so the rest of our fighters can finish them off!”

Just then the Nephilim started replying with missiles of their own. A pair of the Tanfen Hellcats vaporized under the strikes. Another trio of Skate-Ts went down, along with another Hellcat and one of the Bearcats. Cannon fire had begun to be exchanged. After muttering a silent curse, Phalanx gave the order to fire at will.

The remaining Harbingers accelerated to top speed and darted back and forth between the teeming swarm of Nephilim fighters. The natural speed and agility of the Bearcats, in addition to good shielding, prevented them from being crushed. In a few seconds time, four Mantas, three Skate clusters and seven regular Skates were ripped to shreds.

However, the Tanfen Hellcats weren’t so lucky. Five more of the pilots, despite their best efforts, were killed by Nephilim gun and missile fire. The other Hellcats managed to bag a good ten of the regular Skates and a few Morays. But the larger force of the Nephilim pressed onward. A decent number of Morays held back to keep the Tanfen and UBW fighters tied up, while the bulk of the force continued towards the line of Thunderbolts.

 

Black Angel Squadron

“Damn it all,” Jarin muttered to himself. There was still a good number, probably around fifty or so, of Skate-Ts and torpedo carrying Mantas incoming. He ordered the Angels forward another twenty-five hundred klicks, as well as calling forward the Retaliators and Excaliburs to hit the bug rear and flanks. They’re coming in too fast... time to do this thing, he thought.

“Thunderbolt One, missiles away!”

He snapped his attention towards the Thunderbolt and watched the missiles head out towards an incoming red Manta. In a heartbeat it was vaporized. Another eleven Nephilim fighters fell from Tanfen missiles. Moments before entering gun range, the Thunderbolts each launched four more FoF missiles. The Nephilim barely had time to blink before the missiles began to hit. Only five Mantas were killed, but a great many more Mantas and Skate-Ts were damaged.

Unlike the humans, the Nephilim weren't launching their missiles in any sort of coordinated way, so these missiles exchanges always heavily favored the human pilots. When you got down to it, fighter battles were about teamwork and tactics, not just guts and glory. The Nephilim didn't have either teamwork or tactics, and they were paying a heavy price for that.

A rain of energy bolts cascaded between the two forces. Two Thunderbolts were killed, as were another six Skate-Ts and four red hued Mantas. Nephilim fighters and bombers sped quickly past the Tanfen fighters, straight into a massive barrage of gun and missile fire from the Black Angels. Once again, the coordinated, concentrated fire was devastatingly effective. A score of Morays and blue type Mantas were blasted away in the first firing wave, then the Angels broke formation and turned to hammer the bombers. The T-bolts swung around, blasting the rear of the Nephilim formation with their heavy guns. Even more Nephilim fell, but the rest just raced straight ahead.

“Ah shit, there’s still too damned many of those Skate-Ts and Mantas, Strife. We can’t get them with all the bloody fighters out here,” Diablo called out.

“I can see that little fact, just stick to them and try not to die,” Jarin responded.

Jarin swung his Intruder around and poured a stream of fire into the nearest Manta, followed by a missile. Its shielding dissolved into nothingness. One more long burst finished it off. As he banked right to line up on another Manta, a call came over his radio.

“This is Bubbles to Strife, we’ve got torps incoming, moving to bring them down.”

“Roger that Bubbles, deal with the torp wave then hit the bombers hard.”

“No need to say it twice, let's get those god damn bastards!”

A small wave of Mantas released more torpedoes and peeled away, jinking to avoid the torrent of cannon fire converging on them. Only a few succeeded, barely escaping where the majority of their comrades were crushed between the Black Angels and the Tanfen Thunderbolts.

Behind them, the pilots of the Jaguars sprang to action, laying down a blanket of cannon fire to hold back the storm of incoming torpedoes. One torp quickly detonated, then another and another and another. Yet even these Herculean efforts to stop all of the torps failed.

 

62nd Heavy Fighter Squadron, “Dragon Riders”

“Oh hell, some of them got past,” one of Quinn’s pilots called out.

She immediately slammed her stick hard to the left, bringing her Jaguar around towards the transport fleet. From her position, it looked like about seven torpedoes slipped past. A dose of light tachyon guns destroyed the closest torpedo. Another one off of Bubbles’ forward right was brought down, painfully close to a transport. Then the bottom dropped out of her stomach.

One of the transports had been turning away from the Nephilim when a torpedo caught it directly in the stern, between the engine exhaust ports. There was a sudden bright flash, and it appeared for a moment that only moderate damage had been sustained. Mere moments later though, a jet of fire shot out from the top side of the engine housing, touching off a secondary explosion. This explosion set off another, and quickly a series of explosions shot up the transport’s spine. In just a few seconds, the Nephilim torpedo had split the transport into two large fragments and a multitude of smaller pieces of debris.

“Holy shit… was that ’sport loaded?” asked 1st Lieutenant Jane “Picasso” Barksedale quietly.

“God, I hope not, Picasso,” replied her friend, 1st Lieutenant Trent “Spiral” Landon.

Another two torpedoes had been destroyed by gunfire during the transport’s demise. The final two torpedoes bore down relentlessly on their quarry, an older model Drayman. A hail of Stormfire bullets brought one down, but the other marched relentlessly on.

One of the Jaguar pilots who had been a little deeper in the fleet reacted immediately, turning his fighter towards it. Mentally, the pilot noted it was far too close to both himself and the transports to even use guns effectively.

The pilot shrugged and muttered to himself, “Who wants to live forever anyway?” before hitting the afterburners.

Seen from a distance, the explosion that resulted from the Jaguar’s collision with the torpedo would have been rather pretty. The torpedo’s warhead, its damage potential far higher than the strength of the fighter’s defenses, tore the fighter and itself to pieces. The large amount of shrapnel left over bounced harmlessly across the port shielding of the Drayman.

Quinn shook her head and cursed silently, then said, “We’ve still got work to do, lets get it over with.”

 

Black Angel Squadron

Will’s fighter was on the ropes. Nephilim gunfire had already chewed apart most of the armor covering his fuel tank, and a stray missile had shredded his right wingtip. Red lights were flashing all over his status board. Oh hell, I’m gonna die, was the only thought racing through his mind as he struggled to keep things stable. His Intruder shuddered as he put it through a tight roll, barely avoiding another maser blast. “Damn, Jarin, this bird’s gonna shake itself apart on me, I’m gonna have to bail on this furball.”

“Fuck. Well, if it's gonna go anyway, point your fighter at a bomber then eject before it hits,” came the rushed reply.

Though a little insane, Strife’s suggestion did make sense to a part of Diablo’s mind. And right in front of him was a bloody red Manta lining up for a torp run. Will took a deep breath and, for the moment, pushed aside the fear in his system. “Not today, bug. Even if this stunt gets me killed I’m taking something with me.”

Part of him still panicking, Will had to force himself to engage the afterburners. The Manta quickly grew larger in his viewport as the warplanes hurtled towards each other. “Three… two… one… ejecting, ejecting, ejecting!”

He reached down and pulled the yellow and black striped cords between his legs. Thunder filled the cockpit as bolts holding it to the frame blew, then an earthquake struck as the ignition booster in the bottom of the ejection pod ignited. The booster pushed the pod away from the doomed frame and towards the fringes of the transport fleet gathered around Tyr VII’s northern pole.

The Manta made a vain attempt to swerve after coming to the sudden realization that the Intruder wasn’t going to. However, the turn only doomed it even further. Will’s fighter impacted square on the starboard side of the Manta. First the nose section collapsed, and with the engines running at full afterburner, the rest of the Intruder hit less than a moment later. The explosion of the Intruder’s fuel cells and main reactor caused the Nephilim bomber to lurch sideways. And then the Manta finally fell as well, going up in a bright flash of greenish-white light.

“That’s it people, keep the heat on! Only a few more bombers left. Priority targets are now the remaining Mantas, Angels. Lets do it.”

Each of the remaining Intruders swung away from their current targets and locked in on the nearest Mantas. Wizard, flying one of the two active fighters left aboard the BWS Spitfire, got off the first shot. The cannon fire blasted the shielding to nothingness. Then Forge fired off one of his three remaining LRIRs, removing the weakened Nephilim ship from existence. “One down, Strife.”

Jarin just grunted a reply as he pounded another Manta with gunfire. It swerved off its run, crashing straight into Ensign Gene “Hades” Shepperd’s Intruder. The Intruder slowly broke apart, Hades ejecting moments after the Manta hit. Strife paid it no mind for now.

He brought his reticule over the next target and was about to pull the trigger when it exploded, the flying debris shaking his ship lightly. Jarin blinked, then saw a Retaliator swoop through the wreckage, guns blazing on another Manta. Other Mantas were exploding all around him as the Reapers and Taipans tore into the battle, their massive firepower ripping apart one fighter after another.

“There’s another for the history books,” said Lt. Colonel Chrys “Mirage” Rhodes, “Scratch your Manta problem, Commander. What do ya say we finish the rest of these crunch-balls and head on home?”

Jarin half smiled under his helmet as he turned towards the Morays that were engaged with elements of the Bearcat, Excalibur, and Tanfen squadrons.

“Kill ’em all!”

 

Rec Room, BWS Freedom
February 5th, 2350 hours

Damn it. God, god damn it, he thought. Two of his Intruders gone, and no hope of a resupply before, at the very least, Nephele. The pilots had survived, though, so it was something of a mixed blessing. Jarin sighed heavily and looked over the rest of the mission report.

Five of the Jaguars had been destroyed… and two of the pilots killed. A pair of Bearcats and an Excalibur were destroyed, and one of the Bearcat pilots was KIA. Only a single Retaliator had bought it, with the pilot in the Valeria’s sick bay. What caused him the most worry though, was the loss of the single transport (unloaded, thank God) and the dozen Hellcats and Thunderbolts downed. Wouldn’t be surprised if Tanfen sent me the bill for the whole lot of them.

“All in all, not a horrible day’s work, but not a great one either,” he said to himself. They had lost 23 Border Worlds and Tanfen fighters (with several more damaged) in exchange for 120 Nephilim fighters. The battle confirmed what they had believed all along. Their fighters might only be marginally better than what the Nephilim had, but they made up for it in pilot training, experience, and teamwork. Still, the Nephilim could absorb the losses much more easily than they could.

“Could’ve been a hell of a lot worse though, sir.”

Jarin looked up and saw Alexa Sheldon standing on the opposite side of the table. “Yeah, I know. But still…we can’t afford to lose more pilots. We might be able to swing replacement machines, but we’re not gonna be able to get more people.”

Sitting down, Alexa said, “And the way things are shaping up, it’s going to get a lot worse.”

He half-smiled. “You’ve been keeping up on the news, I see.”

“Whatever gives us the edge out there, we’ve got to do it, right?”

“Exactly. We might’ve given the Nephilim a black eye today, but next time we’re going to have to crack a few ribs if we want to keep with the Admiral’s plan.”

Shade just nodded and took a sip of some purple-ish liquid. “You’re still drinking that shit, Lex? That’ll kill you before the bugs will,” said the newly arrived Diablo.

“Either way I’m dead, so does it matter in the particulars?”

“Probably not. Hey, Jarin, I’m sorry about today… I’m just getting shaky... I mean, look at what we’re up against.”

Jarin sighed and looked towards Will. “Don’t worry about it, just concentrate and get your job done. And try to keep your plane intact while you’re at it.”

Diablo chuckled. “Right, I’ll see what I can do about that. So either of you think we’re going to be able to pull this whole shebang off? I mean… if we screw the pooch out here, the dark skies on the horizon are going to sweep on in. And we all know what that means.”

Before Jarin could respond, Alexa cut in, “Of course we will, sir. After all, what other choice do we have?”

An almost unsettling silence fell over the table. Shade was right. The combined UBW-Confed fleet was the only hope for the Border Worlds, and and possibly for Vega Sector as well. The obvious was already known to anyone out in the Border Worlds. Confed 7th Fleet from McAuliffe wouldn't be able to mount a proper defense in time to prevent major casualties should the Nephilim break through here. And if that happened… adios muchachos.

“You know, all this won’t matter a whit if the Midway doesn’t stamp out the Neph’s entryway into our space,” Will noted.

“Maybe the Midway already has... last I heard she was in the H’hrass System -- but let’s just forget about the Midway right now. They’ll do their job; I have faith. Now let’s make damn sure we do ours so they have a human race left to come back to,” Jarin said.

Shade nodded and smiled, lifting her glass. “To victory.”

Will lifted his glass next. “To faith in our comrades.”

Finally, Jarin lifted the near empty glass near his datapad. “To the Border Worlds.”

A faint clink echoed through the quiet rec room. And just outside the Freedom, another formation of transports lumbered past. Jarin regarded it for a moment and finished off his drink. The transports would be finished loading in a few more hours, but there was still the little matter of getting them out of the system in one piece. And after that, there was still the enemy fleet to deal with.

If he thought today was hot, he wouldn’t want to see what was beginning to lurch its way over the horizon. Its name was Nephilim. It had a single, simple directive.

Exterminate all life.

 

FIN