PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 3 of 28 )
: ď Jokerís Wild
Flight Wing Rec Room
Tyr System, Vega Sector
February 2nd, 2681
Jarin flipped another card off the top of the slightly worn deck. The card twirled for a moment then landed face down on the tabletop. He pulled another card and this time it landed on its back.
"Ace of spades," he mumbled to himself.
Jeanette slumped back slightly in her chair, slowly nursing a red hued drink. A subdued air had long since settled over the table. She shook her head and sighed, staring into the drink. She glanced up to Jarin, then over to Will, who was pacing back and forth beside the table.
"Do you mind, sir? That damned pacing is giving me a headache."
"That headache won't matter in a few days, Lieutenant. We are so screwed."
"We're not dead yet, are we?"
"Yet being the operative word."
Jarin set the deck of cards down on the table with a loud thump. "Will, sit down, have a drink, and calm the hell down. We've been through worse."
Vaughn shook his head and threw his arms up. "When? When, pray tell, have we been in deeper shit?"
"2668, Battle of Terra. That ring a bell?"
"Damn it, Jarin, that was different."
"How? Explain to me how being majorly outnumbered has changed so drastically in 12 years time?"
"Oh come on, at least then we knew what we were dealing with."
"Well, we do know what we're dealing with here. Another horde of rampaging aliens headed straight towards the heart of humanity."
Will sighed and threw his arms up again. "Forget it, just forget it."
After picking the deck of cards back up, Jarin flipped another onto the table. This time it was the 8 of clubs. He just flipped another card as 1st Lieutenant Jack "Prophet" Mueller dropped into a neighboring chair. "Whats the game, sir?" he asked.
Jarin stared at the cards already on the table, then to the deck. "Give me about twenty minutes, then it'll be fifty two card pickup."
Mueller took a long look around, and slowly picked up on the mood. "Things really are as bad as they say, aren't they?"
"Looks like it, Jack... looks like it."
"Hey... I heard the Angels from the Spitfire have been hauled into long range patrol duty."
Jarin nodded and took a sip from a glass of water on the table. "That's true. Sent them out myself. Figured with all the ships we've got around here, its better to have more of our people out keeping tabs on the Nephilim than to be hanging around here. We are still running on precious little data."
"Well, sir, you just keep me around to blow stuff up, let other people do the watching."
"That'd be nice, but the way things look, we don't have that luxury."
The table fell quiet as the fact that many of them might not be here in a week's time sunk back in. Jeanette set her drink down and picked up one of the cards, the ace of diamonds. She twirled it slowly between her fingers. "Strife, do you think they're in system?"
"That's the word I hear from the bridge crew."
Jarin drew one more card off the top of the deck and just held it. "Look, folks, we're up to relieve the Angels from the Spitfire on the starboard patrol route in ten. Let's get to it."
lightly and began to stand. Jeanette downed the rest of her iced
tea and set the glass on the table, then headed down to the flight
deck with Jack and Will. Jarin tossed the card in his hand to
the table and turned towards the door. When the card fell, it
its back, showing a broad grinning clown.
Jarin turned his head to see which card it was, then thought, The Nephilim are the wild card this time
Nav 3, starboard patrol route
About the same time
2nd Lieutenant Jaelithe "Felis" Crislip popped her knuckles as the flight of four Intruders approached the end of the third leg of the patrol. Her light blue eyes watched her radar screen. It was still as empty as it had been when they passed 20 kilometers away from the fleet. "This is Three to Lead... this place is dead."
"Confirmed, Three. I've seen livelier cemeteries," responded the flight leader, Lieutenant Commander Rob "Forge" Marsch.
All remained silent as the flight hit the second nav point. "All units, this is Lead, adjust course and prepare to autonav to homebase on my mark."
Jaelithe entered the course change to the Spitfire into her computer, then said, "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Rob smiled under his helmet. "Lieutenant, has anyone ever told you you worry too much? I heard from Commander Beleforte today and he told me that so far the Nephs have only been clustered around the Hellespont jump point. Apparently they haven't twitched since popping in, or so the rumors go."
"You might want to hold that thought, sir," piped in Ensign Troy "Crossbow" Ellester, "I've got something on my screens, fifteen kilometers out at three o'clock low. Possibly multiple units, it's hard to tell. If there's more then one, they could be hiding behind the first contact's silhouette."
"I see it, too, Crossbow," Jaelithe said, "Sir, permission to break off with Crossbow and check it out."
"Negative, Lieutenant... if anyone is going, we all are. Spitfire, this is Apocalypse Lead, we've detected at least one unknown and are going to investigate. Let our boys from the Freedom know we won't be meeting them on our way home."
"Roger that, Commander. We've notified the Freedom and they are launching an additional wing with their patrol just in case."
"Hey, Forge, aren't we supposed to have civilian transports coming through this zone soon?" asked 1st Lieutenant Owyn "Wizard" Carter.
"Supposedly. Should be coming through right where we're getting those contacts. Well doesn't this just take the damn cake? All right, folks, listen up. Go to max speed, if any civvies get caught out there with their pants down it's not going to be pleasant. And if you see anything that doesn't belong to us or Confed... kill it."
Approaching Nav 3
10 minutes later
"You heard Forge, people, let's do the same. All units, open up the throttles and head for the unknowns. Shoot to kill on all hostile craft," Jarin said to the two flights of Intruders carried by the Freedom.
"Strife, I've got a bad feeling about this. What if those contacts aren't civie boats?" asked Diablo, who was leading Prophet Flight.
"If they aren't civvie boats and they are Nephilim, we take them out. And Will... relax. That's an order. You aren't doing anyone any good by being a nervous wreck."
"I'm calm, I'm calm. Really. Look, those vids at the briefing just spooked me. Once we're back in the thick, I'll be fine."
Jarin smiled and nodded to himself. He knew Will sometimes got jumpy before combat, but it had always gone away once things got mixed up. As the wing hit Nav 3, he checked his HUD scanners. Ahead of him were four blue dots, representing the flight from the BWS Spitfire. A little ahead of them was a single larger, gray dot.
He keyed up his radio to Apocalypse Flights frequency and said, "Apocalypse Lead, this is Retribution Lead. What's the word on that unknown?"
There was a brief period of silence before Forge responded. "Retribution Lead, it looks like an older model transport, Drayman IB-class. From the looks of the frame I'd say she was built around '69 or '70."
"Anybody respond to a hail?"
"Affirmative, I'll be pulling into formation in three and escorting them back to the fleet."
"We're coming with you, Forge. I'll get some Arrows from the Valeria to cover our route. Strife out."
City of Lights
En route to Confed/Border Worlds Fleet
"Captain, four Border Worlds Intruders just fell into formation, and our scanners show that eight more are coming in, from the direction of the fleet."
"I see. Any hostiles in the area?"
"None, sir. MFD screens are clear of all bandits."
"You kidding? I thought the government said that this place was a hot zone."
"They did. Probably just a drill, though."
"Maybe. Of course, just in case all those rumors are true, we're getting our people out."
"You got that right, Captain. I don't want to see my kids getting toasted because we ignored warnings."
There were many nods of agreement. The crew of the City of Lights was looking out for the safety of their families, and wanted to get out early before all the hustle started. After a few silent moments the tactical operator spun his chair around towards the comm officer and said, "Hey, Jones, you catch the game last night?"
"Hell yeah." The man chuckled. "Not every day there's a galactic baseball champion team with a furball on it."
The two leaned back, relaxing as they talked over the events in the game. Then they paused for a moment as the Captain said, "Mister DiBasio, check your screen and tell me what you see."
The tactical operator spun back towards his console. "What the hell... nothing! No Border Worlders, no nothing! All I'm getting is a butt load of static."
"That's what I thought. Mister Jones, raise our escorts, see if they're suffering the same troubles."
Jones keyed in the frequency he had been given earlier by Forge and his flight. "Apocalypse Flight, this is transport City of Lights, come in."
He waited a moment then said again, "Repeat, come in, Apocalypse Flight. This is transport City of Lights. Our sensor screens are down."
The communications officer waited. After it became apparent there would be no response, he said to the captain, "Sir, communications are out, too. We're blind and mute."
"Damn this old equipment! Helm, bring us up to flank speed, get us out of here!"
The helmsman started to reply when the entire ship suddenly lurched sideways. "What the hell was that? Damage report!"
"Captain, we've taken a missile hit to section 4, deck 8. Didn't pierce the shields, but another one will."
"Signal red alert and try to get a comm to the escorts! And get the damn passengers locked down!"
The City of Lights rumbled as the engines pulsed up to maximum power. Another violent shudder rocked the ship. "Captain, we've taken another hit to section 4 deck 8! One more like that and we're going to lose hull pressure!"
"Helm, evasive maneuvers!"
"I'm trying, sir, one of those hits knocked out half our starboard thrusters!"
DiBasio slammed his fist against the radar screen in frustration and looked out the viewport to try and get an ID on their attackers. He saw a pair of Intruders working in concert against one fighter he couldn't recognize. "Sir, it looks like the Intruders aren't affected by the interference we're getting, my guess is that our old equipment just can't handle it."
"Not like it helps us now, I just hope those flyboys can keep us safe."
"Damn! Crossbow, form it up, we've got to scrape these bastards off the transport's wound."
"I hear ya, Felis. Let's rock their world!"
Two of the six appearing Nephilim contacts veered back towards the wounded transport. Felis targeted the lead one, which her computer identified as a Moray, and armed a pair of ImRec missiles. Glancing briefly towards Forge and Wizard, she noticed the other four Nephilim, also in Morays, swarming around them.
A moment later she fired off the missiles, both of them dropping silently from the wings and closing on the enemy on a pillar of flame. The first missile impacted on the Moray's front, slashing the shields to nothing. The second hit directly behind the cockpit, piercing straight through armor. Part of the detonation burst through the cockpit, char-broiling the pilot instantly. The rest ripped through internal systems, touching off the fuel reserves. A secondary explosion ripped the rest of the fighter apart, spreading small pieces of debris into the depths of space.
"Chalk up another one for the good guys."
"Great Felis, now get over here! Our backup isn't here yet and we need some cover now!" Forge said.
"Can you get that guy off the transport, Crossbow?"
"I'm on 'im. You go take care of Forge."
Felis nodded and swung towards the larger fray and slammed on the afterburners. To her side Crossbow began a strafing run on the Moray. Ahead, she saw sparks and shrapnel trailing from both Wizard and Forge's Intruders, though the flight commander's fighter was slightly less damaged. Cursing silently, she then keyed up her radio. "Forge, Wizard, you guys try pulling back towards our friendly birds coming in... you're not gonna last much longer."
"Lieutenant, when did you start commanding this flight?" asked Forge, somewhat jokingly, "But anyway, you've got a point. Owyn, let's get the hell out of Dodge."
Jaelithe watched as she closed quickly on the furball, Forge and Wizard pulling away and performing evasive maneuvers. One major thought was on her mind Where the hell is the backup?
ETA to Combat zone: 1 minute
"Retribution Three to Lead, screens and comms are going fuzzy, but our gear is compensating enough to make things workable."
"Confirmed, Three. Those poor dumb bastards on the transport must be deaf and mute."
The four Intruders of Retribution flight hurtled towards the engagement at top speed. Not far behind were the Intruders of Prophet Flight. The remaining Moray that had been attacking the 'sport was now engaged with one of the Intruders of Apocalypse Flight. A quad group of Morays were in pursuit of two heavily damaged Intruders, with a third Intruder heading to intercept from the direction of the City of Lights.
"Two to Lead, 15 seconds till we're in range."
"All right, Mueller. Heston, Carey, you go help our friend by the transport. Mueller, you and me are headed to delay the other Morays. Prophet Flight, when you get here I want you boys and girls to head over my way. Got it, folks?"
A chorus of affirmatives came in shortly there after. "All right. Prophet Flight, you break and attack in 50. Retribution, let's get to work. Break and attack!"
At the moment Jarin finished saying attack Retribution Flight peeled apart in to two pairs. As Terri "Jolt" Heston and Andrew "Dasher" Carey closed in to aid Crossbow, Jarin and Jack "Prophet" Mueller turned to intercept the Morays closing in on Forge and Wizard.
"Mueller, we just want to hold these guys off and keep them distracted until Will and his flight can get here. Don't get too single minded on one target and let yourself get shot up."
"Yes, Mommy, I won't let the bad buggies hurt me none."
Jarin muttered, "That's mommy, sir, to you," under his breath as he brought up a targeting solution on the Moray closest to Forge and Wizard. He locked on a single ImRec and fired, then switched targets. Jack followed suit, popping a missile off at the lead Moray. It was quickly vaporized under the two missile impacts. "Didn't even see it coming you damn roach," Jack called out jubilantly.
"Nice shot son, now how about getting the rest of these bastards off my ass before they clip our wings?" Forge said.
"We're on it, Rob."
"Hey, Commander, let me have the bug in the back, and you and Mueller can take the other two," Felis piped in.
"Knock yourself out, kid. Jack, get the far one, I'll take the one closest to us." Not waiting for a reply, Jarin dived and hit his afterburners, bringing himself into cannon range just as the Moray fired off a missile at Owyn's Intruder.
"Apocalypse Two, break left! Break left!" Jarin shouted into his radio.
"I'm trying, sir - thrusters are all over the place!"
Owyn vainly dropped a string of decoys and rolled his craft as fast as the wounded thrusters would allow. The alien missile wasn't fooled, but the roll did save his life. The self-propelled spear drove itself straight through the tatters of the Intruders rear shielding and into the port wing. A millisecond later, an explosion ripped the wing in half and sent Owyn spinning, port stabilizers having been completely wiped out.
Jarin cursed and toggled up full guns, then let loose a burst. Only a pair of particle cannon shots struck the enemy fighter before it pulled a tight loop, which Jarin struggled to follow in his less maneuverable ship.
At the same time a couple thousand meters away, Jack intentionally fired a missile ahead of his target, the weapon passing by the Nephilim ship close enough to cause it to veer away. "Your mistake, buggy," he said to no one in particular as he let loose a devastating fusillade of cannon fire, which knocked aside the aliens shielding as a child knocks over a stack of blocks. The bug rolled over, fresh shielding facing Jack as it pulled away to gain a firing position.
Felis armed another pair of ImRecs and locked on to the Moray bringing up the rear of the enemy formation. "Well, well, well, Mr. Bug, I've got some claws I'd like you to meet mine," she said into her radio as she fired off the missiles. Almost immediately the Nephilim swerved, dropping a long trail of decoys in its wake. One missile suddenly veered off course and headed off into the deep black. The other remained unimpressed with the alien's evasive maneuvers. It bore down on and hit the Moray, crushing shielding like a mace crushing bone. A follow up blast from her cannons stripped armor away from the tail end of the enemy fighter before it managed to hit the afterburners and escape her cone of fire, for the moment.
Meanwhile, around the City of Lights, Crossbow fought to keep the alien he was engaged with away from his now damaged starboard side. Another burst of maser fire from the Moray stripped even more armor from the already wounded Intruder. Troy quickly pulled back on the stick, the next burst missing by meters. He rolled and pulled back again, bringing the Moray into his view, just in time to see four missiles impact along its hull, disintegrating the fighter almost instantly. Moments later, a pair of Intruders swooped in then turned, skimming the transports hull quickly.
"Thanks for the assist, friends. That bug almost had me."
Shade keyed her transmitter to Crossbows frequency and said, "Our pleasure. Be advised, you should be pulling back to home base. You're no good to us in your condition."
"Roger that. Talk to you folks back at the barn."
Crossbow quickly set his course for home, then Shade switched her transmitters frequency back to Retribution Flights. "Strife, we peeled the bug off Crossbow, now what?"
There was a momentary pause, then, "Shade, stick to the transport in case the Nephs try to jump it again."
A few seconds, seeming like hours, passed. Jarin slammed his stick hard right, a stray alien missile barely skimming the belly of his Intruder. Too damn close, he thought. Then he pushed the stick hard forward, diving down into position on his target. The damage display had yellow overlaid on the Moray's rear and forward quadrants, with no meaningful damage to either side. Toggling up two of his remaining 6 missiles, Jarin said into the comm, "It ends here, insect," and fired.
The pilot of the Moray didn't even flinch, immediately reacting with another tight loop and a string of decoys. Neither missile was fooled immediately. About two klicks from the enemy, one missile hit a decoy and exploded. The other missile punched through the Moray's shielding, piercing into the armor. The fighter began to shake, then tumble slowly, shielding and engine power bleeding off into space. A quick burst of meson and particle cannon fire put the Moray out of its misery. "Scratch one tin can."
Jarin turned towards the nearest enemy contact, which was Felis' target, when both red points suddenly expanded for a millisecond then vanished completely. "Wow, you two bagged them at the same time. Stroke of luck or what?"
"Hey, Commander, I didn't finish it off," Felis said.
Jarin got a puzzled look on his face, which quickly vanished as the Intruders of Prophet Flight shot overhead. "Well, looks like you finally decided to show, Will. You missed the party."
"Part of it anyway. Looks like we've got this place under control."
"That it does. But, just in case, Will, form up with Crossbow, Forge, and Wizard, and get them back to the fleet. Crislip, Mueller, form up on me... we're going to bring in that transport."
transport City of Lights
4 minutes after destruction of the last Moray
"Cap, looks like things are quieting down. I spotted three more Intruders heading this way, too slow to be in any huge hurry."
"Very well, Mr. Jones. Mr DiBasio, what's our status?"
"Well, sir, the starboard hull took some heavy scorching, but nothing penetrated - shouldn't be too big of a problem to get it fixed. Unfortunately, it looks like whatever knocked out our equipment did a pretty damn good job, because we're still not back up, even though we can't see any hostiles outside the viewports."
"Bloody fucking lovely. Any ideas when we'll be on-line again?"
"Hard to say, really. I've got someone checking the antennae to see if they got caught in something, and I'm checking the equipment here in the bridge. Wait... hold up, I think we're getting something."
DiBasio snapped into quicker action, tapping out a quick series of commands into the console in front of him. One by one, the lights next to the monitor flickered to green. Then, the sensor screen flickered briefly, then a bright, green line winked into existence, circling slowly on the screen. Six blue dots appeared near the center of the screen, with seven more at the outer edge. "Captain, sensor systems are back on-line. Not a hostile in sight."
"Checking now. Attention any friendly craft, this is the civilian transport City of Lights, please respond."
"We hear you, City of Lights. This is Commander Jarin Beleforte of the VF-78, off the BWS Freedom. Bring your ship to course 298.1 by 321.6 by 050.9 at speed 115 KPS."
"Roger that, Commander. We're glad you boys showed up... we'd be space dust otherwise."
"Just doing our jobs. Beleforte out."
Nephele-Tyr Jump Point
15 minutes later
"BWS Freedom, this is Retribution Lead. SAR pulled Lieutenant Carter's fighter to the Spitfire, and the City of Lights should be jumping out any time."
"Excellent work, Commander. The Ghost Warriors from over on Valeria picked up the slack on the patrol. You folks are cleared to land. I recommend you get some rest while you can, from how things have been looking through the system we're gonna get a whole lot busier around here."
"I hear you, Freedom. Beleforte out."
As the Intruders from the Freedom lined up on the hangar, the wounded City of Lights slowed to a stop. Aboard, the helmsman entered a series of numbers into the computer. Inside the bowels of the ship, the jump drive slowly powered up. Faint humming filled the corridors as the drive finished the powerup sequence. Then a swirling point of semi-transparent emerald and white light opened up, and then the ship's engines thrummed back up. Seconds later, the City of Lights passed through, the jump point closing behind it. At the same time, Jarin's fighter was caught in the Freedom's ALS tractor beams, and slowly set it down on the flight deck.
Flight Wing Rec Room
February 3rd, 2681
Jarin leaned against the bar, staring out the large viewport nearby. He picked up the chilled drink beside him and took a sip. Damn, he thought, Forgot how strong Firekka's Finest is. Especially when served cold.
He continued to stare at the stars, every once in a while taking another sip as he thought, Well, cut it too damn close today. Wizard almost bought it, and his plane is going to be out of action for at least two weeks. That means the Spitfire is going to be one short for a while. Going to be three short for at least two days, until Forge and Crossbow get their planes fixed. I've got a bad feeling this is only the least of what's to come. Hell, screw the feeling, it is the least. A lot of good people are going to be fried in the coming days. God only knows who. I know this feeling it was always with me during the War. But I never did get used to it. It's like cards Death is the wild card in life. You never know when it'll be drawn. Sometimes it comes up for you, and the bad guys go up. Sometimes it comes up against you and you have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones. It never ends, does it? Wars never end, people never stop losing those close to them and Death itself never stops its dark dance. Jarin downed the rest of his drink and sighed heavily.
Death never stops dancing