PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 40 of 66 )

: “ The Tiger Hunt ”

“The main endeavour should be to concentrate one's own forces in space and time,
while at the same time seeking to split the enemy forces spatially and to destroy them at different times.”
- Gen. Erwin Rommel

Harbinger 7
Loki VI Debris Field, Loki System
1600 Hours, 14 Feb 2681 (2681.045)

The way their Bearcats darted from one large rock to the next within the debris field reminded Straggler briefly of basic training, the way they were taught to run from one piece of cover to the next, staying as low as possible. It seemed slightly ridiculous, but a bit of stealth was necessary in this case. After they'd detected the Nephilim battle group coming in, they had to get into position quickly to lure the fighter cover into an engagement, and then break off. The plan was to get the bugs chasing them into the minefield they had laid earlier, and activate the bombs once they were clear of it and the enemy fighters were caught inside. If they were detected well beforehand, it was possible that the enemy could vector fighters to intercept them, and if the enemy caught them in a bad spot, they'd be unable to withdraw easily through the less dense areas of the debris field and get past the minefield. If they were forced to run through a thicker area of the rocks, they'd probably be slowed down enough to get smashed to pieces from behind. She shuddered at the thought of it.

"Go," whispered the voice of her Wing Commander, as if keeping their voices down would help them get into position unnoticed. But hey, she reasoned, every little bit counts.

She lit her afterburners briefly until they were clear of the rock, then cut the engines once they were clear of the cover and coasted silently to the next one, rolling her fighter to present a smaller profile in the general direction of the Nephilim battle group. She smiled. That was another thing that the Bearcat had going for it, it was its relatively small profile from the sides. From the top and bottom she was as easy to spot as a Dralthi, though.

The flight behind her followed up, sprinting to the asteroid that Straggler had just left behind. Then the flight behind that one did the same. Then Summoner squadron did the same thing until they'd all moved. The fighters were traveling in small groups like a string of beads, snaking their way along.

As Straggler coasted to the next rock, a light flashed and then flickered unsteadily. Her ESM systems picked up on active sensors...

"Shit." She keyed a channel to Phalanx. "Harbinger Lead, this is seven. I just picked up sensor emissions."

"What?  Everyone freeze!"

The flights behind them waiting their turn stopped and held their position. Phalanx quickly called up a map display to double check their position and overlaid icons representing other units. The Harbingers and the Summoners were supposed to be the first to hit the enemy, while the other squadrons were supposed to be 800,000 klicks from their current position if they were still following the original plan. That was well outside of sensor range, and none of their Bearcats were running with active scans...

Straggler cut in, "It might've just been nothing, but..."

"But we're the only ones who are supposed to be in this area. We aren't in position yet; we're only halfway there. Getting caught out here would be.... bad. Are you sure of it?"

"Yeah, I am. I know what I saw."

Thrush offered his observations as well, "She ain't hallucinating it, I saw it, too."

The question that was on all of their minds hung there for a moment before Phalanx finally asked, "Do you think it saw you guys?"

"I don't know." Straggler shifted uncomfortably in her cockpit. "Maybe. But we're running silent, so hopefully we just looked like another piece of debris."

Phalanx shook his head, "Nephilim sensors are better than ours. Remember how they saw through our cloaks at first? We've adapted now, but... if your passive sensors were able to pick up on something, there's a chance they might've spotted you. Maybe not a big chance, but still a greater probability than I'd like."

"So what do we do?  Do we sit here and wait and hope they never saw us? Hell, maybe they did see us, but then we could just wait here and when they wander over we can pounce on them and kill'em before it gets word out."

"I don't think we'd be able to stop it from sending something out. And we don't have the ECM package we'd need to jam it. No, we need to find out one way or another. I'm going to take a peek, the rest of you keep yourselves tucked behind the rocks."

Not wanting to expose more of his fighter than he had to, Phalanx punched up a schematic of his Bearcat and found where one of its sensor clusters was on the wing. He glanced over his shoulder and spotted it, then edged his fighter out slowly. He rotated his fighter gently and watched his displays intently.

"Fuck.  Straggler, how strong was the signal when you spotted it?"

"It was intermittent.  Kept coming on and off really quickly, it was just barely there."

"Well it's there alright, and it didn't get weaker. In fact it's steady..." Phalanx's eyes burned desperately as he fixed his stare on the indicator, crossed his fingers, and waited. It grew stronger. His eyes flickered over to the map, and immediately began considering possible escape routes. If they were found here, there were a number of ways they could flee, but none of which led back to the minefield; they'd fail their objective. He tucked his fighter back to cover and considered the options, then spoke to the rest of the pilots.

"Okay... the Nephilim fleet should not have come this far yet. They can't fly that fast. This must be a group of fighters on forward patrol, so between the 23 of us, we could probably take them on numbers-wise. Problem is, they'd warn their fleet and you can be sure we'll be caught and they'll send fighters after us. We'll either have to run and abandon our mission, or fight and get slaughtered."

Phalanx reached for the toggle switches to bring his fighter up to full power.

"This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to fly out there and get their attention, then lead them away as fast as I can. Give me about 45 seconds to get clear and lead them off on a wild chase, then I want you all to follow Owl into battle. Go on with the mission without me, okay? We've been moving through this area in small groups, 3 or 4 at a time, rather than in a bunch, so if they did spot Straggler's flight, they won't realize that there's actually a whole fuckload of us hiding here. Good luck to the rest of you..."

"Fuck that!"

Straggler's Bearcat went to full power, weapons armed, shields fully charged, and electronics warfare gear painting the area.

"What are you doing!?"

"I'm the one that got us spotted, so I'm going!"

"No, stop!"

Her fighter broke out from behind the rock, and then raced away out of their sight. The laser link they'd been using for communication cut off, they were unable to speak to her, but she switched to broadcast on normal channels.

"Okay, I'm out! I see'em! About a dozen Morays and a few Squids, they see me!  I'm running for it now!"

Phalanx snatched his hand away from the toggle switches and pounded a fist against the canopy of his fighter. The Morays she could outrun easily, so she could keep them interested but also keep them at a safe distance. The Squids on the other hand...

"Yes!  I got all of'em chasing me. Shit those Squids are fast..." Static bled into the transmission from EW and natural interference as the distance opened up.

Most of the other pilots had their mouths clamped shut, some prayed, and Phalanx reached down towards the throttle...

"I'll be cl -- r in fiv -- s -- co -- ds!  - et re -- dy... -- o, go, g - ..."

The 22 remaining Bearcats went from a standstill to full afterburner, hitting top speed in 4 seconds, with a grim Phalanx forcefully keeping himself from radioing a thank you, or something, anything, to Straggler. They moved as quickly as they could, covering in 10 seconds a distance equivalent to the distance they had taken 5 minutes to cross the way they had been traveling earlier. Then he called them abruptly to a halt, breathing heavily.

"Okay, I think that's far enough. I don't think we were spotted by any other patrols. We're gonna fly this last stretch slowly the way we were doing before. We've only got a little more distance to travel, then we hunker down and wait for the Nephilim fleet to get close, then we spring."

Tensions were high, but they managed to fly to their designated coordinates without attracting any other attention. Several minutes went by as the pilots watched their timers tick down. With the time in between, Phalanx turned his thoughts to the pilot who had just sacrificed herself so they could all get their job done. He hoped beyond hope that Straggler would find some way to survive, some way to evade her enemies and then work her way back to the rally point for the third stage of the strike mission. But most likely that wouldn't happen.

There'd be time to mourn later, he told himself. They all needed to concentrate on what they did next.  As time neared zero, Phalanx transmitted final instructions to his pilots.

"Remember, our job is to lure them to that mine field. We've no chance  of taking them in a straight fight. So when we tangle with them here, I want you all to just concentrate on staying alive. No fancy tricks, no aggressive tactics. We get in, get their attention, and get the chase going.  Once we've done that, we head to the rally point and then we'll get another chance to hit these bastards.  Let's make sure Straggler didn't go out there alone against the enemy for nothing."

With that, nearly two dozen Bearcat heavy fighters emerged simultaneously from their hiding place, and the sight of a small armada peeled into view before them. Their targeting computers quickly scanned, labeled, and tallied up each target.  They were looking at a pair of Hydra cruisers and a dozen Orca destroyers and Barracuda corvettes. Manta heavy fighters flew close escort, while Squids formed the second layer of defense.  Morays and Skates covered the flanks, with Stingrays further out, and there were even a handful of Devil Rays in the formation.

"Keep it tight and stay together!"

Predictably, a large portion of the Nephilim pilots broke formation to engage them. The two sides closed to just inside missile range when the Squids began launching FoF's. The Bearcats held their fire until they were just about to be hit by the wave of incoming warheads, and then launched back with their own salvo.  A split second later they scattered to give each other room to maneuver.

With the constant fighting they'd been in, and the combat experience they had racked up, dodging the FoF's seemed easy. They each came through unscathed save for Ghoul, who had been dancing with 3 of the missiles and took 1 hit. He came away from it with downed aft shields and some chewed up armor, but no real damage. The Nephilim didn't do so well, but with their heavier shields and armor, most of the Squids came away with minor damage.

That's where the Harbingers and Summoners had an advantage. The Nephilim had fired at extreme range, and the human pilots didn't have to evade the FoF's for very long. The Terran pilots had also waited until they were closer in to launch on the Nephilim, so even when they dodged a Pilum, the search algorithms for the missiles would often let them reacquire a target and become a threat once again. Several crucial seconds after the Bearcats had foiled the missiles chasing them, the Squids were still twisting desperately. Wasting no time, they closed in, each flight picking targets and pouring light tachyon fire into it with autotracking gun mounts. The concentrated fire tore apart the half dozen Squids unfortunate enough to have been selected as a target by each flight leader.

Rather than stay and dogfight, though, they blew past the Squids and went on to fire another salvo of missiles at the approaching Mantas and Stingrays, which had finally caught up.  Without waiting for the missiles to even come near their targets, both squadrons formed up and wheeled around to begin withdrawing.  They shot right through the Squids again on their way out, tearing them apart like a scythe, then accelerated away with missiles from the Mantas and Stingrays snarling after them.

Thrush toggled the rear view for one of his displays, the missile lock alarm ringing in his ears.  The advanced avionics systems that had been mounted in his Bearcat originally had long since been shot apart and replaced by a less complex one, and this one did not give him precise information on the distance, vector, and bearing of the missile or missiles locked on him. Instead the outer ring of his radar was just a hash of yellow dots indicating every missile, even those not targeting his fighter. All he could do was throw up decoys and hope he'd launched them at the optimum angle.

He shifted his fighter to the right and released countermeasures, but whichever missile was chasing him still had a lock.  He swung to the left and repeated it, and then pulled up and launched more decoys.  Thrush's luck was bad, and the missile released its explosive fury directly into the back of his fighter.  Rear shields flared electric blue and purple and collapsed, and armor vaporized in a yellow flash.  The Bearcat was a tough bird, though, and survived the hit mostly intact, except that the decoy dispenser was jammed.

And another FOF missile had decided to choose him as its target.

"Aw, goddamn it! Countermeasures inoperable -- breaking off!" Thrush rolled out of formation to try and dodge it, dropping back behind the rest of the pack.

Phalanx considered having them all turn around and cover Thrush, but the thought lasted all of a nanosecond. They couldn't afford to fall back and be swamped by over twice as many Nephilim fighters. "Stay in formation, everybody!  That's an order!  Fuck, I'm sorry, man."

"Go on, it's okay!  I'll be okay..."

For a dead man, Thrush felt incredibly calm as he flipped his fighter around on autoslide, boosted out of reach of the missile chasing them, then armed all hardpoints and fired all of his missiles and guns as fast as he could at the onrushing cloud of enemies. A flurry of colors flashed before him as the Mantas and Squids discharged their weaponry right at his fighter. There was a flash of light so intense it blinded him, and then searing heat enveloped his whole body...

Phalanx felt more of his soul die, finding it difficult to tear his eyes from the scene of Nephilim fighters falling upon Thrush like locusts. The sleek fighter was demolished by an unbelievably thick mass of venomous weapons fire. His knuckles had turned white from the death grip he had on the controls.

Backwash cut in, "We can keep up the pace to keep those Stingrays and Mantas back there, but the Squids are catching up."

"We can hold them off if we autoslide to face them and fire backwards!" suggested Owl.

The squids were awfully close now. "Let's do that!"

Together they rotated in place, maintaining their momentum, and fired another volley of FoFs behind them. The Squids replied instantly with their own salvo. The Bearcats started to spin back around to roll out decoys when one of the Summoner Squadron pilots collided into an asteroid behind him.

"The fuck!?" Ramah yelped.  Debris from the smashed left engine nozzle tumbled past the nose of his fighter. His fighter jerked to one side before the thrusters stabilized it, but he'd lost precious speed and now he had engine damage.

He swung the fighter back around, disengaged the autoslide, and accelerated for all he was worth. It wasn't enough though. FoFs homed in on his fighter as several Squids bled off their speed to vaporize him with their guns.

The rest of the pilots didn't dare let up and kept running flat out. At the distance the Squids had fired upon them, they'd all managed to come away without being struck by a single missile. The Nephilim that were piloting the fastest fighter class they had were not so fortunate as their forward speed carried them into the missiles that the Border Worlders had sent their way. But if the bugs were anything, it was that they were persistent. Rather than slowing down, they kept coming despite the losses they took, and their tentacles convulsed as they went into boost mode again.

This time, MIRVs leapt from the Squids, and in seconds a swarm of missiles reached out for them.

"Jesus... I'm running low on decoys..." Jolt mashed the decoy release again.

The annoying thing about FoFs was that they would frequently reacquire if they zipped past a decoy without exploding against it. On the up side, the amount of punishment they delivered was relatively low compared to most other missile types. With this many coming at them, though...

A large asteroid the size of a destroyer caught her eye to the right, where the debris field thickened. An idea lit up in her mind, and though she wasn't in command, she took the initiative.

"Hey, people!  We can use that rock for cover!" Jolt dipped her Bearcat's wing and banked off, making for the floating mountain as fast as she could. The rest of the pilots saw her course change and followed. They flung themselves past it and around it, leaving the four dozen warheads to impact against the asteroid behind them.

"Yeah! Missed, you fuckers!"

The force of the blasts tore the asteroid into several smaller fragments, but it had shielded them from harm. The Harbingers and Summoners took off again, the pilots practically leaning on their throttles, pushing them to the stops. The Squids raced up behind them, out of missiles and trying to get within spitting distance for their guns.

"Don't stop, people!  We're almost there... keep going!" Phalanx urged them on through gritted teeth as he jinked to avoid the incoming quantum disruptor fire.

The path they'd been following was relatively open with fewer pieces of asteroids in their way, but now the path split up and took separate directions, like branches spreading out from the trunk of a tree. Here was where they had laid their mines, and intersecting points along the different paths were likewise choked with the deadly explosives.

"Break by flights, now!"

The two squadrons separated from each other, then each flight took a different course as well, each one traveling down a different branch. The Nephilim, disorganized as they usually were, hesitated, then broke randomly into several groups to give chase. The pursuit wound along several different courses, and as each flight broke free of the mined zone, they reported in one by one in rapid succession.

"Red flight clear!"

"Green flight clear!"

"Blue flight clear!"

Phalanx transmitted the activation code for the mines, "Surprise, surprise!"

The Stingrays, with a top speed between that of the Squids and Mantas, were right in the middle of the mines when they went online. What had looked like harmless debris a moment before suddenly came alive, propulsion systems thrusting them towards the enemy fighters. A dozen Nephilim were swatted around by blasts, slapped back and forth violently and shattered to pieces.

"Hahah!  Yeah!  Take that, you bitches!"

The surviving Stingrays and the Mantas were suddenly well aware of their danger and struggled to escape. The Bearcats grouped up at their rally point, then turned around and savagely vented tachyon discharges at the Squids that had been hounding them, destroying almost all of them in the first two exchanges. There'd been no holding back, no defensive maneuvering, and several Bearcats had rents in their forward armor, but at that point they were all too angry to care. Knowing that the other enemy fighters would be trapped in the minefield, they'd finally been able to turn around and engage the Squids without fear of the other Nephilim catching up.

They'd cut the enemy off as they were halfway across... a classic tactic nearly as old as warfare itself.  That didn't stop it from being effective.

As the last Squid fell to a gang of Summoner pilots, Phalanx was already reminding them of their next objective, "We're done here. Those Nephilim in the minefield will either be dead or too busy dodging their way out of the mines to give us trouble any time soon. Let's rendezvous with the strike force and take the fight to'em."


Black Angel Lead
Loki VI Debris Field, Loki System
1620 Hours, 14 Feb 2681 (2681.045)

Commander Jarin "Strife" Beleforte checked their formation for the twentieth time. His Intruder formed the very point of a wedge of 14, with 13 Avengers of the Predator squadron trailing behind them, which were in turn flanked by a close escort of a dozen and a half Night Watch pilots flying Banshees.

Up ahead, beyond what his eyes could see but that his sensors could detect, lay the Nephilim fleet, still protected by a large wing of fighters. As was planned, the earlier attack run by the Harbingers and Summoners had simply been too tempting for the Nephilim, and the bugs had vectored off a significant fraction of their fighter cover in the hopes of an easy slaughter. Then again the bugs were pretty easy to bait; even the Kilrathi had more cunning. Strife had no problem with that, because it made their jobs easier.

Easier didn't mean this wasn't going to be very difficult nonetheless. There were still 140 enemy fighters or so, which outnumbered their strike force of 45.  The Nephilim had been fighting them long enough to recognize the Border Worlders' fighter and bomber types, just as the Humans and Kilrathi had learned to recognize Nephilim ship classes. They'd undoubtedly go for the Avengers first as the biggest threat.

The bugs instantly turned and accelerated towards them like an aquatic predator scenting prey. A quick tally by the computers told Beleforte that the enemy had committed over 80 fighters to engage them. That'd leave roughly 60 close in. A quick check of his scanners told Strife that the majority of the Nephilim were painting the Avengers.

Unknown to the Nephilim, however, was the fact that the Avengers weren't the real threat to their big ships at all. This force was yet another diversion. They'd been loaded out for anti-fighter work, carrying more FoFs in place of the torpedoes they would normally have.

"They run all the way out here to greet us, so let's give'em something in return. On my mark... now!" Strife made a chopping motion with his hand, then dropped it down to the throttle and broke formation high.

The rest of the fighters did the same, changing formation from a wedge to a bowl ready to receive. From a fist to an ensnaring net. The Avengers slowed quickly to give themselves a few precious extra seconds before the Nephilim could reach them, and then volleyed off salvo after salvo of missiles. Meanwhile the Intruders and Banshees flowed around the enemy fighters that were rushing at full burn towards the bombers, flanking them and blasting into them.

Strife stabbed into a Skate Cluster as it streaked past from his right to his left, cut his speed and tightened his turn. The Intruder's maneuverability enabled him to keep his guns on target, and he launched an ImRec as soon as he had a lock. The individual Skates were torn from one another, and he picked one without hesitation and sent more meson and particle cannon fire into it until it died.

"That one was stupid..." he muttered, selecting a Moray as his next target.

His guns were drained and he went for missile lock instead. It didn't seem to notice him, but then the Moray released decoys and abruptly spun up and to the right, and Strife dived to dodge a missile going the other way as it twisted through the space that the Moray had occupied just moments before. Past the missile's exhaust trail he could see the Avengers still releasing missiles for all they were worth. A Manta managed to get through to within guns range of them and half of the bomber pilots turned their guns on it and burnt it down to a smoldering husk.

Strife reacquired the Moray, which was pointing itself right at the Avengers again. He crept right up behind it, held his fire until he could see every detail on the bizarre alien fighter, and then blasted it with guns and missiles before it could react. The Moray's armor melted and peeled away like skin before its hull was crushed. The power core that gave the ship life exploded, sending a shockwave of plasma rippling through space.

They couldn't hold off the tide of enemy fighters forever, though. The Avenger pilots soon found themselves surrounded and engaged in a close-in knife fight. The Banshees fell back to cover them, but most of them had problems of their own, as well. And what was more, Strife spotted more Nephilim on the way to their position. Time to call in the heavy hitters.

"Thors... now is the time to do your blitz..."

The dozen B-7 Dauntless heavy bombers didn't so much emerge from the debris field as they did come screaming out of it, with the 20 Bearcats flying cover for them. Surrounding the formation were 8 Stalker EW craft of the Night Stalkers Squadron, and began blanketing the area around them with electronic noise.  Enemy fighters scrambled to get back into position to intercept them.

"Black Angels, you've done your job, now get your asses out of there if you can!"

"Right," replied Strife. "All right, people, let's head for the hills!"

Phalanx checked his remaining weapons load, and then armed all of his missiles. This would be fast and furious, and they didn't intend to hang around long enough to do much dogfighting. The Bearcats kept pace with the Dauntlesses at 600 KPS, and though he couldn't see them with his eyes or his sensors, Phalanx knew that the cloaked Excaliburs of Taipan squadron were flying past them at 1,300 KPS. As the mob of Nephilim fighters drew near, he opened a channel to the leader of the Taipans, Skywalker.

"We're ready here. Hit'em at any time when you're ready." He observed that the Intruders, Banshees, and Avengers had managed to draw off most of the enemy fighters, leaving approximately five dozen for them to deal with. Between the three units of them here, that made the numbers nearly even. He switched frequencies back to his own pilots. "Remember, the objective of a strike mission like this is to get in quick, blow the fuckers out of space, and then get out quicker.  Don't hesitate to use those missiles as fast as you can."

In the span of a few heartbeats, three scores of FoFs filled the space between them and the enemy as the Bearcats launched in rapid fire. Simultaneously, the Taipans came out of cloak nearly right on top of the Nephilim destroyers and corvettes that were screening the flank that the Dauntlesses were going to hit. Dumbfire missiles more than made up for their lack of guidance controls as they delivered massive damage to the turrets and missile batteries on the surfaces of Barracudas and Orcas. Then, just as the enemy began to react, the Excaliburs faded out of sight again.

Meanwhile over half of the Nephilim fighters zeroing in on the Dauntlesses impaled themselves on FoFs. Most of them survived the hits, but with the damage they had taken in their forward quarter, the Bearcat's autotracking guns tore through them easily as they swept past. The Nephilim return fire came sparsely and poorly aimed, and many of their missiles simply could not acquire, thanks to the jamming of the Stalkers. Enemy FoFs seemed confused as well, and tracked poorly. Many of them exploded well before even reaching them, confused by the mixed signals they were getting.

As soon as the enemy closed to dogfighting range, though, the jamming worked both ways. The fighting became clumsy and sloppy for both sides, but that suited the Border Worlders just fine. The accuracy for both sides dropped to levels so bad it would've failed them at any fighter combat school, but that just meant that the Terran pilots would be able to preserve themselves longer.

Phalanx watched as his guns fired stupidly at empty space as the ITTS marker danced and jiggled wildly, then decided to go for manual aim. He spun with a Stingray, which vanished beneath him.  He dived to track it, but couldn't spot it and his instruments were no help either.  He disengaged and accelerated out of the cloud of fighters, then spun around and tried to pick out a target. Just then the Excaliburs rippled into view again, behind the pack of besieged bombers. It was Skywalker's voice he heard next.

"Stalkers, cut off their jamming for a moment!" The latest software upgrades had added ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) ability to the Stalkers' EW capabilities.

As if a fog had been lifted, all their instruments came back fully. The Excaliburs acquired targets and blasted them, clearing the tails of the Dauntlesses. Then, before the enemy could adapt, their own jamming resumed again as they closed to within range of the capital ships weapons.

Maser fire flashed up at them, but now from this distance Phalanx could see just how much damage the Taipans had done with their first run. The Thor's Hammer bomber pilots moved in fast without fear as their powerful shields absorbed the few lucky hits that were scored. Their Dauntlesses moved right up to point blank range almost unopposed by capship guns, and then they unleashed over 30 torpedoes at separate targets on half a dozen separate ships.

Nearly half of the Nephilim capital ships died right there within a few seconds of each other. With the picket ships demolished, the Border Worlds heavy bombers switched targets, this time half of them going for a lock on the very heart of this Nephilim fleet, the pair of cruisers in the center. The other half each went after a single capital ship all by itself. But they needed to hurry it up. The Nephilim fighters that had been engaged with Strife's forces earlier were running back to try to join the struggle.

"Thors, we don't have much time!  Forget about getting up close to deliver the punch. Just lock and fire everything you've got at them from long range. With luck, there'll be too many torpedoes for them to deal with."

"Roger that!"

Phalanx then opened a channel to the Stalkers; "We need to get locks on those capships and fast. There's only 8 of them left, can you illuminate them for us?"

"Eight of them, eight of us.  We can get right up close with our SHROUDs, then act as spotters."

"Good, do that!"

Flak from the two cruisers and the remaining escort ships started to intensify as the Bearcats and Excaliburs split up, two or three fighters protecting each Dauntless. The Stalkers, having moved out ahead of the Dauntlesses, came out of cloak and lit up the Nephilim capships with guidance systems, then followed up with every Blinder missile they had in their weapon bays. The Stalkers paid a price for it, though, and the two pilots that had taken on the cruisers were both slain by a merciless crossfire of pulsing energy guns and missiles. It wasn't for nothing, though.  The powerful targeting systems on the Dauntlesses greedily ate up the valuable sensor rays that were cutting right through the Nephilim ECM.

With 9 torpedoes left for each Dauntless, that was all that they needed. Over 100 torpedoes swam like piranhas towards the remaining cruisers, destroyers, and corvettes. That, combined with the EW garbage being spewed out by the blinder missiles, meant that the Nephilim had hardly any chance of tagging the incoming torpedoes.

"All right, let's head for the hills!"

Having done their damage, they flew back the way they came as fast as they could. They were already a third of the way back to the debris zone from which they had come before the first of the torpedoes began to impact.

The organic alien vessels spewed out plasma, guts, and strange fluids as spears of flame shot out 100 meters out into space. Secondary explosions racked their hulls, and both cruisers' spines were utterly shattered. They had nailed every single capital ship they'd set out to sink. Nephilim fighters flew back there like children rushing to the side of their dying parents. The Excaliburs and Bearcats autoslid and cut down the closest Nephilim fighters giving chase, and then together their entire force deprived the 75 surviving Nephilim pilots of any opportunity for vengeance as they faded back into the thicker parts of the debris field.

Phalanx shivered as the adrenaline began to wear off. They'd done what they set out to do, but no matter how well they performed, it seemed that they could never come away from a fight unscathed. They'd taken losses of roughly a dozen fighters in exchange for nearly a hundred Nephilim fighter craft and over two dozen capital ships. But as it was, they could ill afford any losses at all.

Still... as he'd told himself before, they did what they set out to do, and in the process had left a hefty chunk of Nephilim fighters homeless. Better them than us, he thought.  Let them be homeless so we can keep our own home.