PHASE V : THE NIFELHEIM ARC ( 21 of 62 )
“ Into the Inferno ”
"And Caesar's spirit, ranging
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war."
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
"And Caesar's spirit, ranging
0400 Hours, 18 Feb 2681 (2681.049)
There was nothing slow or deliberate about the way the massive alien fleet arrived in Nifelheim. Just seconds before the Nephilim stormed in, the area around the jump point had been quiet, peaceful, perhaps even serene. There was no visible indication, no warning perceptible to human senses, of the chaos that war and conflict inevitably brought forth. The chaos that was about to engulf this system as it had engulfed far too many others in the past two weeks, and would perhaps engulf a hundred times as many systems in the months and years ahead. There were many who feared that this battle against the Nephilim would stretch across sectors and generations as the Kilrathi Wars had, leaving billions dead and entire worlds reduced to ruins. And there were others who thought that the war would be all too short, and not in the way that humanity would have hoped for.
Whatever the future held, however, the simple truth was that this phase of humanity's struggle against the Nephilim, the opening gambit of a possible new interstellar war, would be decided right here and now. The running battle that the Combined Fleet of Terran Confederation and Union Of Border Worlds ships had fought against a massive Nephilim armada was about to be brought to an end. The terribly outnumbered human fleet had turned this system into a veritable gauntlet, strewn with mines, missile launchers and other defenses, and garrisoned it with a battle hardened and desperate force that was determined to hold the line no matter what. For their part, the Nephilim had assembled a massive and perhaps overwhelming force to crush the stubborn resistance. The enemy armada was closing in on Nifelheim from two different jump points, a carefully orchestrated pincer movement designed to leave their opponents with nowhere to run. Not that the human forces had any intention of running. Too many worlds and too many lives were at stake for that to be an option. They were absolutely determined that they were going to finish this battle here, and bring this invasion to a crashing halt.
Bring it on.
The blackness of the void was lit up with a seemingly never ending strobing of white purple fire as wave after wave of Nephilim fighters tore through the jump point in rapid succession, ripping open the very fabric of reality with the power of their Akwende drives. One instant there were none in the system, the next there were dozens. Dozens whose number grew and swelled second after second, minute after minute. Shortly there were hundreds and very soon afterwards there were thousands. The horde grew and grew, inexorable and unstoppable, until there were too many to count and their numbers were legion. They poured through in a never ending stream for close to ten minutes, until the space for dozens of klicks on every side of the jump point teamed with a seething, writhing mass of fighters.
And the frightening thing was that those fighters were just the Nephilim fleet's vanguard, the merest tip of a deadly spear. The first of the armada's warships hurtled through next, swift corvettes and sleekly menacing destroyers, bristling with guns and missile turrets and torpedo launchers. Individually none of them were too powerful, but their sheer number more than made up for that. There were dozens upon dozens of them, and unlike the ships of the human fleet, these were gleaming and unmarked, fresh and eager for battle. They were reinforcements for the forces that been battering away at the humans for these past few weeks, wearing away at the defenders little by little.
Right on their heels came the enemy heavy cruisers, over a dozen of them. As each massive warship exited the jump point, its flight deck spewed out dozens more fighters to reinforce the screen that protected the arriving behemoths. The Nephilim might have the advantage of overwhelming numbers and firepower on their side, but they had learned the hard way that was no guarantee against the skilled and determined enemy faced.
The cruisers ignited their massive engines, driving hard and fast into the system, ready to shred any incoming attacking force with their massed maser and plasma cannon batteries. Dozens of destroyers formed up on their flanks, creating a giant wedge of organic warships that dared anyone at all to try and disrupt the fleet's arrival. Meanwhile, fighters and corvettes raced ahead of them, probing deep into the system, trying to uncover any trace of the enemy who was waiting for them. The Nephilim might be a little slow on the uptake at times, but they knew what every sentient species knew, that there was no enemy who was quite as dangerous as the enemy that had its back to the wall.
Back at the jump point, the vortex swirled open once again, stretching open about as far as it could open, and a fat bellied Leviathan rumbled through with deliberate and deadly purpose, seemingly unstoppable. Over half a dozen corvettes and destroyers formed up on it as soon as it had cleared the jump field, shepherding it away even as yet another Leviathan hurtled across hundreds of light years to join its brethren in the coming battle. Yet another Leviathan followed on the heels of that warship, and still another followed that. These were the last of the carriers that the Nephilim had been able to bring through their wormhole gate. They would have been far better used in Kilrathi territory, helping guard the gate until a permanent beachhead could be established, but the losses inflicted by Hanton's troops had left the Nephilim commanders with no other option. This was one last throw of the dice for the Nephilim just as it was for the humans, one last effort to break through the defensive line to ravage the heavily populated human worlds.
The carriers weren't the last of the ships to arrive. The tentacles of a massive Tiamat-class dreadnaught edged through the jump point next, signaling the arrival of the largest and most heavily armed warship the Nephilim had. The very last ship through was squat and bulbous, almost insignificant looking in comparison to the Leviathans and the Tiamat that had preceded it. And yet, those who were in the know would fear this ship more than any of the others. It was a Kraken-class ship killer, capable of wiping out battle groups en masse with each shot of its lethal plasma cannon.
For a few minutes after the Kraken jumped though, everything was still about the jump point. The hive-mind that guided the actions of the Nephilim mulled over the puzzling lack of reaction from their enemies, but true to its nature, decided to press ahead inexorably nonetheless. As one, the massive warships ignited their engines, following their smaller brethren deeper into the system. The stubborn resistance they had faced had delayed their anticipated harvest far too long as it was, and Nephilim too were determined to finish this battle right here and now.
Combat Information Center
0725 Hours, 18 Feb 2681 (2681.049)
If it hadn't been for the steady thrumming of the deck plates underfoot caused by the Valeria's massive turbines, and the occasional howl of a flight of fighters launching on full afterburner, it would have been easy for anyone who was in the carrier's combat information centre to imagine that they were deep underground on a planet somewhere. The CIC was buried deep in the ship's structure, cutting it off from any vantage point that allowed a view of space, and not coincidentally affording those inside the maximum protection from missile or torpedo hits.
The CIC was the heart of the carrier's combat operations, and it was from here rather from the bridge that the ship's Captain and Wing Commander would direct the Valeria's battles. The sides of the room were lined with monitors and consoles, their multicolored glow providing much of the illumination in the room. The men and women manning those stations watched them intently, turning aside only when their duties required it. That was partly because they knew they were right under the eyes of their senior officers, but also because they all knew there was no room for mistakes. A momentary lapse from any one of them could kill a dozen fighter pilots or put one of their warships in danger. The officers and technicians manning the consoles were just as much a part of the fight as the fighter pilots were, and they were just as determined to win. They had all struggled and fought to the best of their ability in the last two weeks, just as everyone else in the fleet had done, but this was where it all came together. They were either going to win this battle or they were all going to die, and the odds were at best 50/50.
At the centre of the room was a giant flat display screen set horizontally into the surface of the table, now set to display their fighting area. A massive sphere made up green grid lines took up close to a third of the screen, representing Nifelheim III, the planet in whose vicinity the Valkyries would operate. Smaller green spheres represented the planet's many moons and moonlets, and rings of green flecks represented a ring system that would have put Saturn to shame.
The screen showed the Valeria herself as a large blue triangle at the centre, surrounded by a trio of smaller blue triangle designating her cruiser and destroyer escorts. The Valeria's battle group was lurking in the sensor shadow of one of the moons, this particular one being both the closest and one of the largest. A small blue circle designed her protective CAP screen, extending for about 100,000 klicks around the ship. A much larger circle, extending for close to 1,000,000 klicks, designed the combat area where fighter squadrons where performing search and destroy missions, hunting down enemy patrols.
Another group of triangles designated the light carrier BWS Freedom and her escorts, positioned further away from the gas giant, and again taking advantage of the sensor cover offered by complex system of moons and moonlets around the huge planet. At the far end of the line were the escort carrier BWS Defiance and her two corvette escorts. These last three were the surviving ships of Taskforce Abbey, which had been assigned to work with the Valkyries for this operation. They were using one of Nifelheim III's planetary rings for cover. The three carriers were positioned so that they could all easily support each other with their flight wings, but far enough away that it was unlikely that more than one would be found by any enemy patrol that got through their defenses.
Last but certainly not least, the screen showed the position of fighter units as fast moving arrows, blue and red for friendly and enemy units respectively. There had already been several attempts by enemy fighters to probe their defensive screen, and several dogfights had resulted. Those had pretty much all gone the Border Worlders' way. The Nephilim were patrolling in strength, often with more than one squadron at a time, but all the fights were all taking place within the Border Worlders' radar and jamming coverage, allowing them to ambush the patrols easily or simply jump them with several squadrons at a time. Already, though, the casualties were starting to mount.
Around the table were gathered senior officers from the Valeria's tactical, intelligence, communications and flight wing divisions. They were all monitoring what was happening on the map display, and relaying orders back to their sections via headsets. All kept their voices low, aware of others holding their own conversations just inches away, but there was no mistaking the tightly controlled urgency in those voices, a small but unmistakable sign of the strain they were all under.
One officer who was conspicuous by her absence was Admiral Hanton. She was on the bridge, busy directing the operations of the fleet as a whole rather than this one battle group. Elements of the Nephilim fleet they were facing were already moving towards the portions of the system covered by the Endeavour, Yorktown and (formerly) Valley Forge battle groups. In addition, the remains of the fleet they had been fighting in Loki had jumped in at 0400 hours as well, and the reserve groups were positioning themselves to interdict those. The minefields had all been activated, sealing the combatants into the system. Depending on the actions of the Nephilim commanders, and on when the commanders of the human battle groups chose to engage, all hell could break loose across the system any time now.
Having the Captain and the Admiral conduct operations from different parts of the ship was partly common sense, as it made no sense to put the ship's two highest ranking officers in the path of the same torpedo. It was also partly a necessity forced on them by the limitations of the technology they had to work with. The Arcadia class carriers were the newest and most modern ships in the Border Worlds Navy, having only entered service in the past year, but they lacked the advanced ICIS (or comparable) display and communication systems found on modern Confed carriers, relying instead on technology that dated back to the First Kilrathi War. The systems on the bridge and in the CIC could handle the operations of either the fleet or the battle group, but not both at the same time.
That was because while the Arcadias were a miracle of ingenuity and hard work for the Border Worlders in many ways, they were also limited by their origins. They had confounded the skeptics, who had predicted that the Union's lack of resources and dedicated fleet carrier building yards meant that it wouldn't have frontline fleet carriers for another decade. The way the Border Worlders had been able to do it was basing the ship entirely on the tried and true designs and technology used in the First Kilrathi War, taking advantage of the wartime infrastructure they had inherited on their independence and the skills of their people who had worked as part of the war effort. The designs had also been made as modular as possible, allowing most of the systems and components to be manufactured all across the Union before being transported to the yards where the hulls were being built. Last but certainly not least, the ships were small for fleet carriers, only a hundred meters longer than the old Ranger class light carriers, allowing them to be built in shipyards converted from other purposes. The trade offs were a small flight wing, only about eighty combat craft in all, and the older systems. Still, they were more enough to get the job done if used properly, and a heck of lot better than the escort carriers and converted destroyers the Border Worlders had used previously. Their defensive and power projection capabilities were among the main reasons why the Border Worlders had been able to stay in the fight this long. Out here on the frontier, you did the best you could with what you had, and you made sure that it was enough.
Both the equipment surrounding him and the tension in the people all around reminded Captain Sang Que of the dark days of the Battle of Terra and the end of the First Kilrathi War, when humanity's back was to the wall. The Captain instantly dismissed such gloomy thoughts from his mind as he continued running the battle. This was a new war and a new enemy, and he would do everything in his power to do prevent his new home from being ravaged as the Inner Worlds had been all those years ago. Let the Nephilim do their worst. There were thousands of people on this ship and the other ships in the fleet who would ensure that it wouldn't be enough.
Retaliator 003 (Reaper Green Lead)
Nifelheim III Stratosphere
0845 Hours, 18 Feb 2681 (2681.049)
The Retaliator bucked sharply as a powerful downdraft tried to drag it further into Nifelheim III's thick atmosphere. Major Warren "Striker" Hudson hauled back sharply on the control column and inched the throttle a little further forward, swearing under his breath the whole time. The ionized gases and the powerful magnetic fields that formed the outer edges of the huge planet's stratosphere were doing a great job of helping shield Green Flight from sensor detection, but the atmospheric conditions also made the job of flying the big fighter a cast iron bitch. The Retaliator was well and truly atmosphere capable, but its designers had intended it to fly and fight in the atmospheres of terrestrial planets, not those of gas giants.
Pilots who wanted to survive on the edge of human space though, had to be both willing and able to push their fighters and themselves to the very limit of their capabilities, while at the same time not going over that limit. That was precisely what the six Reapers were doing. The fighters handled in the relatively thin upper reaches of Nifelheim III's atmosphere in much the same way that they would have done in conditions at sea level on a much smaller planet. The problem though, lay in the hurricane force winds and atmospheric rip tides that plagued Nifelheim III, similar to those that created the famed red spot on Jupiter back in the Sol System. If they caught a pilot unaware, they could pull the fighter down too deep, into the kind of atmospheric conditions space fighters couldn't handle. If that happened, the fighter would either be torn apart by the swiftly increasing wind forces in the thickening atmosphere, or crushed by the massive pressure that existed closer to the giant planet's core. On the other hand though, if the pilot went up too high to stay above the wind currents, he or she would lose the concealment the planet offered, and would show up bright and clear on enemy sensors.
In these kinds of conditions, it took every ounce of concentration the pilots had just to keep their fighters in one piece. They had to anticipate the shifts in the atmospheric condition, conditions that changed so rapidly that their sensors could only give them a few seconds warning of the turbulence ahead, and be able to react to those conditions without pausing to think about it before hand. It was a difficult task for any pilot, but especially so for a combat pilot who not only had to worry about his or her own fighter, but also about friendly fighters that were flying in close proximity, and about enemy fighters who could be bouncing them at any second. It was a huge workload for any one person to handle.
Fortunately, though, no one person had to handle it. The Retaliator was unusual among space superiority fighters in having a tailgunner. Not only that, it was unusual among fighters that had a tailgunner in that the gunner wasn't seated in the turret, but rather in the cockpit just behind the pilot, firing the twin tailguns by remote control. In addition to watching their six, the gunner could keep an eye on other fighters in the formation, monitor the RHAWS and other warning sensors, and operate the jammers and other ECM gear, even dropping additional missile decoys if needed. It took a great deal of pressure off the pilot to know that someone else was constantly dealing with the defense of the fighter. That in turn allowed the pilot to focus on flying the fighter and using its massive firepower to its best effect. The downside to that was that the pilot had to have total trust in his or her gunner. Pilots who transferred to the Retaliator from single seat craft often had a great deal of trouble with that concept, but a couple of missions like this one soon got it out of their systems. The Reapers worked and fought as a team, and that teamwork had kept them alive through many a difficult situation.
The campaign they were about to be thrown into now though, was the toughest that any of them had ever faced in their careers. This wouldn't be like the holo-vids, where the hero would single handedly deliver the fatal strike and win the battle just in time to wrap up the sub-plots before the credits rolled. They would have to work well together on every level, be it between pilot and gunner, wingleader and wingman, within a squadron or within the fleet. The only way that they could win this battle was by doing everything right. Even then, they would have to do more than they had thought themselves capable of if they were to triumph.
That was why they had taken the dangerous step of using Nifelheim III's atmosphere as cover as soon as the Valeria had warned them of a large enemy patrol headed their way. Even so, it was only a few minutes before their RHAWS began picking up traces of search radars hunting them, steadily moving in from two directions as their opponents closed in on their position. For their part, the pilots under Striker's command kept their own search radars silent. Instead, the STORM fire control systems in each of their Retaliators were busy talking to each other via data link, sharing the information from the RHAWS and other passive sensors with each other, using their enemies' own radar emissions to locate them.
The Retaliator pilots waited until their opponents were almost directly overhead. As soon as the command was given, each pilot hauled back sharply on the flight stick and punched in full afterburner. The twin seat fighters virtually stood on their tails as they rocketed upwards, covering the distance to the atmosphere's edge in a matter of seconds. Above them, they could see the glimmering shapes of the probing Nephilim fighters, looming larger by the second as the Retaliators raced upwards. Their fire control radars went active, giving them clean missile shots at their opponents.
Each pilot launched half a dozen missiles at the bellies of the fighters above, and then hauled back even further on the flight stick. A deadly wave of image-recognition and friend-or-foe missiles raced away as the big fighters inverted and leveled off at the top of their climb. Three dozen high explosive warheads smashed into the bellies of the unsuspecting Morays and Mantas that had been orbiting high above the planet, reducing close to a dozen of them to flaming debris.
Meanwhile, the six Retaliators executed a synchronized half loop, breaking away from the missile run to duck back into cover. Even as they broke off their missile runs though, their own missile alarms shrieked as more fighters swooped in towards them. The Nephilim had learned from their losses earlier in the campaign, and were now trying to counter these hit and run ambushes. Over two dozen more fighters were now chasing the Retaliators. Most of the Nephilim were still too far for effective missile shots, but that didn't stop them from trying. The sheer number of missiles launched went a long way towards mitigating the distance the missiles had to travel to catch their targets.
Green Flight broke apart into its three elements in a spectacular starburst separation maneuver, each fighter dropping missile decoys like there was no tomorrow. While not as maneuverable as most superiority fighters, they were still remarkably agile for their size, and the veteran pilots executed the rapid shifts in direction needed with the ease of long practice. To make things even more difficult for the Nephilim, their gunners sent streams of cannon fire ripping towards the leading enemy fighters, doing their best to keep their attackers from closing in for a higher percentage shot. There were a hell of a lot of missiles though, and several pilots only escaped by the skin of their teeth.
To make matters worse, a few of the leading enemy fighters had managed to cut them off while they had been busy going evasive, and were now between them and Nifelheim III. The Retaliators broke towards their opponents, setting up a head to head missile pass. The pilots all knew that they would be picked off one by one in a conventional dogfight, especially once the fighters chasing them and the survivors of their first missile attack joined the fray. A head on pass gave them the chance to inflict a lot of damage in a very short time, and that was the best hope they had of cutting the odds down enough for them to escape back into the cover of Nifelheim III's atmosphere. The two groups closed in on each other at a combined speed of close to 2,500 klicks a second. Their missile alarms went off again as both groups of fighters salvoed their missiles at each other simultaneously. Several of their opponents went down, but so did one of the Retaliators, with three more taking missile strikes. The surviving Border Worlds fighters blew past their opponents on full afterburner, racing back into the planet's stratosphere, and quickly vanished from the scanners.
That didn't stop the Nephilim, though. They might have been caught off guard by the speed and the brutality of the surprise attack, but they were determined to make the ambushers pay. They plunged into the gas giant's atmosphere, their search radars ripping into ether as they tried to reacquire the Border Worlders. With no knowledge of what they were flying into though, they had no chance of dealing with the atmospheric conditions that awaited them. The leading fighters simply plunged down too fast and too far, and were sucked inexorably downwards by the air currents. The fighters following them had a few seconds warning from their doomed comrades, and pulled out as hard and as fast as they possibly could. Several of them exceeded the limits of their acceleration absorbers in the pull out, their hulls snapping like twigs under the massive G-forces generated by trying to turn a ninety degree corner at such extreme velocity.
The fighters that did manage to pull out now found themselves wallowing in the turbulent atmosphere, their pilots trying desperately to compensate for the wind shifts that threw them in each and every direction. That though, was the least of their troubles. They didn't know it, but they were now squarely in the gun sights of Red and Blue Flights, who had been shadowing Green Flight throughout the ambush. The Retaliator pilots had kept their search radars silent, relying on the information fed to them via data-link from Green Flight to lock their heat seeking missiles on the remaining Nephilim fighters at near point blank range. The Nephilim pilots got almost no warning before the missiles began ripping into them. The few who survived the second missile ambush were wiped out by massed tachyon and stormfire cannons of the fighters shadowing them.
"Good job, people. All flight leaders, sound off your losses," Lieutenant Colonel Chrys "Mirage" Rhodes called out. The attack had more or less gone off as planned. As usual, the Reapers much preferred to stab an unsuspecting enemy in the back to taking him on in a fair fight. Fighter combat was nowhere near as glamorous or honorable as it was often made out to be, and the best fighter pilots gave their opponents no chance at all if they could help it.
"Green Flight, one down, three damaged," Striker reported wearily. A single fighter lost in such a successful ambush might have sounded good, but they were being bled to death a little at a time. Even with the survivors of the Star Killers folded in, the Reapers only had the same number of fighters that they had three weeks ago. Close to half the original squadron had been lost in their previous battles. The worst part of it was that they were becoming numb to the losses, so numb that the loss of two more squadron mates in this ambush almost seemed like business as usual.
"Blue Flight, no loss."
"Red Flight, no loss," Mirage reported. Tactically speaking it had been a good result, but like Striker she took little pleasure from it. There was a hell of long way to go in this battle, and the Nephilim could weather their losses much better than the Border Worlders could.
Still, there were a lot of positives to take away from this first skirmish, not the least of which was that all the training they had put in to prepare for this battle was paying off. They had practiced this kind of ambush over and over again in the complex system of moons, moonlets and rings that surrounded Nifelheim III, with one of the flights acting as the ambushers while the others acted as targets and hunters. By doing that they had not only sharpened their own ambush techniques, but also those of countering ambushes, and of anticipating how the counter ambushers might think. Those were all skills that they would need in the coming battle, as they had no intention of taking on the Nephilim in a stand up fight. Instead, ambush or hit and fade tactics would predominate. The other squadrons had been carrying out their own training, using the little time they had to good advantage. That preparation would only give them a small edge when the full scale battles arrived, but they needed all the advantages they could get.
For now though, the Reapers still had their patrol to finish. The enemy probes had been getting more and more frequent as the Nephilim pushed deeper into the system, and other squadrons had also made contact with the enemy. The pilots all knew that it was only a matter of time before they would have to take on one or more enemy battle groups head on. They all dreaded that prospect, having seen too much carnage in the past few weeks to do otherwise, and yet in a strange way they were impatient for it too. More than anything else, they all wanted to finish this battle, to end the threat their homes and families once and for all.
Medical Bay, BWS Valeria
1000 Hours, 18 Feb 2681 (2681.049)
The Valeria's medical bay was a hell of a lot quieter and calmer than it had been in the aftermath of the battle in Loki. Back then, the bay had been packed with the wounded survivors of the Littenia, the beds overflowing with badly burned and mangled bodies. The Valeria's doctors and nurses had worked around the clock to keep the wounded alive, stable, and as comfortable as possible given the situation. Some of them had literally worked for more than two days without sleep, while others had only been able to snatch a couple of hours rest in that time. It had been an exhausting ordeal even by the standards of the medical profession, where long hours and short sleep were hardly unheard of. Most of the staff had themselves been on their last legs by the time the Valeria had jumped into Nifelheim.
All the hard work and sacrifice hadn't been in vain. Over ninety percent of the seriously injured had still been alive when the Valeria had jumped in. Those people were now in the infirmaries at Avernus Station and the testing base, benefiting from the better medical facilities there. There hadn't been enough hospital ships to take them safely away from the combat zone as everyone would have liked, but they would be safe and comfortable in the stations as long as the defensive line held.
For their part, the medical staff had been too exhausted to take any part in the low-key celebrations the rest of the crew had indulged once they had reached Nifelheim. Instead, the doctors and nurses had finally given in to oblivion, most of them hoping to sleep for twenty-four hours straight. Instead, they had been awakened by the alert sirens only a few hours later. They woke up to the worst news possible, that the fleet was about to fight another major fleet action, with casualties expected to be as high as or higher than the Loki battle. It had been as shattering a blow for them as it had been for the fighter pilots and Navy crew, perhaps even more so. They after all were the ones who cleaned up the carnage after the battle. They were the ones patched up the walking wounded and threw them back into the maw of the killing machine, the ones who put the shattered survivors back together as best they could, the ones who comforted the dying. Perhaps more than anyone else in the fleet, they were the ones who knew first hand the price of victory.
In the day and a half since then, the medical staff had again worked all out, doing their best to get the facilities ready for the next influx of casualties. That didn't so much involve running around yelling "Clear!" and "Stat!", which was what everyone seemed to do twenty four hours a day in medical dramas. Instead, it had consisted of things like replenishing the blood supplies and radiation treatments from the crates brought in from the transports, mixing antibiotics and IV solutions, preparing the surgical equipment and sterilizing the operating theatres. The Valeria's medical resources had been seriously depleted after two weeks of brutal fighting. The reserve forces and the stations had additional medical supplies for the fleet to use, but the Valeria was far from the only ship that needed those. The medical staff took what they could, and did their damn best to make sure that it would be enough. It was quiet, unexciting work that would never make the headlines, but it saved lives just as surely as the more dramatic medical procedures did.
That hard work behind the scenes to get ready was now paying off, as a slow but steady trickle of casualties from the opening skirmishes had arrived over the past few hours. Some were relatively minor, mostly pilots who had picked up concussions and bruises when their fighters had been hit. The doctors were starting to see more and more serious injuries, such as a crewmember on the BWS Nemesis who had fractured his skull when the battlecruiser had maneuvered violently while engaging a small group of enemy scout ships. There were also two pilots in the burns unit already, and another who had suffered oxygen deprivation after ejecting, and who wasn't expected to make it. Even if he did survive, he would be in a coma for the rest of his life.
Dr. Gareth Wagstall, the Valeria's chief medical officer, had elected to be on the first shift that was dealing with the casualties, letting one more of the junior doctors who had been working so hard over the last day get a few hours more rest. Right now, he was trying to stabilize one of his burns patients. With any luck at all, this youngster would only have a few scars to remind him that he had once had the skin burnt off half his body, always assuming that infection and shock didn't kill him within the next few hours. The doctor had in some ways become inured to human suffering in the decades that he had spent practicing medicine in the military, but he had never stopped being angered at the wastage of lives and potential he saw all too frequently. War was often necessary, and sometimes justified, but it was never pretty. The doctor shook his head sadly, thinking off all the broken bodies that he had seen in the past few days, and all the ones that he expected to see in the coming days.
Bring it on.