PHASE V : THE NIFELHEIM ARC ( 24 of 62 )
: “ In the Eye of the Hurricane ”
TCS Endeavour; Lounge
Loki system, February 15 2681
Garrison sat alone with a glass and a half-filled bottle at one of the tables in
the darkened lounge of the TCS Endeavour. His eyes were fixed upon the
view, the never-ending starry night of space, provided by the large windows of
the lounge. The stars that dotted the blackness moved slowly past him as the
ship headed towards its final destination, towards the final showdown.
For the past few weeks, a length of time that seemed like forever to Garrison, Confed and Border World forces had been fighting off an attempted invasion by the Nephilim. In that time, he had been witness to and part of some of the most devastating and horrific engagements that he had seen in his fifteen-year career as a Confederation pilot. Despite that, and the numerous losses that he had dealt with during that time, the fact that upset Garrison the most, was the fact that he knew that it would only get worse.
The remaining ships of the combined Confederation/Border World fleet were gathering in the Nifelheim System, gearing up for what would very likely be one of the largest space-based engagements in the history of the Confederation. It was in Nifelheim that they would stop the Nephilim in their tracks or that the enemy would shatter the line that had been held by the combined Confed/BW force.
Garrison blinked as a quartet of Panther-class fighters sped by the lounge of the Endeavour. In the distance, he could see the TCS Yorktown, one of the few remaining carriers, and her escorts making their way towards the jump point. Soon they would be calling upon him and his squadron to escort the fleet through the jump point.
Suddenly, light from the corridor filled the room. Garrison turned and looked at the open door, seeing only the silhouette of a woman entering the lounge. As she walked towards him, the door closed, and he could make out the weary face of Heather Stevens, the Endeavour's XO as she approached.
She smiled a faint smile as she got to Garrison's table. "Hello, Cameron. May I?" she asked, pointing to the seat across from him.
"Of course, Commander. Wouldn't mind the company," he replied with a smile.
"Heather," she said as she slowly sat down in the chair. "I've had about enough formality as I can handle with all these meetings and reports in the past few days."
"Heather," he said with a bow of his head. "I take it they've kept you even busier lately?"
"Oh, you have no idea," she said with a sigh. "We've been working overtime trying to determine the best strategies to use against the bugs. I mean, we've done a lot of damage to their fleet so far, but they've still got a two-to-one advantage over us." She shook her head. "Plus, they're probably getting desperate now. And you know how hard it is to fight against a desperate opponent."
Garrison nodded. "Yeah, those bugs will be coming at us hard. We'll have to fight tooth and nail if we're to get through this," he said before taking a sip from his glass. "It might even come down to which side is more desperate. More willing to take the big chances."
"Yeah," Stevens said softly, her voice trailing off into silence.
Garrison examined the glass in his hand and then glanced at Stevens. "I'm sorry Heather," he said, prompting Stevens to look at him quizzically. "Would you like a drink?"
Stevens smiled sweetly. "That'd be nice. Thank you," she replied.
Stevens watched as Garrison walked to the bar and got another glass. He made his way back over to the table and poured some of the clear liquid into the glass.
"What is it?" Stevens asked as Garrison handed the glass to her and sat back down in his seat.
"Water," he replied with a smile.
Stevens giggled. "I suppose that's as good a drink as any these days."
Garrison couldn't help but grin at the smile upon Stevens' face. He hadn't really noticed it before, but she was rather striking. Her big, brown eyes were captivating and her shoulder-length hair of the same color rested around her face like a silk sheet.
Garrison realized with shock that it was the first time he had ever thought of anyone in that manner since Carol had died.
"Well," Stevens said, startling him. She looked at the glass she had just taken a sip from. "It's not much for taste, but at least its refreshingly cool."
She smiled and Garrison smiled back weakly. Silence followed for what seemed like forever. Finally, Stevens spoke up. "You have any family back home?" she asked.
Garrison shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "My wife died years ago, during the Black Lance incident." He said no more, taking another sip of water from his glass.
Stevens bit her lip. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to -- "
"It's alright," he assured her. "Really... it was a long time ago." Another pause followed. "How about you? Any family? Or someone special, perhaps?"
"Not anymore," Stevens replied. "I used to. But with me being away on assignment so much, it just didn't work out," she said solemnly. "I don't really blame him. It would be hard for me too, I guess. Having the other person gone so much," she said with a sigh. "It's probably better off this way. With this engagement coming up in Nifelheim, I have a lot of things to deal with other than personal relationships."
Garrison nodded slowly.
"Listen," Stevens said after awhile. "You... you guys better be careful out there. It's going to be real messy out there. And even though I know there will be casualties, I still don't want to lose anyone."
"Don't worry, Heather. We will," Garrison replied with a smile. "We'll take care of ourselves."
"You better," she said forcefully as she placed her hand on his. "I mean it."
Garrison looked at her, directly into her beautiful eyes. They seemed to draw him in.
"Black Dragons and Emerald Falcons squadrons, launch in fifteen minutes."
Garrison pulled his hand away quickly and stood up. "I, um, I have to go," the words stumbled out of his mouth before he regained his composure.
"Take care, Comman -- Heather."
She smiled. "You too, Cameron."
Without another word, Garrison left the lounge and headed down to the flight deck.
TCS Endeavour; Bridge
Loki-Nifelheim Jump Point
February 15, 2681
"Status report?" Griffin requested, seated in his command chair as the Endeavour and the rest of the Combined Fleet arrived at the jump point. He swiveled the chair to look at Commander Halverson who was at one of the aft bridge stations.
Halverson made a final check with one of the bridge officers and then reported to Griffin. "All systems nominal, Captain. We're ready for the jump into Nifelheim. Dragon and Falcon wings have been dispatched. All others are on standby."
Griffin nodded. "Good. Any signal from the Flagship?"
"Not yet, sir. But the rest of the fleet has also dispatched escort wings," Halverson replied. "We should be getting the order to jump in moments."
Griffin turned around looked at the view screen.
Waves of fighters sped towards the jump buoy. The Excalibur stealth fighters were the first to disappear through jump vortexes. After receiving the all-clear signal from the Excaliburs, the Vampire-class heavy fighters jumped out. The Panther fighter squadrons, including those from the Endeavour followed with the rest of the jump-capable fighter units.
"Captain, we've received the jump order from the flagship," Halverson reported.
"Very well then. Activate jump engines," Griffin ordered.
Space was ripped open in front of the Endeavour and its escorts and the ships slowly moved forward. Each ship was consumed by it's own jump vortex and hurtled through the tunnel into the Nifelheim System, where the portion of the fleet that had already jumped waited.
Moments later, the entire fleet was in Nifelheim with the 8th Cruiser Squadron taking up the rear.
"Report?" Griffin requested again.
"The jump went without a hitch, sir. All systems are fully operational," Halverson reported. "A reserve squadron of Intruder-class fighters should be arriving from Avernus Station within the next twenty-four hours as well."
Griffin nodded slowly. "Alright then. Maintain alert status, Commander. But make sure everyone gets some time off in the next little while. Lord knows they need it," he said as he got up from his seat. "I will be in my quarters."
"Yes sir," Halverson said as Griffin entered the lift.
TCS Endeavour; Pilot Lockers
February 16, 2681
The pilot lockers on the Endeavour were unusually crowded lately after missions and patrols, as the carrier had taken on a replacement squadron of Intruders to bolster their fighter wing. Voices both familiar and unfamiliar filled the room with conversations as the pilots shuffled past each other in order to get to their lockers.
Victoria Sullivan sat down in front of her locker, having just returned from a routine patrol and removed her flight gear under the watchful eye of her sister, Julia. She had noticed her sister's sidelong glances from the moment she got out of the cockpit of her fighter. Julia, however, didn't seem to realize that she had been caught.
"You know, Jules," she started. "If you continue to watch me like a hawk, you're going to drive me insane."
Julia blinked. "Watching you? What are you talking about?" she retorted.
"Don't give me that crap. You've been trying to make it seem that you haven't been watching me for a while now. I wouldn't be surprised if you were paying more attention to my fighter than to the surrounding area during the mission."
Julia rolled her eyes and turned her head away. "The doctors must've given you too much medication. You're talking nonsense, Vicky."
Vicky pulled her flight suit down to her waist and tugged the collar of the T-shirt underneath. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and looked squarely at her sister with her bold blue eyes.
Julia turned back to look at Vicky. "What?" she asked without receiving a reply save the look on her sister's face. "Excuse me if I'm worried about how my sister is doing after her first mission back from her injuries."
Vicky sighed. "I'm fine, Jules." Julia gave her a disbelieving look. "Look at me," she continued. "No lasting effects. I'm perfectly healthy. Not one problem, even after a mission."
Her sister nodded slowly. "I guess," she said, not sounding too convinced. "But that was just a simple escort through a jump point. When we're out there with the Nephilim, things will get a lot harder and a lot more stressful."
This time, Vicky was the one to roll her eyes and turn her head. "Listen, I'm al-"
"She's right," another pilot interrupted. "The last thing we need is a pilot who can't handle the pressures of combat."
Vicky and Julia both looked up to see Lt. Carl Wells, one of the pilots from the replacement squadron that had been assigned to the Endeavour, looking down at them. "When you're out there in the heat of battle, you need to be on top of things, able to make split second decisions, and use quick reflexes to survive," he said, directing his attention to Vicky.
Vicky arched her eyebrows. "You think I don't know that? Thanks for the advice, but I've been out there before. I know what's required of me out there," she fired back.
"I hope so. Otherwise, you should just pack up your gear right now and get on a transport out of here along with the rest of the civilians," Wells said viciously.
"Hey buddy, you don't have to worry about my sister," Julia said quickly, standing up for Vicky. "She'll be just fine out there."
"Good," he replied. "And I hope you remember to keep your eyes on the enemy out there and not on your sister."
Julia darted to her feet with a furious look in her eyes. "What the hell is your problem anyways?" she lashed out.
Wells fired back with equal intensity. "My problem is that we've got people around here preparing for what could be the battle of our lifetimes and you're here spending your time babysitting your little sister when you should be concentrating on what we have to do!"
By this time, the eyes of the other pilots in the locker room were upon them, but that made little difference. Vicky looked on bewildered at Wells and her sister as they argued.
"Rest assured, Lieutenant, I'm well aware of what we're getting into and I will be ready for it," Julia said in return. Her anger was threatening to overwhelm her.
"You better be," Wells said harshly. "Because, if any one of our pilots goes down out there because you don't have your mind in the right place, I swear I'll -- "
"Is there a problem, pilot?"
Wells spun around on his heels and then froze where he stood. He looked up at Iceman, standing almost half a foot taller than he did. Wells felt his mouth go dry. "Problem?" he repeated the question timidly. It seemed like he was shrinking before the other man's squinted gaze. Wells shook his head. "No, sir. No problem at all," he answered with a gulp at the end.
Iceman nodded. "Good," he said simply. "Must be a bit uncomfortable for you at the moment, still being in your flight suit."
Wells looked down at his suit. "Yeah, um... it is a little. I think I'll go and change," he said with a nod, attempting to save a little face. With that, he quickly headed to his locker, avoiding the eyes of the other pilots.
Julia watched him go and then put a hand on the back of her neck. She breathed in heavily and blew the air out loudly. "Well, that came out of nowhere," she said with confusion in her voice.
Iceman walked over to the sisters. "The stress is getting to people."
Julia nodded. "Yeah. Now they're just flying off the handle with their mouths firing off anything that comes to mind."
"Well, he was right about one thing," Iceman said. Julia looked at him quizzically. "You should stop worrying about your sister."
Julia's eyes went wide. "What?" she exclaimed, causing a few people to look her way again. "You're siding with him?"
"No, I'm not," Iceman replied calmly. "I'm simply saying that you should trust your sister's judgment and her instincts because when you do, the two of you are among the best at what you do. And we'll need that in the upcoming battle."
The anger quickly faded from Julia's face and she looked down at Vicky. She nodded slowly and looked back at Iceman. "You're right," she said quietly.
"From what I hear, we've got some down time," Iceman said after a brief period of silence. "I suggest you use it to relax." He looked down at Vicky. "Both of you."
Vicky smiled. "That's a good idea," she said before looking up at Julia.
Her sister returned the look as Iceman left the two of them, and then turned to her locker and got changed out of her flightsuit.
TCS Endeavour; Lounge
February 17, 2681
Ensigns William Davies and Chris Johnson were seated at a table near one of the large windows of the Endeavour's lounge. The place was busy as crewmembers gathered to eat dinner. Making the place even busier than usual were the additional pilots that the Endeavour took on from the Border World testing station in the Nifelheim System.
Davies ate in silence while occasionally looking distastefully over to one of the tables where some of the Border World pilots were seated.
"What's the matter, Will?" Johnson asked after noting the look on Davies' face.
Davies finished chewing. "Can you believe it, man? We gotta go up against the bugs soon and we get these Border Worlders on board," he said. "Now we gotta watch our backs just as much as our fronts."
"Aw c'mon now, Will. They're in the same situation as we are," Johnson said in reply. "Besides, we could use the help. We've had our flight wing chipped away at by the bugs. Some extra pilots will do us some good."
"Help?" Davies grunted. "Those Border Worlders won't give us much help. They'll be too worried about saving their own asses."
"Jeeze, man. What's with the big grudge against them?"
"I'm telling ya, Chris. You just can't trust a Border Worlder!" Davies said with enough force to carry his voice across the lounge.
The lounge went quiet as two of the Border World pilots walked over to Davies and Johnson's table.
Carl Wells stood with his arms folded across his chest with another pilot standing a step behind him. "You got a problem, Confed?" he said viciously.
Davies stood up to face Wells. "Yeah, I got a problem, Border Worlder," Davies replied. "I got a problem with your kind taking up shop on this ship. We don't need to have to worry about babysitting you while there's a battle to be fought."
Wells arched his eyebrows. "Is that so? Do you think we really want to be here? We're forced to be here only because you Confed saps weren't good enough to get the job done!"
"At least that's better than being in your position," Davies retorted. "The only thing you Border Worlders are good for are moving targets! Other than that, you just get in the way!"
"Easy, Will. Just take it easy," Johnson stepped in.
Wells shoved Johnson aside. "You stay out of this!"
Davies grabbed Wells' collar and shoved him back. "Hey! Back off asshole!"
Wells drove his forearm into Davies face and Davies returned in kind.
The other Border World pilot jumped in to break up the fight, only to be confronted by Johnson.
All hell broke loose as more Confed and Border World pilots got into the fray.
"What the hell are you pilots thinking?!"
Paul Taylor was furious. He was wide-eyed and red faced, looking like he was about to tear someone's head off with his bare hands. Across from him, four pilots stood, straight as arrows and stiff as boards. They kept their own eyes staring directly ahead of themselves, not looking at Taylor unless he got right up to them and forced them to. None of them said a word in reply to the Endeavour's WC. Behind Taylor, Commander Garrison of the Black Dragons and Captain Erica Weinrich of the Reserve squadron, stood silently, observing the proceedings.
"What's wrong with you? Do you think any of us have time for shit like this?" Taylor yelled, throwing his arms up into the air. He paced back and forth in front of the pilots as he continued to berate them. "You four are lucky that I don't shove in you into an airlock and vent your asses out into the vacuum!"
Taylor sighed and shook his head. He looked sternly at each of the pilots in turn before speaking again. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind around why I'm standing here disciplining the four of you because of your stupidity when I should be dealing with the fact that the bugs are threatening to overrun us and crush our skulls."
The slight change in the posture of the pilots as they breathed in heavily indicated to Taylor that he had struck a little chord. Taylor looked back at Garrison and Weinrich, both of which had yet to say a word and then returned his gaze to the pilots in front of him. "You're all confined to your barracks until tomorrow's briefing. Hopefully by then, you'll come to the understanding that now, more than ever, we have to stand united if we're to have any hope of defeating the bugs," he said acidly. Taylor then stood squarely in front of them. "DISMISSED!"
The four pilots stood at attention and saluted before filing out of the room. Before the two Black Dragons pilots left the room, Garrison stopped them with a level voice. "Davies, Johnson. Expect a visit from me in a little while."
The two pilots gulped hard and looked at each other. "Yes sir," they both replied timidly before quickly exiting.
Taylor's anger subsided for a moment and he looked at Garrison with an amused look on his face. "You've been taking lessons, I see," he said.
Garrison shook his head slowly and looked at Taylor questioningly.
"There's only one other person on board that I know, who intimidates others with such a calm demeanor," Taylor replied with a smile.
Gloved fists slammed into the heavy black bag hanging from the ceiling, causing
it to rock back and forth as Iceman took his shots it. The sound of the impacts
echoed loudly through the Endeavour's sparsely populated workout room,
drawing the occasional glance.
Beads of sweat rolled down Iceman's face as he vented the stress from his body with each vicious punch. He concentrated on placing his punches, ignoring everything else around him. At least until a familiar voice snapped him out of his trance-like state.
"Something must be wrong," said Victoria Sullivan with a raised eyebrow. "I've never seen you hit that thing so hard."
Iceman stopped the bag from rocking with his hand and looked at her with his characteristically calm expression. She was sitting on the weight bench that he had put his gym bag on, looking quite amused. "Nothing wrong," he said with a shake of his head. "But even I can get a little stressed."
"A little stressed, hm?" she smiled. "I'd hate to see what you would do to that thing if you were really stressed," she said, pointing to the punching bag.
Iceman shrugged and pulled off the padded gloves from his hands. "Did you come all the way down here to bother me about my leisure activities?" he asked as he walked over to the bench and picked up the water bottle from his bag.
"No. Of course not," she said before adding with a big grin on her face. "But once I saw you here, I just couldn't resist."
"I should've figured as much," Iceman said as he sat down beside her. He turned his head and looked at her and she returned the look with a smile. "How are you feeling?" he asked quietly.
Vicky leaned away from him and looked at him with arched eyebrows. "Not you too," she said with disbelief.
"Just a simply question," he said with a small smile. "With all that's been going on, I never really got a chance to find out how you've been doing." Vicky smiled. "Am I not supposed to be concerned about one of my friends?" he asked.
"No, its not that. I'm sorry," she said apologetically. "Its just that Jules has been giving me a really hard time about it. You know how she can be."
Iceman nodded. "She does have every right to be worried. After all, she is your sister."
"I know, I know..." she replied.
"So, how have you been doing?"
Vicky smiled and shook her head at his persistence. "I'm doing okay," she answered. "First day or so was rough. A bit difficult getting the feelings back in my body, but after that, it's been a breeze. It'll take more than a Devil Ray to knock this baby, down," she said proudly.
"Good, I'm glad to hear it," Iceman said with a hint of relief in his voice. "But next time, I tell you to break off, you do it. Understood?"
"Yes, sir!" Vicky said as she mockingly saluted him.
Iceman rolled his eyes and shook his head. There was a silent pause.
"Do you think we'll get through this?
Iceman turned his head quickly and looked at Vicky, surprised in the quick change in her mood. She sat with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her clasped hands, looking straight ahead.
"I've heard some people say that this engagement will be as big and brutal as the Battle of Terra," she continued. "I remember reading reports about that battle and thinking that I would've been so scared if I had to fight in it. And now, here I am. Getting ready for a battle just like it."
Vicky turned her head and looked at Iceman. His pale blue eyes seem to say so much and so little at the same time. "I'm scared, Shaun."
Iceman placed his hand on her shoulder. "I know," he said quietly. "But we'll get through this. No matter how much the Nephilim throw at us, how much they pressure us. We will prevail."
"How can you be sure?" Vicky asked.
"Because we don't have any other choice," Iceman replied matter-of-factly.
Vicky looked at him and nodded solemnly.
"I wouldn't worry too much though," he continued. "If you get into trouble out there. I'll be around."
A wide smile appeared on Vicky's face, one more of relief than simply appreciation for the comment. She rested her head on his shoulder and sat quietly for a little while.
TCS Endeavour; Pilot Briefing Room - Emergency Briefing
February 18, 2681
"All right people, settle down quickly!" ordered Paul Taylor, the Endeavour's WC. "We don't have much time."
Taylor activated the briefing room's large wall monitor as the last of the pilots took their seats. On the screen was a diagram of the Nifelheim System and the position of the Combined Fleet.
"We've got a problem," Taylor started. "A big one," He changed the diagram on the monitor to show the movements of the Nephilim fleet. "Our original battle plan called for us to pin the bugs against the mined jump point and automated defenses once they entered the system and then hammer away at their fleet. Unfortunately, we can no longer implement this plan."
Taylor once again changed the diagram. This time, it showed a second, larger Nephilim fleet movement from the opposite direction. "In addition to the fleet behind us, scans indicate that there is a larger bug force coming at us from Ymir. It looks like they're just going to throw everything at us in the hopes that our fleet crumbles."
Concern washed over the faces of the Endeavour's pilots and they began to whisper among themselves.
Taylor waited a moment before continuing. "This means that we'll have to fight a war on two fronts: the reserves taking on the bug forces behind us while the main fleet goes after the larger force."
Lt. Carl Wells jumped to his feet. "Whoa! Wait a sec! We're gonna have to take on that huge fleet alone? That's pure insanity!" he exclaimed.
"Calm down, Lieutenant!" Taylor ordered but Wells continued.
"Whatever happened to Confed's great Inner Fleet? Shouldn't they be here to protect their assets?!"
Captain Weinrich grabbed his collar and said something to him. Wells stared at her defiantly for a moment before slowly sitting down again.
Taylor sighed. "The Inner Fleet is remaining in their defensive positions around the core worlds in case we can't stop them Nephilim advance."
Disbelief rippled through the crowd of pilots. Taylor looked at them silently. "Listen pilots," he said finally. "I'm not going to lie to you. This will probably be the largest, most dangerous engagement any of you will ever fly in. Odds are that many of us aren't going to come back from it. But the fact remains that we have to stop the Nephilim here, in Nifelheim. Not just for the Confederation. Not just for the Union. But for all mankind." Taylor's eyes now shone bright with intensity. "Because if we don't, millions more will die. And we can't, under any circumstances, let that happen!"
"Now I know there's a lot of friction here. Not everyone likes everyone else and that's fine. Its not a requirement," he continued. "What is required is that you work together as a team, unite to achieve a common goal. And that goal is to wipe this bug fleet," he pointed to the view screen, "right of the star charts! Every last one of them."
Taylor took a deep breath. "We're not just a combined fleet. We're humanity's combined fleet. And will prevail. We have no other choice."
Taylor looked at each pilot in turn, seeing the confidence and determination in their eyes. "Now, here's what we're going to do..."
For the remainder of the briefing, Taylor outlined the battle plan and assigned objectives to each of the squadrons.
TCS Endeavour; Bridge
The bridge crew of the TCS Endeavour were busy checking and double-checking the ship's systems, ensuring that they were ready for the bloody engagement the ship would be thrown into.
Commander Halverson stood at the tactical control station with another crewman, going over some final adjustments while Captain Griffin walked around the bridge, monitoring the situation.
Griffin approached the tactical station and Halverson turned towards him. "All systems are as ready as we're going to get them, sir," Halverson reported. "Shields are active and all weapon systems are on standby. The flight wing is ready to go when we need them."
Griffin nodded. "And the rest of the battle group?" he asked.
"Our escorts and the remainder of the 8th Cruiser squadron report ready status. They've been able to repair most -- "
"Captain! Jump points forming in grid 12!"
Griffin and Halverson looked at the view screen as the scanner operator switched the view to show the jump points.
Dark fighters and capital ships poured through the open jump points like a wave of death trying to wash over them.
"All hands to battle stations! Scramble all fighters!" Griffin yelled.
Armageddon had arrived.