: “ Loud and Clear ”

Aboard TCS Hades (CAS-01); Bridge
0833 Hours (CST), 18 Feb 2681/2681.049

Kalahn Catharx nar Vukar Tag and Commodore Garrison Murdoch, CO and XO of CVBG-A respectively, both stood at the fore viewports at the front of the bridge. As if, for once, both men were on the same page, both of their arms were crossed as the two senior officers gazed out across the scene in front of them. Their gazes focused intently on the fighters of the men and women from the 188th FW, men and women once again being asked to put their lives on the line.

Murdoch shot Catharx a quizzical glance. "Reveling in your zaga again, Catharx...?"

The Kilrathi commander gave a hoarse chuckle. "I know... even one such as you, Murdoch, can appreciate some degree of the warrior spirit at a moment like this."

"Oh...?" Murdoch cocked an eyebrow. "I may be relatively new to Auriga, but last time I was catching up on current events... the last time we tangled with a Tiamat and its battle group, our group didn't do so well. We lost the Valley Forge, our Captain, and a hell of a lot of good men and women."

Catharx's fur bristled, as if Murdoch was blind to not see something he could so clearly. "Our victory is imminent, 'clear-cut' as you would say... the creatures can not stand against the combined flight wings of our three battle groups. "

Murdoch nodded, then turned back to gazing out the viewport at the formidable gathering of the 188th's fighters and bombers. "Well, I suppose I shouldn't argue with optimism." He gave the Kilrathi a hard pat on the back. "Carry on." With that, Murdoch returned to the CIC, approaching Lieutenant St. Germain to hear the latest word from Alvarez and Kennedy.

"This victory, so sure, so absolute..." Catharx seethed to himself, alone now at the viewports, "... a pity so little honor will be taken from this place of battle. We will be done with this skirmish and take the Stasheff and head to our ultimate goal, our ultimate honor. I will make my takhar proud... and I will teach these humans just how sweet the taste of true zaga is at our moment of triumph."


Aboard Panther 101 "Feline Lead"
0834 Hours (CST)

Red and orange pips began to appear on Carter’s monitor at an exceptionally prolific rate, doubling in size, then doubling again, and again. The enormous Tiamat and the two Hydra-class cruisers were easy to recognize, as were the Orca-class destroyers.    

But there were more than those vessels approaching them.    

Hundreds of Nephilim fighters were approaching… it looked like over three hundred. His sensors were overloaded.    

“Contact! I’ve got the primary target, range sixty thousand klicks and closing, heading right towards us!” Came Martinez’ voice.    

Alvarez’ voice came mere seconds later. “All right. Grendel and Dark Brood Squadrons, as soon as that fighter screen hits twenty-two thousand klicks, I want one Tracker launch from each of you. That should stir them up a bit. After that, I want Vampires, Panthers, Vaktoth, and Piranhas to engage at will. Tigersharks and others will escort the bombers in, along with myself. Aurora Group, your target is the number one Hydra-class cruiser. Auriga Group, your target is the number two Hydra. Rapier Group, we’re going to ram it down the Tiamat’s throat. Make sure you press in close and get hits. We’re only going to get one shot that we can count on, if that. Keep together, stick with your wingmen.” She transmitted.

The rangefinders on the fighters counted down inexorably as Carter shifted through targets. What he found stopped him cold:

Twenty-four Devil Ray fighters.

“Felines, these Devil Rays are our targets as soon as the missile barrage is over. Transmitting telemetry now,” he said, tensing himself for the engagement. He looked over and checked his rangefinder.    

Thirty thousand klicks.    

“Feline Lead to Grendel Lead," Carter called.    

“Grendel Lead. Go,” Rosencrantz’ voice came back.    

“I’ve got twenty four Devil Rays, coming head on. Request you engage those targets as soon as your missile barrage is away,” Carter called out.    

They were interrupted by Alvarez’ call, “All Vampires, launch now!”

From the Vampires in the formation came a single white streak apiece. The missiles screamed out ahead of the formation, then blossomed into four separate tracks that erupted amidst the oncoming Nephilim fighters at a range of fifteen thousand yards. The tracks made an incredible pyrotechnic display, twisting this way and that as they engaged their targets. A series of explosions rippled out, and enemy blips disappeared from the scope…not as many as Carter had hoped.    

It looked as though the Nephilim had lost twenty fighters, with another thirty-five damaged or crippled and leaving the fight.    

Which still left around two hundred forty-five to deal with.    

“Understood, Feline Lead. We’re engaging the Devil Rays now,” Rosencrantz responded, given the chance to respond.    

“Vampires, Panthers, and Piranhas, break and attack! Tigersharks, if anybody gets close, you go after them, but stay in close!” Alvarez’ voice came.    

A series of acknowledgements came in as Carter rammed his throttle to the stops. “Feline Lead copies all. Felines, break and attack! Stick with your wingmen!”    

His computer was already locked onto one of the oncoming Devil Rays, which began spraying sickly green bursts of fire at him. He side slipped his fighter, rolled, and re-oriented his nose on the Devil Ray.    

He knew he was facing one hell of a dangerous opponent here. The Ray had weapons, armor, and some maneuverability on him, but he had shields, overall speed, and certainly yaw rate.    

He selected his full bank of frontal weaponry and opened fire.    

Golden-yellow tachyon busts erupted from his wing roots, along with the blue-white pulses of ion cannon fire. They flared brilliantly against the shields of the oncoming Devil Ray, which pulled a snap-roll and attempted to get out of his line of fire.    

He rolled, then used his superior yawing ability to angle his Panther onto the Devil Ray’s tail, his weapons still blazing away, chewing at the after armor of the Devil Ray --    

-- When over fifty Moray fighters screamed into the fight.    

To his left, he saw the fighter of Second Lieutenant Mark "Tango" Rogers, his wingman, take seven hits along the spine, and begin trailing a stream of vapor and burning metal.    

“Two, break right and extend!” he called.    

He punched off a Pilum IFF missile, which streaked up to the still-exposed backside of the Devil Ray he had been pursuing and exploded.    

The fighter vanished in a greenish ball of released energy.    

Tango’s damaged fighter snapped to the right around its thruster pod, and then shot forward as it accelerated on afterburners. Three Moray fighters were in hot pursuit.    

Carter selected Spiculum IR missiles and triggered two off against one of the Morays, then felt his own ship shudder under shield impacts.    

He looked over his shoulder and saw a Manta, one of the darkly colored fighter variants, peppering his after shields with energy.    

He jinked right and left, now firing at the second Moray on Tango’s tail.    

He felt his fighter shudder under a direct impact as his aft shields collapsed, and triggered off another IFF missile. He then pulled the control stick into his chest as hard as he could, cutting in the afterburners and throwing a half-roll to the left in for good measure. Shots flew by underneath him, and he tried to bring his fighter around to deal with the new threat…    

… Until he saw the fiery red streaks of tracer rounds from a pair of Piranhas impact the Manta’s aft shield.


Aboard Piranha 133 "Sindri Star Lead"
Same Time

“Come on, baby… just a little more… gotcha!” Martinez called as the Javelin HS missile locked onto the now-defensive Manta. Its maneuvers in attempting to catch up with Carter had cost it momentum and speed, and now it was going to pay for that mistake.

Martinez’ thumb mashed the firing button. Explosive bolts blew the missile off its pylon and it accelerated off into space…    

… Straight into the engines of the Manta.    

Martinez gave a whoop of triumph, then looked over her shoulder to see --    

-- A Piranha with Yorktown markings explode under the impact of a large, purple-white ball of plasma fired from three Stingray fighters that had merged.    

A Vampire swept in, guns firing, blowing the ship to shreds.    

“Sindri Lead, break left!” Called her wingman.    

She slammed the stick over to the left and hauled her fighter around by main force, kicking in a burst of afterburners as she did so. She selected her energy-based weapons, rather than her stormfire cannon, so as to conserve ammunition.    

Ahead of her, a Vampire with Yorktown markings was being pursued by a Devil Ray and an individual Stingray, both scattering fire at it, while it dodged and weaved for its life.    

She punched in the afterburners on the small fighter again, and began spraying the Stingray with shots. It accelerated away as if scalded, and she lined up on the Devil Ray. Selecting her second Javelin HS missile, she locked it on --    

-- But the Devil Ray broke at just the right moment, and the missile arced off into space uselessly. The Devil Ray then came around and engaged her.    

She was in trouble, and she knew it. A Devil Ray outclassed a Piranha in every department except two: Maneuverability and speed.    

She stomped on the right rudder pedal, yawing her ship around to the right, and held the afterburners in, throwing her ship into a twist that enabled her to keep sight of her enemy as it whipped past down her left side. She selected the stormfire cannon and killed the throttle, pulling her Piranha around as she did. She felt the G-forces overcome her compensator for a moment, and her vision began to black out slightly. She slammed the afterburners back in, streaking forward after the Devil Ray, which was coming around to face her again.    

She pulled the trigger, the red-glowing tracer round arcing into space as she sought to hit her target. She was rewarded by several flares from her target’s shields, and smiled grimly.    

This one was to the death.    

A pair of Vampires from the Hades shot by her right side, going after the Moray fighters behind her, particle cannons and tachyon cannons blazing. She selected her third Javelin HS missile and attempted to lock onto the Devil Ray, but its hot exhausts were pointed away from her. Instead, she lined up with it, head-to-head, and held down the trigger, spraying her stormfire cannon rounds into space, again causing the shields of the Devil Ray to flare under the abuse.    

“Three, Four, this is Lead! I’ve got a Devil Ray here and I could use some help -- ” Martinez began.    

And then the Devil Ray exploded in front of her, a pair of missile tracks converging with it.


Aboard Vampire 117 "Grendel Lead"
Same Time

“Gotcha! Dagger, where are you?” Rosencrantz called as he threw his fighter into a vicious corkscrew.    

“I’ve got a Stingray group about to link up. Trying to close up now-Crap! They linked! They’re locked onto me!” First Lieutenant Ahmed "Dagger" Bardzini called.    

“Hang tough, Two, I’m on the way!” Rosencrantz called.    

He heard a scream over the frequency just as he got there.    

“They got Harpy!” Bardzini called, hurling his own fighter into an evasive maneuver.    

Rosencrantz felt a hard little knot of rage form in his chest. Goddamned Nephilim…    

He locked onto the Stingrays and opened fire with his entire frontal armament bank, pouring volley after volley into the ‘top’ Stingray until it disintegrated. The other two were knocked out of control by the explosion, and Rosencrantz quickly mopped them up as well.    

A Panther tore across his line of sight, a Devil Ray fighter hot on its tail, pouring fire into its after shields, which appeared to be fading rapidly. Rosencrantz again banked his fighter around hard, firing, trying for a deflection shot.    

Two of the three volleys he fired hit, shredding the after armor of the Devil Ray, but not killing it. However, the Devil Ray broke off, accelerating away.    

“Oh no you don’t… still with me Dagger?” Rosencrantz called.    

“That’s affirm, boss… aw, crap… aft armor is gone. One more hit there and I’m toast,” Bardzini called.    

“Alright. You take the lead, I’ll cover you. Move it. Take that Devil Ray out before he can get to the bombers -- ” Rosencrantz began.    

He was interrupted as one of the Vampires from his own squadron tore across his line of sight, trailing vapor and flames.


Vampire 121… Arkadyova’s fighter.    

“Five, break right --” Rosencrantz began.    

Before he could elaborate, the Vampire accelerated to its maximum speed, and slammed into a newly-arriving Barracuda-class corvette.    

With a tremendous explosion, the corvette and four fighters around it were engulfed in flames. Luckily, all of the fighters were Nephilim.    

And with that one large fireball, the best XO Major Michael Rosencrantz had ever had was gone.    

He yanked himself out of his reflections, and back to the present. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up like her.    

A trio of Morays sought to bring down Rosencrantz in a head-on pass at full afterburner. Rosencrantz lined up behind Dagger as his wingman slammed his afterburners to full and accelerated into the oncoming fighters, weapons blazing, and firing off IFF missiles in a series of four rapid-fire launches.    

Two of the missiles homed in on a Moray, blowing it to atoms. A second took the missile head-on at maximum speed, and was blown into three fairly equal-sized pieces by two volleys from Rosencrantz’ guns. The third shot past, scattering fire across Rosencrantz’ forward shields.    

And still the Devil Ray shot away.    

Six Squid interceptors ripped through the center of the engagement at their maximum speed, then decelerated at the outskirts… only seven thousand klicks from the bomber force.


Aboard Tigershark 301 "Arkrunner Lead"
Same Time

Brancer knew he was in trouble. Three sets of six Squid had punched through the furball and were setting up to run at the bombers.    

“Arkrunners, Theseus Squadron, break them up now!” Alvarez’ voice resounded, for she had stayed with the strike group.    

“Arkrunners, you heard the lady: Break and attack! Keep together or you’ll get cut to pieces! Do NOT let them get to the bombers!” he called out.    

Matching action to words, he punched in the afterburners and locked onto one of the oncoming Squids. He lined it up, and, as it began firing, held down the firing stud, having selected his charging mass driver cannons.    

The range dropped rapidly, and his shields flared.    

Two thousand… one thousand…    

Brancer released the trigger. The pair of mass driver rounds tore the fighter in half. Brancer barely missed the disintegrating hulk by rolling and releasing his burners, then pulling through the vertical plane.    

The eleven remaining Excalibur heavy fighters from Theseus Squadron tore into the six Squid approaching from their side, while the Arkrunners, being the full-strength squadron and a larger squadron to boot, split into two elements to engage the remaining two groups of Squids.    

Weapons fire criss-crossed in space, missile trails, both guided and unguided, flew everywhere as pilots shot at targets glimpsed only for scant seconds before they turned to another.    

Not one Squid got through… but at a cost.    

Second Lieutenant John ‘Diablo’ Hinton, the leader of Three Flight, along with his wingman, a nugget on his first cruise, were both killed when a Squid accelerated directly at them after snapping off a shot. Diablo took the Squid head-on, and the resulting fireball engulfed the second Tigershark. Intelligence analyzed afterwards suggested that the head of the first Tigershark’s demise ignited the entire portside pod of Dragonfly RPs, blowing the fighter apart.    

And the target was much closer now.    

Brancer looked around him. All around, fighters were exploding, some good, some bad…but he wanted that menacing, spidery-looking dreadnought gone.    

“All right. Arkrunners and Hercules Squadron, stand by for SEAD runs. Theseus, you’re top cover unless something goes badly wrong. Arkrunners, you’ve got forty-five seconds of SEAD work. Hopefully the Cavaliers will be in position by then.” Alvarez’ voice came.    

“Yes ma’am! Arkrunners, lets get to that bastard! Two Flight, target any Barracudas that come towards the bombers! The rest of you, on me and hit those turrets!” Brancer called.    

His fighter accelerated into afterburner once more, screaming past the fight taking place, now that the enemy fighter screen had been engaged and distracted by the desperately-fighting escorts.

Sickly green energy flashed by at all angles, flaring against shields as the Arkrunners roared in under maximum thrust.    

Brancer readied his Dragonfly pods, along with his full bank of frontal weapons. He locked onto the primary shield generator. “One Flight, target the primary shield generator and take it out!”    

Four sets of laser cannons and mass driver cannons pounded away at the layers of armor, distorting them enough that it allowed the also-fired rocket projectiles to get through. Of the forty RPs fired, a total of twenty-three got through the outer armor.    

And with an enormous explosion, the alien shield generator blew, destroyed by a Valiant light torpedo launched by one of the Thunderbolts.    

But Major Adam Brancer was in trouble.    

His fighter shuddered as the turrets found range and aimed deflection shots his way. One after another they hit. Brancer jinked left and right, but was unable to get away. His instrument displays exploded in front of him, bouncing off the clear plexiglass visor, marring it but not penetrating.    

A series of four shots landed against his stricken fighter in rapid succession, punching through his already-depleted shields and shredding his hull armor. Alarms rang and damage diagnostics lit up in the HUD.    

Brancer reached for the ejection handles, but paused to look up.    

He was staring down the barrel of an alien turret.    

A flash of greenish light erupted.    

Adam Brancer’s life flashed before his eyes:    

His graduation from the Space Forces Academy…    

His promotion to flight leader…    

His first assignment…    

Attaining command of the Arkrunners…    

The final briefing before this mission…    

The laughs and smiles of every girl he’d ever desired…    

And finally, the feeling of unease from the night before was realized: Brancer knew he had seen his own death before him.    

And then, Major Adam Brancer, Commanding Officer, Arkrunner Squadron, knew nothing more.


Aboard Tigershark 305 "Arkrunner Five"
Same Time

Captain Philip "Littlebear" Garza screamed in rage as his squadron leader, the man he’d looked to for confidence and for an example, vanished in the ball of blue-white energy that consumed his fighter.    

There was no ejection seat.    

Adam was gone.    

Blind with rage, he lined up on the nearest turret and ripple-fired six RPs in rapid succession. They exploded against the one of the Tiamat’s missile turrets with orange-red flares, blowing the turret apart.    

A pair of missiles streaked away from a turret mounted directly above the destroyed one, both targeted on Garza’s fighter. He punched out four missile decoys and accelerated towards the Tiamat, presenting the small frontal profile of the Tigershark to the oncoming missiles. Both streaked past and detonated within the decoys.    

Arkrunner Squadron seemed to take heart, to gain the will to avenge its fallen leader. Despite the loss of another of their number to intense turret fire, they pressed the attack home with the indomitable spirit of those who are condemned no matter what they do, and who are determined to somehow find a way to cheat death.    

Beside them, Hercules Squadron, flying HF-66 Thunderbolts, added their significant firepower to the SEAD effort. Fire from their plasma cannons and other weapons flashed out, piercing turrets and exploding missile batteries.    

Then, all around them, Barracuda-class corvettes angled in, intent upon cutting these invaders off from their support and crushing them.    

“Arkrunners, heads-up! We’ve got Barracudas inbound, looks like seven of them! Team up with Hercules and cut these bastards apart!” Garza called.    

The Confederation fighters, while outgunned by the massive corvettes, had maneuverability and speed on their side, as well as numbers. Surprisingly few fighters were accelerating back towards their fleet, instead attempting to destroy the fighter screen of the Shrike torpedo bombers.    

Garza lined up a corvette, and let fly with every weapon at his disposal. He fired until his capacitors were depleted, then fired off the rest of the Dragonfly RPs he carried. These slammed into the forward end of the ship, crushing the nose when combined with fire from Garza’s wingman, Second Lieutenant Armondo "Pound Cake" Mora. The corvette’s forward half imploded, and the ship shattered, throwing pieces in all directions.    

The Thunderbolts of Hercules Squadron, had greater armor and firepower at their disposal, along with tail gunners to keep enemy fighters away from them while they made their runs.

However, there were only five of them, leaving the Arkrunners to do the majority of the work… which they did.    

Round after round of weapons fire, be it projectile or energy, flashed forth from the avenging Arkrunners, cutting into shields and the like. The corvettes attempted to form a defensive ring where their vulnerable after arcs would be covered by one another, but they were severely outmaneuvered. Instead, they fell, one after the other, to the Tigershark onslaught.

However, by the time they had been destroyed, another pair of the Arkrunners was in dire straits. Their Tigersharks were crippled, and the enemy capital ships were growing closer together, hoping that massed turret fire would be enough to keep the torpedo bombers away from them.    

Time after time, Garza drove his fighter into the heavy turret fire, taking turrets out one after another, even if they didn’t belong to the Tiamat. He and Mora actually engaged the turrets on the Endeavor wing’s assigned Hydra at one point, killing four turrets in ten seconds.    

But now, Garza was beginning to feel the strain.    

He had only two missiles left: A Javelin HS missile, and a Spiculum IR missile, after being forced to fend off Squid interceptors streaking back from the fight to engage this new threat. That, and his port and starboard armor had been shredded. His targeting computer was flickering, and his communications were damaged.    

“Arkrunners, immediate… format.. n… torpedo ru… thirty seconds…” was what Garza heard. Alvarez was giving orders.

Hercules Squadron broke off the attack, as did the rest of the Arkrunners. Garza signaled Mora to take the lead.

Trailing vapor and leaving behind pieces of metal as his fighter began losing pieces of armor under the intense forces generated by high-G maneuvering, Garza returned to the formation.


Aboard Shrike 501 "Cavalier Lead"
Same Time

Oh God… here we go again… and this time, Major Karpoff thought, it’s at least one order of magnitude worse than last time…     

He swallowed hard, seeing the Tiamat swell in his gunsights. Even at this distance, it was a huge vessel.    

Colonel Alvarez’ fighter was in sight, ahead and above the formation of eleven torpedo bombers as they closed with their target.    

He cleared his throat, and issued the orders he knew must come, “Cavaliers, this is Lead. Silence, you take your flight and engage from aft. Slice-n-Dice, take your group and engage from above. We’ll come in slightly below and ahead. This is it, people. Suck it up, and the rest is gravy!”    

“Fighters, coming in, seven o’clock!” called his tail gunner.    

Already, Karpoff could hear Alvarez snapping orders. Theseus Squadron peeled off from their protective cover and moved to engage the incoming fighters, a hodge-podge of Morays, Mantas, and one or two Devil Rays that promised to kill the bombers if they got through.    

“Gunners, keep them off us! Two, Three, Four, close it in! I mean in tight. If they get through the fighters, all we’ve got is one another!” Karpoff called.    

“Torpedo selection… set. Heavy torpedo. Target locked. Torpedo lock counting down…thirty seconds and counting,” called his non-flying officer.    

A rhythmic hammering from the rear of the bomber let him know that his tail gunner had opened up.    

“Tomas! Two coming in from our eight o’clock! A little help here!” the tail gunner called.    

The topside gunner swiveled his turret around and opened fire, adding a second stream of laser fire to the first. While they couldn’t do much, they could throw off the enemy pilot’s concentration and, when used en masse, would hopefully blow the bastards out of the water.    

“Gunners, stand by! I’ve got to begin maneuvering!” Karpoff called as the forward shields began to coruscate brightly under the incoming turret fire.    

A sudden tone sounded in Karpoff’s ears. “Missiles inbound!” he called.    

He punched out three decoy bundles and began a series of shallow jinks, careful not to throw off the torpedo lock by maneuvering the target out of the seeker head’s arc.    

Then, a shudder ran through the Shrike. Karpoff checked his instruments. His bomber hadn’t been hit…    

“Oh gawd… Don’s hit! Looks like starboard-side engine group blew out and took that half of the bomber with it! He’s got no aft turret and no topside turret -- ” started the belly gunner.    

Second Lieutenant Juan "Don" Garcia was a nugget on his first cruise. He was already up for three decorations, one of them a purple heart for burns when his console exploded in his face during the first part of the campaign. The other two were for actions taken while in combat in the various systems the battle had passed through. The kid just wouldn’t quit.    

Karpoff looked out to his left side. The shredded Shrike was still moving, it’s port engine at afterburner to keep the bomber up with the rest after its loss of thrust.    

Karpoff keyed his comm system. “Three, get the hell out and back to the barn! You’re in no shape to continue this run!”    

Flak exploded all around the bomber and green weapons bursts flashed past. The crosshairs for the torpedo were ever so slowly closing on the target.    

“No, sir… I’m… for… duration… not… ing away!” came the garbled response.    

“Goddammit, Three, get your ass outta here or I’ll court-martial you!” Karpoff said.    

“Sir, if I split off, I’m… easy target… you need… torpedoes!” Garcia called.    

More weapons fire flashed out as the torpedo bombers got ever closer to their target. Garcia’s bomber streamed atmosphere and metal fragments, along with fuel from the ruptured cells as it closed. Its movements were erratic as Garcia struggled with the flight controls to keep it on the bomb run and in formation.    

“By God, Garcia…if you live, you’ll get the Confederation Flying Cross for this one…” Karpoff whispered, then focused on his own instruments.    

“Fighters, three o’clock and closing!” Called First Lieutenant Audrey "Blondie" Kempus.    

More hammering from the laser cannons announced that Karpoff’s topside turret was adding its weight to the fight.    

A trio of Morays flashed across his sights, and Karpoff switched to his stormfire cannon, spraying round after them as much as he could without letting the Tiamat out of the seeker head’s arcs.    

The Morays came around and accelerated to afterburners… coming in head-on.    

“Oh shit -- ”     

“What the hell -- ”    

“They’re gonna -- ”    

A series of calls came from each bomber. Karpoff selected his entire frontal bank of energy weapons, and sprayed fire into space ahead of the Morays.    

The ranges scrolled down so quickly that he knew, he knew that he was going to be rammed.    

One Moray exploded, opening a small gap. Karpoff rolled his Shrike up onto it’s wingtip relative to the way he’d been flying, but stayed in formation, knowing somebody had to get through-    

And then the other two exploded under the impacts of twinned tachyon cannon and ion cannon rounds, and a pair of Spiculum IR missiles.    

Alvarez’ fighter flew through the twinned fireballs, cutting diagonally across Karpoff’s line of sight.    

“Ten seconds!” the non-flying officer called.    

Karpoff watched the crosshairs as, with agonizing slowness, which stretched seconds into years, locked onto the dreadnought’s main bridge.    

“Torpedo away!” he called.    

With a thump, the Hellfire heavy torpedo accelerated into space ahead. Three more torpedoes accelerated with it, targeted on the bridge.    

This target was going down.    

The remaining turrets on the dreadnought opened up, attempting to track the incoming torpedoes.    

“Impact in ten… nine… eight…” the non-flying officer called.    

Karpoff looked at Garcia’s bomber, praying it could hold together and that he could maneuver.    

“Three… two… one…”    

Two of the torpedoes had been taken down by the enemy turrets, but the remaining two ran straight and true. With a pair of blue-white flashes that signaled the fury of antimatter released, the torpedoes detonated.    

And, with a similar flash, Blondie’s torpedo bomber exploded.    

Karpoff shied away from the flash, then looked for ejection seats.    

There were none. The entire crew had gone up.    

“Pull off, Three and Four! Stay with me!” Karpoff called.    

He whipped his bomber around like it was a fighter, and selected his Dragonfly pods.    

A Barracuda-class corvette was coming head-to-head with him. Karpoff triggered off one Dragonfly after another, holding down his gun triggers as well, firing his linked mass driver and particle cannons until his capacitors ran dry.    

“Garcia can’t maneuver too well, pilot! Looks like his thrusters are out of sync!” called the tail gunner.    

“Four, link up with Garcia! I’m doing the same! Three, what’s your status?” Karpoff inquired over the frequency.    

“I’ve got heavy damage…handling is impaired…feels like a pregnant pig…” Garcia got out.    

“Can you make it out of the area?” Karpoff called.    

“That’s affirm…not much farther, though…” Garcia said.    

“What about the Yorktown?” Karpoff asked.    

“I think so…” Garcia said, sounding much less than confident.    

“Their bridge is gone! Looks like something took a bite outta that damned dreadnought!” the tail gunner called.    

“Silence, what’s your status?” Karpoff called.


Aboard Shrike 502 "Cavalier Five"
Same Time

“Making our run now!” Captain Rubio called, horsing her Shrike around.    

Luckily, most of the flak and turret fire from the dreadnought had slackened off during the bridge hit, and the Tigersharks were doing their jobs well. Rubio had even picked up a request from two of the Thunderbolt pilots to make their own torpedo runs, which Alvarez had approved.    

All in all, there were nine more fighters preparing to launch torpedoes at the already-damaged Tiamat.    

Rubio blinked as three white flashes erupted, followed by another pair from the Hydra-class cruiser to starboard. The cruiser erupted in a series of rippling explosions, followed by the vessel’s hull being torn asunder by the atmosphere inside the vessel igniting.    

“Wildman, Seeker, give Longshot and I some space. Spread out so their guns have to work to cover the torpedoes as they run in!” Rubio called.    

Suddenly, her fighter shuddered…hard. Lights, including the eject warning, began blinking on her console.    

“Oh shit…” she said to herself.    

“Lead, you just took a missile! You’ve got a right-side engine fire! Punch out!” Called Second Lieutenant Mark "Longshot" Ellis.    

“And give the damned bugs the satisfaction of knocking me down? Like hell!” Rubio called.    

She punched the throttles forward, and selected her fire control systems.    

“What the hell?! Ma’am what are you doing?!” called Rubio’s NFO.    

“Set the torpedoes for a dumbfire approach! Do it!” Rubio called.    

The NFO looked at her with wide eyes, then dropped his gaze to his console, frantically punching buttons.    

“Five, what the hell you doing?” demanded Longshot.    

“Ramming it to this bastard! Proceed with your lock, but close up with Six and Seven!” Rubio called as her Shrike struggled past four hundred KPS.    

She pulled the T-handles to activate her onboard extinguisher, and watched the readouts for the engine. The fire light went out, but the engine temperature stayed at critical levels. She could smell metal burning.    

“Fighter, coming in, six o-clock!” announced her top gunner.    

Both the tail gunner and the topside gunner engaged, their weapons blazing away.    

“Come on, baby…” Rubio whispered, making sure the throttles were slammed to the stops. She made sure her shield configuration gave her more protection aft, then dumped her capacitor power to her engines and shields, switching over to her stormfire cannon as the bomber accelerated.    

“Cap, the right-side engine is burning up! I can see the metal melting off the goddamned frame! It’s forming little threads like a spider web!” called the belly gunner.    

“Shut up and engage the fighters! You done yet, Petty Officer?!” Rubio asked.    

“Almost ma’am…got it! Torpedoes set to dumbfire mode, but be goddamned careful with them!” the Petty Officer responded.    

“Hang on, everybody!” Rubio called, slewing the bomber around and aiming directly for the engine section of the Tiamat.

This was it.    

“Time to die bugs!” she called as the range counter decreased rapidly.    

There was one hell of a risk here. Without a target lock, the torpedoes might shoot straight off into space without hitting their target if they weren’t aimed.    

So Rubio got close.    

Nine hundred klicks from her target, with her speed at five hundred and ninety KPS, she punched off one, two Hellfire heavy torpedoes and pulled up.    

There was a screech of metal as her bomber bounced off the Tiamat’s hull and out into space, setting off her eject warning again, but her shields protected her from serious harm… that and the fact that she had just barely made her angle a glancing rather than a perpendicular one. As she got her bearings and streaked away, she was shielded by the dreadnought from the explosions she caused. The heavy antimatter warheads went off on impact.    

They hit the port side of the dreadnought, near the engine section, if the vessel could be described as having an engine section. The Tiamat literally shook in space as her hull was opened up to the cold, hard vacuum, the antimatter explosion vaporizing sections in the blink of an eye.    

But the engines didn’t die.    

Twenty seconds later, however, when the two Valiant light torpedoes slammed home along with another Hellfire heavy torpedo, the engines shut down, and the reactor core went critical. A chain reaction of explosions rippled across the surface of the dreadnought, spreading forward towards the ‘tentacles’ that projected forward.    

These explosions were compounded by five Valiant light torpedoes fired off for good measure from the other flight of Shrikes and the two Thunderbolts. They aided the explosions, blue-white flashes to counterpoint the green-white explosions already running the course of the dreadnought.    

“Uh-oh…” Rubio muttered, trying to gain as much distance as she could from the dreadnought.    

With a tremendous blast that vaporized the aft third of the dreadnought, and shattered the rest into various pieces, the alien reactor exploded. Forces beyond comprehension combined and destroyed themselves. In the blink of an eye, the Tiamat disappeared from existence.    

“We got that bastard!” somebody cried.    

Rubio bowed her head.    

But at what cost?