: “ Loud and Clear ”

Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Bridge
Same Time

Kennedy paced back and forth. He should’ve stayed in CIC, where the information came directly. Then he wouldn’t have to wait quite as long.

“Bridge, CIC,” came a call over the intercom.    

Kennedy walked over and picked up the handset. “Bridge, Admiral Kennedy.”    

“Sir, Colonel Alvarez reports the primary target is dust,” the technician said.    

Ramirez, who was also listening, stood, slack-jawed, before giving a loud holler. “Ladies and gentlemen, we got’em!”    

The entire bridge broke out into cheers… except for Kennedy, who knew there was a butcher’s bill that had already paid and would be further paid before this was over.    

“Bridge, CIC,” came another call, just before Kennedy could replace the handset.

“Bridge. Kennedy,” the Admiral replied.    

“Sir… Eagle Eye One reports incoming hostiles. Fifty fighters and six capital ships inbound, range eighty thousand klicks and closing,” spoke the officer.    

Ramirez eyes went wide. “Battle stations!” he called.    

Kennedy took a breath. “Very well.” He punched another button. “Communications, Kennedy. Relay to all ships: Enemy inbound. Have the Stasheff get her birds up and signal Aurora and Auriga to fall back. Let us take the brunt of this one,” he commanded.

A klaxon went off, and the lights on the bridge became red-tinged as emergency battle lamps switched on in case regular lighting should go out.    

Crewmen raced to battle stations, sealing off compartments and manning gunnery batteries, standing by as damage control crews and securing volatile substances.    

Kennedy stood away from the intercom as another crewman, this one whose job was to operate the set, took his place.    

Kennedy felt out of place. He needed something to do, a console to operate, a gun to traverse and fire, something!    

“Sir, message from Agincourt. She’s spotted the enemy capital formation and requests permission to close and engage,” the portside talker reported.

“Negative. Tell all ships to close in and stand by for anti-fighter maneuvers first. We don’t know what we’re up against… not yet. Signal them to ascertain ship types and report,” Kennedy ordered.

“Stasheff reports her birds are up!” called the talker from the starboard side.    

“Acknowledge her signal,” Kennedy called.    

Ramirez tapped him on the shoulder. “Yorktown is at battle stations and ready,” Ramirez said.    

“Very well. Captain, unless things get very desperate, I want to keep Waltzing Matilda out of the battle. This could get very ugly.” Kennedy said.    

“Agincourt classifies targets as one Orca-class destroyer and five Barracuda-class corvettes. Captain Duvall again requests permission to close and engage,” the portside talker chimed in.    

“Send again to Captain Duvall: permission denied. He is to remain in formation until I release him,” Kennedy called.    

“Endeavour and Hades acknowledging orders to fall back… though the Hades group wants it noted that…” The starboard side talker got a peculiar look on his face, then smiled, amazingly enough, and continued, “… they comply with the orders under protest, as it isn’t honorable to leave a comrade alone amidst an enemy onslaught.”    

Kennedy himself grinned, and even Ramirez, whose first carrier command was on the line, grinned.    

“Sounds like our Kilrathi friend is playing his part quite well,” Ramirez commented.    

“As long as he follows orders, he can play any damned part he wants,” Kennedy said with a smile. 


Aboard TCS Hades (CAS-01); Bridge
Same Time

Catharx gave a dismissive grunt as Lieutenant Amy St. Germain radioed over his response to the Yorktown.  

"They can have it their way," Catharx snarled. Oddly, however, the Kilrathi commander seemed to be smiling. "Perhaps this Admiral Kennedy is feeling a bit of the zaga this morning... let the glory be his, then. We have done our part." Catharx turned to Ensign Wright. "I want CVBG-A back in formation and put back on course... but you had better have the WC account for every pilot before we move one klick."  

"Yessir," Ensign Wright replied from his Conn station. Leaving it at that, Catharx departed into his ready room.

In seemingly coincidental timing, Murdoch re-entered the bridge from the lift just as Catharx left. All of the bridge staff's eyes fell on the veteran Commodore. "What he said, yes." He sighed. "Back on course to the promised land..."


Aboard Piranha 133 "Sindri Star Lead"
Same Time

Martinez shook her head to clear the sweat from her eyes as she concentrated on lining up yet another Moray that had jumped her group. She’d lost another pilot during a fight with a Barracuda-class corvette and two Stingray clusters, but had come out victorious.

Victorious… and damaged. One of her fighters was streaming all sorts of flotsam and gasses, and she hoped the pilot could get her crippled bird back to the Yorktown before the Piranha gave up the ghost.

The Shrike bombers, though not intended for use as such, had plowed into the fight with their escorts, breathing new life into the Confederation forces momentarily…until Alvarez had ordered the Shrikes to make runs on the oncoming pair of Orca-class destroyers.

Weapons fire flashed across her nose, the small purple-white globes of energy fired by Stingrays when they weren’t linked with two others, and the backup guns on the Mantas. She rolled and banked into the fire, presenting the smallest aspect of her fighter towards the enemy, and selected her stormfire cannon. She had only ninety rounds remaining, unfortunately, and so knew she’d have to be very careful with her shots.

The Manta came head-on, firing its guns as quickly as possible. Martinez snap-rolled the little Piranha, dancing it out of the way of enemy fire, then dropped the agile fighter in behind the lumbering Manta.    

This Manta pilot was good, she had to give him that.    

She smiled to herself. She was better.    

Lining up, she stitched the after section of the Manta with the tracer rounds, which first punched into the shields, then the hull, peeling away armor like a hot knife through butter. An insectoid scream echoed faintly in her headset moments later as the Manta gave up the ghost, and vanished in a ball of rapidly diminishing flame.    

Then, the Piranha slewed around as a Nephilim missile slammed into the after fuselage.    

Warning lights and tones went off all around her, and she could see the oncoming Moray, its weapons blazing, eager to finish the kill. She slammed her control column left, then right, in an attempt to get control of her fighter but for the moment, to no avail.    

She saw the Moray loom closer, and a quick glance at her shields showed that there was nothing to stop the bolts from punching through the fragile frame of the fighter --    

-At which point the Moray exploded. A Vaktoth heavy fighter flew through the debris. She tossed off a quick salute, then returned to struggling with her ailing fighter. The engine damage was bad. Eighty percent. She’d have a hell of a time getting aboard the ship with that kind of damage. She shoved that thought to the back of her mind.    

“Two, where are you?” Martinez called.    

“Your four o’clock, going right-to-left with a Manta on my tail!” Called her wingman, a series of grunts indicating he was undertaking maneuvers that were pushing his compensator to the limit.    

“Hang tight, I’m on my way!” Martinez called.    

She had no aft armor, her engine was heavily damaged, and her targeting systems were also flickering… but she couldn’t leave a wingman in trouble.    

She spotted Two almost immediately, his Piranha dancing across space, the green blasts from the Manta lighting up space around her. He punched out decoys as he attempted to evade a pair of missiles that had been fired at him.    

Both locked onto one of the four decoys bundles he dropped, and exploded within them, but the Manta remained stubbornly on his tail, maneuvering this way and that so as to get a better shot against him.    

Martinez lined up a careful deflection shot, and pulled the trigger.    

Tracers shot out and impacted the forward shields of the Manta, which turned directly towards Martinez and fired. Head-to-head was usually a loser, but Martinez punched through his shields before he could hit her. She held down the trigger --    

-And was rewarded with a dull thudding sound as she ran out of stormfire ammunition.    

Biting out a curse her mother would’ve slapped her for, she shifted to energy weapons and began loosing those rounds, but the Manta had found the range. Her forward shields collapsed, and she began taking armor damage. She tried to bank away, but her engine died abruptly as she attempted to kick in afterburners. She screamed in rage at the betrayal by her fighter -- 

-- Then stopped screaming as Two blew the Manta to shreds.    

“Lead, you’re chewed up. Recommend you clear out and try to get back to the Yorktown,” Two called.    

“Two, look around. We’ve just about broken even but if I try and break out, I’ll be singled out and picked off. No, the safest place to stay is in the masses -- ” Martinez began.    

And then a miracle happened.    

A blue-white flash, followed by six more, signaled the demise of the second Hydra-class cruiser, which had been destroyed by the Auriga flight group. As if the loss had broken their morale, the enemy fighters began breaking off in flights from the conflict, trying to get back to the main task force. Vampires, Panthers, and Piranhas swarmed them under, punching out IFF missiles that blew another twenty-seven of the enemy from the sky.    

“That’s right you bastards… run!” Called one pilot.    

“Sindri Lead, what’s your status?” Alvarez’ voice came.    

After receiving a number of reports, all of them with one type of damage or another, Martinez replied, “We’re still good, ma’am. All a bit banged up, but good to go.”    

“Then disengage and get back to the Yorktown as quickly as possible. They’re under attack,” Alvarez’ voice filtered back.    

Martinez felt her heart squeezed by terror. All this, and they may not have a base to get back to?! 

She swore viciously, slammed her fighter around, and, calling for the rest of her pilots, accelerated to afterburners, diverting power to her engines, away from her weapons as she did so.


Aboard Tigershark 403 "Viper Three"
Same Time

First Lieutenant Ryan "Chief" Clancy looked at his sensor scope, and felt his adrenaline, as well as his fear, spike.    

Coming in fast were fifty enemy fighters and bombers.    

“Vipers, stand by to move in. Our target is the bombers. The Death Stingers and Perseus are going to try and engage the fighter screen and let us through. We want the bombers, the Manta torpedo-carriers and the Skate clusters. Looks like there are about twenty of those. If necessary, Stasheff or Maribel can open fire with their missile launchers, but we need to stop them as far out as possible,” said Captain Prescott. “Two Flight, take the Mantas. We’re on the Skates.”    

“Yessir. Four, Five, pick separate targets from me and make sure to kill them on the first pass. Keep your speed up and don’t mix it up with the fighters unless you have to. This time, we’re defending our home,” Clancy called out.    



The Vipers had been the squadron assigned to the Stasheff originally. Perseus Squadron was originally from the TCS Perez, the destroyer whose loss had necessitated the Stasheff’s transfer. Their ship had gone down, and so what was left of their squadron had been transferred to the Stasheff, one over her complement of fighters. There was a good-natured rivalry between the two squadrons, which kept both of them sharp, but it didn’t translate into bitterness or overly competitive behavior.    

Their cooperative tactics were needed now.    

Looking over his shoulder, Clancy could see the Agincourt, which had taken the lead of the Yorktown formation.    

“Eagle Eye One, this is Viper Three. Any chance you guys can steer my flight around the worst of the fighters?” Clancy called.    

“That’s affirm. Come to course one-one-six z-minus ten and go to burners.” Came the voice of the number two controller aboard the SWACS near the fleet’s head.    

“Two Flight, you heard the lady. Punch it!” Clancy said. Matching actions to words, he engaged his afterburners, accelerating to 1,200 KPS, leading the rest of his flight.    

“Eagle Eye, any reaction from the bad guys?” Clancy called ten seconds later.    

“Negative. Alright, Viper Three, snap to two-one-six z-plus two to engage. Good luck, pilot,” spoke the controller.    

“Viper Three copies all. Thanks, Eagle Eye,” Clancy said.    

The Tigershark made a near-hairpin turn, whipping around to the left and lining up on the bombers behind their fighter screen. Still, the fighter screen didn’t react.    

Because at this moment, the Wasps from Death Stinger Squadron made their appearance, coming in on afterburners, but not having used their boosters. Purplish propellant trails arced in the hundreds out into space, creating a pyrotechnics display equal to any fireworks display as Swarmer missiles were sprayed at the oncoming group.    

Moray after Moray fell to the oncoming missiles, but they pressed forward, engaging the Wasps at close range… nearly thirty of them.    

The remainder, of which eight were escorts, two Stingray fighter clusters and a pair of Ray fighters, were still doggedly pushing ahead, without fighter cover.    

The Wasps tore into the enemy formation, attempting to break through to the bombers but the Morays were doing an incredible job of working together, despite the fact that they were in the lesser ships.    

“Four, Five, go after the Stingrays now. I’m on the bombers!” Clancy called.    

It was a risky move, but if those Stingrays got their guns to bear it would be ugly for all parties involved.    

Meanwhile, the twosome of Vipers One and Two jumped the bombers from the other side. White streaks erupted from their wingroots as they made attack runs on the Skate clusters. One of the clusters broke up with an explosion of one of its member fighters, which circled around and attempted to engage the Confed Tigersharks.    

Perseus Squadron, in the meantime, had plunged headlong into the interceptor fight, threw their five fighters up against what remained of the thirty Morays.    

Clancy shook himself out of his observation as his forward shields flared. A Ray cluster was coming around to engage him, with about six of the little Remora fighter drones around it. Clancy ignored it and bored in for one of the Skate clusters, selecting his charging mass-driver cannons, when a series of green flashes began streaking by his cockpit.    

Looking over his shoulder, he saw one of the Barracuda-class corvettes opening fire from long distance, trying to scare him off the bombers.    

Clancy smiled. Not that it would work.    

He had completely drained his capacitors for this mass driver shot. One hit would kill anything.    

Now the Skate clusters were firing their aft turrets at him, beginning slight evasive maneuvers. Clancy held in the afterburners, watching the range drop rapidly… and then released the trigger, having lined up a Skate cluster in his sights.    

The twin bolts lanced out and caught the ‘top’ Skate squarely astern, blowing completely through the fighter, which came apart in a shower of pieces. The remaining two Skates split away, then circled around, their weapons blazing.    

Clancy cut his speed, his forward shields taking the hits, and lined up a Spiculum IR missile. With a tone, the missile’s seeker head locked onto the lead Skate. Clancy hit the trigger.    

The Skate, still coming onwards at full bore, never knew what hit it.    

Clancy kicked in his afterburners and ran the throttles up again, accelerating out of the line of fire of the second Skate fighter. Selecting his Dragonfly RPs, he picked another cluster, noticing that there was another cluster already missing. He ran a quick tally in his head. Three down, four to go. The other five were Manta torpedo bombers.    

Then three Morays, having broken off from the main fighter engagement, bore down on him.    

Oh shit, Clancy thought. He threw his fighter into a violent corkscrew, the G-forces overcoming his compensator and making blood rush to his head. He gritted his teeth against them, and knew that it was the price he’d have to pay for survival.    

His missile lock warning sounded, and he punched out a pair of decoys, tapped his afterburners, and streaked away.    

More explosions erupted from the furball, signaling the demise of a number of fighters at once.


Aboard Wasp 149 "Death Stinger Lead"
Same Time

Pierce fought down the flash of rage. The Nephilim had just drawn blood.    

A pair of the remaining Morays had ganged up upon the leader of his fourth flight, Second Lieutenant Rick "Slider" O’Brien. O’Brien had called for help, but the Morays had each fired off a pair of their missiles.    

Slider had never had a chance.    

Pierce banked hard, attempting to get around on the tail of one of the two Morays, but they deftly dodged his rounds. These were obviously their best Moray pilots, with good reason. If the Nephilim could score one torpedo hit on the Yorktown, they had a good chance of putting it out of action.    

Pierce and his pilots couldn’t let that happen.    

The Wasp shuddered as a trio of blasts from the Morays tore into his shields.    

“Fine. You want to play, we’ll play,” Pierce said. He chopped his throttle, slammed his stick over to the right, and slammed the throttles forward, kicking in afterburners.    

The Wasp "cornered" as best one could in space. Pierce rolled left and slewed back around in time to see the two Morays overshoot his position. He locked an IR missile onto the leader and fired.    

The missile tracked right up the engine exhaust, blew through the shields, and shredded the Moray’s after armor. Pierce lined up, and let fly with his tachyon cannons, walking the shots into the now-ailing Moray.    

After a pair of hits, the Moray came apart, its hull exploding outwards under the internal pressure.    

The second Moray came around, intending a head-to-head pass.    

They were good, but dumb. A Wasp would always win in a head-to-head against a Moray.    

Pierce selected his full frontal armaments, both mass driver and tachyon cannons, lined up, and pulled the trigger.    

The shots impacted the forward shields of the Moray once, then impacted the frontal armor twice, then blew through the cockpit.    

They never learn… Pierce thought to himself.    

“Somebody get this guy off me!” called First Lieutenant Samantha "Belle" Dupree.    

“Hang tight, Nine! I’m on my way!” Pierce called.    

He checked his sensor readouts and saw her… and her opponent. On her tail was a Stingray cluster.    

He made sure his afterburners were locked, and selected a Swarmer missile, his third.    

He screamed towards the fight, his fighter shuddering under the strain, and watched the triangular crosshairs lock onto the Stingray group. He didn’t know which one he was shooting at, but punched the trigger the moment he was locked on.    

The small group of missiles shot out, curling in towards their target, and exploded.    

One of the Stingrays was destroyed, another damaged, while the third managed a clean breakaway and attempted to get clear of the battle.    

Dupree, Death Stinger Nine, and leader of Three Flight, saw to it that the damaged Stingray didn’t make it clear.    

But the bombers were approaching torpedo range.    

“Three Flight, get on the torpedo bombers! We can handle the rest of these bugs!” Pierce called.    

“On it, Lead. Ten, Eleven, and Twelve, you’re with me! Let’s go!” Dupree shouted.    

The number of Skate clusters had been reduced to two…but it was too late. Seven torpedoes shot away from the two Skates and five Manta Bombers, streaking towards the target.    

“One Flight, on the torpedoes now!” called Pierce, throwing his Wasp around into a tight bank.    

Even though he couldn’t lock his radar onto it, as it was too small, he spotted one of the torpedoes’ drive plumes and accelerated in.    

He was closing ever so slowly on the torpedo… it was so painfully slowly, and the Agincourt was getting awfully close…    

He pulled his trigger. He missed with his first and second salvoes, but the third hit the torpedo square on.    

The explosion threw his Wasp out of control, bringing his momentum to a complete stop… except for the spinning.    

The Wasps were able to pick off two more torpedoes.


Aboard TCS Maribel; Bridge
Same Time

“Vampire! Vampire! We have incoming warheads locked onto us!” called the sensor officer.    

“Weapons free, clear to engage!” piped Lieutenant Commander Yolanda Zavala.    

The Maribel was between the Yorktown and the hostiles at the moment, her missile batteries ready to fire, along with her laser turrets.    

In the forward missile battery, automation slid two modified Spiculum IR missiles onto the launch rails.    

“Launch commit!” called the weapons officer.    

Maribel’s sensors blasted out at full power, locking onto the incoming torpedo. The dorsal and ventral missile launchers rotated in space. The dorsal launched its two missiles first, while the second launcher withheld its missiles in the event that the first salvo missed.    

Five seconds later, the call came down: “Splash one!”    

Immediately, the radar detected another torpedo, heading directly for the Agincourt, while the remaining two were heading for Yorktown. Stasheff engaged those two, along with the carrier.    

That left one torpedo to knock down for the Maribel.    

“Birds away!” the weapons officer called.    

Zavala watched as the two Spiculum IRs streaked away, leaving gray-white smoke trails.    

Agincourt was turning so as to bring the maximum number of her dual laser turrets to bear on the torpedo, but, in doing so, was presenting a larger target.    

One IR missile missed. The other zoomed in on the reflection point of the pencil-thin point of energy being delivered by the Maribel’s missile systems…    

… And scored a kill. The torpedo was blown into three chunks before it went off, but the Agincourt was fine.    

Stasheff, meanwhile, had knocked down one of the targets, but suffered a launch failure on one of her missiles…which left one torpedo, headed for the Yorktown.    

“Slave our launchers to Yorktown’s fire control systems! Get those birds out now!” Zavala called out.    

Two more missiles streaked off the pylons, while Yorktown’s dual laser turrets opened fire.    

It was a foot race between two missiles. The Maribel’s weapons closing ever so slowly, the range to the Yorktown closing quickly…    

And then, Yorktown got a hit.    

With a flash, the Nephilim torpedo detonated. Luckily, Yorktown’s shields were still up, but the blast was still a powerful one.


Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Bridge
Same Time

Kennedy was thrown to the deck as a green-white flare erupted near the carrier’s starboard-side engines.    

Consoles blew out on the bridge. Piping ruptured, sending steam and smoke everywhere. The acrid stench of burned electronics and circuit boards filled the air.    

The torpedo detonation overloaded the starboard-side shielding, and the hull took some of the damage.    

Two of the dual laser turrets were breached, sucking their crews out into space, and the starboard-side engines took severe damage, slowing the Yorktown and causing her to begin a turn to starboard.    

Ramirez held onto his chair. “Damage control teams, make reports to the bridge! Helm, get us back on course!” He said, seeing the starfield around them shift to the left.    

The helmsman struggled with his controls, overriding the computer’s control of engine output and taking manual control.    

“Sir, starboard engines heavily damaged! I’ve gotta take them off the line!” he called.    

“Engineering reports starboard-side engines showing heavy damage! Chief engineer recommends a shutdown until repair teams have a chance to see how bad it is!” said the starboard side talker.    

“Hull breach, Deck four, frames one-four-seven through one-five-two, sections four through six!” the portside talker added.    

“Seal off the affected sections! Helm, can you keep us on course if we shut down the starboard-side engines?” Ramirez called.    

“Sir, I can barely keep her on course as it is! If we shut down, I’m going to have to pull power back on the port engines to keep us from running around in circles!” the helmsman replied over the sounds of men running for valves, fire equipment, and damage reports being relayed.    

“Then do it!” Ramirez called. “Admiral, I recommend you transfer your flag to the Agincourt -- ”    

“Balls to that! Get the damage under control, captain, and have the screen make sure we don’t have any more problems coming through!” Kennedy called, wishing he could help with the damage control teams…wishing he could do something, rather than stand around.    

“Aye aye, sir!” Ramirez called.    

“Casualty reports coming in… seven dead, twenty-nine wounded, four critical!” the portside talker called out.    

“Engineering reports flash fires, starboard, deck four, aft of frame one-four-four, section six!” reported the starboard talker. “Fire is under control!”    

“What about the flight deck?! Any damage to the arresting or launching gear?” Ramirez called.    

“Coming in now, sir… structural to frames one-four-eight and one-four-nine, starboard side. Damage control teams effecting repairs. They should be completed in forty-five minutes,” the port talker called.    

Ramirez let out a breath. That was good news, anyhow. It didn’t sound like they’d have trouble launching or landing --    

-- And at that moment, Ramirez and Kennedy both remembered the incoming enemy capital ships.    

“Signal Agincourt to engage the enemy capital forces now! Have Maribel provide support, while Stasheff stands by to assist us!”    

Fortunately, while all of this was going on, the Nephilim torpedo strike had been all but obliterated, at the cost of two more Wasps, which had literally fought themselves to death, never faltering despite the damage that had been inflicted upon the fighters.    

Now it became, in earnest, a slugging match.


Aboard TCS Agincourt (CAA-21); Bridge
Same Time 

“Sir, signal from flag: Engage enemy capital units!” called the portside talker.    

“Helm, all ahead flank. Gunnery Control, Bridge. I want solutions on that destroyer before she can get torpedoes off on us!” Called Captain Mike Duvall.    

He’d gone to war college specifically for this circumstance… and now, it was the payoff.    

He kept his rage at seeing the Yorktown defiled carefully under control, lest it should affect his judgment in ways he couldn’t afford.    

“Bridge, Gunnery. Request permission to fire with forward batteries,” replied Lieutenant Commander Douglas Browning.    

“You may commence fire, Commander. Send them to hell,” Duvall said.    

In the cavernous compartment that had been given control of the Agincourt’s primary armament, her four triple turrets, one of heavy plasma guns and the other three of heavy particle cannons, it was silent as a tomb.    

“Turret one ready in all aspects!” called the technician in charge of communicating with that turret.    

“Turret two ready in all aspects!” another man called a moment alter.    

“Commence fire, ranging salvo!” Browning called.    

The entire Plunkett-class artillery cruiser shuddered as she opened fire, the recoil from her forward triple heavy particle cannon followed a second later by the recoil from "Big Mother," as it was called: Agincourt’s triple heavy plasma cannon turret.    

The energy beams lanced out… and the particle cannon scored a direct hit. The Orca shuddered under the impacts to her shields, then opened fire with its own main battery, the turrets sending fire pouring back at the Agincourt.    

Those hits shook the Agincourt as her own shields took the maser hits, flaring all over.    

“Turret one has range!” called the fire control officer.    

“Go to rapid fire with turret one,” Browning replied.    

“Turret two is unable to hit the target! Request a twenty-degree course alteration to starboard!” Called the fire control officer shortly.    

Browning took the handset from the bulkhead even as the Agincourt shook beneath him. “Bridge, Gunnery Control.”    

“Bridge, Duvall here.”    

“Captain, I need a twenty-degree course change to starboard. Do that and I think we can hit with all turrets. Until that happens, turret two is masked,” Browning said.    

“Understood. Stand by,” Duvall replied.    

“All guns, check fire and stand by for maneuvering!” Browning called.    

Slowly, ponderously, the Agincourt came around to starboard.    

“Turrets two, three, and four able to bear!” the fire control officer called.    

“Turret three, ready for firing, all aspects," came the call.    

“Turret four, ready for firing in all aspects!” it was echoed.    

Browning took a breath. “Commence ranging fire, all turrets!”    

This time, the cruiser staggered in space as her massive guns fired, the recoil slowing the cruiser measurably for a period of two seconds.    

The Orca took the entire salvo from turret one, one of the plasma bursts from turret two, turret three managed two hits, and turret four got a single hit.    

“Turret one on!”    

“Two on!”    

“Three on!”    

“Go to rapid fire, turrets one, two, and three!” Browning called.    

“Four on!” came the belated call.    

“Rapid fire, turret four!”    

Now the guns fired as quickly as possible, not waiting to see what needed to be adjusted in the fire control solutions.    

The Orca and two Barracudas closed with the Agincourt, not disdaining a close-combat duel, their combined firepower being brought to bear against the forward shields of the Agincourt.    

To this duel, the Maribel added her far-from-negligible firepower, sending torpedoes streaking across space from her launchers, firing away with her laser cannons.    

The leading corvette imploded as it fired off a final volley, caught in a crossfire between the Maribel and the number three turret of the Agincourt.    

The artillery cruiser shuddered as the Orca brought its broadside to bear, and its launchers rippled off a trio of torpedoes.    

“Vampire! Vampire! Incoming torpedoes!” called the sensor officer.    

“Weapons free! Splash those torps!” Browning called.    

The dual laser cannons of the Agincourt filled space with coherent light, their paths crisscrossing space as Agincourt fired her main guns again, almost penetrating the Orca’s shields with this volley.    

Two of the three torpedoes were knocked down, but the third impacted.    

Browning managed to stay standing by holding onto an overhead stanchion, and those seated were alright, clinging to their consoles, but two of the standing personnel were thrown against the bulkhead and to the deck. One screamed as a crunch announced a broken bone in one limb or another.    

On the bridge, Duvall regained his feet. “Damage Central, Bridge. Relay all damage control reports to the bridge immediately.” He called.    

“Damage to frames five through twelve, portside! Hull breach in said sections! Gunnery Control reports turret two has checked fire to assess possible structural damage! Forward shielding down to twenty percent!” the port talker called.    

“Helmsman? Any problems?” Duvall called.    

“No sir! No maneuvering problems as of yet!” the helmsman replied.    

In response, a second and third Barracuda were blown to pieces by Maribel’s torpedoes. The Orca retaliated by opening fire on the Maribel, running directly between the two Confederation capital ships.    

The few interceptors with weapons remaining made passes on the destroyer, knocking out three of her turrets, allowing the Maribel to dodge the worst of the damage. This was fortunate as the little Murphy-class destroyer was significantly outgunned by the enormous Nephilim ship.    

In Gunnery Control, Browning was checking for damage.

“Fire control?” he called out.    

“We’ve got some shorts in the system, but we’re still operational, sir!” said the fire control technician.    

“Turret two reports number three gun out of action due to shock damage. Guns one and two operational!” came the call.

“Resume firing, turret two!” Browning replied.    

The remaining two Nephilim corvettes made a charge for the Yorktown herself while the Orca attempted to hold the escorts at bay.    

What the corvettes hadn’t counted upon was the Stasheff and her volley of torpedoes, which blew one corvette to pieces. But one corvette survived and opened fire on the Stasheff, whose own laser turrets and missile launchers fired back, her crew determined not to let anybody through to the already-damaged Yorktown.    

The duel between the Agincourt, Maribel, and the Orca reached a frenzied pitch when Maribel launched torpedoes, followed by the Orca. This time, however, the point defenses on the cruiser managed to knock the torpedoes down before they could hit. The resulting fireball struck the Agincourt’s shields, penetrated, and blew apart four of her dual laser turrets, and scorched the paint a third of the way down the hull, but other than that did nothing more.    

The torpedoes from the Maribel, however, knocked out the Orca’s propulsion systems, bringing her to a dead stop between the two Confed ships.    

Salvo after salvo flashed from the Agincourt’s main battery, slamming into and through the shielding of the damaged Nephilim ship, punching holes in the hull that reached into the innards of the ship, throwing debris out as the atmosphere in those sections vented, sucking out crew and contents of what had been the compartments that the shots destroyed.    

A particularly vicious volley from the Agincourt’s number four turret opened the bridge of the alien ship to the cold, unforgiving vacuum, effectively destroying the enemy command structure. The destroyer drifted, out of control, towards the Yorktown…until a shot from the Agincourt punched through the reactor casing.    

With a tremendous flash, the reactor ruptured, and the destroyer began to crumble as the radiation literally melted the ship from within. Finally, the Nephilim torpedo storage area came under the radiation bombardment, and the entire magazine erupted, tearing the ship in half, hurling chunks of it in all directions.    

But there was still one ship left.


Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Bridge
Same Time

“All guns, bear on the corvette and open fire,” Ramirez spoke, a strange sensation coming upon him.

Typically, a carrier wasn’t called upon to enter ship-to-ship duels. They were too valuable and ill-suited to such punishments, but that wasn’t the case this time. Yorktown was fighting for her own survival, and that of Stasheff. The commander of the Nephilim corvette had proven unusually adept at maneuvering his ship, dodging most of the return fire from Stasheff thanks to his maneuverability. Half his forward armaments had been taken out, but this commander was unusually canny…and was heading directly for the Yorktown, though Stasheff was buying time with her maneuvers.    

The dual laser turrets of the Yorktown blasted out, focusing on the enemy corvette with a single-minded intensity. Ramirez was glad his gunners had drilled repeatedly in intercepting torpedoes, as this corvette would be no problem to hit. The problem was that the dual laser cannons weren’t the most powerful weapons ever devised by Confed, although they were the standard weaponry on most vessels.    

Round after round flashed into the void, and finally, the corvette started taking hits… but it was clear of the Stasheff.    

“Helm, bring us about so that we have maximum firepower to bear on the target!” Ramirez called.    

Kennedy watched as the Yorktown came slowly around, showing herself to be damaged… as if the enormous black streak and the opened hull compartments on the starboard side of the ship didn’t point that out plainly enough.    

And still, the corvette kept coming.    

“He’s on a collision course!” called the bridge sensor officer.    

“Vector the fighters onto that damned thing! I want everything we’ve got on that corvette, now! Helm, I want all the speed you can give me!” Ramirez called.    

Unfortunately, the Yorktown’s maximum speed was ninety KPS at the moment, due to the loss of a third of her engine power.         

Ramirez could actually feel the Yorktown shudder as she attempted to accelerate past her current velocity of sixty KPS. The helmsman worked the engines manually, sweat beading on his brow as he attempted to steer the ailing carrier clear of the oncoming corvette.    

Closer and closer the corvette came, growing larger and larger from the perspective of the carrier’s bridge crew.    

“Sound collision," Ramirez called, then grabbed the overhead stanchion…    

… and with an enormous explosion, the corvette erupted as the Stasheff put a pair of torpedoes into it.    

The Yorktown was buffeted by the blast wave, but nothing more, luckily enough for those working in the sections breached to space. While their vacuum suits were proof against vacuum, the heat of an antimatter explosion or the forces released by the collision of two ships would’ve killed them, and, more than likely, Yorktown’s entire complement.    

Kennedy let out an explosive sigh of relief. “That was close.”    

Ramirez whistled in a low tone. “Too close.”    

“What are our fighters’ statuses?” Kennedy asked.    

“They’re all coming up on bingo fuel levels. We’re diverting them to Stasheff and Agincourt for the moment while we get those frames under the flight deck shored up and replaced,” came the reply.    

“Good. Order Agincourt and Maribel to close in again. I want the ability to lay down enough flak that we can keep anything away from ourselves until the wing gets back,” Kennedy called.    

“Agincourt reports damage… she took a torpedo hit forward. One of her main guns is out of commission, and she’s got problems with her power systems, but it doesn’t look like she’s going to go down just yet,” called the starboard talker.    

“What about speed reductions?” Kennedy called.    

“She’s reporting she’s limited to three-quarters of her previous speed at maximum until the damage is repaired forward…and to do that, they need a drydock.” Called the talker.    

Kennedy slammed a fist into the bridge rail. Yorktown herself wasn’t in that great of shape, and was the limiting ship of the group, at least until the damage to her starboard engines could be repaired…    

It was going to be a long day.    

“Communications, prepare a drone," Kennedy said. "Send it to the Valeria force with a flash report on our status and that of the task force, and inform the admiral that we’ll be sending an update as soon as possible. Also send that the Tiamat assigned to us has been knocked out, and we’ll have an assessment of the remaining enemy group as soon as that’s over."

“Aye, sir,” came the muted reply.    

Yorktown was still in this thing. Battered and bruised though she was, the Waltzing Matilda would live to dance another day… if all else went as planned.