: “ Once More Unto the Breach ”

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean."

- Henry V, Act III, Scene 1



BWS Defiance
Nifelheim System
1300 Hours, 18 Feb 2681 (2681.049)

"Comms, contact the Valeria, and get me in touch with Admiral Hanton." As the contact was made, Commodore Jesus Riviera thought on his plan, whipped up on a moment's notice as he was reviewing the alien force's approach while awaiting contact, thankful he had been close enough to Avernus Station to quickly recover the Defiance crew on R&R first. 

Guess Hanton's last evaluation of me as a Confed officer was right, Riviera thought, I am a hot-headed son of a bitch. Damned if I'm going to hold back and let the bastards gut Michelle because we couldn't hold the line while sitting on our hands.

His attention was brought back to his job as the viewscreen came to life. "Admiral, apologies for the interruption. I know you're busy, so I'll keep this brief. Looking at the preliminary SWACS data, it looks like there's a big -- and growing bigger -- hole in the bugs' approach, namely the group designated Epsilon. It appears that they're in such a hurry to get us, they're more than happy to break up their strike force if it means shaving a few minutes off of getting their tentacles on us. The destroyers and corvettes are burning ahead of the carrier and its cruisers, leaving us with a chance to thin out their escorts, to make whacking the carrier easier."

"Taking those out those ships would certainly give our pilots and warships a golden opportunity to gut the Nephilim flagship. But the downside is that you'll be putting your group at considerable risk of being swarmed under by their fighters. It might be smarter to hold back till Valkyrie can join up with you."

"Abbey is a lot closer to the force than the rest of the fleet, and we have the speed to hit them hard and fast, as well as a flight deck not too far behind the 'vettes, all armed with a whole mess of torpedoes. 'Vettes aren't made for sitting in a defensive formation with slow capships, providing support that's just not in the design to provide." One of the secondary considerations of the ships of his task force, their expendability, is something Riviera would rather not bring up, especially not with his flagship charging into battle. "If you could part with a pair of Stalkers, the odds shift to being more favorable for the strike's success. We may not have Arrows for escort, but I don't intend to stick around long enough for that to be any more an issue than the usual risks of war."

"And as we've found out so often in this battle, the best defense is a good offense," the Admiral said, nodding. "The Stalkers will certainly even the odds, but you're still going to have a hell of a time dealing with their fighter cover. Their destroyers alone carry more fighters than Taskforce Abbey does." 

"With the Defiance nearby, we can cycle fighters faster to keep the pressure on the bugs until the rest of the strike catches up. Your people have taken to fast cycling in a crowded hangar pretty well considering the big flight decks they normally use. With the Stalkers, we can really throw a monkey wrench into the Nephilim's defense plan." 

"I see. Well, it still sounds incredibly risky, but then, what part of this battle plan doesn't? We didn't get where we are by playing it safe, and we won't win this battle by starting now. Very well, Commodore. Good luck and God speed." 

"Thank you, Admiral, and the same to you, too. Riviera out." Once the connection was terminated, he turned to the Captain. "You know, if you hadn't pointed out the Epsilon hole, you'd be sitting nice and safe under the guns of the Val's escorts," Riviera noted with a wry grin, "instead of charging out into harm's way, where there's a fair chance that we may not make it." 

"Commodore, to be honest I don't like sitting on my butt. Besides, we're not all that much more likely to attract attention on this blitz than if sitting next to a nice, fat, juicy fleet carrier at the center of the primary battle group opposing the bugs."

"You may have a point there. Comms, conference call in the ready room. Get the usual gang collected, stat." Riviera strode off the bridge, the Captain following a moment later after giving the bridge to his XO. 

Four minutes later, the last of the attendees, Colonel Reese, arrived. "I'm sorry about the delay, Commodore," he says after noticing that he's the last to arrive, even after the remote presences of the two corvette skippers. 

"Don't worry about it, Colonel. Let's get started, shall we?" Riviera launched directly into the plan of attack. "Bug group Epsilon is presenting us with a crack to stick in a chisel to chip away part of the wall coming at us. We are going to blitz their destroyers and corvettes, giving Admiral Hanton's ships the chance to hammer the heavier bug capships. In order to keep as much of our fighters out there as possible, the Defiance is going to be following closely behind our corvettes. We're going to be putting the practice earlier to work, fast-cycling the fighters to keep them in space and armed as much as possible. Primary focus for the bombers is the destroyers, while the Jags and what's left of the Intruders will go turret plinking. Jaguars to be loaded with some HARMs for the turrets, and the Vins will have their torpedo mounts rigged with Ski's impromptu missile racks, doubling as makeshift interceptors. Ryan, Donnovan, you'll be focusing on the corvettes, with a Stalker providing jamming capability. Their capship masers don't have the damage of heavy tachs and torps, so make use of those targeting computer upgrades we got a bit ago to engage their 'vettes." 

"Commodore, two corvettes against five of theirs?" Ryan asked dubiously. "And what if the carrier dumps its fighters to join the fray? I mean, the destroyers alone carry more fighter support than we have in this entire task force, even with the loaners from the Val and Freedom." 

"Your guns and torps can engage multiple targets, the four masers that comprise the armament of their corvettes can't. As for the fighters, between that resupply the other day combined and the no-cross line we're drawing in this system, we've been given the go-ahead to spend missiles liberally. First strike will be a wall of FFs from the Vins to thin out the fighter opposition. After the rest of the fighters launch, the Vins will come back for another load of missiles, to act as interceptors so our more capable fighters aren't tied down with BARCAP duties. The fighters will be assisted by another Stalker providing jamming support." 

"Still, that's a lot of risk you're asking us to take, sir." 

"Yes, it's a risk, just like any other aspect of war. I'm not asking you to take any more of a risk than I am, with the Defiance being close enough to catch crap from the bugs, as well. It's a risk that I think is worth taking. We're not suited for defensive warfare, and with the numbers as they are we can't pretend that we are. The Union of Border Worlds can't survive if we die trying to be what we're not, namely a defensive force. They've come this far, BUT THEY WILL NOT GO ANY FARTHER!" 

You're playing awfully freely with my pilots, Reese thought. "Sir, if the fast cycling is what you're relying on, then there may be problems. The practice we did was with only a few fighters, not the entire flight wing. I also share Commander Ryan's concerns regarding the numbers, ECM support aside." 

"Are you saying your pilots can't hack it, Colonel?" Riviera asked coldly. "I know the deck crew can." 

Reese sat up stiffly. "We'll do our part, Commodore. I'm saying it may not be enough to pull off this minor miracle you're asking us to perform." How dare you question the ability of the pilots under my command, he thinks to himself. What the hell have you done to deserve a carrier task force and my flight wing, beyond being in the right place at the right time? 

The Defiance's captain cleared his throat. "Colonel, I have faith in your pilots, and our crews. If we fail here, it won't be from a lack of effort, on everyone's part. If I may be so bold, I recommend we get started on getting everything ready for our stand against our enemy, the Nephilim," instead of each other, he added silently. 

"Yes, of course, Captain. Let's get to it, people. Dismissed." Commodore Riviera stepped out of the small room and walked to the bridge with a quick, brisk stride. 

As Reese got up to leave, Captain Bernard signaled for him to stay a moment. "Colonel, I know the word on the deck isn't exactly complimentary of the Commodore, but now really isn't the time for cross-service rivalries." 

"Pardon, Captain?" the WC asked, appearing surprised by the comment. 

Bernard raised his eyebrows. "The old man isn't as far behind the power curve as you may think, Jack. I've heard the whisperings." 

"It's not about services, sir. I treat your people better than my own, at times. It's about the commodore -- permission to speak freely, sir?" he asked, continuing after Bernard nodded his assent. "Since he joined us in Loki, he's managed to rub almost everyone the wrong way, in one manner or another. To be honest I'm not entirely sure why you weren't given the star instead of him. You've been a carrier captain since before he got his butter bars." 

"Because I don't want that star, Jack. It's been offered before, but I turned it down. Me, I'm happy just being the best carrier captain I can be. The big things like task forces, fleets, and so forth are beyond my desires. Riviera's a hard charger, his tendency to rub people the wrong way aside. The politicians like that in a line officer." 

"I guess they do," Reese admitted, his tone hinting at scorn for those very same politicians. "If there's nothing else, Captain...?" 

"No, that's all. G'won and get your people ready. We've got a long hard road ahead of us." 

"Nothing new there, skipper. I think it's written into the charter for the Border Worlds somewhere." 

"It probably is," Bernard agreed. "Good luck, and watch your back, Jack."


Pilot's Ready Room, BWS Defiance
Seven minutes later

"Okay, everyone, now's the moment of truth. We were just given the go-ahead for an all-out blitz of the escorts of the group designated Epsilon by the Valeria's SWACS crew. As you can see, they're starting to spread out, and don't seem to be waiting for their heavy hitters. Their loss, and our gain. The Golden Archers, designated Artemis wing for this mission, will be launching first, loaded with Friend or Foe missiles on Ski's jury-rigged racks instead of torps. The Archers will go to Nav 1, and salvo-fire all of their missiles. Once their racks are empty, return to the Defiance. You'll get another Pilum loadout, which you'll use to cover the Defiance's ass while the fighters are out mixing it up with the bugs." 

Reese paused for reaction, getting raised eyebrows from the CO of the Golden Archers squad, and worried looks from four of the five pilots scraped up from parts probably best left unknown. The only exception was a pilot going by the callsign of "Machine," reputedly due to his complete lack of emotions, on duty or off. 

"Bubbles, Pinhead, you two go after destroyer Chimera's turrets, as Gryphon Wing. Zeus and Goober, you're Hector, and get to pull destroyer Grendel's teeth. Sluggy, Freelancer, you're skinning Mr. Scylla, as Beowulf. Everyone tasked with defanging the Orcas will have a loadout half HARMs, and half ImRecs." 

Though not necessarily the groupings she would make, Lane saw nothing obviously wrong with the assignments. He did do some homework after all, she thought. 

After a glance at the Lt. Col. results in only a slight, barely perceptible nod from the Dragon Riders' CO, Reese continued. "Wing Belerophon, which consists of the rest of the Jaguars, will have a simple job," he says dryly, "we just provide top cover for everyone, including Thor wing, the Hell Knights, who'll be splitting up into three pairs for bombing runs on the destroyers, and the Stalkers on loan from the Valeria to help muddy the waters a little, going under the wing designation of Eris. Pauper, your call on how to split the Knights, but those destroyers _must_ go away for this to work." 

"As soon as the corvettes and destroyers are whacked, everyone comes back to the carrier, and the task force high-tails it out of the area, before the cruisers can get in, and hopefully before the carrier's flight wing can jump into the fray in full. That means we have to hit them fast and hard, and do it right. There's no points for second place." 

"Any questions? Yes, Goofball?" Caesar asked, inwardly cringing at the sight of the raised hand of the class clown of the Defiance's flight wing. 

"Since when did you get the time to read up on all that mythology stuff?" 

"That's what college is for, Goof. That's why I'm the boss, and you're a cabin boy," Reese replied dryly as the wing's joker came under a hail of wadded up paper from the other pilots. "Any serious questions? No? Then let's do it."


Flight deck, BWS Defiance
Nine minutes later

In spite of the oncoming hordes, the flight deck crew worked with their usual efficiency as they got the last of the strike package birds out in space. The possibility of dying tended to focus the mind quite well on one's tasks. 

That focus was mirrored by the last of the Avenger flight crews, so much so that they barely noticed the sudden, punishing acceleration of a carrier catapult launch. The last sight the deck crew saw of the bombers was their peeling off to form up for the assault.


Nifelheim System
Nav Point One
Four minutes later

"Artemis Wing, arm your missiles, full salvo. Launch on my mark." After the confirmations came back to him, Artemis Wing's acting CO armed his own missiles. "On my mark, empty your racks, just like we planned. Five, four, three, two, one, MARK! Missiles away!" Blockhead jabs his thumb on the missile button repeatedly, until the weapon VDU reads no more missiles on the racks, including the makeshift missile racks hanging off of the torpedo hardpoints. 

Eighty-one IFF missiles leap from the launch rails of the seven Vindicators, reaching out for the enemy fleet as the Vindicators turned back for a reload. Two of the pilots provided colorful commentary on the heritage of those involved with their equipment, with a combined total of three misfires on their racks. 

"Mother's going to love that," Artemis Lead mumbled after the problem was reported. To the wing, he said "romeo-tango-bravo," using the phonetic alphabet for RTB, Return To Base. 


Nifelheim System, near Epsilon Group

"All craft, break and attack!" With those five words, the twenty-four fighters and bombers of the Defiance's flight wing, minus the Vindicators waiting to land to re-arm, leapt into action, wing leaders assigning targets to their pilots on separate channels.

The approaching Nephilim horde withered under the barrage of IFF missiles. Even with their notoriously poor tracking, a swarm of 81 Pilums was bound to get someone's attention. Five Morays and a Manta vaporized instantly under the assault, and many more craft were damaged, with all survivors scattering as the missiles that didn't hit come about for another go at the opposition.

As he engaged a Manta, an odd thought, though somehow vaguely familiar, crossed Reese's mind: once again into the purifying fire.


Flight Deck, BWS Defiance
Five minutes later

"Standby! Artemis Wing is coming back for their next load, two ships with hangfires. Deck crew stand ready!" Burton barked out the orders with the precision and force of a drill sergeant over the deck intercom, watching everything with a careful eye from PriFli, or Primary Flight Control, from where the launch and recovery activities were observed. 

One after the other, all seven Vindicators touched down, with the only thing amiss being some scraped paint on the tail assemblies of two of the ships, one of which still had two live warheads mounted. 

"Gabby, watch your approach next time," the Deck Boss said calmly to one of the pilots who bumped on approach. "If you had blown up that would've probably put us out of action for at least half an hour, if not longer." Although Burton's voice never rose above a conversational volume, to everyone she was in sight of it was understood that her boiling fury at such a potentially fatal mistake was being kept firmly in check. 

Seven minutes after the last Vindicator's wheels touched the deck, Artemis Lead's ship was being hooked up to the catapult, all seven of the light bombers with their impromptu missile interceptor loads. "Let's make this count, ladies. We ain't getting do-overs here, and it's a long walk home. And for God's sake watch out for our turrets. Remember, friendly fire, isn't." 


Nifelheim System, near Epsilon Group

Fighters, both the colorful craft of the Border Worlds and the sinister, dark forms of the Nephilim ships, swirl in the darkness, lit by streams of light. 

"Goddammit, Goober, watch your fire!" the hulking Greek -- almost too big to fit in a cockpit -- known as Zeus for obvious reasons yelled. "The turrets are the target, not your fucking wingman!" 

"I was wa..." The rest of his sentence is cut off as the pilot was caught in a crossfire between the turret masers and a Nephilim fighter's plasma bolts. 

"Holy shit, that's a Devil Ray, not a Manta! Belerophon, this is Zeus. We've got a Devil here! Fuck, two of them! Hector needs assistance, now!" Forgetting the Orca for a moment, he toggles his Spiculums as his nose pitches up, and unloads a missile into each of the fighters, barely remembering to wait for lock before loosing the weapons. The eerie raindrops of Nephilim countermeasures eject from the fighters, but they haven't the distance for the decoys to make a difference. The missiles plow into the rear sections of the two fighters, weakening their rear shield quadrant for the afterburning Jaguars flown by Caesar and Wizardess, trying to catch the fleeing fighters, leaving the rest of Belerophon Wing to provide cover. 

Nearby, the two human corvettes charged their Nephilim counterparts, streaks of crimson spewing from the barrels of their heavy tachyon cannons as they waited for the seemingly elusive torpedo lock while their covering fighters struggled to keep the Halseys alive to deliver their payloads. 


BWS Niven

"Any time you're ready, Jeff..." Ryan said through clenched teeth as the Niven fought through to torpedo the incoming Barracudas. 

"Oh, why didn't you say so?" was Tsu's sarcastic reply. "Torpedoes away!" he called after jabbing the firing button, sending a Lance to each of the two targets they were tasked with. 

Another two torps launched from the Halsey a split second later, and both corvettes engaged the last alien corvette with their tachyon cannons, pitching up to avoid ramming the Barracudas. 

A string of five blinding blossoms of light signaled the ends of the Barracudas, the aliens unable to detect the incoming torpedoes through the jamming provided by the Stalker accompanying the Halseys. 

"Gimme an Orca bridge to target, we've still got bad guys left." 

"Checking. Fuck, we've got a problem." Ignoring the unspoken question in Ryan's look, Winters changed frequencies. "Defiance, Niven. I read a dozen bombers heading your way, and everyone here's busy, unable to intercept. I also read Squids launching from the Neph carrier. Looks like one of the bugs got a squeal through the Stalker jamming." 

"Roger, Niven," came the scratchy reply. "Defiance out."


Bridge, BWS Defiance

"Targets acquired, sir!" the sensor tech reported. "Mantas are forty thousand klicks out and closing, squids over ninety thousand klicks." 

"PriFli, Bridge. Status report on Artemis." 

"Last one off the deck, all good shots, Commodore. Now if you'll excuse me, we've got more fighters coming back. PriFli out." The comm link from PriFli goes dead. 

"That's just fucking great. Nagumo, Part Two," Riviera muttered from the flag chair, the rest of his commentary lost to a quiet mumble.


Thor Wing
Approaching the Orcas

"Thor Wing, target assignments. Thunder target bridge, I target engines on Chimera. Booger gets bridge, Hopalong gets engines on Grendel. Salamander gets bridge, Drake gets engines on Scylla. Pauper out." 

"Chatty as ever," Thunder muttered to himself, cycling targets to lock up Chimera's bridge. 


Artemis Lead

"Artemis Wing, stay passive, and take your feed from the Defiance's sensors. Head to the nav point I'm uploading now. Fire your Pilums when they get to ten thousand from Nav Alpha, then go active. They're on the edge of Stalker coverage, so their info will be sketchy as long as we stay quiet till they can't flee." Yeah, like they can't outrun these decrepit old rustbuckets, Blockhead commented mentally.


Flight Deck, BWS Defiance
Five minutes later

"Double Deuce and Weezul, Defiance. Hold your position, we can't recover you before the bugs get here." 

"Roger, Defiance. Holding position." Weezul clicked off the comm and glanced at her status indicators. "This is not good," she muttered. "No missiles, armor just about gone, and IFF go... shit!" The Jaguar pilot quickly punched her comm unit up again. "Defiance, Weezul, I need to land now, my IFF transmitter is gone. Those Pilums on the Vins will waste me." 

"Shit," Mother spat, then activating the comm system. "Make it snappy, Weezul. You have two minutes. Land manually, we can't take time on ALS." 

"Roger, Defiance. Weezul out." Now's a hell of a time to have to learn manual landing on a postage stamp, she thought crossly while repositioning for the landing approach. 

"Artemis Wing, Defiance. Hold your fire, Weezul's got a damaged IFF transmitter. Mother out."


Bridge, BWS Defiance

"Comms, get me a line to Reese," Riviera ordered."Caesar, Defiance. Status report," he said after the channel to Reese's fighter is opened. 

"Busy, Defiance. Starting to get the leading edge of Squid company, plus a Devil Ray still alive, though it ran off to lick its wounds. Other opposition is down to about half not counting the bombers, but we've lost some, too. Three Jags and an Intruder down plus the two ships waiting to gas up. Caesar out," he finished, killing the comm circuit as he turned to engage one of the two remaining Mantas. As if I have time to give reports, he thought in disgust. 

"The sunovabitch hung up on me," he grumbled, then activated the comm link to the CIC, where the Captain was stationed. "Captain Bernard, remind me when this is over we need to have a chat with Colonel Reese." 

"Yessir." I'll do no such thing if I can avoid it, Bernard thought to himself. The boy has every right to tell an REMF to go to hell, in the middle of battle. 


Flight Deck, BWS Defiance 

"Defiance, Weazul, on final now." C'mon, Sally, hold together just a minute longer. Get on the deck and I'll make sure you get the whole nine yards of repairs. 

"Almost there... SHIT!" she screamed as the port wing pitch thrusters fired suddenly, driving the Jaguar at the deck. The nose gear snapped violently, sparks flying as the fighter's nose scraped along the runway. The misfiring thrusters exploded, the relative lack of fuel the only thing saving the ship from being destroyed in an even larger explosion. 

Sirens wailed as the deck intercom called the emergency response teams into action. "Fire on the flight deck! Fire on the flight deck!" 

Without waiting for further instruction or explosions, the fire teams rushed in, smothering the wounded craft with a special foam designed to remove access to oxygen from potential fire sources.


Nav Alpha

"Artemis Wing, Defiance. Weazul is down... more or less. Weapons free. I say again, weapons free. Get those bombers!" 

"Roger, Defiance," Blockhead replied, then switched to the wing channel. "You heard the man, Artemis wing. Let'em rip! Missiles away!" 

The other six Vindicators let loose with their missile loads barely half a second after the first of Artemis Lead's missiles left the launch rails, sending all 84 Pilums streaking towards the oncoming alien strike force. 

Moments later, the swarm of warheads took its toll on the incoming Mantas in spite of their last-minute release of decoys, destroying seven of the bombers outright and wounding three of them. 

"Artemis Wing, get the gimps then worry about the fresh guys," Artemis Lead ordered, switching to Stormfires as he shifted gun power to shields and engines, then turned to engage the closest of the wounded Nephilim ships. 

"Death comes for you, human!" 

"But you first, roach," Gabby replied as he ripprf into one of the wounded Mantas with Tachyons, sending chunks of the bomber's hull flying before it exploded under the assault. 

"Got one lining up on the bridge, get him!" 

Two of the Vindicators turned to engage the Manta, but their speed kept them from closing until after the alien torpedo was launched. 

The last Intruder lit his afterburners, trying to intercept the torp while the Vindicators took care of the Manta. "Almost... the..." was the last heard from the Intruder as the torpedo strikes, the detonation destroying the craft along with the bridge.


CIC, BWS Defiance

The ship shuddered with the impact on the bridge and more of the damage readout turned red. 

"Bridge, come in! Bridge!" a comm tech desperately called, only to be cut off by Bernard. 

"They're gone," he said simply, the building fury hidden behind a carefully controlled voice. "Put me through to Reece." 

"Caesar, Defiance. Bridge is gone, and the Commodore with it. Bernard assuming command of Abbey. Status report." 

"Defiance, Caesar. Still busy, sir, but not as much. Last destroyer is... down!" he noted, the report punctuated by a burst of static as the Orca's antimatter containment field fails. 

"All craft, this is Defiance. Return to base, we're getting the hell out of here. Disengage now, we can't wait for stragglers! Light your burners if you have to, there's plenty of gas for later. Defiance out." 

"Comm, open a channel to the Valeria." 

"Sir, secondary laser link to the Valeria is the best I can do, and that's iffy. The hit on the bridge damaged our main transmitter." 

"It'll have to do, open it." After the change was made, Bernard jumped right to the point. "Valeria, Defiance. Epsilon is down, Abbey is high-tailing it out of Dodge with our tail between our legs as soon as we recover our heavies. We need interceptor assistance pronto, for the Squids looking to get us after we kicked the bugs in the crotch. Defiance out." 

"Nav, plot a course back to the Valeria, and transmit to our friends. Wait for my word to engage, let's get our birds back first."


CIC, BWS Defiance
10 minutes later

"CIC, PriFli. Last bird is down, let's get the hell out of Dodge! Uh, sir." 

"PriFli, CIC. That's our intention. Out." Bernard closed the channel, and signaled to the on duty Comm Tech to open one to the corvettes. "Abbey, Bernard. Engage the plotted course, scoops closed. We can tank up after regrouping with Valkyrie." 

Turning towards the opening door, Bernard gave Reese a nod. "You did good, with what we had. What's the score?" 

"Us or them?" was the immediate reply. "We're down all Intruders, pilots never found, lost Herk's Vindicator, but Blockhead snagged the pods before landing so we still have all our Vin crews. We lost Drake completely, his ship got gangbanged on the egress from the Orca strike, not even matchsticks remaining. Hopalong's Avenger also bit it, they only found his turret gunner before we had to skedaddle, and he's in sickbay for decompression injuries. The Jaguars... well, it's a mess, they were still counting up when I left the ready room. We're pretty much dead in the water as a viable carrier wing, in short. Minor good news, neither of the Stalkers even got their shields tickled, so the Admiral gets her toys back. Well, most of them... the Dragon Riders took the brunt of the casualties, but that's mostly because there was more of them than Defiance Jag pilots. Bubbles is banged up from a rough landing, but she survived." 

"And them...?" 

"Haven't a clue, sir, but at a guess based on incomplete data we bagged over forty, including a Devil Ray. The other DR got away, but it's going to be in the body and fender shop for a good while. Gotta tally up gun camera footage to get the final score, though... and I think your Intel weenie might get a look at that first," he added, sighting the approaching Lieutenant. 

Bernard turned towards Hamner and nodded to acknowledge the Lieutenant’s salute. "You have some good news, hopefully..." 

"I'm afraid it's just a preliminary tally on bug kills, Sir. They haven't decided to go home. Five Barracudas, three Orcas, 29 Morays, 17 Mantas, and one Devil Ray. One Moray and one Devil Ray ran off to lick their wounds, and didn't return to the engagement zone before we made ourselves scarce. Those Squids coming up our ass are all kinds of pissed, from what little we can get from intercepts, but if they're talking back to their base it's by way of a directional link to which we can't listen. That's all we have right now, I'll let you know as soon as we find anything else out." 

"Very well. Dismissed, Mr. Hamner." 

"If there's nothing else, Captain, I'd like to get back to my pilots. We lost a lot of good people today, I don't think we can afford any psych losses." 

"That's all for now, Jack."