: “ End of the Spiral ”



114th "White Hopes"

F/A-105A Tigershark 101; Gamma Lead
2320 Hours (CST)

"101, I am clear!" he got a clean start. The sensation of the catapult launch vanished and Major Burdock pushed the throttle to standard mil power aiming for the staging area. He got off at number eight behind Kraut, Trebek, Feuerhexe, Lollapalooza, Wise Guy, Line Man and Django after 2Pack had backed off at last just before his and Burdock's fighter would have crashed into each other on the flightdeck. It had gotten quite a game within and between the two Tigershark squadrons, that whoever was ready to launch and at the catapult would launch there and then.
First come, first served, despite rank or squadron assignment.

"Whoo-hooo!" "2Pack" Dukovski celebrating the catapult start's adrenalin kick got clear.

"Cut the crap and form up, Mark!" Burdock ordered him.

"You having a bad day or what?" retorted Dukovski.

Burdock chose to remain silent. It's not as if there has been any good days... but just the same, this day better be a good day. C'mon, it's just gotta be!

"It is essential that the bug's fighters escort is put under immediate stress right from the start to force the Orcas out to assist. In order to achieve this each pilot has one missile free, but really make this one count," Wing Commander Samuel Richard pointed out.

Despite the re-supply and even with the additional one through Burdock's family connection with East-West Industries all pilots were instructed to use missiles carefully. At least in the opening battles of this supposed and much hoped for last stand. This campaign had asked for dearly much so far and even though Nifelheim was foreseen as stage for the endgame right from the start, it had been expected to end the fighting before here several occasions earlier already. Yet the Nephilim had -- apparently with ease -- thrown one battle group after another at them. Command did not want to take any chances. Not as they had come so far.

With ConFleet HQ not having formally restricted the supply or usage of ammunition and missiles -- only that of other fleets, it had come down to the usual logistical problems of waging a war this big with the ability to ship those to the frontline both in time and in sufficient quantities. Winning a war had also for the very many cases been mastering the logistics it required. And not a few wars had been lost because of failure to do so.

"All right folks, you've all heard what stepmother said," Burdock seized word after the WC had finished his tactical update to greenlight the oncoming mission. After the loss of "Mother," the TCS Valley Forge, the Hades had been codenamed "Stepmother." "Let's see if we can stir up the hornet's nest and get the roaches real pissed.

So that they forget about everything and play along just nicely our little scheme command has mapped out. Squadron, break and attack!"

Seven minutes later the White Hopes and Steel Gunners have engaged the enemy fighter screen, first kills are rung in and the three Orcas have advanced in a spearhead formation.

"See those Morays ahead, Buffer?"

"Yes, increasing in numbers!"

"Finally they show up. Must be coming from those Orcas."

"Their fighter cover. So it’s working?"

"Looks like it, isn't it?" "2Pack" concluded.

"There -- that Squid approaching friggin' fast. Seems like it’s wanting to break through!" "Buffer" Snugbelly informed his wing leader.

"2Pack" Dukovski had just finished a Stingray. "Got it. Ahm, don't think so."

"Shoot it, quick!" Buffer urged.

"Pointless. It'll open up." Just then the Squid opened its arms and instantly slowed down so much that it looked as if it had come to a complete stand still. A sitting duck. 2Pack opened fire with his Tigershark's complete arsenal of guns. 2 volleys. Just to be one the safe side. The first struck just when the tips of the enemy's fours quantum disrupter guns began to light up. The second round crushed right into the starting collapse of ships outer structure putting it out of its misery in no time.

"Wow, that was quick!" Buffer said with admiration.

"Indeed, man! That feels so fucking great!" "2Pack" himself was still fascinated by the excitement this fast and complete kill had raised.


109th "Steel Gunners"

F/A-105A Tigershark 201; Beta 2

"Alpha Lead, just what is going on?" "Wise Guy" channeled his CO.

"You mean the Barracudas, Beta 2?" Lt. Colonel Natasha Trebek, callsign "Elvira," had noticed it too. A minute ago four of the six Barracuda-class corvettes had broken out of the Orca's shadow and were now approaching with maximum speed apparently. "Well, I don't think we are their type. Don't understand how they can think to stand a chance against our assembled fighter strength here anyway. They are simply not designed to last long against small fighters. On the other hand I don't believe we have yet applied enough pressure to make the bugs so desperate as this here seems. And we have not attacked the corvettes directly either."

"Hmm, cannot make head nor tail of it, can you?" "Wise Guy" mused.

"Alpha Lead, Beta Lead, I got Barracudas here that bother me," "Feuerhexe" cued in on the Steel Gunners' CO frequency. "Permission, to wipe them off the radar?"

"Alpha Lead, Beta 2. Now, who do you want us to attack? We're still going for the Orcas, right? After all there was -- well -- still is a plan," "Wise Guy" was back to comment.

"I know. No need to point out. But as it is of now we're getting pulled right in-between. Beta Lead, Beta 2. Hang on in while I radio Stepmother on what to do. Meanwhile check your radar. I read one, no, two Devil Rays on the scene now."


TCS Hades; CIC
2330 Hours (CST)

"Understood, Alpha Lead. Stand by."

"Stepmother, this is Gamma Lead, I got some Barracuda here that I just can't ignore any longer."

"Gamma Lead, we see it too. Await orders, Major Burdock."

Lt. Colonel Richard looked around to face the other officer. Just by chance his eyes came to rest of Commodore Garrison Murdoch.

"What shall it be? We stick to the plan!" Murdoch voted.

"Right, we see this through!" Catharx insisted.

"Well, not to be so, but aren't we overseeing something here?" Richard hated the role of a doubting Thomas which he found to be taking on as of lately. Damnit to hell, I am a fighter jock. Don't they see?

"You mean the Barracudas?"

"Hell no. They are a nuisance at best. Granted, they pack quite some firepower, but they are rather slow. Biggest threat coming from them is the diversion they pose. No, quite opposed to former situations we are not so much dealing with the problem of facing superior numbers of enemy fighters, but as it happens superior fighters. The Devil Rays are going to be a real challenge. This fighter craft beats our best fighter, the F-109A Vampire, in almost every aspect. Additionally they are being flown by true ace pilots throughout."

After noticing a mysterious look from Murdoch Richard was quick to add, "That is not saying my pilots are not up to the task."

"Then what are you saying, Lieutenant Colonel Richard?" Murdoch pressed.

"Merely that they pose a serious threat which will take much attentions along with a bit of time to deal with. Hell, I have faced one or two before, there is just no ragging with them. And we must commit additional fighters immediately!"

"Now that's where we may wanna think about which fighters, right?" Murdoch suggested.

"We could detach some of our BARCAP." Bloody hell, he is driving me nuts. Just where the fuck does he think he is going with this? Samuel Richard thought furiously. Yet he continued to offer, "The Greys and Slayers, that would be five fighters. However it might be better if we commit at least four of our Vampires to the task. They could do the job. Or instead we could task it to the Aztecs, just four, but their birds are F-108As and should be better up to the task of hunting down the Devil Rays than the Tigersharks. Better still, we could have the Vampires switch job with the Aztecs completely -- put the Aztecs on CAP and have the Dark Broods send a four-ship on Devil ray duty and still have another two full flights of four aircraft to escort the bombers. At the moment it’s just we have only four fighters, even if they are Panthers, to escort the eleven bombers. Or we might detach one of the Kilrathi squadrons to it. Preferably the Dakhaths, which have half a dozen fighters left. Now the other thing is…"

A discussion began which quickly became more and more heated as alternatives were being evaluated.

Richard wanted to back up and protects his flight wing in the best possible way, yet without compromising the mission. Catharx felt quite reluctant to make any chances to the scheme or to even see the problem in the first place. Murdoch then again had his very own ideas on things and was both opposing Catharx on one occasion just to be attacking Richard afterwards. There was just no coming to terms between the three. The remnants of the two Tigershark squadrons meanwhile were left outside. Left in a battle that raged fiercer by the minute. Left there waiting.

"Too many options," Catharx was just saying as Coliver who had taken a back seat in the argument so far interrupted, "Gentlemen, whatever we decide we must be quick about it. Likewise if you look at the holo-projection you cannot but notice that the entire battle group stays within firing solution of the Kraken ship killer!"

"And we are far too close already!" Richard realized in shock. "Unless we pull back -- "

"No, we won't make it. Damn, that is not an option at all!" Murdoch realizing the tactical implications of what the holo projector displayed of the two opposing battle groups dismissed that thought.

"Where do we go? This is Nifelheim. We could hide in the sensor shade of the planets, could hide behind rocks. What for? We could map out a new attack scenario. Will it work then? We could try to buy more time. Why? To rest some more? To regroup? So too could the enemy. I say there is only one way. That of the warrior. I can see the enemy right in front of me. Can almost smell, taste it even. So I go out there and slam all my claws into the foe ripping him apart. Once and for all!”

Into the moment of silence that followed a clapping of hands broke. Garrison Murdoch applauded Catharx, the Kilrathi, and Intelligence officer Coliver could see that is was not some form of insubordination, but that Murdoch truly meant it.

"Very well said, Kalahn. I myself could not have put it any better. I am right with you. There is not enough time to play hide and seek. In any case risks are too big. In fact there is no time left. No time to fuss around as there is no avoiding this final confrontation. We all know this. There is indeed only one single option -- an all out fight."

Murdoch looked into the face of each officer. Dark and gloomy they were, yet filled with grim determination. The Commodore glanced at Catharx. "Kalahn, if I may...?"

The Kilrathi signaled agreement. "Continue!"

"All right, here we go. We detach four of our Vampires primarily for hunting down the Devil Rays and ensuring space superiority. We then move the Capships in for close support as our flight wing is not strong enough to battle it all alone."

He gave a side view over to Richard who nodded. "But you know what this means?" he asked. "We risk the capships getting targeted by the ship killer."

"The risk is there, sure. But we can minimize it if through everything we got left at them in one concentrated and well-coordinated effort. We also -- "

"We start the attack on the Kraken now," the Kalahn interrupted.

"I was just about to say it," Murdoch went on without taking offence at the disruption.

"I knew this was going to happen," Richard groaned.

"Any complaints, Colonel?" Murdoch inquired.

"Not at all. That scenario pretty much strips the capships of their fighter cover."

"Not necessarily."

"What do you mean? This can't be helped," Richard insisted. If this was to be an all out fight with the big ships right in the middle of it too, then this would simply happen. Orders would not prevent pilots from getting side tracked for at least a minimal period of time. The indisputable then existing chaos challenged every pilots SA to its limits and beyond. Richard knew these situations exactly.

"Then let it be so!" Catharx concluded the argument. "Instruct the squadrons flying BARCAP even so, Colonel"

"Oh. They'll love doing the splits. Aye, sir!"


TCS Hades; CIC
2352 Hours (CST)

"Commodore, Captain Hotei reports that the Nagato is now within weapons range," Lieutenant St. Germain announced. "She was the last to enter. All capital ships have now engaged the enemy."

All, yes, except us, except the Hades. But this was the flagship. As much as Murdoch desired to put the ship's big plasma gun into practice against something else than asteroids he would have to show patience for just a bit longer yet.

"Colonel, start the attack on the Kraken. Send the Dakhaths and Krahnakhs!" Catharx commanded.

"Aye, sir! Lets hope they'll be the surprise they're intended to be."

"I'd be happy if next to depleting the Kraken of its turrets it triggers a bit of disorder among the bugs to begin with. After all we are directly threatening their core body. And unless their mother creature or whoever is in command over there isn't some cold-blooded or otherwise ignorant bastard she/he/it must be doing something about it," Commodore Murdoch voiced his view on the situation.


TCS Nagato; Gunnery
19th FEB 2681/2681.050; 0015 Hours (CST)

This dark room was the nerve center of the Plunkett-class cruiser’s powerful arsenal. In the CIC the captain told the weapons officer what targets to attack, and the weapons officer fed that into his targeting computer. Here in gunnery control those targeting orders were carried out by individual crewmen manning the three triple particle cannons and triple heavy plasma cannons while the gunnery officer oversaw events and monitored the remote feeds from the 22 dual laser turrets. All these were capable of being fired entirely by computers steered by targeting data being fed to them by the ship’s sensors but most were not, being controlled manually by the individual gunners.

Those turrets were spewing forth what seemed an impenetrable tangle of laser pulses but these traceries of high-energy photons mostly passed above, over and around the Nephilim craft, occasionally eliciting a flash and crackle as they impacted on shields. The bug fighters were in range and within the firing arcs all too briefly during their run-ins. It was difficult for the turrets to track them for more than a couple of seconds as they flashed through their firing cones at high speed and high angle-off, either steered by computer or manually, though manual tracking allowed for more lead to be pulled quickly in anticipation. The turrets just would turn fast enough to stay with crossing targets otherwise.

Turning back from observing the turret monitors the gunnery officer leaned in over the shoulder of the BFG gunner.

“How’s it coming, Johnson?”

“Can you get the helm to bring us in closer to that Orca, sir? I clipped her before but if we could just get back in range I know I could splatter the bastard good and fucking proper. Pardon my French, boss.”

“No worries, Johnson, just you ‘splatter the bastard.’ Helm, gunnery. Can you please bring us closer to target 214? Much obliged.”

“Come one, come on… come ON!” With that deck beneath them gave an appreciable shudder followed by another jolt a moment later. The Orca was soon nothing but a cloud of rapidly expanding and cooling flame and debris. The fireball went from blue-white to white, yellow, orange and then a dirty red that faded into the blackness beyond in seconds.

“Thanks, sir. Now we can concentrate on those sodding Barracudas.”

“Thank you, Johnson. Good shooting!”

“We’ve got a good gun, sir. I can’t wait to try it out on that Kraken.”

The BFG fire added to the weight of fire from its smaller brothers, sniping at the Barracudas that were making aggressive slashing attacks like their marine namesakes. Its more powerful blasts would atomize one of these corvettes with a single hit but the low re-fire rate as the plasma charge took time to build up meant accurate shooting was essential. Not to mention that you wouldn’t want to miss and hit a friendly by mistake…

Barracudas might seem slow and lumbering to a single-seat fighter but to the Nagato they may as well have been ballerinas pirouetting around a sumo wrestler.

One of the Barracudas got hit by a burst from the triple particle cannons. It peeled off and slowed noticeably. With a gleeful “Take that!” Johnson fired the BFG at it. The Barracuda snapped in two, bow and stern pinwheeling away from each other, midsection completely vaporized.

The other two tried to jink, having strayed too far into the Nagato’s lethal range, but zigged when they should have zagged. Triple heavy particle blasts raked one from stem to stern. It yawed wildly, ending up dead in space broadside on to the gunners, obscuring the third Barracuda as it fled.

“Blow that thing out of the way! Blow the hell out of it, Johnson! The other is getting away!”

“I can’t, sir. Still recharging.”

By the time the crippled Barracuda had been dispatched the last had managed to escape, leaving its fellow to its fate, looking for an easier target.

“Good shooting, lads,” the Gunnery officer congratulated them, “but don’t pat yourselves on the back too soon. There’s bound to be more to come.”

“Bridge to gunnery -­ good shooting,” the com crackled into life,  “we’re now moving closer to the Kraken and her escorts to bring our firepower to bear. Estimate 3 minutes until we’re in firing range.”

Gunnery officer Vaughn slumped into his chair and massaged the muscles in his neck. He couldn’t help but smile as the gunners chatted amongst themselves, one obviously awed by the demise of the first Barracuda, his fingers describing cartwheel motions in the air. He let them laugh.

Maybe they hadn’t noticed just how close to the Kraken’s own “Big Fucking Gun” they were getting, or maybe, like Johnson, they fancied their chances of going toe-to-toe with it. He didn’t, but if the bombers didn’t manage to do their job, they’d have to do it for them. Vaughn’s knuckles whitened on the chair arms.


352nd "Dark Broods"

F-109A Vampire 101; Bloodsucker Lead
0022 Hours (CST)

Lt. Colonel Evan "Chaos" Kaiser was thoroughly exhilarated. Singing, shouting, smiling, he was absolutely in love with life, the universe and his Vampire Space Domination fighter. It gave him a feeling of god-like power. The Nephilim fighters arrayed against him were no "bandits," "enemies" or "unfriendlies," they were "targets," pure and simple. Nothing and nobody could touch him. His Vampire was so agile, so powerful, so fast, so loaded with firepower, he felt he could do anything, take on anything. Tell the Space Force procurement department to cancel the orders for Panthers, Piranhas and Tigersharks and buy more Vampires instead! Unbelievable -­ it was like being in the simulators. No, easier than that, even.

Kaiser listened to the com chatter. The other half of the squadron, led by Major Katie "Rancid" Zimmerman, was mixing it up with the bugs near the Kraken. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of them but he had no targets to shoot at.

“Mother, Bloodsucker Lead. Request permission to leave CAP station to provide extra cover for bombers.”

“Negative, Bloodsucker. Vector zero four zero by zero zero five for trade. 12 plus bandits, range 20.”

“Roger that. Turning zero four zero for trade. Close it up guys and look sharp. A dozen more kill markings coming up fast. Stud three.”

“That’s a big ten-four good buddy. Ah’ve got yaw back door covered,” drawled 1st Lieutenant Michael "Zero" Freeman.

Kaiser cycled through the targets that were closing at 1,000 kilometers per second. Stingrays. Skates. Mantas. And, oh -­ Devil Rays!

Something somewhere between his stomach and his heart did a back flip Kaiser wasn’t sure what the emotion was ­- he had ambivalent feelings about it. He was eager to try his Vampire out against the best of the bugs, but at the same time he had to admit he was nervous. His tongue definitely felt larger and drier as he gave the call, “Sections, break and attack.”

Half a dozen Vampires against 12 bugs -­ but some of those were triples -­ so the odds were even worse to that. More like three to one, not two to one. Plenty of targets now, he thought.

He managed to get a Tracker MIRV off at the lead Devil Ray and saw another rocket exhaust streak past on his left and saw that Zero had fired another at the second but he couldn’t see if it found their targets as he had to pull up hard to follow his own Devil Ray. It turned and he instinctively rolled his aircraft and pulled back on the stick to track it, keeping the nose of the Vampire pulling lead on the Bug. Nothing could beat the turning circle of the Vamp in the "vertical" plane with its vectored thrust pods, and with the huge roll rate they generated, nothing was going to get away from the Vamp’s vertical circle.

Three-to-one odds? That’s just more targets to go around!


397th "Aztecs"

F-108A Panther 102; Gold 2
0025 Hours (CST)

Box ducked and flinched as enemy fire crackled on shields directly above his canopy. He’d straightened up for about 3 or 4 seconds to take a shot at a squid and that was all the time the Bugs had needed to get a shot lined up at him.

He broke hard, kept jinking. He managed to get another couple of ineffectual snapshots off at a Manta and a Moray before getting a missile locked onto him for his troubles. Slamming the stick and rudder from stop to stop he liberally dispensed decoys until the warning warble in his ears ceased. His labored breathing was now the only sound in his ears -- he hadn’t the energy, time or breath for his usual incessant babble.

They were supposed to be the escorts keeping the Nephilim fighters off the backs of the SEAD and bomber crews, but right now they couldn’t even keep their own tails’ clear. They were having trouble simply staying alive. Still, every Bug fighter doing its best to turn him into an expanding cloud of debris was one less trying to do the same thing to his charges, and that, he supposed, making another hard, random turn to throw off his attackers’ aim or a target of opportunity pop into view, was the whole point of escort fighters.

“We’re getting shredded here!” cut in one of the Vindicator wingleaders. “We need cover NOW!”

“Copy, on way,” acknowledged Box. Now who the hell is going to cover me? Box wondered.

“Stepmother, can you fledge any more chicks? We’re getting murdered out here.”

“Wait one.” The pause seemed interminable. When people are shooting at you, seconds can seem like hours. “Ah, negative, sorry. We’re spread too thin as it is.”

“Well thanks a fucking bunch,” Box said, but didn’t transmit. Something caught his eye -- a Bug fighter in a lazy left hand climbing turn that he could easily cut the corner of and drop in behind. He kept his eye on the target but didn’t use the targeting systems and risk alerting the Nephilim ship of his stalking it. He’d wait until he judged he was in a firing position to target it. The Bug was getting closer but Box couldn’t ID it from just the silhouette alone at this range so he pushed the throttle through the gate into reheat and started to burn some of his precious afterburner fuel. “Not too fast, dickhead,” he chided himself, “you don’t want to overshoot.” Happy with his overtake speed he pulled a little more lead to try to help close the gap and get the firing aspect perfect -- but as the shape of the enemy fighter changed with the angle his brain began to recognize the shape and a chill ran down his spine. “Oh, great -- a Devil ray.” Decision time -- break off, or continue the attack? He’d never get a better shot at one -- and better him attacking it from behind than turning tail and exposing his own ass to the Devil Ray. Deep Breath. Oh, Boy! Nothing for it now. “More burner -- it’s bigger, faster than you thought,” Box slipped back into the habit of talking to himself as he worked, “Here we go… ready… ready… closest target select. Lock target. Missile lock. Fox One! And another -- Fox One! Guns, give it some guns! Another missile before he turns inside us -- Fox Two. Goddamnit!” Three missiles up the arse and it’s still flying!

Thump thump thump Thump Thump! THUMP!! BANG! BANG! BANG!! BANG! BANG!!

“Idiot! Moron! Fucking prick!” Box let out a non-stop torrent of obscenities all aimed at himself as he slammed the control column hard left. How could he be so careless? So bloody stupid? He must have been flying a nice, predictable track for 20 or 30 seconds -- several times long enough for a Bug to line him up and wax his tail. Now he had no rear shields, no rear armor, a smashed afterburner and a damaged shield generator. Autorepair was fixing what it could but that would take a while, and it wasn’t going to put back those shattered layers of ablative armor. Meanwhile he had to stay alive with a Devil Ray somewhere in his forward quarter and working its way to his rear and a -- what -- behind him? Oh, this just gets better -- another Devil Ray. “This must be my lucky day. Hades,” he transmitted, “we are really in the shit here. We need help like yesterday.” He tried to keep his voice calm yet forceful but another burst of fire slammed into his weakened shields causing it to raise an octave or two toward the end. Luck was on his side though, and because he’d been turning hard into the enemy the fire had landed on his more intact forward shields rather than his dangerously vulnerable rear, but with two Devil Rays in opposite turning circles taking it in turns to take pot-shots at him, how long would he last? He couldn’t fight either effectively and simply tried to jink every time he saw a shot being lined up.

“Box, right behind you, man.” Fatboy’s voice! “Break right, now!” He slewed the Panther hard right, G forces slamming him against the left hand side of the cockpit. He hadn’t tightened his harness sufficiently and there was no time now, nor could he spare a hand from the controls to tug on the straps.

“Reverse then straighten out for a second.” Box released the pressure on the stick for a moment, braced himself into the seat and slammed into an equally violent turn in the opposite direction, neutralized the controls and counted an agonizing, “thousand and one, thousand and two,” knowing the Devil Fish he was dragging for Fatboy was directly behind him and in firing range, before hauling hard on the stick again and rolling through 90 degrees to gain some separation to turn into the second Devilfish.

“Splash! Two ImRecs up the bum can be a pain in the arse.” Fatboy had killed the second Devil Ray. No -- the first -- the one he had locked up when it shot him was undamaged. “Five missiles to kill one fighter? What are these things made of?”

“Dunno, mate,” Fatboy answered the question Box had unconsciously voiced aloud. "Okay, Thach weave. See me?"

“I see you. He’s closing the angles. Breaking right -- now.” Box and Fatboy now began to fly as if they were dogfighting each other, and not the enemy fighter. The Devil Ray was more agile than them -- certainly more agile all round than their Panthers -- and this tactic had been invented by a USN pilot called Thach in WW2 to combat the more agile Japanese fighters. By flying as if they were in a scissors fight, the Devil Ray ended up in front of the guns of Fatboy. It was a short, head-on shot, unlikely to do more than piss the Devil Fish off, but now the bug was in the same situation as Box had been in -- a single-circle fight and a two-circle fight at the same time -- but unlike Box its wingman wasn’t here to help.

If it turned to fight one, the other quickly got into a firing position and vice versa. Even if they couldn’t get into a killing position on it, it had no chance of getting into one on them.

Taking the closest thing to a head-on pass it could, the Bug fighter unloaded and lit the burner, out accelerating and outpacing the Confederation fighters. They launched a couple of missiles at it as it went, but with little hope of success. Box almost changed to a new target when he saw the range come down rapidly. The Devil Ray had had to turn to defeat the missile lock. Cutting the corner they launched more missiles and opened up with their guns. Under the terrible weight of fire the Devil Ray suddenly seemed to fold up. It caved in and imploded.

“Two down, two million to go,” Fatboy said with a heavy air of resignation.

“Oh give over, mate,” Box replied, “we can’t be outnumbered more than 25, maybe 30 to one.”

“Is that all?”

“Look, squire, if you want more targets to shoot at, that’s very brave, but some of us actually want to live through this.”

“Will you two cut that crap out?” Ronin snapped, “I can hardly hear myself think!”

Box couldn’t resist it and quoted Top Gun, “ ‘You don't have time to think up there. If you think, you're dead’ “.

“I said, cut that crap out! We’re here to kill Bugs, not quote some bloody centuries-dead actor!”

Since when did he have his sense of humor surgically removed? If you can’t laugh in the face of mortal danger, when can you laugh? “Always, look on the bright side of life...” The sounds of Monty Python’s Flying Circus filled his cockpit as he fought the temptation to flood the airwaves as well with his off-key singing.


722nd "Mosquitoes"

F-106A Piranha 101; Stinger Lead
icinity of the TCS Ohlander
0100 Hours (CST)

Cones of fire converged on the Barracuda as it ploughed toward the TCS Ohlander. Powell’s Mosquitoes snapping at its heels like Jackals worrying a Wildebeest. The numerous turrets of the Murphy-class destroyer strafed it. Under the intense fire, all avenues of escape cut off by the relentless pursuit of the Mosquitoes, it seemed to decide to ram the Ohlander, but it disintegrated before it got close.

The Nagato meanwhile had heard her request for assistance against the Orca that was bothering Powell’s Mosquitoes. The laser turrets of the anti-fighter destroyer were useless against the Nephilim vessel, but with the Ohlander using her guns to tackle the fighters and corvette pestering the Plunkett, the Nagato could quickly finish off the Orca. And she did, in style. The huge anti-ship armament slammed into the Orca, the flashes from her weaponry lighting up the whole scene. Secondary explosions rippled through the alien vessel and she burst asunder like a rotten tomato hit with a baseball bat.

“Thanks for the assist, Ohlander,” Coroner acknowledged their help.

“Always welcome, Coroner. Good luck.”

Looking at the damage the Ohlander had sustained a few minutes before from torpedo hits, Coroner suspected it was they who’d need the luck.


Vicinity of the Kraken
0112 Hours (CST)

The sheer bulk of the Kraken was apparent from the number of stars it blotted out, even at this distance. One would have to be very brave or very stupid to attack such a vessel head-on. Shintahr Mharvek nar Vukar Tag wondered why stupidity... was often confused with bravery. A warrior needed to be brave, yes, but not stupid. Where was the skill and subtlety in the head-on charge? Did not Xag say, “Judge not thy enemy by the strength of his arm, but rather by the cunning of his brain”?

Ambushes may not be glamorous but did a lion or tiger charge their prey head-on across open ground, or did they pounce from a place of concealment, close enough, if possible, to land with one bounding leap upon the very flanks of their prey, that their teeth and claws could rend the flesh, tear the throat from the beast before it knew it was even in peril? The hunter used every advantage available to him, terrain, surprise, stealth, weaponry, subterfuge, misdirection and only if absolutely necessary the mindless charge of a heavily defended enemy in broad daylight across a minefield, if all else failed. As would the charge! Death in battle is not glorious in defeat; not a noble and heroic sacrifice if it is for nothing. Little more than suicide, death at the hands of the foe was considered preferable to returning to report one’s failure, but surely that was cowardice in itself? Stupidity and bravery were not synonymous, ever had that been his maxim, so what would his subordinates (and commander!) think of his tactics he was about to employ in attacking the Kraken? They were tackling it literally head-on: They would be flying straight down the firing line of the gigantic gun it possessed.

Stupidity? Foolhardiness? No, Mharvek didn’t think so. A calculated risk, nothing more. This route of ingress was the closest thing to a blind spot the bulbous Kraken had. They would have few turrets able to shoot at them on the way in, and by adding the speed of the Kraken to their own the time taken to travel through the AAA envelope would be shortened, both on entry and exit, even if not by much, further reducing their exposure to enemy fire. A fast pass over the enemy vessel’s surface, then around for another go. How else do you find a blindspot on such a monstrosity, a giant, oblate-spheroid? Guns covered every other approach angle.

What about the super weapon itself? Mharvek doubted it could target small fighters, nor that the Nephilim would waste their fire on them. Nevertheless, they could find themselves caught in the firing line, but he assumed there must be some sort of warning before it fired -- some sort of energy spike, a visible build up of high-energy plasma around the weapon -- but without having seen it fired (and surprise, surprise -- Confed intelligence hadn’t passed on any video of it) he couldn’t be sure. As he said -- a calculated risk.

So they rushed headlong into the jaws of death to defang the beast, an irony Mharvek found particularly amusing. This anecdote would be told to his cubs and their cubs, and perhaps even further down the generations.

He had to rein in his (over)confidence. He had to complete the task before he could boast about the victory! 

The Kraken loomed large, filling his entire viewscreen. He waited until the last second to swerve up and away from the gun area and skim close over the hull of the alien ship, its dark, mottled skin like some diseased bloated corpse, or the stinking hide of some prehistoric crocodile or dragon. So close to the "skin" of the beast, the enemy turrets couldn’t depress far enough to draw a bead on him. It was laughably simple to destroy them with impunity -- or it would have been, save for the swarms of Mantas, Moray’s, Squid and other Nephilim fighters that relentlessly attacked him and his wingmen.

Shintahr Mharvek nar Vukar Tag had taken out 3 turrets on his first pass but he struggled to finish off another turret on four subsequent strafing runs. The enemy interceptors were becoming more of a real threat than simply an annoyance or hindrance. Stupidity was not the same as bravery. A tactical withdrawal was in order -- they had already opened up enough blind spots in the Kraken’s defenses, knocking out more than half the ship killer’s AAA turrets, to allow the bombers in with a realistic chance of success, free from enemy fire -- turret fire, at least. They would be of more use now in targeting the enemy fighters.

Ordering the Krahnakhs to break off their SEAD strike and go air-to-air, he gave the Talons and Lancers the green light to attack.


VF-14 "Talons"

Vindicator 001; Talon Lead
Vicinity of Kraken
0115 Hours (CST)

The Talons were hunting large prey today. Large and dangerous. Humans had always hunted large and deadly beasts, Richthofen mused. His own ancestors, a line of German nobility, had left hunting rifles and mounted trophies as souvenirs of their hunting prowess. As a boy, Doppler had seen a boar spear in a museum, and remembered the Boar mounted in his family hunting lodge, which had been shot. He remembered with stark clarity the huge, sharp, yellow tusks and the small, beady, vicious eyes, the size and fierceness of the animal. Bad enough to tackle the animal with a powerful gun, but with nothing but a hand-held spear? And to think, 10,000 years before, men had hunted and slain mammoths -- the very word meant “gigantic” -- with spears tipped not with steel but with stone! Major Frederick von Richthofen felt guilty at the fear he had right now. Here he was, enclosed in ceramite, plasteel, and energy shields, with High Explosive torpedoes instead of stone spears, and he was afraid.

Yet the Kraken was many times more vast and deadly than a boar or even a mammoth: It was a dragon, and he was not Sigurd, armed with the invincible sword of the Volsungs. Then again, he wasn’t under the tragic doom of a cursed ring. But didn’t Sigurd win the ring by slaying the dragon, Fafnir? He shook his head as his mind went off at a tangent. This wasn’t a dragon, it was a Kraken, a sea monster. Not the White Whale, Moby Dick, but something yet far worse, a destroyer of ships. Of fleets of ships.

Whales! Hunting them in open rowing boats with hand-thrown harpoons! Man always found a way to kill that which was far larger than himself. A killer, a hunter, that’s what he was. Men were hunters, and his family were hunters. It was in his blood, even back beyond his famous ancestor, the Red Baron. Of course, not a direct ancestor, as Manfred has died, aged 25, without progeny, and Frederick himself was descended through his brother Lothar, also a successful fighter pilot in Word War One. But the German for “fighter plane” was jaeger -- “hunter”. The Luftwaffe treated aerial combat like a sport, obsessed with scores, pilot against pilot, unit against unit, in both World Wars. But it wasn’t confined to the Germans -- even the British had treated it similarly, though they might try to deny it -- the very term “Tally-ho!” -- “I have the enemy in sight” -- was taken directly from foxhunting. The English had left that legacy. That was the call when the fox was sighted. The quarry, the prey -- to be hunted and killed, not the other way about.

Richthofen realized his mind was racing wildly while his body flew the spacecraft “on autopilot” as the expression went. His brain was doing other things while he controlled the bomber as if it were part of his own body, without effort or conscious thought. He would end up double or triple checking switch settings because it was so automatic to flick them -- like leaving your house and not being able to remember locking the door -- you do it so often it becomes a reflex you don’t have to think about. But right now, instead of freeing up his conscious mind for the task in hand, his mind was wandering a light year from where it needed to be.

Concentrate -- get in, get the torpedoes off, get it done. The beast had been well and truly de-fanged, but hordes of smaller Bugs swarmed around it like bees protecting the hive -- which he supposed they were, to all intents and purposes. It wouldn’t stop them. It was time for the hunters to close on the wounded mammoth and plunge their spears into the great beast’s heart.

“Here we go. Running in.” Richthofen briefly considered using the same attack route as pioneered by the Krahnakhs, along the firing axis of the shipkiller weapon, but rejected it. Most of the turrets that had caused the Kats to use that route had been taken out now. Coming in from behind and targeting the engines would stop it dead in its tracks and allow them to finish it at their leisure. They would hamstring the mammoth before the deathblow.

Doppler started to lock the first torpedo on to the engines when the nose of the Kraken started to unfold. Light started to flicker and grow there on the Kraken’s foresection before coalescing into a coherent stream of incandescent energy.