: “ End of the Spiral ”




TCS Ohlander; Bridge
0115 Hours (CST)

“How far are we from that bloody shipkiller?” commander Andovar Podovosk demanded worriedly as it loomed large on the viewscreen. “What magnification is that at?” he queried without waiting for an answer to the first question.

“Er… about… 25 thousand klicks distant, sir.”

“Bojemoi! We are supposed to be three times as far away as that! Get us the hell out of here!”

“Sir, with respect -- if we fall back we’ll open a huge hole in the defenses -- “

“Fucking hell!” Podovosk’s profanity cut his XO off mid-stride. “How the shitting bastard hell did we get so fucking close?” By the rising number of obscenities in a single sentence the bridge crew could tell their vessel’s master and commander was close to apoplexy. No one answered him -- what answer could they give? The battle had simply drifted slowly but inexorably closer to the devastating weapon they were set on destroying.

“Have they knocked that bloody gun out yet?”

“I don’t think so, sir,” came the reply, while they both knew fine well the shipkiller’s main gun was still operational.

“I thought the damn cats had given us a green light?”

“They took out the turrets and shield emitters. The engines are damaged, if not dead, but the gun is still intact, sir. The Dauntlesses are making their torpedo runs right now -- oh my god…!"

Stunned silence filled the bridge as all eyes lay fixed on the build-up of energy around the fore-section of the Kraken before coalescing into a coherent beam of incandescent energy -- aimed right at them. A fighter would take about a minute to cover the 25,000 klicks separating the two capital ships, but the blast wave of unstoppable energy took less than a tenth of a second at the speed of light, but just long enough for the realization to hit the bridge crew of the TCS Ohlander. Not enough time for a prayer, a plea, even a scream... just enough time to die.


TCS Hades; Bridge
0125 Hours (CST)

Catharx watched with undisguised glee as the main vidscreen of the Hades CIC showed the destruction of the final Orca at the hands of the Hades' own guns.

"It is time for us to deliver the deathstroke," Catharx announced, "prepare to engage the enemy more closely. Move us in so that we may dispatch the Kraken."

"Belay that order," bellowed Murdoch. "It isn't time for the coup de grace yet," he growled out of one side of his mouth, his trademark stogie clamped in the other, "there are still too many Devil Rays protecting it. The Hades is tough but she isn't invulnerable. That Kraken isn't going anywhere, let's just wait a minute and see if we can't take out a few more before we go barreling in."

"I am in command here," snarled the Kilrathi, "and I say we strike! 'Victory must inevitably go to the Warrior whose desire for conquest is greater than his fear of death,' “ quoted Catharx from the Third Codex.

"'There is no dishonor in caution, so long as the careful Warrior avoids the pitfalls of cowardice,'" Murdoch retorted.

Catharx was visibly surprised at Murdoch quoting the Fourth Codex back at him. The words of the codices coming from the mouth of a human stunned the Kat momentarily. He had almost heard Eldon Vandermann speaking the words instead of Murdoch. A comrade, a trusted takhar, not a rival. Catharx had seen Murdoch as a rival to compete with, who constantly strived against him, but he realized in that moment Murdoch was opposing him not for one-upmanship or personal dislike but over the sake of the people under their command, and the victory. That realization came with an even more bitter pill to swallow -- that Murdoch was correct. The desire for revenge, for blood to be spilled in payment of his son's -- had overtaken Catharx’s tactical sense. The true leader offers his Warriors in sacrifice only when there is no alternative; the true Warrior offers himself in sacrifice in the knowledge that only thus will the battle be won. So said the Seventh Codex.

Catharx had tried to put aside his personal desire for revenge because he felt he had a duty to command the battle group and to overcome the Nephilim but in that instant he realized Murdoch was capable of discharging this responsibility. More than capable, even. Which left Catharx, freed of this obligation, able to fulfill the blood-oath of vengeance he had sworn for his son.

"You are quite right, Commodore. You may have the glory of presiding over our victory." Catharx turned from Murdoch to the bridge crew. "Disregard my last order. Murdoch commands here now." He turned on his heel and strode purposefully from the bridge.


VF-14 "Talons," vicinity of Kraken

Vindicator 001
0116 Hours (CST)

“Mein Gott!” was all Richthofen had managed when the shipkiller had fired. Before this supplication to the almighty had even passed his lips the target of the weapon was beyond even His help. Ignoring the chill on the back of his neck, Doppler ordered his Talons to continue their attack runs.

He himself managed to launch two torpedoes on this first run, as did Captain Stefani ”Torch” Kozlowski, which finished off the engines, but coming around again he hadn’t even chance to lock one on before coming under intense fire from a Manta. His wingmen were fairing no better. Pleas for help, to each other and to their escorts, filled the airwaves. “Major,” Torch sounded panicked, “Oddball just blew up beside me. Thorn punched out. I’m hit, too. Do we continue our attacks?”

Richthofen hesitated for barely a second. They’d knocked out the engines -- the whale was dead in the water, ready to be finished off -- but not by them. It was time to bug out -- no pun intended.

“No, break off, try to regroup, let’s get back to the Shrak’har.” He heard the Lancers’ CO agree, “Time to go, boys and girls.” Someone else could slay the beast. Dragonslaying was a job for heroes, and heroes didn’t live too long -- just ask the Red Baron.


The Kraken; Command Center
0117 Hours (CST)

In the dim confines of what looks disturbingly like a body cavity, several insect-like bugs twitched and chittered, mandibles scraping at a frequency almost above human hearing. The air was heavy, and perhaps the pungent fumes masked pheromones undetectable to anthropoid apes' senses. Feelers flickered rapidly along protrusions that resemble bundles of nerve endings. If we were to understand the incomprehensible chattering and chemical signals meant, perhaps we would hear a conversation like this:

"How is the attack on their queen ship progressing?"

"Their warrior units are preventing ours from destroying their mother vessel."

“And our own Deathbringer's situation?"

"Approaching a critical point."

"Awaken the sleeper and withdraw some of our attacking units to bolster the defense of the Deathbringer and target their attacking units."

"At once, High Commander."


TCS Stasheff; CIC
0120 Hours (CST)

Lieutenant Commander Donovan Keyes was a pillar of calm amid the torrent of frantic activity on the Stasheff’s bridge. Figures scrolled constantly up the main viewscreen, voices talked to and over one another, consoles flickered with streams of data and diagrams and he stood, hands clasped casually behind his back, and drank it all in. Before the tactical officer had announced it he saw the Nephilim attacks on his ship were tailing off -- the Bugs were all falling back to protect the wounded Kraken.

“Sir, the BARCAP fighters report they have successfully repulsed the enemy attacks. Do they await further waves or -- “

“I know,” Keyes cut him off, “order them -- “

“Sir!” the strident voice of the comms officer broke in. “Admiral Kennedy wishes to speak to you urgently.”

“He can wait, this can’t. Tell those Tigersharks they are neither to wait or to land or replenish -- they’re to get over to the Kraken with all haste and give the bombers all possible assistance -- SEAD or air to air, tackle the enemy interceptors.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Satisfied his orders were being carried out, Keyes turned back to his comms officer. “Put him on then.”

“Admiral,” Keyes greeted the stern face of Kennedy cheerfully, “what can I do for you?”


397th "Aztecs"

F-108A Panther 103; Gold 3
0121 Hours (CST)

The Manta in the centre of Fatboy's HUD disintegrated piece by piece, large chunks flying off to thump against his shields before the Nephilim fighter finally succumbed to his fire. Thumbing the "closest target" button he saw there were no nearby bugs and took a moment to scan through his shields/armor/damage displays on his MFDs.

"Fatboy," Chatterbox's insistent voice crackled through his headphones, "Torpedo Skate, 9 o'clock. She's lining up on the Condor."

"Copy that," Little acknowledged, hauling the one-oh-eight around in a hard turn to port. He silently cursed his lack of missiles -- he'd already used the last of them several minutes ago. In such an engagement you couldn't hoard missiles in the event you might need them later -- you needed them just to survive, but the lack of a long-range weapon was going to sting now. How long to close to guns range? How long until the Skate-T achieved a missile lock? How much 'burner fuel did he have left and did he dare use it?

"How much AB fuel you got left, 'Box?"

"A few seconds, maybe," his wingman echoed his own state.

"Okay, stick with me as long as you can, then." Fatboy engaged reheat, watching his fuel tick down to zero as the range to the Skate wound down on the targeting info, but not for long. Box shot past him for a second -- his sudden deceleration catching his wingman by surprise.

"I'll lead again," said Box. Little double-clicked.

"Shit. She's launching."

"God damn it!" Fatboy and Chatterbox could only look on helplessly as the Skate-T unleashed its deadly warload at the Condor's engineering section. As the torpedo hurtled toward the hapless frigate the Skate broke away to avoid entering her AAA envelope, suddenly allowing Box and Fatboy to cut the corner -- and the range. Impotent in regards to stopping the torpedo's fatal trajectory, they could inflict some small measure of revenge by destroying the Skate.

Under the combined firepower of the guns of the two Panthers it took less time than the length of the flight of the torpedo. Box had just delivered the coup de grace when in his peripheral vision he saw the flash of the torpedo impacting the TCS Condor. For a hopeful moment Elliot thought it might have hit nothing too vital but the next moment disabused him of that naive notion. A searing crimson fireball erupted from her reactor, releasing superheated nuclear plasma and a terrific blast wave that rocked his fighter like the hand of an angry god.

Blinking away the purple blotches the explosion had left swimming in front of his vision, Box saw the hulk of the Condor slowly starting to spin end-over -- well, for want of a better word -- end, for what had been her aft section had been totally obliterated, barring a few shattered and skeletal ribs of girders and jagged, ruptured bulkheads in a few places still clinging to them like shreds of burnt flesh on a corpse.

"God...!" The normally verbose Chatterbox was reduced to a single syllable by the scene of carnage confronting him and his wingman. Fatboy said nothing, simply pressing his "lock closest target" button for what seemed like the hundredth time that mission. There were still more bugs to kill.


397th "Aztecs"

F-108A Panther 101; DDT Lead
0126 Hours (CST)

Major Nawazaki and his wingman, 1st Lieutenant Grael, were pursuing a Manta when the Major noticed a Skate T. Two more not too far away.

"Switch to my new target!" he ordered his wingman.

"Damn it!" the Lieutenant cursed furiously. Another Skate T was about to form. Just minutes ago one had destroyed the Condor. But this was not really why Grael was mad. His wingleader was forever switching targets instead of destroying them. Grael did not recall the Major having had any kill today.

Earlier he had landed some volleys on a Manta painting its rear section a nice purple color but then the Manta managed to break and was starting to get away. With Major Nawazaki showing a surprisingly rather slow reaction to that Grael had seized the initiative and shot the Manta to pieces before it could fully break away. That had showed Grael once again that the Major was in no good shape at present, as he had been times and again before. Grael did not know what to make of it. If Grael did not know better, he would have taken Nawazaki's lousy shooting on the Manta as reluctance, if not unwillingness, to attack it at all. His CO, his idol ever since the young Lieutenant had joined the squadron, had gone through a great deal more than most others, especially with that emergency landing on Neph II and what Grael had heard about it. Nawazaki had never told much of it.

The Skates were gathering, communicating, preparing for the merger. He watched them. He would not interfere. As he had not before. The other Skate. The destroyer.

Dispassionate, but not unbiased.

The Condor?! A flicker. Something stirred up in him. His former him. No, I have to stop them!

The Skates merged.

"Now! Now! Shoot it now!" Grael's voice came over the comm. He listened with half an ear. Struggling. He had already been trying his bonds. As feared it had been impossible to escape. Still he tried. His brain commanded him to put his finger on the trigger. Or so he thought. With effort he managed to do it. Pull the trigger. Nothing happened. Pull THE trigger! First his index finger began to tremble, then his hand. More he pushed. PULL THE TRIGGER! His whole arm now shook vigorously. PULL THE FUCKING TRIGGAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! His mind was screaming, his wholly body was. Yet his finger did not respond to his will.

Major Nawazaki was no longer himself.

1st Lieutenant Grael once again threw protocol and good manners into the trash bin. Pushing the throttle full he shot past his wing leader and released a FF missile.

"Fox One!"

The Skate T swarm broke up and Grael targeted the single Skate most damaged, destroying it within a couple of volleys.

"What was that, Major? What is the matter with you?" Grael radioed Nawazaki.

Grael's voice sounded worried. That much the Major could not help but notice still. Still he felt no hatred and no sorrow.

"Check your radar! We got company!"

They both had a Devil Ray on their tail.

"On my mark break left! … Mark!"

While Nawazaki broke right, the Devil Ray went after Grael. The Major referred to his radar and set the speed to full mil power.


TCS Hades; Flight Deck
0129 Hours (CST)

Blood red warpaint adorned the burnished copper-bronze metal of Cartharx's personal fighter. A war era Bloodfang, it had been somewhat modified, like many Kilrathi Aces', to improve the agility and speed of the spacecraft over that of the basic issue model. It was also equipped with slightly more firepower.

"Haggin One, requesting permission for takeoff!" Catharx snarled impatiently whilst he performed last-second final systems checks, already taxiing the hastily powered-up heavy fighter toward the launch bay.

"Uh, yeah, that is, ah, permission granted, Kalahn sir!"

"About time, too," the Cat growled as he firewalled the throttle and shot into the black beyond.

Catharx cycled through the enemy targets popping up on his targeting scope until coming upon a Devil Ray he stopped.

There is a foe worthy of my mettle, he told himself. Igniting his afterburner, he plotted an intercept course, but the 'Ray was chasing another fighter. Catharx decided to get its attention.

"Worthless insect!" the Kil insulted the Devil Ray pilot, "I shall crush you like the cockroach you are!"

"<Foolish feline>," replied the Bug, "<you cannot defeat us! We shall destroy you!>"

"Come then -- destroy me -- if you can, cockroach!"

Like two mediaeval champions engaging in single combat in days of yore, the challenge was mutually accepted, and the two fighters plunged headlong at each other as knights in some ancient joust. Disdaining to use a missile Catharx laughed mirthlessly as the Nephilim fighter fired one at him. Effortlessly he barrel-rolled around it, the fabled Kilrathi Defensive Spiral maneuver. Designed to throw off the aim of a guns attack from the rear it was equally effective against a missile launched from a frontal aspect.

"Is that the best you can do, dung beetle?" taunted Catharx. A hiss of scratchy chittering was the untranslatable reply from the Devil Ray. This time there was real amusement in the rumbling, coughing belly laugh of the Kilrathi noble as he reveled in the thrill of the fight.


F-108A Panther 102; DDT 2
In the vicinity of the Kraken
0129 Hours (CST)

The lonesome alien fighter approached the mighty vessel with full speed. This ship of ships did not respond with hostility. Instead it seemed to be waiting. The alien fighter did not pose a threat to it. It was in fact awaited. Signals were sent out identifying and scanning the ship.

For the past three minutes his targeting system had been quiet. No one had targeted him. Now it awoke again. The fighter's systems of sensors too went busy. At the same time he or rather a part of him, something in him, was stimulated. He returned from the idle mode he had just been in, but of which he had no clear account of. And even though he came around he was conscious and he was not. He could not right tell what had roused him or what occupied his mind just now. Somewhere, deep down, was that dull ache of guilt and despair never experienced, but he was much too busy with the problem at hand to be troubled by it. The harder he concentrated the more he felt the fog lifted. He understood that he passed the line, had crossed a border. And that the past was past. Over and done with. That his purpose was to serve and the future would take care of itself. Then a blinding light broke through the mist. They approved of him. They were letting him in. Soon he would be embraced by their truth and their peace. Relish in their Harvest.

Then his fighter shuddered, was pushed around and with a forceful thrust thrown forward.

Several volleys had struck the fighter's rear hard depleting the shields of its energy. Before the fighter reacted a FF missile had smashed into its battered tail. This had sent the fighter into an uncontrolled rotation.

What had happened? He had not been distracted! He had been there. Right there. He had been so close. Even now as his fighter span out of control he did not know what had hit him. He still heard their voices in his head, which at the moment were overlapped with sounds of his craft trying to endure the exterior forces brought upon it. He looked up to his canopy just in time to see the first crack appearing there. He watched it grow. The voices in his head were fading. He watched it spawn. There was nothing he could do. Further and further. There was nothing he would do. He let go of the control stick. It was uncontrollable.

He could not come to think about what he had done. Had just done. He simply could not. The Major had been his idol. Had become his mentor even. And he, First Lieutenant Torr "Ice" Grael, 23 year-old, had killed him. The realization of this was like a shock, paralyzed him. Him the cool and rational control freak, who did not allow to get feelings the better end of him. After all that was what he got his callsign for. But now that the thought had surfaced regardless it was omnipresent. Occupied all else. His mind frantically began to search for reasons, for justification, for absolution.

The Major had been different. There had been a crack in the invisible bond between them, Grael recaptured. It was after Nawazaki had miraculously returned from MIA over Nephele II. He had not been as before, not to him, not to anybody else. Their relations had been different. Little of it appeared on the outside. Ronin had been the quiet and disciplined officer as always. Yet Ice had felt it. But today's flying, his switching targets, his not getting the kills in and then the stand he pulled in leaving his wingman alone with a Devil Ray at his tail…

Ice had sneaked up from behind, with minimized electronic signature and full mil power. It had cost all his remaining afterburner. Without second-guessing he had pulled the trigger; after... after he had seen… Yes, what I have seen? The Kraken had -- how do I put it? -- responded, communicated with the Major's fighter. It had reacted with strange lighting and with either changing colors on its surface or changes in its surface structure itself. Ice was not so sure about the second observation. Had the first been something equivalent to an ALS? The damn spook, strange old Coliver, had been right with what he had said. Well, he had not really say anything, but merely made implications. Quite vague, even. However the Major's approach of the Kraken had certainly not looked like a suicidal Kamikaze attack. How Coliver had come to be wary of the Major he had not told Ice. Hell, I did not believe a single word of it. I thought it to be a pipe dream, really. Yet Coliver insisted that he just simply should have an eye on the Major. And that when he, Ice, detected something in the behavior of the Major that could… What exactly had he said? Something along the lines of... "that could compromise mankind's cause out here", that he, Coliver, was confident that Ice would know what to do. He did not remember exactly how the Intel officer had said it. Back then Ice was still digesting the consequences of what he was being told. Yet however Coliver had put it, there was no doubt of what he had actually meant.

Ice checked his target. The Major's Panther was spinning wildly, the whole rear section a crimson red, towards the mighty bulk of the Kraken. The Lieutenant noticed several breaches in the hull of the Panther, atmosphere was leaking and it was spilling liquids into the space. It would inevitably crash onto the surface of the Kraken, if not come apart before.

"DDT Two, what are you doing out there? And where’s your wingman?" Oh, boy. This was real. With another shock he realized that he was in big trouble. How do I possibly explain that?

In battle decisions have to be made quickly. That is all that matters: a quick decision. Right or wrong is a question for later.


722nd "Mosquitoes"

F-106A Piranha 101; Stinger Lead
0130 Hours (CST)

For the first time in many minutes, Coroner had time to breathe. He wasn't being shot at. He thumbed the target select button a few times -- there really were no nearby Bugs and those within range were all running away. Kurt frowned. His BARCAP station was now seemingly redundant. The Bugs seemed to be making a last stand around the Kraken itself. Either CVBG-A had won the battle, or they were close to victory. He considered closing on the ship killer and offering to support the strike packages but decided against it. His squadrons Piranhas were relatively fragile, somewhat shot up and extremely short of missiles and afterburner fuel. Besides, someone had to stay and provide cover, just in case.

"Stinger Flight, this is Lead. Break off attacks and regroup. Maintain this CAP station but you can re-arm and refuel individually while the others stay on station. Nitefall, you've got the lead."

"Where are you going?" Captain Lisa ”Nitefall” Alkofer asked.

"None of your bloody business. You've got your orders."

"Yes SIR!"

Coroner switched off the autolock on his targeting system and cycled through the friendlies until he found Jhathar nar Vukar Tag. Kurt didn't know if having him in a target lock might alert the warning systems on the Kilrathi Heavy Fighter but he didn't want to spook the Kat just yet and wasn't prepared to take the chance. Ideally Powell would have liked to have jumped the Kilrathi in perfect guns range from six o'clock while the stupid furball was preoccupied with -- or better still, being softened up by -- a bug, but things had been so hectic he could hardly have stalked the Cat throughout the dogfight until such a perfect opportunity arose. Maybe if they launched another wave of fighters -- he'd have to get into position at just the right moment. And somehow get rid of the black box gun camera recordings that automatically recorded what he was shooting at and the results. If he got back alive. What about the Kilrathi's wingman? Or wingmen, even?

Goddamn it, Kurt, he swore at himself. Murder takes proper planning if you want to get away with it. The confusion of a dogfight wasn't going to hide him if the bloody Kat had a wingman covering him. Taking on one Bloodfang was crazy enough but two? A whole squadron? Suicide.

Christ, don't tell me I'm starting to worry about dying! Kurt realized, Adrianna hasn't got to you, has she? Don't say I'm falling for her. Coroner had a terrible though -- what if she was already dead? He hadn't heard her call on the comm recently, but he'd been pretty busy. Fuck. Switching targets, he cycled through, trying to find her.

Don't be so bloody stupid, Kurt, he admonished himself, use your brain and get on the radio!

"Adrianna, you okay?"

"So we're on a first-name basis now, are we?"

"Well, you were screaming my name loud enough last night, babe."

"I don't remember screaming it."

"Moaning, then!"

"I thought gentlemen weren't supposed to kiss and tell?"

"I'm no gent."

"I know that much! Honestly, Kurt, I'm touched you were worried about me but I'm fine and still all in one piece, okay? What about you?"

"I'm fine."

"You don't sound fine. Where the hell are you? I'm looking at the rest of your squadron right now and you aren't anywhere near them."

"I'm busy."

"Busy?" She was puzzled, for a second, then remembered his bedroom confession. "Oh, no! You're not planning on doing what I think you're doing, are you?"

"Shut up and get on with your mission, Adrianna."

"Don't you tell me to shut up! Don't be so stupid. Kurt, if that Cat doesn't kill you, I will!"

"Shut up, will you! This is an open frequency!"

"Well you should have thought of that before you told the universe I screwed you last night!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was such an embarrassing lay! But just forget what I'm doing now, it doesn't concern you."

"Of course it does. You told me, so now it does."

"Leave it alone, will you!" Powell snarled, losing patience and re-targeting Jhathar.

"Kurt, please listen to me. This is madness!"

"It's something I have to do. You don't have to try and stop me."

"I don't want you to throw your life away!"

"Life! What life?"

"You sound like a stupid teenager! It can't be that bad!"

"Oh yeah? Career going nowhere, black marks on my record because of drinking and bad temper, a body so scarred my wife left me and I haven't seen my kids for years? Sure, I've got everything to live for."

"What about us?"

"What about us?" snapped Coroner bitterly. "Two people knowing there's a good chance they might die the next day jump into bed together because they want someone to hold. I was lusting over another woman and you were the next best thing. Great foundation to build a long-term relationship on, I must say. Why did you sleep with me? Was I a mercy-fuck?"

"No, Kurt, it wasn't. You've got a real, smoldering, sexy intensity that comes from that anger that's burning you up inside, but I guess that isn't a basis for a relationship. Go on then, go kill yourself. See if I care!"

"I will!" Coroner shouted and cut off the comm. Adrianna didn't hear him. She'd already shut hers off to stop him seeing her cry.


The vicinity of the Kraken
About the same time

Catharx allowed himself a small moment of triumph. The Kraken, hanging dead in space, was doomed. The last flurry of Nephilim fighters that had made his last few minutes so hectic (and added somewhat to his personal kill tally) had to have been the Bugs’ last gasp -- they had no more lines of defense. Hopefully now Murdoch would be able to overcome his earlier caution and would move in to finish-off the wounded monster, but as he watched, the Hades still kept her distance.

Catharx was so intent on the Hades he was momentarily caught unawares as a swarm of a dozen or more Squid burst forth from the Kraken. Growling insults at himself for his overconfident stupidity, a stupidity highlighted by the fact that less than an hour before Murdoch of all people had quoted the Codices at him: “Vigilance is the Warriors’ salvation; inattention the Warriors’ most dangerous foe.”

He was overwhelmed. Firing short bursts of full-guns at any target that presented itself and trying not to become one himself, he fired his sole remaining missile at one Squid which promptly U-turned back into him. Catharx hauled mightily on the controls of his Bloodfang but the Squid followed, evidently intent on ramming him. The Image Recognition missile followed the Squid and the missile impacted the enemy fighter just as it slammed into Catharx’ shields.

There was a jolt and a bang and the big fighter flipped violently out of control. The Bloodfang lurched heavily as the tumble threatened to turn into a fully-developed spin.

Catharx took several moments to get his bearings. His helmet had been slammed hard against the cockpit plexiglass, so hard it had cracked the canopy -- and meanwhile his inner ear was telling him something different from the indicators on his panels -- his instinctive movements of the controls were actually exacerbating the spin rather than correcting it. By the time he realized this and took the appropriate actions, the Kraken was filling his vision and he was approaching it rapidly. His shields were down, the battered fighter sluggish and he was preparing himself for the inevitable collision when his sharp felinoid eyes noticed the hangar bay doors were seemingly still open where his attackers had emerged. Somehow he managed to steer the crippled fighter toward the alien landing bay and prepared to enter the belly of the beast.


Dakhath Squadron
0133 Hours (CST)

Jhathar's lip curled into a contemptuous sneer. The humans' bomber aircraft had still not managed to deliver the deathblow, what had one of the humans called it? The "Coup de grace,” to the Kraken yet. Even with the remaining Kilrathi fighters providing them with cover they were either too inept or too cowardly to put themselves in harm's way long enough to press home their attacks and successfully deliver the remaining torpedoes of their payloads to the target. As for the capital ships, they too still skulked on the fringes of the battle like -- what was the insulting term the monkeys used? -- "Scaredy Cats," frightened of their own shadows. He had expected nothing less from the apes, but surely with Catharx in command they would show more backbone? The monkey called Murdoch must have courage -- enough to steal his shiny new vessel from his masters, but not enough to pit it against the Nephilim?

"<What are these stupid apes waiting for?>" Jhathar snarled to his wingman in Kilrathi, "<Why can't they put the crippled beast out of our misery?>"

"<Who knows?>" growled his wingman, "<perhaps they are savoring their inevitable victory? Taunting their helpless foe?>"

Jhathar's grunting, coughing laugh was unmistakably sardonic in tone. "<Perhaps. Or Perhaps they are simply weak and cowardly. How did we let ourselves be defeated by such as them?>"

"Maybe, furry..." Coroner's dangerously cold voice broke into the Cats' conversation, his comm system having translated their snarls and growls into English for him, "... because you're supremely overconfident and have an enormously inflated opinion of your own prowess?"

"How dare you?" Jhathar exploded... in English this time.


722nd "Mosquitoes"

F-106A Piranha 101; Stinger Lead
0135 Hours (CST)

"Easily," Coroner answered, pulling the trigger. Powell had managed to save a couple of heatseekers, presumably with a chance at revenge in mind. Fired from the perfect range and from directly six o'clock they were accompanied by an uninterrupted stream of shells from the Piranha’s stormfire cannon. Less thrifty than Coroner, the Kilrathi pilot hadn't saved any decoys for emergencies. With nothing to distract the missiles' guidance systems and little time or room to maneuver, the two Javelins slammed into the port engine of the already damaged Kat fighter.

Coroner kept the pipper centered on the target, emptying the stormfire's remaining ammunition into the Bloodfang before adding his energy weapons' fire to the barrage, raking it from nose to tail. The big fighter couldn't out-turn the nimble Piranha and in moments plasma-flame engulfed the left engine pod, streaming back in the fighter's ion-wake. Another, far larger explosion three seconds later signaled the catastrophic collapse of magnetic containment in the fighter's reactor, blowing it to pieces. Kurt thought he heard Jhathar howl in agony for a split second before static replaced the Kilrathi's ugly features on the comm display.

"Payback's a bitch, isn't it?" Powell shouted in triumph.

"Yes, monkey, it is!" Coroner's shields and armor served to protect him briefly, but the combined firepower of Jhathar's three wingmen quickly hammered his F-106 into certain oblivion. As the cockpit and the rest of the fighter disintegrated around him, Kurt's face was set in a relaxed smile. It didn't matter anymore. He was finally at peace with himself and the universe.