: “ Welcome to Hell ”
PART 6 OF 6 : END OF THE LINE  ( 2 / 2 )


BWS Sicily; Weightroom
21st February 2681 (2861.052); 1421 Hours (CST)

Rat slid the last plate onto the racked bar, then flopped onto the bench. He arched his back slightly, braced his feet on the floor, and sucked in a big breath. Held it. Weight off the stand. Heavy, very heavy. Heavier than the last time he’d gone for a max, a month ago when he’d blown a blood vessel under the tongue. Still, what did you expect 250 lbs. to feel like? Down, under control, almost touching the chest -­ can’t come too far down without pain in that right shoulder -­ and up again. Come on! You can fucking do this! Use that anger! Come on, push it back up! “Aaaarrrrrnnhhh!” A growl that burns your vocal cords as you blast the air from your lungs in a violent grunt to get through the sticking point. That’s one, and actually ridiculously easy for the amount of weight you know is on the bar ­- you could have lifted more. So, can we get a second rep? The bar is descending almost by itself, as your body continues the automatic actions while your mind tarries over the choice, so you have to get it hoisted up again to rack it. Breathe in again. Shit… it’s getting heavy! Now it feels like 250. No, it feels more like 350! Blow out that air and push it up, quickly. The longer you hold it the more tired those pecs are going to get and the heavier it’ll feel. There’s the pain in the right front deltoid muscle starting. Should have used the Smith machine, or a spotter… no point in worrying about that now, got to get that bastard racked. “Mother fuckerrrrrr…!” Clank! The weight crashes back into the cradle, and your breaths come hard and fast. As you open your eyes, steam curls from your forehead. To save power they’ve turned the heating off, or at least a long way down, and near the hull here it’s cold. Lift your feet up onto the bench to ease the pain in those cramping lower back muscles, and massage that right dealt. The incline work you’ve been doing has helped, and being angry must have been good for 10% extra, but that shoulder ­- hope it’s not the beginnings of a rotator cuff problem.

The anger had gone, washed away by the sheer effort of 250 lbs. for 2 reps. Not to mention the fear of getting that weight stuck on his chest. Stupid that, going for a max without a spotter but Rat generally worked out alone. Here, now, on a ship full of people he couldn’t trust, was it surprising he was here in an entirely deserted gym? It was as bad as being in prison, he thought, but at least he didn’t have to worry about getting shanked in the showers. Well, he hoped, anyway. Snakebite, Sparky and their mates could be a problem. Were a problem, a problem and angry and frustrated Rat didn’t have a solution to, yet. He couldn’t frag them himself and couldn’t just wait for the bugs to do it for him now they were in sickbay. With luck though, they might just stay there until all this was over. A separated shoulder, broken nose and jaw, not to mention Biggles’ shattered cheekbone ­- might keep them out of action for a few days, easily long enough for this all to be over. He was doing a good job of putting the Border Worlder forces out of action all by himself!

He rubbed at his own painful face. Still sore from the beating he’d taken when he was passed out drunk, the elevated blood pressure from lifting heavy hadn’t made it any more comfortable, and it was still throbbing now as his breathing returned to normal. Sitting up on the bench, he absently scratched at his itching scalp. Those stitches would have to come out in a day or two. Right now though, finish the workout. Take about 30% of the weight off the bar, set the incline, and lets go. Feet planted, shoulders pressed into the bench, back slightly arched. Grip the bar, deep breath, weight off the rack, down to the chest, just above the nipple line, and off we go, looking for 10 good reps.

One. Two. Three…


About the same time, near TF Bravo's BARCAP station 3

Swooping Hawk “Warhawk” Warshawkski led his CAP section of four Excaliburs on an intercept vector toward an intermittent but large track that kept popping up on the Iwo Jima’s DSSS. As XO of the Ace of Spades Squadron he had his own personal aircraft, 210, and it bore a personal insignia, a mean-looking hawk wearing a war bonnet and swinging a large Tomahawk. Warhawk was part Lakhota Sioux, part Polish immigrant extraction. His parents had met whilst surveying a planet in the Gwynedd System. His mother was a naturalist, his father a paleobotanist. Both were pretty appalled when he entered the Space Force right after graduating with his geology degree, but were pleased when he left the service a few years later to follow in their footsteps of planetary survey work. He’d stayed on in the Space Force as an active reservist, though his frequent movements around the galaxy had forced him to transfer between squadrons often until recently when he’d taken a post as resident geologist in the 61 Cygni System. That had allowed him to settle into a squadron and get promoted to XO, and hopefully a CO soon.

His wingman, “Wild Bill” William Sharper was tucked in close to his wing, close enough to easily pick out his Aces and Eights Dead Man’s Hand artwork adorning the fuselage. “Cowboy and the Indian” was the un-PC but affectionate way the rest of the squadron referred to them.

“Ace Two One Zero, this is Strike. Bogeys now 264 by 005 for 90 and closing.”

“Copy.” The mystery track was now 90,000 klicks away, right on their nose and heading straight for them. Guess that the enemy aircraft were doing about 500 KPS like they were gave 1,000 KPS closure speed, put them a minute and a half away. “Better loosen it up there, Cowboy,” he told Sharper.

“You got it, pardner,” Sharper drawled, banking away.

Glancing out of the opposite side of the cockpit Warhawk spotted the running lights of the second pair of the flight spreading out and moving away, adopting a combat spread as well. Green and Collins were obviously on the ball as well: So far so good.

“Ace, Strike. Estimate twenty-five plus, now confirmed as bandits.”

“Copy that.” Seconds ticked by. Warhawk was just beginning to wonder if the intermittent track was a phantom, or if they’d turned away, when his scanner leapt into life. Several trios of purple blips filled the MFD screen. A second group appeared moments later and it contained some Orca-class corvettes along with the smaller Nephilim fighters.

“Warhawk, we’re six minutes away,” came the answer to his unspoken question: ‘How far away is our backup?’ ­ from major Josh “Joker” Ware and his flight of alert birds, who had been scrambled to meet them. Still, six minutes was a long, long time in A2A combat. Especially when you’re outnumbered this badly. If we’re going to run, we have to do it now in the next few seconds before they come into missile range…

“Posse, break right!” Warhawk ordered. Wheeling through 180 degrees they ran straight towards Joker and his flight of Bearcats, bugs in trail behind them, just outside their missile envelope. Warhawk had to judge the right moment to turn back into them. They would turn back 180 degrees, run through the merge and then both they and the bugs would break back toward each other to start the turning fight. He wanted to time it so that the Nephilim would expose their sixes to the Bearcats as they entered perfect missile range. It would be a matter of fine judgment and then brute force in turning their Excaliburs as tightly as possible. But at the moment, it looked like the bugs were going to catch up to them and force them to turn and fight before he could execute his plan.

Joker had seen the problem too, and felt he had no choice but to order his flight of Spartans to start using valuable afterburner fuel. “Thermopylae, through the gate,” he ordered, pushing his own throttle into reheat. The vibration through his seat and the rumble in his ears increased dramatically. The vibration was so bad it blurred his vision. Something definitely not right there, he thought, have to tell the crew chief when we get back, he made a mental note.

Warhawk’s flight reversed back into the bugs in front of him, blue and purple blips on the scanner merging as the melee began. The heat-seeker he had selected growled its audible acquisition tone as the locking brackets spiraled rapidly across his HUD to lock onto the enemy fighter’s tail.

“Thermopylae, fire at will. Fox Two!” A faint thump came from under the Bearcat’s stubby wings as the missile dropped free, followed by a flash and a roar as the rocket engine fired into life, its exhaust gases spewing back in a smoky trail momentarily obscuring Joker’s view. He always worried for a split second that the missile had lost tracking but was always reassured by the sight of a red glare streaking across the darkness to home in on the brighter flare of the target’s engines, just as this missile was doing. Quickly he locked up another bug and let fly a second heat-seeker.


1 hour and 27 minutes later, TCS Iwo Jima landing pattern

Warhawk broke away from the SAR shuttle as it entered the landing pattern and was shuffled to the head of the queue. On board the rescue shuttle were his wingman, “Wild Bill” Sharper as well as Lt. Green. Collins had made it back to the boat, though a bit banged about. Joker was the only Bearcat that had been lost. Nobody could figure out what had happened to him. He hadn’t seemed to be in trouble, hadn’t ejected or called for help. He was just there one minute, a big ball of fire the next. Maybe it was some sort of mechanical failure, Warhawk mused. Bad bloody luck if it was. His Bearcats had torn through the first group of Nephilim fighters, but the timing hadn’t been quite right ­- Warhawk and his posse had been similarly caught out by the second group of bugs, who had then by-passed the dogfight after launching a single volley of missiles and headed for the main Task Force. They’d got a lucky hit on the BWS Christchurch and slowed her to 1/3 power. The bug battle group of capital ships had appeared on the long-range scans then, steaming right toward them. The crippled Christchurch had slowed the group’s escape down. But they’d lost a lot of time in SAR operations as well. They’d been hampered by interference from Nifelheim III’s massive radiation belts and the constant electric storms in the atmosphere of the gas giant, and the continent-sized eruptions on its inner moon, a volcanic satellite resembling Io in the Sol System. Tidal forces heated the interior to molten temperatures and the gigantic eruptions spewed sulfur and other noxious chemicals out hundreds of kilometers into space. The SARBE beacons were being swamped by the interference of emissions from these other sources at any sort of range, meaning the downed pilots had to be circled constantly by Warhawk until the SAR shuttle had arrived.

Not a good day at the office.


TCS Miles D'Arby
1650 Hours (CST)

The later after-action reports that arrived in the Wing Commander's E-mail weren't as happy as the initial ones. TF Alpha had received a Mayday call from TF Alpha, who had been surprised by a bug battle group and got one of their escorts crippled. Unwilling to leave her, they were making a fighting withdrawal, but would be overhauled and almost certainly annihilated by superior numbers if they didn't get help soon. Without the element of surprise, and the need to keep on repeatedly attacking the bugs to wipe them out, which they eventually had done -- they couldn't leave them free to attack Avernus Station, or to tail themselves -- as well as the need for more speed and less subtlety in planning the strikes, had led to 25% casualties overall. 25% losses in spacecraft -- several pilots had in fact ejected and been recovered safe and sound, with nothing more to show for their adventures than a sore back -- mostly to the bombers, of which they had precious few to begin with. The trainees hadn't done as badly as expected, their losses not catastrophic as might have been expected, running at about 30%, and again, many of these, including two of the trainee volunteers flying with Robber in a second attack run, had ejected and been rescued. Still, those Search And Rescue activities had taken vital minutes while they could have been covering the large distance between themselves and Task Force Bravo, who were in deep trouble.


BWS Sicily; Scrappers Ready Room
1657 Hours (CST)

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Major Jack De Ville said in a low voice.

“That we’re in the shit?” replied Alex Morgan.

“Apart from that. We're always in the shit, it's just a question of how deep! No, what I mean is ­- we’re now broadcasting our position after the Mayday call. Task Force Bravo is on its way here. Kirsty’s statement was filed yesterday -­ Black can now be arrested…”

“What about what the Colonel said -­ about us all working together? The morale and cooperation problem?”

“Well, we’re in the shit, aren’t we? It’s fight or die, now, isn’t it? Even if word gets out now, people will be too busy with the Bug problem to worry about it.”

“You sure?”

“I don’t know. But I persuaded Kristy to file the charge yesterday. The sooner you make these accusations, the more credible you are.”

“It’s not just an accusation.”

“I know that, what I mean is, I told her to get it in the system. I thought that with us and Bravo being incommunicado it wouldn’t matter.”

“Well then it’s out of our hands, now, and there’s nothing the Colonel can do about it.”

“Guess not.”

“Well there’s no sense in worrying about it, is there?”


About the same time, vicinity of Nifelheim III

Rat’s helmet placed uncomfortable pressure on his bruised face. The swelling had far from entirely disappeared and the added discomfort of the helmet made it hard to concentrate. He was used to the irritations and discomfort of life in a fighter cockpit but the additional distraction of pain in his face was unwanted and unneeded.

Come to think of it, he ached all over. Even those parts of his body that hadn’t been bruised in fights over the last few days ached through lifting weights. No number of (legal) supplements could eradicate the pain of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness as the tissues damaged by a brutal workout repaired themselves. Such was the price of vanity -- and not a little strength, of course. He grinned, thinking of the pounding he’d just dished out, then winced as the bruises of his face protested. Better not grin just yet anyway, since he didn’t know what comeback there was going to be.

Back to business ­- he looked to his right, searching for the vague shape of his wingman where his fighter blotted out the stars. The light from the orange K-type primary was quite dim out here and without running lights it was hard to make out another spacecraft more than a few tens of meters away. Pulling out his laser pen-light from the breast pocket of his flightsuit he waved it into the darkness and received an answering spot of dancing red laser light moments later.

Task Force Alpha had been hiding in the Trojan group of asteroids that travelled 60 degrees ahead of the gas giant Nifelheim III. By cunning, this allowed groups of fighters to emerge from the cover of the asteroid field in silent running, and lie dead, drifting, until they were hidden in Nifelheim’s dark side. There, a quick burn, hidden from the view of the Nephilim, allowed them to sneak up on the Bugs using coded commands from the SWACs birds, embedded in the normal comms chatter. Using this method they had managed to launch several surprise strikes against the alien vessels. However, the Nephilim had seemingly wised up to this trick and sent a reconnaissance in force toward these Trojans and the hiding place of the Task Force was discovered.

Rat and his flight had been tasked with feinting toward Task Force Bravo, who were now in a tailchase, attempting to cut across the orbit of the giant planet and thus catch up, but were still some hours away. TF Alpha was travelling at reduced pace because one of her escorts had been hit badly in the initial attack as they were flushed from cover in the Trojan group. Abandoning her was not an option, given the rumors about what was happening to ejected pilots the Bugs caught.

So, Rat, his wingmen, and a flight of Thunderbolts, had been given the task of feinting first toward the enemy, then breaking away at the first sign of interception, to feint a second time as if they were fleeing for safety with TF Bravo. However, this path must intersect the gravity well of Nifelheim III, and they would use a gravitational slingshot move to make a surprise attack in the rear of the Bug group, inflict as much damage as possible before escaping back to TF Alpha, having run clean through the Nephilim battle group ­- or failing that, break away and head for Avernus if the former plan wasn’t viable.

Avernus had been left unguarded, or virtually so. TF Bravo had destroyed the Nephilim force opposing them and threatening it in a surprisingly sudden and disastrous (for the bugs) direct attack launched by the previously elusive Nephilim.

Until now, the Bugs had seemingly tried to ignore the allied reserves who’d harried them with hit and run tactics (while staying always just out of reach of retaliation) to get to grips with the main forces that had brought them here. Seemingly, the irritation (or attrition) had become too much and TF Bravo had been forced into a set-piece battle to defend Avernus Station. With that shackle now removed, they were hurrying to the aid of TF Alpha who had broken communications blackout with a frantic distress call. They would not be in time to save TF Alpha though, unless Rat’s attack managed to slow the Nephilim group down, so engineering sections were the main target. Take out or damage the engines of the carrier and the bugs would be forced to slow down or make repairs, and buy them much needed time.


The control column jumped in Rat's hands as the fighter shook with the impact off the alien IFF missile. His shields flashed and crackled their disapproval as they dissipated the force of the blast, but held firm. He'd had too little warning to pump out any decoys. Breaking hard into the Manta attacking him, Rat grimaced as the five-point harness, pulled as tight as he could get it, pressed on ribs still bruised from the beating he'd received when too drunk to fight back. His head throbbed and the G forces had reopened damaged blood vessels inside his mouth and he had the familiar metallic taste of blood on his tongue.

"Running in now," came the call from the strike leader. Rat turned his head and saw the bright blobs of tipple-A fire start up. They seemed so slow and harmless from a distance, but he knew they were anything but. Rat felt sorry for the bombers, having to wade through that crap while he stayed on the periphery on the AAA bubble, tackling the interceptors. "For what we are about to receive," intoned the long-suffering voice of the strike leader, one of the Border Worlder pilots, Rat forgot his name. Blue flashes betrayed the impacts of the anti-spacecraft artillery on the bombers' shields. Rat turned his attention back to the Manta. Not a moment too soon, either. It had reversed its turn and Rat very nearly overshot. Instead, he pulled hard into the fighter-bomber and gained a few degrees more angle on it. Next time they crossed in the scissors, he'd have a shot. That is if the fucker's wingman didn't spoil his party.

"Helen, is my tail clear?" Rat asked Helen "Heaven" Bach, flying on his own wing.

"You're clear, Rat," came the swift reply.

The Manta slid into Rat's gunsight, but he couldn't fire yet. A bit of lead... a bit more, Guns -- full. Master arm -- on. Take up the pressure on the trigger... Fire! The Bug fighter squirmed under the hail of Tachyon fire, but to no avail. Rat kept the pipper squarely sighted on the big, ugly fighter bomber and watched the shields get stripped away, followed by comforting flashes and sparks as his guns smashed home into armor plate, then fluids and goop started to fly off, then chunks of the spaceframe. The Manta fishtailed wildly, the cockpit cover blew off and the pilot ejected at the very last possible moment as his fighter broke up around him. It didn't do him much good as Rat lit his burner and blew through the debris from the exploding fighter, splattering the ejected pilot all over his frontal shields.

"Hey Helen," Rat called to his wingman, "What's the last thing that goes through a bug's brain when it hit's your windshield?" He didn't wait for a response before answering, "It's arse!"

Suddenly a huge fireball in Rat's peripheral vision grabbed his attention. One of the smaller Nephilim capital ships must have had her bridge shot away, and she'd steamed at full power into one of the others, whose engines were out and who were dead in space, powerless to prevent the collision. Both vessels were engulfed in incandescent turmoil, as the back of the second vessel was broken, shearing the cooling systems for the reactors. Plasma was vented with predictably catastrophic results. The Leviathan, about to collide with the fireball, slowed and turned, giving the strike package a great opportunity, which they seized with both hands. A dozen torpedoes streaked toward the supercarrier's engines. Not all hit, but enough did, rupturing cooling systems, fuel feeds, destroying control systems and obliterating one of the engine nozzles. To avoid a complete meltdown, the bugs rapidly shut down the power. The Leviathan was dead in space, for as long as it took to make repairs or take her under tow -- surely long enough for Task Force Bravo to join up and help in the total destruction of this group. Unless the bugs abandoned the damaged carrier and continued their attack on Alpha with their remaining cruisers, destroyers and corvettes, which was a possibility, and an unpleasant scenario, things were looking up.

Still, he and his wingmen had to extricate themselves from this frantic dogfight first. It really was a frenetic mess, fighters everywhere. Just when you got lined up on one, you'd have to break hard away from one of his friends lining up on your tail. That last kill had been the first clean shot he'd had all through the engagement.

Then the sky was empty. Someone called "splash one -- complete." Complete meant there weren't any more enemy spacecraft in sight. Rat never ceased to be amazed at how the sky could be full of bandits one second, then empty the next. Evidently, the remaining bug interceptors had decided to RTB while Rat had been chasing a couple away from their carrier, carrying him away from the fight. Still, at velocities of 500 KPS, separations could become very large in a very short amount of time!

"Bring it in, guys," Rat ordered, "we're heading for home."


About the same time
TCS Miles D'Arby; Officers' Quarters

Wing Commander Michael Black was surprisingly calm. His emotional overflow of the previous day seemed to have cleansed him. He had a smile on his face as he composed an E-mail on his palm-pad to the divorce lawyer his solicitor had put him in touch with. He wondered if he would soon need to ask for a recommendation for a good defense specialist, but pushed that thought from his mind. If that bitch hadn’t reported the attack at the time, chances are she probably never would. Then, as if taking cue from the worries in his mind, the door buzzed ominously.

“One moment,” Black said, opening the dresser drawer to put the palm pad into it. His head whipped round at the sound of the door opening. The lock had been over-ridden. “What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.

“I’m afraid you’re under arrest, sir.” Two large MPs filled the doorway.

“On what charge?” Black tried to keep his expression one of surprise and his tone fairly neutral.

“For the attempted rape of Captain Kristy Joyce.”

“I see,” acknowledged Black. His hand, palm pad still in it, hovered inside the open drawer. Just beneath it, out of sight of the MPs, was a loaded pistol. “I’ll be right with you,” Black’s eyes never left the MPs. The policeman on Black’s left, who had spoken, dropped his hand to the butt of his own pistol, holstered on his belt, almost as if he had read Black’s mind. The flap covering it had already been unfastened. Black’s brain was working at a million miles per hour. His gun was loaded and the safety could be thumbed off as he lifted it to bear on the MPs, but his body was extended and he was off balance. Moreover, he would have to swing the gun through 90 degrees to aim at the MPs. Or he could shoot himself instead, if they didn’t do it for him. Weighing the options in his head, he dropped the palm pad, and after a moment of indecision, slowly lifted his empty hand from the drawer and shut it gingerly. It wasn’t worth the risk. The odds were still with him. It was her word against his, and she was a combat pilot in a war zone, and could well be killed in the next 24 hours ­- and with her, the case against him. Her entire carrier could be destroyed for that matter -­ and if what he’d heard was true, probably would be. Or the D’Arby and himself might well be the victim of the Nephilim. May as well roll the dice and take a chance. It was certainly larger than his chances of shooting dead both MPs, stealing a shuttle or fighter, and getting off the ship without being stopped (although the lack of outer doors on the small escort carrier was in his favor). And where would he go, anyway? Turn to piracy in the ‘belt, here, or in another system? He couldn’t land at any civilized world ­- his DNA and other details were on record with Confed. He’d be picked up within weeks.

“No problem, gentlemen. I’ll come quietly and I’m sure we can get this all straightened out quickly.” He extended his wrists out to them. “You better put the cuffs on. Regulations.”

“Yes, sir.” Black noticed the MP thumb the safety on his pistol back to “safe” and inwardly smiled. He’d called it right ­- at least on the idea of gunplay and making a run for it. He’d have been dead before he’d got the gun clear of the drawer.

Flanked by the two MPs, he went smiling to meet his fate.


SS Boudicca, somewhere out beyond Nifelheim V
1709 Hours (CST)

“We’ve got a contact, closing fast,” Metcalfe announced gravely.

“Ours?” Jackson asked with more hope than expectation.

“No chance. Gotta be some of these bugs.”

“Estimated time to intercept?”

“About 15 minutes.”

“Hell. We’re nowhere near Davey Jones, yet. And Nif Five and any moonlets we might hide near is behind us…”

“What about the nearest jump point?”

“Might make it. The Loki jump point is about… 20 minutes away. But there’s a minefield, and we haven’t mapped it.”

“They’ve locked us up and increased speed. Intercept in about 12 minutes, now.”

“Never make it.”

“No…” the warble of the radar lock from the ECM suite was the only sound in the cabin for several seconds.

“Hold on… I’ve an idea,” Jackson announced. “It’s mad, but it just might work.”

“Mad is something I can live with right now. 10 minutes and counting.”

“There’s a short period comet in the area, and it’s undergoing a period of outgassing. We’re a fair way out in the system here, but it’s got a coma and a tail. We could try hiding in the tail and hope that it blanks out the bug sensor equipment.”

“You’re right, it is mad. We’ve no dust shields!” Metcalfe protested.

“Well we hide in the ion tail then. Ride it as far out as possible toward the Kuiper belt…”

“OK. How far, what bearing?”

“2 degrees 17 minutes port, 4 degrees 43 minutes nose down. About 5 minutes away at max g burn.”

“Course plotted.”

“Fingers crossed.” The seconds ticked away like hours.

“Turn that fucking warning off, it’s driving me nuts,” Metcalfe growled.

“No, we need to know if and when the lock is broken,” argued Jackson through gritted teeth. “Here we go… entering the edge of the ion tail now.”

“Five minutes and still closing. Still locked on to us,” moaned Metcalfe.

“I can hear that!” Jackson snapped. “Wait… it’s stopped!”

“Lock broken! Shut the engines off!”

“They’re off. Steering thrusters only to keep us lined up in the tail.”

“They’ve changed course, turned away,” Metcalfe announced jubilantly.

“That was a close one,” Jackson breathed a sigh of relief.

“You’re telling me.”

“Still, I’ve been in tighter squeezes,” Jackson told him, “there was this one time in Vega…”


BWS Sicily; Briefing Room
1730 Hours (CST)

"Okay, Listen up," shouted Colonel Tanagawa as he strode up to the dais. "I'll make this quick and dirty. The strike this afternoon on the enemy group we've code named 'Moby Dick' took out the engines of the carrier and destroyed a frigate and a destroyer. Since then, two cruisers have been trying to take her in tow because she's in a decaying orbit toward Nif Three. Looks like you did a real number on her engines, and they are panicking she'll be too deep in the gravity well to climb out by the time they get her under way again." A cheer erupted from the gathered pilots, grins cracking out on faces lined too often with worry instead, of late.

"Settle down, settle down. The bad news is that they've sent the rest of the destroyers and a cruiser after us, and in about," he glanced at his watch, "twenty seven minutes they'll reach the Christchurch. She's dead in the water, drifting, in a stable orbit around Nif 3b -- that's the second largest moon. She's making repairs, because she had to redline her reactors while we were running. They're still too hot to work on and it's going to be at least three hours minimum before she's going anywhere. So, we've turned around and we're heading back into Dodge, to head them off at the pass. This is going to be the gunfight at the OK Corral, and the Clanton boys got us outnumbered. On the upside, Doc Holiday and Task Force Bravo are heading our way to lend a hand. It ain't the 7th Cavalry, but it's better than cousin Jessie and his squirrelgun!"

"We'll need to provide CAP for the Christchurch, and at the same time we're launching everything else we've got at those destroyers. Bravo is going to tackle the Leviathan and the cruisers with her. We'll mop up anything we miss afterwards. Nav points have already been uploaded to your spacecraft. Squadron commanders, you have five minutes to give your squadrons further information or instructions before preflights. We need to be on our way in under fifteen, people."

"Hey, sir," one of the female Border Worlder pilots shouted.

"Yes, what is it?"

"Well... if the bug group has split up, which is which? I mean, are we getting Moby, or are we just getting dick?"

"If you want some dick, call me after the mission!"