Episode 28 (2180.09.13)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits, as before.
"Okay, let's get this underway," Juan said, tossing his jacket onto the back of a chair.
"What's up?" Ree asked.
"Boring administrative tasks."
"We have better things to do," Ree said as she sat down.
"Such as?" Emiko asked her.
"I don't know," Ree shrugged her shoulders. "Something would have come up though."
"Will this take long?" Diane asked as she took her seat.
"Then let's go," Tern said, taking a seat beside Emiko.
"Someone in the Battalion, obviously with too much time on their hands, has put together a formal rank structure. Stupid, but it has been done." He picked up and EO pad. "Basically, we use naval ranks, starting way up their at Admiral, and working down to the lowest of the officer rank, junior lieutenant, chosen over ensign or midshipman. Non com ranks running form master petty officer to, seaman, chosen over the rather silly, spaceman."
"Are you serious?" Diane asked.
"I think the question you want is if they are serious, and yes they are," he tossed her the EO pad. "Take a look yourself."
Diane caught the pad and took a look at it. She began shaking her head.
"Some changes to take note of, or so I have been told, is that Frost now goes by Admiral Frost. I'm willing to bet he really hates that, so of course I'll be using it every chance I get. Other members of the upper staff have also been given new, Battalion ranks, which you can learn on your own.
"Now, as for us. We have been removed from Thunder Blade, and team 6 has been dissolved."
"At least no one will miss the name," Ree said. "Of course I just got the unit patch sewed on my jacket."
"So what are we now?" Conaly asked.
"Special missions unit, when needed. Other times, we just do the sort of work we have all been doing. Training, commanding, excetra."
"So, is that it?" Ree asked.
"Basically. I mean there is a whole load of other stuff about chains of command, and proper procedure and how everything fits together now, but it is boring. Oh, there are our new ranks under this system." Juan picked up several small boxes from the table.
"You can call me commander Varris from now on, if you want. Personally I prefer Juan. Ree," he tossed her a box. "Commander."
"Lucky me," she said as she caught the box then opened it. "Where did they make these?" Ree asked.
"Who knows. It wouldn't surprise me if the Alincourts had a factory for putting out cheap jewellery. Now, our two Marshals can either go by Marshal, or by Commander, they basically translate to the same thing according to the new regs." He tossed them each a box.
"Some one has too much time on their hands," Diane said.
"Yes, yes," Juan said. "Tern, Commander." He threw the box towards him. "By the way, they wanted to make you a Captain and give you command of a big ship, but I told them it wouldn't interest you."
"Epiphany," he threw her a box. "Lieutenant Commander. Sorry, but it seems you have been pegged as Ree's adjutant, so..."
"All right," Ree said. "I have a slave, err, I mean, adjutant. Of course, I can't quite remember what you do with adjutants." Ree thought about it for a moment. "Delegate and disappear rings a bell."
"You'll make a great officer," Juan told her. "Emiko, you got a choice. Lieutenant or Chief Petty Officer."
"What the difference?"
"They need an Admiral if they are to charge a petty officer," Ree said. "You see, most of the time, the POs are as old as the Admirals and the Admirals are not going to put anyone in jail that they drink with. Everyone will call you 'Chief' as well."
"I'll stick with Lieutenant," Emiko said.
"Good choice," Juan tossed her the second last of the boxes. "Okay, I've done everything I have had to so we're done here. Keep on your toes, I think something is about to happen."
"Such as?" Ree asked.
"Don't know, but Placide Strazza showed up a few hours ago. Something has to be up."
"They are planning on attacking me?" Avatar asked.
"Actually they are planning on attacking Zanzibar, Platt City in particular," Placide said.
"It is the same thing."
"Be that as it may, we have to do something about it," Redding said. "We've promised our allies that we will protect them if necessary, they'll be watching to see what we do."
"Stand up fight time," Jesse said. "Not going to be fun."
"Since we are all here now, I'd like to get down to the initial battle plans. Miss Strazza, please tell us what we will be facing."
"No one thinks that Zanzibar will be much of a threat so they won't be making this a major offensive. Grand Marshall Richter claims that this is to be done to deal with Zanzibar before it becomes a threat. He is worried that the Earthers will make a deal with you," she told Avatar.
"I pretty lie. What's the truth?"
"I think he wants to hurt the Battalion, but he is not going to say that on the record."
"How did you find out?" Jesse asked her.
"They needed some scouting done, so they came to me for Jagers that they could put their full trust in."
"I take it that they do not suspect you," Redding said.
"Is your being here going to be a problem."
"Possibly, but I don't think so. I'll stay on my toes just in case."
"What will they be throwing at me?"
"The main task force will be Infinity Force with support form Malachi force. Infinity force is based around a carrier, Malachi Force is made up of several cruisers."
"We don't have anything that will stand up to that," Jesse said.
"Perhaps," Redding paused. "They cannot tie those forces up for too long. They want a quick, decisive victory. All we need to do is deny them that and they will pull back. Of course doing that will be difficult. Mr. Shiva, what sort of defences do you have around Zanzibar?"
"We recently finished setting up a Probability Anchor field which can be brought on line at any time. I'm thinking that if we can get a time, the field could be activated when the ODF forces are shunting in. Could be troublesome."
"The ODF knows about your anchors," Placide told him.
"What else?" Redding asked.
"Mine fields, some gun drones, this and that."
"A start. Mr. Ryuzaki, what can we supply?"
"Depends, want to leave us open?"
"Say three to four blades, with some other forces."
"We need a plan."
"Why not talk to Kareen Maxil?" Placide asked. "She served in Infinity force for some time. She might have some useful information."
"A good start. We must have some other people who served in either Infinity or Malachi force."
"Probably," Jesse said, "but I'd rather talk to someone I know."
"Call Miss Maxil, and I also want to talk to the Alincourt's representative."
"That would be Josephine, this week."
"Fine, call them both in here."
"So they are attacking Zanzibar?" Ree asked.
"Yes," Redding told her.
"And they have General 'Lead Head' leading it?"
"I've been led to understand that your relationship with General London was rather rocky."
"He deserved to be shot. General London will want complete control over Malachi force, which will upset Allandra, but he'll get it. Once he has made a big noise about how he wants everything 'run tight' he'll turn everything over to Colonel Pitt. Pitt knows his job, he's got the largest ODF, Mekton force to work with, he'll do it. Evacuate Zanzibar."
"We cannot do that Commander," Redding said, reminding everyone just who made policy. "We have to defend Zanzibar."
"Tough one," Ree said.
"Give it some thought. Miss Alincourt," he turned towards Josephine. "How many warships can you give us."
"By when Admiral?" she asked.
"Well, in three days," she paused. "None."
"I'm sorry Admiral, we are having some difficulty with the refits."
"What sort of problems?"
"Right now we are working on maintaining the size of the staterooms."
"Yes Admiral Frost."
"These are supposed to be warships."
"Yes Admiral, but that does not mean that they have to be uncomfortable."
Redding stared at her for several seconds. "Have you ever been on a warship?"
"Well, I've seen pictures. They look very uncomfortable."
"We have six Rubies we can use as command ships and carriers," Jesse said, deciding that changing the conversation's tone a little would be for the best.
"They are unarmed," Redding said.
"But they do out manoeuvre and are faster than anything the ODF is currently fielding. If they stay towards the rear they should be safe enough."
"Josie," Ree said, something thoughtful in her voice. "about those ships, will these staterooms have full bathrooms?"
"Not quite," she said. "You see..."
"What does this have to do with the attack on Zanzibar?" Redding demand.
"Nothing, I was just curious."
"Miss Maxil..." Redding began.
"I think I know how Pitt will handle things," she said.
"Then please tell us." Redding sounded like he was fighting to keep his voice even.
"Pitt likes playing little games, doing whatever he can to throw his enemy off stride. Odds are the he will have Infinity force come in out in the open." Ree picked up a remote terminal and began entering information. On the screen at the end of the room a map of the space around Zanzibar was displayed. "He'll come in straight ahead, on a course that will bring him right above Platt." An arrow was displayed on the screen, showing the projected course.
"And Malachi force?" Jesse asked.
"Getting to that. Now, what Pitt will be thinking that any defending force will set themselves up to meet his attack. You don't want to fight too close to a planet unless you can avoid it, so, let's say that you put your line here." A line cut across the arrow. "He then has Malachi drop their cloaks, maybe ninety degrees to his course, ten thousand kilometres farther in." She indicated a point on the map. "Pitt likes stuff like this. It gets his opponent scared and throws them into confusion. Do you break up your forces on your line to send something to deal with Malachi? Do you call up reserves? Do you just ignore them and concentrate on the main threat? That's Pitt's way of doing things."
"We need to break Infinity's forward advance, slow them down," Redding said, looking at the screen.
"We could do it, but to what point," Ree said. "As things stand now, I don't think we have the forces to stop them."
"We don't have to stop them Miss Maxil, we just have to hurt them a little. The ODF are not going to accept any serious losses over Zanzibar, they cannot afford to. All we have to do is hurt them enough in the opening moves that they decide to give up on this. The longer they tie up forces dealing with Zanzibar, the longer the SAC has an opening, the more ships they loose dealing with Zanzibar..." he trailed off.
"What if we put all our big guns in a position to drop their cloaks and open up on Infinity force. We could probably take out the carrier."
"And then get cut to shreds by the return fire," Placide said. "That turned out the be a costly strategy at Northern Rings, and we had real warships."
"Good point," Jesse conceded.
"Do you have any planetary defence guns Mr. Shiva?" Redding asked.
"Six, maybe we can get the seventh working again. Only one is really powerful enough to be a major concern to any warship, and few of them have much in the way of target acquisition software. I do not think they could be used effectively as the sort of deterrence you want."
"I see. Miss Alincourt, do you have the facilities to produce antiship mines?"
"Perhaps, but if your time frame is three days, we will not be able to give you many."
"Even a few, properly placed..."
"I'll slow down, possibly stop, and definitely hurt Infinity force," Ree interrupted.
"I see," Redding said. "And how do you propose to do that?"
"By exploiting their biggest weakness, General London."
"You think you can do that?"
"I'm pretty sure."
"What will you need?"
"Your Arrows?" Jesse said, not liking the sound of that-he had hoped to claim one of the Arrows for himself.
Ree ignored him. "And a ship, I think it will have to be the Perth."
"Why the Perth?"
"It has enough guns to do what I need. I'll also need some special ordinance," she picked up an EO pad and began making a list.
"I'll need details," Redding said.
"I'll give them to you. Can you get Epiphany in here for me Admiral? I'll need to pick her brain. He experience with Infinity is fresher than mine."
Redding nodded and looked towards Jesse, delegating the task to him.
"This is so exciting," Josephine said.
"This will never work," Dawn said.
"Sure it will Captain," Ree told her. "It is just the sort of plan that will work, assuming of course Marcey has not changed." Ree looked over at Epiphany.
"She is still making the same mistakes. Pitt was trying to get her to change, but she has a good relationship with the general."
"Damn brown nosing idiot," Ree said, but with no malice. "Well, it is time she learned her lesson. You can do it?"
"I know where to hit."
"Captain Collins, I'm asking a lot of you and the Perth, but I expect you can do it."
Dawn smiled after a few second. "We'll see, won't we."
"When do we go?" Diane asked.
"Soon, within 24 hours."
"When is the attack expected?" Epiphany asked.
"Not sure, 48 to 60 hours from now."
"Not a lot of time for any practice," Diane said.
"I'm not sure that I should be here," Emiko said.
"Nonsense," Ree told her. "It's time for a combat test. It has to come eventually, now is as good as time as any. You've been training long enough."
"But this is important."
"Any time you go into battle is important. Lieutenant, stow your worries and just get ready to fight," Ree said with mock sterness.
The whole of Infinity force shunted into the area at almost exactly the same time. To the front was the cruiser 'Freya', just behind it was the Infinity. The other two cruisers, the 'Bon Avista' and the 'Mecury' were twenty kilometres off the Infinity's port and starboard bow, respectively.
The moment the Infinity arrived, its battleriders began to cast off, moving into their positions. In less than a minute the 16 battleriders were clear of the carrier and moving off towards their positions.
General London looked up at the ceiling screen, watching as everything unfolded. It was all very neat and controlled. He was very much in favour of neat and controlled operations-not that he set them up. The initial formation would be held until they made first contact with the enemy. Then of course things would get disorganised.
Off to the side Colonel Pitt was less interested in the formation of the ships than in what was ahead of them.
"Sir," Pitt called. "We have sensor contact with a number of ships in orbit around Zanzibar. They are currently moving towards an intercept course."
Pitt and London were two very different men. Pitt was an old man, rough, with a crooked nose, and a shaved head. He wore work dress, as did most of the crew. London was a younger man, almost handsome, who wore a dress uniform more often than not.
"Sir, should I launch the fighters and interceptors now?" Pitt asked. It was his way of telling London what to do, but being diplomatic about it.
"Do that Colonel," he said, nodding.
Pitt grasped a hand hold and pulled himself up to flight controllers station. The bridge was small and the duty stations were stacked two high. "Two teams of fighters along our course, two spotting craft with them. Have the cruisers each put out a team of interceptors, all battleriders will launch their suits, keep the suits close to their ships."
"Yes sir," the flight controller said.
Pitt moved down to the sensor station. "Anything?"
"No sir," the sensor op said. "The enemy ships are slowing down, we will be in optimum range in twenty to thirty minutes."
"Sing out when they are in range of the Class 7s."
Pitt moved over to the communications station. "Call up the 'Jolly Cut', tell them I want them to move out in front of the Freya. Make sure they keep their eyes open for mines. Have the 'Klysdale' and the 'Mozart' move to cover the hole that will leave."
Pitt nodded as he moved back, looking up at the ceiling screen. There had to be other ships out there. The pirate was too smart to send such a small force against the ODF. That bothered Pitt. It was possible that he had given up the planet, simply left. Somehow he doubted that.
He looked over at General London, but the General just sat in his command chair, looking supremely confident. Pitt looked back at the ceiling. Where could the other forces be hiding? On the other side of the planet? Perhaps still on the surface. They had to be close enough to come to the aid of the other ships.
He moved up close to the sensor op again. "Increase range of the scanners, check the poles of the planet, and right on the periphery," he said softly. It was inconvenient to have to move up close to all the crew, giving his orders quietly, but it was necessary. The General was the only one to call out orders.
What were they planning, he asked himself as he moved back, looking back up at the screen. The force ahead of them would pull them in, then an attack on his flanks. That made sense, but where would it come from. Could they shunt it in? It would be just like the pirate. Take them by surprise. Of course the probability anchors would make the impossible, as long as they were functioning.
He moved close to the sensor op again. "Keep an eye on the behaviour of the probability anchors, if they change in any way let me know, right away."
Pitt moved back again, looking back to the screen. He felt a little better, but was not relaxed. He had found one possibility for counter attack, but not all of them. Until he had exhausted the possibilities, or the battle began, he would not be able to let it go.
"Sir," the sensor op called out. "I just tagged something."
"What..." Pitt began, then forced himself to silence.
"What is it?" Falkirk asked, not noticing his first officer's indiscretion.
"I'm not sure, it is directly along our course, but I'm having a hard time getting any sort of lock on it. It is jamming us."
"The forward spotters have also detected it," the flight controller said. "They are not in visual range yet."
"How big is it?"
"I'm not sure General, but I'd estimate in the cruiser size, but it is impossible to be sure."
"General," the com tech called out. "We're getting a signal, its using an older encryption pattern, but it is one of ours. I think it is coming from the ship ahead of us."
"Who is it from?"
"I'm not sure, but they are asking for you."
"What? Ask them to identify themselves."
The com tech relayed his request then waited for the reply. "They say, 'a friend'."
"It is probably some sort of diversion," Pitt told him.
"Perhaps," Falkirk said. "I want to hear it. Give me a directional mike and put it on the speaker."
"Yes sir," the com tech said.
"This is General London, who are you?"
"Falkirk, it's been too long. Are you in your office getting drunk yet? How's the leg?" A bright and cheerful voice came from the speakers.
"Maxil," Falkirk said, his voice a whisper.
"Cut that transmission," Pitt said.
"No!" Falkirk said. "What are you doing here Maxil?"
"You know, they say what goes around comes around. I'm here to destroy your career. I'm going to heap disgrace upon disgrace on you. Let's see if your daddy can save you this time."
"You are a fool!" he yelled.
"Calm down Falkirk, you're going to bust a vein. Tell you what, you just go down to your office and get drunk, give control over to Pitt. When this goes all to hell they'll charge you with dereliction of duty, not being at your post, and some other minor stuff you might recover from. Stay on that bridge and they'll hang you from the highest yard arm and let the birds pick out your eyes. Isn't that a pleasant picture."
"Break out of formation, all other ships maintain present course, set a course for that ship, all engines ahead full!" Falkirk screamed, spittle from his mouth drifting in the micro gravity.
"Sir, we should not..." Pitt began.
"You will be quiet Mr. Pitt or I will have you shot for mutiny."
"What, you're coming after me?" Ree asked. "Are you that stupid Falkirk. The Colonel sets up the battle formation, what right do you have to change it. You're an armchair general. Remember that."
"I can't believe Pitt is letting you do this. What about you Roger? You're still the helmsman, I figure you can't be happy about following that idiot's orders."
"Shut up!" Falkirk bolted to his feet, the action propelled him up so he hit the ceiling.
"Come on Roger, you keep that pistol on you, just in case of boarding. Shoot him."
"Shoot him Roger. I know you want to do it. Do you know how much I enjoyed it when I shot him?"
"It was better than sex. That look on his face when he saw the pistol, then the way he cried after I shot him. It was wonderful. You were there Roger, you remember it. Come on Roger, shoot him."
"Shut up, shut up, shut up. I'll kill you. I'll kill you dead."
"A bad General and bad with language. Come on Colonel Pit, you know that I'm going to hurt you bad unless you get back in control. It is your duty to relieve the General of command."
"Cut that transmission!" Falkirk yelled.
"About..." Ree's voice was cut off.
"Sir..." Pitt began.
"Shut up!" Falkirk yelled at him, getting back in his seat. "She is going to die. I am going to kill her. They should have given her the death penalty. She'll die now. How long till we are in optimum range?"
"Two minutes," the sensor op called. "They are heading right for us, fast."
"She has two minutes left Colonel. Two minutes left to live. Target all weapons on that ship."
"Sir," the weapons officer said hesitantly. "We can't get a clean lock."
"Saturate space, fire every weapon we have!"
"Sir..." Pitt tried again.
"Mr. Pitt if you do not keep quiet I will have you shot. Do you understand! I am in command here!"
"Yes sir," Pitt said, defeated. It was not in his nature to rebel.
Pitt was scared. He had not known Ree too long, but she had a habit of winning, not matter how unorthodox she had to be. Only she could have shot the General, and then gone onto the win the battle. Whatever she was planning, he did not think that the General would be able to stop her.
"We'll be in range in twenty seconds," the sensor op called out.
"Reopen that channel to her," Falkirk said, smiling.
"Are you listening Maxil?"
"Are you still on the bridge? Someone, shoot him."
"You are dead Maxil. I just wanted you to know that, and know by whose hand you die. Burn in hell. Cut the channel."
"Fire all weapons!"
For a moment nothing happened, then everyone felt the vibrations start. Torpedo after torpedo launched from their bays, and the naval guns began firing. The starbolts started soon after. Pitt was caught between feeling sick and being in awe of what was happening. The amount of destructive forces being released in so short of time were incredible.
On screen they watched as the first of the torpedoes detonated, followed by the others. The plasma bolts tore into that cloud of expanding gas, igniting it. No one could actually see the effects of the huge naval guns, but they could imagine them.
The thirty seconds it lasted seemed to take forever, but then the weapons stopped firing, and the huge cloud of burning gasses quickly dissipated, leaving space empty.
"No sign of the ship," the sensor op said breathlessly.
"The transmission is gone," the com tech said.
Falkirk barked out a laugh. "She's dead. I killed her. She's dead!"
"Sir," the com tech said.
"I've got another transmission. Another of the old protocols."
Falkirk said nothing for a moment, he just stared at her. "You lie!" he finally shouted.
"No sir," she said, her voice shook.
"Let me hear it!"
"Good job Falkirk," Ree's voice filled the bridge. "You just destroyed a very expensive drone unit I was using as a relay. You had your chance. Now it is my turn."
The four Arrows rocketed towards the ships of Infinity force. The ECM kept them from being noticed by the other ships, and the powerful ECM field the drone was putting out helped to hide the effect of the Arrows' own fields. Added to that that almost every sensor operator in Infinity force was more interested in what was happening with their flagship, the Arrows got extremely close before anyone had even the slightest idea what they were there.
Ree switched frequencies, and encryption protocols. <All right, you know what to do, let's do it,> she sent. <Begin runs, let's go.> She increased the speed of the Arrow and swung it around, heading right for the Freya.
Epiphany flipped the Arrow over, threading her craft between two battleriders. Ahead of her was the Bon Avista, her target, and the key piece of Ree's plan. For a moment she was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of guilt. She had friends on that ship, friends she was betraying.
It was gone almost as soon as it hit, leaving only a lingering sense of regret. She pushed that away and concentrated on what she had to do.
The Bon Avista was close, but her sensors showed two other suits moving to intercept. Then one was gone, quickly followed by the other. Diane was covering her for the bombing run.
Her Arrow was passing over the surface of the cruiser, flying barely a meter above the surface. She did not have much time. Mounted under each of her wings, making the craft a little sluggish, was a ship killer missile.
Breathing controlled, hand steady, she fired the first, then the second. Under her control the Arrow snapped away from the cruiser, turning sharply onto the exit course. She opened the engines up, rocketing away from the exploding ship.
Diane followed above and behind Epiphany, her primary job to give the other pilot a chance to make her bombing run undisturbed. She spotted the two Drakens, coming in fast. She spun the arrow ninety degrees, bringing her port side into line with them. On the port side of her Arrow was one of Jeremy Lyon's gauss cannons-she had upset the technicians when she had told them to load the gauss cannon on one side and the energy cannon on the other side.
A burst of scattershot tore into the first Draken, leaving it a wreck. The second burst turned the other Draken into a short lived fireball.
She corrected her course, moving in behind Epiphany again.
She watched Epiphany fire her missiles, then she fired her own. Ree had told her just to hit it, accuracy did not matter for her run. That was Epiphany's job. So Diane did not worry about it, just put both missiles into the bow of the cruiser and the followed Epiphany out.
With the missiles gone they could have switched over to suit mode, but Ree had told them not to. Then needed the fighter's speed to get clear, and Ree had not wanted to give away everything right away.
Several more suits tried to stop them but the two Arrows handled them readily enough. Diane switched to her plasma cannon. The gauss weapon was very effective, but its ammunition was limited, and terribly expensive.
Ree watched at the Freya grew larger and larger in front of her. She put worries about Emiko from her mind. To late to worry about her now after all. She swung the Arrow about wide, passing over the hull of one of the battleriders-she opened up on it she flew by, just because it was close-and lined herself up with the Freya's engines.
She rode in the wash for a short time, the Arrow's armour more than up to handling the punishment. She dropped out of the wash a few hundred meters from the ship, pointed her Arrow at the edge of the engines, and flew right at the ship. A few seconds before she would have hit she released both missiles and snapped the Arrow down, almost clipping the cruiser.
She flew along the ventral surface, pointing the Arrow's nose up slightly and peppering the ship with plasma fire as she went.
Once she was clear of the ship she altered her course and opened the engines up. There was still so much to do.
Emiko felt like throwing up. Well, not quite, but that was the best way to describe the queasy feeling in her stomach. She felt like turning the Arrow she was piloting around and running when Ree gave the go ahead signal. By the most narrowest of margins she went in, determined to stay close to Ree.
That turned out to be more of a challenge than she would have thought. Ree was flying like a maniac, or at least it looked that way to Emiko. As she followed Ree in skimming the hull of a battlerider she was sure she was going to die. Caught up in that worry she almost missed a Blitzen coming around the ship.
Without giving it much thought she spun the Arrow to face the incoming suit, maintaining her original vector-one of the wonders of flying in space. She opened up on it with her plasma cannons, watching as the Blitzen shook as it took several hits. She was forced to change her course in order to avoid the larger suit's return fire.
The Blitzen launched a volley of missiles at the Arrow. The suit's computer jammed the missiles as Emiko tracked it, hitting it several times. The Blitzen's flight grew erratic a moment before part of the rear thruster pack exploded.
When Emiko swung around she could see Ree just avoid putting her Arrow into the huge engines of the Freya. Emiko opened her suit up, following after Ree. Then the Freya's stern exploded and Emiko was caught in the blast, her Arrow tossed violently around. She fought for control and slid under the Freya, looking for Ree. The Dark blue Arrow, trimmed in silver, was ahead of her.
Just before Emiko cleared the Freya she fired off her two missiles, almost as an afterthought. Ree was right, she thought. It was nearly impossible to miss such a big target.
Without the missiles the Arrow's handling and speed improved. Emiko caught up to Ree, then they rendezvoused with Epiphany and Diane. The four Arrows sped away from the battle scene, heading into open space with several fighters and interceptors in pursuit.
"General," the com tech called out. "We are getting reports from the other ships, they are under attack."
"What?" Falkirk demanded.
"Fighters, they came out of no where, its all so confused."
"Maxil," Falkirk seethed.
"Why?" Pitt wondered aloud.
"The reports are confused," the com tech said, "they are not sure what is happening, a suit has been destroyed, two, wait..." He grew silent.
"What is it?" Pitt asked.
"The Bon Avista, she's lost her mecha decks, and suffered a huge amount of damage."
"Why the Bon Avista," Pitt asked himself.
"The Freya has also taken damage, it's lost its engines."
"Bring the ship around, we have to get back to the fleet," Falkirk shouted. He sounded a little afraid
"No!" Pitt said.
"Mr. Pitt you are very close to being guilty of mutiny. Be silent! Bring us around."
"Yes sir!" Roger said, bringing the huge ship around. He was suddenly conscious of the feel of his pistol.
Pitt watched, but said nothing. He wanted to stop Falkirk, but it was not in his nature, he was a soldier, and he followed the orders of his superiors, not matter how wrong he thought they were. Ree had been able to stop him, she had that so rare combination of discipline and free nature. He did not.
Ree. What was she planning? Why the Freya and the Bon Avista? What would she do next? Too many questions and he still did not have the answers. He knew that Falkirk was doing the wrong thing though.
Dawn had not been happy with her orders. Take on a carrier. That was what Ree had told her to do. Not destroy it of course, that would be too much to ask, she remembered Ree quipping. Just hurt it. Dawn had been sure Ree was insane.
The Perth had been designed as an escort and some independent duties. It was well armed for its size, but it was not a match for a carrier.
When Ree explained her plan Dawn felt a little more optimistic, but there was so much that could go wrong, it seemed so implausible.
Much to her surprise things had gone almost exactly as Ree had said.
The Infinity had broken formation, burning a huge amount of reaction mass to race ahead of its escorts. Then it had wasted a huge amount of ordinance on a drone. It still had its starbolts, and the big guns probably had some ammunition left, but it was likely the torpedoes were gone. It was not quite so dangerous.
And then it had begun coming about, like Ree had told her. Ree had also told her to set the Perth on the ships port side, 'as Roger will turn starboard nine out of ten times if not told otherwise, and no one tells him otherwise.'. She had been right about that as well. The Infinity was presenting its stern towards her.
"Engines ahead full, drop cloak, fire on targets of opportunity," Dawn called out.
The cloak went at the same time the Perth's engines came up. Directly in front of the frigate was the Infinity's stern. Fire from the twin starbolt launchers tore into the armour on the back of the carrier, damaging the engines. Fire from the single gauss cannon on the Perth's bow cased some minor damage to the port wing but was unable to fully penetrate the armour.
The Perth heeled over to its port, engines flaring brightly as it sped away from the Infinity and the other ships of Infinity Force. The gunners managed to swing the bow gauss cannon around and managed to hit the nose of the carrier, but without any real damage. As the ship fled the Perth's stern gauss cannon fired on the stern of the Infinity, which was still turning.
Damage done, the Perth ran for safety.
"There's a ship behind us!" the sensor op yelled.
"Roll to starboard!" Pitt yelled.
"What?" Falkirk demanded.
The Infinity shook as it took several hits, alarms began to sound.
"We've report of deck breeches."
"Engine output down."
The ship shook again, Pitt had to grab hold of com tech's station to keep his feet. "What is it?"
"Identified as a SAC frigate, 'Juliet' class."
"The SAC?" Falkirk sounded more than a little scared. "What are they doing here?"
"Return fire," Pitt said. "How did it get that close? Why didn't we see it?" he demanded of the sensor op as the ship shook once more.
"I don't know, it was like they were cloaked."
"Frigate moving out, we'll have to come about if we are to fire on it. It's moving fast," the weapons officer said.
"Damn it, bring us around and hold position," Pitt yelled. "We need to let the rest of the ships catch up to us. Prepare to launch all suits, we'll need a screen."
"Cancel those orders!" Falkirk screamed. "Take us back to the other ships, full ahead. We are falling back."
"We can't retreat," Pitt said. "Malachi force is expecting us. We have a mission to complete."
"Mr. Pitt, you are relived of duty. We are falling back."
"There is no reason for us to retreat."
"Mr. Pitt, get off my bridge or I'll have you removed."
Pitt stared at him, wondering what he was going to do. Falkirk stared back at him, hoping Pitt was not going to disobey him. He would not know what to do if that happened.
"Sir," the com tech said timidly. "You've got another message. It is another of the older protocols."
"Put it through," he said, turning away from Pitt.
"You've got two cruisers that can't fight anymore and the big carrier your daddy got you is all scratched up now. I think we can honestly say your career is over," Ree's cheerful voice filled the bridge.
"This isn't over," Falkirk said. "We'll meet again."
"What? You're leaving? Colonel, are you going to let him retreat?"
"You are talking to me!" Falkirk snapped. "I am in command of this task force."
"You couldn't command a tug," Ree laughed.
"Cut her off," London ordered. "Relay my orders to the rest of the force. We are falling back."
Pitt remained in the bridge, wondering if it was going to end that easily.
"Sir," the com tech said a short time later, "Colonel Joist says he will not follow those orders. He is asking to talk to Colonel Pitt."
"Tell him Colonel Pitt does not run this task force."
She relayed the message. "Colonel Joist says he is taking over the task force, he is ordering the launching of all suits for the first assault."
"Put me through to him!"
"Colonel Joist, you are disobeying a direct order. You will fall back or I will have you charged for mutiny."
"General, I've been listening to your conversation with Maxil, as has the entire task force. I am relieving you of command. Please step down and put Colonel Pitt in charge of your ship."
"You hot headed bastard. You and any ship that defies my orders will be fired upon."
"We'll see. Mercury out."
"Fire on any ship that does not fall back," Falkirk said to the weapons officer.
"You heard me. I will not allow this insubordination."
Pitt watched it all unfold and began to see a possible pattern. With the Bon Avista's mecha bays gone, Marcey and her command staff would not be able to join the fight. Without them the effectiveness of their suits would be cut. Pitt could remember how many times Ree had told Marcey she was an idiot to concentrate all her command staff on one ship. Pitt had agreed, but Marcey had had the General's ear.
The Bon Avista and the Freya were out of the picture for the most part, that left the Mercury and Colonel Joist in perfect condition. As Falkirk had said, Joist was a hothead. Now Infinity force was split and its chain of command in tatters. He had to do something.
"General London," Pitt called out.
"What?" Falkirk spun on him. "Why aren't you off my bridge?"
"Sir, I am relieving you of command. Please leave the bridge." Pitt opened the flap of his holster and placed his hand on the weapon's butt.
"This is mutiny Mr. Pitt," Falkirk said, holding his hands in front of him. He was breathing hard and looked scared, and angry.
"We'll let a inquiry board decide that."
"Take your hand from that weapon Colonel."
"Get off the bridge."
Falkirk stared at his first officer, and at the still holstered pistol. Ever since Ree had shot him he had lived in fear of something like this happening. He had prepared though. Everyone though he was just being dramatic with the dress uniform he wore. They did not realise the value of the jacket's sleeves.
A slight flexing of the muscles of his forearms and a pair of automatic pistols were propelled into his waiting hands. He shot Pitt in the head with the one in his right hand, the one in his left shifted to point at Roger who as going for his weapon. "Don't," Falkirk said.
Pitt's body hung in the air, large globules of blood and brain hung in the air. Some of it drifted towards the com tech who pulled back from the mess. Roger moved his hand from the pistol.
"Take that weapon out, no sudden moves."
Roger did so.
"Take it by the barrel and push it towards me."
Roger did as he was told. The weapon floated towards Falkirk who then knocked it down and put his foot on it.
"Now, you know my orders. We will fall back and fire on any ship disobeying my orders. If any of you disobey or questions orders I will kill you."
With Pitt's body floating there his threat carried a lot of weight. The crew went to work.
"Sir," the flight controller said. "Our mecha are launching."
"They are launching, following Colonel Joist's orders."
"Order them to return to this ship."
"They are not responding."
"Tell them if they do not return we will leave them to die in space!"
"Yes sir." The flight controller relayed the orders. "They are not responding."
"To hell with them. Go."
Ree listened as Colonel Joist ordered the first assault-she had used the old encryption protocols when talking to Falkirk, but she had the new ones. Good old Tom, she thought, guts and glory all the way. It took a special sort of man to launch a mecha assault without a proper chain of command and control.
<Ree,> Epiphany sent. <This was sort of wrong.>
<All's fair in love and war,> Ree replied.
<What do you think Colonel Pitt is doing?>
<You know him. He's either standing on the bridge, saying nothing, or Falkirk has had him tossed out. He just didn't have the guts to go against his precious military structure.>
<I hope he will be all right.>
<I'm sure the Colonel will land on his feet. Heads up, we're approaching the Perth.>
The Perth looked none the worse for wear Ree thought as she matched speeds with the Perth then moved her Arrow in close. One of the new Mark 2s moved up close to her, then headed off. The Perth only carried two suits, but for the mission ten more had been mounted on the exterior.
Ree watched as a group of space suited figures pushed off the Perth, bringing with them several missiles packs. She admired the guts of the weapon technicians. Working in space like that, when the enemy might show up at any time, that took some courage.
The crews began to mount the missile packs under the wings of Ree's and the others Arrows. Ree watched, paying the most attention to the dark grey missile they were attaching to the port wing.
Redding had taken one of the Rubies as his command ship. The old sensor suite had been pulled and a new, very powerful system put in. With an improved computer, Redding was able to watch the entire battle and know where every ship was within a meter. The smaller craft were a little harder to track with such accuracy, but he could find them, if he was willing to look close. The only thing he could not see were the cloaked ships.
"The Infinity Force mecha are gathering for a push," Jesse said.
"We'll see if Miss Maxil's last card plays as well as the others."
"Her plan has been very effective. She stopped Infinity's initial push, and it looks like she has them split in half."
"She knew her enemy. I can't believe they let this London command a task force."
"Nepotism, how fun."
"Now we just have to see what Malachi force does."
"Where do you think they are?"
"No idea, but I suspect they will show themselves eventually."
"I'm going out to join my people," Jesse said.
"I'm not the one in danger, my opponents are." He smiled broadly.
"Keep me informed of anything you think important."
Jesse nodded and headed off the bridge. Redding watched him go, feeling envious of the young man. He was in control of a lot of people, but not the entire battle. He turned his attention back towards the main screen, wondering where Malachi force was.
Allandra looked up at the ceiling screen, trying to make some sense of what was happening. Cloaked, her cruiser only could use its passive sensors, and then only a quarter of their usual effectiveness. The information they provided was lacking in many respects and the radio transmission she was getting were confusing as they were garbled.
"Some one tell me what is happening," Allandra said. None of her crew answered. "Any messages from the Infinity?"
"No ma'am," the com tech said.
"Colonel Walse," she looked over at her first officer. "In five minutes we drop our cloak and tell all the other ships to hold their cloaks, but stay close to us. Then we figure out exactly what is going on."
"Drives me crazy not knowing what is going on."
"Make sure our pilots are ready to scramble on a seconds notice," she called over to the flight controller.
"Yes Captain," the woman said.
Colonel Joist grasped his command chair as the Mercury shook slightly.
"The 'Green' is still firing on us," the weapons officer called.
"Damn them. Fire on them, we only want to make them stop, not destroy them."
It was hard for the Colonel to give the order to fire on the battlerider, he expected it would be hard for the weapon's crew to follow the orders, but they did not have choice. General London had forced the split.
There was nothing he could do about it, he thought, switching his attention to the screen above him. Ahead of them their suits were speeding towards the Zanzibar ships, ready to take the battle to the enemy. It looked as if they would make contact in two or three minutes.
"The suits are packed too close together, tell them to spread out more," he said.
"Yes sir," the flight controller said. She sounded a little flustered, she was doing more work than she was used to.
The Colonel shook his head. Things were not going very well, but they still had a chance, if they could pull things together.
The Arrows sped towards the rear of the suit formation. They were still some distance from the main body of suits when they encountered several interceptors. Diane moved ahead of the other three and released the entire load of her wing mounted swarm missiles packs. While not very accurate, the sheer volume resulted in many hits, though all of the interceptors made it clear of the explosions.
Diane shifted the Arrow to suit form, giving the enemy their first taste of the Arrow's true abilities. While the Viggen pilots were still trying to decide what was happening, Diane used her increased manoeuvrability to its best advantage. One of the Viggens went up quickly as Diane avoided the return fire. Just as the ODF pilots were beginning to respond effectively, Epiphany came into the fray.
Her swarm missiles were much more effective, and two more suits were taken out. Diane got the last one.
<Good work,> Ree sent. <Let's go, we still have to get closer.>
Diane shifted the Arrow back to fighter form and the four craft continued on.
<They know we're here,> Emiko sent-she had been monitoring the enemy communications.
<What are they sending after us?>
<More Viggens. They don't know what we are but they are not taking a chance.>
<Diane, on my port, Epiphany, starboard. Emi-chan, up top, dump those missiles as soon as those Viggens move into range. You three go in and mix it up, give me a window.>
The three pilots orientated their craft as Ree had ordered, moving quickly into their positions.
Still some distance away, the seven Viggens released their powerful shrike missiles. The four Arrows jammed them, then fired off their counter missiles. The shrikes released their submunitions, hundreds of visually tracking shaped charges. For a moment the space around the Arrows was filled with explosions, temporarily blinding the sensors of all the suits in the area.
Then Emiko's white Arrow cleared the debris, the paint scorched, but little other damage. The swarm missile packs seemed to explode as the missiles leapt forward, speeding towards the Viggens.
Ree's Arrow followed, releasing the swarm missiles from the pack under her starboard wing.
Diane's flat black Arrow shifted to suit form while still in the cloud and came out firing. Epiphany's leopard pattern Arrow stayed in fighter form, moving to flank the Viggens.
Between the missiles and Diane's fire, Ree was given the perfect hole. She flew through it at full speed, making towards the main body of the ODF suits. The Viggens were too busy with the three remaining Arrows to follow her.
Ree checked her sensors to make sure that she was clear. She was, and would be for twenty or thirty seconds. More than enough time.
She changed her course slightly, one that would ultimately take her off to the side of the ODF formation. On her screen targeting data was being displayed, giving her all the information she needed.
<Fire in the hole,> Ree sent, firing the missiles on her port wing. She waited for the few seconds to make sure that the missile was performing as it should, then she spun the Arrow around an fired her thrusters. A moment later she was speeding back towards the other Arrows.
In the corner of her screen a timer was counting down to the missiles detonation.
Ree took out the last of the Viggens, brining her Arrow to the stop beside Epiphany's. She shifted the Arrow over to its suit form then turned it around, trying to find the missile she had fired. She really did not have much chance, the missile used the same stealth technology as Tern's ship.
<How long?> Epiphany asked.
<Six seconds now.>
Off in the distance there was an incredibly bright flash as the missile's nuclear warhead detonated.
"Sir," the sensor op called out. "I've detected a nuclear detonation."
"Sir," the flight controller said at almost the same time. "I've lost the signal from most of our suits."
"What?" Colonel Joist demanded.
"Nuclear detonation fifty kilometres away from the centre of the mecha force," the sensor op said.
"Did the blast hit out suits?"
"I don't think so. It was probably the EMP."
"How many suits still functioning?" he demanded of his flight controller.
"Unknown sir, I'm still working on it."
"General, sensors just registered what appears to be a nuclear blast."
"Hold on dropping the cloak," Allandra told Colonel Walse. "Where?"
"Between Infinity Force's probable location and the enemy units location."
"Damn it, I need to know what is happening. Sensors on full, active sweep, and send a message to the other ships to wait. Time to get to work."
"What's the status on the ODF mechs?" Redding asked.
"More than fifty percent were disabled by the blast."
"Still not in any sort of formation, and there is still some fighting going on between the various units. The Infinity is fleeing with three battleriders as escorts."
"What about out ships?"
"The 'Talon's' shielding failed, they've lost most primary systems and they don't expect to get them back up for ten minutes."
"Tell them to fall back if they can. Have our first wave of suits and fighters launch."
"Admiral, a ship just appeared on sensors. It's an ODF cruiser."
"Where are they?"
"Here," the sensor op put a marker on the map.
"Close to where we expected them. Any other ships?"
"What is the Malachi doing?"
"Holding position, active scans."
"Trying to find out what is going on then. Send out a message to fourth force just in case they missed it. The third force is to move in to support the second."
Redding looked up at the screen. They had used almost all their surprises, but they had a few left.
The EMP hit the four Arrows as it spread out from the point of detonation. The Arrows rode through it without problem, they had been given excellent shielding. None of the ODF units were so lucky. Some were still functioning though. A few had been on the outside range of the pulse, and some quick thinking pilots had shut down their electronics just before the pulse hit.
<Let's go, this is a stand up fight now. Keep close to your wingman,> Ree sent as she opened her throttles and shifted the Arrow into fighter mode. Emiko formed up on her port wing, her Arrow also in fighter mode.
<This is Captain Johansen, all active units, form up on me,> Emanuel called out as his Draken Assault Upgrade rocketed out from amidst the frozen suits. <All units, form up on me.> he sent again. Looking at his sensors he began to worry that he was alone, but then he saw the others.
His computer gave him a count a short time later. There were so few suits left. Infinity had once claimed a brigade, three battalions of suits. Now they barely had the numbers for a battalion. It was hard to believe.
<Anyone whose unit is still together, form up. If you've lost a unit, partner off for now. Our mission has not changed. We will destroy those ships. Let's go!> Perhaps not the most thought out plan of attack ever formulated, but he knew the other pilots were pros, they would make it work.
As his suit sped towards the enemy ships he thought about what had happened, how it had all come to this. Maxil had betrayed them. She might have had reason to be angry at London, but that was no reason for her to betray them all. If he got the chance, he would kill her.
It took Allandra some time to figure out what had happened. She still was not completely sure, but it looked like London had lost it. It all seemed to come down to that.
"Put me through to all ships of Infinity Force," she told her com tech.
"Yes ma'am. You are on their frequencies."
"All units of Infinity force, this is General Rogers. I am taking command of this mission. You will push forward towards the planet, I will move around to take the enemy from behind. You have your orders." She signalled the com tech to cut the feed. "Put me through to our ships." The com tech nodded. "Okay, the time for hiding is over. Let's go."
Around the Malachi the three other cruisers, and several other shunt vessels, appeared. They moved out in a tight formation at full speed.
The remains of Infinity's mecha force hit hard. They hit the Talon-a Charybdis assault boat-hard and a moment later it exploded. The 'Opal' lost its starboard engine pod, but held out. Its mecha escorts were quickly there to defend her, but the Crossbones, the converted civilian suits and the few rag tag military suits were not able to put up much opposition.
Emanuel swung around the bow of a blocky ship and hit a Crossbones from behind. If things kept up they were not in for much of a fight.
Redding was taken by surprise by the effectiveness of the counter attack launched by remains of Infinity's mech forces. He cursed himself for being to complacent then ordered the second force into action.
Some distance behind the fighting, five ships dropped their cloaks. The Thunder Clap was the biggest ship there, and the most dangerous.
"Launch all suits," Lilith ordered. "Engines ahead full. All ships to follow but for the 'Y'. The Y was a Ruby.
The five ships launched their suits and fighters. They were composed of ODF and SAC military models as well as the new Starblade designs. Most of the suits were speeding off towards the battle, ready to meet their adversaries. A small number remained with their ships to provide protection.
"Give me a run down on those ships," Colonel Joist demanded. A number of ships had simply appeared on their screens were nothing had been before. They were too deep in the planets gravity well to have shunted in.
"We're not getting a very good picture, one of them is jamming us."
"Increase speed, we have to get there."
Allandra watched the ships drop their cloaks. She had not expected that, not quite believing it when London had claimed the enemy could cloak. Now she saw it was true. That changed things.
"Increase spacing between all of our ships," she ordered. "Have all pilots ready to scramble and increase our speed, there is a fight out there."
"Think there are others hiding?" Colonel Walse asked.
"Maybe, we'll find out soon enough."
When the new suits hit the battle Emanuel knew things had changed again. These mecha were more than a match for his forces, there were designs he had never seen before, and after a few passes he began to suspect they were better.
There were also more enemy ships coming into the battle, and they looked more combat ready. With the rest of Infinity force coming into the fray the battle was going to change. If it would be for the better or worse he did not know.
Catherine caught up to the huge torpedo, turned her plasma rifle on it, and began firing. After two shots the weapon went up, almost catching her Loviatar in the blast. It might have, had not the suit been so fast.
She neatly dodged an attack by a Viggen. As it passed close she lashed out with her suit's whip, cutting deep into the armour of the Viggen's left shoulder. There was an angry spark as a huge amount of energy discharged into the other suit.
It maintained its forward momentum and was soon out of range of the whip. Catherine brought her plasma rifle up and fired at the suit. A moment later it exploded. Catherine headed off, there were more torpedoes coming, she did not doubt that.
Geoffrey brought the Myrmidon's huge axe back, then swung it forward, cutting the hand, and the heat sabre it was holding, clean off the Blitzen. He reversed the swing, planning on embedding the axe blade in the other suit's chest. The Blitzen's pilot was not going down that easily and managed to get his shield up to block the attack.
Geoffrey smiled as she brought his suits right leg up, slamming the foot into the other suit's left knee section. The foot cut deep into the armour, damaging some of the Blitzen's thrusters.
He pushed back, brining his rifle up. The Blitzen tried to dodge, but the damage to the thrusters in its left leg showed. The plasma burnt into the other suit's chest, and into the cockpit. Geoffrey left the Blitzen behind, looking around for his wingman.
Falkirk watched the battle that was unfolding behind him. He had been right to choose to fall back. He kept telling himself that. He had put his back to the wall and was keeping an eye on his bridge crew, making sure none of them were up to anything. He noticed the com tech talking softly.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Sir, internal communications are down, I'm patching messages through to the various repair crews."
He nodded. "Good work." Falkirk turned her attention back the ceiling screen. The enemy looked to have gained the upper hand, though it was close. Of course, he did not know how many other enemy ships might be close by, cloaked, ready to join the battle. Falling back was the best course of action.
"Sir," the com tech called out. "I'm getting a message."
"What?" he asked, taking a step towards her.
That was when the door to the bridge opened.
Falkirk turned as fast as he could, but it was too slow. His second officer, Major Brenda Simth, jammed the short barrel of a sub machine gun into his side. "Don't move General," she said. "Release your weapons."
Falkirk considered his options. Not only had the major entered the bridge, but so had several members of ships security. There was not much he cold do. "This is mutiny," he said, his voice shaking.
"So it is."
Falkirk released his two pistols, letting them float. One of the security people moved into retrieve them.
"Take the General to his quarters and confine him there," Brenda said. She looked over at Pitt's body. "Get him out of here, take him down to the morgue."
The security people quickly followed her orders and in a short time the General had been escorted off the bridge and Pitt's body removed.
"Good work," she nodded at the com tech. "I'm taking command of this ship," Brenda told the crew. "Get me General Rogers, I need to speak with her."
"Are they still hanging back?" Allandra asked.
"Yes ma'am," the sensor op said.
"Are you going to do anything about them?" her first officer asked.
"I don't know. There might be another group of ships close by, waiting to drop their cloaks, then we'd have them on two sides. I'm not letting them dictate the battle. If they want to run, I'm not going to chase them."
"When we join in the fight ahead they'll be able to hit us from behind."
"I know that. Damn it, this is getting much messier than it was supposed to. We got some bad intelligence. I'm considering pulling out."
"We'd have to explain ourselves."
"I give you my full support."
"Good to hear it." She smiled.
"General, we're getting a message from the Infinity."
"Put it through," she said to the com tech.
"General Rogers, this is Major Simth. I have relieved General London of command and taken control of the Infinity. I acted alone and will accept your judgement on the matter."
"Someone else can charge you for mutiny Major, you ready to take command of that ship?"
"Yes. I am also ready to accept your commands. We are a little beat up, but ready to go."
"Swing those ships around and get back to the fight."
"Yes ma'am, be there soon."
"Do that, Malachi out. Well," she turned towards her first officer. "Things have changed."
"How do you want to do this?"
"We'll join the fight, link up with the other ships and have Simth bring the rest of Infinity in from the side. Unless they have some actual combat ships close by we should be able to take them out."
The Thunder Clap shook as it took another hit from the ODF cruiser. Lilith cursed loudly. "Is it too much to ask for my main guns to fire?"
"Ready to fire Captain."
The twin, spinal mount starbolts fired, ripping into the cruiser which shook and began to turn.
"Got them," Lilith slammed her fist in her palm. "You out gun me, but I know you better. Once more."
"Guns down again Captain, repair crews are working on it."
"Damn it. Get some suits over there then."
"Right Cap," her flight controller said.
"Captain, we've got a problem with our engines," her engineering liaison called out.
"They might explode."
"And hour. Maybe two."
"Tell me when we are a minute, maybe two, away from exploding."
"Captain, we've got the starbolts back."
"Good, shift us around and blow that battlerider out of space."
"We've lost life support of half our decks."
"That's our fault," her weapons officer said. "We re-routed power from life support from the guns."
"How long before we notice the loss of life support?" Lilith asked.
"Don't worry about it then, the engines will blow in two hours. Fire!"
Ree shifted the Arrow into suit mode, spinning it around and opening up on the fighter that had been following her. The fighter, unable to match the suit's manoeuvrability, took several hits, then exploded.
<Emi-chan, where are you?>
<Above you,> Emiko sent.
<Where, ah, there you are. Will you stop playing with that Draken and just shoot him.>
<I'm trying,> Emiko sent, the link coloured it with anger.
Ree watched, then nodded as Emiko finally managed to hit her target, destroying its thrust pack, leaving it drifting in space.
<Good job,> Ree sent as she headed towards Emiko. Just learn to do it faster.
<Ree Maxil,> someone transmitted, loudly, on a general channel. <I know that is you. I recognise your flying style. This is Captain Johansen of the Infinity. You are a traitor and I challenge you to a duel.>
<Just who the hell are you?> Ree asked as she tried to find the source of the transmission. <A duel, that's kind of medieval isn't it?>
<Are you afraid of me?>
<No, just don't know if I have the time. Is that you in that pretty Draken coming my way?>
<If you wish. Emi-chan, stay out of this, and watch our backs.> Ree smiled as she waited for the Draken to make the opening move.
Emanuel had heard a lot about Ree during his time in Infinity force, though he had never met her. People had spoken of her with awe, often saying she was the best pilot, period. Of course Marcey had never been happy about that kind of talk.
Within the first few passes he realised that the talk had been right. She was incredible. With always the minimum of movement, she avoided his attacks and then returned them, hitting more often that not. He was almost certain that she was playing with him. That just made him angrier.
Growling, he flew straight at her, firing off a spread of missiles at her.
He watched as she flew straight at him, dodging the missiles, destroying some of them with a head mounted cannon, and taking out more with shoulder mounted counter missiles. Impossibly, not one of the missiles hit.
She passed so close that had he been faster him might have hit her suit. She ripped the command armour from his suit's head, and, hurled it back at him, bouncing it off the back of his Draken.
He growled, spinning his suit about, and chased after her. He was not going to take that.
Ree looked over her shoulder, watching the suit chasing after her. She looked around, making sure there were no nearby threats--she loved the fishbowl--then spun the Arrow around and opened fire on the pursuing Draken.
She had to give the pilot credit, he was pretty good, but not that good. She kept firing, deciding it was time to end it. She had left Emiko alone too long.
Something strange started happening to the Draken, but before she could see what it was, the suit exploded. That surprised Ree a little. She had expected the enemy suit to last much longer. Perhaps it had been damaged earlier.
Her sensors beeped for her attention, she looked towards them, her eyes widened slightly, then she threw the Arrow to the side.
From the explosions the Draken came, less its command armour. That was very clever, Ree thought as she lifted her suits forearm shields, letting them take the brunt of the Drakens fire.
The Arrow was rocked by the fire, but the armour held up remarkably well. The gauss rounds tore all the way through the shield on her left arm and then into the arm itself. As Ree finally climbed out of the fire she noted that the linkages to the heat hand had been destroyed. So much for that.
Both plasma guns ahead of her, Ree flew at the Draken, firing at it. She came in in a tight spiral, avoiding its fire. She watched as the Draken's right arm came off, taking its rifle with it. She blew the left arm off before passing over it. Spinning around, flying backwards and upside down, with respect to the Drakens orientation, she kept firing, taking out the rear thruster pack and blowing the left leg off.
<You're good,> Ree sent. <Maybe next time you'll get your revenge.> She left him behind, flying off to find Emiko.
Emanuel sat in his crippled suit, trying to get it to respond. By the time he managed to get it turned around Ree was long gone. He hit the controls, swearing. As it was he might just be able to nurse the suit out of the battle and to a ship, if he was lucky. He was out of the fight though.
As the Draken limped towards a Battlerider that was hanging back from the battle he promised himself next time he would get the better of Kareen Maxil.
Redding watched at the other half of Infinity force came about, heading back towards the battle. It looked like General London was no longer in control.
He looked at the battle screens, taking note of the losses they had taken and given. Since their initial attack, then had not managed to inflict any more heavy losses on the ODF ships. All four of Malachi Force's cruisers were in excellent condition, though some of their smaller craft had been damaged or destroyed.
The Mercury had taken some heavy damage, but so had the Thunder Clap. The Thunder Clap was the most combat ready ship they had, and Captain Blackhand had made remarkable use of it, but it was still a civilian ship, and that showed.
With the Infinity and its attendant ships, all still fresh, joining the battle, things would change. He doubted that they would try to take Zanzibar now that they had lost many of the mecha, but they could just bomb Platt city from space.
Again it came down to stopping the Infinity and this time he doubted Ree would give him an easy and quick victory.
"Patch me through to the Thunder Clap."
"Yes sir," the com tech said. "Ready."
"Captain Blackhand, this is Admiral Redding."
"Kind of busy right now Admiral. Fire! Fire! Fire! You bastard, roll over and die! Sorry Admiral, the Mercury is giving me a headache right now. Okay, she's limping off to lick her wounds for now. What is it."
"The Infinity is coming back."
"I noticed. Bad luck."
"I need someone to take it out."
"Sir, the Thunder Clap is a great ship, but she'd get waxed against a Carrier on a good day."
"Captain, I need you to do this. I'll give you any ships you want, you can even take command of one of them if your ship is unable to do this, but I need it done."
"No pressure," he heard Lilith mutter. "Forget the other ships. I'll do this."
"Are you sure?"
"Admiral, you've given me an impossible task, don't question my ability now."
"Of course. Good luck."
"Tell me if you need anything."
"Control out," Redding said. He did not like giving those kinds of orders. He had to though.
Lilith stood behind her helmsman, staring up at the screen on the bridge's ceiling. Redding was asking a lot of her, to destroy a carrier. Well, not necessarily destroy it, but to stop it, she corrected herself. They were two very different things after all.
"Vickers," she yelled over at her Engineering Liaison. "Are the engines minutes away from exploding yet?"
"No Captain, they've got them stabilised."
Lilith laughed. "Figures. Miss Hanson, tell the ships that we will be leaving in three minutes, I'll want them to make a hole for us and provide cover, Mr. Teeper, the same thing with the mecha. Juliet, I want to be right in front of that ugly carrier, get us there."
"Evacuate the bow sections of the ship, then depressurise them."
"Give the order for all non essential personnel to abandon ship, and make sure there is someone to pull them in." Lilith said as she pulled herself over to her command chair and sat down.
The bridge was silent.
"Now," she said, a bit of an edge to her voice.
The Thunder Clap's medical bays had been placed close to a set of life boats. A more brilliant set up Dr. Rolson could not have hoped for. It gave him all the volunteers he needed to evacuate the wounded.
In short order the medical bay was empty of patients and the medical staff was clearing out.
"Doctor, aren't you leaving?" one of his nurses asked.
"I'll stay behind in case anyone needs medical attention," he told her as he gathered up his things. "You go."
"Yes sir," she said, then left the room.
"Evacuation almost complete."
"Good," Lilith said. "You ready Juliet?"
Lilith paused for a moment as she considered what she was about to do. There was something she was missing. "Hanson, get me the Sloop John B.."
Tern wove through the fire from the ODF suits, under his hand the John B. was like quicksilver. It flowed around the incoming fire, never where the pilots thought it would be. The suits scattered at the last second to avoid being crushed by the ship, giving Tern a clear run to the battlerider.
He waited until the last moment before pulling away from the ship, snapping the John B. up and away from the wall of armour. His bomber fired the last torpedo-the had been mounted on the mecha handholds-a moment before Tern pulled away.
The first two times he had made such runs his bomber had been too amazed, and perhaps afraid, to fire. Fortunately she had become use to it and they had damaged two battleriders and annoyed the cruiser to no end.
"Tern, you busy," came over his headset.
"That you Captain Blackhand?"
"Not terribly busy, not now. Why?"
"I'm making a run for the Infinity, I want you on my bow, jamming them."
"Sounds fun. I'll be right there."
"See you soon."
Tern brought the John B. around, heading towards the Thunder Clap. "Do you know the complete ins and outs of the ECM gear?" he asked the young woman who had become his electronic warfare officer.
"I think so."
As soon as Lilith saw her opening she had the Thunder Clap accelerating clear of the battle. "Give me the escape thrusters," she ordered.
A number of ports on the rear of the ship opened up, a moment later the booster rockets were activated. Designed to lift the Thunder Clap out of a gravity well, the powerful rockets sped the ship towards the still far off Infinity.
Inside the ship the crew had to deal with the sudden and near painful acceleration.
<The John B. is over us,> the sensor op sent, unable to speak.
Lilith did not reply, she just held onto her chair arms and waited for the rockets to burn themselves out. That happened after a little over two minutes. The acceleration ended, leaving the thunder clap drifting at high velocity.
"Is the John B. still with us?"
"Jamming for us?"
"Good. Juliet, keep us on course with that carrier."
"How long till we hit that thing?"
The sensor op did not say anything for a moment. Everyone in the crew had expected something like that, but they had not been quite willing to believe it. "Four minutes, thirty two seconds, if we and the carrier maintain out present speeds."
"Good. General evacuation order, down to a skeleton crew. Section heads will continue sending crew out, in four minutes I want almost no one on this ship."
When the Thunder Clap stopped accelerating Tern cut the John B.'s thrusters, simply drifting along on his inertia.
"Tell me," he turned to look at his ECM operator. "They gave me some basics on this new system they loaded into my ship, is it as good as I was told?"
"Well," she smiled. "I'm not sure what they told you, but this is all cutting edge stuff."
"Thing you can create a ghost of the Thunder Clap, put it maybe six kilometres off our port?"
"Give it a shot. Odds are she is going to need all the help she can get."
"Major Simth, I think that ship the Colonel warned us about is coming."
"Where is it?"
"Not sure, they are jamming us."
"Get a general location, then feed it to the weapon's officers of all ships. When it gets in range fire on it, starbolts only, we are not wasting any more ammunition."
"All right Juliet, get the hell out of here," Lilith said.
"I'll be steering this thing now. Go."
Juliet hesitated for a moment. "I want to stay."
"Good for you. Now get the hell out of here."
"Yes captain," she said, clearing the station.
Lilith got into the chair, adjusting the controls to suit her. "Okay, patch the starbolts into this station and then you can get off my bridge as well," she said, looking over at the weapons officer.
"Captain, you'll probably only get one or two shots off before everything overloads and crashes."
"I'd like to stay."
"Too bad. I don't need you now. In fact," she looked at all the bridge crew. "You can all just go."
None of them looked particularly happy to be leaving, but they left.
As she got closer the opposing ships began to fire, though they seemed to be aiming at a point six kilometres off her port. Well, she wasn't going to complain.
"Major, we've received visual confirmation on that ship, and it is not where we think it is. It's coming straight for us. Estimated collision in thirty seconds."
"Fire starbolts straight ahead, evasive actions," Major Simth called out as the collision alarms began to sound.
The Thunder Clap shook at it took a hit from the carrier. A good part of the port, bow section disintegrated. Lilith fired her starbolts, and got one shot from each before they stopped functioning. Well, they had lasted a lot longer than she had thought.
"You've been a bloody good ship," she said, adjusting her course as the carrier adjusted its own. Collision alarms, among others, were screaming. "That carrier is too damn big, now they pay for it." She laughed. "Sorry girl, but this time you go it alone."
Lilith rolled out of the pilot chair, and kicked off towards the exit. She had about ten seconds left before collision. She hoped that someone had left her an escape pod.
Grasping handholds she propelled herself down the hall, counting off the seconds in her head. The ship shook again, probably another hit. Well, there was not much they could do now. Even if they managed to cause the fusion plants to go up, all they would do it turn one big projectile into thousands of smaller, and still dangerous projectiles. Of course if that happened she would not survive. Of course survival was a chancy thing even now.
Ahead of her were the escape pods. It looked like all the doors were sealed, the pods gone. No, there was one left, near the end. How many seconds remained? Three? She flung herself towards it, but was slightly off course. I'm not going to make it, she thought.
Then someone reached out and grabbed her, pulling her in.
"Thought you might cut it this close," Doctor Rolson said as he slammed his fist against the launch button.
The escape pod rocketed out of the ship.
The Infinity had tried to climb over the incoming Thunder Clap. Lilith had been right, its size had cost it.
The Thunder Clap impacted on the bow keel of the carrier. For a few seconds the carrier's armour and superstructure held, the bow of the Thunder Clap crumpled, giving way. Then the carriers armour began to buckle, the plates ripping apart and the Thunder Clap pierced the skin of the Infinity.
The smaller ship began to force its way up, into the nose section of the Infinity, its engines pushing it deeper and deeper into the other ship. The engines flared, working against the mighty superstructure of the carrier. Deep within the Thunder Clap its drives began to scream as they were pushed far beyond their limits. The engines had topped their maximum output and were creeping towards double the normal output when they shut down completely.
Lilith watched the Thunder Clap drive itself into the nose section of the carrier, like a spear. Then everything stopped. The Thunder clap was a third of the way into the other ship when its engines cut out. It had driven the Infinity up so that it was perpendicular to the rest of the ship. It looked kind of funny, standing on its tail like that.
"My engineers tell me that the engines will explode, and after all that all they do is shut down. They were the best part of that ship."
"So what do you do now?" the Doctor asked.
"Show them why the Charybdis put the spoilsport in spoilsport charge," she told him as she removed a small device from her jacket's pocket.
She tapped a code in, then pointed the unit towards the Thunder Clap and pressed the button on the signaller.
The Thunder Clap exploded.
General Rogers listened to the reports. The Infinity had taken incredible damage, though it was still spaceworthy, barely. If could not fight, but it could still run.
The battle was supposed to have ended quickly, with little or no damage to the ODF ships. Nothing had gone as planned. She knew they could still win, but the cost would be too high.
"Tell all ships that we are withdrawing. This battle is over," she said.
Redding watched as the ODF forces fell back, He sent ships to harry them, just to make sure they kept going.
After that there was nothing left to do but clean up. They had to rescue their people, and the ODF personnel, but that could be done easily enough. Then there would be salvage operations, and repatriation of the ODF personnel-he was not going to start setting up prison camps for them. Nothing to hard really, all it would take was time.
Once the ODF ships had cleared out he ordered his ship forward to help with rescue operations.
Twenty four hours after the Battle for Zanzibar many of the Battalion people were back at the Starblade Shoal.
Many of the pilots had gathered in the Clear Floor and were celebrating their victory.
Ree climbed upon a table a screamed for attention. When everyone was quiet and looking at her she lifted her glass.
"A toast," she called out. "To the dead, and to those who have yet to die." She emptied her glass.
The crowd followed suit. Sitting at the table, Emiko drank as well, though she thought the toast overly morbid.
Grand Marshal Karl Richter entered Albert Knox's office with some trepidation. The events at Zanzibar were still causing trouble, though so far they had managed to keep the public from finding out.
"Grand Marshal, sit," Albert said.
Karl was not used to being commanded, but he had learned to accept it from Knox, it was not as if he had any choice.
"You know," Albert started once Karl had sat, "I'm curious as to why you ordered this mission. As far as I can tell even if it had succeeded we would have benefited little from it. There was little if any danger of the Charybdis siding with Earth."
"The Charybdis are known supporters of the Starblade Battalion," Karl said.
"And what are the Starblade Battalion to you? They are, events at Zanzibar non-withstanding, not much of a threat, at least not yet. A victory over our forces though, that will bolster their confidence, perhaps even swell their ranks. They could now become a problem. So tell me Grand Marshal, why did you order this attack."
"It was important," Karl said, raising his voice a little.
Albert paused, as if he was considering it. "If it was so important why put an incompetent fool like London in charge?"
"I thought he could handle it."
"There is little I think General, for now, London can handle. His carrier, and his attendant cruisers are all in repair dock right now, it will be a month, perhaps two before those ships are combat ready again. Six battleriders and a whole brigade worth of mecha were also lost. This can all be traced to General London's appointment.
"So, as I see it, you chose to launch this mission, for some reason, but it meant so little to you that you put London, who is always assigned to lesser duties, and Rogers, who you don't like, in charge of it. I can't make sense of this, unless you wanted to get rid of London and Rogers..."
"Hear me out Grand Marshal, and be warned, people do not interrupt me."
"My apologies," Karl found himself saying.
"Of course. Now, perhaps you wanted London and Rogers out of the picture, to ruin their careers. I do not accept this as there is no way you could have known that the Charybdis, and their Battalion allies, could mount such an effective and telling defence. I think you had no interest in this mission, but you had to do it, so you gave it to task forces you didn't care about."
Karl said nothing for a moment. Then he got to his feet. "I will not listen to these accusations." He turned to leave.
"Grand Marshal, did you know I put it to the board that you should resign?"
"No. how did the vote go?" he asked, not turning to face Albert.
"I voted for you to go, but a majority, including your cousin, voted against me."
"It is nice to see I have friends," Karl turned to face Albert. There was a smile on his face.
"Not really. We will try to keep this under wraps, but when it come out, we'll need a scapegoat to take the blame. The only way you will retire now is in disgrace."
Karl's face went red and he looked as if he was about start yelling. Instead he turned sharply and stomped towards the door. Just as he was opening it Albert said, "The honourable warrior has the option of falling on his sword."
Karl left the office and slammed the door behind him.
Closing Credits, as before.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 29