STORYLINE - WAR TALES
Polaris’ light reflected on the gray metal plates as the corvette traveled through the stars. Lockheart stared at the semi holographic screen that composed the main data display from his leather chair. The bridge of the Proximus was an almost circular room - the captain’s seat was located slightly backwards from the center, surrounded by workstations and screens. The main display took almost one third of the room, covering the whole forward section. It reached to the ceiling forming a hemisphere, from where light emanated creating the distinct illusion of a solid shape. A set of animated and colorful tri-dimensional graphics showed energy readings from an area about fifteen kilometers wide around the small fleet, composed by the Proximus and two science vessels. Energy spikes had been detected at that area by long range sensors, and the fleet was investigating the possible existance of an unknown jump node.
"We're detecting nothing beyond the usual" said the captain of the Plato, one of the science ships accompanying the Proximus. Lockheart knew how hard it was to actually find a new subspace node - he was used to that routine, day after day staring at energy readings. He wondered why they needed the science vessels at all - he could recognize a jumpgate signature by himself after all that time. His ship had been escorting the Plato and the Mendel for years, since before the second Shivan incursion, always searching for these unique and rare anomalies. In nine years, he had only witnessed the discovery of a single node, connecting the Laramis system to Luyten. That did not seem enough for him, he felt he could have achieved more on all that time.
They were about to reach the final waypoint, the research vessels moving away from the corvette and preparing to jump. Side thrusters on both ships started to flare, pushing them away from each other and in position for a safe entrance into subspace. Suddenly, the graphic started to show numerous surges, and the voice of the Mendel's captain could be heard over the comms system. He sounded tired, but still surprised.
"Proximus, this is the Mendel. We're detecting a possible jump node signature. Recommending prolonged investigation."
Jeremiah Lockheart ordered his communications officer to signal the Plato, and inform the current situation. With a few quick movements, he opened a comm link and sent the message, and both science vessels abandoned their jump sequences. A new course was plotted, heading straight to the anomaly location, the Faustus class vessels engaging all active sensors. They stopped a few hundred meters from the center of the area where the surges were happening, and a modified support ship left the Mendel's docking bay.
The probe was built upon the hull and engines of a Hygeia support craft, heavily modified to carry advanced sensor and remote control systems. A normal person couldn't identify it from a regular support ship without closely examination, but Lockheart was too familiar with it already. The extended spikes, the darker cockpit windows, the small protusion on it's back - where most of the aditional sensor arrays were housed - made it easy for him to recognize a subspace probe. So many times they had sent those probes out into the coldness of space, and so little times they had met with the swirling blue beauty of subspace.
"Sending probe, transferring control to your bridge" said the research vessel's captain, with a monotonic voice that made it impossible to recognize his everlasting excitement with this kind of possibility. Lockheart associated the Mendel's captain - and chief scientist - voice with a Vasudan translator. Always cold and emotionless. He ordered his navigator to take control of the ship, directing it to the center of the surges. Instants after the engines on the small probe started to glow, it began to move.
"We are over the probable node location, captain. Engaging subspace drive" said the navigator, as the probe started to accelerate slightly. Almost at the same time, a vortex of bright blue-white light started to form a few meters ahead of the small ship, ripping the very fabric of space and opening a gate to another dimension. A few seconds later, the light engulfed the Hygeia, and it vanished into the realms of subspace.
"It's stable" said the Plato's science officer after analyzing the first readings. The main screen showed real time images from cameras on board the probe, but all that could be seen was the bluish color of subspace, large swirls forming and vanishing around the small Terran craft venturing for the first time on that unexplored space. That tunnel was longer than the usual, so the probe would travel for about thirty minutes before reaching the other side.
As the unmanned craft drifted through the uniqueness connecting Polaris to somewhere else in the universe, Lockheart filled the enormous ammount of paperwork that a situation like that required. The official communication to Fleet Command had been sent, and response was almost immediate: the GTD Asamonov would arrive in approximately three hours and fifteen minutes. As the captain of the Proximus knew well, a whole fleet wold be there in less than two days.
"Sir, the probe is about to leave subspace" informed Zeke, the navigation officer for the Proximus. The main display split in two, one showing the images from the frontal camera, the other displaying various readings from active sensors in the probe. The bright spot at the end of the subspace tunnel occupied most of the viewing area, and suddenly the blackness of freespace was all that could be seen.
"Gravity measurements are off scale! The probe is being pulled in, recommending transfer all power to engines!" shouted the Mendel's chief science officer, as he realized the truth about the system on the other side of the subspace tunnel. In the distance, a purple ring could be seen through the camera, beams of multi-colored light spiraling down into it. It was a collapsed star - a black hole.
Even with all power directed to the propulsion system, the small craft was no match to the tremendous gravity generated by the black hole. As it continued to be pulled into it, Lockheart ordered Zeke to maximize the probe's sensor readings - gathering as much information as possible before it succumbed to the titanic forces acting upon the fragile hull. The information it acquired was nothing short from shocking.
"Incoming jump signature. Friendly configuration" Lockheart heard his tactical officer warn as a Hecate destroyer filled the Deimos bridge's main screen, the overly large subspace portal slowly vanishing behind it as the forces that control our universe struggled to repair the damage done to it's most delicate structure.
"About time, they are more than one hour late" whispered Jeremiah while reading the destroyer's id. A small retractable screen, attached to the captain's chair, showed the IFF readings from the metal monstruosity that had just arrived. Lockheart was surprised when he noticed the prefix of the ship.
"What the hell - it's not the Asamonov...". The huge spacecraft hovered towards the small fleet, stopping a few hundred meters above the corvette. As the forward thrusters flared on the gigantic vessel, it slowly decelerated from the jumpout speed and came to a full stop. The destroyer was strangely darker than any Hecate Lockheart had seen up to that day.
"Proximus, this is the GTID Zephora. Prepare a full situation briefing, we are coming aboard." said the voice-only message from the newly arrived ship. Lockheart wondered why the GTI had taken over, but proceeded to prepare the briefing anyway. He never liked those intelligence morons - as any other regular GTVA officer - but he had been outranked, and that made him quite mad.
The transport attached itself to the main docking port on the corvette, and Lockheart could hear the low hiss coming from behind the bulkhead in front of him, as the airlock reached normal pressure. A green panel lit above the huge metal door, and the heavy gear-like plate started to rotate left, exposing the two men inside the pressure chamber. As the door stopped, they walked towards Jeremiah.
"I am Admiral Andreas Emer, and this is Lieutenant Commander Toshiro, squadron leader for the 144th Lampreys. I believe you have a situation briefing ready for us?" said the taller man. They headed for the conference room, where Captain Jeremiah Lockheart started the update.
"By 02:36 today, a probable jump location was detected by the GTS Mendel. As the investigation proceeded, we confirmed the existence of a new subspace node, and the protocol was initialized" started Lockheart.
"By 03:01, a standard probe was sent into the node and, after traveling inside subspace for 32 minutes and 14 seconds, it reentered normal space. The location of the new system could not be determined, as all visual data acquisition were highly distorted by the gravitational field of the main body on the system, a collapsed star". A diagram showing the system's gravitational forces was displayed on the holoscreen.
"After trying to extend the lifespan of the probe as it was attracted towards the singularity by increasing engine power, and failing, I decided to maximize sensors input. The data acquired is certainly surprising". An atmosphere of apprehension filled the room. Both the admiral and the lieutenant commander were struck by the information, and showed signs of confusion. They were not prepared for this.
Lockheart ordered the computer to display all information sent from the probe.
"As you can see by the readings, we have a huge number of probable subspace node locations on that system. If one fourth of the candidates are indeed stable, we have a total number of 47 jump nodes, leading to unknown locations". It was a major security issue, everybody realized. Andreas asked for quantitative measurements of the gravitational field to be transferred to the Zephora, and left the room. The lieutenant remained, and asked for a meeting with the Mendel's chief scientist.
A shuttle coming from the Mendel docked on the Proximus main docking port, just as the transport that brought the admiral on board left. The captain of the science vessel arrived, and was immediately directed to the conference room where captain Lockheart and lieutenant commander Toshiro waited for him. They both stood up.
"Captain, I must ask you to leave the room" said Toshiro, facing straight forward - he lacked the courage to say that facing Jeremiah directly. Lockheart was shocked for a brief moment, but quickly replied, a serious look on his face. Toshiro trembled.
"You are on my ship lieutenant. I will be wherever I please, and you are not the one to cast me orders here".
The lieutenant commander was an even-tempered man, but not the bravest when he wasn't on the cockpit of a fighter. The captain didn't even need to push him further, he had gave in already. Lockheart was not supposed to hear this, but Toshiro just could not help himself.
"So be it. Just acknowledge that anything you learn here is classified level phi, and disclosing this information is punishable on the terms of the GTVA Security Act" replied the lieutenant.
"Well, what do you want from me, gentlemen?" asked Weber, the Mendel's captain and chief science officer, that tired look on his face that was already his trademark. He had worked on that ship for too long, always the same crew, always the same quarters, always the same mission, always the same boredom. The discovery of the new jump node surprised him - and the knowledge of the situation on the system beyond it completed the job - but he felt tired and anyway.
"Doctor, I need a complete analysis of the effects the gravitational fields beyond this jump node would have over a fighter" said Toshiro. Lockheart and Weber were puzzled.
"Lieutenant, I'll keep it simple. No standard GTVA fighter can maneuver in that gravitational field. It would simply be pulled towards the singularity, and destroyed way before even reaching the event horizon" said Weber, almost screaming.
Toshiro showed signs of a slight smile as Weber spoke.
"Well, doctor. I do not mean a standard fighter" replied the lieutenant, while inserting a data disc on the computer terminal.
Andreas arrived at the bridge of the Zephora only to order his communications officer to reroute all comms systems to his personal office. The large room felt like home for him, so much time since he first set foot on that ship. Several holographic displays were positioned symmetrically over the place, surrounded by workstations. The captain's chair was located roughly at the center of the bridge, sided by the first officer workstation and a small holoscreen. A huge display filled the frontal section, always divided in various smaller screens - each displaying completely different sets of information. Tactical views, sensor readings, systems status reports and many others. That time, though, most of it was occupied by a view from the forward camera.
The admiral stared for a few moments at the blackness of space were the jump node was located, and left. On his office, he faced the large flat screen that occupied the whole wall opposing the door. Small controls were positioned just beneath it, but he never used them. Voice commands were always his choice. The display was already active, and a tall human wearing civilian clothes, with a large beard and moustache appeared after a brief time when the GTVI logo filled the screen. He didn’t identify himself, as if he knew Emer well.
"So, admiral, a new jump node has been found. We’ve received the preliminary briefing, and we believe this new system to be the perfect proving ground for the Nyx. We are deploying the Mohses, which will carry the ship to the jump node. You must evacuate the area before it arrives - remember Andreas, no one else is allowed to set eyes on that ship". Without even waiting for a reply, the man broke the subspace communication link. Admiral Emer returned to the Zephora’s bridge, and ordered the officer to restore all communications with the rest of the fleet.
"You must be kidding, right?" asked Lockheart, looking outraged. He wanted some good explanations, but Toshiro just stood there. Having noticed that the lieutenant was not among the least succeptible to a little pressure, he pushed a little further.
"These specs are way far from anything the GTVA ever built! It's not a natural improvement, we're talking about a huge leap here" screamed the captain, turning his back to the main screen. Toshiro sighed, and started to explain the situation - as far as he could go without violating the Security Act. Lockheart suppressed the urge to smile.
"These, captain, are the specs for the GTVI designation RIP0131 spacecraft. I don’t have any information on it’s research and development crew, all that I know about it you now know too". A weird silence took over the room, while the GTVI lieutenant gathered breath to resume his explanation.
"The admiral will probably get pissed off at me for telling you all this stuff, and you’ll certainly get a court martial if anyone else learns about anything we’ve discussed here, so stop complaining".
Weber and Lockheart stared at each other, no words on their mouths. They started to realize the implications of this. That craft was to be deployed on the system beyond the jump node, with a pilot inside - probably Toshiro himself - and the captain of the Mendel was really uncomfortable with that. Sending a piloted craft to the heart of a system centered by a singularity was not his idea of scientific research - this sounded more like gambling. Or suicide.
"Doctor, I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no way you can prevent it" said Toshiro, almost reading Weber’s mind. The only thing that really mattered for him was that spacecraft. Even if it meant dying, he desperately wanted to fly it. When it came to that level, he was willing to risk everything.
"I am getting aboard this ship and flying through the node, and you cannot stop me. I want to fly this craft, and I will" said the lieutenant while turning towards the door "and you must leave this location immediately". After saying these words, the oriental-looking fighter jock left the room, leaving behind two puzzled and outraged GTVA officers.
Lockheart didn’t like the idea of leaving the jump node area. The GTVI was too confident, and almost nothing had been read from the other side of the node - as far as they knew, the whole Shivan armada could be there, just waiting for a fool to come through. He arrived at the Proximus bridge at the same time the shuttle carrying Weber back to the Mendel detached from the main docking port. After a few minutes, the shuttle was safe inside the science vessel’s docking area, and both the Mendel and the Plato left. Jeremiah couldn’t give a single order to his crew, too absorbed by the whole situation.
Suddenly, the main display flared, and the face of admiral Emer came through.
"Proximus, this is the GTID Zephora. You are ordered to leave this area at once!". That said, Lockheart looked at his navigation officer - who waited for the confirmation of this order - and nodded. Shortly thereafter, the Deimos class corvette vanished into subspace.
A white streak formed on the black veil of space, exposing a large destroyer-class vessel jumping in. The GTID Mohses was identical to the Zephora, darker than the usual Hecates. It deccelerated, stopping right beside Admiral Emer's ship. A comm link was opened, and the voice of the Mohses' communications officer could be heard on the Zephora's bridge.
"Zephora, this is the GTID Mohses. We're deploying the launcher. Please stand by to send in the controller."
As the sentence was finished, a freighter was launched from the Mohses' docking bays. It had standard GTVI markings, and was slightly modified to carry a single fighter-class spacecraft. Almost at the same time, a small shuttle was launched from the Zephora. Inside it, lieutenant commander Kenzo Toshiro stared through a small window, imagining the green wireframe of a jump node delimiter. He was about to be the first human to fly into a system where a black hole existed, and that thought was starting to frighten him. The only thing that kept him wanting desperately to do it was the idea of flying the RIP0131, and he finally was about to do it. He had been studying the specs of that ship for the last two months, and every detail on it was perfect - it was everything he dreamed of on a fighter.
His shuttle approached the now halted freighter and initiated docking procedure. Blood pumped wildly throguh all of his body, as adrenaline rushed through his veins ordering all energy to be transferred to his brain and muscles. Feeling a knot on his stomach, he opened the standard airlock, and boarded the modified Triton. The compartment he was in connected the cockpit to the cargo container in the back, and was hardly one meter wide. Toshiro stared at the airlock for an instant, as his shuttle unlocked the magnetic grapplers and started to return. A last thought of fear crossed his mind, and was quickly tossed aside by his desire to fly the perfect fighter. He then opened the door connecting to the container, and all lights inside were activated.
Admiral Emer sat anxiously on his chair on the bridge of the Zephora, watching the Triton class freighter that stood still inside the jump node area. As protocol determined, he ordered all possible weapon and engine power to be redirected to the sensor systems, as the new craft was to be tested. It was the first operational test of the Nyx, and he couldn't help but wonder where that ship came from. No development group on the entire GTVI could have built that. He finished giving the orders to adjust the ship for the test, and checking was being performed.
"Ahead one-quarter. Bring us closer to the jump node." ordered Andreas, as the Mohses started the same movement. His navigation officer nodded, and the huge ship slowly started to move. Emer strangely noticed - the starts seemed strangely bighter that day.
Toshiro stared in awe at the RIP0131, as he tried to adjust his mind to the sight before him. The only thing he could see was a large area where all light disappeared, a deep black seemed to fill the air. He knew that it was the craft he was about to fly.
The fighter was taller than wide, a small vertical wing above and a larger one beneath what seemed to be the cockpit. No light reflected from it, so he could not be sure. Proceding to the control panel, he typed the security code and entered the commands to initiate the pre-launch sequence. The cockpit cover oepend, and the displays and controls inside could be seen. A bridge extended from his position to the side of the cockpit, and he walked through it - occupying the single seat on the fighter.
Admiral Emer watched as the main screen of the Zephora’s bridge splitted to show all sensor readings from the freighter Toshiro had boarded a while ago. His Hecate was directing as much power as possible to sensor systems, and he hoped to learn a good deed of information from that craft on it’s first flight. Andreas noticed as the doors at the back of the small transport flipped open, but nothing came out. He waited a few seconds, and hailed Toshiro.
"Lieutenant, when you are ready you can depart from the transport".
"Already done that captain, as soon as the doors opened" was the response.
Emer was impressed. He had seen nothing, his ship’s sensors had detected nothing, but the fighter was out there anyway. He searched the screen for anything out of the ordinary - noticing a small area where space was completely dark - and contacted Toshiro, ordering him to activate all lights on his ship. Four bright spots appeared, but the area remained dark. The Nyx was truly an awesome improvement over the stealth technology used on the Pegasus.
Toshiro maneuvered around for a few minutes, trying to get the feeling of flying the strange spacecraft. Despite being one of the most experienced Special Operations Command pilots on the GTVA, he had a hard time mastering the new fighter. It was different from anything he had flown before, and the fact that he had studied it’s specifications for months didn’t help much. After the lieutenant commander acquainted himself with the RIP 0131, he proceeded to the next stage on the craft’s first test fly, and came to a halt inside the jump node area.
"Lieutenant Commander Kenzo Toshiro, you have permission to activate jump drives".
Toshiro lifted the small yellow and red cover, a pressed the button. Almost immediately, a blue vortex started to ripple before his eyes, and in a few seconds the blackness of space had been replaced by the blue and black tunnel that he had seen so many times. He couldn’t remember how many times he had been there, and thought he was used to it.
This time, though, he felt differently. He felt cold.
Lockheart stared through the window on his personal quarters, waiting for the reply to a request he had sent to command. He had a strange feeling about the ongoing activities near the newly discovered jump point, and wanted to set things clear with his superiors. The GTVI was always mysterious and dissimulated, but after seeing the specs for that fighter he needed to know if they were acting by the book, be it whatever book the intelligence guys used - ghosts of the GTI rebellion still haunted allied ships all through known space.
After a few hours, the reply finally arrived. The Zephora had officially full authority over the new jump node space, and all other craft needed Admiral Emer’s personal authorization to approach the area. Almost at the same time, the distress signal from the Mohses arrived.
Toshiro focused on the sensor displays as his ship approached the end of the subspace tunnel. Small graphics, showing subspace readings, relative speed, estimated time for arrival, subsystems status, reactor output and many other sets of information flickered in front of his eyes, floating on the transparent HUD. He was meticulous and disciplined, always perfectly following protocol – and the protocol was really strict this time. Two minutes before reaching the edge of the subspace tunnel, he started all the sensor adjustments required for the data acquisition on the other side, and transferred a good amount of the generated power to the engine system.
He knew what had happened to the subspace probe, and didn’t really know if this fighter, even with it’s impressive capabilities, could handle the absurd forces that stormed outside the safety of subspace. For a few seconds, he wished that the tunnel was longer. Holding tightly the main controls, he activated the subspace drive, and the deep black ship reentered freespace.
The view was simply beautiful. Purple-blue beams of light drawing long curves across the skies, with multicolored streaks here and there, a large mass that appeared to once have been a planet slowly falling apart - all of this suddenly disappearing on a pitch black ring that seemed to house death itself. Toshiro was distracted for a few seconds, enough to have his ship being dragged towards the singularity. He quickly realized the situation, and rerouted even more power to the engines, trying to stabilize the small vessel immerse in a sea of overwhelming gravitational forces. Unknown to him, the enormous stream of power passing through his craft’s propulsion systems started to generate a series of small subspace pulses, compensating the gravity acting over it. Also unknown to him, something that rested nearby detected those subspace pulses, and began to move.
Andreas sat on the bridge of the Zephora, monitoring the little information arriving from the Nyx. His science crew was still trying to determine the location of the system on the other side, but the distortions caused by the gravitational pull of the black hole were causing a major hazard on this aspect.
"Where the hell does this thing lead to" was the main thought on his mind, as he stared into the bridge’s main display, that showed footage from the Nyx – a few seconds delayed due to the subspace relaying. Every minute or so, a new wireframe figure popped up on the image, showing the location where the science crew determined the existence of another probable jump node. Those were too many nodes, too many different locations, too many possibilities – but too much danger.
"We don’t have the resources to control this many systems" thought the admiral. In fact, the GTVA didn’t have enough resources even to explore all those systems in practical time – and they were only able to explore this first system thanks to the Nyx. No other ship could sustain the forces acting on the other side.
"Captain, we are losing signal from the Nyx" spoke the communications officer, calling the admiral’s attention back to the real, immediate world.
"Reroute power from the navigational arrays to the sensors. We must keep track of that ship. And relay the same recommendation to the Mohses" replied Emer, ignoring all complaints from his first officer – the ship would become almost unmaneuverable if the nav systems lost more power – not knowing that this very order spelt doom for his fleet.
Gigantic cracks started to form on the surface, at an unprecedent rate. Thousands of cubic kilometers of pure rock shatered in a matter of minutes, opening huge gaps on the surface. The planet cried as a massive portion was ripped off from it, and swallowed by the black hole. Streams of magma flowed from the wounds, forming a morbid pattern on the black and distorted skies. Toshiro stared in awe as the scene unraveled itself before his eyes, in a matter of minutes. And in a matter of minutes, everything was as before.
The Special Operations Command pilot suddenly realized that he was not monitoring the readings and adjusting the sensors as the mission required, and that surprised him. He was never distracted during a mission, and he had never failed a mission. The fact that he had succumbed to the first brought to his mind the possibility of falling into the second. For the first time on a mission, he started to get scared.
He quickly verified all monitors, and readjusted the sensors – the ship had been drifting for quite a while, and gained a significative distance from the jump node. Toshiro maneuvered the ship to head back to his exit point, but as the Nyx started to move, they appeared.
Jump points opening everywhere, a stream of laser fire that completely engulfed the black fighter. Reacting by pure instinct, Toshiro quickly maneuvered, aligning his ship to the side of the attacking force. As he struggled to remain out of the firing line, he had a first glimpse of the attackers: Shivans.
The black and red ships swarmed the skies, moving as if the black hole wasn’t even there. At first Toshiro was able to avoid being hit – most of the systems on his ship were deactivated – but his luck couldn’t last long. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemy craft, he was once more immerse in a river of death-dealing energy bolts, but this time the Nyx could no longer ignore the threat. For Toshiro’s surprise, after taking a few shots the ship came to life, and all systems were brought online. He lost control of the vessel, while it maneuvered wildly – almost forcing the pilot to unconsciousness – and striked back at the Shivan forces.
Pulling hard up and quickly banking to the left, the ship was in a perfect attack position, and Toshiro could notice the lights on his cockpit dimming as a bright swirling blue flare started to form at the tip of the bottom wing. The Shivans started to break formation, but it was too late – the Nyx had opened fire.
"What do you mean by that, officer?!?" screamed the admiral, unable to believe the words he had just heard.
"Exactly that, admiral – we have lost contact wirh the Nyx. Our last readings showed several unidentified contacts on his sensors" replied the communications officer, knowing that the admiral was not really angry, but merely surprised.
"Who could it be? Sure as hell no standard GTVA ship could handle the gravity there" thought the admiral, staring at the replay of the last minutes of sensor data sent by the Nyx before contact was lost. They had not been able to get a visual confirmation on the ships, and the sensor data was too vague. All it showed was a collection of energy readings – but it was perfectly clear that those were ships, and not debris or sensor glitches.
Emer contacted the Mohses, and ordered the deployment of a craft into the node, to relay a link to the Nyx. A few minutes later, a modified Hygeia support craft – clearly showing the distinctive features of a subspace probe – left the destroyer’s fighterbay and headed to the center of the jump node location. Soon after, a white flare swallowed the small probe, and it left normal space.
The small craft travelled through subspace, with all reactor output directed to one single system: communications. Monitoring all possible frequencies for any signal of the Nyx, the modified Hygeia slowly approaching the exit point of the node – finding no signs of a single message from the pilot that boldly ventured into the unknown and dangerous system. The crew of both the Zephora and Mohses knew that the probe wouldn’t last long on the other side, and it probably wouldn’t be able to scan the area from where the last message from the Nyx had been transmitted.
"Come on, Toshiro – I know you are alive out there. For God’s sake, say something!" thought the admiral, as more than twenty minutes had passed since the probe entered the node. He couldn’t believe that their best pilot had been killed, and he simply couldn’t bear the thought that they had lost years of research on the Nyx fighter. That was the only prototype he had access to, and as far as he knew, it was the only one ever obtained by the GTVI.
"It could be a squadron of Nyx fighters..." – the thought suddenly struck Andreas, and he considered the possibilities. He had full information clearance on the RIP 0131, but he was never able to find a single reference to the origins of the fighter.
"We might be at the fringe of finding an answer to that, only if we...". He was never able to finish this thought, though, as numerous jump points started to open, and a swarm of black and red ships started to pour in from the subspace node.***
Toshiro woke up, and instictively checked the sensors display. It was blank. He had been rendered unconscious by the brutal maneuvering of the ship, and couldn’t remember anything from the moment that blue glow started to form. Checking his instruments, he found that the ship hadn’t moved at all, but it was badly damaged. The comms system had been completely destroyed, and he had no way of warning the fleet of the impending threat.
"Damn, what the hell did this ship do" thought the pilot, as he tested the controls to check if he was able to command the ship again. The ship moved, but at nothing near the speed and maneuverability it had before the battle. The engines must have been damaged.Toshiro looked around searching for the controls for the auto repair system, but found nothing.
"This was only a prototype, and the systems had not been installed yet", he thought. Examining the rest of the ship he noticed several blast marks on the cockpit, and heavy damage to the left section of the main hull and bottom wing. In fact, he couldn’t believe that the fighter still moved and maintained life support systems.
"Thank God this thing doesn’t work as a normal fighter, or I’d know how a black hole looks like from the inside" he spoke to himself, maneuvering the ship to return to the jump node. He constantly checked the screens, but no signs of the Shivans existed at all, and his damage reports showed no critical damage to the sensors subsystem.
The Nyx reached the node after a few minutes, and initiated jump sequence immediately after reaching a viable distance. Toshiro felt strangely safe after inside subspace – differently from the last time. He was tired, and was barely able to adjust the autopilot before falling once more into unconsciousness.
The pilot slept on the seat of his battered fighter, and dreamt of blue planets, of red and black ships that carried the call of death throughout the universe. He dreamt of battles that engulfed entire star systems in fire, of a titanic storm that spread fear and destruction, of thunder that roared even in the vacuum of space. He dreamt of melted metal and shatered bones, of rotten flesh and torn souls. He dreamt of war.
He saw a veil of darkness surrounding the entire alliance, as the enemy blackened the stars. He felt the wrath of revenge, the heat of battle and the coldness of death. He saw the blood of his compatriots painting whole worlds red, as streaks of energy crossed the land.
He saw the rest of his life before him, fighting a lost war.
He felt the fear of a whole race.
Toshiro was awakened by the jump alarm, sweating, confused and frightened by his dream – everything seemed too real. He felt as if the ship was trying to warn him, and struggled to recover his senses as the fighter reentered normal space.
The view before him was shocking – he had arrived too late.
"Set course to the jump node, and get this thing working as soon as possible!" screamed Jeremiah Lockheart, captain of the GTCv Proximus. A few seconds earlier he had received a distress signal from the GTID Mohses, a Hecate class destroyer serving the Terran branch of the GTVI, commanded by Boris Gurievich - a puppet in the hands of Admiral Andreas Emer. This same ship had, alongside Emer's own flagship - the GTID Zephora - expelled Lockheart and his corvette from the immediate neighbourhood of the new jump node discovered by the Proximus task force. He remembered the feeling he experienced the first time he saw the Zephora, when it arrived replacing the GTD Asamonov. He knew all along that the GTVI could only bring trouble.
Jeremiah sat back on his leather chair, trying for a few nanoseconds to forget the whole situation starting to develop around him, focusing on the comfort provided by the single place where he still felt like he had control of. Auxiliary lights on the bridge had turned to a light yellowish tone, replacing the usual blue and white light that filled the room, and a low humming sound could be heard - indications of a soon to happen subspace drive activation. He could only imagine what would be found on the subspace exit point, but he had a fertile imagination. The low hum slowly built up to a high pitched monotonic noise, and the well known white and blue flare engulfed the Deimos class corvette, while it's captain wondered what could be happening on the other side.
During the few seconds that the ship travelled through subspace, Lockheart's mind analyzed a myriad of possibilities - from a pirate attack, catching the destroyers off-guard, to an undercover corporate ride to capture that miracle ship he had come to know about - imagining every possible consequence and means to counteract the threat. His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of his sensor officer as the ship exited subspace, though, and he awoke to an even worse reality.
"Multiple hostile contacts in range, captain - at least two Shivan Moloch class corvettes and over two dozen strike craft!" screamed the officer, almost panicking after the surprise.
"Both GTVI destroyers have their weapon systems offline, and one of them is suffering heavy damage" he finished the sentence, trying to calm down. The situation, though, was not calm at all. Several bombers were already in range of the destroyers, and had unleashed their payload. Huge dents could be seen on the surface of the Mohses - that was suffering a heavier attack than the Zephora - indicating that it was not the first strike. Steam and fire emerged from the cracks, as the ship's self-repair systems tried to contain the damage. Unseen by the crew of the Proximus, the faces of helpless crewmen on board the Mohses watched out through the windows as another bomb impacted upon it's surface.
A sole wing of Perseus struggled to keep the bombers away from the destroyers while the fighterbays were brought online, but it was having a terrible time against the Shivans own fighter escort. As one of the friendly fighters banked left and dropped to intercept a Seraphim bomber, three enemy Maras lined up behind him, releasing a wave of warheads that tore throught the fragile hull of the interceptor. A screaming pilot still tried to deliver a few last shots to his target, but it was too late. The aft section of his fighter had been disintegrated, and the fire engulfed the rest of his ship. As if time stood almost still for a few moments, he could see the flaming ball of gas and debris slowly devouring his fighter, the outer hull melting, internal components vaporizing or being shattered, the main structure torn apart by the fury of the explosion. The pilot screamed in rage for a last time before the orange blaze swallowed him.
A small distance further, both Moloch corvettes were maneuvering to bring their main anti-capship weapons to bear against the closest destroyer, and were reaching firing range fast. Lockheart knew he had to do something, but the situation limited his possibilities. He didn't have the time to intercept the corvettes before they reached the Mohses and activated their forward beam cannons, but he had an idea.
Most crew on board the Mohses and Zephora were relieved when the Proximus appeared. For the first time since the arrival of the Shivan forces, there was actual hope of survival for them. By taking most of their systems offline, the Intelligence Hecate destroyers were almost defenseless, and a few critical minutes would pass before any weapon could be reactivated. That Deimos class corvette could just buy the time they needed.
Rear Admiral Boris Gurievich, comander of the GTID Mohses, walked around his bridge, considering the situation. His ship shook with another direct hit, and he noticed the main engineering display as several green and yellow marks turned red. Without saying a word, he signaled his first officer, who pointed a number on his personal screen. It read four hundred and twenty seven. Four hundred and twenty seven casualties on his ship, after only six minutes of battle. He thought for a while about all of these people, their families and how vain were their deaths, but this was soon wiped from his mind.
"The mission", he whispered to himself, while sitting down. It was the only thing he needed to worry about. He was already so deep into the scheme being ran by Emer that he didn't even consider focusing his attention on anything else. The slightest mistake could lead to disaster - not for his ship, or for the fleet, but to himself. His own fear forced him to ignore the pain being inflicted upon his own ship and crew, and concentrate on evaluating the true obstacles on the twisted path of their plans. And to his best judgement, the main obstacle - this time - was not the Shivan force.
From the soft leather captain's chair of the Mohses, he watched right through the fury of the bombers tearing his helpless ship apart, into the corvette jumping in a few kilometers away. Staring at the GTCv Proximus, he knew that it was the only thing keeping them away from total annihilation. He pondered the consequences, and came to a conclusion. Leaving his crew to handle the reactivation of the ship, he ignored the almost permanent shaking caused by the impacting bombs and proceeded to his personal quarters, were he would contact Andreas.
"How long for our jump drive to recharge?" asked Lockheart, almost screaming. His crew knew that he had something on his mind, and it was not about escaping.
"Fourty four seconds" came the reply from main engineering. It was fast enough for him.
"Lock coordinates on the closest Moloch's current position, and prepare to activate the subspace drive as soon as it's fully charged". The crew acknowledged the order, and executed it with utmost precision. When the Deimos came out of subspace, it was positioned perfectly on the middle of both Shivan corvettes, and had most of it's heavy weaponry perfectly free to fire - while the enemy ships faced the destroyers and would have to turn at least forty degrees to effectively engage the Proximus.
"All batteries, open fire!" ordered the captain, and immediately several points on the surface of his ship started to glow, as the ship itself seemed to gather energy to face the overwhelming foe. Instants later, multiple beams of blue and green light formed, each carving holes through both enemy corvettes' hulls. Feeling the damage being inflicted by the Terran vessel, one of the red and black ships began to turn about, while a bomber wing broke off the attack against the Mohses and started to move towards the Proximus' position.
Jeremiah watched the raging battle and wondered what chance they had of actually leving the battlefield alive that day. His single Deimos class corvette was facing at the same time two Shivan Molochs, and at least four Seraphim bombers, with absolutely no fighter support. On a standard situation, he would have absolutely no possibility of surviving, but that was no ordinary battle. He had caught the enemy by complete surprise, and would be able to inflict heavy damage to those corvettes before they even had the chance of returning fire with their big weapons. His confidence dropped, though, when he saw the first bomber reaching firing range.
The eyes of the Proximus' forward heavy beam gunner widened as the Seraphim bomber turned towards his position, no fighters pursuing it. All flak guns that could cover his position were already occupied, and his weapon couldn't get a lock on the relatively small ship. He had already closed the blast doors and was bracing for the impact, when the red dot disappeared from his screen. Lowering the shields, he stared out just to witness what once was the Shivan bomber being completely disintegrated. A blue lightning still searched through the remains, crossing the space before him, coming from absolutely nowhere.
Lieutenant Kenzo almost jumped from his seat, shocked by the view of the battlefield. The two destroyers that had brought him and his fihgter were suffering heavy bomber attacks on the distance, and standing completely still. Closer to him, a Deimos class corvette fought two Molochs and a few bombers, and was apparently taking the lead on the battle. Recovering from his forced sleep, he tried to get back to his full senses, and brought his sensor display to the HUD. It registered exact twenty three contacts, only six of them were friendly. The situation surely seemed desperate.
Realizing what had happened to the GTVI destroyers, he checked his damage readouts - the ship was almost back at full strenght, except for the hull - and engaged full burn towards the Mohses. He knew what that black fighter was capable of, and this time he intended to have control over it. What he would soon learn, though, is that for this ship his will didn't matter at all. Toshiro contacted Admiral Andreas Emer, and asked for a full situation update.
"All power had been redirected to sensors. We're bringing the weapon systems and fighterbays back online, but it's still gonna take a little more than one minute..." came the reply from the Zephora comunications officer. He said something else, but Toshiro ignored it. He knew everything he wanted to know, and it was bad enough as that.
As the Nyx moved towards the battle scene, Toshiro tried to concentrate and devise a plan of action, but he achieved no success at all. His own mind seemed to be unwilling to help, too tired from the previous encounter with the Shivans.
Struggling to remain awake, he once more witnessed gigantic battles, glimpses of a reality that was yet to come. He heard the ship talking to him, telling him that the Destroyers were returning for a last time. Telling him that this time, mankind stood no chance. He was pulled from his daydream by the Nyx itself, as the ship brought all standby systems to life once more and pitched hard, heading for the closest Shivan craft: a Seraphim bomber initiating an attack against the Proximus.
"Just what the hell is that?" shouted Ezequiel Adams, also known as Zeke, the navigation officer of the Proximus. Everyone on the bridge realized what he was talking about, as a shadow rocketed past the main semi-holographic display's field of view, firing a blueish beam of uncanny appearance. No one really knew what to think about, except Lockheart.
"Nothing that you should care about. Concentrate on this battle, we must take these corvettes down!" said the captain while - almost if ordered directly by him - one of the beams from his ship moved through the surface of one of the Molochs, directly hitting it's main reactor. The power core of the corvette started to leak a dense stream of energy, apparently collapsing over itself, only to soon cause a massive explosion that opened a large gap on the central section of the vessel. Power conduits were overloaded by the blast, forming a glowing web-like net through the Moloch's surface and, a few seconds later, the main engine section of the ship gave up and exploded in a huge fireball, creating a series of shockwaves that took the whole corvette with it. Lockheart smiled.
"Just one more to go."
Watching the RIP 0131 fly by, he believed for the first time the information showed to him by that hotshot Special Operations Command pilot. The ship was everything the specifications said, and more - it seemed to be even faster and more agile. Through his personal control pad, he ordered the Proximus to do a heavy scan on the Nyx's surroundings, but nothing came up. The only readings showed residual radiation caused by his own ship, the GTVI destroyers and fighters, and the Shivan force. Otherwise, he had scanned only an ordinary section of deep space.
"It's impressive! Even the Pegasus leaves some residual traces, but this thing is invisible!" he thought, while following the shadow with the external cameras. He knew that he would never find that ship if he didn't know about it on the first place, and if it had refrained from actively engaging the enemy forces. It moved and maneuvered faster than any other Alliance ship, even if apparently being almost the size of an Ursa bomber. Such ship would be a great asset to the fleet, or a terrible weapon if on the wrong hands. The captain's attention, though, was quickly brought back to the immediate battle scene, as a beam from the remaining Moloch hit his ship near the bridge, causing a small tremor.
He ordered a tactical repositioning of the Proximus to properly counteract the Shivan corvette, bringing the majority of it's anti capital ship weaponry to a position where their firing arcs could reach the enemy, and several beams of light emerged from it - eating the Moloch as they strode through it's now helpless surface, opening several flaming gaps on the redish hull. The battle would soon be over.
The pitch black ship maneuvered wildly, ignoring the limitations of it's pilot's body, while charging it's main weapon and locking on the closest enemy bomber. Swirling particles soon gave way to an intense glow, almost immediately casting a lightning-like beam - that crossed the void to impact over it's target's surface. The Seraphim's hull seemed to scream in agony, as the powerful stream of energy drew an almost straight line over it, completely ignoring the shields and melting the extremely resistant materials as if they were nothing but hot butter. In less than a second, the bomber was perfectly divided in two, being torn apart by the explosions on it's missile bays and engines. Moments later, nothing occupied that area of space but a few burnt pieces of metal. The streak of light remained active, roaming the battlefield towards it’s next target.
Toshiro fought with all his strenght only to remain conscious, as the fighter that carried him unleashed it’s fury upon the ancient enemy. He could feel a torrent of emotions passing through him, as if coming from the ship itself. The fury against the now almost desperate attackers, the relief of thousands of people as they witnessed a beacon of hope shining through what seemed to be an endless sea of darkness, the primal fear of an elemental force that had never faced such powerful and committed resistance. He was scared, but somehow felt warm and comfortable again. The cold feeling had passed.
Multi-colored beams formed intrincate patterns on the sky ahead of the Nyx, as the Proximus exchanged fire with the remaining Shivan corvette. The Terran ship still had the advantage, and was using it well – the Moloch was already feeling the burden caused by the damage it suffered on the initial stages of the battle, as it ignored the Deimos to advance towards the disabled destroyers. Lockheart had exploited such mistake to the fullest, and his ship was now just moments away from complete victory. Toshiro’s eyes captured a last bright flash from the battle as a beam from the Proximus hit a critical spot on the Moloch corvette, and was able to understand a last communication from the Zephora before falling into unconsciousness again – it had brought it’s fighterbay and weapon systems back online.
He awoke to find the ship standing still by the side of the Zephora, no hostile contacts at all on the sensor display. Extremely tired from the stress caused by the high G forces experienced while the Nyx ignored him to fight the Shivans, he was barely able to bring the fighter to inside the destroyer’s fighterbay.
"What do you mean by this" shouted Lockheart through the communications system, while staring right into the eyes of Admiral Andreas Emer on the main screen.
"Exactly what you heard, captain. You are ordered to surrender your vessel and prepare to be boarded. This attack will not be left unpunished." Replied the Admiral.
Jeremiah was starting to understand it. He shouldn’t have received any information about the RIP 0131, let alone be allowed to witness it in action. The same applied to all of his crew, and the GTVI could not let such information slip through their fingers. The presence of the Shivans had only made things worse, as now they had the perfect excuse to capture the corvette: it had attacked them uprovokedly while both destroyers had their weapon systems down for scientific monitoring.
"We are deploying a shuttle carrying a security team. You will allow them to dock and will oblige to their directions. The GTCv Proximus and it’s crew are now on the custody of the Galactic Terran Vasudan Intelligence, under charges of high treason. Follow our orders, or you will be destroyed" came another message from the Zephora, directly from the mouth of the Admiral. Lockheart couldn’t allow his crew to be captured under false accusations – not by the GTVI at least – and more than everything, he couldn’t allow the Intelligence to cover the presence of Shivan forces on GTVA space.
He dircreetly signaled his communications officer to add some noise to the transmission, creating the opportunity for him to tap a scripted order into the ship’s main computer. Bringing the transmission back to the normal status, he sent his reply to Emer.
"I know that this is not true, you know that this is not true, and most of all, our signed combat logs show that this is not true. We will surrender, but we’ll prove our innocence, and we’ll show everyone the truth behind your actions".
Emer didn’t even have the time to think "What a fool". Lockheart knew that his crew wouldn’t be awarded a fair trial, he knew that most probably they wouldn’t even face judgement. Execution was more the way of the Intelligence, so he activated the program.
All at once, the Proximus fired all of it’s beams on both destroyers communications systems, and engaged it’s subspace drives. On both Intelligence vessels, the almost magical precision of the corvette's beams had brought the target systems offline, while also creating a major and essential distraction. Soon the battle-scarred corvette was inside subspace, while the Mohses and Zephora were unable to send any long distance communications to the rest of the fleet. As Lockheart’s ship vanished into the white and blue whirlpool, a last message arrived at the Zephora’s bridge.
"This is not the end."