August 12, 4233
United Terran Concord
Natalya took a sip of cocoa, staring out the her cabin’s window. It wasn’t really a window, but that didn’t spoil the illusion. She stared without actually seeing anything. Glorious. Puritan. Inviolate. Bill. Abby. Fajr. She’d known them for two years, ever since she’d taken command of the 181st. Bill… he’d liked her from the very first and made no secret of the fact that he felt the rules about fraternization shouldn’t apply as far as he and she were concerned. She’d found his advances charming, and he’d never pushed the issue to the point of annoyance, no matter how many times she’d deferred. Because that bastard had known that she’d found him charming. He’d reminded her of Tim – probably why she’d put up with it as long as she did.
Abby… Natalya had met her with her husband during one shore leave. She’d never suspected that the quietest of her captains had such an exuberant streak until she’d seen them dancing together. Fajr… he’d resented her, had felt that the 181st should have been his, that her family connections were the only thing that gotten her the command. But they’d reached a truce, coming to respect each other. And now, all three of them, the cruiser officers that she’d never gotten a chance to know and the thousands of their personnel were all dead.
The Lefu’s HAVOCs had mauled her cruiser screen and the battleships had finished them, leaving her battlecruisers naked. But by then they’d been in her range as well; even as she’d run, she’d hammered one of those bastards into an air-bleeding hulk and – she hoped – crippled another, perhaps enough that it might never fight again. She knew she’d gotten a piece of its engines, because it had almost drifted into an OWP’s missile envelope. Tactical was still processing the data, but it looked like she might have taken a chunk out of a cruiser as well.
If she’d had more ships. If the Lefu hadn’t dropped those damned boomers in behind her. If they were the ones working at a disadvantage and not her. If. If. If. Fucking if.
She should be proud, she tried to tell herself. She’d gone up against a technologically and numerically superior foe and survived, her databanks and sensor logs filled with every possible piece of information that they’d been able to glean. She tried to tell herself that this mission had always been recon in force, that the sacrifice Senior Captain Goldstein and the Priorii milita had made enabled Li to get his ships clear.
None of that helped.
All that mattered was the faces of the dead. Fine, she promised the Lefu, staring into the void. Fine. You can have this round. That’s all right. You can mark a notch in your belts or whatever the hell you put notches in. But when you come to Hyperion… I’m going to waiting there for you. We’re not going to sacrifice one more planet to you. Not one more life. Not. One. More. You hear me? This is where it ends.
“This is where it ends,” she whispered, praying to God that she actually believed that.
Major Rondell Lewinsky chewed on the end of his shaka-root stick, looking up at the heavens above him. It was a clear night, one so pure and pristine that one could see nothing but the stars and the moon above. And the darkness; the abyss. If you look too long into the abyss, the abyss stars back at you. And right this moment, it was.
The Lefu were in orbit, sweeping Prior clean of anything that could post a threat to them. Factories, military bases, airfields and ground-based defences. It was a clean, precise action, as if they had all the time in the world. And, with TF 111’s withdrawal, they did. The bastards had even picked up two of Roundhammer’s other landing sites and nuked both of them. Right now, Lewinsky and the 82nd Marines were crossing the Plains of Prius, trying to get to the mountains and hide under the foliage and rock formations. If a Lefu ship or one of their HKs spotted them, they’d be dead before they knew what was happening.
There was a brilliant flash in the distance and Rondell raised one gauntleted hand to his eyes as something fell burning through the night sky, crashing beyond the horizon. Another damn fool trying to run the blockade. The aliens weren’t too happy, and he could guess why. The Commodore had managed to take out one of their battleships as she’d withdrawn and damaged a second, but she’d paid a high price for it. From what he’d heard before the comm-link to TF 111 had gone dead, the Lefu had made their ships tougher than they had any right to be.
He’d also confirmed the Code Blacks of three of the Commodore’s battlecruisers and her cruisers. Lewinsky wasn’t a barge-driver, but he knew what losing that many people from one’s command did to a person. He’d fought in the war with the Empties. On Unicorn Set, they’d managed to dig in around the spaceport and his unit had been ordered to take them out. Intel had reported that they hadn’t managed to get their heavy weapons set up.
Intel had been wrong.
Specialist Kadada tapped him on the shoulder. “We’re getting intel from the capital.” Her face was drawn. “The Lefu have landed troops.”
The system had been secured. The Enemy planet was still in the process of pacification, but that would mean little to naval matters. The Enemy yards had been destroyed to prevent them from falling into their hands, which was a pity. Still, an Industrial Fleet element was soon to arrive; this system gave them access to the major Enemy Base and holding it was imperative.
Onslaught and Aggressor Fleets were moving in as well. Other Strike Fleet elements had reported success in securing a buffer zone around the planets taken in their first wave. It was unfortunate that the Onslaught Fleet element had not been able to participate in this battle; in hindsight, they should have left the superdreadnoughts behind entirely, given that all they did was slow the Strike Fleet element down. They could have taken the system without the presence of the Enemy Vessels to make things more difficult.
Still, it was hindsight and Onslaught Fleet had proven very useful against the Enemy’s fortresses. The losses incurred were disappointing, but within acceptable parameters. They’d also learned some very interesting things about the Enemy as well.
Their advantage in brightspace emergence was a clear problem, as were their Fire Knives. While not effective against hostile fighters, it was clear that they possessed more of them then indicated. As well, the stricken vessels that still littered this system should prove to be… informative.
The Enemy had fought well. It was almost a pity that it had to be this way.
“By the time we get back, Admiral Foraker should have Julius Caesar and Winston Churchill present. If he’s stuck this schedule, he’s managed to activate Thunderer and Conqueror, yet not complete their upgrades. Warlord, Invictus and Imperator will be arriving in three weeks. That will give us a solid core of five boomers and three BCVs. I think we can expect the Lefu to drop in more of their carriers when they hit Hyperion Hive and it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing some more of their SDs. This time they’ll get a chance to use them. Given our experience, they’re going to make our boomers into their bitches. I don’t want to see that happen, so I want ideas, people. I want to give the Admiral something besides the Code Blacks of over thirty ships.”
“Maybe we could do another mousetrap,” Kate Blanchet suggested. The platinum blonde was Valiant’s captain.
Natalya shook her head. “It didn’t fool them this time and it won’t next time. We only got away with it because they didn’t expect us to come out of hyperspace as far in as we did. They’ll put a couple carriers and some of their battleships as a reserve and if we try to get cute, they’ll ram those up our backsides. Even our boomers can’t take too many of their shipkillers.”
“How many SLIPs can Hyperion turn out in the place of ships?” Li wondered aloud. “If we were to focus on layering missile platforms around Prime, it would be a discouragement. Probably more than having Thunderer and Conqueror fully up to spec.”
Natalya nodded. “Good thinking, but SLIPs are pretty vulnerable; once the enemy HAVOCs get into them, it’ll be a killing field. If our HAVOCs can tie them up, we may be able get some more use out of our SLIPs.”
“That’s asking a lot,” Wallace’s CO, Jeffery Solsten, offered. “My pilots got hit pretty hard by their fighters. HAVOCs aren’t cut out for dogfighting; they’ve only ever had to be more agile than capital ships.”
“I know. But we don’t have anything else to counter them with. All right, this is what we’ll have and without looking at Admiral Foraker’s plans, here’s what I see….”
Talliukukik coughed blood as he pulled himself across the battered remnants of his vessel. The shattered bones in his legs ground against one another and stabbed through his skin and the cloth of his suit. He wept with the pain, but he did not slow down. He had been murdered. He and the thousands of Entredi aboard this great vessel. Tisha’s Gift had been the greatest hope of his people and now… now she was dying at the hands of faceless cowards.
The wars upon Enitri had raged mercilessly over its dwindling supplies of petrol and unblemished water, nation-states savage beyond belief in their desperation to control the planet’s last natural resources. The skies were choked with clouds of smog, buried by the layers of dust thrown up the usage of atomic bombs. Many had thought that they were seeing the last days of their race. But then, then hope had returned. A jewel of a world, less than three light-years distant. Habitable, it represented a new beginning for the Entredi… but only if they could set aside their differences and work together. Seeing the future of their world clearly for the first time, the leaders of the great nations had cast aside their old animosities, working together to quash any who stood between them and their salvation.
Enitri had, at last, known peace. An entire world’s hopes and dreams had been poured into their space agency. They had launched probes to this new world, named simply but aptly: ‘Hope’. The images and readings had only confirmed it; this was a paradise, fertile and verdant. The greatest ship ever known had been laid down in a fervour of joy and celebration and ten years later, it had been finished. The launch was a worldwide event; not even the Prophets’ birthdays had seen so many cheering crowds.
Named for the young female that had saved the first Entredi tribe with her kindness, Tisha’s Gift was a generational ship; many would never see the world that they were to tame, but their children and their children’s children would set foot upon a new utopia.
That had been the dream and now it was gone, shattered just as Tisha’s Gift had shattered under the hammer blows of the Dark Demons. Talliukukik dragged himself further down the corridor, his strength ebbing as the life’s blood flowed from him. He had never believed in them, never thought they were real. But only hours ago, Tisha’s Gift had come upon them, vast beyond belief. One moment they had been there, the next there had been only a surge of energy that had shorted out every augur aboard the colony ship and they had been there.
Stupefied, Talliukukik had nonetheless tried to greet them, but they had had no words for him. Only death. A single arrow had been enough, snapping the spine of the Entredi vessel. Many had died, many more were yet to. The largest of the Dark Demons still waited around the remains of Enitri’s hope, bloated and pregnant, waiting to feast on the souls of the doomed, while their smaller children slithered towards the gleaming bauble of their world.
Talliukukik could do nothing to warn his people and so he had dragged himself through the length of the ship he had helped to create, past the corpses of his friends and the pleas of the dying. But the Prophets were not kind and the Entredi wept with despair, slamming a mottled fist against the blast door as he beheld the words that flashed above it: DECOMPRESSION DANGER. EMERGENCY SEALS IN PLACE. He wept for the wives and the children that had lain helpless within that habitat section, and for the family that he had wanted to die with.
As the strength fled from his body and blackness closed in, Talliukukik howled his hatred to the uncaring creatures that had done this to his people.
+threat assessment: minimal+
+defensive assets: minimal+
+industrial capacity: minimal+
+population: moderate, widespread+
+planetary biosphere: habitable; reclamation necessary+
+final assessment: termination+
+cleansing initiated: 3.758 intervals until completion+