Dance with the Reaper

By PJ Brown

Scifi / Romance


Book One of the Shadows of the Apocalypse Series -- Far from home, the Robotech Expeditionary Force cruiser Arcadia and her task force find themselves on the losing end of a fight against the dreaded Invid. To stay alive, the ship executes a desperate maneuver hoping to escape... The Arcadia's survivors now struggle to stay alive as they encounter a different and strange world from any they have known. What will they do when they encounter a pair of Vampire Slayers, and how will the world react to their arrival..?

Watch your six!

“After the First Robotech War, with Earth barely having survived, the plan was to prevent another war from devastating the planet again. The Pioneer Mission was to travel across the galaxy to establish contact with the Robotech Masters and negotiate a peace. While peace was the main goal, the Robotech Expeditionary Force (REF) was more than ready to wage war on the Robotech Master’s doorsteps. What they hadn’t expected to find, upon their arrival at Tirol, was the Robotech Masters gone, and the Invid Regent’s forces invading the world…”

— excerpt from “The History of the Robotech Expeditionary Force”

Vega Corinthi System
November 23, 2042 (Earth Calendar)

“Viper-Twelve… Watch your six and stay in formation! Viper-Twelve… EVANS, WAKE UP AND STAY IN FORMATION!”

“Yes, sir!” replied Viper-Twelve, trying to hide the nervousness in her voice.

Third Lieutenant Cassidy “Cassie” Evans focused her attention, making sure her Veritech Alpha fighter got properly slotted into the squadron’s formation. She took another deep breath to keep her nervousness in check. The last thing she wanted to do was screw up on her first combat mission. It didn’t help her nerves seeing the closing mass of enemy targets on her scanner. The Invid fighters were preparing to make their attack run at the task force.

She cleared her mind, pushing back the fear she would forget everything she’d learned in flight and combat school. The words her flight instructors hammered into her, echoed in her head, “If you get distracted in combat for one moment… you’ll be dead in the next!”

Her flight leader’s voice came over the tactical channel, “All right Vipers stay with your wingman. Keep the Invid away from the fleet. Remember, we’re supporting the Grim Reapers… they have lead. So everyone, stay frosty. Go weapons hot when we get into range.”

An icy feeling filled Cassie’s stomach as she struggled to keep her emotions and thoughts in check, staring at the mass of enemy fighters continuing to close. She fought the urge to throw up, seeing how the attacking enemy fighters outnumbered the REF fighters screening the task force. Of everything she was experiencing and thinking, one thought pushed to the forefront.

Please, God… Don’t let me screw up!

It didn’t take long for her heads-up-display (HUD) to lock on targets among the lead ranks of the incoming wave of Invid fighters. She took one more deep breath and pressed the weapons trigger on her control stick. Her Alpha shuddered as a wave of attack missiles roared off her ship, streaking towards their targets.

Space filled with explosions as Cassie’s missiles along with missiles launched from other Alphas found their targets.

“REAPER-ONE… BANDIT ON YOUR HIGH SIX!” a voice yelled over the tactical channel.

The pilot with the call-sign Reaper-One already knew of the threat, “Roger…” he acknowledged calmly, almost sounding as if he’d just woken up.

He didn’t think about what he would do. Years of flying and combat experience made it all like an automatic reflex… much like breathing. The pilot cut his speed and pulled back on his control stick causing the fighter to shudder slightly from the rapid deceleration. His left hand reached out, pulling back on the controller marked “B”.

The pilot could feel his plane shift, beginning its transformation. In his mind, he visualized the shifting of his fighter into Battloid mode. He didn’t worry about the transformation impacting his aerodynamics, in space the Battloid moved just as easily as any other mode.

His cockpit shifted down into the Battloid’s chest area as the fighter finished its transformation. The pilot re-oriented his thinking with his fighter now transformed into a huge humanoid-shape mecha to face the oncoming attacker. The experience of the pilot showed as he gave the controls a quick light touch to shift and spin the Battloid. His HUD targeting system flashed a resolution as it locked on the Invid fighter.

Die, Invid bastard! the pilot thought, pressing the firing trigger on his control stick. A pair of missiles, responded to his commands, launching from the Beta module attached to his fighter, streaking out towards to their target.

The Invid belatedly realized instead of being the hunter, it had become the hunted. It tried to avoid the pair of incoming missiles, but the range was too short to avoid them. A huge explosion tore the alien fighter up as the missiles found their target.

Ignoring his latest kill, the pilot turned his Battloid to face another incoming threat. This time he opened fire with his disrupter cannon, firing a short burst. The burst from the beam weapon caught another Invid fighter, tearing through its central torso, causing it to spin off with its alien pilot now dead.

Reaper-One used the brief respite to get a grasp on the changing tactical situation. His responsibilities included more than just flying his own fighter, he also commanded a Veritech fighter squadron… VF-93, also known as “The Grim Reapers”.

“Reaper-One to all Reapers… check in!”

“Reaper-Two here. Got your six covered, boss,” this brought a small smile to Reaper-One’s face knowing his wingman was still with him.

The smile faded as the others in his squadron checked in and found he was down four aircraft and pilots. The pilot muttered a few choice swear words as he locked on to another Invid attack craft and launched another short-range attack missile.

Space blossomed with another explosion and Reaper-One took a moment to look back towards the rest of the task force. More swear words erupted upon seeing the task force getting hit hard. He didn’t hesitate, shifting back into Fighter mode and pushing the throttle controls hard forward. The Shadow Fighter’s engines surged from the Protoculture energy cells feeding them and the fighter raced back towards the task force.

“Reapers… form up and close up with the task force. We’ve got leakers, and we got to take them out!” Reaper-One ordered. The rest of the squadron acknowledged, regrouping with their commander to return to their embattled task force.

A small group of Invid fighters had broken through the fighter screen and tried to avoid the point-defense weapons of the REF Ikazuchi-class cruiser Arcadia. The ship shuddered as the fighters strafed the ship with their plasma cannons. On the Arcadia’s bridge, Commodore April Lau muttered a few choice swear words in both English and Mandarin, studying the tactical displays from her command station. Her grim expression mirrored the situation her ship and the rest of her task force faced. Her ship shuddered again as it took another hit.

“Damage Report?” she demanded.

The Damage Control officer quickly responded, “Launch bays two and five are inoperative. We have hull breaches on decks two, five and six… sections have been sealed off. Heavy damage reported to turret number two. Minor damage to engine number two. Damage control parties have been dispatched. Injuries reported on all decks.”

The Commodore absorbed the report as she turned to her communications officer, “Task force status?”

“Light cruisers… Hastings, Dover and Devon are gone. The rest of the task force are reporting differing degrees of damage. All Veritech squadrons are reporting heavy causalities.”

“Status of the enemy fleet?”

“First wave of Invid fighters and carriers are being mopped up, but we have another wave of fighters incoming from a second group of Mollusk Carriers. Sensors have picked up a third wave of carriers moving to close with us.”

“Are we in range to engage those carriers yet?”

“Not yet, Ma’am! Two minutes and we’ll be in range to get a target lock.”

Commodore Lau grimaced, hearing the report while studying her bridge scanner displays, Too long! That next wave of fighters will be on us before we can get in range of their carriers. I wish we had some of those new Synchro Cannons mounted… they pack a punch and can reach out and touch further.

Lau knew even though her task force had suffered heavy damage they were now too deeply engaged to withdraw without suffering further crippling losses.

She didn’t appreciate the irony of her situation because they hadn’t planned for or expected this battle. Her task force’s mission was to scout for any bases the Invid Regess may have established in the systems between Tirol and Earth. With the Robotech Expeditionary Force assembling a huge fleet to retake Earth from her Invid occupiers, they had to locate and eliminate any Invid bases between Tirol and Earth. This was to protect the REF’s supply lines and support bases as they advanced to take back their homeworld.

The task force was to locate and mark any Invid bases found for follow-up by larger REF forces. Though the fleet was well-armed and equipped to deal with small Invid bases, they were to avoid large straight-up battles like this. Until now, they had made no contact with the enemy as the task force moved from system to system. They had arrived in this system and accidently stumbled on this huge Invid force, apparently heading to Earth.

One of the bridge crew interrupted Lau’s thoughts, “Ma’am… The Reapers are falling back to cover us and engage the incoming wave of Invid.”

A small smile replaced the grimace as Lau knew she could always rely upon the Grim Reapers to watch her six. The Reapers may not have been as famous as Skull squadron or the Wolf Pack or even infamous like Ghost squadron. Yet, they still had some of the best pilots in the REF with the Arcadia as their base ship. If there was anyone that could turn around the situation it was Captain Paul Coleiro. Despite his colorful history, and some personal history between them, Lau had nothing but respect and confidence in the Captain and his squadron. He was a hardened veteran of the REF, with years of experience fighting the Invid. That he’d flown with Skull Squadron and Max Sterling added to his reputation, and there was no shortage of pilots wanting to fly with him.

The Reapers were the only squadron in the task force equipped with the new VFA-6S Shadow Fighters, and Lau was thankful for that. This new stealth version of the venerable Alpha fighter held out promise for giving the REF a much needed edge to overcome the mass of Invid numbers. New sensor masking technology allowed the fighter to defeat the Invid Protoculture-based sensors, becoming invisible and undetectable to them. The new disruptor cannon also developed for the fighter gave it heavier firepower to take on the mass attacks used by the Invid. They had also gotten a small supply of the first production run of the unmanned VFA-6S Shadow drone fighter. The results of the new fighters and drones showed the potential of these new weapons against the Invid.

I wish we had more of those Shadow fighters and drones… they’re worth their weight in gold! Lau thought, watching her task force’s diminished fighter screen reform. The fighters moved to cover the surviving ships of her task force from the next incoming wave of Invid fighters.

It wasn’t long before the Weapons Officer called out targets for the ship’s point-defense weapons. The ship shuddered from Invid plasma hits as the defenses engaged the incoming threats, all the while more damage reports streamed in.

Grim satisfaction filled Cassie as she picked up her thirteenth kill. She didn’t dwell on any superstition being both surprised and happy to still be alive. Her first combat mission wasn’t like anything she’d imagined and tried to prepare for. It had gone so fast she didn’t have time to think. Her training kicked in, acting and reacting automatically firing on the enemy with her gun pod and missiles.

She’d witnessed her element leader blow up after getting caught in a crossfire of plasma bursts from a group of Invid fighters. She suppressed her anger, tagging onto Viper-Five, who’d lost his wingman. They went to work taking out a group of Invid fighters ganging up on a heavily damaged Garfish-class light cruiser, floating dead in space.

She heard the call from her squadron leader to form up as it slowly dawned on her they had destroyed all the Invid. Cassie relaxed, thinking it was over, but then came the report of a second inbound wave of Invid fighters. Cassie took a moment to wish she was in one of those new Shadow Fighters. The new fighters were all the talk among the squadrons and she was eager for the chance to try one out.

She’d already seen one in combat and it only stoked her excitement about the new fighter. Reaper-One’s distinctive markings made the fighter easily recognizable even in a dogfight like this. She’d watched in awe as the Shadow fighter took out five Invid fighters in a matter of seconds with a mix of gunfire and missiles at close range. Reaper-One followed up those kills by launching a wave of missiles from the fighter’s attached Beta module. The swarm of attack missiles took out another half dozen incoming Invid fighters.

Cassie had dreamt of being a fighter pilot since she could walk. She fantasized of being in Skull Squadron and flying with legends like Roy Fokker, Rick Hunter and Max Sterling. It was only in flight school she heard about The Grim Reapers and their record. By the time she finished flight school, she knew if she couldn’t fly with Skull Squadron, the Reapers were easily her second choice.

As her … now much diminished … squadron formed up, Cassie caught her breath while studying her scanners. The picture wasn’t pretty as the second Invid attack wave, roughly the same size as the first wave, closed the distance. She tried not to dwell on that they’d barely fought off the first wave of Invid as creeping doubts of her mortality edged into her thoughts. A grimace filled her face as she did an ammo and weapons check to prepare for the next enemy wave. She was almost out of missiles which meant she would have to rely on her gun pod to see her through this next wave. Unfortunately, that meant she would have to get into knife fighting range to engage the enemy.

On board the Arcadia, Commodore Lau studied the display screen showing the status of her task force and the fighter screen. Her grim face told the story, taking in the friendly blue-colored icons on the main tactical display, each representing a ship and their crew in her task force.

The first wave of Invid attackers had hit her small task force hard, but they had survived with only minimal losses among the fleet ships. Her fighter screen was another matter as her eyes shifted to the large group of red icons, representing the enemy’s next attack wave, closing on the task force. She figured her task force could also survive this next attack, but she knew there would be even fewer friendly blue-colored icons to face any further attacks.

Before the next wave of Invid got within range, she reviewed her ship’s deployments, making adjustments, to ensure their point-defense weapons provided overlapping defensive coverage. A crewman manning one of the bridge sensor stations interrupted her planning.

“Commodore, we’ve detected a space-fold, occurring at co-ordinates bearing two-four-eight by seven-nine! Range to contact one hundred and fifty thousand kilometers!”

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