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Shadows of the Apocalypse

By PJ Brown

Romance / Scifi

Watch your six!

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 quickly refocused her attention making sure that her Alpha was in formation with the rest of her squadron. She tried to control her nervousness as this was her first combat mission. She could see the swarming mass of enemy targets on her scanner as they were grouping up to make their attack run at her squadron and the rest of the task force.

She took a deep breath, clearing her mind as she'd been taught in flight and combat school. She recalled what her flight instructors had hammered into her and the other trainees, "If you get distracted in combat for one moment…you'll be dead in the next!"

She heard her flight leader again over the tac channel, "Alright Vipers stay with your wingman. Keep the Invid away from the fleet. Remember we're supporting the Grim Reapers…so stay frosty. Go weapons hot when we get into range."

Cassie took another deep breath, focusing on the mass of enemy targets. Many thoughts ran through her head as the range closed between the two forces, but there was one main thought that she had to fight to keep down.

Please God… Don't let me screw up!

It didn't take long for her heads-up-display (HUD) to start locking on to the incoming wave of Invid fighters. She took one more deep breath and she pressed the weapons trigger on her control stick. She felt her Alpha shudder as a wave of attack missiles roared off her ship streaking towards their targets.

It didn't take long for space to be filled with explosions as Cassie's missiles along with the other missiles launched by the rest of the Alpha Veritechs found their targets.

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

The pilot with the callsign Reaper-One was already aware of the threat, "Roger…" he acknowledged calmly almost sounding as if he'd just woken up.

He didn't think about what he was going to do. He had years of combat experience and he flew like he breathed — it was all automatic and by reflex. The pilot cut his speed and pulled back on the stick. He felt the slight change in deceleration as he pulled back on his control stick with his right hand. At the same time his left hand pulled back on the controller marked "B". The pilot could feel his plane start to shift and begin its transformation. He could visualize in his mind how his ship was going to shift as it went into Battloid mode. He felt and saw the change in his fighter as it transformed. Not that there would be any impact on his aerodynamics as he was in space and the Battloid moved just as easily as any other mode.

He felt his ship go through its transformation and in moments his cockpit had shifted down into the Battloid's chest area. The pilot quickly re-oriented his thinking, shifting his controls to change directions. He touched his controls lightly and expertly and his Battloid shifted direction almost immediately to face the incoming threat. His HUD targeting system flashed a resolution as it locked on.

Die Invid bastard! The pilot thought as he pressed the firing trigger on his control stick. A pair of missiles immediately launched from the Beta module locking on to their target.

The Invid fighter immediately recognized the threat as it belatedly realized that instead of being the hunter it had become the hunted. The Invid craft tried to avoid the incoming pair of missiles, but the range was short — the enemy fighter went up in a huge explosion as the missiles detonated tearing apart the craft.

The pilot ignored his latest kill as he swung his Battloid around to face another incoming threat, this time he opened up with his disrupter cannon firing a short burst at another Invid fighter. The burst from the beam weapon tore through the fighter's central torso.

Reaper-One took a moment from his close encounters to get a hold and refocus on the complete tactical situation as he was commander for a whole squadron — VF-93 the "Grim Reapers".

"Reaper-Leader to all Reapers…check in!"

"Reaper-Two here. Got your six covered boss." this brought a small smile to Reaper-One's face knowing that his wingman was still with him.

The smile went away as the others in his squadron checked in and he found that he was down four aircraft and pilots. The pilot muttered a few choice swear words as he locked on to another Invid attack craft, launching 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. He muttered some more swear words as he saw how hard the task force was being hit. He quickly shifted his ship back into Fighter mode and pushed his throttle controls hard forward. He felt the power increase in his Shadow Fighter and turned it back towards the task force.

"Reapers… Form up and close up with the fleet. We've got leakers and we got to take them out!" Reaper-One called over the tac channel. He heard the acknowledgements from the rest of his squadron as they quickly closed the distance.

On board the REF Ikazuchi-class Cruiser Arcadia, Commodore April Lau was muttering a few choice swear words in both English and Mandarin as she evaluated the current situation. Her ship shuddered as it took another hit from a small group of Invid fighters that had broken through her task force's fighter screen and were trying to avoid her cruiser's point defense weapons.

"Damage Report?" she asked urgently.

The Damage Control officer quickly reported, "Launch bays 2 and 5 are inoperative… We have hull breaches on decks 2, 5 and 6…sections sealed off. Heavy damage to turret number 2. Minor damage to engine number 2. Damage control parties have been dispatched. Injuries reported on all decks."

The Commodore nodded her acknowledgement and 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."

"Enemy fleet status?"

"First wave of Invid fighters is being mopped up, but we have another wave of fighters being launched from a second group of Mollusk Carriers. Sensors are picking up a third wave of Carriers moving up to close."

"Are we in range to engage those carriers yet?"

"Not yet Ma'am! Two minutes and we will be in range and have a target lock."

Commodore Lau grimaced as she heard the report and looked at her bridge scanner displays, Too long… That next wave of fighters will be on us before we 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 that her task force had suffered heavy damage, but they were too deeply engaged to withdraw now without suffering further crippling losses.

She shook her head as this battle hadn't even been planned for. Her task force's mission had been to scout for any bases that the Invid Regess may have established in the systems between Tirol and Earth. The Robotech Expeditionary Force was assembling a huge fleet to retake Earth from the Regess and her forces, but they couldn't leave any bases in other sectors that could be used to strike back at the REF's support bases on Tirol. Lau's task force had been moving from system to system along the path to Earth with no contact and it was only by accident that they had jumped into this system and stumbled upon this Invid force that was apparently in the midst of making its way to Earth. Lau's thoughts were interrupted by another update.

"Ma'am… The Reapers are falling back to cover us and engage the incoming wave of Invid."

A small smile came to the Commodore's face as she knew that she could always rely upon the Grim Reapers to watch her six. The Reapers weren't as famous as Skull squadron or the Wolf Pack or infamous as Ghost squadron, but the Reapers were some of the best pilots in the REF and the Arcadia was their base ship. If there was anyone that could turn the situation around it was Captain Paul Coleiro. He was a hardened veteran of the REF, with years of experience fighting the Invid. That he'd flown with the Skull and Max Sterling added to his reputation and he had no shortage of pilots wanting to fly with him.

Lau gave a little prayer of thanks as the Reapers were the only squadron in her task force to have been re-equipped with the new VFA-6S Shadow Fighters. This new stealth version of the venerable Alpha fighter held out a lot of promise for its ability to defeat Invid sensors and the new disruptor cannon giving the fighters heavier firepower to defeat the mass attacks used by the Invid. They had also gotten a small supply of the first production run of Shadow drone fighters which were the unmanned version of the VFA-6S. She could see the results of the new fighters as the Reapers and drones tore into the Invid.

I wish we had more of those Shadow fighters and drones…they're worth their weight in gold! Lau thought as she watched her diminished fighter screen reform and move to cover the surviving ships of her task force from the next incoming wave of Invid fighters.

It wasn't long before she heard her weapons officer call out targets for her ship's point defense weapons to engage and this was quickly followed by damage reports as her ship shuddered from plasma hits.

Cassie watched with grim satisfaction as she picked up her thirteenth kill. Her mind didn't dwell on the superstition of getting thirteen kills as she was more surprised and happy that she was still alive. Her first combat mission wasn't like anything she'd imagined and tried to prepare for. It had gone so fast, that she found that she didn't have time to think — she reacted as her training kicked in and it all became automatic as she fired with her gun pod and missiles.

She had watched with anger as her element leader got caught in a crossfire of plasma bursts and blew up. She immediately tagged onto Viper-Five, who had lost her wingman. They went to work taking out a group of Invid fighters that had ganged up on a heavily damaged Garfish-class Light Cruiser that was floating dead in space.

She heard the call from Viper-One to form up as it slowly became apparent that they had destroyed the Invid fighters. For a moment Cassie had thought it was all over, but then she heard the call out that another wave of Invid fighters was inbound. For a moment, Cassie wished that she was in one of those new Shadow Fighters. She'd heard all about them and was looking forward to flying one. She'd seen one of them in combat — which she recognized as Reaper-One by its distinctive markings — and seen him take out five Invid fighters in a matter of seconds with a mix of gunfire and missiles at close range. She'd found herself momentarily distracted as she looked on in awe as she saw Reaper-One follow up on his five kills by launching a wave of missiles from the attached Beta module taking out at another half dozen incoming Invid fighters.

When Cassie wanted to become a Veritech pilot, her dream was to fly with Skull squadron, but when she went to flight school, she'd learned about the Grim Reapers and their commanding officer and she knew that if she couldn't fly with the Skull then her second choice was to be good enough to fly with the Reapers.

Cassie caught her breath as she formed up with her much diminished squadron and her eyes were on her scanners at the incoming wave of Invid that was the same size as the first wave. Cassie was trying to not think about how the task force had barely fought off the first wave. She pushed thoughts about her mortality down as she did an ammo and weapons check of her plane. A grim look came to her face as she saw that she was almost out of missiles and that she would be primarily reliant upon her gun pod to combat the Invid, which meant that she would have to stay in knife fighting range with the enemy.

On board the Arcadia, Commodore Lau was looking at the display screen that was showing the status of her task force and the disposition of her fighters. She had a grim look on her face as she looked over the icons on the display that each represented a ship and their crew in her task force. Her small task force had been hit hard by that first wave of Invid fighters, she knew that they could probably survive the second wave of fighters, but she also knew that there would a lot fewer icons on the display when it was over to face the third wave of Invid.

She was reviewing the disposition of her ships, making sure that they were properly positioned so that their point-defense weapons would be able to provide overlapping coverage, when a cry went out from one of the sensor stations.

"Ma'am! We've detected a space-fold occurring at co-ordinates bearing 248 by 79. Range to contact 150,000 kilometers!"

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