Paradox of Oronos

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Chapter 2

The Excalibur had formerly been one of the last remaining gunships of the Aultra’s Unified Defense Force, before being rebuilt and renamed. The mounts still remained where some of her heavy batteries had once been. Only two of the main guns and the smaller defensive cannons remained. The power from the weapon’s reactors had been redirected into a prototype conversion chamber located at the center of the ship. There it was modified, mixed with other inputs, and distributed to the discharge banks.

Cromwell’s biggest problem in his first design was the distribution network, the way the energy moved from one stage of the operation to the next. The war had caused a shortage of resources, plus technology simply wasn’t advanced enough to handle the power levels he needed. Another flaw was in the storage units. They couldn’t sustain the magnitude of energy for very long before the inner linings began breaking down.

Here was Cromwell’s dilemma, unable to store power in the discharge banks for any great length of time he had to charge them as quickly as possible. This involved transferring massive amounts of energy through power conduits that simply weren’t designed to handle it. Backup networks helped, however the conversion chamber worked at a set pace. Power that couldn’t be transferred as it was generated had to be vented to prevent feedback. Venting was unavoidable. It was also used to help time the discharge. Operation of the chamber itself was also a delicate procedure. All this had to be coordinated with the approach of the target. Range was not adjustable. Ground zero was at a fixed distance in front of the ship.

Cromwell had brushed aside criticism that the system wasn’t ready, that it needed more development. He would never admit that deep down he agreed. Time was simply running out, running out for him, and the entire human race. Earth was their last major stronghold. Even then Krix ships were gathering in a neighboring system for a massive attack.

Testing Cromwell’s invention was only one of the objectives of the operation. In addition to destroying the newly constructed industry on Aultra, it was hoped that a heavy strike at a captured system would make the enemy feel vulnerable. Thereby causing them to withdraw some of their forces to take up defensive positions. Or, at the very least, they might detach some ships to counterattack the humans. This fleet could be engaged depending on its strength. The Alliance had almost always prevailed in equal matches. Krix fighters were outclassed in one on one fights, both in design and pilot skill. Numbers was the advantage of the Krix, sheer overwhelming numbers of remote controlled fighters.

The mechanics of fighting the war didn’t concern Cromwell. Despite knowing a few people killed in the last attack on Earth, he’d spent most of his time buried in his work. More so since the full range of Aultrian technology had become available. Never would he admit the effect that it had on his projects.

Earlier Aultrian research into what Cromwell was doing had proven disastrous. He saw their abandonment of the project as an act of cowardliness. Despite theories on what had gone wrong, the scientists had still walked away from the idea of using a dimensional rift as a means of travel. Cromwell picked up where they had left off, at the accident that had killed several people. The project had failed because they were using it in the wrong application, and because Cromwell hadn’t tried it himself.

Rather than create a stable conduit for ships to pass through, Cromwell would blindly stab a hole in the very fabric of the universe. History wouldn’t remember the past failures of others. It would remember him, savior of the human race. The only detail that stood between him and his destiny was that he was about to be killed. The substandard piece of junk those arrogant goose stepping fools had built for him was falling apart all around him. The second Krix wave, as large as the first, was closing in.

The fleet turned to a course that orbited the star, with Excalibur trailing behind them. Orbiting the star allowed them to maintain speed while waiting for the enemy.

That agitated Marshal Reen. He was well inside the system’s jump-limit and would have to retreat before he could escape. The ships could shift to ex-space from a standstill position. However the density of light partials prevented it within one light hour of most stars.

Reen still held off on launching fighters. Shortly after the first wave had been obliterated, he’d ordered the fleet to fire all its defensive weapons. This combined with their jamming made it look as if they were fighting off the attackers. He wanted the Krix to think they had him, that the Alliance fleet was helpless.

He wasn’t sure it was working though. The second wave was more widely dispersed than the first. They either saw through his ploy or were expecting fighter cover. Either way, if they maintained the same approach, there was no way the Excalibur could take them all out.

“Number twelve exchange pump just shut down,” a technician reported.

Cromwell cursed under his breath. “Route around it until you can get it back online.”

“It’s fried, it’s not coming back.”

“Conversion chamber now venting at ten percent,” another woman stated.

Cromwell checked the readings for himself, he couldn’t afford any delays. “Utilize all available conduits.”

Colonel Marcone stood peering down at them from his command station. As much as he wanted a big victory, he also wanted to see Cromwell fail. He wondered if there was any way that they could be successful without that ass taking credit for it, probably not.

Shouting voices and piercing alert tones from different points of the COC grabbed his attention. Marcone turned to his operations officer who told him that one of the exchange pumps in the third pillion had exploded. The plasma like energy was venting into the surrounding compartments.

“Number three discharge bank is auto venting.”

“Seal it off!” Marcone ordered. “Initiate a controlled shut down and transfer power to propulsion. Notify the Op‘s Com‘, we are withdrawing.”

“Power’s not transferring,” reported the population officer, “I’m locked out of the power grid.”

Marcone stormed down and grabbed the professor. “You’ve locked down the power grid! Release it so we can get out of here!”

Cromwell pulled away and frantically continued to work. “You can’t just shut it down! We have to release the energy in the other three banks. We can still create the vortex.”

“Shut it down! Shut it down now!” Marcone ordered.

“Sir,” one of the technicians interrupted, “I’m starting to get feedback in the conversion chamber.”

Cromwell’s eyes widened with terror. “Transfer as much as you can to the banks. Initiate full venting and shut down the inputs.”

“The banks are breaking down,” reported the technician.

“Discharge them at the enemy,” responded Cromwell.

“They’re not in range yet,” Marcone said.

Cromwell didn’t care, he was panic-stricken.

“They’re close enough!” he blurted out. “Fire!”

Three streams of power emitted from the remaining banks. They were short lived and the energy ball they created was much smaller than the first. It didn’t erupt right away though. Instead it grew. It increased in magnitude, then burst. That surprised Cromwell. He would have no explanation for it and therefore would not bring it up.

Even though the ball had grown, it still wasn’t nearly as powerful as the first. Its destructive capabilities were much less. As a result, about four hundred and fifty Krix fighters survived the blast. They regrouped and pressed the attack.

With the bulkheads open again, the waiting resumed in the launch-bay. The card game picked up where it left off, and Bogan continued complaining. Aurora did what she could to torment him further. Her little way of coping with the tension.

“So, anybody have any idea what that thing is?” Bogan asked as he checked the bet to Marcus.

Sands watched Marcus throw a few more rectangular coins into the pot.

“I have no idea what it is,” he said, “but I know you’re full of shit. Call.”

Marcus fanned out his five cards and turned them around. He had a three card straight in one of the five suits.

Bogan mumbled, “What the hell?”

Sands threw down his cards in disgust. “I swear the he’s got a fuckin’ magic marker over there and drawing his own cards.”

“To the righteous come the spoils,” Marcus quoted and pulled the pot into his growing pile.

Aurora scoffed at that. “Somehow I doubt that your Divine Entity, Great Spirit, or whatever you call it, has ordained that you win this game.”

“I call Him God. And no I don’t think this game is in his grand plan.”

“Then what is?” Tayla asked as she scooped up the cards and started shuffling.

“How ’bout keeping us from being wiped out by the fucking Krix,“ Bogan spewed out. “That in the grand plan? We get exterminated, for nothing?”

Marcus gathered the cards as they were pitched in front of him. The last thing he wanted to say was that it could very well be. “I don’t think it works that way.”

“How does it work then, scroll thumper,” Aurora asked.

“I’d like to know that too,” said Zeke. “I grew up praying for an end to this madness. That is until my father got killed.”

“I don’t rightly know. I’ll be sure to ask Him when I get there.”

Aurora fanned out her cards and started shifting them around in no particular order. “That could be sooner rather than later if they screw the pooch on whatever their doing.”

“There’s that negativity again.”

Aurora gave him a mocking look. “We’re being exterminated. You wanna go join the Earthers and stick your head in the toilet while singing happy songs, feel free.”

“What the Earthers still have,” Marcus acknowledged Sands with a nod, “including our esteemed Major here, is hope. They still think there’s a chance, and there is always hope.”

“That’s because they haven’t had their planet blow into dust, yet,” Tayla said bitterly.

“Hey,” Sands responded, “Don’t lump me in with them. I know we’re all dead. I’ve lived on Aultra, remember? I was there long before things got this bad.

“Shit, most of the people back on Earth don’t know, or care about this war. They’re too busy trying to survive against their other enemies, like poverty, crime, corrupt government.”

“Maybe, but you still have hope.”

“Yeah,” Sands admitted. “That’s just human nature. Believe me; I’ve seen more than enough death to know what’s up. The people on Earth haven’t experienced what it’s really like in the universe. It’s only been eighteen cycles since you guys introduced yourselves with the good news.”

“The only hope we have is the New World,” stated Tayla as she regarded her new hand.

The “New World” was synonymous for a plan to flee Earth and start over in some distant part of the galaxy. To Sands, it was synonymous for the death of his brother and his family.

Zeke stated, “Some people think Earth is the New World.”

“It’s not,” Tayla responded. “We haven’t found it yet. But it’s out there.”

Zeke smiled a waved his winning hand at them.

“Thank you,” he mimicked Elvis Presley as he pulled in the pot. “Thank you very much.”

“Been listening to Earther music again, Zeke?” said Aurora.

“Elvis is great.” He looked towards Sands. “How come you never told me about him?”

“Guy’s been dead for like a hundred and fifty cycles,” Sands answered nonchalantly.

“Spirit like that doesn’t fade away,” said Marcus. “He must be very old.”

The deal went to Bogan. “Now, let’s get some winning hands for papa.”

“Just try not to bend them again with those big clumsy nose pickers of yours,” Aurora rattled off.

“You’d be surprised what I can do with these hands, sister.”

“You can use them to pull your head out your ass when I get done with you.”

“I just can’t stand just fucking sitting here.” Bogan then launched into one of his bitching and complaining tirades.

Rather listening, Aurora sat gazing around as the game went on. There were a lot more Earthers on that cruise. More and more of the new breed were coming from Earth. The demand for pilots had shortened the training program and lowered standards. Therefore the replacements were simple fighter pilots, not Tyramma. Tyramma were the elite, the top of the military training programs. They were not only fighter pilots, they were all around warriors. Advanced training in ground combat, leadership and covert skills were only part of what made up a true Tyramma. There had been an inner strength that was sought out for the program. It was nurtured and blossomed into an all-around stronger spirit. That wasn’t what she was seeing in the cavernous launch-bay. It would’ve saddened her if she actually cared.

Colonel Sterett, the squadron commander, strode by followed by several junior pilots. His way of coping was to walk the length of the bay repeatedly. He would tell stories and give advice to those who joined him. Aurora returned his wave with a slight nod. She liked Sterett. He was one of them. He’d risen through the ranks in that very squadron. He was well liked and respected by everyone. He was true Tyramma, as she was.

A pilot was trained and checked out on the ship they flew. Whereas the Tyramma flew all ships, including enemy. It was so prestigious to be a member of the corps that it was embroidered into the back of their uniforms, as well as worn as a patch on the arm. The insignia was a small circle, encircled and protected by three jagged lightning bolts. For a squadron to be declared Tyramma, at least three-quarters of the combat portion had to be Tyramma. Resentment over losing that valued rating had long passed. The very core of the unit was Tyramma, to them it was still a Tyramma squadron, everybody else was just on the fringes.

Still gazing around the bay, her eye caught the young and strange looking girl sitting on the wing of a nearby fighter, although Aurora didn’t really find her that strange. She’d had friends that belonged to the clan this person appeared to be from. Niss was a large open family, it welcomed anyone. It lacked the stringency of other, better organized, clans. Aultrian family units were as varied in rules as they were ideals. Most, however, were simple family units of parents and children that didn’t follow the old Numarrian concepts. The other major sect among the Aultrians was the Nationalists. They were much more like the people of Earth in ideology.

A moment of weakness let her mind slip back to those days so long ago. She would laugh at the antics of her friends. Life was a joy then. They were pleasant days of ignorance spent in a park near her childhood home, in the shadow of a great stone statue. That was until her friends grew up and started disappearing. With a sudden twinge of pain, she pushed those memories back into the vault, deep within her soul.

Back in reality, that young face with a red stripe up one side was smiling at her. Aurora glanced away as if she hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t meant to make eye contact.

Bogan droned on, his negativity had driven the others into a dark conversation; one that she didn’t want to participate in. Then an idea hit her, this would really get him. Aurora looked back over at the girl, the smile had been replaced by dread, she looked lost.

Being new, she was alone and scared. The cold reality that she was replacing someone who’d been killed was in the back of her mind constantly. The key to her survival was to learn from the more experience people, but they avoided new-bees. It was easier if they were strangers. Easier for the experienced people, but not for the new ones who needed the advice and guidance that being out there brought. Aurora almost felt bad for her, almost.

When their eyes met again, the smile reappeared. It burst wide open when Aurora slid over slightly and waved at the narrow space between her and Sands. Lazell seemed to materialize in that spot, prompting Bogan to snort, “Where did you come from?”

The curly haired girl smiled at him. She smiled around the circle at everyone. It was her big chance.

Marcus dealt out the cards, and to Bogan’s chagrin, he threw cards in front of the new girl. “You know how to play poker?”

“Oh yeah,” she chirped. “I’ve played it before.”

“It’s where you match up the little symbols and numbers,” Bogan mused.

“Yes, I know.”

“I just wanted to make sure you could count.”

Lazell looked at him with hurt. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah Bogan, you brutish fuck,” Sands ridiculed without looking up from his cards.

“Thank you.” Lazell patted his leg.

“Don’t thank me, I call him a ‘fuck’ every chance I get.”

“Yeah but look at her,” Bogan persisted. He pointed out the stripe down the left side of her face, “Is that within regulations? Who dressed you this morning?”

“Red is the color for bravery,” Lazell said feebly. “I’m Niss.”

Marcus glanced at the mark on the girl’s face. “So long as it’s under ten percent of her face it is.”

“You look like a fool,” Bogan said bitterly, “go clean yourself up.”

“Stay right where you are,” Aurora snapped. “Authority in this unit is not determined by degree of odor.”

“Yeah Bogan, you authority assuming fuck.

“See what I mean?” Sands said to Lazell next to him. She just smiled at him and not her big toothy sarcastic grin either.

Looking at his hand a moment, Sands changed how he wanted to play it and looked up to find the others looking at him.

“What?”

“You’re a flight leader, this is the part where you make a decision,” Talya jabbed.

“Decision? Fuck that. Let Sterett deal with it.”

“Why are you being mean to me?” Lazell persisted. “You really shouldn’t be mean to me.”

A change in the girl’s tone caught Aroura’s attention. She glanced at her, then had to look back to see if she’d seen what she thought she had. For a brief instant there appeared to be an evil in the girl’s eyes. Couldn’t have been she told herself.

Bogan scoffed at her. “What are you gonna do, you little twerp.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Aurora said. “We’re all gonna be dead tomorrow.”

Tayla threw in her cards. “I just hope I get flamed. I really don’t like the idea of my beautiful body being on something’s dinner table.”

Zeke shook his head. “You guys don’t really believe that shit, do you?”

“I seen it brother,” Bogan sounded serious for once.

“You seen what? A Krix mouwing on a leg?”

“No, if I’d seen something like that I wouldn’t be here.

“No, something much worse. I saw the machines that gather up the dead bodies and throw them into cold storage. They hunt down the survivors and kill them for shipment. What the fuck do you think they’re doing with them?”

“That’s why they don’t just nuke the shit out of us,” Tayla put in. “It spoils the meat.”

Zeke sat in silence.

“It’s a hideous thought,” Marcus breathed.

“I don’t doubt it’s true,” Aurora said with no emotion whatsoever. “Gimme two.”

In the Centralized Operations Center, the Communication Liaison Officer relayed a message from the Ittala. “We’re clear for full defensive action, sir.”

“At last,” Tellious breathed.

Vice-General Yanex rose from his seat. “Get ’em up, Mister Carlisle,” he bellowed to the Flight Operations Liaison. The man relayed the launch order to both launch bays and the Flight Operations Center simultaneously.

Yanex turned toward Hellor, “All batteries, commence fire! Fire at will!”

Hellor dragged his thumb across the last row of buttons on his panel, activating the weapons systems. The ship’s main batteries, which were already locked and tracking Krix ships, opened fired. Used against smaller targets, the massive cannons released relatively small bursts of energy. A glow that started in the rear of the each weapon fed forward and erupted from the cannons. The enemy was well within range of the fleet’s point defense systems. Punching a few keys activated them. Dozens of small multi-barreled guns spit streams of fire from all over the ship. The sudden wall of fire, which shattered the closest ships, didn’t dissuade the Krix. It never did.

“Maybe the new weapon could turn the tide,” Sands commented. “Ya never know.”

“It’s too little too late,” Talya said as she pulled in her winnings. “It doesn’t matter, either way Aultra’s finished.”

“Let’s not go there again, for God’s sake,” Aurora beseeched.

“Well now. That’s the first time I’ve heard you invoked the name of the Lord,” Marcus smiled at her.

“Don’t get your hopes up scroll thumper. It’s a figure of speech.”

“It’s true,” Talya persisted. “How many of us are left? Fourteen, fifteen-thousand? Surrounded by billions of Earthers? How can we possible hope to keep our individuality, our heritage, our traditions?”

“I don’t know,” Sands spat, “the New World? Where you leave those billions of ‘Earthers’ to the mercy of the Krix?”

A klaxon split the air.

“All right kids, we’ve got a go, man your pits,” the voice of the Launch-bay Controller echoed.

The money was grabbed up and Lazell suddenly found herself sitting alone, a mere two cards and her coin sat in front of her. “Good hunting,” was shouted back by Marcus.

“Damn!” she cursed out loud, shaking her fists. Snatching up the coin, Lazell jumped to her feet. She was a ways from her ship and would have to run.

The formerly subdued chamber instantly burst into life. Pilots ran to their ships, crews raced to meet them. Sands also had a distance to travel. He moved at a quick pace, taking deep breaths and shadow boxing to psyche himself up. Being a routine for him, a certain crewmen was waiting for him with his hands raised. After throwing a few quick punches into the man’s hands, Sands climbed into the tight cockpit as the crewman lowered a hinged control panel over his lap. The form-fitting cockpit had everything within hand’s reach and had been laid out to his specifications.

He punched a few buttons on a keyboard by his left hand while the crewman lowered an oversized helmet onto him. A thin cable from one of the side panels plugged into the base of the helmet. Computer readouts indicated a good link, a link from the computer, to the helmet, then to the man’s brain.

The voice that echoed out in the bay also came through in the helmet’s speaker. “Give me greens and autos, kids.”

Sands punched in that he was ready and enabled his auto launch controls. A high pitched whine emanated from the rear of his ship when he brought the auxiliary power units online. The engines he set to standby. The whine grew as the other twenty-four ships joined in and steam filled the bay. The fighter’s hydrogen fueled engines blew steam as an exhaust as they burned off fuel left in the ignition chambers. An occasional burst of flame was not uncommon.

The crewman banged him on the head twice and jumped back as the domed canopy came down. “Give ’em hell, sir!” he said with a salute.

Crewmen moved back as canopies dropped all along the row of ships. Flashing alert beacons and the growing whine of APUs filled the long chamber.

“Let’s go kids,” the controller said into his headset. “You should already be prepped.”

From his control booth overlooking the activity of the bay, he watched his board as two rows of twenty-five green lights lit up. A second row of blue enable lights appeared below the first. Once all the lights were on, he pointed to his assistant. “Go.”

“Commencing auto-launch sequence,” said the assistant, “in twenty.”

“Clear the tubes,” directed the controller, as the assistant counted down. Heavy bulkheads in front of each fighter raised open. The entire row of interceptors moved forward as one into the tubes. Then the heavy doors dropped behind them with a loud mechanical thud.

“Locks are good,” the controller said. “De-pressurizing.”

“Eight,” counted the assistant. “Seven.”

Sands heard a screeching hiss outside his ship. Red lighting along the ribbed walls of the oval shaped tunnel dimmed. Final adjustments were made.

“Six.”

“All right, listen up,” Sterett spoke over the countdown. “They’re already on us.”

“Five, four.”

The hiss stopped.

“Stick with your flights,” continued Sterett, “and watch your tails.”

“Three.”

“We’re defending the fleet, so spread it out.”

“Two.” The outer tube bulkheads flew open. Sands could see stars at the end of the tunnel, as well as the red flashes of weapons fire. His heart was in his throat, it always was. He would never get use to it.

“One.”

“Flight Op’s, to Green Squadron, launch and engage.”

“Copy Op’s,” Sterett responded. “All right. Pick ’um, and stick ’um!”

The tube became a sudden blur as the rapid acceleration pulled Sands back in his reclined seat. He felt his heart skip a beat as it sank in his chest. From a dead stop, he was catapulted down the launch tube like a bullet fired from a gun. The interceptors launched in a line pattern starting from the inboard positions. They rapidly deployed from the openings along the leading edges of each wing like a ribbon quickly being pulled away. The interceptor’s engines fired as they cleared the tubes and flared to build upon their head start of speed from the carriers. They came under immediate attack. Some carriers had ships destroyed as they left the tubes.

As soon as the first fifty ships left the launch-bays, a second squadron was brought in and readied by the ground crews. The ground crew was an intricate part of flight operations. The faster a ship could be refueled and rearmed, the quicker it was available for combat.

The two standard carriers, the Ferren Class Cauldare and the American Lexington, had the first of their two interceptor squadrons staged in their single flight-bays. One by one the ships raced out the open front end of the ships. Once all fifty were gone, the next batch was lowered from the hanger-deck and readied. It was a considerably lengthier operation compared to the larger Ittala Class. Plus these ships had a capacity of only two full squadrons while the Ittalas had four.

It was always a bad situation when your carrier came under fire. The only positive that Sands saw was the fact that they didn’t have that long nerve-racking flight to the battle. It was already there, instead of spending all day flying for a brief fight.

Sands moved his control stick to come into formation with the rest of his flight. One of buttons on his stick was marked TCI or tic, which stood for “Thought Control Interface”. When he pushed that the control stick became locked in its centered position and the navigational computer then took commands directly from his brain. Maneuvering his agile ship took only a thought. Thinking of a turn made it happen. Response time was practically instantaneous.

Over four hundred and fifty Krix fighters remained. Most of them were already starting their attack runs on the Alliance carriers. The straight approach run the Krix used made them easy targets for Alliance interceptors and defensive weapons. There was just so many of them. Plus others flew cover as the first batch went in.

Sands, in command of Cigna Flight, was ordered by Sterett to join with his own Alpha Flight in taking out the cover fighters. That would give the rest of the squadron, commanded by Talya in Bata Flight, clean shots at the Krix diving for the fleet.

“Cigna and Alpha, take out the cover,” ordered Colonel Sterett. “Watch for breakers.”

“Cigna Flight, on me,” was Sands’ response. The other nine ships grouped around him while the rest of the squadron accelerated ahead and started firing on the Krix that were approaching the Oronos. The opposing groups of fighters were moving at speeds that made them invisible to the naked eye.

Once a Krix fighter locked onto a target they rarely broke off. That made them sitting ducks for the humans attacking from the side. The humans got off a clean volley of red bolts of energy, destroying a number of Krix ships, before the two groups passed in a flash. A group of Krix turned to fire on the ships that had just fired on them. Those were Sands’ targets.

“Breakers at ten, eighty-five,” reported Marcus.

“Got ’em,” said Sands. “Sic ’em boys!”

Without moving a control, with no delay whatsoever, Sands rolled the fighter and dove for the targets. The mere thought of a maneuver made it happen. No other fighter in the sky was more maneuverable, more responsive, than the SF-75.

As they dove in unison, Aurora was heard among the cross talk between ships saying, “Boy? Who’s he calling boy?”

The battle was engaged. Symbols on the canopy represented the different ships, blue friendly and red hostile. They were placed on the canopy where they would have been if the pilot could actually see them. In reality, the target was rarely seen. It was a red triangle led by a small cross. The cross was a computer generated aim point. Line up the aim point up in your sights and enable the guns. The computer actually fired the powerful rapid-fire cannons. If you were lucky, you got to see an explosion off in the distance.

Attacking large ships in formation was different though, the enemy slowed to make their runs at the relatively laggard carriers. Maneuvering in and out of the huge ships brought the fighters closer than usual.

Aurora watched the Aultrian interceptor in front of her be pierced by a round and explode. “They got Zeke!” she shouted while mentally commanding the agile fighter to swing around. Inertial compensation systems kept her from being crushed by the G-force. Quickly bringing her sights to bear on the one of the two backward flying crescent shaped Krix fighters, she hit the “fire enable” button. A direct hit destroyed her target. The second turned off and was clipped by a round as it tried to escape. Aurora didn’t waste time pursuing the damaged enemy. One more kill to her record wasn’t that important to her.

“They’re breaking for the fleet,” said Sands, brushing over the death of the young officer under his command, there would be time to deal with that later. “Follow ’em in.”

The faster Aultrian fighters were able to speed up behind their enemy and destroy them from behind as the Krix fired their heavy weapons at the fleet. The massive ships spread apart as they turned and rolled to best protect themselves from the deadly attack. Green glowing spots appeared in the force fields that protected the ships as the rounds rained in. Explosions erupted from ships that had their shields weakened or collapsed.

“Op’s Com’ this is Oronos. Be advised, we are taking fire at this time.”

“Shields down to forty percent,” Major Hellor reported.

Yanex stood looking over the activity in the COC as his people hurried at their work. There was no panic, these were professionals. They’d been through it too many times before. Yanex directed them like an orchestra conductor. He was very pleased with the crew he presently had. They instantly responded to his every order, quickly and without question. It showed that they had as much confidence in him as he had in them.

“Engine status,” the General barked out over the intercom.

“Thrusters at full. Speed, point one five and climbing. Phase-drive, fully charged,” was the response from Captain Ratoe.

Yanex ordered, “Back feed power to the shields. Don’t go below operational.”

Ratoe began bleeding off power from the charge he had maintained in the phase-drive. Although they couldn’t operate the drive inside the jump-limit, it was a good place to store power. A minimum three-quarter charge was necessary to operate the drive. Everything over that was gradually transferred back into the main power grid, which fed all systems on the ship. From there it was transferred to the shield banks.

Yanex wasn’t anywhere near ready to leave. He had interceptors in the sky that he simply wouldn’t abandon. Plus his second squadron was almost ready to launch.

“Sir,” said Tellious, “Ittala is calling for long-range fire to protect the Excalibur.”

“Hellor, select any ship attacking Excalibur as main gun primary.”

“Yes sir,” responded Hellor. Hitting a few keys on his control board, Hellor changed the target assignment. The targeting computer, which automatically selected enemy ships by their level of threat to the carrier, then directed any main battery which had a clear view of the approaching Excalibur, to hunt for Krix attacking that ship. There weren’t many rounds fired that way though, the Krix had not assessed the Excalibur as a high priority target at that time. Instead they regrouped and continued their attack on the main fleet, despite heavy casualties.

As three Krix fighters grouped together for another run at the Oronos, Sands and Marcus closed on them from the side.

“Cig’ seven,” said Marcus, “I got the far one.”

“Copy seven,” Sands responded, “skaggin’ the lead.”

Sands placed his sight in the path of the lead ship. Pressing the fire enable button, he let the ship cross his path. The bright red burst of his cannons came on cue. The lead ship exploded, as did the one Marcus had lined up on. The third managed to release a powerful green bolt of energy before it was also cut down by a stream of fire from the carrier. The bolt struck the port landing bay near the end. The energy and blast was dispersed across a large area of the ship. These spots became larger as the shields weakened even further. If the shield collapsed, the impacts would tear through the hull.

The gigantic ship dwarfed Sands and Marcus as they passed close underneath its belly. No red triangles shown on his cockpit as he emerged on the other side. There wasn’t any flashing along the edge of his canopy to indicate that they were out of his view either.

Sterett called in for conformation, “I show clear Op’s. You got anything?”

“Confirmed Green Leader,” responded Flight Operations. “The rest of them are retreating. You’re clear”

“Green Leader, requesting permission to pursue.”

“Negative, Green Leader. Regroup and take up a defensive perimeter. Hold for orders.”

“Copy Op’s.” Sterett sounded disappointed. He thirsted for the opportunity to chase down the enemy. The greater speed of the SF-75 always gave them big kill rates in a chase situation. Sterett would not question his orders though. He knew greater plans were in the works.

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