The Dragonfly sailed through the stars silently and with the greatest of ease. The Terraniia was then just a spot on the rear visual sensors.
The controls were extremely intuitive, much like the computers aboard the far larger ship they had only just left. Rose asked for it, and it happened. Otherwise, the primary fighter controls were two joysticks at the sides of the cockpit, with multiple joints and pivots so as to allow for more precise control. And Rose knew that the controls had to be that precise, that delicate. The computer read wherever Rose looked and projected information about whatever it was she focused on, their distance, speed, mass, threat level and so on.
Fraemaal sat in the seat behind her, quietly checking system after system, while also shadowing Rose to see how she performed.
“So I was really in the registry, huh?” asked Rose aloud.
“Roselii Khental. It is very clear,” he replied, “weird that it had you as an infant. You’re clearly in the sixty-five year range, yes?”
“Would you believe it if I told you I was adopted?” asked Rose, deciding to ignore the age reference, “brought up on the Earth’s surface?”
“I would take your word for it,” Maal replied, “your cryo tray was vacant when we awakened. Though, it appears your real parents never made it to cryo. They likely died—what is it—three thousand years ago?”
“Always assumed they were dead, anyway,” Rose shrugged, “but my foster mother did leave the part out where she took me from cryo and raised me.”
“She seems to have done a fine job,” Maal’s smile could be heard, if not seen behind Rose’s seat, “who knows. We could have been asleep forever, or until the power ran out or something broke down and we all died in our sleep. You would have been the last of us.”
“There would be the Marioch,” Rose shrugged.
“They’re still around?” Maal laughed, “they separated from Oasiia shortly before the Terraniia was laid down. Just a bunch or rebels, back in our day.”
“Those rebels are the last faction of our kind still standing,” said Rose, “The Oasiian race, has become...something else.”
Maal was quiet for a moment, then continued through the checklist.
Rose used the yokes to slowly flex the wings, making all four sweep forward, all back, up, down, on a forty-five degree angle opposing, perpendicular, warping and contorting them, as if stretching for a long run.
“Most ships can’t do this,” Rose said aloud.
“Have you flown one of these before?” asked Maal, “I ask, knowing the answer. You clearly have.”
“An old friend of mine had one,” Rose replied, “let me take it for a spin here and there.”
“Some friend,” Maal said lightly, “maybe the twelfth Maak missing in Eighty-One. At any rate, we check out. I assume you know how to leap?”
“Had it charged and dialled in since we left Eighty-One,” Rose looked back and smirked.
“Best call in,” Maal said, opening the comm, “Terraniia this is E-S-F-2-5 Callsign Malady, requesting clearance to leap.”
<E-S-F-2-5 Malady hi, request approved, O.L.S. not above thirty lightyears per hour, expecting high amounts of leap traffic in the next ten minutes. Contact on intra-system subspace frequency preset, and Kabaiila be with you.> The voice was a level male one, speaking all as if one word was connected to the next.
“So formal,” Rose hummed, “O.L.S.?”
“Overall Leap Speed,” Maal replied, “since leaps are never linear, we just use OLS for a rough reference of faster-than-light speeds. Anyway, hit leap whenever.”
“Here we go,” Rose reached over to a second throttle bar in front of the right stick, still guiding the fighter with the left, then lined the ship up with the course the HUD projected onto the canopy. When she was sure it was well enough, she threw the throttle bar all the way forward, provoking a clean yet precise screech, as the whole of the ship illuminated a bright white, the four wings folded all the way back, and the moon and the much larger ringed gas giant disappeared, with all the growing fleet around it.
Through the field of light, Rose could make out that the Sun was fast becoming closer, then disappearing behind them as they zoomed by.
Not a minute later, the fighter dropped out of leap, the illumination subsiding, and a small tan-coloured planet with a ring of ice presented itself in front of them.
Rose already knew the world.
“Oh my god,” Maal said shakily, “that—that’s Earth!?”
“Suragaa Three, as it’s known today,” said Rose, “most people don’t even know about the Motherworld. More still think it’s some myth. I did too, until today.”
“This is horrible,” Maal continued, “such a tragedy...has it always been like this for you?”
“It’s looked this way for at least that long. Centuries, I think. Maybe longer than that.”
“So you never knew the beauty,” said Maal, “well, you might have, as a child.”
“I don’t remember anything before my mother Janeth,” said Rose, “Anyway, we should be focusing.”
“Right,” said Maal lowly, then clearing his throat, “right, of course.”
“Camouflage,” Rose ordered to the computer. Responding, the whole vessel became as black as the void surrounding it.
“The crew on the Terraniia might be devastated if they see Earth like this,” Maal continued.
“I know,” was all Rose could say, as she evened out the wings, extending the screen view of the sensors, quickly showing numerous signatures of various shapes and sizes, all of which Rose immediately recognized as Behraanese.
“A few million kilometres away,” Rose said, “Maal, can you lower our signature any more?”
“We can warm-stall the engines,” said Maal, “do the same with all of the non-essentials so that we can drift in without being noticed. Judging by all the debris around this world, we’ll blend right in.”
“Do that,” Rose nodded, “I have my trajectory set up so that we should pass right by them in five minutes or so.”
“Surely you don’t intend to just pass by,” Maal said.
“Absolutely not,” Rose said with a terrifying malice, as she listened into the Behraanese Military Frequency, “I didn’t ask for a Maak just to pass by.”
<Wolf six-five-seven to Carrier Maker One,> said one youthful rookie, <recon mission complete. No further updates to status at Nywan. Resistance is still at large. Pillars is still under Ophelian attack and civilians are being captured. Suggest engaging to assist?>
<General Alvoa to Wolf six-five-seven,> said the very familiar voice of the same General that oversaw Rose’s torture just days before, <On behalf of the Imperator himself, I thank you for your continued contribution. Please, accept this reward.>
<Wha--> the line severed violently.
<Wolf six-five-seven has been scuttled, General,> said another male voice.
<Forgot we could do that, I think,> Alvoa laughed, then assumed a more serious tone, <Let that be a lesson to anyone who has not received my permission to suggest something. Do what is commanded of you and you will be rewarded. Speak out of line on something you know nothing about, and you will suffer the same fate as Wolf six-five-seven—if you are lucky.>
The radio went deathly silent.
<Sir, picking up something from long range sensors,> said the same male voice that announced the poor pilot’s demise, <bearing one eight zero at negative zero four five, headed for the fleet. No signature. No visual.>
<And what do you think it is, hmm?> said Alvoa.
<Permission to suggest, sir?>
<Granted, for now.>
<It might be debris from the battle with the Bentorii, sir. It’s projected to impact Maker Two in approximately three minutes.>
<Confirmed,> said a female voice, <no lifesigns. No power signature. Whatever it is, it’s completely derelict.>
There was no response for several seconds. Rose could almost feel the General personally looking at the sensors readings, as if looking directly at her.
<Maintain visual scanning,> said Alvoa, <do let me know when something interesting happens.>
<Yes sir,> the female replied.
“Their chain of command is really like that?” Maal said quietly, the astonishment clear in his whispers, “how atrocious.”
“They had the whole Skyreign crew at their beck and call once,” Rose added, “myself included.”
“I am glad you’re free,” said Maal.
“More so than Wolf six-five-seven is,” said Rose.
Maal was right. The number of capital ships became more apparent, and the HUD silently took notes about all of them, placing red boxes over the ships and what the Dragonfly itself thought to be weak points, such as engines, docking bays, sensors modules, bridges, thinner or weaker portions of armour, and where their power cores were assumed to be.
<I don’t know,> said the first male, <it’s moving awfully fast.>
<Probably being pulled in by the planet’s gravity well,> said the female, <things pick up a lot of speed in space.>
<Still, look at it. It’s almost too dark.>
<It’s also almost night time on this side of the planet. Probably couldn’t see it with the naked eye.>
<Well when it crashes into Maker Two, it’ll just turn to dust on its shields.>
<Wait—wait a second. What was that?> the male said more loudly.
<What was what? I didn’t see anything,> the female replied.
<No, that time there was definitely something there. Seven million kilometres out, towards the Suragaa star.>
“Oh, no, Laura,” Rose sighed as she picked up the signature herself, knowing for certain that it was the Skyreign’s leapdrive.
<Oh wait—never mind. It’s one of ours, just a frigate-class,> the male concluded, <their transponder is out of whack, but around here, that doesn’t surprise me.>
<Good thing you didn’t call the General,> the female said coldly, <that would be more than a career ender.>
“They must be using their Behraanese beacon,” Rose sighed in relief, “but they’re too early, I haven’t called them.”
“Perhaps they worry for you,” said Maal, “one fighter, sent alone to combat against an entire fleet? Yes, I’ve done it, but it is very easy to make a single mistake, and no matter how good a fighter is, one mistake would be very costly indeed.”
At this point, some of the frigates started to flash by, and the planet began to grow. The tug of gravity became more and more pronounced.
<Still tracking that piece of junk?> asked the female.
<Yeah—wait--it’s gone. Where’d it go?>
<Really?> she said in disapproval. Rose could see her planting her palm in her face.
<Oh...ohhh? There. Got it again!>
“Jam them,” said Rose to Maal.
<What the—my sensors just went dead. Must have broken down again. Too much debris out here,> the male concluded.
<Targeting just died too. That’s an entirely different array,> the female added cautiously.
<And communications. We’ve lost connection with BMF. What on Bentor?>
“Now,” Rose said firmly.
All the systems came alive in a snap, the weapons charging to the point where the barrels glowed.
<Compensating,> said the male, <ah. There—uh—Damaal?>
<I see it too,> said the female, <it just appeared out of—oh no. Magnify.>
Rose continued her course towards Maker Two, a sister carrier. Her fingers hovered over the triggers on the two sticks. Her eyes flickered with a terrible glee.
The computer silently told her that all six torpedo banks had generated payloads and had only but to have a target chosen for them.
Rose looked to an open carrier dock in the fast-growing vessel, squinting her eyes.
The computer filled the red box over the vessel’s dock with the word “Lock” in Oasiic, in bold, blinking red.
<It’s...> the male said quietly, <it’s a—it’s a—>
<Dragonfly! Dragonfly!!> the female almost screeched as she exclaimed, <Maker two! This is Maker one! Put up your shields!!!>
Too late. Six freshly constructed torpedoes waltzed unabated into the open docking bay, clearing into the innermost wall of the room. They then exploded violently, one by one, tearing the ship in two, with its rear half spewing the fires of quickly-evaporating oxygen, the souls of quickly-freezing Behraanese, and the husks of quickly-disintegrating fighters. The forward half was still largely intact, though power was clearly lost as all the lights died out in the windows, and numerous windows and ports also spewed oxygen, much of it leaving the new stern.
<Maker Two is down!!!> shouted the male in complete terror, <Open fire! All units, engage the Dragonfly!!!>
<Where’s the General!?> shouted the female, <we need him here!>
“Their signal is still not getting through,” said Maal, “but everyone saw that. Best get started, then.”
Rose nodded, noting that the torpedoes were slowly replenishing. The capacitors for the sixteen cannons, however, were fully charged.
She targeted a smaller ship, a frigate, its turrets searching frantically for her. Rose made a point of using the fresh debris to throw off their sensors, and weave through the few escape pods that fled Maker Two. Once she felt happy with how close she was, she unleashed a silent show of light upon the frantic vessel. Those bolts of superheated plasma ignored the shields, tearing through thick armour, then into munitions stores next to the turrets, causing explosions that, if in the atmosphere, would have blown eardrums everywhere. The concussion of the blast cracked the spine of the vessel, and once again, many Behraanese fled the ship in an untimely way, meeting near zero-kelvin temperatures and freezing instantly.
Rose then looked to the bridge of the frigate she just tore a chunk out of. She squinted. The computer understood, and a single torpedo did the job.
<Gerruk Seven is down!! Holy Kabaiila!!> the male shouted, <Fire at it. Fire everything!>
<We can’t target it!> the female added, <we need to get out of here!>
<You need to use your head, girl,> said Alvoa as he apparently returned, <use visual scanning, and fire a laser. Manually.>
“That will work,” said Maal, “we had better break off now while we can!”
“We need to be a step ahead of those lasers,” Rose increased throttle, ducking in behind the fresh corpse of the frigate, then quickly extended the landing feet and perched onto the side of it.
<I know you’re listening,> Alvoa said aloud, <you cannot hide forever. We will find you, and you will be destroyed, for the annoying pest that you are.>
<All hands—fire on Gerruk Seven. They’re all as good as dead, anyway.>
<But they’re all still evacuating!> the female argued.
The distinct sound of a plasmar. The distinct falling of a fresh corpse.
<I will never speak out of turn again,> the female stated lowly, <firing.>
“Ruthlessly smart,” Rose grumbled as she lifted off, just before the frigate she perched on was violently disintegrated by a barrage of missiles.
Rose could not see the lasers being fired, but the computer kept a track on all the weapons signatures, and made sure to warn Rose as to where the line of fire was going to be. She weaved in and around where those lasers were about to be, at such a breakneck pace that any other fighter would have been torn apart just from the intense G-forces it had to have undergone.
“Get us out, Roselii!” Maal shouted.
“I’m working on it!” Rose bobbed the nimble Dragonfly in between the crossfire, finally finding an opening and blasting away from the fleet, towards the waypoint she leaped to, as if fleeing.
<It’s breaking away!> said the female, <it worked. But it looks like it’s headed towards the frigate’s leap signature.>
<Only a frigate?> said Alvoa coldly, <Let it have its fun. Serves them right for entering Suragaa space without a clearance.>
“We’re out of their effective range,” said Maal, “those lasers will only be good for herding cats this far away.”
With that note, Rose slowed the fighter down to nearly a crawl, allowing the camouflage to resume. “Giant space cats,” she quipped.
<Looks like it disappeared again,> said the female, <it never even touched us. But it randomly destroyed Maker Two and Gerruk Seven.>
<Well, at the least, it was over quickly for the poor crew of that poor frigate,> said Alvoa, <in the meantime, maintain battle status. That dragonfly will be back.>
<The unmarked frigate just arrived,> said the female, <I’m having a hard time getting its designation. This can’t be right....>
<Sir, the designation, at least by the engine signature, is—the Silverstar.>
<Again. More, damn you.>
<The image is distorted again,> said the female, <the Dragonfly did this to us earlier, right before it attacked. Last I saw it, it was following the frigate.>
<Suggestions?> asked Alvoa, suggestively in itself.
<It’s fleeing our way, and bringing the Dragonfly with it. Suggest we fire upon the frigate and the Dragonfly will get caught in the explosion.>
<Now, you’re beginning to think like a leader, daughter,> said the General, <yes. You heard her, fleet. Train your weapons on the frigate. Lasers only. I want the utmost element of surprise to be in our hands, this time.>
<Target in range,> the female stated.
<Fire!> he shouted.
<General—no effect. All shots hit their mark, only—they were absorbed completely into the hull!>
<Fire again. And again. At maximum power!>
<The frigate’s picking up speed! No damage. Its shields aren’t even up!> the female shouted, <It’s headed right for us!>
<Still in pursuit! I don’t understand!> the female exclaimed.
<All hands! Keep firing! Destroy them both!!!>
All the lasers kept finding the larger vessel. All the lasers just kept feeding it.
<Getting a reading on that frigate, General!> she announced, <solid Noregite hull and sails. Energium core. Got a lock on the Behraanese signature. Sir? It’s...it’s the Skyreign. Disappeared three months ago in this system.>
<...Vinfield!!!!> the man shouted in agonizing frustration, <Grahaamut, Vinfield!!!>
<Hello, General Alvoa,> said the clear and concise voice of Laura Vinfield, <so nice to hear from you again. I was worried we wouldn’t have a second chance to catch up, after what you did to me in Pillars.>
<Sir!> the female exclaimed, <we’ve lost nav-com again. Scanners—sensors—targeting--visuals--everything!>
<That would be Roselii,> Laura continued, <planting a few torpedoes in your communications array. I wish the rest of your fleet could hear you scream. I really do. Even I want to exact some form of revenge, on a more personal level.>
At this point, the Skyreign had positioned itself so close to the Bridge tower of Maker One that Laura could walk up to the bow of her own ship and reach out to touch the window of the other ship. All weapons were locked on the bridge, awaiting a single word.
“But not today,” said Laura, crossing her arms, narrowing in on him as he stood up from his chair, glaring evilly at her.
<You’ve made a foolish mistake,> said Alvoa, <you’ve nowhere to run. We have a fleet heading out to claim the Sacred Vessel right now. Once we attain it, Behraan will never die. But you, Commander Vinfield, shall.>
“Awww,” Laura laughed. Darrick, Olsein, Elsie and Savath laughed in concert.
“So adorable," Laura continued, "You actually think that your fleet has half a chance at taking on the Terraniia?”
<As a matter of fact,> Alvoa retorted, <Yes. I do.>
“Too bad you won’t get to see it for yourself,” Laura put out her lip, “your whole fleet, wiped away by just a handful of Dragonflies. How many were in Spaceport Eighty-One? Eight?”
“Ten,” Elsie corrected.
“Ten. Holy Kabaiila. That’s a lot of firepower. And to think, that’s their fighter. Everything else is bigger than that.”
<Sir—she’s--she’s right. That vessel isn’t alone. I’m detecting hundreds—thousands of vessels with it. By Kabaiila, it’s monstrous. Visuals at this distance put it at a length of eight kilometres!>
“Save as many as you can,” said Laura, “because chances are, they’re already there. And I know how long it takes for your pitiful leapdrives to charge up.”
Alvoa stood there, unable to respond.
“I should thank you,” Laura continued, “for giving me a chance to prove myself. You sent your grand-daughter assassin after us. I survived. You had me tortured and planned to execute me. I survived. And just now, you tried to shoot us down. Well. You know how that went.”
Alvoa shook in his place with fury, but still had no response. He knew he was had.
“I’ll be leaving now,” said Laura, “and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll let me, and go help the rest of your fleet while it’s still there. Oh, and Alvoa? It’s Captain Vinfield to you. Asshole.”
Laura then walked away, sitting back into her chair, looking to Darrick, “let’s go.”
Darrick slowly pushed the Skyreign away, the four new turrets still locked on the bridge. He turned back towards Earth, and engaged the engines.
<Orders, General?> asked the female.
After a long moment of silence, he stated, <get backup communications up, and—prepare to join the rest of the fleet at the sixth planet.>
<We’re not going to just let her go, are we?>
<There is still a sizeable fleet assaulting Nywan. Let them deal with her. “Captain,” she calls herself. The audacity!>