8-23-42, 1334 hours
For Harper, the world reappeared in a blur.
He opened his eyes for what he felt was the first time in minutes. The last thing he remembered was collapsing onto the floor of the EEV.
As he allowed his eyes to adjust, he listened carefully to his surroundings. He could hear voices...some sounded human, another Elowan. I'm on an Interstel ship, he thought.
He listend for a few minutes to the conversation between the Elowan and humans, and through it picked up that they were the doctors of this vessel. Eventually, they came into focus, and Harper took his first look around the infirmary.
To his left was an empty bed, and to his right, a wounded Thrynn Confederacy soldier. There were other Thrynn soldiers across the room, none of them from Interstel. This ship must've been part of a clean-up crew after the battle in Aytlrthyss...why else would these Thrynn be here?
That Elowan doctor better leave before those Thrynn wake up.
Noticing that Harper was conscious, the Elowan doctor came to his bed. "Hello, Commander. I'm Doctor Ilithium. How are you feeling today?"
"I'm fine," Harper said hoarsely. "But my mouth is dry. Can I have some water?"
"I'll have some brought over right away," the doctor replied, signaling to one of the human nurses to bring over a pitcher.
The doctor then turned back to Harper. "Your condition is nominal, you'll be able to leave within the hour."
The nurse, now at bedside, poured a glass of water and handed it to Harper. "Thank you," he told the nurse, who went back about his duties. Sipping from the glass, he looked up at the doctor. "Doctor Ilithium, what ship is this? What's happened to my crewmates?"
"You're on the Akteron, heading for Arth. As for your crew, we only picked up your pod; four crewmen. You, another human, a Thrynn, and a Veloxi."
"That sounds right. What're their conditions?"
"They're all in nominal condition and have been released."
"That's good..." Harper looked around at the Thrynn officers again. "What ship are they from?"
Ilithium looked at them. "Unknown. They haven't regained consciousness since we brought them aboard, and so many Thrynn ships have been destroyed at Aytlrthyss over the last few days. But I'm afraid that I can't discuss this in further detail."
"Alright. Thank you, doctor."
"You are most welcome, Commander. Safe journey to you."
Harper smiled. "You too."
Harper walked into the crew lounge and scanned the crowd. There were only a half-dozen officers here, and it didn't take long for him to locate Ty'lyrr
and Xxiviki, deep in discussion. Harper walked over to their booth and sat down.
"Greetings, James," said Xxiviki.
"Hi, Xxiviki. Ty'lyrr."
Ty'lyrr slid an ale over to Harper, who thanked him, and then got down to business.
"Listen guys, this has been gnawing at me since I woke up. What're they going to do with Vanguard?"
"Court-martial," was Xxiviki's response.
"Yess," said Ty'lyrr. "Apparantlyy, thiss isn't the first time that Vanguard hass made a crucial error."
"What do you mean?" Harper's curiosity was peaked.
"Well, during the Sspemin crisiss in '39, Vvanguard was in command of the Meadows, a ship in the sskeletal defensse network. Insstead of being sent to the Leghk Ssector to ffight the good fight, the Meadows wass one of three assigned to ssupply duty, running the Arth-Talin IV-Thosss line. Duringg a cargo run, the Meadowss encountered a dissabled Elowan transsport. Vanguard attempted to grapple it and haul it in for in-depth analysiss."
"And something went wrong?"
"You could ssay that. Jusst as they began towing it away, an Elowan resscue party arrived. Needlesss to say, the Elowann were unhappy that an Interstell vessel wass towing a disabled Elowan ship away. It nearly caused an intersstellar incident."
Xxiviki stopped drinking his xiphtu (Veloxi ale) to comment, "At least he didn't lose a ship that time."
Ty'lyrr nodded his head. "Welll, we don't need to worry about Vvanguard annymore. He's finishhed."
This news pleased Harper. A man like Vanguard never should've had his own ship, never should've been allowed to be in a position of power in any facet of Interstel. Finally, someone had done something about him. But there were still a few questions he had to have answered. "Did they manage to recover anything from the Aries?"
"No," Xxiviki relied. "There wasn't enough left of it for them to worry about hauling in. Nobody will be able to learn anything valuable from it now."
"Well...how about assignments? Where are we being posted now?"
"We haven't been told yet," said Xxiviki.
Ty'lyrr took a swig of his xiphtu (something he'd developed a taste for while serving on the Monarch with six Veloxi) and said, "Hopefully, we'll be off the ffront lines for a while."
Harper raised his drink, with Ty'lyrr and Xxiviki doing the same. "Agreed..."
9-13-42, 0700 hours
In orbit of Talin IV
"Sso that's our next asssignment?"
"I think so...not sure which ship that is."
Ty'lyrr and Xxiviki looked down into the ship-building facility of Starport Outbound at one of several ships being constructed. Although they agreed that getting back onto a ship would be a welcome change, they had heard about the ships built during wartime: built too fast and built too poorly. Interstel was scrambling to put more ships on the front-line to hold off the Gazurtoid, but the sub-par ships that resulted were barely worthy of carrying the Interstel banner.
Ty'lyrr, still staring at the ship, played off of Xxiviki's dilemma. "I immagine that it will break downn within ann hour of launnch." Xxiviki responded with a Veloxi glare.
Ty'lyrr continued. "At leasst if we do, we don't hhave to worry about beinng ambushhed by Gazurrtoid."
"We still have to make it to the Earth-Leghk Flux, and a few Gazurtoid ships have been spotted between here and there in the last month."
"A minor concerrn."
"You seem to be forgetting about the Aries."
"The Aries wass desstroyed because Vannguard was a fool. Captain Xypov iss known for her good judgmment."
"As are all Veloxi."
"I wouldnn't go that far."
They walked out of the observation post and entered the lift. "Main Deck," Ty'lyrr said, and the lift began to rise.
"At leasst being in the Leghk Ssector will give you the channce to fix up the Varuna for our returrn to the front-liness."
"I'll be working overtime to do that," sighed Xxiviki. "But I may be able to upgrade some of the systems...Humna Humna lasers and G'Nunk missiles would be a nice addition to Interstel stock."
"Wwe may be able to confisscate a few from wrecked shipss."
Xxiviki looked at Ty'lyrr as the lift slowed to a stop. "Vanguard cubed."
9-18-42, 1055 hours
Docked at Starport Outbound
In orbit of Talin IV
The crew of the ISS Varuna took their places for the first time. The christening of the ship had inspired the crew to get out
there and make Interstel proud, and they were now five minutes from launch. It was a rebirth for many of the crew, who had been assigned here after
the destruction of their previous assignments...Aries, Barlind, Mohjain, Tarnac.
Captain Xypov took her seat on the bridge while the other bridge officers ran diagnostics of their stations, making sure that everything was in working order before the launch. Ty'lyrr scanned the communications console for signs of trouble, but found none. "Communicationns sstation nominal," he reported.
"Very good," the Captain replied.
Science Officer Jason Ihaug and Navigator Richard Cuiman finished up their diagnostics, and reported the same results. Things were looking good on the bridge.
Chief Engineer Xxiviki had just finished briefing his new staff on the repairs that needed to be made before 1100 hours. Finally, my
own staff! he thought.
Unlike the Aries, the Varuna had a larger crew. Gone was the old Interstel standard of a crew of six or seven, the Aries being one of the last to implement it. The Varuna had a crew of 19, with enough room for six more.
Xxiviki manned his station, which allowed him to monitor the status of every section of the ship. He watched as one by one, red zones turned green. His engineering team was certainly competent.
He turned on the bridge-engineering intercom. "Repair work finished. We're ready to go."
Ty'lyrr's voice came over the intercom. "Acknowledged."
Harper walked onto the bridge of the Varuna. "All decks check out, Captain. We're as ready as we'll ever be."
"Very good, commander," she replied. "Navigator Cuiman, initiate launch sequence."
A few seconds later, the Varuna pulled out of the docking bay. Several other ships were undergoing their launches at 1100 hours, and they could be seen to starboard and port. Some other Interstel ships were visible in defensive positions around the starbase.
Cuiman worked the controls for a few seconds, and then reported, "We're clear, sir."
"Ty'lyrr, inform the Maritaan that we're ready to leave. Navigator, plot a course for the Earth-Leghk Flux."
"Maritaan hass acknowledged. They arre ready to leave."
"Navigator, engage engines, maximum burn."
The Varuna accelerated, pulling up next to the Maritaan, and the two kicked it up to maximum burn.
9-21-42, 0842 hours
Humna Humna homeworld at 93,37
The terrain vehicle pulled to a stop at the trade center. "Here's your stop," said Xxiviki.
Harper and Ty'lyrr got out of their seats and opened the hatch. "How long do you think you'll be?" Xxiviki asked.
"Shouldn't take more than an hour," replied Harper.
"OK. I'll come back in about 45 minutes."
"Alright. See you then."
Harper stepped out and resealed the hatch, joining Ty'lyrr on the surface. Harper rapped the side of the vehicle, letting Xxiviki know that he was clear to go, and the terrain vehicle pulled away.
Harper looked around. The Humna Humna world was a beautiful place. Bright, sunny, and warm, with storm clouds on the horizon. The lush vegetation and light blue sky was a welcome sight, reminding him of Arth and of the pictures he'd seen of the recently terraformed Earth.
"Sso are we going to enter the trrade center, or are we going to sstand here forr the next hour?"
"What? Oh, yeah...let's get it done."
They walked to the trade center, making sure to keep out of the way of alien vehicles. Humna Humna trade centers were some of the busiest locations in the known galaxy, and going in on foot could be dangerous.
"Perrhaps I should negotiate the trrade. Humna Humna are knownn for cheatingg. A Thrrynn iss the logical choice for our dealerr."
"K...you handle the business. I'm going to have a look around the trade center, see what I can find out from some of the other traders."
"Very well...I'll need the manifesst."
Harper handed the cargo manifest to him. "The items the Captain says we can trade today are in red."
Ty'lyrr scanned the manifest. "Vegetables and meatss, synnthetic foods. Ssounds acceptable. Nnow, what do we want from them?"
"Hit the second button. It'll bring up the list of supplies that Interstel wants us to collect."
Ty'lyrr hit the button. "I ssee."
They entered the trade center. Ty'lyrr headed straight forward to the trade post, while Harper hung a left and went to the lounge.
Harper sat quietly, enjoying his drink at the lounge. He'd just spent the last 45 minutes talking to merchants and mercenaries from
both the Earth and Leghk Sectors, from Elowan to Umanu, and had been brought up to speed on the latest trade rumors and information. This'll be valuable
information, he thought to himself.
He finished his drink, paid the bartender, and left. He had to meet up with Ty'lyrr again and wait for Xxiviki to pick them up. He just hoped that Ty'lyrr didn't start something with the Humna Humna.
Harper found Ty'lyrr standing at the entrance of the trade center. "Get everything?" he asked.
"Ssome of it. The resst of their offers were rridiculouss."
"Well, we can go over it more once Xxiviki gets here." Harper opened the door and looked out. "When did it start raining?"
"I'm nnot sure. It was like thiss five minutes ago whenn I finished trrading. Ssure is coming downn, though."
"Sure is." Harper looked around for a moment, and then back out the door. "He should've been here by now. I wonder what's keeping him."
Ty'lyrr shrugged. "Perrhapss the terrainn vehicle iss having difficultiess."
"Must be." Harper scanned the area in front of the trade center for the terrain vehicle. He couldn't see too far, not with it pouring like it was, but Xxiviki would know enough to park close to the center.
It wasn't for another three minutes that the terrain vehicle came over a hill about 30 yards south of the center and pulled in close. Harper and Ty'lyrr ran out and climbed through the open hatch.
"I got it," Harper said, turning to close the hatch. Ty'lyrr sat down next to Xxiviki as the terrain vehicle went back into motion. "What took you sso long? Get losst on the way?"
"We had a problem," Xxiviki said. "Couple of glitches caused the sensor and communications systems to go offline."
Harper sat down behind Xxiviki and put his hand out to Ty'lyrr, who handed him the manifest. "Third button will sshow you transsactions."
"I know," Harper said. He tapped the button and looked over the list. "Good job, Ty'lyrr. Looks like you avoided being cheated."
"Well, it'ss not easy to get a good deal out of the Hummna Humna," Ty'lyrr bragged. "You jussst have to know how to mannipulate the manipulatorss."
"Speaking of which, I picked up some information in the lounge. It may come in useful later on."
"Sounds like today was a big success," said Xxiviki. "Of course, we still have the entire afternoon for things to go wrong."
Ty'lyrr chuckled. "Ahh, Xxivviki. Alwayss the optimisst."
9-25-42, 1620 hours
Coalition battle group
Near the Cross Constellation, Gazurtoid space
It had been almost a day since the Coalition battle group, led by the Thrynn warship Nihlhyss, had entered Gazurtoid space.
The group had managed to find a hole in the frontlines and had moved through without incident, and as of yet, hadn't attracted any attention.
The group's objectives were clear. First it was to scout the Cross Constellation for any Gazurtoid shipyards or sensor arrays. Then it was to secure a base of operations at a space station, and finally, it was to launch a series of attacks against the Gazurtoid outposts. When it was all finished, they were to destroy the space station and return home via flux, which would deposit them soundly in the outskirts of Veloxi space.
The Thniythss and Zeus were positioned on opposite sides of the group, the Thrynn vessel in front and the Interstel one in back, and were the only ships in the group running on deep scan. The other ships had reduced their sensors to minimal strength, and all ships had shut down non-essential systems to reduce the chances of being detected.
So far, nothing.
They knew that this would change shortly. Gazurtoid activity here had reduced during the War, but the Cross was still one of the most strategic locations for the squids. There would be detection within the hour.
Radio chatter between the ships was at a minimum. Being so close to the Cross, it wasn't wise to go in barking messages back and forth. No, stealth was key to success on this mission, and it would surely unfold that way. The Coalition force would only win if it kept things quiet and did its attacks quickly and efficiently, destroying everything in minutes and pulling out. Plasma bolts could take care of the unshielded enemy installations, but a more intense salvo of plasma and lasers would be needed to take down the Gazurtoid ships, and once their shields were down, a string of class 5 missiles would cause sufficient damage to the hulls of their mighty warships. It was important to use all available weaponry...and Gazurtoid armor couldn't withstand repeated blows from class 5 missiles.
At 1649 hours, Australia and Prometheus went ahead of the group to do light scouting of the most coreward Cross system. It was rumored that the desired space station was located here. Since each system had at least four sensor arrays positioned throughout it, the ships would need to launch sensor probes into the system to do the scanning. These probes were also armed with one missile each and were programmed to collide with any sensor arrays that came within range. The probes were too small for the arrays to notice, as they were programmed to detect larger objects, so it would appear to the Gazurtoid that the array or arrays had simply malfunctioned.
They wouldn't be in position to launch the probes for another thirteen minutes. Until then, the group just had to hope that nothing went wrong.
9-25-42, 1802 hours
Scans hadn't picked up anything for several hours, and even then, it was just a Tandelou merchant vessel. Traffic along this particular
trade route was low, only about a half dozen ships using it at any one time, while the others had anywhere from a dozen to thirty ships at once.
At least there was no piracy along this route...the others were a different story. G'Nunk, Thrynn, and Umanu pirates were common along the medium
priority routes...low priority ones such as this offered very little, and high priority ones were often traveled in groups, or by heavily armed warships
going solo. Medium priority routes provided the perfect piracy parameters.
Ty'lyrr had been scanning Coalition and trade channels ever since the Varuna and Maritaan had entered the Cloud, and aside from a few messages concerning supplies in demand at the former Lowar world, there hadn't been anything of importance. They'd only encountered the Tandelou ship and a Dweenle ship, so there didn't appear to be anything big along the route. Varuna and Maritaan were probably the most powerful ships in the vicinity, and the crew found this very reassuring, but they weren't about to drop their guard. Shields were up at all times while in the Cloud.
Commander Harper was in command now, taking over when the night shift had started about an hour ago. Ty'lyrr, Chief Medical Officer Lowinar, a few engineers, Navigator Tsts, and Science Officer Salinas were on duty right now, but the rest of the crew was soundly asleep. Those who were on duty were quickly approaching sleep; there was nothing to do on the ship right now except sit and relax.
Harper read over the reports of daily news. The messages about the former Lowar world caught his attention briefly, but like all the other messages received today, it wasn't local news. The Lowar world was a day away if they stuck to the trade routes, which was the smart and safe choice, and neither the Varuna nor Maritaan had anything that was in demand at the Lowar planet. Better to hit the shyneum world, then proceed to the Dweenle checkpoint at the upspin edge of the Cloud and visit their homeworld near the Halls of Memory.
Setting the pad down, Harper turned the command chair towards the communications station and said to Ty'lyrr, "Why is it that whenever a big deal comes along, it's out of the way and involves something we don't have?"
"The universse works inn sstrannge and annoying waysss," Ty'lyrr responded with a slurred voice. Better let him get some sleep, Harper thought. Nothing big is going to happen.
Harper picked the pad back up and checked for Coalition news over the last few days. The last report to come in was from yesterday at 1029 hours, about a failed Interstel raid upon a Gazurtoid munitions base. Six Interstel ships lost out of a raiding party of eight, with only one Gazurtoid ship destroyed and two damaged. Somebody botched that one up.
The War seemed so distant from their cozy position out here in the Leghk Sector, at least to the crew of the Varuna. Harper knew that the Maritaan's captain, Ihlysis, had lost both his brother and a life-long friend at the Battle of Erok Bvikow, a costly Coalition victory, just two days ago. A few other Maritaan officers lost family and friends in recent battles, so emotions were running high over there. Best for the Varuna to take charge for now.
Harper made a mental note to himself to convey his condolences to Ihlysis and his crew tomorrow, and noticing that Ty'lyrr was now asleep, went back to the reports.
9-26-42, 0915 hours
Captain Xypov read over Harper's report of the night shift slowly, taking in every detail. Varuna and Maritaan were quickly
approaching the next checkpoint, at which point they were going to exit this route and enter into a high priority one which would take them to the shyneum
world, which wasn't too far away now. After picking up some free fuel from their Umanu friends, the ships would continue for the Dweenle checkpoint.
The Varuna had been experiencing power fluctuations since running into a cloaked mine a few hours ago. The mine had been heavily damaged before the impact and was probably a weak one in the first place, so the Varuna had escaped with these minor problems, but Xxiviki and his engineering team were hard at work getting the hull repaired before going on to the power grid. Maritaan had been lucky enough to miss any cloaked mines and was busy conducting deep scans of the immediate area in an attempt to detect others, although a cloaked mine would be almost impossible to point out.
Communications Officer Ysmm, who had taken over for Ty'lyrr at 0100 hours, continued to scan the Coalition and trade channels. Although the power fluctuations were interfering with the comm system, it didn't seem as if they were missing out on anything. Just the latest reports about how many Coalition ships had been destroyed.
The doors slid open and Xxiviki entered the bridge. Xypov turned her chair to face him. "Status report."
"Hull is patched up," Xxiviki stated, "but the power grid won't be fully operational for at least three hours. The damage was more widespread than first imagined."
"Attempt to get the comm system working correctly first. The rest of the problems seem to be with lighting and artificial gravity, and those are of secondary importance."
Xxiviki left the bridge and used an intercom port to notify his staff of their new objectives. He continued down the hallway and, noticing a damaged conduit by the aft door to the infirmary, stopped to make repairs.
The system had been taken with little resistance. The four sensor arrays had been taken out with suicide probes, and only two Gazurtoid
ships had been in defense of the system. They had been disposed of without any Coalition losses.
Lhyss, captain of the Nihlhyss, looked over the detailed report concerning the operation. Only five Coalition ships damaged, four of them already repaired, and seven casualties. A very successful attack, to be sure. But it was too easy. Why would the Gazzurtoid leave ssuch a hhigh priorrity ssyssstem sso lightly defennded? The starbase had fallen in minutes, and even as Lhyss looked over the report Coalition engineers were busy removing the water from the base and filling it with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. The lead engineer had informed Lhyss that troops could board the station by the end of the day.
Tomorrow would see the first attack from this new base of operations. Zeus, Prometheus, Victory, Aesinth, K'Liar, and Ern'qry would attack a Gazurtoid outpost at Ghshh, while the rest of the battle group would stay to defend the starbase. Lhyss was no fool. He knew that the Gazurtoid had let them capture the system, and he intended to keep it strongly fortified. The fleet was ready for anything, ready to avenge the Coalition deaths at the Battle of Erok Bvikow and the raiding party lost recently at the Gn'Rhaka system. With twenty-four ships defending the starbase during the Zeus Mission, as it was being referred to, their position seemed quite safe.
The time for vengeance was almost at hand.
Lhyss and his bridge crew toasted to their first victory in this campaign with headfruit and Tandelouvian Happy Juice. It was indeed a time for celebration. Hopefully, the next few days would be as well.
9-28-42, 1256 hours
The trip to the Umanu shyneum world had proved to be worthwhile. Xxiviki got the new repair materials he wanted, and both the Varuna
and Maritaan had stocked up on shyneum for the long haul to the Dweenle checkpoint.
Harper and Ty'lyrr had just finished organizing the cargo bay which held the repair materials and were going off duty. Despite the "official" shift times for Interstel ships, there probably wasn't a single ship in the fleet that actually followed it. Shifts on the Varuna could range from six hours to sixteen for some officers, and these two had just pulled an eight hour shift. As Ty'lyrr had commented just a few minutes before, "Time to get drrunk."
They headed down to deck 2, where the crew lounge was. It was fairly empty - with such a small crew, that was to be expected - with an engineer and a science officer discussing the day over some coffee. Neither Harper nor Ty'lyrr knew either of these men very well, so they chose a different table at the opposite side of the room. Ty'lyrr sat down while Harper went to get some food and drinks.
Ty'lyrr couldn't help but gaze out the windows into the Cloud. It was an amazing sight...the shyneum world against the swirling, multicolored gases of the Cloud, the incoming and outgoing ships, and in the distance, a nebular ion storm. Truly majestic.
Harper came back to the table with a glass of xiphtu and another of ale and sat down. "It'll take a minute for the food to prepare," he said, sliding the xiphtu across the table. Ty'lyrr grabbed it, still looking out the windows. Harper turned to see what he was staring at. "Quite a view," he said.
"Yess, it iss." Ty'lyrr took a sip of his xiphtu and said, "You ssee the ion storrm off in the disstancce? It musst be at least a class three."
"Yes." Harper turned back around. "While we were down there I visited the Interstel division of the Arth embassy. Caught up on the latest news from back home. We've scored a few victories lately that have pushed the Gazurtoid back to the 119X area. They're still holding onto some Thrynn systems, but we've got them surrounded at Aytlrthyss. It's only a matter of time before we retake it."
"Good. If Thoss had been losst, the Gazzurtoid would have been able to take Elowann space and hit uss from sseveral vectorrs."
"Well, the Elowan haven't done anything but interfere with the war effort by attacking the Thrynn and bitching at us for fighting alongside them, so personally, it wouldn't bother me one bit if the Gazurtoid swarmed all over them."
Ty'lyrr took another drink and laughed. "I thhink you'd channge your mind if it actually happened."
"You're supposed to hate Elowan. Non-Arth ones, anyways."
"Only non-Arrth Thrynn hate Elowan. Thosse of uss on Arth have outgrowwn that petty squabble."
The food unit beeped, signaling that it had finished preparing their meals. Harper stood up, and as he walked away, he said, "Good. I'd hate to see you visit Doctor Lowinar if you hadn't."
Ty'lyrr looked back out the windows. "I'd winn."
Gazurtoid supply ships en route to their outpost at Ghshh found only smoldering wrecks in orbit. The shattered hulls of two Coalition
vessels were located, but the rest were once mighty Gazurtoid vessels. The outpost itself wasn't even identifiable, most of its debris having drifted
into the upper atmosphere, where it had burned up.
Scans confirmed that Thrynn and Interstel weaponry had been the cause of all this destruction. It was concluded that the attack had been launched from the enemy's make-shift headquarters in the recently captured system at the most coreward part of the constellation, and had been more successful than ever imagined possible. It had been foolish to allow the Coalition force to take the system. The Gazurtoid plan to launch a massive attack from Ghshh which would surround and crush the Coalition force had been flawed, and now, the attack was impossible. The ships which were to attack were being constructed at that very outpost and were to go online and attack in two days. The Coalition attack was not anticipated. Jamming devices had prevented the Gazurtoid from alerting their comrades. An error had occured.
Retreat was the only option.
Retreat and regroup. The order was sent out to Gazurtoid ships in the Ghshh system as soon as the destruction was discovered. It was possible to regroup and launch a counterattack with ships remaining in the system, but it would not be as effective as the original attack would have been. The air breathers had surprised the Gazurtoid. It could not be allowed to happen again.
10-03-42, 1015 hours
Starport Outpost 1
Varuna and Maritaan had finished their business at the Dweenle world days ago and had managed to reach the Ptera system via
flux. They'd docked about twenty minutes ago and the captains of both vessels reported to the station's commanding officer immediately. The
rest of the crews had dispersed throughout the station, whether it be the Nebula Lounge, bank, operations, or trade depot.
Ty'lyrr and Xxiviki took advantage of this opportunity to search out a Humna Humna crew that had docked their ship here for repair work. For some reason, Ty'lyrr delighted in aggravating the Humna Humna, and Xxiviki enjoyed listening to the way they spoke the Arthling language. It was entertaining.
Harper used the time off to contact friends and family on Arth. He hadn't talked to them since before being shipped out to the Leghk Sector. He found out that his younger brother had graduated from the academy and had been assigned to the ISS Prometheus as a class 3 engineer. No one back home knew exactly where the Prometheus was stationed, but told James that it was rumored to be surveying Koann 3 to see if it was a suitable location for a new Starport. What a relief, he thought. Far from the combat area.
The Gazurtoid counterattack yesterday had been strong, but in the end, Coalition forces held the system and drove the enemy back out.
But it had not come without its losses.
Victory and Aesinth had been lost in the attack upon the Ghshh outpost five days ago, and eleven ships had been destroyed in the Gazurtoid attack yesterday. With the size of the fleet reduced to 17 ships, ranging from fully operational to critically damaged, it would be too difficult to keep the system. The Gazurtoid weren't going to let the Coalition group keep the system, not after Ghshh, and this attack had been the first of what was sure to be a string of assaults until the Coalition group was either forced to retreat or wiped out. Lhyss had no alternative. He sent the order to get all ships in fighting condition, and then to blow the base and hit the flux into Veloxi space.
The "calvalry raid" had been an utter failure, with only two systems hit. Ghshh was a terrible loss for the Gazurtoid, as was the loss of this starbase, but the losses the group could have inflicted if not for the Gazurtoid strike would have devastated the Gazurtoid and possibly have forced them to fall back from the borders to reinforce the Cross. They may have pulled ships from Thrynn space. It wouldn't happen now.
Lhyss promised his crew that they would one day return to Gazurtoid space to finish what the squids had started. Lhyss had a noble vision.
He wanted the Gazurtoid homeworld to burn.
10-09-42, 0940 hours
Starport Outpost 1
The briefing room echoed with chatter as the captains of fifteen Coalition vessels discussed recent events and past adventures. They
had been called here for a briefing which was to take place at 0945, but after spending roughtly ten minutes talking, it became clear that nobody knew
what the briefing was about.
Captains Xypov and Ihlysis told several Thrynn captains, who were now adjusted to the idea of Elowan colonists being part of Arth society, about the previous few weeks of trading in the Leghk Sector. The Thrynn captains hadn't been on trading duty; their ships had been assigned to keep an eye on G'Nunk forces that were dangerously close to the anomaly. The actions of the Thrynn prevented G'Nunk intrusions into the past. A difficult task, but one that they completed without much of a problem.
Conversation among the captains died down when the Interstel and Thrynn admirals entered the room and were directed to the podium by the station commander. Xypov watched closely, as did all captains, as they anxiously awaited the news that they had been called in to hear.
The admirals took their places at the podium, and after clearing his throat, the human admiral said, "Good morning, captains. I'm Admiral Briggs, and this is Admiral Ss'trrhh. We've summoned you here today because we have an important announcement for you: you're being sent back to the Earth Sector."
Immediately, a commotion arose from the audience. Xypov exchanged a glance with a Thrynn captain, who had a look of relief about him. Xypov wasn't surprised, she knew that the Thrynn wanted to be on the front lines instead of way out here. Most of the Interstel officers, on the other hand, were pleased to be far from combat, and would be disappointed to be going back so soon.
"Please, may we have some order?" said Admiral Briggs. The room quieted down again. "Thank you. Now, if you will direct your attention to Admiral Ss'trrhh, he will inform you of your new orders."
All eyes turned to Ss'trrhh, who said, "Thhank you, Admmiral Brriggss." Ss'trrhh faced the audience. "Do nnot be misstaken, thiss asssignment will nnot be ssimple ssurveying or ssupply runs. You will be back inn combat." Several Thrynn captains expressed their approval in their native tongue. "I'm glad that Leghk Ssector duty hassn't thinned your blood," the admiral stated.
Ss'trrhh turned to a large, black screen on the wall and tapped a few buttons, bringing up a map of the Leghk Sector. "You will depart frrom the Ptera sysstem tomorrow at 0800 hourss, and will sset your coursse for the Earthh-Leghk flux." The map switched over to the Earth Sector, and began tracing their course. "Onnce through, you will proceed to Sstarport Cenntral in the Arth sysstem. There, you will joinn with sseveral other Coalition vesssels and will be ssent to spaccial coordinatess 121,48. The Gazzurtoid liness are weak there, and you will particcipate in an attack againsst them, in coordination with elemments the 15th Thrynn fleet." The screen went black, and Ss'trrhh took his place at the podium. Admiral Briggs looked into the crowd and said, "Questions are welcome at this time."
A small degree of chatter arose again, along with a few hands. Admiral Briggs pointed to one and said, "Yes, Captain Nhss, your question please. Please, may we have silence so Captain Nhss may speak?"
The room fell silent again as Nhss stood up. "Thhank you, Admirral. My quesstion iss directed towarrds both of you. Hhow large will our forcce be oncce we join up at Arth?"
"If all goess according to plan, the forrce will be comprissed of 53 shipss. You will joinn with 47 Thhrynn shhipss at 121,48."
Nhss took her seat, while more hands rose. "Captain Thhrnnn," called out Briggs. "Your question please."
Thhrnnn arose. "My questionn is for Admirall Ss'trrhh. Admmiral, it iss my unndersstandingg that the Gazzurtoid war effort in our sspacce is reliannt upon their sstarbase in the Aytlrthyss sysstem. Sshould we not concenntrate upon retaking Aytlrthyss firrst?"
"That iss true, Aytlrthyss is our primarry concerrn, but resst assured, it will be dealt withh in a shorrt time." Thhrnnn nodded to his admiral and sat back down.
"Alright," stated Admiral Briggs, "we want to keep this short, so we only have time for one more question. Yes, Captain Xypov, you have a question?"
Xypov stood and said, "Admiral Briggs, Admiral Ss'trrhh, how do we know that the Gazurtoid are really weak at that position? We've been fooled before by false acts of vulnerability."
"Extenssive intellligencce reporrts have verified it. Whille we cannnot prommise victory, we cann promisse that yyou will be at ann advanntage. Let uss just say that the Gazurrtoid's attentionn will be...diverrted elssewhere. Too much to hanndle 100 sships."
Xypov sat down, her nerves a bit more at ease. At least she wouldn't be leading her crew to certain death...if she were ordered to do so, she would fight it, and should she lose, she would resign. She would not allow a crew under her command to die in a futile battle.
"Now," said Briggs, "if that is all, then this briefing is concluded. Remember, you ship out tomorrow morning at 0800 for Starport Central. Don't be late, because the other ships won't be able to wait for long. Good day."
The admirals were escorted out of the briefing room by the station commander, and the captains slowly got to their feet, in intense conversation, and left the room. As they left, Xypov commented to Ihlysis, "Most of my crew has been out of combat for nearly two months. I hope they're still prepared, or it will be a tragedy for us all."
10-10-42, 1148 hours
Continuum fluxes were things of wonder. The pulsating colors, folding in on themselves, with the ability to send a ship across the
galaxy in a second.
Out of the warped colors, a ship appeared. The appearence wasn't remarkable. No flash of light, no distortion within the already twisted colors of the flux. Just a ship...then three more, and a few more, until fifteen ships had emerged from the flux. They set their courses for Arth and proceeded onward.
Nihlhyss and her companion vessels fell back into normal space near Starport Central. The battle group had managed to fight
its way back, and the eight surviving vessels contacted Starport and arranged to dock.
Lhyss looked out from his bridge view to the area around the Interstel starbase. There were several Interstel ships scattered about, and a large number of Thrynn warships. A mobilization appeared to be in progress.
Several minutes later, two towing vessels left Starport and headed for the group. Lhyss ordered his chief engineer to disengage the grapples from the Australia, and then said to his communications officer, "Tell the Zeusss to detach frrom the Wylltakin, the towingg vesssels will take care of themm."
The officers quickly followed their orders, and the Australia and Wyltakin were cut loose so the towing ships could haul them to Starport. Those two ships had come very close to joining their 22 destroyed companions, being disabled in battle shortly after exiting the flux into Veloxi space. The Gazurtoid had managed to scrape together a few ships for the pursuit, but they had been eliminated with a combination of cold Thrynn precision and Interstel plasma bolts.
The ships were grappled and slowly towed in, the six operating vessels providing an escort for them. Lhyss renewed his promise to his crew that they would invade the Gazurtoid again, and became lost in thoughts of glory and honor.
10-12-42, 1420 hours
Near Starport Central
In orbit of Arth
The group had massed. Fifty-three Coalition starships prepared to set out for 121,48. The ship in command of the group, ISS Earth,
sent out the order to run final systems checks. They would ship out in ten minutes.
Captain Xypov relayed the orders to Xxiviki in the engine room, while bridge officers ran station diagnostics. Commander Harper paced the bridge, looking over shoulders to check up on results, and he stopped by the communications station. Looking at the screen readouts, he said, "Looks like we have a slight malfunction in the communications grid."
Ty'lyrr scanned the readout for a few seconds. "It'ss just a minor problemm with the vissual. Audio will sstill work."
"But we may as well get visual back too..." Harper turned to the captain and said, "Captain, we have a malfunction in the visual communications system."
Xypov looked to him. "Audio?"
"Very well," she said. "If everything else checks out, we'll have Xxiviki get to work on it."
Harper turned back to the readout and looked through it some more. He didn't notice anything else out of the ordinary, so he went on to the navigation station.
Ty'lyrr turned to the captain. "Asside from the vissual problemss, the communnicationns sysstem is in nnominal conditionn."
"Very good," she said.
Ty'lyrr leaned back and looked out into space. "Jamess, did you contact your brrother on the Prometheuss?"
"No," he said from the navigation console. "Interstel officials wouldn't let me talk to him, but from the looks of the Prometheus, the story about surveying Koann 3 was exactly that...a story."
"Yyou think sso?"
"A ship doesn't get that banged up while surveying Koann 3. The Gazurtoid haven't been anywhere remotely close to it, the Spemin wouldn't dare attack an Interstel ship at this point, and Veloxi have been our friends ever since we returned the ellipsoid to them. Nobody else is local to that region, and with Veloxi border detection at such a high rate, nobody could get in without their knowledge and consent. The only explanation is that Prometheus wasn't there." Harper told Navigator Cuiman to run a final diagnostic, and then walked towards the science station. "And Prometheus wasn't the only shot up ship. There were at least five others, and two that were barely intact. I get the feeling that they were all together, and that it wasn't on survey duty."
"You know, Commander," said Captain Xypov, "I can do some checking for you. An admiral owes me a favor, and so does a high-ranking Thrynn captain."
James Harper diverted his attention to the science readouts. "I'd appreciate that, sir."
"Could you hand me the torch?" called out Xxiviki.
Rylyss, the only Thrynn engineer in the crew, grabbed a torch and handed it to Xxiviki. Xxiviki activated the torch and went back to work on resecuring a section of deck plating after repairing some damaged power coils underneath. "There," he said. "That should take care of the visual problem."
He deactivated and handed the torch back to Rylyss. "Now we only have to worry about that malfunctioning airlock. Interior door is jammed open and external door opens and closes at random. Go see if Vixxaa and Malei are still there, will you?"
Rylyss looked at his commanding officer with a stunned expression. "Excusse me, ssir...?"
Xxiviki laughed to himself. "I was joking, Rylyss. What I want you to do is head up to deck three. Diagnostics pointed out a few damaged conduits near the captain's quarters, it shouldn't take you more than fifteen minutes to get them fixed. I'll look for those two myself."
The confused engineer grabbed an engineering kit. "Aye, ssir..."
10-14-42, 1200 hours
The battered remnants of the 15th Thrynn fleet awaited the arrival of the Coalition group. A surprise attack earlier in the day had
left the Thrynn crippled and in need of repair materials. Nevertheless, the Thrynn refused to cancel the rendezvous and visit a starbase for repairs.
Thrynn commanders looked down upon retreat, even more now that the tide of the war was turning in favor of the Coalition. The Gazurtoid had been
falling back for almost one Arthling month, as far as 115X in some areas.
Ever since the Gazurtoid had been pushed back, their remaining forces in Thrynn space had been cut off from reinforcements and drydock, and were unable to strengthen themselves. The Coalition tried to take advantage of this situation, but repeated Elowan interference in the war effort had allowed the Gazurtoid to evade Thrynn forces on several occassions.
In the minds of these Thrynn, this was the only explanation for the ambush. The evil Elowan subcreatures had once again aided Gazurtoid in escaping destruction. But this time, the squids didn't complete their run.
A young Thrynn lieutenant reported to her captain that the reinforcements would arrive within the hour. The officers eased up a little, but would not drop their guard again.
"Captainn, Earthh reportss that the TCS Aet'ryss hass detected movement at 119,52."
For the most part, the trip had been uneventful. Aside from the detection 18 hours ago of ships shadowing the fleet, nothing had happened. The Earth had ordered most ships to shut down all non-essential systems, while Aet'ryss and Mediator kept an eye on the unidentified ships.
Down in engineering, Xxiviki and his staff were preparing for the worst, assembling damage control kits and receiving orders from Xxiviki as to where they would each be stationed during combat. He wanted each deck to have engineers on hand when things got hot. Off-duty officers with engineering knowledge were being recruited by Xxiviki and getting a refresher on the proper method to repair damage while in combat.
The medical ward was in a similar state of readiness, making room for injured that would be coming in as combat began and survivors were picked up.
As a last minute check, Commander Harper made sure that the evacuation vehicles were in place and in working order. Captain Xypov was taking every precaution. She had a job for everyone, a goal to reach.
She would not let the Varuna fall.
10-15-42, 0106 hours
Using repair materials from the rest of the fleet, the elements of the 15th Thrynn fleet had been restored to combat-worthy status.
This was needed, as the battle group numbered 86 instead of the planned hundred.
The last orders to come in were at 0000, with Earth distributing the latest tactical reports from Aet'ryss, Mediator, and Thoss. The rest of the fleet maintained radio silence, keeping only essential systems online and receiving, but not acknowledging, communiques.
Harper, who took command of the ship at 2300, waited silently for more incoming news. The bridge was always quiet during silent running, and Harper imagined that every crew in the fleet was like that. There was an overwhelming sense of dread, knowing that the enemy would soon be engaged, and that some of the Coalition officers would not be around after the guns cooled.
At 0152, Harper grew tired of the silence and asked Navigator Cuiman, "About how long until we reach our destination?"
Cuiman answered quietly, "Seventy-two minutes, sir."
Again, the dead silence returned to the bridge. It was growing tiresome. Harper needed to get a conversation going, or the bridge crew would become drowsy. He turned to the science officer, Jason Ihaug. "What have the passive sensor sweeps detected?"
Ihaug paused as he yawned. "Nothing...sir..."
"What range are you extending the sweeps to?"
"In a sphere encompassing...the fleet."
"Yyou know, Jamess," said Ty'lyrr, "the chancces of detecting ssomthing while on passsive iss very llow. Perrhapss it would be wisse to simplly rely upon the otherss for sensorr inforrmationn."
"We need to keep active. We can't afford to be groggy when we fly into battle."
"Sir," said Ihaug, "the latest reports from Earth indicated no enemy activity in the immediate vicinity. The Gazurtoid appear to be as far back as 117X."
"Unless they're on silent running too."
"Doubtful, James. It'ss not their sstyle."
Ihaug and Ty'lyrr went back to monitoring their stations, or at least acting like they were, and the bridge once again became quiet.
Lhyss boarded his ship for the first time in what seemed like years, yet it had only been days. When he left, the Nihlhyss had
been a mess. Now, it and its companions were repaired and ready to be placed back in the field.
He took his place in the command seat, looking over the bridge officers as they manned their posts. He gave the order to the communications officer to contact the others and inform them that departure was in five minutes.
10-22-42, 1504 hours
As the time passed, more and more ships arrived. Lhyss would be leading another strike upon the Gazurtoid, but would be in command
of 46 ships this time around. Coalition leaders still believed that Lhyss would be able to deal a devastating blow to the squids if the opportunity
came up...and it had.
At 0230 that morning, word came in that Gazurtoid ships were pulling away from Harrison's Base to reinforce the Gazurtoid-Thrynn border. The opportunity could not be ignored...the Gazurtoid data system would be easily accessed once Harrison's Base was taken.
Through the use of jump pods, the Coalition ships would move from 95,103 to the target system in seconds and, should the operation go according to plan, would take Harrison's Base within an hour.
Lhyss could taste the Gazurtoid blood already. He could smell the flames of the Gazurtoid homeworld, could hear the water boiling off the planet's surface, could see the liquid world flare with an intensity the likes of which had never been seen. He wanted to destroy them. He wanted to tear down the mighty squids and leave them in ruins. The Cross had proved to be the wrong path. Harrison's Base would make up for the earlier failure. Nihlhyss would not return to Thoss until the Gazurtoid world was ash.
The Coalition fleet cruised silently towards its target area. After engaging enemy vessels two days before, sensor probes had detected
a fleet massing at 117,43. Orders had been received to attack.
Six Coalition ships had been destroyed in the battle a few days before. Those that were damaged fell back to the middle of the fleet for protection while repair operations were underway. Varuna was among them.
Xxiviki and his engineers had already gotten power restored to the sensors and lasers, with communications running at 93%, but the engines had taken several direct hits, and repair materials were low. Most had been diverted to the TCS Ahhk'nqrrl upon rendezvous on the 15th, but Ahhk'nqrrl had been destroyed in the battle a few days before. Very little had been recovered from it and the other destroyed ships, other than a few EEVs, a planetary teleporter, and fifteen tons of shyneum.
Xxiviki estimated that it would be another eight hours before engines could be restored to operating status. Until then, Maritaan would continue to tow Varuna. Frustrated, he activated the bridge-engineering intercom. "Bridge, anyone answer our request for repair materials?" he said into the microphone.
An answer came in. "Neg...ve, engi..erin...one to sp..e."
"You've got to be kidding me," Xxiviki said to himself. "This thing was working fine just an hour ago." He looked around for his kit, and not finding it, said, "Phixtu, do me a favor and fetch me my repair kit, we've got a damaged intercom here."
The young Veloxi grabbed Xxiviki's repair kit and brought it to him. "Thanks, Phixtu." Xxiviki looked at a damage status monitor and said, "Looks like the shields are still experiencing power fluctuations. Problem may be on deck 2, why don't you go take a look at it."
"Right away, sir."
Phixtu retrieved an engineering kit and left. Xxiviki liked that kid, full of potential, a good team player. Phixtu would go places as long as he stuck with Interstel.
The intercom panel was pulled from the wall to reveal the circuits. Everything looked in order. "Great..." he mumbled to himself. "Problem is on the way up..." He consulted the monitor again, but couldn't identify the location of the intercom damage. He secured the panel back to the wall, sealed his kit, and left to hunt down the problem.
10-26-42, 1933 hours
For four intolerable days, Nihlhyss and the other ships had waited for the fleet to assemble. Some ships had been held up by
late repairs, others by surprise encounters with Veloxi merchants and Gazurtoid warships. Either way, Lhyss had been sitting at this stupid spot
when he could have been killing his enemies. He made the comment to his bridge crew that they would "jusst have to make ourr attack thhat much
A few Veloxi ships had stumbled across the fleet the day before. Veloxi were of no concern, they had peace and trade treaties with both Arth and Thoss, despite the knowledge that Arth was a Noah colony. They had exchanged a few friendly words and continued on without incident. It could only be hoped that those ships weren't attacked by Gazurtoid, for if their data banks were salvaged and accessed, the location of the fleet would be discovered. The rest of the Coalition ships had to arrive so they could be on the move. Lhyss informed his communications officer to send encrypted messages to the incoming ships telling them to hurry up. The delay was driving the Thrynn mad, and the Arthlings were beginning to feel the same way. The attack had to begin, and it had to begin soon.
"All ships, fire at will! Fire at will!"
The Coalition fleet opened up with everything it had. The Gazurtoid returned fire with a salvo of missiles.
Axtila, Rll'nrqliss, Thoss, and Varuna pulled off from the charge, setting their sights on the Gazurtoid ship designated as "5", which was attempting to leave jamming range. Axtila and Varuna pumped out plasma bolts at their enemy; the Gazurtoid ship fired missiles in response. The four ships veered away from the incoming fire, then another salvo of plasma bolts.
Gazurtoid ship 5 filled much of the view of its attackers now. The exchange of fire continued, with the Coalition warships still managing to evade missile fire. A message came in from Thoss: "Nearingg lasser range!"
Seconds later, the weakened Gazurtoid shields fell to the Thrynn lasers. "Misssiles away!" Lasers, missiles, and plasma bolts streaked towards the mighty squid ship and tore through the unprotected hull. Water began spraying out and freezing so quickly that it appeared as if it had never even been a liquid. Effects were surely being felt within the ship.
The attackers pulled away at the last minute, exposing their defenseless keels to Gazurtoid fire. Most of vessel 5's fire concentrated upon Axtila; the Gazurtoid had detected its damaged shielding system. It took only seconds for the shields to go down and the keel to get blown away. "Aband....hip! Ab..." Axtila's power core was penetrated, tearing the ship apart from the inside.
"Varuna to Earth! Axtila destroyed, no survivors!"
Varuna and her companions came about and went back for the Gazurtoid ship, sending a stream of plasma and missiles at the unshielded vessel. Explosions rocked the enemy, sending several weapons ports into violent overloads. The squids pumped out a few missiles at the oncoming Coalition ships, slamming into their shields. A hole opened in Varuna's shielding, allowing a few missiles to strike the hull. Explosions occured throughout the ship as power conduits overloaded.
"Varu.. to R.....qliss a....hoss: Rll'nr..iss, let's hit...eir command...nter. Thos.. take out their ..gines! Inf.rm..., we have woun..d..."
"You're breakingg up, Vvaruna, but arre unndersstood."
Thoss broke formation and went out wide to approach from the rear, while fire was drawn by Rll'nrqliss and Varuna. Opening up with all weapons, the two pounded into the side of their massive target, tearing a hole deep within it. As they pulled away from their approach to come around again, Rll'nrqliss sent a string of missiles through the hole. The Gazurtoid ship shook from internal explosions.
"Thoss, ho... it g..ng?"
"We have llost shiellds...are movingg into possitionn...misssiles locked...fire!"
Thoss unleashed its fury unto the Gazurtoid, striking several direct blows to the engines of the behemoth, as the Gazurtoid fired missiles and lasers at this lone attacker. The engines of Thoss were struck hard, tearing a large chunk out and knocking propulsion offline. Thoss helplessly flung towards the Gazurtoid, colliding with the engines in a bright explosion that overloaded the propulsion system and wasted the aft portion of the ship. Enemy vessel 5 lost power to its remaining weapons. Then the whole ship went dark. Rll'nrqliss and Varuna sent several more shots into the shattered remnants, and then pulled away. "V...na to Ear.....ene....essel 5 is ....of comm..sion....C..Thoss destro..d."
"Ackn....dged, Va..na...you...d Rll...qliss, a..ist Nebul...nd Pegasus in engag... tar.et 10!"
"...er. Rll'....iss, lock ont..target 10,....pare to e..age!"
10-27-42, 0211 hours
Captain Xypov sat quietly while the ship grappled the Thrynn scout vessel Rrynsshar and prepared to depart for the Thoss system.
The battle had been won, but at a high cost - the fleet needed to fall back for repairs and to take on new crew members. Casualty reports were still
being compiled, but it looked as if the fleet had suffered losses in excess of 50 percent.
Varuna had gotten out of it easier than most of the others, with mostly minor injuries, aside from one engineer, a human named Thompson, who had been killed.
On the bridge, Ty'lyrr monitored the local transmissions for casualty reports and the eventual order to head for Thoss. Since
sensors were still offline, Ihaug had reported to the infirmary along with Harper and Cuiman. It looked as if Varuna would be parked here for a while longer.
"Go ahead, Ty'lyrr."
"Receivingg transmisssion from Desstiny. Earth was desstroyed inn the battle, Desstiny now taking charge of the ffleet."
This was a major morale killer...Thoss and Earth both destroyed in this engagement. At least the Arth was still alive, somewhere near the Pxis system.
Ty'lyrr seemed to sense the same thing. "Thiss battle will ruinn moralle throughout the Coalitionn. But at leasst we're winningg."
"Indeed...is Rrynsshar secured?"
"Aye, ssir, Rrynnssharr securred."
"Then we only await orders to move out."
The bridge door slid open. Harper and Cuiman re-entered the bridge. "Alll in favor of gettingg thhe hell out of hhere?" said Ty'lyrr.
Laughing, Harper replied, "Aye, Ty."
"Very well, then," said Xypov, "...man your posts."
Harper took a seat at the sensor console and checked the system over. "Sensors still down, sir," he reported.
Reports came in, the casualty list grew, cargo and EEVs were retrieved. As 0300 rolled around, the orders came in from Destiny. The battered and beaten Coalition fleet turned and laid in a course for Thoss.
1-01-43, 0000 hours
Thrynn Station 1
In orbit of Thoss
"Happy new year!!" cried the Interstel officers. Thrynn officers just watched in quiet astonishment as the drunk Arthlings
swaggered back and forth singing. The Thrynn new year hadn't arrived yet, but even then, their civilization didn't degenerate to this level.
Ty'lyrr, chugging down his fifth glass of Thrynn ale, crashed down into a chair, at a table with three stunned officers of the Thrynn Confederacy. "Hhow you boysss doingg?" he said with a slur.
The officers exchanged puzzled glances. "We arre...doing finne...it appearrs that you are experienncing headfruit juicce for the firsst time, brrother."
"Damn rright. Wwhat'ss thiss ssstuff made frrom, anywayys?"
The Thrynn frowned with confusion. How could one of their own, even one corrupted by a mixed civilization, be so stupid when drunk? "Headfruit..." they slowly replied.
"Whoa! Hheadfrrruit iss from Elowann!"
The Thrynn glanced at each other again. It was going to be a long night.
The Nihlhyss assault team jump was successful, not only depositing them in the correct area, but on the very outskirts of the system.
Wasting no time, the fleet crashed through the outer defenses and tore a path towards the inner solar system.
As they approached the planet, having met little resistance, Lhyss gave the order to halt the fleet and run deep scans. It didn't take too long. "Captainn, we are detectingg movvement thrroughout the outer sysstem, getting closerr!"
Lhyss could've kicked himself in the head. How could he have fallen for this trap? The Gazurtoid had found out somehow.
Licking his lips, Lhyss ordered, "Telll the flleet to enngage."
ISS Renegade sat quietly at 119,63. They'd been running deep scans of the local border, with a five zurwic scan radius, for
several days. Very little had happened in the region since then, and they were about to return to Arth.
At 0041, Captain Ihhslith turned to her comm officer. "Have you picked up any transmissions in the area?" He shook his head.
"Captain," said the science officer, "I think you should have a look at this."
Ihhslith went to the science station and looked at the scan readouts. "Looks like the Gazurtoid are moving a fleet near the border."
"I don't think so, sir," the science officer said. "It looks like there are many more ships than the average fleet."
"Well, maybe they're reinforcing the border. They've had very little in the area as of late."
"No...the lead ships have crossed the border. The entire mass of ships looks like it'll cross."
"What are we talking about here? A large invasion fleet?"
"I don't know, sir, but there are a lot of them, much larger than a standard Gazurtoid invasion fleet, occupying much more space."
"Battlestations," ordered Ihhslith.
As the navigator activated the defenses, the science officer remarked, "This is a strange fleet movement...not a focused attack...it kind of reminds me of a wave heading for shore."
Suddenly, it hit Ihhslith. Wave heading for shore. She turned to the navigator. "Plot a course for the Arth system, maximum speed, and engage!" She walked quickly to her command chair and sat, looking over to the science officer. "Cancel deep scans!"
Lastly, she turned to the comm officer. "Send out a high-priority message on all Coalition frequencies...the second wave has begun."
1-01-43, 0356 hours
Docked at Thrynn Station 1
In orbit of Thoss
"This is bad. This is very bad..." muttered Ihaug.
Ty'lyrr, overhearing, replied, "Come on, now...you didnn't think the Gazzurtoid would onnly try oncce, did yyou?"
"Well, it's not tha...what's that smell? What've you been drinking?"
"Nothing." They entered the bridge and took to their posts. "I
havenn't been drinking anything."
"I heard you were drunk off your ass at the lounge," said Harper. "Should you really be on the bridge right now?"
"A Thrrynn can holld hiss or her allcohol. We are nnot so quick to become drunnk like a hhuman." Ty'lyrr ran a diagnostic on the comm system. "Communicationnss system nominall."
"Sensorory system operational," reported Ihaug.
Harper jumped into motion. "What don't we have?" he asked as he approached the sensor station.
"Well, sir, we don't have deep scan capabilities, and have a scan radius of two zurwics."
"Damn." Harper keyed the intercom. "Bridge to engineering."
"Navigational system operational," said Cuiman. As the captain went to the nav station, an engineer responded to Harper. "Engineer Rylysss reporrting, bridge. To what do you innquirre?"
"Rylyss, the sensor system hasn't been fully repaired. Think you guys could get that fixed before the Gaz are all over us?"
"I donn't know, ssir. That'ss up to the chief. And the chief sayss that the shieldss and lasers are the priority."
Harper turned to Xypov. "Captain, shields and lasers inoperative."
"I know," she responded, going back into conversation with Cuiman.
Harper went back Rylyss. "Roger that, engineering. Get defensive systems operational first, then concentrate on sensors."
Xypov started for the command chair, and said, "Commander, check the infirmary, see if there is anything there that needs repairs."
As Harper left the bridge, a beep sounded from the comm station.
"Captainn, incoming transmission from Destiny...an Inntersstel distresss
call that wass just received."
Xypov sunk into her seat. "Let's hear it."
A few seconds later, the call came onto the bridge speakers. "-SS Pro...heus, location 120,99. We've b..n disabled by Gazurtoid. A few momen....go, enem...essel latched a transfer tube to our hul....nd cut through. Decks 3 and 4 are submerg.....nd Gazurtoid are detected onboard. Deck 2 is no...looding. Repeat: ISS Prometheus, being boarded by.....rtoid at 120,99..."
The bridge officers looked around silently while the distress call continued. "Deck 2 is now almost half subm...ed. We're organizing on the bridge and sealin....rselves in. We've a......aced security codes and encry..ion algorithms into the computer system. We'd destroy the m.......pu..r, but it.......he engineering deck, and we can't reach it...the water is now on deck 1, we...n hear it approaching...it's too late...r us. Get to t....xis and Arth systems, the bulk of..he...fleet is heading there. Prometheu...ut."
Static took over the channel. Ty'lyrr quietly switched it off, then said, "It iss confirmed...sseveral enemy fleets are approachingg the Pxis and Arrth systemss."
Cuiman said softly, "How many ships do we have in that area?"
Ihaug had the dreaded answer: "Not enough."
1-04-43, 2122 hours
Galactic Newswire Report, Arth time edition
"...and it was not until late last night that the route was secured. In Earth Sector news, the second Gazurtoid wave has destroyed all progress made by the Arth-Thoss Coalition in the war, but this wave apparantly is not as severe as the second wave against the Old Empire. Gazurtoid and Coalition forces clashed in the Aytlrthyss and Thoss systems, with Coalition forces eventually stopping the Gazurtoid advance. The Arthling starbase in the Pxis system was destroyed two days ago, but the colony was saved by Omicron Fleet, which flanked the attackers. The Gazurtoid managed to push as far as the third planet in the Arth system, only to be stopped earlier today by the very surprising entry of the Mechans into the war. Although their reasons are currently unknown, it is believed that it has something to do with Arth being a Noah colony. On a lighter note, the Veloxi announced earlier today..."
Ty'lyrr and Xxiviki hadn't spent much time in the lounge lately. Destiny group had participated in the defense of the Thoss
system for a few days. That meant a lot of combat and repair work, not a lot of relaxation. Also a factor was that several windows were blown
out in combat, and were replaced earlier in the day.
Xxiviki gazed out the windows, examing some of the passing vessels. "I wonder how much longer we'll have to put up with this war."
Ty'lyrr, sticking to a glass of water, replied, "For a while longerrr. The Gazurrtoid will ssend more fleetss at our key systems until eitherr we all die, or they do."
Chief Medical Officer Lowinar entered the lounge. It must've been a first; neither Ty'lyrr or Xxiviki had seen Lowinar, the only Elowan onboard, in the lounge before. Ty'lyrr leaned towards Xxiviki and whispered, "Ssay nothing about the Thhrynn ale."
"Oh, yes sir."
Sitting back with a glare, Ty'lyrr glanced over to the doctor, who was preparing a meal. Xxiviki softly asked, "So, have you talked to James in the last few days?"
"No...he hass not been vvery soccial lately."
"I know, but maybe someone should talk to him."
"He will be fine. We jump to the Arrth system...probably in a few minutess...and when we get to Sstarport Central, Jamess will dissembark and be on leave for a while."
"Good...he shouldn't be a commander anyways...where's that promotion he was supposed to get a few months back?"
Lowinar approached their table quietly. "May I join you?"
"By all means, doctor," replied Xxiviki.
Lowinar sat and placed her meal - some strange green liquid - on the table. "It certainly is unforunate to hear about Prometheus," she said.
"You are of courrse correct," said Ty'lyrr.
"So," said Xxiviki, eager to change the topic, "I hear you've had your hands...um...I hear you've been busy in the infirmary lately."
"Yes, we have had a number of injuries recently, and in case you haven't heard yet, 3rd Navigator Bowman died last night."
As she dug in to her liquid, Xxiviki replied, "That's right, I heard about that. Electrocuted or something, right?"
"Yes. Please, could we not discuss this?"
"Of course, doctor."
The doctor looked out the windows, then to Ty'lyrr. "I heard that you made a spectacle out of yourself again."
He lowered his drink from his lips. "'Again'?"
Engineer Vixxaa came over the ship PA: "All hands, prepare for jump."
Everyone in the lounge grabbed onto their secured tables and closed their eyes as the sound of the jump matrix formation began to grow and, with a white flash, boomed.
1-05-43, 1015 hours
Arth system, near Arth
"All hands," boomed the PA, "please set aside what you're doing. Admiral Briggs has a statement to make to the fleet."
Crew members relaxed for a few moments, and listend intently as the admiral's transmission came in. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the nest. Before you get too cozy, let me remind you that although you haven't seen any squid ships around for the past day or so, they're parked outside the system reinforcing themselves and will be coming in at us again soon. It's their typical attack around here; off and on. But when they did invade the system, it made Erok Bvikow look like a skirmish with the Tandelou. The Gazurtoid gave up on Pxis; they took out the starbase, and later on, they'll go back for the colony, but for the moment, they've diverted most of the Pxis attack force to here.
"Therefore, it has been necessary to call some of you back from the Leghk Sector, Sol, and numerous other backwater posts to help us fortify the system. Your fleet, which is now being designated Upsilon Fleet, will provide defense near the fifth planet of the system, Lixycen. Gazurtoid forces were recently driven out by what was left of Zeta Fleet, and they'll be eager to take it back. You can guarantee it.
"I don't have to remind you of the consequences should you fail. We cannot afford to give them back a foothold in the system, or we will lose Arth, Pxis, and eventually, Heaven and Talin. And that's just for starters.
"I won't lie to you. A lot of you will not live to see the outcome of this great struggle. But for those of you who do, when it is all
over, we will toast. To Interstel. To the Coalition. To Arth.
"Admiral Briggs out."
As soon as the transmission ended, another one arrived. Ty'lyrr, recently promoted to the rank of Acting Commander, made the announcement to the bridge crew. "ISS Arthh taking commannd of the fleet, and orderring all shhipss to procceed to Lixyccen, maximum sspeed!"
Morale lifted with the news that Arth would spearhead the battle. Captain Xypov replied, "Acknowledged...commander. Navigator, get us to Lixycen, and Ty'lyrr, let the rest of the crew know what's going on."
"Already on it, ssir!"
The Arthling and Thrynn creatures had repelled the first invasion fleets of the second wave, but were only still a fighting force because
of their new mechanic allies. This would be alleviated soon enough.
Gazurtoid ships were massing outside of the Arth system, preparing to launch a new assault. No air breather could possibly stand up against the might of the Gazurtoid and their true faith. The outer system would be taken once again, and soon afterwards, the Arthling planet. It was only a matter of time before the Arthlings fell. The Thrynn would be taken care of easily, but not by the Gazurtoid alone. The Elowan creatures, who would be the next to feel the hatred of the Gazurtoid, would help to defeat the Thrynn.
Too many plans. Too many enemies. The holy quest would take time. But the Gazurtoid were up to it.
1-08-43, 1850 hours
Arth system, near Lixycen
During the few days that Upsilon Fleet had been at Lixycen, only a few Gazurtoid scout vessels had dared confront them. They had been
easy kills, but the Interstel crews knew better. The Gazurtoid were just testing the water, feeling out the defenses. They would arrive soon,
and in full force.
A message had been sent to Starport Central requesting that a Mechan fleet near Wyltak be sent up to reinforce Lixycen. The Coalition's military leaders had approved the move and informed the fleet that the Mechans would be dispatched at 0100 hours the following day.
Varuna was quiet. Everyone was awaiting the battle. Not the usual dread...this time, there was a little extra danger in the mix.
According to Xxiviki, it was Ty'lyrr's promotion to executive officer, and there could be no disagreement on that, but it wasn't the big problem. Perhaps being surrounded in the home system by homicidal Gazurtoid, knowing that the same thing was happening at Thoss, was the new element. Nobody could quite place their fingers, claws, or vines on it.
The captain had been reading tactical reports for hours. Most of them told of heavy losses...the Thoss force wearing down, the fall of Ssylthryss, and of course, the destruction of the Pxis Starbase. But there were a few victories here and there as well. Coalition attack fleets had ambushed and annihilated a crippled fleet of Gazurtoid that had been heading for the Cross...with the Gazurtoid fleet, what was left of ISS Prometheus. In proper fashion, Prometheus was destroyed with a volley of missiles. Ancients be damned if the Gazurtoid would take home an Interstel starship.
Xypov set down the reports and keyed the bridge-engineering intercom. "Bridge to engineering. Report."
Xxiviki responded. "Bridge, all systems nominal, but armor was damaged quite a bit in the last skirmish...it's down to about class 2 rating."
"Acknowledged, engineering. Divert power from non-essential systems to shields."
"Aye, sir. Engineering out."
1-09-43, 0007 hours
"So, uh, did you hear about that festival at the former Eshvara world? I heard it was quite a bash."
"If you like lisstening to weakllings preaching a religion more pitifulll than that of the Gazurrtoid."
"No, it wasn't just a Tandelou affair. There were Humna Humna, Veloxi, Thrynn, Umanu, and Elowan there. Even Dweenle were there. Dweenle!"
"I hhope somebody killed them afterwarrds."
"Someone probably did. But what do you expect? They literally ask for it. But how about those Elowan and Thrynn being at the same place at the same time, without a fight?"
"Welll, Thrynn are a civilized speciess, and mosst certainly kept things unnder controll."
"Gentlemen," interrupted the captain, "I think we have better things to do."
"Sorry sir," replied Ihaug, going back to his work.
"Captain, Sstarshark hass detected enemy vessels incoming!" reported Ty'lyrr. He turned to Ihaug. "We will finnish this laterr."
"Battlestations," the captain ordered. Turning her attention back to Ty'lyrr, she asked, "More scouting parties?"
"Scouts and warshipss! And a llot of them!" He checked out a beep from his console. "Arth hass sent out word on all Coalition
Xypov activated the intercom. "All hands, prepare for combat. We have Gazurtoid warships inbound."
As she cut the intercom, Ty'lyrr further reported, "Captainn, Arth is orderingg all shipss to fire off blasstopods."
"Captain," Ihaug chimed in, "shall I increase sensor range?"
"Yes, Mr. Ihaug..." Xypov flipped open the compartment on the command chair which housed blastopod control. "Firing blastopods!"
Varuna's two blastopods joined over a hundred others in a widespread volley, streaking far beyond safe distance and detonating within the Gazurtoid ranks.
"Captain, 23 enemy vessels destroyed, 38 disabled, 44 damaged but operational, 28 undamaged" reported Ihaug.
"'Guaranteed to destroy any alien ship' my ass! Ty'lyrr, verify with Arth."
"Correction on that," Ihaug said, "that's 42 disabled, 43 damaged but operational, 25 undamaged."
"New tally verrified," said Ty'lyrr with a glance to Ihaug. "Barrely caught yourrself...receiving nnew orderrs, ssir. Wweapons frree!"
"Then by all means, Navigator Cuiman, engage with extreme prejudice!"
1-09-43, 0010 hours
Third Battle of Lixycen
Arth system, near Lixycen
Eighty-nine Interstel starships and 68 incoming Gazurtoid vessels opened up upon each other in a barrage of laser, missile, and plasma bolt
fire. Varuna, along with Maritaan, Neptune, and Hades, cut towards the target designated as 96; its engines were near failure.
Curving around, they pulled up from the rear and destroyed the engines. A massive explosion claimed the Gazurtoid scout vessel. "They're
puff wart fodder!" exclaimed Cuiman.
"Indeed," said Xypov.
"Maritaan and otherss lockingg onto target 36," relayed Ty'lyrr.
"Navigator, target and track."
The four pounded their way past an enemy scout and headed for their target.
"Ssir, Arth reporrts losses as 10 Gazurrtoid, 14 Interstelll!"
Target 36 represented a problem -- undamaged and close to another undamaged ship, target 62 -- which were both chewing up a group of three Interstel ships. As one of the ships was destroyed, Varuna and its companions entered firing range. Plasma bolts streaked into the shields of 36, pounding them down, and giving missiles a chance to wreak havoc. Target 36 returned fire, hitting Varuna and Hades with lasers.
"Report!" said the captain.
"Armor is almost completely useless!" replied Ihaug. Varuna was hit with another shot. "But they're not much better off!"
Hades lost shields and was being torn up, yet continued auto-firing as the crew abandoned ship. The shattered hull, still heading for target 36, became the priority target, so as to prevent a collision. This was an opportunity. Maritaan, Varuna, and Neptune fired upon the turrets focused on Hades, destroying several and allowing the ravaged ship to plow a hole in the Gazurtoid warship. Followed by weapons fire, the hole became larger. The Gazurtoid vessel lost power and shut down.
As the bridge crews rejoiced, they locked onto 62, which was still trying to finish off another ship. Sending a volley of plasma bolts, they grabbed the attention of the Gazurtoid. Varuna was rocked with a loud explosion. And to the bridge crew, it sounded dangerously close.
The captain hit the intercom. "Engineering, report!"
Xxiviki came over the line. "Captain, we have a hull breach, infirmary and conference room! Both areas have been sealed off!"
Xypov looked to Ihaug. "Casualties!"
"Looks like two dead!" he replied. "Fires detected all throughout deck 3, sir, electrical explosions!"
As Cuiman pulled the ship up to circle around again, several more lasers struck the hull. "Xxiviki, I need those shields back up!"
"Sir, we ne-"
Another hit rocked the ship. Over the intercom came the sound of explosions, tearing metal, and then static.
"Ty'lyrr, we need to establish contact with engineering again!"
"Captain, engineering has been sealed off!" reported Ihaug. "Five engineers confirmed dead!" An explosion behind him caused Ihaug to turn in time to see Ty'lyrr fall to the deck.
Xypov struck the arm of the command chair. "Dammit! Cuiman, fall ba-"
Another laser shot struck in the area of the bridge. One of the ceiling support beams fell, smashing through Xypov and snapping the command chair down to the floor.
The next shot took out the engines, sending Varuna adrift. Explosions on the bridge sent spark, flame, and smoke throughout. Ihaug fell from his chair and hit his head on the fallen beam. Still conscious, and through the thickening smoke, he could see Cuiman slumped over the nav console.
Ihaug picked himself up and went to the command chair. Wiping off the arm of the chair, he found and opened the command panel, sounding the abandon ship klaxon.
Tripping over a piece of metal, Ihaug staggered to Cuiman. He was dead. The console had gone up in his face. Another shot ripped into the ship. The fire spread quickly. He had to get out of there.
As he stumbled to Ty'lyrr, laid out on the floor in a small pool of blood, he heard a screeching at the bridge door. He looked and saw the door being forced open, and in came 2nd Navigator Tsts, with Engineer Rylyss waiting on the outside.
"Help me with Ty'lyrr!" Ihaug cried out.
Tsts helped Ihaug pick up Ty'lyrr. "Careful, careful with the head!"
Rylyss forced the door further open, allowing Tsts, Ihaug, and Ty'lyrr off the bridge. Ry'lyss tried to force it shut again to contain the fire, but it was jammed. "Wwe need to go, nnow!"
Ihaug cried, "How many others are there!?"
"Sssylrr and Ysmm are waiting at the escape pods," said Tsts, "but they can't wait for long!" Another impact tore into the hull. He looked back; the entire bridge was in flames. "They must've found a more important target, or we'd be dead! But we don't have much time!"
The three, along with Ty'lyrr, stormed down the corridor, their shadows cast by the inferno, as another blast shook the decks.
The Third Battle of Lixycen was a Coalition victory. The arrival of the Mechans, who had received incorrect orders and had departed
for the planet an hour early, ended the stalemate and led to the destruction of the entire Gazurtoid assault force, including those disabled by the blastopods.
Varuna's early companion vessel, Maritaan, was lost with all hands in the battle.
Of the 16 Varuna crew members who were onboard going into the battle, only six made it out in escape pods. A minute after the evacuation, the ship was destroyed.
Nihlhyss and companion vessels were wiped out at Harrison's Base on January 1st of the Arth calendar.
Coalition forces in the Aytlrthyss system were defeated by the Gazurtoid. The Thoss system remains in the hands of the Thrynn after a large number of Mechan reinforcements arrived.
Former Commander James Harper took extended leave following his brother's death during the boarding of ISS Prometheus. Tentative plans to promote him to the rank of Captain upon return are being discussed.
Several surviving Varuna crew members have found new assignments. Jason Ihaug now serves on ISS Iapetus, and Sssylrr awaits assignment at Starport Outpost 1. Rylyss and Ysmm were assigned to the ill-fated ISS Pluto and would later die at the Battle of Seven Rings. Tsts is currently on leave with his family in Veloxi space. Ty'lyrr is said to be taking over as commander and chief communications officer of ISS Mediator, stationed in the Leghk Sector.
The war still rages on. But this part of the story -- that of ISS Varuna -- has reached its end.