Copyright 2000-2001 by The Starflight III Project
The bridge crew of ISS Iapetus went back to monitoring their stations. This would be their first voyage on the newly rebuilt Iapetus, one of the new Hammerhead class warships in the Interstel ranks. "Status report," said Captain Richard Johnston.
"All systems nominal," reported Commander Pahri Faahh, the Elowan chief comm officer and second in command. "Engineering reports that the simulations were completed with only a twenty-three percent margin of error."
"Excellent." Johnston took his seat and was handed the latest tactical report by Lt. Cmdr. Jason Ihaug, chief science officer. "Thank you, Commander." The captain scanned the pad. "What's this business with Harrison's Base?"
"Fifth Veloxi Fleet eliminated a short-range Gazurtoid scouting party. Minor skirmish, that's all."
"Commander, when it comes to the Gazurtoid there's no such thing as a 'minor skirmish'."
"I suppose not, sir."
"Ihaug!" barked Pahri. "To your post!"
"Captain, we've received clearance from Interstel Outward to depart."
"Copy that. Lt. Pollock, maneuver away from the starbase and stand by."
Iapetus slowly moved from its berth and away from the Starport. Within moments a Veloxi warship docked in its place. "We're clear," reported Pollock. He brought the ship to a stop. "Standing by."
03-29-43, 1929 hours
A Hammerhead entered orbit around Koann 3 and disengaged its engines. A short message was sent to the control center down below and minutes later a Wyltakin ascended, heading for the skeleton of a future Starport. Engineers in spacesuits left the ship and continued their work, feeling much safer now that ISS Mediator was their guardian.
Iapetus let loose a class five missile into the engines of a crippled Gazurtoid warship, giving it a spectacular demise. "See you later, boys," muttered Navigator Eston Pollock.
The bridge crew eased up. "Stand down red alert status," ordered Captain Johnston. "But maintain condition orange."
"Aye aye, captain."
"Commander Ihaug, anything new to report?"
"Not a thing, sir," Ihaug reported. "No more enemy vessels in the area."
"Good. Commander Faahh, inform Outward of the situation."
"Commander, three Spemin transports incoming!"
"Orange alerrt," ordered Commander Ty'lyrr. "Dissengage orrbit and lay in an innterccept courrsse."
"I'm on it!" said Commander Eshhh-ahhr, chief navigator. "I've got positive locks."
Mediator unleashed a volley of weaponry the Spemin had never believed possible from an Interstel ship. The first Spemin transport fell to Mediator's twin class six burst lasers; the second ship to a string of class five missiles; the third to a solid plasma bolt hit. The burning wreckage quickly cooled in the frigid vacuum. "Ah say no mo Spemin round hee-yah," remarked Esh in a thick Southern Hot Zone accent.
"Exccellent," responded Ty'lyrr. "Sstand down alert statuss and returrn usss to our posst near the sstation."
"You got it, cap'n."
Ty'lyrr activated the intercom to engineering. "Ae'syrsth, damage rreport."
The chief engineer responded, "Why? What happened?"
"Neverrmind. Thought we may havve taken some debrris. Brridge out."
"We're back in position," reported Esh. He looked back from his console. "Doesn't know what happened, huh? Imagine that. You'd think the Spemin would send armed vessels instead of those rinky-dink transports."
"Not known for theirr intelligence, arre they?"
"Sunrise in thirty seconds," said Science Officer Pxi Tov. "Thought you might be interested."
"More so," answered Esh. "We can talk about Spemin superiority later."
The bridge crew sat back and watched as the Koann star emerged from behind the blue and green world below, casting a brilliant light upon Mediator and the starbase skeleton.
Part 2 - Just a Grunt
03-30-43, 0101 hours
Near the Argol system
Lt. Cmdr. Ihaug entered the ships lounge to get a drink and some dinner. Nothing big or fancy. He'd been on duty for 12 hours and just wanted to get something in his stomach and get some sleep.
Getting himself a glass of blue ale and some heated rations, he sat at a scarred booth tucked away in a desolate corner of the room. On the opposite end of the lounge Private Llyysrss, one of the marines being paid by the captain for a tour of duty on Iapetus, stirred his Tandelouvian Happy Juice. Several minutes of silence passed before Llyysrss arose from his seat and crossed the room, coming to rest by Ihaug's booth. "May I joinn you, commannder?"
Ihaug glanced up from his reheated beans. "Be my guest."
Llyysrss sat across from Ihaug. "Going all out on sssupper, are yyou, ssir?"
Of course, Llyysrss didn't need to refer to Ihaug as 'sir', it was just common courtesy. "Don't you know it, Private."
Llyysrss drank from his glass. "You know," said Ihaug, "a few months ago I figured that this war was over. First we were losing, and then winning, really drilling those bastards. The next day we were back on the brink of defeat. Now we're beating them back more and more each day. I've gotta wonder...how much longer? Third Wave can't be too far off. Then a fourth, then a fifth..."
"They have the fleet for it. I bet they have enough shipyarrdsss deep in their space to ssupport a susstained war, too."
"I wish Confederate intelligence was coming up with more. They send enough operatives into Gazurtoid space. Seems like none of them come back."
"Well, you havve to admit, if they came back with ssomething, we'd be the lassst people to receivve a report on it."
Ihaug poked at his dinner. "True."
"And the Confederracy hass a very effective grroup of spiesss."
Ihaug chuckled. "That sounds about right." He took a bite of his dinner. "So," he mumbled, "do you think we even have a chance, Private?"
"Don't asssk me," replied Llyysrss, taking another drink of his juice. "I'm jusst a grunnt."
TCS Nihlarsyyth arrived at Interstel Outward an hour ahead of schedule. The battlecruiser had used a jump pod to arrive as ordered. The crew hadn't even had the chance to test their new vessel in combat yet...the ship had only launched hours earlier.
Captain Larsyyth ordered his comm officer, "Hail the ssstation and inforrm them of our arrival."
"At oncce, captain."
The bridge hatch slid open smoothly. Colonel Ssss, commander of the Confederate Marines assigned to Nihlarsyyth, stepped onto the bridge deck plating, his heavy boots emitting a metallic click with every footfall. He lumbered around the command chair and stood at attention before Captain Larsyyth. "Ssir, all combat gear iss accounnted for. Boarrding teleporrterrsss are fully functionall. Annd my troopss are prrepared forr combat."
"I am pleassed," said Larsyyth with approval. "Gather your troopss, Colonel. You will be engaging in traininng activitiesss with Inntersstel mariness on the sstation within the Arrthling hour. As our sship is too larrge for the Arrthling docking facilitiesss, we will closse within teleporrtation distancce. We will ssee just how functional they rreally are."
"I obey, in honor of the Emmpire."
A Hammerhead, one of the few ships assigned to the Dead Zone, stopped short of a flux's proximity. As the ship had not moved too close, the gateway was not triggered into opening. The ship went on stand-by and shut down all non-essential systems. Quietly the darkness enveloped the warship as it settled in for a long wait.
Part 3 - Reassignment
04-01-43, 1200 hours
In orbit of Koann 3
"Commander, we've got ships incoming," reported Pxi Tov cautiously.
"Sscan 'em," replied Ty'lyrr.
Pxi ran her scans. "Three Challenger class vessels."
"Three?" asked Ty'lyrr.
"Commander," said Ricszii, junior comm officer, "we're being hailed by the lead ship."
"Let'ss have it."
The visage of a stocky Veloxi captain materialized on screen. "This is Captain Zputo of the scout vessel Dezdielmohn, now taking control of defensive detail."
"Commannder Ty'lyrr, Mediatorr...could you repeat your misssionn?"
"We're taking control of defensive detail here, Commander. Have you not been informed of your new orders?"
Ty'lyrr exchanged confused looks with Esh. "Nno," he answered, looking back to Zputo's visage, "we have nnot been inforrmed."
"I see...Commander, Mediator has been called to the Argol system. Priority one. I don't know why you haven't been notified already."
"Are you ssure?"
"We're here, aren't we?"
Ty'lyrr expressed his annoyance with a sigh. We'vve only been here forr a few dayss, and allready we're reasssignned? "What'ss going on at Argol?"
"Fleet mobilization. I'm sorry I don't know much else, but we're not involved, so it wasn't explained in detail. But I think it's safe to assume that you boys are going on an all-expenses-paid trip into Gazurtoid country."
"Well arren't we lucky?"
"Oh, I think that we're coming out of this as the lucky ones. Anything to report about defensive detail?"
"Nnot really," sighed Ty'lyrr. "We had a vissit from the Sspemin a few daysss ago. Trrransportss. They have no mind."
Zputo chuckled. "That's good. We need target practice. By the way, Chieftain and Hallifax are running patrols in the outer region of the system. If you pick up two ships, don't engage, heya?"
"Good deal. Enjoy the front, Commander. I hear it's been intense."
"Thank you, ssir. Have fun herre in the outback."
"I promise that we'll have more fun than you will, Mediator. Good luck."
Captain Zputo blinked off of the viewscreen, replaced again with the colony and starbase. Ty'lyrr tapped his claws on the arm of the command chair, then reached for his intercom panel. "Lay in a courrse for Arrgol and depart immediately. I'll wake the captain."
The head exploded in an array of red and green. Countless shots ripped into their targets, striking in fatal areas. Battle cries of Interstel and Confederate marines resounded throughout the area as weapons discharged and earth was thrown up in a violent frenzy. When it all cleared, Lieutenant Selzar, coordinator of combat training on Interstel Outward, came out of her protective booth. "Well done," she complimented the troops. "All targets were taken out quickly and efficiently...although I don't think it's necessary to take so many head shots."
Colonel Ssss and Corporal Marin Kliesz climbed out of the trenches. "What's it matter, sir?" asked Kliesz. "The point is to kill the enemy, and protect one's comrades, sir."
"That may be, Corporal," replied Selzar, "but the point isn't to completely destroy every target we put in front of you...and for Ancient's sakes, who was firing into the ground?!"
Privates Llyysrss and Sysrsrslys sunk a little lower. "Totally unnecessary, not to mention wasteful!" Selzar continued.
Right. "Lieutenant," said Kliesz, "it's a common practice used to confuse the enemy by creating a visual screen."
"Perhaps against pirates and primitives, but not Gazurtoid. Don't waste shots."
"Have you everr been in battle againsst the Gazurrtoid?" challenged Ssss.
"No, Colonel, I haven't," replied Selzar.
"Then who arre you to sspeak of what iss effective againsst them orr not? I havve fought them, and I do know that a vissual scrreen is usseful against them. Not asss useful as againsst the G'Nunnk or even the Xxr, but prroper usse can be of grreat assistance."
"There's a big difference between the Xxr and Gazurtoid, Colonel. Literally." Selzar punched the reset button, teleporting new targets onto the field. "Take your positions," she ordered, "and prepare for another simulation!"
Part 4 - Communiqué
04-01-43, 1422 hours
"I can't believe they waited until our replacements arrived to tell us, or that they even sent us here at all," rumbled Captain Evin Ariel
as he entered the bridge. Ty'lyrr rose from the command seat and Ariel sat in his place. "Do we have details?"
"No ssir," answered Ty'lyrr, replacing Ricszii at the communications station. "All we know iss that we are to reporrt to the Argoll sysstem."
"Five Challengers should be a good replacement at Koann 3," offered Pxi.
"I'm sure that five Challengers would be more useful near the front than at the ass-end of space," said Ariel. "Any enemy contacts in the area?"
"No sir...no Spemin vessels detected."
"Recceiving a priority messsage," reported Ty'lyrr. The comm station beeped to confirm his report.
The captain took interest. Perhaps it would contain clarification on their reassignment. "Hit it," he said.
Ty'lyrr put it through. "Pequod calling Inept One. Come in."
Ariel grinned. "Heimlich! I thought they locked you up for impersonating a captain!"
"Rich, Evin. Real rich."
"So I hear you've got yourself a Hammerhead...this could only mean trouble."
"That's right, boy. Pequod's packing some heat. I tell you, this ship...well, nevermind. I heard that you've been reassigned to Argol. Need company?"
"How'd you know we were reassigned?"
"I saw a copy of the fleet orders."
"We just found out about it a few hours ago. You know what the deal is?"
"You bet I do, pally. But I can't transmit, someone could be monitoring. Meet up with us, I'll hop on over to Mediator and have a chat with you."
"Alright. Where you at?"
"100,184. Just cruising around, then Ares showed and Captain Smith came over to fill me in. Join up with us and we'll head for Argol."
"You know, if we're being monitored, you just gave away your position."
"I don't care. Who's going to come after us? The Spemin? Please. Five of their warships couldn't take on Pequod and Ares. Get over here, we can't wait forever."
Ariel sighed and nodded to Esh. Mediator's course was updated. "We'll be there as soon as possible."
"OK. We'll be waiting, but not for a long time. I've got three admirals who're ready to have me thrown in the brig. If we don't report to Argol on time it'll be my head."
"Oh...you know what? We've been experiencing-"
"Can it, Evin. Get here."
The channel went dead. "Guesss we'll know our mission ssoon enough," said Ty'lyrr.
The captain stared out into space. "About time."
The number of ships near the Dead Zone flux had grown by a handful. As soon as the rest arrived they would be ready to execute their mission.
Part 5 - The End Draws Near
04-01-43, 1902 hours
Captain Ariel waited by airlock two, part of one of the hangars used for terrain vehicle and fighter craft maintenance and storage, for Pequod's
pod to dock. Captains Heimlich and Smith were finally going to fill in Ariel as to why they were being reassigned to Argol.
He waited for minutes. Looking through the glass of the inner and outer hatches, he could see the pod moving closer and closer. He began to pace impatiently.
Finally, after a minute or so, the pod latched securely to the outside of the airlock. The outer hatch opened, and after a brief scan of the airlock, the inner door as well. The pod's hatch creaked open and Heimlich and Smith disembarked the pod. "So this is Mediator?" asked Heimlich. "Not as run down as I thought it would be...a compliment to its chief engineer."
"I'll be sure to tell Ae'syrsth you said that," Ariel replied. He extended his hand to Captain Smith. "It's an honor to meet you, Captain Smith. I heard about your heroics at Erok Bvikow and Falling Stars."
"I extend the same sentiments to you, captain. That was a nice job you did with the Quasar."
"Hey!" complained Heimlich. "I was part of that mission too!"
"You got wasted," commented Ariel. Before Heimlich could mount a comeback, Ariel continued to Smith, "Shall we make our way to the conference room to discuss the mission?"
As Heimlich and Smith walked for the corridor entrance, Ariel keyed the intercom to the bridge. "Commander, get on the horn with Ares and Pequod. Let's get underway to Argol."
Ariel joined the other captains and left the massive hangar.
Ihaug strolled into main engineering and began looking for Chief Engineer Ziptuubo. Spotting the Veloxi near the storage room, he headed for
him. "Chief!" he shouted. Ziptuubo caught it easily. "Ah, Commander Ihaug, you're here! You've come for the simulation
"You got it."
"Let me get them for you."
Ziptuubo went to a nearby station and began loading the results into a data pad. Ihaug, trying to get a look at the information scrolling across the screen, asked, "Ziptuubo, what are these simulations of?"
"Well Jason, if you don't know, I can't tell you." The transfer finished. "Now, to make sure your prying eyes don't make their way through this information..." He placed an encryption sequence into the pad. "Jesus, give me a break!"
"What? Oh yeah, the guy from ancient Earth," Ziptuubo handed the pad to Ihaug. "This needs to be given to either Commander Faahh or Captain Johnston. Nobody else. You roj?"
"Got it." Ihaug turned for the door, then back to Ziptuubo. "You know, Zip, this had better be one great little project we're running these top secret simulations over. Something damn great."
"Believe me, commander...it will be."
The three captains sat at Mediator's conference table. Ariel, as captain of the ship, naturally took the seat at the fore end.
Heimlich and Smith sat across from each other in the next seats down. "Now, gentlemen," started Ariel, "what's this mobilization
"A major push," said Smith with excitement in his tone. "A very big, very important push."
"What type of push?"
Heimlich grinned. "Consider it the beginning of our Second Wave."
Ariel was taken by surprise. "We're invading?"
"En masse!" answered Smith. "We're going to Argol to join up with the invasion force, and from there we pave a path of destruction to the Gazurtoid homeworld while Thrynn and Veloxi forces keep the Gazurtoid occupied along the Thrynn border."
Ariel couldn't believe it. "How many ships?"
"We don't know," said Heimlich. "But it's a lot."
"Which militaries are involved?"
"All...ours, Mechan, Thrynn, Veloxi...it's gonna be great! Imperial Command says that if this goes well we'll have this war won!"
"Are you shitting me?"
"We shit you not."
Ariel paged the bridge. "Commander Ty'lyrr, report to the conference room at once."
The captain arose and walked to the windows. He cracked his knuckles and crossed his arms. "Damn," he muttered, gazing into the depths of the cosmos. "What makes Command think that taking the Gazurtoid homeworld will end the war? If it's a matter of morale, I don't think that it'll be enough to make a real difference."
"Believe me, we'll make an impression on them," Smith responded. "We'll use their homeworld for target practice and be out before they can muster reinforcements. They'll know that we mean business."
"I still don't think it'll be the huge coup you guys take it for. But it does seem like Command wants to finish this up now."
"Would you rather fight for another few years, or another few weeks?" asked Smith gravely. His sudden turn from excitement bothered Ariel somewhat. "The Mechans could deal with it even though they can't fight alone, the Veloxi will be able to go on for a while too. But we and the Thrynn have been in this the entire way. Our worlds and bases have been hit hard. Our fleets have been ravaged and torn to shreds. Our men and women have died. We almost lost it all a few months ago. We only managed to construct the new ships with resources and ships from backwater posts. We won't be able to continue rebuilding our fleet for long, not at the speed we need. Everyone's getting too tired."
Heimlich jumped in. "We're pushing them back right now. They weren't expecting to see our new ship types, they don't know them well. We've taken advantage of the surprise and of the Veloxi entrance into the conflict, but if there's one thing everyone learned the hard way it's that the Gazurtoid are tough. Very rarely do we encounter a single Gaz ship or two or three. They like having their buddies around to help each other out, so we need more ships to win this war than they do. It's hell. When they defend they have the advantage because they don't have to take risks. They dig in and it takes a lot of effort for us to get things going. It's the same thing when they attack. They don't do it unless they have a large chunk of ships to throw at us, and that's when we have to fight like lions."
The door whizzed open and Ty'lyrr entered. "Commander," said Ariel duly, "you know Captain Heimlich. This other gentleman is Captain Smith of the Ares."
"It iss an honor to be inn your prresencce, captainsss."
"Likewise, Commander," responded Smith. "I heard that you were recommended for the Interstel Star of Courage for your efforts at the Humna Humna outpost."
Ty'lyrr frowned with confusion. "That'sss news to me."
Ariel, still lost in the stars, muttered, "I put in the recommendation. Technically the Ancients are innocent lives, and by leading the battle which defeated the G'Nunk raiders you saved a countless number of Ancients." He looked over his shoulder to Ty'lyrr. "Plus, Command recognizes that you and the troops dusted the traitors."
"I don't knnow what to ssay, sir...thank yyou. But ssurely this isss not why you called forr me."
"It's not," said Heimlich.
The captain slowly returned to his seat at the table. "Sit, Ty'lyrr."
The Thrynn did so. "I'll be straight with you, Commander. Very shortly the ugly stick will no longer be the only thing to have been shoved down the Gazurtoid's throats. We're massing at Argol to hit the squids hard and take their homeworld."
"Good! It'ss about time!"
The three captains looked at Ty'lyrr, stunned by his response. Heimlich smiled widely and laughed. "You see, Ariel? No need to worry, not as long as we have brave souls like him on our side! We'll get them good and have this war won in a few weeks!"
"The invassion had better worrk. Consssidering how many shipss would be necessarrry to carry it out, if we arre to fail it woulld give the Gazzzurrtoid a prrime opporrtunity to sstrike back and infllict serriousss damage to uss."
"Definitely," said Smith. "Failure is not an option, unless you consider a serious ass-kicking to be a good reward for valor."
"Then we'd better get everything in order," remarked Ariel. "Make our peace with who we need to, get this ship ready and pick up as many repair materials at Outward as we can. Probably won't be much left by the time we get there, but every little bit will help."
"We may wissh to look innto ssecuring fighter crraft and pilotsss," added Ty'lyrr.
Ariel shook his head. "No, we're virtually broke. We have enough cash for some repair materials but we can't even afford a cockpit seat from a fighter let alone an entire one and a pilot. It's good old fashioned cap to cap combat for us."
Heimlich looked from officer to officer. "Well, enough of this." He slapped his hands onto the table and began to rise from his seat. "How're your rations?"
Part 6 - Priority One Order: Initiate
04-02-43, 0800 hours
"Burst lasers, check."
"Plasma bolt launcher."
"Plasma bolt launcher, check."
While Commander Faahh and Navigator Pollock ran through the tactical checklist, Lt. Cmdr. Ihaug loosely monitored local sensors. There was really no need to, the system had sensor arrays here and there which all fed information to Interstel Outward. If something came up the station would alert all Imperial forces in the system immediately. It was a smooth system that gave science officers a chance to slack off.
Ihaug wouldn't have been able to effectively do his job anyways. He was preoccupied with something that was going on, something very strange. He had been made aware that Iapetus and many other vessels would be heading for Gazurtoid space soon -- as was evident by the steadily growing number of Imperial ships near the starbase -- but the details of this mission hadn't been divulged to him.
He made a mental note to reach his family before the fleet would launch.
"Ssix more shipss have arrived annd taken possition!"
Larsyyth smiled, anticipating the glorious invasion in which he and his people would avenge all the Thrynn and Arthling lives that had been lost in the war. Riding at the forefront would be Nihlarsyyth, the greatest of the new battlecruisers. He could taste the Gazurtoid blood on his fangs already.
The anticipated order had been received. Wasting no time, the fourteen Imperial ships massed near a flux in the Dead Zone engaged their engines
and passed through the entrance. Once through, the captain of the lead ship ordered his science officer, "Scan for targets."
"Gazurtoid contacts detected along the border upspin of our position; nothing detected downspin of that."
"Send a text-only transmission to the other ships: radio silence, local sensors only. We proceed with the mission."
Twenty long seconds later the comm officer responded, "Transmission sent and received."
"Lay in a course for Ghshh and engage at stalking speed."
Moments later the small Imperial task force was underway. A Minstrel, unnoticed these days, floated, singing its song, past the lead ship, ISS Varuna.
Part 7 - Behind the Lines
04-02-43, 2007 hours
Commander Faahh input the proper security codes into the access panel outside of the ship's security office. The codes processed and were
accepted, opening the door. She passed through quickly and turned on the lights while the door closed and locked again. A series of beeps
verified that the codes had been reinstated.
She approached a simple yet sturdy container secured in the center of the room. Faahh opened the container and examined its contents. Satisfied, she resealed it and keyed the intercom to the bridge. "Captain, the cargo is secure."
"Now entering Interstel Outward's local space," reported Eshhh-ahhr.
"I see..." said Ariel, looking out in awe. "Pxi...how many ships?"
Pxi Tov ran a scan of the area. The sensor panel beeped and hummed for over ten seconds. Astounded, she slowly replied, "One thousand fifteen...counting ourselves..."
The officers were silent. They knew an invasion was taking place but hadn't imagined one of this magnitude. Ariel, overcoming his astonishment, ordered, "Contact Outward Command and let them know we're in. Fall into formation somewhere."
"I'll see if I can find a formation to join," said Esh, "but it's a stretch."
Captain James Harper
Commanding officer of the Imperial warship ISS Varuna
"After our arrival this morning we laid in a course for Ghshh. The Gazurtoid perimeter buoys have been confirmed to relay their information
to an installation on Ghshh which then transmits the information to the Gazurtoid homeworld. We also know that the installation keeps the buoys
operational, providing what seems to be the biggest weakness in the Gazurtoid perimeter. It's our mission to destroy this facility, effectively
shutting down the Gazurtoid perimeter and allowing the invasion force to come through without all Gazurtoid forces knowing. Sure, they'll put out
a distress call, but our jammers may be able to take care of that.
"We should reach Ghshh on the 7th around 0900 hours thanks to stalking speed. This is just to give the fleet time to mass, but of course Command wanted our infiltration to proceed before the Gazurtoid seal up this area, so we're in already. It'll be hard to dodge Gazurtoid patrols for the next few days, but it can be done. It'll be tense.
"The attack itself will be from orbit...provided that the squids don't have it equipped with a shield matrix, the attack will take seconds.
If it's defended by shields, marines from Nihyssm and Armageddon will move under the shields and plant some bombs around the base...the
detonations should have no problem shorting out the shields long enough for us to waste the installation. As soon we take down the buoys the fleet
"Our mission is important. I've been told that our success here will determine the success of the invasion. Destroy the installation, our invasion force will be able to get to the Gazurtoid homeworld. If we fail, the invasion force will most likely be crippled before it can reach GazPrime. But I know we can do this.
"We can do it because we're willing to die for it."
Part 8 - Brothers in Arms
04-03-43, 1051 hours
Ty'lyrr walked into a bustling Nebula Lounge. Scanning the crowd he spotted Ihaug at a table near the center of the room. As promised
Ihaug had a glass of xiphtu waiting for Ty'lyrr.
Ty'lyrr weaved his way through the officers, marines, and pilots towards Ihaug. Ihaug looked in the direction of the door, checking to see if his friend had arrived yet. A smile spread across his face as he noticed Ty'lyrr. "Hey Ty!" he shouted over the buzz of conversation. He stood and embraced Ty'lyrr. "Been a while!"
"Too long!" replied Ty'lyrr.
Ihaug took his seat and slid the xiphtu across the table as Ty'lyrr sat. "So finally, you came back to fight for your people!"
"In a time like thiss, the galaxy needsss a hero. They got me insstead." Ty'lyrr seized the xiphtu. "So how have thingss been for yyou?"
"Good...good...got promoted. Lieutenant Commander Jason Ihaug!"
"Congratulationsss, Jasson. It iss a well deserrved promotionn!"
"Thanks, Ty." Ihaug sipped his blue ale. "So what's it like being first officer of Mediator?"
"Fun job. She hass a good crew, annd an interessting captain."
"Must be a lot better than serving on Iapetus...there's something going on over there, something to do with the invasion...we've been running simulations for days, but aside from the captain, commander, and chief engineer, nobody knows what they're simulations of."
"I imagine they are ssimulationsss of the invassion. Over a thousannd shipsss, more arriving every hour...it'sss going to be a huge campaignn."
"Yeah. Hey...is Commander Harper back on active duty yet? You know if he's taking part in the invasion? If he's around here we should get in touch."
"It'ss Captain Harrper now, but I donn't know. I hearrd that he was asssigned to the Leghk Ssector, but I haven't sspoken with him sincce shortly after Varruna wass dessstroyed."
"Varuna...now that was a good ship. Destroyed before her time...a lot of good people died..."
The two sat silently for a while, paying tribute to their fallen comrades, their dead friends.
"Check the ionnic burrssst turretsss! I wannt them fully prrepared when combat beginss!"
"Yesss, my captainn!"
The crew of TCS Nihlarsyyth wasn't going to be taking it easy during the wait. As was customary on a Thrynn ship in wartime, the crew spent much time checking and rechecking everything, making sure that when the fight got going the ship would honor the Thrynn and their allies. Larsyyth would not fail his people in this most magnificent of events.
The ship's executive officer, High Commander of Arms Thyssss, delivered a report to Larsyyth. "Captain, the latesst system checkss show the ship iss in perrfect condition for the upcoming battle."
Larsyyth took the report and carefully read it. "I ssee that four perrrcent of the ship'ss enerrgy is being ussed by the vehicle hangarr. Shunt the powerr to the weapon systemss."
"At oncce, my captain!"
As Thyssss turned and went for the hatch the comm officer reported, "Captain, we are rreceiving a transsmission frrrom ISS Iapetuss. Captain Johnsston wishess to ssspeak with yyou."
"Ah yess, he isss late. Dissplay."
Johnston's image blinked onto the main viewer. "Captain Larsyyth, I apologize for the delay, but we've been running additional simulations and it ran longer than expected."
"And what havve your simulationsss conclluded?"
"So far so good. Still, they're not entirely accurate as we don't know how many Gazurtoid ships we'll run into on the way to or at GazPrime. The mission hinges on the nullification of the perimeter and how much they manage to throw at us. We don't know how many ships they have deep within their territory but we know that their entire dominion is literally infested. Shot in the dark."
"No matter. The Gazzurtoid face consstant attacksss along our borrder. Their attentionn is there. By the time their reinforrcementsss arrive at GazzPrrrime their worrld and all Gazurrtoid on it will be destrroyed and the flleet will be well on itsss way out. Do nnot worry about success, Rrichard. The Ancientsss walk with uss."
"Indeed they do, Larsyyth. We'll speak again when the fighting begins."
"Ccertainly. Glorry and honor to the Empire!"
Part 9 - Killing Time
04-05-43, 1333 hours
Chief Engineer Ae'syrsth closed the storage room and engaged the lock. He'd just spent the better part of two hours checking through all of
the tool kits and making sure that when it came time to repair Mediator it could be done correctly and quickly.
And now it was time to go off duty.
But as any Interstel officer knew, one of the laws of the universe was that nothing could go as planned. The intercom beeped on. "Bridge to engineering."
Ae'syrsth headed for the intercom. "Bridge to engineering. Ae'syrsth, wake up!"
He jogged to the interface and opened up the connection. "Ae'syrssth here. What's up, Esh?"
"We need you and your team to check up on the encounter scanner. It's going haywire."
"That iss due in parrrt to the larrge number of shipss in the viccinity. I do nnot believve that the encounter scannerss were crrreated with a thousannd shipsss in mind."
"Yeah, but it's kicking on and off at random."
"That isss odd. I will look into it."
"Roj. Bridge out."
Ae'syrsth shut off the intercom. "Sshit," he spat. He went back to the storage room.
Science Officer Hatesik kept his eye on the constantly updating information coming in from Interstel Outward. The fleet size was now up to
1,102 ships. The only type of Imperial ship not present was the Wyltakin class transport.
As the new Interstel ships were only recently introduced, the majority of ships representing Interstel in the fleet were of the old design. There were fifty-six Hammerheads and seventy Challengers present, however, so to say that they were poorly represented would be an error.
Hatesik was both fascinated and terrified by the size of the fleet...the sheer amount of firepower present was evidence enough that the invasion would be something to see, yet would be very costly for both sides. And if the Gazurtoid were to detect the incoming fleet -- a certainty with the perimeter buoys online -- they could move forces in position near their homeworld to repel the fleet...and that would be the largest engagement to date.
Hatesik felt a strange sense of pride knowing that he would be taking part in the epic Armageddon-like invasion. He just hoped he'd live to see the end of it.
With Outward's lounge bustling, Ariel and Heimlich had opted to have their lunch at Mediator's own crew lounge. Along with Ty'lyrr, Pxi Tov, and Chief Medical Officer Ish-Nahhn, they were joined by Pequod's science officer, Lieutenant Venox. An assortment of dishes and drinks were spread across the so-called "banquet table", named so due to it being the only large in the lounge.
Discussion varied from the initial Leghk Sector expedition to the 4620 launchings. Ariel and Heimlich, being the only officers present who had been serving at the time, found themselves the focus of the curiosity of the younger officers. "What ships were you on?" asked Pxi Tov.
"Hudateia, both of us," answered Ariel. "I was the science officer, he was the navigator." Ariel turned to Heimlich. "Remember the old crew?"
Heimlich smiled. "Yeah. Mitchell, Donaa, Iss'Tryll...Captain Jaxav." He shoveled hugger casserole.
"Where were you when the Crystal Planet blew?" asked Ish-Nahhn.
Both Ariel and Heimlich paused for a moment. Heimlich slowly went back to eating; Ariel put his drink down. "Arellia Lanae, surveying for colonizable worlds and Ancient ruins."
"F-class system at 180,8," offered Venox. "No suitable worlds there."
"Right," said Ariel. "Well, we were checking out the liquid world in orbit four when an Elowan warship popped up." He reached for more casserole. Heimlich stopped and looked at him. "You want me to tell the rest or something?"
"Cripes." He set down his fork and picked up the story. "OK, well, we kinda sat there for a few seconds. We'd heard about some of the stunts the Elowan pulled if they found Thrynn on our ships, and our comm officer -- Iss'Tryll -- was very much a Thrynn, so we didn't really want to get into anything. The Elowan didn't feel like moving along just yet and hailed us. So the captain tells Iss'Tryll to respond. Well, first thing the Elowan ship tells us is that they know we have a Thrynn onboard and they attack us. We destroyed their ship, but not before they were able to put some moderate damage onto us. Iss'Tryll and Mitchell were both killed. About four hours later Donaa got the comm system back up and we called Starshark to provide assistance for the rest of the mission. It wasn't until Starshark showed up that we found out the Crystal Planet was destroyed."
The junior officers were quieted. "Kinda took the excitement out of the news." Heimlich went back to his meal.
"That was also our first combat experience, believe it or not," added Ariel. He looked at Ty'lyrr. "What was yours, commander?"
"A few yearsss ago, when I was the comm officerr on Monarrch," Ty'lyrr began with caution. "We had a run-in with piratess at Nnew Ssscotland. We werre with Hades and Ssaturn, so the attack wass repelled before it rreally began."
"You got lucky," stated Heimlich. "Most officers don't have such happy combat stories."
"I'm awarre of that," responded Ty'lyrr. "I'm on my thirrd ship of the warr. Bad luck wasss bunking with me for a few monthss."
Ariel lifted his glass. "Hope you got a new roommate, or you'll have to transfer to the Pequod."
Part 10 - Twilight
04-06-43, 2340 hours
The ship was unusually quiet. There was always something going on, some conversation of interest that would sweep through the crew.
Lately the conversation had been about the assembly of the invasion fleet, then of the top secret simulations and cargo that only three members of the
crew knew the details about.
Ihaug and Kliesz had decided to furnish a large banquet for the crew on the eve of the invasion. It wasn't known how many of them would come back, if any would come back at all, so their last meal before going into the fire was going to be the greatest of their lives.
But nobody could truly enjoy the late-night dinner, for every time someone gazed out the window for the beautiful scenery of space, all they saw was an endless field of Imperial war vessels.
"I'm telling you, Ae'syrsth, everything's in perfect order!"
"Eshh, I'm ssure that thingsss on the brridge couldnn't be better, but here in enngineering, we need to check and recheck everrything. We'rre going innto combat tomorrow."
"Yyou can deal with that whenn it comesss. But for nnow, let'sss get ssomething to eat!"
Ae'syrsth, Eshhh-ahhr, and Ty'lyrr had been arguing for ten minutes. Esh and Ty'lyrr wanted to go to the mess hall and eat, but Ae'syrsth was concerned with making sure that when the ship went into combat, engineering would be ready. It was something he'd been going over for days. "Jusst let me check one more sstation!" Ae'syrsth said.
"Fine." The chief engineer checked the status of the life support grid. "Allright, now we may eat."
"Thank the Ancients, I thought you'd never say that."
TCS Nihlarsyyth remained on constant red alert status. Most of the Confederate ships were doing the same, unlike the Arthlings, Mechans,
and Veloxi, who were currently running at yellow alert status.
Larsyyth was the average Thrynn captain. He kept a tight ship and wanted only to destroy his enemies in a painful and spectacular battle of wits and strength. And he would get his glorious battle.
It just wouldn't end as he expected.
The Gazurtoid perimeter defense network monitored the border for enemy activity. Little had been detected lately, but a scouting party had managed to report an apparent build-up in the system the air breathers called Argol. More ships were being called to the area in the event of an attack.
Part 11 - Varuna's Backlash
04-07-43, 0927 hours
"Engage system scan."
"We're picking up six Gazurtoid ships."
"Just like the Gazurtoid...their over-confidence will be their downfall." Captain Harper ordered his comm officer, "Text message to the other ships: head for Ghshh. Swarm any enemy vessels encountered, hit the facility with more plasma bolts than the bastards can count."
"I'll clean it up a little, too." The comm officer sent the message.
"Accelerate to attack speed."
"On it," reported the navigator.
The Imperial task force increased its speed and headed for the planet Ghshh, home of the Gazurtoid's upspin perimeter control. As they closed on the planet, the science officer reported, "Two Gazurtoid warships have spotted us...the other ships in the system are moving to intercept."
"Fire when in range!"
The plasma bolts and ionic bursts started flying, knocking down the shields on both Gazurtoid ships and allowing the Mechan scouts to deliver deadly volleys of missiles to the Gazurtoid engines. Both enemy vessels were taken out with minimal damage to the Imperial vessels. "How long til the other ships get here?"
"The first should arrive in about two minutes!"
"Inform all Hammerheads to launch Sabertooths and Avengers."
Strikeforce Varuna entered orbit of Ghshh. "Scan the facility."
The science officer did so. "No shields detected."
"All ships, fire!"
Within seconds, the Gazurtoid's upspin perimeter buoys went dead.
A series of beeps came from the comm station. "Captain," reported Ty'lyrr. "The ennemy perimeter hass been disssabled!"
"The fleet is moving out," said Esh.
"Match speed and course," ordered Captain Ariel. "And go to battlestations."
Three Wyltakins arrived at Interstel Outward, carrying supplies of water and medicine, in time to see a massive fleet of 1,137 ships leave for the enemy border.
Part 12 - Storming the Ramparts
04-07-43, 1151 hours
Upspin Gazurtoid Perimeter - 70,98
The Gazurtoid stationed at the border were in a panic -- an actual panic -- trying to figure out what had happened to their perimeter network.
One minute it had been working fine, and the next, silence.
Their answer came at 1151 hours Arth time when the Imperial invasion fleet, undetected on their approach by the Gazurtoid border patrols, came crashing into them.
Varuna and twelve of her companions had made it away from Ghshh in one piece. HMS Poxivito had perished; ISS Minotaur
and MS 002 had taken damage which couldn't be repaired without more materials; other than that the force was in good shape.
As soon as the Gazurtoid at Ghshh had been taken care of the force had set out for the rendezvous point. Once the fleet arrived they would all continue on towards their objective...the Gazurtoid homeworld.
"Twelve more enemy ships warping in!"
"Potssdam reporrtsss desstructionn of target eight! We're being redirrected to fourrteen!"
"Acknowledged!" Captain Ariel opened the link to engineering. "Ae'syrsth, keel turret has kicked out! We need that back online!"
"We're onn it!"
There were sixty-four Gazurtoid ships in the area taking on roughly 300 Imperial ships while the rest hung back. The crew of Iapetus was a little upset; they'd come all this was, yet were stuck in the cloud of idle ships.
"Mediator, we can't hit their engines until their shields are knocked down. We'll wheel around and come in again, help us out here,
"Copy that!" Ty'lyrr shouted over the chaotic noise, "Esh, we nneed to drrop those shielldsss so the bombersss can do their ssstuff!"
"Working on it!"
Mediator, Pequod, and Ares came in on their target firing plasma bolts and burst lasers while their functioning turrets chose their own prime targets to attack. Enemy shields dropped and sections of the hull were torn away by the relentless fire. "You're cllear, Avvengersss!"
Three of the bombers unleashed missiles directly into the Gazurtoid engines, knocking them offline and shutting down the squid warship. "Target disabled!"
The ships came about. "Inncoming orderrss, ssir! Potsdam desstroyed, we now take orrdersss frrom Aress!"
Almost the instant Ty'lyrr finished reporting it, an audio message came in from Captain Smith. "Target sixty-one, Emperor and Nihlarsyyth are having a hell of a time with it!"
"Esh, you heard the man! Let's go!"
"Ahhth!" screached Nihlarsyyth's comm officer, toppling from his seat with shrapnel embedded in his temple.
Commander Thyssss took command of the station. "Captain, target has losst shielldss!"
"Ionic bursstsss, fire!"
The Thrynn superweapons opened up on the exposed enemy vessel, gouging out chunks of the ship. "Victory will be oursss!"
Part 13 - Warriors of the Empire
04-07-43, 1309 hours
Upspin Gazurtoid Perimeter - 70,98
"Mediator, the mothership has been destroyed. Permission to be reassigned to you."
Ty'lyrr looked at Ariel questioningly. Ariel nodded. "Permisssion grannted," transmitted Ty'lyrr. "Hangarrss are rready for landing."
Six Avengers, which had been attached to Potsdam, landed in Mediator's hangars. "Bomberss are in."
"Commander, I want you to go down there and meet those pilots. Take Ae'syrsth with you to have a look at the condition of the craft."
"Aye, ssir." Before leaving, Ty'lyrr got on the intercom and called up a replacement comm officer and told Ae'syrsth to meet him at the hangar.
"The fleet is moving again," reported Ihaug.
"Match speed and course."
Navigator Pollock did so. "Speed and destination updated."
Ae'syrsth and Ty'lyrr shook hands with the Avenger pilots and looked upon the craft. "Thesse are ssome fine shipss," commented Ae'syrsth.
"I look forrwarrrd to ssstudying them."
"Yes sir," said one of the pilots, "they are fine craft."
"What loadout do thesse havve?" asked Ty'lyrr.
"Two class four missile launchers, each launcher armed with three missiles, sir."
Ae'syrsth snorted with amusement. "One of thesse isss more powerrful than thrree Wylltakinsss."
"Abssurrd," remarked Ty'lyrr.
The pilot admired his ship fondly. "Atmospheric capability, heavy payload, smooth controls. This baby can take out entire cities."
"And I wass rather beginning to lllike attackingg starshipsss."
Ae'syrsth crouched under the bomber and looked around its underside. "Yyou said classs four missiless? We'll need to conntact ssomeone who lossst their fighterss and get some. We don't havve our own."
"That would be a good idea, chief," said the pilot. "We fired off all of ours. Won't be much good to anybody without missiles, although I did see a Daystar collide with a turret and it made an impressive dent."
"Perrhapsss that will be pllan B. Forr now I will check up on the missile issue."
Ae'syrsth exited from under the craft and eyed side damage. "You knnow anyone on Potssdam?"
"Nah. We were contracted by the captain back at Outward, didn't have a chance to speak much with him or anyone else. Everybody was so worried about contacting friends and family, no time to socialize."
"That iss for the best. I believve that there werre no survivorrsss frrom herr."
"Again, no time."
Ty'lyrr somberly nodded. "Let uss pray that time doess not condemn Mediator, or yyou will be havingg this talk with annother officer ssoon."
As a marine dragged the comm officer's corpse off the bridge Captain Larsyyth and Commander Thyssss coordinated repair operations. Colonel
Ssss entered the bridge. "Captain," he hissed, "we havve counnted eleven dead, ssseven innjured." He looked upon the fallen
comm officer as he was removed from the bridge. "Twelve dead."
"How are yourr trrroopsss?"
"In acceptable conndition for commbat."
"Vvery good, Colonel. The innvasssion of the Gazzurtoid homeworlld will be glloriouss!"
"Without quesstion, Captain. The Book of Rhys demandss it."
Thyssss thought back to Navy training, recalling the opening poem of Rhys -- what one could consider the modern Confederate military's credo. "'We tame the darrkness, the evilss of the Ellowan, the terrorsss of the nonsentient. We prroudly marrch over the remainss of the Unholy Reallm, place the fllag of Thosss upon the rred soil of our enemies, and forge onwarrdss. The darkness fallss to the llight, evil to the Thrrynn. In the storrm, through the agess, the Confederracy reignsss.'" The bridge was silent for a moment. All in attendance considered the words, the first thing they learned when in training. "Rhys knew the enemiess Uhlek and Gazurrtoid in a time when they prresented a vallid thrrreat to the Confederracy at itss infancy, to the remnantss of the Olld Empire. He knew the Grreat Recordsss of the Firrst Wave, of the Phllegmk and Numlox and of their battles with our ancesstors. The four mosst fearred racess to invvade this sector. Thrree have died in the ashes of theirr war. The time of twilight hass arrived for the Gazurrtoid. A new chapter iss being wrritten."
"The Arrthlingsss destrroyed the Uhlek, not we," remarked Ssss. "And recorrdss are contrradictory as to who delivvered final defeat to the Phllegmak and Numlox."
"All battled, all defeated. Final bllowss matter nnot. The Confederacy is might."
"Indeed," hissed Larsyyth. The fire of patriotism burned within him. "The Uhlek and Gazzzurtoid had their chancce to desstroy uss all and failed. Their compllete failure hass turrned upon them. The Uhllek arre vanquished into the abysss, the Gazurrtoid are falling. Unsurrprising. Did nnot a prrophet predict that one day the Thrrynn would rule the gallaxy? Ssurely it is coming to pass."
"Glorry and honor to the Empire!" declared Ssss.
"Yess." A devious element was in Larsyyth's words. He looked at the fleet. "The Empirre shall be victorrious."
Part 14 - The Boldest Maneuver
04-07-43, 2104 hours
A mercenary fighter had managed to get in undetected and was flying at a high altitude to locate a landing zone. After three minutes the mercenary,
known only to his Imperial employers as 'Pazad', spotted a small island and headed in.
Setting down in the soft sand, Pazad deactivated all non-essential systems and exited his craft. It was about sixty degrees Fahrenheit with a strong breeze. He tossed a rope ladder down and climbed to the ground. The wet sand beneath his feet was a welcome change from the cockpit that he'd spent days in.
The first order of business was to open up some rations. He ate quickly, his eyes darting about in search of any Gazurtoid patrols that may lurk about. Thus far it appeared that his arrival had gone unnoticed.
He returned to the foot of the fighter and opened up his equipment backpack. Inside was a beacon set to transmit on a channel used by Nebula Cruises. No Gazurtoid would be monitoring it. He removed the beacon and a holding basin, placing the basin onto the ground and compacting sand around it. With the touch of a button, the basin reached into the sand for a grasp. With the basin now somewhat secure, Pazad was ready to place the beacon into a holding receptacle and activate it. The setup wasn't an answer to the elements, but the beacon would hold out longer now.
Pazad closed up the backpack and surveyed his surroundings once more. He chuckled with mild amusement. "Why did I agree to this..."
As the wind picked up, Pazad reentered his craft and prepared for launch.
Ziptuubo carefully examined the ship's cargo for damage. Although Iapetus hadn't been struck with any weapons fire, orders were to
run a complete check after any engagements.
"Well Commander, everything here looks to be in order," Ziptuubo stated.
"Good," replied Commander Faahh. "We can't afford for things to go wrong, not at this point."
Ziptuubo put his scanner back in his engineering kit. "I know the simulations are in our favor, but the latest ones still had a thirteen percent margin of error. That's a big chunk of uncertainty there."
"The fleet will take every precaution to ensure that this mission goes as planned."
"It's already not going as planned. The Gazurtoid weren't fooled by our attacks upon the coreward border. They've dispatched more units up here to investigate the death of their perimeter network."
"By the time they arrive we'll be long gone and they won't know what the hell hit them." Faahh motioned Ziptuubo to the door. "Let's go."
They left security. Faahh turned off the light before the door sealed behind him and reset the authorization code. Activating the intercom, Faahh ordered, "We need two marines on security detail outside of the security office."
04-08-43, 0744 hours
Imperial Command Facility
A young lieutenant hurried up a steel stairwell to the command level. "Admiral Hallis!" he shouted breathlessly.
Admiral Hallis, engaged in conversation with two other ranking officers, turned. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
The lieutenant handed a data pad to Hallis. "The upspin Gazurtoid border has been breached!"
The admiral and his colleagues grinned widely. "Outstanding!"
Varuna's science officer verified the readings he was receiving. "Captain, the fleet is here."
The invasion fleet entered into the vicinity of Varuna strikeforce. "Order the force to fall into formation," ordered Captain Harper.
The fleet, now numbering 1,108, proceeded along its course for the Gazurtoid homeworld.
Gazurtoid forces around their homeworld were searching intensely for the source of an anomalous reading that had been detected almost a day earlier.
So far they had eliminated a Minstrel and a Nomad probe in the system. The Gazurtoid leaders on the homeworld were satisfied with the results, but
were not certain that the source of the readings had been destroyed.
There were also strange readings coming from an island on the planet. Gazurtoid leaders had suggested that wreckage from the probe had impacted. The explanation was good enough for the Gazurtoid crews, who were now limiting their search to the outer system.
Heavy activity filled the Gazurtoid military channels as they hunted for the source of the readings in the outer system. At one point two ships collided while hunting through the atmosphere of a stormy planet. The lack of water on the planet resulted in a complete loss of Gazurtoid life. Gazurtoid forces swore revenge against the cause of the search.
At 2245 Arth time, Gazurtoid search parties located a nest of Minstrels drifting near the outskirts of the system. The nest and all Minstrels were annihilated in seconds. Thinking that the nest had been the cause of the readings and that vengeance was had, the search was called off.
Part 15 - The Late Shift
04-09-43, 0114 hours
86,72 - Earth Sector
"What do you mean, 'Sso what'?"
"What I mean is, 'Who cares?'"
Eshhh-ahhr and Ae'syrsth had been arguing in the port hangar for ten minutes. "I care. Yyou should care."
"Look, I just don't see what the big deal is. So you've got six more ships to look after. You're an engineer, you're supposed to like things like this. And what about your staff? Do they ever do any work?"
"You can asssk them that after the nexxt battle."
Ae'syrsth, on top of an Avenger, stepped onto a repair lift and descended to the hangar floor. Packing up his vehicle repair kit -- an entirely different type of engineering kit from those used for Mediator -- he moved on to the next damaged bomber. "It'sss jusst that Mediator issn't equipped with the prroper toolss for maintaining Avvengersss, or any other fighter crraft. Annd until we rreach a Ssstarporrt we havve to usse terrain vehicle repairr kitss. We're jusst lucky that thesse guys made it thrrough without major damage."
He set his kit down at the base of the Avenger. "Brring over the llift, will yyou?"
Esh drove the lift over by the bomber. "Rright there!"
Esh stopped the lift. "But still, you must find it exciting to get your hands on a new type of ship."
"Of courrse." Ae'syrsth stepped on the lift and raised it until he was level with the top of the Avenger. Stepping onto the ship he continued, "I can't wait unntil we have Daysstarrsss and Ssabertoothsss as well."
Ae'syrsth started scanning some battle damage to determine what he could use to fix it. Esh, staring out of the hangar doors and into space, said, "It's too early. We shouldn't be here. At least, I shouldn't. You should."
"The captain ssaid to choose sssomeone to hellp me out. Tough brreak."
Ae'syrsth picked a tool from the kit and tested it out. It appeared to help, so he continued with it. Sparks flew down to the deck plating, narrowly missing Esh. "Careful!" said Esh. "I don't feel like going to the infirmary!"
"Quit yyour bitching."
Finishing with the tool, Ae'syrsth rescanned the surface. "Lookss good!" he said, a bit surprised. "How about thhat?"
Esh grew more impatient. "You done with these things yet? I want to turn in for the night. I go back on duty at 0900."
The Thrynn engineer descended on the lift. "Rrepairsss should alll be done," he answered. "As done as I'll get them with thesse tools, anyhow. Yyou shoulld conntact the brridge and inforrm them."
"Your arms broken?"
Ae'syrsth shook his fist, tool in hand, at his friend. "Lazy basstard. Fine, I'll do it."
He walked to the distant intercom port and contacted the bridge. Esh parked the lift in its slot and set it up for recharging. Tired, he left the hangar and returned to his quarters.
Part 16 - Confederate "Demotion"
04-09-43, 1200 hours
86,68 - Earth Sector
"Ahthh!" Larsyyth shrieked. "What isss thiss!?"
"If I may exxplainn, my capta-"
"Yyou may nnot explain!" Larsyyth swiped at the young comm officer with his claws, tearing away flesh. Blood ran down the Thrynn's face and dripped onto the console. "There iss no explanation for thisss act!"
Larsyyth brandished a dagger and slit the officer's throat. The comm officer fell from his seat and thrashed about on the deck plating until he was laying in so much of his own blood that he lost consciousness. The other officers watched on with silent amusement. This was the price to pay for cowardice.
"Get thisss lahsssiik off my ssship!" Two marines quickly grabbed the arms of the dead officer and dragged him off the bridge.
Nihlarsyyth had gone through two communications officers so far during this mission. Nobody knew what would happen to the next comm officer. Perhaps death in combat, or if she did as the last, death as penalty for cowardice. Thyssss hoped, for the officer's sake, that she would prove to be honorable.
Harper awoke to the sound of his alarm. Hitting the 'cancel' button, he slowly got out of bed and put on his cleanest uniform.
He stepped out into the dark hallway and went to the lounge for a quick bite to eat.
Gazurtoid forces at the Thrynn border had fallen back after suffering a major defeat. Thrynn and Veloxi forces pressed on, never letting up for a moment, driving the Gazurtoid further and further into their own space.
In orbit of the Gazurtoid homeworld
With one solid shot a Gazurtoid warship vaporized a Minstrel. The space creatures, usually so very rare, had been quite abundant in Gazurtoid
space lately, particularly in the Gazurtoid home system. As these creatures were not water breathers they deserved the wrath of the Gazurtoid.
After many hours of debate, the Gazurtoid leaders made the decision to search the system again. Over half of the ships stationed in orbit were dispatched throughout the system in an effort to locate the source of the Minstrels and destroy it. There was sufficient reason to believe that another nest such as the one destroyed earlier could be drifting somewhere in the system.
At 0130 hours Arth time, Gazurtoid warships began to pull away from orbit to begin their search. One warship which remained in orbit shielded, in its engine ports, the undetected nest of Minstrels.
The fleet plowed over two Gazurtoid warships with ease. Not a single Imperial ship was fired upon due to the short range of Gazurtoid lasers. Secure with the knowledge that their jammers had prevented a distress call, the Imperial ships proceeded onward.
A thick downpour had placed the beacon and its basin near the center of a rather large pond. The fact that the beacon was still there despite the storm was a wonder. It only needed to remain on the island for another day or two.
Part 17 - Mediator's Last Conference
04-10-43, 0712 hours
86,59 - Earth Sector
The senior officers -- Captain Ariel, Commander Ty'lyrr, Commander Eshhh-ahhr, Commander Ae'syrsth, Lieutenant Pxi Tov, and Lieutenant Ish-Nahhn
-- met in the conference room to discuss shipboard preparations for the upcoming battle. Once everyone was seated the captain began. "Alright,
we don't do these meetings often, so you know that it's important. We're about to go into some fierce combat. At least that's what we expect
from the Gazurtoid home defenses. Our first order of business is damage. Ae'syrsth, what's the story?"
Ae'syrsth leaned back in his chair. "Well, we havve everrything rready to go. Oncce battle ssstartss my ssstaff will rreact to damage with ann allmosst immediate ressponsse."
Ariel nodded. "And how is this?"
"I will have enngineersss on evvery deck with compllete repairr kitss."
"OK, we'll get back to this later. Next order of business is casualties. Doc?"
"The infirmary will be as prepared as it can be," said Chief Medical Officer Ish-Nahhn. "But as I have brought to your attention in the past, my staff is two, including myself. If large numbers of casualties are suffered our ability to treat injuries will be greatly reduced."
Ariel sighed angrily. "I knew we should've gotten more medics after that Quasar bullshit."
"Yes...well, as we have a crew of fifteen officers, two medics isn't going to be enough. At least we don't have to worry about the six pilots, they'll probably be in their bombers when combat breaks out. Any injuries that they suffer will not be treatable if they're gone."
"OK, so our medical situation isn't good." The captain rapped his fingers on the table. "How's the general mood around ship?"
Ty'lyrr fielded that question. "The generrall mood isss confidenncce, sssir. The crrew believves that we will deliverr a fatal bllow to the Gazzurtoid by capturring their homeworrlld."
"OK. Bomber status?"
"I patched them up with a TV repairr kit, ssir," answered Ae'syrsth. "I don't knnow how they will holld out, but it isss the besst we can do rright now."
"Were you able to get those missiles?"
"Aye, sir. Rragnarok transsporrted enough missiless over for the bomberss yessterday."
"Sounds like we've got all our ducks in a row."
The officers looked at each other confusingly. "Pardon?" asked Pxi.
"Nevermind." Ariel stood and activated the wall display, bringing up a local starmap. "We have less than a day before we reach the Gazurtoid homeworld," he said. "So we have that much more time to make sure that everything remains in order. I want everything checked and rechecked. Ish-Nahhn, I want the medical department to be better prepared when the shit hits the fan. I don't care who or what you have to sell your soul to, just make sure it gets done."
"I will certainly try, sir."
"Try harder. Ae'syrsth, do the same with your engineers. There are only four of you, I think you'll find in combat that four engineers aren't going to be too terribly effective on a ship of this size."
"Well ssir, we have fivve other officcersss who wonn't be asssigned to the brridge, innfirrmary, orr enngineering detail. Perrhapsss they could help with rrepair operationnsss or the medical ssituation?"
"That's a good idea. I want you and Ish-Nahhn to take a look at their profiles, determine which two would be best in infirmary and which three would be best for engineering detail. If someone would be best for both, flip a coin."
Ae'syrsth and Ish-Nahhn looked at each other. "I think we can manage that, if you have the penny," said Ish-Nahhn.
"We'll do that rright after we adjourrn here," answered Ae'syrsth.
"Fine by me," answered Ariel. He deactivated the wall display. "Alright, so you know the score, you know what you need to do. I want reports from each department at 2000 hours. Esh, that includes tactical. Dismissed."
Part 18 - Through Open Gates
04-10-43, 2000 hours
Gazurtoid home system
Gazurtoid warships fired blindly into the remnants of a comet they'd just destroyed. Tearing through the shattered material, there was soon very little left of the once magnificent object. Satisfied, the ships continued on.
The Minstrel nest began to throb, a little at first, but strongly as time went on. It wouldn't be too long before the infant Minstrels would
burst forth into the universe.
The nest still hadn't been detected by Gazurtoid sensors, masked by the output of the warship's engines. Besides, as far as the Gazurtoid were concerned, such a discovery would warrant the termination of the infested warship and its crew. "The crew could very well be contaminated with inferior Minstrel genes," or some similar excuse would be used.
And so the warship carried out its orbital patrol, unaware of the target that was painted within its engine port.
"Here's the last departmental report," said Lieutenant Szoki, the Veloxi engineer. She handed a data pad to the captain. "Thank
you, Lieutenant," Ariel replied. "As you were."
He brought up the pad's information. Skimming it over, he was happy with what he saw. It looked like Mediator was going to be in prime shape when the fur started flying.
Captain Johnston tapped Ihaug on the shoulder. "Commander, we'll arrive in system in a few hours. I want you to make sure that
everything is locked down. Make sure that blast shields are in place over the windows, airlocks are tightly secured, and so on."
"Aye, sir." Ihaug stepped out into the corridor and began his room-by-room check.
"My captainn, our tarrget dessstinationn iss only hourss away!"
"Finallly." Larsyyth was tired of waiting. In mere hours the ultimate battle would begin and Nihlarsyyth would be in the thick of it. Larsyyth activated the PA system. "Colonel Ssss, preparre your trroopsss for the ssstorming!"
Larsyyth looked about the bridge with admiration. His vessel had the finest crew in the Imperial fleet. And they would be sufficiently tested in a few hours. "Gllory annd honor to usss all!" he stated boldly. His officers simply nodded and monitored their stations.
04-11-43, 0034 hours
Gazurtoid home system
Gazurtoid forces scrambled to return to their homeworld. A large number of enemy vessels had been detected within the upspin area of the system.
"All ships break off into your engagement groups and continue on course."
Ariel pointed to Esh. "Do what he said."
Mediator broke off into its group, consisting of 102 ships. The group was designated Strikeforce Eagle and was commanded by Ares. "The group is set," Esh reported.
The feeling of excitement was thick on the bridge. They were minutes away from what would be the greatest battle in the war, perhaps in all of history. Win, lose, or draw, they were all proud to be there fighting for the New Empire.
"Captain, Strikeforce Nova has finished assembly," said Pollock.
Strikeforce Nova, led by Iapetus, was made up of a mere eight ships: ISS Iapetus, Whirlwind, Maelstrom; TCS Nihlarsyyth, Ahssi; HMS Vaxbo, Puxeep, Xxpopo. The seven support vessels had the task of escorting Iapetus to the surface of the world and making sure that the primary mission objective would be completed.
It's just that almost no one knew for sure what the objective was.
Ihaug reported his latest readings to the captain. "I'm picking up 587 enemy vessels in the system, sir. One hundred fifteen are still en route to their homeworld."
"So they'll have reinforcements arriving from behind us..." Captain Johnston thought about it for a few moments. Weighing the odds, it was acceptable to him. "It shouldn't hinder our mission objective."
"Captain, enemy vessels moving to intercept!" Pxi was visibly shaken, her excitement turning to fear.
"Await orders," countered Ariel cooly. It helped to ease up Pxi, thinking that her captain wasn't worried. What she didn't know couldn't hurt her.
A voice came over the channel. "This is Captain Harper of lead vessel ISS Varuna." Ty'lyrr snapped to attention. He had no idea that Harper was in the fleet, or that a new Varuna had been built. He listened intently to what else was said. "Strikeforce Nova takes priority, I want everyone who can to cover their asses as they make their approach to GazPrime. Make sure that they get through, especially Iapetus. The mission is a failure once that ship goes down. I want all fighter craft launched regardless of type and condition. If it can fly, send it out. We need everything we've got, 'cause the Gazurtoid brought their dates to this dance.
"Let's do it. Harper out."
Right afterwards a transmission came in from Ares. "You heard him, Eagles. Let's light it up."
Ariel keyed the ship-wide intercom. "Attention all personnel. Get where you're supposed to be and be prepared to do your jobs. Avengers are to launch immediately." Turning off the intercom, Ariel strapped himself into the command seat. "Weapons array status."
"Red and hot, ready to burn!" reported Esh.
"When the orders come in, let it fly."
Part 19 - Dies Irae
04-11-43, 0053 hours
In orbit of the Gazurtoid homeworld
The cosmos, dark one second, lit up the next. Imperial forces, with longer-range weapons, had an obvious starting advantage, one that they
soon lost once entering the range of the Gazurtoid lasers. Strikeforce Eagle headed straight for the center of the Gazurtoid forces, firing madly
into the cloud of targets. A laser beam struck Mediator's shields. "Shields down to eighty-eight percent!"
"Esh," shouted Ariel, "hit the ship that hit us!"
Mediator's top turret wheeled to the side and opened fire on the Gazurtoid ship, striking its shields with four focused class seven laser beams. ISS Emperor gave some assistance with both of its turrets. The Gazurtoid vessel took out its anger on the nearer MS 332, pounding the Mechan vessel to scrap quickly. Continued fire from Mediator and Emperor dropped the Gazurtoid shields and exposed the ship to a barrage of missiles from nearby Mechans and bombers, blowing out its engines and power.
"We're through!" stated Ihaug loudly.
"Vaxbo, Xxpopo, Ahssi destroyed."
Pollock looked carefully at his tactical display. "Captain, two Gazurtoid vessels are in pursuit."
"Put me through to the other ships!" Commander Faahh did so. "We've got two squid ships in pursuit! Puxeep, Nihlarsyyth, get their attention so we can make it to the surface!"
"Brring usss about annd vectorr in on the Gazzzurrtoid shhipss!" ordered Larsyyth.
Nihlarsyyth slowly turned. Puxeep, a faster vessel, was already speeding towards the targets. "Tell those ssstupid Velloxi to wait forr usss, they'll be ssslaughterred otherrwisse!"
Puxeep engaged the Gazurtoid ships before the message could be sent. The Veloxi warship put up a good fight, managing to inflict some damage upon one ship, but was destroyed quite easily. "Missiles, firre!"
Nihlarsyyth pumped off missiles into the unshielded Gazurtoid ship. Armor was penetrated and sections of the hull were blasted away in the violent volley. "We arre within ionnic rannge!" reported the tactical officer.
Nihlarsyyth's superweapons fired at the damaged Gazurtoid vessel in concert with the missile volleys. A series of strikes plastered the Gazurtoid bridge, sending the vessel adrift. "Tarrget eliminated!" yelled the tactical officer.
"The other sship!"
Nihlarsyyth started firing ionic bursts at the other enemy vessel. The Gazurtoid ship, finally entering laser range, returned fire with a vengeance. Nihlarsyyth fired its own lasers in response.
The first shields to drop were those of the Thrynn battlecruiser.
"Enngineering, begin rrepair operrationsss!" The ship jolted hard as the Gazurtoid lasers carved through it. No response came from engineering. "Ahthh!" screached Larsyyth. The sensor console overloaded, shooting sparks out of the side ventilation panel. As the science officer attempted to reroute power, a massive electrical charge ran up into him, throwing him out of his seat.
Gazurtoid lasers caused more and more damage. The sweeping beams eventually made contact with the engines, creating a powerful explosion. All bridge officers were thrown to the deck plating. The entire ship went dark. Seconds later emergency lighting kicked in.
High Commander of Arms Thyssss attempted to push himself off the floor. Sharp pain in his left arm sent him back down. Mustering all of his strength, he grabbed onto a tactical seat with his right hand and pulled himself up. Looking to his captain he saw the once mighty Thrynn dead, shrapnel in his bloody brow. Thyssss realized that Nihlarsyyth was doomed. He sounded the abandon ship alert and stumbled from the bridge.
Only a handful of escape vehicles launched before Nihlarsyyth was consumed in a final explosion, leaving the ship in twelve large pieces and countless chunks of debris. The Gazurtoid warship continued after the three Interstel ships.
"Aress dessstrroyed, Pequod taking commannd!" shouted Ty'lyrr.
"Ancients help us," muttered Ariel under his breath.
Mediator shook from impact with Ares debris. "Ssir, our Avvenngersss arre gone!" reported Ty'lyrr. "Pequod hass orderred usss to attack tarrget four twennty-ssseven!"
Eight of Strikeforce Eagle's ships headed for target four twenty-seven. Coming from behind, the Imperial ships were unnoticed by the occupied Gazurtoid vessel. Its engines were blown out from under it before the crew had time to react. "Eat that!" shouted Esh.
Pulling up, Mediator passed below a laser beam which found a target in HMS Axxzikki. "Yeow! That was close!" said Esh. He threw a few plasma bolts into the fray while directing the turrets to a heavily damaged enemy ship.
"I have the beacon," reported Faahh. "Coordinates 23 North by 155 East."
"Take us there," ordered Johnston.
Iapetus, Whirlwind, and Maelstrom cut through the air of the Gazurtoid homeworld. A few seconds later the island became visible. "Prepare to land."
The ships moved above the island and slowly set down, sinking into the wet sand. "Safe landing, captain," said Pollock.
Captain Johnston sunk back and relaxed. "Lieutenant Commander Ihaug, report to security immediately. You'll know what to do once you're there."
Finally, some answers! "Aye aye, captain," Ihaug replied, leaping from his chair and heading into the corridor. He passed through the long corridor and proceeded down to the next deck. He could already see a number of marines stationed by the security office. He ran to them. Corporal Kliesz, all business, greeted him. "Commander, get your cargo and let's go."
Ihaug stepped through the open security door. In the center of the room was an object he had never expected to see in person.
It finally dawned on him what was going on.
The Gazurtoid warship was rapidly approaching the landed Interstel vessels. The island they were on had just entered visual range. Soon
the sublifeforms would be purged.
As the Gazurtoid prepared to fire, strange fluctuations were detected in the area of the engine port. Without warning, the engine network shut down. Dozens of Minstrels, dying from contact with the atmosphere, flew out as the Gazurtoid vessel careened towards the ocean.
"They're trying to flank us!" came Harper's voice over the channel. "Strikeforces Hodekka and Tarnac, close
Harper's order was quickly replaced with Heimlich's voice. "Athens, Mediator, Warlock, target twelve looks a little lonely!"
"Esh, tag it!"
"Roast and ghost!"
The ramp extended to the sand and stopped. Two marines came down first, and after confirming it as safe, motioned the others down. Iapetus's
three other marines and Lt. Cmdr. Ihaug, with item in tow, came down the ramp. "Hurry up, Jason," prodded Kliesz. "We don't
have all day."
Ihaug hauled the object about thirty feet from Iapetus, fighting powerful gusts of wind from the northeast, and carefully set it down. The marines alertly stood guard. As Ihaug examined the object for the activator, Private Llyysrss pointed his rifle into the sky. "Look!" he exclaimed. All attention went to the sky in time to catch a Gazurtoid warship heading for the sea at breakneck speed. The ship, breaking up, slammed into the ocean surface with a thunderous boom. Debris and water flew everywhere. A large wave took shape. "Ihaug, get it going!" urged Kliesz.
"I need a few more seconds!"
Kliesz growled with impatience. He turned his head to look at the rising water. "Oh shit! Marines, enemy in sight!" The troops spun towards the crash site and spotted Gazurtoid wearing protective hydrosuits trying to pull themselves onto the beach. "Fire! Fire! Fire!"
The marines opened fire. Shots pierced the hydrosuits, spilling water and blood onto the moist sand. The Gazurtoid were unable to deal with the small number of marines and tried to fall back.
Ihaug searched the object frantically. He stumbled upon the activator and moved it. The object began to hum. "Ready!"
Ihaug rushed for the ramp, the retreating marines providing cover fire. Looking back, Ihaug saw the wave growing nearer and nearer the island. He hoped that it wouldn't reach the island too early.
They hurried up the ramp and into the hangar. Ihaug ran to the control panel and punched the "ramp up" button. He patched through to the bridge. "We're in! Get us out of here!"
Iapetus and its escort vessels rose from the island and laid in their course for orbit. "Send a transmission to the fleet to retreat!" said Johnston. Faahh looked to him. "I already have."
The ships skimmed out of the atmosphere and through the Gazurtoid warships, sending all the weapons they could at them while passing. Before them hundreds of Imperial ships were running from the planet as well; the Gazurtoid ships hung back, not knowing what was going on, laying down a layer of fire upon the retreating Imperials.
Seconds later, the Gazurtoid homeworld lit up like a star.
Epilogue - The Cannons Quiet
04-15-43, 1200 hours
Captain Harper strolled into a very packed Nebula Lounge where his old crewmates, Jason Ihaug and Ty'lyrr, were awaiting him. Unsurprisingly, Ihaug was amidst a crowd of Imperial personnel who were all too eager to treat him and his friend to free drinks. Equally unsurprising, Ty'lyrr was accepting all offers.
Harper made his way to the table and grabbed a chair Ty'lyrr had been resting his feet on. He looked around at the crowd. "Things settling down?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah," replied Ihaug. "Thank the Ancients they're all offering me drinks. I need them."
"If only you could get them away from this guy here," remarked Harper, gesturing towards Ty'lyrr.
"He'ss human. He can't holld his allcohol like I can," Ty'lyrr replied.
"There you go."
The station's intercom boomed over the ambience. "Lt. Cmdr. Ihaug, report to Science Lab 4. Lt. Cmdr. Ihaug to Science Lab 4."
Ihaug pushed his chair back to get up. "Well, here we go again. I swear, this is about the tenth debriefing I've had since we got back."
"You're a popular guy, Jay. Everyone wants to hear the story!"
"I'm starting to get a little tired of telling it." He nodded to Harper and Ty'lyrr. "I probably won't see you guys again before you ship out, so take it easy and keep in touch. We'll meet for lunch somewhere when we're in the same region."
"Count on it. We'll see ya later, buddy."
"Take carre, Jassson."
"You too, guys." Ihaug pushed his way towards the door.
With Ihaug's departure, the crowd began to disperse. Harper looked about and chuckled. "Say goodbye to your free drinks."
Ty'lyrr shrugged. "I've had enough forr now."
Thrynn military base
Aytlrthyss, Aytlrthyss system
A band played a fanfare while Emperor Tnys'hrekkah, well respected former Thrynn senator, made his way into the hangar which would serve as the
location of the ceremony. He looked upon the new Gazurtoid leaders. The pro-war leaders were killed when the Gazurtoid homeworld was destroyed
with the last black egg; these new leaders believed that the only way to save their race was to surrender. The Gazurtoid leaders were able to attend
by remaining in a liquid-filled pit in the floor, an insulting symbol of how they were now below the Arthlings, Mechans, Thrynn, and Veloxi.
Emperor Tnys'hrekkah stopped at a long, low table alongside the pit. He keyed in his approval of the treaty which had been negotiated the day before. A Gazurtoid tentacle rose from the pit. Well over a hundred Imperial marines stood ready in the event that the Gazurtoid attempted to kill the emperor. The tentacle reached above the table...
...and touched the pad. Hundreds of officers clapped and cheered.
The Gazurtoid had officially surrendered to the New Empire.
ISS Mediator would later be reassigned to the Leghk Sector, with Commander Eshhh-ahhr accepting position as Executive Officer. Mediator
lost five officers and all six pilots during the final battle.
ISS Iapetus was reassigned to the Leghk Sector shortly after the war...scanning ships at Haedi for illegal goods.
ISS Pequod was restationed at Starport Central. Captain Heimlich was scheduled to take part in an upcoming operation of great importance.
ISS Varuna would be reassigned to the Leghk Sector, with a new Executive Officer, Commander Ty'lyrr.
Prior to the destruction of the Gazurtoid world, HMS Ixnii picked up escape pods from TCS Nihlarsyyth. Included amongst the 21 survivors (out of a crew of 232) were High Commander of Arms Thyssss and Colonel Ssss. Word had it that Colonel Ssss was being considered for a high-level position in the Imperial Marine Corps on Arth.
ISS Ares was lost with all hands.
Lt. Cmdr. Jason Ihaug would be hailed as a hero by not only the Empire, but the Elowan and Umanu as well. Ihaug didn't believe that he deserved praise for setting a bomb that he found out would be used only minutes before planting it. If Interstel science officers weren't required to study black egg data, Ihaug claimed (and continues to claim) that he wouldn't have known what to do. He would continue to serve on Iapetus for several months.
And so the Gazurtoid leaders returned to their space, beaten and humbled, to find their own fate. The New Empire, celebrating its great victory, now begins to formulate plans to punish the Spemin, who caused the entire war.
And as things slowly return to normal, a lone Minstrel drifts aimlessly towards the Dead Zone, singing a new song of how the Minstrels aided in the downfall of the enemies of the Ancients...