Its here, and its a doozie. Better bring a snack and some coffe for this one.
Chapter 1: Angels Fall First (Part 2)
As TAC COM explained the problem at hand Icarus keyed up his tactical display to get a better view of the situation. The TEC system fleet had deployed in a crescent shaped arc around the asteroid base with the starbase anchoring one end. The Advent forces had split into two teardrop shaped fleets. The first fleet was moving to intercept the Masakara and Synova who were rapidly approaching from the side, escorted by a fleet of various reinforcements. The second fleet, led by a carrier, was embroiled in a skirmish with the leading elements of the TEC line. It was on the edge of this battle that squadron 9 currently flew. Behind them a third Advent fleet was only now exiting phase space.
"-on the last pass the bombers managed to disable one shield array and the corvettes managed to disable one of the carrier's engines. But they both took heavy losses and had to withdraw. The system fleet is gearing up to advance on the Advent reinforcements, but at its current speed the carrier will escape. You are the only healthy asset in the area we have with anti capship abilities." Icarus scanned his display, then responded. "Copy that TAC COM, were on it. Channel close". Icarus punched up the squadron frequency. "Did you get all that?". A chorus of ayes. "Good, now listen up".
"We will have one and ONLY one shot at this, so we have to make it a good one. The carrier will be absolutely crawling with drones and the escorts will no doubt see us coming. TAC COM will be giving us a distraction that should take care of the escorts and most of the drones. If we get lucky the distraction will even kill the carrier itself, but if not we are plan B." Icarus began to single out targets on his tactical display. "The only areas TAC COM guarantees will be safe for the duration are here and here" He said, marking out two zones. "2 3 and 4 will stick with me on this vector, as soon as the storm passes we will break right and head directly for the carriers midsection. 6 7 and 8 will do the same on the opposite side. One face of the carrier is unshielded, so if nothing else goes right at least one of us should be in position to nail them with a torpedo. You have all seen what these can do on the firing range, all it should take is one."
He collapsed his tactical display. "Any questions?". He asked. "So let me get this straight". muttered Torch, the pilot of fighter #8. "The strike core beat the crap out of the carrier escorts and the corvettes beat the crap out of the carrier.". "Yup". "So now they won't send in the corvettes because its too dangerous, they won't send in the bombers because its too dangerous, and the rest of the fleet will arrive too late". "Yup" Said Icarus as he tilted his control stick and put his fighter on an intercept course. The rest of the squadron followed. "Sounds like a suicide mission". The comm went silent.
"So what the hell are we waiting for!" Said Icarus as he flipped the protective cover off a red switch and flicked it on. "Arm torpedoes. Were going in!"
Before them the remains of the Advent and TEC skirmish fleets were starting to untangle. As both groups separated a line of empty space began to grow between them. It was into this gap that squadron 9 flew, afterburners blazing. "Damn... the corvies sure took a beating" muttered Icarus, as they swerved around a cluster of wounded TEC Corvettes. The corvette class of ships were another new addition to the TEC fleet. Advances in engineering allowed TEC shipwrights to craft a ship smaller than the old frigates but nearly twice as powerful in every way. The increasing average experience level of the TEC navy combined with advances in training and control systems allowed these new corvettes to operate with very small crews. The result was an agile ship with about as much offensive power as 4 strike craft, but twice the combined armour and shielding.
Corvettes filled a critical niche between strike craft and the second generation frigates. They couldn't quite match the agility and speed of an interceptor and the armour of a frigate. But with enough armour to weather most point defence and enough agility to dodge shots from heavy capship weapons corvettes excelled at fighting in the gaps between larger ships. It was this role that they played today. As squadron 9 curved around the bulk of a wounded destroyer they passed a cluster of corvettes providing the bigger ship with a rearguard.
"Wing 2 this is Blazing Angels, were coming in on your six and are headed for the big fish, can you give us a distraction?". No answer came but as they passed the line of corvettes a flock of mirage missiles was launched. In the eyes of enemy sensors these missiles appeared and acted like flights of strike craft. Far from being simple decoys each missile was a powerful weapon in its own right. Point defence gunners who could tell the difference ignored them at thier own peril.
"Scatter!" Said Icarus and the squadron split into two, the mirage missles followed, forming 2 clouds that fell into formation with them. Seconds later the leading edge of the Advent rearguard opened fire. As he bobbed and weaved dodging laser blasts and blobs of plasma Icarus's comm pinged again, it was TAC COM. "Distraction in 20 seconds!".
Deep within asteroid base Sigma Tau capacitors whined with stored power. On the surface a cluster of 4 massive towers slowly oriented onto a distant cloud of sparkling lights. Inside the base command center crews checked and double checked thier readouts, calling out information to each other in frantic whispers. "Capacitor D At 90%, Capacitor E charging!" "Coolant tanks filled and primed!" "Magazine loading complete!" "Firing solutions locked in!" "Destroyer wings report all system go!"
Amid the organized chaos one man sat at his console, slowly flipping through a series of protective covers one by one. "No sense taking chances", the man thought. "Not with this much power on tap." The tenth cover flipped away to reveal a pair of small red buttons deeply recessed into the console. He glanced up at his screen, then pressed the first button. The second button turned from red to green. Then it began to blink. "We are go! Coming up on ten seconds!" His eyes locked onto his tactical display, a green circle slowly moved towards a red circle... As he watched, the timer at the bottom ticked away to zero. "Six... Five... Four... Three... Two... One..."
The gauss array roared into life. Pillars of blinding light pierced the heavens. Capacitors dumped thier stored power and coolant systems struggled to counter the furious heat released. 12 massive slugs rocked in thier magazines, then they were out and away. As the slugs passed the TEC battle line groups of destroyers cut loose with thier spinal mount gauss cannons. The lance of doom speared towards the Advent fleet, unstoppable.
As he dodged another burst of laser fire Icarus screamed into his comm. "GET OUT OF THERE, IMPACT IN 5!" They really were in deep now. The mirage missiles had bought them time to pass the first picket, distracting point defence batteries even as they homed in on and destroyed them. All around them Advent ships were frantically changing vectors, trying to dodge their rapidly approaching doom. Fighters 1-4 reached their safe zone and turned to follow its length. But fighters 6-8... Icarus watched in horror as they hit thier afterburners and slammed into a desparate turn, only to be blocked by an Advent cruiser. They wouldn't make it.
The wave hit. Just short of the fleet the massive slugs exploded into shards. Whole squadrons of drones scattered in confusion as massive holes were ripped in thier ranks. Frigates desintigrated under the onslaught and the larger cruisers reeled. Then they exploded as thier shields failed and power cores were breached releasing white hot fire. Icarus saw none of this, his eyes were glued to the trio of fighters he had ordered into the line of fire. Even as he watched, Torch's fighter was obliterated and Dragon's shout was cut short as another shard ripped his fighter in half.
Then it was over and Icarus banked right, orienting on the Advent carrier. "HERE WE GO, BURNERS TO FULL!". The fighters of squadron 9 blasted through the Advent fleet, dodging past stunned ships and lone scattered fighter drones. Suddenly they burst into the clear and roared in on the carrier in a wide pincer movement. The Advent carrier was the furthest ship away from the gauss array and so had the most time to dodge. It used this time well managing to avoid the worst of the shards. But it couldn't dodge what came next. The spray of spikes launched by the TEC destroyers formed a wide disk. The gunners had aimed well and the carrier sat dead center, catching the barrage on its flat upper face. The vast majority of the spikes missed completetly but an amazing 3 scored direct hits and the carrier's shields collapsed. A fourth bolt smashed the tip off a wing section. Then it was over.
Spitfire screamed as plasma melted through her canopy, then her voice was cut short as her fighter exploded. Its volatile payload cooking off in the intense heat. "Only four of us left" thought Icarus. "It has to be enough..." A storm of point defence fire slewed at them from all along the carriers length. Here and there crippled drones swooped in on crude attack runs as the carrier launched its damaged reserves in desparation. "Closer! The torpedoes will never make it past that flak!". "I can't take this!" yelled Prometheus. As the lone fighter attacking the carriers underside, he was the only target available. "Shields failing! I-" Static. And then there were three.
Inside hangar 3 of the Advent carrier Anathema the dockmaster watched with horror as the trio of torpedoes punched through the roof. The first torpedo deflected off a gantry crane and smashed a log shaped depression into the hangar deck. The second torpedo also hit the gantry, but missed the crane. It punched its way past the framework of metal beams and nailed a bomber drone to the deck like a giant silver beetle. The third torpedo had pierced the outer hull and wound up inside a long air duct. It busted through the thin grating at the end, emerging into the hangar with little loss of momentum. Then it crashed through the hangar deck and dissapeared, coming to rest on a lower level.
Deck crews ran for cover. Above them atmosphere shrieked out of the holes in the ceiling, then stopped as the emergency repair systems took over, sealing the hull breaches. The dockmaster braced for an explosion but none came. Instead the torpedoes split with an almight "FUMPHF" and rust coloured smoke billowed outwards in gigantic clouds.. The dockmaster stared in confusion, then she activated the fire control protocols.
Atmosphere again started to vent, slowly pulling the smoke clouds up to the ceiling even as fresh air blew in from below. The intention of the safety protocols was to collect smoke at the ceiling where it could be vented into space. While at the same time supplying the flight crews with fresh air, giving them a chance to control any fire on the deck. The anima controlling the hangar surveillance drones zoomed in on the first torpedo. It happened to come to rest with its serial number facing the camera. Beside it a line of text. The dockmaster squinted as she struggled to read it through wisps of opaque smoke.
ACAPT PHOENIX AP-FAE
In the back of her mind a memory jumped up and down, frantically waving its hands and yelling at the top of its voice. She looked at the text and wondered why it seemed familiar. Then she froze, her blood ran cold. She HAD seen these acronyms before. A for armour, P for piercing... F for fuel, A for air, E for...
As the survivors of squadron 9 blasted past the carrier and began to curve around, the torpedoes detonated. Massive clouds of fire billowed out of every open hangar. All over the mirrored hull plates of armour bulged outwards, then ripped away to reveal geysers of flame. For a moment things seemed to quiet down. Then the ship exploded, bulging out in the middle as the pressure wave propagated to the bow and stern. The bow split like the petals of a flower and a plume of debrit and fire emerged like the breath of a titanic dragon. Seconds later another plume ripped out the back. The flames funnelled out of the carriers engine ports before ripping them away. Then it was over.
"TAC COM, Blazing Angels report target destroyed".
Icarus called up his tac display and surveyed the situation. Grim. "We copy Blazing Angels, the fleet is on its way, good luck.". As Icarus examined his HUD he noticed the breathing medium inside his helmet was beginning to taste salty. Im probably sweating bullets, he though. The surviving Advent fleet converged on them from all directions. Icarus watched them approach for a moment, then keyed his comm one last time. "Its been a pleasure, I'll see you on the other side". He whispered. A storm of hostile energy hurtled towards them. Chaos ensued.
Icarus bobbed and weaved as he had so many times before. Spinning to the left he raked the bow of a frigate with his lasers, then dived under and past. A drone swooped in from above, only to be gutted by multiple hits. He could no longer see the other members of the squadron, couldn't afford the fraction of a second it would take to turn his head. His entire world shrunk to his HUD and his control stick. Dodge, Fire, Dodge, Spin, Jink, Fire, Dodge, Climb, Weave... A piercing alarm jerked him out of his focus and a flashing warning spelled out his doom. Engine failure. He took a deep breath and gis hand moved to a certain handle, one he never before had reason to pull.
The handle clicked as it was pulled. Time slowed to a crawl. The canopy above his head split under the kick of explosive bolts even as a needle of cyan fire stabbed through it from behind. His world turned white. Then there was only darkness.
Icarus slowly came to. His vision swam and seemed to be tinted an odd shade of pink. He coughed and then frowned, tasting copper. "I must be bleeding" He gurgled. The liquid was also uncomfortably warm, a bad sign. That meant either his suit was overloaded, or it was damaged, maybe both. If the cooling system was gone the oxygen system couldn't be far behind. His mind continued to boot up and slowly realized two more things about the situation and filed them into good news and bad news.
The good news was that he seemed to be drifting towards the starbase. The chances of rescue for spaced pilots was incredibly slim, even in controlled circumstances. So much so that TEC instructors were unwilling to lose prospective pilots in such excercises and "live" ejections were never practiced. But with the starbase in sight Icarus knew he had a better chance than most.
The bad news was that his suit beacon didn't seem to be working, or else he would probably have been picked up by now. How long was he out for? Better phone home. "TAC COM this is Icarus, ejection successful, requesting pickup". Silence. "TAC COM this is Icarus respond?" Nothing. He reached up to the right side of his helmet where the comm circuits were mounted. The surface felt... odd. Pulling his hand into view he blinked at what he saw. His fingertips seemed to be covered with ash. He turned his head and froze.
The right shoulder of his pilots chair was missing. Vapourized. Judging from the damage around the absent portion the beam had punched through the back of his fighter and passed close enough to sever the shoulder strap and melt part of his helmet. After a period of time where his brain struggled to process this information, he spoke. "Well that explains the comm failure." he mused. Searching his memories he tried to recall what his training told him to do in this situation. The voice of a lecturing instructor sprang to life in his head. "...should you eject and are unable to contact friendly forces with your helmet comm, the emergency beacon built into the back of your pilots chair can double as a secondary comm. To activate the beacon press the emergency tab above your chair's right shoulder and..." He glanced at the missing shoulder. "Okay, we do this the hard way". He muttered.
Carefully unhooking the remaining straps of his harness Icarus looped the straps around his legs and began to pull himself around to the back of his chair. A panel outlined in red helpfully proclaimed "EMERGENCY BEACON". He pulled a tab and the assembly popped open, revealing a black box with a big red button on the front, but nothing that looked like a comm. He pushed the button which began to blink. Getting a firm grip on either side of the box he slowly remove it from the chair. The casing was slippery. Just as he began to wonder how he was going to carry it a strap started to unravel behind the box, wafting in the zero G. "Those clever bastards" He smiled. "They think of everything". Winding the strap around his chest he clipped it into place. On the back of the box another panel hinged open to reveal a wire and a jack. Plugging the jack into a port on the left side of his helmet he immediatly began to hear frantic voices.
"-wing 2 calling Blazing Angels, we see your beacon, acknowledge!"..."-epeat, this is TAC COM, pilot Icarus respond!" He breathed a sigh of relief. He suddenly noticed little spots in his field of vision. It took him a moment to realize what they were. Tears, floating in the breathing medium in front of his face. "TAC COM this is Icarus, ejection successful, primary comm failure, requesting pickup". Silence. "We-, we copy that Icarus, help is on the way. What happened out there?".
Icarus paused, then convulsively, he laughed.
"I... heh... I think I got too close to the sun."
Some time later he lay on a hospital bed, the embroidering on his gown reading TEC Synova. Beside him a medic explained his injuries, ticking items off a long list. "-ultiple shrapnel wounds and third degree burns all around your shoulder." He lowered his datapad. "Your lucky to be alive" He said. Icarus nodded weakly, the painkillers and stimulants his suit had given him automatically had long since wore off and the weight of his injuries pressed down on him with a crushing grip. "What about the rest of my squadron?" he asked.
"Not looking good" The medic said. "We have 7 CCD, so far no beacons have been activated, save yours.". CCD, confirmed craft destroyed. An automated one-shot beacon the TEC strike core used to mark casualties in space battles. The pilot beacons were also automatic and linked to a pilot's personal comm. Only a freak accident had kept his comm from working. If none of theirs had triggered then... "All gone" He closed his eyes. Flashpoint, Coldfire, Torch, hell even Freezer Burn. All gone.
The medic nodded in sympathy, then turned to leave. "Get some rest Icarus, you did your duty". His eyes snapped open. "Wait" he said. The medic paused at the door. "Don't call me that anymore, it... wouldn't be fitting". The medic nodded. "What is your callsign pilot?" He asked formally. With the last of his strength the pilot once known as Icarus raised his left hand to his forehead. A strike pilot's salute to the fallen. The Blazing Angels would live again. But not today.
"Wingless" He whispered, then drifted off to sleep.
See what I did there?
End of chapter 1. 5 hours worth of insomnia and noisy neighbors. Please drop a comment if you enjoyed it. There are also a ton of new ideas in there. Some I added intentionally as I thought them up, some are hidden. How many can you find?
You have two choices of perspective for chapter 2. The first is an officer on the Masakara. The second is an officer on the Synova. If you have a preference I'll take it into account but if I find inspiration for the other choice first I will go with that instead.
Now I'm off to bed...