Black & White
"Aeryn, talk to me, please." Greg finally pleaded. "You have been so distant recently, ever since you heard about his death."
Aeryn sighed and reluctantly stepped back allowing Greg to enter her quarters. She had known that this was coming for many days but the longer he had allowed her to ignore him, the more she secretly hoped he would come to talk to her.
"I know." She said quietly. "It's just… it's hard to explain. I knew that he was gone but I suppose that a small part of me thought that it might not be true. He has survive the impossible before and I think a small part of me thought, hoped he might survived this as well."
"He's gone Aeryn, and he has been gone ever since you stepped foot on this ship in the Uncharted Territories."
"I know that, I'm not stupid." Aeryn replied heatedly. "But there was always hope no matter how small." Aeryn's voice tailed off as if disappearing down a deep chasm.
Greg simply stood there and watched, as she seemed to shrink slightly. He made as if to take her in his arms but stopped before he made contact and thought better of it.
"I can't compete with a ghost Aeryn." His voice was quiet and soothing. "I've tried but I can't do it. You have to let him go if we are going to have any chance of a normal relationship."
Aeryn seemed to shake herself slightly and started as she realized that he had moved closer to her without her noticing.
"Greg, … I." She paused her face a tumult of conflicting emotions as she struggled to put into words what she felt. Her time with Crichton had shown her just how much her emotional development had been stunted by her Peacekeeper training. When she had finally broken free of it she had felt lost and alone until John had offered his hand to her and helped guide her though the treacherous path of emotional bonds. Until that connection had been broken she had not realized that he had become the bedrock upon which she had built her new life. With that gone she had once again felt lost, but this time she knew the path and struggled down it alone.
Only on her journey she discovered that she wasn't alone after all. Somewhere along the path Greg had joined her and he had helped her rebuild. She had been determined not to allow this kind of emotional bonding again after the pain Crichton had caused her, not that it was his fault, he had been taken from her, but the pain was just as real and just as heartfelt as if he himself had reached in and wrenched out her heart.
So here she found herself once more mourning the loss of a man she had known intellectually was lost. The heart however is a much more forgiving organ than the brain. So when all hope had finally been taken from her, her heart had now accepted the truth her mind had acknowledged long before and had moved on from.
She turned to face Greg, not knowing what to do or say. She knew she had treated him badly for something that had nothing to do with him. Still she knew she had to say something, had to do something, but she had no idea where to start.
"Greg, I'm sorry." She stepped toward him and he opened his arms and encircled her. She buried her head into his chest, trying to find the words to explain what it was she was feeling but as hard as she tried she found no words adequate for the purpose.
"Shh, it's ok. I do understand." He said quietly, resting his head on the top of hers. "We can work through this together, all you need to do is let me be there for you." Aeryn nodded into his chest.
"I know, it's just, I don't want to become too dependent on one person again, I can't afford to be." Aeryn broke out of Greg's arms and took a step back so that she could look him in the face.
"Aeryn I would never leave you." He started to move back toward her but she shook her head freezing him in his tracks.
"That's exactly what John said once and he did." She said quietly, again feeling the pinch of memories she thought buried once and for all time.
"But he had no choice in it Aeryn, you know that, if he did he would have been a fool to ever leave you." Aeryn gave him a tentative smile and sat on the bed, patting the area beside her. He moved over to her and sat down.
"I just have a problem letting anyone close. I had a relationship with a man before John that ended… badly. It took a long time before I would even admit to myself that I cared about John, never mind admit it to him."
"Well I'm not John but you aren't the person you were then either. I can't imagine you as anybody but a confident, loving and caring woman." He moved incrementally closer to her on the bed and slipped one arm around her waist, hugging her loosely.
"Kind of you to say, but John once referred to me as a frigid, flat butted Peacekeeper skank." Aeryn's smile grew as she saw the impact of her revelation wash over Greg. He appeared shocked that anyone could think of her like that. His shocked expression was soon overtaken with a suspicious look as he took in Aeryn's smile.
"This is another one of 'John Crichton's Amazing Tales' isn't it…"
"Yes it is, but that's not important right now." Her voice had gone soft, a clear warning to all who knew her that she was up to something devious.
"Oh? And what is important right now?" his sense of suspicion ratcheting ever higher as he took in her expression.
"Well I want to know why it is we have been sitting on this bed for several minutes and you haven't once tried to take advantage of the situation." She said it so simply, as if it should have been obvious to everybody that it took Greg several seconds to actually comprehend what it was she had said.
"Oh, well then." A smile appeared on his face to echo the one already on Aeryn's face. "Let me remedy that now." With that he threw himself back on the bed and pulled a laughing Aeryn with him.
Arch-Strategos Dimitri Winkler, Commander of the Psyrix Sector sat quietly in his office waiting for his call to go through to his friend and co-conspirator Arch-Strategos Jozhan Werber, Head of Fleet Intelligence. As he waited he again read through all the reports that had been funneled his way about the current situation in the Lambda Signus Sector. He found the reports disturbing and infuriating. So far the Imperial Fleet had been routed from most of the Sector. The areas still held were of little interest to even the Imperium never mind whoever or whatever these aliens were. Still in times of great peril lay chances from great advancement, through fair means or foul, and Dimitri Winkler was a master at gaining what he wanted through any means necessary.
"You call has been connected," the computer's female voice announced. Above his desk appeared the head and shoulders of his friend.
"What do I owe the pleasure of this call to Dimitri?" Jozhan asked suspiciously. Not that Winkler minded as Jozhan said everything with a certain amount of suspicion, a side effect of being good at his job.
"I need to know how the current, unpleasantness, is being received in court?" Winkler sat back in his chair, fingers steepled in front of his mouth, his entire attention turned to the image projected above his desk.
"Ah, that's my Dimitri, straight down to businesses, no 'how are you?' or 'how is the family?' always straight to business." All this was said with a sly smile on his face that he made no attempt to hide. He knew his manner would do little more than irritate Winkler but as that was what it was intended to do Jozhan cared little.
"If I wanted to listen to inane chatter I would watch the Republic's newscasts about us, Jozhan. Just tell me what I want to know!" Winkler snapped, before reigning in his irritability. He cursed inwardly to himself for allowing Jozhan's needling to get to him, as he knew that's precisely what it had been intended to do.
"Well for your information, not well, although it has been better, slightly, since the treaty with the 'Republic' freed up ships and resources. For a while they were simply running around panicking." Jozhan's image shifted slightly as the computer adjusted to him leaning back in his own chair as he mirrored Winkler position.
"Is that all?"
"Of course not, but if you stop interrupting I will be able to finish." Winkler sighed in annoyance but wisely kept his temper in check as he knew, just knew, that Jozhan was hoping for some exaggerated show of temper from him.
"Very well, go on with what you have to say, but do it quickly." He said quietly.
Jozhan gave an exaggerated sigh before continuing. "The Emperor is in trouble with the hardliners of the court for agreeing to this treaty with the Republic. Ironically he is also in trouble with the militarists for not acting quickly enough to clamp down on the situation in Lambda Signus and losing so many ships in the attempt to find out what the hell was going on in the sector." A shark-like grin ghosted across Jozhan's face as he continued. " And finally he is in trouble with the conservatives for not agreeing to the treaty quickly enough."
"Well this is good news. So is that hard ass bitch is still in charge of the Navy operations or has he been forced to replace her yet?" A grimace that could charitably be called a smile appeared on his face. So far all seemed to be falling into place with almost no effort or risk to himself. In fact he was close enough to his goal he could almost smell it and he had done almost nothing at all other than prepare. He had expected it to take years before he reached this position, years he would have needed to get Crichton to play ball his way.
"Not yet but he will have to soon, that's if she doesn't stand down on her own. After all it's not as if the Navy has confidence in her now. Not after she has ordered two fleets to their deaths for no gain." He could tell that this news wasn't all that Winkler had hoped but he knew that Winkler could live with it… for now at least.
"This situation is just what we need Jozhan. With this we can accelerate the schedule by years." Satisfaction laced his tone as he spoke. He smiled slyly as confusion overtook Jozhan's expression, he knew that his confusion was due to his not knowing all the facts and he found it laughable that the Head of Fleet Intelligence lacked the necessary Intelligence.
"How? You lost your leverage with the Court with the demise of Cohortach Crichton of the House of Crichton, political pawn and sacrifice. Without a heir the House is powerless to affect any sort of change, never mind make a gamble on the prize." His eyes had narrowed to black dots gleaming from his face, suspicion uppermost laced with curiosity.
"Oh I wouldn't say that." He was enjoying have one up on Jozhan, it wasn't often that he knew something the other didn't and when it was the case he liked to play the fact for all it was worth, to milk the most from the moment of revelation.
"Really? You have another direct heir stashed someplace nobody knows about?" Sarcasm laced Jozhan's voice. He could sense a set up when he felt one.
"As a matter of fact I do." Winkler sighed in satisfaction as the shock of his revelation swept across Jozhan's face. It was indeed worth the wait to see his face in person. Of course they would never be having this conversation if they didn't know both ends were secure and even then they were circumspect in what exactly they discussed even over this secure linkage.
"How, did, you manage that?" he asked incredulously.
"Lets just say it… fell into my lap. A gift from the gods as it were." The pleasure of having put one over on his old rival and friend waned. Pleasure was an ethereal thing and never lasted long; power on the other hand could be grasped and felt.
"Sometimes Dimitri you scare even me," he said shaking his head wryly.
"I take that as a compliment coming from you." He said in a dead tone.
"You should, it was meant as one."
First Dan't'an slowly prowled his way around Third O'a'lack. The air was thick with threat and terror. Third O'a'lack was doing his best not to display fear at his superior's obvious displeasure, knowing that above all else would certainly get him killed. Still it was a hard not to display some measure of fear, First Dan't'an was ruthless to all without exception, which was how he gained the rank sufficient to lead such a large force so far from the home worlds. This region of space was considered a great threat to all the true people and, as such, needed to be purified long before the true people had any need of the space.
"Twice now you have failed me O'a'lack. First you allow your ships to be destroyed by fewer vermin ships and now you allow these same ships to escape with one of their carriers in tow."
"Yes First, I failed." The ritual response was bitter in O'a'lack's mouthpiece. It was true he had failed but not due to any inadequacies on his part. The ships that attacked him around one of the cleansed worlds were of a type not seen before. They possessed weaponry and defences unlike any witnessed before in the history of the fleet. They also had some kind of cloaking device that while not hiding them from their foes, would distort and reduce their emissions in such a way that attacking ships thought them smaller and less capable than they really were. So it had gone in the battle with the vermin fleet. One by one superior numbers and firepower destroyed the vermin ships, but when the ships he had designated to eliminate a small flotilla of destroyers on the far edge of the Fleet were instead destroyed dread seized his ork'as.
The problem was it took too long to recognise what had happened. The harmonic jamming fulfilled it's function by destroying the active communications crystals and the Fleet had no way of knowing if the vermin ships carried spares, so the jamming had to be continued until the last vermin ship was destroyed. This meant that all the battle reports filtered into the command ships at light speed and that turned out to be too slow. By the time O'a'lack realised there was a problem there was nothing he could do to prevent the destruction of even more ships and the rescue of a carrier by these preposterously powerful ships.
"Yes you failed. The only reason I haven't killed you was your subsequent action." First Dan't'an halted his pacing behind O'a'lack who was barely resisting the urge to turn around, he had no wish to die quite yet. He did however allow himself to relax, his ligaments sagged slightly and his body seemed to squash down upon itself.
As soon as he realised something had gone wrong in that far region of the system he had dispatched a much more powerful force to correct what he knew could have been a fatal error, even when it was totally impossible to predict. The fleet didn't arrive in time to prevent the alien ships' escape but they did force them to flee in the opposite direction they needed to go in order to re-establish contact with their command. Seeing the ships escaping, he immediately ordered pursuit and chased them from system to system. In fact his ships were still doing so but he had been called back by the First to explain and apologise in person. He had been terrified at the prospect as invariably such apologies resulted in the death of the one apologising, but not this time.
"Thank you First for your benevolence." O'a'locks tone was as respectful as was necessary but he winced to himself to hear himself grovelling in this manner. He was a Third of the True People. Granted, he was not yet a First, but in time he would make it that high and perhaps higher still.
"Yes I do indeed seem to be in a forgiving mood. I have new orders for you. I want you to find these vermin ships of yours but I want at least one captured intact. They are obviously new ships to the vermin because we never seen them before or since we destroyed the second vermin Fleet. But I suspect we shall see more like them as soon as they can build them, so I want to know all I can before I recommence the attack on the reset of this sector."
"As you order I so obey First." O'a'lock pulled himself back onto his feet and lumbered out of the room even as his mind quailed at the thought of another confrontation with those demon ships.
"This is getting annoying Haig." John complained as once more the enemy ships appeared in time to prevent his escape back toward Imperial space.
"Yes sir, I agree it is mildly irritating." Haig deadpanned. After months of working in such close and emotionally cramped quarters with John and the rest of the crew, he had developed a sense of irony second only to that possessed by Crichton. Time after time they had arrived in a new system after a safe 'blind' jump. They could have run from the enemy in normal space but that would have allowed them to cut off their escape route. So for now they were forced to risk reemergence inside an asteroid belt or even a sun. Their jumps had been random enough to prevent the enemy from gaining any firm idea of where they would jump to next, greatly reducing the risk of an ambush. Unfortunately they had guessed right twice so far and both times the enemy had been annihilated but not before Crichton's fleet had been forced to expend irreplaceable munitions.
"Mildly irritating Haig? It's not like you to sound so annoyed with our foe." Crichton deadpanned much to the amusement of the bridge crew.
In the months since their escape he had gotten into the habit of getting away from his flag bridge and spending time in all sectors of the ship. At first it had been resented as the crew thought he was there to spy and make sure that they were functioning efficiently. His reputation before coupled with the 'incident' on Hell had cemented the crew's resentment of him. He hadn't been a popular commander right from the start when he took charge and immediately forced the crews to work increasingly long shifts to meet his unrealistic demands. However in the months since their escape, the crew, and by extension the Fleet, had come to respect and in a few isolated cases worship him. He was always willing to lend a hand, always willing to stop and answer an inquiry and calm a fear. Soon his visits around the ship were a welcome distraction from the gravity of the situation they faced.
This confused Haig. This wasn't the man he had first met in earth orbit, full of arrogance and demands, or the man about whom rumors had circulated for years; the ruthless, arrogant man who's idea of negotiation was to launch a nuke at a city. Haig had never seen a crew that had so desperately hated a commanding officer change their opinion so quickly and so radically. Haig even found himself liking the man. But he did find many of the things he said confusing. His speech was full of obscure references to things long in earth past and few people had any idea what he was talking about much of the time in general conversation. But when it came to a command situation he was another man entirely, ruthless and determined to defeat his enemy and minimize his own casualties.
Haig felt the turning point in the crew's opinion was Crichton's determination to rescue the Fleet carrier that had been close by when the attacks started. The swift destruction of the ships assigned to destroy them lent them a window of opportunity that Crichton grasped with both hands. He immediately ordered his ships to attack the ships currently decimating the Fleet carrier's escort. By the time they arrived there was only one severely damaged dreadnought left to defend the heavily damaged carrier. The arrival of Crichton's Dreadnoughts caught them totally by surprise and the destruction of the attacking force was soon ensured as the warlock and it's sisters got within energy weapon range and let loose a tide of destruction upon the enemies. Thankfully, for all the damage the carrier had suffered, it's drives and life support systems were mostly intact and after a few emergency repairs it had been ready to escape the carnage.
Unfortunately the destruction of the attack ships didn't escape notice and a much larger enemy fleet was detected coming in on a reciprocal vector forcing the Imperial ships to turn tail and run hard while waiting for their jump engines to charge. Once they were charged, they had to take the insane gambol of a blind jump into unknown territories. It was a gambol that had paid off time after time. Minor incidents had occurred as ships rematerialized in dust clouds causing minor to moderate damage to the ships but they had been lucky so far. Haig shook his head as the thought passed through his mind, it seems it is better to be lucky than good, but better to be both it would seem.
"So Haig what do you think?" said John picking up on their current topic of discussion.
"I think it is a tactically sound idea." They had had this discussion so often over the last month each knew the others answers before they were spoken.
"Yes you're right it does make sense tactically…" Johns voice trailed off. A hint of a smile on his face, as he waiting for Haig to follow him in the dance.
"But you're still not going to do it are you?" Haig's voice had an affected bored tone to it, as he sat in his command chair making himself comfortable. This was another thing he liked, the less ridged discipline Crichton had imposed, he had even he had found himself calling Crichton John on occasion.
"You are talking about abandoning thousands of people. My people. And I won't do that." For all the relaxed manner of the conversation, steel underlay John's words.
"But that Fleet carrier is a hog, it is forty percent slower in normal space than the rest of out ships and takes sixty percent longer to charge it's jump engines." Haig knew quite clearly that these facts would make no impact upon the decision that John had already reached but he felt it was his duty to try. It was considered rational in Imperial doctrine to sacrifice the less capable ships to protect those more important, but that rational had never before been applied to Fleet Carriers, which were the pride of the Imperial Fleet.
"And it also contains our only major machine shop for repairing critical systems on all our ships, it carries additional munitions we have need of and most importantly it has all of our wounded on board not to mention almost three thousand crew." John pointed out reasonably.
"We could transfer the bulk of the munitions to our storage bins and squeeze as much of the crew onto our ships as possible."
"You're still talking about abandoning at least two thousand people Haig."
"But without the Carrier to slow us down we could, what is that term you used, smoke?" at Johns amused nod Haig continued. "Without the Carrier we could smoke the pursuing ships and head back to our own space."
"Ah but haven't you checked your plot recently?" Haig started at this sudden deviation from their rote conversation, his head turned sharply back to Crichton who was standing there with a grin plastered over his face.
"Of course I have, what about it?" he asked suspiciously.
"Good if you haven't noticed there is a chance they won't have either." John walked back over to Haig, pulled him from his chair and put an arm around his shoulders as he turned him toward the main navigational plot and called up their current position. All the sectors of known space were highlighted and the dot representing them was far away from them in the black of unknown space. "Now that is us," John said with exaggerated patience. A second dot appeared inside the borders of known space. "And that was where we started out. "Now, if you connect the dots, it doesn't look like we're making much progress. But, if you plot all of the jumps we've made ..." he trailed off as he activated the screen. Haig blinked in surprise as he saw that though the jumps looked random, there was a distinct curve to them. It was suddenly obvious that Crichton had carefully planned all of the random blind jumps to appear random while gradually directing the fleet toward known space. He also noted that the Republic held the space closest to their current position.
"This is going to take some time if we continue to follow this course." Haig said slowly as he studied the plot.
"Yes it is, which is why I have a second surprise. You see I have been spending a lot of time in main engineering with that darling chief engineer of yours, who I am confident in saying is a certifiable lunatic, but happily she is also a genius." There was almost a boyish tone to John's voice that made Haigs heart quail in fear, he had heard it before and every time he did they ended up doing something just shy of insane that somehow worked out.
"Uh huh." He said in resignation.
"Well anyway, she believes she has figured out a way for us to use our Electronic Warfare suites to duplicate the enemy's cloaking ability" Haig shuddered inwardly as he noted that John seemed almost to be bouncing on his heels in excitement, this was going to be bad, he just knew it.
"But they still know where we are, even if we manage to hide from them they know we're in the system somewhere and will just call in more ships to search for us. Besides the carrier doesn't have our EW suites so she'll give us away to the enemy." He pointed out reasonably, scrambling about blindly for some reason, any reason to derail whatever insane plans Crichton had come up with this time.
"Details Haig, mere details," John glibly waved them away with his hand before continuing. "We have a plan for that. This is where the lunatic bit comes in. She believes that if we charge our engines as normal and jump as normal but shunt some of the energy through the main drive bus instead of through the jump engines we will fall out of hyper space well before we should and where they would be looking for us."
"Shunt jump energy through the main drive bus? Do you have any idea how insane that sounds?" John chuckled as Haig's face went white in shock, or maybe it was fear.
"Of course I do, but it's that or we spend a year and a half gradually making our way through these unknown reaches risking destruction at ever point or we take one big gamble and hope for a big pay off." He said reasonably
"I don't like it."
"I'm not overly thrilled on it myself Haig but when you think on it, we don't have much choice. We have been lucky so far but that's going to run out at some point. I say we ride our luck while can." With that he put his arm back around Haig's shoulders and started dragging him toward engineering, all the while explaining his plan.
"We can not locate them Third O'a'lack." Came the tremulous voice of Second of Command. We have searched thoroughly and have found no trace that they were ever in this system, not even debris from a waste dump."
"Impossible they have to be here. They must be here." O'a'lack lurched back and forth across the bridge in agitation. This was his last chance, it had been made quite clear that failure meant death, so failure was no longer an option. Neither was reporting that he had lost the enemy's trail. As his agitation mounted he started to lose control of his baser emotions and when the timid Sixth of navigation was foolish enough to cross his sight he snapped and casually but with full force reached out and ripped her to shreds. He shuddered at the atavistic pleasure this release granted him for a brief moment until the gravity of his situation once again crashed down upon him. "How could we have lost their trail after following them for so long?"
"Unknown sir, but I think it is reasonable to believe that when they realize that they have indeed evaded us they will head back toward regions of space that they know." Second of command relaxed slightly knowing that the immediate danger was over. It would be some time before the Third reached crisis point again in his emotional control. For now he could be reasoned with.
"Then we must stop them." O'a'lock turned sharply toward Second of Command and reared up on his legs to loom over his crouching underling. "These vermin ships are dangerous and their commander has had more than enough time to learn our methods of operation and devise ways of turning our own doctrine against us, as he has proven more than once."
"We have the basic navigational data from the ships we captured. Unfortunately all it contains are the locations of their worlds in relation to the others but no data on which are important." Second of command said carefully trying to present his plan in a manner that would make it seem as if O'a'lack had instead come up with it himself.
"Your point?" O'a'lack asked in some confusion.
"We can presume that they would head directly back to their own space which means we know where they are heading, we have more than enough ships to cover the more likely possibilities. I suggest we dispatch fleets to await their arrival, once they are located we can converge all the fleets and crush them once and for all."
"That's if we get there before they do." His confusion was rapidly being replaced with enthusiasm at the prospect of successfully completing his mission.
"We have detailed navigational data on this region of space from our scouts, the vermin ships obviously don't as was displayed by their short and random jumps. So it will easily take them thirty day rotations to reach it if they continue to follow their pattern of short jumps." Second of command halted at this point seeing that O'a'lack had grasped onto the plan with both hands and had a slightly glazed look to the eyes as he considered the possibility of victory.
"So I can get there first and ambush them when they think themselves safe. I can wipe them out utterly," O'a'lack crowed confidently.
"Masterful plan Third O'a'lock." Second of Command ducked his head respectfully showing his submission and awe at his leader's plan.
"Yes, it will work. Marshal the ships and give the necessary orders, we have to crush these vermin." With confidence once more fully restored O'a'lack once again lurched across the bridge but this time to return to his quarters to celebrate his masterful plan.
"And our communications to First Dan't'an?" Second of command called out after him.
"Say as little as possible, be vague and inventive." And with that O'a'lack left the bridge.
The air on the bridge of the Warlock still held a faint odor of burnt metal. Haig found himself once again amazed that not only had they survived but so had everyone else and with only minor damage. Of course that minor damage still took them over four days to put right before they could even start to make their way back to known space. Now finally with all the repairs complete they could start their run back to their own space, via Republican territory but that should present no problem with there new found jury-rigged cloaking technology. It was going to take thirty standard days to reach the borders of Republican space and a further twenty to reach Imperial space but that was nothing beside the almost six months they had already spent away from command.
Aeryn's first visit to the officer's club on the central command hub had left her stunned at the sheer noise created and exuberance that humans displayed when in large social groups. Now after many months of exposure she found that she liked it, it was so alien to anything she had experienced in the Peacekeepers or in the Uncharted Territories.
She and Greg sat in one of the less noisy sections watching with some amusement as some of the younger officers indulged in some serious competitive drinking. It would be the last chance they got to do so for sometime as it had been announced that the Reprisal was being sent on a "Fly The Flag Cruise" along with a second Fleet carrier. This was counted as unusual but since the peace treaty with the Imperials, Command for once had more ships than they knew what to do with, so while many resented the make work they were being force to carry out, they realized that it was important.
The area they were being sent to was about as far from Imperial space as it was possible to get in the Republic and as such had been woefully neglected in the fleet listings, boasting at best a few elderly and outmoded destroyers as an anti-piracy measure more than anything.
Aeryn was slightly nervous as it would be her first true deployment on her new ship. She was just glad she had been assigned back to the Reprisal and suspected Greg's and the Commodore's hands in it but felt no need to inquire as to the truth since she was more than happy with the result. It would be good flying as part of a squadron on operational duties once again.
So her she sat happy, content and not running for her life from some maniac. Finally it seemed like her life had settled down to the point where she was no long scrambling for survival from day to day. She sipped her margarita, it had become her favorite drink of the vast selection on offer. When she first ordered it, she had done so because it was the only human drink she could think of besides beer and she knew that beer tasted like fellip necter. Now she was a convert, it had sounded the least bazaar thing she could remember John reminiscing about and was determined to at least try them. Greg had laughed loudly when he had had heard her first order at the bar and his comment about starting easy. She had ignored him, thinking he was simply making fun of her, but after four Margaritas she had come to a fuzzy understanding of his warning. That night went down as one of the most embarrassing in her life after being caught by the others on Moya in a compromising position with John.
She laughed aloud at that thought and shrugged off a questioning look from Greg. There was no way she was going to be telling him about that. However Helena was also sitting with them and she arched an eyebrow at her before leaning in to whisper in Aeryn's ear.
"Now I need to know what that was about. That was a distinctly dirty laugh you came out with and obviously not something you can share with a poor feeble-minded man. What say we ditch him and go talk about him behind his back?" Helena sent an innocent look at Greg that caused him to laugh out load drawing some attention to them for an instant before it drifted away as quickly as it came.
"Hmm, maybe later. I have plans for the feeble-minded man later on."
"Well I wouldn't let him keep drinking at the rate he is at the moment, or you might find his, performance, lacking in some areas." Aeryn bit her lip to stop herself laughing as Greg shot the two conspiring women a hurt look. Helena leaned over table and patted him on the head.
"Aw it's ok puppy. I'm sure she'll let you out to play." Greg simply sighed and turned his back on the two women who had collapsed into fits of laughter at his expense.
"Well Gillian, are we having fun yet?" Gemmell was sitting in the wardroom sipping a coffee as Ramirez walked through the door. She simply grunted in a most unladylike manner and sat close by, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
"Well let me see, first, we are in the arse end of the universe waiting for Commodore 'call me god' Johnson to put in an appearance. Second, when she gets here we have to engage in war games with her, and since she is about the most tactically inept person I have ever met, they will be pointless. What makes the entire thing even more enjoyable is the fact that when, not if, the Imperials pull a fast one and attack the Republic again we will be a minimum of twelve days journey from the front, most likely even more." Gemmell sighed as he shared her view on how the Imperials would probably behave. For months they had been building up their forces and drilling them intensively. If all the reports were to be believed it seemed that they had lost an entire sector to these new aliens and the only reason they hadn't lost more was that the aliens had simply stopped advancing.
"Well at least the fighter squadrons seem to be happy enough at the prospect of testing themselves against another group of jocks." He temporized, not knowing quite what was annoying Ramirez.
Gillian snorted. "Give them a fighter and space to play in and they are happy." Gemmell couldn't quite hide his amusement at her all too accurate assessment of his fighter crews.
"True. Well the good news is we shall be rendezvousing with Commodore Johnson in twelve hours." He watched Gillian scowl at this news. It seemed obvious now, that this was the source of her bad temper.
"Well this should be fun. Want to take bets on whether or not she manages to keep to schedule?" her tone was scathing and dripped acid.
"Oh come on Gillian there is no need to be so snide. You haven't even met the woman and you already hate her." He kept his tone light, trying to probe without seeming to be.
"I have seen her in action and I've seen the way she treats her officers. She is one of those people that have to micromanage every little thing." As she was talking her arms were firmly crossed over her chest. Gemmell considered asking what was wrong but a single glance at her sour expression told him that now was not the ideal time for it. He knew he had to break her mood or it might last days so he took the opening she left for him and applied his charm.
"Well thankfully I had you to break me from that habit."
"Yes lucky for you, or I would have spaced you long ago." A small smile replaced the sour look on her face and helped rob that comment of any sting. Gemmell found himself grinning back.
"Well at least when she arrives we won't be bored." He said making a small I surrender gesture to her.
"Oh happiness and joy," she replied, her voice oozing with sarcasm.
"All stands at readiness Third O'a'lack. We estimate that the enemy ships shall pass through one of the systems we have picketed in the next eighteen day segments." Second of Command knelt in front of O'a'lack as was required when reporting in person.
"Good have the fleet on a rotating alert basis. I don't want to give them any time to slip away from us again. I cannot fail, we cannot fail." O'a'lack could feel that there was something indefinable about these moments. He felt as if he were waiting to see if the mountain he was staring up on would collapse on him or if he might survive, but there was more, something intangible.
"We shall be ready and we shall crush them, Third." Second of Command said his voice full of false confidence.
"Navigation estimates we shall enter Republican space in little more than thirteen hours, sir." Haig reported to a distracted Crichton.
"Hmm, yes good. Thank you, Haig." He nodded his acknowledgment of the report but kept glancing between the flimsies in one hand and the navigational data being displayed above his desk in his office.
"Is there a problem?" Crichton paused for a moment as if considering the question before sighing and putting the flimsies down on his desk and signaling Haig to sit.
"I just dislike taking such an obvious route." He gestured to the nav data as it rotated through ninety degrees and expanded to show a close up of their entry into Republican space.
"The risk is minimal, you said so yourself. They would have needed to capture a database and cracked it to even know the where the border of human populated space is."
Crichton nodded and smiled grimly. "They've had plenty of time and more than enough opportunity. We have lost hundreds of ships, there has to be the chance that at least one of the data stores wasn't dumped." He said softly as if confiding a secret.
"If you're so worried then why are you doing it?" Haig asked slightly confused at Crichton's motivation. He had never followed the obvious and normal tactic and because of that they were alive now. So Haig had to wonder why he was doing the obvious thing now and not then.
"I have to. Another route would add at least three days to our journey. I doubt many of the most severally injured will survive the thirteen days it's already going to take never mind sixteen." Crichton once again glanced at the flimsies and Haig followed his gaze down and noted that they were medical reports.
"They are the reason your doing this aren't they?" was all he said, nodding to the reports lying on the desk.
"They are my people, my responsibility. I need to do all I can to give them the best chance of survival. That also applies to the rest of the crews. We would never have survived another four months being chased like that. Something would have gone wrong and we would have died. This way we all have a chance of survival."
"What about the Republican Navy? I doubt they will take kindly to our journey through their space." Haig was concerned almost as much as Crichton appeared to be by the deteriorating condition of the wounded on the carrier. He was also more of a pragmatist than Crichton appeared to be. He had wanted to abandon the carrier in the beginning for being to slow but had gradually come around to John's viewpoint on its importance. He wouldn't willingly abandon the wounded but was prepared to do so if the need arose, which he was thankful it never had, as he was sure that John would never have agreed.
"Probably not. I am hoping we can be in and through before they catch on," was Crichton's less than comforting reply.
"And if we're not?" Haig asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I'll think of something." And with a shrug of the shoulders dismissed the conversation.
"Third, we are detecting an emergence point forming in-system. Shall I order the fleet to converge in this system?" Second of Command reported from the bridge of the command ship.
"Not yet I want to be sure that it is our prey and not something else. Send the ready signal however and have them stand by." O'a'lack was cautious, twice before he had thought he had this prey trapped, this time he would take his time and be sure of his moves before making his gambit.
"As you order Third."
RNS Reprisal slid gracefully back into normal space at the designated co-ordinates. Gemmell let out the breath he had been holding. Intellectually he knew that jump travel was perfectly safe but he also knew most accidents happened during reemergence. Around her the escorting dreadnoughts and destroyers also successfully emerged into normal space in their allotted positions. Gemmell looked at the navigation plot and was pleased to see that almost no dispersal to the formation had crept in during the jump, which was quite unusual for such a long trip.
"Well we're here, any sign of Johnson?" Gemmell asked Ramirez over the holo relay to the bridge.
"Not a sausage. We are here first. I for one would be really surprised if she gets here in the next twelve hours never mind the next one." Gemmell sighed to himself. He could ignore her previous comments about Johnson as they could be deemed a private conversation, but this was in public and worse in front of her own crew. He had no choice but to reprimand her.
"Gillian it is one thing to say that in front of me, but I will not stand for you displaying such disrespect for a senior officer in front of the crew, no matter how well based in truth it might be. Is that clear?" he said sternly with a scowl on his face.
"Yes sir, it won't happen again sir." Her posture was stiff and unrepentant even as she was offering her apology but he knew that would be the best he would get out of her. He made a mental note to ask her just what her problem was with Johnson. But that was for later, now he had to be sure that Johnson had indeed not yet arrived instead of trying to play a game of one-upmanship by ambushing him before the official start of the war games.
"See that it doesn't. Launch the CSP now as well as the sensor drones. We may as well look as efficient as we are."
"Sensors report that a carrier class vessel and six of their large battlewagons as well as a number of smaller craft have emerged from the jump nexus. Tactical are positive that these aren't the vessels we are pursuing." Second of Command reported to Third. O'a'lack's brow wrinkled in confusion for a moment before he realized just what these new ships were doing in this system.
"It is too much of a coincidence that they are here now. They must be here to meet with the enemy ships. Signal the fleet to converge on this system and have the ships currently here to move into firing positions." Confidence poured through him. If he could destroy these ships before his prey arrived then he might be able to ambush him as he now knew the region of space they planned to re-emerge after there jump in.
Aeryn knifed through space in her wildcat class space superiority fighter. When she had first seen it she had wondered how anything so clumsy looking could possibly make an efficient fighter craft. She soon realized however that the Republic unlike the Imperium or even the Peacekeepers went in for more specialized fighter designs and not simply a single multi-role fighter. She could see advantages to both views but after her first flight in a wildcat she was a convert. It lacked any sense of aesthetic beauty but it moved like lightening and was by far more maneuverable than any other fighter she had ever witnessed.
For what seemed like the hundredth time she glanced at her sensors as her squadron did a sweep of nearby space for any hostile vessels. Everyone knew that there was a chance that though the war games didn't officially start for at least another day that the other carrier group might try to get an advantage by sneaking up on them. That was the reason Aeryn and her groups were out flying and it was fine with her and them. It wasn't long until she noticed strange readings on her scope. They were faint and intermittent and she was about to report then when her squadron leader called notice on the readings and was ordered to investigate them closer.
A voice sounded out in her cockpit. "Split up into groups and spread out pattern alpha. Make a sweep along this vector and report any contacts." Aeryn acknowledged the order and peeled away from the main group with her wingman. They flew on for almost half an hour, always getting the same intermittent contacts, until suddenly she got a solid target lock. She stared down at her screen in amazement before looking up and actually seeing the ships she had discovered. She cursed and threw her fighter into a series of wild evasion patterns as fire erupted from the approaching ships.
"Leader, this is Sun, I have hostile ships on my scanner and am under fire. I repeat I am under fire."
"Can you get a silhouette lock on one of the ships?"
"Ah affirmative, give me thirty microts."
"Roger thirty seconds it is." Even in a situating like this, Aeryn could hear her commanders amusement at her slip. She pulled her fighter back around to the enemy ships and waited for her IFF to identify the ships. Her wingman copied her actions to increase the chance that one of them might survive long enough to gain a positive identification.
Just as her IFF went green there was an explosion to her rear and right. Aeryn grimaced knowing that she had just lost her wingman and a friend. She shook away those emotions choosing instead to concentrate on the job at hand, surviving long enough to send back her report. She again threw her fighter into a series of wild maneuvers only this time she was trying to get as far away from the ships as quickly as she could.
"Lead, this is sun. I have a positive identification of the ships. According to my computer they match those of the aliens the Imperials are fighting."
"Roger Sun. Come back to the barn ASAP. We need to rearm and re-task."
"They're what?" He exclaimed in shock and surprise.
"The aliens that the Imperium is having so much trouble with."
"What the hell are they doing here?" Gemmell shook his head, trying to clear the fog of surprise from it.
"Unknown at this time, what I do know is that they are closing in on us and will be in range in less than ten minutes on current projections." Ramirez updated his command plot with the latest intelligence of their situation.
"Do we have numbers?" Gemmell asked urgently, scrambling to catch up with the sudden twist in this mission.
"Extremely rough ones. We could see fourteen dreadnought size craft plus a whole slew of destroyers. What we can be sure of is that there are more than we have seen. That seems to have been the Imperial experience to date."
"Ok here is what we need to do. Rearm all the fighters with anti-ship weapons, and I do mean all. Launch them in consecutive waves, hopefully we can weaken their punch before it gets close enough to hit us."
"The CAG is already on to that, sir."
"Good get hold of Johnson, relay our situation and suggest she pull her finger out and get here fast."
Third cursed as yet another wave of those infernally agile small ships attacked his fleet. They were like mes'cot trying to defeat an al'soca with their poisonous bites. Individually they were weak but their combined attacks on his ships had left more than one a smoldering wreck and he had not quite reached firing range yet. He knew he must get the First to place more emphasis on finding a way to combat these small ships. Enough of them could destroy a fleet while it floundered about trying to bring its massive firepower down on such a small agile target.
"Ah at last, range."
"Enemy is in range now sir. Initiating fireplan alpha." Gemmell leaned closer to his plot and watched as missile symbols left his escorting ships in a mass exodus towards the enemy and winced as his scanners picked up the massive return wave. It was easily three times what he could put out.
"Signal the fleet. They can bring up their defense screens at there discretion, we were going to test them under extreme conditions, it just appears that they are going to be more extreme than we thought." As he watched a second wave of missiles was launched from his ships, swiftly followed by the deployment of the DS. It would be interesting to see just how well the technological hybrid stood up to the punishment coming it's way.
"They have deployed some unknown kind of energy barrier. It is deflecting much of the energy from our missiles away from their vessels." Second of Command reported to O'a'lack as they both studied the information pouring into the battle center of the bridge.
"When shall the rest of the fleet arrive?"
"Less than one tenth of a day segment for the first contingent. The last in just under one half a day segment. They need to do a number of jumps to come to range."
"Good, lets see just how well they stand up to double then triple the firepower arrayed against them now."
"Commodore Johnson reports she is less than ten minutes out sir." The stench of burnt wire and insulation hung in the air as systems were overloaded by the immense power surges created in the systems by hits and near misses.
"Thank god for that. We are holding our own so far but I don't think the dreadnoughts can take much more punishment. The defense screen is doing an amazing job but it is weakening steadily and once it's gone, we're cannon fodder without reinforcements."
"Well let's hope this is one deadline Johnson can meet." This statement earned Gillian a sharp-eyed glance from Scott but he didn't have time for anything more elaborate.
"New emergence point forming, Third" Second of Command reported in an urgent tone.
"Already? It can't be our ships." O'a'lacks mind raced furiously. "Divert half our fire into a saturation bombardment of that space. Hit them before their systems have time to stabilize."
"Jump point forming off our starboard side at twelve point five klicks, sir." Gemmell's head shot up in shock at this report then watched in horror as half of the volume of enemy missile fire was directed at the space about the jump point.
"The woman's an idiot, she going to get us all killed." He muttered quietly. He was too busy to notice Gillian's slightly triumphant glance in his direction.
"We inflicted heavy losses against the enemy's reinforcements Third. We estimate we have destroyed at least two of their battlewagons and half of their destroyers before they could raise their shields. Unfortunately their carrier survived and is launching attack craft at us." O'a'lack grunted sourly then sighed in resignation. They had succeeded in doing more damage with that one attack on this new force than they had done in the last one-eighth day segment. But that's was soon to change.
"As soon as the first of our reinforcements arrive, move us into energy range. It is time to crush them like the vermin they are." A vicious smile crawled across Third O'a'lacks face as he contemplated his upcoming victory.
"We are detecting multiple jump points forming out of weapons' range. It seems we aren't the only ones with reinforcements." Ramirez was proud of her professional tone as she relayed this information. Gemmell paused and stared as the nav display was updated showing numerous new vessels emerging.
"One problem at a time Gillian, they are at least ten minutes out and I need to organize the remnants of Johnson's task group into something remotely fitting the description." Although the Fleet carrier hadn't been destroyed or even that badly damaged the concussion of several nearby explosions had caused some structural damage and multiple fatalities, one of them being Commodore Johnson herself.
"Five minutes to normal space sir," Haig reported to John over the relay. All ships and personnel were on alert but that was more a due to Haig's and John's dislike of doing the obvious than anything else and the crew knew it. But they would be ready for any eventuality should it come about.
For almost an hour Aeryn had been flying mission after mission against the enemy ships. The turn around for a fighter was less than five minutes after landing. Right now she stared slightly dazed as the ground crew rushed around her fighter rearming it. She had been through this procedure twice already and was starting to feel the effects of the constant stress. She had never before been in a battle like this, not even when serving in the Peacekeepers. They rarely fought large pitched battles like this one, instead preferring smaller less dramatic conflicts. She mused this would be a better way of maintaining your fleet. If you began to suffer to many loses you could withdraw and return in greater numbers. In this galaxy it seemed they preferred to slaughter one another in massive battles where losing could very well cost you everything you were fighting for.
She now understood the Imperials asking for a peace treaty. If the aliens could put a force like this one against such a poor and worthless sector of space imagine what they must be throwing against the much richer Imperial planets.
She grunted as the ground crew signaled the completion of their task and her fighter was shunted onto the launch catapult. She grunted even louder as the immense G-force produced by catapult launching temporarily overwhelmed her inertia dampers. At least they had reinforcements now. Not that she saw them as being able to help much. Enemy ships seemed to frost her display in amorphous blobs, and it was coming their way once more.
"Emergence in five, four , three, two , one…"
"Third, a new emergence point has been formed and many ships have exited it."
"How many ships?"
"Unknown, they registered too briefly before disappearing from our scanners. But it is just… " O'a'lack's shout of rage overwhelmed what Second of command was trying to say.
"It's them. Fra'tak damn their souls to the darkest pit. We cannot lose them. We shall crush these vermin then turn on our true prey. We have the time."
"But third the ships are…" Again O'a'lcks bellow cut off what Second of Command was saying.
"Obey me Second of Command or suffer the consequences."
"Your will Third O'a'lack."
"Another jump point forming." A scan tech reported to a tired Gemmell and Ramirez.
"How many ships do they think they need to destroy us? They'll be in energy range in minutes and be able to immolate us at will. And they still bring in more ships."
"What the hell is going on?" Haig asked in puzzlement as he studied the plot, which was a confusion of ships and fighters.
"I would say we were right to be worried about doing the obvious thing." John shook his head as he studied the plot. "They came here waiting for us but it would seem a Republic task force stumbled over them and this is the result."
"So what do we do?"
"We fight of course. Bring the ships around and set course for the rear most enemy ship. Let's show them why you don't turn your back on an enemy."
Gemmell was staring in dismay at the tactic plot as his ships began to fall under the powerful energy weapons of the attacking aliens. They didn't die alone but sheer numbers proved that all Republic ships would suffer the same fate before the last of the enemy was killed. And that didn't even include the newest of their reinforcements that were still under cloak. For a second he wondered at this. The first wave hadn't bothered with such a deception, as it was pointless. So why did these new ships bother?
"What?" He sat up sharply then leaned into the plot as all of a sudden one of the aliens ships exploded on the plot, but as far as he could see there was nothing near it and it wasn't currently considered a priority target. So what had destroyed it?
Just as he was wondering this, new ship icons appeared on the tactical plot, burning the malicious red of enemy. However even as he watched other ships appeared to be maneuvering franticly to escape from these newcomers and one by one those ships began to be destroyed. Then to add even more confusion to the mix fighters appeared. Only then did he notice that one of the sullen red icons was that of a Fleet Carrier. From somewhere he had received reinforcements but obviously not from the Republic or the carrier would have shown up blue. For now he was more than willing to accept what ever help was offered. He did, however, order a squad of fighters to investigate the new ships.
Aeryn had just finished her third attack run of that hour and was heading back from re-arming when she received new directives. "New orders Sun. You have to go and ID some ships and fighters for us. Bearing follows."
With this information she and her squad broke away from the others of her attack wave and looped around toward these new ships and fighters. They obviously weren't these enemies as they didn't use fighters, but that didn't mean they were friendly. For some reason a phrase John had used once or twice floated through her mind, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
"Third you must listen. The prey we have hunted has turned on us and is now ravaging our rear area. We must withdraw and regroup. We can't stand being trapped between two groups of enemy ships. We had already lost thirty percent of our forces before the prey attacked, that number is now forty eight and rising rapidly." It was a measure of Second of Command's desperation over the situation that he reached out and touched Third O'a'lack. They both gasped at the taboo contact between superior and underling and Third lashed out knocking over Second of Command.
"We shall never withdraw, never surrender. We are the chosen race. We shall rule forever." O'a'lack said with fervor before adding in a menacing tone promising future retribution, "Press the attack." A shaken Second of Command climbed back up on its legs and hurried to obey.
"Press the attack." Crichton ordered. "The remaining Republican ships look like they're on their last legs. We need to break them before that happens."
Haig nodded his compliance and changed the target priorities to include more of the ships currently being fired upon by the Republicans. In pairs and groups the targeted ships exploded, not being able to withstand the punishment from two differing direction.
"Sir we are detecting approaching fighters. What should we do?" the scan tech called out across the bridge. Haig glanced at the plot seeing the red flagged fighters closing then looked to Crichton in the holo relay. "Your orders?"
"Let them pass, we don't need to start a second fight while we are still in the first."
Nervously Aeryn and her squad approached the unknown ships. Suddenly on her scanners a flight of fighters appeared heading directly for them, after several seconds the IFF computer identified them as Imperial Dragoon fighters. When Aeryn relayed this news to command it caused much surprise and she was ordered to confirm her ID of the fighters, which she did. By this time both groups of fighters were in engagement range but the Imperial fighters didn't fire and instead blew right past on both sides of Aeryn's squad.
"What the frell?" she exclaimed twisting her neck around trying to follow the sleek shapes.
"Looks like they aren't interested in us lieutenant."
"Just as well, they out numbered us two to one. Squad, close up and look sharp. We still need to get in closer to identify the attacking ships."
On the command ship Second of Command was thrown violently against the wall of the bridge coming away stunned. He gazed around at the confusion on the bridge and saw that Third O'a'lack had been knocked unconscious. He was on his own and he had to save as many ships as he could. The final group of reinforcements was due to arrive any fraction but they would do little but slow the progress of the demon ships attacking them with weapons of unheard of destructive capacity. He had to withdraw. The ships of the original ambush group had full charge in their jump engines and those of the second wave almost full. Enough at least for a short jump from this slaughterhouse.
"Prepare for q-space jump." Second of Command ordered.
"But Second of Command what of our orders from Third?" Third of Command, his immediate subordinate queried.
"We do this to safeguard his life as is our duty. If I must, I shall answer for this decision with my own." First was determined that all should not be lost due to O'a'locks ineptitude and blindness. If he must sacrifice his life to save some remnant of his honor and the honor of the fleet, so be it.
"As you order Second of Command but what of the final wave of ships approaching?"
"It is too late for them. They must be sacrificed." With that the order was given and the remaining ships of Third O'a'lack fleet jumped out of the system.
On the command ship Second of Command was thrown violently against the wall of the bridge coming away stunned. He gazed around at the confusion on the bridge and seen that Third O'a'lack had been knocked unconscious. He was on his own and he had to save as many ships as he could. The final group of reinforcements was due to arrive any fraction but they would do little but slow the progress of those demon ships attacking them with weapons of unheard of destructive capacity. He had to withdraw. The ships of the original ambush group had full charge in their jump engines and those of the second wave almost full. Enough at least for a short jump from this slaughterhouse.
"Prepare for q-space jump." Second of Command ordered.
"But Second of Command what of our orders from Third?" Second of Command his immediate subordinate queried.
"We do this to safe guard his life as is our duty. If I must I shall answer for this decision with my own." First was determined that all should not be lost due to O'a'locks ineptitude and blindness. If he must sacrifice his life to save some remnant of his honor and the honor of the fleet, so be it.
"As you order Second of Command but what of the final wave of ships approaching?"
"Contact them. Stop them from taking the final jump in-system if possible. If it's not they must be sacrificed." With that the order was given and the remaining ships of Third O'a'lack fleet jumped out of the system.
"Well who would have thought? We survived and all thanks to Imperial help." Gemmell stared at his plot at the shattered remains of his command. Both Fleet carriers had survived more or less intact as the dreadnoughts and destroyers had taken the brunt of the attack. He had five destroyers out of over thirty and only six of the twelve dreadnoughts from both his and Johnson's task groups had survived and they weren't much more than wrecks.
"I told you the Imperials were up to something suspicious." Ramirez said quietly as she joined him at the tactical plot. "Why else would these ships be out here? They must have been planning to outflank us for a surprise attack."
"That doesn't make sense Gillian. With the Knossos device they could send forces anywhere at anytime. There is nothing worth attacking in this region for four days travel." He wrestled with the known facts but could find no way to make them fit together.
"Well what are they here for then?" Ramirez's question cut to the very heart of Gemmell's own thoughts. What the hell are they doing here?
"I don't know. Did we ever get the silhouette of the attacking ships?" He didn't like unknown variables. And this was one of the biggest unknowns he had come across yet. Those ships were few in numbers but still managed to do more damage to the enemy than he thought three times their number would be capable of.
"Yes but when I ran it through the database but it came up with an answer that can't be right."
"Oh? Why is that?" Gemmell closed his eyes for a moment. Yet another variable.
"It classed them as Warlock Dreadnoughts but it also said that there were none currently in existence, and there wouldn't be for another six months when the first of the new batch is completed." These ships had to be Imperial as they arrived along with an Imperial Fleet carrier. So that meant either that intelligence had somehow let six of the most powerful warships ever conceived slip past unknown or there was something else missing.
"New batch? What happened to the old batch then?" he asked. He felt as if he should know the answer to that question but he just couldn't seem to dredge up the information from his tired mind.
"They were Crichton's remember? And he was crisped along with the rest of an Imperial Fleet almost seven months ago."
"Hmm yes. Well it looks like we are going to find out whom our mysterious benefactor is. They have launched a shuttle and it's coming our way. Alert the CSP to let them through and I guess you and I should head to the hanger bay to meet them." He was starting to have a bad feeling about this, he hoped he might be wrong but dreaded that he might be right.
"This is a bad idea." Haig stated for what seemed like the millionth time to John.
"We need whatever help they can give us Haig." He replied patiently.
"We could have simply asked for it over the comms." Haig said resolutely against the actions his commander was currently taking.
"Maybe but this is much more personal and harder to deny if it's done in person." John kept his voice low and his tone reasonable, but Haig was starting to annoy him.
"You're mad, you know that? I'll wager most of the crew of that ship would gladly kill you for the accident on Hell. They think of you as a murder." Haig hoped that this might be enough to allow him to persuade John that if he still felt that this must be done in person to at least let him do it alone.
"I know. Another reason this has to be done in person. Any request I made stood a chance of being dismissed summarily. This way I might get a chance to plead my case." John paused before sighing and adding, "if it makes you feel better I'll let you go out first and see if you get killed or not."
"I still say we should have brought along a squad of assault troops."
"And look like we were tying to take over their ship? That wouldn't be a great idea." He gestured at the nav plot in front of him, which showed the shuttle's icon being surrounded and escorted by Republican fighters. "If they are being this cautious with a shuttle how many of their marines do you think will be there to greet us?"
"I still think this is a bad idea." Haig groused quietly to himself but not so quietly that John couldn't hear him.
Aeryn climbed wearily from her fighter and leaned for a moment slumped against its side. She had forgotten just how wearing combat flying could be. Sims could never generate the level of fear and exhilaration you felt. Sighing, she pushed herself upright and started to walk to the exit of the hanger bay. It was then that she noticed Greg and his squad running into the bay dressed in full armor. Two others, forming a cordon facing a landing slot, soon joined them. Curious, she and several other pilots made their way over to see what was going on.
When the Imperial shuttle entered the bay and landed a mutter arose. It was a known fact that the Imperials had intervened and saved them but that didn't mean that the fact was welcome. As the shuttle landed she saw commodore Gemmell and Captain Ramirez enter and walk towards the shuttle. They stopped just in front Greg and his squad, obviously waiting for the shuttle door to open.
After several minutes it did and a tall blonde man exited the shuttle. Aeryn could see he wore the rank of Centurion with a command flash. That probably made him the captain of one of the Imperial ships. She watched as he glanced around, studying the marines arranged around the shuttle. She then could have sworn she heard him say, "I knew this was a bad idea," before he reentered the shuttlecraft.
Several more seconds passed until he again reappeared at the door and walked down the ramp fully. At the bottom he paused then turned to look up at the person exiting after him. Aeryn glanced up at the new person and immediately froze. One part of her mind noted that he was wearing the rank of Cohortach and seemed to have lost a lot of weight since she had last seen him. She was rooted to the spot with shock and she wasn't the only one.
Recognition of who had just exited the shuttle struck like lightning all those watching. The silence was deafening. It seemed even the normal sounds a ship made were gone, so great was the shock. It was him