Black & White
erupted in the alien's formation as the first missiles of the Imperial
fleet tore home. Fighters had been launched and were throwing themselves
in apparent reckless abandon at the attacking ships, twisting and turning
to avoid destruction as they tried to get close enough to launch their
smaller short-range missiles into the enemy's poorly defended rear.
Unfortunately, the only way to the enemy's rear was through the body of
the attacking ships. They died by the dozen as entire fighter units were
blotted out with nuclear fire. But the remainder kept going, and now it
was their turn.
ignored the smaller ships, electing not to waste missiles against them.
The wave of fighter-launched missiles was sufficient to punch
through even the densest of point defense, without ever entering energy
weapon range, but John felt a cold sense of foreboding as he watched the
plot. The smaller ships, destroyers and even light cruisers didn’t break
off their attack runs to turn and offer aid to their larger companions as
he thought they would. Instead they spent themselves viciously, ignoring
the missiles hammering into them to bear down on the carriers. The
carriers turned to flee, hiding behind the defensive fire of their
escorts, but the aliens were determined to succeed at any cost. John
watched in horror as first one, then a second, then a third carrier were
destroyed. Entire flotillas of attacking ships were destroyed but it only
took one to survive long enough to ram. These were tactic of desperation,
but why? They held the advantage. Winkler had underestimated them despite
all of John’s warnings and was now paying dearly. His arrogance had cost
him his own life plus the lives of the countless billions on the planet
and the thousands of Imperial Navy personnel who were now dying in an
their own fighters to combat the attacking Imperial ones, obviously the
aliens commander had decided to spend ships like a wastrel, to take them
out of the equation. For no matter how many fighters were killed, there
deaths were cheap against their success in destroying larger more capable
craft, with crews of thousands rather than the two man crews of a fighter.
surviving fighters' courses towards their remaining motherships took them
directly into the remaining flotillas of destroyers, armed only with their
internal lasers. There was little the fighters could do to harm the ships
but that didn't stop them from trying. They realized with so many ships
destroyed that a good portion of them were dead anyway. Too many fighters
and too few launch-bays to receive them. Perhaps they hoped the attacking
destroyers, feeling the added pressure of the wave of fighters bearing
down upon them, would turn to face the battle and let the surviving
carriers make good their escape. If so, they were wrong, and John clenched
his teeth as the faster fighters attacked. They dove down on the
destroyers raking their shields with fire, then wheeled once more and
turned back. This time clouds of missiles erupted into his fighters'
formations, and this time the long-range losses were completely one-sided,
for there were no answering Imperial missiles. But they were only
one-sided for the time it took the vengeful human pilots to close once
more with the ships, minnows to their bulk, the fighter might have been
but a smarter missile had never been invented. The pilots slammed their
fighters into the destroyers by the score, embracing the aliens' tactics
as their own, all in a bid to gain both revenge and allow as many of their
compatriots to survive long enough to be recovered and rearmed.
stood, hands locked tight against the rail in front of him as losses
mounted, carriers, fighter, destroyers, battle cruisers and battleships
all were dying but not before taking their measure from the alien ships. A
sidebar on the plot gave the losses so far, and he felt a spasm of pain as
he absorbed them. Only five carriers out of the twelve had been destroyed,
but four hundred of the eleven hundred plus fighters were dead. The aliens
had lost hard also, eight battle cruisers had succumbed to the fighters,
and each of them carried much larger crews than the fighters, but that
didn’t make him feel the loss any less. Every one of those lives had
been spent due to his actions. Their blood on his hands even more so than
on those of the aliens who had killed them. There was no such thing as an
"acceptable rate of exchange" against these beings… and they
had lost almost a quarter of the Fleet's fighter strength in killing them.
watched as small clusters of icons gathered around the larger ones
signifying the carriers. For all the sacrifices made by their escorts and
fellow pilots to ensure that as many as possible would survive John knew
that some of those pilots were as good as dead as they waited for
recovery, watching as their life support ran out. The worst was that they
must know it already, they were all in exactly the same boat, having
launched at almost exactly the same moment. And still they waited their
turn like the professionals they were.
felt as if someone had kicked him in the belly. He sensed the same shocked
horror rippling through all the officers and ratings on Flag Bridge, and
there was nothing he could do about it. He was as much a spectator as they
were, staring at the plot. The information on it was minutes old, the
events it showed already over and done, but it didn't feel that way, and
his face clenched with pain as he watched a third of the fighter strength
be wiped away in mere seconds.
fleets met, ship after ship exploded, suffered a violent death. John’s
vessels kept out of it, having neither the maneuvering ability nor
firepower to exploit their position to the rear of the invading fleet. All
they could do was watch. Soon it became evident that the aliens with their
larger fleet were going to be the victors. It might take hours but in the
end they would be the ones left standing in this all or nothing battle.
There could be no retreat or mercy here.
was ugly with butchery as the aliens' destroyers led the attack into the
heart of the Imperial Fleet. It was almost impossible to defend against an
enemy that was willing to die as long as he achieved his goal. The
Imperial Fleet was forced to retreat further and further from earth just
to simply maintain some semblance of order. Only the newly rearmed
fighters were allowing the Fleet to hold its own against the wave of
attackers, as they swooped in and caused as much damage as they could on
the suicide ships before they even got into range of their targets'
missiles. But it was slowly winnowing down the strength of the fighters,
diluting the Imperial Fleets' overall defensive power. But it was working,
for now at least.
had gambled Earth and lost. He had expected some ships to follow him,
perhaps even to repeat the maneuver a few times, weaken the alien fleet
before the climatic battle. Instead here he was, witnessing the fall of an
empire and the death of a planet, all through his offices. What made it
worse was the absence of the Republican Fleet, the integral part of his
plan. They would have given humanity the edge in numbers allowing the
combined fleets to wipe the floor with these aliens, as weakened as they
were after fighting with the defense station and the Imperial Fleet.
Instead the defense grid was as good as gone, the sporadic fire it did
emit of no consequence.
glanced at a secondary plot showing the Defense grid as it finally
succumbed to gravity and friction and tumbled into Earth atmosphere. It
seemed to explode into flame, birthing massive balls of fire to rain down
on the already ravaged world. Humanity's greatest-ever construct was gone,
not even ruins left behind for future generations to gawk at. John closed
his eyes as the symbolism hit him. Just as the station died in flame so
would all humanity and there was nothing he could do about it. This was
his one chance, his desperate gamble and he had lost.
could feel the death of hope around her and she turned to John to see what
he would do about it, but he sat stolid and silent as the rest. His eyes
were closed and pain seemed to radiate from him in waves so intense they
were palpable. All hope seemed to have been drained out of John and the
others witnessing the battle. It was at an end, all hope gone. And there
was nothing she could do to convince them otherwise. Or herself.
first alien starship blew up with no warning at all.
Destroyer on the flank of the alien's formation had never even realized
its killer was there. Its sensors had been locked upon the Imperial Fleet
and it had never occurred to the beings that crewed the destroyer that
there might be anyone else to worry about. And because it hadn't occurred
to them, they were taken fatally by surprise as the missile salvo erupted
out of the blind spot created by the sensor interference of its own drive
field. There were no point defense counter missiles, no fire from close-in
laser defenses, and the lethal salvo smashed home like so many hammers of
nuclear and antimatter fury.
The destroyer's shields did their best, but the sheer savagery of the attack was scarcely even blunted, and the entire ship vanished in a sun-bright bubble of fire.
was the first ship to die; it wasn't the last. The other salvos, which had
accompanied the one that killed it, began to arrive almost in the same
instant, and ship-killing blasts of fury marched through the alien
formation like the boots of some demented war god. A second destroyer, a
third and then the killing spasms of flame came for the Battleships and
battle cruisers as well. They were larger, easier but far tougher targets,
with shielding and armor that far surpassed that which protected their
smaller consorts, and like those other ship, they'd never even guessed
that any danger might lurk behind them. Multiple hits were needed to kill
any one of them, and the hits came not in simple multiples, but in dozens.
Shattered and vaporized hulls, clouds of plasma littered with the
splintered fragments of battleships…
of Command sat stunned even as O’a’lack raged about the bridge,
hitting and smashing equipment. These new ships came into their rear,
seemingly from nowhere. All attention had been focused on the immediate
threat before them; all sensors focused there. He cursed himself for
allowing this to happen but he cursed O’a’lack for bringing this
watched, unable to get O’a’lack to issue the necessary orders, the
fleet reeled under the devastating impact of the totally unanticipated
carnage. For a handful of minutes, even the boulderlike discipline that
had sent attack force after attack force of alien battleships unwaveringly
into the teeth of the Imperials' most furious firepower wavered. The sheer
surprise of their losses, far more than their scale, grievous though they
were, stunned them, and separate squadrons reacted as separate squadrons,
not the interchangeable units of the finely honed machine their enemies
were accustomed to facing. Some of them, in the absence of any order to
the contrary, continued to close in on the remnants of the Imperial Fleet,
even as successive waves of missiles sliced into them from astern. Other
squadrons of battle cruisers turned abruptly to charge towards the source
of that fire.
fire screaming down upon them no longer took even those who continued
closing upon the Imperial Fleet completely unawares. Their command link
installations had taken charge of their point defense systems,
concentrating counter missiles and laser fire alike upon as many of the
incoming missiles which could be seen by any of the units forming that
group. Some of those missiles still got through, of course. A few of them
could not be seen by any member of the battle groups and remained
untargeted by the defenses, and the uncaring laws of statistics said that
even some of those which could be seen would evade all fire directed upon
them. But the defensive systems managed to sharply reduce the number of
warheads getting through to their targets, and whoever had suddenly
attacked them found himself forced to concentrate his fire upon the
hostile warships suddenly charging straight towards him.
of command could only feel pride at the way his ships were performing even
with a mad man in charge, perhaps even better without him in charge
though. He watched as O’a’lack continued his panic fueled rage around
the bridge and came to a decision. Enough was enough.
right, people," Commander Brian Letham, CO of Fighter Squadron
Forty-seven, operating off of the Republican
Navy Carrier Reprisal, said.
"Don't get carried away, we’re kicking their asses now but only
because we got the jump on them. The
Imps have been hit hard and won’t be able to offer much more than
covering fire. So I want a tight formation maintained and all standard
tactical doctrines observed.”
those words Fighter Squadron Forty-seven of the Republican Navy Fleet
under the command of Commodore Scott Gemmell rocketed into space.
Lieutenant Slavia Irvine facing, for the first time, true combat.
Alpha-Zulu-Seven!" The sharp voice in her earphones that snapped her
back to the present belonged to Captain Barbara Shields, the task force
fighter group commander…
execute Omega!" Shields's voice snapped now. "I say again,
me in!" Commander Brain Letham, barked like a bass echo of Shields's
soprano voice of doom, and the entire squadron formed up behind him
sliding into their allotted positions, and hit their drives. No more
instruction was needed, now it was do or die. They all knew the targets
they'd been assigned, and they all knew the standing orders to hit
"targets of opportunity," meaning no haring off on their own.
squadron followed Letham in, and presently Slavia heard an electronic beep
indicating that her target was now on her scope. The defensive fire was
sporadic, but lethal, ship killer missiles turned into fused proximity
SAMs. Entire squadrons were blotted out by nuclear fire before they even
got close enough to fire their missiles. She cursed as a near miss
scrambled her electronics for a second, forcing her to lose her place in
the formation, pushing her to the rear, the last place anyone wants to be
on a attack run.
the target area appeared on the HUD while missiles slashed out, tearing
holes in the ranks of fighters which staggered and wove like drunkards to
get their missiles into range. Slavia locked in her targeting solutions,
ordering the targeting computer to lock onto her squadron's target
Battleship. It then signaled her as she swept into launch range and as one
her squadron launched at almost knife fighting range their missiles into
the flanks of their target.
missiles flashed from their launcher carrying the newly developed
fighter-launched anti-matter missile, giving them a much greater impact
especially in a mass, time on target firing like this one.
The squadron, as one, pulled a tight one hundred and eighty-degree
turn racing to get out of range of both the coming explosion and wrathful
vengeance of the survivors. Her vision graying as she went to full power
and sought the reuniting formation.
her, antimatter was released from its nonmaterial container and met
matter. The resulting energy
release was beyond the comprehension of human minds. For an instant, space
was one vast, undifferentiated glare. Then as it faded, all that was left
of the ship that had been at the heart of the explosion was a scattering
of dust and glowing gases.
Slavia became aware that the sound she was hearing as she stared back at that, the sounds was a wild enthusiastic yell, coming not only from her comm., but from her own throat. She had survived, now all she had to do was survive again. This thought stilled most of her excitement but not it all. Her adrenaline was pumping and she was willing to do it all again even knowing the risks. Old fighter pilots were very rare dogs indeed.
people!" Letham yelled. "If everybody did that well, we may not need
a second strike!"
was surprised that she felt disappointed that she might not have to go and
do it all again.
was stunned as he watched the alien fleet withering between the fire of
the two fleets. Gemmell's arrival may have been late but his timing was
excellent. With the loss of the defense grid all the scanner buoys
scattered around the system failed to give warning of such an arrival. His
arrival thankfully was not only a surprise to him but to the aliens. The
seemed to have lost the cohesiveness they displayed earlier, almost as if
they were acting independently.
from his Comm-Tech returned his attention to the plot before him and
Gemmell appeared on it. They stared at one another; both with expressions
of profound shock and relief for several seconds before Gemmell ventured
to interrupt the silence. “Sorry we’re late Crichton, but it took
some,” he paused as if to think of the right word before carrying on,
“persuasion to get the fleet moving at all. You now how politics can
be.” He shrugged, trying to displace the sense of guilt he felt. He
glanced away from John on his screen to the larger screen on his bridge
that displayed a planet not recognizable as Earth. It looked more like a
true vision of hell. It was completely covered in cloud that swirled with
such speed and violence it covered entire hemispheres and was eerily lit
from below by massive fires.
here now Gemmell, that’s what matters. Your timing could have been
better but at least you made it.” John glanced again at the screen
dominating his bridge, the image of earth, wreathed in cloud and fire,
continents ablaze. He looked away from it reluctantly and stared back at
Gemmell. It was obvious to the other what each was doing and why. But
neither was going to broach the subject, they didn’t know how.
“Yes, sorry about that.” Gemmell's voice lacked any apology, for there could be no apology for what has happened, the scale was simply too massive for any blame to be apportioned, though both knew that it would be. Just as both knew who would ultimately be blamed. How could you apologize for something like that?
they spoke the ships of the alien fleet that still could, entered Q-space.
A reckless and almost suicidal move this close into a primary, but
Crichton could understand their choice. A chance of survival against
certain death was something of something, infinitely more than all of
will you do now?” Gemmell asked when John arrived on his carrier,
followed by a pale and apparently thoughtful Lieutenant Aeryn Sun, his
liaison officer. He would debrief her later but now, he had much to ask
Crichton. He placed Aeryn into the hands of his intelligence office and
escorted Crichton back to his quarters and broke out a bottle of bourbon,
simply placing the open bottle and a glass in front of Crichton.
sat there and watched as John stared at the bottle for almost five minutes
ignoring the question utterly. He then reached forward and poured a full
glass and slid it towards John, who jerked as if caught daydreaming and
reached for and emptied the glass in one motion. He repeated this with the
second and third. By the fourth he was ready to talk.
go to the one place where I can,” he began slowly, staring into the
bottom of his glass as if finding the answer there. “Back to the
Uncharted Territories. Where else can I go? It is not like the Republic
will let me stay, and the Imperial remnant certainly won’t welcome me
with open arms.”
will you get back.” Gemmell asked. Not denying John's comment about the
Republic. In truth he had already received orders about Crichton, to give
him whatever he wanted and get rid of him as quickly as possible. He had
been reluctant to do this to the man but now he saw there was a way to
achieve it that made everyone happy, well, everyone but John, but at least
Devron system of course.” John smiled at him, like a boy about to share
a big secret. That only served to make Gemmell nervous.
in the Devron system?” he asked with suspicion.
of the engineering models of the Knossos portal. Just as powerful as the
full sized version but too small for a capital ship, too small for most
ships in fact. But just large enough for a scout cruiser, that is, if you
can get me one.” John relayed this information as if it were of no
consequence. But after the battle was over the political fall out had
begun. Entire systems seceded from the Imperium to join the Republic, some
for protection that the Imperium could no longer offer most of it’s
members, and others because they were in all but title subjugated planets.
One of those had been the Devron system. Which meant that the Republic now
had an example of the technology that the Imperium had used to devastating
effect in its military campaigns. A tool of war that could perhaps be used
to bring member worlds closer than ever conceived before. To construct a
series of portals throughout the Republic, making it possible to travel in
hours between member planets instead of days of weeks.
didn’t know that.” He said quietly, wondering just how many other
surprises like this were scattered about the universe by the Imperium and
just who knew of them and could make use of them.
many people do, it was mothballed and hidden. Sort of an emergency back up
copy should anything go disastrously wrong.” John sat back on the couch,
eyes closed and body seemingly relaxed but about him seemed to be an aura
of pain and alertness, like a sunbathing snake.
do you know about it?” Gemmell probed.
smile appeared on John's face as he contemplated all the decisions that
led him to this place. “I made it my business to know, Gemmell. My
survival depended upon knowledge, and if I were ever to get Aeryn home I
would need some means of doing it. The Devron system was my choice.
Isolated and hidden with automatic defenses to which I have the codes. I
could have been in and out in six hours, enough time to power up the
device send her home and erase the fact I had ever been there.”
of Aeryn, are you going to take her?”
make the offer, it is the least I can do.” With a sigh he opened his
eyes and leaned forward, carefully placing his glass on the table in front
of him. “But first, I am going to pass out.” And he promptly did.
of Command stared at the scattering of symbols representing surviving
ships of the Fleet of the people. He swore viciously and kicked the body
of O’a’lack that still lay on the deck with a neat hole drilled
through his forehead and a much messier hole in the back of it.
of Command had made his decision, but too late to save the situation. The
fleet was shattered, worse than shattered, barely one ship in fifty
survived. Never before had the people suffered such a defeat, any defeat.
would not break tradition; he would not raise himself above his position
as O’a’lack had. He had simply removed anyone between him and command
of the remnant. No one would challenge him and he would lead his ships
back home and he would be the one to pay for O’a’lack's madness.
they would be back, where he would be amongst them he had no idea, but the
people would be back to lay claim once more to these territories and to
wipe these vermin out. Make them pay for their victory in blood. But
before that could even start, he had to intercept the colony transports
and let them know to turn back. Then he would answer and pay. But so would
they, eventually. The People would not stand for this challenge to their
finally tracked Aeryn down in the gym. Now that he thought about it, it
should have been the first place he looked. She was confused and needed
time not to think, so obviously she would be here doing a punishing
workout. He stood at the side of the mat not speaking, simply waiting for
her to acknowledge his presence in the room. And he waited and waited.
Eventually with a sigh she turned to him. Not speaking. John took that as
permission to begin to talk.
leaving.” Was all he said.
going home.” He watched as she tried to grasp the meaning behind this
found this conversation difficult. It simply made no sense to her. This
entire situation made no sense to her. He wasn’t John but he also
wasn’t the John she thought he was. He was some sort of amalgam of the
two. She had witnessed this many times while with him on his ship. He had
the same qualities that inspired loyalty in those around him but he also
had a harder, more deadly edge to him. Most frightening of all, these
qualities were married with sheer capability. She was certain that if he
decided to do anything it would be done, one way or another.
she simply had to ask. “I thought you were home.”
I’m not. My home hasn’t existed for a long time, if it ever did.”
She watched him smile sadly and again she saw him as John. Quickly she
clamped down on this feeling. She could accept him as a friend but he
what about…?” She gestured at the people about them, blatantly
listening while trying to appear not to.
never accept me Aeryn. I’m the Butcher of Hell... or the Betrayer of
Earth. I can’t fit in anywhere here now.” With a sigh he sat crossed
legs on the mat and patted the space beside him. Slowly almost against her
will she walked to him and sat beside him.
where’s home.” She asked in a quiet voice, thwarting those trying to
one place that I can be me again. The one place where I’ll be accepted
for who I am.” He watched as she suddenly realized just where has was
going both in speech and in fact.
You’re returning to Moya! How?” Aeryn was shocked and surprised. She
had given up on going home. She had a place here, but it wasn’t home.
have a way. Want to come?”
scout cruiser exited the Knossos portal to be greeted with nothing, just
the vast emptiness of space as their welcome. They could have been
anywhere but for the intangible feeling of being home. John had always
thought of Earth as home but that was denied to him now, even the company
of other humans was out of the question, he would forever bear the mark of
Cain as far as his people were concerned. So here he was, returning to the
life as an outcast, a fugitive. Only this time he didn’t have the dream
of home to sustain him, he had no bright path to follow, just himself,
back, only he was different. He had Aeryn, only she was different too. All
they had once built up between them had been torn down and what little
they had rebuilt stood fragile and ready to fall at the slightest hurdle.
But they were home now. All they had to do was follow the breadcrumb trail
to Moya and perhaps they could heal together.
by either of them or the ship's sensors as they exited the portal was a
tiny surveillance drone. It had been idle for over a cycle now, waiting
until it’s sensors detected a specific phenomenon. Now it had and it
went active, scanning and probing as much as it could with passive sensors
gathering and collating the information as it pored in. The exit of the
ship was noted and once it was well out of range the drone warmed up
it’s transmitters and sent a specific microburst transmission to a
hidden base deep in the territories. There the message was received with a
“Welcome home John, I have missed you.” With that Scorpius turned on his heel and started shouting for Braca to have the Command carrier readied. Their quarry had returned.