Author: toadie
Rating: R
Summary: John Crichton is not the man he thinks he is.
Notes Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche 1886
Archiving: Please contact the author for permission.
Part:  | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 |
 

Black & White

Part 5

Fleet Carrier Reprisal
Boat Bay

 

The boat bay was a cavernous place, but it seemed smaller than it truly was. It stretched almost the entire width of the vessel and was full of ships along with the necessary equipment to maintain and arm them. It was white, almost sterile. Cold to the eye as well as the touch. A shuttle rested in pride of place at the primary launch area, with a complement of assault troops waiting outside. Gemmell and Dietz walked into the bay side by side.

"Is this really necessary?" Gemmell asked, waving his hands at the squad of troopers in assault armour. "I thought you said he was primed to respond to us favourably?"

"Well, yes, he is. But better safe than sorry. Besides, he may have companions aboard that ship whose reactions we can't predict. Therefore I think this is a wise precaution.

"It could be seen as provocation to these others."

Dietz stopped short and turned sharply towards him. With one step she brought her body in close contact to his and whispered in his ear.

"I don't like you and you don't like me. But there is no need for you to question my judgement in front of the general crew like this. I am following the standard protocols established for this type of situation. So, they go." With this she turned and pushed her way past the waiting troops at the foot of the shuttle ramp and climbed aboard.

Gemmell stood still a moment, then, with a scarcely audible chuckle, followed her aboard the craft.

 

Moya

"I just said I question their motives, John."

"Oh, come on, Aeryn. Whoever these people are, they pulled our chestnuts from the fire. So what if they have their own agenda? I doubt it has much to do with us. I say we can trust them." He said in a rush, trying to keep up with Aeryn as she hurried towards Command and the others.

"If they are so trustworthy, why haven't they contacted us? If they are so friendly, why is Moya now surrounded with fighters and capital ships?" She waved off John's attempts to answer with a contemptuous gesture. "Whatever the answers, we no doubt will find out soon enough. We cannot StarBurst. Both primary and secondary iriscentent fluid bladders were ruptured, and it will take arns for them to recharge. We cannot resist any attempt to board us either."

"At least we know they aren't exactly friendly with the PeaceKeepers."

"Neither are the Scarrans, but somehow I doubt you would be as pleased to see them coming to our aid," she said as they entered the command deck and were instantly surrounded by the others. Zhaan was the first to speak.

"John, Aeryn! Thank the goddess you are all right. When we saw the fight we feared you might be destroyed by accident as you were flying a prowler."

"Does anyone recognise those ships? I feel like I should know them from someplace, but I can't place them. I figure you guys must know." John walked over to the scanner station and brought up an image of one of the larger ships currently in formation with Moya.

He turned back to the others, "Anyone?"

The others all glanced at each other and Aeryn opened her mouth as if to speak but then closed it quickly. This action didn't escape John's notice, however.

"You got something to say, Sunshine?" He leaned lazily against the scanner console, watching the others.

Aeryn was silent for several microts before speaking. "You are the only one of us who thinks they recognise these ships, Crichton. You even recognised the weaponry they used."

With this revelation the others turned back to John, who was now standing stiffly erect. The atmosphere was electric as John grimly avoided their querying looks. Finally he turned away from them and leaned heavily against the console.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Aeryn. I just said they look familiar, that's all."

Aeryn slowly came up behind him and placed a hand upon his shoulder and turned him to face her and the others.

"No, John, that's not all. You also told me that the missiles fired against the command carrier were Type Two or Type Three Ship Killer Fusion Missiles." She paused as she watched this information hit John like a fist in the stomach. His face paled and his expression became pained. "That's a little more than familiar, John."

John simply stood there staring at the others but not seeing anything. Finally he shook himself free of his dazed state and spoke in a voice that was barely above a whisper. "Yes, you're right, I did say that. I have no idea why, or how I know that but, I am certain that I am right." He raised his head to meet the others eyes. "I know these ships, but I don't know how. I just do. My God, I must be losing my mind."

Zhaan was at his side in an instant offering her silent reassurance. With a gentle hand she touched his head and smoothed his hair back from his face.

"We shall deal with this together, John," she glanced around at the other sensing their support before adding, "All of us."

Aeryn now stood at his other side, one arm extended over his shoulders. "We need to know what else you know about these ships and their crews. Are they friendly? Can we trust them?"

"Yes, we can trust them, that I know for sure." John said with conviction, but it was clear to him that the others had their doubts.

As soon as John had finished speaking, Pilot appeared on the clamshell.

"More ships are joining those already here. One of them is almost as large as a command carrier." On the main screen a large ship was shown, surrounded by smaller escorting ships and the same strange fighter craft seen before. "They have launched a shuttle which is on an intercept course for Moya."

D'Argo, who had been silent until now, spoke up. "No matter what John says, I don't trust them. Nobody does something for nothing. They must have their own reasons for coming to our aid."

"As much as I hate to agree with the Luxan, I do," piped up Rygel from his throne sled near the entrance. "Nobody does anything for no reason. Our problem is finding out just how much this aid is going to cost us."

"Spoken like a true cynic, Fluffy. But I guess you do have a point." John startled the others by pushing away from the console and heading towards the door. He paused at the entrance and looked over his shoulder at them. "Well, are you coming to find out if they're good guys or not?" He asked as he left for the hangar bay. The others followed with mixed feelings.

***

 

The only noises to be heard were whispered conversations and mechanical clicks and whines as the troops checked and rechecked their weaponry. Their mood was one of suppressed anticipation and worry. Anticipation over possibly going into a combat situation and worry over the fact that the Cohortach was going with them against all rules and regulations.

Tetrarch Greg Stammell stood observing the leader of the Fleet. Even surrounded by men made giants by their heavy, black powered combat armour, he seemed to exude a sense of invincibility. Anyone else would have appeared ridiculously fragile next to the men made machines. Still, he was worried that an accident might occur and one of his men might step on the Cohortach's foot.

A further worry was the fact that he refused to wear even the simplest form of body armour and insisted on disembarking before they did. When the commander of the detachment had brought up the subject, the Cohortach had simply waved away his concerns, saying he would put his trust in the detachment of assault troops before any body armour. While this certainly made the troops feel more confident and proud, their commander suspected there was a secondary motive to the refusal. If he didn't wear body armour, then the intelligence officer certainly couldn't. To do so would make it appear as if she were fearful while the Cohortach wasn't.

The pilot's voice broke the almost audible silence. "Thirty seconds till docking." A klaxon sounded out the final ten seconds.

***

 

The hangar doors opened just as the shuttle set down in the hangar. Aeryn checked her weapon for what seemed the hundredth time. All of them were armed but John was the only one who didn't seem nervous about the outcome of the next few moments. He stood casually in the middle of the bay, well away from any sort of cover he could hide behind if things went wrong. Aeryn cast yet another glance at her pulse rifle, then looked up startled as the shuttle door snapped open and clouds of steam or possibly smoke billowed out from under the shuttle. In the entranceway she could just make out the silhouettes of two figures.

The only sound was that of the cooling engines of the shuttle and the hiss of the escaping cooling gases from the ship. The figures then started down the ramp, still cloaked in the vapour and backlit from inside the shuttle. The figures advanced down the ramp with ominous slowness, the sounds of their feet hitting the ramp echoing in the silence. The tension was increasing in Aeryn and the others every microt. Which might explain why when John burst out laughing she jumped and almost shot him.

"Man, it's like watching Star Wars. Which one of you is Darth Vader?" The amusement he had just given vent to still streaked through his wry tone as he addressed the two coming down the ramp. Aeryn turned back and saw that the vapour had dissipated showing a male and female Sebacean in unfamiliar uniforms standing smiling at the group of disparate aliens in front of them. The female walked forward towards John with a smile on her face and stopped in front of him. John's expression was a mix of amusement and puzzlement as to why he had been singled out for such treatment.

"Long time no see, John Crichton." With that she reached out and wrapped her arms about him and soundly kissed him for what seemed to Aeryn like arns. The only thought going through her mind as she witnessed this scene was that it would have to be a blonde again.

"I think that's enough, Amy," the male said. Reluctantly, the female released John, who to Aeryn's eye seemed extremely embarrassed over the incident. The woman was still standing close to him, watching his reactions with amusement.

"Ah, do I, ah, that is…" John stuttered, still trying to regain his mental balance over the unexpected turn of events. As he stared at the woman a sense of recognition passed over him but nothing solid he could grasp. He glanced around and realised he would get no support from Aeryn who was standing rock still glaring alternatively at him then the woman. So instead he glanced towards the others, then away again when he saw their barely contained mirth over his predicament.

The man, who as far as Aeryn could tell, was as unamused as she over his companion's actions, stepped forward. "I think I should introduce myself." He paused slightly before reluctantly continuing, "and of course my companion." He waited until Aeryn rejoined the others before continuing, a smile playing across his face as he watched John trying to keep the others between himself and both Aeryn and Amy.

"My name is Scott Gemmell and I command the ships of the Imperial Navy currently in formation with your ship." He gestured towards the female who had returned to his side. "This is Amy Dietz, my… Intelligence Officer." The pause alerted Aeryn that all was not quite as it might seem. She observed that while they stood closely together, they were careful not to actually touch. And they never made eye contact or even looked in the other's direction while speaking of the other.

"I hope you don't mind that we didn't communicate with you before we boarded, but we wanted to keep unessential communications to a minimum while in orbit." Aeryn could understand this requirement. After all, she mused, this must be considered enemy territory; the less information they leave behind for analysis, the better.

She studied his bearing and manner, looking at his unconscious commanding stance as well as his seemingly open smile. As she watched she saw a flicker of movement inside the shuttle. She watched carefully to see if it were repeated but there was nothing. She decided to test their honesty.

"You have others in the shuttle?" she smoothly slipped into the conversation between Gemmell, Dietz and the others. She watched as the blonde tralk's expression hardened slightly before the smile made its reappearance upon her face, but Gemmell's never slipped.

"Of course there are. They are my personal bodyguard for this trip. I am breaking enough regulations just being here. I would be cashiered if I didn't bring them. I can have them come out, if you would like?" he turned slightly towards the open hatch, arm half-raised to order them to come out of the shuttle, but his eyes never left Aeryn. Put on the spot she quickly considered her options. She felt as long as they could be contained in one area, they were less of a threat should anything happen. She shook her head and was relieved when Gemmell lowered his hand and turned back towards the group. All Gemmell said was, "as you prefer."

Aeryn turned her attention back to the female, that for reasons she couldn't quite understand, she had taken an instant dislike too. She disliked the way the tralk kept smiling at John or the way she touched his arm. She could also tell while John was slightly uncomfortable with it, he was enjoying the attention.

"Perhaps you could give us a tour of your ship?" Gemmell's voice interrupted Aeryn's inner monologue. With a start she realised he had moved to stand in front of her, blocking her view of John and his tralk. "We have never encountered ships such as these, perhaps you could explain a little about it?" With that he took her arm and guided her out of the hangar. The others followed, adding their own information to Aeryn's reluctant explanations.

***

 

"And this is the command area. From here, we can control Moya either directly or through Pilot." After more than two arns of talking almost constantly and answering the many questions Gemmell posed her, Aeryn's throat felt gravely and her voice sounded slightly strained. She watched as Gemmell once again turned on his charm and deftly asked questions that were obviously designed to put the others at ease. At least it was obvious to her; the others seemed to be enjoying his praise like well-trained children.

Finally he stopped what Aeryn considered his incessant talking, and offered to give a tour of his ship in return for the one they had just given him and his officer. Aeryn watched as the others paused slightly before regretfully declining the offer, it seemed no matter how charming the man might be, they still retained some sense. Her relief was short-lived however, when John spoke up.

"I would love a tour of your ship, Scott. When's good for you?"

Aeryn blinked as she desperately tried to deny that she had heard what she thought she had heard but again that hope was dashed when she heard Gemmell's reply.

"Now is as good a time as any, John." He turned to face Dietz. "Why don't you go down and get the pilot to make ready? John and I shall be down shortly." Aeryn watched as the blonde tralk stiffened in rebellion before acquiescing to his orders. She thought she saw a smile of satisfaction flicker over Gemmell's face as she backed down from her unspoken and brief rebellion.

Aeryn took the distraction of Dietz leaving to grab John and propel him into a corner, but not before indicating to Zhaan to stall Gemmell for her.

"Are you mad?" She hissed at him. "You can't go over there alone. It is too dangerous. There is something I just don't trust about them, especially the blonde tralk." Her mouth snapped shut and her eyes widened slightly as she realised she had let her opinion of Dietz sneak free.

"Why, Aeryn, I could almost believe you were jealous if I didn't know better." Aeryn watched as a huge grin took up residence upon his face. She only just managed to resist the temptation of knocking it off for him, by remembering it was the first time in a long while she had seen it.

"It doesn't matter how I… feel. I will not allow you to go over there alone, Crichton." She said this firmly and with conviction, hoping that John would take the hint and withdraw his request for a tour. What actually happened left her speechless and with even fewer options than before.

"Great!" John put his arm over Aeryn's shoulders and steered her out the corner and towards Gemmell before she could take conscious action. "Scott, Aeryn has decided she wants to come with us. That's ok isn't it?"

"Of course it is John, Aeryn, no problem whatsoever."

 

Scout Cruiser Direwolf

Through the void of space a ship moved silently, darkly. Its presence was not detected by the much larger ship it followed at a distance. In essence it was a patch of nothingness, not a single stray emission to betray its presence to its prey. It followed, watching and waiting.

Aboard the ship the crewwoman controlling the sensor drone that was shadowing the command carrier much closer than the actual ship, leaned forward into her scope as a new signal source appeared upon her screen. Slowly the number of point sources grew until it was obvious that this was a full fleet of ships. She tweaked a control that sent a burst of power through the engine of the drone, sending it ghosting towards these new ships.

As the information on the ship types and classes started coming in, she alerted the officer of the watch to the change of situation. They both watched as the information was transferred to the main holo of the command deck. When the tally of ships reached thirty, all heavy cruiser sized and above, including a second carrier, the captain of the ship was informed.

Centurion Susan Matthews entered the command deck's main area and walked over to the holo plot. She watched as yet more ships were identified and classed until the final tally of seventy-two heavy cruiser sized ships and two Carriers had been reached.
She watched as they shook down into formations and started the long journey back insystem towards the enemy they had been summoned to fight.

"Send word to the fleet, then get us back insystem fast. I doubt even Cohortach Gemmell will decide to fight against such superior numbers."

With that the ship accelerated away from the imposing PeaceKeeper fleet, back towards its own, leaving behind them a trail of stealthed sensor drones to keep watch.

 

Fleet Carrier Reprisal

Aeryn was strangely unsettled throughout the tour of this massive ship. It seemed so like a Command Carrier but with a strangely alien twist. It was well lit, the walls gleaming white in colour only broken by irregular patches of shadows and the ancillary equipment, which formed parts of the wall. The wide corridor bustled with people and Aeryn felt confined among so many in such a small space. Once she felt at home in such an environment but now it was confining and uncomfortable.

John however seemed to be having a great time. He was practically bouncing on his heels as he walked around the ship, asking questions about various things and understanding them even as the explanations left her confused as to their actual purpose.

"This is fantastic isn't Aeryn? Sorta like a home from home for you, right?" he turned back towards her and grinned. She answered with a sour grunt and peered around herself suspiciously. She still felt something wrong but she had no idea what it might be.

She turned to Gemmell as a crewman rushed up to him and with a glance in her and John's direction started to speak in a hushed tone. Gemmell listened stoically until he had finished, then started issuing orders for the fleet to form up and move out. Once the orders were issued he turned to John and Aeryn.

"It looks like your tour has to be cut short I'm afraid, it seems that the Peacekeepers have received massive reinforcements and are now making their way insystem once more."

John nodded, "that's ok we understand, we'll just go back to Moya and leave now as well."

"Oh I'm afraid I can't allow that." Aeryn's head snapped around to face him, out of the corner of her eye she had seen a man come up behind John and inject something into his neck that made him collapse into unconsciousness. She started to rush to his aid when she felt a sharp pain in her neck and then nothing.

***

 

Slowly with a groan she fought her way back to consciousness. She started to struggle to sit up when someone started to aid her. She blindly lashed out at them and was rewarded by a grunt of pain.

"Fine, I won't help you then." The voice was that of a female. Aeryn forced her eyes to adjust to the brightness in the room; she looked around taking in the details. There were several PeaceKeeper tech females in the room with her.

"Wha…" was her first confused sound at the sight of Peacekeeper uniforms.

"Don't worry, we're prisoners like you."

"What do you mean? Prisoners? Of who?"

"I mean we were captured when these humans overran a secret Gammack base we had in the uncharted territories." The female who had spoken came over and sat beside her. "We have been here for almost a monen. Now and again they take one of us away for.. tests."

"Humans? I never suspected that. I thought they must be Sebacean."

"So did we until they told us they weren't." the female's face assumed a grim expression. "Apparently they are here searching for something or someone, we are unsure of exactly what though."

"John." Aeryn whispered but not quietly enough.

"You know something about this?
Aeryn was silent a moment before answering. "Yes, I know what they have been searching for. They have it now. They were looking for a crewmate of mine, he is a human."

***

 

John regained consciousness with a snap. He found himself bound to a bed surrounded by strange and exotic equipment in a room that buzzed with activity. He started to test the strength of his bonds by attempting to flex his arms, but he discovered they were secure.

"Ah you're awake." He looked sharply to his left and saw Amy Dietz standing at his side smiling down at him.

"Amy, what's going on? Why are you doing this?"

"Don't worry John." She reached out and gently smoothed his hair back from his face. "All will be well again soon. We just want to record your experiences out in this space."

"How do you plan on doing that?" John's apprehension was rocketing as he relived his experiences in the Aurora chair.

"We use the same process on you that we did before John. We simply map your neural pathways and extract the new information for the matrix. Once we have done this we can return you to yourself."

"I am myself!" John declared as he started struggling violently against his bonds. "I will not have my mind frelled with again."

"Oh well, I guess we just have to do this the hard way then." Dietz stepped back and signalled the technicians to begin the process. They wheeled a large machine over to him and settled it over his head. John heard a snap/hiss and then nothing. His next sensation was of the machine being removed.

"There that's wasn't to bad was it?" Dietz once again appeared by his side, smiling down at him.

"That… That was it?" John hated the quavering tone of his voice.

"Of course John. We aren't barbarians you know!" She leaned down and gently kissed his forehead. "Now all we need to do is return you to yourself."

A second machine was brought over and once more lowered over John's head. He heard the same snap/hiss as before but this time instead of unconsciousness he felt an immense pressure in his head. He heard alarms sounding and urgent shouts for assistance and heated arguments over what was going wrong.

He felt as if a battle was being fought in his head, his body was twitching of it's own volition. His heart was racing and he felt as if he was losing control of his mind, as if there was someone else in there, fighting for control and he was losing to them.

Suddenly he had a flash of scorpious telling him he must focus, concentrate. It was good advice but easier said than done John felt. But he tried. The more he concentrated the more control he regained of himself. But he also found that the more he concentrated the more he lost his memories and they were replaced with new, darker ones.

All of a sudden he realised he recognised this process enough to know that something was very very wrong. He shouldn't be able to feel this, he shouldn't even be conscious. He realised that the Aurora chair must have done something to him to cause this effect. As time went on and he felt more of his memories being replaced with what he now knew as his true life, he knew what the pressure in his mind was. It was the John Crichton who belonged to these memories. The John Crichton who had done all the things that had been giving him nightmares for monens.

The sick humour of the occasion gave rise to a snort of bitter laughter. I am my own evil twin.

So he fought on the battleground that was his mind for supremacy over something he could not bear to be. On the battle raged, sometimes he was winning sometimes he was losing. But every time he was almost defeated Scorpious was there aiding him.

"You must concentrate John, I can aid you but you are the only one who can truly prevent what is happening." To John, it was as if Scorpius were there with him. He could almost feel Scorpy's breath in his ear as it whispered to him, urging him on, to continue to fight.

John could feel his control slipping, he was fading away. The other John was winning and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Pain stabbed at his mind and he gratefully leapt into the dark chasm of unconsciousness, not knowing who had won the battle.

***

 

Gemmell entered the bridge calmly while all around him was ordered chaos. Preparations were underway for the fleet to form up and break away from the planet to escape the oncoming Peacekeeper juggernaught. Standing in the centre of all this chaos was his Flag Captain Gillian Rameriz, who was calmly giving the necessary orders for the departure. Not one to stand on ceremony, Gemmell simply walked up to her and asked the current status of the incoming fleet.

"Well sir, they have broken in three separate groups, one is on a direct intercept course with us, another is covering our exit vector and the third is hanging back in case we break past the first two." As she spoke the information from the sensor drones was updated on the main plot, showing exactly the current situation.

Gemmell studied it briefly. "They don't know how fast our ships are or those first two groups would be much closer together. The major threat is that third group lurking in the outer system."

"Yes sir, I know. What are your orders?"

Again Gemmell paused to consider the plot as well as his actions. He knew that no matter what he did there was a high chance he was going to lose some of his ships to this manoeuvre. While he could appreciate the tactical brilliance he cursed the mind that thought of it.

"The first group is no threat, we are faster than they are and will be long gone before they can have any impact, the second group is the greatest threat at this time. Have our screen of dreadnoughts run interference for us as we pass them." He knew he had just sacrificed the 5000 lives onboard those four ships but he also knew it was necessary. "Have the Captains initiate the Final Protocol." This would ensure that the last act of the ship would be to immolate itself to prevent technology and information falling into enemy hands.

He knew the real problem lay in the third group. Both of the carrier class vessels were in it, which meant they out numbered his fighters at least two to one. It also contained enough cruiser class vessels to hold his escort at bay while the carriers pounded him to pieces. Still he had a whole hour before he had to think of a way out.

***

 

Aboard Moya, panic and anger rampaged through the remaining crew. The Imperial ships were leaving, taking John and Aeryn with them. To make matters even worse the biggest PeaceKeeper fleet they had ever heard of had suddenly appeared in this system and they would be unable to starburst for at least a further two arns.

"We have no other choice," D'Argo raged, "if we stay we will be captured. Our only hope is to shelter behind the Imperial ships and let them bear the worst of any fighting. That way we might survive long enough to be able to starburst."

"But what of John and Aeryn?" Zhaan asked calmly, refusing to give into the panic she felt.

"We have to hope they will be OK. There is nothing we can do to aid them now. Their only hope lies in our survival."

"I can't believe I agree with that lummox but I do. Our survival is their survival," piped up Rygel, floating near D'Argo's shoulder.

"Then we are in agreement, we shelter behind the Imperial ships until we can starburst away from here."

***

 

"We are receiving telemetry from the first attack group sir. It seems that these alien ships are faster than we allowed for. They will break past the first attack group with ease while still outside of their range, Bracca reported to the still Scorpius, who was studying the tactical display.

"Yes I see that. Have them change vectors to come up behind the Human ships. If the second group manage to delay them then they might be able to catch up." He cocked his head to one side slightly as the information flowed across the tactical display.

"If we start in system now sir we can meet them head on. Destroy them utterly."

"I am aware of these facts Bracca, but I wish to see how they propose to get past our second attacking group. If they manage that, then we will move in and destroy them. After all the more damaged they are the better, we wouldn't want to lose one of our Command Carriers to stop them now would we?"

***

 

"What's the news Gillian?" Gemmell asked from his seat in front of the tactical command area for the task group.

"Not good sir. I relayed your request for the opening of the Knossos portal, but they say they have priority traffic using it now. They do however assure us that it will be opened in three hours at the designated co-ordinates."

"Well isn't that nice of them. Of course we will all be dead for an hour by then but the gesture is appreciated." He stood and started to pace the deck, his arms locked behind his back, his face a study of concentration. Suddenly he leaped over to the display and started to manipulate its scale. A few punched in commands into the computer and a location appeared on the screen well outside the system.

"Tell them this is the new location we want the portal opened. If we manage to break past that third group, we should be able to open enough of a lead over the PeaceKeepers to allow our remaining ships to escape in good order.

***

 

"Second attack group reports they have made contact with the enemy sir" Bracca was quite for a moment as he waited for this information to be passed along to update the tactical display in front of Scorpius and himself.

"So I see. What tactics are they using against our ships?" Scorpius asked, curious to hear the answer. The better you knew an enemy, the more you could predict his actions. Since the only human he had met was John Crichton, who stubbornly refused to conform to his expectations, he wanted to see if that was simply a single human or a species trait.

"This is most odd sir. The main body of the enemy fleet is continuing to move away from the second group, but four of the escorting ships have changed course and are vectoring into attack." Confusion reigned in Bracca's mind for a moment. He could not conceive of deliberately sacrificing ships and men in order to escape when it might be possible to win a battle.

"Ah, yes very clever. They force the second group to engage the ships he has left behind, leaving the rest essentially unscathed. Yes, a very cleaver move." Scorpius sighed as he saw the obvious confusion on Bracca's face. "He knows that he could defeat both the ships of the first and second attack groups but only by destroying his own ships in the process. This way, it will be the ships of our own group that they come into battle with, fresh and unharmed from minor skirmishes with the first two groups," he explained patiently.

***

 

"Pilot, we must have more speed!" Zhaan insisted.

"Moya and I are doing our best but those ships are faster even than a command carrier. We just cannot keep up with them." The strain on Moya was obvious; all non-essential power was being routed through her propulsion units. The noise was almost deafening and she was shaking violently with the strain of trying to catch the quick travelling ships of the Imperials.

***

 

The battle between the second attacking group of Peacekeeper ships and the four Imperial Dreadnoughts was vicious. Missiles thundered from the Imperial ships towards the Peacekeepers, while still well out of the range of Peacekeeper weapons. Fiery boils erupted across the defence screens of the targeted ships. The missiles were time on target, this meant that two missiles hit the same target with an interval of microseconds. And where these missiles struck only spinning glowing debris remained of the once proud ships. If the dreadnoughts had enough missiles they could have kept the range open and pounded the other ships to nothing, but unfortunately their supply was finite. After twelve of the ships had been destroyed there were no more missiles.

With odds now of three to one against, the Dreadnoughts bore down on the enemy ships, closing the range for conventional weapons. In an orgy of mass destruction, the Imperial ships launched short-ranged nuclear tipped missiles and fired massively powerful x-ray lasers at the smaller ships. The Peacekeeper ships answered this fire with fire from smaller versions of the massive frag cannons mounted on Command Carriers. They also launched their own missiles containing warheads composed of chalka oil. The smaller Peacekeeper craft died hard but not without inflicting severe damage upon the four much larger Dreadnoughts. First one then a second suffered a violent, flame filled death. Finally all Peacekeeper ships of the second wave were destroyed, leaving behind them spinning remains of ships and two gutted Imperial Dreadnoughts.

Not long after the final Peacekeeper ship died, the ships of the first wave swooped upon the remains of the dreadnoughts. Before a shot could be fired into the crippled hulks of the dreadnoughts they were torn apart by massive internal explosions, their captains having carried out the final Protocol.

***

 

The deaths of the crews of his dreadnoughts weighed heavily upon Gemmell's mind. He knew he had made the correct decision but still it galled him having to issue the order to carry out the final protocol on such bare and valiant crews.

***

 

The deaths of the ships of the second attack wave meant little to Scorpius. They were simply a means to an end. They had shown up the tactical weaknesses his enemy had and also the ones he would try to exploit on his ships. Strategy was adjusted accordingly.

***

 

Even in on the prison deck the tension could be felt. Aeryn watched as the ship's crew ran to their duties. Having served upon a Command carrier she recognised the signs of imminent combat. She felt concern for her own well being but the major worry she could not escape was what was happening to John. She found her mind's preoccupation with John's welfare immensely annoying but even that irritation didn't stop her worrying.

***

 

Dietz sat in a chair in her cabin watching and waiting for John to regain consciousness Whatever had happened in the personality recovery portion of his debrief had her concerned. No one knew just what had happened other than it was something odd and outside of their experience. That was why he was in her quarters. Nobody knew him better than she did. After all they had been married for several years before certain events had forced her to divorce him in order to distance herself from his actions.

She watched as he began to stir. She stood and went and sat on the bed beside him as he opened his eyes. Confusion reigned uppermost on his face but that was to be expected she had been told. It might take several days for him to reassimilate his old memories and knit them together with those gained in this space.

***

 

"We will come into come into contact with the enemy ships in less than thirty minutes sir, what are your orders?"

"Have the fighters prepared, half for anti-ship duties, the others for anti-fighter. When we are within twenty minutes launch them. Retain a squadron for a combat space patrol, have the rest concentrate on those carriers. They are the priority targets for the fighters. Make it clear to the pilots that their lives are secondary to this mission. Give them my thanks and my best wishes."

***

"They have launched fighters sir." The anonymous voice pulled Bracca from his thoughts, and he turn turned to pass this information on to Scorpius whom by now was sitting in the command chair.

"Launch our own fighters to intercept them. I want it made clear to the pilots that no enemy fighter should be allowed to break past them and threaten these ships."

***

 

The leading edges of the two fighter groups met with explosive greetings. The Imperial fighters were clearly superior to the prowlers, but the prowlers had the numerical advantage over them. The imperial pilots managed to drive a wedge through the prowlers, allowing those equipped with missiles to pass through with minimal losses. But the cost was huge. Prowler pilots threw themselves at their Imperial counterparts ferociously. Fighters were firing on a target and being killed the next instant. Gradually superior numbers began to force the Imperial fighters against the Command carriers, who opened fire indiscriminately, killing both Imperial and Peacekeeper craft.

Few of the missile-equipped fighters made it through the gauntlet but those that did operated effectively, concentrating their firepower upon one target. While they were not able to destroy it, they did manage to cripple its propulsion system, which was just as effective.

Finally the last attacking imperial fighter was destroyed, leaving only a single squadron to take on the shattered remnants of the prowler squadrons.

***

 

"Well that's one carrier out of the fight at least and we have crippled their fighter capability." Gemmell sat back hard in his chair, the immensity of his fighter losses slowly sinking in. He felt immense pride in the crews who had sacrificed their lives against superior numbers to win this victory. For it was a victory. With the second carrier out of the way, Gemmell felt confident in his ability to meet and pass the remaining ships with moderate losses. He chuckled grimly as he thought of the thousands of lives that would be lost but still only to be considered moderate losses.

He watched as his plan was set into action. His lighter ships moving to the leading edge of his formation backed by his remaining dreadnoughts. Unfortunately they were light on the missiles that had proven so effective, due to the earlier combat with the Peacekeeper carrier. He knew this was an all or nothing plan. He could feel the urge coming upon him to control ever aspect of the coming battle, but he resisted knowing that would only lead to disaster. He had to trust his captains to follow his plans and be ready to react to anything unforeseen that might happen. This was the time he hated most, the final few minutes before battle was joined.

 

On to Part Six

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