It was once said that those who were born of the True Gods, and wrought in their image a reflection of the True Gods' essence, become gods themselves—that, in fickle hands and fortitude, the gift of knowledge to humanity bore semblance with divine oversight against divine wisdom.
Even at the eve of their existence, their sword unwilling and their shield fractured, never once did their will to survive falter. A brave woman, Alma Mater incarnate, charged through the infinite void on a silver stallion forged of steel, her zeal unshakable.
"Give me the highest magnification on the fore cameras," Captain Wilkes said. Lieutenant Hastings acknowledged her order, and in turn barked commands at the junior officers on the navigation consoles.
A starship was a fiendishly complex machine, with hundreds of systems that couldn't be monitored by a single officer. On her tactical display, the view zoomed in and showed the battle raging in the distance.
Ten vessels dissolved in space, forever embraced by the swollen husks of smoldering Locri. The remaining twenty-four starships accelerated toward twenty bioships.
The starships let loose a coruscating nebula of white-hot plasma at the bioships, tinged with electric-blue. The Locri spat forth acid streams that cut through space like lasers.
The plasma washed over the Locri hulls, melted them from flesh, but the wounds regenerated. The piercing acid streams shot into the starships' force shields, splattered, and dissipated into space as a wavering yellow mist.
The Locri dove away from the starships' charge, then turned and gave chase. As one, the twenty-four vessels banked to port and arced to a wide turn for another charge.
Starships, first launched into space half a millennia ago, resembled mobile artillery more than rapid attack rovers. They were designed to hold a position, overwhelm a distant target with superior firepower and screen retaliation attacks with their force shields.
Against the swift Locrix, however, holding a position was normally the last thing any ship commander wanted. Whoever was in charge of the fleet was running the multi-million ton vessels like sporting yachts just to avoid getting hit. If their hulls didn't snap, their reactors would quickly redline from the increased demand like the doomed Taharqa.
"Make minor corrections and drift us along the way," she told Ein Roskva. "Redirect the power to charge the subspace drive and the forward Gauss cannons."
"Answering reduction. Forward gauss cannons A through D are hot."
"We're drifting," Hastings said. "Rendezvous with the home fleet in five minutes."
"Calculate four firing vectors intercepting the leading Locri bioships, thirty-thousand kilometers before they cross paths with the home fleet. Pipe them on my screen, please. I'll personally confirm each vector."
Captain Wilkes had doubts about the NSC Vidar. It was an older Ulysses class destroyer, a third the size of the newer Navajo class cruisers within the home fleet.
The Vidar had only four plasma turrets, using older technology that had them firing beams instead of projecting clouds. To compensate, it had a battery of Gauss cannons that covered her from stem to stern.
Worse, what worried her most was the shipboard AI. Its processing power was slow for the demands of a starship, and the ubiquitous personality had been stripped to compensate. Wilkes was confident it had been salvaged or reconstructed, and the last thing she wanted was to let it freely fire their weapons.
On her holographic display, blue lines connected the four forward Gauss cannons at the prow of the Vidar to the lead Locrix in the distance. A countdown timer appeared, indicating when the bioships would be thirty-thousand kilometers from the home fleet.
"Zoom in to grid eight-by-nine. Let's get a closer look."
The Locri horde angled after the home fleet, approximately fifty-thousand kilometers between them now. The Locri and the vessels traded fire. A balance of the home fleets' shields held, but a pair's collapsed.
Acid splashed across their hulls and spewed dissolving fumes. First the silver Therrite battle plate peeled away, then the exposed skeleton melted into liquid alloy. The flanking vessels disembarked, and the two vessels continued on a collision course.
A transmission through the com channel. "Initiate alpha-five-two. Repeat, alpha-five-two maneuver. H.M.S.Untiring Vigil, come up behind the USS Comanche. Ram into those bastards. Godspeed, men. Godspeed."
The voice was that of Rear Admiral Richard Halsey, Wilkes recognized, gruff with a deep Texan drawl. There was no mercy in his voice, neither for the starships he ordered to their deaths nor their Locri targets.
"Gauss firing vectors confirmed," Captain Wilkes said. "Fire at will."
"Aye," Roskva replied. "Three, two, one—fire!"
Four lightning bolts flashed from the Vidar's prow. Weighing three thousand tons each, a Gauss round was a dense, ferrous core armored in starship grade battle plate. The first salvo set the bridge shaking and slowed the Vidar. The heavy impact rounds were fired through long barrels by powerful electromagnetic rings that propelled them at a tenth the speed of light.
The first Gauss round smashed into the leading Locrix a heartbeat later.
Against the bulbous bioships, firing a single gauss round was like throwing metal bricks at a tank. The rest of the rounds found their marks, however. Under the combined barrage, the bioship's chitinous hull disintegrated into ivory shards. The home fleets' plasma washed through the wounded Locrix.
Laid bare, the second salvo blasted through its swelling flesh and shattered the shell of the one behind it. The first bioship, without its regenerative shell to screen the plasma, vanished in the cloud ...vaporized.
The bioship that was behind it almost regenerated its cracked shell, but the plasma found its way through the remaining fissures. It drifted, swollen and blood aboil in the void, but it began to rapidly heal the damage.
That was when the USS Comanche crashed through its brittle shell. The vessel was smaller, but it had great momentum. It burrowed deep into the bioship like an arrow.
The HMS Untiring Vigil wasn't so lucky; it angled past the intertwined pair and crashed into the fourth Locrix. It bounced against a fully generated, hardened carapace—then flew to pieces.
The impact however slammed the Locrix to a dead halt.
The home fleet flashed past the remaining wounded Locri: the first bleeding with the starship buried inside, the second jarred to a bone-crunching halt after a head-on collision with the Untiring Vigil.
At the Vidar's range, the nuclear explosion appeared like the wink of a star. On her tactical display, however, four Locrix and two starships disappeared. Both parties' surviving balances turned to engage once more.
Captain Wilkes wondered how long the Locrix would let her sit back and take cheap shots at their shells. She wished there were more Ulysses class vessels in this battle, but nearly all of them were destroyed during The Intifada rebellion seven years ago.
The older vessels that remained were abandoned or scrapped for spare parts. The hulls of Ulysses class vessels couldn't with stand the evasive maneuvers engaging Locri demanded, or have enough firepower to completely destroy the bioships with their own power. Captain Wilkes was thankful she had the Vidar, however. Whoever brought it to Earth was a godsend.
She zoomed in on grid 288 by 189, far from the battlefield. Something there caught her eye. Three starships emerged from subspace at extreme range. She focused on the vessels.
Their names appeared: CSC Cinera, CSC Cu' Escen and CSC Exur. Those ships were from Chiron Space Command in the Alpha Centauri colony. They wouldn't be here unless something was terribly wrong.
Alpha Centauri was the nearest colony to Earth. After Earth and the outer colonies fell seven years ago, it became the Coalition Navy's only standing shipyard and the center of their power in the galaxy.
The plan was to retake Earth, reconstruct her shipyards and build starships to complement what remained of the home fleet. Right now, that plan was getting very close to becoming a complete failure.
Wilkes tried not to think about what happened at Alpha Centauri. If things were going so bad at their strongest outpost that starships were fleeing to a besieged Earth ...
"Subspace rupture," Hastings said. "140 by 189."
Captain Wilkes adjusted her display to this grid with dread coiling in her gut. Black space rippled and teased apart, saturating her display with white light. Something else, that she soon learned was the first of three, emerged from the subspace rupture.
They were too large to be Coalition vessels ...and similarly too small to be Locrix bioships. Each was a sleek black form with a single elongated torso. They swam through the void like eels—flitting shadows moving against a backdrop of stars. Bold red text appeared next to each creature:
UNREGISTERED CLASS 11 THREAT.