About ten seconds following the blood-chilling shriek, the elevator started moving again and arrived at the main hangar deck a further seven seconds later. Pyro, Johnny and myself emerged to find Dark and Angel - the other two members of our Chaos Squad - as well as the seven other fighter squads stationed at Starfather: Aegis, Banshee, Draco, Eagle, Fury, Gryphon and Halberd. All of the pilots, each only about seven months into their tour, stood to attention as Vice-Admiral Montgomery stepped up to a circular platform to address us.
"Cadets, as you all have surely heard from the announcement, there is an unidentified stellar object approaching the Starfather at high speed. As a matter of fact," the admiral gestured toward one of the large viewports in the hangar, "the object can at least be partially seen from here." All heads turned towards the viewport to see what appeared to be some kind of gaseous formation: a mass of burnt red and orange gas that seemed to crackle with electricity, sparks of pink lightning arcing out from the violently rumbling clouds.
I addressed the admiral, "That looks like a nebula, sir."
"Perhaps," the admiral replied, "but this anomaly was not present in this sector until ten minutes ago. Nebulae do not travel, cadet, nor is this an ion storm or any other recognised phenomena. This thing, whatever it is... is alive."
The cadets began to mutter amongst themselves, finding the prospect of a massive cloud of gas being a living being preposterous, or at the very least, highly unlikely. The admiral continued, "Several Hegemony monitoring satellites were caught in the path of this entity. Before their transmissions were cut off, they relayed the following images from inside the cloud."
The admiral tapped a control on the console beside him, conjuring up a vis-comm window displaying the satellites' final transmission. All of the squaddies stared with confusion and bewilderment as an amorphous mass appeared on the screen, coloured a darker shade of red and sporting several tentacle-like appendages. I took a closer look and saw that the appendages looked oddly enough like blood vessels, but then the image zoomed out and I suddenly found myself thinking back to biology class in high school, staring intently through a microscope at bacterial organisms that swarmed within small samples of genetic material from various animals and plants. The thing I was seeing on the screen then, however, looked like some kind of cancer, festering and malignant. The image switched again, this time showing the grotesque space tumour releasing small, spiny objects from what appeared to be mouths that ripped open in random parts of the organism like someone had deliberately forced open a stitched wound.
"The screeching sound that you all surely heard moments ago," Montgomery continued, "was in all likelihood generated by this entity. Attempts to communicate with it have gone unanswered, save for that screech, but the destruction of our surveillance satellites has led us to believe that its intentions are hostile." The cadets all looked about each other nervously as the admiral gave out his order. "Now I know that you are all in training and that you were not yet prepared for encounters such as this, but the nearest Hegemony defence battalion is still just under two hours away and this thing will be upon us in less than ten minutes. This station must be defended before reinforcements arrive and you are all that there is to do that. All I can tell you is to remember your training, follow your instincts, and fly like you've never flown before!"
A sudden roar of cheers echoed through the flight deck. Perhaps not all of the cadets quite understood the gravity of their situation, but Admiral Montgomery certainly had a way with the troops. If things went well and the station was still intact when it was all over, he would probably be recognised as a hero. Of course if it all went south, the admiral would surely be reprimanded for the decision to send forty youths who lacked proper combat training to their deaths. The lowest disgrace for a decorated military commander of his standing.
"Now all squadrons to your fighters! SCRAMBLE!"
The squads all divided and made the run for their assigned launch areas. "Let's kick some ass!" Angel cried out with excitement as he sprinted toward his fighter.
"You're assuming this thing has an ass to kick," stated Pyro, ever the pedant. "Were you not looking at the monitor?"
Johnny, Dark and I said nothing as we entered the launch bay and boarded our ships. As quickly as I could, I made pre-flight checks and buckled up, and seconds later Chaos Squad was given the green light for launch. Our ships' engines fired up and we were soaring out of the station in a standard 'V' formation, with Angel heading the team, Dark and myself on his port and Pyro and Johnny at starboard. As we adjusted course to the entity approaching the Starfather, we all heard that ungodly, angry shriek impossibly echo throughout space once again, and deep down inside I felt my spirit weep. I had no clue as to what this thing was, but the bigger question on my mind right at that moment was Why am I flying TOWARD it?