Captain Jaycen D'armeus studied his tac monitor, fingers drumming an intent tattoo against the armrest. He watched intently as dots and squares crawled across the tac-map formed by the Jinx's scanning systems; Blue dots for Shadow Stalkers vessels, green dots for the client vessels and the red dots, naturally, being the enemy vessels. The client ships - three Candaran dreadnoughts, seven corvettes and four frigates along with a three squadron strong wing of fighters and bombers deployed from their carrier swarmed the Lishni defenders. It was a mess. The Candaran task force had broken formation against all warnings not to and now the Lishni forces were taking cold, calculated advantage of the situation. And being on the Lishni's home turf did not help matters one bit.
He cast a look at his secondary tac monitor, positioned low to his left. It was tied in purely to Shadow Stalkers vessels, allowing him readings on their current statuses and positions, each update coming in via coded tightbeam transmissions every ten minutes. So far, the Eclipse was busy fending off a Lishni dreadnought, the giant Shadow Stalker dreadnought standing between the Lishni and a small grouping of stricken Candaran support vessels. He connected his wetware to the secondary tac monitor and queried the system as to the nature of the ships the Eclipse was ferociously defending as he typed out a query to send to various department heads on his own ship. The screen flickered to a display of a heavy fuel tanker, information on the ship scrolling onto the screen below it. The oval tub was fifty years old, a kilometre long and was hauling positron re-fueling cells for the corvettes and frigates. The surrounding, smaller ships were tenders, all of whom should have known better than to get so close to the fighting without an escort.
Well, they got a fucking escort now, the idiots. JD thought bitterly, trying not to physically wince as the monitor lit up again with an update ping from the Eclipse. Three tonnes of hard rounds had just been spent defending those ships from the Lishni and two laser battery capacitors had been burned out, leaving a hole in the ship's point-defences.
'Someone's gotta have a few choice words with the Candaran Admiral about that.' Lieutenant Commander Spirit Swiftpaw muttered just loud enough for him to hear.
'I expect Captain Blacktip is already sending him and the other captains some choice words.' He replied absently, going back to his primary tac monitor.
They were still under stealth, as was the Reaper. Both Stalker ships were holding position in a close orbit around one of the twin moons of Hadras-6, waiting for Blacktip's signal to slide into the fray and garrot the Lishni forces, cutting them off from their heavily defended fueling depot that was sitting in a high orbit above Hadras-6 like a ripe fruit, ready to be picked. The plan was to let the larger ships and the squadrons of multi-role starfighters soften up the Lishni, so the two destroyers could launch from their station in orbit of the moon and destroy the fueling depot with the least amount of resistance between them and it, which would put the Candarans on the path of Victory. The Reaper and the Jinx had already deployed two squads of Legionaries each to the ravaged planet below, to soften up the ground forces to allow the Candarans to deploy the final assault to grab their prize, as well as having launched a squadron of fighters a piece, which were currently nipping at the heels of the enemy corvettes and frigates, whilst destroying any Lishni starfighter that opposed them.
So far, the Softening Up of the Enemy Forces part of the plan was going wrong thanks to a lack of communication. The victory conditions had just been tossed out of the nearest airlock with a rocket up its arse.
'Just remind me what the Candarans have dragged us into, again?' Spirit sighed, sounding equal parts bored to tears and frustrated.
'They want the data stacks that're stored on this planet. Something to do with bettering their homeworld defences against further Lishni invasion.' He said, and added, ' 'Course, you believe that, then I suppose I've got a solid gold ship for sale, real cheap.'
The sabre tooth cat tilted her head at him and gave him the best sarcastic look she could muster. The red and black demon just chuckled and went back to his screens. Something interesting had happened on his tac monitor. Two Lishni corvettes had dropped off the grid. Another update pinged Tac-2. Ghost Cat squadron had killed them and they reported the next damaged corvette in their sights as good as dead within the next five minutes, too.
'Looks like Hellcat's just added to her squad's shore leave fund.' He said, sitting upright in his chair. He looked out across the bridge. 'Any word on Geist and Tyrant squads?'
'None, Sir. But I'm hearing fractured chatter from the lagging Lishni dreadnought that at least four of their AALs have gone offline.' Ensign Jal Consal said. 'There's also rumour about a Lishni task force being freed up from a near-by colony of theirs. Sounds like the Lishni do have reinforcements, after all.' The young Engarran frowned slightly, the thorny ridges of his grey face knotting above his six eyes as he looked back at his main monitor to study the messages he had intercepted.
'Any idea what direction they're coming from?' JD prompted.
Jal shook his head. 'Only that they're supposedly coming.'
'Keep me informed and transmit that info to the Eclipse on a coded tightbeam.'
'Aye, Captain. Relaying message now.'
'We don't have nearly enough guns to take on another task force.' Spirit said softly so that no one could overhear.
'I know. And unless we put this fight to bed very soon, we're going to start taking some heavy losses because Hellcat's just announced she's out of hard ammo and her lasers are running far too hot to continue.' JD replied, reading the fresh data update from the ship's fighter squadron.
They had lost two starfighters already, four were badly damaged and all were either out of ammo, or perilously close to it. This was a defeat in the making, he could feel it in the depths of his gut. Regardless of the rising of his choler, he forced himself to remain outwardly calm, projecting the facade of stoicism he had spent years cultivating. Now was not the time to let the crew believe they had suffered yet another defeat before it had actually happened.
'So much for offing another two corvettes.' Spirit sighed a little wistfully.
'Toya's stubborn. She'll no doubt find a way to spite at least one of the captains as she flies past.' JD said, hoping he was right.
Squadron Leader Toya Dansen rolled her XR-3 Vortex starfighter down the flank of a stricken corvette, barreling through the venting atmosphere that billowed from a twenty foot long rent in the armour plating. The big ship's point-defences fought to target her and her wingmate, but their shots were ultimately going wide as no positive target lock could be obtained on the nimble, matte black fighters.
'I think we're just upsetting them more.' Her wingmate said gruffly, swinging out and tilting back in towards the corvette.
'That's the point Ace. Annoy them until they're almost blind! And then annoy them s'more!' She laughed as she pulled back on the controls, jerking the Vortex upwards so suddenly, Ace almost lost her against the black.
If it wasn't for the Vortex's tracking systems being tied in to every other Vortex flying the theatre, then Ace would have been hard pressed to re-locate his Squadron Leader in the fray; like all Shadow Stalkers vessels, the Vortexes were painted as black as the sky they often flew in, only the rad plates being a startling green. He pulled hard on his own controls and followed her once he'd regained visual contact, darting across the flat of the ship's spine, sending out a tachyon burst just to let the corvette's targeting systems know they were there. The spine-mounted point-defence laser cannons rotated smoothly on their gimbals and opened fire, spitting out red streaks of energy into the black, trying to hit the near un-targetable starfighters.
The shots missed the dancing Stalkers and one of the laser canons found itself roasted, the feedback of such close range friendly fire setting off explosive fires in the capacitor housings beneath the cannon's emplacement.
'You're a complete tit, Hellcat, y'know that right?' Ace chuckled as they arced back towards the corvette.
'I can't believe that actually worked.' She said breathlessly, aiming for the next pair along the spine. 'I really hope it wasn't a fluke.'
'We're about to find out.' Ace commented tightly, focussing his concentration on weaving between the cannons that were rotating madly and trying to swat them out of the black.
Another point-defence laser cannon erupted in smoke and flame, the intense heat of the close-range laser strike burning deep enough to ignite the storage battery that helped feed the capacitor. Smoke seeped from between hull plates and the corvette dipped, its captain apparently having had enough of Toya and Ace's attention.
'Guess it wasn't a fluke...'
'Oh look, they're trying to escape.' Ace commented idly.
'Let's move on to part two.' She said.
They broke apart, positioning themselves on either side of the ship, hugging it close enough that surely some of the proximity alarms were screaming as loudly on the vessel's bridge as they were in the cockpits of the two starfighters.
'I'm in position.' Ace said.
'Roger that, Ace. You ready?' She said.
'I was born ready.'
They raced forward, bellies as close to the sides of the corvette as they could get, charging towards the fore of the ship. Another proximity alarm sounded on Toya's dash. Her ship had registered the presence of an obstruction up ahead and had compiled an image of it in a matter of seconds. It was a smooth, grey lump, a thin wire protruding from its peak, waving in the spacial turbulance as the ship gained speed, heading towards a pair of its sister ships for aid. The lump was supposedly a part of the corvette's long-range scanning suite, and each corvette sported a pair of them, one on each side just short of the bow. They were listed as not being as well armoured as the rest of the ship, and both pilots were hoping it was true. Toya glanced at her speed. Five seconds until her ship built up the speed to go superluminal and breaking the FTL barrier. She grinned as it happened; a bright flash instantly polarizing her cockpit canopy and her full face vizor, saving her sight for another day as her ship blacked itself out and sent the command to her suit the very next instant. The Vortex shuddered hard very briefly, then the enemy ship was gone and she and Ace were flying hard into the black, 1c above FTL speeds.
Communication at such speeds were impossible for a ship, much less a starfighter, that was not equipped for it, so she and Ace had agreed that the moment they had 'popped the zits', they would immediately begin braking procedures. They dropped back to cruising speeds with another flash of light, checked their fighter's read-outs for damage - which, thankfully, was minimal - and came about, the grey, wedge-shaped bow of the corvette locked into their targeting systems.
'Tachyon emitters are ready for a concentrated burst, boss.' Ace reported as they headed for the jaws of the ship.
'Copy that, Ace. I see your target.' She replied, looking at her tac-monitor.
He had circled and flagged a slim protrusion that hung from the lower part of the prow. Toya circled and flagged a glassy strip of transparasteel that sat center of the bow section.
'I really hope these are its eyes.' She said.
'They better be, or our intel guy is going to get a kicking he'll not soon forget.'
'Tachyon emitters re-configured. Emitters now at maximum capacity.'
'Corvette's just tagged us and is speeding up.'
'Good. Tachyon burst in three on my mark. Three.... two... one... Mark!'
Twin beams of tachyon particles lanced out from the hastily reconfigured emitters the two Vortexes carried at the tips of their nose cones. The on-rushing corvette's sensor suite was overloaded and the ship was blinded, left to flounder, the laser and plasma cannons going silent as nothing could be tracked through the overloaded sensor suite. The information was relayed to the rest of Ghost Cat squadron and those who were left with missiles in their racks arrowed out of the darkness to light up the corvette as it rebooted its sensors.