Tiber System
Orbital Space
UEE Strike Carrier Terrance Nolan
Fleet engaged with Vanduul Raiders
March 7, 2937
Fall of Tiber

Kieran drifted within the husk of one of the countless wrecks of UEE and Vanduul ships found drifting in space in the Tiber system. His passive sensors and the chatter coming over the radio told him the battle wasn’t going well. He gritted his teeth in frustration. His orders were to monitor the jump point that lead deeper into Vanduul space to warn the fleet if more Vanduul entered the system. It was times like this he regretted being a recon pilot. People he knew were fighting and dying in the space over the planet trying to cover the dropships and the specialized Marine assault drop craft called ‘nails’ dashing down to reinforce the troops on the ground. As he watched the scene through his sensors, his eye was drawn to one of the dropships making a desperate run for the planet. Several Vanduul craft had pounced on the ship, assigned number 47449 by the fleet’s systems, and the pilot was throwing the ship around like a rag-doll in a tornado. Somehow, he’d managed to destroy two of the craft coming after him. Kieran hoped the troops in the back were strapped in tight, otherwise they would know what it was like to be… well, rag-dolls inside a shipping container in a tornado.

Kieran whistled in appreciation for the pilot’s skill and bravado, he’d started a controlled tumble into the atmosphere. It served two purposes: it cut the time required to get to the deck and could fool the ships trying to blast you into so much space dust that your ship was crippled and out of control or dead already. “Luck to you friend” he thought. Kieran likely would have been fooled himself if not for the fleet’s interlinked datanet showing him that the craft had sustained light damage so far. Once the dropship entered the atmosphere, it would look like it was burning up from reentry. A risky maneuver, if you didn’t work your shields just right the ship would actually burn up in atmosphere and fighting the gravitational forces to keep the ship from plowing head first into the planet at high velocity wasn’t for the weak or faint of heart.

A series of chimes from his ship alerted him to new contacts – a small Vanduul fleet was just coming through the jump point. A light cruiser, two destroyers and four frigates were coming to enter the fray. Shortly after arrival, about two dozen Scythe fighters deployed from the larger craft and fanned out to act as a screening force. Kieran swore softly under his breath and glanced over to the readouts on another display. His ship wasn’t heavily armed by any stretch of the imagination, so he had taken a couple of precautions just in case something like this happened. The wreck he was currently using for cover was one of dozens that drifted along with an asteroid belt in the system. In one of the less dense sections of the asteroid field, the remains of the UEE heavy cruiser Invincible drifted in the black. She had broken in two when hit by several Vanduul reactive chemical torpedoes during an engagement several years back. Kieran had stopped on each half long enough to plant an antimatter mine on each hull. The Vanduul were likely to use that section of the belt to pass through – especially with their larger ships – to cut down on chance meetings with a tumbling asteroid. He confirmed that his mines were still awaiting the signal and had not been damaged by the hulk of the Invincible or a stray asteroid.

Kieran cursed again when the Vanduul split their forces, while the larger force lead by the light cruiser appeared to be heading for his little trap, the smaller one lead by one of the destroyers looked to be taking a different path. He punched a few commands into his system and the nav computer plotted probable courses. The smaller force was heading for the carrier battle group lead by the Bengal class carrier Topher Allen while the larger was heading for the Nolan’s group of ships. Kieran sent a tightly focused burst transmission to both carriers about the Vanduul and then quickly shut down all of his ship’s systems other than the passive sensors. The air in his ship would hold out for a couple of hours and his spacesuit would keep him from freezing to death in the meantime. He was nothing more than a hole in space signal-wise now – it was just this sort of tactic that had earned him his callsign, Ghost.

He glanced around his ship – a specially modified 350r designed for stealthy recon in Vanduul space – and patted the curved surface of the cockpit glass overhead affectionately. “We’ve been through a lot you and me, just hush up for a bit and the Vanduul won’t see us and with luck, the presents we dropped off will do their job.” Mentally, he ran through the startup checklist to eliminate anything he didn’t absolutely need to get the ship running as fast as possible if his sensors showed that the Vanduul were coming to investigate the wreck he was in. He already knew what to do, but his training had ingrained the process into his memory. It would take him one second to spin up power and get the thrusters and active sensors going. He could turn life support, weapons and the radio on once he was speeding away. “Wait” he thought, “amend that…” He’d need to get the radio on sooner to activate the mines, so one and a half to two seconds.

Kieran studied the display for a moment before nodding to himself and flipping the switch to turn the screen off. He had about fifteen or twenty minutes before the Vanduul were in the vicinity of the wreckage of the Invincible and he needed to work out a calculation. He unbuckled his harness and turned his seat around to face the hold. He pulled himself through the small hallway into the hold of the 350r, and then drew a heavy black cloth over the entrance to the hold. Once the cloth was in place, several magnets sewn into the hem connected to the ship’s hull with soft, metallic clicks. The hold was pitch black now, which also meant no light would escape to the outside. A bit paranoid perhaps, but he always felt it best to err on the side of caution when out here alone – paranoia was a good thing when the Vanduul were involved. He felt for the chem-light stick he had zipped up in one of the arm pockets of his suit, slipped it out and thumbed the activation switch. The chemicals in the stick began to mix, producing a soft blue-white light that suffused the hold. He took a quick glance around even though he knew what would be there: his small desk with a chart for the system hung on the bulkhead above it, a small trunk with several books, a notepad and more chem-lights along with a few other personal odds and ends. He sat down at the desk and pulled out his mobiglas. He’d always been better at this when he did not have to rely upon doing the calculations in his head. He had to figure out when to send the signal to the mines to compensate for the delay due to the distances involved. He reached out and powered on the display built into the bulkhead wall, then called up the data from his passive sensors. There would be a small margin of error in his calculations with the passive sensors, but not enough to warrant taking the risk of discovery if he went active or pinged the Vanduul with a ranging laser sensor.

Kieran had just finished his calculations and was reaching up to turn the screen off when movement in the asteroid field near the path the smaller Vanduul fleet was on caught his eye. He stared in horror as another 350r flared to life on the screen, his sensors picking up the heat and emissions bloom as the pilot made a mad dash for the Allen battle fleet. His hand was involuntarily reaching for the comms control before he stopped himself. Due to the distances involved, he was seeing the image of what had already happened seconds ago. Anything he said or did would be too late and only put his ship at risk.

He cursed under his breath and watched in sick fascination. He’d known as soon as the signal from the ship blossomed from the velvety black of space that the pilot was dead unless he was very lucky and very good. The pilot had spooked, if they were going to run they should have done it at the first sign of the Vanduul. Running now would just trigger the predatory instincts of the monsterous aliens, like the startled flight of an antelope in front of a lion or blood in the water before a shark. You ran behind the Vanduul, not in front of them. Like predators, they often paid no attention to what was behind them when they were on the chase. The 350r was fast, but the Scythes were often faster. He’d never understand how every Scythe was the same yet different – you never really knew exactly what the ships would be capable of doing. Some were incredibly fast, others incredibly nimble or heavily armed or armored. They were all tough in a fight.

Three Scythes leaped away from the small Vanduul fleet to chase after the 350r, quickly gaining on the fleeing craft. The UEE pilot tried to evade and pour on speed, but it wasn’t enough. After a quick burst from the wing cannons of two of the Scythes ripped away the 350’s shields, the third used its wing-blade to cut through the cockpit area of the ship. Kieran had to admit, it had been a nice bit of piloting by the Vanduul. The alien ship had climbed above the plane of the system and dove down on the fleeing 350r to drive the wing-blade through the cockpit and likely the pilot while his two buddies had taken down the shields seconds before the impact of wing-blade and cockpit glass. The 350r was just the latest victim of the system the UEE Navy had dubbed ‘The Grinder’. Kieran closed his eyes and murmured a quick prayer for the dead pilot before shutting down his screen and returning to his seat in the cockpit.

The light cruiser and her escorts were still on course for the asteroid gap where the Invincible was. He set the timer on his mobiglas to go off five seconds before he calculated he needed to send the signal. It was still a few minutes off and the wrecked hulk he was parked in had rotated to the point he could see the flashes of light from the fierce battle taking place around Tiber II. The night side of the planet was facing him, and the darkness blanketing it was punctured by explosions, lightning and the multi-colored glow of ships being pulled into the gravity well of the planet after being crippled, damaged or destroyed in the battle raging in the space around her. Bursts of light would ripple across the planet in a silent, staccato rhythm that testified to the savagery of the combat taking place under the cloak of darkness. He glanced down at his display and saw that the situation was getting desperate for the UEE Navy. The Vanduul were bringing too much pressure to bear from too many directions at once for the UEE forces to deal with. They could not concentrate their firepower or their forces onto any one point due to the Vanduul’s tactics – though in truth it was likely more due to the clannish nature of the Vanduul than any concerted battle plan or strategy. It was simply the chaos of the horde.

Kieran’s mobiglas vibrated as the alarm went off and he tapped one of the small displays in his cockpit to power up the radio. He held his finger poised above the transmit button while he brought some of his ship’s systems online with the other. “Now” he thought, his finger flicking down onto the icon of the transmit button on the display even before he completed his thought. His eyes focused on his sensor readouts as he flipped on more systems, the explosion would hopefully overwhelm the sensors of whatever ships survived the trap he had set.

Three seconds after his signal was sent to the mines, they erupted as the magnetic fields containing the antimatter dissipated and released the contained particles. In total, the two mines contained one gram of antimatter but the resulting explosion was over three times the power of the first atomic bomb dropped centuries ago. For a millisecond, the space where the Invincible used to be was brighter and hotter than the system’s sun. Kieran had almost timed his explosion perfectly. One of the frigates and five of the Scythes had been practically at the center point between the two halves of the Invincible. There weren’t big enough parts of the Scythes left to identify and the frigate was only so much twisted metal corkscrewing through space. The destroyer had taken extensive damage and appeared to have lost shields and most of her propulsion. Atmosphere was venting from a large rift in the pressure hull on her port side. The other frigate had been shielded from the blasts by the destroyer, but was still showing major damage to the bridge section and multiple breeches of her hull, likely more from debris and the shockwave of the first frigate’s power core exploding a microsecond after the mines than the initial explosion itself. Four of the remaining Scythes were crippled or destroyed. As Kieran watched, their self destruct systems obliterated the remains in brief blossoms of fire.

Unfortunately, the light cruiser and the remaining three Scythes were essentially undamaged. They did not even stop to look for survivors or lend assistance to the damaged destroyer and frigate.

A priority message notice had been blinking on his display and beeping in his ear shortly after he had flipped the radio back on. He tapped the message icon and the stored message scrolled across his screen. New orders had come in while he was running silent – all available ships were to return to the fleet to help fight off the Vanduul. Marine and Army units not on the planet were being diverted to the battlecruiser Scorpio to help repel boarders. Kieran swore loudly and used his thrusters to maneuver out of the ruined ship he was hiding in. He engaged the main thruster and plotted his course back to the Nolan.

He’d be going in right behind the remaining Vanduul ships.


Stories of The 39th Midnight Squadron Sharhun