Ark Royal hung in space close to the gravity well of the planet. Garibaldi's test ships had been on the planet for a couple of hours with no signals. Douglas had spent the time reviewing the ordinance and talking with the crew about their various duties for the up-coming days.
"Incoming signal," reported Clanwellin.
"Send it through," Douglas acknowledged.
The communication window opened again on Douglas's control console. An attractive woman stared straight back at him. She had thoughtful brown eyes and wore a stern expression. Her long brown hair flowed over what looked like a Minbari Bone structure at the back of her head. He realised that this must be Delenn.
His first reaction was horror, the enemy could now transform into almost human. The reaction passed, he found he no longer thought of the Minbari as an enemy. He reasoned that he had Lennier to thank for that. He also remembered that Lennier didn't want to be seen by Delenn. He quickly turned the console camera to include Ivanova.
"This is Captain Douglas of the Commonwealth Vessel 'Ark Royal'." He announced. "I take it you are Delenn."
"Yes, Captain Douglas." She replied. "I like to thank you on behalf of the Rangers and the Alliance for coming to our assistance."
Douglas smiled but without humour. "I'm afraid this assistance comes with a price, Delenn. We need you to call off, or assist in repelling, the attacks on our home system."
"Yes, Mr Garibaldi has brought me up, as you say it, to speed with the whole situation," She paused. "However, things appear to be graver than you think."
"There is a surprise," muttered Ivanova.
Delenn smiled. "Yes Susan. It always seems that way doesn't it."
"How are you?" asked Ivanova.
"Fine, apart from a diet that makes John's cooking taste good."
Ivanova pulled a face.
"But, the real problem is these vessel's your fighting aren't the Alliance's anymore," Delenn continued. "Our ships are captured by the use of some viral weapon that shuts them down. The crews were dropped off at this planet."
"How many White Stars have we lost?" asked Ivanova.
Douglas turned aside to Clanwellin, "What are the Black Star losses that we know of at this moment?"
"Black Stars?" asked Delenn.
"It's our handle for your corrupted ships," replied Douglas. "Captain Ivanova told me that they weren't flown by your people, I'm now satisfied that is the case. However, we have to get you and your people out of here and then contact our respective governments to make sure no misunderstandings occur."
"Mr Garibaldi has told us that we're ready for lift off," She confirmed. "We'll be in orbit before you know it."
The communication window closed. Several small icon's appeared on the command console.
"That's the three test ships taking off," he explained. He noticed Lennier had said nothing about the conversation they'd just had with Delenn.
"Are you ok?" he inquired.
"Surprisingly, yes," Lennier said. "It was difficult to see her but it was no where near as bad as I feared."
"Good," he replied. "Because, if we get through this, I'll have an offer to put to you."
Douglas left the thread hanging. Ivanova looked at Lennier quizzically but all Lennier could do was shrug. The transports cleared the atmosphere and started heading for the best jump point.
"Sir?" It was Clanwellin.
"I've calculated their losses, including our kills, Captain Clay's and Captain Ivanovas," he said.
"Well, 17 Sir."
"Leaving at least 43."
A knot filled Douglas' stomach. This was a trap and he'd walked right into it. The Rangers were bait. Any rescue party was to be attacked, probably when they were leaving the planet. Get them all in one go. In addition, you'd have to use some of your most advanced ships in order to perform a rescue in the first place. Eliminate those ships and you weaken your opponent both in recourses and morale.
Both Ivanova and Douglas had assumed that they'd have to fight their way into the system, not have to fight they're way out.
How could I have been so stupid, he thought to himself.
"Battle Stations." He ordered.
There was no doubt or hesitation from the crew as to his orders.
"Tactics exercise. If you're the enemy, when would be the best time to attack us?"
"Erm, just after the transports have cleared the gravity well, Sir. Our transports will be building up power to their jump engines…"
"Leaving them as sitting ducks." breathed Ivanova.
"Let's call that position, waypoint 'trouble'," said Douglas. "How long until the transports are in trouble?"
"ETA to trouble, 2 minutes sir."
"Hey, you could have a waypoint just before it called 'Oh Shite!'" said Kelly. "Then you could have 'Oh Shite, now we're in trouble.'"
"Captain, Multiple jump points forming at bearing Zero-Eight-Six-Zero-Two-Five" Called Smith.
Douglas reviewed the tactical situation on his console.
"Nope, they're trying to draw us off." He said, "Let me know if they're coming after us."
Sure enough, a couple of Black Stars emerged from the jump points, flew around for a few seconds and then jumped away again.
"More jump points," called Clanwellin. "Bearing One-Seven-Three-Zero-Two-Five."
"Arm a REM!" ordered Douglas.
"Gunnery asks for confirmation of a REM Missile," queried Clanwellin.
"First Officer confirms REM Launch."
"Aye Aye Sir. Loading in ten seconds."
"Patch it through to my console."
"Aye Aye Sir."
"REM Missile?" asked Ivanova.
"Remember those fusion missiles I threatened Lockley with?"
"You weren't joking?"
"Both a Captain and his First have to authorise a launch."
"We have the same when we launch nukes but we don't use Fusion missiles, they're far too unstable."
"Ours are stable, but you're going to see just how unstable they can become."
"Enemy is staying in formation and heading straight for us." reported Smith.
Controls appeared at the command console. Douglas grabbed hold of them.
"Clanwellin, Launch REM. Smith, Go evasive."
The command console showed a missile eye view. Douglas turned the controls and the missile responded. The enemy black stars showed up on command console as the missile approached. Douglas waited until they were 4 KM away from the missile and then pulled the missile in a 180, its main engine slowing the missile's speed down. The Black Stars ignored it and headed straight for the Ark Royal.
"All Hands, brace for impact."
When the Black Stars were only 500 metres away from the missile, Douglas pressed a small red button on the main control column. There was a huge flash, even through the viewport dimmers. The shockwave hit a second later. Ark Royal was thrown into a roll. Smith wrestled with the controls for a few seconds and brought the ship level.
"Eight destroyed sir!"
Kelly scanned her boards.
"Apart from a small short to the aft PBC, we're fine sir."
"Eight down, Thirty Five to go." Ivanova said.
"Wasn't that a little too much?" asked Lennier.
"Never use too little fire power to take out an enemy," said Douglas.
The communication window opened. Garibaldi looked almost panicked.
"What the hell was that! Are they nuking us?"
"No Michael." replied Ivanova. "Apparently, we're nuking them."
"Ark Royal is carrying nukes?"
"Nope, Fusions." Replied Douglas. "Get your ships out of here as quick as you can Mr Garibaldi, we might have to use another one."
Garibaldi paled at that statement, nodded and then terminated the link.
"Transports in trouble in thirty seconds." reported Smith.
"Oh, Sod it." Douglas swore. "Arm another REM!"
"Aye Aye Sir. Gunnary asks for confirmation of a REM Missile." Clanwellin sounded a little more unsettled that the previous time.
"First confirms." Smith said quietly.
"Loading REM, Ready for launch in ten seconds"
"Another one?" asked Ivanova, "How many have you got?"
"Two left after this one. They're going to swarm us."
Ark Royal circled the transports like a lioness protecting her cubs. The transports began to slow as they approached their jump point. Small jets of propellant was visible as they began to slow. Ark Royal moved away as to keep away from any forming jump points.
"Jump Points Forming." Called Clanwellin, "Bearing One-Eight-Zero-One-Eight-Zero."
"Bring us to zero-four-five and launch REM."
"Go Evasive and brace for impact"
Douglas twisted the controls at his console violently. The missile flew straight into the Black Star formation. The readout reported distance to target of a couple of hundred meters. Douglas pressed the detonation button. Pure white light blinded everyone on the bridge. The shockwave hit and the crew were almost thrown from their seats. Smith brought the ship stable.
"More jump points forming, Baring dead ahead. Looks like another ten." Clanwellin was beginning to panic.
"God, they don't know when to give up do they?" said Kelly.
"No tactics, just straight in." observed Ivanova.
"Makes it easier for us," replied Douglas. "Another REM please, Load the rear tube!"
"First confirms." called Smith before Clanwellin could say anything.
"Straight though them Mr Smith, full thrust until I countermand."
"Aye Aye Sir."
Ark Royal's main engine kicked in, forcing the artificial gravity to catch up. The crew were thrown back into their seats be the acceleration. The Black Stars quickly closed as Ark Royal flew straight at them. They fired, a couple of minor hits were glanced away by Ark Royal's LDA shields. Under Smith's control, Ark Royal dodged in and out between the lines of fire coming from the enemy. Then they were through, all the black stars turned to follow they're fleeing prey.
"Sir, even more Jump Points." Clanwellin reported, "REM away."
"Smith Go evasive and head to the new jump points."
Douglas brought the missile in to the centre of the perusing pack and detonated the missile. This time the blast was nowhere near as violent as the previous and, yet again, there wasn't a trace left of the enemy vessels.
"Shall I load the remaining REM sir?"
"First recommends it sir," said Smith. "I confirm eight Black Stars and an unknown vessel, cruiser size. They're heading right for us sir."
"What's the status on the Transports?"
"Garibaldi reports that they're almost ready to jump. Another 2 minutes."
Douglas reviewed the situation.
"That's poor tactics," he commented. "I would have split my forces and hit us and the transports at the same time."
"Unless, we're the target and they don't care about the others." observed Ivanova.
"Kill the only ones who know the whole truth and that will die with them." said Lennier.
"Right," Douglas grimaced, "Let's see how bad they want us. "
The Black Star's pulled away from the bigger ship, on a direct intercept course with Ark Royal. The cruiser came into view. It looked brown and organic, like a giant cockroach. The front of it had several cannon's visible, with bulging gun ports all down its back, but the most distinctive feature were the two huge grabbers, next to the gun ports at the front.
"Eww, they're not going to win any beauty contests with that thing," said Kelly.
"Launch REM and reload with as many seeker missiles as we can."
Douglas twisted the controls to bring the missile into line. Yet again, the Black Stars ignored the projectile until it was almost among them. He pressed the detonation stud for the last time. This time there was no shockwave as the explosion was too far away. The remaining Black Stars vanished within the expanding ball of light. However, the cruiser emerged relatively unscathed from the explosion.
"It wasn't within the blast radius," muttered Douglas. "It was either the cruiser or the Black Stars. Couldn't get both."
"LDA's are tracking the cruiser." reported Kelly.
A different kind of missile flew from the magazine. It snaked towards the cruiser and hit it amidships. The Cruiser's main guns choose that second to open fire. The shots went wide but it began a constant stream of fire coming from all of the cruiser's guns.
"No effect," reported Clanwellin.
"Really?" said Kelly sarcastically.
Smith kept Ark Royal one-step ahead of the guns tracking them.
The missile had no problem hitting its target. The cruiser wobbled under the impact but carried on.
"Slight damage." said Kelly.
"How many seeker mines have we got?" asked Douglas.
"Seven left sir."
"Smith, make a close head to head pass. Clanwellin, I want a burst release of all our mines, Rear Pod."
"All of them Sir?"
"Clanwellin!" Douglas warned.
"Aye Aye Sir." The younger man's hands flew over his console. "Burst ready!"
Ark Royal flipped onto her back and turned towards the Cruiser, her lateral thrusters firing, to avoid the torrent of projectiles coming from the larger ship. Ark Royal shook as a couple of shot's found their mark.
"LDA's holding up, No Damage." Kelly shouted.
"Launch Mine Burst."
Ark Royal passed within metres of the Cruiser. As she did so, seven small packages were released from the rear of the ship. They homed into the larger ship and exploded on impact. Flashes of light appeared all over the big ship and it shook under the multiple impacts. It's guns fell silent for a few seconds.
"She's severely damaged. Sir!" reported Clanwellin.
"Oh-Ho!" warned Kelly. "It's repairing itself incredible fast, we won't have much time."
"180 Pitch, Another Run Mr Smith," ordered Douglas.
Ark Royal flipped over again, propellant flaring from her main engine. She lined up with the Cruiser again, just as the cruiser oriented itself for a head to head run.
"We going to play chicken?" asked Kelly.
The ships were ten seconds apart, at that point the front guns fired from the front of the cruiser. Ark Royal buckled under the impact.
"Weapon systems hit, ETR twenty seconds," reported Kelly.
"All power into the shields." ordered Douglas.
The ship shook again and lights dimmed from the cabin.
"Straight through him, Mr Smith. All Hands brace for ram!"
A quarter of a second before collision, Douglas hit a control on his command console. The dorsal and ventricle LDA, pointed directly forward and went into sheer mode. A purple, blue semi-sphere formed in front of Ark Royal as she plunged into the cruiser.
Ark Royal smashed through the larger vessel, leaving a gaping hole straight through it. Explosions and overloads fired all over Ark Royal's Bridge. There were yells of pain from the Gunnery station. Ark Royal began to pitch uncontrollably.
"Kelly, Get our Manoeuvre back."
Douglas surveyed his bridge. Smith and the guests were fine. Clanwellin was slumped in his seat. Kelly was slowly operating her console, looking very pale. The enemy vessel came into view. It was slowly disintegrating in a series of small explosions. He unclipped his safety harness and moved as quickly as he could over to Clanwellin. He was alive but unconscious.
"Captain," Mr Smith called, "Good news and bad news."
"What's the good?" Douglas replied. Clanwellin appeared to be stable, he went over to check on Kelly.
"Enemy destroyed and the transports have jumped."
"We're in the gravity well, unless we've got thrusters and LDS back on-line. We're going to find out what happen happens in a black hole."
He reached Kelly. It was only then he noticed the blood on the console. She was only using one hand to issue the repair orders, the other clutched her chest, blood was flowing freely over it.
No No No. Douglas pleaded.
Too late Philip, he felt Kelly's presence in his mind, you need to order the LDS repair. My hands don't work too well.
"Medic to the Bridge!"
Get the LDS repair!
Douglas issued the order through the console. He then grabbed her hand. The pain was almost overwhelming but he knew from the moment his hand touched, that she barely had seconds left.
"LDS on-line." Called Smith
"Head for the Lagrange point and jump." Douglas ordered
Oh Kelly, I'm so sorry!
Phillip. I know. She smiled slowly, You need to work on your shielding better.
I wish I could have told you.
Your loss, it would have been great…
The connection faded and her hand relaxed.
Douglas wouldn't let go of her hand, even when the medic arrived.