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(BSS Heartseeker, Coldana System)

”Captain, the X’thari have committed roughly one hundred and forty-five thousand ships in pursuit, evenly divided amongst the group. The remaining ships, all cruisers or dreadnoughts, are holding course as they escort the Harvester.”

Drah Sross nodded grimly. “Twenty-nine thousand to one isn’t great odds. Fortunately, we’re not fighting.” She hit the button to turn on the group comms. “Heartseeker to all ships, go evasive. We need to keep them busy as long as possible, but we are under orders not to die out here, and I intend to make sure I follow that order!”

Heartseeker, Prometheus. Understood. So long as the tarpits stay up, we should be able to make enough thrust to keep out of weapons range.”

Nephilim here. We’ll keep the bastards occupied as long as we can. Secondary anchor drive charged and ready, primary already charging.”

“This is Stiletto. We’ll keep the bugs dancing all night if we have to.”

Flux Capacitor reads, Heartseeker. We have good tracks on the swarm. We’ll keep out of their way, but can we at least take a few of them out as we go?”

Drah looked over to the side, where the projection of her ship’s Nomad AI, Adam was ‘standing’. “Adam, contact the Master through the Nomad networks, and ask for permission to engage.”

“Understood, Captain.” There was a brief pause, and then the AI looked at her. “Admiral Mollen gives permission for all Black Star forces in the Coldana System to engage the X’thari, but only from outside X’thari weapons range. Use of Starbolts has been authorized. Additional orders incoming. If possible, forces are to remain in local Escape and Evade mode until the Consortium navy ships have been destroyed, before executing Double Jump. Targeted systems: Amazon, then Star’s Reach. Fifth Group has reinforced Third Group in the system, in case the X’thari are able to follow ships through anchor jumps. Any group ship that comes within X’thari weapons range is to jump immediately.”

Drah nodded. Turning to the comm again, she said, “All right, people, we have new orders! Continue escape and evade as long as you can, but use of Starbolts is authorized, so I don’t want anyone coming back with weapons still on board. But don’t get cocky! If you get within X’thari weapons range, you earn yourself an immediate ticket out, and you buy drinks for the rest of us when we hit port. Otherwise, keep flying until the Consortium Navy ships are dead, and then Double Jump to Star’s Reach by Amazon. Remember to target the proper holding area, so that the patrols don’t swat you from the sky!”

“Captain, sensors are detecting a ship on our current evasive path. It is in stealth mode, but appears to be a freighter of Terran make.”

Grithad drek! That had to be the Nomad ship that had been providing tactical data before they had arrived! “Open a channel, tightbeam transmission!”

(Free Trader Fucking Bitch, Coldana System)

“Amazing! They peeled off so much firepower with just five ships?”

Captain Chernikova shook her head at Gregor’s outburst. “They played on the one reason no one in Known Space uses the X’thari drives. Something about using one on a non-X’thari ship drives the bugs mad, and they drop everything else to seek and destroy. If they had brought more ships, they might even have gotten the capitol ships to join the hunt.”

Timofey nodded slowly. “Those five ships, they can’t hope to kill enough of the Swarm to matter, but they are drawing the majority of its strength off, allowing the Consortium to attack the big ships, and maybe hurt the Swarm enough that they will be delayed in going after any other worlds in the sector. The more time they are forced to spend in Coldana, the more time for an allied fleet to form up and take the fight to the Swarm.”

“These ships are clearly a modification of those Starlight Raven freighters, but they can’t have any kind of cargo capacity worth talking about! What are they even good for?”

Alevtina grinned. “They’re scouts, Gregor. You don’t go hunting without having an idea of where to go, right? There is a lot of unexplored space out there. From the readings we’re getting, those are probably the fastest, and most heavily armed, long-range scout ships in the galaxy right now.”

“You mean that crazy American is actually looking to hunt down the X’thari homeworld?”

Timofey laughed short and barkingly. “HA! Wouldn’t you, if you had his resources? These X’thari, they are a threat to the entire galaxy, but no one can ever end their threat, because no one knows where they live. But if you find where they are coming from, then you can maybe strike a blow that they won’t recover from.”

Manka looked up from the communications station. “Captain, we’re getting a tightbeam transmission from the closest of those Black Star ships.”

Alevtina paled. “Quick, pull up the projected track of that Black Star, and the ships following it! Manka, put them through!”

The view of the battle was replaced by the track of the BSS Heartseeker and its followers, and the cone of their projected track had the Fucking Bitch right in the middle of it! Next to the track, an image of an Ihm female in a Black Star civilian ship suit came up as the connection was established. “This is Slave Captain Drah Sross of the BSS Heartseeker. If your ship is transition capable, you need to get out of here. We cannot keep these X’thari occupied forever.”

“Captain Chernikova Alevtina Vitalievna of the Fucking Bitch. We are transition capable, and ready to transition at a moment’s notice. But we made a promise to the Admiral that we would stay and bear witness to the end of Fifteenth Fleet, at least. Even if it is the only thing we can do, they deserve that much.”

The Ihm grimaced, but nodded. “We will try to draw them away from you, then. My orders are escape and evade until Fifteenth Fleet is destroyed, or the X’thari get in weapons range of us. We’ll work to rile them up a little more. Suggest that you transition immediately if the X’thari get in weapons range. Your ship is going to be the only one with detailed scans of the damage the Consortium Navy did to the Harvester. If you can get it to Cadra Primaris, Black Star and the Consortium Navy are beginning to gather any ships they can there. The more data they have, the better able they will be to come up with some kind of plan.”

Alevtina grinned, and said, “Captain, I assure you that nothing would please me more than to make sure this data gets to the hands of someone who will use it to take that bastard down.” She glanced at the projected track again. The cone had moved slightly, as Heartseeker adjusted course. She overlaid the estimated effective sensor range of the X’thari scouts for detecting her ship. “If you can bring them around another twelve degrees, we should be able to keep out of their sensor lock range, so long as we keep radio silent.”

Slave Captain Sross looked at her numbers, and frowned. “We should be able to pull that off. But it will be close. You’ll need to be ready to bug out as soon as we do. The moment the X’thari lose us, they’re likely to go active and start looking for new prey to take their aggression out on.”

“Understood, Heartseeker. Good luck, and good hunting. We meet again, first round is on us.”

“Copy, Fucking Bitch. Safe flight and warm breeze. Heartseeker, out.”

(Fleet Command Center, Coldana Prime, Coldana System)

Admiral Fullstout watched with a stoicism that he did not feel as the Fifteenth Fleet charged into odds that were suicidal by any stretch of the imagination, but were now such that they actually had a hope of doing some significant damage to the enemy fleet. Maybe a thousand of the X’thari ships had been lost in the fury of Firebringer’s assault, as fighters became kamikazes at superluminal speeds, but there were still far too many for his ships to take on. He would have liked to be up on the command deck of his flagship, the Blade of Drakon. Better to die fighting to the last ship than to wait here in the command bunker for the X’thari to come to him.

That was a trap, and he knew it. His ships would be best served, and their sacrifice would mean more, if command and control of the fleet remained steady throughout the fight, allowing them to coordinate so they could kill more of the enemy ships. That meant he had to stay back, where an unlucky shot to the flag deck couldn’t cut the head off Fifteenth Fleet before it was able to do all the damage it possibly could. If he was sending his fleet to die, then he would ensure that they had the best chance possible, damnit.

He was also the senior military commander for the Coldana System. The Marines answered to him, in the end, as did all other military personnel in the system. That meant he needed to be here, for when the ground defense started. There would be enough chaos without trying to reform the chain of command, or establish which priorities a new commander might have. There was no time for such things, not when there were X’thari who would be in desperate need of killing as the people of Coldana made them pay for every centimeter of ground in blood.

“Fifteenth Fleet reporting in, Admiral. They have engaged the Swarm’s capitol ships.”

Fullstout nodded. He could see it on the screens himself, but the words needed to be said. A sense of order and calm would keep people from giving in to fear and despair. The grim purpose of making the bastards pay would drive them. That is the only thing he could think of, now. Making sure that the enemy bought their lives as dearly as he could possibly drive the price.

“Have the 333rd Destroyer Group form up on the flank. Tell them to target the X’thari cruisers to try and pull them away from the dreadnoughts, so the Blade of Drakon and the other heavies can get in and fight it out.” He took a breath, and said, “All ships are to target primary reactors and engines. Any ship that is disabled and out of the fight is to be ignored in favor of bleeding the enemy as much as possible.”

“Understood, Admiral.”

“Have the analysts figured out which ships are the Hunt Leaders yet?”

“Probable guesses only for the most part, Admiral. We have one confirmed, the superdreadnought at the front of the formation, along with a half dozen probables running from 30-67% based on comm leakage. Can’t intercept their comms, but the radiation leaks when they aren’t in stealth, perhaps due to shield design.”

“All superdreadnoughts are to concentrate firepower on the confirmed target. All possible command ships are to be given priority target status. If we can kill the Hunt Leaders, then intel suggests that the Swarm will start breaking up into individual Grand Hunts or smaller groups, and stop coordinating their efforts until new Lead Hunters can be designated.”

“Admiral! Sensors are detecting hyperdrives entering the system!”

“That has to be Tenth Fleet. How many ships? What make are they?”

“Fifteen ships, Admiral. Four superdreadnoughts, three battlecruisers, five heavy cruisers, two frigates, and one corvette. IFF is detecting ships from Tenth Fleet as well as the ships we had on sector patrol based out of Ekyinos. The Spear of Tagrun is leading. All the ships appear to be heavily damaged.”

Fifteen? If Tenth Fleet had picked up the sector patrol and folded them into the ranks, then they would have had easily over two hundred ships! No matter. He would not see their sacrifice go in vain. Looking at the map, he saw something! If they could just take advantage of it…

“Give my regards to Admiral Warhelm, and feed him the tactical data. He has the angle on the Harvester! Tell him to leave the Swarm to us, flank speed to the harvester. Give him everything we have on those shields!”

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A note from Mirikon

Be sure to read my published works!

 

Frozen Soul series (Sci-Fi Supervillain story):

Frozen Soul https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071R125QT

Tales of the Void Traveler https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B06ZZ52G37

 

Rules-Free VRMMO Life (Dark Fantasy GameLit):

Volume 1 - Tutorial

Amazon: https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071VPRNDB

Omnibus 1 - Volumes 1-4 

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Into the Black (Sci-Fi GameLit):

Book I - Game Start https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071LT5WGL

Omnibus I - Books 1-4 https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B077X2KR7Y

 

City of Champions Online (Superhero GameLit):

Issue I - Origin Stories https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B075SHXQS1

 

Lewd Dungeon (Dungeon Core GameLit):

Book 1 - Welcome to the Apocalypse https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07BB34DHF

Omnibus 1 - Books 1-4 https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07FBPF6HR

 

The Kalipshae Affair (A First Contact Short Story): https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B0739V6R6T


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