Snippet from the Novella available on amazon.com & smashwords.com
Dakota Freeman’s archaeological team had been on Kaleb 4 for three days, searching for the ruins. EFS Shanksville stayed in orbit of the planet while EFS Kennedy patrolled the outer reaches of the system. Captain J.J. King led her squad of eight F-92 fighters around one of the gas giants of the system. The next rotation of fighters would be coming soon and she was starting to get bored. At least, she thought to herself, flying patrol is more interesting than piloting the landing ship. It was Clark’s turn to do that. “Wake up, Tiger,” she said over the communications system. “Very funny, J.J.,” Clark replied. “Anything interesting going on planet side?” “Actually, yeah.” Clark surprised her with his response. “You were here when they identified this location weren’t you?” “I was.” “Well Dr. Freeman thinks they’ve excavated about a third of the checkpoint by now.” The commander of EFS Kennedy, Lieutenant Colonel White, could be heard over the communications system. “Bravo One and Echo Seven, cut the chatter. A bogey just dropped out of hyperdrive near co-ordinates seven-four-eight-tango. Unit Bravo, you are ordered to investigate.” “Copy that.” J.J. King led her squad toward the unidentified ship. When they were within range, her computer compared the sensor readings to the configurations of all ships on file. She glanced at the screen when it returned a 71 percent match. “It looks like a Nomad ship. EFS Kennedy, do you concur?” “We concur,” White answered. “I didn’t think the Nomads had a ship that big.” “Neither did I,” White sighed. “But their projected course is straight for us. Find out what they want, J.J.” “Maybe we’re sitting on the Quilcanju,” King chuckled. “If we are, it’s above my pay grade. Just make contact. We’ll be monitoring.” King led her unit toward the shiny dot in the distance. She examined her sensor data again and furrowed her brow. Something didn’t seem right. In all of her previous encounters with the
Nomads, they had always been the ones to initiate contact. She decided she had waited long enough. “Unidentified ship. You are approaching an Earth Forces expeditionary group. Please respond.” She waited for several moments, but there was no reply. A quick glance at her tactical display let her know that the Nomad ship was approaching the Kennedy’s orange perimeter. She signaled again. “Unidentified ship. Please identify yourself and state your business.” Again, she waited in the eerie silence for an answer that never came. As they approached, the shape became discernible to the naked eye. It was brown colored, with one green stripe running lengthwise across its body. This was the same color coding as all of the other Nomad ships she had encountered, but something was different. Normally, nomad ships were blimp shaped and built for crews of less than a dozen. This one was much larger and had a more blocky shape. “Bravo One to Kennedy,” King said. “Still no response.”
White was concerned too. He had been pacing back and forth since King’s first message. He stopped walking and attempted to contact the Nomad ship. “This is Lieutenant Colonel Derek White of the Earth Forces Ship Kennedy. Please respond.” White was well aware of the proximity of the Nomad ship and didn’t need King to remind him, but she signaled him anyway. “Sir, the orange perimeter has been breached.” “Steady, J.J. I don’t like it any more than you do.” White turned his attention toward his executive officer. “Are your scans detecting anything unusual?” “No, sir.” The XO paused and squinted at his console. “Wait a minute…”
King was close enough to see what was unfolding. The Nomad ship separated itself into six medium sized ships that arranged themselves into two parallel rows. King glanced at her display again and her eyes widened in disbelief. Each ship had its own plasma cannon and they were all powering up to fire. Before she could open her mouth, she saw the superheated plasma streak across the expanse, causing explosions all over the Kennedy’s hull. At the same time, dozens of Jarufani fighters started to emerge from the ships to attack King’s unit.
Lieutenant Colonel Harris had been monitoring from the Bridge of the Shanksville. “Holy shit,” he said under his breath. He got out of his chair and snapped at his XO. “Get us over there! And scramble all fighters now!” Fighters started to emerge from the Shanksville as it changed course and powered its way towards the Kennedy.
“Echo Seven to Rat Pack,” Captain Clark called to the research team. His heart was pounding in his chest and his increased anxiety was coming through over the com system. “Emergency code two-two-five. Come in, Rat Pack.” There was no answer. He peered through the window of the landing ship and could see the research team in the distance. He could tell that Freeman and his team had heard his transmission because they seemed to pick up the pace of their work. Freeman knew that if there was any kind of incident, he may not get a chance to come back for years. “Goddammit, Dakota,” Clark grunted to himself. He didn’t bother transmitting again. He just activated the thrusters and the ship kicked up dust as it rose five meters off the ground. He
knew that Freeman would be upset but there was no time to waste. Freeman may have been able to ignore his com unit but he couldn’t ignore the roar of the ship’s engines and the crescendo of dust being chaotically thrown around as it approached. “Captain, are you crazy?!” he bellowed into his com unit. “You were ordered to maintain 75 meters minimum distance!” “Sorry, sir. Your dig’s over. We have a situation. Prepare to evacuate.” Clark opened the bay doors as he closed the distance and hovered just above the ground. “I need more time to finish my scans!” “We’re under attack, sir! We have to go now!” Freeman grudgingly moved his eyes away from his scanner, towards the open bay doors, then back to his scanner. The display read: 89% complete. He grimaced and then called out to his team, who were already in the process of packing up their equipment. “Okay, people! Let’s go!” Freeman seemed to block out the chaos around him as his team boarded the shuttle. He continued working with his eyes locked onto his display which now read: 94% complete. Clark, on the other hand, had to work to steady his nerves as he listened to the carnage going on over his com system. Every second of waiting seemed like an eternity. In space, he could do something, but here on the ground, he was almost useless. Clark respected Freeman and understood the importance of his work but if he had to, he would physically drag him onto the ship. “Dr. Freeman, you’re out of time! We have to go, now!” Two seconds after Freeman heard those words, the scans were 100% complete and he started frantically packing up his equipment. As soon as he was on board, Clark closed the bay doors and waited for him to strap in before taking off.
King screamed as she jerked her control stick. Her fighter rolled, just barely avoiding the enemy pulse cannon fire. It would still be a few minutes before the reinforcements from the Shanksville would arrive. And even when they did, they would still be heavily outnumbered and outgunned. Her squad had already lost three members and the rest were desperately fighting to survive. “They’re all over the place!” she yelled. “Hang in there, J.J.” Harris signaled. “We’ll be in range within seven minutes.” “We don’t have seven minutes!” King replied. “We’re gettin’ creamed out here!” As she weaved her way through the barrage of energy pulses, things went from bad to worse. “Shit! Two of them dropped in behind me!” King increased her speed and broke hard to the left. Even with the protection provided by her flight suit, she almost blacked out from the high G-forces as she turned. Then she heard the sound that she most dreaded. It was the alarm indicating that at least one of the enemy fighters had a missile lock on her. “They’ve got lock on me!” She didn’t wait for them to fire. She activated her jammers, hoping to fool the targeting sensors of any missiles coming toward her. She might have done it too early. The jammers would automatically shut down after fifteen seconds to prevent a system overload but she was betting that they wouldn’t waste any time before firing. She was right. Four missiles were headed her way. King was using some delicate combination of training, instinct and finesse to avoid everything the enemy was throwing at her. Her fighter was desperately twisting, rolling and turning and, one by one, each missile broke off its pursuit and exploded. She wasn’t quite sure how she got there, but she was now directly behind a group of enemy fighters and didn’t hesitate to
fire her pulse cannon. Two of them were hit and exploded instantly. The others veered off in different directions at high speed. King stuck with the one that went to the right. “Oh, no you don’t,” she said as the enemy fighter tried, and failed, to evade her. Then she heard the tone indicating that her missiles were locked on and she fired. “Gotcha!”
Two of the enemy carriers fired their plasma cannons and landed direct hits on the Kennedy. The explosions on its starboard side and belly sent the ship into a roll. If the bridge crew had not been wearing their seatbelts, the shock would have thrown them out of their seats. “Helmsman, get us out of this spin!” Lieutenant Colonel White yelled. “Trying, sir,” the young helmsman responded, making a futile effort to suppress the fear in his voice. Once the ship started to stabilize, White addressed his XO. “Damage report!” “That last shot took out power to bay doors seven through twelve!” the XO responded. “We can’t launch any more fighters.” “Damn. They outgun us three-to-one,” White lamented. “We’ve lost half of our pulse cannon stations, targeting sensors are off line, and hyperluminal stabilizers are not functioning.” “Which means if we run, we could be torn apart in hyperdrive. Helmsman, take us to heading two-seven-nine mark four-eight at full thruster power. Gunners, look sharp. We’re going to have to aim our plasma cannons manually.” The Kennedy moved to intercept one of the enemy carriers as it swung around for another attack. Without the aid of the targeting sensors, the blast from the Kennedy’s plasma cannon missed the enemy ship by fifty meters. The ship was on course for a head on collision with the Kennedy when it returned fire. The Earth Forces ship veered to port but it was too late to avoid the stream of superheated plasma. Another explosion rocked the Kennedy, disabling one of its plasma cannons. In a desperate attempt to retaliate, all of the Kennedy’s active pulse cannon stations fired at the enemy carrier, which easily evaded the hail of energy pulses headed its way. This carrier was not only smaller than the Kennedy, it was much more maneuverable. White knew that it could finish his ship off by coming around and firing one more shot. Something felt very wrong when it regrouped with two other carriers and they positioned themselves in a triangular formation, directly ahead of his ship. Perhaps they thought they had disabled him with that last pass. The Kennedy still had one functioning plasma cannon. White addressed his weapons officer. “Steady on the plasma cannon. Make this shot count.” Even without the targeting sensors, at this range, there was very little chance of the weapons officer missing her target. She didn’t wait for White’s order. She simply fired…or, rather, tried to fire. The lights dimmed all over the ship. “What’s going on!?” White demanded. “I don’t know, sir. We’re losing power,” said the XO. “How?” “I don’t know, sir. But at this rate, we’ve got less than four minutes until we’re dead in space.” “Helmsman, get us out of here!” White ordered. The helmsman manipulated his controls then tried again when the ship did not respond. He checked the display on his console and his face went pale. “I can’t! They’ve got us in some
sort of tractor beam!” It pained White to say these words but it was the only way to save what was left of his crew. “All hands abandon ship! I say again, all hands abandon ship!”
On EFS Shanksville, Lieutenant Colonel Harris’ jaw dropped. “Holy mother of… Are we in missile range yet?” “Yes, sir,” the weapons officer replied. “Then lock onto the ships towing the Kennedy and fire!” “Missiles away, sir,” said the weapons officer. A dozen missiles hurtled away from the ship while Harris watched their progress on the view screen. At first, he didn’t notice twelve of the enemy fighters changing course to intercept them. Then he saw the first of the missiles explode, kilometers short of its target. Whoever these attackers were, Harris could see how badly they wanted the Kennedy. More missiles exploded as more fighters crashed into them. Not one missile reached its target. It wasn’t until the shaking nearly threw him out of his seat that Harris realized that the other three enemy carriers had fired their plasma cannons. All three blasts hit the ship within a second of each other. “Shit! Damage report!” “They knew exactly where to hit us!” said the ship’s executive officer. As she gave her report, the ship’s officers noticed the uncanny similarity to the damage on the Kennedy. Harris glanced at his sensors in time to see some of the Kennedy’s escape pods make the jump to hyperdrive. “They’re not taking my ship! We need more fighter supp—” Another explosion rocked the ship and a fire broke out on the bridge. Two crew members scrambled to put it out. Harris was disoriented but he fought to regain focus. He took another look at his sensors in time to see the EFS Kennedy get dragged into hyperdrive by the enemy ships.
“What the hell are you waiting for?!” Freeman shouted. Clark was too focused on his sensors to reply, which infuriated the archaeologist even more. “You’re supposed to be getting us out of here!” Clark had kept the ship near Kaleb 4, just above its north pole. He was well away from the battle but he was monitoring it very closely on his sensors. Or as closely as possible, without the full resources of a carrier. “I’m trying to see if we can help.” “I know the rules! In an event like this, you’re supposed to get us to UEA space immediately! Besides, there’s nothing you can do!” Freeman was right. Under the regulations of the Earth Forces, if a carrier is escorting a Level 5 research team and sustains heavy damage from an enemy attack, the research team is to be immediately evacuated to UEA space, if possible. “It’ll take at least forty-eight hours to get back to the nearest UEA outpost. I just need a few minutes to assess the situation.” “The situation is you’re going to try something stupid and get us all killed! Don’t try to be a hero, just get us out of here while you still can!” Freeman’s shouting fell on deaf ears. Clark was entirely focused on the three remaining enemy carriers. They were rearranging themselves in the same configuration that the others had when they had towed the Kennedy away. If there was any hope of saving the Shanksville, they would need to get off the defensive before it was too late. “Are you even listening to me?” Freeman was still trying to get the pilot’s attention. “Captain! Captain!” Clark finally turned around and the roar of his voice sent a chill through the entire ship. “SHUT UP BEFORE I SHUT YOU UP!!”
Freeman broke eye contact and settled back in his seat, no longer wishing to antagonize the captain. The uncomfortable silence hung in the air for a few long seconds. Then, Clark activated the ship’s com system. His voice was calm, in contrast with his prior outburst. “J.J. do you copy?” “I’m a little busy here, Tiger.” That was an extreme understatement. “I know. I’ve got an idea how to take out one of those carriers.” “I’m all ears.” “Can you get your squad to co-ordinates two-two-five-tango?” “I can try.” “Good. Once you’re in position, arm your missiles and wait for my signal.” “What’s the signal?” “You won’t miss it.” Once again the ship was silent. Avery Clark was taking deep breaths as he watched his tactical display and entered some commands into his console. It seemed to take forever but, one by one, King’s squad moved into position. Avery, you’re completely nuts, he thought to himself, shaking his head. He took one more deep breath to steady his nerves. Alright, let’s do this.