The Encounter, Part 2
“Argh, let’s go already!” Rhu’kin thought to himself, impatiently waiting launch clearance from the flight deck. Strapped into his Acolyte and staring at nothing but the long, grey cylinder of the launch tube in front of him, he briefly ran over the ship’s characteristics in his mind while waiting for a go.
Somtaaw’s new Acolyte-class heavy fighters were significantly different than the Blade Mk. 5 interceptor he was used to piloting in the Hiigaran Navy. It was nearly twice as massive as the Blade, but what it lacked in agility was more than made up for in durability, firepower, and a revolutionary concept: ship linking. Based on advanced coupling technology introduced by the Bentusi, the concept of ship linking had appealed to Kiith Somtaaw, who needed a versatile, adaptable fleet to ensure self sufficiency in a variety of unpredictable circumstances they encountered in deep space. By linking two Acolyte fighters together, an entirely ‘new’ ship was immediately born: the ACV (Acolyte Composite Vehicle) light corvette. This capability provided numerous tactical benefits without the R&D, manufacturing, and additional training that would be required by implementing a dedicated corvette chassis.
Even unlinked, the Acolyte was a formidable strike craft, sporting not only the standard mass drivers found on all Kushan strike craft but also an energy cannon, and, uniquely, a payload of two large missiles. One missile barrage from a wing of Acolytes had the potential to completely destroy a frigate or severely damage a larger capital ship, and made a vicious counter to the corvette squadrons often deployed against fighter wings. Their missile payload may be small, thought Rhu’kin, but the punchand the versatility more than made up for the lack of quantity. Impressively, all of this was packed into a heavily armored fuselage that managed to maintain an excellent mass-to-maneuverability ratio.
Once two Acolytes were linked, the resulting ACV built even further upon the Acolyte’s arsenal in the form of a potent EMP disruptor. Each burst from an ACV was capable of immobilizing 2-4 strike craft for a significant period of time, allowing ACV wings to capture or destroy enemy strike craft almost at their leisure. This ability also allowed a relatively small number of ACVs to remain a threat to what would normally be an overwhelming number of strike craft, and the ingenuity of this force multiplication was not lost on Rhu’kin. Although he was more accustomed to the agility of the Blade, Rhu’kin recognized that what Kiith Somtaaw had managed to reverse-engineer from Bentusi technology was truly deadly. Their engineers had designed a multipurpose strike craft that, despite the increased mass, was strategically superior to the Blade if not always tactically so. Rumor was that the crack team of engineers in Fists of Heaven were already working on their own next generation interceptor, and he hoped they were seriously evaluating the technological and engineering feats accomplished by the Somtaaw. They were a small Kiith, but managed to continually innovate in ways that allowed them to remain competitive with much larger Kiiths and to be self-reliant in deep space. Rhu’kin felt that Somtaaw was a fantastic representation of Kushan spirit as a whole, and he was proud to be able to serve with their defense forces.
The synthesized countdown of the launch sequence jarred Rhu’kin out of his musing and into the present, where he and nine other Fists of Heaven pilots were impatiently awaiting the chance to hunt. “That’s the 10 second warning” he said over the squadron’s comms “You know the drill. We don’t know what we’re facing here, but whatever it is, we’ll damn it to Sajuuk. These babies are fat, so don’t stick as as close as you would when we’re flying Blades. Snowgirl and the Somtaaw are counting on us, and we’re not going to let them down. Let’s bring the Fists – good hunting.” The resounding chorus of enthusiastic “Yes, Sir!”’s was accompanied by a silent rumble of afterburners as he punched the throttle that punched him out of the Sa’Jiir and into the infinite blackness of unknown, hostile space.
The ‘Acolyte’ class heavy fighter: a Kiith-Somtaaw designed, extremely versatile heavy fighter with multiple ordnance and configuration capabilities. Arguably strategically superior to the Kushan Blade Mk. 5 interceptor.
Yuki drifted slowly, watching the approaching salvage corvette with a growing sense of dread. Everything had happened so fast that she was still reeling, struggling to get her heart rate under control and to believe what her eyes were seeing. She was still struggling to process what she’d seen: only seconds after beginning her seismographic scan, the asteroid on her screen had…changed. In the brief moment she’d had to view the results, they had looked almost like the interior of a ship. But then…
Yuki stared at her display, her jaw dropping in surprise. ‘What the hell is this thing?!’ was all she had time to think before the missile lock alarm began screaming in her ear, and her display automatically switched away from the survey results to combat mode. A flash of panic swept through her as her computer told her that three surface-to-space missiles were locked on; their deadly payload having launched from over the ‘horizon’ of the asteroid and locked on to her ship. Yuki knew that in her current situation she didn’t have a chance of evading them. Instincts honed from thousands of simulations kicked in without thought, and she immediately punched the ‘Emergency Transmit’ button on her screen, and, whispering a prayer to the Great Maker, did what every pilot is loathe to do: yanked down on the ejection lever. Her recon’s canopy shot into space, and her seat thrusters fired a fraction of a second later, ejecting her from the doomed Recon. Maneuvering based on information from her ship’s computer, her seat thrusters rotated her so that she faced away from her ship and immediately went to full thrust in an attempt to shield her from and place as much distance as possible between her and the inevitable. Gritting her teeth, Yuki crossed her arms in front of her and tried to make herself as small as possible, hoping and praying she’d survive the impending explosion. Each second felt like an eternity, and she braced in preparation of meeting her Maker.
Seconds later…impact. Yuki felt shrapnel slam itself into the armored back of her seat as glowing fragments shot past the sides of her helmet. Silent streaks of flame immediately followed, along with a shockwave of expanding gas and plasma that sent her tumbling away from the asteroid. She fought off nausea and vertigo for the moments it took her seat thrusters to correct the spin, and sighed in relief as the other two missiles veered harmlessly into space, rather than locking on to her. “Small ordnance payload” Yuki thought “probably to help avoid detection. I am one lucky girl!”. The irony of considering herself lucky wasn’t lost on her, and for a moment she began giggling in ‘I’m-still-alive’ euphoria. The moment of elation gave her a few seconds of relief, before sobriety settled on her like a cold sheet. “Damn, I hope my SOS got through” she thought. All Recons had a subroutine that, when activated either by voice, button, or display, spun the ship’s nose in the direction of the closest known friendly receiver, burst-transmitted encrypted location and sensor data, followed by a complete record of the mission to date, then destroyed the locally stored information. Hopefully that info would reach the Sa’Jiir and, she hoped, would enable the Fists of Heaven squadron on board to launch a successful rescue mission. “If anyone can get me back in one piece, it’ll be them” she said aloud to comfort herself. She hoped it was true, and, mentally reviewing her SERE training, began preparing herself for what may come.
At full burn, Rhu’kin chafed at the Acolyte’s top speed. Although logically he knew that given it’s increased mass, the Acolyte’s top speed being only 125 M/s less than the Blade he was accustomed to was actually an engineering feat. However, all the engineering feats in the universe weren’t going to make him feel any less patient as he watched the kilometers slowly tick by, each one feeling slower than the last. Comm chatter from Reaper provided a welcome relief: “So we didn’t get much from that data burst, did we, Avenger?”. “Negative”, Rhu’kin replied “the emergency transmission mode those Recon’s do punches out nav coordinates first, followed by a complete sensor and log data dump. Unfortunately, we only got the SOS and the location data, the rest of the burst was cut off. Probably jammed, like Lt. Jacob suspects.” “Well, they don’t call us for the easy ones” Anechka responded. “Ain’t that the truth” Rhu’kin affirmed.
Anechka’s emotionless tone once again reminded Rhu’kin that he was glad she was an ally, not an enemy. 2nd. Lt. Anechka ‘Reaper’ Soban was tall by both women and special ops standards at 180cm, which, coupled with tanned skin and medium-length blonde hair, never failed to turn heads. Born to a mercenary family in a mercenary Kiith, she’d entered into military training at fourteen, the Navy at eighteen, and had remained in combat roles her entire adult life. She’d earned her call sign and her invitation to the Fists of Heaven while performing security detail aboard a resource controller during the journey to Hiigara. She and her team of four had subdued a crew of Imperial Taidanii who were attempting to hijack the vessel. Outnumbered three to one, her team managed to capture five of the twelve hostiles, while the rest of both the Imperial boarding party and the Soban security detail were killed during the skirmish. Fleet Intelligence had ordered her to secure the prisoners for interrogation, but when she found the third and last of her teammates bleeding to death against a bulkhead, she’d disobeyed orders and took matters into her own hands. The story, obtained from via debriefings from fellow crew members and confirmed via security camera feed, were infamous. Anechka had calmly walked into the hangar where the prisoners were under watch, drew her sidearm, and shot each handcuffed Taiidan at point blank range in the head, her barrel literally touching each forehead in turn. Then, spattered in blood, brain matter, and skull fragments, she’d calmly re-holstered her weapon and sought out the Controller’s onboard engineer. She relayed a plan to free the Resource Controller to him, one that required his assistance. Shocked by her bloodsoaked appearance and ice-cold tone, he’d complied without question. Together they had stepped through the breached hull into the enemy salvage corvette where they gained access to the plasma shunt control. By re-routing the plasma conduits from the maneuvering vents back into the drive, they created what was essentially a flying time bomb. They completed the sabotage by deactivating the magnetic couplings, then quickly returned to the Controller. With the couplings disabled, the enemy salvage corvette drifted away, which prompted its strike craft escort to investigate. Moments later, the salvage corvette detonated without warning, destroying itself and the entire escort squadron of enemy interceptors.
Although her actions resulted in a stern reprimand from Fleet Intelligence and three months of mandatory weekly psychological support sessions, once the story and video evidence of her actions circulated among the Kushan Navy, she’d become an instant celebrity. The Fists of Heaven hadn’t hesitated with an offer of recruitment, which Anechka had accepted. Two years of flight school and another year of multi-environment combat and survival training in the FoH certainly hadn’t made her any softer. ‘A word of advice to any future commanding officers: Reaper is a force of nature’ Rhu’kin had annotated in her personnel file ‘one either harnesses that force or is destroyed by it. We harness it, so that our enemies are destroyed. She, like every member of the Fists of Heaven, is an embodiment of our creed: There Can Be No Forgiveness’. When Rhu’kin had been promoted to CAG two years ago, FoH Command had assigned Anechka as his wingman. He’d later found out that it was a pragmatic decision, as Command had felt most other pilots were apprehensive of Anechka to the point where it could affect their flying. Rhu’kin’s reputation being what it was, Command had felt he would have no problems. They’d been correct, and there had never been an issue. Rhu’kin felt that, besides her utter lack of apparent emotion, she was a model wingman.
‘The Fists of Heaven‘: The 2nd Special Tactics and Operations Squadron of the Hiigaran (formerly Kushanii) Naval Forces. This exclusive Special Ops branch is tasked with the execution of high risk, high reward missions. Invitees must undergo harsh, multi-world and multi-environment survival training and specialized flight school before becoming full members of the squadron.
“Anyone else feeling the drag from these puppies?” There was no mistaking the gravelly voice of Major Saamaan “Wrathbringer” Nabaal, the oldest pilot among the FoH squadron stationed on the Sa’Jiir. With a short, sturdy build, dark brown skin, and wings of gray at his temples, Saamaan had put down more Taiidan than almost any other Kushan pilot. Surprisingly, he was a botanist and farmer by trade, with a specialty in low water, high yield indoor propagation. He had been selected by Kiith Nabaal’s science council to lead the development as well as oversee operations of the Mothership’s aeroponic systems. However, as a formal Navy Reserve pilot, after the destruction of Kharak he’d placed his assistant in charge of cultivation and insisted on entering into active duty. He’d earned his invitation to the Fists of Heaven while defending a resource operation during the great trek to Hiigara: Saamaan was leading a wing of five light corvettes when two Taiidani assault frigates and a support frigate with a complement of attack bombers and interceptors had emerged from hyperspace practically on top of their location. To provide cover and to screen the resource operation’s escape, he’d led his entire wing directly into the midst of the Taiidan. This immediate approach meant he was able to close the distance before the support frigate could unload it’s complement of strike craft. En route he had requested that his wingmen relinquish control of their ships to his flight computer, an incredibly unorthodox request, especially given the hazardous situation. Trusting his lead, however, the squadron had quickly obeyed. Saamaan immediately set all ships in the squadron into slave mode to his flight computer, punched in an intercept course, and pulled the ejection lever. The squadron followed suit as programmed, and the crew members were automatically ejected a few seconds before every corvette impacted the same location in the center assault frigate, one after another. The first impact sent stress fractures through the frigate, the second crumpled the nose, the third breached the hull, and as the fourth and fifth slammed into the now-unprotected decks, they scoured the interior with superheated plasma, incinerating the crew and resulting in an overheat of the frigate’s drive reactor. Moments later the reactor went critical and the resulting explosion ripped apart the frigate and destroyed every enemy strike craft, in addition to severely damaging the remaining frigates. Their foes crippled or destroyed, the resource operation team was able to easily retrieve the pilots, and a new adjective was created among the Kushan Navy: “Pulling a Saamaan” became a new term for using one’s ship as a weapon. Word of his audacity spread even among the Taiidan, as Fleet Intelligence later learned interrogating prisoners of war.
Rhu’kin knew that, had he wanted to, Saamaan could have been the one leading the current rescue op. While perusing Saamaan’s personnel file Rhuk’in had made special note of the transcript from Saamaan’s inauguratory discussion with FoH command. Command had offered a promotion to a command position, to which Saamaan had replied “Command is too much ordering and not enough killing. I joined up with you guys because you’re the best at killing Taiidan. I want to kill Taiidan, not order others to do it for me, so put me in the cockpit and let me do my job!” His wish had been granted, and he’d entered into active service for the Fists of Heaven immediately after the mandatory survival and combat training the squadron demanded. Rhu’kin greatly enjoyed Saamaan’s sardonic sense of humor that contrasted nicely with an upbeat personality and ‘let’s get it done’ attitude.
“Aye” confirmed several members of the squadron to Saamaan’s question, including Rhu’kin. “Let’s not forget that these bad boys have double the armor, more than double the firepower, and coupling ability all in a package that’s only thirty percent more massive and fifteen percent slower” Rhu’kin said over the comms “the Somtaaw really know how to make a heavy fighter, and we may be glad they did after this is all said and done”.
End of part two. [Read Part 1 here]
I hope you enjoyed the story! I will be posting a new short story on the first Tuesday of every month, accompanied by illustrations by artist Julian Schlottmann. 4k versions of the art in our stories is available to all Patreon patrons. Also, you may like my previous stories, Reunion and I Am Khaaneph. -Mike
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