Alarm klaxons wailed. Carnarvon station’s command crew hurried to and fro, speaking in excited tones.
“Situation report.” Commander Corwin barked. The portly middle-aged man looked pale and exhausted. For the past few hours, something had been attacking the station. Ghost indicators appeared and disappeared from sensor sweeps. Power levels fluctuated at sporadic times. Alan adjusted his collar and checked his viewscreen. No contacts at this moment.
A tech hurried to the commander with a beeping data pad. “Sir, it appears to be a hacking attack. We’ve detected intrusions in our main computer systems. The virus has infected at least 40% of our servers. We’ve managed to quarantine some of its copies, but it’s spreading rapidly.”
“How much danger are we in?”
“Firewalls are holding. Life support, security, gravity, and power are safe. We should hold for a few more minutes.”
“We are working on a counter-virus right now. It should be ready in a few minutes.”
Alan knew only one person could be responsible. Only someone arrogant enough to invade Republic space to play cat and mouse with a fleet much larger than his would be foolish enough to attack an unimportant space station in the middle of nowhere. Why here, though? Was there something about this place? Regardless, his thoughts turned to the encroaching threat.
Another alarm sounded. “Sir! The virus is breaking into more servers. We’re about to lose weapon control.”
The commander pointed at a screen containing graphical representations of the viral attack vectors. “Isolate server CS10. Trap the virus there.”
“Done. We’ve also completed the counter-virus. Deploying now.”
A few tense minutes went by. Alan imagined strings of code picking each other apart. More servers became contaminated. They would lose power soon. Suddenly, the screens cleared up and the server icons turned green as they regained control.
“Countermeasure successful. We’ve thwarted the attack.”
Commander Corwin stepped back and let out a sigh of relief. “Glad that crisis is over. Although I doubt that was the last of it.” He glanced at Alan. “Vuong. What do you got?”
Alan swiveled his chair and faced the commander’s grey eyes. “No contacts for the last hour. Since we’ve stopped their initial attack, they’re probably going to get physical.”
“What have you seen?”
“Nothing larger than drone size. They’re probing us. I’m sure it’s the Zenks, sir. In fact, I know it.”
“You’re probably right.” Corwin looked to another tech beside him. “Status of our defenses?”
“Currently, we have about a dozen turrets, particle and laser, online. Double the amount of PDs. Twenty Hawking-class craft. And a fortshield.”
The commander rubbed his eyes, “Damn, that won’t hold off a fleet that size for long.” He thrummed his fingers against his forehead. “What about the colony?”
“All personnel have moved to the shelters. They’re safe.”
“Only for a couple hours if that Zenk gets bombardment happy.” He tapped his finger again, as if trying to activate the part of his mind that held the answers. “Maybe they’ll let us surrender.”
Alan shook his head. “Batu won’t do that. He’d do the most logical action to throw off pursuit. Since he has the firepower, and we don’t, he’ll eliminate all potential witnesses.”
“You’ve seen action against him before, didn’t you? Maybe we could—”
“Sir, priority message coming in,” a tech interrupted. “It’s from the President!”
“Let me see that.” The commander tapped his data pad and started reading the message. He chuckled. “What timing! ‘Alert. Kenzenken fleet inbound.’ Yada yada. ‘State of emergency. Immediately evacuate.’ Too late for that now. ‘Relief fleets incoming.’ Thank God for that.” Suddenly, the alarms wailed again and the command room bathed in red light.
Alan checked his terminal. His viewscreen was covered in yellow icons, too many to count. They turned red as the computer detected energy surges from their weapon ports. “Massive fleet signature detected. They’re coming in hot!” he exclaimed
“Activate the fortshield!” The commander ordered.
“Activated,” affirmed his tech. On his screen, a bubble extended around the station.
Alan watched with apprehension as thousands of hypervelocity torpedoes sped toward them. They wouldn’t feel the impacts, but if one got through, they would be vaporized in an instant. To make matters worse, they would weaken the shields, perhaps enough to allow ships like the Thunderbirds to slip through. Point defense lasers activated in a cornucopia of light only visible to the computers. They destroyed two thirds of the approaching torpedoes. The remaining impacted the fortshield, sending shockwaves in every direction. A heartbeat passed. The shield held. A mass of movement from the fleet caught his attention. Thunderbird vessels. At least two dozen. Twice the number of drones accompanied them. Checking their trajectories, he estimated they would reach the station in twenty minutes.
“Incoming light vessels. Sir, I recommend we intercept. If they find any holes in the shield, they’ll cause a lot of damage.”
The commander wiped the sweat off his brow. “Alright, send out the Hawkings.”
His heart beat against his chest. Alan took a swallow. “Sir, request permission to join them.” He paused.
“Negative, Alan. Let the pilots do their job. We don’t need any needless deaths.”
“You know what I’m capable of. The other pilots have only seen combat in simulators. If we’re going to survive this, I need to be out there.”
The commander stared at him, stroking his chin. A klaxon sounded as the enemy fleet moved closer. He cleared his throat. “Alright, you can go. Be careful out there.”
Alan nodded and took the elevator down to the flight deck.
The sleek and clean ship felt like home. Perhaps out of sympathy, Corwin allowed him to take this particular Hawking out for test flights during downtimes. He sat in the pilot’s chair and activated the ship. It turned on with a slightly distorted hum. As he adjusted the controls and calibrated the instruments, he listened to comm traffic. The Thunderbirds were still on course and would be in range in ten minutes. The HUD lighted up with icons of his wingmen. Command had divided his wingmen into five wings of four ships each, labeled Alpha through Epsilon. He had been designated Alpha One. He activated the gland implanted in him to assist in space combat. The amphetamine-like substance it secreted jolted him awake, increasing his awareness and concentration. His suit finished its vacuum hardening. One press of a button signaled for launch. The hangar computer confirmed authorization, and the catapult launched him into the void of space.
Bright railgun bolts tore at the fortshield. Torpedos exploded at significant fractions of lightspeed. Each impact caused the shield to shimmer an azure blue. The station, unable to fire far outside its fortshield, floated alone in the void. Alan maneuvered his ship into formation, thrusters firing at all angles to keep it steady. He activated the fleet comms channel.
“This is Alpha One. All groups. Follow me and engage in X formation. Watch their firing cycles. And don’t let more than two birds get an angle on you. Do not let any of them pass.” The other pilots radioed in their acknowledgements. His escort ships activated maximum burn towards the approaching Thunderbirds.
To a far away observer, it would appear that giant columns of blue and green fire were approaching each other. Anyone expecting close combat would be disappointed, as the shortest distances they would engage was still in the thousands of kilometers. The Thunderbirds probed their defenses. Unfortunately the enemy light craft found a hole in the fortshield. As they passed through the barrier, it shimmered with an incandescent blue light. The Hawking ships fired their hypervelocity missiles, and then split off to their flanks. Heavy ECM and point defenses from the Thunderbirds countered the missiles, rendering most of the ordinance useless. The Kenzenken drones proved useless, as the rapid firing point defense lasers picked them off. Two enemy ships exploded from warhead impacts microseconds after launch. They returned fire with their railgun cannons, hot pieces of shrapnel screaming at near light-speed through vacuum. Three Thunderbirds launched swarm missiles, large clouds of guided projectiles designed to overwhelm point defense.
Alan checked the trajectories of the missiles. They approached his group from all directions. One of the clouds surrounded his wingmen, destroying three ships. He dodged and weaved through the missile paths, making minute adjustments to account for their trajectories. He found a flight path taking him above the enemy formations. “Delta Wing, flank them and draw their fire away from the shield.”
“Roger, Alpha One. Let’s take them!” radioed Delta One. They accelerated below a group of Thunderbirds and opened fire with their beam weapons.
An unlucky enemy ship crossed the firing paths of two members of Delta Squad. Micro-explosions rocked the ship as particle beams penetrated and ultra-heated its hull. It exploded in a ball of dust and fire.
“Good kill! Good kill!” shouted Alan. He dived down towards the rear of three ships, dodging cannon fire, unleashing the full force of his weaponry. One ship took the brunt of fire, its gravity shield blinking out in a yellow wave before being pummeled. The lights on the ship blew out. It drifted out into the expanse, a floating corpse. Another ship tried in vain to dodge his hypervelocity missiles, but their impacts vaporized it. The third ship escaped intact, before turning downwards in pursuit.
The missile warning indicator screamed in his ear as his pursuer locked on to him. He couldn’t let the enemy pilot fire, as their missiles were as fast as his. He dropped chaff and calculated the position of their gun turrets. The indicator showed the ship as destroyed before he could think further. The pursuing ship had been destroyed by Alpha Four. Alan quickly communicated his thanks and checked the battle situation.
The Thunderbird cohort was severely depleted. He noted with some satisfaction that these private security pilots he flew with were much better than he thought. However, his side had not escaped unscathed. Six ships were lost and Delta Wing was in danger of being overwhelmed.
“Alpha and Gamma Wing, form up on me. Beta Wing, stay on their periphery and cover us.” Acknowledgements chirped in. He directed them in a path to save Delta Wing. The Thunderbirds engaging Delta broke off and maneuvered to face the incoming threat. They were too late. Showers of metal exploded in outward shockwaves as beam and missile fire overwhelmed them.
The remaining Thunderbirds regrouped, oriented back to their home fleets, and engaged full afterburners in retreat. Cheers surged over Alan’s comm channel. Checking the status of Carnarvon station, he saw that the shield had reactivated and overlapped the hole with its field. He smiled beneath his ink black helmet. He checked the tactical display. His face fell. Thousands of red dots were around them now, mostly pummeling the fortshield. His computer detected the surge of far-off siege laser activating. A group of fifty Thunderbirds burned towards them. He ordered the wings back to the cover of the shield. One lone Hawking, Beta Two, took too long to retreat, and was cut down in a barrage of railgun cannon fire.
Alan could only watch as the station’s protection slowly started to crumble. A railgun shot exploded at an uncomfortable close distance to him. His hand grew white under his glove as he gripped the throttle. When it came into position, the siege laser fired its white blinding beam at the base of the shield. The ships near it scattered as it gradually increased in intensity. On and on it fired, until the shield blinked out. Weapons converged upon the station.