“The starship battle over Prahran would have far reaching consequences as the Great War started. Battle tactics first employed by the fledgling Starforgers would become standard operating procedures for fighting in the future. The lessons learned by the Votainions were not able to be passed to follow-on forces and that meant that they were vulnerable to some of the same hard lessons in future battles.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
Devon sat strapped in the cockpit of her starfighter waiting for the Sokol to come out of tunnel space. She had never been on a starship with tunneling capability and she had pictured it as being like a ride down a dark, spinning roller coaster. In reality it was more like being drunk and walking quickly. She found it nauseating and disorienting. She was glad to be held firmly in her seat, otherwise the added movement would have caused her to empty her stomach.
There’s nothing worse than flying a mission with vomit in your cockpit or worse, in your helmet. Fresh oxygen ran cool across her face. It helped her maintain her calm. After what seemed like forever, the movement stopped and she noticed the stars changing positions out the main hangar. Seconds later, the all clear siren was ringing in her ears and the fighter ahead of her blasted off into the black. She braced herself and flipped her boosters on. Her head was pushed back against her seat as she sped quickly away from the Sokol.
Her Vickers starfighter swung around to face the looming enemy starships. They were dark green in color, just like the Eight-fighter had been. A smaller head with what looked like large canons on either side topped a narrow neck that ended in an inverted V shaped main body. They looked like a pack of angry beasts and they were much closer than she would have liked.
“Delta Flight, form on your leaders,” Commander Jaye’s voice said over the radio.
In seconds two fighters were on her wings, Mason on her right and Kell on her left. Devon armed her weapons and let her targeting system attempt to find her something to shoot. Meanwhile, she studied the huge ship for any signs of weakness. If it was anything like the green Eight-fighters, it would be nearly impossible for their weapons to penetrate its shielding.
The targeting computer beeped and several parts of the starship glowed red. Devon accepted the solution and barked orders to her mates over the intercom. “Stay with me. We’re going after the primary target.”
The others had the same information as Devon on their screens. They simply followed her into a dive just past the head of the starship. As they came in close to the ship she could see people inside through the tiny, slotted portholes. Too close.
Her targeting system blinked and she opened fire with her main canons. The canons were positioned under her seat and she could feel the explosive rounds firing but only saw their tracers arc towards the ship. A blinding flash of energy was absorbed by unseen shielding. It made her eye shields darken. She pulled up and did a defensive roll out, hoping the others followed her lead. When she turned back she saw that they had no trouble catching up with her.
“Our rounds can’t get through their shields,” Mason said.
She could hear the frustration in his voice. “Commander Jaye, any luck with those shields?” Devon called out over the open channel.
There was a moment’s pause before Jaye responded. “Negative. Everyone get clear, the Sokol is firing.”
The tiny white starfighters flitted away in groups of three without drawing anything in the way of fire from the enemy ships. The Sokol immediately let loose a broadside with her main maser canons.
Devon looked away from the brilliant flashes to save her vision. She took notice of the other starships in a slightly lower orbit of her home world. She had been away from Prahran for many years and it was comforting to see its blue seas and lush, green forests.
“Hell, those main guns barely touched those things,” Mason said.
“How are we going to fight these guys?” Kell asked.
“Devil flight, follow my lead, tally ho!” Devon cried into her mic as she dove for the other starships. They were smaller and squatter than the big ship and she suspected that they were part of the invasion force. That meant they might not be as heavily shielded as the battle ship was. At least that was her hope.
As they got closer she realized that these ships were bigger than she thought, and they had anti-fighter guns all over them. Automated guns that spit fire at them like an angry insect. Her Vickers fighter shuttered as it absorbed hits. She responded by letting go a few rounds of her own at what she thought was a navigation array.
More brilliant explosions flashed and through the star shield she could see pieces of the enemy ship flying outward. She guided her fighter around them and pulled up to see where her fellow pilots were. First Mason and then Kell fell into place on either side of her.
“That’s more like it,” Mason screamed with joy.
“Anyone take damage on that run?” Devon asked, trying to see both her mates.
“Nope,” Mason said.
“Got cooked a bit when that tower blew, but all systems nominal,” Kell reported.
Devon lined them up for a second run, focusing on the weak superstructure at the ship’s bottom. Their wingtips glowed orange as they turned sharp in the thin upper boundary of the planet’s atmosphere. More rounds penetrated the enemy ship and blew out huge sections of it into space.
Devon could hear both of her pilots yelling with glee as their rounds further weakened the ship’s main body. She had a hard time wiping the smile off of her own face. It was the first time she had smiled in ages.
Blowing stuff up always made her smile. It was too much fun.
* * *
Raider ordered another volley as they circled the massive enemy vessel. So far, it had not returned fire. Why bother, the Sokol’s weapons had done no damage to them. Raider stepped off his command chair and stood behind the weapons officer. Both men tried to guess where to hit the enemy next.
“Here, where the head comes to the body. That has to be weaker,” the weapons officer said.
“Agreed, then put your next volley into those massive engines,” Raider said as he clapped the officer on the back.
“Captain, we have incoming targets starboard,” the scanning officer said, not a hint of alarm in her voice.
Raider looked hard at the main viewer, as if he could make out the tiny targets. He stepped back up on the dais and pointed to the scanning officer. “Alert Commander Jaye.”
The Weapons Officer pushed the fire controls and more volleys blasted the green monster. After the explosions dissipated, there were no signs of damage. The next volley slammed into the enemy ship’s engines.
Again, no damage. Raider took his seat and smoothed the beard at his chin. What kind of shielding could take that much punishment? The Sokol rose up in relation to the enemy ship and fired again across the top of it. Two explosions shot back at the Sokol, surprising everyone.
The Sokol was hit across the bottom of the main body. The jarring nearly knocked everyone out of their seats on the bridge.
“Damage report,” Raider shouted.
Sasha was sitting in the FO seat, reading her monitor as reports came streaming in. She didn’t seem very concerned by what she was seeing. Most of it was unknown to her.
“Minor damage, a few casualties below decks. Wait, reports are saying section twelve through fourteen are gone.” She looked up with a question on her face.
Raider punched some controls on his armrest and an outline of the ship appeared on their screens. It showed a significant portion of the bottom of their ship was missing. Not good.
“Helm, bring us around and give us some distance.”
“Aye, sir,” the Helmsman said.
* * *
Devon’s starfighter spun around and headed away from the massive landing ship as it began to break apart and fall out of orbit. Commander Jaye’s fighters were buzzing around a second lander like angry flying insects. It too was fighting a losing battle to stay in one piece.
“Devil One, this is Sokol Control, incoming bogie’s at mark two seven niner.”
Devon turned around and looked back over the tops of the remaining landing ships. Dozens of tiny, green Eight-fighters were coming at her with alarming speed.
“Devil One, I copy Control,” Devon said into her throat mic as she signaled for her flight to form on her. She had lost a fighter – Rease, when his ship took a point blank shot from the guns of the first landing ship. That left her with four fighters hanging off her starboard wing.
The Vickers starfighter had two wings that extended down from the barrel of the fuselage. Each wing was also the cooling vent and intake for the main engine. A stubby wing with an astronics package extended vertically. The Vickers was faster and more heavily armored than the Ranger Scramblers that the pilots in her flight used to fly.
Devon knew how to defeat the Eight-fighters. She recalled shooting the wing tips of the second green fighter on Ocherva with her blaster. “Okay Devils, spread out into pairs and go for the wing tips.”
“Dev, maybe these guns can penetrate their shields,” Mason said.
Devon didn’t think they would but didn’t want to stop them from trying. “Do what you can afford, just aim for the wingtips, their shields don’t cover them.”
There was a chorus of short agreements as the enemy fighters burst into firing range and tore through their formations. Devon blasted the nearest Eight-fighter as it came into range and saw her rounds dissipate across the forward shielding. Damn, that would have been too easy.
Her wingman was Mason and his shots were useless too. They quickly turned about and dove on the green fighters as they turned tightly in the thin air of Prahran’s upper atmosphere. Black pointed noses making them look like darts. Devon squeezed the trigger on her guns again and watched the tracers climb towards the wingtips of the evading fighter. Mason blasted the same fighter from off her wingtip. Both sets of rounds struck the enemy fighter hard and pieces of it blew off as it cartwheeled end over end in a fiery blaze.
“Take that you blue-skinned bastards!” Devon shouted. She heard a satisfied laughter over the radio from Mason’s fighter. For the second time today, she smiled. Devon changed channels to Jaye’s flight. “Slayer One, this is Devil One. Go for the wingtips of the Eight-fighters, their shields are weakest there.”
“We’re not engaging the fighters, Lieutenant. Concentrate on the big ships.”
Devon’s smile wiped off her face as she lined up on the second Eight-fighter. She fired a single volley to its stern and the fighter banked into her sights. It was all over after that as Mason and she opened up on it and the dart-like fighter burst into a fireball.
“Devil One, do you copy?”
She didn’t want to answer him. “Copy,” she finally said.
“The Sokol is disengaging. Return to base. I repeat, return to base.”
Devon scanned the area for more enemy fighters. Kell’s flight finished off two more Eight-fighters and were gaining altitude to get away from a third enemy fighter. Devon could tell they would not be able to outrun it.
“Devil four, you got one on your tail. Split up and come towards me.”
There was a weak acknowledgment from Kell as both Vickers fighters split apart. Kell’s fighter came right over Devon’s canopy, just as Devon opened fire on the pursuing Eight-fighter. Her shots hammered into the black nose and after a few seconds, the ship blew apart. Devon’s fighter flew through the debris cloud, taking micro fragments across the fuselage. Her instruments lit up with warning lights. The engine was losing coolant pressure and her side scanner was out. “Thanks Dev,” Kell said as she watched Devon’s fighter slew around to chase them out of Prahran’s orbit.
“Devil Flight, return to base. Return to base, copy?” Devon said.
The remaining members of Devil Flight converged and headed out to space in the direction of the Sokol. There were no Eight-fighters left to chase them. The main enemy starships were engaging the pirate ships lead by the Kelley. Devon couldn’t see much until they got closer. Fire Control directed them to attack the secondary ship. It was slightly smaller than the main starship but similar in structure.
“Devil flight, listen up. We’re going to concentrate on the neck this time. Repeated passes and keep your eyes peeled for more fighters.”
“Dev, our guns won’t penetrate their shields, this is pointless,” Mason said over the radio.
“Just do what I say.”
He didn’t argue with her as she lined them up for the first pass. When they got within firing range they were blasted with anti-fighter guns from ports around the main fuselage. Devon ignored the flashes of light and fired everything she had at the starship’s neck. Mason’s fighter was underneath and slightly behind her. His shots pounded the neck at the same time as Devon’s.
As both fighters pulled away over the top of the green starship they were raked with enemy fire. Mason’s ship exploded and sent chunks of glowing metal into the exhaust of Devon’s fighter. She felt the impact and watched his blip wink off on her scanner. Dammit, this is stupid.
Devon found the remaining fighters after their pass and formed up on them. She looked back at the starship and saw scorch marks where they had been firing. The shields were down!
“Sokol Control, the second starship’s shielding is down. Repeat, attack the second starship!”
The long, white hull of the Kelley was in a better position to take a shot. Commander Trimble’s voice boomed into their ears. “This is the Kelley. We’re taking a shot. Get clear.”
Devon and her two remaining pilots started a dive on the third starship. It was the same size as the one they had just attacked. It was moving out of the formation and firing on two pirate ships that were heading away from the Kelley.
Several balls of plasma launched into the pirate ship and completely destroyed it. The second pirate ship started jigging back and forth in a desperate attempt to get away. Its puny weapons having no effect on the pursuing enemy starship. Devon got her flight into position and dove on the neck of the pursuing green starship. They took a different approach this time, coming in under the starship where it had fewer defensive guns. Her fighter started losing power and Devon had to bow out of the attack. The remaining fighters unloaded on the enemy starship and then swung around in time to see the Kelley open up on the second starship.
The crew had only been able to get one set of maser canons operational, but that was all she needed to cripple the enemy starship. The resulting explosion lit up space and gave hope to everyone that saw it.
“Sokol Control, I’m returning with damage,” Devon said.
“Copy Devil One.”
Devon looked over her shoulder at Kell’s fighter. “Kell, you’re in charge. Press on!”
Kell’s ship rocked wings waving at her leader. “Copy Dev,”
Both remaining Vickers fighters started setting up for another pass on the third starship. Devon guided her wounded fighter towards the slim white hull of the Sokol. The bottom of the starship was scrambled beyond recognition.
She didn’t have time to stare at the damage when her own fighter was barely holding together. Guidance systems were out, power dwindling and several back-up systems were failing. She had just enough juice and control to set the Vickers down on the main deck. Emergency crews were waiting; their red and white uniforms were ready with fire suppressants.
The Vickers wanted to pull nose up on her and she had to fight to keep the nose down and the power up. As she came over the stern of the ship, it fired several rounds and the flash temporarily blinded her. Damn, did they have to fire when I’m on approach!
There was no automated landing system, it was not working yet, so she had to fly it in manually. Her retros were about half gone and the ones working were nearly dry. As a result, the fighter came in sideways like some old-time naval aviator landing a jet at sea into a cross wind. Her Vickers touched down on the pristine metal deck of the hanger and left gouge marks as it slid into the safety nets.
This chapter has it all man. Space Opera battles straight out of Star Wars. I love this stuff.