Vanguard Galaxy, page 1
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‘Vanguard Galaxy’ Mars Dorian © 2016
The silence cut through the commando bridge like a tactical knife.
Captain Rosco Tellride throned in his commander's chair on the Crimson Guard. An aged but formidable dame, she had long been in service of the colonial forces.
The main screen of the bridge showed a void in all its black beauty; a cosmic ocean with its little stars swimming and shining like fluorescent bacteria. A soothing image if it wasn’t for the evil that lurked inside.
Soon, Tellride would wipe it out.
The target of the mission was a secret drug production operation disguised as a mining facility on a lonely asteroid. The Sunblood syndicate—an intergalactic organization so downright rotten, it made mass murderers piss themselves in fear—ran the illegal operation. Just hearing the name made captain Tellride’s tongue taste like acidic mould. Maybe today was the opportunity to break their financial neck; a chance to blow back their illegal business by billions of credits.
Wishful thinking? Maybe; but if one didn’t hope for a better future, why wake up in crammed sleeping cubes at all?
The target of today was a mercenary captain called Grave Slayton, who was head manager of the asteroid drug facility. The criminal worked himself up the cartel chain and became a notorious Sunbleeder in the sector. Rosco Tellride was going to kill the man’s career.
He became one with the moment and focused on the mission progress.
“All systems go,” engineering said over the comm. “Accelerating to two g's.”
Rosco inspected the current morale of his crew on the command bridge. Each officer lay embedded in their modular adapto-seats fanned out around the elevated throne he had dubbed the Motherbase.
Everyone was wired.
Tactical shared the progress of the advance. “Alpha Squadron has commenced their offensive. They’re making contact with the enemy in T-minus forty-two seconds.”
The trajectories updated on the tactical screen, a semi-transparent display located next to the main screen. Green arrows depicted the allies, red showed the hostiles, followed by the yellow neutrals. Right that instant, a swarm of green dots owned the view, but Rosco knew it wouldn’t last. Mayhem knocked on the front. Too bad he wasn’t in charge of Alpha Squadron; being in the second division meant less responsibility and thus less action.
“Remain on standby. Distance to main target?” he said.
“Five thousand, four hundred, and fifty-three clicks.”
Right on the enemy’s doorstep.
Rosco exhaled the pressure and inhaled the mint-flavored oxygen delivered through the recyclers of the bridge’s life support system. Despite his successful track record of VR missions, he had never felt that four letter word as much as in real-live combat…fear.
Sure, there were implants to combat that primal emotion, but every surgery carried lethal risks. A less intrusive option was the 'stims' provided by ICED. But every human who had artificially dimmed his fear—either through drugs or upgrades—ended up as a zombie. Rosco Tellride wanted to find an organic way to dominate his emotions.
A Mind over Matter kind of thing.
He stared at the main screen while his primary crew made sure every component of the cruiser was battle-ready once the cartel goons opened fire. He waited for the words from his navigational officer who sat a few meters to his right. The woman’s neocortical implants linked to the ship’s comm relay and updated in nano-seconds.
She spoke the magical words. “Alpha Squadron is engaging the enemy.”
Enough with the mind chatter.
Time for the hull batter.
The asteroid showed up on the main screen; a space rock like any other, ripe with minerals waiting to be harvested by human forces. Except this one was the Sunblood’s secret production facility of the galaxy’s worst drug: Burrn. A substance so evil Satan himself would have demonized it. In short, Burrn burned brains. Hopefully for the last time ever, Rosco thought as his eyes pierced the main screen.
The mission was clear: take down the mobile defense platforms of the asteroid while Alpha Squadron took care of the enemy spacecraft. Once that was accomplished, Gamma Squadron would send their dropships of commandos and infiltrate the facility. Simple, but not easy. Sunblood’s finances were deeper than the Nebula fog; they could get the best mercs and defenses that interstellar credits could buy.
Rosco Tellride massaged his knuckles as the probe scans of the asteroid facility updated the three dimensional depiction on the tactical screen. Back at the ICED mission briefing, he had learned the schematics inside and out. Only few things differed from the current view—a few mobile weapon platforms had swapped places, and a couple more had been added. Nothing a man of his caliber couldn’t handle.
The commander’s voice boomed through his comm channel. The man sounded as if he had licked a melting fission reactor. “Captain Tellride, deliver the package. All depends on you now, so don’t screw this up.”
It sucked to wait for the actual attack order, but the command chain prevailed.
“Engineering. Decelerate to two g’s.”
Nothing in space ever stopped. One could only accelerate or decelerate, but even the laziest rock propelled at the minimum speed of a mag train. Rosco was going to advance like a sublight missile.
Then the report from tactical arrived. “Sir? We have a problem.”
Nobody smiled. The air was so thick; one needed a laser-cutter to slice through it.
“Li-Dar scans have detected a squadron of five interceptor-type vessels targeting our ship. They’re accelerating to two g’s.”
A few minutes into mission start, and the situation already bitch-slapped the briefing. The old military saying still rang true—no plan survived first contact with the enemy. And the plan was for Alpha Squadron to act as a decoy to attract the Sunblood fighters from the asteroid base so his squadron could ‘sneak’ in with a cutting flank. Either the folks at Alpha Squadron screwed up royally, or the intel was false. Probably both.
Tactical updated the 3D models of the incoming fighters: one corvette E-Class missile carrier guarded by refurbished D-class Hornet interceptors that had once belonged to ICED.
Tactical sounded worried. “Five missile lock-ons detected; cockpit hull, frontal sub-thrusters, as well as turrets alpha, gamma, and delta.”
Damn mercs tried to attack everything at once. Who was in charge over there—Commander ADD?
Their loss, his gain.
Time to reign.
“Charge the primary LZR cannon. Concentrate fire on the corvette. Don’t let that creeper launch a single rocket.”
The interceptors needed to come within a two thousand kilometer range to cause serious damage with their kinetic impactors, but a single missile—even when launched thousands of kilometers away—could penetrate sensitive parts of the cruiser’s hull, such as the bridge.
Which meant goodbye captain and crew; hello void and instant death.
Wasn’t going to happen.
“Charging laser,” tactical updated.
The tactical screen showed the zoomed-in view of the enemy corvette as it unleashed a swarm of armor-penetrating, frag missiles. Outlawed by the United Planets’ Commission for Ethical Arms Use over a decade ago, but hey, criminals ignoring the laws? Damn surprise.
The eight mi
Nah; too simple, even for the mercs.
Tactical rang her voice again, “Impact in T-minus seven minutes, twenty-two seconds.”
The invisible LZR beam reached the corvette which, at that stage, looked like an overweight man trying to outrun a next-level police bot. Heavy armor and rocket loads increased the ship’s mass and sacrificed agility and speed.
The high-frequency laser beam tore through the corvette’s hull layers and melted its electronics. The missile ship shredded into space debris with deadly silence; another merc gone that no one was going to miss. Sometimes in Rosco’s maudlin moments, he wondered what their mothers thought of their sons getting blown apart in space battles. But most of the time, Rosco pictured mercs as motherless creatures not worth the oxygen in their life support system.
Tactical spoke again. “Rockets incoming in T-minus four minutes and twenty-two seconds. Interceptor squad arriving in T-minus eleven minutes and thirteen seconds.”
Those suicidal idiots; five interceptors trying close-range battles with an ICED cruiser? Maybe the Sunblood syndicate should put up a memo for their upcoming mission briefings: don’t Burrn and operate heavy interstellar machinery at the same time.
The high-frequency lasers heated up the enemy’s missile heads and detonated them prematurely. No pretty explosions in space, but tons of debris flying in all directions. An anti-climactic experience, especially when observed from Rosco’s adaptable command seat. Watching Martian dune expansion in slow-motion was more riveting.
Tactical sounded upbeat for the first time since the start of the battle. “All rockets eliminated, sir.”
And with the missile corvette taken down, there were no more volleys of rockets. Only the five pack of interceptors riding the attack vector.
A full frontal assault.
To hex with them. Rosco wasn’t going to waste a single missile on them.
The interceptors entered the ‘close combat range’ and fired kinetic impactor shells from their static rear turrets. Rosco’s tactical screen depicted the salvos as tiny dots racing in a straight line which looked like horizontal rainfall. It was time to counter-attack with the trusted kinetic impactors from the ICED research & development labs—50 mm smart shells with auto-tracking abilities. Space brain bullets, as Rosco lovingly dubbed them.
He updated tactical. “Select fire: KI shells. Turrets alpha, beta, and gamma.”
The left screen showed the 3D model of the cruiser as it extracted its left and right rear turrets. They each fired a volley of four smart-shells which targeted the diamond formation of the incoming Hornet interceptor squad.
“Targets spreading out,” tactical said.
They’re like frightened fireflies.
But even though these Hornets of the E-Class were speedy, they couldn’t escape smart-shells. And given their thin hull—sacrificed by design to keep the vessel agile—they wouldn’t survive even one direct volley of the 50mm rounds.
Captain Tellride was right; the salvos caught up with two of the enemy fighters and unleashed debris hell.
No mercy for the mercs.
“Targets two and four down, Captain. Three Hornet interceptors remaining.”
Yeah, but not for long.
Tellride ordered tactical to dispose of the trio ASAP. He needed to focus on the bigger picture: clearing the anti-ship, mobile defense platforms that floated around the asteroid’s production facility. His instinct, sharpened through previous missions, raised its warning index finger. ‘Space battles’ and ‘easy’, those words just didn’t work together in real combat situations. Rosco knew that not even mercs were that weak.
So, what’s the catch?
He watched the zoomed-in tactical screen and noticed the three remaining Hornet fighters escaping his turret fire.
Something was wrong here…
“Enemy fighters are spitting chaff.”
Rosco couldn’t see it, but he knew the process. Tiny missiles blew out the ship’s rocket bay and distracted the smart shells. The salvo curved around the vessels and vanished into the void. Tellride wiped his stubble and reconsidered his tactic. The interceptor type of the Hornet-variant shouldn’t even carry chaff, which means the mercs refurbished the base design in every way. Scheming little critters.
The crew in the Crimson Guard commando bridge exhaled. Of course they were pros, but even after hundreds of sessions in the VR capsules, the primal side of humans raged when mortal danger lurked. Commander Wiktor's voice barked over the intercom and made it worse. He, of all people, should know it was bad for crew morale.
“Where the hell are you, Tellride?
“Sir, we are held up by a corvette with Hornet fighter support.”
A group that was supposed to be dealt with by the Alpha Squadron—but even captain Tellride couldn’t bring that frustration over his hardened lips. This was hardly the time for a verbal battle with his superior, even though the desire existed. Commander Wiktor assaulted the comm with his vocals. “Finish those fighters. We need those FLAK platforms down so our commando can dock.”
Tactical seemed to wait an extra five seconds after the commander finished his rant.
“Distance to interceptors: one thousand, five hundred, and forty-two kilometers.”
“Let’s switch to directed energy. Charge the secondary LZR cannons, and take down those Hornets before they sting.”
Even though the beams remained invisible, the tactical screen displayed them as bright, green bars. A useful visual aid that helped the captain and his crew supervise the cannons’ optimal firing ranges.
“Impact,” tactical said.
The enemy Hornets splintered into the cosmic soup without a trace.
“All three ships down.”
No chance for them to sting, Rosco thought. Who knew what little extra-customization they carried up their rear? “Let’s focus on that asteroid base. Navi, decelerate to one g.”
The tactical display showed red triangles in various sizes. The smallest ones depicted more fighters, buzzing around the asteroid like bees ready to protect their queen. The mid-sized ones had to be corvettes or freighters with the Burrn load. Red triangles mixed with the green ones, which meant the crossfire flamed up. Alpha Squadron’s speed flank had taken down the asteroid station’s comm relay—the Sunbleeders couldn’t call for backup anytime soon, unless they had a secondary comm system in place.
Let’s not wait long enough to find out.
Far to the northeast of the tactical screen, armored ICED dropships showed up. They waited for Rosco Tellride to dispose of the asteroid’s FLAK platforms so their elite commando could take over the Burrn facility.
Just a sec, boys, he said to himself. I’m going to pulverize that piece of tungsten steel…
Epic thought, only it was interrupted by tactical once again.
“Two FLAK platforms are targeting our left broadside and three of our turrets.”
“Missile launch detected.”
Tactical put up the schematics on the T-screen.
“Modified hull busters. Eight launched. Impact in T-minus four point five minutes.”
“Can point defense handle them?”
“I think so…”
Too much uncertainty in her voice.
“I need confirmation.”
“Sir, they carry unknown mods; one hundred percent illegal.”
Dealing with customized arms always scratched off Rosco’s layers of cool. Those syndicate suckers took base models—usually out-of-co
Still, the Crimson Guard’s petawatt point defense lasers were top of the line. They could handle most small to midsized projectiles. Rosco watched the tactical screen drowning in green, yellow, and red icons. Little dots making love to each other. “Focus on these FLAK mobile platforms. Primary LZR ready?”
“Still on cool down. Twenty-five seconds, sir,” tactical said.
Half an eternity in space.
LZR, the secret lover of Rosco’s life. He watched the main screen with the zoom and saw four hull buster missiles detonating prematurely.
“Four coming through.”
The second the laser beams connected with the enemy missiles, they split apart. It looked weird, even on the zoom. Metal confetti splattering the cosmic darkness.
Rosco needed clarification. “Impact?”
“N… negative, sir,” tactical stuttered, and every crew member craned their heads after her. “Those hull busters are… cluster missiles.”
Shitty schematics; either the scan was wrong or the Sunbleeders pulled another of their deceitful stunts. Jeez, was each of their arms modified? The dots on the tactical screen bred and made tiny rocket babies.
“Fifty mini-missiles. Impact in T-minus ten seconds.”
“Where are my point defenses?”
“Too many. Targeting can’t keep up.”
A vibration jostled through the exterior hull layers. The green 3D avatar of the cruiser showed orange layers. Rosco blinked at the damage report. Tactical read the stats with robotic passion. “Front side layer pierced by eleven percent. Broadside front layer penetrated by seventeen point six percent. Connection to gamma turret lost.”
Minimal damage, but it still would cost ICED hundreds of millions in credits. Poor taxpayers, but that was the price of security. The cruiser could take a beating to the second hull layer before things turned critical. Rosco went full captain mode. “Target FLAK platforms and fire that damn primary LZR.”
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