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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
Echo 13, Chapter 7
by: Derek Hawkins
Part I : The Dance at Dulodann
Chapter 7: : Stampede in the corral
Friday, 22 May 4742 0600 Local Time
Friday, 22 May 4742 1800 Galactic Mean Time
Vykos Parnel eased the barrel of his blaster out of the controller's back. "Very good. That wasn't so hard now was it?" He was in the yard's traffic control room, a large room dominated by the three dimensional holographic display of the shipyard and the space lanes surrounding the station. The display currently showed empty space lanes. But Parnel knew that that was about to change. He tapped his commlink. "Report, Bravo."
"All set," Vasor replied. "We can go whenever you're ready."
"I'm on my way. I want to go in ten minutes. Make it happen, Bravo. Alpha out."
Parnel sent all his units moving towards their targets. Dressed as maintenance personnel, yard workers, and inspectors, Kilkenny's troops were about to attempt the largest mass ship heist in twenty years. No one had tried something this big since a Galactic fleet task force had been stolen at Tamallah IV, he reflected. Kilkenny had played a small part in that heist years ago, and now he had come full circle, playing a big part in this heist. Now he was the one who had ordered the heist.
Neither of the guards that Parnel left in the control room noticed the half smile on his face.
~ * ~
Forester walked into the yardmaster's office without knocking. "Trouble," he said flatly, with no inflection in his voice.
Richards knew Mitch well enough not to question his judgment and to charge up his blaster. If Forester said there was going to be trouble, then you could count on there being a fight. It never failed. "Where?"
"Right here. I think this ship yard is about to be attacked," he said calmly, as if discussing the weather.
The yardmaster was a short, portly human, and he came up out of his chair at Mitch's statement. "That's preposterous. Our grav fields can pull anything smaller than a Fleet carrier out of hyperspace, well beyond the range of it's weapons reaching the yard itself."
Mitch shook his head and continued. "They won't do any good if the attack comes from the inside out." His words were punctuated by the rumble that shook the station and threw it into pitch-black darkness.
Seconds later, the station lights came on at half strength, indicating emergency power was up and in operation.
The yardmaster called up his Chief Engineer. "Report, Chief."
"The main power station blew up. The yard is on emergency power. It'll take at least twelve hours to fix. The grav field generators are only at half strength." A power transfer fed the generators from the station to the generators out at the edge of the station's area of operations. "We can reroute power, but it will take awhile."
"Get on it." He turned to face the Corpsmen, finding all of them leaving except for Nyx and Forester.
"What are you using for yard patrol craft?" This came from Nyx.
"Talos T-27s." The Talos T-27 was a popular fighter for use as a patrol craft. It was quick, maneuverable, and not too lightly loaded weapons-wise. The T-27 was not the top of the line anymore, but it could still hold it's own against the current designs. In the right hands of a capable pilot it could be a deadly weapon.
"Great. I grew up on the 31." She turned to Mitch. "You fly?"
"I've flown everything since the 23s." Mitch was a combat rated pilot who often went up against the best the Navy had to offer, as a guest instructor at the Navy's fighter combat school. He trounced the opposition more often than not.
Nyx looked back at the yardmaster. "Can you have a pair ready to go when we get to the launch bay?"
"Good," she said over her shoulder as she headed out the door with Forester trailing in her wake.
~ * ~
All around the station, groups of four to six men struck at their assigned targets. Focusing mainly on ships that were newly completed or in a flyable condition, the teams quickly shot any of the real workers that were near enough to try and stop them. This accomplished, they raced aboard and began the start up sequences.
This was the riskiest part of the entire operation. It would take ten agonizing minutes to come to life, during which the strike teams would be vulnerable by sitting still while the ship's computers loaded up. To counter this, Kilkenny's plan called for ground teams to pin down as many of the station defenders as possible.
~ * ~
Richards and the others reached the Surfer and began the preflight checklists. If the freighters began to move out of the bays, then so would they. Even though the Surfer was a legitimate light freighter, she had some offensive/defensive capabilities. Nothing as extensive as what the Dream had, but Richards figured it would do.
"Engines are up and on line, Commander."
Cruze, Mcklure, and InCoulden walked on to the bridge carrying their weapons with them. "We're staying to help with the station defense," Jonathan said. "You won't need us out there."
Richards nodded. "Good idea, go ahead. Just mind who you're shooting at." The warning was well founded. The attackers had to be dressed in crew uniforms to pass themselves off as station personnel.
"Commander, I've got a message coming in from Mitch," called out Suon, who was currently at the communications console. "He wants to know if we have any flight gear aboard in their sizes."
Jonathan turned back at the entrance to the bridge. "Tell him to meet me outside of the launch bay. I'll bring whatever gear I can dig up."
~ * ~
Outside, four Senega-class patrol ships dropped into normal space at the edge of the reduced grav field. Two dozen fighters launched quickly and flooded the yard. When all the freighters were ready, the fighters would run interference for them as they surged in one massive group and ran for the safety of the patrol ships.
~ * ~
Forester and Nyx reached the launch bay at the same time as Cruze, Mcklure, and InCoulden. Jonathan handed his longtime friend the flight gear. The suits were of an older model, well worn but it looked like they still had some fight left in it. The helmets looked brand new, like they were just taken out of the packing crates. "Best I could do."
Mitch donned the gear wordlessly. He decided that the moment needed something said about it. Each knew that the other had no fear of death, having faced it more times than the both of them could count. Neither one expected to make it to the old spacer's home. "Fifty credits say that we get more than the rest." He jerked a thumb at the rest of the pilots suiting up.
Cruze knew his old friend well. If Mitch said he would do it, he would do it. "No bet," he said as he headed off to the construction hangers.
~ * ~
"Go ahead, Bravo," Parnel said as he directed the efforts in Hanger Three. Things were going relatively easy. The bay had had very few workers in it when the strike teams arrived, and once he had arrived, they shut and locked the blast doors over the personnel entrances. Parnel had heard stories about this same tactic being used before in a highly successful raid, and when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to try it.
"Heavy resistance, Sir," Vasor reported from Hanger Two. "There's more entrances here than we can effectively cover."
"Understood. Start moving your men towards the freighters. Alpha out." He shut off his communicator. Everything, he decided, was going as planned. Parnel trusted the patrol ship Captains to do their part. They knew what the price of failure was. Captain Tynn had shown them that.
~ * ~
The firefight in Hanger Two was intense when the Corpsmen arrived. Laser bolts crisscrossed the bay. Smoke was gathering near the ceiling from the miniature fires started by missed shots. The station defenders were hunkered down behind machinery and equipment. The attackers intensified their return fire as they began a slow retreat towards the freighters. Once the attackers made it onto the freighters, there would be no way to stop them from escaping out the bay doors and into space.
"Is there any way to keep those ships from leaving?" Jason asked one of the workers with them.
"We could try and disable each ship somehow," the worker offered.
"It would take too long," said InCoulden. "We need to block off the entrance to the bay. Is there any safety system against decompression or pressure loss?"
The worker nodded. "Emergency blast doors in case the magnetic screens go down and this bay begins to decompress."
"And then nothing comes in or out until the screens are fixed?" Jason asked.
The worker nodded again.
"Then that's what we're going to do," Cruze decided as he reached for his commlink. It was time to call in some artillery.
~ * ~
Nyx and Forester met the first wave of four fighters as they entered the yard. The wave split off into two pairs, with one pair a thousand meters ahead and spaced five hundred meters to the right of the second pair.
Holly was flying Mitch's wing and turned left across the second pair's flight path. The leader of the second pair watched as Mitch rolled towards his right, away from Nyx. He grinned in to his flight mask. This would be easy. He began closing on Nyx.
Forester rolled over into a tight left turn, coming back around to the fight. He was now behind the pair that was chasing Nyx, who was closing on the first pair.
The leader lined up his shot. His wingman was flying a little too tightly on his wing he decided. He would remember to space himself out more the next time. That was his last thought before Mitch's lasers found their mark and converted him into a fireball, along with his still too close flying wingman.
The first pair continued on into the yard, unaware of the closing threat. More fighters had begun to launch out of the bay, and these had their full attention. It was a costly mistake. Neither pilot checked his blind spot, and both suffered for it.
Nyx and Forester headed back out towards open space, leading the station's defense fighters into the fight. The pilots were extensively trained, honed to a fine, laser-sharp edge through exercises and drills, but very few had any actual combat experience. Not the best that Forester had ever taken into battle, but certainly not the worst either. Once, eight years ago, he'd led a bunch of rookies, fresh out of the Academy, against a renegade patrol ship in the Shardu Wastes. That turned into a blood bath when half the squadron was lost because of typical greenie mistakes.
~ * ~
Aboard the Surfer, Jaz was projecting the ship's sensor readings onto a two-dimensional display that he had privately nicknamed the 'gameboard'. Unlike the holographic display on the Dream, this unit was limited to a flat surface. It showed a plan view of the entire yard and the surrounding space. Each colored dot represented a ship; the larger the dot, the larger the actual ship was.
Next to each dot was a small block of numbers. One line was the ship's speed. The other line was its altitude; positive if the ship was above the yard's horizontal plane, and negative if it was below it.
Al'Lari watched as the dots converged and danced across the screen. Red dots were hostile, green dots were for friendly and yellow dots were for the unknown. A running count of the ships destroyed according to type was displayed for both sides. The 'scoreboard' currently read 8 - 2 for fighter-size craft. It jumped to 9 -2, then 10 - 2. Ten enemy fighters had been destroyed to two of the stations. Seconds later it read 12 - 3, registering another double kill.
Yellow dots began appearing outside of Hanger Bay Three.
"They're surging, Commander."
Here we go, thought Richards. He eased the Surfer away from the dock and angled toward the growing mass of starfreighters. "Weapons check."
Eram Bimmer half turned to Grant. "Locked and loaded. Just say when."
"Wait until we join up. And remember, " Richards cautioned, "Shoot to stop, not to kill." Grant had been through this before, when he was an Ensign in the Navy. A similar heist had taken place with even less warning than Forester had given. His patrol ship was the only one to put up any resistance in an attack that was strikingly similar to the way this one was developing. The out-dated ship managed to stop a few of the fleeing starships by shooting out their drive engines, requiring six months in space dock to repair. He hoped measures that desperate would not be needed.
"Yes, sir," Bimmer answered.
~ * ~
Mitch pulled up to avoid the glowing debris of a destroyed fighter. Nyx was still on his left wing, even after the swirling dogfight with six enemy fighters. He was climbing high over the space yard when Jonathan's voice crackled in his ear.
"Mitch, do you copy?"
Forester was looking for more targets. "Go ahead."
"These ships in Hanger Three are about to leave the party." Cruze sounded slightly metallic over the T-27's radio. "Think you could burst their bubble for us?"
Forester noticed ships coming out of Hanger Bay Two. Definitely not good. "We can do that. What have you got cooking in that devious and twisted mind of yours?"
"Blow the magnetic screens holding in the atmosphere."
Devious and twisted indeed! "We can definitely make that happen," he said. "Where are the generators located?"
A new voice spoke. "There are two generators on top of the bay, multi-faceted globes about five meters each in width. Both must be destroyed to seal off the bay."
Forester switched buttons on his radio. "You get all of that," he asked Holly.
Mitch dove toward the station and leveled out high and behind Nyx. He switched back to Cruze's frequency. "Hang on to something. Here comes the cavalry."
~ * ~
Jonathan passed along the warning, quietly spreading it around the bay to the station defenders. He watched as two of the space yards fighters flew almost directly at the Hanger. The nose and wingtips of the first one lit up as it fired on the generators.
Warning lights began flashing and alarms began wailing as the huge blast doors began closing. However, three freighters made it out of the hanger before the doors were completely sealed.
Cruze turned on the communicator. "You got'em. Great shot Mitch!"
"Thank you, " replied a decidedly female voice.
~ * ~
Aqui Vasor was half way to a freighter when all hell broke loose around him. Lights began flashing and alarms sounded. Something was wrong, unless the defenders were trying to fool him. His first clue as to what was going on was the weightlessness caused by the out rushing pressurization. He had to find something to hold on to before he was sucked out into space.
Vasor grabbed an equipment tie down embedded in the deck. He attached a safety line from his work vest to the tie down in the floor. Now that he wasn't going anywhere, he turned toward the front of the bay. He watched as two ships escaped before the blast doors slammed shut. Along with his career. He never saw the flying debris that knocked him unconscious.
~ * ~
Parnel watched from the bridge of the patrol ship Redliner as the doors closed on Hanger Bay Three. "How many made it out?"
"Three ships, sir."
Three out of a planned eleven freighters and transports. "And Captain "-he still thought of him as a commander-"Vasor?"
The communications technician shook his head. "He was not aboard."
Parnel fingered the remote in his pocket. It was time to raise the stakes. "Order all fighters to fall back to position delta."
He activated the remote.
~ * ~
While Nyx and half a dozen others were harassing some escaping transports, Forester trailed one of the enemy fighters as it raced along under the space yard. A lone freighter loomed ahead. Mitch recognized it as the freighter that had docked in quarantine. Mitch's intuition kicked in again, telling him to leave, to get away from that freighter.
He broke off the pursuit and turned away hard to the other side of the station. The enemy pilot flew under the freighter and pulled up sharply to loop over the freighter. The pilot got half way to the top of his loop when the freighter blew up.
~ * ~
Bimmer fired on a third ship to prevent it from escaping. This one however was nearly out of the yard's grav field. Once it got out of the field, it could jump to hyperspace at any time.
"They're clear of the field," Jaz said to the gunner. "It's now or never."
The ship became a blurred streak as it went into hyperspace, along with most of the others.
"It's never," Eram said dejectedly as he watched the dots wink off the battle display.
Richards turned the Surfer back toward the space yard. "Here come those fighters." To Suon he said "Get Forester. I wouldn't want him to miss this party."
* * *
Fifteen fighters made it to the waiting patrol ships, which wasted no time in getting into hyperspace. The last one blurred out of existence as the Galactic Fleet arrived.