The Iris

Part One


Black Flag came out of a death dive so close to the station his afterburners left scorch marks on the hull. The turn pulled eight-G and almost knocked him out, but the flight suit and advanced neural implants kept him aware enough to flip the Viking and come guns-on to the chasing Falcon. He thumbed the missile trigger and lined up, knowing he’d have to dumbfire the Doomsday payload to have a hope of scoring the kill.

“Welcome to the Wolfpack!” he laughed as the HUD confirmed the missile launch. He saw the Falcon drop into sight, falling belly-first toward the station to bring its own weapons to bear. A long 2.4 seconds passed, and there was nothing.

“xxxx!” he spat, desperately pulling back on the stick and slamming on the afterburners. He missed! The damn shot was a hundred metres wide of proxy-detonation!


Angry alarms filled his ears as the ship reported hits along the keel. How had he missed? He used to be a professional interceptor pilot, roaming the skies and tearing apart anyone and everyone that came across his gunsights. Now he was botching free kills like a damn rookie!


He pulled another corkscrew turn that no rookie in their right mind would try and splashed lasers across the Falcon as it tried to line up a rocket attack. Multiple hits on both ships - Black Flag’s shields were down to eight percent now, and his inertia was all over the place. He had to get back to straight flight and turn this into an old school dogfight. Agility was the Falcon’s strong point - he needed to force a brawl.


One more Doomsday flew wide. The return rockets didn’t. The shields were down, and it was over. He didn’t even have time to swear.

Troll Kin to Black Flag: if you took those oven mitts off you’d fly a lot better.

“Black Flag to Troll Kin: shove it up your arse. Best of five?”

I’ve made you look bad enough today. Training’s over; let’s get back to the Dread.


In the warm comfort of the mess hall, Quinn drank hot chocolate and cursed getting old. He was fast pushing forty, and that was too old for a glory boy. Just the training flights had made his body ache; old wounds he’d long thought healed cried out in protest at his antics. His neck hurt, his back hurt, and the neural interface was itching like it had just been installed. He blamed the clash at Dark Hope - emergency ejects were never good for you, but the Nibelung was notorious for doing a number on your spine. StarMed claimed even a single eject ran the risk of causing lasting injuries. Dark Hope was eject number six.


“Damn old age,” he muttered, finishing his drink. It wasn’t like he was useless, of course; he had the skills, and the hardware in his cranium was worth more than some people earned in a lifetime, but he’d lost the razor-edge needed to be the best. It was time to leave the interception to the young pups - the hot-heads who’d yet to learn the joy of skull fractures and spinal chord compression.


The launch bay of the Dreadnought was busy, and rightly so. Every screen was filled with the image of star charts detailing where the Wolfpack would strike next - a pirate haven known as the Iris. It was a bizarre phenomenon, like a hollow star; a calm sphere of space surrounded by firestorms hot enough to vapourise a battleship. The only way in or out was via the holes that opened seemingly at random. Intel had found a beacon inside the anomaly, and it wasn’t long before the entire Corp was convinced there was plunder to be had.


Quinn would be on the second wave piloting a Mammoth. It wasn’t glorious, but it was essential work. The alphas would lead the charge, but sooner or later they’d have to fall back and regroup. The beta pilots would ensure there was a nice, warm frigball to tend to their wounds and keep them safe until it was time to sally forth again. There was also a gamma flight in case things went totally balls-up, but they were mostly new bloods and nobody expected them to do anything but sit and watch.


The fact that there were close to twenty capital ships deployed made the whole affair smack of overkill. The Wolfpack liked overkill.


He got aboard fifteen minutes early, just to settle in. The rest of the flight crew were good men and women, hand picked by Quinn himself from the auxiliary. They had the right mix of eagerness to impress, and tactical acumen to perform. For these pups, success aboard Black Flag would see them moved up to the active rosters, and places aboard a Styx or Anaconda.

He let them take their stations, trusting them to do their part. “Are we good?” he asked.

“Aye sir!” called the pilot. He was eighteen, with dark skin and a white circle tattooed on the top of his head with the Wolf in the circle. Dedicated to the Corp.

“Weapons armed and ready, sir!” the gunner confirmed. She was twenty two, ex-Tech, with enough implants to look distinctly Jericho, but not enough to spoil her looks.

“Engineering ready!” called the engineer. Nineteen years old and she’d never felt the sun. Her blue veins stood out clearly on her exposed flesh. What she lacked in social skills, she made up for with ability.

Quinn nodded to each of them. “This’ll be a straightforward op, but don’t get complacent. Don’t listen to the alphas either; I guarantee we’ll be seeing combat. Just remember that this is my personal ship, so if you break it I will take the repairs out of your hides. Black Flag to Control: we are mission ready!”


Control confirmed. All the pilots stood prepped for launch - the alphas in the launch cradles, the betas on the platforms, and the gammas idling at the hangar doors behind them. Twenty ships of the Wolfpack were about to leap into the unknown, and the unknown was never going to forget it.

Love it. :wink: Reminds me star wars books.

Moar of this!

Moar of this!


Moar of this!


Part Two


A lone ship sat in the heart of the Iris, a safe distance from the navigational beacon that allowed passage through the unstable anomaly. On its bridge, a woman with short black hair and sun-kissed skin smiled to herself as she read the reports from the R&D department. Things were going well; in six months or so, her latest project would be ready for field tests. The last one had done so well it seemed a shame not to try again. Of course, there were some complications to deal with first…


A quick glance to the wall clock made her pause. She straightened her white uniform, brushed a stray strand of hair from her face, and kept a close eye on the sensor dome in the centre of the bridge, eagerly awaiting the flood of blips that would herald the arrival of her hunters. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Good morning, Commander. Always a pleasure to meet you.”

There was a few moment’s silence before the lead ship responded, “This is Commander Vaden, OWL strike force. Miss Summer, you are to surrender yourself to our custody immediately!

“That pregnant pause suggests you thought this was an ambush. Sorry to disappoint. As to your request, I’d be happy to surrender.”

Then power down your defense systems and prepare for boarding.

Miss Summer chuckled to herself. “I said I am happy to surrender. Alas, my followers are not, and they’ll be home soon. Try not to kill too many of them, please. End transmission.”

With a few swift keystrokes, Miss Summer entered the beacon’s self destruct code. In seconds the sensors were filled with white noise, severing all communication links and leaving her ship, and the ships of her enemies, completely blind.

“Switch to L-SCAN. The party should be starting any moment, and I’d like to follow along as best I can. Oh, and would someone fetch me some popcorn?”



They were completely blind. Commander Vaden cursed aloud and ordered his ships to resort to emergency protocols - OWL had protocols to cover catastrophic sensor failure, but had never been forced to employ them in a fleet-wide fashion. They could locate ships, and could tell which ships were theirs and which weren’t, but otherwise they were reliant on eyes alone; hardly an ideal tool in a space battle.

He was about to order a pursuit of Miss Summer’s vessel when new contacts began to appear. Capital ships were warping into the Iris around them, and several were launching attack craft.

“It’s a damn ambush!” he cursed aloud. “Scramble all attack wings! Signal the Eyrie to chase Summer down! All other ships, form up and repel the ambush fleet!”



They were blind from the moment they launched. Ship-to-ship comms became a wash of white noise, and the sensors were reading tens of thousands of ghost signals. Worst of all, Quinn could see capital ships moving around and amongst the Wolfpack formation. Intel had suggested one or two capital ships at most within the Iris. Instead, they’d found seventeen.

“L-SCAN!” he snapped. “Get it online and get us something to navigate by!”

“I’m trying!” the pilot replied through gritted teeth. “I can’t find the alphas! Hell, I can’t even find our wingmen!”

The command chair of the Mammoth had ancillary control systems. Quinn used them to cycle through the sensor suite, finding every single channel awash with meaningless noise. Desperately, he tried the most basic systems and found a repeating pattern. One of the alphas was using her black box locator to signal to him. It was a directed signal, tough enough to overcome the worst of the static.

“We’ve got communications!” he laughed aloud. “Alright, we can do this. Helm, I’m tagging one of our men. Stay on his arse and so whatever he does.”

“What about the rest of the wing?”

“That’s my problem, yours is flying us into the fight!”


Through fits and starts, the Wolfpack engaged. It was perhaps the clumsiest fleet engagement of the corporation’s career. Deprived of guided ordnance and target prediction, long range engagements became borderline impossible. The ships were forced to push into point blank range, and in the swirling melee telling friend from foe was a difficult task. Some pilots sacrificed their kills, losing their prey in the few seconds it took to confirm if they were chasing an enemy or an ally. Others plunged on, unleashing hell and trusting their instincts, or God, to keep their guns on the enemy alone.


Black Flag and the rest of Wing B6 pushed into a swarm of Federation drone fighters, hammering them with coil mortars and plasma fire. Ahead of them, A6 were diving toward the nearest enemy Dreadnought, weaving back and forth through the tracer fire and daring the enemy to intercept them. At the head of the formation, a pair of Cov-Ops were packing limpet charges powerful enough to blast a hole in the hull of a capital ship, and they had eyes on the enemy shield generator.

The wing was twelve ships strong when it passed into range of the Dreadnought’s point defense system. The turrets brought down a Viking, while an ECM whose focus had slipped was atomised by a volley from the main guns. Six more broke off to feint an attack on the engines, drawing defenders away from the true target. It was risky, but it worked. the limpets were carried down below the ship and planet, albeit at the cost of the final escort. The two Cov-Ops raced away from the ship once more, trailing half a dozen angry fighters, and did their best to warn the rest of the wing of what was coming.


The crew of Black Flag paid little heed to the explosion beneath the enemy Dreadnought. By the time the alphas had done their part, the enemy had amassed a counter-push and were driving into the heart of the beta wing. Black Flag was reversing as fast as its thrusters would allow, pouring coil mortar fire into pursuing gunships. It wasn’t enough; to their right, a Jaguar decloaked and launched an alpha strike into the belly of a Grizzly, destroying it before the ship could even try to dodge. Two more Tacklers decloaked behind it and turned their guns on an isolated Guard, who desperately deployed a mine cloud and tried to run from the onslaught.

“Protect that damn ship!” Quinn barked. He armed the dorsal torpedo tube and had the ship brought around so he could line up the shot. He swore under his breath, realising there was no clean shot to be made. “I’m sorry mate,” he sighed, and squeezed the trigger.

The torpedo roared away, picking up speed as it cleared the tube and hurtled straight toward the stricken Guard. Perhaps they saw it coming as Quinn was sure he saw the shield flicker a vivid blue as the EM-dampeners kicked in. Then it was lost to a white flash of light. As the burning cloud faded, Quinn saw the burnt chunks of a Tiger spiral past, and could make out the Jaguar and its surviving escort fleeing for the safety of an allied carrier. The Guard, its hull blackened and broken, powered engines and fled for home. Quinn wondered if he’d be hearing about this in debriefing.


The alphas were back with them, and the surviving engineers did their best to repair the damage. Though lacking in the top-end ships, the gamma wing committed themselves to the fight, hurling themselves toward the prow of the Dreadnought and doing everything they could to weaken her. Their FOF ident-codes were briefly lost as the death of a carrier nearby overwhelmed even the hardiest of ship systems, but when they reappeared they were signalling damage had been dealt, and they needed repairs.


It took a good twenty minutes to kill the Dreadnought.  Constant volleys from the Wolfpack’s capital ships, and daring raids by the attack wings finally took her shields offline, and sustained fire to key locations broke her after that. She didn’t explode, she simply went quiet; the guns stopped firing, the droneships stopped functioning, and the lights on the hull went out one by one. The remains of her fighter wings bugged out for other ships, or returned to try and shield the lifeboats. The Wolfpack let them be - by then their own ship was coming under fire.


At less than half strength, the three wings attacked as one. The surviving guards detonated incoming ordnance, while the engineers hurled their own torpedoes back at the attack wing. Most of the fighters and interceptors had long since exhausted their own ordnance, and had to hold until they were in point blank range to engage.


The Wolfpack Dreadnought was holding better than its rival had, but still numerous attack craft were passing through her shield bubble to rain fire on the hull. Several turrets and power systems along the port side had been blasted off by strafing runs, and the ship’s drones were mustered around the dorsal control tower. The alphas led the charge, breaking the siege and pushing the enemy back to the prow of the capital ship. Gamma tried to pull off a pincer, but they took heavy fire and had to withdraw, opening up a counter-push toward the engineers.

An Eagle-B dashed over Black Flag and took a point-blank torpedo to the belly. The blast left no trace of the ship, but the backwash blew out the Mammoth’s shields completely. Alarms shrieked as hull breaches formed and atmosphere began to vent from the rear compartments. The crew were shouting at him, but Quinn’s ears were ringing too much for him to hear them.

“Get me… get me some shields… forward emitters.” he looked up at the screen and saw what was bearing toward him. A Ronin, painted neon pink with a fierce owl head insignia on the prow.

Chills ran down his spine. “Signal that ship!” he cried, desperately tapping out a Morse code signal. Three simple letters, repeated over and over. W. P. K.


The Ronin slowed. Instead of a kill shot, Black Flag received a return signal, confirming his fears; they were OWL. Not pirates, not raiders, but another Corp who had jumped into the system.

The gunner turned in her chair. “Sir? What’s happening?”

“Don’t fire! Nobody fire! We need to get word out fast before we lose anyone else!”

Can you make the Ronin pink please? :smiley:

Oh very well. :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh very well. :stuck_out_tongue:



I love your writings! They’re so good. You should really write a book about Star Conflict.

This is at least one of the few wall of texts I actually read…

Part Three:


Ending a battle was always more difficult than starting one, especially when the combatants had no easy way to communicate. Some ships thought the order to stand down was a deception. Others, enraged or grief stricken by loss, simply did not care. The first ships became aware of the error just eight minutes into the battle, with other pockets of clarity emerging in an erratic fashion over the next hour. The final shots were fired three hours after the fighting began.


A meeting was called on the OWL flagship Eyrie. Pilots who had been at each other’s throats just hours ago now stood around a shared table and exchanged what they knew. It would appear unthinkable to an outsider, but veteran mercenaries of the frontier were used to this sort of thing. Even so, the air was thick with tension and suppressed hostility.


Vaden waved his hand over the central table and the galaxy sprang into life. “Miss Summer got us good. We’ve swept the iris and can find no sign of her or her followers. We located a warp gate, possibly of alien design, but it is long since abandoned. I believe our focus should be on combining forces and hunting Miss Summer down.”

“No argument from me,” answered Commander Elim, the Wolfpack commander. He had a red wolf’s head tattooed on his forehead and a bullet hole through his left cheek.

“Then we need to work out where she was going,” Vaden continued. “Based on what we know, I’d say her most likely target was one of these sub-sectors…”

The galaxy span and refocused. The Iris dominated the centre of the map, projecting a blue cone outward that engulfed a nearby star system. Numerous points of interest flashed up, highlighted by green rectangles.

“…In my opinion, her most likely target was here, on the edge of Bandit Country. It’s mostly uncharted, close enough to the pirate outposts at Solaris to allow for outside reinforcements, and would put her within striking distance of the Terramorphing Station. Our pursuit suggested she was looking to strike into Jericho space.”

“We had a fleet at TS not long ago,” Elim confirmed. “We were originally going to reinforce the sector, but when we learned of the pirates in the Iris we were redirected.”


One of the OWL officers cleared her throat. She was in her mid twenties with long blond hair and wore her flight uniform as though she was appearing in a pin-up poster. “I don’t think so. My gut says this is all wrong.”

“Explain, flight leader.”

“None of these systems are good targets for pirates. There’s too much corp presence in this area, too many bios here, and sod-all to loot here. Bandit Country’s a bolt hole, sir, not a base of operations. Miss Summer isn’t running; as far as she’s concerned she just took out the only people chasing her. If I was her I’d be going on the attack.”

Quinn caught Elim’s eye and nodded toward the display. With Elim’s approval, he stepped up and changed the focus to a minor region on the edge of Federation space. “I was a privateer for years before I went legit,” he explained. “I’m in agreement with flight leader…”

“Rosa,” said Rosa."

“…I wouldn’t be interested in this area at all. If I were me, I’d be more interested in the stuff in the other direction. Just look here; New Ceres. Mining operations under NASA control, but a minimal fleet presence. A good raiding party with some fast carriers, maybe some cruiser backup, could smash through there and be off with a billion creds in raw materials long before NASA scrambled their fleet.”

“Raw materials don’t seem Summer’s style, lieutenant,” Vaden responded.

“Agreed, but maybe there’s something else here. There’s iridium deposits, or maybe there’s an artefact site we overlooked, or-”


“Klauss Inc!” Quinn and Rosa said together. Rosa stepped forward and zoomed in on a seemingly empty patch of sky.

“There’s an old R&D station here!” Rosa declared to the audience of officers. “I got busted trying to loot the place way back. It’s off the grid and heavily guarded, but by now Summer could have assembled a strike team and moved in.”

“What did they research?” Elim asked.

Rosa shrugged. Quinn caught the fumble. “Warp systems. The project was intended to develop a new kind of warp technology, but they could never quite get it off the ground. Some of the designs were sold off and made their way into the Reverse Thruster modules.”

Elim’s thin mouth split into a predatory grin. “Aha! I think I’ve got her plan! She set up this ambush, hoping to cripple OWL and stop them chasing her to Klauss Inc. She then steals their prototypes and brings it back here, knowing that we’d be chasing a ghost into a pirate’s den in search of her! All we have to do is hold at the gate until she gets back!”

“That’s a big assumption,” Vaden replied. “I’m not willing to risk losing her on a wild guess.”

“Then don’t guess,” Rosa said. “Based on our scans of the Iris we can’t launch a capital ship toward the station, but we could scramble fighters. Load me up with a scouting wing and we’ll run a sweep. If we don’t find anything, we know the hunch is a bust and can look elsewhere.”

“And how do we get you back?”

“You don’t. Either way, we’ll bolt for Fed space and make our way back into circulation.”


There was a few low murmurs as the assembled officers considered their options. It didn’t take long for Vaden to see how the majority felt. “Alright, you get one squad. I want you kitted out in Cruise Tacklers. You are not there to pick fights! Go in, sweep for Summer, send a report and bug out. Under no circumstances do you fire on Klauss Inc!”

“I’m not stupid enough to do that twice, sir,” Rosa answered. She threw a quick salute for good measure. “Permission to assemble the squad?”

“Granted. I’ll order the catapults to prep for hot launch.”


The Wolfpack officers retired to their ships. As the fleet relocated, they set up beacons to dampen the worst of the Iris’ interference. After that, there was nothing to do but wait…

Part Four:


Rosa and her squad entered Klauss Inc airspace in a flash of blue light, their Hyenas sporting a winter-blue camo pattern to help them blend into the ice debris around the station. Nothing saw them arrive.


Engines flaring, the four ships advanced in a diamond formation, grav beams and gauss rifles ready to attack any ship that crossed their path. Their orders may have been to avoid combat, but Rosa was expecting to have to fight their way out, if not in. The rocks were tightly packed, and so they caught no sign of the station until they were almost on top of it.


It sat in the middle of a vast clearing, with two main approaches large enough to permit capital ships. The station was burned out, blackened and broken. Occasional burps of fire escaped from the ruptured hull as a fuel link or air pocket was ignited. A pair of pirate cruisers stood watch over the station’s corpse, while beyond them more ships crowded around what appeared to be a Jericho dreadnought. Six long rods were connected to the superstructure, extending almost a kilometre from the main hull and joined together by rings that crackled with green and red energy. As the pilots watched, cargo haulers began to unload vast quantities of iridum into the dreadnought’s rear cargo hold.


“Oh this is all kinds of bad!” Rosa hissed as she worked out where the ship was pointing. “Squad, let’s bail! We need to get word back to our fleet ASAP!”

The ships came about, but their presence had not gone unnoticed. Pirate ships descended on them, tearing apart the ice they’d used for cover in a surge of laser fire, plasma bolts and armour piercing shells. The OWL pilots cloaked and ran for the edge of the ice belt, but weapons fire chased them all the way.


How the hell are they still on us?” one of them asked as he jinked aside, barely escaping a direct hit.

“The cloak isn’t perfect. There’s always a way to beat it…” she knew what had to be done. Firing retros, she came about and faced the attackers head on. Most of them were interceptors, but in their midst was a modified Imperial Castor. Long sensor spines and communication dishes dotted about the craft marked it as special, and no-doubt the reason the Tacklers couldn’t hide.

“Keep moving!” she ordered her squad. “I’ve got a kill to make!”


*   *   *


The bridge of the dreadnought hummed to the tune of reality being reshaped. The air tasted like burned metal, and everyone’s skin was itching unbearably. Miss Summer, despite this, managed to appear as calm and composed as ever. “How long until we’re ready?”

“Three minutes, ma’am,” the firing offer replied.

“Good. I can only assume the arrival of our guests means that the owls and wolves haven’t taken the bait. A pity, but we can work with that. Can we hold the gate open long enough to allow a full intrusion?”

She felt all eyes upon her, and knew for certain that every member of the bridge crew was now questioning her sanity. Nevertheless, the only reply she got was, “yes ma’am.”

“Wonderful. We can kill two birds with one stone. Call up every agent we have, and tell them we’re going to have a lot of salvage to pick through.”


*   *   *


They’re firing!

Rosa didn’t need telling that. She knew the dreadnought had fired its main gun - even though all the ice and rock between her and the ship the beam had been blinding. The whole world had turned a vile, sickly green. One of the pirate ships was seemingly knocked out by the force of the blast, and crashed headlong into an asteroid. The others were at least confused, and that bought Rosa the time she needed.


She came upon the command ship with all guns blazing. Her volleys tore holes in its frontal armour and her missiles ruptured the underside plating. It wasn’t dead, but it was wounded. She saw the spherical energy shield flare into life and deployed attack drones to keep him busy. She had moments to make the kill - perhaps moments to live, given the number of target locks on her ship.


Laser fire struck the shield as the Castor turned to face her. A barrage of rockets and missiles popped the energy shell and began to break apart the aft armour. The rest of the squad came into the fight, ignoring the shots that hit their shields and hulls. All eyes, and all guns, were on the commander.


Rosa made a second run, hammering vanadium slugs into a weakspot on the port armour. The ship blew apart from the inside as she past it, leaving her hull scorched and studded with debris. “Thanks for the assist, now obey my damn orders and run!”


This time, the cloaks worked. They were followed, but it was ineffectual. In minutes the pirates were lost, though it took far longer to reach signalling range.


It felt pointless; Rosa was certain the fleet would already know what was coming.


*   *   *


The Warp Gate howled across the electromagnetic spectrum, shutting down ship-to-ship communications and bellowing out shockwaves that made the Iris itself ripple and flare in agony. The energy beam that struck the gate made its surface glow white hot, and it seemed as though it would break apart under the onslaught. It did not. Pieces began to break away and enter an erratic orbit, which grew in speed as more and more pieces entered it. The shards began to flicker in and out of reality, and the entire structure took on an eerie green glow.


Every ship knew what was coming, and when the portal finally flared into life, they were ready and waiting.


The first Defiler took the full force of two entire fleets, and died without so much as firing a shot. The second and third were beaten down with only light damage. Then came four more, and four more behind those, and a vast swarm of Predators and Hunters. The portal was all but lost behind a swarm of alien weaponry, and as the return fire began, the Owl and Wolfpack fleets began to die.


Quinn had seen plenty of large scale battles, but he’d never seen anything like this. Alien incursions, while sometimes numerous, were normally only dozens of ships, and at worst one Defiler. His HUD was showing hundreds of contacts, with hundreds, even thousands more waiting to transition into realspace. His every instinct told him to run, but he knew that wasn’t an option; even if he could flee the battle, there was no escaping the Iris without a capital ship.


The Mammoth moved in to join the fighting line, positioned ahead of the Wolfpack command ship. It was a static formation, hoping to use the point defense turrets to help weaken the approaching aliens. Disintegrators and long range torpedo volleys tried to weaken the largest, strongest ships before they hit, but the aliens absorbed damage like nothing else in the galaxy. The numerical advantage of the humans wasn’t counting for much, and the enemy numbers swelled with every passing minute.


He realised that his crew was probably feeling the same gut-wrenching terror he was. “Alright, boys and girls, let’s get this done! See that Scout? Make that Scout go away! Attack drones focus fire on their drones! Okay, Mr Hunter, you look like the winner of today’s star prize; a free torpedo!”


Gallows humour helped keep the crew morale high as Elim’s voice came over the comm. “All ships, we need to seal that portal! Wolfpack, ahead full! Ram those xxxxxxxx back through the gate! OWL ships, form a cordon and keep them penned in! I want them taking us head on!


The fleets began to move, and the attack wings followed. Quinn saw a familiar pink Ronin above him escorting the OWL flagship. He tried to hail them, but all he got was a wing of pilots humming Flight of the Valkyries as they plunged headlong into a pack of Hunters and their drones. Seemed he wasn’t the only pilot trying to enjoy the fight.


He unleashed another torpedo into his target, and the Hunter finally broke apart. One down, hundreds more to go…


*   *   *


The message was sent. Rosa’s orders had been clear; perform recon, and get out.


Rosa had never been good at following orders.


The squad plunged toward the dreadnought, decloaking and unleashing a brutal salvo that reduced one of the Tormentors guarding it to a burning shell in seconds. Turrets on the Cruiser escort tried to track them, but the Tacklers were out of their firing arc before they could get a lock.


They came in low, gunning across the superstructure, seeking anything that might give them an opening. So close to the beam weapon their shields were glowing white. They had less than a minute at this proximity before their ships were cooked apart, but to pull further away meant facing an entire fleet of enemies.


They passed the beam, and all hell erupted around them. Rosa watched as her squadmates were blown from the sky one by one, overwhelmed by dozens of turrets and ships. The enemy hadn’t dared fire when she was close to the weapon. Good to know.


She came about and dove back for the weapon pylons, and at once the firing stopped. She even taunted them, coming to a complete halt next to one of the rings. Nobody fired a shot.

“So, this is that important to you?” she asked herself. “Or is it that fragile?”


Grinning at the prospect of causing some serious mischief, Rosa span her Hyena around and took aim at a promising looking part of the ring. Her shells were reduced to molten metal in a fraction of a second, but they retained enough kinetic force to strike the ring and blow apart whatever device was attached to it.


At once, the fleet attacked her again, but now it was too late. She was racing along the weapon, blasting off the iridium devices as she went. As each little box was blown off, the beam began to shift. It was almost unnoticeable, but it was there. Six boxes later she was running for the ice again, trailing smoke and pieces of ship. She’d done what little she could, and prayed it was enough.


*   *   *


Elim went down with his ship. The Dreadnought rammed into the heart of an alien battleship and both were torn apart by the impact. The shockwave killed or disabled dozens of alien attack craft, buying the escorting ships a few precious seconds of peace. Above them, Commander Valen’s ship was burning, but somehow still in the fight. The OWL contain was on the verge of breaking, their attack craft all but expended. In the centre, at the cost of two thirds of their fighting strength, the Wolfpack had pushed the aliens back to the gate itself. Yet it wasn’t enough; they were simply too few to hold the line now, and it was only a matter of time before the aliens overwhelmed them and the OWLs alike.


Then, by some miracle, the beam began to shift. It moved away from the gate and then vanished altogether as the outer shell of the Iris blocked it, saving the fleets from its fury. Without power, the gate began to shrink. The aliens sensed it and turned to flee, with one of their Defilers being caught in the shrinking vortex and torn to pieces by the force. Across the human fleet a great cheer of victory broke out, followed swiftly by a hundred arguments over salvage rights as every pilot realised they were surrounded by alien technology, ready for the taking.


Despite Quinn’s fears that a second inter-Corp conflict was about to erupt, there was no such fight. Supply ships from both sides were summoned to the Iris, along with trusted third parties, and both Corporations agreed to share the loot equally. Naturally, both Corporations also lied about exactly what they had found, but it worked out fairly in the end.


A few pilots and officers considered chasing down Miss Summer, but it was a hollow sentiment. Both fleets were in tatters, and when Rosa’s report finally reached them it put an end to any thoughts of attack. The Corps spent four days looting the battlefield, salvaging what they could of their own lost ships, and licking their wounds. Before long, other groups began to show an interest in the Iris, and so the owls and wolves parted ways.


Resting in his bunk, Quinn vowed to himself that there would be a reckoning for Miss Summer. Across both fleets, the same oaths of vengeance were being sworn. Wherever she was, whatever she was planning, Miss Summer would pay.