The Reckoning

Chapter One:

Sentinel-17, usually filled with eager mercenaries looking to ply their trade in the name of the Empire, was suddenly in the hands of the military.


Eighty Deimos Gunships, ten Phobos “Aura” Command Fighters, two dozen Dwarfs, six Hydras and a quad of Neutrons, all painted in matt army beige now dominated the main launch hangars. They bore the markings of the 303rd Army Group, the “Devil’s Advocates”. Shuffled into secondary launch bays were a myriad of support craft, mostly mercenaries from the core worlds, though jutting from the approach gates of Bay 16-C was the distinctive nose cone of a Cerberus class hull, painted in Wardens colours to match the other seven vessels that were resting in its hangar bay.


The Army pilots stood at ease, resplendent in their cream flight uniforms. They stared straight ahead, heads unmoving and eyed fixed forward as five ships approached the primary access hangar. Four Kastors, two of the Wardens and two of the Army flew in escort of a monstrous frigate. The mercenaries who saw it stood with jaws dropped, stunned to silence by the scale of the machine. It was painted in a mottled blue camouflage pattern with the Legion Aquila emblazoned on its hull in multiple, prominent places. The ship’s name was unreadable at a distance, but the ship class was known to those with a fondness for warships. “Centaur”; the ultimate symbol of Imperial might. They were almost never seen outside of the core fleets. For one to be docking with Sentinel-17 was proof that the Empire had taken a considerable interest in affairs within the Sector.

The Warden escort peeled off as the Centaur approached the void shield. As the tips of the forward sensor clusters touched the barrier a series of static discharges rippled along the hull. It was an impressive pyrotechnic display that awed those unfamiliar to it, but for the men and women of the station it was forgettable, routine.

The ship touched down on an empty platform and the Army Kastors found their own docks. The access ramp of the Centaur dropped to the deck with a harsh clang, and the pilots snapped to attention.

“Now we’re for it,” hissed a man at the front of the parade.

“Shut up!” snapped a second. Both the men wore Imperial flight uniforms, but in place of the army Eagle they wore their own distinctive markers. The former had platinum insignia pins of the Wardens order, the latter bore the corporate logos of NASA. “Why the hell are you here anyway?”

“Trust me, I don’t want to be…” that was all the explanation there was time for.

A party of four officers in smart uniforms marched forward to greet the two representatives. The first was a woman pushing sixty, who stood out starkly from the others due to her crisp, ocean-blue uniform. The Aquila was displayed upon her chest, wrapped around the cuffs of her jacket and down her right leg. She had no intention of leaving any room for doubt as to who she represented.

The NASA officer took a half-step forward and snapped a salute. “Cullen, Wing Leader, NASA Corporate Army and acting sector commander of 1337.”

The woman nodded and gestured to the men beside her. “Dimitri Kholodov, Emperor’s Special Bureau; Void-Marshal Zimmerman, Alpha Squadron; Wing Commander Quinn, 303rd Army Group.”

Cullen’s eyes flicked briefly at the introduction. “And you are, ma’am?”

“None of your concern. You stand relieved, Wing Leader. From here on out you are subordinate to Marshal Zimmerman, understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Cullen replied. There wasn’t much else he could have said.

“Shall we inspect the troops?” Zimmerman asked, noting that Quinn was distracted to the point of obsession by the Wardens officer stood before them. “Who is he?” the Marshal asked.

“Family,” Quinn rasped.


For the first time in not-long-enough, Jasan Quinn had to meet the family. He was very different to his father; still young enough and soft of face to pass for “boyish”, with short hair dyed rust-red on a whim and piercing amber eyes, the result of extensive implantation and self-augmentation. Quinn Senior, on the other hand, was a man who had discovered old age somewhere in his thirties and had liked it so much he’d never left. His rounded face was wrinkled and weather-worn; his once brown hair had turned to grey, like burnt paper. His eyes had the stare of a man who’d seen more than most, and the set of his jaw suggested he approved of very little he was seeing now.

“The prodigal son comes before me… and with Warden Emblems no less.”

Quinn the younger allowed himself a premature smile of pride. “Whose corpse did you loot to get those?” his father sneered, and Jasan deflated somewhat.

“I earned then,” he said with less conviction than intended. “I am an agent of the Fourth Armada.”

The namedropping utterly failed to register. “You’re a damn disgrace is what you are! A petty criminal! Scum! The idea that anyone would let you wear that uniform brings shame upon the whole damn Empire!”

There was a quiet clearing of the throat from Marshal Zimmerman, and Commander Quinn realised his voice had strayed up in volume a touch. He showed no sign of embarrassment over that fact, however.

“Maybe we should discuss this in private?” Jasan suggested, giving a quick and well-rehearsed smile to try and lighten the mood.

There was no lightening the mood of Commander Quinn. “Maybe you should get the hell off this station. Us real soldiers have a war to fight. You are dismissed, and damn you to a court-martial if you get clever with me again!”

Jasan took the hint, saluted and marched away as quickly as dignity would allow. It was a very long walk, and he had plenty of time to brood.

He stepped into his quarters and slammed the door behind him. “To hell with you!” he spat at the wall, channelling his rage towards an imagined father-figure between the bulkhead and a data-screen. “What the hell are you doing here anyway? As if you’ve got a bloody clue what’s going down here! You’re obsolete, you’re cannon fodder! The only thing you’re going to do out here is get shot in your God-damned fat arse!”

He almost threw the Wardens pins at the wall. Shaking with rage, Jasan dropped them into the silk-lined storage box on his bedside and, after a dozen deep breaths to calm his temper, opened a channel to his crew. “Quinn to the Tortuga: Stocken, have her ready to leave as soon as possible. There’s no money to be made here. Looks like the Legion’s running the show, and they’re damn picky about who they’ll hire.”

Stocken had questions, but Quinn had no intention of giving any answers. He sat on his cot and scowled at the door, imagining all the things he’d say to his father the next chance he got. Halfway through an internal rant the communicator chirruped, and after a minute or so Quinn answered to find a familiar voice on the other end.

Quinn? It’s Gol. Z and M are pulling up every pilot we’ve got in the Sector. Something big’s going down, something that’s going to change the game out in your neck of the woods. If your ship’s still around we’d like to hire you.

“Gol?” Memories of an earlier mission came back to him. Lucky-Six, one of the Emperor’s finest, had attempted to defect to the Dynamis Corporation and take with her a whole host of Imperial secrets, not to mention a monstrously powerful Wardens prototype. She’d been a freelance agent like him. Since then the Wardens had let him be; he’d wandered to 1337 in search of old friends and big earnings, almost forgetting the little adventure that had taken place. “What are you doing in this Sector? I thought you were down in 1331?”

Things change,” Gol answered. “Look, NASA is all-in on this one, and we aren’t the only ones. Some of the biggest hitters in the Imperial Corporate Military are rolling out here. We want you onboard.

“Any particular reason?” There was a long pause from Gol’s end. “Don’t worry, the line’s secure. Nobody’s listening in.”

Ever heard of Iridium?


Of course he’d heard of Iridium. It was… well, nobody had a clue what it was. It didn’t exist in nature that was for sure; iridium’s properties were varied and many-fold, sometimes defying rational explanation. Quinn had encountered the stuff working with a Jericho Tech known as “Isaac”. Together they’d found an artefact they believed belonged to the Precursors, and the precious iridium within. Isaac had worked night and day to try and unlock the secrets of the wonder-material, but to Quinn’s knowledge he had yet to succeed…

…none of this was shared with Gol, of course. Instead, he patiently allowed Gol to explain what NASA knew about iridium, which was only a fraction more than he knew already. They also had a small stockpile of it, all discovered in 1337. That had caught the attention of the Empire’s top brass, but when it was discovered that Federation and Jericho elements had iridium as well a greater sense of urgency had surged through the Emperor’s servants. Hence the mobilisation of troops.


Listen, if you’re interested, we’re rallying units at WX-48,” Gol said when his explanation  wound down. “Army insists on pushing headlong into Jericho territory, despite our better judgement, so we’re going to take the a little jaunt through Federation territory while everyone’s eyes are elsewhere. It’s high risk, but well paid. What do you say?

Jasan’s eyes were drawn inexorably toward the cuff-box on his bedside. Truth be told, he had half a mind to cut and run – to bolt for Jericho space and throw his lot in with the Techs. He had contacts, acquaintances, men and women who’d do right by him and help him start over.

Damn my loyalties, he thought. They’re going to get me killed.

“We’re in,” he answered firmly. “I’ll make the Tortuga ready to depart. We’ll be at WX-48 in three days.”

Three days? Got it. Don’t be late. Gol out.


Alone once more, his thoughts returned to his father. The screen above the bed had flickered on and begun to broadcast a grand speech by the Empire officials. They spoke of the importance of the sector, and of the victories they were to earn in the Emperor’s name. Words like “duty”, “honour” and “glory” were used so often they all but lost their meaning. Jasan glanced at the screen in time to see his father, stern faced but proud as he exchanged a few curt words with the assembled squadron leaders. He wondered if he shouldn’t make an effort, despite the difficulties, to make things right. He was family, after all; it wasn’t like he could just go and find a new father.

Bitter memories old and recent crushed the idea as it formed. If there was going to be a making-up between them, it sure as hell wasn’t going to happen now. It could wait until the fighting was done.


The Tortuga slipped its moorings four hours later, a full crew aboard and attack squadrons primed. Less than two hours behind were the 303rd Army Group and supporting elements, and by the end of the day cycle Sentinel-17 had all but emptied itself of mercenaries.


Out in the void, a storm was about to break.

Chapter Two

Once upon a time, when Man was young, he thought the world infinite. Why wouldn’t he? A pithy distance of twenty or thirty miles might take the better part of a day to cover on foot, and even with horses men struggled to do much better than double that. Anything and everything more than a few hours walk from the edge of the village became wilderness; uncharted, unknown and unknowable. No wonder the cartographers wrote “Here be Dragons” on all their maps. It wasn’t like anyone could ever prove there weren’t.

It struck Jasan as his squadron drifted through the silent star system that history had a funny way of repeating itself. They were three hours past the zone of engagement, the fighting line that, in the vaguest of terms, dictated where Imperial space ended and Federation space began. Three hours by jump catapult. A Microwarp-enabled vessel might manage it in ten to twenty, but ultimately not a million miles away from civilization. But it sure as hell felt like they were.

Tortuga Squadron led the way, their ships painted in a myriad of patterns. No two were alike; some were ordered and uniform, others slapdash as though they’d been the target of choice in some space-born game of paintball. The only thing that united them was the colours used: black, red and gold.

The squadron swung past the long-dead remains of a convoy. Quinn rose up over the bridge of a skeletal hauler, its cargo pods taken by whoever had killed her, and watched the snaking taskforce as they struggled to keep pace. It was NASA holding them up, though Quinn had no intention of complaining; they were flying Centaurs, Styx and other heavy frigates acquired through looting and black market trade. Their heavy ships were a lot slower than the nimble fighters and interceptors favoured by Tortuga Squadron, but they packed a lot more firepower.

Either side of the frigate column were more mercenaries; independent pilots recruited from Sentinel-17.

Ace of Swords to Black Flag, any sign of trouble?

Quinn gave the sky another quick glance. There were dust clouds and debris fields scattered across the region, but so far no signs of life.

“I’ll keep you posted,” Quinn replied. “Wolfbane, I’m getting a large return up ahead, your 303-022. Could be a station of some sort; go have a nosey.”

The Dvergr pilot gave a quick acknowledgement and powered out of formation with his wingman in tow. Quinn’s Warden-white Dwarf fell back into the tailing edge of his squadron and he powered up to point position, idly thumbing the ship’s firing triggers. He was getting a combat itch.


Wolfbane crested a super-tanker split in two by a catastrophic internal explosion. Venting atmospheric gases and ruptured water lines had left most of the ship covered in hoarfrost, rendering its name and registration number unreadable. Ahead of them was an old service platform; a modular, mass-produced installation, identical to hundreds of other installations found throughout Federation space.  The Dynamis logo, six stories high, was painted proudly over the main hangar doors. None of the station’s running lights were on and its mooring struts were all retracted.

“Wolf to the pack, it’s a dead station. We’re getting some low level power returns though… best give it a miss.”

Sod that!” Quinn spat back. “Hold position. I’m sending big guns up to sweep the facility.

One by one, Tortuga Squadron’s ships closed on the facility while the rest of the convoy moved to take shelter behind the super-tanker. Two looted Fox’s escorted a Hydra toward the station, weapons primed and sensors sweeping for targets. The frigate powered down its engines and channelled power to the centreline gun whilst the fighters, each flanked by a Dverger, broke off to sweep behind the station from opposite directions.

Wolfbane’s voice crackled over the comm, heavy with static interference. “Coming about now, visual in three… two… xxxx! It’s a Canary! It’s a shitting Canary!


By the time Wolfbane got the warning out, the convoy was already taking fire. The Hydra Ironsights was pummelled by a rocket salvo from a lurking Tackler, cloaked on the edge of a dust swirl. Four more ships within the cloud joined their squad leader and focus-fired the frigate as it struggled to come to bear.

“Eject!” Quinn screamed. “For God’s sake, Mitchell, eject!”

The Hydra’s keel plates blew open and the armoured bridge module was shot clear. One of the attackers, a cannibalised frigate with a massive ramming spike thundered forward and impaled the abandoned ship before rolling it back toward the dust cloud and firing the afterburners.

Close by, the NASA ships began to move to counter the ambush, only to find one they had hostiles of their own. Two Kite-E’s in Dynamis colours burst forth from the super-tanker and fired up plasma-arcs, making a fly-by attack that sliced a pair of Imperial mercenaries in two before they even knew they were under attack.

Unlike Quinn, who was filling his channel with expletives, threats and oaths of violence, Cullen brought his corporation to battle with half a dozen calm words. His Minotaur rolled up on its tail and let fly with its plasma cannons as one of the Kites swung past, seeking to line up an attack run on a Centaur named Bulldog. The little ship was built for speed and agility; Ace of Swords was built to punch holes in capital ships. There was a brief flash of plasma hitting shields and the Kite was gone. There wasn’t even any debris.

Another pirate ship with a ramming prow came out of the wreck at speed and, as its escorts had before it, aimed for Bulldog. It took a Disintegrator blast head on and kept on coming, shields burned out and hull smoking. The impact made Cullen wince and he lined up his guns on the pirate’s engine mount. He crippled her, but the ship kept fighting out of spite. Short-barrel railguns slammed clusters of armour-piercing shells into the Cerberus’ flank so hard the shots broke through and peppered the shields of the fighters behind.

The tail-end of the convoy finally caught up to the growing battle. A Strong-class fighter and Tormentor-class frigate both fell in alongside Ace of Swords and brought their weapons to bear on the quickly-forming raiding party, whilst three more Centaurs and a second Minotaur formed a rearguard. Half a dozen privateers had pushed back the mercenary squadron and were forming up to push clear of the frigate ball.

“Engage by my mark,” Cullen ordered calmly. “Focus fire and destroy targets in sequence.”

Confirmations came back almost simultaneously and Cullen picked his first victim. A Raptor frigate, so heavily modified it was almost unrecognisable as the ubiquitous Federation frigate. Cullen punched its shields down and eight railguns hit it at once before the defences could restart. She listed to the side, cold and powerless. A Wolf, bastardised by its owner and painted with a snarling maw turned to avenge its ally and was smacked in the face by all three ships at once, reducing it to microscopic dust.

The last four pushed clear. The ships were rigged for speed and despite the considerable range of the NASA frigates they were able to pull away and join the brawl at the station.


Quinn, flanked by a pair of Stilettos rolled into the clash and splashed a rocket across the shields of a bastardised Hawk-Eye. In the few short minutes since the ambush Tortuga Squadron had lost two more ships. One of the Dvergrs had been crippled, the pilot killed by a shrapnel would to the kneck, and a Wolf had lost its sensors and been forced to disengage. The survivors had made a good account of themselves despite the poor odds, lynching a pirate Tackler as it tried to drag the Dvergr hulk clear of the engagement. A Jericho Interceptor had temporarily knocked out Wolfbane’s systems, but Quinn had alpha-striked the ship with four long-range missiles bolted to the Dwarf’s nose and wingtips, killing the ship dead.

The trio came up toward the station and onto the tail of a pirate Lynx. The Stilettos were outfitted with electronic warfare modules and knocked its shields down with a directed EM pulse. Quinn’s railguns mauled her aft section and left her adrift, unpowered and helpless.

Laser fire drew their attention and they banked dorsal-ward to meet an Alligator head on. It sat in the centre of an energy field five hundred metres wide that seemed to shrug off all incoming fire. Plasma and railshot rippled off the energy bubble, and its return fire hit Quinn’s shields so hard a capacitor blew out.

“Break and hound!” Quinn ordered. His Dwarf tipped to keel and he flicked the ship’s cloak into life. Lasers missed him by a wing’s length, but he had just enough time to line up his attack path. The Stilettos were engaging with plasma guns and ECM-modules, and their combined assault caused the energy shield to flicker and fade. Quinn got two rockets in before it reignited, but the hits damaged the ship’s laser batteries and forced it to withdraw.  Three more interceptors rushed in to cover their flagship, unleashing plasma webs and dropping mines in run-by strikes that left a Stiletto crippled and running for its life.

The change in pace let Tortuga Squadron regroup, the four ships now facing nine opponents from three directions. By Quinn’s count he had half a dozen rockets left and his main missiles were spent. The Stiletto Flickblade was packing a minefield canister but the pilot reported a malfunction. Neither of the other two ships had any missiles left, having exhausted them all beating down a Jericho-built frigate that had been guarding the Canary.

“Ace of Swords, this is Black Flag: we’ve got a real problem here. We could use a little fire support!”

Three flashes of light from the super-carrier provided the answer. A swift exploded as a disintegrator beam struck it dead centre; an F-series Raptor was hit amidship by two bolts and split apart. The kills gave Tortuga Squadron some breathing room and they rushed forward at an unidentifiable fighter, knocking its shields down with a co-ordinated strike.  They bolted past and left it limping, turning their shields full aft as they fled to the cover of the NASA frigates.


The pirates gave a few more parting shots, but their heart wasn’t in it any more. They fled back to the dust cloud dragging with them as many wrecks as they could salvage. A quick sweep of the battlefield found two escape pods of Tortuga Squadron, with three ships unaccounted for. NASA were down a pilot with the ship smashed beyond recovery. The mercenary escorts were down four ships; none of the pilots had managed to eject.

They limped into the station and powered it up via remote. The Minotaurs unloaded nano-lathe units into the main launch bay to assist with repairs, and Cullen organised a watch.

“Who were they?” He asked Quinn as the privateer joined him on the walkways.

“Dynamis, or what’s left of it. When the corporation went under a lot of their pilots went AWOL. Some went over to Jericho, and a few went to the Empire. Most just struck their colours and turned on anything and everything that entered their airspace.”

Cullen’s face set into a furious scowl. “And you didn’t think to mention this?”

“Hey, I lost more men than you did!” Quinn snapped back. “Besides, it’s not like I knew exactly where they would be hiding. Dynamis owned a third of this sector at one point; their raiding parties have been sighted from here to Serelanis.”

His frustration ebbing away, Cullen turned to watch the repair work. It was slow and laborious; it would take them days to repair all the damage if they couldn’t get the station’s repair facilities up and running. They’d need defences too if the pirates came back.

“So what’s our next move?” he asked while watching one of his pilots carefully painted a silver, triangular kill marking on the hull of his Cerberus.

Quinn shrugged. “Stations like this have gun emplacements. If the pirates didn’t tear them off we could use them to help defend this place. Our only other option is to make a run for it before they regroup, but they’ll know this region of space better than we do.”

“Then we fight it out. NASA doesn’t run for a fight.”

“I knew I liked you for a reason,” Quinn chuckled. “I just hope my old man’s having as much fun as we are.”

Great stories Have read most of your other stories as well, Can’t wait to see what you write next…

Chapter 3:
The skies of WX-40 were full of Imperial ships. Eight wings of army fighters, all bearing the iconography of the 303rd flew in nine-strong chevron formations, each with a command ship at their heart. The squadron had up-gunned during their stay-over at Sentinel 17; a full third of the Deimos Gunships had been replaced with the newer Phobos models, and all but two of their Commanders were now flying the Prometheus. Wing Commander Erasmus Quinn felt especially honoured, for the Legion had entrusted him with a “Spartacus” Command Craft to oversee the entire operation.

Around the army group flew the support elements; the engineers of the 109 Legion Support; the 44th Wardens Frigate Battery; the Army 216 Recon and more mercenaries than Erasmus could keep track of. Finally, a pair of Dreadnoughts - one Army beige, one Legion Blue - sat anchored a safe distance back to act as mobile battle platforms, supporting the clash as required. It was a glorious display of power, and Erasmus allowed himself a brief, confident smile. “Let the Jericho come,” he said.
And less than ten minutes later, they did.

* * *

This was Tech Space. Jasan and his men had come here before, but only once and not on the best of terms. Now they were deeper in than they were comfortable with, smack dab in the heart of something secret, something vital, something the Techs would not give up easily…
The station was in the midst of an asteroid cloud, clasped like a limpet to the largest of the rocks. The assault team kept to the shadow of a dwarf planet as best they could, hoping it would shield them from prying sensors. Their own instruments were increasingly unreliable, pinging up contacts that were gone before an active sweep or Human eye could pinpoint them.
For Jasan, the biggest concern was with his interceptor. The Dwarf had taken heavy damage in the previous fighting, and there had been precious little time to make repairs. Nanodrone clouds helped, but the underlying damage required dry dock and a few days attention by a trained engineer. They hadn’t had time to do anything more than a rush-job before making for the outpost’s warp gate network. Every so often something would creak, or rattle as if coming loose, and Quinn would swear under his breath.

They cleared the micro-planet and the Tech station swung into view. Half a dozen platforms were mounted on nearby rocks, sporting gun turrets, missile batteries or miniature landing pads just large enough to house a fighter. The pods were open to the void, and the lead interceptors returned visuals of their iconography to the rest.
“Wolfpack,” Quinn growled. “Great, just what we needed; a bunch of religious lunatics.”
Lunatics with a kill count to make your little band look like amateurs,” Cullen seemed to take an unhealthy amount of pleasure in those words. “Stay sharp or we’re in trouble.
As they snaked onward through the debris field, the sensor returns became more frequent. Quinn watched a missile silo drift by overhead, seemingly dormant. He held his breath as he coasted on inertia from cover to cover, as though the simple act of inhaling and exhaling might trigger some kind of audio sensor.
He was about to begin his next burn when something metallic caught the light on the edge of his vision. He looked up to see a pair of Katanas, painted in the Wolfpack’s black and red. They were hung motionless in space, systems powered low and barely ticking over. He wondered for a moment if he’d remained undetected, but it was a ludicrous notion; their positioning would have given them clear line of sight to his ship long before he’d become aware of them.
“Contacts!” he cried. Weapons and shields raised, he swung the Wraithblade up to meet the foe, cursing at how the starboard afterburner lagged behind on the burn. They hadn’t moved, nor had they raised shields. Despite the clean kills they offered, Quinn held his fire and punched past them, braking hard and swinging around onto their aft section. His sensors pinged up thirty plus returns, but he’d seen enough to guess at least six were real. He span again, hunting targets and listening for the tell-tale whistle of a missile lock. A Crusader with shields low and engines idling swept into his gunsights, but showed little interest in a fight.
“Black Flag to Convoy, something isn’t right here…”
Noted,” Cullen replied. “We’ve got a Grizzly and her wingmen drifting in on us, but no threats yet. This is the most peaceful ambush I’ve ever been a part of.
Before Quinn could reply a short ripple of static came into his ears. An unfamiliar voice, metallic and feral, began to speak across the compromised channel. “We are the Wolfpack,” it said with unprecedented clarity, devoid of the usual distortion or radio hiss of ship-to-ship communications. “Your arrival was expected. We bid you welcome in the name of the Pack Alpha. Our doors are open to you, Men and Women of the Empire. Dock at your leisure, but pray do not linger.”
“Trap?” Quinn asked when he felt confident no Jericho were listening.
Trap, but go in anyway.” Cullen replied.

The inside of the facility was a red lit and adorned with symbols of Jericho, the Tech Clans and the Wolfpack. Ranks of black and red warships sat arrayed on quick-launch platforms, while blast doors leading to secondary hangars were emblazoned with the heraldry of the 23rd Assault Fleet. The Imperials were greeted on the landing pad by broad-shouldered men in plated body-suits and thick cloaks of grey wolf-fur. They carried gauss rifles, kept resting upon their shoulders, and emitted low, animalistic growls as the outsiders approached. The officers were escorted into the heart of the station, passing through security checkpoints and pressure doors to a sparsely decorated office. Inside was a wiry man of indeterminate age, clearly Federation born by his appearance and lack of cybernetic implants. He smiled with everything but his eyes as Quinn and Cullen took their seats. “Welcome, friends.”
“Can’t say I’m happy to be here,” Quinn replied, recalling past encounters with the Tech Clans.
“War makes strange bedfellows of us all,” the man replied in what he likely considered a philosophical tone. “My name is Nox, Pack Alpha of the 8th War Fleet.”
“Nox is 5’3”, Jericho born and a woman,” Cullen said.
“Your intelligence does you credit,” the man replied, “then let me correct myself. I am her Beta, and in this place I am empowered to speak on her behalf. You should address me as you would her.”
Cullen, on an instinct honed after several days of contact, jabbed Quinn in the ribs before he could reply. “You invited us to land on this station and chose to meet us here. You could have destroyed us easily, yet you made a great effort to appear friendly. There must be a reason.”
“There is, though you may not appreciate it. The Wolfpack are loyal to Bartel’s vision, Wing Leader. They have served the Family Council with honour for centuries. Alas, Jericho is not the nation it once was; the weak and corrupt are claiming power. Once, the Council served the interests of all Jericho, and sought to enact Bartel’s vision. Now they bow to the Banking Clans, the Trade Houses and the whims of the increasingly inbred Old Blood. They have forgotten their holy duty, and for the good of the nation they must be purged. Alas, strong as we are, the Wolfpack cannot act alone, and we have precious few followers within our nation.”
“And so you come seeking aid from others?” Cullen guessed.
“Correct. We will throw our lot in with the Empire, until such time as Jericho is saved from this corruption. On that day… it shall be interesting to see how matters resolve themselves.”
Quinn raised a cautious hand. “Question: why the hell would we trust you?”
Nox’s proxy nodded and reached for a small dome of dark, translucent glass set into the desk. His finger’s caressed the surface and red runes appeared beneath the glass, winking out and lighting up as he touched them. Moments later a holograph sprang into life above the glass, depicting a weapon schematic. Every ten seconds or so it flickered to a new page, detailing some intricate internal element. Cullen and Quinn read the data with interest.
“This is what you came for; the secrets of the new Jericho vessels. This is a rather trivial example, but there are other weapons that are far more potent.”
“It’s a fake,” Quinn said flatly. “There’s no way you can achieve that kind of muzzle velocity on that railgun with such a small power core.”
As if summoned by his words, the power core appeared on the next slide. Nox pointed out a particularly interesting element to the system. “Iridium infusion. Aspects of Precursor technology have been incorporated to allow us to accomplish what was once impossible. It is not the most efficient use of Precursor artefacts, but it led us to ever greater achievements.”

The holograms changed from weapons to warships. A sinister frigate, Council grey with the icons of Jericho painted proudly on its hull now filled the screen. Cullen shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the sight. “That’s an Inquisitor.”
“Correct. This is one of several warships that will carry Jericho into the new age. It is already entering production.”
“Where?” Cullen snapped.
“I cannot say. I am sorry, Wing Leader, but until our bond is formalised there is only so much I can do. I will tell you this much, however; they are already being dispatched for live combat trials.”
The announcement made Quinn’s blood run cold. “What sector?”

* * *

The Lance screamed across Commander Quinn’s dorsal facing, its plasma cannons flaring white-hot as it found its mark. The Imperial pilot, his shields down and hull blistered from a dozen clean hits, tried desperately to boost away from the aggressor. His engines spluttered and stalled, unable to break free of the tractor beam that gripped him. The Imperial died in a sudden flash of blood red as a railgun slug punctured his magazine. The kill-shot came from a Tech Katana, which banked around and tried to draw a bead on Erasmus.
Erasmus banked starboard as a pair of Deimos fell in on his flanks. Between them, their firepower tore apart the Katana’s shields and left it stalled, lifeless and burning in the void. They re-aimed on the Lance, but the pilot activated a cloak and vanished.
“Forget him,” Commander Quinn ordered. “Focus on Wing Three. They’ve got heavy fire coming their way. Bank to 289-304 and come in on the Templar.”
A pair of acknowledgements came back to him. Erasmus took a moment to take stock of the battle raging around him. On the fringes the Empire were winning; the raw skill of the Army pilots was proving a match for the nimble speed and technological trickery of the Jericho interceptor squadrons. In the centre of the press, however, things were less clear cut. A wedge of Jericho frigates, supported by unknown Fighters was slowly chewing the head off the Imperial force. Erasmus and his men came in on the edge of it, focussing down a Templar that was locked in a duel with a pair of mercenary Swifts. The weight of fire from the Army forced the ship to come about and flee. Three Zealots covered its withdrawal with long range missile volleys. To his right was a Legion Engineer, its attack drones hunting for targets while Imperial ships darted in and out of the shield bubble it projected. The hulls of the ships glimmered like fish scales as nanomachines sought to repair any damage as best they could. Behind it was the hulking form of the Constantinople, the Legion Dreadnought. Its main batteries were trading shots with something beyond the sensor range of any strike craft. Their discharge turned the void white and distorted vox traffic for thousands of metres in every direction.

A lull in the fighting allowed the Army Wings to regroup. Erasmus had lost three of his men, with three more forced to disengage due to heavy damage. He rebuilt his squadron from remains of the Third and Seventh, both of which had suffered badly in the brawl. Warden officers rallied fresh troops and cycled the mercenaries as best they could, forcing men to fall back to re-arm, repair and rest up. The Wing Commander had been given similar orders an hour before, but had no intention of abandoning the front.
The fresh assault by the Jericho was led by a trio of frigates. They each sported short-barrelled, heavy calibre guns, and were of a hull configuration Erasmus had not seen before. One was painted Council Grey; one Raid Red, the third Techs Gold. Around them flew fighters and interceptors, mostly high end ships and yet more unfamiliar designs; similar to the Lance, but heavier and more menacing in profile. As the Jericho entered weapons range the fighters opened fire, their weapons emitting no discernible projectile yet clearly having an impact. A mercenary frigate buckled and twisted as it was torn apart from within; his interceptor escort simply vanished in a sudden flare of anti-light.
“What the hell was that?” Erasmus cried as panic began to grip the channels. He regained composure quickly; barking orders to get his men back in line and engage key targets.
Control to all ships – be advised enemy frigates are dragging mines! Intercept and destroy before they reach us!
“One-Lead to Wing-One; we can’t shut down those frigates as long as those fighters are still active. Engage my mark with extreme prejudice. Targets marked ‘Sword One’ and ‘Sword Two’ to be destroyed at all cost! Repeat, at all cost!”
The acknowledgements came thick and fast, and Erasmus couldn’t help but feel some pride in that. He throttled up as his wingmen fell in around him, pushing through the enemy formations to focus fire Sword One. The ship turned to face them and opened fire, unleashing its ungodly firepower upon the assaulters. One-Four took a direct hit, destroying his forward shield pylons and ripping off two of his plasma turrets. He kept fighting regardless, firing off the last of his missiles before a second shot ripped his fuselage apart. One-Nine lost his engines and went into a tailspin. An ejector pod shot clear moments before the main reactor cracked open and turned the ship into a miniature star.
Yet the Army came on regardless. Sword One’s shields flared white hot as laser beams, plasma bolts and railgun slugs struck home over and over. Erasmus tried to scan the mark and adjust his shields for maximum effectiveness, but this strange new weapon was baffling his systems.
A third ship was lost to a catastrophic implosion, but the mark was slowly falling. Its shields flickered on and off as the weight of fire began to overwhelm it. Armour plates span away, sparks flew as key systems were struck and catastrophically damaged. Sword One turned to flee but a miraculous shot hit the cockpit and killed the ship dead. The kill seemed only to enrage the Jericho pilots, and a trio of Tacklers rushed in to rescue the wreck.
“See?” Erasmus cried into his link. “They die just like everything else! Now let’s get the next one!”
His men replied with confidence, but he could sense their underlying fear. The casualties were mounting every passing minute, and the Inquisitors were drawing dangerously close to the Constantinople

* * *

After all that had happened, the last thing they expected was to fight their way clear of the station. With two Wolfpack officers in tow, the Imperials raced for the nav beacon with Cullen and his NASA pilots leading the way. The Wolfpack gave chase, and although they were relatively few in number they made themselves felt. The task force left five more pilots dead in their wake, with three more barely able to limp to the beacon. They claimed seven enemy ships in return.
The last thing Quinn saw before the jump was a blue corona in the heart of the debris field as the base was destroyed by internal explosions. It was all part of the plan, but Quinn couldn’t help but question whether anyone would fall for the deception.

Their straight-line flight back to Imperial space took eighteen hours and involved five near miss events. No battles ever took place, but twice the ships had barely had enough time to activate, program and jump via the nav beacons before the Jericho patrols arrived.
When they finally returned to Sentinel-17, the scene was very different to the one they had left days before. There were far fewer ships for a start. Morale was low; the pain and anxiety were palpable in the air. Marshal Zimmerman conducted the debriefing, all the while eyeing the Wolfpack turncoats suspiciously.
“The Jericho are stronger than we anticipated, and their technology far more advanced,” Zimmerman confessed. “We knew the Tech Clans were using the Precursor artefacts to augment their new ships, but we had no idea how powerful their creations would be. I won’t sugar coat it; we got our asses handed to us, and unless we find a way to stop them, the Jericho are going to roll us right out of the Sector.”
“I’ll leave you to that,” Quinn said. “I’ve done my part, and I’d like to settle one last score before I get out of here. Where’s my father?”
Zimmerman shook his head softly. “He didn’t make it.”