Prologue: Defiance (1/2)

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June 12, 2179 (New Era Calendar)/
Arcturus System, Arcturus Prime Defense Zone

Led by Captain Gonzo Antreya, Defiant Squadron launched into the conflagration at a high rate of speed. With throttles mashed to full, the twelve Hammerheads streaked through the Alliance's 2nd Fleet. Their course put them dead on to hit the center of the Confederate formation.

In the foreground, Arcturus Prime lent its beauty to the destruction erupting hundreds of miles above its surface. As Gonzo finished making last-second checks of his weapon stores, he took a brief moment to steal a look at the planet beneath. Then he returned to the task at hand. He quickly scanned his sensor board where he enjoyed a strategic, top-down view of the battle with red dots representing enemies and the blue one representing Alliance forces.

He tapped a finger on one of the larger red dots and data pertaining to that ship scrolled up on a secondary monitor. Their target, the Confederate Battle Cruiser Knight's Valor lurked at the center of the enemy group, Gonzo's sensor board indicating both its shields and hull integrity remained at full power.

The comm unit in his helmet squawked alive, "Defiant Leader, you're cleared for your run on Knight's Valor."

An invisible hand tugged at Gonzo's insides. Instead of responding to the orders from the 2nd Fleet's flagship, Atlas, Gonzo focused his attention on his flight console's primary monitor. Something in his gut screamed to him that launching an attack on the Valor would have doomed them all. Two quick presses on the primary monitor's touch screen and Gonzo's sensors scanned to their maximum range. A series of blips flashed and then vanished. His eyes darted up and he scanned the populated space in his forward arc and saw nothing.

Communication from the Atlas returned to his comm unit, this time from General Christopher Winston, the Atlas' skipper and commander of the 2nd Fleet. His voice was an ominous combination of excitement and frustration.

"Captain Antreya, if you're receiving this. We need you to hit Knight's Valor right now."

Gonzo clicked his comlink once and then spoke into his mic, "I'm sorry, General, but that's not the right move. If we do that, it's game over and we lose Arcturus."

"We don't have time for this, Antreya. Defiant Squadron needs..."

Before the leader of Defiant Squadron could convince Winston that he was wrong, Lieutenant Meryl Prince, Gonzo's wingman, penetrated the comm frequency.

"Leader, you've got one coming in on your six! I'm on it."

Gonzo did not panic, but cursed himself. He'd been so preoccupied with the gnawing sensation in his abdomen that he allowed for a bogey to bounce him from above. His fighter rocked and Gonzo frantically checked over his shoulder to get a view of his attacker. Labored breaths escaped Gonzo's lungs as he broke into hard evasive maneuvers.

Steady beeps invaded Gonzo's cockpit as the enemy Interceptor tried to keep him locked. The beeping grew in frequency as the Confederate pilot managed a target-lock. Meryl barrel rolled from her position on Gonzo's starboard flank and in behind her wingman's assailant and Gonzo did the rest.

He led both the Interceptor and Meryl into a split-s maneuver, and then kicked his fighter knife-edge and shot vertical. As if mentally linked, Meryl loosed a Fighter-to-Fighter, or FTF, torpedo just as Gonzo brought his dazzling exhibition to an end. Riding on a carpet of red fire, the torpedo slammed into the Interceptor. The Interceptor exploded brilliantly, a stunning coda to Gonzo's piloting flourish.

"Hot shooting, Defiant Three," Gonzo congratulated.

"Thanks, boss," Meryl responded as she took up her position on Gonzo's flank.

Static stabbed into his ears, overloading his headset. When it cleared, General Winston's voice came through loud and clear.

"Dammit, Antreya! Our attack window is closing."

"I know, General, but our Marine transports are in danger. If there's a chance at winning this thing, it's in getting them to ground."

"You're right, Antreya, but we need to secure Arcturus Prime aerospace first. Hit the Knight's Valor now. That's a direct order!"

Gonzo examined his sensor board one last time and saw the anomaly flicker and then vanish. There wasn't enough time for him to explain to the General what amounted to little more than a hunch.

"Sorry, General. I'm doing this my way. Defiant Squadron is outbound."

Winston's voice carried a furious edge when it returned to the frequency, "Damn you, Antreya. I swear, I will have you court marshaled for this!"

With a smirk, Gonzo cut out his line with the Atlas and switched over to his squadron's tactical channel. The smirk gave way and his expression became serious.

"Defiant Squadron, form up on me."

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