6: First Rule of Engagement (1/3)

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March 24, 2180 (New Era Calendar)/
Antilla System, Arveria Aerospace

"Dammit Lead, how many of them are there?"

Defiant Squadron, outgunned, battled furiously. The chaos of battle threatened to overwhelm them whole, the scores of enemy starfighters -- a motley assortment of older Hammerheads, even older Z-41 Tigersharks with a few of the newer Interceptors sprinkled in -- proving to be an implacable enemy. They started the battle some six squadrons strong, but thanks to Defiant Squadron's skill, that number had been brought down to four.

Miraculously, none of Gonzo's pilots had gone down. Yet.

"Let's hope not enough," Gonzo keyed, replying to Meryl Prince's agitation. "Hang in there. The Exped's moving to engage."

Before he could issue out another order, an enemy fighter scythed across his fighter's nose. A reflex, Gonzo snapped off a quick burst from his wing-tip cannons and was rewarded with a kill. Though this was the definition of a target rich environment for Defiant Squadron, Gonzo could not allow his people to get caught up in the minutiae of racking up kill tallies. The job was to defend Skyline and if they spent all their time tangling with the fighters, that second Battle Cruiser would make it to the station unassailed.

Gonzo scanned the engagement zone visually -- couldn't trust the sensors with all of the action going on around him -- and saw the Exped surge through the pandemonium, point defense batteries unloading in all directions. He fought the urge to smile as the ship that had become the closest thing to a home entered the fray.

"See that, Three. There she is."

The enemy Battle Cruisers tagged by IFF as Joker's Wild and Infinite Justice lumbered toward Skyline having loosed their fighter compliment, the same random collection of fighters that Gonzo and his squadron found himself tangling with. He watched as the Exped dove into the heart of the two ship formation and unloaded with devastating broadsides of ACP missiles. Incandescent flashes of light flared as the Exped traded fusillades with the pair of Patriot aggressors.

Just then, his comm board lit up with an incoming data stream. It was a targeting solution from the Exped. Gonzo punched in a command and that data overlaid itself onto his Hammerhead's HUD.

"Defiants, listen up. Gonna need you to break free from your dance partners. We gotta give the Lady a hand. Select Mikes and double up. Reform on me and fire on my target in three."

Gonzo suited action to words, thumbed his weapon selector to ACP Missiles and set them for dual fire configuration. Three seconds later, Defiant Squadron unleashed the collective fury of two dozen anti-matter warhead missiles created for the sole purpose of destroying capital ships. The projectiles raced ahead on ardent trails of blue fire and hammered into Infinite Justice.

Space ahead of them erupted with beautiful destruction.

"Kick afterburners into Zone-5 and stay on me." Gonzo threw his throttle lever all the way forward and felt the kick in the seat of his pants as the burners on his Hammerhead's pair of thrusters lit. In front of them: criss crossing webs of destructive laser light. Behind them: nearly four full squadrons of enemy fighters. None of that mattered. With the rest of Defiant Squadron in his wake they blazed a trail into the battling behemoths at some percentage of lightspeed.

"Pull some teeth, Defiants," Gonzo crowed into the mic as triple-A came from all directions washing over his canopy. His hand twitched on the flightstick making the the starscape spin and twirl all around him. A tense finger squeezed the trigger firing his fighter's wingtip laser cannons as fast as they would cycle. Defiant Squadron's Hammerheads were the last thing some gunners from the Infinite Justice would ever see.

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