11: Milk Run (3/3)

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April 7, 2180 (New Era Calendar) / 
Primendian Corridor, RISF
Imperial-class Destroyer Crossbone

Stack shook his head, mildly annoyed. 

The mission profile in the briefing from his contact was concise in stating that the Delphinus would have no fighter escort. Something should have alerted him that the job wouldn't be as easy as advertised. 

"These bastards don't actually think they can take on an Imperial Two do they?" He asked aloud. Rhetorical question notwithstanding, the answer played itself out in real time on the holographic tactical plot. In attack formation, the Hammerhead squadron poured on the speed and came up on the merge with Stack's own fighters. He watched as the newcomers smashed through his squadron, eight of them vanishing from the tactical hologram. 

He fumed when he saw the twelve red dots of the enemy Hammerheads keep on coming, undeterred and picking up speed.

The threat they posed didn't register until one of his officers shouted from the large bank of screens near the front of the CIC. 

"They're locking on to our secondary gravity wave generator!"

Alarm surged through Stack and he shot to his feet, "Tell our gunners to open fire. Full spread. Blast them out of space! And get the rest of our fighters out there, now!"

"All of them, sir?"

"All of them!" Stack let real menace into his voice. These meddlesome fighters were about to cost him a major pay day. Worse, they might even take from him something even more valuable than that considerable fortune -- credibility. 

The same officer showed over his shoulder again, never taking his eyes off of his terminal screen. "I'm picking up ACP missile launches. Two. Six. No, twelve. No, twenty four -- two-four -- missiles."

The first pair of missiles struck before Stack could order the shields to be reinforced on that part of the defense grid. The rest followed in quick succession, each one striking the exact same section of the massive ship's shields. In small numbers, no cause for concern. But a squadron's worth, dual-linked? The deck beneath Stack's feet rumbled as the destructive spear of ACP missiles ovewhelmed the Crossbone's shields, pierced the hull and punched a hole clean through her.

Stack returned to his command chair, fuming.

He didn't need to know that they'd just lost the secondary gravity wave generator and, by proxy, their pay day.

- - -

"Shit hot, Alpha Squadron! Interdiction field is down!"

Myles switched over the general comm band, "Delphinus, acknowledge!"

Captain Olsen's voice came back, haggered. "This is Delphinus actual. Go."

"Interdiction field is down, you are green for hyperspace. Get the hell out of dodge."

Olsen came back over comms. "Roger that. We're gone."

The Delphinus fired off into hyperspace as the Commander checked his radar screen one last time. Satisfied with what he saw, he keyed his comm. "Alpha Squad, reform on me. Scopes show cleared for the moment. Set nav course to Waypoint Bravo."

"But Commander," the protest started from Izzy Lanceville. "We can take these bastards down right here and now."

No doubt, the eager young pilot disagreed with the idea of running from a perfectly good fight. Somewhere deep down, the Commander might have felt the same way. But the mission and the people who followed his lead came first.

"Watch yourself, Alpha Three. This is an Imp Deuce and that thing can pack up to five full squadrons. They scramble reinforcements we are as good as dead. You get me, cadet?"

"Sir. No sir. This is a mistake. We should end these guys right here and now."

There was no anger in the Commander's words this time, only harsh cold that let everyone listening know there would be no retort. "I just gave you a direct order, son. Final warning."

Before Izzy could utter another word, the radar scopes trilled a series of high-pitched alerts. Just as the Commander predicted, a stream of starfighters poured from the hangar bays on the Imperial Destroyer's underbelly.

"That's our cue, people. Get your asses into hyperspace, now!"

Not a single bit of protest came back this time. One by one by one, the Hammerheads of Alpha Squadron blinked away at faster than light speeds. Only when the last of the cadets jumped away safely did the Commander, himself, fire off into hyperspace.

- - -

April 7, 2180 (New Era Calendar) /
Primendian Corridor, RISF Imperial-class Destroyer Crossbone

Slack jawed, Grand Admiral Stack watched as the last of the enemy Hammerheads made their escape.

He flung the cigar out of his hand and almost instantly regretted that uncontrolled bout of frustration. Stack didn't know if he was upset or entertained by what had just transpired. Probably some combination of the two. It had been a long time since the Grand Admiral faced off against a worthy adversary. Hell most of their jobs had been cake walks, milk runs, or whichever non sequitur people may have used to describe a simple, routine task. In that way, this was a refreshing change of pace.

Of course, this meant now that the annoying Valiant-class frigate and that Hammerhead squadron would need to be hunted down, drawn and quartered -- as examples, naturally, to show that the Rogue Independent Space Force would always have their retribution.

"Orders, sir?"

Stack took a deep breath. He knew if he pushed the issue, he could get after them. But he could have no idea of what waited for him when he arrived to whichever po-dunk system was on the other end of that hyperspace journey. No, the best course of action would be to return to Echo Base and regroup.

And of course inform his contact of their failure to get the job done.

Stack wasn't worried. The Rogues had come through for their anonymous connection on many occasions. A rare miss should be easily forgiven. And in the event it wasn't, the leader of the Rogues welcomed the challenge.

"Admiral. Orders?" the officer asked again, stirring the Grand Admiral from his thoughts. Back to the present, Stack returned to his command chair. "Right. Recall our fighters and set a course for Echo Base. Upon our return, I want the comm chatter decrypted. I want to know who those Hammerheads were. And when we find out, there will be hell to pay." 

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