"I see that you're heading to Point Harada right now," Admiral Hong said crisply as his vid-screen suddenly materialized unto the Nadesico's bridge, before noticing Ruri and Haley entangled on the floor. "Well, what do we have here?" he asked suspiciously, with a raised eyebrow.
"Resolving some…morale issues, Admiral," Ruri quickly replied, dusting herself off and standing up, a slight tinge of pink in her cheeks.
"Yes, I can tell…in any case," the Admiral coughed lightly, "I'm sure you are aware of your current mission parameters, am I correct?"
"Well, they just changed a bit."
"Sir?" Saburouta asked uneasily from the side, sharing a look with Ryoko.
"We just got a message from the insertion team. They are being approached and will soon be in contact with the enemy."
"What!" Haley cried in alarm. "That ruins everything!"
"Not if we get there first," the Admiral replied coolly. "The enemy task force is a small one. You should have sufficient firepower to defeat them. But that requires you jumping in before they reach the insertion team. Our engineers don't exactly have the firepower or the expertise to keep them at bay for long."
"How long until enemy contact?" Ruri asked.
"A matter of hours, we think. Reach Point Harada as quickly as you can. We are deploying a security screen around our side of the gate in case the enemy breaks through before we're ready to send you over. If worst comes to worst, you'll have to bull your way into the gate."
"A boson jump under enemy fire?" Saburouta asked incredulously.
"Yes, it'll be a first for the history books, won't it?" Admiral Hong replied with a sly smile. "Humanity's first CBJ."
"Huh?" Haley-kun looked blankly at the Admiral.
"Combat boson jump, child," Hong said as he signed off, chuckling.
"Who came up with that stupid acronym?" Akira asked obnoxiously from his comm console far away.
"In all likelihood, the Admiral himself," Ruri said, seating herself into the captain's chair. "Proceed on a direct course to the jump gate," she ordered quietly, "and raise the alert status to level two. Prepare for possible enemy contact. Estimated time of arrival?"
"Oh, I'd say an hour or so if we push the engines, Ruri-chan," Kotone said, with a bubbly smile.
"Then push the engines as hard as you can, Kotone-san," Ruri said with a small smile.
"Great. This is just great," Saburouta muttered acidly to himself.
"You can complain later. Let's ready the Aestivalis squadron for deployment," Ryoko said, dragging the Jovian lieutenant out of the bridge.
Jun took a deep breath, reveling in the smell of a newly repaired warship. Heavily damaged in its last sortie against the Unknowns, the Amaryllis hadn't been repaired in time for the last titanic battle between the mysterious enemy and the UAE fleets, but now it was the cruiser's turn to shine.
"Status report," he ordered crisply as he settled comfortably into his brand-new captain's chair, complete with leather and a personalized name-plate on the back.
"Phase transition engine operating at maximum efficiency; laser turrets are reporting no maintenance problems; operating and combat systems are nominal, all systems green," was the reply.
"Good." Jun smiled, satisfied. "Let's get going. We've got a date to keep."
"Right away, sir."
"Give me an estimated time of arrival."
"From our current location…a little over an hour."
"They seem to be getting closer," the chief engineer observed, causing Group Captain Nanasawa to nervously look out the viewport. The small scintillating sparkles had grown noticeably bigger…they seemed more like flashes of light, sending a cryptic message of impending death to the thoroughly stressed Jovian.
"How long until the gate is complete?"
"A matter of minutes, sir."
Nanasawa breathed a sigh of relief. "They're still pretty far away. Once it's complete, charge up the gate and let's get the heck out of here!"
At that, the chief engineer chewed his lip and shifted his eyes to the floor. "Sir, there's a bit of a problem with that."
Nanasawa stared at him. "No. I don't want to hear it."
"We'll finish the gate in no time sir, it's the charging up part that'll take a while. If everything goes to plan, we should be able to leave," the engineer glanced briefly at his checklist, "in forty minutes or so."
Nanasawa snatched the engineer's checklist out of his surprised hands and threw the papers to the floor, smashing the heel of his military boots into them and grinding down hard. "Damn it, chief!" he screamed, his face pale with fear. "We may not have forty minutes!"
"We'll work as fast as we can," the engineer promised hastily, bowing and quickly leaving the room.
With a sigh of despair, Nanasawa slumped down into his chair and stared out the window, at the sparkling advance of the Unknown fleet.
"Forty minutes…." he whispered quietly to himself. "In forty minutes, I'll be out of this hell hole. But…but forty minutes is too long!" he screamed, clawing at his face in fear.
He wrung his hands up in despair. "What if they get here before the gate is charged? No," he shook his head vigorously, "they can't. They just can't. No one can move that fast. I'll just leave before everyone else. Yeah, that's it," he said, his eyes suddenly brightening and taking on a manic look.
Nanasawa looked out the window again, this time watching the engineers as they scurried over the mostly-completed gate. "Who's got priority anyway? I can pull rank on them! I'll just…I'll just take the personal shuttle we've got. Yeah. That's it. The minute it's charged, boom! I'm out of here. It'll all be okay," he promised to himself, with a little laugh.
While the half-crazed Jovian group captain contemplated his escape from enemy territory, strange things were happening at his homeworld, Jupiter.
If the Jovians that had been driven from their home by the Unknowns had returned, they would've hardly been able to recognize their planet.
Orbiting around the gas giant were several large white crystalline structures; honeycombed with passages, hangar bays, trenches, towers, and outcroppings, the orbiting Unknown structures resembled gigantic hives. Despite their overall similarity, each structure was uniquely different in its appearance, making each orbiting station seem like a truly organic being.
Inside one of these structures, a single renegade of both his society and the Unknowns' awoke. Groaning, he gripped his head as a flash of memories briefly overwhelmed him. He had boson-jumped, he knew, but from where? He paused, sitting cross-legged on the hard rock floor, until it came back to him.
The hospital. He jumped from the hospital. But where was he?
Wearily standing up, he surveyed both ends of the hallway, which extended deeper into the station on both sides. Randomly choosing one direction, Tenkawa Akito began picking his way through the vast Unknown space station.
"So…how far 'till we get there?" Akira asked, bored, as he began flicking CDs one by one across the bridge.
"Oh, give us another twenty minutes, you, and we'll be there," Kotone replied, winking.
"ETA?" Jun asked professionally.
"Thirty-five minutes. We're beginning to pick up stray transmissions from the security screen."
Is the time right?
It is difficult to decide. There are many things happening.
Yes, we must decide how to deal with the two Gifted.
Their power is diminished with the capture of the Third, but the Restrainer has also appeared.
Yes, and he is close. Too close. His love for the Third has given him a strong will.
That is not unexpected.
Do not worry. He will be disposed of, and the threat will end.
What preparations have been made?
There will be a tribulation awaiting him.
That leaves only the two Gifted. Has the gate been prepared?
It will be operational shortly. We are ready to ride out in victorious battle.
Very well. Make your preparations.
Victory hath been given to the Conscience.
"We're finished charging the gate, group captain!" the chief engineer announced proudly as he stepped into the room. "Huh, that's strange," he said, seeing the room empty, "where'd he go?"
"I'm right here, chief," Nanasawa replied via vid-screen, as the screen materialized over his desk
"Group captain, where are you?" the chief engineer asked, puzzled.
"On the personal shuttle."
"Don't you see? I'm getting the hell out of this place!" Nanasawa said with a maniacal laugh.
"Wait a minute, group captain!" the chief engineer shouted. "The shuttle isn't equipped with a dist…" But it was too late; Nanasawa had closed the vid-screen.
The chief engineer slammed a fist unto the desk. "Damn it!" he shouted angrily. Suddenly, klaxons began going off, and the chief engineer looked around in surprise. "What's going?" he asked aloud.
A vid-screen of another engineer flashed in front of him. "They've arrived!"
"We've arrived!" Kotone announced proudly.
"Arrival time estimated at fifteen minutes," the computer onboard Amaryllis mechanically intoned.
They have arrived.
The gate is operational?
Yes. We are proceeding.
Suddenly, jumping the last leg of their journey, the Unknown fleet pounced right on top of the small collection of engineering vessels, scattering them as the engineers fled in panic.
Bursts of plasma fire rained down from the Unknown ships as they aimed to capture the jump gate intact. Plasma bolts slammed into ship after ship, bursting distortion fields like bubbles and exploding them into millions of miniscule dust particles, but one badly damaged vessel managed to escape through the jump gate, bursting out the other end with a sputtering engine and a rapidly failing distortion field.
The dying ship was quickly registered on UEC scanners.
"Contact! We have a contact from the jump gate! Designating it as contact A," the scanning officer reported.
"Classify it immediately!" Admiral Hong ordered, now aboard the Misuzu, the new flagship of the UEC fleet.
"It's an engineering vessel!" Faint cheers arose at the news that at least some of the engineers had survived the mission.
"Incoming transmission, I'm relaying it to vid-screen now," the comms officer said, as a screen of the chief engineer flashed on the bridge.
"We've made enemy contact!" the image practically screamed. "They're coming right be—" Suddenly, the vid-screen disappeared into a haze of static, and the engineering vessel burst into a heart-wrenching explosion. Before anyone could react, klaxons and red lights began going off.
"Multiple contacts emerging from the jump gate!" the scanning officer cried out. "Scanners register two…no, six contacts, designated contacts B to G. Classified as Unknown ships!"
"We have a breach of the gate!" Admiral Hong thundered. "Deploy the screening force! Concentrate maximum firepower on the enemy!"
As the Unknown fleet pushed through the jump gate, Hong's screening force closed in like a net, carrier ships spitting out squadrons of Aestivalis mechs and battleship turrets zeroing in on the gate.
As soon as the first Unknown warship cleared the gate, a gravity blast from the Misuzu tore into it, slicing it in half like a hot knife through butter. The rest of the screening fleet opened up, flaying into the struggling Unknown fleet with gravity blast cannons, laser turrets, and high-explosive missiles. Explosions began lighting up space as the battle began.
"Scanners report combat activity around the jump gate," Haley-kun announced as he watched the data readouts.
"It looks like we were too late," Ruri murmured.
"Should we deploy?" Saburouta's vid-screen image asked.
"No," Ruri shook her head. "It would take too long to recover you for the boson jump. The screening force can handle themselves. Kotone-san, maneuver us into position for the jump."
"Right away, right away!"
"Haley-kun," Ruri said, looking over at the lieutenant, "do you have a reading on the Amaryllis?"
"Yes, they're only a few minutes behind us."
"Very well. Contact them."
"Incoming transmission from the Nadesico," the comms officer said crisply.
"Relay it to my chair," Jun ordered, making himself comfortable.
The screen queued up almost immediately, and Jun smiled widely. "Hey," he said in greeting.
"Captain Jun," Ruri nodded in reply, "are you almost at the jump gate?"
"Last ETA was five minutes," the young man replied. "We're picking up some strange energy readings, though."
"Yes. Apparently, the Unknowns got there first."
Jun frowned. "Great," he said, "how are we supposed to go through the gate?"
"The Admiral will handle that. For now, we have to get into position to jump," Ruri said calmly. "Jun-kun, the Amaryllis and the Nadesico must be well-known to the enemy by now. If they see us, they may very well make us a priority to destroy."
"No, I'm not," Ruri replied, as cool as ever. "Therefore, when you enter the combat zone, I want you to pull up ahead of the Nadesico. That way, you can cover us with your anti-mech batteries, and we can cover you against battleships with the gravity blast cannon."
"Sounds like a good plan," Jun nodded in agreement. He was never that good at tactics anyway. "What about the Aestivalis'? Should we deploy them?"
"No, recovery time is too long. We'll be counting on you, Jun-kun, if the enemy sends their silver mechs at us."
"You can count on us, Ruri," Jun promised.
Admiral Hong watched as more Unknown ships poured out of the jump gate; this time, there were a sufficient number of them that a few managed to escape from the kill zone and began returning fire.
"Fifth sector is reporting losses," the comms officer said tersely, listening intently to his headset. "It seems the enemy is trying to break through our lines there."
"Redeploy the Aestivalis squadrons to sector five," Hong ordered quickly. "I want to keep as much firepower on the gate until the Nadesico and Amaryllis arrive."
"New wave of ships approaching! Strength is…sixteen ships, all battleship-class!"
Hong grinned. "Looks like they're finally getting serious. Charge the gravity blast cannon!"
"Gravity blast cannon will be charged in ten seconds."
"Contact the Ever After and Minagi; I want a spread of blasts in the middle of the formation, and then a missile barrage from Hornet and Kano into the outer ring. Let's try to contain this group!"
"Blast cannon, charged!"
Three blasts of pure energy lanced out from the three UEC battleships, Ever After Misuzu, and Minagi, and slammed against the heart of the new Unknown formation. Two ships disappeared in wreaths of flame as hundreds of missiles from the Kano and Hornet exploded around them, ripping chunks off of enemy ships as shrapnel and fire tore through the fleet. Laser blasts from nearby cruisers and escort ships pummeled the surviving Unknown vessels, but ten of them managed to free themselves from the kill zone and escape into empty space, where they had the room to maneuver and return fire.
Plasma bolts began arcing through the emptiness of interstellar space, and Harada watched as the Minagi briefly disappeared under a flurry of blasts, reappearing with a few scorches and a flickering distortion shield but otherwise undamaged. Several escort ships exploded, spewing their contents into open space, and Harada saw several flashes of light as Unknown silver mechs zeroed in on the screening force.
"Deploy the light cruisers," the Admiral ordered, "and unmask their anti-mech batteries. I need those mechs shot down!"
"Sir, incoming transmission from the Nadesico! She and the Amaryllis have arrived and are awaiting orders!"
"Queue them up on-screen!" the Admiral commanded, as a large vid-screen appeared. "Captain, I'm glad you've arrived," he said, "but as you can see, the enemy arrived before you could get here."
"I apologize for that, but we're ready to boson jump through the gate," Ruri replied solemnly.
"This will be a bit tough," the Admiral said, biting his lip. "There's an Unknown force at the gate right now. Proceed as planned; we'll lay down a covering fire to pin them down, but expect to come under attack. We can't keep them all away from you, but we'll sure as hell try!"
"Thank you Admiral," Ruri replied with a ghost of smile before signing off.
The two Gifted have arrived.
They plan to use the gate?
Not entirely unexpected.
We were supposed to have secured the gate before use.
It is too late, and of little consequence anyway. Perhaps we can make use of this situation.
A lure? A bait for the Restrainer?
That depends on the rapidity of the two Gifted in their movements.
If they arrive on time, it may serve as a powerful check.
It is too risky. They may turn on us. Better to eliminate them.
Yes, that is the best course of action for now. Make the proper preparations.
But of course.
May there be victory for the Conscience on this day.
"Power up the phase transition engine, maximum power," Ruri ordered, swiveling to face Haley-kun. "Charge the gravity blast cannon, wide-ranging beam. We may need it."
"Yes, captain!" Haley replied, tapping in commands for Omoikane.
"Saburouta-san?" Ruri asked, as the Jovian's face perked up.
"What is it?"
"As soon as we jump, deploy the squadron. I want you to cover the Nadesico and Amaryllis while we clear the jump gate on the other side."
"Of course, captain."
"Hey, watch it, buddy!" Ryoko's vid-screen popped up, her face red with anger. "I'm the squadron commander here! You can't just take command from me!"
"Oh? Who said I can't? I'm the better pilot, remember?"
"Says who?" she shot back. "You wanna fight?"
"May I remind you, who saved your cute little behind the last time we were behind enemy lines?" Saburouta asked with a wink.
"Aha!" Hikaru chimed in with a mischievous look in her eyes. "What do you say to that, eh, Ryoko-chan?"
Ryoko flushed a deeper red. "Idiot!" she retorted. "I didn't need helping!"
"Didn't seem that way to me," Saburouta murmured seductively.
"A knight, rescuing his maiden," Izumi said quietly as her vid-screen materialized. "Or maybe a cowboy choosing his steed," she murmured as she began giggling.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Ryoko asked, irritated, as she cut off Izumi's screen.
"Fools," Ruri sighed to herself, as she closed all the vid-screens with a flick of her finger.
"Captain!" Haley shouted, turning to his commanding officer, a girl only a few years older than himself.
"What is it, Haley-kun?"
"There's been a change in enemy formation! Unknown mechs are charging straight at us, and the battleships are rotating to unmask their batteries along our axis!"
"Prepare to fire the gravity blas—" Ruri stopped in surprise as another vid-screen popped up in front of her, this time one of Jun.
"Now, wait just a minute, Ruri," Jun said with a grin. "Leave the mechs to us. You take care of the battleships, okay?"
The Amaryllis, just ahead of the Nadesico at this point, suddenly turned in a divergent angle, positioning itself between the battleship and its high-speed miniscule pursuers. Laser turrets trained out in the general direction of the approaching mechs, and high-powered scanners interrogated the vector, locking in the various targets. The tracking information was fed automatically to targeting computers, and the turrets retrained and made slight adjustments as they each individually locked on to a charging silver mech.
With a command from the captain, the laser turrets opened up, flaying the Unknown squadrons with precise blasts. Missiles burst forth from their racks, locking on and zeroing in on the remaining mechs, their plumes of exhaust ending in bright fireballs.
As the Amaryllis suppressed and broke up the enemy charge, the Nadesico pulled ahead and rotated on its own axis, unmasking its gravity blast cannon in the direction of the enemy fleet. Seconds later, a beam of pure black energy laced with crackling bolts of electricity burst out of the barrel, and the gravity blast, the strongest in the UEC fleet, slammed into the Unknown fleet with unrestrained fury and force, as the enemy vessels disappeared in a flash of blinding light.
"Enemy mechs have been suppressed, and the enemy battleships destroyed," Haley-kun noted with delight. "Enemy fire is slackening off; we've got a clear path straight to the jump gate!"
"Fire up the phase transition engine," Ruri ordered, "and resume formation with the Amaryllis. Let's get going."
"Nadesico, you are clear to hotdrop!" Hong's voice bellowed over the bridge. "Repeat, Nadesico, you are clear to hotdrop!"
"Hotdrop?" Haley-kun asked, confused. "I thought it was a CBJ."
"He must have changed it," Ruri speculated.
"But why?" Haley demanded.
"Because, a CBJ sounds stupid, Haley," Saburouta chimed in over the intercom.
"No enemy activity detected; no more contacts emerging from the jump gate," the scanning officer reported onboard the Misuzu.
"Good," Admiral Hong replied. "Keep a close eye on the read-outs. I don't want the Nadesico and Amaryllis running right into another fleet."
"Distance…three kilometers and closing…two point five kilometers and closing…." Haley-kun reported professionally as the jump gate loomed ever closer.
"This is it," Saburouta whispered quietly over the intercom.
"Charge up the gravity blast canon," Ruri said after a moment's reflection.
"Already did," Haley replied with a wink. "Set to wide-spread, just in case."
"Distance one kilometer…five hundred meters…three hundred meters…one hundred meters…we're in," Haley announced in a hushed voice.
All the bridge members aboard the Nadesico looked up from their consoles and screens and out the bridge windows, as multi-colored swirls of light slowly swallowed the Nadesico and Amaryllis, engulfing them in eerie shades and tones of color.
"How is the distortion field holding up?" the captain asked.
"Solidly at ninety eight percent. No damage reported, no leaks reported. This ship is airtight," Haley proudly stated.
"Good," Ruri answered, "Now we wait."
They have entered the gate.
How soon until their passage is complete?
Any moment now.
And the preparations?
Will we meet them at their new location?
No. We know where they are.
We know where they are gong.
We know what they plan to do.
Their course of action is simple.
We will be waiting for them.
We will surprise them.
We will crush them.
A/N: One of the shorter chapters in this work, I think…only nine pages on Word. Usually, chapters are about twelve to fifteen pages. This chapter includes only the battle because, well…that's all that really needed to be fit in.
The events following this battle are so long and drawn-out that if I were to include them in this chapter, it would easily be…oh, twenty pages long. And that's just too much scrolling to do. So, I decided I'd take that stuff, stick in a different chapter. All I got to do is just right it now, lol. Besides, some pretty pivotal stuff just happened…you just don't know it yet, lol!
I enjoyed this chapter; it was nice to get back to some action. Though, I think most of you enjoy the tangled love triangles more than the action. I'm not sure which I prefer. Everyone loves tangled love triangles, but sci-fi space battles are pretty cool too, ne?
Okay! With luck, next chapter will be up soon! Ja ne!