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Missiles streaked across the void in scores, battering viciously against the defensive shields of the Goa'uld ships as red lines of laser fire and blue-green pulses of plasma criss-crossed space with golden energy globes and silver ion bolts.
Were it not for the atrocious loss of life that each one of those death dealing projectiles represented, Admiral Porcini would have thought it beautiful. Thousands of kilometres distant, one of the enemy battleships cracked in half and detonated in a brief flare of brilliant light as it was struck on all sides by a pair of battle cruisers and a battleship.
Much more closely, a trio of death gliders whipped past the Relentless' bridge view ports, hounded by the delta-winged shapes of two Scorpion Interceptors. That the interceptors were forced to engage in dogfights bespoke of the turmoil the Allied fleet was embroiled in; such duties were normally handled by Space Superiority Fighters.
"Sir, fleet strength down to 63 per cent, all cruisers and six battle cruisers reporting full munitions expenditure. We've lost the dreadnoughts Altair and Railion and the superdreadnought Graceful Arc. What are your orders?," an aide reported, looking anxiously to the admiral for guidance.
"We cannot hold this position any longer," Porcini said, sighing heavily. "Prepare to order a tactical retreat to the edge of the system. Any ships that fall behind are to be left behind."
The entire command crew stopped whatever they were doing to stare in shock at their commander. Not since the Alkaid War had such an order been given.
"Upon arrival at the edge of the system, have all destroyers and frigates remaining with the supply colliers rendezvous with us and prepare for another strike," Porcini finished giving his orders, then looked expectantly to his crew.
"But, sir, ordering those ships to engage would be the equivalent of signing their death warrants," one of his crew said, stand from her chair.
"I am aware of that, ensign, but I am not prepared to leave over one hundred million civilians to suffer under the Goa'uld while there is still a means to take the fight to the enemy," he replied calmly. "Now carry out your orders. And tell the Stealth Cruisers to complete their missions, then go to active cloaking and try to disappear in the rings of Saldiris."
Saldiris, the sixth planetary body in the Eden System, was a gas giant made up primarily of Helium-3, nearly one-third again as large as Jupiter. It was surrounded by ninety-four rings of spatial debris, some of them large enough to cause an Extinction Level Event on an inhabited world. It would be the perfect place for the Stealth Cruisers to hide until the rest of the fleet was able to return.
The great dreadnought shuddered as a series of golden plasma bolts struck the aft shields, sending ripples across the energy barrier even as half a dozen rail gun batteries answered with hundreds of armour penetrating kinetic rods. The attacking Goa'uld ships shields shattered under the assault and detonations blossomed all over the hull as rail spikes hammered the ships armour.
"Get us out of here," Porcini said, glaring at the holo-display showing a pair of enemy battleships picking apart an Allied battle cruiser.
The battlesuit was a smoking wreck, but the mass of tangled, half melted alloys was still viable cover for the three marines. One of them poked their head up over shoulder pauldron of the wrecked battle suit, ducking back down almost immediately after as a hail of plasma peppered the battlesuit and the ground around it.
"Fuck it! Five of the mothers have us pinned from the second floor balcony at our eleven o'clock," the marine that had peeked over the wreck said as the hail ended. " Looks like maybe three more in the butcher shop at out one o'clock."
"Can we get an artillery barrage to clear them out," one of the other marines asked.
"Negative on that, man. All the big guns are hammering the Our Lady Of Hope hospital, supposed to be hundreds of these assholes dug in there," the third marine said.
"What about an air strike?." the second marine spoke again.
"You wanna drag fighter-bombers away from the fight upstairs? Hell no, way things are looking that's where they'll be needed most," the first marine said.
"Okay. So how do we do this then?," the second marine asked. The other two men looked at each others impenetrable face plates, then looked back at the younger man.
"Good question," the first man said, as a short burst of plasma bolts splashed the ground a few feet away, spraying molten globs of dirt into the air.
"Anyone got a smoke grenade?," he asked, to which the other two shook their heads. Shaking his head in frustration, he looked up.
"What the hell is that?," he said after a moment, and the other two men looked up to see dozens of objects falling through the atmosphere above the city, leaving a trail of thick grey smoke behind them.
"No way!," the third exclaimed loudly. "Drop pods! Fucking Shock Troopers, man!"
Te'rak was confused. Apophis' Supersoldiers were concentrating their fire on the wreckage of the great machine the three humans were hiding behind, as were his two remaining warriors. The humans were forced to keep their heads down and could do nothing to change their predicament; the staff weapons had a virtually limitless supply of energy, so the Jaffa could simply spend their time whittling away at the humans cover.
But what were the humans so excited about? The voices were barely distinguishable from the background noise of explosive detonations and distant small arms fire, but Te'rak could clearly hear the excitement in their voices.
Had they somehow found a way to solve their cover issues? Had they discovered a way to outflank them? Or were more of those machines on their way?
Te'rak shook his head; it mattered not what the humans did, with those five Supersoldiers he was confident he could handle just about anything that came his way.
That was his last thought before the butcher shop he was taking cover in suddenly seemed to collapse in on itself, and Te'rak was crushed under the nine hundred kilogram bulk of an OHEV. Explosive pins around the edge of the sealed entryway detonated, flinging the composite alloy door twenty feet straight ahead, slamming clean through the wall opposite the pod.
The Shock Trooper moved fast, leaping from his entry vehicle and shouldering his rail rifle, sending a burst of hyper-velocity rounds into one of the remaining Jaffa, before spinning around on the spot as the semi-autonomous defensive plasma cannon mounted on his shoulder vaporised the head of the last Jaffa before the warrior even had a chance to aim his staff weapon.
The Supersoldiers immediately changed targets, two of them moving swiftly toward the butcher shop, two firing in the opposite direction where two more drop pods had landed and the last intensifying its fire on the three pinned marines in an attempt to take up the slack its companions had left.
The Shock Trooper ducked low behind what was left of the Instacrete wall and fired a burst of rail spikes at the two Kull Warriors bearing down on him. One staggered back as a trio of rounds impacted against its chest, denting the ultra-durable trinium/naquadah composite trauma plate but otherwise doing no damage.
The other fired madly at the wall behind which the trooper was crouched, carving a molten path into the durable Instacrete. The trooper stood, took four direct hits to his shields and fired an extended burst into the Kull that had been hit before, sending twenty rail spikes slamming against the trauma plate, shattering it open and wounding the Kull before he was forced to drop back behind cover as his Shield Low alarm began blaring inside his helmet.
"Recharge already, god-damnit," the trooper shouted inside his sealed helmet as molten globs of Instacrete spattered against his faceplate. Finally, after an agonizingly long moment, the status bar for his shield began refilling, and he fired a quick burst of the half-destroyed wall, dropping the wounded warrior and completely missing the unharmed one.
The trooper stood, spinning away from the wall and seeking new cover as the sophisticated motion sensor suite detected movement coming from behind him as well as the Kull Warrior in front of him. He turned just in time to see two more Jaffa running in through the ruined back door of the building. Firing from the hip, he cut the two down with ease, but the distraction was enough to allow the Supersoldier to get the drop on him.
Plasma splashed against the troopers back, draining his shield rapidly and sending molten rivers of titanium/ceramic composite alloy running down the back of the armour and frying the plasma cannon.
He turned, swinging his rifle around, only to have it caught in the Supersoldiers left hand, its right one with the mounted plasma weapon swinging up to aim at his face point blank. The trooper gripped the Supersoldiers right forearm and pushed hard against it as the weapon began firing, the plasma missing his head by inches and instead splashing against the side of the OHEV.
The servo-motors in the armour that enhanced the troopers strength whined as they fought against the genetically altered muscle mass of the Kull Warrior. Releasing his grip on his rifle, the trooper swung his fist hard into the side of the warriors head, cracking the helmet and jarring the bones in his wrist from the sharp impact despite the protection of his armoured gauntlet.
The warrior dropped the rail rifle, swinging its own fist into the troopers stomach. The armour plating dented inward and all the air seemed to escape the troopers lungs even as he whipped his knee up into the warriors own gut in retaliation. The warrior stumbled back half a step, freeing the trooper to swing his fist two more times, cracking hard against the warriors chest plate.
The warrior swung its arm, connecting with the troopers head and shattering the reinforced faceplate of the helmet. Blinded, the trooper shrieked in pain and his grip loosened on the Kull Warriors' gun arm. The warrior calmly fired a burst of golden plasma bolts into the troopers stomach, killing the man almost instantly as the super-hot plasma melted through armour, flesh and bone.
Victorious, the Kull Warrior turned to find more enemies of the Union…and came face to chest with a hulking green-armoured human.
"Howdy," a grizzled, masculine voice said from behind the reflective golden faceplate. The Kull Warrior raised its gun arm to fire, but the Spartan grabbed said arm in one arm in a vice-like grip, and swung with all his might with his other hand, the armoured gauntlet crunching into the Kull Warriors face and snapping its neck, killing it instantly.
"Let's move, marines," the Spartan said, and the three marines that had earlier been huddled behind the wreck of a battle suit broke into a cautious jog and headed past the unmoving super soldier. The Spartan stared at the Shock Troopers body for a long moment, then knelt down and removed the other mans holo-tags before standing and running after the three marines.
Apophis glared out the view port of his flagships bridge, fully aware that far off in the distance the humans were hastily retreating from the fight for control of the world below him.
The power and ferocity of this worlds defenders was commendable, but the would-be god had long since grown weary of the defiance of these humans and their xeno allies. Had Anubis not insisted that the world be kept as intact as possible, for reasons known only to himself, it would have been reduced to cinder and ash the moment its orbital defences had been defeated.
Now, the vast majority of his fleet was off pursuing the fleeing humans and their allies, his own ship was damaged with shields inactive, and human reinforcements had been delivered to the primary invasion point.
"My Lord," Rya'c's voice echoed across the near-silent pel'tac, and Apophis turned to face his First Prime.
"What is it, Prime? Have you dealt with the intruders?," Apophis demanded, eyeing Rya'c up and down; his armour was noticeably scuffed and he was without his staff weapon.
"In a manner of speaking," Rya'c answered, making and holding eye contact with Apophis, a slight which could not be ignored.
Apophis narrowed his eyes at his First Prime. The Jaffa in question did not waver, and in fact even smiled ever-so-slightly.
"Guards," Apophis hissed, gesturing to the six Kull Warriors in the room. "Seize him for his insolence!"
"That's not going to happen," a new voice, gruff and masculine, entered the conversation, and from the entryway to the pel'tac marched to hulking green, one-eyed monsters. Apophis may have been distracted by the external battle, but he had heard enough of what his warriors had said to recognise the beasts from various descriptions: Demons.
"Destroy them!," Apophis roared, and immediately the Kull Warriors began firing their wrist mounted weapons, Rya'c diving to the side and behind a decorative pillar, the two Demons splitting up, one moving in to engage the Warriors, the other coming straight for Apophis.
Two of the Kull Warriors moved to intercept the Demon, one swinging its arm like a club. The Demon caught the limb, twisted it sharply til the sound of bone splintering echoed across the chamber, even above the din of staff fire from the other four Warriors. The Warrior in the Demons grasp swung its other arm madly, the offending limb bouncing harmlessly off of a defensive energy barrier surrounding its assailant.
The Demon swung the Warrior around just as the other on fired, a series of plasma bolts splashing against its back as the Demon hurled it into the firing Warrior, slamming them both to the ground.
The Demon blurred into motion, whipping two small hand-held weapons up from thigh holsters as it moved, firing a stream of hyper-velocity projectiles into the downed Supersoldiers. The other Demon had already dispatched two more Kull Warriors and was busy dealing with the remaining two. The Demon advancing on Apophis re-holstered its weapons, just as Apophis waved his hand, visible bands of energy washing over the Demon.
The Demon stumbled back a couple of steps, shook its head, then resumed its advance. On the verge of panic, Apophis waved his hand again, but this time the Demon was ready for it, and simply leaned into the energy waves and struggled through them. The Demon lurched forward, seizing Apophis' arm and twisting sharply, the bones snapping like dry twigs under the pressure. Apophis shrieked in agony, dropping to his knees and clutching his ruined arm to his body.
The rattling whine of rail rifles firing filled the room, and the remaining Kull Warriors were cut down by a trio of shock troopers entering the room. The Demon that had accosted Apophis leaned down to face him, and Apophis saw his fear-etched features reflected back at him by the beasts giant golden eye.
And then it spoke.
"Objective secured," it said loudly, then in a quieter voice reserved only for Apophis, it said, "You are no god. Soon, the whole galaxy will know it."
"Our shields are down, we're venting atmosphere from decks three, seven, eight, nine, thirteen, nineteen and twenty!," Ensign Callahan at the DEFCOM terminal called out, and Admiral Porcini grit his teeth as the Relentless shuddered violently. "Our sub-light drives are down!"
"That's it then. Swing us around to face the enemy, all remaining batteries fire-for-effect on enemy battleship T-19. Have our remaining fighters proceed with the rest of the fleet, they're going to need everything they can muster to make it to the RV point alive," Porcini ordered, shoulders slumped ever-so-slightly in defeat.
The bridge crew went about their business with silent professionalism, many of them trying not to think of their loved ones back home, trying not to think of those that would be left behind and trying not to dwell on the fact that they were about to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Porcini himself, standing calmly like an island in a storm, was thinking about his sons, remembering the day his eldest, Jason, had graduated from Officer school, how proud he had been then. Anthony would be graduating in a month, and Porcini was saddened to think that he could not be there for his son on that day. He was thinking about his own graduation, back in the height of the Alkaid War, how he had been the tactical officer aboard the heavy cruiser Calibre.
He remembered the day that ship was destroyed fighting an Alkaid battlesphere. He remembered his first command, a battle cruiser called the Artemis. He had thought it a good omen at the time, and the Artemis had been his until its decommissioning over a decade ago.
The Relentless trembled, and all sound seemed to disappear as Porcini recalled the day he had been promoted to Rear-Admiral, just last year. And a Vice-Admiral already, it was a rarity to be promoted so quickly.
He turned his gaze to the view port, watching as the designated enemy battleships shields collapsed and explosions dotted its hull as rail gun rounds and plasma bolts ate away at it. The barrage lasted an eternity and a moment all at once, then the mighty enemy ship tore apart, detonating spectacularly against the star field. Enemy cruisers rushed the dreadnought, and PAC beams raced out to meet them, cutting through shields and hull material alike, and more explosions lit the space around the wounded beast that was the Relentless.
"Sir!," a voice called to him, sounding like it was a million miles away. "Sir! We're being hailed! It's Rear-Admiral Vladislov, sir!"
"Vladislov?," Porcini whispered. "What the hell is he doing here?"
"We're being reinforced, there are over forty battleships out there, sir! The enemy ships are switching focus, they are concentrating on Admiral Vladislov's fleet," said the voice again, and Porcini realised that it was disembodied for a reason: it was Catalina, and the holo-emitters on the bridge were offline as power was diverted from nom-essential systems to shield regeneration.
Porcini nodded to himself, gazing at the tactical display. It was true, forty-two battleships and thirty-seven battle cruisers had appeared seemingly from nowhere. Most of them, he noted, were fourth and fifth generation ships, but they were still more than a match for the standard enemy ships.
"Get me a direct line to Vladislov's flagship," he said, his voice sounding foreign to his own ears.
"Artemis, congratulations on your promotion," Vladislov's thickly accented voice erupted over the speakers, and his smiling, scarred face appeared on the screen directly above the tactical display. "Looks like you could use a hand, though."
"Alek, you have no idea how glad I am to see you. Help yourself, there are plenty of these bastards to go around," Porcini answered, smiling a little in relief as Vladislov's fleet lit up in the distance, massed volleys of firepower obliterating a score of enemy ships before they could even get in range. "Be careful though, the enemy is fielding a new class of warship. Very formidable, sending you the specs now."
"Understood. We've got carriers coming in soon, we're going to need a lot of bombers from the look of things. Take care, Vice-Admiral. Vladislov, out," and just like that, the transmission was over. Porcini stood ramrod straight, his full awareness returning to him.
"Catalina, status," he ordered.
"Our shields are back up and charging at 0.3 percent per second, damage control teams are seeing to our hull breaches and our sub-light drives are back online, however I would recommend against pushing them beyond thirteen percent until we have some time in dry-dock," the AI reported. "Assuming of course, you don't intend for us all to attempt to martyr ourselves again."
Porcini sighed. "Bring us about, prepare to re-engage the enemy. Order the remainder of the fleet to do the same, form up into Defensive Formation Bravo. Let's retake that planet, people."
Rear-Admiral Aleksandir Vladislov grinned maliciously as the repaired and refitted Endeavour tore apart a pair of enemy cruisers with a broadside, then actually went so far as to chuckle as an enemy battleship lost its shields and was immediately swarmed by dozens of bombers. That ship was consumed in dozens of single megaton explosions as the bombers released their deadly payloads, but a single ion cannon managed to fire one last time, the hyper-accelerating stream of particles punching a gaping hole in the side of a Tau battle cruiser.
The enemy fleet was in disarray, attacking on their own, in pairs, or in small groups, and as such were paying a steep price. The human and Tau fleets fought as single, cohesive units, each ship benefiting from the protection and fire power of each other, where as the Goa'uld attacked like a swarm of insects, splitting up and attacking only where each individual ship commander saw fit.
Had they been capable of using even half the tactics of a Tau or human commander, this battle would have been over long ago. There was something to be said for numbers, though, as even as Vladislov watched his tactical display intently, a battleship and a battle cruiser disappeared almost simultaneously.
"Sir, our carriers are jumping in," Akira, the Endeavour's AI reported calmly, even as he controlled the defensive batteries that were busily wiping out any enemy fighter or gunboat that got through their fighter cover.
"Excellent, make sure there are plenty of bombers available for shipping strikes, and bring our fighters in close to cover the carriers," Vladislov said, his gaze not wavering from the tactical display.
Behind the main battleline, protected by the guns of the fleet, dozens of escort carriers and fleet carriers jumped in-system, disgorging their payloads of fighters and bombers immediately. The battleline's own defensive squadrons swarmed back to the fleet for rearmament and to aid in the covering efforts of the defence batteries of the fleet.
A pair of Goa'uld cruisers, of the outdated variety, got lucky and made it through the pandemonium of the fleets guns, making for the carriers. The carriers, vulnerable to attack at close range, fired weak volleys from their few heavy guns, doing no appreciable damage to the two ships, and plasma bolts spewed forth from the staff cannons on the two Ha'taks, hammering down the shields of an escort carrier quickly and tearing the defenceless ship in half.
One of the larger fleet carriers jockeyed into position, its greater bulk saving another escort carrier from destruction even as its own shields were battered relentlessly. The lightly armed ship fired its handful of laser cannons to no effect even as other carriers moved into add their own firepower, the ships' various commanders knowing they couldn't outrun the two cruisers.
Vladislov watched all this happen, frustrated that none of his ships were small enough for a rapid response. "We'll have to accelerate phase three, Akira. Send the order."
"Yes sir," the AI replied, then sent the pre-prepared message through subspace.
'Phase three' was waiting just beyond the system's edge. It was a rapid response fleet, made up mostly of cruisers, with a handful of battle cruisers and a single battleship making up the core of the fleet.
"Elder," said a youngling aboard the Tau Void Fairer-class battleship Pious Inquisitor. "We are receiving the message from the human admiral. We are to accelerate our penetration into the system."
"Understood, J'Intar," Elder K'Hahn, fresh from the medical facilities orbiting Tia'n, home world of the Tau race and known to the humans as Tau Ceti Alpha, said as he gently stretched his neck. Although cleared to return to his duties, the Elders' wounds had been grievous and he still experienced pains every now and again.
"Order all ships to warm up their hyper drives and prepare for imminent hostile contact," K'Hahn said, and found himself curiously eager for the coming battle. A measure of vengeance, perhaps. He rolled his shoulders and drew in a deep breath as the swirling vortex to hyperspace erupted into being before his command ship.
The ship jolted violently as it entered and then exited hyperspace within just a few moments, and in the three seconds it took for the shields to come online after the jump, five golden plasma bolts impacted along the length of the battleship as an enemy cruiser narrowly averted impacting against the side of the much larger Tau vessel.
Instantly, the Inquisitor's serried guns spoke, laser pulses, plasma bolts and rail spikes hammering the smaller cruiser as it attempted to escape, battering down the shields and obliterating the hull in moments.
"All cruisers, break from the main formation and hunt the enemy ships amongst us," K'Hahn ordered as the Inquisitor's shields sprang to life in time to intercept a small flurry of plasma bolts. The barrier ripple violently as it fought of the superheated energy projectiles, and then the battleships guns spoke again, firing in ordered volleys that quickly wore down another enemy cruiser.
K'Hahn's large eyes widened further as the Pious Inquisitor was brought around to face Admiral Vladislov's fleet. The fleet was perhaps eight thousand kilometres distant, and it was impossible to pick out any details, but the distant explosions and shield flares told the Elder that his esteemed colleague was in the thick of it.
Another hundred or so thousand kilometres beyond, he could make out tiny flares of light that indicated Admiral Porcini's fleet was also heavily engaged.
"Launch defence squadrons and get us into the thick of it quickly," K'Hahn ordered, and the Inquisitor trembled as her great engines were fed and she hurtled through space, gaining speed surprisingly quickly for such a large vessel.
Darting from the dual fighter bays, twenty-four Sabre Space Superiority Fighters took up defensive formations around their mother ship, and the process was repeated many times over as the entire fleet launched their own defence fighters.
Flight Leader P'Tar exhaled sharply as the engaging fleets in the distance rapidly grew in size, and before he knew it, he and the rest of the Stone Cutters were in the thick of it. P'Tar wrenched his craft around sharply as a pair of Death Gliders decided he was a likely target, and he quickly sent a missile into the cock pit of one and clipped the other with a hail of plasma bolts.
The little ship spun again as warning lights flared, and he brought it under control in time to dive under a battle cruiser as its gun batteries fired a volley. The cockpit of the fighter polarised instantly, but P'Tar still had to cover his eyes as plasma bolts larger than the plane he flew shot past him, and the temperature rose considerably.
P'Tar gasped out a curse as he emerged from under the battle cruiser straight into a close quarters dog fight between a dozen interceptors and twice that number in gliders.
"Great Elder, guide me," he murmured as golden plasma streaked past him, and pulled back on the control yoke, leading another glider up behind him. Plasma shuddered against his rear shields, and the fighter wobbled under the impacts. P'Tar jammed the yoke forward, clenching the firing studs as the fighter went almost instantaneously from a climb to a dive, and plasma bolts stitch across the stars before tearing into the glider and destroying it in a brief explosion of gasses and metals.
He sought a new target quickly, and sent a missile up its tail pipe as it hunted an interceptor, then whirled the Sabre around and pumped plasma into the hindquarters of a gunboat that was making a run at a nearby cruiser. Despite the inertial dampeners, the gee forces were starting to get to him, and he pressed a small button on his console that dispensed a tiny dose of stimulants, just enough to make sure he wouldn't pass out.
New targets pooped up on his scanner, and he pulled around in a relatively wide arc to bring them into line with his guns. There were four of them, and the looked at first like Death Gliders, but the wings were swept further down, the guns were more prominent and the cockpit was smaller, clearly design for just one occupant.
As he watched, one of them broke of to engage a Scorpion Interceptor that wandered too close. The interceptor, out of missiles, fired a small series of laser bursts into the glider, thinking it enough to destroy the craft. P'Tar watched in amazement as a golden band of energy sprang to life around the glider, fending off the laser bursts, and then the glider returned fire.
The bolts were the same colour as those the normal gliders fired, but were smaller and fired much more quickly, and the interceptor was torn to pieces in a second.
P'Tar switched from squadron frequency to fleet-wide. "All units, be aware. I've spotted four bogies of a new design, they have shields. Repeat, new bogies have shields!"
And then he was amongst them, his quad plasma cannons pulsing silently, and the ship that destroyed the interceptor was hammered brutally with a three second burst that wore down its shields and clipped the engine. That craft spiralled out of control for several kilometres, before crashing into the side of a battleship.
Small plasma bolts spat back at him in return from two of the other gliders, and P'Tar cursed and whipped the control yoke around violently as they streaked past, several of them catching his shields. He corkscrewed his craft, turning around the side of a crippled battle cruiser, the two gliders hot on his tail.
Better manoeuvring, too, damn it, he cursed in his head as plasma splashed against the ruined armour of the hulk all around him. Dodging around a mangled rail gun turret, he brought his ship around in a one-eighty and immediately blind fired a missile. The streaking warhead missed the two gliders, but detonated against the hull of the battle cruiser and sent chunks of shrapnel flying in all direction. The second glider, closer to the blast than the first, careened violently away from the explosion, its pilot panicking, and rammed at speed into large piece of armour that had peeled back from the rest of the ship.
The other glider spun around in a tight circle, spraying plasma at P'Tar's craft, and P'Tar goosed the throttle as several bolts splashed against his shields. A soft but persistent ringing told him that his shields were close to failing. P'Tar flew desperately, randomly manoeuvring his craft as plasma continued to chase him around the wreck of the battle cruiser.
He pulled up over the top of the ship, caught a glimpse of a pair of interceptors chasing an enemy gunboat, then went vertical, the glider sticking to him like glue. The fighter shuddered as several more plasma bolts splashed against his rear shields, then the alarm took on a shrill tone, telling him his shields were now offline.
Another plasma bolt struck the stubby wing to his left, and a brief fire erupted then suffocated in the vacuum as P'Tar momentarily lost control, the Sabre spinning madly and narrowly avoiding another volley of plasma. He spied the Endeavour ahead, opened the throttle as far as it would go, and rocketed toward the human battleship, his shadow still with him.
He had never flown so desperately in his life, and was sweating heavily as another plasma bolt struck the armoured section above his engines, and then he was inside the Endeavour's Laser Net engagement envelope, and thin streaks of light flashed out from the battleship, burning past P'Tar's besieged craft and eliminating the glider behind him.
P'Tar, glad to be alive, flew past the bridge of the ship slowly and waggled his wings in thanks, then radioed the Inquisitor and requested emergency repairs before speeding off toward his mother ship, and momentary safety.
Admiral Porcini gripped his armrests tightly and watched his tactical display with concern. Despite the reinforcements and the impressive kill ratio of the ordered and disciplined Allied fleets against the erratic enemy ships, it wasn't enough.
"Catalina, best assessment on the outcome of this battle," he ordered quietly.
"Best assessment," she said. "Not good. The enemy still outnumbers us three-to-one, and incoming reports from the fighter squadrons indicate the enemy is fielding a new fighter craft, much more effective than their standard ships. I'd recommend a tactical retreat, but since I already know you won't go for that, out best bet is to link up with the other Allied fleets in-system and give each other mutual protection."
Porcini sighed. This was not how he imagined the liberation of Eden Prime would go. But then, he reminded himself ruefully, since when does everything go according to plan.
"Send the orders," he said, then slumped dejectedly into his command chair.
Lance Corporal Benjamin Ellis grit his teeth as a plasma bolt splashed against the Instacrete beside his head, raised his rifle and sent a flurry of rail spikes in the direction the shot had come from.
He was taking cover behind a pillar in the lobby of an office building across the street form the Our Lady Of Hope General Hospital, where a large force Jaffa were bunkered down and giving the Marines hell. They had linked up with local Army forces less than a kilometre from the hospital, twenty men who had held back an enemy advance for more than a day. For such a densely populated, albeit relatively 'new' colony, Eden Primes Army was vary small, and several of their bases had been obliterated from orbit, leaving only a small garrison to defend the city with the Marines.
The Army troopers weren't equipped with power armour, but had trauma plates and Seeker glasses, and were standard-issued with laser rifles. One such trooper cried out as his left arm was separated at the elbow from a lucky strike from a staff weapon, and Ellis shouted in anger and fired another burst through a second storey window in the hospital.
He nodded in satisfaction as a Jaffa warrior tumbled out of the window and hit the street below, then duck back behind the pillar as more staff fire swept down at him.
"We can't hold this position forever!," an Army trooper yelled to no-one in particular, and a staff cannon blast sent chunks of Instacrete flying as if to prove the point. Ellis agreed with the man whole-heartedly, but they couldn't retreat and they couldn't demolish the building with artillery, as it was going to be needed after the invaders were kicked out.
Which meant they would eventually have to advance. And Ellis was not looking forward to that; the enemy was well dug in and had the advantage this time. As he pondered their options, a Razorback IFV careened through the street, the light machine gun chattering away at the hospital's second floor, and forcing a number of Jaffa into cover.
A staff cannon blast slammed into the side of the light armoured vehicle, burning a hole in the armour and flipping it on its side. Razorbacks were outdated, having been the primary armoured vehicle during the Alkaid War, and the Army and the Marine Corps had a surplus of the vehicles even now. Being so old, they didn't have shield generators or energy weapons, and the armour was constructed of an outdated alloy not designed to withstand the heat discharge of plasma weapons.
Thus, the impact was catastrophic to the driver and two gunners inside the vehicle, killing the rail gunner instantly, flash frying the machine gunner and horribly scalding the flesh of the driver. The mans screams echoed above the sound of battle for a long time before finally dying out with a gurgle.
Ellis shivered inside his armour, and fired a stream of rail rounds up at the cannon emplacement in rage, missing the operator but damaging the weapon so that it was rendered useless.
"Corporal Ellis," a tinny voice chirped in his ear. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Engstrom, Colonel Burnside is unavailable."
"Yes sir," Ellis said, his voice sounding strange to his ears, as though he were hearing it for the first time. It took him a moment to realise that his ears were ringing from the constant sounds of fighting, despite the audio dampers in his helmet.
"Corporal, I hate to do this to you and your men, but we need that hospital," Engstrom's voice sounded again. "You are to advance on the hospital and sweep and clear, floor by floor, by any and all means necessary. You will have reinforcements arriving sometime in the next half-hour. Do you understand?"
Ellis poked his head round the pillar, eyeing the hospital warily. Advancing would be costly, and, looking back at the men huddled in the building with him, he knew that many of them wouldn't live to talk about it, maybe not even himself.
"Corporal?," Engstrom queried. "Corporal Ellis, do you hear me, son?"
"Yes sir, I understand," Ellis finally replied.
Rear Echelon Mother Fucker! Ellis screamed inside his head. Burnside would never order us to advance without support.
"Okay, guys," Ellis said aloud to the men with him. "I've had the word from up on high. We're advancing momentarily."
"Bullshit!," someone yelled, and the others started cursing and rebelling against the idea.
"We'll be cut to pieces before we make ten paces," another man said, closer this time.
"Look, guys, it's not like we have a choice, so quit busting my balls and prepare to move out," Ellis ground out, immediately regretting. Truth was, he shared all the doubts his men did.
They were still grumbling, but they were taking in mouthfuls of water, checking their armour and ammo all the same. Ellis sucked in a deep breath, waited a heart beat, then yelled, "Now!" And leapt around his pillar and took of at speed across the street.
Plasma bolts immediately rained down to meet him, splashing into the ground all around, sending molten geysers of dirt and rock flying into the air. Time seemed to slow down, his rifle spat titanium slivers at the hospital, barely aimed but still succeeding in knocking down a Jaffa.
The man beside Ellis, an Army trooper, fell to the ground, a smouldering hole in his chest, and Ellis pressed forward even as a plasma bolt grazed past his left shoulder, setting the armoured pauldron aglow with residual heat. He fired another long burst, sending half a dozen Jaffa into cover, and was hit in the left leg for his troubles.
Ellis dropped like a stone, unharmed thanks to the power armour, and his rifle skittered away from him across the hard surface of the road. He was less than twenty metres away from the hospital lobby, and several men ran past him, two of them being cut down before making it to the comparative safety of the outer lobby and engaging the small group of Jaffa defending it.
A strong hand grabbed Ellis by the arm as he tried to stand, a little dazed from his fall, and lifted him to his feet. Someone shouted something right beside his head, then he was shoved forward, stumbling before breaking into a run.
As he reached cover beside a pair of Tau Marines and a small group of Army troopers, three Rover gun drones sped around the corner on their tracks, moving at their top speed of 45 kilometres per hour. The drones were one-point-four metres long, half a metre wide and equipped with a single anti-personnel laser cannon, and their tracks chewed up the small garden in the nature strip outside the ambulance bay of the hospital as they opened up, spraying the second floor with laser pulses as they moved, before disappearing from sight round the side of the building.
Ellis drew his sidearm, a plasma pistol, and armed it before peeking over the collapsed slab of Instacrete he hid behind. Golden energy raked the slab immediately, and Ellis ducked and cursed. Nearer to the entrance, two Army troopers ducked from cover to toss grenades, one of them losing his head to a plasma bolt before he could get back into cover.
Inside, a bright flash and a loud shrieking indicated one of the grenades had been a flash-bang stun grenade, and a second later a much deeper boom sounded out and pieces of masonry were shattered and flung all around as lethal projectiles as the high explosive grenade detonated.
The effect was immediate; the volume of fire coming from the lobby interior slackened considerably, and as one, the thirty or so Marines and troopers charged in in a dervish of criss-crossing lines of fire that obliterated any remaining Jaffa resistance. After a brief moment, the lobby was declared secure, and the group of humans and Tau moved on, leaving a four-man fire team to hold the lobby.
"Colonel Engstrom, we've secured the lobby and are moving on to secure the rest of the floor," Ellis reported in breathlessly. "We suffered moderate casualties, maybe a dozen men total. Those reinforcements you promised would sure come in handy right now, sir."
"Excellent work," Engstrom's crackled over the link. "ETA on those reinforcements is momentary, they should be with you in less than sixty seconds."
"Understood, sir, thank you," Ellis said. There was no reply this time, and he shrugged it off as he made his way over to one of the fallen troopers. "Sorry, man, but I need this more than you right now," he murmured as he picked up the man's laser rifle and six reloads from his body. It was surprisingly quiet for the time being, and somewhere above the city Ellis heard what sounded like a sonic boom.
He shrugged his shoulders, the armoured pauldrons adhering to his movements, then stepped away from the body and started towards a set of doors that led deeper into the hospital, his men falling in behind him.
The Stealth Cruiser Duntroon was alone in the rings of Saldiris, except for the three enemy cruisers hunting the ship. With the ACSIS offline due to damage, she was easily enough tracked by the advanced warships of the Goa'uld.
Commander Collison was less than pleased with her predicament. The rocks within the Saldiris rings were battering the cruisers' shields despite the efforts of the gun batteries to ward them off. Most of the rocks were small, doing little damage when they made it past the Laser Net system, but every now and then a much larger rock or chunk of spatial debris would make it past the fire of the rail guns to hammer the shields.
That coupled with sporadic fire from the Duntroon's pursuers was slowly wearing down the Stealth Cruisers' shields, and because she was outgunned by just one of those ships, let alone three, there was nothing Collison could really do to ward them off. Somewhere amongst the rings, probably a million miles away, there were three other Stealth Cruisers, all of them doing their best to avoid being destroyed by their own pursuers.
"Bring us out of the rings," Collison ordered. "There's nothing we can do about those ships for now, but we can at least avoid being hammered to a paste by asteroids."
He orders were carried out silently by her bridge crew, and in moments the Duntroon was free from the rings and accelerating away from the planets gravity well. Less than a thousand kilometres from the rings, the cruiser shuddered and Collison jolted forward in her command chair.
"We are receiving fire to our flanks from two enemy gunboats, ma'am," Lieutenant Jung at the Sensors console reported a moment later, and the ship shuddered again as the shields flared visibly just beyond the bridge view port and two gunboats flashed by, firing their cannons continuously into the shields and occasionally releasing one of their energy charges, essentially an anti-ship bomb.
As she watched, the Laser Net guns dotted around the ship opened up at the gunboats, criss-crossing streams of laser pulses stitching their way through space and intersecting as several of them met one of the gunboats. The gunboat's own shields flared brilliantly for a few moments, then gave out and the ship was torn apart by the lasers.
The other gunboat moved away at speed, making it just beyond the Laser Net systems effective range before turning back and preparing to return to the three cruisers which were rapidly gaining on the Duntroon. It didn't make it far, however, before five anti-fighter missiles launched from one of the Duntroon's batteries caught up with it and destroyed it.
Commander Collison watched the approach of the three enemy ships on her tactical display and considered her options. She could order the ship to retreat to hyperspace, but until specifically ordered to do so, it might be considered an act of desertion by HICOMM, and such things were frowned upon, to say the least.
There was no way her ship could outrun the Goa'uld for long, that was evidenced by the fact that the Duntroon's sub-light drives were operating at the maximum safe levels and yet the three ships were still gaining on them. Nothing short of a battle cruiser could hope to take on three advanced cruisers and expect any kind of success.
She was at a loss for what to do, something which had never happened to her before. Collison shook her head, and came to her decision, just as the three ships entered their maximum engagement range and golden plasma bolts began racing through the dark void. Most of them missed, but enough of them hit that it had a noticeable drain on the Duntroon's shields.
"Helm, bring us about to a lateral course with the enemy ships," she ordered. "WEPSCOM, prepare our port batteries for a broadside followed by time-on-target volleys, have them concentrate their fire on the Number Two enemy ship."
As she said it, she indicated the ship on her tac-display, and her orders were carried out with a quiet intensity. As the Duntroon swung about, her portside gun batteries opened up all at once with a lethal mix of laser pulses, rail spikes and plasma bursts at the targeted ship, followed a split second later by a pair of nukes.
The distant Goa'uld cruiser became a miasma of light as explosions of energy erupted all over its shield, and then disappeared completely behind twin nuclear detonations that watered the eye of the beholder. The crew watched with baited breath to see if they had managed to get lucky and destroy the enemy ship, but it didn't take long before it emerged from the fading light of the explosions unharmed, its shield still faintly aglow.
Immediately, the gunnery crew fired again, this time firing the plasma cannons first, then the rail-guns and finally the laser cannons, all the shots carefully timed so that by the time the plasma had reached the target, the rail spikes and laser pulses will have caught up, ensuring maximum damage at once.
Again the distant ship lit up, its shield valiantly resisting the heavy fire coming its way, and again the shield held strong and the ship continued on unharmed, finally coming into range of the Duntroon's ace in the hole. Even as the Duntroon shuddered more and more violently with each consecutive hit from the enemies guns, the Ion Cannon acquired its target and fired, lancing into the ship as though it were some giant boil on the face of the universe.
Finally, the shield collapsed under the strain, and the remaining energy from the ion shot destroyed one of the points on the ships outer hull. Rail-gun spikes and laser pulses raked across the ship as plasma simply boiled through whatever it came into contact with, chewing away at the ships armoured hull before finaly hitting something vital and sending the ship critical, detonating in a spectacular display.
The Duntroon's victory was short-lived, however, as the two remaining ships intensified their fire and the cruisers shield flared more and more brightly as it tried to fight off the overwhelming energies arrayed against it.
"Shield failure imminent," someone called out, and Collison braced herself for when the shields collapsed. The Duntroon was no battleline ship, her armour wasn't thick enough to withstand more than a handful of hits from those plasma cannons. It was over, and Collison knew it. There wasn't even time to evacuate the ship, and even if there had been, she was sure the Goa'uld would destroy any lifeboats that were launched.
"Hyperspace window on our portside!," Jung cried out. "Practically on top of us!"
"Now what," Collison said quietly to herself watching the newly formed tear in sub-space intently. What happened next, she certainly didn't expect.
A ship of completely unknown design leapt from the hyperspace window. She couldn't make out any details, but the ship was about the size of a battle cruiser and looked almost like a hammer that had had it's handle squashed flat, and at the rear of the vessel near the end of the 'wing' stretched what looked like four skyscrapers, two reaching up from the dorsal side, two hanging from the ventral side.
The two attacking cruisers immediately changed targets and hit the newcomer with everything they had. A brilliant blue shield flared around the points of contact, shrugging off the plasma blasts with apparent ease, and then the hammer-ship returned fire.
Three blue bolts of energy erupted from the bow of the ship, hitting their target with enough power to force the Goa'uld cruiser shield to flare up entirely as it tried to disperse the energy over the entire surface of the shield. Three more identical to the first salvo were fired from turret mounts locate near the rear of the ship, just on front of the two towers on the starboard, followed shortly after by another three from the portside as the vessel brought itself around to face the two enemy ships directly.
The Goa'uld ships shield resisted four more such bolts before the shield collapsed and the remaining two bolts destroyed the ship outright. The other cruiser started to accelerate away from the newcomer, and was chased down by a massed salvo of energy bolts that tore it apart before it made it more than a few hundred kilometres.
The entire bridge crew was gaping out the view ports up at the ship that had saved them, and when Collison finally tore her eyes away from the view to look at her tactical display, she saw that two more such ships had jumped in nearby. Zooming out for a full in-system view, thanks to long-range sub-space networking between all allied ships, she saw that more than three dozen more identical ships had jumped into the system at various points, and where they had engaged the enemy, the Goa'uld had run away, many of them even retreating into hyperspace.
In a number of cases, Allied ships had rallied around the hammer-ships and were driving back the Goa'uld. She couldn't believe it; they had gone from tactical retreat to routing the enemy in moments, all thanks to their unknown friends.
The Duntroon's communications suite activated, indicating an incoming message, and without being told to do so, someone punched it up on the main screen. Collison blinked rapidly in amazement as she looked into the face of an alien. It looked like a Grey, a common conception of the appearance of extra-terrestrial visitors in the 20th and 21st centuries.
"Greetings, Humans of Earth and esteemed Tau. I am Supreme Commander Thor of the Asgard," the being said in a voice that was almost musical. "Our allies of the Tok'ra indicated that you may be in need of assistance."
Complete silence reigned on the bridge of the Duntroon, and on the bridge of every other ship in the fleet, for this communiqué was being transmitted to every Allied ship in-system. Collison, mouth agape, swallowed slightly, and somewhere in the rear of the bridge somebody coughed.
A/N: Apologies for the long wait, but RL tends to get in the way of my hobbies, and work has been a real bitch of late (so has my now-ex-girlfriend, but that's another story). Anyway, know that I can make no promises as to when the update will be as I don't know if I'll be getting any time off work anytime soon. I'd say expect the next chapter shortly before Christmas at best. Unless I get weekends to myself again before then, in which case, I honestly don't know. BUT, also know that this story will NEVER be abandoned, I fully intend to finish.
Also, please try to be understanding of the unfortunate fact that I do have more important things to do than work on this story (I wish it wasn't so, but then if wishes were horses…)