Author's Note: First: I accidentally posted chapter nine twice, but I fixed that, so go read chapter nine before this one. Second: I make use of a lot of Freespace canon, much of which is based on the Freespace Jump Node Map. This is a map released by Volition inc. along with the first game, Descent: Freespace. I have posted this map, as well as two others, on in order to provide a reference for readers and other fan-writers. The second map has several jump nodes that are utilized in the game but not present on the official map, and are therefore known as "pseudo-canon" nodes; because they are as good as canon, with the exception of two, I will make use of them in this fanfiction. The third map is a further modification including names for the Nebula and Unknown Binary System in Freespace 2, as well as eleven more systems that I have taken from actual stars, and which I will utilize in later chapters herein. Third: my chapters are going to get longer…
Disclaimer: Volition-inc. owns Descent: Freespace, Admiral Shima, and several other things. I own Vincent Schaard, Lt. Risnan, and Lorkhena as well as most of the plot, except where it intertwines with or makes reference to the plot of the game.
Fun Fact: When the Shivans first appeared, it was in outer space, and they bore strange and powerful technology: energy-based shielding, strafing capability, and stealth technology to name a few. The stealth nature of their ships was more of a lack of information on their ships' sensors than intentional sensor deflection, meaning that they could be seen but not targeted. The shields were stolen from Shivan cargo depots and then reverse-engineered. Terran and Vasudan shields proved to be considerably weaker than their Shivan counterparts, but neither seemed to work in subspace. This was one solution to the problem of the SD Lucifer, which was equipped with a shield so powerful as to be completely impervious to all Terran and Vasudan weaponry. Because the Lucifer's shields appeared to function on the same principles as those found on fighters and bombers, the GTA decided the only way to destroy it would be if it could be engaged in subspace.
Chapter Eleven: 4/2/2335 A Desperate Move
Still wearing our flight suits, we gather in the Bastion's hangar for a quick mission brief.
"Well," says Risnan, "here's the plan, then. We have to disable the Dreadnought's engines; the Wolf-Luyten jump node is too short to allow for its destruction. The Dreadnought has two separate engine subsystems, so we'll have to destroy both of them. That brings me to my next topic: our squadron will be responsible for disabling the Dreadnought. Unfortunately, the Apollo fighter is incapable of mounting the most useful weapon for the job, the Stiletto bomb, so we'll be flying Athenas.
"Now, I know you've become attached to your Apollos, and for good reason, but this is one of those missions that requires a change of tactics. I've flown an Athena before, and I can tell you that although it's classified as a bomber, it makes a great fighter; it has low front and side profiles, precise primary hard-points, and it's faster and nearly as maneuverable as the Hercules. There have been a few minor modifications to number 12 to allow you to fly it, Garamande.
"The plan is to launch a diversionary bomber assault with Ursas and Hercules escort; the Hercules is our toughest fighter and will count for a lot since our shields don't function in subspace. Keep this in mind: you rely on your hull integrity alone, just like in the heydays of your training. Your hull won't repair itself, so don't get blown up by your own missiles. Let's go!"
"I hope this is going to work," says Lawrence.
"I'll make it work," says Sanford.
"It's one hell of a crazy stunt they're going with," says Tate, "A million things could go wrong, but it'll be damned exciting."
Our two destroyers, the Bastion and the Hope, cannot engage the Dreadnought, nor can they wait near the node. In order to catch up with it before it completes its jump, both the Bastion and Hope are waiting outside the Dreadnought's sensor range, and they're preparing to make an intrasystem jump to a point just outside of the Luyten 726-8 A node.
It's a very risky maneuver, and if the jump calculations are so much as a thousandth of a percent off, we'll all be liquefied in an instant. We head for our new ships, and although I know they won't replace our Apollos, I feel a sort of contempt for the Athena. All of them are pristine, as if they just came off the assembly line, all except one.
It's scarred, blackened, and battered, and it has the number "3" on it.
"Whose Athena is that?" Al asks.
"It's mine," Risnan takes a few steps forward, "My last squadron was double-duty: The 7th Golden Eagles, guard and light bomber squadron. This is the same Athena I flew in the Toliman Engagement…when Shima was my captain."
"I didn't know you flew in the Toliman Engagement!" says Lawrence, "That was the first deployment of the Athena, and it really surprised a lot of people."
"I spent half of my training in an Athena," says Tate, "I can't wait to lift off; I've been itching to fire off on of the new Synaptic Bombs."
"Shima was the one who brought the Athena such high accolades," says Risnan, "Most pilots can't see past the low hull integrity and small missile banks; a lot of people took it to be a lousy excuse for a bomber when it first came off the assembly lines, but Shima flew it like a pro. We must have used it like a fighter as often as we used the Apollo."
"Attention: the Dreadnought is 160 meters from the Luyten 726-8 A node," the intercom buzzes, "All pilots and crew prepare for intra-system jump."
"Saddle up, boys and girls," says Risnan, "We come back from this one with our shields or on 'em."
As we get into our new ships, Lorkhena asks me, "What does Risnan's last statement mean?"
"It's an ancient saying from back on Earth," I reply, "Some soldiers in the medieval era would fight with body-length shields made of wood or iron. If a soldier returned from a battle shield in hand, he was victorious, but if he died in battle, he would be returned, lying on his shield. It's just another way of saying 'do or die.'"
"There is a saying much like it from my culture. However, it requires a thorough knowledge of our language, as well as the follies of ancient Vasudans: those who lived during the early years of the Vasudan Imperium," now we're all strapped in, and I decide to continue the conversation after the mission.
The Bastion makes the jump, and we arrive safely, only a few hundred meters from the node. None of us has ever had to fight in subspace; I don't feel very confident, and I can only imagine what everyone else is thinking.
"One last thing, boys and girls: don't stray too far from the Bastion, Hope, or Dreadnought. Intersystem jump nodes are not safe to explore, and I'm sure you've heard of some of the stuff that happened in early subspace tests."
"Sure have," I say, "A cruiser once tried turning around in transit, and it was broken down into its basic elements. It all came out at the other end: just a fog of carbon and iron particles."
We begin to enter the subspace node. I hear Admiral Shima's voice in my headset: "All ships launch, now!"
As we lift off in formation, I see the Dreadnought looming up ahead of us. Against the subspace vortex, the Dreadnought looks like it isn't moving at all. In fact, time seems to have stopped as well; time has been getting pretty lazy lately. However, this time, the stillness is filled with silent, nameless dread. I can only imagine this is how those pilots must have felt chasing the first Lucifer to Sol…
Al breaks the spell, "Let's get a move on!"
Then Sanford, "Armed and raring to go!"
The rest of us check in, and Risnan says: "Now we wait for the diversionary force to move in; keep your engine speed low, and wait for my signal."
I can see Ron, across from me in our formation and very bored.
I say, "How's that bomber treating you, Ron?""It's pretty nimble; I've only flown one in the simulator, and it doesn't come close to the real thing. I wish I'd had one of these for that strike in Barnard's Star."
Then, Terran Command cuts in, "Both wings of bombers have been deployed and their escorts are in position."
"That's my cue," says Risnan, "and yours; time to get going, boys and girls."
I can see two wings of fighters emerging from the Dreadnought's fighter bays. They don't seem to see us as a threat, and head for the bombers and their escort first. They've taken the bait.
"Split up," Risnan says, "Don't stick to any one ship."
In my moment of distraction, two wings of Basilisk fighters were deployed. Now, they're heading for us. We break apart, and I instinctively understand which fighter to go after; we all do, based on how well we know each others' abilities and fighting styles.
I expect Ron to fire off all his guns into the closest fighter and then blast through the explosion, and he does. I expect Al to launch a missile to distract a fighter and make it reveal a larger profile. I expect Tate to start off with some missiles, MX-50s, which are useful once more in a place where shields don't matter. I expect Sanford to zip past one fighter, stop, and turn around to fire at it from behind.
They all make their moves, and all successfully, despite the unfamiliarity of their bombers. We do have a bit of an edge, of course: Shivan fighters and bombers rely heavily on their shields, so their hulls are typically very weak. The Athena is the weakest bomber in the GTA, but its hull is more than twice as strong as that of a Basilisk fighter. Not only that, but our Athenas are fitted with the Flail gun: a laser weapon that can knock its target around. Although it's more useful against bombers, moving them will mess up target-lock, it has a high rate of fire, and is a weapon type that we have not yet seen the Shivans use.
With most of the fighters already being attended to, I continue on course to the Dreadnought. We don't have much time left, so I look over at Risnan, remembering to check his movements. I expect him to take on two fighters at once by intentionally flying in front of one as he sets the other in his sights, but he doesn't; instead, he's set his engines to full power and is firing his afterburners to reach the Dreadnought in time. I do the same, following close behind.
The Dreadnought is even more massive than I expected, but I try to ignore its size as I target its engines. Risnan has stopped and is starting to fire on engine 1, so I fly past him to go after engine 2. I switch to twin-fire mode and am very glad the Athena can hold so many Stilettos; my first two shots only cut 4% out of the engine subsystem, so I hold down the trigger and keep my eyes open for nearby fighters.
"Schaard, what the hell are you doing?!" Risnan's voice bursts into my headset, "Go after the fighters, I can handle this!"
"There's no time!" I say, "We need to get this done as quickly as possible!"
"I can't take any more," George says, "I've got to take this crate back to the hangar before I get any more holes in it."
"Damn it, Schaard!" says Risnan, "Get back to the squad, they need your \\\\\\\\\\\\\\"
I turn to see a small fire on Risnan's tail: his communications are out. He quickly makes scrap metal out of a Scorpion nearby, probably the one that did the damage. For a second, I thought he was a goner. A little paranoia takes hold of me, and I check my immediate area for any threats. Finding none, I resume my previous vigilance, but now with a mind for Risnan's ship as well as my own.
31%: I'm almost there. I check on the rest of the squadron; George seems to have made it back to the Bastion all right, and the rest are still fighting off Shivans, trying to get closer to the Dreadnought's engines. Risnan is doing fine as well, and then, I see the engine subsystem burst into flames: 0%.
Risnan begins to head in my direction, to help finish off the other engine subsystem, but something is wrong. Risnan's ship isn't moving as fast as it should, and it's turning to the left slightly. I would have put it down to the age of the ship, were it not for black shard of metal protruding from its reactor.
The lights shut off and Risnan's Athena bursts apart.