Chapter Eleven – Into the Sea of Stars
USS Nautilus BCS-304A/US-01A
Mars Belt, Sol System
August 28, 2004
Paperwork. It had been the bane of his career. It had followed him up the chain of command and even out among the stars. If there was one thing that Colonel Steven Caldwell hated more than anything else in life it was paperwork.
Granted these days it was done on a holographic slate but the principle behind it hadn't changed. Looking down at the offending device sitting on his desk he let out a rather overdramatic sigh. Among the privacy of his office, just off the bridge he could afford the luxury of throwing a minor tantrum without losing anyone's respect.
His office, which he steadfastly refused to call a 'ready room' and which was really a sea cabin, one of the more egregious mistakes from 'that' TV series, was one of the many features to be found aboard Earth's newest weapon of war. Dwarfing the Prometheus at eight hundred and ninety five meters long, the Nautilus was a thing of beauty, a razor sharp sword ready to be plunged into anyone and anything that made the mistake of offending the peoples of humanity's homeworld.
It still amazed him at how fast it'd been built. Four months from the laying down of her keel to launch. It was one of the first major projects to be fabricated, assembled and finished with little to no human interaction in American history. Constructed at the Groom Lake Shipyards, the Nautilus was the first ship to be constructed using the truly revolutionary nano-lathe system. A combination of Systems Alliance, Asgard and good old fashioned human know-how, the system used massive versions of the minifacturing technology found within common omni-tools, transporters, mass effect fields, autonomous construction robots and some of the most sophisticated VIs ever developed to supercharge the normal construction process. Every component from her drive assemblies to the bolts that attached her armor to her hull had been formed on a molecular scale, transported into place and then welded together with lasers and nanites.
It was a process that had proceeded twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The result was a ship more than twice the size of the original 'Daedalus' concept built in less than half the time, built to tolerances that would've been unimaginable just a year before and with absolutely no construction waste. Financially it was a boon as there was no need to pay for the millions of man hours otherwise needed. When the other three construction pits came online, they'd be able to pump out up to twelve Nautilus class battlecruisers a year, to say nothing of the smaller pits slated to construct DDS-SR2A Ptolemaeus class stealth destroyers based on the Normandy SR2, FFS-SR1A Tyco class stealth frigates based on the SR1 and C/S-25A Achilles class military freighters.
He'd had a conversation about this with Colonel Carter and it'd proven enlightening as well as disturbing. It wasn't just that the Nautilus and her sisters represented humanity extending the limits of our power beyond our world. It was the dawn of an entirely new economic order, one in which endless consumption and the constant need for more and more growth would give way to a world in which the production of 'things' was almost meaningless, an economy of ideas and innovation, much like what the Asgard currently enjoyed. For someone who'd grown up during the Cold War and who'd been taught that Capitalism was one of the greatest concepts in history, the idea was unsettling.
That said if it allowed a ship like this to be built in four months cold he could adapt. He'd spent his whole life doing just that from his time flying F-4 Phantoms against the North Vietnamese to command of a squadron of B-2 Spirits dropping bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan. He just hoped the world could do so as well.
Signing his name for the umpteenth time, he chanced a look out the 'window'. 'Heh, window. Right.' He was deep within the hull of the battlecruiser, hundreds of meters from the outer hull. The designers, knowing that the desire to look out at the stars was not only a luxury but a necessity for the mental health of the crew yet not wanting the structural vulnerability a transparent material would represent had come up with a rather unique idea. Rather than basically punching holes in the ship's armor belt, they'd installed hundreds of holographic 'screens' throughout the ship. Linked to the main sensor grid, these devices could display anything a person could want from a view of the stars to high definition sports with the touch of a button.
It was amazing what the geeks could come up with when let off the leash.
Turning back to his work, Caldwell was interrupted by the chirp of the comm system. "Bridge to Caldwell," came the voice of his XO, Major Kevin Marks.
"Sir, I've got an incoming transmission from Earth for you."
"Transfer it to my terminal."
"Yes sir, Marks out." A moment later a window with a spinning Air Force Seal appeared on his computer, the identity of the sender displayed beneath it. Tapping a key and knowing that the ship's VI was running an invasive scan of him to confirm that he really was Colonel Steven Caldwell, the image was replaced by one of the most powerful men in the entirety of the US Military Chain of Command and indeed the whole of Earth.
"General Hammond, what can I do for you sir?"
"Steven, what's the status of the Nautilus?"
"We've completed our shakedown run and are currently holding position adjacent to the Mars Belt to facilitate resupply."
"How long until you're completely restocked?"
Turning to another screen, Caldwell took note of the onboard ordinance levels, observing the numbers slowly ticked towards full. It was something else that surprised him about the ship's design.
Early on it had become apparent that the supplying the Nautilus would nearly bankrupt the Air Force. Between missiles, torpedoes, mass driver rounds, Thanix cartridges, fighter ammunition, fuel and spare parts they were looking at an annual supply cost of almost fifteen billion dollars; per ship. So rather than explode the budget, the designers had decided to cut the supply chain altogether. Each ship came equipped with its own mining drones and beams, both using modified versions of Asgard transporter technology, large scale omnigel converters and nano-lathes; all powered by the twin Neutrino-Ion Converters at the Nautilus' core. This way all she needed to restock her ordinance and/or make repairs was an asteroid belt or debris field and some time.
"We're currently at ninety two percent of capacity for missile chassis, ninety six on torpedoes, eighty nine on warheads, ninety seven on Thanix cartridges, a hundred on mass driver rounds, spare parts and fighter ordinance and eighty nine on fuel. ETA to full is about an hour and a half."
"Good. I need you at the Pentagon ASAP. Leave your ship to your XO and take a shuttle. You have a mission."
"Yes sir. Caldwell out," he said, terminating the transmission. Finishing the last of his long since cold coffee, he stood and exited the room onto the spacious bridge. A more compact design more in line with the Saratoga class mothership refits than the Normandy, whose CIC was based upon a Turian design, it was efficiently laid out. In the center stood the captain's chair, currently occupied by Marks who immediately stood.
"Major, you have command until I return. Prep a Kodiak for launch. I've got a meeting to attend to at the Pentagon and should return before you complete the resupply. If I don't I want you to take the ship into Earth orbit and wait for me."
"Yes sir. Any idea what this is about?"
"No but judging by the look on General Hammond's face it can't be anything pleasant. Speaking of which… Caldwell to Novak."
The voice of the twitchy former NASA engineer filtered through the comm, "Novak here."
"Doctor, please begin a fully diagnostic on all combat related systems. I have a feeling we'll be needing them soon."
"I'll get right on it sir… hic."
"Good, Caldwell out," replied the colonel, ignoring the doctor's nervous habit. In the three weeks he'd served with her he'd come to realize that pressuring Novak was a bad idea. Had she been Air Force he would've done something about it but she was a civilian, one of many that made sure his ship functioned at peak performance. That he would be taking non-military personnel into a combat situation was something unthinkable just a few years ago but like many other things, he'd adapted; and instituted mandatory weapons training for them all.
"Same old Novak," commented Marks with a grin.
Sighing, Caldwell left the bridge without saying anything else. A short trip through the intra-ship transporter network later he arrived at the shuttlebay, empty save for the numerous forms of the ten UT-47B Kodiak Shuttlecraft and a pair of UT-53B Ursus Assault Dropships. Entering the nearest shuttle, the small craft powered up and its hatch closed.
"Destination?" queried the VI.
"Pentagon. Arlington, Virginia, United States of America, Earth," he listed. Though VIs were remarkably useful tools, he'd quickly realized that he had to be extremely specific if he wanted them to do what he wanted in a timely fashion. It reminded him of the computer from Star Trek, not that he'd ever admit, even under torture, to watching that show. The Picard jokes were bad enough, made worse by the fact that he'd actually commanded the Ha'tak 'Enterprise' for a while, something that he would never forgive Shepard for.
The small shuttle sealed its hatch and took off, the bay door opening to allow it to exit. It was completely automated and for the former pilot, a little surreal. For the entire trip he wouldn't even have to touch a single control despite the fact that he'd be traveling half way across the solar system. The inertial dampening system was good enough for him to stand the entire way allowing him to look out the large windows on either side.
The Nautilus' shuttlebay was a dedicated facility located on the rear of the vessel, beneath the large armored 'plate' that topped her sleek form. Rather than lumping the smallcraft in with the fighters, the designers had added another bay to speed up operations. It was actually one of seven hanger bays located on the massive warship along with four fighter bays, two located back to back in each 'pod' along with a pair of mostly empty drone bays attached to the undersides of the hanger pod struts.
The shuttle threaded through the surprisingly busy space around the battlecruiser. Only a few kilometers away floated several large asteroids, lazily tumbling about. Beams of light from the various transporter nodes that dotted the warship were systematically reducing several to their constituent molecules to feed the construction systems. More beams, longer and thinner emerged from deeper within the belt, the matter streams briefly connecting the small, bug-like Q/M-09A Geologist Mining Microships to the Nautilus, their nimble forms easily going where the larger ship feared to tread in search of rarer minerals. More beams seemed to emerge from deep space, connecting the ship to the distant 'Poseidon' platform in low Uranus orbit, filling the mighty warship's hungry fuel cells with Helium-3.
Within seconds he noticed the stars begin to redshift, the jump to FTL both beautiful and entrancing. The view only lasted a few second before the stars reestablished themselves, the blue pearl of Earth appearing beneath him. Glancing at the system status display he noted the shuttle exchanging authorization codes with orbital traffic control at Vandenberg AFB before it began its de-orbital burn. Continuing to stand, he observed as the plasma streamers played off the Kodiak's shield bubble. The air thickened and the craft slowed, giving way to cloud formations and then the metropolis that was Washington DC.
The shuttle had come in on a low trajectory from the south, a long, curving path over the Potomac that gave him a good view of the Capital Building, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument and the White House before banking toward the building that, more than any other symbolized American military might.
Coming in for a final landing on one of a series of specially designed landing pads, he could see the traffic along the 395 slow to a virtual crawl, drivers eagerly watching the otherworldly craft land. Undoubtedly his arrival would feature heavily on the evening news; local, national and international. Waiting for him was a dark, undoubtedly armor plated town car that would take him to one the secure entrances. And beside it stood the man that the SGC had come to know, love and yet hope never to see: Lieutenant Colonel Paul 'Disaster' Davis.
This did not bode well.
Exiting the Kodiak, instructing the VI to handle core discharging procedures in his absence, he made his way toward the waiting officer and an unsurprisingly large marine escort. "Lieutenant Colonel Davis."
"Colonel Caldwell, welcome to the Pentagon. Good flight?"
"Short. Now care to explain why Disaster Davis is here to great me?"
Smirking at his nickname, Paul gestured to the car and waited for Caldwell to enter before following, the vehicle taking off a moment later. "It's not as bad as you think sir. Earth isn't under attack or under threat of attack but the situation is… complex. General Hammond will brief you in the situation room when we arrive along with your fellow taskforce captains."
"The USS Saratoga, HMCS Hudson and HMS Britannia are being placed under your command for the duration of this mission. Colonels Emerson, Cote and Group Captain Smith respectively will be taking orders from you for the duration."
Caldwell let out a long, low whistle at that. Whatever they were attacking was in deep trouble. Exiting the town car deep within the Pentagon's underground parking structure, a section normally reserved for Generals and Admirals, Caldwell was quickly rushed into the Situation Room. Waiting for him were the afore mentioned officers and Generals Hammond and O'Neill.
"Colonels, you're right on time," greeted Hammond, gesturing the two to a pair of unoccupied seats. "I'll get right down to it then. We've been contacted by one of the System Lords, Kali. She'd demanding military assistance to counter an offensive launched by Ba'al against Rakana, one of her most strategically important worlds."
That stunned everyone present. Jack was the first to recover from it however. "Where the hell does she get off demanding anything from us?"
"Unfortunately that was one of the little 'stipulations' they insisted be included in the treaty," sighed the old general, a look of irritation crossing his face. "It only allows them to call upon us under a very specific set of circumstances and unfortunately this qualifies."
"So we're supposed to go in and pull their arses out of the fire?" asked Captain Smith, rolling his eyes. "Any Intel on what we might be facing?"
"Ba'al has committed almost forty of his Ha'tak to this battle, all of them Ba'al or Anubis refits," interjected Davis, displaying the relevant information on one of the holographic displays that ringed the room. "In addition he's sent almost a thousand Al'kesh and full loads of gliders too."
"And Kali?" asked Emerson.
"She's been hit hard by the war and is down to approximately thirty capital ships, mostly Sokar and Apophis refits. However Rakana is important to all the System Lords. The planet is a major source of trinium, naquadah and several rare earths that are vital to the Goa'uld war machine. She's been supplying them all for almost the entirety of the Anubis and Ba'al conflicts and if they lose this planet…"
"Game over," said Jack, his expression torn between glee and despair.
"Not quite," replied Davis, "but they'll be well on their way. As such the other System Lords have committed significant forces to the defense of Rakana. You're looking at, at least seventy Ha'tak and almost fifteen hundred Al'kesh. Still, they're outmatched in terms of firepower almost two-to-one."
"That's where we come in," commented Caldwell.
"Exactly," said Hammond, taking control of the meeting back. "Officially your orders are to provide aid to our 'allies'. Unofficially I don't think any of us will shed any tears if they end up in ruins by the end of the battle too."
"Sir, what if they fire upon us?" asked Cote.
"If you mean the System Lords," asked Hammond, receiving a nod in response, "then you are to return fire. But don't, and I can't stress this enough, initiate anything with them. You can defend yourselves but they are not our enemies, at least for now."
"We're still a bit outnumbered," commented Smith.
"That'll actually be to our advantage," replied Caldwell, drawing looks of surprise. "Think about it for a second. The Nautilus is, at least in simulations, equal to five or more Anubis refits and each Saratoga is worth at least two. Between us we have the equivalent of eleven Anubis grade Ha'tak motherships; and that doesn't include force multipliers, namely our 302s which have finally received their external heavy weapons. And we all have full load-outs of those too for a total of three hundred and eighty four."
"Still, we'll be facing a lot of enemy forces and our allies aren't exactly worth much," replied Smith.
"Your goal is to use them against each other," interjected Hammond. "Keep both sides more or less even and they'll wipe each other out. And don't feel the need to stick your necks out for Kali's forces either. They wouldn't do the same for us."
"Understood sir," said Caldwell. "When do we leave?"
"As soon as your ships complete resupply. The battle is scheduled to start in three hours so plan to arrive in about three and a half, just to let the pot boil over a bit," grinned O'Neill. As the four warship commanders got up to leave he added, "oh and guys," they turned to him, "god's speed."
"Thank you sir," said Caldwell. Considering the odds, they'd need all the help they could get.
Peltac, Kali's Flagship
Three Hours Later
Kali wasn't one given to nervous displays. One of the more level headed of the System Lords, she had seen her fortunes rise and fall in the millennia she'd lived. But she had to admit, even if only to herself, that the forces leveled against her was enough to intimidate. Ba'al was making a concerted push to knock more and more of the System Lords out of the war and if she lost Rakana she would be useless to the alliance just as Camulus had become a few months earlier.
So she'd called on the Tau'ri to provide support. Originally she'd been ambivalent as to the wisdom of signing a treaty with the first world. On the one hand she had prospered greatly when they'd killed Ra and later Apophis. On the other, the combined might of the entire Goa'uld Empire hadn't been able to defeat Anubis while the people of Earth had done it in a day. It was a dangerous precedent and one that she was sure would come back to bite them in the ass someday. What was worse was that the Tau'ri were far from stupid and had every reason to want them all dead and buried and with good reason. Still if she was to survive the day then she needed their assistance, it was as simple as that.
"My queen, the enemy hails," said her first prime, Sule'ka. An unusual choice, she had chosen a female Jaffa to serve as her most powerful warrior and so far hadn't been disappointed.
"We shall answer," replied the System Lord.
The image that appeared on screen wasn't that of a Ba'al but it still angered her, "Ta'ror. My, I would've thought Ba'al would've had you put to death after your failure at Erebus."
"I was unprepared to face the forces of the Tau'ri and paid the price," replied the Jaffa, the prominent scar crossing his face as evidence of his shame. "But I don't have anything to fear from you or your pathetic forces. I will offer you one chance, as my lord Ba'al has instructed me, to surrender. You shall not receive another."
Kali scoffed at that. She knew what 'surrender' would mean. And she had no intentions of being demoted to one of that egomaniac's 'lieutenants', ruling over some backwater and listening to his gloating. "You forget you are outnumbered here."
"But not outgunned. Very well, I have received your answer. Let the battle commence." With that the transmission terminated and the swarms of Death Gliders, Al'kesh and the first waves of Ha'tak surged forward.
Looking at a nearby clock, Kali did something she had never done before in her life. She prayed that the Tau'ri would be able to deliver a miracle.
Cloaked Tok'ra Tel'tak
Thirty-Five Minutes Later
They had come to witness the battle and relish the fall of yet another of the System Lords. For Anise and Thoran it was a time of great joy. For Selmak and Jacob it was something else. Yet again he would be forced to witness the mass slaughter of people too ignorant, stupid or just plain unlucky for the gain of others who couldn't care less for them. Jacob had seen too much death in his life and this mission just served to underscore that point.
The battle had been raging for more than a half hour and already the superiority of Ba'al's forces was showing. While Kali had an advantage in smaller craft and indeed was taking a heavy toll among Ta'ror's Glider and Al'kesh forces, the same could not be said for the Ha'tak. Already Kali had lost seventeen of her capital warships, having managed to destroy only six of Ba'al's, two of which were through suicidal ramming attacks.
"Curious," commented Anise, looking over the scanners. It was one of the fields the Tok'ra held technological superiority over the Goa'uld along with cloaking and to a lesser extent, hyperdrive technology.
"What is it?" asked Thoran, walking over to her and looking at the readings over her shoulder.
"I believe we have more vessels about to exit hyperspace."
"I was not informed that either Ba'al or the System Lords were willing to commit more forces to this battle," said Jacob in a confused tone.
Thoran turned to the retired general with a look of annoyance. He was among many who found the human's presumption irritating. 'It should've been Selmak asking that question,' he thought to himself. "Neither was I."
Jacob had by this point taken a seat at the helm and brought up his own sensor window, focusing visual scanners on the area the unknown vessels were most likely to emerge in. It was an area of space well outside the battle zone. 'Almost five million kilometers outside in fact,' noted the general as he analyzed the situation. Given the poor performance of Goa'uld sublight engine technology in terms of acceleration, most Ha'tak would exit at a maximum of five hundred thousand kilometers of their targets. "I do not believe the unknowns are Goa'uld reinforcements. Their positioning is all wrong."
That brought the other two Tok'ra up short. "Then who?" asked Anise.
She was answered a moment later by the blossoming of a massive hyperspace window. Four vessels emerged and the sight made Jacob smile. The three trailing vessels were clearly modified Ha'tak but the leading vessel was something else. "That is the USS Nautilus. I guess Kali called in some favors."
Thoran examined the data, what little of it there was. Their sensors were being jammed but what he could make out worried him. The energy readings the vessel was emitting were extreme, far greater than a vessel constructed by the primitives of Earth should've been able to achieve.
Yet another problem they'd have to deal with.
USS Nautilus Launch Bay Alpha
F-302B Scimitar Space Superiority Fighter, Swordsman Prime
Commander Roselyn "Sonic" Igel, CO VFA-32, United States Navy
Roselyn was eager to launch. This would be the second time she'd be sticking it to the snakeheads and this time it wouldn't be the one sided slaughter of Erebus. This time she'd actually have to work to survive and it was a feeling she was going to relish.
"Tas, equip custom package Omega," she commanded her fighter's VI. This was something she had cooked up herself, outside of the normal load-outs. Each pilot was given an assignment at the beginning of the battle and it was up to them to 'pick their poisons', as it were.
"Confirmed. Loading," replied the cartoon Tasmanian Devil as the robotics beneath her did their thing. She'd come a long way from the starry eyed rookie she'd been over Erebus, four months since she'd depressed the trigger and ended sixteen lives. Now she was a veteran and serving aboard the most powerful vessel Earth commanded. It was quite an honor and one she'd ensue she earned.
"Loading complete," reported Tas. For this mission she'd chosen a mix of anti-fighter and anti-shipping weaponry. She'd been gratified to hear that the external heavy weapons had been completed earlier than projected, something that in her experience as a fighter pilot was almost an anathema to the high tech that went into modern aircraft and the defense contractors that supplied them. She had a full load-out of Starseeker short range missiles and Startiger medium range missiles in her internal bays. However unlike at Erebus she was only carrying two missile pods on her external hard points, the other eight taken by SIM-1A Arbalest anti-shipping cruise missiles; four equipped with disruptor warheads, two with shaped nuclear 'plasma' warheads and two with mark three tactical nukes. She'd forgone the 'Twin Sword' railgun for a LG2A 'Dagger' rotary laser turret.
But perhaps the biggest change was the three 'pods' attached to her fighter; one on the tip of each wing and one on her belly between the rotary launchers. Her wings held a pair of GC1A 'Darkstorm' gravitic cannons, supersized versions of Commander Shepard's M-490 Blackstorm projector. They would send salvos of near-infinite mass projectiles at their targets, shattering them though gravitational sheering and kinetic force like massive biotic warps. Though they took almost four seconds to 'charge' before they could fire, simulations showed that just one could smoke an Al'kesh in one shot easy and that they would even pose a significant threat to Anubis refit Ha'tak shielding. On her belly rested an AC1A 'Zeus'. Like the GC1As, the Zeus was a supersized version of one of the Normandy's heavy small arms, in this case the Cerberus Arc Projector. She couldn't wait to see the havoc it would cause among the idiotically clumsy and tight formations Death Gliders flew in.
Taxiing her fighter to one of the catapults that lined the side of her bay, she was reminded of the new Battlestar Galactica series on TV. Functionally the catapults served a similar function, rapidly accelerating fighters for takeoff. Launching out the side of the spacecraft prevented them from flying straight into incoming fire and the speed boost made them far harder to snipe, not that anything the Goa'uld had could do that. That said, for all their advantages, the thought of loading herself and her bird into what was essentially a large, relatively low power mass accelerator was unnerving.
"Launch sequence in ten," announced the ATCO. Due to the configuration of the Nautilus' combat hanger bays, with two separate hangers mounted deck to deck, one right side up and one upside down relative to the rest of the ship's decks they had to use a progressive launch sequence to prevent fighters launching from the double stacked catapults endangering each other. As the Alpha, 'right side up' bay and indeed as the commanding officer of the Swordsmen she would be the first to launch from the port side hanger pod.
"Roger that," Sonic replied. Bracing herself for the rapid acceleration, an old, outdated habit in the days of inertial dampening, she watched the countdown projected on her HUD. It reached zero and with the slightest feeling of acceleration her fighter shot down the tube, exiting one point six seconds later. Her engines kicked on a moment later and she immediately pulled up and away from the warship, clearing the launch cone for those behind her.
From a distance it looked as if the Nautilus was firing torpedoes sideways, each projectile far more deadly than a single warhead attached to a rocket motor. Behind her the three Ha'tak had launched their own fighters, pilots from twenty five separate nations fighting together for the first time as one single entity.
Forming up they made a micro-jump towards the battle. Emerging only a few thousand kilometers from the edge of the battle the assembled fighters let off a salvo of what the pilots had affectionately named 'missile spam'. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of Startiger missiles swarmed towards the battle space, their VIs identifying the IFF transponders of Ba'al's Gliders and Al'kesh and swarming them mercilessly. Hundreds of explosions dotted the battlefield, each a strike craft detonating. Ta'ror had begun the battle with eight thousand Death Gliders. By the time the Tau'ri had arrived he was down to six. That last attack cost him almost three thousand more.
But if the Jaffa thought the missile attack was hell, they hadn't seen anything yet. Like the specter of death, the wings of Scimitars descended on the hapless enemy forces. Weapons from across the spectrum; laser, plasma, railgun, electromagnetic and gravitic began scything into their line. It took only one minute and six seconds before the first Ha'tak went up, four dozen Darkstorm pulses stripping its shield away and a plasma warhead gutting the exposed warship beneath.
Ta'ror watched the battle with a look of horror. Only thirty two of these nightmares had disemboweled Erebus' defenses. Now he was fighting almost four hundred, each far more heavily armed than before.
Sonic was having the time of her life. Already she'd made ace three times in this battle, thirty nine Death Gliders and four Al'kesh having fallen to her guns and missiles. Bringing her fighter around and sidestepping around a flight of slow moving 'allied' fighters, she set her sight on a nearby Ha'tak. According to her sensors it was one of the five Anubis refit motherships that Ba'al's forces had in this battle. It would make a fine prize.
Ordering her wing to form up, the lined her fighter up with the massive warship in the distance. Setting her Dagger cannon on auto, the small turret began tracking and eliminating nearby enemy fighters that threatened her. Watching the distance to target indicator, she depressed her axillary trigger, charging the Darkstorm cannons on her wings. Entering into range, she loosed two disruptor missiles from her wings, the cruise missiles crossing the relatively short range between her and her target before detonating, the space/time warp ripping at the enemy's shield. With a shrill cry she released the trigger, two spheres of gravitic energy slamming into its shield, joined seconds later by the weapons of her squadron, 'Darkstorm' spheres, 'Abel' railcannon rounds, and 'Volcano' heavy Thanix beams.
Strained beyond all tolerances, the shield generator of the unfortunate mothership did what most technological systems do when pushed too far: explode. With the loss of its primary and realistically only means of defense, the warship began suffering the death of a thousand cuts; fighter grade laser and Thanix cannons ripping armor and hull plating from her fragile from, eventually cutting deep into the superstructure. Moments later it went up, something critical having been hit.
Banking 'up' to avoid the explosion and separating from her squadron again, Sonic began hunting for another target. Seeing a pod of passing Al'kesh, she was about to gut them when a full dozen enemy gliders changed course, clearly meaning to intercept her. Sneering she turned to face them, her forward thrusters firing, flying her backwards and maintaining distance. Switching to her Zeus and designating the offending fighters as her targets she depressed the trigger.
The Cerberus Arc Projector worked by firing a low power laser at its target, ionizing a small area as a prelude to the high-voltage electrical attack. The Zeus was fundamentally the same weapon scaled to the needs of fighter combat. The targeting laser, sitting a few centimeters forward of the electromagnetic coils rapidly swept across all twelve enemies, ionizing their hulls. Moments later almost a full ten terajoules of stored energy leapt out, calibrated to the same frequency as the laser. Energy arced between the fighters, frying their pilots and electronics alike. With their controls gone, the small reactor cores that powered the badly designed fighters detonated, serving as the brief funeral pyres for the twelve unfortunate Jaffa.
Sonic grinned. She'd made ace again.
The three Tok'ra watched with open mouthed awe. Anise and Jacob had both witnessed the Scimitars effectiveness during the Erebus invasion, apparently in an incomplete form. Compared to what they were seeing now however…
"This is unbelievable," mumbled Thoran, his eyes glued to the display and with good reason. The Tau'ri warships hadn't even engaged in battle yet and already Ba'al had lost almost all of his remaining Gliders, half of his Al'kesh seven Ha'tak including one of his Anubis refits to the Tau'ri's unbelievable fighters. On their end, the Tau'ri had lost only sixteen Scimitars, among which only three had been fatalities, the rest having ejected and been beamed away before they could come to any harm. "How is this possible? Selmak, why didn't you report these weapons?"
"They were not there," replied the symbiote, sensing Jacob's voice wouldn't be welcome to his enraged Tok'ra comrade. "I believe they were not complete at the time."
"Anise, what is the status on Ba'al's forces?"
"He's lost thirteen Ha'tak so far," she replied, "along with almost all of his Death Gliders and eight hundred and change of his Al'kesh. The Tau'ri fighters have taken a toll but they haven't been able to stop his advance against Kali. She'd down to thirty one Ha'tak… make that thirty," she said as another of the System Lord Alliance capital ships went down, this one a Sokar refit. "The Tau'ri fighters appear to be retreating from the battle."
Examining the display, Jacob could think of any number of reasons for that behavior. "Most likely they've expended most of their ordinance or fuel and are returning to resupply."
"That would make sense," commented Anise. "Wait, I'm detecting a power spike from the Nautilus."
Kali had let her host's jaw go slack in shock. She'd never have believed it without seeing it for herself. When Amaterasu had returned from the treaty negotiations with stories of the Tau'ri's new super fighters, she'd dismissed such tales as nonsense. Apparently she'd been wrong. Unfortunately it wasn't enough.
Watching the display, she almost missed it. A bright, unbelievably fast streak crossed her line of sight, almost unseen even by her superior eyesight. The result was one of the four remaining Anubis refits detonating.
"What was that?" demanded the Hindu System Lord.
"Unknown my queen," replied Sule'ka. "Whatever it was overwhelmed the Ha'tak's shields in well under a second and ripped the ship in half. It appears to have come from the Tau'ri warship."
So fast had been the Tau'ri's blitz that she had not even considered communication with them. "Hail the humans."
It took a moment for the two systems to sync up before an image of an older, balding human filled her screen. Behind him was a surprisingly advanced looking command center of some kind, a large holographic tactical map showing the disposition of the entire battlefield.
"I am Kali, Goddess of Destruction. It is about time you arrived human."
The look the man sent her would've made lesser beings quiver. He looked down on her like she looked down on her human slaves and Kali, for the first time in a while found her host's stomach turning over in fear.
"Listen carefully parasite," replied the human with one of the most disrespectful and hate filled tones she'd ever heard, far surpassing Ra's condescending tirades or Sokar's evil ravings. "I am Colonel Steven Caldwell, commanding officer of the United States Air Force Battlecruiser Nautilus. The treaty and my orders are the only thing stopping me from sending you screaming into the void. But that said there isn't a force in the galaxy that compels me to put up with your bloated ego and arrogance. I've been sent here to pull your ass out of this massive clusterfuck that you've allowed this battle to devolve into. Once that's done I will collect any salvage I please and leave. Don't get in my way."
Kali was so taken aback that she couldn't manage a response before the transmission terminated. Seething with anger yet certain that if she turned on this Caldwell she would die in an instant, she could only boil with impotent rage.
The display had reverted in time to watch the Nautilus open up with her entire weapons array. Blinding blue beams of energy leapt from dozens of places across the ship's hull; from small streams barely the diameter of a Death Glider's staff cannon to ones wider than an entire Tel'tak. This was followed by dozens of missiles and torpedoes, salvo after salvo supplemented and multiplied by the three Ha'tak on her flanks. So numerous were the weapons salvos that they were as drops of rain against a defenseless peasant without cover.
Ta'ror in desperation sent whatever strike craft he had left against the enemy vessels, hoping that the fact that the Tau'ri fighters were resupplying would leave them vulnerable. That belief died stillborn well before they could enter into weapons range. The Nautilus opened up with hundreds of short range weapons; lasers, plasma flak and interceptor missiles tearing them from the skies with deadly accuracy.
Then it happened again. From beneath the mighty American warship, another streak leapt forth, impaling another Ha'tak like the fist of god. Witnessing the firing, she could make out the massive cannon, running almost the entire length of the vessel collapsing into itself, the impulse from the recoil so extreme as to push the whole ship almost fifty kilometers backwards before the engines managed to compensate.
"My queen, Ba'al's remaining forces are retreating… through our lines," said Sule'ka.
"WHAT?" Kali yelled, turning to look out a nearby window. She could make out the dozen or so remaining enemy capital warships advancing on her line quickly, firing everything they had. Three of her remaining Ha'tak detonated almost instantly. Death Gliders and Al'kesh caught by surprise slammed into their weakening shields, shattering and exploding along the way.
By the time Ba'al's remaining forces had made it clear they were down to eight warships, most of which were heavily damaged. She'd won but it was a pyrrhic victory at best. Looking out at the debris field before her, she saw the shattered remains of her fleet. She'd committed twenty six of her thirty remaining Ha'tak to this battle and of those, only her own flagship had survived, heavily damaged and barely spaceworthy. The ships of the other system lords weren't in any better condition, only eight surviving the battle. 'Sixty-one of seventy for only thirty-two of Ba'al's forces,' thought the System Lord bitterly. Hopefully she would be able to salvage some of Ba'al's more advanced technology from the debris. Then she remembered what Caldwell had said.
Indeed she could already see the Tau'ri vessels descending on the debris like carrion, beams of light sweeping the fields for anything interesting. Around them flew their monstrous fighters, rearmed and on patrol. Kali considered firing on them out of pure spite but like the rest of her race she wasn't suicidal. Sighing, she collapsed in her throne. "Sule'ka, set a course for home. We're done here."
"Yes my queen but…"
"Are you not concerned that the Tau'ri will destroy your facilities on Rakana?"
She considered that for a few seconds before dismissing the idea. "Despite what we've witnessed here, they are not invulnerable. They won't break the treaty before we do because they don't have the forces needed to protect all their holdings from our wrath."
Satisfied, the female warrior entered the commands into the console before her, the ragged alliance fleet fleeing into hyperspace.
Caldwell sat quietly in his chair, reading from yet another tablet. He could've been barking out orders or hovering over his subordinates but the truth was they were more than qualified to do their jobs without his interference.
"Sir, the System Lords forces have retreated to hyperspace," reported Marks.
"They seem to have gone separate directions, most likely heading for their own respective territories."
"Makes sense," replied the Colonel. "What about Ba'al's forces?"
"Headed back towards the border, most likely to regroup with other taskforces."
"Well that bastard won't be trying something like this again, not for a while anyway."
"Yes sir," replied Marks. A beep from his console alerted him to another event. "Sir, it appears our 'observers' have departed as well."
That made Caldwell snort. The Tok'ra must've been drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid to honestly believe that they couldn't detect the Tel'tak not a hundred thousand kilometers away, especially considering the Asgard sensors the Nautilus mounted. "Good, I hope we gave them a good show."
"Yes sir. We should be done with the salvage and resupply in about an hour and a half. Casualty figures haven't changed since last report. We lost three pilots and seventeen fighters across the taskforce. Another forty six fighters will be down for at least a week for repairs. It could've been far worse sir. I doubt the element of surprise will work like than again."
Caldwell sighed at that. It would only get harder from here on out.