Hello everyone! Merry Christmas! I apologise for my long absence but when I realised the end for this tale was in sight I came to a decision. Unless on special occasions I plan to take a break from publishing and am instead working on finishing this story and then posting new chapters in a much more regular manner. I have many chapters written already and am working on more. I know where this story is going next and I know how this story will end and I will get there.
The bridge of the Weir, and every other ship in the allied fleet that was currently sitting in orbit of Calium, was a humdrum of activity. Sporadic conversation flew across the bridge as commands and reports were fired off in rapid succession. The tension hung thick in the air, which was not surprising considering that seven hundred and seventy capital ships of sizes ranging from a couple of hundred metres to a kilometre and a half had just dropped out of hyperspace all guns blazing.
The downside to this situation was that the allies had expected to have mopped up the Zarasian forces and have been long gone before this particular armada had even arrived. But the Zarasians had somehow managed to push their fleet way beyond what should have been possible even given the best estimates of their capabilities. The upside was that they had been expecting the arrival of the fleet and had positioned the majority of the fleet as far away from the planet as possible, with the majority under cloak. This meant that the Zarasians, acting under the assumption that the fleet was hiding under cloak in orbit, were essentially doing nothing more than bombarding the planet and completely missing their preferred targets.
Fortunately the only ship that was currently taking any fire from the Zarasian fleet was the Weir, having been positioned so that she was shielding the Sagittarius from harm while the last of their forces and the Calium local populace were brought up to safety.
Observing the percentage icon that showed their shield levels Sheppard gave silent thanks that his ship not only had a fully charged ZPM bolstering its shields but was the only one of its class in the fleet to have received the generator upgrade. The additional power provided by the more advanced neutrino ion generators, coupled with the enlarged shield capacitors allowed for an increase in shield strength of approximately two thirds. This coupled with the shocking amount of power provided by the ZPM meant the shields were actually holding, if only barely, under the sustained bombardment. Although if more than just a small fraction of the armada decided to target the Weir the capacitors would drain in a matter of moments, and certainly much faster than the power conduits could channel energy into them.
"Rodney, how much longer can we take this?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney glanced up from his console to answer. "If it's just a few ships then the shield can hold out for days before the ZPM is drained, but we are very close to our limit here. If a few more ships start firing though…well we'll be in big trouble."
Sheppard knew what his friend meant. Every system on the ship had its limits. There was only so much power you could pump into any one system on this ship before an upper limit was reached and the system started to degrade, and that was in the best case, since in the worst said system might either fail completely or explode. Even the power conduits, which had been made using superconductive materials, had their limits. The shield capacitors and the ZPM energy extractors were no different, while the latter could only draw on so much power at a time the former could only take in so much power, and they were already being pushed pretty close to their limit.
The worst part was that they couldn't even fire back since they were dedicating all available power to keeping the shields up. The power drain simply caused by the weapons charging would result in the shields beginning to lose power. Not to mention the fact that it would draw attention to the Weir if they started swatting at the lighter Zarasian craft.
"Commander," ISIS said, appearing in her holographic state. "I have Commander Ullr on the line for you."
"About time," Sheppard muttered before raising his voice to a more audible level. "Put him through."
An image of Ullr, who was seated on the bridge of the Tria, appeared in the middle of the HUD. He looked, quite frankly, terrible, having not yet had time to switch to an android body that wasn't crippled from the waist down, but at least he was no longer leaking various fluids from the gaping hole in his sides.
Sheppard couldn't help but wince at the sight of him. He had heard about what happened on the surface and knew that Ullr, being an android, didn't feel any pain but still, he looked so alive. If he didn't know any better he wouldn't know Ullr was a sentient mind merely housed inside in an android body.
"Colonel Sheppard," Ullr said in a voice that sounded far too at ease for someone with his injuries. "You'll have to forgive my appearance but time to change is a luxury we can not afford at this time."
"Yeah I know, but are you going to be okay?"
"You need not concern yourself. This body will continue to function without complication for the time being. Now to business, the fleet is ready to reposition itself on command and reinforcements are inbound."
Sheppard let out a sigh of relief and shared a look with Rodney. "Good to know. How are the evacuations going?"
"Stages one and two have been completed but we have not yet had the chance to move onto stage three. I would rather not commence stage four until we are certain we have no other alternative."
Stage one had been to deploy troops in the main city and eliminate all enemy forces, while stage two had been the complete evacuation of all civilians from the city, either of which could have been completed first. Stage three however had been to deal with the most problematic issue facing them. They needed to rescue all those military personnel in the main military base and onboard the flying warships. Warships that were currently stuck inside said main base thanks to a well placed UAV missile strike. Stage four however was the most important of them all, and essentially boiled down to gathering everyone still on the planet up and then running like hell.
Sheppard could understand Ullr's reluctance to jump straight to that final stage, and frankly he shared it. To simply leave the planet now would mean not only abandoning the people they still had on the surface, which was a strategic loss they could ill afford, but all of the Calium people still under Zarasian control via the technological parasites known as strings.
"Begin relocating the fleet to attack positions. Let's not give them even a single moment to react when we drop finally drop the hammer."
"Oh crap," McKay muttered. Sheppard was about to ask what the Canadian was complaining about now when he felt the ship shake and found himself agreeing with the sentiment.
It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened. The Zarasian fleet had decided the Weir was a target of value.
This was not good.
The ship shook even harder as more and more energy struck the shields.
This was definitely not good.
Sheppard glanced at the HUD showing the shield levels. They were no longer holding. They were dropping, fast!
This was seriously not good.
"Stasis of the Sagittarius?" Sheppard asked.
"All stage one and two personnel are aboard and accounted for," a crewman replied.
"Tell them to raise shields and fall back immediately."
"Shields at 10% and dropping!" ISIS warned.
"There's a group of battlecruisers bearing down on us!" a crewman yelled.
"Ullr!" Sheppard practically yelled. "Now would be a good time!"
"Yes it would be," Ullr replied right as the Tria de-cloaked and moved to cover the Weir.
Green and blue spears of pure plasma lanced out at the approaching enemy vessels even as the shields of the heavily upgraded Lantean warship dispersed plasma strikes intended to cripple the Weir. The shields of the Tria held under the bombardment. The battlecruisers were not so fortunate. Their shields barely held for a moment under the devastating return fire, such was the strength of a dreadnought constructed by some of the most feared and powerful races in several galaxies. The Zarasian vessels that were the focus of this mighty vessels wrath never stood a chance. Even as the hulls of the five battlecruisers were shattered by the opening plasma strikes four hellstorm rounds had been loaded, aimed and fired at the leading battleships of four battle groups.
Ullr strategy was simple. Cripple the command structure of the enemy. It was obvious that this would only cause a momentary delay before either another human commander took charge or the cyborgs resorted to following their basic command protocols. The few seconds that this move brought however were seconds the allies could make use of.
From Ullr's perspective though those precious few seconds were invaluable, representing time that was greatly needed for the shields of the Weir to recharge. With the Weir, and by extension the Sagittarius, protected from immediate danger Ullr was able to focus on making the enemy suffer. With Thor unfortunately still on the ground, overseeing the clean up operations, thanks to the enemy's impromptu early arrival it was his duty to make the Zarasians bleed.
"All units engage," he commanded.
With that single order the remainder of the fleet de-cloaked and began engaging the Zarasian armada.
Hit and run attacks, strafing runs, wolf pack tactics, whatever you wanted to call it the overall battle plan boiled down to two basic manoeuvres, attack and retreat. No matter how clever they were, using their small wolf packs of destroyers to lure groups of enemy ships into the gun sights of heavier craft, they couldn't do anything more than this if they wanted to survive this battle.
In his personal command quarters Zarin, with Azamoth and Darian by his side, sat in his functional, yet comfortable, throne like chair and watched all of this unfold.
"You can learn a lot about an enemy simply by observing their reactions to various situations," Zarin noted. "Our enemy for instance have faced many I can think of only one word to describe the allied forces at this moment, vulnerable. But in a moment that word will change to another, related but ultimately different and very important for our future." He smirked as his thoughts flowed in his mind. Infinite possibilities, anyone of which could quickly become reality with a single masterstroke, swirling behind his eyes.
"My Lord?" Darian enquired when his friend and leader did not continue.
"Can you not guess Darian?" Zarin chuckled. "Its fear Darian, arguably one of the most powerful and unpredictable emotions of them all. What does one do when afraid of death? Most would flee rather fight, their survival instinct kicks in as fear of dying overcomes them. But what if you are backed into a corner, you have no choice but to fight. And that is what makes fear so unpredictable because fear can make you fight, fight harder, stronger and longer than you could otherwise. Fear can be your greatest ally or enemy depending on how you use it. The allies have vulnerability. They know that each of their ships is precious." He swept open his hands to indicate the holographic screens showing the space battle unfolding before them. "You can see it in every manoeuvre, every strike they make. They cannot casually throw away their ships and people because they cannot replace them so easily. Haven't you thought it odd Darian why we have seen so few new vessels in recent months? Admittedly those we have seen are quite impressive but don't you think it odd?"
"Well yes," Darian admitted. "But I assumed that was simply because their other vessels were being put to use defending vital worlds, those of the Wraith for example. We made it quite clear our wish to destroy them and have already begun to do so."
"And you would be right," Zarin admitted. "However that is not the only reason. They have only so many ships so many resources. Yes they are defending vital worlds but their offensive strength has only increased marginally, hardly at all in fact. And that presents us with an opportunity. In fact it changes the very scope of what our ambitions should be. What we need to accomplish is suddenly completely different from what we thought we needed to do. What is our biggest vulnerability Darian? If, ancestors forbid, you ever found yourself fighting an empire like our own, how would you overcome such an enemy?"
Darian barely even needed a moment to consider this. He was Zarin's second in command, his instrument, his trusted hand. Such strategic thinking had been engrained into him from birth. It was the very reason he had been born.
"Target such an empires infrastructure. Focusing on production capabilities and resources as high priority targets will result in the empires own weight collapsing in upon itself when they cannot support such an enormous army or maintain their fleet. If they cannot maintain their forces then their very weight will cause such an empire to collapse in upon itself or force them to seek a diplomatic solution for fear of their own limited human civilian population becoming extinct."
"A sound strategy and one that would apply to most races, but there is a much simpler way. Your method would render an enemy unable to fight but it is not terribly efficient. To be effective you must actively seek out the enemy positions and overwhelm them, ideally performing crippling strikes without great loss to yourself. And that is where a lovely little phrase raises its head, tactical victory." He chuckled. "Our enemy certainly seem to know this term well, they do not aim to conquer or capture, they crush us like bugs whenever they encounter us. They have attacked our outposts yet have levelled each one, never attempting to conquer them, a fact which reminds us of their limited numbers. They see it as being far more profitable to simply crush our assets than attempt to hold them and stretch their forces thin. But they are not the only one who can gain a tactical victory, I too gain one, and I can gain the greatest tactical victory of them all." He smiled gleefully, and curled his right hand into a fist. "I do not need to destroy them completely just these ships you see before you. Destroy their ability to attack us and we can attack them with impunity. We can take our time. Simply point to a system on a star chart, muster our forces and conquer it with overwhelming force!" He slammed his curled fist in his throne chairs arm rest, slightly warping the metal. "That is the price I shall exact upon them for their impudence! I will claim world after world before their very eyes! I shall leave them alive to witness their utter failure at standing the might of the empire I have forged! They will live only because I will not allow them the mercy of death! That is the fate I have in store them and it begins right now!"
His chest rose and fell as his tirade came to a close and his short lived fury left him before he continued in a much calmer voice. "But how to achieve such a victory? How to remove their offensive fleet from the field of play? Ideally of course I would like to see them wiped off the board entirely but we can't have everything." He chuckled. "Well not all at once anyway. Now as it happens there are two ways and the first has already been put in to motion. I must thank you for that Azamoth, your marvellous inventions are truly remarkable."
"Deliciously evil one might say," Darian added, earning a chuckle from Zarin and a smirk from Azamoth.
He bowed his head in gratitude. "It is my pleasure to serve Etere."
Zarin shook his head in amusement. "Of that I have no doubt. But it is thanks to the strings that we have inflicted a devastating blow to their moral. Killing the very people they were sent in to save will have their own soldiers questioning what they are doing here and constantly on edge, doubting everyone around them."
"A problem I am very grateful we do not have to worry about," Darian added. "Especially now that Azamoth's Red Eyes units are fully operational and field tested. The last thing we need is a break down in command because of a few incompetent or squeamish individuals."
"Very true," Zarin noted. "And they are already proving to be very effective. I've placed them in command of the strike force and they are already pushing them to breaking point. Thus far their use of those cloaking devices, which even I must admit is certainly a useful piece of technology, has allowed them to temporarily survive but it won't last long. By focusing on two of the more valuable ships in their fleet I have forced them to stand and fight."
And indeed they were fighting. The screens showed the allied fleet fighting their hardest. Desperately attempting to keep their ships alive in the vast inferno of battle but it wasn't enough. The destroyers were being forced to stay closer to the edges of the mass of ships as their shield strength began to dip. Zarin was right, the allies were vulnerable since they weren't willing to simply sacrifice their ships, because the fact of the matter was they couldn't afford to.
"But it is still not enough. If they want to survive they will need to use everything they have available to them. We've given them time to prepare for this moment and now our patience will be rewarded. They will either reveal their final, hidden weapons or they will die." His eyes glowed a menacing red. "Either way I win."
Darian's eyes shined as he took in the full scope if his lords plan. "Brilliant Etere, simply brilliant."
"As always Darian your praise is greatly appreciated but unnecessary." He readjusted his attention to the battle before him. "Now let's see what they will do now. Will they cling to life or try to save what they can and sacrifice what they cannot?"
On the Weir Sheppard and McKay were wondering the same thing as Zarin. They had finally recovered all of their people and even had Thor assisting co-ordinating their forces but they were still in trouble. The Zarasian forces were displaying a level co-ordination and tactical precision that had previously been unheard of and they simply couldn't buy themselves the time needed to get all of their forces safely into hyperspace. Worst of all the longer this battle continued the harder things would get for them. Even if they were dealing massive damage to the enemy fleet they were taking some serious hits in return. If it wasn't for some truly remarkable tactical minds on the ally's side they would definitely have taken at least one loss thus far.
Space was set alight with energy blasts, super heated plasma and the explosions created as swarms of fighter craft collided.
McKay swore. "We need to get out of here, and I mean now."
"Not an option McKay," Sheppard replied, although the truth was he agreed with him. They both knew that if this situation didn't change for the better and fast then they were well and truly up a very well known creek without a paddle.
"Have patience Doctor McKay," Thor added. "There is still hope."
The Weir shook as the inertial dampeners struggled against the force of impact of a near constant barrage of plasma, adding little weight to the Asgardian's assurances.
"Todd promised us he'd be here," Sheppard assured him.
"Well he's late," McKay replied angrily.
"Oh yee of little faith," hissed a reptilian voice as a new individual joined the conversation. "I would have thought that by now you would have learned you could rely on me to keep my promises."
"Todd!" Sheppard exclaimed. "Where the hell have you been?"
"My apologies for my tardiness but it took longer than anticipated to prepare my fleet for departure." On the HUD Todd grinned menacingly. "It took a little while to readjust to this type of control but it is, as you humans say, like riding a bicycle, you never really forget how."
Sheppard and McKay exchanged a look of confusion. Just what the hell had he brought with him?
Their question was shortly answered as a truly massive hyperspace window opened and deposited a famous fleet they never expected to see all the way out here. The Arima and her thirty strong sentinel escort fleet had arrived.
"How did you convince your mother to let you borrow her ship?" Sheppard asked.
"He didn't. I did," Typhoeus said, as his image joined the conversation. The Asgard's latest gift to the Wraith had been a remote controllable android body identical in function to their own but unique to Typhoeus' original form. And since the android bodies were designed to duplicate an organic being in their entirety the Asgard were guaranteed to be in Echidna's good graces for quite some time.
"Where did you get them Todd?" McKay asked, looking up from his sensor console with a frown on his face.
Todd simply raised an eyebrow and smiled. "You didn't think I would give away all my precious souvenirs from Asura did you?"
The urge for the eyes to roll was almost overwhelming. Funny how these things always ended up being called souvenirs or mementos, and if you were feeling somewhat honest they were the spoils of war or wartime acquisitions, and if you were feeling particularly honest the all inclusive word was loot. All perfectly good words which managed to avoid saying the words, and only having them included in the definition as a matter of unfortunate coincidence, stolen from the people we killed. Words could be so very…helpful like that. Or treacherous depending on your perspective, which would certainly have been the Asuran's if they were still capable on one, what with being dead to a replicator.
"You two can discuss this later," Typhoeus said. "For now we have work to do."
"Indeed we do father," Todd agreed.
Todd closed his eyes, starving his other senses, as he focused on the neural interface that allowed him to control not only the Arima but the thirty sentinels that now accompanied her wherever she went. It was something he hadn't had to do for many millennia, not since he first crash landed the ship on that desolate planet to keep his treacherous sisters off his mothers trail. Although that had been when the Arima had only had three sentinels to guard her, thirty was much more taxing on the mind, even for one such as his. It also meant the fleet moved slower, since the sentinels could no longer be carried by the Arima, which had resulted in their lengthy travel time.
It was finally here, the time he had hungered for had finally arrived. The chance he had longed for, to personally deal a decisive blow against the Zarasian scum that had dared to attack his brethren. Just like any other day in the new order they had been linked to the rest of the hive mind and as a result he had shared in their pain during their final moments. Their cries of anguish still lingered in the deep recesses of his memory, calling up from the murky depths every time he recalled the events of that day. Anger, felt by him and his brethren, coursed through him as he once again heard the haunting cries for help.
Resonating across the hive mind, the anger was an unstoppable force, drawing him in to its rhyme and rhythm. Today he would make them suffer. They would pay for their crimes. The audacity of their actions! The sheer arrogance to think that they could simply attack the almighty, all powerful Wraith Empire! They dared to spill Wraith blood! Attack Wraith worlds! He would find their precious home and he would see to it that the waters ran so thick with blood that the very rain turned red! He would see to it that…
"My son, calm yourself," Typhoeus warned him, interrupting his mental tirade.
Todd shook himself from thoughts. His father was right. This was not the time for him to give in to his anger. Over the years he had learned that his anger could be a powerful tool, a source of strength if used properly, but a crutch if he let it rule him. Many of his kin had died in the years past because of a lack of control, while he had survived by not falling into the trap. And now, after a more than ten thousand year existence, he had nearly stumbled into it. A part of him felt ashamed.
"Apologies, father." What would his mother think of him if she were here?
"It happens to the best of us. Oh and if your mother were here she would still be seething." Todd blinked. "Neural interface, remember my boy?"
Damn it. He really needed to adjust the settings for when anyone other than his mother was using this thing.
"It would be a good idea, thank you," Typhoeus said.
"You're welcome," Todd grumbled, before finally turning his attention back to the fleet. He had Zarasian scum to kill. "Launching hornets!"
Seven and a half thousand hornets burst from their hangers across the fleet as the swarm of vessels descended upon the already battered and bruised Zarasian fleet, moving in for the kill.
Please review. Alex, my friend, I hope you enjoyed this one. Merry Christmas to you all.