From a far enough distance, an outside observer would notice little difference between the debris filling a certain swath of the Aten-Re system. Yorick coral and durasteel alike, each was only a small, twinkling point of light, bathed in the soft blue glow of Aten. Were it not for the unnatural concentration in so small an arc, each little point would be easily mistaken for a distant star.
Were the observer to move in closer, he would begin to notice further similarities between the pieces of debris. Most were small; a stray nut, here what might have been a dovin basal housing, there what was probably a laser turret. Indeed, they were small enough that they were visible in the light of Aten due to their local concentrations; they would soon turn invisible, as each drifted away from where the ship they had once been had died, and would no longer reflect enough light to matter. All the debris, from smallest to largest, were carbon-scored, warped and melted around the edges. Some even glowed, evidence of the titanic forces required to destroy a star ship.
Yet, once in close, the observer would notice many differences between the debris, as well, besides the obvious differences between yorick coral and durasteel. For one, the debris of durasteel had many dedicated SAR forces darting through them, searching all too often beyond hope for survivors; these forces paid the yorik coral debris no mind, save to occasionally fire a tracking beacon on anything large enough to be worth salvage. For another, and perhaps most importantly, many of the brothers of the durasteel debris remained active and in flight.
None of the yorick coral remained.
“Mikele, probable track on a skip,” Bren said over the comm. “Big chunk of coral, tumbling at 025 mark 776. Move to flush, Cullen and I will intercept.”
She rolled her eyes, once again forced her hands to stop shaking, and once more vectored her X-wing to Bren’s target. Per the data from Arfor – passed along to her, grudgingly, from Cueball – it was indeed a big chunk of yorick coral. It was also about twice as big as any of the coralskippers she had seen in the preceding battle. Which meant this was likely another wild mynock chase, much like the previous three Bren had sent them on in the past hour.
Which beat the battle itself, hands down. Flight 4/Charlie had held it’s own in that giant mynock-frack – had even come out in one piece, save for the fact that Cullen lost another astromech. They had acquitted themselves well, having downed at least ten skips that Mikele could actually remember. Aside from those… explosions… the rest of the battle was one giant, very much terrifying blur for her. When the dust settled, she realized that their little force had destroyed every single skip in the system.
For the loss of half of First Squadron’s fighter strength, along with a tenth of the Aurora Force fighter detachment.
Arfor gave a low whistle. She realized her hands were shaking again, and that the vibrations were driving her off-course. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. Half of the shakiness was that she need to take a few hours to just sit down and process what had just happened, and the other half was that she was coming down from one hell of an adrenaline high, and was really, REALLY tired.
When the battle was done, the Old Man had split his remaining fighter strength into thirds. One third, mostly remnants of the worst hit squadrons and the flying wounded, went back aboard ship for repair and rack time. Another third, those not quite as badly hit but still looking a bit shaky, were sent to Aten-Re’s facilities, both to keep an eye on things and to avail themselves of some offered R&R. The other third, those squadrons mostly intact and on an even keel, got the job of immediate CAP duty, until the ones aboard ship decompressed.
For it’s sins and the fact that it had not lost a single pilot – their only casualty, in fact, was Cullen’s unfortunate astromech – Charlie Squadron had been tapped for CAP duty.
“Mikele, eyes on target?”
“Coming up on it, Ten,” she responded, snapping out of another reverie. The fight at L2.VIII had been bad enough, but she suspected that Aten-Re would be coming back to her in bad moments for a long time.
But there was still the job.
She flew past the tumbling, slightly melted, chunk of yorick coral. That first, fleeting impression confirmed Arfor’s analysis: the thing was too big to be a skip. But Bren was still keyed up from the fight, and probably wouldn’t listen to her anymore than he had the previous times, so she didn’t bother to report that. Instead the executed turn over and matched vectors with the chunk.
“Ten, Twelve. Eyes on target. No reaction.”
“Poke ‘im, Mikele.”
Yep, still keyed up. Anyway. Dutifully, she lined up the reticule on the tumbling chunk and squeezed off two twin-linked bursts. Bit of superheated yorick coral boiled away, and the giant chunk… continued tumbling.
“Twelve, One.” she heard over the squadron net. Mikele gulped.
“The hell you shootin’ at, Twelve?”
“Big chunk of coral, One. Making sure it wasn’t a skip gone doggo.”
“Best we can tell, Vong don’t go doggo, Twelve,” her squadron commander said dryly. “Still, keep it up. Same with the rest of you, Four Flight. Also, word from the Old Man: once the dry dock gets here, we’re RTB for repair and rack time.”
“Copy, One,” she replied with obvious relief, and for once did not care who noticed it. The commander chuckled a bit, then turned attention back to 1/Charlie. She shook her head, then vectored away from the tumbling and now slightly smaller chunk of yorick coral, and rejoined her flight-mates.
“Dry dock?” Cullen asked over the flight net.
“For Target Omega,” Bren responded, quietly. “The reason we came out here.”
Hul Maatul’a floated in the remains of his ruined aiirik ko hiin, the Yamma’ka Ko, and cursed not for the first time the infidel forces which had so thoroughly ambushed him in this cursed system. Had the participants been reversed, he would have made an offering of his enemies to the gods, in thanks for them granting him so complete a victory. Instead, he floated in the gravity-less environment of the Yamma’ka Ko, and wandered just what the infidel commander thought he was doing.
The infidels had set upon his force with overwhelming strength, with near perfect surprise, and had even caught him facing the wrong way. His aiirik ko hiin and attached mataloks had given the best they could, outright destroying one the attacking large ships, severely damaging two others, and getting a piece of all the rest. Before it was the destroyed, one of his mataloks, the Kaiid Fiith, had rammed and slain another of the large ships. And before the infidels had systematically stripped the Yamma’ka Ko of all dovin basal and yaret-kor emplacements, he had watched with great pleasure as his yorik-et pilots extracted a ruinous toll upon the infidel fighters, and even sent two of their midsized ships to the gods.
“So why am I still alive?” he muttered aloud. The rest of the crew mostly ignored him; as ordered, they were all concentrated on trying to get something on the ship working, perhaps enough to die as Yuuzhan Vong should. At the very least, they had managed to get the environmental organs working again, so they would not just suffocate in space.
Which meant he would live until the infidel commander finally got off his ass and sent them to the gods. He growled at the thought.
“Shipmaster!” one of crew called out. “We have regained access to the external sensors!”
“Show me!” he barked out. The villip display warped and writhed, as the creature began to conform itself to the signals sent to it. He growled again, at the sight of the infidel warships surrounding his own, then tilted his head at a strange sight. Something new came at him, from the direction of the thrice-cursed platforms and industry he had ostensibly been sent to destroy. Something big, and made of girders and wide platforms.
Jonathan Playbird was not, he guessed, he first of the Hellwalkers to see the Sergeant Major and Colonel Herclayn enter the briefing. But he was nearly so, and therefore nearly the first to jump to attention when the SMaj announced ‘Colonel on Deck’.
“As you were,” the Colonel said, gesturing for them to sit back down. “I’ll make this quick; the drydock from Aten-Re has arrived and took on Target Omega. They’re prepping it now, so the word from the Old Man is that we’re on in thirty.”
“Why thirty?” one of the AF detachment asked. Playbird wondered the same thing. Then, quickly, he started thinking through just what it was that his dad was up to.
“Because we’re pumping it with coma gas,” Playbird spoke up before he could check himself, and, fortunately, before he could actually interrupt the Colonel. Nevertheless, Herclayn gave him A Look and a raised eyebrow, but he just shook his head. “Sorry, sir. No inside information, it just… seemed like something he’d do. Sir.”
“Well, you’re right about that, Lieutenant. So, as Lieutenant Playbird here has kindly informed us,” he continued, dryly, “we’re flooding the dreadnaught-analog with coma gas. Fast spreading, fast acting coma gas; should only take fifteen minutes or so to percolate through the enemy ship. Once that’s done, we’re doing to then flood the ship with about a thousand sensor remotes, to get a good map of what’s inside. Should also take about fifteen minutes. Then we board and clear. Questions?”
“Prisoners?” Playbird asked.
“Word from the Old Man himself,” Colonel Herclayn said, looking over all of them. “Prisoners are nice. Prisoners are in fact an objective of this mission. But, and I quote here, ‘I’d rather have dead Vong and live marines than the other way around. Catch if catch can, but no stupid chances.’”
“Loadout?” one of the sergeants asked.
“Armor, full enviro-seals. Heavy weapons at the fore; E-11s don’t seem to work on these guys. Once we have the map, we divvy up the ship by companies and platoons.” He looked at the commander of the AF detachment; Playbird was sure he’d met him before, but could not place the name. “Do you want to take a few sections yourselves, sir, or do you want to act in support of my men?”
“I’ll get with your company commanders, we’ll come up with a few ideas, decide which to use when we know what we’re facing.”
“Makes sense,” the Colonel said, nodding. “I know this the first time we’ve worked directly together; hopefully my boys and girls will prove up to snuff.”
“I don’t doubt it, Colonel.”
“Right, right,” he said, then once more turned his attention to the regiment. “No further questions? Then, ‘L2.VIII’, and suit up.”