Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Year 2294
Great Rift City; Mars

 Jennifer Clay hurried down the sidewalk towards her small apartment that she shared with her husband Michael. She was very worried about Michael, who had gone to fight in what was being unoriginaly called: The Battle for Earth.

 In the past few years, there was peace throughout known space. Then the Pirate Coalition appeared out of nowhere, viciously destroying Navy outposts and New Alliance colonies, never giving colonies the chance to surrender, never letting a single person survive. Most frightening of all, was that these attackers were always accompanied by at least one Chaos warship. Now the war had been taken to the home of the New Alliance. Earth.

 Not two weeks ago, Pirate Coalition LSTs appeared in the skies of Mars, quicky taking the Martian capital and demanding surrender. A fleet of Pirate Coalition and Chaos warships beat back the Alliance forces. The Martian counsal had no choice but to answer their demands. The Coalition just wanted Mars, and didn't care if the citizens contacted anyone off planet. All communications were monitored.

 Jennifer Clay inserted her key card and entered her apartment and moved directly for her computer. She made a request and hoped for news of Michael. She brought up the screen and read the letter from the New Alliance.

 To: Jennifer Clay
Reason: Request status of Captain Michael Clay

 Dear Mrs. Clay,
I regret to inform you that your husband, Michael Clay, is confirmed dead. His ship, the Nova was destoyed while refueling at the time that Saltlake Base was attacked by Coalition warships. All compasations are suspended until Mars is no longer occupied by Coalition forces.
Captain Ray Greene
NAV 345

 Earth orbit: PCV FlamesofHell

 Admiral Sampson stood proudly on the bridge of his recently captured cruiser. The cruiser moved slowly through the battlefield, randomly firing at New Alliance ships and aiding Coalition vessels. He laughed as an Alliance destroyer exploded, crashing into G-kon, causing massive damage to the civilian station. There were many battles being fought in Earth orbit, but none as important as this one. Admiral Sampson planned to destroy G-kon, killing thousands. He also hoped that it would gain him the favor of Lord Watkins.

 GKON Orbital Station

 Derrick Boyton looked out of his cabin's viewport into the depths of space. The sight always amazed him. Whether it be the blackness of space and the tiny pinpricks of the distant stars that monopolized his view, the beautiful view of the Earth or even the occasional freighter passing by.

 And then there was the current view that captivated Derrick. A full-fledged space battle. Dozens of flares moved about and beyond Derrick's view as he stood helplessly within the confines of his quarters until the stationwide alert was over.

 It was perplexing that whoever it was out there fighting against the New Alliance fighters and gunships would even bother with a defenseless, civilian station. Derrick didn't know how many people were on board GKON, but he was sure all of them were terrified out of their minds when the alert sounded. Derrick himself didn't waste his time with panic or anguish at what could happen to him if the station was breached. He watched and waited for the battle to turn. The New Alliance had more warships in the battle, but that didn't seem to give them any edge against their opponents. Just minutes ago, Derrick felt the entire station lurch and rumble as GKON sounded a collision warning. The PA had informed repair teams to proceed to sections C and H to seal off hull breaches. Derrick wondered what could have hit with such force and size to cause so much destruction to the station.

 Then Derrick saw it. The most spectacular sight he had ever laid eyes on. A ship so gigantic that it dwarfed the rest of the vessels around it. But it wasn't the size alone that made it stand out above the rest.

 It was a warship, it had to be Danube-class Cruiser. Derrick had heard about them in the info-reports every now and then, but he never realized the sheer power of the ship.

 The Cruiser was moving along at a leisurely pace, blasting away with huge cannons at any ships that dared to cross its path.

 "Awesome!" With that comment, Derrick knew that the battle was already won. The Navy would be able to wrap things up in no time at all with a warship like that on their side. Then Derrick saw it. A Navy corvette flying within meters of his viewport as it passed by. Derrick had always liked the look of the corvette and watched as it flew into battle.

 Strangely, it was heading directly at the great Cruiser. Did the corvette need repairs? It had to be.

 Without warning, the corvette spun widely off course, flames spewing out of its upper hemisphere. Did the Cruiser just fire on the Navy corvette? No, it couldn't be.

 As Derrick watched, two more bolts erupted from the Cruiser's guns. Both tracked directly into the corvette which exploded in a fury of gas and flame.

 Derrick's jaw dropped down as he realized that great war machine out there was not a Navy vessel, but an enemy warship. As it approached the station, Derrick could only wonder if the Navy would have a hope of winning against such a terrifying enemy. But it wouldn't fire on a harmless, civilian station. One of the first constructs in orbit around Earth. No, it wouldn't.

 With that last thought, Derrick saw the blinding array of bolts spew forth from the Cruisers guns and slam into GKON. He lost his footing as the his cabin shook all around him. The lighting went off and the alarm changed pitch to an abandon signal. Derrick knew it was all over, there was no use in running to a lifeboat that will just be caught in the blast when GKON is destroyed. That is if he could even reach the lifeboat before the station collapsed.

 Derrick looked out his viewport one last time at the horrible beast that was ripping the station apart. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch helplessly as he and everyone onboard were murdered by these monsters.

 Within the next few minutes, GKON station's structural integrity failed and slowly came apart. The fusion reactors were breached and enveloped nearly half the station in a miniature sun. The Cruiser did not stop firing on the station until every section was destroyed.

 New Alliance Corvette Imperium

 Captain Stapem scanned his instrument panels for a third time. All systems showed green.

 "Confirm Ready status with the Vanguard," he told his Tactical officer. "Vanguard has ordered us to hold position and await the Go signal," relayed Lieutenant Jark.

 Stapem waited patiently. He really didin't want to hold off any longer. These pirates were on his turf. The Navy was supposed to be in control of all Known Space. The Sol system was supposed to be the pinnacle of Navy dominance.

 The Pirate Coalition had changed things. Within a matter of hours, the pirates had turned the serenity of Earth orbit into total chaos. The Navy had been caught by surprise. It could be the only reason for the rediculous victories made by the pirates. That and the fact that they were attacking harmless civilian targets. It was confirmed that GKON was destroyed with no survivors.

 "They will pay," whispered Stapem. It was time to show this measely Pirate Coalition the error of their ways.

 Stapem had to admit that he was impressed by the sheer audacity it took to attack Earth. That audacity was about to be rewarded with a crushing counter-attack by Navy forces.

 Even now, there were six identical task forces ready to take their revenge. Each task force consisted of a destroyer, a fully loaded carrier, three Pacoms and six Corvettes. That was how Earth Defense duty went, various units were set up in Earth orbit to repel any attack force. Since it was impossible to know what the enemy would attack with or which targets they would go after, a number of ships were held in reserve for Earth's "ace-in-the-hole". Once the enemy's attack plan was analyzed, the task forces would be sent in to flank the enemy invasion fleet.

 The Vanguard task force was about to be sent in against the fleet that destroyed GKON. Reportedly, the fleet consisted of various tugs, patcoms, and corvettes, not to mention a Cruiser.

 "All ships, we are going in. Corvettes Imperium and Sabre are to asist the Vanguard on an attack run on that Cruiser. All other ships will attack any aggressors. Good luck."

 The Alliance fleet were forced to drop out of LDS 300 kilometers away from the L4 point. It seemed like the Coalition had erected a LDSI field around the battlezone. The Vanguard fleet had been trying to contact the Alliance ships that were supposed to be fighting the Coalition forces. So far there had been no response.

 Captain Stapem turned to his weapons officer. "Scan the area."

 "I am doing so now, sir. There is so much debris, that it is impossible to find the cruiser, or it's escorts."

 Stapem knew that was bad. They would have to get in very close and do a visual scan. G-KON was so large, that could take up to an hour to find all of the ships that could be hidden in the debris field.

 Captain Stapem paced the bridge of the Imperium. The Alliance fleet was moving toward the battlezone at 500 m/s, leaving the Coalition fleet; if it was still there; plenty of time for them to prepare.

 The navigator suddenly called out, "Sir! There is a general hail from the debris field to the destroyer."

 "Can we listen in?"

 "Yessir. On bridge speakers now."

 Admiral Sampson's voice, heavy with contempt, boomed over the speakers, "Alliance forces. This is Admiral Sampson, I demand that you leave this area immediately. You are intruding on Coalition Space."

 The captain of the destroyer responded instantly, "You are ordered to surrender to my forces now. This is, and always will be Alliance Space. Soon, your entire movement will be destroyed."

 "You haven't been keeping up with the news have you Captain? The Coalition already controls Momar, Delta Pavonis, and soon we will take Banard. Now we control Mars and the Earth L5 and L4 points of this system. Oh, and if you have any last words, I think that you should say them now. You're about to die. Sampson out."

 Stapem was quaking with rage. How dare he make such an demand? Captain Stapem swore to himself that he would make sure that the Imperium would stike the fatal blow to the cruiser.

 "Sir!", the weapons officer shouted in alarm.

 Stapem looked up just in time to see a large metal fragment streak by. He estimated that it had to be going over 15 kilometers per second. The fragment went wide over the Imperium and struck the fighter carrier near the thruster section of the ship. Stapem watched in horror as another speeding fragement hit the carrier dead center. C-fighters poured out of the carrier, their pilots attempting to escape the carrier before it exploded.

Stapem knew instantly what the Coalition fleet had done. They had set up a LDSI field, and when the Alliance forces were close enough, they had started up a large mass driver and were firing fragments of G-KON at them. Because the fragments had no thermal trace, it was almost impossible to detect them before it to late. And concidering the acceleration rates of destroyers and other large ships, it was always to late.

 Another deadly projectile went wide and flew by the fleet harmlessly. It was simple to see that they were now aiming for the capital ship of the Alliance fleet.

 The destroyer's captain seemed to realize this as his panicked voice came over the speakers, "All ships, all ships! Fall back and regroup! We must... The captain's voice was suddenly cut off as the destroyer was nearly cleaved in half by a massive piece of debris. The destroyer spiralled insanely and crashed into the corvette Sabre.

 Captain Stapem realized that he was now in charge, "All ships! I am now taking control of this fleet. Follow the Imperium out of here."

 The Coalition didn't bother firing at the remaining ships. The Alliance fleet withdrew without incident.

 **2 hours later**

 The small fleet sat motionless in space, as Stapem debated what to do. "Send an FTL message to Navy HQ. We must alert them to this new development." Ordered Captain Stapem.

 "I can't sir. Somehow the Coalition is blocking both FTL and long-range radio. They seem to be using our own satilites and relays to produce a very powerful blocking signal."

 "Fine. C-fighters, dock with a ship, then prepare to enter LDS. We'll deliver the message oursevles."

 After the twelve C-fighters docked to the ships, the high-pitched whine of the LDS started up, then ended abruptly.

 "Suh, the LDS is down. It seems that that inhibitor field was more than meets the eye. When we tried to activate LDS the whole damn thing fried out!" Exclaimed the engineer, "We need the startup component replaced, before we can go anywhere. We can't repair it without a space dock, suh."

 "Sh*t"

 Earth L5

 Once again, the Navy were facing devastating failure in the battle with the Coaltion forces that had taken Earth L5 and Saltlake Base. Two powerful Alliance task forces were slowly losing ground as more and more Coalition ships appeared at the Point. The Navy had thought that the C-fighters would give them an edge. They had sent out the C-fighters first, and had thought that the fighters would destroy all Coalition resistance. When the C-fighters were in range, Saltlake Base lanced out with Chaos tractor beams. The base was able to hold the fighters in place as Coalition warships easily picked them off.

 The Alliance heavy cruiser Destiny sat ninety kilometers from the battle, contatantly scanning the area, and radioing tactical assesments to the battling ships. The heavy cruiser was designed for extremely detailed scanning, and had very powerful transiever equipment. And to survive in the heat of battle, it was the most heavily armored and shielded vessel in the entire Alliance fleet.

 Admiral Jameson was getting worried about how the battle was turning against the Alliance fleet.

 His nav officer shouted out, "Sir! We're getting a very weak signal from Task Force Three."

 "Let's hear it, Ensign"

 The message-full of static-began to play,"This is Task Force Three. We have mangaged to destroy our target ships, with the loss of one corvette."

 Relieved, Admiral Jameson said, "Get over here right away. We need all the ships that we can get. The Coalition has more ships than anticipated." "We are incapable of reaching you. The Coalition has some sort of device that renders LDS inoperatable. Even if we started out now, we wouldn't reach your position for another six hours."

 "We lost the transmission sir." Stated the nav officer.

 Jameson sighed and stared at the terrible battle in front of him.

 Sol System, somewhere beyond Pluto.

 Captain Jadawin Darke tapped his fingers impatiently upon the CMD console. In the dim red emergency lights the bridge of the Independent Merchant Vessel "Five Aces" looked like a scene out a psychotic's nightmare. The gaunt faces of his crew stared at him, imploring him to find some way out the situation his ill advised good intentions had brought them to. But that was not all. Back in the freighters massive cargo bays he could feel, rather than hear, the whimpers of his 'Cargo'. Refugees.

 As the Coalition fleet had rampaged across known space Jadawin had found himself in a position to do some good for once in his life. Having always walked the fine line between legitimate business man and criminal entrepeneur, all in the name of a quick buck, he had now found something that really mattered. It must have been the discovery of the wreckage of that Science Outpost in Upsilon Eridani that had changed him, he decided. The corpses of women and children ruptured and desicated by the explosive decompresion which had torn into their home had drifted before the view port. Death had not come quick as the expressions of horror and pain upon each face had clearly shown. It was later that he had discoverd that the pirates had first boarded the station, had their 'fun' and left. The scientists must have felt that the worst was over, that they had survived, before the Coalition ships had turned and opened fire. Every night he still saw those faces, imploring him, begging him for the help. "If only you had come sooner," they seemed to say, "you could have saved us..." Every night too he saw the lone Coalition ship that had appeared, like magic, in his six.

 "Stand down and prepared to be boarded," the pirate had commanded, "unless you intend to join the dead".

 Before Jadawin had lain the wreck of the station, behind the guns of the pirate. In his desperation to escape both horrors he remebered the Antimatter Pion rockets used for deep space work before the development of the thruster. He had ordered reserve antimatter injected into the exhaust of the main thruster. The momentary acceleration had kicked the Five Aces out of PBC range, but had taken a far greater toll on the pirates. Hard radiation from the exhaust plume had torn into the ship. Fittingly the coalition crew's death had not been quick, nor painless. From the ships log he had learnt the fate of the scientists. He had, amongst other things, salvaged shields, weapons, a military grade capsule drive and components for the Five Aces' own tempermental LDS.

 All these things had proven useful as they had run, always one jump ahead of the main coalition fleets, saving those they could and bringing warning of what lay in their wake. For a while they had been part of a fleet of refugee ships, seeking any port in the storm that followed upon their heels. Klono or some other space god must have been watching over them, for when the pirates had fallen upon that fleet they alone had been able to LDS away from the massacre. But now their luck was at an end for the battle had reached the Sol system and they had nowhere left to run.

The Five Aces now hung, to all intense purposes, dead in space. Scattered about them lay the numerous FTL relays with which the first the Commonwealth and then the Alliance communicated across known space. Now all they transmitted was the imminent destruction of the Alliance and the jamming signal of the Coalition. Using secrets he had once bought from the Indies Jadawin had gained access to a relay and was listening into the sounds of civilisation's destruction. Still his crew stared, waiting for their beloved captain to speak, to rescue them, to find some refuge from the pirate scourge. But he couldn't think, the hiss of the coalition's FTL interferance seemed to fill his mind with fog. Then out of the hiss a tinny voice sounded, coming from out of the immense gulf of space. Jadawin's fingers ceased their drumming.

 "Laurie," Jadawin barked at his navigator and First Mate, "isolate that signal and intesify!" Laurie McKay bent her head down and rapidly tapped instructions into the CPU. The voice sounded again, loud and clear despite the jamming of the pirates.

 "...This is CNV-572, requesting instructions. Naval Command do you read me? This is CNV-572, requesting instructions. Can Anybody hear me?..." The crew sat in stunned silence as the message began to repeat itself.

 "Where's it coming from ?" Jadawin asked.

 "Somewhere out there, Captain," Laurie replied, gesturing out the main viewport to the stars of Known Space.

 "Then we're not alone..." Jadawin muttered to himself.

 "Captain?"

 Jadawin remebered back to his childhood on the moon, to one long luna night when a terror of the dark had overwhelmed him. His mother had come to reassure him. "Even in the darkest night there is a light that cannot be extiguished," she had said, "it's name is Hope" and with those words she had pointed out the tiny viewport as a full Earth had risen over the horizen. That vision had never left him and now, in his darkest hour it came to him again. If the Five Aces were not alone in surviving the Coalition's rampage, if but one other ship had survived, then why not two, or three, or twenty, or thirty? And if that many ships had survived then why not more? And if those ships could be brought together, if someone could be found to lead them - another Cray or MacDuff, then would there not be some slim chance that the Coalition could be defeated? Jadawin grabbed that slim chance like a drowning man grabs the slightest bit of driftwood.

"Collin, bring us up to full power. Simone, bring WPS on line. Laurie, plot a course for the nearest clear L-point."

 "Aye aye Captain," she replied, the slightest grin breaking on her face as a tremor of thrust ran through the hull. "May I ask where we're going?" Jadawin pointed out the main viewport, mimicing her earlier gesture.

 "Somewhere out there, Laurie, somewhere out there..."

 Naval Command Headquarters, Earth

 "We just lost Earth Defense Station 12!" yelled the strategic coordinator above the cacophony of reports and commands that perforated the command center.

 Rear Admiral Cicer looked upon the tactical overlay of near Earth orbit and noted the loss of EDS 12 in Gamma sector. Without that station, the Coalition forces could open up an attack vector for orbital bombardment of grids 9 through 18 of Earth.

 The chaos of the past 3 hours in Earth orbit could now spread to Earth itself.

 "We have to seal that hole or we will lose millions of people!" insisted General Forve.

 "And what would you like us to seal it with?" asked Commodore Grathis.

 "We have no way of contacting our ships and half are ships were last reported to have disfunctional LDS drives."

 "Our defenses are being torn apart and will be annihilated if we can't break through this jamming and soon."

 "Our scanners indicate that the majority of our task forces are reasonably intact," said Cicer. "Some are even in close enough proximity to exploit the flanks of the Coalition forces; but without comms, we can't give them the commands."

 Grathis looked around quizzically. "Radio comms can be jammed with simple radio pulse transmitters. How are they able to jam our FTL comms?"

 "Those cursed Chaos ships!" said Forve. "There are at least three of them our there accompany the main fleets of the Coalition attack. I wouldn't be surprised if they were responsible."

 "If thats the case, then I don't know if we can combat such advanced tech," Grathis grimly commented.

 A short silence fell on the command staff as they tried to search for the answers to this conflict.

 The silence was broken by Lieutenant Smythe as she informed the staff of relieving news. "Sirs, the Sersei fleet has just report from the Toliman jump point, they are coming through and requests orders."

 "Good, tell them to come in with weapons blazing," ordered Cicer. "We have lost control of the L5 and that will surprise any Coalition forces. Have them rendevous at.."

 "Hold on," requested Grathis. "Are you in contact with them now, Lieutenant?"

 "Yes sir, they wanted to confirm their jump through," responded Smythe.

 "How is it that we have comms with the Sersei fleet out at Alpha Centauri, yet none with our ship insystem?" asked Grathis.

 "Well, in general, interstellar comms are given a higher priority in the FTL relay traffic codes," said Smythe. This knowledge came from training and working with the comms network everyday. A relay will send a message from system to system faster than it will repeat the message back insystem. Special military codes are sent at the beginning of all our messages to bypass that ordering system and give our messages top and immediate priority."

 Rear Admiral Cicer was starting to see a pattern. "Lieutenant, run a diagnostic on our FTL traffic codes."

 With the press of a few buttons, the diagnostic started.

 "Sir, somethings wrong," said Smythe. "The military recognition code, the one that gives us immediate priority, is missing from the database. That doesn't make sense."

 "It does if you don't want your enemy talking to each other," said General Forve. "Those blasted Coalitionists probably planted a virus in the FTL relay system network."

 "But now we have a way around it," said Commodore Grathis. "Inform the Sersei to remain on station at the Toliman point, they are going to become our new comm relay system. We simply send out our orders for each unit to the Sersei and they will relay them back to the corresponding units."

 General Forve had a sly grin on his face. "Now these Coalitionists will see the full power of the Alliance Navy."
 
 

1