Crineal Chronicles 1: In Hera's Service (4 page)

BOOK: Crineal Chronicles 1: In Hera's Service
3.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

you’re in port, Major,” Hantos said cheerfully as Strieger and Crineal turned
and walked out of the O-Rec together. He wondered if they were going to end up
in the same quarters tonight, despite regulations. They certainly seemed to
like each other enough. Hantos shrugged; even if they were, which he thought
unlikely, it was none of his business. The commander signaled the bartender for
another whisky.

walked beside Crineal towards the pilots’ quarters. “I bet that ensign has a
great story for his work section tomorrow. How he bumped into the great General
Crineal and wasn’t burned to ashes by his glare,” she gave out a melodic laugh
that Crineal always found appealing. “He might even suggest that it’s possible
you’re human after all,” Strieger grinned at Crineal.

adopted an aloof air. “Talk like that could get you busted to his rank, Major,”
Crineal suggested with mock severity.

looked horrified at the idea and put her hand dramatically to her chest. “But,
Sir, whoever would you find to put up with you then?” and she laughed once
more. Crineal gave a snort of amusement as they arrived outside her quarters.

both stopped and he inclined his head to her. “Thank you for your company this
evening, Major. It was as lovely as usual. I’ll see you in the morning.”

nodded back “Thank you for the drink, Sir. I hope you sleep well.” She watched
as Crineal turned and walked off down the corridor towards his own quarters,
once again contemplating smacking him from behind and dragging him into her
room. Strieger sighed. She really, really needed to get laid.

Chapter Three


next day the strike force made the jump for Earth and Crineal was back in his
home system for the first time in twelve years. He stared at the system display
as he monitored the space around the Annihilator. Crineal had ordered all
squadrons on alert. He hated keeping Hera there in light of their patrol
tomorrow but he didn’t want to take any chances. The hours passed as the force
edged in towards Earth Orbital Three and he breathed a sigh of relief when they
finally docked. He passed the order to his pilots to stand down and be ready
for tomorrow. Crineal then checked in with the other squadron leaders and made certain
he had a complete list of who was on leave and when so he could make sure all
the patrols were covered. With that done he called it a day and turned in
himself. He just knew tomorrow was going to be rough.

next morning, after his exercise, shower and breakfast, he made his way to the
ready room and waited there whilst his pilots trickled in. Everyone was dressed
in their black flight suits that doubled as a survival suit and minor med bay.
The ready room was full with five minutes to spare. Crineal called them to
attention and then sat them down.

ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be running a standard patrol pattern
today. It’s going to be routine…” he paused for a second, “except the admiral
and I are expecting trouble.” Crineal watched as most of them straightened up
and listened more attentively. “There is no evidence but we think the rebels
might try something. Probably a hit and run raid. I want everyone to be sharp
and watch those sensors. No stunts or jerking off today,” he warned them, “Ok,
get to your ships and I’ll see you out there.”

pilots all stood and saluted him and then filed out of the room; Strieger and
Crineal brought up the rear. He entered the launch bay and nodded to the tech
standing by his Hunter doing the last of the pre-flight ground checks. “Are we
ready, Chief?”

Chief Uttepal turned and saluted him. “Yes, Sir. All systems checked and

nodded and climbed the steps. “Good. I’ll see you later, Chief.”

have a nice warm bay waiting for you, Sir,” he replied as he closed the hatch
on the general’s Hunter.

went through the pre-flight sequence and then kicked the engines into life. He
smoothly lifted the fighter off the deck, retracted the landing skids and
thrust gently out of the bay, slowly building power until he reached cruising
speed. As he cleared the carrier he could see the Earth below him. From up here
it looked just as he remembered: the blues browns and greens wrapped in swathes
of white.

his head clear of these distracting thoughts, he toggled his comm link on.
“This is Delta Leader to all flight leaders; form on me in standard patrol
formation.” Crineal switched channels as the squadron assembled around him.
“Beta Leader, this is Delta Leader. I’ve set our route so we end up in an area
between the Orbital and a line out to the star system Larahope. Fleet Intel
thinks the rebels have a base out that way, even if they can’t find it. I expect
them to try and catch us when we’re tired and out of position. I’m hoping that
we can at least be in place even if we’re tired. Expect the last hour of the
patrol to be the hottest.”

calm voice came back. “Roger that, Delta Leader. We’ll be waiting.”

fed the patrol route into his nav system and then relayed it to the rest of the
squadron.  Even if the rebels had spies on board the carrier, which he deemed
unlikely, there was no way they could know his patrol route. He hadn’t talked
about it to anyone and this was the first time his pilots were seeing it. It
placed the patrol just on the edge of long range torpedo fire from the carrier.
If the rebels were smart they would jump in about that range, orientate
themselves and get torpedo locks as they powered up their energy weapons. They
would expect to be out and turning for home before the fighter screen could
react. Maybe he could pull a repeat of Zephos Mining Station with calculation,
rather than luck, this time. He settled back in his flight couch for what he
expected to be seven hours of nervous boredom and maybe thirty minutes of hell.

hours and fifteen minutes later his prediction had proven accurate, apart from
the hell bit. No rebels had shown up anywhere and it was nearly time to turn
for home. He knew his pilots were all exhausted and he looked forward to seeing
them off on their leaves tomorrow. He’d just keyed his comm link when his
sensor display flickered for a second and then spiked as it started to scream
updated information about new contacts. Crineal’s eyes flicked over the data as
he took in the numbers. Oh damn, he thought, three full squadrons of Axes
leading in a squadron of Archers. Ninety fighters and thirty bombers. The Archers
were the preferred bomber of the rebels. Even though there were only thirty of
them, that was enough to saturate the carrier’s defenses and score some hits if
not significant damage. Each Archer usually carried ten energy torpedoes in
pods slung under the fuselage in addition to a pair of lasers. Loaded this way
they were ungainly and easy targets. He assimilated the rest of the data. They
hadn’t come in where he’d predicted – almost, but not quite. They were at the
far side of the envelope. This left them with a free run in towards the
carrier, or it would have, if Crineal’s squadron wasn’t bearing down on their
flank. He wasn’t between them and the Annihilator, but then the Axes weren’t
between him and the Archers, either. He smiled grimly, those bombers were about
to be in a world of hurt. After that it was going to be their turn to take some
licks as the Axes turned on his squadron. The rebel squadrons only had thirty
fighters a piece, but that was enough to give them better than a two-to-one

Squadron, this is Delta leader. Alpha through Epsilon flights target the
nearest squadron of Axes with missiles; everyone else target those Archers.
Once the missiles are away then everyone go for Archers and rake them with
everything you’ve got. We need to wipe them out on the first pass. After that,
it’s all defensive until reinforcements get here. No stupid risks. Attack
formation Omega One. We’ll keep it simple.” He switched channels. “Annihilator
Flight Control, this is Hera Leader. You have bandits incoming, one wing of
Axes and one squadron of Archers. We’ll be dealing with the Archers as primary,
but then things are going to get a little warm for us. Appreciate any help you
can send. Hera Leader out.”

that, Hera Leader. Chronos and Hecate are scrambling now. ETA one-five minutes,
repeat one-five minutes. Flight Control out.”

checked his tactical display and saw that everyone was registering missile
locks as they slipped into the attack formation. Even before the last Hunter settled
into place, pairs of missiles were streaking from each ship. He watched the
display and saw the rebel formations line up for their attack run and then
start to scatter as their sensors picked up Hera Squadron’s missile locks. The
Axes began to pull around in high G turns whilst the Archers just went
everywhere as they tried to lose the incoming missiles. As torpedo platforms
they were good little ships; as acrobatic craft, they left a lot to be desired,
and right now that’s exactly what they needed to be. The space in front of
Crineal’s Hunter erupted in balls of light as missiles found their targets. His
sensors fed him updated information: fifteen Archers were gone, six more were
crippled. Seventeen Axes were just wreckage, too, as they had practically no
chance to make any evasive maneuvers before the missiles were on them. Then
Crineal’s squadron was within laser range of the Archers. Each Hunter was armed
with four laser mounts in addition to the two missiles. Bolts from the laser
cannons lashed out at the remnants of the bomber formation. Three of the
crippled Archers died and four more, untouched by the missiles, ran into his
squadron’s massed laser volley as they tried to twist away from the missiles
chasing them. Crineal heard a few whoops of triumph from some of his pilots,
but most were quiet. The old timers knew they were about to be hurt. They’d
sacrificed their position to take out the threat to the carrier. Now there were
Axes sweeping around in front of them and more curling in from behind. I’ve
been in better spots, he thought.

is Delta Leader. We’re going to try to blow through the Axes in front and then
make a run towards the carrier. We’ll break off and get back in close to them
as soon as they come around behind us for a missile lock. We’re just playing
for time here, no heroics.”

Axes in front swept in and opened up with their own lasers. Crineal’s formation
answered them. He felt his ship shudder as it took laser hits, and then they
were through. His shields were weakened, but he was otherwise in one piece. Not
all his people were that lucky, Iota Two was gone as was Alpha Four. Several
other ships had sustained hits, some serious. Red damage indicators were
streaked across his squadron display like a rash. Seven more Axes were down. He
didn’t have a chance to see how many were damaged.

ships, break for the carrier.” Crineal pulled his Hunter around in a tight turn
and looked on in pride as his squadron followed him keeping the formation close
despite the damage to their ships. The Axes they had run through had peeled
away after contact to pass over their fellows who were following Hera Squadron.
The rebel fighters seemed to be caught a bit flat-footed by Crineal’s sudden
turn but quickly corrected and moved to run up behind him and his ships again.
Crineal figured he’d bought them maybe thirty seconds with that. Still another
ten minutes before help arrived.

is Delta Leader. On my mark all flights follow your leader and break towards
the ships following us. Mark NOW, Break, Break, Break!”

squadron split into individual flights and curled back around to face the rebel
fighters. The rebel reaction was disjointed as they struggled to pick targets
out from the splintered Imperial formation. The sleek manta hulls of Crineal’s
force tore down into the triangular shapes of the rebel Axes. Shields flared on
both sides as ships took hits. Major Strieger scored a blow on one Axe and it
spun out of control straight into another Axe. Both fighters came apart in a
ball of wreckage. The Hunters of Hera Squadron fought for their lives in a
frenzied dogfight. More Axes were damaged and some destroyed, but they were
scoring their own hits on the Imperial ships. Just as Crineal registered
Lieutenant Perl taking a heavy hit that blew away a stabilizer control panel,
his own ship rocked around him. Damage warning lights glared at him casting a
sickly red glow around the cockpit and he saw he’d lost a chunk of his right
wing tip. His squadron display reported Gamma Two was gone as well. Most of his
ships had taken hits and it was looking ugly; the rash of red damage indicators
was now a smear across the board. From the display he wasn’t even sure how Eta
Leader was still flying. As he wheeled his Hunter around for another pass,
Lieutenant Perl in Delta Three started to slide out of formation, the
stabilizer damage being just too much for him to hold position in that kind of
turn. Crineal cursed as he tried to tag another Axe. He triggered his lasers as
it hovered briefly in his sights, but he scored only a glancing hit. The Axe
kept turning and then pulled out into a straight line away from Crineal. The
move threw him for a second and it took him a few moments to pull out of his
own turn and locate the Axe again. Then something struck him, all of the Axes
were pulling away and on the edge of his near tactical display the blips
representing Hecate squadron started to appear, followed by another mass of
blips that were Chronos Squadron.

Leader to Hera Squadron. All ships disengage and pull back to the carrier. Make
sure the flights stick together, we’ll only be going as fast as the most
damaged craft can go.” The flight leaders acknowledged his message and the
remaining ships of Hera Squadron arced around in wide turns to head for safety.
Crineal did another check of his squadron’s status as they made for the cover
of the approaching reinforcements. It wasn’t good, three ships gone and at
least twenty of the remaining thirty-seven were heavily damaged. Not a single
ship had escaped untouched. As he grimaced at the readout, his comm came to

Leader, this is Iota Leader,” Captain Saymes’ gruff voice came through, pain
evident in its roughness “I have a distress beacon from Iota Two. I have no
idea how badly she’s hurt, but Lieutenant Feldea appears to be alive. Can we
get SnR out here ASAP?”

is Hera Leader, roger that, Iota Leader. I’ll get Flight on it.” Crineal
switched channels. “Annihilator Flight Control, this is Hera Leader. We have a
distress beacon from Iota Two. Please scramble SnR to pick her up. We have no
readings on Gamma Two or Alpha Four but we might get lucky if we search the

that, Hera Leader, we scrambled three Search and Rescue ships five minutes ago.
We’re passing along Iota Two’s beacon information to SnR One now.”

felt a wave of relief at the forethought of Flight Control. Getting those SnR
craft out early could mean the difference between life and death for an ejected
pilot. Their flight suits were rated as being able to keep a pilot alive in
open space for twelve hours, under ideal conditions. Of course, being blown out
of your fighter as it exploded hardly counted as ideal. “Thank you, Flight. I’m
also transmitting you my flight log so you can analyze it and ascertain the
last known positions of Alpha Four and Gamma Two. I know the chances of finding
them are slim but I’d appreciate it.” He keyed in the log to transmit.

BOOK: Crineal Chronicles 1: In Hera's Service
3.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Seeds of Time by Kay Kenyon
The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry
A Saint for Life by Nicole Heck
The Charioteer by Mary Renault
Layers Deep by Lacey Silks
Get Off on the Pain by Victoria Ashley