Jordan Price was like most boys on New Holland. He dreamed of dancing in the sky like the Sky Dancers. To fly among the clouds under his own power. There is only one problem. Only women could be Sky Dancers, and Jordan was a boy. Then came the day that would all change
Battleship Fire Wind, Upper Atmosphere, 9 days later…
First Lieutenant Danni White worked her station as hard as she could. Her Captain wants those pirate support platforms. It was her job as the battle sensor Watch Officer to find them. Only this was one time that she was out of her depth. She was trained to find targets in deep space, or on a planet’s surface. Here she was trying to find a target in what was basically an ocean from high orbit. She had to recalibrate her sensors eight times every shift. Her subordinates had given up and refused to sit at their stations until the captain had given up this futile search.
The gas giant that was New Holland was just over 143,708 km from pole to pole, and 152,984 km at the equator. In short just a little bigger than Jupiter in the Earth Prime system. The sheer size of the planet had the whole squadron spread out from the North Pole to the equator, working search patterns. The sensor operators, on the other ships of the squadron were also complaining to her. As the senior operator aboard the Flag Ship for the squadron Danni was the one to catch the shit from the other watch officers. The only person Danni could go to was her friend Gunnery Lieutenant Nora Holloway.
More than once Danni thought that she had a hard target for her captain that she was positive they had finally found one of the pirate platforms. Only to have one of the Heavy Cruisers report back that it was a crystal or just a gas knot. Those misses had allowed her to calibrate the sensors better, but it was still not good enough to find what she was looking for. “Damn it, if the Captain would just let me scan one of those fracking city platforms just once. I know that I could find those damned pirate platforms.”
“What was that L.T.?” asked Seaman Fourth Class Hess, the enlisted operator on duty at the time. He knew that the L.T. had said something, but hadn’t heard what. His headphones had blocked out most of what she said.
“Nothing Hess. It was nothing. Just talking to myself, and wishing.”
“You know what they say about sensor operators who talk to themselves, L.T.?” Hess smirked at her.
Knowing that there was about to be a joke made at her expense Danni just answered. “No what do they say, Hess?”
“That it’s the first sign of impotence, but that only happens for enlisted. Officers have been found to have a lowered IQ and few brain cells. Sorry, ma’am, but you’re on the fast track for the vegetable farm.” The rest of the bridge crew heard the by play between the two sensor operators and chuckled. Even Danni had to smile before laughing. The joke was just the medicine she needed to get her second wind. Then just as she was starting to get back to her own scans Hess places his hand on hers. “Um… L.T. I think I might have a contact?”
“What do you got Hess?”
“It’s on the passive scans. Heavy engine noise, like pumps circulating air. I know this sound crazy, but I also have what sounds like swelling air currents. Like when we make lower atmosphere entrees. You, know like a wind rushing around the haul of a ship as it gets ready to make landfall.” Hess was already starting to track the target location sounds.
“Okay, Hess, I get what you’re talking about. Start your track, and send me what you have to my station.” Danni spent the next twenty minutes going over the data that Hess had sent her. The sensor data kept telling Danni that it was a ship, and a very big one. Yet, after nine days of false leads she wasn’t about to jump to conclusions. As she worked the data, she noticed that the ‘target’ was changing altitude and yes, it was moving. This was most definitely a man-made target.
“Guns! Possible contact! Bearing two-five-three-point-three. Altitude seven-seven-zero-one-five-seven-point-two-eight descending. Tracking Two-five to three-six-zero. Contact is heavy.” Danni had no sooner called out the possible target than the bridge crew began making bets among themselves. Seeing this Danni sighed, then looked at the white grease pin marks at her station counting. This would be the seventeenth time her words set in motion a battleplan that had yet to be used. After the fifth time, the bridge crew started taking bets, after the twelfth time the gunnery-crews started a pool. Her own sensor operators, had placed bets in the gunnery pool. “Guns I’ve got sixty Gold Imperials that says your boys and girls are going to get a workout this time.”
“What odds are you giving Tactical?” Nora called out from her position. She knew that Danni was sick and tired of the other sections giving her section shit.
“Whatever you want to give, Guns. We have a hard-lock on a man-made target.” Danni had not turned away from her station until now. “And Nora, it’s not alone.”
“OH SHIT!” Nora spun around in her chair. “Are you positive Danni?”
“In more ways than one. Time to wake the CO. Nora, I hope those modified torpedoes of yours are going to work.” Danni called back.
“If they don’t, it’s going to be a long descent down to where that target is. Any idea of what we’re looking at yet?” Nora asked.
Danni turned and looked at Hess. “Well, Hess, what do you think? We got a pirate raider or something else down there?”
“Ma’am, I’ve been working that contact as hard as I can and all I can tell you is that it is as big as a heavy Cruiser or Overlord cargo drop ship.” Hess looked over at Danni. “Ma’am, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’m also starting to pick up the sounds of something even bigger down there. And ma’am, whatever it is, it’s as big as any of the cloud city platforms.”
“GET ME CONFIRMATION ON THAT TACTICAL!” Nora yelled from across the bridge deck. “Steward go wake the CO and NUMBER ONE. NOW! ALL HANDS TO BATTLESTATIONS!”
Those words set the final preparations for combat in motion aboard the Battleship. For the next ten minutes Danni and Hess worked to confirm their findings. By the time Captain Lisa Holts and the ships Executive Office entered the bridge they had confirmed their target’s size and destination. Lara Holts could tell by the look on her sensor operations officer’s face they had a hard target.
“Talk to me Tactical. What do we have?”
“Captain, we have two targets. Both at the same altitude, with our first target on a collision course with the secondary. We’re still working on the size of the secondary target, but the primary is confirmed to be a raider class dropship. Ma’am this has to be one of those pirate bases with a returning raider ship.”
“COMS, any reports of attacks on the Cloud Cities?” Lara called out.
“Negative, Captain. The planet has been quiet as the grave for the past fifteen days. If there’s been an attack no one is talking about it.”
“If that is the case then we may have just gotten more than a bit lucky. I would lay long odds that is a supply ship coming home to mama. Tactical, get me a hard lock on that target. Guns I want a full spread of those torpedoes. Try to force them to the upper reaches. If not blow that bitch straight to hell.”
A round of ‘Aye Captains’ echoed through the bridge as the crew for the Battleship Fire Wind began final preparations for combat. At their station Danni White and Seaman Hess worked furiously at getting the needed hard lock. Within twenty seconds the two Tactical operators were calling out range, bearing, and heading for both targets. Then Danni did the one thing none of them expected. She fired off an active sensor targeting sweep. The return flashed across her screen showing a massive cloud platform. “CAPTAIN! HARD LOCK ON PIRATE PLATFORM!”
“GUNS! TARGET THE PLATFORM!” the words had no sooner left her mouth than a full spread of missiles rose out of the clouds. The foreword anti-missile batteries fired sweeping the incoming missiles from the sky. With those forty missiles, the pirate platform sealed its fate. From the bow of the Fire Wind twenty-four heavy anti-ship torpedoes streaked towards the lower depths and the platform.
At speeds reaching super-sonic the five-hundred-pound-warhead torpedoes ripped through the sky leaving behind swilling tunnels in the clouds. The Weapons and Armament crews were counting on the speed of the weapons to reach their targets before the pressure of the lower atmosphere crushed them. While the engine compartments had been reinforced there wasn’t much they could do for the warhead. The very nature of the explosives prevented this. Not that it would matter in the long run. The pure concussive blast from five-hundred pounds of ship destroying high-explosives would do more damage than the actual impacts.
The pressures of the lower atmosphere made the gases act like in the same manner as a liquid. Just like water the gases wouldn’t be compressed or moved out of the way easily. The vacuum created by the blast would rip whole sections from the platform through sheer force. The blast itself would rupture the protective seals for whole sections weakening joins and modular connections.
The first to break free would be the outer edge sections and docks. These were quickly followed by the storage warehouse and living areas. The explosion of the armory and weapons storage modules brought about the greatest damage. Their deaths disrupted the massive generators that powered the station keepers. One at a time the three station keeper modules failed. With this failure, the platform Dark Horizon once home to the largest pirate fleet on all of New Holland died.
The only witness to the deaths of thousands of men and women was the Raider class dropship Dark Heart. The crew was forced to watch as their home came apart under the relentless assault of both nature, and man. The Dark Heart didn’t have long to mourn the loss of its home port. The blasts that killed the Dark Horizon were having their own effect on the Raider. Unlike the platform though the dropship could change its altitude easier, and faster. Pushing their engines to the max the Dark Heart raced for the upper atmosphere, and safety.
Aboard the Fire Wind Captain Lara Holts could not believe what had just happened. “GUNS! I thought you told me those torpedoes wouldn’t destroy our quarry?”
“They shouldn’t have, ma’am. Those were nominal yield warheads. There should have been no way those warheads caused that much damage. I have no explanation for what just happened. The only thing that we did to those Mark Nines was to reinforce the engine compartments and guidance housing.” Nora explained.
“Ma’am, I think I know what happened.” Danni said as she turned from her screens.
“Alright, Danni, tell me your theory.”
“Back during the twentieth century during the Second World War the Navies of the time used a weapon called a depth charge. It was an anti-submarine weapon that used the concussive force of an explosion to force a submarine to surrender or sink. The pressures at that altitude basically turn the gases down there into a semiliquid. Now, if the gases act like say water the blast would be amplified by at least ten-fold, if not more, ma’am.” Danni’s explanation had everyone’s attention.
“Were these depth charges effective Lieutenant?” The NUMBER ONE asked.
“Very, sir. It is reported that the Axis Nations lost more than seventy-five percent of their submarine forces to these depth charge style attacks. The actual number of those vehicles lost to these types of attacks is still unknown, sir.” Danni had always been given a hard time about her love ancient naval history but this was one time that it was paying off for her.
“Are you telling me that no matter how low of a charge we fire off the effect will be greater than it would be in space or on a normal planet?” Lara asked.
“Yes ma’am. So long as we attack them at that altitude we run the risk of killing rather than capturing.” Danni answered correctly.
“CAPTAIN! We have activity on the secondary target. Ma’am, it’s coming up fast and hot. Bearing three-three-six, range nine-thousand, altitude varying.” Hess called out.
“GUNS get me a targeting solution on that ship! I want survivors this time people if possible. Main and secondary guns, only. No, I repeat, no missiles or torpedoes. Nav, brings us about for a bow on shot.” Once again, the crew answered their captain’s call to battle stations.
As the Dark Heart broke the surface of the upper clouds they were met by the very real and scary bow of an Empyreal Battleship. The Navigator abroad the Fire Wind spotted the rising dropship first. It was Danni though that gave the order to evade the oncoming Raider. “HARD OVER NAV! COME RIGHT BEARING ONE-ONE-FIVE! ENGINERING FULL POWER TO THE ENGINES! GET US OUT OF HERE!”
Captain Lara Holts was ready to countermand the order until she spotted what her Tactical Officer already had. “GET A MOVE ON PEOPLE! THOSE PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO RAM US!”
The massive warship rolled to one side as it answered the commands form its Navigation Officer. The two ships passed within twenty meters of each other. Far too close, and fast for the powerful main guns of either ship to track effectively. Danni had not let her attention wonder as she held on for dear life in the high-speed maneuver. She spotted what would be the deciding factor in this battle.
“Captain! That ship has its mass-drive scoops open! They’re dumping pure Radon gas into their engines! They’re going to suicide Captain!”
Danni had no sooner gotten the words out of her mouth than Lara gave orders to save her ship. “NAV MAKE FOR THE STARS NOW! ENGINEERING FULL POWER!”
The Fire Wind engineering section pushed the massive engines to their limit. The battleship surged once more and climbed towards space. With the distance between the two ships growing by the second every member of the Bridge Crew held their breath. At just over a thousand miles apart the Dark Heart exploded in a blinding flash of light and deafening roar. The powerful engines of the dropship had reached critical mass in an out of controlled fission reaction. One so powerful that even with a thousand miles separating them the Battleship Fire Wind is rocked by the concussion of the blast.
As the battleship settles, down into its normal flight path Lara Holts smiles, then chuckles. “Well, it looks like Guns is buying the drinks tonight Danni.” The bridge crew stair at their captain for about ten seconds before breaking out in laughter.
Air space near, Neo Geleen
Jordan and her mother were watching as the youngest three Thunder Hawks went through their daily maneuvers. Unlike other Sky Dancer Flights, Jordan had gone to the Planetary Defense Force and City’s Aerial Defense Force and asked for help. She knew that the key to winning the fight against the pirates would be coordinated attacks. To do that she knew that her people needed to communicate with each other. It had taken some work to keep their radios from shorting out during flight and combat. The raw power of Thunder Hawks was the major problem.
Jordan had faced two very difficult problems with the headset radios. The first of which was unlike normal Sky Dancers, Thunder Hawks carried a continuous electrical charge. The second, was their ability to store and release charges that were as powerful as a Naval PPC. The solution came from an unexpected source. One of the pilots for the ADF suggested using Jump Infantry Combat helmets.
At first Jordan had met with resistance from her mother about the use of the helmets. That was until she showed how much easier it was to control her Flight in the air. All it took was one time for Ileana Price to see the effectiveness of the helmets to change her mind. The coordination of her daughter’s Flight surpassed any Flight of Sky Dancers on New Holland with the use of the helmets. Where before they had always used hand signals, and prearranged attack plans, Jordan’s Flight could change their attacks as needed.
As the three youngest Thunder Hawks swung wide then dove on the towed targets Ileana smiled. Jordan had spotted the flanking maneuver of the training fighters for what it was and had taken steps to counter it. All three of the youngsters unleashed their first strike at the same time destroying all three targets. Her oldest daughter hovered near her and watched in wonder.
“Your sister, is quite the tactician, wouldn’t you say, Kathlyn?”
“In more ways than one, mother. To tell you the truth, she frightens me mother.” Kathlyn Price was honest with her appraisal of her younger sister.
“I understand your fear, Kathlyn. Jordan and her Flight are powerful in the extreme. Why the shear raw power of even the youngest Thunder Hawk dwarfs every Flight Leader and Gold Sky Dancer there is. I tell you truth, my child, the Council would do well to hear her out and adopt her suggestions.”
“Speaking of the Council mother, I have word.” Kathlyn knew that she should wait until they were back in Jordan’s offices, but felt that she could trust her mother.
“Speak.” Ileana ordered.
“The Council has split. The fractions have finally broken what has been from the time of our Founders.”
“How many Flights have arrayed themselves against your sister?”
“Eight in total, mother. I don’t need to tell who they are. We both know who the hardliners are in the exclusionist camp. Supreme Flight Leader Helen Campbell has ordered that no one it to stand in the way of these Flights and their Challenges of Flight Leader Jordan. To use her words ‘Thunder Hawks only accept Challenge Flights to the death. For them it is kill or be killed. The Thunder Hawks do not take prisoners, and do not spare lives.’” Kathryn sighed inside her helmet. “Mother why do I feel that Supreme Flight Leader Campbell wanted those eight Flights to challenge my sister?”
“Because the old bitch did as I instructed her to.” The sharp intake of breath Ileana heard from her oldest daughter let Ileana know she has caught her daughter off guard. “That’s right Kathryn. I told Helen Campbell to goad those eight Flight Leaders into walking out of the Council Chambers. It has been what ten, fifteen, days since the Grand Council Meeting?”
“Ten days mother.” Kathryn answered quickly. “You know this. If you wanted Supreme Flight Leader Helen to send the exclusionist Flights at Jordan and Her Thunder Hawks why have you been helping to train them?”
“Because, Kathryn. This Flight is the only Flight that can remove a cancer among our people. Those eight Flights are all hardliners, this is true. Only it is not the whole truth. Nor the only reason for removing them from power. The cities under the protection of those eight Flights have suffered at their hands. The best of them is no better than the pirates we fight.”
“I don’t understand mother. My old Flight is an exclusionist Flight. We never looked down on those we protected. Nor did we abuse them. How can these Flights be so different from my old Flight to warrant their destruction? Because surely that will happen if they challenge the Thunder Hawks.”
This time it was Ileana who sighed. “Of ALL the exclusionist Flights, Kathryn, your old Flight is the most liberal in their attitudes. Yet, they still banished you from their number for daring to side with family. But, these are not the excesses that worry me and others among the Council.”
“What excesses do you speak of mother? What can worry you and the Grand Council so much that you would endanger whole cities by removing the protection from Sky Dancer Flights? Surely not even you could be so cold.”
“No, Kathryn, I am not some cold blooded, uncaring, power hungry, greedy, bitch. I leave that to those whores in the High Families, and exclusionist Flights. Most especially those eight that walked out of the Council. No, I take that back. They would rather bleed the honest hard-working miners of their cities of every last credit they can squeeze out of them. Levying a tax for doing their duty. Taking what they want from merchants because it strikes their fancy. Forcing the daughters of those same citizens to work as servants in their homes. Taking what is not theirs on the grounds that they’re Sky Dancers. This IS the cancer that I speak of Kathryn. One that Helen Campbell and I hope to cutout of our sisterhood, with the use of the Thunder Hawks. We will save our people even if we have to sacrifice enter cities.”
The conviction in Ileana’s voice made Kathryn shiver. She had heard the rumors like all Sky Dancers of the abuses taken by certain Flights. Like all true Sky Dancers, Kathryn had put those rumors down as just that, rumors. If what her mother was telling her was true then she would back her mother’s plans with every ounce of her being, and soul. The very idea of Sky Dancers being the parasites that her mother described was beyond abhorrent to her. Kathryn was about to give her word to support Jordan and her mother when movement caught her eyes.
“Mother, are the other Wings supposed to be flying today?”
“No. Why?” Ileana looked over at her daughter, then to where Kathryn was pointing. “Oh, hell. They’re early. JORDAN! We have incoming!”
Jordan flipped in mid swing and looked to where her mother was pointing. There before her eyes were sixteen Gold and thirty-two Blue Sky Dancers. Jordan knew that there was no way that she with the three youngest Thunder Hawks could take them all on at the same time. They needed space and above all more Flight members. Only that wasn’t going to be possible.
“Alright, we can outrun them, fly, and fight them. In their favor, they have numbers. They outnumber us by eight to one if I count mom and Kathryn. No, that’s not right. This is our fight not theirs, so that makes the odds better than twelve to one. Not good on the best of days.” Jordan stopped talking to herself then keyed her mike. “Instructor Ileana, Wing Second Kathryn, this is our fight. Return to base and call out reinforcements. They want a fight then India Squadron and I will give them one. India fall in on me swipe right and climb for the stars Indians.”
The three youngest members of the Thunder Hawks didn’t even question Jordan’s orders. They just fell in on her left and right as she swiped wide to the right and climbed. Ileana and Kathryn were shocked by Jordan’s order. Kathryn keyed her mike. “They could not really be going on the attack so vastly outnumbered. Could they?”
“They are Kathryn, and you are your sisters Wing Second. What are YOU going to do?” Ileana asked her oldest.
Kathryn just smiled at her mother before dropping over into a high-speed dive. “Take the enemy from behind Mother. Get us some help!” She called out just before the mike went dead. Like their mother the two older sisters of Jordan had taken to carrying a ten-millimeter Gorgon assault rifle since the Challenge Flight.
That one weapon would do more than even the odds in Jordan’s favor. It would change the total outcome of the air-born battle. While the symbionts gave Sky Dancers the more than just the ability of flight it did not give them the protection of a Second-Generation Death Dealer’s bio-armor. The ten-millimeter high-speed rounds can punch through the side of most light-armor craft. For a normal unarmored human or even a Sky Dancer it would be like a hot knife through butter.
Ileana smiled as her oldest daughter showed what it meant to be a true member of a Sky Dancer family. Kathryn may not be able to match her younger sibling in speed, maneuverability, strength, or firepower; but Kathryn can match Jordan in her fury. Especially when it comes to family. Even as children Sylvia, Kathryn, and Jordan had always fought like most siblings, but the moment an outsider tried to interfere with one of them they all came running. With the delaying fight in her children’s hands Ileana headed for the Neo Geleen area to get help.
Jordan and the three members of the India Squadron had reached an altitude that Jordan knew the regular Sky Dancers couldn’t reach. As one they rolled over and dove at them gaining speed as they closed the distance. Unlike her sister who was climbing fast from below and behind the renegade Sky Dancers. As the distance, closed Jordan keyed her mike.
“Terrassa, Shawna, Kelly, we’ll only get one pass before they break up. Terrassa, Kelly, target the outer elements of the Golds. Shawna, you’re with me. We start in the middle and work our way out. Full power release girls. These people came here to kill us. Show them no mercy as they won’t be showing us any. On my mark, three, two, one, RELEASE.”
Four thunderbolts reached out from the four Thunder Hawks. Even at full power the Golden Sky Dancers were able to fight off most of the attack. Not all were able to withstand the onslaught of the raw power. Of the sixteen Golds eight were burned to ash with the first strike. The renegades were not going down without a fight. The remaining forty unleased multiple lightning strikes at the four Thunder Hawks. This was their second mistake of the fight so far. The first was going head-to-head with four pissed off Thunder Hawks in staggered Squadrons of eight.
Veronica Keller, could not believe her eyes. Eight of her staunchest supporters’ dead in the first exchange and they did nothing to the abominations. Not even with twenty-seven lighting strikes hitting the Thunder Hawks were still coming. Veronica had gathered the most powerful of her followers, forty-seven in all. The in-fighting between the different Flights had slowed down their preparations for the attack. This had taken more than eight days to sort out, but once done they trained hard and fast for this attack.
Yet, none of their preparations and plans were going the way they should. The abominations should have run when they first saw the force arrayed against them. No, they turned and attacked, even outnumbered twelve to one. Flashing the hand sign to split off and sweep wide, Veronica felt they could close in and used their superior numbers at close range. They could use their strength to pull the abominations apart limb by limb. When the cracks of automatic gunfire from behind reached her ears, Veronica knew it was too late.
Kathryn, had not only gotten into the prefect position to fire on the renegades, but had been able to shoot down five of them before being spotted. The speed and unexpected nature of her attack had thrown the renegades into a full-blown panic. Kathryn waited, the surprise attack had stopped Veronica Keller’s attempt to coordinate her Flights next attack. Kathryn had spent the last twenty days training with the very people that the renegades were now trying to attack. She’d had to out think the younger Sky Dancers hourly, on a daily basis, just to be able to keep up with the young Thunder Hawks. To say that Kathryn had an advantage would be an understatement.
Rolling over and pulling a tight righthand snap-turn Kathryn brought herself once again in line for a high-speed diving attack. Kathryne wasted no time in going on the attack again. This time her aim was better, and two Golds died in her passing, along with four Blues. Jordan seeing what her sister was doing split her Squadron in half once they were pass the renegades. Sending one half wide to the left, Jordan led the other in a wide sweep to the right. Kathryn’s attacks had a greater impact on the renegades that she had expected. It was not until she had once again pulled up out of her dive to climb that she saw. Her two passes had removed the core of Veronica Kelly’s veteran fighters.
Jordan and her two elements made their pass in a crisscross pattern. The havoc they rained down on the renegades left them with only a few Sky Dancers still flying. Of those few only three were still able to fight in any shape. Veronica Kelly, Heather Van Goth, and Martha Stone, the only High Family members of the Sky Dancers to defy the Grand Council. Kathryn didn’t think twice as she pulled the trigger three times and killing the three women. With all of the golds and Flight Leaders dead the last few Blues turned and flew for the far horizon.
“Let them go.” Jordan ordered after keying her mike. “They’ll spread the word faster than we could of what happened here this day.”
“Flight Leader Jordan Price, is that wise? Those women could blow this all out of proportion. Make us look like demented and crazed killed.” Kathryn asked of her younger sister.
“This is one time that it would be best if they did Wing Second Kathryn. I want every last exclusionist to know the penalty of for Challenging the Thunder Hawks.”
“This is one time that a scared survivor is better than a dead witness. Well played little sister, will played indeed.” Kathryn giggled.
Pirate Platform 3, the Black Watch…
Randall Kidd could not believe the report he was reading. One delivered not just ten minutes ago by his Number One, Jacob Bonny. Their prize in Neo Geleen was gone. The massive Monarch class dropship had departed three days earlier. Millions of gold credits gone. All because of four of his ships’ captains. The men had gone against orders and taken out their ships on independent raids. Only to return with empty holds and needing heavy repairs. That act of defiance had cost his plans time that he did not have.
Now, he had to reset the time line for his plan and reset the target. “This day just can this day get any worse?” The knock at his office door drew his attention. “Come.” Kidd called out with some heat.
Jacob Bonny walked in and handed Kidd another report, then stepped back. “Captain you’re going to want to sit down before reading that. All I say is it’s bad.”
Kidd knew his Number One would never give his opinion on anything without reason. If Bonny was suggesting he sit down then he did. As Kidd read the report his face turned white. “Is this report accurate?”
“As far as we can tell sir. Yes. It’s one-hundred percent accurate. The Dark Horizon has been destroyed by the Empyreal Navy, Captain. The last transmission from the Dark Heart was a video recording of its destruction.” Bonny handed over a disk. “This is a copy sir. Our Tactical Officers are trying their best to analyze the weapon that battleship used.”
Kidd put the disk into his player and started it playing. “Have you seen this yet?”
“No, sir. I got handed the report and the disk then told I needed to get to you ASAP.” The two men sat and watched the attack on their only competition as a resupply and repair platform. They saw the first explosions of the weapons thousands of feet away from the platform. With each explosion, the massive platform rocked on the screen. Then the first of the outer rim sections breakaway and fall into the heart of the planet. For the next ten minutes, they watch as the platform crumbled and died in to the lower atmosphere of New Holland.
When the vid stopped Kidd turned to Bonny. “I take it that the Dark Heart suicided before the Empire’s dogs snapped them up?”
“Dumped enough Radon into their mass-drivers to force a total overload of the engines. No survivors, sir. The Dark Heart went down with all hands. The only good thing that came out of the action was we gained the name of the battleship that attacked the Dark Horizon. It seems that the Fire Wind is one of the new Elvin designs and crewed with a mixed-race crew.” The disgust was clear in Bonny’s voice over the idea of humans and Elves working together.
Kidd let his own feelings on the matter color his response. “No better than a bunch of over indulged sluts, pairing off with inhuman parasites. Those Sky Dancers let their so-called symbionts affect them more than they want to let on. They’re no better than the parasites they bond with sucking the life blood out of the people of this planet, while giving nothing in return. The only ones who are worse are the High Families and their bull shit.”
Bonny wanted to argue this point, but knew that it was pointless. In many ways, he agreed with his captain on this point. The fact that his captain had worked his way up from deckhand to captain was proof the system worked. Only Bonny knew that Kidd would never rise above his humble origins on the streets of Belfast on New Ireland.
“I hate to say this Captain, but until we can figure out how to combat this new weapon of the Empyreal Fleet we may need to climb to a higher altitude.”
Kidd looked over at his Number One in shock. He never thought that Bonny of all people would advocate climbing up out of the cover that the heavy clouds gave them. The very idea of exposing them to satellite reconnaissance. Kidd looked back at the vid screen and replayed the video. After the second time through Kidd thought about what his Number One was suggesting. “As much as I hate to say this Jacob, you may be right. How far do we need to go to avoid what happened to the Dark Horizon?”
Jacob sat back and thought about what his captain was asking. “Sir, I know that you’re not going to like hearing this. So, I’ll just come right out and say it. The lowest we can safely operate would be no lower than Neo Amsterdam or Geleen. Yes, I know that leaves us wide open to the orbital satellites and over flights by the PDF, but if we stay below the Thermosphere we’re dead. Those weapons are using the pressures of the lower atmosphere to increase their impact.”
“How much of an increase, Number One?”
“Hard to say, Captain. I have no way of measuring the blast effects other than that vid. That’s the reason our tactical Officers are still working on their analysis. If what I believe it true, then we need to get our asses as high as we can. Those weapons have far too great a reach for us to go lower. At least, in the upper atmosphere we have a chance to fight back and escape if we have to. None of our ships can withstand the concussive force of those weapons at this depth. That was the reason the Dark Heart as heavily armored as she was headed for the stars.” Bonny sighed then looked his captain in the eyes. “She was going down with all hands one way or the other sir.”
“Damn. Is there nothing we can do to fight those things?”
“Not at this time sir. We’re out of options. It’s either take us up or wait for the Empire to hunt us down and kill us here.” Bonny didn’t like it but it was the truth.
Kidd went over his options and realized that he had none on this matter. “Give the order Number One. Take us up to the Stratosphere. Once there begin evac drills, weapons drills, damage control drills, the works. I want the crew ready for anything and everything. Put up a CAP of no less than twelve fighters at all times. If the crews and pilots bitch show them that vid.”
“Aye, aye, Skipper.” Bonny got up and headed for the door.
“Have the Revenge, Challenger Deep, Flying Dragon, Bachelor’s Delight, Mary Celest, and Blakes Blade, made ready for combat. If the Empire shows I want them off this platform as fast as we can get them. They’ll have to buy us time to get light weights off the platform. Before you even say it, Bonny I already know. there are heavy hitters and won’t stand a chance against a real warship, like that battleship. I give us maybe one, two weeks before they spot our asses. At the outside.”
“I hate to say this sir, but we may have one week at best.” Bonny knew for a fact that the orbital satellites were far better than they wanted to give them credit for. The weak links in the system was the operators. If it hadn’t been for more than a few well place bribes those satellites would have found them long ago.
“How long do you think we can buy off our friends?”
Bonny gave his captain a searching look, then smiled. “If we slip them another hundred thousand here or there, three weeks to a month at best. After that it’s any one’s guess. The Fleet is spread form pole to pole trying to find us. And this big bastard is not the most maneuverable of crafts.”
“Spend the credits Number One. Buy us the most time you can.” Kidd ordered.
“Aye, Captain. Let’s hope like hell it buys us enough time to figure out those new weapons of the Empire’s.” Jacob Bonny left his captain to his thoughts and to carry out his orders.
Randall Kidd watched as the young man that was his Executive Officer leave his office. Once alone again, Randall replayed the vid of the Dark Horizon’s death. He watches the video four more times before finally getting up and getting something to drink. Raising his glass and downing the drink Kidd sighed. “Fair Winds and Favorable Seas. My old friends. I’ll see you on the other side of hell.”
Private Offices of Helen Campbell, Neo Amsterdam
Helen Campbell sat reading the reports on training flights and the everyday activities of Sky Dancers all over New Holland. Only eight Flights had refused to implement the new training regimes. They were the eight renegade Flights that had walked out on the last Council Meeting. What was even more disturbing was the lack of pirate activity. Yet, the reports from the mines told of profits rising only at a half of them. Helen had been a Flight Leader, then Supreme Flight Leader long enough to distrust this. Taking the mine reports Helen began to sort them.
The ones reporting higher profits went into one pile, the ones reporting normal profits into another, and the ones reporting a loss into a third. As she did this Helen noticed a trend that did not sit well with her. Of all the mines reporting lower profits only three had suitable reasons for those loses. What was disturbing was all three of those mines fell under the protection of inclusionists Flights.
The ones reporting normal or no loss of profits were in the minority and all being protected by both inclusionists and exclusionists Flights. Helen was starting to see a pattern that was truly unsettling. This pattern was confirmed by the last set of reports. The ones reporting higher than normal profits. These were all under the protection of purely inclusionists Flights. Getting up from her desk Helen walked over to her office door calling out to her Flight Second.
“Grace can you come in here for a minute?”
The young golden Sky Dancer came out of her office as quickly as she could. “You need something Helen?”
“Yes, I think we have a real problem with the exclusionist Flights. One that is both disturbing and alarming at the same time.” Helen led the younger woman into her office and showed her the mine reports. Grace Lee was the first Gold Sky Dancer in her family in over six generations. Her status as a Gold Sky Dancer was a matter of great family pride, so when she had become first a Wing Second then finally Flight Second to the Supreme Flight Leader, Grace swore never to dishonor their traditions. So, it didn’t take her long to spot the problem or what was causing it.
“Supreme Flight Leader Helen, are these reports accurate?” Grace asked then continued at Helen’s nod. “Then one of two things are happening. The first is the mines are starting to play out in their current locations and need to be moved. That would explain a lower than normal profits. The second which if it is true is of greater concern. Our sisters in the exclusionists Flights are extorting the miners for protection. Those can be the only two reasons for a decline in profits with the lack of pirate activity that we are currently seeing.”
“What are the chances of that many mines playing out at the same time, Grace?” Grace gave her Flight Leader a look that said are you crazy. “I take it by the look on your face Grace that the chances are astronomical. Please, forgive me as I do not really have a true working knowledge of the mines. Speaking of that, how is it that a fifteenth generation Sky Dancer knows so much about the Crystal mines?”
Grace sighed before answering. “Unlike most Sky Dancer Families, mine didn’t just forget about our sons, and brothers. I would spend my vacations as a fledgling visiting my brothers and their families. Most are still here on New Holland working for the mines. More than a few of them have worked their way out of the dive crabs and onto the docks. I learned a great deal about how the mines operate from them. I also saw a good deal of graft and corruption among the exclusionist Flights.”
“Just how bad is all of this Grace?”
“I truly had no idea until now, Helen. I doubt that anyone outside of the mine companies and their employees truly know. And, they won’t talk for fear of losing their protection from pirates. I believe that the only reason we got these reports is because the Flight Leaders for the exclusionists Flights have been too busy getting ready to fight Jordan Price and her Thunder Hawk Flight.”
Helen stood there thinking about what Grace had just told her, and it made sense to her. If those Flight Leaders were too busy training their Flights to attack the Thunder Hawks then the mine companies could send in unfiltered reports. The knock at her office door drew both Grace’s and Helen’s attention. One of their Communication Tech’s stood there with a grim look on her face.
“What is it Caroline?”
“Supreme Flight Leader, I believe you need to read these two new reports now.” The young woman handed over the two pieces of paper to Helen first. Then stepped back and waited in case she was needed. Thankfully, Caroline knew that the Supreme Flight Leader was not one to kill the messenger.
The more Helen read of the first report the greater her joy. One of the pirate platforms had been found and destroyed by the Empyreal Navy here on New Holland. This was truly fantastic news. If the report was accurate then there could only be two more of these massive pirate resupply and repair platforms operating on New Holland. Thusly reducing the pirate threat greatly.
The second report though dashed her joy and raised her anger to new heights. “Is this second accurate, Caroline?”
“Yes, Supreme Flight Leader. The renegades attacked Jordan Price and her smallest Section just two hours ago. If the rest of Instructor Ileana Price’s report is to be believe then the hardline Leaders of the exclusionist party are now, dead along with their Flight Seconds. Leaving a power vacuum in eight of our Flights. However, that is not our greatest problem. if you read further down you find Instructor Ileana has stated Jordan Price’s attitude towards solving the problem for us.”
“That is Flight Leader Jordan Price, Caroline. Do not forget that again. She does not suffer the folly of fools lightly.” Helen corrected the young Red Sky Dancer without looking up from Ileana’s report. As she read further down Helen caught her breath when she came to the point Caroline was referring to. “She cannot be serious?”
“What? What has Flight Leader Jordan Price done this time Helen?” Grace asked with more worry than she wanted to show.
“It seems that our young Thunder Hawk Flight Leader, Jordan Price had declared war on the exclusionist party, Grace. She is going after them all. Not just the renegades but all exclusionist Flights. My old friend Ileana has laid out the young Thunder Hawks intentions quite clearly. She is going to replace the Flight Leaders of those Flights with her own people. One way or another, the exclusionist party’s day are numbered.” Helen handed over the second report to Grace before continuing. “We, the inclusionists party have a choice to make. We back her, or become her next target.”
“MY GOD! I thought the Empress was ruthless.” Grace said out load. The voice that came from the door to Helen’s office was so hard and mechanical that it drove a level of fear through them both in surprise. All three turned to look at the four women in black and red bio-armor of the Royal Guard.
“Jordan Price, has nothing on Death’s own Daughter Flight Second Grace Lee. Pray SHE or her WIFE does not come here to solve the problem. IF that happens then not even the inclusionists party shall survive. I suggest that you back Jordan Price. That or get out of her way and pray Jordan Price doesn’t see you as a threat to the peace and harmony of New Holland.” The one in front left no doubt as to which way the Supreme Flight Leader and her party should go. The unvoiced threat that Death Dealers and Ida-ten Knights would be reinforcing Jordan’s Thunder Hawks was there for all to understand. The Four women turned and walked away disappearing as mysteriously as they appeared.
Grace Lee turned to look at Helen Price. “Were they really here, Helen? Was that really the Daughters of the Four Winds?”
Helen gulped before answering Grace. “Yes, that was them, and yes they really were here. Rally the loyal Flight Leaders and their Seconds, Grace. We need to end this before, it gets beyond our control.”
“I hate to tell you this Helen, but it already has.” Grace Lee knew without a doubt that any control Helen Campbell had over the situation with the Thunder Hawks had disappeared the moment Jordan Price was declared Flight Leader. “I just pray that Flight Leader Jordan Price ALLOWS us to help.”
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