Wolfpack Squadron Lycan Blade
Siege Island System Perimeter
CDR Torrelon Zweiger Commanding
Mission Time: 5771.16 Tango Zulu

“I don’t want to hear any more stories about where they should have been, lieutenant!”

The close-quarters ring from the metal bulkheads was almost as startling as the Vermont skipper’s outburst. Only the soothing sounds of systems electronics were audible afterwards. The rest of the destroyer’s officers sat frozen at their stations.

“Sir, I have no further information to give you.”

Zweiger barely resisted the urge to hurl his tablet across his own bridge. Instead he returned to his conn and set the equipment on the chair arm. It was an act of pure willpower. He spoke evenly with a narrowly suppressed rage. “XO, why is it every time we pull up a tactical display, whatever or whomever we are pursuing suddenly turns up missing?”

“One thing we do know. It’s not subspace warfare any more, sir,” Lieutenant Alfonse replied. “None of those fighters were operating with a drive field that could have enabled a cloak.”

DSS Vermont’s executive officer was almost as unusual as her captain. Deshon Alfonse often drew second looks due to his chiseled physique and pale eyes, but he was also one of only a handful of Skywatch officers cleared to resume duties after being fitted with a bionic prosthetic. Lieutenant Alfonse was unique because he was fitted with two. One for each of the arms he had lost earning his silver star.

“Now hear this, gentlemen. The next time an alarm goes off I want to be there when those sons-a-bitches are climbing out the window with the goods. Not when they are a mile down the road! This is the fourth time we’ve come up short, and the fourth time one of those squadrons has hit a target in our command zone and suffered no casualties. This isn’t what the admiral sent us out here to do.”

There was a pause as the XO and signals officer both considered a response along the lines of “we’ll do better next time.” It was the XO who realized this wasn’t the time for platitudes.

“Permission to speak freely, captain.”

Zweiger was at the end of his rope already. At this point it didn’t matter if it snapped. His squadron was, as one prescient captain once put it, “ass in the jackpot” already.


Alfonse strode to the main viewer and punched up the Siege Island tactical display using the manual channel controls. He rewound the time indicator to the moments before the fifth attack and let the readings play for just under 30 seconds. The playback froze just as the first Sarn elements were vectoring away from their targets. The Skywatch elements on the screen were marked in yellow, being those the analysis routines had interpreted as targets. The Sarn fighters were marked in red, indicating hostiles. Everything else in the deflection zone was marked in green. The yellow icons were labeled as communications relays, situated approximately 20 million miles from the orbital track of the third planet in the system. They were overbuilt and redundant devices, set on a course to orbit the primary and remain within range of the directional microwave multi-frequency transmitters on the surface.

“This is a feint, sir. Not a strike.”

What the XO was really pointing out was the absence of fixed defenses. There was no reason for the fighter strike to perform a single pass and then withdraw. There was nothing there to avoid except detection, and the whole point of a strike in-system was to get attention.

Zweiger pondered the deployment of the enemy fighters for a moment and the complete absence of activity elsewhere. He realized Alfonse might have a point. “Explain.”

“More than half their strength is already away from the target. Textbook strike fighter operations call for deployment of weapons in an appropriate and predictable order of battle. If what we suspect is true, and the Sarn purloined their knowledge of fighter combat from less than honorable humans or Proximans, then this becomes even more inexplicable.”

“You’re saying the Sarn wouldn’t deviate from established doctrine?”

“Strike fighter operations and the principles of squadron combat date all the way back to the Terran wet navies, sir. Torpedo bomber pilots were instructed in no uncertain terms to refrain from ‘saving their weapons’ if there was even a chance of a successful engagement, especially against an immobile ship or some other vital target. If I send fighters to attack something, I don’t send twenty pilots so ten of them can hang back and protect themselves and I certainly don’t want them coming home with full racks.”

Zweiger considered his XO’s words for a moment and shifted in his seat. At least the lieutenant had his full attention, which was a lot better than having him barking at maximum volume about his frustrations. Finally the commander took a breath. “What if this is all just incompetence? Maybe their pilots are so inexperienced they are screwing up their orders.”

“That would be my first guess too, sir, if it hadn’t happened four of the five times we’ve obtained scanner readings on their movements. In each of the engagements in question, only a handful of fighters ever deploy their weapons. The others go through the motions of an attack, but always stay at arm’s reach.”

“In other words they are doing the laundry detergent manuever: Trying to get whiter whites with half a cup of soap instead of just doing the wash.”

“Exactly. This is all probing the perimeter. Testing our responses. Gauging our weapons ranges. Putting pressure on our crews. So far none of these targets required more than a half dozen shots to destroy. Yet they send a dozen pilots, fifteen pilots. In attack three they had two full squadrons.”

“So they’re letting the second string play too.”

“Hadn’t considered that just yet sir, but it makes sense. So far these Sarn pilots haven’t gotten into any real engagements. They certainly haven’t gone up against our varsity squad. The closest any of their forces have gotten is the Kraken engagement with Argent and Saint Lucia.”

“And we all know how that turned out. Better tactics but poor timing.”

“Saint Lucia was at 40% combat effectiveness at best. She was out of point defense range, operating on auxiliary power and unable to engage effectively with her main battery because all of her targets were one or two-man attack spacecraft. Her escorts were gone. Even Argent was having more than her share of trouble. The only reason we prevailed is because of Hunter’s star wing.”

Zweiger got up abruptly and strode to the viewscreen, stopping on the opposite side of the display. “None of these targets have fighter support. In fact, none of the Bloodwing formations have gone after anything except targets with fleet support.”

“I don’t think the Sarn commanders are inept,” Alfonse replied. “They enagaged the Achilles formation because they thought they had the advantage.”

“They did, until Argent.”

“At least that much isn’t in dispute. Once again, doctrine for this type of engagement was established long ago. If I want to kill a battleship, I send fighters. If I want to kill a carrier, I send destroyers. If I want to kill destroyers I send a battleship. I don’t think they are deliberately telegraphing their weaknesses here. They’re inviting us to meet them on their terms, hoping we’ll put hastily deployed squadrons where they can strike hard enough to give themselves the momentum and take some of our pilots with them.”

The captain nodded. “And then Siege Island becomes the bottomless pit: We keep deploying more forces and more resources. The Sarn can keep racking up victories training their pilots to win, and we pay to rent the stadium.”

“That would be my evaluation, sir.”

“I just have one question.”


“Where the hell are all these fighters coming from?”

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