Deep space, Electra System
"Attack Wing Gamma to control, target acquired what are your orders?" Jellicoe reported in amidst the green cloud and wreckage of a small navy battle-group, in the near distance the now familiar yet still ominous shape of a Thargoid interceptor broke off what it was doing to glide gracefully toward the human ships. Jellicoe looked at the position of the rest of 'Attack Wing Gamma' a disparate collection of ships and pilots, all skilled enough combateers but would they, could the,y each trust their lives to people none even knew existed until this morning? He had served in the military, had fought in enough wars to know that effective units were bound together by trust, by knowing the man or woman in the next ship would do, could do what was necessary and that, if it came to it, they would risk their ship, even their life for their comrades and the mission could these people be relied upon to do the same? Could he for them?
"Control to Attack Wing Gamma," a a clipped voice replied, "commence scan when target is withing five hundred meters, do not fire until ordered."
"Roger that," Jellicoe replied, "Flagship to attack wing, you all heard the order, maintain formation while I'm scanning but be ready to attack on the order, but not a moment before." He watched the Thargoid move closer and closer, no engine trail just the slight distorting of space in its wake, briefly checking his scanner to make sure his wing were following orders, all it took was one trigger happy hotshot to blow the entire operation but the ships remained in position. His Corvette combined with an Anaconda, an Assault ship and a Fer de Lance in theory packed a lot of firepower between them, but these were experimental weapons which nobody knew for sure would work, he knew that in the back of each pilots mind was the fear that the missiles would have no effect and they were on a hopeless quest. The Thargoid reached five hundred meters distance and stopped, the now familiar yellow beams snaking out toward the Resolution and its fellows, Jellicoe triggered the prototype 'xeno-scanner'.
"Scan complete." Jellicoe reported to mission control, safe back on the Oracle, the Thargoid appearing to complete its own scan unconcernedly turned and moved back to its examination of the wrecks.
"Check your sub systems screen Commander, has the scan picked anything up?" The very military sounding tones of mission control replied almost immediately.
"Four sub-targets showing," Jellicoe replied, "the computer's listing them as 'hearts' what are your orders?"
"Target the first heart and fire at will, you are now clear to engage."
"You all get that?" Jellicoe barked to his wing, "Fire a full volley on my mark then break and attack... Fire!" A full salvo of missiles streaked from the human ships toward their alien target, sixteen prototype rockets thundering through the void at the hitherto invulnerable foe, four pilots and their crews held their collective breath in a mixture of fear and hope awaiting the result."
"Fourteen strikes confirmed," Vik called from tactical, "Enemy hull registering at 80%."
"Any damage to the heart?"
"Negative. But one of the others is showing as 'extended' whatever that means.
"I suggest changing to target the extended heart." Claude put in quietly and thoughtfully. "Hit the one that's showing as affected."
"Sounds sensible. Flagship to all ships, check your scanners and switch target to the extended heart, repeat switch target to the extended heart."
Battle was raging now, the swarm was deployed and taking its toll, especially on the smaller vessels while the constant pulses of the mother ship were hurting the two human heavies, this time though the damage was not just one way, and missiles whipped through space hurting the unknown foe, but if this new danger effected the strange ship it showed no sign as it wheeled, spun and flipped, comfortable outpacing and outmanoeuvring even the swiftest and most agile of its foes, all the while maintaining its stinging ripostes.
"Extended heart showing at 40%," Vik called, "We're doing something to it... make that 20%" Vik called as the Assault Ship Hiei unleashed its missiles.
"Commander Le Fevre this is the flagship," Jellicoe called the Anaconda Liberté, "Fire all your tubes with me on my mark... Fire." Eight missiles lanced straight and true toward the alien ship, its own momentum helping the projectiles as it closed on its human enemies.
"Five direct hits on the heart... it's destroyed!" Vik said almost excitedly.
The Resolution's bridge was filled with what could only be described as a scream, an inhuman howl of what sounded like rage, but something else, pain?
"We're hurting it, look!" Vik cried out pointing at the hitherto invulnerable alien and all eyes followed, one of the great, petal like sails of the Thargoid ship had been almost blown completely off, the ship finally visibly damaged.
"Keep firing. Target the next heart." Jellicoe ordered, trying to keep the delight out of his voice. "We've damaged it now let's kill it."
The four ships moved and fired, the pilots making up for what they lacked in coordination with a grim determination, missile after missile flew as stinging counter fire came back from the alien, another heart was extended and fire concentrated.
"Something's happening," Vik called from tactical.
"I don't know but look at it, get clear!"
Jellicoe boosted hard carrying his ship past the Thargoid before flip turning round to fire again, lining up on the alien in time to see a wild surge of yellow, lightning like energy erupt from the target, all but enveloping the Assault Ship and seeming to hold it locked in place amidst tongues of flickering power.
"Commander Hiroshi are you alright?" Jellicoe barked into his com link. "Hiei report status?"
"Thrusters not responding," a womans voice replied sounding strangely calm, "shields gone, hull integrity down to 20%." As she spoke the 'lightning' receded freeing the ship from its grip.
"Get yourself out of here Hiroshi, you've done your bit." Jellicoe ordered.
"Jump drive blown," the woman replied, "Make sure those bastards release my kid now, tell my daughter this is for her." The Assault Ships engines fired, glowing redder as the afterburners fired propelling the crippled ship straight into the aliens superstructure.
"Hiroshi no!" Jellicoe shouted as he watched in horror at the scene unfolding, but the either order came to late or the pilot was heedless and the Assault Ship Hiei ploughed headlong into the alien.
"All ships keep firing." Jellicoe barked unleashing another storm of missiles, "keep on the move but keep the missiles going in, second heart nearly down."
The second heart blew, another 'petal' shearing away from the skeletal craft but its tirade of fire did not lessen one bit, the Resolution's stout shields and heavy armour protecting her as yet, while the Fer de Lance DHutton Belle, with her speed and agility had also avoided significant damage, the Anaconda though had taken a pounding, her shields gone, her hull at 47%
"Get clear Liberté, we'll cover you while you get your shields back." Jellicoe ordered with more confidence than he felt, their battle-group were chipping away at the enemy but to lose another ships firepower, halving their original strength could change that. He considered withdrawal, the mission brief was to test the weapons effectiveness and they had certainly done that, but to pull back now, after such sacrifice? It went against every instinct in his body.
"Negative Resolution, we're taking this thing down." A Gallic voice dripping with determination came back through the com link.
"Alright but let us draw its fire, we've got the shields to take it."
The ships fired again, and again, wheeling and boosting, flipping and twisting, fighters doing their best to draw the Thargons away from the big ships, the third heart extended and was ruthlessly targeted, missile after missile finding their mark.
"Skipper I think it's going to fire the big one again." Vik called, Jellicoe boosted, but this time it was too late and the Resolution was caught full in the middle of the lightning storm.
"Thrustes useless, it's got us pinned somehow." Jellicoe called.
"Shields dropping like a stone," Vik called, "last cell bank charging."
"If we're pinned so's he," Jellicoe barked, "weapons are still online so he can have everything we've got, flagship to wing keep firing."
"Shields gone." Vik announced, just a hint of tension detectable in his usually inscrutable voice. "Hull at 62%."
"We're free, ship responding to thrusters again."
"Third heart down." Vik called, "but we're in a mess, hull down to 58%, rest of the wing in an even worse state."
"Energy surge detected." The computer announced calmly
"What?" Jellicoe called seconds before the ships holo-displays blinked and went dead as a blue pulse flashed over the canopy.
"Everything's offline," Vik said from tactical, "weapons, engines, everything."
"The shutdown field." Claude said, remember our first encounter with these things?"
"If it targets us we're dead." Vik said grimly.
"I can't see a damned thing," Jellicoe yelled, "are the other ships affected?"
"I've no way of knowing."
"System reboot." the computer trilled calmly and one by one the holo-displays flickered into life, Jellicoe checked the scanner only his ship, the Fer de Lance and the alien were registering.
"Liberté this is the flagship report please? Commander le Fevre come in?" Nothing.
"He's down," Commander Marchant of the Hutton Belle reported in a resigned voice, "I saw them blow. Just the two of us now are we really going to go for this?"
"It's conquer or die now Marchant, we've not got enough left to get out anymore."
"Guess you're right." Marchant replied unleashing another volley of missiles.
"Hull down to 51%," Vik announced, "last heart extended, we can take most of its fire but if it hits us with that lightning again we're done for."
Claude's brain raced, studying the data from the battle so far, his friends were fighters, natural warriors and very good ones but he prided himself on his brain, his ability to reason even under the severest pressure, there must be a tell, a way to know when the enemy would use its most destructive weapon? That's it he thought as the data suddenly clicked together.
"Keep hitting it Skipper," Claude yelled above the din of battle, "even if we can't hit the heart directly keep hitting the thing."
"It has some kind of self repair facility, the heart doesn't stay extended, but it only seems to be able to fire the lightning when it's not extended so keep the missiles going."
"Did you copy that Marchant?"
"Sure did, let's finish this."
The ships wheeled and fired, spun and fired, banked and fired, in a desperate race to see who was ground down first, the humans now only half their original number making slower progress now but slowly, agonisingly slowly grinding down the last heart.
"It's gone!" Vik yelled in triumph as the final heart blew, a fourth petal blasted off the Thargoid and the now familiar scream echoing through the bridge.
"Last heart gone, hit it with everything you've got!"
A storm of missiles and more primitive weapons flew, the Thargoid made no attempt to run but stood and fought to the last, weapons firing to the end. The battle ended in an almighty explosion as the hitherto invincible alien was blown from the face of the galaxy.
"Get clear of the explosion!" Marchant yelled. "I heard rumours it's poison."
"Picking up wreckage traces," Vik said, "bio-mechanical conduits, wreckage components and a 'Thargoid heart' whatever that is."
"Think we should share the spoils Marchant," Jellicoe called the Hutton Belle, "I presume they're holding someone close to you, the more we can give them the more chance we have of getting them back."
"Not quite," the Fer de Lance pilot replied with a chuckle, "this mission is my ticket out of ten years in the Warren and my record being cleared, but I'll take the heart if it's all the same to you."
"Claude signal control, tell them we'll be heading back to Oracle as soon as our ships are spaceworthy."
Cavalieri Station, Electra System
Jellicoe drank himself insensible that night, and for several nights after that, he did not know why the fight with the alien had affected him so much, or was it working for Aegis, killing under duress that troubled him? The Resolution would take time to patch up, the damage was extensive and repair yards were still not accustomed to putting right the effects of unknown weapons, so he and his crew waited, chaffed at being confined to a station run by an organisation they despised, and drank. That night though he slept like a log until shaken awake, early in the morning by Claude shouting at him as he vigorously shook him.
"Skipper wake up! It's the Oracle, they've attacked it, the station itself hit by Thargoids!"