Yes, I know, I've been a bad bard. It's taken me forever to write the conclusion to Southern Cross; it's been what, three months now since I posted part six? In my defense it's been a hectic year so far, who knew graduate school would involve so many papers? And, it's not like I haven't been busy, I did write Wyrm and Finding Honor in that time. So anyway, it's done, and here it is. The conclusion to Southern Cross, I hope you all like it. I just realized that it's been a year, almost exactly, since I started on North Star. I like to think my writing has improved in that time, and I know I've learned a lot.
~ Guardian Julie McGrath.
The two fleet's of ships spat fire at one another as they hurtled through the empty darkness between planets. They swept through the asteroid belt that separated the fourth and fifth planets of the solar system, carelessly blowing apart any of the lifeless chunks of rock that strayed too close.
The first fleet was made of ships, which almost looked organic in shape, and there were a lot of them, nearly four thousand. There had been a few hundred more only hours before, but the smaller fleet had thinned the ranks somewhat. Now they raced through the system, trying to be the first to reach the small blue planet that hung in the empty void before them.
A small inconsequential thing it looked against the vastness of the galaxy.
Nothing very special to look at, just another planet, even if it did have the blue of water, and the promise of an atmosphere capable of supporting life.
It did, however, have one thing that separated it from the rest.
Something that made it worthwhile to fight over, to defend, to die for.
Julie chocked on smoke, coughing as she slammed the helmet of her pressure suit closed. The suit would clear the smoke from its internal air, and almost immediately she could breath easier.
Her Provost looked up from her display, already wearing her own pressure suit.
"Missile four's gone, and we've got a hull breech on deck ten and eleven. Damage control teams are en route."
Julie scowled at the tactical display; she should have seen this one coming. None of them had though. The near ambush by the Bak'ra had almost worked, would have if the Sensor Sphere hadn't given them the critical few minutes warning that they needed.
"Ma'am, North Star is signaling us, wants a damage report."
"Send Emie the report and let her know that we're still ship shape Mr. Webster."
Julie's attention was still focused on the sensor readings through her ship self. Cunning bastards, they tried to get us with our plan. Too bad our sensors were keeping track of them.
The Bak'ra had tried to leave fifty ships behind them, powered down, as their main force kept on course towards Earth. Presumably they had wanted the fifty ships to get close enough to the Tiri ships to do the same thing that the Tiri had done to them scant hours before. Thankfully the Sensor Sphere had been keeping a close track of all of the Bak'ra ships, and despite there attempts at shifting positions to confuse the sensor tracks, CIC had kept a good track of how many ships were ahead of them. When fifty Bak'ra ships suddenly disappeared the alarms had sounded.
"Ma'am, The Kiev is reporting heavy damage to their starboard side. Fifty dead, a hundred or so wounded. Captain Panteleyev says that they'll do their best to remain in formation."
Even knowing that they were there, the fifty Bak'ra ships had managed to inflect damage before the Imperial Forces could destroy them. Southern Cross had taken a bit of minor damage, but her Heavy Cruiser consort had not been as lucky.
"Tell Captain Panteleyev that if necessary he can drop from formation and try to reach Mars base. Alert the Ranger and The Saipan to the damage sustained by the Kiev, and make certain they know that they may have to take over Guardian support from her."
She'd be damned if she relied on The Ranger's captain for support, but it didn't look like she'd have much of a choice in the matter. Julie had bigger problems to keep her occupied at the moment, like trying to stay alive long enough to stop the Bak'ra from reaching earth.
The Bak'ra fleet, wounded perhaps, but still six times the size of the combined Tiri fleet, was racing towards the center of the system. Reports were still coming in from Mars, although what little Julie had heard was not encouraging. The Bak'ra ground assault forces had landed just over an hour ago. The red headed Guardian spared a good wish for her Russian friend, hoping that Katya would make it through whatever she was facing alive.
"Southern Cross reports minor damage Ma'am."
Thank the Maker.
Outwardly all that the First Guardian did was nod in acknowledgment. As long as Julie was still in one piece she could focus on her main problem. Namely the huge fleet that was between her and Earth and destroying them before the Bak'ra did to Earth what they had done to Tiri prime.
"Time until Earth orbit?"
"Three hours twenty minutes."
Not enough time. There just wasn't enough time to stop them before the ships reached high Earth orbit, before they entered effective missile range of the planet. Then it would be the job of the newly installed, and even more recently tested, planetary shield and orbital fort network to hold them off. To prevent them from doing to Earth what they had done to Tiri prime. There wasn't much chance of them holding for long though, they all knew that. Despite the best efforts of Tiri and Human those forts were vulnerable. They couldn't dodge, they couldn't evade incoming fire, if they moved more than a few hundred meters from the spots they'd been chosen the massive network of the planetary shield would falter, and then fail in the localized area where the fort was.
Which meant a section roughly five hundred thousand square kilometers.
If a Bak'ra missile with a biological warfare warhead got through
Emily tiredly rubbed her temple, trying not to think about the carnage that would ensue. She already knew the casualties they'd be facing if something like that happened over an inhabited area. Millions dead if it happened over Europe, billions if it happened over China or India.
We just have to make certain it doesn't happen.
Easier said than done.
Her thoughts brushed across the kilometers of space and she smiled at the instant joy she found at the other end.
You all right Julie?
Yeah, just a bit rattled Emie, they move fast!
Deadly fast, watch yourself love, we're going to have to hit them once they get into Earth orbit.
There was silence for a second.
We can't stop them short of it?
Even though she was speaking through the link to the younger Guardian through her ship self, the tall black haired woman shook her head.
No, not and have a hope of stopping them. We hurt them, we hurt them good, but we didn't take enough of them to make it a sure thing.
Emie, any word from Mars?
Both could taste the First Guardians worry over that. Her father and brother were both at Mars base, and nothing had been heard from the planet since the Bak'ra ground assault force had reached it several hours ago now. The red head's next words served to lighten Emily's thoughts though.
Be careful First Guardian, I need you.
Her lips curled into a small grin and Emily could hear the faint chuckle coming from her Provost's station, that she was blushing slightly probably made it easy for him to figure out what she was doing.
I will baby, stay safe.
The missile exploded ten feet from where Katya's hastily installed command post. It was little more than a small crater on the Martian landscape, probably older than humans, she thought bitterly. It was the fourth in as many hours, and she hunched against the force of the explosion, the hard suit she wore taking the brunt of it.
The scream went up before the explosion had even disapaited, and Katya forced herself not to look. She'd seen nearly twenty percent of her command decimated by the last few hours of desperate combat, and she just couldn't take the sight of another shattered piece of twisted metal that used to be a friend.
Even as the medics labored on the newest casualty, she could hear the thin steady screaming of the injured man through her com link before she switched channel, her second in command pounded up.
Her last second in command had been blown apart the first time they'd moved her command post, she still had his bloodstains on her suit. Andresson had been a good man; he had a family, three children back in Mexico Firmly the Russian ignored those thoughts.
"You see this ridge here, we'll draw them to it. How many of those nukes we got left?"
The hesitation was clear.
"Just answer the damn question, how many?"
In the distance, less than a kilometer ahead of her position, marines were desperately pouring down a torrent of fire at the nightmare like creatures swarming across the surface of mars.
"Good, put them in a line along the southern edge of this ridge. Move."
The two-meter hard suit whirred as he moved away from her, and she spared a glance at her own suits read outs. She had another six hours of power left, as long as she didn't start firing the plasma canon mounted over her suits right shoulder. Most of the rest of her people were in a worse situation though; close fighting drained power like no body's business. The loss of the supply shuttles were hurting them, and she wondered how long it would be before people started having to toss away there hard suits due to lack of power cells.
Another missile streaked overhead and she watched grimly as it slammed into the rear of her lines. The few heavy tanks that she had left were returning fire, but she they were being overwhelmed. They were making the Bak'ra pay for it in blood, but they were being driven back towards Mars Base. What had started out as a comfortable hundred kilometer buffer zone was down to less than half that.
The Bak'ra for there part had to be seen to be believed.
They reminded God of nothing so much as three meter tall armored spiders with canons on their back and missile launchers slung under them.
Yeah, armored spiders that can jump a hundred feet in this low gravity and move over eighty kilometers and hour. No wonder the Tiri developed these hard suits; we'd already be dead otherwise.
Not that the end result looked to be any better, but she grinned savagely. She'd see as many of them burning in hell before they reached Mars Dome as she could.
"Father, we have to get you out of here."
The Tiri Emperor sat in a command seat near the back of the massive Command and Control installation buried underneath what had become known as Mars Dome. It had taken the Tiri sixty years to build that dome, a place for there civilians to live, and a place where they could recreate a little of the world that they had lost. The usually teeming streets were empty now; the last of those civilians had long ago gone to the emergency shelters built into the solid mars bedrock in anticipation of this day.
No one had anticipated the Bak'ra getting this close without Tiri ships being able to stop them though. The militia and marine's who had been stationed inside the dome were already waiting outside, nearly all of them in unpowered armor, with only pulse rifles, to aid the jump troops who were being driven back. Winston knew that Katya was out there, somewhere, if she wasn't already dead. He didn't think she was though, no that one was too stubborn to die.
Stubborn like someone else he knew come to think of it.
The old man in front of him had once seemed like the pinnacle of strength to a then young imperial prince. Now his father seemed a ghost of his former self, thin hands shook when he moved them, and his eyes often seemed to be focused on something distant.
Not now though.
"No, I stay here."
"Father, we need to get you somewhere safe."
"Son, I saw one planet overrun by these butchers, I will not run away and see it happen to another! Our people are here, and here I stay."
Winston opened his mouth to tell his father that they needed him alive when a dull explosion caused the room to shudder. All eyes turned towards the main holo tank, and Winston's words died in his throat. The Bak'ra were within ten kilometers of the dome now, and they were within range to start blasting the ground above with high explosives.
It was only a matter of time now.
A trembling hand touched his and Winston looked back to his father in concern. The Royal guard, a dozen of the finest Tiri marine's to be found anywhere, stood nearby, all prepared to give their lives for the emperor.
"I can not leave our people."
Winston held his father's gaze, those eyes the same blue as his own and Emily's. He hoped his sister was still alive, they hadn't had a report from the fleet since the Bak'ra had landed and started jamming nearly all transmissions.
"Very well father."
Turning he headed for the door, glancing at the monitors as he went and noting where the Marine's on the surface where being pushed back.
"Where are you going son?"
Winston smiled at that, stepping into one of the lifts at the far side of the room.
"Katya's up there somewhere father, if you won't leave then neither will I. I know how to use a hard suit, figured its time to go find out where that bride to be of mine is."
The doors slid shut on an understanding look from the Emperor. Who then bowed his head and prayed that he was not about to loose both of his surviving children to a war that had started half a galaxy away.
General Charles Starnhorse, late of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, ground his teeth on his unlit cigar, glaring at the holo tank that filled the center of the command deck. The swarm of angry amber dots that were approaching didn't sway at all under his regard and he snorted. He'd been in charge of the Betty, as the crew had nick named Orbital Fort 1, for a little less than four months now.
This was the first time his command was going to come under attack. There had been endless simulations of course, training with the Navy, mock attacks, sudden drills, the whole kit and kibutal. Which didn't mean much in the chaos of an actual battle. He knew what the First Guardian's plan was, hell he even knew they didn't have any choice, that didn't mean he had to like it.
"Fool of a woman."
He growled low enough that Colonel Elzhan Mordetti, a Tiri and a woman, didn't hear him from her nearby station. It wasn't that he didn't like his second in command, it's just that, well, damn it, she was a woman and the General was from an era that had accepted the fact that woman were to be shielded from the horrors of combat unquestioningly.
The transition had not gone what he would call smoothly.
There had been more than a few sparring matches which had resulted in everything from bruises to broken bones.
He'd sported a few bruises of his own during the past few months.
"Who's going to be hit first?"
Elzhan, finished typing in commands, and looked up from her console.
"They'll hit over southeast Asia first."
The General chomped on his cigar, and settled in to his seat. He had a bad feeling about what was coming down on his people. No matter what they were going to hold the planetary shield, but they were going to bleed to do it.
North Star shuddered, the massive five-kilometer long ship shaking as Bak'ra warp missiles clawed at her shields. The tall black haired woman in the command couch gritted her teeth against the pain. Being a Guardian allowed her to bond to her ship self and control it's direction and attacks at the speed of thought, but that bond carried it's own price.
Pain flowed through her as her ship self suffered damage. It was minor so far, and the tall woman easily shunted it aside.
From experience she knew it would only get worse.
For now though she was worried about the humans, the new Guardians. So far the over a hundred strong fleet of Guardians were holding together. That was only through a constant web of communications though and she worried about what was going to happen when they reach earth. So far she'd had to personally reach out and calm the others a half dozen times, and they were still a half hour away from the fleet in front of them.
The first ships of which had just reached high earth orbit.
They're hitting Southeast Asia, oh my god Emie, look at all that.
Emily knew exactly what Julie meant. Through their sensors the Guardians, and their crews, watched as fire crawled along the planetary shield. Thousands of missiles slammed against the shield, probing, seeking for an opening. The planetary shield was a sphere of energy in low earth orbit stretched between the orbital forts. No matter how large the Bak'ra fleet was only a few forts could target them at any one time, while the curve of the earth blocked the others. Allowing the Bak'ra to concentrate their fire on a relatively small section of the planet.
Not all of the Bak'ra ships were trying to punch a hole through the shield though, a good half of the fleet hung back, waiting to intercept the oncoming Tiri and Human ships.
The First Guardian's thoughts reached out through the distance between the Guardian Ships.
Stay safe my beautiful one.
On the command deck of Southern Cross, Julie closed her eyes and smiled. She could almost feel the brush of the tall black haired woman's fingers caressing her cheek. For those precious few seconds all that existed was the First Guardian and herself. Feelings flowed through the link between Guardian ships, between human and Tiri. It blazed brightly and throughout the small fleet both new human guardians and the few Tiri guardians still alive watched in amazement.
It was something old that link, and yet new, fresh and passionate. It burned brightly against the darkness to the Guardians who watched through their sensors. That link, the bond between those two women, meant completely different things to the Tiri and Humans though.
To the Tiri, who valued actions above words, it was a joyous symbol of hope against the carnage that they had, and soon would again face. To the humans it was a symbol of their place in this new order that some of them were still struggling to feel comfortable in. No matter what they thought of it though, it drew them together, taking them that final step to becoming more than just individuals representing nations, to representatives of the human race.
Swallowing against the sudden flare of emotions Emily opened her eyes and shook her head slightly. It was amazing what the small blonde human could do to her. Only seconds had passed, it felt like much longer though.
"First Guardian, are you alright?"
Emily smiled at the worried expression on her Provost's face.
"Just fine Angwar, just fine. Why?"
"Your systems just had some strange readings, and then so did Southern Cross's, as well as nearly every Guardian ship in the fleet."
Emily's smile widened.
"It's alright Angwar, for once I think it's going to be alright."
If her Provost's look was still troubled, Emily didn't pay attention. Her lanky body was thrumming with power from the interchange with Julie, and amazingly she could sense the same from the others.
Queries, first from her friends, Darrien the first of them, then slowly from the human Guardians. Feeling the touch of Julie's feelings still fresh in her mind Emily gathered them all.
It was something that had never happened before.
In the entire history of the Tiri what was happening had never been seen before.
It started with Julie and Emily, but it spread quickly outwards from there, linking Guardian to Guardian in a web of thoughts.
For the first time in the history of Guardians the hundred and nine surviving Guardians were as one. Julie had but to think it, and the Guardian ships reacted, they were her sword and she wielded them ruthlessly as the Tiri fleet, after thirty long agonizing minutes finally came into range of the Bak'ra. After a half hour of being able to do nothing other than watch the Bak'ra attack their planet, they were able to do something about it.
Julie's thoughts were a whisper, but Emily heard them clearly nonetheless, as did everyone else in the web.
I love you Emily.
Not caring that everyone could hear her as well, Emily's response was immediate.
I love you too.
Then there was no time for anything other than the swirling chaos of missiles as the two fleets traded fire.
It was impossible.
Lortal stared at the information being displayed before him in a sort of morbid fascination.
Those weren't Tiri ships attacking his; they had to be demon spawn!
The Tiri ships moved in perfect coordination, weathering a storm of fire from the Bak'ra ships that should have turned a fleet twice their size into wreckage. True there were a lot of missiles getting through, and even as he watched more and more of the smaller Tiri ships were being blown apart, but the Guardians kept on coming. They were coming straight in, and his fleet was in real danger of actually being pinned against the bulk of the Planet below.
"Gallor-Tal, a message from Thuva, they are preparing to enter the base located on the fourth planet."
Lortal waved a cybernetic enhanced hand in acknowledgement. He didn't particularly care what happened on that red planet, the real battle was taking place here. He was about to order the fleet to break contact with the planet when sensors beeped, and his optical sensor narrowed.
"To all ships, concentrate fire here!"
Finally, a weakness, he would still send them all to the furnace, and the Bak'ra would feed upon their enemies once more.
General Charles Starnhorse clutched at the arms of his command chair, cursing under his breath. The five hundred million ton orbital fort shook as another missile hammered her shields. Unlike ships, which had a dense gravitic disk in front and behind them to pull and push a ship through space, the forts only had a weaker shielding system, which surrounded them. They entire base of the vaguely mushroom shaped fort was taken up with the massive shield emitters, which kept the planetary shields functioning.
Emitters which were currently redlined.
Elzhan yelled out over the screaming of a fellow officer, a piece of shrapnel from an exploding panel had taken the man's arm neatly off just below the shoulder.
"Fusion generators at 110% output!"
The General ground his teeth on the ever-present cigar. Just his luck that out of all the forts in orbit his would be the one that the Bak'ra fleet had singled out for special treatment. Even with the Navy trying to destroy them the Bak'ra fleet was stubbornly holding position above them.
The fort shivered as more missiles clawed at it and warning buzzers snarled.
Crimson warning lights blossomed across the master status control panel and Elzhan's face went white. The female Colonel looked up and met his eyes; her voice was rock steady though.
"General, we've just lost fusion two."
He understood the problem, had the moment the warning lights had blazed to life.
With only one of the fort's two fusion generators working they only had half the power they needed. Which meant he had the option of keeping the fort's own shields up, or his section of the planetary shield.
He was over northern Europe, there were millions of people below, and the decision wasn't a hard one to make.
"Transfer all power to the planetary shield emitters."
Elzhan met his eyes in perfect understanding and saluted a small smile playing around her lips.
"Sorry I won't get to meet your partner Elzhan."
That had been a source of contention between him and his second in command since the beginning. The Tiri might not care what a persons sexual orientation was, but damn it, he did. Well, he had. It just didn't seem very important at the moment.
Elzhan's smile was surprised, but real.
"She would have liked to meet you General."
Elzhan's partner as he remembered, gripping the chair again as the fort shuddered under fresh explosions, was assigned to the base on Governor's island. For Elzhan he was glad she wasn't here. More warning lights sprang to life as missiles, and then energy weapons began hitting the exposed armor platting of the fort itself.
The Betty started shedding armor plating.
The firing started as the Tiri fleet entered active missile attack range eight hundred thousand kilometers away from the Bak'ra. For ten minutes the Tiri fleet writhed under the return fire, heading straight down the throats of the Bak'ra. The smaller ships suffered, they tried there best to cover the Guardians, to protect them from the murderous fire, but there were simply too many incoming missiles and too few destroyers and cruisers. A human Guardian was the first to go, followed by a second, then a third. By the end of the ten minutes eighteen Guardians, and twice that number of smaller ships had been blown apart. Thousands of crew had died, and there were holes in the Tiri formation, high earth orbit was littered with debris and bodies. Not a single ship was undamaged, and many were bleeding atmosphere and trailing debris.
Hold your course.
Emily's thoughts echoed through the link between Guardians.
The Antwerp blew apart, her Guardian from Belgium, and a person that Julie had talked to quite a few times.
Hold your course.
Emily's words held them steady.
Even as one of Julie's escorts, the Panteleyev, commanded by Captain Kuguar blew apart in a fiery explosion, the damage she'd suffered too much for the smaller ship. Julie tried not to think about the hundreds of people who had just died in that explosion.
The Saint Louis, Marcus's ship self erupted in fire. The Guardian ships front gravitic disc faltered and failed, and the entire hammerhead bow of the Guardian Ship ruptured, exploding outwards. Her old housemate's ship self flailed out of formation, and Julie's sensors showed massive power fluctuations throughout the wounded ship. Tears were leaking easily down her cheeks despite her resolution not to cry. Her own command deck was tense, everyone huddled over their stations, few believing that survival was even an option anymore.
Just a little bit more.
Through the link Emily "heard" Mary's cry of pain as warp gate missiles snaked past the ex-hacker's shields and crushed outer decks like so much cardboard.
Almost there, almost there.
Like every other Guardian, Emily focused on the First Guardian's thoughts. Striving to ignore the pain that flowed through her link with her ship self. She had minor damage in dozens of places. She hadn't suffered any major damage since the start of the desperate attack though, and she was starting to hope that she'd manage to get into energy weapon range without suffering any major damage.
A warp gate missile managed to get past everything that her two surviving escorts and her own anti-missile batteries could through up. It slid to within only a few dozen kilometers, point blank range in space combat, and detonated. The Bak'ra missiles were behind their Tiri counterpart's technology wise, but that didn't mean they didn't pack a punch. The fusion bottle inside the hundred-ton missile spun up, and the small warp gate generator in its nose activated.
The warp gate it formed was unstable, but it didn't have to last long to cause damage. The end of the mini wormhole opened inside of Southern Cross and the massive ship bucked as it formed. Armored decking and bulkheads were shredded. It opened just aft of Southern Cross's aft fire control center. Dozens of people died instantly, their body's shredded at the molecular level.
The after effects were even worse though.
Explosions rippled through the damaged area, and only the specialized armored compartments kept the fires from spreading. Damage control teams started working immediately, but the entire aft half of Southern Cross's missile launchers were suddenly cut from the battle net. Their operators immediately started firing independently, but as long as they were cut from the net there fire control was degraded, and half of the missiles, which Southern Cross fired, were of little use.
Julie screamed, as the pain was almost physical, as she felt the damage done to her ship self. A good portion of the training she'd gone through to become a Guardian had been about functioning through the inevitable pain that being so deep in her link with her ship self during combat would bring. The red head had never thought it would be so difficult though and her concentration wavered.
Her name was infused with love, and it helped her force the pain away.
That's it love.
The First Guardian was suffering as well, a good portion of her starboard flank was nothing but shattered wreckage, but she was used to working through the pain. Julie clung to her words, focusing on them and driving back the pain until she could focus on her ship self. The pain receded until she could once more concentrate and she managed to reroute fire control, once more all her surviving missile launchers were in the net and firing together at specific targets in the mass of ships before them.
Then, finally, they were in Energy weapons range, and Julie could feel Emily's savage grin. The First Guardian had waited for this moment since the fall of Tiri Prime, and her savage dark energy flowed to all of the Guardians in the net. The barrage of enemy missiles had battered them, but now they were in range.
Orbital Fort One was burning.
They could all see it through their sensors, see the pieces of armor that were blown off it's surface, the glowing craters where weapons had gouged deep into the fort. The return fire from the fort was becoming less and less, and it was only a matter of time now.
Her crew stayed though. Staying at their stations, and somehow, by some miracle, holding their section of the planetary shield together. The other nearby forts did their best, trying to distract the Bak'ra but they were to far away.
The massive fort was dying, and as Julie watched, her power output levels fluctuated, and the planetary shield flickered dangerously.
They'd done their job though. They'd held for long enough, and the Tiri ships, finally, after loosing more than two dozen Guardians, and even more smaller ships, were in energy weapon range.
Julie's smile had nothing of humor to it.
It was little more than a barring of her teeth.
If the rest of the Guardians were a sword, then she was its tip. North Star plunged into energy range and her plasma canons opened fire. At this range and with so many targets in front of her, there was little chance of missing. The canons were devastating, overloading Bak'ra shield generators, and then punching holes in armor whose thickness was measured in meters.
At her fighter commander's signal fighters in the surviving Tiri fleet launched from their hanger bays. The Guardian class ships each held almost a hundred of the small fragile craft, while the cruisers held an even dozen each. All told there were almost ten thousand fighters that launched in the space of a few short seconds. They were fragile, that was true, and if they lacked the missiles to be decisive in a long distance engagement, they were built for this sort of close in fighting.
With the clouds of fighters surrounding them the Tiri ships once more sliced into the Bak'ra formation. Forcing those ships that had been firing on the dying fort to turn their attention on the oncoming Tiri.
All human Guardians, target Gravitic lance.
Eighty surviving Guardians powered up the massive weaponry that was built into the hammerhead bow of their ship selves.
Pick your targets.
Sensors locked onto the largest ships they could find.
The range crept down, the Bak'ra ships were returning energy weapon fire now as well, and more and more ships were simply disintegrating in fireballs. Dogfights between the larger Bak'ra fighters and the Imperial fighters whirled through space in a deadly dance.
The Bak'ra hadn't known what had hit them at the Asteroid belt.
They knew now though.
Knew what those terrible weapons were, and that they were fired by the new Guardian class ships.
And the knowledge didn't save them.
Nearly a hundred of the largest Bak'ra ships, five kilometers of warship each, vomited fire. If the Plasma Canons were effective at this range, the Gravitic Lance was like the first of god coming down. Each one punched straight through the weaker side shields of the large ships, through battle steel, ripping through the center of the ships, and then out the other side.
Emily directed it all.
The Fighter's weren't under her direct control, but the Guardians were, and she wielded them ruthlessly. The buried anger and need for vengeance flowed through her, released from its sixty year long imprisonment, infusing the others, even Julie lost herself to it and the battle became a blur.
Then the Betty exploded, her remaining battered fusion generator simply giving up. The explosion destroyed the lower half of the orbital fort, turning the nighttime sky over Europe into daylight for a few brief seconds.
The planetary shielding where the Betty had stood died.
Katya had ditched her hard suit ten minutes ago when she'd run out of the last of her power cells. It didn't really matter anymore, the Bak'ra were inside of the dome now, and in some was it was better to be fighting in unpowered armor. Winston was with her, and she shared a tired smile with the Imperial prince. They were fighting building to building now, bleeding the Bak'ra with every step, but they were still being forced backwards.
She had no clue how many of her original command still were alive, but she hoped it was more than she thought. At least the Bak'ra seemed intent on taking the dome intact and not using nuclear weapons to blow them to kingdom come.
Ducking behind the rubble of what had once been a nice set of apartment God patted her plasma carbine fondly. The weapon had been a gift from the American Guardian to replace the one she'd lost in Plattsburgh. She wondered how Julie was doing; she hoped that the red head was still alive.
"They'll be fine, my sisters a tough one to kill."
Winston whispered, and then nodded towards the lurking forms of yet more Bak'ra cyborgs. The massive spider like creatures weren't as maneuverable here inside the city, a fact that the militia and remaining marines were putting to good use. Only one of the prince's royal guards was still alive, and he had a pretty bad shoulder wound, but he was still keeping an eye on their backs for them.
God grinned wickedly and lined up another shot with Winston spotting for her.
If she had to go, this was the way she wanted it.
Mira's hands shook as she gripped the arms of her command couch.
The small varient ten Guardian ship bucked as yet another Bak'ra energy weapon sliced through her shields and ripped open a gash along the side of her hull. She was bleeding air in a dozen places, her primary fusion reactor was off line, half her crew was dead or injured and life support was failing on a dozen decks.
Truth be told the old Guardian was surprised to still be alive.
Other Guardian ships were desperately blowing apart Bak'ra ships as they got into ranges that were suicidal, less than a hundred kilometers in some instances. It was sheer madness, even out at the Asteroids they hadn't interspersed this closely. Ship's fired broadsides at each other at such low ranges that explosions from their targets buffeted them.
There was one Bak'ra ship though that was getting through everything they could throw at it. It was a big one, and Mira realized with a start that she was the nearest to it. Another few seconds and it would get a clear shot at the vulnerable planet beneath, and she knew, perhaps better than most, what those biological warheads could do.
She ignored Julie's sudden command to stop as the First Guardian figured out what she was going to do. Abandon ship alarms came to life in those parts of her ship self where they still worked, but few of her crew heeded them. Most of them had lost everything to the Bak'ra and none of them wanted to run away from this fight.
Not a single member of her command staff moved, and she met the eyes of her Provost with a peaceful smile. He returned it with a quirked grin of his own, his partner had died with Talia, and he calmly returned his attention to his station.
She was old, her ship self had been made nearly two centuries before, and was four Variant's out of date now.
That didn't mean she wasn't fast though.
The small Guardian ship arched up and under an exploding Bak'ra ship, slipped between two smaller Bak'ra escorts, blasting them to the abyss as she passed, and then dove towards her target.
Lortal smiled in victory.
His fleet might be decimated, but with the death of that orbital fort, finally, he had a shot.
Biological warfare missiles replaced warp gate missiles in his ship's missile launchers and he savored the split second before launch. The plague that he was about to unleash upon this pitiful planet would do the same thing to it that he'd done to Tiri prime. Then he would just gather what was left of his fleet, escape from the system, and let the plague do its job. By the time the Bak'ra had another fleet ready there would be no one left to fight them.
He reached out towards the fire command, and mentally blinked in surprise.
The Tiri ship had come out of nowhere, and it moved faster than he would have thought possible.
He had time for one last thought.
Thuva was right, they were up to something.
Then the three-kilometer's of steel and battle armor slammed into his command ship.
Emily screamed in rage.
Julie felt the First Guardians despair and anger wash over her, and through the link to the other Guardians as Mira's ship self, The Banshee, physically rammed the Bak'ra ship. There was a lot of momentum in a Guardian ship, and the bow of The Banshee crumpled as it slammed into the broadside of the Bak'ra ship. For a long endless second the two ships plunged downwards, interlocked with each other, entering the upper edges of the atmosphere, their edges beginning to glow red from the friction.
Then they exploded.
For the second time that night the sky over Europe turned into noon.
The bright flash blinded thousands, and the sudden massive electro magnetic pulse fried every active electrical circuit for hundreds of kilometers.
But not a single Bak'ra missile made it to detonate above the surface of the planet.
The destruction of their command ship was too much, too many other ships had been destroyed, chains of command were in tatters, and the still formidable Bak'ra fleet ceased to act as a cohesive unit. Ships fought alone, without the support of there companions.
The Tiri and Human Guardians, still linked together, began cutting a swath of death and destruction through them, fueled by the deadly anger radiating by the First Guardian at their center.
In the end maybe eighty Bak'ra ships survived to escape. The Sensor sphere out past Mars kept track of them as far as Pluto, then the survivors formed warp gates and were gone from the Solar System.
The lights were on low in the large suite of rooms. Just enough to see by, since it was a cloudy night outside, and there was no moonlight. Two figures lay curled up together on the king sized bed that adorned the master bedroom. A trail of clothes led to it, starting at the front door, passing through the living room, past the fireplace, straying near the bathroom with it's Jacuzzi tub, and then to the foot of the bed.
The scent of lovemaking was heavy in the air, and the quilt from the bed had been tossed to the floor sometime during the past few hours. The two women had a single thin sheet drawn up over them, but they were still warm, from earlier, and shared body heat.
It was quiet in the bedroom, unlike earlier, as the two rested together. Taking comfort in holding the other close, and easily offering comfort to one another with frequent caresses and embraces. The smaller of the two women, the redhead stretched, luxuriating in the feel of the cool sheets and the warm body she was pressed up against. A low chuckle caused her to turn and nip at exposed skin, smiling.
"What are you sounding so pleased with?"
The taller woman's voice was just as husky as her smaller companion's when she spoke, and just as happy.
"I'm feeling well loved."
The red head curled up closer, laying her head on the black haired woman's chest, one leg thrown over her companions.
"You should be, we've been at it for "
Emily smiled, pressing a kiss to fine red hairs, a brief brush with the link to her ship self gave her the time and her smile widened.
"All night, dawn's just a few hours away."
Julie smiled in pure joy and tried to burrow closer.
"Good, I've missed this."
Long arms tightened about her and she heard the chuckle resound through the First Guardian's chest where her ear was pressed.
"So have I love."
It had been two months since the Bak'ra had been defeated.
Two months of mourning for the hundreds of thousands who had died to protect the planet and the human race. Two months of beginning to rebuild, and sorting out the mess on Mars.
Two months which had seen a new Emperor crowned, and the solidification of the first real world government.
"I forgot to tell you, since you pounced me the second we got here, but Katya says hello."
Julie lightly pinched her bedmate, drawing an outraged squawk.
"I didn't pounce you, you seduced me!"
The tone was dry and Julie propped herself up a bit to see Emily's deep blue eyes.
Green eyes sparkled.
"How did I do that?"
"You looked at me."
Blue eyes danced with mischief.
"I looked at you huh?"
"Oh yes, so it's all your fault."
They both chuckled and Julie laid back down in what was quickly becoming her favorite position.
"How's she doing?"
"Better, Winston's even got her to set a date for the wedding."
Julie's eyebrows raised a bit at that, her Russian friend had been hemming and hawing over when to have the wedding for the past month. It had been close for Katya, she'd taken a Bak'ra energy bolt to the chest just before the frantically dispatched reserves from Earth had arrived. A few millimeters to the left and the bolt would have killed her, Winston had been nearly insane with worry.
Then the Emperor had been discovered dead on his throne, having died from a massive stroke sometime during the end of the fighting inside of mars dome.
The victory over the Bak'ra had been bitter sweet and for the first few nights with Emily, Julie had held the First Guardian as she cried. They both woke up with nightmares these days of the fighting, of dead friends, but it was bearable when they were together. Which, Julie hoped, would be a lot more frequently now. Things were starting to return to a semblance of normal, and the frantic struggles of the past two months were starting to fade.
"How's Mary doing?"
Emily shrugged, causing Julie to grin as she felt the movement.
"The repairs to her ship self are going to take another four months at least, but she's actually starting to get through to that captured Bak'ra."
They'd captured what they were starting to understand was a Bak'ra leader at Mars dome. The woman, well Julie supposed it was a woman under all those cybernetics, had been found seriously injured by the Imperial Marine's who had arrived from Earth.
Emily had wanted to kill the Bak'ra immediately.
Julie had stood up to her and told the First Guardian how valuable it would be to actually figure out how the Bak'ra thought.
It had been a tense few minutes, on the command deck of North Star. The two had glared at each other, while Angwar and the rest of the First Guardian's command staff had tried to pretend they were somewhere, anywhere else.
The anticipated explosion had never come though, and Emily had smiled slowly. Telling Julie that if she thought she could figure out what to do with the Bak'ra then fine, she could deal with the thing, but if Emily heard it had caused any problems at all Emily would personally see that it was disposed of.
Julie had smiled sweetly and immediately put Mary in charge of the Bak'ra prisoner.
Something that had so far turned out fairly well with the young Guardian from Maine managing to learn bits and pieces from their prisoner. It wasn't easy, the Bak'ra mindset was completely different than anything that humans or Tiri were familiar with, but there was some progress.
That and, as Julie had told the still somewhat miffed First Guardian, it kept Mary out of trouble. Which they both agreed was worth a bit of risk, considering what the ex-hacker was capable of now that she was a full Guardian.
Emie traced a path with her fingertips up the smaller woman's back. Julie sighed with pleasure, but kept up her questioning.
"That's not what I meant. How's she doing with our guest?"
Long elegant fingers suddenly tickled her and Julie yelped in surprise, reaching back and capturing the offending fingers, laughing.
"No changing the subject First Guardian, how's she doing?"
Emily shook her head, causing black bangs to drift over her forehead. Julie experimentally let go of the tall woman's fingers, and when she wasn't tickled again, she tenderly brushed the black hairs back.
"She's doing fine, as you very well know. I still think we should put a pulsar dart in that thing's head "
"Thing's head, but we are learning something about them."
"Can I say I told you so?"
Julie grinned and moved up the lanky body, pressing light kisses to the warm skin below her.
Emily groaned and tangled her fingers in short red hair, loosing track of the conversation, something she found she did often around the charming human.
"What does it depend on?"
Warm lips covered her nipple and she arched her back, managing barely to form an intelligent answer.
"On if you keep that up."
Green eyes met blue with a promise.
Lips met sealing the promise as two souls cemented a joining that had weathered more than most were every called upon to do already. The future stretched out before them shinning with endless possibilities and the simple knowledge that whatever it brought they would face it.
The Bak'ra ships sped towards the nearest Bak'ra controlled system. It would be years before they would have enough ships to once more threaten the newly created human Empire. Years which the First Guardian, and her red headed mate, would put to good use.
Next time it would be the Bak'ra who were on the defensive.
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I seem to have misplaced a beta reader, so if anyone knows what happened to Divababe1969, let me know please? I hope she's doing alright, wherever in cyberspace it is that she's gone too.