The dock lights pinged green. Relieved he relaxed as the tower’s automated systems begin their transfers. He was a meticulous man, Lash. Even as he waited for the subroutines he had built to do their job one eye made sure that the fuel blocks were taken from the proper bay. With the other eye he read the status checks for the strontium clathrates levels, leery of degradation of the important reinforcement molecule. According to all reports the tower purred away at its job needing only to be fed a steady diet of fuel blocks and its silos emptied. He noted the supply levels of munitions and entered a note for the team that handled the ammunition restocking.
Flawless. Effective. Everything was timed. The layout of the silos allowed for minimal moving of the freighter. It took a handful of minutes to complete what could have taken hours. Lash called to the next stop on his route even as the last bit of loading and unloading finished.
“System is clear,” said Citron. “The cyno is up.” A beacon flared as a golden arrow on his HUD as Citron activated his cynosoural generator.
The last hose snaked away from the Rhea. The tower was fueled and its silo's empty. Lash activated the jump drive. Unlike its sister ship the Charon, the Rhea had sacrificed a large amount of its cargo space for a massive jump drive generator. Deep in its guts a pool of nitrogen isotopes reacted with the jump drive. An artificial wormhole ripped open space as red bands of energy crackled around the freighter. The entire ship shuddered and them it stepped out of normal space and slipped into its own corridor to travel an incredible distance, wrapped in bands of searing red energy.
The jump drive was limited as to the distance it could travel. Lash had no need to push it. His journey was only to the opposite end of the cluster. Another tower needed to be fed. The simple process might consume a large amount of time but it gave greater rewards. As fuel left the Rhea minerals mined on the cold surfaces of the planets took its place. Complex chemical reactions, to dangerous to be performed on planet or station created stable compounds needed to feed the thirst of the ship yards.
The outpost was his true pride. The bulbous shape swept out and around, accented by the rich luster of the plasma planet it orbited. Massive refineries churned inside of its guts as it refined ore. His people tended the belts and fueled the refinery. Every moon was inhabited by a laboratories, refiners, reaction units, and mining arrays. It was beautiful and they had built it from nothing in a place where no one wanted to put the time and effort into cultivation the systems potential.
The Rhea docked to be restocked and offloaded. The process was not quite as fast here. More needed to happen and the fuel bays needed to be reloaded. Along with calculations for the various needs of the moons under his care. The teams were not back from empire just yet so he had a pause in his schedule. One, long enough for him to go visit his true source of joy.
Settling into the shuttle after the Rhea caused a bit of disorientation. Twin fins flared to the side like miniature fins. The shuttle swam more then flew, the void its natural habitat. Freed of the ponderous weight of the Rhea, Lash relaxed as he approached the capital ship assembly array. The shuttle slipped through the keyhole opening and entered a world of activity.
Suspended in the center of the chamber was the almost complete form of a Nyx. The massive super carrier stretched the length of the array, its ends vanishing into shadowed depths. Lights illuminated the skeletal structure where teams bound hull plates against the flared ribs. Lash maneuvered through the struts that supported the Nyx. A highway flowed through the center composed of a trail of cargo containers as they moved materials to and from the processors.
Across one curved edge of the ring the hull was complete and armor plates were being installed. The silver-green panels slid into place. Kilometers of armor plating waited as each one, preformed to fit, hovered above their place of installation. The project was on time. This Nyx, their first built, was to become Triad Squared's flagship and announcement of their supercarrier production capabilities. This was why he had moved his corporation out into nullsec and accepted the position as Outward Alliance's logistics wing.
It was beautiful and somehow delicate.
His alliance com chimed. "How is the build coming along, Lash?"
There was only one build that everyone cared about. This one. "Fine, Illyan. Things are moving along smoothly." Lash knew that he sounded smug. Well he was. It was a major undertaking to build a super carrier. The resources alone would stagger most people. His had taken it in stride and then pushed those limits to prove that they could accomplish what they had come to complete.
"Silver Star and Woven Spectrum have made a push towards our jump bridges. We need full mobilization to repel them. Outward Alliance is not helpless and we need to make that clear now before they think that we are weak."
"I've supplied all of the towers. Ammunition is in the alliance hangers. The bridges are fueled and ready."
"And your people?"
"My people are building as fast as they can."
"You don't understand. We need them to give real value to the defense of the system. They cannot just live here and expect people to lose ships while they hide in the outpost. Everyone has to fight."
Lash's throat tightened. "They are noncombatants," he squeezed out. They also keep your entire alliance supplied, he managed not to say. "Triad Squared handles all of the alliances logistics needs." He pulled up the alliance contract list. "We have sixty alliance contracts that we are in the process of filling or have filled in the last forty-eight hours. Between that and our manufacturing goals my people are stretched very thin."
"Then import ships instead of wasting your time building them. I want everyone on the field to crush those who tread on my space." His space? Lash bit his tongue until salty blood filled his mouth. He was about to speak when Illyan continued. "I'm not Corvith. He was voted out as alliance head for a reason."
"I spoke to him yesterday."
Illyan cut him off."And things have changed. Not everyone has the luxury of twisting and twirling every decision for weeks before a commitment. An alliance leadership must be hard and decisive. Corvith understood that and stepped down when the decision was placed before him. Outward has invested to much in Triad Squared for you not to give back. This is a Call To Arms. Unlike Corvith, I will not allow you to ignore them. I have sent you the fleet composition that I expect you to field. Note that I have taken pains to work it around the limited range of options your corporation has."
"I have taken pains..." Illyan's voice still mocked him. Lash had gathered fifty-seven people who could fly a combat ship and shoved them into Drakes. Ten people he managed to plug into Scimitars for logistics. The additional twenty were in various fast frigates. The rest were hauling supplies and reshipments. The general mood was resigned with a handful of excited and a few that had not said a word to him since he had put out the orders.
Now his people huddled in a tight ball just off the flared front of an Avatar. The titan was tucked safely in the heart of a force field. It had taken two jump bridges to reach the staging system at the outer edge of Outward Alliance's space. The titan would turn itself into the last bridge to reach a system that that sat squarely on the edge of contested space. Now his fleet huddled so close together that he feared for the interceptors.
"Don't bump the Titan!" A Rokh who was in warp to late and not paying enough attention in the first place dropped out of warp and slid through the force screen. Over one hundred million kilos of mass slammed into the stationary Titan. Kinetic energy transferred as the shields absorbed and diverted the power. The Avatar spun on its own axis as the Rokh halt stopped with enough force to stun its pilot deep in the fluid filled recesses of his pod.
The battleships were a backup. They would come in last. The Naga fleet floated at the other end of the titan. A hundred strong, their duel barrels were a whispered promise of the violence to come later. Lash could feel the excitement crackle about the fleet as the commanders arrived. A drake dropped neatly out of warp and slid into the center of his fleet without bumping one of the interceptors from his path. "Zag Zee is your warpin. Snipers will be behind you. We need them pushed back. I am your anchor, Nissen Rue. Welcome to the fight." Murmurs of welcome and thanks rolled up and back down the assembled drakes. Nissen Rue was well known and better liked.
"I know that your group is well experienced with jumping. The titan is no different. Don't be scared of her. When the bridge is up the coordinate is broadcasted. Accept and make the jump. Nothing like a good short cut to start the day. Just be ready because we are all set and then things get fast."
The titan shimmered. The massive drives, powered by kilometers of power and support made the entire ship shudder. The structure shivered as massive forced arced around it. The ship became a jump gate. Its engines spun up and diverted its power in as a portal was ripped into space and held open. "Bridge is up!"
The fleet jumped. Even with the power of the titan behind it the portal could only be held open for scant seconds. Seconds that were long enough for the drake fleet to draw upon that power and transcend distance and logic to travel.
Lash unclenched his jaw as his fleet displayed green. Everyone had made the jump. "Zag Zee?" Nissen was asking. "Status?"
"Fleet, align." The ships turned. Drakes with their ponderous grace, forms arched and strange and studded with turrets. On a planet, none of these ships would exist. The Scimitar both fragile and sleek, the interceptors all angular lines and shark detail as they streaked ahead of the fleet like hounds seeking the scent. When the last ship had turned, Nissen took over the control. The fleet commander sent coordinates to each ship. In one unit they leap forward and entered warp as a whole.
Space stretched and then it contracted again. The fleet dropped out of warp and Nissen hissed in surprise. A cloud of frigates and cruisers were only twenty kilometers away. "Interceptors go," he snapped. Their own interceptors, brave souls that they were burned for the enemy fleet. Bright pinpoints of lights, small enough to be mistaken for stars, flashed across the short distance. "We can recover. Anchor on me and start following your broadcasts. I will start a slow burn moving us back. The Naga's will give cover fire. Tackle, do your thing and try to slow the interdictors."
The fleet formed in a swirling mass around Nissen's drake. Even as they began to move back the members of Silver Star and Woven Spectrum began to land. Their Armageddons headed the fleet. Long, golden hatchets their sharp prows arced towards the fleet. The dozen Guardians illuminated the group as they spun around in triangular patterns interconnected to each other. The Apocalypses sat behind the Armageddons. It would have been beautiful if space didn't errupt in a brilliant wash of laser fire as the fire of the drake fleet disintegrate before the Scimitar's could assist.
"Broadcast if you are locked," Nissen bellowed calmly. "Scimitar's start reps early. We are in these bricks for a reason. keep moving people, anchor on me." Between the two fleets the frigates were locked in a deadly battle that looked to be more firefly dance. Tiny shapes burned and flared as they collided and died. The interceptors pushed through. The drakes moved away and then the first interdictor bubble went up. The fleet was now trapped but that had been expected.
Lash calmed himself. This was part of everything else. Nissen continued to move and the drakes vomited missiles into the darkness. An Apocalypse exploded. Brilliant blue cast the golden hulls a deep, startling green for an instant as its fleet mates reflected its death off of forty some different hulls.
"Where is the Naga fleet?" Nissen snarled across the operational channel. Lash felt cold nausea curl up in his stomach. There was a desperate harshness in Nissen's voice.
Armal North, Naga Fleet Commander responded. "Kim Supp is reported to be in or near the system."
"She is a known bomber fleet leader. The Naga fleet will be eaten alive. They are just waiting for us."
"We have people on the field dying. Run if you see them you are Naga for gods sakes."
"You are drakes. We're not going to lose over a hundred Naga to bombers."
"You aren't going to come because there might be bombers?" Nissen's incredulity was cut off as his drake vanished. The anchor lost, the drakes started to collide with each other even before the scattered fragments of Nissan's ship cooled. An interceptor snatched up and destroyed his pod even as another drake went down. It descended into chaos. Malformed and confused the drakes tried to reform. It was long minutes and two more ships lost before Lash could rally up his people around himself. They were trapped in a wave of interdiction bubbles. Even as the first Scimitar died their position was clearly futile. With no backup and the Scimitar's now the primary focus of the fleet they started to die. Unfocused flares of missiles breached the darkness. Each time they were answered with purple fire that flashed across the distance and snuffed out another signature in the darkness.
Lash was not sure if being one of the last to die was a curse or not. He watched his fleet die one by one. Most without understanding what had happened. Yet, they knew they had been abandoned. The other fleet ad been at the Titan as well. But now, there was only darkness except for the flares of their ships as they died one by one. Later, when he asked what had happened Illyan's response had been, "Reship your people. We has a POS coming out of reinforcement in six hours. I want your fleet ready in four." Then he had disconnected and Lash had stared at his empty screen his mouth full of questions he was not able to ask.
Five names were all that were left. Five people out of two hundred souls that had left the security of empire space to follow him into null and fight for sovereignty under Outward Alliance's banner. He had helped to evacuate every single person that was now gone. The shadows of their energy could still be felt but the outpost was cold and almost abandoned.
Lash could remember Bangrath's embarrassment as the pilot said that he could not do it anymore. "I have nothing left," he said. "I didn't come out here for them to waste my effort. I've never received assistance from the logistics fleet. We have been abandoned on the battlefield dozens of times. I wanted to be here but I never wanted to be wasted. No one did."
"I know," had been his only answer. "We will get you out. Everyone who wants to go will be evacuated." What else could he do for them? For months they had been loyal. They had continued to run the logistics chains and report for battle after battle as Illyan had 'skirmishes' that often wound up with Triad Squard's fleet decimated and few other losses for either side.
Now he was mostly alone. The other four were in empire, waiting. Another call to arms notification started to flash. He ignored it and set his coffee down. He rubbed his own face and then stared at the blinking notification. Illyan had bled his people dry. And for what? The objectives were vague fuzzy things where many words were used to explain that destroying fleet after fleet of Triad Squard's ships proved that Outward Alliance was not weak. What the constant destruction of the alliance's logistics wing proved he was not sure. They lost no space but they gained no space. He had been told that his losses did not matter enough for anyone to keep true count. Illyan waxed poetical over the efficiency of his fleet compositions. Nothing was said of the confused group that were willing but had lost the reason for why they were willing. And what could he tell them? To keep it up? The reimbursements had drained the corporations wallet. The constant operations had shattered their neat and efficient logistic chains. The message indicator flickered in the corner of his eye still. It mocked him with its simply worded call to arms. Its endless thirst for things he no longer had. He ignored it and palmed open his communications link to a name he had held onto for a long, long time.
Lash leaned forward. "It's Lash Tyel. You once made me an offer..."
Lash's shuttle skimmed past the waiting fleet. He had handed them the password to the force field earlier. Now Drakes and Tengu swirled around the towers anchor. His shuttle was a tiny mote as it wove its way through the assembles cruisers and battlecruisers on a path to the capital ship assembly array that houses the recently completed Nyx.
"We won't let them take this CSAA," Illyan told him. "They think because it is under a logical corporation such as yourselves that they can steam roll over you. Outward Alliance takes care of its own. The capital ships we are producing will make us a solid power."
We. Triad Squared no longer had the ability to produce capitals. He could scrape together a few battleships, perhaps, if he ignored everything else. He might also have felt better if he was not handing over the sovereignty to Septus, Illyan's corporation. That had been explained to him as an important part of protecting the array due to Triad Squard's lack of ability to form a defense fleet.
Only a handful of struts supported the Nyx in its cradle. The super carrier was finsihed. The last checks had been run before Ralli, head of manufacturing, had left. That had been their gift and final thank you to him. They had completed his hope and dream. He drank in the circular structure, elegant instead of awkward, as his shuttle skimmed down the length of it.
The pod detached from the shuttle. Empty, the shuttle sought one of the docks where it folded its wings and nestled into a cradle. Maybe someone would remember it was there one day. Lash tasted bitter amusement as his pod anchored into the Nyx. If there had been anyone left to feed to the fight before Illyan took it he would have seen another example of the excellent care Outward Alliance took of its own. He would have watched his people burn while the rest of the fleet sat behind them with no support. Oh yes, the tender care would over whelm him.
The assembly array's doors flared open with the delicacy of a newly born butterfly's first wing strokes. Light pierced the darkness of the Nyx's chamber and reflected off of the sleek form. Lash nudged the ship forward. The remaining hoses decoupled with a pressurized hiss. For the first time since the array doors had been closed, the ship was on its own. Millions of pieces twined together to create an impressive whole. Over three kilometers in length, its form both graceful and great, the Nyx slide from its cradle into space.
It was not the birth that he had envisioned for his ship. None of the members of the production team remained. Triad Squared was a shell of what it had once been. "Where did the Nyx come from?"
"The array must have automatically ejected upon completion. The project had been going faster than anticipated." Lash was proud of how calm he sounded as he lied. It might have been because he was too distracted telling the tower to shut down. Or it may have been that he no longer cared.
Eighty Drakes and fifty Tengu found themselves unexpectedly exposed. The tower force field flickered off. The Scimitar fleet swirled to a stop as their commander was the first to notice. A single Lachesis warped off. Lash ignored it.
It was amazing how beautiful cynosural fields were. The swirling ball of red energy pulsed almost pure white in the center. For its power, it was innocuous in its size. The generator that Lash had jury rigged to the Nyx soaked up all of the massive ships power. It was of no importance. Even as the questions raged across communication channels and demands were made that he ignored space exploded in rippling red waves of energy as Point and Reload's fleet hotdropped onto Outward Alliance's confused forces.
The most amusing part of it, he mused as he keyed in the self destruct sequence for the Nyx. Lasers streaked across the blackness. They seared the Nyx's hide as they passed. Drakes vanished. Tengu tried to turn but all were trapped in interdiction spheres.
His ship was a full minute into the self destruct when the capital ship fleet warped in to support the drake and Tengus that were being snuffed out faster than one could blink. The first Abaddon exploded. Cheers erupted across Outward Alliance's communications channels. More Abaddons exploded and then an Armageddon shattered into jagged, mismatched pieces. The Guardian fleet became hard pressed to counter the damage. The Drakes and Tengu rallied, invigorated by the change.
Lash ignored all communication attempts.
Forty-five seconds into the count down before space erupted in light again. Lasers and plasma spewed across the void as the two fleets fought. A hole had entered the center of Point and Reload's fleet. A hole that was filled by the appearance of a super capital fleet surrounding the deadly bloom of a cynosural field.
The first doomsday device ripped across the sky. Space tore in the path of the destructive energies. A Thanatos vanished, the glitter of its fragmentation the only memory that it had been there. As the Nyx's engines overloaded, Lash was pleased to see Illyan's Tengu burn. The illuminated blue mist of the explosion splashed across the Nyx's hide even as silver-greenmetal plates exploded outwards and slammed into the ragged remains of Illyan's fleet. The explosion caused the ship to ripple as forces buckled structures and tore through supports. The super carrier's discus shape arched and then from the center out it was torn apart.
The explosion that followed consumed the super carrier spun his pod out into the interdiction sphere as his Nyx vanished, destroyed by its own maker. It was naught but a moment before a Lachesis snared his pod. Lash did not try to run. His last sight was the burning pieces of an Aeon falling through the sky.
The tower was silent. The fuel bay was empty. The force field generator spun down. The opaque field flickered and vanished. In the darkness the tower cooled and went offline. Around it, scattered like fallen petals, the silos and arrays went dark. The automated defenses drifted into a forced sleep as the tower sat alone, the reflected light of the moon cool against its side.
Like bright blooms caught in a sudden frost the jump bridges shut down. From the edge to the center they flickered and went cold and dark. On dozens of moons tower force fields winked off. Communication lines died. Confused echos fell upon deaf sensors as bit by bit the entire cluster went dark.