Parts I and II are accessible by hyperlink via my signature file.
Much luff goes to the community for their support and idea-generation thus far.
I expect this to be the final part of the Legacies trilogy, but that's dependent upon how well I can work out an ending to this entire Ashoran mess for the Alliance.
And now, without further ado...
“Pretty nebula,” Progie remarked thoughtfully at the swirls of green and yellow clouds on the massive screen next to him.
Several other large screens throughout the massive bridge displayed different angles of the ship’s current surroundings. One showed the expanse of star-speckled space behind the Qwaar-Jet while another displayed the nebula’s shimmering golden core. A third showed a small cluster of asteroids floating between the nebula’s outer edge and its core.
Noreena shrugged inside the Progenitor super-dreadnaught’s control sphere.
“Kinda blah to me,” she remarked. “Besides, I’m not out here to check the scenery.”
Progie nodded as he glanced to one large screen showing a cluster of Somtaaw, Hiigaran, and Vaygr merchant vessels huddled around an escort of two Vaygr destroyers and three Archangel IIs. A cluster of Vaygr and Somtaaw frigates mingled with the merchant vessels while Acolyte IIIs and Vaygr ACs buzzed about, their engine trails painting the green-hued sky with streaks of red and yellow.
The Qwaar-Jet flew in its folded-up form: a large, sinister obelisk. It provided an ominous yet welcome addition to the convoy’s fleet as they flew further into what starcharts called the Sorelis Nebula. It lay only four conventional hyper jumps from the Karos Graveyard, and had seen frequent traffic as a back-door supply route for Alliance outposts since the Ashoran War entered its new phase after the Battle of Mortann, which had been exactly four months ago.
That had been standard proceedure until the last convoy going through the small green nebula had disappeared upon reaching its center. Ifriit’s grim tone when he’d given Noreena and her senior staff the assignment via Bridge-to-Bridge feeds had implied the worst: the four-month lull in the War had come to an end with new enemy attacks.
Progie sighed as he pulled his mind back to the mission at hand.
“I know, I know,” he said. “Anything on sensors?”
“Nope. Won’t be long though," she replied grimly. "The last convoy started sending distress signals about ten minutes inward from here before we lost ‘em.”
“Well at least we won’t lose this bunch, thanks to you and Qwaar,” he replied knowingly. “Oh, hey...guess what’s in Secondary Hangars One through Four?”
“Drone ships,” Noreena replied. “Probes and the like. At least that’s what the database told me.”
“I went roaming around down there...and well...those make Keeper attack drones look like plushies in comparison.”
Noreena quirked an eyebrow; there was so much of the Qwaar-Jet she still didn’t know even after having the ship under her command for four whole months. The massive Godship had proven rather secretive about its capabilities early on in this lull in the War, only to open up after persistent badgering from its Khar, who had no intention of going into battle without knowing the full range of technologies at her disposal. Only during an actual fight would the ship tell her anything particularly useful about what she wanted to know. Usually said information got press-ganged into work within seconds, much to Noreena's annoyance.
She pondered ranting at the Qwaar-Jet for stonewalling her out of yet another useful tidbit of knowledge, then shrugged in defeat. Ranting never sped things up, and usually induced the Progenitor super-dreadnaught to continue stalling even more on its self-disclosure.
Though, she wondered, if he’s not gonna tell me what the drones are all about, then why let Progie in down there? He’ll just come up and tell me, like he just did. Unless...he did want me to know about them. But why use Progie, then?
She gave up on wondering, and accessed the camera feeds to the Hangars Progie had mentioned. As expected, she got a simple feed denied message in Progenitor lettering. Her patience promptly flicked down a hyperspace window.
C’mon Qwaar, stop being so fucking cute, she thought angrily. If it’s something that can help me protect these traders, tell me. I thought we were through with this bullcrap!
Silence answered back. Noreena gritted her teeth in disgust, then folded her arms irritably.
Fine! Be that way.
Then her Sensors Manager pinged at her as if pleading for her to get distracted from her current line of thought. She turned her attention to it, mentally muttering a string of imprecations at the Qwaar-Jet. She then shifted mental gears. The expected enemy ambush had finally come within sensor range.
“All right, everybody,” she said to the Bridge. “We’ve got incoming.”
Commander Revkiir, her Vaygr Executive Officer, looked up from pecking out the latest crew evaluation on her datapad. She flipped her long blonde ponytail over one shoulder, and raised her intense blue eyes to Noreena’s nearest camera.
“Fleet size and elements?” she asked as she quickly tucked the datapad into one of her command chair’s many compartments.
“Imperialists—looks like someone in their High Command finally came up with a battlecruiser design they liked. There’s three of those, and about six Qwaar-Jet IIs escorting ‘em. Two carriers, six destys, and about twenty-some frigs, most of ‘em Marine. And yeah, enough fighters buzzing around to give me a headache.”
“Sounds like they were expecting us to bring a standard escort fleet—carriers, battlecruisers, and such,” Revkiir noted as her left eyebrow arched elegantly into her forehead.
“And not the Qwaar-Jet,” Noreena concluded with a wicked grin. “One good thing about Ash floating past the Outer Rim? Nobody’s as smart as he is.”
Revkiir matched Noreena’s expression, a bloodthirsty gleam in her sapphire eyes.
“I’ll take care to thank the Gods for that after we’re done,” she remarked with dark glee. “Red alert! All hands to battle stations!”
Noreena nodded mentally to herself as she shifted her mind into combat mode. She kept the Qwaar-Jet in its folded up form as the distance between the two fleets shrank towards the inevitable confrontation.
To this day, not even Progie had come up with a way of putting the ship’s impressive hull armor’s material onto the wing cannons. He knew how already: simply turn the barrels into rectangles rather than cylinders. However, duplicating that armor still proved a monumental task even his intelligent brain couldn't wrap itself around. Such a shortcoming made the guns vulnerable, simply because they couldn't be replaced should a lucky shot from a cultist ship took any of them out. As a result, she preferred to keep the Godship folded up until the very last minute. Its armor protected its guns and interior more than well enough to allow for such a lazy tactic.
Then a torrent of information smashed into Noreena’s mind. She reeled from it as she sputtered out a string of Vaygr cursewords on the shipwide coms. The crew, long accustomed to their Captain ranting Qwaar out with her usual scatological inventiveness, simply continued working as if her cursing were the most normal thing.
It took Noreena several stunned seconds to not only pull herself together, but to make sense of what had just poured into her brain. Now blueprints and statistics gleamed with brilliant intensity in her thoughts.
She grinned hugely.
I’ll forgive you this time Qwaar. Just, for the love of your Khar, do NOT let it happen again.
“Hey Progie,” she called out. “Those drones? Keepers of Qwaar-Jet. You do the math.”
The scientist had plopped into the Bridge’s primary science station; he’d been assigned as the Qwaar-Jet’s Chief Engineer due to his expertise with both Progenitor and conventional technologies. Noreena herself had given him his field promotion to Lieutenant. Most crewmembers had become accustomed to handling his position over them, but outside Alliance personnel always gawked at why a civilian who wasn't even a noncom had such prestige onboard a military ship.
He glanced up at the nearby camera in surprise. Then his eyes widened into saucers.
“Keepers of...oh my God,” he abruptly sputtered. “They’re screwed aren’t they?”
Noreena’s grin turned particularly nasty.
“With a rusty Blade Interceptor up their asses,” she replied with a laugh. "Sideways."
Noreena eyed the distance between the two fleets. The final meter to the range of the Qwaar-Jet’s long-distance ions fell away. She grinned broadly as she sent the command to open the ship’s long angular wings. Weapons systems flashed to life, their eager hum heightening her readiness for the coming battle.
“Okay, the punch bowl has arrived, and the party is on!” she shouted. “They're in my range! All escort ships get ready to open fire! Stay close to your merchies, and draw all enemy fire away from them.”
An answering stream of reports surged from the Bridge crew and the cluster of Alliance ships huddled around the merchant vessels trailing the Qwaar-Jet. Noreena quickly wrapped her convoy’s merchants in the protective gravitic bubble of the Qwaar-Jet’s rift drive; this would keep their casualties down to a minimum while the combat vessels did their best to wipe the floor with their enemies. She then opened fire with the Qwaar-Jet’s heaviest and longest-ranged ion cannons.
Blue beams flashed between the Godship and the Imperialist fleet, scoring direct hits on the leading battlecruiser. Brilliant orange explosions peppered the massive ship’s hull. Noreena continued to fire, battering away at the three massive Imperial battlecruisers first. They would prove the hardest of the lot to bring down, which meant that she had to focus her attention on them first.
Meanwhile the Imperialist fleet’s strikecraft and corvettes hurtled towards the convoy and its protectors at devastating speeds. Its frigates trailed behind them, readying their ion cannons and missile launchers.
Once she had battered away sufficiently at the battlecruisers to ensure they wouldn’t harass the Qwaar-Jet’s guns too much once they got into range, she turned her attention to the drones in the massive ship’s secondary hangars. Finding the launch command proved easy enough now with all the Qwaar-Jet Keepers’ information available to her. She transmitted it as quickly as she could.
The secondary hangars’ hatches slid open, and hundreds of small black craft spewed out at bewildering speed, their blue engine trails painting the Sorelis Nebula with yet another splash of brilliant color. Like their mothership, they sported a design steeped in triangular symmetry, and three angular wings. Unlike the Qwaar-Jet, their wings carried compact micro-pulse maneuvering thrusters, and their noses sported a trio of tiny ion cannons.
The horde of Keepers reached the waves of Imperialist fighters at twice the speed needed to reduce a living pilot to a smear of goo on their cockpit’s rear wall, and opened fire with unerring accuracy. Every single shot fired hit an enemy fighter’s weak points, turning those ships into blazing fireballs within milliseconds. Within minutes, there was not a single Imperialist fighter left. The corvettes had fared somewhat better, only to discover that the little drones had the same powerful armor as the Qwaar-Jet. Noreena imagined their crews were now panicking at the realization that they might as well be shooting blanks.
Then Noreena realized the Keeper drones would work best when micromanaged at a level only a Khar could provide. Despite their very sharp AI programming, they would need guidance and direction from a living mind that could improvise effectively in a fight. She quickly absorbed the requisite command proccesses from the Qwaar-Jet’s database, then directed the fighters into several large swarms. She then ordered each swarm to completely overwhelm and destroy any of the Qwaar-Jet IIs. They turned on a small one-credit coin, and began blasting away at their new targets with the same ruthless precision.
Okay, that’ll keep the QJIIs from harassing the merchies. Now about getting these battlecruisers in worse shape than they are now...
She continued her long-range bombardment with the Progenitor Godship’s heavy ion cannons as she closed the distance between the two fleets. Her escorting ships added a slew of missiles, ion beams, and railgun slugs to her battering. Long-range missiles and equally long-rang ion beams spewed from the Imperialist fleet, Fireballs peppered the air around the Qwaar-Jet; each one had once been an Alliance ship lending aid to the Godship. Then, several crawling moments later, one of the three Imperialist battlecruisers finally crumbled under the constant barrage, exploding into a dazzling white fireball that sent debris smashing into its fellow ships. The other two soon lost considerable chunks off their hull and weapons systems, and struggled to keep up with the rest of their fleet. Several more minutes of heavy fire from the combined fleet finished off the second one, and the debris from both battlecruisers’ demise handily dispatched their badly damaged third companion and blew a good-sized chunk off a nearby carrier with a brilliant pyrotechnic display.
Then the Imperialist fleet opened fire with the rest of its weaponry. They had just come into range for railguns and smaller missiles, and now used every resource they had against the massive ship in a bid to knock out some of its cornucopia of wing guns. Noticeably missing from the conflagration were the enemy fleet’s six Qwaar-Jet IIs; they flew sluggishly behind their fleet as Qwaar-Jet’s Keepers continued to wreak havoc on them. Noreena winced as the full power of the Keepers became obvious to her as ship after ship crumbled spectacularly under their steady assault. She had never seen that many Qwaar-Jet IIs crumbling so fast under the massed attack of mere fighters.
It’s like watching Kadeshi swarmers pumped up on spaceship steroids or something. Holy crap.
Then the convoy’s escort fleet's numbers reached Noreena's awareness. Swearing inventively at Taiidani stubbornness, Noreena quickly went into action to aid her escorts’ efforts. The Qwaar-Jet’s entire weapons grid, save for its main gun, opened fire on the nearest Imperialist targets.
“Thanks for the help!” one Vaygr destroyer captain called out as a nearby Imperialist missile destroyer collapsed under a flurry of ion beams from the Qwaar-Jet.
His ship quickly let loose with a salvo at another destroyer, which dove towards it in a bid to make up for its lost companion. The Imperialist ship heaved under the bombardment, then promptly lost a full quarter of its forward hull. The Vaygr destroyer quickly closed in, and opened fire with its two forward-mounted ion cannons - a gift from the Hiigarans - finishing off its opponent with surprising ease.
“Watch out, people, they’re going for wide-angled firing solutions!” an Acolyte CAG yelled to his squadron as they flew around missiles spewing from a nearby Imperialist frigate.
The group of Acos quickly dove at the frigate, blasting away at its bridge with their missiles, then pounding its hull with railgun slugs. A single ion beam from the Qwaar-Jet finished their target off, allowing them to peel away and harass the next Imperialist ship in range.
Noreena turned the bulk of her attention back to the Qwaar-Jet’s Keeper drones. The obviously sentient Godship was more than capable of dealing with prioritzing its ion cannons’ targets while aiding Alliance ships in the dangerous work of surviving during a battle. She noted the large swarms of Keepers now finishing off the remaining Qwaar-Jet IIs, and grinned evilly. Once the last of the Imperialist heavy cruisers had collapsed under their bombardment, she directed her new favorite weapons to deal with the carriers while she helped her escorts mop up the remainder of the enemy fleet.
After several more moments of frantic fighting, the final explosions began to fade from the Sorelis Nebula as the last Imperialist ships succumbed to the Alliance’s attacks. Then all fell silent.
Annnd that’s that, Noreena thought with icy satisfaction. She opened her eyes again, and took in the view of her neural-control station within its glowing blue forcefield bubble. Such a sight always calmed her after a fight.
“To any Alliance ship who can hear me, please respond,” a cool male voice abruptly crackled on a little-used frequency. “We request permission to dock, repeat, we request permission to dock.”
The man repeated his message again, his voice as calm and collected as before. He sounded like someone performing a routine task, rather than calling for assistance after a battle. Noreena arched an eyebrow as she brought up her Sensors Manager and searched for the signal’s source. An expanding yellow circle suddenly appeared, indicating the source’s location—that cluster of asteroids halfway to the Sorelis Nebula’s central area that the convoy had passed before the Imperialist attack.
Noreena switched to her visual feeds, and zoomed in on the coordinates, which lay very close to the largest asteroid in the cluster.
Then she blinked in total surprise, shook her head, and blinked again.
Near that asteroid hovered three Kadeshi swarmers. They looked exactly as they had from the Kushan datafiles on the Garden of Kadesh.
Is this someone's idea of a joke?
Yes, explanations forthcoming in the next few chapters. This one's got so much happening, I can't really afford to go slow on the beginning.
Atmawpn, you TOTALLY got it right. I had to post these two chapters after seeing your reaction. There was just no way to try and downplay or spin-control that one.