When you run…

dWS Hans Zollner
Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser
Close orbit around Attica, Elysian Sovereignty Capital World
Elysium Star System
Two days after 3rd Elysium

Junior PackMaster Phelan sipped a mug of pfen, watching the planet slowly turn beneath him. Three bloody battles. Four years. Tens of thousands of lives. A bloody price to be paid for certain, but finally the deWulf Navy lay in safe orbit above Attica. Some ships were more scrap than ship, but they refused to leave orbit for the succor of safety and shipyard just one jump away. Phelan could understand that. Every day they quietly orbited and tended to their wounds was one more day where their crews could see that they had succeeded. Eventually the Bureau of Logistics would shake free a few repair ships to patch up those cripples till they had no further excuse to make their way back to the yards for permanent repairs. Until then, those damaged ships wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Not that the intact ones were going anywhere either. Elysium was still a hostile world, and the undamaged ships were needed to implement Directive 525, though that task fell primarily to the seven Sieg-Class Siege Dreadnoughts. They’d proved to be so slow that the battle had come and gone before they had gotten in range, and they’d protested loudly enough that they claimed the “honor” of destroying the final piece of orbital infrastructure: The Elysian shipyard. The Elysians began evacuating it when it was clear that their navy couldn’t hold orbit, leaving it an automated derelict. Close scans had shown no weapons or defenses, but the deWulf Army had vetoed any boarding action. There was nothing that could be gained except more bodies to send home draped in cloth, and the senior officer on the fleet had point blank refused any action. So the task was taken up by the Siegs.

They closed in to a bare few hundred kilometers from the yards, sitting in a higher orbit with the planet backstopping their fire. Sieg opened fire first, her volleys ripping through the core of the station and depressurizing an assembly hall. Heiterkeit Valley followed shortly thereafter, and the seven dreadnoughts systematically pulverized the yard into chunks no bigger than a shuttle. As the pieces got smaller and smaller, more and more shots missed, but that was of no concern; the planet made a perfect backstop for every round. Junior PackMaster Korman had watched the spectacle for a minute before surrendering command of the bombardment squadron to his executive officer and filed for immediate leave.

“Just as well” thought Phelan. “This whole war is a bitter cup, and it takes strength to admit that it’s too much. I’ll have him shifted to Survey or Base Command. This isn’t a profession for honorable men anymore.”

“Sir, we’re copying a transmission from the planet.”

Phelan twisted, looking behind him back at the tactical holographic table and Hunter Mache. “What makes this different from the last ones?”

“Three things, Sir.”

Phelan turned around completely, already walking back to the table as Mache continued.

“First, this isn’t some local transmitter. This one easily has enough power to reach the warp points. Second, it’s an omnidirectional transmission. Third, it’s in the clear.”

“What’s it saying then?”

Mache looked at his datapad for a moment before finding the translation. “And I quote ‘White wings blossom in the glowing night’. I presume it loses something in the translation. We checked it with the codebooks from Feather of Duty: no match.”

Phelan sipped at his mug for another mouthful of pfen, looking back at the holographic table. He felt his forehead furrow as he tasted an idea at the edge of his consciousness. A free hand tabbed at the controls, zooming out from Elysium to show the whole star system. A few presses called up the wavefront of the signal, watching as it propagated across the star system in a steady crawl.

“The signal is repeating, Sir.”

Phelan’s eyes bounced from his position in the inner system. Then to the asteroid belt. The warp points. The gas giants. The Oort cloud.

“Did we ever get a good look at the outer system?”

“No sir. We jumped in here-” the warp point back to Dave’s World glowed, deep in the inner system. “and we proceeded to Attica here-” a scarlet line cut across the inner system to Attica “on a direct path. As you can see, our sensor globe never touched any of the outer planets. We’ve gotten a pretty good look at the asteroid belt, but the last time we looked at anything in the outer system was before the war.”

That thought slid into place and unfolded with agonizing clarity. “Their defenses were light. We all saw it.” Phelan’s voice spoke quickly. “They had years, but Attica didn’t have the kind of defenses that time should have allowed. We know they were running intelligence operations in our space, and there’s at least two other connections back to corporate space in addition to the one we used.”

“You think they have some kind of strike fleet?” Mache’s voice trembled as he followed that train of thought arrived at the same place as his commander.

“It’s the only possible answer. Why else would their defenses be so light? They must have thought they could repel anything we could muster, and then they could launch a counterattack.”

“So, what do we do?”

“Get a conference call set up with the commander of our Hares. I’ve got a job for them.”

dWS Hassen
Hare-Class Reconnaissance Destroyer

“Junior PackHunter, I wasn’t expecting to speak with you so soon.”

“Hunter Skory, I have an assignment for you and your Hares.”

Hunter Skory felt his spine stiffen involuntarily. “Of course. What do you need done?”

“I’ll be quick. We’re copying a strange repeating transmission from Attica. I want you to dispatch all your Hares to check out every major planet in-system as quickly as possible. Try to cover the asteroid belt as best you can, but we need some eyes out there. Once your ships have done a sweep of the planets, I need you picketing the warp points.”

“How soon do you need this done?”

“You are authorized to red-line your drive systems if you feel it necessary.”

Skory rolled the idea in his muzzle, eyes looking down like he was consulting the specifications on his drives. “I see… we can probably do it in a few days, more or less. What are we looking for?”

“We think there may be Elysian units still in-system. But if our guess is right, they won’t be in-system for much longer.”

“And if we find them?”

Junior PackHunter Phelan’s eyes hardened. “Then we show them what happens when you run. You die tired.”

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