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The Gathering Storm

Part Three

"Set a course for the asteroid belt. Signal our escorts and bombers concentrate all their fire on the far left cruiser. And tell Regulla to start loading up their transports - stuff them in like sardines if they have to!" ordered Admiral Potemkin. As he watched the viewscreen, his entire compliment of fighters and bombers streaked toward the Ithkul formation. They were soon joined by two dozen smaller, faster missiles.

"Two minutes to missile impact," the weapons officer informed.

The Ithkul fleet was not expecting resistance so quickly. The blue ships did not react until the weapons officer had reached 45 seconds in his countdown. The escorts began to maneuver wildly, firing their point defense weaponry toward the incoming fighters and missiles. The first volley exploded seven missiles and three fighters in flashes of plasma, but it was too little, too late. A second volley was not in the cards. Shields flared and then failed as the first half-dozen missiles landed. Eleven more impacted against the hull of the cruiser, flashing vast swaths of armor into plasma. Then the bombers descended on the injured cruiser, hitting it again and again with their weapons. Finally, the cruiser lost its structural integrity, breaking apart into a half-dozen pieces. A cheer went up on the bridge of the Lakul. They had scored first blood.

"Bring the bombers back to reload, and tell the fighters to take up position between us and the enemy!" cried Potemkin. The first part of his plan had worked, but would his luck hold?

Potemkin knew that he had no chance of actually stopping the Harvesters from descending on the defenseless colony. All he could do was hit them and run, and hope that the Ithkul would chase after him rather than go after Regulla. It would be a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, and Potemkin didn't much like the idea of being the mouse.

"Sir! The Ithkul have changed course... It looks like they're coming after us, sir! it's working!" exclaimed his first officer.

"Indeed it is. Navigator, keep us out of the range of their energy weapons, but not too far ahead of them so that they lose interest."

"Admiral, we're receiving a message from Regulla," declared the Comm officer. "Putting it on speakers."

The disembodied voice of the governor filled the bridge. "We're starting to load our transports now, but it will take several hours to complete. We need more time!"

"Very well, Regulla," answered the Admiral. "We'll see what we can do. Lakul out."

Potemkin shook his head. "Several hours..." he muttered to himself.

"Captain! The ithkul are launching missiles!" yelled out the operations officer. "Impact in three minutes!"

Admiral Potemkin looked at the viewscreen. Tiny flashes were visible emanating from each ship in the enemy formation. Each flash denoted a missile launch. There seemed to be a lot of them...

"How many?" asked the Admiral.

The operations officer pressed some buttons on his display. His brow furrowed, and he pressed some more buttons. Then he looked up.

"Over 150, Admiral"

A stunned silence fell over the bridge. A "Dear God" escaped someone's lips.

"This is most definitely not going to plan," the Admiral thought to himself.




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