Aboard the RES Shooting Star
194 meters above Golgatha, Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
March 21, 2276, 1341.16 MCT
"Starboard grav thruster back on line!" Geri reported, even as the bridge trembled from hits against the gravalloy, Jada ripping a pair of Mannie destroyers apart, the point-defense network dealing with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of jump fighters, the arrival of six fleets from Green Mountain and Bornfree only slightly improving the odds in their favor.
"Radioman—" Melinda started to ask, Harlee quickly replying, amid more percussive hits against the gravitically-reinforced spaceframe "they found her, Captain."
"Ensign Geddes," she added,"reporting the Lighthorse company are now preparing to withdraw from Golgatha."
"Additional jump planes lifting from Golgatha, Captain," Anne reported....
...another transport shook the sky, setting it ablaze with its jump, Melinda blindly lobbing displacement missiles at the jump fighters attempting to follow, a flock of jump planes now lifting from the wrecked starport, enemy jump fighters and destroyers turning their attentions to them, Melinda initiating jump sequence, emerging from jump right in the middle of their formation, interceptors screaming towards her from all directions, as she fired more wild shots, jumping just barely in time....
"...jump fighters to protect them at all costs," Melinda said to the Shooting Star's flight controller.
"Redeploying jump fighters now, Captain," Chief Warrant Officer Alannah Reid's holo replied, Jodie taking them into a cloud of enemy destroyers, the ship's shaking worsening from the detonations of energy-liberation warheads in the sky and against the gravalloy of war cruiser and destroyers alike, interceptors slamming into displacement projectiles and torps at point-blank range.
"Radioman," Melinda said,"I want the Chihuaua to jump for Earth the instant the last of the Lighthorse company is on board; let Ensign Geddes know that."
"Aye, Captain," Harlee replied, the shaking lessening, the Shooting Star clearing the last of the enemy destroyers, Anne reporting two additional Mannie fleets emerging from jump and closing rapidly on the forces from Green Mountain and Bornfree....
...more Mannie dicksuckers emerging from jump, as if two fleets weren't enough to flatten a newly-developed colony, Melinda cursing, as even more jump fighters and destroyers arrowed towards her squadron, already in the thick of things over what was left of the starport, three more transports making it off the ground and jumping just barely above the surface of Tom Dooley....
...the last couple of jump planes making a complete mess of things below them, not even ten meters off the ground before they entered jump.
"That's all of them, Captain," Anne reported.
"What about the dropship?" Melinda asked.
"They're loading the last of the Lighthorse company now, ma'am," the Shooting Star's radioman replied.
Government District, Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
March 21, 2276, 1343.28 MCT
"Third platoon, up the chute, now!" Christina shouted over tacnet, at the same time she lobbed another salvo from the MTDM at the Mannie bastards firing and advancing on her position, the jump fighter which had attached itself to her company emerging from jump to rip its way through more hoppers, Christina receiving the confirmation that the third of her four platoons were now safely aboard the Chihuaua III.
"Heavy assault platoon," she then snapped out,"by squads, retreat!"
She began backpedaling, firing her Heavy Lighthorse Rifle full-bore in the direction of the enemy, the Hajime Yatate taking up firing positions to cover the Lighthorsemen's retreat.
All but one...the skinny blonde kid who'd saved her neck earlier backpedaling beside her, handing her a vial of nanites suspended in a sample of blood, telling her,"be sure Aunt Melinda gets this, 'kay?" before breaking into a run and taking up position further ahead of the rest of the underground, Christina finding herself snagged by the grav beam, drawn up into the troop deck, the command for the drop ship crew to jump halfway out of her mouth before the Chihuaua III's jump engine engaged, and the drop ship disappeared inside the resulting wormhole.
In the cockpit of the RES Shambala IV
10 meters above Golgatha, Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
March 21, 2276, 1345.00 MCT
Good, Stephanie said to herself, watching the dropship jump for the last time.
Now, get the hell outta there, baby girl, she added, microjumping just ten meters above Golgatha, emerging from jump and diving quickly, landing the Shambala IV inside a disused storm drain, through a holographic illusion of debris blocking the entrance, Stephanie kicking in the jump fighter's stealth systems, before exiting the ship.
The StarForces Intel field operative swept the area round her with her SOCOM-12, a scanner in her free hand looking for any hidden surveillance devices she hadn't implanted, before finally walking off into the gloom.
Aboard the RES Shooting Star
194 meters above Golgatha, Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
March 21, 2276, 1345.08 MCT
"Dropship's entered jump," Anne reported.
"All ships," Melinda said over tacnet,"jump for Earth, now!"
Jodie not wasting any time, the war cruiser entering the wormhole, time freezing for an instant, before the ship emerged from jump inside Earth orbit, the Shooting Star's pilot moving out of the cloud of debris shrouding Melinda's homeworld, onto an orbital vector which would take them back to Muskogee Spacedock.
"Captain," came the comm from Flight Control,"Chihuaua III has just landed on the hangar deck; beginning recovery of jump fighters."
"Thank you," Melinda replied, displaying the final casualty report on her CyberLink...they'd taken no further casaulties, the Lighthorse company and jump fighter battalion coming through relatively unscathed...the ship's company, on the other hand....
The master of the Shooting Star sighed...still too goddamn many, five of the gun deck crew—kids she barely even knew—dead, twelve others wounded when four of the aft mass holds had been ruptured, collapsing the aft gun deck, she should never have involved her ship in this, it should've been her and her alone who'd gone to Roanoke to get Sarah....
...Sarah was laughing, face turning beet red, another woman on top of her, ticking her—Sarah had always been ticklish, unlike her sister—Sarah tickling her back, making the other woman squeal with laughter, as they rolled off a battered, blue sofa onto a makeshift coffee table, smashing it underneath their combined weight, the other woman—Stephanie O' Connell—looking at the two of them and their ruined table, remarking "oh, shit," Sarah, holding her wife gently round her back and waist, chuckling, telling her,"look what you did now, baby."
"Me?!" Stephanie replied, chuckling herself, before giving Sarah a peck on the cheek....
"...you have the bridge, Geri," Melinda said, her first mate settling into the chair Melinda had vacated, Melinda walking past the pilot's station, along the catwalk separating the ops level from the engineering pit, through the hatchway leading to the hangar bay, dreading this moment for the last twenty years, her stomach in tight knots as she forced herself to continue the trek from the hatchway to where the dropship had landed.
The Lighthorse company's heavy-assault platoon gingerly carried a bodybag on their shoulders as they descended the open cargo ramp onto the deck, the company's first sergeant barking out, "Captain on the deck!" when she got a glimpse of Melinda heading their way, Chris Geddes saluting her CO, Melinda returning it, her eyes on the bodybag the Lighthorsemen gently lowered to the deck.
Chris handing Melinda a vial of nanites suspended in a blood sample, telling her,"one of the Hajime Yatate handed me this before she left, said to give it to her Aunt Melinda...."
...a six-year old girl, all ribs and blonde curls, burst into the room when her moms were tickling one another, jumping on top of both, squealing, giggling and rolling around on the floor ensuing as the three of them tickled one another....
"...she hauled ass," Chris explained further, Melinda staring dumbly at the vial she was turning over in her left hand,"before I could say or do anything."
"Mmmhmm," Melinda said absently, looking down at the black bag holding Sarah's body.
"Ma'am," Chris started to say, looking where her captain was looking, "I don't think you should—"
Melinda already kneeling by the bag, unzipping it.
The world going out from under her in a roar of screaming, ranting, cheering.
A shaky but still insistent "no," repeated over and over again, until it wasn't anymore.
Melinda's body shaking uncontrollably, the hangar bay and Sarah's brutalized, desecrated body awash in tears, the master of the Shooting Star sobbing inconsolably.
Amanda's voice "ssshh, baby, sssshh"ing her gently, Melinda's wife holding on to her from behind.