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Star Fleet Genesis - Cat and Mouse

Pluto. An eccentric little world, no bigger than Earth's moon. The coldest of all the planets in the solar system, cloaked in perpetual winter. Yet an important planet, nonetheless. Beneath its frigid surface lies Earth's first line of defence against invaders into the solar system; Pluto Beta Base. Only a few buildings lie exposed to the extreme cold, probing into the outer reaches of the solar system. Searching.

Petty Officer Braithwaite hopes that Beta never detects anything. He mans his console and hopes and prays all the while that it will continue to show nothing. His brother died on this planet, his remains never recovered. He tries not to think about the destruction of Pluto Alpha Base but the memory returns. In his mind's eye he recalls the twisted metal, the charred remains, brittle in the harsh cold. His hopes of finding his brother somehow alive, gone.

A light blinks at him from his console. He pulls himself back into the present and stares at it. He runs diagnostics on the console. The light continues to blink at him. It is joined by another, and another. He barely registers them, stunned. Nine in all. Slowly moving down his screen. His prayers have fallen on deaf ears. Petty Officer Braithwaite mechanically reaches for the comms switch.

"Star Fleet Red Alert."

Base defence systems are energised. Concealed laser batteries are charged. Defence fighters stand by on their launch catapults. The contacts close to near orbit and their identity is confirmed - Imperial carrier craft, fully loaded. EDF fighters scream into the night, laser batteries begin tracking and airtight doors slam down to isolate every room of the base from every other room.

On Braithwaite's console, the nine points split into a triad of trios - and break off their approach to the base. He checks his readings for a second time. EDF fighters, ion drives at maximum, hurtle up from the surface of Pluto to intercept but the carriers accelerate away, slingshotting around the small planet. A frown etched across his forehead, Braithwaite calculates the courses of the three groups of carriers as they jump into hyperspeed.

As his data streams out to EDF headquarters on Earth, new scan data streams into his system and represents itself as a myriad of contacts. No energy signatures this time, and no discernible formation. Just echoes on the screen, closing on the base. Closing fast. He hears a sudden burst of frantic radio chatter from the fighter pilots returning to Beta. Emergency lighting dims lower still as laser batteries open fire wildly. Braithwaite closes his eyes moments before he meets the same fate as his brother.

Shiro Hagen sleeps fitfully in his quarters on Moon Base. He executes Captain Carter time and time again in his mind, watches him fall, only to have him stand before him again demanding that Shiro take his life. So he does. Again and again. Suddenly a hand grips his shoulder. He swings round - and finds himself face to face with an ashen Dr Benn, who demands to know why Shiro wasn't there to save him from the Imperial assassin.

"...iro. Shiro. SHIRO."

Shiro jerks upright in bed, beads of sweat on his face. "Who... what...?"

"Shiro. It's your father. There's been an... incident at Pluto Beta Base. General Kyle will be briefing us in 15 minutes. I'll contact the others."

"Is it... the Alliance?"

"Best not to speculate. We'll know all there is to know shortly."

14 minutes later Shiro, Hercules, Lee and Professor Hagen are assembled in one of Moon Base's briefing rooms. General Kyle's familiar, almost fatherly, features flicker into clarity on the viewscreen suspended from the ceiling.

"Gentlemen. I'm sorry to disturb your leave, but circumstances demand it. As you may have guessed, the Alliance has returned. At 22:00 Earth time Pluto Beta Base detected nine Alliance carrier craft on an approach vector. Ocean Fleet fighters were scrambled to intercept but the craft did not engage our forces and continued into the solar system."

Hercules interrupted, "What?! They just drove right by?! Why didn't the Ocean Fleet blow 'em out of the sky?"

"The Ocean Fleet was forced to turn back to defend Beta from attack, and barely averted the destruction of the entire facility."

Lee asked the obvious question. "The base was attacked? I thought the carriers didn't open fire?"

General Kyle sighed at the second interruption. "If you will let me finish I will explain. The carriers drew the Ocean Fleet away from the base to render it vulnerable to an attack which did not require their presence. It appears that they were travelling ahead of a swarm of meteorites. Needless to say this swarm was not a natural phenomenon. We assume that the Alliance displaced debris from the Oort Cloud in some way to achieve the effect of using a mass driver weapon against the base. Although base defences were primed and the Ocean Fleet was able to assist to some degree, the impact damage from the meteorites was sufficient to cripple the base, causing multiple fatalities."

The young pilots were silent for a moment. All were recalling the attack on Pluto Alpha Base which marked the beginning of the F Zero One Campaign. Now its successor had been virtually wiped out by an attack more cowardly and yet more cunning than the direct assault which accounted for Alpha. Shiro recovered first, his anger crystalising into a resolve to take the fight back to the Imperials.

"General, what is the status of the Ocean Fleet and the enemy carriers?"

"Ocean Fleet is largely operational but unable to re-supply at Beta due to the damage sustained there. I have therefore ordered the fleet to pull back to Titan at best possible speed. The enemy carrier group split into three units prior to exiting Pluto space; Beta's projections suggest targets of Titan, Ganymede... and Mars. They appear to be coasting in - we have not been able to detect their power emissions."

Professor Hagen spoke for the first time. "General, if we are to defend all of those targets our fighter fleets will be stretched dangerously thin. X-Bomber is still undergoing repairs and I cannot guarantee that she will be able to defend this base, or the Earth, against a substantial Alliance task force in her current state of repair."

"I appreciate your concern Professor. However, there has been no sign of an Imperial battlecruiser in the system. Although our defences are still being rebuilt on Earth, I am confident that we could repel fighters and even carrier craft. Additional preparations are, as you know, in hand - and with the Imperials apparently drifting in to mask their presence time is on our side. Tell me, what is the status of the Dai-X at this time?"

Hagen raised an eyebrow. "The Dai-X fighters are fully functional, General. What do you have in mind?"

"Very few of our pilots have had experience of ship to ship combat with Imperial forces, and morale is low despite our victory over the Imperial Master. I intend to send one Dai-X fighter out as a command craft for the fleets we will be sending to Titan, Ganymede and Mars. I realise this will make the Dai-X junction impossible for the duration of this mission, but I believe the fleets' efficacy will be greatly improved by having the original crew of the X-Bomber present. Furthermore, the Dai-X fighters have established themselves as potent weapons which should bolster the firepower of the fleets sufficiently to deal with the Alliance carrier craft. Are there any objections?"

"No, sir" came the united response.

"Very well. Lieutenant Hagen will take command of Mountain Fleet in Mars orbit. Lieutenant Hercules will make best possible speed to Ganymede with the Desert Fleet and secure the area. Lieutenant Lee, you will rendez-vous with the remainder of the Ocean Fleet at Titan. X-Bomber will remain at Moon Base unless the tactical situation alters. You are to leave immediately; any updates on enemy movements will be transmitted to you en route. Good hunting, gentlemen."

Two hours later BrainCom, MainBody and LegTrax leave Moon Base at maximum speed. Shiro tries to put the nightmares out of his mind as he approaches Mars. He watches as MainBody and LegTrax peel away to their own rendez-vous positions, then sets a course for Moutain Fleet's main orbital launch facility. As the autopilot kicks in he imagines the scene on Mars years ago when his father rescued Lamia from her pod and set in motion the chain of events that led to the F Zero One Campaign. He wonders why Lamia, or the F Zero One, hasn't acted to destroy the Alliance. Why has she allowed them to invade the solar system when it is so vulnerable?

Hercules takes the most direct route possible to Jupiter space and Ganymede - straight through the asteroid belt. Not trusting the autopilot, he relies on his reflexes and trigger finger to get him through at full speed. He'd finally come to believe in the F Zero One with the defeat of the Imperial Master. Now, nothing seems to have changed. The Alliance are still a threat, and the solar system is still endangered. Blasting an asteroid from his path, he considers the damage the Alliance has inflicted on his friends, his superiors, his home. With or without the F Zero One, he has a duty to even the score.

In the cockpit of LegTrax, Lee, uncharacteristically, is awake. Hercules left him behind hours ago, moving faster. He has a longer trip out to Saturn and Titan - LegTrax would be out of power when he arrived if he went full burn all the way. Like the Imperials, he drifts now, through ultimate calm. Lee wonders why they have returned. No threats this time, no demands, no direct assault. As worrying as an all out assault would be, he could almost prefer it to the uncertainty about the Alliance's return that plagues him.

A week later, there is still no contact with the enemy. The Star Fleet pilots begin to wonder whether this was just another FG operation by the Alliance to keep them off balance. Patrols from each of the fleets check every planetary body in the system for signs that the Imperials might have landed to construct a base. No such signs are apparent. The carrier craft appear to have vanished as suddenly as they appeared.

MainBody's sensors detect the distress signal before the other five fighters in its group. Hercules quickly identifies the source of the signal and orders the squadron into formation with him. The ship's ident signal is civilian - a freighter, inbound to Ganymede from Titan. Hercules queries the nature of its distress.

A weak voice transmission responds, "...und... ack.... I say again... we are under attack... alien fighters... out of nowhere..."

Hercules acknowledges and the squadron accelerate to intercept. Finally, a shot at some action after all this waiting around, he thinks. He's not disappointed. Six Imperial fighters are swarming around the freighter's hull. Cargo cannisters tumble from a massive hull breach like sycamore seeds. Hercules orders his wing to go one on one and exercise extreme caution - any stray shots will probably finish the freighter off.

MainBody takes point, and immediately becomes the focal point for Imperial fire. Hercules returns fire, his fighter's armour holding against lucky shots as he sends her into a weaving evasive pattern. His baiting tactics pay off - one of his wingmen picks off a fighter too fixated on MainBody to notice that it had become a prime target itself. Six on five now.

"Gomez, drop back, stay close to the freighter - the rest of you, take them out, fast!" roars Hercules as he loops MainBody back towards the main body of enemy fighters. They scatter as he anticipated and multiple dog fights begin as every fighter manoeuvres to get a lock. The odds improve to five on three in short order, with the destroyed EDF fighter's pilot managing to eject in time. The remaining Imperial fighters group up, fire a volley of wild shots and accelerate away on an escape vector.

"Lieutenant! I've got a problem here!"

"What is it Gomez?"

"Sir, the Imperials have attached some sort of explosive devices to the freighter's cargo pod. She can jettison the pod, but her engines have had it - if those charges go up..."

Hercules swore. Every instinct in him was screaming that he should go after the Imperials, finish what they'd started. He thought of Lamia and his indecision ended. "Break off pursuit. Gomez, have the freighter disengage from its pod and activate your grapple. We'll join you shortly to assist. Tell the crew to suit up if they haven't already - if we're not clear of the blast zone with them in time there could be additional hull breaches." He glanced at the retreating Imperial craft. Next time, he promised, you won't get off so lightly.

Hercules' encounter proved to be just the first of many. Rather than conquering outposts, the Imperials took to harassing shipping lines like marauding pirates. Hit and run strikes at seemingly random locations stretched Star Fleet's forces to the limits. The behaviour of the Imperial forces was not the only unusual factor of the attacks. No carrier craft had been sighted since the bombardment of Pluto Beta Base, and yet all the strikes had been carried out by small groups of fighters. As advanced as the Imperial ships were, they still required re-supply and repairs; but the solar system was free of Imperial bases and no mothership had been detected in the vicinity of the attacked zones.

Exhausted and frustrated from three weeks of constantly reacting to Imperial strikes, rather than being able to take pre-emptive action, the Dai-X pilots are recalled to Moon Base for debriefing. The Mountain, Desert and Ocean Fleets continue to patrol the solar system for the source of the Imperial fighters. Shiro realises that if firepower isn't winning the day, perhaps it's time for some processing power to be applied to the situation...

Last updated 14 December 2013

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