Chapter 22 - Raging Daemon

August 17, 2180 (New Era Calendar)/
Sirius System, Hyperspace

The tunnel of streaking blue lights synonymous with faster-than-light travel broke down into chaotic starscape. Battle dominated Enygma's forward view, explosions and other signs of battle littering aerospace around the planet Niadrum.

"All pilots, report."

An alarm klaxon in Enygma's cockpit flared. He reached up, toggling a switch to kill the annoying alert. The rest of Daemon Squadron reverted to realspace and formed up behind him, his sensor board showing eleven Tigersharks. The squadron announced themselves in fast order.

"Dammit!"

"What is it, Four?" Enygma asked, biting back the bile that started bubbling in his gut.

He'd been a combat pilot for half a decade and with Daemon Squadron for three of those five years. But it hadn't actually dawned on him that this was his first hard-space engagement as the tip of the spear - as squadron leader, a position that used to belong to the KIA Reece Lawson - until the reversion to realspace. A shot hadn't been fired and they might already be down one.

Daemon Four, Eva Nightstalker, responded. "My shields are peaking at eighty percent."

Enygma winced. Postman's risky course skirting the Sirius System's binary suns may have been too costly and for a split second the young pilot thought he might have made the wrong call. He dismissed that just as fast - the complicated trip got them to Niadrum in just over three hours.

That was a win. And from the looks of things, they'd need a few more if they were gonna pull a victory from the jaws of defeat.

He keyed his comm, "Four, you're still optimal. Remember your training and stick close to your wingmate."

"But Major, I'm f-"

"That's an order, Nightstalker."

Enygma then toggled his radar to its widest setting and took another moment to get an accurate picture of the tactical situation they faced.

It didn't look good.

Outnumbered two-to-one, the Confederate Battle Cruisers took fire from both sides. The Confederate fighters, however, had performed exemplary, managing to fend off the swarming Alliance fighters and keep them from getting off a slaved salvo. From one of Spade's intelligence briefings, he knew that, today, he may have to engage people he considered friends

That, today, he may have to kill people he considered friends.

Today's ally. Tomorrow's enemy. He remembered the words he spoke aboard the Alliance Battle Cruiser Exped in the wake of the Battle of Antilla Prime.

None of that mattered now, not with a task at hand.

Their forces were taking a beating. High time they did something about that.

By now, compiled information on the Alliance ships scrolled down on his secondary monitor. He glanced over the data and tapped the touchscreen with a gloved finger punching up a schematic of the Legacy, an Alliance Light Frigate. Enygma set his Tigershark to transmit targeting data then broadcast over the squadron's tactical channel.

"Daemons, standby for a run on the Legacy."

Double clicks answered him as he throttled to full, engaging his afterburners. He thumbed weapons control to missiles and configured them for dual fire.

"On me," he ordered coolly.

With the element of surprise in their favor, Daemon Squadron's dozen Tigersharks blazed a trail through the blackness of space at a small percentage of light speed in tight attack formation. The rangefinder on Enygma's HUD clocked down the duration of their approach and when they were to within five klicks, his HUD went red.

"Good tone. Fox three!" Enygma announced and then he squeezed the trigger. The squadron loosed their payloads at the exact same time, their missile call outs flooding the comm waves.

Two dozen ACP missiles blasted off on azure trails and smacked violently into the Legacy's shields. Instantly, they were overwhelmed by the missile barrage and completely dissipated, leaving the Legacy vulnerable. The final missiles struck home, cutting through the frigate's hull and detonating in its heart.

The explosion tore the Legacy apart splitting it into two.

Enygma switched over the the general Confederate frequency and keyed his radio.

"This is Major Enygma Trigent for any Confederate forces, You've got Daemon Squadron on station offering assistance. Please respond"

"Major! Damn glad you showed up!" Came the excited communication from the Battle Cruiser Gloria. "Didn't think reinforcements were in the area. Situation is FUBAR. The Reliant's taking on vacuum, no response from her bridge crew. And we're no better"

"Copy that, Gloria. Are we still holding the spaceport?"

"Afraid not, Major. Alliance ground forces overran our defenses just before you jumped in."

He bit back a curse.

"Any word from evac transports?"

"We're getting zero Confederate radio contact returns."

"Roger that, Gloria."

Before Enygma could issue another directive-"Leader! Break!"

Reflexively, he jerked at the controls, snap rolling his starfighter and putting it into a dive. Pulses of laser cannon fire stitched through space that Enygma just vacated and an Alliance Hammerhead streaked past his field of view.

Suddenly, space all around them erupted with criss-crossing webs of enemy laser cannon fire. Like that, almost three dozen Alliance Hammerheads were upon them. On pure instinct, Enygma barked out his next order.

"Daemon Squad, break by pairs and engage."

Expertly, Daemon Squadron broke formation, two at a time, and on random vectors. Enygma pulled back on his flight stick and brought his fighter into a tight loop, off his port wing in the distance, the Tigershark piloted by Gabe Lockwood in Daemon Two.

A Hammerhead screamed across the nose of Enygma's Tigershark. He throttled up and gave chase knowing full well that this made him a target for the Hammerhead's wingmate. Right on cue, his Tigershark rocked from a series of accurate shots.

"I've got your six, Leader," came the voice of Daemon Two over the comm.

The darkness lit up behind Enygma and the blip on his sensor board representing his assailant faded away, his six cleared.

"Good shooting, Two. Stay on me."

In tight combat spread, Enygma and his wingmate roared after the lone Hammerhead. Enygma unloaded, sending shafts of deadly light into the enemy's aft shields. Then, the young pilot on his wing launched an FTF missile that detonated right up the Hammerhead's drive exhaust. The two Tigersharks broke to avoid the resulting explosion.

Enygma looked over at his wingmate and nodded. Gabe Lockwood was one of the newest pilots in the squadron and this, his first combat hop. That, his first kill. For a nugget, his performance was a pleasant surprise. He almost wanted to smile, but given the current situation, that wasn't a luxury he could ill afford. Instead of pride, or satisfaction, or even the thrill of combat, Enygma only felt mounting worry that they'd already failed.

If only that incompetent General Lavin had listened to him - if only he had done something, anything, to support the forces assigned to holding Niadrum - they might not be in this position.

As it stood, they were too late - this battle was over. Enygma let that thought marinate momentarily. The Battle for Niadrum was over long before it had started, when arrogance or complacency allowed for General Lavin to ignore sound warfare strategy. Enygma swallowed the growing frustration down as something drew his attention.

His sensor board trilled an alert. Long range scanners picked up a series of Confederate IFF tags on Niadrum's far side. He quickly switched over to the Daemon Squadron comm channel.

"Spade, you picking that up too?"

Spade's voice came back over the squadron frequency. "Affirmative. It looks like transports from the Niadrum Spaceport."

A warning klaxon screamed in his cockpit - someone trying for a target lock. He killed his thrust entirely and his feet flittered over the rudder pedals. His Tigershark, carried on inertia, flipped nose-to-tail in the blink of an eye and unloaded on the enemy fighter with an unrelenting barrage of dual-linked lasers. The Alliance Hammerhead broke off its attack and Enygma went after him. .

"Copy that," Enygma finally replied as he brought his reticle down on the enemy Hammerhead. He switched weapon control to missiles and, after a split second of target acquisition, he had a lock and fired. He banked up and away as the FTF struck home, inertial compensator unable to counteract all of the gs. "Gloria actual," Enygma started through gritted teeth, "This is Major Trigent, come in."

"Go ahead, Major."

"Confirm sensor profiles of Confederate transports on the far side of Niadrum."

A couple seconds of pause, then: "Confirmed, Major. We've got them."

Enygma, a destructive force raging through the field of battle, gunned down another pair of Alliance fighters. He swooped in behind another Hammerhead setting up for a run on one of his pilots.

"Roger that. Recall your squadrons and get to our transports. Cover their escape until they're away to hyperspace. We'll cover yours." he ordered as he tallied another kill.

The voice on the other end came back one part shock, one part surprise, "Recall our squ-"

"Make it happen Gloria," Enygma said, his voice even, controlled, and devoid of condescension. "You're on the clock."

No sooner than he ended the communication did the powerful boosters on the Gloria ignite pushing the lumbering Battle Cruiser through the engagement zone. Its guns unloaded with a fireworks show in all directions, fighting off swarming Alliance fighters to clear a path.

With the remaining Confederate fighters disengaging to return to a fleeing Gloria, that left Daemon Squadron up against almost three full squadrons of Alliance fighters, among them, pilots from Titan Squadron. Closing rapidly an Alliance squadron tagged with the designator, Alpha.

Enygma's eyes narrowed to slits at the approaching group of enemy fighters.

Alpha Squadron would make it four-on-one - almost insurmountable odds - and with no cap ship support, an orderly retreat might as well have been a virtual impossibility. Or a suicide mission.

He throttled up and cometed through the firing lanes between the Deliverance and the still-fighting husk of the Reliant. When Engma was through, he checked his six - clear of any pursuit. Enygma swung back around, ready to run the gauntlet again in an attempt to keep all of the Alliance attention focused on him and Daemon Squadron.

His hand froze on the throttle lever, set to the lowest thrust setting. Something gave him pause.

That something? Futility.

Their last-ditch effort to keep Niadrum from the hands of the Alliance was a textbook example of an exercise in futility. If Enygma was honest with himself, he knew total victory was simply unachievable. And he had to ask himself why. Why did he bring Daemon Squadron all the way out here if he knew they couldn't win? Why did he risk his unit's lives utilizing a daredevil may care nav course? The answer to those questions was really the answer to the question that had burrowed itself deep within Enygma's psyche in the days following the Battle of Antilla Prime.

Why was the Confederation losing the war?

As far as Enygma was concerned, there were too many reasons to list. Too many excuses as to why the Confederation hadn't achieved a significant victory since they took Sirius months ago.

Chief among them? Lack of conviction. Of purpose. Of honor. Of belief in a collective self.

Enygma led Daemon Squadron to Niadrum because someone had to do something. If it had to be them, then so be it. They were being lauded as heroes of the Confederation before they'd done anything, in his eyes, to garner such praise. It was about time they'd lived up to their legacy.

There was a brief flash of light in his mind's eye as if something awakened. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks: the tactic he needed to keep this from turning into a complete disaster, and maybe - just maybe - save enough Confederate lives to balance some kind of karmic scale. "Spade, can you get remote access to the Reliant."

"Maybe," she replied, her voice trailing off. "What are you thinking?"

Enygma explained his plan to her and for someone so skilled at maintaining their composure, Spade's voice came back uncharacteristically surprised.

"You want me to what?!"

Enygma confirmed his unorthodox plan once again. And then, somehow, Daemon Squadron made the impossible, possible.