-Year 2238, High Orbit above Aldarian Colony: Iridius Major

The two opposing fleets clashed in high orbit above the planet, lighting up the sky below with brilliant flashes of colour and light. Plasma weapons and Pulse Lasers used tremendous amounts of focused heat energy to melt through thick armor, while Kinetic Launchers flung massive metal slugs at tremendous speeds to smash through armor and punch holes in enemy ships. Missiles and other conventional explosives streamed through the darkness of space, exploding in clouds of light and fire against the heavily armored hulls of capital ships, and completely disintegrating the single ship fighter craft that weaved in and around the battle. The war between the Aldarian Empire and the Xanthian Combine had reached a turning point; though the Aldarian Empire had begun the war on the offensive with the intent of crushing the renegade former faction of the empire, the technological might of the Xanthian Combine had slowly brought the assault to a halt before swinging the tide of the conflict in a massive reversal. Iridius Major was the last remaining major Aldarian colony before the clash reached the foundation worlds of the Aldarian Empire; Tiberius Prima, Glacia Elda, Terra Vida and of course Aldaria itself.

They were both children of Earth, descendants of those original pioneers entering the Aldarian system some mere 120 years ago. The Xanthain combine was a specialized faction of the new society devoted to the development of technology and had recently discovered technologies allowing for the manipulation of plasmas and lasers to a finite degree where they could be used as weapons. This discovery had prompted them to ask for greater grants and rights, just for their sect; these requests had been refused and though attempts at negotiation were made they quickly deteriorated until a state of separation and war surfaced to bring about the conflict going about now.

Unseen on the edges of the raging battle, the Hunter in the Eclipse circled unseen waiting for an opportunity to strike. As a cruiser, she was a medium tonnage warship with heavy weapons and powerful accelerators but she lacked the armor and cargo capacity of heavier warships. Larger and faster than the frigates that generally made up the ships of the line in a fleet and smaller and more agile than the massive capital ships that dominated the battle with their heavy guns, the Hunter in the Eclipse patrolled the edges of the battlefield along with the destroyers Fireline and Planeswalker as part of a hunter-killer team tasked with picking off enemy reserves moving in from the rear to join the main line of battle.

Commander Quentin Jace commanded the ship from the main bridge along with a complement of a dozen or so other officers. With just under a year of experience as a bridge officer, Quentin was the youngest ship captain in the entire fleet and was considered a rising star amongst his colleagues. He had been a natural at mastering the concepts behind space combat and astronavigation and had graduated from the naval academy at Terra Vida with top honors in his class he was promoted to a lieutenant and was immediately accepted into service as the navigations officer on a frigate. Now, only a year after his graduation he'd been promoted multiple times and transferred between multiple warships to increasingly prestigious stations and now he found himself as the commander of a cruiser.

The Hunter in the Eclipse lead the way with Fireline a kilometer distant on her left flank and Planeswalker three kilometers above them providing in the overwatch position. While the pair of destroyers were faster and more agile than the cruiser that lead them, they lacked the heavy weapons of their cruiser escort and were vulnerable to attack by heavy warships which their weapons could not penetrate. Together with the Hunter in the Eclipse, Fireline and Planeswalker on the right side of the battle made up one of two groups of interdiction teams that would pick off enemy frigates and destroyers moving up from the rear to join the fight. Her sister ship Revenant amongst the Stars lead destroyers Starstream and Waverunner 150 kilometers distant on the far side of the battleground. It was hoped that the two hunter-killer teams could help swing the battle in the favor of the outnumbered and out gunned Aldarian fleet which was currently struggling to continue its defense of the planet below them.

{Planeswalker to Hunter in the Eclipse, enemy contacts spotted by long range sensors headed in our direction, Planeswalker advises that we prepare to engage. Contacts number three and sensor profiles appear to match those of standard enemy frigates.}

The message came loud and clear over the speakers to the Lieutenant Jason Bel at the communications station who quickly looked over towards Commander Jace in the command chair.

"Give me Accelerators at 60% and charge and ready the railguns, Lieutenant Bel, clear Planeswalker and Fireline to prepare for engagement. Close with the enemy are prepare for battle! Sound the alert, I want everyone prepared for action; prep boarding teams for insertion and ready the rest of the crew for combat action. Navigations, prepare for evasive action and course alteration on my command."

A rumbling wave of "Aye sir!" rolled across the bridge and the room was filled with the clattering of officers scurrying from station to station and hands dancing madly across the keys and displays of the control panels. In response to the commands for increased speed, the pale pulsing blue of the 6 ion accelerators located in the rear of the cruiser suddenly blazed with blue fury, the drives working harder to increase the force of the particle stream projected behind them. The kilometer long warship lurched forwards in response shooting ahead of the two escorting destroyers and on the ventral and dorsal surface of the ship, the heavy railguns lit up with yellow lines marking the location of their magnetic rails that would allow them to send 50 ton projectiles hurtling through space at nine times the speed of sound.

On the view screen of the forward cameras, three small dots soon appeared on the solar horizon; the angular and razor edged profiles of three Xanthian assault frigates grew slowly larger turning as one cohesive frigate line to bring their broadsides to bear on the rapidly approaching Aldarian hunter-killer squadron opening up with a salvo of plasma rockets which streamed through the space between the vessels lighting the darkness with streams of brilliant ruby and crimson.

"Fire main batteries A and B, give me arming codes for missile pods F through K!" Commander Jace snarled. The crew scrambled to respond and a second later Lieutenant Aiden Smire at the weapons station sent two massive railgun slugs hurtling through space, the force behind them rocking the ship as the main batteries fired. Three kilometers starboard the pair of destroyers let off salvos of single railgun shells of their own punching gaping holes in the rightmost of the enemy frigates. The Hunter in the Eclipses' salvo holed another of the frigates from bow to stern sending her spinning out of control, and her second shot caught the spiraling ship in the engine block breaching the shielded ion core and causing the unit to overload, collapsing into a miniature sun before detonating in a brilliant blue white cloud that consumed the frigate with it. The first of the plasma rockets detonated against the prow of the Hunter in the Eclipse melting through meters of her frontal armor and detonating missile pods A and C wrecking havoc with the forward cameras.

"Taking light enemy fire from the enemy, frontal armor at 83% sir!" Lieutenant Sera Mayors at Engineering shouted.

{Fireline reporting negligible damage, engaging with remaining undamaged frigate.}

{Planeswalker reports moderate damage to frontal armor, continuing engagement with damaged enemy frigate.}

"Send them to hell," Quentin growled. "Fire missile pods F through K, synchronize targeting systems with the Fireline."

The Aldarian hunter-killer team opened fire once more lighting up the empty space with flashes of yellow and white as the two destroyers opened up with their main batteries and the Hunter in the Eclipse sent 480 Firefly missiles on an intercept course with the now singularly holed enemy frigate. The enemy ship attempted to take evasive action pushing its flogging accelerators in an attempt to outpace the missiles and wiping out swaths of the missiles with its pulse laser batteries but to no avail; hundreds of the missiles met their mark reducing the enemy warship into a smoking hulk of iridescent green and smoking black; and as her sister frigate was critically damaged and exploded she too was swallowed up in the white hot explosion as the frigate's ion drive went super critical. There was a moment of silence as the sounds of the explosions were swallowed up by the vacuum of space, and then a chorus of cheers across the bridge in the aftermath of the victory. Once the celebration died down a parade of reports were shouted throughout the bridge.

"Sensors reports all enemy warships destroyed, we're all alone sir."

"Commencing repairs on frontal armor immediately, Engineering estimates that repairs will be complete and full armor levels restored in 600 seconds."

"Weapons powering down, diverting power to accelerators and life support."

"Cutting accelerators to normal cruising speed, prepare for negative acceleration."

"Sounding the all clear alarm, crew will return to normal activities shortly. Action report has been filed and is awaiting your approval Commander."

"I'll review the report later, Lieutenant Bel get me a secure channel through to Fleet Com, I want a sit rep on the general battle front. Our efforts here will go to waste if they aren't able to hold the planet on their own."

"Aye sir, I'm on it. Hailing Fleet Com now, connection looks good…system is decoding encryptions…all right we're live, transmitting feed to your command station Commander. "

{Commander Jace, I see you're still alive out there, that is good news. What of the Revenant amongst the Stars, does she still remain?} Admiral Vaunt's haggard looking avatar appeared from the projector screen of Quentin's command chair.

"I've not heard from the Revenant sir, but I suspect that Commander Stinz is more than capable of keeping her ship intact. I've only just recently engaged three enemy frigates, with no losses on our side sir so I suspect the Revenant may be in the middle of an engagement if she's not responding to your hails. Why do you ask for her status Admiral? What's the situation on the planetary front?"

The Admiral's face looked grim. {I've no good news to give you on our end despite your success in preventing enemy reinforcements from reaching their lines. We've managed to force them to keep their distance for now, having managed to down six enemy frigates and two enemy destroyers, but in turn we've traded off frigates Fury, Anguish, and Denial. Enemy single ships swarm the battleground, I suspect they may have hidden a pair of carriers somewhere in that fleet of theirs. We've insufficient anti-fighter guns at the moment and though they've yet to inflict any critical damage, should they concentrate their fire they very well could do so. The bulk of our anti-fighter screening lies in our destroyers, and with the Realmshifter still in her berth at Aphelion awaiting the fitting of her main battery, I fear we haven't the proper weaponry to hold the enemy fighters back.}

Quentin frowned "I can give you both the Fireline and the Planeswalker sir; the Hunter in the Eclipse can continue her mission alone. We've both the speed and the firepower to outgun enemy frigates and destroyers."

{No, that won't do.} Admiral Vaunt's avatar shook its head. {Should you be pursued and pinned down by enemy forces, you would never be able to escape without a destroyer escort. Besides, you and the Revenant are performing an important task out on the fringes intercepting enemy ships, if you do not continue at the capacity with which you are already doing now, the battle will surely be lost. No, the Fireline and Planeswalker will remain with you, I will have the Twilight Fortress and Shadow of Malcontent reveal themselves from their position behind the moon, their added firepower should give us the guns we need to keep the single ships at bay, and will also ensure the enemy keeps their distance.}

"Are you certain that this is a wise decision Admiral? I don't mean to be disrespectful, but the plan was to keep them hidden in the shadow of the moon so that we could suddenly reveal our capital ships during a decisive counter-offensive to overwhelm the enemy." The Twilight Fortress and the Shadow of Malcontent were respectively the only battleships and battlecruisers within the entire Aldarian fleet and were possessed of massive amounts of firepower. Twilight Fortress's six Railguns and heavy armor, along with the Shadow of Malcontent's four Railguns and high speed would prove to be tide changing factors in any sort of engagement.

{We have no choice, you are too far out to arrive in a timely fashion, and the removal of your ships from the interdiction role would result in an unacceptable number of enemy reinforcements arriving at the main battlefront. If we do not survive, then there will be no purpose in the Twilight Fortress and Shadow of Malcontent being the only ships remaining in the home battle fleet. Better to reveal them now and live, than to die and see them fall under an endless torrent of fire from the enemy after they have destroyed what remains of our frigate lines.}

"As you wish sir, I will redouble our efforts against the enemy. If I make contact with the Revenant amongst the Stars, you will be informed."

[Thank you Commander, please continue your campaign, and good luck.]

"Thank you sir, Commander Jace, out." The Admiral's avatar winked out as Quentin ended the transmission. Quentin swept his gaze along his bridge, looking at his fine compliment of bridge officers. Top of their classes and fields, all of them; he'd hand-picked them for their positions himself. But for all their talent, they could do nothing to help with the battle being waged planet side; they were simply too far away.

Quentin took the momentary lull in combat to consider his next plan of action. He had set up the Hunter and her battle group so that they lay smack in the middle of the enemy's most efficient reinforcement lines; he expected that Commander Stinz and the Revenant would be positioned in a similar fashion. This would allow for ample time to fall back if the ships were to run into heavier firepower while also allowing for easy interdiction of enemy reinforcements.

He tapped several buttons on his command console and a holographic image mapping the expanse of the area surrounding Iridius Major flickered to life, marking out known geographical regions and the positioning of Aldarian ships. This far out, there was a distinct signal lag for the positioning of the ships most distant at Iridius Major so it was hard to tell exactly what was going on there; hyper wave signal technology to allow instantaneous communications was something the Xanthian Combine had not deigned to share before there succession from the Empire.

The holo-panel would however be useful for coordinating his movements with Commander Stinz and the Revenant…if Commander Stinz had bothered to activate her transponder signal. Not surprising given the fact that they were deep in enemy territory but Quentin reckoned that a low frequency wave that was detectable only to ships within close range-such as the Hunter in the Eclipse would be quite safe. None the less the use of the holo-panel allowed Quentin to quickly take a look at his surroundings providing information such as the distance between him and the two destroyers, as well as visualizing everything else that could be detected by the cameras and sensors scattered about the ship within a three kilometer radius.

For now, the holo-panel displayed the outlines of the three ships under his command in pure aquamarine, alone in the empty void far away from the rest of the fleet. It would seem to be somewhat lonely, but Quentin appreciated their isolation because it meant that for the time being they were safe. Fate though it seemed, was conspiring against his wishes.

Several ripples of energy scattered across the holographic surface swamping the image of the Planeswalker beneath a sea of purple waves and Quentin immediately looked up towards Lieutenant Bel at communications.

"What's going on lieutenant? I want a status report now! What the hell is going on?"

Jason began to answer but the systems computer beat him to it.

{Jumpspace re-entry detected. Jumpspace re-entry detected. Jumpspace re-entry detected. Jumpspace re-entry detected.} The system computer was insistent but unassuming in Quentin's ear, though it carried an unmistakable tone of alarm.

On top of the flaring warnings that came from Quentin's earpiece, an abrupt crackle of transmissions came from Lieutenant Bel's station at communications, {Planeswalker to the Hunter in the Eclipse, we are engaged. Visual profiles match two—no three enemy destroyers and one cruiser, range 2 kilometers starboard.} On the tactical screen Quentin saw the four blips representing enemy warships appear almost right on top of the Planeswalker's profile and already he realized it was probably too late.

"Weapons Hot! Weapons hot now! All hands to battle stations! Weapons give me firing solutions and arm the missile pods, all of them! Navigations get us orientated with the Planeswalker!" Quentin leaned over to the communications platform of his command chair superseding Lieutenant Bel at the communications, "Fireline you are clear to engage at will!"

{Fireline acknowledges, opening fire immediately.}

{Planeswalker is engaging and taking heavy enemy fire, estimated remaining combat endurance: 30 seconds. Planeswalker will be emptying its hold of fissile nuclear missiles before its destruction, be advised projected blast radius is five kilometers.}

The Planeswalker was now visibly glowing high above the Hunter and the Fireline, the armored outer hull plates along its length glowing red hot with molten metal as the four enemy warships along its flank melted it to a slag under a withering barrage of plasma fire and a rain of pulse laser blasts. The heavily outnumbered destroyer feebly returned fire, inflicting light damage with its main railgun battery but was otherwise being ripped to pieces; a good portion of her superstructure had already been exposed and Quentin was surprised she hadn't been struck in any critical areas yet.

There was a bright flash of a brilliant intensity rivaling a supernova as the Planeswalker met her fate, simultaneously detonating her three nuclear warheads in a suicidal attempt to inflict as much damage as possible in her death; even in the yawning void of space the magnitude of the explosion was apparent: three kilometers below the Planeswalker the Hunter in the Eclipse rocked beneath Quentin's feet as the shockwave from the nuclear detonation slammed into the Cruiser. The Fireline likewise underwent a similar movement away from the detonation site and Quentin saw her starboard engine pods flare up as they worked to keep the Fireline's nose and main cannon pointed towards the spot where the enemy fleet had vanished.

As the cloud of superheated gasses and molten metal around the graveyard of the Planeswalker dissipated, two damaged Xanthian destroyers limped from the cover of the clouds followed by the imposing silhouette of the shark-like Xanthian cruiser almost two kilometers behind them. The Fireline immediately opened fire and Quentin's bridge crew scrambled into action preparing the Hunter for combat; Quentin felt a dull rumbling beneath his feet as the cruiser's twin heavy railgun batteries trained themselves on their targets. Quentin screamed out orders for battle and gave the necessary commands to get the Hunter in the Eclipse into the action, but his mind was dwelling on other things all the while.

The enemy craft should have shown up on the Hunter's long range sensors even if the two destroyers hadn't been able to pick them up; they were designed for the singular purpose of detecting enemy craft and so could detect even stealthed enemy craft at ranges of several hundred kilometers, well beyond engagement range. The failure to detect the ships and the sudden jumpspace ruptures pointed towards a second possibility: that the enemy ships had made a short ranged tactical jump right to the Planeswalker's position; a tricky but not impossible maneuver. But how had the enemy figured out their location so precisely? By now they were hundreds of kilometers away from their previous engagement site with the three enemy assault frigates.

That train of thought suggested that the enemy was somehow tracking their movements; either that or they had gotten supremely lucky. But Quentin's instincts screamed that this wasn't some coincidence, this had to have been an ambush that was executed to the letter; otherwise the Planeswalker would never have been surrounded and destroyed in such a fashion. A sudden explosive reverberation through the ship's superstructure drew Quentin from his thoughts back to the battle.

The combined firepower of the Fireline and Hunter in the Eclipse had already destroyed one of the destroyers and holed its companion, but the enemy cruiser lurking at the back of the lines was taking potshots at the Fireline with some sort of high energy particle projector. The Fireline was just barely able to keep ahead of the enemy fire dodging thin lance-like beams of violent destruction that were slowly drawing closer and closer to their target; the last shot had been just short of slicing off the Fireline's last ten meters of her stern and had slashed a jagged line along the Hunter's belly causing a violent explosion as the sudden decompression leaked shipboard atmosphere into the vacuum in a cloud of freezing gas and fluid trailing from the rent. Quentin promptly sealed off the deck and mentally noted to take into account the loss in atmosphere after the battle was over.

Thus far the two battle groups had been trading fire from dozens of kilometers apart in a long range engagement resembling a clash between ancient capitol ships on the high seas of earth during the second world war, but this gave an innate edge to the Xanthian ships with their faster moving plasma rockets which outpaced their solid slug railgun counterparts at longer ranges. Quentin couldn't have that; the enemy cruiser would slice both the Fireline and the Hunter apart with that heavy beam weapon from long range where she had ample time to avoid the return fire of the railguns.

"Arm missile pods L through P and give me accelerators to 80%, I want us on a trajectory towards that Xanthian cruiser." He growled.

"Sir." Lieutenant Clarrise Kornberg at Navigations saluted stiffly and started to rapidly type instructions at the station causing the Hunter in the Eclipse to lurch forwards with sudden acceleration. Likewise Lieutenant Dante Hadden at Weapons gave a slight nod and danced his hands across the control panels at his station, and soon the bright red indicators for the arming sequences of 400 firefly missiles flickered to life in front of his eyes at the command console.

In the distance the Fireline saw his actions and drew in close matching the larger cruiser's pace and direction, hugging close to the Hunter distorting the profiles of both. Though Quentin understood the sentiment of using the larger Hunter as a shield from fire he disapproved of the maneuver on a tactical level; it merely painted the two ships as a larger target for that enemy cruiser. As the distance closed between the four warships both sides let off the occasional shot trying to score hits upon each other; as moving targets the Hunter in the Eclipse and Fireline were slightly harder to strike, but they had more difficulty training their weapons on their relatively stationary opponents who had a by far more stable gun platform from which to shoot.

A bright flash filled the main viewport and a blue-white ball of fire erupted into existence along the Hunter in the Eclipse's starboard side; the thin particle beam needle lanced through Fireline with the precision of a sniper slashing through meters of thick armor to breach her ionic fusion chamber causing the cataclysmic explosion that rocked through the Hunter. Quentin swore loudly as the explosion triggered the Fireline's payload of nuclear warheads a mere kilometer distant engulfing the Hunter in the Eclipse in a sheet of nuclear fire.

The EMP shockwave struck the cruiser next after the initial damage; they were too close to the detonation for any amount of shielding to block out the pulse. All over the bridge the screens went haywire and were filled with static; several dozen of them went dead but critically the main controls and drive units remained operational.

"Give me a status report! I want an analysis on hull damage and combat capability this instant!" Quentin snarled.

"Commander we're down to 20% armor on six sections of our starboard flank, two of them in critical areas. Repairs are commencing but we're going to be compromised for the duration on the battle." Lieutenant Mayors responded briskly from Engineering.

"Ion drives and maneuvering appear to have survived the explosion sir; we should have full range of combat maneuvers." Lieutenant Kornberg followed.

"We've lost missile pods N and P and railgun battery B is registering as offline. I don't know if we're still going to be able to pull off what you intended to do sir." Lieutenant Hadden was grim faced, and he frowned apologetically towards Quentin.

"We'll make with what we have. Arm all five nuclear warheads and train them on that enemy cruiser, I want it out of the fight."

"All five sir? That will put us within the blast radius if we continue on our present course."

Quentin stared coldly back, his eyes hard. "All five, we do this and we go home or we don't go back at all."

"Yes sir." Dante quickly tapped in the commands and the pulsing red indicators for five armed and ready nuclear warheads lit up in front of the Commander.

By now the distance between the two battle groups had closed to a mere dozen kilometers; the pair of Xanthian warships was making aggressive maneuvers now moving forwards to close the distance as well. Quentin did a quick calculation in his own in his head and fired his remaining railgun battery staggering its shots to try and strike the enemy destroyer multiple times; the plan worked and the bladelike destroyer was holed three times before the ship groaned and split apart into three different pieces from the stress on her weakened hull. The damage Quentin inflicted was not without a price however; he had lost most of his forward visual cameras and sensors to incoming plasma rocket fire from the two enemy ships and a near miss from the enemy cruiser's deadly beam weapon had left the Hunter reduced to a top speed of 70% to her accelerators; any more would risk a meltdown in her breached fusion core chambers. With only the two cruisers left in the fight Quentin and the shark closed in on each other for the final salvos.

The enemy warship held almost every advantage; it was unmarred by damage, still fully weapons capable, had the faster moving primary armament and so had to lead its shots less to compensate for distance and movement, and still had its own propulsion systems running at full speed. But Quentin and the Hunter in the Eclipse had one singular advantage in raw firepower: he was carrying five nukes, and the enemy captain knew that as well and so would be wary of approaching too close so as to stay far enough away to intercept or avoid any nuclear warheads that were launched.

The two ships traded shots; Quentin presented the enemy cruiser with the Hunter's port side to soak up the damage while he returned fire with his single remaining railgun. 240 Firefly missiles billowed out into the vacuum of space and Quentin watched irritably as the pulse lasers of the enemy cruiser slashed half of them into worthless puffs of metal and debris before the remaining hundred or so impacted, causing minor hull damage along the shark's flank. He concentrated his fire on these weakened areas but Quentin realized that it was a futile effort; the Hunter in the Eclipse no longer had the firepower to inflict critical damage on the enemy ship.

As if sensing the Hunter's weakness, the enemy cruiser's accelerators flared up as the ship slowly drew closer in slowly circling the wounded Aldarian cruiser; staying just out of nuclear strike range but drawing close enough to make the Hunter in the Eclipse an easy target for both plasma rockets pulse lasers and its violet lance weapon alike. There was no way that the Hunter in the Eclipse could keep pace with the Xanthian cruiser with her own damaged accelerators; at this rate she would just be picked apart from a distance unable to either respond or flee her impending destruction, just a lonely ship left to the shark.

It was funny, the situation they were in; the Hunter in the Eclipse was so named because of her role in the fleet, as with all cruisers she represented the refinement of ship killing technology and the speed to match it. Compact and mobile firepower lurking like ghosts picking off the slow, the unwary, and the wounded. It did not seem so now that she was so heavily damaged, limping at speeds which a mere cargo freighter could match.

It reminded Quentin of one of the training sims he went up against early on while training to become a command officer; the instructors had simply called it "Survival". The situation had put Quentin at the command of a damaged Aldarian frigate facing off against multiple fighter groups as well as an enemy destroyer, putting the light tonnage ship of the line at a huge disadvantage. His instructions were to keep his ship intact, that was all that was required of him; most candidates who had gone through the simulator had elected to put their ship through a series of evasive maneuvers until they could make a tactical transition to jumpspace and escape, but Quentin decided to handle the situation differently.

The advantage of surprise is one of the most powerful factors you can have on your side and when one is so heavily out-numbered the last thing your opponent would expect you to do would be to face them head on in the face of such overwhelming firepower. Quentin, then one Lieutenant Jace went about his aggression in a very peculiar fashion though. All Aldarian capitol ships carried nuclear weaponary; frigates in particular carried a pair of nuclear warheads. These would become a decisive factor in his eventual victory.

The most threatening target to most would have appeared to be the destroyer as the enemy capitol ship, but Quentin was more thorough in his thinking than most. Yes, the Orbus class destroyer did indeed carry a pair of railguns in a twin turret mounted on its dorsal surface, but as a destroyer it was primarily equipped to deal with single ships, mounting no less than 18 separate anti-fighter batteries. The fighter craft themselves on the other hand consisted of a mix of strike craft, specializing in taking down larger targets and interceptors which tackled ships close to their own size. Frigates such as the ship Quentin was commanding in the simulation on the other hand were meant for the purpose of performing as a general ship of the line, tasked with general fleet action against other capitol ships and slightly smaller corvettes.

Therefore following this logic Quentin concluded that the greatest threat to his ship was not in fact the destroyer, which his frigate was equipped to handle but the strike fighters. Frigates were equipped with relatively few anti-fighter weapons and had trouble dealing with them en-masse as was the case here; so Quentin allocated his greatest source of firepower to deal with the strike fighters first- his nuclear weapons payload. The single ships did not possess sufficient accelerator power to escape the blast radius of the nukes and were quickly wiped out, leaving Quentin free to deal with the destroyer at his leisure. His superior maneuvering skills as a navigations officer allowed him to outsmart the enemy captain and in spite of his damaged ship he soon claimed victory, becoming the first candidate to ever to complete the simulation by destroying all opposing ships rather than fleeing the site of battle.

The most important concept that had been applied during that simulation was that warships preformed best when up against the targets they were intended to tackle. Cruisers such as the Xanthian Shark and the Hunter in the Eclipse carried heavy guns sufficient to rip through the armor of frigates and destroyers but these weapons were relatively light in comparison to the true heavy hitters such as battleships and battlecruisers. Thus, while both cruisers had been able to easily deal with their respective destroyer escorts which were indeed mostly present to protect them from attacks from strike fighters, they were not ideally equipped to deal with each other.

It would not be easy for either ship to take the other down; Quentin could use that to his advantage. If he could get close enough to the enemy cruiser without being completely crippled then it was possible that he could inflict enough damage to destroy the enemy ship or at the very least force it to disengage. That was not to say however that the Hunter in the Eclipse was impervious to taking damage from her opponent however.

As if reading his thoughts and sending him a reminder, a brilliant purple flash yanked Quentin out of his musings and back to reality; the violet lance struck out towards the Hunter in the Eclipse with lightning speed; if Quentin had blinked he probably would have missed it. He slammed his arm down onto the emergency thrusters and the 1000 meter long cruiser jerked to the side narrowly avoiding the beam which would have sliced right through her. He didn't bother to attempt to return fire; they were still far away to fire the nuclear warheads without them being intercepted and they had precious few railgun slugs remaining in the gunholds anyhow.

"Tell me Dante, is there any way we can possibly close to engagement range for the nuclear warheads?" Quentin asked quietly. The use of the Lieutenant's first name shocked the bridge crew into momentary inaction; the Commander was never this informal.

"I-i-if we can close the distance to less than five kilometers we'll have a chance of slipping perhaps one nuke through their point defense grid without them intercepting it and causing a premature detonation, but the odds of us accomplishing such a thing are slim given the damage to the accelerators." The Lieutenant stammered out after a momentary pause.

The Commander paused to consider idly superseding Lieutenant Kornberg's control at navigations taking control of the ships movements himself. There was a way to close the engagement range even with the Hunter's crippled accelerators, but if the plan that Quentin was slowly formulating in his mind failed then the Hunter in the Eclipse would be left dead in space, effectively a helpless corpse offering itself up for target practice.

The enemy ship drew closer still and began hammering the Aldarian cruiser with pulse laser fire too close for Quentin to avoid the light weapons fire, the emerald pulse beams leaving a trail of scorch marks along the hull of the ship's port side; if Quentin was going to do something it would have to be now though at a distance of almost fifteen kilometers the enemy warship was still too far away for him to use the nuclear warheads. The Hunter in the Eclipse was still capable of making a transition into Jumpspace at this point; but if she were to do so the shockwave released by her entry would produce an echowave which would reveal the position of every single ship in a 1000 kilometer radius potentially painting Commander Stinz and her battle group as a massive target- smack in the middle of enemy territory with nowhere to go. Even if she chose to make a transition to jumpspace right then and there would be ample enough time for an enemy warship to intercept and destroy her before then.

No, fleeing the battlefield would not be an option; Quentin could not risk the other battle group just for the survival of himself and his single cruiser. The only remaining options were to sit there and eventually be destroyed when the Xanthian cruiser tired of toying with him, or to take the fight to the enemy. Personally, Quentin preferred the latter. The real question though was whether or not his bridge crew was up to the challenge; would they be able to perform without knowing the full extents of his plan? It would not do for him to inform them of his intentions; unlike him most of them still had families to go home to and the poor odds would not go over well with them. Better to keep them in the dark and hope that their trust in his judgment would hold in spite of the fact that he in fact did not trust their judgment.

He would have liked to not have to do this, and were the situation not so tense he would not have went to such measures of secrecy but Iridius Major had to be held, and for that to happen at the very least Commander Stinz and the Revenant Amongst the Stars had to survive. They were the vanguard that held the floodgate shut, were they to leave then the full force of the Xanthian fleet would come crashing down upon the Aldarian home fleet and if they fell, then all of the Aldarian Empire was lost.

One cruiser, one last enemy cruiser to destroy that was all that had to be done to ensure the survival of Commander Stinz's hunter-killer battle group. Having already expended three destroyers and a cruiser trying to eliminate the Hunter and his own battle group, Quentin felt confident that at the very least the Xanthian fleet commander would have to order a fall back just to deal with Commander Stinz, at which point she could make a Jumpspace transition back into the safety zone of Iridius Major.

"Sound the collision alarms Lieutenant Bel, I want all non-essential personnel to enter the escape pods and drop bays at once and prep for emergency dropoff." Quentin said coldly, his fingers suddenly dancing over his personal navigational controls in front of his Command chair; Clarisse who had previously be in charge of navigations stared glumly at her screen, able only to watch as navigational co-ordinates for the kilometer long cruiser flickered across her displays. She suddenly drew a sharp intake of breath drawing stares from the rest of the bridge crew.

"Commander, forgive me for my asking but you're aware that you've plotted a collision course with the enemy vessel correct?" she said stiffly, eyes staring downwards towards the floor.

"I am aware Lieutenant, you need not be concerned this is all part of my plan," Quentin looked back towards the other bridge officers, a blank look on his face. "Well come on, it's nothing to be concerned about I have it all under control, get back to your stations and resume your duties." Throughout all of this the collision alarms blared throughout the ship as the Commander impassively issued out his orders. At his words the rest of the bridge crew reluctantly turned back to face their stations, their doubt in the soundness of his plans clear to all.

Quentin mentally did the calculations in his head again to calculate his course corrections and trajectories and determined that his calculations were sound and began the execution of his plans.

"Pushing Accelerators to 70% on heading A.6 -007 collision course with Xanthian cruiser with course corrections on 0200 millisecond intervals, maintaining this course for the remainder of this mission." He said more to keep himself concentrated than to inform the rest of the oblivious bridge crew. He turned back towards Lieutenant Hadden at the weapons station. "Dante I presume those nukes are still running hot, yes?"

"Yes sir, all five nukes are armed and ready for launch at your command." Lieutenant Hadden responded back crisply this time, the breach in protocol no longer so surprising.

"Keep them that way; and prepare the point defense grid to absorb some oncoming fire." The Commander said noting the enemy cruiser's movements in respond to the Hunter in the Eclipse's sudden advance towards it.

"Yes sir, it will be done. With all due respect I'd like to point out that unless we manage to land at least three of the nuclear missiles our efforts will be futile, sir." Lieutenant said, more stiffly this time.

Quentin waved off the comment, he had other things in mind, "Don't concern yourself with such things Lieutenant, concentrate on maintaining the defensive grid. Lieutenant Mayors, please redirect all repair efforts towards repairing damage to the frontal armor and superstructure."

Lieutenant Mayors raised an eyebrow at the order, "The frontal armor sir? Repairing that will do little to protect the more vital areas of the ship, shouldn't we focus on repairing other areas such as the fusion chambers and starboard arm-"

Quentin cut her off, "I know how my ship works Lieutenant. Do as I say."

Sera bit her lip and saluted stiffly, "Yes sir, issuing the orders now." Quentin made a mental note that if they survived this battle his bridge crew's action reports would likely not present him a favorable light. As the Hunter in the Eclipse approached ever closer to the shark-like enemy cruiser a blistering wave of plasma rockets and pulse laser fired rained around the cruiser; the enemy ship made no attempt to flee.

Quentin actually snorted at the enemy ship captain's stupidity causing the rest of his officers to look up at him in alarm; they almost certainly thought that he had gone insane now. Though the Hunter in the Eclipse would indeed be destroyed a safe distance out of engagement range if the enemy ship merely continued to rain fire down upon them from afar, Quentin had other things in mind. As the distance between the two ships fell to seven kilometers, Quentin swept his gaze downwards towards his navigations display watching the meters between them drain away at an alarming rate and once the cruiser had progressed another 750 meters he spread the fingers of his left hand out and pressed down on five different buttons.

"Full power to emergency engines, prepare for sudden acceleration; Lieutenant Bel please prepare the non-essential crew to be ready to remove themselves from this spacecraft at a moment's notice."

The Hunter in the Eclipse suddenly shot forwards like a rocket its speed almost tripling in the span of several seconds as the cruiser expended its reserves of fuel in its emergency engines intended to allow the ship to escape orbit or suddenly accelerate; had this speed been generated by its regular accelerators the reading would have registered at around 250%. The Hunter in the Eclipse crossed the distance and entered engagement range for the nuclear warheads far more rapidly than the enemy cruiser could respond.

"Launch all nuclear missiles and with firing solutions trained on the enemy warships midsection Lieutenant Hadden." Quentin said smoothly. Dante flicked the five switches and the red indicators at Quentin's seat flashed green as the five warheads flew smoothly away from the cruiser shooting towards the enemy ship on a path of destruction. In the meantime the Hunter in the Eclipse shot onwards towards its target, its collision course unchanged.

The enemy warship took violent evasive action and its pulse laser batteries flared up with renewed vigor as it attempted to intercept the nuclear warheads; there were two brilliant flashes as pulse lasers intercepted fusion warheads to cause premature detonations. The remaining three warheads continued on unhindered towards their target.

There was a sudden brilliant flash as a mere 500 meters from the Xanthian cruiser two of the missiles erupted in a ball of brilliant fire; the purple beam weapon lanced through them slashing through the empty void of space buffeting the shark with clouds of superheated gas and shrapnel, but overall inflicting only minimal damage. The remaining missile plowed on and landed a point blank detonation across the enemy cruiser's starboard side leaving a smoking crater but inflicting non-critical damage.

"S-s-sir I swear the calculations said the missiles would have struck home!" Lieutenant Hadden stammered out, his face pale with shock.

Quentin ignored his comment, seemingly unconcerned. His plans had still not changed at all in spite of the failure of the missiles to inflict critical damage. "Course correction 0-2-0 at 1800 seconds, maintain current course." He paused a moment as if considering something after he was done adjusting their course, by now more than half the bridge crew had slumped against their stations thinking that their fates were sealed and their destruction imminent. Only Jason Bel at communications, Sera Mayors at Engineering and Dante Hadden at weapons were still watching Quentin in silence.

"Launch all escape pods and emergency craft." Quentin said; there was a soft *whumf* as dozens of pods carrying the majority of the cruiser's crew fell away as they were expelled.

By now there was only a mere two kilometers remaining between the two ships and the most of the fuel for the emergency thrusters had been expended; the enemy cruiser's accelerators flared in an attempt to alter its course as the enemy captain finally realized Quentin's intentions even as the rest of the Hunter's bridge crew were only just figuring them out.

"Sir, I still don't understand; we don't have the firepower to take them out with the railgun even at this range!" Lieutenant Hadden exclaimed.

Commander Quentin Jace laughed at the officer's consternation, thinking at last that perhaps he had indeed gone insane, "We don't have the firepower Dante, but we have the mass."

The enemy cruiser tried in vain to move out of the Hunter's path but the speed previously generated by the emergency thrusters remained unchecked; there was simply not enough time or distance between the two for the collision to be avoided any longer. Plasma rockets and pulse lasers rained down upon the bow of the Hunter in the Eclipse but by now the frontal armor had almost been completely repaired; in a final act of desperation the enemy ship fired its beam weapon at point blank range bisecting the Aldarian cruiser but the Hunter's impact was by then a foregone conclusion. Two seconds later the two halves of the 2800 ton Aldarian warship plowed straight into the heart of the Xanthian shark with unstoppable force and the Hunter in the Eclipse ceased to exist.