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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 20 - Battle Stations[]

Part 1[]

FWDS Firewing
Aurigan Reach, Periphery

Captain Tera of the Free Worlds League Navy frowned as she studied the data from the fleet's long-range sensors. "There are only five Geth vessels, a cruiser and four frigates," she admitted. "We have the advantage of initiative for now." The light from the Fleet Hastings task force, just arrived in the outer system, would still need time to reach the inner system where the robotic warships were in high orbit over Itrom. "Regardless, I would not recommend a direct assault. We only need to drive them from the system."

Her Clan counterpart, a Star Commodore McKenna who dubiously claimed descent from the ancient House McKenna of the old Terran Hegemony, clearly did not agree. "We must strike decisively," his voice argued over the conference channel. "This is our chance to land a blow against the invaders."

"I understand your eagerness, but we must restrain ourselves." Precentor Lipeltic, the commander of the ComGuard detachment and nominal leader of Fleet Hastings, replied from her Warship Blake's Vision. It and the Cold Talon of Clan Snow Raven were the heaviest elements of Fleet Hastings, both centuries-old Lola warships built before the Succession Wars and refitted with element zero technology. Given the Cold Talon was leading the other half of Fleet Hastings elsewhere, it should have been easy for Precentor Lipeltic to control the Star Commodore. Experience had taught Captain Tera otherwise. "Reinforcements are still en route to the Aurigan Reach, and our fleet is the only force currently capable of countering the Geth vessels."

Lola IV Class Destroyer (Space Background)

Lola III Class Destroyer

"Only due to the cowardice and selfishness of the Great Houses," Star Commodore McKenna scathingly complained. "The Periphery states I shall tolerate, they are too weak, but the Great Houses should send their warships to aid us, instead of holding back. Does the inaction of your rulers not fill you with frustration?" He demanded of Captain Tera and the rest. "Let us defeat the Geth here, and shame those who held back their aid."

Well, her pride had been insulted by the barbarian, yet again. "Star Commodore," Captain Tera most politely answered, "the Free Worlds League Navy has many obligations to fulfill. None of us foresaw a Geth invasion in the Periphery. The presence of my dropships should be evidence enough the Free Worlds League is eager to assist with what vessels are available." True, her Firewing was only in the Reach because it had been among the escorts for the aborted Coromodir Expedition, quickly reclassified into an ad-hoc fleet for the Normandy Auriga, but such semantics were irrelevant when defending the name of the Free Worlds League.

"For once, I must concur with Captain Tera," Captain Zheng from the Capellan Confederation spoke up. "The Capellan Confederation was caught off-guard, just as the rest of the Star League was. Considering we are bordering the Aurigan Reach, our navy must prepare a defense against possible Geth raiders. Yet I am still here, unlike the Taurians or Federated Commonwealth."

Precentor Lipeltic cut off the discussion before it could progress. "Enough," she ordered firmly. "The scanners indicate Itrom is still relatively unscathed, whatever the cause." Something Captain Tera wondered about. Reports had claimed the Geth were primarily carrying out raids on various ComStar and Aurigan installations, rather than massacring the population as they did to their quarian creators. Figuring out the reason was for analysts, not her. "Defending the Aurigan Reach comes before destroying the Geth. A cautious advance should drive them away, and that is still a victory."

"Aye, I agree," her fellow Free Worlds Captain Borti announced. "No point destroying our ships just to make a point."

"Neg." Star Commodore Mckenna loudly insisted. "They do not deserve hegira. Letting the Geth leave will only permit them to attack elsewhere. We must engage and force them to battle."

"Our task force will engage them, Star Commodore, prudently," Precentor Lipeltic answered. "The Geth appear content to remain in a predictable orbit over Itrom for now. Prepare for a coordinated flyby of the Geth squadron. We will bloody them and see if they run. My staff is finalizing details and will transmit them once ready."

Part 2[]

FWLDS Firewing''
Aurigan Reach, Periphery

Captain Tera waited as the Firewing continued decelerating, the other seven assault dropships and Blake's Vision doing the same. The feeling of being crushed against her seat from the retrogade burn was comfortingly familiar. The Firewing had slain batarians before, the Geth would be no different. Just another enemy of the Free Worlds League to destroy.

She eyed the screen displaying the sensor readings. The Marik native had never quite understood how mass effect technology worked, but whatever physics nonsense element zero was capable of, it was still a bad idea to engage at relativistic speeds. As the task force dropped beneath light speed towards an acceptable approach velocity, the emissions from their engines would overtake them and warn the Geth of their presence. The only question was whether the enemy had taken sufficient precautions against such an aggressive approach. The omnipresent rumbling halted as the engines finished their burn, but Captain Tera felt only a light tug in the following weightlessness as the dropship reoriented itself to face forwards again.

Finally, the Geth reacted, their own engine signatures flaring brightly on Firewing's sensors as they began moving. Judging by their response speed, the inorganic aliens had deployed a shell of sensor drones around them to warn of incoming threats, but not far or extensive enough to escape Fleet Hasting's weapons. Already, the Firewing was flipping again, reigniting engines compensating against the Geth's own acceleration and pinning Captain Tera against her seat again. The distance closed rapidly, onboard systems automatically following preset parameters to bring the Firewing within engagement range as the Geth abruptly adjusted heading again.

The task force began drifting out of formation, Blake's Vision in the center with the eight dropships forming a wide outer ring to improve odds of catching the targets with at least some weapons, as the individual vessels pushed to maximum thrust. One of Captain Tera's officers warned that Captain Borti's Fangwind was no longer capable of hitting the Geth squadron during the flyby, with two others also at risk of missing. She acknowledged tersely, keenly aware the Firewing would pass a Geth frigate close enough to land blows, and face heavy retaliation in return.

A countdown appeared on her screens, targeting computers estimating time before the Firewing was in range. It would be down to software and hardware to ensure the flyby worked now, not human skill. Captain Tera knew of the rumors concerning the origin of the advanced technology, allegedly with roots in the Caspar drones of the long gone SDS from the old Star League, AI warships that butchered entire fleets and blindly turned against the SLDF in the dying days of the Star League, as the Geth had turned against their creators. Still, she trusted her Firewing to perform its duty. The dropship was too dumb to rebel anyway.

The Geth frigate turned, aiming its spinal gun in her direction. Then the distance was close enough. Buried securely within her dropship, Captain Tera felt only mild shudders in the brief moment of engagement, even as the damage control systems spat warning after warning at her. The Firewing's kinetic barriers mitigated the Geth's kinetic rounds to tolerable levels of damage, unable to fully block the projectiles as the dropship crashed into them. Then the human assault dropship lashed out with its lasers, the rest of its weapons complement silent and unable to achieve a targeting lock at these high speeds and distance. And the moment passed, the two vessels too far apart again.

Captain Tera released the breath she had been holding as her crew set to work evaluating the results of the flyby. Damage to the Firewing was acceptable. The Geth frigate's main spinal gun had only managed to land two heavy blows through the kinetic barriers, nothing penetrating the dropship's armor. There was more damage in the form of molten and vaporized streaks, from the Geth's GARDIAN point defense lasers, but nothing disconcertingly serious either.

She felt a satisfied snarl on her face as the Firewing analyzed her opponent's status. The Firewing had been equipped with more potent energy weapons meant for peer battles, instead of merely as secondary weapons. Deep grooves had been carved into the frigate, visible on images of the hostile vessel taken during the closest point of approach. The enemy vessel's combat effectiveness was unlikely to be significantly reduced, but the Firewing had come off better from the brief encounter.

It was then that she saw the state of her allies. Most of the task force had made it out similarly intact, but the same could not be said of ComStar's Crimson Steed. The dropship had caught the Geth cruiser's ire as it passed, and its far more lethal primary weapon had punctured deeply into the interior of the dropship. Even as Captain Tera watched, it fell away from the rest as the task force began decelerating.

"This is the Crimson Steed," the ComStar captain reported, "took internal damage to the engine, starboard side. Weapons fully functional, Precentor."

"Disengage and withdraw to a safe distance, Crimson Steed." Precentor Lipeltic commanded. "All other units, status report."

"Firewing only lost some armour, at full effectiveness," Captain Tera announced, then looked towards her sensors officer as the other dropships gave their own replies. "Sensors," she barked, "what are the Geth doing?"

"Accelerating towards us, captain," the man reported. "Multiple launches detected, must be fighters. Won't be long before they start overtaking us if we continue the burn."

It seemed Precentor Lipeltic had been too optimistic about scaring the Geth off with a single flyby. "Continue our deceleration burn for now." Captain Tera decided. "There's still enough distance to make a clean withdrawal."

Long seconds passed as the Captain Tera watched the two fleets approach matching velocities. Signals were detected from the planet Itrom, passed on to the ComStar Warship to handle. The surviving Aurigan forces on the planet were enduring indiscriminate Geth raids, with no identified pattern to their targets. Unable to assist so long as the Geth contested the orbits, Captain Tera put them out of her mind. The range to the enemy continued growing, then hit a maximum. Firewing ceased its acceleration, awaiting orders from Blake's Vision.

"All units, withdraw to the outer system," Precentor Lipeltic finally commanded the task force. "Regroup at the following coordinates." They would be half a light-hour from Itrom. "We'll see if the Geth continue pursuing."

"That is dezgra," Star Commodore Mckenna furiously replied immediately, before Captain Tera could acknowledge the order. "The Geth are right before us, and we are capable of annihilating them. We must press the attack."

"I am in command, Star Commodore," The Precentor answered icily, "the Cold Talon placed you under my command. There is no reason to commit to full battle if the Geth are not destroying Itrom. We will continue skirmishing and harassing the squadron until they retreat or we pull back. Confirm my order and withdraw." Blake's Vision was putting action to words, flipping to point away from the incoming hostiles.

The Clan dropships were silent, and Captain Tera was beginning to direct her crew to follow the Warship's lead, when the Clanner spoke again. "The ComGuard triumphed on the ground at Tukkayid, but you are evidently incapable of combat in the void. Very well. Clan Snow Raven will show you all how a true warrior fights. Follow me if you have the courage."

Captain Tera felt sinking dread before her suspicions were confirmed. "Captain Tera! The Winterchill, Ice Crow, and Pure Night are accelerating towards the Geth!"

"Those idiots," she spat and closed her eyes. There was only one option she could take, as much as she hated it. "Follow the Clan dropships immediately, and signal them to slow down. Now! Tell them we wish to share the glory of victory and fight alongside them." The communication channel between the dropships and Warship was cluttering with overlapping sounds from the different captains.

Captain Borti contacted her on a private channel. "Dorothy, what are you doing?" He asked. "You don't have to follow them. This isn't our fight. Let those Clanners die. Fleet Hastings will do better without such renegades."

"There's no choice," Captain Dorothy Tera replied. "I expect the Precentor ordering everybody to follow suit once she gives up convincing the Clanners to stop. We can't afford to lose a third of the dropships for nothing."

"Getting into a battle with the Geth could cost us everything. Our duty is to the Free Worlds League first, not Fleet Hastings or Itrom."

"The Captain-General pledged us to the Normandy Initiative, and I intend to do my duty, Captain Borti." Captain Tera snapped. "Consider this a proactive defense of our realm if you must. I'd rather Normandy Auriga stops the Geth in the Reach before they can do any damage to the Free Worlds League." A change on her tactical map caught her eye. "Even the Capellan dropship is joining in and that's the Precentor with new orders." she added as the ComStar Warship turned once more to face the Geth. "Cheer up, Borti, the Clanners are in front, not us."

Painstakingly, the task force reassembled an improvized ragged formation, the Clan dropships in the lead screened by the few fighters the task force had and Blake's Vision bringing up the rear. The Geth slowed down as the range closed rapidly, clearly intending to put their longer-range weapons to good use.

This time around, there was no fast approach. It was fortunate that for the Geth warships to use their spinal guns, they needed to face towards Captain Tera, unable to match the Firewing's acceleration with their own main engines. Still, the robotic minds clearly knew their tactics, angling to keep the humans for as long as possible within the range band where the spinal guns could target them with impunity.

It was a dance the human fleets had experienced through years of strife with the Batarian Hegemony and other Terminus System powers. The Geth cruiser started first, striking the leading Winterchill with a glancing blow to its barriers. The Clan dropship fell behind the Ice Crow as it diverted into an evasive course to give the defenses time to refortify, the Ice Crow slowing down in turn as it was targeted and putting Pure Night on point. Then the Geth frigates began choosing their targets, and Captain Tera's Firewing ceased its headlong charge and turned sideways, committing its main engines to evading the incoming barrage.

The range dropped, agonizingly slowly and incredibly rapidly. A turret-mounted laser emitted a probing pulse towards the nearest Geth frigate, but sensors indicated the beam diffracted too wide and passed too quickly over the constantly shifting hull to cause any meaningful damage. The Firewing needed to get closer.

LRMs were launched in a massive volley, more to distract the Geth than to cause any actual damage. Unless the kinetic barriers failed, the missiles would have little effect on the alien warships, but they would hopefully serve to improve the Firewing's chances of survival, and dissuade the Geth fighters from approaching. Whether by luck or some feat of technology, one of the LRMs veered into a frigate's slug before it could strike the dropship, the fragments of the projectile still slamming into the kinetic barriers nonetheless.

One of the Geth frigates flashed as armour evaporated into glowing vapor. The Blake's Vision was finally within range, rolling on its axis to launch broadside after broadside even as its barriers were battered. The damaged frigate ceased its barrage, turned and burned away from the incoming Warship, presenting an undamaged flank to cover its withdrawal while Blake's Vision directed its attention towards other, easier targets. Captain Tera was tempted to order a chase, but withheld the command. The Geth were still holding their fighters in reserve.

Another moment more, and the enemy warships were at last within range of the Firewing. Heat levels in the dropship rose as the turret-mounted lasers fired as fast as coolant could cool them, but the bridge remained insulated from the rising temperature for now, as heat sinks laboured to purge excess heat out of vital systems. The Geth squadron lit up their engines as the laser beams became more focused, aiming to spend as little time as possible in the task force's effective range.

This close, evasion was no longer possible. It came down to the Firewing's kinetic barriers to endure the slugs flung its way, until they failed and the armour was forced to weather the impacts. The human fighters broke away from the close-range exchange, waiting for an opportunity against the Geth's GARDIAN defenses which melted glowing streaks across Fleet Hastings' hulls. Likewise, the Geth fighters kept out of the Firewing's range.

Captain Tera watched as the Ice Crow died. It had been in the vanguard, and its kinetic barriers failed at the wrong moment to the wrong blow, one of its engines failing in a hot torrent of leaking plasma. Crippled, the spinal guns of the Geth cruiser and frigates tore the Clan dropship to pieces before the crew had a chance to escape. But their momentary focus gave the remaining seven vessels time to recharge worn shields and draw ever closer, close enough even their short-ranged mass accelerators and LRMs could finally join the fray, punching through weakened kinetic barriers whose emitters were slagged into molten ruin.

Once close enough, Blakes Vision launched its capital missiles, massive weapons the size of fighters hurtling towards an unlucky Geth frigate. The element zero spent and lost in each of the heavily armed missiles made them rare, expensive, on par with a brand-new element zero equipped fighter, but that was the price to be paid. One by one, they were intercepted and destroyed by the Geth's GARDIAN defenses, until two finally reached their target sufficiently intact. Like the small and numerous disruptor torpedoes the aliens preferred, they breached the kinetic barriers and tore gaping wounds into the hull.

The frigate was not destroyed, but it was fatally wounded. Firewing contributed to the withering barrage on the wreck, finishing it off and avenging the Ice Crow. One of Firewing's weapon mounts was knocked offline by a lucky slug penetrating its kinetic barrier, but the Geth were not doing too well themselves, riddled all over with steadily accumulating damage.

The two sides did not fall through each other. The Geth were not so foolish as to permit the humans to engage at point blank range where their spinal guns could not track fast enough. Rather, they passed each other by at a close distance, the aliens giving one final volley before turning tail and pulling away.

"Lots of chatter between Blake's Vision and Winterchill, captain."

"The Precentor's trying to tell the Clanners to stop, I suspect," Captain Tera drily commented. "Doubt it will work." Her dropship was beginning to run hot and show some worrying weak points in the armor, and the others couldn't be faring better. But with the Geth losing a frigate, even she was beginning to feel the urge to continue. "Continue pursuing the Geth for now."

Once more, the range widened, until Geth turned and brought their spinal weapons to bear, and once more, the humans pressed in. This time around, the Geth finally unleashed their fighters, the wing hurled towards the task force once the two fleets were fully engaged with each other. The human fighters raced to intercept, careful to stay out of the GARDIAN's range.

The Geth fighters swung in from the side, towards the Solidarity, before suddenly changing direction again as the Capellan dropship sought to evade their attention. The human fighters, hurtling to screen the Solidarity, were out of position to intercept. Captain Tera's eyes glanced away from damage assessment towards their predicted trajectory, intersecting with Captain Borti's Fangwind, on the edge of the human task force and now no longer supported by Solidarity.

The dropship redirected its lasers towards the fast and nimble fighters. It didn't miss, turning several of the incoming wing into glowing scrap. The survivors bore down on the dropship, evading the hail of mass accelerator fire and unleashing their payloads of short-ranged disruptor torpedoes. With the lasers still cooling down from targeting the fighters, the torpedoes were only impeded by a desperate LRM launch and mass accelerator volley that took down too few of them. The results were too predictable.

"Fangwind is badly damaged, kinetic barriers are down, minimal thrust." Even as Captain Tera heard the assessment, the Geth were turning their attention to the vulnerable dropship. The Geth fighters, trapped by inertia, flew onwards into the other human ships and disintegrated under vengeful retaliation, while the Fangwind was gutted by multiple slugs, the dead hulk tumbling away into the cold void. "No escape pods detected."

"We can't help them." Captain Tera voiced, discipline and training diverting her attention away from Captain Borti's tomb. "Only make sure their sacrifice is not in vain." Empty words, for the Geth began to break contact, weathering the parting shots the Firewing inflicted on them. The fighters could not pursue alone into the deathtrap of GARDIAN point defences, and unable to catch up with the Geth, the task force ceased pursuit at Precentor Lipeltic's command, only ComStar's Candlelight following them towards the edge of the system to ensure the Geth were indeed leaving. The other surviving vessels broke off, redirecting themselves towards Itrom.

On the Firewing's sensors, the Fangwind's wreckage continued on its path, moving too fast to be caught by Itrom's gravity well. One of the Free Worlds League fighters was approaching it to search for survivors, but Captain Tera knew the odds. There was little hope for survivors from either the Captain Borta's crew or the Icechill. "Prepare a shuttle for launch," she commanded. Precentor Lipeltic had a preference for in-person meetings with the dropship captains. Once Candlelight confirmed the Geth were gone, Captain Tera expected a summons to Blake's Vision.

Part 3[]

CSS Blake's Vision''
Itrom Orbit
Aurigan Reach, Periphery

If there was one thing Captain Tera missed about the obsolete dropships lacking element zero, it was the gravity generated by their thrust. On the way to and from the jumpships waiting at jump points, the dropships were under constant acceleration, providing the illusion of gravity to the occupants. Blake's Vision, now in stable orbit around Itrom, had left its engines idle, leaving Captain Tera floating in microgravity. The minor forces from sporadic burns to change orbits, in case the Geth were planning a flyby themselves, were insufficient. Captain Tera couldn't slam her hand against the metal table the captains were floating around with the appropriate impact, so she made do with her voice.

"You let Captain Borta die!" She angrily accused Captain Zheng, calmly sitting two seats away from her. "The Solidarity abandoned the Fangwind to the Geth fighters."

The Capellan sucked at his drink bulb's straw, apparently unfazed by her outburst. "Captain Borta's death is a tragedy," he calmly answered, "but casualties are to be expected in war. I had expected the Fangwind to pull closer to Blake's Vision instead of staying its course. You have my regrets and sympathy, but his overconfidence was not my fault."

Captain Tera had relinquished her personal weapons to the ComStar marine complement, so she could only snarl, "You Cappy weasel, don't you dare blame Captain Borta for your cowardice. I'd challenge you to a duel, except you're a backstabbing slug with no honor." Captain Zheng frowned, and Captain Tera coldly wondered if he would actually demand a duel.

"Enough," Precentor Lipeltic cut the Capellan's death sentence short, glaring at the two of them. "Blake's beard, I cannot afford more dead captains, understood? I expect you two to behave professionally as long as you are under my command. The battle data will be passed on to an inquisition to judge. If you have an issue with each other, wait until we are relieved, or so Blake help me." The Precentor turned her head towards Star Commodore McKenna. "And you, Star Commodore. Our losses lie on your head, on your insubordination. The Star Admiral will hear of your actions, whether once the HPG here is repaired or from me personally."

"I stand by my action, Precentor," the Clanner boldly declared. "There was insufficient time for a Trial of Refusal against your foolish commands, but I am prepared for a Trial of Combat, personal combat, one-on-one, if you truly intend to settle this matter quickly."

Captain Tera frowned at the Star Commodore's use of Clan traditions. The man surely knew only the other Clanners from his own Clan Snow Raven would consider them acceptable. The Precentor apparently felt the same way, from the way she scowled. "The Normandy Initiative is not a Clan. Such methods are prohibited," she slowly replied. "The Snow Raven Khan agreed his Clan forces would follow Inner Sphere customs while part of Normandy Relay, and you should respect his decision."

He grinned defiantly. "The laws have yet to be set in stone, Precentor Lipeltic. Mayhaps a precedent could be set."

"Maybe you Clanners could actually follow orders." Captain Tera threw out. "Had you actually listened to the Precentor, the Fangwind would still be alive."

"She was wrong!" Star Commodore McKenna snapped. "The odds were in our favor. If Fleet Hastings runs from every such opportunity, we may as well not be here, for all the good it does the Star League!"

"Fleet Hastings could never hope to secure the Reach by itself," Precentor Lipeltic countered. "We must conserve our strength, and threaten the Geth invading the Periphery as a fleet in being, in addition to gaining information on their capabilities and strategy. The battle here was completely unnecessary."

"Neg," the Clanner scoffed. "To threaten them, and to know their capabilities, we need to harm them. They are far from their homes, the Geth. Any losses they take are irreplaceable. We destroyed a frigate, and the rest of their squadron is badly damaged."

"Our own losses are also irreplaceable," the Crimson Steed's Precentor, a rank lower than Precentor Lipeltic, pointed out. "My engine can be repaired at a shipyard, and the Crimson Steed is still combat capable. But it will take time for the rest of Normandy Auriga to arrive. You heard the damage assessment from each of us. The task force is incapable of combat without lengthy repairs now."

Pure Night's Star Captain answered, "Better to fight than to cower and watch the Geth run rampant through the Star League. We now hold this system."

"We do not." Precentor Lipeltic corrected. "The task force has neither the strength nor time to defend Itrom. If the Geth bring in a fresh squadron, we would have to flee. Even you must recognize that, Star Commodore. The task force will withdraw to Mechdur for repairs and resupply. We will leave behind what ground assets can be spared to support Itrom's local forces, and the Crimson Steed will stay to watch the system and assist Itrom's government as much as it can. Until we make contact with Star Admiral Sukhanov or Normandy Auriga Command, Star Commodore McKenna, I expect you to follow orders."

"Star Admiral Sukhanov would approve my course. Normandy Auriga has finally struck a blow against the vile invaders. Soon, we shall drive the Geth out from the Star League." Star Commodore McKenna grimaced. "If he decides I was in the wrong, I will offer surkai to you, and accept punishment for my errors. But I will await his judgement, not yours, Precentor. Nevertheless, I say the Ice Crow and Fangwind fell honourably in battle, and their sacrifice was worth it."

It would be up to the Captain-General of the Free Worlds League to decide if Fangwind's sacrifice was worthwhile, Captain Tera thought to herself. If Normandy Auriga kept accumulating such losses, the Free Worlds League would do well to let others shoulder the cost. It would be preferable if Captain Zheng, for instance, were the one to die for the Star League.

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