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Novkey > Library > The Rest > The Starlight Fortress

The Starlight Fortress

Chapter 29

Author: FionaR Total hits: 4581 User hits: 29 Date: 03-21-2014

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Watching the defeated Sparklish fleets running toward the Trawtle, Rafael rallied his twelve squadrons and proceeded to the other battlefield. He had just received a message from the emperor regarding his performance. The praise, after being broadcast to all his ships, had greatly boosted the morale of his officers and soldiers. Consisting of mercenaries from non-Thypholian countries, the Imperial Fleets had to put up with hand-down armaments from the Central Fleets. Rafael was never a believer of fancy equipment. Hadn’t Bobbins been bragging about his Triumphants since the Battle of the New Pathway? Now the enemy seemed to have cracked open that technique.

But once they passed by Planet RB-5 and approached the battlefield ahead, Rafael received a warning from his colleagues. The fortress hadn’t applied the gravity trick since the beginning of the battle, but all of a sudden it came into play. And this time, only the trajectories of missiles fired by the Thypholians were altered; the fortress, together with some of the Sunpherean ships and planes, could still fire at its targets with high accuracy. This new trick had been creating unilateral damage to their Central Fleets.

“End of the game!” he heard someone murmuring in the background. “I once had a nightmare like that.”

Rafael walked up to the front of the bridge and peered through a window. Even at such a distance, the silhouette of the starfish could be easily identified among the sea of warships.

“Sir, should we stop here?” one of his officers asked.

“No, keep going,” Rafael said without moving his gaze away from the battlefield. The familiar sense of confidence and anticipation came back to him. In the past, this feeling occurred every time he did something that surprised everyone, including himself.

“And I’d like to have a word with my Hornet Squadron.”

The officer behind him handed him an intercom. He needed not to look at the video to know that the twenty-four pilots, who had been handpicked by him from the entire fleet, were standing solemnly in the Ready Room, anxious for their first mission since the beginning of the battle.

“Guys, you’ve probably heard about the situation. The enemy is manipulating the gravity field ahead, with such a speed and intensity that even our guided missiles couldn’t hit targets. Well, not from a distance. Our elite fellows in the Central Fleets are scared of the new technique, staying away from it. But you know I’m not a believer of technology. I believe when electrical circuits are deemed too slow, when computer programs fail to compute, you, human beings, could still finish your job. Help me prove that we are superior to machines.”

Now they were close enough for him to make out the details of the fortress’s five limbs.

“See the branch on the lower left with fewer lights? It has their ammunition storage. Now I want you to fly over that branch and drop your babies when you are close to it. With the gravity field working against you, you’ll have a hard time staying on a straight course. Some of you will miss your target, some might be hit by the enemy, but some will succeed. Questions?”

“No, sir!” The intercom vibrated with determined voices.

“Good. I hope you could teach our colleagues what real fighters do. Now go ahead. His Majesty is watching. The world is watching. And this is your show.”

Rafael told the rest of his fleet to stop marching, while his flagship kept moving until he reached the front. The fortress was still engaged with somebody’s ships, but he had no interest in finding out. A moment later, he saw the twenty-four fighters zooming out in a single column. As the planes got closer to the fortress, they jerked and rolled and tottered like drunkards. The first fighter fired and missed its target. The second crashed into the limb. The third made a hit. Meanwhile, the enemy seemed to have realized what was going on. The fortress fired fiercely at the rest of the planes and its limbs started rotating, which made it a lot harder for his pilots to aim at an individual limb. More misses, more crashes, yet by the time the last plane went through, there was a visible hole in that limb and all the lights beyond that point had gone off.

“Yes!” People cheered behind him, but Rafael remained cool. The fortress was now rotating at a speed that was too high for them to apply the same strategy.

“Sir, enemy’s coming!”

Hearing the warning, he turned to the situation map. Two groups of ships had bypassed the fortress and were heading to his fleet, one from twelve o’clock and another from six o’clock. With his flagship staying put, the rest of the fleet split and moved forward to meet the incoming enemy.

Fine! He threw another look at the fortress ahead. He’d think of something to deal with it later, or maybe he wouldn’t need to. He had a feeling that the enemy just wanted to get out of here.

* * *

Since the introduction of the rapidly fluctuating gravity field, RA’s allied forces had begun gaining local advantages. Now the battle seemed to have hit a dead end: the Thypholian troops tried to stay away from the fortress, whereas the Sunphereans were reluctant to leave the fortress or they would be significantly outnumbered. Given that it would be meaningless to continue the fight, a teleconference was arranged between Jonathan and Pompey in hopes of reaching a truce. Meanwhile, RA’s fleets had begun an organized retreat.

Rafael was checking the casualty report when Bobbins’s image appeared on a screen.

“Admiral Tait, I’m chasing the Sunpherean Second Fleet right now. Could you stop them ahead, just like what I did for you earlier?”

Rafael frowned. “Sir, His Majesty is currently speaking to the head of the enemy. I’m sure the battle will end soon.”

“Oh yeah, you’ve played enough to call it a day. But how do you explain the release of the Sparklish fleets early on?”

“Their ships were unable to function any more. Firing at them would’ve been the same as slaughtering captives.”

“I wish the enemy were equally merciful to us. All right, it’s up to you! I could see the Sunpherean fleet still has some working ships.”

Rafael pounded at the table in front of him after Bobbins’s face disappeared. He’d had enough of that guy! When his pilots attacked the fortress, Bobbins’s ships were crouching at the farthest corner. Now it was the coward’s time to build up his score.

“Move sideways,” he told his captains. “This is not our business anymore.”

But the Sunphereans weren’t the same as the Sparklish. Once they saw through Bobbins’s intention, they turned back and re-formed, ready for further engagements. Rafael watched his old buddies from a distance, guilt and pride rolling inside his chest. That was the right action! A troop is most vulnerable during a retreat because one simply couldn’t fight effectively while he’s on the run. He even heard his officers applauding for their enemy.

And deep inside, he wished he were still on the other side. He used to feel he was treated unfairly. Now, looking from the outside with a different angle, he realized he might have been wrong. He remembered Oakley, the admiral’s endless effort to help his development, the constant encouragements, the solicitude, the gratified smile every time he achieved something …

“Oh! Which ship is it?” he heard his officers speaking. “That looks terrible! … I think it’s done.”

It took Rafael a while to recognize the badly wounded Levitation, the supercarrier that had served as his flagship for a short period of time.

“Must be a flagship,” someone else said. “What’s that guy’s name? Maurice … no, Memphis Oakley! You think he’s still in there?”

The muscles on Rafael’s neck tensed up as he moved closer to the window. The stern of that carrier was completely gone. Dents and cracks were all over its hull. The bow was relatively intact—that was where the bridge was located—but it looked like the whole ship was going to collapse in any minute. He stood still for a moment, his chest heaving painfully. Then he moved over to a cabin and grabbed two sets of spacesuits.

“Sir …” he heard people calling from behind. Without a second thought, he ran out of the bridge toward the nearest emergency exit.

* * *

The ship jolted Oakley to the floor. Through all the alarms and cracking noise, he heard one of his officers calling him, “Admiral, are you all right? … Come this way!” He was pulled up and led to a hatch, where a surge of flames blew them back into the bridge. His hair and clothes had all caught fire, but the burning of the skin was nothing compared with the searing pain in his eyes. This is the day, he thought as he stumbled aimlessly around. Fine, many of his young subordinates had left years earlier, and what was sad about a soldier who died at a battlefield?

Then he felt a firm hand grabbing his arm and dragging him along. He didn’t know how far he had walked when the temperature around him suddenly dropped, and there must be a leak in the ship since it was more and more difficult to breathe. Then he heard the rustling of a spacesuit and found himself being dressed like a kid.

“Forgive what I did, sir,” a familiar voice sounded at his side.

Something large and heavy fell from above and crushed him to the floor. Rafael … He couldn’t call the name as his lung collapsed due to the unbearable weight, but his heart was filled with joy. His boy was back! He could die now. This wasn’t too bad …

Gradually, the item on his back was lifted up. Then he felt a strong push on his side and immediately he was free of any surrounding, floating at a fast speed into space. “Rafael!” he shouted inside his helmet. A small item hit him from behind, and he could feel the explosion of the carrier. With an agony rising up in his heart and eating his flesh, he wished he were dead, right at the moment.
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