“Petros, form on me. There’s a gunship towards the back that’s picking us off, and we need to take it out!”
“Roger. Take the lead!” Came the reply. They weaved through the enemy formation, unleashing guns and missiles and blasting another half-dozen fighters before the gunship became clear enough to fire at. A neural impulse from Grafton caused his missile launchers to load anti-shield warheads laced with particles custom-tailored to rip away the kinds of shields the Great Enemy used.
They closed to a thousand kilometers, and Grafton squeezed the trigger. A pair of missiles streaked away, the micro-replicators in his launchers crafting a replacement pair out of pure energy and firing a second pair a half-second later. He fired six pairs and peeled away as defensive fire began to stitch the air around him, yellowed bolts that left hazy afterimages in their passing. He saw Vickson’s salvo follow his, and the missiles impacted with the gunship’s shields. Arcs of lightning rippled along the shields for a second until they collapses, and the last couple missiles hit the gunship, hurting it, though only superficially.
Grafton tried to come about for another pass, his neural impulse changing his missiles to micro-thalite warheads, designed to rip apart solid matter at the molecular level. Before he could complete his turn, enemy fire streaked past him, and he banked and rolled to avoid it. His sensor data showed two enemy fighters trying to get him from behind, and they were proving difficult to shake.
“Petros, get these guys off me, and I’ll go for the gunship!” He suddenly cut his main thrusters, and put his maneuvering jets into overdrive, flipping him around in under a second, then hit his afterburners to streak past the two fighters that were behind him a moment earlier. Petros split off and chased after them, blasting one almost immediately.
The gunship loomed ahead, its main cannon looking almost ready to fire again. He wasn’t quite in missile lock range yet, but he fired a couple pairs anyway. Most ultimately went wide, only one striking the flank of the ship. The lock began to track, but just before it completed, another blast of fire slammed into his shields, and he reflexively peeled away. Another fighter was coming at him from his left and above, and he wasn’t in a good angle to weave out of the fire and stay moving towards the gunship.
He hesitated for a second, deciding whether to keep himself safe or probably get himself killed bringing down the gunship. It was either him or another pilot. Maybe more pilots if no one else got to the gunship soon. He rolled and banked slightly, keeping the gunship roughly within his view. He saw his port shields were collapsing, and cycled the power from his guns to them, but otherwise ignored it. An enemy missile slammed into his backside, and he struggled to maintain his course. A shot from the gunship smashed into his forward shields, scrambling his lock again.
Even as he began to squeeze the trigger to fire the missiles a second later, he knew he wouldn’t get to fire enough of them to bring the ship down, and certainly not before it would fire its gun again. He saw the gun begin to glow again as it charged up to fire, the delay between the glow and firing far less reduced at this distance.
Just as it was likely about to fire, a spear of pure white energy punched through it. For all Grafton could see, it seemed as if the blast had come straight from the sun itself. He tried to look towards the sun, but its glare obscured whatever it was had fired. The spear punched clear through the gunship with such force it began to split in half along its midsection, only to explode with unrelenting violence a second later, the potential of its impending gunshot turned towards its own destruction instead.
Through the fire he saw something emerge at the head of a contrail of propulsion fire. The shape flew at blazing speeds towards a nearby fighter and there was a flash of green. An instant later the fighter was cut in half and it exploded. The shape was followed by three more, weapons blazing at the Great Enemy fighters around them.
The first came closer to Grafton, and he could finally discern its form. It was humanoid in shape; a head and torso, two arms and legs. It looked vaguely like an ancient suit of plate mail armor, though with modern accoutrements. It bore a huge mechanical tower shield in one hand, and a battle rifle longer than Grafton’s fighter in the other. On its back was a massive propulsion pack that blazed with energy exhausts, and the eyes of its ornate helmet glowed green from the sensor pods within. In all, the craft, which Grafton recognized as an All-Terrain Suit, was several times the size of his fighter.
It turned towards Grafton, and raised its rifle. A burst of white-hot energy blasts erupted from the rifle, ripping apart the fighter that was hammering Grafton. In the space of only several seconds, he went from being certain he was about to die to feeling the first glimmer of hope they would win this fight. The All-Terrain Suits were hardly invincible, but their sheer versatility in battle gave them the ability to turn the tide in some of the most desperate fights.
“This is Major Vasilius, Numberg Dalath Squad. Apologies for the lateness, the Admiral wanted us to flank the battlegroup here.”
“Lieutenant Grafton, Echo Squad. No worries, just glad you’re finally here. Let’s finish cleaning up this mess. Echo Squad! Reform on me!” A quick check revealed there were five others of Echo Squad still flying, and they were still outnumbered at least 4:1, but the ATS’ would easily counter-balance that.
It was a shame there weren’t more of them, but few humans were capable of handling it. The pilots had to spend a full year just adapting their brains to the neural interface that fully linked them to their machines. While Grafton’s neural link allowed him to input basic commands with his mind to facilitate faster responses in a combat situation, the pilots of the Suits essentially became one with their machines. Less than 10% of all applicants finished the training process, and those that did were forever changed, removed in some ways from the rest of humanity and aloof.
Petros and the rest of Echo Squad fell in at Grafton’s sides, and they came about to engage another group of Enemy fighters. The squad of Numberg-type suits blazed through the void to their right, the contrails on their backs appearing for all the world like flaming angel wings. Grafton knew the Suits were powered entirely by gravitic drives and didn’t need the rockets at all, but still it made them into an imposing form. He briefly wondered if whatever creatures were flying the Great Enemy ships felt any fear at the sight of the Suits. His speculation was interrupted as more incoming fire fought for his attention once more.