November 1st, 2066
Near-orbit, Planet Helios
Where had it all gone wrong?
Eric’s mind came back to that thought. He sat in space, his body as broken as the variable fighter around him. The shell of a battloid rotated ever so slowly in its languid fall towards Helios. That such a horrific battle should grip the planet again was a shame. Eric could feel the remaining fugitives below, their terror palpable to his senses. Even now their life energy was waning, barely worth the effort of the enemy now descending upon them.
This was not the future he had seen. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. All around him was an unknown and unknowable reality.
He strained, with utterly futile effort, against the seat restraints, willing limbs that were quickly going numb to reach out, to grasp controls and somehow force his fighter to move again. Battle pods and fighter craft swarmed around him, driving past, diving on the N.U.N.S. defenders and the various PMC forces still remaining. They swam past him like a school of fish, indifferent to the wreck in their midst and unconcerned as they fell upon their prey. Eric gritted his teeth as pain washed over him. His eyes darted over the ruined controls, seeking a way to lash out, to strike one last time at the forces around him. A single round from his gunpod would have done, but that had long been spent and now lay in a ruined manipulator that could not have obeyed his command.
Things were slowing now around him, darkness clawing at the edge of his vision. Giving up on his physical efforts, Eric stretch out with his mind, encompassing the battlefield with his senses. He found Meg first, the easiest considering the expenditure of energy she was producing. She blazed away, a beacon in his mind’s eye, fury and anger consuming her. Droves of the enemy died by her will, washed over in white hot plasma fire or taken by what little ordinance she had left. She railed against the swarm set before her, even whilst she was being surround and pressed on all sides. It was only a matter of time before the unit that had so effectively dispatched Eric got to her. And then Eric feared she would die, unwilling to run any more. He could feel the killing stroke coming, and he knew, without question, why he was being permitted to see it.
Dwer appeared to him next. The man was fighting for his homeworld, possessed of mentality that brought fighter combat to an intuitive art form. Compared to Eric’s passionate last charge Dwer was cold, broken by the realization that, no matter what effort was given, his planet was doomed. So Dwer fought, a demon lord of battle, scything through battle pods and carving fighters apart. He was on his fifth looted rifle, his missiles distant memories and his lasers firing as fast as the capacitors could recharge them. The Songbird dipped and soared through the battle, most shells and energy blasts failing to find her skin. Most, but not all. Deep furrows where shots had managed to land told the score, but Dwer, if he even acknowledged it, seemed unconcerned. Even now he pirouetted and brought the energy rifle to bear, slicing one of the ace units in half. The rest of the enemy squadron fell upon him, only to have Dwer use the ever growing debris to slip by, leading them in a deadly game of follow the leader. Two more battle pods died before the rifle’s capacitor failed, so Dwer grabbed a gunpod from a VF-171 wreck and another Zentreadi beam rifle, not even slowing as he brought them to bear and unleashed death. Eric could feel the exhaustion gnawing at the man. Time would rob him of the rest of his reserves before the enemy did, and then they would have him.
Eric’s head rolled with the exhertion, his senses reaching out further. His eyes glanced furtively out of the rent in his cockpit, the cusp of Helios’ curvature drifting into view.
How could it have gone so wrong?
He felt the few souls left alive in the wreck of the Damask Rose. He felt Nick fighting alone in one of the last few air filled compartments. Alexi had died in the fatal blow that had ripped the ship in half. Nick had only survived because of his suit and the emergency airlock slamming shut. Quola had died in her Q-Rhea, the volley of missiles striking the launching bay even as she was moving out. That attack had set off the stores on the other side of the receiving door, tearing the guts out of the ship and annihilating most of her crew. Jo and Tommy had rescued who they could with the combat shuttle. Unfortunately, space became a premium on that ship, and some had chosen to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Nick had led three other brave souls in a desperate bid to make the enemy boarding party pay dearly. Now it was just Nick, making his way toward what remained of the reactor core. Rounds from pursuers thudded into the door frame as Nick pushed off. One found his lower back, pulverizing his hip and kidney and causing him to spasm. Two more rounds found his right leg, all but cleaving it off. Nick responded with his hand cannon; he put a return shot through the face plate of one of the enemy marines and blew the following marine’s spine out the back of his suit. Eric knew what the specialist was about to do. He wanted to cry out, to stay Nick’s hand even as the wounded soldier found his target: the auxiliary fold controls. Taking the last of the reactor’s power, Nick activated the fold engines, opening a fold point with no destination set. The Damask Rose heaved one last time before crashing in on herself, falling into the rip in space-time. The enemy boarding shuttles desperately tried to flee but were sucked down with CCS’s flagship, never to emerge from foldspace. Eric wept for the loss.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This shouldn’t have happened!
Again, Eric reached out with his senses; trying to find any spark of those he had once called friends. His mind settled on the wreck of Rod’s VF-19. Rod, the only one that he had tried to be completely honest with. Rod, the man Eric had tried to warn all those years back but fear had kept him from telling the whole truth. Rod, the man who had most keenly felt the betrayal of Eric’s abandonment. It hadn’t been friendship Eric had been presented with the last time the two had met. It had been pain and resentment. The revelation of Eric’s ultimate manipulations had just added a final dose of bitterness that had broken Rod’s spirit. Eric had only found out, later, that Rod had resigned from CCS following Eric’s departure, and only now had been re-commissioned in the N.U.N.S. as a full Colonel. Eric had seen him, one last time, on the embarkation deck of the NUNSS Dauntless. There had been the pointed moment where both men had stood at about a pace apart, not saying anything. Eric had extended his hand first. He could still feel where Rod had knocked it away.
Bravely had Rod led out the Spacy forces, and bravely had they been slaughtered almost to a man. Some pilots had run at the sight of the forces facing them. The rest had been converted to the enemy forces. Rod had valiantly dived into the fray, desperately trying to save a carrier that had become overrun. If he had seen the fighter pod that had slipped behind him he hadn’t cared as he raced to the defense. To his credit, Rod destroyed the entire bomber squadron before they could do any more damage. He never saw the particle beam that had speared his back and connected with his reactor. There was precious little left to commemorate his existence. Rod’s passing had been the final push that had driven Eric over the edge. Not even Meg had been able to pull him back after that point.
I have brought them to their deaths.
Eric’s VF continued its languid rotation. Helios shone brightly before him. He was having trouble keeping his head up. He was so tired, he arms dead below the elbows, his legs a distant memory. His attention now focused on the planet. Small comfort could be found down there. Equal parts hope and sorrow filled Eric. He could feel Tommy and Jo down at Helios’ major space port. The two were frantically jury rigging an external fold booster to the shuttle. Eric could feel that the enemy was still held at bay long enough for the couple to finish their task and escape with a few more refugees. The NUNS ground forces, led by the last of the Jaegerkin, were selling themselves dearly for the ground they gave up. Eric's heart dropped at the thought. With another spasm of focused effort, he searched for Olga. Having donned a suit of power armor one last time, the flamboyant “mother” to the Jaegers had led the ground counter assault. Deftly, swiftly, and with tremendous force she had struck like a hammer. Using her suit as a beacon she had coordinated artillery strikes and missile bombardments to devastating effect. Too late the warning had come of enemy flanking forces. Cut off and decimated, Olga had been struck down, fighting literally tooth and nail. Even now, two of the remaining Jaeger’s were pulling her from the wreck of her Q-Rhea. One stood defiantly over the crash site, rounds and laser beams burrowing into his body but having little effect at dropping the berserker. He hammered away with paired heavy repeating cannons, his will keeping him upright even as his wounds took his life. The other Jaeger was bounding off with Olga, not knowing that she would be long dead before he ever got her to medical care.
I did this. I am responsible.
Eric’s mind could not hold the scope of the battlefield much longer. That final sleep nibbled at his consciousness, threatening to become a torrent of darkness that would consume him. He found his point of view returning to the frame of reference of his variable fighter. His thoughts turned to the final few members of the group: the survivors. Raylle had finally shed his cover. Now freely Dom, he had led out the first group of refugee ships, punching a hole in the lead elements of the enemy’s scout fleet and buying time for the Helian cargo ships to safely fold away. They had managed to recover his fighter in time to make the jump to Earth. Dom would be the only member of CCS left to make a stand there.
Natalya had led the second group out. Russian sensibilities, or perhaps stubbornness, had seen her likewise deliver her group to safety. Instead of folding out she had refueled and taken her custom VF racing back to the battle. Natalya had even outraced the interceptors sent out after her. At least, she outraced those she had let live. Back at Helios she had rearmed and refueled one last time. She had led out the third and final group of evacuation ships. They had been too late to escape. The ships had been caught and destroyed in short order. The last anyone had seen of Natalya she had been leading four squadrons worth of enemy fighters out into deep space.
Eric found it hard to even concentrate on his own self now. His vision had tunneled. He felt cold. He couldn’t move anything past his shoulders or his hips. His head drooped to his chest. He became distinctly aware of his heartbeat ringing in his ears. The sound drowned out all other noises. It felt so loud, yet so far away. His eyes were closing, despite his effort to keep them open. His body was failing, breaking, plunging down into a coldness that terrified him. Every fiber of him screamed to get up, to fight, to defy.
Kes. Kes had been the one, the only one from CCS, who had accepted his reality. She had obviously not liked the ramifications of Eric’s duplicity, but she had accepted the needs of the moment. She had followed him into battle, leading the CCS fighter forces and drone units according to his battle plan. Even as everything fell apart and she lost pilots Kes had push on, sticking with Eric more closely than even Meg had. It wasn’t out of fanaticism for or faith in Eric, but an understanding and a determination. She pushed through, coordinating the forces so Eric could completely focus on the enemy’s weak points. It may have even been nostalgia for the days when Eric was her ELINT officer, a debt, however dubious, that she had been determined to repay that day. She flew in, no questions, no comments, and dove with him on attack run after attack run. Kes had beaten the odds like no one else who had flown with Eric had, right up until the odds rose so greatly that no one without Eric’s or Meg’s abilities could have survived. The missile volley had been massive, a mix of conventional, reaction, and even MDE warheads spearing for them. Even as Eric had desperately tried to throw any protection around Kes the Meltrandi pilot had known her fate. She pumped round after blast after missile into the volley even as the firestorm engulfed her. Eric had screamed his fury at the loss. He made the enemy task force guilty of the attack pay, tearing them apart with dimensional energy blasts.
He dimly felt the cord around his neck. He felt the weight of the two rings intertwined in the cording. One from Arielle. One from Heather. He had killed them just as assuredly as he had killed all his friends. He knew this. What had been the point? What had been the point of all of it? Why had he even existed if all he was going to do was suffer and fail?
His heart was slowing. He felt the coldness lapping over his shoulders and his back.
Why have the power or endure the torment of it, if it couldn’t have been put to any good use?
Everything was slowing. The beating in his ears. His breathing. The world around him was dimming. Even Helios now seemed to diminish as the enemy engulfed her, the swarm of ships and mecha standing ready to obliterate her. Humanity could not win, could not survive against this foe. Eric knew that. Eric knew that it had been his responsibility to prepare for this battle. To prepare not only himself, but his friends. To show them the danger. To show them their potential.
His vision swam. He couldn’t hear anything anymore. He couldn’t see anything anymore. All he felt was the rings, shifted to rest just above his heart. The metal felt strangely warm.
Ryu…….. or Kell……….. someone………….. else………………………should have….been…….it…….been….. here…..
Eric felt his heart stop. He felt the all encompassing cold. His consciousness raced, briefly aware of the finality that was engulfing him. He was going, and he couldn’t stop.
For the briefest moment, those on Helios saw a bright, warm light flash in the sky before the war machine crashed down upon them.