The remaining six raider crafts gave chase. Doggedly they pursued the giant, not quite as manoeuvrable Aluen, forgetting all about the five escort ships. This gave Arronanto the opportunity he needed. He and his escort ships swarmed the nearest raider craft, quickly knocking out shields. Arronanto managed to hit the raider craft’s tail before having to swoop away as the raiders began baring down on the annoying gnats that were the escort ships.
Arjuna tried to get a hit on the damaged raider craft to finish it off but the craft just barely got away before she was forced to turn her attention back to the other five raiders. Luckily, Dennethom, who had been watching the battle intently from the control room was able to use the grid to swiftly destroy the burning ship hurtling towards the ground.
It seemed dishonourable not taking them as prisoners, but the raiders worried him. They were not warriors. They didn’t have a code. And they wouldn’t give up without a fight. Drawing the combat to the ground would be a very bad idea. As he watched the defence grid take out a second raider in a giant fireball, he knew this was the right thing to do.
Up in the air, Arronanto whooped as his escort ships took out two more raiders. The Aluen had destroyed a second raider ship that refused to quit. Arjuna fired off more volt cannons which quickly knocked out the last raider’s shields. The ship had nowhere else to go. The rest of its group had already been destroyed. Arjuna tapped her comms. “Attention raider craft. There’s no one left to help you. Surrender immediately, land your craft and we will let you live.”
The raider craft responded by firing another volley that did little against the Aluen’s impressive shields.
Dennethom could almost feel his sister’s hesitation. There was no honour in executing the conquered. But raiders didn’t have honour. They wouldn’t surrender easily. “Do it,” he whispered into Arjuna’s headset aboard the Aluen. Arjuna agreed.
With a press of a button the raider ship exploded in a giant smoke plume that for a few seconds made it impossible for Arjuna to see anything. Finally, as the smoke subsided and the wreckage fell to the ground, thankfully, well away from the township, she gave the order to Jora to land the Aluen.
“Power up the engines, Jora. We have contact,” Arjuna said as she sat down in the co-pilot seat.
She could suddenly feel a flood of adrenaline run through her, and something different, something feral, a need to protect her child from the evil ravaging raiders that would scorch this planet if they got the chance.
On his small escort craft, Arronanto found himself having similar feelings as he lifted off. He thought of Drapaudi and his mother, sitting at home with his niece and nephew and his unborn child. No, he would make certain the raiders failed.
First contact with the raiders occurred 50 kilometres north of the township. Four escort ships greeted the raiders, their volt cannon ports open. Dennethom had wanted to save the escort ships as a second line of defence, however Arronanto suggested they wait to reveal the Aluen. Let the raiders think they were only dealing with a few colony ships and use up precious fuel and ammunition.
It was a game of tag and the raider ships were “it”. The escort ships took carefully aimed pot shots before darting away. The smaller crafts whizzed between the larger, though equally agile, raider ships. Arronanto had been a little worried about the piloting skills of the local escort pilots, but seeing them in action he knew he needn’t have worried.
“We’ve warmed them up. Now they’re all yours,” Arronanto said into his comms link.
With that he pulled away, and the other escort ships followed him. Silently, almost invisible, the Aluen appeared. With a powerful, thundering boom, the Boentu ship fired its heavy volt cannons at one of the raiders knocking out the ship’s shields in one blow.
The startled raider ships turned to swarm on the Aluen, but Arjuna wasn’t worried. The Aluen swooped up and out of reach of the raider crafts just as she fired a volt cluster, destroying an already damaged raider ship.
“One down,” she murmured and ordered Jora to pull back out of the fray.
“I don’t like this,” Drapaudi said, her lips pressed tightly together as Dennethom nuzzled his son.
“You’ll be safer here with Xien,” he replied, patiently.
Xien stood stiffly in the corner watching as the future leader of Boentu said goodbye to his family. Xien didn’t want to stay. His place was with the Aluen. But Dennethom needed to know someone he trusted watched over his kin.
“You’re certain it’s better we stay here and not evacuate with the colonists?” Yasana asked as she gave her son a hug.
“Yes. Like I said, we’re away from town. This compound puts out a tiny heat signature. They won’t give us a second thought.”
“That must be why you left Xien with a couple of volt cannons,” Drapaudi said dryly.
“Just in case a raider ship makes it through. Which they won’t.” He kissed her. “I also made sure that part of the defence grid will be covering this region.”
Drapaudi smiled, and gave her husband a hug. “Keep Arro, Jora and Arjuna safe,” she whispered.
The waiting was the hard part. Sitting in the control room of the defence grid with the mayor, and a crew of skilled workers Dennethom was antsy. He knew his brother and sister would be feeling the same way, sitting in their respective crafts on the ground, waiting for word that the raiders had been sighted.
The radiers didn’t arrive immediately. A full-day after they expected them Dennethom finally received word that the raiders were in-system. They must have had a tough time navigating the asteroid belt. Good, Dennethom thought. Maybe it would help even the odds.
Sure enough the raiders were on a course for their township. It was no surprise. The colony had grown out of the small township, and it was still the centre of commerce.
Dennethom tapped his comms link.
“Wow,” Nyal said, as he walked up the ramp of the Aluen.
The ship had been hidden away beneath a large rocky over-hang. Jora normally kept the overhang covered, but this time he left it clear so that Nyal could find his way to the ship. When Dennethom had asked to meet Nyal at those coordinates, he had no idea he would be seeing such an advanced craft.
“What kind of fire power is this capable of?” Nyal asked, gazing all about him.
“Standard ship-mounted volt cannons. Also volt cluster bombs.”
“You came on a battleship?” Nyal asked, his eyebrows raised.
Dennethom shifted uncomfortably. “The ship would need volt torpedoes to make that classification.”
“Oh,” Nyal replied. “Wow. I didn’t realise Boentu monks travel with such fire power.”
They didn’t, but Dennethom wasn’t about to make that known. “We are Boentu,” he replied with a shrug.
“Are you leading the defence on this ship?” Nyal asked.
Dennethom shook his head. “No. Sister Arjuna is captaining this ship. She and Brother Jora will provide the main battery of fire. My,” he hesitated. He had almost said ‘my brother’ but caught himself in time. “Brother Arronanto will be with the escort ships providing a secondary line of defence. I will be down on the ground at the defence grid, working to pick off any ships that made it through.”
Nyal was impressed. “It sounds like you’ve done this before.”
“We’ve trained for it,” Dennethom replied. “I wish we could weaponize a few more ships.”
“Me too,” Nyal agreed. “But there’s no time. Those ships are better off being used to evacuate the colony. “
“And how is that coming?”
“We’re sending families off as fast as we can to the southern hemisphere.” Nyal sighed. “I never thought when we were beginning construction on the new settlement site that it would be used for something like this.”
“It’s for the best,” Dennethom said. “This ship is powerful, but from the looks of it, so is the fire power on those raider ships.”
“Do you think we’ll come through this okay?” Nyal asked.
Dennethom shrugged. “It’s difficult to say. There’s seven raider ships. We’re out-numbered.”
“If we do survive this,” Nyal began. “You’ll have to tell me more about your religion and why a Boentu monk needs to own a such heavy fire power.”
So this is it,” Arronanto remarked. “Even as monks we can’t seem to escape doing battle.”
“Some of us will,” Dennethom said, looking pointedly at his sister.
Arjuna glared defiantly at her older brother, the hackles on the back of her neck starting to rise. “I’m going with you. You know I am.”
Dennethom snarled and stood up. Frustrated, he stalked around the room. “You have a daughter to think about Arjuna. You can’t just take off with us to go fight raiders. What will will become of Nerita if something happens to you?”
Arjuna snorted in disgust. “What about you? Both of you! Dennethom, you have a son” she said. “And you,” she added turning to Arronanto who was doing his best impression of a statue, “you have a child on the way. Why do you two get to go into battle but I don’t?”
Dennethom snarled again, impatiently. “It’s our job Arjuna. It is our job to protect this family.”
“And my job also, in case you forgot,” Arjuna responded quietly. The finality in her tone told Dennethom there was no use arguing with her.
“Fine,” Dennethom replied, taking a deep breath. “Then we need to prepare for battle.”
“So this is what we know,” Dennethom began, as he paced around the ward room of the Aluen. “Skora has some planetary defences already in place, but not much.”
“But there is a planetary defence grid, correct?” Arjuna interrupted.
Dennethom grimaced. The pair were still acting cool with each other, ever since Dennethom had tried to keep her from the fight.
“Yes there is. However, it’s never been used in combat. It’s designed to stop stray asteroids from hitting the planet.” Skora was located next to a large asteroid belt.
“Didn’t Sarno also have a defence grid?” Jora asked. He and Xien were also sitting in on the meeting.
“From what Nyal tells me, the colony was taken by surprise. They didn’t have time to activate the grid. Luckily, that won’t be the case with us. Unfortunately, the grid can’t protect the entire planet, which, depending on the strength of the raiders, still leaves us wide open for an attack.
“The last thing we want to do is let the raiders land.” Dennethom paused. “The mayor of Skora sent scouts to Sarno. Nyal showed me the pictures they sent back. These raiders are vicious. They’re not just trying to survive. They enjoy killing.”
“So we need to fight them from the air,” Xien surmised.
“Precisely. Unfortunately, most of the ships on Skora are cargo ships. There are a handful of escort ships used on the supply routes. These are the only ones with weapons. Which is why we’re here, on the Aluen.” Dennethom sighed. “This is the most advanced ship, probably in the outer rim. I don’t see that we have any choice but to reveal the Aluen.”
Arjuna and Arronanto nodded their head in quiet agreement but Jora felt forced to speak up. “Forgive me Tsalu Dennethom, but my priority is to keep you and your family safe. To that end, the best option would be to depart on the Aluen before the raiders arrive.”
“I understand what you’re saying Jora. But we cannot leave the colonists here to fend for themselves. It’s simply not the honourable thing to do.” Dennethom wasn’t disappointed in Jora. He knew Jora would never run away from a fight. It’s just he was sworn to protect the line of Boentu leaders at all costs.
Jora nodded his head. “We’ll make sure the Aluen is ready for combat.”
Puzzled Dennethom ushered Nyal inside. After their guest was seated and Arronanto had given Nyal some water, he began to explain himself.
“Please understand, I’m only here as a representative of the company. However, I spoke to the mayor and he agrees with my ideas.”
“What ideas?” Dennethom asked, puzzled.
“I saw you out in the market today,” he said, addressing Dennethom. “I was wondering if perhaps you heard the rumours about the raider attack.”
“On Sarno?” Dennethom asked. “Yes. I heard something like that. But what does this have to do with-”
“-it’s a lot worse than just raiders,” Nyal interrupted. “They took out the entire colony. The only reason we know anything about it is because of the supply run. Company regional headquarters was on Sarno. It’s gone, and all the people with it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Dennethom replied, trying not to sound callous.
“You don’t understand. Their next stop is Skora.”
Arronanto eyed his brother wearily. “Are you sure?” Dennethom asked.
Nyal nodded his head. “There’s no doubt about it. Skora’s the only other major planet out here. Our tracking system predicts they’ll be here within a day.”
Dennethom felt his heartbeat quicken. The raiders were coming here?
“What about local security forces?” Arronanto asked.
This far out into the outer rim of the Arcturus System, the nearest help was a local detachment of armed security.
“There’s not enough time. The raiders will already have swept through by the time they arrive.”
Dennethom’s eyes narrowed. “What do you need from me, Nyal?”
Nyal shrugged. “I understand you’re a monk and you’re committed to a life of peace. But what you did before, saving me, that took courage that only Boentu might have. That’s what we need right now, Boentu warriors. You monks are probably better trained in this type of situation than any of the colonists here.”
Arronanto watched Dennethom searching for a reaction. Nyal was right. Even Boentu monks are trained in combat. The room filled with silence as Dennethom frantically thought through his options. He didn’t want to commit to a conflict. But they had come to him for help. And no matter how important their cover was, they were warriors. They couldn’t stand back and allow the colonists to be slaughtered. If only the security forces could get here sooner. But he knew Nyal wouldn’t have come unless it was their only option. Besides, the raiders were a danger to his family. Really, there was no decision to make.
“I’ll do what I can to help.”
Nyal looked relieved.
“Just give us the coordinates for the raider ships so we can track them,” Arronanto advised. He too was relieved. He had been afraid his brother would want to turn and run.
“We’ll need accurate information about your own planetary defences so we can plan a counter-attack,” said Arjuna,entering from an adjacent room. Dennethom glared at his sister but she blithely ignored him. “We’ll also need to know everything we can about their attack on Sarno. It’ll give us an idea of how they like to operate,” she added.
Nyal’s head bobbed up and down on his shoulder, and he grinned nervously.
“The mayor will be grateful to learn of your assistance.”
He clasped hands with all three siblings, promising to return with all the information they requested.