2949-12-14 – Tales from the Service: Angels at Karma

With very little movement here in Berkant, the media attention has been on Seventh Fleet for the past several days, as that fleet reported its first major offensive success. A small raiding force centered around the light carrier Trafalgar has reportedly attacked and badly damaged an Incarnation repair base in a system not far from Sagittarius Gate identified only by a catalog number in our datasphere. Apparently, the name of the planet in this system to the Incarnation is Karma, so most of the media reports have called this system the same in lieu of reporting only its numeric catalog reference code. 

While not so spectacular a victory as the destruction of the marauding cruisers which had been using this base to harry the Seventh Fleet’s position, Naval Intelligence expects that the damage to the base will severely restrict Incarnation operations in the area for at least a few months, as any damage and wear to their ships can only be repaired at the Incarnation’s home yards, estimated to be at the far side of the Sagittarius Frontier region, two hundred fifty light-years more distant. 

The strangest detail of the Trafalgar raid on the system commonly known now as Karma is one that, in all honesty, I did not expect permission to report. Nevertheless, perhaps doubting its reliability, Naval Intelligence has not restricted this account of one of the strike pilots participating in the operation. 

The first time a silver shape flitted across his peripheral vision, Rewaju Dexter thought it a stray reflection off the hull of one of his squadron mates. As the nine Tarantula strike bombers in his formation were moving in a tight formation, it wouldn’t have been unusual for one of them to come into view ahead of his cockpit as they cautiously adjusted their positions relative to their leader. The sensors revealed only the wan signatures thrown off by his eight compatriots, and those only because they were so close. 

The second time he saw the flashing movement of some foreign object, Rewaju turned his head to look hard in that direction. There was nothing there visible to his eyes or his sensors, but he felt a shiver begin to crawl up his spine. He’d heard and read plenty of accounts of spacers running into strange things in the dark of the Sagittarius Frontier even before war had come, and he certainly didn’t want to have that sort of run-in while his rig was laden with several tons of heavy ordinance. 

Frowning, Rewaju flicked on the intercom connecting him to Archie Zawski, occupying a seat four meters behind him. “Hey Zawski, take a look to port for me.” 

There was a long pause, presumably caused by the ordinance tech doing as instructed. “I don’t see anything, Dexter.” 

Rewaju frowned, calling up the hull cameras on his consoles. “Thought I saw something on visual.”  

According to the bomber’s passive sensors, there shouldn’t have been anything there to cause the flashes, and that made him worry. The Tarantulas were heading for an enemy installation at high velocity but with their drives disengaged, hoping to avoid notice until the last possible moment. If they had picked up a stealthy tail, it meant a lethal reception waited ahead. 

“It’s the dark playing tricks on you. Sure as all hells does that to me if I let it.” 

Rewaju grunted by way of reply, continuing to scan the darkness ahead of him. The only visible star was the system’s primary, already a yellow-orange disk big enough to require the smart-glass lining the inside of his viewpanels to dim its glow. Other than the symbols denoting the positions of the unseen planet ahead and target which orbited it, and the three green indicators representing the locations of the three Tarantulas ahead of his own, nothing else appeared in his view. So far from the star, something would have to be highly reflective to throw off a flash like he thought he’d seen, and anything that reflective would also show up on the sensors. 

“Hey, did I ever tell you about the-” 

“About the critter that tried to eat you at Cold Refuge? About fifty times.” Rewaju smiled. Zawski was an old hand as far as strike crew went; he’d first seen action at the Battle of Cold Refuge more than ten years previously. Most people didn’t last a decade running strike operations, even in peacetime; it was a service for young hotshots, among which Rewaju was happy to count himself. Zawski was as close to a greybeard as any squadron ever had flying; most spacers did only one or two terms as strike crew before they transferred out, washed out, or bought the plot. 

“Er... Yeah, that.” Zawski paused to recover from the perpetual shock of remembering that he’d already told his most interesting story far too many times to the same audience. “Well it started just like – woah!” 

Rewaju saw the flitting silver shape this time with more than the corner of his eye. A sleek object smaller even than his Tarantula zipped past on the port side, passing them from behind and vanishing into the darkness ahead in an instant. None of his sensors seemed to mark the object’s passage. 

“Dexter, what in all creative hells was that?” 

“No clue, Zawski.” Rewaju frowned and manipulated the cameras again. “That’s at least the third time it’s passed us.” He cursed the radio-silence order he and his fellow pilots were under; the only radio call anyone could make was the call to abort the mission, and he wasn’t sure it was time to do that quite yet. 

“Or maybe that’s the third one.” From the sound of his voice, Zawski didn’t like the implications of his own conclusion. “Nate drones?” 

“Nah, we’d have picked something up if one of their machines got that close. It’s got to be some sort of natural-” 

The explanation died in Rewaju’s throat even before it had emerged. A glinting silver object appeared almost directly dead ahead of his cockpit where nothing had been a moment before. He’d seen that teardrop shape and featureless silver hull before, but only in recorded holos and stills. 

“Are...” Zawski found his voice first. “Are we looking at what I think we’re looking at?” 

Though he could plainly see the craft, Rewaju still saw no indication his Tarantula’s sensors had detected it. Even when he pointed a camera directly ahead, its feed showed only a rectangle of empty space. Somehow, this only solidified his certainty as to what it was. “What’s an Angel want with us?” 

As if by answer, the comms section of Rewaju’s board lit up. Cautiously, he flicked open the channel and flashed his forward running lights; he couldn’t send radio transmissions, but he could listen. 

“Human vessel of war, do not take undue alarm.” The grating, electronically generated voice of the Angel pilot of the craft ahead filled Rewaju’s ears, and belatedly he connected Zawski’s station to the sound as well. “We do not intend to interfere with or participate in your efforts.” 

“I don’t like it. If they don’t want to join us, and they don’t want to stop us, why are they here?” 

Rewaju considered his tech’s question for several seconds. The only reason for several Angel craft to shadow the Tarantula formation beyond participating or interfering with their efforts he could think of was to use their attack as cover for some other activity, though what that activity might be he couldn’t begin to guess. “They want to get away with something while everyone’s looking at the pretty fireballs.” 

“Hmm. Maybe.” Zawski spent several seconds considering alternatives. “You don’t think we’re so lucky that whatever they’re doing will hurt Nate, do you?” 

“Doubt it.” The only times in recorded history the Angels had participated in military affairs, it had been to prevent Sol from being occupied by an alien force; a war between one group of humans and another probably seemed like a silly sibling squabble to them. 

In the blink of an eye, the silver teardrop shape ahead vanished once more, as if it had never been there. Still, the sensors showed nothing. 

“Bastard probably didn’t go far.” Zawski grumbled. “What business do they have on a dustball like Karma?” 

Recalling all the centuries-old stories from his own home-world of Planet at Centauri of Angel sightings in the mountains, Rewaju chuckled. “Whatever it is, our grandchildren will still be guessing.” 

“Unless we buy the plot on this run, Dexter. Then nobody’s going to be guessing.” 

Rewaju rolled his eyes and didn’t gratify the comment with a reply. He had a feeling both he and Zawski would make it back to Trafalgar alive this time. After all, the Angels didn’t show themselves unless they wanted to; having someone survive to report their presence was undoubtedly part of their scheme.