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Fan Fiction

The Saga of the Defiant
Posted By: Vector40<brandon@berkeleyhigh.org>
Date: 1 July 2002, 8:50 am

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      “Thrusters aft, evasive ac—”
      The impact was so powerful, yet so quickly over, that it was like a subliminal flash; one quake and it was gone.
      Captain Blair Santos quivered in his command seat like a thrown knife, bellowing out of the side of his mouth without turning his face for an instant from the field-of-combat display. “Status!”
      His Control first, Lieutenant Don Perkins, spun to face him. “It was a grazing blow, sir. Took off an entire section of the lower deck, but our lateral motion was enough to carry it past us instead of gutting the ship.”
      Santos pulled up a quick wireframe schematic of the damage. The piece carved cleanly from the side of the ship looked like a bullet wound. Fortunately, though, the decks hit were only storage and auxiliaries—the damage was minimal.
      “All right, keep moving, keep moving! Steph,” his voice was suddenly compassionate, “how are you doing?”
      The officer on Helm, Second Lieutenant Stephanie Swift, nodded her head at him slightly with a quick, jerky motion. Her hands were flying over her command board in an uninterrupted stream; a sheen of sweat glistened on her face. Santos grimaced and rubbed one of his fingers across the knuckles of his left fist. She wasn’t even the Helm first; his first had gone down with a nasty mutation of the space virus, and Swift, the second, had been brought up to fill in for her shift.
      Now, she was running sequence after sequence of overlapping evasive maneuvers, manhandling the ship on one cracked engine chamber, and despite it all, managing to bring the ship about for repeated strafing runs on the Covenant cruiser.
      He wasn’t sure if he could have handled the burden. It was a wonder that she could.
      A new voice cut in from the side.
      “Launch, launch! Plasma launch, twelve MPs off port!”
      Santos whirled once more to confront the massive, glowing projection of the field-of-combat holopanel. The FOC was shimmering and flickering with a chaotic mixture of blue, red, white, and green dots; golden threads connected them with tiny boxes of text displaying sensor readings and data tags.
      “What’s the velocity?” He addressed the question to the empty air. The sensor officer picked it up.
      “1200 feet per second, sir. Accelerating.”
      Fast one. Shit.
      “All about, give me as much speed as you can. See if you can maintain those engines at 80%.” One of the three engines had sustained a huge crack in yesterday’s engagement when a pulse of plasma had passed too close. Last-minute heroics from engineering had been enough to keep it partially running, enough to fight with, but Santos had been assured that if he pushed it to hard, it would melt down.
      “C’mon, let’s sprint the bastard for the finish! Aft camera, magnify to size.”
      The camera’s vision doubled, tripled, and finally found the approaching plasma torpedo with a 10x visual magnification. Looming on the screen, it closed with terrifying speed.
      Nervously, Santos gave a compulsive smack of his palm against the side of his chair. “Faster, you shit!”
      With any other bridge crew, he reflected, people would be starting to wonder by now. The catalog of engagements against the Covenant, mostly crushing defeats with horrifying losses, told one thing for certain: evade, escape, or destroy the enemy before they let off a shot, but of all things, you will never, ever outrun them.
      The officers worked quietly and efficiently at their various tasks, nobody giving off even a murmur of dissent.
      Such trust could be dangerous.
      “Plasma closing,” the sensor officer reported calmly. Lieutenant Steven Donahue was a lifer, a veteran of a dozen engagements against the Covenant; he spoke as if he were ordering dinner. “Impact imminent.”
      With a quick hand, Santos set collision alerts ringing throughout the ship. Then, facing forward, he fixed his gaze on his command display and issued a series of machine-gun orders.
      “Positional thrusters, rotate to 70° contraspin. Give me two sets of emergency thrusters online and hot, route control to my board. Side camera! And don’t let up that speed.
      With his eyes, he tracked the approach of the shot on his display and the visual screen. 10,000 . . . 5000 . . . too fast.
      Quietly, he said, “No matter what happens, Stephanie, don’t stop what you’re doing.”
      He wasn’t sure if she’d heard him. He prayed that she had.
      Suddenly, with only a momentary flash of unmistakable light as its harbinger, the massive charge of molten plasma was on the side-viewing camera—and with a hammering fist, he slammed into activation every emergency thruster he had.
      The entire bridge of the Defiant seemed to freeze for a heartbeat.
      Then, in the space of one infinitesimal mote of time and the next, it leapt fifty horizontal meters, and cleanly, neatly, the charge of plasma slipped through the gap in the keel of the cruiser.
      Thrown against the side of his console with brutal force, Santos wrenched himself back into his seat, every muscle aching. The plasma was on the screen, then past—coughing, he croaked out, “Aft,” and the sensor officer flicked the main display to the aft camera—there it was, turning in a tight, elliptical arc. Half of the glowing mass was dissipated already into the surrounding maw of vacuum, and the charge was moving more slowly, but it was still very much there.
      He coughed around bruised ribs. “Control,” he said, “damage?”
      He could sense Perkins shaking his head. “Disregardable. Some bubbling of the hull from the close pass. Cauterized a few conduits.” Santos turned slightly now, to see Perkins exhaling, wiping his forehead with the back of his arm. “That was a . . . hell of a move, sir.”
      Maybe. Santos decided not to mention how much of a role luck played in such maneuvers. Luck and desperation. Some things were better left unsaid. “Let’s make it worth something.
      “Weps, what’s your status?”
      The lumbering Sam Deville looked up from the weapons station. “We lost a couple dozen missile pods from that stunt of yours. Cooked off right in the chambers. MAC is hot and ready.
      “Battery’s as charged as it’s going to get with one engine on the fritz. Laser CIWS and point-defense online.” Deville shifted uneasily. “All ten of the nukes are still off-safe and armed. You’re sure—”
      “Yes.” He didn't have time to debate the exigency of that particular order. Not now. “Countermeasures are active?”
      The weapons officer gave a perceptible tilt of his head. “Yes, sir.”
      The plasma was back on the screen, streaking in for the kill.
      “Very well. Helm, prepare for cold-start burn, 30 degree starboard rotation and all speed. Weps, on my signal—” No, that wouldn’t work. No time. “Belay that. On the signal to burn, I want you to launch every rear chaff pod that we have.”
      Deville blinked. “Chaff?
      It was a credit to their training that despite being bewildered, they both moved instantly and simultaneously, with absolute faith in his orders.
      A thought chased across his head. These are the kind of people we’re fighting for.
      As the Defiant exploded into motion, Deville entered a rapid-fire string of commands, bringing online and then autosalvoing the entire rear array of 250 chaff pods. They blew out in a thick, silent, glimmering cloud, filling the air with hundreds of pounds of electrically-charged shrapnel.
      The ship screamed in protest as Lieutenant Swift squeezed every last joule of energy from the agonized engines. A cold burn brought the engines into use faster than anything else, but its output of power was stutteringly irregular until the tubes could catch up to the heat of the reactors.
      They were just beginning to gain real speed, pulling toward the altered course, when the remaining plasma struck the cloud of steel chaff.
      It was like watching a tidal wave smash through fifty miles of dense cotton. At first, the enormous, powerful blast of molten fire tore through the storm of metal like a cannon through glass. But slowly . . . ever so slowly, it seemed to stumble, as if tripping on its own weight, and catch, and lose coherence.
      The Defiant, desperately scrambling for velocity, arched onto its new heading—just as the shreds of the plasma ripped out of the metallic haze. Its energy dispersed, its containing field ruined, it was literally torn to fragments.
      It missed the Defiant by five hundred meters, and sailed past into space, all control lost.
      The chaff field was almost wholly destroyed; its pieces had been first vaporized, then slowly condensed into liquid, and finally solidified into a single, massive sphere of ruined metal.
      Santos released his death grip on the arms of his chair, closed his eyes, and took three full, deep breaths. Only then did he look up once more at the FOC display and begin to think.
      He considered doing a full status round of the bridge crew, as was proper, but decided not to bother. “Anything drastic I should know about?”
      Shaking of heads.
      “Okay. Steve,” he said, “What’s that Covie bastard up to?”
      The sensor officer consulted his board.
      “She's . . . still just sitting there, sir. I don’t . . . I don’t know. She hasn’t moved an inch, but readings still have her fully powered and active.”
      Perkins looked over at Santos. “Maybe a mobility kill, sir? That nuke we threw at her might have nailed something with EMP.”
      Santos shook his head. “Doubtful. EMP’s never done shit in any previous engagements.”
      “We did put a few MAC rounds down her gullet before that, sir. Maybe something got jarred loose. Or maybe another ship got to her before us and damaged her.”
      Sighing, Santos massaged his temples, trying to mitigate the pounding in his head. “Maybe. But in any case, they’ve still got their guns—so they’re still dangerous.
      “Especially this son of a bitch. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not normal.”
      Deville spoke up. “There have been those rumors of that rogue flagship that’s been rampaging through the systems. Supposedly bigger than any cruiser we’ve seen before, travels without any support. And they say she’s taken on two full-sized task forces that were assigned to handle her and ruined them.”
      Trying to smile, Santos got only a wretched half-smirk. “This would be the same one that they say single-handedly dusted the entire Tau defense fleet without taking a hit?”
      Swift finally took a moment to lean back from her board. She looked exhausted as she put her two cents in—“That part’s no rumor, sir. My brother was staffing the Tau planetary defense center when it happened. Six out of the seven ships defending the colony, including the cruiser Queen Mary, were either wiped out or crippled. The Mary managed to jump out, but only on AI—everybody aboard was dead.”
      She met Santos's eyes with her own. “I don’t know what did it. Fleet’s still saying it was just another attack force. But . . . ”
      “How could a single ship destroy six of ours in one go, without us at least tagging her?” Santos scowled. “They’re good, people—but they’re not that good.”
      “Permission to speak freely?” asked Donahue drily. Santos looked at him in mild surprise, but nodded. Donahue raised his voice slightly.
      “They jumped into the system without any warning, but with an energy reading that was off the charts. They were using some kind of thermal ducting, though, so not even we saw her at first, and we were right next to her.
      “Ten Longswords. All of them were snapped out of space practically before they left our shadow. Then no less than six MAC heavies—including the prototype superheavy that the Sanctuary tech heads have been raving to us about—and she took every one of them without even flinching. By the rough-and-ready color charts, her shields didn’t even lose more than 25%.
      “Then the nuke, which Sam managed to drop practically up their asses, but that didn't take her shields by more than a third, either.
      “Following this she launches her own fighters, and those frickin’ tricked-out Seraphim decimate our entire 10th Fighter Squadron, save for a handful. You pull ’em back, and it takes us almost 90% of our point-defense capability to finally hose them all. In the meanwhile, long-range comms are lost. Not that they’d have done much good—as you know, communication have been on the blink ever since the Covenant ship despaced in the system. What a surprise.
      “And finally, allow me to remind you that she then proceeded to pump no less than three torpedoes at us in a single volley. This from more than twice the range of any previously recorded plasma attacks, and half again the speed. We dodge one until it sputters, we eat one, and we play with that last one until you, Sam, and Steph pull off a nice bag of miracles.”
      Donahue crossed his arms and sat back in his seat. “And mind you, they’ll do this all again as soon as we get back into range.
      “I don’t know about the rest of you, but it sure sounds to me like this sumbitch could take on a couple battlefleets of our guys—especially if she had her engines.”
      Grimacing, Santos fingered the exposed muzzle of his pistol where it sat on his belt. “But we have to do something. If this ship gets out of the system, god know what she’ll do.”
      Nobody spoke, until Deville said quietly, “Yes, sir.”
      Santos tapped a key on his command board repeatedly, trying to relieve the tension in his body. Then he stopped. The captain of a combat vessel could show a lot of emotions, but nervousness was not one of them.
      “Don,” he said, turning to his second-in-command, Control first Perkins. “Options.”
      He looked back at him. They both knew how short a list it would be.
      “One. We do nothing. Wait here and hope that somebody comes by on a standard run. Tell them what’s up, have them call in support. Hope that whatever’s wrong with the Covenant’s engines, they don’t get them fixed until we have time to muster a fleet the size of Jesus and tackle her.
      “Two. We run. Try to get enough distance between us to achieve Slipstream travel on a different vector than the one the Covenant’s guarding.” Perkins stopped. “But that’s not an option, because there are no other vectors. The only inhabited system within a thousand light-years is New Plymouth, and to get there, we need to go”—he pointed at the FOC display, where the single, massive, blinking red dot was shown prominently—“through that.”
      “Three.” Lieutenant Perkins wrapped his arms around himself and closed his eyes. “We hit them. We go in with everything we have, and hope for a miracle.”
      Santos looked at Perkins, his voice weary. “And your recommendation, Lieutenant?”
      There was a moment of silence. Then he coughed convulsively. When he finally spoke, it was with a tired, raspy voice.
      “I think we’ve about gone through our quota of miracles for the day.” He coughed again, then subsided.
      “But . . . I also think that hoping for a miracle is better than no hope at all.”
      Santos nodded.
      Then he looked around the bridge, and stood.
      “Make ready what you can, people. In twenty minutes, we move. I’ll be in my quarters . . . ” He picked up a numerical data pad and started to walk quickly from the bridge. “Adding up our miracle.”
      He exited, and the pressure-sealing hatch slipped quietly shut.

      Thousands of kilometers away, the gargantuan, menacing, dark-hued figure of the Covenant behemoth awaited their decision.

      “My ass you do! Let me see your sleeves!”
      Corporal Tony Palomino put down his cards and lifted both hands above his waist, holding them out in the air with a grin. “Nothin’ but air, Boursey!”
      “Aw . . . fuck you, man.” Groaning, Warrant Officer Taz Bourse picked up his billfold and shucked off five bills, balled them up one by one, then pitched them at Palomino. “God . . . damned . . . mother . . . fucking . . . scammer . . . ”
      “You sure swear an awful lot for a career ah–feec–er, Boursey. You sure your mama would like that?”
      “No, but I got something else that your mama likes a whole lot, asshole . . . ”

      “Hot and ready, Scoundrel?” Major Sarah Hathcock flicked the “Test” toggle on her helmet’s HUD twice, then picked it up and began climbing the ladder to her Javelin spaceplane.
      Her pilot, Major David “Scoundrel” Huntington, looked up at her and smiled. He tightened the last strap on his flight suit and scrambled up into the front seat of the plane, then slipped inside. A flight deck attendant wheeled the ladder away.
      “Come one, weenies.” He muttered up at the high ceiling, above which, he knew, the Defiant’s bridge was located. “Just give us a chance . . . ”

      “Load in!”
      “And . . . armed.” The chief watch officer in charge of the deck 9 equipment preparedness slapped the key to activate the tube and flood it with helium, providing a safe, clean atmosphere for the launch.
      “Next one!”
      “Load in!”
      The first loading assistant lifted the loading tongs again. The watch officer looked over the row of armed torpedoes, taking a quick count. They’d been given a strict time window of fifteen minutes to work with, and they had to be finished by the time they battened down and returned to their G-seats for a burn.
      A dozen more, and they would be ready.

      “Attention, all hands.”
      Captain Blair Santos released the mike switch for a moment to clear his throat. Then he mopped his neck with the edge of his uniform.
      “This is your Captain.”
Once more, he hesitated. Then, wavering but bitterly firm, he forged ahead.
      “I am addressing the ship as a whole to inform you of the actions we are now taking, to ensure victory and eventual success in this engagement, and to safeguard the lives of our fellow warriors.”
      Too formal. Must relax.
      “At 1400 hours today, as you know . . . we met in combat with a Covenant ship of unknown type. Shots were exchanged, and we fell back out of range to escape her fire. We have been considering our choices now, and have decided on a course of action.”
      Around the ship, heads turned away from their tasks, eyes looked up at the loudspeakers. A deck of cards fell from a pair of hands.
      “This . . . unknown vessel is of a kind we have never seen before, and possesses extremely potent weapons and defenses. She is a target of very high priority for the security of the UN, maybe a higher priority than we’ve ever seen.
      “As such, she cannot be ignored.
      “The most prudent course of action would be to abandon this area, and retreat to a location where reinforcements can be gathered. However, circumstances have rendered this impossible. The enemy ship has positioned herself, either by chance or by intent, directly in line of the vector-path we would need to take in order to escape this area by Slipstream travel.
      “Nor can we speak with FLEETCOM remotely. In the contact with the enemy, our long-range communications array was disabled. Repairs have been deemed to be unfeasible. Also, the Covenant ship seems to be equipped with some kind of jamming mechanism that is capable of blocking our transmissions even if we had a working signal broadcaster.

      In the fighter bay, a dozen pilots—the last survivors of the 10th Fighter Squadron—concentrated on the words with a single thought on all of their minds. Let us hit them . . .
      “With these facts in mind, we have made the decision to assault the enemy in the best means we can, with every weapon at our disposal.”
      Four gunner's mates slapped their last round into its loading tube, switched it hot, then, as one, sprinted for their G-seats to strap in.
      “The abilities already shown by the enemy ship have made it clear that . . . any conventional attack would be futile. With this in mind, we have crafted a strategy which the senior bridge officers and myself believe will allow us to utterly and completely destroy the Covenant attacker.”
      It was inevitable. A massive, unruly, spirited cheer immediately rose from the throats of every man and woman aboard the Defiant. They cried out their joy as one that they might be able to strike back at those who would crush them . . . and their gratitude that they had been given the chance.
      Hearing, Santos paused. Then he clicked the microphone back on and said:
      “Don’t cheer yet.”

      The first step was simple. Every fighter the cruiser-class Defiant carried was launched.
      Wave after wave of Longsword interceptor shot into space. Then bombers, dozens of them. Then a swarm of Locusts, filling the space around the Defiant in a protective sphere. Finally, the few remaining attack boats of the 10th squadron: sleek, powerful weapons platforms that could turn on a dime, crewed by the most elite pilots in the Navy.
      The fighters formed up and began a flight plan directly toward the Covenant cruiser, which sat motionless, deceptively placid.
      They flew straight and unerring. To the man, not one of them altered their course by a meter. Arrowing in for their target, they surged forward like a silent and lethal tide.
      Behind them, the Defiant rose looming.
      When they reached ten thousand kilometers away from the unmoving behemoth, she attacked, and the Defiant began to move.
      As a never-ending tide of Covenant Seraphim poured out into the inky space surrounding the attacking ship, and bands of intensely bright light slowly started to gather around her hull, the Defiant jetted her engines to their full, overload-prone capacity. One second . . . two seconds . . . three . . . four . . . and then, quite suddenly, they cut out. She coasted forward on inertia alone, as her fighters flew ahead in a dark, seething mass.
      Then, first one, then several attitudinal thrusters flared up, spotting the Defiant's hull with sharp, piercing lights. Slowly, she angled forward, until finally she had reversed her direction: bridge, weapons, and bays backward; engines, cold and inactive, in front.
      She had just reached her position when the Covenant ship fired.
      The flaming, unbelievably intense ball of blue and red flame appeared and lanced away in a barely perceptible instant. But the streaks of light decorating the sides of the ship didn’t disappear; they barely shortened while she launched another torpedo into the night, and then a third.
      The Defiant continued forward unwavering. Her fighters refused to flinch.
      Forward, forward, forward—and the first of the plasma shots slammed into the crowd of fighters, liquefying five immediately and crippling ten more as it carved through their ranks.
      The second torpedo hits seconds afterward, destroying another dozen fighters, including two of the 10th Squadron gunboats. Then the third shot, which claimed 8 fighters and six fully loaded spacebombers.
      The scene was quiet for several heartbeats, then the Covenant fired again.

      “Blue One, this is Shooter One. Break, break.”
      “Roger that, command! Breaking formation.” Major Huntington slapped his helmet happily, giving a whoop of joy and twirling his comm switch to the local channel with his other hand. “All units, abandon formation! Spread out and do what you can! Good hunting, boys. Tenth, you know what to do.”
      The majority of the fighters and spaceplanes swept away from their tight grid formation, splitting off into space and forming up for attack runs on the Covenant ship.
      However, the remaining ten planes of the 10th Squadron kept their course locked, straight ahead.
      With the five nuclear weapons silently coasting along beside them.

      Captain Santos stood unblinking, addressing the busy field-of-combat display without a word or a flinch.
      Nobody spoke any warnings or status updates on the three incoming plasma torpedoes. He could see them as well as they could.
      One last time he checked the numbers on the small data pad lying next to his seat. If the timing on the attack wasn’t perfect . . . if they didn’t reach the enemy at precisely the right moment after the 10th Squadron fighters did . . .
      Then he shook his head to clear it and strapped himself into his chair for the high-G maneuvers. Strongly, he called, “Lieutenant Swift, the controls are yours.”
      Technically, weapons were always under the direct control of the senior weps officer. But Deville said nothing. The MAC guns were no longer weapons now; they were navigational tools.
      The torpedoes flashed on the screen—collision alarms warbled from the computer—
      —and Swift slammed her finger down on a control, as the ship exploded.

      Huntington turned his gaze away reluctantly from the alien cruiser that had been growing on his screen when he saw the flash with his peripheral vision. With quick fingers, he brought his nav screen up to show the view from his plane’s rear camera.
      It appeared just in time to show the Defiant emit another blinding flash of light, and stumble forward like an avalanche. It looked slow, but Huntington knew how accurate that was—at these distances, she would need to be moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour to appear to be moving so quickly on his screen.
      A third time she jumped, and Huntington at last saw what was happening.
      She was firing her MAC cannon straight down the axis of her flight, directly behind her. Her recoil was smashing her forward with incredible power.

      Spitting blood, Santos swore as loudly as he could. Bridge discipline scarcely mattered at this point. “Talk to me!”
      “The gun’s ruined, Cap’n.” Deville said breathlessly. He sounded strained. Broken rib, maybe. “Stress was too much. I knew it wouldn’t last long. The damn thing isn’t made to fire more than one shell at a time—and taking the dampeners off-line surely didn’t help.”
      “Captain!” Lieutenant Donahue gave a startled cry. “That last one wasn’t enough, sir! Plasma compensating—it’s correcting its course!”
      “Brace for imp—”
      The torpedo burrowed into the Defiant head-on, with enough kinetic energy to rock the entire ship.
      But Santos knew that the concave rear “bell” of a cruiser-class UN combat vessel was by far the strongest point. Hardened under laser furnaces, dozens of meters thick, and coated in a meter-thick layer of reflective iridium, the surface of the ship that was designed to focus the energies of the main engines could take an enormous beating.
      “Burning through . . . inner hull pierced, sir. Plasma is dying out.”
      The evacuation of all personnel and purging of the atmosphere in every one of the fifty lower decks had taken surprisingly little time, once the crew members there had learned what was going to happen.

      “Taking fire, sir! We’re hit! We–”
      Huntington cursed venomously. He didn’t have to wonder why his wingman had suddenly cut off his transmission; the windows of his jet provided ample room to view the sudden eruption of space-borne destruction.
      Another flickering light snapped through space, and the gunboat flying left guard disappeared in a conflagration that caused Huntington to jump in surprise.
      He swore again, and hit his comm.

      “Blair, the fighters are taking fire!” Donahue stabbed a finger at the main screen. Two of the green lights signifying the boats of the 10th Squadron had winked out. As Santos watched, another followed.
      “Looks like the Cov figured it out. They’re picking them off with laser fire.”
      Santos breathed through his nose, emotionless. “Have we lost any nukes yet?”
      “No, sir.”
      Another light blinked out.

      Silently watching his viewports, Major Huntington refused to wince as yet another of his squadron mates died in a blaze of heat and fuel.
      Locking his stick on autofly, he released the controls and reached into his flight vest.
      Removing a cigar, he took the time to light it and exhale slowly, looking upward at his canopy and marveling at how many hundreds of regulations he must be breaking.
      Without looking down, he reached out for his comms mike and keyed it on. Softly, he said into it:
      “Hold course.”

      “Sir, they’re getting close to the trigger point. Should I tell the Longswords and the others to break off?” Perkins, Santos observed, was having an attack of conscience.
      “You know better than that, Don,” Santos said quietly. “If that bastard's close-in guns aren’t occupied, she’ll fry the 10th in a heartbeat.
      He watched as Perkins rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. He sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
      Then another light blinked out, and he vomited on the flight deck.

      It was only when the fifth of his men had died that Huntington found the strength to look out his viewport and wonder that he was still alive.
      “Distance, Sarah?” he asked gently.
      His headset crackled with the reply. “200,“ his weapons officer told him.
      Moving deliberately, Huntington moved his hand up to his console and touched keys until he had selected a no-security broadcast mode.
      Then, eyes dead, he stared straight ahead and activated his headset mike.
      “Heads up, you son of a bitch,” he said. “This is from the Tenth.”

      “The activation point’s approaching,” said Lieutenant Swift.
      Santos turned to look at Deville. He nodded back, “Ready to send.”
      Keeping his eyes on the main monitor, Santos squeezed his fists until he cut into himself.
      “Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . ”
      “Forgive me,” Santos said under his breath.
      Deville tapped a single key, and five 20-megaton tactical nuclear weapons detonated simultaneously.
      The Defiant rocked only the tiniest bit to salute the passing of enough matter to raze a moon, and seven of the bravest men in the race.

      The Covenant's shields staggered and flared orange.

      Dimly, Santos could hear Perkins bellowing into a microphone—“Abort, abort! Wave off your shit and get clear! All fighters, abort attack and clear area!”
      Only the handful of spaceplanes that had been distant enough to survive the blast heard him, and swooped away.
      “Distance closing,” Donahue told him, voice quivering only slightly—making an effort, in the end, to maintain the calm he had always kept before. “Collision . . . imminent.”
      I should say something to the crew.
      Santos lifted one finger, even touched the intercom button, but . . . then lowered it again, and moved to switch it off. There was nothing to say.
      Then he frowned, and forced himself past the fog that was cluttering his ears to hear what was coming through the bridge speakers—coming from the other end of the intercom. From the crew.

             . . . will lay their heads to rest.

            Sailors from the farthest seas
            From the oceans of the east
            Hear my rising song today
            Hear the echoing melody

      Santos closed his eyes, and behind the singing could hear Deville saying, “All five warheads ready . . . positioned? Roger that. Signal prepped . . . ready to initiate five seconds after contact . . . ”

            Strong her sails and brave is she
            Little ship with sails of fire

      “Light it up!”

      As the Defiant slammed down butt-first on the hull of the alien cruiser, her engines finally ignited.
      Flashing yellow, red, purple, then snapping and flashing out of existence entirely, the enemy ship's shields sputtered and died.

            Molded with the every wave
            Sail the clouds away from me

      Deville touched the red fire button, and sent the signal to activate all five of the nuclear warheads that had been placed in the chamber of the cracked drive chamber. In less than a millisecond, every one of the bombs received the command and pressed shut five tiny microswitches, deep in their hearts.
      As they exploded, they funneled downward, the engine cone of the ship acting as a single, massive shaped charge, directing the brunt of the blast directly into the defenseless Covenant cruiser.

      The seven remaining Longsword fighters, the only survivors of the Battle of the Defiant, activated their Slipstream drives as soon as they reached an adequate velocity, and returned to New Plymouth with a tale of hope.