All wings, sound off.
Renae had no time to respond before gunfire tore apart her captain’s ship floating in the open space, fire rippling out from ruptured fuel and oxygen.
“Shit! Disperse!” a harried voice cried over the comms as the line of CAF fighters fired their afterburners and ripped forward. The once ordered line of waiting pilots was now rendered a mess of chaos. Red tracer bullets skimmed past as the talon riddled bodies of Sirens engaged the meagre force. One speared straight through a Spearhead fighter before it could move away, sending shards of metal and glass spiralling into the vacuum of space. The red heron on the side marked it as a M-Squadron ship, one of Renae’s five pilot wing, already now down to three.
Fear ravaged her chest as she slammed the throttle forward and was pushed back into her seat, the air forced from her lungs. Adrenaline rushed through her body and her Mace propelled forward through the storm of bullets, the hull shuddering and groaning under the sudden burst in speed.
Wrenching the flight-stick to the side, Renae rolled the ship and looked above her. Ships barrelled through the open space with Sirens close in tow, their small circular bodies giving chase with long spears that reached out ahead of them, reminding Renae of the outstretched talons of a bird of prey.
We are prey. This was never a defensive front.
Their small CAF garrison had been left out of the fight above Parabus, but with news quickly circulating about the disaster that had happened there, they had gone from being the rear guard to the front line. A force of sixty-five ships, depended on to be the barrier that held these Sirens back long enough for the main fleet to retreat. They had assembled within three hours, been flight ready in one, and had taken to orbit half an hour after that. In all that time, nobody had received word from the retreating fleet.
Screaming alarms pulled Renae’s attention to her left, only just seeing the shimmer of light before a Siren materialised out of the void, screaming towards her with a bright red eye. Before it, she felt bare, unable to hide from its burning gaze.
How can we fight these?
Outstretched talons punched straight into her ship, and Renae felt like her own body had been speared. Alarms screamed and lights flashed as the fighter was wrenched in the other direction while in her seat Renae was rag-dolled, her arms thrown from the controls. She bent her neck upwards, her helmet quickly pumping oxygen to adapt to the dropping pressure, her flight suit clinging tightly to her skin. The cabin must have been pierced too, the air being dragged greedily out into the void, but the whirlwind made it hard for Renae to concentrate.
Craning her neck up, she looked above only to see the harsh red eye looking back into her. It shuddered slightly, like it was disgusted by her existence.
What chance do you stand?
Renae’s eyes darted frantically around, the screams of pilots in her ear hard to differentiate from the barks of half-formed orders and strained call-signs from their captains. No order that was given, however, could settle anything in chaos that thundered like a storm.
“Shit, shit! Renae’s down, she’s been speared!” Renae was just able to make out the words, the usual deep, melodic tone of Taren was now shrill and panicked.
“Damn it! Taren, take-” Kaya began, but she was cut short as static ruined the line. Bullets sparked off metal in a terrible flash as her Spearhead went tumbling past. The canopy was unrecognisable, it’s centre ripped into a dark, gaping hole.
“Ashen stars! KAYA!” Taren roared. A grunt crackled on the radio line, and Renae could just make out Taren’s own Mace fighter rolling to avoid the shots fired from a passing Siren, the cumbersome ship only just managing to avoid the attack.
With effort, Renae tried to open her mouth. On her lips, she could taste the coppery tang of blood.
“Ta-Taren. It’s…” she croaked. Was she hurt? She hadn’t felt anything, but each breath was an effort.
“Damn, Renae! You’re still- stars, hold in there!” Taren reassured her, though his voice quivered.
Renae clenched her hands tightly, though her arms refused to obey her, swinging freely in front of her. She tried to look to see Taren, but the haunting red eye obscured her view, gazing intently into her, staring into and past her soul.
What are you? For what purpose do you exist?
She could feel the frustration, the pity, the dismissiveness. It had no love for them, but neither any hate. She could feel that it saw her as nothing but a pest to be flicked away.
This void has no space for your breath.
A vengeful roar was all Renae heard before the hulking frame of another Mace collided with the Siren on her ship, the red eye shuddering and flashing as it was torn away. Taren’s Mace and the Siren corpse spiralled away. The knock, however, had sent Renae’s own ship into a terrifying spin, stars and ships reeling in circles overhead, the blur of light and flashes forced together into dizzying lines. The force pressed her painfully onto her right shoulder, and she clenched her eyes tightly as she struggled to remain conscious.
“Renae, keep with me here! You’re falling into orbit, refire your thrusters!” She heard Taren crying over the radio, but the words didn’t connect with her mind.
Spinning. Spinning. Spinning.
Heat began to pulsate around her and, with a strained glance to her side, Renae could see the edges of her ship’s hull glowing a fiery orange as they struggled against the thickening atmosphere. The sound of wind grew to a roar, and Taren’s shouts became inaudible against the screaming noise. No more alarms blared, no light blinked. Renae’s Mace had gone dead, left plummeting towards the surface of Herran.