Crimson flowers of fire bloomed in the endless darkness and dust, their colour reflected in Carrier Lord Zsar Bracht’s visor as he watched through the observation window, his face almost betraying a hint of satisfaction as the first of the escorting craft’s flames flickered and died. This was no time for self gratification. There were still so many elements to go awry.

Not that they should even be in this mess. K’jiin and his reckless glory mongering had thrown them into disarray, every Carrier Lord for himself, but it defeated the entire point of being in an alliance! The fool had been so brash and careless, giving away his plans before he was even in a position to enact them, he’d gone and thoughtlessly given away the biggest advantage he’d had by making it a damn Proving Contest! If K’jiin had kept his arrogant mouth shut, he’d be the only one going after the Vaygr, and would having the backing of the entire Alliance! He’d have taken the Station Prince’s position and gained respect for such a daring move in the process. Instead they were divided, each working for their own glory, and alone they wouldn’t stand a chance if the Vaygr decided to retaliate in force.

Bracht motioned to a young Officer at his side, who began barking out orders as the second phase went underway. He didn’t need to speak, everything had already been meticulously planned before they’d even come into system. That’s how things get realised in this life, you can’t just charge forward and think you’ll make it by crushing them with the size of your ego. You have to plan. You have to prepare. That was why K’jiin had to go.

“Five minutes until we’re in range, sir.”

There was no need to reply. Only to watch. The Vaygr raiding party had responded to a distress signal coming from a heavily damaged, disabled ship in the debris strewn wastes that had scattered the Wraith Belt as a testament to the destruction caused by the House-Protectorate war. Distress calls were two things to a raiding party; easy pickings, or a trap. Even so, the heavy cruiser that had lumbered into the system with its escort of picket ships seemed more than he’d bargained for. Still, if everything went to plan, it shouldn’t matter all that much.

Bracht’s fleet had responded like any other raider trap, swooping in to take the enemy by surprise. It was almost textbook, if raiders had such a thing, and the Vaygr had naturally been ready for it. He’d made sure to be slower than usual, attacking from a further position than one might have anticipated, his usual Carrier flagship replaced with a light cruiser for this mission. A sloppy trap, an observer might think. The lighter craft had all turned to engage those under his command, while Bracht’s cruiser, which didn’t stand much of a chance once in range of the behemoth ahead, had begun a slow descent towards their inevitable duel. As with every action of the pragmatic Carrier Lord, however, this apparent sloppiness was just another layer to his trap.

As the Vaygr Cruiser turned away from the junker’s distress beacon, the damaged ship erupted with life. While the craft had been impossible to function, and the weapon systems had fried long ago in whatever battle reduced it to such a state, Bracht’s men had rigged it with a different kind of offensive capability. If this worked, the Carrier Lord might even permit himself a smile.

A line of boarding pods burst from the side of the junker, followed by another line, then another. There were so many it was visible even at this distance, the three layers of pods slamming into the Cruiser, with only a few losses from the final line as the hulking ship brought its defensive weapons down on them. The ship kept coming as if oblivious to the infection that was about to pour into its veins, but Bracht gestured again. Immediately his own Cruiser began to slow, turning about as it made to stay out of the Vaygr craft’s range until it was overcome from within. Orders were issued to the other ships in his fleet to begin retreating, survival being top priority. It wasn’t likely that the Vaygr craft would leave their Capital ship, especially now that it was in danger of being over-run, but if they did Bracht would be waiting for them.

It occurred to him that he did a lot a waiting. His carefully positioned plans and forces were always one step ahead of everyone else. At least, that’s what he liked to believe. As reports of successful headway being made inside the Vaygr Cruiser rang in his ears, Bracht was already planning his next assault. This time, however, it wouldn’t be Vaygr any more. The fleet he’d be facing would be that of Carrier Lord K’jiin himself. If there was to be anything left of this alliance at the end of this, Bracht would be at the top, or amongst the thousands of forgotten ghosts that had surely given the Wraith Belt it’s name.


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