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TheKangaroo's Critical Mass Fanfic

Posted: Sun Feb 08, 2009 12:53 am
by TheKangaroo
Alright, I know I said I was done a few days ago, but I've been a bit busy, so I'm sorry for the slight delay. The following is my little CM fanfic, which I started a few weeks ago after reading Legacy's, which can be found here:
I think it would have been nice if mine would have fit into that neatly, but somehow I got a bit off-track in regards of that plan. But nonetheless, if you can bear with my horrible grammar, mediocre spelling and questionable style I stop blabbing now and let you enjoy (or not) the story:


Ryckurn sector base 17. Multiple thousand tons of steel, plastics and wiring, put together in a dozen prefabricated sections and towed into a dark and distant stretch of space none of us ever heard about. And yet we called it home. Through the windows we could still see the tugs scooting back and forth, fetching parts from the waiting freighters, assembling what they call 'the perimeter': a ring of missile turrets to serve as the station's last line of defence.
We ourselves stepped off a passenger liner just hours after the last prefab section was welded on. We were ushered into a room on the lower crew deck which obviously had left a factory with our racks already installed. Making ourselves comfortable was easy enough, we just quickly put our pillows and blankets in place and made sure that both power and water were running. So much for housewarming. But as the turrets outside and the missile-laden freighter pulling up alongside the station sure have indicated, the empire was at war. And so far for none of us comfort had beaten survival as a priority.
I keep talking about 'us'. That means my unit, the 1294th Squadron, Ryckurn space force. That number isn't exactly random; whenever they found a new squadron it's assigned the next vacant running number. When the war started the Ryckurn Space Force had a total of fifteen squadrons, which isn't important at all but shows what sort of a war we caught ourselves in. We were all just out of space combat school, but we have already had our first taste of war when the convoy taking us here was raided by a Zyan squadron. Our squadron commander, Major Rachenko, had suffered an eye injury when a missile hit the liner and started a fire on the deck. The most appearant advantage of the pre-built space stations is, that with a flip of a single switch nearly the whole station sprung to full operational status, so Rachenko could be taken to the sickbay for recovery immediately.
So we were waiting. For news on our commander. For news on our ships. For news on our orders. We didn't even know, where sector base 17 actually was in terms of coordinates. Sometimes I had wondered before, why we never got told a thing until the very last moment. There were some rumours and theories being exchanged between pilots spanning everything from evading security leaks to the empire being so close to defeat that chaos took command instead of our officers. I cleared my throat, considering to moan once again about us always having to wait for something to happen after being hurried up just minutes before. But before I even opened my mouth somebody else opened the hatch to our room.
?As you were!?, bellowed Commodore Wagner even before we had a chance to spring to attention. After a short glance over the whole room he inquired: ?Where is your squadron commander?? Immediately my fellow pilot, Ensign Alice Rousseau, spoke up: ?Major Rachenko has been wounded in transit, Commodore.? That only slowed down the officer for a second before he turned his head and upon seeing that I was standing right next to him suddenly grabbed my arm. ?You are hereby promoted to Lieutenant.?, he said. I gulped before I remembered to salute. In the same second I was appointed commanding officer of the 1294th squadron, just before the Commodore slammed the hatch shut behind him.
Turning to my comrades I thought about asking them, whether that had just happened, but the laughter somebody tried to suppress in the rear of the room answered the question sufficiently. ?I just became squadron commander for standing closest to the door.?, I stated and had to smile myself.
?Your orders, Lieutenant??, asked Ensign Nathan Ross, who still struggled to quell his laughter, after a few seconds of silence. I frankly had no idea what I should tell them to do. Matter of factly I hadn't been told what to do, either, despite the fact that our squadron obviously was in dire need of a leader, which somehow made me believe there was anything of importance for us to do. ?Get comfortable, take a rest!?, I made my decision, even though it more sounded like a question than an order. Gaining a little confidence I then opened the hatch announcing: ?I'll take a look around, see if I can find out what's going on.?
That ? of course ? was again easier said than done. I stepped onto a dimly lit corridor of steel, not even wide enough for two adults to stand next to each other, looked to the left, where I suspected all of the other doors would lead to quarters similar to the one our squadron was put into, then to the right, where just ten feet from our door a fly of stairs led upstairs.
Three decks higher and down an ? in comparison ? rather wide corridor I found myself on the catwalk of one of the supply holds of the station. On the opposite side the giant airlock was open, revealing the inside of a docked freighter. From the elevation of the catwalk that went all along the walls around the large room I watched the people below unloading whole racks of missiles using towing vehicles and forklifts. No doubt the missile racks were made in one factory as a whole, too. Standard measurements to ensure perfect fit in the cargo bays, equipped with wheels and standard couplings to make unloading easier. While contemplating how, while mostly being dull and ugly, the standardized, prefabricated modules of literally everything increased efficiency, I noticed the containers.
Behind a wide array of missile racks and food boxes stood multiple large containers, box shaped and with walls made out of multiple aluminium plates each to be unscrewed and disassembled with ease. Those were the containers I more or less had been looking for and I got nervous. I started padding my right foot on the edge of the catwalk while cringing harder to the handhold, silently cursing the load crew for working only as fast as they could. In those containers, I was certain, were the ships for our squadron.
I heard steps on metal. Upon turning around I looked into Commodore Wagner's face. ?Lieutenant!?, he barked making some of the load workers below turn their heads: ?Supervise unloading of the ships, report to Ops as soon as the ships are assembled!? He quickly returned my salute and stormed off down the corridor and up a fly of stairs, nearly hitting a sentry who just managed to jump out of the way. ?That guy really needs a day off.?, I mumbled to myself while turning around again to keep watching the unloading.
?Quite a few of us do.? A voice from the side startled me. ?This war has been going for a while, you know, son. You have been in it for how long? A week? A month?? The man standing next to me on the catwalk, the man who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, was wearing a Major's uniform. He didn't wait for me to reply, seeing that I was still in complete surprise: ?Wagner has been around for two years now. And I've not had much vacation myself, either.? I finally managed to regain initiative as far as starting a salute and babbling an apology, just to be interrupted by the Major: ?Ach, as you were.? I didn't know what to say, so we stood next to each other in silence for a minute. ?Four years.?, he then said, looking at the airlock as if he could stare right through it into outer space. I felt uneasy, for he had been right. Basic training, flight school, space combat school and a week of transit out here. That's how long I had been in the war. The major looked at me and smiled: ?Don't worry. Nothing's forever.? I smiled back. Then he silently left, giving me a thumbs up as he turned around. And I never got to ask him his name.
A forklift carried off another food box revealing the shipping notes on one of the ship containers. ?Ryckurn Space Force, Factory 0661E8112, Type Bug, destination: 1294th sqdn, SecB 17?, it said in orange stenciled letters. The Bug certainly wasn't among the ships of pictures in the recruiters' offices. It was a modified pre-war model with a limited weapon load, weak engines and close to no armour, but after flying shuttles in flight school and Drones in space combat school it was a slight improvement.
A towing vehicle dragged another two racks of missiles out of the freighter. It was a bit like archeology, every shovel of sand revealing more of an ancient building one wanted to see. Then, suddenly, a towing vehicle hooked on to the first ship container.

The containers were dismantled in the supply hold and the parts were moved up one deck by elevators. Now a dozen mechanics were putting together our ships on the flight deck of the base. I had taken the time to visit Major Rachenko in the sick bay, who was unconscious but looked quite alright given the circumstances. The doctors told me he would be alright, so I followed my orders and supervised the ship assembly. Even though I had learned enough about the ships to fly them properly, the assembly was a complete mystery. The mechanics had trucks full of tools, one looking stranger, heavier and more cumbersome than the next, and yet they seemed to know exactly what they had to do, connecting ship parts of which I hardly recognized in which section of the ship they would go, without consulting any manual or chart or even stopping for a second.
During our traning we more or less used to look down on the ground crews in some way, as they were just mechanics after all and we were going to be the cream of the space force. Standing next to the door of the flight deck ? the only place I was certain I wouldn't be standing in anybody's way ? I realised how wrong we had been: we were hardly more than fuel and missiles compared to them.
Just two hours later five complete ships were standing on the deck. Four Bugs and one Mosquito for the 1294th Squadron. There were still members of the ground crew scooting from ship to ship, programming computers, aligning nav systems and setting up various cockpit instruments. I was told they'd eventually test start the engines once on every ship to make sure there were no leakages and all thrusters and the generator were working satisfactory, before they'd sign the form declaring the ships fit to fly. The shipping note for the Mosquito said it was to be delivered to the squadron commander. Now, that it stood in front of me nearly ready to launch, it occured to me, that I was now the squadron commander. And it made how I became it seem even more surreal.
The ship captain of my ship slid into the pilot's seat began the startup procedure. Light of different colours from the cockpit instruments reflected off his face making him look ghostly. Then he started up the engine. A short buzzing of electricity was followed by a hissing sound of liquids and gasses rapidly filling lines and reservoirs. Two mechanics with fire extinguishers in their hands walked around the ship slowly, but everything seemed to be in order, so the ship captain eventually proceeded to the thruster test.
I actually could see how he moved his hand, increasing the fuel flow to the thrusters, yet I wasn't quite prepared for the rolling thunder the engine developed so quickly. For a second it felt like the deck was shaking and I made a step back to grab the door frame while I looked up expecting rivets and bolts to rain from the ceiling. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the noise was gone. A small pillow of smoke still rose from the side thrusters as the ship captain stood up on my seat giving me a wide-grinning thumbs up. I just nodded back, turned around and left the flight deck, as soon as I noticed the other ships began their final test, too.
My orders were to report to Ops as soon as all ships were ready to fly, so I thought I'd use the remaining few minutes to get back to our quarters and inform the others. As soon as I pushed open the door to our quarters I heard a voice: ?So, what's the news? We got ships or what?? The others quickly formed a semicircle around me, while I smiled conspiratorially. I grabbed Nathan's shoulder, the way the higher ups sometimes would in flight school to issue a round of motivational patriotic speeches, slowly nodded and finally said: ?Oh yes, we got ships now.? An alarum raised for a second. ?What type are they??, Alice asked back after the celebrations settled.
They appeared to get the same mixed sensations I had before. Glad to be in some actual fighting ships but still a bit disappointed not to get the cream of the crop. Garth McCormick, who was the youngest among us, finally stepped closer and asked, nearly whispering: ?Have you seen Rachenko?? I gave him a slight nod and repeated what the doctor had told me: he was going to be alright. That gave reason for another celebration, so I casually told the squadron to be ready for flight in fifteen minutes and left the room to go back to the flight deck.
The other ships had been checked in the meantime and my ship captain waited for me at the door with all forms signed. I quickly browsed through the forms, then handed them back to him and thanked him and the other mechanics for their effort. It was time to see the Commodore.

I ducked through the narrow blast hatch of the operations center, saluted and announced: ?Reporting ships ready to fly, Commodore!? Wagner just nodded and waved me closer. He was standing next to a backlit map table with one hand rested on it, slightly leaning as if he had been staring at the map long enough for his legs to get tired. ?This is where we are, Lieutenant.?, he pointed to a large circle symbol near the center of the map. I noticed he was talking quietly and relaxed. ?Intelligence says there was a Zyan radar station somewhere in that area, which probably directed the squadron that raided the convoy.? The Commodore quickly glanced up to me like he wanted to make sure I was paying attention, before he continued: ?It's possible they detected the convoy but aren't aware of the location of this base as of yet. Therefor it's imperative to destroy the facility to ensure the safety of both the sector base and our supplies and reinforcements.? He straightened up to his full height and spoke up: ?I assign this vital task to your squadron, Lieutenant.? I couldn't come up with more than a nod and then glanced back at the map. ?Don't worry.?, the Commodore continued: ?It's not going to be heavily defended. Take a direct route there. If your first blow hits them hard enough you can be on the way back before their covering squadron even arrives.? Then he turned to the door: ?Good luck, Lieutenant. There's no time to waste!? I saluted again and left the operations center in high spirits. We would swoop in, blow up the radar station and be back before anybody ever noticed we were there. It sounded simple enough and the low and relaxed way Commodore Wagner spoke to me in the briefing made me feel like we were trusty old companions.
Two minutes later I entered our quarters and went straight to my luggage. We hadn't even made use of the lockers yet. The others were already in their flight gear, so Nathan could help me put the heavier equipment on. While readying up I quickly brought them up to speed in regards of our mission and made sure everyone was assigned a ship and a callsign. I was going to be Raid Lead, Alice Raid Two, Nathan Raid Three and Garth Raid Four.
We walked down the narrow corridors one after the other holding our flight helmets under our arms. On top of the first fly of stairs a crewman, who had to wait and let us pass, wished us good luck. After that we walked down the halls and climbed the stairs in silence. It was a bit unusual as on the way out to our ships during training we had always been joking and talking, but I didn't want to spark a conversation if the others appearently preferred silence. It had just sunk in to all of us that this was the real deal. This wasn't about scorecards. It wasn't about looking good for the brass. It was about life and death. We reached the flight deck before I could continue that thought much longer and my confidence was unshaken. My ship captain waited at the hatch: ?All ships fueled up, oxygen normal, pre-flight checks completed.? He showed me a slip of paper on which his signature indicated that he had conducted pre-flight inspections. I nodded back and then told the other pilots to man their ships. Their ship captains showed them similar forms and after a short walkaround inspection of our own we climbed into our cockpits. Buckling the seatbelts and putting on the helmet required some final help, then I showed a thumps-up and my ship captain left the deck.
The door locked close and I checked whether the harness would hold me in my seat if things would go rough. A flip of a switch and the startup battery contacts were closed, lights and gauges sprung to life and the monitor showed the flight computer booting. I tuned in the radio set. ?Raid flight, Lead, comm check.? One after the other the squadron replied: ?Lead, Two, loud and clear.? - ?Lead, Three, five by five.? - ?This is four, I read you clear, Lead.? Reaching for the switches that would ignite the engine I continued: ?Comm check complete. Start engines!? The fuel system pressurized making for a uncanny fizzling sound behind me. I held the engine ignition switch down while I could nearly feel how the battery used all its remaining power to awaken the sleeping power unit until suddenly the fuel mixture ignited and I felt a thumb followed by a steady low growl of the running engine. The last switch in the quadrant switched the electric over to the shipboard generator and the orange light labelled 'charging' seemed like a sigh of relief from the battery. I double checked that the flight computer displayed our current position correctly to make sure we wouldn't lose our way back before I pushed the button that made the computer request takeoff clearance by itself. The hall would depressurize and the launch doors would open.

The sudden sound of the contact alert made me blink, even though I had been expecting it for a few minutes. I checked the radar scope and saw a light blip right where I thought the place Commodore Wagner had indicated on the map must have been. I cleared my throat and pushed the radio transmit button: ?Lead, Contact, zero-seven, accelerate to attack speed.? The others confirmed, but I hardly heard them. I heard blood rushing through my ears as I pushed the throttle full forward, altering the course slightly to head straight for the contact. I quickly glanced down on the fire control panel to make sure both missile tubes were loaded. ?I'm taking the left one!?, I heard Alice's voice, a few seconds before I even could make out the array of five radar stations ahead. A quick look to both sides revealed the others were still right next to me. ?Better make sure you don't steer into somebody's line of fire.?, I thought. A thumping noise and a blinking green light indicated the targeting system had acquired one of the stations. ?Weapons clear!?, I yelled and hit the trigger for the left launcher. The ship shuddered and some air escaping from the missile magazine made a hissing sound just before the blue Geenee missile appeared in my field of view, steadily stearing for the radar station I picked as my target. Just a few seconds later I was sure the missile wasn't altering its course and let go my second missile, expecting the 13 megaton warhead of the unguided Plectron torpedo to completely destroy the small station.
I heard the radio crackle, but I hardly paid attention to the others reporting their hits. I was completely fascinated by my own two missiles hitting just a second apart, the first one ripping open the armour plating and then the large warhead of the second crashing through the hull and detonating inside, ripping apart walls and floors and computers. And people. I flew the ship through the clouds of gas and debris, staring dead ahead as not to crash into any remnants of station when the radio quickly quieted down again. I leaned to one side and tried to look behind me, I had made it past the debris and was positive my target was completely destroyed. ?Three gone, two to go.?, I heard Nathan say and quickly checked the scope to find he had already turned around for another pass. I myself started a wide left turn, which I hoped would bring me in a position to fire at both remaining stations at once, when I again heard the thumping noise telling me my guided Geenee missile had acquired a target.
I couldn't see anything ahead and quickly glanced down on the scope, which showed an obscure object, coming straight at me quickly. ?Enemy ships inbound!?, I radioed just before the alert warning me of enemy targeting radar went off. I turned sharply to the right and looking out to the left suddenly saw the bubbly orange shape of a Zyan Observer cockpit dart past me. ?Hit enemy radar station!?, Nathan announced. I lost track of the Observer but found I had been turning towards the last radar station. It turned to face me, hoping its armour plating would protect it. I let go on the unguided Plectron missile, accelerated to full speed and continued my right turn. ?Lead, enemy behind you!?, Alice's voice startled me. Or maybe it was the threat alert that went off in the same second. ?Break left!? I violently jerked the stick from one side to the other as a klaxon alert sounded and bright red lights right under my windscreen flashed. Missile alert. The enemy had launched a guided missile at me.
The restraining harness hurt my shoulders as the inertia pulled on me. I applied more and more pressure to the controls, even though I knew I was maxing out the thrusters. I thought I could tighten my turn even further through shear willpower. Then, after what felt to me like at least three full circles, the missile alert suddenly fell silent and the only sound in my cockpit was my heavy breath. I looked over the cockpit instruments and then out the window, while I had to convince myself that I had not died. ?This is two. Destroyed enemy Observer!? The threat was over for now. Looking out my right side window I found the Geenee missile that had passed me and was now floating on without any fuel. I pushed the transmit button to say something, but my voice failed me. I had to clear my throat and take a deep breath before making another attempt: ?Thank you, that was a close one.? I could nearly hear the smile, when Alice answered: ?Always told you: you aren't near as good as me.? I just laughed at that myself and checked the scope to find my way back to the remaining radar station. My missile turned the facility into a bright orange fireball which I enjoyed like I was sitting by a fireside. ?Lets turn back home, guys.?, I radioed and meant it. Sector base 17 ? home.

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 5:37 pm
by Legacy
That was very enjoyable. You've got plot and character development down!

Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 11:38 am
by TheKangaroo
Well, I felt it started quite alright but then deteriorated with an increasing speed towards the end. That's a bit systematic for my writing, I'm afraid.

Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:35 pm
by Legacy
I still want MORE!

Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 9:44 pm
by Bardash Blackridge
I second that motion. That was an excellent read. I really like your attention to character development. The ending was quite suspenseful, also.

Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 10:30 pm
by Legacy
If you decide you don't want to write much more, now that we know the names of the 1294th, you could send them on a suicide mission, like the game sometimes does to us...

...But I really do hope you decide to flex your creative muscles some more.

Posted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 5:36 pm
by TheKangaroo
Thanks guys. I'm just a bit busy with a few others things right now, but I'm sure I'll get back to it. Would you prefer this to be extended (as in sequel) or something new to be created?

Posted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 7:07 pm
by Legacy
I'm curious about the fate of the squadron.

Posted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:25 pm
by Bardash Blackridge
I would also be interested in the fates of these characters you have developed...but go wherever the muse leads you...

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 10:20 pm
by the space predator
I have love your text. I hope that it will not be the last.

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 10:31 pm
by the space predator
Hey, Legacy, will you complete your siteThere a lot of link that go to nowhere.

Posted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:10 am
by Legacy
I will. Just got back from the Alexandria/Washington D.C. area on a little vacation, hoping to work on it some more this week.

Chapter 2

Posted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 9:44 pm
by TheKangaroo
Alright, it's been a while but here actually is a sequel, but there are a few things to be said about it before:
-It contains even more backstory and attempts of explaining certain things in the game than the first part. Since the first part already turned out to be steering in a directon making it all hard to merge with Legacy's rendition of the universe I decided to take that freedom. No claims made in any way.
-Some things aren't done very elegantly and it has some flawed grammar and style. Please bear with me.
-I started this just after finishing the first one last year, but by spring I was getting very busy with my studies and later on frankly forgot about the whole affair. A few weeks ago, after my exams, I found the file again and got back to work on it. As a direct result of that there is a bit of a cut towards the end where I quickly end a passage that I just couldn't manage to remember what it was aiming for anymore. If you don't see that point, thanks I've tried to achieve that. If you do, now you know why it's there.
-I apologise for the 'cliffhanger' ending, but I hope with the immediate direction set I can get to work a little quicker with a third part. If not, hey, it's just another year...
-I hope you enjoy it despite these flaws, feel free to comment, et cetera.


?This is Comet flight, requesting clearance to land.? That's what I said while I was thinking: ?Get on with opening those damn doors!? We were returning from a patrol flight. The same empty box of sky as every day. They wouldn't let us wander off too far on these patrols, but they sure wouldn't let us back in too soon either. So we more or less circled the station completely on every sortie and the highlight of the day was a tiny asteroid Garth had found. It had been floating by, rotating around itself lazily and capturing all of our attention. Garth suggested to bump into it and push it onto some sort of orbit so we would meet it again, map it out and finally consider it real estate. That made for some laughs but returning to the station now I reconsidered it more seriously. We should have been relieved that there was nothing threatening us - wiping out the radar installation had obviously concealed our presence successfully - but actually we were getting angry. It wasn't the first time we chased nothing but stardust for hours on end and we felt wasted.
?Comet lead, this is sunlight, green deck, you are cleared to land.? The launch doors slid open revealing the flight deck. Lights around the opening and on the backside wall served as orientation as we slowly guided our ships back into the station. Once inside the on board computers were able to connect to the station's network, which signalled our ships to lower the landing gears and manoeuvre to their parking positions automatically. I let go on the controls and started unbuckling my seatbelt as the doors closed behind us. The ship set down with a jar and I used the time it would take for the hall to be repressurized to go through the shutdown checklist. I cleared the flight computer and then closed the manoeuvering thruster fuel valves. As I made sure the batteries showed full charge I then stopped the fuel pumps making the steady humming of the engine behind me, that I hardly even noticed anymore, become choppy and straining as the engine fought for its dear life with too little fuel. The electrical systems faded, too, as the generator didn't produce enough power anymore, the displays first blacking out or falling to zero while the lights still flickered as the generator's last sign of life.
I didn't move for another second and just looked over the now dark cockpit. I always did that and I didn't know why. I sometimes thought it was because I felt that the ship despite being made of metal and plastic was some sort of companion to me and in those silent seconds between shutdown and opening the hatch I could feel a connection as if it was alive, reflecting on what it had done for me. It seemed a bit silly for the uneventful patrol flights, but obviously it had become a bit of a habit. Maybe I also just enjoyed some time alone, which was hard to come by when sharing both a room and a radio net with the squadron.
A green light on the side wall of the hangar deck told me it was safe to open the hatch and leave the ship, so I discarded whatever thought I was having and finally stood up. Doors along the wall opened and the ground crew poured into the hall like children out of the schoolhouse on the last school day of the summer. Before my boots even touched the floor a fuel hose was connected to the tank while another mechanic, swinging from the landing gear leg, crouched under the fuselage checking for problems. They worked fast and the ship would probably be ready to fly again before I completed my debriefing. I walked away a few feet, taking off my helmet and taking a deep breath of what we considered fresh air.

My ship captain held a slip of paper on a clipboard out to me without saying a word. The mandatory ship maintenance form on which my signature meant I hadn't noticed any problems during the sortie. Just as I handed him back his pen I reached the door leading to the corridor. I would head to the operations center for a short debriefing before I could join the others in our quarters after finally get out of my flying gear. ?Leave me some cold drink!?, I said to Nathan as the others casually saluted me before heading downstairs. The refrigerator in our quarters was prefabricated and standardised as everything else. The beer we kept in it, though, was not. It seems that before we shipped out Major Rachenko had arranged for this little treat to be packed with the next supply convoy that came up carrying missiles, fuel and a hyperspace beacon. Rumours had it that the next one would bring in another squadron after all. We didn't feel the need for reinforcement considering that most of our sorties had not been prime examples of excitement, but on the other hand it meant that we didn't have to go on each of those sorties ourselves anymore.

I ducked through the hatch entering the operations center where I found Commodore Wagner leaning over the map table which was littered with papers. As soon as he saw me he gave me a slow nod and, with a very slight gesture, motioned me to come closer. I saluted and announced: ?Reporting Comet flight back from patrol mission. No contacts, no unusual readings.? I could see a small hint of a smile on Wagners face as he returned my salute. ?Very well, Lieutenant.?, he said and was about to turn back to the assortment of reports and requests on the table when he added, just as if he had suddenly remembered: ?Please make sure the ships are being refit soon.? I told him that the mechanics were already working on it and then excused myself.
I myself slowly got used at least a bit to being the commanding officer. That means as much as it didn't seem that funny anymore at least to myself. I also had gotten pretty much used to meeting Wagner up in the operations center. He really seemed relaxed and calm while he was there, two steps out of the hatch and he'd be barking and yelling at everyone he met. I really couldn't tell which side of him was the one he was playing and which one reflected himself. I anyway decided not to talk about his two faces, neither to him nor to anyone else.
I wrestled my way out of the heavy vest and left it, along the helmet and the other flight gear in a small compartment in the wall next to the hangar door. Sometimes we stored it in our quarters, but when we knew we'd be wandering around the station for a while leaving it right with the ships made sure there wouldn't be any delays in case of alert.
On my way back down I glanced at the cargo hold in which workers were busy making some room. I deemed that confirmation of the rumours about another squadron arriving as it looked like they were freeing up the space needed to move ships from the airlock to the flight deck. Then I continued my way to the quarters. I had considered stopping by the sickbay to see Rachenko, but somehow I felt he wasn't too fond of visitors himself and sacrificing an hour of my time off to keep somebody company who didn't even want it with neither of us saying more than a few words just didn't make much sense. I reached our quarters and before opening the doors heard the others joking and laughing inside. As I stepped in Garth just proposed another use for our recently encountered asteroid: ?Can someone chalk it up for me? Lets see who finds the most junk out there!?, he exclaimed while he wildly waved his beer bottle towards the tally board. It was a plain whiteboard we had screwed to the wall next to the refridgerator. Alice, who was still the only one of us to actually destroy an enemy ship, had insisted on introducing it. She handed me a beer while answering to Garth: ?You guys really fish for every way to beat my tally, don't you?? I decided to contribute: ?Sounds great. Small asteroids one point, large asteroids two. Space junk three if you can identify it.? Garth gave me a deep nod and Alice laughed so hard she had to grab the closest bedframe to stay on her feet. Nathan, who had been sitting on his bed, commenting that girls and alcohol wouldn't mix made her laugh even harder. I took a big sip myself and cherished how much we could enjoy ourselves despite our boredom, despite the war and despite the overall lack of commodities.
?So?, Garth went on: ?how do we distinguish between small and large ones?? I nearly sprayed the room spitting out beer but managed to swallow first before coldly stating: ?I was kidding.? I took another deep sip. ?There might be something in the bushes. Wagner said the ships should be ready again as soon as possible.?, I said in order to drop that whole asteroid topic for now. I was sure it would return for further amusement later on. ?Sure?, Nathan said standing up: ?he needs us for yet another patrol. After all the previous one yielded such alarming results.? I understood the underlying frustration too well. We were a team and we all had the same feeling of being wasted. ?Things are in motion. Maybe something is about to happen after all.?, I said thinking about the cargo bay being prepared for the arrival of new ships. Nathan grinned widely: ?Perhaps they know of more dangerous asteroids of various sizes coming our way.? The topic was yet again cut short. This time not by me but by a klaxon alert sounding, followed by the station's PA system: ?Attention to all hands! Supply convoy to arrive in three hours.? Alice used the short intermission to catch her breath and regain posture. ?Looks like we're about to find out what's about the rumours.?, she said and finished her beer. ?Maybe we should indeed chalk up something on that board.?, Nathan said pointing his bottle at the tally board: ?So the new guys know who they're dealing with.? The new guys. That made me remember the short encounter I had in the cargo bay our first day aboard. Some Major had reminded me that I hadn't really seen much of the war myself and he had been right. A few days and a few sorties later that hadn't really changed. I suddenly felt tired. I lay down on my bunk and as the conversation slowly faded as if I was under water I fell asleep.

I was blinded by the bright reflection of some polished metal. I shielded my eyes and moved closer. It came from the frame of a window on the side of the cockpit. I was stunned by how large the ship in front of me was. A badge put up in front of it said it had carried more than a hundred passengers in its day, long ago. There were a few more identical ones, but those that were usually discovered by farmers or prospectors were overgrown with weeds and usually missing whole sections for different reasons. This one wasn't usable anymore either, but it seemed in perfect state nonetheless. The badge declared it to be the first shuttle to bring settlers onto Ryckurn. I wondered how they knew that it wasn't one of the others, but I never dared to ask one of the men I saw cleaning and polishing it. That's where life on our empire's homeworld had begun: hundred settlers stepping off an ancient shuttle craft that had been docked to a primitive deep space cruiser from Earth.
Touching the metal I could suddenly see it right before my eyes, as if I watched it on TV a thousand times faster: How Earth had become increasingly inhabitable and how mankind decided to take the chances reaching for the stars. They built deep space ships for the exodus and plotted courses into a sector that the astronomers said had a high likelyhood of finding habitable planets. And then they named the first ship, the largest one that they had planned to build mankind's new home 'Ryckurn'. The Ryckurn was manned with the international elite in all fields: from scientists and engineers to farmers and chefs. Then a lottery was held to assign families to space available on the ship. Soon the Ryckurn was at capacity and families were assigned rides on other ships as soon as they were completed. Those ships had slightly different courses to increase the chance of finding suitable living space among the stars and so mankind finally departed Earth. People lived aboard the Ryckurn for centuries. Food was grown in greenhouses aboard, water was being extracted from asteroids and planets wherever it was found, sometimes requiring it to be created by chemical means from other ores and gasses. And it must have been difficult to have people learn skills and professions that were unlikely to be of use within their lifetime.
But soon after the shuttle craft I had been standing in front of set down the world of Ryckurn had started to flourish and that gave proof they managed. The people of Ryckurn claimed other planets and visited new star systems. The stage was set for the Empire of Ryckurn, the rightful heir of Earth's government, to meet with people from other successful exodus ships that made landfall on other habitable planets.

?What a peculiar dream.?, I thought to myself somewhere between ceasing to sleep and becoming awake. Garth was standing next to my bed and looked at me as if I was his son he had to make sure would get up and go to school. ?The convoy's here, LT.?, he said and kept looking at me until I nodded and mumbled a confirmation. I rubbed my eyes and noticed I was still wearing my flight boots, while I sat up. ?Any other news??, I finally inquired, slowly regaining authority, before I jumped off the bed. Garth said: ?That's all. They are docking right now.? I quickly double-checked that my uniform was in a presentable state before stepping over to the corridor door: ?Well, then lets see what they bring us, shall we?? As I closed the door behind us I catched a glimpse of the tally board and caught myself thinking whether one ship down meant we could act up in front of the new guys that were coming in. A slight jolt went through the whole station suddenly. The first ship of the convoy had docked and would begin unloading in a minute. We jumped up the stairs and after what felt like a second we met Alice and Nathan up on the catwalk overlooking the cargo bay.
The ship wasn't quite as crammed as the ones belonging to the convoy that brought us had been. Right behind a container marked to contain four tanks of fuel stood a suspicious big aluminium box. Garth pointed at it and said: ?Those must be their ships.? Nathan snickered silently and responded: ?Could also be a shipment of toilet paper. Our supplies have been tight lately.? Just as Garth turned his head in a quick motion I grabbed his shoulder and shook my head, wondering why he sometimes had such trouble picking up sarcasm. As the fuel container was moved out of the way the shipping notes on the container became visible and I felt a slight d?j? vu because I was just as excited to see what the other squadron was delivered as I had been when our ships were unloaded. ?Ryckurn Space Force, Factory 0657E8112, Type Hawk, destination: 1271st sqdn, SecB 17? So we were about to be joined by the 1271st squadron which was flying strike fighters. ?Poor sods.?, Nathan said and after a short pause he added: ?Those things have some range. Their patrols will last forever.? I smirked, never taking my watch off the container. A tractor began towing the bulky cargo towards the elevator.
There was a total of four ship containers and when the last one being hauled upstairs we left our vantage point to follow them. As soon as I entered the flight deck my ship captain whistled across the deck and waved for me to come over. I was a bit surprised as the mechanics had been starting to refit the ships so quickly when we landed and now, a few hours later, I expected them all to be slouching. Walking across the deck I watched a few mechanics disassembling the large containers in which the ships for the 1271st had just arrived. As soon as the first aluminium panels were carried away I caught a glimpse of the ship inside. It looked different from my own and that wasn't just because it was a heavier and larger type than the Wasp I was flying. The green paint on the metal seemed dull and stained while that on my ship was bright and shining. It suddenly occured to me that the newly arrived squadron might not be the 'new guys' that would look up to us who have been here for a while at all.
I reached my ship captain and by habit grabbed my pen. It seemed like whenever I was close to him it was about signing some forms. ?Easy, LT.?, he said and it made me realise that I usually just signed the forms in silence: ?Everything's ready to roll, just something to ask of you.? I nodded at him, probably making him think I was some sort of snob that considered it below myself to even talk to him. ?Can you fire a missile during your next sortie??, he continued. He explained to me he was a bit concerned about the state of the missile magazine and there weren't any dummy missiles to be found on the base for a test. ?Most certainly?, I finally managed to answer him properly: ?Possible we find something to blast.? He picked up his clipboard turning back into the visual appearance I knew. ?Thanks for keeping it all in shape, by the way.?, I finally said while he seemed so indulged in his clipboard that he wouldn't even hear me. I was just about to turn around and stroll back to the others when he looked up again smirking: ?You're welcome. Just doing my work.? His smirk turned into a slight grin as he added after a short pause: ?I'm just too lazy to take that whole thing apart anyway.? I myself had just assumed that that wasn't even possible, but even if it just meant a lot of work there were enough proper reasons to spare it, with new ships to be assembled and this very ship being needed in case of alert. Somehow I believed that without these reasons I would have found the ship captain and a few mechanics having disassembled my ships completely right now as I was convinced that despite his smirking he was dead serious when he said he was just doing his work. While we pilots must at some point have had the dream to sail the sea of stars he and his colleagues were in their element when they dug through the wiring of the machines. They were businesslike, motivated, fast and thorough in their work, and as I thought about that I had to admire them, as one never saw any medals near a greasy jumpsuit.
As I was slowly walking back an alert sounded followed by a deep roaring noise that seemed to shake everything on the deck as the cargo hold doors closed below us. At the same time the elevator with the last container and a towing vehicle atop arrived on the flight deck. ?Even the mechanics think we should fire a missile by now.?, I told my companions as if that meant the peak of boredom. ?Those asteroids are so going to get it now.?, I stated monotonously while I actually concentrated on the mechanics finishing to unpack the first ship and beginning to scatter around the parts for assembly. A small truck pulled up with tools and even more men. We strolled off the deck, without saying a word and all at once like we had shared the thought. The cargo doors closing certainly meant the freighter was undocking which in turn meant that the ship carrying the actual new pilots would be alongside soon.
I wasn't looking forward to meeting the other squadron as much anymore. Seeing the shape of their ships and knowing from that, that they probably had already seen a lot more action than we did sort of reversed the roles in what I thought would be a fun encounter. Instead of acting up and pretending to be the know-it-all old man I was now back to something like meeting the guys a class ahead in flight school. That didn't exactly feel like getting closer to the hall of fame of space pilots. ?So?, Nathan started: ?Who is going to break the news to those guys that there's nothing to do around here?? We stopped, right at the staircase. I glanced up the stairs to where the Ops Center was and mumbled that there was something in the air, as I remembered Wagner's insistance on having the ships ready to go. ?Well, something probably just has to come our way sooner or later.?, Garth said and then suggested that we go back to the cargo hold catwalk so we'd have a short look at the 1271st before bumping into them on the corridors. We walked slowly, as we knew that the docking procedure would take time.

Finally the large cargo doors began to slide open again and we collectively grabbed the catwalk handrail slightly leaning over the edge in anticipation. I had used the time to carefully relate my thoughts about the state of the ships delivered for the 1271st. Carefully means I only told them that they had got some rather battered ships and that I believed they might have had some more action than us, so nobody would pull a stunt with the 'new guys' before we had taken a close look.
The cargo doors revealed yet again the interior of a freighter, although on this one the foremost piece of cargo was a habitat module, essentially a large mobile home, mostly used in conjunction with mobile power plants and different machinery to make for simple living space on temporary mining outposts. The rest of the freighter looked like an armory with dozens of crates containing missiles and marked with every warning sign available stacked up right to the roof.
Finally the small airlock doors of the habitat module swung open and a group of five men started to stumble out. They all stretched their arms and legs as soon as they stepped into the station cargo hold which obviously gave away that their journey has not been as comfortable as ours. Even though our convoy was attacked by an enemy squadron and most of the comforts of the vessel had been removed we at least had been able to wander around the passenger liner freely. Then one of the new pilots looked up scanning the catwalk until his gaze met mine. His growing dark hair didn't conceal a scar on his left forehead extending right to his eye, but what stuck out most were his blue eyes that seemed to look straight through my skull and into my thoughts. We stared at each other for a while in which everyone else moving ? the rest of the 1271st, the cargo handlers unloading missile crates and my own comrades standing next to me ? seemed to fade away until Alice nudged me lowly saying: ?In love, LT?? I blinked and needed half a second to regain my posture before I smilingly answered her: ?Didn't you say you wanted competition?? When I turned back down the other man had moved on, too. But my attention was caught again by another member of their squadron who seemed slightly out of place in his own way. He was walking a few steps behind the others, smiling awkwardly and looked at least five years younger than his companions. Garth inconspiciously pointed in his direction and said: ?Looks like they aren't too fond of Ensign Replacement over there.? I was a bit afraid that one of the others might catch on the drift that was slowly forming inside me: that replacement pilot would just have fit in fine with our squadron, so I slowly moved away from the railing and heard Alice say: ?How about we go below and see how they're like up close?? While seeing the ships made me believe the encounter would be unpleasant, seeing the men pretty much made me know. But since the probabilities on a small space station were, that we'd have to get along somehow I thought just getting over it wasn't such a bad idea, so I agreed and we turned for the staircase.

We hadn't yet made it down to the corridor when we heard Commodore Wagner's voice in the usual out-of-ops tone. Considering we were all heading down and that he after all still wasn't tense enough to yell at an empty room he must have beat us to introducing himself to the new arrivals. Another voice answered loudly and I slowed down a bit, reaching out with my arm to signal the other to do the same, as I wasn't particularly keen on walking into this argument. As we were reaching the door to our own quarters the next door swung open and Wagner leaped out into the corridor. ?As soon as the ships are ready!?, he yelled into the room and slammed the door shut while we began pressing ourselves against the wall to make enough room for him to pass. He didn't seem tense and harsh but outright angry as he steamed past us without even acknowledging our presence in any way. He flew up the stairs and none of us dared to move an inch besides our eyes searching left and right for a second, as if we were afraid another train might roll us over if we got on the tracks too soon. Finally Nathan broke the silence saying nothing but: ?Woah.? Another second passed before Garth looked at me asking: ?Well, don't you want to knock?? I answered by looking around uneasily, but as the others appearantly expected me to make a move, too, I accounted that as a burden of the squadron commander and banged my fist against the metal door twice. Someone could be heard moving around inside and I dreadfully heard someone take in air deeply before a voice grumbling about taking a rest involving colourful swearing moved towards the door. ?What now??, inquired the face appearing in opening door angrily. Since there was no way to chicken out anymore I gained some confidence. After all, we were just saying hello and if those guys were experienced and mean so be it. ?We're with the 1294th.?, I began, in vain waiting for any sort of reaction to that: ?We... well, we thought we'd introduce ourselves.? The man in the doorway slowly raised one eyebrow ever so slightly. ?We're quartered next door.?, I added before another awkward short pause began. I slowly turned, looking at Nathan who stood next to me, as if he could offer me any help, as suddenly the door fully opened. ?Come on in then.?, the other pilot said and he began to smile as we trotted into their room which instantly seemed crowded. ?We're being welcomed to the neighbourhood.?, he announced despite all the pilots of their squadron already looking us over. ?No complimentary cake or potted plant, though.?, the scarred man I noticed in the cargo hold calmly stated while slowly sitting up from his bunk. ?So?, he began and jumped to the floor: ?introduce yourselves, or whatever.? He looked me straight in the eye without any expression on his face like a statue. I tried to cover me turning away by acting as if I wanted to make sure everyone heard me clearly when I said: ?Welcome on Sector Base 17. We are the 1294th and stuck here for a couple of weeks by now.? I walked up and down our casual line introducing everyone. I learned the man with the scar was in fact their squadron commander, Lieutenant Karadejic, the pilot who had let us in was Lieutenant Jiang. He also was the one who casually pointed out the others who were still lying on their bunks in the back side of the room: ?That's Lieutenant Giordano down there and Ensign Byrd. The last of the bunch is the fellow in the corner... what's your name again??, he yelled the last part more loudly than was necessary, but never waited for a response before adding: ?The new guy.? Karadejic turned to 'new guy', then turned back to me and then neutrally mumbled: ?Looks like he'd fit right in with you folks.? He then made a grunting sound while taking the step back to his bunk. Before the ensuing pause could get too awkward Alice made her attempt of starting a little conversation by asking: ?So... you guys are flying Hawks?? It wasn't much more successful, as the only response was Karadejic mumbling that they flew whatever they were given.
?You know that it spells bad luck, don't you??, Lieutenant Giordano casually said without sitting up: ?Having a girl in your squadron, I mean.? I first pretended I hadn't heard him, but after a second I realised everyone was just waiting for my response. I took a deep breath considering my options, even though I had made my decision at once: no doubt everyone in my squadron was a good pilot and close enough a friend, the new arrivals may have been battle-hardened veterans but if they didn't want to be friends with us, then screw them! ?I wouldn't have expected you guys to have a soft spot for stupid gossip.?, I started out diplomatically before continuing while pointing at my comrades: ?Alice herself saved my life once. And Garth and Nathan aren't any worse pilots either. I'm proud to be leading a squadron as ours!? I noticed that the other pilots in the back of the room began standing up from their bunks as Karadejic stared at me again. A few seconds nothing happened in which I pondered how I would explain our two squadrons ending in an all-out brawl to Commodore Wagner, provided I'd live. Then Giordano laughed out loudly and Karajedic showed a small hint of a smile, before Jiang gave me a pat on the shoulder and said: ?Ice. You're alright, buddy.? I noticed I had been holding my breath when I finally relaxed again. ?Is that how you became the leader of the pack??, Jiang inquired further on so I told the story of my random promotion. ?Classic higher echelon decision process.?, Lieutenant Byrd, the other pilot who had been lying on a bunk in the back of the room, stated dryly before turning around and returning to silence again as Giordano took over: ?Speaking of which: that Commodore is quite a pain in the rear. We just got here and he's talking about briefings and missions before our ships are even ready.? Nathan, who was visibly relaxing now, laughed at that: ?Around here briefings tend to be a single pointer on the map with the primary mission objectives being to stay awake.? Karadejic sighed deeply. ?A little vacation wouldn't be the worst of fates.?, he mumbled: ?Talking of which. You guys could let that Commodore know we'll be with him in a while.? With that he climbed into his bunk and motioned Jiang to usher us out of the room.

On a space station morning meant nothing but the clocks, synchronised with the time on the capital of Ryckurn, showing a certain time. Still we were surprised when we were awakened more than two hours earlier than usual. It had become natural to us to ready ourselves for a patrol flight as soon as we woke up, so we all were zipping up our flight suits and reaching for our boots before anybody even said a single word. ?And I thought my watch stopped.?, Nathan gnarled holding his arm in front of the large clock on the rear wall of the room. ?It's early.?, I just stated matter of factly, not yet awake enough to have a clear thought. Nathan was the first to stand by the door and mumbled: ?Maybe they forgot it's them who fly the long range birds.? He pointed towards the next room meaning the 1271st.
By the time I was ready to leave Garth returned from the bathroom, or rather the curtain-secluded corner of the room with the facilities that made us consider it a bathroom: ?I wonder if there is any breakfast this early.? We all adopted the thought opening the door and heading down the hall to the small galley.
In the Galley we not only met the cook, who looked a bit confused about seeing us this early, too, but also the pilots of the 1271st sitting together at a table. We quietly put our trays on the other table, tired and maybe a little anxious. Between a slice of toast and a sip of coffee Garth yawned: ?If they are up for patrol, why did they have to wake us up, too?? Looking over to the other squadron I met Karadejic's gaze. We stared at each other for a second or two, pretty much the way we did on his arrival in the loading bay, he spoke up so we all could hear him: ?Looks like it won't stay that boring much longer.? That comment finally made it possible for me to piece the hints together: we were not going on a routine patrol today. I looked at the others' faces and the way they shot back and forth their glances the same told me they all got the word, too. For the following minute no sound could be heard but the pilots munching. I just decided to conclude my meal with an apple when the men at the other table quietly began talking. Their tone was different than it had been the day before; they were all business now with the older ones passing on some general advice to their junior comrades. Then the PA system came to life with a bell tone: ?Attention all personnel! Flight quarters, flight quarters! Pilots report to Ops immediately.? It seemed that everyone stood up at once, leaving behind whatever was left on the tray, even though I decided to take my cup of coffee with me. Alice slightly punched me on the shoulder and said: ?See you on the deck.? Then we proceeded upstairs.
When we reached the flight deck level everyone went to fetch their flight gear before we went up to the operation center. Ducking through the blast hatch I was surprised by how crowded the room was. For the routine patrols Commodore Wagner and me usually had been the only ones, except of course for a few members of the station's company sitting at different computer stations around the wall of the room, ensuring everyday operations would not be disrupted. Now it looked like there wouldn't be enough room to breath as I quietly followed Karadejic who seemed to make his way through the crowd to the map table like a snowplow, leaving our squadrons behind us. Suddenly we both stood right in front of the map table with Commodore Wagner on the other side and for a second it seemed like the usual briefing with just a dozen other people standing around us. ?Good morning, gentlemen.?, Wagner began: ?Today is the day of days.? He made a little pause and then removed a few sheets of paper that had covered the map table, despite looking like they had been left there coincidentally. ?Today begins Operation Blizzard, a large scale offensive of our side against Zyan forces within the whole sector.? He made a wide gesture with his right hand, indicating the area he was talking about was larger than the entire map. ?Sector base 17 is an important asset on the right flank of the whole push.?, he continued before pointing to a small red marker on the map. ?Our mission for today is to attack a Zyan fuel depot... here.? He looked at Karadejic and then at me to make sure we were listening and understanding. ?Destroying or severely damaging this installation will seriously constrict their abilities to attack our advancing forces' flank. The 1271st squadron will lead the strike. We know there are at least 5 refuelling stations and probably two or more fuel tankers are in the close vicinity of the installation. Try not to let them get away.? Karadejic nodded while he grabbed a pen and started making small marks on his wrist, while Commodore Wagner turned to me: ?Your mission, Lieutenant, is to cover the strike as good as you can. Destroy, distract or confuse all enemy fighter ships you encounter. Support the actual attack on the installation at will, but make enemy ships your priority at all times.? This is when I was finally full awake. This was it! The moment we had been waiting for had finally arrived and we were through with chasing asteroids all day. ?Yes, sir!?, I replied. This was an important sortie and covering the bombers I had a key role in it. I was proud.
Another man who had been standing behind Wagner, a rather old Major I was certain I had seen somewhere before, stepped up to the map table. In a low tone he matter-of-factly explained: ?The Zyans know that depot is key to all operations on this side of the sector; we assume they have two full squadrons ready to defend it, probably one patrolling the area while the other is in reserve behind it, ready to engage the fight within a few minutes. They don't know we are coming, this mission is one of the opening moves for Blizzard. If you manage to use the element of surprise the objectives could be achieved before they can bring in their reinforcements.? He stepped back and Wagner took over again: ?Thank you, Major. One more thing. The Bug does not have the range to reach the objective and engage in combat. One of our own fuel tankers has been sent out two hours ago, meet it on your way, refuel in flight and ? if necessary ? do so again on your way back.? He looked me straight into the eyes when he as clearly as he could added: ?Watch your fuel gauge, Lieutenant! If you are below the minimum hyperspace fuel level and can't disengage the enemy there is no way to get out there again. The hyperspace beacon should be operational by the time you reach the target.?
I tried my best to disguise it, but I was a bit scared by that. In our entire training we had never made a single hyperspace jump and I wasn't particularly keen on trying it for the first time in the thick of combat without proper knowledge whether or not we would have a working beacon.
Seeing into normal space from inside Hyperspace was impossible, so one had to get a bearing to the target and then make a jump into Hyperspace. That was possible without the aid of a nav beacon, but the Hyperspace isn't plain as space is. It's curved and twisted and hardly cartographed, so setting out towards a destination by the charts might end one up in a completely wrong place. The beacon was a special device capable of transmitting a signal into Hyperspace, so a ship could home in on its signal and get the right direction in the curved geometry. Transitioning between the spaces, or the jump as it was aptly named, required not only fuel and full power from the engines, but also a so-called hyperspace coil, which got consumed during the jump. A delicate device requiring very rare and precious materials. The limited accuracy of the beacons, the value of the hyperspace coils and the possibility of ships and especially engines taking considerable damage during the jump gave reason why we never made a practice jump, even though that meant we had mostly been left to the horror stories some mechanics on our training station would tell about churned and twisted wrecks coming back from hyperspace.
?Any targets of opportunity??, Karadejic casually asked, as if he couldn't be bothered to think about the primary objective any longer. The Commodore kept a perfectly straight face and answered: ?Once the primary objective has been met every enemy craft within range is considered a target of opportunity.? While Karadejic acknowledged that with a slight nod only he added: ?After the fuel depot is destroyed, Lieutenant!? Then another man from behind the Commodore stepped up, a young Lieutenant who seemed a lot uneasier than me to be amidst this briefing. ?All reported asteroid swarms have been added to the chart.?, he began and then pointed to a cluster of grey dots near the fuel depot: ?Watch for this swarm on your way, when you pass it the target should be within sensor range. Also our tanker will be waiting for you on the return trip in that general direction.? He didn't wait for questions or comments before quickly disappearing to the rear of the room. I was nearly done making a sketch of the flight path with course annotations into my notepad when Wagner looked us over once more and barked: ?All set then? Good luck, Gentlemen!?
We saluted and then quickly left the room for the flight deck where the two squadrons more or less seperated again while we helped each other into the heavy flight gear. ?Make sure your Hyperdrive is working before we fly off.?, I calmly said to Nathan while I picked up his helmet. It was clear he would be checking that without me telling him, but actually it made me feel a lot safer about it, like I knew what I was doing about the Hyperdrive. Then Alice came up and helped me into the vest while her glance told me to relax. I quickly looked over Garth to make sure he was safe to fly, too, then I gave a short thumbs-up as a signal for everyone to man their ships.

It was loud on the flight deck as it seemed that every single mechanic available was wielding a power tool of some sort and frantically doing some last minute work on each and every ship. I found my way to my Mosquito with my ship captain standing on top of a ladder just closing a maintenance hatch on top of the engine. Another mechanic was just removing the fuel hose.
?Looks like I'll find a way of firing that missile.?, I shouted up to him, referring to his earlier worry that the scarcely used launches might fail. He made his way down the stairs and stepped closer so he wouldn't have to yell too loudly over the background noise: ?All set, Lieutenant. Just double checked the hyperspace coil myself. All fueled up, fully armed.? Then he reached for the obligatory clipboard lying on the ladder, signed form as usual. A short walkaround inspection and a thumbs-up later he strapped me into my seat and locked the crew hatch behind me. I took a deep breath enjoying the silence of the dead cockpit and letting go my worries about enemy ships and hyperdrives before I began the startup procedure. I flipped the battery switch and the lights and gauges came alive, as did the radio rich on chatter already. We conducted the usual comm checks while through the windshield I watched the mechanics peeling off the ships and making it to the door. I waited for a light on the hangar wall to indicate the hatchway was secured and nobody was left running around the deck before I began starting the actual engine.

Posted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:32 pm
by the space predator
really good! You are amasing!