Alex Rogan, the last Starfighter, is forced from retirement to fight one last battle.
|The First Starfighter
(This is an abbreviated version of the full story also available on my portfolio, just in case you'd like to read the rest of the story at some point.)
Alex Rogan lurched suddenly awake, massaging a throbbing headache left over from another night of heavy drinking. He tried to forget, but it never helped. So, he eased his legs over the side of his broken couch, his feet finding the torn vinyl flooring. He rubbed out the shoulder soreness of a restless night on well-worn cushions and tried to stretch out the kinks.
“G-G-Greetings, Starfighter,” he heard again from outside and grabbed a beer on his way, kicking the screen door open, almost taking it off the hinges as he stumbled outside. It must have been noon, and his eyes tried to focus in the glare of midday.
Alex staggered over to the edge of the nearby drop-off, the ledge overlooking the long-abandoned trailer park below him, now rusted and nearly consumed by the high desert. A new freeway on the other side of the ridge had taken the traffic, the schools, the businesses, away from his old home. All that remained was the run-down trailer he called home, and the old vacant convenience store Otis had willed to him when he passed. “Starlight Starbright,” he remembered Otis saying. “This is where it all started. You should have it.”
He was right, for sure. The old Starlight Starbright convenience store really was where it all began – where Alex left for the stars. Now, he stood atop the same ridge, surveying the weathered steel and remembering simpler times. He recalled his time in the park, somehow being roped into the acting as the local handyman, helping Elvira fix her cable or Otis with his antenna. He briefly reminisced over his old trailer, sharing a room with his brother on the bottom bunk. His mother worked two jobs. She did the best she could.
Life had moved on from their little oasis in the desert mountains. His mom was gone, working until the end…until she finally succumbed to age and died of a broken heart. And Louis…Alex’s thoughts began to wander again to his brother. Louis always had big dreams, even eventually following Alex into space to become a navigator in the fleet. It was that decision which ultimately killed him. He died during a Cantari raid on Blexlin Prime. The Rylans said he was a hero – saved thousands of lives. He even has a statue on Rylos, a stone carved shadow of the man who was his brother…the man who can never come back.
Most of all, Alex missed Maggie, and blamed himself every day for her death. He was the one who talked her into following him to the stars. When he returned for her, he was an interplanetary hero, and they’d built a good life on Rylos. She trained to be his Navigator, and became exactly that, in more ways than one. And he was her Starfighter. They were unmatched, soulmates it seemed, with an unrivaled record in the Starfleet. But that was before she died. They’d walked into a trap, a thousand Kodan ships against them. It was sheer luck that his body was discovered a parsec away from the wreckage by a passing salvage freighter. That was five years ago, and he brooded over her loss every day.
“Y-You have been recruited by the Star League…”
Alex spun around, hands suddenly shaking and eyes wide. He anxiously studied the valley and the old country road, inching cautiously back toward the old convenience store, nerves on edge.
“Kodan…” the old Starfighter arcade machine blurted out between bursts of static. “Get ready Starfighter…”
Alex eased a trembling hand behind the machine, reaching for the cord, just to make sure it was unplugged. The thing hadn’t worked for years, and when he pulled the end free, he discover it was still disconnected. Besides, the Starlight Convenience store had been without power for years.
“G-G-G-Greetings,” Centauri’s voice blared mechanically, a friend long dead, and Alex stumbled backward into the dirt.
“Impossible,” he realized, then caught a familiar stench, followed by motion in the corner of his eye. It must have been a reflex, an impulse honed from years in the field, but he spun away in the dirt, just as the first bolt struck the ground right where he’d been. Blaster fire rained into the storefront and Alex bolted toward his trailer, nearly taking the door off the hinges before diving inside.
Fire from unknown sources all around poured into the old trailer, shot after shot, carving away steel and aluminum. Windows shattered and the walls exploded with each shot, a furious firestorm raining into the already decrepit trailer. Then at once, stillness. Its foundations compromised, the trailer shuddered and dropped, a huge section of smoking, devastated wall falling outward.
They growled and chattered amongst themselves as they cautiously approached the ruined trailer. A squadron of hired assassins, a dozen in all, stepped from the brush into the clearing. They chortled with approval, relishing in the exhilaration of the kill and the promise of a substantial bounty.
Then, from inside the still smoking carcass of the devastated mobile home, a singular figure emerged and began blasting away, paired laser-carbines in each hand. Alex Rogan picked away at his attackers, dodging fire and advancing forward with confidence. They were good, but Alex was lightyears better. He was a Starfighter, after all, with unparalleled reflexes and a firing precision unmatched…even hung over.
One by one he dropped each them – one shot, one kill. Finally, the last one broke away in a run for the trees, but Alex swiftly dispatched it with a single bolt. He nudged the nearest of them over with his boot. “Zandozans,” Alex recognized. “Well, that explains the Starfighter machine…and the smell.” He remembered the arcade game sometimes reacted strangely around alien tech.
A cough, and Alex spun instantly around, both pistols ready. One of his attackers was slowly inching along the ground, so Alex was quickly upon it, rolling it onto its back and digging a barrel into the alien’s chin. “Why are you here?” he demanded. “The war’s over.”
“Over?” The alien’s laugh became a maniacal chortle as the power surged on its weapon to overload.
Alex took off in sprint, around the corner of the Starlight and down the steep incline toward the old trailer park. Even then, the blast was fierce and he was thrown into the rusted steel, sinking back onto the ground. “Oof,” he moaned, rolling onto all fours.
Easing up onto his feet, his mind still raced. “Zandozans. Why come after me now? I mean I’m done, have lost everything. What could they possibly…?”
His thoughts were interrupted by a suddenly explosion from above, the familiar growl of repulsor engines as a ship dropped from space. Alex shielded his eyes from the sun as he gazed skyward. This was no Zandozan ship. Settling down slowly atop the ridge above, a solitary Gunstar eased to rest, its nose pointed into the sky.
“Great,” Alex said. Covered in dust and blood, he climbed back up the slope toward the towering ship.
“Are we too late?” he heard one of them say as he cleared the ridge, his trailer demolished and half the Starlight blown to pieces. “Damn.”
Alex eased ahead without a ward, pistols forward and creeping up behind the uniformed pair without a sound. That was until the primer on his pistols clicked as the barrels tapped their helmets. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Whoa, easy.” Arms raised, they turned slowly and removed their helmets as Alex stepped away. “We’re friendly.”
“Are you?” he asked.
“We’re looking for General Alex Rogan,” the shorter of the pair said.
Alex lowered his pistols. “You found him,” he said, and the pair suddenly stood proudly at attention. “Cut it out,” he said. “I’m done with all that stuff. So, what did you mean, ‘are we too late?’ Did you know these Zandozans were coming for me.”
“We intercepted a Kodan transmission and were the closest ship to respond. We tried contacting you…”
“I switched it off. I’m retired,” Alex interrupted, though didn’t say more.
“I’m, uh, Navigator, first-class, Zuria Gren, sir,” she saluted. “This is my Navigator, Krillo.”
He likewise saluted.
“Krillo doesn’t talk much,” she smiled. “It’s an honor to meet you sir.” Zuria was obviously nervous, hands trembling as she brushed her purple hair away from her large, lavender eyes.
Alex turned without a word and then walked away.
“General?” she asked, perplexed, following after him.
“Um, I’ll stay with the ship,” Krillo said.
“General!” she shouted and Alex stopped, holding position with his back to her.
“I told the Star League I was done. I was done fighting their wars. The fleet was rebuilt. That was the agreement. They didn’t need me anymore.”
“A lot’s changed.”
“I’m sure,” he brooded. “There’s always another battle! There’s always another war!” He turned suddenly and stormed back to her. “I lost everything! You can tell those diplomats on Rylos…”
“Rylos is gone, sir!” she interrupted.
Alex stepped back, stunned. “Wait, what?”
“Rylos is gone,” Zuria repeated. “So is Kelvia, Alondros, and Bourmuth. The frontier is down.”
“Impossible,” he became introspective, images of his battles flooding his mind, the friends he’d lost.
“We need your help. You were the best, the last but also the first, the first Starfighter of my generation.
“We fortified the frontier so nothing could get through,” Alex said to himself, then returned his gaze to hers. “How did it happen?”
“Spies within the League, General. You mean you haven’t heard?”
“Like I said. I’m retired. I deactivated all off-world communications. I just want to be alone.”
“So, then you don’t know?”
They returned to the shadow of the towering Gunstar. “This message was encrypted in the Zandozan kill order. Krillo was able to decode it and I relayed a copy to what’s left of the Star League,” Zuria explained, handing a palm-sized holo-emitter to Alex. “It’s a bit grainy but the message is clear.”
A familiar image appeared and Alex nearly dropped the device. “Hey Alex,” Maggie said. It was strange to hear her voice after so many years. She still pulled her hair back at the sides and, even older, she was as beautiful as ever, though she looked tired.
“Was this recorded before she died? Where did you find it?”
“Look at the time stamp,” Zuria said.
“It’s dated three weeks ago,” he realized.
He resumed the playback. “I’ve missed you,” Maggie said. “I guess you can see that I’m still alive.” She smiled and a tear ran down Alex’s cheek. “You probably thought I was killed in the ambush. I thought you were dead too. I hope we can see each other again, but I don’t have time for explanations now. There’s something you should know.”
Alex turned to Zuria, almost not believing what he was seeing.
Maggie continued. “They’re coming, Alex – the Kodan. The entire fleet is headed for Earth. They’re going to destroy it, and I think maybe only you can stop them. You have an amazing set of skills Alex Rogan. There’s never been another starfighter like you and I’ve been proud every moment to be your wife. I love you, and I hope this message reaches…you…in…time…” the message blinked off.
“Is there more?” he was desperate to know.
“Sorry,” Zuria shrugged. “That’s it.”
“I’m going to need my ship.”