Alex Rogan, the last Starfighter, is forced from retirement to fight on more battle.
|The First Starfighter
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.”
The door to the old grain silo creaked as he pushed it open. Inside, rays of sunlight streamed through cracks in the rusted steel, landing on an old familiar friend he’d thought he never need again.
A heavy sigh, Alex stepped inside and ran his fingers along the cold polymer, dislodging the thick layer of dust coating the surface. Zuria was quickly after him, then stopped in her tracks. “You’re gonna fly off into space…in that?” she doubted.
His fingers found the etching on the side of its hull that read: Navigator – Grigg, Starfighter – Alex Rogan. “This, Navigator Zuria, is the Mark II Gunstar – the original ship from the battle with the Xurian Kodan.
Her eyes went suddenly wide. “Seriously? This is Death’s Blossom?”
“That’s what they called her after the battle. Named it for the tactical missile system Grig designed as a failsafe – the death blossom missile system. Seemed like a fitting name. She was a good ship.
“Whoah. Does it still fly?”
“It should. The Star League gifted her to me when the Mark IIIs came out. A reward for service to the galaxy, they said.” He smiled. “Four versions later and she’s still got it where it counts.”
“You’ll need a navigator,” Zuria said.
“Not for this ship. Not anymore,” he turned to her. “We refitted it with redundant controls, so that it can be piloted from the gunner position. Just as maneuverable but, without independent control of the turrets, it can pretty much only shoot straight with a single pilot. This old ship doesn’t have the adaptive targeting algorithms of the newer models. All turrets are on manual control.”
“I’ll go with you!” she said.
“No, you’re just a young Starfighter and don’t have the piloting experience.”
“Starfighter, first-class,” she corrected.
“Yeah, but trained in a contemporary Gunstar with a neurolink and autotargeting. I can do this alone.”
“But you’re not alone,” Zuria consoled, resting her hand upon his arm.
He smiled, “I know. Not anymore. Maggie’s out there somewhere, and I’m going to find her…or die trying.”
“What about the Kodan fleet? It’s on its way. They’ll destroy your world, just like they destroyed the others. Unless we can stop them.”
“Right. First thing’s first, then,” Alex said. He found his helmet and placed it over his head, locking it into his old uniform. “You ready for this?”
“How many Gunstars are left?”
“Not enough,” she said. “But the word’s gone out. They’ll fight to the end.”
“I’ll meet you up there then. And you, uh, might want to get clear. This old ship still packs a hell of a punch.”
On her way back to her own ship, Zuria turned to watch the aged Silo fall apart around Alex Rogan’s Gunstar as it blasted off into space.
“That’s a lot of ships,” Alex noted, reviewing the sensor readings of the fleet ahead.
Over a thousand fighters and nearly a hundred heavy bombers preceded a hulking ominous command ship. Like the Xurian Kodan ship, only ten times as big, the command ship drifted to a pause, broad arms of the ship angling forward of the shielded command deck. Backdropped by Jupiter, the Kodan fleet eased to a stop as the two Gunstars approached.
“I’m picking up a communication, General,” Krillo explained.
“I see it,” Alex said, activating his relay. The face of a fat Kodan instantly appeared on his targeting screen.
“Starfighter Alex Rogan, I see my emissaries failed in their mission,” the Kodan sneered. “I am Emporer Grolla of the Kodan. It is…interesting to finally meet you – the hero of Rylos, Vanquisher of Xur.”
Alex grinned calmly. “If by emissaries you mean hired assassins, you’ll have hire more than a crew of Zandozans. Honestly, their diplomacy was terrible,” he smirked. “And from what I understand, the Kodan are the ones who finally captured and imprisoned Xur.
The alien on the screen shifted in his seat and stared down his nose at Alex. “You are hopelessly outnumbered, Starfighter. We have thousands of ships and will plow through your pitiful defense before sailing along unimpeded toward your Earth.”
“We’ll see about that,” Alex defied, then cut the transmission.
“Picking up incoming ships,” Krillo said. As if on cue, thirteen Gunstars dropped from hyperspace to join the two lonely ships.
“Welcome to the party,” Alex said.
“It’s an honor to fight alongside you again, Starfighter,” Alex heard.
“Grig? It’s good to hear your voice.”
“And yours as well. When I heard that they were coming for you, and Earth was in danger, you know I couldn’t stay away,” he chuckled.
“You’ve always been a good friend, Grig, even when I didn’t deserve it.”
“You think too lowly of yourself, Alex. You’ve deserved it more than most. So, what do you say? Another desperate battle against incredible odds?”
“Just like old times.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Communications suddenly cut, interrupted and replaced by, “Alex?”
“I’m here, Alex,” she replied.
“Where are you?”
“On the command ship,” she said.
“Stay there. I’m coming to get you!”
“You can’t. Not this time,” she lamented. “I’m deep inside this thing. I’ve followed the maintenance shafts to main engine compartment and have barricaded the doors.” Blaster fire rippled through the communications. “I don’t have long. They’re coming through. I’m going to sabotage the backflow the engines, but before I died, I just wanted to tell you that I’ll always love you Alex Rogan.”
“Don’t talk that way, Maggie, there has to be a way!”
“I’ve just got this one shot to…” The communication terminated.
“The link was jammed from the source, Alex,” Grig explained.
“I’m going after her, Grig,” he said.
“Of course you are! I would expect nothing less,” the old Navigator replied. “Gunstars…let’s clear a path!”
Fourteen ships of the League blasted forward into combat, surging into the Kodan armada. Explosions erupted in space as the Starfighters, with their Navigators, picked off ship after ship, opening a hole in the lines, large enough for Alex to sneak through. He engaged the sub-light engines and they roared to life, sucking Alex back into the seat as be rocketed ahead. His guns tore into any ship in his way.
“Alex?” Zuria said, blasters firing in the background. “Krillo found another hidden message in Maggie’s transmission. It’s the schematic for that command ship. Transferring to you know.”
“Destroying the communications node won’t work this time, it’s buried deep in the ship,” she paused. “But if you can approach the ship from the rear, there’s an exhaust port just large enough for a Gunstar, running between the two main thrusters. It leads directly to engine compartment.”
“I see it.”
“You too.” Alex punched the thrust ahead at maximum velocity. “I’m coming for you Mags.”
Dodging and evading, Alex rolled the ship, nearly as well as a Navigator, though it strained every muscle and sense. He realized too well, the skill required of a Navigator and how much better suited he was to being a Starfighter. Still, he soared right through the armada, the ship’s heavy armoring taking the brunt of the blasts as he rocketed out the other side again toward the waiting command ship. Turrets rained fire into him but his reflexes were keen. He dropped lurched the nose of his ship down and past the barrage, toward the rear of the vessel, banking his Gunstar around and into the engine wash before launching his missiles directly into the rear of the Kodan heavy cruiser.
A heavy explosion revealed the shaft he was looking for and he eased the ship in, angling the nose and following the pathway deeper into the ship. A series of twists and corners, his Gunstar rocketed into the cavernous engine compartment, thousands of feet tall and wide. Alex desperately scanned the platforms and catwalks on every level, then found her – pinned down by heavy blaster fire.
Maggie cowered behind a torn girder which was being steadily being carved away by a vicious Kodan assault. She flinched reflexively away as her ears rang with every shot. Then, suddenly, the firing stopped and she peered over the edge of her barrier to discover Kodan soldiers backing away in fear. A sudden groan erupted from behind her as a massive Gunstar cleared the catwalk, staring down her attackers. Fire poured into them, clearing the neck, nearly in an instant. Next, the ship eased up and over her setting down on a broad section of exposed decking. The lift engaged and a single figure emerged, jumping down before it even reached ground level.
In moments, Maggie was in his arms in full embrace. His lips met hers and a portion of his life he’d thought was lost forever was now returned to him in an instant. Tears flowed from his eyes and he felt the hope of a universe return to him. Alex brushed a tear from her eye. “I’ve missed you so much,” he said. “You look amazing.”
“Please,” she teased, brushing the hair from her face and tugging at her torn coveralls. “I’ve looked better.”
“What happened to you?”
“I was picked up by the Kodan, interrogated and taken to their prison on Galif-Koda. I barely survived.”
“That’s terrible,” he said. “How could you possibly escape.”
“Xur,” she explained.
“You can’t be serious.”
“He’d been on the run for years. Had been in that prison for just as long. Knew every bit of it. He changed - only had one goal on his mind, to make the Kodan pay. He’d heard the talk about breaching the frontier, about the spies they’d planted in the Star League. He heard from one of the guards about how Rylos fell…about how his father died. In end, I think he truly felt something for Enduran, and for his home world. Maybe he really didn’t want, or didn’t expect, to see Rylos turned to ash. Anyways, Xur knew the only way to make the Kodan suffer was through you. So, he helped me escape – sent me to warn you. And I knew nothing would stop you if you knew I was alive.”
A sudden blast struck the edge of a nearby cooling tank as more soldiers poured into the engine compartment.
“Can you still fly a Gunstar?” he asked.
“Are you kidding?” she smirked, and they were away.
Back aboard, Alex returned the piloting controls to the Navigator position and Maggie dropped the old Gunstar away and over the edge of the catwalk. “In order to destroy this ship,” she explained, “you’ll have to take out the capacitors. I’ve highlighted them on your targeting display.”
“Got it,” he said and began to pivot his chair as the ship banked around him, cannons targeting each of the capacitors in turn. Alex missed the roll of the ship, the feel of the controls in his hand, Maggie at the helm.
Suddenly, a massive explosion erupted from engines. “That’ll do. I’m taking us out,” she said, and pulled the ship around, back the way Alex had maneuvered in.
Fire followed them back through the venting but Maggie was a masterful pilot, easing the ship over and around as if it were second nature. Finally, their Gunstar rocketed back into space and she banked the nose of their ship to port.
Swarmed and struggling, only four Gunstars remained against hundreds of Kodan ships. “We need to help,” Alex said.
“You ready to do this, Alex?”
“More than ever,” he replied.
Nearly lost of power and ships failing, guns had turned on Grig’s ship. He’d already exhausted his death blossom protocol and the Kodan still poured in. “It has been an honor serving with you, Nosha,” he lamented to his Starfighter. Then, a series of explosions erupted from the closing ships and a Mark II Gunstar soared past. “Interstellar!”
“You still with us, Grig?” Alex asked.
“We might have just enough to survive this day, General,” he responded, his hope renewed.
Then, without warning, the command ship suddenly shuddered and exploded, debris expanding in all directions. All at once, the armada was thrown into chaos, their command completely destroyed. The hundreds of remaining Kodan were no match for the five Gunstars. They moved through the enemy fleet and easily wiped the rest of them away. Finally, five ships drifted together in silence, Jupiter eclipsing the distant sun.
“We did it!” Nuria exclaimed.
“We certainly did,” Grig beemed.
“So what now?” she asked.
“We rebuild the Star League, from what’s left of it. Alex?” Grig said, “Are you ready to start over?”
There was a pause from the communicator. “I’ll be there if you need me,” he replied. “But first I think I’m going to need a little more time away.” He pivoted around. “Maggie and I have some catching up to do first.” Alex deactivated communications.
“So, where to?” Maggie asked.
“Well, I’ve got this nice little piece of land you might like back home. Then again, it recently became a bit of a fixer upper.”
“I’ll follow you to the edge of the galaxy, if I have to,” she said, before engaging the thrusters and taking them home.