Unfinished: Pilots career... and his much larger destiny
|Not so far into our future as you might imagine our rapidly advancing technology will lead us into the night, our exponentially expanding population forcing us and our petty squabbles to the stars. There, between the infernos of superheated hydrogen, we will commence upon our biggest and bloodiest of blunders; a war to end all others; a war fought for power, for new worlds, for the galaxy; our war of the worlds.
From our ashes we will rise, a unified force among a scattered and divided people. We are P.H.O.E.N.I.X - the Post-Hostilities, Off Earth, Network for Independent eXistence - and we have emerged just in time to face our destiny.
The scene appears to be a rather posh restaurant, with all the stiff necked wine waiters and violinists that you would expect to see only in those historical dramas about the parties of the social elite of the late 19th century. A band plays in the centre of the room, but by some feat of engineering the acoustics of the room mean that they do not clash with the violinists that serenade the seated guests, adjacent to the band is a large dance floor, where couples swirl around in a series of hypnotic circles. We look down from above at the transparent glass floor, underneath which the stars shine particularly brightly, and a blue green orb, unmistakable as the earth, moves leisurely across the view underneath the tables, and as the earth slides under the table at which a particularly young crowd sits we focus down on them, observing as if we were among them.“Why do we still build space stations that rely on inertia, we have artificial gravity generators now?” Says a young Japanese woman, of about 23, she has long dark hair and dark eyes, and is of a medium height, not that its that obvious with them all seated. The long red dress she wears is very pretty and suits her, but seems a little plain compared to the general tone of the room. The man next to her is tall broad shouldered and black, of a similar age and also slightly under-dressed (in a black suit rather than the tuxedos that everyone else in the room is sporting).
“I guess it’s just cheaper, and anyhow it’s still very pretty” he said, giving her hand a little squeeze underneath the table, keeping hers clasped in his own, “What d’you reckon Sam?”
“Whassat?” Sam seems to be jogged out of an interesting starring match with the light that glints through his empty wine glass while, absent mindedly chewing of a small piece of bread. He is rather thin studious looking type, edgy, and not really the right size for his rather old looking tux. “Oh yeah, yeah, cheaper. Only the really rich buggers ever have whole stations with arti-grav, it’s just too inefficient for something that size. Actually the biggest thing that’s gonna have A.G. is prob’ly the new ship of ours, the one they’re about to send out for its maiden.” He returns to his refracted light and our conversation seems to take a very different turn for a while.
“They make a good couple do they not mon amis?” The speaker is a very pretty girl, with a soft, gentle French voice. She has short reddish brown hair and is undoubtedly the only person at the table that looks really at home in the environment, wearing a low cut black dress, perched on her chair, back as straight as a rod.
“Yeah, they do…” Replies the last member of the group at the table, although there are still two free seats, he looks fairly average; easy going. He has spiky brown hair and stars in the direction of the dance floor looking rather jealous. “Too bad she’s going out with that other idiot. Scorpion is as much of a git in and out of the sim pod.”
Our view moves in the direction of his eyes and the slow waltz becomes more prominent, drowning out the violinists that continue to play quietly to their tables. The couple dancing in front of us is obviously the pair they are talking about, and the golden light reflects off of the white dress she wears, making her shine brighter than any other in the room, a super-nova against the outclassed stars behind. The silhouette that she dances with leads her through a perfect but rather simple and rigid waltz, obviously rather nervous, and as the swim through the gliding movements we can catch glimpses of him, when the light doesn’t quite catch her dress.
As the song finishes they move out from the bright lights of the dance floor, and the dress recedes to a mere shimmer com-pared to its former glory. As they walk back to the table too fill the empty seats, it becomes obvious that she out shines everyone else in a more literal sense as well, dwarfing even our French brunette with her radiant beauty, its no wonder the rather rugged but handsome guy, who looks as if he might collapse at any second, has an obvious affection for her. He gives a sense that in any other situation but this he might be a bit of a daredevil, and a charmer, in fact as he pulls out her chair before seating himself he flashes a candid smile to his spiky-haired friend, rebellious but dashing.
“Hey Sharky!” said the new addition to the table, looking rather relieved that he’s no longer alone with the girl. “Glad to see you lazy slackers found the table.”
“Hi everyone.” said the girl, taking the other chair that her dance partner pulled out for her as he slid into his chair.
“We were getting to the point where we had nothing left to talk about without you.” The phrase has an odd edge to it, and the spiky-haired Sharky receives a hard look as if he is personally at fault for something.
“Nice to see you too, Talon. Evenin’ Sarah.” Sarah nods a reply before the French girl exchanges pleasantries with the two new arrivals.
“It is good that you are here Brin.”
“You too Vanessa.”
“I am glad that you are here also Sarah, it is unfortunate that your boyfriend could not be here, non?” Sharky gives her a stern look and nudges her under the table. The reply is a good deal lower and quieter than Sarah’s exited ‘Hi’.
“It’s probably a good thing, he can’t dance, and it’s no secret that you’re not the greatest friends.”
“Anyway,” said Brin “Now that we are all here, save Neon who is as always on some other planet,” he turns to the nervous looking one, “Hey Sam you in there?” Sam looks rather surprised that there is someone else at the table at all, let alone someone different than was there before, “I guess its time for a toast,” he lifts his glass, “To friends and future… and the end of four long years at this hell hole of an academy.”
“Hear, hear” says the black guy, draining his glass “Right, formalities out of the way, how did the finals go for everyone?”
“You first Midnight, you asked you answer.”
“Come on Ben, how were the piloting finals, you know us grounded types didn’t get to watch on the pod monitors” said the Japanese girl in a sweet appealing voice, giving him a look that he obviously couldn’t bring himself to refuse.
“O.K, but I’m telling it all, you can all add little bits for yourself, I’m not going to hear the same story told 5 times.”~0~
9 large machines sit in a circle in the middle of a dimly lit room. At the front of each, facing away from the centre of the circle, a heavy hatch is open, and chairs with numerous controls are set inside. A door opens, breaking the coherent, metallic-grey of the round wall and 9 people in form-fitting, plain uniform file in closely followed by a much older man in a similar, but more adorned, uniform.
“You’ve all used and trained in these sim-pods before now,” he said in a booming voice, “the artificial gravity and force feedback levels they put out will be set to the highest levels today, this means that everything about this experience will be as real as can be, we are monitoring your uniform biosensors as well as your progress, as the machine is capable of simulating forced that could both knock you out and, eventually, cause you serious harm. Is that understood?” A chorus of affirmative acknowledgments from the students answers the question and we notice that several of the students are the ones from the ball room, Midnight, Talon and Sharky. The scene shifts to another almost identical room, but with different students, and a different teacher, this one a middle aged woman. Of the students in here two we know, Sarah and the French girl, one other stands with his arm around Sarah and this is obviously the aforementioned Scorpion, and he is the only one out of both groups to look absolutely confident.
“The test will be in two parts;” said the woman “the first is a small mission, this is the main element of the test, the second is simply a free for all battle that only some of you will take part in, your first mission score will be calculated by the computer and those of you who have passed will have the simulator reset for the second mission, do not assume that you have failed if you have been destroyed, it is possible to pass even in this circumstance. Those who pass the first examination will be ranked in order by the free for all; the top 4 from each group go into the 24-man final to compete for their overall positions. When you are out of the competition exit the pod and make your way to the viewing area. Other than this all I can tell you is to follow the instructions you are given when you enter the pod and treat this as a real mission. Good Luck.” Names are read out as she gestures to each pod, and the scene switches back to our other characters.
“Uther, Brin.” The man says gesturing to the final simulator. They all make a move towards their designated pod. As Midnight enters his it is obvious that the design is not really suited to his build, but he appears to relax into the seat as he straps himself tightly into the restraints, and taps a button which closes the door. Sharky is looking rather cocky, and swings himself into the replica cockpit with practised ease strapping in with one hand while he closes the door with the other. Talon takes a deep, calming breath and runs one hand through his hair as he walks smoothly towards the furthest pod, sliding into the cockpit and strapping in before closing the door, flipping a sly smile before it seals him in. In the other room the same is happening, Vanessa slips lithely into her pod; Sarah makes a similar action, but flicks a neat pony tail behind her head as she seats herself. Scorpion swaggers over to his pod a huge grin on his face, ducking his head into the pod as though he had already won.
Inside the pods the screens flare to life and a female voice reads out the message that is clearly displayed on the screen.
“As you will have realised only 54 people have been entered into this examination, this is because you are those that have passed the written examinations, your scores have been tallied and your role in this simulation fits these scores. Follow directly the commands of your squadron leader, you all know your squadron colour and your position in the squadron will be listed presently; the squadron leader is a simulated pilot as are the pilots you will face in the first part of this examination, only six of you will progress to the second round. Your mission is simple, combat the waves of pirate fighters in the asteroid field and destroy the capital ship, your score will be based upon technique, ingenuity, kills and accuracy. You will fly a ‘Lance’ class medium fighter with a full compliment of anti-fighter and anti-destroyer missiles. Here are your scores and positions from the written exam:
Bear: 73% 10th
Shark: 75% 9th
Snake: 77% 8th
Huntsman: 80% 7th
Darkstar: 81% 6th
Reaver: 83% 5th
Midnight: 87% 4th
Bull: 92% 3rd
Talon: 95% 2nd
You will have 30 seconds to attune yourself to the controls, begin in 5….4….3….2….” As the scores are read out we see Shark shake his head, looking a little less cocky and Talon nod to himself in acknowledgment, midnight looks pleasantly surprised. In the other room we hear, “Vixen…85%....4th” and get a brief look at Vanessa who look pleased but not ecstatic, focused upon the upcoming exam. Then, “Nymph…90%....3rd” Sarah looks particularly happy, “Scorpion…94%....2nd” Scorpions grin gets larger.
Talon tries the controls, first delicately, then throwing them a bit more, accelerating and decelerating, before checking his load-out. Opening the com he says “Alright people, I want to check weapons quickly, form a standard ‘v’ wing and each fire one shot at me.” He studies the results of his order, they form a perfect ‘v’ and then shots ricochet off his shields, jolting the ship slightly, he matches their speed as he slips up into the back of their formation, and voxes, “Right, hold speed and formation as I do the same.” As he carries out his manoeuvre the computer voice cuts back in counting down again, as the last shot bounces off of Bear’s energy shield the screens go black.
Momentarily they flicker back to life; the sun is at their backs as they fly towards an asteroid field. Talon turns his head to the left and right, and sees the dual stub wings of is squadron mates, the ‘Lance’ class is built for aerial and space combat, utilising a unique folded stub wing that unfurls outwards as atmospheric insertion occurs. The pod controls were in a pretty standard configuration, joystick between the legs just at the edge of the seat, carrying multiple triggers and hat devices, a similarly styled throttle device is positioned at 450 just by his left leg. The large screen wrapped around like a real cockpit extended from in front of him to above him and to the sides, allowing the widest view possible, the only thing breaking that were the thin support struts along the vertices of the window. At his feet were two sliding pedals controlling roll. The holographic radar glowed blue, and he could just see it over the joystick, to either side of it were two several electronic gauges showing burner fuel and weapons energy as well as a speed gauge. Above either knee was a multiple use display, currently showing a status screen and a trace on a single large enemy target. Above his head was a single other display, used as a more accurate rear radar. There were buttons dotted around beneath each display, but the majority of the buttons were located on a small keyboard in front and to the left of him, on a stiff swinging hinge. Beneath his seat was the eject cord, and a helmet (the ejection ripped out the entire cockpit, but it was standard practise to seal yourself into a self contained atmosphere as soon as possible after ejection). Despite all the buttons most of the controls could be voice activated and he spoke calmly to the computer, “Coms to red leader… This is red two awaiting orders” There is a pause while the other pilots report in.
“Red Group, this is red leader.” The voice is monotonous and robotic, “We will attack in three waves of three; one on point to take fighters, the second ready to take out the destroyer and the third will be ready to plug any gaps or add their weight to the attack if odds start to increase. The lone fighter we be patrolling, scan the asteroids we need to know everything about this place. Point is myself, 6, and 8, Destroyers is 3, 4 and 10, reserves are 5, 7 and 9 that leaves 2 for patrol. Everyone in ‘v’s.” Talon quickly jabbed a button.
“Sir that leaves me and the point team very open for attack, the asteroids confuse our sensors and we’re open for ambush.”
“Continue as ordered, pilot.” Talon flicked the button back again, accelerated and went to afterburners, zooming off to one flank and cutting through the asteroids. Looking at his radar he cut the burners and told the computer to get a secure channel through to 4 and 9.
“Guys this stinks of a trap, so stay alert, Sharky be real quick on the uptake, as soon as you get a hint of trouble look to be helping me and the point team out.” Two acknowledgments come and Brin cuts the burners back in zipping across to the other flank of the nine man main team, to try and get a look before anything happens. The point team and the destroyers are not far behind. As he looks back he sees a glint of light come off one of the larger asteroids that the squadrons are staying in the shadow of to avoid sensors. He turns his ship to get a better look, and the moment his nose swings round five engines ignite on the asteroids surface, accelerating not towards him, but skirting the edge of the asteroid to intercept the attackers. Flicking the com switch open he yells
“I have contacts! Break off, Break off!” he goes to full after burners, his engines still compensating for his sharp turn he is slammed into his seat with the force of acceleration. He clears the horizon of the asteroid just in time to see the miss-matched pirate wing pile all their fire power into the nearest of the point team, and as it explodes they rip into red leader, who’s shield resist for longer and he has a chance to go evasive, but he can’t evade for long, and gunfire rips through his shields taking out his engines and forcing him to eject, his ship careens out of control into the huge asteroid, his cockpit spirals off into the darkness, fortunate not to be shattered by an asteroid. As he gains on the ships he cuts his ships throttle and slides along a course that lets him rip into the side of one of the pirates, calling into the coms at the same time, “Everyone engage! 8… Snake you there?” Static for a moment then,
“Sure boss, but I’m shot up pretty bad.”
“Break off now, we’ve got you covered.” Pushing his throttle back up he slips onto the tail of one of the fighters chasing Snake, hammered its shields with tracer shots, while he waited for a missile lock. He got it and let it rip, stopping firing so as not to detonate it. That was two of the five. Sharky hadn’t been slow on the uptake either, and used his landing jets to bounce up and hit his own after burner, laying into the ships that were closer to the asteroid, and were turning to get a lock on Talon, firing barely over Brin’s head and taking out the quickest of the bunch, the price they paid for being first.
Talon used another burner slide to cause a crossfire; the destroyer team laying down a huge barrage with the remaining two reserves and him at 900 to them. This quickly took out the last of the ambushers. “Report.” he said calmly. Most of them were untouched, but they had lost Darkstar and Red Leader, and Snake was shot almost to pieces. Two of the destroyer team had taken minor damage. “O.K, new plan. Bear, Bull I want you out wide to my left, Huntsman, Reaver your to the right, I want to know the moment something happens, and if anything moves shoot it, hold them up for as long as you can, and beat them back. Midnight, Sharky, Snake, you’re in a reverse ‘v’ I want snake in the middle, cover him and all of you lock and load every missile you have on that destroyer. I’m taking point.”
“What’re you planning Talon?” It was Sharky. Brin chuckled.
“Do you remember the first lecture we ever had on shields?”
“He means that shields are designed to deflect the force of a light fast object with lots of energy,” It was Midnight for a big guy he was surprisingly clever, “a big slow object will pass right through, but a fast object with enough mass…”
“No?” Sharky again, rather awe struck, “You wouldn’t?”
“Always did want to try the theory out, O.K did everyone get all that? This means we’re going in on full afterburners, you three fire all your missiles when I get to, errrr, 300 meters, and stay well back from me.”
“I hope you don’t fly like this in real life.” Said Midnight.
Then it started, the ship was a long way away, and Talon watched it steadily grow while he was squashed into the back of his chair, trying to stay conscious.
From half a kilometre back Snake, Sharky and Midnight tried to have a conversation on a closed channel.
“The guy is suicidal” said Sharky his acceleration barely less than Talons.
“Brilliant, but yeah, some very lemming like tendencies” said Midnight.
“I’m not sure what you two are yapping about, I still don’t understand what he’s going to do.”
“He’s going to ram them.” Said Sharky.
“It’s rather more complicated than that,” commented Midnight, “He’s dropped his shields, he’s going to cut his throttle at the last second and pull the nose up, bounce of their shields, and then probably pass out.”
“Yeah, O.K understanding the suicidal bit now, but I still don’t understand why?”
“With luck the force of impact should overload the shields of the destroyer, he has to drop his own shields or the same could happen to him. If it were him, his generator would probably explode taking him with it, but for the destroyer the desired result is a few sparks and about five seconds of shields down, at which point we’ll have done enough to blow the thing out of the sky.”
“O.K the brilliant bit is starting to make sense now too.” The destroyer was only a kilometre or so away From Talon now, and he was barely breathing the pressure on his chest was so great, he imagined the look on the faces of those monitoring his bio-signs tried to laugh, cut his throttle, and pulled up.
As he hit the shields there was a blue flash and he bounced away almost as fast as he had been going before, managing spin his ship through 180 degrees with the rear landing jets before compensating with the front, giving a burst of full after burners, and passing out.
They sent the missiles after him as he hit 300 meters, they were no where near catching up, but they slipped through while the shields were still down, and the destroyer had about 20-30 missiles of various types slam into it, it exploded the massive barrage had not only put it out of action, but the resultant explosion was enough to vaporise it. The three jubilant pilots pulled away from the blast, but Talon, who had no shields, was caught by it, it ripped half of one wing off of his ship, and seriously damaged his thrusters system and most of his weapons, but he stayed intact.
“Contact, we have contact!” yelled someone over the com, Bull temporarily in charge ordered Sharky and Midnight to help them while he and Bear stayed on the lookout for more trouble. Snake was to go after Talon.
“Talon! Talon! Do you receive?” static, “Repeat, do you receive?”
“You did it, but we have trouble again; the remaining fighters that they set up in ambush are on us.”
“O.K, you go help if you can, I still have a few missiles, I’ll limp back and see if I can get a few off at long range.” It was over in moments, the few remaining fighters were dispatched quickly and the screens went dark. The female voice cut back in.
“You will now have time to rest, those of you that have passed will be notified shortly, please stay in your pods until this point, when you will receive further instructions.
Talon closed his eyes and passed out again.
The others waited in silence for a good 15 minutes, and then the voice cut back in.
“These students have passed the first portion of this examination:” Talon’s eyes snapped back open, he had been out cold for only the first ten minutes of the wait before he woke up and fell into a light sleep, the voice woke him up, not particularly refreshed, but alive. “Benjamin ‘Midnight’ Chambers, Christopher ‘Snake’ Lewis, Joseph ‘Shark’ Remora, James ‘Bull’ Robinson, Andrew ‘Reaver’ Smith and Brin ‘Talon’ Uther. Would those who have failed please make their way to the viewing area. Those who have passed please await further instructions.”~1~
“You really are suicidal aren’t you?” The ballroom again and it’s Sarah speaking, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, Yeah, it was nothing really I’m fine.” Sharky and Midnight both burst into laughter.
“I’ve never seen someone try to be modest and masculine at the same time, it suits you Talon.” Says Midnight, between guffaws.
“What do you mean?” says Sarah.
“He means that Talon here is not being completely honest, turns out that that little stunt he tried pushed him far beyond the limit, it’s a miracle he woke up during the mission, and it turns out that after the sim finished and he conked out again they had to give him a mild shock through his flight-suit to wake him, as they obviously couldn’t give him any adrenaline. The ‘random medical checks’ that took place after the tests finished weren’t as random as you might have thought, my guess is that they had to drag him out of that cockpit and stretcher him away while we were told to stay in the observation room. Am I right Brin?”
“I’m afraid so Joe” Sarah gives Brin a rather annoyed look,
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He doesn’t reply but tries to look away, her face slips into a look of concern again,
“Ours was nothing like that,” said Vanessa “Just a straight destroyer killing, save for our having to follow fleeing pirates into a nebulae and eyeball them, nebulae killed our sensors. Still it is impressive how you managed that Brin, and to carry on afterwards, well that must have taken a lot of…what is the word…”
“Willpower.” Said the young Japanese woman, “Anyway, I’m on the edge of my seat, what happened next.”~2~
“The next stage of the test will begin presently, you will be directly competing for a position in your group, this is a test of dog-fighting ability and your Lances have been outfitted appropriately. In this round the first two pilots who are put out of action will leave for the viewing area immediately, the other four will continue the battle, the second round is a straight free-for-all, once you are destroyed you are out, and will proceed to the viewing area unless instructed otherwise.” The screens went black, and then flickered back on to an image of open space. “You will commence battle in 5….4…” Brin checked his radar, it showed 6 red contacts, “3…” they were arranged in a huge hexagon one dead ahead of him, two to his right, “2…” and two to his left, and he glanced out the window confirming each position, “1…Engage.”
He slammed the throttle forwards and pulled up hard before flipping his ship over, and slowly moving in an arc to face down on the battle. He could clearly see all of the ships; all of them had skirted the edge of the hexagon, none of them chancing the centre, none of them using the same initiative as him. Then one of them spotted him, he targeted it and checked his display, it was Bull, he was coming in from an angle above and to the right, an angle he obviously hoped would mean that Talon wouldn’t see him. Talon hung there, playing the game, waiting his moment, finger itching. His radar showed two little yellow blips approaching from Bull. He still hung there, moments before the missiles hit he punched the burner, and spun the ship to the right, and down (up from his point of view), dragging the duped Bull straight into the crosshairs as he went passed, following the slowly turning missiles, they were no use now, they went too far past him to have much hope of regaining a lock. Talon on the other hand ripped bull apart in a tide of yellow bolts of energy.
He used the pedals to flip the ship back upside down, and looked back at the others, Sharky and Midnight were playing cat and mouse, neither able to get a good shot. Reaver and Bear were doing similar, but these two were both taking a pounding. Midnight and Sharky, obviously noticing an easier target decided to gang up on Bear, as Reaver turned he got off a few shots taking down Bears shields. Bear, trying to shake the pursuer, turned straight towards the two pilots, whose hail of fire ripped through his simulated fighter. Talon decided to join the party; he kicked his throttle and hit the after burner, targeting midnight he locked a missile, and eyeballed Sharky with tracer rounds before letting the missile go, forcing both ships to break off of their pursuit of Reaver and make a run for it, he called to his computer, loading a dumb fire, and immediately hit the off balance Reaver, who had little chance of surviving especially with the following storm of tracers. He whipped his ship around, letting it slide backwards, to take a look at Midnight and Sharky.
Quite the opposite of finishing each other off they appeared to be ganging up on him, he had to think quickly. They were rushing towards him, side by side, and he did the last thing they’d expect, he charged. With a tap of the after burners he countered his backward slide and began accelerating, they were still a good way off, obviously wanting a good space to work with and to lick there wounds in, the first shots came zipping towards him at about 1.5 km he flicked his ship this way and that for a few moments and then saw the burning trail of a missile, he hit his landing jets, and let the missile go under him, then slammed on his after burners, letting far to many tracer rounds hit him as he charged towards the small gap between the two ships. His shields were gone, but he was through the gap, and now he only had to hope that it paid off. Predictably midnight looped up, but Sharky did just what Talon had hoped for; turned towards Midnight and laid into him with dumb fires and tracers. Talon, his shields gone, had only to flip his ship, let it slide backwards slowly and hammer Sharky while he betrayed Midnight, he tapped the com button.
“Your so predictable guys.” They both exploded in a cloud of shrapnel and he chuckled softly as everything went black, the laughter turned to a cough and as we wiped his mouth his hand came away with a red stripe.~3~
The screen came up, and the voice began another countdown, he looked at the red dots on his radar, and as he saw the big brown slightly curved area he glanced up. He saw the planet, a small gas giant, much bigger than Earth but much smaller than Jupiter, no moons, but lots of rings, like a small Saturn. His competitors were in four rings of six, one off to his left, another to his right and one dead ahead, between him and the planet. Everyone knows that variety is the mark of a good pilot, whereas repetition is the mark of a dead pilot, you never know who chats to who and when your facing someone who knows your moves, so best to innovate and vary your repertoire as much as possible, this time Talon went for the absolutely unexpected, its stupid to head right into the centre of a ring of hostile ships, so nobody is ready for it when it happens, especially not cadets who have had it hammered into them not to do it under any circumstance. Still, he did it and as he reached the centre of the circle he compensated for his speed and set his ship into a slow spin along its axis, firing of indiscriminate, low-power laser rounds at the ships around the outside of the circle. A couple of the ships, already engrossed in dog-fighting each other, ignored the shots but the remaining three came at him blazing away.
He quickly countered the spin of his ship, dropped his shields and simultaneously fired the landing jets on the left of his ship, sending him into a tight corkscrew, rolling away to the right. This not only dodged the first volley of tracers that came in, but made it look as though he was almost finished off. They took the bait and attacked each other, thinking he was no longer a threat they had moved on to ‘priority’ targets, e.g. the ones that were liable to shoot them back. He spoke calmly to the computer, knowing there was no need to keep his voice down.
“Computer, I need you to turn off everything in the cockpit, kill everything that gives off any light. Then I want random bursts from the thrusters, counter the spin. I want you to target the three nearest ships in the same quadrant and load three missiles.” The spinning sensation was making him dizzy, but he kept his eyes on the fierce tussle he’d created and, as the ships spin slowed he took up the joystick, turned towards the three ships, all taking damage, and fired the missiles. None of them ready for the assault all three missiles found their marks and three balls of expanding shrapnel expanded where once there had been three ships.
He flicked his shields back on, an alarm whined momentarily, and then something slammed into the shield, the two lone dogfighters had obviously reduced to one, and that heavily damaged one was laying everything he had into Talon. Not wanting to wait Talon hit the burners and accelerated around a steep upward loop, letting momentum swing him around and back behind the opposing ship before it had a chance to react, he fired a couple of rounds before countering his momentum and the brief second he lost were enough for the other ship to make a run for it on burners, instead of wasting after burner fuel, which he knew he would need for the more tricky opponents he used his fourth missile leaving only two but vaping the other ship.~4~
He glanced at his radar; it was still dead “Computer?” he inquired, the computer answered briskly, “Turn everything back on and can you list the other nine ships, starting with those from my group and then Scorpion’s?” The screens and lights flickered back to life, there were still quite a few dots left on it.
“The remaining ships from your group are;” he tracked a target blip that was heading towards him, and shot down the missile that was moving towards him, “Yourself, Midnight and Shark. Bull was shot down by Scorpion, who is also still alive as are Vixen and Nymph.” The enemy fighter was now dead in his sights, running away from him, he squeezed the trigger, but the fighter had applied full brakes and used its landing jets to bounce up over him as he shot underneath, “Other than these only four others are now alive Maverick, Goblin, Devilfish and Wolfs-bane are still alive.” Now under fire applied full brakes, stopping his ship almost dead and throwing him forwards inside it, his attacker wheeled away to one side.
“Keep me notified.” Said talon as with a burst of precious afterburners he accelerated forwards right onto the other ships tail, firing round after round into the ships shields and then as the first shot hit the engine casing he dropped back, letting the other ship gain some ground before blowing out the engines and seeing the shrapnel sucked outwards in a huge, pressure equalising, explosion.
“Goblin is Out of action” confirmed the computer. Talon headed back to the plant and the action.
“Computer, I want call-sign overlays placed on my heads-up-display and get rid of the ship type markers, they’re useless to me.” The markings on the HUD flickered and returned. He headed for two ships tussling; the HUD denoted them as Vixen and Maverick. He targeted Maverick, and as he came in closer he opened up with his tracers. The energy rounds bounced of the shields bounced off of the fighters shield, and Maverick broke of his pursuit of the floundering, French fighter-pilot, not quick enough to get more than a couple of rounds of before becoming some more dust in orbit of the big planet. Vixen had a rather better go of it, as he passed through the debris she looped round behind him and opened up with tracers. Flicking his com Talon said “Hey Vanessa is that any way to treat someone that just did you a favour?”
“I believe this is a free-for-all mon amis,” she replied casually while trying to get him in the crosshairs, “which makes you my target does it not?”
“Well when you put it that way…” said Talon. He hit his afterburners, sliding his ship between two others that were going head to head. Vixen had to break off and go round the two ships, this gave talon the time to turn round and surprise Vixen with a massive volley that took out her shields and sent her ship spiralling, its engines critically damaged. “Now look what you made me do,” he said, “Are you sure I am your enemy?” She pulled her ejection cord and the cockpit of her ship blasted away from the fuselage, he pounded a shot or two into the remains of the fighter, and it blew apart as he swung his ship away.~5~
Vanessa pressed the release of her pods canopy, apparently not too disappointed with herself, but definitely anxious to be away to the viewing area. She sprinted through the open door, noticing the last two operating pods hatches closed, moving quickly along a curved corridor she swung herself into the large white viewing room. A crowd was clustered in the centre of the room, looking up at the three large arrays of screens.
She barged her way through the crowds to get a good look at the screens. There were 8 ships left with her gone, green markings at the bottom of each screen and overlaid faintly over the ships images showed who was where and doing what. Vanessa quickly picked Sarah out of the bunch; Nymph had another ship on her tail, she was in a bad way. Two missiles slammed into the pursuer from another vector, Goblins ship vaporised and Talons ship slid through the expanding dust cloud. Another name went dark on the scoreboard displayed on one of the screens.
Back in the cockpit Talon flicked his com,
“I hope you’re more grateful than Vixen was.” he said, “she seemed to take offence at me saving her bacon.”
“I’m not going to shoot you if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Good, I’ll see you later then.” Talon hit his afterburners again, and aced Midnight with a long-shot at just the right moment. The shot crippled his ship but was nothing irreparable. “Sorry Midnight.”
“Don’t worry Talon, its not like we didn’t know it might come down to it.”
We’re back with Vanessa again, in the viewing room, another name had gone dark; Scorpion had taken out Wolfs-bane. Goblin was gone too, Talon had got him. Midnight ejected, leaving only four. Sharky hadn’t been completely idle, he circumvented the action and sped straight for Scorpions fighter, Unfortunately Scorpion had anticipated the attack, and deftly dodged the shots and slotted in behind Sharky as he made a run for it, jinking his ship in random directions, but definitely headed towards Nymph’s fighter. As he approached he fired a few warning shots, letting them bounce off of her shields, and she started firing back. Now boxed in, Sharky made straight at her ship on full afterburners, brining her shields down just as he approached her. Then something odd happened.
In Sarah’s fighter she frantically starts trying to evade; her shields down, but Sharky, who is being closely pursued by Scorpion breaks off his attack, again worrying about the fighter on his tail. Breathing a sigh of relief Sarah lets go of the afterburner, as she does so, her ship judders and sirens blare. She looks at her screen and sees a bright red overlay around a fighter bearing down on her.
Back in the viewing area the crowd get a prime view of Scorpion breaking off his attack of Sharky and letting heading straight for his stricken girlfriend on full burners. His laser squirts off a quick burst before a collective gasp issues from the crowd, as two missiles streak away from the fighter.
Talon catches Sarah’s gasp over the comm, and curses under his breath. Sharky has managed to get back on Scorpions tail. Talon almost yells at the computer.
“Shields at 80%, Hull at 75. Weapons systems fully operational. Missiles depleted. Afterburner fuel; 70% spent.”~6~
Sarah and Midnight jogged into the viewing room together, to be greeted jovially by Vanessa.
“Took you long enough to get out of that cockpit.” She said sarcastically to Midnight, “You performed most impressively also Sarah.”
“Later, what’s going on?” said Sarah.
“See for yourself.” Replied Midnight solemnly, and gestured towards the screens. Shark was chasing Scorpion in the general direction of the planet, while Talon tried his best to catch up without wasting anymore burner fuel. The display showed Scorpion’s shields were low as he neared the planets rings. He hit the his after burners, pulling out a little space between him and his pursuer and skimming along the ‘top’ of the rings, as Sharky raced to catch up Scorpion hit his rear jets and cut his throttle, before compensating with the stick, and firing backward at Sharky and launching his final missile, vaporising the fighter.~7~
Back at the table the conversation takes a reprise as the food is brought to the table by a snooty looking waiter.
“What happened with you and Scorpion after the exam Sarah?” asked the Japanese woman.
“He said he didn’t have our callsigns up on his display, and anyway it was a free-for-all I couldn’t very well hold it against him could I? Still I have to admit I was angry with him for a while, and a little bit hurt.”~8~
“Can’t blame you.” said Sharky, “Hey he shot me too.” He adds indignantly as Sarah flashes him a piercing glance. “Anyhow, its time to hear the best bit, the ending’s really good.”
“Guess it’s just me and you now hotshot” Scorpion’s voice rang arrogantly over the comm.
“Yeah, and in a minute it’ll be just me.” retorts Talon, through gritted teeth as he hits after burners and fires volley after volley of lasers at Scorpion. Scorpion dodges the fire using his landing jets and dives into the dust rigs.
The crowd in the viewing room are going wild as Shark walks in. His three friends more or less drag him to the front to stare at the screens; he is just in time to see Talon on full burners dive into the rings after Scorpion.
On the screen we can see the two fighters frantically dodging the larger rocks, and trying to gain a bead on one another without crashing. Scorpion whips round a large asteroid, disappearing for a moment, before sliding back on the other side and getting a couple of shots off at Talon, who can’t return fire because he’s forced to dodge the asteroid himself.
In the fighter Scorpions laughter crackles over the comm, but stops abruptly as Talon flies more smoothly round the asteroid and gets off a volley at scorpions sliding fighter. Scorpion uses a single jet burst to dodge any following shots and slip onto Talon’s tail.
“O.K then, try and follow this!” shouts Talon. The acceleration of his after burners slams him into his seat. On the screens the leading fighter becomes a blur, whipping around asteroids, and vaporising others with bursts of laser fire. Moments later Scorpion’s fighter follows suit. In the viewing room there are gasps and cheers as the blurs zip across the screens.~9~
“Those guys are nuts.” says Sharky. “They’re not gonna to kill each other, they’re gonna kill themselves!” Meanwhile in the two cockpits there is frantic activity, both pilots are giving it everything they’ve got, blood trickles down the side of Talon’s face from his nose.
The computer’s calm voice rings out.
“10% after burner fuel remaining.”
“Damn.” says Talon to himself, “Computer, I want to know what that planets atmosphere is like.”
“70% hydrogen atmosphere, 20% nitrogen, 10% trace elements.”
“O.K, prepare to vent all oxygen, save what’s in the cockpit, and get ready to deploy the wings.” On the screens his fighters blur changes course abruptly, and streaks towards the planet on a course for atmospheric insertion, the sudden manoeuvre seems to catch Scorpion by surprise, and Talon pulls out some distance before cutting his burners, and letting Scorpion gain a little on him, the planet looms closer, it fills all the screens, both cockpit windows. “Computer, on my mark deploy the wings and hit the retroes. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…Mark!”~10~
On the screens Talons fighter seems to stop dead, as the wings flick out, as the distance closes rapidly Scorpions fighter does the same. A red glow appears around the two fighters as they drop into the atmosphere. Laser fire streaks towards Talons fighter during the insertion and his fighter starts to level off its descent, jinking and corkscrewing to avoid the laser rounds that follow him.
“Got to get deeper, got to get deeper.” He mumbles, the nosebleed is now advancing down his neck and is now joined by a small trail from the corner of his mouth. “Computer, are you ready?” He tries to turn in his seat, to get a view of where Scorpion is. “How far behind me is he? Too late now; on my mark... Mark!” As he says it he punches the after burners and the landing jets at the same time, screaming upwards trying to get out of the atmosphere behind him the Hydrogen combusts his after burners having ignited it, but whether it works or not he has no idea, the combined force of the explosion, his afterburners and his landing jets has knocked him out, he groans at a sudden jolt as everything goes black.
The screens in the waiting area go white and the audience shield their eyes. As the explosion fades the outline of a single fighter spins slowly. Its wings ripped off, half the back gone. There are murmured questions of what happened? Who is it? and so on, but as the picture becomes clearer a red overlay fades slowly, after what seems like an age the call sign becomes legible, on the scoreboard Scorpion’s name fades to black.