Neptune to Earth"
Cuciz & James Krych
Long Days in Hell"
"Lieutenant Kurtz - please wake up."
The voice got to my brains through layers of sleep. Was I dreaming
that I was awakening, or waking from a dream?
"Lieutenant Kurtz, sir, it's 0400. Please wake up."
Then it wasn't a dream at all. Dreams do not spell numbers. Not
I sat up on my bunk and looked out: standing silhouetted against
the open door was a yeoman - one of the unfortunate souls aboard
Lexington whose job was to wake up gruff pilots like me.
"Heard you." I answered yawning. "Give me a couple
of minutes, OK?"
I fought the temptation to go back to sleep. Now I understood
why they had to use people for this kind of deal instead of simply
instructing the computer to wake up crew members: you don't feel
bad about making a machine wait for your lazy butt to slide off
I got up, not too fast to avoid ending up with a dizzy head, and
headed off to the bathroom. Took a couple of cold-water splashes
on my face to wake me up fully, sort of. I looked at the miserable
face staring at me from the mirror, then shaved and showered,
put on a fresh suit, and got out. The yeoman visibly relieved
that he hadn't had to pull me out of the bunk motioned for me
4:00 AM or 0400 in military parlance, Lex's corridors were devoid
of the usual activity. With reveille at about 0530, most of the
personnel around were either the night shift going about or early
birds, like kitchen staff and the like. My escort led me to the
mess room doors, saluted and went off. I went through the door.
Mess hall was almost deserted, except for some familiar faces
from 357th: Jon was there, along with a couple of wingmen. "Hi,
Swiss." he said upon noticing me. "Got the dawn patrol
"Yeah." I picked up a tray, selected breakfast from
the food dispenser and sat down in front of him. "So, how
does it look like out there?"
"Calm. No trade, no threat. Picked up a couple of slow movers
but they were old comm birds out of orbit. Looks clear enough.
Not like two days ago."
A couple of days before, Jon's patrol had run into a 'Clan flight.
They managed to get through and down all of the enemy planes,
but one of his wingmen had taken a hit and had to limp home with
the other two fighters covering him. One hell of a ride considering
that Ideoclan fighters never stray too far from the pack.
"How about the new stuff?" I asked.
"The drone works fine. I wouldn't count on the jammer, though.
It didn't even warm up this time, had to jettison it before landing."
"Great." The mess hall doors opened and two of my wingmen
appeared and saluted. I stood up, shot back a salute then sat
down and resume breakfast. "And the booster pack?"
"Didn't get it. Maybe you'll strike lucky, I've seen the
techs bring up one from storage while landing."
I felt a slight shiver. The booster pack was one of the technical
innovations that the tech team had been working on while we were
still sweating our butts off on Paradise: it's basically a solid
rocket strapped to the Gyruss' tail and it's supposed to take
you out of trouble really fast if a 'Clan flight comes along and
you can't fight it. Rumors had that it had been delayed because
of a nasty tendency to blow itself and the craft up.
I looked at my plate of cereals and sighed. Electronic recon,
long-range scanners and what did we have to do?
With Neptune safely behind us and the Ideoclan forces stationed
at the outer limits of the Solar System destroyed, the question
on everyone's mind had been "What next"?
The obvious answer would have been: "On with the plan"
but the civilian authorities saw things a bit differently: a part
of the Powers that Be, upon seeing the Neptune battle won, wanted
to press on and get the Fleet straight to Earth; the other, seeing
the losses, wanted the Fleet to stop and Neptune and fortify the
place, waiting for reinforcements to arrive. None of the options
were valid, of course, and praise be to the JMF command for not
caving in to politic and media pressure.
For starters, we couldn't stop at Neptune: what element of surprise
we had was lost now, and the 'Clans knew we were there; if we
just stopped they would have asked for reinforcements from the
homeworld themselves and we would be caught in an attrition war
we couldn't win. Neither could we go straight to Earth or we would
have found ourselves in the grip of the biggest pincer maneuver
ever made, with all of the Ideoclan forces in the System coming
after us. So we had to stick to the plan and take on Outer Solar
System planet by planet. Next stop, Uranus.
Trouble was that we couldn't see up to Uranus, because optics
only gets you so far and there is no radar big enough to look
at another planet and tell you what's orbiting around it that
is smaller than a considerably sized asteroids. Since Ideoclan
ships had low-observability characteristics the overall chances
of imaging the 'Clan forces around Uranus from Neptune were this
side of zero.
We had to adopt another approach, because the stakes were way
high: with the element of surprise gone, the odds for the next
battle would go to the part that first spotted the enemy and reported
it, which meant aggressive reconnaissance and equally aggressive
long-range patrols to engage and destroy enemy scouts before they
could see the fleet and radio back their findings. There was another
reason to seek them out before they got in range: Ideoclan patrols,
upon being spotted by the fleet's CAP, had this nasty habit of
mounting suicide attacks on the nearest ships, as two escorts
had found out at their expenses.
Meanwhile, we kept our eyes open for the enemy fleet as well.
Someone took the WWI concept of early dawn patrols and updated
it, so each squadron got, in shifts, the not much envied task
to go and sniff out the enemy. Of course, we had some more technology
on our side: the F-911 has enough of a sensor suite to act as
a recon platform on its own right, but we got issued with a remote
drone, which was to be launched from one of the pylon mounts and
scouted ahead, effectively extending out maximum range by a large
factor since the drone didn't have to come back. We also got a
jammer pod, which could disrupt communications over a wide radius,
eliminating any chance of the enemy reporting their contacts -
if it worked, of course. Some jammers simply never engaged and
our techs couldn't find out what was going wrong because no-one
ever got back to base: pilots always jettisoned them because they
screwed up the Gyruss' balance and anyway you don't come back
with ordnance under your wings, period. Especially when you're
talking about going through the landing bay force field with a
helium-cooled superconducting magnet that could be nanoseconds
away from firing.
Anyway, the concept worked: we did get a glimpse of a couple of
long range patrols, once, and managed to trace them to their predicted
origin, which gave us some idea of where the Ideoclan forces thought
we were. Which is better than nothing.
I wanted Uranus to be done ASAP; we all wanted that, but the reason
had less to do with the war than it had with briefings.
You see, Uranus got its name from a Greek primeval deity, a rather
unpleasant guy who happened to be God of the Heavens; he also
married his mother and, genetic rules applying to divine beings
too, generated a rather unpleasant progeny consisting in Titans,
Cyclops and other critters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark
alley. The monster mash went on until his son Cronus castrated
him and took his throne. As mythological stories go, this one
is pretty soft - at least it doesn't include cannibalism. Anyway,
when William Herschel discovered the 7th rock from the Sun in
1781, he thought to go along with the tradition of naming planets
after ancient deities and christened it Uranus.
Herschel couldn't know the grief his choice would befell JMF officers
some centuries later.
first guy to hold a briefing on our way to the 7th planet was
a young staff captain who had thoroughly rehearsed his speech
but had forgotten to listen to himself. It's not Herschel's or
the Greek's fault how the planet's name sounded in spoken English,
but as soon as the captain started to explain about how we were
"going to Uranus", why was so important to "fight
over Uranus" and the way we would "conquer Uranus",
the hall echoed with snickers. And then he spoke the killer sentence:
"OK, what's so weird about Uranus?"
Good thing sound doesn't travel through vacuum or the 'Clans would
have heard us coming from the other side of the Solar System.
By the time we were mounting the first patrols, everybody had
had enough of Uranus jokes and wanted the battle to be done and
over with the sooner the better, and prayed they wouldn't get
snuffed there. Being recorded as "fallen at Uranus"
was everyone's worst nightmare; we wanted Uranus safely behind
us (no pun intended) and go on with better-sounding planets.
got to the launch bay early, so that I could take time inspecting
my fighter. The F-911 had proven a solid and reliable platform
despite being untested, but only because we had survived Neptune
it didn't mean we had all the kinks ironed out. Tech crews were
still "adjusting" (polite term for "tinkering with")
the hardware and software to get better performances. As a result,
we never exactly flew the same spacecraft twice.
Mine had gone through some minor "readjusting", as I
could see from the number of items on the e-pad the tech chief
handed me for signing. "Have you had time to think about
that mod we were discussing yesterday?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. I need to do some mass ration calculations before,
though. Can't really put more stuff in there that was intended."
"Well, do your best. I'd appreciate it." I handed back
"Of course, sir."
At that moment Nicola Cellini, my wingman for this flight, showed
up. "Sorry to be late, sir." he said. "I took some
time to review the Intel update."
"You're not late, lieutenant." I replied. "It's
me being early. Anyway, I'd rather take off later than un briefed.
What did Intel come up with in the last 10 minutes?"
"No trade, no threat. As always."
"Which means there's probably someone out there, only we
can't see them." I mused. "Well, I guess we've got to
earn our pay."
I looked up at my craft. "I've got both the drone and the
jammer." I pointed at the GTD-171 Remote Recon System and
the ALQ-68 Disposable ECM Unit. "You have two Slingshots".
Cellini nodded. "We should have been issued Spearheads."
"We should." The SIM-88 Slingshot was another recent
addition to the Gyruss arsenal, a short-range anti-spacecraft
missile much smaller and lighter than the Spearhead. It had IR
guidance, updated via the IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) sensor
in the F-911, and a blast fragmentation warhead guaranteed to
punch through any Ideoclan shield. Can't really comment on this
since we still had to fire one outside the simulator (where, it
should be said, worked really fine). Pilots didn't like being
issued the smaller and untested missiles, because the heavier
SIM-85 Spearhead had proved itself an excellent weapon and every
pilot wanted two, or four, or more at each takeoff. Trouble was
that supply lines were still having problems delivering the stuff
and the new pylon mounts that allowed carrying 3 on each station
hadn't reached us yet. Slingshots on the contrary were cheap and
a supply ship could carry four of them for each Spearhead, so
they had become immensely popular for the logistic staff.
We should have considered ourselves lucky to have any missiles
We launched at exactly 0450 and did a couple of orbits around
the Lexington before heading off to our assigned vector. We would
be flying under total EMCON (Emission Control), which meant no
radar, no lidar and absolute radio silence. We had a laser grid
unit that allowed direct ship-to-ship comms but it was unreliable
and it called for the fighter to tighten up too much for anyone's
taste, so we had all agreed on a common code to be used with the
anticollision strobes. It wasn't exactly standard stuff because
each squadron seemed to have its own brand of strobe dialect,
but it worked fine enough. I flashed the "loose formation"
signal which told Nicola to slow down a little to cover me, while
taking a bit more space between the fighters. I got the "Roger"
flash back, so I relaxed and concentrated on the instruments.
Uranus was just a shining dot on a black background, one among
many, maybe bigger than others. Funny how people seem to visualize
star systems with all the planets being colored spheres surrounded
by millions of little stars. I remember an interview with a senior
pilot when the journalist had asked why the Gyruss needed to have
this sophisticated nav system only to fly within planetary range,
since all it took would be "aiming the nose at the nearest
planet and throttle up". Smart. Really, really smart. You
can't tell a planet from a star with the naked eye at the distances
we would be working with, so what if you aimed the nose at the
Andromeda Galaxy thinking it was, say, Jupiter? A long, lone journey,
that would be it.
When you're "out there", the instruments are the only
thing that will ever tell you where you are, where you're going
and even what you're doing. There is no up or down, no sense of
speed. You can go as fast as you like sublight and never notice
anything moving: the Universe is too big a thing.
With the navcomputer set, the only thing I had to do was to follow
the steering cues on my HUD. Plenty of time to get to our zone.
Plenty of time to think.
many other officers, I had known I would have to brief the squadron,
sooner or later, but I did not dread it like others did. Giving
a formal brief to your own squadron is not hard, but Command had
issued an order that called for other squadrons to be present
at each briefing, because attrition at Neptune had thinned the
ranks. We needed more officers to attend each briefing, so that
information could be spread out as swiftly as possible.
Of course, nobody really wanted to do a briefing on anything related
to Uranus. As luck would have it, I got my turn to brief after
two previous officers had fallen victim to the laughingstock curse,
and Uranus jokes still hadn't lost their edge.
I had a secret weapon, though: Swiss citizens speak at least three
languages, but not everyone knows this. A lot of folks from other
squadrons who didn't know me believed I spoke German or French,
and when I took the podium I feigned a deep and thick German accent:
looks like "Oo-raa-noos" doesn't sound funny. Felt like
an idiot, but nobody laughed - my squadron mates just smiled at
the trick. After that, many other officers seemed to discover
a non-English speaking relative in their family as a justification
to conjure up the most ludicrous accents - just for briefings,
of course. When Staff had enough of it, they placed an announcement
on the mess hall e-board that called for all briefings to be conducted
on "proper English, for comprehension purposes".
Someone scribbled a note just under: "You can bet Uranus
A staccato of bleeps brought me back to the Gyruss cockpit: that
was the CRM-114 encoder/decoder transceiving device coming to
life. Strange for Command to send an encoded message so soon after
takeoff - we'd been out for little more than half an hour. I punched
in the passcode and the text flashed on the device's screen.
HOSTILE CONTACT STRENGTH OF 2 DETECTED INSIDE OUTER ENGAGEMENT
RANGE. VECTOR FOLLOWS. INTERCEPT, IDENTIFY AND DESTROY IF HOSTILE
like the 'Clans had sent a patrol of their own inside the outer
perimeter of the Fleet's sensors. Well, it wouldn't have been
the first time: ever since we had set for Uranus they'd been probing
for us. Three days before, a lone cruiser which had been sent
forward to extend the Fleet's detection capability had run into
a flight of two Ideoclan heavy fighters before the F-911s sent
as CAP could get in range. The cruiser's ECM system had prevented
the enemy crafts from sending out a contact message and one of
them had been destroyed by a ship-launched Spearhead. But the
other one, even though heavily damaged by a CIWS turret-mounted
pulse cannon, had flown right into the cruiser's hull aft of the
main batteries. Battle armor can only take so much: the fireball
that had been the Ideoclan craft crashed through the bulkheads
and started a fire which had been extinguished only when the captain
had given the order to vent the burning areas to vacuum. The cruiser
limped back minus two dozen men and badly crippled: it was still
in repair and most of its armament had been rendered useless.
As a consequence, each patrol had to stay flexible to respond
to this kind of threat. We didn't even want to think of what could
have happened if a carrier had been targeted, with the enemy fighter
crashing at full speed into the recovery hangar bay.
I flashed the new instructions to Cellini using the strobe code
and got the acknowledgment message. We turned to the new vector
at once: 30 minutes to intercept. I could have let the autopilot
handle the intercept, but I have heard it goes against the pilots'
nature to trust the navcomputer to fly you to the target so, partly
to accommodate my new status as a "pilot", I decided
to go manual. Besides, I had heard the navcomputer's intercept
program had a little bug (some called it a "feature")
that tried to fly the Gyruss straight into the enemy's tailpipe.
It should have been fixed, but engineers seemed to have other
We were woefully short of engineers. The week before, we had lost
six: nothing dramatic, really, they were still alive and well,
but they had to be transferred to Saratoga.
Saratoga, one of Lex's sister ships, had suffered a minor malfunction
in the Hawking Drive core just after warpout. Nothing serious,
no one had been hurt and there was no need for it to perform at
100% because no other warps were planned; but the drive core is
slaved to the main reactor and if it's either offline or performing
badly, it leeches energy that the ship badly needs. You can never
have too much energy on a spaceship, especially a space carrier.
The captain wisely decided to have the core taken offline and
repaired, and then reactivated: an engineer crew was sent down
with the drive powered down to fix it and, as far as I know, they
did a good job of it, but something went horribly wrong. I'm no
space engineer and I can't give you the details, but from what
I could understand some of the graviton polarizers had retained
a charge - it happens when the coils are not immersed in liquid
helium before field stripping the drive, something you can only
do in dry-dock - and as soon as the assembly was reconnected to
the main line with the power off, they discharged and the core
It took three days to have the core deck cooled down enough to
enter. A chief engineer I talked to - a big Arab fellow who looked
like he could lift a plasma thruster with one arm - told me of
the bulkheads twisted by white heat, and of the shadows of the
engineers on the core's deck. Nothing else, just the shadows where
they had stood when the core had pulsed. It creeped me out: it's
one thing being killed by 'Clans, or by meteor strikes or the
like, those risks go with the territory, but getting the raw deal
from your own ship it's scary stuff, if you get my meaning. Makes
you feel afraid to lie in your bunk and sleep.
Anyway, Saratoga had to replace their lost engineers, so some
of the ships had to "volunteer" some of their own, like
we had any to spare. Replacements would come, but it's easier
to meld greenies with experienced crews than send a bunch of newly
trained guys to a front-line ship and see if they can find the
I didn't venture anymore around the Hawking Drive or the reactor,
that's for sure. Found safer places to walk around when I had
time, like the missile tubes.
With less than 15 minutes to intercept, I flashed the "combat
spread" signal and took the lead. I had acquired the enemy
fighters on the HUD, which was getting the targeting data from
the Infra-Red Search-and-Track device. It gave an educated guess
at the distance, which was not exactly accurate but still enough
to engage the onboard weapons: we couldn't risk firing beyond
visual range because only Nicola had missiles, and nobody trusted
the Slingshot enough to engage at the maximum envelope. We would
go in guns only, and only when we could see the enemy ships with
our short-range eyeballs.
Meanwhile, I was thinking about charging up the jammer. If we
didn't kill the 'Clans on the first pass they would have tried
to report back to base, and this we couldn't afford. But if the
jammer's charging switch were thrown, then it would remain charged
because there is no way to turn it off, and I would have had to
jettison it before landing. For all I knew, it could even be a
dud - the pods had a reputation for being temperamental.
Without thinking it out further, I flipped the cover and threw
the switch. The ALQ-68 ECM POD CHARGING signal flashed on the
display along with a progress bar and percentage reading and an
estimate of the time-to-go before full arming. Better to have
to jettison it later than needing it and have it not ready. At
least it was warming up.
10 minutes to go. Having to wait is almost worse than combat itself
- at least combat doesn't leave you too much time to think.
I must admit I feel a little bit of envy towards my buddies. They
have got wives/kids/girlfriends/whatever back home always sending
them mail and lots of packages - the Fleet runs a small flotilla
of cargo ships only to deliver the metric tons of stuff that people
back home send to their loved ones at the front. It's partly for
the morale: you know, when you're always on the verge of getting
vaporized it's great to know there's someone out there who cares
and who's worth fighting for. People fight for their buddies and
their families harder than they'd do for any cause, noble as it
may be: always been like that always will be and that's the way
I was an exception among the pilots, because I was one of the
few "unattached" ones, except for Nicola who was the
squadron's official playboy; in less enlightened times he would
have been reprimanded on several occasions for "conduct unbecoming
an officer" and "fraternization", but this was
the JMF and ladies these times know exactly what they want and
they're not afraid to show it. Besides, when we signed up nobody
had ever told us to give up our genders.
From the e-mails I had been receiving it looked like half the
female population of the Outer Territories knew my name and address,
and the other one was either uninterested or busily searching.
The Army's PR staff was to blame for this - I had become some
of a "poster boy" for them after I had survived Neptune
and they were willing and able to milk my so-called "image"
for all its propaganda worth. Another reason to want the war to
be over ASAP - if they kept up like this any longer, I'd have
to queue up for plastic surgery when I got back.
Apart from having to answer love letters from anything between
dewy-eyed teenagers to divorced mothers of three, I had to cope
with other funny stuff, like having my high-school principal singing
my praise on one of the biggest news services - and this after
making my life miserable for all of four years. Pity I couldn't
fire a Spearhead at his big sorry head.
And, of course, the Swiss Army didn't forget about me. It looked
like they weren't content with making me an officer before JMF
could, they wanted me to look like one and had a dress uniform
sent me through priority mail. It was a good fit, lucky me, and
it came with a little surprise.
You see, in the ancient times officers used to wear a saber. Up
to the late XX Century, Swiss officers carried a small dagger
and when the use had been suppressed they had been clamoring for
a renewal of the tradition.
Well, they got their wish granted - in spades. Together with my
brand new dress uniform came a short sword that looked anything
but short. I wondered if someone at General Staff was a fan of
Arthurian legends because the thing was sharp as a razor and looked
like it ought to be mounted on a stone. Weighed like one, too.
I had thought to put the dress uniform and the cutting implement
in my closet to be taken out only when going back home, but someone
high in the Fleet thought to throw a little party for the fleet
officers where everybody was to attend in the dress uniform of
their service. There were white Marines' uniforms, blue Navy uniforms,
dark green Army uniforms and various greys and maroons and blacks
from many other services and armies of all the Colonies.
And there was me with Excalibur. I feared I would become the party's
laughingstock but everyone pretended not to notice - JMF folks
tend to think of themselves as gentlemen. But on the way back
my wingman, LT Brooks looked at me and said: "Jeez, you Swiss
must really hate brass if you go to their parties with that stuff."
Well, he was almost right. Almost.
The 'Clan fighters hadn't noticed me and Nicola sneaking up on
them and hadn't changed course. I thought first they were just
pretending and they'd jump us at the last moment, but this was
suicide. Ideoclans aren't known for their attachment to life,
but they don't throw themselves away for nothing. I almost feared
a trap but any enemy ship would have registered on our sensors
by then. When I had the fighters well in my sight, I signaled
We engaged thrusters and closed in: the craft in front of me filled
the targeting ring and I squeezed the trigger three times, in
short bursts. The first burst hit the 'Clan fighter straight in
the canopy, shattering it and killing the pilot; the second tore
through the hull without any more apparent damage. It was the
third one that did the trick, drilling the engine's core and exploding
the craft in a silent burst of light. I turned around to see how
Nicola was faring, but all I saw were the debris of the second
ship - Nicola was a better shot than me, and he had destroyed
his target with the first burst. My kill counter registered three
- three hits on an enemy, but only one really counted. We did
a 360 around the engagement area and, seeing nothing more, we
resumed the original patrol course.
I was proud of my squadron's skill. Nicola was the best shot;
Brooks had a knack for formation flight that no one could hope
to match; Higeno was the space equivalent of a dancer and could
throw his Gyruss fighter into all kinds of maneuvers without losing
his orientation; and Hector could almost see what the enemy was
thinking. I had to wonder why I had been chosen as a squadron
leader instead of one of them, but the unit's leader is almost
never the best fighter. In the end, I could lead them better than
they could in my place but, still, I was extremely lucky to land
into such a team.
F-911 squadrons are a mixed outfit, but 357th seems to have drawn
the lucky straw. We're a pretty balanced-out lot, with a knack
for both solo and teamwork, and we tend to discuss our strategies
and work out new tactics at all levels. I have heard there are
some squadron and wing leaders who'd never dream about asking
their subordinates for advice, but 357th is different. Leadership
doesn't mean dictatorship and you can't expect your subordinates
to work for you if you don't listen to them; and if all leaders
follow blindly the brass' orders, then you might as well leave
your brains in your quarters because you're not going to need
Look at 357th's wing leaders and you'll probably end up wondering
how in Space we can have it working. As far as wing leaders go
Jon, Shawn and me seem to come from opposite corners of the Universe.
Jon is a bit of a hothead (well, he's a Texan, he's got a right
to be) and has a tendency for breaking the rules whenever needed.
If you need to get things done, and done for good, he'll find
any loophole to manage it. His wing has scored more kills than
any other in the fleet, and for good reasons.
Shawn seems to come from a family with strong military traditions
and you will never, ever, find him with a brass button out of
order. He expects dedication from his pilots but he has probably
recommended more people for promotions than anyone else. If any
of us will ever be considered one day to get a general's epaulets,
he'll be the one.
As for me, I'm a by-the-book Swiss officer. I follow the rules
as far as possible so that when I have to break them, it always
looks like the exception rather than the rule. The fact that I
have done it more times than I (or anybody else) care to remember
seems to go unnoticed. I don't like anybody calling me "sir"
but few listen.
We were fast approaching the point in space that delimited the
end of our patrol run. There was nothing distinctive about it,
except that it was the result of some intricate orbital calculations.
Well, as long as the navcomputer knew where it was, no problem;
I punched in the code to activate the recon drone and got an OK
diagnostic message: the drone was being fed nav data directly
from the Gyruss' computers so all I had to do was push the "commit"
button on my stick - the one that is used to uncage missiles -
and wait until it decided it was time to buzz off. Then the PPA
(Passive Proximity Alert) started blinking.
I thought I had veered off towards Nicola's craft by mistake -
the PPA is slaved to the F-911's passive sensor suite and activates
whenever something enters the relatively short range of its detectors.
It's also part of the automatic collision avoidance system and
it keeps you relatively safe from crashing into another ship or
anything remotely solid. Not that it always works, mind you, but
when the PPA sounds it's always better to pay close attention.
There was a huge signal up there at two o'clock three up - either
an asteroid or a medium-size ship. This far out from the Fleet's
forward front, it could only be a drifting wreck from the Ideoclan
invasion or a 'Clan ship: I released the pressure from the commit
button - I didn't want it to notice the drone's launch signature
- but in the same moment it beeped thrice and I felt a dull thump
and the GTD-171 separated, fired its thrusters and was gone.
Triple damn! There was no turning back now. I quickly turned to
the CRM-114 and sent out the "possible threat detection"
alert message to the fleet; no sweat, it's a standard one so it
only takes to keypresses to have it done. Then I flashed Nicola
to assume combat formation and fired my thrusters. When you're
attacking a large ship with only two fighters and no antiship
weapons, surprise is your only asset. I readied the jammer to
launch, engaged the active radar and locked the thermal imager
on the target.
It was a 'Clan light frigate, all right, but badly damaged and
battered. Part of its tail section was missing, along with much
of its thruster assembly, and it had a large hole amidships; it
was probably partly depressurized and it was a wonder it was still
out there, since Ideoclan crews have a tendency to blow themselves
up with their ship rather than risk being captured. Normally they
do it when enemy craft are nearby, so that they can do more damage.
But this one didn't. Either their crew was dead or incapacitated,
or the self-destruct system hadn't kicked in. Were it possible
to send a recover crew, maybe it could have been salvaged and
And the frigate's turrets swiveled and fired in our direction!
I swiveled the Gyruss into a Death Spiral, fired guns and broke
high with thrusters on full, then stabilized and launched the
jammer. Immediately my radar screen went loco with saturating
Nicola fired his two Slingshots and I managed to see an impact
through the IR imaging camera mounted under the Gyruss. I couldn't
see the second impact because a high-g maneuver overcame the camera's
automatic lock function and I lost sight of the target.
We reformed and attacked again, this time guns only because it
was the only thing we had left. If the frigate had had a functioning
comms system, we had three more minutes before the jammer ran
out of power.
I targeted what remained of the propulsion system, hoping to rupture
a fuel line. Nicola concentrated on the one turret that was still
firing and took it out, and then he went after the aft section
of the frigate. Eventually, a small explosion blossomed out near
one of the plasma nozzles and part of the hull's armor detached.
The ship was losing what little atmosphere it had.
On the third pass, we only got to fire a few shots before the
'Clan ship broke in half and the prow section disintegrated as
the magazines exploded. Poor bastards I thought at first, to get
this far out on a damaged ship and then die in the middle of nowhere.
Well, I thought after, we hadn't invited them and they were not
welcome so tough luck to them.
We turned off all active sensors, did a large turn to spot any
more possible enemies, and then headed back to base.
Debriefing was a slow torture. Apparently Army Intel was concerned
that the two fighters and the damaged frigate we had downed had
been related in some ways, despite Ideoclan troops not having
a very caring attitude toward each other. Nobody could seriously
believe that they were on a rescue attempt, although it had been
possible that they were looking for the derelict to blow it up.
But nobody in the squadron believed that.
"Ideoclans are not concerned with single ships." Suggested
Jon. "They were probably on a patrol of their own. But that
battle-damaged frigate can't be from Neptune."
"It can't." Shawn added. "No 'Clan ship got out
"Then where could it have come out of?" I asked, calling
up the pictures I had taken from my Gyruss' IR camera. "Can't
be a leftover from the invasion. Look at that damage; it would
have been a drifting hulk. That ship must have been hit hard 48
hours ago, max."
"Yes, but by whom?" inquired Jon. "No-one but you
reported engaging anything bigger than a fighter."
Nobody could answer that. We filed it under "unknown"
but pledged to further research the matter. Nothing intrigues
soldiers as an unsolved mystery.
I went to sleep and went out again, on CAP, that very afternoon
but otherwise the day was uneventful, for which I was grateful.
Three days later, we reached Uranus. The battle there was even
more fierce than Neptune, because the 'Clans knew we were coming,
but we had learned too. A new tactic some of our pilots had figured
out avoided us the terrible losses suffered by bomber wings at
Neptune, and the policy of arming the weapons upon takeoff saved
many fighters. Even so it was a terrible day, especially for ground
But we were learning: the 'Clans always fought in patterns, which
was their undoing. Their losses-to-kill ration was horrendous,
but they also had the ships and the crews to spare, a luxury we
didn't have. Anyway, when finally the last Ideoclan resistance
had been beaten, we found ourselves in far better shape than after
Neptune. Even the rear echelons were finally getting the hang
of it, and we had less supply trouble than before.
night we threw a party for Rocky McCleod, the Chief's son who
was being sent to Paradise to undergo pilot training. He'd been
working with the F-911 simulator most of his spare time, and he
was really good; we needed more of his like and showed our esteem
for his dedication by throwing him in the gym's swimming pool.
We also welcomed the new pilots, fresh from training, and held
some briefings for them so that they would learn the tricks of
the trade faster.
Uranus down, Saturn to go.
Tango-Foxtrot Niner Niner Four, you are clear for Cat Launch."
"Roger Flight Control," I responded, "All systems
are a go."
"Launch sequence engaged", said flight control. "Magnetic
"Good luck Texas, don't rough up the rookie too much!"
said Jarhead (Shawn).
Before I even had a chance to respond, we were shot out of the
cat and into space.
to the training site, we were able to get a look at the full size
of the Lex.
"Wow LT, I didn't realize just how big she was! " exclaimed
"And just think Rocky, there are even bigger freighters that
are being used as carriers too! " I mused.
"When do you think the JMF will use something designed specifically
as a carrier?" asked Rocky.
"There are Rumors of a huge design, but none of us have seen
them, or it, for that matter." And I continued, "And
those who should know are keeping their mouths shut too!"
at that, we arrived at the training site. Rocky had shown himself
to be an excellent F-911 pilot, on the simulator. Logging in more
hours than some pilots in other squadrons we knew. But that was
all right with us, we knew we had a potential ace here. And, we
had to find out just how good he was!
F-911 is normally a single pilot craft. However you do need trainers
that can handle two pilots, and the design must be very close
to the actual single-seat craft or else you do not get a feel
for the real thing. The Lex had a couple of trainers, so we took
advantage of them, during the time between the next campaign and
that would give Rocky the needed stick time.
ran through the course first, showing Rocky the different styles
of attack that the F-911 was capable of. Then I handed control
over to Rocky and just told him:
"Show us what you got rookie!"
And thrusting the F-911 at full tilt, he ran through the course.
"Target engaged, fox one."
"Intercept course plotted, firing main cannons."
"Death Spiral activated, firing at all targets in view."
"Enemy hit, double tagging him!!!"
Then it was over.
it all, Rocky had been cool and collected. A few rough spots here
and there, but overall very impressive. Check that, damn impressive.
His Scottish warrior instincts had come through, like the fighters
of old. We had an ace here!
"Okay, how was that?" asked Rocky.
"We are going to sign the recommendation papers, Rocky"
and I added "All of us!"
"You 're serious?"
"Yes, we need you back here ASAP as a pilot!"
"Hey LT?" asked Rocky "mind if I fly her back to
"Sure Rocky, but crash and we are both SOL!" I responded.
through the landing sequence, I now knew how parents of teenagers
learning to fly and land hovercars must feel, and I said quite
a few prayers during the landing. But, Rocky landed fine. His
dad was waiting for us. After getting out, I told Rocky to go
on and return his flight suit and that I would be talking to his
"So Johnny, how'd my boy Rocky do?" asked the Chief.
"Really good Chief, damn good actually."
"Do you think he has a chance?"
"I know so Chief! The whole squadron was waiting for the
flight results from me, and we are going to all recommend him
for Flight School. Col. Bonca will send the paperwork out immediately.
He's going to Paradise, it's only a question of when!"
"Rocky will be the first fighter pilot in our family."
exclaimed Chief McCleod "I can't tell you how much this means
to me for you guys to do this for him."
"Chief, he's always had this talent. It's a God-given gift
for sure. It was just waiting for the right time!"
"No, it really means a lot." Chief McCleod said. "And
I want to pay you guys back."
"You don't have to
"Listen" cutting me off "We are scheduled for a
full compliment of Spearheads after the Uranus campaign. I am
going to personally make sure that at least on one mission, the
357th will be fully loaded with Spearheads. You have my word on
that!" He said.
"Hmmm, now a full compliment would be nice to have, darn
nice to have." I shot back.
"No problem LT! no problem at all!"
And with a quick salute by the Chief, and the return one back
from me, I headed on to our squad bay. A full load of Spearheads,
wow, now we just had to survive Uranus to have them!
my way back I passed by a little gym, where Shawn, Eric, Yoshiki,
and Alexei had just finished pumping iron. We still do that in
the 23rd Century! But, we also have a lot of high-tech workout
gear too! Eric was bragging, in his false German accent, again!
"Ja, I had a good workout-pressed 450 Ja!"
"Real good one again huh Eric?" I asked.
"Ja, 300, five sets of ten!" he sounded quite pleased!
We all were laughing at him. But, truth be told, Eric was not
lying! He was the 357th's resident bodybuilder. Back at Paradise,
he had actually come to within one push-up of beating Fryberger's
"So how did Rocky do?" Shawn inquired.
"Real good guys, real good." I answered, "I'll
have all of us sign the recommendation."
"Great!" Shot back both Yoshiki and Alexei. "We
need more like him!"
into our squad bay, we saw that everyone was circled around Steve.
The door was shut behind us and Nicola posted a watch. David motioned
for us to join the group.
"Glad you guys are here," said David "Steve has
gotten a hold of some real hot info on our CO, Chuppa."
"Everyone here?" asked Steve?
Looking quickly around and seeing all fifteen of us, we all nodded.
It got real quiet in the squad bay.
"Okay, listen up" he said while sitting on a chair.
"Here's the scope on Chuppa. He's a real piece of work. He
flunked the Space Academy exams five times. His family was able
to get him an exemption for a sixth test. He graduated the very
bottom of the barrel, out of a class of 3,240!"
Shaking our heads, someone commented "But the rules say only
five total exams!"
"I know," said Steve. "Now get this, he nearly
got kicked out several times."
"And his family saved his butt every time" said David.
"Exactly, and on his senior summer, he crashed one of the
"Ouch, I wonder how much that cost his family?" Brooks
"It gets even worse. You guys ready, he has a family back
on New Terra!"
"You mean to tell me this guy actually mated and reproduced?"
(Boy did we all crack up at that. When the laughing was over,
Steve spoke up again.)
"It was arranged-a large family too. Eight kids, and his
wife has threatened separation a bunch of times" and Steve
went on. "He has a disability that prevents him from long
space flights in a fighter. And, his family is a major contractor
for FTL engines. Very rich, and he's very spoiled."
We all sighed at this. We truly felt sorry for this man now, at
least for the wife and kids.
"So Steve" inquired Brooks "where did you get this
information on our fearless leader?"
"That nurse Carolyn I've been dating. She's been updating
medical files for some time now. She just ran across his."
"Hey Steve" quipped Nicola "This isn't like you
to stay with anyone for so long. You're not getting soft on us
are you now?"
"Yeah, I know. She's really special, we get along so well,
and I'm actually thinking about
"NO not the M word Steve!" said everyone!
"Yeah, I am, actually" he said back.
"Another good man bites the dust!" joked Nicholas!
"Get this man a psych test," said Andy " He's gone
daft on us!"
"Hey Steve" said David "This means you'll have
to join Kryton's wives and kids club then!"
"Thanks David" I shot back!
"Poor Johnny" laughed Shawn. "Picked on in the
Coast Guard, the National Guard, and now the JMF!"
I just sighed and shrugged my shoulders!
"Oh and hey guys, ask him about the water truck incident"
My eyes got real big as everyone in the squad bay looked at me.
"Sorry Jon, just before we left New Texas, your buddies Jason,
James, and Brian told me all about it!" Said Shawn-with one
big, huge grin on his face.
"Thanks buddy", I mumbled back. Emphasizing the word
"And you just know that buddy is a two-letter word"
answered Shawn back!
(Take the word buddy, and add a slang term for mating to get the
We all laughed at that! You have to laugh at yourself, in the
military. Otherwise you'd end up like Chuppa. And just as everyone
had signed the recommendation for Rocky and it had been sent to
Col. Bonca we got a call for a briefing.
new planet system to take on and conquer, with new risks, and
little did we know at the time, long hours and days ahead of us
all. The Uranus System!
Another gas giant planet to deal with. Except that this planet
had a whole mess of moons to contend with. For our ground forces,
the five largest moons would be where the action was: Miranda,
Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon. Sure, there would be bomber
missions for those moons to soften the 'Clans up, but it was those
numerous smaller moons that were just the right size to house
all manner of 'Clan fighters. Those were going to be trouble from
the get go.
the 'Clans credit. When they invaded the Solar System, they went
in with everything and that also included the ability to create
and maintain forward bases for their fighters.
here we were at the first briefing for the Uranus campaign. The
13th had been given replacement squadrons and the room was quite
full. Status on the Fleet was passed on, as well as what the Gyruss
squadrons would be assigned. We also learned that the bombers
would again go in un-escorted. Shawn, David, and I both looked
at each other and thought the same thing, suicide! We needed those
birds to be escorted; the losses at Neptune proved that!
time though, a lot of the nonsense from the Neptune campaign was
gone, and Chuppa was basically a neutered tom cat after the debacle.
This briefing wasn't too eventful but when they mentioned the
words "Dawn Patrols" I sat right up with a big "what
the????" on my face. As they explained it more and more the
less and less we liked the idea.
we were with all this technology, and we were going to be used
as a way to sniff the enemy out. David was right, double damn
and a few other words to go with that! Not to sound like a very
bad and old pun, but this Uranus campaign looked like it was going
to be a royal pain in the ass!
the guys in my wing, this was going to happen sooner than later
as we were chose to be amongst the first to do this. Shawn patted
my shoulder and said "lucky you, eh Jon???!" Lucky as
a hen in a den of foxes. Added to that, these patrols were going
to be LONG, taking advantage of the F-911's ability for endurance
back to our squad bay, we filled in our wings on what our mission
would be. Since my wing had to be ready in six hours, we got some
last minute things done-emails to family, enjoying the only good
food we'd have in a long time from our care packages, etc. And
prayer, lots of it. They say there are no atheists in a fox hole.
They're right, ditto for pilots. After some final looks at pictures
of family, and putting on our flight suits, my wing headed off
to be fitted for our first Dawn Patrol.
we were walking to the fighter bay I reflected on just what a
group we were. We were all family men, married and with kids,
and yet we had become hardened warriors. We seemed to complement
each other in our abilities, and in our faults. Especially since
I had a slight "temper", David seemed to think otherwise!!!
Andrew(Rev) was calm but determined since he had come from a long
line of ministers at New Australia. Yoshiki(Shogun) had a large
family back on New Japan and he had come from one even larger!
He was methodical and daring, traits he carried on from being
a master programmer. Alexandr(Bear) was as ferocious in battle
as a grizzly bear, but you would never guess that when you heard
him talk about his family and farm back on New Russia. And finally
there was Alexei(Czar), he was a master tactician and was always
coming up with new concepts on fighter attacks and testing them
in simulations. As for me, in addition to my New Texas temper,
I viewed the Rule Book as a book of suggestions. I got yelled
at a lot for thinking like that but when we got things done, they
were done perfectly. And that thinking pretty much "infected"
my wing. I can't tell you how many times Chuppa yelled at all
of us in his stateroom!
at the fighter bay, we met our fellow 13th Fighter Group wings
that were assigned to the first Dawn Patrol. After a brief introduction
we were issued our initial flight instructions and then we headed
for our own crafts.
Chief McCleod greeted us, cheerfully as always, knowing full well
it was going to be a long time before we saw him again.
"Listen boys, you have some new gear to play with."
he said. "Drones to look ahead for your Dawn Patrols and
Jammers and the new Slingshots; two to each F-911."
"Great, but no Spearheads" said Yoshiki.
"I know, but we're working on that." replied the Chief,
winking at me.
"Looks like we'll have to do with what we got." I responded.
"But, it looks like the Booster Pack is still a no-go for
now. Alright Chief, let's get this thing started!"
we all boarded our F-911's, I was suddenly fighting off feelings
of doubt. Was I losing it? The old demons from my active duty
days in the Coast Guard were coming back. Was I really doing that
good of a job? I buried the feelings in a quick prayer, looked
at a small picture of Lori and Troy, and activated the F-911 systems.
I was at peace, and, ready to kill.
wing was the first to be launched. After we were all assembled
in attack formation we headed off to a starting point. Once there
we then headed off on the directions assigned to us from Command.
Our first Dawn Patrol had started!
sensors were clear, no threats at all. Boy, what a way to fight
but you were also on edge since the 'Clans were also expected
to be out there as well. We pretty much kept quiet during the
first six hours until we got to a clear point. A clear point is
an area that has been deemed safe for fighters to come to a stop
and relax a bit. The JMF knew that we would need breaks during
our 36-hour flight, and the clear point was a welcome change.
other wings had already been there so we settled into a close
formation. This would allow the laser communication system to
work. We'd be able to talk to each other through this and the
'Clans couldn't break in and track us down. It's a nice feature,
however there is one small hitch-you have to be very close to
the next guy to enable it and you have to be lined up too.
everyone was settled in, I reported to the CP command. My orders
came on the CRM-114:
WELCOME WING TWO, 357 GYRUSS SQUADRON, FIGHTER GROUP 13 TO
CHARLIE-PAPA NINER ONE ZERO. YOU ARE ALLOWED SLEEP/REST FOR 04
HOURS. YOUR NEXT MISSION WILL FOLLOW AFTER THE REST-PERIOD.
you know it, just as I was about to rest when...
"Texas, this is Shogun. You've been out voted!" laughed
"What??????????" I said.
"Yeah Texas, confession is good for the soul. So tell the
Rev!" said Andrew.
By now the rest of the wing were on to it too.
"Da, no secrets now Texas!" exclaimed Bear and Czar.
"I suppose pulling rank wouldn't go over well right about
now?" I said.
I got the well-known New York cheer.
"Okay!" I said, sighing. "It was near the end of
my unit's tour of duty and we were doing work at Base San Diego.
I was operating a 20-ton water truck to carry water to the sites.
I had just taken on a full load and wouldn't you know it, I got
stuck on an incline. What made it even worse was that the water
was coming out the back and the truck started to slide backwards!
When Brian came to see what was up, I had my hands on the controls
so tight that they almost needed a crowbar to get them off. I
had frozen in panic when the truck had started to go backwards
on me. Brian was able to get the truck to the top on the hill,
while I had been so mad at myself I had thrown my helmet in disgust."
"So, the truth is out!" quipped Rev.
"And later that day when I was making my journal entry they
came by and joked about what I was writing in it. Stuff like "And
they had to pry my white knuckled hands off the controls son"
and other things like that. I was teased about that for the remainder
of the tour." I explained.
"Our great and fearless wing leader got a truck stuck!"
"Hey guys, at least he isn't flying water trucks for the
JMF!" joked Shogun.
I even laughed at that one. Well, it was funny now, but back then
it hadn't been.
"Alright everyone, we've got about four hours left to rest
before our next mission. Use it wisely! See you in a few"
And with that, everyone got quiet, and we entered into a much
needed sleep. I made one last check on everyone using the inter-wing
video system, and then I drifted off. My thoughts were jumbled
for a little while, but I finally relaxed. My thoughts were of
home, of a different time, to when my tour of duty for my division
at New Texas had just ended. A peaceful time, free from military
duty for 11 months. Back home, back with wife and son...
"Well, you certainly made his day. He's all tuckered out!"
"Sorry about that, I knew he was waiting for a flight with
me." I said.
"But, going on a couple of orbits right after seeing you
from active duty?"
"I guess I got carried away and wanted to please the little
guy." then smiling "I couldn't turn him down when I
flew back from the armory."
"All he talked about was flying with you while you were gone!
He didn't even want to ride his horse at times."
"Well I'm certain that Cornelius and Centurion kept him busy
around the ranch." I joked.
"Yes, but that is not the point! Plus, you were away from
me! It was an all boys thing you two did."
Slipping my arms around my wife Lori I held her close.
"I missed you. I thought about you a lot when I was duty
and at the sites. Thanks so much for the care packages and the
"I missed you too. You're welcome for the care packages and
"Te Amo" I whispered gently to her.
"Te Amo too!!!" she said. "You've learned a little
"It kind of goes with being on New Texas doesn't it? Plus
the fact that half of my unit is Hispanic means that Spanish is
spoken all the time. I just have learned a little slower than
most." I said.
"Well you impressed me!" she said.
"Thanks. Oh, and thank you for the welcoming back party too.
It was neat seeing my brothers again since they are both so busy
here on New Texas. And, your parents were kind enough to break
away from their legislative duties. It seems that many people
want to break away from Earth here."
"But do you really think the Outer Colonies have a chance
to break away?" Lori asked.
"Hmmm," remembering the conversation that had taken
a great deal of time earlier, "the Earth Forces were very
arrogant towards us while I was duty. We're like some red-headed
stepchild to them. They acted like we didn't know how to do our
jobs. But the problem is that we only have a population of so
many people, all of the Outer Colonies. Earth could raise a force
totaling our entire population. But, they would have to occupy
each and every planet and settlements on the various moons. Time
would be with us, but it wouldn't be easy. Plus, certain Outer
Colony planets are totally against freedom from Earth-they would
lose all their tax privileges."
"Enough of that talk for now, please? She said.
"No problem! Time to catch up on things here. Starting with
you!" I said.
"Yes, you were the Army's for thirty days. Now you're all
mine for eleven months!" she whispered.
All I could say was "yes Mam!" kissing her back...
New Texas night was beautiful and magnificent as Lori and I went
outside to enjoy the view. The twin moons cast a glow around everywhere.
We did have it very good here. The ranch was doing well, Lori's
writings had paid off, and my computer consulting job would be
starting up again. The New Texas economy was booming, as was most
of the Outer Colonies. Trade was brisk and growing all the more.
New Texas had established itself as an exporter of high-tech and
agricultural products-especially oil made from special trees and
plants. But we were no utopia either. Technology could never cure
the human spirit. Crime existed. And, every once and a while,
certain colonies would use violence towards each other when diplomacy
failed. Mankind had gone to the stars, but his nature followed
right beside him. It had been a long time since there had been
any major war, and many questioned the existence of the various
armies and militias and National Guards and armed forces overall.
But, we knew, something wasn't right. I kept my thoughts to myself
and didn't tell Lori. Mankind was at peace, mostly, but I just
had that feeling deep down. Would it be us versus the Earth? And
what would happen to my beloved New Texas during a war? New Texas,
F-911's main computer wakened me. After a few minutes of grogginess
and using a little water to clear my eyes I orientated myself
to the situation. I had set my alarm about 15 minutes early so
I was doing a little prayer and reading to kill some time. I then
set to the task of waking the guys up. Not a pleasant job but
one I could relish after they forced me to talk about the water
truck incident! Revenge can be subtle! I used an old-fashioned
alarm sound, and played it loud!
gentlemen! I'll relay the next mission to you all while you get
awake." I said, with a grin!
357. DEPART CHARLIE-PAPA NINER ONE ZERO IN 10 MINUTES. HEAD TO
SECTOR NINER-NINER-ZERO-EIGHT AT TOP SPEED. ANTICIPATE ENEMY ACTION
EN ROUTE. STRENGTH OF ENEMY FORCES UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME. MAINTAIN
EMCON AND DEPLOY DRONES AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION. HAPPY HUNTING.
engaged the F-911's systems and double checked all internal diagnostics.
My bird was ready to fly and kill! I then punched in our sector
destination and waited for the guys to acknowledge their F-911's
Two, 357th Squadron. Report" I said.
"Alright then, let's go! Assume attack formation!" I
said leading the way.
in a very short time, CP 910 was history and behind us.
first it seemed that this run was going to be just like the last,
boring with no contacts at all. The first four hours seemed to
drag on and on. But then we heard the following:
"Any units, major 'Clan forces in sector Niner-Niner-Zero-Eight-Romeo-Foxtrot."
That was a very precise location in a large area of space. But,
I waited to respond, not wanting to break EMCON. Then the following
"I authenticate; Tango-Charlie-Four-Five-Zulu-Echo-Alpha."
The authentication was right on!
check!" I said to the F-911's systems. I didn't have to tell
the others because they knew what to do, that's training for you-in
times of stress you fall back on what you are used to doing.
"Weapons online." replied the F-911.
"Drone status?" I asked.
"Drone is now ready for launch." replied the F-911.
"Drone away, sector Niner-Niner-Zero-Eight-Romeo-Foxtrot."
drone was launched in front of us, giving the signature of a full
fighter squadron. For ten full minutes we headed towards that
specific location, at maximum speed. Ten very tense minutes as
we all watched our sensors, ten minutes to not think, just respond
didn't wait long after that.
sensors lit up with 'Clan contacts that the drone sent back to
us. I knew immediately this was going to be ugly, very ugly very
fast-hundreds of contacts! I launched a jammer just before the
'Clans blew the drone to atoms.
'Clans had expected a full squadron and had given away their position
in destroying the drone. We had about five seconds of surprise.
Enough for a Slingshot volley.
one, Slingshot away!" we all said.
twenty 'Clan fighters evaporated as the missiles struck home and
caused others to crash into each other. An all out fight broke
out. I lit up a whole formation of 'Clan fighters, on my own,
then I heard the warnings from the F-911 systems. This was bad.
a whole bunch more of them." I said to the wing.
"Texas, we've stumbled onto a major fighter base here."
"Everyone execute extreme Death Spiral. Fire all you got."
I told them.
was intense. We surprised them first with our drone. Then they
repeated the honor by revealing their full strength. I got into
that tunnel-vision feeling. The kind where you go by instinct
and training. They were going at us in mass-no one on one here
at all. I had to be careful, that I didn't overheat the main guns.
I had one Slingshot left, and I didn't want to use it until I
really had to.
That time came fast.
"Texas, everyone, I can't shake them!!!" screamed Shogun.
The 'Clan group, about five, was hot on Yoshiki's tail. I destroyed
a group of 'Clan fighters and sped away to help him. Bear and
Rev were right behind me.
"Hang on Shogun! We're almost there!" I said.
"I'm hit!!!" his voice breaking in panic.
Shogun's F-911 took a hit to the starboard side. The plasma blasts
by a 'Clan fighter had taken out his main guns. Worse yet, his
main power system was rapidly going. He was losing speed!
got you Shogun, it's not your time yet." I told him.
I fired my Slingshot at the lead 'Clan fighter. I aimed it to
knock of his wing and to cause him to crash into a couple of others.
"Bear, Rev fire your Slingshots." I ordered.
Fortunately, they each had one left.
"Slingshots away" they said.
We then got in close and let loose a mass of firepower at the
remaining 'Clans. We got vicious with the rest of them. I can't
tell you how many times we came close to overheating. It didn't
matter, we had become killers, predators ripping their prey unmercifully.
Bear and Rev watched over Shogun while Czar and I ripped the 'Clans
a new one. Finally I lined up at the last 'Clan fighter. I fired
my guns so far up his wazoo I didn't even need to double tag him.
He was toast, extra burnt. Then, it was over.
battle had lasted only seven minutes.
must have aged a dozen years in the process! 'Clan debris was
everywhere. Several hundred 'Clan fighters had engaged us. Not
one got through, but it had been a very close thing for us.
"Shogun, what's your status?" I asked.
"I've shut down my main systems. Hull integrity is at eighty
percent, but I am okay. Engines will last only for the landing.
I'm going to need a tug." Shogun replied.
Wow, he was one lucky pilot.
"Texas, we'll tug Shogun, you and Czar guard us." said
Bear and Rev.
"Sounds good. I've reported to the 'Lex. They want us back
ASAP. We're heading straight for her. Our course has been sent
to all your nav computers. Bear and Rev link up and tug Shogun.
Czar and I got your six. Let's go home." I said.
was a long, quiet three hours back to the 'Lex.
did the hull of the 'Lex ever look so appealing after that first
Dawn Patrol! After Bear and Rev disengaged from Shogun, he fired
his engines and was able to land. We all stayed a little behind
him first-the fire crews and maintenance squads took control of
his craft and made certain nothing was going to blow. Then, we
got the all clear to land. Chief McCleod informed us that he and
his crew would have Shogun's F-911 back up and running in about
24 hours. We'd have some time off!
went well. We passed on all of the video telemetry to Intel and
we also learned what other wings had sniffed out. We had run into
a major 'Clan base, buried deep in one of those small and distant
outer moons of Uranus. We were also informed of the major ground
campaigns that even as we spoke, were ongoing. Five armies were
involved, with two in reserve, each for the largest moons in the
Uranus system; Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Oberon, and Titania. We
chuckled at the names of the generals in charge of each invasion,
history had indeed proven a mistress of the unusual and ironic:
Zhukov, Patton, Rommel, Montgomery, and Schwarzkopf. Generals
Washington and the Duke of Marlborough led the reserve armies.
days later, after rest and some simulation time, we were assigned
to another Dawn Patrol. We met David and some of his wing in the
Mess Hall. I had stopped by Intel earlier and it looked very quiet.
Which if you haven't learned by now, is always subject to change.
we were again! This time, the entire 36 hour mission was as exciting
as watching grass grow. All of us in the wing agreed, that must
have been the longest day and a half of our lives. More so because
we were also updated as to what other sectors were up to. Quiet
for us, long days in hell for others.
we arrived back on the 'Lex, a troop transport made a "hard"
landing on our bay. All of us helped with bringing the wounded
out, and also the ones who had left this life for a better one
behind. One of the soldiers I helped off was a Gunnery Sergeant
Butler. He had been badly wounded in the leg and was cursing between
each breath. His arm patch was the crossed armored fist and sword-Zhukov's
Army! He filled us in as he was being worked on:
"Four of the moons have been taken. Ouch! Damn that hurts!"
"Titania was a disaster! Montgomery was totally wiped out!
They just overwhelmed them. No one got off Titania alive!"
he continued, letting loose a whole barrage of curses with his
southern accent. The medics then took him away.
setback! An entire JMF army wiped out on the moon of Titania.
Titania had to be taken, it was the largest in the Uranus system.
We all looked at ourselves, we couldn't be stopped here! We later
learned from others that Montgomery's attitude had been over confident.
It cost him, and his entire army, their lives!
another debriefing, we learned of a mystery of two lone 'Clan
fighters, and a very badly damaged frigate. When David's wing
had come upon them, the ship had already been hammered hard, he
and his guys took care of it. But the question was, just who had
had other Dawn Patrols as well. Most were very boring for us,
typical it seemed. While the JMF was blasting Titania and landing
the forces of the Duke of Marlborough, with Washington in the
second wave, we were doing Dawn Patrols. Of course now, looking
back, they were boring. You see, when you jump mere squadrons
of 'Clan fighters it's a lot less exciting than being outnumbered
sixty to one!
the funny thing for us, the 357th, was that except for a very
special mission, we didn't fight together. After one briefing,
we were told by Chuppa and Col. Bonca that they would meet US
in our squad bay. David, Shawn, and I walked back wondering what
we had done wrong. Once we were there, the two walked in and informed
us that we had been volunteered for a very special mission.
were told to get the very best for his mission." said Col.
"There seems to be a lone 'Clan fighter, specially equipped
and armored, who is attacking the medical shuttles and destroying
them. Just one it seems. And the pilot leaves a calling card after
each attack: a skull and crossbones on the medical video frequencies."
"We are going to send all of you guys on a mission to hunt
down this pilot." Col. Bonca said, adding "You will
escort a medical mission into his sector, the shuttles will act
as if they are carrying lots of wounded and have encountered heavy
"Sir, we think we know how we can pull this off." said
David, Shawn, and I.
"Go on, explain." Col. Bonca inquired.
"You see, we still are flying bombers unescorted, medical
shuttles give off a lot more signatures than bombers do so that
would explain why this 'Clan pilot can track and attack them."
The Colonel nodded and listened. Steve then continued.
"Eric, Andy, and I have come up with an idea. What you would
do is hide an F-911 under the bomber, or in this case a shuttle,
the signatures of the craft would make our fighters invisible
to the sensors of the 'Clan attackers. We know it will be tricky
since the two will have to be connected and then released at the
last moment but we believe that it will give us the necessary
shock and the escort protection that the bombers, or the medical
shuttles, will need." Steve said.
"Very, very clever. What do you think Major?" asked
"If anyone can do this, then these guys will." replied
Chuppa. We nearly died from his answer!
"We'll talk to Chief McCleod about having his crew rig up
magnetic hooks to hold us in place, then releasing us to attack
this 'Clan pilot. Just how many shuttles has this pilot destroyed?"
"Eighty shuttles, nearly three thousand wounded who could
have made it, all annihilated." Col. Bonca answered. And
then he added "including, one of my own sons!!!"
all resolved, we would hunt down and kill this "Butcher of
Uranus!" We would do it as a team, the 357th versus this
pilot! We all got that "look" in our eyes as we made
our plans. This was personal, and we did some quick simulation
time to test our idea. Chief McCleod and his gang installed fifteen
medical shuttles with magnetic hooks. We just had a small piece
of metal attacked to us, it would be simple-cut the power to the
magnets and we would fly away! We would have nothing but our pulse
cannons for this, anything else could give us away. We got ready,
did things that got us focused, and then the big day arrived.
While the offensive on Titania was going full tilt, and all of
the attention was on that, fifteen medical shuttles launched from
the 'Lex. One single squadron of F-911 Gyruss fighters were then
launched. If one could have seen it, they would have hardly believed
their eyes-fifteen fighters then flying very close to the shuttles
and actually connecting to them! Somebody out there was going
to be in for a shock! And, there was going to be hell to pay!!!
shuttles arrived at their meeting point, then a couple of bombers
joined them. The bombers were in fine shape, but as we continued
on they gave off signals of battle damage! The ruse even included
a few drones sending out massive amounts of "chatter"
on all possible frequencies. This was one well planned trick!
of us in the 357th just had to wait. We didn't have our sensors
engaged and only our weapons were activated, that would have given
us away. Well, we didn't have to wait long! Suddenly, and without
warning, one of the bombers exploded! And then the other was hit
by this 'Clan pilot! He had ignored the drones but went for the
kill of the bombers. You could tell he was smelling blood after
the attack went so well. Except for one thing, that all of us
in the 357th knew, the bombers were remotely piloted! They had
been the bait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
away!" said the mission leader.
Instantly we activated our sensors and headed towards the 'Clan
"Texas, bogey dead ahead!" yelled Swiss.
"Got 'em! Letting loose!" I replied.
My pulse cannons struck the 'Clan on his left wing and engine.
"Break hard left Texas." said Jarhead.
Breaking hard left I gave an opening, my wing opened fire at the
'Clan fighter. My guys riddled his cabin with cannon pulses.
"You guys finish this SOB!" I said.
"One and Three, let 'em have it." said Swiss and Jarhead.
In a matter of seconds, this 'Clan fighter became atomized as
ten F-911's lit him up. Game over for him!
"357th, report." asked the mission leader.
"1st wing all here!"
"2nd wing all here"
"3rd wing all here"
"Well done! Looks like this 'Clan stuck his neck out one
last time and you guys cut it off! Head back to the 'Lex! Oh,
looks like Col. Bonca wants to say something. Go ahead Colonel!"
said the mission leader.
"Squadron 357, 13th Fighter Group. What you just did was
incredibly brave. This 'Clan fighter has also been linked to many
of our own fighter losses. Your willingness to take a risk on
a mission like this, and to use a totally different tactic, says
volumes about you. Those who were killed by this butcher can at
least allow their families closure. I knew you guys were the ones
to do this! Bravo Zulu! Well Done!"
with that, we headed back to the 'Lex and at full speed!
back we were greeted by quite a few people. This 'Clan fighter
had been a real thorn in the JMF's side! It also felt good to
avenge all those people too, especially Col. Bonca's son. I had
thought about what it might have been if my own son had been killed
by that 'Clan pilot. I guess that is why I was so aggressive and
fired the first shot.
had a final briefing for the Uranus Campaign. The mission we had
been on was kept low-key. We found out that Titania was brutally
conquered by the Duke of Marlborough who had trapped 250,000 'Clan
soldiers and eliminated them with a variety of weapons. General
Washington had feinted and caused the 'Clan army to follow him
into a very well laid trap! As for us fighter pilots, Uranus had
been a long, hard campaign. One thing that cheered us up was that
the JMF was starting to escort bombers and that two very special
carriers had been tasked for this. The F-911 squadrons were also
to receive training from the more experienced squadrons-including
using us! It looked like the Saturn Campaign was going to be very
different from the first two! Finally, at the end of the briefing,
Col. Bonca said "The Uranus Campaign was a..."
"Pain in the ass, sir!" yelled out Shawn!
For thirty minutes, we laughed! Weeks of being on edge and stressed
fell away! Boy were we so glad it was over-for now!
were all giddy as we got back to our squad bay. In the center
was a large group of CARE packages! Nicholas passed around a bunch
of Newcastles and we enjoyed them thoroughly! I and a bunch of
my guys were sharing the latest email news from our families when
Rocky burst in, all excited!
"I did it!" he exclaimed.
"Did what?" asked Steve.
"I got accepted for pilot training at Paradise! I leave on
the next shuttle going to Fleet Command!" and he added "And
it says that my DI is some Gunnery Sergeant Fryberger."
"Well, you got the best DI! Congrats Rocky!" said Shawn.
"Yeah Rocky, you sure deserve this!" I said, then sneaking
"Hey Rocky, we have to celebrate this most important event!"
"Thanks guys, you made all the difference in this."
said Rocky, not knowing what was going to happen next.
"Grab him!" I said, being the first to do so.
"Time to celebrate in the pool Rocky!" said Andy.
Andy, Shawn, and I were the first to grab Rocky. Then the other
twelve helped to pick him up and carry Rocky through the passage
ways to the pool. Even though he was outnumbered fifteen to one,
Rocky still fought it! When we got to the pool, he held on to
a bunch of us as we tossed him in! Flight suits and all! And when
a bunch of our guys were laughing at us, David pushed them into
the water! Soon Eric and Steve grabbed David and the three took
a dip too! Moments like this were just too good to pass up!
ended rather abruptly as Chuppa stormed in.
"What the heck is this? And in your flight suits as well?"
"I have the wing leaders from the 332nd in my office waiting
to be trained by the so-called best and here you are fooling around!
You are all a disgrace to the JMF!!!" he yelled.
"Kurtz, Kryton, and McConnel come into my office, as you
And with that he left.
"Saturn: Enter, The Dogs of War"
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