Neptune to Earth"
Cuciz & James Krych
Enter, The Dogs of War"
I had a bad feeling about Saturn. Most of us did, even if nobody
bothered to say it loud: you're not supposed to be superstitious,
not in this day and age, but soldiers and sailors (and spacers)
are a superstitious lot and no amount of high-tech can change
that. 357th had survived Neptune and Uranus unscathed, and luck
is a fickle lady: It couldn't last and Saturn would be one hard
nut to crack.
To begin with, the enemy was well aware of our coming this time
and had had ample time to prepare; on Uranus, the 'Clans still
had doubts if we were either fortifying Neptune and use it as
a bridgehead for a larger force or move ahead, but by now they
had figured out that JMF was invading in force. Saturn was one
of the major Ideoclan strongholds, and most of the moons had held
bases before the war, so we were in for a tough one.
Intelligence, for once, had stopped being optimistic and predicting
"little enemy activity". We had fired a good number
of probes in the past days and through some spy work of our own
(Intel had still to learn that nosy pilots can be very resourceful)
we had managed to see enough of it to understand what was coming,
and spent the days before the attack researching new tactics and
trying them out in the simulator. At the pre-flight brief we knew
we had been wise. Colonel Bonca hammered the facts in our thick
heads clearly enough.
"Well, gentlemen. I'm not about to kid you: Saturn is not
going to be a cakewalk. You know it and I know it and the Ideoclans
know it: if we take it, we'll have secured the biggest foothold
in the Solar System yet, and once we have it reinforced we'll
have plenty of support behind us. If we don't, we're done for
and don't fall for any 'strategic retreat' wordplay because we
don't have enough power for another assault. If we can't take
Saturn, we can't hold Uranus or Neptune. If we can't hold, we'll
have to turn back and wait for the 'Clans to come for the Colonies.
Now that the matter is perfectly clear I want you all to forget
about it and concentrate on the mission.
"You already know the details because you have had plenty
of time with your squadron officers before and you don't need
me to confuse you further, but basically it boils down to this:
apparently, our stealth bombers aren't as stealthy as they're
cracked up to be, or the 'Clans know something we don't. Since
we haven't managed to capture much of their technology intact
and they don't let themselves be taken as prisoners, we don't
know yet but the situation doesn't change: the bombers are sitting
ducks and this is where you come in."
He drew a deep breath and worked the lightboard controls, displaying
a tactical combined formation in animated graphics. "From
now on, you escort them in and out, and this means you hold formation
at all times, and you make good use of your BVR weapons. We have
secured a full complement of Spearhead missiles for each F-911
Applause and cheers broke out. Bonca waited until the room was
silent once more and went on: "
Full complement, I
said, so there's no excuse to spread out and get into the furball
unless there is an absolute necessity. Killing 'Clans is not going
to win this war, gentlemen. There are too many of them. We've
got to take their bases, intact or not, and destroy their capability
to fight. They can't fight but in groups, and once their C&C
structure is gone, they're gone too.
"Once you have escorted the bombers home you land, refuel,
rearm and off you go again. We're flying 'round the clock and
everything is timed so don't linger around. We can't afford any
of you coming back late because an unescorted bomber flight is
a dead bomber flight and we can't wait for you to be ready while
we launch them. If you're there in time fine, you get launched
along with the bombers and all is well. If you don't, the bombers
go their way all the same but without a Gyruss escort a lot of
families back home are going to receive a visit from the chaplain
and the blame's on you - got it?"
He didn't wait for an answer - there could be none - and went
on: "Now, the 'tech crews have worked out a way to fast-load
the missiles on your crafts while you're still in the landing
bay. It's unproven and risky because you'll have to do it with
engines running so the weapons' bus will be hot and the last thing
we need is a Spearhead going off inside the ship. With the gear
down it shouldn't happen but Murphy's Law dictates that you can't
be too careful, so as soon as you land and the crews get to work
on your fighters, you put your hands on the canopy and leave them
there until the chief says otherwise. Refueling with the engine
on is also tricky, but there will be a fire crew ready before
you touch down. Just keep your cool and don't forget to throw
off the shield switch, because we already had one arcing accident,
and just one is one too many even if there have been no casualties.
The bay is going to be laden with explosives and flammable stuff
and that's scary enough."
The briefing went on longer than usual and when at last it was
time to head off to prepare, we were getting the feeling this
time was going to be different. I felt edgier than usual, but
I hoped we would all cool off when strapped to our seats. Usually
it went that way.
into my cabin, I got my personal kit out. Pilots are allowed some
leeway in their gear and people like to carry around items of
various usefulness, like their favorite songs in solid-memory
form (not that they could listen to them, you can't hook a mem
player to the helmet's comm unit) or pictures of their loved ones.
There was a Japanese guy who always carried a wakizashi, a long
knife, and this only because there wasn't room for a katana in
the cockpit. Me, I always take my Swiss Army Knife, which is virtually
useless because we are issued a survival knife that is meant to
cut the safety harness and to break the cockpit seals in case
of emergency and not much else, really. There were no lush alien
jungles where we were headed. I also carried a combination first
aid/shaving kit, which was absurd because JMF had issued us an
excellent medipack, but Swiss soldiers always carry them as a
force of habit. And there was the camera, a compact one with a
nice zoom objective which I had bought at Paradise PX with the
purpose of taking pictures to send home.
There was other stuff too, like a camo stick that somehow found
the way into the leg pockets of my flight suit, fire-starting
kit (it had caused some concern of fire hazard among the tech
crews, who had also asked me to leave behind any non-regs signal
flares), a canteen (never go anywhere without water), my Army-issued
gyrocompass, and binoculars.
When I had left for Paradise, I was allowed to bring my personal
gear with me (as is customary with Swiss soldiers) but I had to
leave any Corps' stuff behind, like the binoculars. The Swiss
Army binoculars are truly excellent, with light amplifier and
IR imager built in, and a fuzzy logic image-analyzing rangefinder
that is a little less accurate than the laser or microwave used
in some other services, but it doesn't give away your position.
At Paradise, I had ordered a pair of binoculars from an e-store,
and had them delivered via field mail; they were simple opticals,
electronically stabilized 10X50 glasses with an old-fashioned
superimposed reticule to calculate range and distance. They were
an EVA-cleared version, ruggedized for harsh environmental conditions
and fitted with adaptive eyepieces that made it possible to use
them while wearing an EVA suit, just as long as your helmet was
one of the modern "faceplate" models; the Gyruss flight
suit fortunately had a faceplate helmet, in case I needed to do
some bird watching in-flight and the on-board camera wasn't working.
Mostly I had used the binoculars on the range but they were small
and compact and I didn't feel comfortable without them around,
so into the cockpit they went.
I checked my M2111 sidearm. It's a nice weapon with excellent
stopping power and has been in service a long time, although it
had yet to be tested on a live Ideoclan, something pilots weren't
exactly keen to do, especially after seeing some video footage
of a ground battle on Oberon, one of Uranus' moons. Ground troops
had to fight hard for every centimeter and ended up clearing the
'Clan base room by room: the enemy never considered surrendering
and when the last of them had been cornered into a subsidiary
comms center, they started firing grenades at point-blank range.
No one of them had been caught alive. I remember reading about
suicide terrorists in history books and I never quite believed
that there could be people willing to die just as long as they
could take other with them, but the Ideoclans changed my perspective
and I had no doubts that if I ever, ever came face-to-face with
one of them, I'd have to take them out fast and no qualms about
it. That was another reason to practice with our sidearms every
day and to keep them in perfect efficiency.
Then came the medikit. Nice little sealed package, with everything
you may need from gauze and band-aids to universal antibiotics
and antivirals, to antitoxine compounds and nerve gas antidote.
There's even a complete surgical set inside but since you don't
find many surgeons in fighter squadrons, it's probably not much
use. It's the same stuff issued to ground troops, the rationale
being that if a trooper gets wounded, the medic staff can use
his own kit on him, which saves medical supplies for when they're
The last item I picked up was the Becky. The Rescue-Emergency
Beacon/Locator is a handheld device combining a coded transceiver
with a locator beacon; truly a lifesaver if you ever get into
trouble because this baby lets you communicate with your buddies
and allows them to home in on your position, and it's encrypted
so the enemy can't eavesdrop. The official name is R-EB/C, pronounced
as "Rebec" but some homesick pilot had re-christened
it "Rebecca" long ago, and it's been henceforth known
damn!" That's the first think I said when I saw my F-911
readied for launch. I had been happy to see the missile rails
fully loaded with Spearhead missiles, but as soon as I saw the
craft's tail, I couldn't miss the big, cylindrical object protruding
just below the engine nozzle.
"Well, sir, I'm sorry but that's orders." The tech chief
said almost apologetically.
"Any way to remove it?"
"Sorry. Would take an hour. You could jettison it after launch
but I'd rather hold onto it. You may never know when it could
come useful. And it's the new model anyway, shouldn't give you
I gave a sad look to the thing - a solid rocket booster that had
been a recent addition to the Gyruss' growing arsenal of useful
and not-so-useful gadgets. The MkVII SRB had been conceived to
give pilots an "edge" to get out of hairy situations
like being surrounded by enemy fighters or ambushed by a larger
ship while away from reinforcement. Once engaged, the thing would
fire for 30 seconds, accelerating the fighter away from the danger
area; the manufacturer boasted that it could take a Gyruss to
escape velocity from the Sun even with all the other systems dead.
In theory it sounded like a cool piece of equipment but reality
was another matter: pilots have an unofficial 1 to 10 scale for
rating gizmos, with 1 being 'relatively safe' and 10 being 'extremely
dangerous', and the MkVII rated a solid 15. It was said to be
really able to bring a pilot out of a dangerous situation all
right - in pieces. It had been tried around a dozen of times by
now, mainly in the long patrols during interplanetary travel when
two-ship flights were the rule, and though there had been no casualties
the SRB had performed as advertised only twice. In the other cases,
it had either malfunctioned and shut off prematurely or simply
cracked and exploded like a badly assembled firecracker. Pilots
had taken the habit of claiming a malfunction during the post-launch
continuity check so that they could jettison the damn thing and
be done with it.
This time around we'd be required to keep them, to give us some
flexibility in the first attack wave, in case some bombers needed
help ASAP. Out of respect for the bombers' crews, we'd hold onto
the boosters with the secret hope that a continuity check would
show them to be defective so we could trash them without remorse.
There was no way to fit a booster to a Gyruss during the short
I climbed into the cockpit, put the helmet on and engaged the
self-test routine, then re-checked manually just to show the tech
people that I cared about their work even if I couldn't do it
if I lived a thousand years. As soon as I gave the OK sign, I
lowered and locked the canopy and felt the small tug as the fighter
was loaded on the catapult elevator. This time it felt rougher.
saw the largest coordinated launch of the campaign: with thousands
of spacecrafts all taking off simultaneously, it was a wonder
nobody crashed. As soon as 357th cleared the cats, we joined up
and headed off to shadow the bomber wings; we were supposed to
strike the 'Clan base on Rhea, then come back and reinforce the
attack on Iapetus, with the bombers rearmed with close-support
weapons. It was odd that a crucial stronghold like Saturn had
been so sparsely settled, only half of its moons hosting bases
and the largest one, Titan, completely untouched. Most of the
outpost were either orbiting Saturn or sitting at the LaGrange
Titan was the largest of Saturn's moons and the biggest one in
the Solar System after the Jovian moon Ganymede; it also had a
thick atmosphere which was probably the reason both the Earth
Space Forces and the Ideoclans and left it alone: breathable,
Earth-like atmospheres were extremely rare. Most worlds had toxic
or corrosive atmosphere or both, and some suffered from so severe
a greenhouse effect that their surfaces were blasted deserts heated
to above 400 °C. Spacers have a saying, "better no atmosphere
than bad atmosphere" and everyone agreed with that. At least
vacuum only exposed you to hard rad and micrometeoroids and we
knew how to deal with them; and vacuum is easier on space vehicles
- no drag and no corrosion. No wonder Titan, with its thick methane
cover, had been passed on. The only presence there, according
to our briefing, was a research station that had been abandoned
during the 'Clan invasion.
We hit Rhea fast and hard, coming up from behind the short horizon
so that the bomber crews had to release their ordnance at minimum
"Hey, boss, did you see that?" Cellini asked through
the intership channel. The missiles that had struck the Ideoclan
base must have hit some sort of ammo dump because a large secondary
(and soundless) explosion had flashed up sending debris everywhere.
I felt something hitting the shield but no damage-warning indicator
"Bandits! Bandits! One o'clock, 5 down!" The lead bomber
reported in. The 'Clan fighters were coming up from behind Rhea.
I saw the first dots coming up on my scope and locked on the first
one. One after one, the rest of the wing reported locked and ready
and I gave the order to fire. Calls of "Fox Three" went
out but we immediately switched to guns: the incoming bogeys must
have been either a vanguard or a long-range patrol because they
were caught by surprise and were not numerous: they were wiped
out in about 30 seconds.
The bomber wing turned tail and headed off the Lex, while we turned
around to spot any incoming bogeys. Nothing came out on the screens
but the squadron's channel was alive with calls so the battle
was well on; we formed on the bombers, spread out and waited.
"Jeez, that was fast." I heard someone comment on the
wings' net. We were supposed to maintain close comms discipline
but the channel was encrypted and, anyway, broadcasting to enforce
silence was a contradiction in itself.
My wing then assumed a loose combat formation. Nothing on the
scope so I felt like doing some sightseeing and turned around
a little to watch the Rings. I had already seen them from the
Lexington's scopes but being there and see them in person was
another thing. Other planets had a ring system, but Saturn had
been the first one known to mankind: the immense fields of debris
circling the gas giant had awed astronomers for centuries. Some
of them would have gladly given an arm and a leg to be at my place.
Couldn't blame them.
"Bandits. Bandits at 12 o'clock, straight ahead!" the
call shook me out of my reverie. There was a huge cloud of enemy
ships just in front of us just then another craft came up just
in front and above my fighter's nose. Lining up for another launch,
I noticed a small blip just at the edge of the screen. As soon
as the missiles cleared the rails, I turned into the new target
and interrogated it on the IFF - which came back negative as was
expected. Nobody kept their IFF squawking until in range of the
respective mothership. It could have been a stray bomber, or transport
- not a Gyruss fighter because it returned too large a signal.
As I wondered what I could have been, the blip flashed showing
separation. Instantly, the warning signal came on: "Warning:
missile. Warning: missile."
"One, Fox Three!" I locked and launched my last missile
at the target then popped a decoy and turned around. Usually,
Ideoclan missile automatically locked before launch and their
sensors couldn't discriminate well if a decoy was dropped into
their flight path. With 60 seconds before impact, I veered as
far as I could away from the rest of the wing so that it wouldn't
re-lock on someone else and fired another decoy.
The Spearhead was far faster than anything on the 'Clan inventory:
my kill counter went up one, indicating a direct hit. Yet, the
blip was still there - maybe the ship was dead but had not exploded.
I had half a mind to go there and blast it but I could not leave
formation. Besides, there was still the enemy ahead.
The Ideoclan fighters were all gone and their support ships were
on fire, but they fought on: a hail of pulse cannon fire quickly
silenced any crippled ship that flew away out of control before
exploding. Self-destruct, I thought.
At that moment, the Missile Warning sign came out again and something
pounded my F-911 hard. I was thrown forward by the impact and
lost control, but the flight computer managed to level me before
I could crash into another craft. As soon as I get myself together
again, the display was alive with warning signs.
Okay, let's not panic I thought distractly while I went over the
checklist. I was still alive and in one piece, so it couldn't
have been a direct hit. Maybe debris from the exploding frigate,
maybe that missile had still been on my tail after all
"Leader, are you OK?" Came my wingman's voice of the
"Yeah. I took a hit. Give me a moment." Avionics checked
OK, so did life support. But the shield was off and wouldn't come
on again. Maybe the coil had been damaged.
The internal diagnostics kept resetting itself - bad sign. Usually,
when a Gyruss is damaged, the computer immediately signals the
offending item and automatically shunts power off it and to the
auxiliary system - everything is redundant but the pilot. But
in this case something really bad must have happened because no
auxiliary system was coming online - which meant I had massive
damage somewhere that the computer couldn't point out. I switched
to manual and checked. Propulsion was working, but temperature
on the engine core was rising, which meant a loss of coolant;
microhydraulics was fifty-fifty, with part of the actuators responding
slowly; weapons were online, but the continuity check on both
the port gun and left wing bus was erratical. Since the port gun
capacitor is directly tied into the internal main power bus (so
that you can use the capacitor's charge to restart the engine
if it comes offline) that meant I had a malfunction on the power
distribution system - which also accounted for the microhydraulics
not working properly and the shield checking OK but not energizing.
"Two, can you take a look at my craft?" I asked. I heard
two clicks then Cellini's F-911 turned down and towards me. Some
instants later he reported.
"Uh, leader, you have some sort of hole just left of the
engine. No burn-through, must be a missile hit. It has knocked
out part of the nozzle and you're losing coolant. Looks like the
shield coil got hit, too. I'm sending the feed to your channel
I switched the display on the video feed channel so that I could
see what Cellini was watching through the on-board camera. The
IR picture showed where the impact had shorn off part of the ablative
armour, taking out almost the entire left tail section. Were it
not for the shield which had absorbed part of the kinetic energy
and deflected the projectile some, it would have probably gone
straight through the engine and blown me to kingdom come.
"Thanks, Two. Rejoin formation." I waited until Cellini
was back and away then tried to turn the Gyruss around. It responded
sluggishly and the self-stabilization was slow. I would have had
a hard time landing.
Another signal came on: the engine's core temperature was rising
too fast and would approach critical in about three minutes. "Two,
take the lead. I have to switch to emergency power." Throwing
the switch that shut off the reactor, I felt the craft going oddly
quiet - the slight vibration that is almost imperceptible fading
to nothing as the core went cold. Battery was on, but without
the reactor my thrust was severely limited.
"Leader, we're about fifteen minutes from base." Cellini
signaled. Fifteen minutes at nominal thrust, of course. I had
only inertia keeping me going and if the wing had to accelerate
I had no way to follow.
I looked forward and up. We were approaching Titan, its large
mass all but filling the sky. Its gravity pull was negligible,
but the computer flashed some trajectory changes in case I wanted
to keep a safer distance.
The fighter lurched a little and another warning came up. "Two,
I just lost primary attitude control."
"Roger, Leader. Consider ejection."
Loss of primary thrust and attitude control means you're essentially
a big bullet with little way of controlling your trajectory. In
this case, you're more of a target and a danger to other ships
than anything else. I sure couldn't land - I would have probably
either crashed into Lex's side or, worse, into the hangar bay.
If I ejected now, the F-911's self-destruct system would have
blown the fighter to smithereens before it could pose a threat,
and I would have only had to wait rescue in my cockpit pod.
It was the sensible thing to do, but I didn't like it. Losing
the craft was bad enough, but having to wait until the end of
the battle inside a floating capsule was worse: I would have been
a sitting duck with a large SHOOT ME sign painted on. Maybe
I punched a few commands into the computer and a range-and-bearing
readout came on. Looked like the small research station on Titan
was still on the air, if only for the automatic beacon. At least
I had a reference point. Another couple of clicks and a ground
map of Titan along with range and descent curve data appeared.
Well, it looked feasible. If only I could kill some of my velocity
With my engine out, there was no way I could slow myself down
but there was another way. I called up some data specs, punched
some more commands into the computer and finally had a plan. "Two,
this is Leader. Take command as of now."
"Leader, this is Two. State intention."
"Two, you're Leader now. Bring them to the Lex. Come and
get me as soon as it's over."
"Roger that, one. I'll check your ejection. Stand by for
"Negative, Leader. I'm not ejecting. Separating now."
I fired the maneuvering thrusters and turned my Gyruss away from
"One, state intention." Cellini asked again.
I breathed deeply. "I'm landing on Titan."
"One-One, please reconsider."
"Two, I'm in no shape to keep going. I'm counting on you
folks in case someone decides to drop any heavies on Titan."
Although there was no 'Clan activity on Titan, I needed to make
sure nobody would think of "sanitizing" the surface
by orbital bombardment.
"Roger that. I'll escort you to orbit and see you down."
"Copy that." I had made dozens of simulated landings
on the Gyruss but none with total thrust and attitude control
failure. I just had to hope my plan would work
Titan was now filling my cockpit view. The pale yellow globe cast
a strange light on my instruments, but I could still read them.
I turned around the F-911 into a tail-first position.
"Two, get some room." I called on the ship-to-ship channel.
"If this thing goes wrong, I don't want you anywhere near."
I reached down to the control panel marked special equipment.
"Leader, what are you doing?"
"I've got to kill off some speed. Without the engine, I've
got to use the SRB." I broke open the seal on the firing
"This is madness, One."
It probably was. Well, the whole situation was crazy anyway. "I
know. Ten seconds to firing." Cellini's fighter veered off
and stopped just outside the danger area.
Here goes nothing I thought flipping the cover. On my display,
the countdown reached zero. I pushed the button all the way.
And nothing happened. What the
Then I remembered that there
was a built-in safety feature that engaged the SRB only after
a 2-seconds push of the firing switch. A small eternity later,
I felt the kick of the solid rocket booster.
I held my breath waiting for the explosion, and shifted my finger
to the jettison switch: the velocity indicator on the HUD was
going down fast - I had to slow down enough for Titan's gravity
to pull me down. On the main display, I watched the Gyruss' trajectory
curve going from an almost flat line passing near the large moon
to a curve angling around it, and finally to a falling parable.
Time to get rid of the booster: I hit the jettison switch and
felt the thump! as the rocket separated.
Immediately I turned the F-911 around with my nose forward. I
was really going down! A quick check on the flight data confirmed
that I was heading down, only slightly away from my intended trajectory.
A quick correction was all I needed. HUD to planetfall. Radar
mode to look-down.
"One, you're on your way down. I'm heading home. See ya on
the Lex. I'll keep you a cold one in store. Good luck!"
"Roger, Two. See you on the Lex. Make it a six-pack. Out!"
I tried to sound cocky but the truth is that I was beginning to
wonder if I hadn't just made a big mistake. Titan's atmosphere
was rushing up to greet me. I hit the shield switch and turned
it off for good - no sense risking - and punched in the ERASE
ALL command on the CRM-114. Now in the unfortunate event the enemy
recovered my fighter, they wouldn't be able to recover any code
and frequency data.
The fighter lurched and jumped as I hit the atmosphere. The control
surfaces were responding well enough but I couldn't see the ground
so I switched the radar to look-down mode and swiveled the on-board
camera down and forward, turning to infra-red. No mountain ranges
ahead, thankfully. Down and down the fighter went, into the yellow-orange
atmosphere until suddenly the view cleared and I could see Titan
with my eyes.
* * *
was no sunshine on Titan. The only light that the moon ever saw
was that reflected by Saturn, which was enough to see, but not
much: I had to turn on the rarely used landing strobe, and all
I could see were rocks, large and small, and shallow valleys up
to the horizon. At minus 178 °C, the frozen surface was as
barren as the hottest desert; the thick atmosphere, roughly one
and a half Earth standard, sustained the F-911 well, giving me
a decent glide ratio. There was a plateau just to my right and
ahead, and I touched the controls just enough to bring me down
there. I was about to lower the landing gear when I realized that
the uneven surface would snap it off and decided to land clean.
I breathed deep, raised the craft's nose slightly and fired the
hover thrusters just enough to make a landing as soft as possible
Touchdown! The impact was harder than I had expected, and the
spacecraft began to slide around. Holding on to the control stick,
I tried to keep the nose pointing straight but at least the Gyruss
turned about right and skidded to a halt. Immediately I turned
off the propulsion controls and grabbed the ejection handles,
ready to shoot the pod out in the event of a fire
But no alarm went off. In fact, the Gyruss didn't seem any worse
for wear than when I had started my descent. I had made my first
emergency planetfall and landing while managing to stay in one
piece - nice combination of dumb man's luck and good engineering.
the power core down, I only had batteries to keep me going and
the emergency fuel cell, and though I had oxygen to spare, without
power the F-911 would soon turn into a refrigerator. Turning the
main display to MAP mode, I searched for the Huygens Research
Station - 15 clicks at bearing 106. The station's beacon was broadcasting
Mode 2 - unmanned but powered and inhabitable.
I checked out the R-EB/C, but Becky was silent. With the battle
still raging, total EMCON was in effect. There would be no rescue
vessels dispatched until Saturn was secured - which could be many
hours from now.
I was a little short on options: I could stay in the cockpit,
hold on and wait it out or slog it to Huygens. Titan was not only
cold, but it had a thick atmosphere that worsened the situation:
out in space or on airless worlds you can only lose or gain heat
by radiation which takes time. Here, the freezing nitrogen mist
outside would quickly dissipate the heat. Already the power gauge
screen was showing a downward curve - I had one hour or less before
the batteries ran out of juice.
OK, I thought. Let's stick with the original plan: bug out, get
to Huygens Station, make myself cozy inside and wait for rescue.
Beat the hell out of freezing in the cockpit or ride the pod's
rocket to orbit which was precisely what I had wanted to avoid.
All of a sudden I realized that the mere thought of leaving the
comfort of the Gyruss' cockpit was becoming harder to bear: when
you're in combat situation you know you can't avoid it so you
just charge ahead with whichever plan you have, but as soon as
the adrenaline settles down and you're faced with having to do
something dangerous in cold blood, things change big time.
Just to get started off, I placed my gyrocompass on the instrument
panel, opened it and pushed the "calibrate" stud. Now
it would take about one minute and a half to self-check, warm
up, spin up and begin to navigate. Now, suit's power to INTERNAL,
life support to AUX, helmet's HUD to EVA; I detached the data
and power cables, sealed and unplugged the life-support umbilical
and donned the portable lifepack stowed just behind the seat.
The F-911 flight suit is a full EVA-capable environmental suit
that can sustain a human being in the vacuum of space or in hostile
atmospheres as long as they weren't too hostile. During the survival
course, we had practices emergency egress and transfer from stricken
spacecrafts to rescue ships in low orbit above Paradise, but the
instructors had insisted on pilots trying to remain inside the
fighter's cockpit, either in docked or separated flight mode.
Egress and EVA were last-resort measures only.
Right, I thought as soon as the readouts in the helmet's HUD went
from amber to green, all set and ready to go. I drew the M2111
and chambered a round, then retrieved the gyrocompass and strapped
it to my wrist. It had calibrated and had finished alignment,
so I dialed in the bearing to Huygens station from the computer's
My hand hovered briefly over the EQUALIZE command on the environmental
controls panel: the cover was already flipped open, and if I pushed
it, there would be no turning back. I couldn't open the cockpit
in the dense Titan atmosphere without equalizing, which also meant
bringing the temperature to outside levels. Once done, the Gyruss
wouldn't have enough power to both repressurize to normal and
re-heat the pilot module. More likely than not, the controls would
Here goes nothing I thought, and pushed the button. Keep it pushed
about 10 seconds, I reminded myself, relax and breathe normally.
It's gonna be fine
BEEP! A warning light showed up on the HUD: the temperature was
quickly dropping and suddenly my visor fogged. Before I had time
to panic, the anti-fog mechanism clicked in and cleared it. Now
I could see the instruments panel beginning to glisten with condensation
- then turning white as whatever vapor was still present in the
atmosphere froze. Titan's atmosphere rushed in - thick and toxic.
The warning UNBREATHABLE EXT ATM blinked in the helmet's HUD and
With a deep breath, I climbed out.
realized my miscalculation the moment I stepped down from the
egress ladder and touched the Titanian surface: a buzz alarm went
off and a schematic came up that showed massive heat loss through
the soles of my boots. The supercold surface and atmosphere were
forcing the heating system to go into overdrive, draining the
battery faster than normal: I had barely the power needed to get
Checking the gyrocompass, I hopped on. The low gravity was a blessing
because I could cover more ground in less time, but I had to be
careful: one false step and I could injure myself badly - even
a sprained ankle would have meant certain death because I would
have found myself unable to move. After a couple of leaps, I dialed
down the heat settings so that the battery would last longer.
I wished for a hardshell - with a combat powered armour suit I
could have gotten to Huygens in a few rocket-assisted leaps and
I would have been well protected against the cold.
Don't think. Jump. Hop, hop, hop
I couldn't see much because
of the short horizon and the thick methane/nitrogen fog: Titan
was a place of rocky formations and pools of methane, and surfaces
that looked like frozen lakes dully glistening under the pale
orange light reflected by Saturn. Precious little time for sightseeing
but I couldn't help - I had always wanted to be a space explorer
and here I was, stranded on an alien world in a spacesuit running
out of power
The stuff I had read about as a boy in old
science fiction novels. The only thing missing was an army of
alien medusae with ray guns. Well, I didn't exactly miss them.
I stopped for a moment, checked the gyrocompass and hopped on.
Doubts began to gnaw at me. Was the Gyruss' computer map accurate?
Was the bearing correct? Had I manipulated the compass correctly?
I had considerable experience in navigation, and the training
at Paradise had been excellent, yet I couldn't help but think
that I could have made a major mistake. As the battery power dropped
down, I wondered if I hadn't overshot Huygens, if I could have
missed it in the mist. And what if I found the station, and it
had been destroyed? What if the power was down and only the beacon
was working and broadcasting the wrong signal? What if I couldn't
get the doors to open? What if
A dark mass emerged from the fog in front of me and I skidded
to a halt, almost losing my balance. It looked like a truncated
pyramid, sitting in a shallow valley carpeted with methane snow.
On top of it, a slender tower raised in the air, a lone red eye
winking in the swirling clouds above - the anticollision strobe.
I dropped to the ground immediately.
alarm buzzed again as I hit the supercold ground, but I ignored
it. Force of habit had kicked in: I had to reconnoiter the place
before getting in. I took out the binoculars from the suit's pouch
and raised them to my eyes.
I could see an abandoned cart in front of the station. It was
a standard utility cart, about 4 meters long. Using this as a
reference and the rangefinding reticule I could see that I was
about 300 meters from the station's main entrance. The emergency
airlock was 10 meters to its right, and a green light was blinking
above it. Good: the airlock was working.
I panned left and right: no sign of movements. Huygens had been
abandoned when the Ideoclans had launched their first attack,
and left by itself. The automated systems and maintenance robots
would have kept the base in good shape even without humans around.
Just to the left of the station I could see a deep furrow in the
methane snow, disappearing behind the structure. I wondered if
the researchers had made it for some purpose but I quickly dismissed
it: on Titan it snowed almost all the time. Must have been recent
BEEP! "Warning: battery low. Internal temperature dropping.
Please change battery or connect to external power supply."
The battery was almost dead - hitting the ground with my belly
and chest had drained a lot of heat. Now I had minutes - maybe
less - to get myself to safety. I rose to my feet and started
down the slope, beginning to shiver as the suit's temperature
dropped to zero.
Even if the whole might of the Ideoclan army was down there, I
didn't have any choice. Already I was feeling slightly numb and
stiff-limbed. I had to stop hopping and walk to the emergency
airlock. I felt suddenly dizzy and fell forward - only putting
my hands forward I managed to hold on the outer door without knocking
I managed to find the panel: standard emergency commands, designed
for incapacitated or untrained personnel. Just one sealed lever
behind a plastiglass screen.
I took out the M2111 pistol and noticed my movements were slow
and uncoordinated. The cold was taking its toll. I couldn't even
feel the pistol's butt, and I had difficulty closing my grip around
I breathed deeply - cold, freezing air - and brought down the
pistol's barrel on the plastiglass.
And missed it! The gun banged on the door's metal and almost fell
from my numb hand. With a superhuman effort, I brought it down
again and this time the glass broke. I closed my left hand around
the lever and pulled, pulled
It didn't move. It was frozen!
It wasn't. The seal had taken its sweet time breaking. The lever
gave way all of a sudden and I almost fell. The door opened wide.
inside the airlock, I lost my footing and fell. Crawling like
a baby, shivering from the cold, I found the internal command
panel and hit the large round-shaped CLOSE+REPRESSURIZE button.
The outer door slammed shut. The pumps pushed the Titanian atmosphere
out. Heat came rushing in along with breathable air. I fell to
the ground, panting.
The signal EXT ATM OK came on. Temperature read about 10 °C.
I raised my still-numb hands to the helmet and struggled to unlock
the collar. One, two
Third was the charm and the helmet
unlatched and fell to the ground. I tried to breath deeply but
couldn't. My chest was racked with spasm. I was going into shock!
My first-aid pouch was strapped to my left calf, inside a heated
pouch. Open the seal, first compartment
There they were,
four preloaded, color-coded hypoinjectors: red for antitoxin,
yellow for general stimulant, green for antibiotic-antiviral compound,
blue for anesthetic. The yellow one was the one I needed.
Safety cap off. Injector protective cover off. Ready. I brought
the injector to the only exposed skin I had available, craning
my neck hard. Push the injector tip. Wait
I felt a sharp sting as the needle-like spray released the drug
into my system. It was supposed to be painless, but I was grateful
to see I had retained some sensibility. Count to ten. Release
I sat down and waited. The spasms subdued. Breath came regularly.
I was alive. Alive and well, and safe.
minutes later, I tried to rise. I felt dizzy and weak, but at
least I could feel all of my limbs. I recovered my sidearm, which
had fallen to the ground when I had stepped through the airlock
door. A quick check revealed it was all right - no damage from
the cold. In the meantime, I decided to have a little snack.
Because of the long endurance times that the Gyruss fighter is
known for, pilots need a way to eat and drink during flights.
Built into the suit, along with a waste disposal system tied into
the craft's life support, there is a food dispenser that feeds
rations in liquid form from a preloaded cartridge to a small tube
that rises out of the collar. I found the tube and squeezed it
with my teeth. The system is similar to the one used in hardshell
combat armour, only the Gyruss suit is equipped with American
rations that taste like milkshake. Swiss rations are, of course,
After I had put some liquid and sugar into my stomach, I felt
definitely stronger. Punching the inner door OPEN stud, I stepped
into Huygens Stations itself.
The base looked all right, no flickering lights or broken equipment:
the retreat must have been an ordered one. With the reactor running,
there was enough energy to keep the lights full on and the air
recirculators working. The air smelled fresh, not stale. I checked
the action on my sidearm and held it in ready position - no sense
letting my guard down.
Huygens had been a busy research outpost before the war: planetary
sciences, meteorology, biology, materials, you name it. Empty
now, it felt like an abandoned castle of old, vast and eerily
silent. Stopping at the feet of a stairwell, I checked out the
Becky. No signal yet, though it was receiving the atomic clock
signal broadcast by the fleet; this meant that I would be able
to communicate once the ALL CLEAR message went out. Who knew,
maybe I could find a utility rocketship and blast off back to
Yeah, with every Ideoclan and his brother after
me the moment I left the atmosphere. Besides, no rocketships would
have been left behind, and even if I found one I could not fuel
and launch it without assistance.
I looked at the stairs, which went up to the topmost level and
Control Center. I was about to call the elevator, and then I remembered
that soldiers never take elevators. With a sigh, I climbed the
with the reactor on, the station's mainframe wasn't about to allow
any waste of energy: the motion sensors built into the walls activated
the lights only in the areas I was entering, turning them off
as I left. I felt like I was some kind of torchbearer, bringing
light where I trod, and the thought almost made me laugh. Almost.
Because as soon as I stepped into the Command level, I found the
lights already on. Maybe Command was meant to be lighted at all
times - but suddenly the lights went off in another area. The
sensors, detecting no movement for about half a minute, had deactivated
There was someone else inside the station.
Gripping the pistol, I turned around scanning the place. Command
was sparsely furnished, only a few consoles arrayed before three
large screens. Huygens was heavily automated, and research facilities
didn't need the heavily redundancies that were necessary for military
C&C outfits. Step forward, scan, breath deeply, count to three,
step forward, scan
The Ideoclan trooper stood at the opposite end of the hall, just
beside the doorway to Communications. Armour-clad, he was completely
motionless, only the head turning slowly from side to side. He
was holding some kind of weapon that looked like a short carbine.
The Ideoclan looked at me and froze. I was already frozen. Then
I raised the M2111 and pulled the trigger: two fast shots, aiming
for the chest. Two more, quicker than I meant. The report was
deafening - it was the first time I had shot the "elephant
killer" without ear protections, the first with live explosive
rounds instead of target ammo. The explosive rounds sounded like
a dull bell ring. The recoil pushed me back in the low Titan gravity,
almost falling back.
The 'Clan staggered and dropped, and remained still. His weapon
clattered to the ground.
took me a couple of minutes to gather enough nerve to get anywhere
near the fallen Ideoclan soldier. This was my first close-up kill:
I had destroyed scores of 'Clan spacecraft and killed probably
hundreds of them, but this was the first time I had actually seen
- and shot - one. Even on Cold Stone, they hadn't been more than
small figures in my riflescope. I felt both elated for surviving
the fight unscathed, and slightly nauseous at the thought I had
come this close to getting killed.
I walked up to the 'Clan's body, the M2111 still pointed ahead
in case he decided to do a Lazarus on me. Of the four shots I
had gotten off, two had caught him in the chest; one near the
shoulder, and one had missed him completely and taken out part
of the doorframe. Those explosive, delayed-fuse slugs packed more
punch than I thought. The 'Clan was definitely dead, armour or
not: the shots had punched through the armour suit and blew up
The Ideoclan trooper was completely encased in the armour suit,
which I thought was made of ceramics and light alloy, but close
by I could see it was some kind of plasteel, or polycomposites.
Cheap stuff - the 'Clans didn't seem to be willing to spend big
money on individual equipment. The soldier's weapon was shaped
like a submachine gun, or automatic pistol, definitely deadly-looking.
I pushed it to the side with my foot, just to be sure.
What if he hadn't been alone? For all I knew, there could have
been a whole assault battalion hiding in Huygens - no, it couldn't
be. There were no sentries posted, no patrols, no activity at
all. And 'Clans travel in packs, like sharks or wolves (well,
that's what the encyclopedia says): by this time, after the shots,
I'd have been surrounded.
A deserter? Fancy as the thought was (could it be we were scaring
them so badly that some had seen the light and decided to bug
it?) it didn't seem possible. Ideoclans always fight to the death,
and suicide before being captured. Maybe a straggler. Not an infantryman,
that much I was certain of: 'Clan infantry is equipped with heavy
armour and weaponry, far more than I could take on. Not a pilot,
either. We had one pilot's body - although headless - and it didn't
have that kind of armour.
All right. Let's play forensic scientist. I took out the pocket
camera and began taking snapshots of the body from all angles,
and of the weapon. Then I did something truly stupid and searched
for the helmet's locks. I wanted to see the Ideoclan's face.
The helmet seemed fused to the armour, but there was a lock, just
behind the head. One push and it unlocked and rolled away. It
could have been booby-trapped, set to blow up if tampered with.
It wasn't, and I could finally look the enemy in the face.
dead eyes stared out at me from a face devoid of any expression.
The Ideoclan soldier could have been a wax statue - no, a statue
would have shown some kind of emotion. This one was like a deactivated
android prototype I had seen in a science museum long ago. But
it was definitely human - even if a genetically engineered cloned
soldier like all Ideoclans were.
Fate wasn't without its fair sense of irony: mankind had fantasized
for centuries about alien invasions, murderous extraterrestrial
of all shapes and dimensions but in the end, as it always had
been, the greatest threat to man was man himself. Homo-sort-of-Sapiens.
It - I found myself unable to think of the dead 'Clan as a he
- looked about eighteen although it could have walked out of a
cloning vat just that morning. It was completely bald, and had
not the shade of a beard, or any kind of facial air. Not even
eyebrows. Evidently anyone who had engineered it had made sure
it wouldn't need shaving or grooming.
I got up and shot other pictures of the dead body. If and when
it got recovered,
Doctor Hunt and his team would have a field day examining it.
I had other priorities now - like finding out how it had gotten
here, but maybe I had half an idea.
wasn't exactly keen on getting out again but this time it would
have been only for a little time. Climbing up to the observation
nest, I found the airlock that opened to the walkway that took
to the comms tower. I recharged the suit's battery and for the
second time I stepped out in Titan's atmosphere.
I walked to the eastern side of the station's roof and looked
down. There was the furrow I had seen when I had come to the base,
like a sleigh's traces through the snow. A big sleigh.
An Ideoclan spacecraft. Bigger than a fighter, maybe a reconnaissance
vessel, or a scout. It had come down hard about two clicks away
and slid to the side of the structure, crashing against a large
rock just ten meters from the wall. In Titan's supercold atmosphere,
with no free oxygen available, it hadn't caught fire or exploded
even if its fuel tanks had ruptured. Looking through the binoculars
I saw another Ideoclan draped over the side, the craft's canopy
cracked open. It was dead. The cockpit was made for two.
The spaceship's tail was sliced and burned through. Not impact
damage, it was too clean. Must have been a Spearhead, or maybe
pulse cannon damage. This one had been damaged during the battle
raging around Saturn, and its crew had tried to set it down. Or
it had tried to get down by itself - 'Clan pilots shared their
ground troopers' disregard for their own life. For the first time
I was seeing the war from outside. I went back to the airlock.
food dispensers in the cafeteria were still working and there
were a lot of sealed food supplies around so I made myself cozy,
fixed up lunch and waited. About two hours and an insane amount
of coffee later, the R-EB/C buzzed and I sent out the distress
signal. It took more coffee before the rescue ship came down on
the station's landing pad. The airlock cycled. Suited figures
The lead one removed the helmet. "The crew of the John Cabot
sends their regards! I see that just like all Swiss you're making
yourself comfortable in this hell-hole, lunch included!"
"Couldn't find steak." I replied. "Be my guests.
Beware, there's a stiff one downstairs."
Half an hour later, I stepped onto Titan's atmosphere again, this
time in a proper environmental suit, and climbed into the ship.
I slept all the way to the Lex.
was hell. I had to run through everything I had done after my
Gyruss had been struck, and had all my decisions second-guessed
and criticized. I had been lucky, that much I knew, but in retrospect
I hadn't had much in the way of choices. You can plan as much
as you like but sometimes you've got to cross your fingers, hope
for the best and go ahead.
The recovery squad retrieved the dead Ideoclan's corpses and their
spacecraft with a heavy shuttle, and another one hoisted my F-911
back to base. It was a loss - I could see it for myself when they
parked it in the hangar, and would never fly again. It would have
been shipped to the Gyruss R&D facility in order to see how
well an F-911 could handle an emergency landing, and how it could
be improved. But, there were no other F-911As available for me,
so I found myself the proud "owner" of a brand-new F-911B
Gyruss fighter, the newer version of the redoubtable combat craft.
"Hey, we should all think about crashing our birds."
Cellini commented. "You Swiss types have an odd way of getting
Battle for Saturn wasn't over yet. It took days to pound the 'Clans
into submissions and losses were still high, but we were now battle-hardened,
more careful, more focused. The new heavy-duty Block II Spearheads
with fusion warheads took out whole squadrons of enemy ships as
we engaged the Ideoclans moon by moon.
I think everybody who has studied the Ideoclan War has heard about
"Fighting Al" Albergottie and the way he handled the
final battle, so I'm not boring you now. Suffice to say that the
next time you think you've got it bad and you've got no hope of
making do, consider we guys at Saturn, outnumbered thousands to
one, who still managed to make it through.
And amid all of the chaos, we found time for a merry event as
Steve got married to a Nurse Corps officer by the name of Carolyn.
One hell of a ceremony, even though I'm not one for formal occasions.
Everybody had managed to do their best to make it as much of a
traditional wedding as possible under the circumstances, down
to the bride's white dress. The only things missing were the gold
bands - which got fixed about two minutes before the ceremony
When it was over, as I tried my best to get my huge officer's
sword out of the way as I walked to the refreshments, Jon came
over. "I thought the gold rings were a no-go, what with procurements
and everything. Where did you get them?"
There was no hiding stuff from the Texan. "Poached about."
"Got them shipped from home? No, it's not possible. Not enough
I knew that if I didn't provide an answer soon, Jon would have
done his best to find out. I decided to spoil the game. "Well,
you know, Chief MacLeod's got a nice machine shop that can fashion
almost everything - rings are easy enough."
"Ok, but what about the gold?"
"Uhm, that was the dicey part. It happens that the polaron
inducer that's inside a spacecraft reactor's power-up system is
fashioned out of pure gold
"Aha - hey, David, those inducers are part of the Gyruss'
reactor. You ain't telling me you cannibalized one of our fighters,
"Me?" I feigned innocence. "No, I didn't touch
our fighters. But the 'Clans, cheapskates they may be when it
comes to their guys' stuff, have spared no expense for the hardware.
Their reactors are the same as ours. Since they've been causing
us a lot of grief, I went to that ship we recovered from Titan
and pocketed a couple of inducers. Just enough to make a couple
of rings. Well, it was my ship after all. I've earned it."
Jon laughed. "Figure they owed us that much, after all!"
I looked out at Saturn.
Soon it would be behind us.
Jupiter lay ahead.
you just know that you're going to kick ass and take names!!!
don't get me wrong. I've had my fair share of butt chewings, more
so when I was in the Coast Guard. But I had done extraordinarily
well in the Army National Guard on New Texas and couldn't recall
the last time I had gotten one. But as Chupa went on and on, ranting
about how messed up the 357th was and how we were all a big disgrace
to the JMF, I couldn't help thinking about how miserable I was
see, the F-911 Flight Suit System doesn't take too kindly to having
water in it! Especially, in the waste collection pockets! I realized
how much my poor son must have felt when he was much younger and
had messed his pants, and had told Lori and I that "I'm sorry
for yucky pants daddy!" Remembering back to those days I
managed to all but ignore what Chupa was yelling about. But then
I smiled to myself, and that brought Chupa's attention, and wrath,
stood right in front of me as I got an earful.
"And you" Chupa fumed ""I am so tired of you
New Texans and your so-called Judeo-Christian Republic. You think
you're better than me? You're a sorry excuse of a pilot, let alone
an officer! You disobey orders, you encourage your subordinates
to do likewise, and I am real tired of having you and your wing
before me all the time."
"Yes sir!" I replied back.
"Fifteen times, Lieutenant!" He shouted.
Shawn whispered to me, "hasn't it been seventeen times Jon?"
Boy did that tick off Chupa! After a few choice curses, he spoke
"Damnit McConnel, you're supposed to have come from a military
family! Seven generations, right?"
"Yes sir, Major! All on New Texas, sir!"
"Then start acting like it! You guys are all a real piece
of work. Kurtz, you're supposed to keep the second and third wing
leaders in line!"
"I will do a better job, sir." Said David! And, in the
best thick-Swiss accent he had! (That was a code to spite Chupa!)
Sitting down behind his desk, he then proceeded to FINALLY tell
us our mission.
"I present to you the wing leaders from the 332nd, Torrence,
Bowman, and Jefferson. They are stationed on the Carrier Martin
Luther King Jr. and they are to be trained by you and your fellow
pilots. The JMF has finally allocated resources for bomber escort
duty. Before the Saturn Campaign, they and their sister squadrons
are to be brought up to speed on our tactics and the latest on
the 'Clans. We can't afford the bomber losses of the past anymore.
And, that little trick you guys did doesn't provide much protection.
It was great to trick that 'Clan pilot, but bombers need fighters
around them. Teach them well gentlemen! Dismissed."
And with a crisp salute we left Chupa's office, wet flight suits
down the passageways we didn't say anything for a few minutes.
Finding an open compartment, we ducked into it, motioned for the
332nd guys to follow, and then shut the door behind us. Shawn
was the first to speak.
"Well that was a happening!" he said with a big grin!
"Welcome to the JMF yawl!"
That broke the ice!
like Chupa has some issues" said Torrence. "The 357th's
reputation has traveled far. And, so has Chupa's!"
"He is a major pain!" David exclaimed-in perfect English!
"And then some" we all said, laughing for a while. We
then started to tell each other about ourselves. We preferred
to get to know these new guys first, reminds you that they're
human like you with families back home. Torrence came from New
Texas, and was a sports manager for one of the professional athletic
teams there. He and his wife Crystal had no kids but were active
in child mentoring programs. Bowman came from New Columbia and
was an engineer. Finally, Jefferson (who went by the nickname
Junior) was a youth pastor who had volunteered for JMF duty. Graduating
top of his class at the New Dallas Theological Seminary. He too
had a family back at New Texas. Seems that certain Outer Colonies
were more than doing their fair share of volunteering for the
War Effort! We also found out the name of the second carrier that
was tasked with bomber escort duty. They came from a special class
of ore freighters built specifically for runs between asteroids.
Their hull skins were very thick-five times that of normal carriers,
with even more shielding for combat duty. Rugged and well-armed,
they were ideal to start the bomber escort missions. Someone in
the JMF was also very historical minded, as the two carriers were
known as the "Two Jr's". You see, they were the Carriers
Martin Luther King Jr. (hull number 1925) and the General Benjamin
O. Davis Jr. (hull number 1911). The Tuskegee Airmen would have
all agreed to let them get settled in to their temporary quarters
and to let us get cleaned up and such. The three of us were quite
miserable by then in our wet flight suits! In about two hours
we'd start the training. The compartment, room to you landlubbers,
had a view port and we looked out at the ever growing fleet. It
was an awesome sight. Another build-up before the Saturn Campaign,
and the time frame to get the newbies from the 332nd up to speed
was very short!
back to our squad bay we informed our guys of the upcoming training
we'd be doing with the 332nd, and a bunch of them starting getting
all the needed data on the 'Clan, the F-911 combat experience
data, and the latest on the Saturn System. And, Shawn, David and
I got cleaned up! Man I was so never enthusiastic about a hot
shower! Finally cleaned, I got into a jump suit and sat down to
check the latest email. The JMF tries really hard to keep its
troops in touch with their families. It's something we all appreciated!
Sitting down at one of the computers, I briefly noticed that my
entire wing was checking their email as well. I was smiling as
I opened the first email from Lori.
smile quickly faded
is the kind of mail that any member of the military hates. It's
the kind that the time away from home, family, and especially
loved ones, finally reaches an apex. Lori had always been lukewarm
at best to my continuing military service. The reports coming
back home to New Texas didn't help either. Considering the last
email had been a long and loving one, this one struck me right
into the heart. I knew it was only a spur of the moment vent from
her, but it made me quite mad. I punched the bulkhead next to
the computer and placed my forehead against the screen.
wasn't the only one though.
quickly noticed our dilemma.
"Damn, all the married guys got Dear John letters!"
he laughed out loud.
Alexandr was muttering something in Russian, Alexei was just looking
at the screen, Andrew could be seen quietly praying, and Yoshiki
was speaking out loud what he was typing. I was about to hit the
bulkhead again when Shawn stopped me.
"Listen to me Jon", he said as he placed his hand on
my shoulder. "It was only a matter of time before she vented
at you. You're not there with her and she is feeling it. But you
know what, she does love you. I know she's only feeling alone.
Keep trusting in God my friend. Stay calm and collected and keep
that laser focus of yours. You'll see her again. But just stay
cool and focused, you're no good to her if you get vaporized into
a million parts. All of you stay frosty, let it go!!!"
I closed out the email. I would let time, and my faith, determine
what I would write to Lori.
was soon time to start our training of the 332nd. Close to our
squad bay was a compartment that we often used for more in-depth
analysis after battles and brainstorming sessions. All of us were
there, and soon the entire 332nd showed up. After some small talk,
we got down to the serious business at hand. The first thing we
brought up was the F-911, and the various changes that had been
made up this time. A large holographic display of the F-911 was
shown while all of us talked about it to the 332nd, answering
their questions and making suggestions to them. The next item
we talked about was the 'Clan themselves. At least what we knew
from fighting them. Finally, we brought up a display of the Saturn
System. This brought up some questions by the 332nd members.
"Why are you guys going in-depth for the next campaign?"
"We may not know where their bases are, but it helps us to
at least know the neighborhood." Said David.
"Not just that" I added "We also get to have an
idea of possible hiding places."
Shawn continued, saying "The Saturn System has numerous large
moons. We know the 'Clans will have major land forces there. Other
than our support to get them to the moons, that is the concern
of the Jarheads and the close in support fighter/bombers. It's
the smaller moons that concern us. Even the ones that are kilometers
in diameter, the 'Clans will most likely install automated facilities
to create and launch huge asteroids at us. Nothing we have onboard
the F-911's will stop them. The moons with larger diameters will
have fighter bases built into them. And the rule of thumb is that
there are always more of them than you really want! Just ask Jon."
continued on discussing the Saturn System for a while when in
walked Col. Bonca and a civilian.
"Attention on deck." Yelled someone.
"At ease gentlemen." Said Col. Bonca "I have someone
here who has done the most in-depth examination of the Ideoclan
and what makes them tick. Please lend your ears to Dr. P.F. Hunt."
Hunt proceeded to the front of the holographic console, inserted
a memory disk, and started his presentation.
"Thank you Colonel Bonca! Let me first introduce myself.
I am Dr. Patrick F. Hunt, the third and I am a professor at the
Powell Institute on New Columbia. I have been researching the
Ideoclan, the 'Clans to you guys, ever since the start of this
war. What I am about to tell and show you has taken a lot of hard
work, and I don't need to remind you of how many have lost their
lives up to this point. Gyruss Squadrons 357th and 332nd, you
are amongst the first to start receiving this information on the
An image of the various 'Clan fighter craft was the first shown.
"You fellows don't need much introduction with these, and
you guys from the 332nd will soon get to know them well enough.
Our defense analysts have pieced together that their craft, though
far better than our earlier fighters, are no match for the F-911
and the firepower it contains. They do outnumber us by a large
margin, and we can ill afford to loose our forces in large numbers.
Their craft use a limited fuel for propulsion. As such their fighters
are short range when compared to the F-911, and need to be refueled
more often. And I can see that I am boring the 357th pilots!"
We all laughed at that!
"Now if we can find their re-fuelers, we'd be out of a job.
But giving you guys the latest on their fighter craft is the job
of the military intelligence crowd. This is what I am really here
Entering a few commands with the speech interface, a single image
of a bald human male, with some oddities, was displayed.
"The large hole in his side is not a defect in the picture
gentlemen; this is what we did to him in combat. You're all aware
that the Ideoclan refuse to surrender alive. And you can guess
as well that large intact bodies, like this are more often than
not very rare indeed. Most of what we have been working with has
been samples and scraps of tissues. We are also working with the
body of a pilot."
That really got our attention.
"This was from a million-in-one shot. The pulse from an F-911
graced the cockpit of the pilot's craft. It wiped most of his
head off and also the master computer so fast that the auto destruct
was never initiated. The problem is that the flight suit is still
a hazard, and our research crews are taking many precautions in
the process. But this much is certain; their pilots are smaller
than the ground troops. They seem to be breed for the job
"Breed for the job Dr. Hunt?" Someone asked.
"Guys, I won't lie to you. With all the samples we have,
their DNA signatures are all IDENTICAL!"
"Then that means only one thing." I said.
"Yes Lt. Kryton, the Ideoclans use clones."
The thought deeply disturbed us all, and Dr. Hunt let the silence
last for a few moments to heighten the effect this news had.
"They seemed to have figured out the copy-of-copy problem.
And from what we have gathered, they seemed to have cloned from
an infant pool to avoid the clones from growing too fast. What
I mean is that the clone of an older donor will eventually assume
the physical age of the donor; despite being far younger. They
are using a technology far in advance of our organ replication.
But, what they have created is far from paradise. The clones are
sterile, and DNA analysis shows that they are docile and follow
orders without question. And their tactics in battle time and
time again show that death is the end issue if all seems lost.
They have taken the worst from the Waffen SS and the suicide bombers
of the 21st century. Totally fanatical, totally determined to
die if the means achieves the ends."
"Dr. Hunt, does Ideoclan stand for anything?" I asked.
"Yes it does. It stands for Ideological Clan. Quite simply,
they are everything the Nazi war machine lusted after-total obedience
and without remorse."
Dr. Hunt then took some final questions from us and the 332nd.
After that, he and Col. Bonca left and we were alone again.
"All right guys" Shawn said "Let's do some actual
stick time tomorrow. We've gotten quite a bit to chew today. We
have only a couple of weeks to train you newbie's from the 332nd.
Let's set a time of 0600 to meet in our flight suits at the hanger
bay. There's plenty of time left today for our information and
tactics to be tried out by your pilots on the flight simulators.
Lt. Torrence, you and your pilots have a good night and we'll
see you in the morning."
with that, our first training session with the 332nd was over,
and as we walked back the thoughts of who the Ideoclan were filled
our minds. It had been a long day for us, time for rack ops.
dark-thirty" came awfully early!
The whole of us were in our flight suits at 0600 in the hanger
bay. Shawn, David, and I had arrived 15 minutes early to check
on everything and to make sure we had a slot available in the
training sector. (Something that had to be done by yours truly
right after the previous nights training session.) With the 332nd
there, we began our mission goal; David acted as the Group Leader
and gave us the OPORDER (Operation Order).
"The 357th and the 332nd are to go on a combined patrol to
the following sector, Training Area Niner-Six-Four-Zero. Enemy
activity will consist of AI Attack Drones that are programmed
with 'Clan tactics. If a drone is not completely destroyed, and
you fail to double-tag, Training Control will asses whom and how
many will be killed by a simulated suicide drone. I can't stress
enough to you guys (the 332nd) that the 'Clans refuse to surrender
and they will try to kill you even if they are about to blow up.
Today's mission is to clean our assigned area of enemy craft,
100 percent-no less! Any questions?"
With no questions, Chief McCleod spoke up.
"All of you crafts have had training sensors installed. Trust
me guys, they cannot be disabled in flight-no cheating because
what you train here as, you will do in combat."
"All right 332nd, time to show them what we got-to your crafts!"
said Lt. Torrence.
"357th, time to teach the newbies! Good hunting everyone"
I climbed into my beloved F-911, nicknamed "Troy's Terror",
I reflected on Shawn's words, the letter from Lori, and the rest
I had gotten. No mater what, I would make it back to be with her,
and Troyton, again.
"System online, Kryton, Jon W."
"System is online"
All systems were a go! I waited for my turn on the cat. It didn't
"Launch sequence engaged", said flight control. "Magnetic
And with an all-too-familiar feeling, I was shot out into space.
After a few minutes, my wing reported to me.
"Wing two online" I said to Swiss.
"Roger Two. Three?"
"Three online" said Jarhead.
"357th, this is Swiss, follow One's lead to Training Area."
Training Area was a one hour trip. On the way there, Lt. Torrence
wanted to tell us a few things that he and the 332nd had seen
"Hey 357th, this is One, 332nd."
"Go ahead One" said Swiss.
"We were able to see the first Super Battle Carrier in orbit
around one of the moons of Paradise!"
? How did you manage that?" said Jarhead.
"Right after graduation, the JMF needed an escort for a bunch
of shuttle craft going to the Super Battle Carrier. Naturally,
they chose us! At first we didn't believe our own sensors. It
was just HUGE! And when we saw it, it was awesome! Her name was
"So that is what they are called, Super Battle Carriers."
Said Swiss. "But why after a British ship?"
"The whole class is being made at the William Wallace Shipyards
at New Scappa moon, in the New England/New Scotland System. The
JMF decided that they would all be named after famous British
ships. We got to land on one of her small landing bays-the same
size as the main one we were just in on the 'Lex! And while most
of my guys were in their crafts, I managed to walk around a bit.
One very proud Brit showed me a whole video of the shipyard and
the other Super Battle Carriers in various stages of completion.
The whole assembly process was amazing to see. From what the Chief
Petty Officer told me, the whole class has enormous firepower,
with separate reactors for each weapons suite, and advanced armor
plate that makes the 'King look thin! The cats can launch entire
wings at once too. They say that the first of the class may be
seen at the Saturn Campaign."
"I'd hate to see the 'Clans after they're in action against
them!" I said.
"Well Lt. Torrence, since you have a nose for such things,
and you seemed to lack a proper call-sign, you're Scoop from now
one!" said Jarhead.
"Here, here" everybody said!
"All right everyone, 60 seconds to Training Area. Good luck
everyone!" said Swiss.
30 seconds to go, I double checked all my F-911's systems. I was
ready to play! But, we were here first to train the 332nd.
"357th, 332nd this is Training Control, entering Training
Area Niner-Six-Four-Zero in ten seconds."
sensors all lit up with multiple bogies, in classic 'Clan attack
formations. The game was on!
fire at all targets" said Scoop.
attack drones were vaporized with numerous well-placed shots.
Not bad for the rookies!
One, this is 357th One. Good shooting-don't forget the double
tagging!!!" yelled Swiss.
several members of the 332nd had forgotten this most essential
rule of combat with the 'Clans. The entire third wing was taken
out and had to go to a Refuge Point in the Training Area. At least
this was the place to make such mistakes!
is why we are here, 332nd" said Jarhead. "Fight as you
train! This sector is cleared. Follow our lead!"
"Roger 357th, wings One and Two follow the 357th." Ordered
didn't have much time to think, as Training Control just threw
hundreds of attack drones at us.
ho, everyone's got game. Engage all targets!" exclaimed Swiss.
The sheer number of the drones surprised the remaining 332nd pilots.
I had eliminated a bunch of targets myself when I heard calls
"Wing Two, gone. My wingman and I are only ones left."
"Hang on Scoop, I'm right there. Wing Two intercept the attacking
drones." I said.
"Lost my wingman!!!"
"Brake hard left Scoop, I got ya!"
The nearest attack drones were destroyed by me with the rest of
the wing ensuring the double tagging. Wings One and Three, 357th,
then finished up the remaining drones. It may have not been impressive,
but the lessons learned would save their lives later on. With
our area cleared, and the statistics sent to each pilot, we had
an AAR (After Action Report) in a small corner of the Training
Area. Swiss spoke first.
"You guys have nothing to be ashamed of. Scoop that was some
very good flying and shooting. We didn't tell you this before,
but we had the Training Control set the difficulty levels at their
highest for this initial exercise."
"What????? Why????" groaned the 332nd pilots.
"I think I understand it" said Scoop "The higher
the challenge here, the better we'll do in real combat."
"Exactly Scoop! That has been a trademark tactic of ours
even before we had actual combat. We made the simulators hard
as hell, and each one of us have been killed numerous times. It
really sucks when you are on the receiving end of this, but it
makes us all better. We're not known as the sim hogs for nothing
on the 'Lex."
"Alright, where do you guys think you did good?" asked
"The weapons were activated right after launch." Said
a 332nd pilot.
"Yes, and you can see why-the targets were numerous and if
you hadn't activated your weapons, well, the game would have ended
just as it started!" said Jarhead.
"Now, what do you guys think was bad?" I asked.
"Failure to double tag!!!" said the 332nd's whole third
"Good" said Swiss. "And now for the ugly part?"
"We let ourselves get surprised by the number of targets."
"That is the whole key to this exercise" said Swiss.
"One is to ensure double tagging, and the other is to let
you know just how outnumbered you can be out there. We know that
the JMF is limited back at Paradise for simulated 'Clan combat
during basic pilot training. If you guys ever knew during your
basic course that you could be outnumbered hundreds to one, not
many would stay on."
"This is really something we should have had" and I
continued "It would have saved many lives."
"Alright, AAR is completed and the data sent back. Time to
start another exercise in five minutes. Scoop, get your guys ready.
We fly in a combined attack formation to the following sector.
It's been put into your flight computers. Good hunting!"
the second exercise, the 332nd had shown to us that they had learned
their lessons well! Scoop showed himself to be a real hotshot
F-911 pilot! All targets were engaged and vaporized, with suitable
double tagging! In addition, they also used the Death Spiral when
greatly outnumbered by the drones. We had stayed back just before
the initial contact was made by the 332nd, so we got to see how
they did. (Compliments of Training Control feeding us the battle
results as they happened.)
"Good job 332nd, exercise completed! Head on back to the
'Lex. Follow our lead." Said Swiss.
"Oh no you don't, 332nd first, 357th last!" Exclaimed
"I guess we have a challenge, both squadrons, as fast as
possible to the 'Lex!"
And with that, we went for broke back to the 'Lex! And the result?
next two weeks were a blur to all of us. The 332nd and we often
pulled three training missions a day, with two-days including
simulation training. The intensity of the training became infectious
as other squadrons, and even fighter groups, joined in. I wouldn't
have called it fun at the time, but it made us all close friends.
Chupa surprised us all by throwing in his support for the furious
tempo of the training. This led to several hilarious visits to
Col. Bonca's stateroom, asking him what he had given Chupa to
be so cooperative to us!
often mixed it up during training as well. Wings were changed
out, leaders switched, and individual pilots swapped. Finally,
the very last day of training ended up with two fighter groups,
including ours and one from the 'King, going up against a full
legion of attack drones! It included several mission and tables
to complete. It made for one very, very long day-boy were we ever
so happy to see it end. Even though we were all tired, and the
332nd was to leave in eight hours, we had a quick party to see
toast" said Torrence to us all.
"Here here! Death to the 'Clans!"
"Death to the 'Clans" we said lifting up our glasses.
"To the JMF"
"To the JMF"
"To our Outer Colonies!"
"Yea, to the Colonies!"
"To the 332nd"
"To the 357th"
And just as we were about to end it, I spoke up.
"And, to our families!"
"Hell yeah! To our families!" said Torrence.
"To our families and loved ones" we toasted.
past behind us, Saturn, with all that would go with it, was next.
And the stakes were never so higher.
briefing we got for the Saturn Campaign proved all of that, and
more. We were all to provide bomber escort duty! In addition,
we would all get a FULL compliment of Spearheads! "Thank
you Chief McCleod" I thought to myself. This nicety turned
out to be general for all the F-911 crews. Little did any of us
in the 357th know at the time that our future "gift"
from Chief McCleod would pack a huge punch when compared to ordinary
Bonca and various staff kept up the briefing, which lasted much
longer than normal. This was serious! We HAD to take Saturn. The
357th would be separated again during bomber escort duty, but
at least it wasn't like those danged Dawn Patrols! Every wing
would be escorting a group of bombers. Together we would be hitting
Rhea, and once that mission was accomplished we would be reinforcing
the attack on Iapetus. However long the briefing went, towards
the end one statement stayed with me and it was from Col. Bonca.
you have escorted the bombers home you land, refuel, rearm and
off you go again. We're flying 'round the clock and everything
is timed so don't linger around. We can't afford any of you coming
back late because an unescorted bomber flight is a dead bomber
flight and we can't wait for you to be ready while we launch them.
If you're there in time fine, you get launched along with the
bombers and all is well. If you don't, the bombers go their way
all the same but without a Gyruss escort a lot of families back
home are going to receive a visit from the chaplain and the blame's
on you - got it?"
pretty much tied things up!
were all a little edgy going back to the Squad Bay. Each one of
us had ways to deal with such things. You had to remain frosty,
or you'd end up making stupid mistakes. Mistakes that could get
you killed. Shawn, Andrew, a few others, and I would always pray
before an engagement. Knowing that though we were FLYING through
the Valley of the Shadow of death, His Presence calmed us. Gathering
our gear, we headed out to the flight bay.
Flight Bay was a hive of hurried activity. The long briefing had
also acted as a pre-flight. Chief McCleod greeted us as we walked
in. Pulling me aside, he informed me that a very special batch
of Spearheads was ours, once the 357th would be fighting as a
whole again. Separated again! Double damn! Nothing you could do
about it though, the mission was what counted and individual feelings
about the matter were not to be said aloud.
Shawn, and I had one last meeting before we took off to fight.
clear on our missions?"
"Crystal clear David, my wing escorts the 91st" said
"And mine escorts the 99th!" I said.
"Enthusiastic as always Jon!" said David. "It's
going to be non-stop for quite some time. Get rest when you can.
The first 24 hours are going to be the most critical for us all.
Good luck and happy hunting."
a long time, it would be the last words I would hear from David.
Wing Two, lets rock!"
"Gotcha boss!" said Yoshiki.
"We are third in line on the Cat! Everyone to your F-911's!"
"And Godspeed to us all!" spoke Andrew.
into the cockpit of my F-911, I thought of nothing but the mission
and getting back-in one piece. I went through the whole routine,
as always, and soon it was our turn on the Cat. The familiar voice
"Launch sequence engaged", said flight control. "Magnetic
And away I was out in space.
rest of the wing was out with me in a matter of minutes. And in
seconds, Wing Two was online.
here comes the 99th."
"Roger Shogun. BOMBGROUP Niner-Niner this is Wing Two, 357th."
"We hear you Wing Two, 357th. Good to have you guys along
for the ride!" said their leader.
"And it's going to be a wild one! Niner-Niner, I'm Texas,
and here are Shogun, Bear, Czar, and Rev. We'll be making sure
you get back."
"Understood Texas. This is Intergalactic Harley, Harley for
short. Follow us to our targets on Rhea!"
had said it was going to be intense, and as soon as we left the
area, we saw just how intense!
Cow Texas, look at all that activity!" exclaimed Rev.
"It looks like every system in Saturn is getting hit hard."
"It makes the D-Day landings look like child's play. Wow!"
said an astonished Czar!
was true, and it was only our sector we were seeing too. Everything
that had been available for the first wave was used. Hundreds
of carriers. Thousands of bombers and fighter escorts. Troop transports,
support ships, frigates, destroyers, medical ships-total war!
It was amazing that we didn't have many collisions. We were hiding
underneath the bombers, in order to try and fool the 'Clans again.
It was a gamble. Rhea came up fast. And, so did the 'Clans.
this is Harley, multiple bogeys."
"Game on!" I said. "Everyone attack!"
'Clans came at us hard. At least they hadn't seen us, the F-911's,
initially. We took care of them real fast. Almost too fast.
job 357th!" said Harley.
"Yeah, but that won't work again. Wing Two maintain normal
distance from the bombers. We know they're coming again."
And that, wasn't too long in coming either.
"Here they come again. Targets on Rhea are 650Km away. Crews
prepare for run."
"Wing Two, let 'em have it."
"Bear, three coming up hard."
"I got them Czar, two at your sector!"
"Texas, four heading towards bomber three!"
"Targets in sight, fire!"
"Damage to bomber five, but slight. 50Km to target. Follow
my lead Niner-Niner."
"Keep them off the bombers! Wow this is intense!"
"Watch it Harley, six on your tail. Mad as hornets! We got
"Thanks Texas! Target is destroyed!"
"Knock it off, here they come. Dozens-fire the Spearheads!"
The 'Clans didn't stand a chance!!!
"Bogeys eliminated. Thanks again 357th! Bomber status?"
rest of Harley's bombers reported back to him. Several had been
hit, but were able to continue on the bomb run. A few others had
been scratched. Compared to previous engagements, this was real
good news for the bomber crews.
we were really glad you guys were with us. The first one is on
Laughing, I said: "There is a few who'll take you up on that!
Best to you Harley!"
"Roger Texas, we're heading back to our carrier. Perhaps
we'll see you again!"
"I hear you Harley! Godspeed! Wing Two, back to the 'Lex.
We've got many more bombers to escort."
became a blur after that. Land, re-arm, back onto the Cat, and
escort another group of bombers. Rhea turned out to have more
targets than expected, but after a while, all major, and minor,
bomber targets were eliminated. All of us in Wing Two had to take
pep-pills to stay awake. The bomber groups all ran together for
us. The 99th turned out to be the only one we would get to know
a little about. Sometimes, if we had enough Spearheads, we would
escort bombers on the fly. We saw a lot of carnage, for war isn't
war without it. All of us had changed, though the change had been
coming. We were hardened veterans. Razor sharp, focused, thinking
nothing of killing hundreds of 'Clan pilots. The Dogs of War had
been awakened in all of us.
were finally ordered back to the 'Lex. Boy, was it good to be
we landed, Chaplin McCreary and the rest of the 357th greeted
us. Col. Bonca and Maj. Chupa were also there. Everyone's faces
said it all. Somebody hadn't come back!
spoke first as we walked up.
"Jon, its David
I felt faint. The exhaustion starting to override me.
"His F-911 took a hit during the Rhea missions
Shawn couldn't say much more.
"He tried to land his craft on Titan." Said Maj. Chupa.
"And, we haven't heard anything else yet. Yet-keep hope."
Encouraged Col. Bonca.
"Jon, Chaplin McCreary wants to be with us alone. Let's go
to our squad bay." Said Shawn.
say the first time you lose a buddy is the hardest, I was fighting
back the tears as we walked away from the Flight Bay. Everyone
else was quiet too, each fighting off their own brand of emotions.
All that we had been through together, and now
pray" said Chaplin McCreary as we entered the squad bay.
Hours, days of exhaustion came to a head. Getting on our knees,
we started to pray. The destruction we had seen, and had inflicted,
overwhelmed us. Tears started to flow. After Chaplin McCreary
finished his prayer, Shawn started in, then Andrew, soon others.
Despite all this hell we had been through, peace was coming to
our hearts. I was the last one, and I finished with the phrase
that most spacers knew best, Psalm 97:6.
Chaplin McCreary!" we all said.
"No problem, and if you boys need anything else, you know
where I am located!"
And with that, he left.
"Jon, the rest of us have a sleep break. We need it."
"No problem Shawn, we don't need much prodding on this."
Lying down on my rack, I thought of my dear wife and son. My mind
became clear as the blessed sleep took over!
squad bay became quiet, except for the sound of the occasional
snorer. Everyone had fallen asleep as they were, most right on
top of their racks.
had slept for about eight hours when Col. Bonca came RUNNING and
got game! Becky's got game!" he yelled, breathless.
It took a few moments to let that simple phrase sink in.
"They found his beacon!!! He's alive
if that didn't get us up! Matter of fact, several of us jumped
out of our racks at the same time and collided with each other!
Still groggy, but excited, we chased after Col. Bonca down the
passageways. The Colonel had the door stay open and security let
us right into the Flight Ops CIC (Combat Information Center).
A huge display of Titan was in the center of the room. Numerous
other displays were indicating status and incoming data. We crowded
around the main display of Titan.
is where he is, the abandoned research base on Titan!" said
The display then showed an enlarged view of the base.
"His landing was incredibly difficult, since the F-911 normally
doesn't land backwards with its' thrusters going. But, he did
it and found shelter in the base. The place was abandoned after
the 'Clan invasion. There really isn't much else on Titan either-remotely
operated outposts, it's a nasty environment. The Becky came through
and the Frigate John Cabot picked up the signal."
Noticing our enthusiasm, Col. Bonca quickly spoke up.
"No! You guys can't go and get him! The John Cabot sent a
crew down to get him and he's on his way here as we speak. ETA
all let out a collective sigh of relief. That was close. Too close.
Col. Bonca then told us to go back to the squad bay and wait.
David would need to be checked by medical, de-briefed by Intel,
and then sent back to us. So back we went, and waited, and waited.
Finally, the prodigal returned!!!
takes a lot more than this to keep a Swiss away!" he quipped
as he walked in.
"Hey!!!!!" we all said!
"Don't want to do that again, though."
"Boy, we almost thought we had lost you. It didn't sound
good." Someone said.
"Yeah, the landing wasn't pretty. The F-911 was left behind,
a total wreck."
"Heck of a way to get the F-911B, David!" said Steve.
We all laughed at that!
"That base was weird and spooky, not a soul around. Good
thing it was there. And, thank God for the Becky!"
"They say the signal was first noticed about two hours after
the Rhea Battle was completed. We were all sound asleep when Col.
Bonca came running in and yelled the good news." Said Shawn.
"I know the signal is encrypted, but I didn't want to take
a chance nonetheless. The John Cabot sent a shuttle and a fully
armed escort. They didn't take any chances as I was taken aboard
and we left as fast as they had gotten on there. We were on the
ground 30 seconds max! Boy was I ever so happy to see space again!"
"And boy are we ever so happy to see you again!" I said.
"Thanks Jon! And thanks guys for your prayers too. Chaplin
McCreary spoke to me at the clinic."
"I do have some bad news though." David said.
"Bad news?" asked Shawn.
"Col. Bonca told me at the de-briefing that the whole 357th
is to do supply escort duty for the next several days."
"Supply escort? We're the Dogs of War!" said Eric.
"Yeah, this is like telling a Doberman to guard Vienna Sausages!"
"Yes, I know. But the Colonel wouldn't say why or go any
further." Said David.
"I have a funny feeling about this, guys. Looks like we've
got another one of those missions 'Only the 357th can do' again."
"I was thinking the same thing. He wants us to start the
supply escort duty ASAP too. The Major will come in and tell us
as soon as a replacement F-911 is found and then off we go."
"One thing's for certain, this is going to be 'Suck egg mule'
duty." I said.
"Yeah" said Shawn. "Makes you feel like an 'E-Aw,
We broke out in laughter! Orders are orders. And they came soon
did get his F-911B. And for the next several days, all we did
do was supply escort missions. Can you say boring? It is one thing
to not know if an enemy will hit you or not. It's quite another
to KNOW they never will, where you are located. Shawn had a picture
of a donkey in his cockpit! At least his jokes made the time pass
by fast. It was easy duty though, we got to come back to the 'Lex
every day and enjoy fresh meals and hot showers. Kind of a rarity
once a campaign has started for most of us. We stayed focused
by operating the simulators and working out.
insight proved correct!
briefing room was very quiet as we entered. Looking around, it
was just us, Major Chupa, and Col. Bonca. It was eerie to say
the least. Every seat had an e-book for us to read. Sitting down,
we proceeded to absorb the info. Something about a Commodore Albergottie,
his exploits and past, very impressive for a former enlisted man;
Master Chief in the Navy. We had been reading for about five minutes
when Col. Bonca yelled out.
"Attention on deck"
Snapping to attention, we watched as the Commodore walked in.
The years of service had left him with a hard look.
The words describing his actions in the JMFN fit him perfectly.
"Unpredictable and unorthodox", "Willing to take
risks", "Hits the enemy hard and relentlessly",
"He's a fighter!!!"
That was him, Al "Fighting Al" Albergottie.
stopped at the front of the main display, which was still turned
"I understand that most sectors are quiet now. The feeling
amongst the Fleet is that we've beaten the 'Clans. They aren't
going to try their usual suicide tactics."
Putting his hands on the podium, he looked us right in the eyes
"But do YOU believe that?"
To a man, we responded
at us, and then at Maj. Chupa and Col. Bonca, he continued.
"Then what I have been told of you all is indeed true. Carry
Sitting down, we watched as he had main display turned on. An
obscure sector with two very small moons and lots of debris came
"We all know the 'Clan love to blow themselves up, with as
many of us as possible. I for one don't believe that we've cleaned
up the Saturn System of all their kind. It's been way too quiet."
The display then went to a magnified view of the two moons.
"Telesto and Calypso. They don't look like much, do they?
Only 15 and 13 kilometers in diameter. Scans have shown no surface
bases at all. Nothing to let us think that something is amiss."
He walked away from the display and spoke again.
"But let us FEEL!!! Thirteen or so kilometers are a lot of
space to be had, underneath the surface! And, we've all gotten
to know just how good their engineers have gotten at constructing
large underground facilities in short amounts of time. Now, they've
had the time, and I say they really have something big out there.
And the reason I FEEL and KNOW this???"
"A short time ago a reconnaissance squadron totally disappeared
in the area. Massive amounts of RF and Microwave interference
blocked most of their signals and the Fleet wrote them off as
a lost to stray 'Clan patrols. However, one of the ships carried
a device to measure density, at long distances. The signal that
came through made it crystal clear to me."
Coming to the podium, he again looked right at us.
"The density of those two moons has been changed-it's less.
Something huge has been built underneath the surface, hidden from
The calculations of total available area came to us, divided by
the known size of 'Clan fighters, it made for some bad numbers.
Really bad numbers! The Commodore let that thought sink in. Shawn
spoke up first.
"Commodore, then that is where the 'Clans are. They want
us to believe that the sector is just space junk. The RF and Microwave
interference is probably made to look it's coming from all that
debris, leaky reactors and such. Very sneaky!" he said.
"Yes it is Lieutenant! But more importantly is this. We need
to take it to the 'Clan directly. If their worldview dictates
that they must die so their god is satisfied then let's send them
on their way. Their fighters are limited in duration, and must
be re-fuelled. Let's hit them where it hurts, below the belt-with
a sledge hammer! They're smart, but predictable. And they are
only human, not supermen. Even if they are clones. Now, Colonel
Col. Bonca spoke up.
"Chief McCleod has been given a very special batch of Spearheads,
just for this mission. Nothing different except for the warhead,
it's basically a small tactical nuke! If you run into large groups
of 'Clans, fire THROUGH their ranks. Let the blast alone destroy
them! Also, your main guns have been beefed up as well-the rest
of the F-911's will have this upgrade down after this campaign
is finished. Finally, the wing leaders will also have very small
reconnaissance drones, using electric propulsion and connected
via an optic cable. That means someone is going to get real close
and personal with the 'Clans. Since they're clones, that means
you'll be at least damn near in bed with them! Use your booster
packs to leave that bed as fast as hell."
Laughing at that, it was then Major Chupa's turn to speak.
"Your tactics coming to the target will be simple. Tight
formation so that the intra-ship communications can be used. Yes
I know, that is tight flying. EMCON is at 100%, so that means
anything that produces signals, will be turned on stand-by. That
includes very-long-range scanners. We have to let the 'Clans think
that it's just another reconnaissance patrol."
Commodore Albergottie spoke up one more time.
"Task Force has been named 'Blitz'. My flagship, the Essex,
and the carriers Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Jonathan Netanyahu
will be there for backup. The frigates Harlan Fraser, Sergio Vasquez,
and Tim Spence will provide heavy fire if things get close and
ugly. Gentlemen, good luck, God Speed, and happy hunting!"
While we were standing at attention, he said one more thing to
"Hit them hard, hit them really, really hard! Dismissed"
to the flight bay, each of us had our thoughts to ourselves. The
flight bay was a beehive of activity. Chief McCleod had one final
word to us as we were boarding our crafts.
"Boys, this one is for all those who didn't make it because
the 'Clans wanted to take as many of us down. Now, take them down!"
"Sure thing Chief!" we all said.
My body secure in the cockpit, my thoughts clear and narrow, I
spoke "System, online. Kryton, Jon W
It had begun
it sure is quiet out here Swiss!" I said after we had been
on the patrol for a while.
"Very much so. Hey Jarhead, how's your group handling?"
"We're all ready for whatever comes our way! We've got people
chomping at the bit to kick some butt!" said Jarhead.
"If those calculations provided by the Commodore are correct,
then there is one hell of a lot of 'Clans over there." Quipped
"This close flying to maintain secure comms is a real pain.
We've got to try something different, next time." I said.
"Texas, this is Jarhead. A couple of my guys and Swiss's
have come up with an idea-something that combines all movements
from one central craft." Jarhead explained.
"Then, we could also bring about an enormous amount of firepower
to bear upon the 'Clans." I observed.
"Moons coming up. Nothing so far. Sure hope that backup is
ready and the booster packs operational." Said Swiss.
cockpit was quiet, as mostly everything was in standby mode to
ensure EMCON was 100%. The sights were pretty impressive as Saturn
filled quite a bit of the view. Most of the conversations had
grown quiet. Then suddenly
ALERT LONG RANGE SCANNER OBSERVATION."
Horrified, I checked my instruments-IT WAS STILL IN STANDBY MODE!!!
"LONG RANGE SCANNER OBSERVATION CONFIRMED. UNKNOWN IDENTITY."
My scanner screen then lit up. A huge "blob" filled
It then went blank.
Then the screen lit up again.
It went blank again.
Then the screen showed the "blob" again. Just past the
moon of Telesto.
Then it went blank, and stayed blank!!!
Texas here. Did you
"Texas, this is Shogun, what do you make of that?"
"Texas, Swiss. My system was is standby. What was that?"
"Swiss, I don't know. Anyone else get that?"
"Negative Swiss, Texas and Shogun." Replied everyone
"IMMEDIATE STOP" yelled Swiss.
came to a stop and discussed what to do.
"Something showed up, not just once but several times for
me." I said.
"I confirm that, Texas." Said Swiss and Shogun.
"We should look into this then. We're really close to that
debris field. I say that someone send a drone and check it out."
"I guess that would be me, since I saw it first. Great!!!???"
"Finders keepers Texas!" said Jarhead.
"Texas, Swiss here. I'll be the relay for the rest. Go on
"Roger Swiss, Jarhead. Drone system online. Cable check okay."
F-911 went at a very slow speed. I was alone, and blind, with
no scanners running. The debris field was intense. The RF/Microwave
reader was going off scale. At a point I determined, I launched
the drone. The fiber cable attached to me and it. What I saw,
the rest saw via the relay from Swiss.
to the debris field. Drone system 100%. Electric propulsion is
"Turning a bit here. Avoiding debris."
"There seems to be a larger opening. Slowing to snail speed."
"Opening is large enough for F-911's. Turning the drone
"Holy cow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I gasped.
at once, we all saw it. The video feed came through crystal clear!
The squadron gasped their amazement, their disbelief!
"Oh my God!" I barely spoke. Praying God would forget
I saw, and the rest saw, would stick with me for the rest of my
the center of my view from the drone was a huge cylindrical object.
I had to guess several miles long. Going to magnification, I saw
hundreds of little "umbilical" cords coming away from
it. Branching off from them were 'Clan fighters. Thousands of
could hardly believe my own eyes. What also looked like 'Clan
support ships, frigates, and what I took for carriers were also
there, close to that 'Clan ship. It was one of those "refuelers"
we had been told about. Except this one was huge. They had been
planning a last minute attack! If they were able to get ready
to hit us, how could we
retrieve the drone NOW" said Swiss.
didn't need to argue that. Minutes later, the drone was clear
of the debris field. I gave it one more final command, heading
it towards Telesto and then I broke the cable connection. I knew
I had to go back slow, but I wish I could have gone back faster.
Getting there, the plans were already being drawn up.
it's clear what we do." Said Jarhead. "Texas, Swiss,
and Shogun will go in, with booster packs running at full tilt.
At the last moment, release those Spearheads and I mean all of
them. Then get the hell out of there."
"The rest, Texas, will be lying in wait waiting for anything
survives. They'll hit them from behind as the survivors chase
us." Said Swiss.
"I guess this is the time and place to test the extended
thrust time of these booster packs, isn't it?" I quipped.
"Texas, Swiss, and Shogun we've got your six. Go on ahead."
Said Jarhead. And, he added: "We're going to move a dozen
more km away, protected by this moon. . If that refueler has as
much fuel as I think it has, then it's going to go off like a
Shogun, and I went very slowly to the debris field and the place
the drone had entered. My throat got really dry, and my hands
a little sweaty. Once we were in the opening, we could see for
ourselves just what a huge target this was.
"It looked a lot smaller from the drone!" joked Swiss.
"Do you think they know what's about to happen?" asked
"They won't have much time to think about it! This whole
sector is going to light up real soon!" I said.
"Alright, everyone synchronize on me." Said Swiss. "Arm
My Spearheads came up all ready! My heart was pounding a mile
"Engage boosters in ten
"ONE!!!" he yelled.
shot out of there like a bat out of hell. We started flying by
thousands of 'Clan ships, still connected to the "umbilical"
cords. The surprise had been complete!
'Clan presence. We caught them with their pants down." Said
Swiss, over the comms, for all to hear!
"Prepare to fire
two...one! NOW FIRE"
The Spearheads launched from us. We pulled up in a huge arc. The
strain on my F-911 was almost too much.
"Two..ONE!!! Direct hit." Yelled Swiss.
Spearheads had hit their marks. Almost immediately we could see
explosions all up and down the line. 'Clan fighters at the end
of the line were breaking free. But then, just as we were pulling
out of the debris field a massive explosion lit up space. I guessed
that everywhere scanners would be picking this up.
that took out everything in its path!" exclaimed Shogun.
"We barley got out of there in time, boy what a fireworks
show!" I said.
"Just like August the 1st." Swiss replied. (That was
Switzerland's answer to the American 4th of July, except it was
He always had a way to remind us of Swiss history. Even in a moment
like this, it made me chuckle. The suddenly
"Lookout, Bogies!" yelled out Swiss.
of hornets, mad as you know what, were chasing us. They were the
lone survivors. And our booster packs were dying and they were
closing in fast!
"Packs away! Thrusters running!"
"This is going to be close. Multiple targets bearing down."
"Anytime now" I thought to myself.
Then, on all frequencies so all could hear
to be you!!!" yelled Jarhead!
say that the surviving 'Clans were surprised was an understatement!
Most didn't even know what hit them as numerous Spearheads flew
amongst their ranks and exploded!
ho, gun down the rest." Said Jarhead.
shot strait forward as Swiss told me to break hard left. We joined
in the game! But, it was all over except for stragglers.
baby! Get some of that!" yelled Jarhead!
were all laughing and whooping it up over the comms! What an incredible
stroke of luck! I was saying a lot of quiet prayers and thanks!
The shock wave had continued on for quite some time, even some
ships managed some damage from it. If the 'Clans had been surprised,
so had been the JMF Fleet! The explosion had shocked and awed
everyone watching scanners for enemy activity! Coming from a so
called "quiet" sector made an even bigger impression!
Commodore Albergottie had gambled, and it had paid off.
single act ended all 'Clan hopes! And, more importantly for us,
the Saturn Campaign was finished!
back to the 'Lex, we were mobbed by hundreds of cheering people!
And, over the intercoms as well! Col. Bonca greeted us as we assembled
and walked towards the cheering crowd!
Albergottie wishes to send you all immense thanks and congratulations
for a job well done!" he said.
Just as we finished saluting him, we were all lifted up by members
of the Chief McCleod's crew and sister squadrons! We were giddy
with victory! We had survived, and we had hurt the 'Clans really
you're all invited!" yelled Steve.
"Carolyn and I are getting married!" he said.
"Party time! Through him into the pool!" Everyone said.
And this time, only one guy, Steve, got thrown in!
chapel was all made up for the wedding of Steve and Carolyn. David's
wing and mine were all lined up opposite each other, decked out
in our dress uniforms, and swords. Even David had his huge sword
with him! Steve's best man was Eric, Shawn was the MC, and the
rest of his wing was groomsmen. Carolyn was dressed in a very
traditional white dress. How that was managed was a miracle of
logistics. She had several friends from the Nurses Corp as her
bridesmaids. Chaplin McCreary was presiding over the ceremony.
While I was standing at-ease, I thought back to the simple ceremony
Lori and I had had when we got married. I managed to all but ignore
the wedding ceremony as my thoughts went back to home, and family.
I smiled, which got a confused look from David! Finally, the words
"I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Steve Bascay" were spoken
by Reverend McCreary and Shawn then spoke up.
"Detail!" shouted David and I, looking towards Shawn.
"Ah-ten-huh" said Shawn. (In that thick USMC accent
of his-once a Marine always a Marine!)
We snapped to attention.
Our swords were lifted up and formed a tunnel.
The music then played and Steve and Carolyn walked past us. When
they had past the last two guys we withdrew the swords to our
Dismissed to reception!" said Shawn.
observation deck was where the reception was held. The band was
playing, and they were quite good. There was plenty of food-compliments
of some favors granted, and quite a few people. Most of our guys
managed at least a few dances, but I stayed pretty much to myself.
I walked over to the main window. The view was breathtaking! If
you hadn't been through it, you wouldn't have thought that a very
bloody conflict had just been concluded. The Rings of Saturn were
magnificent to say the least. And, the fleet was just massive.
It felt good to just relax, having had some food and the rare
beer; I started to write in my e-book. Shawn and David sat down
on some chairs next to me.
quite the view, isn't it?" said David.
"It sure is. Peaceful and beautiful now." Shawn responded.
"Jon, is that your e-book?" asked David.
"Yeah, I finally decided on what to really write Lori. More
than the usual quick emails during a campaign." I said.
I wrote some final words and clicked the "FINISHED"
"Hey Jon, let me see!" said Shawn.
"Sure, here you go."
I handed him the e-book and continued to look out at the scenery.
Shawn read the message after several minutes of silence.
"Jonnie! I told you not to worry and such! Good job!"
he said. Then proceeding to grab my head and rub his knuckles
over my scalp, laughing.
." I protested. "Let David read it!"
He handed it to David and then released me from his grip.
David was reading the e-book when Major Chupa walked up to us.
We stood up real fast but he motioned to just continue sitting.
"I just wanted to tell you guys how proud I am of you all."
We could tell he was a little drunk. Was he also sad? We had to
about lift our jaws off the deck after what he had just said.
"You guys are the best of the best." He said. Then he
all had a confused look on our faces when Col. Bonca walked up.
"He's trying guys, he really is." He continued "He's
been through a lot. And, I know you guys know!"
Smiling at that, he then sat down next to us.
"This campaign seemed to take forever sir." Said David.
"Yes it seems to have. Especially given how busy you guys
kept yourselves before the Campaign even started!"
We chuckled at that.
"Oh, just for the record. You guys really trained the 332nd
well-too good actually."
We looked at each other with strange looks on our faces.
"Lieutenant Torrence has been promoted. You see, he and his
pilots did such a fantastic job of escorting the bombers that
not a SINGLE one got scratched during the entire campaign! Comments
such as 'Ruthless in attack. Fearless under combat' were in his
promotion letter." Said Col. Bonca.
"Looks like we did our job then Colonel!" said David.
"Yes you did!" he said chuckling. Then he continued
"And what you did really hurt the 'Clans."
"Just how bad, sir?" I asked.
"Kryton, you guys hurt them so bad that the best proctologists
from New Columbia couldn't fix what was done to them!"
We all laughed long and hard at that. Then just before Colonel
Bonca walked away...
"You know," he said leaning in close, placing his hands
on my shoulder and David's.
"Over a thousand diagnostic tests later, we'll never figure
out why only three pilots had their scanners light up."
We all looked at each other and just nodded slightly, and thoughtfully.
Patting us on the shoulder, the Colonel then returned to the festivities.
guys, it's time for some rack-ops for me" I said to David
"I hear you. I'll probably be heading in too, soon."
"Same here." Said David.
"See you guys back in the squad bay."
squad bay was empty as I walked in; everyone else was at the reception.
I turned on the lights and headed to one of the terminals. I quickly
uploaded my message to Lori from the e-book, added a few voice
attachments and clicked the "SEND" function. I quickly
changed into a jump suit and lay down on my rack. Sleep came very
quickly to me. I entered into a deep sleep. Thoughts and visions
came to me.
JON! Wake up!" said David, shaking me.
.???" I fumbled with the words.
"I heard you screaming as I walked in." he said.
"Nightmare I think. Fire everywhere! Empty racks!?"
I said to him.
My whole body was in a cold sweat. I was shaking.
"What does it mean, Jon?" he asked, concern in his voice.
I sat up. We both looked around the empty squad bay.
"I don't know David. I don't know." Shaking my head.
empty squad bay looked foreboding. We looked at each other with
just don't know
"Jupiter: Farewell, Old Friends"
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