Neptune to Earth"
Cuciz & James Krych
Farewell, Old Friends"
"Praise the Lord and pass the sugar."
Pancakes and maple syrup - the breakfast of champions, maybe.
Of Gyruss fighter pilots, definitely. For a guy whose concept
of Day's Most Important Meal had been firmly established as bread
and jam for most of his life, I had adjusted easily to the ultra-caloric
American-style routine that was standard aboard Lexington.
Couldn't complain, really. I had been thinking for a while that
the long-endurance feature on the F-911 had been designed mostly
as an excuse to deprive us of a nice, hot meal or two.
"Here it comes." I passed the sugar to Shawn. "Easy
on that stuff, with all the caffeine you're gulping down it's
like rocket fuel."
"Gimme a break - I've been flying long-range recon last night
and all I had for dinner was milkshake-tasting liquid rations.
If I end this war one pound lighter than when I signed up, I'm
gonna sue JMF for starving me."
"You tell me." Retorted Nicola. "My mama would
throw a fit if she ever saw what we're eating. Mi passi lo
zucchero per favore?"
"Tieni." I recovered the sugar cup from Shawn before
he could empty it and passed it to Cellini. "Guys, you ought
to pay me for playing sugar-mover and interpreter." Cellini
had taken to speak Italian from time to time when I was around
- because I could speak it as well.
"Hey, we can't afford JMF going bust before we get paid."
"I'm just glad JMF can't make Chupa's threat count."
The man actually talked about detracting the F-911 I had crash-landed
on Titan from my pay. Of course, he couldn't have - legally -
especially since it had been recovered if not returned to service,
but if that particular threat had been carried out, I'd have had
to work for JMF for the rest of my life. If I could live a thousand
years, of course.
"Pay no attention to the guy, Swiss. He can't stand us."
"Yeah. Feeling's mutual. He threatened to court-martial me
too - for abandoning JMF's propriety."
"Nonsense, David. You got it back after all - not in good
conditions but you got it back."
That's the funny thing about military stuff - if you wreck it
and bring back the pieces, it's not that bad.
"Well, what about it?" Inquired Shawn. "Any better
than the -A model?"
My shiny new F-911B - the only one around - had been a favorite
conversation topic for some time but I had deferred discussing
it before thorough testing. It was high time to speak out. "It
accelerates a little better and carries about 15% more ammunition,
power bus is somehow more stable." The Gyruss power distribution
subsystems are temperamental to say the least after about 10 hours
in-flight. "Cockpit is a little larger, too. The cooler stuff
is in the software department, anyway. It does its search-and-track
stuff way faster, and I have never had to reset it."
"Heard the shield also has better hard rad protection."
"Yeah, but I'm not that keen to check it out. Anyway, word
is that the -D version is way cooler."
Nicola laughed. "Then we'll have to find us a nice comfy
Jovian moon and crash-land the whole of 357th!"
"Don't say it aloud." Shawn said. "If Chupa hears
you, and you come back with even a small scratch on the hull,
he'll want detract the paintjob from your pay."
Beep! My wristwatch's pager flashed, notifying me of an urgent
message. "Sorry guys, got to check the mail."
"Personal stuff, huh? Must be love letters again." More
laughter. Somehow (though I had some suspects), someone had heard
about the flood of mails I had been receiving from some nubile
Swiss girls who had happened to see my mug plastered on some e-newservice
front page. Being a poster boy is tougher than it sounds like,
especially when it comes to the slagging you get from your buddies.
I had since ran out of one-liners to counter it, so I just left.
began to worry halfway to my room. Urgent is not a label
assigned lightly to personal messages, since it flags them for
precedence over other mail relaying. We were in wartime, so the
post office must have assigned it - civilians were not allowed
to label their stuff anyway they liked because nobody could risk
a letter from your mum getting ahead of an ammo request form.
So, urgent meant just that. What had happened home? I stepped
up my pace just out of the transcar and almost raced to my door.
Somehow I managed to complete the security identification procedure
without fumbling and then the message came out on the screen.
sgtm Kurtz, Hans Rudolph, cp III/495
TO: I lt Kurtz, David Wilhelm, 357th Squadron
no subject -]
MESSAGE FOLLOWS ---
don't really know how to tell you but I have to. There has been
an accident this morning at Nebelsee. Brytta has died - she and
her family were on a boat when a storm broke out. Little Peter
lost balance and fell into the water - she jumped too and managed
to catch him but the water was frigid and she couldn't swim back.
They pulled Peter out but a wave came along. She went under and
never came up.
They found her ashore after the storm ended - looked like she
was sleeping. Doctor says she didn't feel a thing, hit her head
against a submerged log, passed out and drowned.
know this will be pretty hard on you and I hate myself for breaking
the news this way. God knows you have already a lot of things
to worry about but I know how much you and Brytta were close.
Mother has been crying her eyes out all day long and Dad's pretty
upset too, the Schwetters are not just business partners. I wonder
who will tell Peter her sister is gone; he's still under observation.
funeral will be held tomorrow. We know you won't be able to attend
but everyone's here is thinking about you. Take care and be back
soon. We're all pulling for you.
--- END OF MESSAGE ---
I stood there, unable to think, unable to move.
Brytta has died.
How could it be?
* * *
I had known Brytta Schwetter since we were kids. Well, almost.
Our family had been in the Outer Territories since they had first
been settled, while hers was a first-generation Outie family.
In short, we were patricians and they were bourgeoisies, and the
two do not mix. Sort of. Hell, forget about it, nobody really
cares but everyone acts like it's damn important. It's a Swiss
Being the same age, give or take a few months, we were around
each other a lot. We went to school together, we spent summers
together and we were often guests in each other's houses. The
Schwetters traded in space mining equipment and my family had
a mining business so our families were in pretty good terms.
As teenagers, our relationship made a sort of quantum leap. I
know what you're thinking about but you're wrong: we were never
boyfriend-and-girlfriend in any sense. We had been through too
much of our life together to even think spending the rest of it
the same way. But we did a lot of fooling around - as other teenagers
stumbled and fumbled their way in the wondrous world of sort-of-adult
romance, we simply turned to each other. It was, for lack of a
better term, familiar territory: no broken hearts, no hurt feelings.
Anyone who ever said a man and a woman can't be friends while
sleeping together doesn't know jack.
We saw other people, of course. There had never been any jealousy
between us, and when she began dating guys I was happy for her
(though I always did some background check on them, just in case)
and when at the ripe old age at 17 I had my first serious romance
Brytta even threw a mock engagement party. Oh well, it did last
an eternity. All six months of it. And a half.
* * *
waits for no man or Gyruss pilot. With Jupiter and its moon looming
ahead, we had to train and train hard - and yet 357th seemed to
take it easy. We were the veterans, the survivors, the 'Clan-slayers,
and everybody seemed to look up at "the Squadron" as
we were being called by the media back home. It shouldn't have
gone to our heads but somehow it did - we were used to get out
unscathed where entire wings had met their doom, to pull ourselves
from the thickest furball, to down even enemy major ships with
our fighters. Inevitably, we were beginning to think ourselves
I kept my grief for myself: what I had with Brytta was mine, and
although my buddies were the closest friends I ever had something
inside me didn't want to share anything. When training or duty
didn't keep my mind busy and memories came back, I found myself
an excuse and went back to mourning in private.
It felt absurd. It wasn't right - out here we were seeing so much
death that it had grown to be a constant companion. We were at
war, and it was only natural but how could folks back home keep
dying like they did in peacetime? How could they dare? Couldn't
they see how precious life was, and just be careful? Yet beside
the front pages of e-newservices, which were fully dedicated to
the conflict, there they were the odd car accident, the house
accident, the miner forgetting to check his suit before stepping
out of the airlock
Life, and death, as usual.
checked out, chief?" I asked walking to my F-911.
"Yessir. It's a good bird. As good as it can be. The mod
you asked for, it's done."
"Good." I did a quick check around and opened the bag
I had been lugging from my room. Inside there was my Stgw-11 and
two full magazines, with a couple of ammo boxes for good measure.
I climbed into the cockpit and locked the rifle into the rack
mounted behind the seat - the new -B was a little more roomy and
if anything funny like Titan happened again, I wanted some more
firepower on my side.
"Cool job, chief." I did a thumbs up. "I owe you
"Just bring it back in one piece, sir. Don't forget those."
He handed me a zip-bag filled with plastic strips. I shivered.
was a new enemy waiting on Jupiter, one that we couldn't fight
with the Gyruss arsenal. Radiation - the bogeyman of space travelers
- the space around the giant planet was burning with it. The F-911's
shielding and armor can withstand hard rad, but it's designed
to cope with nuke flashes, the occasional stellar flare or radiation
storm, not full immersion in a massive EM field; we were given
extensive briefings on radiation sickness, on the treatment which
would be administered - quickly - to anyone exposed, to the importance
of getting back to base before the rad-sensitive plastic strips
strapped to our wrists and legs became blue, the color of radioactive
* * *
Three!" My fighter vibrated as the Spearhead missile
launched and the disposable pod disintegrated. Switch to next
target, designate, lock-on and
There goes another.
"Leader, this is two. Enemies at two o'clock high."
"Roger that, turn to engage. Wing, combat spread!"
"Leader, this is three. I have ten - make it twelve bogeys
coming about from above the horizon. Engaging now - Fox Three!"
Damn, double damn and triple damn. Three days into the Battle
for Jupiter and we weren't apparently making any dent into the
'Clans ranks. They had been making serious dents in ours, instead.
"Swiss, this is Texas. Check rad strips. We're going into
the green." Came Jon's voice through the voice channel.
I shot a look at my thigh strip - it was glowing greenish. Hot
but not deadly yet.
"Texas, we're green already. We're boosting the shields -
gonna buy us some time. Disengaging in thirty seconds. 1st Wing
- fire at will and form on me."
The last of our missiles flew ahead. Engaging into Death Spirals,
we merged with the Ideoclan formation with our pulse guns firing.
Silent explosions flashed into the darkness as we turned around
to rejoin with the rest of the squadron.
"Everybody max out speed." Jon directed. "Lex
It seemed to take forever getting back to base. At least we touched
down and to our surprise we were ordered to move to the standby
area instead of rearming. Another surprise followed as we were
directed to shut the 'planes down and go into debriefing ASAP.
Upon getting to the debriefing room, we found out why.
were the strips and green we were too. Green as in puke-green,
green as the faces we saw in our mirrors. I was already shaking
badly when I lay down on the bed as rad treatment began - blood
purification, nanosurgery, you name it they had it ready. We were
in no condition to protest and there was no alternative: radiation
damage is cumulative. You either repair it or it will catch up
on you and kill you in the most unpleasant way.
But this was small consolation. As we dragged ourselves back to
our rooms to get some rest, we looked like a bunch of drunks swaggering
in a most un-military way and holding on each other in order not
to fall face-first to the floor.
And as a side effect, the treatment seemed to have taken away
my capability to sleep. I looked at the ceiling, too weak to move,
but not to think. And remember.
* * *
you're going to do?" Brytta asked, nestling against my shoulder,
looking at the night sky.
"Right now you mean?" I asked shifting a little to make
her more comfortable. The earth felt soft under the plaid we were
lying on but it was no substitute for a foam mattress.
"No, stupid. You know what I mean."
High school was over. Come next year, we would be University students.
Our teenage years were coming to an end - the end of an era for
both of us. I was going over to Astronautics and Space Engineering,
Brytta would be taking Economics and Resource Administration.
With the Federal Campus being the size of a city, we'd be seeing
each other a lot less. More so since Astronautics meant 'field
trips' - going into space and actually work there. I was looking
forward to it, had been 'spacing around' since sixteen and loved
every moment of it.
But for the first time I would really be alone. My father would
not be around to pull me out of trouble. My big brother would
not be looking over. And Brytta - she would not be there.
"Why don't you take Economics too? Or maybe Law, or Planetary
Engineering." She said. "You can travel as much as you
want when you have a good job. There's no need to enlist."
"Look, Bri, we've been through this already. Space Exploration
wants pilots and navigators, and you can't get into Space Ex if
you're not been through Astronautics." The only other way
was to become a space fighter pilot, which was a most absurd notion.
"Two years into Astro, then military service
I'm having orientation two weeks from now. Got to ask Rudi what
not to tell the guys in green. Wouldn't want to end up in some
logistics battalion or worse."
"You don't have to do military service. You could
"Hush, Bri. I want to serve. Nobody gets into Space Ex's
high echelons without serving. I want to explore, not service
Brytta shifted a little and bit my ear. "You're a big kid.
You're going to get lost on some rock out there, be captured by
aliens and turned into a space zombie."
I laughed. "Maybe I'll get captured by space amazons looking
to repopulate their planet."
She punched me in the ribs. "Dümmli."
"Hey, are you jealous?" I joked.
She didn't answer. In the darkness, I could not see her face.
"I'm not." She said finally, and we didn't go back to
the subject anymore. The night was young.
So were we.
* * *
we're going to go through that damn treatment again, I'm not coming
back." Said Nicola.
"If we've got to, we ain't gonna be in shape even to get
out again." Retorted Shawn. "Is anybody hungry?"
After treatment, we had been 'eating' liquid rations - less work
on our mistreated digestive systems but no substitute for real
"Heard they're spraying the fighters with some anti-rad paint.
Supposed to improve the shielding." offered Shawn.
"They can spray me if it's any good at all."
I tried to attack my 'meal' with some surrogate of enthusiasm,
to no avail. We needed to eat, and not just out of hunger. Complete
blood replacement means having synthetic blood in you for a while,
and although it's incredibly efficient in carrying oxygen and
impervious to pathogenic agents, it's not the real thing by a
couple of parsecs and some. It makes you feel weak, something
with its partial inability to carry nutrients. The body eventually
replaces it with the genuine article, but in the meanwhile it's
like getting up after a bad case of flu.
"I just hope the 'Clans are as vulnerable to radiation as
we are." I muttered.
"According to Hunt they are - and I bet they ain't bothering
to give'em any treatment." Jon said. "They just don't
"Yeah. Just like those terrorist guys in the history books."
Nicola looked up. "What's a terrorist guy?"
is a good day."
"Good to you, Ahmed. You ain't going out." I
told the fire crew chief, half-laughing. Ahmed, two meters tall
and some, had been with the fire crew since Lex had been launched
and had been promoted to chief just after Saturn. I'm not sure
if that's what he would have liked, for Ahmed was a no-nonsense
guy who enjoyed working, not ordering people around to work in
his stead. "Just make it so that we have something to come
"God willing, the Lexington will be here for you."
"Yeah." I signed the board and started to climb out.
"Hey, since you're in good terms with the Big Guy, won't
you put a good word for me?"
"I will, but don't worry. God is merciful. You will be safe."
Jee-ru-sa-lem, I hope so. Radiation hardening notwithstanding,
it was clear we couldn't flight and fight in the Jovian radiation
field at maximum endurance, which meant more turnaround, increasing
the likelihood of accidents. The new rule was get out, get it
done, get back, get cured, get sleep. Like it was easy.
I felt the tug as my fighter was loaded into the catapult elevator.
Time to go.
ceremony has taken place this morning. It was raining but there
were a lot of people anyway. All of your school and university
buddies and although you couldn't attend, we knew you'd have been
there if you could have. There was a heavy downpour until about
the end, then the clouds parted and for a moment there was sunshine
like we haven't seen for months. Almost like she was saying goodbye.
Peter is up again and getting better, physically at least. It's
gonna be hard for him, he's putting on a brave face but he's only
a little kid.
I overheard Dad talking with the local military head of section,
he was asking for at least a not-combat post but he's overage.
You know the old man, he's got two sons in the Army and feels
cut out. He should know he's more useful now that he's helping
out with the merchant's fleet reconversion in case the enemy comes
around our space.
Well, that's all for now. I've got to report back to HQ in two
hours. The maglev leaves in 30 minutes. Take care.
END OF MESSAGE ---
"2nd, form on me and engage."
"1st, disengage and regroup, there are too many of them!"
I called out while trying to steady the Gyruss. Between Europa
and Io there were more 'Clan fighters than we had ever seen. More
than we could handle.
"Mamma mia, quanti ce ne sono!" Nicola joined
formation on my left.
"Yeah. Three and Four, space out. Say situation."
"Three, guns only."
"Four, I have two
FOX THREE! I correct, one spear
"Roger that. Texas, Jarhead, you need any assistance?"
"Negative Swiss, we're
GUNS GUNS GUNS!
"1st, back to base, on the double!" Count one,
two, three, pull back stick and throttle out
against the g-forces as the fighter fought to change its velocity
"Guys, this is murder." Shawn commented over
the commnet as squadron upon squadron flew into battle to take
the place of those who had to go back before rad could take its
"Right on, Jarhead, right on." Texas sounded
tired. Couldn't blame him. We all were.
on Lex, the treatment was quicker and less painful but
unpleasant nonetheless. At least this time we would have been
able to eat solid stuff. I missed eating solid stuff. I missed
sleeping. I missed a lot of things. I missed home.
sweet home." I muttered climbing down the stairs from
the shuttlecraft. After three months in low-gee I was feeling
"Man, college life's a bitch." Jean-Luc said
just beside me. "Three months cooped up on Darkside ain't
"That's space travel to you." I swaggered towards
the spaceport's transit station. Low gravity has a way to change
your walking habits. "See ya on Darkside."
Darkside was the massive space station in synchronous orbit, positioned
so that it was always sitting above the planet's night side. Cool
for astronomy but it makes you a little depressed looking down
at the city lights from a place where the most exciting thing
to do was staring at the docking lights change color - and there
is only one visible from the students' area.
"Hey there." A voice called out. Turning around I saw
a figure in white and blue beside a car, at the spaceport's lot.
"Hey there you and some." I called back. "Looking
at the pretty shuttles going up and down?"
"Looking for you, dummkopf." She motioned for
me to climb aboard. "Maglev's off. There's a broken down
loco two stations back, won't be up for some hours. Though you
might use a ride."
The road between the spaceport and industrial area to the outskirts
of Neues Zuerich is one of the best sights on the planet, running
alongside fields on one side and the Sonnensee just to the left,
coming from the spaceport. It's rarely used because the maglev
train is way faster if not so spectacular.
"Nice new car." I commented.
"Thanks. I've had it for one month now. Should have come
as a birthday gift but Dad thought I would have needed it sooner.
The campus' transportations are far worse off than the spaceport."
"I hope Fredy's not jealous." He was Brytta's boyfriend,
had been for about three months. I had never met him in person
and didn't know if he was the jealous kind of guy.
"Fredy's history. He dumped me for being a 'snob girl'."
"Imbecile." I snorted. "He ain't in your league."
"No loss. He couldn't stand me getting better votes. What
"Katherine's history too. She dearjohned me a couple of weeks
ago. Looks like she found someone better."
"Lucky girl." I retorted. "Kathy's been a bit late
in checking out her tastes."
Brytta laughed. "Well, better this way. She did look at me
funny when you introduced us before going up."
I laughed too. "It's a crazy universe."
"It is. How's up? Heard Darkside is not exactly a luxury
"Comfortable it ain't. It's a research station, mainly. After
the first three days of orientation, we've been put to work. Astrometrics,
long-range imaging, this sort of stuff. Then we got to fly some
propods, I've done it for years so I've been doing cool at least
on that. Math's giving me a headache instead."
"Can't imagine how people can live cooped up in that place."
Brytta was a little claustrophobical.
"Oh, it's spacious after all. It's mostly in zero-gee so
you can sleep on the 'ceiling' if you want. The gravity areas
are in the utility and command-and-control centers and we have
ships docking and departing every day so it's not like we get
bored. Some guys do get weird, though."
"Weird as in crazy?"
"Weird as in odd. But yeah, we've got worried once. Some
new guys decided they had enough, loaded up in a utility pod and
undocked. They didn't figure out that they couldn't come down
from synchronous in that, much less land. Took six full hours
to warm up another pod, catch up with them - they had drifted
some while trying to lower orbit - dock and bring'em back to Darkside."
I tried to make it sound like small stuff but it had been quite
scary. The pod had sailed away with limited life support and it
had been recovered with just minutes to spare on the CO2 scrubbers.
"They sent them home?" Brytta asked.
"Nope. They got ran over pretty badly, though. What's the
Brytta laughed. "You got planetside one week early. Thought
you had plans."
I shrugged. "Figured I'd spend the week downtown from the
spaceport. Or maybe visited the Southern Ocean, it's just two
hours and some on a shuttle
"No you didn't." she interrupted me.
"No I didn't." I admitted. "Haven't the foggiest
idea. I thought to play it out by ear
"I have a room at a shore side inn by the Sonnensee. You
"Me game." You don't agree with a smart girl.
don't we go downside?" Brytta asked me.
"We're already downside." We were lying beside the lakeshore,
catching some sun. I had a bad case of 'spacer's tan', the peculiar
paleness that space travelers get after months without natural
light, and only UV lamps to get your vitamin D working.
"I mean Earthside. I was born there but I can't remember
it." She took off her sunglasses and stared at the horizon.
"I'd like to see if it is as beautiful as they say."
"Dad says it was a mess."
"Yes, my father says so too. But I'd like to see Earth with
my eyes. Just once, out of curiosity."
"Well, you'd better wait for better times." I stood
up. "Things may heat up a little in the next months."
"The Colonies want independence, and the governments Earthside
aren't willing to go along. If push comes to shove, we might have
to forego deep space travel for a while."
Brytta looked alarmed. "You mean there could be a war? Nobody
"Nobody knows downside, but up there
" I pointed
News travel fast."
"I can't see why they'd want independence. We don't, what's
"It's not like us, Bri. We're Outer Territories. We
hold more seats in the Federal Assembly than the states Earthside.
We can do whatever we want, and we can trade with anyone we like.
The Colonies can't, they've got to follow orders from their respective
governments and people are fed up - and rightly so."
"And if Earth forces come their way? What can they do?"
"Don't know, but they're not going to roll over and surrender,
you can bet on it."
She shivered. "It's getting windy. Let's go inside."
We got up and to the restaurant, and over a cup of tea we forgot
about the Colonies and Earth. They were light years away.
briefing was longer than usual. Bad sign.
"You'll be covering bombers on the way in to Io." Major
Ryan explained, "then you'll begin a search-and-destroy pattern
in the area until the second wave comes around. At this point,
you'll escort the second wave on the way out." He touched
the e-board console to change graphics and highlighted the Io
sector. "Intel reckons it's buzzing with 'Clan fighters so
we can't leave it unguarded. The pounders got hammered out badly
last time 'round, so we've got to change tactics."
There were some loud sighs around me. We knew what it would be
"As an added precaution against radiation, we're supplying
you with rad-hardened suits. Comfy it ain't but it's miles better
than getting fried. On the plus side, the new suits have better
conditioning, so you won't boil. Keep the enviro controls on the
lo-temp settings anyway. It's gonna be one long flight."
Nice and getting nicer. Flying in a hardened suit was bad enough,
having to go into endurance mode with rad-suits on made electroconvulsive
therapy sound appealing.
"You're getting the new booster packs as default configuration."
Ryan went on. "They're far more stable than what you guys
were used to, so hold on them, they'll kick you out of the danger
area faster if you need to. They've been juiced up too, watch
out for high gees - the dampers are not set for this kind of thrust
and you'll have to be ready. Just don't fire them if you've got
bogeys on your tail, the rocket makes for one hell of an IR signature."
Better and better. I shot a look at Jon. It's gonna be bad.
"Now, move out and move on. Good shootin', folks!"
Good shootin', indeed.
gotta be kiddin'.
Jupiter loomed large in the ever-dark sky, as we approached Io
at full speed. Behind us the bombers' wing held close formation
to present the smallest possible cross-section to the enemy lidars.
Like it would work. You couldn't fool the 'Clans this way.
Sure enough, they were there. "Bogeys, eleven o'clock
high!" came the call.
"Roger. Combat spread - boomer disperse." The
'boomers' or bombers had now to spread out to avoid being taken
out by single missile hits - some missiles the 'Clans had been
fielding lately had proven murderous in the extreme.
"Incoming!" Something flashed from the general
direction of the volcanic moon. Another flash went by - and one
of the bombers disappeared in a cloud of debris.
"Mamma mia!" That was Cellini. "That
ain't no missile."
Right on. The warning had not gone off - another flash.
"Guys, that's a railgun down there." I called out. "Maybe
more than one. Change course. Boomers, bring it on."
"Roger, Leader. Engaging ECM now." The boomers
turned their countermeasures on. Let's hope their gear isn't
any better than ours.
More flashes. There was a whole battery on Io. Whoever was down
there must have been out of their minds: the moon was an inferno
of volcanic eruptions and a tortured, active surface. Either the
'Clans were more fanatical than we could even imagine, or there
was a robotic defense on the surface. The bombers were supposed
to pound an orbital radar facility with long-range missiles, but
nothing was expected on the ground. We didn't have any ordnance
that could hit the guns on the surface.
"Leader, we're nine hundred seconds from IP."
Higeno warned me.
"Lex, this is Viper Flight. We've got ground fire from Io
- uploading coordinates now. Multiple bogeys unbound. We could
use some help. Out."
"Roger, Viper. Wait one. We're hailing Vincennes."
Vincennes was a heavy cruiser, serious firepower to say
the least. Still I couldn't see how a warship way out of our position
"Viper Leader, this is heavy cruiser Vincennes. Please
update estimated enemy position via datalink."
I punched some commands into the console, relaying the guns' estimated
position to the cruiser. Another flash lighted up and something
behind us blew up into nothingness. Another bomber I thought.
"Viper, this is Vincennes. Get outta there fast. There's
some heat on the way, thirty seconds."
"Roger. Wing, on my mark turn to the bogeys and let rip.
Boomers, stay glued. Don't stray."
"Wilco, Leader." This was the bombers' leader.
"Right. Three, two, one
We turned towards the incoming fighters and went to full power,
the bombers straight behind us. One by one, the lidar resolved
the targets and locked. Before I could pickle my Spearheads off,
I saw something just to my right side - some kind of flash, but
not from Io. From space.
There was another flash, a hundred of times more brilliant, on
the volcanic moon's surface. I thought it could be some sort of
eruption, but it was just too violent. From where the railguns
had been firing, a shockwave rippled outwards, the ground itself
melting under the impact.
"Viper, this is Vincennes. Splash."
"Vincennes, this is Viper leader. Splash indeed."
I had been reading about the JMF ships' weaponry for a long time
since I landed on Paradise, but numbers did not do justice. The
cruiser's batteries had just turned several square kilometers
of rock into molten lava.
"Fox three!" The first missile from my wing went
off - that had been Brooks. Time to go to back to work. Time to
crazy." Brytta looked at me like I had just suggested throwing
myself off the Nid des Aigles cliffs.
"Take it easy, Bri, and slow down." I was struggling
to take off my dress uniform jacket while sitting, something that
the uniform's designer had tried to make as difficult a task as
"You're crazy." Brytta repeated. "Thought you had
enough of it. You've been writing me each and every week how hard
Army life was and then you sign up for more."
"Aw, it was hard but it's supposed to be." I retorted.
"And I didn't sign up - I have marching orders."
Brytta turned the car to the roadside and shut the engine off.
This was my fourth long leave since marching off to military service,
and she had played chauffeur to me all times, shuttling me back
and forth from the Army field. It was faster - and more fun -
than catching the train to Neues Zuerich and commute to the monorail
and finally to a car shuttle to my neighborhood. The journey takes
up to five hours if you strike lucky: for some perverse reason,
the Army tends to set up its facilities as far as possible from
all signs of civilization.
But Brytta, gentle soul she was, never failed to show up in her
convertible whenever we were let on extended leave.
"First you want to get into the Space Exploration Corps even
though your folks have a good job just ready for you, then you
get all the off-world assignment at the University even if they
don't count as additional points for your curriculum, and now
you want to go career?" She was almost seething. "When
are you going to grow up, David? When are you going to
get settled down?"
"Hey, I'm not going career. I
" One look
at her face and I knew I had to tread softly. "Look, regs
say one can't refuse a promotion, OK? It's not my fault I got
good qualifications from my LT. I didn't do it on purpose and
Well, Bri, I'm not going to say I'm sorry for having done well."
She sighed. "I know. You're always trying to prove something.
Even to me."
There was an uncomfortable pause. "It's just some more months.
I'm not the only one who got the orders. The ranks need all the
people they can get because of that tension between the Colonies
and Earth. In case something comes up, we've got to get ready
To protect ourselves. Our neutrality, mainly.
We don't want to take sides, and we can't have one side or the
other use our space to play funny games. It's going to be a full-time
job for Space Defense, we grunts will be placed around every spaceport
to pull security duty and that will be all." I finally managed
to get my jacket off - ah, the fresh air. "It's not going
to last long, anyway. The Colonies will get independence sooner
or later, Earth will get sore about it but in the long run that's
what's gonna happen. They will huff and puff and look scary, then
everybody will have tea and biscuits and sign the papers, preferably
at Île Géneve so we'll have to do security there
too. Then we'll proudly march down Wilhelm Tell Strasse singing
'Gilberte de Courgenay' and the top ranks will make big speeches
and we'll go home heroes."
Brytta remained silent.
"Look, I mean it." I went on. "Probably
it won't even happen this way. We won't even get mobilized. No
need to worry."
Brytta looked up, finally. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"Sorry." I wasn't so good as reassuring people after
"No, it's not you. It's not your fault. But ever since you've
Well, I have a feeling I won't see you again."
That took me by surprise. I didn't know what to say.
"A guy in my class died one month ago." She said. "He
was going home for the weekend
Maybe he was thinking, or
didn't pay attention. A car hit him and he fell back, struck his
head against a bench. Everybody thought he had just passed away.
Didn't look he had hit hard but when the paramedics arrived, he
was already gone. Been dead the moment he had hit his head."
"Did you know him?" I asked.
"Not even his name and I wasn't there but
He used to
sit always on the leftmost chair, upper row, at Econophysics and
never ever changed place, and all of a sudden he wasn't there
anymore. All of a sudden he was
Gone." She breathed
deeply. "One day I'll be gone too."
"About one century from now." I tried to cheer her up.
"Old and gray, surrounded by a host of grand-grand-children
Brytta laughed briefly. "It's so brief, David. Life is short.
Once I thought we'd be around forever, us and our parents, and
our brothers and sisters, and all of our friends. Now
turning twenty next week. I wonder if we'll make it thirty, or
forty. I'm not sure anymore."
"Ah, me I'm going to make it one-hundred and fifty and be
a grumpy old geezer. I'll sit mumbling all day and trip skating
kids with a cane. By the way
" I leaned back and rummaged
into my bag, finally finding a packet.
"Look, should have been a surprise but maybe it will cheer
you up now." I handed her the packet. "I will not be
able to attend to your birthday, so
Happy Birthday, Brytta."
She looked at me, surprised, then took the packet and opened it.
Inside there was a blue, white and gold silk scarf - about one
month and a half worth of a recruit's pay and a whole afternoon
of leave spent going through shops on the other side of the planet
- my gift for my longtime not-girlfriend, part-time lover.
"Glad you like it." It had been a difficult choice.
All the long years we've known each other we had exchanged gifts:
books, games, gadgets. But that had been the past. For her birthday,
Brytta deserved a woman's gift.
She caressed the silk, then folded the scarf and tied it over
her head, like one of those movie divas of old.
"Now I won't have to worry about wind messing my hair anymore."
She leaned forward and kissed me. "Thank you, David."
The dark mood was gone. "Dinner for two at Francesco's. You
She smiled. "Me game." Then she fished in her purse
and took out a pair of oversized sunglasses. "Bought them
on a hunch. Never wore them." She put them on. "So?"
"You ought to be in pictures." I took my camera out
and snapped a shot. "And you are."
Brytta laughed and started the engine. "Picture this!"
and she poke her tongue at me. I snapped another picture and laughed.
Sometimes it's so easy to chase away bad feelings.
Sometimes it's not. A mere seven weeks from a perfect night spent
in an inn's room on the outskirts of Neues Zuerich, our world
would turn upside down as the Ideoclan armada invaded the Solar
System and encircled Earth.
Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down
in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth
my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's
I didn't envy the chaplain, McCreary, his job. He always had -
was expected to have - the right words, and never failed. He had
them for everyone: Jews, Christians, Muslims, everybody found
comfort in McCreary's words; he made you feel like he had the
Almighty's emer freq, and I'm not the only one who suspected he
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me."
When you're waking up at the most ungodly of hours, strapping
yourself in the hot seat of a rocket loaded with weapons only
seconds away from being blasted into space
Well, being in
good terms with High Up makes things look a little less crazy.
Sort of, you're being only slightly in control. Not of your fate,
of course, but in case you're going to bit the Big One well, it's
like you've got your gyros locked to the right course, so to speak.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of
my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."
Amen. I thought. I wasn't sure if it was right. Unlike most of
my fellow pilots, I'm not a religious guy. But the orders that
came after, those I understood well.
"Detail, ten-HUT!" We stood to attention.
"Detail, SALUTE." Our hands snapped to our foreheads
in the military salute. Someone at a command console somewhere
turned a knob, there was a hiss of air venting into space and
an elongated pod flew out into space. In a matter of seconds,
it was gone.
Major Chupa's coffin.
"Detail, recover, dismissed!" We broke ranks
and filed out.
Higeno was the first to break silence once out of the room. "You
know, I feel bad. Used to hate the guy's guts."
"We all did." Shawn said. "Should have known better."
"Yeah. You can never know someone too much." Jon added.
Chupa had died the day before, after a particularly vicious attack
by Ideoclan fighter-bombers had struck the Lex. He had suffered
massive, lethal radiation damage.
"I wonder where all those damn ships come from." said
Nicola. "How many carriers have you seen?"
"None. Not that many bases, either." I thought about
it. "Either they keep their carrier fleet packed together
on the far side of Jupiter, which makes no sense, or
Or they have something out there we haven't seen."
" Brooks' voice was broken off by the
intraship alarm system.
"Red Alert. Red Alert. All heads to combat stations. Multiple
contacts inbound. All fighter pilots, SCRAMBLE!"
fighter bay was buzzing with activity. Our F-911s had already
been loaded for bear, in preparation for the next strike: six
Spearhead missiles, four with the standard armor-piercing dart,
two with the new plasma-blast warhead, two Slingshot short-range
missiles and of course the internal twin pulse-cannons which were
the Gyruss' fangs. All the fighters were fitted with a booster.
We signed for the planes, climbed in and in less than five minutes
the whole of 357th was launched. The sky was lighted up by multiple
explosions from the defensive missile batteries and from the CIWS
particle beam cannons.
"Wolf, this is Lexington. We're going all release,
get out of range ASAP." Lex and her escort ships were
about to set their defense on full engagement mode, which meant
they would open fire on anything moving about - friendlies included.
There was no time to check IFF. We acknowledged and went to full
military power, dropping to a lower orbit around Jupiter, which
would take us out of range faster. Oddly enough, no-one followed.
hours later, hovering above Jupiter's dark side in total EMCON
mode, orbiting a dark moon whose name I had forgotten, we had
nothing to do but wait. There had been no further communications
from Lex, no orders, no update even through the CRM-114 secure
comms device. For the first time since we had reached the Solar
Systems, we were alone. At least we could talk through the laser
channel: at first we had maintained proper comms discipline but
as the hours went by, our exchanges had taken the form of a chat
among soldiers on sentinel's duty.
"You think it's going bad?" Someone asked. The
channel couldn't tell one party from another.
"Naw, Lex's a tough lady. They're gonna pull it through."
"Yeah. Wish they'd bother to tell us. I'm freezing."
That must be Nicola, I thought. He was always complaining for
the cold. With the Gyruss' systems set on energy saving mode,
the heater was one of the first elements to be turned to minimum.
"1st Wing, prepare for sweep." I interjected. When we
had reached our station, we had placed the fighters in a triangular
formation with the noses outwards, and at set intervals we would
turn our sensors on to see if there was anything nearby. Fat chance:
Jupiter's neighborhood was spacious to say the least.
The sweep lasted about twenty seconds then we turned the sensors
on standby again, but left the passive on. Maybe we'd catch something.
"David, seen anything?" That was Jon.
"Nope. Zilch. Nothing. Looks like the party's somewhere else."
"Yeah. Let's wait it out. Maybe they'll call."
"Maybe." I clicked the channel off and looked out. Jupiter
was a sea of darkness beneath us. Thousands of stars shone above.
We were as alone as anyone could possibly be.
was at war. You could tell it by the silent streets, by the checkpoints,
by the military police everywhere. Neues Zuerich was under a downpour
the likes of which I had not seen since childhood, like sky and
earth were at war themselves.
The traffic was non-existent. The streets had to be left as clear
as possible to allow military vehicles, police, fire departments
and medical transport to pass unhindered. Even the gaudy neon
lights and colorful beacons had been turned off: the city was
"darkened" and all of the windows had their curtain
closed. Useless, of course, you don't bomb a city by visible light
anymore, but it showed how much the people had adapted to the
A giant e-board above the commercial district, which usually displayed
commercials, was now showing clips of soldiers training, space
fighters taking off, IFVs rolling through the countryside; periodically
it blanked out and giant words stood out:
Swiss motto in times of war, just like the Musketeers. In my dress
uniform, with the shiny new sergeant's laurelled cross on a chevron
rank insignia on my epaulets, the white-and-red cordon on my right
shoulder and the combat ribbons on my chest (a souvenir of Cold
Stone), I felt conspicuous. I had crossed at least three checkpoints
on the way home and done a good deal of saluting and returning
salutes. The last one had been just a block from my house, where
an old man dressed in a Civil Protection uniform and wearing an
Infantry insignia - meaning he was a former soldier volunteering
for duty - had stood to attention and saluted me as I passed.
I returned a sharper than usual salute, two generations of soldiers
paying respect to one another while on their respective duties.
I was home, for a while.
ain't right." Hans-Rüdi grumbled. "I should
"Nonsense, son." my father interjected. "The Army
needs you where you are now."
My brother was a little upset at the high echelons' decision to
send me and two other newly promoted sergeants to a training facility
in Colony space. Being the senior, he felt responsible for me
but it was no use arguing.
"They should have sent officers." That was my mother.
"Mom, they will be sending officers." I offered.
"We're just probing the ground, so to speak. We don't know
much about JMF, just the info we've gathered from the commnet.
High Up there they want to check out what we're getting involved
with before engaging officers."
"Little Willi gets to play spy." Rüdi laughed.
"Do you know who else is going?"
"Well, there's Didier from IV/82, they're Artillery and there's
Mattia from I/23, they're Ground Defense, Missile Batteries. We
use the same stuff the Colonies do, after all."
"Why no Space Defense? I thought they would need pilots."
"They probably have enough of them." I mused. "Especially
the Americans. They're fixated with space fighters."
"The Russians too." Father added. "They've taken
heavy losses at the Volga Expanse."
"Yeah." This we had learned from our intelligence ops,
and it had been leaked to the media. Russian forces had met the
Ideoclans at the edge of their space and had managed to turn them
back at heavy cost, outnumbered one hundred to one. Cold Stone
had been a cakewalk by comparison - we had suffered no casualties.
But Cold Stone had been an ambush.
"I'd rather not talk about this now." Mother said, her
voice almost trembling.
"You're right, Anna. Willi, dinner is almost ready. Could
you help me with the wine?"
managed to forget the war, at least around dinner. The citizens
had adapted quickly to the new situation, with all able-bodied
men under 35 mobilized, a good deal of under 45ers re-called to
administrative duties and most young women between 20 and 30 serving
either in Security or Medical duty. Most of the schools were now
open until late to take care of children while their parents were
either serving or pulling double-duty at home or work. Even senior
citizens were helping out, running places left empty by mobilized
personnel. All for one and one for all, I thought. The
soldier's creed from time immemorial.
"Do you have to go so soon?" My mother asked as I adjusted
my uniform. "You could wait a little while, look, it's raining."
Outside, a light drizzle was falling on the empty streets. Knowing
the weather around there, it could have turned into a storm very
"The rain's not going to stop for me, Mom."
"We could at least take you to the station."
"No, it's not necessary and we'd probably be held at a checkpoint.
You need a valid reason to get out on a car after curfew."
That was an unnecessary measure and everybody knew that, since
very few military vehicles needed to cross the city after sundown,
but it was part of the 'regular' emergency laws and nobody was
Mom looked on the verge of tears and I couldn't blame her. I felt
bad for denying her some more moments with a son she could very
well not see again. I didn't know what JMF had in store for me.
The soldiers manning the checkpoints wouldn't have objected about
a family escorting a son to the maglev station, but I wanted to
say goodbye at home.
"Brytta would have come to see you." Rüdi told
me while helping me close my bag. "She has volunteered as
a nurse at Ostenspital. She has the night shift."
"It's OK. Look, I know you'll be on duty from tomorrow on,
but check on Mom and Dad if you can. Dad's got his company and
Civil Defense, but Mom will feel awfully alone."
"Yeah. Company's stationed just ten clicks from here, I'll
check'em out as often as I can. Anyway, Mom's been talking about
joining the Civ Def Volunteer Corps, so at least she'll have something
"Great. " The Volunteer Corps covered all those things
authorities were now too taxed to oversee such as fire prevention
and the like.
"Good luck and see you, son." My father shook my hand.
"We're all proud of you."
I hugged my mother, who was putting on the brave face. "Come
back soon, Willi."
I didn't leave my brother time to speak. I just snapped to attention
- as a sergeant major, he was my superior after all - and saluted.
"I take leave!"
Rüdi saluted and shook my hand. "Be careful, sergeant
Kurtz." He said half-laughing. "Show those JMF colonists
what Swiss soldiers are made of."
"You betcha." With this, I took my bag and left. The
drizzle had turned to rain.
the time I had reached NZ Hauptbahnhof the rain had given
in to a downpour. The maglev platform reserved for military transport
was n° 13, a single rail covered by a ceramic roof opened
to the elements. The train was already there, a green-and-black
snail waiting to ferry me to the military spaceport. The train
was automated, but a conductor was always around, as traditions
dictate. Apart from the conductor, and me the place was deserted
(and soaking wet from the rain coming in from the side) since
I was to be the only passenger. I was about to board when I saw
a lone figure at the end of the platform, hurrying towards me.
Brytta, I knew it before I saw her. She was wearing a raincoat
over her nurse's uniform, holding an old-fashioned umbrella in
her hand, her blonde hair covered by the scarf I had given her
as a birthday present just months before. She half-stumbled and
I caught her.
"Bri, what are you doing here? This is a restricted
I stopped when I saw her face: she way crying, it was no rainwater.
"You stupid doofus!" she blurted out. "How
do you dare leaving like that!"
I half protested, she was supposed to be on duty and
I remembered Rule One about women: they're right, always; and
we're wrong, always. And that's the way it is.
"Sorry." I said at last. "I didn't want to disturb
you. You have your
"I have nothing that can't wait for us." She
snapped. "When will you come back?"
"I don't know." I shook my head. "I really don't.
We're not dealing with the Brigade Command anymore, that's JMF
now. Probably I'll just go to a drill facility on a Colony world
or something like that. You'll find me, as always."
She stood silent. "Hey," I tried to encourage her. "I'm
just a rifleman. They've got plenty of them. The Americans have
whole divisions of Marines, the Russians have more rifle corps
than you can shake a stick at. They'll just want to see how we
But all my cheering didn't help. At the time, I didn't know what
was in store for me. I didn't think what JMF might need a Swiss
Army sergeant for. 911 was a number and a date past. 'Gyruss'
was a word I didn't know. There was an awful lot of 'didn't' in
my small world and one big 'should have'.
"Please come back. Promise me." Brytta said at last.
"Don't die out there. Don't go where I can't find you."
This time I was at a loss for words. We simply kissed, there on
platform 13, me in my dress uniform and she in her nurse outfit,
with her coat and headscarf, like in one of those old was movies
we were so fond of.
"Don't leave me forever, mein lieblich." Those
were the last words she said.
An old-fashioned whistle blew, the last signal to board. Reluctantly,
I climbed on and looked at Brytta in the eyes. "I'll be back.
Hold on. I always come back, like all bad weeds."
She didn't answer, so I leaned forward and we kissed one last
time. As we parted, I whispered in her ear.
I barely managed to avoid getting my head caught by the automatic
door, and as the maglev began pulling away I sat down by the window
and watched Brytta's figure becoming smaller and smaller as the
Mein lieblich she had called me. My beloved. Into
her ear I had whispered a single I love you, something that had
been left unsaid for years.
When NZ Hauptbahnhof had vanished from view and the train had
reached cruise speed, I fell asleep as all good soldiers do.
Little more than one hour later, I would have reached the Army
spaceport, where me and my gear along with two other NCOs would
have been loaded up a shuttlecraft, then transferred to a heavy
transport to a Colony world. Not long after, I would have landed
on a never-heard-of-before planet called Paradise.
I would never see Brytta Schwetter again in this life.
CRM-114 came suddenly to life. Lexington under attack and heavily
damaged. Assistance required. Number of enemies unknown.
Damn. "This is Leader, engage all systems. Acknowledge."
One by one, my wing reported ready. Jon and Shawn had just finished
readying up their wings when something abnormally large registered
on the sensors.
It looked like Jupiter itself had decided to take a stroll into
our detection range. Slaving the camera to the radar, I zoomed
on the bogey and felt my blood turning to ice.
The thing was large. Larger than Lex. Larger than anything
I had seen. Larger than anything I had ever imagined built by
men. The size of a small moon, shaped like an elongated wedge
with a two-pronged bow, the Ideoclan supercruiser trundled idly
in low orbit around Jupiter, its anodized hull bristling with
cannon ports and missile ramps, its cavernous bays - the smallest
of which could have accommodated a JMF battleship - disgorging
fighters and bombers like wasp nests. The juggernaut was surrounded
by half a dozen warships, each one impressive in size in its own
way but hopelessly dwarfed by the great beast they escorted.
Do you see it?"
"I can see it." Jon answered. He was as awed
"Yeah." Shawn didn't waste any words.
"Mamma mia quant'é grande!" Nicola broke
silence but I couldn't blame him. How big it is. Right.
And that Moloch of a ship was aiming straight for Lex's group.
Even at full strength, Lexington's batteries would have
had little hope against the thing.
At least the awful truth dawned on me. We're not going back.
There would be nothing to land on. 357th couldn't even hope to
take on the Ideoclan supercruiser group. This is it. Either stay
here and eventually die of radiation poisoning, or come back to
Lex's burning hull, and die in a futile battle among the
ruins of our carrier or
"Guys, I've had enough of hiding." Shawn suddenly
radioed out. "What about you?"
A pause, then. "Roger, Jarhead. I'm with you."
And then I thought Why not? If this is where we die, then so
be it. This way. "You crazy Yankee cowboys
OK, let's do it. 1st Wing, what's the call?" I called out.
"Two. I vote we do it."
"Three. Let's get movin'."
"Four. Rock'n roll."
"Five. Bring it on!"
Those were my boys, playing tough as we faced the Lady with the
scythe. "OK. Everybody, arm boosters. We rocket down from
their seven o'clock high, lock and fire as soon as in range. Don't
call out. Stay close to the hull so they can't fire on us without
hitting each other. If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn't, shoot
all the same. It's been cool flying with you folks. See you in
There was a series of clicks of acknowledgment as 1st wing got
ready. I called Jon and Shawn on the radio. "Well, guys,
I hope you're right with all the afterlife stuff because in a
few minutes I may be very disappointed. Just
It's been great
knowing you. Really."
"Same here, Swiss. Don't give up. Game's not over yet.
Second Wing ready."
"Yeah. Who knows, maybe we'll laugh about it later. Ready
I breathed deeply as I flipped up the booster cover. Wait for
me, Brytta. I'll be with you soon. I thought of something
cool to say to my wing before riding to our final battle. I thought
of Custer's Last Stand, of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, of
Winkelried at the Battle of Sempach, throwing himself on the Austrian
spears to open a path for the Swiss patriots. But the image that
came to my mind was from a book I had been reading and loving
since my teenage years and well into early adulthood. I thought
of the epic battles in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings,
of the desperate ride of the Rohan cavalry on the Pelennor fields,
in defense of their allies' city. Steadying my voice, I opened
"First Wing, on my mark. Three, two, one
to ruin and the world's ending!" The booster came to life
and I sank into my chair. All of 1st Wing was around me, in arrow
formation. 2nd and 3rd Wing had boosted off at the same time,
and the whole of 357 was now bearing down on the immense Ideoclan
warship from high up on it blind side. In range. I locked
and fired off my first missile, then fast-locked a plasma-blast
Spearhead straight into the centre of a fighter swarm. The boosters
separated, the F-911 now still accelerating by the power of their
engines. Like war horses made of steel, with electro-optic nerves,
their hearts beating with nuclear power, the Gyruss fighters rode
on towards the enemy,
And the enemy reacted. The escort ships' batteries opened up but
too late. We merged with the fighter's swarm just as the first
missiles impacted, turning a whole formation into a fireball the
size of a city block. Our wings separated as Jon's wing attacked
the missile ports on the juggernaut's side. Shawn's fighters turned
towards the carrier bays. I flew towards the big guns and the
I could almost touch the warship's hull! I felt the familiar trembling
as the twin pulse guns opened up, tearing into the armored hull:
at this range, they could pierce almost anything. A battery I
had targeted blew up like an artificial volcano; something at
the edge of my vision moved into position, so I locked it up on
the helmet's HUD and loosed off a Slingshot. There was a flash
as the missile flew off, then it tracked and exploded, taking
another 'Clan craft.
A flight of enemy fighters screamed down in pursuit, but they
couldn't maneuver as well as we could. Twisting and turning, I
managed to evade their fire, then climbed up and turned around,
firing another Slingshot almost point-blank. The explosion threw
two fighters against the immense warship's hull, punching a hole
into the armor before exploding.
Another contact registered lock-on. Without thinking, I fired
off a Spearhead. The kill counter went up one.
I could hear myself laughing. The fear had gone. Even the acceptance
of my own fate was a thing forgotten. All that mattered was the
battle, for it was the most awesome thing I had ever saw. I felt
elated, alive as I had never been. The radar was my eyes; the
guns pulse was the beat of my heart; the Gyruss fighter was my
body, with wings as eagles, breathing fire like a dragon, the
on-board computer was my conscience urging me to kill. I sung
as I slew my enemies. They burned and exploded and evaporated
into nothingness, the purity of space defiled by blood. Jupiter
loomed up in the sky, now illuminated, the Red Spot looking on
me like the eye of Odin, like the Dark Lord's Eye from his tower
The madness gripped me as I turned up and down in a deep dive,
a plasma-tipped missile roaring from my wing towards the topmost
pinnacle of the command tower-bridge of the Ideoclan supercruiser.
A fireball erupted, cleaving the structure in two. Into the cleft
I flew, firing from my guns.
One lone Ideoclan fighter dropped to my six and fired. I felt
the blow. I knew I was doomed. Then it simply disappeared into
a puff of plasma, and a Gyruss fighter blasted through the dissipating
conflagration. Someone had just saved my life for a few more seconds.
I was now facing the giant bell nozzles of the juggernaut's engines.
They were turned off, but the rear batteries were not. I hugged
the spacecraft's hull to avoid their fire while looking for another
Emerging under the ship, I found what I had been looking for:
a shuttlecraft bay was open, right on the belly of the beast.
I locked on something inside and fired - and more missiles joined
in as my wing opened fire on the same target. My wing had followed.
In the grip of berserker rage, I had not noticed them.
Suddenly, the port fighter bay seemed to shudder and, in a flash
of fire, it separated from the hull. Shawn's fighters had blasted
the structure setting off a chain reaction that blew it open.
Another flash from high above signaled a catastrophic explosion
inside the superstructure. Those were Jon's boys, blowing up the
1st Wing's missiles found their mark and the whole of the shuttle
bay was consumed by a massive explosion. The seemingly invincible
supercruiser veered off course and ran into an escort ship, crushing
it as it plunged into the wedge-shaped hull. The escort ship's
core pulsed and another explosion, this time many times more powerful,
tore away a chunk of the cruiser.
"1st Wing - let's get the hell outta here!" I screamed
into the comms channel. Without boosters, we could only hope to
be fast enough. Behind us, the supercruiser broke in two. The
aft section rotated, trailing sparks, then a flash brighter than
sunlight turned it and everything nearby into superheated gas.
Something hit my craft. This time I felt a sharp and brief pain
in my side. I counted heads - 1st Wing was still there! "ALL
FOR ONE!" I felt myself shouting in the radio.
"ONE FOR ALL!" came the reply.
But it was not over! Suddenly the screen was filled with symbols
for enemy craft. We had slain Grendel. The Beast's offspring were
still out there. Our last missile went to seek their targets.
Switching to guns, we flew into the furball. Then, a voice came
"Everybody out there, this is 332. Squawk IFF. Last warning."
We complied. Seconds later the sky lighted up with countless explosions
as hundreds of missiles found their mark. A few 'Clan fighters
survived but were soon killed off by individual F-911s from other
squadrons, joining the battle as the tide turned.
I looked up. Many clicks above, but still visible, the Ideoclan
fleet was locked in battle with JMF's battle cruisers. I saw at
least one capital ship break into pieces and exploding.
"357, this is Lex. Recover. I say again, recover and get
ready to relaunch."
Lexington had been hit bad. The main bridge had been hit and the
hull was breached. Still, the landing bay was operating. Just
as we lined up to land, something zoomed by straight into the
"Suicide bomber!" There was a flash and a ball
of fire, snuffed out by vacuum.
"Multiple bogeys inbound. There's a swarm of them - anyone
Our Slingshots and Spearheads were gone. Nothing left but guns,
and precious little power.
There was one last card we could play. Multi-move - lining up
the ships, rotating around to combine the firepower of three Gyruss
fighters into a single, murderous barrage of fire. Dangerous,
forbidden by all regs, and of course we had practiced it. This
time it was for keeps.
We lined up, rotated and fired: the barrage tore into the suicide
bombers' swarm, obliterating it. But more ships were coming -
The something blacked out the red glare of Jupiter - a JMF carrier
flew straight between the stricken Lex and the enemy fleet. Its
guns and missile ports blazed away. The incoming enemy ships burned
away in a wave of white flame.
"This is Martin Luther King. You're clear. I say again.
You're clear." The JMFNS Martin L. Luther King Jr
flew gracefully by, an angel made of metal. We flashed our
strobe lights to salute, then headed back to the wounded Lex.
But, we couldn't. We had to land on the 'King.
first thought when I stopped the engines and opened the canopy
was to check out Jon and Shawn's wings. We had been last to land,
and Jarhead's guys had flown right into the thick of the fight.
I grabbed my rifle and started down the ladder but as I approached
Shawn's fighter and saw the paramedic squad carrying a stretcher,
I felt suddenly dizzy. My legs gave way. I fell toward the deck,
forever as it felt like.
Someone called out MEDIC. Maybe. Or not. It didn't matter. I felt
cold, and then warm. And the dizziness was gone. I was just tired.
I wanted to sleep.
was a rainbow upon the water. The sun shone through holes in the
clouds. I could smell the wet grass. This was Nebelsee, the Mist
Lake. The place where couples went walking. The place where families
spent their Sundays on summer.
The place where Brytta had died. And she was there, of course,
standing barefoot on the shore, looking at the sun about to set
on snow clad mountains on the other side of the lake.
"It is beautiful." She said.
"You are dead." I heard myself saying.
"Yes. And you will be too. Not now. One day. I used to be
afraid, but there was nothing to fear after all."
I tried to remember something, there was a war somewhere. Maybe.
It was like a dream, receding fast after waking up. But I could
see faces, and names, and those I remembered. Before I could speak,
Brytta turned towards me and seemed to shift. Suddenly she was
wearing her white and blue dress, the one she liked to wear while
riding her convertible.
"They're here. Your friends. They have just arrived."
"Here on Nebelsee?" My voice sounded strange to me.
Like I was a figure in a dream and everything else was real.
"No. Here. And you will come here too. I'll be waiting for
"Do you mean, I have to go somewhere?"
"You have to go back, for a while. Grieve for your friends'
loss if you have to, but don't grieve for them. They're safe.
They're saved." She smiled at me. "Now, don't go and
say you've seen me or they'll think you're ready for the funny
farm. Well, you are but you don't want them to know, would you?"
Brytta stuck her tongue out.
I blinked and for a short moment I felt like I was elsewhere,
then I was there on the shore again, and I could feel the sun
on my face. Brytta shifted again, her shape blurring and becoming
clear again. This time she was in her nurse wear and coat, her
head again covered by the blue, white and gold scarf like the
last time I had seen her. "They're calling you. Don't let
"I should have told you that
"I know. I always knew. Now it's clearer, but you will see
me again when the time comes."
Her voice now seemed to come from far away. I couldn't see the
mountains. The rainbow had gone. The color was fading away.
"When the day comes, I will find you." I felt something
like the soft brush of her lips against mine and everything faded.
There was a rushing sound in my ears, like the growing thunder
of a nearby waterfall. Once again, I was falling.
is great. You are saved." A woman's voice said.
I came to my senses all of a sudden, and saw a figure in white
hovering above me. I blinked and shook my head weakly. Who was
there? Then I saw brown eyes, and a white dress, and someone speaking
"David, you alright?" That was a familiar voice.
"Jon? Is that you?"
"Yeah. Harireh - I mean, doctor Sadri - she just declared
you out of danger. You had internal bleeding, sounds like a metal
splinter nicked your abdominal aorta."
"How bad?" I asked.
"All of 3rd wing." Jon whispered. "Shawn
And all of his boys. They're gone. The Lex too. We came
this close to get it
The reactor was overheated."
"They shut it off?" I asked stupidly. I was drowsy from
anesthesia. Of course they had shut it off, we wouldn't be alive.
"Yes. The main command lines had been cut so
donned a fire suit and went to turn the manual override. I don't
know how he made it. Telemetry indicates his life support failed
almost three minutes before he reached the lever and temperature
inside the compartment was above 500 °C. But we heard him
on the radio, he said 'God be praised, I have reached it.' And
then the reactor safed."
Jon pointed to a duffel bag in a corner. "We have managed
to save much of our stuff. There is yours, rifle, uniforms and
everything. You don't come with much in the way of baggage."
"Yeah. Lightweight's my name." Shawn is dead.
"I'll let you rest for a while. You'll be up in no time -
we'll be having a memorial service soon. I'll drop by again to
see how you're faring." Jon said, standing up.
Don't grieve for them. They're safe. They're saved..
"I'll be there." I said weakly.
"I know. And, David, could you tell me something?"
"While they were operating you, you flatlined."
Flatlined? Then I remembered. It meant my heart had stopped.
"You've been, well
Clinically dead for a couple of
minutes before they brought you back. So
"You want to know if I have seen Heaven?" I asked.
Jon shrugged. "Well, just curious. See you later. Shouldn't
I heard myself say "It's beautiful. If you like mountain
resorts, that's it."
"Now you're kidding me."
"No, I'm not. And there are angels there. At least, I have
"No." I looked at the ceiling. "She didn't have
wings. She doesn't need them."
Wing: "After the turn of the 23rd century"
2nd Wing: "In the clear black skies of space you see."
3rd Wing: "Came a roar and a thunder men had never heard"
1st Wing: "The thunder of clone 'Clan war birds."
2nd Wing: "Many men tried, many men died"
3rd Wing: "To kill the 'Clans and turn the tide."
All: "10-20-30-40-50 or more, those damn ole clones,
Come at you and more. Better shoot 'em twice
And over again, or you'll be history and they'll be in."
1st Wing: "In the nick of time, a hero arose"
2nd Wing: "A funny-looking dog with a big, black nose"
3rd Wing: "He asked the 357th for a new battle plan"
1st Wing: "And Snoopy blew up the 'Clans
2nd Wing: "Again and again!!!"(LOUD)
All: "10-20-30-40-50 or more, the 357th evens the score!
Too bad for the 'Clans, they aint no more.
The 357th just robbed their store!"
"How come you Texans always say that?"
"I don't know, tradition I guess. Hey Jarhead, why don't
you say it for Swiss!"
"Ew-wah, how's that Swiss!"
"Remember, we're Texans Swiss" I quipped.
"So Swiss, what do you guys say? Choc-o-late?" asked
(Lots of intercom laughing)
"Guilty as charged Texas and Jarhead!"
"Just like Chupa to ruin our fun and send us on a patrol!"
"You're right Texas; we haven't had much of a break at all."
"Yeah, we're going to need lots of rest soon enough for the
Jupiter campaign." I responded.
"Swiss, this is Texas."
"Go ahead Texas." Said Swiss.
"Whiskey Lima time?" I asked.
"Yes, I agree. Time for all wings for Wing-Leader Time."
"Roger, Wing Two-follow my lead." I ordered.
"Whiskey Time!!!" joked my wing members. "Whiskey
Time is the designation for Wing-Leader Time. It allows us to
say what's on our minds after a long and tiring campaign.
It also allows us to speak up about our fears and such, privately.
We have to flow in a very tight formation for the LASER to work
to do this.
is it true? Steve and Carolyn have to separate?" asked Rev.
"Yes, the JMF just gave her orders on a medical Frigate,
the Slabinski. At least they had something of a honeymoon."
"And the Rev. McCreary, he's been sent to the Frigate as
well?" asked Shogun?
"Yes, but only for a few weeks. They have some training going
on, looks like we'll be missing his weekly Bible studies."
"That's not good. I have some bad feelings about all of this."
"That's not like you to be so anxious Bear" I said.
"Did you get some bad news from home?"
"No, just the usual. But, I heard what happened to you after
the wedding reception."
"No Texas hasn't jinxed us!" exclaimed Czar. "We're
all jumpy from our lack of rest."
"I agree Czar, we need the rest. Jupiter doesn't look good
for pilots" I said.
"And, it doesn't look good for troops either." Said
"Go on, Czar, you've done some background research on Jupiter."
"It's those damn moons, Texas. So many of them; small and
dangerous." And he continued.
"But the worst part is all of that radiation. It's ten-times
worse than the Van Allen belts on earth. We can't be doing our
usual patrol times out near Jupiter."
"Yes, I know. I don't like what they plan on fixing us if
we are out there too long. Total blood transfusion with nano-surgery!"
"Just how long do you think they'll keep us on patrols?"
"I am hoping no more than eight hours, tops. Plus our fatigue
factor will be right off the scale."
"We need to keep on our toes out there!" said Czar.
"That also means the 'Lex will be up close and personal.
More possibilities for attack then, it's going to be rough. The
magnetosphere is going to play havoc with all of our sensors,
including the 'Lex's." I said.
"Hmmm. Not good." Said Bear.
"No, it isn't. And, it'll be just as hard on the 'Clans as
well." I said.
"Small conciliation. We'd all rather be somewhere else."
Said the rest of the wing.
"I know. Oh boy do I know." I said. "Okay, Swiss
has signaled me. Time to get back to the 'Lex."
"And rest?" Rev asked?
"Yes, we have a week of rest. Then a week of briefings and
campaign preparations." I said.
"Then back to the War." Said Czar.
time came by faster than we all wanted
One: Himalia Sector
Situation: Heavy Combat
report, everyone Wing Two!" I said on the net.
"Rad levels way high, Foxtrot factor not good." Said
"Same here Texas. Getting hot here." Said Rev.
"Da, not good Texas." Responded Bear and Czar.
"Yikes, and we still have hours left on this patrol."
"Swiss, this is Two-One. Any word from the 'Lex?"
"Negative Texas, long-range comms are really screwy."
"Incoming! Multiple bogeys, those damn satellites too."
"All wings, fire at will, conserve your Spearheads."
two coming at you!"
"Oh no you don't!" then performing a Death Spiral, I
"Gotcha. Lookout Shogun. One's on your tail!"
"One just met his Maker!" said Czar. "Got your
"Thanks. Here they come again."
"They've lined up in waves. Everyone, fire a Spearhead!"
"Roger, Wing Two fire one at the formation." I said.
" we all said.
The other wings fired theirs as well.
"Formation gone. Watch out for those damn sats." Said
"My boys got 'em" said Jarhead. "Wing three blast
talk to me." Said Swiss.
"Wing is hot."
(And that's all I needed to say)
"Just got a recall signal, go back to the 'Lex" said
did I say a few prayers of thanks. My life stats were all through
the roof. This Jupiter fight really took its toll on us all. I
could only imagine what the ground troops had to be going through
right now. Then again, we all were in this mess together.
was close again, Texas." Said Shogun.
Nodding as I spoke to Shogun. "Yes it was. Another nail-biter"
"Everyone as close to max as I am?"
"Yes, eight-hours my foot" said Rev.
"Still fifteen minutes from the 'Lex. Keep up your sensors."
"As good as they are in this magnetic swamp." Said Czar.
few minutes to the 'Lex seemed to drag on like hours. We'd been
on the razors edge for several days since being assigned to the
Himalia Sector. One of those small moons of Jupiter that the 'Clans
seemed to have had a lot of fun installing things on. Things like
satellite launchers, mini-asteroids, and of course-fighters the
fight never seemed to end. A bunch of events were combining to
make combat out here more dangerous than normal. The radiation
was just hell.
back, 357th." Said Flight Control. "You are cleared
"Texas, you go this time." Said Jarhead. Your guys need
to get out of this."
"Thanks Jarhead, I owe you one." I said back.
wing landed first, then David's and then Shawn's. My F-911 was
immediately looked over. Several close calls had left some nasty
carbon marks and Chief McCelod's men were on it, cleaning up the
fighter and running advanced diagnostics.
"Close one today, eh Johnny?" asked Chief McCleod.
"Too close for my comfort, Chief. What about the 'Lex?"
"They had a few scares but nothing. The gun crews were all
stressed out though. My crew is as cool as ever though. We'll
get your F-911's ready to go in a few hours."
"Thanks Chief. Hear back from Rocky?" I asked.
"He graduates in the next couple of weeks. He's anxious to
get a taste out here though."
"He'll get enough, soon enough." I said.
with that I left and my crew followed me back to the debriefing
room. Upon entering
put out your right arm. Blood test." Said Major Bremmer.
The not-so-subtle beeps told us what we didn't want to hear.
"Just as I thought. Everyone report to the sick-bay. And
that's an order, now!"
walked out just as the others were walking in. Our faces said
everything and as we walked away, we could hear the Major bark
the same orders to David and Shawn's wings. We were only luck
enough to have this done to us first.
blood transfusion, with a mix of artificial blood and nano-bots
to fix what was messed up. I don't have to go into many details
about it; it hurts like hell and drains you terribly. Certain
male parts that are also affected by the radiation take longer
to fix, and how bad that feels I leave up to you to imagine. Since
I was the wing leader, I had to watch my men go through it before
me. But then again, the treatment also varies on how much radiation
you received. All of my guys walked very slowly back to the squad
actually finished my treatment at the same time David did. We
both held onto each other as the normally short walk to the squad
bay seemed like a 10K run, having been kicked by a mule. The squad
bay was full of muted groans.
don't feel so good, Jon." Said David.
"Dang this hurts like hell." I said.
helped him to his rack and then crawled towards mine. Eric came
in and even he was too weak to help me. Our eyes met for a moment
as I dragged myself up. Then turning, I collapsed onto the rack.
The squad bay chorus was a list of men who had been through battle,
and now their bodies, with the help of the treatment, battled
the effects of the radiation.
the worst thing, I couldn't sleep for hours.
Two: Europa Sector
Situation: Light to Heavy Combat
forces, 120 kilometers and closing fast."
"Roger 357th, One-One."
"All pilots, arm spearheads for maximum blast radius."
"357th, make blast point at my direction. Coordinates uploaded
"Acknowledged Group Leader." Said Swiss.
"Texas, Jarhead, report."
"Wing Two ready, Wing Three ready."
"Group leader this is 357th One-One. Ready to fire."
"357th, 388th, 390th, and 411th, prepare to fire on my mark."
"Fox one! Spearheads away
"Ten seconds to impact
massive 'Clan formation just dissolved, any possible survivors
would soon be killed by Jupiter's radiation. We were flying with
our Group Leader and our fellow squadrons. It had been a very
long time since all of us had flown, and fought, together. Of
course, the last three squadrons had a lot of rookies who were
becoming veterans real fast. Command had decided that the Europa
Sector would test the theory of massed fighter craft and enough
Spearheads to do the job.
did, but the 'Clans liked to throw monkey wrenches into that theory.
More always came
on, here come the others."
"Tally-ho. God speed and watch your six.' Said the Group
Jarhead, vector to six-eight-niner." Said Swiss. "Separate
'Clan formation started."
"Here they come
"Good shot Texas. Rev, one's on your tail."
"Gotcha-got your six Rev." said Bear.
"Swiss, three closing fast." I said.
"Got your six, Swiss. My boys are closing fast." said
"Whew, close one. They're turning away to come back. Get
ready." said Swiss.
"Bogeys and satellites. Watch it. Fire at will!"
"Here come a bunch of those damn asteroids."
"Warning sent back to the others." I said.
"Good. Watch out all, too quiet." said Swiss.
"Sector is quiet. All 'Clans destroyed here." said Jarhead.
"My boys topped you all again!"
"Let's see, 45-65-80. Not too shabby Jarhead!" I said.
"Okay, status report everyone!" ordered Swiss.
"Wing Two report
" I asked my guys.
few scratches, some close calls, but everyone okay. We were all
feeling pretty good since our last treatment. Of course, Command
decided to have us only out in space for the minimal time frame.
And, this time the clocks went off about an hour before the return
time. Combat in the Europa Sector was light to heavy, depending
on the mood of the 'Clans of course. The whole Jupiter Campaign
required the close-support of all ships, and that meant the 'Lex
was always close by. And, so far, she had been very lucky
Two is nominal, Swiss." I said.
"Roger, Texas. Wing Three?"
"We're all good to go here too, Swiss." said Jarhead.
"So Swiss?" I asked.
"Go ahead Texas."
"Do you think we ought to report that big monolith in our
Sector!!!?" I said with a total seriousness.
"What???!" Swiss responded.
"Yeah, it seems to be full of stars." I said again.
"My Lydar can't sense it Texas, what monolith?"
"It's got a 1-4-9 ratio, its hugs Swiss." I said.
"Wow, look at the size of that." My crew said. They
had caught on!
"Wing One, what do you see?" said Swiss to his wing.
"Gotcha Swiss, that's a good one Texas!" Laughed Jarhead
and his crew.
"What?" asked Swiss?
"Seems Texas pulled a 2010 on you Swiss. Remember that Sci-Fi
author Arthur C. Clarke?" Jarhead asked.
"Oh, you! I guess we ought to tell Command that we see David
Bowman floating out there too." said Swiss.
"I thought you'd remembered that novel Swiss!" I said.
"Of course I don't think the JMF would find that too funny,
"Yeah, all we need to do now is have Hal tell Command there
is a problem!" quipped Swiss.
"We have a few computer experts here who could do that now!"
"Touché!" said Swiss, Shogun, and a few others.
"Alright everyone, time's almost up. Return back to the 'Lex!"
"Roger, no arguments here. No one wants to go through THAT
again." Jarhead said.
"Amen to that
" We all said.
"Lexington Fighter Control, Squadron 3-5-7 returning."
"Roger 3-5-7. You are cleared for return. (noise and static)
"Lexington Fighter Control, say again over." Swiss said.
"3-5-7, this is Lexington Fighter Control. Emergency flight
bay just received a hit. Fire crews responding. Maintain patrol
around Lexington security space. We'll have you back on board
"Roger Control. 3-5-7 enroute." Swiss said.
"Okay boys, make it back. ASAP!" he ordered.
ship had finally taken a hit
taken on more damage, guys." said Swiss.
"Where this time, Swiss?" I asked.
"Control just told me, forward of the main sick bay. Batteries
two, five, and eight and the observation deck took a hit from
a damaged 'Clan fighter." Swiss said.
"Oh no." a bunch of my guys said.
"Maintain this sector, they are telling me. The other squadrons
are being re-grouped to provide tighter security." He said.
"Roger Swiss." Said Jarhead and I.
"3-5-7 this is 13th Group Leader, other squadrons are with
me. We are to hold the line here."
"Roger Group Leader, this is One-One."
"Okay boys, here they come. Game on. Protect the 'Lex!"
said the Group Leader.
"Protect the 'Lex!" we all said.
tremendous fight ensued. Nearly a quarter-legion of fighters,
supported by their satellites, attacked us. This was intense.
My wing and I managed to do our part, as did the rest of the 357th.
This close in support of the 'Lex made us fight all the more harder,
and our Group did really well together; combat will do that. Unfortunately,
our Group Leader took a hit. His craft survived but the radiation
did him in. He barely managed to land his F-911 on the flight
bay. The sight of him and his rad burns will stay in my mind forever.
As we had managed a quick look at the 'Lex, we surveyed the damage.
The Captain had vented the affected areas so all fires were snuffed
out. Patches were being placed by the damage-control parties.
Out-of-ship parties had to resort to using repods to place the
plate patches. It was a mess.
had a quick de-brief. We were being assigned to a different sector.
One that seemed to be way too quiet, several other carriers would
be assigned to our mini Task Force; that and several smaller ships.
A repair ship was assigned to the 'Lex for a few days to affect
repairs, especially the gun batteries.
had been acting very quiet. And when our squadron left the de-briefing
room, Shawn and I talked to him.
I said, looking right at him. "What's wrong buddy?"
"Is it bad news from home, David?" said Shawn very softly.
." David had to force the words out.
didn't say much at all. Bad news from home is almost as bad as
a wound in combat, sometimes even worse. I gave David a hug, as
did Shawn, and we quietly prayed over him. Pastor McCreary, having
just returned from the training, happened to stop by while we
were praying over David. His presence really encouraged us all
and he finished our prayers.
all you have to say is not much and your buddies will come to
Three: Almathea Sector
Situation: Enemy Forces Unknown
Day: One - Our Longest Day
snap of boots made a distinct sound. In walked Col. Bonca. He
was wearing a portable comms system. The sounds of fire-fighting
crews and damage control parties were evident on the normal ship's
intercom system. The Rev. McCreary walked in after him.
ease, gentlemen." He said. "Let's get started."
"You all know that the 'Lex has taken some terrible punishment.
We are part of a task force dedicated to clear this sector of
any possible enemy activity. This moon we are stationed by, Almethea,
has a low density. I don't have to go on and tell you what that
could be used for. Our situation here is critical. Captain Plant
has started to evacuate all non-essential personnel. Pastor McCreary
has volunteered to stay with us. His prayers are most welcome.
Two other carriers are assigned to this sector, including one
of the "Jr's", the King. You guys from the 357th, you
may yet see the 332nd again."
is it true that the ship's sensors are on standby? With our position
so close to Jupiter, the magnetosphere will keep us blind."
won't lie to you guys, I haven't ever since I have been the Fighter
Command CO for you all and I won't start now, it's not looking
know that many of you have had to endure the Treatment. After
today, you may have to go through that again. I'm sorry."
Bonca looked older. The strain of the weeks, the loss of good
pilots and the stress of command in this environment had aged
mission is two-fold. Protect the 'Lex and destroy the 'Clan. Your
areas of responsibility have all been assigned. Now, a quick prayer
from Chaplain McCreary."
McCreary stepped up in front of us. His gentle and soothing voice
"Gracious Heavenly Father. Lay you hand on these young men
as they prepare for battle. Guide them and comfort them as they
confront their foes. Let them know, that you are still on the
Universe's throne and you are still in control. Amen."
to you fighters! Happy hunting and God Speed. 357th stay behind."
waited until all of the pilots had left. Pastor McCreary stayed
with us as well. Col. Bonca spoke up.
Chupa is in critical condition in the sickbay. He was close by
the Observation Deck when it was hit, and he absorbed a lot of
radiation. He wants you guys to see him before you go off. The
Chaplain will escort you to him. Now I know his relationship with
you guys has been rocky at best, I think he genuinely wants to
make amends. Chief McCleod has already been informed that you
will be delayed a bit. Go to Major Chupa."
we walked away, I turned back and looked at Col. Bonca. Our eyes
met for a moment. In the twinkling of time I realized one dreadful
wouldn't be seeing him again.
walk to the critical care sick bay took some time. Each one of
us had our own reasons to not want to go through this. We also
had our own thoughts. The various sounds of the ship were ignored
as we walked on. Finally, we arrived.
I am Chaplain McCreary. I am here escorting these pilots to see
one of your patients. Major Chupa."
sir, right this way." The nurse said. Then following her,
we came to Chupa's room.
can't speak much. And, I'm afraid we can't hide the effects of
the radiation sickness. When he can, he's been talking about you
Having said that, she then stepped outside the room. The silence
in the room was depressing. He was a mess. A pitiful site.
we're here." Said David.
eyes lit up at that, he grinned at us all. He motioned for us
to get closer to his bed. We got closer and then he spoke.
he said, straining.
"David, Jon, Shawn, good
Here was a man, messed up beyond belief, our nemesis for so very
long, reaching out to us all.
of the fighter
The breathing difficult and words hard to hear.
looked at David and I, and we nodded back. Shawn spoke out.
"Attention on Deck!"
We all snapped to attention.
We all rendered the most impressive and professional salute.
Chupa painfully raised his arm, and returned the salute. A tear
in his eye.
nurse came back in, and we took one last look before leaving.
were walking to the Flight Bay when Chaplain McCreary spoke up
"Now, you all be careful out there. I will be praying for
you to have a safe return. Godspeed." He said. He also added.
"Chupa and I have been talking ever since the accident."
Pastor. We'll use those prayers of yours!" said Shawn with
a glint in his eye.
Flight Bay was a beehive of activity. Chief McCleod greeted us
"Jon, your wing has to go last. Your F-911's all failed the
last diagnostic test. It'll take about another 45 minutes to get
launched. The rest of you, we have only a few Spearheads but this
is all close range fighting. Use them sparingly. Good Luck!"
your luck Jon!" said Shawn.
"Well looks like I'll owe you for the return trip Shawn.
Your guys can go before me." I said.
"We'll take that offer Jon. Alright, Wing Three, get to your
crafts." He said.
"Jon, join us as fast as you can. We need everyone on this."
"No problem David. Alright Wing Two, you heard the Chief.
Time to hurry up and wait."
was tough seeing David and Shawn's wings load up and head off
to the 'Cat. Finally, our F-911's were repaired and the clearance
was given. I was the first on the 'Cat when suddenly, the lights
all went out. They then came back on. I was told we had another
delay! Imagine a bullet ready to be fired, and the trigger is
millimeters from being pulled. But, having to hold that position
for fifteen minutes. I didn't want to even think but to just stay
focused. Finally, I was launched out and in minutes Wing Two was
ready to join the fight. It took us a short amount of time to
speed off to where Wings One and Three were.
and the rest have decided to join us." Said Jarhead.
"Well you know us; check the oil, fill up the gas, wait to
get launched." I said back.
"Excuses, excuses. Been too quiet here Texas." Said
"Then we seem to be in the right area." I said. "We
have a nose for this kind of business."
"Roger that. Texas and Jarhead, what does your scanners show?"
"A magnetic swamp, thick and oozy." Jarhead replied
"Swiss, this area sucks!" I said.
"All, this is Three-Three. Switch to low-freq. I sense something."
Switching to the low-freq the picture alarmed us.
Rather, the blobs of pictures.
bogeys. Informed the 'Lex. Prepare to fire Spearheads." Said
"On my mark
Spearheads were launched. Seconds later, enormous explosions lit
up the coldness of space.
was too easy. Watch out for strays."
group heading our way!"
on. Tally Ho! Let 'em have it."
comms net became filled with the sounds of pilots reacting to
their targets. Chasing, being chased, shots fired, double tagging,
evading, calling for help.
that one on your tail, Rev." I said.
"Thanks Texas. Watch out, three coming your way."
"Texas, Bear and I have their number."
"Thanks. Boy that was close." I said.
check your life signs." Said Swiss excitedly.
"We've only been out here for a few hours." I said.
Oh no, the 'Lex just got hit again-the bridge
was wiped out. The XO has assumed command in the Battle Bridge."
"We're being recalled, everyone back to the 'Lex." Ordered
trip back was quick. The signs of the latest attack were everywhere.
Damage, debris, even some bodies floating around. The 'Lex was
blind and bleeding. Since we were also close to the rest of the
Task Force, we could hear some of their pilot's chatter on the
life signs are all pegging out. Check your guys again." Said
"Jarhead, mine have to go! Oh wow!" said Swiss.
"Texas, how are yours?" asked Swiss.
"We're barely under the max." I said.
one of my guys took a glancing blow. We have to go in. I'll wait
until the rest are in. Then you and your guys can go back in.
Texas, you and Wing Three will have to wait a little bit."
is serious Jarhead, we read you loud and clear. Go!" I said.
have clearance to land. Go on in Wing Three." Said Swiss.
see you guys in Heaven." Said Jarhead, jokingly. (One of
his favorite sayings while landing.)
Three proceeded to land. Jarhead was just getting ready to enter
the Flight Bay when
look at your Lydar." Screamed Shogun.
single 'Clan fighter flew right by us. He headed right towards
the flight bay. I screamed but I couldn't do anything. The flight
bay exploded into a tremendous fire from hell.
suddenly my alarms went all berserk.
" I shouted.
single blast hit my port side. The shield barely deflected the
energy hit and a piece of hot metal flew off and buried itself
into my left arm. The pain nearly caused me to faint! Blood shot
up everywhere. The sizzling of my flesh sickened me. My F-911's
systems were screaming at me.
I'm hit." Said Swiss.
sounds on the net became deafening. Pilot after pilot reported
being hit. Out of the corner of my eye I saw multiple 'Clan craft
burry themselves into the 'Lex. Horrified, I looked at my HUD.
(Heads Up Display) Enemies, everywhere.
F-911 took another hit and sparks flew everywhere, an electric
jolt zapped me in the left knee.
they come! Look at them
" said Czar.
sudden though nearly paralyzed me.
"Swiss, they're playing with us! Cat and Mouse!" I said,
"Texas, I see them." Said Rev.
"Everyone, we got to try multi-move." Shouted Swiss.
All ships rotate around a single control craft and create an enormous
barrage of firepower. We had practiced it enough.
perform multi-move. I'll be on the right of you Swiss."
moved in seconds.
online, FIRING!" said Swiss.
sudden barrage of firepower shocked the 'Clans. But, our time
was running out. Everyone of our F-911's had limited power left.
Some crafts were worse off than others. I did what I could. I
looked at a picture of my wife and son. And, started praying.
started saying Psalm 25.
Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from
they come again, systems down to 50%! FIRING!" shouted Swiss.
not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
Swiss, I've lost power!" said a couple of people.
"Really down, 35%. Use what you have. FIRING. Texas, pray
large 'Clan formation rapidly filled its lost ranks. Time was
running out. Our firepower was nearly gone.
to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. "Yeshua,
Addoni." I whispered.
it's been great knowing you
GAME NOT OVER!" shouted a familiar voice.
follow me, blow away those bastards." Said Scoop.
pulses flew everywhere! The 'Clan were surprised even further
when the 'King flew right between massive formations, hitting
them point blank with their gun batteries and missiles. Long range
missiles were then launched at the last 'Clan formation. Their
end was brutal, and efficient.
grew silent. My alarms had stopped, but the ship status alerts
were still ringing. I was feeling weak.
this is Scoop. Can your guys land?" he asked.
crafts can, with some difficulty." Responded Swiss.
"Thanks Scoop" said Swiss and I.
"No problem, we had just switched frequencies when we noticed
what was about to happen. We got here as soon as we could. We've
got crews searching for survivors."
out of the blue, our net filled with...
David, I don't feel so good."
was Shawn! The initial blast had thrown him away from the Flight
Bay and the 'Lex.
this is Scoop. We're on our way."
F-911's went to grab Shawn. The 'King had emergency crews waiting
for us as we landed. Every one of us had been wounded, some really
bad. Our F-911's were a total loss. A maintenance crew was helping
me out of my cockpit when I saw Shawn's F-911 get an assisted
landing. Despite the warnings of the medical types, we all struggled
to meet him as he was being lowered down onto a stretcher.
was fighting back tears. His face blackened by smoke. Medics were
all over him, the readouts made it clear-massive internal damage.
He was dying.
David, I lost my boys. My wing's gone." He said, the tears
flowing down his face.
just nodded. I had to hang on to a medic to stand up.
looked at us, peace filled his eyes then he breathed his last.
pain I had was overwhelming me. I felt my strength going as I
closed my eyes, and embraced the great oblivion.
these guys to critical care NOW
Six Days Later
Location: Post-Surgical Tank Sickbay
Carrier: JMFNS Martin L. King Jr. (H/N 1925)
light. Soft voices in my ears. Where was I?
calling me? I opened my eyes slowly. I scanned where I was. Medical
instruments and displays everywhere. IV's attached to my arms.
I licked my lips and some post-op recovery fluid was offered me.
I drank it down. And then I lifted up my head. A person was standing
over me with an arm sling. It was Pastor McCreary!
blinked at him, as if I was disbelieving my own eyes. He answered
I am not dead. I and a dozen others managed to get into an escape
craft before all was lost." He said in his soothing southern
accent. (Pastor McCreary was being humble as always. He had actually
pulled several people from debris and led the rest through thick
smoke. He waited until the very last minute before escaping. He
would later receive a medal for his heroic actions on that dark
were badly hurt so they had you placed in a surgical tank. You
were just taken out six hours ago. You're healed now, but I know
the scars inside will take longer. The rest of your friends are
also in here. Some are still asleep though."
I asked, but I knew what had happened.
peace, home with His Lord." Pastor McCreary said.
few tears flowed down my cheek. The loss would always hurt.
wife was sent a priority-survivor message letting her know you
were still alive."
survived?" I asked.
two hundred actually. Someone remembered their battle drills and
had the main reactor shut down after the initial impact. Otherwise,
we'd all be dead. We did collect about a dozen bodies-including
Shawn's. The Lexington was so badly damaged that the JMF counted
over a hundred impact points. The Ideoclan fighters had been given
extra explosives to do what they did."
is the 'Lex?"
was tugged and sent into Jupiter. She's no longer around to fight."
have a funeral service on the main Flight Bay tomorrow. The ship's
personnel are making you up jump suits so you can attend. The
nurses will soon be removing your IV's and you'll get some nutrients
to allow you to walk." Hearing some other voices, he then
said "Well, looks like the others are starting to awake.
I must attend to them too." He said with a smile. "Jon???"
Pastor?" I said.
you need me, you let me know. We'll talk then." He said,
going to David's bed next.
sat up slowly; a nurse came by and started to remove my IV's.
I looked around the room. We had all been placed in the same room
with no others.
One Day Later
Location: Main Flight Bay
Situation: Funeral Services for JMFNS Lexington Personnel
Carrier: JMFNS Martin L. King Jr. (H/N 1925)
got up, as did David and the rest of us. We stood by Shawn's casket.
He had been cleaned up and such. In a way, his family was very
lucky. The JMF would spare no expenses to get his body and casket
back to his family on New Texas. Most families would get only
a notice and the death certificate. Ours was a life of either
alive, or dead in a million glowing particles. We had been given
new jumpsuits, boots, and headgear to wear.
McCreary gave a quick excerpt from Scripture.
is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or
authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is
before all things, and in him all things hold together."
"Colossians 1:15 to 17."
"And our Lord said 'I am the resurrection and the life. He
who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever
lives and believes in me will never die.'."
"Gracious Heavenly Father. We send these to their families.
Comfort them and their friends, who have lost them to you. Speed
them on their way. Amen."
sound of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" came over
the speakers. All of us were crying.
walked over to the view port on this Flight Bay. I put my hands
on the banister and looked out, into space. Torrence walked over
to us. He spoke about his own loss of two squadron members. David
and I nodded.
know Shawn and the others would want you all to remember them
and to continue on. I know it hurts though." Said Torrence.
" I said. And looking at David and
the rest, I said "We will." They nodded and said yes
bagpipe music stopped. Then through the speakers came one of Shawn's
favorite songs. It was an old one. Haunting and stirring at the
same time-Dallas Holm's "The Love of God".
the song played on, I looked back out the view port. Yes, I thought.
We would remember and continue on. The War would continue on with
or without us.
passed by. First the smaller ones darted by, then the larger bombers.
Small destroyers and larger frigates passed by our line of view.
Finally, carriers moved into position and then passed on by. Yes,
the War was continuing on.
as all of these marvels of mankind's thought and design had passed
by, Jupiter loomed overwhelmingly. And beyond that, the stars
and finally the Universe beckoned. As big as we could make things,
we truly were small. I continued to look out the view port, and
great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness
reaches to the skies." Psalm 57:10
1LT Shawn McConnel, 1LT Nicholas Harlan,
1LT Andy Warner, 1LT Eric Wagner, 1LT Steve Bascay
Wing Three, 357th JMFAS, 13th Fighter Group
"Mars: The God of War - The Tide Turns"
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