Band of Brothers: Chapter One- - Primus...


Well, I'm a good way into this story, so I felt I should go ahead and post the first few chapters. I feel it is far superior to Tooth and Claw, my first attempt at a Wing Commander story (Well, second, actually. My first version of Tooth and Claw took place in 2656 and was about Blair, Hunter, Paladin, Tolwyn, Hobbes, and Maniac going into Gemini Sector to rescue Angel and the TCS Austin from the Kilrathi. It sucked big time, I threw continuity right out the window!).

Anyway, I haven't played WC2 a whole lot, so please excuse any mistakes, and battle scenes aren't my strong point.

So, enjoy...


Wing Commander: Band of Brothers
By Wesley “Dralthi5” Ferguson

Chapter One: Primus
Racene (Kalla’Kar) System
Enigma Sector
Isaac Quadrant

The Hha’ifra glided gently through the blackness of space. The stars twinkled off of its crimson hull as the blunt-nosed vessel cruised through the Enigma Sector. There was nothing particularly fantastic about the ship… judging from mere appearances, that is. For the Hha’ifra was the flagship of Crown Prince Thrakhath, heir to the throne of the great Kilrathi Empire. Since the death of his father, Thrakhath had been in the running to inherit the title of Emperor on the occasion of the current sovereign’s demise. The Emperor of Kilrah was old, too old, and would not last much longer. And when he no longer lived, Thrakhath would ameliorate the ruler’s mistakes and reign supreme over not just the Empire, but the Terran Confederation as well.
The two species, Terran and Kilrathi, had been locked in grim struggle for over three decades and no end seemed in sight. Each day, Thrakhath was faced with the persevering spirit of the furless apes. They would never give up, it seemed, until every last one of them was eradicated from the face of the Universe. Thrakhath bared his canines. Well, the Prince thought, I will be more than happy to carry that deed out. But
would that be possible? Would getting rid of the lot of the Terrans be within the Kilrathi’s grasp? Thrakhath was not sure. After all, these days the Empire had more things to worry about than just the Confederation. The Ghorah Khar rebels were sa’guk, that was a given, but they were also excellent warriors. Sivar had given them a gift, that was sure. The Empire still had an advantage, however, what with the Mandarins, human sympathizers to the Kilrathi cause. They had proven useful before, and might again if Prince Thrakhath had his way. And usually he did.
Thrakhath, his azure and crimson robes trimmed with gold billowing about him, stormed into his audience chamber to find Melek waiting for him. His adjutant was loyal almost to a fault and had never let him down. Thrakhath was sure Melek would go far. He would assure it, as a matter of fact. “ Have we arrived, Melek?” the Prince asked in his rumbling bass. “ I fear I cannot wait any longer. The Emperor has deemed our arrival at Kalla’Kar especially critical.”
“ We have arrived, my liege,” Melek responded, folding his hands across his belly and bowing low, as was his wont. “ Yet I do not understand, lord, why His Majesty demands that we be at this despicable moon.”
Yes, Melek was loyal, but not the most brilliant military tactician in the Empire. “It is quite simple, Melek,” Thrakhath said, “ Kalla’Kar is a vital staging point into the Enigma Sector. As I hope you remember, nine years ago that Terran carrier, the TCS Tiger's Claw was able to reach the K'tithrak Mang System, before my Stealth fighters destroyed her, by means of traversing through this system, which the Terrans call Racene. Shortly thereafter the Emperor in his wisdom ordered the garrison here, to ensure that another such foray was quashed in its infancy. For if K'tithrak Mang falls, we shall lose our jump route into the Terran colonies."
Melek nodded in understanding, his big, blunt head bobbing up and down. “ Ah, I see now, my liege. If the Terrans capture Kalla’Kar, we will lose our chance of gaining Enigma, and all will be lost.”
“ Not quite,” Thrakhath said, just slightly irritated. “ We shall not altogether lose our chance of conquest in Enigma, but if Kalla’Kar shall fall, our chances will not improve, I will tell you that right now. We must defend this moon, Melek, or the Empire will no longer be able to sweep through Enigma in one crushing blow. That is why the Emperor has ordered us here!” By this time, his hands had balled into fists.
A splash of light filled the audience chamber on the Hha’ifra, causing Thrakhath to squint. Kalla’Kar’s sun was a massive red giant and, once it appeared beyond the dark bulk of the planetoid, cast the Kilrathi fortifications here in a brilliant glow. A small fleet orbited the watery (too watery, Thrakhath was convinced- - the crimson deserts of Kilrah were much more to his liking) moon, comprised of a Fralthra, a Ralatha, and a Snakeir heavy carrier, the KIS Caxtar, under the command of Quar’kek nar Hhallas. A flight of Sartha light fighters flew in from an orbiting space station, ready to escort the Hha’ifra in. And lastly, the Prince saw Kalla’Kar’s pride and joy: A defensive ring of twenty-five shielded weapons platforms guarding the planet. No Terran vessel would ever break through, Thrakhath was sure of that.
“ Look at it, Melek,” Thrakhath said with the awe of a cub on his first trip off-planet. He swept a paw to encompass the weapons platforms glittering in orbit around
Kalla’Kar. “ The Terrans call this world Luna Mortis- - the Moon of Death. I suspect this is due to the gross number of failed attempts to conquer Kalla’Kar.”
Melek nodded in understanding. “ Of course, my liege. The Terrans shall never break through. We shall annihilate them all. Under your leadership, of course…”
The Prince shook his golden mane back and forth. “ Do not underestimate the Terrans, Melek. Even now, I assure you, they are hatching an insidious plot to capture their Moon of Death,” he growled, his fist clenching even tighter now as he thought of such an injustice. “ Let it be known, Melek, that whatever the Terrans may do to us, we shall never falter. We shall never surrender.”
Melek winced. “’ Surrender.’ Before we came into contact with the apes, such a concept was… unthinkable.” Thrakhath’s adjutant paused, wringing his clawed hands together. “ Hmm… what shall we do about these enemy incursions into Luna Mortis?”
“ The only thing we can do, Melek,” Thrakhath replied, letting a vicious grin split his catlike features. “ We shall slaughter them all.”

Heinlein System
Enigma Sector
Roddenberry Quadrant

A cold sweat running down his spine, 1st Lieutenant Justin “MadDog” Overstreet, TCSF, tightly grabbed the P-64 Ferret’s control stick and banked to starboard, narrowly avoiding the hail of laser bolts spewed forth from the Drakhri medium fighter intensely riding his tail. The energy streamers spiraled through the void dangerously close to Justin’s flank, bringing forth a warning from his computer AI. But despite it all, the Kilrathi fighter on his six o’clock stayed with him, splattering his rear shields with cannon fire. The Ferret light fighter shuddered with the impact and Lieutenant Overstreet stifled a curse.
He juked to port; the Drakhri stayed on him. “ Stop tailgating, you bastard,” Justin ground out, suddenly killing thrust and jamming the stick into his gut at the same time. He pointed the nose of his fighter to port as he did so, banking sharply down and to port as the Kilrathi flew past him, screeching something unintelligible in its alien language over the radio. Justin laughed in its hideous, hairy face. He switched frequencies to Echo Wing’s: “ Decker, where the hell are you?” he demanded. “My ass is under fire, goddammit!” The Drakhri, spotting its disastrous mistake, inverted and came back his way, gaining missile lock on him. “ Decker!” he shouted, blowing chaff and throwing the flight stick to starboard, banking sharply just as the Kilrathi dropped its DumbFire missile.
The young Terran pilot barrel rolled, desperately trying to get the hell out of the way of the oncoming warhead. “ Jesus Christ, Decker, I’ll kick your ass and then court-martial you myself! Dammit!” Brown eyes glanced nervously down at his HUD. The DF missile was drawing nearer. His little Ferret wasn’t going to get out of this one! He clomped his teeth down on his tongue (a nervous habit he had had since childhood) and reached toward the eject bar down between his feet. But suddenly flashes of light began to play behind his canopy. With a start, he whirled about to see a new Ferret arrive on the scene, dropping in behind him and opening up with his guns on the enemy missile with Justin’s name on it. Overstreet pushed the afterburners into the red zone to escape the blast as the DF exploded.
“ Now how’s that for an entrance, Boss?” 2nd Lieutenant Pete “Babyface” Decker asked in his casual tones. The younger pilot’s Ferret cruised up next to him, Decker’s unshaven face plastered with a grin. “ How about we go and get that Cat bastard?”
Justin let out a relieved laugh. He would definitely have to give Pete a stern dressing down once they got back to their carrier, the TCS Antietam. “ Now there’s something I can’t object to, Lieutenant.” With Decker on his port wing, Justin wheeled toward the Drakhri that had been giving him grief. The Kilrathi bird turned tail and ran as it saw that not one, but two Terrans were gunning for him. But the Ferrets were lighter, and therefore speedier than the heavy Cat craft. He and Pete broke, the wing commander dropping his targeting reticule over the Drakhri’s dorsal side while Decker took ventral.
The AI let out a shrill wail as the two Confed pilots achieved missile lock. The Kilrathi tried his damnedest to get the hell out the way, but with two bogies riding his ass, retreat was not an option obtained easily. “ Fox Two!” Justin announced, flipping back the protective covering on the flight stick and jamming his thumbs down on the firing button. Below him, Pete did the same. The two Javelins raced across the black void, trailing immense exhaust plumes, and eventually zeroed in on the fleeing Drakhri. Normally, Ferrets were not equipped with missiles, but the Antietam’s Chief Technician, Bob Holland, generously had them installed for the VF-104 “Battling Bastards” squadron. Justin did not know what Major Edison, the VF-104’s C.O., had done in order to get him to put in the overtime to install the missile launchers on the Ferrets, but he suspected it had something to do with his recent promotion from E-4 to E-5. The pilot let out a hideous shriek of rage and torment as his medium fighter was torn apart into a thousand glittering fragments. Justin and Pete whooped out loud in triumph. They said any mission you could walk away from was a good mission, but when you got to bag one of the bastards or two, it didn’t hurt.
Suddenly, more laser flashes lit up the void, filling Justin’s cockpit with a tremendous thrumming. He frantically craned his neck around to see what the hell was going on. “ Christ,” he whispered, so low that Pete did not hear. “ Am I under fire again?” But just as the words left his mouth, a different Ferret blazed over him, fiery afterburner trails wavering it its wake. Laser fire licked at its rear shields. Justin put his own patrol fighter in gear, calling up his next (and last- - the Ferrets only contained a pair) missile. “ Boyar, break left! Break left!” he shouted as the pursuing Kilrathi heavy flashed by overhead.
“ Roger fucking Dodger!” 2nd Lieutenant Nikita “Boyar” Gorbunov exclaimed, inverting and throwing his fighter quickly to port. “ Any help I can get would be greatly appreciated!” Boyar’s thick Russian accent made his words sound even more urgent.
Justin goosed the throttle as the Drakhri flew past him. Mass driver rounds from Pete’s fighter began to tear into the heavy’s starboard flank, shredding crimson armor like a cornhusk. The AI howled yet again as the reticule settled in over the Drakhri’s image on Justin’s HUD. “ Good-bye,” he whispered in his best movie-villain impression, brushing thumbs atop the firing stud. The HS missile homed in on the Kilrathi’s fiercely burning engines and detonated, sending the Drakhri tumbling end over end. Decker quickly put it out of its misery with a well-placed mass driver volley. But, unlike its unlucky predecessor, this pilot did not scream out in anger, but sounded more like he was praying, as if he was accepting his fate. Justin found he liked that better. It seemed more… civil, was the word he thought.
Nikita, his Ferret’s silver armor scored black on one side and a wing bent at an ungainly angle, slowly pulled up to his wing commander’s side. “ Shit,” the Russian groaned. “ I surely thought my goose was cooked!” Justin looked through the canopy and witnessed a thin stream of ions leaking out from Boyar’s busted engines. That would surely have to be dealt with immediately, once they got back to the Antietam.
“ Boyar, where the hell’s your wingman?” Justin asked, the thought suddenly dawning on him. In the confusion of battle (and in the confusion of trying not to die) he had lost the fourth member of his patrol.
But Nikita was morose. “ Nichevo,” he whispered sadly. “ Tucker didn’t make it. One of them Cat bastards put an FF up his tail. Fucking monsters.” While Justin normally frowned on such profanity while on duty, he was forced to wholeheartedly agree with the foul-mouthed Gorbunov.
Justin rubbed at an auburn eyebrow. “ Damn,” he whispered. Paul Tucker had been a good officer, if just slightly naïve about the world around him. He had seen the war between the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire as one big adventure, and did not realize that he could die if he was not careful. Well, Overstreet thought, he knows now. “ Damn,” he said again. “ Well, Echo Wing… return to base.” Their patrol of the Heinlein System was not yet complete, but how could they go on with one dead pilot and two other damaged Ferrets? Major Edison might not like it, but that was not Justin’s concern at the moment. The well being of his men, as a wing commander, was.
Forty-five minutes later, the patrol flight returned to the TCS Antietam. The Antietam was of a newer model of carrier, her verdant paint still gleaming as if she had just been freed from dry dock. Justin lined up on approach to the boxy little ship and let the ACLS do the rest of the job. He passed the time by relaying the details of the mission to Zachary Garner, the Antietam’s communications officer. When he had landed he reported for debriefing (something he dreaded even more than a root canal!) and drudgingly reported Lieutenant Tucker’s fate to Captain Wilber Shelby, the squadron X.O. Shelby was, to say the least, pissed, but he didn’t let it show. Everybody would be pissed with Paul’s demise.
Afterwards, he shrugged out of his bulky flight gear and made his way to Pilot Country, as the little corner of the Antietam set aside for the combat pilots was affectionately referred. Pilot Country, or P.C., was really the only place on board the carrier where one could let his hair down, so to speak. There was nothing especially militaristic about it despite its cold metal walls. As a matter of fact, it sort of reminded Justin of his room during high school (which, though only nine years ago, seemed like an eternity!). A pool table occupied most of the rectangular chamber, and tables and chairs lined the walls. A bar was set along the rear wall, where Joe, the enigmatic barkeep, stood drying glasses. A raucous tune by the Love Animals blared from the overhead speakers (although Justin would have preferred Aaron Henton). It certainly was a nice place to retreat to after a dangerous day in the cockpit.
“ MadDog!” someone shouted and Justin realized it was Luke Frost, the big, dark-skinned 1st Lieutenant who commanded Charlie Wing. Frosty, as he was called, wore blue uniform pants and a T-shirt, which was emblazoned with his motto: “Stay Frosty!” Justin held up his fist in a salute. “ Hey, we heard ‘bout Tucker,” Luke said. “ Tough break, eh? But when has anything ever fazed me?” He let out a big laugh, his teeth startlingly white against his dark skin. He hurled a pool cue Overstreet’s way. “ Let’s play.”
Justin caught the stick and sighed. Tucker’s death certainly wasn’t fazing Luke, or anyone else it seemed. Pete and Maurice “Froggie” Duchamp were engaged in a heated debate on whether a Fleet wet T-shirt contest should be mandatory. Major John Eric Noble and Captain Mallory Napier were busy with one another (making “googly” eyes, Justin would have said). Ryan “Dragon” Yan was draped bare-chested across the lap of Natalie Maximus, a cute, toe-headed pilot who seemed to take up most of the male pilots’ time. He noticed Karl “Spyder” Bowen alone in the corner. That kid scared him. According to his files, he had enlisted with the Marines late last year, but showed such a killer instinct that he was transferred to an Officers Candidate School, where he had earned his wings. He was a new addition to the Antietam’s wing, having only arrived a week before, but he had already racked up three kills.
Yes, Justin thought, life seemed to be going on without Paul Tucker.
He and Luke played a few games of pool before suddenly the rec room’s doors slid open with an audible whoosh. As if by instinct, all eyes turned toward the doorway. Major Douglas Edison, the squadron commander, stood there, tall and menacing in his neatly pressed blue uniform. Edison was one of the greatest commanders Justin had ever had. He was big and blond and looked like he had just stepped off of a Confed recruiting poster, but to most of the pilots in the squadron he almost seemed like a second father. Perhaps that was because Edison had a twelve-year old son, Christopher, on Arcturus VI. Hell, Justin thought grimly, Major Edison would make a better father than my own dad. James Overstreet was a lawyer on Earth, and very much a pacifist. When Justin had attended the Academy at Hilthros instead of going to Harvard Law School, James had repudiated his son. They hadn’t spoken in seven long years, but Justin hoped to soon.
But, for now, there were other things to worry about. “ Goddammit!” Edison roared. “ Clean this pigsty up- -“ Yup, Justin mused with a grin, he certainly is a father to this squad- - “ the Colonel’s on his way! I don’t want to present my squadron to him looking like shit. And for Christ’s sake, Yan, put a shirt on!” Ryan nervously saluted and scrambled back into his tunic. Soon, the rec room was the epitome of spit-and-polish military efficiency, even if it still looked like a teenager’s bedroom. “ That’s better— Atten-SHUN!”
Justin and the other pilots, arranged now in a neat line against the wall, did as they were told, snapping to stiff rigidity instantly as Colonel Casper “Tigershark” Drake came into the room, a clipboard under one arm. Drake was a big man in his early fifties who had seen action at the Battle of McAuliffe, although his mop of red hair and face full of freckles caused him to look a great deal younger. Next to Drake stood Lt. Colonel Ted Butler, who was far shorter, craggier, and grayer than his superior. “ At ease,” Drake commanded, his firm, yet gentle, voice instantly demanding supplication. “ Colonel Butler and I are truly sorry for what happened to Lieutenant Tucker today. However, you’ll soon get your chance to take it back to them kitty bastards.”
A low ripple of approval ran down the line of pilots. No, they may not have showed it, but Paul Tucker’s death was a blow to the squadron and they were just itching to get back at the Kilrathi. That gave Justin a nice feeling deep down, as if he was part of some especially close family, one that would do anything for one of its members. In a way, that’s what being in the Service was like: being part of a family. After fighting next to his comrades, risking their lives together, Justin could not help but feel that way.
Meanwhile, the Antietam’s Wing Commander was speaking: “ As of now, the Antietam is at full alert status. Captain Ruth has just received word from Admiral Halsey of the Fifth Fleet. The Antietam will have a fighter escort twenty-four hours a day from now on. We wouldn’t want to be caught by the Kilrathi with our pants around our ankles, people. That’s all for now.” Drake returned the salutes of the pilots and left, Ted Butler following closely on his heels. When the Wing Commander was gone, the rigid line of pilots broke apart.
“ Ah, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, will it ever end?” Pete barked, tossing his hands up into the air.
“ I don’t know, Pete, we’ve been fighting this war for thirty goddamn years,” Justin replied, trying to keep his voice neutral. “ Honestly I don’t see an end in sight. What about you, Major?” He had directed the question to Edison.
The squadron commander grabbed a drink from Joe. “ I don’t know, Lieutenant,” he said, taking a sip. “ The way I see, it’s not our business to worry about when this war ends. We can’t just snap our fingers and bring the Emperor and that grandson of his to instant capitulation. All we can do is take orders from the brass and fight it out like the grunts we are. That’s our duty as Confed officers.”
“ But shouldn’t we have a say? I mean, ‘twenty-four hour fighter escort?’” Ryan asked. “ Isn’t that a little excessive, Major Edison?”
“ Do you remember the Tiger’s Claw? When she was destroyed ten years ago, nobody saw those Kilrathi torpedoes coming at her,” Edison explained. “ What I’m trying to say, though, is that preparation is the key to winning this war.”
Boyar snorted loudly. “ Preparation, hell, Major!” he barked. “ We all know why the Tiger’s Claw was blown to Kingdom Come! That bastard Blair was a freaking Mandarin and tipped the kitties off to the Claw’s whereabouts. It’s so obvious.”
“ Hey, come on, Nik, I think ol’ Maverick was in the clear on that score,” Justin said. As a kid in Missouri, he had read of Christopher Blair’s exploits on the famous TCS Tiger’s Claw and had been enthralled. Blair had seemed unstoppable, what with his successful termination of the Kilrathi star post in Vega and the Sivar dreadnought that had leveled Goddard Colony. He had been crushed when Blair had been demoted and sent to rot on Caernavon Station by Rear-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn himself.
Gorbunov ran a hand through his shock of curly blond (almost white, actually, Justin thought) hair and let out a boisterous laugh. “ Don’t tell me you believe all that shit about invisible fighters then, MadDog? It’s horseshit, nothing else but.” He spared a glance to Edison, who disapproved of profanity even more than Overstreet did. “ Sorry, sir,” he added hastily.
“ Well, stranger things have happened,” Justin said calmly.
“ Yes, they have,” Major Edison agreed, “ but for now, we have a mission to attend to, Lieutenant Overstreet.”
“ Sir?”
“ Captain Ruth has ordered us to escort a Diligent-class transport to the Drake jump point,” Doug said. “ Apparently, it contains some sensitive intelligence on the Kilrathi in Enigma Sector. Needless to say, we have to get that Diligent to the jump point.”
Justin nodded and polished off his drink. “ Yes, sir, Major. You want Echo Wing to escort the transport through the Heinlein System?” Edison nodded. “ Of course, but we are short one pilot.”
“ Yes, of course. Lieutenant Tucker. It’s a damn waste. These kids don’t need to die!” Edison spat out angrily. “ But, illa est vita- - that’s life.” Justin figured that was Latin, but wasn’t sure. Major Edison’s education was much greater than Justin’s was.
“ I just dread having to write that damned ‘We regret to inform you…’ letter to his folks.” He lowered his head and sighed, but then snapped to his full height again. “ No, Lieutenant, I’ll be flying with Echo Wing today. We leave as soon as you’re ready.”
Justin saluted. “ Yes, sir!”

Fifteen minutes later, Justin Overstreet was back out in space, snug in his Sabre. Major Edison had taken Echo Wing out of the light Ferret patrol fighter for this mission. The Diligent was just too damned invaluable for a Ferret. No, the Sabres were certainly heavier and could take more abuse than the P-64. They were better armed, too.
Thirty klicks out from the Antietam Echo Wing rendezvoused with the Diligent transport. Officially, she was the TCS Harbin under the command of Commander Jonah Rutger and was carrying vital information about a top-secret project called Operation: Luna Mortis. Justin had been told no more than that, and he was not inclined to ask. As Major Edison, who even now flew on his wing, had said, their job was to fight. Let the flag officers deal with the big decisions.
The Sabre’s AI announced that the Harbin’s ID signature had been identified and that they were ready for autopilot. Justin quickly confirmed this with Major Edison, who flew under the moniker of Caesar, and the rest of Echo Wing. The autolight lit in the corner of the HUD. “ Initiating autopilot,” he droned, toggling the appropriate switches. Acceleration pressed him against the thickly padded seat of the Sabre as the drives kicked in, propelling him and his comrades across the heavens. Stars trailing multihued ribbons flashed by his cockpit at dizzying speeds. Justin could not help but be captivated. Space was so beautiful. It was a shame that these days it was seething with strife, with death. So vast was space, and yet it seemed that fellow sentient beings could not find it in themselves to share. “ It’s as if we are children, bickering over a toy,” he whispered.
“ What’s that, Lieutenant?” a puzzled Caesar inquired.
Justin shook his head. “ Nothing, sir.” He shouldn’t have spoken out loud, but he could not help it. There were some things that needed to be said. Justin didn’t care if anyone heard them or not.
Echo Wing did not make contact with the enemy by the time they and the Harbin arrived at the Drake jump point. Justin was relieved somewhat, but still itching to get back at the Kilrathi for Paul’s death. “ Good luck out there, Harbin,” Edison said as the Diligent-class transport hit the jump point and vanished in a blue haze. Mission accomplished, Justin thought.
“ Echo Wing, prepare to return to base,” he was saying, just as something trilled on his console- - an SOS. “ Wait a second, guys, I have something here! It’s an escape pod, approximately two thousand klicks out from our current position. What are your orders, Major?”
Edison paused a moment before replying. “ Our Sabres have tractor beams, MadDog, maybe we should check it out. Babyface, Boyar, return to the Antietam and relay to Colonel Drake what I’ve just told Lieutenant Overstreet.”
“ Roger that,” Pete replied. A moment later, both Nikita’s and his Sabres turned tail and beat it to the carrier.
Justin located the escape pod on his radar. The little purple dot floated there like a guppy in a school of piranhas. The pod was a just little more than vulnerable. Major Edison and he had had better get there soon or else the Kilrathi could open fire and destroy it, as was their wont. “ Sir, let’s go get that pod.”
“ Absolutely, Lieutenant,” he responded.
Ten minutes later, they arrived at the pod. It was beat up and scorched black. Justin wondered if whoever was in there was still alive. He hoped so. While Major Edison flew watch around him, Justin unstrapped himself from his seat and crawled back into the cramped little turret behind the Sabre’s cockpit. The escape pod floated just beyond his fighter-bomber. He thumbed the tractor beam’s controls. A spiral of light emanated from the Sabre, grasping on to the pod’s battered white surface and dragging it inexorably to Justin’s fighter. Making sure the pod was securely in the Sabre’s hold, Justin crawled back into the cockpit. “ I got him, sir,” he announced.
“ Roger that. Let’s go.”
When they returned to the Antietam, Casper Drake, Donald Ruth, the carrier’s C.O., and a team of deckhands raced to up to his Sabre. A medical team also accompanied them, he noticed. “ Sir!” Justin barked when both the Wing Commander and captain neared him, snapping to instant rigidity.
“ Lieutenant Overstreet,” the grizzled, gray-haired C.O. returned. “ I take it you’ve brought us a guest.” As he said the words, the deck crew had already brought out the escape pod from the Sabre’s hold and was gently prying it open. He and Ruth drew closer. The pod was open now and the medical crew, monitored closely by Colonel Drake, was dragging out a young, dark-skinned man with a crumpled blue uniform. He was a navy man, all right, Justin realized, noting the single gold bar on his shoulders: an ensign. He was not unconscious, however, and very much alive.
“ Where the hell am I?” he mumbled as the medical crew began to meticulously go over him with their equipment. His voice held an accent that Justin could not quite place.
The ensign seemed pretty much out of it, but Captain Ruth and Colonel Drake hovered over him like avenging angels, their heights and ranks making them an imposing duo indeed. Justin hovered nearby, his attention piqued. No one seemed to want him to leave, so he decided to stay. “ Son, you’re on the TCS Antietam, a Confederation naval vessel in the Heinlein System. I am Captain Donald Ruth, this here’s Colonel Casper Drake. Can you give us your name, young man?”
The ensign weakly saluted. “ Vanzetti, Benito. Ensign, Terran Confederation Navy…” he went on to recite his identification and payroll number. “ I… I was on the TCS Vicksburg,” he was muttering. “ We were ordered by Admiral Halsey of the Fifth Fleet to eliminate a Kilrathi destroyer force here in Heinlein.”
Drake leaned in close to Ruth to whisper, “ The Vicksburg went MIA three days ago, sir.”
Ruth nodded in understanding. “ What else do you remember, Ensign Vanzetti?”
Vanzetti ran a shaking hand through thick black hair. “ I… I was on the bridge- - I’m a radarman- - and I yelled out to Commander Foulke that I had three gold blips on my board: Kilrathi destroyers, or some sort of capship at any rate. Foulke called up Captain Harold, and the skipper in turn called down to Petty Officer Gregson down in the battery room. ‘Fire on them goddamn bastards!’” The haggard-looking ensign smiled meekly. “ That’s what he said. Damn, Jim Harold was a bold son of a bitch, I’ll give him that.”
Drake nodded patiently, although Justin knew he was anything but at the moment.
“ Go on,” he gently prodded.
The former radarman on the Vicksburg was trying to compose himself, it seemed, before going on. Justin noticed Major Edison coming up with a steaming mug of coffee. Wrapping the coarse wool blanket the medicos had given him around him like a shawl, Benito Vanzetti gratefully accepted the brew and gulped it down. “ Damn good,” he whispered. He continued, “ Anyway, like I was saying, we had engaged them Kilrathi destroyers in the asteroid belt. Harold had ordered Gregson to open fire on the Cats, and I was counting down the range till the torpedoes hit the first Ralatha, then… BOOM! That first Cat destroyer was dust. Soon, so were the second and the third. We were feeling pretty good when all of a sudden… nil. I went black after that. Someone must’ve shoved me in an escape pod or something, cause I woke up just… floating.”
“ And you have no idea how the Vicksburg was hulled?” Ruth asked, desperately
trying to garner information from the shaken young officer. Justin felt sorry for Vanzetti,
to be the only survivor on a ship that you once called home. He imagined what it would
be like if the Antietam went down and he somehow made it out relatively unscathed. The
very thought gave him chills.
The Italian radar operator frowned, but shook his head. “ I’m sorry, Captain.
Perhaps there was a Kamekh hiding among the asteroids, which took us by surprise, or maybe those furry bastards are sneakier than we give ‘em credit for. Damned if I know, sir. Hell, perhaps it was one of them, what do they call ‘em, Stealth fighters?”
“ That’s a myth, Ensign,” Drake chided. “ Now don’t go spreading around rumors that don’t have any substance to them, you read me, mister?”
Vanzetti took a healthy swig of the coffee. “ Sure as shit, sir,” he remarked. Justin whistled low under his breath. The only other person he’d seen more lax in discipline than this radarman was Nikita Gorbunov, and not by much, either. Lieutenant Overstreet sighed, rubbing a hand across his smooth shaven jaw. Something just didn’t seem right about Vanzetti, suddenly, but what could it be…? Naw, Justin concluded quickly, I’m just letting my imagination run wild. Nik’s been putting paranoid thoughts into my head, what with all of his crazy stories about the Mandarins. “ I’m just saying,” Benito continued, “ whatever hit the Vicksburg, it could’ve been anything.”
Ruth exchanged a worried glance with the carrier’s veteran Wing Commander. After a moment, the skipper turned back toward the ensign. “ Very well, Ensign, I know this must be hard for you. We’ll set you up with some sleeping arrangements and see about getting you to the nearest Naval Base.”
“ Uh, Captain, I’ll volunteer to escort the Ensign somewhere to rest,” Justin spoke up.
Ruth acted as if he had not noticed Justin there before, which was probably the truth. The Antietam’s commander was a zealously focused person, but the pilot couldn’t find fault in that. “ Very well, Lieutenant Overstreet,” Donald replied evenly. “ Take Mr. Vanzetti up to Deck C and the guest quarters we have there.” He turned toward the radarman. “ I hope you don’t mind a flag officer’s cabin.”
Vanzetti smiled when he realized he’d be put up in the VIP suites. He snapped off a smart salute. “ Hell, no, Cap’n! That’d do fine, sir!”
“ Good.” Ruth nodded to Overstreet. “ Take him on up, Lieutenant.” Justin saluted and helped Vanzetti to his feet. The ensign was a little wobbly, but seemed a great deal better than he had been when the medicos had first pulled him out of the escape pod.
“ It must be hell,” Justin said as they left the flight deck and headed for the lift. The corridors were crowded, as usual, and several less-than-friendly stares came Benito’s way. A new face in town wasn’t always looked upon kindly these days, what with the Mandarins and all. “ I mean, losing your friends that way.”
Vanzetti scowled, his dark flesh twisting into something almost animal. Almost Kilrathi, Justin thought gloomily. “ I didn’t make friends well, Lieutenant Overstreet. But, I know what you mean. It was hell, I tell you that much. What I remember. Like I was saying to the brass hats back there, I blacked out as soon as the Kilrathi hit us and woke up some time later in that damned pod. Confusing as hell, I tell you what.”
“ You say you didn’t have any friends on the Vicksburg, so who’d have sacrificed his or her own life to get you into that escape pod?” Justin asked, hoping he wasn’t overstepping his bounds.
Fortunately, Vanzetti didn’t seem as irked as Justin had feared he would be. Instead, he said simply, “ The Navy takes care of its own. We’re a… band of brothers, you might say.”
A famous Shakespearean line sprang unbidden from Justin’s lips, something left over from his ancient Terran literature classes. “ ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’”
“ Exactly. Henry V, aside, though, Lieutenant, whoever rescued me felt that the life of a comrade-in-arms was more valuable than his or her own. That’s what’s special about being in the Service, especially during wartime. Remember that… the next time a comrade is in peril.”
Justin nodded. “ I will.” By that time they had reached the lift and rode in silence up to Deck C. Overstreet guided Vanzetti down the bustling hall to the plush quarters Captain Ruth had given him. Justin was just a little bit jealous. After all, who wouldn’t prefer Admiral’s quarters to rows of cots in the large, open barracks? “ Here we are, Ensign. Get some rest, I’m sure the medicos will be up soon to check on you.”
“ Thank you, Lieutenant,” Benito said, opening the door and walking inside.
“ Yes,” he murmured, “ these will do nicely.” He turned back toward the pilot.
“ You’ll do well to remember what I said.” And then he shut the door.
Justin sighed and turned back toward the lift.

When the two young officers were out a hearing range, Colonel Casper Drake guided Captain Ruth over to a corner of the flight deck, so the bustling deck crews would not hear what he was about to say. “ There’s something about this I don’t like, sir,” Drake barked, running a hand through his red hair.
“ Do you mind elaborating, Colonel Drake?” asked Ruth, his voice smooth.
The Wing Commander sighed. “ It’s just that… well, the whole Vicksburg thing has me confused. How could the Kilrathi have just sneaked up on her like that, sir? It just doesn’t fit!”
“ Are you thinking the good Ensign Vanzetti is being, um, less than truthful, Casper?” Ruth asked, his gray eyebrows raised just slightly.
Drake shrugged. “ I don’t know, sir, but we shouldn’t rule it out. It might be prudent to keep a Marine guard outside Vanzetti’s cabin just in case.”
“ Agreed. I’ll talk to Colonel Markham.”
“ We should also send out my fighters to locate the remains of the Vicksburg.”
Ruth folded his arms across his chest and smiled slightly. “ But, then again, it really could have been one of them Stealth fighters people have been talking about.” Casper Drake shook his head in frustration over his commander’s joke and walked away. Ruth shook his head as well, but punctuated it with a chuckle.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited October 30, 2000).]
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You're treading on dangerous ground here
. I'm the local WC2-ologist
. Still, I don't mind... unless of course you somehow mess up the WC2 storyline. Then there will be hell to pay
. And of course, don't even think about novelising WC2 - that's my job

That having been said, so far so good
. As always, I'll leave the nitpicks to Matrix, and take care of the real mistakes (

2665.081 - Ah, good. You haven't stepped into WC2 time
. You've got approximately 20 days to wrap things up

1. Ha'ifra - Hha'ifra.
2. Gorah Khar - Ghorah Khar.
3. Saguk - Sa'guk.
4. Melek - Melek, eh? Well, I suppose it's possible. Except that Khasra was a lot more than a pilot back then. Just keep that in mind.
5. Kalla’Kar - Aww... there are so many systems in the WC Universe. Why must you always make up new ones?

6. Hhalles - Hhallas.
7. Jrathek - Whoa... hold it, pardner. The Jratheks didn't appear for another four years. Nor have the guns it carries.
8. Boyar - Hmm... well, maybe... Boyar is a bit inappropriate, since Georgians are a hell of a lot different to the Ukrainians, but since you're from the US and all, I can see how you'd be confused
9. 19-year old - ?? Does Confed recruit kids now? Generally speaking, the earliest you can get enlisted is when you're 18. And training takes a while.
10. Ryan Yan - Oh, now that's an unfortunate choice of names
. It sounds really odd when you say it.
11. Major Douglas Edison - Hmm... sounds familiar
12. Saber - Sabre.

Hmm... yes, so far so good. You've got an interesting mix of characters there - very different from your last story. But why, oh why, do you have to make up all those new places?
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20 days? Ah, shit. I may have to change that date or just get rid of it altogether, and let people develop their own date.

Jrathek... Okay. I'll fix that.

As for my making up new place names, it's not like I have a map of the Universe lying around here.

Boyar... The only thing I knew about them was from my history classes, and the name sounded cool. Nik was supposed to be Russian, but for some reason I stuck him with Iosef Stalin's real name, and Stalin was Georgian. I've been reading some novels where the Soviet Union plays a big part, and I merged the names of two of the USSR's General Secretaries to create Boyar's moniker. I do wierd stuff like that.

I'll fix the misspelled Kilrathi names.

Ryan Yan... Well, it's not pronounced Righ-Yan, it's pronounced Righ-Uhn. So it doesn't sound as strange as you think it does.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 05, 2000).]
You don't have a WCU map?
How come?

Don't even think about getting rid of the date altogether. That's almost as bad as having conflicting dates
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'Cause I don't, dammit! All right!?

Anyway, mistakes for Ch. 1 have been fixed.

I've also changed the date to early January, to give me more leeway in which to set my story.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 05, 2000).]
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Now that I think of it, you said your stories always begin with a nameless joe buying the farm.

This time it looks a little different. The joe had already bought the farm when the story began(sp?) .

Plus, it looks like you're introducing a lot of characters at the same time. That tends to make the story look a little wee bit confusing.

The WC Source Code Release Project needs you!

"This matter winds itself ever in new riddles.", Faramir - The Lord of The Rings

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
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I'm kinda lost, because I'm not used to fighting cats since I haven't played WCI-III, but it looks good. Keep it up.

And Quarto, ease up on the simley faces.

HTML Assistant: WC Space Command
Administrator: UBW 5th Fleet
Member of the LMG and hating it (Disgruntled Man)
I might be right, I might be wrong, but then again, I just might not care either. Got a problem with that?--Me.
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Very astute, klaus
. But I decided to jump right into the action this time around.

Thanks for reading, guys!

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Non, Knight
. They make so much difference, that without them, my posts wouldn't be the same
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Did some more editing. Dzhugashvilli is now Gorbunov and he's Russian, so his callsign makes sense now.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
As always, I'll leave the nitpicks to Matrix, and take care of the real mistakes ( ).
Hey I heard that Quarto! Just because I haven't nit-picked in a while, doesn't mean I don't read the stuff every once in a while.
That's good, cause there's a lot of stuff for you to read
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Lots and lots of stuff.

Did some more editing (yes, more), added italics where they're needed, and changed various system names. Everything except Kalla'Kar is a real (well, Wing Comamnder wise) system. I've also revealed where Kalla'Kar is located, right on the edge of Kilrah and Engima Sectors.

Happy now, Quarto?

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Awww... that's it. I'm sending you the universe map
. Can your mailbox handle 800kb? Well, it'll have to.

Kilrah and Enigma sectors aren't anywhere near each other
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Naw, scratch that. I'm sure you can download it on your own
. It's in the Files section... and if it isn't, there's a link to a much nicer version of it in the Links section.
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Shit, I read the map wrong. Well, it's hard to see the entire thing when only a fourth of it takes up the screen space. I'll see to the mistakes momentarily.

By the way, yes, I have already gone through the files section and gotten the map. It's the same one that came with Prophecy, right? Damn, the Gold version didn't come with one.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Ah, have located my problem. I was looking at Epsillon Sector, which is close to Kilrah Sector, 'stead of Enigma. I've got it fixed, though. Kalla'Kar is somewhere in Isaac Quadrant close to K'tithrak Mang and Ghorah Khar now. This is nice, actually, because it'll work out much better for me in the end.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Yes, it's the same map. It comes with WCP in the US, but not with WCPG. And outside the US, it comes with WCPG, but only with some versions of WCP (I know the Polish version had it, but the Australasian edition I have doesn't have it
). It's almost as if they wanted to make sure that at least half of us suffer
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The copy sold here came with the map. But that's probably because most of the time, that is, when someone doesn't mangle the game by dubbing it, we end up getting the US version. That was one d**n cool map.

The WC Source Code Release Project needs you!

"This matter winds itself ever in new riddles.", Faramir - The Lord of The Rings

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
Ah, so you Brazilians have the same problems as we Poles have, eh?
Curse those game-dubbing freaks!

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