Band of Brothers: Chapter Seven- - Strike...


Here it is.

And if you think I had too many characters in this chapter, you can go straight to hell.


Chapter Seven: Strike

Korbo nar Ghorah Khar raced through the thick forest, a steady cascade of sweat pouring down his tawny mane. The blistering sun of Trk’Harna IV beat down on him as he leapt over a log, crashed through thick brush, and dashed through a waist-deep brook. It always got hot here this time of the year, and Korbo should know; he had been here ever since his parents had settled on the world a generation before. He and his fellow litter mates had been preparing to join the main rebellion operating out of Ghorah Khar when Imperial forces from K’tithrak Mang had gotten wind of their plot and sent in occupational forces. Korbo had found himself on the run. Imperial storm troopers were patrolling the forest where he and his fellows were hiding out, waiting for the much-needed help from Korbo’s cousin, Korag, and the Terran Confederation.
Korbo still found it odd that the Terrans were now allies. When he was a cub, the elders had talked about nothing but destroying the lot of the humans, that they were degenerate for neglecting Sivar and deserved brutal persecution. And the Emperor, the bony old bastard on Kilrah, did nothing to help the situation. The Emperor wanted war, as if it was a favorite past time of his. And, Korbo though glumly, it may well be. But there was no time to think about such things now, however.
Laser bolts sizzled past his ear as he came to the opposite shore of the brook. He howled in shock, tripping over a large rock and sprawling to the ground. “ Get up! I must get up!” he purred, hauling himself to his feet and continuing to run. The Imperials were not far behind. If they caught up, Korbo would be no match for them. A young kil with a measly pistol against the Empire’s best armed with Dor’chak laser rifles? He’d be slaughtered! Korbo could admit it; he was realistic. Some of his fellow rebels would rush headlong into an entire battalion of troops with nothing but a sword and a swear on his lips. Korbo nar Ghorah Khar knew better than that.
More rounds zipped past him, sizzling his mane, and so Korbo increased his pace, moving as fast as his big body would allow him to do. The bunker was not far away. Just a few more meters and he was home free…
He continued to run, his big legs throbbing, until he could see the low gray bunker rising against the horizon. This had been home ever since the Imperials had landed; the belligerent occupational forces had not found it… until now. He still hadn’t shaken the troopers that had been after him since he had left the bunker to gather food in the woods. He pulled out his radio and barked, “ Torrick, Qe’Mar! Imperial soldiers are pursuing me! They are armed and firing! Request assistance!” The bunker was so close, yet seemed so far to Korbo at this moment. He thought his cries would go unanswered, but… no! The heavy doors were grinding open and two silhouettes filled the space the metal slabs had occupied a moment before: Torrick nar Caxki and his counterpart, Qe’Mar nar Sutaghi.
“ Get down!” the red-furred Torrick snarled and Korbo was only too happy to oblige. As the young Kilrathi hit the dirt, a flurry of laser blasts from Torrick and Qe’Mar’s Dor’chaks lashed out, downing the two Imperial troopers. Korbo watched in morbid fascination as the golden armor of the jarheads cracked open and they fell still to the earth. Before he had joined the Rebellion, he had never seen much death, but now it was almost a daily thing. Yet it never got any easier to witness. Perhaps that was un-Kilrathi of him, but he couldn’t help it.
“ You’re lucky you took that radio with you, cub,” Qe’Mar, whose gray fur and patchwork of scars suggested his advanced age, said as he hauled Korbo to his feet.
“ Still… it is all too likely that those two- -” he nodded toward the two dead solders “- - have warned their superiors of our installation here in these woods. Imperial troopers will fall upon us as if we were prey.”
Korbo shuddered and remarked, “ My Lord, I am deeply regretful. I should have practiced guile, stealth, before proceeding into the woods.” He knelt down on the muddy ground, exposing his throat to the grizzled old kil. “ Kill me if you must.”
While Torrick snickered at this, Qe’Mar seemed annoyed. With a wave of his paw, he snapped, “ Get up, you young fool. This is not the Empire. We can’t go slicing open the throats of every kil who makes a mistake. If we did that… well, this rebellion would’ve failed a long time ago. But let us hurry inside and prepare a defensive action. Hopefully, we can buy us enough time until the Confederation arrives.”
The three Kilrathi retreated into the bunker, careful to seal the door behind them. Qe’Mar and Torrick went to talk to Sekara nar Hhallas, the de facto leader in Korag’s absence. Sekara was a fine leader, but did not have the military experience that Korag did. That was why the rebellion had taken care of getting Korag off-planet when the Empire came, while Sekara was still on Trk’Harna IV.
Korbo sat on his cot, pulling an arakh sprig from his haversack and biting down hard on it. That was when something exploded not far away from the bunker.

“ What is it?” Captain Donald Ruth asked, arriving at the bridge of the Antietam after his meeting with Casper Drake and Gus Markham. Barely eight minutes had past since the death of Benito Vanzetti, the Mandarin operative that had allowed Kilrathi forces from Trk’Harna IV to board his carrier. Yet it seemed an eternity ago to Captain Ruth. Now, as he prepared the final strike on the planet, there was yet another matter to deal with.
Lieutenant Commander Warren Jerome, his Executive Officer, vacated the command chair and said, “ Captain, we’re receiving a message from the planet. It’s in burst format.”
“ You’re kidding me? Okay, patch it through to my terminal,” Ruth commanded, sitting down in the seat Jerome had just got up from. He waited as Lieutenant Zachary Garner, the Antietam’s communications officer, relayed the mysterious burst signal to the vidscreen mounted onto the arm of his command chair. He hit the “receive” button and watched as a Kilrathi face appeared on the screen. He was shocked at first, wondering if Vicka nar Hhallas, the military commandant on the planet’s surface, was contacting him. But this was no officer; the shabby uniform and environment surrounding the big alien were testament to that. It was also a recording, not a live transmission.
“ Sam, get Korag up here on the double,” he told Yeoman Mulligan and the young girl headed to a nearby intercom and spoke quietly into it. A moment later, the Kilrathi rebel leader, Korag nar Hhallas, appeared on the bridge. Ruth beckoned him over to stand behind his chair. “ Check this out, Korag,” he said, pointing to the screen.
“ My word,” the big alien purred.
“ You know this character?”
“ Yes. It is Sekara nar Hhallas, my second-in-command. When was this recorded?” Korag asked, and Ruth was surprised that the rebel leader could recognize that it was not a live transmission so readily. But the Kilrathi had surprised him before, and he did not doubt they’d do so again in the near future.
Ruth checked the screen. “ Twenty-two minutes ago. Let me play it.” He hit the “play” button and watched:
Sekara looked nervous. In the background, weapons were being handed out to various young Kilrathi, each in assorted pieces of warrior’s armor. There was no doubt that these were the rebels. Sekara said, “ Confederation captain! You must hurry! Imperial forces have located our bunker and are surrounding it at this moment!” As if to add testament to that, an artillery shell detonated not too far away, shaking the bunker and causing the picture to tilt to one side. “ We do not know how long we can keep this fight up, Captain! Our casualties are great!” Another shell burst outside the bunker. The recording burst into static.
“ Dammit,” Donald hissed under his breath. He had been praying that the rebels could hold their own until the Antietam could send in its own forces to clean house, but now… “ This was recorded almost a half hour ago. They could all be dead now.”
“ We cannot give up hope, Captain Ruth,” Korag pleaded. “ We cannot!”
Ruth waved a hand to calm the big Kilrathi. “ I’m not, Korag, I assure you.” He turned toward his Operations officer. “ Nick, launch a probe. I want to pinpoint the rebels’ location. Their DNA profiles, provided by the Jak’Borah before she went down, should be in the databank.”
“ Aye, aye, skipper,” Nick Goddard replied smartly and began to tap at his console. A moment later, a probe blasted out from the carrier and hurtled toward the planet. Donald hoped the Imperials wouldn’t shoot it down before the probe finished its scan, but, thankfully, they did not. Ensign Goddard announced, “ Captain, the probe reached its destination with no problem, but…”
“ But what, Ensign?” Ruth prodded.
“ But there’s just too much interference in the atmosphere, sir. Some sort of energy surge in the ionosphere. However, while I can’t pinpoint the rebel’s exact location, I can tell you that they’re somewhere within the main city.”
Captain Ruth angrily pounded a fist against the arm of his command chair. “ Son of a bitch!” he roared, which surprised Korag just slightly. “ They’ve been taken prisoner.”
“ They may have stormed the city, Captain,” Commander Jerome suggested from his auxiliary command station. “ They may be doing our job for us.”
But Ruth shook his head. “ Unlikely, Warren. They’re too ill equipped for that. Sorry, Korag, but it’s the God awful truth of the matter.”
Korag nodded his massive head. “ It is something, sadly, that I know all too well.”
“ If Vicka’s Imperials are holding the rebels in the city, then we’re faced with a definite problem,” Ruth continued. “ Our main target is the city. In fighting the Imperials, we may well have to kill the prisoners down there.” He hated to say it, but without locating the rebels’ exact location, he could think of nothing else.
The Kilrathi rebel leader shook his head this time, letting out a low growl. “ No. That is quite unacceptable, Captain Ruth. If we are to do that, then why did you waste your time, and comrades’ lives, in coming to the Trk’Harna System? There must be another way, sir.”
“ Okay, okay,” Ruth acceded. “ Korag, where would the Imperials be holding any prisoners?”
Korag scratched at his mane. “ I… do not know, Captain. You see, we never had prisoners when I was in charge of the colony. We were all united in our mutual cause against the Emperor and his accursed war.”
“ Commander Jerome, get down to the brig and milk those Kilrathi for any information they may have,” the Antietam’s C.O. ordered. “ We have to go down within the hour, or, unfortunately, I’ll radio to Admiral Halsey and call the mission off. I don’t want to do that, but we’ve delayed long enough.” The X.O. saluted and left the bridge. Meanwhile, Donald Ruth stared out at the blue and green planet below. And waited.

1st Lieutenant Justin Overstreet, Executive Officer of the VF-104 “Battling Bastards”, took his proper seat in the briefing room and fidgeted impatiently while he waited for Colonel Casper Drake, the Antietam’s Wing Commander. He was itching to hop into the cockpit and take on the Kilrathi again, especially after they had killed Froggie Duchamp while trying to take over the ship. Lieutenant Duchamp’s death had been pointless, and MadDog assured himself that he would not let young Maurice go unavenged. He knew he was not supposed to think about revenge. As an officer of the Confederation Armed Forces, it was his duty to uphold justice, not fight his own war. But he could not help it! The Cats had taken so many friends from him; first it had been Paul Tucker, then Wilber Shelby, Van Salzburg, Major Edison, and now Froggie Duchamp. Will the death ever end? he wondered.
“ Colonel on the deck!” Luke “Frosty” Frost barked and Justin snapped to attention before Colonel Drake strode into the briefing room and ordered everyone to sit down. The Wing Commander had an even more intense air about him than usual. That worried Justin, he had to admit to himself. Word had it that they were finally hitting the Imperial forces on the surface of Trk’Harna IV. But so soon after the Cats had tried to take the Antietam for themselves? Captain Ruth must have been really desperate, he realized with great dead. If the C.O., the shipboard “God” as it were, was that desperate, then that did not bode too well for their mission here in the Trk’Harna System.
“ Listen up, people, and listen up good,” Drake snapped. “ The Captain has ordered the final stage of our overall mission in this system: the ousting of the Imperials from Trk’Harna IV. With the recent losses we have suffered, we can no longer afford to wait. Now let’s get to it. Computer, display map A2.” The massive screen behind the Wing Commander lit up with a wire grid schematic of the main settlement on the planet. It was composed of several skyscrapers, done in the standard Kilrathi architecture, with a massive dome-like structure on the periphery of the city. “ Our Kilrathi prisoners have reluctantly given us the specifics of the city we are now looking at.
“ Now several rebels, under Sekara nar Hhallas, have been taken prisoner and are being held captive in this dome structure here- -” Drake pointed to the specified edifice
“ - - and Colonel Markham and his Marines will be helping to free Sekara and his… er, men, so we will not fire upon it unless we have to. However, we shall fire on key buildings here, here, and here.” The “heres” lit up on the screen. “ Major Noble, you are Alpha Wing. Computer, display Alpha…”
Colonel Drake quickly went through the mission briefing. It was rather straightforward. Charlie and Gamma Wings, under Frosty and 1st Lieutenant Penny Caruso of Major Nomura’s VF-105 Fighting Tigers respectively, were to provide escort for the drop ships of Colonel Gus Markham’s Marines, who were being landed on the planet in order to locate and rescue the rebel prisoners under Sekara. Echo Wing, under Justin, and Foxtrot Wing, under the Gray Ghosts’ Captain Garry North, were to terminate Targets A and B, the Kilrathi buildings positioned at the city’s northeast. Major Nomura’s Delta Wing and 1st Lieutenant Waldow Pulaski’s Bravo Wing would hit Targets C and D, while Barbara Quinn and Harrison Brack, who were also wing commanders, would destroy Targets E and F. Finally, the remaining wings would either: a) fly escort to the Antietam, or b) provide CAP support.
When Drake was finished, Justin was ready to jump into the cockpit of his Sabre and blow the Imperials to hell. But he couldn’t merely kick some ass as he so desired. As a wing commander (and the squadron X.O.) he was to set an example and be a true leader. He’d most definitely have to keep a watchful eye on Lieutenant Gorbunov. After his blowup with Tak’Kar in the rec room, Justin did not know if he could trust the young hothead not to blow up the domed prison complex. But Boyar had said he’d do better, and, despite everything else, Justin desperately wanted to believe him.
The Flight Wing was dismissed and Justin did not talk to anyone as he followed the crush of pilots down to the ready room. He suited up and raced out to the flight deck, which was awash in the reddish glow of a full magnum launch. Grabbing his helmet from the rack, Lieutenant Overstreet spotted his Sabre and, after exchanging the usual pleasantries with his crew chief, Rachel Coriolis, he climbed up the ladder and settled into the cockpit. “ How you doing, Sergeant?” he inquired.
Naomi Akwende, once again acting as his gunner, smiled and flashed thumbs-up.
“ Just peachy, Captain Overstreet.”
Justin laughed. “ I’m not a Captain yet, Sergeant.” He thought about that for a moment. With his recent rise to Executive Officer, a promotion to Captain was inevitable. Why, he even expected Colonel Drake to present him with the shiny new insignia once they left the Trk’Harna System. But… Justin wondered if he deserved them. “ We all set?”
“ Roger that, sir,” she responded. MadDog nodded in approval and set his helmet on his head. Before him, the Marines’ drop ships blasted off with a snap of the catapult and Frosty and Penny Caruso’s Ferrets snapped out into space a moment later. The escort and CAP wings launched next, and finally the strike wings. Echo Wing was first to launch. After he had powered the fighter-bomber’s systems, Justin’s Sabre was snagged by the deck tractor and dragged into the proper position. Flight Boss Xavier Tesh, upon receiving Overstreet’s signal that he was ready to go, saluted and pressed down on the button that sent the F-57A rocketing out into the void.
When he was clear of the Antietam, the young pilot took control of the Sabre. Echo Wing, comprised of Pete Decker, Nikita Gorbunov, and Ted Butler, formed up around him. The carrier’s entire strike force formed up then and the word from Captain Ruth echoed over the general frequency: “ All pilots, the Marines are landing. Now let’s go and get these bastards.”

The Marine transports plunged through the atmosphere of Trk’Harna IV, fluffy white clouds dancing around the ships as they raced towards the surface of the planet. The Ferret escorts, from Major Fred Heinrich’s squadron, weaved back and forth, the pilots keeping a watchful eye on their radars. If a Kilrathi fighter should sneak past them and launch a missile at one of the transports, then the entire mission would’ve been over and the Confederation would have had over two hundred dead leathernecks on their hands.
Lieutenant Colonel Gus Markham was not prepared to die. He, unlike his burly, war-hardened soldiers, stood, pacing the aisle in the transport’s hold. His heavy boots thudded on the metal deck, echoing in the silence. In the periphery of his vision, he saw the nervous glances his men exchanged back and forth, but he did his best to ignore them. It just reminded him of how nervous he was. Not that he would shy away from a fight when the fur started to fly. Hell, no. Gus Markham was a career military man, had fought in the first skirmishes of the war, and had been decorated time and again. Big Duke himself had even shaken his hand once after the Vega Campaign. But all that crap did not mean a thing to Gus if he did not fulfill his duty to the utmost.
Triple-A fire lanced out from the roof of a nearby building, slicing dangerously close to the shuttle. One of the Ferret escorts from Lieutenant Frost’s Charlie Wing swooped down, slamming mass driver rounds into the weapons emplacement. The battery was smashed into several pieces of scrap metal.
“ Keep ‘em steady, pilot,” the big, gray-haired Marine barked to Lieutenant Foster, who was currently helming the drop ship. Park Foster nodded in understanding and deftly manipulated the shuttle’s controls, straightening the ship out just as Markham had ordered. Gus nodded to himself in approval. The Antietam had some good people, some of the best in the Fleet, he was convinced. Confed needed people like the Antietam crew in order to win this war. Without them, the Kilrathi would most assuredly triumph.
And I’ve seen the victories of the Empire, Gus thought grimly, staring through the forward viewports. In one of his first engagements as a private (he had gone through a grueling O.C.S. in late ’52), he had seen his entire platoon wiped out and had been taken captive by the Cats. Company D of the 54th Marine Regiment had eventually rescued Markham and his fellow POWs, but by then it had been too late. The planet Gus’s 67th Regiment had been defending, a little world in the Alliance System, had been sieged and set up as a forward base for the Kilrathi. Thousands of noble Confederation troops had perished in that early battle, and the horrid images of that defeat still replayed throughout Colonel Markham’s mind over and over again. Sometimes, at night, he’d awake screaming.
He did not scream now, however. Slapping on his helmet, he turned to his Marines and barked, “ All right, listen up, apes. We’re looking at perhaps a hundred or so Kilrathi. We’re sending in, however, two hundred of our Marines. According to our captured Kilrathi Marines, the military forces at K’tithrak Mang didn’t think much of a threat was posed by the rebellion here, so that’s the reason resistance will be relatively light. Still, the Kilrathi know the layout of this city far better than we do. Nevertheless, we will do our duty. Now, our mission is two-fold: Round up any surviving Imperial soldiers- - officers preferably- - and rescue Korag’s missing comrades. Isn’t that right, Korag?”
Korag nar Hhallas, his furry face obscured by his combat helmet, nodded in agreement. Despite Captain Ruth’s vehement objections, the Kilrathi rebel leader had insisted on accompanying Markham’s men into battle. “ They are my comrades,” he had stated firmly. “ I should help to rescue them. It is only fitting.” The Antietam’s C.O. had reluctantly agreed, and so now here Korag stood, imposing in his tarnished battle armor and wielding a wicked-looking Dor’chak laser rifle. “ That is correct, Colonel. We must rescue my fellow rebels at any cost,” Korag said now.
“ Uh… right,” Gus stammered. At any cost… He did not know if he approved of Korag’s choice of words. The Ghorah Khar rebels were important, that was a given, but he wasn’t so sure that they were worth any of his men, from the lowliest private to Major Vincent Hammond, his second-in-command.
His train of thought was broken suddenly when the troop shuttle touched down and Lieutenant Foster announced, “ We’re here. Everybody remember where we parked.” This got a few chuckles from the Marines, and Gus welcomed the joke as an effort to lighten the dark mood permeating the air.
Magazines clicked in to place and helmets thudded onto heads as Markham’s men prepared for combat. “ All right, apes,” he roared. “ File out!” Captain Emmit Easterly was the first out. And the first down. “ Sniper!” Gus screamed, barely off of the shuttle’s ramp himself. He noticed the other two shuttles, carrying Major Hammond and Captain Kelly Varney, a few dozen meters away. Vince’s troops trudged down a row of buildings, M-47s blazing. Gus had ordered Hammond’s people to storm the main command bunker, while Varney provided support. Gus’s soldiers, accompanied by Korag, would locate and rescue the rebels, supposedly imprisoned in the large, dome-like structure at the city’s northeast side. That was two miles away. The Confed Marines still had a hell of a fight ahead of them!
Colonel Markham flattened himself to the plastacrete. “ Pair off by sections! Take cover!” he screamed into his helmet mike, trying to be heard over the deafening sound of gunfire that had engulfed the plaza where the shuttle had touched down. The section leaders took charge of their men and dove down behind anything that would provide protection. “ Defilade fire!” Gus, his back pressed against a heavy stone block, checked the charge on his rifle. When he was sure that everything was A-okay, he rested the barrel of his rifle against the block, saw a Kilrathi soldier hiding behind a similar block, and squeezed the trigger. The Cat bastard dropped with a howl of pain.
“ Nice shot, Colonel,” Korag remarked, taking a shot of his own.
Markham grinned tightly. “ Thanks.”
The gunfire increased then, rising to a roaring cacophony. Gus winced, but kept on firing, nailing one, and then two, and then three Kilrathi snipers. But, unfortunately, for every Kilrathi shot, two fell on the Terran side. A young lance corporal, Mayberry, his name was, fell a few feet from Markham, his blue eyes open and staring. His C-524 space armor was cracked open. The Marine commander reached down and closed the lad’s eyes before hissing, “ Cease fire!” into his helmet mike. He made eye contact with Sergeant Mao Ho-T’ing, motioned him westward. Likewise, he sent Staff Sergeant Eric Hooper to the east. Gus remained in the center, keeping his eyes peeled as he waited. Neither side fired in that short impasse.
Suddenly… Bang! Bang! Bang! Markham’s breath caught in his throat and his heart skipped a beat. “ Who fired?” he whispered into the mike. “ Mao? Hooper?” He feared the worst, but a Terran stepped out into the open and raised his gun in a salute. Gus breathed a sigh of relief. He’d most definitely recommend promotions for the two sergeants once they left the Trk’Harna System. If they left the Trk’Harna System. “ Move out,” he ordered.

“ Echo Wing, break and attack!” 1st Lieutenant Justin Overstreet ordered. Almost instantaneously, Lieutenant Decker and Colonel Butler peeled to port, while Gorbunov and Justin banked right. “ Winter, this is MadDog. Have spotted bogeys bearing from the southeast. Looks like… uh, transponders are hard to read, but it looks like a wing of Grikath. Possible Sartha escort. I’ve sent out my men to engage.”
“ Roger that, MadDog. Foxtrot Wing responding,” Captain Garry North replied. The next words he spoke were to his command, “ Foxtrot Wing, break and attack! Harcourt, Murray! Take port! Slidell! Cover me!” North’s flight broke off and opened fire. The mass driver rounds slammed into the Kilrathi’s shields, raising blue sparks.
He craned his neck to shoot a glance at his gunner, Sergeant Naomi Akwende.
“ Stay sharp back there, Sergeant,” he snapped.
Naomi tapped her brow in a salute. “ Yes, sir,” she responded grimly.
“ Hey, Frosty? What’s up?” he called into the radio.
“ I’ve got your back, MadDog. Just glad to be back in the action,” Luke replied from his Ferret. Justin knew that Frosty always suffocated in escort missions. The commander of Charlie Wing loved action and anything less was not worth his attention. He knew that that attitude would cause Frosty never to see the rank of Captain, but it seemed to work for the man, however.
“ Roger that, Frosty. MadDog out.” By this time, a swarm of red blips had appeared on his central radarscope. Justin targeted one of the aforementioned blips, dropping the targeting reticule in on the Grikath’s form on his Head’s-Up-Display. He dove in on the Kilrathi heavy fighter and opened fire with his mass drivers. The Cat ship’s shields flared momentarily, but Justin’s attack caused no real damage.
As he tried to drop back on the Kilrathi heavy fighter, Overstreet felt almost claustrophobic. Fighting in space was one thing- - it was so vast, with hardly any obstacles save the occasional carrier or asteroid- - but fighting in atmosphere was another matter entirely. The primary target zone- - the city- - was a highly concentrated area, with several lofty edifices dominating the skyline. Justin found himself flying more carefully than ever now, in order to avoid slamming into a building or a fellow pilot. Even as he thought this, an explosion blossomed in the west. He craned his neck around to see a Sabre falling to the earth in flames, a broken Sartha following suit. Damn, Justin thought, that had been Barry Conner. The member of Major Nomura’s squadron had been a well-respected, veteran flyer who had planned to retire at the end of the year.
MadDog inverted and banked to port, dropping the reticule on the Grikath once again. Behind him, Akwende began to fire a stream of neutron blasts at a Sartha that had targeted them. Justin swore and threw the flight stick sharply to the right, diving to starboard in an attempt to throw off the Kilrathi light fighter. He lost his lock on the Grikath once again. The young pilot stood his Sabre up on one wing and blazed toward the heavy fighter once more. His course took him directly between a battling Ferret and Sartha. Neutron fire passed dangerously close to his dorsal shields.
His AI squealed at him as he acquired missile lock. The Grikath attempted to evade, but Justin was firmly locked on. “ Fox two!” he announced and slammed his thumbs down on the trigger, watching in glee as the ImRec raced toward the heavy fighter. “ Damn you, hairless ape!” the Kilrathi cursed him, just as his craft was torn apart in a brilliant fireball around him. The wreckage fell to the surface of Trk’Harna IV, instead of merely dispersing as it would in vacuum.
“ Echo One, stop dawdling. I assigned you a mission and I expect you to accomplish it!” Colonel Drake’s annoyed voice snapped from the radio. Justin looked down at the Wing Commander’s equally annoyed features on his VDU.
Justin reached down and tuned into the Antietam’s frequency, just as Sergeant Akwende pumped powerful neutronic energy into the Sartha’s cockpit and obliterated it.
“ Uh… roger that, Home,” he stammered. He tuned back to his standard frequency.
“ Echo Wing, regroup.”
“ Roger that,” Pete Decker responded and soon he and Ted Butler had formed back on MadDog’s wing. It took a little more coaxing in order to get Boyar back in formation, but eventually Nikita disengaged from the furball and was back on Justin’s three o’clock. A fireball bloomed to port. Target D exploded in a flurry of glass, metal, and thick, black smoke. Waldow “ Kat Killer” Pulaski was certainly on task today. To the northeast, Garry “Winter” North’s Foxtrot Wing launched their missiles and pulled up, just as that building was demolished. “ Here we go, boys,” Justin said. Target A loomed in his canopy. “ Lock onto target and prepare to fire on my mark.”
A flak cannon, positioned on the roof of the building, began to bark, spitting triple-A fire at Echo Wing. “ Frosty, you still out there, partner?”
“ Hey, I said I got your back, MadDog,” came the light-hearted voice of Luke Frost. A moment later, Charlie Wing, flying Ferret light fighters, swooped down toward the building and pumped mass driver rounds into the anti-aircraft battery. Justin winced when he saw Kilrathi bodies, smashed into pulp, flung from the roof. But he could not worry about that right now. “ Now blow the hell out of this thing, Echo Wing!” Frosty said and Charlie Wing peeled off, returning to the fight with the Grikaths and the Sarthas.
With a clear shot, Justin smiled behind his helmet when he heard the AI sound in his ear. He had a lock. His command announced that they, as well, had achieved lock.
“ Fire on my mark. Three… two… one… mark!” Overstreet flipped back the safety on his joystick and squeezed the trigger. Echo Wing followed suit. Trailing exhaust plumes, the FF and IR missiles raced out toward the building. His Sabre’s canopy dimmed automatically when massive explosions played across Target A’s surface. Glass sprayed outward in a magnificent display and smoke reached toward the heavens. Pete Decker and Nikita Gorbunov cheered. Justin sighed and dove back into the fray.

Vincent Hammond was twenty-six years old. He was big, blond, and looked as if he had stepped right off a recruitment poster for the Terran Confederation Marine Corps. He had reached his rank of Major far earlier than most soldiers of his age and experience. He was one hell of a soldier, though. He had fought in several battles after graduating from the Naval Academy in Houston, earning several decorations and promotions. Well, it also didn’t hurt that his uncle was the Big Duke himself. Still, Hammond did not like to think that he had risen rapidly through the ranks merely because of Uncle Duke’s position as Commandant of the Marine Corps.
If General Grecko really had that much influence, then Vincent would’ve been on Earth at this very moment, in an administrative job, not dogging it in the streets of an enemy military base, covered in the blood of friend and foe alike. It had been thirty minutes since the Antietam Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Gus Markham, had landed on Trk’Harna IV and Hammond still was not convinced that he and Captain Varney could make it to Vicka and captured the son of a bitch.
Now Vincent Hammond’s one-hundred odd troops were spread out along the main street leading back to the primary military bunker, a low, gray building which put Vince in mind of most military buildings he had seen throughout his lifetime. The Kilrathi HQ, as it was called, was so close, but yet it seemed so damned far away. They had to get to that bunker, they just had to, or the entire mission was *fubar.
While the Terrans huddled behind any rubble or wreckage they could find, providing the Kilrathi with strong defilade fire, the Imperial storm troopers were brave enough (or perhaps stupid enough, Vince thought) to stand out in the open, their Dor’chaks blazing. Major Hammond realized just how different the Kilrathi and the Terrans were when it came to the art of war. Terrans had learned long ago that enfilade fire would mean certain defeat, but the Kilrathi, it seemed, knew nothing of the sort. Hammond peered over the block of stone he was hiding behind and saw two of his soldiers topple over backwards, their heads reduced to bloody masses of meat.
“ We can’t keep taking losses like this!” he hissed.
“ They’re spread out across the entire boulevard, Major,” Captain Kelly Varney, huddled beside him, said. “ Plus, they have those field pieces trained on us.” She nodded toward two tall buildings on opposite sides of the street, where the weapons were positioned on the roofs. That kind of artillery would tear apart an entire platoon. “ If we go forward, we’re hamburger meat.”
Vincent sighed. “ I know, Kelly. Damn it all to hell, I know.” To punctuate his sentence, three more of his Marines fell to the ground, bloody and still. With a howl of anger, Hammond added his fire to the already hellish storm of laser blasts being exchanged between the two forces. “ But we can’t stay here!” He activated his helmet mike and said, “ Sergeant Jones, you with me?”
“ Grunt here, sir. My section’s taking one hell of a beating, Major,” Staff Sergeant John Jones replied.
“ Look, we have to take that bunker, Sergeant, and we’ll get nowhere exchanging fire back and forth like this,” Hammond said.
Grunt snorted. “ Just how the fuck… uh, heck are we supposed to do that, sir?”
“ On my say so, I want you to take your section and move northwest,” Hammond stated calmly. “ I’ll take Sergeant Rose’s section with me and we’ll move to the northeast.”
“ What about the rest of our men?” Grunt asked.
“ They’ll remain here, Sergeant, so that they can buy us some time while we do our thing.”
“ And what exactly is our ‘thing’, Major Hammond?”
Vince smiled grimly and spared a glance toward the gun batteries atop the buildings again. “ Our ‘thing’, Staff Sergeant Jones, is to capture those artillery pieces and use them against the Kilrathi.”
“ You’re nuts, Major. Hell, all officers are nuts, if you ask me.”
“ Just remember, Grunt. You’re an officer, too.”
“ Yeah, but I don’t have that fancy-pants commission. That’s the difference between your kind and my kind, sir,” John said. “ So, what’s the plan?”
Vincent sighed, running the ad hoc plan through his mind. He was an officer, he was supposed to be able to make tactical decisions in the blink of an eye, but it was not easy; far from it. “ Well, Sergeant. We’ll have to accomplish two feats, actually. There is a large security force guarding the entrance to the bunker. We need to eliminate that force. We’ll come in from two sides. I’ll go in for my section, and you’ll send Sergeant Burnett and ten other men in for yours. Meanwhile, you and Sergeant Rose will seize the field guns and use them against the Cats on the ground. Am I understood, Grunt?”
“ Jawohl,” Staff Sergeant Jones responded, signifying that he had indeed understood his commander.
“ Good. On my mark,” Vince said. He went over the plan with Sergeant Rose, or “Rosie” as the troops called him, and Rose, in turn, went over the plan with his section. When the plan was understood in detail, Hammond keyed his helmet mike once more and said, “ Go!” He picked up his M-47 and, ducking low, sprinted toward the nearest building, a large, gutted-out monstrosity. Sergeant Rose and his men followed closely behind, rifles at the ready.
They rounded the first building only to run smack dab into a squad of Kilrathi storm troopers. “ Shit!” Hammond yelled, holding up his hand to stop his troops.
“ Ready weapons and fire at will!” he shouted, raising his own rifle and firing. His men fired as well, gunning down the small squad of Cat troopers. “ Let’s go!” Hammond hissed, racing out into the rubble-clogged area, careful to not trip over the eight Kilrathi bodies strewn in the street. As they made their way down the boulevard, more enemy soldiers fired at them. Two of Hammond’s Marines fell, but the Kilrathi were quickly taken care of, nonetheless.
“ Sergeant Rose, this is where we split up,” Hammond said when he saw the Kilrathi building where the field gun had been positioned. “ Corporal Jenkins, you and nine other men will accompany me to take care of the security force guarding the bunker, while Sergeant Rose and the rest of his section seizes the artillery pieces. Let’s go.” While Sergeant Jones and his men also split up, Hammond led Jenkins and the other soldiers quickly down the street until the bunker was visible. Sixteen Kilrathi were on patrol.
He could see, just beyond the building across the street from the one where Hammond crouched with his troops, Sergeant Randy Burnett and his soldiers, M-47s at the ready. Vince raised a hand. “ Get ready, guys,” he said.
As several Antietam Marines prepared to attack the guards around Vicka’s HQ, “Grunt” Jones and his soldiers lobbed grenades and C-634 satchel charges into the Kilrathi buildings and, sure that any resistance within had been quashed, raced inside. They soon discovered, however, that there were still alien soldiers inside. Two of John’s men were killed, and Grunt himself was injured. Across the street, Sergeant Rose’s men were met with similar resistance. But soon they reached the roofs. The Kilrathi manning the artillery pieces turned around in surprise to see Terran Marines with weapons poised behind them. The Cats reached for their personal weapons, but the humans were too fast.
“ Surprised to see us?” Grunt asked with a grin, despite the fact that blood leaked from his leg and he now walked with a limp. The gunners were cut down instantly. It was not quite so simple across the street. Five other of Rose’s men were killed (two of which were bodily thrown off the building) and Rosie’s gun was knocked from his hands. Pulling out a vicious looking dagger, the Englishman thrust it into the last surviving Kilrathi’s abdomen. When the Terrans had captured the cannons, they turned them down into the throng of Kilrathi below, loaded a shell into the breech, and fired the weapon.
“ Go!” Vincent Hammond roared as he watched the Imperial storm troopers blown into pulp a few meters away. He raced out into the open, firing from the hip at the Kilrathi guards who had watched in horror as their own weapons had been turned on them. In a moment, it was all over and the Terran troops converged on the bunker.

Gus Markham, huddled behind a massive slab of rubble, peered over the edge and saw his destination. The large dome on the city’s periphery was so close, barely a hundred meters, and yet it seemed so far. The Kilrathi troopers were holed up somewhere close by, splattering increasing defilade fire into Markham’s ranks. Fifteen had fallen so far, six of which were dead. Gus would mourn later, when he was not worrying about keeping himself alive.
It had been forty-five minutes ago, approximately, when the Marine transports from the Antietam had landed on the surface of Trk’Harna IV. Gus’s men had traversed most of the distance between the landing zone and the dome, which held Sekara and his fellow rebels. Many had died under the unrelenting firepower wrought by the Kilrathi storm troopers. Still… here they were now, trapped in this narrow boulevard, so close to the “prison” complex. A building had collapsed nearby - - one of his troopers had lobbed a grenade up there to put a squad of Kilrathi sharpshooters out of business- - and clogged the street with rubble. It provided good cover for defilade fire, but was also proving a serious impediment.
“ Dammit, we need to get to that dome!” he shouted in frustration.
“ You must be patient, Colonel,” Korag, always the voice of reason, stated.
Gus sighed. “ I’d figure you, more than anyone, would be just itching to blow past these sons of bitches and save your buddies. Me? I just want to save them so no more of my men have to die!”
“ I understand your feelings, Colonel.”
“ Do you? I wasn’t aware a Kilrathi could empathize with a Terran,” he quipped, an eyebrow raised.
Korag bared his canines in what Gus took for a smile. “ We Kilrathi are just full of surprises, Colonel.”
“ And they say you Cats don’t have a sense of humor,” the Marine commander mumbled, offering a grin of his own. A laser shot screamed over his head and he instinctively ducked. Stifling a curse, he spoke into his helmet mike. “ Hooper, have you found an opening yet?”
Eric Hooper’s frustrated voice came over the other end. “ Goddammit, Colonel, no. They’ve got us trapped, sir. I can see ‘em in every building. They have enough firepower on us to kill us a hundred times over, too. If we so much as sneeze, we’re done for,” he said.
Christ, Gus thought viciously. He turned to Korag. “ Suppose we could wave the white flag. Vicka might be in a charitable mood this beautiful, blood-drenched afternoon…”
“ No!” Korag interrupted. “ Vicka does not know the meaning of the word ‘charitable.’ He’d slaughter us as soon as he got his slimy paws on us. So you see, we cannot surrender. Not now. Not when we still have a chance.”
Gus snorted in derision. “ ‘Chance?’ Chance, hell, Korag! They’ve got us surrounded. You heard Sergeant Hooper! Those Imperial bastards will frag us even if we so much as step out behind these barricades. Well, except if we’re carrying a white flag, that is.”
“ Please, Colonel Markham, I implore you,” Korag said, pleading, “ do not surrender. Do not give up. We do indeed still have a chance.”
“ Fine. You make the call, Korag. What do we do?”
Korag stroked his dark mane in thought. Oh, hell, what’s he going to come up with? Gus thought. Finally, the Kilrathi rebel leader spoke. “ Colonel, give me that link to the Antietam.”
“ Well, I think it’d be prudent if you’d share with me- -” Gus began, reaching for the commlink on his belt.
Korag shook his head in annoyance. “ Please, Colonel, trust me. I know what I’m doing.” Gus reluctantly surrendered the link to the Kilrathi. The alien spoke into the device, so low that Gus could not hear.
While Korag spoke to the carrier above the planet, Lance Corporal Sherman Potter picked his way through the debris and crawled over to Markham. “ Sir,” he said, offering a salute, “ I’m not sure, but Private Winchester and I think we may have found a way past these goddamned Kilrathi sharpshooters. Uh, pardon the French, sir.”
“ What do you have in mind, Potter?” Markham asked skeptically. Corporal Potter was not a bad soldier, far from it. He always followed orders, he was a great shot with a laser rifle. But he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Hailing from a small hamlet on Nephele IV, he had not had the opportunity to receive an Ivy League education. Or a community college education, for that matter.
Potter scratched his shaved head and replied, “ Well, on a close inspection, sir, Bobby and me seen that the Cats are aiming more towards yonder.” He waved in the general direction of “yonder.” “ So they might ignore a small squad of soldiers if we attack from the west.” He pointed in that direction. “ See?”
Gus shook his head. “ You mean well, Corporal, but your plan has more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” he stated gently. “ For one thing, if we attack in the manner you suggested, sure, we might have an edge, but…”
“ But what, sir?” Potter asked lamely.
“ But we’re leaving Sergeant Weber’s section wide open, for the Kilrathi, if what you say is true and they do indeed concentrate on Weber’s position, will open fire if we so much as make a move away from this barricade.”
“ But, sir, the Killie rebels are more important than a few of ours, ain’t they?”
Markham sighed and shook his head. “ God, I hope that’s not how all my soldiers think. Listen, Corporal Potter. If I had my druthers, I’d march every goddamned Ghorah Khar rebel into the meat grinder to save you, or Private Winchester, or any of my other troops. You got that?”
Slowly, Potter nodded. “ Yes, I see, Colonel. Sorry.”
“ You were thinking, though, so don’t take it too hard,” Markham consoled the trooper. “ A lot of Marines just blindly follow their leader, no matter how addled he may be. Just look at the Battle of Cold Harbor.”
“ Uh… how’s that, sir?”
Gus smiled, showing even, white teeth. “ When we get back to the Antietam I want you to access the ship’s library and look up ‘Civil War—America.’ That’s an order, Corporal.”
Potter grinned in return and saluted. “ Sir, yes, sir! But, uh, Colonel? What are we gonna do about this?” he asked, waving toward the “prison” dome in the distance.
Sighing, Colonel Markham said, “ I’m working on that, Corporal. We may have something, but… Oh, just go back to your post, soldier.” Potter saluted, picked up his M-47, and crawled back toward his section. Gus shook his head. He hated it when his men asked him questions to which he had no answer. After all, they all looked up to him as the Colonel, as if was supposed to have omniscience. But I’m only human, he thought glumly. That’s all any of us are.
He sat there in silence for a good few moments, keeping his eye trained on the buildings where the Kilrathi were holed up. What the hell was Korag up to? Finally, he saw a heavy Kilrathi troop shuttle land in the middle of the crowded boulevard. “ What the hell…?” Gus mumbled, looking toward Korag. The big alien merely grinned his feral grin.
The hatch to the shuttle opened up and a lone Kilrathi emerged from the vessel, a bandage on his upper arm. For some reason, Gus seemed to recognize this particular Kilrathi, but from when? And where? Suddenly, it came to him. “ Nobody fire!” he hissed into his helmet mike. “ If you do, I’ll be sure to get a front row seat at your court-martial.”
“ Colonel, what’s going on?” Eric Hooper asked.
“ Just stay tight and keep your lip buttoned,” Gus hissed. “ I think I know what’s going on.”
The Kilrathi that had emerged from the shuttle approached one of the buildings sheltering the enemy sharpshooters. Before entering, he made a sharp hand motion and fifteen other Kilrathi, all in tarnished battle armor and wielding Dor’chak laser rifles, clomped down the ship’s ramp and spread out across the length of the rubble-strewn boulevard. They pointed their guns at the Terran Marines. Normally, in a situation like this, Gus would’ve been scared out of his mind. But not now.
A moment later, the first Kilrathi emerged from the building, with another Kilrathi in tow. Gus could not hear the exchange from his position, but Korag’s keen senses picked up the dialogue. The first Kilrathi said, “ First Fang Bre’Kar, is it? I am First Fang Akhala nar Caxki, your replacement.”
“ I was not aware that I would be replaced, First Fang,” Bre’Kar said, a slightly angry tinge to his voice. Bre’Kar was a warrior and having his position usurped from him in such a manner caused him great indignation.
The kil known as Akhala, equally vehement that Bre’Kar would speak to him in such an insolent tone, said fierily, “ First Fang, I have it here in writing. The Kal Shintahr himself has deemed it so. Now you wouldn’t want me to put you on report for this… brazen impertinence, would you?”
Bre’Kar barked, “ Show me your PDA, First Fang!” Akhala did as he was told. Bre’Kar scanned the device, his whiskers twitching in annoyance as he did so. Finally, he thrust the PDA back at Akhala in disgust. “ I see that you speak truth, First Fang. Although I will protest this until my dying breath!” They quickly spoke back and forth and Bre’Kar made a hand motion similar to the one Akhala had made. The Kilrathi sharpshooters then left their shelter and gathered in the street, their sniper rifles slung over their backs. More dialogue followed, although Markham could not make it out. Then more Kilrathi soldiers were disgorged from the shuttle and formed a perimeter around the Terran Marines. The two officers exchanged a few more words and the first platoon of Kilrathi boarded the shuttle and took off.
Colonel Markham sighed in relief and stood up, ignoring the startled protests of 1st Lieutenant Brian Kellogg, one of his senior officers. “ Tak’Kar, you old dog!” he greeted, holding out his hand. The Kilrathi “officer” grasped Gus’s hand and pumped it up and down furiously. “ Boy, am I glad to see you. It’d been an eternal stalemate if you hadn’t shown up.”
“ Yes, indeed, Colonel Markham,” the Kilrathi fighter pilot replied with a baring of his canines. “ Little do they know, however, First Fang Bre’Kar nar Caxki and his platoon are now on their way to rendezvous with a flight of Epees from the Antietam.”
Korag and several of Markham’s soldiers now got the nerve to leave their cover and approach the Ghorah Khar rebels who had so convincingly portrayed Imperial soldiers mere moments before. “ Tak’Kar, I shall see you promoted to Shintahr for this,” the rebel leader said.
“ Yes, yes, that is all well and good, but, Lord, I must inform you that we will soon be discovered as frauds,” Tak’Kar said. “ We must rescue Sekara and our fellow comrades before Vicka sends in Imperial reinforcements.”
“ Oh, I don’t think he’ll be doing that anytime soon, First Fang,” a voice said. Gus turned around to Major Vincent Hammond and his platoon approach, guiding a couple dozen Kilrathi in chains. Hammond saluted. “ Lieutenant Colonel Markham, I present to you Kal Shintahr Vicka nar Hhallas, military commandant of the Imperial forces on Trk’Harna IV.”
The wiry, gray-furred captain fought against his chains and the two privates who tried to hold him still. “ This is an outrage!” he shouted. “ Let me go!”
“ Good job, Major,” Gus said. “ Sergeant Mao, contact the Antietam and say we’re all done here. Sergeant Price, take your section and come with me.” With Hamilton Price and his men in tow, Lieutenant Colonel Markham headed toward the massive dome structure that held Sekara and the rebels prisoner. Private First Class Valerie Maniakis got the door open and Gus sent Sergeant Price and ten other soldiers ahead of them to take down the guards. However, the complex, not originally a prison, but a warehouse, was lightly defended and the Marines did not face too great a challenge in finding the two-dozen storerooms that held the prisoners, and freeing them.
Gus returned from the dim warehouse into the bright, afternoon sunshine supporting an old Kilrathi who was rather sick. He got Captain Jamison, the Marine doctor, to see to him, as well as the other injured or ill rebels.
Korag approached him. “ Thank you for all you have done, Colonel. My people are now free,” he said, bowing low.
Gus patted the big Kilrathi on his head. “ You’re welcome, buddy.” Korag bowed again and went to check on his comrades. Markham sighed, looking around at the carnage. Dead bodies- - both Terran and Kilrathi- - littered the street. More were further back. Not one of them had expected to die today, but they had. It was the way war was. It was unpredictable. It snuck up on a person when he or she least expected it and pounced, sinking its venomous fangs into him or her. It was hell, plain and simple.
He looked upwards. Burning buildings dominated the skyline. Pulling out a cigar and shoving it into his mouth, Gus Markham called out to his men, “ Okay, we’ve done what we came to do and now it’s time to go home. Sergeant Price, your section will take charge of the rebels until everything is cleaned up around here. The rest of you… form ranks and move out!”

For the first time in days, Captain Donald Ruth truly felt relaxed. The mission had gone almost perfectly. The Marines had captured Vicka and his cadre, while at the same time rescuing Sekara and his fellow captive rebels. They had done a good job, better than Ruth had expected. Now, after so many delays and failures, the Antietam could finally leave the Trk’Harna System. There were just a few loose ends to tie up first.
He sat in his command chair, drinking the ice water that Yeoman Mulligan had provided for him. After the tense waiting above the planet while his forces fought the Kilrathi on Trk’Harna IV (and while the CAP fought off the Kilrathi fighters that had been lucky enough to get near the Antietam), Donald’s mouth was dry as hell. Before he knew it, only ice clinked at the bottom of the empty glass. He gave the container back to Samantha, thanked her, and dismissed her to other duties. For now, Captain Ruth had his own to concentrate on.
“ Report,” he commanded.
“ Flight deck reports the shuttles containing our captured Kilrathi friends have landed and Ship Security is taking the Cats to the brig,” Jack Fuller announced.
“ Isn’t the brig a little too small for all the Cats we have, Mr. Fuller?” the Captain asked, a gray eyebrow raised.
Nick Goddard raised a hand in order to be recognized. As Operations Officer, Nick would know a lot more about that than Ensign Fuller would. “ We’ve cleared out some space in the cargo holds in order to hold our Kilrathi POWs. Extra MPs have been assigned here, due to the fact that there are no energy fields to contain the Kilrathi.”
Ruth nodded in approval. He had reluctantly gone along with Korag’s plan of disguising several Trk’Harna rebels as Imperial soldiers and, using information from the captured Kilrathi raiders, pretending to be replacements for the Kilrathi already on the planet. But it had worked perfectly, thanks to Tak’Kar and his fellow rebels. It was thanks to them, as well, that the mission had been accomplished, because, according to his reports, Colonel Markham had been trapped. “ Excellent,” Ruth said. “ Operations: Casualty report.”
Goddard, at Operations, checked his readings and replied, “ Fifty-seven, sir. Forty-two Marines, and fifteen pilots. Twenty-nine injuries, which are now being treated by Doctor Fletcher down in Sickbay.”
“ Thank you, Lieutenant,” the Antietam’s C.O. replied glumly. Just more deaths he had to log, more letters he had to write. He liked his job- - if he didn’t he never would have stuck with it for this long- - but he never liked the death that went with it. And he never would. “ Engine room: What’s our status?” he asked, shaking off his sudden, grim mood.
Chief Petty Officer Max Hornby down in Engineering responded with a chipper,
“ Just great, sit. We’re going at 110% efficiency here.”
“ Good job, Chief,” Ruth replied and cut the link to the Engine Room. He went through various other reports then- - Weapons Room, Flight Deck, and Sickbay among others- - and ended with his Executive Officer’s report. When Commander Jerome was finished, Ruth said, “ What’s next on our agenda, Commander?”
Warren looked down at his PDA for a moment before replying. “ Um… word just arrived by burst from Admiral Halsey. After we’re, uh, done here, we’re to proceed through the Repleetah System, and from there to Shelton. Admiral Halsey tells us that we will dock at Shelton Station and the crew there will take the POWs off our hands, and will then transfer them to Confed Intelligence forces operating out the system of Bradbury. The Antietam, however, after Vicka and his fellow Imperials are taken by Intell, will report to the Lucas System, where we shall receive further orders.”
Ruth confirmed the orders on his screen. “ Very well, Commander. Inform Chief Hornby of these orders and tell him to prepare to get under way.” Jerome saluted and left the bridge. “ Mr. Fuller, have our birds returned to the nest yet?”
“ They’re landing now, sir,” Jack reported.
“ Captain, incoming communiqué,” Lieutenant Zach Garner at Communications announced, “ from the planet. It’s Korag, sir.”
“ Put it on the main screen,” Ruth ordered.
A moment later, the dark-furred Kilrathi rebel leader appeared on the primary bridge monitor. He was in the former office of Vicka, which, ironically, was also Korag’s former office. Tak’Kar and Sekara flanked him on either side. “ Greetings, Captain Ruth,” Korag said in a friendly voice.
Donald smiled and said, “ I see you’ve already settled in, Korag.”
“ Yes, it is so,” the rebel leader purred. “ I just wished to thank you for all you have done, Captain- - all you have sacrificed- - in order to help me and my comrades.”
“ Well, you’re very much welcome. But this fine crew deserves more thanks than I do,” Donald said, modest as ever. “ Nevertheless, you’re sure you’ll stay on Trk’Harna IV, and not come with us to a safer world? After all, you’re merely a hop, skip, and a jump point away from K’tithrak Mang.”
“ I appreciate your concern, Captain Ruth, but we shall stay. Trk’Harna IV is our home. We have ousted the invaders and we will not flee again. If the Imperials at K’tithrak Mang decide to launch an attack, we will fight,” Korag replied seriously.
“ Very well, then, Korag,” Ruth responded, equally serious. “ Take care of yourself then.”
The big alien nodded his thanks. “ And you as well… Donald.” Then Korag cut the link.
“ Boss Tesh says we’ve gathered our fighters and are set to go,” Ensign Fuller said once the main screen had been cleared.
“ Thank you, Mr. Fuller. Chief Hornby, one-fourth drive power, if you will.”
“ Aye, aye, skipper.”
“ Mr. Murphy, take us out.”
Her drives glowing fiercely, the TCS Antietam, her mission complete, set a course for the jump point.


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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Hmmm! So the grunts did'nt flush all the kitties and spared a transport as well. Either that or you might have to clean up Chapter 6. I was as confused as Gus!

Fourth sentence -
His and his fellow litter...

Very good overall

Turn me loose, Colonel.
This is what I live for!

[This message has been edited by JoeyRP (edited July 19, 2000).]
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<Sigh> Your problem, Dralthi5, lies in that you don't think enough about the ending. I mean, you think up these great storylines, and then, just when the story reaches the climax, you simply don't push the tension far enough, and bang! It's all gone. Unfortunately, this was one of those chapters where that bang! happens.
Don't get irritated, just sit down and listen

The Antietam is going on a mission into enemy territory. Great.
They are going to send Marines down to a Kilrathi planet to rescue the Rebels. Great.
They meet heavy enemy resistance in space. Great.
Against all odds (and with a bit of sacrificial heroism on the side), they get to the planet. Great.
The Marines land, and encounter heavy resistance planet-side. Eventually, they get bogged down. Great.
Meanwhile, the fighter squadrons continue battling against Kilrathi fighters in the air. Great.
Suddenly, a shuttle lands, and with a bit of deceit, the Marines get out of their predicament. Not so great, but still acceptable.
And suddenly, it turns out that the heavy enemy resistance was just a bunch of snipers, and the battle is over. This is where that bang! takes place. I don't know about the other readers, but I personally can't believe a story where 50 Marines take a planet. I had always assumed that they were just going to rescue the prisoners and run like hell - an appropriate assumption, considering that there should have been thousands of Kilrathi Marines on that planet.
What's more, just when I sit there staring at the screen and wondering what on earth is going on, a Kilrathi Admiral suddenly appears out of nowhere, handcuffed and all. Where did he come from? The Marines were trapped in an alley just seconds ago, and now they've captured an Admiral. How? Why? What was this Admiral doing out here, alone, without an escort? The Kilrathi are brave, yes. But they are NOT stupid. Nor are they foolhardy, or suicidal. So WHAT was he doing out here alone? WHY wasn't he in his HQ, surrounded by a hundred guards? Sorry, I just don't buy it. I can't buy it. Every part of my mind is screaming that this is wrong. That this COULDN'T happen.
For God's sake, Major Taggart's team in Freedom Flight met with more resistance than the Marines here did. And that was onboard a mere space station. This is a PLANET we're talking about. Look in the history books. When have 50 US Marines, even with air support, succeed in capturing a heavily fortified island from the Japanese? And capture an Admiral while they were at it?

I just don't buy it. Rescue of the Rebels? Yes. Liberation of the planet? No. Capture of an Admiral? No WAY.

That having been said, let's get on with more minor nitpicks.
1. *Torrick* - You really need to stop using those "ck" endings. The only time we see one of those is in the WCP manual, and that's just a spelling mistake. Either use "kh" or just "k".
2. *“ My word,” the big alien purred.* - "My word"? You're Humanising the Kilrathi again
3. *Their DNA profiles* - What?
Does the probe deploy a thousand little robots that go and grab a blood sample from every Kilrathi present?

4. *“ All pilots, the Marines have landed. Now let’s go and get these bastards.”* - Err... the Marines have taken off, that is. They're not on the ground just yet
5. *who was currently helming the arrowhead-shaped drop ship.* - Eeep! Continuity error! The "dustbuster" only appears in WCP
. Until then, normal shuttles were used. Probably the same ("space truck") design that was used in WC3.
6. *His train of thought was broken suddenly when the troop shuttle touched down and Lieutenant Foster announced* - Hmm. No flak? No anti-air missile emplacements? Why, even Saddam Hussein is better armed than these Kilrathi
7. *Mao Ho-T’ing* - That's a Chinese name? Because, you know, I've lived in China, and I've never heard anything like that. In fact, I don't think they even use ' in words and names. Though of course, I cannot claim to know all the Chinese names
8. *The particle blasts were hard to see in the bright, afternoon sunlight, but Justin could clearly see where they impacted against shields. * - Uhh... no. Particle cannons have no effect whatsoever in the atmosphere. They're completely useless.
9. *Waldow “ Kat Killer” Pulaski* - Waldow??

10. *the anti-spacecraft battery* - Actually, it's an anti-aircraft battery.

11. *Isn’t that a Border Worlds system?* - A what? Did you miss that bit in WC4 where the Border Worlds declared their independence? At this time, the Border Worlds are just a geographical term. Granted, there are hundreds of various "Border Worlds" Militias out there, but there is no such thing as a Union of Border Worlds. With the exception of Landreich, they're all a part of the Confederation, at least officially.

Well, that's all I've got to say for now. Sorry to be so picky, but... <shrug>
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Quarto: Dokey-oke, I've sat and I've listen. Now it's my turn to talk

First off, you must remember that the Kilrathi wouldn't be stupid enough to send an entire Corps in to protect this planet. It was a small rebellion in the first place- - that's why Confed sent one ship into help Korag and his fellows.

Okay, maybe 50 Marines (notice I said over 50, BTW) is a tad light for a major assault, but it wasn't like Vicka had thousands of troops at his disposal. It was a small occupation (albiet they were better armed than the rebels, which was how they had taken over Trk'Harna IV).

Also notice, that the Marines had been split up. Vince Hammond went one way, Gus Markham went the other. Gus was to rescue the rebels, while Vince was to storm the planet's primary military bunker (HQ, so to speak). While Gus got trapped by the Imperial sharpshooters, Vince (somehow, I didn't feel like following another character's exploits) and his people stormed Vicka's HQ, and apprehended him.

As for the deceit with the shuttle. I did that for two reasons. 1) So I could have a use for my captured Kilrathi shuttles (Remember, I wanted to blow 'em up
) and 2) So my story wouldn't end up with one big cliched frag fest.


1. I don't wanna. So there!

2. That's 'cause I'm a human.

3. <sigh> The DNA profiles of the rebels that were stored in the Jak'Borah's medical databanks. I made that clear. Is that technology too far-fetched for the 27th Century
4. Well, yes, they are. The Marine shuttles launched a lot earlier than the fighters. Okay, we did see the shuttles in the air in the next scene, but it's a... um, I dunno how to describe it. Okay, basically, the shuttles had landed when Ruth made the announcement, I just included the scene after he made it. It's been done before.
5. Oh, okay.
6. Fine.
7. That's a historical name, actually. Or a blending of two, I should say. Mao Tse-Tung + Nieh Ho-T'ing.
8. All right, they'll shoot mass drivers. Unless giant metal balls are ineffective in atmosphere
9. Hey, what's wrong with Waldow?

10. Well, if you want to get technical...
11. Fine, fine.


No, the Marines didn't blow up the shuttles and blow the Cats out the airlock. Re-read Chapter Six.

Yeah, that fourth sentence's a typo. It should be: " He and his fellow litter mates..."

Thanks for reading.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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It must have been an awfully small occupation then
. But in that case, I suggest you demote the Kalralahr down to Kalahn or even to Kal Shintahr. Because he just doesn't have enough forces to be an Admiral.

But either way, you've glossed over two things. One - where are those storm troopers? We've only seen snipers (a very un-Kilrathi activity, btw
). And two, where is the artillery?

What I want to know is, what will happen to Korag in approximately two days, when a squadron of Fralthra jumps into the system and levels the colony with proton bombs. Or even if the Kilrathi just send in a Dorkathi loaded with Marines. They know all too well that Trk'Harna can now be used as a resupply point for Confed forces going for K'tithrak Mang. If they thought that Racene was important enough to hold, then they'll also want to neutralise Trk'Harna.

I didn't actually notice that the Marines were split up. This is one point where you should have followed another character. Why? Because essentially, it's like telling the story of a Confed Marine force landing on Kilrah. The force splits up, and we follow the exploits of one half of it - which gets bogged down in heavy fighting just a few metres from the landing site. Then, just when things couldn't get any worse, the other team shows up with the Emperor in chains
. What I'm trying to say with that little analogy is that you're losing a hell of a lot of realism by not following the guy who captured the Admiral.

The deceit with the shuttle was quite fine, just a bit abrupt. It happened too quickly, and the Imperial Kilrathi were too gullible. Which is to say that they wouldn't have fallen for it - it's just that you should have described the scene in more detail. You know, have the undercover Rebels arguing with the Imperialists. Hmmm... come to think of it, why did they send the Imperialists to that rendezvous point, anyway? Wouldn't it have been easier to disarm them on the spot?

1. <Sigh> I was afraid you'd say that
2. So, be a Kilrathi. That's what I do.

3. I know the DNA profiles were stored. What I don't get is how the stored DNA profiles were used to find the right Kilrathi planetside? This just doesn't seem like something you do from the height of a few kilometres.
4. Yeah, that's the confusing thing. They have landed, and then they're landing. Why not just change Ruth's statement then? I mean, it would have been silly to launch the shuttles that much earlier anyway, because there's the risk that their fighter cover would have proven insufficient.
7. Whoa. Ho-T'ing is a real name? Sorry, didn't know that. It really doesn't sound like any other Chinese name I've heard though, hence my comment.
8. Oh, they're quite effective - but Jalkehi don't have them.
I recommend you scrap the Jalkehi and use Grikaths instead. They're armed with good ol' neutron guns, and they look like they might be capable of atmospheric flight.
9. Nothing. Nothing at all...
Hey, if you want to be original, you could always use the Polish version of that name (Waldemar - pronounced Valdemar), which would go real well with that Polish surname
10. No, just being picky
11. Don't be snide
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Hell, is my story really that predictable?

Okay, I may demote Vicka.

7. Well, there may be some variables of Ho-T'ing. Mao Tse-Tung was a variable on, oh, what was it? Zedong, I think.

I'll think about what you said.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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What, you mean that something is going to happen to Trk'Harna? It's not a matter of predictability, it's just plain logic. They're one jump from K'tithrak Mang, after all.
Dralthi5: I just did!

<mumbling 'Cut & Paste Specials...' updates copy> Hmmm... They did learn from Jotunhein

Uh, were there any other changes other Chapters Two and Six?

Noted: You like killing blue eyed confeds?
(Mayberry & Duchamp)

Turn me loose, Colonel.
This is what I live for!
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Joey: Well, if you've read Ch. 6 again, then you'll probably notice any changes, but there's a small change at the end of Ch. 2, but nothing really important.

Quarto: No, uh, I don't mean anything... at all. Logic. <The Liar>Yeah, that's the ticket<The Liar>.

Okay, Ch. 7 update: I've fixed a few things and I'm writing a new part to Ch. 7, featuring Major Hammond's exploits. I'm finding myself running out of names, though. I'm taking monikers directly from Starship Troopers and M*A*S*H.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Sure, M*A*S*H names, why not?
That'll bring back memories. Though keep in mind that they're almost entirely American, so you won't exactly be getting a multinational force.
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Who wasn't American?
Maybe Ho-Jon (If you can guess, I like M*A*S*H).

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Well, there was an Aussie passing by in one of the episodes
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Oh, there was a British officer in one episode. I believe he was played by the same guy who played the British officer in Hogan's Heroes. And the British officer in The Mummy.

But I digress.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Oops... Almost re-posted Chapter Five here for some reason.

Okay, I've changed some stuff, added some stuff.

However, I still see more work on Chapter Seven in my near future for some reason.

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

BTW, when using names from TV, at least have the decency to mix their first and last names up
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Trapper Pierce? Trapper Blake? Or Trapper Potter? I dunno. I'll think about it.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Okay, I got rid of the Border Worlds blurb, so I think I'm done with this chapter, unless anyone has any other suggestions.

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited July 23, 2000).]
Did'nt notice the first time around, but

1) "...a geyser of surprisingly red blood."
Laser cuts by burning thru and cauterizes almost instantaneously, ergo bloodless.

2) "...not a live recording"
You mean live transmission? It's either a live telecast or a replay.(from a recording)

Well, it's even better this time around.

Turn me loose, Colonel.
This is what I live for!
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Joey: Okay, good points. I'll have to go back and fix those tinny little mistakes.

Quarto: Hell, I'll just keep him as McIntyre.

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